Archive for May, 2014

Trailers

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Trailers

Trailer photo by David Jouris

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2014)

One of my hobbies in these days of societal collapse—most of us in denial about how far the fungus of cultural disintegration has progressed—is watching trailers for recently made movies, American and foreign, and from the totality of these filmic synopses spotting trends revealing what our overlords want us to see and think and feel. My hobby is made easy by the iTunes Movie Trailers page presenting the latest trailers for blockbusters as well as medium and low-budget films.

To gain a place on the iTunes trailers page, a film must have some sort of distribution deal, which means someone in the movie biz (likely an idiot) thinks there is money to be made from that movie. This means thousands of new films are not exposed on the iTunes trailers page, and for the purposes of my hobby that makes no difference. I do not watch trailers for horror films, vengeful slaughter films, movies about Nazis, or movies starring famous people who cannot act, but I do take note of those films for the purposes of pondering the national gestalt, so to speak. These trailers of horror, slaughter, Nazis, and the talentless add up to well over half the movies released to the public. By avoiding them I only have to watch a handful of trailers each week, which takes but a few minutes of my time.

A sub-hobby is predicting which of the movies will be commercially successful and which will bomb, predictions I monitor by checking Box Office Mojo, a remarkably thorough box office web site. Having pursued this hobby for several years now, I can predict the success or failure of movies with uncanny accuracy, or so I delude myself. A movie’s success has virtually nothing to do with quality and everything to do with how large a collective nerve the story and characters strike, the most frequently struck of these nerves residing among the lower chakras.

Perhaps the most distressing trend of the last few years is how few movies about multi-dimensional women are made available to a wide audience, with the vast majority of women portrayed in the movies that are released being one-dimensional sex objects, murder objects, or helpless ninnies. The current box office hit The Other Woman is about three beautiful not-very-bright women taking revenge on a sociopathic twit who cheats on all of them and embarks on an affair with a fourth not-very-bright woman. This movie is being hailed as the first made-for-women movie of any note to be released in a long time, and is also notable because none of the stars, judging by the trailer, are forcibly raped and/or murdered. Revealed: our overlords fear strong, intelligent, independent, creative, complicated women.

Another trend is that animated films featuring talking animals and movies based on comic book super heroes, video games, and children’s toys are the largest budget and most popular movies in America. Nearly all the current talking animal, video game, comic book super hero, and toys-come-to-life movies are sequels or reboots of recent movies about the same animals, heroes, games and toys. Revealed: our overlords want us to remain infantile and easily manipulated.

In every movie about comic book super heroes, civilization is threatened with extinction, and humans are powerless to stop the onslaught of aliens and/or evil mutants driving our extinction. Revealed: our overlords don’t want us to know they are causing the destruction of our planet, and they want us to believe our best hope for salvation is supernatural violence.

Several films have come out recently, and more will soon be released, about the earth after global warming and other human-caused environmental disasters have destroyed civilization. In some of these movies, humans have either left earth or are trying to leave in order to keep the human genome going somewhere else because earth is kaput. Revealed: Don’t worry about wrecking this planet, we’ll just find another one that hasn’t been wrecked yet.

But in most of the after-collapse movies, dystopian societies have risen from the ashes and everyone in those societies is totally fucked except for 1% of the population that has everything. The only hope for the suffering 99% is the birth of a super hero who will save us. Revealed: Yes, humans have destroyed the earth. We didn’t mean to, but we did. The future is bleak, but at least we have the super hero savior myth to give us hope.

Movies about World War II and Nazis slaughtering Jews (with a sub-genre of non-Jews savings Jews from Nazis) have been released every month for as long as I’ve had this trailer-watching hobby. Revealed: Great fear, perhaps justified, resides among many movie makers that the masses will forget about the Nazis and the Holocaust unless they are constantly bludgeoned with movies about those things.

There are many movies released every year, so-called comedies, about vastly stupid and insensitive white men and the asinine things they say and do. When any such moronic comedy is a box office hit, a sequel is in the offing. The point of moron movies is to exalt male stupidity and insensitivity, especially regarding how these morons relate to women. Revealed: Stupidity is the basis of American humor, and no matter how stupid men are they rule the world and there is nothing women can do about it.

Comedies about middle-class black Americans are hot these days, as are vengeful slaughter movies starring black men. And in most new big budget super hero movies, black men play supporting roles as sidekicks to white super heroes. Revealed: Black men can be just as insensitive and idiotic and violent as white men, but they can never be quite as powerful as white men.

That was the thousand-word trailer for the fifteen-hour epic Exploring Contemporary National and Global Myths and Propaganda Through Inspired Synergetic Digestion of Mainstream Movie Trailers. Rated R for Suggestive Thoughts, Brief Nudity, Profanity and Proposals For Shifting Dominant Paradigms.

 

Community Property

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Long Way from Home

Long Way From Home Nolan Winkler acrylic and crayon on paper

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2014)

“Ah, yes, divorce…from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.” Robin Williams

The advertisement caught my attention because it was not one of the usual ads that play during every baseball game for the entire 162-game season. I listen to Giants games on a small silver radio that accompanies me to the garden for day games and stands nearby while I do dishes during night games. The ads rarely vary and the sponsors repeat their ads dozens of times per game: Chevron with Techron, Budweiser, Speedy Oil Change, Wells Fargo, Ford Motors, Bay Alarm, Dignity Health.

But this was an advertisement for a law firm, and not the law firm that advertises during games to attract people who need help dealing with the IRS. No, this was an advertisement for a law firm specializing in divorce, and the gist of the ad was: Do you own a business? Want a divorce? We specialize in divorces for men with businesses who don’t want to lose their businesses or business assets as a result of divorce. With offices in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Santa Clara, our success rate is second to none. Call us today to protect your business and personal property!

I was thinning baby carrots when I heard this ad, my little radio dangling from a branch of an apple tree, the Giants in another tight game with the Dodgers, and I thought to myself Did I just hear what I think I just heard? An ad for a law firm proclaiming they help men, specifically men, defeat the community property laws that are supposed to govern divorce proceedings in California? Yes, I did.

I suspect a programming error caused that ad to be aired during the game because I had never heard it before and haven’t heard it since. But what a remarkable proclamation, not remarkable because there is such a law firm, but remarkable because they publicly and proudly admit to specializing in helping men get the best of their wives, right here in the progressive gender-liberated city state of San Francisco.

“He taught me housekeeping, so when I divorce I keep the house.” Zsa Zsa Gabor

Perhaps you know women, as I do, who were married to wealthy men who accrued that wealth during those marriages, yet gave little or nothing to their wives in divorce. True, these women were instrumental in their husbands’ successes, raised their children, did most of the housework and shopping and cooking, provided sex and companionship, and had part or full-time jobs outside the home to pay the bills while their hubbies built up their businesses or established medical practices or completed their MBAs or cooked up lucrative hedge funds, but in the end the women got nothing and their husbands kept everything. And if you are such a woman, I imagine you sometimes wonder how things would be today if you hadn’t been robbed by your ex-husband and his attorney.

I worked in a Palo Alto day care center in the 1970’s in which twenty-three of our twenty-five little kids lived with their single mothers. The center was created to provide childcare for single mothers with full-time jobs, and nearly all our mothers had put their ex-husbands through college or medical school or law school or graduate school or years of starting up a business, only to be discarded when those husbands started earning big bucks and decided to purchase spanking new wives.

Some of our single moms were nurses, some were secretaries, some were sales clerks, and some worked two jobs to pay the rent and feed and clothe their child or children. Very few of our mothers had gotten more than pittances in their divorce settlements, though I knew that should not be the case, theoretically, in California.

After hearing the umpteenth story of one of our struggling mothers slaving as a secretary to put her husband through college and law school while also raising their two kids, only to have her husband divorce her and marry a shiny new trophy wife within a year of landing his high-paying job with a big law firm, I asked my mother, an attorney, “How can this be? I thought California was a community property state and wealth accrued during marriage is, by law, the joint property of husband and wife.”

“Rich people are supposed to pay higher taxes, too,” my mother replied drolly, “but their accountants and lawyers have no trouble getting around that. In contested divorces where facts are easily disputed, the best lawyers usually win. And if one of the contestants has a good lawyer and the other contestant has no lawyer, and the one with the lawyer is merciless, then there’s really no contest.”

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

When my first marriage ended in divorce in 1994, I gave my ex-wife the house I had owned outright for several years before we got married, though California divorce law said I did not have to give her anything. Even my most open-minded friends thought I was crazy to give away my only possession of any monetary value, a large California Bungalow built in 1910 on a big lot in a good neighborhood and appraised at 400,000 dollars. But after months of anguishing about how to get on with my life, I felt in my bones that giving my ex-wife the house was exactly what I needed to do.

Some years after my divorce, during a rough passage when I had no money, I experienced a moment’s regret about giving away the house, but my regret vanished when I recalled how deeply relieved I was to be free forever of that collection of rooms in a place I no longer wanted to be, and how glad my former partner was to accept my gift and install her new husband therein.

Taste

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Thurber Django

Thurber Django photo by David Jouris

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2014)

“My psychiatrist told me I was crazy, and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly, too.” Rodney Dangerfield

Years before the dawn of tweeting and texting, I ran a summer writing program for high school kids who wanted to become professional writers. The teachers I hired were accomplished, open-minded, inspiring writers who could clearly communicate their ideas about the craft of writing. My one piece of advice for my teachers was that they avoid saying anything construable as dislike of a student’s writing, and I cautioned them about making even mild editing suggestions during the first week of the month-long intensive lest our neophytes experience such suggestions as disapproval.

I also asked my teachers to remind our writers that the opinions of others about their writing, even the opinions of professional writers, are highly subjective and should be taken as such. The response of a reader to a story or poem often says far more about the reader than it does about the writer, and one person’s negative response to a story doesn’t make the story bad, just as one person’s positive response doesn’t make the story good.

To illustrate this point, I told my young charges about how the advent of photocopy machines changed my understanding of taste and helped me overcome the scourge of self-doubt. Prior to the coming of copy shops in the early 1970’s, making multiple copies of a manuscript necessitated the time-consuming use of a five-layer sandwich of carbon paper and typing paper rolled into the typewriter on which the manuscript would be typed, with typos requiring fixes with white-out on the original copy and a razor blade on the carbon copies, with the end result being the barely adequate original and two smeary copies no publisher would accept. Thus most of my early stories existed as single copies, and if the first person to read a story of mine didn’t like it, my insecurity would be inflamed and I might never show the story to anyone else.

Then one day, wanting to create a special gift for my best friend’s wedding, I fell into a trance and wrote a novella and a collection of short stories entitled What Shall The Monster Sing? and other stories. (That title is a line from a poem by Lawrence Durrell.) Completing my opus coincident with the opening of the first photocopy shop in Santa Cruz, I splurged and had ten bound copies made, nine of which I distributed to friends and fellow artists, one I kept safe for the newlyweds.

A week later, a poet of local renown came to the boarding house where I lived, stood in the doorway of my room and declared What Shall The Monster Sing? a disaster and most of the accompanying stories dreadful, though he did allow that three of the stories were gems.

Before I succumbed to despair, a fellow boarder shouted, “Phone for you, Todd!” and I ran down the hall to the pay phone.

What Shall The Monster Sing? is genius!” shouted a playwright calling from Los Angeles. “What a great film it would make. And Carli’s and Ophelia…magnificent!”

Returning to my room buoyed by the playwright’s praise, I found the poet arguing with a locally beloved chanteuse who was madly in love with Monster, as she so familiarly called my novella, and whose favorites of my short stories were the least favorites of the poet, and vice-versa. As I listened to these artists passionately praising and damning my writing, I had a revelation. Yes, everyone knows, intellectually, that taste is subjective. But to experience such extremes of taste from three intelligent and creative people in the span of twenty minutes was to have the revelation burned into my consciousness, which burning serves me well to this day.

 “A taste for irony has kept more hearts from breaking than a sense of humor, for it takes irony to appreciate the joke which is on oneself.” Jessamyn West

My essays about my past, my family, my personal life and my creative life occasionally elicit comments from readers, some thoughtful and illuminating, some praiseful, and some from people who insist I am a very bad writer and a self-pitying self-aggrandizing narcissist who would do the world a huge favor by ceasing to write.

My great grandfather, an orthodox Jewish cantor, believed gossiping to be a variation on the sin of speaking ill of others and he steadfastly refused to gossip. Nevertheless, his friends and family persisted in asking him his opinion about what So-And-So did to You-Know-Who, to which he would reply, “There are all kinds of different kinds of people.”

“The fact is we can only love what we know personally. And we cannot know much.” E.M. Forster

One of my favorite movies is composed of three movies—Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, directed by Linklater and starring Hawke and Delpy, the movies were filmed nine years apart and set nine years apart, too. Each film is composed of mountains of dialogue between Delpy and Hawke as they wander around Vienna, Paris and Greece. I love their torrents of dialogue, though many people I know find such verbosity intolerable. For my taste, the individual films are excellent, their totality a masterwork.

In Before Midnight there is a scene near the beginning of the film in which the characters portrayed by Hawke and Delpy sit at a big table in Greece with three other European couples talking frankly about life and death and relationships. What I so enjoy about this scene is the real-seeming depiction of people from widely varying backgrounds, young, old and middle-aged, having a lively discussion full of insights and anecdotes and disagreement, with disagreement not only perfectly okay with everybody at the table, but appreciated as the spice of a conversation in which no one is attached to being right. How deliciously un-American!