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What’s New

New to the archives are my 2006 interview with actor Sam Elliott (Grandma) about his role in a TV movie and other work (read the Sam Elliott interview here) and my 2011 interview with Robert Osborne about Liza Minnelli (New York, New York), who spoke about her movies and late parents, director Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis) and Judy Garland (A Star is Born). Read the interview about Liza here.

Sympathy_vote_FINAL_1007I’ve added a 2013 newspaper article about an unsolved murder in Illinois that happened 49 years ago today. The 21-year-old victim was the twin daughter of a wealthy CEO running for the United States Senate and her name was Valerie Percy. She was stabbed and bludgeoned to death in her bedroom while the family, except her stepmother, who awakened during the crime and became an eyewitness, slept in their lakefront home. The homicide remains unsolved, though the author of a book (pictured) names a prime suspect. Read Murder in Kenilworth here.

I also want to add my interview with an author of a book about Iran’s 1979 attack on America because the Iran deal is unfortunately imminent. I’m enthusiastic about my recent interview with Bob Hope‘s biographer. Besides articles, speculative writing and work for others, plans are underway to make more interviews, including several unpublished transcripts, available.

In the meantime, this summer’s writing workshop at the local library was a success, so I’ve been asked to teach a class on blogging, which I plan to do later this year. I am making a new low-cost webinar series this fall for which I plan to include a media booklet to help entrepreneurs, businesses and artists create, relate and distribute what they make and do. It’s in progress, so please stand by, as I know some readers outside of LA have asked about attending classes online or via streaming. I hope to post more information soon.

Hurry to register for next week’s 10-week courses here in suburban Los Angeles: an all-new Writing Boot Camp (register here), which explores writing habits and methodology and includes a checklist. Writing Boot Camp is fun, lively and streamlined (click/touch here to register). Registration is also open for All About Social Media for maximizing Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (register here). Contact me about private sessions.

Look for new book, product, home video and, of course, movie reviews. I have to admit that I am excited about the new season of Fox’s Empire (read my review of the first season here), which is purely an indulgence in escapism.

The Circus Cycle

This week’s press conference showdown between presidential candidate Donald Trump and Univision’s Jorge Ramos was another farce. Such melodrama drives today’s pathetic journalism, with journalists driving Trump’s campaign, and vice versa. The forged, artificial bond between superficial media and superficial political candidates self-perpetuates.

DonaldTrumpThis circus-like cycle will not have a happy ending. Clownish Trump, whose politically incorrect way of speaking and uninspired opponents, more than his ideas, aid his rising fanbase, is the GOP’s 2016 presidential front-runner. The cycle spins out of control with serious consequences.

This week’s spectacle was purely a ploy by Ramos, who is one of those grandstanding television personalities like Megyn Kelly, for instant media attention. He disrupted and hijacked a Trump press affair, was booted from the event, returned and continued his tirade. His purpose was not to report, inquire or debate, let alone inform, enrich or enlighten. His aim, like most people on today’s non-fictional television, was to get attention for the sake of getting attention.

I expect this hitching onto Trump’s populist bandwagon to spread. Fox News, which is built on an anti-intellectual premise, mainstreamed the trend years ago, cleverly marketing its brand of opportunistic sensationalism as an alternative to “the mainstream media”, an industry which now adopts a similarly salacious approach. Look no further than Fox News at Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich or any other TV pundit-politician-populist dealing in bromides, not principles, like Andy Griffith’s power-lusting Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd. But look, too, for variations of the same, shallow approach across today’s click-baiting media. This week, NBC’s veteran Today Show host, vacuous Matt Lauer, asked Donald Trump, who may be America’s top leader when America’s worst enemy gets nuclear weapons, if he has a crush on Megyn Kelly.

It is a full circle moment in today’s government/media circus; an icon of the empty-headed media elite both aping and ceding his scant credibility to one of the more vacant media figures, Megyn Kelly, an intelligent journalist who can be constructive but never goes deep for long and deliberately dumbs herself down to get attention.

TV_Fox_Kelly_at_Night_inev_t607 The Kelly File hostess initiated the emergence of circus ringmaster Trump, one of the 20th century’s most symbolic figures of the status quo’s cronyism and pragmatism, as a serious candidate for the White House. Kelly’s controversial debate questions for Trump, who continues to gain followers chiefly because he is wrongly perceived as not being part of the status quo, were improper for a presidential debate. Despite Roger Ailes standing by his network’s lead hostess in a statement, and Trump’s vulgar and obnoxious Tweets, retweets, and ramblings, Megyn Kelly was wrong to use Trump’s TV barbs as cannon fodder in Fox’s thinly veiled attack on Trump’s character. Kelly was wrong to ask the candidates whether they heard a supernatural voice. She was wrong to minimize serious policy during the Fox News/Facebook debate (read my review here). Mr. Ailes is wrong that Kelly is a serious journalist; she’s capable of being serious only in fits which is why her dedication to being unserious makes her among the worst of today’s journalists, as I wrote when she debuted with her own show in 2013 (read my review and postscript here). MSNBC’s Chris Matthews observed about her the other night on Hardball that Megyn Kelly has a knack for making an audience interested in her reaction to a guest as he’s speaking. I think this is what fuels her appeal; she plays hard and smart with a wink. But she plays. She’s a put-on artist.

In short, Megyn Kelly is to journalism what Donald Trump is to politics—with Jorge Ramos tagging along—and nothing more: stubbornly, consistently and cockily anti-intellectual. There’s a reason why Trump and Kelly propel each other’s cause; they’re like a nightly show. They both represent an improper mixing of state with economics and show business with journalism. They both embody the person without principles—or, more precisely, the person who has contempt for acting on principle.

This quality attracts people with mixed, bad or worst principles. In fact, the prospect of a President Trump rounding illegal immigrants up based on who the state deems good or bad, and getting mileage out of Trump messing with the left’s new media darling who’s willing to say or do anything for an audience, appeals to former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. Racist and convicted felon Duke all but endorsed Trump this week as the best candidate for president. That the former Democrat and former Republican legislator, who reflects the worst of both parties, sees Trump’s and Kelly’s pseudo-spat as an opportunity shows that those willing to say and do anything for attention propagate those willing to do anything terrible with the government.

The alternative to this 2016 presidential campaign madness is not the same status quo leadership. The worst outcome for America is more of the failed Clinton-Bush leadership, which spawned Obama and the current band of charlatans. Jeb Bush, for example, rushed to defend Jorge Ramos versus Trump, offering that he thinks Ramos deserves respect. Ramos, like Kelly, Trump and other players, deserves scorn, not respect, for grandstanding and Bush represents the failed past. The new century’s new media, as I wrote here, demands constant and serious judgment. Today’s rational American should beware, because the government crony-media axis spin, to flip a Fox News catchphrase, starts here and now. The circus has just begun.

Movie & Blu-Ray Review: The World According to Garp (1982)


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George Roy Hill’s 1982 adaptation of John Irving’s breakthrough 1978 novel, The World According to Garp, is better than its reputation. The Warner Bros. picture was a critical and commercial failure. Above all, this serious-themed movie—out this month on Blu-Ray—is seeded with ideas.

That the ideas involve sex, collectivism and death make The World According to Garp a culturally significant motion picture. With Hill (Hawaii, The Sting, The Little Drummer Girl) directing and a taut script by Steve Tesich (Breaking Away), the novel’s puritanical feminist mother to Garp (Robin Williams in his first major movie), portrayed by Glenn Close with perfection, sets the tone. The plain, Yankee frankness of seriously horrifying ideals mixed with perfectly reasonable ideals plays across Garp’s lifetime.

Garp’s mother is a rapist who compares sex with disease and, when her own son expresses the desire to gain new knowledge by asking questions, she cuts him down with a snap: “I’m tired of your questions.” She is both mother and monster. Garp’s mother violates his privacy, rescues him from danger and buys him sex from a prostitute and thus enmeshes Garp in the crazy making of her life. This is Irving’s absurdism but it is also the stuff of life. From a former top athlete who becomes a transsexual (John Lithgow) to Garp’s starch grandparents (Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy) and a reckless driver (Matthew Cowles), colorful characters depict various contradictions of our time.

Accordingly, the result is, and this fits the movie’s theme, an adventurous life. Garp’s lonely, sorrowful struggle to find happiness is strangely larger than and true to life. Garp, named after a crippled tailgunner his nurse mother raped in the hospital, wrestles the vicious dog that bit him as a boy during fellatio in order to recover his first manuscript. He becomes, of course, a writer and a wrestler. The act of fellatio reprises in his life with devastating impact, too. The World According to Garp is relentless in such audacious details and rich in symbolism. Williams is adept in every scene, playing the suppressed energy of an emasculated New England male caught in the 20th century’s rapid descent into feminist dogma and ripped apart by sexual liberation.

The story is brilliantly anti-sexual in a fundamental sense, though it is captured in a way which, thanks to Robin Williams and his co-star Mary Beth Hurt as his college professor wife Helen, is compelling. Their troubled marriage thoughtfully comes undone amid conflicting career goals and frustrations, as each wrestles with anxiety over kids, fear of death and balancing love, work and life. Living with the insecure writer, or the academic constantly tempted by youth, and making “the kids” a rationalization for denial, are all dramatized with skill and humor. From the hilarious definition of “gradual school” to an uncomfortable scene between the babysitter and Garp, in which he salivates at her being 18 while she salivates at his being 30, Garp is honest, clear and insightful.

It makes the audience think.

But Garp is best in its anti-sex theme showing the mass contradiction of feminism, a collectivist offshoot defining one’s identity as based on one’s sex, an idea which was widely accepted and only spread after the bestselling novel was adapted. The women’s-only coastal compound where Garp’s evangelistic mother nurses her adherents back to health, from the tough-but-kind, and notably unsatisfied, transsexual to the man-hating women who mutilate themselves as martyrs for the feminist faith, is both prison and sanctuary. The place is peaceful, decent and it’s where Garp goes to heal, thanks to his mother in a final act of enlightenment.

Garp’s Kennedy-like compound is a transient place of irrationalism, where the wicked and the wounded alike are housed, granting refuge to the absurd and tolerance to society’s most vulnerable victims. The World According to Garp co-habits the 20th century’s worst ideas, including pragmatism, fatalism and self-sacrifice, and thus reflects the United States of America. That the practitioners are women seeking to rule men is especially astute.

This is not to say that Garp is explicitly anti-feminist, as Irving and Tesich merely send feminists up for the sake of humor. In one transition, Roberta Muldoon is maiden to Garp’s boys during child’s play. In the next scene, Helen capitulates to playing maiden in need of rescue for real to one of her students. Sexual stereotypes self-perpetuate; Garp’s women, even his stubborn mother, have a point.

Faith breeds force, as Ayn Rand once wrote, and brute force takes its toll, though Irving probably does not intend this as the meaning of Garp. The subtext is there, however, instilled in dark, strange and almost surrealistic plot points, which are possibly too serious and tragic for most, except the most damaged. It calls out life’s absurdities, such as the iconic plane striking the house, and beckons the weird to face the strange, as David Bowie sings in “Changes”, and embrace the byproduct of mixed ideas: the unusual, even the painful, hard and terrible.

In the character Pooh Percy, the archetypical arch-feminist, who is also a sociopath, one sees the full arc of Garp‘s clearly dramatized sub-theme that, while life should be lived as an adventure, which in this context means embracing uniqueness including any contradictions, ultimately man is doomed by the irrational. Whether this is true (I think it’s false), one can take it, even on Garp‘s terms, to mean that man’s only doomed to self-terminate to the extent he sanctions the irrational. Pooh Percy is a feminist in glasses and pigtails taken to the logical application of her ideals. A line early in the movie indicates that Pooh’s mother implants the child with hatred of her own sex and life and one wonders what else might have happened to this child, especially since her father is a malignant if minor character. Pooh is like an Islamic fundamentalist trained from scratch to be like a laser-guided missile to destroy sex, love and life. To Pooh, values are poison; she is like an automatonic assassin programmed for death. Watch Pooh for a lesson in what happens when decent people refuse to think, judge and speak up about the judged.

Garp is not, contrary to some assertions, flat, terrible and deadly. Certainly, Garp is mixed. The theme is not positive. Yet intelligent ideas about writing permeates the movie. From the gloves in a story Garp writes and the role of the piano in his self-recovery to the sound of a typewriter’s keys at Christmastime, this is an involving depiction of the writer’s life in stark, dramatic detail. It is possible to live a meaningful life in The World According to Garp, with the richest rewards coming in the most surprising places, times and gestures. Garp’s greatest literary achievement finally comes as a result of Garp’s greatest risk. His payoff comes in a most unwelcome context with a character played by Amanda Plummer. It’s a poignant moment which captures Irving’s brand of misfit individualism. Taking the tragic as a metaphysical primary, Garp proposes that one’s life soars only before the downfall.

This makes The World According to Garp a timely, thoughtful movie not without merit which is thoroughly modern, and prophetic, in its malevolence.

The Pope Proposes to Hollywood

The Pope has reportedly proposed a merger with Hollywood.

According to an industry trade publication report, Pope Francis wrote to top movie industry players and pitched a conference on influencing movies, television and show business to spread faith, religion and positive views of the Catholic Church. The proposed meeting, which the Pope apparently wants to include a powerful agent with connections to the Obama administration, would convene at the Vatican this fall.

Among those apparently on the invitation list are the brother of Chicago Mayor and ex-Clinton and Obama staffer Rahm Emanuel, Ari Emanuel, and his co-CEO at William Morris Endeavor, Patrick Whitesell, producer Brian Grazer (Inside Deep Throat), Oprah Winfrey (Selma), Matt Damon (Hereafter) and industry titan David Geffen. Pope Francis seeks to discuss “how the church is perceived by Western media influencers and ways to improve its portrayal in entertainment” according to the report, which also notes that the Vatican is apparently working with the nonprofit Varkey Foundation, a charity launched by Bill Clinton with ties to UNICEF, Oxfam, an Arab state, Amnesty International, the Clinton Global Initiative (Bill and Hillary Clinton‘s troubled charity) and something called the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

It’s bad enough that Big Government is expanding its pernicious influence and intervention in Hollywood, as I wrote when Mrs. Obama intruded upon the Oscars, and the mixture of Hollywood, faith and religion is not new, but an official convergence of faith, religion and state with leaders of the entertainment industry is truly a putrid notion to any respectable artist, studio or legitimate show business. Whatever the merits of their work and whatever their leftist-collectivist-altruist political philosophy, these titans of one of America’s greatest industries, with its dismal record of standing for individual rights including the freedom of speech unmolested by the state—especially a religious state—ought to break free from its track record and reject this proposal in the strongest possible terms.

Pushing faith, religion and their strong influence on statism into movies, TV, publishing and music is an abomination which calls to mind Clinton’s proposed V-chip, the Moral Majority, Tipper Gore and the endless campaign of puritanical fascists such as feminist Gloria Steinem and traditionalist Phyllis Schlafly to impose the equivalent of speech codes, censorship—and today’s insidious version, a ban on “hate speech”—on everything Americans see, watch, read and listen to. Better artists and show business industrialists than this bunch ought to speak out against the Pope’s proposal. Bad ideas silently sanctioned by the worst purveyors of sludge and mediocrity can infect the rest of Hollywood. Having Winfrey, Geffen and Grazer bow before whatever robed mystic runs the Vatican this fall may pre-determine—and contaminate—what you read, watch and consume next fall and far into the future.

Everyone decent in Hollywood (and the West), whatever his personal beliefs, should defend the principle of free expression and urge Hollywood to reject the Pope’s proposal to influence and propagandize the movie industry. In other words, speak up for freedom and turn the Pope down.

Revisiting ‘Brokeback Mountain’

To mark this year’s 10th anniversary since the release of Focus Features’ Brokeback Mountain (2005), I’ve added three articles I wrote about the movie.

brokebackmountain_posterThe first, a column on the tragic 2008 death of leading actor Heath Ledger, was written before the release of The Dark Knight (read the review—my first blog post on July 20, 2008—here). I have nothing to add to the commentary, which I wrote for a movie Web site and titled Heath Ledger Dies. The second is an interview I conducted in 2006 with an executive at the movie studio which I called Selling Brokeback Mountain. I think this freewheeling exchange is interesting for several reasons. The piece is a frank discussion about how to market a motion picture. I decided to seek the interview with Jack Foley after seeing the film. I sensed that director Ang Lee’s movie was a seminal film with potential to make money, however, I knew from my experience and observation attending the press screening that persuading theaters and moviegoers to schedule and see the film would be a challenge. Foley gave me a short, whirlwind interview which I think evokes the unique enthusiasm surrounding the movie. Third, I’ve included my original movie review of Brokeback Mountain with added home video notes on two separate editions.

I have seen it a few times—I asked the studio for two separate pre-release screenings before I wrote my review and published it, which was the first time I’d done that, as a safeguard against predisposition or bias given the unprecedented hype and ridicule in advance of the December 9, 2005 release—and I will probably watch it again before the 10th anniversary. I’ve also read the original magazine short story by Annie Proulx, which, like True Grit, Shane and Red River, is a short work of psychologically tense Western-themed fiction that elicits a distinctive movie adaptation. Much will probably be said and written this year. Readers and viewers will judge Brokeback Mountain and should. I think of it now as a tale of a loner born too soon, similar to how I regard American Sniper. Like that fine movie, I remember Brokeback Mountain as the year’s best picture, a tragic and haunting movie about the cost of living for others and the lonely, modern struggle to live for oneself.