Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pride, and "Word Is Out", A Fascinating 1978 Documentary

I asked myself today if I am a proud person.

Well, I thought, I have become more confident in my opinions and views on things.  I know that I have the ability to love, and be loved; and I have accepted my place in the world just enough to be motivated to make a better mark in it. 

Sure, I still have insecurities, and am naive about a lot of things, but I still know how to learn, and I suppose I am proud of my renewed effort to do just that, and to express myself in writing.

What of gay pride? 

I can't speak for all gay people, or even guess how every gay person defines "pride" for himself or herself.  Speaking personally, I don't define myself primarily as a gay person, nor do I consider being gay a major source of pride; but I am proud of how my life as a gay person has evolved.  I have accepted that my being gay is not "abnormal", and that I need not despair of being isolated or of never having a loving relationship.  I have a growing sense of comfort and contentment with that part of myself, thanks to the support I have received from so many.

There is some residual discomfort, due mainly to the reality that there are still numerous groups and individuals out there who are still vocal, even dangerous, in their distaste, and hate, of guys like me.  But mostly I have come to see that most of my fears are unfounded, and that most people view this part of me without undue drama. 

So I have become a little less self-conscious and less self-absorbed (even if not completely less so), and have relished my learning more about American gay culture and accomplishments.

Last week, Turner Classic Movies aired the 1978 documentary, "Word is Out".  Made on a shoestring, "Word is Out" is a filmed record of candid interviews with 26 gay men and women.  The TCM broadcast was the first time I had seen the film since our Dorm Staff showed it for RA Training at the University of Iowa lots of years ago. (Back then, we called it Sensitivity Training, not Diversity Training.)

Back then, the film was considered unique, controversial, ground-breaking.  The interviewees spoke candidly about growing up gay in the 1950's and '60's, the loneliness, the first stirrings of attraction, the family conflicts, the secrecy; of military service, of "curative" shock treatments, of exploring a world that remained for the most part underground, of coming to terms.  The Gay Liberation Movement that exploded out of the Stonewall riots (June 28, 1969) prompted a few to proclaim their identities, either militantly, or matter-of-factly, and they encountered challenges that would now seem unheard of, even blase.

Seeing the film today, it seemed almost quaint at first; but then it occurred to me how lots of gay people must still overcome the same problems: the rejection of family, friends, church and society; high suicide rates among gay youth; the lack of legal recognition for committed gay relationships; the threats of hate and violence that keep many from living genuine lives.  While our culture has become much more open in the last 40 years, it is discouraging that some fundamental issues have not been resolved

There is now a 30-year anniversary edition available for purchase through the movie's web site (see link near the top of this post).   In this edition, many of those originally interviewed react with the perspective of time, and describe their lives now since the time capsule of the 1977 film. (The original, filmed before the AIDS crisis, contained frank monologues about sexual behavior, and I wondered how many of these people had survived until today.  It appears that many are still around to tell their stories.)

This is a valuable record of a movement, and a group of people and their individual lives, with whom many gay people of a certain age will readily identify.  Whether you are straight or gay or anywhere in between, if you love people, you will be glad to have seen "Word is Out". 

To me, this mosaic of voices and faces, and the honest recounting of lives, is one of the best representations of the idea of gay pride that I have ever seen.              

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thoughts on Leaving My Old Home---A Friday Photo-Journal

My condo sold and finally closed about two weeks ago.  I lived there since May 1, 1994....Sixteen years.

On the afternoon that it finally changed hands, before I had to give up my keys at the closing, I took a private walk through the empty unit and around the grounds.

This was after the tedious months of making the deal, cleaning, and packing.  I met deadlines, moved my belongings out on schedule, and suffered delay after delay.... until the buyer's mortgage bank decided it need no longer be cautious.

Fatigue and uncertainty (would the deal fall through? what then?) overtook any feelings of nostalgia I might have had, even while I sorted through old pictures and journals that I put away and never looked at until I had to pack them again. 

It was usually very quiet there in the afternoons, but this was almost a deathly quiet, a sacred quiet.  I expected to look at the bare walls, the plain grey carpet, the new kitchen and the sliding door out onto the tranquil and tree-shaded balcony, and feel a detached relief.

Then I remembered standing in that kitchen side by side with my grandfather while we prepared a big dinner for Mark and his sons. 

I looked out my bedroom window at the abandoned nest of the robin that made her home there every year.  I was reminded again of my own pet cockatiel, and the time I first found an egg in the little cage she favored above my refrigerator.  I remembered the little memorial service when she finally passed away.

I looked at the ceiling fan, not spinning, over a bare dining room that once had a long table filled with friends for Saturday night dinners.

I stood in the corner overlooking the big square living room; so plain, but the voices of my favorite actors, and music from the hundreds of films I enjoyed there, whispered in the still air. 

I moved into the brick-walled hallway and it never looked so beautiful....a throwback to an old architectural design, one I was sure I would not see again, beaming with reflected sun and obscured in arty shadow.

The pond out back still had the bench where I would sit and read on my days off.  I walked Maggie there on those amusing days where she would visit and make friends of everyone she met.  I walked the pond path around which I jogged untold number of miles, listened to the unusual sound of bullfrogs, and observed neighbors I never met passing lazy aftenoons with fishing poles.

I took one last look at my unit before I locked the door one more time.  I left it as I came to it.  But this time, its arms were open not in welcome, but in release. It was letting me go.  I no longer belonged to it...and it no longer belonged to me....

With heaving sobs as I drove away I tried to purge the images of my grandfather, and of Mark when we first met,and of Mark's young boys, and of my little pet bird, and of the friends I made there, and of the wall-painting parties, and of the long summer walks, and the poems written and the sunsets photographed and the wild geese and other birds and the neon from the hotel across the pond reflected in the still night water, and the books I read, and the drafty winters as the snow piled up on the deck.... 

And they fixed in my mind like the fading photographs that I packed up and took with me to my new home.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Windy City Gay Chorus' Terrific Summer Concert Made Me Proud...

"Summer Lovin'"

This past Saturday I attended both shows of the Windy City gay Men's Chorus Pride Concert, "Summer Lovin'".  I loved every minute of each show!  For me, there was more than just my enjoyment of the music in the presence of this cohesive and talented group (along with Aria, their Lesbian co-chorus).  That's because I was so proud to see Mark in his Chicago musical performance debut!

As a second tenor and one of the taller members of the group, Mark stood in the back row of the risers.(He beamed at me once he found me in the third row, sporting a highly visible orange silk shirt!)  Our great friend Jillian came to the first show and cheered louder than anyone there.

Through the rehearsal period that started after his audition last March, I was there to hear his stories about learning the music, the choreography, the personalities of his fellow choir-mates, and his uncertainty about assimilating, feeling he had few opportunities to socialize during  the demanding and complicated practices.

Last Friday, at the dress rehearsal, Mark and four of his fellow "newbies", were each presented with a yellow rose as they were serenaded by the veterans in the group.  It was a touching show of support.  At that point, Mark was "in" and there to stay, and that made the experience that much sweeter.

While I listened to each show, I had a rare sensation of feeling safe, content, as though everything was as it ought to be in our world.  The music, and the people making it, made me completely happy.


This diverse group of men delivered a lively first act which combined some show tunes and popular standards.  The stage movement during the opening medley from "Grease" was charming, and very deftly done, considering the risers on the intimate stage were very narrow (the little auditorium at the Center on Halsted held about 150 people).

Keeping to a '50's theme, this was followed by a harmony-filled "Under the Boardwalk". 

After that nice warm-up for the group as well as the audience, the guys launched into a terrific arrangement of "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In", complete with flowers, tambourine, and audience interaction.  Neither Mark nor I knew until the start of rehearsals that this would be performed, and recalling our unforgettable experience last fall at Broadway's revival of "Hair", this number held special meaning for us. 

Aria took the stage and performed a set on their own. Listening to their opening number, a vocal exercise without lyrics, I was intent on seeing the faces of these highly diverse women, and imagining the varying roads each had to travel to finally converge at this spot on this night.  Most poignant was a member who was unable to participate in the stage movement, being blind; yet she sang her best, and smiled. A favorite moment occurred in a very sweet number called  "Big Dogs, Whiskey and Wild Wild Women", when half of the performers held up their (toy) dogs.

Another favorite was the finale to "Spring Awakening" titled "Song of Purple Summer".  The entire group painted a portrait of love and growing up, seasons changing, and a fond looking-back.  A gem.

At the end of the first set was a complicated rendition of Queen's "Somebody to Love".  The sound was thunderous, even though a piano and a percussionist were the only accompaniment.  The movement and the many vocal  "parts" came together into a swaying completeness.  Stephen, the musical director, demanded precision and drilled the group well.

Act 2 was more somber, more socially conscious, and extremely moving.  An original slide show was produced by lighting designer Alison (Ali) Hecimovich, which juxtaposed images of anti-gay protests with pictures of people in support of gay issues with placards for inclusiveness, gay marriage, and gay families.  The virulent "christian" and conservative messages, many with children holding up signs promoting hate, gave way to grace, and even humor, when the rainbow came into view. 

"This Marriage" was close to a sacred sound, very understated, with complex harmonies.  The crowd, hushed, then witnessed a duet from two young and diminutive tenors, convincing in their love for each other, in a number from the musical "The Full Monty".

Another wonderful song of love came in the form of "When I Fall In Love", made so famous by Nat King Cole and others.  Mark and the rest of the group were visibly moved by this piece, and the audience responded in kind.

Our new friend (and new chorus member) Greg did a solid interpretation of "Make Them Hear You" from "Ragtime".  The lyrics stirred feelings of solidarity and of holding steadfast to one's beliefs, in keeping with the more activist theme of this set.

The finale, "Upon This Shining Night" was, as Director Stephen told us, a song of hope.  It was a graceful finish to a wonderful evening of music.  Both times, the audience was on its feet.

Here's the mission statement for the Windy City Gay Chorus:

“Windy City Gay Chorus endeavors to be an exceptional men’s chorus with a reputation for performing outstanding music of a variety of styles. Our music shall entertain, enlighten, uplift, enrich and educate a diverse audience as it reflects the human spirit and experience, particularly the gay experience. We seek to support, empower, represent and challenge the gay and lesbian community as a whole through our excellence in music, our commitment to equality and justice for all people and through the portrayal of our lives.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

If I Were a Scientist; Maintaining Inspiration---A Friday Journal

If I were 18 years old today, and as passionate about animal welfare, as I am now, it's likely that the bombardment of images from the Gulf disaster would have motivated me to a life-study of biological sciences or bioengineering.

While I continue to use my imagination for writing, as  always, I've discovered a surprising consequence of my caring for dogs and reading articles about the abuse and death of animals at the hands of mankind:  My imagination has expanded, reinvented itself somewhat....I feel more passionate about how that which I write may do some good, beyond touching readers' hearts and minds. 

For most of my life, science was not a personal passion.  I preferred the nuances of art, literature, and more ambiguous endeavors, open to interpretation; and that proved to be stimulating and satisfying.  I still do and will always embrace the power and beauty of words and language, writing and music, and especially my beloved theater and cinema.

Mathematics and scientific inquiry, facts and figures, and the rigor of research and experimentation were intimidating, not convenient to my broad and liberal understanding of the world.  I was  more comfortable with the power of imagination,  creative effort, and the end results (like novels, plays and films).  I was bored and restless with the hard and fast rules, and confining processes, of the sciences. All of that was best left to those who excelled in math and chemistry and physics, unlike myself.

Lately, I have taken interest in asking questions the likes of which I have never asked. I now try to read books and articles that before would put me off or would bore me, and which now produce in me a new kind of excitement, not too different from the thrill of writing a good short story, or the pride of solving a difficult math problem (a rarity for me!)

While time and resources will never allow me to pursue all of the education and activity I want to accomplish in life, there ARE opportunities to learn, to improve, to contribute....

Rather than succumb to the heartbreak I feel over the loss of wildlife in the Gulf, or over the ignorance of people who would harm our companion animals, or over the horrible ineptitude and inability of our political leaders to collaborate for the common good, I guess I'll keep on reading, asking questions....maybe create a new artistic/scientific aesthetic...whatever that means....

Here are a few items that have entered my thoughts and have tumbled within, and the questions they are inspiring:

--The latest cover article of Newsweek..What the Spill Will Kill  made me ponder, suddenly, what the greater implications of the oil spill might be beyond the ocean depths.  How is the oil from this spill, and from more diastrous ones that have occurred in the last two decades, affecting global warming?  In what way is this substance contributing to the rising ocean temperatures in ways that "An Inconvenient Truth" did not cover? My initial research is uncovering some troubling questions on either side of the climate change debate.

--Then I thought about  NASA and research for the space program.  It struck me that perhaps NASA might provide some needed assistance in our oceans...It is hard to get to the source of the spill because of the treachery of its depths.  So why not enlist the aid of NASA to use a vehicle designed for space exploration, one that can withstand the extreme temperatures and pressures in space?  Interestingly, I found a very detailed web site (there could be many others) that has treated this idea in much detail.  Check out GhostNasa, by  Gaetano Morano.

--Last, but certainly not all, I am annoyed and discouraged by the congressional hearings, the blame and finger-pointing, the countless hours of words expended by "experts" on TV and radio, with little sense of urgency around solving the immediate problem.  I want to speak up, to contribute, to do anything I can do from here in Chicago.  I found some excellent resources in a blog called Armchair activism for oil-spill animals  by Melissa Breyer.

And to calm me and keep me inspired and motivated, I retreat to the words of my favorite lyricist Joni Mitchell, in a song that was not primarily a "green anthem" in the '70's, but has proved prophetic, and given new popularity by Counting Crows.  Please enjoy the images in this video, and if you can help in any way,  or if you were inspired just a little by reading any of this, thank you!!!

BOOKS: "The Rest Is Illusion"

I am pleased to introduce the work of a talented writer and blogger colleague, Eric Arvin.  After recently finding his web journal, Daventry Blue, I offered to read and critique a book Arvin had recently published titled "The Rest is Illusion". Click on his web link to find this and other provocative titles in his repertoire.

It's important that writers also be good readers, for each other as well as for their own inspiration, and lend honest, candid support to their fellow artists.   One of the things I looked forward to in starting my own web journal was a community of writers eager to share their work and willing to talk openly about the writing of other authors in that community.

I hope you will have a look, and when you do, send some comments my way, and let's have a discussion. Perhaps other authors will allow me to highlight their work on these pages...and start a writer's circle here.

"The Rest is Illusion" is polished, focused, and glides smoothly like a skater on a crystal pond.  Arvin spins a tale of four collegians, each one brought to vivid life through stunning detail and painstaking inner monologue, that compel the reader to follow these characters as they confront their complicated loves and lusts, come to terms with their mortality, grapple with their demons, and find their own difficult paths to redemption.

Dash, the protagonist, has inherited a fatal malady, and tries to live an honest and uncomplicated life, finishing a thesis on religious studies, and navigating being gay within a fraternity of rowdy and shallow young men.  He forever changes the lives of Sarah, a level-headed, loving young woman in conflict with her super-religious father; Ashley, a likable and loyal friend whose strength of personality helps him overcome his albinism; and Tony, the handsome heartthrob, a stud-role-model who denies his attraction to other men.  Only Wilder, the snaky villain and son of a "politician", who finds the weakness of others to blackmail them to his own wiles, feels like a type, a catalyst, a purely evil force.

Arvin is a skilled storyteller who paces his chapters well, and knows his characters in intimate detail, orchestrating their thoughts and emotions like a chamber piece.  He knows extremely well the eroticism of a college environment when matters of the heart are sublimated and not directly discussed.

This is a book rich in sensual detail; it is surprisingly free of descriptions of physical sex, but Arvin engages our senses, especially touch and temperature, sight and the motifs of color and light (red and white dominate).  He is most successful re-creating the longing, romanticism, and mischief of his setting, and surrounding his reader with details of college life, which are recognizable to many.

The premise sometimes feels too slight to warrant such an adept literary treatment. The story stands on its merits and is entertaining and reminds readers of their own coming-of-age, yet Arvin strives for a network of meanings, sometimes inflating the work with patterns of religious symbolism, and the occasional prosaic phrasing that may jar one from full engagement in the story. The first half of the book is more lively and visual; I held my breath in the second half, hoping it would not get too metaphysical or preachy. 

On the other hand, the writing is terrific and the descriptions are often gorgeous, and some of the paragraph-ending sentences become fixed in the mind like Bergman's fades to red.  One favorite: "(he had a) blessed existence that did not require dealing with monetary fortunes or misfortunes."  Best of all, Arvin leaves behind the emotions of secret yearning, especially of shy and closeted gay students for their admired, handsome dorm-mates, and the sublime ecstasy of a shared, secret intimacy.

I look forward to Arvin tackling more mature material.  As an exercise in storytelling, he was smart to narrow his focus here and use what is no doubt the memory of his own growing up to infuse his tale with honesty.  I enjoyed "The Rest Is Illusion"; it is a worthwhile read.

Hope to hear from others!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jackie DeShannon: What the World Needs Now...Tuesday Journal #2

Yesterday, to my utter and pleasant surprise, Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air interviewed one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Jackie DeShannon.  Her interview comes as a lead-up to her induction into the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame this Thursday(Listen on this link)

In my youngest youth, I listened to her song "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" on the Top-10 Countdown every afternoon for weeks.  I loved the song, and it made me feel, in my naive and boyish way, the stirrings of an idealistic, even psychedelic, world view:

I had also heard her classic "What the World Needs Now (Is Love Sweet Love)", countless times, and never equated her as the same singer: for a while thought I was hearing Dionne Warwick.  No matter....the song came up later in my life, when I was finally old enough to see the film "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" (see my 1969 Oscar Series), and the use of that song during the sweetly ambiguous, Fellini-esque final "encounter" was unforgettable:

Even later, DeShannon co-wrote another haunting and playful tune, "Bette Davis Eyes", forever memorialized in raspy allure by Kim Carnes. De Shannon, along with co-writer Donna Weiss, won a 1982 Grammy for Song of the Year. 

So DeShannon was a big influence on my pop-musical tastes, and I am really happy she will receive a well-deserved recognition

Ironically, as we watch the ruin of the earth before our eyes, one of her lyrics  in "What the World needs Now" seems oddly quaint today; I never thought I would question the truth of it, nor stop taking it for granted:

"...there are mountains and hillsides enough to climb,
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross
Enough to last
'Til the end of time....."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shelter Dogs---More About The Buddy Foundation: Tuesday Journal #1

It has been a while since I shared anecdotes from my Tuesday nights feeding and caring for the homeless dogs at the Buddy Foundation.  Check out their page on of the better sites, with great information about the facility, and the dogs and cats looking for forever-homes.

Tonight, it was raining hard, and I decided that since I would not walk my own dog in the pouring rain, neither would I walk these critters in a downpour.

But they all had to be fed, and I coordinated the effort, with some helpers.  Because our volunteer roster is growing,  we had a nice group assisting with tonights' tasks, from feeding, to cleaning up, to maintaining the shelter facility.

That gave me a chance to do what I love to do most...spend some play-time and love-time with some of the needier dogs, most of which are my favorites.

You may recall my speaking about Duchess on these pages....the black Pit Bull who came in abused, with a cut-off tail and a haunted look in her eyes.  She is doing much better, and should soon appeal to a dog-lover who wants a sweet and loving companion.  Tonight, I stroked her head, ears, and back while she lay curled on a blanket, chewing a toy she brought over especially for me.  One ear stuck straight out in a comical lopsided expression.  Her tail, so injured a couple months ago, waved contentedly, and she showed her love by licking my face.

I almost brought her home tonight myself.

Enjoy this brief video clip I found on the Facebook Page, shot recently, to introduce you to this wonderful facility in Arlington Heights, Illinois.  If you live nearby, and especially if you are ready to take in a creature of your own, please visit us!

The Buddy Foundation. from Steve...M on Vimeo.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Tony Award Journal---Completed!

There were only three of us here last evening: Me, Mark, and our friend Jillian.  Yet our annual Tony Award get-together  was terrific fun, and had all the laughs, witty comments and surprised gasps as the spectacle at Radio City Music Hall.  Huddled in our tiny converted bedroom-turned-screening-room just large enough to seat three, on our HD TV and armed with snacks and "beverages", we reveled in the speeches, costumes and hair, the music and scenes from the big plays, cheered for our "favorites", and planned our fantasy itineraries for our next trip to Broadway (next fall, maybe?)

I also got my motivation going to finish a that some day, I can give the thank-you speech I have carefully prepared many years ago....something some stars clearly forgot to do (Denzel?)

I used to watch the Tony's to get a sort of preview of the material Hollywood might use for its big productions for the coming year. Big Hollywood musicals, and some classic dramatic films,  were often Tony-winning shows at first. I'm remembering classic vintage films like "My Fair lady", "Sound of Music", "Lion in Winter",   Now, Broadway has scavenged the Hollywood creative factory for its concepts and ideas, so that a good number of shows seem to have been Disney Animated features or obscure TV sitcoms ("Shrek", Addams Family", etc.)

Living in the middle of the country, we don't have immediate access to the big Broadway shows honored by Tony.  Yes, we eventually see them arrive in Chicago in wonderfully mounted productions, but at award season it's like being made to watch the Oscars without having seen ANY of the films in competition.  So, I try to stay current by reading about the shows following the trade notices..and of course assessing their award chances!

"Red" seemed to get the most press, and I was well aware of the show and its premise going in.  I wasn't too surprised it won Best Play, given the number of its nominations.  I felt most sorry for Alfred Molina, who appeared to be the only nominee from the show not to have earned a trophy...and he was the lead character, no less!  This story of artist mark Rothko and his protege intrigues me.  Too bad we could not see a scene, even on tape, to showcase the performers and the drama.  I must see this one.

What can you say about "La Cage"?  It's one of those perennials, like "Gypsy", that seems to win every time it's produced.  And why not? it's a crowd-pleaser with gorgeous design, lots of humor, and with a message of acceptance that can't fail to stir all but the most jaded in the audience.   

Jillian just saw "Memphis" in her last trip to NY and was wildly enthusiastic.  She was out of her seat when it was named "Best Musical".  I knew that, sadly, "Memphis" was the ONLY eligible nominated musical with an original music score, which is why I gave it the edge in my prediction it would win.  All others were compilations of music, or, in the case of "American Idiot", taken from a concept "rock-opera".

Speaking of "A.I.", I sort of "got" it....I think it's this generation's "Hair", or "Rent", basically an anthem to youthful idealism, this time presented in an in-your-face, confrontational style...loud and rude, and exhilarating nonetheless.  Mark and Jillian were less enthusiastic about it, and it might not top my to-see list, but I would go if I got a chance.  I still wonder if Broadway is the appropriate venue for highly amplified musicals. Green Day and the cast members of "American Idiot" certainly have something important to say, and loudly; however I hope they understand the effectiveness of the occasional whisper.

"Fela" was appealing in an intellectual, "culture-is-good-for-you" kind of way.  I know this is not fair, having seen only one or two brief numbers from it.  But what I saw engaged my mind, and I told myself how unique and wonderful it was...but it left me unmoved.  It's a show that I think might grow on me after seeing it through, and maybe again.  I was awe-struck by the rhythm and choreography, and the costuming (although we couldn't resist taking a swipe at the Jiffy-Pop headgear on the opening singer...and what about those glasses??) 

Some of my least favorite moments; Catherine Zeta-Jones' slog through "Send in the Clowns" and her strange acceptance speech; Denzel forgetting who had just honored him; Nathan Lane recycling Bob Hope (to an Oscar fanatic his remark about Passover was just too recognizable--although in general he and Bebe Neuwirth made me laugh); Scarlett Johannson's overlong acceptance speech to kick off the show; and the poor directing and technical difficulties for the telecast, with wandering teleprompters, indiscriminate editing, and horrible sound that always seemed to be on a delay.

SEAN HAYES did a surprising and extremely smart thing to kick off the show with an instrumental performance and immediately deflect controversy. This way he did not risk an immediate turnoff with lame jokes or the appearance of trying too hard to be classy.  His bravura turn at the piano was eye-opening, and all criticism of his supposed effectiveness as a romantic straight lead evaporated...the man has talent.  He carried the event well, although I could have done without the Spiderman-Orphan Annie costuming during the show.  And aside from a nod to the naysayers with an exaggerated kiss on the lips of his "Promises" co-star Katherine Heigel, the only political statement was in mentioning BP, and that by way of introducing Bernadette Peters.

As award shows go, this is always my favorite.  One day perhaps I will have seen more of the plays and musicals before the awards are given out.  And I hope Mark and Jillian and I continue to have our annual gala.....adding more guests as the years pass, as there will always be room for one more friend of Broadway!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Broadway's Big Night..A Tony Award Journal (Under Construction)

...I liked the show a lot...and am excited about following the plays and musicals that were among the nominees and winners.  Too bad there were so many techical difficulties with the live broadcast.  I have a lot of thoughts to share.....and will complete this entry on Monday.

Hope you will be back then!

"Letters To Juliet" an Entertaining Fantasy

It's light and sentimental, romantic and inconsequential.  Starting with a script that has plot holes large enough to drive an Audi through, "Letters to Juliet" nevertheless delivers a sweet and visually pleasant two hours at the cinema.

Yes, the story is far-fetched, formulaic and a little repetitive through the midsection, and you know how it will all turn out after about 15 minutes.  But it does have two great things in its favor: wonderful Italian locations, beautifully, lovingly photographed; and Vanessa Redgrave.

Redgrave's Claire is like a rare bloom on-screen, and she gives this comic drama about finding lost love an authenticity and maturity that lends the film an unexpected emotional depth.  She is as beautiful as a delicate ivory carving, her voice slow and clear and full of expression.  Her fabulous work in  small roles in "Howard's End" and "Atonement" is on display again here, and she carries the film and makes it all seem more plausible than it has a right to be. 

The premise is rather interesting.  In Verona, outside of the balconied house where Shakepeare's Juliet supposedly lived, women of all ages pin letters to the wall, asking Juliet to help them in their pursuit of love.  A group of women known to themselves as "Juliet's Secretaries" take the letters, write responses to them and send them off. 

Into this world appears Sophie, a young fact-checker and would-be writer for New Yorker Magazine, who is on a pre-wedding "honeymoon" in Italy with her charming, neglectful and self-centered restauranteur-fiancee.  Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, and does her best to deal honestly and directly with a run-of-the-mill character as written.  Seyfried has a nice presence on screen, and makes us believe in her wildly unrealistic situation.  Gael Garcia-Bernal's role as her fiancee is simply a device, and it is never clear what drew these two together from the start.

After some brisk plot contrivances, Sophie responds to a letter written by Claire (Redgrave) 50 years prior, found forgotten buried in a hole in the wall.  Upon receiving Sophie's reply, Claire arrives in Verona to seek out her former lover.   Of course, Redgrave is accompanied by a handsome grandson (Chris Egan, easy on the eyes, and with a hint of Heath Ledger about him).  He is a priggish anti-romantic who immediately establishes an adversarial relationship with Sophie....and of course they will fall in love...but I'm not spoiling a thing by mentioning this.

A movie like "Letters To Juliet" isn't about suspense, but about the pleasures of experiencing what the film sets up as a romantic fulfillment.  It is basically a comedy, and it would serve no purpose in overturning our expectations.  We want to be in familiar territory, we want the rare pleasure (these days) of responding to the warmth of a familiar story, improbable though it may be, and laugh and cry on cue.  And for the most part, the film doesn't let us down. 

I enjoyed some of the detail work here.  Scene transitions are scored to old Italian pop songs.  The volatility of the Italian temperament is amusingly observed.  I liked a shot of  champagne bubbles dissolving to a star-filled night-sky.   Clare brushes Sophie's hair in a lovely act of caring.  And Redgrave, who puts her whole heart into this woman who is haunted by the "what if" of her life, can deliver a line as simple as "What a beautiful day" and make us feel the warmth of the Italian sunshine on our faces. 

The film has occasional flashes of intelligence and tenderness that is captured with gorgeeous lighting and terrific on-location work in Verona and Tuscany

The movie's pattern does become tiresome after a while, as our trio travels the countryside to find Claire's old flame, and the young couple bicker and parry.  At least, there is the wonderful Italian scenery for aesthetic pleasure,  in the company of some amusing characters, and there is nary a weapon  in sight.  I did wish there was more poetry and less exposition to move the plot along; and that said plot surprised us just a bit more, had been less improbable.  

But this is a movie about overcoming loss, and youthful hope, no matter how old one is.  And hope is improbable.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chicago Celebrates the Blackhawks...and Why It Reminded Me of Facebook

The crowds in the streets of Chicago today were an amusing and awesome sight...

An estimated TWO MILLION people turned out for the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup Victory Parade today in downtown Chicago.  From the televised clips I saw afterward, it was a scene worthy of the massive, Guinness-Book record crowd assembled by Richard Attenborough for the movie"Gandhi"....(and he only managed about 400,000 paid extras!)

Lee DeWyze's "American Idol" win was merely Mt. Prospect's little dry-run for this huge outpouring and celebration.  Chances are, the number of actual hockey fans was just a tiny percentage of the massive total . The United Center, home of the Blackhawks, seats just 19,717 (not including standing room) for hockey.The highest attendance at a Blackhawks game in 2010 was 22,428 vs. Detroit.  That's about half the number for a full house at the Cubs' Wrigley Field.

It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the event (I stayed home but checked for frequent updates on the radio and TV).  Dick's Sporting Goods in Schaumburg had tables filled with Championship T-shirts and other Hawks gear, and lines of people to scoop up the merchandise.  You could see red-and-black everywhere you looked, even in our remote little 'burb.  And the crowds at the eateries in Arlington Heights were enormous, even for a Friday night.

Underneath the excitement, I was actually rather touched by the spectacle, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Hawks, or their first championship since 1961, or Chicago pride.  The celebration, after all, was way out of proportion to the achievement (basically, "our" team won a lot of hockey games).  And what was achieved honestly affected the lives of very few (except perhaps the businesses who will capitalize on this win, or some lucky gamblers who cleaned up.)

Sure, it is easy to criticize people for jumping on a bandwagon and getting a piece of undeserved glory.  But somehow this felt much different...more poignant, I think.

What I saw were millions of people who are hungry for real, in-person human contact, an excuse to cross the barrier of private space and be good to fellow strangers on the street, and to have those average strangers be exuberantly friendly to them in return.

I have read a few articles lately about the Facebook phenomenon, and a backlash of sorts in which people are deleting their accounts.  The reasons people are quitting Facebook (30,000 people departed on May 31st, or "quit Facebook day") are varied, but concerns about security and privacy are not the main reasons.  It appears that for many, Facebook has left them feeling alienated.  Some have amassed a huge number of "friends" only to realize they barely knew most of them.  Because of the constant updates, there develops a compulsive need for checking in regularly, and many members become addicted to what was becoming an empty exercise, rather than an intimate and enlightening way to share information and learn from, and about, one another. Content is often trite, lacking depth. 

These users' world views were becoming dominated by their social networking, and many discovered that they spent much less time interacting and conversing in the actual company of real humans. 

I have a Facebook account.  I reluctantly signed up because I had received a couple of requests from friends to do so.  I use the account sparingly, and it is not at all my predominant method of keeping in touch.  At first it is flattering to see the "friend" list grow.  But soon, as your friends collect even more "friends", and you start to be in touch less frequently, it becomes a metallic kind of loneliness, unless one is willing to spend hours each week maintaining the account.  

I began to feel like I was simply reading headlines from people's lives, and had little meaningful connection with them.  I find I am in better touch making "antiquated" phone calls or emails.  I even send text messages
(although Twitter is still not in my repertoire).   I have even written postal letters in the last couple of years...dinosaur that I am.

It is a tenuous connection I know. But the millions of people lining the streets today in Chicago needed some reason, some good excuse, to stand shoulder to shoulder with other warm bodies, to scream and cheer happily and be reinforced in their elation, and be wild and crazy with the cheering approval of other real human beings in their midst.   It means more to share a moment with strangers in real space and proximity, than to share mments with "friends" from the ioslation of the computer screen.

And for a few wonderful hours, at least two million people knew again the pleasure of pushing away from their social networking, and interacted with real people.  And if this is one of the modern benefits of sports, then I say, good job.  Go Hawks!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Confounding Story of Elton and Rush--Tuesday Journal

When I heard that gay icon Elton John entertained at homophobe Rush Limbaugh's recent wedding (his fourth), I had to check on-line news sources to make sure it wasn't a hoax.  In fact, I learned that it was true.  What's more, Elton earned a million bucks for singing at the wedding of a man whose scathing public rejection of gays and gay rights makes him reprehensible in the eyes of many.

A lot of the articles I found asked "Why"?  Why would Elton John agree to appear before such a hostile right-wing crowd?  Why would he agree to work for someone who obviously regards people like him with contempt?  Surely, he didn't need the money, did he?  Didn't he realize how this would seem, at first glance, like a sellout?  Why was nothing reported until after the fact? (No doubt to prevent the potential for protesters outside of the venues.) 

What no one seemed to ask was why Limbaugh would hire such a high-profile, openly gay performer given Limbaughg's own public record of ignorance about gay issues.  (Could that rascal Limbaugh be attempting to establish some liberal credential in an eventual run for political office?  Is he that cynical?)

It then occurred to me that Elton John's sexuality made no difference in his ability to successfully entertain a festive crowd; it just surprised me that Limbaugh would so casually draw the same conclusion.  Maybe we are arriving at a more ideal world after all...  Had Limbaugh, in his characteristic reactionary ignorance, stated that he refused to hire Elton John, or any gay performer, simply because they were gay---now THAT would have justified controversy.

It began to feel, in truth, like a world devoid of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Those of us who support the repeal of this law argue that one's sexuality has nothing to do with one's ability to apply one's talents to do a job.  And if gay military personnel do not reject an entire career with an openly homophobic organization, why would we expect Elton John to do so for one lucrative gig?

Then why am I still uneasy, feeling betrayed, even?

First, for years gay people have seen Elton John become a true ally.  From his flamboyance to his philanthropy, we felt Elton was a powerful champion of our experience.  This aura of support was brought to fruition recently with his sensitive and sensational work in "Billy Elliot".  So, maybe he is, after all, merely a reluctant representative of gay people's aspirations, but he is nevertheless an icon of the gay community, with whose support he has fashioned a huge career.

And second, for many years gay people and their lives have been degraded by the commentary of Limbaugh.  He vindicates the hate of dangerous people, so that he cannot be held innocent of a general atmosphere of homophobia and violence that persists among the unshakably ignorant.

So this unlikely pairing, pundit and entertainer, while ideally a good thing, seems to be exploitative and condescending in ways that I have attempted to briefly uncover here. 

I wonder if Limbaugh, who embraces Don't Ask Don't Tell, realizes the irony of his hiring Elton John, with no questions asked?  How could he not?   Could Limbaugh's self-styled homophobia merely be a desperate and sardonic public persona that nevertheless motivates his followers to hate?

As for Elton John, he may have no personal stake in the silly political polarization of the U.S.  Still, would he, the champion of the Billy Elliots of the world and their downtrodden and ultimately accepting families--would Elton John have just as easily accepted that same million dollars to perform at a personal reception for Margaret Thatcher?

Time will reveal whether there is a satisfying explanation to this occurrence, or if we will forever second-guess the motives of this uncomfortable duo and their ideologies.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Another First Step--Monday Follow-up

(BLOGGER was out of service since last's my Sunday post, a day late...hope to write more after class.  Good to be back!)

As a follow-up to my post from last evening (Saturday June 5, immediately below) I requested to be placed on a list to receive the e-newsletter for Mercy for Animals.  This is a small first step. A little regular reading is in order.  Inspiration, involvement, and power will follow.

Here's a copy of the email just received: 

Dear Friend,

Thank you for signing up to receive Mercy For Animals' monthly e-newsletter, The Voice. You have taken the first step in showing your commitment to helping prevent needless animal cruelty and build a society where all animals are treated with respect and compassion.

Now that you have joined our online community of dedicated animal activists, please consider becoming a voice for the billions of animals suffering in factory farms and slaughterhouses by becoming an official member of MFA today.

For a donation of just $15 or more, you will become an official MFA member - giving you access to exclusive MFA events, news and upcoming projects. You'll also receive a subscription to Compassionate Living, MFA's semi-annual magazine, along with a complete membership packet.

To help protect farmed animals even more, and receive additional exclusive membership benefits, consider becoming a Monthly MFA Donor by clicking here.

Again, thank you for your kindhearted commitment toward helping save innocent lives from needless suffering and cruelty.


Nathan Runkle

Executive Director

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Using Movies, Writing, and All My Interests, for Unfortunate Creatures--A Saturday Journal

There are moments in every life that move you in unexpected directions.  Here I am, contentedly sharing my story, and exercising my love of writing pieces of a mosaic that is my life. 

I am gradually constructing a picture on these pages that I hope will stand as a legacy, a self-portrait, to anyone who cares about me personally, or who shares even some small portion of my interests.  I hoped readers found on these pages a kindred spirit with whom to exchange opinions and enjoy a mutual appreciation of a mayriad of seemingly unrelated subjects.  I hope they will keep doing so.

And then I saw a video last week which haunted me; and I continue to be confronted by photos, like those below, of innocent creatures caught up in man's seeming unending carelessness.  The importance of everything else fell away for few moments. And for many moments since then,  I began to see that instead of me reinvinting my life, my life was seeking to reinvent me.

And I wondered...can I be true to myself,  pursue my personal interests, and still use the life I have left to live to contribute to something as harrowing and important as the rescue, care, and advocacy of animals in harm's way? 

It is overwhelming...  Because I want to be the one to change it all....And I often succumb to emotion, and wonder if I can just pretend it's too far away, that it doesn't affect me....

Reinvention indeed.......

Now, as I think about the work I now do for the Community College; my interest in writing, and film; my undeniable love for animals; my experience in animal care, both domestic and homeless; and my hankering to conquer my home city, Chicago, ....ideas are taking shape.

I have read through the website for Mercy for Animals, which opened my eyes to horror last week, and I will visit their Chicago headquarters before this month is out.  I don't know if I will be considered too old for an internship; or how I can arrange my time to offer assistance with the organization.  But I know that before the year is over there will be something good for me to contribute, whether in person or through the keyboard...

I am writing like crazy...and through the haze of ideas, I see forming a work that I hope can be the Gone With The Wind of animal stories in screenplay form, or a novel, or even a memoir....or a regular feature in this blog.....

The time I volunteer at the Buddy Foundation, feeding and walking the homeless dogs, will take on much more resonance....I feel like I can do so much more....and will.

I will continue to re-explore various points in my life; and reconnect with my heritage (even if only by learning Italian); to understand my life from a unique LGBT perspective; to continue my lifelong love of the motion picture and offer my personal viewpoint and act as a fellow curator of the art form;  to make a comfortable and hospitable home with my partner and best friend; to compulsively read everything I can  find that is of interest; to be a good friend to a few special people; to contribute to the success of students and community members at the college; to spend time with all the dogs in my world; and to stay connected to those things (like music, art, and a budding political awareness) that define me and give me energy and purpose.

And now, it seems that  all of this is conspiring, and coming together, to point me in a direction to do something true and important to save some creatures who need help.  

I hope you will stay with me.....