Sunday, May 28, 2017

MovieMonday: Baywatch as Seen by a Baywatch Expert




A discussion with film veteran David Braff, who spent eight years writing and producing the 1990s Baywatch television series.  He agreed to evaluate the new Baywatch movie and compare the two.  


Q:  How about some context for TVBaywatch? 

At its height, Baywatch was seen in 120 countries and by one billion people -- remarkable for a story about the weekly exploits of a small group of Southern California lifeguards.
         Naturally, there was early talk of a movie.  I first heard mention of it when Arnold Schwarzenegger broached the subject with David Hasselhoff at Arnold’s old Santa Monica hangout, Schatzi.  
         Now, 20 years and several discarded scripts later, the movie is out.  Unlike the series, which was sold originally to NBC as “St. Elsewhere at the beach,” the movie is a full-on parody in the "Police Academy” mold.  Quite an evolution.



Q: You saw the movie.  How would you describe it? 

A: It’s a collection of stunts, pranks and raunchy sex jokes.  The plot is nonsensical, but the cast, led by the omnipresent Dwayne Johnson, somehow manages to pull it off.  
          According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film got off to a sluggish opening, but that’s domestically.  It opens worldwide on June 2.  Paramount is hoping that the global audience will flock to Baywatch-the-movie as it did to TVBaywatch in the 1990s. 
          Some critics are already questioning the timing of the film’s release.  Not sure if it’s coincidence or connection, but we got our best television ratings in February.  When it was cold and snowing and people were stuck inside, they apparently enjoyed watching a sun-drenched, blue sky fantasy.
          

Q: Did you enjoy the movie?

Yes, I enjoyed watching it.  But not because it was a good movie.  To be fair -- full disclosure -- I do have a vested interest.  The big hope is that the television reruns start streaming on Netflix or Hulu, which pay a lot more than the digital substation that currently airs the show.  
       The big surprise for me is that I will be getting residuals for creating one Baywatch character, even though the movie character is nothing like the one in the series.  One of the reasons I still love Hollywood.



Q:  What was missing from this version?

California.  It hit me in the first shot.  The sun doesn’t rise on Baywatch or in California -- it sets.  Baywatch was always a show about a very specific area between Zuma Beach in Malibu and Marina Del Rey, just south of Venice Beach.  
       The water, the sand and the lighting are all very different on the East Coast, where the movie was filmed.  
        Also, many of the television stories were rooted in Southern California mythology.  Interestingly, there was hardly any surfing in the movie.  



Q:  Is the movie too long for a Baywatch television plot? 

A:  Yes, two hours is too long for a Baywatch story.  We did several two-hour episodes and always had to pad them with some hokey bad-guy caper, but none of them was as bad as the one in the movie.  
       An interesting side note:  No one ever used a gun on TVBaywatch.  The reason was London Weekend Television was a part owner of the show and it forbade the use of handguns, given British law.  


Q: Any differences between the television audience and the people seeing the R-rated 
movie version?

A:  Let's take the TV audience first. The setting and the prurient image helped, aided by attention from Howard Stern's radio show.  Remember, this was pre-internet porn, pre-quality shows with nudity on cable, pre post-modern feminism.
         Another thing that was unusual about the show was that if it got mentioned, everyone knew about it.  Even if you didn’t watch the show, an image instantly formed in your mind.
         We got savaged by the critics, but the show became a guilty pleasure -- not to mention a cultural phenomenon.  Celebrities called wanting to be on the show.  Mike Piazza, Geraldo Rivera and Richard Branson all appeared on camera.   
          Research toward the end of the run showed that the largest group of viewers tuned in because of David Hasselhoff, the original Mitch Buchannon.  He was a major star with three generations of fans who knew him from "Baywatch," "Knight Rider" and as Snapper on "The Young and the Restless." In short, women loved him.
          And then there was Pamela Anderson, who became probably the last Hollywood sex symbol.   Men watched the show for her.  Bought "Playboy" to see her naked.  It was a simpler time, and, like Hasselhoff, she became one of the most famous people in the world, which gave the show a huge boost. 


Q:   And the film audience?  When I saw it, the only people in the theater were older guys.

 A:   Clearly, the intended audience for the movie is too young to have watched the series.  This movie has been in development for 20 years.  Several scripts were rejected, including ones that played it straight, as the show did; the show is now considered camp.  
         One of the TVBaywatch creators, a former lifeguard, was very upset that the film team settled on the Police Academy-style parody.  Once the film people decided to go raunchy, though, the R rating was inevitable.  



Q: One last thing -- how many penis and ballsack jokes can one movie plot support?

Six to nine, according to the Pew Institute.  
         Actually, you're asking the wrong person.  I had to look up "taint" in the urban dictionary.  


Sunday, May 21, 2017

MovieMonday: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2



I avoided this movie for several weeks, partly because it is the sequel to a 2014 movie that I did not see.   Unfortunately, the other big film of the moment is the fourth sequel to 1979's "Alien," and I missed all three of the earlier ones.

So I went to the superhero movie, and you know what?  It's pretty good.

Background:  The Guardians are a superhero team led by Star-Lord Peter Quill and including a tough green gal named Gamora; a foul-mouthed, gun-toting raccoon named Rocket; a big tough guy called Drax; and a young sapling, Groot, the reincarnation of a superhero tree that was reduced to twigs in the last Guardians outing.

The film opens as the Guardians are protecting batteries for the Sovereign group of gold-colored clones.  When Rocket filches some of the batts, escape is required.  As the Guardians' spaceship is pursued by hundreds of armed Sovereign warpods, it is rescued by a gray-haired Celestial named Ego, who says he is the father Quill never met. 

In fact, the central theme of GOG2 is family: Quill's wariness of Ego, who has searched for his son for many years; the hostility between Gamora and the angry sister who wants to kill her; the Guardians' internecine flare-ups; and even the factional battles among the Ravagers, a larger group of galactic mercenaries whose number includes an unpopular blue guy named Yondu, who also figures in the Quill backstory.  

Don't get me wrong: Ingmar Bergman fans will not warm to this film.  Interiority is not a hallmark of the superhero genre, but there is more here than might be expected. 

There is also plenty of humor and a pop music score of boomer-era hits, most notably  "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl.)"  Young Groot is a cute little guy who is not quite ready for battle. Rocket the Raccoon, while thin-skinned, is also a jokester with a soft core deep inside his furry exterior.

Mainly GOG2 is marked by multiple battle scenes, the staple of superhero stories.  The first conflict is with a gigantic octopus, or perhaps a twelve-opus, with multiple rows of teeth.  There many shoot-em-ups in space and on land, plus hand-to-hand combat in various locations. 

What makes the violence palatable is its unreality.  GOG2 assumes multiple planets that can support human-like life, the ease of repairing damaged space vehicles, never-ending supplies of fresh ammo and fuel, and, of course, characters who look human, sort of, but who have special powers that allow them to fight, move through air and absorb blows that would cripple or kill the rest of us.

The movie is rated 13-PG, but an 11-year-old who is familiar with the genre would enjoy it.  There is a sad death in GOG2, but it is a noble one and understandable as such to humans, including young people.  



Note

As is common with films now, additional scenelets are interspersed with the credits that roll after the movie's end.  

In the last one, Stan Lee, the famed Marvel Comics creator who has a cameo in almost every Marvel-derived movie, interacts with a group of Watchers, who apparently are sidelines characters in the very intricate, very detailed comic group.  It's a bit of inside baseball that I honestly don't understand, but it seems to be meaningful to aficionados.

If you're interested in Lee, here's a compilation of his superhero appearances through the end of last year. 






Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dancing in the Streets, LA Style

Here's an infectious video, made by friend Rick Detorie, that conveys some of the enthusiasm to be found in Southern California.

Mostly it's people dancing -- plus excursions from Malibu to Venice, to a private party and even to the Huntington Library in San Marino.  



Except for wedding receptions and other big parties, dancing opportunities are rare these days.  Nightclubs had dance floors when our parents and grandparents were young, but rents are high now, and so we have restaurant dining rooms packed with tables set cheek by jowl.  Giving people room to dance is hard to monetize.  

In Southern California, the dancing has moved outdoors.  People practice their moves on concrete at regular events at parks in downtown Los Angeles or on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.  

The most popular couples' dance in the area is called the West Coast Swing, some basic steps that allow for plenty of improvisation.  Classes are popular and always available.  

In addition, breakdancing and other follow-on hip hop variations are popular along the beach boardwalks because, well, there is always music around.  

It's one of the benefits of living in a region with a room-temperature climate.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Crazy on the Streets: What Do You Want Us to Do?


Recently I passed a crazy woman as I walked past the Starbucks in my neighborhood.

She was old, or at least she looked old, and she most likely was homeless.  She wore a black knit hat and a dirty sweater, and she had a green blanket wrapped around her knees.  

She was yelling in a furious tone, "fuck them" and "fuckin that," apparently to a person who existed only in her head.  Everybody in the area was pretending to ignore her. 

After I had crossed the street, I called the non-emergency desk at the police department and described the woman and her bizarre behavior.  

"Is she a danger to herself or to others?" asked the desk sergeant.

"I don't think so," I said, "but she's having a psychotic episode."

"What do you want us do?" asked the sergeant.



The Legal Situation

In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Donaldson v. O'Connor that Americans cannot be detained for psychiatric reasons without due process and unless they present a danger to themselves or to others.

The complainant's case reads like something out of Kafka.  In 1956, he was sent to a Florida mental institution after a single hearing, over his objections and without legal representation. Yes, he had delusions, but he also had 48 years of life experience and had never been in trouble.

It took him 15 years to get out.  His first 18 appeals were denied based on his initial diagnosis -- paranoid schizophrenia --  but he received no treatment and effectively was imprisoned along with 1,000 other men, many of them criminals, whose needs were addressed by a single doctor (a gynecologist!) and one nurse.  

During the man's incarceration, a halfway house offered to take him in.  So did a college friend who was willing to take responsibility for him.  Those offers, like his many appeals, were denied, always based on the initial diagnosis. 

After his release in 1971, the man took and held a job, lived on his own without problems and wrote a book describing his experience.

The ACLU took his case to the Supreme Court and won.  This was a good thing.  The 20th century saw many totalitarian governments imprison dissidents as "mentally ill."  Our country is better than that.

Now psychotic people have civil rights, but there is a tension.  Being crazy on the streets can lead to any number of bad results, including victimization by non-benign others. The few who are dangerous or just scary looking often end up in jails, which are particularly stressful for people with psychosis.  If jail doesn't help people with cancer, is it reasonable to expect that it would be therapeutic for people with brain diseases?


-----

While I was making coffee early this morning, I heard a man yelling as he walked past our apartment.  He was chanting "Motherfuckhead!" repeatedly.  The noise grew louder as he passed our door and ebbed as he continued down the street.  
        This happened twice before in the last six months; the good thing this time, for me, was that I was already awake. 
        Last month I saw another man walking and screaming as I waited for an airport taxi;  his clothes were filthy and he knocked over garbage cans as he raged, loudly, across the street.
        I am not a diagnostician, and so I am not sure how to tell the difference between organic psychosis and a PCP- or meth-induced psychosis. My guess is these young street-walking screamers fall into the latter category.  The others, not so much.  

-----

I used to live in a neighborhood with many homeless people, some of them crazy.  One was a beautiful young woman whom I saw walking on the streets.  She talked to herself, never made eye contact and pretty clearly was disconnected from reality.  
        After a few months, she was obviously pregnant.  I don't believe she had the mental clarity to consent to sex.  I have no idea what happened to her and her baby, but I think about them still.
-----

The year after my mother died, I went to a noonday church service on her birthday.  I couldn't send her a present, and I figured she would have liked for me to do this instead.
        Shortly after the service began, an older woman, deranged, walked up and down the aisle yelling in foul words about things in her head.  Then she sat down in the back of the church for a while.  After a while, she got back up again and stormed around, yelling, for the remainder of the service.
        Everybody in the church, including the priest and including me, pretended she was not there.  By law, she had the right to be crazy.  Given religious custom, she was welcome in the church.  
        But she needed help, and we did nothing to help her.

-----

One day, I walked across a park on my way to a business appointment.  I passed a handsome young man who was sitting on a bench and opening a can of food with a can opener. We looked at each other briefly, and I nodded at him.
        "Lady, did you just make a threat to me?" he yelled.
       "No!" I said, and scooted away.




Conclusion

These are just a few of my stories, and I do not pretend that they are the true face of the homeless mentally ill.  There must be many other irrational people hiding in the shadows, fearful and silent, detached from reality and paranoid, perhaps sometimes with cause. 

We've seen a lot since that 1975 court ruling, including an explosion in the number of crazy people living on some pretty mean streets. This does not reflect well on us.  I sure wouldn't want a relative or friend of mine in such a vulnerable situation.

But then there's a police sergeant's question:  What do you want us to do?

I don't like the idea of a paternalistic government. I wouldn't want to be locked up "for my own good," as defined by some police officer or doctor who didn't know me.  On the other hand, I have most of my marbles, at least on my better days, and my life situation is one of relative safety.  I appreciate this.

Maybe it's time for a rethink.  If a person behaves irrationally and is in danger of being hurt by some of the bad people on the streets -- the tweakers, the thieves, the rapists, the childhood bullies grown into adult thugs --  must we assume that his impaired decision-making does not constitute a danger to himself?  

Can we not offer a brief, quiet stay in a medical facility (not a jail holding pen) where the person could be evaluated and encouraged to work toward a safer, less chaotic life?  In that space of safety, could the person's family and friends not be invited to join the effort and offer their support? 

Our scientific understanding of brain function is still primitive, but it's come a long way since 1975.  There are more medications and certainly more therapists and doctors who have worked with these people, with greater success.

The biggest failure of the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill in the last century was the failure to replace big institutions with smaller ones that offered consistency, professional backup and much more personal freedom to psychotic people.  As we reduce our prison populations, can we not build more small group homes? We need more of them.  

Put it another way:  If crazy people have rights, don't the rest of us have responsibilities?



Sunday, May 14, 2017

MovieMonday: A Quiet Passion



Here's a movie that's meant to be a biography of the poet Emily Dickinson but that can't seem to decide whether she was a 21st century feminist or a depressed and angry victim of Victorian male oppression.  

On the plus side, its cinematography is great, and many bits of Dickinson's poetry are read by the star, Cynthia Nixon, whose portrayal here has been much admired.

On the minus side, the effort to humanize an intellectual and highly disciplined poet tends to reduce her to an emotional wreck, which strikes me as unfair.  

Movies demand conflict, however, and this one goes to some lengths to deliver.  Whether this will resonate with serious Dickinson fans and scholars remains to be seen.

The film opens with teenaged Emily being tossed out of her boarding school for not being a devout enough Christian.  Apparently this scene aims to tell us that she was an independent thinker, which she certainly was.  Unfortunately, it is not true; Emily was sent home because she was in poor health.  

On the Dickinsons' way home, they stop to attend a concert featuring a female singer, and Emily's father says, "I do not like to see a woman on the stage," a view echoed by Emily's ugly and humorless aunt, who sternly advises Emily to "Keep atheism at bay."  

The harangues continue later, after a nice photographic trick renders Emily and her relatives as older adults. Emily, now to be referred to by me as Dickinson, is told that "The classics of every age are the works of men, not women." As she is dying, her brother reads a newspaper column that describes women's writing as "the literature of misery" that "abounds with ... distortion through a mist of tears."

There are moments of jocular banter as Dickinson and a woman friend describe themselves as rebels and decry the fate of women as "designed only for decorousness."  The dialogue left me cold, but I'm not skilled in the art of witty repartee myself and so I will not judge.

Dickinson is known to have retreated from society over time, never leaving her home and wearing only white in her later years.  The movie tells us she retreats because her wise-talking friend marries and moves away and because her parents have died -- because she is frustrated and unfulfilled.

Over time, she becomes bitter and angry.  Her affection toward a minister she admires and who admires her work is an inappropriate one, she is told.  We watch Dickinson lash out at the minister's wife, an insipid and uncurious woman who prefers the work of Longfellow to that of the Brontes, which she regards as "unwholesome."  If the Brontes "would prefer to be wholesome, perhaps they should crochet," snaps the poet.

At one point, Dickinson looks in a mirror and declares, "Oh, you are a wretched creature.  Will you ever achieve anything?"  

Meanwhile Dickinson ages and suffers a slow, painful, and highly dramatized decline from the kidney disease that kills her at 56.  The movie's final scene includes a narration of the expected Dickinson poem. 


Another Way to Think about It

There is no doubt that serious women had a harder time of it in the 19th century than they do today.  On the other hand, there were several women writers who achieved prominence in the period, writers whose names and work were certainly familiar to Dickinson.

-- Jane Austen's first book, "Sense and Sensibility," was released 19 years before Dickinson was born.  Its author, identified as "A Lady," was regarded highly then and is so today. 

-- The Bronte sisters published the enduring classics "Wuthering Heights" and "Jane Eyre," among others, before 1850, when Dickinson was 20; she was, as noted above, an admirer of theirs.  

-- George Eliot, the pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans, published her first book, "Adam Bede," in 1859.  She was understood to be female, dedicating her second book to her husband, and published many others.  (My personal favorite is "Middlemarch.")

-- Americans Harriet Beecher Stowe's and Louisa May Alcott's books, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "Little Women," were published in 1851 and 1868, respectively.  Neither of these works stand with Dickinson's output or the others mentioned above, but they were enormously influential in their day.

In addition Dickinson lived, comfortably, in the college town of Amherst.  She met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who encouraged her to write poetry.  She enjoyed lively correspondences with intellectuals of the day.  (Her letters were destroyed after her death at her request.) She was regarded as brilliant, if a bit shy and ultimately eccentric, by friends and neighbors. 

Dickinson did not seek broad publication during her lifetime, but the first volume of her work, released four years after her 1886 death, was so popular that 10 further editions were released within two years.  It was not until 1955 that the full body of her work, as she wrote it, was gathered and published.  

Dickinson went back and forth on the important questions, particularly eternity and mortality.  To the extent that there is literary immortality, she earned it.


Notes

If you want to get at the real Emily Dickinson, a better way to do it might be to read "My Hero, the Outlaw of Amherst," a 2010 article by New York Times critic Holland Cotter. He expresses frustration at attempts to turn the poet into the voice of any current moment and respect for the decision he believes she made to live the life she wanted.  Some quotes from the piece:
     
"Why do we need to make a failure in love — and because Dickinson was single, failure is always assumed — the explanation for her art?"

"When once asked whether she didn’t miss going out, seeing friends, living the life everyone else lived, she answered, 'I never thought of conceiving that I could ever have the slightest approach to such a want in all future time.' Then she added, 'I feel that I have not expressed myself strongly enough.'"

"It’s a power she acquired in part by being, in some essential way, an outsider, but also from seeing that identity, not as a disability, but as a saving grace, and one that carries responsibilities."


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

No One Cares about Crazy People


The cover illustration of this book -- the title words at the bottom of a dark empty box -- struck me as odd until I started reading.

The story documents, in personal and societal terms, the suffering and costs of psychosis in America today.  As I read, I realized the illustration is a metaphor for the profound isolation of people with serious mental diseases.

Author Ron Powers ("Flags of Our Fathers," "Mark Twain: A Life") has switched from his third-person perch to write a book that is personal and historical and somewhat clinical.  

He and his wife, a scientist, raised two bright sons, each of whom developed schizophrenia in late adolescence.  Early on we learn that one of the sons hanged himself and died alone in the family basement one night, only to be discovered the next morning by his father.  

This is powerful and painful stuff, but Powers uses it to good effect, talking about the boys' joyful early years and then the parents' discoveries that their children's thinking had strayed from reality.

Interspersed with the family tale are historical recounts of how people who are different have been treated through history, particularly in the U.S. since about 1960.


Psychotherapy Today

I always had heard that insane asylums began to be shut down in latter part of the 20th century.  Powers explains how and why it happened.

First, he says, the FDA approved Thorazine, the first drug for treatment of psychotic disorders, for use in the U.S. in 1954.

This was a perhaps naive period.  After the introduction of antibiotics and the polio vaccine, Americans may have believed that science soon would yield treatments, or even cures, for every imaginable disease or disorder. 

Unfortunately, Thorazine wasn't a magic bullet.  Its effect, making more dopamine available in the body, did not address the causes of mental disease.  It also had unpleasant side effects:  dizziness, drowsiness, anxiety, sleep problems, weight gain, swelling of hands and feet, blurred vision and, worst, permanent involuntary tics and muscle twitches.

No matter. Within 10 years, 10 million Americans were taking Thorazine.  Then came lithium and many other anti-psychotic medications.   Some are helpful, but each case of mental illness is unique, activated by different brain reactions as well as individual life events and stresses.

Then, in 1961, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz published a groundbreaking book “The Myth of Mental Illness” that questioned the legitimacy of his field and provided intellectual cover for generations of anti-psychiatry activists, including L. Ron Hubbard, the sci-fi writer who founded the Scientology religion or movement or whatever it is.

(My note:  In 1962, author Ken Kesey published "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," a novel set in an insane asylum where residents were treated with lobotomies and stupor-inducing drugs designed to enforce passive conformity.  The story became a popular movie in which a gleeful rebel played by Jack Nicholson outwitted the the authority figures and escaped the loony bin.) 

All this noise about magic medications and individual freedom caused legislators and insurance companies to de-institutionalize masses of psychotic people. 

Over time and as the national population increased -- by more than 100 million between 1960 and 2000 -- the number of beds for psychiatric inpatients declined by 95 percent.

Since then, we have not created the promised small group homes or communities that would have offered refuge and, ideally, steady support for psychiatric patients to live more independent lives.   

Jails and prisons, stressful places for all but particularly for the emotionally fragile, now have replaced insane asylums as the institutions that house our largest populations of psychotic people.  The asylums may have been bad, but the prisons are more expensive and much, much worse.



Anosognosia 

As Powers winds up his book, he introduces a term that I had not encountered before: anosognosia. 

Anosognosia is the diagnosis when a sick person is unaware that he is sick -- not in denial but detached utterly from reality. 

Powers tells of receiving a phone call early one morning from a son who announced that he had received a great honor in the middle of the night and that he was on his way to pick up his prize.  The parents, heroically committed always (and who wouldn't be?), scrambled to intervene.  This was not the first time one of their children needed such help.   

It is not unusual for psychotic people, once stabilized on medications, to become convinced their medicines are no long necessary and to stop taking the medicines; the resulting deterioration in their situations is challenging even for those with fully involved families and well-organized support systems.  

Powers applies the word in a broader sense.  As a country, he suggests, we also suffer anosognosia.  We willfully ignore the problems suffered by people whose brain chemistry is causing them great pain.  His book is a scream for his children and for others like them, a scream to the rest of us to take these matters seriously.


Later: Further Observations


Sunday, May 7, 2017

MovieMonday: How To Be a Latin Lover



The premise of this movie is simple: Maximo, a boy-toy married to a much older woman, is thrown out of her Bel Air mansion 25 years later, replaced by a new, younger guy.  He shows up at the Los Angeles apartment of his widowed sister and her bespectacled son, seeking shelter as he searches for his next sugar mommy.

It's a fun reversal of the old theme of rich old guys with pretty young women, and it also draws in actors Rob Lowe and Michael Cera playing swains to wealthy dowagers.  

"How to Be a Latin Lover" is mostly a silly movie with some light family drama.  Maximo tries to teach his young nephew how to be a man, with mixed success but a good heart.  Maximo's  down-to-earth sister, played by Salma Hayek, finds him a challenge and says so, often and in Spanish, the subtitled language in which they battle. Over time, the three learn to trust each other a little more and to help each other. This is a good family theme.

Still, the yuks, many of them repeated more than once, are the thing here.

A popular Mexican actor, Eusenio Erbez, is the Latin Lover of the title.  His easy manner and physical humor are fun to watch, which is a plus because the script requires him to endure frequent jokes at his character's expense.  He's also a pretty good dancer.

Several years ago Erbez wrote, directed and starred in a $5 million movie, "Instructions Not Included," that earned $100 million worldwide.

That success, and the participation of many recognizable American actors in Latin Lover, suggest that movie people believe Erbez is ready for a broader audience. 

This seems like good bet. According to a 2012 census report, 38.5 million U.S. residents speak Spanish in their homes.  Many of these, or their parents or grandparents, come from Mexico and retain an interest in Mexican culture.  

A pro soccer executive told me last year that matches featuring Mexican teams invariably sell out in his region.  Why wouldn't the same be true for a movie whose main character is played by a Mexican movie star?  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May Day 2017

Here is a picture of a Maypole dance, an old, probably pagan-derived tradition in Sweden and Germany.  The general idea is for dancers to wrap ribbons around the pole in celebration of the warmer days of late spring.




Here are some pictures of May 1 commemorations this year in downtown Portland, Oregon, the city where I was raised.  






You will notice that the costuming is different, as are the activities, which included setting fires, vandalizing a police car, breaking windows in storefronts and government offices, slashing every tire in a line of bicycles and lobbing rocks and full cans of cola at police officers. 

I believe these demonstrators would describe themselves as anarchists.  They advertised their May Day plans with banners like the one below.


It is difficult to know what the goal was.  Perhaps the provocateurs believed their behavior would move Portlanders to join their cause. Perhaps they wished to be abused by police officers and thus to gain sympathy as victims of oppression.  

In fact, the Portland police showed up in riot gear and arrested 25 people.  Given the property damage and personal violence, what else could be expected?  

The appeal of anarchy and its burn-it-down sentiment have been observed for at least two thousand years, and the word itself was coined by the ancient Greeks.  A state of anarchy generally is described as one in which social and political rules do not obtain and individuals are free of these constraints. 

In some cases, anarchy has succeeded in toppling governments.  This happened in 1789 in the French Revolution, in 1917 in the Russian Revolution and in 2010 during Egypt's Arab Spring.  It is a truism of history that events like these create vacuums that usually are filled by new governments that resemble the deposed ones, and in some cases are worse.  

Another truism is that human societies do not learn much from history . Since the turn of the century, there has been a rise in May Day-like marches and riots around the U.S.  Whether they will have long-term effects remains to be seen.


Hijacking a Peaceful Event

The May Day event in Portland began as an immigrants' rights march that had been planned ahead of time.  It drew several hundred people bearing signs, and included dancers and apparent camaraderie among demonstrators who shared a strong political conviction.  

This was a good thing.  There is a broad national discussion about immigration these days, and the marchers wanted to make their views known in Portland.  

The people in black, wearing balaclavas and face-covering masks, did not participate in the march but hung around on the sidelines, with sticks and projectiles and self-made shields at the ready.

About 15 minutes after the legitimate march began, the anarchists moved in and by their action turned the attention to themselves.  

Now you have to look hard to find any mention of the immigrant supporters' concerns in reporting from Portland last Monday.  



Monday, May 1, 2017

MovieMonday: Colossal



This movie starts out as a personal drama and then turns into a fantasy piece and finally resolves itself, I think, as a sort of horror show battle.  

In its early moments, a charming young woman named Gloria is thrown out of her boyfriend's Manhattan apartment because he's had it with her drinking.  "I only see you when you're hung over," he says, which is a fair point.

Jobless and without a backup plan, Gloria returns to her hometown and her parents' empty house.  She meets up with a school friend who owns a bar and who gives her a job as a waitress.   This allows her to drink many Pabst beers each night with the bar owner and his two friends and to wake up hung over and blacked out as usual.

Then Gloria sees a television news report of a Godzilla-like monster terrorizing the population of Seoul, Korea.  This naturally distresses her. The implication is that the monster is a metaphor for Gloria's alcoholism, which is disrupting her life and the lives of others. 

That's round one.

In round two, Gloria recognizes that she has a lot in common with the Korean monster, which mimics her movements and calls to mind a minor event in her childhood.  (How these matters came to be connected is a mystery that the movie does not -- cannot possibly -- explain.)

Gloria does her best to mitigate the damage in Korea and in her own life.

In round three, Gloria takes out after a menacing supersized robot that also is creating havoc in Korea and also has something to do with her remembered childhood incident.

The movie ends with the viewer wondering whether Gloria has changed fundamentally or simply has managed to fix a problem that is to some degree a problem of her own making.  

If this sounds weird, well it is.  But genre-switching is not unusual for pictures of the moment -- think of "Get Out," the comedy-turned-horror movie earlier this year.  

"Colossal" also has a mighty-girl theme, which we have seen recently in  "Their Finest," "Beauty and the Beast," "Hidden Figures, "Lala Land" and "Moana," among others.

Put simply, this movie moves from human reality to humans mixing it up with unreality to a sort of horror-battle resolution.  The acting is fine, and the ending leaves a basic story question hanging, which is sly and interesting but which I hope does not mean that a sequel is planned.  

If you are absolutely averse to fantasy conflict, you shouldn't see "Colossal."  But if you are averse to fantasy conflict, you probably stopped going to movies a long time ago.

"Colossal" is a bit odd, yes, but it is definitely watchable.