The Art of Art

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As the year closes, many of us serial commenters feel compelled to do a 10 Best (or Worst) list. They both have their charms, depending on your mood. Certainly the latter is more fun to write even if it cuts into all the good karma you’ve accrued in the world thus far.

Still, at this point in my life and on this particular year I’m feeling a bit more benevolent and quite a bit more appreciative. For what?   Well, a lot of things. (Note: I will not be listing them all, don’t worry). But certainly being alive is one.

There are lots of bullets one dodges as time marches on and at no time does this become more crystal clear than when you look in the mirror or view the lives of others around you. The former is a particularly sobering fact. No matter how fabulous you look it eventually becomes apparent to even the least introspective person in the universe at odd moments that you will not withstand the test of time. And even more sobering is the undeniable reality that this can all change faster than the actual announced winner of Miss Universe 2015 if the karmic gods deem it so.

The mere fact that you are still living, breathing and thriving – even in all your imagined or real misery? Well, that also puts you ahead of a large group of others on the planet once you average it all out and divide it by the appropriate number. Watch the news or realistically consider each and every one of your friends and acquaintances, if you don’t believe me. You can even throw in a few of the sworn enemies you are perpetually jealous of – though not The Republican Apprentice. He deserves neither your jealousy nor even one moment of your consideration – for anything.

Your damn right Chairy!

Your damn right Chairy!

This being the case, I wanted to close 2015 by saying thanks and honoring one very large group. And that is all of the artists out there. The great ones, the good ones, the average ones, the not so good ones and… well, as I’ve said, I’m not doing a worst list but if I were and you were – well, you can even count in those too.

It’s the artists that have kept me – all of us – going up to this point in time and I suspect they will continue to do so for the rest of my (our) future(s).

Films, television, music, books, newspapers, paintings, home furnishings – in your hands or virtually – there are actual real people out there who do all of that. At some point it’s all a blank. Until someone sits down or stands up somewhere and has the courage, or anger, or bravado to say to us – here, this is what I think. Take it or leave it. Whether you like it or not.

Be bold

Preach

It’s not an easy thing to do and it’s a really difficult feat to do well. It may even be a necessary thing to do for many of us, you or them who do it – a way of survival, a type of selfish coping that has its own side benefits – but that doesn’t make it any more simple or less hard. It takes time, energy, determination, study and at the end of the day, a fair amount of bravery – especially if you’re planning to be honest and thus risk the wrath and mass condemnation of others. Remember, at the point of origin the screen is empty. Like –- there is nothing there. At. All. Try staring into the night sky and take away the stars and all traces of weather –- then pour black paint on it –- and you might have some approximation. Or do it in the daytime and make it all white. Depending on your mood/s.

This holiday week I was watching Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong (co-creator of the brilliant, massively successful American Idiot album and Broadway musical) on a rerun from earlier this year of the 2015 Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies. He was accepting his honor after being inducted into this rare group and recounting his love affair with music. The Beatles, Elvis – even Kool and the Gang as a kid– he heard them all and a lot more growing up thanks to his siblings and extended family. And he loved it all and it soon became apparent to him that this was his world. That would be music – not creating one of the premiere breakthrough crossover punk bands and album/cds in history – that would come later.

Just a couple of (legendary) punks

Just a couple of (legendary) punks

And – he worked at it from the time he met one of his bandmates in the fifth grade. Yeah, he did the drugs, engaged in all the requisite, cliché misbehaviors (including many stints in rehab and numerous other episodes of self-indulgence) and has had more than his share of hits and misses. But after he played his 15 minute set with his group one had to marvel at just how edgily perfect they remain more than 25 years later. How do they/does he do it? Aside from the obvious talent, the answer lied in the rest of his speech. As he looked out in the audience at a sea of still alive musical icons and got almost teary-eyed as he gave a shout out to Patti Smith for her seminal LP Horses that he listened to as a kid. Right after his drummer, Trey Cool (yeah, that’s his name), met the gaze of Ringo Starr and thanked him profusely for being one of his true inspirations.

And so it goes, for all of us. Whether we’re inducted into the rock ‘n roll Hall of Fame or not. Whether we’re even any good or not.   We get there on the shoulders and backs and through the minds of others.

No matter how big you get, fangirling is forever

No matter how big you get, fangirling is forever

Last night I re-watched That’s Entertainment – a brilliant 1974 movie that is essentially a clip collection of classic MGM musicals introduced by classic movie stars of the time including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney and, as a surrogate for her mother Judy Garland – Liza Minnelli. It’s an era that will never return again: movies from the 1930s – early 1960s – a timeless American era that will forever define a certain kind of cinema that will certainly live on hundreds of centuries after all of our worried looks into the mirror or at the news on television are long gone. I love musicals and I suppose they’re not for everyone – except those movies, on some level, truly are. Even if it’s not your thing, how do you not admire and remain fascinated by Astaire dancing, Eleanor Powell tapping, Judy Garland singing? Or the optics of Busby Berkeley directing?

Berkeley keeps us hypnotized

Berkeley keeps us hypnotized

What you learn watching That’s Entertainment are the endless hours, days, weeks and months these artists labored at their craft. (Note: Needless to say, this was mostly a time before strict union rules – or overly enforced ones either for stars or mere contract players). The repetition, the trial and error, the dedication and yes, sheer push, drive and obsession of the studios and artists to do beyond their best created the kinds of big screen results that will endure long beyond what I’m writing and you’re reading here – or from anyone, anywhere else today.

I fear we’re losing a bit of that these days. It’s not that we all don’t work hard but that kind of intense single-mindedness – shutting out the rest of the world to be immersed in your craft – is it all even possible anymore? How do you shut it all out? The stimulation? The endless bombardment of information? Can you? Will it ever be the case again? I somehow feel as if I doubt it. Perhaps the answer is to simply include it and come up with something else. Or a newer form altogether. Perhaps that is happening already. In fact, I’m sure it already has. Even as we write or speak.

Andy knew what was up

Andy knew what was up

So yeah, Spotlight, Trumbo and Room were terrific for me – and I have high hopes for Hateful Eight and the new Star Wars. I love that Homeland regained its footing and thrilled me with one of the best villains on TV this season while this 22 year old overweight nerdy kid named Jordan Smith on The Voice made my mouth drop wide open when he reinvented Freddie Mercury’s Somebody to Love and bounced Adele off the #1 spot on ITunes. Plus, we haven’t even gotten to Adele. Hello.

Oh and don't forget to buy the world a coke!

Oh and don’t forget to buy the world a coke!

Yes, all of them did truly inspire . But there’s a much bigger group out there that includes many of us – as fellow creators, listeners, fans or passersby. We might disagree about the best and the worst but getting to experience all of it – even the misfires we dish – it is what ultimately unites – rather than divides us.

The Republican Apprentice notwithstanding. Always.

Happy 2016.

Your Evil Empire

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I received an email the other day that the Center Theatre Group will be presenting the first ever L.A. production of David Mamet’s 2009 Broadway play, Race, at the end of the month. Now, normally when there’s a new (or even newish) Mamet I’m there. Even if the play doesn’t quite work for me, Mamet’s a master provocateur and always writes about stuff that either interests me greatly or fascinates me deeply, albeit from a safe distance.

Yet I found myself physically recoiling at the idea of giving Mr. Mamet even one nickel since he’s turned into a right wing conservative and gone on a diatribe against brain dead Hollywood liberals. Not that I’m in an upper enough tier of Hollywood to even be considered as such but, well, I do live here, am a writer and most certainly am and always will be a LIBERAL.

Oh honey, going on Fox News... really?

Oh honey, going on Fox News… really?

By the way, many friends of my parents’ assured me this would change as I got older but it has not yet occurred – nor do I ever expect it to. Perhaps this is because when they said it they didn’t realize I was gay and thus failed to take into account the unlikelihood of me ever belonging to a political party that legislatively hates the idea that I exist. Well, what else am I to think when the overwhelming majority of the literature and leading voices from the Republican Party – an umbrella coven for conservatives that comprises one half of all major political covens parties (that would be two) in the U.S. – throw a major temper tantrum every time a new law is amended or passed guaranteeing me the same rights as everyone else?

Of course, what are they and any of us to make of the approximately 1 out of 5 LGBT Americans who still belong to said coven and, when confronted with the paradox, claim to be working for change from within? How do I know they answer this way? Well, that’s the response I’ve gotten for approximately 25 years of asking the question calmly. If any other excuses were offered I was probably seething, yelling or being physically restrained from strangulation (Note: theirs) at the time so I might not have heard them.

The gospel according to Kathy

The gospel according to Kathy

But back to Mr. Mamet and the five pennies of royalties (I’m estimating the amount based on his shelf full of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for drama) he will not be getting from me this time.

I do realize I am being a bit short sighted here. I mean, how are any of us to rectify our political and social points of view with our choices as consumers? For instance, I vowed I would never ever buy Barilla pasta again since last year their CEO proclaimed gays unfit to raise children — and haven’t. Yet last weekend I conveniently forgot this and a box of their multigrain rotini snuck into my basket at Gelson’s because I wanted to make something healthier and lighter for Sunday night dinner and the Significant Other wanted his favorite tomato eggplant toss to cheer him up.

Well at least after this week's news, I can go back to Target!

Well at least after this week’s news, I can go back to Target!

This summer a friend brought my attention to the website hollowverse.com, which has massive lists of the political and religious affiliations of the rich and famous in show biz and other bizzes. This dear friend, who is even more liberal than myself if such a thing is possible – and most certainly more virulently vocal about it (which doesn’t seem possible but is) – will do whatever is necessary to avoid the work of any single person on the list who voted against his beliefs. And if they do appear in or make something he does have an interest in seeing or buying he will be begrudgingly hard on them and their work now and in the future – voicing his disdain for them to whoever he meets – meaning many, many, many people. I can’t say I haven’t done this and still don’t continue to do so at times. On the other hand, I find it quite tiring at other moments and just want to turn it all off and put on HGTV – a place where no one has politics and everyone advocates for an open concept, or at least secretly longs for one.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

The other problem with that website, as I pointed out to my friend, is that like all websites it markets in the occasional inaccuracy. Case in point: it lists Anderson Cooper contributing to the Republican Party and, by inference, claims he is a member of that coven.

Trust me, Anderson Cooper is NOT a Republican,! I insist to my friend.

He’s gay, he’s best friends with Kathy Griffin, and he lives in New York. Plus, I know someone who used to sleep with him (Note: Which gay guy in America doesn’t) and, well, he would have mentioned something.

When my friend still wasn’t buying it I pulled out the Trump (not Donald) card:

Listen, he’s a Vanderbilt and is probably on one of their boards that contributed and his name got attached. Seriously!

I mean... this is who he's photographed with. Let's be real, people.

I mean… this is who he’s photographed with. Let’s be real, people.

That seemed to calm him down but only slightly and I’m not sure it will hold in the long term. Unfortunately, it also got me to thinking – what if I’m wrong? Well, thank God (or whoever you imagine Her to be), AC doesn’t have a show on HGTV or I would be in serious trouble.

Of course, when Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon came out vociferously against the Iraq War in the post-9/11 climate, they were lambasted in much of the mainstream media, referred to as anti-American by many others on the fringe (Note: Is there a worse epithet from the extreme right wing except maybe being gay, poor, an immigrant or an unwed mother on food stamps?) and, as a result, their star power suffered.

Then there’s Jane Fonda – who has still not been forgiven by a group of my friends’ more conservative fathers for her virulent opposition to the Vietnam War. Forget that the years have pretty much proven all three of them correct – well at least in my unbiased left wing opinion.

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

Yes, we can take this further and we will. What about………………..…Woody Allen?

Do you not go to any of his movies if you believe any of the accusations hurled at him about his personal life by his estranged daughter Dylan Farrow; his ex-long term girlfriend, her mother Mia Farrow; and his estranged son, MSNBC’s Ronan (formerly Satchel) Farrow? (Note: The latter could conceivably be Frank Sinatra’s child in the final analysis, making his expertise on the subject almost beside the point, though the circumstances of his birth certainly could contribute as to whether members of any coven at all believe the accusations (or anything else) coming from the mouth of mother Mia).

Oy vey! I don't think Ronan's jewish!

Oy vey! I don’t think Ronan’s jewish!

Well, if I were a character in one of Mr. Allen’s movies I might avoid answering the question altogether and say this:

I don’t feel entirely comfortable equating Woody Allen to the artistic works of, say, Leni Riefenstahl – who filmed aesthetically seductive Nazi imagery under the protective wing of Adolph Hitler and German nationalism in the 1930s. Still, is her work on Triumph of the Will and Olympia 1 & 2 any less, well – beautiful – because what it sells is abhorrent? Can’t you admire the art while repeatedly hitting the artist with 3 dozen baseball bats and a sack of manure until she dies, you nihilist you?

I found myself making this very argument in my mind last week with all the publicity surrounding the HBO broadcast of its Nixon by Nixon – a documentary that included never released secret tapes from the former president. (Note: Yes, there were more of them). I really loathed the guy and his politics, even as a young teenager. He smeared Helen Gahagan Douglas in order to win his first seat in the US Senate; hated the free press and sought to control it; and sold the country a non-existent bill of goods about a secret plan to end the Vietnam War in order to get elected president in 1968, taking four years plus to do it as many thousands of young men died needlessly. Not to mention finally capping it all off with using an illegal financial slush fund and his vast presidential powers in order to spy on political opponents via the Watergate break-in and then lying about it, thus bringing down his presidency and almost the entire country in the process.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Dick!

Happy 40th Anniversary… DICK

Add to that the guy was a classic Jew hater (Copyright Woody Allen) as confirmed on his new (and old) tapes, his “friendship” with Henry Kissinger notwithstanding.

Nevertheless, as a young man I still did watch the entire 1977 broadcast of Nixon’s multi-part interview with David Frost about all things Nixon, including Watergate – and waited for him to say anything to make me understand where he was coming from at the time. So I did and still do want both sides. But with some people or in some cases we all finally just have to say ourselves:

Enough is enough and really, I have little to no interest in you or the warped POV you rode in on anymore.

This is not necessarily a good thing and the truth is I will probably weaken and watch at least a portion of Nixon by Nixon at some point because I like to stay current.  Yet this also doesn’t mean I have ever quite forgiven Diane Sawyer for going to work for Nixon in the White House (as a press aide from 1970-1974) through the writing of his memoirs in her younger days and then using that experience to advance her career. In fact, it’s always caused a larger dollop of doubt in my mind about anything she’s said as a news anchor despite her sweet as silk, honey-dripping delivery and smile. Yeah, she married Mike Nichols and show business friends who know her tell me I’m being ridiculous, petty and small-minded because I’d really like her if we met. And to this I answer:

I might be ridiculous and petty but someone with a truly small mind would not remember the fact that she worked to maintain and then rehabilitate the image of the most corrupt president in US history. AND got paid handsomely for it.

I just can't shake the "ick" factor here.

I just can’t shake the “ick” factor here.

Of course, everyone we support (even ourselves) has probably said or done something we disagree with or perhaps loathe. Certainly every time we buy a product manufactured by a corporation or large institution we put what little is left of our high-minded moral principles in jeopardy because if some magical fairy (Note: Not Me) were able to take the time to learn ALL the facts about what we just bought or who we bought it from, the world economy and everyone in it would come to a disquieting and paralyzing standstill.  I’m thinking Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream might be one of the rare exceptions, though that too could be wishful thinking. After all, there must be a conservative, anti-gay version of the two hippies who built that billion dollar empire somewhere in this world – though perhaps none living in Vermont who made their fortunes making highly fattening dessert items. Still, I can’t quite claim to know any of that for sure.

What I do know is that I have zero plans to see the new Mamet play at the Kirk Douglas Theatre this month or any other month, at least for right now. That’s MY five cents – for what it’s worth. It may or may not concern Mr. Mamet in the long run but is certainly not going to him any time soon.