31 March 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day Sixteen, Entry Six, A Preview of Forthcoming Films is Provided

From No Country For Old Hen
It’s been just over two weeks and there’s at the very minimum another four weeks (and that’s wildly optimistic) of this god awful quarantine. This is my first ever quarantine (how many have you had?) and it is starting to carry with it a weighty and oppressive depression. I was going to write about how sad this all is and how it's made all the worse because we have a pea-brained, prevaricating, narcissist in the White House, but the thought of it made me feel even worse. Better, I reckoned, to distract myself from the pain and do something light that might have the added benefit of entertaining and enlightening my readers (both of us).

While rummaging through the dark portals of the internet I recently came across cache of Hollywood scripts that had been green-lighted and were in full production or already completed. What I found remarkable about these films was a new marketing strategy whereby new films are to be given titles that are only one letter off from already well-known movies. One assumes the geniuses in Hollywood know their stuff. So I now provide some of these forthcoming titles along with very brief synopses and a snippet from production notes.

Raging Bill. A biopic about disgraced Fox News personality, Bill O’Reilly. Christian Bale stars and predictably Jay Roach directed. Bound to annoy conservatives and titillate liberals with low brow tastes.

The Man Who Would Be Bing. This is the story of a Bing Crosby impersonator who loses his mind and becomes convinced that he is in fact the legendary (and deceased) crooner. A study of the powers of celebrity, nostalgia and psychosis.

The Last Retail. A post apocalyptic tale of the last retail store. Very dark but beautifully shot in muted tones by Ridley Scott with Viggo Mortensen as the gruff but lovable assistant manager.

Dead Man Talking. This the story of a garrulous ghost. A comedy for the whole family with Eddie Murphy voicing the deceased gabber. This seemingly light fare touches upon our anxiety over death and our fear of being cornered by a motor-mouth.

The Big Sheep. A scientific experiment goes awry and a rural area is overrun by massive sheep. A modern horror story/sci fi thriller that will have audiences pondering eternal questions. Look for a Jeff Goldblum cameo as the bemused veterinarian.

Apocalypse Wow. A completely different take on the end times. This is a rollicking musical about the end of the world. Replete with toe tapping numbers and catchy tunes. Think La La Land meets The Road.

The Limes of Others. A psychological thriller about a farmer who becomes obsessed with the superior lime production of his neighbors. This tale of jealousy and madness will recall Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Joaquin Phoenix stars.

Scenes From a Carriage. Comprised entirely of conversations in carriage rides in 19th century New York. Very New Wave, Avant Garde and edgy. It’s My Dinner With Andre writ large.

No Country for Old Hen. This animated feature is destined to be a classic. The titular old hen finds that she is unwelcome on her farm and sets out on a journey of self-discovery in which she befriends numerous other wise or witty talking animals. Look for a live action feature edition a few years down the road with Wanda Sykes as the hen.

The Graves of Wrath. In this the latest zombie film, the dead rise in anger because their cemetery has fallen into ill repair. The cast includes a bevy of A list stars slumming to make a few extra bucks.

A Dish Called Wanda. Another animated feature, this one is about how objects in a kitchen come to life. They revolt against the humans in their house with the knives serving as the shock troops. The rebel leader is a dish named Wanda (Cate Blanchett in her most challenging role to date).

Gulp Fiction. Interconnected stories about people eating and drinking hastily. Cinema verite at its finest. Destined to be a cult classic.

The Seventh Meal. In this allegorical tale of gluttony, foodies over- indulge, eating seven meals in a single evening. Hidden truths are revealed and no one is spared in this epic drama from Paul Thomas Anderson.

Mead Girls. In an ode to the Italian Neo-Realism films of the early 1950s, Mead girls is a stark and honest look at the lives of young women who serve mead at a popular Brooklyn Mead Bar. A black and white film with no frills but plenty to say.

The Slop Around the Corner. The latest from the Coen Brothers defies easy description. It is ostensibly about a resident in an otherwise bucolic neighborhood who refuses to dispose of his trash. But there’s a lot going on here, especially with a rich cast of  eccentric characters. 

25 March 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day Ten, Entry Five, A Young George Clooney is Spotted

Photo by author taken today from my junior high alma mater.
A grand day for a walk. We'd had rain yesterday and this morning so the skies were a bright and clean and an azure blue. There were lovely clouds in the distance (mostly in the sky). The green of lawns, flowers, trees and leprechauns were especially vibrant and the temperature was in the upper 50s. Cool but not cold. So I made my walk a long one and once again strolled through my past. This time I visited the neighborhood were I grew up and walked around the grounds of my childhood residence. So much has changed and so much is exactly as it was lo those many (many) years ago. I should perhaps say many decades ago.

Walked around the junior high I attended and where I spent many an hour playing basketball, soccer, baseball and smoking weed. (Not at the same time.) There were a lot of people about but all seemed to be diligent about maintaining social distances, including the many joggers. Oddly I felt I was walking in enemy territory. For many years I taught at a different middle school in Berkeley and coached its soccer team and my alma mater was, of course, a bitter rival. I only spent two years as a student at the school but I spent over 15 coaching against it. Loyalties switch.

It was another day for me to be steeped in nostalgia this time with memories from being everything from six to 12 to 17. I've read that nostalgia can be good for you which should mean I'm quite healthy as I've a tendency to wallow in it.

My walk lasted close to 90 minutes and will have to suffice for today's exercise. I miss the gym and will eventually have to start doing some work outs at home. Dumbbells have been ordered. (No, we haven't sent for stupid people, I refer instead to weights -- for lifting. This witticism relies on a person knowing that dumbbell can be a way to insult a person by suggesting they are dumb....Never mind.)

Prior to my walk and just after teaching my class (online -- blgh!). I watched -- with wife and oldest daughter -- an episode of Murder She Wrote which aired on CBS for 12 years starting in 1984, I believe on Sunday nights. I had idled a few hours watching the show during its heyday but it became regular watching for the better half and some years later she watched re-runs with the aforementioned daughter. They have recently decided to stroll down memory lane and watch it again. I joined them today as the episode (the third of the series) was set and filmed in San Francisco. As it turned out much of it was filmed near the location of the school I taught at for seven and half years.
Snapped this picture on my walk. The car looks to be at least 70 years old.
In this episode Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) helps an SFPD Homicide detective solve a murder. It is well-known that police departments across the country love nothing more than to have private citizens help them solve cases. In Jessica's case she's even allowed a personal and private interview an accused murder right there in lock up. Ms. Fletcher also somehow knows where the detective lives and pops in on him at will. Of course.

So the show was ridiculous (interesting how wherever Ms. Fletcher went there happened a murder shortly after her arrival) but kind of fun in an I'll-never-do-this-again kind of way. I read about the episode on IMDb right after we watched it and noted in the trivia section that George Clooney had played a waiter. We hadn't noticed him. Oldest daughter decided to play sleuth herself and find his appearance. He was easy enough to have missed on first viewing because he was so damn young and barely recognizable and his role was so small. But we saw a waiter who resembled a young Clooney and when he spoke his line we recognized his voice. It was him all right. Not surprisingly it was one of his first credited appearances. As you may know, he went on to bigger and better.

After the walk I jawed with my two fellow quarantinees (to coin a word) for a bit, then called on my good buddy the Criterion Channel for amusement and edification. I chose to watch a Kelly Reichardt film, Wendy and Lucy (2008). I've seen all her films and this is my favorite as well as perhaps her most popular. I suppose I should write more about Ms. Reichardt and what is so appealing about her work. Maybe after I see her latest film, First Cow which I'd planned to see at a local theater two weeks ago but then this stupid coronavirus got in the way. Damn it.

Meanwhile the quarantine drags on, much to no one's amusement. I did note today that four different people offered me a cheery hello during my wanderings. I've heard that this happening a lot. It's understandable and most welcome that people should exchange pleasantries when deprived of the regular human contact one is generally afforded in normal life. (Remember normal life?)

Maybe some day soon we'll all be able to mingle in and share common spaces in shops, restaurants, ballparks and theaters. Here's hoping.

23 March 2020

I Proudly Introduce My First Novel, Lesson Plan

Since I was eight years old I've dreamt of having a novel published. After numerous attempts it was beginning to look like my dream might never be realized. Publisher after publisher, agent after agent rejected the three different books I've written. This became particularly frustrating recently with my novel, Lesson Plan which I was fully confident was at the very least worth publishing and perhaps was even an excellent work. Thanks to Amazon Kindle I was able to self-publish the book at no cost on kindle (if you don't have a kindle reader you can download the app for free) and it will soon be available on paperback. It does not equate to my fantasy of being published by Random House after receiving a huge advance, but it will do.

Lesson Plan was years in the making. My first version of it was completed seven years ago. Needless to say it was turned down by one and all. I forgot about it and moved on to other projects. I finished another novel a year ago and started sending out query letters for it. Meanwhile I "dusted off" Lesson Plan and took a look at it. I had two initial reactions: one, it stunk, two, it had enormous potential. Last Spring and Summer I took a hammer, chisel and sandblaster to it and turned the sow's ear into what I believe to be a silk purse.

Lesson Plan is set in a Berkeley middle school that is quite like the one where I taught for nearly 20 years. It takes place in 1999. The novel's prologue is the first few seconds after a grizzly shooting that has left one person dead. But the book mostly concerns itself with the two weeks leading up to this tragedy as seen through the lives of six main characters. One of the characters is a history teacher named Charlie Grant who bears a slight resemblance to yours truly. He is being threatened for termination because of a short temper that he inflicts on students (unlike me) but he is a dedicated educator (like me). Charlie Grant suffers from severe panic disorder (like me) was raised by a paranoid schizophrenic mother (like me) is divorced  (unlike me). A second character is the school's vice principal, a woman who is also divorced but whose real pain started with the death of her lover, another woman. The only thing she hates worse than her job is not working at all. A third adult character is a young man with serious mental/emotional issues who has gone off his meds. He lives across the street from the school and becomes entwined -- in odd ways -- with a student and an employee of the school.

Three students make up the other main characters. John Henry is a precocious 8th grader who has skipped two grades and whose intellectual capacity actually qualifies him for high school. As our story begins John Henry has recently discovered the fairer sex and has become obsessed with sex in general and a few of his female classmates in particular. Ricky Bresnahan is a popular boy who is a soccer star. His pursuits include the cutest girl in the school and getting high. The cross Ricky has to bear is his intrusive parents who he worries will discover his pot supply. The third student is Jimmy Hart an African American boy who dreams of playing in the NBA. However he struggles with grades and thus remaining eligible for the team. He is also exploring issues around race.

A few other students are also introduced including one who is being sexually assaulted by her step father and another who discovers she is John Henry's object of desire.

The lives of all the principal characters intersect on the day of the shooting.

Lesson Plan explores issues of isolation, changing relationships, finding one's place in society and feeling alone and different.

The book is based in large part on my own experiences working at a middle school.

I'm very proud of Lesson Plan. I believe it is an honest book that will in many ways be relatable to people of all ages and backgrounds and I also believe it will shed light on the middle school experience as it is for students, staff and society. I mean it to be a thought-provoking book that will engender conversations.

I hope that you will consider reading the book and that if you do read it and enjoy it, that you will share it with others. I'm relying on word of mouth to make people aware of Lesson Plan. I do not expect to make much -- if any -- money on Lesson Plan -- but I do hope people read it. The more the better. Writing the book was a labor of love but I also had in mind that people would read it.

Thank you.

21 March 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day Six, Entry Four, I Talk to a Confused Squirrel

That's Strawberry Creek which meanders through campus
Keen observers of this blog (both of us) may have noted that there was no post yesterday and that two days prior instead of Coronavirus Quarantine Diary I had a post on film quotes. Get used to it. This will be fairly consistent but somewhat sporadic and totally unpredictable -- like life.

I have lived during the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate, political assassinations aplenty (JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcom X, Harvey Milk) the AIDS epidemic the dawn of a new millennium, protests, demonstrations, riots, terrorists attacks, mass shootings, the illegal invasion of Iraq, the first three years of a narcissistic, incompetent, lying, morally bankrupt president but nothing compares to this stupid, mother fucking virus.

Through all else I could still go to a ball game, watch live sports, eat at a restaurant, take in a film, browse in a bookstore and go to orgies (full disclosure, never been to an orgy). Now none of those wonderful diversions are available. The only good thing is that it's easy as hell to cross what are normally busy streets.

Fuck this.

It's a strange new world and there's nothing romantic about it. It is a painfully boring, uninspiring form of tragedy which will mainly be remembered for isolating people. It's not quite a week yet and I, like millions of others, am over it. Make that like tens of millions of others, hell hundreds of millions.

Took a long walk today. Again.

I traipsed through the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. It was as lovely as ever, especially with so few other people strolling about. (I can't wait until we are overcome again by the hustle and bustle.) I stopped on numerous occasions. I stopped and looked at the creek, I stopped and looked at plaques, I stopped and looked at trees, I stopped and looked at flowers, I stopped and looked at an empty Sproul Plaza, I stopped and looked at lawns, I stopped and looked at the eucalyptus grove, I stopped and looked at the Campanile, I stopped and looked at the Pappy Waldorf statue, I stopped and looked the architecture, I stopped and looked at the huge puffy white clouds. I stopped. I looked. Absent the circumstances, it was most pleasant.

One of the plaques I looked at commemorated the arrival of a Spanish expedition to the area around Strawberry Creek in 1772. That's a far ways back when you're talking about Berkeley or even California -- unless the topic is the Ohlone or any of the other native tribes who made this area their home for centuries until whitey came along.

A virtually deserted campus
During my walk one of the ubiquitous panhandling squirrels of the UC campus approached me. The squirrels on campus are known to be fearless, having figured out that a human is far more likely to toss some victuals their way than they are to cause harm. But this squirrel did not get all cutesy and wag its furry tail or hop around. It just looked at me and asked, "where the hell are all the people?"
I explained about Covid-19. "Well, that sucks," replied the squirrel, "looks like the family and I are on our own for food for awhile." I replied, "I guess you are." The squirrel asked, "say, have you got any nuts or anything on you?" I said that I didn't but, "I've got a couple of bucks you're welcome to."
The squirrel gave me the side eye and snapped, "come on dude, what am I gonna do with money? Be real." I allowed that it was perhaps a stupid offer. We wished each other well and then one of us scampered up a tree.

I later alit from the tree and moseyed on home.

The day has been occupied with much of the usual. Chatting with the wife, reading, being alternately angry, depressed and amused at what I read online and watching a movie. I can safely predict that more reading and another movie await. I will also be enjoying the dinner that the missus is just now preparing. I'm very good about dispensing the food she cooks. Usually down my gullet.

I've also done a bit of writing. I've got two novels in the works in addition to the one that is complete and available for reading via Amazon Kindle. I'll be dedicating an entire post to a discussion about said novel soon.

That's a wrap on today's blog post. If you enjoyed reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it then I got twice the pleasure out of it as you. So there.

P.S. The coronavirus sucks and you can tell it I said so.

19 March 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day Four, Entry Three, I Teach While Wearing Slippers

I took this picture during my walk today.
It has been day four of the coronavirus quarantine but this is my third entry because yesterday my blog post was dedicated to film quotes. I've no idea how often I'll post these. Like a lot of other things to do in life, we'll just have to wait and see.

Yesterday for the first time in my 33 year teaching career (I've been teaching since I was six?) I taught online via something called Zoom. Evidently this has become a most popular medium to host classes and even more so since Covid-19 entered our lives. I found it stressful to enter this brave new world, especially as this was a totally foreign way to teach and it involved so much technology. Fortunately oldest daughter is around and she is a whiz at all this high tech stuff and has even taken classes via Zoom, so she showed me the ropes. (No actual ropes were used.)

Yesterday was a dawn of a new age for me. It was as smooth as a porcupine, folks. Actually the lesson went relatively well it was just all in fits and starts and I had to accustom myself to not being in the same room as my students. The glitches mostly were on the student's end and I came off seeing mildly competent. Of course when I teach the old-fashioned way I come off like a genius (please excuse the exaggeration, however slight). I was in normal attire but inasmuch as I was teaching out of my bedroom, wore my slippers. Students only see me from about mid waist up so I could teach pantless. I won't.

Teaching when you only see students in a little box on your computer screen is not ideal. Especially when some suddenly disappears or lose their audio. I'm used to looking students in the eye and prancing around the room. I like to get close to students without making them feel uncomfortable which I've become adept at over the years, decades, third of a century. But teachers are a resourceful lot and I made do.

After class yesterday I worked out. Well, after a fashion. I was able to stretch, do my planks, sit ups, push ups and leg raisers and compliment that with a very brisk walk around the neighborhood. It was the proverbial case of better than nothing but hardly compared with going to the gym and finishing a work out bathed in sweat, endorphins dancing about. It'll get better, I suppose.

Today was day two of online teaching and went much better, thank you very much. I'm getting the hang of it, will eventually get comfortable with it but will never embrace it.

Told ya I saw a guy on stilts
After class I went for a long walk. Went through a section of Berkeley's hideous downtown and noted that most businesses were closed except for pharmacies, a candy shop and Papa John's pizza, the latter because some people need there bad pizza, pandemic or no. I also had a great shock when crossing a street with the protection of the stop sign, a person on a bike actually came to a full stop! In Berkeley this is a rarity. Ninety per cent of all bicyclists seem to speed up the instant they note a stop sign, red light or person on foot. Many of them go careening down crowded sidewalks. For one to actually stop was mind blowing.

I'm noting a lot of other people out walking. This is a good thing. Everyone seems good about maintaining their social distance. I make it a point never to get within  a few feet of my fellow pedestrians.

As I neared home I saw someone who could walk right by a person and still maintain a social distance because this chap was on stilts. Of course. One does not normally see a person on stilts -- even in wacky Berkeley -- but these are strange times.

Yes strange times, though hopefully not the end times. I just saw that 56% of Californians are supposed to be infected with the virus within the next eight weeks. That seems preposterously high, but what the hell do I know. In any case a scary stat.

I think I'll leave it with that grim thought and maybe be a bit cheerier next time. Hey, the weekend is coming! Theaters, beaches, restaurants, sports events, parks, shops are all....not an option. Excuse me for saying this, but fuck the coronavirus.

18 March 2020

The Return of Film Quotes

Long-time readers of this blog (both of us) may recall that many years ago I had a few posts dedicated to great -- or at least pretty good -- quotes from great -- or at least pretty good -- films. In curating old posts as I've been doing of late, I stumbled upon some of these posts and it got me to thinking (something has to) that it's high time I yanked this feature out of mothballs. Needless to say (watch, he's going to say it anyway) these are never-before-shared quotes. I have endeavored to select a variety of quotes from a variety of movies. Some from comedies and others from dramas and everything in between. I may just do it again some time too. Enjoy.

That rug really tied the room together. - The Dude,  The Big Lebowski (1998).

Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos. - Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski (1998).

That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me. - Adriana, Midnight in Paris (2011).

Captain, it is I, Ensign Pulver, and I just threw your stinkin' palm tree overboard! Now what's all this crud about no movie tonight? - Ensign Pulver, Mister Roberts (1955).

I should have had you wear double condoms. Well, we shouldn't have done it in the first place, but if you ever do it again, which as a favor to women everywhere, you should not, but if you do, you should be wearing condom on condom, and then wrap it in electrical tape. You should just walk around always inside a great big condom because you are *shit*! - Jean, Inside Llewyn Davis (2013).

Hello, America. I've been watching a part of the world being blown to pieces. A part of the world as nice as Vermont, and Ohio and Virginia, and California, and Illinois lies ripped up and bleeding like a steer in a slaughterhouse, and I've seen things that make the history of the savages read like Pollyanna legends. -John Jones, Foreign Correspondent (1940).

I don't want Santana Abraxis! I've just been in a terrible auto accident! - Larry Gopnik, A Serious Man (2009).

Worldly wealth corrupts souls and withers hearts. It makes men contemptuous, unjust, pitiless in their egoism. I understand the anger of those who have nothing when the rich feast so arrogantly. - Papa Jean, Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987).

That's the unfortunate thing about death. It's so terribly final. Even the young can't do anything about it. - Carlotta Vance, Dinner at Eight (1933).

Hey! You're Rick fucking Dalton. Don't you forget it. Cliff Booth, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (2019).

We must make an idol of our fear, and call it god. - Antonius Block, Seventh Seal (1957).

You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned. Look around you. Did you think these people made a plan to sleep in the sports hall with you? But here we are now, sleeping together on the floor. So, there's no need for a plan. You can't go wrong with no plans. We don't need to make a plan for anything. It doesn't matter what will happen next. Even if the country gets destroyed or sold out, nobody cares. Got it? - Ki-taek, Parasite (2019).

Suppose I return to our godforsaken city a genius. Understand? But a man writes because he's tormented, unsure of himself. He has to keep proving his worth to himself and to others. But if I'm convinced I'm a genius - then why do I need to write? - The Writer, Stalker (1979).

Cold are the hands of time that creep along relentlessly, destroying slowly but without pity that which yesterday was young. Alone our memories resist this disintegration and grow more lovely with the passing years. Heh! That's hard to say with false teeth! - The Wienie King - Palm Beach Story (1942).

On the self-abuse front - and this is important - I don't think it's advisable to do it in the shower. It wastes water and electricity and because we all expect you to be doing it there in any case. And, not on... under the linen... Well... Anyway, if you're worried about anything at all, just feel free to ask and we'll look it up. - Ben Hood, The Ice Storm (1997).

You know when you hear girls say 'Ah man, I was so shit-faced last night, I shouldn't have fucked that guy?' We could be that mistake! - Seth, Superbad (2007).

I want to save part of my life for myself. There's a catch to it though, it's gotta be part of the young part. You know, retire young, work old, come back and work when I know what I'm working for. - Johnny Case, Holiday (1938).

Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there's only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming. - Jasmine, Blue Jasmine (2013).

Now ain't that the way? A man gets set for trouble head-on and it sneaks up behind him every time!. - Ben Vadergroat,  The Naked Spur (1953)

It ain't the way I wanted it! I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says... like dumb... I'm smart and I want respect! Fredo, The Godfather Part II (1974).

Papa spoke to me. - Frederik, Through a Glass Darkly (1961).

We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy. And how you ended up knowing what colors went together. Narrator, The Virgin Suicides (1999).

I was jinxed from the word go. The first time I was ever kissed was in a cemetery. - Fran Kubelik, The Apartment (1960).

I saved Latin. What did you ever do? - Max Fischer, Rushmore (1998).

I think I see a cab. If we run quickly we can kick the crutch from that old lady and get it. - Clifford Stern, Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

It's too late. I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield. - Rufus T. Firefly, Duck Soup (1933).

I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker! I am the motherfucking shore patrol! Give this man a beer. - Buddusky, The Last Detail (1973).

This is a coincidence. I meet nobody from the old neighborhood in years. I finally do, and I gotta kill her. - Rocco, Radio Days (1987).

It shrinks my liver, doesn't it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does it do to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I'm above the ordinary. I'm competent. Extremely competent! I'm walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I'm one of the great ones. I'm Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I'm Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I'm Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I'm John Barrymore before the movies got him by the throat. I'm Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I'm W. Shakespeare. And out there it's not Third Avenue any longer, it's the Nile, Nat. The Nile and down into the barge of Cleopatra. - Don Birnam, The Lost Weekend (1945).

I thank you. The limit has at last been reached. The glass is shattered, but what do the splinters reflect? Can you tell me that? - Johan Borg, Hour of the Wolf (1968).

17 March 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day Two, Weird Times

From Bullets Over Broadway
I'm not seriously going to do this everyday, am I?

Started the day with a brisk 30-minute walk to my doctor's office. My doctor is retiring in two weeks so this was the last time to see her. She's been my doc for half my life and I'm still alive so she's evidently been doing a good job. If I die in April I, we'll know why.

I crossed three major streets in the course of my walk and lemme tell you folks, it's never been so easy. Very few automobiles traversing the roads these days. I also saw a commuter bus heading towards San Francisco -- this at about 8:00AM -- and it was empty. (Actually, I'm pretty sure there was a driver). I noted that many shops and cafes and restaurants were closed for the duration. Weird times.

The doctor prescribed me a service animal for my depression, something none of the stupid psychiatrists I saw ever thought to do. She also took a look at my throat which has been raspy recently. I got a referral to an ENT doctor. I asked what an E, N,T was and was told ear, nose and throat. What if all specialists came in threes? Knees, ankles and hips. Heart, lungs and liver. Brain, back and bowels.

I thanked the doctor for her wonderful work, paid my bill and skipped merrily out the door. Of course I was careful not to touch doors and their knobs or anything else for that matter, with my skin.  I also had hand sanitizer with me just in case. Weird times.

My next stop was to be the pharmacy but they weren't due to open for 20 minutes so I took a stroll in the neighborhood I lived in with wife and children from 1997-2013. We spent all 16 of those years in a lovely two bedroom dwelling with a nice backyard. It was the longest I've ever lived at a single address. The people who bought the house lo those seven years ago completely re-did the dump to the point where it doesn't look a thing like the abode we occupied. Thus the nostalgia of my journey was lessened somewhat.

My friendly pharmacist, Gabriel, was wearing gloves and he sanitized the pen before I signed for meds. Weird times. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I skipped merrily out the door towards my current humble home. Wife and oldest daughter were home (where else during a pandemic?) and we chatted a bit. They are both handling our quarantine quite well and have made sure that our cupboards are full without getting into this whole nasty hoarding business. Weird times.

I prepared to start teaching tomorrow. Of course I will be doing my instruction on line (schools everywhere are locked up tight) which means learning how that's done. I sat through two video presentations, one of which was live. The live presenter kept saying that if we had more questions or needed to know more about a particular thing we could "cruise on over" to a particular link or website. Back in the old days we used to say "go over" to a particular link or website but then again we didn't say "grab a link" which he did. Indeed we did considerably less "grabbing" of things in days of yore. Today people "grab" lunch, a shower, sunshine and for all I know, a half hour of meditation.

So tomorrow I start my course -- same school, same students, same book -- on line and I have very little actual idea what I'm doing despite the best efforts of my on line experts. (I should probably be either hyphenating on-line or making it one word as in, online, but I'm not currently doing so and I blame the coronavirus.)

I've washed dishes twice today. I like a clean kitchen for other people to cook me food in.

Watched a Bergman film (as I'm want to do) on the Criterion Channel (goodness I truly do love the CC) Hour of the Wolf (1968). I haven't seen it in so many moons I'd forgotten much of it. Boy howdy folks it's not an easy film to forget (so how did I?) and maybe I'll write about it here someday. Maybe not. I don't know. Weird times.

Last night I watched Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway (1994) -- "don't speak." Hadn't seen it in a long time as well as it's been out of circulation. However I found a cheap copy on eBay last week and bought it. It's a regular knee-slapper. So I sat there slapping my knees until they were red and the film was over.

I did other stuff today but my god this post is already boring enough as it is. What, I'm going to tell you about another nap, or taking out the recycling or scratching an itch on my backside?

Right now I find myself writing on my blog after which I'm going to graciously eat the dinner that is currently being prepared and then watch last night's Better Call Saul on ye old DVR with the missus. (I like her a lot. She's the cats.)

Will I have more to say tomorrow? Will I update the world on teaching online? Will I take another long exhilarating walk? Will the virus magically disappear overnight? Will I stop asking questions and end this stupid blog post? Yes to the last question.

Weird times.

16 March 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine Diary: Day One, Memory Lane is Trod

My grandparent's home as seen today
Well, this is different. Indeed like nothing I've previously experienced in my six and half decades on this planet. No work. No gym. No orgies. No restaurants. No bookstores. No sporting events. No contact with people other than wife and oldest daughter with whom I'm sequestered in our humble home.

(Did he really write, "no orgies"? He's kidding, right?)

So the day started with me not going to work despite having risen early and preparing to do exactly that. The missus said it wasn't advisable as I am in the dangerous category of people being really, really old. I contacted the boss and she said it was cool, they'd cover me. (The school closed after today anyway and I'm to start teaching online Wednesday) Of course by edict of our local governments I ain't going anywhere from 12:01 AM tomorrow on, except a doctor's appointment.

Thus this was something of a day off but I'd just had a lazy weekend and am not want to sit around twiddling my thumbs on a Monday. I got busy. First there were old blog posts to go over. As I mentioned previously on this blog, I've been going through my nearly 12 years of blog posts and cleaning up left over typos, correcting bad grammar (not much of that, thank you very much) and flat out deleting dated or poorly written posts (very few of those).

Recently while going through past posts I noted that on half a dozen occasions -- though not at all in the last nine years -- I devoted entire posts to great quotes from great films (admittedly, some were merely really good quotes from really good films). I decided that it was an idea worth reviving and so today started compiling film quotes for a post that will be coming your way soon.

I then continued emailing and texting friends, relatives and loved ones (who am I kidding? anyone who's a "loved one" is a friend or relative.) I was checking in. As I write this everyone has checked back and many have said quite lovely things as one does in times crisis -- as I assume this is. One very good friend is stuck in his Paris apartment which doesn't sound so bad expect that his wife and children are similarly stranded and not with him and Paris isn't quite the same these days with the damned virus having shut down restaurants and other amusements.

I also spent a bit too much time on Twitter which I do virtually every day. That damn thing is so easy to get sucked into while at the same time, if curated properly, can be a wonderful source of information, informed opinion and hilarious animal videos.

Chatted with wife and daughter. There was a lot to talk about.

Went for a long walk. Saw a fair amount of people about and none seemed to think it rude that, as we've been instructed, I kept my distance. Lots of people pushing carriages (some with babies or toddlers in them), walking dogs or just getting exercise. I suppose some were running errands.

My walk took me by my maternal grandparent's house. I spent many hours there as a wee tyke as I grew up not far away. In fact the elementary school I attended was a block away so I went to Grandma's for lunch everyday. I would sit in front of the TV and she would bring me my meal which I would share with her golden retriever, Sisu. One day in the 5th grade I turned on the TV and instead of The Donna Reed show there were some boring looking old men in suits talking. The topic was the assassination of President Kennedy which had occurred an hour or so earlier. When I returned to school I told all my mates about it and of course none believed me. We returned to class and our teacher, Mrs. Phillips, came in a tad late and tearfully informed us of the death of the president. I heard a chorus of, "you were right, Richard."

I noted that the "front yard" in front of Grandma's house was tiny. I always picture it as a vast expanse of greenery, obviously based on my recollections as a wee one. The house and its environs looked otherwise much the same.

From there I went by my aforementioned old school were I matriculated from kindergarten through grade six. The seven years there was longer than I spent at any other educational institution. The expression one uses in such cases is that the memories came flooding back. They really did. I recalled where I confronted a bully, where we used to play handball, where I saw a girl get hit by a car and where kickball was played.

I then made my way home where I spent the afternoon answering and sending emails, looking into how I could publicize my novel (available on Amazon Kindle ) and chatting with my lovely housemates. I capped the afternoon off with a lengthy nap. I am a huge fan of naps and may make taking them a regular habit in the days, weeks, months to come. It's time well spent.

I'm proud to say that I washed the dishes and heroically ate the delicious tacos my darling wife prepared. I've also been writing this as is evidenced by the fact that it exists. Not to get too existential on you.

So what about this virus? How about this life altering pandemic? Well, stay tuned, this is after all only the first day of the quarantine. There may be a lot more to come.

13 March 2020

My Long Happy History With Woody Allen and the Sadness of Suppression

Woody Allen, young comic
Imagine that you were accused of a crime 30 years ago. After two separate investigations you were cleared of any wrongdoing and it was further suggested that a third party had prompted your accuser to make their claims. You also took and passed a lie detector test. But decades later the accusations have re-surfaced, your accuser has a successful and well-known brother who has helped amplify these claims. Many people believe your accuser. You are vilified on social media and find it difficult to find work. A book you write about your life is suppressed. It would be like living in a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Of course this is analogous to the situation that the legendary director, writer, actor and comedian Woody Allen has found himself in. Fortunately he is financially secure, his work is accepted and enjoyed in Europe and he’s not the sort of person to wallow in victimhood. After all, he has done everything he can to refute the claims, he’s secure in his innocence and is the type of person who will carry on with his work regardless.

I have been a Woody Allen for about 55 years. When I was a kid America’s greatest comics were regularly on TV. They appeared on talk shows, variety shows and specials. There were legends like George Burns, Jack Benny and Bob Hope. There were comedians in their prime like Alan King, Jonathan Winters, Phyllis Diller and upcoming talents such as Bill Cosby, Robert Klein and George Carlin. There was also a bespectacled, nervous looking, little chap who told long, meandering (and funny) stories. His name was Woody Allen. While I loved anyone who could make me laugh, Woody was different. He looked like the smart, nerdy kid at school who made jokes about anyone and everyone but was never caught. He was not an imposing adult figure in a suit standing at a microphone and confidentially doling out one-liners. He was a confessed neurotic, vulnerable and wonderfully human. Woody was more clever by half than those old fogies. He seemed at once intelligent and insecure, wise and scared hip and nerdy. There was no bravado, no sardonic charm. Woody was relatable.

In my later teens Woody Allen started making films. They were hilarious. First there was Take the Money and Run (1969) a faux documentary about an inept bank robber (Allen) who once played cello in a marching band and confuses bank employees with bad handwriting on his stick up notes. It was the Allen’s stand up routines writ large on the big screen. It was followed by Bananas (1971), about a New York nebbish (Allen again) caught up in a Latin American revolution, which was even funnier, then there were Play it Again Sam (1972) (which he wrote and starred in but did not direct) Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (1972), Sleeper (1973) and Love and Death (1975). They were all funny and my friends and I repeated our favorite lines from them over and over. I saw them in theaters several times and -- in those pre-streaming DVD days -- would cancel all other plans to watch them when they came on TV. I even audio-recorded parts of Play it Again, Sam and committed entire bits of dialogue to memory.

Woody had a unique persona. The anti-intellectual intellectual. They atypical ladies’ man. The perpetually bowed but never beaten neurotic. Like Groucho Marx he seemed smarter and hipper than everyone else because of his indefatigable humor. Life can’t defeat a wit. Others admired the suave James Bond, I preferred the pixelated Woody Allen and the way his humor made him a step ahead. There was always a girl's heart to be won in Woody's films. Sometimes he succeeded and sometimes he didn't. But he always got the last laugh.

Annie Hall
When I was 23 another new Allen film hit theaters called Annie Hall (1977). This was his best film yet. It also signaled a different direction in his oeuvre. It was like Woody had grown up (not that anyone was pining for him too). Annie Hall was not silly or slapstick. While there was broad humor it was mixed in with a more sophisticated wit and a more earnest story. Annie Hall seemed like a grown up film, sophisticated, mature yet still a Woody.

Annie Hall was followed by Interiors (1978) which was as far from a comedy as you could get. I was not ready for it and I remember hoping this was not the start of a new direction in Woody’s film-making. It would be 10 years before I could watch it again and another 20 before I came to embrace it.

But after the uber serious Interiors came Manhattan (1979) (which today ranks as my favorite film of all time). It represented an important moment in my development as a cinephile. There was so much that I began to appreciate in films starting with Manhattan, such as cinema photography, soundtracks, lighting and smart dialogue. Manhattan was in some ways a companion piece to Annie Hall, both represented the new Woody Allen, in which there was humor aplenty but the tail that wagged the dog was the story, not the gags.

Throughout my adult years I looked forward to — as did my wife, many of my friends and millions of people worldwide — Woody’s films which, from the late Sixties through the present, have been an annual event. Many have joined Annie Hall and Manhattan as some of my favorite films of all time, among them Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Match Point, (2005), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Wonder Wheel (2017). (I still hold some of his earlier films in high regard, particularly Bananas and Love and Death.)

Some of his films have been straight comedies, some strictly drama, and in many the twain have met, one was even a musical -- Everyone Says I Love You (1996). Woody has tackled a variety of themes through his films, especially the perilous world of romantic relationships.

Woody Allen has directed 49 films. I was about to write that that’s a prodigious output but that would be akin to saying that Babe Ruth hit a lot of home runs. It’s incredible for me to realize how much joy, laughter, enlightenment and intellectual inspiration he has brought to my life and not incidentally to millions of others.

Yet six years ago I contemplated renouncing and abandoning him. His adopted daughter Dylan Farrow had in detail repeated the claims initially made when she was a child, that Woody Allen sexually abused her. (I vaguely remembered something about allegations against him at the time but I was then a full time teacher and busy with two small children and it had all been cleared up and put to rest anyway). This airing came via the New York Times column of Nicholas Kristof. I read her account and was horrified and determined that I would sell all my Woody DVDs and books. There is little in this world lower than a child molester. However it seems I am different from the average American, for I decided to further investigate the matter. Maybe there would be further corroboration and maybe there was another side to the story.

Lo and behold I discovered that Dylan’s charges had been thoroughly investigated — twice — Woody had passed a lie detector test and there were hints that Dylan had been coached by her mother Mia Farrow. I then discovered Bob Weide on Twitter who had directed an excellent documentary on Woody. He seemed to know the case backwards and forwards and it wasn’t long before the l'affaire de Woody came into focus.

Woody and Soon-Yi
Frankly it’s an ugly mess, one that Mia Farrow is mostly responsible for. Untangling it all here is beyond my ken but suffice to say it all started when Mia Farrow, with whom Woody had had a long relationship, discovered that Woody was having an affair with Soon-Yi Previn (this after Woody and Mia had broken up), one of her adopted children. Soon-Yi is 35 years younger than Allen. As Woody has said, “the heart wants what it wants.” Contrary to what I’ve seen over and over again on Twitter (the home to millions upon millions of lies, prevarications, mistruths, misconceptions, falsehoods and utter nonsense) Woody was not Soon-Yi’s father, adopted or otherwise. They also did not at any time live under the same roof and he did not “groom” her. Falling in love with someone three and half decades your junior who is the adopted daughter of your ex lover is a bit on the shady side but so too is having an extra marital affair (as Mia Farrow has been want to do). Woody did nothing illegal nor immoral in carrying on as he did with Soon-Yi and to date the couple has been happily married for 23 years and have successfully raised two adopted daughters. Something Woody's detractors ignore.

Mia was enraged by Woody’s affair with Soon-Yi and vowed revenge, telling him that he had taken her daughter and she was going to take his. This she accomplished by convincing Dylan (who along with Ronan and Moses were adopted by Woody and Mia) that her father had molested her. Witnesses attest to this.

Dylan has one story to tell of molestation and it takes place on a day -- August 4, 1992 -- when the house was full of people. It is thus a totally implausible tale given the circumstances. Woody was being watched carefully on the day in question. as he was persona non grata after the discovery of his affair with Soon-Yi. Also Dylan describes the violation as being committed in a small attic or crawl space. Woody is a notorious claustrophobe so this is impossible, never mind the logistics of the tiny area and her inclusion of a toy train set that was not, according to Moses, there nor could have been (he was 14 at the time, Dylan was seven and Ronan four).

The first investigation into the allegations of abuse was conducted by the child abuse clinic of Yale-New Haven Hospital, they concluded: “It’s our expert opinion that Dylan was not sexually assaulted by Mr. Allen. Further, we believe that Dylan’s statements on videotape and her statements to us during our evaluation do not refer to actual events that occurred to her on August 4, 1992.”

A second investigation was done by the New York Department of Social Services which stated: “No credible evidence was found that the child named in this report has been abused or maltreated. This report has, therefore, been considered unfounded.”

The Yale report also said of Dylan:  "She told the story in a manner that was overly thoughtful and controlling. There was no spontaneity in her statements, and a rehearsed quality was suggested in how she spoke."

I will here pause and offer you links to articles that explain matters better than I can.

Perhaps most important is the account provided by Moses Farrow another child adopted by Allen and Farrow. This blog post from May 2018 recounts growing up as an adopted child of Mia Farrow. Moses refutes claims that his father molested Dylan and he characterizes Mia as a cruel and capricious mother. Here is an excerpt from that post: "To those who have become convinced of my father’s guilt, I ask you to consider this: In this time of #MeToo, when so many movie heavyweights have faced dozens of accusations, my father has been accused of wrongdoing only once, by an enraged ex-partner during contentious custody negotiations. During almost 60 years in the public eye, not one other person has come forward to accuse him of even behaving badly on a date, or acting inappropriately in any professional situation, let alone molesting a child. As a trained professional, I know that child molestation is a compulsive sickness and deviation that demands repetition. Dylan was alone with Woody in his apartment countless times over the years without a hint of impropriety, yet some would have you believe that at the age of 56, he suddenly decided to become a child molester in a house full of hostile people ordered to watch him like a hawk. To the actors who have worked with my father and have voiced regret for doing so: You have rushed to join the chorus of condemnation based on a discredited accusation for fear of not being on the “right” side of a major social movement. But rather than accept the hysteria of Twitter mobs, mindlessly repeating a story examined and discredited 25 years ago, please consider what I have to say. After all, I was there – in the house, in the room – and I know both my father and mother and what each is capable of a whole lot better than you."

Soon-Yi also had her say in this New York article in September 2018. In it she also paints an ugly picture of Mia Farrow the mother. Apparently Mia had very different relationships with her children of color -- like Soon-Yi and Moses -- and her white children. Two of her adopted children have committed suicide.

Woody himself responded to Dylan's claims in the Times. In it he wrote the following: "The police began their investigation; a possible indictment hung in the balance. I very willingly took a lie-detector test and of course passed because I had nothing to hide. I asked Mia to take one and she wouldn’t. Last week a woman named Stacey Nelkin, whom I had dated many years ago, came forward to the press to tell them that when Mia and I first had our custody battle 21 years ago, Mia had wanted her to testify that she had been underage when I was dating her, despite the fact this was untrue. Stacey refused. I include this anecdote so we all know what kind of character we are dealing with here. One can imagine in learning this why she wouldn’t take a lie-detector test."

By far the most comprehensive take on the case comes from the aforementioned Mr. Weide in this interview from last April.

(Side note, as mentioned earlier Nicholas Kristof, a close friend of Mia’s has twice given over his column in the Times to Dylan but refused to do the same for Moses, thus offering only one side of the story. His bizarre reasoning was that if he gave voice to a second sibling than he’d have to let them all have their say. In other words if there is more than one side to a story, just present the one. If I were teaching journalism, as I have done, I would offer Mr. Kristof as an example of someone who has no journalistic integrity.)

Woody And Scarlett Johansson
Woody and Mia’s one biological child, Ronan Farrow (although Mia claims that Frank Sinatra may in fact be the father — not exactly a way to stake the moral high ground) used his sister’s claims against Woody Allen in conjunction with the burgeoning #Me Too movement, to launch his own career. After his investigative reporting on Harvey Weinstein helped bring the film mogul to justice, he has used his new-found power (along with the family name) to publicly batter Woody Allen and worse to pressure others to denounce him or deny his voice. Many actors have felt compelled to denounce Allen. Others such as Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson. Cate Blanchette, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Woody's long-time friend, Diane Keaton have stood by him. Michael Caine initially swore never to work with Allen again but apparently looked further into the matter and did an about face. Too many in the entertainment industry -- who I choose not to name -- are clearly too afraid to contradict the Farrows. Newspapers, periodicals, publishers and distributors also quake in fear at the might of Ronan, as some have anonymously attested to.

Film fans in the US were denied seeing Woody’s latest film, A Rainy Day in New York (2019) as Amazon Studios refused to release it last year. It has been shown throughout Europe where it has performed well at the box office and with critics. There are currently no signs that it will be released in the US. He has since shot another film, Rifkin's Festival,  and I'd not bet money that we'll see in the states anytime soon.

Last week it was announced that Woody Allen’s long-awaited memoirs, Apropos of Nothing, would be published by Hachette books in April. Ronan had a snit fit. The New York Times happily published his tirade. Ronan’s minions on Twitter echoed his outrage, Hachette employees threatened a walk out if their company published the book. Hachette returned the rights to Woody. Ronan, Dylan and friends celebrated their victory over free speech. The memoirs of a man who has never been convicted of a crime and was cleared of the only one he was ever accused of have been repressed. So much for freedom of speech. It should be noted that Hachette books previously released the memoirs of a mob hit man who confessed to over 30 murders. I don’t know that Ronan or anyone else uttered a word of protest at that particular book’s publication.

Not surprisingly publishers in Germany, Spain, France and Italy are going ahead with publication of Woody's memoirs. Apparently the long and angry arm of Ronan Farrow does not extend across the Atlantic Ocean.

Evidently people outside of the United States are willing to do a modicum of research and understand that there are two sides to a story and they have the capacity to figure out which one makes the most sense. One would have hoped that would be characteristic of Americans.

Over the years I’ve had many (mostly futile) jousts with people on Twitter who are part of the anti-Woody mob. Apparently all they need to hear is that there has been an accusation of molestation against a man and the hell with due process, he’s guilty and facts are of little interest. What has been especially disappointing about these cyber encounters is the extreme vitriol which has been directed at me for having the temerity to defend an innocent man.

On a number of occasions I’ve been called a defender of child molestation, sexual assault and child rape. (This suggests that these people consider any lawyer who defends an accused murder to be someone who condones murder.) The anger in their tweets is palpable and they do not want to even consider opposing views. I’ve looked at the Twitter profiles of some of the people who’ve directed venom my way, and many have seemed like otherwise stable, rational, successful people.
I’ve also participated in Twitter threads in which an anti-Woody has been presented with fact after fact and had false claim after false claim refuted. Many respond with, “I still believe her.” (As Bob Weide has pointed out it is possible to believe Dylan and still think Woody is innocent, after all Mia convinced the child that she was really molested.)

I can’t also help but notice some bigotry on display. People believe the white girl (Dylan) who accuses the Jew (Woody) but don’t believe the Asians (Soon Yi and Moses) who defend him.

Woody and Cate Blanchett
Also when discussing Woody one cannot ignore the fact that he has been working in show business for 60 years and not one accusation of inappropriate behavior has been leveled against him by a woman. Indeed he is written strong and compelling roles for women and directed the following women to Oscar wins: Diane Keaton (Annie Hall) Dianne Wiest (Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Boradway) Mia Sorvino ((Mighty Aphrodite) Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine). Seven other women in Allen films have been nominated for Oscars.

I love Woody Allen. His work has been a huge part of my life. He ranks as my second favorite director (behind his own hero, Ingmar Bergman) and is my all-time favorite screenwriter. He was a great comic, is an excellent writer and a keen observer of the human condition. Woody has been an inspiration and a major influence to me, to the world of cinema and to our culture as a whole. Yet a large swath of Americans think of him as the worst kind of villain despite his proven innocence Worse his creative output is currently being denied to the American public. Joseph McCarthy would be proud. People can believe who they want to believe and hate who they want to hate, but to deny others the opportunity to see their films or read their books is unconscionable. As has been suggested, even if Woody was guilty of molestation, his writing should be made available. They would be in a country that lived up to its credos.

It is absolutely infuriating. It is depressing. It is un-American. But given that it is happening here and not in Europe, it might be time to sadly say that this is very much of the America of today.

Perhaps Ronan has started to go too far. Perhaps there will be a backlash. Perhaps people will start  listening to reason. I can only cling to such hope.

More links:

Woody and Mia: A Modern Family Timeline 
The Heart Wants What it Wants 
Nanny Casts Doubts on Farrow Charges
Woody Allen Defends Himself on 60 Minutes
Dylan Farrow: Step off the Stage
Woody-Mia Redux Psychology Today
Woody Allen’s Innocence Should be a Feminist Cause
The Report of Clinic Yale-New Haven
Woody Allen Mia Farrow and the Troubled Tale With a Thousand Twists
Mia’s Nanny says Woody was the Better Parent
No Matter What you Think of Woody Allen Censorship is Wrong
The Case for Woody Allen’s Innocence

As and addendum I offer the following. As an assignment on research and critical thinking, a professor at  Brooklyn College, had his Introduction to Journalism class read Dylan's piece in the New York Times and Woody's response in the same paper. He then had them watch a CBS interview with Dylan, they then read Moses' blog post and the article about Soon-Yi. Most of the students -- all of them women -- had only seen the Dylan interview and believed her story. Of the 15 students who did all the reading and completed the assignment, 13 concluded that no molestation took place or had serious doubts about her claim.

Imagine that.

09 March 2020

Thank You and Farewell Max von Sydow

No one appears in more of the 240 films I own on DVD than Max Van Sydow. I can watch him in:
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Wild Strawberries (1957)
The Magician (1958)
The Virgin Spring (1960)
Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
Winter Light (1963)
Shame (1968)
The Passion of Anna (1969)
The Emigrants (1971)
The New Land (1972)
The Exorcist (1973)
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Europa (1991)*
Shutter Isand (2010)

That's 15 films and in most he was in a starring role. Of course he benefited greatly from having started his career being a regular in Ingmar Bergman's films, but one could argue that his performances were part of what helped make Bergman films so special.  The Seventh Seal is generally regarded as one of the greatest films of all time and von Sydow gives a towering performance that demonstrated his acting depth and presaged his brilliant career. Despite regularly appearing in Bergman films, he was not typecast. A knight in one film, a suicidal young husband in another, a magician, a doctor, a farmer, a priest, a spy, a doctor, an artist. Acerbic and angry in one film, weak and fallible in another.

Von Sydow had that rich, low voice (listen to his haunting narration in Europa) and was tall in way that he could gangly and awkward or bold and dangerous. Of course his face was cinematic. Handsome in a classical art sort of way.

My favorite performances of his...well, I've painted myself into a corner here for picking one or two or even just three seems impossible. But I'll go ahead and say his breakthrough role as the ill-fated knight in The Seventh Seal is one of them but I also admired his work in Shame as the weak ex violinist trying to navigate his war-torn homeland. He was also brilliant as the angry and isolated artist Frederick in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters.

We often say of departed heroes that "they don't make 'em like him anymore." I sure as hell don't see another Von Sydow waiting in the wings. A generational talent.

03 March 2020

Thinking About Insanity Via Jean Seberg, Lilith and Shirley Jackson

Kristen Stewart as Jean Seberg
(Spoiler alert: this post contains spoilers for the 1964 film, Lilith and for the Shirley Jackson novel Hangsaman.)

Insanity yesterday. I watched a film called Lilith (1964) about a man named Vincent (Warren Beatty) working at a sanitarium who falls in love with a patient (Jean Seberg) named Lilith. Peter Fonda plays a patient who is also in love with the title character. I watched Lilith because I’ve been going through a mini obsession with Jean Seberg, inspired by the new biopic about her called Seberg, starring Kristen Stewart. I saw Seberg on Saturday.

It can be argued that Ms. Seberg herself was driven to severe emotional distress by the harassment of the FBI, at the time a nefarious organization. Director J. Edgar Hoover and the bureau did not take kindly to Ms. Seberg rallying to the causes espoused by the Black Panthers. They also bristled at the fact that she donated sizable amounts of money to the Panthers. I suppose saying she had emotional issues is an understatement inasmuch as she was driven to suicide.

In 1970 as part of their Cointelpro, the FBI spread the false rumor that Seberg (who was married to French writer and director, Romain Gary) was pregnant with the child of a black activist. The FBI's stated goal was an unspecified "neutralization" of Seberg with a subsidiary objective of causing her "embarrassment and...to cheapen her image with the public", while taking the "usual precautions to avoid identification of the Bureau.” The rumor went — in today’s parlance —viral. The pregnancy story eventually reached Newsweek magazine and so upset Ms. Seberg that she went into premature labor which, two days later, resulted in the death of the infant. Seberg held an open casket funeral for the dead baby girl to show the world that the child was not black. She won a defamation suit against Newsweek. But emotionally the damage was done to Ms. Seberg, as evidenced by repeated suicide attempts, many of which were on the anniversary of the dead child’s birth. Seberg eventually successfully committed suicide at age 40.

Seberg the film does not live up to its powerful story nor to the excellent performance by Kristen Stewart. In Seberg Ms. Stewart proves again that she is one of our finest acting talents as she did in Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), Personal Shopper (2016) and Certain Women (2016). One wishes this particular film had been in the hands of a more accomplished director.

I also thought about insanity yesterday when I finished reading a novel by Shirley Jackson called Hangsaman about a 17 year old girl named Natalie. The book covers the time shortly before Natalie goes off to college and her first few months at school. She suffers from mental illness but it is different. She is not tortured by demons so much as she entertains them to the point where they assume control. Jackson is a brilliant writer and the book is captivating in part because it is so easy to see the world through Natalie’s eyes. Natalie is smart, precocious and has a certain charm. I found myself lulled into Natalie’s world and her vision and realized I was not distinguishing between Natalie’s reality and fantasy. This is an excellent metaphor for mental illness as there is such a fine line between sanity and insanity and it can be so easy to step across it. Shirley Jackson was a grand master at creating simple, mundane stories that were still somehow engaging and even enthralling, where banality gave way to the mysteries of the human mind. The ordinary could suddenly become macabre or frightening or fascinating. Stories could glide ever so subtly from routine depictions of everyday life into dramatic episodes of a world flipped on its head. Such is the case with Hangsaman.

The real Jean Seberg
Like Natalie, Lilith is engaging and interesting, not to mention beautiful (she’s played by Jean Seberg, so, of course). But there are signs that all is not right with Lilith (not the least of which is her being a patient in mental hospital). Unfortunately the story focuses more on Vincent. He is an earnest young man but it is unclear what his motivation is to take up this new line of work after his release from the army. He says he wants to help but all we see of him is a growing obsession with Lilith. It is also not entirely clear why he develops mental problems of his own. We are left to guess at this as well as why the film slows to a snail’s pace in its second half and what the purpose was of a long, uninteresting scene in which Vincent visits an old girlfriend and her husband (Gene Hackman). (Why on earth was the husband yelling at his wife for coffee while drinking beer? Why did we need to know that he was about to head off to a meeting that sounded like it could have been a version of the White Citizen’s Council? Why was he ever introduced in the first place? And what significance was there in Vincent’s visit, especially considering he hardly said a word while there?) Unfortunately much of Lilith’s mysteries derive from the strange choices made by screenwriter/director Robert Rossen.

Lilith is a tragedy and it is made so by the actions of the supposedly sane Vincent. It is his actions that drive a young man to suicide and it is that suicide that sends Lilith into a state of catatonia at the end. And it is all this that causes Vincent to go from caretaker to would-be patient. It was the supposedly sane and sober FBI that drove Jean Seberg to serious emotional turmoil. And how much of Natalie’s troubled state in Hangsaman can be placed on the shoulders of her imperious and domineering father? Insanity is not created in a vacuum. While there are physiological issues that often contribute to mental illness, there are also the actions of the supposedly sane (see, Trump, Donald) that create in others anything from mild emotional distress to outright insanity.

(Question: if a person who is generally acknowledged as being a sane, respectable citizen sexually abuses a child and that child suffers from PTSD, can we/should we acknowledge that the perpetrator himself suffers from a mental illness? To put it bluntly: don't you have to be crazy to do things to a person that will drive them crazy?)

It is arguable that Jean Seberg was emotionally fragile and if it hadn't been for the actions of the FBI she would have eventually developed emotional illness from other causes. Maybe Natalie from Hangsaman would have lapsed into fantasy even had her father been more loving and kind. Lilith was already mentally unstable enough to be institutionalized when Vincent came along -- although the roots of her psychosis could be found in her brother's suicide. For many of us all it takes is a push. I often wonder how different my life would have been if my mother had not been a paranoid schizophrenic who emotionally abused me. Would I still have severe panic attacks and depression? Likely not.

As the story of Jean Seberg shows, we are all vulnerable.