Angels with Dirty Faces
A friend of mine posted a challenging question on Facebook recently. “How do we deal with artists who make great art, literature, and movies but who are morally repugnant?”
The post attracted a lot of attention; there were eighty-three comments below it. Here is my response:
What can we do about creative people who have done harm? Is it wrong to admire the artistic accomplishments of someone whose ethics and behavior we know to be flawed?
I don’t think so, if -
These, I believe, are the greatest gifts we receive when we study the life stories of creative people. We become more complete people. We walk about the world expanded and strengthened by their artistic accomplishments, the mistakes they made and how they dealt with them.
If, through the brilliance and the weaknesses of these creative, often anquished souls, we can learn to atone for our unkind acts and regain our self-respect, then their sins may find a sort of in abstentia forgiveness, for we are made better in having known and understood them.
Talented people are a reflection of our best and worst selves; we can be grateful that they have been a part of our lives.
We are too complicated for our own good. We are hurt too easily. We hurt others deeply and far too often. Awareness of our weaknesses is hard for most of us. We see ourselves as better than we often are. We rationalize our mistakes and forgive ourselves easily.
Matthew told us, “Judge not, lest ye be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
I think Matthew knew whereof he spoke; he was a tax collector before he became a preacher, and in those days tax collectors were a surly, brutal lot.
By contrast, Ayn Rand told us that we have a moral responsibility to judge others, loudly and publicly. She felt she was morally superior to other adulteresses because she told her husband that she was going to begin spending time with a younger man before she began her affair. This from the woman who called her philosophy “Objectivism,” founded on a ruthless commitment to all things rational and impartial. I doubt her young man’s wife thought much of Rand’s rational ethics.
Yet Rand wrote brilliantly and inspired thousands to their best efforts and greatest achievements. Because she exhibited some all-too-human failures of character, should we dismiss her remarkable work and creativity? I don’t think so.
In the meantime, I’ll try to keep a sense of balance when I think about creative people – and myself. I have a lot to learn from them, and the lessons continue every day.
More information: DVD: The Passion of Ayn Rand Book: The Passion of Ayn Rand
#Ethics #AynRand #Creativity #Moralism #MoralJudgement
What Do You Have to Tell Me?
"It is through others that we develop into ourselves."
- Lev Vigotsky
I’m a serious movie buff.
In my heaven there’s a library of DVDs – “Divinity Video Discs” - that contain every film and television show ever made, even those lost to the dust and apathy of time. This library includes every critic’s review of every film or show. A sort of divine IMDB, and you don’t need your smartphone or laptop. Just think of a film or show and, voilà! – there it is, ready to watch. Popcorn is extra, of course. Even Eternity has bills to pay.
On cable I just watched the Robert Redford film, The Natural. I saw it when it was released in 1984. I loved every moment of it. Even on the smaller screen it is still a delight. Randy Newman’s music alone makes it worth watching. For greater insights as to why it impresses me so I went to the reviews of the late Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli.
It’s hard to imagine two such vastly different reactions to a movie. Ebert disliked it intensely; Berardinelli called it, “…arguably the best baseball movie ever made.” Despite their powerful disagreements, here’s the wonderful part of my reading experience: Both reviewers schooled me in technical, thematic, and artistic points that I would never have discovered on my own. I learned from both their well-crafted essays and my understanding of this movie was truly enhanced.
We live in a deeply polarized world in a polarized time. We tend, perhaps more than ever, to listen to only those with whom we agree. As I needed the genius of both Ebert and Berardinelli to gain a full appreciation of this work of cinematic art, so do I need your and everyone else’s thoughts, beliefs and understandings regarding the challenges that so demand our attention and talents today.
We do not live on an island; we are all a part of the main.
We need each other to cope, create, solve, thrive, and live. Please don’t walk away when we disagree. I promise to always keep my intellectual and spiritual door open to you. Let’s Zoom or Skype our way into a pleasant online discussion while we savor our favorite coffee, and savor as well our respective geniuses, from which we can both grow to be better people.
More Information: "The Natural" Reviews "The Natural" in IMDB Blu-Ray: "The Natural"
#cooperation #BlackLivesMatter #TheNatural #RobertRedford #RogerEbert #JamesBerardinelli #IMDB #polarization #gettingalong #tolerance #movielover #JohnDonne #Baseball
In his role as a critic and a writer, I have admired Roger Ebert for a very long time. Richard Corliss, the movie critic for Time magazine, described Ebert as a “polymath” (look it up yourself – I had to!). I couldn't think of a more perfect description of Roger Ebert. He was a tremendous critic, and he was also a terrific writer with an impressively broad range of knowledge.
You may wonder when my life-long love of movies began. With The Wizard of Oz, or the 1951 sci-fi classic, The Thing from Another World? Perhaps with the Alistair Sims version of A Christmas Carol (actually titled Scrooge). Give me a day-and-a-half and I’ll only make a modest dent in my list of films I watched with great joy and excitement when I was a young fellow.
I do know that I owe a deep debt of gratitude to good old WOR-TV in New York City for indulging my love of movies in those days. When they got their hands on a movie they seemed to play it all day and all night. They didn’t really, of course, because they had to make time for “Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane” and other noteworthy shows, but they would play a movie about two hundred times every week. You can get to know a movie pretty well when you watch it two hundred times in seven days.
I remember watching the 1939 version of King Kong twice every evening - when I could – I had two much larger big brothers to contend with in vying for control of our little RCA Victor black-and-white cabinet TV. Then I got to watch the movie once or twice a day on Saturday and Sunday, come rain or come shine. If you want to know more about Million Dollar Movie, here’s a description of the show from the Internet Movie Data Base, written by firstname.lastname@example.org -
“This series began in NYC, on local station WOR TV 9, in 1955, and ran for over a decade. It featured first run movies, where each feature would run for an entire week, airing twice nightly. This format, that simulated the local neighborhood movie house, was also adopted by other local stations, realizing that this was one way to reach the most viewers, considering the competition from the networks. The first three features were Magic Town, starring James Stewart, Body and Soul, starring John Garfield, and A Double Life, starring Ronald Coleman. Much of the 1930s and ‘40s library from RKO were featured. As the station was a subsidiary of RKO General Tire, many of those films were rented free to the station. Those RKO films included King Kong, Gunga Din, Citizen Kane, and the Fred Astaire - Ginger Rogers RKO musicals. In the summer of 1957, a few of those RKO films such as King Kong and Top Hat were aired one time only on ABC Network TV on Saturday nights, after which they returned to be rerun on ‘Million Dollar Movie’. Today, those RKO films as well as thousands of others are part of ‘The Turner Classic Movies’ vault.”
Million Dollar Movie always opened with Max Steiner’s “Tara’s Theme” from Gone with the Wind playing as background for very-out-of-focus film clips of the Manhattan nightscape. The scenes in that opening montage were very familiar to me because my dad worked in Rockefeller Center, right in the heart of Manhattan, for over thirty years. I can’t help wondering, though, if those run-of-the-mill, clichéd shots of NYC would make a non-native think twice about visiting the Big Apple. They were unimpressive and made the city look dark and dingy.
For those of you who watched New York City TV growing up, this will bring back a lot of memories: You can watch the Million Dollar Movie opening sequence here by clicking on "Million Dollar Movie" at the end of this essay.
As I was saying, I’ve been a big fan of Roger Ebert’s for a very long time. I consider him a truly gifted essayist. His writing was concise but delightfully descriptive. In a few, very well-constructed paragraphs, Ebert was able to evoke most of the visual and emotional experiences that a film had brought to me. He clarified and expanded my appreciation of many films, and he helped me understand how the screenwriter, the actors, the director and innumerable supporting crew members had made the whole thing “work,” when it did, or why they failed when it didn’t.
A few days ago, Janice and I watched, for the second or third time, “Something’s Gotta Give”, which stars Diane Keaton (Erica Barry), Jack Nicholson (Harry Sanborn), Keanu Reeves (Dr. Julian Mercer), and Frances McDormand (Zoe, Erica’s sister). For the record, we’re both suckers for good romantic comedies, and this has become one of our favorites. In his review, Mr. Ebert makes a number of points that immediately came home to me and that I’d might never have been able to observe or express without his insights.
For example, Mr. Ebert said, “After playing an older man entirely unlike himself in About Schmidt, Nicholson here quite frankly and cheerfully plays a version of the public Jack, the guy who always seems to be grinning like he got away with something.”
Can you think of a better way to describe the Jack Nicholson public persona or how he plays this role? I sure can’t.
I was taken by surprise, however, at Ebert’s lack of appreciation of the role played by Keanu Reeves as Dr. Julian Mercer. Ebert wrote:
“It's Dr. Mercer who seems like nothing more than a walking plot complication. We don't believe or understand his relationship with Erica, and it must be said that a young man who would propose marriage to a woman 25 years his senior and fly to Paris with her, plan marriage, and yet immediately surrender her to his rival without a struggle (out of good manners and breeding, it would seem) has desires that are all too easily contained.”
I disagree. To me, Dr. Mercer is a great deal more than a walking plot complication. He has several qualities that make him deserving of our respect, and those characteristics enrich the plot of the film and the development of the other characters. He’s more than a healing machine, he’s a physician with a soul. He has a wonderful bedside manner and a comforting ability to talk about very serious medical problems in a frank and friendly manner. His education and interests extend well beyond medicine; he is a student of and a lover of the humanities. And the basis for his affection for Erica is well-established in his admiration of her work as a dramatist.
Julian Mercer doesn't consider Erica’s age to be anything other than an insignificant detail. She’s attractive, quick-witted, interesting, accomplished, and charming. What’s not to like? A lot of us would find it easy to find Erica attractive.
Without the handsome Dr. Mercer being pulled into the plot, the movie would have risked being quite bland, just another Autumn-Autumn romance. With Julian around, Erica has to choose between an older man who’s scared to death of commitment and a much younger, much more attractive man who would love to commit to a long-term relationship. The plot is made more complicated because Erica’s emotional integrity is tested. Her character becomes more interesting when Dr. Mercer enters her life.
It’s worth noting that Erica nearly fails the test presented to her by Julian’s interest in her. Her sister, her daughter, and probably most of her friends (and most likely a lot of the viewers), would have told her she was crazy to even consider the roguish, heart attack- and anxiety attack-prone Harry Sanborn over the quietly passionate Dr. Mercer. In fact, she might have ended up with the younger guy if the younger guy hadn’t seen what she wasn’t able to see – that she was really in love with Harry. Julian, had he won his suit, would have tried to build a life with a woman who was always going to be looking over her shoulder at her memories of Harry, wondering if she’d made the right choice.
As for his willingness to abandon his pursuit of the alluring Erica Barry, I don’t perceive this as demonstrating that Julian had “desires that are all too easily contained.” I guess he could have challenged Harry to a duel, but his malpractice premiums would probably have soared.
Dr. Mercer’s decision to abandon the woman he had hoped would return his love is proof of his maturity and integrity. He knows he has to walk away, not like Rick in Casablanca, who had the knowledge that Ilsa would always love him more than Victor, but in the painfully frank realization that Erica really does love Harry more than she loves himself, no matter how obvious Harry’s faults might be. Julian realizes that building a relationship on this unstable foundation could be painfully risky and ultimately unsatisfying. This takes real courage. Good for him.
Nancy Meyers, who wrote the screenplay and directed Something’s Gotta Give, has created a real gem. It’s wise, it’s funny, it has memorable characters, and it proves yet again that a good-hearted, up-beat film can also have depth and meaning. King Lear gained his wisdom through terrible suffering, yes, but why not have a couple of good characters come out of a broken love affair a bit wiser but still ready to continue life with an optimistic mien?
By the way, would you like to take a guess as to which is my favorite scene in Something's Gotta Give? It's the very last scene in the movie, when Harry, Erica, Erica's daughter, her husband and their baby go into a restaurant for dinner. Watch Harry after they sit down to dine. He's a man who's found new pleasure in the simple things of life: the stable companionship of a woman he admires very much, the company of her daughter, whom he also admires, and her husband, whom he's beginning to like, and time spent with a newborn child, in whom he sees the circle of life continuing to spin gracefully. Watch Harry as he looks around the room, smiling, taking it all in. Life can be pretty good when you are a grown up. Better than one might ever have hoped for.
I think this film will be enjoyed many years from now by quite a few people. I just hope they have Roger’s website address so they can, with his help, get much more from it than just a few laughs.
It’s snowing outside, Janice is home, and it’s a perfect day to reflect on a lovely film and another writer’s point of view. What’s not to like?
More Information: Roger Ebert, Something's Gotta Give, Casablanca, Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, "Million Dollar Movie" Opening Sequence, Richard Corliss, Nancy Meyers, About Schmidt, La Marseillaise in Casablanca
Life is Different in Missouri
My wife, Janice, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. For eight years, while her mother was still alive, we spent Christmas with Janice's family, staying with her mom in the home where Janice and her brother and two sisters were raised.
A few days before Christmas, 2014, Janice and I loaded up our car and began the drive out to Kansas City. Since her mother's passing in 2011 and the sale of the family home we haven't been to Missouri, and we were looking forward to seeing everyone again. I'm lucky, I like everyone in Janice's family and despite my liberal New Jersey roots they all do a pretty good job of letting on that they like me.
Since the family home is no longer available we stayed with Janice's sister Sue and her husband, Harlan Hockett at their new home on their cattle farm in Adrian, Missouri. Harlan and his father, Buford, who is almost 90, own 1,000 beautiful acres and raise cattle for slaughter.
I had a lot of fun on the farm today.
Janice's nephew, Kyle Hinton, came by with his four-wheel drive pick-up truck, an impressive amount of cold-weather gear, and a remarkable supply of hunting equipment and he and I went coyote hunting.
Coyote hunting is fun, if you like to hunt, but it also serves a very serious purpose out here. Coyotes are a real threat to the safety of people, pets and livestock and there are a significant number of them constantly roaming around, looking for hunting opportunities. They travel in small packs and occasionally take down a calf. The loss of a single cow is serious business for a cattle farmer.
Farming usually operates on a razor-thin profit margin. Families don't get rich farming; they’re lucky if they make a comfortable living. Count your blessings that there are people like Harlan and Sue and Buford whose love of the open country and all-day-long labor outweighs their desire to accumulate large savings accounts.
Our hunting efforts were entirely unsuccessful but I enjoyed myself immensely. Kyle is great company, with a down-to-earth sense of humor and an unlimited number of outdoors stories to tell. You smile the entire time you're out tramping the countryside with him.
We hunted in two different fields. For our first effort, we hunkered down in some brush in a thin row of woods, and Kyle handed me a wonderful pair of Bushnell binoculars and a small, collapsible camouflaged stool to sit on. I was relegated to the joint role of spotter and observer, my time with firearms being so limited that I’d have been more of a threat to the cows and Kyle than any coyotes we might have come across.
Kyle set up a decoy rabbit that had a built-in, sporadically vibrating mechanism that made appear it quite lifelike. According to Kyle, more than once hawks and owls have investigated this phony rabbit to see if they could make a meal out of it. Next, a good distance from where we were hiding and from the jittery mechanical rabbit, Kyle set up a camouflaged portable stereo system that contains 250 – yes - 250! - types of animal sounds from a wide range of animals. These sounds include distress calls and challenge calls, “join the pack” calls and “this is our turf” calls. This portable stereo can be operated with a remote control after you’ve set up your hunting perch and have settled down to wait for your target to show itself.
Well, we used the caller and the vibrating rabbit and we waited very patiently, but we only attracted the attention of some of the grazing cows and several very passionate female rabbits. I think they really liked the way the mechanical rabbit busted some moves.
Once we conceded defeat for our first hunting site we move to another part of the farm and hid ourselves among several rows of enormous, round bales of hay. The hunting equipment was carefully set up again, animal screams and pleas for mercy resounded through the hills, but not a single coyote showed any interest in what we had to offer.
However, the chill that worked its way deep into my bones and the tears that fell down my cheeks from the cold breeze that came at us nearly the entire time we were waiting were worth every moment and every bit of discomfort, because for a full five minutes or so, with the help of the binoculars, I watch an incredibly pretty red-tailed hawk hunt in the light of the late-afternoon sun.
This was not the simple flight of circling, spotting, and diving. It was a form of elegant aerial ballet unlike anything I've ever seen before. I'm almost ready to believe that the hawk knew we were watching him and was showing off his best stuff for us. It was magical, it was graceful, it was astonishing and it was beautiful.
This is an experience I will not forget for a very long time, if ever. The regal stature of that bird, the grace and elegance of his maneuvers, and the gorgeous combinations of his remarkable colorings in the soft, fading sunlight all combined to provide Kyle and me with a truly breath-taking display.
Wow. Just “Wow.”
I simply can’t think of a better word.
More Information: Game Calls, Coyotes, Adrian, Missouri
How much fun is the Sunday New York Times?
THAT much fun, that’s how much.
In the March 1, 2009 edition, which I’ll be happily working my way through until this coming Saturday evening, the Book Review section is filled with fun stuff.
Ever hear about a writer named Flannery O’Connor? I’d heard that name before, but didn’t know a damned thing about him. Turns out that he’s a woman! And she only lived 39 years and died in 1964. As I said, she was a writer, and apparently a pretty good one.
Well, now, thanks to the Sunday Times, I know all about her. She was plain looking, wore glasses that didn’t help her looks at all, had beautiful blue eyes (they always say that about unattractive, intellectually inclined women), probably died a virgin, and didn’t know how to kiss very well.
Did you ever notice that men are rarely attributed with having “beautiful eyes”? Of course not. Our eyes are always “piercing” or “deep set and foreboding”. Wish I had beautiful blue eyes. Really .
Apparently, Flannery O'Connor drank Coca-Cola mixed with coffee, and as a child dressed her chickens in outfits she sewed for them herself. She even taught one of her ducks to walk backwards. I’ve spent most of my life lining up my chickens in a row. No. Wait a sec, that’s my ducks. My family’s chickens came already dressed from Karl Lutz’s butcher shop on Broad Street in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and they rarely stood up in a row.
Anyway, the poor woman suffered quite badly from Lupus. Looked that up in Wikipedia and it sounds pretty awful.
Also, she was a Catholic who thought that Protestant theologians were more logical than Catholic theologians, and she was “a connoisseur of racist jokes.” Oh, well, I'm sure that she didn't intend them to be mean. Sure she didn't. She also liked someone named Teilhard de Chardin, whoever that was. She answered letters from anyone who wrote to her. Probably the reason her autograph is very reasonably priced on today’s autograph market.
She was good friends with Sally Fitzgerald, who was the wife of Robert Fitzgerald, who was a poet, a critic, and who also translated Greek classics into English, and of whom I’d also never heard before. Now, thanks to the Sunday Times, when someone mentions Flannery O’Connor, Sally Fitzgerald or Robert Fitzgerald, I can nod sagely and pretend I’m quite familiar with all three of them. I’m not too interested in pretending to be interested in Teilhard de Chardin. He, Robert Fitzgerald, that is, was also her literary executor (Flannery O’Connor’s, not Sally Fitzgerald, although I guess he could have been her literary executor, too, but they got a divorce so I kind of doubt it.) Thank you again, Wikipedia.
When Flannery O’Connor was dying she told her friends that she could hear celestial choirs singing “Clementine.” Way cool. If that happens to me when I start to die I hope they’ll sing “You Are My Sunshine.” It’s got a catchier tune and seems a bit more upbeat. Might be an indication of which way I’ll be heading.
Ms. O’Connor apparently had mixed feelings about her mother. She based several characters on her mom, and then killed them off in unpleasant ways. Alfred Hitchcock could have worked pretty well with that theme.
Anyway, Flannery O'Connor doesn’t sound very cool, but she really does sound interesting, and that’s pretty cool. Now that I can discuss her so well, thanks to the Sunday Times, I just might go and get something of hers to read. Could be good.
Oh, by the way, since I started writing this note, I went ahead and looked up Teilhard de Chardin in Wikipedia. He was “Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of the Peking Man. Teilhard conceived the idea of the Omega Point and developed Vladimir Vernadsky’s concept of Noosphere.” He was born on May 1, 1881, in Orcines, France and died April 10, 1955, in New York City.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that any priest who spends his time playing around with rocks is just asking for trouble. Creates the potential to get the Genesis story all out of whack. And “taking part in the discovery of the Peking Man”? Sounds like the studio producer who discovered Jackie Chan or something. I can’t help thinking of Groucho raising his eyebrows in his lecherous manner and saying, “You’ve got the most beautiful Omega Point I’ve ever seen!”
Time to go now. Have to look up “The Omega Point” and Vladimir Vernadsky’s concept of “Noosphere.” This’ll keep me busy all day.
See why I like The Sunday New York Times?
For more information: Wikipedia: Flannery O'Connor Flannery O'Connor Biography Review Noosphere Omega Point Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Robert Fitzgerald Sally Fitzgerald Vladimir Vernadsky
#TheNewYorkTimes #Noosphere #FlanneryO'Connor #OmegaPoint