Someone with a knowledge of Minnesota politics can disabuse me of pieties, I trust. I…really have nothing bad to say about Walter Mondale. He was often right when fighting Jimmy Carter, who selected him as a running mate, empowered him like no other vice president in our history (and set the standard for every successor save Dan Quayle), and listened to him except when it upset his ego. He didn’t lie to his constituents about the good of liberalism. He didn’t pander to Democrats in 1984 — he told them he would raise taxes! A decision whose obstinacy showed his debt to Carter after all. He had no chance against Ronald Reagan anyway yet defeat didn’t embitter him. Continue reading
Republicans insist on home rule unless they think besieged minorities are getting uppity. Behold the Florida House:
Florida’s House bill is similar to legislation passed in Idaho, which was quickly challenged in federal court and is now on hold after a judge ruled the state cannot ban transgender students from sports teams. Similar bans have been signed into law by Republican governors in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Lawmakers are debating them in dozens of other states.
The Senate version would allow transgender athletes to join girls’ or women’s teams if their testosterone levels are below a certain limit for a year before they begin competition.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, denied that the bill would ban transgender girls from playing. She argued that the bill “does not even mention the transgender language” and repeatedly referred to transgender girls using an anti-trans slur: “biological males.”
Having discarded with the relief of the morally constipated the fiction of believing in “fiscal conservatism” when Donald Trump raided the public larder, Republicans can turn their attention to what animates them: wanton cruelty to American citizens they can caricature. The attitude is not new. Writing during the Clinton impeachment about a political press whose nepotism and venality didn’t prevent them from affecting an unearned sanctimony, Greil Marcus remarked, “The secret weapon was that some belong in the United States, and some people don’t; that some are worthy, and some are worthless; that certain ideas and opinions are sanctified, and some are evil.”
No GOP legislator can point to a case where the boogeyman of a rapist preys on girls in bathrooms by pretending to be trans. “Perhaps they believe that, in picking a fight with children, they’ve chosen a war they can actually win,” Adam Serwer writes.
Conflicts between civil rights and religious freedom can certainly present thorny legal dilemmas, but most of what I’m describing here involves Republicans consciously choosing not to leave people alone. There was no threat to life or liberty that demanded same-sex-marriage bans, Sharia bans, or draconian state-level immigration laws. They embraced these causes because they believed that picking on these particular groups of people was good politics, because of their supporters’ animus toward them, and because they believed that their targets lacked the votes or political allies to properly fight back.
He refers to the attacks on trans Americans taking place in state after state with Republicans in the governor’s seat and majorities in legislatures. Thanks to ghouls like Samuel Alito, “religious freedom,” a concept as foreign to the Constitution as “liberty of contract,” has turned into a considerable weapon.
Finally, the human cost. To be queer is to dislike oxygen because it tastes like fear; to be queer is to dwell in a world where relatives and friends know its language and have learned its habits without sharing either with you. Transgender adolescents deal with an additional layer of disruption. “The capacity to invoke fear, whether of gods or humans, is all about power: who can act coercively, who can control thoughts and behaviors,” Ashon Crawley writes this week in a marvelous piece about the impact of Lil Nas X’s “Montero” video on her. It’s as if conservative legislators had indeed watched the video, and felt afraid themselves: their assumptions, appeals to an old order, and perhaps their own suppressed desires stirred by forces they can stifle with pieces of paper signed by governors.
Loath as I am to treat this thing as a deadline or as if it set to a metronome, I became fully vaccinated at 12:01 a.m. this morning. The CDC’s guidelines kick in. Not much will change. I won’t freak out during rare moments when a jogger or another walker crosses my path in the mornings (risks were minimal anyway). I’ll likely resume careful outdoor dining, mostly lunch so as to avoid crowds. I would like to figure out a dating protocol that doesn’t require me to say, “Hi! Show me your vaccination card, please” (if it comes down to this, readers, I won’t object). My grandmother won’t ask for the hundredth time why I mask. To her credit the ninety-six-year-old has kept her wit. “From the nose up it’s Alfred,” she said when asked if she recognizes me. “From the nose down I don’t know who the hell you are.” Continue reading
Let us say you, consumed with righteous fury, take to the streets should the jury in the George Floyd murder case reach a verdict of not guilty. Protest leaders caution you and your colleagues to avoid provocations. Then, for reasons known to those who have attended these things and experts in crowd dynamics, shit gets crazy. To assume the cops will throw you in the paddy wagon isn’t a stretch; nor is a night in the hoosegow. Unless evidence exists of your destroying private property and/or assaulting the police, you might expect the charges to get dropped or at worst a misdemeanor. Continue reading
tUnE-yArDs – Sketchy
Merrill Garbus doesn’t write complicated songs. Closer to chants, they depend on splashes of dub bass and manically stacked harmonies to create the impression of forward motion. Sketchy works as description and, for skeptics, judgment; I have colleagues who still shake their heads remembering Garbus’ triumph in the Pazz and Jop poll a decade ago when who kill topped this critics poll. The least fussy collection she and collaborator Nate Brenner have assembled presents itself as music first, tuneful advice second. “I don’t wanna know your vision/And I don’t wanna hear opinions/I want a quiet, quiet, quiet,” she insists on “under your lip” before its super-zippy, super-catchy chorus. The honks and farts and squelches on “homewrecker” are ends in themselves; they also reflect the anxieties about the eponymous character. Like Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, Garbus is at her most irrepressible when most cornered; she’s not threatened because she acknowledges no threat.
Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club
As her album titles reflect an increasing precision about the fantasias she limns because she’s too cool to inhabit them, Lana Del Rey has shifted to melodies that rely on pressing her fog-moist falsetto to its limits. The songs are slower, often offering the faintest of percussive touches and muffled pianos, and in toto this is her weakest album since Honeymoon (2015); she clings ever tightly to her scrapbook of California memories as if for warmth. “No more candle in the wind,” she sings over Rick Nowels’ guitar plucks in “Yosemite,” which also references How Green is My Valley. Bernie Taupin’s please-die-already lyric recurs in the even better “Tulsa Jesus Freak.” Earning her ladies-of-the-canyon bonafides qualifies her to cover “For Free” with Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering; Joni Mitchell’s gesture of appreciation toward a street musician, however precious her cadences at this early point in her career, projects a warmth in which Del Rey has shown no interest. The ever-present “I” not “he/she” dominates her art. Whether in Topanga or Laurel Canyon, or Hialeah, Florida, ruminating on youth and beauty demands a skim past the first two definitions of those terms on Dictionary.com
Behold what John Roberts and His Furious Five, particularly Samuel Alito, have wrought: legislation in Arkansas awaiting the governor’s signature which will allow health care providers to cite “religious liberty” as an excuse to deny treatment.
Opponents have said types of health care that could be cut off include maintaining hormone treatments for transgender patients needing in-patient care for an infection, or grief counseling for a same-sex couple. They’ve also said it could also be used to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control, or by physicians assistants to override patient directives on end of life care
“There is no sugarcoating this: this bill is another brazen attempt to make it easier to discriminate against people and deny Arkansans the health care services they need,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said in a statement. The ACLU did not say whether it planned any legal action to try and block the law before it takes effect.
The law is among several measures targeting transgender people that have easily advanced through the majority-Republican Legislature this year. Hutchinson on Thursday signed a law that will prohibit transgender women and girls from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
Transgender Americans are not citizens to the GOP. They’re not even people. Consider this: in most states the police can arrest you for denying an animal medical care.
Longtime instructors grab from a ready wheelbarrow of accumulated tricks the parables, dad jokes, and double takes with which to hold students’ attention for ninety minutes. At some point in the semester, often in the first third, I watch my film students wince on learning I still request DVDs. Buying movies they understand. The covers are cool; they grew up with parents playing Pixar movies in the player (some even remember seeing VHS around the house); besides, Floridians understand it may take days for BellSouth or Xfinity to restore WiFi service after even minor hurricanes. But using a streaming service to request hard copies? Continue reading
Congrats to Michael Kruse for publishing the year’s most imbecilic reportage. Turgid, arch, as cute as a kitten in a carriage, this magazine essay about Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ handling of COVID-19 is one of those embarrassments of tone and intention so complete that I hope it gets Pulitzer attention. He may have included a few quotes from Nikki Fried and other helpless Florida Dems, but they act as insulation: they conceal the lack of investigative reporting into Tallahassee’s covering up of deaths and the governor’s contempt for local virus control measures for starters. Kruse might point out, “Well, that wasn’t my job; we’ve already done that reporting already.” Exactly. His job was to write fan fiction masquerading as speculative journalism.
The following paragraph is the only example of cogent analysis:
For somebody with his manifest electoral potential, it amounts to an unusual, even unique mixture of natural talents and glaring liabilities—qualities that typically would be political kryptonite. DeSantis used the rise of the Tea Party to get elected to Congress. He used the rise of Trump to get to the governor’s mansion. And he has managed that vital alliance, say Trump and GOP insiders, arguably better than any other high-profile Republican—accruing the benefits while for the most part evading the frequent, familiar nicks and complications. Most nonpartisan observers have had to grant that DeSantis is not so much a Trump toady as he is perhaps a Trump trade-up—similarly transactional but significantly less bombastic, more ideologically coherent and much more disciplined and strategic.
Reread the last sentence, though, and the rot will singe the nostrils. “Nonpartisan observers” are as mythical as the minotaur. They don’t exist. “A Trump trade-up” as description suggests a concession: Trump was “bombastic,” ideologically incoherent, undisciplined, and not strategic.” Failing to identify the former president as the culmination of fifty years of conservative hatred against science, elites, balancing budgets, and the voters who chose other candidates is a classic Beltway fallacy; to identify an endpoint demands the incineration of received thinking.
These are merely my philosophical objections; by employing the first-person POV but using weasel word like “appeared to” (“From Ocean Reef to Lakewood Ranch to The Villages, they say, he’s appeared to prioritize the vaccinations of rich Republican donors…”), Kruse wants it both ways to cover his ass. This margarine greases the way for passages like this:
After Yale, DeSantis went to Harvard Law. His college baseball coach, who wrote him a letter of recommendation, when we talked last year remembered being taken aback by his immaculate transcript.
“He’s a fucking computer,” a senior DeSantis official told me. This is a person whom I consider to be intelligent, cleareyed, not a sycophant. During one of our conversations, this person texted me a clip from YouTube from the 1986 movie “Short Circuit.” The main character is a robot. Johnny 5, as the machine is known, takes in information at comical speeds while calling for more. “Input! More input!”
“That,” said this DeSantis official, “is him.”
Masochists may want to save the last third of Kruse’s essay — an epithalamion to wife Casey DeSantis — for when they need an emetic.
For certain bluebloods in the Beltway commentariat, a government should be as coherent, organized, and commonsensical as a Sunday column. Hence the appeal of bipartisanship. W.H. Auden, as we say, had their number. “A society which was really like a good poem, embodying the aesthetic virtues of beauty, order, economy and subordination of detail to the whole, would be a nightmare of horror,” he wrote, “for…such a society could only come into being through selective breeding, extermination of the physically and mentally unfit, absolute obedience to its Director, and a large slave kept out of sight in cellars.” More dangerous than ablutions for the sake of a false god, more toxic than a pathogen, bipartisanship exerts an influence on feeble minds who may not realize how it results in a paralysis that in turn produces the cynicism that rewards the GOP in midterm elections. If both parties suck, better to reward the party that didn’t play by the rules. Continue reading
Look, count me among the leftists disappointed if not angered at the casualness with which Joe and the Manchins swatted away the $15 minimum wage from the American Rescue Plan. Even a “compromise” at eleven bucks an hour does little to nothing for a languishing service sector, to quote that ubiquitous COVID-era martial metaphor, “on the front lines” as much as doctors and nurses. Continue reading
I reread no books this month, a rarity. I returned to Muriel Spark, whose The Comforters (1957) mixes the spiritual and the profane with astonishing confidence for a debut novel. And I took up Karl Ove Knausgaard after a four-year separation.
Apt, I thought. I want to discuss two biographies that examine like Knausgaard in My Struggle the cost of the construction of an identity. Hilary Holladay’s biography of Adrienne Rich, the first major one on the poet, re-freshened my own conclusions of a figure who pissed off white guys of all ages when I took college English courses two decades ago. Thanks to an early and now mortifying crush on Harold Bloom, I condescended to Rich too, preferring the tensions of the earlier volumes before, like many poets coming of aesthetic age in the 1960s, the putative maturation. I wish Holladay had explained what made Dream of a Common Language and Diving in the Wreck the metrical breakthroughs they remain: how did this formidable student of verse metrics break the vessels of her style? On Rich’s lesbianism, fraught relationship with her autocratic father, alcoholism, and impressive fecundity Holladay more than does her subject justice, if hamhandedly on occasion. About Anthony Burgess “and his brethren,” she speculates, they “wanted Rich to vanish into thin air and take everything ever uttered about female empowerment with her.” And she writes gaucheries such as: “Had she asked a judge or committee for the moon in those days, who knows but she wouldn’t have come home to find a cratered chunk of it glowing on the street in front of her apartment.” But her exegeses on seminal feminist criticism collected in On Lies, Secrets and Silence and the booklength Of Woman Born (which I’m reading now) demonstrate Rich’s historical consciousness: she was immune to the era’s solipsism. Rather, she understood how the construction of a self is a communal experience, requiring mentees, sympathetic and hostile colleagues, and lovers.
Ignoring the gushing, first-name ersatz intimacy, and the year-by-year grind more obsessed with accuracy than truth, Scott Eyman’s Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise is the best sustained analysis on this most elusive of Hollywood stars because, the author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend argues, to be a star is to sustain elusiveness; and The Cary Grant Project, which entered its final act when he retired in 1965, sustained its superficially superficial veneer until his death in 1986. A childhood resentment toward his mother became acute as the man from Bristol born Archie Leach realized he might assuage the pain of abandonment in the bifurcation of his selves. Many stars created new identities; the wonder of Leach was his self-awareness and the degree to which he believed in his persona, even at the risk of psychological ruin. Contemporaries marveled at his sangfroid, shook their heads when he succumbed to what they deemed faddism. George Sanders, as acerbic offscreen as the desiccated wits he played onscreen, once said about him: “witty, sophisticated and debonair on screen; in life prey to theosophical charlatans, socially insecure and inclined to isolation.”
Thus, the years of experimenting with LSD, here examined by Eyman with a meticulousness and an admirable lack of tut-tutting. Alert to the nuances in Grant’s performances, however, Eyman abjures what Orson Welles would’ve called dollar book Freud.
Grant’s genius was to be simultaneously amused and amusing. The world, he implied, is hopelessly variegated, not to mention bizarre, and imagination is every bit as vital as a flush bank account.
The triumph of his performances in The Philadelphia Story and late-career delights like North by Northwest and Charade rests on his original pivoting between subject and object; playing the center of attention and whirling like the intensest of dervishes gives him the chance to observe the action. When he looks at a character, particularly a woman, he gives him and her his full attention, yet a passing rain cloud of reluctance and even disdain briefly rumbles in those hooded dark eyes: it’s noticeable in Only Angels Have Wings (1940) when he and Jean Arthur horse around, in Notorious (1946) even as Ingrid Bergman ravishes him over chicken, the sea-kissed night air hovering like a perfume.
Subject as object. Speculation about Grant’s sexuality persists, of which I’m guilty and why not? What Eyman calls “his strange mixture of entirely sincere courtesy and oblivious narcissism” is often the provenance of queer folk. Eyman treats Grant and readers like adults: he takes him at his word. During his retirement, in a confession to a devoted secretary, Grant admits to being gay as a young man, bisexual in his early Hollywood years, and straight thereafter. Sexual politics in the twenty-first century often amounts to a sexual monoculture, scornful about ambiguity when not a way station to a fixed state; to Grant’s credit he didn’t hide in plain sight so much as let others, with his usual elegant passivity, categorize in hindsight. The persona Archie Leach had created in Cary Grant reveled in surface. Audiences, to quote Pauline Kael, did not want depth from him. They didn’t forgive him the four divorces; no forgiveness is possible when no blame is cast. Sharing a home with Randolph Scott in the 1930s and going public about it — there was no disguising what happened between them — might’ve been the supreme test for a star of his rank. Nothing stuck to him: the Teflon star.
The moviegoing audience, then and now, was not stupid. His public was as sophisticated as Grant taught them to be. A ferocious head for business (after his RKO years Grant was one of the first stars to function untethered from studios, and he parsed contracts like John Adams did Locke) and an instinct for self-preservation that he raised to a spiritual power led Grant to divorce four women after the inevitable emotional withdrawals, but he never lost interest in children of his own: indeed, interviews with surviving stepchildren and the young stars with whom he co-starred adduce Grant’s genuine affection and often decades-long curiosity about their lives. Perhaps too curious. The birth of Jennifer when Grant was in his sixth decade brought him new peace but gave him something else to fuss over; he adored her, but adoration can be smothering. Grant, who basked in adoration like plants did sunlight, understood.
Written in jargon-free prose and not above tart asides, A Brilliant Disguise shames most film biographies. Eyman’s own adoration isn’t slavish. His evaluations are fresh. He doesn’t think Only Angels Have Wings and I Was a Female War Bride (1949) are all that, dedicates a scant couple paragraphs to Grant’s early peak Holiday (1938), and pays a compliment too many to the inert Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home (1948), screened by yours truly last weekend at Eyman’s insistence. Based on eager testimony, he joins the swollen ranks of those who thought the multimillionaire a cheapskate. This may surprise readers, as well they should. To have been Cary Grant is to have incarnated the audience’s most generous estimations about poise, finesse, and dwelling comfortably in the world. Mythmaking was his specialty. He once remarked, “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me.” Many of us could stand to make it a nightly prayer.
Muriel Spark – The Bachelors
Hilary Holladay – The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography
Ali Smith – Spring
Wallace Shawn – The Designated Mourner
Karl Ove Knausgaard – My Struggle: Book Four
Lewis L. Gould – The First Modern Clash over Federal Power: Wilson versus Hughes in the Presidential Election of 1916
Naguib Mahfouz – The Thief and the Dogs
Scott Eyman – Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise
Melissa Maerz – Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused
Elizabeth Bowen – Friends and Relations
Craig Fehrman – Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote
10:20 p.m. I was not a fan of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, but “What is more dangerous — the virus or Democrats?” is question C-PAC answered this weekend.
10:48 p.m. Chadwick Boseman uses his high insinuaaing crag to terrific effect in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,
10:11 p.m. Jodie Foster wins Best Supporting Actress — Motion Picture for The Mauritanian; she pets a dog and lounges with her wife on a couch. This is the way it should’ve been. Always.
10:02 p.m. And she remains one of the few actors who can speak in paragraphs.
9:57 p.m. How many of my readers’ parents still refer to the two-time Oscar winner as Hanoi Jane? Mine want to forgive her: acknowledges Jane Fonda’s power as an actress, the ubiquity of the aerobics video, her intelligence in interviews. I can hear it in their tones — the sense of disappointment.
9:53 p.m. During a commercial risk through which I washed my French press, I heard my doorframes tremble and the dead rise. Blake Shelton, rest assured, singing Rick Astley’s “Together Forever” to promote The Voice.
9:48 p.m. Surprising no one, Minari wins Best Foreign Language Film. Too mild for me.
9:42 p.m. If y’all haven’t seen Josh O’Connor in the 2017 Scottish queer drama God’s Own Country, you will watch another portrait of repression that Prince Charles would not have recognized.
9:30 p.m. Ben Stiller earns a longer applause than expected. He presents Best Actress – Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy to Rosamund Pike for I Care a Lot, which I have not seen.
9:29 p.m. Looking like a consumptive John Garfield, Sean Penn appears with tremulous voice to appeal to our pocketbooks.
9:20 p.m. At this point in the evening the nominees look as if they’ve rented rooms at Courtyard Marriott suites for their big night, whereupon they’ll celebrate with a socially distant drink at the downstairs Applebee’s.
9:19 p.m. Instead of watching Globe-approved TV series, I read The Jungle Book and watch Thundercats (1986).
9:10 p.m. Intellectually I like the thought of Trent Reznor as Bernard Herrmann.
9:02 p.m. I mean, I remember this Bloom County strip about Norman Lear.
8:56 p.m. Seriously, though, to be a grade school kid during the Norman Lear was to confront a sitcom galaxy of unusual subtlety and sparkle. Bonnie Franklin and Sherman Helmsley, Carol O’Connor and John Amos!
8:52 p.m. It’s true: The Jeffersons, Maude, especially All in the Family hold up, but they let the audience off the hook — there was no other way it could be thus. The centuries-long problem with presenting “irony.”
8:49 p.m. Norman Lear will win the Carol Burnett Award? Beyond parody.
8:45 p.m. It wouldn’t be the Golden Globes without a what-on-earth-is-happening moment.
8:43 p.m. I suppose the affection for The Trial of the Chicago 7 rests with a sense that conservative evil is as gibbering as Frank Langella’s Nixonian judge.
8:40 p.m. To think that these elites think Aaron Sorkin represents the peak of literate #woke writing makes me rethink cyanide.
8:37 p.m. …and of course the winner of Best Screenplay — Motion Picture goes to Aaron Sorkin for The Trial of the Chicago 7, the most cynical educated person in Hollywood.
8:36 p.m. Mark Ruffalo’s speech: a reminder that the last group of educated people without cynicism are Hollywood actors.
8:34 p.m. I do appreciate the Zoom glimpses of bedrooms and living rooms: we all have sliding fake wood closet doors painted in white! Mark Ruffalo wins Best Actor in a Limited Series; he talks, charmingly, like a guy addressing his brother-in-law in Carbondale.
8:32 p.m. Citizen Kane is fleeter and wittier than Mank, a project existing for the purpose of giving Gary Oldman award attention.
8:26 p.m. The Hollywood Foreign Press brings up a veritable It’s a Small World level of scriptwriting to address well-deserved accusations of racism and cronyism.
8:23 p.m. For someone who grew up hitting Walt Disney World and loving Looney Tunes and sundry ’80s weekday afternoon cartoons, I’m a guy with little tolerance for animated features. So few of them measure up to what I’ve seen, especially in the COVID area with so many Trumpists unmasked, shouting, and waving flags.
8:21 p.m. Words can’t express my crush on Christian Slater, especially when he took a shirt off in Pump Up the Volume so that millions of California high school radio listener could hear him.
8:15 p.m. Colin Farrell, introducing the Anthony Hopkins Alzheimer’s drama The Father, Colin Farrell follows Angela Bassett’s lead. It’s like he’s in an Orson Welles commercial for Paul Masson wine.
8:14 p.m. Explaining the Hollywood Foreign Press’ COVID hygiene policy, Angela Bassett uses tones and timbres unheard since Constance Bennett.
8:12 p.m. Eloquent, plaintive, Kaluuya explains what Fred Hampton, Jr. meant to him.
8:09 p.m. Holy Christ, Laura Dern, who won last year for Marriage Story in Best Supporting Actress, presents the equivalent for Supporting Actor. This was a century ago. The winner: Daniel Kaluuya for Judas and the Black Messiah. And Kaluuya is dealing with muting himself on Zoom, like the rest of us.
8:05 p.m. “If it stars Matthew McConaughey as a poetic drifter, it’s a car commercial” — okay, I laughed.
8:03 p.m. Tina, don’t dis the Hollywood Foreign Press and its racism if you consent to the ride they paid you for.
8:01 p.m. Remember when David Bowie and Mick Jagger couldn’t work the “Dancing on the Street” simulcast for Live Aid work? Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did it.
7:58: Fresh pot of French-pressed coffee is brewed, raspberry gelato (c’mon, I’m a fag) is defrosted. I’m ready.
7:50 p.m. For reference, I reviewed these films in 2020.
7:49 p.m. Good evening. After a self-made dinner of chicken piccata, I begin to live blog my first ceremony since the Academy Awards more than a year (!) ago. I could watch The Palm Beach Story or a slew of films I gotta review before Miami Film Festival starts. Instead, I want satisfaction from my dear readers, eager to read the pithiest of commentary for the next three hours or until I nod off, whichever comes first.