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Bird Thou Never Wert?

by Categorized: Moon Pitchers, Uncategorized Date:


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.

She Came, She Went, She Conquered

by Categorized: Moon Pitchers, Uncategorized Date:

Every misanthrope starts out hopeful.  Think of the two American misanthropes who book-ended the 20th century, Twain and Vonnegut. The fuel cell for their anger at humankind is disappointment. We could have been so much better.

I’m not sure David Fincher, the most interesting contemporary misanthrope I can think of, really shares that hope. He doesn’t like us very much, and one rarely glimpses any sign of regret about it. His great and creepy film “Zodiac” — the one that bears the closest resemblance to “Gone Girl” –contains a wonderful joke. If you rake off the upper layer of concealment on almost any human life, you find the plausible ingredients of a serial killer. The problem the cops have in “Zodiac” isn’t that they can’t find the guy. It’s that they keep finding so many guys. The rest of the Fincher oeuvre includes “Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “The Social Network.” These are not admiring portraits of our species.

Now, “Gone Girl.” (Can you tell I’m trying to catch up on cinema this week?) Before I go further, I promise to try not to spoil the film, but that’s going to be difficult. It’s not your typical thriller. The big reveal comes about halfway through. The problem was stated differently in a piece I greatly admired (without necessarily agreeing with all of it): “Disclaimer: If you don’t know what happens in Gone Girl by now, please send me an email explaining how that is even possible.”

The literary material of “Gone Girl” is perfect for Fincher’s mood, because he’s under no obligation to sustain the excitement beyond the first 75 minutes or so. Then he gets to look at what really interests him: the degree to which the most basic notions of human happiness are essentially social fictions: stories we construct and — having cast ourselves in protagonist roles — play out to the best of our abilities. Maybe you heard: Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.

There’s a moment in the film when the husband Nick (Ben Affleck) shambles numbly into his perfect kitchen only to behold his perfect yellow cat and his perfect-looking wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) making something perfectly delicious-looking with lots of little bowls of sweet, fresh ingredients arrayed around her. “Crepes?” she asks. And you realize the movie has now veered irretrievably into social satire and that’s OK. Horror and social anxiety are close cousins anyway. In “Rosemary’s Baby,” the principal source of anxiety is social — sooner or later Mia Farrow is going to have to confront all these smiling people with what she suspects about them….and that’s going to be so awkward I just can’t stand it.

I could keep that parallel going. “Gone Girl” is about marrying into a family of demons. Amy’s parents are monsters who twist her like a Rubik’s cube to fit their excruciatingly sunny children’s books. Amy, in this movie, is what Facebook is in “The Social Network.” She’s a great idea, but the most enduring question about that idea has to do with distributing the money it made. As my friend Peter Shapiro used to say: It’s always about the money. And when they say it’s not about the money that’s when it’s really about the money.

But we’re all monsters  according to Fincher. Especially the press. This movie is Fincher getting his Paddy Chayevsky on. There’s only one channel and only one show on that channel. It’s Nancy Grace, 24/7. (Except when it’s Sela Ward in a wonderful turn as the person who’s just as bad as Nancy Grace but on a counter-narrative basis. Oh Sela Ward. I am grateful to have lived on the earth at the same time as you.) But that’s one of the clues that this is not an entirely serious movie, The press is camped outside the house of the story du moment five weeks after it stopped being that.

Have I made clear that I like this movie?  I do. It is comic misanthropy well played. Well played, Mr. Fincher.

And now I will tell you something you did not know. The male cop, the one who is sort of partners with Matt Saracen’s mom? He was the kid in “Almost Famous.”GONE GIRL, from left: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, 2014. ph: Merrick Morton/TM & copyright ©20th You’re welcome.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Wonder When This Movie Will Be Over

by Categorized: Moon Pitchers, Uncategorized Date:

INTERSTELLARWhen you get near a black hole, time slows down. “Interstellar” gives you the chance to sample the truth of that statement on multiple levels.

Maybe I am not Christopher Nolan‘s target audience. I found “The Dark Knight Rises” oppressively grim and hopeless.

And I found “Interstellar” …pretty much the same. I’m assuming you know at least a little something about Nolan’s new $165-million haute mumblecore movie about space travel and relativity. Believe me, I don’t want to spoil any of it for you, because if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll really be looking for something to cling to and cherish, including the plot twist at the end.

Watching a movie made by talented people and disliking it is like being in a bad relationship. You keep wondering, “Is it you or is it me?” I say it’s them. I’m up for a brainy movie about general relativity, which turns 100 next year. I’m already thinking about doing a radio episode on it  in January. And I like art and culture that’s about ideas. If you told me there was a production of  Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” playing 20 miles away, and I would get in my car and go see it, even though I saw one three weeks ago. And “Arcadia” has tons of math!

You know what else “Arcadia” has? The greatest living writer of dialogue in the English language. In fact, the fix for a lot of pop culture is to have Stoppard rewrite it, which he has done quietly more than once. The dialogue in “Interstellar” is often quite leaden, especially when it veers away from science and toward emotion. Think about that. The scientific stuff crackles a little. The humanistic parts of the movie sink like a stone (in a place where there’s regular gravity …you have to say that with this film.)

Allow me to point to one especially pressing example. The emotional arc of the movie hinges on the notion that the protagonist (Coop, played by Matthew McConaughey) is wrongly perceived by his heartbroken daughter (Murph, played by Jessica Chastain) as having abandoned her for inadequate reasons. Setting aside the question how one family can contain two people with similarly abridged last names, consider what actually happens: The widowed Coop accepts a mission to save the human race, which is going to die out unless something is done. When Coop leaves on the mission, Murph is but a child, too young to be handed the knowledge that everybody, including her, is going to die an unpleasant, lingering death unless he, Coop, succeeds. At least, that’s what Coop thinks: that his daughter would rather believe that her only surviving parent ditched her to indulge his jones for exploration than know that the whole human race faces extinction. Well, maybe. But here’s the note that won’t play: Murph grows up and goes to work for the very scientist (Brand, played by Michael Caine) who persuaded her dad to fly through a wormhole. So now she is among the 25 or so humans uniquely positioned to know why her father left, what kind of risk he undertook and how noble and self-sacrificing his motives were.  And she’s still terminally pissed off. Later in the film, she imputes to him yet another imagined betrayal, which I suppose is Nolan’s way of doubling down on that first bad bet, but it’s too late for that.

The movie is also ramshackle affair that samples gracelessly from its predecessors, including but not limited to “2001,” “2010,” “Amageddon,” and “Tree of Life.” Phil Plait caught them ripping off “A Wrinkle in Time” and — right down to using McConaughey the same way twice — “Contact.” But the most hilarious and annoying revelation (for me) is the way Nolan is trying to get inside the pants of “Good Will Hunting.” “Interstellar” features Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. (Ben Affleck is the next Batman. I assume Minnie Driver sits by the phone every day.) But “Interstellar” essentially takes that blackboard full of some big-ass unworkable equation from its original Cambridge locale and moves it to an underground undisclosed location. And then it trades on that hoary cliche, spoken by someone holding a piece of chalk or a dry erase marker: “But what if N[1333x] is actually (3)H<66U{pi}?” That would change everything! We could get from the higher math blackboard stage to the manufacture stage in 6 weeks! We can have time travel machines in freakin’ Best Buy in time for holiday shopping!” Math is fascinating, but it doesn’t turn into applied engineering that fast.

I could ramble some more. The possibilities for hating on this movie are boundless. Like space.

Hartford, You Are a Hot Mess!

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

The City of Hartford began Election Day unable to check in voters at some sites because the printed books of registered voters had not been delivered. “Hartford Has It” did not, apparently, cover these.

To make matters worse, some voters were simply sent  away without being offered an affidavit or provisional ballot. This, in a city of three (3!) well-compensated Registrars of Voters. These people make a lot of money. For most of the year, they have nothing to do. They should be placed in colonial stocks and pillories (I never did quite figure out the difference) and whipped by pirates.

The primary damage is, of course, to each affected voter’s right of suffrage. Secondary damage to Dan Malloy, who needs those Hartford votes. The governor votes at the Hartford Seminary one of the sites that didn’t have the books. They arrived after 7 in response to ecumenical prayers. The governor was apparently obliged to wait about 30 minutes to vote. The Secretary of State, who lives two blocks from the Seminary site, and voted by affidavit.The tertiary damage will come if a court decides to extend voting hours at sites that were shut down this morning. Let one thousand conspiracy theories bloom.

Bridgeport, you will need to put on a late surge of incompetence if you want to compete here.

Thanks for Nothing, Joe

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I can’t imagine that Tom Foley is intensely grateful for the Joe Visconti drop-out.

It’s a crap move. You get on the ballot, elbow your way into some debates, scream bloody murder about the debates you’re not invited to, gin up some interesting poll numbers, claim you’re “in it to the bitter end” and then suddenly, two days before the election, it enters your big dumb head that you might be having an impact on the election in a way that you don’t like?

I think he’ll sill get about 5 percent of the vote, just as a Free Parking space for people who don’t want the two main choices. For the second time, a third party candidate has raised questions about whether they take the whole thing seriously. First Pelto did not get his poop together for the petition drive, and now Joe has a Eureka! moment while he’s watchig the Fox pregame show. Can you imagine if we did have early voting in this state? And people had voted for him?

WNPR's Chion Wof captures the moment when Joe Visconti realized that people who vote for him are not voting for somebody else.

WNPR’s Chion Wof captures the moment when Joe Visconti realized that people who vote for him are not voting for somebody else.

Your Guide to CT Election Night Surprises

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If you seek me on Election Night, you will find me at Real Art Ways, where WNPR will be live on the air from 7 to 10 p.m. There will be TV monitors, what John Tower once referred to as “beverage alcohol,” Mark Boughton, Bill Curry, John Dankosky, hipsters up the kazootie and lots of other fun surprises. So come out and join us.

Mark Boughton by Chion Wolf for WNPR

Mark Boughton by Chion Wolf for WNPR

But speaking of surprises, don’t it just feel like a night when there might be a few here in the Land of Otherwise Steady Habits? So let’s try to index them from small to big.

1. Foley beats Malloy. Would this even qualify as a surprise? Maybe not. I still lean toward a Malloy victory, but if you saw me leaning, you’d ask: “Is he leaning? Or just resting a tiny bit of weight on one foot? Micro-yoga?” The whole Democratic party, state and national, has entirely the wrong kind of momentum right now. It looks, collectively, like a baserunner dropping into a slide that will stop several inches short of the bag. If the Porcupine loses, volumes will be written on how this was possible. To me, it looks like a campaign that did just about every possible thing wrong except, when the genie came out of the lamp, ask for “an opponent we cannot possibly lose to.”  Wish granted. Even so, they may lose to him.

2. TK2 loses. See above.  Sort of a surprise. In the summer, he seemed like a dream candidate. If he loses, it will be not because of what he stands for but because of problems sticking to his campaign. This could turn into a theme for the night if there are Republican upsets. The Democrats had records they could run on, issues they could win with, but their campaigns were such big, ugly, greasy, Scrooge McDuck monstrosities that voters were turned off. Nutshell version: “We rewrote the campaign laws to our satisfaction and even so, we didn’t really follow them.”Scrooge-mcduck

3. Denise Nappier loses. Wow. This really could happen, and it would be a big old surprise.  The Democratic underticket is usually invincible. Again, it wouldn’t be because of her record, but because of how badly she has campaigned. Also, the Republicans, whose congressional and underticket candidates tend to resemble the social misfits who get kicked off the island in the first round of a reality show, actually came up with somebody pretty attractive in Tim Herbst. A lot depends on what percentage of the voters are really paying attention to this race. If they have been, then the wave of editorial endorsements for Herbst, the jockeying about debates  and the debate performance itself could count heavily against Nappier.

4. Mark Greenberg wins.  I would consider this a true surprise, and I don’t think it’s going to happen. But on a bad night for Democrats with screwy turnout, the 5th is tippy enough so that Esty cold lose.

5. Some other spot on the underticket flips or Himes loses the 4th. This would be a fall-off-the-chair surprise, but were there a flood-tide of unaffiliateds voting Republican, I suppose it couldn’t be totally discounted.  If Foley had been a stronger candidate, he might have been able to bring somebody else with him, but in an environment where all the voters are completely miserable and demoralized about all their choices, the latent Democratic statistical advantage obtains. (Also, as I said before, the GOP candidates range from drab to awful.)

6. Some big player in the General Assembly loses a seat. This is less likely just because so many big players did not seek reelection this year.

Random notes: Some of the things that could fuel an upset are, the last minute ugly mailer, the failure of Democrats to take the Latino vote seriously, and everybody’s tendency to overrate Visconti’s drain on Foley: no, no no.  Even though he just dropped out, Visconti may have a very strong night — he’s still on the ballot — but 40 percent or more of his total will be votes that ordinarily would have belonged to ol’ Porkypine. porkypine



I Know What You Did Last November

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized Date:
Stasi camera via Wikimedia Commons

Stasi camera via Wikimedia Commons

Just when you thought this campaign season couldn’t sink any lower or become any more repulsive, the Connecticut Democrats have found a new crack they can slither down into.

Connecticut voters have been receiving mail pieces — three different ones to this address — in which the addressee’s pattern of showing up to vote is listed, apparently just to prove that the people sending the mail know which elections you voted in.  The most disgusting of the three — sent by the state central committee of the Connecticut Democrats — also lists two other people from your street, with data about whether they voted in the last three elections. Their names and street numbers are redacted. “While we have hidden the name and street number of your neighbors so as not to embarrass them, these are their true voting records,” says the mailing.

The tone of the mailings is chilling, like something you’d get from Stasi in East Berlin in 1967. “Who you vote for is private, but whether or not you vote is public record,” it says.

And then: “We will be reviewing these records after the election to determine whether or not you joined your neighbor in voting.” Oh you will, will you?

Two of these undeniably menacing communications came from Democratic state central. The third came from a national, Democratic-leaning group called America Votes. It’s nearly identical to the others. But here is the darkly hilarious difference: this mailer is addressed to one person but then contains the voting record of a different man, named Irving, who lives several blocks away (I looked him up). So we now know which elections Irving voted in. Someone familiar with direct mail told me this usually means there’s been a widespread address-system problem: that Irving accidentally got Tony Smith’s voting records, and Tony got Nancy Jones’s voting records and so on.

So this tactic — despicable on its face — has been made even worse through incompetence.

Imagine that you were a recently naturalized citizen or an older person who feels a little shaky and vulnerable.  How would this make you feel?

The higher-ups who signed off on this should come forward and resign immediately. It has no place in the politics of Connecticut. It’s intimidation. You know, the kind of thing we think happens somewhere else.

The Democrats may win most of their state elections this time — largely due to inadequate opponents —  but the party needs a housecleaning after this. I got tired of their bullying tactics a long time ago. I wouldn’t support their candidates in future cycles if this is who they really are.

UPDATE: This has popped up in other places.

The Week Ahead on Our Show

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Monday: The Scramble

The John Adams / Alice Goodman opera “The Death of Klinghoffer,” is provoking strong and polarized feelings from impassioned people on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict whose feelings differ depending through which lens they view the conflict. Does the opera romanticize terrorism or offer an empathic view of a long-oppressed people? Regardless of your view, don’t calls to shut down the play ironically wreak of the same intolerance displayed by all sides. Before we talk about this weighty subject, we spend a light-hearted half hour with Superguest Anne Helen Petersen about her new book, “Scandals of Classic Hollywood,” her serious Twitter feed and a topic or two from her great long-form articles on BuzzFeed. We’ll decide the rest on the weekend.

Tuesday: Connecticut’s Long Tobacco History

Connecticut has a rich history of cultivating tobacco – not for cigarettes – but to make cigar wrappers with the highest-quality Connecticut-grown broadleaf tobacco. While farmers in the North Central areas of our state still make cigar wrappers, growing tobacco is no longer the economic engine that once required farmers to recruit help from all over the country.  It’s hard to find someone in this part of Connecticut who didn’t work in the fields as a teenager or know someone who did. We talk to a third-generation farmer, a “Pensy-Girl” and others, including the authors of a new book featuring the tobacco barns that once stood at the center of tobacco production but that are quickly going away.

Mark Mirko Courant photo

Mark Mirko Courant photo

Wednesday: The Long Uphill Battle Running for Office As a Fringe Candidate

According to the latest Q-poll, a lot of Connecticut voters don’t like any of the candidates running in the upcoming gubernatorial election. But, they don’t have much choice in that race or any of the other state races that generally have 2 candidates – maybe 3 if we’re lucky – on the menu. People are deeply disengaged from our political process, evident in the low percentage of people who vote or bother to become familiar with the issues that affect their daily lives. To make matters worse, our elected officials and often, the media, cultivate the polarization and bickering that turn off qualified candidates whose measured voices and civil behavior get lost in the clamor. Today, we talk about the difficulties of breaking the barriers of entry into public office with several impassioned candidates who persevere against the odds in their quest for public office.

Thursday: Immortality Is Creeping Up On Us

We’re captivated by the notion of eternal life, possibly the religious sort, but also on this Earth. From Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth to modern-day anti-aging treatments and diets, we want to live longer. Today, technology is bringing us closer than ever toward extending lifespan beyond the wildest dreams of grandparents who weren’t expected to live much beyond 60.  At the turn of the 20th century, it was only 46 years. In addition, healthy living and a little help from modern medical miracles, we feel good until we die. Isn’t more better? Maybe, but amidst the constant race to live longer we don’t often stop to consider whether it will be worth it or if the earth can sustain an immortal population. Plus, you know how you tend to waste something when you have too much of it? We talk to interesting people on both ends of the spectrum.

Friday: The Nose

This week’s Nose panel brings you the latest, and sometimes, lowest news in culture.