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”

Buh-Bye 2016

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-9-45-13-am

There is a Yiddish/English expression called kenahora, which when loosely translated means putting a curse or the evil eye on something.   Of course, in usage it generally means the opposite – that is warding off fate from even glancing in your direction in a negative way.

How would this happen with mere words? Well, we Jews don’t like to tempt fate so our thought is that it usually occurs if we were to brag about even the tiniest of good fortune.

For example, at the holiday dinner table your mother says:

You know, I haven’t gotten sick all year. How great is that!

At which point her mother, your grandmother, quickly interrupts and shouts, Kenahora! And then goes one step further and throws salt over her shoulder.

giphy

The latter is a second more drastic step in warding off evil though in truth it actually means blinding the Devil, who we Jews don’t even believe in. So no, that makes no sense but well, historically, once again, better safe than sorry.

Why bring this up? Well, because I was going to open this piece with this declarative statement:

Could 2016 have been any worse????

And then quickly decided against it. With only less than a week left and given my heritage and what’s already happened in 2016 there is no point in taking what clearly is the very real risk of destroying us all. And yes, OF COURSE my mere words have every power to do so. Every religion teaches us that – doesn’t it???

So instead of pushing our luck and asking for any more trouble, kenahora, let’s look back to the year that is almost at its end (Note: No editorializing there) and try to focus on the best and worst of what each of us, in our own special way, have lived through and probably wrought. It’s a limited list, but so probably is our time left here. If you look at it objectively. Kenahora.

MOST SURPRISING POP CULTURE MOMENT OF THE YEAR:

Death

Not a great year for celebrities

Not a great year for celebrities

Let’s get this out of the way first. I mean, George Michael died on CHRISTMAS DAY, 2016 (and then Carrie Fisher dies two days later????). Counting back in no particular order we’ve also lost David Bowie, Edward Albee, Muhammed Ali, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Florence Henderson, Patty Duke, Phyllis Diller and even Zsa Zsa friggin’ Gabor who held on till 99! To say nothing of PBS’s Gwen Ifill, CBS’s Morley Safer, PGA’s Arnold Palmer, NASA’s John Glenn and Everyone’s Doris Roberts. There will also be no more future Alan Rickman performances, Pat Conroy books, Leon Russell songs or Phyllis Schlaffly lectures (thank the Devil). Not to mention, we no longer have the flesh and blood Elie Wiesel to turn to as a historical touchstone at a time when we may need him most.

Am I forgetting anyone? #shade

Am I forgetting anyone?

It also felt 2016 marked the death of logic, of science, of civility and most of all – TRUTH. Though unlike human beings, those last things can once again get reborn. And if you believe human beings can too, please re-read that last things list one more time and reconsider.

MOVIE/TV SHOW/PLAY I CAN’T BELIEVE I SAT THROUGH:

Tie: Nocturnal Animals & Jackie (in no particular order)

Ugh. Not again.

Ugh. Not again.

Both of these movies have absolutely no reason for being other than the egos of the filmmakers. Of course, that would apply to the majority of movies so perhaps it’s not a valid criticism. So let’s put it this way.

Nocturnal Animals has not a real emotion in its seemingly endless two plus hours and is an homage artifice – of human behavior, of reality and of depth. No one is saying that a designer can’t write and direct great films, just like I’ve never heard anyone claim that there is not some writer somewhere that couldn’t conceive and manufacture his or her own fabulous designer suit or even clothing line on demand. It’s just that it takes a great deal of skill and has not ever happened. Though we spring ever hopeful for 2017 and beyond – it’s doubtful.

Maybe stick to making JT look this dapper? #stayinyourlane

Maybe stick to making JT look this dapper? #stayinyourlane

As for Jackie, it’s the first pornographic film I’ve ever seen with nary a sex scene. Rather, it’s a leering, unjust, seedy little dance on the grave of one of the few American icons left who deserves better. Telling a no-holds barred story on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis will make a fine film one day but this isn’t it. Unless you call watching her roam around the 1963 White House to the tune of Richard Burton singing Camelot as she tries on formal gowns, smokes cigarettes and drinks, some sort of new, cutting edge, cinema verite drama. Natalie Portman is terrific playing a construct of someone who looks and sounds a lot like the former First Lady as skewed fictional doppelganger trapped in the filmed pretention of a cinematic fun house mirror.

 

BEST INSURGENT

Keith Olbermann – GQ Videos The Resistance

Help me, KO, you're my only hope. #forreal

Help me, KO, you’re my only hope. #forreal

Once upon a time there was a sports commentator who became the host of a political show on a fledgling cable network called MSNBC and proved he was not only as smart and incisive as his contemporary counterparts but a lot bolder, uncensored, outrageous and articulate. This all happened during the George W. Bush presidency where he is often credited with being the first and longtime sole credible anti-Dubya voice of American outrage.

Keith eventually left politics and returned to sports casting but once the Pres. Elect who lost the popular vote by 2.85 million surfaced this year as the unleashed GOP candidate for the White House he listened to all my tweets to him and eventually stepped forward once more in a series of brilliantly researched, unvarnished and truth-telling 6-11 minute weekly ongoing video segments. Quite simply, he’s the best around at distilling the past, present and potential future horrors of our Birther-in-Chief and vows to continue to do so until such time as someone else steps up to heed the call. That doesn’t seem likely any time soon. Nor even possible at this point. Here’s a sample:

Click here to watch #RESIST

Click here to watch #RESIST

BEST COMEDIAN OF THE MOMENT

Wanda Sykes

It Girl

It Girl

It’s not only because she’s an out black lesbian married to a white woman in LA. raising kids in a house where one day she woke up and realized she is still and ever will be – “a Black woman who waits on White people.” Though moments like that certainly help.

It’s because she is another one of those people who can’ t help but be a truth teller and will do it at all costs. Like several months ago during a benefit standup performance in Boston where she told the crowd – This is not the first time we’ve elected a racist, sexist, homophobic president. He’s just the first confirmed one.

And when a small but loud group in the crowd booed she had the backbone to tell them to fk off and presented a bunch of examples to prove her point. At which time, they…Well, watch for yourself. Comedy, like tragedy, happens in the moment. It’s just that the take and the tone is different, depending on your audience.

BEST COOKBOOK

Small Victories by Julia Turshen

#DROOL

#DROOL

This cookbook was on the NY Times bestseller list for months this year but I would never have known about it had my friend Howard not got it for me as a birthday present. What makes it great? It’s the simplicity and depth of flavors all done in a homey, readable and self-effacing style.

Julia Turshen spent years as a personal chef and co-authored any number of well-known cookbooks with others. But in this solo effort she shows us the possibilities and accidents to be found either in our cupboards or with a perfunctory shopping list and the numerous choices and variations those foods and flavors hold. You often think – this sounds so simple and easy, how can that be? Well, it can – try the Turkey Ricotta Meatballs and Tomato Sauce.   Or you resist and say to yourself, that’ll be the day I spend any time roasting radishes, much less serving them to guests (Note: You should, with her Kalamata olive dressing Pg. 114).

Did i mention DROOOL?

Did i mention DROOOL?

No, I don’t know her and I don’t get commission. But I do know what’s good.

PERSON WE COULD SEE LESS OF IN 2017 (aka TOO MUCH OF THEM IN 2016)

Kellyanne Conway

Maybe I should have just put in a pic of Jon Hamm?

Maybe I should have just put in a pic of Jon Hamm?

She is the first woman to both manage a major candidate presidential campaign and emerge with a president-Elect. Winning – well, that’s in the eye of the beholder.

There is something about the Cheshire Cat grin, the constant verbal use of the word “Hashtag,” followed by her 49 year old self’s snide, self-satisfied, whiny delivery of the phrase He’s Your President Too, that makes me know she’d be the only one to cast as Lucy Van Pelt in a D.C. revival of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.

But I love Peanuts too much to seriously suggest that. Just know that it is likely we will see less of her in the New Year. She’s poised to be working behind the scenes of what now looks to be key advisor to her Oval Office elect guy – a role similar to the one Valerie Jarrett played to President Obama.

God (or whatever you believe Him or Her to Be) Help Us.

MOST REVISITED SHOW (Netflix, Cable, or DVD)

The Twilight Zone

... but I'll take good care of my glasses #trumpamerica

… but I’ll take good care of my glasses #trumpamerica

See above, as well as #1 above. Need I say more? There’s something about it that, well, explains everything. And that’s soothing.

BEST VIRAL VIDEO OF THE YEAR

Chewbacca Mom

She just gives me hope for humanity. Such joy, such humanity, such…hysteria!!! For the longest time I wasn’t sure what it was. The joy of laughter? The ridiculousness of the mask? The iconography of Star Wars, suburbia, motherhood and mayhem?

That is for much bigger brains than me to decide, analyze and then write about in media journals. Here’s what I know – it was the top viral video of the year and was viewed more than 8 million times.

Stay with it.

And don’t pretend you did not laugh once.

And if you didn’t…you’re lying.

BEST GAY THING OF THE YEAR

Moonlight

YES

YES

Three time periods in the course of the life of a young, gay Black man. That’s the logline. But as any artist will tell you, a logline says little about the work it describes.

The majority of critics are calling it the movie of the year and certainly that’s debatable – as any choice would be. What’s inarguable is that it breaks new ground and is something we’ve never seen before – a chronicle of the type of young life in a segment of society that has never been seen onscreen and will be much needed in the 2017 and beyond days to come.

HEALING POP CULTURE MOMENT OF THE YEAR

What was it that Alan Alda’s character posited in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors –

Comedy is tragedy plus time

Well, screw that. And not only because this quote is also separately on record from both Steve Allen and Carol Burnett in printed interviews decades before.

Sometimes – well, actually rarely – do comedy and tragedy come together in one perfect moment to equally express the SADNESS AND HILARITY of what we’ve just endured. This solar eclipse-like occurrence is called true IRONY and when it happens it is truly lightning in a bottle on the pop cultural landscape.

This is what Kate McKinnon and SNL wrought several days after the shocking results of #Election2016. Almost THREE MILLION more in the country were equally devastated that Hillary Clinton would not become president and that an uncertified lunatic would. And a significant number of those SNL watchers were still upset at the recent passing of genius balladeer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, whose seminal Hallelujah has for decades emerged as the bittersweet parable of loss.

But it was not only KM at the piano singing that tuneful dirge with a tear and glint in her eye that brought it home. It was the one line message she delivered when the song was over when, clad in the iconic HRC white pantsuit and perfectly coiffed twelve shades of blonde helmets of hair, she turned to the camera and said:

I’m not giving up and neither should you. Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night (Live).

Amen to both statements.

And #HAPPY2017.