The Real Tycoons

I hadn’t planned on binge watching Amazon’s The Last Tycoon.   But it’s set in 1930s Hollywood and stars Matt Bomer as the first young genius studio exec – a guy who is impossibly handsome, a virtuoso at story, Jewish and…wait for it…manages in his own Tinsletown way to fight the Nazis. One might say this was MADE for ME.

Jon Hamm who? #justkidding #maybe

Besides, I desperately needed an escape from Trump and Mooch – two neighborhood bullies from Queens/Long Island, my home turf, whom I’ve fought all of my life to avoid, escape and, ultimately, defeat.

Yes, it’s a bit sobering to realize that despite years of positive experiences, therapy and a life you personally deem a success, that somewhere deep down many of us (Note: Okay, I) still carry around the anger and childhood scars of hurt that our tormenters managed to cavalierly foist on us decades before. Not to mention a deep-seated need to not only defeat them but pulverize their smug, mealy-mouthed faces of capped pearly whites far down below Middle Earth.

I’m with you Liz Lemon!

On the other hand, to recognize this is, to an extent, to be freed of it. You can’t fight people like Donald Trump and Anthony Scaramucci until you realize exactly who they are and what they represent to you. For me, it’s a uniquely New York brand of self-assured macho know-nothingness. A dictatorial, cavalier expression of selfish id that they think entitles them to rule the roost of the neighborhood –which in 2017 terms means the world.

#help

When the Mooch, Electoral Potus’ new “communications director” (Note: If that meant orangutans were interpreters of logic for chimpanzees), this week publically spewed (via a reporter for The New Yorker, no less!) that soon to be ex-White House Chief of staff Reince Priebus was a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and that White Supremacist/Electoral Potus consigliore Steve Bannon was nothing like him because The Mooch wasn’t interested in “sucking my own cock” I wasn’t particularly taken aback. Instead, I was actually back in the old neighborhood. Because that’s EXACTLY how I remembered these cretins talking when I was a teenager.   The difference is at that time I imagined the most either of them would amount to was working behind the deli counter or selling real estate on Queens Blvd. as they chased the grown up versions of the gals with overly processed hair that I worked with at the neighborhood stationary store. I never thought, even in my wildest nightmare, that they could become the defacto leaders of what was once referred to as the Free World.

Is this real life???

I mean, if you would have told me that one of them would have actually become president by cozying up with Russian propagandists – and when in office recall a sex orgy story when addressing a large group of pubescent boy scouts – or egg on a gathering of Long Island police officers to better brutalize the “animals” they arrest as a personal favor to him….

Well, I couldn’t have imagined it. Even in my sickest, most secret fantasy, which, trust me, was quite a bit wilder then than any one is now.

(Note: Oh, and know that there’s nothing wrong with Queens Blvd. real estate sales or slicing pastrami for lunch customers at the local A & P if you at least do it with aplomb and some small measure of decency).

Ain’t nothing decent about this bro

It seems highly unlikely that when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his novel The Last Tycoon in the 1930s that he could have ever imagined two crude pinheaded asshats the likes of Scaramucci and Trump in an Oval Office that was for so long occupied by a leader with the brains, stature and heart of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Still, even back then Fitzgerald – not to mention the expanded story in the Amazon series – understood the idea of reinvention and repackaging for the masses. In Fitzgerald’s world, a working class Jewish guy from the Bronx named Milton is enveloped by the biz of show and emerges as a handsome Wasp named Monroe with all the money, gals and glamour you could shake a camera at.

I mean.. does the man have a bad angle? #askingforafriend

This falls in line with so many of us in the entertainment industry still, people who came from anywhere-but-here to pursue our dreams and mold ourselves into something more than what we were led to believe by the neighborhood bullies that we would ever be.

However what is sobering beyond belief at the moment is that very nitwits we sought to show up have somehow pulled the rug out from under us via their cynical use of media and money in order to run the show as the worst rotting version of their true selves.

OK.. I’m not that far gone, I promise #closethough

Scaramucci came from Wall Street and was a hedge fund manager with reportedly all the baggage and questionable morality those words imply. Trump was the scion of a New York real estate mogul who made money discriminating against minorities and followed his father’s lead making tens of millions by openly refusing to pay vendors for services rendered, declaring no less than five bankruptcies and propping up his flagging empire through an indecipherable (and to date unknowable) web of loans from questionable foreign banks and billionaire oligarchal sources.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

This would be enough for another unfinished Fitzgerald-like novel without both of their current third acts. For instead of reinventing themselves in a slicker, more tailored package for the masses, both of these goombas have doubled down on the coarse sociopathic aspects of their torturous personalities.

Trump, in particular, saw an opening among the disenfranchised – both working class and suburban class; religious, traditional-minded and yes, in some cases racist – and packaged himself a super villain torturer of anyone or anything that has ever done them wrong in the past or dares to in the future.   The sexism, the cynicism, the racism, the rejection of facts and education for emotion and id marshaled on behalf of the FORGOTTEN.

AHHHHHHHH!

It’s like having your own PERSONAL BULLY. And who better than an actual bully – the real unleashed Trump of each and every decade gone by, including his adolescence, to play the role? It’s like when they cast Dr. Haing S. Gnor, himself a Cambodian refugee, to play a fictional Cambodian refugee in the 1984 movie The Killing Fields. He was so believable and so riveting that to this day he is still the only Asian American actor to have ever won an Oscar as best supporting actor.

Trump, of course, has graduated to lead actor but sadly this is real life and at this point it seems crystal clear he is not pretending. This is who he is, was and will be and what we see unfolding is what he has wrought.

Which is why this week I preferred just for a few hours to live in a world where a Jewish kid from the boroughs could actually grow up to be smarter and more successful than any American bully imaginable, ruling a make-believe world of the most beautiful dreams imaginable – a place where the good triumphed and the bad guys were captured and then forced to pay the piper instead of preaching from the bully pulpit.

And doing all this — I look exactly like Matt Bomer.

Too many pics of Bomer? Not possible

Of course, that is precisely why we need dreams – to aspire to something more – and yes, higher – than what we currently are – as we work towards making that ideal a reality.

Not vice-versa.

Green Day – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”

Chair in Progress

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words (and likely a thousand blogs). The above picture perfectly captures the feelings of The Chair this week, as he navigates through his own deadlines while keeping up with our current political/pop-culture landscape — a mix of controlled chaos, improvisation, and determination to get it together. That being said, The Chair is taking a well-deserved break to refocus and will be back next week to dissect the spooky, scary world we live in today (this year the “Great Pumpkin” has new meaning).

In the meantime, here are some 1,000 words/blogs worthy photos of the week — though some might say they render them speechless.

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Me Too

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Ever have that moment when you realize you have about 20 tabs open in your internet browser? And you can’t quite remember why they are all open – I mean, you can’t be paying attention to all of them… can you? Well that’s the Chair this week. And instead of 20 tabs open, let’s make it 100.

100-tabs

That being said, the Chair is taking time to give his undivided attention to the scripts of his many, many students — giving detailed notes on all of their original screenplays and tv pilots (haven’t quite figured out that automatic download to the brain, but more on that later).

But fear not, the Chair will be back next week where he will have a lot to say — just not about script notes, because well, he’ll be spent on that score. In the meantime, pump up the volume and listen to this new jam from Meghan Trainor — a pop diva in the making (or perhaps already made?) — who made headlines this week for standing up to body-shaming photoshoppers who dared to mess around with her waistline in this upbeat, self-confident anthem (irony much?).

Till next week….

Aretha, Charlie, and Doll Sex?

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Watching Charlie Kaufman’s new film Anomalisa this weekend I couldn’t help flashing back to Aretha Franklin’s diva-perfect performance of Carole King’s “Natural Woman” on this year’s Kennedy Center Honors. Ms. Franklin so astounded me that I alternately shouted at the TV and sat slack-jawed speechless for what seemed like a full 10 minutes of her just over four minute performance. And before you chalk it up to my over-the-top gay reaction (Note: That moment when she dropped the floor length mink coat, I know) understand that Ms. King herself stood, shouted, pointed and cheered almost the entire time while the usually too-cool-for-school Pres. Obama, seated a mere five feet away, wiped tears away from his eyes over what he was seeing, fist-pumping the air in glee.

How in the world does this at all relate to a stop-motion animated film like Anomalisa and to Mr. Kaufman, who for several decades has been my favorite voice in the Hollywood screenwriting game? I’m still trying to process that.

Though I think it has something to do with another one of Ms. Franklin’s iconic hits – “Respect.

I can tell were going to need a dictionary definition on this one.

Re·spect

noun  1. 
a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”the director had a lot of respect for Douglas as an actor”

verb  2.
 to admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” “she was respected by everyone she worked with”

This is all to say that at any moment someone or something you greatly admire, adore – nee respect – can leave you reduced to a puddle of joy or wallowing in a sea of confusion and resentment.

Oh, Anomalisa. If I wanted to see stop-motion puppets having real life sex I would…seriously, there is no chance of that. Except in this case I found myself viewing it voluntarily. Suffice it to say animated/doll sex is far better in one of my friend Don Mancini’s Child’s Play/Chucky movies or on random episodes of Archer and/or South Park.

Made for each other

Made for each other

Are we all that isolated these days that the new frontier is that we have to see our romantic lives played out as if we were in a 2015 virtual version of a neo-Realist Italian film? Have “live” people gotten too scary or, dare I say it, cliché? Cause I swear, if Kaufman is turning into the more ironic alternative to 21st century Terrence Malick I’m gonna scream.

Of course, have to implies this was involuntarily. I suppose I could have left at any moment. But c’mon, it’s Charlie. So much as I find the bizarre pseudo humanness of stop-motion incredibly creepy and strange to so little personal effect (that is to say, on me) I stayed.

Probably the worst review

And I found myself wondering, is the skeevy factor just another Kaufman-esque meta element? Like, we as a society have reached a sort of nadir of solitary creepiness that can only be truly represented by something less (or more?) than human? Or am I just overthinking all of this and have been tricked into taking an experimental ride with my favorite screenwriter that is making me nauseous and unsatisfied yet determined to complete. Well, maybe a little bit of both.

Which is probably as it should be. At least that’s what I try to teach my students. And tell myself.

Certainly, there is a lot more to Anomalisa than watching less than human yet quite human images engage in what is passing for new millennial coitus. But I was far more comfortable and satisfied with Spike Jonze’s Her because even I could imagine myself falling for my computer in my most lonely, neurotic moments if it were voiced by Scarlett Johansson. And yes, you read that correctly. She is pan-sexually appealing – vocally, that is. And far more interesting than any cartoon visualization.

This just works

This just works

Still, is comfort really the point these days? Is that what it’s come to? Lulling yourself into your cocoon where you only feel protected within a world of, if not your own ideas, an absence of all those that on first thought bore or offend or, plain and simply, just annoy you?

I don’t have to think about the last question because it’s haunted me since I left the movies, p.o.’d at Charlie.

This brings to mind that time I went to see Aretha Franklin in concert once in the late 1990s. (Note: See how I did that?) To say that she seemed to have little or no desire to even be on that Wilshire Blvd. stage would be an understatement. In fact, I doubt if she spent more than 45-50 minutes in total singing to us all night. Not to mention that in almost all of that time she could only be heard in tandem with backup singers.  All told I’d say, erring on the side of generosity, a total of 8 bars was probably sung on her own – and that’s on every song combined.

Uh... we came to hear YOU sing, Ms. Franklin.

Uh… we came to hear YOU sing, Ms. Franklin.

Did this mean the voice of my and everyone else’s generation at that time was a phony and not worthy of our admiration (Note: Not to mention the small fortune most of us had spent up to that point on all of her albums, eight tracks and then CDs)? Hardly. Merely that we caught her on the wrong night or at the wrong time in her life.

This, of course, didn’t stop me from holding a grudge. I don’t think I listened to a note from anything of hers for at least two years. Yeah, that showed her. And perhaps there are even a handful of a few stubborn others who still refuse to listen. Their loss.

One off moment, concert, year or even decade doesn’t mean much at all no matter what the reason. Only that in that moment, it – or they – didn’t work for you. I learned that this week from Ms. Franklin. And I truly learned it once again from Anomalisa, which I still find myself thinking about despite my better judgment.

Don’t take that as a recommendation. Merely an admission.

The Sun Will Come Up…

TOMORROW!

Or next Sunday, that is.

After weeks of typing furiously behind his computer screen, the Chair has finally cranked out a polished first draft of a project to be discussed later (oh you get no spoilers now).
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That being said, he is spent… and while he’d love to give you his take on the current pop culture and political moment (I mean, Trump danced on SNL, and Ben Carson might be a sociopath, there is ample opportunities here), he’s “taking five” until next Sunday.

In the meantime, enjoy a different Annie — definitely cooler than that clever little redhead.