Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Fair Malady

She's the horse in the horse-race, you see. She's where the bets are placed
Rex Harrison, in 1965, won an Oscar for portraying a misogynist.

Granted, he was portraying a misogynist, and did the part so well that he won an award for it, but he was also portraying that misogynist in a film called "My Fair Lady," which begins with a montage of flowers and has a title implying a femininity one would not expect from a man named 'Rex Harrison'. The film was not called "My Good Man," or "My Man Who Sing-Talks." It did not begin with a montage of fedoras and cigars.

The film was "My Fair Lady," and it begins with montage of flowers, and its main star is Audrey Hepburn. And Rex Harrison won an Oscar for his role. Audrey Hepburn, had she been nominated, would've lost the Oscar to Julie Andrews that year, and Julie Andrews, of course, originated the role of Eliza Doolittle.

Famously, Julie Andrews lost the part of Eliza to Audrey Hepburn in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical that made her a star. In 1965, Rex Harrison won an Oscar for playing the misogynist asshole Henry Higgins opposite Hepburn's Eliza, who was not even nominated for her performance, and Julie Andrews won an Oscar for playing a singing nanny in "Marry Poppins."

"My Fair Lady" won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and a few other awards, even though the Lady of the picture was not even nominated. In fact the lady was not even allowed to sing in the picture she was presumably anchoring: Audrey Hepburn, the eponymous lady of the film, performed her role assuming her voice would be used in the musical parts of the film (the film was, after all, a musical; she was the star of the musical; she was cast over the previous star of the Broadway musical... surely she'd gotten the role for both her acting and her vocal ability).

When watching the film now, you get why Rex Harrison not only managed to transition from his Broadway performance to his Hollywood performance: he managed to win both the Tony and the Oscar for his performance as a misogynist while the Fair Ladies either lost the nomination or failed to get nominated. The film and the play is really all about Henry Higgins, you see. The emphasis of the show is on the possessive "My" and not the fair lady.

The Shaw play upon which the musical is based isn't a feminist screed by any means, but it does have its moments. The Broadway musical is a bit rough, but it breaks some traditions. But ye gods, the musical film is almost unbearable, because it is robbed of charm--you know the lead actress was robbed of her voice, for instance. And that's the whole point of the story. It's like watching Ariel, in "The Little Mermaid", lose her voice, and realizing she forgot to closely read her contract.

Also, "My Fair Lady" won a lot of awards, but Audrey Hepburn didn't even lose because she wasn't even nominated. The actress who did get nominated and win that year was, as I said, Julie Andrews. For "Marry Poppins." The next year, of course, she got nominated for another role as a singing nanny, and lost to Julie Christie.

Julie Christie solved a problem like Maria, and won for "Darling," playing a role described like this: A beautiful but amoral model sleeps her way to the top of the London fashion scene at the height of the Swinging Sixties.

Best Actor that year went to Lee Marvin, for  "Cat Ballou."

The point is that "My Fair Lady" is a terrible musical with some good tunes, and the two women were better off without it. The man who won all the awards for it went on to star in an awful film about singing animals, and is largely forgotten.

And Lee Marvin won an Oscar. For "Cat Ballou."


Saturday, September 19, 2015

When Do You Let a Facebook Friend Go?

There are a lot of friends on Facebook who no longer exist.

I've de-friended people before, for a variety of reasons. I've been de-friended, too. The thing about social networks is that sometimes constant social interaction wears one down and makes one realize just how incompatible people can be. Not a big deal, really, until the network becomes sentient and wills itself into the real world.

The real world has a notable thing. Here in the real world, we deal with mortality. And so there are people in my Facebook newsfeed who are no longer de-friend-able. They're dead. Facebook is so long in the tooth that many of us have accumulated a body-count.

Not to be all Carrie Bradshaw about this next sentence (but please feel free to do a close-up on my Mac iBook as I type these next letters): When is it okay to de-friend de-lifed friends?

Without using names, out of respect for the dead, there are a few people over the years who had Facebook pages, and I friended, and suddenly the Facebook pages are more alive than the person(s). In one case, a span of 4 years has passed since the passing, and the person is much less active than his Facebook page.

Which isn't, I must add, a bad thing. The people I know, I want to know them forever. I just don't particularly like being reminded of their demise, over and over, randomly, whenever I try to check up on racist nephews or distraught neighbors. Facebook is a meditation on minutia, not a place to go and be reminded of mortality.

De-friending a dead friend seems like a savage thing. It's killing that person all over again. Not that the person minds, or knows, of course, but there it is: you click a button and suddenly that person is gone from your personal internet--and the internet is of course an extension of your neural network. An extension of your personal brain. Of your mind. Yourself.

Memories are something we hold in our heads. But interactions--comments left, likes 'liked', photos and intimate moments shared--are now a part of those memories. And when you de-friend, you lose a part of a friendship, and a section of memories, and there's no regaining it... unless or the Feds can return it to you.

So an anniversary of a friend's death recently came up. A few people posted to his (or her!) page: "Miss you!" "Love you!" "Profound and long statement marking your passing!"

And I realized my Facebook page has a body-count. My existence has a body-count. In real life, I press on, and remember from time to time the people I've lost, and I choose when to remember. On Facebook, I'm told to recall this or that person.

In real life, I may get a scent of something, and remember a person I once loved who is now dead, and smells much differently.

In real life, I may touch a piece of fabric, recall a moment, and realize just how lost that moment is.

In real life, I may. Just may. I may, and my brain will wrinkle and neurons will fire, and I'll think of someone who is no longer there.

With Facebook? The dead appear again and again. Social networks. The internet in general. You're not allowed to release, and have the nice surprise of recollection. You sign on, and are confronted with mortality.

And no fabric-touching to give you some comfort.

Monday, September 7, 2015

All Phenomena Are Familial

The funny thing about being from Alabama is that everyone assumes the worst when you go back there.

When I recently returned to Alabama, for sad reasons, my boss--whose parents survived the concentration camps of WWII--emailed me her concern for my safety.

"I'm from there," I emailed back. "As long as I avoid politics, religion, and sports, I'll be okay."

"Do not," she emailed back, "go into a shower unless someone else has gone in first."

Granted, the south is scary for people who have not lived in the south,  or are passing through the south, or are adjacent to the south, or lived through the 1950s and '60s... or any decade, really, since the 1500s.

In general, the south is pretty terrifying. It is stuck in time. It is stuck in place. It is, however, safe to shower there. And frequent showers are required. So far, Alabama saves the pesticide for lawns. The showers are mostly safe. The lawns are terrifying.

I'm of two minds about the south: charitable, and nuking it from space. Most people feel the same about their home, no matter where they came from. I once met a young woman from Iceland who confessed she wouldn't be upset if a volcano blew the whole place up, and I thought, 'But Iceland is kind of awesome.' Hell, I once met a guy from Denmark who told me if he heard one more Hamlet joke he'd deliver a 5000 word soliloquy on Danish history, "And I'll begin it with 'To be or shut the fuck up.'"

The thing about the south is that it is always on the wrong side of history. I dunno why, but it is. Race? Yeah, the south has issues with race. Most of the US has issues with race. We're a melting pot that doesn't melt well. Most of the great race riots took place in areas beyond the Deep South. Still though, we're left with Bull Connor and fire hoses. We don't have true riots in the south because we have an emphasis on containment, and our aw, shucks demeanor makes even the occasional Evrett Till murder seem like an oversight.

Which it wasn't.

A few nights ago, I had a conversation with my dad. Both he and I were taking out our dogs for walks. I was up north in NYC, and he was down south in AL. And he was discussing a run-in he'd had with a professional competitor. "I mentioned you, and your partner, and how you were living in New York," Dad said--calling Greg my partner rather than my husband, but in a respectful way. "When I said that about you, his [the professional competitor's] face lit up. His son is also up there! And his daughter is a lesbian too."

"Wow. He hit the jackpot."

"And so we just talked. Just talked. He told me he was three months into recovery for alcoholism when his son told him he was gay. And I was like, yep, been there. And so many people down here are just ignorant. They just, 95% are just angry about shit they don't even get."

Waffles, my dog, sniffed my leg. I was sitting on a bench, and there was a light breeze, and Waf's cold nose against my calf startled me. And Dad, walking his own dog, suddenly yelled into the phone: "Not right there!"

"Snickers try to take an errant piss?" I asked.

"They just don't get anything," Dad responded.


"No, people."

I was watching the red lights at 213th Street cycle from red to yellow to green, and I was watching the walk signs move from "Walk" to "Holy shit you're gonna die if you cross." And the breeze. And Waffles, using his nose to poke me into a continuance on our short journey.

Dad and me and Alex taking the picture.
"The thing about down there," I said, "is that you never encounter anyone." An elderly woman passed me as I said this. Waf almost tripped her--he dashed out and got beneath her feet, and she cooed at him, sidestepped, smiled, continued. "You move from the house to the garage, and the garage to the car, and the car to the store, and then you reverse the whole thing. There's no reason to interact with people who are not like you."

"That's what we talked about. It was, Marc, like the world opened up. I talked to [the professional competitor] and we connected."

"Which is all you have to do. You talk to someone, and you realize there's not much of a difference between you."

Waf tugged on his leash. Hard.

"Snickers," Dad said, in a muffled volume. "Come on."

"There's always differences. Just... all you need to do is talk." I said this as Waf, tired of hanging around a sidewalk bench and unable to comprehend human language, dragged me three blocks toward a church.

"Dad? Sorry. I gotta go. Waf has a destination and I can either talk or pass out keeping up."

"Ok, son. Love to you and Greg."

"Same to you and Marilyn."

Mom and Ronnie
Also down south, my step-dad is reading the Tao, and experimenting with meditation, and searching for his own spiritual center. I get that the south is terrifying but if you just speak to people, you find they are just like you.

You just need to listen a bit, and when you speak back, speak in a way they understand.

Also, avoid conversations about 'Gone with the Wind.' Ye gods, the references to the KKK do not land well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Applause of Blue Leaves

A lot of John Guare's plays break fourth walls, reconstruct them, and knock'em down again. It's a nice technique, and in the hands of lesser writers, a tired technique. Guare does it consistently, and does it well.

And that's my opinion. Which is hardly well-informed, but sturdy.

Take House of Blue Leaves, which was the first play I'd ever seen by Guare, and perhaps the first play I video-taped and watched repeatedly. I was fourteen or fifteen, and while not all the play made sense to me, there was something so unique about it that I knew, instinctively, sense was to be had; perhaps the next viewing would clue me in on the themes flying over my head, and perhaps maturity would clarify why the ending seemed so devastating and so full of elation all at once.

House of Blue Leaves, in a nutshell, is about a day in 1965, in Sunnyside, Queens, New York, where a man named Artie Shaughnessy faces his failures with all the grace of a penguin on roller skates. Pope Paul VI is visiting the UN to lecture the world on peace, and Artie, who wants nothing more than to be a famous Oscar-winning music composer in California, is stuck in a dingy Queens apartment with his mentally-ill wife, Bananas, and his ambitious mistress/wife-to-be, Bunny Flingus. At the play's end, the dingy apartment will have been visited by three nuns, an AWOL maniac, a fading actress, a famous film director, a MP, and two men sent from the loony bin to collect Mrs. Arthur M. Shaughnessy. And a bomb, which works.

What I didn't get when I first saw it, but should've gotten, is that the play is about the audience. Or an audience. Or just , without an article.
It really was comical. The Pope wore a yarmulke.

Bunny Flingus, the mistress/wife-to-be of Artie, bursts into the Shaughnessy apartment at the beginning of the first act, at a quarter to four in the morning, and demands Artie get up and out on the sidewalk to wave at the Pope as the Pope speeds by on his way to the UN. Bunny informs Artie that there are throngs of people already waiting. Bunny informs Artie that the woman at the local A&P has connections allowing her to hold a spot for Bunny and Artie near the curb. Bunny then informs Artie of this: “When famous people go to sleep at night, it's us they dream of, Artie. The famous ones—they're the real people. We're the creatures of their dreams. You're the dream. I'm the dream. We have to be there for the Pope's dream.”

This, by the way, is on the heels of an opening prologue in which Artie, desperate to be a famous Oscar-winning film composer, begins the show by entering a nearly-empty stage, sitting behind a piano, and treating a largely unresponsive audience to a few of his tunes while begging for a blue spotlight from a completely unresponsive light-booth. During this prologue, Artie mugs for the silent audience, attempting to get a reaction, or approbation, or validation, or sympathy, or anything from them.

And now Bunny, in a monologue about fame, states the obvious: the stars need us to see them, and they need us to make them famous.

House of Blue Leaves is Guare's second most famous play. His most famous is Six Degrees of Separation, which was written a few decades later and uses the same Ataud-may-care attitude toward the fourth wall. Both House and Six Degrees come off as a series of anecdotes told over after-dinner libations. Anecdotes, of course, require an audience (or did before livejournal made everyone into a novice Noel Coward).

In Six Degrees, one of the better anecdotes, and the anecdote that sets the entire plot of the play into motion, is told by Paul. Paul introduces himself, under extraordinary circumstances, to the play's two protagonists, a white, upper middle class couple on the Upper West Side (I think—perhaps they're Upper East Side; no matter—they've seldom been above 125th Street on either side of the compass) named Ouisa and Flan. Paul, a Black male of a certain age far below that of Ouisa and Flan, introduces himself as a friend of Ouisa and Flan's children, an old college colleague in need of immediate assistance. Ouisa and Flan let him into their home and during the course of the evening, Paul reveals he is the son of Sidney Poitier. Only Paul isn't so crass as to come out as say his father is the famous and ground-breaking Black actor; he implies it, and his audience desperately infers his meaning.

Back to House of Blue Leaves. Which is a better play.

That's my opinion.

There are several moments where fame intersects with an audience's need to believe fame exists—not the least of which is, near the end, when a nun who has decided to leave her order touches a television tenderly and declares it 'a shrine.' 

The TV, by the way, has recently been used as a way for two older nuns very determined in their order to stage photo-ops with the Pope and other notables. “Get me,” the Mother Superior says, bending down close beside the TV screen: “Get me with Jackie Kennedy!” A picture is snapped, and suddenly the Mother Superior has been with Jackie Kennedy. “Bob Hope,” another nun shouts, passing the camera to Mother Superior. “Get me with Bob Hope!”

Sadly, or perhaps wisely, Guare doesn't go for a Pope/Hope joke.

Near the end of Act I, Bananas delivers the best monologue in the entire show and perhaps one of the most wonderfully baffling monologues in American theatre. In the monologue, Bananas tells the audience about the time she drove into Manhattan, ended up at 42nd St and Broadway, and noticed four famous people on each of the four corners of the intersection: Cardinal Spellman. Jackie Kennedy. Bob Hope. President Johnson. Bananas tells the audience she tried to offer each of them a ride, then, when they refuse her offer, declares, “I hit them all.” Her monologue ends with this: “...I turn on Johnny Carson to get my mind off and there's Cardinal Spellman and Bob Hope, whose ski-nose is still bleeding, and they all tell the story of what happened to them and everybody laughs. Thirty million people watch Johnny Carson and they all laugh. At me. At me. I'm nobody, I knew all those people better than me. You. Ronnie. I know everything about them. Why can't they love me?”

(Because, Bananas. Because. Also, did this actually happen, Bananas, or did you want so much to be loved that even ridicule is better than obscurity?)

The beginning of Act II of House of Blue Leaves lets the AWOL soldier son of Bananas and Artie speak. Ronnie Shaughnessy, Artie tells us at the beginning of Act I, has a charmed life, has been drafted off to Vietnam, and the reason the Pope is coming to the UN is to stop the war so Ronnie won't be sent off to fight. 

(Famous people need us to make them famous; we need famous people to have hope in some kind of alleviation from our powerless dread that we'll never be famous enough to be needed or useful or vital or, of course, to prevent our children from going to war. Only fame came make a difference for our children. Our job, as an audience, is to clap, or boo.) 

Anyway, so the curtain goes up on Act II, and we're treated to the full Ronnie Shaughnessy, charmed life and all.

“My father tell you all about me? Pope Ronnie? Charmed life? How great I am?” Ronnie begins before launching into a painful anecdote—to the audience—about the time he tried to convince a famous movie director he would make the perfect Huckleberry Finn for the director's proposed future production of a film version of the eponymous novel. “I asked the nun in school who Huckleberry Finn was...She told me. The Ideal American Boy.” Long story short, Ronnie, convinced he was the Ideal American Boy, decides to perform an impromptu audition for the director, who responds to the audition by saying to Ronnie's parents: “You never told me you had a mentally retarded child.”

Incidentally, Ronnie delivers this anecdote/monologue while dressing himself as an altar boy. And assembling a bomb that works. Ronnie is the only person in the Shaughnessy family to realize his dream: he doesn't blow up the Pope, but he does manage to murder two nuns and a deaf actor.

Yadda yadda yadda, a Hollywood director ends up in the Shaughnessy apartment in Queens and says this to Artie: “Do you know who I make my pictures for? Money? No. Prestige. No. I make them for you... I sit on the set and before every scene I say, “Would this make Artie laugh? Would this make Artie cry?”...If I ever thought you and Bananas weren't here in Sunnyside, seeing my work, loving my work, I could never work again. You're my touch with reality.”

And so Artie is forced to realize his place amongst the stars.

In Six Degrees, Paul, too, is forced to recognize his place. But the audience is never allowed to give much notice to Paul; Ouisa and Flan dominate the play, and we're left with Ouisa's reflections on that one time she and Flan were taken in by a huckster, and how it affected her. Paul gets a shout-out here and there, but Guare doesn't let the audience off very easily by giving Paul a happy ending. Paul's ending is questionable, and Ouisa and Flan are left with a very good story to give to any audience willing to listen.

For Artie, his place is as a cog—a tiny cog—in a system designed to make him redundant and therefore useless. Artie is an individual but not, and he sees his dreams die in a single day the Pope came to New York. The last scene, which is both full of devastation and elation, gives Artie a spotlight, but it also gives him a death he earned. He earned both the spotlight, and he earned the death.

And the audience withholds their approval once more. Not a damn person should applaud at the end of House of Blue Leaves, and if they do hit them. Hit them all. Because we're all just six degrees away from Cardinal Spellman, Jackie Kennedy, Bob Hope, President Johnson, and the audience who wills all famous people into being.

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