Sunday, November 27, 2016

Forsetti’s Justice: ‘The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America’

From AlterNet:

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete bullshit. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to throw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t east coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

Read the entire article.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Infernal Circle

I don’t want to put a picture of this guy’s
successor on my blog.
I’m hesitant about posting anything political on Thanksgiving. After all, this is a day when I and many others believe that we Americans should take a break from our fractious political disputes and focus on what unites us as a nation.   

But I am one of those liberals who has been utterly thunderstruck by the unexpected election of Donald Trump.  Never having held elected office or military command before, and infusing his speeches with hateful vulgarities, Trump, I thought, was obviously unfit and unsuited to the highest office in the country, if not the world.  So, I’m absolutely gobsmacked that so many voters — enough to win Trump the Electoral College, albeit not the popular vote — didn’t agree with me about the obviousness of his unsuitability for the office.  I’m sure that many conservatives will say that I am blinded to Trump’s worthiness for the office by my blinkered liberalism that’s insulated from the virtues of small-town America (evidenced by my use of the foreign slang term “gobsmacked”), but that is a discussion for another day.

However, I was listening to the radio today, which played Trump’s Thanksgiving Day address to the people he will soon be governing.  In it, Trump said that he hopes to bring “real prosperity” to the American people.  The underlying message of this statement is that the last eight years under President Barack Obama were not particularly prosperous. 

Hearing Trump say this, I was reminded of the economic calamity that happened on President George W. Bush’s watch, the worst since the Great Depression 80 years ago.  President Obama was able to bring this country out of that fiscal hole, but the ensuing economic prosperity hasn’t been felt by everyone.  This sense of people being left out of the economic recovery was obviously what Trump was implying by his remarks.  But the main reason for the country’s perceived lack of shared fortune, I submit, is because the congressional Republicans fought Obama’s plans for economic revival every step of the way.

Obama had several plans for refurbishing the country’s infrastructure, plans which would have put many more Americans back to work and would have thereby boosted the economy.  But the Republicans stymied or blocked most of those plans on the argument that the deficit needed to be reversed before any such plans could be passed.  This argument brought back memories of the budget surplus left to George W. Bush by Bill Clinton, a surplus that Bush quickly squandered via his tax cuts, the majority of which benefited wealthier Americans.  The deficit was largely created by the Republicans, and I always thought that they had great chutzpah for citing it as the reason for blocking Obama’s plans for economic recovery. 

This is a phenomenon in politics: If the economy does significantly well under a president, that president will get the credit for the economy, whether that president truly deserves the credit or not.  And if the economy does significantly poorly under a president, that president will get the blame for the economy, whether that president truly deserves the blame or not.  For example, Ronald Reagan (he of the sunny persona) was widely credited for America’s economic revival of the 1980s.  Reagan’s new prosperity was largely thanks to deficit spending, but the president and his Republican allies were able to deflect the credit onto his tax cuts instead.  So was cemented the great Republican shibboleth of tax cuts spurring the economy, which isn’t necessarily true, as Kansas under Republican governor Sam Brownback has recently proven. 

Congressional Republicans during the Obama administration knew that if the economy improved too well under the first African American president, he would get the credit, which would redound to the rival Democratic Party.  So, Republicans — putting political party before country — did everything they could to hinder or thwart Obama’s economic plans.  And as a consequence, the economy — despite a record number of months of continued job growth — improved only haltingly.  The Republicans’ strategy appears to have worked: rather than remembering that Democratic measures dug the American economy out of its Republican-created hole, a decisive number of voters only blamed Obama for not improving the economy quickly enough and elected a member of the hole-creating rival party to succeed him. 

Once Trump is in office, expect congressional Republicans to become born-again deficit spenders to improve the economy with infrastructure projects of their own, along with extra tax cuts.  If these plans succeed, Trump will get the credit for boosting the economy — boosting, in turn, the Republican Party’s fortunes.  Another result will be that the deficit worsens.  Consequently, when another Democrat inevitably gets elected sometime down the road, expect the congressional Republicans to once again use the deep deficit as a way to block any Democratic plans to improve the economy, and once again, expect the resulting underperformance by the economy to work to the Republicans’ political advantage.

My Thanksgiving 2016.  (I think this photo looks like a Vanity Fair cover.)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Neil Buchanan: ‘The Cruel “Crooked” Caricature That Doomed Hillary Clinton’

From Newsweek:

It is impossible to overstate the significance of this year’s election. The consequences for America and the world are profound, and we are only beginning to come to grips with what might come next. As we do so, it is important to learn and remember the key lessons from this terrible election campaign.
Unfortunately, liberals and media types are already engaging in the worst kind of post-election recriminations. Suddenly, we are being treated to 20/20 hindsight about Hillary Clinton’s supposedly “flawed candidacy,” even though the swing of only a few thousand votes in a couple of key states would have resulted in her winning the presidency.
Had she won the electoral vote, of course, there would surely have been no stories about how brilliantly Clinton navigated the treacherous political terrain of 2016, but rather more snark about how she should have done better

Read the entire article.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Kurt Eichenwald: ‘The Myths Democrats Swallowed That Cost Them the Presidential Election’

From Newsweek:

It is impossible to say what would have happened under a fictional scenario, but [Bernie] Sanders supporters often dangle polls from early summer showing he would have performed better than [Hillary] Clinton against Trump. They ignored the fact that Sanders had not yet faced a real campaign against him.  ...

So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.

Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it — a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Read the entire article.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Michael Tomasky: ‘No, Bernie Sanders Would Not Have Won’

From The Daily Beast:

Bernie Sanders gave his first post-election interview Thursday, to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, and when Blitzer asked him if he’d have won, here’s what he had to say: “I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to do Monday morning quarterbacking right now. The election is over. Donald Trump won. Between you and me, Wolf, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to run against him, but that did not end up being the case.”
Many of his backers are being less diplomatic. And one can’t help suspect that deep down Bernie thinks he would have won, because well, who in his position wouldn’t? So one last time, into this particular abyss—not just to reargue the past, but because the lessons learned from all this have application to the futures of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement.

Read the entire article.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Neal Gabler: ‘Farewell, America’

From Moyers & Company:

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.
Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it. 

Read the entire article.

Friday, September 16, 2016

‘La Cucaracha’ in Technicolor

In honor of the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, I'm posting a curio: the first live-action film to be shot in the three-color Technicolor process. It’s the 1934 Hollywood musical short La Cucaracha. Maybe it’s not the ideal way to observe the month, but I think it’s intriguing that such a historically important (albeit dopey) film is set in Latin America. It’ll be a break from all those serious Cesar Chavez documentaries.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tatiana Maslany on ‘Orphan Black’: Best TV Performance Ever?

Tatiana Maslany as ‘Orphan Black’s’ clones (left to right): Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Rachel, and Helena
As I’ve said before, I’m not big on awards, especially those handed out by the entertainment industry.  The bequeathed statuettes do more to signify a snapshot of the industry at that particular moment in time, rather than a bid for posterity.  The fact that Orson Welles, one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, won only two Oscars, one for co-writing Citizen Kane and the other an honorary award, tells me that industry self-recognition should not be taken seriously. 

However, for the last four years, I’ve seen on my television screen a superlative acting performance of such depth and dexterity that it cries out for the TV industry to acknowledge it with the highest honor.  I haven’t watched enough television to say for certain that it is the best performance by a thespian ever to shoot through the cable and into the living room, but I can’t think of a better one I’ve seen.  

Since 2013, I have been mesmerized by the cable-TV science-fiction thriller Orphan Black.  The series gradually unveils the story of a dozen different laboratory-conceived female clones, genetic identicals, who are separated at birth but discover each other as adults and become enmeshed in a net of intrigue that threatens their very existence.  Not only is the series well crafted and compelling, but it also trenchantly touches on issues of identity and bodily autonomy.  And holding this sprawling series together are the masterful performances of the lead actress Tatiana Maslany, who portrays all of the numerous female clones.  Incredibly, Maslany has never won an Emmy for her astounding work.  But this year, for the second time in a row, the Emmys have nominated Maslany’s performance(s) in Orphan Black for Outstanding Female Actress in a Drama Series.  Still, why she wasn’t nominated from the very beginning of Orphan Black’s eligibility and why she lost last time remain mysteries to me. 
Maslany as both Alison (left) and Sarah
Playing each and every female clone character (I’ve counted twelve so far, some of them featured on the show only very briefly), Maslany endows the clone characters with distinct mannerisms and vocal traits.  Not only does the Canadian actress nail an utterly convincing London accent for the lead character of street-smart Sarah, but she also gives her multiple North American characters distinct styles of speaking.  (The series is set somewhere in the northeastern quadrant of North America.)  Combined with the show’s award-worthy make-up, which endows each of her characters with a distinctive appearance, Maslany’s performances, by the end of the episode, leave the viewer incredulous that these unique characters are all played by the same actress.  If I had my way, every Emmy acting nominee to qualify for best performer in their category would need to play multiple roles on their shows and try to convince the audience that these characters are played by different people.  I wonder how many other thespians can do that
Maslany as both Sarah (top) and Rachel
But more than that, Maslany endows each of her characters with a palpable complexity and layering that I have only seen the most gifted performers accomplish (Robert De Niro comes to mind).  Often when her characters speak, Maslany gives their voices inflections and intonations that suggest multiple layers of feelings and motives, even when the scenes don’t necessarily call for going that extra mile.  And her body language is equally expressive.  In one scene from the second episode of the second season, Sarah fires a warning shot close to the head of antagonist clone Rachel (also played by Maslany), whose body then jerks into nervous convulsions.  The performance comes across as though Maslany were genuinely frightened and had genuinely lost control of her body, rather than an actor’s obviously controlled affectation of alarm. 

Below is the very first scene of the very first episode of Orphan Black, where Sarah witnesses the suicide of policewoman clone Beth (Maslany again), the event that sets the show’s plots and subplots into motion. 

Once she sees Beth fatally throw herself under a train, Sarah’s eyes well with tears, as though Maslany were shocked and upset by actually witnessing a suicide.  The eye-welling is a touch that wasn’t absolutely necessary for the scene, but Maslany’s tearing up bequeaths a better sense of Sarah’s inner life and makes the authenticity of the character more credible.  This scene (which also shows off the actress’s mastery of an Estuary London accent for Sarah) is only one small example of Maslany’s extraordinary work on Orphan Black

However, this actress from the Great White North isn’t favored to win the Emmy this year, just as she lost last year.  While her competition is very talented, what Maslany is doing on Orphan Black — something that she is unlikely to be called upon to do in her future projects — is utterly phenomenal, and I can’t imagine Maslany’s competition pulling off what the Canadian actress pulls off week after week on the series.  And I can’t understand why Emmy voters and the conventional wisdom don’t regard her as a shoo-in for the award.  What Tatiana Maslany is doing on Orphan Black looks to me like the kind of work that the Emmy was invented for. 

Update, September 19, 2016:

Tatiana Maslany won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama after all.  Her work in Orphan Black has been recognized by the television academy.  Huzzah!  Now, I can go back to not caring about show-biz awards.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Bottom Line for the 2016 Election

In order for the candidate of vision and change to become the president of vision and change, that candidate will first need to get elected.  And (as much as I wish it were otherwise) the U.S. voter has a clearer track record of putting the intellectually incurious into the White House than it does figures on the far left of the political spectrum.  

Saturday, April 23, 2016

400 Years Since Shakespeare’s Passing

Today marks 400 years since William Shakespeare shuffled off this mortal coil.  Only two years ago, also on April 23, we were celebrating the 450th anniversary of his birth.  Yes, historians aren’t completely certain of the date he was born, but it’s likely that Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday.  Because it’s the quadricentennial of the famous playwright’s passing, I feel the need to write a post in commemoration.  However, I don’t have anything on hand.  So, I’m re-posting the article I wrote for Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, on April 23, 2014.  Of course, an apple, cleft in two, is not more twin than these two blogposts — because they’re the same one.  But I couldn’t let the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death pass with my blog untouched.  

Jon Finch in Roman Polanski’s ‘Macbeth’ (1971)

Here’s a nice article from the website Word & Film, which discusses ten Shakespeare movies to watch as a celebration of the Bard’s 45oth birthday.  Yes, 450 years ago today, William Shakespeare was born (and 398 years ago, would die on the same day), and watching a film based on one of his plays would certainly be a fitting way to celebrate.

I particularly like this list’s inclusion of Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight (1965, which I have written about elsewhere on this blog, based on the Henriad), Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957, based on Macbeth), and Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968, based on … you figure it out).  I would enthusiastically endorse all of these three Shakespeare films!

I would add two others: Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and Peter Brook’s King Lear (both 1971). 

In particular, Polanski’s Macbeth is an appropriately cynical vision of what is arguably Shakespeare’s most cynical play.  Perhaps most infamous for Lady Macbeth’s (Francesca Annis) nude “out, damned spot” soliloquy, the starkness of the grim setting reflects both Polanski’s personal despair (it was his first film after the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson Family) and the precariousness of a Western world that had lost its confidence in the face of the Vietnam War and other global calamities.  Particularly intriguing is Polanski’s portrayal of Ross (John Stride) as an unscrupulous opportunist, not intrinsic to Shakespeare’s play, who sides with Macbeth’s (Jon Finch) usurpation when fortune favors it but turns against the tyrant after a petty slight.  And rather than end on a note of triumph when the throne is rightfully restored, Polanski’s film ends with the insinuation that the madness of regicide will continue.  (I’m guessing that one reason Polanski’s version is not included in the Word & Film article is that it limited itself to only one adaptation per play.)

Peter Brook’s ‘King Lear’ (1971)

Brook’s black & white, two-hours-plus King Lear, which begins and ends with the same bleak tone, is a rather difficult film to watch.  It portrays a barren land where the people aren’t given much of a reason to survive, and the viewer suspects that the dead are more fortunate than the living.  Still, Brook’s intriguing use of jump cuts and odd camera angles intimates the possibility of a freer and more hopeful world beyond the desolation of Lear’s fractured realm.

Calista Flockhart as Helena in Michael Hoffman’s
19th-century-set ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1999)

Given the thematic richness of his theatrical works, and their many fascinating interpretations over the years, there will probably never be a definitive film version of any Shakespeare play — although Polanski’s Macbeth and Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet come close.  Still, I haven’t yet seen a completely satisfying film version of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The Word & Film article recommends Michael Hoffman’s 1999 adaptation, which features some scrumptious cinematography and natty 19th-century costumes, but its Arthur Rackham-inspired vision of the fairy world seems more mechanical than magical, and its tossed salad of British and American accents is distracting.  (However, I’m happy to see the mercurial Calista Flockhart, here cast as Helena, in anything!)

Helen Mirren as Titania and Brian Glover as Bottom in Elijah Moshinsky’s
spooky BBC ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1981)

Another Dream apparently inspired by Rackham is Elijah Moshinsky’s 1981 BBC version, which, in its replacement of the fanciful with the frightening, is more of a nightmare.  An additional adaptation of same, Peter Hall’s 1968 film, begins with disorienting jump cuts and other cinematic devices that don’t establish a firm sense of place; it would have been wiser for Hall to have saved this disorientation for the magical woodland, for there is not enough to distinguish the inhibition-free woods from the more staid and civilized setting of Athens.  And Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle’s Hollywoodized 1936 interpretation, with James Cagney as Bottom and Mickey Rooney as Puck, looks dated with the air of a film weighted with self-conscious importance and antiquated staging.  I’m still waiting for a Midsummer Night’s Dream that will capture the playfulness of the love stories and the magic of the fairyland. 

Paul Rogers as Bottom and Judi Dench as Titania in Peter Hall’s
disorienting ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1968)

Happy 450th, Mr. Shakespeare!  Where would the English language and the performing arts — and the movies! — be without you?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I don’t watch ‘Gilmore Girls’ for the mushy stuff

Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore and Scott Patterson as Luke Danes in
the upcoming Netflix revival of ‘Gilmore Girls’

Just for the record: I don’t care who ends up with whom, romantic-relationship-wise, on the four-episode Gilmore Girls revival, to be streamed by Netflix later this year.  When the series originally ended in 2007, many fans were left hanging, wanting some resolution to the love lives of Lorelai and Rory, the titular mother-daughter duo.  But as far as I’m concerned, Lorelai and longtime love interest Luke could never speak to each other again. Instead of ending up with any of her sequential boyfriends, Dean or Jess or Logan, Rory could finish the series romantically unattached for all I care. The show’s fascinating characters and scopious situations — ranging from the delightfully quirky to the uncomfortably authentic — are developed well enough to thrive beyond any romantic entanglements.  (Actually, I ’ship Rory and Paris, but that’s never gonna go canon.) I just want to know how showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino originally envisioned Gilmore Girls to end and — in context, when the episode is broadcast, and not before — what the fabled “final four words” are.

The cut-loose kiss between Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel, left) and Paris Geller (Liza Weill)
on spring break in the original series.  I doubt their relationship will go beyond that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016