Saturday, March 29, 2008

Now available on DVD: Jonathan Demme's pro-Jimmy Carter hagiography.

For those old enough to remember Jonathan Demme's career as a filmmaker, he started out making B pictures (CAGED HEAT, FIGHTING MAD, CRAZY MAMA) and when he graduated to A fare (CITIZENS BAND aka HANDLE WITH CARE, MELVIN AND HOWARD, SOMETHING WILD, MARRIED TO THE MOB, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), managed to create films that had a unfettered B sensibility in terms of humor and the kind of love of characters and actors not often found in most studio pictures of the 80s/early 90s.

Unfortunately, post-SILENCE, Demme lost his sense of humor and became fearfully politically correct (I remember the time he twittered in an interview over whether or not audiences would get The Wrong Impression from a shot of Dean Stockwell firing guns during a seriocomic fast-food restaurant shootout scene in MARRIED TO THE MOB).  PHILADELPHIA and BELOVED had enough remnants of his earlier craftsmanship, although they were intended as Important Prestige Pictures.  Demme's later work (namely the CHARADE remake THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE and the "redone for Denzel Washington's idea of a Denzel Washington movie" THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) showed increasing signs of artistic constipation and fearfulness of losing a sense of precious dignity.

I haven't seen all of Demme's documentaries, but his recent nonfiction work has involved seeking out people and lionizing them for having great Integrity.  The Neil Young acoustic concert film HEART OF GOLD was drowsy, but saved by the music of Young, his band and guest vocalist Emmylou Harris.

Now, the nadir of Jonathan Demme's career has been reached.  JIMMY CARTER: MAN FROM PLAINS is now available on DVD for those who can endure 126 minutes of hagiography about Carter as God's Lonely Man on a book tour for the controversial-in-2006 PALESTINE: PEACE NOT APARTHEID. 

It makes me sad to write this because, for his faults [occasional bad temper and egotism, as well as an unwillingness to coalition-build which helped to end his Presidency after four years, not to mention the infamous incident of treating Americans like preschoolers--"The energy crisis is REAL"--half-shouted during the "malaise" Oval Office speech of 1979--plus the "damned when he negotiated, doomed when he resorted to military force" spectacle of the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981], Carter has done positive things with his ex-Presidency, starting with the Habitat for Humanity housing projects and continuing with the Carter Center.

But Demme seems to not know how to make the viewer appreciate (if not agree with) Carter's willingness to take a principled-but-controversial stand re the relations between Israel and Palestine.  Instead, viewers are treated to barbecues, Sunday School lessons [the first two of these eating up almost the first half-hour of the film], book signings, Carter wanting to wander through the coach section of an airplanc for a quick ego-boost, two Jimmy-swims-in-hotel-pools setpieces and more than one cutaway from anything that might show Saint Jimmy  in a less-than-favorable-to-him situation. 

And after 126 minutes of this clumsy propaganda (as bad in its own way as the John Ford Vietnam documentary I discussed in the previous entry),  one feels like shedding a tear for Jonathan Demme, God's Lonely Director, who now sees himself as too principled, responsible and high-minded to make the majority of his past films--and is intent on ostentatiously rectifying the errors of his ways at the expense of the dwindling audiences who see his films.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Now available online: John Ford's pro-Vietnam War propaganda documentary.

Here's the YouTube link to the first part of the entire 58 minutes of the John Ford production VIETNAM! VIETNAM! (helped into birth by Bruce Herschensohn and actual director Sherman Beck for the United States Information Agency):
An interesting passage from Joseph McBride's John Ford bio SEARCHING FOR JOHN FORD:
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this little-known episode of Ford's life is that privately he had a highly skeptical view of the Vietnam War.  After making two trips to Vietnam in the winter of 1968 and the spring of 1969, Ford wrote his high school classmate Alnah Johnson, "What's the war all about?  Damned if I know.  I haven't the slightest idea what we're doing there."  But when asked to lend his name and talents to the cause, Ford reflexively fell into the "My country, right or wrong" attitude of his service as a government filmmaker in World War II and Korea.  Perhaps he was partly influenced by his characteristic attachment to lost causes, for by the time he joined up, seven months after the Tet Offensive, the Vietnam War was already widely regarded as a disaster for the United States and had split the nation into bitterly opposed camps of "hawks" and "doves."  Once again, Ford had found the moment of defeat.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

You can read it but don't say it out loud: corporate bookstores, poetry and profanity.

When I hosted a reading last year at a now-closed coffeehouse, the proprietor had this rule for poems with profanity: the language had to be at a PG-13 level (meaning more infrequent and not too graphic).

If you are hosting a poetry reading at a corporate bookstore such as Borders and Barnes and Noble, chances are the store managers will prefer that the rating of the poems of features and open-mikers be closer to G.

A host of a monthly corporate bookstore reading recently was admonished because a customer complained about alleged profanity.  The host says the profanity didn't occur.  And he received an e-mail that he passed along publicly; it appears below with names and other identifiers redacted:

Hi [poetry host]
You know we have a new Store Manager  as well as a new District Manager.  This morning at our managers' meeting, [store manager] told me that last poetry open mic [a month ago] he got a customer complaint about profanity.  The new regime is very strict and want to be sure that any groups in the store are bringing in sales, not just taking up space and definitely NOT upsetting customers.  He said that if he receives any more complaints we won't be able to continue to hold the Open Mic Poetry in the store.  So PLEASE let everyone know that they are going to have to be extra careful if they want to continue to meet here............There shouldn't be any problem with [store employee], just please warn the poets who sign up to read, as if anyone is considering stretching the limits of [corporate bookstore's] tolerance, they could ruin it for everyone under these new strict rules.
[bookstore employee]
A classic example of corporate bookstore censorship in action took place in Pasadena years ago.  I wasn't at the particular reading, but the store killed a poetry series apparently because a local and beloved-by-the-community poet/activist read a portion of Allen Ginsberg's HOWL.
One would think that HOWL, a seminal work of beat poetry and the subject of a censorship trial, could qualify for some kind of exemption from the Corporate Tolerance Police.  It didn't.  Someone complained about wandering into an environment where he/she expected to be shielded from "bad" words--and the reading series was canceled (though it moved to locations in years afterwards where content wasn't nearly so restricted).
I guess it's naive of me to wonder why corporate bookstores can't at least compromise on language to allow a PG-13 level and put up signs that explain that mild adult content will be expressed during readings (to forewarn faint-of-heart cultural conservatives and cautious parents of this actuality during the hours the readings take place).


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A sane article about Rev. Jeremiah Wright

As Shrillary and the right-wing attack machine combine to keep Reverend Jeremiah Wright's controversial sermons in the frontlines of political warfare, this article in SALON is a must-read:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Not-so-great moments in recent rock-and-roll business history.

Here's a link to an article about Wikipedia's quiet desire to make more money:

And here's a key passage in that article:

Another subject getting carefully parsed is the foundation's relationship with Elevation Partners, the venture firm co-founded by Roger McNamee and U2's Bono. Elevation owns stakes in Forbes magazine and Palm Inc., among other companies.

McNamee has donated at least $300,000 to the Foundation, according to Danny Wool, a former Wikimedia employee who processed the transactions. More recently, the foundation said, McNamee introduced the group to people who made separate $500,000 gifts. Their identities have not been disclosed.

Officially, Gardner and McNamee say he is a merely a fan of Wikimedia's free-information project, separate from Elevation's profit-making interests. "He has been clear _ when he talks to me, he's talking as a private individual," Gardner said.

Yet the relationship runs deeper than that would suggest.

Another Elevation partner, Marc Bodnick, has met with Wales multiple times and went to a 2007 Wikimedia board meeting in the Netherlands. (Wales described that as a "get to know you session" and said Elevation, among many other venture firms, quickly learned that the foundation was not interested in changing its core, nonprofit mission.)

Bodnick and Bono had also been with Wales in 2006 in Mexico City, where U2 was touring. On a hotel rooftop, Bono suggested that Wikipedia use its volunteer-written articles as a starting point, then augment that with professionals who would polish and publish the content, according to two people who were present. Bono compared it to Bob Dylan going electric _ a jarring move that people came to love.

McNamee and Bodnick declined to comment.

Although Wales says no business with Elevation is planned, that hasn't quelled that element ever-present in Wikipedia: questions.

In the recent interview, Devouard, the board chair, said she believed Elevation was interested in being more than just friends, though she wasn't sure just what the firm hoped to get out of the nonprofit project.

"It is easy to see which interest WE have in getting their interest," she wrote to Wales that day on an internal board mailing list, in an exchange obtained by The Associated Press. "The contrary is not obvious at all: Can you explain to me why EP (Elevation Partners) are interested in us?"

And here's a highlighted passage from an article by Steve Knopper about megaconglomerate Wal-Mart's attempts to get record companies to lower the wholesale prices of compact discs in this week's print issue of ROLLING STONE:

"All of this [including the fact that Apple's iTunes is now the Number Two music retailer] is bad news for the struggling record biz, which is now facing its biggest outlet cutting prices and shelf space, and its second biggest client selling digital downloads for a low-profit 99 cents apiece.  "That's the real underlying problem of the industry.  The kids have stopped buying records," says Russ Solomon, founder of the now-defunct Tower Records [note: Tower is still active as an online entity and still has some overseas stores--I happened to shop in two Tower Records in Dublin, Ireland last September] and owner of the Sacramento store R5 Records and Video.  "Just reducing [CD prices] to $10 doesn't solve that problem."

Two quick footnotes:

1. Bono and Dave "Edge" Evans are involved in the ownership of the distinguished old Clarence Hotel in Dublin (somewhere I also stayed last fall, since at least Bono was funding a business that paid Irish taxes, unlike his songwriting).  Now, there are plans afoot to demolish the hotel in its current form and knock down a few adjoining buildings to essentially build a "new" Clarence that will undoubtedly make more money--and contain a few doors and selected furnishings from the demolished "old" Clarence. 

2. Russ Solomon may not have been around for the entire run of Tower Records as a brick-and-mortar concern.  But Tower should take some deserved punches for not foreseeing the partial shift of recorded music to the mp3 format and also shoving a  middle-finger into the faces of CD consumers young and old by selling a lot of product at a close-to-list price of $18.98 for a single CD (bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble do it too, but their rationale seems to be that customers are sufficiently upscale to pay premium prices for recorded music).


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Another random entry column.

More random entries from the important to the trivial in no specific order:

1. Now that Barack Obama made a heartfelt speech about his former pastor, racism and the tendency of the news media to focus on horse race trivia at the expense of issues, it should be time again for the news media to firmly refocus on horse race trivia and strategy. 

2. It's five years and counting for the Iraq War.  Years ago, I wrote a poem which ended with the line "We'll always be in Iraq."  As a friend pointed out yesterday, Americans who can't imagine a life without sport utility vehicles should take some blame for a continued occupation and supervision of Iraqis because in part of our gluttonous intake of oil glorious oil.

3.  Time for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to end SOUTH PARK.  I saw two-thirds of the "Imaginationland" three-parter when it first aired (now it's being sold, with some extra material, as a "movie" on DVD) and it was a semi-lame affair which reminded me that Parker/Stone were able to do a similar concept (the classic MechaStreisand episode) in just a half-hour over a decade ago.  And the show's just-aired "leave Britney alone" affair retreated into tired genre parody (horror films of the CHILDREN OF THE CORN/HARVEST HOME variety) when the real thing (Lynne and possibly Jamie Spears dragging Britney out of recuperation for a publicity-op guest appearance on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER) ought to have been a ripe-with-possibilities satirical target. 

4.  Is it ratings or some kind of intranetwork passive-aggressiveness behind CNN's multiple airings of the recent LARRY KING LIVE episode with Janet Jackson (highlighted by Janet teaching Larry how to bust a few backup-dancer moves)?


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Michael Jackson--on the verge of another comeback?

Here's the link to an article in the London GUARDIAN about the recent goings-on regarding Michael Jackson, who's weighing an offer to play multiple nights at the O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome) in London:,,2265010,00.html

Separating the music from the human being and his foibles, I still think that Jackson's music holds up (and the fact that the 25th anniversary edition of THRILLER is selling well in the U.S.) by 2008 standards. 

But I believe that, given the artistic disappointment of 2001's INVINCIBLE, it would be a mistake for Michael Jackson--who once set musical standards--to again hire current "hot" producers and songwriters and try and fail to imitate what younger artists are succeeding with on the Pop/R & B charts nowadays.

It's probably better that Michael turn himself into an oldies act, play the O2 and other large European venues (it's doubtful that he could play Las Vegas without controversy and the lingering fallout from the child abuse accusations and subsequent 2004 trial)--and, in terms of releasing "product", give fans a 30th-anniversary reissue of OFF THE WALL, either this year or the next.

This is a better way for Jackson to regain artistic dignity (and have at least an echo of his once-massive commercial success) than isssuing further aural mediocrities like the now-long-forgotten "You Rock My World."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Clinton lapdog Joe Conason barks again--this time re Geraldine Ferraro's racist remarks.

Joe Conason has always been a reliable defender of Bill and Hillary Clinton in both THE NEW YORK OBSERVER and SALON.

Here's a link to his latest column on SALON's website:

The bullshit Conason is asking readers to buy is that Geraldine Ferraro is a lone gunperson/loose cannon who made the racist remarks about Obama strictly on her own--without any coaching or prompting from the Hillary campaign.

This is the way I see it: At the very least, tacit approval came from a combination of Hillary, Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson.  And Conason seems to have been asked to write the article as part of a "plausible deniabilty" defense plan.

Even in Keith Olbermann's tippy-toe-cautious "special comment" on COUNTDOWN Wednesday night, he brought up the valid point that there have been too many Hillary surrogates behaving in a contentious (I might say racially inflammatory in certain cases--Bill Clinton and Ed Rendell, anyone?) manner towards Obama--even though Keith seemed to hedge by saying that people "might see a pattern."

There IS a pattern--and Hillary, Bill, Governor Rendell, Penn and Wolfson--plus Geraldine Ferraro--owe Barack Obama an ultrasincere apology for their can't-win-with-honor conduct.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Keith Olbermann--contortionist.

Here it is: a link to Keith Olbermann's COUNTDOWN "special comment" piece taking on the Hillary campaign and Geraldine Ferraro's "Obama gets a pass because he's black" piece of wink-wink racism.

Watch how Keith is oh-so-careful to not actually offend Hillary--teaspooning out some criticism to Howard Wolfson and Mark Penn, while saving the rhetorical shotgun blasts for Geraldine Ferraro because she's a safe safe safe target (Ferraro's political career being pretty much over).

Face it, the buck stops with Hillary Clinton.  She--like her husband and daughter--is industrial-strength selfish, being more interested in getting and holding power by any means necessary, the general election and the internal health of the Democratic Party being damned as a result.

And Keith Olbermann is as likely to fearlessly address Hillary's win-at-any-cost malfeasance now--or in the future--as he did the inviting and disinviting of Dennis Kucinich from a recent MSNBC Presidential debate (meaning: not at all).

When narrow minds kvetch over the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 It's as regular as spring: Whenever the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame holds its annual ceremony, there are always a few tunnelvisioners who complain about certain inductees not being "rock and roll" enough.  Last year, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five came in for abuse; this year, it's Madonna (although even the most culturally conservative classic rockers should have liked Iggy and the Stooges' makeover of Madonna's "Burnin' Up").

I'm old enough to have remembered AM radio being a melting pot where R & B, rock, pop and crossover country were all accepted equally.  Of course, that all ended around 1978-79 when idiots like then-Chicago DJ Steve Dahl made a big show of publicly destroying disco records.  And, with the end of disco in 1980, the fragmentation-for-ratings of popular music began in earnest.

And of course, there was the "he may write lyrics that people like, but he's boring" shellacking that Hall inductee Leonard Cohen received on THE HOWARD STERN SHOW yesterday from Howard, Robin Quivers, and Fred Norris (who has some knowledge of rock history and should have known better--regardless of whether he liked Cohen or not). 

At this point, when the Stern show is going into its final three years, one wonders if perhaps Stern himself is a closet fan of Cohen and is doing Steve Dahl-type schtick along the lines of "I'm rich but I'm still down with the proles."

Ex-CNN employee on why he was fired for keeping a blog.

I just read about ex-AMERICAN MORNING employee Chez Pazienza in the March 3rd issue of THE NEW YORK OBSERVER.  Currently, he's working on a tell-all book about his life and career in TV news (which includes stints at L.A.'s KCBS and KNBC).

Pazienza was recently fired from CNN for writing a blog in his off-hours.  Here's a link to his take on the whole megillah, written on his blog DEUX EX MALCONTENT:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Saluting Bjork's courage.

Here's a salute to the avant-pop artiste Bjork for daring to say the word "Tibet" at the close of a recent concert in Shanghai.  Of course, the price of outspokenness will be that Bjork will never get to perform in China again--but at least she momentarily raised a human-rights issue that the part Communist/part capitalist government would prefer its own citizens--and visitors from the West-- to avoid thinking about.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Marc Cooper on Hillary Winning Ugly in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island primaries.

There are at least two cliched lines about the Hillary campaign that make me feel like an airline passenger in a turbulent jumbojet:

1. "I don't understand all of this anger towards Hillary Clinton."

2. "If Obama wins the nomination, it will be because he was tested and will be able to stand up to the Republican Attack Machine."

Let's throw in a third line:

3. "It's politics.  What do you expect?"

Here's Marc Cooper of the LA WEEKLY with an article about how Hillary scared voters with her now-notorious 3 a.m. ad:

Update: Here's a couple of paragraphs from former rock critic/Bruce Springsteen manager Jon Landau's article on this topic in THE HUFFINGTON POST:

Many in the pundit community who know better (and I guess I am trying
to be a pundit here) will forgive or aprove of the ad because they
subscribe to a cynicism that postulates that anything that works is
smart. Dan Abrams is on MSNBC saying that exact thing right now. Next
we will hear: "Sure the Swift Boaters were creeps, but you really have
to hand it to that Karl Rove...he knows what works" -- win at all
costs and the ends justify the means.

My belief is that you can't be a progressive and resort to these kinds
of right wing propaganda techniques. Bill Clinton's administration
floundered much of the time because he was usually the electoral
pragmatist, and seldom tried to truly lead the public on any issue
that was too challenging. If this kind of television ad is what gets
Ms. Clinton elected, we can count on more of the same from her
administration in the military sphere, because she is exhibiting the
same mindset as the people already in power. Having run on a parody of
being a Republican president, if elected, she will find herself forced
to govern that way.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

NEWSWEEK is out to lunch--literally.

Back in the 70s, a member of Stevie Wonder's entourage, talking about NEWSWEEK's cover story on Wonder, said something to ROLLING STONE along the lines of [from memory]: ",,,they acted like they discovered him last week or some [expletive deleted].  NEWSWEEK is out to lunch."

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald of SALON for bringing the following story to light: the press corps following John McCain (including NEWSWEEK's Holly Bailey) being treated to an Arizona-style BBQ meal at McCain's Page Springs spread.

My favorite detail of the story: that journalists didn't mind a free lunch as long as McCain was "on the record."

Safe to presume that McCain has paid for at least a few weeks of softball coverage of his campaign as the Republican all-but-coronated nominee for President.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Beyond Baroque stays put--lease doesn't expire until 2032.

Sometimes, the "poetry community" actually behaves like one--where people can unite regardless of public/private points of view in pursuit of a laudable common goal.

Here's a link to T.J. Sullivan's article on LA OBSERVED re Beyond Baroque's new lease:

Amelie Frank passed along this letter of congratulations from Fred Dewey:
Dear All: Here's Fred's announcement. I want to add that the real applause goes to ALL OF YOU who contacted the city representatives. Your overwhelming response was the singlemost important factor in making this happen. The victory is yours, and my thanks to you I can't even begin to express.--Love, Amélie
(P.S. Special thanks to Jerry Garcia, who really sounded the first alarm on our behalf.)

Today, thanks to the visionary leadership of Councilman Bill Rosendahl, his superb staff, and to Beyond Baroque's vast body of extremely vocal supporters, the LA City Council voted unanimously to endorse renewing Beyond Baroque's lease to its historic Venice home, the Old City Hall, for 25 years at $1 a year.
It is absolutely wonderful news. It is victory for poetry and the arts. It is a victory for the preservation of history, the public realm, and the capacity for experiment. It is a rare triumph for the love of language, the written word, books, and the precious spark that community lends to all of us.
Councilman Rosendahl was working for us until the very last minute this morning in City Council chambers, as the vote went through. It was an honor to be there to see it. We are grateful to Bill's chief of staff, Mike Bonin, who helped craft the motion that passed this morning (our lease would have been up tomorrow). We are grateful as well to Rosendahl's Southern District Director Venice/Marina Peninsula Deputy Arturo Pina, to the Councilman's staff that fielded calls and emails, and to so many others in City Hall, across the city, across the country, and across the world.
I want to thank our Steering Committee that helped assure this wonderful outcome, led by Suzanne Thompson, with Linda Lucks, Rick Tuttle, Beyond Baroque's board Amelie Frank, Brooks Roddan, and Richard Modiano, and, behind us, all of you who sent emails, letters, made phone calls, and went out of your way to help. Those of you over the last few weeks who contacted our Councilman and the City Attorney, who expressed support to our officials at meetings and gatherings, and fired up the internet deserve to know how incredibly much you matter. It was your stepping forward that, ultimately, made clear how important Beyond Baroque is to city government, enabling Bill and his staff to achieve what was accomplished today.
We owe Councilman Bill Rosendahl of the 11th District, Los Angeles, a great debt of gratitude. Please thank him and his chief of staff, Mike Bonin for all they have done, and for all that they have now made possible. It was they who helped us all steer the ship safely into port.
Beyond Baroque's home is safe until 2032. This is a moment truly worth celebrating and remembering. Thank you, from all of us at Beyond Baroque.
Warmly, with hope for the future,
Fred Dewey
Director and Board Chair, Beyond Baroque & Beyond Baroque Books
Venice, California
Our Councilman and his Chief of Staff Mike Bonin can be reached at