Notes from the Edge

Carrie Fisher wrote these words for Meryl Streep to say as a fictionalized version of herself in the semi-autobiographical film Postcards from the Edge:

I can’t feel my life.  I look around and I know so much of it is good…but I just can’t believe it…I don’t want my life to imitate art.  I want my life to be art.

Those lines are condensed from a climactic speech where a perennially snide, yet terribly insecure and newly sober actress for the first time admits she realizes how fortunate she is to be alive and to have opportunities in which to thrive.

an eye opener

It was an embarrassingly honest bit of contemporary self-parody 30 years ago. 

I mean, who is truly going to feel sorry for a talented young woman born into a wealthy show business family whose real life inspiration played Princess Leia in Star Wars?

But who knew it would have additional resonance all these decades later where so many of us are walking around wringing our hands over what our 2021 lives are, are not, or may never be?

The very same people who could have predicted that both Princess Leia AND the actress who played her would also be gone.

Stop that!

It doesn’t help that the news gives us daily warnings that the Covid Monster we assumed we were beginning to slay is actually still lurking just outside our door and ingeniously getting even closer.  

The latest tidbit is that the viral load for those infected with its new and improved Delta variant is ONE THOUSAND TIMES higher than its original and almost TWICE as CONTAGIOUS.

This reminds me of another line from another even more classic film, The Wizard of Oz.  After her house accidentally drops on the Wicked Witch of the East and that witch’s evil sister stands before her, an already nervous Dorothy is immediately warned by her friend Glinda that:

This is the Wicked Witch of the West.  And SHE’S WORSE THAN THE OTHER ONE!!

I’LL GET YOU MY PRETTY!

Considering film is our best cultural representation of what it’s like to be human, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that so many of us are in our current emotional states.

Well, I for one, had to take at least a partial step back from all of it this week.  There is nothing clever nor particularly profound about this decision except, well, I had to do anything but intermittently freak out amid, well, intermittently freaking out.

And as someone once told me, sometimes it’s better to do something, or anything, than nothing.

(Note:  I think it was a therapist who gave me that advice but I can’t be entirely sure I actually didn’t once read it in some old Carrie Fisher interview).

… or maybe it was Gary.

In any event, since I wasn’t up for volunteering in a space where I would be around anyone or anything I didn’t know (or anything or anyone who wasn’t vaccine certified), I chose to go back to the one constant in my life that has almost never let me down – friends.

One day I had an outside lunch with a buddy who I’ve known for over FORTY YEARS and haven’t seen in two.  Another evening was spent with two guys I haven’t seen in person in three years but have known for THIRTY. 

Another close friend I first met in 1982 is here for the summer and we’ve had a bunch of get-togethers.  I’ve also had a ton of long conversations with family members and others close to me that I haven’t talked to in a while. 

And now I’m all verklempt

I even – and I know this is shocking – made it a point to actually pay more attention to the person I see every day of my life – my HUSBAND – and actually make it a priority to LISTEN to what he had to say before I SAID anything.

The latter might not seem like a lot but, well… okay… the long married/long term couples will tell you…

I can’t tell you any of these was a panacea aka CURE for what’s been lurking outside my door, or yours, but it did help – A LOT. 

At least for a while.  Until it didn’t.

It was at that time that I reached out to even more people and began to listen and look around at my surroundings.

And breathe. 

It’s been too long Johnny

That helped too.  A bit.  At which time, things got somewhat anxious again and I started to write stuff.  Not a lot but enough to get me through some rough hours.  As it has so many times, through so many decades before.

And when that lost its effect I even went for a run and…worked out?!!??  A bunch of times.  That, in turn, bought me a whole bunch of extra, non-worrying hours.   Much as it hurt and I didn’t want to do it.

Oh, and it also brought….appreciation.

I’m kidding… I think

See, at the end of the day what you realize is that any life at all is art, woefully imperfect and consistently stressful, daunting and even haunting, though it may be.

I wish I could cure Covid but I can’t.  I wish I could thoroughly avoid Covid but, practically speaking, it’s impossible and not advisable. 

Though what I can do, and all of us can do, is live our lives with some meaning AND with the people that make us laugh and make us happy, and not let it poison so much of what is good about living at all.

It’s not a perfect art but, as Ms. Fisher observed all those decades ago, that’s not what life’s about anyway.

She also once famously said:

Instant gratification takes too long.

Amen to that, also.

Meryl Streep – “I’m Checking Out” from Postcards from the Edge

Spiking the Oscars

Spike Lee should win the best director Oscar this year for BlacKkKlansman.  The film is THAT good, THAT timely and yeah, as its producer Jason Blum said recently, it is his time.

His time means that Lee has been in the filmmaking trenches over four decades and has given us such memorable, and sometimes seminal works, as Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X and Bamboozled, as well as such prescient and under-appreciated ones as She’s Gotta Have it, School Daze, Summer of Sam, and Get on the Bus.

Icon status

Lee has done and continues to do what every artist attempts and that is to create a body of material that reflects both himself and the times he, specifically, lived in.  You can look at any one of his movies and get a window into some aspect of national and/or personal history told through the vision of an African American kid from the New York boroughs with stories and messages whose truths reverberated throughout the world for nearly half a century.

That is no small feat for any director these days, but near impossible for one who is non-White.  Name another.

Waiting.

Still Waiting.

Right.  Well, we have nothing but time here so take another minute.

And…………

um helloooooo

Yeah.

So how is it that Spike Lee has NEVER BEEN NOMINATED for an Academy Award as best director??

Guess it must be bad luck or oversight.  Okay, maybe once…or twice.  But anyone who has ever been a reporter in a newsroom knows the old journalism adage: Three (or more) is a trend.

With the announcement of this week’s 2019 Academy Award nominations it is important to note that any number of films and/or filmmakers will be left off the list or rather purposely snubbed for a myriad of reasons.   Taste, personal animus, overcrowding and just plain ignorance are all excuses that come to mind.

One could also question why it even matters anymore given that the Oscars are clearly the most exclusive of clubs with a rarefied membership that more and more seems to speak less and less for the general public, i.e. the zeitgeist.

The majority of Oscar voters #oldwhitemen #morethan12 #oscarssowhite

Well, in a world of lists, elections, statuses and immeasurables it is THE most famous arbiter of professional excellence calibrated by a group of peers working in an artistic field that we have.  Sure there is consistent omission, bone-headed pettiness and high/low intellectual ignorance that keep the voters from truly always getting it right.  But love ‘em or hate ‘em there is a reason why each year the show gets watched by more than a billion people worldwide and the honor of receiving one of those little gold (but surprisingly heavy) statues gives the winner a strange sort of immortal status of achievement.

Spike Lee recently did an NPR interview with Elvis Mitchell where he noted his students (Note: He teaches at NYU’s grad program in filmmaking) don’t seem to care about any films made prior to the last five years.  He felt that it was generational and didn’t have an explanation for it, but also found that when he exposed them to work from directors like Kazan or Kurosawa they appreciated, even loved their films.  It was more a general sense of intellectual non-curiosity he was lamenting and he still didn’t understand the reason, even when pressed.

Would this help?

One could surmise it has to do with how much information we must all sift through these days and time management.  It also can be attributed to accessibility; meaning if you can get everything nothing is particularly urgent to experience.  It’s all at most of our disposals whenever we want it so why not do anything else that takes less time and is more pleasurable in the moment.

As one of my heroes, Carrie Fisher, so aptly wrote:

Instant gratification takes too long.

Yet that was back in the 1980s, before the web and about herself and her life as a drug addict.

We miss you lady

Building on this prescient theory, it’s not too far of a stretch then to say that we have all become a nation of addicts whose drug of choice is no longer the movies but the comments on endless streams of social media platforms, television shows and perhaps blogs such as (but unlike) this one where we get to opine on everything and nothing without doing the work it takes to truly earn our opinion.

This seems more than possible because if one is always giving one’s opinion of likes and dislikes, when would one ever have the time to read or watch anything else that would allow one to be educated enough on said subject and its creators in order to truly judge the issue or thing that is being presented???

This is why so many of us are such fans of the film BlacKkKlansman and of Spike Lee in particular.  Love him or hate him as a moviemaker you can never say he doesn’t study an issue, sift through numerous uncomfortable truths and then use his technical and creative expertise to form his take on what’s goin’ on.

When it comes to Mr. Lee, there seems to be no in between

Sure, it may be skewed but what he never does is waste your time on sheer nonsense or filmic masturbation that could at its best only be personally orgasmic.  Every film he does is called a Spike Lee joint and the reason is simple – he wants you to get stoned on the story, subject matter and characters along with him.

This was once deemed exotic and controversial but perhaps that is no longer the case with a pot store seemingly on every other block in L.A. and soon (perhaps?) the majority of the country.  But as a successful moviemaker, particularly one who is non-white, it is extremely rare.

BlacKkKlansman gives us the highly unlikely yet true story of a Black detective in the 1970s that infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.  Said detective engineered it with the help of his White counterpart yet it is the Black man who takes the lead in the narrative.  But it is then Lee who imbues a rather unsavory and sadly quite timely story with equal parts humor, drama and irony.  Not to get too cute about it, but the result is a REAL black comedy in every sense of the word that only someone with a very particular body of work, mined over this particular half a century, could have brought justice to.

2018’s masterpiece #imeanit

That is why Spike Lee deserves the best director Oscar for BlacKkKlansman.  It is a smart, entertaining and expertly made film that speaks in particular to THIS moment in time through the lens of the past as it simultaneously teaches us all we need to know about the present.

But he also deserves it as a career award (Note: Like that doesn’t happen ever other year) and as a sentimental favorite who had been all but written off by mass contemporary audiences and too many industry decision-makers.

Finally, he deserves it for pissing us off so many times over the years as he’s done all of the above.  He deserves it for that, too.  Most especially.

End Credits – “Photo Ops” from BlacKkKlansman soundtrack