Caffeine’s Like Mething Around

Starbucks Awake TeaMost people are not aware that the United States tried to make caffeine illegal in the 1930s. They found that it was impossible. It was already in so many products and the United States of Commerce has a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. But you didn’t need to know that to figure out that a drug’s danger had nothing to do with its legal status. According to the CDC, “Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.” This is far more than the number of people who die from all illegal drugs combined. But who cares? We’re talking profits!

I am not, as they say, a coffee achiever. Why people keep buying me Starbucks cards, I can’t say. But last Sunday, I went over to Starbucks. Normally, when I go there, I get their Earl Grey tea, because they don’t have English Breakfast. But this day, I decided to try their only other black tea: Awake. What a mistake! I had to rush home and hide under my bed while I waited for the effect to subside. After a few hours, I passed out either from the sudden disappearance of the caffeine or an anxiety overload. Thank you so much, Starbucks!

I am used to ingesting 50 mg of caffeine per day—up to 100 mg if I’m feeling cocky. I know what these levels of caffeine feel like and this was not what my Awake experience felt like. I figure there must have been 200 mg of caffeine in that damnable cup. But it’s strange. It is hard to find data. Starbucks proudly displays the number of calories on their pretend bagels. But they don’t provide caffeine content. You would think they would. What is it that they sell, anyway: caffeine.

According to, 12 oz. of Awake tea only has 100 mg of caffeine. Of course, they also claim that it has the same amount of caffeine as their Earl Grey tea. Sorry. When it comes to caffeine, I’m like one of those really expensive thermometers: very sensitive.

So all you coffee achievers out there: if you’re looking for a tea, Awake is for you. But you should know: that caffeine is killing you. Stress kills.

Speed kills: don’t meth around!

Lou Dobbs: Ignorant and Evil

Lou DobbsLou Dobbs (You know: the bigot!) was on The Daily Show last night. I frankly don’t understand why Jon Stewart gives vile people like Dobbs the platform. All he did on the show was defend Fox News and attack Obama. But that didn’t surprise me. It did, however, surprise me when he said this:

It’s a little like the way Obama goes after billionaires and millionaires when he wants to tax them, not understanding the order of magnitude different between a millionaire and a billionaire.

Last time I checked, that was three orders of magnitude. But ignorant in one thing, ignorant in all. You don’t get to Dobbs’ position without becoming completely divorced from reality.

Innumeracy in Rocky

XXXThe original Rocky is a great film. You probably find that strange because I’m such a pretentious arty kind of pedant. But that’s the whole point. You see, Rocky is not a boxing movie. The film has little to do with boxing. It is about a man who finally takes charge of his life. And this, perhaps more than anything else, is why the later film range from okay to horrible. Let’s see, if I had to order them from best to worst: II, V, VI, III, IV. [Note on Rocky VI]

Another thing that makes the film great is the love story between these two fragile, beaten souls. The seduction scene is the sweetest of its kind I’ve ever seen.

“I always knew you was pretty,” Rocky says.

“Don’t tease me,” Adrian says as if the thought had never occurred to her.

“I’m not teasing. I ain’t teasin’ ya,” he says, staring into her eyes. “I wanna kiss you. You don’t have to kiss me back if you don’t want. But I wanna kiss you.”

Dialog like that could go all wrong, of course. It is only because both characters are so clearly and deeply wounded by the world that we know these two are meant for each other, both objectively and in their minds.

It is best, however, not to watch the film too often. Because if you do, your mind will start to wander. Like after the opening fight scene where the fight promoter comes in the locker room to pay Rocky.

Balboa, you get winner’s share: six-five dollars. Less fifteen dollar locker and corner man, five dollar shower and towel, and seven percent tax comes to forty fifty-five.

Let’s see now: 65 minus 15 minus 5 equals 45. Seven percent of 45 is 70 cents times 4 plus 35 cents. That’s $3.15. So the total is $41.85. That can’t be right.

The 7% must be off the gross. So 7% of $65 is 70 cents times 6 plus 35 cents. That’s $4.55. So the total is $40.45. Ten cents too much!

There are three possibilities here. The best one is that Sylvester Stallone is such a great writer that he knew that the promoter of this little hole in the wall boxing joint would make such a mistake, and it was put there on purpose. It seems unlikely, but he wrote a great script, so it’s possible.

The second possibility is that Billy Sands, the actor who played the promoter, flubbed the line. Either no one noticed or the best take was the one with the wrong amount. “It’s just ten cents! Only a freak would notice that!” Indeed.

The third possibility is that Stallone did the calculation wrong when he was writing.

And yes, I am perfectly aware that none of this matters. But now that I’ve cleared up this issue, my mind is clear. Of course, there is that whole issue of math in Shakespeare in Love—although they got it right, but it is interesting. Stay tuned!

Note: After Rocky IV came out, Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki was so annoyed that he made a short film parody of it called Rocky VI. He said of the film, “My revenge on Mr Stallone, who I think is an asshole.” Enjoy!

All is Clarity

All is VanityA long time ago, I wrote poetry, just like too many sensitive young people. But I was marginally successful, reaching the height of my art with a couple of things published in Andrei Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse (now just known as The Corpse). But in looking back at my work, on balance, I would have to say it was all crap. (I didn’t put the image on the left because it was a skeleton. I put it there because it is the painting All is Vanity — What a card those artists are! — and the title of this article is a play on that.)

Recently, I wrote a love poem of sorts for one of my many passing fancies for librarians and bank tellers — the only women I come into physical contact with. So I sent it off to my friend Kristen McHenry. Now she’s an actual poet. And, well, great. Her first book is The Goatfish Alphabet. It is very good and will appeal to most people. It has some amazing moments like her poem “Museum,” which I don’t think she will mind me reprinting here:

For Dolly Arthur, Resident of 24 Creek Street, Ketchikan

They took the furtive jouney all alone,
Up the dank path, heads bent, ashamed and thrilled.
Feeling their blind way through the drenched black pines
Into her thick arms and opulent hips;
To remember themselves lost in pleasure,
Weakended with the ache of want and release.

They smoothed out their fivers like ironed shirts,
Laid down their sore bodies for the giving.
Dolly rocked them in her pillow thighs
As the rain spread on the swaybacked ceiling,
And the house slumped inch by mouldering inch,
Towards the soft enchantment of gravity.

It splays there still now, sunken and silent
In all its perishing pink and pearl.
And we fish out our damp five dollar bills
To gawk at the remnants of the floozy—
This corpulent blonde audacious whore
Redolent with bright tarty birds and bras.

I forage for clues to which ones she loved,
Who she conjured in her last loneliness.
Two miles uphill at the hatchery
The salmon writhe in their florescent tanks,
Sniffing out the rank scent of their birthplace:
the fluid, forgiving bed of home.

Wow. I could write thousands of words about that poem. But what would be the point? What could I possibly say that would begin to get at the power of the work itself. It is, quite simply, perfect and better than anything I’ve ever done.

The truth is, however, that not all the poems in The Goatfish Alphabet are this strong. They are all good, but they are culled from years of writing over which McHenry refined her craft. And so, it is not surprising that her most recent book, Triplicity, is this good throughout. I plan to write about it in detail, but I’ve only read it four times and I’m still not ready. But you don’t need me to walk you through the book; she does an excellent job herself.

Triplicity is combined with Chella Courington’s Paper Covers Rock, which is also quite good, but I’ve only read it once and can’t say much more. Together they are well worth the $16 cover price. You really should buy it now!

So I sent this horrible poem off to Kristen and she worked it over and sent it back to me. It was amazing. What she’d done was kind of like an etching: she’d removed all the crap and left only what was good. Frankly, it was humiliating. She told me that all she does when she works on other people’s stuff is to try to make it as clear as possible.

That sounds simple enough, but it is so profound. It is a truth that any halfway decent writer knows, but which we all forget. So I am forever thinking back on it. Clarity is all.

Unless you’re five:


Rotten Tomatoes for Orson Welles

I recently wrote that I am not a worshiper of artists. But when I looked at how Orson Welles’ films have been rated over at Rotten Tomatoes, I was shocked. Here they are in chronological order, followed by their rating in parentheses:

1941 Citizen Kane (100%)
1942 The Magnificent Ambersons (96%)
1946 The Stranger (95%)
1947 The Lady from Shanghai (85%)
1948 Macbeth (86%)
1952 Othello (90%)
1955 Mr. Arkadin (83%)
1958 Touch of Evil (95%)
1962 The Trial (88%)
1965 Chimes at Midnight (92%)
1974 F for Fake (88%)

Some of these ratings I quite agree with. One can hardly argue with Citizen Kane, a movie that is quite good on so many levels. But The Stranger gets 95%?! It is by far the worst film Welles ever directed—his attempt to make nice with the studio system. It is a good example of what happens to artists who get too political (e.g. Picasso’s WWII posters): it is a perfectly workmanlike film. Sure, it’s about as good as anyone else’s work at that time. And that’s the problem.

I will put them in the order I think they deserve. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.

1974 F for Fake (88%)
1962 The Trial (88%)
1955 Mr. Arkadin (83%)
1958 Touch of Evil (95%)
1941 Citizen Kane (100%)
1965 Chimes at Midnight (92%)
1942 The Magnificent Ambersons (96%)
1952 Othello (90%)
1948 Macbeth (86%)
1947 The Lady from Shanghai (85%)
1946 The Stranger (95%)

Yes, F for Fake is my favorite of Welles’ films. It is not only a great film, it was a totally new kind of film that no one has picked up on to this day. It is not a documentary. It is a filmed personal essay. In a time when the written personal essay is coming back in a big way, I don’t see why filmmakers haven’t picked up on it. Unless it is like Mozart’s music: it’s a lot harder than Welles makes it look.

The Trial is quite simply a perfect film. I cannot imagine how anyone will ever be able to better translate Kafka’s nightmare to the screen. It is disturbing, of course. What do you expect? Welles said that it was his favorite movie, not that it matters. He also said this about Chimes at Midnight.

Most Welles fans will find it surprising, my placement of Mr. Arkadin so high on the list. But unless you have seen the Corith or Comprehensive versions, you really haven’t seen the film. Every time I watch it, I perceive it differently. It is always and forever an exciting experience.

Ah, Touch of Evil. “You wanna go check it out? Watch Charlton Heston play a Mexican?” What could be better? Perhaps, Marlene Dietrich saying, “He was some kind of a man… What does it matter what you say about people?” Or Welles telling her, “It’s either the candy or the hooch. I must say, I wish it was your chili I was getting fat on. Anyway, you’re sure looking good.” And there’s that whole business of the three and a half minute tracking shot that takes us from the US across the border to Mexico. And there’s just about everything in the film. Yeah, it is totally genre. Totally great.

Yeah, yeah. Citizen Kane. The greatest film of all time. Whatever. It is a great film. I’ve seen it 20 times. It does not age as well as Mr. Arkadin.

I’ve already talked about Chimes at Midnight. Welles was the first director to figure out how to do Shakespeare on screen. Step one, cut That Bard savagely… Note, this film is badly in need of restoration, so if anyone has a million dollars lying around…

The Magnificent Ambersons is a stunning movie. But imagine if someone took a razor and cut the face out of the Mona Lisa. Now you have an idea of what’s going on in this film. The studio took it away from Welles, cut the hell out of the last act, and pasted a happy ending on it that looks like it comes from another film. It is painful to watch. I haven’t been able to face it for years.

Othello is great for reasons I discussed previously. I watched again last night, and it is so good. Most of Shakespeare moves very slowly, but this moves right along. It shows how easy it is to make a great film if you are a great filmmaker.

Macbeth is quite good, helped in large part by being what I consider to be Shakespeare’s best play as well as Welles’ expanded use of the witches. The film is clearly shot on a budget. The sets are limited and it has a claustrophobic feel that is absent from just about everything else he ever did. But it is good and consistent.

The Lady from Shanghai is what most people think of when they think of Welles: flashes of brilliance in a film you just can’t follow. But really, in 1948, who ever did anything close to this great:

Which brings us back The Stranger, which is not a bad film, just nothing I ever want to see again. That in itself is a testament to Welles: his worst film is a totally professional, studio picture. Frankly, until I got this list and started working on it, I didn’t realize just how much I respected this great artist. It’s too bad all those millions are being used to restore his films now rather than being used to fund them then.

Update (7 August 2013 7:15 pm)

I am getting so tired of film clips being removed from YouTube. Before, I had the whole hall of mirrors scene from The Lady from Shanghai. Now all I can find is the meat of it above. I think film owners are making a big mistake by clamping down on this stuff. Articles like this make people rent and buy the films. Regardless, any film from 1948 should now be in the public domain. This is all out of hand.

Society is Imploding

Gerber Baby Cute baby contests have been around for decades. They probably began at fairs where contests of all kinds were a staple entertainment. It was good, clean American fun. But then, like most things that start out wholesome, our society twisted and tweaked the idea until they became sordid and disgusting (wet T-shirt contests, any high school popularity bullshit like Best Hair, etc.).

Contests aren’t simply entertainment; they have also been used as an effective marketing ploy since about the beginning of time. For example, the first Gerber baby contest was held in 1928. So began a long, sad tradition of women displaying their infants with the hopes that their bundles really are as adorable as everyone says they are. Do they need to be reassured that their children aren’t actually ugly little trolls? Of course not. These loving mothers are looking for cash.

Over the years, “Cutest Baby” has morphed into “Toddlers & Tiaras”, a show whose tagline could easily be: It’s never too early to teach our daughters to be narcissistic, catty little bitches. Honestly, I’ve never seen the show, but here’s a sampling of the photos that come up if you do a Google image search for “Toddlers & Tiaras”. Very fucked up.

I think beauty pageants in general are stupid and demoralizing, but pageants that involve deranged mothers dressing up their little girls like dolls and then trotting them out for public consumption is repugnant. The mothers disgust me and the children seem like aliens, so when I saw the following CNN headline, the hypocrisy of it compelled me to read the article (quoted here in its entirety).

Isabella Barrett
It seems the controversy surrounding TLC’s “Toddlers & Tiaras” and its pint-sized stars is never-ending.

After one contestant dressed as Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” another, Isabella Barrett, was filmed singing LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” at an event.

Barrett’s mother, Susanna, has since filed a lawsuit against TMZ, Huffington Post and Daily Mail Online, among other media outlets, for running stories that she alleges “sexualize” her 5-year-old daughter, according to court documents obtained by CNN.

“After this firestorm, I quickly protected my daughter by having cease and desist orders sent to most media outlets that ran the story,” Susanna said in a statement provided to CNN, adding, “I intend to clear my daughter’s name.”

Barrett also detailed her version of the events shown in a video published by TMZ. (In the video, Isabella can be seen singing along to “Sexy and I Know It” at a DJ booth with a microphone in her hand.)

News organizations reported that the Barrett’s were at a nightclub, however, Susanna said in her statement that she and her daughter were actually at “a pet friendly charity event at an American bistro restaurant in New York City at 7:19 p.m. It was a private well-lit event with vendor tables and pets in attendance.”

Little Miss Sunshine, if you’ve never seen it, is a wonderful movie about Olive, a seven-year-old girl who desperately wants to be in a beauty contest. Olive is not a beautiful little girl, something her dad reminds her of, inadvertently but often. Like most parents, he loves his daughter and wants her to be happy so he gives in to help make her dream come true. (There’s much more to the story, but it has nothing to do with the point I will eventually get to.)

Olive’s father (Greg Kinnear) doesn’t know anything about the Little Miss Sunshine pageant other than it means something to her. He’s actually a little irritated by this parental imposition, expecting a typical school-play like production. Then the show starts. Sitting in the audience, he sees little girls dressed like trollops and prancing around the way they might in a pedophile’s daydreams. Then he notices the creepy voyeurs sitting in the audience with him. You can tell by the look on his face when he finally understands what’s going on. His love for his daughter, his need to protect her, has finally broken through his self-absorption. When it’s Olive’s turn in the talent segment, he (along with the movie audience), is suddenly anxiety-stricken. He’s afraid she will be humiliated and hurt and it’s breaking his heart.

Olive comes on stage in her everyday clothes and it’s awkward. Then the music plays and Olive begins to dance. There’s no attempt at childish seduction, no coy winking at the audience, just a little seven-year-old girl dancing her silly happy dance. She was beautiful.

As for Isabella, her mother should be ashamed for corrupting her daughter’s childhood. If she really wants to clear her Isabella’s name, let her be adopted by someone who understand the meaning of responsible parenting.

Some Thoughts on Fucktard

There are currently 403 definitions of “fucktard” on the Urban Dictionary. Of course, many of them are like number 402:

The fucktard that wrote definition 201 is a fucktard. A fucktard is anybody whom makes up their mind before hearing the issue at hand.

Love that “whom” don’t you? Just so you know: I don’t have time to put in all the necessary sic entries; I copied them directly, so you can assume that what is written is how they wrote it. We’ll be nice and just look at number 201:

1. a person that makes you so angry that it induces you to say the word “fuck!” even at the mention of said the tard.

2. not to be confused with a ligitimately mentally retarded person, a fucktard is also known as somebody who has such a lack of vocabulary that they have to use “fuck” in almost every other sentence. generally fucktards hang in colonies. beware. note: this definition was posted by a person who just recently encountered an entire clan of fucktards.

1.jami:” hey sam, look its bill. don’t you have bio chem with him?”
sam: “fuck! i hate fucking bill! he is such a fucking fucktard!”
jami: ” yeah, poor guy, he doesn’t even know it.”

2. ftard1: “yeah man, the kegger was totally fucking awesome! I was so fucking wasted, i was like fuck, where the fuck am i? u know?”

ftard2:” yeah fuck man! i was so fucked up! have u fucked brittany yet? greg said she is a lousey fuck.”

The best definition by far in number two, for obvious reasons:

Someone who sees 13 pages of definitions for a basic combination of two words and feels the need to add another, identical one.

1) A fucking retard
2) A retarded fuck
3) A fuck, who is also retarded
4) …

But the truth is that there are apparently a lot of different definitions for “fucktard.” In particular, I thought Number 5 was quite useful as a word used by specialists (although it seems to me that dancers may well call their leotards “fucktards” for very different reasons; this one sounds too much like a male fantasy):

A leotard with a hole in the crotch instead of snaps so you can get some quick in and out action between ballet performances.

Damn that ballet was boring, but Jenny wore her Fucktard and gave me a piece if I promised to stay for the whole show. It was worth it!!!

Very similar (at least in the male sexual fantasy way) is this one:

Noun. A combination of the word “fuck” (to fornicate) and the word “tard” (to delay). Therefore, a fucktard is a girl who won’t let you fornicate with her until like the third or fourth date.

Most catholic girls are fucktards.

But by far the most common definition, repeated over and over, is “a contraction of ‘fucking retard.'”

All of this research has frankly put me off what I have thought of as a charming word. The fact that “retard” might be part of its etymology never occurred to me. But I’m dense in this way. I had to be told that Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia was a play on “Jerry Garcia.” Up to then, I knew the ice cream flavor reminded me of the Grateful Dead, but I had no idea why. (Sadly, this is absolutely true.)

Many years ago, Andrea English developed a theorem that people were either stupid or evil. I hypothesized that the “or” was not exclusive and that some people (quite a lot, actually) were both stupid and evil. To me, “fucktard” is the perfect word for this: stupid and evil. (See, just like with the ice cream, my subconscious knows, but the thought never makes it to my cortex.)

Now I am deeply torn: to fucktard or not to fucktard, that is the question…[1]

[1] Am I the only one who has noticed that about a decade into his career Shakespeare fell in love with the weak ending of his iambic pentameter?

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep

I might also point out that the “weak ending” of the last line is not weak. Sometimes Shakespeare was such a fucktard.

Dissing Artists for Fun and Profit

John Cassavetes' FacesWhen I was a teenager, it was fun to take potshots at great artists and thinkers I knew little about. This is part of growing up. But I wonder why it is that many people never outgrow this urge? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for iconoclasts. But in order to be against something, you have to know it pretty well. For example, I would love to rage about how much Stephen King sucks these days, but I’m not willing to read all his novels even once to get to a place where I could begin to make such claims. (I thought The Shining was very good 30 years ago; I take no responsibility for that opinion today.)

Dissing Cassavetes

A few months ago, I came upon Andre Soares over at the Alt Film Guide. I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t André Soares Ribeiro da Silva, more commonly known as André Soares, the 18th century Portuguese sculptor and architect dead?” Yes, he is. This is a different Andre Soares. He is a film ombudsman. And as such, he is hardly bad or unusual. But I’ve only read one of his reviews. He might normally be great. I don’t know. I don’t care. But let me tell you how I discovered him.

I came upon a copy of John Cassavetes’ Faces. It was very exciting, because I quite like Cassavetes and I had never seen any of his early films. To me, his reputation depended upon A Woman Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. And Gloria, because I’m an ol’ softy. I have long thought that America over-values foreign film to the detriment of truly independent film[1]. So I was glad that Faces had got the Criterion Collection treatment.

I grabbed the DVD, took it home and watched it. It was so powerful, I watched it again to get a better look at the technique. Then I watched all of stuff on the extras disc. Really: I couldn’t get enough. I went online to see what people where saying and that’s how I landed on Alt Film Guide.

Soares’ review is very well written, and if I hadn’t seen the movie, I would have found it compelling. Having just watched the film, however, I noticed something: the review was a hatchet job. I’m sure going in he had decided to savage the film. There were many problems. First, he made a few mistakes about the plot of the film. Second, he made some other mistakes. Third, it was clear he had watched the film only once. Fourth, he clearly didn’t look at the extras disc, which seems critical to me if you are, you know, doing a DVD review instead of just a movie review. When you get right down to it, the review was just a pretext for claiming that Cassavetes is over-rated.

Here is what passes for argument from Mr. Soares:

Faces‘ drama failed to move me not because of either the film’s plot, however predictable at times, or conventional set of characters. Faces‘ chief handicap is director-writer John Cassavetes, who apparently was too enamored of his own anti-Hollywood brilliance to let a mere story and a handful of distraught human beings get in the way of his stock-in-trade cinematic tricks. These include the use of a handheld camera that helps make the barely discernible action even murkier, and an overabundance of closeups. True, the film is called Faces, but unlike Ingmar Bergman, whose closeups (usually) transport us into the inner core of his actors, Cassavetes only presents us with talking heads. And do those heads talk.

So let’s deconstruct this argument: Cassavetes uses cinematic tricks (Handheld camera! Wow!) to get in the way of the story he wrote. Despite all these tricks, Cassavetes only presents us with talking heads. In other words: the film is too stylish except that it isn’t. The tired comparison to Bergman (usually) is priceless. I love the 5-hour Scenes from a Marriage, but it is all talking heads and it doesn’t transport the viewer anywhere—and that’s the point!

Just to finish up: any time an ombudsman says something like “the film didn’t move me” or “I didn’t think it was funny” I know why I no longer write (or usually even read) reviews. If you base your judgement of a film on a single viewing, your opinion is as much an indication of where you are emotionally as it is of anything in the film. If your lover just left you and you lost your job, you probably aren’t going to find the best film in the world very good. Art takes time. And so does its appreciation.

Dissing Welles

I went to the library the other day in search of a reference that contained a rough estimate of the percentage of any particular Shakespeare play that was written in verse. I know I’ve seen such a thing. I did not find it, but I did happen upon one of my old nemesis: Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor’s Reduced Shakespeare. I browsed through the book and came to a review of Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight:

This is Orson Welles’ crowning Shakespearean achievement, in which he brings a robust magnificence to Falstaff, Shakespeare’s greatest comic creation and a part Welles was born to play. He had a brilliant idea: create a story that focused on Falstaff by taking the relevant scenes from all the plays in which Falstaff appears (Henry VI[2], Parts 1 and 2, Henry V[3], Richard II, and The Merry Wives of Window). He even used Holinshed’s Chronicles (Shakespeare’s own original source) for the narration. Welles’ performance is outstanding, and the battle scenes are impressively intense.

Unfortunately, crowning achieve or not, Welles’ glory days as a director were far behind him. [Total fucktard statement. -FM] It’s too bad he wouldn’t trust the production to a director who could obtain some strong studio support. There are so many technical glitches that it becomes impossible to follow the story, and Welles had two incredibly distracting directorial habits: he seems to always put the camera in a hole in the floor (so you watch the actors’ chins against a backdrop of sky), and he loved the sights and sounds of background actors laughing. It’s even more annoying than listening to a laugh track on a sitcom: this way, you’re watching it, too. Welles seemed to forget that when you want an audience to cry, you don’t let the actor cry. It’s the same when you want the audience to laugh. Sigh. Very disappointing.

They gave it one out of five “bards.”

I suppose that Soares can be forgiven, because it has yet to become a cliche to hate on Cassavetes. But it has become a cliche to hate on Welles. Let’s face it, he’s an easy target: he’s fat. Forget what Falstaff said, “If to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine are to be loved.” In America, to be fat is to be hated. Martin and Tichenor pile on here with glee.

But there’s a problem: they are wrong from top to bottom. To begin, how was Welles born to play this part? Because he was fat? That’s all I can guess. The truth is, I don’t particularly like him in the part because his conception is very much mine: Falstaff is a frightened and beaten man. There isn’t a great deal of humor in his playing of the part. As I’ve said before, I much prefer Robbie Coltrane.

Despite this, I quite like Chimes at Midnight. It works better than Shakespeare on film ever did before that.[4] And this is due primarily to Welles the director. The film is visually stunning. Yes, Welles did like low camera angles, but this film is quite subdued in this regard. And their take on the laughter is totally wrong. People are laughing in the tavern because they are laughing at Falstaff. There is no “laugh track” element here and the only way one would think this is if one were intent on making that point.

The film is all the more remarkable in that it does not look like the usual Welles guerrilla film-making. But to think that Welles could have got this shot with any other director through ordinary channels is madness. Just look at Welles! He actually slimmed down in the 70s. In the 60s, he looked his worst. No studio would have invested in Shakespeare with Welles in a star role. He did what he had to do to get the film made. And he succeeded. Brilliantly.

I am not a worshiper of artists. Both Cassavetes and Welles were far from perfect. But they were both artists who managed to do exceptional work under difficult circumstances. To me, the greatest thing you can say against both men is that they didn’t leave enough work. Why do people take aim at these men when there are extremely well-paid men creating garbage everyday who are far more deserving of such venom?

[1] I often hear of $5 million films referred to as independent, hence the “truly” qualifier.

[2] There is a little mix-up about Henry VI with Henry IV. It could happen to anyone.

[3] Falstaff is only mentioned in Henry V, he isn’t in it. What’s more, he isn’t even mentioned in Richard II. I think these guys get their Shakespeare entirely from movies (e.g. Falstaff is in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V).

[4] Welles’ Othello is of a similar quality for the same reason. And it would be worth watching just for the unusual film appearance of Micheál Mac Liammóir as Iago. You can also hear him doing the narration for the wonderfully fun Tom Jones. (BTW: Martin and Tichenor gave this great version of Othello one bard as well.)

Waste Land and the Birth of Hope

Waste LandAbout that title…[1]

If you want to see the kind of social connections that I have to the people who live around me, all you have to do is go out on the street on a Monday night. Tuesday morning there is garbage pick-up, so everyone brings their garbage bins out to the sidewalk the evening before. That’s when people see one another. They nod and sometimes, they even wave. The connection is almost too powerful. Luckily, we don’t all take our garbage out at the same time, so I am likely to only see any given neighbor every couple of months. Whew! Dodged a bullet there!

The film Waste Land is about the artist Vik Muniz’s work with the Pickers who extract recyclable material from Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho landfill. It is a dirty and sometimes horrific job—one young woman tells about finding a dead baby in the landfill. But more than that, it looks like an extremely dangerous job. Nothing was mentioned about this, except for one young man who was badly injured years before. Yet the people seem reasonably happy. They make about 50% above the minimum wage. And they seem to have a real sense of community—the thing Americans try so hard to avoid or destroy.

Although I was most struck by how connected they all were, I don’t think this is so much a cultural issue. I think what binds them together is that they are unionized. And one of the most important things that unions do is put their members’ work into perspective and allow them to see that they are part of something bigger then themselves. As one of them says[2], “99 is not 100.” He was talking about recycling, but it is even more true with people.

The film itself is not about community; it is about hope. There is a point towards the end of the film when Vik Muniz says, “I’d rather want everything and have nothing than have everything and want nothing. Because at least when you want something your life has meaning, its worthwhile. From the moment you think you have everything you have to search for meaning in other things.” He goes on to say that he has started to find meaning in helping other people, which is what the project and the film are all about.

My Take

I am no ombudsman, but I thought it was a very good film. In fact, if it weren’t for the last very sentimental 10 minutes (most of the time from when Muniz made the statement above up to the “Where are they now?” ending), I would have called it great. Still, it is well worth seeing. It will literally make you laugh and cry. I’m not sure if it will become a part of you.

As for me: I can’t wait for Monday evening!

[1] Yes, this is a reference to The Death of Hope: Sweet Charity and All That Jazz.

[2] I believe he was the guy who got the union started, but I’m not sure (see A Quick Note on Subtitles). Also, the young man who was injured was also an organizer. I missed some details. You should watch it yourself.

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Republicans are Wimps

Laura Ingraham on her radio show (from The Rachel Maddow Show):

I was going back on YouTube … and I was watching some of Reagan’s old debates from the 60s—late 60s, early 70s. There wasn’t a place he wouldn’t go to argue the conservative message and advocate for conservative principles. And he got a lot of grief for it, but he also—he won a lot of respect. And it seems to me that if we have Republicans out there, maybe coming up through the ranks, who are concerned about going on Rachel Maddow’s show or, you know, concerned that she’s gonna get the better of him or her in a sit-down, then we have real problems.

I couldn’t have said it any better: Republicans have real problems. They are wimps who surround themselves with like-minded people so they are never challenged.

I see this clearly today and I’ve been watching it happen over the last three decades. Republicans have systematically ghettoized themselves. It is sad to see conservatives I talk to who only get their news from conservative outlets like Fox News and right-wing radio: they are shocked that liberals even exist because their only experience of them is as straw-men seen through these media filters. What’s more, they are completely impotent against real arguments. Of course, this doesn’t cause them to abandon their beliefs; they simply don’t accept what are established facts.

It is really very tiring when you get to that point in all these arguments when you are asked to produce the proof, as though you should carry it in your pocket. They, of course, have accepted everything they’ve been told without a smidgen of proof. But if it goes against their prejudices, “There must be proof!” Occasionally, I do get through to these people. In time, I will provide them with newspaper articles and sometimes they actually read them. And then it is always the same, “You mean they’ve been lying to me?!”

Yes, deary: they’ve been lying to you.

And that’s how the Grand Old Party became the Simplistic New Party. And they have real problems, such as the fact that people like Ingraham think the party still has any relationship to Ronald Reagan—or even Bob Dole. Not that I’m saying that would be good, but it would be better.