Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

Clint Eastwood, Movie Legend: Happy 50th Anniversary!

In celebrity, film, ideology, morality on March 27, 2008 at 11:44 am
Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Let me be the first to congratulate Clint Eastwood for reaching fifty years as a star. At least, 1958 marked his first appearance in a featured/ensemble role, in Lafayette Escadrille, about the famous flying squadron, alongside Tab Hunter, David Janssen and Darren McGavin. It was only a moderate attraction considering it was directed by that air-ace movie expert William Wellman. But Clint seems to have taken it to heart because for the fifty years since he’s specialised in man’s-man movies with women used as not much more than decoration at best, often as rape fodder. I get the idea he made The Bridges of Madison County just so he could finally win the women over.

There’s no doubt in my mind that, along the way, he superseded the all-American hero that Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, James Stewart and John Wayne once represented. All of them had other strings to their bows of course, Cooper being the most limited in range; I’ve never seen him in a comedic role but for Howard Hawks’ Ball of Fire (1941), a romantic comedy with Barbara Stanwyck in which he employs his standard “Aw shucks” shtick as a naive professor this time: a classic of conception and writing by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett. Clint, apart from a couple of ape-slapstick movies, the same.

Clint’s first starring role on tv, Rawhide, which began screening in the New Year of 1959, had some whimsical moments. Mainly, as the ramrod of the trail drive, he was a tough guy again, but in the early years of the series ranged too to a little goofy and awkward at times to contrast with the older (only five years separated them in reality), experienced and hardened trail boss Gil Favor played well by Eric Fleming. (Given that Sergio Leone came to Hollywood in 1964 first to meet Fleming, who had made a huge impression on everybody in the command of his role, and “settled for” Clint for his spaghetti westerns, it’s irresistibly tempting to wonder, “What if…?” See my separate column on Rawhide and Eric Fleming.) And when Clint became a full-fledged star in 1967, on the big screen, via the “Man With No Name” trilogy — A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, he represented the all-American for a totally new generation where most of the time it was hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Gable and Coop were dead, Fonda and Stewart semi-retired, the Duke at 60 still active but slowing down. That year Duke Wayne starred with Robert Mitchum and James Caan in El Dorado, one of Hawks’ finest westerns that can stand alongside any other in the Sixties. But the new generation of Kennedy-King survivors were anarchists thriving on (on-screen) violence, taking over from disillusioned peace-lovers — who probably weren’t moviegoers anyway, judging from box-office results.

My favorite Clint period must be his first decade, where he showed as much variety as he was capable of, before narrowing his focus down to what might be called “The Clint Eastwood Genre”; Sylvester Stallone and then Arnie Schwarzenegger further focused down to an ‘action’ formula that would infect Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, even Anthony Hopkins among many others. Following on from his opening western series, Clint did war movies Where Eagles Dare and Kelly’s Heroes, the musical Paint Your Wagon — not as bad as it’s made out to be — and created the classic character Dirty Harry. Play Misty for Me and The Eiger Sanction were interesting and showed more variety, but his cowboys got ever nastier — Joe Kidd, High Plains Drifter — until the reformed outlaw, Josey Wales. For me this picture did what Unforgiven (1992) was hailed for doing, more artificially, sixteen years later. Here Clint plays a reformed gunfighter, a conspicuous man of peace, who in the last five minutes of screen time reverts to the Clint we all know, blazing away indiscriminantly with his six-guns: “Killed most anything that walked or crawled, one time or another…”

In between, amid a lot of dross, came the engrossing Escape from Alcatraz (1979), another of his best directed by Don Siegel, and spy thrillerFirefox (1982), almost as good in a low-key way. Toward the end of that decade he worked his way more into direction (Bird, etc).

This brings us to In the Line of Fire following up Unforgiven, when Clint was 63. This week must be the fourth time I’ve watched it on tv. Written by Jeff Maguire, it always seemed to me a well-plotted thriller with all the necessary suspense, etc, but only now am I grasping its underlying message, which is none too inspiring. And I would dispute Leonard Maltin’s assertion that Eastwood has never been better.

As far as the theme goes, it makes a hero of a pretty dumb guy, despite his conspicuous jazz snobbery and ability tickling the ivories. I think the lesson of the movie is that you can bumble your way through life (he loses his wife and daughter) and your career (apparently in thirty years in the Secret Service he has never rated a promotion) and still qualify as an all-American hero. Throughout, he is pathetically led by the nose by the villain Mitch Leary, a.k.a. “Booth” played by John Malkovich; bullies his young partner (Dylan McDermott) to stay on the force through serious panic attacks and ends up directly responsible for his death; and despite being an obnoxious old fart wins the knockout gorgeous woman as usual — in this case Rene Russo, an exception in being only one generation adrift from Clint’s age.

It helps that his boss is his buddy (John Mahoney) and has saved his ass a hundred times from being terminated from the Secret Service since bungling his first big assignment: protecting JFK in the motorcade at Dallas. Never mind, despite the fact that there are “229” people guarding the president at a banquet, Clint and girlfriend Rene are somehow at the center of things, barking orders at everyone in sight to ensure the president is saved. Clint also pulls through, unlike genius “Booth”. I can’t help thinking this is a movie deliberately contrived for a male audience that might vote in a dumb president because he is the one they “would most like to have a beer with”, even though someone as unexciting as genuine war hero cum intellectual John Kerry slaughtered him in a series of tv debates on the issues. Is it an accident that the genius is a paranoid, homicidal maniac and the hero a dumb, ordinary screw-up? Even catching a glimpse of his own personal file at some stage — Clint calls himself “a borderline burnout with questionable social skills” — doesn’t give him any insight into himself. Somehow, Clint’s character, Frank Corrigan, in his mid-fifties, the age he is playing, retains his professional confidence fully intact, even overblown to the point of arrogance; to say nothing of his sexual confidence, able to draw much younger women though coming out with some juvenile lines of sexual innuendo.

It only got better for Clint in the sex department at the end of the millennium, as he crowded seventy. I once did a review of a movie from 1999 where he seemed to have stepped into a Brad Pitt role that Clint had to take over at the last minute — an alcoholic this time, a full burnout, having lost his wife and child again, but showing off saggy abs and having nubile 23-year-olds falling all over him. I’ll have to dig it up some time.

MOVIE LEGENDS — Women’s Liberation in the Film Biz

In celebrity, film, generational/fashion on March 26, 2008 at 2:46 am

No, I’m not talking about this era of the new millennium — when women movie stars are only superstars in magazines. I’m defining the era of more freedom in the media for women from the time commercial movies began. Men from all over the world had contributed to the invention and technical development of filmmaking apparatus, only for women to grab a bigger and bigger slice of the cake once it was obvious “The Movies” were turning into big business.

From the start, some of the most admired and successful screenwriters — Frances Marion, Jeanie Mcpherson, Anita Loos — and particularly starring actors, were female. In America, from 1910, Florence Turner and Florence Lawrence were as popular as any male star of the day, and from 1914-15, Mary Pickford, Pearl White and Theda Bara more so. Their equivalents in Europe were international superstars the androgynous, “mannish” looking Asta Nielsen who would play Hamlet, and Francesca Bertini, so seductively feminine she had perfume and fashions named after her from Paris to Tokyo. In 1913 a film starring 60-year-old French stage veteran and one-legged amputee “The Divine” Sarah Bernhardt, circulating the United States, made so much money it allowed distributor Adolph Zukor to found Paramount Pictures — proving it was not just the “cheesecake” angle that was successful.

Gene Gauntier

Gene Gauntier

At that period too, beginning before the First World War, Gene Gauntier of the Kalem studio was a combination of highly paid star and screenwriter, while Lois Weber at Universal was among the highest paid directors and producers — and usually starred in her films — moreover specialising in ‘modern’ women’s issues such as abortion and white slavery as her subjects. Alice Guy, head of production at France’s highly prolific and prestigious Gaumont, had formed the template at the turn of the century for such ‘behind the scenes’ women. Later in the US she started the Solax production company, admired for its high standards. But somehow, apart from directing the whole scenario as a screenwriter, not being able to show off in front of the camera didn’t appeal to most women attracted to showbiz.

The popularity of women on screen overtook that of men in the late Twenties and peaked through the Thirties. By the mid-Twenties, Mary Pickford, Norma Talmadge and Gloria Swanson were all on contracts guaranteeing them a million dollars a year; Barbara LaMarr and Colleen Moore similarly averaging $250,000 a film — equivalent to a great deal more than Elizabeth Taylor’s million-dollar fee in 1962, and considering there was then virtually no income tax to pay, probably more than Julia Roberts got at her peak.

La Talmadge: bigger at the box-office than Pickford or Swanson through the last  six years of silents, 1923-28

La Talmadge: bigger at the box-office than Pickford or Swanson through the last six years of silents, 1923-28

Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich were the only stars to sustain these rewards into the Depression years, when austerity measures were introduced and even screen stars were taxed much more. The biggest box-office draw of the early Thirties, bar none, was the extremely homely, elderly Marie Dressler — a union activist in the movie industry and boasting a great comedic talent: everything but cheesecake. Behind her was sweet’n’wholesome Janet Gaynor, who necessarily adopted a policy of tight secrecy about her sexuality, succeeded by Shirley Temple at the very top through the rest of the Thirties. Other top female stars made appearances at the top of the pay heap through the decade: staunch capitalist Corinne Griffith, socialite Constance Bennett, Mae West, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, and into the Forties, Bette Davis, Deanna Durbin, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck and Ginger Rogers.

Money is power, and I needn’t belabor the point here that women have always been at least as adept as men at wielding any power that comes their way. Unfortunately, beginning around 1938, certain powers in the movie industry made sure that particularly independent-minded female stars like Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Mae West, Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn were tarred and feathered as “box-office poison”. All were ‘run out of town’, dead or drastically demoted in the industry. Only Hepburn, Crawford and Dietrich survived at all — because able to reinvent themselves at other studios. And it has never been remotely the same ever since for Hollywood women as far as the power game goes. Sure, more women are directors these days but that isn’t where the power lies.

Movie Review: ‘Love from a Stranger’ (1936)

In film, psychology/psychiatry on March 25, 2008 at 3:04 am
Ann Harding in her young prime, c.1929

Ann Harding in her young prime, c.1929

This is another of those old movies with a lot of things wrong with them but is still interesting enough to tempt me to stay up till 2.30am watching it on tv. I’d never seen it, or heard of it, but I was particularly fascinated because I’d never seen Ann Harding on screen before. I was unsure at first and thought it might be the English actress of the same name; she was using that popular trans-Atlantic accent required from ‘lady’ stars of the time who were trained to enunciate like English women born to the manor: Ruth Chatterton, Kay Francis, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn… She looked like the American star physically but surely there was something missing.

But no, this Ann Harding was the American superstar of very early talkies. A top attraction from 1929, her pay rate from the RKO-Pathe studio in 1933 was $9,000 a week — in all the Hollywood starlight behind only Will Rogers, Greta Garbo and John Gilbert second equal, Maurice Chevalier and Ruth Chatterton. Like Chatterton, Nancy Carroll, Elissa Landi and several other stellar women of the time, she was stereotyped in “women’s pictures” and quickly lost popularity.

This film was made in England by lower case company Trafalgar but had the supposed advantages of the American star — even one on the slide rated higher box-office than most top English ones — as well as a prestigious American screen writer (Frances Marion) and director (Rowland V. Lee). Before looking it up I couldn’t place it in time and guessed it must be around 1931, even ’30; there was something primitive about the staging, even the lighting. And the directing was so unimaginative and static I thought it must have been made during that short phase on the introduction of talkies when filmmakers were still getting used to audio technology. Luckily the ingenious plotting and imaginative dialogue of Frances Marion, by this time a legendary screen writer for a quarter century, made up for it.

Certainly by now, though just 35, the gloss seemed to have gone off Ann. In the “Golden Era of Movies” around this age was considered the declining phase for screen females — unless you were Shirley Temple, then it was 10. At 38, Joan Crawford was dumped by MGM, and at 40 Bette Davis was playing middle aged in every sense. Even the thought of a sexually active 50-year-old in the mold of Jessica Lange, Ellen Barkin or Pam Grier — if it ever even occurred to any male mogul in Hollywood at the time — would have been considered outright disgusting. From earlier photos, Ann was highly attractive, with a luminous presence. A sedate and dignified blonde — a species totally extinct on screen since the Thirties.

Rathbone, the master villain, in costume in 1936

Rathbone, the master villain, in costume in 1936

Here she might have been deliberately unglamorised to make believable for the role of a woman (on the wrong side of thirty and in danger of being left on the shelf!) duped into love by a charming roue. Her leading man was Basil Rathbone, looking her match aged 44, years before he got into his famous Sherlock Holmes series that sustained him another decade. He had been a much sought-after leading man early in the decade for the screen’s leading divas, and was now in his period as the best costume villain on screen, usually trying to foil Errol Flynn, in Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro and so on.

The plot has it that after winning a lottery she dumps, after a minor spat, her long-time boyfriend (Bruce Seton) — one of those teddibly, teddibly civilized, dependable Nigels or Lionels of the day who admirably played the doormat once shat upon. When she springs the news on him, in Basil Rathbone’s presence, that she’s thrown him over, he later apologizes for how he reacted, having left the room dumbfounded in the circumstances. Of course, he hangs around for the rest of the movie trying to keep her from harm. Neither he nor her faithful sidekick (Binnie Hale) can talk any sense into her. She even writes off the ex as a jealous cad interfering with her new-found but illusory happiness. Note that the template of the independent, wilfully self-absorbed female, totally lacking in judgment between male characters (or rather, deluding herself over her own motives), was not new in the Nineties.

As these things tend to go in real life — and remember this is written by a woman, and from an Agatha Christie story — the heroine’s love has been won by an unmitigated bounder and disreputable rotter rolled into one. It turns out several of his ex-wives are no more and he is quite a celebrated case, so much so that there are books about him floating around. Somehow the heroine doesn’t recognize him from the photo and anyway she only starts to object when he raises his hand to her.

The acting in the denouement is fairly ripe but expertly done, and incredibly subtle by today’s standards — where the actor-automatons just scrunch their faces up in unadulterated fury and beat the shit out of each other. The psychiatry here isn’t even half right — as usual mixing up psychotic and psychopathic characteristics — but that’s entertainment?! Not for the Arnie/Sly Stallone/Harrison Ford crowd or other special effects and pyrotechnics lovers.

MOVIE REVIEW — Ethnic Humor: A Tribute to Mantan Moreland

In film, Humor on March 22, 2008 at 8:03 am
Mantan Moreland at bottom right

Mantan Moreland at bottom right

Last night I sat up for one of those midnight Z-movies I usually expect to help me catch some z’s long before the end. It was King of the Zombies, made in 1941 by Poverty Row’s underfunded Monogram Pictures and released six months before Pearl Harbor, so just qualifying as pre-War. Looking it up later on the IMDb movie website I saw that the humorous side of the horror was provided by Mantan Moreland — a name I’d seen under supporting cast credits in movie books before but without knowing anything about who he was.

This guy was an all-out riot and virtually made the film, especially but not solely in his verbal sparring with Marguerite Whitten. She called him “Honey Lamb” and other endearments while he was mainly interested in how well she could cook. A highly amusing and imaginative courtship this was. Moreland showed perfect timing and delivery of a line that spelt TALENT with a capital T-A-L-E-N-T. So it was with considerable disgust welling up in my gorge that I read the IMDb entry on him, containing a long commentary virtually apologizing for his existence. The patronising implication was that Moreland was a poor dupe of a vaudeville entertainer for the white folks in his early career (he was 40 when this movie was made) but after the arrival of modern, enlightened souls like Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, did his best to make up for past sins before his death. What a load of crap! This kind of slimy, condescending backhanded pity from an ignoramus sticks in my gizzard. Talent alone is what makes a movie special, and performing so-called ethnic humor is a field perhaps more demanding than any other. Even –especially! — if it’s your own ethnicity.

If you doubt this, take a look at Tortilla Flat, based on the story by literary titan John Steinbeck and made the same year with all the most expensive talent of gigantic MGM at its command. I watched it today, in daylight hours. It was directed by Victor Fleming, he of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, and starred acting heavyweights Spencer Tracy and John Garfield among others. By the way, should the original Hispanic settlers of the Monterey area feel grossly insulted on ethnic grounds that Tracy and Allen Jenkins (both with Irish roots), Garfield (Jewish), Hedy Lamarr (Austrian), John Qualen (Norwegian), Akim Tamiroff (Russian) even attempted portrayals of individuals from a foreign culture? To my mind, only veterans Frank Morgan and Henry O’Neill in relatively minor roles came away with much credit. Overall the casting, seen today, is fatal; Tracy in particular sounds like he had studied for the accent under Chico Marx. But they can get away with it because viewers who don’t know any better don’t care anyway; and those who do mostly shrug it off assuming it’s a sincere attempt at a worthy Steinbeck work. To think that probably a dozen genuinely entertaining flicks could have been made by Monogram or Mascot with the dough MGM blew on this!

Comparing the two films, and Moreland and Whitten with their fellow cast members I could see no way that they had demeaned their race by their sparkling performances. In fact, I strongly suspect their modern critics guilty of a craven cultural cringe. Comparing their sheer screen presence and talent with the Caucasian principals in the cast — Dick Purcell and John Archer — no genuine person of taste and discernment would believe they hadn’t swept the floor with them, the genuinely talented Joan Woodbury excepted. Political activists must deal with their own sense of shame and not project it on to artists such as Moreland and Whitten. King of the Zombies was rewritten and directed by Jean Yarbrough with the necessary quickie imperatives, but this tended to only add to the humor. For example, towards the end, “Mac”, the Dick Purcell character, stops four bullets at point blank range from the zombie master (Henry Victor). Then when John Archer is asked how Mac is, he answers fine “but those bullet holes didn’t do him much good.” It all made for an expertly done, hilarious romp that you don’t even see approached anymore.


In anthropology, art, literature, music, politics, psychology/psychiatry on March 21, 2008 at 2:41 am

By G. A. De Forest, presented 4th October 2007 at the ‘Planting the Seeds’ Conference, Wellington, New Zealand

Artistic endeavours are one of the few ways people enmeshed (and often emotionally entombed) in the mental health system feel free to express themselves on their own terms. That is, if the artistic effort is not closely monitored by an NGO [‘non-governmental organization’, in the form of a charirable trust, incorporated society or business that is deemed to be providing services for mental health ‘consumers’]. There are cases of NGOs appropriating the work of ‘their’ artists for promotional or other purposes without asking permission of the artist or even attributing the work to the artist. An attitude of such disrespect would not be tolerated towards artists in the commercial world outside the mental health system, where an artist’s intellectual property is definitely his or her own—created by the artist and owned by the artist, morally and legally.

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

The aloneness of the dedicated artist, especially an eccentric one, is emphasized in a society where the Pacific priorities of family and wider social hierarchy are highlighted and conformity and ‘team play’ are foremost. The lumping together of culture and heritage in the same government ministry has cemented tradition as a prime societal objective, when the genuine artist might have as his goal to change culture and damn heritage. Overtones everywhere of cultural-political correctness and the economic importance of the tourist trade make it plain that to be exhibited in Te Mana, our national showcase to the world, is to make it big in New Zealand’s contemporary art world.

Too frequently clients are fed a diet of conformity by providers in the guise of helping. A wounded psyche, already disinclined to complain for fear of some backlash from the system, is encouraged to ‘think positively’. Genuine and deeply held opinions may be brushed aside as symptoms of the person’s condition by staff—who may lack a great deal less insight about life, about the possibilities and potential of the mind, and about simple person-to-person ethics.

This problem has unfortunately not been eliminated by including more and more ‘highly functioning’ former clients among staff, who are often picked for well developed logical functioning and who perform administrative tasks competently and efficiently but might understand little of the artistic process. Moreover, for fear of being seen as ‘a little loopy’ themselves by health authorities, many tend to err on the side of conservatism. The phenomenon of the professionally distanced client advisor or peer supporter is a recognized problem. Just as there are cases of ‘supporting’ NGOs exploiting their artistic clients, so there is no shortage of former clients, now staff, who censor their own kind for fear of being thought of as a collaborationist in nonconformity. It can be seen, then, that artistically inclined clients are stuck in an environment where opinions and emotions unpopular in society at large might be better expressed through fictional works, visual imagery and music.

I have learnt from experience as a writer that an article telling the unvarnished truth—with first-hand facts and statistics to back it up—should probably not be circulated within the so-called ‘The Consumer Movement’ (which actually shows very little if any movement). The result can very easily be vilification, even victimisation. A ‘nonfiction’ writer wanting to be heard by other mental health clients should go into satire, where the names and specific situations are changed to protect the guilty; or preferably fantasy, where the creative spirit is allowed free rein and there is no real risk of a backlash rebounding on a sensitive individual with the anguish that can cause.

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

The therapeutic effects of a healthy fantasy life have long been recognised as far back as Freud and beyond. These fantasies, however frowned upon in polite conversation, are of course essential to the human condition. Most are safely tucked away in dreams, even daydreaming. It is the dedicated artist’s job to bring them up from the unconscious and expose them to daylight, where in art form they are allowed to be openly appreciated—though no matter how skilful and insightful, even inspirational, still the artist might be the butt of disparaging remarks from those who have no insight into their own human condition.

It is no wonder that music in whatever form is the most universal of all pastimes—either performing or listening. Its rhythms were first engendered in the womb from our mother’s heartbeat, and after birth our mother’s tone of voice—hopefully singsong baby talk—assures us that all is right with the world. A baby learns to sing—wordless tunes in pure music—long before it learns to talk. In times of stress through teenagerhood and full adulthood what better resource to turn to when the world around us seems to be spiralling into chaos? It is no wonder, either, that many of the most ground-breaking musicians and other artists have been victims of mental disturbances—and found that artistic activity was their one reliable outlet and friend in times of real crisis.

Too often thrown back on their own inner resources, the artistic client must maximize both the quantity and quality of his creative time. For visual artists and writers this will inevitably mean more solitary time—which could create problems of its own if taken to extremes. For performance artists it means more time socialising in their most rewarding activity, generating much-needed feelings of wellbeing. For all, the time spent engaged in their chosen field will usually bring a feeling of satisfaction, often at least moderate pleasure and sometimes elation, even ecstacy. Hence the well-known catchall term for the creative process: The Agony and the Ecstacy.

It is a paradox that onset of serious mental symptoms leaves a person less inclined to perform music, while driving oneself to vocalise or play his or her instrument could very well act to somewhat relieve a depressive mood. It is in this way that structured daily sessions provided in various arts and crafts by NGOs alleviates the need for a high level of motivation on the part of the participant. Once in the class the creative instinct takes over and the therapeutic value gained will be related to how much is put in.

The generally high and in some instances exceptional standard of art works seen regularly at exhibitions sponsored by Auckland NGOs can be matched by those who choose to remain totally independent of umbrella organisations or attend ‘brushing-up’ classes to hone their skills and share fellowship with other artists. The proportion of visually creative people (and other artists) making up mental health clients as a whole must surely exceed that of the general population. Many completed art school as young people only to suffer a serious breakdown interrupting their career. The slow and often painful return to art brings their life back on course to where it should have been, and the return of competence in their chosen field boosts confidence greatly.

The emergence of worthy singer-songwriters from the ranks of mental health clients, some gaining national attention and acclaim, has been perhaps the most impressive success in the arts. Among those less musically gifted, informal vocal and instrumental groups allow essential expression of primal emotions. It is obvious, from observing the dynamics of an informal musical group coordinated by myself, that simply expressing oneself musically is a freeing experience, enabling a quantum leap into a deeper mental and spiritual personal state than, say, polite conversation, even among friends. Someone who has been almost totally silent during a social gathering for two hours immediately previous, will burst forth with torrents of forceful communication. It is a painful paradox then, at least for performance artists, that they feel least like singing or playing when they are going through a bad patch. It is then that friends and supporters should guide them back into their art to reintroduce and sustain a habit of self-therapy.

For the visual artist, it can easily be imagined that the first stroke of paint on canvas brings forth creative possibilities. There is a fast rush of creation stimulated by the activity itself. On the second and third strokes more ideas suggest themselves and on the fourth and fifth maybe already a pattern is emerging. A direction steadily coelesces into a theme, or the work is finally abandoned. But either way the stimulation of higher mental processes has brought many hours of hopefully undistracted, undiluted spiritual pleasure for the artist. Any wider appreciation by friends, supporters, recognition by the mental health community, even general public, are bonuses which can boost general confidence but does not match the ultimate high: the very act of creation.

It has been said that the future of the world depends on its most creative, free-thinking individuals; certainly not those living by ‘the rules’ and striving for consensus. If this is true—and I believe it is, it is a shame that more research has not been done into the higher workings of the mind.

Movie Review: ‘The Fugitive’ (1993)

In film, psychology/psychiatry, television on March 15, 2008 at 11:34 am

Last night I watched the movie version of ‘The Fugitive’ on television — and for the first time right through. I’d always thought of it as one of those far-fetched Harrison Ford actioners, if not quite as outlandish as ‘Air Force One’. Now I see it is really Tommy Lee Jones, the Fugitive’s nemesis, who dominates.

It’s inevitable with all these remakes that we compare them to the originals. This one, as with what seems like at least ninety percent of the others, falls short. That’s despite the creator of the tv series, Roy Huggins, being executive producer. I have to admit a bias here, if that’s what it is. I could always identify with David Janssen’s special hurt furtiveness he brought to the role of Dr Richard Kimble, persecuted daily by the justice system and law enforcement officers, reliant on the kindness of strangers, etc… As well as his usual mannerisms — so well known at the time because ‘The Fugitive’ was the second of Janssen’s four distinctive series that I can remember. Each week he was in a different locale, with different guest stars, and a different flavor brought by new writers. There was something involving about his screen magnetism too.

David Janssen: the haunted face of The Fugitive (tv, 1963-67)

David Janssen: the haunted face of The Fugitive (tv, 1963-67)

I suppose this is where Harrison Ford tends to leave me cold. (And not only him — I can only think of three modern star actors who have engaged me to the point where I can’t take my eyes off them: Jessica Lange and Ellen Barkin for their sexual magnetism, and Sean Penn for other abilities.) I once saw an interview where Harrison related a story about starting out at Columbia studio in the mid Sixties. A producer told him about Tony Curtis playing a janitor (or somesuch) but “the instant you saw him on screen you knew you were watching a star”.

The perpetually snarling face of Harrison Ford as The Fugitive (1993)

The perpetually snarling face of Harrison Ford as The Fugitive (1993)

At this point, at least in the story as Harrison tells it, he replies like a wiseass that he thought “you were supposed to believe you’re watching a janitor”. Well, Harrison, that’s the absolute least a capable actor should be able to do. And you’ve been doing it for thirty years now.

As in the original, the Detective Lieutenant Gerard character here played by Tommy Lee Jones is an intensely ego-driven obsessive to say the least. (For some reason his christian name is ‘updated’ from Philip to Sam, maybe as a nod to the supposed true-life model for The Fugitive, the Fifties’ Dr Sam Sheppard.) But unlike the original, in which Barry Morse plays Gerard as a blinkered, determined functionary of a type well known in everyday life, this Gerard is jokesy-cool at the same time as blowing away an offender at point blank range without blinking an eye or twitching a hair. Also, while in the original series Gerard has no reason to believe Kimble is not guilty until almost the very end of a four-season series, Tommy Lee Jones is fed obvious clues all along the way but remains ruthless in his pursuit, including trying to shoot the cornered Kimble in cold blood.

Tommy Lee Jones as psycho-cop

Tommy Lee Jones as psycho-cop

Then in a sudden switch at the end he ludicrously transforms into the firm-but-fair cop with a heart of gold, and repudiates his “I don’t care!” mantra (about Kimble’s guilt or innocence) for an affable mano-a-mano chat with Kimble in the back of a squad car.

This is the kind of thing that must be expected since screenwriters started thirty years ago writing primarily for wookies and other creatures rather than humans — but it doesn’t make it easier to take.

POLITICAL REVIEW: Keeping Score in the War

In morality, politics, television, war on March 12, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Here in New Zealand the local Auckland television channel, Triangle, carries the PBS tv nightly news from Washington DC, with Jim Lehrer, Judy Woodruff and a number of other expert, veteran journalists.

A 'famous' shot of the Iraq War, but hardly ever seen

A 'famous' shot of the Iraq War, but hardly ever seen

Aside from the usual topics internal to the US, they conscientiously cover the US-Iraq war. A very nice, personal touch, obviously aimed at humanizing what can become just a numbers game, is in collecting the names, ages, ranks and hometowns, with a photo, of all American dead and broadcasting them in lists of about ten at the end of a program after next of kin have been informed.

It’s obviously more than patriotism can stand — giving aid and comfort to the enemy? — to tell the whole truth, say, with a few representative photos of the non-American casualties. They do give the running total whenever a new survey gives a new figure, or rather, range of figures. There are so many foreign dead this is just a number, a very high number — so impersonally presented it is impossible to comprehend the tragedy of a country destroyed.

The trap that PBS has fallen into concerning American losses is to play the politicians’ games by comparing monthly totals like some stock market forecast, so that it appears to be a good thing that ‘only’ 29 servicemen have been killed in February 2008 compared to the 105 in February 2007.

Homeless and 'displaced' refugees: more uncounted statistics

Homeless and 'displaced' refugees: more uncounted statistics

For most other countries, zero servicemen needlessly killed is the only acceptable number. But, sure enough, surveys of the American public seem to show that an increasing number of people are coming round to the conclusion that, say, 25 to 50 a month might be a happy compromise. That must explain why even Democrat representatives overlook the fact that people continued to be killed in a war that was started over nothing and drags on with no stated aim in sight.

MOVIE LEGENDS — Is 40 the New Teen?

In celebrity, film, generational/fashion on March 10, 2008 at 8:21 am

Think of Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Leonardo Di Caprio, Matt Damon and a few others who have made it to the top in Hollywood in the past decade and what descriptive words pass through your mind, assuming you’re not a pubescent female? Juvenile? Weedy? Androgynous? Certainly, looking at the films of the first three named above, it is striking how much prettier they were when starting out than their leading ladies on the screen. Other Oscar winners like George Clooney and Denzel Washington might best be described as bland — I’m comparing them to their earlier equivalents, say Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier respectively.

Brad Pitt: looking boyish even behind the suit and grown-up moustache

Brad Pitt: looking boyish even behind the suit and grown-up moustache

And for all the gay innuendo passed off today about late-Thirties ‘pretty boys’ Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power, they were still willing to take the weight of the world on their shoulders when the time came — in a World War. War turned them middle-aged before their time. But think about it… At the age of 42, as Brad Pitt goes around wearing his cap backwards like a street kid — and is the breeding stock of choice for probably millions of women today — Clark Gable was fighting the good fight in daylight raids over Germany, risking his life daily as a tail gunner.

Leonardo DiCaprio: pedophile-candy, even in adulthood

Leonardo DiCaprio: pedophile-candy, even in adulthood

As a general rule these days, young people take on less and less personal responsibility. Today I watched the Dr Phil show as he repeatedly berated a young man who in his early twenties had succumbed to deliberate sexual exhibitionism by a 15-year-old who came on to him. Dr Phil, a psychologist, again and again beat the young man up with The Law, purposefully ignoring his guest’s psychology to paint him as the bad guy. In his own defense this army veteran pleaded that he had experienced the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and as a stress coper became addicted to pornography, which gave way to sex addiction. Phil McGraw’s argumentative reply was “Are you qualified to make that diagnosis?”

Well, Phil is actually older than me, but I can’t help but think that for a good ole Oklahoma boy who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and has 30 years’ experience as a psychologist, he has seen very little of real life — or takes his own books too seriously. The first clue that would have occurred to most people is “war casualty”. Not Dr Phil. My grandmother, who was raised not very far from Oklahoma, was married and had a child by fifteen and a half. As were a lot of people in those days, she was ready and willing to take on full adult responsibilities. In contrast, Phil McGraw, admittedly to suit his purpose, kept referring to this 15-year-old girl in question as a “child”, when she might just as easily be a mother.

And, don’t forget, when it suits The Law, it is quite capable of treating 15-year-olds and younger as “adult offenders”. This must have slipped Phil’s mind.

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