Chris Donovan joins Don Williams at the CEA.
You’re probably dying to know how the voting is going for Person of The Year.
I’m not counting votes in the comment thread or even votes on my FB page. Only actual emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s how things look, circa 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Peter Schiff leads with 4 votes, although there’s reason to question whether he’s getting a fair shake.
Trailing closely is Olga Vazquez at 3.5 votes. (I awarded a split vote because Jack Shea …never mind. Trust me.) There also turns out to be a Sub-Genre of Olga V. Humor. For example, Tim C. said he was voting for her “even though my voting place has not yet received ballot forms.” Bill H. wrote: “I’m worried that the Hartford registrar of voters isn’t taking this recent screwup seriously. She was seen recently at Staples ordering thousands of stickers for the next election that say ‘I tried to vote today.’ Not a good sign.”
Also doing well is somebody who wasn’t really nominated: The “something in the way she moos” commenter.” (3.5 votes.) I think it shows how starved people are for wit in the comment section
Also not technically nominated was the support pig on the plane at Bradley. The pig — whose name is Hobie — currently has 2.5 votes.
The rest of the field:
The Porcupine: 2
The Cowpoker: 2
— “I will also cast one write-in vote for Tom Foley, for his decision to drive out to Sprague in July and kick off his second run at the governor’s mansion by explaining to the good folks who live there that: ‘you have failed, because you have lost these jobs.’ It seemed like it was all sort of down hill from there for ‘the Ambassador.’ ”
— “I’m sorry you didn’t include her for pick of the year goes to my former classmate — Mary Glassman. She and her hubby pull in mid to high six figures, maybe seven per year, and she walks after a paycut her family can take without any belt tightening other than maybe to give up an occasional trip to Froyo. She took an oath to serve her town, and she buggered off almost as shamelessly as Sarah Palin. Mind you, I am a liberal, and I like Mary, but enough with the pity party hissy fit!”
— John Rowland. “Our state made him a three term governor (federal charges were pending before third election if memory serves) and now he is a second term prisoner. He’s an example of how people need to place someone on a pedestal to adore and then we as subjects need to flog that same person. He was loved and now is vilified. He had a child die on his watch like buddy cianci in providence. I personally believe he could be the comeback kid. State employees were calling his radio show exposing government favoritism whenever they could. And his wife is a poet–sort of. All around, a couple to watch!”
— This came in the middle of a larger rant, but somebody mentioned Dan Malloy’s $55 rebate which he then retracted. That was a big oversight on my part. It’s definitely POTY-worthy.
Peter Schiff was unhappy to be nominated for Person of the Year and to have the story of his Daily Show appearance revived. He might have a point.
Here’s his email to me in full:
I guess you do not know this but the Daily Show is not a news show but a comedy show. You may have watched their 4 minute version of my 4 hour interview, but you have no idea what answers I actually gave to the questions they asked. Part of my answers they show were related to different questions they asked during other parts of the interview. Other answers were pieced together to form thoughts I never even expressed.
Here is how the subject of the intellectually challenged (the politically correct term I could not remember at the time) came up. I told Samantha that the minimum wage law prevents unskilled people who would be willing to work for less than the legal minimum from getting jobs (and the badly needed on the job training an experience that would enable them to earn higher wages in the future) She then asked me for some examples of people who might be willing to work for two dollars per hour. She came up with that figure on her own. The first example I offered were unpaid interns, like the one who booked me to be on the daily show had been, and who was in the room with us while we were filming. Since unpaid interns work for free, two dollars per hour would be an improvement. But the minimum wage law prevents employers from paying interns 2 dollar per hour, so instead most like the Daily Show pay them nothing.
I then told her that intellectually challenged individually were already exempt from the current minimum wage, and explained that without the exemption it would be illegal for them to work. I gave her the example of my aunt, who suffers from Down’s Syndrome. [Colin’s note: Schiff told me later it’s his aunt by marriage and that the two-dollar figure is kind of a ballpark number.] She has a job she loves and is paid less than 2 dollars per hour. If her employer were forced to pay her the minimum wage she would be unemployed. Her job is the highlight of her day. She has friends there. She feels important, and is proud of her accomplishments. The job gives her a sense of pride and self worth that she can not find anywhere else. And she gets great personal satisfaction spending the money she earns on the extra things she wants. She does not need to support herself as she is in her sixties and still lives at home with her mother. I asked Samantha Bee if she really wanted to take all of that away. I guess I should ask you the same question. Do you want to legally prevent my aunt from making a contribution to society and deny her the personal satisfaction she gets from the experience? I think her job is the main reason she has lived as long as she has.
The other reason I brought the subject up was to offer it as more proof of how the minimum wage destroys jobs. If the minimum wage would precent the intellectually disabled from working if it were applied to them, it also prevents many intellectually abled, but unskilled individuals, from working as well. The way the current exemption works, employers test intellectually challenged workers to assess their productivity. If they are half as productive as intellectually abled workers they can be paid half the minimum wage. Some people are so disabled and so unproductive, that they work for less than 1 dollar per hour. The alternative is not a minimum wage job, but unemployment.
The difference between me and most people who advocate for the minimum wage is that I understand the unintended and adverse consequences the law has on the very people the law is theoretically intended to help. I am also not a hypocrite like the Daily Show as I pay my interns 10 per hour and they pay theirs nothing.
Here is a YouTube video I made about that interview. I suggest that you watch it and retract what you wrote in your column. An apology would not hurt either. By the way, I threatened to sue the Daily Show if they did not release the entire uncut four hour video. They refused. I did not sue as my lawyer advised that it would be an expense case hat I probably would not win.
P.S. More than 25,000 people donated to my 2010 senate campaign. I might have won the nomination (maybe even the seat) had the media taken my candidacy as seriously as my donors or the 27,000 people who voted for me in the primary (23 percent of the vote). Many people who did not vote for me told me the only reason they did not is that they thought I had no chance of winning, (thanks to the media I’m sure), so they voted for the lesser of the remaining two evils that did. Most people voted Linda to vote against Rob, or they voted for Rob to vote against Linda. My voters all voted for me, rather than against one of my opponents. There is a big difference.
This piece was published in 2007.
I dusted it off this week after digesting the CIA torture report.I find I have a curious nostalgia these days for the America I grew up in.
Maybe that America was just an idea, but you can live in an idea as surely as you can live in a physical space.
I was an American kid living in a suburb in the early 1960s. My parents were rock-ribbed Goldwater Republicans. The United States was the best country on earth.
We said the Pledge of Allegiance every day, and when a space capsule went up, the teachers stopped class and hauled out a big black-and-white TV on a rolling cart, and we all watched and clapped. Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Wally Schirra. Rhymes with hurrah. Our fifth-grade teachers told us the Soviets let their capsules come down on land, instead of water, because they didn’t care whether the cosmonauts inside lived or died. Bad Russians.
God, I miss that American glow. I can feel it right now, as surely as I can remember the sun gleaming across a snow fort I built with my friends on Pleasant Street in West Hartford or the wink of fireflies as we played hide-and-seek in a field on Wells Road. America was the best place on earth, from sea to shining sea, and we lived there.
What came next were years of dark moments. Assassinations, riots, the Vietnam War, Watergate. The last of these was especially hard for my Republican Dad. He watched the hearings on television, and Watergate became a big fat python, winding itself around his trust and constricting. He watched with his mouth half open, and from time to time he would say, as if to himself and heaven, “These people are evil.”
And after that, he was never a Republican again.
None of that was easy, but every single one of those dark days seemed to us like a default from the American ideal.
I don’t remember when, as a kid, I first comprehended the idea of torture. But it was a tale told, always, about the Other. Nazis, Japs, Viet Cong. Do you know what they do to their captives? The Emperor Ming had Buck Rogers strapped to a board. James Bond would get loose before SPECTRE could torture him.
The very word “atrocity” had kind of a foreign ring. Atrocities. They do those over there. Later it was El Salvadoran death squads and SAVAK.
And to some, this already sounds pretty naive. Certainly by the 1980s, if you knew where to look, you could read allegations and rumors about, for example, the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., where our guys and their guys were supposedly trained to help out with torture and other coercive tactics in Latin America and the Caribbean.
You could also decide to ignore what must be the frothing of the paranoid fringe, spouting impossibilities about a nation founded unshakably on the rule of law.
You could still, in those days, tell yourself that we were the kind of great power President Theodore Roosevelt, a great Republican, described during the occupation of the Philippines:
“Great as the provocation has been in dealing with foes who habitually resort to treachery, murder and torture against our men, nothing can justify or will be held to justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American Army.”
The local insurgents had committed atrocities against American soldiers, and the American response had been, among other things, a technique perfected in the Spanish Inquisition. An enemy would be held down, his arms and legs and head immobilized against the terrible thrashing that was to come. His mouth would be propped open and water would be poured in steadily, until it began to fill his lungs. The man would experience the panic and agony of drowning, slowly, without relief.
Roosevelt didn’t want us to do that, even against an enemy without scruple. We were, after all, Americans.
Of course, that technique is what we now call waterboarding.
Now I watch while the nominee for attorney general tells U.S. senators he’s not really sure that’s torture and not sure if it’s illegal.
Last week, on the radio, I heard a startling interview with Malcolm Nance, a former Navy instructor who taught American military people what to expect when under torture. One of the teaching techniques was to waterboard. Nance had it done to him, so he’d know. Is it torture?
“Yes. Of course it is,” said Nance.
Here is what Nance has written about it: “Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of blackout and expiration — usually the person goes into hysterics on the board.”
Nance is having trouble with his American glow. He said on the radio: “Did Sept. 11 hurt us so much that we are willing to give away those American values? I, for one, am not.”
Sept. 11 is not an abstraction for this guy. Nance was there when the plane hit the Pentagon. He worked as a rescuer that day.
Still, he writes, “I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor.”
Later the same day, I had a chance to talk to Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state in the Bush administration. I was in the middle of some long-winded question that included Michael Mukasey and waterboarding and he said: “Wait a minute. How difficult would it be for an attorney general nominee to say that waterboarding is torture? I don’t think there’s any question.”
I’m 53 now. I’m the American Dad, with his mouth hanging open while the people who run this country try to convince us it’s OK to be monsters, just because we’re fighting monsters.
It’s not. Bush, Cheney and the willing souls they have enlisted … these people are not especially American. They would have functioned pretty well in the Gestapo, the Japanese Kempeitai, the Salvadoran paramilitary, the Khmer Rouge. They would have found pretty good jobs with the shah of Iran or with Pinochet, and they wouldn’t have had to change much of their thinking. The enemy is bad, and you do what it takes to preserve yourself against them. No principle, no law trumps that.
Do you think that way, too? Or are you with me and Nance and Armitage? As I said, I’m 53. My snow fort is gone. But somebody stuffed my boyhood head with ideas about freedom, justice, equal protection under the law, inalienable rights, honor. And those ideas still light up, faintly, like the remembered fireflies of hide-and-seek on Wells Road. Those ideas are my American glow.
Close to home, an “emotional support pig” was booted off a plane at Bradley.
But which is worse, a pig or a Mile High Club practitioner of self-love (on a Virgin flight, no less)? This man obviously misunderstood “Snakes on a Plane.”
Music movies are almost inevitably fun. Even bad music movies are often enjoyable. Even bad music movies featuring Richard Dreyfuss. (I liked “The Competition” and dutifully sniffled through the end of “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” ) “Pitch Perfect” is at best an average comedy, but the music kicks it up onto a higher plane. (There is, improbably, a “Pitch Perfect 2″ on the way, with a cameo by some of the Packers.) “Whiplash,” a new movie about the uphill climb of a jazz drummer might just be the most purely exciting music movie I’ve ever seen.
Apprenticeship movies are also a beloved American tradition. Everybody knows who Mr. Miyagi is. At least once a month for the rest of your life, somebody will mention Yoda. The apprenticeship in “Whiplash” does not resemble those relationships. The closest I can come to a template is the dynamic between Zack Mayo and Sgt. Emil Foley in “An Officer and a Gentleman.” It’s that notion of: if I don’t destroy you, if you survive me, you will be fit for service. There is also the peculiar linkage between two mentors who think the best way to get to a guy is to call him a queer or a faggot. This plays a lot less comfortably in 2014 than it did in 1982. We ultimately buy into Sgt. Foley’s aim. He is the father figure Zack needs, and his methods, hard as they are to watch, are all about keeping people alive.
What makes “Whiplash” so fascinating is the hazy ambiguity of its “mentor,” — if you can even call him that — Terence Fletcher, a conservatory band leader played by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher is far more malevolent than Foley. He’s a monster. But does he have some Promethean gift to bestow upon the young man who survives his trial by fire? Would the gift be worth the ordeal that preceded it? And, most intriguingly, would “victory” amount to joining Darth Fletcher on a soulless dark side of virtuosity?
Absolutely, go see this movie. Now. You’ll have a blast. I’m going to give you a bunch of reasons to like it. But I also — God forgive me — want to tell you a few things that strike me as deeply wrong with it.
OK, good stuff: The performances of Miles Teller as the young drummer and of Simmons (who, I agree, should be entitled to some happy moments during awards season).This is a two-character movie. Any movie in which Paul Reiser is the third most important character is by definition a two-character movie. Truly, director Damien Chazelle cares only about the two guys and can barely be bothered to paint anyone else into the background. But it works. Also, Chazelle has a gift for filming the music scenes. They look like the very best training and ring scenes from “Rocky.” They’re that exciting. And then there’s the music. I mean, you really can’t lose, having terrific ensembles playing fabulous jazz. “Whiplash” is one big sweet crispy shiny jazz apple.
Now let me tell you about the worms
1. The role of Fletcher is overwritten and overwrought. It’s not just that he calls everybody a faggot, Patton-slaps Andrew, and tells one young musician, “I hope you can play faster than when you’re giving your boyfriend a hand job.” It’s not just that he conducts a Stasi style interrogation about which of his musicians has not properly tuned his instrument, eventually reduces one chubby trombonist to tears, ridicules the guy for being fat, throws him out of the ensemble and then, after he leave, dryly announces that another trombonist was the one out of tune but the fat guy “didn’t know that, which is just as bad.” I could buy all that (although in 2014, you really can’t keep your conservatory job very long if you’re that kind of homophobe). But to believe in Fletcher, you have to believe that, in the first 24 hours of knowing his young drummer Andrew, he teases some deeply personal family information out of him and immediately uses it to taunt him in front of 15 of his peers. Does any bandleader really say, “I guess mommy walked out on daddy when she realized he wasn’t the next Herman Melville” on the first day of practice? Still, it works. I was riveted, even as a tiny little voice said inside me, “no, probably not.” Simmons saves Fletcher from caricature status. He could have been written as diabolical in a more subtle way.
2. The movie seems a little muddled about jazz itself. We are told repeatedly that Charlie Parker was tipped into greatness when Jo Jones nearly decapitated him with a hurled cymbal. Not only is this apparently false, but it also misses the point of Charlie Parker. The point of Bird is not that he subsumed himself to some tyrannical and metronomic understanding of music, but that he didn’t. He did the opposite. The critical scene in the movie is a Walpurgisnacht that really boils down to whether or not Andrew the drummer can push himself to play fast enough. Not well enough. Fast enough. Whether, like Harold Abrahams in “Chariots of Fire,” he can squeeze one tenth of a second out of himself. I also wonder whether this film is generally true to the spirit of jazz. I’m not a big jazz expert, but I’ve worked with some jazz musicians and known some others pretty well. No question: they operate under a very simple dichotomy. Either you can play or you can’t. If you can’t, nobody’s going to make excuses for you. But once you get beyond that hurdle, they seem overwhelmingly like easygoing, friendly and (frequently) almost naive people. There are exceptions. There’s Buddy Rich, a constant apostrophic presence in this movie. But Rich was reportedly all bark and no bite. He might have yelled at a fat trombonist, but he wouldn’t have fired him — certainly not for being out of tune at one practice. And then there’s Miles. But Miles was sui generis, right? You can’t use Miles to explain any other earthly phenomenon. I guess Mingus was kind of a beast. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I’ll be interested to see whether jazz people recognize their world in the darkness of this movie.
3.. Shooting the musical scenes, Chazelle moves like a seal through the water. Shooting non-musical human interactions, he’s more like a seal on dry land. There is, in particular, a dinner party scene that plays all wrong, rhythmically and in very other way. And what’s Chris Mulkey doing there?
But this movie took real guts and vision. One of its central questions is whether either of its protagonists deserves our sympathy. It maintains that unsparing ambiguity all the way through. Andrew isn’t much more likable than Fletcher. But he is, in some other way, deserving. “Whiplash” paints virtuosity in an unforgiving light. What does it take to make a Mingus and what gets lost in the wash?
I had a theory about Mike Nichols which I have tried, with middling success, to expand to other auteurs. Nichols was such a brilliant guy that he didn’t do much work that was really bad. But Nichols always struck me as brain first, heart second. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing. And it meant, to me, that he was better off directing work that had pre-loaded emotion. “Carnal Knowledge” is great because the emotions are already there in every character but Nicholson’s Jonathan. It’s about what happens to emotional people when they fall into the clutches of transactional people. “Primary Colors” is not so good because it’s cerebral layered on cerebral. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Angels in America” were suited to Nichols because each one was a cluster of volcanoes. In the case of “Angels,” it’s tough to think of anybody better suited to pull all those sprawling sensations into a framework. Nichols could do chilliness like nobody else. Not just Bancroft in “The Graduate,” or Weaver in “Working Girl.” But I think also of a small role in “Carnal Knowledge,” played by Cynthia O’Neal, wife of Patrick. She wasn’t really an actress, but she popped in up in Nichols movies and became a very early AIDS activist. In “Carnal Knowledge,” she plays a player. She makes a pass at Nicholson’s Jonathan and suggests she has more to offer sexually than the woman played by Ann-Margret, whom she calls a fat cow. And you realize that Jonathan is looking at himself writ female and drained of even the small amount of warm blood he still retains. It’s a scary, sexy moment.
It’s a fun game to play with Nichols. Is he too damn chilly for “Closer?” Does “Heartburn” work because it plays against his type? I’m not sure how well it works for other auteurs, but maybe it’s an argument for getting them out of their comfort zones now and then, Maybe Wes Anderson should direct something like “The Departed.” Maybe Christopher Nolan should direct something like “Something’s Gotta Give.” Tarantino should do an “Oklahoma” type musical with no violence or hipness. Play it with your favorite auteurs. Doesn’t work with the Coens because they already would do almost anything.
I don’t care who you are or how much of a legend you happen to be. Beyonce? Are you Beyonce? Fine. You are Beyonce. There will come a point when the world will treat you like a cold it’s trying to flush out of its system. That seems impossible right now: imagining a day when Beyonce will seem irrelevant, past her prime, eager to recapture the attention that once flowed over her and tragically incapable of making that happen.
Almost nobody gets off the hook. Elvis. Sinatra. Nobody wanted to be those guys by the end. Get out while you’re still iconic, like Bacall and Loren, and don’t try any comebacks. So merciless is this tide of human affairs that two different actors from “Friends” — Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc — are currently appearing in separate series about celebrities riding the heartbreaking downhill funicular of fame.
Watching Albert Maysles’ film about Sir Paul McCartney’s post-9/11 benefit concert, I realized that even Sir Paul is not immune. The film catches him repeatedly hawking — to other stars — a not-particularly-memorable song he’s written as a finale. For someone like me, for whom “Beatle” and “godhead” are nearly interchangeable terms, McCartney’s wheedling, self-protective tone are almost unbearable to watch — and oddly predictive of the tone and theme of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman.”
OMG. That is painful. So much for unpremeditated art.
So “Birdman” is about that. And about the question of whether one is allowed to reinvent oneself. (Real answer: yes but only with a rich sense of irony. I give you William Shatner.) And about whether one can ever escape that life sentence of steady degradation. It’s also about trying to keep it real and — specifically — about what happens when you get very self-conscious about trying to keep it real. Does thinking about keeping it real effectively subvert the concept? It certainly does if you’re trying to make keeping-it-real a substitute for your lost paradise of completely unreal celebrity. A paradise against which you, like Lucifer, rebelled.
“Birdman” wears its wingedness on its sleeve. If your attention wanders, someone will be along to slap you into remembrance that its protagonist, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is indeed a fallen angel (Better to reign on Broadway than to serve in Hollywood?) and an Icarus figure.
One of my favorite moments — and let’s stipulate that even if you ultimately don’t buy the movie, you have lots of favorite moments — occurs during one Riggan’s innumerable, surreal strolls through the Theater District, where he is attempting to stage his own adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” In the near distance, as Riggan walks, we hear a man roaring the Act V Macbeth soliloquy. It’s a crazy, wonderful roaring, and it turns out to come from a very crazy-looking man whose arm is inexplicably hitched up on some scaffolding, like maybe it’s manacled there. And you’re thinking, “Well this guy, at least, is keeping keeping it real, by his lights.” And then he says something to undermine that. Even the maniacs are overthinking it. (The guy is Bill Camp, an actor who really did do Macbeth in New York and wound up marrying his Lady M. in real life. This movie is full of in-jokes. Naomi Watts randomly making out with a female co-star? How is that not a “Mulholland Drive” joke?)
“Birdman” is one of those movies that begs you to go all-in. And I decided : why not? I quieted the voice that asks whether this material really hangs together. I gratefully lapped up jokes that did not insult my intelligence, ranging from the absurd effortfulness of the Carver project itself to the invocation of Barthes (in a joke about baby pig semen injections!). I grooved on the illusion of the movie as one unbroken take and enjoyed — amid the magical realism — the powerful sense that this is as close to really being backstage on Broadway as most of us will ever get.
America’s Greatest Living Film Critic did not go all-in. He would not be seduced by a tour de force. I respect that. And he’s certainly right that there are no new ideas in this film. But the movie feels very new, very fresh, very unlike anything else I can think of. And Iñárritu anticipates AGLFC and all critics by asking a question about keymasters and gatekeepers. Riggan confronts a viperish theater critic asking who the hell he thinks he is, For the last eight years, I have been fascinated by this (essentially Old World) question and its New World answer: Who do I need to be? Just somebody who thinks he can do a better job, right?
Also…do baby pigs …even …have semen?
I’m not even sure what point I’m making now. And in that sense, I resemble “Birdman.” What sets us free, according to this film? Not being present in the moment, I’m pretty sure. Being absent in the moment? Surrender? Not caring? It can’t be that. We can’t have traversed all those semi-dark mossy hallways just for “not caring.” But maybe the ride is the thing. And come on, this is a great ride.