Sunday, November 25, 2012
photo: Movie poster, from its Wikipedia page
A few comments about Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, which you should go see:
--I was pleasantly surprised to find myself sitting in the second row from the front for this film. Spielberg film or not, historical films or biopics do not draw huge crowds. I got to this one twenty minutes early (pretty amazing for me) and almost had to see the next one, half an hour later. The crowd, at a quick glance, was about 28 and older. No teens; no kids. (This will make for a better film experience.)
--Spielberg is usually the star of a Spielberg film. This time he shared the billing with Daniel Day-Lewis, who was amazing. But the film was so well-directed, with obvious Spielberg/Wellesian flourishes, that he doesn't let you forget who's sitting in the director's chair.
--This movie could've been a bore without Spielberg and Day-Lewis, as historical films and/or biopics can be. Over 95% of the film is interiors and dialogue. Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones often hold forth.
--This apparently isn't just movie theatrics, either, as characters throughout both cringe and anticipate Lincoln's long-ish stories. Jones's character was also known to fillibuster, too, apparently.
--I'm betting $20 that most of the fires in the fireplaces were CGI. I guarantee you the heat made by them would screw with the cameras, the lights, and who knows what else. And it looked CGI most of the time to me. If someone reading this happens to know whether this is so, please let me know.
--Who knew that Lincoln had a sense of humor?
--In case you're reading this: Uh-kay.
--The film (actually, Sally Fields' Mary Todd Lincoln herself) often mentions the First Lady's struggles with depression (she'd be classified bi-polar today, I'll bet), but the film does not mention Lincoln's own well-documented melancholia. (Both had a lot to be depressed about.)
--One of the film's strongest moments is when Lincoln mentions her depression. Her sadness. Her anger. The point being that she was so worried about her feelings that she ignored those of her husband and her other two sons. From what I've read of her (and her sadness-drawn love of seances), this smacked of truth.
--Both Lincolns seemed like people you would not want to mess with--Lincoln on the political battlefront, Mary Todd at home.
--Speaking of home, the White House was apparently a pigsty when the Lincolns got there. I'd known about this--the White House famously was ill-designed for heating and ventilation, and it was often in ruin because the Presidents then were, well, ill-kept themselves--but I had no idea it had gotten that bad.
--Obama and Lincoln are often compared, but I'll throw out another one: they were both either extremely well-loved, or extremely despised, with nothing in between. Few people would think of either with a shrug of the shoulders.
--Someone mentioned that Bush Junior was the same way, but I was quick to point out that, though he was very heavily despised, he was not very well-loved, even by the dumbies who voted for him. (I had to go back and delete a stronger word there.)
--Speaking of Dubya, make it a point to notice, in a VERY heavily researched and historically accurate film, that every table was filled with books, piled high. Lincoln was mostly home-schooled and self-taught, and Bush went to Yale, but one has a Presidential Library that's known as a good place to research, with lotsa books. The other hasn't opened yet, but when it does, to the tune of $250 million, the sound you'll hear is one hand clapping.
--And both Obama and Lincoln had a country at war with itself, socially. Then and now, it is very evenly divided. The south has not, apparently, changed all that much. Perhaps we are two separate countries after all.
--David Strathairn is in a ton of films, and always does a quietly great job, and never gets any recognition at all for his work. He's been doing this since the 80s. For example, how many of you know who in the film I'm talking about?
--Daniel Day-Lewis will get the recognition he deserves (he already is), but the greatest thing about his work is that he made a revered American icon surprisingly and appreciably human. Lincoln is almost as revered in the U.S. as many religious figures, then and now, and think for a moment if someone were to try to humanize one of them. (::cough:: Martin Scorsese, 1988 ::cough::)
--Day-Lewis almost made me not wonder when Lincoln would pick up an axe and start swingin'. Almost. Two Lincolns at opposite ends of the spectrum in the same film year. Weird.
--Back to the fireplaces again: Everyone's cold. Sure, it's winter in D.C., which can be worse than winter in New England, but the White House seemed like nothing more than a big barn with one big fireplace in each room. As I can assure you, one fireplace is not enough to warm a big room. Everyone's wearing shawls, even the manly, well-dressed and -suited politicians. Nice historical touch.
--Notice also that everyone wrote on small, wooden portable desks, sort of a take-it-with-you tiny podium. I've got to get myself one of those. What're they called?
--Spielberg said he didn't want to release this film until after the election because he didn't want to influence any votes. You'll see why when you see it, but that tells you another very obvious comparison between Obama and Lincoln--in many ways, they're fighting the same issues.
--The same issues, about 147 years later.
--Thank goodness Lincoln was president during the Civil War. Can you imagine Dubya or Mitt as President during the Civil War? We'd still have slavery--and women still wouldn't be able to vote.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Remember to be thankful for other, perhaps more subtle, things about yourself. Don't just focus on family, friends, food and shelter. For example, without my story and novel writing ability, I would get into A LOT more trouble than I do.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Photo: Todd Akin's official 109th Congress photo, from his Wikipedia page.
[This entry is the second half of the most recent one, below, posted a few days ago. Look below, or click here.]
So, a few things:
According to his Wikipedia page, Akin graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a very good and prestigious school. Bush graduated from Yale, but whatever. Awhile after that, he worked for IBM selling supercomputers, which doesn't sound like something a dummy can do, either. Then he got a Masters of Divinity Degree from Covenant Theological Seminary, in 1984. He entered the political arena by running unopposed for a seat. He then won some close races, but then he won by large margins--until this year. It jumps out at me that he voted against public funding support for school nurses and school breakfasts and lunches. In a 2008 speech on the House floor, Akin called abortion providers "terrorists" and alleged that it was "common practice" for abortion providers to perform abortions on women who were not actually pregnant.
So what are we to make of this? An intelligent guy--or a college-educated one, which Bush proved isn't the same thing--saying the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard (and with my job, that's saying something) about a controversial topic, during his own campaign, with a conclusion that this man clearly seriously believed, based on no facts at all (and one wonders who those "doctors" were), probably gleaned from something he'd heard someone say once...and yet the most bothersome things to me in all this is his mention of the phrase "legitimate rape," and the fact that he thinks abortionists are performing abortions on women who are not pregnant.
First, then, is the uncomfortable feeling that this man has a pretty good idea of what he thinks "legitimate" and, therefore, "illegitimate" rapes are. He never elaborated, but it must be that he thinks a large proportion of rape victims are simply lying about the rape. Or, maybe more disturbingly, he subscribes to the notion of blaming the victim, that perhaps some rape victims wear skirts that are too short, or that they are promiscuous, and are therefore rape victims after the fact. Who knows? But he clearly, in his own mind, is making a distinction here, in whatever land he lives in, and he's not giving the rest of us the bridge to get there.
Or is he?
Maybe this is Conservative Republicanland, where men are very fearful of women, and therefore hold a certain resentment towards them. This reminds me a bit of the illogical thoughts and fears people had about African-Americans, and it's really not too far of a stretch to say that such men held both women and African-Americans in disdain back in the day. Do they still, in different ways?
Are their women thought of as such foreign animals as African-Americans were? Remember when every black man was thought to be raging for white men's white women? When black men were prone liars, and prone to violence? When they were all so simple-minded?
How about Jews? Remember when they were thought to be able to bewitch people? That they killed Christ? That they ruled all the monetary establishments in the world? That they controlled the world's banks? That they were money-driven liars and chisellers? (I know a couple of Jewish people who can't balance their own checkbooks.)
Now we have women who somehow have the power to stop the biological process after being raped. (Notice that the rapists themselves are ignored in such conversations. They would be, of course, men.) We have women who will, apparently, create "illegitimate" rape stories, perhaps after realizing they didn't want to have sex with that man after all. Maybe they're thought to be drunken, promiscuous louts who don't want to be thought of that way? Maybe they're thought to be dressed for it, flirting for it, and therefore asking for it? We have women who will, for some reason, consent to an abortion without ever being pregnant to begin with.
This is foreign animal thinking here. This man clearly thinks that women don't have anything in common with men, or with him specifically. He can't think of them as human, and still think and speak of them like this. After all, one does not get asked a question about rape, and about abortion laws that do not blink at rape or incest, and then suddenly spit out this bad boy of a statement. In fact, people who know this guy can't possibly be surprised by his answer here. One cannot be a reasonably intelligent, intellectually steadfast, verbally proficient person--and then suddenly spout out this bad boy. (One cannot imagine Lincoln, Obama or even Clinton saying this.) He's had to have said tons of things like this before--such as the wild animal abortionists performing abortions on women who are not pregnant statement above. I don't know what in the world he's thinking, but I'll bet that he thinks he knows what he's thinking.
And I'll bet he's not the only one thinking it. How can he be? Even Mitt Romney thought he was talking to an entire room of supporters (without the one traitor) when he let loose his 47% bad boy. He clearly thought he was preaching to the choir there--and, for the most part, he was. I have a feeling Akin thought the same, that he was speaking to a closed room of supporters rather than to an open mike and a camera. His real crime to his party wasn't in what he said--it's that, like Romney, he was being too honest. Really saying what he felt. And feeling that he had a large audience who'd agree with him. Why would he think he had an agreeing audience unless it was, at least moderately, the case? Go back up to the politically-confused Mr. Broun, the congressman who thought he had a captive, agreeing audience that would cheer him (as many of them did) when he said that the Bible controlled his every political decision. You don't think he thinks he's preaching to the choir there?
Romney really felt that 47% of the country--ironically in his mind, all of them Obama voters--were leeches of the government, couch potatoes and pot smokers and baby producers who don't try to find work, all of them lazy. How many white men does he see in that picture? I think, when he envisions that 47%, that they're all minorities, and women, and teens (or black teen women). And so I also think Akin envisions women in this way. They're rape victims. They're promiscuous women who lie about being raped. They're such loathsome creatures that they would allow an abortion without even being pregnant. But, as disdainfully as he views them, they're somehow so powerful that they can shut down the entire creation process (quite like God, in fact) if they want to, after they've been raped. This is the same man who inserted unwanted legislation into a bill that lawmakers were trying to pass to publicly support school nurses [i.e.--women]. After Akin insisted that the bill contain a provision that such nurses could not speak of, or provide, birth control to the students, none of the Missouri lawmakers wanted to pass it.
This last bit deserves recognition. Nurses (women) can't speak of condoms, or provide information about other birth control. Women cannot have abortions under any circumstance, including rape and incest. In other words, they also cannot provide their own birth control. I'll repeat that: birth control. Simply stated, he does not want women to control birth. More important than rape, or incest, or their own health is the fact that he does not want them to control birth. In short, he does not want them to be God. That is, apparently, for he, and other men, to do. It's all about who has the power to control birth. I smell fear there, and perhaps a bit of a Freudian issue. (I would love to interview his wife and/or mother.)
Overall, then, I think he thought he was speaking to the choir, and was astonished to find that he wasn't. (Read his Wikipedia page to learn of quite a few instances in which he thought he was verbally holding forth, only to apologize and backtrack after he realized he was being hissed at. And these are just times, mentioned here, in a large public forum. I wonder what he has said to his wife or daughters over dinner over the years.) Do I think there's large contingent of southern and midwestern white Christian conservative males who still fear women, and minorities, and homosexuals, and anyone who's not a white Christian conservative male?
Yes. Yes, I do. We've seen nine of them lately, old white men yahoos who are (or, rather, after Tuesday, were) shockingly in positions of power to put forth this rather violently hateful agenda. (And shame on the people who voted them in and gave them that power. Akin has been in power for over ten years.) And since the Old Testament largely feared the same groups of people, and was vehemently against them, (For example, when Adam is rebuked about eating the fruit, God chastises him first for listening to the woman, and only secondly for disobeying Him and eating the fruit. As Satan and the snake are still seen as tempters, so too, apparently, are women still seen as the temptresses, and therefore something to be feared and loathed.) then the two have become as one.
How stringent is this mental framework in that segment of the population? Well, I'll ask you: When someone asks you for your opinion about abortion, do you immediately speak of women who've lied about rape? Do you think of how women can shut down the entire process of giving birth? If you're fixated on males controlling birth, and not the dastardly abortionists or women (notice how he sort of grouped those together in that other quoted comment) then, yes, I guess you do. And he wasn't the only one lately, including almost-Vice-President Paul Ryan, and seven others. Nine men, all of them (former) important politicians, senators, congressmen and policymakers, all of them with a misunderstanding of the Separation of Church and State, all of them who will, as Mr. Broun did, flat out admit that the Bible controls their every political decision, all of whom think that the Bible "teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society." If the Bible--mostly the Old Testament--is viciously and violently against women, homosexuals, immigrants and minorities (those who were not of the same Jewish tribe as was the author of a particular passage that spoke against these things), then why wouldn't these guys be? And, therefore, why wouldn't they pass legislation that controls the rights of these groups of people, these Others, who they loathe and fear? (Which is why the Separation of Church and State is so important.)
I'll cover one of those eight other denizens of disinformation next:
As written by Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times: The delicate issue of pregnancies resulting from rape rattled another campaign for the Senate when Indiana's Republican Senate nominee, Richard Mourdock, said a life conceived by rape "is something that God intended to happen."
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Photo: Todd Akin's official 109th Congress photo, from his Wikipedia page.
And so this begins a long series of blog entries chronicling the recent election. There's a lot I want to go over here, including, in no order, why Obama won, why Romney didn't, the election results, the nine or so boneheaded rich old white men who said incredibly stupid and insensitive things about rape, and why someone would marry and/or vote for such people. I do not, and I will not, mean to offend; if I do, please feel free to send me a (polite) comment and let me know.
Having said that, I have to start with the boneheaded rich old white men who said incredibly stupid and insensitive things about rape. But before I do, let me offer you a recent quote from a congressman, who said the following, and much more, at a banquet at a church:
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Georgia Republican (someone needs to tell me whether this guy was able to keep his job after the firestorm a few days ago):
The words below were taken from a video clip, distributed by the Bridge Project, which itself was taken from a longer version recorded on Sept. 27 during the 2012 Sportsman's Banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Ga. Here's a transcript of the Bridge Project's snippet:
"God's word is true. I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I've found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don't believe that the earth's but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That's what the Bible says.
"And what I've come to learn is that it's the manufacturer's handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that's the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I'll continue to do that."
Now there's, of course, a lot wrong here, but what struck me the most was the last part, the part where he explicitly says that the Bible dictates how he votes in D.C., and how "it teaches us how to run all of public policy." This part hit me hard because it is at the core of what is causing these guys to say such things about rape, about science, about their voting decisions, and about almost everything: they take it all from the Bible--or, at least, they say that they do. (Though the Bible has a lot of rape in it, it does not say, as a politician recently did, that rape is just another form of procreation.)
The Republican Right, forever represented by George W. Bush, does indeed follow the Bible in every decision they make, in D.C. and at home. While what they do at home is their own business (a concept they fail to realize, ironically, themselves), what they do in D.C. is not just their own business. That's ours, too. We need to know what makes these guys think and vote as they do, because they, more so than the President, shape America's social climate. And these guys, apparently, have never heard of the Separation of Church and State. If they had, Bush could not have started his Faith-Based Initiatives in his first five minutes in office. And Mr. Broun certainly wouldn't admit in public (with an honesty rivaled only by Romney's now-infamous 47% speech) that he bases all of his decisions as a congressman and lawmaker solely on the Bible--which is, of course, an unconstitutional thing to do. Their stance is simple: They place the Bible before the Constitution. But in American politics, you can't do that. You can, though, if you're already in office, and no one holds your hand to the fire when you screw up. Bush and Broun should have been ousted from office immediately, the second they obviously held their Bibles higher than their Constitution. We, the American people, have the right--in fact, the obligation--to throw them out of office, and we do have the legal power to do so. But this never happens. These guys are never held accountable for what they say--much less for what they do.
Which brings me to Mr. Todd Akin, in an interview with KTVI:
REP. TODD AKIN (R-Mo.): It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's [pregnancy resulting from a rape] really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
"The views expressed were offensive.
"Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me.
"So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women."
My comments, which are longer, and more in number, but perhaps not expressed any better than Obama's here, will follow in an upcoming entry...Stay tuned.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
It is impossible to read the book without putting Paul Newman's face on the character on the page, since I've seen the movie already, and it's one of my subdued favorites. As I mentioned someplace else, it's one of my two favorite Paul Newman performances, along with The Verdict. I had much less difficulty getting Bruce Willis's and Jessica Tandy's faces off of their characters' names on the page (although both gave great performances as well, especially Tandy), and I had no problem at all getting the faces of the more minor characters completely out of my mind as I read, as those characters share a lot less in common with their film's namesakes. But Newman so nailed his character that his face was everywhere as I read.
It was a bitter shock to read a few scenes where his character (Donald Sullivan) and Willis's (Carl Roebuck) have a conversation in which both drop the racial N-bomb quite a few times, and this happens in a much more abbreviated way towards the end as well. I simply don't see either character, especially Sully, using the word in conversation; both characters are much too carefree, and both are quite easygoing around everyone in town. Sully only has bitterness towards his long-dead father, and perhaps himself; he's not even angry at his ex-wife, or his ex-lover, or anyone--not even Officer Raymer, really, who he has an oddly friendly scene with towards the end, or Roebuck, who he sees more as a son/friend figure, and who he covers with a blanket when he crashes at Sully's place. So I feel Russo made an error with a decision about his characters here.
Besides that, there were no errors to be had in the whole book, which says a lot since it couldn't, in my mind, hold up to the movie. But it comes close, and it reads as a sort of pleasantly washed-up male version of an Anne Tyler novel--perhaps close to The Accidental Tourist, in many ways, though Richard Russo's characters are all much more idiosyncratic and eccentric. (Much more so, even, than Tyler's Accidental Tourist and Muriel, who is very kooky indeed.)
The screenplay by Robert Benton is a masterpiece, and keeps shockingly close to the book, to the point where the movie's best dialogue is taken verbatim from the novel. (Except for the judge's line I love from the film, which turns out to be Benton's. When told that Officer Raymer is under suspension, he says, "Anesthesia is what he should be under ...") Gone are the scenes with the N-bomb, thank God. A bartender (Birdie) and the bar's owner (Tiny) are morphed into just Birdie. Gone are Sully's accidental arsonist past, and the pharmacist's request that he burn down his store. Sully doesn't have a lover in the film, which was possibly another mistake in the book (I don't see Sully sleeping with another man's wife for twenty years, but that's what he does in the book), and his son doesn't end up, temporarily, with Toby at the end, nor is Toby bisexual like she is in the book. All of these are great decisions on Benton's part; he didn't make one single wrong move. When I finished the book, I wanted to watch the movie again, even though I've seen it on cable very recently.
The book itself is very well-written, and Russo deserves the kudos he gets for his characterization and dialogue, and breezy writing style. Though there were way too many instances of repetitive tags, like "he admitted," and though Sully (and the other characters) are said to smile way too often as they say things, he and his landlady are exceptionally drawn characters, and Russo's storytelling ability inspired me to re-start my first-person detective novel and write it in third-person omniscient, creating a much more specific world and personality set for each of my characters. Writing is great when it inspires you to make such a drastic shift in your own writing.
I look forward to reading the other books by Russo I bought recently at a used book store, especially his Empire Falls. Stay tuned for those.