Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Observations — 1981, Good Year For Film, Not So Good For Mao’s Widow

Iran freed 52 US. Hostages.  Egypt’s Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Pope John Paul II wounded.  Israel annexed the Golan Heights. Ronald Reagan became 40th U.S. President. Reagan was wounded in assassination attempt.  Reagan fired 11,500 air traffic controllers. He appointed Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman nominated to serve on the Supreme Court.  Mao’s widow was sentenced to death.  AIDS was first identified. IBM developed its first personal computer.  George Harrison was fined half a million dollars for subconscious plagiarism — “My Sweet Lord” from ‘He’s So Fine.” Boxer Leon Spinks was mugged for his gold teeth. Bobby Unser won the Indy 500.  Prince Charles and Lady Di became engaged.  Walter Cronkite retired. Porn star John Holmes was arrested for a Laurel Canyon murder. First American test tube baby was born. ‘Nightline,” “Dynasty,” “Falcon Crest” and “Hill Street Blues” premiered.  Cats opened in London, and Torch Song Trilogy had its Broadway premiere. The Pulitzer Prize for literature went to author John Kennedy Toole for Confederacy of Dunces. The Mystery Writers of America gave their top prize, the Edgar, to Dick Francis for his mystery, Whip Hand. Other books topping the charts included Noble House by James Clavell, The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving, Cujo by Stephen King, An Indiscreet Obsession by Colleen McCullough, Gorky Park by Martin Cruz-Smith, Masquerade by Kit Williams, Goodbye Janette by Harold Robbins, The Third Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders, The Glitter Dome by Joseph Wambaugh and No Time for Tears by Cynthia Freeman.   Lots of good movies this year. We watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, Chariots of Fire, Reds, Das Boot, Pixote, Diva, The Road Warrior, Mephisto, Gallipoli, On Golden Pond, My Dinner With Andre, American Werewolf in London, and Body Heat. Not quite so good in music:  Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes, “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, “Lady” by Kenny Rogers, Starting over by John Lennon, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang, “Kiss on the List” by Daryl Hall and John Oates, and “I Love A Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt. “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton and “Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon. Born this year were Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Justin Timberlake, Serena Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Among those who died were: Natalie Wood, William Holden, Hoagy Carmichael, Bob Marley, Richard Boone, Edith Head, Paddy Chayefsky, Harry Von Zell, Bill Haley, Joe Louis, Irishman Bobby Sands, and William Wyler.  If you were around during this year of the metal rooster, what were you doing?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

James Garner: 1928 —2014

When I was a little kid, the barber called me “Hoppy.”  I often went to see Sam and his collection of long, skinny combs in soaking in a jar  filled with a green, smelly solution.  He called me Hoppy because I had white hair and often wore a two-gun holster and a Fanner 50 in each. I was an avid watcher of TV westerns.  In those early days, that consisted of my namesake, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Hoppy was my favorite, I think, because he didn’t sing. Even then, though, I wasn’t able to completely suspend disbelief. So much of the action was improbable. Just as I had avoided the impossible feats of the comic book super heroes, many of the TV cowboys seemed able to dodge bullets and could single-handedly beat up a room full of unshaven thugs  — the Jack Reachers of their day.

Then along came “Maverick.” Absolutely perfect.  He was a card shark who didn’t cheat and a con artist who used his skill for good. He was decent, but not perfect guy who would rather talk himself out of a jam than fight his way out of it, who occasionally got the worse end of the deal, who could be fooled, but who, in the end figured out a clever way to deal with the problem.  When Bret Maverick morphed into Jim Rockford, I followed happily. My interest was moving from westerns to private eyes as well.  It wasn’t too long ago that I watched every episode of the “Rockford Files” in binge mode.  It held up for me. Rockford was an ex-con who was pardoned, but never quite forgiven.  He was human, led by his heart into all sorts of trouble. I doubt very much I would have been drawn to writing about private eyes if it weren’t for the “Rockford Files.  And, though I liked Jack Kelly and Roger More, there would be no “Rockford Files” without Garner. And I might not have understood it was possible to make a very human guy a series hero.

Because Garner made it (acting) seem so easy some might dismiss his skill. For those who would like an interesting glimpse into his range, rent Twilight, coincidentally a P.I. film, where he, along with his peers, Paul Newman, Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon, created a modern noir classic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Observations — 1973, Vietnam, Nixon Over, Moving On

A ceasefire was agreed to in Vietnam. U.S. bombing of Cambodia ended. Egypt and Syria attacked Israel.  Arab terrorists cause chaos in Athens, killed three.  Chile’s Allende was overthrown in favor of Pinochet. Richard Nixon began his series of Watergate admissions.  Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned under threat of criminal indictment. Technology leading to MRI technology was developed. Sears Tower was completed. Roe v. Wade was decided. Reggae emerged as a musical force. Billie Jean King won at Wimbledon. Foreman knocked out Frazier. Willie Mays hit 660th and final home run.  O. J. Simpson was the first to rush 2,000 yards in one season. Rocky Horror Picture Show opened on Broadway.  Equus opened in London. Eudora Welty received the Pulitzer Prize for The Optimist’s  Daughter. The Mystery Writers of America gave its top honor to Warren Kiefer for The Lingala Code.  We also read The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart, Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Billion Dollar Sure Thing by Paul Erdman, World Without End by Jimmy Breslin, The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene, Once Is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susanne and The Salamander by Morris L. West. The Academy Award for best film went to The Godfather.  Also on the big screen in1973 were: The Poseidon Adventure, Deliverance, The Getaway, Live and Let Live, Paper Moon, Last Tango in Paris, Sound of Music, Jesus Christ Superstar and American Graffiti. We listened to “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” by Dawn, “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, ‘Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “Crocodile” by Elton John, and Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack.  Born this year were Jim Parsons, Seth McFarlane, Neil Patrick Harris and Pharrell Williams.  Died: J. R. R. Tolkien, John Ford, Vaughn Monroe, Picasso, Noel Coward, LBJ, Veronica Lake, Wally Cox, Lawrence Harvey, Lex Barker, Jim Croce, Betty Grable, Pearl S. Buck, W. H. Auden, Bruce Lee, and Edward G. Robinson. If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the water ox?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rant On Writing — When The Good Guys Become The Bad Guys

I have been careful in my portrayal of police officers when I write.  While I have personally witnessed the inadequacy of our justice system from arrest to verdict, I’ve kept my cynicism in check.  I’m convinced that most law enforcement officers are decent people, which means they’ve met the challenges of their often, dangerous, depressing, thankless job with a strong sense of duty.  Like firefighters and the folks in hospital emergency rooms police face humanity when it is at its worst which makes it difficult to hold onto their own.

In my books, most of them, the police are portrayed as people trying to do the job they were hired to do. And in my fiction, if a cop crosses the line, I give that decision a lot of thought.  I have a responsibility to play fair, not to add to stereotypes or encourage discrimination. Whether I have succeeded or not is for others to decide.

So, now to the heart of the matter: Perhaps because everyone has a camera (smartphone) and instant distribution (the Internet) the news is instantaneous and there is a tendency to record the most dramatic or ironic or sensational happening and send it to everyone on the planet.  Even so, what I’m seeing is an amazing amount of police misconduct.  I don’t search for it. It’s on news sites and on my Face Book pages. A young man carrying garden shears, obviously crazed, is walking toward a busy street.  Police order him to stop.  He doesn’t.  Police shoot him dead. A woman, most likely drunk, drugged, or off her meds, is walking in a busy area of an interstate.  A policeman tells her to stop.  She doesn’t.  She falls.  The policeman climbs on top of her and gives her a series of very deliberate and forceful punches to the head. Eight of them.  She was subdued before she hit the concrete.  Why did he hit her at all? A man in a wheelchair threatening the air with a screwdriver is shot.  No other way to deal with this?  And barking dogs?  Most dogs, I suspect, don’t understand the meaning of a badge.  They bark.  They might take a little calming. Surely they can be subdued or controlled non-lethally. Police shoot them, unnecessarily, it seems, in far too many cases.

However wrong it is to stereotype police officers as heartless bullies, that image will surface in our culture by their actions in real life — if they act that way in real life.  I am fearful that operations like “stop and frisk” and the kind of videos that show stupid and unnecessary brutality will, in the end, influence television, film and books in a self-perpetuating, endless cycle. That image furthers the marginalization of law enforcement, which, in turn will fuel more anti-social behavior in the “us and them” view of and by the thin blue line.  Even the most cynical expect a higher caliber of law enforcement than cops beating a grandmother senseless because the officer is stressed. The officer, in that case, claimed he was trying to protect her from the traffic.  So he punched her eight times? I’ll take hit and run for $200, Alex. The officer needed to think through the problem.  And even if the man in the wheel chair wielding a screwdriver is crazy as a loon, surely there was another way. He was in a wheel chair. If dangerous situations make an officer extremely nervous and frightened, then they should find another line of work or get more training. Not everyone is cut out for that kind of work.  I’m not tough enough to be a cop.  My hands aren’t steady enough to be a surgeon or a diamond cutter. I’m not the patient, nurturing soul who could work in a day care center. I’m not coordinated enough to be an athlete.  I wouldn’t apply for any of these jobs, nor would I qualify.  But if your job is so stressful that you can’t help but beat up the defenseless, surely you’re not cut out for street duty.

Worse, novelists and screenwriters will find it more and more difficult to portray “the law” and it keepers as forces of good if reality demands we see them in this dismal light?  How can society expect its citizens to trust and respect those whose duty is to protect us when they are the perpetrators of uncivil acts? When we are likely to be as afraid of them as we are of the criminals? In far too many neighborhoods that’s true now. And to the extent that our police treat others unfairly, often brutally, they help create criminals.

One final point:  I recognize that a single incident, such as the recent beating of the grandmother, viewed a million times on YouTube, blows the incident out of proportion. But one is too many and there have been, unfortunately, many, many more, going all the way back to Rodney King.   In a bit of “good for the goose, good for the gander” justice, private citizens recording inappropriate acts by those in authority mirror the government’s invasion of privacy against private citizens.  It becomes part of our culture and will be mirrored in our film, video, music and books.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Observations — 1963, Kennedy’s Death, King’s Dream, Vietnam & George Wallace

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Kennedy’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was murdered by Jack Ruby. Ruby died shortly thereafter. U.S. has 15,000 “advisors” in Viet Nam. 200,000 Blacks march on Washington. Martin Luther King delivered “I have a Dream“ speech. Governor George Wallace tried to prevent Blacks from attending the University of Alabama. Unemployment was at 5.5 percent. Pope John XXIII died. Kenya became an independent nation. Quasars were discovered. Michael E. de Bakey transplanted a human heart. Valium was developed. British Secretary of War, John Profumo, resigned after his affair with teenage showgirl was revealed. Julia Child premiered show on PBS. Stan Musial retired.  Wilt Chamberlain scored 70 points in one game. Parnelli Jones won the Indianapolis 500. The Beatles opened for Helen Shapiro.  Rolling Stones signed with Decca at George Harrison’s recommendation. Frank Sinatra’s son was kidnapped and returned. William Faulkner won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for The Reivers. Ellis Peters (aka Edith Pargeter) won the top honor from the Mystery Writers of America for Death And The Joyful Woman. We also read such popular novels as The Group by Mary McCarthy, The Venetian Affair by Helen MacInnes, Caravan by James Michener, Shoes of a Fisherman by Morris L. West, The Hat on the Bed by John O’Hara, and On Our Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming. We also read The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, City of Night by John Rechy, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, V by Thomas Pynchon and Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Cleopatra was tops at the box office. We also watched How The West Was Won, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Tom Jones, Irma La Deuce, Son of Flubber and Dr. No.  We listened to “Surfin’ in the U.S.A” by the Beach Boys, “The End of the World” by Skeeter Davis, “Rhythm of the Rain” by the Cascades, “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons, “Blue Velvet” by Bobby Vinton, “Hey Paula” by Paul and Paula, “Fingertips by Stevie Wonder,  “Washington Square” by the Village Stompers and “It’s All Right by the Impressions.  Those who took their first breaths this year include: Michael Jordan, Johnny Depp, Seal, Jet Li, Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt and Whitney Houston.  A number of notables didn’t make it to 1964: W.E. B. Dubois, Robert Frost, Rogers Hornsby, Aldous Huxley, Jack Carson, Zasu Pitts, Edith Piaf, Sabu, Jean Cocteau, C. S. Lewis, Adolphe Menjou and Dinah Washington.  If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the water rabbit?

1963 Corvette