Tuesday, March 21, 2017

MEMO: HOLLYWOOD MAKE A HIT MOVIE, PLEASE


Instead of making a swing musical like "La La Land" about a couple of careerists who go to Hollywood to get rich and famous, as if that is highest ambition possible for a human being, how about making a musical about when swing music helped defeat actual Fascism and a real American hero among many American heroes? Yes, writing about Vera Lynn yesterday reminded me of Glenn Miller, one of the enormously talented musicians who helped create the swing jazz movement in the USA. As a matter of fact, there were so many great musicians of that era whose stories could be told with their fantastic music that it’s almost a crime that no movie has been made about any of them. To name a few who could be included in such movies there are Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, The Dorsey Brothers, and Jelly Roll Morton.

But start with remaking "The Glenn Miller Story", an enormously successful movie in 1954. What a movie that would be! It’s got everything that a David O. Selznick would love, and there was a man who knew how to get the crowds to turn out for a great movie. Remember “Gone With The Wind”? And not only does the Glenn Miller story include great music, jazz and swing as it bursts onto the American scene and then internationally, but then Glenn Miller, even though too old to be drafted, joins the Army to bring music to the troops and lift morale! He died a hero flying to France. Here we have a real-life unhappy ending, not like La La Land’s hero and heroine’s self-induced ‘life is a crap sandwich 'ending, where love doesn’t matter.

Yes, a movie about the Masters of Swing and Jazz might be worth making, and might even draw a crowd. Oh, the crowd wouldn’t be anything like the tens of thousands who show up for that guy who gives you Hollywood types headaches and makes you fat. No, you’ll never draw a crowd like he does, because he’s a man who’s writing history at the head of a great movement to reclaim America. But, don’t be shy, jump on board the movement. Glenn Miller was an American swing band leader and hero. And throw in some scenes with the other great American musicians mentioned above. Or make biopics about them, too. Seriously, Hollywood, you can’t miss with material like that.

"La La Land" showed how much people enjoy musicals with singing and dancing; now why don’t you try to make one that has some genuine heart and showcases some of the great American contributions to music?

Memo: to make money, you have to delight the audience. As Glenn Miller observed when he gave up his lucrative career to serve his country and the cause of freedom: “America means freedom and there's no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, VERA LYNN



Having grown up in the long, dark shadow of WWII, I heard many stories of the war from those who lived through it. How deeply they influenced me was never so clearly brought home to me as on 9/11. But let me give a bit a background so you can understand.

When I was a model, I had a very good friend who was a studio manager working for some of the best photographers in the business. He was English and had been born in India, but raised in London. His father had been a soldier stationed in India, but he had been too young to remember it.

His family had moved back to England and he was still a child when WWII broke out. The stories he told of his boyhood days in the war were unforgettable. Due to fatigue, lack of food and warmth endured much of the British population, as well as trying to be a mother to five small children with her husband fighting overseas, his mother had come down with pneumonia, at that time, as now, an often fatal disease. With his mother in the hospital, there was no one to take care of the children, so they were sent to an orphanage, until she would get better or... He'd been about four years old when this calamity occurred.

She did get better and the family was reunited, but that was hardly the end of their struggle. The privations that the Brits endured after the war were nothing short of unbelievably awful: lack of food, clothing, heat, and even entertainment. It was the cheerful American musicals that kept my friend's spirits up, and he vowed someday to come to the USA, home of Jane Powell.

He also introduced me to Vera Lynn. He had an album of hers with all the wartime hits that he remembered so well, "Lili Marlene", " The White Cliffs of Dover", and "There'll Always Be an England". Because I loved those hauntingly poignant and deeply romantic songs so much, he gave me her album as a gift. I played it endlessly and knew all the songs by heart, and could sing them in my off key and toneless way. I still have that album, but it's vinyl.

Dissolve, dissolve to 2001, September 11. I am at my job as the news trickles over the radio that the World Trade Center has been hit by a small plane. Back to work. Another plane. Not a small plane. The towers fall. No one knew what was coming next. How bad is this going to get? Is it safe to let people go home? I don't care, I'm going home.

I drive south on the Palisades Interstate Parkway where clearly visible for the entire drive are huge, ominous white clouds of debris blanketing the Manhattan skyline and rising up into the sky. I remain on the right side of the road, because a constant stream of emergency vehicles races past me, sirens blaring and lights flashing. I am in shock and terror. And my radio is broken. My hands shake on the steering wheel, my legs are jelly, and I'm sobbing. It's terrifying.

Suddenly, from all those years ago with my friend, I find myself singing very loudly, "There'll always be an England, and England shall be free...Red, White and Blue, what does it mean to you? Surely you're proud, Shout it aloud! Britain's away, freedom remains," Yes, I sang that song, tears running down my face. Why not the "Star Spangled Banner"? Because I think "There'll always be an England" is a song of defiance in the midst of great peril, and a declaration that nothing can eradicate your country. That was the song that sprang to my lips and kept me going. My gift from my English friend, who endured so much that my generation should remain free.

So thank you, Dame Vera Lynn!!!! Your heart and spirit reminded me that 9/11 was not the first time that my country had fought for its life and for freedom and would not be the last.

Would the Allies have won WWII without the music of Vera Lynn and Glenn Miller? Thank God we didn't have to.

Happy 100th Birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

SUNDAY JULIAN OF NORWICH POST



"At the same time that I saw the sight of our good Lord's head bleeding, I received a spiritual vision and a new understanding of God's familiar love for us. I saw God is every good thing to us. Whatever comforts us is our Lord.

The Lord is our clothing, who wraps and covers us for love. The Lord embraces and shelters us. The Lord surrounds us with His love. The Lord never leaves us. God is every good thing. "

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A SUBVERSIVE ACT OF THEATER IS COMMITTED



 

From my heart, I applaud the honesty and courage of the NYU professors who were exploring gender in politics and sought to prove their premise that Trump had won because he was a man by staging a replay of one of the presidential debates with a woman imitating Trump and a man playing Hillary. In this brilliant act of pure theater, they revealed to themselves their own biases by seeing much more clearly how persuasive and charming Trump’s debating performance had been and how unfocused and annoying Hillary’s was by contrast.

They saw the proof with their eyes open for the first time. They had preferred Hillary and reviled Trump because of their psychological bias against the male sex. Everything they perceived in Trump was the result of a mental complex which made them unable to judge either him or Hillary without prejudice. Theater revealed their own minds to them.

I do not discount the possibility that many Trump voters may have voted for him from the opposite complex, where men are always perceived as right and women as wrong.

Someday, I am sure a woman will become president because she is the better man for the job. Excuse my little joke. I have known so many women who are ten times the man that a lot of men are. But that’s just my personal opinion, and I don’t include myself as one of those women.

Nothing is more subversive than theater. Nothing has more raw power to influence a person’s perceptions. It is one of the great intellectual experiments of Western civilization for opening up the minds of people and enabling them to recognize and understand themselves and their psychology. It’s no accident that Freud named the Oedipus complex after a Greek play.

I have read somewhere that ancient Greek doctors actually prescribed attending the theater as part of their medical cures. And Eastern medicine also knew the value of story to mental and physical health. From Bruno Bettelheim: “This is the reason why in traditional Hindu medicine a fairy tale giving form to his particular problem was offered to a psychically disoriented person, for his meditation. It was expected that through contemplating the story the disturbed person would be led to visualize both the nature of the impasse in living from which he suffered, and the possibility of its resolution. From what a particular tale implied about man’s despair, hopes, and methods of overcoming tribulations, the patient could discover not only a way out of his distress but also a way to find himself, as the hero of the story did.”

It seems to me that today, in modern Western civilization, we ignore and underrate the value of having a harmoniously balanced personality. Imagine what other wrong and harmful choices the people who loved a Hillary Clinton merely because she was a woman are making in their lives. And likewise, the people who only voted for Trump because he was a man. Mental biases are signs of unbalanced minds and lead to unintentionally self-destructive behaviors.

Culture and mental health are very closely linked and a country will not create a functioning and civil society of productive, happy people without a vibrant culture, which I strongly believe must include live theater for everyone. We must free theater from the shackles of disdain, dust and disuse, as well as punishing regulations and excessive costs so that it can again become a vibrant part of our cultural landscape, healing minds while entertaining, the best possible combination.

I confess to being probably as bad an offender as anyone in undervaluing theater. It was sheer luck that I grew up near New York City in the days when there was an active and affordable theater culture. Birthdays and Christmas always meant tickets to the theater. I regarded it as a frivolous luxury, which fortunately didn’t detract from its value to my mental health. But I now realize theater is so much more than that. It is the intellect of a society having a conversation with itself. What a joyous way to cure the dislocations our minds may suffer from.

And, as the people who watched the staged debate proved, Trump was the better candidate, regardless of his sex, which I believe also validates the wisdom of the democratic process. But they have provided us all with a valuable piece of real theater. It’s time to reclaim theater from the grasp of corporate propaganda.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

POLITICS PRODUCES CHAOS NOT CULTURE


As a retired person, I'm pursuing all the interests I never had time for when I was younger. One of those interests is Shakespeare and his plays, which turns out to be even more fascinating than I could have guessed. You could spend your entire life studying Shakespeare and still not exhaust all there is to read about him and learn from his plays and their continued enchantment of the public.  
On Netflix, I rented "The Winter's Tale", one of Shakespeare's later plays, which I had never seen. The DVD was a filmed presentation of a stage performance, which is not ideal, because stage productions are meant to be experienced live, whereas a filmed production takes into account the needs of that medium. Nevertheless, it was really quite wonderful and haunting, a very unique and somewhat disturbing play, but ultimately may prove to be one of very favorite of Shakespeare's plays. 
Though I have my quibbles with a couple of the performances and casting choices, sadly, I have no one to quibble with and no other production to compare it to. And this is one of the most deleterious effects of a nation obsessed with politics: culture is pushed out of the marketplace of ideas, until it all but disappears.
What pleasant memories I have of Joe Papp’s productions of Shakespeare in the Park. How incredibly delightful to stroll into Central park, which was quite safe in those days, carrying your picnic basket with wine and other exotic goodies, spread your blanket for a picnic before you lined up for your free seats at the open air Delacorte theater. Tom, as a youngster, had gotten his first taste of theater by climbing up the rocks behind the Delacorte and stealing the prop swords from some production, before being chased away. Joe Papp, a legend in theater, and the man who gave so many great actors their start and gave thousands great, great and very real theater experiences. Where are the Joe Papp’s of today? What we get now is “Hamilton” a play which spouts treacle about skin color, a musical so devoid of actual intellectual and emotional content that it makes “The Lion King” look like “King Lear” by comparison.
And that is exactly my point. Culture is a country thinking about itself, talking about the things that concern it and trying to understand life. When all a nation’s resources are spent on politics, the culture is reduced to harping on skin color or making fun of Mormons. And that is a far, far cry from a Joe Papp, the man who gave the world George C. Scott in Richard III, Coleen Dewhurst as Lady Macbeth, or the musical “Hair”, which later transferred to Broadway, or “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” , and “Chorus Line”, a classic musical that was developed in Joe Papp’s theater laboratory.
Politics the bane of man’s existence, the less of it the better. It’s a vampire that sucks the lifeblood of a nation until no one can do anything but shout at each other. I am so ready to have a country that works again, a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.