28 July 2012

Pieces of My Mind Related to Everything From Gun Control, to Jarmusch to Bill W. to Movie Lists

Dear Christian Right: Please Shut Up: If you don't want to marry a gay person, don't. If you don't think gay people shouldn't marry, that's your right, you're entitled to any bigoted notion you've a mind to. But don't try to impose your Dark Ages values on the rest of us. I'm speaking to you Chick-fil-a president Dan Cathy. Please keep in mind that this is not a Christian nation anymore than it is a Muslim one, Jewish one or Hindu one or Pagan one. It is however a nation in which people are free to practice whatever religion they choose. They should remember that their religious views are their own to have and to hold and do not belong in political discourse. Hey, Cathy! Instead of pumping money into anti gay marriage initiatives, why not put it towards the kind of charitable efforts that your supposed lord and savior would applaud. Maybe something like helping poor people. Just a thought.

Anytime is the Right Time to Discuss Gun Control: In the wake of the shooting last week in Colorado, right wing commentators crawled out from under their rocks to holler about this not being the appropriate time to talk about gun control. I suppose in their minds the "right time" would be when gun deaths in the U.S. average zero a day. Given that the current average is 87, that day may be a ways off. I'd like to propose that every day is a good day to talk about how to keep guns out of the hands of the insane and automatic assault weapons out of the hands of, oh...let's say -- everybody. It used to be when their was a gun related tragedy in this country the NRA would go on the defensive. Not anymore. Now they go on the offensive. And a more paranoid group of people you never encountered. They are dead sure that President Obama is going to try to pry their guns away from their warm living hands although he hasn't showed the balls yet to even mention gun control. They're also convinced that Americans need their guns to protect themselves from the government. Seriously. This kind of dystopian fantasy is baffling. One final note: you notice that the people against gay marriage are usually the same folks who are against gun control. In other words they feel more threatened by two people of the same gender making a life commitment to one another then they are of AK-47s. These are some seriously messed up people.

My Name is Richard and I'm....: Thursday night I had the privilege of seeing a screening of a new documentary called Bill W. about Bill Wilson the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are a  number of famous people who have been in 12 step programs, but Bill W. is the only person I know of whose entire claim to fame was based on his getting sober. In any case he richly deserves any accolades and fame that posthumously come his way. His anonymity is shot, so what the hell. Time magazine named him one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century. As one speaker in the film said, "if Bill hadn't come along someone else would have started it, but he's the one who did it." Amen brother. AA has a simple perfection to it: finding sobriety and living a life of recovery by  sharing your story and surrounding yourself with fellow alcoholics in recovery. The secret is that getting clean is simply part one, a means to living a life without the influence of drugs or alcohol is the real heart of the program. There is no cure, this is about the journey, not a destination. It's a wonderful structure because you can take from it what you want. "The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking." And if after attending meetings for a week, a month, a year or ten years, if you go out and get drunk you can walk right back into a meeting and everyone will say "welcome!" Bill W. is an excellent documentary because it is, like the man it profiles, honest and humorous. It does not make Bill Wilson out to be a saint. He is presented as he was: a remarkable man but one with flaws just like the rest of us. While the film will have special meaning to the recovery community, it should appeal to a wide audience and I hope it comes to a theater near you soon. I attend the screening with Kevin L. a friend and model of how it works. This is a shout out to my long time pal.

To Jarmusch or not to Jarmusch: Decades ago I saw the Jim Jarmusch film, Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and frankly I can't tell you what I thought of it. But more recently I saw and loved Broken Flowers (2005) which starred Bill Murray. I finally decided to dive headlong into his work. My first stop was Dead Man (1995) starring Johnny Depp which I thought was an interesting and excellent film and so could not wait to see more. Next up was The Limits of Control (2009) which was one step above watching grass grow only because when you watch grass grow Tilda Swinton doesn't happen by. Yesterday I tried Coffee & Cigarettes (2003) and it was not so much boring as it was irritating, annoying and obnoxious. So it looks like, for me, Jarmusch is hit or miss and I'm leery of investing anymore time on him when I can always just watch a Bergman film or plays Words with Friends. I think I'll give Night on Earth (1991) a shot, but it'll be on a short lease. Usually a director, even the best of them, has an occasional clunker mixed in with their masterpieces (see Hitchcock's (The Paradine Case (1947) but two out and out bombs is unusual.

Just What We Don't Need - A List of Bad Films: Earlier this week the San Francisco Chronicle ran a list of the 100 worst film of the century so far and no I'm not going to link it. A better title, one that actually would have been accurate, would have been, One Guy Lists the Movies he's Hated so Far in this Century. The very embodiment of being pretentious is labeling art you don't like as the worst and art you do like as the best. You're always just talking about your favorites. Your own personal opinion which is never any better or worse than mine or that raving lunatic who hangs out downtown. I stupidly looked at the list only because a co-worker was and she was loudly exclaiming her disagreement with some of his choices. Most movies were ones that had been universally panned by critics, but there were some that were well thought of including one of my favorite films of all time. So this is the kind of thing that is just going to piss people off. Maybe that's the point. The critic says: let me rile up the hoi polloi and see what kind of nasty emails I get. But the worst thing about such an exercise is that its done by a nationally known critic and film historian. This is what he wants to invest his time in?  How about using your talents to celebrate some lesser known films that the masses are unaware of?  In other words, instead of ticking people off needlessly, how about enlightening them? Too hard, perhaps.

Final Thought: There's so much in the world to get blindly depressed about (see global warming, droughts, heat waves, corporate greed, haters having to hate) that its important to spend some time with flowers, grass, trees, good music, good food, family and friends and movies that you love. Remind yourself to give time to the good stuff. We all deserve it.

14 July 2012

Happy Ingmar Bergman's Birthday


The great Dick Cavett interviewed Bermgman in 1971. Today is the 96th anniversary of Bergman's birth. Also read this letter from Stanley Kubick to Bergman, which says it all better than I could.

10 July 2012

My Great Idea for a Money-Making Film In Which Too Much is Never Enough

I have a great idea for a film and I believe it could actually turn a profit. I am not copywriting this idea so its totally up for grabs. It's actually quite simple. Imagine this if you will: take an existing comic book hero and tell his story cinematically.  Ka-ching!

A charismatic, handsome big name male star should be in the lead. He should crack wise whenever possible. He should have no extreme character traits and be perfectly apolitical. While the gentleman should be muscular and quite masculine he should be neither overly buff nor unusually tall, leave that for the villains who I'll address later.

The hero should, of course, have an alter ego that is in stark contrast if not totally opposite to his super hero persona. No more than one or two others should now of his true identity. Our hero should have a humble assistant who is at his beck and call. Said sidekick should be witty, self effacing but every loyal. There need also be a love interest. This should be a female who is, shall we say, easy on the eyes. There need be some form of tensions between them, perhaps owing to his super heroic activities and to the woman's strong independent streak. The actress in the role should be popular, though need not either be a star not particularly skilled at acting. There should be a number of recognizable character actors sprinkled about the film, many respected older actors looking for a quick buck.

No hero is of any use without enemies. We should first introduce our hero easily besting some less competent but dastardly bad guys. Later, after we've developed some of our hero's back story (perhaps he has a dark past!!!) and the complications adherent to superheroing, we will meet a serious opponent. it might even be worthwhile to have said baddie be already known as respectable citizen, maybe even one who is acquainted with our hero. He should also be played a well known actor, maybe even one who has typically played sympathetic characters. The illusion should always be that this is actual serious film making and having beloved actors in the film fuels this fiction.

Villains are entitled to boast gargantuan proportions or even an unfair set of weapons. Of course the villain has wreaked havoc with the innocent and has more nefarious plans in the offing. His victory must be seen as catastrophic, this can be no mere bank robbery our hero is foiling.

The film must set up a final confrontation, a battle royal shall we say, between the hero (force of good) and the villain (force of evil). This battle must be a seesaw affair where our hero seems to on the verge of an easy victory before a sudden reversal puts the nogoodnik in a seemingly insurmountable advantage. However, through pluck determination and even a little bit of luck that those in the right are fully entitled to, our hero prevails.

Maybe the villain survives the defeat and we are set up for the inevitable series of sequels to come in which our hero is repeatedly tested in battles he will continually win. This is not so much a movie as a franchise with net profits as great as the number of suckers with extra ten and 20 bills.

The film should feature the latest and best in special effects, the more dazzling the better. They should help distract audiences from the true vacuity of the story. The action should be piled on hot and heavy with little room for rumination.  Fast cuts and quick editing are a must. Explosions and crashes are to be emphasized. Character development should be superficial and strictly stereotyped. Nothing truly human should be seen or felt at any time. After all this is cinema as distraction with no attempt at art. This will guarantee a tremendous payday for all investors. Remember this is a capitalist venture which means that the bottom line is the bottom and only line. Get the public hooked on the film like its a drug. They'll demand more such films with better and better special effects and more and more action. Too much will never be enough. Audience as addicts.

The rental and sale of DVDs will ensure further profits and even more can be obtained via product placement and commercial tie ins with brother industries such as fast food chains.

There it is. Yours for the taking. All I ask in return is a brief mention during the ten minute closing credits that roll on and on before a once packed theater that is nearly empty save for the spilled popcorn and Milk Duds boxes.

05 July 2012

Three Rock Films and Two Thirties Classics and the Author Riffin'

I want to write like Kerouac and Ginsberg in my Berkeley brain and put it on paper and read it aloud in 1956 to cool people in a cool club where they  dig it and say so just before I get invited to a party by Neal Cassady and Gerry Mulligan wails on his sax. Or I turn up at a Hendrix concert and watch and listen and then go dancing with Grace Slick and more and more and fun galore. Run my mind high on Howl on Sal Paradise and Sylvia Plath poems and Joplin tearing up a song while The Who blow up the stage and we all fly to places of lovely beyond where we groove. Groovy. Movie.

What I've scene (no sic).

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival 1967 (1968). Oh man. The aforementioned Hendrix and Joplin and Who and Grace Slick with the Jefferson Airplane not to mention the unaforementioned Mamas and Papas and Simon and Garfunkel and Hugh Masekela and Otis Redding and Eric Burdon and The Animals and The Association and Ravi Shankar and Laura Nyro and the never to be aforementioned more. Wow. And wow again. Great acts at a fascinating time in American culture and history and of course just music. Just on the cusp of the Summer of Love with hippies in full hipness and such a good vibe no hint of any future bad acid trip you know. The footage of just the people there at that amazing three day concert is righteously cool and this is one of the better documentaries and music DVDs ever.

Gimme Shelter (1970). Bummer. As cinema this is a totally bodacious documentary, as a concert given by the Stones for free at the Altamont speedway here in the sticks of the outer Bay Area this was supreme downer. Crowds out of control especially with Hell's Angels providing "security" or whatever the f--- they were doing and killing a guy -- caught on tape. Three hundred thousand people at one poorly planned venue with a lot of bad acid and other drugs both good bad and c'mon is the devil's own recipe. Get the full story here. Great if disturbing stuff. (Historical and personal side note: on that day I was at a 49ers game with my dad, beat Chicago 42-21. Hah!)

Jimi Plays Berkeley (1971). This was filmed where and around where I was going to high school at the time. At the time. In addition to Hendrix performing there are scenes of the protests I attended and  watching them brought back memories of tear gas and rock chucking and police in riot gear and Vietnam and People's Park and the fear and excitement mixed together creating adrenalin doubled, tripled. Will reserve judgement on this film because a brand spanking new and improved version is coming out like next week and I've got to see that re-mastered version with all its more stuff in it.

Les Miserables (1934) Kind of deviating from a theme here but have to give this amazing discovery a shout out. Read that this is widely considered the definitive cinematic version of the Victor Hugo masterpiece. Can't say, as I've not seen them all but can say that this three-part nearly five hour film from France is truly magnificent. Raymond Bernard directed and Harry Baur stars as Jean Valjean. If you get Hulu Plus you can watch it there or just rent it from Netflix. You'll be seeing a sumptuous work with beautiful detailed sets, great cinematography, bravura action scenes and an amazing cast. I love, love, loved it.

The 39 Steps (1935). I've watched this Hitchcock thriller nearly a dozen times and like it more with each viewing. Any true Hitch fun will love it and see how it influenced so many of his later films especially North by Northwest. Criterion has a new edition out that makes it even better to look at. Also some nice no bonus features.

Have seen other stuff as well. Much of it swell. And been reading some really good poetry which is better than watching your television (hey, what isn't?). And of course reading Kerouac to no end my mind to bend and thinking about you. You who come here and read and how so many times there is nothing new because....Oh I work a lot now you know and I write "other stuff" that is like very important to me and maybe -- hopefully -- you'll see it some day. Some. Day.