Category Archives: On Pop Culture

The act of empathy

By Dennis Hartley

As if I didn’t already have enough reasons to admire Meryl Streep:

Wow. Truth to power, baby. In case you missed the gist:

“Thank you, Hollywood foreign press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners, and the press. But who are we? And, you know, what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. […]

Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts. They gave me three seconds to say this. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.

There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. […]

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the committee to protect journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

[…] And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.

As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art. Thank you.”

Stay tuned for Orange Julius Caesar’s 3am Tweet storm…

*    *   *   UPDATE 1/9/17   *   *   *

Right on cue:

Your new POTUS in just 11 days, America! Sad!

Unsinkable: R.I.P. Debbie Reynolds

By Dennis Hartley

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2016 is ending like a bad Hollywood tearjerker. It’s tempting to say Debbie Reynolds died of a broken heart.  Perhaps she did.

Of course, Singin’ in the Rain is the first thing that comes to mind…

One of her best late-career turns was in Albert Brooks’ film Mother:

“It’s wonderful cheese…it comes from Switzerland.” Priceless. R.I.P.

Godspeed, Princess

By Dennis Hartley

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1956-2016

Can we just say that 2017 officially begins today?  Seriously, I’ve had it with you, 2016. You have more than worn out your welcome. Over.

I’ve  always felt Carrie Fisher missed her calling. Of course, she  will be forever cemented in our collective unconscious as Princess Leia; the smart, fearless, beautiful, and wisecracking heroine of the original Star Wars saga. But Carrie Fisher herself happened to be smart, fearless, beautiful, wisecracking ; a gifted comedic writer and raconteur. As we say in the business of show: she had “funny bones”.

Even if Star Wars had never been part of the equation, she would have taken her place alongside Fran Lebowitz  or Spalding Gray. If you’ve seen her autobiographical one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, you know what I’m talking about.  If not, when you’re done with your Star Wars marathon, do yourself a favor and catch it (I believe it’s still available  in HBO’s On Demand). You’ll see a Carrie Fisher who is brutally honest, self-effacing…and an absolute riot.

I bet she already has Ziggy Stardust and John Glenn in stitches. R.I.P.

Surely, he’s joking: R.I.P. Gene Wilder

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 29, 2016)

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I guess I must have been in shock.

When I received a text from Digby asking if I’d heard about Gene Wilder, I steeled myself and immediately queried Mr. Google. There it was. But I refused to believe it. This just couldn’t be. That’s when I began a one-sided argument with my, erm…laptop:

“Wait a minute. Gene Wilder is no longer with us? Are you saying, he is no longer with us? Is that what you’re telling me, that Gene Wilder…is no longer here? No longer here. He was here, but now, he is not? IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO TELL ME?!”

Goddammit.

Sorry, but people that talented, that funny, are simply not allowed to just up and leave us.

Here are several reasons why, right off the top of my head:

Rest in peace, you bloody little genius.

# # #

UPDATE:

From his family’s official statement:

The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him “there’s Willy Wonka,” would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.

Wow. And then there’s this, from one comedy legend to another…

50 years gone: Lenny Bruce is not afraid

By Dennis Hartley

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Today is the 50th anniversary of comedian Lenny Bruce’s death.

On August 3, 1966, he was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home, from (what was ruled as) an accidental overdose of morphine.

For years following his passing, he was arguably more famous for the suffering he endured for his art, rather than the visionary nature of it.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2003, after years of lobbying  by members of the entertainment industry and free speech advocates, that New York governor George Pataki issued Bruce an official posthumous pardon for his 1964 obscenity conviction. It is worth noting that no comedians have  been jailed in America for telling jokes to roomfuls of drunks  since Bruce died (yet…I’m currently working on a review for a sobering new documentary called Can We Take a Joke? It’s an eye-opener).

Of course by now everybody has jumped on the bandwagon and acknowledges the man’s genius and the groundbreaking nature of his material. But I can’t help but wonder how Lenny would have fared in the age of social media, or in front of a modern college audience (oy).

Would today’s audiences grasp the subtlety of this bit, for example? Or would Lenny suffer a virtual lynching by an outraged Twitter mob before he could reach the end, when its true message becomes clear?

“Lenny Bruce”,  by Bob Dylan  

Lenny Bruce is dead but his ghost lived on and on
Never did get any Golden Globe award, never made it to Synanon
He was an outlaw, that’s for sure
More of an outlaw than you ever were
Lenny Bruce is gone but his spirit’s living on and on.

Maybe he had some problems, maybe some things that he couldn’t work out
But he sure was funny and he sure told the truth and he knew what he was talking about
Never robbed any churches, nor cut off any babies heads
He just took the folks in high places and he shined a light in their beds
He’s on some other shore, he didn’t want to live anymore.

Lenny Bruce is dead but he didn’t commit any crime
He just had the insight to rip off the lid before its time
I rode with him in a taxi once, only for a mile and a half
Seemed like it took a couple of months
Lenny Bruce moved on and like the ones that killed him, gone.

They say he was sick ’cause he didn’t play by the rules
He just showed the wise men of his day to be nothing more than fools
They stamped him and they labeled him like they do with pants and shirts
He fought a war on a battlefield where every victory hurts
Lenny Bruce was bad, he was the brother that you never had.

    
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When Comedy Went to School & a Top 5 list
Funny People
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Winnebago Man

Today? Christie’s. Tomorrow…the World!

By Dennis Hartley

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So there’s Michelangelo, Rodin…and then there’s this guy:

(from Independent UK)

A statue of Hitler on his knees by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan has sold at auction for an earth-shattering $17.2 million (£12 million).

Titled Him, the wax sculpture was expected to make between $10million and $15 million at Christie’s auction house in New York. 

Having made well over the estimated amount, the sale set a record for the Italian satirical artist, best known for La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) – a sculpture of  Pope John Paul II having been hit by a meteorite. Cattelan’s previous record was $7.9 million for a statue of himself peeping through a hole in the floor.

Completed in 2001, Him is supposed to disrupt the viewers sense, with the work appearing like a small child from behind, yet with Hitler’s face offering a sinister contrast.

Describing the piece, the 55-year-old artists said: “Hitler is pure fear; it’s an image of terrible pain. It even hurts to pronounce his name. And yet that name has conquered my memory, it lives in my head, even if it remains taboo.

“Hitler is everywhere, haunting the spectre of history; and yet he is unmentionable, irreproducible, wrapped in a blanket of silence. 

The work previously caused controversy when it was installed in a former Warsaw Ghetto, a place where thousands of Jews died under Nazi rule.

“I’m not trying to offend anyone,” Cattelan continued. “I don’t want to raise a new conflict or create some publicity; I would just like that image to become a territory for negotiation or a test for our psychoses.”

Fair enough. Although, if your intent is so truly benign (and far be it from me to feel I have any presumptive right to advise you what to do with your own hard-earned  money), it would be a nice gesture to donate a portion of that $17 mil to, oh, I don’t know…The Holocaust Museum? Or maybe a human rights organization? So, what’s next?

Earlier this year, the artist revealed he would be returning to the Guggenheim Museum in New York to install a new artwork: a solid gold toilet titled America which patrons of the gallery may use.

Hang on. Crapping on America whilst seated on a solid gold toilet? Hate to break it to you, but Mr. Trump could sue you for plagiarism.

Image result for trump apartment bathroom

England swings like a pendulum do

By Dennis Hartley

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It was 50 years ago today (or thereabouts)…

(from USA Today)

This year, 400 since the death of Shakespeare and 90 since the birth of Elizabeth II, is also the 50th anniversary of Swinging London, a time and place that produced the British Invasion rock bands, Georgy Girl and Darling, Twiggy and The Shrimp and the miniskirt.

In the 1960s, London — epitome of everything hierarchical, traditional and stodgy — was the site of a revolution in music, fashion and design. Lords partied with bricklayers, rockers with gangsters. Anything seemed possible.

The scene was made famous by an April 1966 Time magazine cover story, titled “The city that swings.’’ It described a place where “ancient elegance and new opulence are all tangled up in a dazzling blur of op and pop.’’

[…]

The 50th anniversary of Swinging London is being marked at a Saatchi Gallery show of Stones memorabilia. Jimi Hendrix’ old flat (once Handel’s attic) has opened to tourists.This summer the Victoria & Albert Museum begins an exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution?

Yeaahh, baby!

I’m a bit of an Anglophile; I particularly love the British music,  films  and TV shows of that era.  In fact, 1966 was a watershed year for British cinema: Alfie, After the Fox, The Deadly Affair,  Fahrenheit 451,  Funeral in Berlin,  Georgy Girl,  A Man For All Seasons, The Wrong Box, and of course, Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Here’s my favorite scene:

As for the most memorable UK TV show of ’66, 2 words: Emma Peel!

Image result for emma peelAnd lest we forget the fab UK music of ’66…here are my top picks:

Now if you will excuse me,  it’s time for my tea and bickie. Cheers!