We’re all uncomfortable

If you refuse to watch art from people you in some way disapprove of, only Tom Hanks and Julie Andrews are left.   

-– The Chair

Make me watch Forrest Gump or The Ladykillers again and I’d probably punch you in the face.

Not to mention, Hawaii and the 1980 remake of Little Miss Marker would be a very tough slog.  (Note: Sorry, Jules).

And truly, if you’re going to watch some classic films why not simply go to the acknowledged mainstream top of the list choices.  Perhaps Chinatown or even… ROSEMARY’S BABY?????????

What’d’ya say Mrs. Mulwray?

Uh, oh.  Both films were directed by Roman Polanski and Mr. Polanski is best known these days by a new generation of filmgoers as the man who had sex with an underage girl and fled the U.S. before he could be properly punished for it.

Rightly or wrongly – and it’s not either one – this issue came up recently in a writing class when we were analyzing story elements of a classic sequence in Rosemary’s Baby where the lead character is raped by….

Well, who did it is not important for the subject of this discussion.  The pertinent part was the past deeds of this director and how much his personal actions influence what a viewer now sees or can’t see in the piece of art being offered to us.

This film still kind of says it all #ugh #uncomfortable

My knee jerk reaction is that we must separate the art from the artist and realize that times change, truth reveals itself in increments and people who live in glass houses, which means ALL of us, shouldn’t throw stones.

On the other hand, to NOT acknowledge that the personal is not only political but pertinent and influential, is to ignore the extreme cultural moments we are living through these days. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody but I’m not so sure I want to support ANYTHING director Bryan Singer does/did again.

As a gay guy, I’ve heard about his penchant for younger men for years and the fabled parties where they gathered with him (Note: Or were gathered up for him).  On the other hand, I was never there and certainly never saw him doing anything inappropriate with a 15 or 17 year old boy elsewhere so who was I to judge?  What is my responsibility?  And does it mean he shouldn’t direct Millennium Films’ upcoming big budget remake of Red Sonja?

I’m with Randy #10yearoldmemes #stillapplies

The Sundance Film Festival this week previewed the upcoming 4-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, which chronicles in painstaking detail Michael Jackson’s sexual relationships with pre and early adolescent young boys when he was in his thirties.

British filmmaker Dan Reed is a respected documentarian and by all accounts the personal testimony of Jackson’s victims, their families, and the similarity and specificity of details make it as devastating to watch as the current Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly, which centers on that singer/songwriter/producer’s longtime sexual abuse of numerous underage women.

I have not felt comfortable with Mr. Jackson’s music for DECADES given that we were close in age as I watched him parade to endless premieres and show biz photo ops in the eighties and nineties in the company of  9, 11, 13 and 15 year olds boys, sometimes two or three at a time and occasionally strangely holding hands with the odd one as he spoke of playful sleepovers at his dreamy playground of a ranch.

This picture REALLY makes me uncomfortable

I remember thinking to myself, what would someone my age conceivably EVER be doing with those boys overnight and, if it wasn’t overtly sexual, could it EVER conceivably be appropriate, even with their parents’ approval?  What I concluded then and now was that it could not and, hence, I never was able to listen to or watch Mr. Jackson in the same way ever again.

I have no proof and I’m not faulting anyone who jams out to Billie Jean or who will forever see him as the King of Pop.  But there was and is something so questionable in my mind about Mr. Jackson’s personal life that sucks the goodness and fun and joy out of anything I could possibly see or hear him do.  Even the famed Motown anniversary moonwalk – the younger, gentler version of what he left behind – leaves me at best sad for all concerned when viewed in the context of the entirety of his life.

This brings me no joy #notaseasyas123

One teaching colleague of mine recently shared the difficulty of talking to college students about Miramax/Harvey Weinstein when recounting the history of the Hollywood independent film movement.  It’s not that you don’t do it, but how do get them to appreciate what that studio accomplished without the stench?   And how do you write a book about the history of television in the last century and not give The Cosby Show its due?  That’s a topic someone else very close to me (Note: VERY) is dealing with at the moment.

Can we just talk about Denise Huxtable and noone else?

To say nothing of Louis CK  and his recent jokes about the students of Parkland or Woody Allen movies in general.   How do I look at Annie Hall these days?

As a baby boomer I can only speak to Annie Hall, one of my favorite films of all time, and confess that it will forever make me laugh because I am able to block out all reality and focus in on the joy it brought me throughout my life.  Yes, I am that strong or that weak where these feelings overwhelm everything else past and present and take me back to a time when it at least FELT like we were all a lot more innocent and unsullied by the realities of a hopelessly stained contemporary world.

Of course, that is/was a fantasy in itself but at the very least it got me through my twenties and thirties.  Though when you shove Manhattan in my face now  and I’m forced to watch Woody with Mariel Hemingway’s 17 year-old character, (Note: As happened several months ago on cable TV) it’s cringe worthy.  Meaning denial only works in certain cases and, in this case,  I suddenly froze up and couldn’t help but turn away.

Can I hold on to this?

So yeah, in this light I totally get some of my students’ aversion to Rosemary’s Baby and Mr. Polanski.   How many of us Jews interested in movies have ever had a tough time with academic articles fetishizing the filmmaking talent of Adolph Hitler’s favorite director, Leni Riefenstahl?  (Note: Whose Triumph of the Will is coincidentally used as a bittersweet punch line in said Annie Hall)

Perhaps the answer is a film festival featuring Triumph of the Will, Rosemary’s Baby Annie Hall and maybe…oh…Cosby in Uptown Saturday Night?   We can also add in Kevin Spacey ‘s Oscar winning performance in American Beauty and two of Singer’s X-Men movies for good measure.

The audience at this film festival

But how many of us would go?   Not as many as would watch any one of the six in the privacy of our own homes and keep it a secret.

Michael Jackson – “Bad” 

Advertisements

Oscar Post (Mortem)

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.45.13 AM

Here’s the absolute truth:

I look forward to watching the Oscars every year. This started even before there was an international avenue on which to snark. And it was certainly waaaay before I ever even dreamt I’d see an openly gay actor serve as the host while accompanied down the red carpet prior to the ceremony by his HUSBAND. Those were the days of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson – a time when John Wayne won the Oscar for True Grit over Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy. Meaning: #OscarsSoWhite #OscarsSoStraight.

BRB going to the gym right now

BRB going to the gym right now

So thanks Neil Patrick Harris for providing a new reality to a fantasy I never even had the vision to have. Not to mention Sunday night’s nifty Sound of Music tribute by Lady Gaga that all culminated with the entrance of Julie Andrews in the ultimate torch-passing moment. That alone is the best of what the movies can do – create not only an unimaginable dream for me but have it all take place in gay heaven.

On the other hand —

Oy.

Despite the fact that I have now lived to hear Ms. Andrews utter the indelible phrase Dear Gaga while moving her into an embrace – well, we still all do have A LOT of work to do.

Brb head exploded

Savoring the moment

I’m not saying the three-hour and forty plus minute show was long but….is it still going on? And why pick on the brilliantly talented Octavia Spencer to hold a suitcase with NPH’s supposed Oscar predictions in inevitable and unfunny cutbacks all through the show? Don’t they remember Uma/Oprah? Isn’t it tough enough for non-white actresses in Hollywood? Why position her as the Oscar telecast version of her character from The Help? She is NOT a maid.

Not to mention: Why did Eddie Murphy present best screenplay? Does he immediately bring to mind great writing or was THAT the joke? No, that was, well…there weren’t too many. I guess saying you could eat up Reese With-Her-Spoon took care of that. Very punny. But not as much fun as Prom Pixie Jesus Jared Leto. I am NOT being sarcastic here. I live for those tuxedos!!

His assistant is holding my corsage.

His assistant is holding my corsage.

On the other hand, we have the great moment of supporting actress Oscar winner Patricia Arquette speaking out for equal pay for working women – an appropriate plea as someone who played what is now THE version of America’s working Mom in Boyhood.

Meryl approved.

Meryl approved.

There was also the great John Legend/Common performance of best song winner Glory from the film Selma and their all inclusive acceptance speech afterwards. And let’s not forget the spontaneous verve of Eddie Redmayne winning best actor for Theory of Everything or the similar exuberance of the very talented Polish director, Pawel Pawlikowski, of Ida. (Note: I loved the film but who knew it was pronounced Eeda? Did I block that out or, as one tweeter mentioned, do I simply choose to remember the name of the film as Rhoda’s mother?).

Red Carpet Ready!

Red Carpet Ready!

Still, despite those peaks something about the whole affair felt flat and odd. NPH is a great song and dance man. Anna Kendrick and Jack Black are funny and spunky and, most importantly, can really sing. So then why did their opening number feel like it was something out of a Disney tribute to the movies? Was this because we were watching on ABC/Disney or because the writers of the medley also penned Disney/Frozen’s Let It Go? Or both?

As NPH joked about Oprah being rich and then tried to explain it, or strode through the audience while the Big O attempted to suppress the look of sheer terror on her face that he’d come over (Note: Adjacent to the expression of don’t even think about it, Sonny on the face of fellow audience member Clint Eastwood), one longed for the Tony Awards, Tina and Amy at the Golden Globes or even a clip from #SNL40’s Celebrity Jeopardy. Hell, that would’ve been a lot more fun. Or get all the stars together to do The Californians sketch and then take the 2015 version of the #EllenSelfie.

At least there was this

At least there was this

Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps I’m being unfair. I’m a really big Sean Penn fan but he was so sinister delivering this year’s best picture winner I started to think we were all being lured back into Mystic River, where he would then make us all morph into Tim Robbins’ Oscar-winning character and everyone one of us would wind up…well, look it up if you don’t recall.

Did you find it odd that Michael Keaton, the star of Birdman – the big winner of the night with best picture, director and screenplay – was not mentioned by anyone other than his director most of the evening while jokes abounded about all kinds of well, strange things? Though I will admit it was particularly gratifying that when we finally did get to hear Mr. Keaton speak briefly during the best picture acceptance speech by what seemed like the entire above-the-line cast and crew he had the grace to step to the mic and simply say, it’s great to be here, who are we kiddin.

Well, perhaps this was not as odd as John Travolta , who tried to make up with Idina Menzel after calling her Adele Dazeem last year but instead wound up touching her face far too many times in the space of a minute. Once again – odd AND strange. But not as odd and strange as John’s…

The dog chain.. the hair.... ??

The dog chain.. the hair…. ??

You know what, I’m not going there.

See, the truth is — it’s easy to snark. But it’s not easy to get nominated for an Oscar  and Travolta has done it twice. So at the end of the day I suppose for many of us – especially those of us who work, have worked, ever aspired to work, or even ever fantasized about one day working in the entertainment industry – there is a kind of fantasy wish fulfillment to it all that never quite gets fulfilled.

We wonder what would it be like to be on that stage or, more to the point, we use the Oscars to pretend we ARE one of those people we see on that stage doing either as well or WAAAAY better than them. Even if we don’t understand in our heart of hearts what that really means or how the reality of being there would actually feel and/or be if we really did get there

Perhaps this IS the reason why the Oscars so often disappoint. How CAN you live up to all the fantasy and hype? It’s like going on a date with the hottest person in school and wondering why they don’t match the over-the-top scenario you created in your head for them.

Except him. He really is the coolest.

Except him. He really is the coolest. #marryme

Of course, that’s how I imagine it would have been like to date the hottest person in school. So I could be wrong. At the end of the day this is all about personal fantasy anyway and it’s up to you to decide.

As for me, I’m going to bask in the afterglow of Gaga and Julie once more and see if I can pretend I’m back in gay heaven. Or perhaps I’ll just put on Mary Poppins (Note: I do like The Sound of Music but Mary Poppins always was my fave) and call it a night as Julie/Mary sings me to sleep. Where I promise you I WILL dream. Splendidly.

… and in case you’re keeping score, the Chair correctly predicted 15 out of 24 winners, giving him score of 62.5% (This is even a lower grade than the Chair received in gym class). The Chair offers no excuses – only promises of doing better next year. #ItsnoteasybeinganOracle

Thirtysomething for Twentysomethings

2681badb0d4438484f06ce00fdcd74f8

Fame is fleeting.

Someone first coined that phrase but I’m not sure whom.

What I do know is that it has been repeated enough to become a cliché.  And that it’s what people in the biz tell you, or their therapists tell them, or perhaps you tell yourself when you receive no resounding public recognition for what you perceive to be your outstanding achievements.

Oh, don’t feel bad, even if you became famous it wouldn’t last.  I mean, even the mega millions you would have been bound to make probably wouldn’t last.  Not to mention all the good will – and jealousy. Uh, yeah, that’s true.  Think of it this way – since it looks like you’ll never be famous, chances are no will ever be that jealous of you and you’ll be free to live your life away from intense public scrutiny.  That’s something, isn’t it?

Well, one supposes it is a sort of bad form to not be thankful for even the smallest of life’s blessings these days.  Still, the above logic is more than a bit challenging.  For example, should we all be grateful not to be Carrie Underwood this week after the fairly scathing reviews she received from the media as Maria Von Trapp in NBC’s live three hour broadcast of The Sound of Music? Certainly, no one wants to be called: A snow globe with scarcely any flakes or Swiss Miss Maria. Or to have their work critiqued with phrases like: To say that Underwood was no Julie Andrews is one of life’s greatest certainties or…It was the speaking that did her in. 

Snark 101

Snark 101

On the other hand, SofM was a ratings bonanza for NBC that provided the network its best Thursday night numbers in almost 10 years.  Not to mention, Ms. Underwood is an internationally known, multi-platinum recording star with many buckets of millions and a seemingly quite happy marriage to a very, very good-looking hockey player (Note: Yes, nobody knows these things for sure – and the latter can be either a blessing or a curse — but still…look for yourself).

Ugh.. seriously?

Ugh.. seriously?

The cynical among us, and I might detect a few in the room – certainly in the room I am now alone writing in – might easily prefer the one authentic quote I was able to dig up about fame.  That one comes from that well-known lover of humanity, the diminutive and dead French dictator of more than three centuries ago– Napoleon Bonaparte.  Quote:

Glory is fleeting…but obscurity…is forever.

Wow, that’s a bitter pill to swallow, isn’t it?  Or it would be — if it were true.

Last week, I attended a sort of public writer’s salon. It wasn’t exactly like what you read happened at Gertrude Stein’s house on the Left Bank of Paris almost a century ago.  But it did take place in L.A. at the Writers Guild of America’s multi-purpose room. So there is at least, on a sliding scale, some small smidgen of street cred.

Mr. Thirtysomething

Mr. Thirtysomething

Richard Kramer, one of the original and lead writers on the seminal 1980s TV drama thirtysomething – a one time renowned TV series that was about nothing other than the behavior of a group of friends long before Seinfeld, Dawson’s Creek and Gossip Girl took that type of low concept idea and ran it through the post-modern, too hip for the room, Snidely McSnide, comic/soap opera blender – was on hand to read from and talk about his recent novel, These Things Happen.  He also brought along three very well-known actors from thirtysomething – Melanie Mayron, David Marshall Grant and Peter Frechette – to sit beside him, reminisce and read other various parts of the book, now in development to be a cable series at HBO.

Melanie (second from right).

Melanie (second from right).

David and Peter (and the famous morning after scene)

David and Peter (and the famous morning after scene)

It is interesting to note that when I spoke about some of the evening to my students – all juniors and seniors in college – none were familiar with this once quite famous television show (Note: didn’t their parents watch the tube?  Did not one of them ever Google the phrase 30something or even 20something  to see where they came from instead of just being annoyed by them?).  Well, perhaps none of this is surprising.  But what also momentarily took me aback was that not one (that’s zero) of them had even heard of Ms. Mayron, Mr. Grant or Mr. Frechette.

That is, until I mentioned …

Mr. Grant was a writer on both Brothers and Sisters and Smash and is the showrunner for the new upcoming HBO comedy series about three young gay men living in San Francisco.

… and that Ms. Mayron is the prolific television director of such ABC Family shows as Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters and Switched At Birth.

(Note: Mr. Frechette, over the years a favorite actor of mine who earned two Tony nominations since thirtysomething for such plays as Eastern Standard and Our Country’s Good, is still quite well known in the theatre but, times being what they are, doesn’t quite register on the faces of young, aspiring TV and screenwriters.  Still, two out of three ain’t bad).

David, Melanie & Peter... or who?

David, Melanie & Peter… or better know as: who?

What does all this tell us?  That fame is fleeting but at least none of the four artists onstage has faded into total obscurity?  Well, not exactly.

After the actors read aloud from Mr. Kramer’s novel it couldn’t help but strike the audience just how good they all still were at the craft of acting – even when they were sitting in chairs reading from a book – and how infrequently audiences are ever given the chance to see them perform their craft on film or in television.  When they were asked if they missed acting both Mr. Grant and Ms. Mayron nodded yes even before the question fully landed.  Mr. Grant willingly shared that it was only when he realized he couldn’t get arrested as an actor anymore that he began writing full time and though he thoroughly enjoys being a working writer and running a show, his ideal job in old age would be to be a journeyman actor – “to just come, do the job that I love, and leave.”

Ms. Mayron mentioned being lucky enough as a young actor to study with Lee Strasberg and offered how often her acting skills come in handy when she’s on the set as a director “moving actors around — I guess that’s what I do now.” To illustrate her point, she and Mr. Kramer spoke of her days before the camera and how in her Emmy-winning role on thirtysomething she always had to be doing something in a scene in addition to saying her lines even if it meant unbagging groceries or pouring numerous packs of sugar into a cup of coffee in a particularly emotional moment. I love good writing, she noted, but the truth is – it’s equally about behavior.

This made me smile as both a writer and writing teacher because it is one of the basics I try to teach my students and stay true to myself in my own work as a screenwriter – and even in my own life.  The idea that it’s not so much what is being said but what is not being said – and that what someone does is much more meaningful than what they intended to do or even say that they will do.  And it was also not lost of me where I first learned all of this — acting class. (Note: These principles were later reinforced during years of psychotherapy, but that’s the subject of another discussion entirely).

Aha moment!

Aha moment!

Additionally, it should not be lost on anyone that fame and recognition can have something to do with great art but they needn’t necessarily.  Ms. Mayron, Mr. Grant and Mr. Frechette, who is still a working actor – are as good or better than they ever were as performers, even if they are not receiving the kind of recognition or opportunities to show their craft that they once did.  One could argue that they should but one could also argue for world peace, an end to Congressional gridlock or for NBC to stop doing live musicals with leads from other mediums who don’t have the chops to pull it off.  But none of those are likely to happen either.

Towards the end of this evening a friend a few years older than me who knew quite well of all the people onstage turned to me and whispered, It’s hard for everyone. isn’t it?  It was really a rhetorical question because, at this point in time and after decades in and around the business, we both knew the answer.  And sure, it’s a resounding YES.

Keep on pushing!

Keep on pushing!

But hard doesn’t mean impossible.  It only means difficult or challenging.  Well, is anything worth having not some of those at various points in time?

To put it another way, all of the people onstage that night figured out ways to be new, creative versions of themselves without falling into a pit of despair over the fact that they couldn’t keep doing exactly what they always did in exactly the same way and expect the same result decades later. That’s not about striving for fame or lamenting obscurity but merely taking stock and doing the work in any form that you can.   Aside from watching an ill-advised network redo of a beloved movie and stage musical and dishing about it with friends, there are so few guaranteed pleasures in life.  But this, it seems, is one of them.  Despite the number of people you have watching you do it, or anything else, on any given night.