Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)

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The Trump and Judy Show

Let’s talk about legends and the people who inhabit them.  The common dictionary definition:

Legend:  An extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.

Of course, that’s only part of the story.

Renee Zellweger gives an astonishing performance as the legendary Judy Garland in the self-titled new film, Judy.  It’s not so much that Ms. Zellweger exactly recreates her singing voice or her entire autobiography during the last few years of her life.  It’s that somehow, and in so many ways, she captures the essence of Judy’s legend.

Make room on your shelf, Renee!

Or at least what we believe was, or could have been, her essence.

It’s there in her tremulous voice, her humor, her raw vulnerability, her fight, the nuances of her mannerisms and her underfed yet somehow still powerful physicality.

Not only is a tour de force of determination in her every and many close-up(s), it’s a channeling of duality.  She shows us the core of what we publicly saw of Judy in her many stage, screen and TV appearances AND she gives us a peak into the charming and yet not always admirable part of her humanity that we never knew and might not have ever imagined.

None of us are ever one thing all the time.  We are a mix of light and dark, good and bad, strong and vulnerable and, trite as it may sound, love and hate.

This is amplified ten times over with those we’ve crowned as our legends.

No doubt Donald J. Trump will go down as an extremely different type of legend in our history, but a legend nevertheless.  Most American presidents in history occupy legendary status during their era and for many the legend manages to sustain through generations and even centuries. (Note: See above definition).

Sigh… I really need to stop looking at pictures like this #coolobama #sighagain

The breadth of career, the various distinctive looks, the marriages, the overly insistent publicity, the rise and fall and rise again – these are among the many things Trump and Judy share.  It may be a sobering thought but it doesn’t make it any less true.

What is also true is that ultimately those are artificial markers we, as society, have constructed for ourselves in order to understand how one human rises into the public consciousness and manages to stay there for years, decades and very often even beyond that.

Roughly as long as the shelf life of a Twinkie #thatsalongtime

Trump and Judy might both be modern day legends but in so many other, more important ways, they couldn’t be more different.

Trump from the beginning used his role as a renowned entertainer to divide people.  The phrase that cemented his stardom in the mass media zeitgeist was, YOU’RE FIRED!  He ran for the presidency on a platform of Make America Great Again but never before in American history has the country been this divided.  While Trump certainly did unite a significant subset of the country he polarized us a whole and continues to do so as he and his presidency amble towards impeachment.

Haven’t we been crawling there all along? #itstime

A deeper dive into specifics allows us to see this is not where it ends.  Trump’s talent is self-promotion, grievance and sheer rage/anger.  It can be amusing in cynical, seemingly too politically correct times but it doesn’t cause true pleasure like the lilt of a spectacular musical note.  Nor does it allow us to relax and let down our guard when we watch a scene in a film or on TV where a performer is bold enough to expose publicly the kind of vulnerabilities we keep secret for fear of risking our own personal shame.

With Trump weakness is BAD, not a given.  It is an aspect of our ourselves so impossible to admit that it must be put through his own personal, branded wood chipper and spew out as aggressive disdain and a call for destruction of whomever we deem as the other.

What my brain will do to 2016 – 2020

Rather than cleanse ourselves through a good cry or the spontaneous live energy of a song delivered by a legendary vocalist, we cloak ourselves in an adrenalin rush of negative performance art that blocks out everything else.  We are assured that no matter what our problems are it’s the outside world that is responsible for them.

The system that’s failed the collective us has made us believe that what we deem as our many rights have only been made wrong by weak leaders in today’s age.

The Trump worldview harkens back to his late eighties mantra that it’s you against the world and that greed and gold and gilt for you and your family are what’s good.

Gee thanks, Gordy #UGH

If you don’t have those it’s the fault of the Mexicans, the drug lords, the non-white invaders, the too privileged leaders who are a disgrace for selling out the real Americans, those people whose bodies they used and willingly stepped on and over to get them where they are today.

What made Trump legendary from the beginning was his lack of shame and ability to vomit out his authentic self no matter what the elite thought of his antics.  He was a crude, trash-talking, show-off with seemingly endless cash, with an amusing glint in his eye and an ability to crack an off-color double entendre or blatantly dirty jokes in public the way we and our families all did in private behind closed doors.

Trying to think about Trump as a legend #imtrying

Whatever we say about Trump he evokes for many what publicly passes as an authentic self.  Many would argue Judy did the same, from her Wizard of Oz days on through the territory covered in this latest film of her life.

Certainly, the public persona of any legend is not truly authentic.  No persona, light or dark, good or bad, can ever be all things any human being is in any given moment or in total.

Except Julie Andrews… she is EVERYTHING

What is most important when we speak of our legends is considering not who they are or were but what they truly do for us and why.  In whose company do we want to live in through our eternities?  Which of these legends, despite their humanness, gave us something positive to consider, and which others of them brought us down as a collective whole?

Renee Zellweger – “Over the Rainbow” (From Judy Soundtrack)

MEH-MMYS

 

The 2019 telecast of the Emmys will probably be remembered for three things:

  1. The British invasion of winners, especially Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s unexpected and very deserving trifecta for Outstanding Lead Actress/Writer in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Comedy Series.

Slay!!! #triplethreat #firstimesinceTinaFey

  1. The stupendously unfunny voice-over quips of Thomas Lennon, a fairly unknown actor/comic who so annoyed so many people on social media during the telecast that he himself referred to how much his job sucked before the program was even over.
  2. The fact that not a single primetime program from ANY of the four major TV broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX) took home even ONE Emmy in any major category during the entire 180 minute broadcast.

To be sure there were some high notes:

– Billy Porter became the first out Black gay man to win Best Actor in the first series ever on network television centering on the trans community.

Best hat since Aretha!

– Comic moments by two television legends, 90 year old Bob Newhart and 97-year-old Norman Lear, that left almost everyone else in the dust.

– The youthful exuberance (and humility) in the acceptance speeches of Jharrel Jerome (When They See Us) and Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) when they were rightly (and a bit surprisingly) honored as outstanding lead actor in a limited series and outstanding lead actress in a drama series, respectively.

So why did the show itself alternate between being a rudderless mess and a crushing bore???

Sarah Silverman during the Emmys has never been so relatable #ILoveYouSarah

A host might have helped, though that’s not a guarantee. Maybe…the right host, then? Of course, that would likely mean finding someone who appears on a Fox show since each time a network gets its turn broadcasting the Emmys it seems to only want to employ one of its own to appear center stage.

It’s not that Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden, Jimmy Fallon or even Carson Daly 2015 could have guaranteed a better program. But perhaps they might have offered a…. fighting chance?

Why the shade, Chairy? #ahem

Are our television fiefdoms now as polarizing as our politics? #UBetTheyR

(Note: How else does one explain Tim Allen showing up and landing like a thud in the middle of nowhere to plug the last season of his Fox series, Last Man Standing?)

BUZZ-KILL #seewhatIdidthere

Still, even without a host you knew we were in trouble when an animated character, aka Fox’s own Homer Simpson, showed up in the opening as a kind of faux host only to be leveled into the ground and disappear. His duties were then taken over by blackish’s Anthony Anderson in an embarrassing routine where he and his Mom steal several Emmys and put them in her large purse in order to presumably smuggle out of the theatre.

Did someone actually write a bit where a person of color was stealing someone else’s awards with a family member on national television?

Super cringe

When Anderson then passed the faux host torch to Bryan Cranston I thought perhaps it was just me having a drug flashback to my Breaking Bad television binge watching days in a much simpler time. Alas, this was not to be.

The minutes and hours wore on and our patience began to wear thin. Why did everything feel just plain off and weird? Like a high school dance where I thought I was wearing a great outfit but the pictures revealed otherwise, it all seemed ill fitted and pimply-faced.

The LED set flashed frighteningly oversized still photos of nominees as someone announced their names from backstage and in another moment would suddenly turn into an assaulting piece of Game of Thrones scenery/logo or an electrically insistent pastel hue that picked up the color in some presenters’ outfit.

Like.. did we need to see Fleabag’s bloody nose?? #whatweretheythinking

At one point there was even a musical number where a gold gowned person with a Meryl Streep mask could be seen juggling bowling pins. I couldn’t swear they were bowling pins or even a female in the gown but I do know I saw the image a second time just before the show cut to commercial.

Given television’s penchant for reruns it might have been nice to relive at least a few more clips from the very best of television in the past year. We were told by Television Academy chairman Frank Scherma that we are now in the PLATINUM age of TV and yet clips from the best of 2019 were few and far between while those that were shown were so short as to come off as practically unintelligible.

Me, to the producers

With TV this good, here’s an idea for next year. Just give us more of the best of and get a witty host or a smart host or maybe even a live action host who’s merely smart enough or only slightly witty.

Until then, we can entertain ourselves with tons of award winning/nominated 2019 TV we might have missed. That would include:

1- Every episode of When They See Us, Chernobyl, Fosse/Verdon and Succession for dramas. (Note: No, they are NOT too depressing and/or off-putting).

2- Every episode of Fleabag, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Good Place and Russian Doll for comedy.

Schitt’s Creek too!! #catherineoharaisaGODDESS

3- Any random episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Seth Meyers or The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for timely political satire.

Aside from fashion and hate watching, they’re the real reason awards shows like Emmy2019 exist. Or used to be.

Kelsea Ballerini – “Better Luck Next Time”

Editors Note: The Chair’s predictions scored a 16/27, which is approximately 59% — still better than Electoral POTUS’s approval rating, so we’ll take that as a win. 

Stranger Things in Stranger Times

…I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday…

–“Me and Bobby McGee,” Music & Lyrics: Kris Kristofferson, Singer: Janis Joplin

Nostalgia is in the air.

You can see it every time another superhero movie has a HUUUUUUUUGE opening. I’ve seen it as a college professor for more than a decade with my film students’ almost universal, fanatical fascination with all things Star Wars. 

I thought growing up meant I’d never again have to feel marginalized for the big yawn I felt whenever a friend tried to tempt me into the Marvel or DC comic world.

Little did I know the pressure would be compounded by a perfectly enjoyable but to my mind not particularly deep 1977 film that would not only refuse to die but haunt pop culture for the rest of my life on planet Earth.

Me, talking about Star Wars #overit

Yes, I’ve always preferred the real world to a fantasy from the past.

Look away or backwards for too long and you might miss the danger right before you in the present.   Or the pleasure.

In that sense, you could color me realistic.

But realism is not so popular right now in particular.

You can see this in our politics.  Like it or not, Trumpism is a banshee scream to right the ship (Note: Literally) and make things the way they used to be in the good old days.

It is nostalgia for a past that is simpler, more prosperous and a lot more black and white.  Though to my mind it’s really white and black.  Meaning White first, and then, well, maybe just a little Black, for what remains.

For what else is one to think when perusing what America realistically was in what we now recall as the good old days.

Nostalgic for nostalgia? Hey, it could happen.

Though in fairness, this phenomenon is not alone limited to the U.S.  A new brand of White Nativism – which sure, some scholars refer to as nostalgia – has spread all throughout Europe and beyond.  So much so that one day, generations from now, the future scholars will surely look back to the first half of the 21st century as a time when the world had to choose between embracing the past or vaulting into the future and chose —

_________________________________.

Well, that remains to be seen.  But I, like you, have some very real thoughts on the matter.

This is why it surprises me at just how big a fan I am of the recently dropped season 3 of the ultimate nostalgia machine, Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Scale of 1 to 10, it’s an 11. #yuckyuck #illseemyselfout

As a Chair whose taste runs afoul of mythic pasts and the heroes who triumph in them, how is it that the greatest relief I’ve found from TrumpWorld in the last year is following the exploits of a group of kids from the type of suburban neighborhood I never lived in during what I consider the absolute worst decade in the history of my life thus far– the eighties???

I’ve been considering this all week and have not yet come to an answer.

There was really nothing much fun about the eighties.  Just look at the fashions and you can see how much we hated ourselves, and each other.

This was heartthrob hair. For real. #ohBilly

It’s one thing to go to a costume party today with giant shoulder pads and too short short-shorts but it’s quite another to be expected to put them on every day after you’ve teased and moussed up your hair into a humidity-defying frenzy.

What sane human being who lived through those times would crave that?  What kind of insane population would ever popularize that?

These are questions much too big to resolve through the enticing world view we’re given in ST’s third and best season.  Though through a strict storytelling lens, it’s pretty clear.  The appeal of the latest ST incarnation is that in its own small way it manages to evoke the best of nostalgia, fantasy AND reality.

Oh god that mall. That 80s mall.

The world of monsters and evil foreign/governmental villains might steer the overarching plot but what we really relate to is the stunningly imperfect humanness of the characters the Duffer Brothers created and the behaviors of each actor playing them.

Every one of its principal characters is on the surface central casting for the non-hero supporting role in any movie or comic book adventure.  Each in their own way is either neurotic, ill-tempered, phony, depressed, bookish, dumbly amusing or just plain unappealingly awkward.  In short, they are a group comprised of the last ones chosen for any sports team combined with the first ones suspended from every sports team.  (Note: And I wonder why I relate?)

And yet, in watching each of them get their moment as they’re thrust center stage and dared to become heroic, we find ourselves somehow rooting for them in what could objectively be considered the most ridiculous of circumstances.

Steve and Dustin’s handshake alone. #thesetwo

To create tons of believable scares when you’re being chased in a _________________ by a giant gooey _________________ is a tough enough hat trick to pull off.  But to do it in a decade that is already an overused sad parody of itself and get us to actually believe any of those people could actually exist is something else entirely.

And yes, there will be no spoilers here. 

oh thank god!

That is, for the handful of readers who have yet to tune in.  For the launch of ST’s season 3 has set a new record for Netflix, attracting 40.7 million household account viewers in its first four days, almost half of which were viewed on TV screens on its launch over the Fourth of July weekend.  The only show on TV that was more watched during that time was when real-life superhero Megan Rapinoe lead the US women’s soccer team to victory in the Women’s World Cup.

QUEEN #thatsall

Though I was not one of those who watched ST in it first four days, I will cop to binging it in two perfect four-hour sittings over two nights a week later on my big red sofa with tortilla chips, guacamole and my dog in my lap.  For me it was not so much nostalgia as it was pure decadent escape from the continuous loop of a news cycle that at times has become simply unbearable.

Which, even more strangely, probably puts me at the center of the very definition of nostalgia – a longing for a past or a place with happy associations.  It might not be exactly my past or my place/town onscreen but, well, facts are facts, even in today’s world.

Gosh, I hope not.  Since my husband just walked in the room and, hearing I was waxing nostalgic about nostalgia, reminded me that a Swiss physician first coined the term back in 1688 as a psychological disorder similar to paranoia, except that the sufferer is manic with longing.

For what exactly, I’m not sure.  Nor, I suspect, are most of the rest of us.

Janis Joplin – “Me & Bobby McGee”

The Elephant on Broadway

Try as we might, we can’t get away from the elephant in our country.

You know what I mean.  Or whom.

Not only is it Trump this or Trump that, it’s how will we fight Trump, what will happen if we don’t defeat Trump or, my favorite at the moment – um please, we have a rule tonight, there is no talking about Trump.

On that latter point in my house:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Of course, the latter is misguided for so many reasons.   But mostly because even when you don’t talk about IT, it’s there, lurking beneath the surface, ready to rear it’s ugly head just when you thought you’d put it to bed.

Not unlike the trauma you buried from your childhood or the pretending you do every time you toss off that rehearsed carefree smile at your ex.

Or the murderous rage you suppress whenever the driver in the car in front of you is going 3 mph because they’re texting.

Or the searing pit of bile bubbling up in your stomach when that person in the market, elevator or treadmill next to you speaks as loudly on their phone as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio did on the stage at the first Democratic debate this past week.

Point being that totally ignoring a problem only makes IT bigger and you smaller.

Last week I snuck off to NYC for a few days to ostensibly forget the Trump of it all.  I did this by paying what would amount to the price of a small used car for orchestra tickets to three of the hottest shows on Broadway.

Think of this as the gay male equivalent of binge eating with a chaser of middle-aged entitlement because I deserved to see the original casts of this year’s big Tony Award winners since the world is shitty, I’m getting older and who knows how many years I or any of the rest of us have left.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject: HAPPY GAY PRIDE 50, everyone!!!!!!!

Cheers Queers!

In any event, and to be more specific, another way to put this is that I sat front and center for: 

Hadestown, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Oklahoma!

Yes, they were all truly brilliant, a word I hate to use but find that when it applies there is no other.

Yet what I found even more surprising is that while these three shows couldn’t be more different – certainly they were all written decades, even centuries apart – they all, in their very artistically eclectic ways, very much addressed exactly the same subject:

Trump/IT and Trump America.

Hadestown is about making a pact with the Devil for your soul in order to get what you want.  But in this case the Devil is a con man AND a BUILDER who seduces you into believing he will take care of you and, once he owns you, does anything but.

His suits fit a little better

Since it’s based on a Greek myth they call him Hades but when you watch it, well,  you will likely feel the urge to substitute….oh, some contemporary name of your choice.

Especially when during the first act curtain song entitled “Why We Build A Wall” at the Friday night performance you attend you realize Hillary Clinton is sitting directly in front of you three rows to your left. (Note: #Swear2God/Hillary).

Let’s just say I experienced a range of emotions

Then there’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a story about a 1930s southern white small town lawyer who deeply believes in justice and yet just as deeply sympathizes with the enraged, poor, white working class neighbors all around him who feel like they never get justice and have been left behind by the system for far too long.

A very different Atticus

So much so that he agrees to defend a young man of color for a crime he clearly didn’t commit knowing FULL WELL that said system and his neighbors could NEVER convict him, and certainly wouldn’t KILL (nee lynch) him, when all rational EVIDENCE points to the contrary.

This brings us to Oklahoma!, a show we mostly know as the vintage Technicolor movie musical of the same name about the infinite joys of the American heartland.  (Note:  Oh, come on – Surrey With The Fringe On Top??  Oh What A Beautiful Morning????).

Who knew all this time that what this story was really telling us was how quickly the people inhabiting our heartland would turn their backs, and very American guns, on the most unfortunate among them and literally erase them with their own bullets when they are unable to make lemonade out of the very real sour lemons life has handed them – AND jump for all the joy in America while doing it.

More like WOKE-lahoma!

If it seems all three of these are of a theme simply because my taste verges on the, well… angry, timely and political – not really. (Note:  Though, admittedly, yes they do).

I had to be dragged to Oklahoma!, a show I never liked or related to in the least, kicking and screaming.  Nor was I at all interested even a little in Greek mythology or up to revisiting the racism of the Depression era south by way of The West Wing.

At least initially.

Proving once again that every seemingly distant, dystopic time period produces valuable work that in some way (okay many ways) directly reflects what’s going in the streets and hearts of those inhabiting it… and well beyond.  Because if done particularly right a handful of these works will live on and the truth of their stories will get reimagined and reinterpreted in countless forms as both an artistic expression and, perish the thought, teaching tool and salve for future generations.

And they will seem as timely as hell while doing it even when, in the case of Oklahoma!, not one single word has been changed.

ummm.. what?

How can this be????

Because especially great art comes out of experience, passion, pain and point of view.  And paying attention.  Often it’s born from the ashes of despair or a twisted take about that which deep down sticks in our craws, inflames us and/or seeks to destroy us.

A very wise mentor once told me early on that there are only a handful of stories out there – it’s all in the way you tell them and just how much truth you are telling.

Amen!

As artists, and for that matter, citizens, we reconfigure our handful of stories with dark and light magic that not only reflects the contemporary world around us but is also informed by it.

To watch these events then play out on a stage after they’ve played out in life, or even in the political arena, at a time when all we want to do is to turn away, is one way to know that —

1. We are not alone

and

2.  The recipe for catharsis is never to live in a pretend world.

Rather it is to face our demons (aka reality) en masse through another set of eyes able to express it differently.  It’s through that very kind of  group camaraderie that we can  go from desperately hopeless to happily hopeful in the space of just a few hours.

2019 Mashup from Oklahoma 

Do I Have to See Endgame?

There are weeks when you simply do not know what to say.  Or write.  This is one of those weeks.

That is why I’ve been trying to listen.

I say trying because for some of us (Note:  Most especially Chairs) it IS trying.  It takes a lot of effort to listen.

If you’re truly listening you actually have to take a moment or two, or ten, to take in and think about what is being communicated to you.  It means you have to consider what the other person is saying even if your knee jerk reaction is to want to strangle them.

For instance, when I recently heard Avengers: Endgame was three hours I wanted to strangle the entire film business.  I had a lesser punishment for my students who were urging me to see it.

Me at the Arclight for the 8:00 Avengers

I wanted to strap them all to separate Chairs in the corner and make them watch a loop of Magnolia, Godfather Part II and Schindler’s List, all of which have similar running times.

Yes, that would be nine plus hours but it would take that long to teach them that at this point in their lives there are better ways to spend your movie-viewing time if you’re truly trying to learn about movies.

This is me, maybe, probably, judging you

Of course, this would have been the incorrect response for so many reasons.

First of all, I had not and didn’t plan to see Avengers: Endgame so how did I not know it wasn’t every bit as good as any of the above three?  And no, experience is not the answer.   You can’t have an experience with something you haven’t experienced.

I mean, I don’t like it when they turn their nose up at the three-hour version of one of my top 10 favorite movies, Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born.  And god knows that has happened a lot more than once,  twice 250 times.

Don’t judge me!

Second of all, don’t I teach that good and bad are relative terms and that there is no artistic hierarchy?  If this is so, then why is a mess, I mean, mass entertainment movie any less valuable to see than something we film people deem essential viewing?

::Snickers::

If one subscribes to the idea that some escapism is required from a real world that too often than not can be dark, merciless and disappointing (Note: and who doesn’t these days?) then wouldn’t watching a star-studded SUPERHERO film be just the perfect prescription for coping with the impending realities any impending college graduate is about to face?  Certainly it’s worked for much of the rest of us for generations.

Third, and lastly of all, we ignore that which has international mass appeal and popularity at our own peril.

Now you’re getting it!

No one is saying that one has to experience an In-N-Out or McDonald’s hamburger.  But if one is going to open a fast food restaurant, or any meat-serving restaurant, wouldn’t it behoove one to at least one time experience THE most successful meat product on the planet?

To NOT do so would mean a willful ignorance of the marketplace and world around one.  To close one’s ears, eyes and taste buds to what is would mean one is willfully NOT listening to what the majority of people prefer.

OK but this is a different problem all together.

To lower, or even raise one’s standards ONE TIME and try – meaning hear, see or experience – something one in no way prefers means one is purposely remaining willfully ignorant.

And we all know people who are WILLFULLY IGNORANT, right?

I DO NOT CARE HOW GOOD THIS CHICKEN IS

We know what happens when we don’t listen to and ignore the demands, tastes and preferred choices of a group large enough to be considered a MASS audience, right?

Someone can step in and serve up a modern version of the McDonald’s hamburger that is so simultaneously seductive and yet poisonous that it can bring an entire industry to its knees in submission.

It will then duplicate, replicate and otherwise dominate everything to such an extent that few other types of preferred food stuffs would be able to survive.

Thanks Chair, now I’m also thinking about dinner.

Imagine a world where one had little choice but to eat not only a fast food hamburger, but a certain type of fast food hamburger, at least periodically, for primary sustenance?

Then imagine a world where these choices extended to all of the arts and entertainment.

Then, finally, imagine what that same, seductive poisonous product could do to, say, a democracy?   What WOULD happen when so few choices were left?

That means this is a good thing right?

That and so much more is why this week and going forward I am going to do my best to try and not only listen, but HEAR.

I don’t want to live in a world where burgers, superheroes and flaccid dictatorships are my primary, and then only, options.  (Note:  That is unless I really do and this is the last reel of the original Blade Runner because I do know, that in just a few decades, I will have a chance at a sequel).

… and when I come back I will have the voice AND hair of Shawn Mendes #reincarnation

I guess what this means is that a screening of Avengers: Endgame is in my foreseeable future.   God (or whoever you deem Her to be) help me.  And us.

Judy Garland – “I Don’t Care”

This is US

[ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS AHEAD… PROMISE]

The best part of Jordan Peele’s Us is how the filmmaker continues to subvert audience expectations by simply being himself and showing the world as he sees it.

In this case it is watching a family of color as our principal protagonists, nee heroes, as they fight the inevitable monster and carnage that threatens to engulf them.

Not creepy or anything #runsaway

More importantly, it is the relegation of the white couple to the traditional role of the best friends who you know will appear and reappear at will when some comic relief or convenient plot device is needed.

In this way Us is a totally original mainstream reinvention of the horror genre that is very much in the tradition of Peele’s groundbreaking Get Out.  Our view of the upscale suburban nuclear family to which very bad things will happen is no longer beige but color-corrected.

Yes, Ru!

The fact that this is about all that has changed from the usual is both the film’s strong point and its weakness.  Many contemporary horror films already have a patina of social commentary and Us is no different.

It spoils nothing about Us to say that in initially taking us back to 1986’s Hands Across America campaign, where a multicultural human chain was created in cities across the United States to raise money for charities that helped people in poverty, we are being set up for the inevitable “but has the world really changed” question by the end of the film.

The attempt to make this well-to-do Black family just as human as any white family in any horror film – that is to say a bit too two-dimensional and self-satisfied – succeeds as well as it ever has.  The characters are just as clueless, oblivious and bereft of individuality as any white family in a similar social class or big screen genre entertainment.

but still not as horrifying as this #isit2020yet

It’s sort of the way I initially felt watching gay culture become mainstreamed in the eighties and nineties and beyond with the advent of Will & Grace, Ellen, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Marriage Equality.

Well, I guess we really have arrived, I recalled thinking.  Now we can be just as average as everyone else.  Hallelujah!

Never mind I was also simultaneously seeing myself like Dustin Hoffman/Katharine Ross at the end of 1967’s The Graduate – two people who get EXACTLY what they wish only to be left wondering, Well, uh, okay.  You mean now this is my…reality?  

Uh oh

Of course there ARE many more benefits to being able to finally get married or serve openly in the military than there are to being front and center in a horror film (Note:  And as soon as I can think of one I’ll let you know….Oh, KIDDING!!!).  But if movies are indeed one of the most enduring and mainstream social chronicles of who we really are, it’s hard not to hope for just a little bit more.

After all, George Romero’s seminal Night of Living Dead gave us a Black hero as far back as 1968 and became the social commentary scale against which all horror films got measured.  I can recall finally seeing it as a teen some years later on television and being blown away at its message (Note: Don’t hate me, it was the seventies) and audacity.  So is it too much to ask for a little more than that of the genre some fifty plus years later?

Enough with the scary Nuns.. really #dobetter2019

In fairness, Romero has stated publicly that the reason that his lead actor in Night was Black mostly had to do with the fact that the actor, Duane Jones, was simply the person who gave the best audition.  Nevertheless, with a budget of $114,000 and an international gross upwards of $30 million it’s hard to imagine the director-writer didn’t know he was on to something.

This is what happens sometimes in moviemaking, happy accidents of instinct where the choices one makes pay off creatively and financially far better than anyone could imagine.  One could argue the same is possible and true today, but not as likely as when your budget is $20 million plus a helluva lot more than that in marketing.  Not to mention all of the release dates you have to meet (which includes both film festival and distributor/exhibitor bookings) AND the sophomore jinx trifecta of a best screenplay Oscar win, critical plaudits and box-office breaking success in an auteur driven film, your first, in the horror genre.

No Pressure for Mr. Peele

Sure there are countless worse problems in the real world than the success of Get Out but few if any of them are effectively addressed in the onscreen story of Us.  Instead what we get is a lot of talk about the Freudian concept of our shadow selves and the consequences of such when these darkest impulses are either indulged or ignored.

It’s an interesting discussion for an abnormal psychology class but not quite the stuff that drives a good or even great horror flick.

What does give Us its engine is a bravura performance by Lupita Nyong’o, one part troubled but relentless Mother Hen and the other part vacuum cleaner-voiced scissor sister with an internal moral compass known only to herself.

We don’t deserve you, Lupita

It kind of reminds you of a 2019 version of Rosemary’s Baby where Mia Farrow is given the chance to portray both herself AND the Devil.  (Note: And, um, NO, Lupita does NOT play the Devil in Us.  There are NO SPOILERS HERE for the umpteenth time!).

Much as I adored Rosemary’s Baby I was sort of hoping for more in Mr. Peele’s second time out.  But perhaps this is being unfair to him.  After all, Rosemary’s Baby was based on a best-selling book of cutting social satire by novelist Ira Levin that was expertly plotted and insanely insightful.  A story that dealt with another upwardly mobile couple/mother Hen in a foreboding time period in America that similarly used the horror genre to address dark privilege, the righteous anger of those who have been discounted by it and the chains that will forever tether the two together.

Hmmm, sounds awfully timely to me.  And perhaps this time the film and novel from which it springs could literally be political?  Though maybe that’s way too obvious.

Luniz – “I Got 5 On It” (from the soundtrack of Us)