Mother of all Choices

I don’t know about you, but I like to have choices.  This is one reason I tend to overpack when I travel, even for a weekend.  

I can barely decide on what I am going to wear each day, much less the day after tomorrow in a different city.  Given global warming and the toxicity of our environments, a forecast of 78 degrees FOR a Tuesday can mean 46 degrees ON that Tuesday.

If this reads like a flippant way to get into the #1 news story in American life, it is.

You knew where I was going…

How else can we right now treat the leaked draft of a new Supreme Court ruling that will overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case and rescind a woman’s choice on whether to terminate HER pregnancy, even in the case of rape or incest, if a state so chooses?

Yes, we ALL need to demonstrate, fight, scream and, most importantly VOTE for pro-choice candidates if this draft becomes law once this ruling, or some variation of it, gets released in its final version next month.

Not now, not ever

But for right now the sheer hubris, audacity and basic on-the-record manipulative lies being perpetrated on the American public with this edict – basically because of three far right Trump appointed, judicial conservatives rammed onto the Supreme Court in order to purposely create this very majority opinion – should not to be treated with respect.

In fact, it should be treated for exactly what it is.  

That’s all.

A mountain of cleverly worded intellectual pretzel logic law horse traded by an orange-faced, aspiring dictator who still couldn’t win his re-election campaign.

A diarrhea of paragraphs meant to perpetrate a dogmatic, oppressive, religious agenda on a heretofore secular country. 

A betrayal by a small group of the most powerful judges in the land, the three most recent of whom committed moral perjury in their confirmation hearings so they could gain a seat to do exactly this – roll back our rights to those of half a century ago for the first time in American history rather than moving them forward.

The ultimate offensive, cynical stupidity of this move will haunt both the Court and the Republican Party for decades.

Please vote in November!

According to a recent Pew Research poll, 61% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.  Support for abortion with restrictions would score far higher.

And the Guttmacher Institute, a respected organization that studies sexual health and reproductive rights, recently estimated that a whopping 24% of ALL U.S. WOMEN will have an abortion before the age of 45.

What this means is that the anti-choice Handmaid’s Tale movement is outnumbered, and by A LOT.  As a gay person it reminds me of the similar approval numbers right before the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality – aka the passage of same sex marriage – seven years ago.

Did I mention VOTE IN NOVEMBER?

Of course, the difference is the equality ruling reflected where the vast majority of the country stood on civil liberties while this 2022 curtailment (Note: Or whatever you want to call it) of Roe v. Wade favors minority rule and taking away our long established freedom of choice.

I don’t usually read or promote the conservative leading Wall Street Journal, but this short opinion piece claiming that somehow these conservative justices didn’t lie in their confirmation hearings is a prime example of the level of hypocrisy the American public is being asked to absorb whole, and unlubricated.

Again, for the seats in the back!

Dodging questions that could expose them as anti-choice, the Trump judges all admitted that 1973’s Roe v. Wade fell into the legal category of stare decisis, a legal term which translated literally means to stand by things decided.

In fact, Justice Kavanaugh, that bastion of women’s rights, testified the issue of Roe had been reaffirmed many times, specifically noting legal precedent is critically important when it comes to judicial rulings.

But heavily implying you’re not touching that precedent and changing your mind about the case  is not the same as saying you absolutely won’t touch the case and change your mind!!

Who could have seen this coming??

That is the argument used by the WSJ editorial board, which is similar to the argument Lucy gave Charlie Brown before she moved the football.  Or the one that one grade school bully posed to me before he grabbed my tuna sandwich and left me with his hot lunch of rancid meatloaf, lukewarm beets and a teeny, tiny mini-carton of sour milk. (Note: Yes, this was the sixties.  And we shouldn’t go back).

Of course, all this wordplay does nothing for all the anger I have on behalf of young people – particularly women – who will now have to deal with this needless crap for the next, numerous decades.  The money spent, the energy expended on sheer dictatorial nonsense is enough for me to wish I could make every season of Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale required viewing in each classroom and courthouse in red state America.

Their new favorite superhero

Not that the majority of them wouldn’t side with the Gilead powers-that-be or send out a posse led by a Ginny Thomas clone  (Note: Our real life Aunt Lydia) to land me on the WALL.

The salacious, infuriating side story in all this mess is the one President Pancake Makeup told to Howard Stern in 2004 when he found out his then girlfriend, Marla Maples, was pregnant with the unborn fetus that would eventually become his youngest daughter, Tiffany Trump.

As he tells it, his exact quote was, Excuse me, what happened?, followed by a sarcastic, Oh great, and the proclamation, Well, what are we GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS?

UGH

As a fellow guy who grew up in his hometown of Queens let me translate that for you.  It means, and I paraphrase, how soon can you get an abortion and okay, I guess I have to pay for it.  See Allen Weisselberg, give him the receipt and he’ll reimburse you on your way out.

Something like that likely would have happened if Ms. Maples didn’t speak up and say to him,  Are you serious?  It’s the most beautiful day of our lives.

To which Trump once again replied, Oh, great, either sarcastically or in a serious but placating manner.   I will leave it up to you to CHOOSE the line reading that makes the most sense.

But however you interpret it, this much is clear.   Those at higher income levels will always have the right to choose

Either way. 

I, for one, fully respect whatever choice a woman makes.  What I don’t respect, and reject, are a bag full or hypocrites in robes being propped up by a party full of foaming at the mouth conspiracy theorists, would-be dictators and immorally bankrupt, power hungry just–for-the-sake-of-it stooges.

Luckily, we have the numbers on this. 

And come June they can kiss our collective asses. 

Hairspray – “You Can’t Stop the Beat”

Pro-Choice

Is every day like the perfect wedding or is every day the end of the world?  And which is more accurate?  (No, you can’t say it depends; it’s somewhere in the middle; or why are you asking me this question).         

Survey says..... NO

We’re talking choice here.  And not just by me.  These are the questions asked (literally!) in the new Lars Von Trier movie “Melancholia” – a film that doesn’t leave your brain easily and, unlike most of what we see nowadays, deserves some sort of response other than, as they used to say in my grandmother’s native language, “Oy vey” (translation:  Oy).

For those who hate, are annoyed by or are simply not fans of the crazily brilliant or just plain crazy Danish director, rest assured this is not a mad recap review of the film (I stopped doing those in 1983 when I left Daily Variety – probably because one of the last movies I had to review was Chuck Connors’ horror extravaganza, “The Tourist Trap” at a 12:30 afternoon show on Hollywood Boulevard.  But I digress).

Where was I?  Ah, yes, “Melancholia.”  Though I happened to be floored by the film, which doesn’t necessarily mean I loved it, or I think it’s flawless or can even recommend it (God knows my parents would HATE it!!!), I will tell you that it affects audiences like few movies do nowadays – simply BECAUSE you (actually I) still can’t get it out of your mind days after seeing it.

This is a great thing for a filmmaker though perhaps not so great for you as an audience member since “Melancholia” does not evoke a particularly pleasant world.  In truth, it makes “On The Beach” and “Testament,” my former two most depressing movies ever made, seem like “His Girl Friday.”   But even those who would rather have their wisdom teeth removed than sit through any film of this genre ever again, would have to admit that Mr. Von Trier does, if nothing else, have a strong, distinctive point of view.  He makes very specific choices, even outrageous and perhaps indulgent ones – never shying away from alienating or thrilling you often managing to do both at the same time.

Spending the last day on earth with Mr. Skarsgård... Not. Too. Shabby.

How many filmmakers or any artists nowadays approach their work with the intensity he does?  Okay, let’s count………………….

How many do you have?  My list is, well, paltry.

Baa! Baa!

And that’s the point.

I said publicly this week that I’m not sure if “Melancholia” is brilliantly depressing or depressingly brilliant.  The latter because it reminds me of classic films – the kind that aren’t really made anymore  – sort of Ingmar Bergman by way of Fassbinder (or vice-versa) with a little plain old post millennium nastiness thrown in.  The nasty, clinically depressed heroine, one might say, is actually the writer-director surrogate, by his own admission.  Mr. VT has done some brilliant and some controversial and some thoroughly misfired movies over the years but the one thing you can say is that he often gets his borderline (again, literally), nihilistic POV on screen.  I say that with admiration,  and will tell you it’s such a cop OUT to dismiss this with lines like, “well, he has all this power, talent, financing,” blah, blah blah, blah. I know that because I say this all the time. (Though never in front of my students, and hopefully none are reading this.  And if you are – stop right now.  Oh, and I better also take this off the school website – that is if I knew how to do that – but hey, that’s another story).

As for POV, if you’re going to work as any kind of communicator, that IS the story.  Sadly, it’s not always what you’re saying but if you have a commitment to not only say it – if you’ve chosen and staked out a position and ran with it.  (For example, look at the popularity of various political candidates right now, okay, sorry, I know that is even more depressing than “Melancholia.”)

Well... we're screwed.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people on television writing staffs recently and it seems the greatest challenge is to write in a voice so universal that you won’t actually be able to tell it apart from any other member of the writing staff – in other words – the voice of the show (while keeping something of yourself).  This is certainly financially and sometimes artistically quite profitable.  But it is light years away from what you have to do in the kind of film I’m talking about.  Or even what you have to do to be noticed as a writer.  The irony is that almost all writers – film, TV, theatre – have that kind of voice.  It’s actually what gets you noticed.  Only to then get tempered by reality.

Much like how you wake up in the morning, you can choose to see that either as depressing as the end of the world or as fantastic as your dream wedding.  Fantastic because a) you’re getting paid handsomely to be creative, b) you get your take in on the material in some small way, and c) months after your shows get aired receive these cool checks in the mail for nice chunks of money called residuals.  Depressing because , well, if you want to be yourself and can’t fit in, it’s goodbye, Buster.  This is not much different in the film world, where studios seem more and more bent on some bizarre cookie cutter version of film-a-tainment to form the hub of a cottage industry that produces simultaneous Happy Meals, theme park rides and distinctive movie star roles guaranteed to draw in audiences from 6-60. If you’re past that age, let’s face it, you’ve died.  But don’t tell that to, oh – Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Helen Mirren, Sylvester Stallone, Diane Keaton or any number of big time movie stars you’re used to consistently seeing on the big screen.

Food for thought. Maybe this isn’t bad either.  You (we?) might not belong in that world, compellingly wedding-like though it might be.  You might belong in Mr. Von Trier’s world.  Or in Arianna’s Huffington’s blogosphere (perish the thought of starting a blog!).  Or in the realm of someone like Henry Jaglom. For those who don’t remember – he’s a writer/director who outside the studio system on his own did, oh, 15 movies and often made a tidy profit from them, getting to say EXACTLY what he wanted in indie rom coms in the seventies long before they became cool again.  Mr. Jaglom once had a nasty thing or two to say about Hollywood and Steven Speilberg, criticizing the latter for his work on “The Color Purple” and how he reduced a gritty book into what he considered Hollywood pabulum.  It was sort of a low blow from a fellow director.  Yes – you could argue that Steven Spielberg is probably the only one who could have made a film about the Nazis killing Jews and still come up with a sympathetic non-Jewish hero and a happy ending – but what is wrong with that?   “Schindler’s List” was a terrific film and manages to still have Spielberg’s POV.  In pretty much the same way as “The Color Purple.”  Had Woody Allen tried to direct either of those well, I guess you might have gotten something else.  “Interiors?”  “Another Woman?”  With Alan Pakula would it have been “Sophie’s Choice?”  Roberto Begnini  — “Life Is Beautiful.”  Jerry Lewis – a still unreleased rumored Razzie for the notorious “The Day The Clown Cried?

The point of all this is that in order to get in a position of REAL power in anything you need to BE PRO-CHOICE.  Not in the same sense as in the issue of abortion (for the record, I’m for a woman’s right to choose – like you couldn’t surmise that), but on the issue of –- you.  There’s nothing worse than not making a choice because you’re marching to someone else’s drummer.

To put it in another perspective – I think of choice this way – take a stand, any stand, any stand at all.  I don’t care if you’re as bleak as Ingmar Lars Fassbinder Von Trier or as happy go lucky as a Sandra Bullock rom com (Isn’t it about time for a new one?).  The worst punishment is to be “Michael Bay’d” to death with Transformers 4 6 863.  That is anything but fun and actually pretty depressing itself because it will mark the end of a certain kind of world as we know it.  The one Mr. VT, in his perhaps very small way, is trying to bring back in full force.