Sheets of Privilege

I’ve watched Tina Fey downing a sheet cake while she excoriated Trump and the white supremacists at Charlottesville EIGHT times so far – and counting. It’s the only thing that’s made me laugh in quite a while.

You’ve probably seen her now viral appearance on Thursday night’s summer edition of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update – the one where she called the neo-Nazi man boys “chinless turds,” referred to Ann Coulter as “yard sale Barbie,” and countered Trump and his supporters with “who do you think drove that car into the crowd – Hillary’s emails???”– as whipped cream and all kinds of other carbs came pouring inside and outside of her mouth.

If you haven’t – here. And you’re welcome.

Sheetcaking, as she called it, is one answer to the post-racial right wing racism (and all kinds of other isms) that is now sweeping our country thanks to the campaign, election and reign of our first bull-in-the-china shop Electoral College POTUS – Donald J. Trump – or Donny John – as Ms. Fey more aptly derides him and his cheaply made real estate.

Still, however appealing it feels to gorge oneself on sweets and carbs in response to the upside down view of the world that Donny John and his white supremacist followers espouse – it is by no means the ONLY response.   It is the comedic response of 2017 so far and, as in any great satire, should not be taken as an absolute. It is wish fulfillment and is borne out of anger, frustration and a penchant for mouthy snideness that many of us “ethnic types” prefer.

It is the contemporary version of the fictional Isaac Davis’ cocktail party retort in 1979’s Manhattan after he incredulously mentions that he’s heard Nazis may actually be marching in New Jersey.

We should go down there and get some guys together, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.

Even when one guy counters that there is a devastating satirical op-ed piece in the (NY) Times on the subject, Isaac counters:

Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.

Let’s be honest. There is no ONE way to battle the lunacy that is now overtaking our nation. On Saturday morning, I woke up to find that two dozen Nazi white guys marched in downtown Boston but 40,000 people showed up in solidarity to counter the hate-filled rants of a crowd that had mostly dispersed by the time they had arrived.

#BostonStrong

That doesn’t account for the tens and thousands more who were home sheetcaking, talking to their neighbors, exchanging kind words with people of other religions, skin colors or sexual persuasions, or perhaps frequenting ethnic businesses and organizations that didn’t share the world view of the Charlottesville chinless turds.

The Electoral College POTUS response to Boston was classic. The first tweet:

A follow-up one several hours later, presumably after a talking to and some human contact:

Still, it begs the question of which protestors he was applauding – the two dozen or the 40,000. Certainly, it couldn’t be ALL of them.

I couldn’t pretend to know what is in Electoral College POTUS’ heart, mostly because I am sure he doesn’t even have o….well, skip it. Let’s not get sidetracked here.

Just have a good scream…. OK I’m good now #dailyrituals

The point is, you can’t believe anything he says in any given moment. Because at any given moment later – meaning five or ten seconds, minutes or hours – he might say exactly the opposite. Sometimes it’s even in the same run-on sentence.

This requires all of us to be especially aware, thoughtful and conscious about our actions as we navigate what the solutions are to our many problems. As a college professor I’ve learned over the years to avoid the word problem and refer to them as challenges. Yet in these tough times and in this particular instance I’d say problems is the more apt term.

21st century compassion

That being said, let’s not pretend that with all of our PROBLEMS we, who were fortunate enough to be born into this country, are not a heck of a lot better off than those born into third-world poverty elsewhere in the world. Even luckier are those of us born here into a higher economic class, or loving families, or, or, or, or…..

You see where I’m going with this.

There is so much chatter right now about PRIVILEGE – who is and who isn’t and how none of us are going to take it anymore. About safe spaces. About real American values and the lack thereof and who has them and who definitely doesn’t.

Yet it always seemed that the one thing we could agree on is that Nazis were bad.

Pretty much sums it up

And yet – Charlottesville showed not even all of us could agree on that. I hear reports from people I know that outside of the coastal cities and big urban areas that people are hoisting Confederate flags, brandishing their weapons to anyone ethnic — or Jewish or gay like me –- just in case they’re thinking that we’re friends or share any kind of values at all. Of course, that could just be what they normally do on a Saturday.   How would I even really know???

Well, certainly choosing to pretend this isn’t happening is not the solution to all this. Nor is Tina urging us to stay home and away from the white supremacist rallies and choose sheetcaking instead. But neither is Isaac Davis’ idea that we all get together to attend the Nazi rallies armed with bricks and baseball bats.   Two of these are extreme answers to extreme behavior that none of us truly knows the solution to. The other one is just plain dumb. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

Take your time Elmo

As a teacher whose role it often is to reach compromise I would propose that we need to incorporate not only the extremes but EVERYTHING in between. Unlike the multiple choice SAT there is no one correct answer here – except to rule out the dumb choice immediately.

Therefore, if you want to protest at a right wing, Nazi rally – do it. Yes, this is how they thrive and recruit people – by showing all the people like me and you who are against THEM – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be continually confronted for their hate (and vigorously).

But if as Tina suggests, you want to stay home and instead frequent an ethnic business – e.g. a bakery – then that is also valuable. So is donating money, being kind to a right-leaning friend or neighbor, manning a phone bank for a cause or holding your nose and trying to talk about all of this with a relative who you’ve always loathed – or a colleague who seems to have values opposite of yours.   We have to do them all and we need to do it quickly. And don’t think the thought of this thrills me either. Though I vow to do it if you will.

We can figure out better strategies

This week I heard a former Neo-Nazi named Arno Michaelis, who runs something called the Forgiveness Project and wrote a book about his days of white supremacy in his teens and twenties, say that one of the few things that managed to change him was the kindness he was shown by a lesbian supervisor at work and a black co-worker.

Now I’m not saying kindness and money is THE WAY to fight Nazis. But please can we refrain from the now empty post liberal phrase this is privilege speaking when one dares to suggest anything else except the method you’re arguing for? We need it ALL – especially the comedy of Tina Fey.

The only act of privilege is sitting it out entirely.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Peace, Love and Understanding

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Sorkin Says

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There was a time not so long ago when I thought being a teacher in the creative arts signified some sort of failing.

After all, as Woody Allen’s doppelgänger, Alvy Singer, once famously quipped in Annie Hall:

Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.

Many views, Woody, as it turns out, are not as clever as we once thought they were.

As it also turns out, the not so long ago I refer to in my own thought processes was the eighties. Which, given what’s going on in politics at the moment, feels like it was yesterday. To refresh all of our memories – it was a time when the homeless (nee poor) were vilified and money was viewed as the god and goddess of all things as exemplified by one of the most popular movie anti-heroes of the time, Wall Street’s financial baron, Gordon Gekko. In case you don’t remember, he once famously quipped Greed is good. Which pretty much sums up the callousness of thought through most of the decade for those who weren’t there. Or, as I prefer to think of it: the anti-Reagan reality.

At least the cell phones got better

At least the cell phones got better

In any case, this was all brought to mind by none other than Aaron Sorkin when he spoke this week at a panel of this year’s Writers Guild of America award-nominated screenwriters.

At one point towards the end of the evening the entire group of eleven nominees were asked by a young screenwriter, who was now attending UCLA on a military scholarship, how he could possibly proceed with the third act of an in-progress screenplay he clearly hoped to one day sell, that he felt required him to move his story into trans-racial characterizations he feared the world was not ready for.

He's listening

He’s listening

Clearly sensing the real pain and terror in this young man’s voice, it was the famous and most acclaimed of all the writers on the panel who eagerly jumped into the deafening silence and told him:

Don’t ever NOT write something because you think we’re not ready.

Hmmm. It seems that at least one who can do clearly CAN teach. Imagine that.

And Sorkin knows something about writing a character we’re not ready for #unicorns

Well, of course I’m leading with the best example of the evening. The world of mentorship is not a yellow brick road of rosy results and Emerald City glitz and glamour. Amid all the intellectual thought, encouragement and new potential roads of inspiration, there are too many others who are either ill equipped or whose methods are steeped in the art of the teardown and pretentious self-involvement. Every one of us has met at least one of them. The tough love gurus who secretly revel in telling you outwardly or implying to you all too unsubtly that your work sucks. This is usually done through a loop of lecturing where they relate a rating system of all the famous and/or commercially successful people in the field who are really lesser-than hacks you should be not only be absolutely unimpressed by but revile. That is if want your new god-like mentor to secretly continue to bestow upon you their pearls of wisdom.

ahem

ahem

This type of story was bestowed on said WGA audience by none other than panelist and current Oscar/WGA nominated screenwriter of Carol, Phyllis Nagy. It seems as a younger person, Ms. Nagy became a protégé of Patricia Highsmith, on whose seminal novel, The Price of Salt, Ms. Nagy’s screenplay was based. Ms. Nagy, then a copy editor at the NY Times, recalled a 30-minute limousine ride she took with the quite prickly Ms. Highsmith at their first ever meeting in the 1970s during which the novelist spoke only once every ten minutes to ask her a mere three questions. 

The first question was: What do you think of Eugene O’Neill?

Ms. Nagy’s reply: Not much.

To which Ms. Highsmith gave a very encouraging nod of approval.

well aren't you fancy

well aren’t you fancy

Okay, stop right there I thought from the audience. Eugene O’Neill. Really? The guy who wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh and well, you get the picture. I don’t care how damn talented or famous she was – really? What does that get you? Or anyone?

Yet it seemed this was exactly the right answer because here we are all these decades later where this once young writer has gotten all of this 2015-16 attention for adapting the older writer’s 1950s story she eventually received the rights to. Or perhaps it was Ms. Nagy’s answer to Ms. Highsmith’s second question:

What do you think of Tennessee Williams?

Because this time Ms. Nagy managed to give the seal of approval to Mr. Williams – an acknowledgement she claims Ms. Highsmith quite heartily endorsed at the time.

Phew.

Tell me again how great I am.

Tell me again how great I am.

I don’t know Ms. Nagy but one hopes this is not the kind of attitude that gets passed on from one generation to the next. Yet I know it frequently does – not necessarily in Ms. Nagy’s case (Note: As I said, I don’t know her) but to other non-famous or more famous instructors and artists of all kinds my students have told me about and I myself have encountered or read about through the years.

Well, like any experience in life, you take the good with the morally questionable and try to balance it all out with your own actions. This is not unlike writing your own stories or living out the actions of your own life. Call me corny or crazy, and I’ve certainly been justifiably referred to as both, but I much prefer the conversation and mentorship I had in the eighties with Bo Goldman – who I don’t consider so much a mentor but an off-the-cuff Sorkin-like teacher I was fortunate enough to encounter during the course of a day.

Mr. Nice Guy

Mr. Nice Guy

As a young writer I met Mr. Goldman, the two-time Oscar winning screenwriter of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Melvin and Howard who had yet to write big studio movies like The Perfect Storm and Scent of A Woman. His agent was a new friend of mine and generously told him I was a talented young writer (Note: Who had only written one semi well-received screenplay at the time) working on a new script. I will never forget Mr. Goldman probably seeing the forlorn terror in my eyes after he asked me about what I was working on and listening patiently as I tried to explain it. But more importantly, I will also always remember him smiling generously at me and saying: Don’t force it, don’t beat yourself up, it’ll come.

He then went on to share several stories of difficulties from his own life, always putting himself and me on equal status as writers.

The reason I can’t remember the stories is not that they weren’t memorable but that Mr. Goldman’s largesse to even include me in the same sentence with him when it came to the craft that he was so lauded for at the time was both shocking and humbling. But he didn’t see the world, as some in the commercial arts do, as a competitive playing field where one is trying to best the next person nipping at your heels behind you; or attempting to put down another more renowned and lauded than you.

Plus, this is the only living creature I prefer to have nipping at my heels

Plus, this is the only living creature I prefer to have nipping at my heels

Instead it was important for him to hear my story and reach out a hand of reassurance, as no doubt someone had done for him – or not done for him – confident that in doing so he was risking nothing of his own status and perhaps enhancing it. After all, what artist doesn’t want to spend a moment or two sharing the pain and/or difficulty of the journey, hoping in some way it dissipates its affect on the psyche. Of course, on the other hand, he could have just been being nice. I suspect it was both.

This is what teaching is about and what true mentorship is. It’s also what being a human being is about. And it feels equally good to both receive and give it – no matter what anyone writes or says about it.

Needless to say, Mr. Goldman was a welcome exception to the eighties. But it’s often the exceptional we remember – no matter where we are or regardless of the times.

Your Evil Empire

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I received an email the other day that the Center Theatre Group will be presenting the first ever L.A. production of David Mamet’s 2009 Broadway play, Race, at the end of the month. Now, normally when there’s a new (or even newish) Mamet I’m there. Even if the play doesn’t quite work for me, Mamet’s a master provocateur and always writes about stuff that either interests me greatly or fascinates me deeply, albeit from a safe distance.

Yet I found myself physically recoiling at the idea of giving Mr. Mamet even one nickel since he’s turned into a right wing conservative and gone on a diatribe against brain dead Hollywood liberals. Not that I’m in an upper enough tier of Hollywood to even be considered as such but, well, I do live here, am a writer and most certainly am and always will be a LIBERAL.

Oh honey, going on Fox News... really?

Oh honey, going on Fox News… really?

By the way, many friends of my parents’ assured me this would change as I got older but it has not yet occurred – nor do I ever expect it to. Perhaps this is because when they said it they didn’t realize I was gay and thus failed to take into account the unlikelihood of me ever belonging to a political party that legislatively hates the idea that I exist. Well, what else am I to think when the overwhelming majority of the literature and leading voices from the Republican Party – an umbrella coven for conservatives that comprises one half of all major political covens parties (that would be two) in the U.S. – throw a major temper tantrum every time a new law is amended or passed guaranteeing me the same rights as everyone else?

Of course, what are they and any of us to make of the approximately 1 out of 5 LGBT Americans who still belong to said coven and, when confronted with the paradox, claim to be working for change from within? How do I know they answer this way? Well, that’s the response I’ve gotten for approximately 25 years of asking the question calmly. If any other excuses were offered I was probably seething, yelling or being physically restrained from strangulation (Note: theirs) at the time so I might not have heard them.

The gospel according to Kathy

The gospel according to Kathy

But back to Mr. Mamet and the five pennies of royalties (I’m estimating the amount based on his shelf full of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for drama) he will not be getting from me this time.

I do realize I am being a bit short sighted here. I mean, how are any of us to rectify our political and social points of view with our choices as consumers? For instance, I vowed I would never ever buy Barilla pasta again since last year their CEO proclaimed gays unfit to raise children — and haven’t. Yet last weekend I conveniently forgot this and a box of their multigrain rotini snuck into my basket at Gelson’s because I wanted to make something healthier and lighter for Sunday night dinner and the Significant Other wanted his favorite tomato eggplant toss to cheer him up.

Well at least after this week's news, I can go back to Target!

Well at least after this week’s news, I can go back to Target!

This summer a friend brought my attention to the website hollowverse.com, which has massive lists of the political and religious affiliations of the rich and famous in show biz and other bizzes. This dear friend, who is even more liberal than myself if such a thing is possible – and most certainly more virulently vocal about it (which doesn’t seem possible but is) – will do whatever is necessary to avoid the work of any single person on the list who voted against his beliefs. And if they do appear in or make something he does have an interest in seeing or buying he will be begrudgingly hard on them and their work now and in the future – voicing his disdain for them to whoever he meets – meaning many, many, many people. I can’t say I haven’t done this and still don’t continue to do so at times. On the other hand, I find it quite tiring at other moments and just want to turn it all off and put on HGTV – a place where no one has politics and everyone advocates for an open concept, or at least secretly longs for one.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

The other problem with that website, as I pointed out to my friend, is that like all websites it markets in the occasional inaccuracy. Case in point: it lists Anderson Cooper contributing to the Republican Party and, by inference, claims he is a member of that coven.

Trust me, Anderson Cooper is NOT a Republican,! I insist to my friend.

He’s gay, he’s best friends with Kathy Griffin, and he lives in New York. Plus, I know someone who used to sleep with him (Note: Which gay guy in America doesn’t) and, well, he would have mentioned something.

When my friend still wasn’t buying it I pulled out the Trump (not Donald) card:

Listen, he’s a Vanderbilt and is probably on one of their boards that contributed and his name got attached. Seriously!

I mean... this is who he's photographed with. Let's be real, people.

I mean… this is who he’s photographed with. Let’s be real, people.

That seemed to calm him down but only slightly and I’m not sure it will hold in the long term. Unfortunately, it also got me to thinking – what if I’m wrong? Well, thank God (or whoever you imagine Her to be), AC doesn’t have a show on HGTV or I would be in serious trouble.

Of course, when Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon came out vociferously against the Iraq War in the post-9/11 climate, they were lambasted in much of the mainstream media, referred to as anti-American by many others on the fringe (Note: Is there a worse epithet from the extreme right wing except maybe being gay, poor, an immigrant or an unwed mother on food stamps?) and, as a result, their star power suffered.

Then there’s Jane Fonda – who has still not been forgiven by a group of my friends’ more conservative fathers for her virulent opposition to the Vietnam War. Forget that the years have pretty much proven all three of them correct – well at least in my unbiased left wing opinion.

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

Yes, we can take this further and we will. What about………………..…Woody Allen?

Do you not go to any of his movies if you believe any of the accusations hurled at him about his personal life by his estranged daughter Dylan Farrow; his ex-long term girlfriend, her mother Mia Farrow; and his estranged son, MSNBC’s Ronan (formerly Satchel) Farrow? (Note: The latter could conceivably be Frank Sinatra’s child in the final analysis, making his expertise on the subject almost beside the point, though the circumstances of his birth certainly could contribute as to whether members of any coven at all believe the accusations (or anything else) coming from the mouth of mother Mia).

Oy vey! I don't think Ronan's jewish!

Oy vey! I don’t think Ronan’s jewish!

Well, if I were a character in one of Mr. Allen’s movies I might avoid answering the question altogether and say this:

I don’t feel entirely comfortable equating Woody Allen to the artistic works of, say, Leni Riefenstahl – who filmed aesthetically seductive Nazi imagery under the protective wing of Adolph Hitler and German nationalism in the 1930s. Still, is her work on Triumph of the Will and Olympia 1 & 2 any less, well – beautiful – because what it sells is abhorrent? Can’t you admire the art while repeatedly hitting the artist with 3 dozen baseball bats and a sack of manure until she dies, you nihilist you?

I found myself making this very argument in my mind last week with all the publicity surrounding the HBO broadcast of its Nixon by Nixon – a documentary that included never released secret tapes from the former president. (Note: Yes, there were more of them). I really loathed the guy and his politics, even as a young teenager. He smeared Helen Gahagan Douglas in order to win his first seat in the US Senate; hated the free press and sought to control it; and sold the country a non-existent bill of goods about a secret plan to end the Vietnam War in order to get elected president in 1968, taking four years plus to do it as many thousands of young men died needlessly. Not to mention finally capping it all off with using an illegal financial slush fund and his vast presidential powers in order to spy on political opponents via the Watergate break-in and then lying about it, thus bringing down his presidency and almost the entire country in the process.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Dick!

Happy 40th Anniversary… DICK

Add to that the guy was a classic Jew hater (Copyright Woody Allen) as confirmed on his new (and old) tapes, his “friendship” with Henry Kissinger notwithstanding.

Nevertheless, as a young man I still did watch the entire 1977 broadcast of Nixon’s multi-part interview with David Frost about all things Nixon, including Watergate – and waited for him to say anything to make me understand where he was coming from at the time. So I did and still do want both sides. But with some people or in some cases we all finally just have to say ourselves:

Enough is enough and really, I have little to no interest in you or the warped POV you rode in on anymore.

This is not necessarily a good thing and the truth is I will probably weaken and watch at least a portion of Nixon by Nixon at some point because I like to stay current.  Yet this also doesn’t mean I have ever quite forgiven Diane Sawyer for going to work for Nixon in the White House (as a press aide from 1970-1974) through the writing of his memoirs in her younger days and then using that experience to advance her career. In fact, it’s always caused a larger dollop of doubt in my mind about anything she’s said as a news anchor despite her sweet as silk, honey-dripping delivery and smile. Yeah, she married Mike Nichols and show business friends who know her tell me I’m being ridiculous, petty and small-minded because I’d really like her if we met. And to this I answer:

I might be ridiculous and petty but someone with a truly small mind would not remember the fact that she worked to maintain and then rehabilitate the image of the most corrupt president in US history. AND got paid handsomely for it.

I just can't shake the "ick" factor here.

I just can’t shake the “ick” factor here.

Of course, everyone we support (even ourselves) has probably said or done something we disagree with or perhaps loathe. Certainly every time we buy a product manufactured by a corporation or large institution we put what little is left of our high-minded moral principles in jeopardy because if some magical fairy (Note: Not Me) were able to take the time to learn ALL the facts about what we just bought or who we bought it from, the world economy and everyone in it would come to a disquieting and paralyzing standstill.  I’m thinking Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream might be one of the rare exceptions, though that too could be wishful thinking. After all, there must be a conservative, anti-gay version of the two hippies who built that billion dollar empire somewhere in this world – though perhaps none living in Vermont who made their fortunes making highly fattening dessert items. Still, I can’t quite claim to know any of that for sure.

What I do know is that I have zero plans to see the new Mamet play at the Kirk Douglas Theatre this month or any other month, at least for right now. That’s MY five cents – for what it’s worth. It may or may not concern Mr. Mamet in the long run but is certainly not going to him any time soon.

Before and After

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No – this is not one of those postings where you are going to hear about how I remade my body, my house or my mind in six weeks or less.  Though admittedly any of those could be worthy of a little freshening up, if not a total and complete reboot. Yet who but a few close contemporary frenemies has the money, dedication or time?  Well, the latter in that list is a total lie, isn’t it?  Yeah, it is.

It’s a lie because I found the time to spend what felt like 17 and a half hours of my life this weekend seeing the current #1 grossing movie in the world– Transformers 4: Age of Extinction – which in case you didn’t know has made a third of a billion dollars worldwide so far in mere weeks of release, a third of which came from just the US alone in a mere handful of days.  Relax, I didn’t contribute to any of the total – I went to a screening.  As if that will buy me those hours back.

I also found the time to see four other films in an attempt to not only cleanse my palette but to conduct my own very unscientific social experiment to answer this very unscientific question nagging at me: What has changed – the movies or me (nee) us?  Is it all just a giant misunderstanding of unfulfilled expectations or have Hollywood movie studios, led by the tent pole that is Transformers, alienated (get it?) us (nee) me, from the thrill of seeing the hot new movie on opening weekend or even beyond – forever?

is this over?

is this over?

This is the age of binge…everything.  Where there is no time like the present to indulge ourselves with whatever we want because, well, we can.  For instance, though we might be unable to take a week or two for the vacation of our dreams on the spur of the moment we can immediately stuff ourselves with pretty much any TV show we want that will take us there, or watch something online that will give us the vicarious thrill of being there.

That seems to be what the economically challenged (for most us) 2014s are about.  It used to be a very American thing to charge what we wanted on plastic or even quit our jobs and/or indulge, then worry about the results later.  I mean, look at the seventh season of Mad Men and tell me you don’t want to travel back to late 1960s Los Angeles?

Movies were invented for this very reason.  To help us get away and live in a world we could never be a part of were it not for Hollywood and the larger than life people and stories they brought to us.  I grew up that way, as did many of my friends, and it’s what made us want to become a part of the entertainment industry.  That, and the requisite dysfunctional childhoods that by today’s standards seem quite normal and, very certainly, typically American despite what films (and then television) showed us.  How’s that for irony?

My family portrait?

My family portrait?

Still, none of this was on my mind at all when it occurred to me this week that I hadn’t been out at a movie theatre to see a film other than Malefecent – which was a screening a friend took me to that I could have cared less about seeing so it doesn’t count – in about six weeks.   Well, two months if you count the two-week trip to Italy in May (Note:  That accounted for only heavenly bliss on an unearthly plane, hence the omission).  Yet I find time to binge watch TV and keep up with Orphan Black, The Rachel Maddow Show, Love It Or List It, Cold Case reruns and even the new season of The Next Food Network Star daily, weekly and, most certainly, religiously – in the summer – when most TV shows are on hiatus. Forget that I’m leaving out all the time reading, watching and posting mostly meaningless stuff on Facebook, Twitter and God knows where else (Note: This blog excused).

What’s happened?  Is it age or have the movies gotten as bad as the Academy Award hosting duties of Seth MacFarlane more than implied several years ago?

I guess the Chair didn't see A Million Ways to Die in the West!

I guess the Chair didn’t see A Million Ways to Die in the West!

Well, like a newly invigorated Oscar host (Note:  I have no suggestions of anyone better but perhaps, say, Nikke Finke, to re-invigorate them), I was determined to find out if the movies could once again hook me like a bad/good or good/bad TV show or even as effectively as the latest dumb feature/news story or Facebook posting.

Was everything awful I decided in advance about the current state of films the reason why I wasn’t leaving my house for my local multiplex?  Or would it merely take an attitude adjustment on my part – something my parents found more challenging than their own divorce to ever make happen – to cause the difference?

5 Movies/3 ½ Days.   Here is my report.

Thursday Night:

The Obvious Child

Not just Marcel the Shell

Potty mouth?

Expectations:  Some.  Good reviews of a very low budget film calling actress/comedian Jenny Slater the new Sarah Silverman by way of Woody Allen.  And besides, who can resist an original rom-com about…abortion!

Venue: Landmark Theatres, West L.A

Outcome:  Thoroughly enjoyable, touching and wickedly funny at parts.  It’s extremely low budget so don’t go in expecting much in the way of escape.  But it reminded me that despite all of my previous ranting escape is not what movies are entirely about – at least not for me.

It always bugged the crap out of me that films liked Knocked Up dismissed the idea of a young women these days getting an abortion as something out of hand and just, well, not a real serious option.  Even Juno, which certainly presented a convincing portrait of why a teenager would not choose to terminate a pregnancy, never quite convinced me of its heroine’s decision.

Does that hamburger phone have a direct connection to reality?

Does that hamburger phone have a direct connection to reality?

Oh, of course no woman enjoys having an abortion or even making the decision to do so.  But it’s a choice MANY choose and will continue to choose whether the people who call themselves right-to-life (Note: Meaning those who are pro choice are anti-life?) like it or not.  So why hasn’t it been addressed in any movie in any real way since what seems like the 1970s.

The above is for far greater minds than myself to address.  What The Obvious Child does so brilliantly is not make abortion an issue but tell the story of a young female comic in her twenties making choices as she tries to understand both herself and love.  Yeah, there’s a cute guy involved – isn’t there always?  And it’s funny.  And it rings true.  If this were two decades or ago and it was possible for more than one or two really small films per year to break through into the zeitgeist, we all would’ve gone to it sooner.  But it’s not and this is the new movie-going normal.  If you’re interested you have to look around and make the effort.  If it’s your kind of film and makes a bit of money, it might be easier to spot the next time.

Friday Night:

Ida

The gray lady

The gray lady

Expectations:  Promising but a bit like medicine that I realize will be good for me in the end.

Venue: Writer’s Guild Theatre, Beverly Hills, CA

Outcome: Haunting, provocative and thoughtful.  It makes you think and impresses you with simplicity without ever trying to.  It also makes an extremely convincing case for artistic brevity and international cinema – two items that shouldn’t ever need to be reinforced but will, unfortunately seem to always have to be.

If I’m not the audience for a black and white Polish language film set in 1962 about two strong Jewish women with echoes of the Holocaust, then who is?  So why did I only go to see Ida because a good friend recommended it to me in particular, and then only because it was screening at the Writer’s Guild Theatre at a convenient time (Note: Which still technically counts as leaving your house)?  Lazy and complacent, that’s why.

Is this all it takes?

Is this all it takes?

All films are irrefutably artistic in some form because each and every one of them is an example of the art form.  But is there good art and bad art, high art and low art?  Who knows?  The only thing I’m sure of is that at 83 minutes Ida’s director, Pawel Pawlikowski, a former documentarian, has made a true work of art.

The film is the definition of spare in the best possible ways.  Imagine Ingmar Bergman making an Italian neo-Realist film by way of Mike Leigh and Terrence Malick and you might begin to get a picture.  Or perhaps it is none of those and simply – uh – original.

At it’s core this is a coming-of-age film about a woman who is about to be a nun and then learns she is Jewish.  It’s about family, history, love and what impact one chooses to make on the world and how.  And why.  It is also about the past and probably leaves more questions than it answers.  But the questions it leaves us with are more than enough to chew on for an entire evening afterwards with friends or perhaps even a date who is interested in something more than, well, your ________________.  Yeah, movies used to be about the latter, too.  Not all, because who would really want that?  Just a few of them.  Ida is one of those few.  It is what it is AND deserves to be seen.

Saturday Afternoon:

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction

Bumblebee-Transformers-4-Age-Of-Extinction_1399883699

Good grief.

Expectations:  None.  Like zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

Venue: Linwood Dunn Theatre, Hollywood, CA

Outcome:  My expectations were met – and then some.

This film is such a great example of what major movie studios are about today.  Therefore criticizing it is a bit like complaining that eating at McDonalds or even In ‘n Out Burger isn’t as good as enjoying the burgers they serve at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut or Thomas Keller’s Bouchon.  Or even at that favorite local greasy spoon you’ve been sneaking out to for years and years.

Hungry?

Hungry?

This is a movie that is not made for me or perhaps you.  The best thing about it is that it doesn’t take itself totally seriously, though you wish the jokes were better or even good.  It tries to be meta in some moments –like when it has an old movie proprietor complain in the first act that movies got ruined when they started doing those lousy sequels (Note: Not totally exact quote but you get the idea). And eventually it simply stops trying to do even that in favor of blowing things up, melting them down and throwing as much product placement at you (do people still drink Bud Lights?) as possible.

Full confession:  I have never seen any Transformers movie all the way through – rephrase that – I have never seen more than 20-25 minutes of any Transformers movie before this one though I’ve tried to if for no other reason than to understand what’s going on in movie land.  Of my attempts, some of them were from the beginning, other times it started in the second act, and at least once I think I forced myself to watch an ending – hoping that if it worked I might be motivated enough to track back and get the full Transformers movie going experience.

See, I made an effort

See, I made an effort

I used to be a movie critic so it doesn’t take a lot for me to be perversely curious about films.  In fact, sometimes I will purposely force myself to sit through something I’m unlikely to enjoy in the hopes that it will be so bad that I will actually be entertained.  I sort of felt that way about Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor until it lost me when the gleam from the spanking new desks in the 1940s military offices it was seeking to portray were so shiny that they began reflecting off the screen into my eyeglasses and gave me a headache.

Mr. Bay still clearly loves golden time lighting and shimmery new/old stuff.  But rather than give me something truly god-awful he’s basically made a movie that at the end of the day is merely repetitious, corny and dull.  The effects are fine, the robots or whatever you call them feel generic and somewhere along the way Mark Wahlberg, who turned in fine recent performances in movies like The Fighter and Lone Survivor, not to mention Boogie Nights, got Bay-ized into oblivion here.  He’s truly hideous in the movie but you try to make those lines work and then get back to me.

My favorite moment was during the act three action in China (Note: Why we are in China is a mystery, except it must have something to do with international financing).  At one point, a requisite Steve Jobs type character, who is stuck lugging what amounts to a mini nuclear bomb in what reads like like an elongated violin case, balks at a group of old ladies preventing him from passing and bellows:  How do you say get the fuck out of the way in Chinese?

Oh hey, I'm in this movie!

Oh hey, I’m in this movie!

This line does not simply please me so because it is uttered by Stanley Tucci, who plays the Job type and is part of my real life extended family.  It makes me happy because it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d like to say to Michael Bay – in English – but unfortunately will never get to do so.  Unless, well, I just did.  (Note: In which case, be forewarned if I happen to fall upon any tragically sudden accident).

Saturday Night:

The Lego Movie

more than just shiny plastic?

more than just shiny plastic?

Expectations:  High, high, high.  Everyone seems to think it’s awesome!!

Venue: My upstairs TV room big screen with a brand new DVD since it’s not playing at a theatre and I waited too long to see one of the best-reviewed movies of the year.

Outcome: I don’t get it.  And I didn’t like it.  What gives???

I sooo don’t get the appeal here.  Don’t hate me.  Okay, hate me if you must – I’m not changing my mind.  I can’t help but believe that the hype here is because of diminished expectations for wit and inventiveness during the first half of 2014 and  this simply happened to pass for something that could fill in the drought.

In case you were wondering, I’m a big fan of the Toy Story movies, really enjoyed Despicable Me and sang along to both Happy Feet and Frozen.  Oh, and I loved Ratatouille, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast  – if it counts for anything.

OK.. this too!

OK.. this too!

Fine, I’m done apologizing because I don’t have to.  I barely laughed through any of this and thought the characters especially simplistic and poorly drawn – in every way that implies.  And let’s talk about its ultimate theme – the reinforcement of the patriarchy.  Yes, I’m going there.  There’s a twist at the end of the second act that felt totally unnecessary and seemed determined to make something that up to that point was just sort of silly suddenly become a family movie with a message.

There is nothing wrong with a first act showing an average young worker drone Lego guy singing an original ditty called Everything Is Awesome as the film proceeds to show us how his assembly line life is anything but.  Yet somehow, as he Forest Gump’s his way into…well, I don’t want to give it away…the song replays and asks us to believe everything is indeed awesome because….uh….oh, what’s the difference?  It was about as simplistic and mundane as one expects a Lego movie everyone seems to love NOT to be.  And I got to watch it at home eating dessert.  Hmm, maybe this means I should leave the house.

I would like to attribute by extreme dislike to all that time I spent earlier in the day on Transformers 4.  Or maybe it was a case of inflated expectations – knowing full well everything I had read and heard about this experience indicated it was 100 minutes of unadulterated little pleasures.

Well, that’ll teach me to look forward to anything or to think even for one second I am still a kid at heart.  Bah, humbug.  Though this is exactly the kind of film I also would NOT have liked when I was 10 years old.  I was the kid who much preferred Mary Poppins.  And didn’t play with Legos.  Yeah, that could be it.  But I’d still take Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke over Will Ferrell and some animated pieces of plastic any day – because they were truly awesome.

Sunday Afternoon:

Jersey Boys

Got you under my skin

Got you under my skin

Expectations:  Middling – middlebrow.

Venue:  Writer’s Guild Theatre, Beverly Hills, CA

OutcomeCouldn’t Take My Eyes Off Of It – see that’s a riff on a Frankie Valli tune and this is a biopic about him and the popular mega platinum singing group The Four Seasons in the 1960s.  Oh, never mind.

This film was so much fun – especially the first hour and 20 minutes.  So what if it then has the issue of almost every show business bio ever made.  And that issue is that once the uber talents become famous their personal demons – be it money, drugs, thug life, romance or family – are never as interesting as the purity of their exciting rise to the top with their newly discovered uber abilities.

None of this matters here because you get to listen to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ never-ending list of hits in an old-fashioned styled film whose pacing, cinematography and editing seem to exactly fit the time it’s portraying.  And unlike other movie musicals these days – say, uh, Nine or Chicago – it’s so nice to hear the songs sung by actors who are really singers as opposed to movie stars that can sort of get by without croaking out the words (Noteworthy example: Catherine Zeta-Jones – and yeah, I do know she won the Oscar – I still had to cover my ears at a few key moments in her “singing”).

Gurllll

Gurllll

Let it be said I had zero expectations for Jersey Boys going in.  I’d never seen the show and LOATHE movies where actors talk to the camera doing onscreen narration.  However, JB not only does all of the aforementioned but has multiple characters doing it multiple times.  Yet even that doesn’t matter because there is a certain suspension of belief in a musical set in the 1950s and 60s that allows you to get away with a lot more than that conceit.

Which begs the question of how an ultra liberal Chair like me watches a Clint Eastwood directed film without thinking about his infamous Chair performance at the Republican convention several years ago.  Well, I don’t think about it because I’m charmed by the film – it’s as simple as that.  Plus, I assume that people who are 30 plus years older than I am and grew up in a very different world are bound to differ with me politically.

Okay, and also it’s Clint.  Anyone who survives 50 plus years as an actor-director-producer in Hollywood and continues to consistently make more films than not that are worth seeing deserves our attention.  Because NO ONE else has.   Or is likely to.  Unless Warren Beatty decides to emerge soon from wherever he is or Robert Redford has a directing comeback 10 years from now.

OK you too.

OK you too.

Until then, leave the house to go see Jersey Boys.  Or leave the house and go see any movie you wouldn’t ordinarily go to anymore.  There’s a chance you might be surprised – and in a good way.  It just takes a little effort from us – and the filmmakers.

It Can Happen To Anyone

press2

This is our rare Stop the Presses post.  For those times when even the Chair feels compelled to speak mid-week.

The national zeitgeist exploded this weekend with three huge stories – well, actually two huge stories and a third that promised to be.  They were:

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 12.29.23 PM

  1. The Super Bowl
  2. The untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman
  3. The first extended public accusation from a now adult Dylan Farrow that the filmmaker and then “adopted” father Woody Allen sexually molested her when she was 7 years old.

In case you were wondering, the Super Bowl emerged as the one unexciting non-story of the three even though it turned out to be the most watched program in television history with 115.2 million viewers.

But there was little excitement watching the Seattle Seahawks trounce the Denver Broncos 43-8.  How could there be when the winner of a contest is never in doubt?  It made even the commercials feel dull and expected.

Not so with a lifeless Mr. Hoffman, found slumped over in the bathroom of his NYC apartment with a needle in his arm and up to fifty baggies of heroine on the premises.  Nor was it the case with Ms. Farrow’s riveting written outcries and accusations against Mr. Allen and the litany of beloved movie stars who still choose to work with him, as posted  on Nicholas Kristof’s NY Times blog.

We don’t like dull and expected, at least in this country.   But we do love a good celebrity anything.  Which is the primary reason why the zeitgeist is still reeling, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, from Mr. Hoffman’s demise and Ms. Farrow’s grizzly tale of personal family drama.

I don’t mean to sound heartless or unmoved by these two tragedies.  They’re awful, and tragic and worth any series of emotional, physical or verbal reactions people are throwing out onto social media or in person to friends and family.  And I count myself as one among those people.

But still –

They. Happen. To. Everyone.

Tragedy knows no prejudice.

Tragedy knows no prejudice.

Drugs?  Sexual abuse?  This horrible stuff is in the news daily.   Plus, we already knew that Mr. Hoffman has had severe drug problems in the past and as recently as six months ago did a stint in rehab.   We were also aware for years Ms. Farrow and her family believed Mr. Allen sexually abused her and that in the last three months both her mother Mia Farrow and her brother Ronan Farrow have publicly taken to Twitter and Vanity Fair in order to advance Dylan’s accusations back onto the national stage against the seemingly constantly lauded Mr. Allen.

The only real connection to the public zeitgeist here – and it is not shocking at all – is that both of these stories involve celebrity.

We all have a very screwed up idea of what it means to be famous, privileged, wealthy and/or talented in this country.  And it’s only getting worse.  But here are some truisms I try to remember after many decades working among them in the business called, not coincidentally, show.

  1. You might feel like you know a famous person by their work or reputation but in reality you know very little about the real them.  In some cases, they may know very little about the real them.  Or they may know a lot but they are choosing not to share it with you.  That emotional connection you feel through their art is wonderful – but it is the art you’re connected to, not the person.  And art can’t overdose.
  2. Being privileged and wealthy is a double-edged sword.  So is celebrity. Nothing at all comes without a downside.  It is certainly more comfortable to grow up in a sumptuous Manhattan apartment or a mansion in Beverly Hills but it is not always an environment more enviable than your parents’ ranch home in the dull suburbs or the cramped two bedroom/one bathroom you shared with them and a sibling.  Though it is possible that it might be a more desirable environment.  Once again, the fact is that you never will know for sure.
  3.  Think about the worst photo of yourself ever taken and consider whether you’d want to see it blown up several feet bigger at a bad angle for all the world to see and comment about on every social media platform known to man.  (Note: Yes, you might already duplicate and post larger than life versions of yourself publicly in varying degrees of duress or undress… or your friends might) but the world is not terribly interested.
  4. Okay, now that you’ve done that think of the worst thing that has ever happened to you and consider doing the same thing with it – at least metaphorically. (Note: That is, if you can even think of a metaphor.  If not, just use the actual moments of the event and treat it like an endless, tawdry stream of pictures and posts and gossip and news stories on Facebook, Twitter, Entertainment Tonight, The New York Times and The Nightly News that will never quite disappear).

The L.A. Times’ Kenneth Turan on Monday published an appreciation of the many brilliant and diverse roles the mega-talented Mr. Hoffman played in the movies and onstage in his 46 short years.  The headline of the story read: He Could Be Anyone.

PSH poses for a tintype portrait during the recent 2014 Sundance Film Festival

PSH poses for a tintype portrait during the recent 2014 Sundance Film Festival

This did much more than address Mr. Hoffman’s talents for transformation as an actor.  It commented on his death, Ms. Farrow’s past traumas (change the pronoun to “she”), and on any number of public scandals we’ve become fascinated by in each passing year.  Just like the story of what happened to your friend, relative, or casual acquaintance from the neighborhood or office, there is no simple answer as to why.  Nor is there a truly satisfying explanation for any of it

Food for thought.

The Jewish Guido

Mazel!

Mazel!

If the guys I went to school with were movie characters they would be Jordan Belfort of Wolf of Wall Street and Irving Rosenfeld of American Hustle.  Two smart, charismatic and fast-talking Jewish guys from Queens, NY with morally questionable values, especially where money is concerned.  A stereotype, you say?  Uh, not when you consider how many Jewish male lead characters there have ever been in big major studio movies aside from Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.  And besides — what major film studio heroes aren’t a bit, um…iconic.  In fact, those of us who are or could have been them prefer the word iconic.  Especially if it means – we’re the LEAD!

The truth is – you gotta start somewhere.

Martin Scorsese has spent half of his career immortalizing similar types of New York Italian guys in the movies but they are usually in the more tough talking form of Manhattan street thugs in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas – men who were certainly charismatic and street-wise but, on the whole, a lot tougher and muscular.  Plus, they could at least duck into Church for confession when things got dicey rather than eat themselves up from the inside out over anxiety.

Those kind of leading men tend to bleed into the aforementioned characters in our current crop of awards contenders.  Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wife-beater clad muscle head in Don Jon; Bradley Cooper’s co-lead detective Richie DiMaso in American Hustle; or even anti-hero Pat Solitano in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook.  Not to mention all the leads in The Godfather and Moonstruck.

There's gotta be an award out there for these curlers...

There’s gotta be an award out there for these curlers…

Which means if you put all the current Italian and Semitic boys from the boroughs together – which often happens in real life, not to mention in my own personal one – they comprise what I think of as a new ethnic stereotype I and my many childhood compadres from Queens have long awaited to be included on in film: The Jewish Guido.

(Note: See I can say that because I am one of them…well, sort of).

Who are we?  We are everything and more of what the major Hollywood studios think of as colorful and morally questionable.  No, we are not a Woody Allen character or Roberto Benigni from Life Is Beautiful.

Nope, not this Guido

Nope, not this Guido

We are a much more down and dirty, messy type of working/middle class person – a little crass, not afraid to speak our minds and, to put it bluntly: pretty good in bed – which is why we’re often a romantic lead who gets the girl at some point even if we can’t keep her.  You might not want to have us at a fancy dinner party or as your permanent spouse (Note: the latter is still in flux and debatable) but you most certainly want to include us if you aspire to learn how to rise up in the ranks of life or enjoy some unbridled, down and dirty fun.  In short, we have dreams and we’re not afraid to go for them in quite unorthodox and entertaining ways – even if there are overwhelming odds of failure or the likelihood that we will not have the best decorating sense once we achieve those dreams and have the cash to acquire whatever nouveau riche items you or we may crave.  Our reasoning:  if we don’t take that chance we’ll be stuck in Queens forever and, as we all know, with the right amount of money we can hire all the Waspy female decorators we want with taste and eventually charm them into at least having an affair with us after they’re done hanging the drapes.

Okay, so I may have exaggerated just a little bit.  But so are our personas.

This all started several weeks ago when I found myself thoroughly enjoying both    WoWS and AH while many of my friends insisted they reeked of disappointment, misguided storytelling and just plain unsympathetic, despicable characters.  Really?  I hadn’t noticed.  Isn’t this sort of the scrappy, exaggerated way Waspy movie characters behave, albeit with less money and more curse words?  No, claimed my Jewish guy friends from upstate New York, southern California and the Midwest.  They’re just awful people in uninvolving movies.   And those Waspy characters you are referring to are usually the villains, not the hero.

Did someone say Wasp?

Did someone say Wasp?

Well, okay.  Still, there is something to be said for seeing a version of you onscreen, even if it is a slightly unpleasant one.  If there is enough humanity and humor in the characterization you can get away with a lot of political incorrectness.  Enough elements of truth can counterbalance harsh generalities about the neighborhood or plot holes that you can drive a Miata through.  In addition, if you give these guys a little bit more of the macho power you craved when you were younger, or even last week, the fantasy is complete.  At least for some of us.

I can’t say I’m particularly proud of two Jewish guys from Queens being portrayed as people who swindled others out of money in order to lift themselves out of the doldrums of their own lower/middle class existences (Note: though if I had a choice I’d take the fictionalized Rosenfeld in American Hustle, who mostly stole from rich bad guys and didn’t kill people or cause them to kill themselves).  But now that Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss are no longer leading men and only act sporadically, not to mention the total lack of movie roles for Steve Guttenberg in the last 20 years, you can’t blame me for binging a little on these types of recent and very public inroads. (Note: Yes there is still Jessie Eisenberg, born in Queens and raised in New Jersey – but c’mon, there is just nothing boroughs about him or any of his characters).

I made a movie with Barbra.. does that count?

I made a movie with Barbra.. does that count?

My notesfromachair co-hort Holly Van Buren suggested to me that the emergence of the Jewish Guido might have something to do with our current economic climate and the fantasy of the everyday working class man with the accent becoming victorious.  Not a bad thought.  It’s the boroughs way and certainly is a fine counterpoint to the seemingly omnipotent top 1%.  I mean, it takes a little bit of the crude and in your face in order to cut through all of that upper crust steeliness, right?

Plus, both Wolf and Hustle are period pieces from the seventies and eighties.  Clearly, enough time has passed where rather than championing a Gordon Gekko kind of financial wizard we can indulge in a more in-your-face punk upstart who beats the elite at their own game by any means necessary using the logic gleaned from a tougher life lived.

Still, there seems an even bigger factor – time.  American society may have grown more polarized these days but certainly its people have overall become far less homogenized.  There is ethnicity everywhere – so much so that is unusual for a day to go by on Fox News or right wing radio where the previously dominant White Male patriarchy, particularly in the south and Midwest, don’t wax nostalgic about the good old days and whine about losing their grip on power and the social and moral traditions (Note: one questions what they consider those were) that once made our Great Country great. This and the fact that same country, which less than two centuries ago legally enslaved all of its African American citizens in more than half of its states, has for the last six years had its first African American president presiding over everyone.

Yep.. and still the President.

Yep.. and still the President.

Those factors of time and ethnicity might also be responsible for the emergence of two other crossover major studio films about the African American community this year – 12 Years A Slave and Lee Daniel’s The Butler.  It is certainly no coincidence that as directors and other artists emerge in a position of power – like Steve McQueen and Mr. Daniels – the more chances there are of movies that reflect the history and/or experiences of their particular ethnic groups.  (Note:  Not that they can’t do anything else – both men have worked on “white” films).  It is also no accident that both of these directors have also earned money and acclaim in their recent past that have enabled them to do larger and more mainstream films with African American characters in the leads.  This is just the way it goes as long you can produce massive income with your often larger than life product.  Decades before Spike Lee had a certain degree of power among the major studios until his movies began underperforming at the box-office and the cache he was given by the powers-that-be to make his type of movies began to shrink. (Note: Mr. Lee also came of age at a time where there were far less non-white leads in films than there are today, making his road somewhat tougher).

Interestingly enough, all four aforementioned major films this year – Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave and Lee Daniels’ The Butler – are also historical pieces that take place far and very much farther into the past.   There could simply be a certain drama to looking at events from a backwards lens.  Though surely it also provides a special kind of safety that gives the Hollywood community and its studio system a specific type of perfect cover.

the current state of Hollywood

the current state of Hollywood

Which all begs the question – why with all of the many, many male Jewish writers and directors working in the movie industry over the decades – not to mention that the studios themselves were founded by a large group of New York Jewish salesmen – have there statistically been such a lack of Jewish male characters as major studio leads on the big screen. I mean, if the African-American model holds, shouldn’t it follow that….?

Well, I have no provable idea.  But even in accounting for time and some evolution of thought, it is still worth noting that American Hustle’s David O. Russell is half-Jewish while Wolf of Wall Street’s Scorsese is very famously Italian.  So, at least in terms of the Jewish Guido, well — you do the math.

Or, to put my take on the whole thing another way, here is what Woody Allen’s quintessentially non-Guido/very Jewish character of Alvy Singer said when he first met his very ethnic-looking first wife Allison Portchnik (Carol Kane) in the 1977 classic, Annie Hall:

Woody-Allen-and-Carol-Kane-620x310

Alvy: You, you, you’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the father with the Ben Shahn drawings…and the really, y’know, strike-oriented kind of, red diaper…stop me before I make a complete imbecile of myself

Allison: No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype.

Alvy:  Right, I’m a bigot, I know, but for the left.

Because We Can?

Definitely not kosher.

Definitely not kosher.

There’s a famous scene in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives where the brilliant Judy Davis plays Sally, a recent divorcee who terrorizes the unlucky new guy she is about to leave with on their first date when he tries to reassure her that not all men are, essentially, cads.

Davis, sneering with the authority of a jilted Medea, turns sharply to him and, after a long scary moment, ferociously roars: Don’t defend your sex!  It’s true!

Judy Davis is not in the house tonight (which is too bad for so many reasons), but I couldn’t help feel those words reverberating in my head many times almost every time I came across a news story this week.  If you’re an adult male of, well, any age, it’s pretty hard to stick up for the peanut gallery of ass hats who have been making it so much more difficult for all of the rest of us deeply flawed males in the world to hold our heads – well – not even high, just upright.

Who knew of these three Spitzer would come out smelling like roses?

Who knew of these three Spitzer would come out smelling like roses?

1. NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and his serial sexting.  Oy.

2. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and his serial gropings (not to mention female headlocks). Oy vey.

And even:

3. Fox “newscaster” Geraldo Rivera posting a shirtless (naked?) photo of himself on Twitter declaring:  “70 is the new 50.”   Oy, no.

This should help get Geraldo out of your head.

This should help get Geraldo out of your head.

This is not to even mention in the last several weeks:

4. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signing a bill that REQUIRES all women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to undergo a mandatory ultrasound in order to bond with the fetus and potentially save it.

5. Texas Governor Rick Perry and his mostly male cohorts in the state legislature passing a law that will not only close 37 of the state’s 42 women’s health clinics but will also require all females to get their doctor’s approval before being allowed to obtain full doses of the morning after pill.

And even:

6. Virginia Attorney General (and current gubernatorial candidate) Ken Cuccinelli desperately trying to resurrect an old edict that outlaws sodomy, oral sex and just about any other kind of sex aside from the missionary position (could I make this up?) in the state.  Note: Certainly this is not so much anti-female as anti- human, not to mention what it will do to tourism, but it bears inclusion nevertheless.

They might want to reconsider motto.

They might want to reconsider this motto.

WHAT.     IS.       GOING.       ON????????????????????

Okay, so I’ve taken a survey and this is what I’ve come up with:

A. The intellectuals reason that this is the final expected retro grasp of the white male heterosexual patriarchy trying to expel its last burst of ever-dwindling authority over the rest of us.

My reaction:  Too glib.

B. The liberals blame Weiner and Filner for being idiots and blame the rest of this stuff on bigoted, hypocritical Republicans who want to require all of us to go to the Church of their choosing and re-institute school prayer (and Ayn Rand), as we await the Rapture.

My reaction: Too easy, not to mention impractical. 

C. And finally – The women I know, ALL of the women I know (which is many because, after all, I am a homosexual) are just plain disgusted.

My reaction: The correct response.

Though they are thinking about bringing back castration.

My reaction to that:  Uh, sorry ladies – the wrong response!!  

But still  —  who could blame them????

You should be sweating!

You should be sweating!

I haven’t seen such a motley group of guys since high school gym class – a class I, granted, did not attend much but one in which I was able to observe behavior on most days I was in attendance because I did little other than observe while I was there.

Weiner: I’m not gonna say he’s a dick because that’s too easy.  What I will say is that in the first go ‘round I didn’t understand why everyone was making such a fuss about a guy who liked to send naked pictures of himself to women who showed some interest, and occasionally pleasured himself over it when his wife was away.  I cared more about how he did his job, not what he did in bed (or out of it, or even standing up).  Also, like most native New Yorkers I began to resent the outcry from the morality police in the rest of the country (as if they’ve never done anything tawdry – and if they haven’t they certainly couldn’t relate to most of the rest of us), so I decided I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and show my support out of sheer Big Apple spite.

Field day is putting it mildly.

Field day is putting it mildly.

However, there comes a time – hard as it is for me, a Scorpio, to admit – that even spitefulness has to give way to common sense.  Suddenly, we now get online pix of the Full Monty Weiner.  Then we’re treated to a spinning press conference where his highly intelligent spouse, Huma Abedin, does a millennial generation version of Hillary Clinton standing by her man as she bares the details of her personal life to the world in an attempt to defend a flawed guy she happens to love who clearly and very desperately wants to remain in the politically relevant limelight.

Okay.  But then, just when you thought it was over, there are more naked Wieners revealed, as well as rolling admissions by the candidate of there being “6-10 women” he’s met online as recently as six months ago, though he can’t be sure of the actual number since behavior that is immoral is a matter of personal opinion – the implication being his opinion is that he has done nothing else wrong with #’s 11, 12, 13 or more….

It wasn't me, it was Carlos Danger!

It wasn’t me, it was Carlos Danger!

Yuk.  I think I need a shower.  Don’t you?  Not because I give an Instagram about whether Mr. Weiner is, indeed, a large tool but because he has become an impossible public figure to govern what is perhaps the most important and complicated city in the country – primarily at his own hands (pun intended, sorry).

Addendum:  Recently, I was shocked to learn that Mr. Weiner was 6’5”.  As a Jewish guy from New York, I’d always assumed he was closer to around, say, 5’7”.  My height.  It just goes to show what I’ve always secretly hoped – bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better – especially when it has to do with wieners.

Filner: Any 70 year-old man who has, with the women he employs, chosen to:

  1. Put them in headlocks
  2. Grope their asses
  3. Asked them to come to work not wearing underwear
  4. Forced them to hug him, kiss him and tongue him and
  5. Rinsed and repeated on all of these behaviors many times over —

SHOULD. GO. AWAY.

Do Not Pass Go and go directly to Jail

Do Not Pass Go and go directly to Jail

Instead, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner gave a press conference Friday where he announced he was entering a two-week program in behavior counseling for…well, something – WHEN his microphone cut out the audio and we couldn’t hear what it was he was actually going away for.  One wag tweeted that “even the mic didn’t want to hear,” but this didn’t stop the mayor and his staff from getting him another mic and podium so he could restart his mea culpa from the beginning (Oh, goodie).  And speaking of staff, just after the revelations of sexual misconduct towards women came out days before – the San Diego city attorney announced that as an interim measure the mayor, who still refuses to resign, would no longer be allowed to be alone in a room with any female who worked for him.  At all.  This was particularly fascinating since that same press release also stated that Mayor Filner had just hired yet another woman to replace his exiting chief of staff. Certainly it gave new meaning to the term team players for everyone else nearby.

By the way, the fact that both Mr. Weiner and Mayor Filner are Democrats is meaningless.  This has nothing to do with political affiliation as current Republican Louisiana Senator David Vitter (you know, the former Congressman who was kicked out of office in the prostitution scandal, then reelected) and current Republican Congressman Mark Sanford (he’s the former South Carolina Governor who a few years ago disappeared to Argentina with his mistress when his aides told us he couldn’t be reached because he was out camping – the gayest excuse I’ve ever heard a straight guy give) serve as only two of the most recent analogous examples of sex scandals from the other side.

Who knew Animal House would be so right??

Who knew Animal House would be so right??

No, what this all has to do with is this:  When it comes to the penis, and everything it connotes for them – some men have remained in permanent adolescence.  Sexual compulsion/addiction; it’s about power, not sex; generational shifts in mores; they’re all just the extreme examples; blah, blah, blah –  I get it.  But as a guy, I gotta tell you – there has been too much of this kind of stuff in the news lately to intellectualize it away.  There’s something going on with some of us men out there and it’s not pretty.  Or even handsome.  Actually, it’s kind of abhorrent.  And unless the rest of us guys stand up to the bullies it’s not gonna go away any time soon.   I’m not talking about what guys do in the privacy of their own – well, you know.   I’ll be the first one to fight back against anyone who says we have to stop doing any of that.  I’m talking about – well, you know what I’m talking about.

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley pondered a variation of all this in his Oscar-winning screenplay, Moonstruck.  Faced with the knowledge of her philandering husband, Olympia Dukakis (the Mom) spends her time surveying various opinions of the other characters on one particular question:  Why do men cheat?  Finally, one person, the biggest philanderer in the film, gives her the only answer that ultimately makes sense:  Because they fear death.

Interesting answer.  But it’s movie dialogue.  As it applies to the mistreatment of today’s women via sexual scandal, which is not about so much as cheating but behaving like an immature idiot – the answer in the real world is more like: Because we can.

Though just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  That might sound like a response from someone’s mother.  But maybe it wouldn’t hurt to think about it that way.  After all, Mom’s a woman, too.  And us men, we’re just wieners.