Ya smell that?

Who is this imposter and what have you done with NPH?

Who is this imposter and what have you done with NPH?

Sunday night was smell-a-vision night here at the House of Chair.  Except that it felt like a combination of baby diapers, horse manure and the unwashed gym socks and muddy jock strap from a gym locker in 1982.  What other way was there to describe the highly anticipated Emmy Awards telecast hosted by the perennially charming Neil Patrick Harris?  Well, charm only gets you so far.  Remember – even Clooney once played an awful version of Batman, latex nipples and all.

As if this wasn’t enough we were treated to the HORRIBLE (no other word for it) series finale of Dexter – a program that was formerly one of the best television shows in recent memory and one which helped define the Showtime brand of over-the-top but compelling anti-heroes.  Michael C. Hall was still great but even he couldn’t save….well, you get the drill (but more on that below…)

Perhaps it was the mood in the House of Chair.  For the last three days I have been in full binge of the entire Breaking Bad  series– Season 3, Episode 8, bitches!!!!  – and probably didn’t want to be interrupted.  (Note:  For those who don’t watch – and you should – please know the aside in the middle of the last sentence is a relevant, rather than sexist, comment).

Look for the full Binging Bad experience next week with as few spoilers as possible.  In the meantime, what’s that I still smell —–

1. Network Stench

toot

  •  But when the best looking guy or gal in school who doesn’t use deodorant raises their arms in the air, it still stinks to high heaven.  Sunday night’s Emmy broadcast was an embarrassing hypefest for the CBS brand and all of its programming rather than a salute to the small tube in general.  Did you notice that a large group of the presenters were from current or upcoming CBS shows (I’m looking at you Mark Harmon & LL Cool J of NCIS, Anna Farris & Allison Janney of Mom)?  Not to mention the deadly backstage cut-ins hosted by Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds, much?)  Not to mention every other commercial interruption – and there were many – was for a newly premiering CBS show.  (Can’t wait for Hostages!!!)
  • I knew we were in a trouble when the program started and Emmy host NPH was being escorted into the theatre by a security guard being played by CBS president Les Moonves, a former actor.  Followed by a badly-conceived bit where NPH was stuck in a chair watching numerous five second TV series clips that turned out to be the only examples from current television series that we got to see all night.

It’s supposed to be a program honoring the best of television.  Not a kickoff to the new television season starring CBS actors and its top executives.

Rating:  Five Smelly Diapers.

2.  Music

What... is... this?

What… is… this?

  • I don’t know about you, but when I think of the 50-year anniversary of the Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 I immediately think of country singer Carrie Underwood. And why not have her sing Yesterday, a Beatles song released in 1965?  Because we can.  And because Okie Carrie will be starring as Maria Von Trapp in a live television production of The Sound of Music in November.  Again, who better?
  • Elton John is a gay pianist and Liberace, the subject of the Emmy-winning (but early Sunday night just nominated) biopic Behind the Candelabra, was also a gay pianist – get it????  Elton John has a new CD/album/record out this week, so why not cross-promote?  And why not get BTC stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon to introduce him???  Well, because try as he might to make the connection, EJ’s new song Home Again didn’t feel like it had anything to do with Liberace – certainly it had nothing to do with television.  Which is the point of the entire show.  Or – is it????

Rating:  Twelve gym socks.  Though if we were on the telecast we’d certainly choose jock straps because we’d be making a dumb gay joke like Emmy winner Michael Douglas did when he picked up a statue for playing Liberace (Paraphrase Note: …I should be splitting the award with co-star Matt Damon  – do you want the top or the bottom??  Or – this is really a two-hander!).  Yuk….yuk…yuk.

Bonus eyeroll!

Bonus eyeroll!

3.  Specialty Items

  • In the middle of the program there was finally a Neil Patrick Harris song and dance number.  It was called The Number in the Middle of the Show.  For some reason it was thought by someone that it would be a funny idea to do an elongated song and dance number parodying a seventies dance number from the 1970s program Solid Gold.  NPH was helped along by Nathan Filion (Castle) and Sarah Silverman, followed by a gaggle of Solid Gold type dancers.  It was not a good idea.  It was quite painful.  Perhaps mostly for Nathan Filion, who is said to have a bad back that has caused him to miss several days of filming Castle in the last few weeks.  Was it worth the risk? Uh – no.
D. Hough in a suit.. silver lining?

D. Hough in a suit.. silver lining?

  • This is the first year the Emmys gave a choreography award on-air.  Consequently, it was thought necessary to do an elongated interpretive dance to the tune of Luck Be A Lady from the classic Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.  Then, we were treated to interpretive dances meant to evoke such TV series as Mad Men, American Horror Story, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad… and Big Bang Theory?    This really happened.  Really.  It did.

Rating:  Six rancid dancer’s belts.  One for each of the TV show tributes.

4.  Comedy?

  • Neil Patrick Harris’ co-stars from the CBS show How I Met Your Mother came together to do a sort of filmed PSA comedy bit for something called Excessive Hosting Disorder.  Well, it was sickly and obsessive, as far as comedy goes.  HIMYM never would have survived nine seasons if they were only this funny.  So we can’t blame them.
OK forget Carrie.. what is THIS?

OK forget Carrie.. what is THIS?

  • Will Ferrell brought out his three kids – or someone’s three kids – to deliver the final awards for best TV series.  They wore pajamas and had a tablet they were playing with.  People laughed.  I’m not sure why.  There was some mention he was just pulled in to give the awards because Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, who had been scheduled to do it, couldn’t make it.  Well….okay.  But the mere mention of Dame Maggie made one long for one of her Downton Abbey bon mots to save the show.  To wit:  What’s a Will Ferrell and why has he dragged those vagabond roustabouts onto my stage?  Yes, she would have said it better.  But she didn’t get the chance to.  But then again, neither did any other of the characters on TV that we really care about these days.

Note to the Emmy’s:  A few clips from the current golden age of television might be nice.

And now – back to Breaking Bad.

HOLLY’S CORNER: A EULOGY FOR DEXTER

Wrap it up.. it's over.

Wrap it up.. it’s over.

Crazy to think that a serial killer deserves better, but that, and more, can certainly be said about the uber-lame Dexter finale that aired opposite the Emmys last night. After eight seasons, a few football fields worth of plastic wrap, and countless bad Michael C Hall wigs, the show that came in with a ear piercing screech of freshness, went out like a sad shriek and a whiff of old garbage.

I started watching the series just as it aired, having piggybacked it with catching up on Hall’s fantastic turn as David Fisher in Six Feet Under. Dexter was superhero meets supervillian – and the writing was superb. I shared my love for this devilish leading man with The Chair and he too agreed that this show was breaking new ground, and slicing up some excellent week-to-week water cooler moments. I would promise to follow that Dark Passenger until the very end…

Yes, this meant getting through Miguel Prado, Lumen, Doomsday, and the Russian mafia … but for every misstep there was Doakes shouting “Surprise, Motherfucker!”, Jordan’s hypnotizing “Take It!”, Lila’s Parisian demise, and of course, fan-favorite (and rightfully so) Trinity. With so many bad things made right, I was sure the finale would supersede an otherwise lackluster season….

Instead, I, like our beloved “Slice of Life,” was set out to sea, destroyed by the wrath of the illogical, ridiculous Hurricane Dexter – and the most devoted fan was forced to admit with heavy regret: Goddamn, that sucked.

And so we go on, with Season 4 DVDs clutched tightly to our chest, cherishing the good times we had, forgetting that in the end we were left with a bearded, damp, Twin Peaks Dexter, and instead remembering Deb the badass, Masuka the freak, Quinn the over tanned, LaGuerta the over accessorized, Battista the loyal, Jamie the clueless, Rita the saint, Harry the guardian and of course Dexter, the darkly dreaming disaster we’d all come to love.

Farewell Miami Metro… at least we’ll always have breakfast.

Background Check

Pull up a seat in the spotlight

Taking a seat

People go into the entertainment business for all sorts of reasons and who’s to say if any one reason is right or wrong.  Talent, fame, and communication are the top ones.   Equally compelling are: aversion to 9-5 employment, fun, sex, glamour, and money.  And finally, there’s my favorite – because it’s the only thing I’m really good at that I don’t hate.   Doubtless, there are still more.

I have heard any and all of these from my students – inspiring artists that they are – and none of them surprise me because I’ve also heard every one of them from one other person very close to me…myself.

Yes, aside from knowing early on I had some writing ability, I was also drawn to the biz that is show for lots of unsavory reasons that I suppose I’m not proud of.  Except, I sort of am because after decades in and around this world I know I’m not alone.  Who of us isn’t occasionally bowled over by the glamour (even when we realize there is a lot less of it than we thought) and reduced to the 9-year old fan we once were or perhaps still are? Is there anyone among us who didn’t at some point want to be heard or noticed in some small way so they could stick their middle finger up at all the doubters or other people who discounted or ignored them?  And I can’t imagine there is not a person here that has or will not at least once enjoy certain carnal pleasures and/or attention available to them because of this particular show-y world they chose. (And for those who haven’t cashed in on the latter…oh come on – you know you have!).

None of this negates one’s talent and creativity.  The passion for one’s art.  The wanting to not only be heard or listened to but – yes, lofty thought – in some big or small way ultimately change the world for the better through what you say.  I’ve felt the latter more than once or twice and, especially when I was younger, was absolutely sure that these dreams would indeed come true.  And anyway, who is to say they haven’t?  It’s not always evident how change happens or who contributed what to the mass success of a project or an artist with even a casual comment or specific creative contribution along the way.   You might indeed be famously heard and change things yet you also might never know how much, nor will the many people in the world know.  But, I mean – does that negate what you’ve done, your talent or you?  Does that make you a failure?  I don’t think so.  And – for your sake – I certainly hope you don’t think so.

Every now and again, it's ok!

Every now and again, it’s ok!

The biggest and smartest talents among us know this and quickly, even routinely, credit other people for helping them along the road to success in very significant ways – sometimes proclaiming that person or persons were partly (or even in some measure equally) responsible for it.  And I actually suspect even the most ego-crazed, conceited nightmares of stars deep down know this too because there is nothing that fuels the egomaniacal fool more than the fear of the world finding out that deep down inside they indeed have been fooling everyone all along and, when the curtain is pulled back, they will be revealed alone as The Emperor’s New Clothes.  In other words – nothing.

All of this and more are covered not only in my bi-weekly psychotherapy sessions but also in Twenty Feet From Stardom, a new documentary about some of the most famously unknown background singers in the business.  These people, mostly women, sang the most prized choruses or riffs or actual vocals of some of your favorite songs from the 60s through today.  In fact, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Luther Vandross, Sting, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and many, many more are more than happy to let you know (well, to a point, that is) that parts of their records you are singing to (especially the hook/choruses) only really work because they or their producers or managers had the good taste or cash to be able to hire these “unknowns” to add their ample abilities to their final creative project.  A project that, ironically, none of these background singers are ever really known for by anyone but this select group.

There used to be this new agey question they asked in the seventies that might just still be around today and it goes like this:

Are you the star of your own movie?

Correct Answer (If You Live in the Real World of Show Business):  Well, it depends on what you mean by “star” and “movie.” 

Loving Darlene Love

Loving Darlene Love

Remember the timeless sixties hit: He’s a Rebel, sung by The Crystals?  Uh, that was really background singer Darlene Love singing lead but record producer Phil Spector decided that The Crystals were more marketable (and controllable) so Darlene’s name got erased.  How about the gal who famously dueted with Mick Jagger on Gimme Shelter – a song that feels as if it has been used in every other trailer for a Martin Scorsese film in the last 25 years?  That gal would be gospel diva Merry Clayton – who memorably wailed the chorus: War, Children – It’s just a shot away, It’s just a shot away! while she was 8 months pregnant and in curlers at 3 am because Mick Jagger and the Stones needed a female belter in their middle-of-the-night recording session and she was game when the call came in an hour before.

There are younger singers like Lisa Fischer, who for decades has sung on many of the most famous records and live performances of Sting, Luther Vandross and Tina Turner, and people like Tata Vega, David Lasly and Charlotte Crossley – names you probably don’t know but whose vocals you remember if you ever heard anything by James Taylor, Bette Midler or Stevie Wonder.

Know any of the Pips?

Can you name the Pips?

One watches the singers in this film and audibly gasps that any creative person with that amount of talent could possibly be what the biz routinely labels as an unknown. How does that happen?  Well, in the same way other people are known.

But rather than reviewing the film, perhaps its best to cut to the bottom line two questions here:

Q1: Who makes it in the business and who doesn’t? And why?    (Ok, that’s already 2 questions)

A1:  A small group if you consider the larger percentage. And for many reasons, some of which were stated above.

Q2 (or Bonus Question for those really counting numbers):  If I work hard enough, believe in myself and am also super talented by professional standards, as well as my own, doesn’t that guarantee I will make it too?

A2:  Well, if making it means becoming commercially successful, famous, a household commodity, or even a wealthy (or financially comfortable) artist who, at the end of the day, is revered by your peers, the answer is, quite simply — No.

Not all all.  There is no guarantee, or even likelihood, of anything.  At all.

Though (and here’s the killer) it is possible.   Confusing?  You bet it is.

I once heard Joan Rivers address this question of who makes it or not in an interview and she incorrectly stated: The cream always rises to the top.  Well, that might be scientifically true in a coffee test kitchen but it is simply not the case in show business, much as we all would like it to be.

Clouds in my coffee

Clouds in my coffee

This is not to say those successful are untalented.  But there are usually others far worse but also better than they are.  Sting graciously put it much more eloquently in the movie when he answered the question:  So many factors – luck, timing…

It is indeed a bitter pill to swallow that you might be much more talented than others in your field and that yes, somehow the dream never happened for you.  Oh, you know the one.  It’s different for everyone but basically they’re all the same.  Getting your work seen and being rewarded accordingly; the recognition; the success, whatever it means to you or others – yada, yada, yada…

No one should suffer under the delusion that the answer lies in fairness because the world SHOULD be fair.  It isn’t all of the time.   Sometimes it is.  Maybe it is all the time and you’re spiritual (which I’m not) and believe none of us can see the true bigger godly picture.  But for the rest of us mere mortals – wow – sometimes it really does not seem right or just or, well – happening the way it should.  That’s okay.  That’s the way that it IS.  And there is only one true real response.  To keep at it, to keep doing your work – without result – as much as possible, while keeping it real – the best that you can.

I find myself occasionally getting stuck just like everyone else – in the morass of expectation and disappointment and unfulfillment and yes, occasional bitterness.  But seldom, at this point in my life, can I stay there long.  I know better.  I know the truth.  That all I have now is all I had when I came in – my talent and what I have to say and that determination to do so.  No one can ever take that away from me.  But myself, I suppose.  Which is the true irony, don’t you think?

I’m reminded of a great scene in the movie Quills – based on Doug Wright’s play.  The Marquis de Sade, a controversial writer in his time of sexually explicit material, was finally thrown in prison for his work and all writing instruments (his quills) and paper were taken away from him.  What did he do?  He opened his veins and used his own blood to write on the prison walls.

No, I wouldn’t advise this.  It’s a dramatic illustration. (Sort of like the Bible, but that’s the subject of another discussion).

Although, it would be Dexter approved.

Although, it would be Dexter approved.

You are going along with your own worst enemies and destructive powers by stewing in your own soup of bitterness and resentment.  True?  Absolutely true.

Everyone can be a writer and filmmaker and pretty much any kind of artist today.  Anyone.   Thanks to the accessibility of technology.  Plus, there are so many more places to be seen.  Though ironically there seems less of a chance to reach a mass audience because so many more people can and are trying to with the help of social media and the digital revolution.  Why does something go viral?  Or hit it big?  Or get bought in mass quantities?  It’s all sort of the same answer it always was, isn’t it?  Because it does.  Talent?  Sure.  But as Sting says, luck and timing?  Absolutely.

Some of the odds might be changing in the more traditional real world.  For the longest time mainstream Hollywood movies were made mostly by white people – older white males, to be specific.  Not that there weren’t women, people of color (and other, ahem, minorities) in various positions helping them.  But if you look at the percentages you will see it hasn’t been too encouraging.

There are, however, recent signs of inclusion from that most exclusive and perhaps elitist of show business organization – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  This select, invited group of several thousand men and women not only make up the industry’s top movie professionals but they also vote each year on the Oscars – the awards everyone likes to say don’t matter but the awards (and show) that most people, in some way, pay attention to.

Diversity?

Diversity?

Right now, women comprise just 23% of all Academy members, but this year 32% of the 2013 inductees (88 of 274 people in all) were women.  In addition, this year the total inductees of people under 50 also rose to 35%, which should hopefully begin to equalize the voting power to more contemporary tastes (too bad Brokeback Mountain and Crash aren’t competing next year), since right now only 14% of the total membership of the Academy is under 50.  There are even more people of color being invited in, too.  The Academy is about 94% white at the moment.  But this year only 71% of its new members will be Caucasian.  (Okay, that does need to be worked on, but still….)

Clearly, none of us have crystal balls that work or else we wouldn’t have gotten stuck this summer taking a chance on films like The Lone Ranger or Man of Steel (If you haven’t gone – really, you don’t have to).  But what is absolutely also known is that if you are not producing material (aka using your talent) you have absolutely no shot at luck or timing or reaching anyone or anything (aka your full potential or desires).

Once when I pondered about taking a job I didn’t really want to do after a long, painful round of unemployment and self-pity, a more experienced person dared to quote this cliché to me – work begets work.  Years later, I finally got what was being said.  Work of any kind, is a road to something productive and positive and will take you somewhere.  Which is better than nowhere – the place where you are now if you’re not working.  I loathed discovering this, particularly since I saw it as a little too Power of Positive Thinking for my hip tastes.  Still, that doesn’t make it any less true. Then or now.

Sympathy for the Devil

Homer-Simpson

My response when people tell me I’m going to hell:

Oh good, cause that’s where all my friends will be!

It’s kind of a tart, easy answer that ensures I won’t win any new buds in certain circles, but those are not circles I want to be in anyway so these kinds of answers work for me.  Plus, as a lifelong provocateur with a big mouth, especially when I’m pushed, I actually love annoying those who in my mind are a little too self-righteous and judgmental about the rest of us.  Hmm, I guess that means anyone like me – except on the other side.

This all got me thinking about Lena Dunham and Girls, James Franco in Oz the Great and Powerful and Don Draper/Jon Hamm (because they are now the same person) in Mad Men, as well as Hannibal Lecter, Dexter and pretty much any role Al Pacino has ever played.

What is it about devils and devilish behavior?   And what puts them and the way they act in that category?  Why are there some devils we love to love?  And other Lucifers we fear and hate?  And still other Beast Masters we are kind of intrigued by and want to spend time with yet publicly want to deny, or at least distance ourselves from until the doors are closed and we can luxuriate in all of their nastily seductive, id-like, primally deceptive dirtiness?

Woah, excuse me while I don’t wash up.  Ever.

The Divine Ms. Dunham

The Divine Ms. Dunham

I happen to love Lena Dunham – everything about her – which is why I don’t really want to meet her and be friends with her.  Decades of experience tell me I will be severely disappointed because she can never live up to the hype.  NO human could.  Which is why I suppose I’m looking forward to Hell.

In any event, this is because Lena Dunham is NOT Hannah Horvath, the oft-vilified lead character on Girls just as three decades ago Murphy Brown, from the self-titled TV series, was not a real person anyone could feel threatened by despite then Vice President Dan Quayle’s hysterical reaction to her.

However, this did not stop the zeitgeist from attacking and defending Murphy Brown, dubbed by Mr. Quayle et al as a scandalous role model of single motherhood for young women and the future of the American family in the 1980s, just as me writing and ranting about my love for Lena/Hannah likely won’t now quash the outcry against her.  Outcries such as the LA Times’ TV critic Mary McNamara who recently wrote that Hannah was a “lovely but irritating wild child running around the playground shouting vagina at everyone and peeing in the sandbox.”  Okay – I suppose she’s entitled.  But when she suggested that “someone needed to put that kids’ clothes back on and show her where the bathroom is,” I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to make the short drive down to her office (hopefully in the middle of the newsroom) and take a dump on her desk in support of my current favorite TV heroine.

That's it Hannah, ignore the haters!

That’s it Hannah, ignore the haters!

The latter is not only because I am a bit Satanic but because I love that Dunham is representing being a writer in your twenties with seemingly unedited indulgence (Um, yes, she’s edited – Judd Appatow is one of her producer’s for God’s sake!).  And THIS is because I am here to tell you that for most writers and many others in their 20s (and obviously sometimes beyond) it’s about always thinking you’re right and usually not caring enough if you’re not to stop your behavior.  That’s the brilliance of the show and why it and Dunham’s Hannah is so cringingly uncomfortable when she plays ping pong topless with her flab bouncing; leaves nasty messages for friends not listening for the millionth time to one of her problems; and tries to manipulate everyone around her for a free ride with money or attention so she can create something brilliant that the world must have and see for its own survival.

I mean, I certainly feel and have felt that way.  Who hasn’t?

Okay, well then let’s just say I have felt (sometimes feel?) that way and don’t find any of those traits particularly objectionable, unsympathetic or devilish for what now should be obvious reasons.  Though perhaps, you do.  The devil, as they say, is always in the details.

Still, the dramatic strategy used for Hannah is be all out in all of your flaws and don’t worry about being sympathetic if you can also be honest and entertaining.

Well, then – what about the charm of other blasphemes? Like:

A look behind the curtain

A look behind the curtain

James Franco’s version of the title character in Oz, the Great and Powerful

Here’s a two-bit circus magician whose goal through his movie is to become rich and powerful and famous while bedding as many unsuspecting women along the way as possible.  These are lofty goals to some but obnoxious ambitions to many others.  Yet members of both groups have pushed the movie to over $300,000,000 at the worldwide box office in just a few weeks.

Oz was helped by being a prequel to an iconic movie seen by more people in the world than any other.  But it also has a fairly unsympathetic lead who gets by mostly on counter charm and the goodness of others who want to believe and will inevitably be disappointed by him — until they’re not and in turn lead him to forever change for the better.

Dramatic strategy: We’ll root for the Devil in all his sin because he’s fun and underneath it not so bad.  And since he’s a famous character, we know he will come around in the end.

Still, this will not convince everyone.  As one of my students said to me, “Franco seemed stoned through the whole movie, do you think he was?  And why do I want to watch that, anyway? “

I had no answer for either.

Where there's smoke...

Where there’s smoke…

Don Draper/Jon Hamm on Mad Men

He’s an ad man who manipulates the public for profit, stole the identity of the dead soldier next to him, is a serial adulterer (until perhaps recently – though we don’t know for sure), a chain smoker and a disrespectful lout if someone gets in his way.  He is also always the best-looking and best dressed guy in the room, a brilliant ad man, a loyal friend, and the guy every guy wants to be and every woman wants to have – partially because he is rumored to be the best lay in New York City in the sixties, which is really saying something.

Dramatic strategy:  Incredible looking devils who will maybe move a mountain for a lost puppy, if they decide they’re worth it, can do anything else they want as long as they give us a wink and a nod.  You know it’s true.  I know it’s true.  Why fight it?  In real life or on television.

Donuts anyone?

Donuts anyone?

Dexter on Dexter

If Dexter were writing this (and perhaps he is) he would offer no justification for being a serial killer who has gotten away with countless murders while sacrificing the lives of his wife, girlfriends and friends plus the sanity of his police detective sister.  Everything about him is beastly, especially his choice to maintain a double life as a caring father to his young son and expose him to all kinds of potential bloodiness.

Having watched every episode of Dexter, I sort of feel like one of those women who fall in love with a guy who has been sentenced to consecutive murder sentences and will spend his next five lifetimes behind bars.  This is because somehow I know he has been either misunderstood, judged harshly for a momentary indiscretion or is really a moral guy who has been forced to take unorthodox action for the greater good because, damn it, somebody had to.  And besides – if you knew him like I did – you’d get it and know that he is not unlike any of us.  And, in the end, may be better.

Dramatic strategy:  The dark passenger devil inside us has to breathe at some point and it’s better to root for a fictional killer than spend the rest of our lives in prison, on the lam or in a box underground before our time.  Plus we ALL want to murder someone at some point in our lives. Which makes it universally interesting to see how it will play out.

Who's hungry?

Who’s hungry?

Hannibal Lecter

He’s the Devil among Devils – a killer so brilliant and crafty that he subverts all expectations among his ilk.  This is probably because he also manages to be the Court Jester of Devils if the Joker were the kind of sophisticated dinner companion one would have at a $50,000 a plate charity dinner. This is also probably why he’s starred in at least three huge films, many more bestselling novels, is the subject of a new NBC show, and has become an irrevocable part of American folklore.

Dramatic Strategy:  As Joan Rivers once famously said, “If Hitler had five good minutes, they’d put him on The Tonight Show.”  Can we talk?  Well, he most certainly can – but in a really, really funny way.  Plus, he knows how to eat.  You.  Me.  And any one of us.  And we all love danger.

Finally, there’s…

In the flesh?

In the flesh?

 Al Pacino in Everything

He began as Michael Corleone in The Godfather but between recent portrayals of Roy Cohn, Jack Kevorkian and now Phil Spector, he may indeed be The Devil himself.  And if you have any doubt, note Pacino actually did play The Devil (or himself) in The Devil’s Advocate, though his character was named John Milton, which seemed to imply something about Paradise Lost though I was never quite sure what. Side Note: I much prefer Robert DeNiro’s take on Lucifer in Angel Heart because his character was named Lou Cypher (get it??).

Dramatic Strategy:  No one does loveable old coot as The Beast like Al.  Still, there will be an update after tonight’s showing on HBO of Phil Spector despite the fact that writer-director David Mamet calls it a fable; Phil Spector’s wife says its inaccurate; and everyone knows that on both counts the Devil is anything but.

There are numerous other sympathetic Satans but I think we’ve covered the basics here.  So – one final thought:

Anything about this list jump out at you?  Anything at all?

(Silence).

Anyone?  Anyone?

(More silence).

tumblr_miu9i6OX4X1s4tfa9o1_500

The correct answer:  All the above Devils we truly love are men and there is not a woman among them.  And forget Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, we don’t love her.  Not really.  Nor did we love Charlize Theron in Monster.  Or Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest.  Even Meryl’s ghastly Miranda Priestley doesn’t win our sympathies. They were campy, cultish heroines.  But loving and reveling in their nastiness?  Uh, uh. 

However, I DO love Lena/Hannah for what she dares to do that I couldn’t.  And though I do not see her as The Devil but I am willing to accept some of the public outcry and admit that others perhaps rightfully do.  What I can’t understand is – why can’t she be accepted among The Devils we love to love — like all the other men who came before her — rather than be treated as The Young Woman that we love to hate???

Taste Free

After a hiatus from performing in the seventies, Bette Midler was asked by a reporter whether her new live act would contain her usual tasteless material. “Actually, no,” quipped the diva, “The new show will be taste free.”

I’ve thought of this comment periodically over the years, especially when family, friends or the general public tell me they find one of my jokes or comments “tasteless.”  What the heck is tasteless, anyway?  And I’m not talking offensive, as in disparaging a specific ethnicity.  I’m talking tasteless as in….well, you decide.

The argument surfaced this week all over the blogosphere when Casey Anthony was found not guilty for killing her two year old daughter Caylee (Oh, you haven’t heard about it?  Lucky you, who lives under a rock like the caveman in the Geico commercial).  Anyway, I casually glance on Facebook and Twitter later that day and am immediately bombarded with witticisms like: “Casey Anthony, meet Dexter Morgan.” “Don’t worry, Dexter will take care of her.”  “Dexter’s headed to Orlando with knives sharpened,” etc. etc.  (For those who don’t know Dexter, he’s our larger than life TV serial killer hero who only kills particularly heinous killers who have managed to avoid justice).  Lately (meaning today), the comments have gotten even more taste challenged — “Is Casey Anthony available for birthday parties now,” “Would that jury let Casey babysit for them?” and my favorite from the Borowitz Report: “Casey Anthony got off light – the Judge had considered sentencing her to one hour with Nancy Grace.”

I cop to laughing, to varying degrees, at all of these.   Are they in bad taste? Well, they don’t tar any particular group of people.  But they do rag on a person who has been in jail for three years and was just found NOT guilty by a jury of her peers and is now INNOCENT under our justice system.   HASN’T SHE SUFFERED ENOUGH?

Do you find this last statement tasteless despite the fact that this woman has been declared innocent under our justice system?  Hmm.  Now we’re getting into murky waters.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I don’t know what else to do but laugh or crack my own joke when faced with an awful subject or uncomfortable situation over which I feel as if I have no say or power.  And the more outrageous the joke or reaction from the audience, the bigger the release seems to be.   George Carlin first said it best for me when I was in high school with his classic comedy routine about the seven dirty words you can’t say on television.

This was, of course, before cable television – which regularly features any of those words nightly on a given series, movie or special event program.  My, how times have changed.

Carlin was greatly inspired by comedians before him such as Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory, who dared to venture into uncharted territory of language and race.  There were also a whole slew of female Jewish comedians, often performing in Florida or the Borscht Belt, who made people laugh with “taste free” jokes.  Goggle names like Rusty Warren (hint: one of her record albums was called “Knockers Up!” – yes, those knockers!) and Belle Barth, who used to sing to packed houses in Miami Beach, “I lined 100 men up against the wall, and bet $100 I could…“ well, you listen and you’ll see what inspired some of Bette Midler’s seventies antics.

None of those acts are particularly shocking today, though some are still probably considered tasteless.  But are they funny? Hell yes!  Are there people who don’t find them funny and find it/me tasteless? Hell yes again!  Do I want to be friends with those people? Hell, no!!!  Many times!!!

Consider this – there was some degree of hoopla when the fabulously terrific late actress Jill Clayburgh, Oscar-nominated for her performance in Paul Mazursky’s “An Unmarried Woman,” visibly upchucked onscreen when her husband of many years blurted out he was in love with another woman.  I think at the time more people were disgusted by having to look at vomit than the sexual politics of the moment.  Imagine if they were around now (some of them still could be!) and had to look at the tour de force food poisoning scene of the four gals in “Bridesmaids?”

I'd lay off the Brazilian food, ladies

One of my proudest moments as a screenwriter and taste-free, soap box standing liberal was when I was late for a meeting at Disney in the nineties, got lost in the animation building and ran smack into a tall man carrying an attaché case and wearing a plain suit.  I profusely and hurriedly apologized and as I looked into his eyes and rushed away I realized, “Holy sh-t, That’s John Waters!”  Who could have imagined when I clandestinely watched that bootleg copy of “Pink Flamingos” with my friends (where drag queen star Divine ate dog excrement), that one day its director would be rubbing shoulders with Mickey Mouse.   How subversively taste free of all of us!!!

I’d like to also add to this that several years after watching “Pink Flamingos,” when I was still in college, the student film society SPONSORED a midnight showing ON CAMPUS, of the popular X-rated porn film, “The Devil in Miss Jones.”  I went to see it, my first exposure to big screen movie porn, and I’ve managed to live a relatively moral life (depending on your morals) since.  How many college campuses across the country do you think would allow that now?

There’s no sense arguing for a mass acceptance of porn (unless it would increase tax revenues and solve the debt crisis, which it might, so we could) but I will go out on the line for 85 year-old Mel Brooks.  (Note:  I saw him six months ago at LA Chinese restaurant Mandarette and he was still sharp and hilarious).  He mainstreamed tastelessness in 1974’s “Blazing Saddles” and it’s famous bean eating scene.   Was that crass, stupid and tasteless?  You bet your sweet derriere it was/is!

It should be noted that Mr. Brooks hasn’t stopped.  His Broadway juggernaut musical of his movie from the sixties, “The Producers,” featured a homosexual Adolph Hitler sitting at the footlights of a New York theatre eight performances and six nights a week imitating Judy Garland.  I mean, if that’s not taste free, I don’t know what is.

I’m going to try to remember all of this the next time I blanch (not Blanche as in DuBois, but as in repelled by) when someone tries to get me to watch one of the “Hostel” movies all the way through or tells me I have to rewatch the original “Last House on the Left,” one of the only movies that has ever given me nightmares.   I might even try to remember it when I’m watching Sarah Bachman or Michelle Palin (oops!) giving a speech, though for me that will be a lot tougher. It is then you can come to my door (or blog) and shout me down with the inimitable words Oscar nominated and Emmy, Grammy and special Tony winner Bette Midler has shouted numerous times from stages all across the world,   “F—k ‘em, if they can’t take a joke!”