Monkey Business?

There is no escape.

Not from Trump metaphors in art generally or in movie sequels specifically.   Even if all you want is a good summer film.

Of course, this also means there is no running from the news of the day, even if you don’t care a whit about the future generally or the human species specifically.

Stay with me… I’m about to get there

You might think you can turn it off by reading a classic novel and transporting yourself into another world. But try it. Chances are there will be some authoritarian figure somewhere bellowing belligerently from the rafters about what’s good for you, your neighborhood or your country in a voice you want to stab to death at any given moment. This being might be the voice of a dictator but, trust me, it can also be your parent, a friend or even your own inner voice.

Sure, I could be talking about just me but, truly, I don’t think so. When one lives in extreme circumstances one unfortunately finds resonance everywhere – and often in the most unlikely of places.

This weekend I went to a Writer’s Guild screening of War for the Planet of The Apes.

GURLLLL

Well, why not?

Sure, it’s the NINTH film of the Apes series, I don’t like sequels and reboots generally and, more specifically, I missed the last two. But I did read some synopses to catch up and there were the stellar written and word of mouth reviews for this new one

I heard it’s fantastic!, related a good friend who spoke to a good friend who knew someone who saw it.

Jeez, did you read this? It’s a rave, yelled my husband across the room over breakfast and our printed newspaper this past Friday morning. An eschewer of movie sequels generally and franchise action films specifically, I got the sense if he wasn’t working on a deadline to finish his new book he might have even joined me and paid the price of admission at a real movie theatre to see it.

And it doesn’t even have Dr. Zaius!

For the NINTH Planet of the Apes movie???? Yes. As I said, we all need our fantasy escapes – unless of course our backs are up against the wall with work and we have discipline. Well, one of us has to.

Besides, if I didn’t go to the new Apes film I would have missed:

Where to begin…

  • Woody Harrelson ordering droves of shackled apes to BUILD A WALL to keep all the bad guys out.
  • Metaphorical strong man father figures who stick by their families at all costs and lash out when their first-born sons are threatened, mutilated and/or killed. (Note: So be careful out there on Twitter).

Well… he would if it were Ivanka

  • Whole tribes of people willing to follow a certifiably CRAZY GUY because times are tough, he talks a good game and seems to have some sort of vague plan that will save them.

Of course, this could just be me reading into the movie but, truly, I don’t think so.

By the way, know you are reading no Apes snob here. The original Planet of The Apes was one of my favorite films as a child because it confirmed all of my worst prepubescent fears about the future of the planet. Even back then I knew we were probably doomed and the best that I could hope for is that some hot guy in a loincloth who looked like a youngish Charlton Heston would take pity on me and “save” me. (Note: This was well before I was aware of his politics, not that this would have mattered to my 12 year old self).

OK well I was looking at his other “guns” #shameless

After the screening of the new Apes film the director/co-screenwriter Matt Reeves spoke to a room full of us writers and related how he wanted to marry a mythic story with the technology of the day in creating the reality of the apes. Well, fair enough, I thought, even if at 142 minutes it all felt a bit overwrought and Woody Harrelson’s nutsy bald-headed villain reminded me too much of Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now without the sick wit. Or it all evoked a type of Bridge Over The River Kwai 2 with simians. Or The Ten Commandments without the presence of God or Charlton Heston – at any age.

I’ll keep the leopard clad Edward G. Robinson though #fabulous

But then Mr. Reeves made the mistake too many of us do when referring to our work – he began to explain it. He actually called his film as a “Darwinian biblical epic” and noted he screened the movies Apocalypse Now, The Ten Commandments and Bridge Over the River Kwai for inspiration. Oh, he did also mention The Outlaw Josey Wales, which I never saw, and now I guess probably won’t have to.

Sorry Clinty #stillanemptychair

All of this is to say, the difference between movie and real life auteurs these days is that the real life ones feel no need to truthfully explain themselves. We get codified messages from The Trump Of It All like build a wall and my (39 YEAR OLD) son is a good boy but not a lot of honest reflection about how he (It?) got to the decisions he made or why he made them. In fact, none.

And so far it’s working.

This should be a lesson for every movie director and writer out there. The moment you begin explaining what you do and why you do/did it is the precise time where you can begin to sew the seeds of your own downfall in the eyes of your audience. At least in the world we live in nowadays. Or, well, my world. A world from which there is no escape – even on a 2000 plus square foot movie screen.

or… RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

Though —

You (I?) might want to hang on to these results just in from a new Washington Post/ABC News pollThe Trump Of It All’s approval rating has just dropped six points to 36% from its previous 42% in April. Its/His disapproval rating has also risen 5 points to 58%. These are levels only reached once before: by George W. Bush near the end of his second term – after the economy crashed.

Yes, this is a slim, slim lifeline but is probably better than what you’ll get anywhere else. Of course, this could be just me but, truly, I don’t think so.

Dusty Springfield – Wishin’ and Hopin’

SPECIAL NOTE: We will be taking a brief stay-cation next week and notesfromachair will return in two weeks. During that time, our beloved Holly, the editor, caption writer and image chooser of all things notes will be giving birth to her second child – better known as Sam’s sibling – and we can’t do any of this without her. Or choose not to. Though why explain any further.

Can’t wait for you to meet her!

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Blue Period

Holidays come in blues – as well as reds and greens.  Meaning there are many ways and many shades to ring in the season and the New Year.  No – I’m not speaking about blues meaning the Jewish celebration of Hanukah and reds and greens being the Christian holiday of Christmas. The latter has somehow been modified, modernized and appropriated by societies at large – including this Jew – though I do have a special out if called on that because I live with an Italian Catholic.

Actually, the blues I’m addressing are the kind that Miles Davis played with his horn; the type that Billie Holliday and all the great jazz singers crooned about; and the genre that even disco songs like “I Will Survive” spoke about.

Just what are the blues?  Definition please:

Blues:

  1. A state of depression or melancholy.  Often used with The.
  2. A style of music that evolved from southern African-American secular songs and is usually distinguished by a strong 4/4 rhythm, flatted thirds and sevenths, a 12-bar structure, and lyrics in a three-line stanza in which the second line repeats the first.  Or has B.B. King has said: “The blues is an expression of anger against shame and humiliation.”

But the correct answer is more that that.  Ideally the correct answer is:  I know them when YOU have them.  (Because who really wants the blues, right?)

Common wisdom used to be that artistic and creative people had a particular penchant towards the blues.  We’re more sensitive, more troubled, feel things more deeply.  I bought into that for a while – okay, most of my life -until I opened my eyes a bit more into how everyone handles “this condition” in their own way.

Choices:

  1. Stoicism
  2. Humor
  3. Drugs & Alcohol (or any combination thereof)
  4. Feeling it
  5. Other ways I don’t understand (e.g. pretending it doesn’t exist; taking it out on others; becoming a nasty, mean bitter person in the moment or for a whole lifetime)

Artists do have one edge – to use it as a fuel for our work. If you can lift yourself off the couch – or bed – or even floor.  Also known as “making lemons into lemonade,” so to speak.  It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that two of the biggest CDs of the last few years (in both sales AND artistic achievement) are Adele’s “21” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” – both written in hibernation by their young singers after particularly devastating breakups.  As was Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” from the “Jagged Little Pill“ CD a decade before.  And back through time.  (Choose song or other cultural touchstone based on your age and contemporary media platform of choice).

Turning blues into gold

But — it is also interesting to note:  Stephen Gaghan wrote “Traffic” from the personal experience of his own drug addiction and James Frey made up a bestseller (or two?) based on the same, except he exaggerated his own real life for dramatic effect (Uh, as most artists do.  And as ALL writers also do) and passed it off as real.  And don’t forget James Baldwin’s great and seminal non-fiction work of being Black in America, “Notes of a Native Son,” that does not paint a very pretty picture of said condition, or that Alice Walker, blinded in one eye as a girl by a BB gun accident and dealing with early depression, eventually went on to write something you might now know as, well,  “The Color Purple.”

This month’s crop of holiday movies (yes – even “New Year’s Eve” included) mostly come out of some sort of adversity/conflict, which I (or anyone with a brain) would say since drama (and comedy) is all about conflict.  Particularly this year – look at  “War Horse,” “The Descendants,” even “My Week With Marilyn” to some extent.  The Blues is sadness and often conflict – outer and inner.  But that is simply only one emotion in the course of a day and can easily turn, often by WORKING through it  Literally.

Note: Woody Allen uniformly does this by working all the time – adhering to the adage “a busy mind is a healthy mind” – lest he ever have time to think his own dark thoughts that are right around the corner

From “Annie Hall”

Young Alvy (Woody) at 9:  The universe is expanding.

Doctor in Brooklyn: The universe is expanding?

Alvy at 9: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything.

Alvy’s Mom: What is that your business?!!

Click for the full clip

I relate to this.  For years I was haunted by the ending of the original “Planet of the Apes” because my young self wisely reasoned if it’s thousands of years later and the planet is just apes that means…none of us will be here????  Boy, what a scary thought that was (and sometimes continues to be) for pre-teenage Steven Ginsberg.  However, it did provide what I always thought was one of the best moments my young alter ego had in my 1993 “loosely autobiographical” movie, “Family Prayers.”

I am not saying you have to have the blues to create.  Certainly not.  (I mean, Julianne Hough can’t be unhappy these days and look at the brilliance of her and the film of the new “Footloose” AND the upcoming trailer for “Rock of Ages!”

But if you do find yourself in that position (the Blues, not Julianne Hough-soon-to-be-Seacrest) during this holiday season there is stuff you can do.

  1. Start a project – any project – but one you can complete.  Not one that will be (is) half finished. (advice:  there is some joy in any kind of completion).
  2. Admire a piece of art by someone who had it worse than you and use the fantasy to fuel your imagination into something better or different while everyone is charging up their credit cards in reality.
  3. Eat cheese, as Liz Lemon says on “30 Rock.” (Note: Substitute food and/or vice of your choice, but be careful).

Perhaps a slice of blue cheese? (too easy, couldn't resist)

Bottom line – use the blues to your advantage – don’t let them use you.  I’m tempted to say even celebrate them.  That doesn’t mean be happy about having them.  But just recognizing they’re there and hanging them out to dry in the light of day  (or night, if you’re anything like me) can turn them not necessarily into a nice large cup of lemonade, but something of a holiday surprise.  The kind of gift that those of us who like to create (that’s really all of us) long for, but can only truly give ourselves.