Monthly Archives: July 2014

1973: Pictures of a Counterrevolution

Supporting Actress Smackdown reviews the nominees for 1973, the year of The Exorcist, American Graffiti, and The Sting. What made my eyebrows arch was how the vaunted New Hollywood bore no influence over this set of nominations, and even the nominations for Candy Clark, Tatum O’Neal, and Madeline Kahn were in films in which their directors apotheosized their adolescence or an adolescence that didn’t exist. The only hint of changing attitudes is letting the little girl possessed by Beelzebub say “fuck” to a priest. Pictures of a counterrevolution more like.

My takes:

Linda Blair – The Exorcist

I won’t say much about the movie other than it did spook me at fourteen, leave me in stitches at sixteen, and offend me by how crass its sexual politics are — Regan is punished for having a promiscuous and agnostic mother? This is New Hollywood? Affectless and uninhibited as a kid in a fabric softener commercial before the demon makeup comes on, she relinquishes the performance to Mercedes McCambridge. Consider the nomination a consolation prize to her worried parents.

Candy Clark – American Graffiti

Blondes-with-brains are such Oscar bait that I had to watch/endure an hour of George Lucas’ breakthrough to see if Clark redeemed the role, which is too kind to the movie because Clark doesn’t have a role. I don’t understand AG’s appeal, not when Diner and Ellen Barkin in Diner exist.

Madeline Kahn – Paper Moon

As the, ah, dancer whom Ryan O’Neal brings along for the ride in Paper Moon, Kahn’s wit and vividness siphon O’Neal’s exertions. I imagine the hillside scene got play on Oscar night.

Tatum O’Neal – Paper Moon

Nathaniel correctly mentions this winner as the most egregious example of award fraud in Academy history; she’s in every scene, and it’s not like the list of the year’s Best Actress finalists was replete with worthwhile nominees. Regarding Paper Moon itself I’m in the minority: a competent, nice, ephemeral throwback that somehow became a box office hit. O’Neal deserves credit for giving real life dad Ryan O’Neal some friction.

Sylvia Sidney – Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

Known for her work in Fury and Sabotage, in which her empathy and alertness has a beautiful luminous quality, Sidney got her first nomination in this Joanne Woodward vehicle. I haven’t seen it in ages — from what I remember it’s a female Save the Tiger — and Sidney doesn’t rise beyond the description on Nathaniel’s site (“old prickly woman, who lunches weekly with her daughter, has a heart attack”), but like Kahn she’s odd and has no trouble with the acerbic. Watching her first in Beetlejuice doing the same thing in a comedy had the same effect as watching Marlon Brando in The Freshman before The Godfather.


The collapse of animus towards homosexuals

When I came out in the summer of ’99 the reactions from friends ranged from mild elation to indifference. They’d understood the truth months before I did (only one friend, a mild and quasi-closeted bisexual, got indignant). My family came later. But the animus that newly out homosexuals face was not my experience. I responded with such enthusiasm to Franz Ferdinand’s “Michael” because for the last four years, including before the 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas decision, I’d been dancing with straight boys whose sticky lips and stubble on my own sticky lips I got, no mediation required. Believing gay marriage an impossibility did not lessen the reality of my gayness.

Mark Joseph Stern traces the collapse of the disgust for gay marriage. He asks if “coherent justifications for anti-gay policies could possibly exist in a post-Lawrence landscape”:

The answer, it turns out, is that there are none—none, at least, that aren’t driven by animus. A review of the failed attempts here is instructive. At various points, conservatives argued that every child deserves a mom and a dad; that gay people simply make inferior parents; that marriage isn’t marriage without penile-vaginal penetration; that legalizing gay marriage would lower birth rates; and, best of all, that somehow, allowing gay people to get married would cause more straight people to have children out of wedlock.

Honesty would undermine the constitutionality of the opposition’s argument:

In developing them, anti-gay activists began with a conclusion—gay people don’t deserve the rights that we straight people have—then worked backward, camouflaging each prejudiced premise with a supposedly neutral talking point. Under any kind of scrutiny, these theories instantly fall apart, revealing their bigoted, constitutionally impermissible core.

In 2014 I welcome their hate.

On My Way

In French film, families resolve differences over a shout and a smoke. On My Way has some shouting but a lot of cigarettes. Violating in glorious fashion unspoken rules about acceptable behavior for aging actresses, Catherine Denueve wears no makeup and spends almost two hours begging for smokes without losing savoir faire. Deneuve’s calm isn’t preternatural — it’s primordial. In the last decade, whether starring in films by Desplechin (Kings and Queen, A Christmas Tale), Ozon (Potiche), and Téchiné (The Girl on the Train), she inhabits the matrons she plays with so little visible accommodation that it takes a while to see her lack of exertion as not just the old-fashioned way of choosing star parts but a way of demonstrating how matrons needn’t be clinging or imperious. Even in On My Way, playing a woman of little sense, insouciance is a state of grace.

She needs insouciance and grace, for Emmanuelle Bercot’s pedantic movie asks her to jump through more award-baiting hoops than a David O. Russell circus. Bettie, a widow of many years whose restaurant is losing profits and customers, has had it. Exhausted with worry, trying to escape the bank, and dealing with a bedridden harridan of her mother who’s like Gladys Cooper on a farm, the former beauty queen also has an offscreen lover who runs off with a twenty-five-year old. During a trip to town on errands she keeps driving, to the accompaniment of Rufus Wainwright on the soundtrack (it had to be extradiagetically, as we used to say in film class, because Deneuve is impervious to mawk). The rules of road pictures are inexorable: adventure and love. Her flip phone runs out of juice. She runs out of cigarettes. Problems. At a local bar she accepts smokes and beers from a scamp who says he doesn’t believe in bank accounts and wears an awful flowered shirt to prove it. She beds him anyway.

OK in a Saturday afternoon matinee manner until this point, On My Way gets stranded when Bettie on a whim visits her estranged daughter and the grandson she hasn’t seen in years. Nemo Schiffman, a graduate of the Gary Coleman-Justin Henry School of Child Acting, has long hair, pouts, whines, but gets the sitcom lines like “How long has it been since you slept with a man?” The last fifty minutes are a whirl: Charly the grandson gets lost at a gas station; Bettie gives it one more one with her former Miss France contestants; she faints from exhaustion; she reunites with daughter Muriel (singer Camille). “Stop playing a victim!” Muriel shouts. Bercot includes a reaction shot of Bettie looking confused. When has demonstrated victim-like behavior? This is Catherine Deneuve we’re talking about. No need to linger on this, though. There’s a backyard BBQ with wine and kisses and reconciliation to attend. No smoking though.

“I have to find doctors who will treat me out of charity.”

Rick Scott Latino

I hear about this a lot:

When Angel Cardenas, a single mother with a modest income, was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, she struggled to pay for her treatment, which ultimately involved a double mastectomy.

Although Cardenas initially qualified for Medicaid, that coverage was withdrawn after her 16-year-old daughter moved out of their Fort Myers home and Cardenas fell into a different eligibility category.

She tried applying for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. That’s when Cardenas, who owns a small house cleaning business, learned her income was too low to qualify for financial aid to buy a plan on the exchange — and $16 too high for her to receive Medicaid.

“I just choked down the tears,” said Cardenas, 48, who grew up in Miami. “I have to find doctors who will treat me out of charity.”

Cardenas is one of about 800,000 Floridians who are stuck in the so-called “coverage gap,” in which they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to be eligible for federal tax credits under the ACA. She took part Tuesday in a conference call, part of an effort by healthcare advocates to persuade Florida legislators to expand the state’s Medicaid program, which now sets an annual income eligibility ceiling of roughly $6,930 for a family of three and denies any assistance to individuals and families without dependent children, regardless of how low their income may be.

Under the ACA, Medicaid could be expanded to Florida residents with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $27,310 for a family of three. So far, Florida legislators have declined to act.

Yeah, well, it’s an election year, so don’t expect reform. And the truth is that this was always a problem with Affordable Care Act as written even when the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling allowed states to eschew the Medicaid expansion. But when conservative critics of the welfare state chortle over how easier it is for someone to, say, collect disability than get a decent job, this is the kind of absurdity to which they can point: sixteen dollars keep this woman from receiving Medicaid.

Ralph Nader and the collapse of the Democratic left

Every few weeks one of these gets commissioned and an editor publishes it: the sick soul of the Democratic Party gets exorcised from its suppurating host. Bill Curry’s piece has incoherences: traditional populists of both parties didn’t believe in raising taxes, according to him, yet Elizabeth Warren probably does but can’t say so unless she refers to taxing the rich. He also returns to the longest running intraparty feud of the last twenty years: was voting for Ralph Nader in 2000 “throwing your vote away” as so many of us were told? Knowing that No Child Left Behind, using surplus dough to cut taxes on the rich, Terri Schiavo, appointing religious nuts and skeptics of science to federal sinecures, and, oh, Iraq were coming makes Al Gore supporters smug. George W. Bush in 2000 looked like a hack of the most cynical kind, able to charm reporters because Gore couldn’t and wouldn’t. He was the Guy You Could Have a Beer With. But it was obvious Bush was the guy who would have a beer with you and leave you with the check while you were in the bathroom (the only “compassionate conservative” as far as I know was Warren Harding, who really did have a streak of Christian fellowship and compassion; he no doubt pardoned Eugene Debs with the expectation that he’d knock back bootleg gin with him).

But back to populism:

Parallels to our own time could hardly be clearer. Like invasive species destroying the biodiversity of a pond, today’s global trusts swallow up everything smaller than themselves. The rules of global trade make organizing for higher wages next to impossible in developed and undeveloped countries alike. Fights for net neutrality and public Wi-Fi are exactly like the fight for rural free delivery. Small businesses are as starved for credit as small farmers ever were. PACs are our Tammany Hall. What’s missing is a powerful, independent reform movement.

Republicans make their livings off the misappropriation of populism. Democrats by their silence assist them. Rand Paul is more forceful than any Democrat on privacy and the impulse to empire. The Tea Party rails loudest against big banks and corporate corruption. Even on cultural issues Democrats don’t really lead: Your average college student did more than your average Democratic congressman to advance gay marriage.

As to the latter point, Barney Frank has retired, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has fought the battle for years, but never mind. Curry’s point about FDR and the banking crisis of early 1933 is worth mulling over. Motivated by an interest in turning the Depression into a noose around the neck of the president-elect and a genuine desire to do something at last, Hoover tried to get Roosevelt to agree on emergency legislation. Roosevelt smiled and said OK, sure, whatever and did nothing. Behind the scenes though his men collaborated with Hoover’s Treasury department on the bills which history would laud during the historic Hundred Days — and credit Roosevelt (his men later quietly credited Hoover’s people for providing some of the ideas). Barack Obama didn’t nod and smile. In fall 2008 he accepted the terms of the bank bailouts. With Hank Paulson literally on his knees begging Nancy Pelosi for Democratic help, the president-elect had the momentum. He eschewed partisanship. The Supreme Court declared Bush the winnder in December 2000; Gore offered to help any way he could; the Bushies swatted the hand away and acted as if he were FDR in 1936. By contrast Obama’s impressive electoral and popular victories in 2008 got him no cooperation when he called Senate buddies like Tom Coburn.

Ah, fuck it. To wish Barack Hussein Obama was anything other a gifted corporatist and beneficiary of the merit system is like wishing he were LBJ, as some fools still do. This is the president we have. It takes tens of thousands of Naders in small towns to push him though.

Suspicious of a shape: Jenny Lewis and Shabazz Palaces

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

Intelligence, terrific interview subject, humor – I understand the fascination. On the first album released under her name since 2008, Jenny Lewis enlists Ryan Adams to produce a series of stop-motion comics about partying and aging in the Los Angeles sunlight. Song after song is intelligent, funny, and she can probably tell a good yarn about each for The Quietus. The trouble is Adams, whose boring roots rock arrangements lack zip and imagination. Despite its sonic thinness 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat was distinctive; it’s about time somebody imitated the singer-plus-backup-vocalists push. Bright, nostalgic for California gold soundz from the Mamas and Papas to John Stewart, The Voyager sounds at its dullest like a thirdhand copy of Sheryl Crow’s C’mon C’mon. “Late Bloomer” is on paper and no doubt in demo form a warm pastiche of “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” borrowed melodic lilt and everything, hinting at uncosseted sexual practices, but a spongy organ line and a mix that foregrounds Lewis lets it down (The Voyager is the sort of album recorded so that listeners appreciate the star and her turns of phrase). The tentative backing occasionally infects Lewis’ own performance. “Love U Forever” takes Steely Dan’s “Showbiz Kids” for a ride in a topless sports car, on its way to proving that Lewis does give a fuck about everyone else, and why shouldn’t she. The stop-start rhythms of the verses tick-tock with exquisite timing behind each bon mot, the concluding solo has the appropriate sting and raunch, but at the lines “when we candy flipped/We stayed out too late,” Lewis enunciates “candy flipped” as preciously as Madonna does “lovers” in 1998’s “Drowned World.” It stops the thing cold. Advice: offer Brad Paisley or Frank Liddell “She’s Not Me” and “Head Underwater.” Act like the star you play.

Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

Denser and fussed-over, with an audiophile’s fascination with pretty things that buzz instead of ring and with bass distortion as malleable as melody, it’s a triumph of Ishamel Butler and “Baba” Maraire’s tailoring. It’s also boring. I can’t understand my tepid response when I loved 2011’s Black Up for the same reasons. The succession of tuneless dependent on a variable mix of polysyllabic title and etiolated vocal hooks make judicious choosing a problem. For now, the one-word-anchor technique in “They Come in Gold,” the snare drum loop and processed guitar picking on “Colluding Oligarchs,” and “Motion Sickness,” dependent on a walkie talkie screech, subterranean “money, money” mumble, and fader madness, are the standouts. There’s no more facile dismissal than boring-but-interesting, so I’ll recommend Lese Majesty with reservations; I bet some kid will treat these beats like Dilla tapes. Otherwise I take my cue from the one called “Suspicious of a Shape.”

Ten years gone…

Whaddya know — look who made his major broadcast debut ten years ago tonight:

With a rallying cry from one of its bright young hopes, a roar from its old liberal lion and a loving endorsement from the candidate’s own outspoken wife, the Democratic Party offered up John Kerry on Tuesday night as a worthy heir to the patriots of the past, ready and able to unite a nation bitterly divided by the policies and politics of the Bush administration.

”There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America,” said Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for the Senate from Illinois, the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan and the party’s choice to deliver the keynote address.

For all the talk of a red and blue America divided by party, Mr. Obama said, ”We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”

I make no trenchant point other than to show that Barack Hussein Obama — the impossible candidate in early 2007 — has governed largely as he promised. He so disdains political and sexual differences that he has staked his presidency on the supposition that the United States in the second decade of the twenty-first century has the maturity can accept the platform of a Democrat whose fealty to elites and gratitude towards meritocracy allowed him the privilege to disdain those differences.

(h/t Digby)