Wednesday, March 29, 2017
In preparation for going to see the new “Beauty and the Beast’ I reread “The Uses of Enchantment – The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales” by Bruno Bettelheim. This is a profound, provocative and delightful book, one that every parent should read, because it provides a guide to a special kind of fun, imaginative and developmental game you can play with your children: how to tell them fairy tales and the meaning of those stories to their emotional growth.
Here’s a quick example of how it works. When my son was about 4 years old, his favorite story was the genie in the bottle. As Bettelheim encourages the story teller to do, responding to his very evident excitement, I would exaggerate the genie’s frustration at being caught in the bottle. This is because, at around that age, children are grappling with the problem of self-control. Waiting for anything is like being a very powerful, but increasingly angry genie stuffed down in a bottle. In desperation, the genie recounts to the boy who’s freed him that at first, while he was waiting to be freed, he vowed he would grant his rescuer three wishes, then anything in the world, and in growing frustration, which was the part that my son really identified with, he promised his rescuer anything in the universe. When no one frees him, he becomes furious, and oh boy did my son sympathize with the genie then. The genie is so furious at having to wait that he vows to cut off the head of whoever frees him. Yes! My son loved that. But, then, the boy, who had actually taken pity on the genie and let him out, was now in terrible trouble. Suddenly, my son’s sympathies shifted. It didn’t seem fair that he should have his head cut off for helping the genie. But, the clever boy is undaunted and manages to trick the genie back into his bottle. Oh, boy! The kid relished that triumph.
Of course, the story goes on. But what the kid experienced in the telling of this story, and I told him that story many times over the years, was profound and very important to his emotional development and understanding himself, and all by using his own intellectual powers. The marvelously strange and powerful genie in the bottle is all the impulsive feelings that children have to learn to manage. The genie tries and makes promises to himself, but the waiting stretches beyond his capacity for patience and turns into frustrated anger. Then, the boy who let it out must deal with what he’s unleashed. He musters his powers of wit and cleverly tricks the genie and triumphs; he masters his overwhelming feelings by using his head.
From Bettelheim: “For a story truly to hold the child’s attention, it must entertain him and arouse his curiosity. But to enrich his life, it must stimulate his imagination; help him to develop his intellect and to clarify his emotions; be attuned to his anxieties and aspirations; give full recognition to his difficulties; while at the same time suggesting solutions to the problems which perturb him. In short, it must at one and the same time relate to all aspects of his personality – without ever belittling but, on the contrary, giving full credence to the seriousness of the child’s predicaments, while simultaneously promoting confidence in himself and his future.”
Most fairy tales have something for both boys and girls, (are we still allowed to reference biology?). The kid’s favorite fairy tale was “Little Red Riding Hood.” He had quite a crush on Red. He was also fascinated by the devious and powerful wolf and was very concerned for Red’s safety, often moved to warn her aloud about the dangers of the Big Bad Wolf, who he secretly admired.
I think you get the idea. Now, we come to “Beauty and The Beast”, a fairy tale that is more for the older child, trying to resolve its oedipal feelings. Bettelheim: “Beauty and the Beast…a child’s oedipal attachment to a parent is natural, desirable, and has the most positive consequences for all, if during the process of maturation it is transferred and transformed as it becomes detached from the parent and concentrated on the lover.”
“The Beast’s palace in which all of Beauty’s wishes are immediately fulfilled… is a narcissistic fantasy typically engaged in by children…an existence where nothing is demanded of him and all of his desires are met as soon as he expresses them. The fairy story tells that such a life…soon becomes empty and boring – so much so that Beauty comes to look forward to the evening visits of the Beast…Beauty comes to life (again) when she learns that her father needs her.”
“Thrown into a conflict between her love for her father and the Beast’s needs, Beauty deserts the beast to attend her father. But then she realizes how much she loves the Beast – a symbol of the loosening of ties to her father and transference of her love to the Beast. Only after Beauty decides to leave her father’s house to be reunited with the Beast—that is after she has resolved her oedipal ties to her father—does sex, which before was repugnant, become beautiful.
“This foreshadows by centuries the Freudian view that sex must be experienced by the child as disgusting as long as his sexual longings are attached to his parent, because only through such a negative attitude toward sex can the incest taboo, and with it the stability of the human family, remain secure.”
It should also be noted that “Beauty and the Beast” owes something to the Cupid and Psyche myth about how we must reconcile our animal erotic desires with our higher selves. The Beast and the father almost die when separated from Beauty, representing their soul and psyche in the Greek myth. Your physical person cannot survive without the love and beauty of your soul and intellect.
And you thought “Beauty and the Beast” was just a silly Disney concoction. Similar fairy tales are found in all cultural heritages. You will find many identical stories in the “Arabian Nights”. Take your kids, go yourself, and drink deep of the wisdom of the ages.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Monday, March 27, 2017
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
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
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
"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. "
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
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
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.