I daydream about having some small portion of Bill Gates’ fortune (say, a billion after taxes): I think about what I would do first with the money, how I would apportion the lion’s share of it among my kids and grandkids immediately so that they were provided for, how I would arrange for people to handle the remainder so that I would never have to think about the money again (which to me would be the point of having a lot of money — I hate thinking about the stuff — which is why I’m not the kind of guy to MAKE a lot of money), and so forth.
I generally think of people like the slackers at Championship Vinyl spending time musing about their Top Five Desert Island tracks, so it’s interesting to see what comes up when an overachiever like Gates does the same. Particularly since it involves speculating about a situation in which his money would do him no good. Think about it: Did it help Mr. Howell?
Obviously, he’s a guy who doesn’t approach music quite the way we do. We like a song, we listen to it on YouTube, create a Pandora station around it, download it, or if we’re really retro, buy a CD (or if we’re audio snobs, vinyl). Bill Gates does this:
Music also played a special role in Melinda’s and my wedding. She is a big Willie Nelson fan, and I surprised her by hiring him to play after our rehearsal dinner. I’ll never forget dancing with her as he played “Blue Skies”—it was magical….
That Tweet was a bit of a bait-and-switch. I went to the link, and found that I would have to go listen to the whole BBC show (the one that inspired all those lists in “High Fidelity”) to learn what his picks were. Fortunately, the Financial Timessaved me the trouble:
David Bowie & Queen, “Under Pressure”
Willie Nelson, “Blue Skies”
Ed Sheeran, “Sing”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Are You Experienced?”
The Beatles, “Two of Us”
Rodgers & Hammerstein, “How Can Love Survive?” (from “The Sound of Music”)
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway cast of Hamilton, “My Shot”
Not what I would have picked. But then, if I were stranded on a desert island, picking a soundtrack would be sort of low on my hierarchy of concerns…
But wait! you say. There are lots of great roles for minorities in the movies! Well, yes and no. The part of the piece I enjoyed was its list of Top 10 current stereotypes for “people of colour” (leave it to the Brits to take an already stilted-sounding phrase and make it more that way by adding a “U” to it).
Whether you think opportunities for minority actors are limited or not, you’ll have to smile in recognition at some of the categories, such as No. 1, the “Magical Negro:”
One of the most popular cliches for black characters, a wise, folksy black character with some connection to magical forces or spiritual insight. They only exist to enable a white character to grow as a person and/or reach their goal. Examples include Will Smith in Bagger Vance, Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, and most of the roles that Morgan Freeman has ever played.
Or No. 5, “Awkward desexualised Asian:”
A man who is unlucky in love, though often played by extraordinarily good-looking actors. The character can never get a girlfriend, and if they do, it’s down to the intervention of the white protagonist. Generally nerds for good measure. Examples: Kal Penn in Van Wilder, Steve Park in Fargo, and special mention to Jet Li in Romeo Must Die who is in no way awkward but still can’t get a kiss from Aaliyah.
They forgot to mention Raj on “Big Bang Theory.” He exemplifies that type perfectly. (Maybe they were deliberately avoiding TV.)
And let’s not leave out one of my personal faves, No. “7. Jaded older police officer:”
Acts as a counterpoint to a younger, more energetic white police officer. Provides advice based on his own wealth of experience but is often ignored in favour of the white police officer’s instincts. Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, Reginald VelJohnson in Die Hard, Morgan Freeman in Se7en.
Or Wendell Pierce, Lance Reddick or Clarke Peters in “The Wire.” Especially Clarke Peters, shown here with the requisite younger, brasher white officer. But Danny Glover is definitely the much-lampooned archetype of the category. Now in a way, I’m thinking that role may originally have been conceived by writers as a way of going contrary to type — with the black character representing the Establishment for a change. But yeah, it’s become a type of its own.
So there’s reason to believe this stereotyping thing is real, right?
But you know, in the spirit of “All Lives Matter,” we must acknowledge that Hollywood could stand to have more imagination when it comes to creating characters of all pigments and nationalities.
Here are a couple of types we can see out there for white men:
Idiot father and husband: The opposite of “Father Knows Best,” this guy is always wrong, and thank God he’s got a wife and kids to keep him straight. Think Archie Bunker in “All in the Family,” Doug Heffernan in “The King of Queens” (see the video below for the perfect example of the type), Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin in “The Family Guy,” Ed O’Neill as a dad in almost anything.
Feckless man-child — This guy is lost in time, lost in the culture, lives in a confused fog and has only the vaguest notion of himself as a man — either according to traditional or modern standards. Jesse Pinkman in “Breaking Bad,” Edward Norton’s characterbefore he and Tyler Durden started the “Fight Club,” almost any character portrayed by Breckin Meyer (I’m thinking particularly of “Clueless” and “Kate and Leopold”), Seth Rogen in almost anything (but especially “Knocked Up”), Wayne and Garth of “Wayne’s World,” Bill and Ted of “Excellent Adventure” fame.
But of course, the roles for white guys don’t always belittle them, not by a long shot. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have:
Secular Messiah — Ordinary young man discovers, to his wonder and often his delight, that he is not ordinary at all, but The One — a completely unique and necessary hero with special, mystical qualities who is destined to deliver his people from evil. This is an old role dating back in our literature quite a ways, but the movies have enthusiastically embraced it. Think: Arthur in every story from Le Morte d’Arthur to Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone,” Paul Atreides in “Dune,” Neo in “The Matrix,” Harry Potter in all the books and films of that universe, Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.”
The One doesn’t have to be a white guy, you understand, but somehow, in the movies, he always is.
Of course, Morgan Freeman got to play God… but that’s covered in the “Magical Negro” category…
As I’m fighting a cold, my sleep has been fitful anyway, so I didn’t need my phone to be making little noises on the bedside table through the wee hours. Eventually, I reached over to see what it was on about. Oh. David Bowie’s dead.
I had not known he was ill, although in truth, he never looked all that robust.
I was never a big fan, but perhaps some of you were, so I thought I’d provide this opportunity for you to comment.
The above video is my favorite song of his, although I could do without the visuals. I always found his theatricality a bit on the excessive side. As you know, I have a different notion of how musicians should look. I like the casual, look-at-my-music-not-at-me approach. I want them to look cool, not overwrought.
Oddly, possibly because I was not a fan and didn’t listen to his albums (back in the ultimate period of album-oriented rock), I was unaware of this one song until the last few years, when it formed such an inspirational part in the British TV series “Life on Mars.” Here’s what I said about it awhile back:
Lately, I’ve become all-too-accustomed to weighing in at over 180 (sometimes well over) on the rare occasions when I do weigh myself — at doctor’s offices, or when I’m at someone else’s home and they happen to have a scale in the bathroom.
That is not my fighting weight, not by a long shot. In fact, when last I was weighed for any sort of ritual combat — when I was on the wrestling team in high school — I was about 132. The year before that, I was in the 115 class — and just as tall as I am now. I was a scrawny kid.
But that was more than 40 years ago, and now that my uncommon genteel figgar has matured, I see my fighting weight as more in the neighborhood of the 160s. In fact, I recently decided — once again — to set my sights on being eligible to wrestle Shute. That, as I’ve mentioned before, is a “Vision Quest” reference. Awesome movie. Anyway, it means weighing in at less than 168.
So I resolved to go back on my paleo diet in the new year, and to keep myself honest, I asked for and received one of those spiffy digital bathroom scales for Christmas.
And this morning, I discovered a wonderful thing: My clothes, which I am always wearing when I step on other people’s scales, weigh a lot.
I weighed myself after showering, shaving and getting dressed — everything, including blazer, sweater, mobile phone, keys, shoes — and as is too often the case, the tally was 180.7.
But just moments before, having stripped to take my shower, I was only 172.4. Which really made those 20 minutes or so I’d just finished on the elliptical seem worthwhile.
Look how far I’ve come already! Just 4.4 more pounds, and Shute is in serious trouble! And I’ve got the whole year to do it in!
Yeah, I know. But allow me to savor this little victory…
This is Shute, the guy who is in such imminent danger.
Look, Chewie! It turns out Thomas Wolfe was completely wrong!
OK, I’ve seen the new “Star Wars” now (I deliberately waited until a quiet Monday night more than a week after the opening, and was rewarded by not having to put up with a boisterous crowd), and if you’re much of a fan you’ve probably seen it now, too.
So let’s speak openly of what we’ve seen, which means we will speak almost entirely in SPOILERS.
Well, what did you think?
First, it was great. I was not disappointed. No, not as great as seeing the first one 38 years ago, when Han Solo and I were both young and roguish and I wasn’t expecting to see anything that much fun; it was a miraculous surprise. That time, I drove away from the theater — the Park in Memphis — filled with the excitement of the Death Star battle scene, and could not shake the feeling that my sad little orange Chevy Vega was an X-wing fighter. The sensory stimulation was with me for some time.
This time I was more grounded as I left. I knew I was driving a Buick. But I did catch myself humming the theme music — rather loudly, so it was hard to miss.
No, I’m not kidding: Spoilers are coming right NOW…
And it gave me goosebumps at all the right places — when the newbie heroes find the Millennium Falcon. When Han and Chewie come aboard (and Chewie was more fun than ever in this one; he’s obviously been working on the timing of his comically expressive shrugs and Wookie noises), when Leia steps off that ship and sees Han — even when C3PO and R2 show up.
And when, at the very end, The One is found. Which was a special delight for me because my son, who had seen it before, had tried to prepare me for disappointment by telling me he wasn’t in it. What he had meant was that he wasn’t really in it in the sense of participating in any sort of action or engaging with the rest of the characters. But that turned out to be a wonderful UNspoiler for me: There he was after all, and he was in it exactly as much as I would have hoped, since I was told from the start that the movie was about a quest to find him — it was in the trademark screen crawl at the start (which was the first occasion for goosebumps, I now recall). And there he was at the end! So the movie has that going for it, which, as Carl Spackler would say, is nice.
I had read that J.J. Abrams didn’t try to get fancy: He knew what the fans liked and he gave it to them. He was like Paul McCartney. You know how most rock stars hate doing their hits for their fans, and despise the multitude for not appreciating their new stuff? Not Paul. He’s always loved being a Beatle, and he’ll give you “All My Loving” ’til the cows come home.
And he delivered. No fanboy would have done it better. But at this point I will share a few quibbles:
Was it absolutely necessary to follow the plot of the original quite that closely? Let’s see… Desperate character plants a software file in a droid because the bad guys are bearing down. Evil empire searches for the droid. Humble character (who is unknowingly chock full o’ the Force) rescues droid from creepy little scavenger creature. Heroes, including one who wants nothing to do with heroism, are borne to the rebel base by the Millennium Falcon, which offers mechanical trouble on the way. Then it turns out that the main threat to the rebellion comes from — a Death Star. OK, so it’s way bigger than a Death Star, but as Han says, yeah, so it’s big; so what? It turns out to have — you guessed it — an enormous, obvious vulnerability on its surface. Hit it and the whole thing blows. (Apparently. the engineering standards in this galaxy far, far away were not very exacting.) And — a bonus — this vulnerable spot is WAY bigger than a womp rat. So you know this evil base is going to go kablooey. The only question is whether our heroes can get clear of it in time.
Were those really quibbles, or were all those elements precisely what made it so much fun? I remain unsure.
What a wuss of a bad guy! The first time he takes off his helmet, one can’t help thinking, What, they couldn’t get David Schwimmer? They had to go with this poor substitute nebbish? In the climactic fight, he gets beaten not just by a girl half his size, but by a girl half his size with no Jedi training whatsoever. There he is looming over her, wrestling for the light sabers, and she evidently has much greater upper body strength. My older son pointed out after the movie that he had been shot by Chewbacca’s crossbow weapon, which they had demonstrated several times during the film had quite a kick to it, so there’s that. He wasn’t at his best. But still, I’ll say it again: What a wuss of a villain.
Speaking of which… We’re all looking for Luke because we need him, right? And we need him why? Because the Force was always so strong with him. But he was a slouch compared to this girl. She’s able to use Jedi Mind Control as effectively as Obi Wan himself, when she’d probably never even heard of it? I half expected it to backfire, and have the trooper slap himself in the forehead and say, “Those were the droids we were looking for!” But no. It worked. Worked so beautifully that they had a little fun with it. So what does she need Luke for? She’s got all the chops now. She’s got the mind control thing. She can already take out the baddest guy the Dark Side can whistle up. Why bother? Let him stay on his craggy little island…
Oh, and the low point of the movie — when the beloved character is killed? Some people behind me gasped and cried out in shock. Really? They didn’t see that coming? I knew it was over when he walked out on that catwalk thing. I’m sad about it and all, but he was awesome to the end.
OK, that’s all — and I’m stretching to come up with those, just to get a conversation started.
Really, truly, quibbles aside, I loved it. Just as I was supposed to…
When I saw the email from Netflix headlined “Brad, we just added a movie you might like,” I braced myself. Netflix chirpily announcing it has something I will like gives me the same creeping feeling that Arthur Dent got when the Syrius Cybernetics Corporation’s Nutrimatic drinks dispenser offered him another cup of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
And sure enough, here’s what it was offering me:
Don’t know about you, but I consider that to be one of the silliest, most ridiculously hyped films of the past decade. It easily qualifies as my least favorite Ron Howard film, and I suppose my least favorite featuring Tom Hanks as well.
It was like a cheesy retelling of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and I didn’t like that, either. There are people who just eat up a tale involving a conspiracy stretching over thousands of years, especially when it involves the Knights Templar (as both tales do). I’m not one of them. I’m not a huge fan of the whole paranoia thriller genre to begin with, and when you stretch it to such extremes, you totally lose me.
And don’t even bother feeding me a tale about brilliant algorithms duplicating the human mind and taking over the world. When Netflix gets a clue as to what I like, then I’ll worry…
In another context, his stance might look menacing. Here, he seems mortified…
Forget about separate bathrooms; there is no more dramatic separation between the sexes than the stark contrast between the store aisles devoted to items marketed to boys and those aimed at girls.
The “boys'” aisles are filled with menacing things that shoot, crash, kick, punch or snarl, and the dominant colors are not baby boy blue, but black and brown, relieved only by blood red, ninja turtle green and sometimes alarming orange.
And the “girls'” aisles are, well, pink. That’s about all you can see at a distance, and sometimes close up. So much pink that I still feel an aversion to walking down them, like there is still a trace of Wally and the Beave in me, thinking, “Aw, Mom! Don’t make me go there! What if one of the guys sees me! He’ll give me the business!”
And anyway, we try hard to find more neutral things for our granddaughters — building sets, puzzles, games — something less frou-frou at the very least. There are such things still to be found, for girls and boys, and they are only occasionally to be found floating in the sea of pink.
And when you find something that doesn’t belong there, boy does it stick out. Like “Ultron” above, which I found amid the pink at Target, no doubt left by some kid whose parents said, “Put that down; we’re shopping for your sister.” (Or maybe the sister wanted it, and her parents preferred to buy her something more “suitable.” I don’t know…)
How did I get here? I’m not touching anything!
I like Ultron’s stance in the photo. With his shoulders hunched up toward his ears (or where ears would be if he had any) and his arms hanging in a way that suggests a reluctance to touch anything, and that mechanical grimace, he looks terribly awkward and embarrassed, as though he had accidentally gone clanking into the women’s bathroom. He seems to be thinking, “Get me outta here before the Avengers see me! They’ll give me the business!”
Well, it just serves him right for being such a testosterone-fueled bully who wants to dominate the world. Maybe in the future he’ll remember to check his privilege before barging in among all these lady dolls…
I hereby launch this blog’s official Most Absurd “Star Wars” Tie-In contest.
See if you can top this one — “Star Wars” bottled water. Near as I could tell without ripping the shrinkwrap, there was nothing about Star Wars on the actual bottles. So if you gave it to a kid in a vain attempt to get him to drink water instead of soda, it probably wouldn’t work. You’d get one of those “What are you trying to foist off on me, pops?” looks.
I’m pretty sure the only branding was on the plastic wrap holding the case together. Although if you’re sucker enough to buy one, and rip it open and prove me wrong, I will stand corrected.
Soon after I moved back to S.C., I was struck by how much my home state was like the England of a couple of generations back — or at least, how its ruling class was like that of the older England. I’d read in books how when one member of the public school set met another, they could usually find a personal connection in one of three ways — family, school or military unit.
On one of my first visits to the State House, I either participated in or overheard conversations in which connections were made in each of those three ways. The Citadel or Wofford may not be Oxford, but the interpersonal dynamics were the same.
(Before I came home to SC, I had never in my work life — in Tennessee and Kansas — met strangers who could make personal connections to me, which gave me a comforting sense of professional distance from sources that I took for granted. Then, one of the first people I met at the State House — Joe Wilson, as it happened — heard my name and said, “Yes, I’ve met your father; he’s doing a great job.” It was bit of a shock. My father at the time was running the junior ROTC program at Brookland-Cayce High School after retiring from the Navy.)
All that was brought back to mind when I was reading a feature in The Washington Post this morning about the origins of the surnames of presidential candidates, and I got to this:
Possible national origins: Scottish or English Meaning: Have you ever seen the show “Downton Abbey”? It’s a good show (or, at least, has had its good moments). It centers on an expansive British estate at which there are strict social norms and a reliance on maintaining the boundaries of proper manners. If it were in America, it would be set in South Carolina.
“Graham,” as it turns out, is a name identifying residents of Grantham in Lincolnshire. And Lord Grantham is the main character in “Downton Abbey.”
As for “Grantham,” it’s apparently a combination of “homestead” — -ham — and either the Old English word for gravel — grand — or a reference to the name “Granta,” which means “snarler.” Making Lindsey Graham actually Lindsey Guy-who-lives-near-a-gravelly-home-or-near-where-the-snarler-lives….
Yes. An American Downton would likely be in South Carolina. In the Lowcountry, I would expect. Think Hobcaw Barony or something like that…
One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…
I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.
I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.
First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.
Now, my impressions…
I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.
The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.
For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.
The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)
The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.
That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.
And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.
But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.
I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.
(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)
So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.
I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.
As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.
All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.
Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!
I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”
That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.
And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.
So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.
Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.
The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.
And no, I’m not talking about Hugh McColl, or even yours truly, who was considered to have done fairly well in the wider world until I got laid off. (You doubt my celebrity in the place of my birth? Consider that I was once invited to address the Rotary at Bennettsville’s now-defunct Farron’s Restaurant — which was not defunct at the time. Of course, the invitation did come from my uncle.)
No, I’m talking about Aziz Ansari, whose celebrity now exceeds Hugh’s, and even mine.
The above moment in the pilot of “Parks and Recreation” was a sort of milestone for our hometown. It was, I believe, the first time a recurring character on a prime-time network show said to the world, “I am from Bennettsville, South Carolina.” The fact that he followed it up with “I am what you might call a redneck” hardly takes away from that proud declaration. We Marlboro Countians have a great appreciation for irony.
The irony goes deeper, however, than the assertion that the Indian-American is from Bennettsville and not, as Amy Poehler’s character had guessed, a Libyan.
The fact is that Aziz — since he’s a homeboy, I feel free to call him “Aziz” — has greater claim to Bennettsville than I do. Sure, I was born there (while he was born in faraway Columbia), but only because my mother went home to have me while my father, a newly minted Naval officer, was attending a school in San Diego. I grew up thinking of it as home because it was the place I returned to each summer to visit my uncle and grandparents between new postings to places where I would live for a year or so and never return to.
The one time I lived in Bennettsville almost year-round was the 1967-68 school year, when I was in the 9th grade at (also now defunct) Bennettsville High School. So if you walk down Main Street, you may not be able to find anyone who knows me, although you may run into an older person who will remember me as the boy who yelled right out at the preacher in church, completely cracking up the congregation, in the middle of an otherwise stultifyingly boring sermon in 1957. No, I’m not making this up. I have it on good authority that when my name comes up in B’ville, if it does come up, the conversation inevitably moves to the yelling-in-church incident. I’m quite the local legend for that. It probably surprised no one that I became a writer of opinion; I am after all The Boy Who Didn’t Know When to Shut Up.
But Aziz actually grew up there, and attended Marlboro Academy, which (irony again) is where most of the white kids went after BHS was finally completely integrated at the start of the 1970s. (When I was there I had black classmates in homeroom and P.E., but we were then under the “Freedom of Choice” system in which everyone declared which school they wanted to go to each year, and only the very bravest African-Americans dared to say that they wanted to go to the “white” school — something I didn’t really appreciate at the time; I actually thought the school was integrated.)
So his Bennettsville credentials may be more solid than mine, but at least I can say I was a Green Gremlin (possibly the quirkiest, coolest school mascot ever), and he was not.
Anyway, have any of y’all seen his new show on Netflix, “Master of None?” It’s pretty funny. Not something you want to turn on until after the kids have gone to bed, but funny. Check it out and we’ll discuss it here…
I say “to me” because it was inside humor; it could not possibly have been as funny to someone who has not sat through thousands of news meetings just like the one portrayed, and suffered just the way Phil Hartman’s character suffers in the skit. (I’d love to know who wrote it. It had to be a fellow sufferer, because only someone who has been there and listened to such nonsense could possibly have come up with some of the touches in the dialogue.)
And I say “at least on paper” because, to my disappointment in going back and watching it again, I see that the actors were a bit off. There were stumbles by Rob Schneider, and even Phil Hartman, who otherwise is brilliant as the one sane man in the room. I wish in retrospect that they’d shot it as a short film in advance, as SNL sometimes does, to iron out those little problems with timing. I find myself wondering whether the actors just lacked energy because, having never been newspaper editors, they just did not understand how hilarious this was.
Unfortunately, the live audience hardly laughed at all, which probably persuaded Lorne Michaels that insider newspaper humor doesn’t sell.
Anyway, I’m sharing this because of a Twitter exchange I had Saturday night:
Perhaps so. I forget what the show did right after 9/11. But that reminded me that, ironically, one of the funniest things SNL ever did was about Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, the skit ran 50 years to the day after the attacks, and that amount of time having passed gave the show license to make fun.
And it was just so, so real. How many times have I been in such meetings, trying to sell something important as the lede story, while my fellow editors oohed and aahed over minor crime news, or the fact that “the lady bulldogs have a chance of going to the state finals this year.” And as one who has always had little patience with other editors’ overreaction to the weather (my general guiding principle on that is that if I want to know what the weather is, I’ll step outside) this is a battle cry that resonates in my heart:
“I’ll tell you what’s happenin’ in the weather: IT’S RAININ’ BOMBS IN HAWAII; that’s what’s happening…”
There’s just one brilliant line after another, such as “Do we have one Japanese person in Turrell?” and “Now Bill, that is something that affects our readers — they’re going to have to pay for those typewriters!” Someone had to have been taking notes during real newsroom budget meetings to come up with dialogue such as that.
But the very best touch of all is when you see the paper roll off the press, and the Pearl Harbor story is played at the bottom of page 7, under the news that Phil Hartman’s character has, understandably, shot himself. It appears under this savagely brilliant, one-column headline:
… because, you know, you can’t be too careful. Do we KNOW that they were Japanese? And we’d better put “base” in quotes rather than step out on a limb…
But I’m a bit squeamish about the one that involves burning in effigy a Catholic-rights activist who in reality was tortured by English authorities before being drawn, hung and quartered.
OK, granted, we’re not talking Pope Francis here: Guy Fawkes was a terrorist who intended to blow up the king and Parliament and had the explosives to do it.
But still. The English had already been oppressing Catholics for Fawkes’ entire life and then some, and they used the Gunpowder Plot as an excuse to step that persecution up and continue it for most of the next 400 years. The celebration, unless I mistake, was of a victory over the Pope and papists as much as over a terrorist cell.
Which I kind of resent, because, you know, we’re not all terrorists.
So excuse me if I’m not too thrilled about your bonfire there, Paul…
On Monday afternoon, D.C. police officers broke up two groups of fighting teenagers. A few minutes later, a female officer approached the lingering crowd and told the teens to disperse.
That’s when Aaliyah Taylor, a 17-year-old senior at Ballou High School, walked up to the officer and started playing “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” on her phone. Then she did the Nae Nae dance.
The officer, according to Taylor, laughed and said she had far better dance moves than that.
What happened from there on the 200 block of K Street SW was a rather impressive dance-off between the police officer and the teen, and an example of positive community policing at a time when national attention is focused on discriminatory and abusive police tactics. The onlooking teens caught the dance battle on their cell phones while a song by rapper Dlow played in the background….
That seems to be the consensus of what I’ve read about the undercard debate.
I wouldn’t know, of course, because CNBC wanted to charge me to watch, and the World Series was free, so guess what I watched? (This blog would have to pay a lot more than it does for me to buy cable just for blogging purposes.)
As for the big-table debate, from what I’ve gathered from various sources, the main points were:
Big night for Rubio and Cruz.
Bad night for Jeb Bush.
The candidates and other GOP types went on a Spiro Agnew media-bashing spree.
Trump and Carson were relatively quiet, except for Trump bashing Kasich.
Yeah, I know, I know — according to Brad, every season is the right season to listen to The Band. That’s true, and evidently I’m not the only one to think so. See the banner image that you can find on Peter Hamby’s Twitter feed, season after season:
Well played, Mr. Hamby.
Back to my point, I ask you: Doesn’t that photo look like autumn? And doesn’t this one and this one and this one? And not just because they always look like that’s the season they’re dressed for — which I consider the ultimate cool look, possibly because fall is my favorite season. (Broke out my rumpled vaguely dusty-green corduroy jacket last week, because it’s finally the season to dress like you’re in The Band!)
It’s supremely fitting that their greatest item, the eponymous one, is brown, with black-and-white photos. When I listen to their music, I picture brown, gray, black, and muted orange. They are far more like an old, scuffed brown shoe than, say, George Harrison was.
Because it’s not just a look — it’s a sound. Starting with their most autumnal song of all…
ARRGGGHHH! The whole point of writing this post was to share this awesome video I found, and long ago favorited, of The Band playing “King Harvest” in the studio, a version I liked even better than the one on the album, and now when I click on it it says, “This video contains content from Eagle Rock. It is not available in your country,” and then adds, in much smaller type, “Sorry about that..”
Ya know, there’s just one thing I expect from the internet… OK, there are a lot of things that I expect from the internet, but this one is very near the top of this list… and it is that stuff doesn’t go away! It’s always there to look at whenever you want it. It’s handy! It’s convenient! It’s at your fingertips! Always!
So I really, really hate it when something like this happens.
OK, well, the album version will have to do.
Anyway, here are the top five most autumnal songs by the most autumnal of bands, to give you a nice, crunchy, brown, orange and black soundtrack for the season:
King Harvest — Yeah, partly because of the title, but listen to it! “Dry summer, then comes fall/ Which I depend on most of all…” And not just the words, but the tone… If Richard Manuel doesn’t sound like a man who’s reached the autumn of his life, I don’t know who does. He’s a man defined by the seasons who is adjusting to new realities and trying to put the best face on it he can. And Garth Hudson on the Lowrey organ — doesn’t it sound like the perfect accompaniment to the words, “Scarecrow and a yellow moon/ And pretty soon a carnival on the edge of town?”
The Unfaithful Servant — After that servant has said goodbye to that country home, the lady he has left looks out on a landscape that is dominated by a gray sky with low clouds. Most of the leaves are on the ground now and it’s recently rained, dampening the carpet of leaves that’s turning from brown to black as they decompose. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.
Long Black Veil — OK, this one is late fall, bordering on winter, but still just barely autumn. Say, late November. I’m fairly certain there are few leaves on the trees as “she walks these hills” and “the cold wind moans.”
The Weight — I’ll admit this is less autumnal than the others. I picture it being sort of hot and dusty as our humble narrator pulls into Nazareth, feeling about half-past dead. But I wanted an excuse to link you to the great live version at Woodstock in 1969. At least that one hasn’t gone away… “Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog…”
The Rumor — OK, the truth is, I could have picked almost any five songs by The Band and they would all have fit the category. I can’t even think of any reason to tell you why this one makes the list; it just does. It evokes fall for me. I listen to it, and it’s October.
I loved this music when I was 17, but now that I’m at a more autumnal age they’re an even better fit for how I’m likely to feel when I hear them.
I hope you enjoy them as well, if you click on the links.
OK, follow me here; I’m going to bounce around a little…
Remember how we were talking about the new Star Wars movie earlier this week? Well, Alexandra Petri was riffing on that a bit, or rather on the stupid campaign by some racists to get a boycott of the new film going (yeah, good luck with that, Jim Bob), and she noted facetiously that there were far more defensible reasons to object to the franchise, including this:
Death Stars are the ultimate wasteful government spending project. At best, the constant construction of Death Stars is Keynesian economics at its very worst, trying to keep people employed by pouring money into giant holes in space. Does the Imperial military even want these? Given their obvious defects, it seems unlikely. Probably what it wants are helmets you can see out of or armor that works, and the Empire has not given it that yet.
Ah, but Ms. Petri missed the one most wasteful thing about the Death Star, which was that it was designed to be doomed, as “Family Guy” pointed out so effectively:
You’ll note that in this version, the Death Star didn’t get the glaring flaw addressed in a timely fashion because Darth Stewie insisted on getting some cost estimates.
Richland County Council voted this week to hold its annual retreat in downtown Charleston early next year, despite having multiple local options presented to them and without having cost estimates to judge their decision by.
The retreat, at which council members and staff discuss plans for major policy items for the coming year, will be held Jan. 27-29, 2016, at Embassy Suites on Meeting Street. Council voted 8-3 to hold the retreat in Charleston, with council members Julie-Ann Dixon, Bill Malinowski and Seth Rose dissenting.
Dixon, Malinowski and Rose voted to hold the retreat at the Richland County Administration Building in Columbia.
Embassy Suites in Columbia and the YMCA in Lexington were both offered as options for Jan. 27-29.
Malinowski said his rationale for holding the retreat locally was threefold: to save money, to spend the money within the community and to give citizens an easy opportunity to attend the meeting if they wish.
“I think the people should have easy access to the government, and we’re not doing that,” Malinowski said….
I told you I was going to jump around a bit. But I got there in the end, didn’t I?
I’m up-to-date on most of the hot shows in this new Golden Age of television (which occurs as Television As We Knew It passes away).
But recent pop music can escape me, largely because with only rare exceptions (Adele, LMFAO), none of it cuts through the clutter enough to impress me. I’m pretty current right up to the late MTV period, which is to say the early ’90s (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Green Day, Radiohead, etc.), which is pretty good considering that’s just before I turned 40. I really think that was the last sizable explosion of real creativity in pop — and really kind of the last gasp of rock.
Lauryn Hill will headline Columbia’s Famously Hot New Year on Dec. 31, city officials announced Thursday….
… I went up and down the hall asking the other folks here at ADCO whether they knew who Lauryn Hill was. And they all did. I did not.
They said if I heard some of her hits, I’d know who she was.
I did not, at least initially. I DID recognize her cover of “Killing Me Softly,” and she did some good things with it, but that was always a good song, dating back to Roberta Flack. And she did that not as a solo act, but with the Fugees. And she did it in the mid-90s, at the end of what I refer to as the last creative period in pop music.
All the rest of her stuff hits me in a blank space. And none of it sounds as good, as soulful, as deep, as her version of “Killing Me Softly.”
OK, I’ve seen the new trailer, and I’ve been delighted, again, to see Harrison Ford appear as Han Solo. And I’ve been disappointed to see no sign at all of Luke Skywalker. (But hey, Han was always more fun, right?) Which makes me wonder, is it that they’re saving him, or is it that his part is no more than a cameo?
And then, it occurs to me to reflect for a moment on the rest of what we see on the trailer…. storm troopers… the Millennium Falcon!… an apparent Darth Vader impersonator… various familiar small flying craft, X-wings and tie fighters… good guys distinguished by the fact that their uniforms are more casual and earth-toned than the bad guys’… a young woman, more conventionally pretty than Carrie Fisher but not as hot… a young black guy, proving that Lando Calrissian was not alone in that galaxy, who may, given the context and the voiceover and his various facial expressions of deep concern, be our protagonist…
And it dawns on me that I’m almost certainly going to be subjected to a bait-and-switch when I go to see this film, which I inevitably will do. I’m being teased with Han Solo and Princess Leia, and made to wonder about Luke Skywalker, but will the film really be about them at all?
Probably not. At most, at most, they will play a role like that of Obi Wan Kenobi — if we’re lucky. Sure, Obi Wan was hugely important, but was the film about him? No. He was important as a guide to the main characters, cluing them in to what had been and could be again. (And, as is the case in this situation, he was the only “name” actor in the production.)
No, the filmmakers’ likely goal is to use Han and Leia and Luke to get me interested in people I’ve never heard of, so that I’ll care enough about them to buy tickets to the two films to follow. The central conflicts and action and development will likely center around these young strangers.
Which makes me a little sad, and even sadder when I think how likely all this effort is to fail.
“Star Wars” — the original one, the true phenomenon, seems to me a one-time, magical thing. It had enough magic to keep us interested in the next two films, and even to, many years later, dupe people into going to see the decidedly unmagical “prequels.” The amazingly, stunningly unmagical prequels.
But no matter how much money is spent, no matter how dazzling the new technology may be, how can you duplicate the experience that we felt when we went into theaters in 1977 completely unaware of what we would see and hear and feel, and then were so delighted? There had been no way to predict it. If someone had told you the premise — essentially a cornball evocation of old movie serials from the 1930s brought to a new generation — it would have sounded no more promising than the completely bogus “Argo.” (I refer, of course, to the fake sci-fi film within the film, not to the Ben Affleck vehicle itself.)
But it worked. Lightning struck. And now, people are laboring to make it strike again, in the same way.
Is that possible? I don’t know, but I’m afraid it’s unlikely…