Joker, Knives, Chappelle: All is Connected

I may start a new tradition of just recording a youtube rant and pasting it into these blogs because I’m not sure people want to read.  But since I have a moment and a few marbles rolling around in my head, I’ll dash off some current and easily dated remarks about the State of Cinema and its relation to the State of Society.  Even though nobody asked for that.

Joker looks interesting.  Maybe a spiritual cousin of Taxi Driver or King of Comedy, given De Nero’s involvement.  That alone might allow it to overcome the brand “Joker” and the fact that it is not related to Batman’s nemesis, or Michael Ironside in Top Gun, or Mathew Modine’s Private Joker from Full Metal Jacket.  Some critics and general idiots are sounding the alarm that the story of an alienated, sad character losing his mind might radicalize what they call incels.  There is also a movie called Cuck opening the same day that is more explicitly about someone drawn into the alt-right. But it is unfortunate that “the discourse” is a bi-product of movie promotion, in the same way that rancid poop is a bi-product of eating tasty food.  Incel is applied to a) gun toting loners who commit massacres, b) people critical of Disney Star Wars, and c) anyone less than enthused about virtue signalling (as opposed to virtue having).  It means “involuntarily celibate,” a condition with which many married people might be familiar. It is not okay to dismiss an annoying opinion by calling the speaker a British cigarette or a pansy, unless that person is closeted or passing for straight which apparently nullifies all protection or empathy.  If someone is truly the personification of an incel, vulnerable and on their way to some sort of suicidal or self-negating gesture, how “woke” it must feel to bash them.

The Toronto International Film Festival had Joker, as well as Knives Out Rian Johnson’s new take on Agatha Christie parlor mysteries. The latter is getting more of a break from critics, owing to its reportedly ham-fisted politics. By all means, bash Trump sensibility. Please don’t let him have a second term. But those of us in the cheap seats, the huddled masses, hope rich folks in a mansion don’t get to represent all white folks and our assumed privileged. Though it is okay if they represent millionaire Rian Johnson who has had no problem “punching down” from his twitter pulpit at customers of The Last Jedi who didn’t quite accept rude Luke Skywalker, space breathing Leia, or a scene for scene strategy of dumbing down of male characters to falsely prop up under developed female characters.  All of which causes us to believe we are not seeing an account of what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away but instead seeing what Rian typed and what met with approval of the “Lucasfilm story group” chalk full of SJWs hired by Kathleen Kennedy instead of dramaturgical experts who can point out how easy it would be – at script stage – to get rid of Canto Bight the casino planet and just have Rose and Finn meet DJ in the rebel brig… so Rian won’t have to cut the third Jedi lesson of Luke from the real estate of a two and a half hour movie.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dramaturgy

RottenTomatoes listed under “popular” titles “David Chappelle” as opposed to the actual title that was generating popularity at the moment, David Chappelle: Sticks and Stones.  When someone clicked on his name they would be taken to a page made to represent two of his older Netflix specials, Collection 1 and Equanimity and the Bird Revelation.  This misrepresents “Dave Chappelle” as a series with two episodes boasting 67% and 92% fresh ratings.  That way they were not bolstering Sticks and Stones for which their site showed a low critic score.  Even then, when that most recent show had a zero splat it was from only 5 critics. At the moment it has an average of 31% from 16 critics.  Still a splat. But it maintains its original 99% positive responses from 36, 418 audience members verified as having seen the show. So it is denied the simplicity of a fresh tomato symbol due to a portion of the 16 critics, but the much greater number of opinions – perhaps not fearing a job loss with a publication – were willing to recommend it.

Dave Chappelle: Sticks and Stones was a refreshing Netflix special that agitated those who wish to control all discourse. There are those who count themselves as allies of the downtrodden or the victims themselves who can be expected to act out controlling impulses as a result of having had control withheld or taken away at some earlier point. There is a long documented dynamic of the oppressed becoming oppressor, but this seems to have been quietly swept under the carpet lest it slow down the rush of progress.  Even the PoundMeToo movement is touched on, a very daring target.  But when you think of it how much good really came from that hashtag?  Cosby was snagged not by that movement but by an unlawfully recorded and uploaded cell video of Hannibal Burress telling it like it is about someone who doesn’t curse in his act or wear droopy drawers but has a number of rape allegations kept under wraps. Burress, Gawker, and Gloria Allred pretty much took down Cosby.  Harvey Weinstein was  reigned in by Ronan Farrow, a worthwhile journalist with only one terrible blind spot – mommy.  Maybe Kevin Spacey got snagged because MeToo encouraged the Star Trek Discovery actor to tell his story, and that ball got rolling.   But for every justified take-down there were a number of people who caught flack for lesser infractions that were the true result of the wide net cast by PoundMeToo.

Both Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss drew long dormant stories – each from a different Production Assistant who now identifies as a “writer.” Their infractions: rudeness and vulgarity or flirtations on set.  Having not witnessed any of that in context, one can only imagine a movie star in the eighties goofing around and not realizing their attentions are especially unwelcome. Matt Damon made a reasonable remark when asked about the movement and made distinctions between rape and lesser tiers of trespass; the result was the removal of his scenes from Ocean’s Eight. The worst casualty (excluding some that resulted in suicide) was Senator Al Franken whose scandals were swept up in the #BelieveHer blanket policy of many Democrats despite his initial complainant being a woman he knew from USO shows who was a frequent Fox News guest and a known Republican.  In one of Al’s books, maybe Lies and the Lying Liars to Tell Them or The Truth with Jokes, he refers to George W. Bush constantly trotting out reference to 9/11 terror attacks as his “little black dress” to deflect criticism by painting himself and America as a victim and creating a solemn new context.  It seems cold-hearted to call any and all victim story a “little black dress” but that is often – in practice – the purpose it serves.  To speak to a therapist about a trauma is one thing, but to micro manage the language and music (ie: Baby it’s Cold Outside) of others crosses a line.

I am reminded of the time as a kid I visited relatives who rented a movie I wanted to see, The Verdict, and a friend of my uncle piped up that a Jack Warden character swears a lot, which resulted in the volume being muted whenever Warden appeared on screen.  My solution was to excuse myself and go for a nap.  A year alter I would rent the movie myself and see it as the profane screenwriter David Mamet intended. I don’t remember if there was a grandstand on my part or a huge argument.  But the absurdity of that – one person in the room who is offended by something determining for all that nobody can hear the dialogue – flies in the face of “one man’s food is another man’s poison” which I have always taken to mean everybody doesn’t have to like something for me to appreciate it.  Outrage culture and cancel culture follow the same principle as that friend of the family who could not bear to hear Mamet’s profanity.  (But apparently was not offended as a Catholic that the movie is critical of the church covering up malpractice case in a hospital it runs.) I can’t imagine following The Verdict without knowing what Paul Newman’s sidekick has to say.

If we consider the source of keyboard warrior campaigns, it can’t be ignored that many people who are gung ho about “burning down” what exists or “smashing” the so-called Patriarchy are facing middle age as I am and taking stock of how many goals have been achieved and how many have not.  Not to mention some unrequited romances that have begun to pile up.  So part of out “first world problems” mentality includes fat shaming, body shaming, slut shaming called out by people who don’t have anything against age shaming people who date younger or more fit people than themselves. It all has to do with artificially inflating the perceived stock value of whatever attributes you have.

If I am directing a movie, what I bring is a strong sense of how to use the frame for each beat of a scene and an instinct for transitions.  I like the storyboard approach.  Currently there is a trend toward people pushing an idea that “there is no such thing as film grammar or film language.” The idea being that “new voices” can step into the role of director more easily if direction is merely the generic recording of what Hitchcock referred to as pictures of people talking: five angles of the whole scene top to bottom that the editor and producer can shape later, establishing wide shot, over shoulder of each character, and close up of each.  In that case, arguably, it won’t matter if the director has any talent. If the material is visual, then there might be a more obvious difference between someone who applies the psychology of the frame and the cut versus someone who is just in attendance while someone presses record.

Writers have a voice, directors don’t.  A director in the power position might impose changes on a writer based on personal taste or may choose not to shoot everything as written, but especially in TV where the discourse dominates – where producers and writers are in charge and the director is generally a guest working with the in-house cinematographer(s).  That said, when I look at an episode of The Deuce and see Michelle McLaren or Ernest Dickerson’s name as directors it puts me at ease that we are in good hands and worthy people are directing our attention. If I hear that a director got a job merely as a diversity hire or I think that person is careless about the axis and maybe connections and personal charisma got that person a directing job I might feel depressed as I am not a schmoosing type or bouncing off the walls with personality.  I have to quietly go about making my little movies and all but ignoring the industry the way it seems to be slanted at the moment. You do have to be able to engage and interest at least one other person, maybe a few, and risk the investment of time and maybe money on what you want to see and how you see it.

Society will connect the dots between what you create and what can be inferred from it about the issues of the day, but that can paralyze the process of writing and also directing or any output.  We can only be so careful.  The unconscious and instinct are not interested in taking a poll on Twitter. And consensus is no substitute for authorship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring Your “Problematic” Muse

A boost of inspiration might come from an anger or a moment of clarity but it will still require getting out of your own way.  We all may have to push ourselves and get over a fear of rejection and especially today fear of being demonized for an image or a perspective or even a reflex. You may hear people speak of your presumption that people should read what you wrote or your sense of entitlement that would allow you to picture yourself as an author of any kind.  That is the view from the outside in.  It is chatter and noise.  The imperfect author Thomas Harris wrote, “The worm that kills you is the temptation to agree with your critics.”

As far as I can recall, all of my writing has been with the conceit that maybe somebody else will identify with what I have written and feel that I have put it in an interesting way.  I’ve never been quite sure if I have a target audience, because I’ll accept a compliment from just about anywhere. Read someone’s novel, and chances are that you will wear whatever skin is taking you through the story. At no other time has it been easier for everyone to anyone in the free world to write as they like.  Getting an engine behind it or publishing or distribution – let alone marketing – is another matter.  Too often what we hear about it about who is being given something, hired, awarded, and who belongs to what permanent victim status or permanent privilege status. Most of that is noise that might be dialed down by staying off of Twitter, Facebook, and some youtube channels.  Much of it is clickbait over-simplification.  The rest is big money corporate spin from movie studios who can afford to pretend a mediocre movie is a vital social movement that will change everything for you and yours.

Hi.  I’m the old white guy whose opinion Brie Larsen doesn’t want to hear about what didn’t work for me in A Wrinkle in Time.  The good news for her is that she likely won’t see this post.  Also perhaps good news that I have at the time of this writing only seen about fifteen minutes of that film on Netflix and never got back to it.  Had to binge all of Russian Doll and get started watching The Umbrella Academy. The bad news is that nobody cares what an actor or any creative or executive wants to hear about a movie – one they are involved in or one they are just using as an example.  Who a movie is “made for” doesn’t matter.  A movie ostensibly “for kids” can be enjoyed by adults or not. Shaft may not have been intended for me, but I’m happy Roundtree was brought back for both the 2000 version and the 2019 version where he is the grandfather (and importantly the same John Shaft he was in the Seventies movies).  Your food may be another person’s poison.  That might mean no peanuts for you in the school cafeteria. I can take or leave Star Trek Discovery (STD they call it), having seen the first season, but I fully understand some of my fellow classic fans objecting to the caliber of writers being brought onto the team. In another galaxy, the Lucasfilm story group quietly dropped one of its members while there has been a firestorm in fandom closely examining the imdb listings and qualifications of each member to prove that in some cases ONLY a commitment to identity politics got some of them their job in the first place.

In my own work I have stewed lately over the current climate and the idea that those who like to use terms like relevant and decide what is relevant may shut out much of the material I have a passion to champion or generate.  I’ve written and ranted about the (for now) demise of my feature The Adventures of Porno the Clown, a live-action cartoon that would have been whimsical and cheeky.  One threat to it was that a number of prospective collaborators wanted to infuse it with improvisation and I did not. The other issue was that it was, after all, about a horny old white guy.  And a clown at that.  Throw in the fact that it was conceived ten years before the PoundMeToo and identity politics explosion, to pick away at it and make the square peg fit into the round hole of outrage culture would not have been satisfying.  My novelization of it may not have much more luck, but it at least would preserve any satire I had refused to buff off or dull down. One well know actress suggested I dumb it down, but I’m not sure how much dumber I could make a live action cartoon about a semi-retired porn clown.

Some people hate Blazing Saddles, Tropic Thunder, The Dictator, Team America: World Police.  Molly Ringwald, when PoundMeToo was at its peak, spoke out against elements of The Breakfast Club. This creates a pickle for those of my generation who love her for The Breakfast Club.  She mainly objects in hindsight to Judd Nelson’s criminal character Bender behaving like… a criminal.  He does and says highly inappropriate things, but the movie itself and by extension the writer-director John Hughes does not condone it.  Some may even object that it is an American Eighties movie and as such tends to have a white cast. Others may say it is too “hetero normative.” Whatever peccadillo may be placated for an interest group or on-screen representation, it would be an interesting exercise to ask people to recast a remake of The Breakfast Club – the Janitor, the Teacher, the criminal, the princess, the brain, the jock and the basket case.  What new problematic paradoxes can be created?  You have to be as inclusive as possible.  Which one is LBGTQ, black, Asian, or Native?  I don’t know if anyone ever showed up for a Saturday detention, or whether today the students would all be allowed to have their cell phones and sit in silence for the duration.

No writing or a movie needs to last forever, and one person’s food will be another person’s poison.  Others may click with it.  If someone from a Native community becomes a filmmaker, the stereotype might be (judging from what filters down through social media)  that their work will be documentaries about water contamination, suicide and glue sniffing. I would rather that person be less a social issue activist and more in love with cinema itself.  I don’t agree with Cronenberg that a movie “about movies” is about nothing at all.  The whimsical style of Robert Rodriguez may be what comes to mind when I think of Mexico, regardless of whether it gives real insight into goings on there. I think of a cool Desperado, a cool spy family, cool vampires, a cool revolutionary with a machete, and a cool cyborg. A Native Rodriguez is something I could cheer for. Each social group could contribute to the cinema of cool.  If you love to craft a joke or place camera frames in an interesting and exciting order, then it is worth putting blinders on to the fuss and false compartmentalization and shade throwing that goes on ostensibly in the name of progress.  They say that writing is caring, about yourself, your family, your community (outward in that order, according to the Dali Llama).  Your craft and your passion, your voice and yourself (even if you are descended from “the bad guys” of history) are what you must care about before you can honestly care about anything else.  Leave it up to the world to negate what you do – and expect that from some of them – instead of preemptively doing that to yourself.