Monday, April 30, 2012

Guilty of watching CELEBRITY APPRENTICE this season..

Yes, I condemned it as a cartoon graveyard awhile back, but I admit to again watching THE CELEBRITY APPRENTICE in its again-stretched-to-two-hour-episodes 2012 season.

And last night Donald Trump fired his walking/talking conflict of interest Dayana Mendoza--Miss Universe (and the Miss Universe pageant is now controlled by the Trump empire).

I felt a bit sorry for Ms. Mendoza as Clay Aiken (in what seemed to be a semi-staged outburst) objected to her trying to tell him what to do (since she was the Project Manager for her team) by referring to himself as a "grown-ass man."

But at least the show benefits some deserving charities.

I also hope these organizations overlook the occasions of sexism, wooden line-readings from Eric Trump and one unfortunate comment a few episodes back--a "joke" about waterboarding a contestant to get information from that person.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

There's probably one or two of these in your poetry community.

To elaborate on the post title: In your poetry community, there's probably a man/woman who has worked at least a decade sizing up which poets are vital to know, who has learned how to write great grant proposals, who has learned how to speak poetry jargon like "journal-entry poems", who tirelessly networks, who is in an MFA program at a local university (teaching and/or running a reading series there), who has had one-time detractors now clamoring for his/her favor and support, etc. etc. etc. Not to forget mentioning his/her poetry tends to be evaluated chiefly in terms of his/her current prestige. Guessing you know someone like that and are careful not to say anything negative about him/her lest you harm your literary poetry career.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Running for re-election: Mel Gibson and Barack Obama.

Let's start with the man once known as Mad Max and Martin Riggs: I wish Alan Nierob or someone in Mel Gibson's agency/management/PR camp had begged Mel not to go on Jay Leno's THE TONIGHT SHOW.  The kerfluffle over Joe Eszterhas' self-serving reveal of Mel-in-anger-again had quieted, and it did Gibson no good to go out and spin his version of the Eszterhas problems (mainly Eszterhas' alleged underwork on a screenplay).  It just made Mel look churlish and smug, even with Jay doing his best to kiss Mel's posterior by whining about Eszterhas' violation of Mel's "privacy" by going public.  Then, there was the sad spectacle of Mel Gibson plugging what's now his first film to completely bypass U.S. theatrical release for a combination satellite TV/DVD unveiling (complete with underwhelming clip of Mel doing a Clint Eastwood imitation-by-phone to fellow actor Bob Gunton).  Since Jay has lowered the bar for plugs-by-guests, perhaps Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal can now promote direct-to-video movies on THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Now, our President (Barack Obama) is again cynically treating his re-election as a chess game of checkmate-the-GOP by touting the killing of Osama bin Laden in an unseemly manner.  It's one thing to show some solemn gravitas when the death of a (or, one might say, THE) major terrorist leader is announced--but it's quite another when bin Laden's death is turned into another campaign talking point (remembering that the Davis Guggenheim-directed, Tom Hanks-narrated re-election featurette film kicked off this effort a little while back).  To be honest, this seems to be only two steps away from releasing photos of bin Laden's corpse--something that, thankfully, never happened.  And it doesn't reflect well on Obama, Joe Biden, David Axelrod and Jim Messina (the re-election leader, not the former musical partner of Kenny Loggins) to keep up this distasteful effort to win "swing" voters by showing "toughness."

A lot of us voted for Obama the first time around because he was/is smart--and in 2008 gave the illusion of being a JFK/RFK for our times.

Most likely, the 2012 election will be a replay of Bill Clinton's slam-dunk 1996 re-election--though there will be a great deal of coordinated dog-whistle racism, classism, and you're-a-Commie mudslings from certain high-level Republicans, their financial providers and their media propaganda arms.

But it must be pointed out that at his core Obama is the same kind of moderate Republican as Mitt Romney--and blind-faith supporters of Obama must be prepared for more of the same just-mild-at-best social programs along with more bloodless decision-making (drone warfare and its collateral-damage deaths won't go away) and let-them-off-easy treatment of Wall Street thievery/greed (not to mention pandering to pro-fracking and oil-sands interests regardless of long-term environmental damage).

Safe to guess, though, that four more years of an unwilling-to-change-and-be-who-he-sold-himself-as-in-2008 Obama will be more appealing to many than watching Mitt Romney pretend to be Ronald Reagan on the outside and governing like George H.W. Bush on the inside.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A favorite passage from NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS

"...I'm sometimes amazed by my stick to-it-ness because the years have seen a lot of treatment of poets by other poets (who were also editors and entrepreneurs) that have caused me and others much pain. I'm not talking about mere rejection of poetry here. I'm talking about the self-importance with which poets inflate their egos, trying to compensate for the way the mainstream culture ignores them. We're all pretty weirded out and we all have to find our way to deal with it. But seriously, I've seen this personal ego-need manifest itself in poets who hog reading time, poets who schedule themselves and their friends over and over again in reading series, editors who do not merely reject poets' work but tell them sarcastically that they are not and never will be, ahem, "ready" to be published. We've all met up with the inevitable cliques, and the people who make their personal taste in poetry the "law," not to mention the irresponsible types who don't return manuscripts even when there's an SASE attached."--from Lynne Bronstein's article "Why Can't We Be Friends?" which originally appeared in the March 1995 issue of NEXT...magazine.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Walt Whitman on poetry.

From the recent Selected Poems collection of Walt Whitman's work (edited by Gary Schmidgall), here's a brief excerpt from Whitman's introduction to the 1855 edition of LEAVES OF GRASS:

"The great poets are also to be known by the absence in them of tricks and by the justification of perfect personal candor.  Then folks echo a new cheap joy and a divine voice leaping from their brains: How beautiful is candor!  All faults may be forgiven of him who has perfect candor.  Henceforth let no man of us lie, for we have seen that openness wins the inner and outer world and that there is no single exception...."

Monday, April 23, 2012

More ancient history of SoCal poetry explained for you.

Richard Beban (ex-L.A., currently France) takes the floor, in comments excerpted from a 2003 post to the CobaltPoets Yahoogroups listserve:

When I first came to poetry, nine years ago, I began attending the

Midnight Special workshop, then was asked, with Jeanette Clough, to help

run it and the readings. After a couple of years, and after publishing a

successful anthology, FORESHOCK, we had a falling out with the head of the

series, and we moved on. Five of us from that workshop began the Rose

series, first at Hyperdisc, after Ross Cantalupo ended his series.

I bring this up because, when we left the Midnight Special, I wrote a long

e-mail describing what had happened, and addressed it to the "poetry

community." The best advice I got in response to that e-mail was from

[James] Boomer Maverick, who wrote back and gently chided me, saying that the

Midnight Special reading was one very small twinkling star in the greater

constellation of LA poetry, as I would learn when I looked further.

It was great advice, for which I still thank Boomer. He was right. When

I got beyond my own limited perspective, I saw the multitude of scenes, of

possibilities, of readings, which stretch from San Luis Obispo to San

Diego, from Redondo to Riverside. And we tailored the Hyperdisc/Rose

readings to what we were learning, and to include all those "scenes."

When Kaaren and I set out with three other poet friends, Jeanette Clough,

Jim Natal and Jan Wesley, to create a Los Angeles poetry reading series in

March of 1997, we were seeking answers to a few elusive questions: What

is community? And how does one contribute to it?

The five of us, united only by our love of poetry, which we were all just

beginning to approach as craft, rather than pastime; by age (within five

years of each other, and of 50); and by conspicuous heterosexual

whiteness, wanted to create a reading series that would enhance and

contribute to an explosively heterogeneous poetry community. Los Angeles

was (and remains) home to some of the country's most accomplished writers,

as well as to black-clad poseurs who write their work on cocktail napkins

while waiting for the open mike to free up; to septuagenarians who'd

helped build the scene since The Beats, as well as to talented

high-schoolers; and to poets of enough races, colors, creeds and

persuasions to give Jesse Helms permanent night sweats.

A random sampling of local poets' names read like mail call for a

Hollywood-produced World War II platoon: Albertano, Arroyo, Barresi,

Ben-Hur, Bogen, Byrne, Campos, Cantalupo, Coleman, Cohee, Constantine,

Lafontaine, Lem, Lummis, Lupert, Mullen, Muske, O'Melveny, Quickley, St.

John, Tezcatlipoca, Tran, Uyematsu, Villamil, Weinberger, Woloch, Yamada

and Yates.

And their styles and personae were as different as their names. Gathering

even ten percent of this agglomeration into a coherent reading series

would be like attempting a hummingbird roundup with goldfish nets, but we

five were crazed enough about poetry to hear the potential of all those

wings thrumming in one venue.

We already had a hint of what we didn't want. We had all met in a

workshop and reading series sponsored by a local "leftist" bookstore,

that, despite its egalitarian marketing pose, was really just a fiefdom

for one man who was threatened by sharing power, and whose series rewarded

with featured readings primarily those poets who simply showed up week

after week.

While the workshop environment nurtured some excellent local poets, his

attitudes, selection process, and constant embrace of the new "voices from

the street," regardless of quality, guaranteed that the reading series

would never rise above a certain level of competence, and that the truly

excellent published poets of regional and national stature, whom he

dismissed anyway as elitist "page poets," would never grace the bookstore

during his reign.

Radical as some of our own political leanings might be, we approached

community with a conservative attitude compared to many of our peers: we

respected tradition. We recognized that the rich culture we found in Los

Angeles' poetry Petri dish had not been created parthenogenetically the

week before last, but had been nurtured over the years by hundreds of

diverse practitioners in and out of academia, from Ann Stanford to Charles

Bukowski, from Wanda Coleman to David St. John, from Exene to Stephen

Yenser. We wanted to create a series that would honor, and feature, as

many of the pioneers from the preceding generations as were willing to

read for us, as well as our peers and the best poets we could find of the

upcoming generation.

We wanted a structured open mike that would allow fledgling poets to

discover their voices, and to feel welcome, and would complement the

featured readers, who were the major guests for the evening, and who were

performing, despite their reputations and achievements, always for

audience donations, and whatever they made on book sales (handled for us

by the local independent, Small World Books, or by the poets themselves).

We also hoped to draw touring poets of national reputation, but without a

budget, we didn't hold out much hope of rivaling the reputation of the

now-departed Lannan Foundation reading series, or the Poetry Society of

America's Hollywood/poetry fusion jams at the Chateau Marmont.

All of our ambitions for community found a home at Hyperdisc, a tiny CD

store on Santa Monica's Main Street that had a small stage well away from

the traffic noise, a good p.a., and baristas willing to keep the

cappuccino machine quiet during the featured readers.

In keeping with our notion of hosting without ego-inflation, we five (who

rotated hosting chores each week) began our then-nameless program by

reading a piece by another poet (Jack Gilbert, at our inauguration) whose

work had moved the host, only reading our own work once a year in a joint

featured reading.

Los Angeles native and diva Laurel Ann Bogen, a generous teacher,

organizer and a well-respected poet for over twenty years, headlined our

first reading, our signal that we were honoring those poets who came

before us; but also celebrating that one could have years of chops honed

in books and still remain as kick-ass fresh as the performance poets being

spawned in the streets each day.

Laurel Ann's gracious willingness to headline at our pass-the-hat venue

helped us draw the attention of her working poet peers, and in subsequent

weeks we presented John Harris, whose Papa Bach bookstore had been the

Westside's poetry mecca in the seventies; Michael C. Ford, scuffling buddy

of the seminal LA rock band, The Doors; Holly Prado, Harry Northup and

Cecilia Woloch, part of the influential five-poet LA publishing

collective, Cahuenga Press; Harryette Mullen, UCLA's wordplay poet

extraordinaire; legendary (despite their youth) local teachers Dorothy

Baressi and Eloise Klein Healy; ex-Karma Bum Doug Knott, a Beat-influenced

father of performance poetry, as well as up-and-comers Esteban

Torres-Guzman, Jerry Quickley, Gabe Cousins, Brendan Constantine and Liz

Gonzalez, and poet-publishers Amelie Frank, Matthew Niblock, Marcia Cohee

and Mifanwy Kaiser.

By the time we hit the August heat, with our mid-month double-bill of

Momentum Press founder and Beyond Baroque workshop leader Bill Mohr,

paired with Ellen Sander, the seminal rock journalist and poet, our

series, then in its twenty-fifth week, was gathering steam and renown.

We'd given a podium to more than two hundred open mike poets already, and

were about to showcase our first East Coast headliner, Boston's Jack

McCarthy, an award-winning slam poet whose long, lyric works were also

being published in respected journals.

To wrap up a long story, Hyperdisc went belly up and we continued the

series, as the Hyperpoets, at Venice's Rose Café (which had much better

food and an art gallery) for the next 2 ½ years, realizing all of our

dreams of enriching the local community and its reputation, until we all

decided to call it quits so we could get back to writing.

But in our time we presented hundreds of poets, had publication parties

for Spillway, Rattle, Solo Magazine, Sacred Beverage Press, Cahuenga

Press, The Valley Contemporary Poets, Erica Erdman, Matt Niblock, The

Santa Clarita Valley Poets, David St. John; a benefit readings for Habitat

for Humanity, and raised over $700 one night to try to keep Sisterhood

Bookstore alive.

When Hyperpoets ended, we gave the $1100 or so left over in our kitty (our

small percentage of Small World Book's sales, plus donations we ourselves

had made to Hyperpoets) to an inner-city kids literacy program at which

Jan Wesley taught.

And all we were, Terry, were five poets with a sense of what we'd like

community to look like. So we created it. We DID something.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A glass-half-full statement re NEXT reunion in Long Beach tonight.

Tonight is the publication reading/party for NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS at Harvelle's in Long Beach. Won't be there, but I express thanks to G. Murray Thomas for publishing NEXT magazine and continuing its poetry calendar onto the site. Finding a copy of NEXT in the spring of 1998 was one of the best things to happen to me as a poet/writer--that a scene in SoCal existed and poetry wasn't limited to Drew Barrymore and Charlie Sheen and the old Cafe Largo on Fairfax.

Friday, April 20, 2012

G. Murray Thomas on NEXT magazine's impact.

From NEWS CLiPS AND EGO TRIPS, here's a small portion of Murray's introduction--pay special attention to the final sentence: "I well remember the way poets' eyes would light up as I walked in with a stack of NEXT...s. That was the key to the whole enterprise. We quickly became an essential and beloved part of the SoCal poetry scene. Poets relied on us to tell them where the readings were, as well as to keep them informed about the hot poets in their midst, and the hot readings to go to, and the other happenings in the scene. Sure, they argued with us plenty, but they loved us. They also wanted to be written up in our pages. Although not all of them who did get ink were happy with the results.. We supported the community, but we were also critical of it, and we were not always nice about it."

NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS: not a review but an observation.

I will keep my promise not to write a specific review of the G. Murray Thomas/Derrick Brown NEXT magazine compilation NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS.

But, here's an observation from reading some of its content:
There are articles/letters from several LA/OC community veterans in the book.  And I've either irritated or created extreme fits of pique in some of those vets; some of that has come from questioning the way things get done/people get rewarded in the community, while other times I've been scourged for talking to Poetry Royalty as if they were mere mortals who need to be looked at eye-to-eye instead of from a bowing-peasant perspective. 

It's definitely worth it to be more enlightened as to past history and to know that a lot of today's poetry community issues existed in a seems-like-long-ago time when the Internet was relatively primitive and readings were abundant.

And, unfortunately, it's clear from diving into the book that a lot of the "if we don't like you and/or what you write, we'll smash into you like an atomic-powered ram" ethos of certain community vets was also ever-present fifteen-to-eighteen years ago.  After all, they see themselves as fighting (and also working) hard to get their eminence in the community--and they see it as normal to take up the shield and the sword to beat back professional challenges and notions of dissent from damn-fool younger people who must be made to know that so-and-so is THEE greatest host/poet in the city, etc..

As Woody Allen said in a different context (about mainstream Show Business) in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, "It's more than dog eat dog.  It's dog doesn't return other dog's phone calls."

Nothing further to add--except to recommend that SoCal poets buy a copy, read the book and form their own opinion(s).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

RIP Dick Clark.

The man who was given the moniker "Oldest Living Teenager" passed away this morning at the age of 82.

Saw this paragraph online from Lester Bangs' interview with Clark for CREEM magazine; reprinting it here:
Anything that’s new takes a while before it gets disseminated across the country. You get the J. C. Penney versions of fashions of what the style leaders are wearing. There’s an interesting premise in all of this, in the youth world, you take the lunatic fringe, the avant-garde, the style leaders, the nuts. And if you are careful enough to determine what they come up with that’s a legitimate trend, then you’ll be able to figure out eventually what the people in the middle, I don’t mean necessarily geographically but in the case of our country it is pretty much the middle, will be doing in the next number of months.
Dick Clark to Lester Bangs in Creem, November 1973.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Explaining SoCal poetry to outsiders Part 3: Why new book NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS will be a Big Event to many.

Recent Twitter posts of mine--

Got my copy of NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS via Amazon today. Won't review it [as promised in a previous blog post here], but will say that it's a victory lap for G. Murray Thomas.

G. Murray, still-titan of Long Beach/OC Poetry, edited NEXT magazine, which NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS is a compilation of.

NEXT was a chronicle of slam/performance and page poetry both in SoCal and elsewhere. Lasted a few years until 1998.

Essentially, NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS is Murray and Write Bloody's Derrick Brown's manifesto that the magazine was Important and....

...that its brief life was not in vain.

Barney Frank unexpurgated--the complete interview transcript.

Soon-to-be-retired Congressman Barney Frank gave an interview to NEW YORK magazine.  The edited version runs about nine pages.  But here's a link to all fifteen pages of unfiltered Frank--with content sure to irritate both the Left and the Right:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Joe Eszterhas and Mel Gibson.

Bad Timing :: Hollywood Elsewhere

The link above references this morning's Eszterhas appearance on TODAY--interviewed by Ann Curry.

Guessing that a lot of Eszterhas' comments alleging what Gibson said are true.

But at the same time, it does seem that Eszterhas is repeating the same kind of generating-publicity-for-me tactic he engaged in around 1990--when Eszterhas (two years before his greatest hit as a screenwriter--BASIC INSTINCT--and five years before his ubercampy bellyflop SHOWGIRLS) and then CAA-agency-head Michael Ovitz had a war of words where Ovitz apparently mentioned something about having "foot soldiers" on Wilshire Boulevard.

[Here's a link to David Plotz's 1998 profile of Eszterhas for]

A big difference between the two incidents is that in 1990, Eszterhas at least dared to pick a fight with someone who had greater power (Ovitz).

Whereas in 2012, Joe Eszterhas is kicking around a former superstar who, through his anti-Semitism and misogyny, has managed to lower his Hollywood profile to, at best, the likelihood of only having a viable career as a director (safe to say that Mel talked/raged himself out of aging-star leading-and-supporting roles; his latest film GET THE GRINGO aka HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION slated for satellite TV premiere then DVD release).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 10--an eventful day.

On this date in 1979, I managed to survive a tornado which caused lots of destruction on its path through Wichita Falls, TX. 33 years later, my niece has given birth to her first child--a daughter. In the wider world, Rick Santorum has ended his tenure as the most viable opponent to Mitt Romney's inevitable GOP Presidential campaign. And George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin's killer, is still unarrested--at this writing, Zimmerman seems to have lost both his defense attorneys. So it goes as the Circle of Life continues its rotation.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Literary Workplace Bullying Part 3

In addition to posting the previous two Wikipedia excerpts, here's a coda:
If one says something negative or critical about someone in a group who is highly valued by a majority of its members, there are usually plenty of people to come to the aid of the person they feel has been wronged.  This can run from simple disagreement to outright adult bullying (innuendo, anonymous online posts, making statements like "he's the type of person who might beat his spouse" etc.).

In short, people with less power are often heavily criticized (and, ironically, called bullies themselves) if they say something about people with more power--also known as the "There's Nothing Wrong With The Emperor's Clothes!  You're Mistaken!" syndrome.

I'm far from perfect.  As the writer of this blog, I've been guilty of calling out certain poeterati by name if I've felt that they've been snobbish, rude or overly exclusionary--behavior that's both hurtful and severe in limiting the opening of the community to new, developing talent. 

Sometimes, I've engaged in the call-out habit too much.  In one case, I gave someone an unflattering nickname--a practice I stopped when the person complained about it to me privately.

But I've at least avoided saying anything about people's personal lives.  My focus, when writing on poetry-related topics, stays on what people value as poets and how they define concepts such as "leadership" and "good poetry."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Literary workplace bullying Part 2

Morr from the Wikipedia bullying article (with highlighting of some statements)--Of typical bystanders Often bullying takes place in the presence of a large group of relatively uninvolved bystanders. In many cases, it is the bully's ability to create the illusion that he or she has the support of the majority present that instills the fear of 'speaking out' in protestation of the bullying activities being observed by the group. Unless the 'bully mentality' is effectively challenged in any given group in its earlier stages, it often becomes an accepted norm within the group.[48] [49] In such groups where the 'bully mentality' has been allowed to become a dominant factor in the group environment, a steady stream of injustices and abuses often becomes a regular and predictable group experience. Such a toxic environment often remains as the status-quo of the group for an extended period of time, until somehow the bullying-cycle should eventually come to an end. Bystanders to bullying activities are often unable to recognize the true cost that silence regarding the bullying activities has to both the individual and to the group. A certain inability to fully empathize is also usually present in the typical bystander, but to a lesser degree than in the bully. The reversal of a 'bully mentality' within a group is usually an effort which requires much time, energy, careful planning, coordination with others, and usually the undertaking of a certain 'risk'. It is the general unwillingness of bystanders to expend these types of energies and to undertake these types of risks that bullies often rely upon in order to maintain their monopolies of power. Until or unless at least one individual who has at least some abilities to work with others, opts to expend whatever energies may be needed to reverse the 'bully mentality' of the group, the 'bully mentality' is often perpetuated within a group for months, years, or even decades.[50] [51] Bystanders who have been able to establish their own 'friendship group' or 'support group' have been found to be far more likely to opt to speak out against bullying behavior than those who have not.[52] [53] Intervention Despite the large number of individuals that do not agree with bullying practices, there are very few that will intervene on behalf of the victim. These individuals are labeled bystanders and unfortunately usually tend to lean toward the bully’s side. In 85% of bullying incidents, bystanders are involved in teasing the victim or egging on the bully.[54] However, in most bullying incidents, bystanders usually do nothing. If the bully faces no obstruction from the people around, it gives permission to continue behaving badly.[55] There are a wide variety of reasons why children choose not to intervene. Typically, they worry that they will make the situation worse or risk becoming the next victim, due to the fear that children experience as the bystanders, which is a direct cause of the decline of anti-bullying attitudes. This points to the urgency for a better understanding of children’s attitudes to bullying and the factors that seem to predict these attitudes.[54] Researchers have been analyzing the just-world belief theory to help understand the decline of anti-bullying attitudes. "This is the idea that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get." The study determined that children do seek to understand, justify, and rectify the different injustices they come across in everyday life. However, further research is needed to link the two together.[54]

Bullying in the literary workplace Part 1

After seeing the uneven-but enlightening documentary BULLY, I consulted the Wikipedia page on bullying, since a fair amount of it takes place in adulthood. Here's a relevant-to-me paragraph: He also suggests that social aggression or indirect bullying is characterized by attempting to socially isolate the victim. This isolation is achieved through a wide variety of techniques, including spreading gossip, refusing to socialize with the victim, bullying other people who wish to socialize with the victim, and criticizing the victim's manner of dress and other socially-significant markers (including the victim's race, religion, disability, sex, or sexual preference, etc.). Ross[20] outlines other forms of indirect bullying which are more subtle and more likely to be verbal, such as name calling, the silent treatment, arguing others into submission, manipulation, gossip/false gossip, lies, rumors/false rumors, staring, giggling, laughing at the victim, saying certain words that trigger a reaction from a past event, and mocking. The UK based children's charity, Act Against Bullying, was set up in 2003 to help children who were victims of this type of bullying by researching and publishing coping skills.

Friday, April 6, 2012

James Cameron vs. LATIMES film critic Kenneth Turan: the battle over perceptions of TITANIC.

LOS ANGELES TIMES film critic Kenneth Turan panned TITANIC upon its original release in 1997--which eventually led to Turan now being supplanted by Betsy Sharkey as critic/mainstream movie cheerleader.

Here's James Cameron's famous rant at Turan's expense--sent as a letter to the editor:
He's Mad as Hell at Turan
James Cameron Gets the Last Word on Our Critic's 'Titanic' Commentary

I have shrugged off Kenneth Turan's incessant rain of personal barbs
over the last few months, since he is clearly not a big enough man to
admit when he is wrong, and it has been amusing to watch him dig
himself into a deeper hole each time he tries to justify his
misanthropic sensibility with regard to "Titanic." But it's time to
speak up when Turan uses his bully pulpit not only to attack my film,
but the entire film industry and its audiences.
Turan says that "the flip side of 'Titanic's' ability to draw hordes
of viewers into the theaters is the question of where these viewers
have been for the past several years. In its unintentional underlining
of how narrow an audience net most movies cast over the American
public, 'Titanic' is not an example of Hollywood's success, it's an
emblem of its failure." It shows, he says, "how desperate the
mainstream audience . . . has become for anything even resembling
old-fashioned entertainment." They have, he says, been "deadened by
exposure to nonstop trash."
Having gone on record condemning "Titanic" as so bad "it almost makes
you weep in frustration," he is now desperate to account for the
phenomenon of its unprecedented global critical and commercial
success. To do so, he has settled on the outrageous conclusion that
since "Titanic" is garbage (because it has been spoken and so it must
be), then everything else around it--every other film in recent
years--must be worse garbage. With one sweeping statement he condemns
and dismisses the entire output of Hollywood.
Turan has tipped his hand. We now see his true heart. It's not that he
doesn't like some movies, as is a critic's prerogative. It's that he
doesn't like all movies. Simmering in his own bile, year after year,
he has become further and further removed from the simple joyful
experience of movie-watching, which, ironically, probably attracted
him to the job in the first place. The best critics keep that joy
alive, while the worst let their cynicism twist them beyond any
recognizable connection to the experience of a general audience in a
movie theater.
Turan sees himself as the high priest of some arcane art form that is
far too refined for the average individual to possibly appreciate. He
writes as if the insensitive masses must be constantly corrected, like
little children who do not have the sense or experience to know what
is good for them without the critic's patient instruction. This is
paternalism and elitism in its worst form, and utterly insults the
movie audience, which is theoretically his constituency.
Turan says I write "lowest common denominator screenplays that
condescend to their audience." The condescending one here is Turan,
who is insulting the majority of the filmgoing public by telling them
that they shouldn't like what they like.
"Titanic" is not a film that is sucking people in with flashy hype and
spitting them out onto the street feeling let down and ripped off.
They are returning again and again to repeat an experience that is
taking a 3-hour and 14-minute chunk out of their lives, and dragging
others with them, so they can share the emotion. Parents are taking
their kids, adults are taking their parents. People from 8 to 80
(literally) are connecting with this film. After 14 weeks in release,
"Titanic" is still No. 1 in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan,
Mexico, Australia, the U.K. and almost every other country in which it
is playing. Audiences around the world are celebrating their own
essential humanity by going into a dark room and crying together.
The script for "Titanic" is earnest and straightforward, wearing its
heart on its sleeve. It intentionally incorporates universals of human
experience and emotion that are timeless--and familiar because they
reflect our basic emotional fabric. By dealing in archetypes, the film
touches people in all cultures and of all ages. Is this pandering? Or
is it communicating? Turan mistakes archetype for cliche. I don't
share his view that the best scripts are only the ones that explore
the perimeter of human experience, or flashily pirouette their witty
and cynical dialogue for our admiration.
He says that "Cameron is not someone to be trusted anywhere near a
word processor" and calls the "Titanic" screenplay "the worst script
ever written," carrying on as if this is an accepted fact, a "given"
upon which all his further arguments are then built. He conveniently
ignores the fact that the Writers Guild of America voted "Titanic" one
of the five best original scripts of the year with its nomination for
best screenplay written directly for the screen. There is no more
critical and discerning body in the world when it comes to
screenwriting. But in Turan's private reality, the vast majority of
the worldwide audience and the majority of Hollywood screenwriters are
wrong, and only he is right.
Turan's critical sensibility is the worst kind of ego-driven elitism.
The illustration accompanying the article says it all. One tiny figure
trying vainly to stop the juggernaut. But is that any sane person's
definition of the role of the critic--to stand alone in complete
opposition to the tide of popular taste?
Poor Kenny. He sees himself as the lone voice crying in the
wilderness, righteous but not heeded by the blind and dumb "great
unwashed" around him. It must be a great burden to be cursed with such
clear vision when your misguided flock bray past you, like lemmings,
Turan has forgotten, if he ever knew, the role of senior film critic
for a large urban newspaper. When people spend their hard-earned money
on a movie at the end of a long work week, all they ask is that their
local critic steer them toward the good ones and help them avoid the
turkeys. It's not too much to ask. And it's a fairly simple job, once
you grasp it. You get to go to a movie first, before anyone else, and
then come back and tell everybody about it. You even get to trash it
if you didn't like it. What you don't get to do is grind on and on,
month after month, after the audience has rendered its verdict in the
most resounding of terms, telling everybody why the filmgoers are
wrong and you are right.
Nobody's interested in the vitriolic ravings of a bitter man who
attacks and rips apart movies that the great majority of viewers find
well worth their time and money. Turan has lost touch with the joys of
film viewing as most people would define it. He has lost touch,
therefore, with his readership, and no longer serves a useful purpose.

When critics like Roger Ebert or Janet Maslin talk about film, they
demonstrate a deep knowledge of and respect for their subject, a
respect for filmmakers regardless of the specific blunders made on a
particular film, and a genuine unwavering joy at the magic of cinema.
Even when they don't like something of mine, I respect the source.
They make me want to try harder.
Give us a critic who actually likes movies. Give us a critic who has
at least some slight understanding of the toil and energy, the hopes
and dreams that go into a movie, any movie. Give us a critic who shows
respect for our chosen art, and whom we can respect in turn. And give
us one who respects the paying audiences who look to him or her for
guidance, not for lectures on how stupid they are for liking what they
Forget about Clinton--how do we impeach Kenneth Turan?
Santa Monica


Pauline Kael on TITANIC.

Here's an opinion from an eminent film critic on TITANIC, back when it was available in 2-D widescreen (blown up to 70mm for select engagements) on its original release in late 1997:

Pauline Kael on TITANIC: "It's square in ways people seem to have been longing for.  I'm not one of those people."
Ms. Kael's quote was from a NEWSWEEK article about TITANIC-as-phenomenon.

Here's hoping that, as David Edelstein mentioned in his recent NEW YORK magazine re-review, the addition of 3-D is the magic improvement that heightens the spectacle while decreasing the too-on-the-nose, tin-eared dialogue that James Cameron gave to his characters.

Monday, April 2, 2012


In our poetry community, there's the occupational hazard of poets reviewing their friends' books on websites or on sites like Amazon. In the case of the NEXT magazine (founded by G. Murray Thomas) anthology NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS , I'll recuse myself. I respect a lot of things Murray and Derrick Brown (Write Bloody publisher) have done professionally, but carry some personal and professional animosity towards them I can't put aside. Also, there's the fact of my entering the SoCal scene in the last months of NEXT's existence (fact: my introduction to the scene came from acquiring a copy at a record store on Balboa Peninsula in March of 1998), so my direct/secondhand knowledge of the pre-98 era is limited at best. And, as I have learned, it's useless to write about other people's books (even if I have favorable things to say) because I'll be thought of as someone tearing the community down and/or being destructively envious towards people of near-universal popularity--perhaps leading to more negativity and rude community in-jokes at my expense. So, all I'll do is await my copy in the mail, read it in solitude and let Murray's friends be the ones to proclaim NEWS CLIPS AND EGO TRIPS' reputation as a seminal document of SoCal page/slam/performance poetry history.

National Poetry Month 2012 is here. Let the support begin.

Borders imploded last year, but for those who still go to brick-and-mortar superstores, you can still buy from remaining chains Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million during this once-a-year recognition of poetry as art form/means of communication.

In L.A. County, I recommend Stories bookstore in Echo Park, Gatsbys in Long Beach and the Beyond Baroque bookstore in Venice (the latter is open on Fridays and event days).

And here's a few links to small press sites, who will welcome your support:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

David Carr abandons journalistic objectivity in latest Keith Olbermann article.

David Carr of THE NEW YORK TIMES, is a good writer/reporter--and a good Company Man too.

Here's his latest piece on the Keith Olbermann firing, which comes down squarely on the side of the Al Gore-fronted Current TV channel:

Key passage from the article:
"No, the mistake that the executives at Current made was to think that by giving Mr. Olbermann a stake in the enterprise and a title of chief news officer, he would forgo the drama that has characterized his stints at CNN, Fox, ESPN and MSNBC. After all, you can’t rail against the Man when you are the Man.

But Mr. Olbermann is talent, and a big baby to boot — any reporter who has covered him could tell you all about that — so the idea that he would default to the good of the many over the needs of the one is just not in his nature. The title was used as leverage, nothing more, when Mr. Olbermann became dissatisfied and starting communicating with his employers through lawyer letters months ago. Mr. Olbermann is a ferocious fan of team sports, but that’s not how he plays the game."

Having said the above, Carr does own up to the problems of the Current channel (i.e. attempting to compete with left-to-center MSNBC with supercheap programming--now including amateur-video-level commercials for national-brand products).

But to me, it seems like the major problem is that--like Olbermann or not--Current hired him and promised him autonomy in terms of how the channel's news/political programming would evolve.  Then, Al Gore, Joel Hyatt and David Bohrman (currently having himself spun as a genius in the media for selling Current on simulcasting radio shows of Bill Press and Stephanie Miller--plus arranging the MSNBC TV simulcast of Don Imus, who, for reasons not to be mentioned here, was terminated from the network) apparently said, "No Keith, we have the autonomy, you don't."

In short, the Olbermann/Current situation is probably a bit more complex--with pluses and minuses on both sides--than you'll read in most media coverage.

And perhaps Olbermann now feels like a participant in THE HUNGER GAMES, where he's expected to play a game by agreed-upon rules, only to find management changes the rules to suit them and not their $10 million-a-year star player..