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”

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People, GET IT TOGETHER

Joe Biden is Hillary 2.0 and Al Gore 3.0!  His time has passed!

Elizabeth Warren can’t win! Her voice is shrill and Republicans hate her!

Gay South Bend Mayor Pete demoted his Black chief of police for illegally wire-tapping his officers.  He’s Mr. White Privilege!  And not gay enough, anyway!

Oh, and don’t get me started on Bernie Sanders! We call him the liberal Trump.  Did you know he wants to let rapists, not to mention the Boston Marathon bomber, vote?? AND he’s a socialist!  I don’t know if even I could vote for that!

And did you know Amy Klobuchar is so nasty to her staff that when one of them forgot to get her a fork for her salad she pulled out her comb and made them sit there as she scooped her salad onto it?  Yes, and then, when she was done, barked, “Clean it!” right at them.  She’s not a president, she’s a harridan!

Oh that old chestnut…

And Beto O’Rourke???  Ugh, he’s so annoying!! I don’t know why but he’s SO ANNOYING!! Mr. Mom who never stays home!  And it’s like, WHO IS HE?????

But Kamala Harris.  As if someone from near San Francisco is ever gonna be president.  Plus she’s Black AND Indian AND married to a white Jewish guy!  Grow the f up!  Do you even know what country you’re living in these days???  Donald Trump is the president!!!!

I am sooo tired of all of this and the election is 18 months away.  Heck, even the first Democratic primary is not until Feb. 3 in Iowa.

Who will help me get through this???

Or course the bigger question is WHO will help US?

Strength in numbers??

Yes, I know only we can help ourselves.  We are the change we’ve been waiting for.   I get it.  I’ve been to therapy.  Both the personal kind and the Obama kind.

Still, the fact remains…I can’t.  I’m tired, I’m cranky and I’m pissed off with people who share most of my political views.  And I refuse to watch a THREE-HOUR Avengers movie.  One was enough for me and I can’t even recall which one I did see.

But now it’s THREE HOURS???

Why are we paying to watch super villains and superheroes when we have so many of both in Washington, D.C. and on cable news daily???

OK fine… I do find the Hulk relatable.

I overheard a bunch of film students talking in rapt excitement about the new Star Wars movie the other day and had an acid flashback moment to 1980 at a Fox screening room when I was watching one of the first pre-release press showings of The Empire Strikes Back.

It was good.  For what it was.  But if you would have told me that almost 40 years later we’d still have to be dealing with this I would have told you…  Well, never mind what I would have told you.  Because it’s the same thing I’m telling you about this upcoming election.

SAVE YOUR PENNIES!

As much as people think this is an unusual time – and in many ways it is – in a lot of other ways it’s no different than so many of the swings and changes we’ve endured as a country all through the 20th and 21st centuries that I’ve lived through thus far.

I can recall watching Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinated on TV, not to mention Jack Ruby shooting JFK’s would-be assassin live on TV in front of millions of people – a clip that lived on a lot more than 40 years later.  Probably in perpetuity of the world as we know (or don’t know) it.

.. and again thanks to shows like Mad Men #imissDonDraper

I also remember as a teenager the police shooting college protestors just a few years older than me in Kent State Ohio.  All they were doing were being teenagers, trying to end a needless war in which they and their loved ones could have been killed in, and, well, throwing a few rocks when the National Guards released tear gas on them. But then the National Guard shot 67 rounds of bullets in 13 seconds into the crowd.   Four students who were NOT EVEN PROTESTING, just observing, were killed.

You’d think we would have gotten the gun and the law enforcement thing under control by now.  Of course, we haven’t.

In case you’re not feeling outraged yet…

Nevertheless, we have survived.  Decades of intolerance turning into more tolerance and then acceptance by many more than some in marginalized communities.  Though not by others.  We even have more laws than ever to back them up, though not enough and even those aren’t always enforced.

Point being, things were REALLY bad then.  George Wallace, an avowed racist, ran for president and got 13% of the vote.  And then, of course, he too was shot.  And paralyzed.  What goes around comes around, right???

I’ll keep telling myself that, Chairy

Well, that’s what we’re hoping for right now, isn’t it?  That somehow the haters and the shooters will get theirs because we need CHANGE?  And right NOW!  Because we’ve been complacent.  We need to UPEND EVERYTHING because, well, things have never been this bad.

I’ve actually said this myself.

And then there’s this…

Yet it occurred to me, watching coverage of the latest shooting at a house of worship – this time an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in California where a crazed shooter killed one person and wounded several others – that radicalism has never quite worked in the U.S.

Individuals commit radical acts, sometimes when they’re part of the public and other times when they’re in office, but the radical doesn’t define US in the long term.

We’re more of a gradual change environment, brought on by individuals and groups proposing radical change.  You need radical thinking to move the needle.  But to lead, you need bold measures and smart, well-researched, practical plans that can be willfully executed through the actions of a President and Congress elected by we, the people.

Imagine that!?!?!

For me this means we need to stop being hysterical.  Accusatory.  And refrain from eating our own.  You all know what I mean.  No one who has lived a life of any age is perfect.  Certainly no one who has done anything in public service.  Especially no one anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. at the moment.  Especially the sloth at the top of the sloths.

OK maybe not sloths. Look how cute this one is! #justiceforsloths

This is simply a call to calm down and realize that when we decide whom to nominate to run against you know who for president there is no recipe for the perfect chocolate cake.  Or even a vanilla one.  When someone is kind enough to ask you what you want them to bake for your birthday celebration you weigh all the factors (Note: Sometimes literally and sometimes not) and pick out the one you have a hankering for at the time.

But seldom do you order the cake this much in advance.  Not even a wedding cake.

Maybe wedding cake wasn’t the best analogy

Oh, and if you’re going to a party where the birthday boy or girl chooses chocolate you don’t sit in the corner, refuse to eat the cake at all or bitch and moan that they didn’t serve the Carrot one that you would have preferred.    And for the record, I hate carrot cake.

Though I have managed to down it at a party or two in order to celebrate someone or something that I cared about.

The Beatles – “We Can Work It Out”

 

And All That Buzz

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon were special talents.  He is still the only artist to win the Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards all in one year (1973) and she was the first musical theatre actress to win four Tony Awards.

More to the point, it’s not every estranged married couple who kept working with each other years after their estrangement that has an eight part miniseries aired about their lives decades after their deaths.

When you watch Fosse/Verdon on FX, and everyone should, it’s difficult not to marvel at the sheer breadth of their work that will forever live on long after all of our deaths.  Sweet Charity, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, Chicago and All That Jazz, to drop a handful of legendary landmarks, are only a few highlights.

Both director/choreographer Fosse, and Broadway star, muse and behind-the-scenes facilitator Verdon did all kinds of work in a wide variety of genres.  But what unites them, more than anything, is their dedication to a disciplined, single-minded type of artistry that seems to have disappeared from the cultural zeitgeist these days.

Let’s not get it wrong; there are contemporary artists with the type of discipline that both Verdon and Fosse shared with us all through their lives.  But in both their cases they left far more than that, as the miniseries shows us.

OK yes, him (and he’s producing Fosse/Verdon… go figure)

In a sense, Fosse/Verdon, and their lives, gives us a timeless roadmap to the world pre #MeToo.  It was an existence where men consistently had the upper hand, the best opportunities AND usually got sole credit for ALL of the work even when that wasn’t necessarily the case.

When females actually managed to shine in their own spotlight far brighter than their male counterparts, it was in the midst of the age-old expectation that they would eventually dim their bulbs and take time off from doing their own thing in order to help the guy’s light to shine just as bright (and often brighter) on a project of their own without basking in the glory.

Who is holding up whom? (hint: It’s Gwen)

It was either that or turn the other cheek when the man brooded and strayed into the arms of many other women because, well, how could HE not when SHE wasn’t around.   For those women choosing to go solo, well they might make it alone for a bit but much sooner than later they’d mostly age out and be left alone – a fate few would be able to happily survive when left to their own devices in the real world.

We’ve come a long way from those times, though likely not as far as we think we have, one suspects.  As one watches Ms. Verdon endure her husband’s serial infidelities as she bails him out in too many ways to count on Cabaret, it occurs to us, hmmm, and why didn’t I ever know that, how come she never got any credit?   As she continues to serve as his creative sounding board on so many other future projects and successes (Note: And notably doesn’t on several of the failures) we become clear of the extent of their partnership, and just how much we DON’T know about who did what and just how much on any uber successful project of any artist or in any artistic collaboration.

Truly a singular sensation  #yesiknowthatfsromChorusLine

None of this is to take anything away from the miraculous creative vision and accomplishments a talent of the caliber of a Bob Fosse leaves us.  It’s one thing for a chorus boy/dancer to turn expert choreographer and then director of Broadway musicals.  It’s another to then become a sophisticated movie director who not only reinvented the onscreen musical with the movie Cabaret  (Note: Beating out Francis Coppola’s work on The Godfather to win the best director Oscar that year) but then two years later go on make the critically acclaimed, black and white non-musical, biopic of Lenny Bruce, Lenny, and use a non-linear narrative from which to tell it.

Not to mention the release of the autobiographical biopic All That Jazz five years later, a thoroughly original multi-Oscar nominated film success he co-wrote and directed that pretty much presaged the reasons behind his own death (Note: 12 years later) for all the world to see in glorious living color on movie screens all across the world.

JAZZ. HANDS.

Gwen Verdon was at Fosse’s side in various ways all through those artistic leaps and bounds and together they define a certain type of show business special that today too often feels sorely lacking.

Though the special is still there.  In fact, you see it every day, all around.  But the show business special – hmmm, that’s another story.

I, for one, am soooo tired of hearing young talent is not what it used to be, not special, not on the level of a Fosse or a Verdon anymore.

Well, of course ability like theirs was, indeed, rare, as were their complex sensibilities and intellect for telling a sophisticated yet human story.  But there are many people who are special in all kinds of different ways now, some of them even similar to a Fosse or a Verdon, whose work has little chance of gaining recognition.  Even when it does, it almost never gets that same kind of mainstream acceptance.

This EXACTLY

For one, there is not the mass attendance for a single form of media that we once had.  There was a time when Broadway theatre was IT and it tackled primarily new and exciting subjects, or at least fresh and entertaining/thought-provoking ones that often broke into the cultural zeitgeist.

Movies also told primarily real life human stories sans gaping plot holes, and for decades later it was not unusual for the biggest successes to say something about our lives as we knew them (Note: Or didn’t know them) that year.  Sure, there were disaster films, spectacles, horror, sci-fi and mindless comedies, but they were not the overwhelming majority of the work.  Yes, they had special effects but to have a really SPECIAL affect on the world you had to do a lot more than simply launch a starship into an infinite universe or create a colorful costumed villain whose one goal in life was an unmotivated ambition to blow up the universe.

I mean.. is it really even the end?

Right, right, we can hear the hiss and boos about this type of grousing from this computer screen already.  Well, no one is saying these shows and films shouldn’t exist.  Or that it’s a shame that television has expanded to the point where there is so much programming that no one show ever seems to be particularly special to most of us.

But the facts are that in an age when media is so diffuse and so plentiful there is almost no young person that can create the level and sheer amount of narrative work or performance with the same amount of staying power, depth of story and cultural intensity of a Fosse or a Verdon.  There isn’t the mass popular audience for that kind of sophisticated worldview, that type of show biz special.  It’s just not how the industry is set up these days.

We have international stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and, dare I say it, Jordan Peele??   But can they do the kind of deep or stylized work of Fosse or Verdon and break through? Schindler’s List was 25 years agoRaging Bull came out FOUR DECADES ago.

I’m…. I’m… OLD

Star Wars is not Cabaret, or even The Godfather – it can’t be and wasn’t meant to be.  Because the truth is there is no longer a mass-market avenue for the latter two projects.  But even fluffier Broadway shows that catapulted Ms. Verdon to stardom like Sweet Charity and Damn Yankees would doubtless be made into theatrical films in the 2000/10s.  Chicago, her final starring vehicle finally was, but decades after the original closed on Broadway and barely broke even.  It was only when a stripped down, TV/movie star driven revival was launched and kept afloat with a rotating name cast that Hollywood came calling and a film was produced that was safe enough to appeal to mass acceptance.

To look at that film in light of Fosse/Verdon one realizes that despite its Oscar win it’s the anti-Cabaret.  Rather than move forward the medium or the film’s story it merely waters it down with an eye towards the present as it pastiches various Fosse-like moves from the past.  And it was released a full 17 years agoGet Out, for all its cultural significance, (Note: And add on Us) is nowhere near the class of storytelling of any of Fosse’s best work, or that of a Scorsese or a Spielberg.  #PlotHoleCity

For these reasons and many more, one can’t help but mourn a bit for the past during the Fosse/Verdon miniseries.  It gives us so much show biz special in an age when it’s not the thought behind the show, but the delivery system by which it comes to us, that feels the most special to us.

Liza Minnelli – “Maybe This Time” (from Cabaret)