Posts Tagged ‘Oscar’

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In the summer of 2016, Barbra Streisand hit the road with her latest tour, The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic. In early June, I sat uncomfortably on the fence with a spike up my ass when it came to buying tickets. Her prices are nowhere near affordable for those of us hanging on to our careers in publishing; the venue was a two-hour drive (or nine, with Bay Area traffic); and as much as I loved both the young, fun, silly “Fanny Brice” Barbra and the ‘70s Barbra who went in for that hair perm every other day, the duets of her recent years never made it to the top of my playlists.

On June 12, 2016, an unimaginable thing happened in an Orlando nightclub. Actually I’d give anything to call it “unimaginable,” but of course we could imagine it; we’ve seen it too many times and hoped for too many years that our leaders will try something other than prayer to make us feel safe. With more shooting tragedies that we can count or name or cry over, this was the first time when I ran to the bathroom because I thought I was going to be sick. As I paced around the toilet unsure of my stomach’s plans for me that morning, ten words that someone had said to me years ago brought my pacing to a halt – if they didn’t do something after Newtown, they never will. For a moment I simply existed in my bathroom, mentally disassociated from the world and staring at a framed picture of Bert and Ernie that, for the first time, failed in its attempts to brighten up the place. On my phone were texts of love or loving thoughts, invitations to lunches and drinks, dinners and movie nights, all of which I declined. I’ve been there before, and I knew what could happen if I joined the hundreds who were drowning their grief and sorrows. When raw emotion drastically assumes power, no amount of alcohol will produce the desired intoxicating results. Even if I could drink a bar out of business, in that state, I knew that my body would refuse the embrace of a red wine hug or allow itself to be wrapped in the warm blanket of a good Manhattan – nope, no wine hugs and whiskey blankets that day, but like a phone bill, a hangover is much more reliable; no matter how much fun I had the night before, a hangover is guaranteed to show up and ruin the day.

I said no to drinks, no to dinner, and no to movie night, but sitting around the house and consuming all the news coming out of Orlando was not an option. I had just started volunteering at a cat café around the corner from my house, and although I hadn’t signed up for shift on that particular Sunday, I took a chance and popped in to see if I could help out that day. Half café, half cat shelter (with health codes well intact), KitTea was exactly where I needed to be that afternoon, and I spent about five hours cooped up with a mama and her three kittens who were still in acclamation, because the poor dears still needed to be fixed and were in desperate need of attention. The world outside throbbed with its news cycle, but in that tiny acclamation room it fell away for those few hours, and I left with maybe not a full smile, but perhaps half of a grin, which was the best that we all could do that day.

That evening, high on kitten love but low with a helpless sorrow, I struggled for balance. Even on our safest of days, life is short, and only one thing would restore harmony – I bought my Barbra tickets.

Okay, enough of the therapy session. Watch Gilda, and then we’ll talk some more.

Barbra walked out in a dazzling little black number and started the show with “The Way We Were.” Yes indeed, my friends, she started her show with that classic of a classic, knowing full well that, with those first few hums, she had us sitting in the palm of her impeccably manicured hand. Girlfriend is 74 years old, so if perhaps she didn’t hit every single note of “Evergreen” or hold it for ten minutes like she did 30 years ago, we all know that I was still buying a T-shirt before I left. At the top of my “she probably won’t sing it” wish list was the song “Woman in Love” which has a note that Barbra and I practice in the car to and from work at least three times a week. With all her classics, not to mention a new album on the way, it was such an undeniable long shot that I didn’t even recognize it when she started to sing the first few words. That night, she gave us all of ‘em – “Evergreen,” “Stoney End,” “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” “People,” “Children Will Listen,” “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and after a costume change to a lovely gray evening gown, she twirled, swirled, and totally nailed “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”

You’ll allow me the bragging rights for a moment: After I see Dolly in a few weeks, my own Divas Live set list will be complete – Madonna sang “Like A Prayer” on two of the three tours that I’ve attended. I was about 14 years old when Mom took me to see Bette Midler sing “The Rose,” a night to remember. In Seattle, Cher performed “If I Could Turn Back Time” in the same outfit that she wore in the music video 25 years ago (not a single stitch has been altered; don’t even think such things!), and before Cher came on, Cyndi Lauper closed the opening act with “True Colors.” Perhaps my crowning achievement was sitting in the second row when Liza sang “Cabaret” and tried to hit the final note a second time after our first standing ovation. All dramatically different diva experiences, each performance comprised of magic from a different spell book, but on August 4, 2016, you could color me only one color, and that color was “Barbra.”

At the beginning of Act II, Barbra paraded back out, and although I was hoping for her to begin with “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” (which, l learned only recently, is from the Sunset Boulevard musical, tripling my love for the tune!), she started with a little a speech about changing the world before she hit us with, “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination.” Not to be dramatic, but the light shining off of the 19,000 tears that ran down everyone’s cheeks was greater than any light show that the arena could have designed. I never look up set lists before I go to concerts, and since her new album hadn’t been released yet, the song “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (and I call it a film, NOT a movie!), truly came out of nowhere. We sang along through the tears as commanded, and the show continued with another set of both the old and the new. Through all the cloudy gray times, ongoing work frustrations, a new scratch on my car, and a very long wait on Netflix for A Star Is Born (1976), Barbra’s tour has been my mental happy place for weeks, and, if only for a second or two, who didn’t retreat to a mental happy place when Gene Wilder died last week?

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Thousands of words in hundreds of obituaries memorialized the magic of Mr. Wilder not only as Willy Wonka but also as a permanent resident of Mel Brooks’s universe. When I hear the name “Gene Wilder” I think first not of Willy Wonka but of another magician, the late comic Gilda Radner (if you didn’t watch the entire video above, scroll back up. I can wait). Admittedly I glamorize any Hollywood relationship and cannot imagine it as anything less than perfect: Bogie and Bacall; Hepburn and Tracy; Lucy and Desi; Brooks and Bancroft; Bert and Ernie . . . in my head, even the marriages that ended in divorce were flawless, and every moment of every day was filled with nothing but love and laughter. Biographies and memoirs try to tell me otherwise, but until I sit down with these couples and hear true stories of heartache directly from their lips, well, you can’t believe everything that you read. Hardly what Hollywood would consider a photogenic couple with enough material for a glossy coffee table book (um, but I would totally buy it), Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner each had so much magic in one little finger, that combining all 20 of those fingers in marriage should have allowed them more time together before Gilda’s cancer forced them to part ways.

With each and every news cycle more tragic, outrageous, or disgusting than the one that preceded it, I start to doubt Wonka’s message in “Pure Imagination” that if we want to change the world, there’s nothing to it. Sure, buddy! You live a secluded life in a candy factory, completely closed off from the world with its revolting spoiled children and their irresponsibly vile parents. Seriously, what kind of father says “Alright, sweetheart” when his daughter demands that he buy her a golden goose and pink macaroons and a million balloons and performing baboons and . . . hmmm, okay, I’m beginning to understand Wonka’s doctrine of seclusion. If you want to change the heinous world, simply leave it and create one of your own. At times I find this idea perfectly reasonable and very appealing for a moment, but even with a chocolate river, lickable wallpaper, and dozens of little orange men from Loompaland running around the factory, Willy Wonka’s existence is nothing if not lonely. His musical, magical, and memorable life can exist only in the pure imagination of his guests, so I’m starting to wonder what kind of fantasy life exists in the pure imagination of Willy Wonka?

I guess it depends on who’s singing. The sound of only a few lyrics brings together the forces of Barbra, Gene, and Gilda like a trio of superheroes, and it’s with their help that I can exist in the world that seems to go out of its way to terrify us these days.

Those three teaming up to change the world . . . can you imagine?

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Hello again!

A binding contract of lifelong friendship forges when the person across the dinner table chuckles after you say, “Good God; that’s a Hello Again-sized piece of chicken.” Frightfully large chicken brings to mind the frightfully good-bad film Hello Again (1987), featuring Shelley Long as a woman summoned back from the dead after choking to death on a South Korean chicken ball. I didn’t know how else to break the ice and find a way to say hello. You know, again.

The “Closed” sign has been up at The Ticket Booth for some time now; other meddling voices have filled both my head and pen, pulling me in some new and exciting directions. But I began thinking about the booth and missing it, acknowledging the mental nudge that I wanted to open it up again and see how much dust had collected inside. Either sentimental or just a reaction to that dust, I found myself getting a little choked up trying to figure out why I had stayed away for long, and how, or where, I should start?

Shall we jump back in with the last Joan Crawford movie that I watched last week? Familiar butterflies began to flutter during Sadie McKee (1934) when I realized that it was the same film featured decades later in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), another Joan Crawford picture that paired her with Bette Davis. As an actress without any recent successes to her name, both Crawford and her character in Jane sit in front of the television utterly mesmerized by Sadie, a towering and bouncy young lady almost 30 years her junior. T’was a powerful moment on the couch that night – life had all came full circle for me.

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Not in the mood for big JC? I could brag about the trip we took to the San Francisco Symphony, where my family and I did not, in fact, get kicked out of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for rambunctious sobbing. The evening was a crowning achievement in my family’s history, as the Academy Award-winning score by John Williams generates a flood of nose hair-plucking tears for most of us.

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Maybe you’d like to hear about the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition where Michelle and I saw an Oscar statuette, props and costumes from The Shining (1980), and pleasant letters from religious groups scolding Mr. Kubrick for turning the filthy Lolita (1962) into a film. If I were to steal one thing from a museum, I’d sneak out with one of those letters under my shirt. Read more about the exhibition on Little Magazine.

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Not in a Kubrick mood? I get it; he’s a treat but not for every day. How about the time when I saw Cabaret: The Musical performed on stage, and the Emcee (played by Randy Harrison from Queer as Folk) pulled me up out of the audience to dance with him in front the entire theatre? “Do you have a little German in you?” he asked, and when I told him no, he hissed with smile, “Would you liiiiiiiike some?”

 

Too early for das Kit Kat Club? When I went to visit Dad for a boys’ weekend, I brought him two DVDs – Network (1976) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – so he would never again have to worry about downloading them from those streaming services that tend to stall every three minutes. We ate; we drank; we swam; we barbecued; we teased Mom via text that we picked up KFC and without a coupon.

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Oh, and a few weeks ago, Barbra started her concert with “The Way We Were.” I was there; I heard it; I saw Barbra Streisand perform live . . . no biggie.

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The magic of film illuminates my life (the way your spirit illuminates my soul), but it just hasn’t appeared anywhere in my journals. And why? Because I’ve been sad. Hatred and fear surround us, and the two have joined forces to become what some have led us to believe is a constant threat that bursts into our nightclubs where we used to dance until dawn. It’s driving down promenades where we celebrate with our friends and friendly strangers. It’s shooting out of the guns controlled by law enforcement, and hours later it’s shooting out of the guns controlled by protesters. Hatred and fear surge from the mouths of men and women who are or want to become our elected leaders, and it’s being absorbed, magnified, and projected by their followers. For those of us who worry too much and insist on being in control of all things at all times, an overwhelming hodgepodge of sadness, anger, frustration and all the other googly–eyed emoticons was inescapable, but naturally I added one more fear to the pile – maybe writing about old movies just didn’t do it for me anymore.

Eventually the moment came when I could just about feel Cher’s palm meet the side of my face (we should all be so lucky), and I heard a firm but loving “Snap out of it!” It wasn’t a “snap out of it” advising me to ignore this world that frightened me so, but the time had come to tally up of all of those indestructible new memories and experiences that I just listed above. We have plenty to talk about and will, but before we chat about that new Ingrid Bergman documentary, the upcoming Dolly Parton concert, or the adorable little cat café where I started volunteering, first I just wanted to a quick little hello.

And it is time – it’s time first to acknowledge that sadness, anger, or fear and then release it all like you’re supposed to release a ghost. After that, grab your best (or, in my case, only) Dolce & Gabbana, find a theatre that serves champagne, and go see the new AbFab movie. We’ll talk more soon, because when you finally do snap out of it, you find that chicken balls are quite delicious.

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This week I noticed how many musical biographies I have on that little iDevice of mine, each one more educational than the last (history books teach us nothing, you hear me, nothing!). To help create snappy headlines for a catalog that I’m working on for my book publishers, I’ve relied heavily on lines from these musicals and amused myself in the process. To help promote a collection of books that have been translated into English, I stole from Yentl the line “Tell me where, where is it written?” to use as its headline. The wine titles and their purple covers will be promoted with the handle borrowed from Fiddler on the Roof, “To life, to life, l’chaim.” The list of books on climate change could very well end up under the header, “Don’t rain on my parade,” but I should go for subtlety here if I want to keep it up.

Biopics have also entered my watch history in the last few months, as I just wrapped up the brilliant miniseries, John Adams (2008), starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, two people who should be married in real life. It was such a gratifying and addictive series, that naturally I scoured my shelves in search of others from the same genre. Ranking one’s favorite biopics turned into wonderfully frustrating task, as feelings of neglect and betrayal surfaced with each resort. But we gave it a go . . .

 

15) Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen (2006)

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The movie itself, not my favorite, but with every hand gesture and tilt of her head, Helen Mirren unveils the broaches and emotions of Her Majesty The Queen, eventually taking home the Oscar.

 

 

14) Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, Mrs. Brown (1997)

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“No one should think themselves wiser than me!” Dame Judi Dench is the aunt we all wish we had, am I right? I think her earrings move only in the direction that she commands – wind and gravity are nothing to this woman.

 

 

13) Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, The Miracle Worker (1962)

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As Helen Keller’s tutor, Anne Bancroft’s miraculous scenes with Patty Duke include only grunts of frustration instead of dialogue. Astounding, but once was enough.

 

 

12) Meryl Streep as Julia Child, Julie and Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep as "Julia Child" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

Julia Child now looks like Meryl Streep to me, and Stanley Tucci is delicious, as always. Sandra Bullock seems like a lovely person, but in 2010 the Academy really should have given more thought to its choice in the Best Actress category.

 

 

11) William Powell as Florenz Ziegfeld, The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

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It clocks in at just under three hours, but who could have too many helpings of William Powell? During the elaborate numbers of the Ziegfeld Follies, I could be found adding three different biographies on Flo to my wish list.

 

 

10) Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, Boys Town (1938)

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In a pinch he can be tougher than you are, and I guess maybe this is the pinch.

 

 

9) Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne as Ike and Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)

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Have you ever wanted to knock the television off its stand just to stop what’s happening in the movie? Taking logical action and switching it off won’t help a thing; the only way for me to save Tina from Ike is to throw that television to the floor with all my might. There were no instructions in the box telling me not to do this.

 

 

8) Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

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Love for Mr. Beatty and all, but every shot (ha!) of Faye Dunaway in this film is exquisite and should be framed on my wall.

 

 

7) Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Capote (2005)

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At Harper Lee’s party celebrating To Kill a Mockingbird, he sits at the bar and mutters, “I frankly don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Ten seconds in a film can be more heartbreaking than all of its seconds combined.

 

 

6) Jessica Lange as Frances Farmer, Frances (1982)

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Reaching for the moon? No, just one little star . . . on a dressing room door. Once again, the supreme Jessica Lange gives voice to every rejection, deception, and ambition through which her audience itself has suffered. It must have been by one vote when Meryl took Oscar home that year for Sophie’s Choice.

 

 

5) Greta Garbo as Christina, Queen of Sweden, Queen Christina (1933)

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This list overflows with royalty, but Garbo was the Queen before them all, including Capote. Unconvinced that a queen requires a king for a successful rule, Christina promises that she will die a bachelor.

 

 

4) James Cagney as George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

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Sometimes a gangster; sometimes a vaudevillian who can tap-dance down a staircase at the White House. As entertainer George Cohan, James Cagney was living proof that magic exists . . . no one can dance like that without assistance.

 

 

3) Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I, Elizabeth (1998)

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I was torn between listing this or Blanchett’s Oscar-winning performance as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004). Her transformation into the Virgin Queen at the end of the film helped tip the scale.

 

 

2) Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Milk (2008)

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When I first saw Milk, I don’t think I said as much as two words after I left the theatre. When I saw it again, the second time at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, I had the same reaction. Luckily there were bars in every direction, and we sat for hours at Twin Peaks, drinking our drinks and smelling the fresh cookies next door until the words and tears came.

 

 

1) Madonna as Eva Perón, Evita (1996)

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Never been a lady loved as much as a desperate, misunderstood, driven woman who was hurt and disappointed by life at a young age. After the erotic, bedtime story days of the early 1990s, Madonna revealed more of herself in Evita than she ever showed us during those equally magnificent naked years. You must love her.

On Oscar night, our happiness and delight for the winners vanish in comparison to the rage that we feel for those who went home with only a magnificent career and millions of dollars in the bank, but no award. We are only a few years away from what I predict will be called Participation Oscars being awarded to all who show up, so let us relish these last few years of cutthroat competition, boycotts, and fashion victims (shout-out to Miss Rivers).

Before they eliminate the barroom brawls of Oscar rivalries, perhaps we’ll see a few more categories added to the list, and therefore I propose an Academy Award for Best Movie Line. Below we remember a few of our favorites from movies that took home nothing more than a program on Oscar night . . . but don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars.

 

AnnaChr“You was going on as if one of you had to own me. But, nobody owns me, see; excepting myself. I’ll do what I please and no man, I don’t give a darn who he is, can tell me what to do. I haven’t asked either of you for a living. I’ll make it myself, one way or another. I am my own boss. So put that in your pipe and smoke it!” – Anna, Anna Christie (1930)

 

 

PublicEn“There you go with that wishin’ stuff again. I wish you was a wishing well. So that I could tie a bucket to ya and sink ya.” – Tom Powers, The Public Enemy (1931)

 

 

KlondikeAnn“When I’m caught between two evils, I generally like to take the one I never tried.” – Rose Carlton, Klondike Annie (1936)

 

 

DarkPass“You know, it’s wonderful when guys like you lose out. Makes guys like me think maybe we got a chance in this world.” – Vincent Parry, Dark Passage (1947)

 

 

TheRose“So what do you do when he comes home with the smell of another woman on him? Do you say, ‘Oh honey, let me open up my lovin’ arms and my lovin’ legs. Dive right in, baby, the water is fine?’ Is that what you say, girls? Or do you say, ‘Fuck this shit! I’ve had enough of you, you asshole! Pack your bags. I’m putting on my little waitress cap and my fancy high-heeled shoes, I’m gonna go find me a real man, a good man, a true man. A man to love me for sure.’ ” Mary Rose Foster, The Rose (1979)

 

 

NinetoFive“If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I’m gonna get that gun of mine, and I’m gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot!” – Doralee Rhodes, Nine to Five (1980)

 

 

Clue“Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong, and disposable.” – Mrs. White, Clue (1985)

 

 

Heathers“Come on, it’ll be very. The note’ll give her shower-nozzle masturbation material for weeks.” – Heather Chandler, Heathers (1988)

 

 

LarryF“Now I have a message for all you good, moral, Christian people who are complaining that breasts and vaginas are obscene. Hey, don’t complain to me. Complain to the manufacturer.” – Larry Flynt, The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

 

 

“He never spoke up to you, because you would never listen. I never spoke up to you, because I could never get a word in!” – LV, Little Voice (1998)

 

 

MSDTWHU EC005“You could stand there naked with a mattress strapped to your back and still look like a vestal virgin.” – Monica, 200 Cigarettes (1999)

 

 

Devil1“Is there some reason that my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?” – Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

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The month of September makes us think about New York City, and New York City makes me think about movies. To be fair, carpet samples make me think about movies, so our autumn leap from the Big Apple to the silver screen is one to be expected. This year I mulled over all of those films whose characters force me to my rooftop where I shout, “I’m moving to New York so I can live just like . . . !” I can bellow my fantasy to the world only for so long before the family of crack heads living across the street asks me to keep it down.

Based on the dollars and cents needed for San Francisco housing these days, shouting from a Manhattan rooftop may be a cheaper option for us nontechies, so until I load up the car and head east, I’ll stick with what I have. I’m moving to New York City so I can live just like . . .

 

Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947):

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A heroic writer sets out to expose anti-Semitism in New York City, looking more handsome than any writer one could possibly hope to meet – I could think of worse role models.

 

The three sailors in On the Town (1949):

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Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin visit New York only for 24 hours, but in that time they destroy a dinosaur exhibit at a museum, get seduced by cab drivers, sing and dance on the Empire State Building, and finish the night by dressing in drag as cooch dancers on Coney Island. Yes, fine, I did most of those things on my last trip to the island, too.

 

Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950):

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Always in the running as one of my all-time favorite films, I would put up with anything Eve had to throw at me, if only I could have Margo Channing’s sunken living room, golden staircase, and Thelma Ritter as my personal assistant.

 

Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960):

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Because of Lemmon’s brilliance (culinary and otherwise), I keep a tennis racket in my kitchen as a backup colander. Not to mention the fact that he’s thrilled beyond belief when he almost gets to watch Grand Hotel (1932) from the very beginning. What the heck, Miss MacClaine? I would marry C. C. Baxter in the first ten minutes.

 

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961):

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You know that pastry in the opening scene is the most exquisite treat prepared in the early hours of some exquisite New York bakery. Of course Holly Golightly ate carbs; don’t start with me.

 

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968):

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Primarily for the matching leopard coat and hat . . . and the name of her manicurist.

 

Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986):

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Some love him; some hate him, but no one makes New York City look more desirable than Woody Allen does in his films. After disastrous attempts at becoming an actress and a hilarious bout with cocaine, eventually Wiest’s character, Holly, finds her calling as a writer, and Wiest found herself with her first Academy Award.

 

Bette Midler in Big Business (1988):

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Do I really have to explain this one? Two Midlers, two Tomlins, a “usual suite” at the Plaza, and special effects at their absolute finest! For most of my childhood I was convinced that I had an identical twin brother . . . sadly I had no clear route to Manhattan for our tearful and polka-dotted reunion.

Cheers and tipped hats to all of New York’s characters, then and now.

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At times I don’t want to think about it; I don’t want to know; I don’t want to be wrong, and I don’t want to be responsible for the next step if I’m right. With the death penalty in and out of our recent news cycles, t’was perhaps not a coincidence that I Want to Live! (1958) ended up doing time in my mailbox. A potpourri of Oscar winners and should-have-won’s spruce up my Netflix queue, and until now my exposure to Susan Hayward’s winning performance was limited to only a brief mention in The Golden Girls. It was time to knock off this one, but after its arrival, bizarrely it sat on the couch for weeks, quite out of character for me. Sometimes it’s not just a popcorn-in-hand, tushy-on-couch kind of movie.

The film tells the stories of Barbara Graham, her murder trial, and a potential execution by gas. Although I was meeting Barbara for the first time, something kept me on the outside of I Want to Live!, admiring not the first-rate performance but instead the frame around it. A bit more wear and tear on the poor “Rewind” and “Pause” buttons this time around, because throughout the film I found myself thinking, “Ooo I liked that shot,” distracting me from following the uncomplicated storyline. Usually I become so enamored with a character or the actor playing her, that I commit the unforgivable crime of overlooking the artists behind the camera. For it was Addison DeWitt who taught us that, at least in the theatre, their function is merely to construct a tower so that the world can applaud a light which flashes on top of it. Eloquently put, yes? Addison was kind of a prick.

Yes, let’s tip our hats to the cinematographers then and face the topic head on – I don’t know where I stand on the death penalty. As I age, my emotional reaction to social issues, political situations, and amount of mustard on my sandwich is harder to predict, much less control. If god forbid a trillion times the death penalty personally touched a part of my life, how on earth could I predict what kind of emotional response I would have? Can I take a firm stand on such an issue when it’s happening to someone else? The ability to see both sides and neither side of an issue is a blessed curse, and every time that happens, my brain commences its automated shutdown process . . . ooo, I liked that shot. And in this case, those exceptional shots kept me safely disassociated from an unthinkable issue and an endless “what if” game – what if we execute her and she didn’t do it? What if we let her go, and she did do it and does it again? What if we lock her up forever, and she feels no remorse? What if we lock her up forever, and she’s innocent? Before Wicked, did we indeed have all of the facts in the case of Water versus Wicked Witch of the West? Did she deserve to be liquidated simply for wanting her dead sister’s shoes back? Other than air pollution via skywriting, what were her real crimes? What if Oz police started to target green-skinned women? What if mistakes are made legally, and the mistake itself becomes the process?

Mulling over something as incompressible as the death penalty, I distracted myself with the technical elements of the film (again, not to be disparaged), which proved the safer escape vehicle. When a piece of art forces its audience to scrutinize and come to terms with their own feelings on such dilemmas, we can hardly classify it as a flaw; I knew that one day I would revisit I Want to Live!, perhaps at a time when the news gives me less to escape from and more to hope for . . . now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to my local bookstore and lay myself down on the Personal Growth table.

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Academy Award for I Want to Live! (1959): Best Actress in a Leading Role

Add I Want to Live! to your Netflix queue.

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Time goes by so slowly . . . at least this week. In a few days one of my closest of the close friends flies in to join me at my beloved San Francisco Symphony. Once again I took the liberty of freelancing for the Symphony’s marketing department and convinced an out-of-towner to join me on my third viewing of The Wizard of Oz (1939). Convinced that someone should write a children’s book about our friendship, my friend and I constantly exchange movie quote texts and articles from The Huffington Post that put a “cheer up, Charlie” spin on our days, hiding the deep sadness that life has put 1,500 miles between our cities of residence. Yes, we measured; we’re that close.

Showing up on my Internet machine recently was an article posted by a publisher that I happen to work with during my nine to fiver. Although I could appreciate both its style and content, deep inside of me was the ornery old businessman who stubbornly kept my mind in the office. This grumbly old man refused to let down the work wall and appreciate a clever little article about Mary Poppins and her former employer. In place of humor, the sight of the publisher’s name only fueled my fury over how habitually they missed deadlines for the selling season on which my team was already working. I began to wonder how on earth I would be able to slot their titles into a Children’s catalog that has already been paginated or how many months it would be until they sent cover images that we could feed to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. From a harmless article sent to me with the best and most loving of intentions, I felt nothing but work frustration – the flower in my lapel had been torn and withered in my coat. My top hat had been punched and placed back on my head. Over time I had let this publisher turn me into Mr. Banks.

Ever close your eyes in an attempt to banish a thought from your mind? It doesn’t work.

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The story of P. L. Travers and her frustrated efforts of transitioning Mary from page to screen have become well known through the film Saving Mr. Banks (2013), for which Emma Thompson should have received an Oscar nomination. Yes, that evening I would have sent Cate Blanchett home with the gold for Blue Jasmine (2013), but a Thompson nomination was deserved and would have been kindhearted of the Academy. Seriously, bring the Kleenex for that ending. I am no expert on the history of Ms. Travers and Mr. Disney’s relationship, so I can’t speak to the film’s accuracy, but for me it provides a broad background for those who are unfamiliar with Disney’s struggle for a film adaptation. An added bonus was Emma Thompson’s Travers finding Tom Hanks as irritating as I do these days, hence my ruffled Oscar feathers. If you have never seen Mary Poppins (1964), first please send me your parents’ phone number so I can have a little chat with them – and don’t give me that “we didn’t rot our brains with television” hogwash – and then please stop reading. The ending of Mary Poppins is an incredibly sensitive subject for those of us who idolized both the character and the actress that sang her to life. You have been given your spoiler alert, and you may now choose for yourself. I’ll be here when you get back, and Mary, who celebrated her 50th anniversary this year, certainly isn’t going anywhere. Why would she leave? What possible reason would Mary have for abandoning us?

Let us begin with the end. Mary Poppins (1964) was the first unhappy ending to crawl across my screen and slap me with the cold, cruel hand of disappointment. Mary arrives gracefully dancing on the wind like she owns it and breathes both life and magic into the Banks household. Successively Mr. Banks becomes a devoted father and husband; his children, with the help of Mary and Bert, come to have a new understanding of their father’s demons; and Mrs. Banks . . . well . . . no major changes for Sister Suffragette, but her daughter’s daughters will adore her. Happiness could not possibly reach greater heights for the Banks clan in the film’s finale, while, only a few blocks away, Mary prepares to open her umbrella and fly over the kites of familial love that decorate the London skies. To rational adults and perhaps the more mature younger viewers, this ending is indeed a happy one, as a family is united, a father’s cold heart is melted, and otherwise ignored children are flooded with the love of now attentive parents. As an inarticulate six-year-old, all I could think is, “Happy shmappy.”

My blue umbrella had a handle that somewhat resembled a cat (or was a squirrel?), and in no way did that shade of 80s blue couple with the purple plastic beach bag in which I placed a scarf, a hand mirror, and Mom’s black pumps with the little bows. I would not have the guts to wear red until I was out of college, so the scarf was a blue that absolutely conflicted with the umbrella, but no matter – I knew what my $1.99 drag queen outfit represented, and with no competition surrounding me, not only was I secure and confident in my Poppins accouterments, I also had no misgivings of Mary’s guaranteed approval, if only she could see me. However strong my devotion to wardrobe and attempt at mimicking the elegant accent of Ms. Julie Andrews, alas I could not change the course of events. A happy family, a mended kite, an outraged umbrella head – this extraordinarily powerful woman who donned the sass of a villain but the hat of a hero had changed the winds and left the Banks children forever. I’m sorry . . . she what?!? I should have dressed up as that umbrella head, since I agreed with his every word. If I had been more athletic, I just may have thrown my cat umbrella handle (good gravy, or was it a squirrel?) at the television. Choosing their parents over the woman who took their hands and jumped into chalk drawings? The woman who led and won a carousel horse race? The woman who chaperoned tea parties on the ceiling and a chimney-sweep dance party on the roofs on London? That’s gratitude for you, but that’s as it should be – those magical people who float into our lives and change us for the better may one day catch the next wind that takes them 1,500 miles away. But if we’re lucky, the very thought of them makes us smile and laugh at inappropriate moments, slaying the grumbly old man inside us.

Only minutes ago, as I watched Michael yell “Now!” while Mr. Banks tossed the mended kite into the sky, I felt the flower in my lapel perk up slightly, perhaps absorbing a tear or two. I can’t say for sure, but it feels like the winds are changing.

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Academy Awards for Mary Poppins (1965): Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Original Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”), Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Special Visual Effects

Add Mary Poppins to your queue.

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My apartment is dazzling. Mom was here for a few days and between meals, she relaxed in the best way she knows how – she gave this little home of mine a much-needed deep cleaning. The phrase “deep cleaning” brings back painful memories of sitting in the dentist’s chair over the span of two appointments and having each tooth and gum area poked and scraped and swabbed until my mouth sparkled. True, the blessed nitrous allowed me to meet a certain menacing needle with a temporary smile, but even a drugged grin is no match for the mental image of where, when, and how that needle would penetrate through my body and turn the soundtrack of my world into nails on a chalkboard. No one “likes” going to the dentist, and while the deep cleaning appointments were especially sinister for this guy, in the long run it turns out that they were necessary. Mom felt the same way about my bathtub. It, too, went through a couple of deep cleaning appointments along with the rest of the apartment, and now we all shine brightly having been scrubbed to perfection by experts in the field.

My goal of moving the mountain of books off of the kitchen floor required new bookcases, a purchase long overdue. If there’s anything more loathsome than a trip to the dentist, it’s the frustration that comes with the task of putting together those confounded shelves so they don’t lurch from side to side. In an email that I debated printing out and laminating before her arrival, Mom promised that she would take charge and put the bookcases together. No need for a notary; she stuck to her word, and over the course of two Madonna concerts and one Cher concert playing in the background, the shelves began to take form. As we stood up the first bookcase (yes, with that much, I would help), we saw that the unfinished side of the espresso-toned shelf was facing out. At some point during production, a portion of the shelf had been flipped, resulting in lighter shades of tan running parallel to the dark espresso tones (Target’s description, not mine), and I thought Mom was going to have a stroke.

Taking apart this beast of a bookcase and putting it back together was not an option, nor was my gently delivered “Well, I can live with it” (ooo, you should have seen her face!), so we came up with another solution . . . the shelves would have to be painted. Painted, they were, and they look fabulous. Thanks, Mom. But sometimes it happens that way; sometimes your boat simply isn’t big enough. Complications arise; sometimes they’re devastating beyond repair, and other times they arrive draped in those clever little disguises that blessings often wear. Bookcases that could have been a decorating disaster turned into an original combination of colors that now brighten up the entire room. As soon as the paint had dried and the books placed snuggly in their new home, my mind flashed on one complication in the world of film that ultimately worked out for the best. The most frightening musical scores ever composed resulted from three mechanical sharks that responded unfavorably when they interacted with water.

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All irrational fears may be blamed on composer John Williams. If those mechanical sharks hadn’t malfunctioned to such an extent that the film crew nicknamed the 1975 film “Flaws,” the tunes that announced the musically cloaked great white may have existed only the head of Mr. Williams. The opening scene in which a young lady swimming at night is thrashed around and pulled underwater by an alternating pattern of musical notes is perhaps the most frightening scene in all of film history (all due respect to Baby Jane and Norman Bates). I still love my parents’ pool, the pool of my childhood where I spent hours of my life fantasizing that I was Daryl Hannah from Splash (1984), swimming through the romantic waters of love in search of New York City map. But Daryl Hannah’s ocean was friendlier than Steven Spielberg’s, who, together with John Williams, created a film that made me question whether the deep end of my pool was free from danger and indeed a safe place for recreational swimming. The Pacific Ocean was only 20 minutes away, and there was no reason a great white shark couldn’t swim up on to the beach, into a sewer drain, through the pipes down Interstate 5 (before merging on to Interstate 8), find its way into the lake near the house, transfer to another pipe that led directly to the drain in the deep end of my parents’ pool, and drag me down to my death in its gaping jaws. If that shark in Jaws: The Revenge (1987) could follow Mrs. Brody from New England to the Bahamas, we’re not dealing with any ordinary species here, and thus my childhood fear of pool sharks continues to defy the portrayed logic of adulthood.

Ultimately the flaws led to Jaws, which, in turn, led to an Academy Award for Best Original Score along with two additional Oscars (the young Mr. Spielberg did not receive a directing nomination, but I think he survived). More than 20 years after my first time to Amity Island, Jaws will never lose its grip on me – the terrifying journey of Chief Brody, Quint, and Hooper keeps me out of the ocean and in the shallow ends of the pools, where I belong. It’s only a movie, we tell ourselves, but when that growing intensity of the music and the shrieks of its victims are cut off instantly by the silence of still waters, the only sound remaining is the chattering of own my deeply cleaned teeth.

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Academy Awards for Jaws (1976): Best Music (Original Dramatic Score); Best Sound; Best Film Editing

Add Jaws to your queue

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What do I do for a living? I spend my weekdays fixing mistakes. When book publishers enter their data into my company’s system, it’s my job to adjust their misplaced prefixes, remove the first names that they entered into the “last name” field of an author record, or correct the despicable mistreatment of “too” or “your” in their online copy. I provide my publishers with suggested word counts for areas of their descriptive copy; I advise on categorization for their upcoming titles (no, you need to be more specific than NONFICTION: GENERAL); and I beg and plead with them to use the Spelling and Grammar tool on their word processors. Yes, these are book publishers who (or . . . um, is it “that”?) are making these grammatical errors, and although I’m guilty of the cursed typo here and there, I would never provide a marketing point that tells consumers, “you’re mother will love this book, and it makes a great gift to.”

However charming it is to anticipate and eventually witness our publishers’ seasonal bloopers, equally baffling to me is the amount of communication lost between a publisher and its art designer. Certain online accounts (one in particular seeking world domination, but here will remain nameless) turn into incredibly grouchy ladybugs when a cover image we supply does not match the title line word for word. Therefore my job demands that I scan every cover before it is sent out to the accounts, making sure the title, subtitle, and author name printed on the image match the title line that the publisher entered into our database. Either the publishers are failin’ to communicate with the designers, or these bullheaded designers are trying to tell the publishers something about the poorly worded subtitles . . . after your eye is trained to spot them, mismatches are everywhere you look. I’m no stranger to a breakdown of communication in the workplace, and several of my clients have published books on the subject, but oh, if only I could figure out a way for the data entry side to mend fences with the designers and match a title line and its cover! You Should Feel the Wrath of the World Domination Account Only Once, publishers; I warn thee about Capitalization.

Speaking of wrath, the data manager side of my personality showed up at my house last night. He’s supposed to sleep at the office, but in these I-can’t-lose-this-job days that we live in, who doesn’t work remotely?

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“Youth has its hour of glory, but too often it’s only a morning glory, the flower that fades before the sun is very high.”

Every winter we trudge through the Hollywood awards season that we all love to hate and hate and hate (but, oh, of COURSE I’m going to watch; what, are ya nuts?).  There is quality entertainment and rewarding validation to be gained from community grumbling, and the Academy Awards may be the official grumble-athon. Always the professional blogger, I was browsing what has replaced the video stores of our childhood, in search of any Oscar winners that should be placed snuggly into the queue. Never will there be enough time to experience the work of every artist who was once deemed “the best,” but my heart rests easier knowing they sit patiently in my own Netflix waiting room. This year, however, as I scrolled through the assorted lists of past winners, my well-trained data eye stumbled upon an unforgivable atrocity, one that I am unable to fix; one that jolted that aforementioned resting heart of mine.

Let us all take a breath and prepare ourselves – Netflix has the wrong cover image posted for Katharine Hepburn’s first Academy Award–winning performance, Morning Glory (1933).  In 2010, another film was produced bearing the same name, and during the 2014 Academy Awards, its stylish, perky poster will hang on Netflix’s wall where Ms. Hepburn ought to be.

During Oscar week . . . Hepburn . . . record-setting number of wins . . . wrong cover image . . . Hepburn . . . now I must spend my weeknights fixing mistakes.

With no other obvious methods to report content errors, I found on Netflix a “Call Us” option on its contact page, boasting a wait time of less than a minute. As much as I appreciate the word “curmudgeon,” was my love for the four-time Academy Award–winning Katharine Hepburn strong enough to turn me into such a bellyacher? My universe froze. I could be speaking with Mr. or Mrs. Netflix in less than a minute . . . should I? Having worked retail, ordinarily I am a very kind and polite customer, but could I trust myself to behave if I made such a phone call? I felt the eerie presence of a Fairy Godmother – but one who looked less like Grandma and more like Archie Bunker – and he was lingering quietly in the corner of the room, eager for the chance to transform my fitted tee and jeans into a cranky old man’s flannel bathrobe. The phone stayed on the other side of the room, having been switched to silent mode hours earlier. This, my friends, was a defining line in those pesky sands of time.

Perhaps I was not ready to cross it, but I could sure feel my toe on that line, grinding it brutally into the ground.

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Academy Award for Morning Glory (1934): Best Actress in a Leading Role

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While working her way through the novel for the first time, my dear friend advocated strongly to host a little To Kill a Mockingbird evening. She would provide dinner for me and a few others; in exchange I would provide one life’s practically perfect pairings – a bottle of wine and Gregory Peck on DVD. Although I had seen the film years ago but remember enjoying it, my memory of the Finch family wasn’t as sharp as I’d have liked. Regardless of their quality, once again I’m guilty of remembering very little when it comes to the books I was forced to read. Stubborn little bugger, I was.

I was well aware of Mr. Peck’s Academy Award-winning performance of Atticus Finch, every film list’s number-one hero, but when it came to the 1963 Oscar race, I was more familiar with the ladies of 1962. From the Coke versus Pepsi battles on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? blossomed equally enticing rumors about Joan Crawford’s “Anybody but Bette Davis” Oscar campaign. As a morphine-addicted matriarch withstanding the judgments of her alcoholic husbands and sons, Katharine Hepburn reached unbelievably new highs and lows in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Eventually on Oscar night Anne Bancroft’s name was announced for The Miracle Worker, an award that Miss Crawford graciously accepted on her behalf while those famous Bette Davis eyes threw daggers. While the world celebrated Mr. Peck and Mrs. Bancroft-Brooks, toasting the good-hearted lawyer Atticus Finch and Anne Sullivan, the strong-willed tutor of Helen Keller, the remaining drug addicts and alcoholics on the Oscar ballot gathered together their empty bottles and went home with nothing.

According to a few sources, Gregory Peck did not expect to win for his performance in To Kill a Mockingbird. His money was on his good friend Jack Lemmon for his chillingly stunning performance of an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses. Always the shrinking violet, Bette “Baby Jane” Davis expected to be the first woman ever to win three Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role but admitted, “Miss Remick’s performance astonished me, and I thought, if I lose the Oscar, it will be to her.” Lee Remick joined the above women on the list of nominees for Best Actress for her portrayal of Jack Lemmon’s wife; a woman who matches and eventually surpasses her husband’s drinking habits. Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer were awarded golden statues for their song of the same name, but the Days of Wine and Roses couple, who gave two exhausting performances that caused me to reflect on more than I cared to, were forced to drown their Oscar sorrows.

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Do we all have the capacity for alcoholism?  Is there a “potato chip factor” we should factor in during a first round of happy hour cocktails? Along with scrunchies, slap bracelets, and eventually flannel shirts, my Thanksgiving tables were made up of mostly passive drinkers who passed out on the couch after dessert every year. You can only sell that “turkey makes them sleepy” jazz to a kid for so long, but truthfully I was relieved to see some of the more unpleasant members of the extended family settle into unconsciousness. Perhaps they weren’t particularly kind people, but as far as I remember, they weren’t angry drunks. Anger, it seemed, was reserved for the sober; the drinkers just figured out how to get away from it. Watching Lemmon and Remick dive into the roles of two alcoholics who spiral out of control, together and separately, implored me to consider my own youthful days of adulthood when life’s vices were everywhere, our bodies were indestructible, and no one gave a second thought to opening another bottle. Physical and emotional consequences were for old people who had lost some sort of battle with life’s hourglass, a battle we were winning during our days of wine of roses.

Strolling through North Beach with a bottle of Coppola Chardonnay and Gregory Peck in my bag, I made a point to walk by an old theatre where I used to work as an usher. Often I’m able to catch a few old friends between or after shows for a quick hi-there-and-hello hug and a few drinks. I ran into one old buddy that evening and bragged about the fact that I was on my way up the hill for a To Kill a Mockingbird party. His face lit up (at first I wondered if he thought I said “Tequila Mockingbird”), but then he started asking if I remembered “this part” or “that part” of that glorious film. Unfortunately I was running a bit behind schedule and still had three uphill blocks of North Beach to conquer, so I had to leave behind what may have been a wonderful chit-chat. Next time, my friend. Yes, I was on my way up that hill to a dignified, adult dinner party followed by a relaxed viewing of a classic black-and-white film. I continued down the block, and before I started hoofing it up that hill, I had a quick glimpse into my own days of wine and roses and beer and Jägermeister – a blessed little bar next to the theatre was a clubhouse to us all, and yes, there was wine. Lots of wine. And Rose was servin’ it.

When she wasn’t swamped with customers who were crazed with thirst, Rose and I had some pretty gratifying discussions. The two of us had a little five-minute book club that would meet immediately after my shift but before the bar filled up with audience members, cast, and crew from the show. Although we never had the same book on our nightstands at the same time, we were able to catch each other up quickly on what each of us was reading. When Rose was working, magically a glass of Sangiovese would appear on the bar without my ordering it . . . and when I say “glass,” I mean that thing was filled to the brim. If I hadn’t been such a gentleman, I’d have leaned down on the bar and slurped up the first few sips just to keep from spilling. Eventually the bar would fill up with new and old friends, we’d all drink until we fell off our stools and before anyone had time to pass out, we’d hop in cabs and go dancing. It was splendid; it was simple; it was a wonderful year in the toddler years of adulthood . . . and if I hadn’t left when I did, I think I may have died in the bathroom of that bar.

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Days of Wine and Roses is a dark and emotionally draining view into the world of alcoholics, addiction, love, and survival. When Joe Clay (Lemmon) meets Kirsten Arnesen (Remick) at the beginning of Days of Wine and Roses, he’s as boozy as they come, while the only addiction she reveals is one of the chocolate variety. A harmless Brandy Alexander ushers Kirsten into more and more binge drinking with her new husband, and the two begin to create a life free from the perils of sobriety. If that one cocktail could unleash a beast of an alcoholic in Kirsten, is it possible we all go through an alcoholic phase in life, a time when we could all benefit from a Step or Twelve? The dangerous edge of that cliff – Mount Mid-20s, let’s call it – was treacherous, and I was eager to peer(-pressure) over it. When you’re a happy drunk and choose to drink yourself up to that edge, nothing can touch you, nothing can hurt you, and everyone loves you, whether they do or not. Somewhere in my mind, the immortality that I felt I had been promised would allow me to fly if ever I did leap off that blasted edge. But poor Kirsten . . . she hadn’t been promised a thing, and it turns out, neither had I.

Like Dad always says, everything in moderation. I loved my time at the bottom of that hill, and I had a wonderful evening when finally I made it up those three steep San Francisco blocks with Gregory Peck in tow. Last time I checked, Rose was still going strong, pouring generous glasses only to those who deserved them. My days of wine and Rose and roses may not be behind me completely, but they have certainly mellowed out over the years. My edge was at the bottom of that hill, not the top, but today I’m able to look both down and back without regret. Cheers!

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Academy Award for Days of Wine and Roses (1963): Best Music, Original Song

Add Days of Wine and Roses to your queue.

We had another minor earthquake in the Bay Area last week. When the little ones hit, I have a quick poke around online, just to make sure it was an actual quake and not the rumbling of some drunken neighbor falling down our stairs. Earthquakes, drunken neighbors: same recording studio. My first stop tends to be at Earthquake.usgs.gov, but I guess I’ll never know the true story of what rocked my world in October of 2013:

“Due to a lapse in Federal funding, the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program has suspended most of its operations. While the USGS will continue to monitor and report on earthquake activity, the accuracy or timeliness of some earthquake information products, as well as the availability or functionality of some web pages, could be affected by our reduced level of operation.”

The U.S. federal government has been shut down for two weeks. Rachel Maddow told me a few nights ago that we have never had a government shutdown during a time of war (aren’t we always in a time of war?). That was when I realized yes, it’s possible to be shocked and at the same time not one bit surprised that it’s come to this. For years now, hearing politicians deliver those lines that come wrapped in a pink bow provides me with little comfort or hope for the future; I think “Mission Accomplished” broke every backbone in that camel. I used to have a neutral, non-reaction to those let’s-all-hold-hands political pep talks, but now “There’s more that unites us than divides us” and the rest of those carefully worded slogans make me want to go toilet paper the Capitol. I have idolized Margo Channing for years, and it turns out I too detest cheap sentiment.

How I wish I could shut down the office when I don’t like a decision someone else has made, but doing so would get me fired immediately, and I like having money to buy old movies. If I don’t answer an email within five minutes, people are poking their heads in at my desk asking if I received it, read it, and what I’m going to do about it. If the email was marked as urgent or sent on “high importance,” chances are I already moved it to the bottom of my to-do list . . . so, yes, naturally I have a disagreement with someone almost every day. And why? Because I have a number of people – direct superiors and those who believe they are my superiors – making decisions about my job, and therefore my livelihood, without understanding 90 percent of it. Demolished is my doe-eyed, 20-something vision of a Utopian workplace where my coworkers and I find charming ways to work together and accomplish our goals (while wearing pink bows). Now in my 30-somethings, I see that work is a battlefield of manipulation where the new question is “what can I get him to do for me?” It’s all a part of growing up, I’m told, but I weep a bit for the team-building camp counselor in me who is becoming more and more cynical towards my leaders . . . my leaders in the workplace and my leaders in D.C. If only more people like Mr. Smith would go to Washington and hire me to help him save the world.

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An adult boy scout in the form of James Stewart is selected to fill a junior senator’s seat, only to discover that corruption exists in the system that his bright eyes have long viewed with such respect. Used, abused, and smeared when he attempts to battle the powerful power of Senate corruption, Smith launches a filibuster with the help of his witty secretary (an enjoyable Jean Arthur, who received top-billing over the young Stewart). I’m shocked, shocked to find Claude Rains playing such an unethical senator! Shocked and delighted, for no matter how evil, corrupt, or malicious his character, Mr. Rains never betrays his audience. So we have a good man naively challenging the bad machine. Is there any group that didn’t protest, boycott, or object to something about Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, some before they even watched the film?

From politicians, D.C. insiders, and the press corps to the Boy Scouts of America, and my personal favorite, the Production Code Administration, everyone’s good name was on the Hollywood chopping block. The PCA chief Joseph Breen urged “most earnestly that you take serious counsel before embarking on the production of any motion picture based on this story. It looks to us like one that might well be loaded with dynamite, both for the motion picture industry, and for the country at large.” Perhaps it was an unflattering portrayal of government, but eventually Breen changed his mind, and – get ready for it – the American public seemed to enjoy the film!

There are a few brutally wonderful films that hold up a mirror to Americans and magnify the most horrid of flaws on our faces. I’d argue that Paddy Chayefsky’s Network (1976) remains one of the most frightening films ever made, followed closely by Inherit the Wind (1960), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington could very well appear on the same brutal list. Nominated for 11 Oscars and taking home one for Best Writing (Original Story), Mr. Smith faced some fierce competition from Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Ninotchka, Dorothy Gale and her pals, and the ailing Bette Davis in Dark Victory. The silver screen and its onlookers were much blessed in 1939. It’s hard to believe those devoted to the Code let the witchcraft of Oz slip through its cutting room, but the suspension of disbelief is a moviegoer’s best friend.

Living in a country where the acceptance of disbelief has become our default, it can become increasingly difficult to suspend it for entertainment purposes. They wouldn’t really shut down the government, would they? They wouldn’t hurt their constituents on purpose, would they? They wouldn’t waste millions and billions on throwing a national temper tantrum, would they? They wouldn’t send the earthquake people home, would they? I just can’t believe . . . sigh, yes I can.

“Frank Capra’s movies have happy endings, but you have to pay for them to get them.” — Frank Capra Jr.

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Academy Award for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1940): Best Writing, Original Story

Add Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to your queue.

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When I first ventured down this road trying to understand my passion for classic films, I insisted on creating a list of rules for myself. I would find a way to introduce a new generation to the talents of days past. I would do my best not to say something that I know someone else has said before. Under no circumstances would I neglect to spell out the word “Boulevard” any time I mentioned Gloria Swanson and Mr. DeMille. Never would I hand an opinion to my readers, but rather I would approach my pieces from the perspective of the cute guys who hand out free samples at the Ferry Building – hello, I’m confident and secure with my feelings about this pear slice, but let’s see what you think. When it came to choosing the films, I was absolutely certain there had to be a cut-off year. While it was acceptable to gaze beyond and appreciate the world of Hollywood after 1970, it was strictly forbidden to write about a film that was released after 1969. Let tomorrow belong to someone else.

There is no academic, logical, or creative reason that went into this fear of the 1970s, but it felt snuggly appropriate at the time. In retrospect, perhaps I needed boundaries and structure to help push through the cold feet I had about putting my writing out there for all the world to see and judge. I was convinced that the meticulous and delicate structure of The Ticket Booth would crumble if I crossed that threshold and stepped out of 1969 and into 1970. It was there that, without warning, the past would become the present, and writing about the present simply would not do. It was with Maggie Smith’s Academy Award-winning performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) that I put my toe on that threshold of my own making, and until today I had yet to cross.

Learning to become an adult seems to be an ongoing lesson of learning what “the rules” are: don’t be late for work or rock the boat in an unstable economy, because money makes the world go ‘round. Don’t date that kind of guy; go on more dates with that kind of guy, because everybody loves a winner. We’re taught early on that breaking the rules will surely result in doom and gloom and an unhappy existence . . . but I ask you, what good’s omitting some prophet of doom? When life hands us too many rules, we have to find a few we can step on like crunchy dead leaves. I think the best ones to start with are the rules we created for ourselves. I’ll get to the others later, I promise, but today, today we cross into the 1930s by way of the 1970s. Sometimes a man must live on the edge, throw caution to the wind, defy authority (especially if he is the authority), and all those other clichés in the carpe diem cliché bag. Sometimes a man needs to sit down with his pen and scribble at the top of the page, “Let’s talk about Cabaret (1972).”

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I wish I could create a new word for the feeling I get when I write down the word “Cabaret.” It’s a loopy capital “C” goose-bumpy version of excitement, like my pen should have its own tiny theatre marquee on it. My writing process has to begin with actual writing . . . with a pen and a piece of paper. See that? More rules! The physical action of writing brings the words closer to me and allows me to have multiple thoughts at once, while typing never felt as creative. This is one rule that happens to work for me; it’s a rule that I have tried breaking on occasion but with fairly dismal results. For this guy, pens are for writing, and computers are for editing. And that giddy twinge of happiness I feel in my fingers when I make a loopy capital “C” in “Cabaret” is almost as wonderful as the movie itself. Almost.

Set in 1931 Berlin, the musical numbers of Bob Fosse’s Cabaret help narrate the stories of a young, sexually inexperienced man, a girl who yearns to be seen as a divinely decadent international woman of mystery, and the growing Nazi Party that is becoming an increasing presence in their world. The masterful Joel Grey won an Oscar for the deliciously supporting role of the club’s Emcee, outshining not one, not two, but three gentlemen who were nominated for The Godfather (1972). At the end of a golden evening, Cabaret walked away with eight Oscars, and Liza Minnelli will be wed eternally to the songs from her iconic performance as Sally Bowles, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The dark musical is an ideal experience for those who stick stubbornly (no judgment!) to an “I don’t like musicals” rule. Perfectly understandable, and without any knowledge of the film or the play, I see how the suggestion of watching a musical starring Liza Minnelli may conjure up thoughts of a sequined, light-hearted story full of nauseating lovey-doveyness. I will reveal nothing about the plot, but I swear on my stack of Liza albums, this is not the case.

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My love for Liza Minnelli is well known ‘round these parts, and I get a kick out of the fact that younger generations are enjoying her almost as much as I do. With very good reason, she was my favorite character on Arrested Development. She was so good that Jessica and I named our wine bar trivia night team “Lucille Two,” assuming we would receive extra points. When I had the opportunity to see Liza perform live at the San Francisco Symphony, yes, her voice and body had changed a bit, but that energy and personality dazzled right along with her red scarf, and her performances of “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret” brought a few tears to my eyes. As much I enjoy her voice and her acting, I discovered recently that my favorite of all of Liza’s attributes is her laugh. In all the years that the world has poked fun at her, impersonated her with the best and worst of intentions, and made countless jokes at her expense, I always had the feeling that no one was howling louder at those jokes than Liza herself.

As kids we think that if we ignore the bullies, eventually they’ll stop bothering us, but personally I never found that to be the case. It was with those unimaginative homophobic words that we would later reclaim as our own, that the silly young boys (and a few girls, as I recall) found a way to make some of us stand out from the crowd.  At a time when we knew in our fabulous hearts that it was safer to blend in, still I was unable to understand why everyone wanted to run around on a dirty field and fight over a ball . . . I was arming my peers with the all ammunition need. But to laugh at them while they attempted to hurt me? To laugh at those who pointed out what seemed like a simple truth but somehow transformed into an insult? To laugh at those who made me see that simple truth as an insult? To laugh at those who belittled those who enjoyed a catchy musical more than football? At an age when very few of us were strong enough to laugh, and doing so would have certainly broken the social rules, it would have been comforting to know that eventually we would find our strengths when we found our role models.

Yes folks, Liza Minnelli is a force stronger than any playground bully – tell your children.

I love her voice. I love her range. I love her humor. I love those eyes that remind me of her mother’s. I love the strength wielded by that infectious laughter of hers. And I love a cabaret!

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Academy Awards for Cabaret (1973): Best Director, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score, Best Art Direction, and Best Sound

Add Cabaret to your queue.