11 July 2020

A Tale of Two Generations - or - Father and Son, Illusions and Delusions

if all else fails write

That was his mantra and it had gotten him out of a lot of jams. Mental ones. His name was Royston Kidrick and he suffered from severe bouts of depression. The gloom would set in and surround him like a thick and heavy fog. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do when it took hold. Except to write. Which he couldn't do when depressed. Contradiction.

By the age of 33 Kidrick had written six novels and several dozen short stories. Not a word of his had been published.

But he kept trying. That was one thing about Kidrick, he wouldn't quit. "You were persistent as hell as a toddler," his father, Lawton Kidrick a wealthy industrialist had told him.

It was late Winter 1993 and  Kidrick was sitting at his typewriter trying to squeeze out some words. It was like trying to force a bowel movement when constipated. Painful and frustrating. Maybe he’d taken too much Xanax. Kirdrick wasn’t sure how many he’d popped, keeping track of details wasn’t really his thing.

Trying to write while depressed was like trying to fuck with a flaccid dick, Kidrick told people. Yeah, it was futile and depressing. But not trying to write while depressed made the depression even worse. Damned if you did, damned if you didn't.

So he paced. He walked to the picture window and back to his desk. Repeat. But no words were willing to come and he was feeling worse with each passing second. Life was utterly and completely horrible. Where? Where was the answer? Or the end? Maybe it would come to an end and that was the answer. Who could say anymore? Kirdick had endured years of frustration trying to find meaning and a cure for his melancholia. Psychedelics hadn’t helped. Neither had yoga nor meditation nor exercise nor religion nor psychiatry. Especially not psychiatry. Just a whole lot of mental masturbation. Made it worse. None of the meds did a damn thing, either. Maybe a wank now would help. Do it while staring out the big window let the neighbors have a gander. Just a thought, if a crazy one. He had lots of crazy thoughts.

His wife, Rula, from India was a gorgeous woman, tall, intelligent lusted after by everyone, only 21 (some people said she probably married him for his dough and oh by the way he had inherited a lot) She was in Manhattan for the weekend visiting her parents and doing research for school where she was studying sociology.

How shitty that Rula is away. Miss her.

Maybe a swim, backyard pool. Maybe a wank in the pool. Maybe call an escort service, maybe call a friend, maybe go on a bender. Maybe read a book — better to try to write one. But those words were not coming anytime soon as far as Royston Kidrick originally of Framingham, Massachusetts could figure. Yeah, I'm from Framingham. What of it, he thought as if someone had made an issue of it. Now he lived just outside of Boston, in Brookline.

Not going back to the catholic fucking church, Royston thought. That was the worst. He'd been raised Methodist. His big brother Allie, a pediatrician, was an active church member. Royston had only tried catholicism for a couple of months but boy did it do a number on him. Wife was raised Hindu but he hadn’t tried that nor Judaism. Buddhism yes. Royston Kidrick’s fallback was atheism. He was currently between religions, philosophies or beliefs. Next maybe nihilism or Mormonism. That cracked him up. Felt good to laugh. Could call up Buddy Drake (nee Bruno Darrenofsky). Great friend, a professional comic. They could crack open a good bottle of scotch and laugh about all the shit the world was forever dealing in large shovelfuls. Why not?

Buddy didn’t pick up. No message. Why bother. Why.

Then a more powerful wave depression washed over him, roiling through his body. Bubble bubble lots of trouble and oh the pain of it deep in his intestines and his brain and his heart and ow, ow, ow. Yikes. Royston actually quivered with the pain. Maybe just swallow a bottle of Xanax. That'd do it. Thought of suicide a lot lot lot lot lot lot. But not not not not not not going to do it ever never ever never ever never. Just not an option my friend.

How about that scotch? Hated drinking alone. Save it. Buddy might call back. Didn’t leave a message. Called again. Left one this time. Sat down big frown out of town tried to write something out of sight not this night. But it was day. Still light out not night out. Out.

Deep long sigh the pain settling in deeper. Slowing down now. Sitting at the typewriter. Eked out a few words, not so much as a sentence, barely even a thought. Wow that’s bad. Bad. Sad. Please call back, Buddy. He was staring at the phone. Deep in. Pain seep(ing) in.

if all else fails write

But when the writing fails? Oh shit the tears coming now the utter complete and total anguish. All that money was bullshit. Didn’t do Royston Kidrick any good at all, not a bit. Soft somber tears. No buying his way out of this depression — it was soaking him. Drenched in the awful pain.

Distractions. Wash the dishes. Done. Pay a bill over the phone. Done. Fold the laundry. Done. Check the mail. Letter from Brown and Deakins Publishing Company. Great. Another rejection, no doubt. This will make, what 43? Wow, he would reach 50 soon. Tore open the letter. "Dr. Mr. Kidrick, We received your novel, Faith and Clarity and are very much interested in publishing it, pending minor modifications. Please…"

For the first time in his life Royston Kidrick fainted.

To Royston it had felt like hours later that he came to but it was actually only four minutes. The letter was still in his right hand, clutched tightly. This was a new one on Royston, an acceptance letter. He hadn’t gotten one since high school when he was accepted to Northeastern University. The feeling was overwhelming and utterly unfamiliar. It was a feeling in direct opposition to the depression that had been in him. Had been him. Euphoria now replaced misery. From despair to joy. Victory over defeat. Instead of the same old shit, a new chapter. Wow, life.


Hardy said it. "Dude, the dope that black people smoke smells totally different than the bud we smoke. It's so funky."

His friend Langston agreed. "I know it's like it smells dirty. Why is that though? Don't we all buy from like the same people?"

Carson said, "it's not like there's weed that's just sold to blacks and then some that's just sold to whites."

"But Carson, don't you notice it, man?" Hardy asked.

"Yeah, I totally do," he replied.

"Have either of you smoked with a black dude?" Langston asked.

"I have," Hardy said. "But it was from my stash."

"Yeah, I remember smoking with Devin Thomas and some friend of his. Totally your stuff," Carson said.

The three stood silently for awhile contemplating the mystery of why the marijuana African Americans smoked smelled different. Hardy went to the fridge and pulled out a six-pack. He handed his two friends a Budweiser and took one for himself. He hoped what they'd been talking about wasn't racist. He sure didn't mean it to be. Shit, his mother was what they called a person of color and in a way he was too. Hell, not in a way. He was. Hardy got along really with African Americans, even though none were among his best friends.

They were in Hardy's house, down in the carpeted basement that was sort of a playroom but mostly, since Hardy and his sister Eileen had entered their late teens, a place to hang out with friends. Eileen was at college now attending UC Santa Cruz and Hardy was a senior in high school. Langston and Carson were classmates of his at Berkeley High. Hardy's mother, Rula was a professor of Sociology at Cal and his dad was a successful author but also a man who'd been in and out of mental hospitals for 20 years. In the Fall Hardy would be going to college back East in Massachusetts, where he'd been born, at Tufts University.

"I don't wanna just sit here getting a buzz and talking shit, let's do something." Hardy insisted. It was a Friday night. There were usually parties somewhere but none of the boys knew of one this night.

"We can drive up to the hills and drop acid," Carson suggested. But the other two insisted it was too late in the day to be taking LSD, what with them having a lacrosse game the next day.

It looked like a dull night. Hardy was glad he wouldn't have to go it alone. He hated dull nights at home alone. His parents were out of town for the evening, down in LA where his mother had presented a paper at some seminar and his father had met with the producers who were making a film out of his latest novel.

"Hey Hardy, I tell ya I been reading one of your dad's books? The latest one?" Langston wanted to know.

"Man, don't tell me that. It's weird knowing someone my age, especially a friend, is reading one of my dad's books."

"But it's really cool. He's got a lot of sex in his novels and -- "

"Damn, man what'd I just say? I don't wanna know this kind of shit."

"Hey calm down, Hardy," Carson advised.

"Yeah, okay, sorry dude. But I just don't like to talk about it, okay?"

Langston nodded in an understanding he didn't have. Everybody liked Hardy Kidrick, but he was kind of weird about his dad.

Hardy had read some of his father's short stories a year ago and objectively thought they were brilliant. But for some reason he couldn't bring himself to read any more and couldn't even begin to imagine reading one of his novels, no matter how successful they were nor how often people told him what a great writer his father was. Hardy himself was a decent student who got good grades but did best in English, especially when it came to writing essays, compositions or short fiction. He liked to write. It made him feel good and seem to come naturally to him. His sister, who was a mediocre writer at best, was envious. Hardy had no clue what he wanted to do with his life but didn't discount the possibility that he might end up being a writer. Like his dad, but then not. Hardy wanted not to be known for being Royston Kidrick's son.

Royston Kidrick was the author of five published novels and two short story collections. He'd won numerous awards and his books had all been best sellers. One had been made into a highly successful film and his latest was in development with big name actors and a prominent director attached. But none of Kidrick's success had abated the demons that tormented him. Hardy was mortified by his dad's emotional instability, the frequent hospitalizations and all the medication he had to take. His mom tried to convince Hardy to be proud of all his father had accomplished despite his struggles but Hardy just couldn't see it that way. He saw a man who was not in control of his own brain and it seemed weak. His sister was totally different. She loved her father unconditionally and doted over him and sang his praises to everyone she met, just as her mother did. But Hardy didn't hate his dad, hell, he loved him. He couldn't get past the shame of being the son of someone with mental problems, nor could he get over the fear that he would be thus afflicted someday too.

The three friends finished the six pack and smoked a couple of joints but never left Hardy's house that night. They all slept in the basement swapping stories until the wee hours before finally being overcome by sleep. They went out for pancakes late the next morning. The waitress asked Hardy if his dad was Royston Kidrick, she recognized him from a photo on a fan site someone had made for the author. Hardy allowed that he was, though at the moment he wanted to crawl into a hole.

"You're so lucky," the waitress said. Hardy barely managed a smile.

"Dude," Carson said. "She's hot, you should totally talk to her. You've got an automatic in with her."

"Yeah Hardy, use it, man," Langston added. "She looks like she may even be in college."

Hardy wanted to change the subject completely so he said that maybe he would come back and talk to her another time but that right now he wanted to focus on their game which was only a few hours away. The fact was that Hardy did not want to take advantage of his dad's fame for anything, even scoring with a hot chick. It just felt weird and wrong.

Later that day their high school lacrosse team took a shellacking from a nearby private school. The trio took it in stride and had pizza with two other teammates after the game.

It was dusk when Hardy got home. His parents had returned a few hours before. When he entered the house Hardy found his father on the floor mewling and flopping around. His mother had just called for an ambulance. It would be at least one more night in the hospital for Royston Kidrick. Hardy waited with his mom for the ambulance. He watched as his father was taken by stretcher into the back of the ambulance and his mother got in with him. Hardy went upstairs to his room, flopped on the bed and sobbed. He was alone and miserable.

It was an hour later that Eileen called. Hardy sobbed into the phone as he told her what had happened. His sister assured him that it would be okay, after all this wasn't the first time. Hardy looked out the window into the dark March night. Rain began to fall. "Fuck it," he decided. "I'm not going to let myself be miserable anymore." Hardy Kidrick blew his nose, went downstairs and made a sandwich and waited for his mom to come home.

Meanwhile, Hardy decided, I'll write.

08 July 2020

There's Nothing Like Having a Camera Up Your Nose

I had a camera in my nose this morning. It was not painful because the area had been numbed by having a Q-tip in my nose. My nose had an interesting morning. More specifically my right nostril which suffered the twin invasions.

I will now answer some obvious questions. First question: Was the filming being done for a new avant-garde movie that will be premiering in the West Village in October where everyone will be wearing berets and drinking Campari? First answer: Nope. Second question: can I post the video either on this blog or on You Tube? Second answer. Nope. Final question: Why did a camera enter your right nostril? Third Answer: Because of a scratchy throat.

Yes, I’ve had what I’ve chosen to call, Raspy Voice Syndrome for about nine months now. It has been accompanied by what I’ve chosen to call, Dry Throat Syndrome. This has not been a serious illness. The worst of is that I’ve had to take a lot of cough drops while teaching and it has been difficult for to me properly express my opinion as vociferously as I’d like at sporting events. Of course the quarantine has kept me both from teaching and witness athletic competitions so it’s not been a big deal. Still worth looking at, which was done with a camera through my nose.

I make it a point to always be a good patient whether I’m seeing my GP, the dentist, a dermatologist, gastroenterologist, podiatrist, cardiologist, psychiatrist, optometrist, urologist or medicine man. I’m not sure why it’s important to me but it is. It sure doesn’t hurt to make a nice impression on a person in whom you entrust, you knee, or testicles, or skin, or eyes or intestinal tract or id or as today, your ear, nose and throat. I am polite and cooperative and try to minimize my screams of agony.

Today was my first visit to a otolaryngologist, which, I’ve been given to understand, is what an ear, nose and throat doctor is. She was, like about 99% of health care workers I’ve encountered in my adult life, a most pleasant person (don’t get me started on the 1%, Dr. Sawbones, a quackologist, was a real pill). I described my symptoms and she patiently listened before informing me that she was going to have to take a look see (not her words). This meant, she told me blithely, taking a look at my throat via a camera that would be inserted through my nose. I was not amused. Indeed the very idea sent a chill down my spine. I expressed my unease as politely as possible and the doctor assured me that it would be just fine and that she would numb my nose first by inserting a Q-tip in the orifice. This did not cause to leap for joy.

I sat for a few minutes with the aforementioned Q-tip -- doubtless laced with pain killer -- sitting idly in my nose. The doctor absented herself for a minute or two and I sat hoping no paparazzi would come by to snap an embarrassing photo. None did.

Then came the camera which I chose not to study at any length. The less I knew the better, I reasoned. The doc said filming (not her words) would take precisely a minute. I was to breath through my nose and occasionally I was asked to swallow. I got updates on time which, as they do when your throat is being filmed, flew by.

It took nanoseconds for her to provide a diagnosis. The good news was that there was no lumps, growths or Bougainvilleas in my throat. I’d never really considered that there was, so this information didn’t impress me. She did say that my throat ailment was caused in large part by the acid reflux I suffer from and that one of my meds contributed to the dry throat. I’m to drink even more water daily than I already do, not clear my throat is often, double my Aciphex (taken for the acidity) make six to eight visits to a speech therapist and abstain from eating raw barracuda. There were a couple of other odds and ends but they are not here worth mentioning.

That was, as they say, that. I checked out and was told my health insurance does not require a co-pay during the pandemic (bless them) so I saved a double sawbuck. I skipped merrily out of the office to my darling wife who breathlessly awaited my return while sitting in the car. Actually I rather doubt she was breathless.

I’ve of course since returned home and have been drinking gallon upon gallon of water. I slosh when I walk.

Also this was haircut day for me and since the quarantine I’ve been unable to see Nina, my hair stylist so my wife has had to assume the duties which she did today for a second time. My darling managed the feat without cutting off either ear. It was altogether a comfortable experience, far better than having a camera in your proboscis. 

07 July 2020

Hanging out With Liv Ullman, Watching Persona and Thinking of Bergman -- Two Years Later a Post is Finished and Posted

I've had a draft of a blog post sitting in my blogger dashboard for two years and five months. I had written roughly a third of the post when I was stricken by one of the worst bouts of depression I've ever suffered, one that lasted for over a week. By the time I was ready to write again the post seemed dated but worst, reminded me of the horrible depression that had just visited me. I've meant to get back to it but other writing and life as a whole kept getting in my way. So here I present what I'd written 29 months ago followed by a few other thoughts about the evening in question.

I saw Liv Ullman last night.
I asked Liv Ullman a question.
She looked right at me while answering the question
I saw Ingmar Bergman's Persona on the big screen.
I had a very good night.

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives started an 11-month retrospective on Ingmar Bergman last night in honor of 2018 marking exactly 100 years since the great director's birth. The showing of Persona (1966) was one of two this weekend which featured opening remarks by one of the film's stars -- Ms. Ullman -- who appeared regularly in Bergman's films.

As my wife pointed out, Ms. Ullman looks like she could be one of my aunts, though of course I'm Finnish and she is Norwegian (close enough, I suppose). Ms. Ullman is as handsome an 80-year-old woman as you'll ever see. She stood erect and wearing heels look much taller than her listed height of 5'8". She was immaculately attired wearing a red dress, a lovely necklace and a watch that probably costs more than I make in a year -- or two. The retired actress/director's hands shook a little bit but that was all that betrayed her octogenarian status. Her voice was resonant and her English excellent with minimal accent.

Mr. Ullman's pre-film address was initially perfunctory with thanks to all concerned and platitudes about the Bay Area. But then she launched into a story of getting the role in Persona (her first of 11 with Bergman) along with co-star Bibi Andersson (who was also a regular in Bergman's films). She then discussed Persona and how revolutionary it was and she provided some insight in how it reflected on Bergman's life.

That was as far as I got. One important part of the evening that I didn't get to was that during the post film Q and A with Ms. Ullman, I was one of the local yokels who asked her a question. Specifically what it was like working with the great cinema photographer, and frequent Bergman collaborator, Sven Nykvist. In answering my question she twice made a point of saying his last name, I believe in order to highlight the correct pronunciation. I had pronounced it as Nye-kvist and she more properly pronounced it as Knee-qvist.

Anyway she talked of how meticulous he was about setting up shuts and how important the proper light was for him and how that would influence the manner in which Bergman would position actors. She also said the two argued at one point about how best to light a shot so they did it both ways and when they looked at the dailies Nykvist had to concede that Bergman -- as was evidently usually the case -- was right.

I wish I remembered other questions that she was asked but they're lost to me, many recollections having vanished as a result of that horrible depression (which was most emphatically not as a result of that evening which was a great thrill for me).

A few weeks ago I watched my copy of Persona for the first time since seeing it then. I meant for it to stir up memories of when I beheld Liv Ullman in person, but the film is so compelling that I was totally enraptured by it as I have been with each viewing.

It is an exceptionally bold film. Bergman was utterly audacious in so many ways such as the long shots of a character's face through the entire telling of a story or the perplexing montage at the beginning. Persona demonstrates the director's brilliance as he takes the seemingly dull premise of two women, one suddenly unable to speak, spending time together at a Summer house on an island. How much can you do with two women alone in such a situation one of them mute? Bergman made of it a cinematic masterpiece. An examination of two people who through conflict and understanding come to realizations about themselves and life.

Persona is a thought-provoking film and is throughly entertaining despite and because of this fact. Ullman and co-star Bibi Andersson are transcendent which many performers are when working with a Bergman script under Bergman's direction. He is to me the greatest of all directors.

Of those few sightings of famous people I've had in my life, seeing Liv Ullman has been one of the most memorable and meaningful. It's a shame I was stricken shortly afterwards but two and half years on, the sight of this great actress a few feet away from me, looking right at me, far outshines any stupid depression. What a night.

04 July 2020

Ten Lists of Ten Films For Your Independence Day Enjoyment

Robert Altman's Nashville.
Regular readers of this blog (Mary and Thaddeus Kelso of Winnemucca, Nevada) may recall that on Memorial Day I provided ten lists of ten films in ten different categories. It included my ten favorite French films, ten favorite films from the 1920s etc. Much to everyone's confusion I have decided to make this a regular holiday feature. Therefore you can look for the third installment of this series on Labor Day. Meanwhile, please enjoy today's lists -- or not, entirely up to you.

My Ten Favorite Fils Directed by Robert Altman
1. Nashville (1975)
2. California Split (1974)
3. McCabe and Mrs.Miller (1971)
4. Gosford Park (2001)
5. The Long Goodbye (1973)
6. MASH (1970)
7. 3 Women (1977)
8. Short Cuts (1993)
9. A Wedding (1978)
10. Brewster McCloud (1970)

My Ten Favorite Film With Cities As Or In Their Title 
1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) Capra
2. Casablanca (1942) Curtiz
3. Midnight in Paris (2011) Allen
4. Rome, Open City (1945) Rossellini
5. The Shanghai Express (1932) von Sternberg
6. The Philadelphia Story (1940) Cukor
7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) Allen
8. Paris, Texas (1984) Wenders
9. Fargo (1996) Coens
10. Gangs of New York (2002) Scorsese

My Ten Favorite Italian Films
1. La Dolce Vita (1960) Fellini
2. Amarcord (1973) Fellini
3. Rome, Open City (1945) Rossellini
4. L’Eclisse (1962) Antonioni 
5. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) Petri
6. Red Desert (1964) Antonioni 
7. Umberto D (1952) De Sica
8. The Nights of Cabiria (1957) Fellini
9. The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) Rossellini
10. The Organizer (1963) Monicelli

The Seventh Seal
My Ten Favorite Films from the 1950s
1. The Seventh Seal (1957) Bergman
2. Sunset Blvd. (1950) Wilder
3. Umberto D (1952) De Sica
4. The Nights of Cabiria (1957) Fellini
5. The Searchers (1956) Ford
6. The Burmese Harp (1956) Ichikawa
7. On the Waterfront (1954) Kazan
8. Vertigo (1958) Hitchcock
9. Rashomon (1950) Kurosawa
10. The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Mackendrick

My Ten Favorite Bette Davis Films
1. The Letter (1940) Wyler
2. Jezebel (1938) Wyler
3. All About Eve (1950) Mankiewicz
4. Petrified Forest (1936) Mayo
5. Marked Woman (1937) Bacon
6. Little Foxes (1941) Wyler
7. The Cabin in the Cotton (1932) Curtiz
8. The Man Who Come to Dinner (1942) Keighley
9. Front Page Woman (1935) Curtiz
10. Watch on the Rhine (1943) Shumlin

Ten Favorite Films With An Important Scene or Scenes on a Train
1. Europa (1991) von Trier
2. The 39 Steps (1935) Hitchcock
3. The Iron Horse (1924 Ford
4. The Last Detail (1973) Ashby
5. The General (1926) Keaton
6. The Train (1964) Frankenheimer
7. The Wild Bunch (1969) Peckinpah
8.  Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Hitchcock
9. Wild Boys of the Road (1933) Wellman
10. Some Like it Hot (1959) Wilder

Ten Favorite Films that Won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay
1. Citizen Kane (1941) Welles
2. Sunset Blvd. (1950) Wilder
3. On the Waterfront (1954) Kazan
4. Chinatown (1974) Polanski
5. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Lumet
6. Network (1976) Lumet
7. Annie Hall (1977) Allen
8. Pulp Fiction (1994) Tarantino
9. Midnight in Paris (2011) Allen
10. Birdman (2014) Inarritu

Harold and Maude
Ten Favorite Films Filmed in the SF Bay Area
1. Vertigo (1958) Hitchcock
2. Harold and Maude (1971) Ashby
3. The Conversation (1974) Coppala
4. Play it Again, Sam (1972) Ross
5. Blue Jasmine (2013) Allen
6. Bullitt (1968) Yates
7. Zodiac (2007) Fincher
8. What’s Up, Doc? (1972) Bogdanovich
9. Blindspotting (2018) Estrada
10. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) Talbot

Ten Great Films that Featured Actors Who Starred in a Sit Com
1. The Godfather (1972 Coppola Abe Vigoda -- Barney Miller
2. Rebel Without a Cause (1955) Ray Jim Backus -- Gilligan's Island
3. The Wild Bunch (1969) Peckinpah Ernest Borgnine -- McHale's Navy
4. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) Allen Alan Alda -- M*A*S*H
5. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) Leonardo Di Caprio -- Growing Pains
6. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Capra Donna Reed -- The Donna Reed Show
7. The Big Lebowski(1998) Coens  John Goodman -- Roseanne
8. Pulp Fiction (1994) Tarantino John Travolta -- Welcome Back, Kotter
9. The Conversation (1974) Coppala Cindy Williams -- Laverne & Shirley
10. Blue Jasmine (2013) Allen Alec Baldwin -- 30 Rock

Ten Great Films With a Key Scene or Scenes in the Snow
1. Winter Light (1963) Bergman
2. Christmas in Connecticut (1945) Godfrey
3. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Capra
4. The Shining (1980) Kubrick
5. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) Altman
6. The Gold Rush (1925) Chaplin
7. Citizen Kane (1941) Welles
8. Reds (1981) Beatty
9. Groundhog Day (1993) Ramis
10. The Ascent (1977) Shepitko

03 July 2020

I Meet and Chat With a Former Student of Some Renown and Recommend Screwball Comedies For Him

Not that it needs pointing out, but that's Jorma on the left and me on the right.
He's met, among others, Paul McCartney, Barack Obama, Tom Hanks and Rihanna.

But most impressive is what a fun, interesting all-around nice person he is. His name is Jorma Taccone and he warrants a permanent place in the entertainment hall-of-fame for being a co-creator of Saturday Night Live's Digital Shorts and the co-director and co-star of the hilarious film, Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016).

I labored as a middle school teacher in Berkeley for 20 odd years (and I do mean, odd). In that time I accumulated over 2,000 former students. Many of my students I forgot entirely within two months of the last day of school. Others I'll never forget. I have tried to follow the exploits of as many of my more memorable former charges as possible. I have had former students go on to all eight Ivy League schools, Cal, Stanfurd (can't win 'em all), Wisconsin, U$C, Washington, Michigan and many other prestigious universities. I have students who are now lawyers, doctors, engineers, business, execs, playwrights, professional athletes, professors and even public school teachers. I also have had at least eight who have died by gunshot and at least six who are in prison, one of whom is on death row for a double homicide. It takes all kinds and teaching in Berkeley I had all kinds.

Among my more memorable students were Jorma and his partners in comedy, Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer. I'd have remembered all three even if they'd not gone on to fame and fortune. But they are celebrities and I've had the pleasure of enjoying their work for many years. I forgot to confirm this with Jorma, but I may have been the only teacher who had all three as students. My mentorship undoubtedly accounts for their success.

L-R, Jorma, Andy, Avika
Their climb to notoriety began with their formation of The Lonely Island and the many hilarious videos they created (please go to You Tube and enjoy some, you may want to begin with the side-splitting, Awesometown). From there they landed gigs on Saturday Night Live, Avika and Jorma as writers and Andy as a cast member. They have continued their work -- sometimes together, sometimes solo -- between them writing, directing and acting in films and TV. Andy is currently on the best of the network sitcoms, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

I'd been in contact with Jorma over Twitter and as he is currently in the Bay Area (I'll protect his exact location from adoring fans and the tabloids) and we arranged to met for coffee, which we did this morning.

My day was immediately made when Jorma, on behalf of his cohorts, sang my praises as a teacher. Aw shucks. One of the great things about teaching is the kind words you hear from former students and the realization that you had a positive impact on so many lives. Teaching is worth it for that alone (although the huge salaries are a real plus too).

Jorma was gracious and charming and took interest in my doings and solicited my opinions -- as a historian of sorts -- on current events. He also had to withstand the onslaught of glowing adjectives I attached to much of his work, Pop Star and Digital Shorts among them. In the case of the latter I asked the question on the minds of millions: when will we see Laser Cats, The Movie? Evidently it is not an impossibility. Jorma has directed several episodes of The Last O.G. so I asked what it's like working with Tracy Morgan. He is, it seems, a handful (who'd have guessed?) but most professional about his work, his lines always learned. But Tracy does like to tell ribald stories at times and places that are not always appropriate (like on a set just before filming).

Also confirmed was that Seth Myers is an extremely nice person as is Tom Hanks who Jorma said does an excellent job of being what you'd expect Tom Hanks to be. I knew what he meant. I also heard about Lorne Michels, Rihanna, Andy and Akiva and Jorma's wife Marielle Heller who directed the brilliant Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) as well as las year's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood featuring that Hanks chap.

His Girl Friday
We talked, families, travel, middle school memories and the art of comedy. Surprisingly it turns out that I can be of some help in this area as Jorma has yet to see some of the great screwball comedies of Hollywood's Golden Age. I promised to forward him  a list of my favorites to get him started and cunningly decided to put it into a blog post and send this to him. (If he's smart -- and he is -- he'll just skip down to the list.)

I feel it bears repeating that this was a wonderful couple of hours for me and has washed away the Coronavirus depression that had laid me low the past few days. Goodness, it was just nice to talk to someone outside the family and local squirrels for a change. That the conversation was with such a nice young man who I had privilege of teaching made it all the better. Now if he can just direct a love story in which I star opposite of Rihanna....

Here Ya Go, Jorma, My 12 Favorite Screwball Comedies (in order)
1. His Girl Friday (1940) Hawks
2. Sullivan's Travels (1941) Sturges
3. My Man Godfrey (1936) La Cava
4. Holiday (1938) Cukor
5. The Lady Eve (1941) Sturges
6. Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) Hall
7. The Philadelphia Story (1940) Cukor
8. Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) Hitchcock
9. Easy Living (1937) Leisen 
10. The Awful Truth (1937) McCarey
11. Twentieth Century (1934) Hawks
12. Midnight (1939) Leisen

02 July 2020

Three Topics: Halfway Through the Year From Hell; Don't Take to me about Overrated Films; I Answer Frequently-Asked Questions

Rihanna, with whom I have a "relationship."
We're just past the halfway point of 2020 and so far this year -- let's see I want to be especially careful with my choice of words here -- sucks. I submit as evidence one word: pandemic. That's pretty much all you need right there. We don't get a lot of pandemics, indeed it's been 100 years since anything resembling it. Of course in the United States the pandemic has been especially bad because of the country's Idiot-in-Chief. Good lord but Trumpie is an endless source of idiocy, nonsense, hate, bigotry and despair. Hopefully he'll suffer a resounding election defeat in November thus salvaging something from this year. Then in 2021 most of the Trump-related news will be about his arrest, trial and conviction. That assuming there's any justice in the world.

Couple days ago I went to Twitter and the first tweet I saw was someone asking what people thought were the the most overrated films of all time. He offered two of his own. Both classic films that I happen to revere. My response was to mute the person's account, I don't need to be exposed to any more of his nonsense. And no, it was not that he selected two of my favorite movies that rankled me, it was the very notion. When you claim a film is overrated what you're really saying is: here's a critically acclaimed and/or widely popular movie that I don't like. Totally uninteresting and meaningless. If someone wants to discuss or list underrated films I'm all in. I enjoy celebrating films I love while I'm passionately uninterested (I've determined that you can be passionate about a disinterest) in discussing movies I don't like. I'm perfectly okay with dissecting what elevates certain films or types of film to the level of art and what other kinds of films (like your summer blockbusters) tend to be mindless entertainment. In such discussions there are points to be made about our culture, what we value and why. I recently made a mental list of respected films that I don't like and thought of posting on this blog. But I rejected the idea because I recognized that it would serve no purpose and likely piss of those few people who accidentally stumble on this blog and like one or more of said movies. Listing what films you think are overrated or what music or art or books you think are, is a pointless and often mean-spirited exercise that often reflects an over-sized ego. Why not list what kind of fruit you think is overrated or ice cream flavors or colors of the rainbow? It has as much value. On the other hand if you want to discuss overrated historical figures I'd be interested. Here you can present objective arguments and actually have a meaningful dialogue. When I've discussed a movie I like with someone who dislikes it or vise versa, nothing has been accomplished. No one suddenly says, "you're right, that movie does suck!" Oh well.

As a prominent and beloved blogger I get a lot of questions from readers and don't always have time to answer them individually. I'm truly sorry if you've posed a question in the past 12 years that I've not answered. As a means of addressing this issue I here provide some of the most common questions I receive along with replies for each. Hope this helps.

Q. What's your problem?
A. I was dropped on my head as an infant. Also as a toddler, a small child, a bigger child, a pre-teen, a teen and many times as an adult.

Q. You often joke about not having many readers. How many do you actually have?
A. It's pretty much just you and me, buddy.

Q. You don't really have a relationship with Rihanna, do you?
A. I have a restraining order from her that says we do -- of sorts.

Q. Where does the salad fork go?
A. If the salad is served after the entree, the small salad fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork, next to the plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the forks would be arranged (left to right): salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork.

Q. I've been suffering from insomnia, what should I do.
A. Get plenty of sleep.

Q. What's the dumbest thing you've ever done?
A. Hire a band to back up an a cappella choir.

Q. What's a fun fact that not many people know about you?
A. Not only am I not ambidextrous, I never gone hang gliding nor do I own a Shetland pony. What are the odds, am I right?

Q. What is your greatest personal achievement?
A. Answering your question. It was a helluva challenge.

Q. Will you please stop bothering me?
A. I'm sorry Ms.Winslet. All I said is that if you show me your Oscar, I'll show you mine.

Q. What would it take to get you to stop writing?
A. I cannot be bought off at any price.
Q. Not even if that price has six figures?
A. I'm listening

Q. How does your wife stand you?
A. Wine and quaaludes.

Q. What's the best thing about being a blogger?
A. There are good things about blogging?

29 June 2020

My Favorite Documentaries

From Hearts and Minds
Regular readers of this blog (the Goldbergs of Montauk, New York) are familiar with the list of my favorite all time films that features on this blog. They may also note that said list does not include a single documentary, just as my annual top ten lists and favorites of a decade etc. do not. This does not reflect any lack of love on my part of documentaries, a genre of cinema that I have long appreciated and drawn inspiration from. I simply categorize documentaries as different than fictional films. In any event it's high time I got around to featuring my all-time favorites in said category.

The list is led by Hearts and Minds a film I've revered for over 40 years and consider the gold standard of documentaries. It is about American involvement in Vietnam, the history, the lies, the costs, the stories, the dissent. It is also about the U.S. in that most volatile of decades, the sixties. People on the right consider it an unbalanced polemic and they are not totally wrong. But I submit that there lies its strengths. One does not try to give a balanced view of the Holocaust, one exposes it for what it was. This H&M does brilliantly. There's no better example than the scene of a reception in the White House for former Vietnam POWS. Nixon speaks to the gathering and applauds his own decision to launch the Christmas bombing of 1972 that dropped 20,000 tons of bombs on the country and killed over 1,000 people, destroying a hospital in the bargain. His self laudatory remarks are met with a standing ovation. Cut to scenes of the devastation in North Vietnam, focusing finally on a man whose two small children have been killed in the bombing raids. He notes that his eight-year-old daughter was feeding their pigs when the bombs arrived. She died, the pigs survived, he points out. The man holds his daughter's shirt saying that she will never wear it again and asks that the American film crew take it back to America and throw it in Nixon's face. Later there is a scene of much weeping and wailing as Vietnamese are being buried. Survivors are grief-stricken. Cut to American General Westmoreland saying that life is cheap in the "Orient" and that "Orientals" don't value life as we do. Hardly subtle, but then why would you want it to be?

So while H&M remains unparalleled for me, there are many great documentaries on this list and needless to say, I recommend them all most heartily.

1. Hearts and Minds (1974) Davis
2. Monterey Pop (1968) Pennebaker
3. The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) Ophuls
From Studio 54
27. Harlan County USA

27 June 2020

Falling While White, A Weird and Interrupted Blog Post

I'm trying to write a blog post while suffering from a blinding depression. Not sure how it will go and have serious doubts that I can write more than a paragraph or two but sitting and staring at the floor was getting old so I had to try something.

I hope you don't suffer from depression and if you do I hope you're able to get help. Reach out to friends and relatives and of course seek help from health care professionals. Remember that you're not alone.

Last week someone tweeted the following: "So, teenage girls are "young women" and teenage black boys are "threats"? White men: what was it like to have a full childhood?" I responded: "I'm an abuse survivor so I couldn't tell you." There's a lot going on with the original tweet and my response to it (I suppose in modern parlance one would say that "there's a lot to unpack.") First, I readily acknowledge that my being an abuse survivor is irrelevant to the issue. What the tweeter was talking about was white, male, heterosexual privilege, which I, of course, have benefitted from. Females, people of color and LBGTQ children can also be abuse survivors to go along with the vagaries of growing up "different." But I also have a point in that my "normal" status was negated by the abuse I suffered at the hands of my paranoid schizophrenic mother. My childhood wasn't "full" it was torn asunder and caused me a life full of emotional issues.

It is part of the binary thinking that permeates so much discussion of social issues. There is little allowance for nuance, for exceptions, for explanation, for details. A world in black and white is much easier to navigate. It is also easier to deal with people if they are easily classified and when these classifications lead to commonly held assumptions. There are indeed certain....

Blogging was interrupted by me going up some stairs to retrieve something for my darling wife -- tomorrow's our 33rd wedding anniversary -- in the course of which I took a nasty spill coming down some stairs and injured my right ankle. It's not broken but hurts and is swollen. I haven't done a lot of falling in my life as I've always been nimble on my feet. It's a helpless feeling in mid fall when you don't have control over where and how you're going to land. When I hit the ground I feared a break -- I think it's natural to always fear the worst in such instances.

Anyway I've lost momentum on what I originally set out to write which is no great loss. Curiously the fall seems to have knocked the depression out. This I can't explain. Logically I should be feeling even worse having a physical malady to go along with the blues. Maybe it's the writing that has kicked me out of my funk. It's hard to tell with my moods. They rise and fall capriciously. Now that I mention I chatted for a bit with youngest daughter who lives in Brooklyn. Talking to my baby girl always helps.

Now I'm faced with the question of what I should do next. My ankle hurts, I'm stuck in a chair with my foot elevated (the right one, I also have a left foot giving me a total of two, I have a similar number of arms, however I only boast the one head although on it there are pairs of eyes and ears, thus having all my parts is part of the privilege I was born with). So perhaps it's time to wrap it up. I can share more thoughts on binary thinking, institutionalized racism and other topics at a more opportune time.

Geez, now I can't think of how to end this post. Maybe just by stopping

22 June 2020

I Really Watched Four Films in One Day, All Were Short, All Were Good

From God's County by Louis Malle
Assuming you noted the title of this blog post you know what’s coming. Yes indeed I did watch four movies yesterday which at the very least ties a personal record. (What, you think I keep track of these things?). Two of the films were just over an hour long and of the other two, one was just a tad over an hour and half and the other a tad under So I totaled about five and a quarter hours of movie viewing. That’s not outrageous when you consider I watched neither any sports nor TV shows. I also managed to read the Sunday Times, start a book I was given as a Father’s Day gift, eat two hearty meals, snack and washes the dishes — twice.

All four films I watched were courtesy of the Criterion Channel which is one of the greatest innovations in human history ranking just behind the wheel, electricity and donuts. For most of the time the channel has existed (14 and a half months) I’ve had a long list of movies on it to watch. Perhaps this is reflective of my mental state (a state almost as poorly off as Mississippi) but having all these films waiting to be watched had started feeling like a burden. So a few weeks ago I decided to focus on winnowing down the list to a manageable number and to accomplish this before more films were added at the beginning of July when they put up their latest releases. Knocking off four in one day was a huge step towards that, plus all the films were ones I’ve been dying to watch. The Criterion Channel has to compete for my time with the two DVDs I get each week from Netflix, the movies I record from Turner Classic Movies and my own extensive DVD collection of nearly 250 titles.

Obviously you are by now dying to know what I watched yesterday. Since I’m going to list them I’ll also offer a brief review. Here goes.

First up was Luis Bunel’s L'Age d’Or (1930). This completed my tour of the great Spanish director’s films which I began a few months ago. I have either liked or loved every one of his movies that I’ve seen. So I can say it was my least favorite of his films and at the same time aver that I thoroughly enjoyed it. L'Age d’Or has the surrealism that so typed Bunuel’s work, though at times it felt a bit overdone and less a way of telling the story and more a way of showing off. That said it is a splendid film and an enjoyable way to begin my movie marathon. I'd give a capsulize summary but it's not a film that lends itself to one. Suffice to say that if you like Salvador Dali (who was involved in pre-production of the film) and Bunuel, this is a film for you.

Next up was a Louis Malle documentary called God’s Country (1985) which was my favorite offering of the day. In 1979 Malle went to the small Minnesota town of Glencoe and interviewed some of its residents. What a wonderful slice of Americana are created out of it. We meet farmers, an octogenarian with a large garden, the assistant police chief, a banker, a lawyer whose son was a draft resister, a very young couple on their wedding day (she’s 17) and a surprisingly liberated and open woman of 26. The interview with her was the highlight of the film for me. God’s Country is not at all surprising yet it is revelatory and fascinating. It is a small town America that us citified folks often get limited exposure to. We tend to mock such people and their values which is a poor reflection on us. There is an honesty and earnestness in many small town folks that is admirable. But at the same time it’s sad to hear one resident talk about how Blacks aren’t well-liked by many residents and another state that gays are stuck in the closet this community. God's Country is the type of movies that I wanted much, much more of.

From Claude Berri's The Two of Us
Film number three was the only of the day I’d seen before, The Two of Us (1967) directed by Claude Berri.  In Nazi-occupied France a young Jewish boy is sent to live in the country with an older couple neither of whom know the lad’s a Jew. The grandfather is an anti-semite but he loves his new boarder and they get along famously and have a series of adventures. The Three of Us is touching without being cloying. It is sentimental but with edges. Mostly its a delight highlighted as it is by a bravura performance by Michel Simon as the old man.

Rounding out the day’s programming was Cynara (1932) directed by King Vidor (King was his first name, he was not a monarch — but you knew that). Vidor was better known for two silent classics, The Big Parade (1925) and The Crowd (1928), two of the greatest films of the 1920s. Cynara is very much a pre-code film centering as it does around an extra marital affair and it’s consequences. The husband is played by Ronald Coleman. He is his usual debonair self, the quintessence of charm and sophistication. But he “makes a mistake” and falls for a younger woman while his wife is out of the country. Disaster ensues. Kay Francis is the missus and she gives a her usual solid if unspectacular performance. I’m always glad to see Ms. Francis in a film though I don’t think she had terribly great range (not that Colman did). The two are serviceable in their roles as is the young woman in question ably played by Phyillis Barry, an actress who never attained stardom. That Cynara succeeds is a credit to its screenwriter Francis Marion, one of the few female writers working in Hollywood at the time — or for that matter anytime. There are certain destinations that you know the film is going to get to but you’re never sure how.  Cynara was very much a film that relied on how it ended and Marion's screenplay did not disappoint. I liked and believed in the ending and in the movie as a whole. Vidor, so successful with "big stories" proved more than capable of telling a more intimate one.

So there you have it, I was four-for-four making for a most rewarding and enjoyable day and my queue on the Channel is down to a handful, thus easing my troubled mind. Of course now I’ve got a backlog of films I’ve recorded on TCM to get to and there are a number of films in my collection that are overdue for a viewing. A cinephile’s work is never done.