Monthly Archives: December 2014

‘Pride’

In Margaret Thatcher’s 1984, there was no group more despised than miners, on strike and avowed socialists. Gays and lesbians didn’t yet sink to their level of opprobrium, but Section 28 was around the corner, and besides, the age of consent for homosexuals was twenty-one (and sixteen for everyone else). Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus, tells the story of what at a glance looks like a most unlikely alliance. As written by Stephen Beresford, Pride also tries to forge alliances: between agitprop and the ebullient British working class comedy of the Billy Elliot variety. The results are conventional, often awkward, and quite sexless; there isn’t a single device that Warchus won’t use for audience manipulation: it’s the Mrs Miniver of the Labour-queer set. It’s also, improbably, wonderful despite itself.

When Pride opens, the Thatcher government has sequestered the union’s funds, forcing it to rely on donations. Mark Ashton has the idea at a gay pride march to collect money on behalf of the miners. The film is shrewd about withholding Mark’s ambition; there’s no way to know if the motion is well-intentioned folly or a political masterstroke, especially if the responses from the London gay community are any indication (and Beresford’s script elides Mark’s leadership in the Young Communist League). They remember being called poofters and beaten up by men who looked like the miners. Still, Mark lobbies hard. As played by The Book Thief‘s Ben Schnetzer always holding a cigarette and boasting a perfect glimmering pompadour doused in what looks like petrol, Mark is the kind of natural leader who exhausts friends’ patience but not their affection. The fledgling Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners comprises a fractious bunch: besieged sidekick Mike (Joe Gilgun); an unformed and not out to this parents cooking school student named Joe whom the gang nicknames Bromley (George MacKay); actor and reprobate Jonathan (Dominic West) and his boyfriend Gethin (Andrew Scott), the latter excommunicated from his mother’s home years ago; and lesbian Steph (Faye Marsay), as much an outsider among men as the gays are with the miners.

Despite the odds, they raise the money. A grateful union rep, Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine), wins the LG cohort over with sincerity. But they won’t go far in London. Jumping in the gayest, reddest van ever, they head to Onllwyn. At this point it’s obvious in which direction Pride‘s going: a fish out of water tale, with two gangs who regard each other with suspicion and contempt warming to each other. In a reminder that British actors also tend to work en masse, Warchus casts the Welsh side with a bounteous gaggle of familiar faces: Imelda Staunton as Hefina, the most enthusiastic and progressive of the bunch; Bill Nighy and his stone-etched face, concealing secrets of its own. After a few evenings of scowls over pints, the LGSM solidifies, but not without setbacks. When Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun publishes a scathing column with the headline “Pits and Perverts,” the union votes to disband the alliance…until LGSM produces £12,000 that the union would not have gotten their own. Unfazed, Mark proposes seizing the headline for themselves. Thus, in December 1984 the Pits and Perverts benefit concert, headlined by Bronski Beat, is born. The results: £6000 raised.

Like its protagonists, Pride is relentless in its devotion to keeping audience good will, for better or worse. Adorable old ladies hit leather bars asking patrons asking how they squeezed into their get-ups. West, known by Americans as Detective McNulty of HBO’s “The Wire,” channels Terence Stamp’s Priscilla for a dance routine set to “Shame, Shame, Shame” in an effort to get flouncing Welsh asses on the floor. On the night of the Pits and Perverts benefit Joe tastes his first gay kiss — and tastes the horror of his parents’ learning about his involvement in the morning (and the kiss itself takes place in shadows and profiles — some coming out!). The soundtrack is cluttered with enough inspirational strings and modern guitar chords to set any miners and gays’ teeth on edge.

But Jimmy Somerville’s radicalism belied rather banal ideas about desire and loss, steeped in Sondheim and Giorgio Moroder. And Pride‘s story is so too-good-to-be-true that of course it had to have really happened. At the point when the strike breaks and the miners are at their most despairing, they return the favor: they come out in busloads to London’s massive gay rights parade in summer ’85. Just as significant: at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth the same year, a resolution committing the party to support LGBT equality rights gets approved, with the National Union of Miners voting unanimously. It would have, it’s safe to say, a seismic effect on the perception of British gays and lesbians in the coming decade. Mark Ashton lived to see this triumph long enough before dying of AIDS in 1987 (the Communards’ “For a Friend” is the elegy). Beresford and Warchus have the sense to keep Dai’s speech to the Pits and Pervert concert audience: “You have worn our badge, ‘Coal Not Dole,’ and you know what harassment means, as we do. Now we will pin your badge on us, we will support you. It won’t change overnight, but now 140,000 miners know that there are other causes and other problems. We know about blacks and gays and nuclear disarmament and we will never be the same.” Pride, the rare film that’s better history than drama, pins its badge in the right place.

Shopping is a pleasure

When one of the best chains in the country and my local supermarket does the following, it must know something Pam Bondi won’t acknowledge: Publix will acknowledge and insure coverage for same sex couples, even those married in other states. Well. The news gets better too:

“This is huge news,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a leading statewide LGBT-rights groups. “Publix is an iconic brand as associated with Florida as beaches and sunshine. This step recognizes that marriage is coming and acknowledges the impossibility of maintaining separate and unequal laws in some parts of our state and nation.

“The timing of this announcement comes as dozens of businesses are weighing in calling for an end to the marriage ban.”

National companies including Target, Amazon.com, Delta and Marriott have filed friends-of-the-court briefs calling for an end to Florida’s gay marriage ban.

In 2008, 62 percent of Florida voters approved amending the Florida Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Same-sex marriage is likely to become legal in Florida on Jan. 6, when a stay expires in the state’s federal case overseen by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee. The attorney general’s defense in the case cited the 2008 vote and said the judge should respect the will of the state’s voters.

And now it’s up to the attorney general to respect the wishes of the chamber of commerce.

A simple plea

What a surprise:

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee has denied a Florida congressman’s request for access to 28 classified pages from the 2002 report of Congress’ Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, told BrowardBulldog.org he made his request at the suggestion of House colleagues who have read them as they consider whether to support a proposed resolution urging President Obama to open those long-censored pages to the public.

“Why was I denied? I have been instrumental in publicizing the Snowden revelations regarding pervasive domestic spying by the government and this is a petty means for the spying industrial complex to lash back,” Grayson said last week, referring to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

It matters little whether Thomas Kean, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Ted Yoho of Gainesville number among the co-sponsors of House Resolution 428. Today is three weeks since the release of the Senate report on torture, on which the oversight committee spent years fighting the White House and CIA. The language of the resolution could not be plainer; so has the House Intelligence Committee’s resistance.

‘Always On My Mind’ — ‘a promise of pop music’

Tom Ewing’s been thinking and writing about “Always on My Mind” for years; for a year-end entry he goes section by section through one of Freaky Trigger’s top 100 songs, and certainly when I play “Always On My Mind” it sounds like the greatest recorded song in history. Here Tom concerns itself with the version on Introspective called “Always On My Mind/In My House,” which I initially rejected because Tennant and Lowe’s perversion: they exiled the huge synth hook to five-sevenths of the track:

It’s 1988. The thing about pop music, when you’re 15, is that its doors open all the bloody time. Years later, month-long obsessions or beliefs seem like eras. Was there a time when I disapproved of pop music, on the say-so of Morrissey or Roger Waters or some spanner on the front of the NME? There was, but it didn’t last. I’d like to say the moment I heard “Always On My Mind/In My House” killed it, but things are rarely so neat. Still, it was a moment – I rewound it again and again, playing the whole album or just that track or just that minute or two. After it, I could not honestly stake a position where I disliked pop music. Within it, I could trace the outlines of other doors, into house and disco, and a world where the glorious return of the riff wasn’t a great pop trick, but a first principle of making and building music.

Tom’s pieace is also an ode to “the most liminal time of the year” — the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, a period when those of us on vacation struggle to fill uncharacteristically barren schedules with lunches, library trips, movies, writing, reading:

The space in between is an equivocal season, something left hanging like an unresolved decision, or an unfinished list.

So we – a very specific we, the list-makers – fill it up, coming together every December 29th to go to pubs, catch up, talk nonsense, and occasionally in former years make lists of things to write about. Why lists? Because we were sad old nerds, obviously. But also, we liked – or at least, I liked, and I’m the one stuck writing this – the conceit that this unfixed time of year, and the magic of the pub, was a good time to make arbitrary decisions, like naming the greatest records, and accept the challenge of one day writing as if those decisions were right.

‘Those were also, always, your sexy, sexual years’

California Split, part of Robert Altman’s killer streak of movies between 1970 and 1975, deserves rediscovery. Kim Morgan’s recent interview with stars George Segal, Elliott Gould, and screenwriter Joseph Walsh captures some of the rambunctious, unpredictable laughs:

KM: It seems like Altman had a nice balance where he would allow these great scripts and lines and then he’d allow improv and chance and then take risks too …

GS: Yes, he did. And I got along with him really well. He was a pleasure. It was fun to come in every day. It was like a party. It was so civilized back then. There were no long hours. It was relaxed. That’s why those movies from the ’70s were so good. We were all relaxed and enjoying what we were doing. They’ve taken that out of us now with the 20-minute lunches and the onerous long hours … it’s all different now. It’s all about money now. From the creative point of view, it’s different. It’s work. But it’s also fun to work so there’s that. I’d rather work than not work. But, those ’70s, what we’re talking about were transcendent. It was also, you were allowed to participate. You participated in the creation of the film — the directors encouraged that. That’s not what happens now. There’s Ben Affleck and George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino and they are having a good time and being so artistic and you can feel it in their work and it’s more like the 1970s with them. But they are calling the shots. And they are in their prime. Some wise person said, a movie star gets 10 years. Some, like Dustin Hoffman, are the exception and they get leading parts beyond those 10 years, but it seems to hold true most of the time, even when you look back into the ’30s. There were some like Spencer Tracy and others who came all the way through, but on average, about 10 years was about all you got. And those were also, always, your sexy, sexual years

New polling on Cuba

A set of new polls show the following:

A raft of new surveys, taken after President Barack Obama announced plans Wednesday to normalize relations with Cuba, shows far more Americans want the sanctions lifted and relations improved compared to those who favor current U.S. policy — namely Republicans and many Cuban-Americans.

But there’s one aspect of U.S. Cuba policy that Cuban-Americans, rank-and-file Republicans nationwide and Americans in general agree on: Easing travel restrictions to the island.

[snip]

And in America at large, Republicans’ and the Cuban-American community’s attitudes about Cuba policy are decidedly in the minority, according to a comparison of national polls from CNN/ORC International, Langer Research/ABC-Washington Post, Reuters/Ipsos, CBS and a Bendixen & Amandi International survey conducted last week for The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and the Tampa Bay Times…..

I must say, the subject failed to dominate my Noche Buena and Christmas dinners. Call it the exhaustion of the decided and converted.

The half life of hysteria

David Weigel makes sense:

The incident-free Interview screenings should be remembered alongside two other overhyped 2014 fears: the Ebola panic and the reaction to ISIS. The latter stories were handled even worse, because they happened during an election, and because some candidates created a feedback loop of childish speculation that Ebola could spread by sneezes, or that virus-laden ISIS terrorists could stalk across the Mexican border. All of these people were wrong, and thanks to the amnesiac nature of the news cycle, they might never have to answer for that. (Being wildly wrong on live TV during crises is a good way to secure a return invitation.)

But their wrongness mattered–and anyone could have predicted it. It’s easy (and useful!) to mock “experts,” but the Department of Homeland Security debunked the threat of ISIS crossing the border and the theory that North Korean hackers had terror cells ready to strike your local Regal. The Ohio State University professor John Mueller has spent most of a decade calmly collecting data on terrorism and proving that the threats to “the Homeland” are overblown.

“The lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000–about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor,” wrote Mueller in 2007. “Even if there were a 9/11-scale attack every three months for the next five years, the likelihood that an individual American would number among the dead would be two hundredths of a percent.”

Of course anything can happen in the next few weeks disproving these conclusions; but what we’ve seen in the last six months shows the nadir of the cable news hypercycle. These end times remind, actually, of 1999-2000: a sound economy for the upper middle class and 1 percent allowed for hysterical nonsense like Y2K to command the imagination. A cynical and easily manipulated press thought Al Gore rolled his eyes too often and wore lipstick too purple enough to be considered a serious candidate for president.