All of Them Witches!

We’re going to talk about evil.

Happy long Holiday weekend and beyond, everyone!!

Well, I see evil all around me a lot these days. No, I’m not ONLY speaking of ELECTORAL POTUS, though God knows he and Jared and Mike and Steve would make a nifty quadrangle of Marvel super villains.

That sounds precious!

Anyone want to do the casting?

Or shall we just make it the next drinking game to get us through all of this. Chug if you like Jimmy Fallon for Jared more than Ryan Gosling!!!

You can’t escape evil, even if you try. Correction – especially if you try. It seems that cardinal rule of opposites attracting is particularly potent in the heroes and villains game.   Cain vs. Abel? Luke vs. Darth Vader? U.S. vs. DJT? Too soon? Or not soon enough?

Melania vs. Tiny Hands #GURLYES

I made an executive decision this week to simply embrace evil. To bring it on. I mean, if I am going to be inundated with news like:

  • Jared has talked secretly to the Russians as far back as a year ago (during the campaign!) and is a person of interest in 2, 3, or 4 (?) federal government investigations.
  • Electoral Potus has taken to shoving the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way in order to get front and center in a photo op (Note: What exactly DID his parents do to him? Or not do?)

ahem

  • Montana voters electing another enraged white man to Congress less than 24 hours AFTER he body slammed/choked a nerdy journalist who merely asked him about health care – and then had his staff lie about it and blame the journalist – only to be refuted by an EYEWITNESS Fox News reporter – at which point he was charged with misdemeanor assault –

Then ––

Well, you can see how I’d like to be prepared.

K See ya later everybody! #theendisnear

See for me, it’s never been the existence of evil that has particularly scared me. I knew from an early age there was awfulness in the world. How? Well, that’s the subject of another discussion and of years of psychotherapy. Suffice it to say, we all learn at our own pace. Even Electoral Potus voters. Hopefully.

So in keeping to this theme, I decided to look around me and see what was playing on TV and at the movies this week that could help immerse me in that world. Okay, full confession: I didn’t look around. I actually watched the two shows that were THE most popular among my friends this week – things they wouldn’t STOP talking about. And wouldn’t you know it – EVIL – that’s what I found. PURE. EVIL. And who says popular art does not reflect the times we live in?

Don’t you forget about meeeeee

Well, a significant part of middle America don’t believe it because they’re constantly criticizing – or worse, not even sampling – shows like these. Which would mean…. Hmmm, let’s not go there. Yet.

Netflix’s The Keepers is a seven-hour, seven-part documentary series that is about pure evil. The 1970 unsolved brutal murder of a Sister Cathy – by all accounts a nun of pure goodness – the abuse of scores of young women in a Baltimore neighborhood Catholic School where she taught that she likely knew about, and the once again attempts by a very powerful Catholic archdioceses to stall investigations into obvious connections between the murders (oh, yes, there was a second) and the abuse, and shift around priests to different parishes in an attempt to do so.

Oh… so not that kind of show?

Sound familiar? Well, This story makes Spotlight look tame, partly because the crimes are still unsolved and justice has not been handed down. Life is not an episode of Law and Order, which should tell you something about why that series (Note: Juggernaut? Holy Scrolls?) has endured all these decades and will be around far longer than you or I. We humans like to watch EVIL brought to justice (Nee ORDER) as often as possible since it too often doesn’t happen in real life.

As if I had to tell you that.

The second was the return of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as a 10-episode limited Showtime series. Yes, Lynch directed every episode and if the two-hour premiere is any indication, it is as confoundedly EVIL and CONFUSING and RIVETING as anything he’s ever done.

RIP Log Lady

No one does evil as the just below the surface underbelly of good as well as Mr. Lynch. The best of his work – the original Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive – defy description and plot analyses. Let’s just say Kyle McLaughlin returns as dual FBI Agents Dale Cooper – one whose body is literally inhabited by EVIL Bob as it blithely pops off victim after victim – and the other who is stuck in a series of zig zag floored rooms with a talking arm/tree and various dead people speaking to him in slurred, 16 rpm speech as if they were sort of alive. Which, well, they still just might be. Though I doubt it.

Confused yet?

Lynch’s evil is riveting to watch precisely because it’s so strange – with images and ideas you’ve never quite seen before – if you can imagine it – which you can’t – that it becomes frighteningly haunting. Or to put it another way, it challenges you to wonder if the lamp in your room won’t one day soon come alive and kill you or if the spouse you’ve lived with all your life, or even in the past year or two, doesn’t indeed have a secret number of hours where you’re not watching where he/she carves up innocent suburban ladies in modest middle American cut rate American apartment complexes with names like Alpine Village (Note: I was forced to live in one of those in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley for almost a year when I was 14 – hence my use of that real name. Look it up. It was in Tarzana).

Yes, I do feel as if watching these two shows prepared me for another week of news in what has become the Other America. I would also add it also prepared me for the next episode of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale series – which this week revealed to us more of just how Trump America wound up being transformed into the religious conservative right wing hell of Gilead – a place where women and gays are hung alive in the town square unless they bear children, submit to the males who control them or/and turn straight.

Again, I view these shows to be prepared.

My daily mantra

I finally wrapped up the week by watching the Oscar winning Hungarian film, Son of Saul – a Holocaust themed movie I’ve always wanted to see but managed to avoid for the last two years because I was warned it was difficult to sit through. And this was by multiple friends who already knew my taste for what we’ll now generously call the darkness.

Though it was different this time. I saw it as preparation for a possible future. How else could I, a patriotic gay Jewish American liberal, view a movie that chronicles a day and a half in the life of a gay Jewish guy in Auschwitz who works in the concentration camp crematorium scooping up dead bodies and scrubbing the “shower” floors following each hellish murdering aftermath.

Cheery Saturday Night plans chairy!

(Note: It is worth noting that though it is a fictional composite, Son of Saul is actually based on diaries of Auschwitz survivors entitled, The Scrolls of Auschwitz).

Okay, of course, I’m exaggerating me preparing for the future just a little in my desire to watch it. I guess all that evil I exposed myself to before it this week just reassured me I’d finally be able to tolerate it. And I did.

It’s amazing what one can tolerate once our senses get inured to this kind of stuff.

Evil Ways – Santana

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Sage Advice

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-2-39-48-pm

Every year I take my students to see a panel of people who wrote the most acclaimed films of the previous year. This time they included the writers of:

La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hidden Figures, Arrival, Hell or High Water, and yes, Deadpool.

Lil Deady (Pooly?) getting some love.

Lil Deady (Pooly?) getting some love.

These people are all among the current nominees for this year’s Writers Guild of America awards and at the point they speak on the “Beyond Words” panel they are ending an intense series of talks, interviews and other generalized discussions about their process, their work, their careers and their futures.

But what everyone seems to really want from the possible valedictorians of their class is:

THE ANSWER.

How DID you do it? How DO you do it? What can I DO to also do it? And am I FOOLING MYSELF by even thinking that I can do it?

Getting my listening face on! #readysetgo

Getting my listening face on! #readysetgo

The panel consists of writers (or writer-directors) but you can substitute the same questions for anything, really – actors, producers, directors, cinematographers, editors and script supervisors.

WHAT IS THE KEY?

Well, it’s exactly what you think it is. You work at it. And you do it harder and more consistently and with as much abandon as you have ever done anything in your life. In fact, more so.   And chances are, you will GET THERE.

Yes, this is quite encouraging. But then — oh my. You should see the series of scared, young and old DISAPPOINTED faces in the audience.

For here is the real answer they begin to realize minutes, hours, weeks or months later if they do follow that sage advice (Note: If you prefer to stay away from harsh truths stop reading now):

You will definitely get somewhere, certainly a better place artistically. But not necessarily on a future panel that’s before you.

Maybe not in your future... and that's OK!

Maybe not in your future… and that’s OK!

And I would add this nugget of information that perhaps never crosses one’s mind. Certainly it didn’t cross mine years ago.

Perhaps that (panel) is not exactly where you belong or where you would even want to be given the compromises, sacrifices and cost of the single-mindedness it takes to achieve what you think (or may even know) are your dreams. Perhaps the work you do will be honored in some different way entirely.

This is not meant to be any more discouraging or encouraging than anything those writers told the audience of movie fans, aspiring writers or curious industry-ites who had nothing better to do on a Thursday evening than look for hope, information or just plain intellectual entertainment. But I guarantee you it is also the same truth spoken by any one of those same artists, as well as many others, on that night or on any other night on any other year.

You can take away all kinds of things when people tell you to work really hard at what you do, follow some of the rules and break others, and to listen to your inner voice and then dig in deeper.

Inspiration can come in all forms. #sarcasmworkstoo

Inspiration can come in all forms. #sarcasmworkstoo

You can be encouraged and enlightened, buoyed by the brave soldiers that came before you and succeeded.

Or you can become depressed because you know you’re already doing all of that and more and haven’t gotten anywhere close to that result.

And, in some cases, you might even become frozen with fear when you run your entire life around your brain because suddenly you realize you’ve been doing all this and MORE for years (or perhaps decades) and are so much farther away from that place on that stage than you would ever care to admit to anyone out loud, most particularly yourself.

everyone's path is a little bit different

everyone’s path is a little bit different

Well, that’s fine. All of it is fine. Except, it doesn’t mean anything. At all.

There are numerous X factors in life. And in show business, in particular, we all measure art and practicality and talent and then divide it by happenstance. For instance, did you know:

— Damien Chazelle, all of 32 now, wrote La La Land six years prior. At which point it sat around, landed briefly at a studio, was put in turnaround, and then sat around for many years more. Which prompted him to then write and direct Whiplash out of his anger to the system. Which in turn forged La La Land.

Mr. Chazelle... or one of my students? #hardtotell #stillinspirational

Mr. Chazelle… or one of my students? #hardtotell #stillinspirational

— Taylor Sheridan quit work as an actor on a lucrative TV show as he approached his 40th birthday to write what became Hell or High Water, but not before he ran out of money and moved him and his wife and 10 month old kid into a small one bedroom apartment on Sunset and Laurel. (Note: He voluntarily gave the location).

— Kenneth Lonergan got raked over the Hollywood coals when the movie he made in 2000, Margaret, languished in legal battles, was recut and even then barely released eleven years later. And didn’t direct another film until Manchester by the Sea. In fact, his friend Matt Damon said that that he brought him the kernel of the idea for the film to get him out of his funk just so his creative voice could be heard again.

And so on and so forth.

You and I and certainly few of the rest of us are likely reach the successes above with our own projects. For there is always a certain amount of timing, luck, talent, karma and cosmic grace (Note: Not to be confused with Karma) that comes into play with these things.

Sometimes timing is everything

Sometimes timing is everything

But surely if we all don’t bear down and focus in on our work, and continue to dream big – despite our experience, age, economic circumstances or emotional places we currently occupy in our lives, we will never get there.

And if we do – who knows? We could possibly surpass them.

Why does this stuff always seem so trite and cliché?

Because the very nature of clichés is that they are references and expressions of stuff we have heard time and time again that offer nothing new to our view of the world.

Which doesn’t mean they’re incorrect.

What I’ve found to be the key is exactly what WE – you and I – DO with all of this advice. Not the advice itself.

Resist the eyeroll! Stay with me

Resist the eyeroll! Stay with me

It’s the actions we take, the people we engage with and disagree with and love and scream and yell with and the art we make – based on our own reactions and experiences – that comprise the sum of our output.   Which in turn shows up on the page, in the film, on the screen, in the machine and before the next doorkeeper determined to slam that door in all of our collective faces, that can and will make the difference.

I know this because I’ve seen this and lived this. Just look around you and you’ll see it too. And then look within and start working. And let the chips fall where they may.

But if this still sounds a bit too new agey, self-helpish and yes, cliché, don’t take my word for it.

This week I also went to see 84-year-old Broadway legend Chita Rivera do her one-woman show in Los Angeles. She recalled the time half a century ago in the 1960s when another Broadway legend, Gwen Verdon, and her then husband, director Bob Fossse, still another Broadway AND soon-to-be movie legend, asked her to star in the touring company of Sweet Charity in a role created to smashing success by Ms. Verdon herself.

The Unsinkable Ms. Rivera

The Unsinkable Ms. Rivera

Ms. Rivera confesses to at first being thrilled with the offer, which soon turned to total terror knowing she couldn’t possibly fill her predecessor’s shoes. Or even come close. Until finally, she shared with us, it occurred to her:

Chita, just bring your own shoes.

I tell that to all the kids, she added. Just bring your own shoes. And it’ll be fine.