Archives for category: film
End Guantanamo

End Guantanamo (Photo credit: jezobeljones)

We call it forced feeding – it’s torture

Horrifying. This is being done, in our names, twice a day, to other human beings. Some of whom should not even be still held at Guantanamo Bay. As Bey says in the video, Peace. I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it, but now I’m glad I did.

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STFU Donnie

I didn’t really appreciate The Big Lebowski at the time. I was familiar with the Coens, but hadn’t seen Fargo yet. Lebowski was the followup to Fargo, and I don’t think I was the only one who failed to appreciate its genius. Fargo is like a gateway drug into the mind-warping world of the Coens. Lebowski is more like heroin – it will addict you and change your fucking life if your aren’t careful. In a good way, of course.

Yesterday, at work, I found myself saying, under my breath or in my mind, “SHUT THE FUCK UP DONNIE”. Mostly to my coworkers. Yep, I have some anger issues. Alternatively, “YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE, DONNIE!” works as a mantra. May not work for you, but for me they did. Helped me to move past the anger and maybe even laugh about whatever it was which was being said or done. Rather than let it fester and build into resentment, which, regrettably, is what usually happens with me.

Ahhhhhh – I think it’s time for a nice, healthy SHUT THE FUCK UP DONNIE! while I’m watching Chris Matthews and company bloviate.

Charles in Charge: Mad Men and the Sixties

So here’s my theory for the arc of the season. A few years ago, I watched Monterey Pop and Woodstock within a couple of days of each other. I was struck by the differences in Hippie Nation between the two, the events in both occurring a little over two years apart. I’ma gonna throw around some cliches here, but Monterey was all sunshine, flowers and patchouli (with the notable exception of the chaotic antics of the Who). Woodstock is a descent into mud and madness – the gate crashing, overdosing, bad trips belying the communal ideas which groups like the Diggers and others were trying to uphold. Just the change in Hendrix is instructive. At Monterey, he’s a revelation, blowing apart R&B and “folk” rock with only his guitar and two other guys. Of course, he does set his axe on fire at the end, having to do something to upstage the Who. At Woodstock, he’s a diminished figure, the toll of his drug use and the weight of the expectations on him visible in his every gesture. Even though the sun is coming up as he plays, he’s well on his way to death and will arrive there in just a little while. At Monterey, Joplin storms the stage, takes the crowd by the throat and tears out a piece of her heart to inextricably bond herself to the crowd. She was still just a girl from a small town in Texas at that point. By the time Woodstock rolled around, she had become JANIS!, Just like Hendrix, the pressures she was experiencing, and the ways in which she dealt with those pressures, were ripping her to shreds. That arbiter of hippiedom, Abbie Hoffman, tried to storm the stage at Woodstock during the Who’s set, only to be dissuaded from delivering his screed by Townshend’s axe. Hippie nation was beginning to turn on itself and letting itself be destroyed, trying to put a flower in the gun barrel in front of them while failing to notice all the OTHER guns pointed its way, including some pointed from within. Pop will eat itself, indeed.

The book in the 33 1/3 series on Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans is what led me to start reevaluating the 60s and having a more jaundiced eye. Prior to reading that, I was blinded by my own naivete and willfully failing to see that Manson and the events at Altamont were as much of a result of the 60s as was flower power. Neil Young was never particularly hippie dippy. By the mid 70s he seems to have soured on the era he came out of. Revolution Blues, on On the Beach, is a scathing indictment of the idea that if only we can move away, live amongst only the like-minded and develop our own culture and morality, utopias will spontaneously emerge. The needle came, the damage was done, and flower power began to rot and stink, as will all beautiful things if they aren’t properly watered and cared for.

Back to Mad Men. I didn’t realize until this week how apropos the first word in the title is, in terms of insanity. Bob Benson, with his self-help honed interpersonal skills, is THE creepiest character they have ever had on the series. Creepier than Pete at his smarmiest, creepier than the fat Jaguar guy, more disturbing than Betty at her worst. He’s the Manson – mark my words – there is a reckoning coming this season, or maybe next. It will make the lawnmower incident and Lane’s suicide look like phantasms cooked up in a creative meeting. I just hope Joan, Kevin and Joan’s mom survive it. Part of me hopes I’m wrong, but the entire series is a mirror or macrocosm of its times, and I don’t think Weiner will avoid addressing the darker aspects.

Behind the Candelabra

I am old enough to remember seeing Liberace on TV, but I wasn’t old enough, or aware enough, to know what “gay” was. Looking back, I wonder how I could have missed it. But, I grew up in the suburbs, in the South, in the 60s and 70s, and went to a Southern Baptist church. So, it really isn’t surprising.

All of this prologue is to say that while the side of life depicted in this astonishing film was going on, maybe even right in front of my face at times, I was oblivious to it. Looking back, along with the movement for blacks to acquire equivalent civil rights, the push toward equality for gays is the most striking and encouraging social development of my lifetime. I live in a totally different world than the one I grew up in 40 years ago. I can’t even imagine what the world will look like when my nephews, who are twenty and under, reach my age.

OK, on to the review. Steven Soderbergh is an auteur, up there in the pantheon with Scorsese, Coppola, and Danny Boyle in my estimation. Linklater belongs in there too. In many of his films, he uses an artistic approach to popular culture subjects and in the process reveals previously unseen aspects of those subjects. I had never thought of Michael Douglas as a great actor particularly, but after watching this I do. He is fantastic in this, as is Matt Damon. I don’t believe they could have, or WOULD have, made this movie ten years ago. They both take such risks in this, in portraying the very gay life of a very closeted man, in a totally unironic way. Without being overt at all, Soderbergh is making a social statement, with this work of art, about the dramatic differences between gay life then and now.

All the performances in this are fantastic. Of particular note among the supporting performers are Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd, and Cheyenne Jackson. Aykroyd is almost unrecognizable – I didn’t even relalize it was him playing Liberace’s manager until very late in the film. I just don’t know what to say about Lowe’s performance. There are a number of Emmy-worthy roles in this and Lowe nearly steals the show. Whomever is responsible for makeup deserves an Emmy too – I want to know HOW they did that with Lowe’s face? I’m sure it’s just makeup and some fine acting tricks but it truly looks like Lowe had plastic surgery in order to portray a plastic surgeon.

Soderbergh has said that this is his last film. I can only hope his “retirement” is like that of Bowie and that he spends the time gestating some ideas with which to astonish us in a few years. I see Behind the Candelabra as one of his works of art, like Traffic, in which the political, social or cultural commentary he’s making is quite pointed, but concealed within something so approachable that its lessons seep into the watcher without him even noticing. Quite subversive, really. In this, in a sense, he’s saying “goodbye to all that” in Hollywood as he moves into a new phase of his career. Goodbye to the hypocrisy, goodbye to the shallowness. Goodbye to the willful failure to adequately recognize the contributions gay culture has made to the Hollywood machine and the society at large. Really, it’s a goodbye to the vanishing world which was willing to accept the good things from gay culture while at the same time being dismissive, reactionary and hostile to the elements it found distasteful. America in a nutshell, in other words. I could go on about this, but won’t, at least in this piece. I’ll just take this space to say thank you to Mapplethorpe, Warhol, Rauschenberg, and yes, Ellen DeGeneres and that guy from NSync. Neil Patrick Harris, and countless others, too. You have managed to contribute so much of value to the world, a world which embraces your contributions while declining to fully accept you as human beings.