Trumping Mr. Finch

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 2.12.24 PM

Human beings lie. This is part of who we are. This does not mean we do not tell the truth. We do to many and varying degrees. But to deny the former is to invalidate the latter.

In other words, it can’t all be good. If it all were, then the very definition of the word good would be meaningless if you took in the actual events of everyday life.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. Did you watch him? See him? Hear about it? I thought so.

Oh.. that guy?

Oh.. that guy?

Relax, this is not going to be about him – though in his alternate reality speak everything seems to be. Or at least told in terms of him. Which is what we all do to varying degrees (Note: See paragraph #1). But it’s all about degrees, isn’t it? And what we say – and to whom.

Harper Lee, who wrote one of the most famous and iconic books of any American author, To Kill A Mockingbird, has a new novel coming out this week – her SECOND at the age of 89. Rather, it is her first book (Note: As far as we know) but her second PUBLISHED novel.

See how tricky this lie thing is?

Suck it 50 Shades, I made books hot again

Suck it 50 Shades, I made books hot again

Ms. Lee’s latest is entitled Go Set A Watchman and she has been getting a lot of flack – or perhaps it’s just press – for daring to take Atticus Finch, the father figure (admittedly based on her own father) she immortalized as possibly the most principled man – certainly lawyer – on the planet in TKAM and portraying him as a racist in her new/old novel.

Now let’s set aside the fact that for whoever he might be based on Atticus is a fictional figure and that Miss (Note: She famously prefers Miss to Ms.) Lee actually wrote Watchman more than several years prior to her most renowned creation – which was first published in 1960. The real question that seems to be eating reviewers, readers of advanced copies and now the general public is:

Has Harper Lee been lying to us all these years? Is Atticus Finch really a….RACIST? A guy who she apparently chronicles in the new book once attending a Ku Klux Klan meeting and then later denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. the Board of Education decision that desegregated the American school system?

4314326-5504607360-airpl

Okay, well, maybe that’s really two and a half questions. But really it all boils down the first – is she LYING to us? For if we cannot believe in the heroism of Atticus Finch, a guy who took on a whole Southern town in the 1930s and dared to successfully defend a Black man falsely accused of raping a White woman then – well – what else is NOT TRUE?

Um, A LOT.

Don't look at me!

Don’t look at me!

And, well, OF COURSE SHE’S LYING. As well as TELLING THE TRUTH.

None of this stuff is simple. The question we should be asking ourselves is: What is the broader truth and how do we recognize THE BIG LIE???

As a writer it amazes me to think anyone truly believes that Atticus Finch was the exact representation of Harper Lee’s real father. He couldn’t possibly be because:

  1. He is a written representation of a flesh and blood person from one subjective storyteller’s (individual’s) point of view – meaning he’s one-dimensional and frozen in place at the author’s whim rather than three-dimensional and able to roam free on his own
  2. He was played by Gregory Peck in the movie… and
  3. The movies are cultural representations of some of our most convincing lies, though not always our biggest ones, and people who win Oscars for these roles cannot possibly be entirely telling the truth since THERE IS NOT A LARGER THAN LIFE MOVIE HERO THAT EVER, EVER, EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD EVER existed in real life as they do when they’re rendered 22 feet tall and 52 feet wide.
Named AFI's #1 Greatest Movie Hero

Named AFI’s #1 Greatest Movie Hero

That we, or so many of us, could truly believe Atticus Finch was indeed real is the secret of the movies and what makes them great, enduring and an art form that will probably never disappear no matter how hard the major movie studios try to make this so with the financial choices they’ve been making as of late.

Yet all the shock and disbelief that a white man of the Deep South who was raised at the turn of the century and practiced law in the 1930s would ever have had a racist thought in his belief system truly does take me aback. Of course, it also surprises me that there are tens of thousands of people across the country who believe Donald Trump when he categorizes illegal Mexican immigrants as rapists sent here purposely by its government who are killing innocent Americans walking down the street en masse.

Interesting form of logic

Interesting form of logic

In the interests of fairness – and we here at NOTES always attempt to give equal time to opposing views no matter how nutty (Note: I didn’t say we didn’t editorialize) – it is certainly true there are among illegal Mexican immigrants a few rapists and others who do kill innocent Americans walking down the street. Mr. Trump, in fact, found one or two examples of such he reiterated to a room of crazed red meat conservatives and libertarians this weekend in Las Vegas at a Freedom Fest Convention. But it is also true that the vast majority of illegal immigrants – either from Mexico or other countries – are NOT rapists and murders. If this were so we would see a spike so high in crime statistics that no amount of real life Atticus Finches could exonerate from our daily lives and minds (Note: That is, if he did ever exist, which, I might remind you again, he did not).

To put it in terms Miss Lee might see fit to approve of – why can’t Atticus Finch be both a wonderful man, father, attorney and humanitarian yet also be a person who, through his life, espoused, hosted or otherwise considered, any number of less than admirable thoughts and views? This does not make him a bad person – simply a real person.

Yet if one were to measure him as a whole person one must consider whether his dark views represented him in the majority or if his life’s work – both professionally and personally as a father – took up the lion’s share of his existence and was not the true portrait of who he was. In the case of Atticus Finch, who among us would not say that even with what we know of him he’s still, when all is said and done, a pretty moral guy. We were not told a BIG lie about him – instead what we got were a bunch of truths that need to now be balanced against, well, a whole group of other, more disturbing facts.

This is not the case with Donald Trump – or at least it doesn’t appear to be given the information we now have about him on hand.

He traffics in THE BIG LIE. The celebrities who win the top prize on The Apprentice are not really hired by him. His proclamations that our Southern borders are the most unsafe that they’ve ever been are not borne out by current day statistics which show that today’s murder rate in a border town like El Paso, Texas, for instance, is at an all-time low. His continual claims that Pres. Obama has failed to create jobs, especially compared to his recent Republican counterparts are also untruths. In fact, the economy has gained FIVE times more jobs than under Pres. George W. Bush and the unemployment rate (5.6%) is below the historical average.

anigif_enhanced-29864-1423724716-10

#nailedit

None of this is to say the economy is absolutely great, Pres. Obama is faultless or that illegal immigration ceases to be one of many issues needing to be addressed in a more efficient manner.

It is only to proclaim that in each news cycle Donald Trump and many others like him (Note: You be the judge of whom – this has nothing to do with political affiliation) do tell THE BIG LIE. They use bluster, emotional manipulation and all kinds of sophisticated theatrical trickery in order to prove ill-conceived points, devoid of or carefully shading the facts to their own benefit and, specifically in Mr. Trump’s case, to advance whatever narrative he’s choosing to publicly spew at the moment.

Ding Ding Ding

Ding Ding Ding

I’m familiar with what he/they do because these are all part of the arsenal any writer uses in his or her work daily when creating compelling characters and/or watchable situations. Miss Harper Lee also knows about this – A LOT MORE about this than I do. But in entertainment – and literature – these are merely tricks of the trade.

For Donald Trump and others like him they are divisive weapons being used to take the reigns of the ACTUAL world by any BIG LIE necessary.

Watch out for them, they’re dangerous. As for Trump himself, well let’s just say he’s no Atticus Finch – no matter which of Miss Lee’s novels you choose to read.

Advertisements

Skin Deep

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 1.16.15 PM

I used to joke that even though I appeared to be a white, gay Jewish male I was, really, a big Black woman – preferably one who could sing like Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson or, if I chose to go a bit more exotic, Nina Simone. Well, live long enough and any metaphor becomes obsolete and somewhat offensive – or even timely.

Chairy, is that you?

Chairy, is that you?

It’s difficult to know what one can joke about anymore. Certainly, it’s impossible to decide just what is timely. I decided late this week to bite the bullet and write about Rachel Dolezal, the just resigned former president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who was exposed as biologically White after a decade or more passing as Black (Note: Though there was and is still some debate on just what constitutes being Black). But then the idiocy of our national obsession with Ms. Dolezal was swiftly shifted by the actions of one truly undebatable WHITE 21 year-old Southern male.

When Dylann Storm Roof walked into the historic Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C., one of the first Black churches in the country, and shot nine innocent Black people dead after spending an hour as part of their Bible study group on Wednesday night, the meaning of being Black in America once again became crystal clear.

It is not about releasing your inner Aretha Franklin. It is not about crimping your hair, fighting for civil rights, having friends and family members who are African-American in bearing, or possessing any appreciation or talent for rapping, soul food recipes, community service or the historical nature of oppression.

NoSMDH

To be Black in the U.S. means to be at risk and to always be, in some small or even miniscule fashion, and despite your apparent economic or social status, looking over your shoulder. It means to be in danger even when you feel 100% safe. And, if one makes the decision to survive and live a relatively happy life, it means deciding, given those parameters, to figure out a way to turn the other cheek on all that and – like all the rest of us – play the hand you were dealt to the best you can so you can fulfill your destiny.

On the other hand, what the hell do I know about being Black in America? What can any White person every REALLY know? Not very much. Because on some very, very teeny tiny level being Black in America is NOT yet like being like all the rest of us – as I just so cavalierly mentioned in the last line of the paragraph above. I guess I will have to be on a journalistic learning curve for the time being on that one for, as we now once again know, old habits die hard.

As a screenwriter and journalist I’ve imagined myself as characters in countless scenarios. I have been male, female and various other animals of all kinds of ages, races and heights with extremely moral codes and deadly murderous streaks. I’ve been a Hispanic single mother, a wealthy Black politician, a white female cabaret singer, a nerdy Jewish boy (Note: That one was soooooo easy) and, currently, a very young white newspaper editor from the Midwest in the mid 1970s with a penchant for justice so strong that I am now in the process of risking my job, friends and family for my principals despite all seeming logic to the contrary. (Note: Don’t worry, that character’s story WILL have a somewhat victorious ending. I mean, please – it’s Hollywood).

something like this...

something like this…

All of these imaginations, presumed personalities and dramatic machinations, as a therapist told me years ago, are merely outgrowths of a personal talent for invention, or more precisely, reinvention, that helps the real me deal with life. I concoct stories as a coping method to deal with difficult situations (both fictional and from my real life) and create my very own convincing beginnings, middles and ends around them. But this only works as a way to make me feel better about who I am and the events around me – as I have painfully learned over the years. Although it can certainly be the impetus for me – and perhaps my limited or maybe one day vast audience – for seeing the truth/my truth and creating personal change it is a fiction. In other words, it is not, nor can it ever be, real life. Meaning – it was not reality.

In other words:

One can’t walk in someone else’s skin because we are all born with our own very specific skin.

Marvel Studios made this abundantly clear in a recently leaked Sony email that reveals that in its contract for the Spiderman movies with Sony it is a legal requirement that the movie Spiderman’s human alter ego, Peter Parker, must always be CAUCASIAN and HETEROSEXUAL and that Spiderman himself NOT be a HOMOSEXUAL.

oh spidey....

oh spidey

As if there were ever a chance any of these could ever thus be so.

When a rumor recently floated that renowned British actor Idris Elba could one day be the future and first Black James Bond it created an international Twitter exchange, culminating not only with eventual denials from Elba but a public statement by 1970s movie star and former Bond co-star Yaphet Kotto that the mere idea of that was ridiculous and silly.

And that’s only in the movies. Imagine how uppity it could get in other areas. For instance, let’s take politics. Can you consider that one day that we might actually have…I mean, that there could sometime in the future really be…a Black president of the United Sates?

wait a second....

wait a second….

Oh. Right.

Of course, this says nothing of how Black you have to be in order to be categorized as BLACK. Pres. Obama is half-Black and half-White, which seems to count as being Black. Yet some years ago, it surfaced that Broadway star Carol Channing’s paternal grandfather was Black, making her about 25% Black. Yet this seems to be enough for her to still be considered White, though perhaps that’s just because she’s 94 years old and we’ve always thought of her as such. Still, it doesn’t make it good for the public racial future of Rachel Dolezal. She might have two children with a Black man who identify as Black and several adopted siblings who are Black but now that the closet door has been opened she can never truly change her public face – meaning skin color.

That this would count for anything seems so odd, doesn’t it? I mean, don’t we all require or at least hope our houses and apartments are painted a new, fresh color before we move in? Yes, that color has traditionally been white but lately eggshell, gray, putty or even…well, pick you choice are starting to become popular. Though not yet Black. Can you ever imagine Black walls? I mean, really….

I just can't get behind this...

I just can’t get behind this

My husband and I have just moved into a new home that is set against a hillside. It’s safe but over a three week period we’d noticed more than a small rock or two falling into our patio and decided to hire some experienced people to haul out some of the dirt and gravel and build some small barriers for reinforcement and ensure (as much as possible) the safety of ourselves and our dog.

The head of the crew we hired to do this is not Black but he is Mexican (Note: Let’s call him Walter, just for fun) and over the last few days we’ve bonded over a mutual respect for the machinations of Mother Nature and a shared penchant for somewhat politically incorrect humor. Walter and I have joked about everything from my lack of knowledge about plants and building things to the fact that all of his siblings have advanced and multiple college degrees in various “professional” occupations while he decided to go into the family business of taking care of the yards (Note: In his case it’s usually grounds, he’s slumming with us) of many of these same professional people.

the tao of snoopy

the tao of snoopy

Nowhere was this more apparent to Walter than when his working class self went to his local bank to cash a large (well, by my standards) check for supplies I had written to him personally. No sooner had he gotten to the teller for the deposit than a manager was called over to look over the check. After a few minutes, the guy looked Walter dead on and the following conversation ensued:

Bank Manager: This check looks washed.

Walter: Huh? What are you talking about?

Bank Manager: It looks like a fake.

Walter: Well, I saw the guy (Note: That would be me, Your Chair) writing it from his own checkbook.

Bank: Well, just remember, it’s gonna come out of your account if it’s no good.

Walter pauses, thinks. Then –

Walter: Well, okay, but I mean, I trust the dude.

Bank Manager: Okay, but — remember — it’s your responsibility.

um... what?

um… what?

The first thing I did when Walter related this story – after reassuring him about the money – was to ask him what the heck it meant for a check to be washed. He explained it’s when someone takes a check, washes off the ink and then fills in their own amount. Okay, I thought, that’s nervy and inventive – but these checks are brand new – is there something about my signature or writing that makes them look dirty?

My second reaction, as I thought about it, was outrage. I mean, really? Walter may be a big Mexican guy who lives in the hood, albeit in a nice house with a wife and two kids, and has an accent, but really – he has a business account there and he comes in all the time. Is he really going to pass a bad check?

This guy that questioned you about the check, this really pisses me off, I confess to Walter.

Ah, I don’t let those things bother me, dude. It is what it is.

Yeah, but I mean, I bet if I were trying to cash the check, I wouldn’t have gotten that remark, I tell him.

Probably not, Walter replies. But I’m used to it.

Of course, there are a whole bunch of things he could probably say about me, though it would have nothing to do with whether he’d cash my check.

Yeah, I hear that, Walter says.

One more thing, I tell him. I’ll bet this was a White guy, right? Probably like a middle-aged, middle class white guy, right?

Actually, Walter replied, it was a young Black dude. The Blacks and Mexicans, they got a thing going. But, well — I try not to take it personally.

Well, that makes one of us. I guess that’s some sort of start.  Though only kind of.

Chair in Space

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 3.37.37 PM

Almost two weeks ago I went to a screening of Interstellar at the Motion Picture Academy. About a day and a half later I had my first ever attack of sinus-related vertigo, which is a condition characterized by extreme dizziness, nausea and vomiting.   Were they related? I’m not quite sure.

Certainly, it is tempting to get on the bandwagon and blame Interstellar for all the ills of the world, including my own. Plus, I can’t for certain say that the film didn’t make me dizzy – both literally and figuratively. But what good does it do to complain about it? For as much as I am stuck with a lingering case of vertigo every time I move my head around a bit too fast, there is no escape from the cultural impact of a new film by a director as renowned and popular as Christopher Nolan.

Maybe I need to borrow his suit?

Maybe I need to borrow his suit?

The most that we all can do is deal with both illnesses – my vertigo and Nolan-mania – as best we can. Of course I, for one, have a sinus rinse, cortisone nose spray and antibiotics to counter the Big V and it’s slowly getting better.   But right now there is no known treatment for Nolan-mania or those determined to spread it around to the rest of us. Certainly, quarantine hasn’t seemed to work as a cure for other recent outbreaks, not to mention it’s mostly unpopular. And in this case, it’s counterintuitive. If we know anything Nolan, it’s that you don’t try to remedy the effects of him or his films with anything that is even vaguely unpopular.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown...

Heavy is the head that wears the crown…

Full confession upfront: there is nothing Interstellar offers to exactly hate but an absence of hate does not necessarily translate into a presence of love. It has its moments, though one would expect that in any movie with an almost three hour running time and a choice from among the best of what commercial Hollywood has the offer in terms of above and below-the-line talent. But what it has little of is sustained and coherent dramatic tension as well as a plot that is entirely discernable to those who have never studied astrophysics. Not to mention it has nothing truly original to say in the final analysis, that is unless that message was encoded and transmitted in a way that only people in another galaxy or time dimension could discern and then explain to us naysayers in simpler terms – which is certainly possible given the atmosphere Nolan-mania has us now living in and the literal lack of it we get in the film itself. And NOTE: No, these are NOT SPOILERS (not that you’d understand them if they were). NOR WILL THERE BE ANY!

Alright, Alright, Alright.... continue on

Alright, Alright, Alright…. continue on

The one indisputable piece of good news here is Interstellar is an attempt at taking chances and doing SOMETHING, even though a dizzy, cloudy-headed, middle-aged sinus sufferer like me didn’t quite get what that was or at least can’t recall it. And this is very much better than the choice to make NOT VERY MUCH NEW or NOTHING MUCH BUT MONEY that most big studio movies/filmmakers are opting for these days.   So one supposes sickies like us – meaning we who have somehow avoided the disease of Nolan-mania but are nevertheless still considered ill in the culture as we know it – should be grateful. And to answer your next question: Yes, it has truly come to that.

Yes. YES.   And – YES.

I happened to catch Interstellar with two other screenwriter friends – both of who went to film school – which I didn’t – and both of who have more major studio writing credits than myself. In my mind, this somehow means they were more likely to be bigger fans of the previous three hours but this didn’t turn out to be the case. One liked it a bit more and one a bit less than myself but we were all in the general ballpark of – huh??? Still, given what we’ve all experienced in Hollywood during the last decade we all agreed we were happy a movie that was trying something “different” – though none of us quite could verbalize what that was – was at least given the green light.

One of these things is not like the other...

One of these things is not like the other…

Given the fact that I can’t let a subject drop – as should be evident by now – I couldn’t help but then pose this imaginary scenario to my two friends:

If you had submitted this screenplay in any of your screenwriting classes, what would have happened?

One immediate answer was: “Oh please, it would’ve been ripped to shreds,” and the other was a non-verbal head shake which I translate to, “Are you kidding, even in my most neophyte writing days, this is nothing that I could ever do because I would never, ever write anything as pretentious as this.”

But more telling was the follow-up one of my Nolan-immune buddies posed:

“Suppose we each submitted this to our agents or managers?” Before I could even answer he jumped in. “I can tell you what would happen, they’d NEVER send it out. They’d throw it right back at you. But Nolan has earned the right to do whatever he wants.”

Yes, this is true. And well deserved because this is how the system we’ve all signed up for works. Yet as the Spiderman comics themselves at one time wrote, and the Spiderman movies decades later once offered:

With great power comes great responsibility.

(Note: Most sources credit Voltaire for first coining this phrase. Still, Stan Lee adapted it to modern times and who am I to argue with the one guy who has probably out-Nolan-ed Nolan?).

Ya damn right!

Ya damn right!

Another perspective on this is what that same writer friend, who also happens to be a parent, quickly added:

Sometimes it helps when there are people to tell you NO.

This speaks to the imagined nirvana for most of us doing creative work – a world where we can do whatever we want, a place where there are little if any “no”s, and a situation where we are both paid and given almost unlimited money in order to make our visions come true.

Hmm, be careful what you wish for or at least consider if you are always the best judge of what you are wanting.  Because above all else there is always one ultimate power – your audience.   No one can ever take away your artistic power to do anything what you want but a lack of audience disposes of the money and creative freedom in Hollywood as quickly as others think it seemingly came. This can be problematic once you get to a certain place if you’ve gotten used to the perks or enjoy making a sizeable living. Sure, it’s a high-class problem but then again – everything is relative. There are those back in your hometown who fantasize daily about living yours or my dingy little non-Nolan-like life – especially if it has anything to do with show business.

One of the oddities for me of Interstellar was how much its first act reminded me of… Michael Bay’s recent Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.

GASP!

GASP!

The same life-has-passed-him-by scientifically handy good ole boy Dad, the similar spunky daughter who has always been Dad’s favorite and is probably a tad too much like him, and the identical heartland Americana setting where the American flag is sacred but its citizens have somehow been betrayed by a government that has either disappointed them, betrayed them, or out and out lied to them. There are secrets, there are shadow corporate interests and there is the advancement of technology that might or might not destroy, betray or save the world.

Well, one supposes the way you make a tentpole film is to somehow tap into the mythic family and the Heartland (whether it be faux Nebraska or Texas), right? Hmmm, not necessarily. No one makes a blockbuster tentpole like James Cameron but not even Avatar or Titanic chose to delve in so obvious a territory. Not that those two films both didn’t have faults and employ archetypes but somehow it felt as if, well – they had a bit more coherence, emotion and well, dare I say it…honest humanity?

... and I just remembered they were blue

… and I just remembered they were blue

Part of Christopher Nolan’s appeal and originality is that his films are a bit colder and more brittle and that is certainly an admirable stance to take rather than to drown viewers in bathos. It’s what makes his take on the Batman films so compelling and how movies like The Prestige and even Inception – both of which have emotional characters making odd and sometimes even distancing choices – work as well as they do. It’s also part of what put him on the map to begin with in Memento – a movie that perfectly employed his high intellectuality with the very flawed and/or too perfect husbands or former lovers he likes to put at the center of his movies.

This, among many reasons, is why Interstellar is a head scratcher. It’s good that it’s not Transformers or Gravity or 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film Nolan himself admits was an inspiration here) but – exactly WHAT IS IT???

The only thing I can come up with is an overly long studio film with technical Irving the Explainer speeches that feel as if they were written by the guys or gals who want to get paid to author books like Stephen Hawking for Dummies but are not quite yet masters of the craft. But Christopher Nolan is at his best a master of film. That’s why Interstellar is so confounding for so many of us, and why we can’t drink the Kool-Aid. To do so would be like saying we enjoyed a Big Gulp that has sat out in the sun for too long and lost its fizz.