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I’m not sure about you, but I don’t know what a movie is anymore. 

Movies used to be these films that you’d go out to your local theatre to see. 

Sure, you could watch them on your TV, or in recent years, via your screen/tablet of choice.  But this was only AFTER we had to move our asses out of the house and out to….well, somewhere.

Leave… the … house??

Now we have the chance the watch them sitting, lying or doing god knows what else in our living rooms, bedrooms or kitchens.

Heck, we could even be the FIRST on our block to view next year’s Academy Award winning best picture sitting on our bathroom toilets via our iPhones if we so desire.

Gonna work all day to get that out of my head

Too vivid an image, I know, and who’d want to?   (Note: Okay, you know someone would).  Still, this is more than possible and, in certain circles, could be viewed as progress.

The groupthink in the ad world right now is that consumers, more than anything, desire OPTIONS and will pay handsomely for the privilege of getting what they REALLY want in that moment.

And, let’s face it, which of us at some moment doesn’t desperately want to be the FIRST?

ME! ME! ME!

Of course, the latter doesn’t seem to apply to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in far too many communities in the Deep South.  Despite more than 50% of the US having already received at least one dosage there are millions of holdouts determined to be the lastor in the (not) over my dead body category.

These are the kind of people who have stubbornly vowed to never watch Titanic or The Lord of the Rings.

And lest you think I’m any different, just know to this day I’ve never seen Jaws. Sure, I’ve always blamed it on my lifelong love of the beach and body surfing.  Why put those images and ideas in my brain?

But at this point, well, it’s just a matter of pride.  And since June is PRIDE month for all LGBTQ Americans, I don’t see any reason to end this 47-year boycott.

:: wink ::

Still, Jaws admittedly became a seminal MOVIE movie back when it was released in 1975.  Meaning, that not only was it a box-office smash action film but it also had a story and characters.  So much so, that it likely paved the way for films like Titanic and The Lord of the Rings.

That is, at least in the minds of the movie studios and film financiers everywhere. 

Jaws might not have actually won the best picture Oscar, but it’s worth noting that it did receive an Academy Award nomination in the best picture category.  And that’s really saying something since that year its fellow nominees were classics like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon and Nashville.

One of these things is not like the other

I’d venture to say the only one of those that would be likely to be given a green light as a movie today is Jaws. 

I think what THEY’RE really saying is that only the threat of a shark attack would be enough to get us all up and out of our homes and back to our local theatres.

The rest, well, they could be binge-watched.

Thanks, Steven (Note: Spielberg, that is).  Despite your penance with movies like Schindler’s List, Lincoln and the upcoming West Side Story, you literally did create a monster that has stayed with us to this day and morphed into all kinds of variants.

“You’re welcome Chairy”

Once studios realized they didn’t have to delve too far into the human psyche and take very many risks away from funneling their money into tried-and-true formulas, they didn’t.  Or mostly didn’t.

This brings us back to not leaving our homes and what the definition of a movie is.

In the last ten days, I’ve binge-watched two extremely watchable movies that are not considered movies at all – Amazon’s highly original, bold and superbly reimagined historical drama The Underground Railroad and HBO Max’s infinitely engaging murder mystery, character-driven drama about the American working class, and the rest of us, Mare of Easttown.

Both a must

The UR is 10episodes and M of E is 7 episodes.  Total then up and they’re approximately a 17-hour movie.

In 1975 they likely would have been 8 different movies made by various studios on similarly themed subjects over a decade. 

I’m not sure if that’s better of worse than what they would be considered now, which are stellar episodes of two contained limited series able to dig deep into the human condition in a way few theatrical features can or seldom try to do in 2021 (Note: Pandemic not withstanding).

Give them all the awards please

I only know that MOVIES like these, which are solely being shown on television, are the reason that I, as a young person, wanted to go OUT to the movies in the first place.

Oh sure, I’d leave my bathroom or get off the couch to be frightened to death by The Exorcist or Poltergeist or even The Shining. And as a prideful LGBTQ person I couldn’t wait for the spectacle of something like the next midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Or even, well, okay, Funny Girl. (Note: I was VERY young and my aunt and Mom took me when I begged).

Me, at the movies

But spectacle wasn’t ALL the movies offered.

What got me out of my bathroom, off my couch and out of my house was the chance to connect with something recognizable and human and identifiable.

It wasn’t solely the in-your-face thrill but the thrill of realizing, among a group of other humans, that you were not alone and that others had the same fears, loves, dysfunctions and battles with the establishment as you did and that it was okay – or could be.

Most importantly, it was finally, the knowledge that you were not alone.

Also you were allowed to openly weep in public

I loved feeling that not alone feeling among other people watching something deep and human that up to that point had, unbeknownst to me, been plaguing me in the darkest, most dangerous depths of dread in my brain.

Those are the movies I loved and the movies that, post pandemic, I still long to leave my home tablet and screens to return to.   And the ones I seldom find anywhere, pre or post pandemic.

Yet strangely, I do remain ever hopeful.   Because the one thing the movies have taught me is that I am NOT alone.

“Day After Day” – Badfinger

Revolting

Any era but this one seems to be the mantra of the day and who can blame any of us?   If the world isn’t falling apart, or at least regressing, well, it’s doing a pretty darn good imitation.

This is where nostalgia comes in because, well, when things seem this bad who can blame us for wanting to escape to the gauzy dreams of pre-selected luxurious times gone by?

This is where artists come in and in Hollywood there is no higher art than being a creator in film and/or TV.  Or is that TV and/or film.  It’s so confusing these days as to which medium gets first billing.

Don’t ask this guy what Netflix is… #spoileralert #heiswrong

But let’s table that discussion for now.

Much has been made about Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood in recent weeks.  Everyone seemed to love the recreation of the period but many balked at the context.

Are we really supposed to look back nostalgically at the 1969-era machismo of a nearly washed up leading man of TV and spaghetti westerns and his loyal, impossibly handsome stuntman?  Well, when the almost has-been is Leonardo DiCaprio and the sweet natured uber-hunk is a delectably shirtless 55-year-old Brad Pitt…come on, we all know the answer to that.

That’d be a YES MA’AM

And anyway, I dare you or anyone to look away when Brad peels his vintage tee off on that roof.  Because you won’t.  And you can’t.

But why spend all this money revisiting the Manson family murders for the umpteenth time, bathing Margot Robbie in impossibly flattering sunshine and white go-go boots as Sharon Tate?   Is presenting her in this new Tarantino-esque light (Note: No spoilers here) really worth all the trouble?  And who the heck is Quentin to take it upon himself to do that, anyway?

The latter is the real issue for critics of the film and its nostalgia.

Mary McNamara, the LA Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic, went so far as to call out Once Upon A Time… as nostalgia porn, likening it to the equivalent of a cinematic MAGA hat for its narrow, reductive and mythologized view of a world that didn’t exist.

Girl said whattttt?

That is unless you were a member of the white, male, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, culturally conforming, non-addicted, mentally well, moneyed elite.

Okay but….what film world really does exist???

Every artistic project is told through the lens of its maker, for better or worse.  The worse is that there are not enough non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-able-bodied, non-culturally conforming, non-money, non-elite making the highest profile content in order to round out the picture.  (Note:  I purposely left out non-addicted and non-mentally well because it’s show biz and, well, who are we kidding?).

I was driving in the car with my husband the other day listening to an old John Mulaney comedy special (Note: Yes, we do that sometimes) where Mulaney did a hilarious bit about all of the illogical characters and plot holes in the classic Back to the Future. 

In it, the comedian muses at how any mainstream studio could green-light a film where a teen travels back in time and almost sleeps with his mother, one where his only real friend is a man in the neighborhood three times his age who he meets with secretly AND is a crazed, criminal loner of a “scientist.”  Not to mention a thousand other twists of logic and convenience that were as likely to happen as not anything ever.

I HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR 3 DECADES!!!!

Now I can’t tell you how long I have been waiting – okay, THIRTY PLUS YEARS – for someone, anyone, to bring up these and many other moments of silly suburban wish-fulfillment contained in the script pages and prized cinematic moments of all three Back to the Future films.  Cause as a gay kid from the boroughs of NYC all they ever offered to me was a twisted Leave it to Beaver on steroids non-reality that I could never relate to or imagine ever truly existed.

Where is/was MY Back to the Future, I used to wonder?  Well, until someone creates a gay, Jewish superhero kid who is befriended by an eccentric Holocaust survivor down the street, I guess that it doesn’t exist.

I would see that movie #doitchairy

Sure, I’m being a bit flip but the truth is that is some small way, I am STILL waiting for it.

Thinking about all this and more led me to recently begin writing a period piece all of my own.  In doing so, I discussed the idea with a female friend and former student/now colleague who suggested I watch a one-season now defunct but very fine Amazon series that took place in a similar era entitled Good Girls Revolt.

Now how is that I, a journalism school grad who majored in magazine writing and came of age (and came out) in the seventies could have missed a show about a group of twenty-something gal magazine researchers who were aspiring to be writers in the 1969/early 1970s era?

feeling that Mad Men-esque energy #whereisjonhamm

If they couldn’t have been me they certainly could have been the older sisters I never had or the more experienced mentors I wish that I had met and related to at the time.  Because god knows I wasn’t getting very many breaks or invitations to hang out after hours from the straight guys in power.

Well, the fact is, gay or not I’m still a guy and the title, I don’t know, it seemed strange – like one of those borderline offensive Girls Gone Wild  vintage videos.  And with so much out there I guess it wasn’t a must see.  I mean, much as I don’t run for the macho stuff do I really go out of my way to look for shows with four female protagonists??

I guess not, since once I started my binge and got into the show I began to vaguely remember having heard more in its initial run about it, the book it was based on and the real female writers who wrote and created both based on fictional and real characters, some of whom even I knew about at the time.

Boo for me for not paying attention..  Like – BOOOOOOO, boo, boo.  What kind of typical faux macho…guy….was/am I?

I am ashamed.. so very ashamed

But more to the point, why was there only ONE season of this very fine and, for me, unusually period accurate depiction of a world that, after watching, I couldn’t imagine millions more wouldn’t be fascinated with?

After all, this was an early streaming series on Amazon, a service that wanted to take chances.  And it was female-centric (a key demographic), got good reviews, great audience reaction and respectable ratings in comparison to other Amazon renewals at the time.  Well, a lot of factors worked against Good Girls

#1 was that its premiere was two weeks before the 2016 presidential election, a time when a significant number of males in the country were rebelling against anything too female-centric, especially if it was on TV and let off even a whiff of women’s lib. (Note: #Hillary4Evah).

Me, thinking about November 2016

More importantly and #2 –

The head of Amazon at the time was Roy Price, a guy who didn’t get the show and at one second-season story pitch asked the show runners to use the actresses’ names when proposing future episodes because he hadn’t taken the time to learn the names of the characters they were playing.

Of course, little did he or any of the rest of us know that in less than a year he would be forced out of his job amid accusations that he harassed, this time sexually, Isa Dick Hackett,  not a character name but another real female show runner of another Amazon show, The Man In The High Castle.  Coincidentally, Ms. Dick Hackett is an out lesbian who also happens to be the daughter of Phillip K. Dick, the novelist who wrote the book on which the High Castle series is based on.   (Note: A play on words based on the surname of both the novelist and the show runner were among Mr. Price’s more noteworthy utterances reported during that time period).

This, in turn, was followed by the many revelations surrounding Harvey Weinstein from his accusers and the emergence of what we now sometimes all too glibly refer to as the #MeToo era.

There’s nothing glib about the story of the cancellation of a promising show like Good Girls Revolt, of course, most especially when it’s considered in light of all the attention a film like Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood is now receiving.

The only IT girl of the moment

Sure, I admittedly very much liked the Tarantino film but after watching the one season of Good Girls and learning of the circumstances of its cancellation, and my own initial indifference/ignorance towards it, it’s easy to see why so many are currently so publically over the whole Tarantino/DiCaprio/Pitt of it all. (Note: And not only women).

The fact is, until many more diverse voices get to create material with actors and directors from their communities who are every bit as bankable as a Tarantino, DiCaprio or Pitt, an inequity of point-of-view that is as world worn as the nostalgia those names so often propagate will dog their every achievement in the zeitgeist.

That’s not so much an objection to their POVS but to the fact that so many of us don’t get to see ourselves and our worlds reflected back at us at a time when being seen and heard is no longer a luxury of entertainment but a necessity for our very survival.

“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell