ONE COUNTRY? (Segue of the Day: 11/18/16)

Well, time for a little journey…

First, here’s a link to a list of recommended movies posted at (estimable blogger and resident New Yorker) Sheila O’Malley’s place (I’ll get to the significance of this in a bit):

2016 Movies To See

Next, a tweet from a despondent Mark Harris (estimable film critic/historian and also resident–and native–New Yorker) from Nov. 9:

“Every day, I’m exposed to people of different races, classes, and ethnicities. So is any New Yorker who has ever been on a subway.”

And, finally, a quote from Cali-raised Matthew Bright, director of Freeway, a 1996 movie starring New Orleans born, Nashville raised, pre-stardom Reese Witherspoon, on the DVD commentary track, (re: a long kiss between Witherspoon and her black co-star, Bokeem Woodbine):

“I’m a big fan of screen kisses and there was no way I could make a movie without a great screen kiss, and here is my contribution to the screen kiss. Here we go….It’s comin’…Oh, now it’s the exchange of gifts….She’s so happy….And here it is….Young love….Reese is from the South, too!….I hope she doesn’t take any heat back home!”

Goodness…

Leaving Sheila aside (she’s simply putting out a list of good movies to see, though it ties in indirectly with the main point here), one sometimes wonders if the Yanks ever realize it’s not 1963 anymore.

Oh, I suppose in some ways it is, simply because some things never change anywhere, but the modern South imagined by Bright and at least implied by Harris (even though he’s including the rust belt as well) has changed a great deal.

Harris’s tweet was part of a series on his twitter feed where he seemed to be attempting some kind of defense/explanation of why a place like New York voted massively for Clinton and so much of the rest of the county did not. He was apparently responding to accusations that people like him (a gay New Yorker who writes about Hollywood and is married to a famous playwright) “live in a bubble,” i.e., are out of touch with “reality.” But his response was curious. He clearly thinks being “exposed to people of different races, classes, ethnicites” on the New York subway system is an experience that both lifts him out of “the bubble” and places him in a more worldly context than the hicks in the sticks–who are thereby confined to a bubble of their own–can possibly imagine.

Which would be a fine defense/analysis of Harris’s point if it were true.

But if I want to be exposed to all those different types, and many more besides, I don’t need to descend into a New York subway terminal (where, hick though I be, I have ventured a time or two, all by my lonesome, no less). I  just need to drive to a mall in Tallahassee, Florida or Dothan, Alabama, or, I imagine, pretty much anywhere in America. Neither Harris nor anyone else is absolved of “living in a bubble” because he has walked the big, bad streets of the city where he was born. And I’m not saying that he does live in a bubble, just that the example he chose to prove he doesn’t proves nothing.

Which makes me wonder. Does he?

I’ll stay tuned.

I don’t think there’s much chance Matthew Bright doesn’t live in some kind of bubble as it seems he’s spent his entire adult life involved with Hollywood one way or another. (I’m not entirely sure, because his internet bio is sketchy beyond his being a lifelong friend of famous film composer Danny Elfman and his brother, which doesn’t exactly improve his “just folks” cred.)

Based on that one comment I quoted above, I’d say he’s lived a very sheltered life indeed. Those malls I mentioned feature plenty of interracial couples and have done since at least the eighties, by which time they had long ceased to turn heads.

And Reese Witherspoon has never taken “heat” for an interracial kiss. Her star waned when she had a drunk driving incident that involved her verbally baiting a cop on video, but her career lost momentum long before. when the producers of Sweet Home Alabama failed to pony up for the rights to Skynyrd’s version of the title track and went with Jewel (yes, Jewel!) instead. Believe me, I was in the theater the weekend it opened and an audience that was ready to erupt (the movie had been entertaining) went flat as a pancake when the riff they had been set up to hear for the last hour and a half didn’t come out of the speakers and Jewel came out instead. The movie was a decent-sized hit, but whoever made that decision gave up a hundred million profit and the chance to turn Reese into a superstar who could guarantee box office for a generation. Never let them tell you Hollywood is all about money. Sometimes it’s about stupid.

Short version of all of the above: Some a’ ya’ll need to get out more.

Which brings me back to Sheila’s post.

I live next door to a mid-size college town in the Florida Panhandle. That college has a first rate film and drama school that has produced its share of both major stars (Burt Reynolds, Robert Urich,) and character actors, plus behind the scenes folks, etc.

Of the forty movies Sheila is recommending, three are streaming/TV (O.J.: Made in America being the most famous). Of the remaining thirty-seven, exactly four have played in my market (or anywhere nearby…this is the big market for two and a half hours in any direction).

Of course, it’s possible (now or in the future) to track the rest down on DVD, but who will do that who is not already a dedicated film fan with a sizable entertainment budget and/or a very well stocked local library?

One country?

Not quite, and in, oh, so many ways. But then, what country really is?

If you really want it to be one country–as much as any country can be–remaining willfully ignorant of all the places you don’t live, in the manner of Harris or Bright, probably ain’t the way.

[NOTE: For the record…Harris’s Five Came Back is one of the finest books ever written about either Hollywood or World War II. I reviewed it at length here. Bright’s Freeway is a mind-bender and Witherspoon gave the kind of scarifying performance that has to be seen to be believed and then basically covered up and swept under the rug for anything like stardom to remain attainable. Bridging the gap was either her biggest success or her biggest failure, depending on whether we, the grasping audience, value her happiness/sanity or ours. There’s room for argument there. We all contain multitudes.]

Here’s to that one country, still out there, waiting….

(With apologies that the version I heard sung and accompanied by an acoustic guitar, coming from a dorm window in the early, pre-dawn hours of May 4th, 1998, on the campus of Kent State University, is available only to the memory of those present for the occasion.)

WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (The Go-Go’s On the Radio and Spinners On the Headphones)

Go-Go’s “Head Over Heels” (1984)

When the Go-Go’s broke out in the summer of eighty-one I was in college and ripe for the sort of world-weary conversations hep young people have when they are certain they–and they alone–truly know the score.

More than a few people (not all of whom had the ready-made excuse of being world-weary collegians) were insisting in those days that there were bound to be a whole lotta really BIG all-female bands coming down the pike now that there was finally one.

And I, having at least some idea of how unlikely they really were, used to echo some version of my sad refrain:

“Not if they have to be that good there won’t.”

Which usually made people smile indulgently and roll their eyes.

The Go-Go’s? Seriously?

So this week I’m running errands some sunny afternoon, listening idly to the radio and “Head Over Heels”–their last big hit before they broke up in eighty-four–comes on in the middle of an Official Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Lineup consisting of ace grooves from Bruce Springsteen (“Glory Days”), the Bee Gees (“Stayin’ Alive”), U2 (“With or Without You”) and Steely Dan (“Peg,” much better than I remembered–already loved all the rest).

Naturally it jumps up and runs away from everything else. Even the bass-line on “Stayin’ Alive” can’t quite keep up, which is something I bet I’m never gonna say about the Beatles or the Ramones.

Or the Bangles for that matter.

You know, the one really big all-female band that actually did come down the pike.

Which brings me to one of my old stand-by maxims.

If you want to be right about the future, be dire…be very dire.

Be dire, even about the things that make you smile.

The Go-Go’s “Head Over Heels” (Live in L.A. 1984)

Spinners “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” (1973)

Spinners (for some reason, there was no “the” in their Atlantic period) were my winding down music this week. This, from their first album on the label, was the side that grabbed me in a new way, mostly because it’s sly and cool where Wilson Pickett’s epochal hit version (one of his very greatest records) was pleading and desperate. A fascinating aside, then, into the conversations Black America sometimes has with itself while White America listens in.

And I’m not sure there has ever been a better distillation of Black America’s existential dilemma–to assimilate or not to assimilate.

When Philippe Wynne sings about wanting his woman to stay “right here girl in these big, black arms of mine” it cuts about seven different ways because it’s entirely possible that it’s a con, entirely possible that it’s not and entirely possible that the singer himself has lost track.

What is that woman looking for anyway? Sung by even the greatest white singer we would pretty much know. Sung by a black man wearing as many masks as Philippe Wynne, there’s just no telling.

Not that I intend to abandon the search. It’s just that it got a lot more complicated. There are no safe places in rock and roll if you keep you’re ears open.

Spinners “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” (Studio Recording)