A Matter of Fact

By now everyone but three people in the world (and you decide whom) have heard this expression:

“Assholes are like opinions, everybody’s got one.”

But are there differences between opinions and beliefs?   Or a belief system?  And what about facts?  Where do those pesky critters enter into it in today’s world?  Because there are any number of statements that I would have sworn were facts a mere 5-10 years ago that are now considered opinions, beliefs or feelings in opposition to a belief system.  Or something far  more blasphemous worse.   (We’ll get to the latter in a bit).

There was a time many decades ago, when movies were truly worth arguing about and not just lamenting. I would get into heated discussions with friends and colleagues about the merits and failings of the hot or cold film of the moment.  Sometimes these debates would actually escalate into shouting matches, personal insults and, in the case of one first date that I had who didn’t think Woody Allen was particularly funny, the end of what I’m sure would have been just another in a series of dysfunctional relationships I seemed to so enjoy at the time.  (Note: FYI, the Woody and dating life I’m talking about were many decades ago – just in case you were wondering).

You know nothing of my work.

Aspiring Missouri Senator Todd Akin thinks women have something in their biology that shuts down pregnancy and Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, who is running for re-election, said just a few days ago that medical technology has evolved to such an extent that it is now physiologically impossible for any woman to die due to childbirth, thereby ostensibly ending any legal right on the part of said woman to end her pregnancy.

Of course, neither Mr. Akin nor Mr. Walsh’s facts are correct.  But one can’t argue.  Because each of these middle-aged white men (I can call them that because I AM a middle-aged white man) will somewhere, someplace, find a pseudo “expert” (and chances are the expert will be another middle-aged white man) to back them up.  This is much the same strategy my friends and I would use to defend our favorite movies – the corralling of mass “expert” opinions (or, perish the thought, box-office grosses) inside the industry in order to disprove anyone who would even consider voicing “facts” to the contrary.  It is also interesting to note that the data could be used to support the argument any way you wanted to.  For instance, the lack of box-office for a particular film could be used as evidence of its genius (I even tried this strategy as late as 1995 to support the merits of Claude LeLouche’s quite original take on “Les Miserables”) just as movies that set record-breaking numbers could be seen as either inferior mass pabulum (sorry “Forrest Gump” and “King’s Speech”) or confirmation of its value and true emotional depth (“E.T’’s success on all levels simply cannot be disputed).

Who… me?

The artistic merit of a film has implications for the creative community.  Those include who will get meetings and future work, as well as how movies, as a whole, are viewed by the public at large.  Also, how it will survive to either inspire or repel future generations of filmmakers who will choose to either build on ideas that came before them or use the perceived inferiority of said film to be bolder and more original than any one filmmaker of the past, particularly the one perceived to be inferior, could have ever imagined.

Certainly there is value to all of this.  But let’s face it – the fact that I wasn’t bowled over by “Argo” last week despite its “A” plus Cinemascore, rave reviews and box office numbers, doesn’t matter in the scheme of things.  Not only because I don’t exert much public influence except over my blog readers (and certainly that’s debatable), but because – as Alfred Hitchcock once reportedly told Ingrid Bergman when she was fretting over something while shooting one of his films:

“Ingrid, it’s only a movie.”

This, however, is not the case with, let’s say for argument’s sake, politicians, who have feelings or opinions that they all too frequently nowadays try to masquerade as facts.

For instance, perhaps scarier than potential Senator Akin or Congressman Walsh’s view of the female anatomy are several congressmen presently on the House of Representatives SCIENCE committee.  Case in point — Georgia Representative Paul Broun, who is also a medical DOCTOR, believes that evolution and the big bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” partly because he can’t fathom that his “lovely” wife was descended from an ape and partly due to the beauty of the world, which he believes could only have been created by a superior being in the space of a week.  I also don’t want to leave out my own state of California, one of whose representatives, Dana Rohrbacher, another sitting science committee member, eschews today’s overwhelming evidence on global warming, suggesting that having this thought is akin to believing that temperature fluctuations millions of years ago were due to dinosaur flatulence.  (Rachel Maddow explains it far better than I can, if you want more, click on her)

click for full video

Never mind that critical ice levels in the Arctic Ocean melted at record rates this summer (which will in turn affect global temperatures) and that another MSNBC’er, Chris Matthews, reports that many Alaskans at a recent science conference he attended say that ships will soon be able to pass easily over the North Pole.   Two very powerful members of the science committee seem to deny climate change and overwhelming evolutionary evidence based on the actual bones of animals from millions of years ago not on facts and physical evidence but on a belief system rooted in theology.  Which is fine for them but perhaps not so fine if you’re an agnostic, an atheist or a religious person who likes to keep God between you and your Goddess of choice.  Or a scientist seeking funds to save an overheating Earth from extinction or medical researcher hoping to fund a new drug protocol instead of the old tried and true method of bloodletting to cure cancer.  On that note, I suppose we can at least take solace in the fact that Congressman Broun is no longer a practicing physician and will not be prescribing the biblical remedy of leeches if you happened to come into his medical office seeking treatment for a 2012 heart condition.

’nuff said

The issue is not whether any of the white middle-aged men mentioned are right or wrong but how much their personal opinions and feelings affect public policy of a committee that is responsible for potentially billions of dollars in research grants and the general direction of medical and scientific exploration for the world’s greatest superpower.

I’m all for anyone believing anything they want as long as they don’t try to make me believe it or use those beliefs to further their own agenda and thwart mine.  For example, when several friends proclaimed the brilliance of Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” to me last year I was happy to accept that as their opinion because I was confident in the fact that their enjoyment couldn’t literally prevent me from waxing poetic over, say, “Bridesmaids.”  However, when they told me I HAD to at least admire “The Tree of Life” as a piece of cinema I felt a line had been crossed.  I mean, if I wanted to admire a purposely obtuse film that didn’t work I could have saved the $12 ticket price and just imagine what would have happened if the sloppily constructed, somewhat indecipherable second screenplay I had ever written had actually gotten filmed.

Speaking of dinosaurs… “Tree of Life” screenshot

Or I could have saved the admiration for my auteur du jour, Paul Thomas Anderson and his much-maligned (in some circles) “The Master.”  PTA’s even the type that might write 2012 bloodletting into a medical office scene, though at the very least I can rest assured that he is not going to require said medical “procedure” as part of the admission price to said film in the future.  (…or…might he?…)

As we approach the presidential election and the release of a slew of movies being touted for Oscar contention this year, it might be worth considering the differences between opinions, feelings, belief systems and facts.  One way to do this is to accept what is the official 2012 definition of one of these words.

Fact – –

  1. Knowledge or information based on real occurrences.
  2. a. Something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed: (Genetic engineering is now a fact). b. A real occurrence; an event.

Using these rules:

  1. How one feels about a movie is an opinion.   It is not fact.
  2. The precepts of one’s religion are part of a belief system.  They are not facts.
  3. The temperature of the earth at a given location, the workings of the female reproductive system and the evolution of man based on fossils, ruins and solid scientific research, according to our 2012 definitions, are facts – or at least the best facts we have at the time until, like the centuries old medical technique of bloodletting, they are proven wrong.

Anyone who chooses to deny or confuse these facts for the benefit of themselves or their belief system as a way to influence public policy, could quite fairly, by 2012 definitions, be considered an asshole.

And that is one last fact.

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Resolutions

A resolution is either an ending or a beginning.  The generally accepted idea of a situation being resolved would mean that it is brought to some sort of conclusion – at least in the eye of the resolver.  As with anything, of course, this depends on what side of the argument you’re on.

For example:

The political liberal in me refuses to believe the US presidential election of George W. Bush in 2000 was ever resolved despite the highest court in the US, the Supreme Court, having declared that the issue has, indeed, ended.   Uh, uh.  I don’t think so.  He wasn’t president for eight years.  Sorry.

As for the movies, for me there has never been a resolve (and never will be) to the Oscar race for best picture in 1994.  Oh sure, the Academy resolved that race years ago for itself and proclaimed that “Forrest Gump” was the winner.  But that’s simply impossible because that film annoyed me to no resolution; plus, it was also the year of “The Shawshank Redemption” (a perfect film), “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Bullets Over Broadway” and even “Pulp Fiction” – all movies that will endure waaay more favorably in my mind long after the aforementioned “best” picture.  Yes, even though that, uh, “best” picture was this week chosen as one of three films by the Library of Congress in 2011 to be preserved in PERPETUITY in our National Film Registry (along with “Silence of the Lambs” and Bambi” – last time you hear those three mentioned in one sentence) because of its outstanding artistic achievement.  B. F. D.  Something or someone willing itself or themselves into worldwide acclaim despite its obvious inferiority and unlikelihood (like in the plot of some Hollywood movie) is still faaaaar from resolved for me.  I mean, nothing like that could ever happen in real life.  Not really.

Life is not a box of chocolates.

The one resolution I can agree to in my current state of mind is the fact that 2011 is fading into distant memory and 2012 is now forging its way into the spotlight.  This transformation to center stage – sort of like Madonna slowly getting the torch pried out of her hand and passed to Lady Gaga or, well, cable TV consistently besting the networks for awards/prestige for dramatic television for shows like “Mad Men,” “Homeland” and Breaking Bad” despite the top four trying desperately to compete with them with new shows like “The Playboy Club,” “Pan Am” and “Charlie’s Angels” (Okay, I know I’m being unfair, but besides “The Good Wife,” which I’m a bit tired of everyone holding up as the reason why all network dramas are as good as those on cable, what are their big award-contenders?) means the start of something new. Like a new year.

Hurry up 2012! The wait is agony...

The start of a new year also ushers in a long-standing tradition of making resolutions for the upcoming 12- month period that we will name 2012.  How did this tradition start?  You got me.  I scoured the internet for at least half an hour and asked numerous people I know (okay, four) about this and the best I can come up with is that this has been going on since ancient Roman times and that Kings and kingdoms have forever been thinking up stuff they will resolve to do.  Stuff that they want to achieve (like reversing the 1994 best picture winner or simply letting it go); or would like to not put off (like putting all my files in order and throwing out that second or third draft of a screenplay so old that its not on a computer disk, but one that I still, you know, might need); or even stuff they hope to achieve (aside from world peace, which is too lofty for one person to work on but certainly an admirable idea) or at least shoot for in the new year.

I actually like this last one – the one about jotting down some ideas of things you want to do.  Most writers I know, including myself, hate schedules and deadlines yet I will publicly admit here that having an idea of what you want to accomplish and giving yourself a time frame in which to achieve it, can do wonders for your output.  The trick to it is – and it’s tricky – to come up with a list that will take some work on your part, and yet, is remotely achievable – if you push yourself.

I’m not going to bore you with my short list.  I’m tempted but, well…okay…you twisted my arm.

The Chair’s Resolutions

  1. Continue writing this blog and expanding it.  Yes, it’s in the works even as we speak.  I hope you like that idea.  But even if you don’t it doesn’t matter because resolutions are really only for the resolver. And besides, I might win you over.  You never know.
  2. Write and direct (oy, on the latter) my first film (a short film) because that is achievable but also a stretch – something that a good resolution certainly requires.  Also, it will allow the writer me to blame no one else but myself for the final result – which will be a welcome change for some of my friends and from some of my past behaviors.
  3. Read all of the backlog of scripts I’ve promised everyone (other writers) I would read.  See, I always plan to read these scripts quickly and then things get in the way.  Like, uh, making that list of resolutions.  But I do not agree to read things I don’t plan on reading.  I just get backlogged.   With resolutions.
  4. Continue to try to inject humor into most everything but resist the temptation to be overly snide and bitchy because, well, sometimes that’s just plain mean (save for “Forrest Gump.” That “achievement in film artistry” can certainly take it.  And if that’s too bitchy, well, too bad, it’s still 2011).
  5. Try to be more tolerant of things I dislike but not so tolerant that it dries up all subject matter, sentence structure and P.O.V moments I have on the page because as I’ve said before – if it’s “all good,” is everything fine?  Even Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin?  Uh, I don’t think so.  I’m not that nice, not that humorous, and certainly not so devoid of resolve that I will ignore my inner (mini?) me.   Plus, I have a significant number of politically conservative students I adore and want to be open to – AND vice-versa.  (Note:  This does fall short of liberal academia brainwashing but far exceeds what would one get in home schooling or in any one episode of The Duggars TV show, “19 Kids and Counting.”  Which, by the way, is still on the air – though not on any of the big 4 networks.

Okay, I’ve listed my resolutions.  What are yours?  List them in the comments.

Yes, we all make (or have made) fun of the idiots who do make these lists and convince themselves that they will actually follow through with what they plan.  Of course, we are all idiots from time to time and even more often than that.  And — as they say on the wall of idiot clichés – or perhaps in one of the new movies on the National Film Registry – even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Happy 2012 everyone.

Peace and Love (cause I’m a sixties guy at heart).

And as such — I   love you  hate you   accept you “Forrest Gump.”  Though we are far from resolved.