Complicit

Academy Award-nominated actress and nerd boy icon Uma Thurman this weekend revealed a series of horrific sexual and psychological abuses she endured while working with Harvey Weinstein in the eighties and nineties.  She also related a particularly graphic account of the life-threatening stunt and requisite physical abuse she endured under the unsympathetic and sometimes abusively watchful eye of director Quentin Tarantino when they were making Kill Bill Vols I & II for Weinstein’s Miramax Films in the early 2000s.

Seriously messing with her?

It’s sickening to read Ms. Thurman’s account of being forced to pretty much risk her life for an unnecessary dumb stunt of driving a souped-up Karman Ghia in Bill that to this day causes her severe and chronic neck and knee pain.

And downright felonious, not to mention, gag-inducing, enduring an eye-witness retell of “Harvey” luring an unknowing younger Thurman through the inner bowels of his lair where, in his secret steam room, he exposed his bathrobe and himself to her as she sweated profusely – in black leather shirt, pants and boots – frozen and momentarily silent before him in both disbelief and panic.

My thoughts exactly Nene

Weinstein has admitted some but not all of the exchanges but vehemently denies all fashion of physical abuse. In fact, in a statement he and his lawyers chalk it up to phrases like misread signals and awkward pass(es) – all part of some ongoing flirtation gone terribly wrong between them – though only from her point of view.

It’s enough to make you want to get sick once again – and again and again – until you can’t bear it any longer because now you’re remembering similar and eerily familiar accounts from Mira Sorvino, Ashley Judd, Asia Argento, Rose McGowan, among many others.

Yeah, and those are only the ones we know about.

There are moments I feel at a severe disadvantage speaking and/or writing about this as a gay man.

Is there something I just don’t get about the male/female sexual power dynamic? What in the world would possess any man to act this way – or in any fashion even resembling this way?

… if only there were more men of quality

Yeah, yeah. It’s then I have to remind myself – it’s not about sex, it’s about power. There is a wide continuum of assaults and not all are ____________, not every is in the same ___________________, though each are certainly _______________ and inex______________.

(Note: And yes, I know it happens male on male but for now let’s try to keep our focus here).

This is so inadequate and just plain wrong. As am I and most of us on this entire issue. And to my mind, the piece of social commentary that captured it best was this sketch from a recent episode of Saturday Night Live:

That said, there is a pattern of behavior in the human world, particularly when it has to do with business and a particular brand of sexual and/or power dynamics in that marketplace. I can speak most authoritatively about the entertainment business and I find these examples are usually most effective since:

  1. It’s where I’ve spent most, if not all, of my professional life, and
  2. No one ever gets tired of listening and/or reading about any vaguely salacious and/or immoral tale about the business of show.

That given, here’s a partial list of what would be considered only minor offenses I’ve witnessed firsthand on a handful of movie sets of the years.   In light of Ms. Thurman’s, et al, revelations they may seem petty, but let’s take a shot:

oh it’s gonna be a bumpy ride

— An Oscar winning director leaning into the large breasts of his lead actress, often leering directly at them, only inches away in a strange kind of power struggle, all during shooting.

— A prestige producer and another Oscar nominated director remarking how much they’d both like to ram (nee f-ck) their sometimes difficult female star with their – well, let’s assume we all understand what the with their means (Note: Their hand motions and giggles made it crystal clear to me) in order to put her in her place.

— A very young 24 year old heroin-addicted movie star shooting an entire film for three months with his manager, agents and the film’s producers in full knowledge of his drug use but allowing it because the movie couldn’t be done without him.

— A 10 year-old rising actor turning to me one day on the set of a Disney movie with sad eyes and pleading, I just wanna play. I don’t want to do this. Please?

seriously heartbreaking

What does exactly one DO – especially if one is not in any sort of power position and its in the eighties and nineties?

Well, what I did was try to be of comfort, or at least more understanding, of the people (nee victims) involved. That would be the female stars, the little kid and the drug addict.

I also tried to directly or subtly plead their case to some of the powers-that-be in a way that I thought could do the most good.

In the case of the buxom lead actress, when I tried to apologize to her about the way she’d been treated, to which she replied, Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ve dealt with this before.

Probably how she wanted to react to my naiveté. #girlplease

In the case of the difficult female star: I decided – Okay, no more complaining about her attitude to anyone else. In addition to some other uncomfortable moments where I go out of my way to be extra understanding directly to her – which in turn led to a sort of détente between us on the set and her being a bit less chilly towards me.

In the case of the young substance abuser: Keeping my requests of him to a minimum, try whenever possible to focus him when he was fuzzy-eyed and one time patiently and slowly helping him with the simple task of… signing his name.

In the case of the little boy: Pleading his case to a bunch of head nods and nervous silences from the producers. Then a roll of the eyes from his guardian. As well as a lot of curse words from fellow crew members about either what a cruel place Hollywood was or how it was really hard to feel sorry for a spoiled child making more money than their entire family because of a cute smile and floppy hair.

These people really were the worst.

Needless to say, what I did wasn’t barely enough. And what I barely saw was barely enough of the very small tip of a ginormously overpowering iceberg of abuse, resentment, power and betrayal that just now has only begun to melt

Which only brings to my mind only this new hashtag: #WeAreAllComplicit

Though if you ever doubt it, peruse some of the reader’s comments after Ms. Thurman’s story in Deadline Hollywood, the NY Times or other outlets. Then sit with them for a while and think back on some of your own experiences in whatever industry you are or were ever were in and ask yourself – just what should this new hashtag be?

Moulin Rouge – “The Show Must Go On”

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The Art of Art

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 5.57.39 PM

As the year closes, many of us serial commenters feel compelled to do a 10 Best (or Worst) list. They both have their charms, depending on your mood. Certainly the latter is more fun to write even if it cuts into all the good karma you’ve accrued in the world thus far.

Still, at this point in my life and on this particular year I’m feeling a bit more benevolent and quite a bit more appreciative. For what?   Well, a lot of things. (Note: I will not be listing them all, don’t worry). But certainly being alive is one.

There are lots of bullets one dodges as time marches on and at no time does this become more crystal clear than when you look in the mirror or view the lives of others around you. The former is a particularly sobering fact. No matter how fabulous you look it eventually becomes apparent to even the least introspective person in the universe at odd moments that you will not withstand the test of time. And even more sobering is the undeniable reality that this can all change faster than the actual announced winner of Miss Universe 2015 if the karmic gods deem it so.

The mere fact that you are still living, breathing and thriving – even in all your imagined or real misery? Well, that also puts you ahead of a large group of others on the planet once you average it all out and divide it by the appropriate number. Watch the news or realistically consider each and every one of your friends and acquaintances, if you don’t believe me. You can even throw in a few of the sworn enemies you are perpetually jealous of – though not The Republican Apprentice. He deserves neither your jealousy nor even one moment of your consideration – for anything.

Your damn right Chairy!

Your damn right Chairy!

This being the case, I wanted to close 2015 by saying thanks and honoring one very large group. And that is all of the artists out there. The great ones, the good ones, the average ones, the not so good ones and… well, as I’ve said, I’m not doing a worst list but if I were and you were – well, you can even count in those too.

It’s the artists that have kept me – all of us – going up to this point in time and I suspect they will continue to do so for the rest of my (our) future(s).

Films, television, music, books, newspapers, paintings, home furnishings – in your hands or virtually – there are actual real people out there who do all of that. At some point it’s all a blank. Until someone sits down or stands up somewhere and has the courage, or anger, or bravado to say to us – here, this is what I think. Take it or leave it. Whether you like it or not.

Be bold

Preach

It’s not an easy thing to do and it’s a really difficult feat to do well. It may even be a necessary thing to do for many of us, you or them who do it – a way of survival, a type of selfish coping that has its own side benefits – but that doesn’t make it any more simple or less hard. It takes time, energy, determination, study and at the end of the day, a fair amount of bravery – especially if you’re planning to be honest and thus risk the wrath and mass condemnation of others. Remember, at the point of origin the screen is empty. Like –- there is nothing there. At. All. Try staring into the night sky and take away the stars and all traces of weather –- then pour black paint on it –- and you might have some approximation. Or do it in the daytime and make it all white. Depending on your mood/s.

This holiday week I was watching Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong (co-creator of the brilliant, massively successful American Idiot album and Broadway musical) on a rerun from earlier this year of the 2015 Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies. He was accepting his honor after being inducted into this rare group and recounting his love affair with music. The Beatles, Elvis – even Kool and the Gang as a kid– he heard them all and a lot more growing up thanks to his siblings and extended family. And he loved it all and it soon became apparent to him that this was his world. That would be music – not creating one of the premiere breakthrough crossover punk bands and album/cds in history – that would come later.

Just a couple of (legendary) punks

Just a couple of (legendary) punks

And – he worked at it from the time he met one of his bandmates in the fifth grade. Yeah, he did the drugs, engaged in all the requisite, cliché misbehaviors (including many stints in rehab and numerous other episodes of self-indulgence) and has had more than his share of hits and misses. But after he played his 15 minute set with his group one had to marvel at just how edgily perfect they remain more than 25 years later. How do they/does he do it? Aside from the obvious talent, the answer lied in the rest of his speech. As he looked out in the audience at a sea of still alive musical icons and got almost teary-eyed as he gave a shout out to Patti Smith for her seminal LP Horses that he listened to as a kid. Right after his drummer, Trey Cool (yeah, that’s his name), met the gaze of Ringo Starr and thanked him profusely for being one of his true inspirations.

And so it goes, for all of us. Whether we’re inducted into the rock ‘n roll Hall of Fame or not. Whether we’re even any good or not.   We get there on the shoulders and backs and through the minds of others.

No matter how big you get, fangirling is forever

No matter how big you get, fangirling is forever

Last night I re-watched That’s Entertainment – a brilliant 1974 movie that is essentially a clip collection of classic MGM musicals introduced by classic movie stars of the time including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney and, as a surrogate for her mother Judy Garland – Liza Minnelli. It’s an era that will never return again: movies from the 1930s – early 1960s – a timeless American era that will forever define a certain kind of cinema that will certainly live on hundreds of centuries after all of our worried looks into the mirror or at the news on television are long gone. I love musicals and I suppose they’re not for everyone – except those movies, on some level, truly are. Even if it’s not your thing, how do you not admire and remain fascinated by Astaire dancing, Eleanor Powell tapping, Judy Garland singing? Or the optics of Busby Berkeley directing?

Berkeley keeps us hypnotized

Berkeley keeps us hypnotized

What you learn watching That’s Entertainment are the endless hours, days, weeks and months these artists labored at their craft. (Note: Needless to say, this was mostly a time before strict union rules – or overly enforced ones either for stars or mere contract players). The repetition, the trial and error, the dedication and yes, sheer push, drive and obsession of the studios and artists to do beyond their best created the kinds of big screen results that will endure long beyond what I’m writing and you’re reading here – or from anyone, anywhere else today.

I fear we’re losing a bit of that these days. It’s not that we all don’t work hard but that kind of intense single-mindedness – shutting out the rest of the world to be immersed in your craft – is it all even possible anymore? How do you shut it all out? The stimulation? The endless bombardment of information? Can you? Will it ever be the case again? I somehow feel as if I doubt it. Perhaps the answer is to simply include it and come up with something else. Or a newer form altogether. Perhaps that is happening already. In fact, I’m sure it already has. Even as we write or speak.

Andy knew what was up

Andy knew what was up

So yeah, Spotlight, Trumbo and Room were terrific for me – and I have high hopes for Hateful Eight and the new Star Wars. I love that Homeland regained its footing and thrilled me with one of the best villains on TV this season while this 22 year old overweight nerdy kid named Jordan Smith on The Voice made my mouth drop wide open when he reinvented Freddie Mercury’s Somebody to Love and bounced Adele off the #1 spot on ITunes. Plus, we haven’t even gotten to Adele. Hello.

Oh and don't forget to buy the world a coke!

Oh and don’t forget to buy the world a coke!

Yes, all of them did truly inspire . But there’s a much bigger group out there that includes many of us – as fellow creators, listeners, fans or passersby. We might disagree about the best and the worst but getting to experience all of it – even the misfires we dish – it is what ultimately unites – rather than divides us.

The Republican Apprentice notwithstanding. Always.

Happy 2016.