Category Archives: Flics Worth Ropin’

Evie Taloney is a film reviewer who writes up reviews with her husband Cowboy Clay

My Mother Made Me a Commie

My mother and I watched lots of old movies in the 1950s on a tiny TV screen in our tiny winterized screened in breezeway.  My mother knew all the supporting players by name.  Her own sisters had been MGM contract players.  She was never political and always voted Republican except for George McGovern.  But without her knowing it, the movies we watched left a deep impression on me.  They reinforced the idea of “getting in other people’s shoes whether they were worn out with holes in the bottom or velvet ones studded with pearls. I could feel for the “down and out” while coveting the lacy ball gowns, crystal goblets, and fox furs. It nurtured my love of contradiction that persists to this day.

The economist, Milton Friedman, was right in one respect. He once said, “When a crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas lying around.” This statement became the basis for Naomi Klein’s frightening book “The Shock Doctrine.” In it, she chronicles the ways his followers jammed his free market ideas down the throats of citizens in various countries when a crisis, man made or natural, occurred. Some of the ideas lying around during the 1930s and 1940s that produced movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) were often anti-capitalist, labor friendly and surprisingly saturated with feminism.  I watched “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” (1947) this past Christmas. It’s about a hobo who occupies (YES, Occupies!) a rich man’s mansion every winter when the rich guy goes to his winter home in Virginia.   The hobo wears his clothes, smokes his cigars, and drinks his wine. Year after year nobody noticed anything awry.

One day on his daily stroll through Central Park. The hobo happens upon a homeless WWII vet (YES, veterans are always treated like crap even after [1]“the good war”.) Against his better judgment the hobo takes in the veteran. The daughter of the rich man runs away from her snooty college and decides to hide in her father’s mansion. She overhears the hobo confessing that he’s a hobo to the vet. She decides to pretend to be poor so she can stay there too and cuz the Vet is cute. Turns out that the vet has a bunch of ex GI buddies and their wives and kids who also need housing, so, somewhat reluctantly, the hobo takes in all of them. The vet and his buddies then hatch a plan to purchase an army barracks and turn it into communal housing. Well there are many more complications when the rich man (who started out poor) comes back to New York to look for his missing daughter. When they finally meet, the spunky girl confronts her father. She tells him that she doesn’t understand why they should have big empty houses when there are people who need them. Then she convinces him to disguise himself as a bum and join the merry band of people inhabiting his mansion. And soon her divorced socialite mother joins up disguised as a poor cook.

Other movies of that era also have spunky females like Barbara Stanwyck in “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) who writes a Martha Stewart-like column in a NY newspaper about her Connecticut stately farm. Truth is she’s a poorly paid journalist who lives in a one bedroom flat in NYC.  “Holiday Affair” (1949) is about a war widow raising her son and trying to find a good father while trying to maintain her dignity and independence. “My Man Godfrey” (1936) is my favorite film. Filmed at the height of the Depression, it opens with a bunch of rich people going on a scavenger hunt. One of the “items” they must find is a “forgotten man”. So they go to where all the homeless are shacked up tin order to find one. And audiences loved these stories of people struggling together in an often dog eat dog world. They still do if given the chance. “The Devil Wears Prada” is in this tradition, but not quite as subversive as the old movies.

Besides giving people work on sewer systems and dams in the 1930s, the WPA funded writers, artists and photographers. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have another WPA type deal in order to have writers and artists come up with other ideas.  Margaret Thatcher once famously said about financial capitalism  aka Milton Friedman’s“free market” that “there is no alternative,” referred to as TINA.  But there must be.  There were other ideas not so very long ago.  Time to dig them up and repot them.  We need to  “imagine” a better world that we can actually Occupy rather than watch on the TV.  I was lucky to watch old movies with my mother.  No, she didn’t make me a Commie, but she did help make me a Contrarian.

[1] “The Good War” was the name of the 1985 book by Studs Terkel. It is composed of first hand accounts of veterans of World War II.

Express Yourself – An Evie Taloney Movie Observation Worth Ropin

There was a song written in 1970-71 by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band that summed up a good part of the 1970s.  It was “Express Yourself”.  It said “Whatever you do, do it good.”  “It’s not what you look like when you’re doing what you’re doing.  It’s what you’re doin when you’re doin what you look like you’re doin.”

As we approach the Oscars, I can’t help thinking about how perfectly David O Russell’s “American Hustle” captured the 1970s with all it’s gaudy messiness.  The film’s characters and costumes and art direction and cinematography and, of course, direction help capture and amplify the strange whirlwind that blew through the 70s.

Here is the costume designer,  Michael Wilkinson, describing how he went about the design of the costumes.  He remarks that the 70s were more about expressing yourself than “looking your best”.

Women were coming into their own and becoming bolder about their sexuality.  While still trapped in hair curlers the size of lemonade cans, they also began to let their hair down and lowered their necklines.  And I remember the color, oh the color.

Wilkinson had as much fun with the men’s costumes as he did the women’s.  In the 1970s men also felt freer to “express themselves” even while they too seemed trapped by their hair; Christian Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld carefully applied comb over and Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso permed-look hair took a lot of time and effort.   Jeremy Renner’s silver/gold tux lights up the screen as does Renner’s New Jersey mayor with a pompadour that takes a lot of gel and spray.  He’s a sunny big-hearted character who dresses the part of the would be savior of his city.

At the heart of the story is Christian Bale’s Irving and Bale dazzled me.  As Wilkinson remarks in the video, Bale’s lead character is awash in “paisleys and patterns” in his suits, scarves, shirts, and ties.  He carefully constructs a persona for his hustler and Bale loses himself completely in Irving.  Amazingly, Irving doesn’t see what we see when he looks in the mirror or when Amy Adams’ Sydney looks at him.  We see a paunchy balding slime ball with an ID bracelet.  They see a clever and dapper cultured entrepreneur out to have some fun as do the other characters in this wild frenzied ride through the heart of the darkness of America; a land born of hustlers and con men who still think of themselves all as masters of the universe and kings of the world.

It is a story about deceptions and lies.  But these are mostly small time cons while a much bigger con was starting to be hatched as wages stagnated never to rise again for the average worker.  By the end of the 1970s when this film takes place, hard times were the norm and what was coming was the era of “greed is good” that hasn’t yet let up. I lived in New York during this time.   So, as Cindi Lauper sang “When the working day was done, girls just want to have fun.”    That’s what I did.  And as the designer Michael Wilkinson concludes, it’s about a time when you just didn’t give a damn.  You just wanted “to try stuff”.  For a time we were out of the box called adulthood and we had some fun.

P.S. I hope the film and it’s designers win lots of awards. It is the mirror opposite of the lovely, funny and sad “Nebraska” which should also win gobs of awards.  Maybe that’s why there shouldn’t be any awards at all.  How can one really choose what’s best?

Cabins

A cabin is not the same as a house.  “It is not a shelter” but often a place of “delicious peril” and “a jumping off place” for a child.  A cabin on a lake is a place to be alone with oneself and from that will come strength to deal with “the more serious winter perils later on.”   Diane Johnson makes these observations in her new book “Flyover Lives: A Memoir”.  Diane Johnson has numerous books published as well as having written the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”  She grew up near Moline, Illinois; part of the vast in between of the United States called flyover country.  It’s not far from where I grew up and I share some of her memories of going to a cabin for the summer time.  For as she reminded me, the Illinois summers are mercilessly hot and humid and escaping north was an old tradition.  But there are as many dissimilarities too.

Her family has been in America for more than two hundred years and her stories of them are not of timber barons or inventors.  They are quite ordinary lives of farmers, teachers, country doctors and a lot of housewives, but she writes with such detail and feeling that their lives are as intriguing as any biographies of presidents or generals. And they bring back memories. And sometimes that is a good thing.

One of her relatives, a great uncle, built a cabin on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near the Mackinaw Straits    She spent summers there in  the 1930s and 1940s.  And she writes of the difference between a cabin and a house.

I felt for this house the special love that almost everyone, I’ve since discovered, feels for a summer house—a love quite different from the feelings you have for the house you grow up in.  Perhaps a summer house is where,  forced into your own company, you discover that you are yourself, and maybe that’s something that can’t happen in an ordinary life, when you belong to your parents and school. The organized city child is deprived of these hours of messing around alone, though they must be the crucial ones in which we discover things, develop a point of view, learn to rely on ourselves as reliable observers, establish in our own minds that we are we. Continue reading

Do Overs – An Evie Taloney Movie Review

There are quite a few lines in the incredibly visually rich movie “Nebraska” that resonated with me.  Though the characters speak few words, when they do, you listen.  It’s funny how most of us don’t think too much about our parents’ inner lives until we are much older and when it’s almost too late as they “can’t remember” when you ask questions.   But David “Davey” Grant gets to have a few exchanges with his father, Woody, that move this story along emotionally.  One such exchange is when they are looking out on to  Nebraska farm land with the round bales of hay lying across the horizon and the pasture dotted with black Angus cows.

David asks his father:

“Did you ever want to farm like your dad?”

Woody replies:

“I don’t remember.  It doesn’t matter.”

In the script David asks again if his dad had it to do all over would he have stayed here and farmed.  Woody replies that you can’t “do it all over”.

But people try to “do it all over” in many different ways.  When I was an actor and director in New York City in the 1980s, I directed plays by a wonderful playwright Jack Heifner.  Jack’s play “Vanities” held the record for longest Off Broadway run for quite a few years.  It is what made Kathy Bates a star.  I directed a one act play of his called “Twister”.  It was about a small plain town in Texas that is wiped away by a tornado. It looked a lot like the desolate town of Hawthorn in “Nebraska”.   There are only two people left, Betty and Roy.  When they find each other after the storm, Roy says he wants to  find their stuff  like her stuffed animals and a mattress and then bring them to where their house used to be.  He wants to rebuild it exactly like it was.  Betty doesn’t want any of the “stuff” because it’s just junk.  She wants to go away and have a brand new  prettier life.  She wants to be born again.  At the end she leaves and Roy is left alone with the rubble.

Jack returns to this born again theme in several of his plays.  There are many times that people want to reinvent themselves and be “born again”.  Sometimes it’s as simple as going off to college or moving to another town or state.  Sometimes it’s getting a divorce and starting a supposedly new life.

More often than not no one can do a complete do over of themselves unless they are actually making it all up like a grifter or con artist or someone mentally ill like Cate Blanchett’s character in “Blue Jasmine” who announces “People reinvent themselves….I met someone. I’m a new person.”   But for most people, you don’t really reinvent yourself, but you can come to terms with who you really are.  Carl Jung called this process “individuation”.  It’s “getting to know you, getting to know all about you.”  It’s accepting the quirks that make you an individual while at the same time seeing what makes you part of the whole of humanity.  In the Bible, Paul says that we are “all of one body, with gifts differing.”  We each have different gifts but together we make a whole.  Good marriages and partnerships work that way.

In “Nebraska” “Davey” Grant  finds out a whole lot about gifts and giving on this road trip with his dad.  He has inherited his Dad’s kindness and sense of humor and that’s the payoff.  Is it better than a million bucks?  Doesn’t matter. It’s a great story.

Coops to Co-Ops and what it has to do with The Hunger Games

A Note:  I am going to try like heck to take a break from this kind of writing and am going to post stories of my life that some people think are worth jotting down, like the time the boys in 6th grade locked me in a pit.  So look for that short story called “The Pit and the Playground.”  Or the time Roger O hit me with a baseball bat (although it wasn’t his fault.  I was chasing after Johnny M. and ran across home plate.)  Or when Qwenny R pushed me over the bridge into Tinley Creek and why I deserved it.  Or when Barbara Van hit me over the head with a rock and why I deserved it.  Or why Miss Bloemendal kicked me out of my 3rd grade classroom every week for things like marching in the opposite direction to “Onward Christian Soldiers and why I didn’t deserve it.” Or why 30 years later I got kicked out of a Hollywood talent agency for having the Puck Syndrome and why I didn’t deserve it or maybe I did.  Or why after a meteoric rise in politics  I left the Democratic Party because I saw it was a coop and not a co-op and more like a Roach Motel.  Why like a Cicada I lay low for awhile and then go all buzzy ape sh*t crazy every 17 years.  Find out how this Hollywood agent ended up on a cattle ranch in Montana.  Join me on the “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” that has been my life. ©

Most of us at one time or another experience a cooperative organization as opposed to one of hierarchy.  In smaller cities especially in rural America there are food cooperatives and banking cooperatives.  There are also insurance cooperatives.  That’s how “insurance” started hundreds of years ago amongst merchants who sailed the seas and had to worry about shipwrecks.  Farmers would lend each other seed if one’s own crop was destroyed. They pooled their machines. Continue reading

“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”

Watched “Les Miserables” last night.  Hugo described his novel as “a progress between good and evil, from injustice to justice….  Even after  bad reviews when it first opened, the musical went on to become the   4th longest running Broadway musical.  I’ve never been much of a musical  buff and when I was a NY talent agent had to go to “Les Mis” several times to see clients.  So I grudgingly sat down to watch it.  But like every time, half way through I get sucked into the revolutionary fervor.  The whole idea at the start of the musical of Valjean being imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family is unjust.  Stealing  by the nasty innkeeper is juxtaposed against stealing for someone else’s good.  The film resonates also because of this fantasy of revolution and how the young and gorgeous take to the barricades to fight for justice.

But this particular revolution was largely forgotten until Hugo used it for his novel.  When people talk on the blogs of “taking to the streets”, they have a vision of Liberty carrying the red flag amongst beautiful blondes.  But in reality most revolutions are much more mundane.    But an image is important and I now have a image of a brave young man, Aaron Swartz taking on the Bourbons and their Javerts of today. Right now there is an empty chair in the cafe where Aaron should be.  But with people like Ian Welsh still at the table in the corner of that  cafe talking about ways to right the wrongs, the mundane and ordinary work of revolution goes on.

The Fixer

I keep coming back to Steven Van Zandt’s character, Frankie Tagliano in the Netflix TV series “Lilyhammer.”  His nickname is “The Fixer”.  J.J. Abrams  TV series “Person of Interest” (CBS Thursdays)  also has “a fixer”; an armed and dangerous guardian angel played by Jim Caviezel.  These guys are the opposites of  what we call managers.  Both of them encounter huge public bureaucracies with rules and regulations and they choose to help somebody in trouble by breaking those rules; going around authority.  They don’t seek to control or manipulate the situation or keep it calm.  They fix it.  Okay, and I should add they are very good at cracking heads and are crack shots to boot.

I’ve been a bit obsessed lately with the idea of a “manager” and “management”.  I don’t get it.   Why manage something?  You either fix it or you don’t.  Okay, when somebody is feeling blue or just wants to vent, you can listen to them.  But that’s called “being present”.  You aren’t fixing it; or controlling or manipulating anything as per the dictionary definition of “managing”.  You listen and you let them breathe. Continue reading