Fail/Safe

There are many ways to spin failure. They didn’t get it. They sabotaged me. They did nothing. They marshaled forces against me. The world wasn’t ready. The dumbasses couldn’t see. The dumbasses were offended.

What is not in the spin zone is – I suck. Or I failed. Certainly not – I tried my best and will do better next time. That’s not very satisfying. Except when it is.

but enough about me this week…

This came to mind watching the public memorial tribute to the lives of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher this weekend – certainly two people one doesn’t associate with failure, or even spinning. Though with Debbie you can imagine a heavenly Hollywood dance floor or simply put on one of her musicals and get there in the latter case.

The way they were

As a dear friend texted me, it’s strange to live in a time where we live stream memorials. Nevertheless we and many others were tuned into debbiereynolds.com (Note: Could I make that URL up?) where we watched highlights and tributes from the lives of the world’s Star Wars Princess and forever young ingénue Kathy Selden from Singin’ In the Rain – two iconic film characters from classic movies that will ensure the two women who played them will live on far beyond any of us.

That is, unless Cher or Barbra are reading this. Which I doubt. Though, one never knows who’s reading what these days. Hope springs eternal. For some of us, anyway.

Barbra can you hear me?? #couldntresist

Which brings us back to Carrie and Debbie. One of the highlights of the two plus hours of remembrance was a new James Blunt song that was played over a series of photographic images of Carrie and the bedroom in which she wrote and held court. You remember James Blunt, don’t you? He had that smash album some years back called Back to Bedlam which yielded several chart topping songs and then somehow suffered one of the greatest backlashes in the history of the music business.

You’re beautiful it’s true (stuck in your head yet?)

It became hip and happening to hate listen to Blunt. He somehow went from sensitive singer-songwriter to goopy cornball whiner. Not that he didn’t have some successful follow-ups or a core of loyal fans. He did. But nowhere as huge and not with anything approaching the verve of the memes of dismissal towards him.

Blunt, himself, became so aware of where he stood in the eyes of some of the public that after the death at the end of the year of his good friend Carrie Fisher (Note: He lived in her guest house and wrote some of his most famous songs there), he tweeted:

Full disclosure: I always liked Blunt and even before that tweet still occasionally played that CD, which, yes, I own. And oh, double yes, I do still own and even buy CDs.

I know this is how you see me #grampychair

Hate gossip away on that latter point if you care to. For the point here is to not prove the worthiness of Mr. Blunt. He does that himself with the new song he wrote in honor of his good friend Carrie  which debuted at her memorial service. It’s ironically as good or probably better than his best and will surely be meme’d around as the majority of listeners comment in shock about its value. While the naysers comment how it took the death of a good friend for him to come up with something listenable – if they even go so far as to at all place him in the playable category.

This is the essence of spin.

As for failure, it’s relative and goes with the territory of artistic endeavor. Or, make that human endeavor.

Or just embrace it!

The majority of us might admire or even envy Debbie and Carrie and not associate them at all with the type of “failure” we believe we are experiencing or have experienced or are inevitably going to experience, but nothing could be further from that (un)truth. Debbie had a trio of cheating husbands, lost all her money, endured national scandal and like all Hollywood women of a certain age was tossed away by the business that spawned her only be to brought back in at various points when it suited the suits. Though it was fine at that point because she had more or less figured it out.

As for Carrie, well, we all know, right? The drugs, the gay husband, the declining acting career. The sin of growing older and gaining weight! The mental illness and breakdowns. And then – the temerity to…write about it all? With humor? And do it well? One can only imagine the potential she saw in that from a hospital bed or alone in her room late at night when she couldn’t speak. I didn’t know her but it’s hard to imagine she saw it as anything close to a recipe to undo any perceived personal failures. No doubt more like a self-expression of whom she was and what she needed to do in order to survive the down times.

This, and countless other quotes too numerous to name

Of course, this is not to categorize things like mental illness, weight gains, marital breakups, career lows or O.D-ing as failures. That’s for the Internet and society at large to do for us. And they will do that. Relentlessly. And sometimes in the form of places and people much too dangerously close to you/us. (Note: As will the bathroom mirror).

It is more of a reminder to own your inner James Blunt, whatever that is, and move on. And as Carrie’s fictional Mom said in the move version of her memoir, Postcards from the Edge, “I don’t blame other people for my misfortunes.” And as the fictional version of herself shouted back, “I took the drugs, nobody made me.” Which is all fine when you’re in an analyst’s office or writing about your life – and often one in the same.

It’s getting past the admissions or the proclamations and moving on to something – anything else. Doing laundry is a start. Though I prefer cooking or something artistic. Even any type of exercise will do it.

Except spinning.

You know what I mean even if the current president of the U.S. (at the moment, that is) does not.

You didn’t I’d leave that out, did you?

And the Winner Isn’t…

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Much will be made about the 2017 Academy Awards broadcast where La La Land enjoyed a full two minutes as best picture only to have its Oscars literally yanked out of its producers hands so they could be given to the real winner, Moonlight.

But for all the wrong reasons.

LALALAND.... MOONLIGHT... LALALAND... MOONLIGHT #couldntresist

LALALAND…. MOONLIGHT… LALALAND… MOONLIGHT #couldntresist

The issue is not at all about whether La La Land or Moonlight was truly deserving of the ultimate Hollywood honor (Note: Other than box-office grosses, that is) but just how interested all of us spectators are in having our feelings publicly validated in the matter. And how little it all means in the long run.

Is there a best picture of 2016? Of course there is. Isn’t. Is there?

As I posted last night:

If only every one of my actions supported that statement 100% of the time.

I certainly BELIEVE there is no real best picture winner. But that still hasn’t prevented me from rooting for one every year since 1968 – when Oliver! snatched the trophy right out of the hands of my beloved Funny Girl.   But at least the playing field was a bit more leveled back then. They were BOTH musicals.

Truth be told, I did think Moonlight and La La Land were wonderful.

And…I was on team La La Land.

Ya don't say!! #fakeshock

Ya don’t say!! #fakeshock

La La Land moved me in a way no other movie did this year. I related to it. I thought it struck an extraordinarily tone between the real and surreal that seemed, while I was watching it, and even now on reflection, pretty much impossible to achieve. It also spoke to me about artistry, and love, and the price we pay for each with our fantasies. And in our real lives.

Moonlight also spoke to me, especially as a gay man of a certain age. As did Hidden Figures – a treasure of mainstream Hollywood movie making – by showcasing true historical injustice as only great Hollywood films can.

Three VERY different films

Three VERY different films

But neither in the same way as La La Land.

This does not make me right or wrong on the subject of what is the best picture of the year. Nor does it belie character defects of anti-intellectualism, superficiality or an anti-indie, anti-IMPORTANT motion picture belief system.

It just means I liked the damn film more than perhaps you did.

And as time went on I grew SO tired of defending it to those of you on the other TEAM that I began to love it even more — as I slowly and perhaps unknowingly even began to figure out ways to out-argue the rest of the world about why YOUR CHOICE didn’t deserve the BEST trophy over MY DATE.

Did someone say date? #heygurl

Did someone say date? #heygurl

I mean, who even knew I was playing that game. Did you know you were? Okay, maybe you weren’t. But some of you were (are?). Because I know I am not the only one of us Americans weighing in here.

It’s really such an American game, the Oscars. We just love our winners and losers. And this was well before our current technical POTUS.   There’s just something about being #1 that is so totally Us. Until it’s not.

And that is what the Sunday night’s big Oscar screw-up leaves Us with. The hollowness of being thought of as #1 instead of settling for living a life where you truly exude classic #1 behavior.

I am still trying to wrap my head around having this much composure and grace in the moment. #realclass

I am still trying to wrap my head around having this much composure and grace in the moment. #realclass

The producer of La La Land had it when he graciously proclaimed Moonlight the true winner and said he was proud to be able to hand his Oscar over to his “friends” (Note: That four-month awards circuit creates lots of lasting Hollywood friendships). Team Moonlight had it in countless post-Oscar interviews where it threw the respect right back at La La Land. Meryl Streep had it when she led the applause for best actress winner Emma Stone. And Matt Damon has it every time he allowed Jimmy Kimmel to mercilessly and very personally insult him and his past work in their many years long public faux feud.

Let's be real: you would totally watch We Bought a Zoo on a plane #andyoudlikeit

Let’s be real: you would totally watch We Bought a Zoo on a plane #andyoudlikeit

Well, what does it cost them when they are the beneficiaries of such good press for being such good sports, you might say. Well, as much as it costs us when we don’t get our due, our validation, when it comes to our tastes, opinions or choice of award winners.   We, who are really all just a bunch of onlookers, sitting on a really, really, really long bench of public opinion rabidly addressing our…prey.

Sure, this is a thin and perhaps too superficial argument from which to make a grand statement on tolerance and understanding and benevolence, especially since statistically speaking there is little to none of any of that in the entertainment industry to begin with. Though no more or less than there now is through the rest of the country, or the world, or in any other industry inhabited inside any of the aforementioned for that matter.

And when in doubt... LaLaLand comes out on DVD in May

And when in doubt… LaLaLand comes out on DVD in May

What #OscarsSoScrewedUp (#OscarSoWhoops?) showed us so beautifully and so specifically is that, in the end, perhaps the BEST use of our time is to save our energies for the upcoming battles that will be required fighting – and not from the bench but in the arena.

And…..for all of you haters to watch La La Land.

Again and again till you get it right.

Oh wait, I mean…MOONLIGHT. Watch Moonlight!

The Crowning Achievement

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The major strength of Netflix’s acclaimed series The Crown is that finally and once and for all an outsider (Note: Me) understands the pros and cons behind the idea of a King or Queen.

That is not to say that one (Note: Me) likes or accepts the idea of a hierarchy of humanity – i.e. a whole country required to bow and curtsy to another citizen wearing a crown – but at least the tradition and the people wearing the hardware are both clear and recognizable as something approaching human.

Heavy is the head, they say #werkitgurl

Heavy is the head, they say #werkitgurl

I’m not much for bowing down to idols – true, false or otherwise – but in one brief scene in its season one 10-episode arc, The Crown is succinct on this one heretofore elusive point:

The monarchy represents something Divine that can serve as a sort of model for what mankind can aspire to. (Note: One assumes that includes lowly females).

So despite the fact that the actual monarch, be it female or male, is indeed human, once he/she is anointed with oil by a leading British religious figure, he/she also all at once (and forever) becomes Divine He/She and therefore worthy of genuflection and ring kissing by everyone in It’s orbit.

Or so the thought processes go.

Not to mention, and to its further credit, this fine series also shows that a Queen (The British kind, that is) doesn’t necessarily want or is even qualified to be a Deity and that more than a few in the inner circle have their own worries that this vast spectacle is indeed nothing more than their own high-priced version of The Emperor’s New Clothes.  

... which most certainly includes The Crown's Miss Shade, Princess Margaret

… which most certainly includes The Crown’s Miss Shade, Princess Margaret

Moreover, it ultimately and finally posits (and this is the what really brings it all home), that despite all of the doubts and handwringing about it, the vast majority of its SUBJECTS are indeed on some level TRUE BELIEVERS in it all and will actually VOLUNTARILY indulge en masse in the tradition of genuflection to this Chosen Human Deity.

This thus reinforces the point of the monarchy to whatever doubting royals there may be and, judging by the continued fascination with them across the globe, proves an even larger point about societies in general:

The PEOPLE indeed do WANT and NEED a HIGHER IDEAL in which to BELIEVE IN and strive towards.

We Americans, of course, have no such thing as a national royalty and if we did it certainly wouldn’t be in Washington, D.C. – at least at the moment.   Except, of course, for one thing —

THE OSCARS.

Behold... our golden god!

Behold… our golden god!

Yes, I know this is a long way to go for an analogy and moan and groan at HOLLYWOOD all you like – led by PRETEND POTUS DJT (aka The Non-Deity who lost the Popular vote by 2.86 million). But let’s be honest:

The vast majority of the TV watchers here and worldwide WILL tune in to the television coronation of Oscar. And even if they don’t and/or claim not to – see what happens when the BIGGEST MOVIE STAR IN THE WORLD walks into a room, a bar, a party, a restaurant or a hardware store in your neighborhood in your presence.   You will see the closest thing approaching GENUFLECTION you will EVER, EVER WITNESS IN YOUR LIFETIME ON AMERICAN SOIL.

Bow down to our undisputed QUEEN

Bow down to our undisputed QUEEN

(Note: If this hasn’t happened to you yet or you think it never will take my word for it. I have witnessed it in more than several cities big and small across the country over several decades in my lifetime and it is ALWAYS the same unmistakably American version of a mass CURTSY and BOW).

(Note 2: And please don’t write in and say what about The Pope? America is a secular country (so far) and He (It?) doesn’t count).

This is not a defense of the Oscars because that would be a defense of an indefensible DEITY. It is just an effort on the part of a lover of this year’s favorite for best picture, La La Land, to get the movie fans and pop culture lovers and prognosticators worldwide to calm the f-k down and, as the young people say (right?), get out of my grill.

I say believe the hype

I say believe the hype

Those of us who adore this movie for its reinforcement of hope and belief in the creative dream and Hollywood-ized version of love and romance, are not the intellectual equivalent of “Make America Great Again” as one essayist whose name I won’t mention recently pondered. Nor do we have crappy taste in films or suffer from too much white privilege (though which White person among us White people doesn’t?). In fact, we simply were transported by something we’ve never quite seen before on the Big Screen and want to sing its praises and share it with you.

Which brings me to another chief complaint about the movie – Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are not… Hugh Jackman and Barbra Streisand? Beyonce and Jay-Z?   Adele and Sam Smith? (You sooo don’t want that even though you think you do). Jennifer Hudson and Pharrell?

... or original casting choices Emma Watson and Miles Teller. #HermoinegetsWhiplash

… or original casting choices Emma Watson and Miles Teller #HermoinegetsWhiplash

Listen up. It’s not always about the notes you can hit and how well you can sing – especially in a movie musical where performance is everything. It’s about telling the story, the emotion, the passion, the joy and the sadness.   And consider that after five decades of concert tours, Bob Dylan still can’t sing a lick. No, honestly. Can he really “sing” – as you crave? Yet he’s captivating. As are many singer-songwriter-actors. Rappers don’t sing the way Sinatra did. Which is fine. Aretha Franklin is still the Queen of Soul and the late Karen Carpenter will always have perfect pitch. That’s a whole other subject and has nothing to do with carrying the story of a movie with your performance in a slightly imperfect yet surreal world.

Which brings us to what looks to be the three-way race for best picture between La La Land, Moonlight and Hidden Figures.

Ready to place your bets?

Ready to place your bets?

They’re all wonderful films in their own way and yeah, perhaps you don’t agree that La La Land has the inside shot at being this year’s DEITY. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of the story and its filmic luster for many or change the fact that in the system you are choosing to participate in there can only be one QUEEN. (Note: Ahem).

So instead take a broader cosmic view of the whole process. Think of them each as planets. La La Land is Earth, Hidden Figures is Saturn and Moonlight is Pluto.

Although gravity works a little bit differently in La La Land

Although gravity works a little bit differently in La La Land

Pluto is the furthest away from mass reality and therefore probably won’t win. Hidden Figures is certainly the most enjoyable to look at and understand from an en masse point of view.   But La La Land is not only surreal and visually interesting – it has managed to capture something else in the minds of many – a kind of magic that feels like home to the majority. It doesn’t mean we’re right and you’re wrong. That we worship The Deity and you are heathens.

NOR, does it mean the reverse.

We’re talking movies and planets – each floating in their own solar systems. I mean, can you compare Uranus with Venus? Or would you be too embarrassed to even try? Well, if you wouldn’t be, you should be.

Crown or not, in the end we’re all the King and Queen of our Own Existence and the stars of our Own Movies.

The point is not to be swayed by someone else’s version of royalty. And to never genuflect

To anyone.

Inspiration Points

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If you’re in the entertainment industry and are particularly depressed about your career beware of the following thought as you tumble further down into the abyss:

I had hoped to inspire A LOT of people.

It’s embarrassing to admit one has these thoughts but, well, there it is.

The business part of show business is nothing if not about the accumulation of the A LOT – from audiences, to money, to attention, and to things, some of them even human.

Oh sure, we all have our own self-destructive reasons and the therapy bills that have unearthed them. But to simply inspire – maybe that’s not such a bad goal? And to some extent it is one of the almost guaranteed fringe benefits of the territory.

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

If you’re an art practitioner of any kind, anywhere, trust me at some point you will (and probably have) inspired someone – and probably more than one. You might not mean to but if the work is done right – or sometimes even wrongly – it will happen.

Of course, it might not be your work itself but your work ethic. Your determination and commitment to get things done. Though it can simply be just your output.   Whether or not it’s famous or you are. Which does not mean the famous aren’t inspiring. It’s merely to say sources of true inspiration come in all proportions and to various degrees – and in all sorts of sizes and shapes – from misshapen to minuscule to oversized. For in reality, to be or create an object of inspiration it is ironically really more about letting your work or you just be what or who it is.

I realized this long ago as a teacher and it admittedly satisfied the dark side of my “inspirational” desire. This is not conceit. Most, or at the very least, MANY teachers inspire. If you’re even halfway decent at it, it comes with the job. Usually you’re older and more experienced and your students are many young people whose specific task in those weeks and months is to learn – from YOU. It is inevitable that you will inspire one or two or more of them over the years. (Note: Which doesn’t make it feel any less good when it happens, by the way.)

Ok well we all can't be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

Ok, well, we all can’t be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

But let’s get back to inspiration and the industry that often claims it – show business. Truth be told, I never really loved the actual industry. Though I thought I did. Actually, I thought that I LOVED it. I really did. But once inside there are moments that cause it to lose its luster. While talents are appreciated and one needs a modicum level of talent to succeed (Note: Yes, even the ones you deem mediocre are way better than the mean), the upper echelon of success – the kind that comes with both inspiration and adulation – is a slippery slope. Many people who reside in this area are truly inspiring. But they also have to work hard to avoid the seductive part of being an adulated inspirer and not fall victim to the bottomless pit of it all.

Well, who among us are not up for some good seduction? There is something irresistibly appealing about anything that seduces. On the other hand, when you’re seduced into something that does not mean you are inspired by it. Being dazzled and being inspired are two different realities.

... and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

… and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

Dazzling implies being blinded – which means you are temporarily frozen. And what you are seeing is not entirely real. How can you be inspired by a reality that never existed?

Well, I suppose it’s possible, you say. This is what all the great works of fiction are about. I don’t think so. The truly great works do BOTH. They are not solely tales of smoke and mirrors. They are reflections of existence made of whole cloth. They have a weight. A ballast. They are not light and airy – though on some level, take the great romantic comedies of yesteryear – they can appear to be.

Marilyn Monroe – the movie star – wasn’t inspiring. But she sure was dazzling. Marilyn Monroe – the person – from everything I’ve read from before and after her death – truly was inspirational. And sad. Sometimes it is the trajectory of the journey – how and why she managed it – and where she made it to despite the greatest of odds against her. There is inspiration in that.

the world's candle in the wind

the world’s candle in the wind

Inspiration is not necessarily better than dazzling, by the way. Just different. Both are wonderful in their ways. What am I inspired by at the moment? I suppose Hillary Clinton. No, this is not a political ad. But really – how does she keep going at 68? How the heck does she persevere? Isn’t she, well, tired? Of the bullsh-t? I mean, if I am and you are, imagine how she feels.

I imagine Trump is not tired at all. Which is why, in my mind – dare I say it – he’s dazzling. He LOVES the show. You can see it when he speaks before large crowds. Not unlike the way Bruce Springsteen loves to play for three hour plus at a pop onstage (Note: I once saw The Grateful Dead jam for four plus hours at the Nassau Coliseum – at least I think I did – but that’s a different story).

The memories come streaming back...

The memories come streaming back…

But re Trump – a friend sent me an article about how when Hitler used to speak publicly before huge amounts of followers he’d actually have an orgasm. It feels more like that with some dazzlers, doesn’t it? Though we will never quite know for sure – or want to in this case.

Movies from the 70s inspire me. The Godfather, Network, Annie Hall and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. YES, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Watch it again as I recently did and marvel at how it was so far ahead of its time – and how timeless it remains. (Note: I get the reason for the upcoming remake but when this happens always ask yourself this ultimate question – Did they not get it right the first time?).

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Bette Midler live always manages a moment of inspiration. Anything Gaga is bound to occasionally – even among the misses, which is inevitably why someone can be inspiring to begin with, they dare to miss. The dialogue of Billy Wilder. Omg.   Certainly the prose Jonathan Franzen. Spending years on his lyrical novels of brilliant word combinations and storytelling (Note: Did you know he had his computer specifically dismantled from internet access so he could write in a room without?) when less and less people read. I’m sure it bothers him but I doubt that’s why he writes. Likely, he does it for all the same reasons everyone does, I imagine. He has something to say and he has to get it out. It’s not a choice, really. It’s that or somehow implode.

Which I guess is the key to being an inspiration. You do what you do for yourself. Without result. And let others make the call on how they feel about it. Which, as Stephen Sondheim once so eloquently wrote, they inevitably will.

Oh – I forgot about Michael Phelps. Did you watch him swim and win his 22d (and last individual) gold medal and become what is undeniably the great Olympian of all time? You have to.

Re-make Believe

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A significant part of pop culture has always come from remake and reinvention. Ask Madonna about Marilyn and Lady Gaga about Madonna. Or question The remaining Beatles about Little Richard. How about Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola on Akira Kurosawa?   Perhaps Brian DePalma vis-a-vis Alfred Hitchcock or Quentin Tarantino re Sergio Leone.

We all have our influences (and not all of them are good). One can’t help but be affected, consciously or not, by what has come before. In fact, even when you’re not appropriating, copying or paying homage it is likely the purely original idea you came up with has been done in some related form by someone else you don’t know about who is not you. As I’ve learned in therapy and in life, we human beings are individually unalike and yet collectively more similar than any of us suspect – or even want to admit. No wonder someone long ago – and probably long ago before that – said there is nothing new under the sun.

... and sometimes that's OK!

… and sometimes that’s OK!

And yet…

…It has come to my attention this week that we are drowning in… how can I say it… an unreality of make believe. This is not about remakes of endless superhero movies; the faux presidential daily vomits of The Republican Apprentice; or even the film version of one of the world’s most profitable gaming apps of all time – The Angry Birds Movie – debuting at THE #1 position at the box office this weekend. Nor is it about it achieving a B plus Cinemascore – which puts it far above the average college or high school graduate these days.

Instead, it is about a chipping away of the real. It concerns us not being able to separate the world of make believe and pretend with what really was or is – even when the truth is right before our eyes.

NBC’s The Voice – one of my favorite TV shows and one of America’s top 10 faves (Note: Clearly, I’m not the only one who fantasizes being a diva) – had a special event planned for its Tuesday finale show. And this would be a long planned duet between one of its star judges, Christina Aguilera and…WHITNEY HOUSTON. No really. They were going to duet – as in together sing – a melody of two of Ms. Houston’s most famous songs. At least that’s EXACTLY the way it was being billed.

American Idol featured Celine Dion with Elvis in 2007... so even THIS isn't an original idea!

American Idol featured Celine Dion with Elvis in 2007… so even THIS isn’t an original idea!

Yes, Ms. Houston did die more than four years and no, NBC has not made a deal with some 12 year-old prodigy who has figured out how to raise a living version of our most lauded dead. Well, not exactly. What did happen is that a 35 year old Greek billionaire and his ironically titled company, Hologram USA created a an image of Whitney Houston singing her signature I Have Nothing song and it was to alternate with Christina Aguilera singing I’m Every Woman. Unfortunately – or perhaps luckily – the duet was given the kibosh at the last moment by the Houston estate, which noted that with artists of the caliber of Ms. Houston it must be perfect and apparently it – was not. Of course, what it really IS – that’s anyone’s guess.

You'll have to save all your love for something else.

You’ll have to save all your love for something else.

Since writers are sticklers for a certain precision of words and/or language, may we be precise here? The planned performance was not an event television live duet between a living songstress and a deceased one. That is impossible. Instead it was an engineered medley between a flesh and blood person and an image/recording of a dead one.

A living thing cannot be real simply because we wish it to be so.

In the same way a lie cannot be true merely because we have chosen to think otherwise.

Gospel of Constanza

Gospel of Constanza

This is particularly important to remember in the 2016 election year – or for that matter any other year.

Engineering the past is a tried and true position every writer takes whenever they sit down to the page and come up with any story that is even vaguely personal. As artists, we tell a story and often that involves rewriting what is to a version of what you would want it to be or fantasize it was or could be. But it is sold as such – a fiction – an invention – it is not oddly positioned as some sort of 21st century – reality.

HBO debuted a very fine movie this weekend about the uneasy alliance between Pres. Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King’s fraught collaboration to pass civil rights legislation in the 1960s entitled All The Way. While it is a bit odd for us baby boomers to watch Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston pretending to be the drawling Texas president we remember as children it was also just as strange to view The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie saying made-up words in the cadence of a civil rights leader whose dulcet tones we can still recall in our mind’s eye all those years ago.

A different type of resurrection

A different type of resurrection

However, this has always been what film and television is about – an acted rendering of a version of reality. It’s not as if we’re watching current Pres. Barack Obama having a conversation with Dr. King and HBO advertising to the public that it is actually happening. Or that ABC has a Diane Sawyer special booked where she will indeed interview the late Pres. Johnson on what it was like fighting the powers-that-be in the first year of his presidential administration.

It is this next, not so subtle step in blurring the lines with a hologram that is not only a bit creepy but more than a bit dangerous. It’s one thing to attend the Mr. Lincoln exhibit in Disneyland but it is a whole other version of the stars and stripes when the world begins to think that it just spent 15 minutes with the most lauded and perhaps famous member of the centuries old Republican party. At that rate, one day we might not be able to recognize the grand old party or even its next president – or proposed president. Because by that time everything will be its own custom-made Disneyland – and carry as much truth as any image from Hologram USA.

Royalty

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I was dating someone in the music industry in 1981 and one night they excitedly put a cassette in a tape player that contained a song by an artist I’d never heard of. For those who don’t know or can’t remember what cassettes are, think of it this way:

  • Records
  • Reel-to-reel tape
  • Eight track tape
  • Cassette
  • CD
  • Downloadable content
  • Virtual Reality
  • Extinction
But probably this first

But probably this first

Anyway, that’s not the point and it only makes me, and perhaps some of you, feel right on the precipice. What is pertinent is that I thought my industry pseudo boyfriend, who worked for a company associated with Warner Bros., would lose his mind as he cued up the tape and gushed that the about-to-be-heard song was by this kid from Minnesota who did everything. He played every instrument; wrote, produced and mixed all of his own songs; performed them with abandon; had a gay androgynous look complete with makeup; and, most importantly, was quite short and sexy. Of course, me being massively insecure, in my early twenties and only 5’7” I immediately forgot the artist and appropriated the last two adjectives into a personal compliment – one that positively ensured my future with the Industry Guy.

This, of course, is something only someone in his or her twenties can or should be allowed to do – seeing the world totally in terms of yourself and appropriating free-floating compliments as your own. That is because it blinds you to the greatness of what’s right in front of you. In this case, it wasn’t the boyfriend (Ahem – that didn’t end well).  It was the artist….formerly known as Prince…who when he unexpectedly died on Thursday of this week was once again simply known as…

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His song was a nice little Prince ditty called Controversy and while I liked it I can’t honestly say I was overly impressed. Though after the 12th time it was played – yeah, this industry guy was nothing if not insistent about me sharing his opinion of things – I started to get it. And knew, at least this one time, he was right.

There was something about the beat, the repetitiveness of words – some of which I couldn’t even understand, the sometime squeaky yet tuneful multi-octave voice that sounded like nothing I’d ever really heard before. Eventually I couldn’t get the song or this kid/guy/artist/whatever Prince out of my head. And that was before I had actually read and studied the words:

I just can’t believe all the things people say/Controversy/

Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?/Controversy

Do I believe in god, do I believe in me?

Controversy/Controversy/Controversy

I can’t understand human curiosity/Controversy

Was it good for you, was I what you wanted me to be?/Controversy

Do you get high, does your daddy cry?

Controversy/Controversy/Controversy

Do I believe in god, do I believe in me?

Some people want to die so they can be free

I said life is just a game, we’re all just the same, do you want to play?

Yeah, oh yeah

Controversy/Controversy/Controversy/Controversy/Controversy/Controversy.

Just... mesmerizing

Just… mesmerizing

There are more verses but this sort of says it. He wasn’t quite drawing on the sexual fluidity of David Bowie, who came right before him, and he bore little resemblance to Michael Jackson – the other young Black, somewhat androgynous artist we had all grown up with. At that time, and probably at any time, there was never anything sexy about MJ no matter how often he grabbed his crotch and gyrated in later years. But Prince? He was kind of…dangerous? The embodiment of the performer you’d see if you snuck into the fantasy club your parents would never let you attend.

What made Prince special were so many things musical. As a writer he not only churned out hits for himself but handed off songs he had written to countless other performers that became their signatures – Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U and Manic Monday for The Bangles are just two examples. His live shows were massively colorful, even edgy theatre pieces with costumes that evoked a sort of schizoid mix of Liberace, Little Richard and James Brown. But even when he stripped things down, literally – they didn’t take a back seat to what he was singing or he and his bands were playing.

The many faces of Prince

The many faces of Prince

When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy, 1999, Kiss, Purple Rain.   I could go on and on for years and years – duets, solo records, thousands of hours of unreleased material he notoriously stocked that we may or may not hear one day. But again, you get the picture.

I guess what I want to say is what he did he did it. As himself.   Yet somehow maintained an enigma. Some people that knew him didn’t know him and others that did knew him well. But by all accounts, no one entirely knew him. As you can’t really know anyone. What a dichotomy in an age when we know too much about everybody – even those we don’t know.

There’s talent and then there’s egotism. Of course, there is a double edge to talent. Not everyone is brilliant at everything. No one could ever accuse him of being a great film director (Graffiti Bridge). Nevertheless, he won an Oscar. Some wouldn’t call him a great business person for signing a contract that he later felt enslaved him to WB Records and cause him to forgo his real name for a number of years when he asked people to refer to him as a symbol – and then simply The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. But that too he did with originality – whether we liked it or not.

Truly only he could get away with this

Truly only he could get away with this

Not every one of us is Prince. No one in fact. But we do all have the ability to chart our own path, listen to our own voice and forge our own journeys artistically and otherwise. At 5’2” he was the tallest guy in the room and there is always something sexy about that. Not the height – but the stature.

Movie Logic

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There are simple logistics of the movie business one must recognize if one is to venture creatively into the Hollywood film community.

The two #1 movies of the last month – Superman vs. Batman and Zootopia – have so far together grossed $1.5 BILLION worldwide at the theatrical box-office. To be more USA centric – for certainly part of our responsibilities as US citizens is to make all things American at least SEEM great again – this includes almost $300 million apiece for each film in tickets sold here (Note: And in Canada but isn’t that a mere technicality and certainly beside the point?).

Not if it means I get to post a picture of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau

Not if it means I get to post a picture of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau

I have not seen the much-maligned S vs. B because at this point in life (and having been a movie critic in one of my many past lives) I get the appeal and deserve credit for time already served. As for the big Z, I have attended at the desperate urging of my students and found it to be a perfectly lovely experience that was smart, funny and has something to say worth listening to. Certainly not in the vein of Spotlight, 12 Years A Slave or, well, Sophie’s Choice, but hey, Viva La Difference!, right?

Two movies I have seen in the last two weeks fall into different categories and fates and their titles are Midnight Special and The Fundamentals of Caring. Never heard of them? Well, how can that be?

Midnight Special has also been in theatres for almost a month and its writer-director Jeff Nichols was responsible for the very well reviewed indie film of several years ago – Mud – starring recent Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey. As for Fundamentals – okay, it hasn’t been released yet. But if you’re at all a movie fan you might have heard it was one of the big success stories of this year’s Sundance Film Festival where Netflix picked it up for a near record $7 million. Not to mention, its directed by longtime David Letterman producer Rob Burnett and stars one of our not that currently numerous comedy movie stars, Paul Rudd.

Ahem... the AGELESS Paul Rudd #howdoeshedoit

Ahem… the AGELESS Paul Rudd #howdoeshedoit

How I felt about the latter two films (Note: They each have their charms) is less important than the fact that they will generate a slight fraction of the revenue of the first two I mentioned and probably equally that much in buzz and recognition by general audiences. That, in fact, is not a failure on the part of either of the two films. More simply, it is reality.

Midnight Special works on a narratively unusual storyline that even the NY Times movie critic managed to circumvent in his recent review. But since this certainly isn’t the Times, here’s how I’d put it –

It’s a film about a father and son on the run pursued by both the government and members of a cult they are escaping from, each of whom want something very special from them. Beliefs of the supernatural, of religious cultism, and of governmental overreach and villainy come into play but what’s really at play is how much you love your own family and how much and what you’d do to save them.

Catch Michael Shannon in Midnight Special before his next staring role as Elvis (really)

Catch Michael Shannon in Midnight Special before his next staring role as Elvis (really)

That sounds kind of timely, right? Well, Warner Bros. must have thought so since it’s their film. Which they’ve slowly rolled out to release in…493 theatres (Note: Z and S vs B have each been in 4000 plus screens) – where it’s grossed just $1.4 million nationally.

As for The Fundamentals of Caring, it’s based on a best-selling novel and is the kind of comedy-drama they used to make when I was young (it was the seventies and the movie business was having one of its small handful of GOLDEN ages). This merely means Hollywood, and in turn the world, were making the kind of content (Note: Ugh, there’s that word again) that we would all be nostalgically longing for decades, and likely centuries, later.

Its plot? I’ll let IMDB speak to that one:

A man suffering an incredible amount of loss enrolls in a class about care giving that changes his perspective on life.

Though, well, that kind of doesn’t do it. In reality, it’s a funny comic road movie – sort of My Left Foot meets Harry and Tonto meets Summer of ’42 – that doesn’t drown in bathos and gives its young teenage hero a chance to flirt with and at the very least kiss (Note: Uh, no spoilers here!) one of the current it girls of every teenage boys’ dreams – Selena Gomez.

Sundance darling (eat your heart out, Beebs)

Sundance darling (eat your heart out, Beebs)

I managed to see it as the opening night film of the Atlanta Film Festival where its director proudly announced Netflix would indeed be giving it a real and true THEATRICAL release later this year before it can be streamed for the entire world to see.

But, well, uh – isn’t that a given? Not really. Actually, not at all.

I purposely have resisted giving my own review of the above two character-drama movies because these are the kind of films I would have written at one time and, actually, still might or could write. So not only am I a snob here but, well – I want you to LIKE them because I want more of them to get made and fear any slight negative thing I might say about them (Note: Not that there are any!) might be some part of some additional nail in their commercial coffins.

Still, this much I know to be true –

You can’t expect to be considered a Hollywood play-uh if you create these properties in the same way Zack Snyder (S vs. B) or Disney (Zootopia) are. Ever. Not even close. The 2016 world doesn’t work that way no matter how much you know and love Francois Truffaut, Andrei Tarkovsky or, well, even Pedro Almodovar.

We agree Paul... it sucks

We agree Paul… it sucks

Again, no value judgment and fortunately there will always be a future Almodovar or Truffaut or Tarkovsky. Not to mention, Alan Pakula (Sophie’s Choice) or Tom McCarthy (Spotlight). But theatrically they will be even scarcer than they already are. And you might find them working on many of the current and developing smaller screens creating content – (Note: Oh, how I LOATHE that word – it sounds like materials you find in a corporate travel brochure) – to be consumed, well, everywhere.

Of course, none of this is news but it is worth remembering and pounding into one’s brain if one is to at all have any at all realistic sense of where things stand and what the future holds. To be educated and forewarned is to be forearmed and smarter navigating the reality of yours and our futures. We need the makers of films like Fundamentals, Midnight, Spotlight, Mud and, yes, even Sophie’s Choice – not to mention Zootopia and your superhero of choice – if we ever are to make America truly great again.

Yes, I’m talking about diversity, choices – the true land of freedom and opportunity – at least as far as entertainment and culture is concerned. That would be a society where any idea, indeed anything one chooses – might just become a reality – for any one of us.