Monday, March 29, 2010

Should film critics become professionally celibate?

The above concerns LOS ANGELES TIMES film critic Kenneth Turan and his relationship with actress Zoe Kazan (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD) plus Kazan's parents writer/director Nicholas (son of Elia) Kazan and writer/one-time director Robin Swicord. Besides proving that West Los Angeles suburb Pacific Palisades, CA must be like a small town, Turan's article is illuminating for his I-won't-recuse-myself-from-championing-Zoe's-new-movie candor.

This kind of forthright yes-I-have-friends-who-make-movies opinionating hasn't been seen too often. Andrew Sarris was one exception--he was forthright about his friendship with filmmaker Robert Benton (STILL OF THE NIGHT, NOBODY'S FOOL, THE HUMAN STAIN) in the pages of THE NEW YORK OBSERVER.

Pauline Kael's I'll-write-about-you-but-I'll-keep-my-relationship-with-you-private attitude towards Sam Peckinpah, Paul Schrader, Warren Beatty and Robert Altman has been the norm with regards to the practice of film criticism.

And I haven't even brought up the topic of critics who allegedly hustle screenplays to actors/filmmakers.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

James Rainey on L.A.'s Pacifica station KPFK also passes as a comment on local poetry.

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES' media critic James Rainey had a column in yesterday's CALENDAR section; the column was essentially a moan about why KPFK-FM, the leftist Pacifica station, isn't capable of becoming more disciplined and safe-left like National Public Radio.

Here's a paragraph from that article, describing a split in the local KPFK board (highlighting by me):

"What remained was an elected board divided between two groups that I'll call the Liberal Pragmatists, who crave predictability, professionalism and bigger audiences, and the Ecumenical Fundamentalists, who want every subgroup given voice with public-access TV style purity."

With the exception of "bigger audiences" (something that local poetry doesn't really want due to fear of "the wrong people" attending/taking part), Rainey's statement can be taken out of its original context to describe local poetry.

Except that I'd use "Literary Poetry Fundamentalists" to substitute for "Liberal Pragmatists" and "Ecumenical Community Reading Amateurs" substituting for "Ecumenical Fundamentalists."

Thursday, March 25, 2010


The above is Roger Ebert's glass-more-than-half-full eulogy for the AT THE MOVIES show--essentially the remnants of SNEAK PREVIEWS, the Siskel-and-Ebert show I first remember seeing on the Dallas, TX PBS outlet KERA-TV beginning around 1978 (when I was a college student living in Wichita Falls, TX).

Ebert and his wife Chaz are planning on a new film review show for TV--and I wish them well with their endeavor.

I'm curious as to who they can cut a deal with, given that there will be a lot of media conglomerates with we-don't-have-room-for-this-esoteric-low-dollar-generating-stuff attitude like the Walt Disney Company (which dealt the death blow to the Michael Phillips/A.O. Scott AT THE MOVIES this week).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The glass of local poetry books--something that can be seen as either half-full or half-empty.

Earlier today (March 24th), I picked up copies of my latest chapbook NEVER MET BUKOWSKI from PIP Printing (have done business with them since 2000) at their Sun Valley, CA location.

I'm still a holdout from the period where poets self-published their own chapbooks (either through the former Kinkos or places like PIP) and sold them to each other at readings. This is not a popular avenue anymore, since a lot of local poets would rather have their books published by small presses instead.

There's a lot of erosion-through-change of the local poetry scene since 2000. Once upon a time, there were quite a few more independent bookstores in LA/OC--and, in several cases, the stores would support local poetry and purchase chapbooks that were self-published and non-barcoded.
Now, there are far fewer independents--and some of those stores mimic the conformity of the local scene in only wanting local poets "established" with small press credits (it can't be just any small poetry press, it has to be the "right" press).

And sometimes, even those local poets don't always make it into these local independent stores with "high standards."

Today, I was at least happy to go by Skylight Books and see that Brendan Constantine's LETTERS TO GUNS (from Red Hen Press) is now being carried.

I really admire Brendan's poetry and respect him as a person (although our relationship hit a speed bump some years back which it has never fully recovered from, unfortunately)--so I'm happy to discover he's getting greater exposure to the Los Feliz/Silverlake reading audience.

Now, if Kerry Slattery of Skylight (plus other people she's deputized as buyers for the store) could start carrying chapbooks/books from some of Brendan's talented peers (Amelie Frank, Rick Lupert, Elizabeth Iannacci, the late Erica Erdman), that would be even better.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Before Nancy Pelosi is elevated to sainthood......

Yes, we now have a mild dose of health care reform that will admittedly do good for some citizens--plus enrich the insurance companies of the USA. And perhaps some marginal improvements can be made over the next few years.

But there's now plenty of canonizing of Nancy Pelosi (who seemed to follow the Rahm Emanuel playbook of pressuring people on the left such as Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders--instead of gathering a few more Blue Dogs and even Republicans into the tent), plus overgushing from the I Want To Believe Obama-ites like THE NEW YORKER's Hendrik Hertzberg and film critic/occasional opinionator Roger Ebert (no, passing a heavily watered-down health care "reform" bill does not equal the day Barack Obama was elected President).

Nancy Pelosi, if she had really been All That, wouldn't have been so eager to strip out the public option from the final bill.

And we face a crossroads regarding the President and his future agenda. If US citizens want to see any real change, the pressure (without racial slurs, blue faces from breath-holding and tacky behavior from either the left or the right) needs to be applied to ensure Obama understands he's President of the United States--and not just an errandperson sent by multinational corporations and the Pentagon to keep doing the same old things in the same old ways.

We need real reform--not just incremental consumer-benefit crumbs that will pacify us when the White House thinks of putting another Guantanomo prison in Afghanistan and looks the other way at the abuses of Wall Street (i.e. placing big bets on continued domestic economy crumbling to make big money for a select few).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Think of AMERICAN IDOL as an interview process for a corporate job.

When it comes to pop culture discussions, New England-by-way-of-California poet Victor Infante (who I've often disagreed with on poetry matters) and I have a little bit of common ground.

Here's a repurposing of a comment I made on Victor's blog (found at ) about AMERICAN IDOL:
Here are my thoughts on the show (and I've watched entire segments over the years):
There's something about the AMERICAN IDOL judging process that goes beyond "niceness" or the myth of necessary roughness to prepare people for stardom. It is the sad collision between individuals with dynamic, individual, not-easy-to-categorize talent--Adam Lambert being an example from last season--and the myopic demands of Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment, which produces IDOL. In Lambert's case, you get an artist struggling to reach gold-album status.

But with more malleable artists like Kelly Clarkson (excepting her brief rebellion with the MY DECEMBER album) and Carrie Underwood, you get adherence to formula--and, overall, huge sales to people who don't want or expect much from pop music. Think of AMERICAN IDOL as essentially a screening process for a high-level corporate position. Of course, I could compare the show to what some poets feel they have to do to please professors and fellow poets on the Masters of Fine Arts trail. But I'll decline for now.

Friday, March 19, 2010

When a contrarian film critic gets skewered by film publicist--plus his fellow critics.

The above is a bit of inside-baseball, but it's a rare demonstration of what happens when a film critic's pointed opinions of a filmmaker and his work cause the critic to be 86ed from a film screening.

This happened about four years ago when then-LA WEEKLY critic Scott Foundas was banned
from a screening of Kevin Smith's CLERKS II because Foundas upset Smith's sensitivities in
panning the meant-to-be-mainstream JERSEY GIRL.

But Foundas (now working for the Film Society of Lincoln Center) hasn't aroused the kind of antipathy that NEW YORK PRESS critic Armond White has.

My opinion is that Leslee Dart, Scott Rudin and Noah Baumbach should not have banned White from the screening of Baumbach's GREENBERG. But at the same time, White hasn't done himself any favors with angry, overheated responses which have mostly devolved into settling scores with THE VILLAGE VOICE head critic J. Hoberman (at one point, White calls Hoberman's position something like "inherited hipsterism"--odd since Hoberman inherited his post from the departure of Andrew Sarris, who was definitely not in the hipster category).

This temporary exposure of film-critic feuding and filmmaker/publicist attempts at quality-review control will probably carry on for another week (GREENBERG will have a wider opening next Friday), before it becomes almost completely forgotten like the Foundas/Smith dustup.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

More adventures in "How to REALLY be a poet!" courtesy of Alvin Lau.

Although Alvin Lau's article/exhortation has to do with slam poetry, it's applicable to nonslammers as well:

Two particular passages to point out:
1. Here's Lau at his nose-holding worst--"The biggest critique that needs to be given is going to be the most difficult to swallow: not all spoken word is poetry. Not everything read in a poetry slam is poetry. As Regie Gibson said at a Brave New Voices workshop, “most of what you hear in slam is not poetry, but short, rhythmic essays.” I couldn’t agree more. Here, the slam purists will throw up their arms in outrage and call me an elitist disconnected from slam’s roots. They will argue that to exclude any work from the boundaries of poetry is to sit in the same ivory tower slam originally was designed to demolish. But where do we draw the line? Do we really put Jamie Kilstein in the same genre as Rachel McKibbens? Is there any writing, condensed to 3-minutes, we will refuse to label as poetry? If we loosen our standards to include absolutely everything, with disregard to craft, then why do we even call it a poetry slam?"

2. And here's something a little more thoughtful--and with resonance for those on the MFA/prestige workshop trail feeling like they have to homogenize their work to please fellow poets/professors:
[Here Lau refers to why the slam poetry of 2000 and 2002 was better to him than current examples of the genre.]
People weren’t overly influenced by their surroundings—today, you can look at a lot of Denver poets and say “Oh, you sound like a Denver poet” – but look at old school poets like Daniel Roop and Al Letson from Atlanta, or Beau Sia and Celena Glenn from New York, or Dennis Kim and Kevin Coval from Chicago. All of these poets, living alongside other brilliant writers and performers, refused to heavily borrow from each other’s styles and be influenced by the dominant mode. They each had very clear voices and talents. Our current iWPS champion Amy Everhart, while talented, is a good example of a slammer who lacks inevitability, that is, you can’t look at her work and say “Oh, clearly Amy wrote this,” because much of the structure and imagery are borrowed from her region’s style, rather than a unique, crafted voice. We need to reject this, rather than elevate it to the top of our ranks."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chronicle of the death of my poetry foretold this week.

So there's someone I respect (not mentioning his name here) in the Orange County community who's been posting mementoes of past poetry events/people who featured at earlier readings of his. Some of these old flyers go back to years before I joined the scene in 1998--and it's fascinating to read the names and count the active and inactive poets, and wish I had been part of things about three or four years earler (if just as audience).

Noticed that the one article he wrote about me for an alternapaper, plus a photo of me taken after a reading of his (with a co-featured poet) are missing. Obviously, he's selecting what he thinks are the best of the lot.

Once upon a time, another Orange County poetry host named Steve Ramirez (after our falling out, if memory is correct) told me that, in effect, I was in the middle of the poetry spectrum--not bad and not great.

Even considering my tendencies towards outspokenness, I can't help but think that my absence from some prominent poets' versions of Memory Lane is something I could see coming for years now. Whether it's due to being Not Good Enough or Insufficiently Social enough I don't know. But no one can say that I haven't been supportive of others--past or present--though.

And all of this, for better or worse, is giving me sufficient preparation for post-death obscurity.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More information about David Letterman's backstage life than humans should be allowed to have.

In the wake of David Letterman extortionist Robert Joe Halderman's sentence (six months behind bars, plus 1,000 hours of community service, plus four-and-a-half years' probation),
here's a link to a VANITY FAIR article which, among other things, gives insight into Halderman's desire to wreak vengeance on both Letterman and Stephanie Birkitt
(the woman Letterman and Halderman both coveted):

This article from NEW YORK magazine last fall is probably the most thoughtul
and informative about the behavior of Letterman, Birkitt and Halderman:

Monday, March 8, 2010

A couple of links to pieces on poetry from The Poetry Foundation.

Found these links from THE POETRY FOUNDATION's website ( ) by way of THE HUFFINGTON POST:

The above talks about poetry critics "going negative." In the small sphere I dwell in, that's already a reality. But the piece seems to plump for just-praise-only-and-ignore-the-rest.
Jim Behrle's piece is a bit long--and he wastes some time going into a conniption fit over Jewel's one-decade-ago poetry collection that Beau Sia did a better job of humorously skewering not long after the former was published. But Behrle manages to be disturbing (in the best way possible) and thoughtful--plus
he says some of the same things that I take baseball bats to the head for mentioning on this blog.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Some Academy Award thoughts.

Re the just-concluded Oscar ceremony:
1. So happy for Kathryn Bigelow becoming Queen of the World--twice (director and picture).
2. Re Sandra Bullock's "nice to me when it wasn't fashionable"--it may be, once the snarksters in the entertainment media have their way, the new
"you really like me." Hoping Sandy uses her award to do something more challenging than just
raising her quote and making THE PROPOSAL 2 or MISS CONGENIALITY 3.
3. Speaking of the other Sandy--Ms. Powell's "I already have two of these" snottiness isn't
likely to be forgotten.
4. Best Na'Vi presenter of the night--Ben Stiller.
5. Steve and Alec not bad as tandem hosts. Voting for Steve Carell and Elizabeth Banks
to take the job next year.
6. Interpretive musical score dances--bad bad bad. Almost made me long for the excesses
of Debbie Allen.
7. Not letting nominated songs be performed--also bad-to-the-point-of-insanity.
8. Cutting away from Ric O'Barry's dolphin text banner during THE COVE'S Best Documentary Feature win--rather childish and stupid of the producers and Disney/ABC.
9. Nice guy finishing first--Jeff Bridges for CRAZY HEART (and, also, a long body of generally fine work).
10. Slightly surprised by THE WHITE RIBBON not winning Best Foreign Language film this year. Apparently Michael Haneke's lengthy mix of ambiguity and emotional sadism (with the physical variety kept pretty much off-camera) was too severe for the Academy.
11. Advice for the 2011 Oscars--no more dance sequences, bring back nominated songs, have at least two honorary winners (would have liked to have seen Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall accept awards tonight) to give awards to on-camera, and--most important, have celebs that genuinely want to be there as presenters. I'm getting awfully tired of Kristen Stewart's "I hate celebrity and all its' trappings" sullenness. She should have been aware of what she was signing on for when agreeing to play Bella in the TWILIGHT series.
12. Forgetting his exact name, but Michael G who won original score for UP, had the best speech of the night when he said that people should strive to be creative even if they're disparaged by others with phrases like "waste of time."

Re Erica Erdman's memorial and the passing of the old Iguana Cafe scene.

First, let me offer kudos to Amelie Frank, Richard Modiano and Beyond Baroque for the excellent memorial to L.A.'s Erica Erdman yesterday at Beyond Baroque. There was a fine line-up of people (including poets, Erica's father and former co-employees from FedEx) that communicated their love of Erica, her life and her poetry in words and song.

And I'll offer a sort-of-thanks to Tom Ianniello--a man who I have ambivalent personal feelings towards--for offering a stage to Erica and other talented poets/performers (first with the Iguana Cafe and later with Exile Books and Music) to develop and deepen their artistic craft.

I started reading my poems in public in 1998, so I missed out on the Iguana Cafe era--but was lucky to read at Exile (which later became Mysteries, Murder and Mayhem bookstore--run by mystery author Terrill Lee Lankford) when Amelie and Richard hosted a reading there. But it was inspiring to see and hear its alumni get together again.

Making a safe guess that Erica's spirit--which could be felt inside the Beyond Baroque theater--enjoyed and was gratified by the afternoon's tribute.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Making an e-mail with a mild complaint about L.A.'s Book Soup public.

I have shopped at (and may likely continue to) West Hollywood's long-running independent book store Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard--across from what used to be the flagship Tower
Records store for Los Angeles.

Sent this as an e-mail a few minutes ago:

Thought I'd put this into free verse:


On the night of Tuesday, February 23rd
the author of this poem
went to the ubertrendy Book Soup in West Hollywood.
I've always noticed
that the people working the newstand outside
are friendly.
Inside, the customer
can receive a distinct chill--
the kind of "you aren't our preferred customer" freeze.
Currently at Book Soup,
there are miniature busts
of Charles Bukowski for sale.
I saw a young male Book Soup employee
look at one bust and then imitate Bukowski:

What could I say in response to the clueless employee?
I paid for my book purchase
and walked outside,
setting my plebian self free
from the tyranny of educated condescension.

Terry McCarty

P.S. I know all your employees aren't like the one above. But I do feel that sometimes they snap to attention and courtesy for, say, employees of the film and television industries, a bit more than they do for common folk.
[concluded with a sentence mentioning Orwell's now-familiar "some more equal than others" sentence from ANIMAL FARM]

UPDATE 3/7/10: I communicated with the store by e-mail and received assurances as to its commitment to ensuring professional behavior from employees.

Monday, March 1, 2010

They don't make DANCING WITH THE STARS casts like they used to.

Saw this cast list for the spring season of Disney/ABC's DANCING WITH THE STARS
on the Vulture section of NEW YORK magazine's website (
Pamela Anderson, “the world’s sexiest woman”
Chad Ochocinco, “football’s most outrageous”
Aiden Turner, “the soap stud” [ex-ALL MY CHILDREN]
Erin Andrews, “ESPN’s broadcasting beauty”
Shannen Doherty, “The Beverly Hills bad girl”
Buzz Aldrin, “the original moonwalker”
Niecy Nash, “Reno 911’s funniest”
Nicole Scherzinger, “the Pussycat Doll”
Evan Lysacek, “the Olympic golden boy”
Kate Gosselin, “reality’s most-watched super-mom”
Jake Pavelka, this season's Bachelor

Obviously not the most star-studded season. And it could more easily be referred to as

I'd prefer this cast:
Megan Fox
Bill Cosby
Lindsey Vonn
Shawn White
Kevin Bacon
Kathy Griffin
Ingo Rademacher [GENERAL HOSPITAL's Jax]
Charles Gibson
Elizabeth Vargas
James Franco [he could spin this as another performance art project]
Tyra Banks
Kellie Pickler

Something for just about every demographic.

Another conniption fit from Richard Schickel--this time about film criticism.

After a recent takedown of the late Robert Altman, film critic/hagiographer/professional scold Richard Schickel [who, at his best, gave the world the 70s PBS miniseries THE MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES and made the restored-and-expanded reissue of Sam Fuller's THE BIG RED ONE possible] lurched into action at a recent film critics' panel at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater at West L.A.'s Hammer Museum recently.

I'll sort-of-agree with Schickel that nowadays newspapers and magazines want film critics to be
cheerleaders for current mainstream product (evidencing the career of Betsy Sharkey at

But Schickel can't help but to blurt out dumb insults of online film critics (that he allegedly doesn't read) and defame Ain't-It-Cool News founder Harry Knowles solely for his physical appearance.

As I said in the Hollywood Elsewhere comments section, Schickel--in a perfect world--would be best off founding a website/critics' blog (a la Glenn Kenny's SOME CAME RUNNING) with, say, ex-NEWSWEEK critic David Ansen.

Then, Schickel (provided he was willing to do the work) could write only about the current domestic and international films that come up his personal standards.