Seventies Stories

We tell a lot of stories and we tell ourselves A LOT of stories.  Some of them are true but most of them are not entirely true.

Scratch that. 

None of them are entirely true because there is no absolute truth other than we will all die one day.

HAPPY JANUARY!

Resolutions be damned!

It’s better not to obsess about absolute truth or death because, really, what will that get us?  Instead, I’ve found over the years the better strategy is to accept that there are simply basic truths.

Like when you watch a group of many, many hundreds of weaponized people violently storm the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.  on, say, January 6, 2021, shouting they want to hang a US Vice President before he can, in an hour or two, ratify the results of a presidential election they didn’t like, this is, by definition, an insurrection.

That is because insurrection is defined as a violent uprising against an authority or government. 

You tell em, Lizzy!

It is also true because they built a gallows for the hanging, seriously injured and/or caused the death of many police officers AND destroyed many tens of thousands of dollars worth of government property in doing so.

On the other hand, there is no way to categorically proclaim Power of the Dog, a film I found beautiful to look at but vague and strangely homophobic in its vagueness, is the best movie of the year.

Now you might truthfully state it is the best REVIEWED film of the year and, by extension, a front-runner in the Oscar race for best picture and director.  But you can’t prove it is overall THE best by any rational standard.

Unless there is an Oscar for highest cheekbones, nothing is a sure bet!

No opinion of greatness is an absolute truth.  Just as no memory or memory piece is an absolute evocation of what literally happened.

The best we storytellers, which includes all of us (non-writers especially included), can do is capture a basic spirit of what happened and through character, plot and actions, show it to you.

This came to mind this week as I found myself debating the merits and debits of two films set in the decade I basically grew up in – the 1970s.  These would be Licorice Pizza and The Tender Bar.

Let me state at the outset that as a bit of an expert on the seventies, since I was at my most impressionable, observant and un-jaded at the time, both of these movies told the basic truth.

Double serving of 70s realness

This doesn’t mean they were brilliant or Oscar worthy or that YOU should love or like them.  Rather it’s that they were amazingly accurate on the essentials when so many stories about a particular place and time are not but pretend to be.

Most of the 1970s, particularly the first half, were really the tail end of what we now consider the cultural revolution of the 1960s. 

This was a time when everything felt adrift.  If you were coming-of-age at that moment your journey strangely coincided with the country’s journey.  No one knew what the new rules were in sex or sex roles; in politics and social settings; and to quote a 60s/70s expression, in love or war or the whole damned thing.

See: Peggy from Mad Men, Season 7

This made it a quite interesting but confusing time to grow up in.  To tell stories about it is like trying to hold a hyperactive puppy in your hands.  Just when you think you’ve tamed the impossible it wriggles out of your grasp and runs (or circles) in an entirely different direction.

I think this accounts for some of the disparate reaction to both films. 

The very reason I appreciate and enjoyed Licorice Pizza were the very reason four of the other five people watching the movie with me (Note:  Okay, yes, it was a screener and we watched it on Christmas Day at home!) lost interest.

The story of a weird, pseudo romantic relationship between a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old girl that unfolded in disjointed episodes where they sold waterbeds, met drug-fueled celebrities like producer Jon Peters and each grappled with their even stranger, ill-defined family lives, just wasn’t really compelling.

Even an unhinged Bradley Cooper cameo couldn’t do it for them

Yet for me, it was surrealistically accurate because that was what I saw as the story of the seventies.  Everything felt disjointed, and not merely because I was an adolescent.  It was a disjoined time and, in retrospect, a rather lovely one when you consider that the decade that would follow it were the Gordon Gekko-like greed is good eighties.

Sure, the seventies was also the era of Watergate but the eighties brought us Ronald Reagan. 

And let’s just let that sit there for a little while.

A chill just went down my spine

Okay, enough. 

The Tender Bar spends most of its time in the later 1970s and, as a memoir of a young boys’ coming-of-age, has a naturally gauzy quality to it.  But to its credit, it also doesn’t spare us the social reckoning that Licorice Pizza cleverly avoids. 

At this point, there was direct retribution and consequences for underage drinking, hitting women (note: particularly one’s wife) and the snobbism of economic class.  If it feels a little pat, well, at that time, on Long Island, if you were a teenager, it was a little pat.

I only know this because I grew up in Queens (Note: Not quite Long Island, but still….) and saw it play out in real time.  The years prior made it okay for kids to now call out adults in no uncertain terms.  In fact, it even got you support from that group of adults that had made the choice to evolve rather than stand their ground in insurrection to society’s changing norms.

AHEM

I loved The Tender Bar not because it was THE best of any film story but because it so entertainingly and boldly and emotionally told ITS story.  No one thought about being too sentimental because, let’s face it, it was something of an emotional time.

This was my truth of that moment and it happily coincided with what these filmmakers chose to show us.  Which is about the best you can hope to do as a storyteller of any kind.

Well done, Georgie.

Where we all get in trouble, especially society, is when we try to twist the basic truth into something patently and grotesquely untrue.

That’s not only unacceptable but it’s strangely un-American.  To this very American art form, that is.

Gordon Lightfoot – “If You Could Read My Mind”

History Repeats and… It’s a Sin

HBO Max’s It’s A Sin is a new five-part limited series about a group of gay men and their friends in Great Britain who lived and sometimes died during the HIV/AIDS crisis from 1981-1991.  It is a critical hit and a must see.

Nevertheless, as a gay man who lived through it in the US, but didn’t die, it was the last thing I wanted to see or be reminded of during these pandemic days.

And yet…it was the first thing I began watching the very moment it dropped here in the States this week.

Why?

Wait! Hear me out!

Well, many reasons.  But the best that I could come up with is this begrudgingly timeless quote from an author long ago.

The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.  

William Faulkner, 1940

Writer extraordinaire William Faulkner first gave us those words in a short story he published in Harper’s in 1940.

They have since been quoted many times, most recently by both Barack Obama and Peggy Noonan in an attempt to address the issue of racism in the late aughts, and will no doubt be referred to many more times over.

Perhaps you prefer it in one of these standard internet formats

As a writer for none other than the Hindustan Times explained to us just three years ago, Faulkner’s words remain particularly prophetic because the past inevitably seeps into our present, informs it, even has a bearing on our future. The past cannot be wished away; neither can it be denied. 

I would add this is the case no matter how expert we are at pretending and no matter how determined we are to move forward.  The past, and its lessons, will ALWAYS resurface, whether you want to recognize them or not, and at times and in places you least expect it.

To not acknowledge it, learn from it, and at times live with it as you go on, is to be doomed – as too many countless others have warned – to repeat it.

How cliché.  And yet, how undeniably true.

Take it from someone who is alive and well and just qualified to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

And I didn’t even have to dress up!

Denial is a big part of It’s A Sin, but so is celebration and joyousness.  Watching it reminded me that despite all my protestations to the contrary, those times were not solely tragic and funereal, colored forever in doom, gloom and sores of every type imaginable.

In fact and to its credit, none of the characters in this series are any ONE thing, and that goes not only for the young friends in their twenties at the prime of their lives but those middle-aged, older and even younger.

They are all a result of how they’ve allowed their experiences to shape them, the ways in which they choose to forge ahead or remain stagnant, and the harshness with which they treat not only others, but themselves. 

How they existed and what they did back then is particularly resonant because of the harrowing drama of those times. 

There was smiling! There was joy!

But as we all now sit in our homes (Note: Or wander freely), masked or maskless, hopeful, scared or bitter deep into our very cores for the future, it’s hard not to see our times as still yet another variance of their times.

Every decade has its costs and its joys and, if we’re lucky enough, we get to live through each to the next and adjust accordingly.

And I’m still here! #trying

No one is saying denial doesn’t work in limited doses.  I, for one, would have never sat down and written an original screenplay many decades ago that got bought and made had I accepted the true odds of that ever happening to a novice like me writing about the subject matter I chose to write about at that time. 

Indeed, sometimes the only way forward is to defiantly block the facts in order to springboard you into defying the odds.

We humans all do this to some success and to some extent.  However, experience also tells you (note: okay, ME) that this can’t be your ONLY strategy.  Inventing your own reality means you also may be blind to the crumbling of the world around you with the thought your alternative world and your alternative facts will protect you.

Exactly this #nevergetsold

Sadly, it’s not so.  Not in the AIDS era of the 1980s, not in the latest pandemic era of the 2020s.  Not even in the Deep South 1940 of Faulkner’s times.

The key is to be observant enough to acknowledge the cracks and take action before the crumbling starts.  Patch it, consult an expert about re-cementing or entirely knock down the walls you think you smartly built before it’s too late. 

All this construction has me longing for HGTV

Yeah, right, who wants to do that?  But in doing so you might even let in those ideas or persons you banished to the outside and find out for sure if you were right or wrong about them all along.  Imagine if you realized you were ignorant, selfish, misguided or had even misjudged while you still had time to do something about it?

This was the story of those five Londoners and their families in It’s A Sin just as it is the story of our survival in the midst of the worldwide pandemic we are now continuing to barely live through.

Any type of pandemic, much like any armed insurrection, is not any one person’s fault.  Even if the worst, most xenophobic tropes were true and it was proven that a Chinese lab mistakenly unleashed CoVid-19 to the world and purposefully covered it up, that still couldn’t be blamed for the degree of medical severity we are now experiencing.

Yes, shall we??

The politicization of masks, choosing economics and widely opening back up too soon over quarantining, turning our backs on our most vulnerable (note: essential workers, the poor, the non-Whites) and willingly letting them die early on and perhaps inadvertently become super spreaders through no fault of their own; a decided lack of interest in recent years of top international leaders to operate as a true global community and closely work together to ensure our mutual survival – arguably ALL explain the basic shutdown of the world as we once knew it.

Meaning, a virus, is a virus, is a virus.  And people, are people, and continue to be, people. 

All the homophobia, limited thinking and personal wall building and/or destroying won’t change the facts or the outcome once the stark realities of life has its way with you.  Or us.

History is, at its best, a colorful kaleidoscope.  But it isn’t always reliably pretty. 

What it is is reliably prescient.

“History Repeating” – Shirley Bassey

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