Reviewing the Reviewers

Truth be told, I stopped reading film reviews in 1992 when I stumbled onto a piece about The Crying Game and read, “You’ll never guess the big surprise!” thecryinggameThis of course left me guessing throughout the film – He’s a secret agent! He’s dead! He’s a murderer! – and ruined the experience.

The problem with reviews is simple: they are plot-driven. Even The New Yorker, highly touted for its prose, consistently offers lame reviews, all summary and no insight. douglas_liberaceRoger Ebert marketed his thumb well, but now that he’s gone, it’s all about the freshness of a tomato. The thing about reviewing is that anyone can do it; the only requirement is consciousness and barely that.

I developed a 8-Star system as a teenager. IMAG2711I must admit to a vagueness in my descriptors but would like to point out that I never handed out a “#” nor a “—“. Never. That said, I know that there was some inconsistency in my ratings.IMAG2714 I suppose, to my young eyes, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon just wasn’t as tightly paced as Orca. orca031010I went on to review a few films in college, one piece which I used in the development of my undergraduate thesis on Walt Disney.

Extract from "Sleeping Beauty" review

Extract from my “Sleeping Beauty” review

It was also in college that my penchant for reviewing the reviewers arose.

My letter to the editor

My first letter to the editor

Some things never change.

Six Great Heroines of Fiction

It’s a challenge to think of a heroine who isn’t passive, either loving from afar or loving too hard.

Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina

Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina

And while these passionate characters are to be admired, they tend to limit us in our view of what it is to be a woman of substance. Where are the heroines to rival Odysseus, Atticus Finch and the Cat in the Hat? cat_in_the_hat-300x591I offer you my Top Six.

6. Joy Adamson (Born Free) joyadamsonThe co-protagonist of the Born Free series, along with Elsa the Lion, Adamson is more outspoken and independent in the books – to say nothing of real life – than offered on film.

5. Hannah Arendt  (Hannah Arendt) hannah-arendtThe 20th-Century philosopher, as portrayed in Margarethe von Trotta’s 2013 film, is intimidating, uncompromising and could smoke anyone under the table.

4. Gloria (Gloria) gena-rowlandsGina Rowlands’ portrayal in John Cassavetes’ 1978 film, a modern-day Fury, is striking in her combination of anger and sentimentality.

3. Chihiro (Spirited Away) senEven after her parents are turned into pigs and her name is stolen, Chihiro wants to help everyone, including the evil witch.

2. Clytemnestra (Agamemnon) Guerin_Pierre-ClytemnestraWhile it may be true that she has the blood of her husband and Cassandra on her hands, Aeschylus makes it clear that she has her reasons.

1. Doctor’s Wife (Blindness) blindness2008-012The only hope offered in Jose Saramago’s post-apocalyptic parable is a woman willing to sacrifice herself for the good of everyone else. Imagine that.

Sex Symbols of the 1960s

A tantalizing contradiction seems to exist in the sex symbols of the 1960s, a sexuality that simultaneously offers lust and innocence. Whipped-cream-and-other-delightsPaul McCartney used this iconography on the Out There tour as a stage backdrop for his performance of Paperback Writer.

Barclay's Center, Brooklyn, June 10, 2012

Paul McCartney, Barclay’s Center, Brooklyn, June 10, 2012

The Dandy Warhols used similar imagery while playing Good Morning.

The Dandy Warhols, Terminal 5, New York, May 30, 2012

The Dandy Warhols, Terminal 5, New York, May 30, 2012

The images are provocative – more so than most graphic visuals of today –  as they tiptoe along the line of what might be allowed.

Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot

Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda

In other words, it’s not so much the nudity as the pose, a faux timidity almost asking, “Do you mind?” Of course those were different times.cig girl

Stanislaw Lem’s “Solaris”

Continuing in my science fiction research, I have begun Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris. solaris_a_living_planet_by_justv23-d4honx8Made into a film by both Andrei Tarkovsky and Steven Soderbergh, it is the story of a planet with a living consciousness, Gaia in the extreme. Although the writing is dense at times, the narrative is artfully dream-like, almost in a trance. Most impressively, the notion of a living mass conscious comes across as an effective precursor for what we are heading for here, our collective and unspoken mission to be eternally plugged in.WEB-robocalypse18rv6

This Weird Electronic World

It’s weird how willingly we descend into this electronic world. parker-also-tried-on-the-pairThere is nothing to touch, no expression to read, nothing; it is virtual, nothing more. anais-nin-quoteOur letters are electronic, our messages and pictures, everything “press send”. It seems to make sense, efficient and direct, good for the environment. DSCN2476However the thing that is lost appears to be the thing that got us out of the muck to start with: our self-awareness, our knowledge of the world in which we live.

I saw someone yesterday who has been most hostile toward me over the years and expressed that same hostility yet again…but then, suddenly, smiling, said, “I like your blog.” Screenshot (235)I was confounded by that. I could think of nothing to say but “Thanks” and have been left scratching my head ever since. And so I blog about that.

Young Adult Lit: “Manitou island”

I’m developing a screenplay into a piece of fiction for young adults. It’s a story of native legends and magic realism, set in Northern Ontario on Manitou Island.

It was bright and hot; it almost felt like summer. I arrived at the island in the outboard and saw my mother sitting on the dock with a dark thin man, an Ojibwa.        

“We have a visitor, Gerbi.” Norma tied the bow of the boat. “This is Asawaswanay.”           

“Mr. Norberg.” He bent down and shook my hand. 

“Asawaswanay has come to us about the good spirits,” my mother said.      

“I am the Midewewin of my people,” he said. “What you might call a priest or a shaman.”        

“I didn’t realize there were any shaman left.”          

“The Midewewin was forbidden to practice the traditional ways some 80 years ago. We were forced to hide our ceremonies. Many of my people came to reject these ceremonies. The Manitou were forgotten.”  

“Manitou?”

“The Manitou are the spirits of the land. They inhabit the world, the forests, the waters, the sky, everywhere. The Midewewin communicates with the Manitou. They have spoken to me of this lake and this island.”

“Are you making a claim on our land?” I asked.      

He smiled and then said, “We have no interest in the gold.”

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, research can be one of the greatest aspects of the work. I spent a few afternoons in the Ontario Archives and was lucky enough to acquire a copy of The Robinson Treaty. IMAG2685This became a virtual gold mine for both historical information and Ojibwa names, two of which I used for characters: Asawaswanay and Pamequonaishcung. IMAG2687The question is whether to shorten them or not. I think not.

Guns: The Violence in the Argument

The problem with the debate on guns is that one side has a lot of guns and likes to use them. Predator The poison-laced letters recently sent to President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg are only the latest example in the on-going assault: “If you take my guns, you…will get shot in the face.” threatening-letter-bloombergActually, the truth is there is no debate. A debate involves structure and logic, not threats and yelling, “It is my god-given right!” (It isn’t.) gun-control-piss-on-constitution-1024x640The irony of their argument – do I even need to point this out? – is that it’s the gun owners themselves who are getting killed.

Eddie Routh's shooting of Chris Kyle.

Chris Kyle was gunned down by Eddie Routh.

Their children too.

5-year-old shoots 2-year-old sister.

5-year-old shoots 2-year-old sister with toy rifle.

4,362 gun-related deaths since the massacre in Newtown. 4,362 people. Dead. How many hundreds of thousands to come? The lobbyists and legislators have to realize that for a society to survive, the violence must be taken out of the argument. Don’t they?

my bad side: The Birthday Party

In the midst of polishing my bad side, I have had to dramatically edit – and shift – a key moment in Dee’s childhood, a birthday party for which she had supreme expectations. As part of my mourning process, I present the scene here unabridged:

Janey’s birthday invitation had a picture of a bearded pirate in a red jacket and giant boots; his arms were in a blur, throwing cream pies in a whirlwind at scattering parrots and kids. The invitation promised games and ice cream, treasure hunts and goody bags, but all I could think about was the pirates and their swords and chain belts, all of the thundering, spitting and swearing, and how we would run with crazy legs, the birds swooping over us, screaming and squawking, all of us caked in thick balls of cream and chocolate. PirateI couldn’t believe that such a thing was possible. I lay awake staring up at the long line of light from the bottom of the window. I had crazy laughing in my head. I was going to be throwing food. I was going to be throwing pies. I was going to be dancing on tables and running from pirates. Everything was going to be crazy bright and wild. It was just so amazing. I had never been so excited in my life. I have never been since.

I couldn’t do anything that day. I stared at the TV, went through the channels, and turned it off. I looked out the window. I waited in the front hall. I turned Nani’s porcelain dogs around and around. porcelain dogsShe took forever to come down the stairs, and then she had to get her purse and then her coat. And then she couldn’t find her keys.

“Nani, come on!”

She stopped and looked down at me. “Dee, if you don’t stop this nonsense this minute, there won’t be any party.”

I waited while she found her keys and then put on her lipstick and backed the car out of the garage. She made the turn out of the driveway purposely weird and long. She drove as slow as she could. I tried to sit properly but I was stiff. My shoulders were too far back. My elbows were banging into everything.

“Is this Smithfield?” Nani slouched forward, looking at the signs. “Woods? Where is Smithfield then? I’ll have to turn back here.” We went around the block and stopped and then came back to where we had been.

“Nani!” I was going to get out and run.

“Stop your nonsense, Dee. Just stop it.”

little_girlI stared at the corner of the window, the black rubber bending out, knowing that I was missing everything, that the pirates were stampeding the room. It was hot in the car. I punched my elbow down.

“I’ll just take you home then.”

“I’m sorry.”

We turned and then again and were on a long empty street that ran to the river. We were in front of a brown brick building with glass doors and a black awning J & L Boutique. “Can you read the address, Dee?”

“This isn’t it, Nani.”

“What’s the address?”

“I’m going to miss the party.”

“What number is it, Dee?”

I looked up and down the street, looking for a running pirate, a stray bird, a fleeing child, anything, but there was nothing, just the number above the awning. “327.”

“This is it.”

“No, Nani. It isn’t.”

A woman came outside; it was Janey’s mother. I didn’t understand that. She opened the door and led me down a small set of stairs and then a wide room with a low ceiling and long checker-clothed table with stacks of Pittsburgh Pirates Styrofoam plates and cups and a bowl of plastic forks and knives and a green cake covered in cellophane. All of the kids were sitting along a bench against the wall, under a Pittsburgh Pirates flag and orange and black streamers. There were no pirates. There were no parrots. There was a fat man in a Black Flagblackflagtshirt T-shirt and apron and two guys beside him, one with a wet brown beard, the other in a tight black shirt, leaning on a plastic mop. The Black Flag man waited until we were all sitting on the bench with our feet flat on the cement and told us to stay while the other two squirted globules of Reddi Whip onto the Pittsburgh Pirates plates. The Reddi Whip cans made crummy slurping sounds. The Black Flag man told us not to move, to wait until it was our turn even though there was nothing to do. The worst of it wasn’t that his pants were falling off his bum or that he was a liar. It was that he was allowed to do this. He was allowed to stand in front of us in his cheap Black Flag T-shirt and tell us what to do. He was allowed to lie to us. I didn’t understand that. I thought I had had something. I had seen the picture. I had seen it. The running pirates were there. The parrots were there. I had had it there in my ribs, my legs, my toes stretched out, big and tiny, my hands balled tight. I had had it in me, entire. I didn’t understand how he could be allowed to trample this cartoon world, this magic, and do this.

The Black Flag man told Janey to take her plate and she tried to throw it, but it flipped around and fell sideways to the ground, and then there was a rush and everyone was grabbing the plates, and it was just a mess, flimsy, slippery and stupid. There was a treasure hunt and sandwiches with the crusts cut off and peanut butter and chocolate ice cream and goody bags, and I had to wait on the bench for Nani to pick me up.Reddi_Whip_Cream_14_oz I took a can of Reddi Whip and smeared it on the Black Flag man’s pants. I was happy about that.