Seventies Stories

We tell a lot of stories and we tell ourselves A LOT of stories.  Some of them are true but most of them are not entirely true.

Scratch that. 

None of them are entirely true because there is no absolute truth other than we will all die one day.

HAPPY JANUARY!

Resolutions be damned!

It’s better not to obsess about absolute truth or death because, really, what will that get us?  Instead, I’ve found over the years the better strategy is to accept that there are simply basic truths.

Like when you watch a group of many, many hundreds of weaponized people violently storm the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.  on, say, January 6, 2021, shouting they want to hang a US Vice President before he can, in an hour or two, ratify the results of a presidential election they didn’t like, this is, by definition, an insurrection.

That is because insurrection is defined as a violent uprising against an authority or government. 

You tell em, Lizzy!

It is also true because they built a gallows for the hanging, seriously injured and/or caused the death of many police officers AND destroyed many tens of thousands of dollars worth of government property in doing so.

On the other hand, there is no way to categorically proclaim Power of the Dog, a film I found beautiful to look at but vague and strangely homophobic in its vagueness, is the best movie of the year.

Now you might truthfully state it is the best REVIEWED film of the year and, by extension, a front-runner in the Oscar race for best picture and director.  But you can’t prove it is overall THE best by any rational standard.

Unless there is an Oscar for highest cheekbones, nothing is a sure bet!

No opinion of greatness is an absolute truth.  Just as no memory or memory piece is an absolute evocation of what literally happened.

The best we storytellers, which includes all of us (non-writers especially included), can do is capture a basic spirit of what happened and through character, plot and actions, show it to you.

This came to mind this week as I found myself debating the merits and debits of two films set in the decade I basically grew up in – the 1970s.  These would be Licorice Pizza and The Tender Bar.

Let me state at the outset that as a bit of an expert on the seventies, since I was at my most impressionable, observant and un-jaded at the time, both of these movies told the basic truth.

Double serving of 70s realness

This doesn’t mean they were brilliant or Oscar worthy or that YOU should love or like them.  Rather it’s that they were amazingly accurate on the essentials when so many stories about a particular place and time are not but pretend to be.

Most of the 1970s, particularly the first half, were really the tail end of what we now consider the cultural revolution of the 1960s. 

This was a time when everything felt adrift.  If you were coming-of-age at that moment your journey strangely coincided with the country’s journey.  No one knew what the new rules were in sex or sex roles; in politics and social settings; and to quote a 60s/70s expression, in love or war or the whole damned thing.

See: Peggy from Mad Men, Season 7

This made it a quite interesting but confusing time to grow up in.  To tell stories about it is like trying to hold a hyperactive puppy in your hands.  Just when you think you’ve tamed the impossible it wriggles out of your grasp and runs (or circles) in an entirely different direction.

I think this accounts for some of the disparate reaction to both films. 

The very reason I appreciate and enjoyed Licorice Pizza were the very reason four of the other five people watching the movie with me (Note:  Okay, yes, it was a screener and we watched it on Christmas Day at home!) lost interest.

The story of a weird, pseudo romantic relationship between a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old girl that unfolded in disjointed episodes where they sold waterbeds, met drug-fueled celebrities like producer Jon Peters and each grappled with their even stranger, ill-defined family lives, just wasn’t really compelling.

Even an unhinged Bradley Cooper cameo couldn’t do it for them

Yet for me, it was surrealistically accurate because that was what I saw as the story of the seventies.  Everything felt disjointed, and not merely because I was an adolescent.  It was a disjoined time and, in retrospect, a rather lovely one when you consider that the decade that would follow it were the Gordon Gekko-like greed is good eighties.

Sure, the seventies was also the era of Watergate but the eighties brought us Ronald Reagan. 

And let’s just let that sit there for a little while.

A chill just went down my spine

Okay, enough. 

The Tender Bar spends most of its time in the later 1970s and, as a memoir of a young boys’ coming-of-age, has a naturally gauzy quality to it.  But to its credit, it also doesn’t spare us the social reckoning that Licorice Pizza cleverly avoids. 

At this point, there was direct retribution and consequences for underage drinking, hitting women (note: particularly one’s wife) and the snobbism of economic class.  If it feels a little pat, well, at that time, on Long Island, if you were a teenager, it was a little pat.

I only know this because I grew up in Queens (Note: Not quite Long Island, but still….) and saw it play out in real time.  The years prior made it okay for kids to now call out adults in no uncertain terms.  In fact, it even got you support from that group of adults that had made the choice to evolve rather than stand their ground in insurrection to society’s changing norms.

AHEM

I loved The Tender Bar not because it was THE best of any film story but because it so entertainingly and boldly and emotionally told ITS story.  No one thought about being too sentimental because, let’s face it, it was something of an emotional time.

This was my truth of that moment and it happily coincided with what these filmmakers chose to show us.  Which is about the best you can hope to do as a storyteller of any kind.

Well done, Georgie.

Where we all get in trouble, especially society, is when we try to twist the basic truth into something patently and grotesquely untrue.

That’s not only unacceptable but it’s strangely un-American.  To this very American art form, that is.

Gordon Lightfoot – “If You Could Read My Mind”

For Your Consideration

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.22.46 AM

I used to have a poster in my bathroom that read ART OFFICIAL underneath a cartoon drawing of a deceased politician who, among other achievements over his 30 years in office, vigorously advocated for legislation in the U.S. Senate that would quarantine people with AIDS, reinstitute segregation in the South and defund all governmental support of the arts. His name was Jesse Helms and a looker, he wasn’t.  Still, every time I went to the bathroom and saw his face, snarling at me from over the bathtub, I felt as if I were taking a crap right in front of him and everything he stood for. This made me incessantly happy for quite a long period of time during a very difficult period of my life.  Okay, about 15 years.  Still, how many other $9.95 posters can you say that for?

Allow me to excuse myself

Allow me to excuse myself

Many people, including my now husband, criticized me for keeping Mr. Helms around for that long and begged me to take him down.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t relent – even when Mr. Helms started to bend and fade after years of restroom abuse and we were towards the end of the Clinton administration where times had begun to change just a little bit.

Some months after Sen. Helms finally dropped dead at the age of 87 and my test of wills was won I decided it was time to move on.  Still, I sometimes miss that poster (Note:  The original piece was drawn by famed guerilla poster artist Robbie Conal) and everything it evoked – anger, color, sadness, triumph and, in the end, just plain justice.

I have a better idea for some bathroom art.

Perhaps some better bathroom art

Point being, it’s hard to quantify what a poster or any piece of art means to an individual.  What speaks to us, why it resonates, just how good “good” really is or just how “awful” a truly awful creation can be is purely subjective.  Can you really, as the old saying goes, sew a silk purse from a sow’s ear?  Well, for my $9.95 you couldn’t get any more piggish than Jess Helms yet, crossed with the expert purse-spinning of someone like Mr. Conal, you could not have wound up with anything more silken.  My dear husband to this day still disagrees but, fortunately, arguments like those are not relationship breakers.

Which brings us to the announcement of this year’s Emmy Awards.

But before we begin, here’s a photo of Jon Hamm.

hai

hai

And another.

Me again?

Me again?

This man has NEVER won an Emmy Award and yet has been nominated all eight seasons he has brilliantly played Don Draper on the equally brilliant television series Mad Men, which finally ended its run this year.

Yes, Mr. Hamm is the physical anti-Helms and in that sense certainly bears no relation to any sow I have ever seen.  But that is no reason to penalize him for achieving the equivalent of the finest silk etching of one of the medium’s most iconic and certainly-to-be enduring characters.  So if you’re a voter – you. must. vote. for.  him.  And if you’re not, consider joining the Television Academy just so you can make sure that this time justice will be done.  Or simply go through your phone book and lobby someone you love, like or even feel indifferent towards to do the same.

Even I will vote for Jon!

Even I will vote for Jon!

Now, where were we?

Ah yes – awards.  See how totally subjective these types of discussions can be?

For your conveniences, here is a link to this year’s nominees

There is no point going on about every one of several hundred categories and who was left out, included or otherwise justly ignored.  We all have our favorites.  And sows.  Yet here are some salient facts you might not have known:

Sizing up the competition

Sizing up the competition

1. Every nominee in every category must be officially “entered” into the race.  To do this it costs anywhere from $200-$800, which can be reimbursed if you are a member of the Television Academy – though that’s a yearly fee equivalent to the entry fee.  True, the studios or producers will often pay the money but not always.  Not to mention, any time anyone pays for anything that will give the general public pleasure, the cost will somehow funnel its way back to you – the audience – in some form.

Translation: This is not to say that there are not deserving people who win this or any other show business award.  But the next time you become outraged at the unfairness of it all, consider the paradigm on which this is all constructed. (Note: With the exception of any award for Jon Hamm).

2. The rules require most categories limit the amount of nominees from 2-6.  But you might notice that this year some have seven or eight nominees.  That’s because there is a 2% rule which means that if the last nominee who makes the cut is not getting 2% votes more than the next one in line, that BOTH have to be upped above-the-line.  Got that?  I thought so.

Whatever... she is marrying Joe Manganiello  #trophyhusband

Whatever… she is marrying Joe Manganiello #trophyhusband

Translation:  From the point of view of the television business – the more the merrier.  Meaning, if there is any way a network can somehow eke out another nomination it can advertise by getting one or two of its employees (who are often Academy members) to vote for one of their shows or performers or craftspeople they will do it with the hopes that they can land within 2% of the next marginal entry and somehow tip the scales in their favor.  Note:  This is not purely cynicism, though certainly something has to explain why Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been nominated 19 of the past 25 years for playing two very similar characters and Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black finally received her first in three years for a BBC series (Orphan Black) during which she convincingly plays 5-7 very distinctly different people. (Note:  Oh, hiss and boo your own selves – Copyright, Bette Midler – and save your outrage for world peace).

3.  There is similarly no accounting for why perennial nominees are suddenly left off of the list.  For instance, this year Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, a four-time winner and six-time nominee in the Best Lead Actor in a Comedy category, was completed overlooked.  Bill Maher, who has been nominated 18 times for hosting and writing his own show for 20 years (and has never ever won) was passed over entirely this time out.  (Note: He’s probably relieved).  Homeland was back among the best drama series in its fourth season after being dropped from the list last year following two consecutive nominations and one win in that category for its first two seasons.  Similarly, Mad Men has been nominated for best drama series for every year it has been on the air but NOT ONE OF ITS REGULAR ACTORS HAS EVER WON.  EVER.  #itsanhonorjust2benominated?

Will one of these admen (and women) bring home the gold?

Will one of these admen (and women) finally bring home the gold?

4.  A big deal is made each year over “new blood” being recognized during awards season.  This year, the people of the moment the zeitgeist seems happiest about are Amy Schumer for her much lauded sketch comedy show on Comedy Central, John Oliver for hosting a new HBO show that bears his name and Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which scored a series and a handful of guest-starring nominees but none for uh, Kimmy Schmidt – aka Ellie Kemper?  There are no whys in this discussion.  Only why nots.

Hey... look who was on Kimmy Schmidt?

Hey… look who was on Kimmy Schmidt?

5.  It’s one thing to peruse a mainstream publication’s list of Emmy contenders for hits and misses but when you’re looking for something a bit more specific, or at least unusual, research shows (Note: Okay, fine, it’s just my opinion), people turn to blogs.  In this spirit, we’d like to point out that by far THE unique Emmy nominee of 2015 is the nod to Jane the Virgin’s Anthony Mendez as BEST NARRATOR.  The CW show has broken the barrier and become the first ever-scripted series to score a nomination in this category.  Since you’re wondering, this year he goes up against Neil deGrasse Tyson, who narrated National Geographic’s “Hubble’s Cosmic Journey,” Miranda Richardson, who did Nat Geo Wild’s “Operation Orangutan,” Peter Coyote, the voice of PBS’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” and Henry Strozier, narrator of Animal Planet’s “Too Cute!” series.  Though the much-hoped nomination for Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez in the lead actress category didn’t happen. #donteventry

6.  Finally, it could be argued that, historically, among the most competitive Emmy category has been lead actress in a comedy series.  Think about it – Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Jean Stapleton, all four Golden Girls in various years and, okay, yes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  (Note:  I never said she wasn’t good!).

However, there should really only be one winner this year and that’s Lisa Kudrow for comic/tragic/comic heroine Valerie Cherish on HBO’s The Comeback.

That girl!

That girl!

It doesn’t get any better than what she managed to pull off as actress, writer and producer.  Will she win against Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler. Lily Tomlin, Edie Falco and, um. J L-Dreyfuss??  If there is any justice, yes.  But as was the case with my under $10 piece of Jesse Helms artwork, sometimes it takes 30 years for justice to prevail.

Finally —

GIVE JON HAMM THE G-D DAMN EMMY!!!