Thursday, September 30, 2010

RIP Tony Curtis.

When I woke up this morning, KABC-TV in Los Angeles seemingly couldn't mention any Tony Curtis starring/co-starring films except for SOME LIKE IT HOT (likely to be remembered forever because of Marilyn Monroe).  But Curtis had plenty of memorable films on his resume (mentioning the ones I've seen): THE VIKINGS, OPERATION PETTICOAT, THE DEFIANT ONES, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, SPARTACUS, THE GREAT RACE, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, THE LAST TYCOON.

And post-superstardom, Curtis was a regular on TV series including THE PERSUADER (teamed with a post-SAINT, pre-Bond Roger Moore), McCOY and VEGAS.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

RIP film and stage director Arthur Penn.

I remember seeing Arthur Penn once around 1989 at the Telluride Film Festival; Penn and Penn & Teller were there to promote the film PENN AND TELLER GET KILLED.  All three were, if memory is correct, on an outdoor panel where Arthur Penn was on the end of a brief tongue-lashing from a local Telluride woman (decidedly not a festival-goer) intent on using him as a punching bag for her disdain for Hollywood and its filmed product, which she apparently found values-deficient.

Certainly, THE MIRACLE WORKER, BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE LEFT HANDED GUN, THE CHASE, ALICE'S RESTAURANT (haven't seen it, but should ), LITTLE BIG MAN and NIGHT MOVES  form the cornerstone of Penn's reputation as a film director. MICKEY ONE (Penn's first collaboration with Warren Beatty) and THE MISSOURI BREAKS (Penn's second time working with Marlon Brando--who, from his performance, had a different film in mind) are watchable, idiosyncratic misfires.

And, as Mr. Wells mentions in his HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE post, Penn was out of cinematic fashion by 1981.  Two of his later films (TARGET and DEAD OF WINTER) were genre thriller stuff that could have been made by just about anyone.

But Penn had a good run from THE LEFT HANDED GUN through MISSOURI BREAKS and deserves posthumous attention from younger generations of film enthusiasts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Contestant Seth Caro of TOP CHEF: JUST DESSERTS--more reality TV theater of cruelty.

I'll let the LOS ANGELES TIMES commenters (names deleted) speak for themselves (with highlighting by me):

I feel that Seth emotional state is so fragile that he should have been sent home. I hope they are not keeping him on the show just to boost ratings. He need professional help
I think that Seth's talented but after last night, he's got to get it together and at least be nicer to his fellow contestants. His mother's health problems are serious but if he really wants to win, he needs to step up to the plate and change his attitude. I thought he should have been sent home, both because of his horrible behavior and bad dessert. God help us if he keeps acting this way.
First, I want to point out that the crybaby is not one of the gay men on the show, and that last week, the other "heterosexual man" Morgan acted like a five-year old during the judging. Seth, unfortunately, is way beyond the categories we have usually put Top Chef contestants in. His problems are in Real Housewife territory -- Kelly Bensimon crazy, for instance. At this point, I don't think Seth is there for his "talent" but for his meltdown potential, and I haven't decided whether this is a good thing for the show or an immense distraction for the usual plot arc.
If the judges have any sense, he'll be gone next week.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Poem I liked that appeared in a literary e-zine.

I became a poet for the wrong reasons.

Let's start with this true story:
I was a stand-in on a movie filming during the year of 1993.

One night, we were filming at an apartment building on Fountain and El Centro.  In the first hour of work (while the apartment interior was being readied), the cinematographer came up to me and said:
"I had a dream about you.  You were on the Santa Monica Pier wearing clown shoes."

He said it loud enough for other crew members to hear.

I couldn't do anything about what he said: I was scared of being fired on the spot.  And I was making a decent enough amount of money as a SAG stand-in for the length of the shoot--so I kept very very quiet.

The other crew people said nothing; they kept doing their work so the first shot of the night could be filmed.

When the film shoot ended, I told myself that I didn't want to experience anything like that again.  I didn't like being bullied and powerless and resolved to not take abuse from others without at least attempting to fight back.

Cut to five years later: I became involved in poetry because I liked the scene, a lot of the people and the opportunity for recognition if I was found to be "good enough" to be a featured poet at a venue (likely a coffeehouse or independent bookstore in those days).

But I didn't like egotism or bullying.  And when other poets chose to regard me as "someone to f--- with", then I didn't hesitate to stand my ground and/or risk angering people by fighting back.

Needless to say, various spoken and unspoken varieties of punishment, ostracism, "it's your problem, don't bother me with it" and "we don't want you associating with us" resulted.

As far as poetry was concerned, I wrote the kind of (mostly narrative) verse I felt comfortable with.  I didn't anticipate the death of most of the "most anyone can play" coffeehouse/independent bookstore scene (though I could see a decline beginning as early as 2002-03).  And, like a lumbering triceratops, I haven't made the transition to academia-friendly, strongly form-and-image-conscious "there's no mistaking this for anything but a REAL poem" work.

Some people like the poetry I write--others (influential tastemakers included) don't.  And I'm still a creature of 1998 who has essentially stopped going to certain readings where the spotlights shine on:
1. MFA/private-study/retreat-friendly high-minded verse
2. "Look at us, we're more hip and special than you are!" backscratching.

Obviously, I'm a wretched specimen who partially wanted the kind of star status I didn't receive in my lower-level work in the film/TV industry.

And maybe someday, I can adjust to merely being a bit player blessed with witnessing several really talented people--some still on the scene, some deceased--at their artistic peaks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shedding tears for Denise DiNovi's current producing career.

Once upon a time, Denise DiNovi (met her once and thought she was a nice person--she's married to a man who was a cinematography fellow at American Film Institute during 1988-1989) was involved in the production of films such as HEATHERS and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

Now, she has another film coming out from her home studio Warner Brothers--it's a little Katherine Heigl/Josh Duhamel dramedy called LIFE AS WE KNOW IT.  From the TV ads, it promises to be a sitcom filled with lots of baby poops/pees/barfs jokes.

Previously at WB, Denise was involved with producing an Amanda Bynes vehicle called WHAT A GIRL WANTS--where the original poster art of Bynes giving the peace sign was apparently thought too subversive (remembering that the film was released in the George Butch Jr. era) and airbrushed out in later versions.

It's just sad to see someone with talent having to make the best of what I'm guessing must be a less-than-ideal environment to get female-centered and/or intelligent mass-audience films greenlighted, made and released with full studio support.

Monday, September 20, 2010

G. Murray Thomas interviews--and starts to mythologize--himself.

Key passage from the self-interview:
Right now I’m working with Write Bloody Press to produce an anthology of the best writing from Next... It will provide a snapshot of a crucial period in the development of American poetry, 1994 - 1997 [if my interpretive memory is right, Murray was likely hoping for the magazine to receive the kind of attention that would have led to substantial circulation and beaucoups of advertising dollars]. Slams, the internet and poetry tours were all in the early stages of their growth. During that time they came together to essentially create the world of poetry that exists today. Next... provided a ground level view of that transition.

Write Bloody, by the way, is a top notch poetry press. Run by poet Derrick Brown, they’re publishing some of the most exciting voices in poetry right now, poets like Buddy Wakefield, Mindy Nettifee and Mike McGee.

If it weren't for NEXT.... (picked up my first copy in a used record store on Balboa Peninsula), I probably wouldn't have become involved with going public with my poetry.  Sometimes, I wonder if it was the right thing to do.  Other times, I'm glad I did--in spite of being confronted with Murray's conclusion that I'm an unexciting poetry voice.

Sort of reminds me of a line in a Bill Cosby routine:
"I brought you into the world.....AND I CAN TAKE YOU OUT!"

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kate Walsh, Lady Gaga and a distant memory.

Although Kate Walsh's hauteur can be fun in small doses (I'll forget about her apparent support of the actor-producers in the last SAG/AMPTP contract negotiation for now), the "sushi dress" gag on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO stirs up distant memories of the late Bert Convy making fun of Joe Cocker on a long-ago CBS game show (TATTLETALES, perhaps?) in the 70s.

In essence, mainstream showbiz choosing not to get real artistry.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why it's hard for me to be a member of the Errol Morris Fan Club.

I'm not tremendously well-versed on documentarian Errol Morris' work; I've been lucky to see the more-or-less serious films (THE FOG OF WAR--which deservedly won its Best Documentary Academy Award, STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, THE THIN BLUE LINE) and I've missed out on what seems to be the "look at these strange/quirky/stupid people" offerings like VERNON, FLORIDA, GATES OF HEAVEN, MR. DEATH, etc.

Key passage from the Wikipedia article:
After [Randall] Adams' release from prison, he ended up in a legal battle with Morris concerning the rights to his story. The matter was settled out of court after Adams was granted sole use of anything written or made on the subject of his life.[15] Adams himself said of the matter: "Mr. Morris felt he had the exclusive rights to my life story. ... I did not sue Errol Morris for any money or any percentages of The Thin Blue Line, though the media portrayed it that way."[16]

Morris, for his part, remembers: "When he got out, he became very angry at the fact that he had signed a release giving me rights to his life story. And he felt as though I had stolen something from him. Maybe I had, maybe I just don't understand what it's like to be in prison for that long, for a crime you hadn't committed. In a certain sense, the whole crazy deal with the release was fueled by my relationship with his attorney. And it's a long, complicated story, but I guess when people are involved, there's always a mess somewhere

True story: I was at the Telluride Film Festival in the late 1980s when Morris, speaking as part of a panel of filmmakers/pundits (sort of remember Annette Insdorf being there), was rather snotty about Adams and the I-want-my-life-rights-back lawsuit--in essence, referring to Adams as a sort of ingrate.

Remembering that incident, Karina Longworth's review of Morris' new film TABLOID (unveiled at the Toronto Film Festival) doesn't come as much of a surprise to me:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

American Cinematheque screening of 2001 at Egyptian Theater in Hollywood--the interactive experience.

The above screening--which I did not attend (my wife Valarie and I were seeing THE AMERICAN at the Pacific theater in Northridge)--reminds me of a live-music incident from a few years back.

Valarie and I were at the Roxy Theater to see singer/songwriter Nellie McKay (last name pronounced mckie with a long "i") when a drunken audience member began talking to Ms. McKay in a rather infatuated manner.  Nellie was wearing a powder-blue prom dress and the inebriated man apparently found her a vision of dream woman loveliness.  About the same outcome as the Egyptian Theatre incident occurred (it took several minutes for the Roxy staff to get their act together and eject the audience member), but without any violence and audience members playing at being vigilante security.

A similarity in reactions to the two incidents: people either sat in frozen discomfort (commonplace in L.A.--where folks with abundant money don't want to risk alteration of their safe lives by encounters with random craziness) or actively hooted and yelled for the person to be thrown out NOW!!!

All one can do is to be thankful that the Egyptian attendee didn't brandish a weapon like the man who killed the former manager of the Silent Movie Theatre (at a screening of SUNRISE more than a decade ago) and then ran through the audience before exiting the building (the murderer was later apprehended by authorities).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Roger and Chaz Ebert revive AT THE MOVIES with new hosts.

It's good to read that Roger Ebert has resurrected AT THE MOVIES--to air on PBS in January.  As for the on-air talent: Christy Lemire of the Associated Press is less glib than Richard Roeper, but still mainstream-movie-friendly.  Elvis Mitchell (known both for his print career and NPR hosting) is a welcome idiosyncratic choice to fill the other chair.

At the very least, it will be a vast improvement on the Ben Lyons/Ben Mankiewicz version of AT THE MOVIES.  Hoping there will also be room for A.O. (Tony) Scott and Michael Phillips to revive their recently-canceled-by-Disney double act.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Scenes from a literary marriage: James Ellroy, Helen Knode and THE HILLIKER CURSE.

I haven't read enough of the work of crime novelist auteur James Ellroy.  But I speedread through part of Ellroy's latest venture into autobiographic memoir THE HILLIKER CURSE. Unfortunately, it reminded me of a GQ/ESQUIRE article bloated into book form so Ellroy could make quick-and-easy cash waving around his "this is it, hepcats" public persona one more time.

The portion of HILLIKER (premise/hook: Ellroy's mother's mysterious violent death colors Ellroy's relations with women thereafter) I read covered the marriage of Ellroy to the LA WEEKLY film reviewer/liberal provocateur Helen Knode.  Knode, in her own way, has.had the same kind of grandstanding persona as Ellroy; her film reviews often positioned her as the scourge of mainstream Hollywood sexism, while occasional WEEKLY here's-my-life columns rhapsodized on subjects such as the young Helen enjoying carnal delights in bathtubs with Frenchmen.

So, Ellroy and Knode met, made love and married.  Knode found herself putting much of her writing career (one novel called THE TICKET OUT excepted) on hold while Ellroy zoomed to megafame with the film adaptation of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL plus the writing of AMERICAN TABLOID and THE COLD SIX THOUSAND (not to mention his original memoir re the death of his mother, the still-worth-reading MY DARK PLACES).  And the marriage which started out as a hipster-meets-Reaganite variation of Scott-and-Zelda ended up dissolving in an ANNIE HALL manner (with Ellroy closing himself off mentally--and ultimately physically--from Knode; HILLIKER exemplifies this distance by recounting Ellroy's in-the-mind infatuation with opera star Anne Sofie Von Otter).

There could have been a great DOUBLE FANTASY-esque book with alternating chapters written by both Ellroy and Knode examining a loving but competitive-and-ultimately-doomed marriage between two literary stars of varying wattage.

And it's regrettable, to put it mildly, that Ellroy couldn't have given Helen Knode a chance to tell her side of their story (and participate in the royalties as well).

Re Chinese comic being silenced by Chinese government.,0,2359397.story

Key passage (with highlighting by me): "He says things nobody else would dare to say, especially in the entertainment industry," said Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer who has criticized Guo's treatment on Twitter. "The government was looking for an excuse to teach him a lesson, to say, 'You should be flattering the government instead of criticizing.'"

Sounds to me like certain portions of the SoCal poetry community.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yes, I have a poetry attitude problem.

In terms of poetry advancement in Los Angeles and Orange Counties (forgetting for a moment about what you actually put on paper), it helps to be a joiner who will follow leaders just about anywhere--whether the leaders are right or wrong in the short term.  Thinking about the long term tends to stay in uncharted territory--kind of like riding into the Forbidden Zone in the original PLANET OF THE APES movie franchise.

Years ago, I remember hearing this meant-to-teach-me-something statement from a poet in our community (someone I'll call LMN): "Well, I guess you just don't want to be on people's good sides."

I didn't start out to be a horrible, we're-tired-of-hearing-you-over-and-over malcontent; in long ago times, I looked up to those who proclaimed themselves to be Leaders until I discovered their alleged leadership qualities were too tied up in cliquishness and cronyism.

And I guess I'm sick to death of those community icons who now run on the fumes of their pasts--and who people unquestioningly worship instead of making things happen for themselves and other poets.

Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if people would take breaks from their own notions of poetry self-centered careerism (and I'm talking to those zine editors and MFA seekers in particular) to think about what L.A./OC poetry could be? 

But, as we all know, self-centeredness and short-term gratification are always winners in SoCal.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New poem: NO, I DON'T HAVE CHILDREN (and if I did....)


And I know cats don't count.

And I also know that I don't
live where I once grew up

and don't feel hardwired to

guard my nonexistent children
against the evils of technology,

entertainment and too-independent thinking.

I find it fascinating

that my generation

when they got their chance to run things

have kept drilling young people

in pledging unquestioning obedience

to national and state flags.

Even the just-as-conservative generation

who ran things when I was a youngster

didn't insist on repeating the pledge of allegiance

all the time over the schools' PA systems.

Maybe they respected children more

and weren't so afraid.

And I remember that

the generation that ran things

even before I was old enough

to go to school

managed to integrate

the Electra, TX school system

several years before

neighboring city Wichita Falls did.

No one wants to trust young people anymore.

Yes, they may not want to conform

to your version of a "good Christian."

They may convert to Judaism, Islam, Latter-Day Saints--

or, gasp--Atheism.

They may never share your values

or your politics 100%.

But you shouldn't love them any less.

And you should give them some credit for understanding

by easing up on robotic indocrination.

Trust that they'll remember some of

what you pass along to them.

And don't ever fail to love them no matter what happens.