‘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.

By a nose: Foxcatcher

“So slow,” moaned the woman three aisles up as Foxcatcher’s closing credits rolled. Was she familiar with Bennett Miller’s work? He directs as if he were an instructor reading the first drafts of essays for freshman comp. Based on the batshit events leading up to “world’s richest man” John E. du Pont’s murder of Dave Schulz in 1996 after Schulz’s Olympic wrestling team failed to bring home the gold, Foxcatcher should’ve been called Elephant Foot. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman changed many facts, which I won’t go over here; the result, though, is a ponderous prestige film with Freud-mommy overtones and, like Wild, every nuance nailed down on a board.

Winning a gold medal in 1984 didn’t change Mark Schulz’s (Channing Tatum) career options. When Foxcatcher opens, he’s reduced to giving inspirational speeches for twenty dollar paydays at Wisconsin high schools, and only because his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), the original invitee, let him go in his place as a favor (it’s the first and last time Miller lets the audience draw its own conclusions about what we’re watching). He eats Ramen noodles—that all-purpose signifier of poverty in movies—in his shitty apartment. The only hints of his physical grace come in solo wrestling practices when he pivots, darts, and does cartwheels; if you cast Channing Tatum in a movie he has to dance without a shirt, you know.

Then he gets a call from a du Pont apparatchik—will he accept a first-class flight to the Pennsylvania estate? In a library larded with Revolutionary kitsch and oil paintings commemorating the du Pont family’s long history of building munitions and chemicals that have killed thousands of people, Mark looks shriveled despite his size. Even weirder is the patrician himself. As played by Steve Carell, he’s as remote as the portrait of George Washington on the wall, not quite boasting about his dilettantish habits (if he boasted he wouldn’t be an aristocrat) such as bird watching and stamp collecting. He speaks in inspirational Reagan-era clichés about wanting to give the youth of America “something to believe in” and “to feel proud of themselves again.” “I’m an ornithologist. More than that, I’m a patriot,” he intones, in the only laugh line the scriptwriters offer him (it’s not even clear if I was supposed to laugh). His offer: hire Mark to train a new wrestling team for the purpose of winning more gold in Seoul.

At first du Pont and Mark follow the usual pattern of homoerotic relations in American movies: the less wily lummox becomes the prat boy for the older and wealthier partner. In exchange for blow and good scotch, Mark delivers paeans to du Pont’s patriotism at fundraising events, complete with references to philately and philanthropy (Mark learns to pronounce them in a helicopter after a good toot). du Point, clad in increasingly ridiculous electric blue Team Foxcatcher head coach clothes, is grateful. He never had a friend; his only one growing up, he confides to Mark, was the chauffeur’s boy, paid to be his friend by his mother. Their hugs get longer. But du Pont remains unsatisfied. Still smarting over brother Dave Schulz’s refusal to join the team as assistant coach, he makes Dave an offer too handsome to refuse. His wife and kids join Mark in the guest chalet. Mark, rather proud of having claimed a berth of his own, resents Dave’s presence and, notably, how his meal ticket now looks at Dave as the savior.

I lost interest in Foxcatcher after the first seven or eight minutes when Miller, setting the scene by having an actor mention that it’s been three years since the Los Angeles Olympics, includes an extreme close-up of a pen dating a check “March 1987,” and, in case the audience still can’t add or read, shows a photo of Ronald Reagan in the background. This is typical of Miller’s approach. He underestimates the audience’s intelligence, then condescends to them by stretching every epiphany and canned revelation past the point of dramatic interest; he’s like a boss keeping the staff after five o’clock on Christmas Eve to make a point about character- and team building. As J. Bryan Lowder wrote recently, “I would apologize to my theater companions for audibly groaning when the camera drifted, dirge-like, over the word “KIDS” scrawled in ink on David’s hand and past a display of his wedding photo and cake topper as straight wholesomeness—I mean he—bled out on the snow…” With its montages of flags, heartland, flying geese, and snapshots of du Pont wealth, set to grand orchestration, Miller buys John’s twaddle; there’s no explanation for these things unless he’s as much a collector of American calendar art as du Point himself. Foxcatcher repeats the pattern of Miller’s 2005 Capote: each man kills the thing he loves, here given a generous dollop of mommy politics. Wheelchair bound and dressed in Ingrid Bergman’s 1944 finest, Vanessa Redgrave steals the picture in two scenes as the sort of parent who strong-arms her son into giving his beloved toy train set to a children’s museum and wrinkles her nose at the “sport of wrestling.” Too low, she says. Nothing like equestrian sports. It’s painful to watch Carell trying to out-patrician Redgrave (when she dies, he frees the horses from the stable—that’s the kind of movie this is).

In the long tradition of comic actors (a) Going Serious (b) wearing prosthetics, Carell does it proud. Often his sketches have parodied out-of-it dads and administrators: like Chevy Chase, the flatter his delivery the more obvious the parody. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be playing. He’s not acting so much as imitating an actor wearing a fake nose. Tatum reprises his Magic Mike sincere hunk routine; he’s not bad, but like Mark Schulz himself he’s too old to play to audience expectations even when pandering to them. Ruffalo sports a beard, which means he plays warm and empathetic.

Reading this review, I’m sorry it took this long to consider a movie that like Babel, Finding Neverland, and The Reader no one will remember in three months. Foxcatcher is for people nostalgic for the eighties prestige picture, except from the looks of my audience it aint’ foolin’ anyone. Carell will get his Oscar nod. Wikipedia will get a few million more hits on its du Pont pages. The flat of the Unwatched Prestige Picture flaps, unblemished.

‘It just wasn’t part of our culture growing up’

Alan Gomez on the complex relations between the Catholic Church and the Castro regime. The gist: its members harassed and excluded from ruling circles for years,the Church regained a certain measure of its former authority in 1998. I don’t know what part it played or plays in helping dissidents:

Yancey Ruiz, 33, said he has only one relative who is a practicing Catholic. “And I’ve got a big family, so that should tell you something,” he said.

Ruiz said the practicing Catholics left in Cuba are mostly from the older generation, the ones who practiced it before Castro’s revolution triumphed. He said few people of his generation ever embraced Catholicism.

“It just wasn’t part of our culture growing up,” he said.

Although most people in Cuba celebrate Christmas Eve with a big dinner, Ruiz said that has more to do with family, rum and dancing than any celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

“It’s a party,” he said.

Cubans settled into that situation for years. Many continued going to church, many more stayed away. Some practiced the island’s Santería religion, an Afro-Cuban mix that has become the most identifiable religious affiliation to those outside of Cuba.

“Is Rusty still in the Navy?”

Although I saw it in the theater before Christmas and it quickly became a Soto staple (my sister and I will always mouth, “THE BLESSSSINNNNNG!!” around a deaf relative, not to mention Aunt Bethany’s “I just love riding in cars!”), I don’t know how National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was received. A hit, a most palpable hit, no doubt, and Chevy Chase’s last good movie. Rolling Stone compiles an oral history. Here’s an excerpt with Johnny Galecki (Rusty), Chase, and director Jeremy Chechik. It took me years to realize Chechik had cast E.G. Marshall, Diane Ladd, and John Randolph as in-laws:

Chechik: Both Chevy and Johnny have the gift of comic timing without the gloss of it. There was an odd flatness to it that was super funny.

Galecki: One day John Hughes, Jeremiah, Chevy and I were sitting around waiting for a scene to be set up, and Chevy said, “There’s always been kind of a man-to-man scene between Clark and Russ in the previous films — a coming-of-age scene. But there isn’t in this one.” John mentioned that he had something like that in an initial draft, and Chevy said, “We should consider putting that back in.” So they asked what I thought and I said, “I don’t think there’s any point. Somebody thought it was worth taking out at some point, so even if we shoot it, it’ll probably get taken out again.” I literally talked myself out of what could have been a classic scene with Chevy Chase. Now that I’m a jaded Hollywood fuck, I realize the error of my ways. I still kick myself in the ass for this everyday.

Chase: Now Galecki’s making 100 million a year and I’m sitting here.

Chase isn’t know for, er, generosity, but I like how he gives Cousin Eddie the jokes in the clip above. The movie isn’t great but it’s got many moments like this.

If anyone can tell me where to find those moose cups, you know where to reach me.

‘Everyone makes fun of our president. It’s nothing more than satire’

Good attitude:

Hundreds flocked to the Swap Shop Drive-In Movie Theatre near Fort Lauderdale on Christmas night to check out The Interview, the controversial Seth Rogen-James Franco film many chains refused to exhibit after hackers threatened to bomb theaters showing it.

“When we saw the trailer we knew something was going to happen,” said Gregory Florez, 17, who drove down with his family from Winter Haven to see the movie as a Christmas night outing. “We are not about to be ruled by some other nation. This is a testimony to what America truly is.”

“Everyone makes fun of our president. It’s nothing more than satire,” Gregory said. “They shouldn’t threaten an entire nation because of a movie.”

And articulate like Hollywood studio press people aren’t.

‘I am sickened by the “second campaign” now being waged’

A reporter friend told me in 2006 that Jeb Bush responded to email, no matter how late (one response came after three in the morning). Reporters assigned to work yesterday filed stories about what Bush wrote in them. No flashes of insight here: not a single beguiling turn of phrase or policy revelation. Let’s get the emails written to water and parole boards, conservation groups, and chambers of commerce, please.

The New York Times posted a couple of responses, the first quoted to a man balking at motorcycle helmet laws. Bush:

“Think about how many times we could use government to decide what is and is not healthy or good for us — I am not sure that is the state we want to live in,” he wrote.

He was less of a hard-liner, though, when a gay Floridian hoping to win a job in Mr. Bush’s administration gently asked if his sexual orientation would present a problem.

“On the other stuff, don’t ask, don’t tell is fine with me,” Mr. Bush responded, appropriating the terminology President Bill Clinton used regarding gays in the military. “What you do in your private life is your business. If it crosses over into the public policy realm, then that is another matter. If you are comfortable with that, then we can proceed.”

But he could preen when required, as in this piece of hyperbolic mendacity concerning the 2000 vote counting:

“I am sickened by the ‘second campaign’ now being waged,” he wrote to a constituent in Port St. Lucie, Fla. “It degrades our great state and more importantly, does threaten our democracy.”

No mention of Bush’s campaign on Terri Schiavo’s behalf.