Creeps

Who are these men???? That’s the question I keep asking and answering for myself.

In the entertainment business they are some of the men I’ve always known and either instantly disliked or was intimidated by. Though I’m sure in a few cases they might have also been men I worked with or acquaintances I’ve even liked.

I really hope this mostly remains true

So far none of them are good friends, or even friends, and I don’t imagine that they will ever be revealed as such. Of course, at this point, I wouldn’t swear it.

Up is down, down is up and these days a bigoted sociopath from my hometown of Queens – the kind I’d met many times growing up and that I can assure you I was NEVER friends with – is the president of the United States. This is the type of guy most of us loathed and ran away from, especially members of the opposite sex, who usually deemed him as CREEP.

So quaint is that word – CREEP. It was the ultimate insult in the sixties and seventies. Nowadays it doesn’t even begin to describe what has become the almost indescribable. Instead, we’re getting vividly detailed accounts of what beforehand defied description. The true definition of what it REALLY meant back then to BE a CREEP.

Creeps everywhere!

Who knew? Certainly, none of us did. Or even do to this day. Though we’re learning – kicking and screaming as we’re dragged through the mire against our wills. Which is an essential element in this area of RE-education.

It was encouraging this week that Alabama rejected Roy Moore – an accused sexual predator of underage teenage girls from multiple sources and women – as their Senator. This was the first time in decades the most red of states in the Union will be represented there by a… DEMOCRAT.

ho ho ho!

But don’t get too encouraged. A plurality of Alabamians still don’t believe his accusers and most certainly the leader of the free world doesn’t. That is, if you believe our current U.S. president is still in the lead anywhere.

Talk about tough lifts.

Which brings us to the real story – POWER.

Who wears the shoe?

Tempting as it is to lump in sexual crimes with, well, sex – experts tell us it is seldom about the act and more about domination – what one can get away with. The latter is the real thrill – something that not only leaves a lifelong affect on the human objects subjected to each violation but on many other aspects of society as whole.

Who HAS the POWER and how that POWER is wielded determines quite a bit aside from who will eventually get to target a new VICTIM (or suffer as one). It can also very much tip the scales on who gets ahead in the world and how much gets, or doesn’t get accomplished – and in what way.

These roadblocks now seem metaphorical #womeninhollywood

This week Salma Hayek bravely wrote of how she had to say “no” to deposed, disgraced and as of now not-yet-charged ex Miramax/Weinstein Co. chair Harvey Weinstein. This list included saying no to:

  1. taking a shower with him or allowing him to watch her take one
  2. getting a massage from him OR his naked friend (while he watched).
  3. receiving oral sex from him
  4. or she performing #3 on another naked woman that he would provide.

and allow me to add: No, no, no, no, NO

Salacious and CREEPY as that may seem — what felt almost as bad if not worse (because we’re so used to the sex stuff from him at this point) were the ways in which she says Mr. Weinstein used his expertise in the business to derail her career once she said “no, no, no, et al.”

The ways in which he tried to NOT make Miramax’s Oscar-nominated “Frida,” which Ms. Hayek produced and starred in, after signing an agreement to do so.

And we’re glad Ms. Hayek persevered

The ways in which he belittled her artistic work to her face while she was filming the movie.

And the ways in which he tried NOT to release the movie once it was done and it became very clear he would NEVER get to HAVE her.

Though NONE of this mirrored the way in which he and his company took CREDIT for the movie AND her work on it, at every public turn of the film’s release.

Though trust me, she tells the tale far better than I do.

As do women like Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd. Oh sure, right now most of us are all #MeToo and #MeTooSupporters. But there was little guarantee of this when both actresses were first speaking to Ronan Farrow in several New Yorker exposees that broke the story nationwide a mere handful of months ago.

Anyone involved in any type of power position in the film biz during the last 20 plus years or so (as I have occasionally been) has heard numerous stories about those who were in the life is too short to work with category. Those whom you wanted to stay away from at all costs, if possible. The ones who were impossible, difficult and a NIGHTMARE on a project, who would get you derailed.

Kind of makes you think about how actresses are perceived #iseeyouKatherineHeigl #whatsthetruth

Well, as it turns out, both Ms. Judd and Ms. Sorvino were two names I had heard were impossible nightmares and difficult over the years – as had many of my friends.

I never gave it much thought since I hadn’t specifically been in a position to hire or reject either one of them on anything. I just took it as merely a well, perhaps – to be filed in the back of my mind as a small red flag if ever the opportunity arose for myself or any of my friends to choose, or not choose, to work with or hire either one of them – ever.

So, imagine my surprise – and that of many others, I suspect – when these particular tweets of support and testimony finally came this week – decades later – corroborating the smear campaign against both Ms. Sorvino and Ms. Judd.

Kind of makes you wonder what we could have seen from these ladies

From Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings – one of the most successful film trilogies ever made –– on the two actresses:

I recall Miramax telling us they were a nightmare to work with and we should avoid them at all costs. This was probably in 1998… I now suspect we were fed false information about both of these talented women – and as a direct result their names were removed from our casting list…

And this tweet from Terry Zwigoff, director of Dimension Films’ Bad Santa:

Needless to say both actresses tweeted their appreciation to finally know the truth after years of rumor and innuendo, and publicly thanked both directors for coming forward in support.

And yes it’s true, it does take courage even now with a deposed mogul like Mr. Weinstein, to volunteer the behind-the-scenes dirty laundry stories of how decisions are made at the major studio level. Other power players wonder, if the goings for them were to get tough, if even you – a financially and/or creatively successful director of hit movies – can be trusted to hire on a still incubating new project of theirs. Why take the risk? Is it worth it? Surely there is someone as equally talented. Not to mention…cheaper.

No, it’s not in the same league as being the victim of a sexual predator. But it’s a real good example of

  1. who these men are
  2. how they operate
  3. and exactly what they are capable of.

In business, that is. You, well, now know some of the rest.

#WatchYourBack. But more importantly, #WatchYourColleaguesBack.

Eric Clapton – “I Shot the Sheriff”

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The Sounds of Silence

Everything is political.

It’s sort of cool and hip these days to be cynical.  To bury your head in the sand from your perch of snideness in the Kingdom of Superior and sort of turn off or hurl occasional pithy comments at institutions or movements or even people you don’t like.   Contrary to popular belief, this does not take you out of the battle, but actually puts you right in the middle of it.

Angry, distant, emotional, removed or snide – they are all discourse, they are all opinions on an issue.  Even silence is, in itself, weighing in.  If you think that’s not true, watch some of the most powerful actors in the world kill you (in a good way) with their silent stares.  Look at Viola Davis at work in “The Help” (or even in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”).  It’s not about what she says to her white overlords but what she chooses not to say that lets you know what she is thinking.  Observe Robert DeNiro as he cleverly listens to the idiots that are thinking of crossing him in “Casino” (or almost any other movie he’s done).  It’s not usually about his dialogue but the way he silently reacts to what those dummies are doing.  His non-verbal cues are always flawless because they are predictably unpredictable and as such he’s always telling us something — usually that they’re in trouble and will soon be disposed of by him or his men.

Saying everything with a stare

So for those of you who think that by not participating in politics or sitting silently by while you stew about the Iowa straw poll; the Republican primary race in general; Barak Obama’s socialist liberal bent or perhaps the fact that he’s not liberal enough — and never say anything about it – I beg to differ.  Your indifference is saying more than you know.  Your look of high and mightiness; your determination to NOT pay attention; even your purposeful lack of knowledge of the issues that might affect your life – they all say something loud and clear to everyone about you and how you engage in the world.

Take your choice or we will.  Because those are all things people are thinking based on what you’re doing just by not doing anything.  Imagine what they (we) would think or the reactions you could evoke or the changes you could make in the world if you actively did SOMETHING??

If you’re an artist the same is true about your work.  You think you’re writing a light, frothy romantic comedy and not revealing something of how you feel about love and relationships?  Uh, I don’t think so.  You didn’t choose to write “Friends With Benefits” only to make a buck.  The thought of “friends with benefits” has crossed your mind or you wouldn’t have gone there in the first place.    Don’t believe for a second that “Pretty Woman” didn’t have something to do with the fascination with working girls or the men who love(d) them.  Even if what you’re doing is the new Katherine Heigl movie “One For The Money” – (make her stop!!!) that too says something – though it might not be something worth talking about here.

The point is that you are taking a stand every time you pick up a pen; choose to pitch something a certain way; photograph an assignment the way that you do; or miss a deadline on work people are waiting for.  It says a lot about you even when you don’t want it to so you may as well be bold and take a position fully and own your views and actions.   As a writing teacher, I see this all the time with students who phone it in on some of their scripts yet they can’t help show occasional glimmers in their work (aside from their bad work habits) of who they are.  Oh, the sadness of wasted potential, I think.  They’re funny, hurting inside, sad, and really smart.  That is really what they’re saying but are determined not to.  I can get beneath the façade of snideness by reading the work of a student pretty easily and so could you (it just takes practice) despite even the weakest script imaginable.  You’d know they hate authority; are a softie at heart; want to be in love; are acidly angry about injustice or the hand they’ve been dealt; are angry at their mothers and fathers or have an unrealistically favorable view of their families; are in or about to be in a dysfunctional relationship or, perhaps are truly nice gals and guys you worry are one day going to get hurt.

Yes, all this you learn by the smallest things they (or anyone, really) write on the page – even in a spec script of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “iCarly” or “Justified.”  Even in a one page short film.  Certainly in anything feature length.

If that’s the case (and I say it is so therefore it must be), why are people so hesitant to commit to something publicly?  (Leaving out big issues like the 99%). Why this veil of snideness?  A well-known playwright told me some years ago it’s because “we live in the age of irony.”  I agreed at the time.  But now I think that’s too easy.  Here’s what I think it is – fear.

Fear of being bad.  Fear of being judged.  And these days fear of – well – retribution from….(fill in the blank).  “I want to hang on to my very small piece of the world because what I say might cause it to be taken away and then where will I be?  Even more fucked than I was before.  Perish the thought!!!”

The real truth is nothing is original AND everything is political.  And that neither fact takes away from the message of what you’re saying.  It only makes it stronger.   Because though the message is the same and we’ve heard it all before, nothing has quite been said the way you will say it.  If you think that’s not true consider why people are forever writing love stories.  Not like we haven’t covered that territory over the last google years, huh?  And that even though Woody Allen, love story maker extraordinaire, claims to do NOTHING autobiographical we watch “Annie Hall” and “Husbands and Wives” and, well – we know a lot better.

As for being political – Cahiers du Cinema posited in the sixties that every film, no matter how slight, is political in that it chooses to see the world in a certain way.  Then, in the seventies, feminists advanced the idea that the personal is political.  That whether you like it or not, gender roles and how you choose to fulfill or not fulfill them traditionally was, indeed, a political act – despite whether you chose it to be or not.

It’s been more than 40 years since then and we now have 24/7 news, the Internet, the Freedom of Information Act and the National Defense Authorization Act.  Are you going to sit there and tell me that not everything you’re doing is making some sort of political statement?  Or at least, on some level, seems that way?  I think not.  The question is – what are your actions (or inactions) saying about you?  And are they what you want, or even choose, to say??

Enjoying the Ride

You can be cynical, opinionated and generally contrary to most things and still be a funny person.  Standing up for what you believe in or challenging the status quo doesn’t mean you’re a chronic malcontent or a socialist.  (It doesn’t even mean you resent the rich).  And going to bed generally disturbed at the state of the world sometimes doesn’t mean you’re not ENJOYING the RIDE.

I just celebrated my 24th anniversary with the person I love and it occurred to me more than once during that day that I am a lucky person.  I mean, few of us get to have a long-lasting relationship (FYI, I did kiss more than a few toads in my day), much less a decent one (no, they are not necessarily the same thing).  I get to make money at things I love doing (teaching, writing).  I have fantastic friends, a great family and a very cool dog. (and blog!)

However, this does not mean that I walk around 24/7 with a hanger in my mouth stretching my lips into a contorted Joker-like smile or don’t often get exasperated when I turn on the TV, go to the movies or encounter the too many idiots who travel the world with me despite my preference that they just go away.  (no, they don’t have to die, just disappear).  I mean, just yesterday I found myself infuriated as I left the 3:30 pm show of something called “Martha Marcy Mae Marlene” (annoying enough, title?).  I was the crazy person you saw in Hollywood at 5:13pm outside the Arclight Theatres audibly muttering to no one in particular “Are they kidding? “ And then to myself in my car – “I can’t believe Sundance still gives awards to such indulgent crap!”

But does this mean I’m not enjoying my life?  9-9-9   Nein, Nein, nein!!!  And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not happy.  It means I am human.  As my Facebook motto says, “You can have fun and get angry.  They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Also, I hate to quote movies, but as the psychiatrist earnestly tells the troubled teen in “Ordinary People”:  “Unless you feel pain, you’re not going to feel happy either.” (Yeah, I know you might think the dialogue is dated but so is Melanie’s music to some people and she still happens to be a goddess.

There is an odd mindset in this country that I can trace back to the more than jovial Ronald Reagan – who presided over the seemingly jovial but actually quite tragic and awful decade of the 1980s.  (which was, incidentally, not all bad for me because I did meet and fall in love with my partner of 24 years).  It goes something like this – people who protest, are insurgent or sometimes choose to scowl or occasionally express real anger at their fellow man (and/or the status quo) are:

a) unpatriotic

b) wrong

c) trouble-makers and

d) generally unhappy, disagreeable people bordering on (or crossing the line to) anti-American.

In fact, the total opposite is true.  Just as stuff makes you thrilled to be alive, things can and do mammothly piss you off!  In my mind, part of the task of any artist, or any generation for that matter, is to externalize the anger and frustration in some way that affects people, influences them, moves them, and then ultimately becomes a cog in the wheel of change.  To something better?  Hopefully.  But not always.  But life often evolves on the basis of trial and error.  That being the case, our real progresses can be charted by an up and down graph, not by one that is a straight line to what might likely be a trip to nowheresville.  The messy, back and forth exchange of viewpoints and ideas, some of which might offend, infuriate (Marcy, Missy what’s her name) is precisely the stuff that we need in order to actually be what people in the eighties thought they were aspiring to – a better world.  And take it from someone who has been in a 24-year relationship – it’s not always Zipppity-Doo-Dah, I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning because that would get as nauseating as eating my beloved pizza for every breakfast, lunch and dinner or as tiring as having to watch this clip over and over (or perhaps even once?)

As for ENJOYING THE RIDE, you can look at certain people in the news and arts and somehow know that their exterior jovial or scowling demeanor does not necessarily equate to the fact that they are truly ENJOYING THE RIDE.  To whit, some totally biased observations:

  1. Herman Cain – Thoroughly disagree with him politically and find him a bit of an offensive buffoon but yes – ENJOYING THE RIDE
  2. Tom Cruise – The biggest, richest, and perhaps most publicly enthusiastic movie star in the world, but in my humble opinion – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  3. Gloria Steinem – Brilliant writer, feminist extraordinaire, life contrarian to American patriarchy but still ENJOYING THE RIDE
  4. Bill Maher – Love his show, agree with him more than I care to admit, thrilled that he has the nerve to offend, but something tells me – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  5. Barack Obama – president during one of the worst times in American history – and yes, ENJOYING THE RIDE (How is this possible?)
  6. Gabrielle Giffords – Arizona Congresswoman shot through the head and still recovering from brain trauma, before and after clearly ENJOYING THE RIDE
  7. Katherine Heigl – Gigantic film star whose movies worldwide have grossed $1 Billion (yes, that’s a “B”), seems as if she’s the most fortunate actress in her age range at the very least yet ultimately NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.

These observations are unscientific and totally my own yet I’m willing to stand up for them.  Which doesn’t make me right or wrong, or judgmental, just enthusiastically opinionated.  But as you ponder on just how judgmental I really am, consider the observations of current MSNBC female political commentator, business owner and former Congressional candidate with the unfortunate (or fortunate) name of Krystal Ball.  Yes – that IS her real name.  It came from her father, a physicist who did his PhD on crystals (look it up, I’m not lying) and her mother, who is an educator.  Aside from being a businesswoman and CPA, Ms. Ball ran for Congress in 2010 in Virginia and lost but, actually ultimately won.  This might be partially due to how Ms. Ball was able to lead not with her political views but by example of how she lived her life.

You'd think she'd already know the outcome...

In October 2010, one month before the elections, a photo surfaced on a right wing blog of her at a holiday party some years prior dressed as a “naughty Santa” while sucking a red dildo attached to her then-husband’s nose.  (UH, no, we’re not going to reprint it here.  You can google).  Confirming her likeness several weeks before the election and admitting the photos were “embarrassing,” she also saw fit to call the photos sexist and wrote in the Huffington Post “Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are gong to leak into the public sphere.”  Yet, she posed the broader and more powerful issue of how society treats females, making “women into whores” and questioning “this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible.”

Ms. Ball, who realizes her very name is both a blessing and a bit of a curse, was subsequently put on Forbes’ List of the “Top 25 Most Powerful Women of the Midterm Elections,” is remarried, has a young daughter and is now a regularly outspoken national voice on the issues of the day, owning the many facets of who she is and what has happened to her in the eye of the hurricane.  Her name is Krystal Ball and yet she seems alternately tough, traditionally feminine, angry, smart, argumentative, thoughtful and sweet.  Enjoying the ride?  You bet.  Most definitely. So am I.  On most days, at least.  Are you?