Friday, July 31, 2009
NOT ALWAYS SO SIMPLE
One of life's paradoxes--the things that should be so simple, like love, are in fact the things we complicate most for ourselves. Is it our love of puzzles? Our need for self-torment? Or does fear simply make us so irrational that we can't get out of our own way?
No blogger has yet found the answer to this--but then again, the poets have been working on the issue for far longer! And thank God they have! And likewise, let's be happy that Mark Von Sternberg has written and directed a charming new film called LOVE SIMPLE, currently showing as part of the HBO Latino Film Festival.
On a shoestring budget, Von Sternberg has created a quirky valentine, lovingly shot in Park Slope (with even more love than Noah Baumbach's THE SQUID AND THE WHALE). In a story alternately humorous and tender, love appears to two battle-scarred romance seekers in a neighborhood laundromat, and it should be a match made in heaven--except that, ashamed of their personal baggage, both start off with simple lies that turn into elaborate ruses that ultimately become difficult for them to unravel. People lying when pursuing the object of desire is nothing new, of course--Shakespeare has earned a pretty penny with such a premise time and time again. We all fear we won't be received by our beloved if we are not shown in the most favorable light. But in LOVE SIMPLE, even as we understand the young lovers' fears, we find ourselves wanting to call out, "No! Just say the truth, or you'll regret it!" That Von Sternberg's directorial/screenwriting debut awakens such urgency in even slightly-jaded hearts (such as this viewer) is a lovely accomplishment indeed.
The young technical staff belies whatever inexperience they may or may not have with an amazingly good-looking film on a tiny budget, and it is lovingly scored as well. The cast, to a man, is perfection. As Adam and Seta, the young couple navigating love's bumpy course, Francisco Solorzano and Patrizia Hernandez are funny, prickly and lovely, and they receive able support from their almost Shakespearean comedic counterparts (and best friends), played by John Harlacher and Caitlin Fitzgerald. A surprising supporting performance comes from famed playwright and screenwriter Israel Horovitz, playing Adam's ailing father with a touching blend of warmth and despair, and the scenes between father and son are quite moving. An assortment of fine supporting players lend to the Brooklyn ambiance, but this is not just another New York story--trusting the truth in love will always be tricky, but it is something that ultimately must be done if love is to survive.
LOVE SIMPLE will be shown again on Sunday, August 2nd, in NYC, 3:30 PM @ Clearview Cinemas Chelsea Screen 7 (260 W 23rd St, between 8th & 7th Ave). It will also be screened in Los Angeles August 7-9th at the Feel Good Film Festival.
And yes, I do know these folks--but the beauty of a blog is that you don't have to recuse yourself for journalistic ethics. (And if I didn't like it, I just wouldn't bother to write about it!)
Thursday, July 23, 2009
"Stupid" Word Usage
I unashamedly adore Ms. Whoopi Goldberg and further admit to being hooked on The View. I find her admirably sensible, funny, practical, and warmly honest. So I begin this "dispute" with love.
Whoopi has an aversion to use of the word, "stupid," and I both appreciate and understand that aversion. In a strange but perhaps unsurprising development in our culture, the f-word is commonplace, but to call someone "stupid" actually stings. ("Fool," another four-letter f-word, is also a conversation-stopper.)
The good news, I guess, is that words still have their meaning-- and the power to make people sit up and take notice. While cuss words come and go, they are meant to be disposable, ultimately. But real words have power. Real words are binding. Real words can sting.
Now, President Obama is coming under his usual daily dose of attack for his use of the word, "stupid", in condemning the behavior of Cambridge police in arresting Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., an esteemed Harvard professor who was arrested and cuffed for breaking into his own house, even when he presented his I.D. (Apparently, the "absent-minded professor" had misplaced his keys during an overseas trip to China and needed to find a way into his own abode. Having had to search for my keys on a daily basis, I sincerely feel Prof. Gates' pain, as those things truly DO have a life of their own.) That the police responded rapidly to the burglary call from a neighbor is laudable, but that the police arrested Prof. Gates despite the evidence that this wasn't a crime, arrested him for disorderly conduct in his own home, did not read him his Miranda rights, and then refused to apologize for their mistake--WHAT WOULD YOU CALL THIS?
That Professor Gates is a highly-recognized and respected member of numerous communities shouldn't matter IF he had behaved badly--and only those at the scene would know what really went down. No member of ANY community should abuse those doing their civic duty, and lord knows the police need support in their actions and appreciation for the bravery they display on a regular basis. On the other hand, President Obama is absolutely right in pointing out that the degree of racial profiling informing the activities of law enforcement has statistically reached frightening proportions and politely ignoring this fact will not make it all go away. (As Whoopi sagely pointed out, it is also sad that neighbors don't get to know each other better--perhaps, had Professor Gates' neighbors taken the time to get to know him, they wouldn't have called to report a black man breaking into the house across the street.)
But to the word itself.
Asked a direct question, the President responded honestly, openly and directly with his opinion (which is in keeping with his style). He said the police had "acted stupidly" in arresting Professor Gates, given the evidence that there was no crime committed.
In looking at the definitions of the word, "stupid," one finds "lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind," and also "in a state of stupor, stupefied; stupid from fatigue." (see below for reference.) In short, acting stupidly is the action of one temporarily not at their best. It does not imply they are permanently or at all times deficient, but it does infer that they are not using their best judgment in the given circumstances. How much more correct can the President's usage be?
Also, just as parents have a right to bring a child up short when they've misbehaved, it is totally appropriate for the top law enforcement official in the country to reprimand his subordinates when those who serve in our name misbehave in the execution of their duty. (Especially when this behavior has been going on unchecked for far too long, to a degree that is practically an epidemic.)
Finally, it speaks to President Obama's character. I respect him for going to a friend's defense rather than taking the political high-ground, especially when this situation is not rooted in political gain. Reverend Jeremiah Wright was deliberately using his position and was keenly aware of the political consequences. Professor Gates was trying to get in his own front door. Barrack Obama, clearly, is a true friend, and as an African-American and as a friend, answered the reporter's question honestly, without "politico speak" and I, for one, appreciate that. (He further prefaced the remark, saying he did not know all the facts involved and was speaking from a personal response.)
Stupidity is the use of poor judgment.
For example, when the Republican Representative (whose name escapes me, sorry) was attacking Obama's health plan yesterday NOT by discussing its weaknesses but by saying how this would break Obama's power, further attacking the President himself and not the plan . . . I would say this was stupid, revealing an attack that was totally based in partisan politics and not on what is best for the health care of his constituency (a subject for another blog, another time).
Stupidity is today, when Sgt. Crowley, the officer in question, criticizied HIS boss (the President of the United States) for butting in. Stupid is Sgt. Crowley saying he will never apologize. He is 100% right for not apologizing for doing his job--but he is 100% wrong not to acknowledge that mistakes were made and that he could have handled things better in his position.
Reading the police account, it sounds like tempers and egos flared. When one has been travelling for hours and hours (back from China), one might be very fatigued and irritable. (I know I would be.) I suspect no one behaved in a sterling, clear-headed fashion that night. When President Obama refers to the behavior as "stupid," he is not casting aspersions. He has hit the nail squarely on the head in an attempt to insist that we all do better.
So Whoopi, my love--I still respect you, but I think one should use strong words when strong words are appropriately used.
Modern Language Association (MLA):
"stupid." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 23 Jul. 2009.
American Psychological Association (APA):
stupid. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved July 23, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/stupid
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
THE ROAD SHOW NOT TAKEN?
ROAD SHOW took many years to write, and like so many artists' pet projects, it may not end up being the most popular "child" no matter how much it is beloved by its creators. And if this is the "final" version, then WISE GUYS and BOUNCE are only of minor interest in the development process--it is the finished piece that counts. The reaction off-Broadway to ROAD SHOW was strangely cool, perhaps due to all the expectations. And no matter how "advanced" New York audiences and critics may claim to be, traditionalists still love central tracking "characters," a person who represents the audience. But Sondheim and Weidman have done musical "essays" before--a musing meditation on a historic event that changed the course of history. In PACIFIC OVERTURES, the central character wasn't a person at all--it was Japan, dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world. Great visuals, breath-taking music, a thought-provoking experience that questions our own responsibility in Japan's subsequent actions and development. (In ASSASSINS, it was the contorted dream of fame, of making a difference, of getting noticed--America's all-preoccupying past time.) Are you going to say two of our greatest current theater artists can't explore something of interest to them, something a bit more challenging? ROAD SHOW, especially now, is timely in its exploration of hucksterism, of bogus land deals and bilking the public trust. Some folks took what they took with deliberation, while others let circumstances usurp and corrupt their ambitions and dreams. How timely is that? If Japan was the central character of PACIFIC OVERTURES, America and its dream is the central character of ROAD SHOW. It is small, mean, efficient, essay-like--and pungent. And in its own way, quite subversive, asking the questions that we choose not to ask of ourselves. It points the finger at us, the bilked public, the Madoff victims, and asks us, "Aren't you complicit?" And the production at the Public was most admirable, small in scale and design (if somewhat overpopulated) but ably directed and paced by John Doyle, with an incredibly dedicated cast. Alma Cuervo, William Parry, and Claybourne Elder led a strong supporting ensemble, and Michael Cerveris was as brave as ever, portraying the self-serving Wilson Mizner. But it was Alexander Gemignani, a large imposing presence with a heart of gold and guilt (spelling intentional) who came closest to being if not the tracking character, then at least the guilty conscience of ROAD SHOW, in a beautifully sung and played performance (as Addison Mizner). The show was intellectually interesting in the theater and you had to listen to each detail as it hurried by. The recording gives more time to absorb--and like all Sondheim, it grows richer and richer with each replay.
Serious musical theater fans rejoice--a valuable cast album has arrived. As for Sondheim fans--recognize that the master hasn't softened one iota: he still wants you to sit up, listen and think.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
My recurring memory of the 4th of July is (as it is for most of my family) of getting together the entire family at my Aunt Doris' house in New London, CT. She and Uncle Morris had a house on Pequot Avenue across the street from a small strip of private beach, and we would spend the holiday there, living only a few blocks away on Glenwood Place. Sometimes Aunt Shirley and Uncle Nat would come in from Jericho, Long Island with my cousins. And usually, Aunt Joan and Uncle Roger would come in from New York--and Uncle Roger would sit all of us kids down, good attorney that he was, and read us the Declaration of Independence on Aunt Doris' patio. Then after a hot dog/hamburger cookout, we'd go across and down the street to watch a fireworks display--modest but, to a youngster, magical. (My favorite part was the sparkling, moving animals--it took me a long time to realize that someone had merely made large, animal-shaped frames, lit sparklers along the frames, and then walked the frames along the darkened beach, somehow creating the magic illusion of moving animals of flame!)
Today, aside from one Alaska governor's career going down in flames, most of the pyrotechnics will be limited to the skies. (Macy's is doing it on the Hudson versus the East River for a change--should be quite a show along the West Side.)
But I guess more than anything else, I find myself pondering what Independence Day means. Not in the historical sense, although it may be impossible to divorce history from this discussion. Indeed, the whole notion this nation was supposedly founded on was that we were a place where freedom of ideas--and expression of those ideas--was not only permitted but celebrated. Wars continue to be fought (supposedly) to protect that concept, a concept which, in turn, we hope to spread to other lands (sometimes even if it kills 'em). As a nation, we get obnoxious overseas, telling others that our democracy is the way, perhaps the ONLY way. (We're being slightly better with that behavior of late, thanks to a President with a modicum of taste and tact.)
I guess what I'm exploring is: for all the fighting to protect those rights--and God bless our soldiers and all who defend and protect those rights on our behalf--are we in fact cherishing them?
To me, this country is supposed to be where Independence of thought is sacred. You can worship as you please--which means organized or disorganized religion, mass worship or a congregation of one. Or none.
Independence means you can love whomever you choose to love, wherever you choose to love them. Love for another human being should be a fundamental right--regardless of gender, race or creed. Relationships are so hard and complicated--if two people want to commit to each other, no matter who they are, bless 'em for making a go of it! (To get hung up on who or what they are and what defines "marriage" is antithetical to the very basis of holy union, whose roots are pure and start with love and commitment.)
Independence means freedom of opinion--and while not always agreeing, respecting others' opinions or, at the very least, their right to their opinion. The venom spewed by extremists on both sides of the aisle (no parties immune) continues to erode like acid the very fabric of the flag. (In Albany, currently, ego and power trips won't even allow people to sit in the same room with each other to do the very duties they are sworn to uphold as public Representatives.)
Being an American means being able to take care of yourself and your family. Contributing to and taking from a system that allows you autonomy. And when you are unable to take care of yourself--or when the system has somehow failed you or even sadly screwed you over--there are still fail safes from our society that will help you till you get back on your feet again. As nearly one in ten citizens is now unemployed, it is depressing to think how hard it may be to claim your Independence when you can't afford your basic necessities.
Freedom should mean being able to fly, unfettered. And being a U.S. citizen should mean supporting each other in that pursuit. Do we?
Wishing you all an independent spirit--the most important freedom of all.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
TWO SEEMINGLY UNRELATED NEWS ITEMS
Well, we seem to be losing major icons by the boatload. Rest in peace, Farrah, Billy Mays, Ed McMahon, Karl Malden--all of whom contributed to our culture, our pleasures, our art, our commerce.
I will not turn hypocritical and sing a song of Michael Jackson's praises, for while talented and certainly a major cultural icon, he wasn't my favorite for various reasons. But I do send condolences for his loss to all of his many fans.
No, I bring Michael up because of all the reports of various medications that he took or abused or (at least) was given prescriptions for which may have contributed to his death.
And I am fascinated by the latest reports on the dangers of acetaminophen, best known as Tylenol and used in Excedrin and NyQuil. The FDA is warning that America is doing major liver damage to itself through overdosing on this popular and normally safe drug. As reported today by The Philadelphia Inquirer, "The FDA cited research showing that acetaminophen overdoses led to 56,000 emergency-room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and 458 deaths from 1990 through 1998." New maximum dosage guidelines are about to come out, so that people don't overdose by unwittingly taking multiple meds containing acetaminophen. The new maximum daily recommended dose may be 2,600 milligrams, down from 4,000. Also, certain prescription drugs may be pulled entirely because of the problems they cause when people take other over the counter meds in combination with them--not to mention the dangers they pose in and of themselves at their higher prescription dosages. (These include Percocet and Vicodin, Gregory House's pain reliever of choice.)
Acetaminophen has been around for almost 50 years and in proper dosages is a wonderful drug.
We all have pain, but we need to realize that our bodies are chemistry sets, with finely tuned balances.
But American always want more. If two pills help but the result isn't enough, pop a few more. (It's amazing how many folks even O.D. on vitamins, not recognizing that they are regulatory supplements, not wonder elixirs.)
Here's where Michael Jackson comes in. We seem to think that the more we add to our bodies, the better off we'll be. (Or sometimes with Michael, the more we remove . . . !) But as with everything in life, balance and moderation are key!
While the pharmaceutical industry is hardly a group of angels, they DO actually test drugs and their dosages to find effective, safe levels. (They may be forced to do so, granted, but still, they do test.) Just as we should watch our intake of salts, fats, carbs, etc.-- all of which ARE good for us in moderation-- we should consider what is effective and what is safe and follow those guidelines. (Not to mention that some of us are more drug sensitive, so that level of safety might be variable.)
If Michael Jackson had only played with a toy chemistry set versus using his own body as a lab . . . If only he'd had real friends who knew how to say "no" to him . . .
So at the risk of sounding preachy, the following bears stating and repeating:
Consult a physician before you take ANYTHING on a regular basis, be it a prescription or a cure-all from the health food store, and any time you add to your regimen, make sure it will not have a bad interaction with that which you are already taking. (If you can't reach your primary physician, ask your local pharmacist--provided the prescription and mail-order drug services haven't run them out of business.) Take all prescriptions and supplements AT THE RECOMMENDED DOSAGE and contact your physician if you have any signs of an unusual reaction.
We're not here forever, any of us. But let's try not to leave prematurely.