Sunday, April 12, 2009
-- Adam Kokesh on KPFA's Flashpoints April 7, 2009.
-- Vincent Bugliosi, author most recently of The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, to Michael Collins in "Murder Trumps Torture Says Bugliosi" (Dissident Voice).
Another Sunday. An Easter Sunday in fact.
We thank everyone for their help this weekend. Working on this edition were Dallas and . . .
The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, and Ava,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz,
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ
and Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends.
We managed to come up with the following:
Truest statement of the week -- Adam Kokesh got truest.
Truest statement of the week II -- This was a good choice as well and I'm too tired to look up the spelling on the last name so you'll have to read it to find out who it is is. (I am Jim.)
Editorial: No time and no interest is the message -- The illustration here was done by Kat, Betty's kids and Wally. It wasn't done for this editorial but we just liked it and wanted to use it in something so we put it in here. Betty's three kids are really, really proud of this illustration.
TV: Women and sitcoms -- Ava and C.I.'s masterpiece and I'm not being sarcastic. They didn't think they were going to have an article this edition. It's been some time since they had that fear. But they really thought they had nothing. To get everyone done quickly, we worked on what we could as quickly as we could. And everyone was bid beddy-bye no later than three a.m. EST (we're on the West Coast). As soon as that was done, Ava and C.I. went off to write this, insisting they didn't even think they had a topic. They found one. And then some. This is really an amazing piece. Well done.
White House caught in another lie -- There was no dust storm, there was no standstorm. That the White House was allowed to lie, that the media covered up for it, is inexcusable but it will continue as long as people refuse to call it out.
"Take it up with Barack" -- Team Obama destroyed the people's history.
Ty's Corner -- Ty went off to write this when Ava and C.I. went off to write their article. I asked him if he could do a corner and my reasonsing was I didn't know what we had. We had written as quickly as possible, rushing so that people helping out could get some rest. We hadn't typed anything or read anything very closely at that point so while Dona, Jess and I worked on editing and typing, I asked Ty to please do another corner. I don't think we ended up needing it. It's a reader favorite and we're lucky to have it. But my fear had been the edition was going to be weak and that didn't end up being the case.
Lt. Muthana Shaad's Gay Boy Chronicles -- This will be a regular feature. We promise once a month until we wrap it up and it may appear more than once a month.
Movie roundtable -- a fun roundtable. Enjoy.
And the Katrina goes to . . . -- The last thing we wrote before everyone was sent off to sleep. We almost forgot this and Marcia reminded us that we still needed to work Ruth's idea. Ruth brought this to the edition and we thank her for it (and thank Marcia for catching that we almost forgot it).
Acceptance -- The second to the last piece written. Ava remembered we'd planned to write this. We were tired and rushed it as a short feature. As planned last week, it was supposed to be lengthy. Oh well, as Cedric would say.
ETAN -- This is from ETAN.
Highlights -- and Mike, Elaine, Marcia, Stan, Rebecca, Betty, Ruth, Kat, Cedric and Wally wrote this and we thank them for it.
That's it, that's all we got. See you next weekend.
-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.
Ava, C.I. and Ty: We have added "Truest statement of the week III" Monday, April 13, 2009 because we thought Wally and Kat's comments qualified. We missed those until Monday morning just because we were tired. Be sure to check out their truest.
Saturday's New York Times carried a lot of trash on the front page. You had, for example, the 'newsie' article on city service fees, you had the article on the new stadium for NYC, you had Rachel L. Swarns' ridiculous article about what church Barack and Michelle Obama might go to on Sunday. You had a lot of garbage. But real news had to hide inside the paper.
A4 is where the paper saw fit to run Sam Dagher's "Suicide Truck Bombing Kills 5 U.S. Soldiers and 2 Iraqis at Northern Base." Five US soldiers killed in one incident in Iraq Friday -- two more wounded. And it can't get on the front page because Rachel Swarns is fingering herself and gasping over what Barry might do? What someone might do is NEVER news. What someone does may or may not be news.
Years from now, especially during peace time (or what passes for it), let's hope the country remembers that when five U.S. soldiers died, when it was known they were dead while Friday's New York Times was still being delivered to subscribers, the paper couldn't make room for that news on the front page.
As events in Iraq repeatedly demonstrated last week, the illegal war is not over. Try finding that out from the network news, trying finding it out from most of the media. For laughs you can even try going to Panhandle Media. You won't find much of anything because the media has no interest in Iraq. They just don't give a damn.
A recent CBS News - New York Times poll [PDF format warning, click here] found people were 'up' about Iraq. That happens all the time, whenever the coverage of Iraq falls by the wayside. Whenever Operation Happy Talk replaces reality.
In November of 2007, when The Myth of the Great Return took place, the result was a similar bump in 'positives' for the Iraq War. That bump was based on lies. There was no great return by refugees to Iraq.
By the same token, the recent bump is not based on what people know about events on the ground, it's based on the fact that they no longer see Iraq on TV or in print most days. And since it's not there, they assume things must be better because, surely, if things were going badly in Iraq, the media would be covering it, right? They would be leading with it, they would be rushing it onto the front page, right?
5 US soldiers died in Iraq on Friday. The New York Times had time to front page nonsense about user fees in cities around the country (the sort of crap Erma Bombeck used to pass off as a humor column), they had time to get giddy over where Barack might go to church, they had time for stadiums and even for a photo of George W. Bush tossing a baseball. They just didn't have time for the fallen US soldiers.
Didn't have time?
Try didn't make time.
Remember that if you find yourself thinking, "The lack of coverage must mean nothing bad is happening in Iraq."
Today the US military announced another death in Iraq. Don't expect to hear too much about it either.
Last Sunday the plan (as we announced in February) was to cover women in sitcoms. That was the plan because we were going to tackle Parks and Recreation, the new NBC sitcom starring Amy Poehler. Other things came up. We told ourselves we could push the topic back one week, it could wait. Then came Thursday and a friend called to ask, "Did you read Alessandra Stanley?" Do we ever?
No. And no insult to her but we're covering TV and the last thing we want to do is be accused of copying her or, worse, actually copying her. Well, we were informed, Alessandra was doing what we were planning. We flinched for a second and then felt relief that we didn't have to tackle it. We could focus on something else. But, help us out, what did she say about Rashida Jones?
That was the reply. At which point, we had to read. Alessandra usually stands apart from the Water Cooler Set and usually has some points worth sharing. But somehow she managed to write about women in sitcoms . . . without writing about women.
No, we don't mean she confused Bob Saget with Christina Applegate. We mean that she seemed unaware of women as a plural. We hope Alessandra's not suffering from Queen Bee Syndrome but it does seem to be all the rage these days.
When speaking to friends working on shows, especially show runners, our biggest beef is almost always the same. In fact, it's why we waited on weighing in on Fringe. We were about to rip that show apart when a friend passed on the first three episodes. Why? We're so damn sick of the Jennifer Garner Alias bulls**t or, if you prefer, the Deanna Durbin Syndrome: One Hundred Men and a Girl. We were asked to wait on Fringe, told they were aware of the issue and were working on it (and they did move to improve the situation, to their credit).
But the reality is that these 'women who think like men' or 'women who act like men' are always one woman surrounded by plenty of men. There's nothing empowering about that or realistic. It is, however, what we get over and over from the media.
Take NPR where Diane Rehm fancies herself Marlene Dietrich singing "The Boys In The Backroom" as evidenced by her need to surround herself with men. Each Friday finds Diane sitting down with three guests for the first hour and three guests for the second hour for a "news roundup." April 10, she sat with six men. April 3rd, she sat with five men and one woman (Nancy A. Youssef). March 27th, she had five men and one woman (Lynn Sweet). March 20th, she had five men and one woman (Karen DeYoung), March 13th, she had five men and one woman (Jeanne Cummings). And, in what passes for 'revolutionary' and 'equality' in Diane's world, March 6th she actually had two women and four men (Susan Page and Jackie Calmes). Now in the real world, when you book six guests each Friday, there's no reason you can't offer three men and three women. Wait, there is a reason. You're a Queen Bee who only cares about yourself.
It's disgusting that Diane Rehm refuses to book women for those roundtables. It's disgusting that her vanity is so great that she's threatened by another woman. Is that a sexist thought? Good. She's pushing sexist notions on her programs. Such as last Friday, during the second hour. Her guests were Foreign Policy's Moises Naim, Washington Post's Michael Shear and The Finanical Times' resident pig Demetri Sevastopulo.
Demetri Sevastopulo: Well I think the only person -- and I'm being slightly cheeky here -- but the only person in Europe last week who didn't enjoy Michelle Obama being there might possibly have been Carla Bruni, the wife of President Sarkozy [Michael brays like a donkey or, more to the point, like an ass], because all of the sudden she was no longer the darling of the media and quite frankly Michelle Obama looked a lot more glamorous and lively and entergetic than Carla Bruni.
Diane Rehm: It's interesting. You felt that as well, Michael.
Michael Shear: Oh well I mean when we came into Strasbourg from London, we landed and drove into a castle, essentially, a palace, to meet with President Sarkozy --
We included Diane and Michael's blah blah blah just so you know that no one objected. No one said a damn word about that offensive slop Demetri threw out. But it got worse, much much worse. Near the end of the second hour, a call came in.
Diane Rehm: Alright to Mary Louise who is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Good morning to you, you're on the air.
Mary Louise: Hi, Diane.
Diane Rehm: Hi there.
Mary Louise: It's great to talk to you. I'm just kind of annoyed by the continuing chauvinistic expectation that when two women come together there has to be some kind of a personal, sexual or fashion competition. I thought that Carla Bruni was very graceful and hospitable to Michelle Obama to give her precedence during their meetings. That's the polite, appropriate and diplomatic thing to do any woman that invites another woman to her home and then tries to outshine her in some boorish way, is really -- that's really a kind of classless thing to do and I think the media and the way we look at women is still stuck in this kind of old time view and I think you should call them out on that, Diane.
Diane Rehm: You know I felt that the comment that was made did not seem to be a put down of anyone rather simply an acknowledgement that Carla Bruni has, since her marriage to Sarkozy, has been given such extraordinary attention and now when Michelle Obama came onto the scene as you point out Mary Louise Carla Bruni gracefully stepped aside and allowed the wife of the president of the United States to take front and center. Demetri?
Demetri Sevastopulo: Exactly and I prefaced my comments with saying I was being a bit cheeky and was joking and it wasn't any kind of a male chauvinist comment.
Right, Demetri, and we're sure racists say they were joking and weren't making any kind of a racist comment either. Demetri's remarks were sexist and were offensive. And just how cheap and trashy the remarks were was demonstrated by Michael's braying while Demetri was 'joking.' Here's a clue for the backstabbing Diane Rehm, "You're not a comedian." In other words, you and your panel of journalists are on the air to provide information not to make people chuckle.
If Diane could grasp that, she might stop trying to work in her little digs against Hillary Clinton. She can't get through a week without them and she'll apparently be grudge f**king Hillary until they pry the microphone loose from Diane's tired, shaky hands.
Because Diane's all about the men. A woman who got a career because NPR realized how few women were present in the media then went on to ride that to her advantage as far as it would take her; however, she refused to help any other women along the way which is how you get Diane each Friday with five or six men. It's how you get that gender imbalance and it's how you get sexists comments on the program, offensive ones that have no place on NPR and it's how you get Diane saying a big F**K YOU to Mary Louise and any other caller who has the self-respect to call that sexist crap out.
The proper response from Diane was, "Yes, that was an offensive remark and we're sorry." The way to fix that is to stop promoting the gender imbalance. In other words, it will never be fixed while Diane's around. For four decades now, she's gotten away with this crap. There's no excuse for it.
Which brings us to Parks and Recreation.
The sitcom stars Amy Poehler and airs Thursday nights on NBC. Leslie Knope is her character's name. She works for a municipal parks and recreation department. And, strangely there are hardly any women around. "Strangely" because Parks & Recreation isn't just a department of municipal government women are comfortable in, it's one that they actually head and overwhelmingly staff in most of the country's most populated cities.
That's not the case on TV, of course. In fact, Valerie Harper's 1989 sitcom City (CBS) featured more women working for the city government than Poehler's sitcom that's been created two decades later. Yes, that is a huge step backwards.
In an early scene, we see Amy sitting around a table with co-workers. Another woman is present, an African-American woman. She has no lines and will not be seen again for the rest of the episode. Instead we get Mark (Paul Schneider), Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Ron (Nick Offerman). If anyone thinks throwing in the young Aubrey Plaza as college intern April counts, they should think again.
For those who don't know, and the creators appear not to, the Parks and Recreation Department is over maintaining the parks, over scheduling the various sports lots, over scheduling festivities, etc. They're the hospitality arm of municipal government. For some unknown reason, the writers have Amy's character attending townhalls -- no, holding townhalls that she would never hold. People attending the townhalls would be seeing various city staff -- from other departments -- and Amy's character would come on for a bit. And the questions she would answer would go to her department.
So when Rashida Jones shows up at a townhall as Ann, an upset city resident, and wants to talk about the empty lot that developers dug up for a now-cancelled project, that question would be fielded by someone in the city manager's office, by a city council person, by someone in Development & Planning. It would not be fielded by someone in Parks & Recreation. But the show's only supplied Parks & Recreation staff for the townhall.
That may seem minor to some or it may seem like we're one of those people dissing a film because a fire arm in a scene wouldn't have shot as many bullets as we counted during the movie. No. It goes to reality in the world and, most importantly, it goes to reality on TV.
See, we've done the Alessandra thing. We've done it and we've moved beyond it. We've counted the women on TV by counting only which woman got a starring role. And we've done our happy little review and thought that as the show progressed the problems would be fixed. But, thing is, these shows rarely see the low number of women in the cast as a "problem." Fringe did, congratulations to it for that. Seriously.
But we are so damn sick of Jennifer Garner's Sydney or Tina Fey's Liz. We're so damn sick of these women surrounded by men, men, men and so damn sick of these actresses who are threatened by any other woman being in the cast.
That's the only explanation for it. All this time later, Fey has refused to develop the character Jenna. Forget Cerie (Katrina Bowden) who has a 'good' episode if she gets a line, 30 Rock has Tina Fey and, in a lesser role, Jane Krakowski. And how many men are in the cast credits? Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander, Keith Powell, Lonny Ross, Kevin Brown, Grizz Chapman and Maulik Pancholy. That's ten male characters. No one's ever supposed to see a problem with that. When 30 Rock came on, it was a funny show. It had problems. We thought they'd be fixed. Chief among the problems was under-utilizng Jane Krakowski. That never got fixed and she actually does less funny things this season than in the first season. Tina Fey can't stand sharing the spotlight with another woman and everyone knows that. Instead of rounding out Jane's character, Tina's distorted it to the point that Jane's character and all the characters are no longer characters but joke factories who say and do things to get a laugh even though it's frequently completely against their character. It doesn't matter because it's not a script, it's a series of skits. Outlandish ones, divorced from reality, all the things that nearly tanked Will & Grace before that show pulled it together.
By contrast, we've seen a show like The New Adventures of Old Christine -- whose first episode (as we noted) was among the worst debuts ever, but whose second episode showed tremendous skill -- which has actually improved week after week until it's become the most consistently funny sitcom on TV. Sometimes, you cringe when you realize what you're laughing at. Such as this season when Christine got her foot stuck in the toilet. No, not cringing over that, cringing when you grasped how hard Christine would have hit the bathroom floor, face first. You laugh at it, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a very physical comedian who can pull it off, and only after do you think, "oooowwww." And second only to the laugh factor, you've got Julia, a woman who lives in the real world and very much expects to get as much of it on TV as possible. You see that in the storylines, you see that in the casting. Forget Tina Fey trying to deliver a snarky line, Julia's playing a real character, doing what great comedic actress do and doing it better than any other sitcom actress currently.
Giving Julia a close run for the money is Megyn Price and Bianca Kajlich (CBS' Rules of Engagement) and Megan Mullaly (In The Motherhood). Watch any of those women or Julia's amazing comic foil Wanda Sykes and you grasp what comedic acting actually is. (And some who know nothing but this decade will discover that, yes, actresses can be funny.) You won't find it on Kath & Kim (which never found the right tone) and you won't find it on The Office except in the small bits they toss out to Mindy Kaling from time to time (she's the only woman allowed to be zany on that show). You won't find it on My Name Is Earl. This decade has been horrible for women -- on the big screen and on the small. It has rendered them invisible, reduced them to nags, undercut them at every step of the way. And, amazingly, TV sitcoms have been the worst offenders.
"Amazingly" because they can try their revisionary nonsense all they want, the world knows and will always know that Lucille Ball made the sitcom. She took a format and made it one of the formats, a TV staple. She took a format and became, some say, the "queen" of it but, reality, she was the finest of it for her era, male or female. Lucille Ball defined sitcoms success. In the years since, Marlo Thomas, Mary Tyler Moore, Elizbeth Montgomery, Nell Carter, Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli, Bea Arthur, Betty White, Marla Gibbs, Jackee, Valerie Haper, Cloris Leachman, Isabel Sanford, Ja'net Du Bois, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, Delta Burke, Judith Light, Danielle Spencer, Jane Curtain, Susan Saint James, Belita Moreno, Constance Marie, Candice Bergen, Faith Ford, Fran Drescher, Cybill Shepherd, Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, Jasmine Guy, Shelley Long, Helen Hunt, Ellen, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox-Arquette, Debra Messing, Judy Reyes, Christa Miller, and many other women -- not the least of whom is Roseanne -- have delivered the belly laughs and left their mark on the genre. But other than the women currently on the air that we've already praised, there's not been much worth noting for women in this decade. In fact, the only sitcom in the first half of this decade that lasted more than a season and is worthy of praise, Still Standing, offered one of the strongest roles for women with Jami Gertz' lead performance. Otherwise, the women did nothing over and over and over.
So while Alessandra gets excited that a woman gets to star in a sitcom, our concern goes to women plural. What are the women doing?
Not a whole damn lot. The character of the intern does not become sketched out in the scripts we've read (or the episode that airs this Thursday, the only other episode we've seen of the show other than the debut). Rashida Jones' Ann is repeatedly written as a straight character. Jones is talented and we've praised her here before. She can and does add bits that bring humor into her scenes but she's not being written a funny character. The men are written to be off the wall funny. Strangely, Cyndi Lauper may have sang "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" but on this TV show starring a woman, it's the boys that are getting all the laugh lines even more so than the alleged star of the show, Amy Poehler.
It wasn't that way at the start of the episode, before the credits. When the only character they had was Amy's Leslie, they offered a series of jump shots of Leslie getting a vagrant out of the children's slide, interacting with children and with a hot male number.
But then the opening credits rolled and the others were introduced. The writers are fascinated with the characters of Ron and Tom. So much so, that they turn the show over to those two characters and Amy Poehler, in the scripts we read, was left playing Sally Rogers. (Rose Marie's character on The Dick Van Dyke Show -- famous for the "Sally can't get a man" jokes and subplots.) A funny moment here or there but a character you pity more than enjoy. Reality check for producer Amy Poehler, you're going to have to hire some women writers. Until you do, the men will continue to nod at you, pretend they're listening, and go write another script where the men are wild and crazy, Leslie is pathetic and the other two women are non-existent.
Amy appears to be suckered into believing that all the characters are pathetic losers. Not true. Only her character is pathetic. In the first episode, for example, her male assistant and the college intern are laughing at her, flashing photos they took of her with her skirt up. Yeah, Ron and Tom aren't very smart but they're not portrayed as pathetic. And while Tom hits on any woman he can, Leslie is the one who's portrayed as sad. She's not just hard up and lonely, she's apparently so bad in bed that Mark has to have his memory jogged to even remember that he slept with Leslie. Tom and Ron have no such embarrassing moments. They're not written as pathetic. They're written as zany characters with inflated ideals of themselves.
Leslie is written as pathetic.
So Alessandra can go ahead and cheer but we're not seeing much worth cheering. We're seeing another sitcom where Rashida Jones is given an underwritten role and manages to use her considerable talents to flesh it out. We're seeing Amy Poehler listed as the star and supposedly playing a funny character but pushed aside because the writers (who are also the show's exec producers) are more fascinated with Ron and Tom. We're seeing yet another sitcom where just someone being a woman qualifies as the butt of the joke. We've yet to see even one sitcom this decade where being a man qualified as the butt of the joke.
Amy Poehler could carry this show. She has the talent to. But she's going to have to grasp what many women before her have, sometimes you have to be willing to be called a bitch or else you better prepare to smile as they fade you into the background.
We mentioned Roseanne earlier. Her self-titled show captured the nation. But only after she stopped playing nice. While she was playing nice, all the funny lines were going elsewhere. While she was playing nice, her character was the butt of every joke. While she was playing nice, she had a so-so sitcom. She made it clear she wasn't going to stand for it and she made it clear that you could call her a bitch and it wasn't going to phase her. It was her show and she was going to be listened to, she was going to be respected and her character wasn't going to be written as a supporting player in each episode. Cybill can tell about the battles she had to fight. Most women can. When you come across a woman who hasn't had to do that, she's either owned the production company or been married to a man who did. Otherwise, you have to fight.
And, thing is, it's the same way the male stars are fighting. But they never get called out. Not even when they're really not that talented and supposedly 'co-starring' in a TV romantic comedy in which the 'co-star' pretty much has to do the impossible -- say win an Oscar -- before she really gets treated with respect.
We don't know if Amy has it in her to be a bitch. If she doesn't, NBC may as well cancel Parks and Recreation right now because it's already drifting away from her character and that will only continue unless Amy has the guts to stand up for herself. Watching a good sitcom can bring more joy and laughter than anything else, but never for a minute be tricked into thinking that joy and laughter produced it. The good shows, the ones that last, are notorious for all the on-set drama. The reason for that is because comics -- actors, writers, directors -- grew up using humor instead of their fists. If the set doesn't have any drama, everyone's coasting. And any real lead actress knows you can be called far worse things than "bitch." For example, you can be called "Second Banana."
On ABC World News Tonight, Jake Tapper parroted the White House lie: "More extensive travel plans were scrapped because a dust storm made helicopter travel impossible." On NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, Williams also lied, "Air Force One landed in the beginnings of an afternoon sandstorm and so the president was confined to the airbase." (Click here for transcription of all three networks evening news coverage of the visit.) A dust storm, a sandstorm, "confined" Barack, made "travel impossible" and he "landed in the beginnings of" it. Lies. Lies and more lies.
As C.I. noted in Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot," there were no reports of a sandstorm. In the past, when one was coming, there were reports of it. Also true is Richard Engel reported from Baghdad on Tuesday, talking to vendors, for his report and, pay attention, there's no sandstorm going on around Richard.
But for those of you who need visual proof, we got that too.
Barack departing plane at Baghdad International Airport.
The caravan begins to move.
Three photos. You see a sandstorm or dust storm in any of them? No, because there wasn't one. Nothing but clear skies, the White House lied.
The White House will keep playing Americans for chumps as long as Americans keep swallowing.
C.I. uses it when noting some statement that used to be at the White House website. Before Team Obama decided to scrub it. Those pages were historical and there was no reason to wipe them away. The Justice Department, for example, has not wiped its past pages away from either the previous administration or the Clinton administration.
Team Obama came in and didn't just introduce snark to the White House website (we loathe George W. Bush but, had we been writing for the US White House website, we wouldn't have used the language they did -- it was beneath the office), they also wiped away history.
Bully Boy Bush lied every day of the week. And why anyone would want to destroy that record is beyond us although we'd guess that when you are, in fact, the third term of the Bush administration, you don't want people to easily compare your actions to those of the person you've just replaced.
We're not liking Barack Obama anymore than we did George W. Bush at this point. But when he leaves the White House (in 2013 or 2017), we hope the next administration has the good sense to preserve the press briefings and official statements online because those are history.
Around the country, you'll find various landmarks that were preserved for historical reasons. It's amazing to us that no one has yet to demand that the online White House preserve all documents and maintain them for what they are -- a part of our nation's history.
This week, we have a roundtable and a few of you who have e-mailed about things in the past will see that I did not forget your e-mails and worked in as many as I could. Our address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We do not have time to reply to every e-mail that comes in. Dona, Jim and I work the e-mails unless I'm on vacation. When that happens, Jess, Ava and C.I. help out as well. Dona, Jim and I try to reply to all longterm readers when possible. But even some of our oldest readers don't get more than a single sentence reply.
I note that not just because some people seem to think we can drop everything and live in e-mails. We can't. We don't have the time. I work full time, for example. I am in a committed relationship. I have a lot of things on my plate and responding to e-mails in all of my free time just isn't going to happen.
That brings us to the second point, I don't want to i.m. I don't i.m. friends, I'm certainly not going to 'friend' a stranger and i.m. them.
Yahoo mail changed a few things and now they've got this option to i.m. and a number of people have added us to their list which means we have to "approve" them or not. No one's being approved, we don't have the time to i.m.
That's not attempting to be rude. But we do this weekly magazine and that's why you're here reading. We don't have time to also be pen pals or i.m. buddies. I used to i.m. as late as 2005. Somewhere around the middle of that year (this site started in January 2005), I no longer had the time to i.m. That was with friends. I don't have the time to i.m. strangers.
"I write and write but never get a reply," insists Corinne. I think I've just explained why that is. If not . . .
Never heard from you until two weeks ago. You've written repeatedly wanting to know personal information about Jim, Dona, Jess, Ava, C.I. and myself. We're really not into providing you with gossip. And we really don't know what that has to do with what we're writing about here.
"The Bush Legacy? Repainting history?" I have no idea what that is. But C.I. and we both got e-mails on it and, if you're interested, you can go to this Blogspot website. When people e-mail, we do try to work it in unless it's pornography. I have nothing against pornography. I'm gay, I have bought my share of skin mags. But we do try to keep in mind that we have a wide variety of readers and that if we link to some sites (yes, we've been asked in e-mails to provide links to 'adult' websites) that might mean we were blocked by some programs and some readers wouldn't be able to access us. We've got a photo we'll be using for a feature that will become pretty much a regular one and it's a nude man. From behind. We're trying to figure out (so it won't be used this week) whether we need to block out the rear or not? Do we need to paint a box over the rear, paint on a g-string? Can we run it as is? We're not sure. We've tossed that out to a few of our longterm readers and we'll go over their input and then make a decision. (The photo is on a postcard which got left on a car windshield, believe it or not. Like a leaflet.)
Ava and C.I. are not taking requests for what to cover on TV. They get enough 'advice' or 'input' from Jim. This week, I bring up one show to them because it is going off and they have mentioned it in conversations and have referred to it in their writing. But they're not doing requests. Whenever I write that, an e-mail or two will come in saying basically, "How rude!" I'm sorry, I forgot you were paying for this . . . Oh, you're not. More importantly, Ava and C.I. got pushed into writing about TV. They didn't want to. Our first week, they didn't want TV to be covered at all. A few weeks later when the TV articles went from group pieces to written just by Ava and C.I., they didn't want that either. They're on the road all week speaking to various groups about the Iraq War. There are Saturdays when they get home and have nothing. They have to dig through scripts and discs friends have left and hope they can find something to cover. In four years and counting, they've never missed a week and they have enough pressure on them without knowing they have to write X on Sunday morning.
The big question in the e-mails is are we finishing this year? Yes, we are. We were supposed to go dark in November of last year. What happened was Ava and C.I. promised a friend with a TV show (Fringe) that they would hold off on the review (they were going to rip the show apart, they were told that changes were being made and they were, in fact made) until the spring. They mentioned that right after in commentary they wrote. When Jim read it outloud, that was when we all (including Ava and C.I.) grasped that the site was going past November. They hadn't thought, "Oh, we're done in November, we can't." They'd promised without thinking. We were glad to continue. Ava and C.I. have always been the ones who want to stop. Because of Fringe, we've continued through the end of April. That was the promise made to Stan who wanted to start his own site but didn't want to do it if everyone was going dark as soon as he did. So the promise was we'd go through April community wide. It's April now and we've discussed it and all feel we can make it up to the end of December.
We're not planning that far ahead. But we are going through December.
Which brings us to the second most asked of topic in the e-mails: Will we do a summer ficiton read as we've done every year? Yes, we will. We're excited about it. When it comes around, we'll probably have lost interest. But if we had the time to work on it right now, we'd have a blast. The June 26, 2005 edition, the June 4, 2006 edition (plus "Strange people (fictional recreation of reality). " carried over to the following week), the June 24, 2007 edition and the June 22, 2008 edition are the summer reads thus far.
Lt. Muthana Shaad stroked away furiously, eyeing himself in the mirror, the scarlet red lipstick marks where he'd written "PERVERT" across his own chest.
As he studied it, he gasped, exploded and found release.
It wasn't easy being a Gay Boy police officer in Iraq. Let alone in the Sadr City section of Baghdad. Clerics were calling for men to be executed, gay men, just for doing what Muthana did on those rare times when he got lucky, suck a little cock.
Munthana lived life covered in his own shame. Well, covered in his own shame and his own cum currently. But most of the time, it was just his shame.
Could he help it if he was the way Allah had made him?
So what if he nightly dreamed about Nouri al-Maliki bending his legs, bending Munthana in fact, in order to ram it in deep, long and hard.
Just thinking about it, made Munthana shudder. Just thinking about Nouri's fleshy, saggy belly and that bald head. Munthana sighed a deep sigh.
And wondered if any of his co-workers had noticed anything different about him. Not yet, he was sure. Not yet.
[For those less interested in fiction and more interested in reality for Iraq's LGBT community, see Timothy Williams and Tareq Maher's New York Times article "Iraq’s Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder."]
Jim: Sorry, CDs plural. It's a multi-disc set. We had planned to do a music roundtable if we hadn't done a music feature in March or April. We did find time to do a music feature. So we were attempting to figure out a fun subject for a roundtable and Stan had planned to talk about two DVDs at his site Friday night but the Friday night posters ended up doing an Iraq roundtable instead. So I'll toss to Stan and we also have some questions from readers that Ty dug up. Stan?
Stan: The film Dead Heat On A Merry-Go Round came out in 1966. I never saw it until I picked up the DVD last weekend. It stars James Coburn as a con man who gets out of prison by romancing the prison psychologist. He then does a series of con as he attempts his big con, a bank roberry. It's a really fast paced film with a lot to offer including Coburn's performance. Harrison Ford wanders around with a message for a "Mr. Ellis" in one scene at a hotel. That was a surprise but then came Rose Marie, Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show, as some crazed woman and that was probably a bigger surprise. I watched this with The Drowning Pool and that was a huge disappointment. That's Paul Newman doing his Harper character again and it just drives home how fussy he was in every scene. We've got to watch him 'think' about how a person wakes up in the opening of the original Harper and in this sequel we get to watch him 'think' about how a regular person would handle a car. There's so much pre-work that's done in front of the camera and it never adds up to anything. This is something like the fifth film I've seen where he's played opposite Joanne Woodward and I've never seen any hint of chemistry between them. In this film, Woodward has a convincing southern accent. Considering that her hair dresser gets screen credit, on a single title card, I'd argue her hair's nothing to write home about, let alone credit. A very young Melanie Griffith brings life to the film and she's really the only one who does. The film came out in 1975. Harper, the earlier film, boasted strong performances from Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, Shelly Winters, Julie Harris, Robert Wagner, Pamela Tiffin and people whose names I don't even know. You could ignore Paul Newman trying to say "Look at me, I'm acting!" over and over and focus on those performances. With The Drowning Pool, you've only got Melanie Griffith and she disappears for whole sections of the film. Gail Strickland is someone I recognized from Protocol and thought she might be worth watching. She's not. Even stripped down to her bra and panties you have to avert your eyes because she won't stop screaming the highest and most annoying scream you've ever heard. If that was her call, big mistake. If that was the director's call, he betrayed her. You think, after she doesn't drown, her screaming is over and maybe she'll have a few seconds to redeam herself; however, she ends up shooting a man and screaming all over again. Someone needs to make it really clear to the film industry that when you mix a scream high in the sound mix, it better be worth hearing and I don't need anything that sounds like a high pitched car alarm. And that was the problem with her performance throughout, one note, high pitched, too much, always, always too much. While Harper offered intrigue, The Drowning Pool just offers smut. It's not even attractively filmed. But the main thing, if you watch Coburn's film and Newman's together, is how naturally Coburn played the type of flawed character Paul Newman went into a flurry and frenzy to portray but never pulled off.
Ty: We don't have any Paul Newman among us and when Newman died, September of last year, we didn't do a thing on that. And got numerous e-mails asking why. Jess?
Jess: C.I. had noted here several months before Newman's death that he was dying. It was before even the 'famous' photo Martha Stewart posed online. And when C.I. noted that Newman was dying, it was made very clear that we weren't going to take part in any fantasy stories which is all the obits were.
Ty: And a few of the e-mails, such as reader Alexandra, noted that C.I. had said that in the spring of 2008 and wondered if there wouldn't even be a as-we-noted . . . story.
Jess: Repeating, we have no interest in promoting a fantasy as reality. We were kind and ignored his passing.
Jim: Ty, you mentioned Alexandra. I wasn't joking when I said Ty dug through the e-mails. He has a ton he prints up each week. And we rarely get to them. He puts them into folders based on subject and when we decided to do a movie roundtable, he rushed to grab those folders. Did anyone other than Alexandra write in about Newman's passing?
Ty: In terms of regular readers, no. Here's one from two months ago asking if we ever watch a musical? That's reader Linda and she's referring to how, after the week's edition is finally written, typed and posted, Jim, Dona, Jess, Ava, C.I., Kat, Wally and I eat breakfast -- of some form -- as we watch a film before crashing. We watch many movies but she's asking in terms of our Sunday movies. Dona?
Dona: Yes, and before I tell Linda which one, I'm a big fan of Knots Landing. I used to watch the reruns when I was a little girl, on one of the Turner stations, TBS I think. Michelle Lee, Joan Van Ark and Donna Mills were the reason I watched. They gave amazing performances and were so believable that to this day, if I see them in anything, I think of them as their characters and will say, "Oh, there's Abby," or, "Look, it's Val!" or "Hey, Karen's on TV." So that's my way of saying that we added the musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying to our movie rotation. We've watched it twice probably in the last three months. It stars Robert Morse and Karen Fairgate MacKenzie. Karen is, of course, really Michele Lee and it was so weird -- honestly still is -- to see her in that role where she's wonderful but I keep thinking, "Look at Karen sing." That's really a nice movie and it moves very quickly. In addition to that musical, I will sometimes insist we watch Grease some Sunday mornings. Other musicals we watch this year would include Mary Poppins. Musicals are never the main genre though. Usually it's comedy, because we all love to laugh, or something foreign or scary -- or both.
Jim: Now Rebecca, there's a film you want to see.
Rebecca: Right and I'm blanking on it. But when the topic was decided upon, I said, "Great, there's a film coming out in May." Terminator Salvation, that's what it was. I did really enjoy the first Terminator and T2 is an amazing classic. It's so great that I had no urge to see T3. But I am excited about Terminator Salvation. Probably too excited and a sucker waiting to be let down but I do find it interesting and do plan to see it opening weekend.
Jim: And why does that film excite you?
Rebecca: It would excite me more if Linda Hamilton was in it or if they had a strong female character in the advertisements. I am expecting to be very disappointed in this film because if I really watch the trailer closely, I notice that it's man, man, man and a fleeting glimpse of a woman. For the Terminator series, which set the bar for active women, to do something like that is really sad. But I'll give it a chance and go to see it. And some of the explosions look very interesting.
Jim: You don't seem all that excited.
Rebecca: Well I am when I watch the trailer. But when I think about it, no. And for the reason I've explained: the role of women in it. I really see this as either a backward step or they're keeping some major role for a woman in this under wraps. Christian Bale, I do not believe, can hold my attention. He never has before and he's a little too slick for my tastes. The strong women's roles on the TV show are why I've really gotten into Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Ava and C.I. pointed that out in their review and this season's addition of Shirley Manson to the cast has only made that more so, she's wonderful on the show. I watch it with Mike's brother every Saturday.
Jim: Ty's got a number of questions and actually wanted to work a TV one in.
Ty: Right. Jordan e-mailed echoing an earlier e-mail by Lawrence and the topic was a TV show. We won't be doing a TV roundtable, that I'm aware of, anytime soon. So I'd like to toss this out to Ava because I have a feeling others will be writing in on the topic in the next weeks. Jordan and Lawrence both note that Fox has cancelled King of the Hill and they were wondering if you and C.I. planned to review it this month or next?
Ava: We've noted King of the Hill in other reviews. We've never done a review of it proper. It's been on for thirteen seasons, I believe. And, because we are on the road every week, we've seen the bulk of the show. By that I mean we're in hotel rooms and we get there late at night, we turn on the TVs and we watch whatever's on as we eat whatever and plan what we'll be doing the next day. So we've caught the bulk of King of the Hill. To do what Jordan and Lawrence are asking, we'd need to be watching the Sunday prime time episodes and, I won't promise anything, but we will start Tivo-ing those. If at all possible, we will write something on the show by June. That's the most I can promise.
Ty: Okay, now movies. In November, I do hold on to the e-mails, Lucy e-mailed wanting to know what Betty and Jess' favorite Marilyn Monroe films were. Asking about Betty, I understand. She's stated Marilyn Monroe is one of her favorite actresses many times here. But I was thrown by the inclusion of Jess.
Jess: I think it goes to a roundtable or something, an offhand, one time comment by me. With Betty, she's talked about that in roundtables and in our "Third Estate Sunday Review News Reviews" and at her own site. I made one comment and don't remember in what after we had written "Let's Make Bad Film: Destroying Marilyn." For me, it would be Let's Make Love and only because I've become so convinced that Ben Affleck and Vanessa Williams should remake this film that I see Ben in the Yves Montand role and am able to eliminate Yves from the film completely. He is the worst actor ever.
Betty: I like all of her films but, for me, the big one is always going to be Some Like It Hot because that film is just perfect from start to finish. After it, probably Gentlemen Prefer Blondes because she and Jane Russell have real chemistry together. In How To Marry A Millionaire, for example, I believe that Marilyn's character and Lauren Bacall's are friends but Betty Grable seems along for the ride and weakens every scene she's in. She really doesn't seem to relate to them or have anything in common with them. I can watch the film and enjoy it but, for me, Gentlemen is better and Some Like It Hot is the best. Of her dramatic roles, probably Niagra is my favorite. Did Lucy write if she was a Monroe fan?
Ty: Yes, she did and she picked Gentlemen as her favorite followed by Monkey Business. I've got a few more e-mails and, Jim and I discussed this, we're saving one for the end, one that's going to piss C.I. off. We know that it will lead to a lively response. But I'm flipping through to find ones that involve others. Oh, okay, here's one from community member Tori who loves Ruth and Marcia's sites and loves it when they blog about one another "because you really seem like good friends." She wonders what each of you, Ruth and Marcia, would pick as your favorite romantic film?
Marcia: Ruth's pointing to me to go first and I'm at a loss. I wasn't expecting the question. I guess, and I'm just tossing it out there without any real thought, maybe Diane Keaton and Warren Beatty in Reds? I think that's really romantic. There's Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharrif in Funny Girl and that's really romantic. But if I was going to go with one scene that kills me, any of the scenes with Whoopie Goldberg and Mary Louise Parker. The two aren't a couple, but Whoopi's character is a lesbian. There's just something very tender about their scenes together. I really enjoy that movie and think Drew Barrymore's wonderful in it too. Ruth?
Ruth: The Way We Were. Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand.
Marcia: I forgot that one!
Ruth: For me that's the one. I don't think any other film can make me cry as much as that film does. I cry when she's crying, after they've broken up early on because she needs her friend Hubbel. So she calls him and he comes over. I cry when they get back together and I cry when they're fighting and breaking up. Then comes that ending and I'm crying again. That's not the only film I cry at but that will always be the most romantic and I think part of that is the direction and the wonderful performances but I also think that amazing theme song, so wonderfully sung by Barbra, really enhances the entire film. Do you have a question for Wally?
Ty: No. I'm hoping to include him in another question.
Ruth: Then let me ask him, Marcia and I having answered a tear jerker question, which film that he saw recently had him blubbering like a baby?
Wally: I will get you for that, Ruth. Seriously, Role Models. Sean William Scott and Paul Rudd. When they go to that dorky fantasy fight for the one kid and they set aside all their problems -- they've stopped being friends and even talking to each other -- to try to win the fantasy fight for that kid, I did get really choked up. And I really do like that film. We were at Mike's Friday night and he said, "I've got a DVD you're going to love." And I did. It's a funny movie and it's got a lot of great things going for it.
Ruth: And did you cry?
Wally: I was watching in the kitchen because everyone else was watching something else on the TV in the living room. So I was in Trina's Kitchen, on her computer and watching it when Ruth came through and caught me blubbering. I really was and she didn't realize I was watching a movie at first and started asking me what's wrong. By that point, Paul Rudd was getting his girlfriend back so my response to Ruth was something like, "He-he-he's-singing Kiss' 'Beth' and she's going to marry him." With a lot of gulps for breath in between because Rudd's kid had done so well in the fantasy fight that even his mother and his step-father were proud of the kid. And I cried like a baby during that and was still crying after the fight was over.
Jim: I will now see Role Models. Dona just passed me a note to remind that we haven't heard from Cedric, Elaine, Mike and, if she's able to join us, Kat. As Ty noted already, we're thinking we'll go out with a bang due to the e-mail we're tossing to C.I.
Ty: Okay, this was for Cedric and we can bring Elaine into this as well since they're both involved in relationships. Cedric got married at the end of last year and Elaine and Mike are in a longterm, live in relationship. Sue e-mailed wondering if you still watch the same movies, Cedric, that you would before you got married, now. And Elaine will get to answer that too but not Mike because I have one for him. Cedric?
Cedric: I was going to say, "Yes." But, it's not a I-don't-get-too as much as it's I'm not usually thinking about it, kind of thing. Example, I've got Die Hard, I've got the trilogy even though the first one's the only one worth watching and I completely avoided the fourth one. But I used to watch Die Hard a lot. It's not really something I watch since I got married. I'll still watch action films and my wife likes action as well but I don't really watch Die Hard the way I used to. That may also be because Wally and I always quote it back and forth to each other. We both know it by heart. If I'm going to be really honest here, a lot of the time, when I'd watch it before, in the last year and half, it would usually be when I was sad or down. And watching it would get me involved in the movie but also make me think of how Wally and I had jokes about it, not just quoting it but joking about it, and that would cheer me up. So one reason I really don't watch it the way I used to -- and I used to watch it at least once a month -- is because I'm usually not so down.
Elaine: Were you down because you weren't in a relationship?
Cedric: Maybe or maybe because not being in a relationship allowed a lot more time to examine myself and therefore a lot more time to find fault with myself. Now I come home and Ann's there or about to be there and you'd think the two of us would mean things would run more smoothly but it feels like -- this is true for her too, she'll tell you -- us being together has added to our things-to-dos instead of taking away from it.
Elaine: Usually we -- Mike and I -- will have a DVD night once a week. And it seems like it's a Monday. I prefer to listen to music, prefer that to watching TV -- either for a TV program or a movie. But Mike will hear about some movie, or I'll mention one to him, and we'll end up watching something. Sometimes, we're watching something I've already seen and enjoyed that I'm sharing with him, sometimes it's something he enjoys that he's sharing with me and sometimes we're both new to it. In terms of the question itself, I'd say I'm not censoring myself from watching anything. In fact, I see more movies as a result of being in a relationship than I would otherwise.
Ty: Thank you, Elaine and Dona just suggested I bring Jim into the conversation on that. Jim?
Jim: Well, I'm with this really amazing woman who will tolerate anything I want to watch as long as I will do the same when she's in the mood to pop in Annie. Since I love her so much, I can manage to get through that and, as a result, I can watch anything I want and she'll go along with it.
Ty: And Dona is that correct?
Dona: Pretty much.
Ty: Dona and Jim are a couple, engaged in fact, for any who didn't know. Okay, Mike. Quantum of Solace came out on DVD recently and you're a huge James Bond fan as you've detailed here and at your site. Community member Micah was a little disappointed in Quantum and wondered if you were?
Mike: Casino Royale was more upbeat and that may seem funny if you think about how the last 20 minutes are his girlfriend betraying him and her dying. But Quantum is darker. I can understand what Micah's saying but I like it and I think it's one of those that just gets better with repeat viewing. That said, it would have been nice to have had a 'here are the gadgets scene,' for example. The most serious problem with Quantum is Olga Kurylenko. She's just not very good. She can't handle the light scenes and turns everything into glum, glum, glum. You really get tired of her and that's before Gemma Christina Arterton shows up in her brief appearance demonstrating how to play the Bond Girl. If you'd had Halle Berry in Kurylnko's role or anyone else, Quantum would be a better film. She's really bad in it. And if it's not an action scene -- which moves quickly -- that she's in, you start absorbing how awful she is in the film. She's wooden and she brings nothing to the movie. That said, you can ignore her and have a pretty good film. And I do think it will be valued more in later years. And Kurylenko seems especially awful coming on the heels of Eva Green's great performance in Casino Royale.
Ty: Okay, it doesn't look like Kat's going to be joining us, so we'll move to the last e-mail. This came in at the end of January from reader Nikkoli who just read Rachel Abramowtiz' Is That A Gun In Your Pocket? and wants to know if you agree with her that Elaine May prevented other women from directing films and that she set women back many years?
C.I.: First, Rachel Abramowitz deserves applause for writing a readable book that attempts to detail women's achievements. So I will give her that. That's all I'll give her props for. In terms of the question from Nikkoli, my response is "No" and I will go into that in just a moment. But to establish my "no," I need to note Rachel's problems. Rachel's problems include not knowing what the hell she's writing about from one moment to the next. I haven't read the book in years, I was amazed Random House published such a sloppy book. At one point, she's referring to --
Ty: Jim's got a copy of the book. We knew you'd be pissed.
C.I.: Okay, try page 144 for this Jim, at one point, Rachel's describing a scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High that she obviously never watched because she gets it wrong.
Jim: Got it. This is the scene between Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates' character and Abramowtiz writes, "Linda, meanwhile, memorably demonstrates how to give a blow job using a banana."
C.I.: What film did Rachel watch? It wasn't Fast Times. Did she even watch the film she's writing about? They use carrots. Rachel fudges the facts throughout, and many friends who spoke to her -- often for inteviews for Premiere, not for a book though they're included int he book -- feel she was highly selective with her quotations. Rachel wrote the book with a dualistic mind set as is obvious to anyone reading closely. There had to be an 'angel' who would save us and there had to be a devil who banished women into hell. She makes both characters women. Elaine's the devil and Jodie Foster's the angel. Jodie Foster has her own career problems and never saved women -- nor was that her obligation. But, for those who haven't read the book, Rachel was convinced that Jodie was the new woman and that she could be sexy and smart and, sorry, Rachel Abramowitz, most movie goers have never found Jodie Foster sexy. Likeable? Yes. Sexy? No. But Rachel has to pile on the praise to create Jodie as the one who will save us all. Jodie never asked for that role and never said she was taking that role. Jodie's focused on career choices she found interesting as is her right. She's a very talented actress but she hasn't changed acting and she hasn't changed the way women are seen in films. That's reality, Rachel. Actually, Rachel doesn't make Jodie the angel so much as she makes her a Snow White or Cinderella. The evil queen is supposed to be Elaine May. And this is where the book really falls apart because to rip Elaine May apart, it's necessary for Rachel to invest in two questionable sources. Variety's bitchy and catty Todd McCarthy and a set designer. On Todd, he's a former assistant to Elaine May. There's not a woman working in the industry that doesn't grasp what little pricks most men who are assistants actually are. For example, Kathyrn Bigelow, an immensely talented director. A wonderful person. And someone who has been trashed like crazy, in the worst terms, by a former assistant. His last name is a Biblical one and he worked for her in the nineties and he will have no career in the entertainment industry because a number of us -- don't include Kathryn in that, I'm not even sure she knows the things he's said about her -- have made a point to get the word out on him. If Rachel Abramowitz had spoken to him, he would have given her some wonderful fantasies she could have printed as truth. Reality, his tiny ego couldn't accept the fact that as a recent college student with no real experience, he was damn lucky to be hired to fetch Kathryn's coffee. He wanted to be a director himself but had nothing to show for it, not even a short student film. So he trashed her and when a number of us found out, we made a real point to get the word out on him. I know I never mentioned it to Kathryn Bigelow, someone else may have, or she may learn it from someone asking her about this. If she doesn't already know, she will know who I mean. He's a little s**t who can't stand the fact that he's not a director and that Kathyrn is and that she was his boss. The things he has whispered about her on job interviews were horrible. So the idea that any of us give a damn what little Todd McCarthy, whose life amounted to nothing, thinks about Elaine May? Rachel's living in a dream world. As for the set designer, has he ever not had a problem with women? We can forget his violent problems with women in his personal life and just, for example, note all the vile and crap he's publicly spewed at Barbra Streisand. Funny, whenever he works with a woman director, he has a problem and goes running to the press. He had a problem with Elaine May, he had a problem with Barbra Streisand. He's been punched in the face on sets with male directors but he's never gone running to the press about that, now has he? But he gets real bitchy when he works for a woman and just having to work under a woman so enrages him that he has to go running to the press and making up these fantastic stories. I know for a fact what Barbra was asking for and I know for a fact he didn't deliver it which is why she had to improvise with the camera work and everything else. Barbra was not the problem. He was the problem. And his tales about Elaine May are so similar to his tales about Barbra. And if Rachel was a journalist of any real talent, she would have bothered to research what that set designer had to say about other directors and she would have noticed how his trashing of Elaine was so similar to his trashing of Barbra. Who the hell cares if a set designer thinks a montage belongs in a film? Who cares? He is not the director. Barbra was the director. His little catty, bitchy act has gotten real damn old and most of the time he carps about actresses but whenever he works with a female director, he trashes her. He's never been that talented. A woman who went on to produce who was part of that family, briefly, by marriage was and is much more talented than any male of that family. Elaine May directed A New Leaf, The Heartbreak Kid, and Mikey and Nicky during the 1970s. She was the first woman to direct a studio film since Ida Lupino did The Trouble With Angels. In Rachel's nonsense view -- she sides with Todd McCarthy -- Elaine May is the reason women didn't get to direct. That's bulls**t. Elaine May isn't the reason women didn't get to direct more. And if Elaine May hadn't directed those three films no woman would have directed a studio film in the US during the seventies. That's reality. There was no interest in hiring women to direct. Barbra had been trying to direct Yentl for the last half of the seventies, and finally set it up only to see Heaven's Gate destroy her and many other filmmakers dreams. But the refusal of so many to greenlight Barbra as a director had nothing to do with Elaine May, it had to do with the sexism ingrained in the entertainment world. Since Barbra pretty much directed A Star Is Born and The Main Event, I'm surprised Rachel didn't try to pin it on Barbra. But it sure is amazing that Rachel wants to pimp the notion that the only woman the studios saw fit to allow to direct is also the reason other women couldn't direct. What a load of hogwash. Elaine got her opportunity because she was talented in another field and because of greed. Her talent opened the door. The hope that she, like her former partner, might make money for the studios was the greed factor. She and Mike Nichols stood on stage and did amazing, hilarious comedic sketches. Mike had gone on to become a director who delivered box office in the sixties, though by the time Elaine was doing her first two films, he was suffering some set backs. But if Mike could do it then his partner might be able to as well! For that reason, and because Elaine didn't give them what they wanted, they were interested in her as a director. She had to fight to get that interest but she did. She leveraged everything she had and became a director. She basically moved mountains and it's catty and bitchy and just wrong to blame her for the fact that other women weren't given opportunities. Richard Pryor, to offer an example of another minority, was hugely successful in films in the seventies, as an actor granted, but that didn't mean the studios suddenly wanted to create all these roles for African-American actors. Rachel lives in an ahistorical world. If Elaine were successful or a failure, it wasn't going to impact other women during that decade. And it didn't impact other women. Elaine's first two films were money makers. And that's something Rachel can't grasp either because she lives in a post-Jaws world and is trying to write about a pre-Jaws one. Meaning, A New Leaft was a hit by the box office standards of its day. The Heartbreak Kid even more so.
Jim: Okay, jumping in to play devil's advocate, Rachel writes that Elaine went overbudget.
C.I.: Yes, she did. And yes, many of the films released in 1971 went over budget. Some, like A New Leaf, were hits, some were flops. She did not go over budget in a way that threatened the film and the proof there is that she was never fired. If she'd been viewed as a threat to the film, she would have been fired during filming and someone else would've been brought in. Howard Koch told Paramount to fire her, as Rachel herself admits, but Paramount decided not to. That's not because the ones in charge were kindly. If you buy into that fairy tale, ask Robert Evans and he will tell you how blood thirsty the money men in New York really were. Paramount liked what they saw. They knew she was overbudget when they removed Koch. They liked what they saw and knew that they could go over budget without risking the profit -- in part because she wasn't that over budget and also because they had grossly underbudgeted the film.
Jim: Okay, one question. Page 63, Abramowitz writes to infer that Elaine May's original conception was that Walter Matthau kills the wife, played by May, in the film: ". . . so instead of a story about a man who gets away with murder it became the watered-down, ostensibly more audience-friendly story of a man who merely contemplates the act."
C.I.: Whether Rachel intended that to be what the readers thought or not, it is what they will think because, in the film, Walter is thinking about killing Elaine's character. He doesn't. As filmed, Walter kills two men in the cast. Those two murders are cut from the film before it's released. So, as Jim points out, if you've seen the film and read Rachel's book, you will leap to that conclusion, that the original had Elaine's character killed by Walter. It's an important point because by not informing readers of who died, Rachel further undercuts Elaine's gifts by implying she's so stupid she was killing off the most likeable character in the film.
Jim: So Elaine May is not the reason women were not directing?
C.I.: No. Sexism prevented all women from directing. Elaine May was ideally suited, in ways similar to Richard Pryor, to work the system and get a shot at doing what they weren't letting other women and African-American males do. The same institutional racism that prevented others from following in Pryor's footsteps in the seventies also prevented women from following in Elaine's. It takes a real idiot to pin systematic and institutionalized sexism on Elaine May. It takes a real idiot to blame the victim for the system that victimizes. It takes a real idiot to run to some of the most sexist men in the industry, with long histories of public sexism, and use them to call out Elaine May. In 1971 and 1972, Elaine had two films she directed released and both were well received and hits for their day. To blame Elaine May for other women not being able to direct is to not understand history. If sexism wasn't the cause, then those two hits would have resulted in studios screaming, "Get me our Elaine May! Find us a woman to direct for us! Women are box office gold!" That didn't happen. Now Elaine stumbles at the box office with the amazing Mikey and Nicky. That's 1976. Now someone could argue that the film's box office hurt other women . . . if other women had been directing studio films between 1971 and 1977 -- I say through '77 due to release patterns. They weren't. Elaine didn't help women in the seventies and she didn't hurt them. She helped other women in the longterm by proving that a woman could direct. But the system was such that no other woman was going to benefit from it in the seventies. Again, Barbra Streisand, the biggest box office for that decade as an actress -- in the top ten when few other women were -- Goldie Hawn and Jane Fonda were two other women who made the top ten box office -- she has problems setting up a musical that she will sing in and that she will act in because she's also directing. A Star Is Born is the immediate musical for the studios to judge by, its box office, and it was a huge hit. Even so, the directing aspect made studios leery. Barbra was not turned down because of Elaine May. Barbra was turned down because of sexism. Now women were directing non-feature films and it's telling that Rachel wants to pooh-pah women taking film courses during this period but doesn't want to even mention Antonia: A Portrait of the Women, a 1974 documentary which was directed by Judy Collins -- yes, of music fame -- and Jill Godmilow and was nominated in 1975 as a Best Documentary Feature for the Academy Awards. 1975 would see the release of The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir, a documentary directed by Claudia Weill and Shirley MacLaine. It would be nominated the following year for Best Documentary. That's 1976. 1976 would see two women nominated as directors. Barbara Kopple would be nominated for Best Documentary and win. Also in 1976 Lynne Littman would be nominated for Best Short Documentary, Numer Our Days, and she would win. I'm not done yet, Dyan Cannon won for Best Live Action Short film. The film was Number One. She wrote, she directed, she co-produced. None of those women's accomplishments make it into Rachel's book; however, she does find time, I believe page 55, to note that Dyan Cannon, Cicely Tyson and other women take part in AFI's directors workshop and to repeat the false criticism that they are part of an "elitist" program. It's amazing that the incredible Cicely Tyson gets only one mention in a book on women in film that's over 400 pages long and it's to infer that Cicely is "elitist." It's also amazing that Dyan's Oscar win, after taking part in the workshops, isn't noted by Rachel. But it doesn't fit her motif of what failures women of the sixties and seventies were. To push that narrative, she has to introduce Jane Fonda as a film producer in 1980 with 9 to 5 when, point of fact, Jane's already produced Coming Home and The China Syndrome. But apparently Jodie Foster made Rachel's vagina moist and she had to write a book about it wherein a child actor, courted by male directors because she was a tomboy, is the savior of womenhood. Jodie's own box office didn't prove that before the book came out and hasn't since the book came out. Jodie has a special audience and has to be paired with very select material or the mystique flops at the box office. Only an idiot would have suggested that Jodie was the way forward for women and blazing a trail. I'm not trying to insult Jodie, she's a wonderful person and a supremely talented actress.
Jim: You really found the book offensive. And don't edit yourself in replying, this is the portion of the roundtable that readers are going to write in about.
C.I.: I found it very offensive. I found it offensive that a woman would write a book about women in an industry and take the word of sexist men when she wanted to slam a woman and never even raise the issue of the hostility of those men. Never even acknowledge it. I found it offensive that she needed to bury and belittle the accomplishments of women in the sixties and seventies in order to elevate an actress who, no offense to Jodie, has to select every part with great care because her range is not that of Meg Ryan's or Michelle Pfieffer's or any number of women. She's completely unbelieveable in a love scene as both Somersby and Anna and the King have now demonstrated. I'm thrilled for Rachel Abramowitz that she has a secret crush on Jodie Foster but that has nothing to do with the topic of her book and her crush drags the book down considerably. In terms of the women who participated in the AFI directing workshops, she made no effort to speak to them. But she includes that crap about how it was "elitist." The women were chosen because they had some success in some field. And, this goes back to Elaine May. None of those women were given feature films to direct in the seventies by studios. And they were successful women. But, like Barbra, that wasn't enough. The only woman who knew how to play the system in the seventies was Elaine May and good for her for doing that and good for her for leaving three amazing seventies films.
Jim: I have two questions and I know you're looking impatient but this is what's going to make the roundtable for a lot of people, this discussion. In fact, I'm considering pulling this section out and making it a stand alone. But I have two more questions. The first is Ishtar which you are speaking around. I know it doesn't apply to the points being made because it comes in the mid-eighties. But just wondering about that?
C.I.: Ishtar fails because of the leading lady. That's what destroys the film. The NYC scenes are funny and move quickly. Dustin and Warren both have enough of a giddy high going into the desert scenes to carry that forward. But the actress is all wrong, hired for the wrong reasons and she tanks the film. You need someone light, someone to be a good sport, like Dorothy Lamour was in the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road pictures, or someone who is actually funny. You do not need a French actress of questionable looks pouting through scene after scene. No one needs it, no one wants it and she weighs down every scene she's in. Like Jodie Foster, that actress can play drama. Ishtar was not a dramatic film. Charles Grodin is also very good in the film and Carol Kane is just magic, so much so you wish she'd been given the lead female role. Dustin and Warren were switching out the onscreen personas they were known for and for audiences to have accepted it, the film needed to be laughout loud funny. For large sections, the film is just that. It fails every time the actress with the granite and unmoving face comes onscreen.
Jim: Okay, second point. Rachel Abramowitz doesn't just present an argument that Elaine May destroyed directing chances for other women, she also argues Elaine May is a lousy director. Your thoughts?
C.I.: Little sheltered women from Yale should learn to study what they're writing about. There is no indication that she ever actually saw any of Elaine May's films. Rachel presents the theory that Elaine is a lousy director because she thinks Elaine has no sense of the visual. First of all, there's more to directing than just the visual and I wonder what Rachel would assume a DP is responsible for. But Elaine came onto the set of her first film attempting to build scenes as one would in the theater. She's not the first director to ever approach it that way. She was going for a rhythm and that rhythm included, pay attention Rachel, the visual rhythm because theater is also a visual medium. Elaine learned quickly about the camera on her first film and there are some amazing shots in A New Leaf. There are some amazing shots in The Heartbreak Kid. Elaine's an amazing director with a unique visual sense. It also bears noting that she has an amazing skill. No one else ever got such a complex performance out of Walter Matthau. The Heartbreak Kid resulted in two supporting acting nominations [Academy Award nominations]. She is very good at assisting actors in finding their characters. She's an amazing writer as well and I didn't focus on that because her writing was ignored by Rachel but her directing was attacked -- as was her legacy. Elaine May has a place in film history and she didn't deserve Rachel's uninformed, smutty little gossip passed off as history. Also if I could, on the subject of women directors, The Hurt Locker is Kathryn Bigelow's latest film, it opens this spring and, it's really something.
Jim: And on that note, we'll end the roundtable. This was a rush transcript.