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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Just Try Me

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Here’s how this is gonna go from now on.

– If we meet and I find out you voted for Donald Trump and continue to support his policies I will confront you.

– I will confront you if you are a friend, relative or a friend of a friend or relative.

– I will confront you on social media even if I don’t know you but you are posting on a friend or follower’s page.

-I will confront you if you are in my home, at a dinner party, on the street, in a restaurant, at the movies and, most especially in front of people we know.

– I will confront you and I will be tireless. I won’t stop. Seriously. I will have an answer for every argument you posit and I will not hesitate to roll around in the mud with you, no matter how nasty and dismissive your argument gets.

– I will confront you because there is no time to be nice and to pretend that you have not wrapped your arms around someone who is a mentally imbalanced pathological liar, corrupt, racist, sexist and bereft of morality. Someone who doesn’t read, is not very smart and is a threat not only to the country but to the very existence of the world.

– I will confront you because time is ticking and it is not on my side. In fact, it is not on your side either but you are too brainwashed, prejudiced or set in your ways to look at reality.

mic drop

mic drop

I really wouldn’t care to engage with you at all if I didn’t have to share the world with you. I’d let you and your kind burn to the ground at this point. But being that we have to breathe the same air – at least while we can breathe  it – I will attempt to persuade you into reality using what has always been the most effective means at my disposal – words. Yes, I will listen to you but I will not indulge your fantasies, your fake news or your claimed past history of being a decent human being. Everything about you is indecent at this point. If you knew better or had any morality left you’d be ashamed.

I won’t go through a litany of what the Pres. Elect (who lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 MILLION and counting) has done in the last few weeks. Things like appointing a woman to head the Dept. of Education who doesn’t believe in public schools, a guy to head the Environmental Protection Agency who doesn’t believe in global warming, a billionaire businessman to head the Dept. of Labor who doesn’t believe in the minimum wage and a religious homophobe to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development who admits his only experience for the job is that he was “raised in the inner city.”

Oh! And he owns a home too! #wowie

Oh! And he owns a home too! #wowie

Here’s what I will do. I will mention and provide a link to the Washington Post expose that just came out detailing the undeniable evidence that both the CIA and FBI have proof Vladimir Putin and Russia spent the last year trying to influence voters and tilt the election to Trump with fake news, massive computer hacking and god knows what else (oh and this NY Times piece too). If we meet in person or online I will make a good case to you that given Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort became a very wealthy man working for Russian and Ukranian oligarchs it is logical and likely the campaign and the candidate himself had at the very least knowledge of this and more probably aided and abetted them. I will also share several stories I’ve heard over the last few years from very wealthy people that the working class billionaire Pres. Elect himself had become HEAVILY in debt to Russian banks and billionaires in order to keep his financial empire afloat and that, until his emergence in the Republican field, was denied much if any bank credit in this country anymore. No I can’t legally prove that but ask yourself another question – why does Trump go out of his way to NEVER criticize Putin or Russia or ANY of their military or financial misdeeds when there is almost NO ONE in the world other than family and a handful of fellow billionaires, and certainly not a SINGLE OTHER COUNTRY, who he has not criticized?

Two is just not enough

Two is just not enough

Also ask yourself, why were Republican members of Congress actively attempting to suppress all information about Russia’s involvement in our election while the election was going on – so much so that Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened Pres. Obama with an orchestrated smear of political bias if he dared to speak out about how widespread our government believed the Russians were in influencing the election?

Oh, and I will also ask you this follow-up question: “If you claim to love this country as much as you say you do, and the idiot Elect claims to, and the Republican members of Congress say they do, and you all truly want to “make America great again” (whatever the hell that means) – “Why does all of this not matter to you?”

... but saying this sends you into a tailspin. #priorities

… but saying this sends you into a tailspin. #priorities

What I won’t argue about is that Pres. Obama, born uniter and glass half full scholar in chief that he is, should have screamed the truth as loud and as strong as he could from the presidential bully pulpit and let all the chips fall where they might. Perhaps he had information we all didn’t but it’s hard to imagine that whatever he knew could possibly be worse than the outcome we’ve already gotten. Still, the end of the story has not been written yet and he’s a lot smarter than I am so perhaps there is a method to his momentary madness. At least I hope so.

Barack, whatcha gonna do?

Barack, whatcha gonna do?

You are welcome to say things to me like liberals can’t hear opposing views, you’re exaggerating and why don’t you give the guy a chance. I’ve heard them all and have well-reasoned responses. You can also call me a Jew or a fag or mutter other epithets under your breath because I’ve heard all of those recently and through my life and know just what to shoot back online or in person with the likes of those of you who will do that. I and my kind don’t scare easily so give it your best shot but don’t try to sell me on the idea that Trump’s senior advisor Steve Bannon isn’t a rabid anti-Semite and a racist. That really insults my intelligence and what little you have left.

I see you... and I'm not taking my eyes off of you

I see you… and I’m not taking my eyes off of you

By the way, you might be interested to know how I finally reached my tipping point with you. Strangely enough, it was the NBC live broadcast this past week of the Broadway musical Hairspray. It’s a cream puff of show but it thematically does deal with a chubby girl who tries to integrate a local TV dance show in the early sixties and has to battle a gaggle of privileged and unprivileged white people who down to their very souls believe Blacks are inferior – as is anyone who is overweight, or who is skinny and wears glasses, or is, well, even a little different from them.

Thank you perfectly polished NBC cast #evenyouArianna #especiallyyouderek

Thank you perfectly polished NBC cast #evenyouAriana #especiallyyouderek

When this show debuted on Broadway more than 10 years ago it was fun and nostalgic and was a reminder of a hard fought history lesson. This week it was strangely relevant and resonant and all too timely. It spoke to a new era under an incoming president whose supporters scream his name at rallies with Hitler-like salutes, spew hate-speak at minorities nationwide in public places, and shout down, threaten and troll online and in person anyone who dares to vehemently disagree with him. I was a kid when these battles were fought and I’ll be damned if in my third act of life I’m going to let the likes of you drag us back 50 years in time.

And no, I’m not going to give the white working class of this country a big warm hug for tolerating lies and racism so they could have a national temper tantrum that will endanger the safety of the entire global community. We’re all hurting in different ways. But there are lines that are not crossed.   And once crossed we confront them. So stay tuned and get used to people like me being right up in your face because this won’t let up for at least the next four years. You’re not going to drag us down to the gutter of beliefs where you have so very unwisely chosen to live.

Oh, and indeed, you are a basket of deplorables. Though that’s the nice term.

Freak out!

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I don’t know about you but when I read on the front page of the New York Times that …the Islamic state is seeking to attack, infiltrate or sabotage nuclear installations or obtain nuclear material or radioactive material at vulnerable facilities in Belgium and elsewhere it raises the moderate yet consistent level of anxiety I walk around with each day to high.

But, being a master of denial, I quickly remembered that my beloved Times was also the paper that once employed Judith Miller, who once acted as a shill for former Vice President Dick Darth Vader Cheney and printed all kinds of misleading stories about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities under President George W. Bush – stories that in turn created a groundswell of political and public support for probably the worst foreign policy blunder in modern American history – the Dubya-led march into Iraq – which in turn led us into the current massive destabilization of the Middle East.

Stefan only speaks the truth

Stefon only speaks the truth

Yes, I know this is what the terrorists want – for me/us to be terrorized. And it would sort of be working on me had I not lived much of my early life in terror and, in turn, become a master of denial. This, of course, led to decades of therapy that allowed me to understand there is no point worrying about stuff I can’t control – like my own personal demise and the end of the world. But at least I know how to block it out and put it in perspective. For me that means – oh hell, may as well enjoy what little time we have left while we can, because clearly we’re all doomed.

On an existential basis this is not all surprising. I mean, aren’t we all doomed anyway? Not to bring down the room with homilies like – no one gets out of here alive but…uh…guess what…you don’t. And this whole afterlife thing really needs to take a rest. Because if there is an afterlife then doesn’t that mean all of these terrorists are celebrating with a dozen virgins somewhere you and I can’t see? Since who is to say whose after-life is it, anyway?

#deepthoughts

#deepthoughts

This being the case I refuse to become preoccupied or outraged anymore about potential nuclear wars. Yes there are exceptions that will get me – like the 31 dead several days ago in Belgium and any time the proliferation of gun-toting Americans decide to shoot up a movie theatre or classroom full of people. Not to mention the next time any white law officer shoots a non-White young (or old) person. Or vice-versa for that matter. Still, that seems to happen only every month – well, let’s say every few weeks to play it safe. I can certainly handle that amount of sadness in monthly or weekly increments if it stays at that level because I’ve learned to portion it out.

Yet there are any number of news and pop culture events I refuse to get upset or even annoyed about anymore.   I’m actually rather enjoying the food fight The Republican Apprentice and Grandpa Munster are having over whose wife is prettier, smarter or more worth staying monogamous with. Frankly, I’d cheat on both of them, though not with either of their husbands – nor any of the other deposed competitors for GOP presidential choice. I might, however, consider one of the deposed competitors on the Democratic side who has dropped out. Not that I’m naming any O’Names.

Uh... Abssssolutely

Uh… Abssssolutely

I also don’t give a rat’s ass that the just-released Superman v. Batman is by all accounts a leading contender for next year’s Razzie awards; Ben Affleck’s sad sack expression when being unfairly ambushed by a journalist on a press junket who asked him how it felt to have the movie so poorly reviewed; or the fact that the movie has just grossed more than $400,000,000 at the box-office worldwide in its opening weekend. Yeah, you heard it right.

Certainly this, more than anything else, makes a case for the proposed company The Screening Room filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams have been touting the last few weeks.

This new venture/platform/vehicle would provide us all – for the mere price of about $50 – the opportunity to legally beam in any movie to our large home screen mechanism of choice on the exact day it opens at movie theatres.   Industryites are objecting all over the spectrum but really – I’m not upset in the least. Nor should anyone else be in the industry. The only chance they have of more people going out to theatres to see much of their sort of corporate swill is if it’s offered in the comfort of one’s own home where one can freeze it for bathroom breaks or group hate watch it amid chugs of wine or puffs of their prescriptioned pharmaceutical of choice.

OK, maybe I'd miss these little fellas

OK, maybe I’d miss these little fellas

Certainly, the above applies at least to me. I’ll pay $50 to have friends over so I can luxuriate on Mr. Cavill’s shirtless image with my eyes while downing a glass of Chianti. Or perhaps that’s vice-versa in the case of the latter two phrases. Well, whatever works. As for Mr. Affleck, he’d be old news at that point. Literally.

Yes, the world is cruel and old age is not for sissies, as Bette Davis once said. Do you know there are theatres where I can now get in as a senior citizen? That’s cruel but I’m also enjoying the irony of continuing to pay full price. I think of it as my middle finger at the patriarchy still in charge and a revolt against the yet one more category it’s attempting to throw me into against my will.

Senior discount realness

Senior discount realness

People will, of course, always try to throw you into categories you don’t see yourself a part of or, by any objective (or non-objective) measure are clearly not a part of. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton but still consider myself a liberal. I like but am not voting for Bernie Sanders yet fellow Democrats consider me a privileged white male sellout. My GOP friends consider me misguided. Others in the GOP think I’m… Oh, I’m lovin’ all the nasty adjectives the latter throws at me. I’m like #Drumpf – every time you challenge me my contributions to her, like his Wall, get the equivalent of five feet higher.

I am unsure how long my newfound light-heartedness will last but I’m betting given the current news cycles of the last few months, not to mention the world at large, it won’t be ending any time too soon. There are too many clowns and clown cars to laugh at these days. As the great and prescient George Carlin once so cleverly said:

God Bless America

God Bless America

This Art is My Art

Screen shot 2014-02-02 at 12.30.30 PM

Here’s a thought:

Art is a lie that reveals the truth  

–  Pablo Picasso

I googled the above quote when I came across it last week, un-credited and at the center of someone’s Twitter page, because those words sounded too profound for any person on social media in 2014 to have come up with on their own.  #sorrynotsorry.

Well, it turns out I was right and that tweet did not come from that twit.  Not only that but said twit did not gain me as a follower for failing to give Picasso credit.   That might sound harsh but I was even harder on myself for not knowing Picasso said this very famous phrase that I pretty much had never heard of until I came across it in my quest for more information on a political story.  I mean, how old am I and where do I get my news???

Like everyone else these days – I get my news from everywhere.  Except it isn’t always news.  Sometimes it’s a lie, sometimes it’s a version of the truth and very, very, very seldom, it is actually the truth.

OK.. maybe mostly lies

OK.. maybe mostly lies

Of course, the truth is sort of overrated.  Long ago I realized not to press the person who was dumping me for the absolute unbridled facts of what went wrong (Note:  You don’t necessarily want lies, just a slightly softer version of their reality).  I also gave up on getting unvarnished feedback from everyone and their mother on everything that I write.  As any veteran writer will tell you, the latter will only lead to disaster.  Much better to seek the opinions of a few trusted friends who will give you a Picasso-esque version of a critique – which in the end is no less valid than the brutal beating you could receive from a studio executive, editor or nameless critic in your own field.   Plus, it’s usually worth a lot more.

It is not that any of us should advocate for lies or deception or existence in a dream world.  But sometimes what is true, beneath all the buzz and talk and data, is not what you are plain staring at.  Sometimes the absolute truth is an interpretation from someone with a better take than yourself – someone who has waded through all the options and the facts and the sides of something, and has come up with an alternative look at it that feels much more right than a thousand page document or photo album that simply presents the facts.

This is why we need artists (and art) and why I believe, as many before me have believed, that we all have an obligation to produce it in our own individual ways.

It is not a waste of time – nor a road to economic destruction any more than stubbornly sticking to your version of only what you see before you without input from anyone else.  Part of being a human – an advantage, actually – is the ability to process and reason information for yourself and those around you and to consistently put it out into the world as you live your everyday life.

Sometimes this system can go awry.

Sometimes this system can go awry.

We all do this with every decision we make, the work we do, the people we love, the friendships we make, and the conversations we have.  But we sometimes get hamstrung by what we perceive as the facts rather than to stand back and use simpler logic or artistic interpretation in order to shed light on the truth of an event or problem or simple everyday occurrence.

In my googling, I came across an article in Psychology Today that discussed Pablo Picasso’s dilemma more than a century ago in 1906 when he wanted to push the boundaries of what made a great portrait.  One of his early subjects was the renowned writer Gertrude Stein and after reworking his painting of her one too many times he was not happy (NOTE:  Uh, that’s right, Picasso was no different than the rest of us in that regard).

Anyway, eventually he came back to what he was painting and decided rather than to get as close as possible to the absolute objective truth of what we see when looking at Ms. Stein, he would give us his more extreme interpretation. This mask-like, more flattened portrait became very famous and an early signature of Picasso’s Cubist period.  It was also a favorite of Ms. Stein’s (the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me, she said) even as it was rejected in many other circles at the time as an indulgence that didn’t look enough like her.

When challenged about his Stein portrait, Picasso famously answered his critics this way:

Everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will.

Picasso's lady

Picasso’s lady

I suppose it’s up to us to decide whether Picasso’s tart retort refers to what Ms. Stein will indeed look like one day when she gets to be, say, my age – or whether the will he refers to is his own determination to so commit to the truth of what he sees when he paints that one day his image will overtake what the rest of us see when we look at, or even think of, Ms. Stein.  Or perhaps, it’s simply a little of both.

The great thing about art – whether you’re the maker or the audience – is that when it’s operating at its highest level it captures a version of the truth that can resonate the essence of what is real, what you see before you, better than what is actually right before your eyes.  It needn’t cover everything but must cover an essence of the artist’s chosen everything.

In a society of rational thought and laws and everyday reality, this is too often seen as a kind of flighty indulgence that doesn’t have any real meaning unless you’re talking about a Picasso (Note:  And even then…) But certainly that is no longer accurate by any stretch of even the most unimaginative when we rationally examine our present day lives.

Does anybody truly believe Reality TV is real?  Or that Fox News is fair and balanced?  (Note:  I’ll bet if you got Bill O’Reilly soused he’d even accede to my way of thinking).  And to be fair — I love reading the New York Times but its iconic motto of All The News That’s Fit To Print certainly begs the question of why some stories are fit and others are not and who decides which is which.  There are times when a particularly witty tweet from Andy Borowitz or a very astute Facebook post from one of the many friends I have who are smarter than myself, has given me a truer assessment of a contemporary issue than anything I read on the subject in the paper of record or any conclusion a so-called expert committee comes to after examining the so-called hard data.

You just can't argue with gems like these...

You just can’t argue with gems like these…

Pete Seeger, the famed folksinger-songwriter, died this week at the age of 94 in the home he built himself in upstate New York.  I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Seeger play at a small anti-Vietnam War demonstration at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens when I was in high school, and I thought he was old then. (Note: This was after his censored appearance on CBS’s The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour singing Waist Deep in the Big Muddy – a metaphorical song he wrote about Pres. Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War). I also wondered why someone so well known would take the time to be at this somewhat tiny demonstration when people like Jane Fonda were making international headlines with their own Vietnam War protests.  My logical thinking, forged by the American educational rewards system of bigger is better, at least audience wise, was that if he were really famous and important he wouldn’t be spending his time singing to me and a bunch of others in, of all places, Flushing – the uninspiring town where I lived.

We'll miss ya, Petey.

We’ll miss ya, Petey.

Faulty as this reasoning was, no doubt some people (many?) still think this way.  Consider we are still paying the most attention to:  who sells the most records, tapes CDs downloads (whatever!), who makes the most news; and who is voted the best of anything in our worlds.

Yet the very essence of Mr. Seeger was his ability to travel to all kinds of places much more obscure than Flushing and use his words to express the plight of the people.  And, quite simply, he never stopped doing it.  You might not have heard of him but you have certainly heard of several iconic songs he wrote and/or made famous, such as If I Had A Hammer, and We Shall Overcome.  The truth of those songs came from decades of seeking out the truth in hundreds of small towns and talking to thousands of working class individuals through which or whom he could employ his art to tell their truths.  Or at least THE truth in the way that he saw it.

One could argue lines like “If I Had A Hammer’s…It’s the hammer of justice, It’s the bell of freedom, It’s the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters, All over this land…” have spoken an equal or perhaps much more effective political truth than a library full of factual reports on the economic analysis of inequality.   Or that they rank far superior to the many multi-million dollar opinions from some of the most respected think tanks in the world on why, during many of the decades in which Mr. Seeger lived, we needed or didn’t need to go to war.

By the way, this is not pie-in-the-sky hippie talk.  Consider what usually stops and starts wars (Vietnam – Iraq – WWII).  It is general public outcry or too many deaths among the masses of survivors willing to risk everything that finally wins the day (Note: usually it’s a lot of both) after too many years or decades or even centuries of fighting.

Artistic expression is an indispensible fuel to this change.  Just as it can also be used selfishly to whine, piss people off and/or generally just entertain.  Like this little ditty starring Nathan Lane and the cast of Jersey Boys directed towards Fox News’ Sean Hannity after he floated the idea of leaving his home state of New York in order to relocate to more right-leaning states like Texas or Florida.

Click the picture for the full (brilliant!) video

Click the picture for the full (brilliant!) video

Okay so maybe this video – or your essay, painting or photograph or play or movie – is a little whiney.  And you’re absolutely positive it will never bring peace on the battlefield, end global warming or even make you a dime. (Note:  I’ll bet Mr. Lane would have done that for free if union rules had allowed him).  You still must try to do whatever you can to contribute to your own version of truth telling.  And that is because even the very best of any of the above in their fields don’t do this alone.  They are merely one element contributing to an overall collective truth at any given moment in time – one in which, like it or not – we are all some kind of part of.

Harrison Ford is 70

“Age is a harsh mistress.”  I said this last year to a student at our annual holiday party when he spied a picture of me and my significant other taken 25 years ago.  A picture I don’t ever give a second thought to, I realized, until a young person happens to spy it and a look of disguised shock and awe came onto his face.  Shock that, I like to think, is because I was and still am so devastatingly attractive (“he was even better looking back then!”) but that probably has more to do with how someone so close to their age could’ve gotten so much, well, older-looking.  And awe, I suppose, at the fact that I am still alive and retain any sort of the youthful vigor or even mobility when I am in their presence.

I still have enough memory to know that I did indeed feel exactly that same way in my early twenties.  And that it is, indeed, okay.  What is not okay – by any measure – is that the movie business – which is almost 100 years old itself – feels exactly the same way.

It’s not news that anyone over 25, or to be kind, perhaps 35, is considered by most of the powers-that-be at movie studios as somewhere between dead or not worth pursuing.  But as myself and many other writer/director/producers/editors/designers and, yes, actors in the biz have been saying for years – it is not only rude and inconsiderate to think that way since the industry and many of the people who run it are older than that, but it’s an extremely poor business model.

You can bemoan this as a creative person.  You can shout it angrily as a movie fan who suddenly finds there is nothing exciting to go to as a lover of big screen entertainment.  But, much like any other changes in the world, none of that does any good until it’s proven on the balance sheet and by the risk of someone else that this way of thinking is, indeed – just plain wrong.

The N.Y. Times wrote quite a perceptive story this week about a movie featuring primarily sixty and seventy somethings that we like to call “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  A film that is now inching up to a worldwide box-office gross of – wait for it – close to $90 million dollars — on a production and marketing budget of a fraction of that cost.

Certified mariGOLD

I saw the film several weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, it’s surprisingly good for a movie about a bunch of British seniors who separately decide to retire to India.  Is it the best movie I’ve seen in 10 years?  Well, no, but it doesn’t have to be because that only happens once a decade.  Instead, it’s simply fun, heartfelt, touching, very profitable, well made and got an 83% positive audience response on the AMERICAN film website rottentomatoes.com.

Perhaps even more importantly, it didn’t cost $200 plus million to make and another $100 plus million to market.   And it doesn’t star Taylor Kitsch (sorry Taylor?).  In short —  it’s no “John Carter.”

In the sequel, let’s lose the chestplate

Here’s the way it works and why it shouldn’t work that way.  Hollywood movie studios want to make films that will not only make money but will become cottage industries.  Meaning, known quantities based on books or comic books or board games for teenagers  that can have sequels.  Or that can sell toys, soundtracks, dolls and fast-food tie-ins, among other things.  And perhaps can spawn TV series, cartoons, Broadway shows or, at the very least, an endless stream of theatrical re-releases to new generations or to unsuspecting moviegoers who studio heads believe will crave any kind of faux-repackaged DVD extra they can buy at their local Costco.   (Note: For those poor schnooks who don’t have Costco in their neighborhood, substitute your best local discount store – though I doubt it could possibly compete with the Big C).

Anyway, in the unending quest of franchise-mania (did I make up a new word?), these same studios are willing to risk large chunks of the farm in any effort to prove to their corporate bosses (who often see the movies as glam but not their primary bread and butter) that they are indeed worthy of keeping their jobs.  But because the mode of delivery is changing and we now can get entertainment literally everywhere (not to be gross, but isn’t it only a matter of time until the iPod video player toilet?), the movie business, like its compatriots in the recording industry, are panicked.

It exists.

Some sample movie studio dialogue:

“WTF is happening?  How are these kids continuing to download these movies illegally?” (Uh, yeah, in my unscientific survey I can testify that the majority of them do and will continue to do so no matter how much we preach about intellectual property, cause it’s a new world).

“Do they really want to watch a movie on a tiny phone?  Should we have a phone/mobile device division? Let’s get some interns to work on it  – we don’t have to pay them, they’ll do it for free – and maybe they’ll come up with something??  Hell, maybe they can make the films themselves and we can charge, what – $1 a pop – okay, maybe two if it’s full length. Great – so now – who’s got the nerve to run it upstairs to — Nabisco?” (Well, not Nabisco but substitute some nameless corporate entity – you know what I mean).

“Oh, and don’t forget to tell them ‘no, we’re not gonna pay these kids to make the films’… well, okay – we can create a new guild minimum for phone films but it’ll be negligible – but no profits!  You know what – don’t even mention paying them for now unless they ask!…”

(Yes, this is a fictional conversation.  Or is it?  I’ll never tell).

A much less stressful – and perhaps simpler and more inventive strategy – for said studio people might be this: to look at what one is selling and see who wants to buy it.  That is who else except the usual suspects being catered to.  As the NY Times so wisely points out, and what myself and, again, many of my friends have been saying for years – “baby boomers have literally carried on a life long love affair with the movies.”  And there is a good reason.  Those of us in or around that generation were raised in the golden age of films of the 1960s and 1970s.  A time when the creative output included – I mean, do I have to list them?  Go to oscars.org and look up Academy Award nominations.  Or type in any film festival of your choice and see what was competing at the time.  Then go watch “John Carter” or even more adult type films that won the top awards this year like “The Artist” and “Iron Lady “ and compare them to, oh – “The Godfather,” “Cabaret,” “Mean Streets,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Parallax View” “The Bicycle Thief,” “The 400 Blows” and “Raging Bull” and see if you don’t see what I mean.

Show some respect

Interesting enough, “Marigold” managed to make money (fun alliteration?) not by being a throwback to those films but by unapologetically telling a story about older, though not ancient BRITISH people.  Yeah, they’re not even American but they are acclaimed actors and some Oscar winners who can act too – Dames like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, among others – actors who are actually in their 70s – a generation beyond the boomers.

The Downton Bump?

Why is anyone going to see this film full of well – practically dead people? Is 70 the new 50 or 60?  Maybe.  But mainly they’re going because, uh, it’s good.  And  because there’s nothing else to see for anyone above a certain sensibility and age even though they have lots of money and are more than willing to spend it.

See – here is a list of movie stars today who are 70 and above —

Jack Nicholson; Warren Beatty; Al Pacino; Dustin Hoffman; Robert Redford; Barbra Streisand; Jane Fonda; Gene Hackman (he’s 80!) and Woody Allen.   And Harrison Ford turns 70 in – July.  (Don’t believe me – look it up)

Oh Indy…

Now — here is a list of American movies stars 62 and above –

Meryl Streep – still one of the most bankable female movie stars now out there. Just sayin’.  Robert DeNiro; Diane Keaton; Helen Mirren; Michael Douglas; Sylvester Stallone; Arnold Schwarzenegger; Goldie Hawn; and Sigourney Weaver.

Does anyone out there really think that the only way young audiences will go to see them in the movies is if they play foil, father, mother or grandmother to Taylor Kitsch, Shia LeBouf or Kristin Stewart?  I mean, give me a break.  I don’t want to even see them in those roles.   And neither do my 20-year-old students.  They want to see them in films that are — good.  As do the many masses of potential ticket buyers who are not young anymore.  (Note to moguls:  Some of the young people I know voluntarily went to “Marigold” not at my prodding and reported back to me that “they liked it, they really liked it” – a phrase that was admittedly coined by Oscar winner Sally Field, who also belongs on that list).

The Picture of Dorian Gray

If many more of these actors other than Magic Meryl got to star in their own movies (and, perish the thought, some of these movies were sometimes written and/or directed by people close to their age group) could they lose any more money than “John Carter?”  No way because we know that no studio would spend as much as they did on that debacle.  Or on some others this summer that I don’t need to mention but you know who you are. That’s not what we’re asking.  We only want some more choices, some different choices, some more vaguely intelligible choices that could possibly bear box-office fruit (and they don’t even have to reek of heaviosity) before our variety of films is no bigger than the images you can conjure on your local mobile toilet device.

P.S.: “Marigold” opened wide to 1233 theatres this weekend and will gross more than $10 million nationally this week, putting its box office gross over $100 million worldwide.  And it’s still playing.

Just sayin’.