30 June 2009

My Favorite Liberal Feminist Intellectual

For anyone who has stopped by FatScribe over these past 4 months since this little attempt at pith and pathos willled itself, ex nihilo, into existence, it probably comes as little surprise that my worldview is a fairly conservative one. I try not to wear my conservatism on my outlet-shopped Armani (Collezzioni) sleeve. In fact, I like to say that I am a "classical liberal" with an urbane affectation.

I am curious by nature (though not bi-curious), and love to read ... everything ... especially what others, much smarter than I, have to say on politics, culture, art, theology or history. That's true for any bibliophile worth their salt, really, and if you're like me, it's not just books that grab us by the throat (and wallet); our favorite blogs and Internet websites regularly occupy our mornings as well. One of my most favorite columnists (I like her so much, I'm willing to talk and write like a 3rd grader!) just happens to be on the opposite side of the political and social spectrum, viz., one Camille Paglia from Salon.com.

Camille Paglia is a liberal lesbian feminist I find engaging because not only is she intellectually honest (unlike like, say, Arianna Huffington), she has a way of putting some very smart people in their place with her logic and (sometimes) curt and terse pronouncements. This is a woman who came out in the late 60's or early 70's as a lesbian at a then-fairly reserved Yale (before it became an awkward right of passage at so many institutions of higher learning). She loves conservative talk radio because she finds the entertainment value in listening to folks like Rush Limbaugh, while giving credit to conservatives when appropriate for their vigorous ideas. She thrives and strives to take on her own party/ilk when they are out of control or when they, like a donkey with a bum knee, walk about in circles for hours on end repeating the same liberal mantra or talking points from Rahm Emanuel (she famously called for Bill Clinton to resign during Monica-Gate). That's not to say that she and I are oft on the same page, far from it (if we're not oft, are we noft?). One finds in almost every one of her columns an adherence to respect ideas over party or propaganda, with crisp passages that ring true (see here for a recent posting Re: Obama's speech in Egypt).

I recommend bookmarking her for regular reading of her column over at Salon (she appears on Drudge's referenced links as well). “Iron sharpens iron” says the Bible, and I think one finds in Ms. Paglia a worthy foil for the many conservatives I appreciate (like Charles Krauthammer, Shelby Steele, Mark Steyn, et. al.). She’s a brilliant spokesperson for all of us who enjoy an honest debate, whether liberal or conservative, and I (admittedly) enjoy a little schadenfreude watching her land roundhouse shots to the sides of heads of arrogant, smarmy liberal academics in Ivory towers and policy wonks whom she occasionally excoriates. Plus, intellectually honest and strong women are kinda sexy. I know ... such a misogynist.

25 June 2009

Throw a Rock: Michael Jackson, Sly Stallone, and L.A.

IMHO, whatever sells tickets qualifies as entertainment. Could be sports, film, TV, theater (back East, one says, thee-ah-tah), stand-up comedy, music, and, yes, even wrestling (down South, one says, wrasalin'). If we, the average citizenry, are parting ways with our hard-earned money (especially w/ today's economy) to buy decent tickets to catch a gig, see a show, or watch a play, it is the buying of tickets to see one's favorite act or star up-close-and in-the-flesh that denotes "entertainment."

In L.A., the industry here in SoCal is the entertainment industry. It's sexy. It's hip. If you want to be admired as "in the know," you must work in the entertainment industry (not that I am advocating this; far from it). Throw a rock and you pretty much hit someone who works "in the biz," (horrible phrase) whether behind the scenes, or whether one, as my childhood friend who had his own series on Fox says, "makes a living in front of the camera." We who live here are perhaps a little (no, a lot) jaded. When we have friends come to town, it is they who want to see and be seen with celebs. Even D-listers like reality tv "appearancers" are ogled and photographed (the au courant way to snap this photo is with camera extended high in the air, like one is about to pour beer on oneself, pointed back at yourself with arm around all manners of Shia Leboufs, Kobe Bryants, or even Barack Obamas). The only locals that really care about the celebs and their goings-on are the paparazzi who stalk them 24/7.

Just one quick recent example. When one of the owners of a boutique law firm I used to work for in Austin came to town for meetings with me to call on several studio lawyers, we were having breakfast and he said to me, "hey, my wife is a huge film buff, do you think we'll see any celebrities or movie stars while we're out today?" I looked up from my chicken breast with capers and egg whites and casually mentioned that William H. Macy was seated directly behind him (William H. was rocking a rather bushy, if not bouncin' and behavin', moustache). My Texas colleague vaguely recollected "Fargo" and thought his wife would indeed like that. When another of our colleagues met me in Marina Del Rey a few weeks later, we had breakfast next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

If you live in certain LA neighborhoods, or frequent certain spots, one becomes accustomed to the celebrity sighting. We grow up with these guys or their kids; their kids play baseball or soccer on our kids' teams. We bump into Wimbledon champs in playing gear on quick break from their UCLA tennis tournament in grocery stores buying feminine hygiene products and/or prophylactics (talk about your 30-love!). None of what I've written is an exaggeration, but we could list 200 "celebrities" that we've met, know, have known, or bumped into just in the last several years.

Take this week, my boys are playing at a youth football camp at UCLA (there were also track, volleyball and swimming camps). I checked them in, and stayed around a bit to see that they were enjoying themselves, or worse, were not. Anyway, in the line at camper check-in was Diane Keaton ("Something's Gotta Give"), who was very relaxed and doing the exact same thing that all of us parents were doing, checking in some anxious kid. A few moments later, I was standing next to a few dads as we watched UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel welcome our collective brood with some nice words. I realized that next to me was Keyshawn Johnson, arguably one of the greatest college wide receivers, and a spectacular professional receiver as well. (This was actually odd b/c Keyshawn is a USC Trojan alum, and here he was dropping off his kid -- I'm assuming his -- at a UCLA Bruin camp.)

When I was in college, my first-love handed me my cuckold beating heart in a break-up down in Malibu. It was a multi-year relationship that needed to end years earlier, but it stung nonetheless (enough so, that within two semesters, I was asked quite nicely to leave school until I could get my "shiyat" together -- it's a technical Cal State Admin term. Breakups are like that, they're the gifts that keep giving.). As we were walking and talking, heading back to her car, we passed several times two other broken-hearted beachcombers doing the exact same thing we were: Brigitte Nielsen and Sly Stallone. The next day, I heard on the radio whilst driving to CSUN that Sly filed for divorce that day.

So, back to today. I stayed around a bit longer at UCLA to just watch and enjoy my sons playing their favorite sport, and met a director/writer team who had just landed a new gig from Paramount Pictures and were doing research, meeting coaches and parents of youth footballers. The three of us talked about some common interests and friends in the business and had a nice chat. Like I said, throw a rock.

Which brings us to Michael Jackson. When I was a senior in high school and a freshman in college, he came to my house twice as a Jehovah's Witness. First time, I answered the door in my towel having just stepped out of the shower. He told me his name was "Joe" and that he wanted to tell me (or maybe he said "share with me") about the Lord and the troubling times we found ourselves living in. As I was dripping water all over the porch, I excused myself to throw some sweats on and returned in a flash (maybe that's a poor choice of words). Of course, I had to call my girlfriend (the breaker of innocent hearts) and tell her that Michael Jackson had just landed on my door and that she could expect him imminently (she lived a few doors down).

Upon Michael's next visit, he again said his name was Joe, but I didn't play along this time. I told him that maybe his middle name was "Joe" but his first name was for sure Michael. He brought along a 10 or 11 yr-old little friend, a good looking blond kid wearing the de reguire witnessing suit, with a sturdy leather valise that made him appear actually mature, perhaps Michael's spiritual mentor. The three of us chatted for about 20 minutes, Michael holding his black umbrella, blondie his valise, and I my Bible. I pointed out a few verses in my Bible that were different from his New World Translation and was about to say "thus sayeth!" when a dozen or so neighborhood kids meandered up the street in search of the begloved one. Michael Jackson, startled as a spooked horse, took off like a bat out of Hell, or a King of Pop running from a pack of prepubescent autograph seekers. His loafers were slipping and sliding all over the brick porch, like a cartoon character running in place, and then, ahhh, wonderful traction as his feet propelled him down the street clutching only his umbrella in one hand and steadying his hat on his head with the other. I later learned from one of the little kids that Michael ran clip-clopping down the steep street to his black Rolls Royce which he had parked at the bottom of the hill ready to spirit him away should any suburban ruffians ask a difficult theological question or request an autograph.

Which brings my very unimportant yet personal story to a close. While waiting for my boys to finish their practice today, I heard confirmed on the radio that TMZ was reporting Michael Jackson dead at the UCLA Medical Center not 3 minutes from where I was standing. Startlingly quick, there were 6 helicopters above the UCLA practice fields, raising such a racket that Coach Neuheisel had to ask a few hundred young future Bruin footballers to get into a rather tight scrum so he could be heard. My boys were not too shocked of the news re: Michael, but their mother (my ex) and I both felt a very real tug on our hearts over the news of Michael's death; he meant a great deal to our generation. His life was tragic in so many ways, and perhaps even lurid. I hope and pray that he found peace in his life.

As the boys and I made our way through the campus to have an after-football-practice ice cream, there were already a queue of 100 mourners and reporters on the campus. Sitting down at Diddy Riese, I asked my boys what they thought they could learn from Michael's death. My oldest who is 11 said in earnest "not to have plastic surgery." My youngest (9) said, "you should not try to change your color," and I said "you mean your ethnicity?" And he said "yeah, that." I suggested that perhaps we should all be ready to give an account of our lives, and that we should live good ones as much as possible. We all were silent on the street next to the restaurant with the hookah, as helicopters kept up their bloody racket above us, almost as oddly winged angels leading Michael to meet his maker. We ate our chocolate ice cream sandwiched by freshly baked peanut butter cookies.

Only in L.A.

21 June 2009

"If" by Rudyard Kipling (Father's Day)

When I was in high school, I was given a book of poetry. My favorite poem from this anthology would become Kipling's "If," which meant a great deal more to me after reading the biography of a missionary who was killed (and eaten) by the very people he was trying to help somewhere in Micronesia. This was also his favorite poem, and "If" helped him overcome obstacle after obstacle in his life, until one day he finally did become that true man, as the poem full of condition precedents predicts.

Today, on Father's Day 2009, I offer this to my sons, and wish them well on their journey into "if's" and "doubting's" and "becoming's." I tore this out of that thin little book 20+ years ago and have kept it with me since on every desk I've owned.

Happy Father's Day to all of you as well who share this Sisyphean yet wonderful burden and blessing.

Suggested Summer Viewing

Now that we’ve arrived officially at the Summer Solstice, I thought I’d mention some DVDs worth putting in your Netflix queue before your upcoming plane/train/road trip. Or, perhaps you’re joining the growing throngs of families taking "staycations" instead of the summer holiday off in Turks and Caicos? Just as well, a good DVD recommendation and popcorn with melting Junior Mints go well with a staycation also.

What I’m listing below may not show-up on the AFI 100, but believe you me, they’re good in my book, which may not be saying much, but it’s a list to at least peruse. These are films to enjoy after the kids are down and you’ve opened a nice Australian Shiraz. So, here goes, some foreign films to get you in the mood for some globe trotting:

Enchanted April – Let’s start off in the UK/Italy. This newly released DVD is worth its weight in gold. LOADED with British talent, from Judy Densch to Jim Broadbent, Alfred Molina to Michael Kitchen, it is a travelogue befitting those with a wanderlust for Italian destinations and UK sensibilities that we Anglophiles enjoy (Honorable mentions: Hope and Glory, Croupier, Sexy Beast, and Possession for the UK. For Italy, Cinema Paradiso, and Room with a View even though half is set in London, the best bits are in Italy).

La Femme Nikita – Tripping into France now, for those who simply must have their summer action flick, there’s enough explosions, shootings, and assassinations to sate those with even the most insatiable Quentin Tarantino chicks-with-guns-n-sword appetites. Plus, or as they say in French, plus, there are hotties toting big guns speaking saucy French words that drip from beglossed lips. (Honorable mentions: Red (from the trilogy “Blue,” “White” and “Red” from Polish director Kieslowski) – Each of these films can stand and be viewed alone, but Red is my fave, and Irene Jacob just breaks your heart (so does her dog). Other HM's Jean de Florette, Amelie, and My Father’s Glory.

Eat Drink, Man Woman – Ang Lee’s big breakout film. This Taiwan (if memory serves right) film is about a world-renown chef and father of several daughters, each unique in their own way (and each unique in their own way of torturing dad) and finding themselves at crossroads of a modern Asia set against traditional cultural demands. This film was remade into Tortilla Soup, which, as is the case with all U.S. remakes, was not quite up to snuff. Oh, do not watch this film hungry. (Honorable mentions: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Raise the Red Lantern, and House of Flying Daggers)

My Life as a Dog Now in Scandinavia, in spite of the title, this Llasse Hallstrom-directed quirky coming-of-age film is actually worth your time. The Swedes are quite good at restrained design (whether architecture or furniture) and their directors are very good at delivering reeled-in performances by their actors. (Honorable mentions: In honor of Llasse, we’ll throw in his other films Chocolat, Shipping News, and Something to Talk About)

The Sweet Hereafter – Our brothers in Canada have an amazing filmmaker in Atom Egoyan. If a film can be sweet and gut-wrenching at the same time, this is it. The performance by Ian Holm is spectacular; if you haven’t seen this one yet, pull your legs up underneath you,let the day come to a close, and watch this one with a loved one. (Honorable mention: Jesus de Montreal, The Score, and Some Girls)

So, there you have a few offerings from around the globe. We could have also mentioned Like Water for Chocolate, Y Tu Mama Tambien (Mexico), Pan's Labyrinth, Barcelona (Spain), The Big Blue (Greece), Il Postino, Death and the Maiden (Chile), but I guess we just did.

18 June 2009

"And You Are There!"

“And you are there!” These the words spoken by so many reporters in their 3-piece suits with hats cocked to side and fountain pens in their pockets, delivered in stilted news guy staccato fashion, back in a day when the headlines were still brought to the masses via black and white news reels prior to Friday evening or Saturday matinee shows at the local Odeon. Many of our parents (well, maybe your grandparents adjusting for Generation “Y” readership) discovered the horrors of WWII concentration camps this way, or saw the Hindenburg fall burning to a New Jersey cow pasture, or even learned of Joltin’ Joe D. hitting safely in 56 straight baseball games.
When we witness a spectacular event or disaster or learn of it from a friend, we remember exactly where we were for better or worse. When I was a boy, my little brother Chad and I would visit our much older brothers for several weeks each summer in San Diego (when your mom has 11 kids including step-siblings, she’ll do anything to get rid of a couple for a few weeks). I was 11 yrs-old sitting in my brother Rob’s old beater truck (he had gone into the store) and can vividly recall listening to the radio and hearing that Elvis Presley was dead. They played a few songs of his and I remembered that I liked his movies, the ones where he was a race car driver with an ascot around his neck in Vegas, or as some helicopter pilot wearing a leis in Hawaii, or dancing up against and singing to Ann Margaret again with the ascot or neckerchief in some jail house. Dude was the king, and he was dead, and I was sitting in a 1971 beater pickup truck parked in Oceanside, California in 1977.

In these grave matters of import, it matters who delivers the news and it especially matters how they tell us. When Walter Cronkite reported on the shooting of JFK on live television in black and white from a bureau in Dallas, he pulled off his Clark Kent frames, looked at the clock, and with perspiration on his brow and lip, this reporter's reporter allowed his voice to crack just a bit as he announced that our president had indeed succumbed to the assassin's bullet. He was one of us, feeling the pain that our parents were feeling. I’m still upset about the way my older brother told me about my little brother Chad’s death (we were 18 mos. apart). I was in law school, and sitting in my house in Virginia, in the living room with the unfortunate green carpet, and he just sort of blurted it out over the phone. What made it worse was that the deliverer of this news of our brother’s death had been angry with our now-deceased brother. Bad news delivered by a begrudgeoned brother is badly brought. Receiving or telling bad news is not fit for anyone, exactly because it is so memorable and we don’t forget.
You say "first-kiss" or "car-accident," and I say, “back porch on the washing machine” or “Disneyland onramp.” I say 9/11, or Challenger Shuttle disaster and you say the exact place and time of day and who you were with and what you were eating. We Americans are a united tribe in that regard, and our collective memories of our historical or pop-culture tragedies are important in their binding, community and nation-building sense.
We remember the Alamo, Gettysburg, the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, and World Trade Center. We remember Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Elvis, or even Aaliyah or Selena and their impact on our lives as well. If there’s beauty to be found in tragedy it is that we are stronger in our recovery, restoration, and remembrances. We grow stronger, like a mended bone set after a bad fall. We might limp for a short time, but at least we do it collectively, healing together as a family, fire house, army unit, or a nation, in which case we are all there.

06 June 2009

Audrey Tautou IS Coco Chanel

I've heard great things about the new Coco Chanel biopic that lands stateside this fall starring Ms. Tautou (she plays Coco. duh.). Adoring the beautiful Audrey Tautou is a very easy thing to do; she's sort of like a french Audrey Hepburn. In fact, I can see her reprising many roles that Audrey Hepburn established with elan: Charade (w/ Cary Grant), Roman Holiday (w/ Gregory Peck), even Breakfast at Tiffany's (w/ Buddy Ebsen). Okay, he shows up only at the end, but he was married to her in the film. Is that sacrilege? Quick sidebar, when I was a kid, about 9 yrs-old, I learned to scuba dive in Buddy's pool on his ranch in Malibu Cyn. His kids were friends with my older brothers.

Back to Audrey and Audrey, it's not hard to imagine the converse being true as well, viz., Audrey Hepburn running around Europe with Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code, much like she gallivanted about Europe in Charade and Roman Holiday. She was such a class act and person, let alone a fine actress, and she is sorely missed.

The following commercial for Chanel No. 5 was released on 5 May 2009 (5th month, 5th day) putting perhaps too fine a point on their new ad campaign. Audrey Tautou's acting fee in this campaign is reported to be north of $4million American. Not a bad payday for 3 weeks work. Audrey worked with the same director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (see this GREAT interview with him here on the "making of") as she did on Amelie and Very Long Engagement.