Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Over time, I have grown more and more grateful for MLK, Jr. and his deep, visionary thinking. We are still as a society working on catching up with him, towards manifesting, slowly but surely– in a three steps forward, two steps backward kind of way– his beautiful dream.

I embrace his overall philosophy and feel freshly sad today that Dr. King’s life was cut so short. America and the world lost a great soul and thinker.

Mini Movie Review (THE BAT)

Last night, I rewatched the wonderful 1959 murder mystery B movie THE BAT, which I first saw around 2005. Agnes Moorehead was grand and full of life as a 50-something mystery writer with her devoted maid and (very likely) life partner, played by Lenita Lane. Vincent Price added more scenery chewing fun to the cast as a shady country doctor. I enjoyed how the main characters were not young and pretty, but, rather, middle aged and colorful. The storyline was simple and unoriginal, about a killer on the loose in a small, rural town. But, Ms. Moorehead, Ms. Lane, Mr. Price, and the men who played the butler (John Sutton) and the detective (Gavin Gordon) all acted superbly to the point of making the story quite secondary in importance. If you like old-time theatrical, chutzpah-filled acting, THE BAT is a great movie to watch on a cold winter night.

Movie Review (AQUAMAN)

The movie AQUAMAN should be re-titled SCHLOCKUAMAN or AQUA SCHLOCK. I saw the film to keep up with the whole story arc of the on-screen DC universe, since I do especially like and care about Wonder Woman and Superman. But, I found this movie covering the back story of Aquaman filled with way too bright and often sloppy CGI, which ended up giving the production an overall kitschy and tacky look. One group of Atlantean soldiers wore plastic-appearing suits that seemed to be taken right from a cheap toy set for children. Yet more kitsch.  Leading woman Princess Mera’s artificial cherry red hair fit right in with the rest of the scenery– all rather irritating.

Pacing was jarring to say the least, frenetic action constantly occurring with little to no meaningful build up of tension and character development. Even the music was uninteresting, being overly-synthed in places and lacking any catchy, memorable tune.  The script was unoriginal and often poorly written. A throw-away line said by Aquaman to Mera (Amber Heard) stands out: “You could have just peed on it.” How puerile and dumb. I’m not a Jason Momoa fan, though I have nothing against him. That said, his character of Arthur Curry/Aquaman is nothing but a muscle head/strong man with interesting tattoos. There is no depth of character delivered via any remarkable acting talent. No one in the story was particularly compelling or endearing to me. Everyone was pretty much two-dimensional.

AQUAMAN was yet another white-washed screenplay in terms of diversity. The only African American characters in the entire movie are a father-son duo of ruthless, cruel villains. As if black men haven’t been portrayed enough already as mainly either bad guys or mere supporting roles in blockbuster movies (BLACK PANTHER still being an exception, as great a film as that is). Okay, so Aquaman’s father, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), is played by a man of Maori and Scottish-Irish background and Jason Momoa himself is half Hawaiian. Randall Park, of Korean American descent, plays a nerdy guest scientist on TV newscasts in a few scenes. But, this small handful of non-white and part-white roles still felt token. Some were “safely” diluted with whiteness (including Momoa), and others were largely stereotyped, namely that of black men being brutish and cruel/evil and Asians being smart and awkward (nerdy). As for women of color, they do not appear to exist in the film– minus a dark-skinned female newscaster in one very brief scene from what I can recall.

I felt embarrassed for Nicole Kidman (as Queen Atlanna, mother of Aquaman) showing up in this expensive piece of trash. Is she that desperate for money and/or exposure these days? I’m wondering if she made sure to ask for extra pay just for having to walk about with matted, semi-dreadlocked hair in one scene. It didn’t work on Ms. Kidman at all.

I did enjoy one of Princess Mera’s court costumes and hairstyles and the underwater seahorses some of the Atlanteans rode upon. These few nice images were like finding bits of gold mixed here and there within a stack of junk metal and plastic. And Aquaman’s eventual costume of green and gold does look good on him. Finally, he cleaned up well, after being rather skanky looking throughout most of the show. At one point, his malodorousness is directly referred to. Lovely.  Hopefully, Aquaman also smelled much better towards the end, when he changed his outfit. However, I’m thinking the leading man’s stench is actually a purposeful reference to the quality of the movie. You never know.

Movie Review (MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS)

I very much enjoyed the movie MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS. The script was tightly written with much intrigue. I found the acting impeccable, which is what you can often expect with a cast of largely British Isles raised and trained actors.

I have long considered Queen Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary to be interesting, tragic figures in history. Queen Mary’s dilemma of being an ambitious woman in a time and place governed by men in every sphere was made heart-felt and immediate by the frequent closeups and claustrophobic, dark interior scenes throughout the film. Outside shots of Scotland’s beautiful yet spare countryside underscored the sense of isolation and emotional desolation Mary and her cousin Elizabeth surely experienced during their adult lives as female monarchs in a time of such misogyny and ongoing patriarchy.

Large-scale organized religion is mainly presented in the movie as a means of social control over the masses. Mary, being Catholic and a woman determined to think for herself– as she is portrayed in this screenplay at least– is villainized by Scottish Protestant Reformers, an official leader of them in the film referring to her as a “harlot” and other sexual insults. So while Scotland and England had broken free of the behemoth Catholic Church, another religion simply took its place to dictate human thought and behavior. I thought of American right wing evangelicals of today while watching the fire and brimstone preacher pillory Mary and agitate for revolt. In many ways, modern industrialized societies haven’t changed much since 1600s Britain.

Implications about gender and sexuality are believably explored in the movie, with Queen Elizabeth explicitly identifying more as a man than a woman, given that she chose not to marry (which would mean giving up most if not all of her power), did not bear any children, and lost much of her physical beauty after surviving small pox. She basically becomes a caricature of femininity, a drag queen, with her wearing of wigs, white makeup (to cover facial scarring), and grand dresses and jewelry. Identity-wise, all that is left for her is to be a ruler over a thriving kingdom that takes her seriously, like a king.

On the other hand, Mary’s path is less clear and more fraught, given that she is beautiful, clearly fertile, and enters a comparably less stable kingdom than England to rule. And this after being raised elsewhere (France) in a different culture and religion. The movie conveys that old Scottish culture was stark and had less appreciation for continental, soft, artistic sensibilities, as represented by Queen Mary’s gay, cross dressing Italian minstrel she keeps among her ladies in waiting. Like Mary, musician David Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova) does not fit in though tries to within such a precarious context. Rizzio embodies and affirms Mary’s own softness, sensuality, and emotionality, her femininity (as understood in the old traditional sense), while she must quickly harden up for a traditionally masculine leadership role over a country. Mary’s complexity is a believable mix of both soft and hard, the masculine and feminine, fluid and so human really, conveyed through her willful determination to have power over others at all costs while also valuing music, spirituality, and close relationships. Aside from ruling, the young queen’s immediate priorities are God via an unwavering Catholic devotion, her treasonous half brother, her handsome but self-serving and sexually conflicted husband, the devoted and talented Rizzio (the only man around who– though a feminine man– seems to truly love her as a person), her ladies in waiting, her cousin Queen Elizabeth, and, finally, her motherhood (albeit brief) to Prince James. He would later be the king to unite both Scotland and England, fulfilling a deep wish for the Queen of Scots. Mary clearly has a lot on her mind at all times, for which a sense of androgyny comes in handy.

Twenty-four-year-old Irish American actress Saoirse Ronan portrays Mary Queen of Scots with deep mastery. Margot Robbie plays the comparably more hardened Queen Elizabeth just as capably. I could not think of a single actor who was less than stellar in this movie.

I appreciated the downplay of blood-letting and lack of overall violence shown throughout. If you are someone who must have gore and battle scenes, this film is not for you. Emotional expression and conflicting motivations are the primary arc of movement over the entire narrative. There is no reliance on extreme displays of aggression except where doing so cannot be avoided in order to further the storyline. Such action occurs with economy and thought, which is hard to come by in a lot of cinema these days. I highly recommend MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, especially if you enjoy period dramas.

Me, Maria Muldaur, and Black Panther

In February of 1975, my parents decided to resign their posts as English teachers at Modesto Junior College to travel around California and, if I remember correctly, British Columbia, Canada for the rest of the school year.  We mostly stayed at friends’ and friends of friends’ homes, driving around in my mom’s 1960-something VW station wagon and then, soon, a 1969 VW van.  It may have already been the latter vehicle we rode in entirely during this period.

In any case, my parents made it a point to go to my 3rd grade classroom and gather text books and consumable lesson manuals for me to work through during the months ahead.  I did not consciously know it at the time, nor did my parents, but this method of on-the-road homeschooling would be problematic for me.  I learn best by listening to and watching someone disseminate information in a classroom setting, taking in information primarily via my hearing, enhanced along by visual aides, such as viewing writing on a chalkboard, slideshows, movies, etc.  Some interactive question and answer time can help with my learning as well.  But, alas, here I was left to my own devices to take in information and express it back via only the two-dimensional pages of texts and workbooks.  Through life experience, one lives and clearly learns what works and what doesn’t.

Focusing was a challenge to no end, made particularly difficult by having no routine of place and time as we moved around from day to day or week to week.  My parents’ minds were preoccupied elsewhere, such as deciding where to go next and how to save money, among many other adult concerns.  “Did you finish your homework today?” was a frequent refrain I heard from Mom and sometimes Dad.  “No, not yet,” I often replied.  “Well, get to it!” was said, usually by my mother, or some other similar response.  That was largely the extent of my parents’ involvement with my schooling during this latter part of my year in 3rd grade.  I was eight years old.  I sat with school books in other people’s dining rooms, living rooms, outside on sidewalk curbs, doing my best to get through some reading, writing, or math lesson (though the math I barely remember working on, as it’s possible I did not have a math workbook).  My imagination and ever-changing environment distracted me to no end, that and a deep sense of loneliness and uncertainty.  Looking back, it is amazing that I managed to complete whatever schoolwork I did.  Many of the pictures in the books and manuals were interesting to look at, which helped somewhat to sustain my attention.

Around the beginning of this itinerant period, I remember us staying on a few occasions in a semi-communal household of young women.  This was still in Modesto, or somewhere close by, I believe.  One of them, Christy Ellis, had been a student of either my father’s or mother’s and had taken an interest in me.  The year before, when she lived alone, I had spent a lot of time with Christy in her small apartment listening to then popular music, such as Joanie Mitchell’s latest album, and doing things together in downtown Modesto.  But, that is perhaps for another story.  So, there we were, hanging out with Christy and her roommates, a group of women in their early to mid twenties, my parents being older by less than ten years.

I started talking to one of the roommates, bonding with her around the new Maria Muldaur album she was playing one morning.  “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” crooned a sultry woman’s voice through the stereo.  I was entranced.  Some months before, I’d been swept up by Ms. Muldaur’s 1973 and ’74 hit song “Midnight at the Oasis,” my imagination carried along to an exotic desert locale with camels and a large, bejeweled tent filled with plush cushions and female belly dancers.  I was thrilled that this beautiful woman singer had another record out, this time with a song that made me want to move from within a deep erotic place that I was far too young to understand.

While staying in this household, two publications made deep impressions on me.  One was the week’s current issue of PEOPLE MAGAZINE laying prominently out on a coffee table in the living room.  A closeup of Cher was on the cover.  She wore multiple turquoise necklaces and her head of long black hair was topped with a cowboy hat, feathers stuck in its brim.  A Native American look was clearly going on, which was especially trendy at the time.  She smiled broadly at the camera, her long purple polished fingernails matching her dark lipstick and eye makeup.  I was impressed and intrigued but in a muted, interrupted way.  On one hand, this photo embodied the dark-haired witch imagery of powerful, mysterious women with whom I’d already started to become intrigued.  On the other hand, my parents disapproved of such an expression of blatant excess and, I’m pretty certain, co-opting of Native American culture.  Mom also found imagery of women in commercial media, such as that of Cher on PEOPLE’s cover, to be sexist, objectifying.  Dad found that particular picture pretentious and, again (I strongly believe), co-opting of Native Americans.  I remember him complaining about the picture to someone when we were away from the house.  (My folks had already begun researching Native American cultures and we would later visit Indian reservations in the years to come.)  So, to avoid irking Mom and Dad, I secreted away my own fascination with this photo, which was neither borne out of sexist objectification or viewing it as having anything to do with crass, superficial emulation of Native Americans.  To me, in a deep intuitive way, the image simply embodied an aspect of the Great Goddess, who I would grow up to understand and revere as a core part of my spirituality.  I would go on to watch THE SONNY AND CHER SHOW on TV now and then, enjoying Cher’s chameleon-like quality of colorful, showy costume changes and theatricality, though never caring much for her singing.  There was something magical to her then that captured my rich imagination.

The other periodical that struck me deeply at this time– far more so than the PEOPLE issue’s cover– was the Marvel Comics series BLACK PANTHER.  I was either in a local supermarket or convenience store with Christy or one of her roommates when I came across the latest issue of it on a stand.  The actual initial moment of discovering the comic is vague to me, but I know I was accompanying one of the young women of the household and not either of my parents.  At my request, she bought a copy for me, which I’m pretty sure neither Mom nor Dad would have done at the time.  Back then, they often were reluctant to buy me such mindless “trash,” especially my mom.  (She has long since relaxed around my liking of comics, having even bought me one or two as gifts.)  The comic cover was that of a hyper muscular man covered from head to toe in a tight black costume that stuck to him like a second skin, a pointy little feline ear on each side of his head.  Pure masculine strength stared out at me with virile determination, ready to lunge.  I was hooked.  Complementing Maria Muldaur’s wonderful, sizzling “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” here was the object of my interest to act out that song, except it was both the meat and the motion.  However, I had no idea about such a connection between the song and this image for me at the time, I just knew I had to have the comic.

Back at the house, I proceeded to look through the colored newsprint pages and managed to recruit Christy to read the story to me, which I found both suspenseful and disturbing.  I have very little recollection of the actual narrative, which was mid-story, following from previous issues.  What I do remember is that the opening scene beheld the hero, Black Panther, bending over a pool of water in a wild jungle, nursing his wounds.  His body suit was torn in several places, revealing bleeding, brown-skinned flesh.  His vulnerability and pain upset me deeply.  I wanted to go to him and help somehow in his time of need.  I wanted him to be strong and healthy again, like how he was portrayed on the cover.  Some villains were stalking Black Panther and it was basically a kill or be killed situation.  I think I had one of Christy’s friends read the comic to me as well.  I stashed the comic somewhere and eventually misplaced it during our travels and many moves.

Like Black Panther by himself in the wild and facing danger, I felt alone and uncertain during that year I discovered him and throughout most of my childhood and adolescence.  My wounds weren’t physical like his in the comic book, but they were there inside me due to familial discord resulting in my parents divorcing before I turned five and me subsequently having to adjust to a new mother, Dad’s second wife.  In the summer of 1973, I had lived with my father and (new) mother in a thatched roof hut in the jungle of Belize for two months, which I had very much enjoyed, the weather being warm and the lizard and amphibian fauna particularly fascinating to observe.  I’m sure this positive experience further enhanced for me the mystique of Black Panther and his own jungle life.  In short, I could deeply relate to Black Panther and his predicament in the comic, even though my jungle was no longer a literal one but one often made up of asphalt and concrete, unpredictability, and social isolation from peers and consistent adult attention.  I had to learn to navigate this frequently rough outer and inner terrain on my own, or so it felt at the time.

The primal male strength yet vulnerability and heroism of Black Panther deeply appealed to me as a fatherly protector in my colorful, wish-fulfilling fantasy life.  This contrasted with the actual life of a sensitive, sad little boy in need of more tender attention than he happened to be getting from loving, but otherwise preoccupied and insecure parents.  Obviously, though, there were more implications than this.  Black Panther was clearly an early fantasy crush for me, one clue of many that I was different from most latency-aged boys and their nascent sexual interests.

In 1975, my imagination did not just find ways to comfort and entertain me, for it often met those deep needs just well enough.  My creative thinking led me to inwardly and outwardly listen to my very own growing life impulses, impulses of how my body wanted to move and feel and who I wanted to move and feel with in the world.  Listening to Maria Muldaur awoke something in me, her singing giving voice to these budding stirrings, those nonverbal, primal urges to celebrate life, such as through dancing alone and with others, which I would eventually do now and again over the  years to come, while enjoying feeling deeply erotic, both alone and with others.  Black Panther offered me a sense of where and to who I would direct and share those impulses as I grew up.  This would almost entirely be with men, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.  And both Ms. Muldaur’s singing and the images of Black Panther gave me meaning when I so badly needed it, being an oasis or safe clearing for me in a desert or jungle of fear, loneliness and frequent boredom, affirming that the sky was the limit as far as being able to envision the great expanse of beauty and wonder in the universe.  From grand tents filled with belly dancers in a faraway desert to hunky, powerful feline men in a jungle, or anything else you can possibly imagine, there is always more to life than whatever tedious, solitary-feeling difficulties happen to be at hand in the moment.  Meaning and connection to something more and bigger than one’s own lonely existence is there to be found.  Connecting one’s imagination to the imaginable in the world around you, it’s all good.  Doing so has been a life saver for me.

 

 

Reflective Moments

It feels a bit surreal to be somewhat wise and old enough now with a lot of past to reflect on, whereby I put more pieces of it in their natural-feeling place of meaning and understanding within the arc of my life. Fascinating.

For all the difficulties in childhood I experienced, I am ever-grateful for my parents exposing me to such neat people and places, so many of who left powerful impressions in my psyche and helped make me into the person I am today.