Like: Elizabeth Taylor (1952)

May 5, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

Once upon a time Elizabeth Taylor was just smoking.

I realize that comment is about as blunt as it gets, but let’s just acknowledge that she was the kind of attractive that can make people feel uncomfortable. So with that, the first half of this article is largely concerned with the aesthetical value of Ms. Taylor, but I promise that this article will delve into the things that made Taylor a legend and not just some pretty person.

So now then. By looking at the picture of above, you realize that we have unquestionably left the sensibility of the 40’s, with the glamor ringlet hair-doos and vaseline-caked camera lenses,  and are now in a completely different era all together. Elizabeth Taylor’s look was so distinct that it was actually ahead of its time: the thick slanted eyebrows countering years of impossibly thin arch-shaped ones (for comparison see Stanwyck, Barbara), the uber-dark mascara, the shaping at the far corners of her eyes. It was so divergent. You know what? We can even go further than that: she wasn’t just ahead of the curve, she invented the curve. Think about the “mod” look of the 60’s and tell me that it doesn’t stem from Taylor’s look (see Twiggy).  Taylor’s one of those honest-to-god trendsetters.(1) Even more astounding is that Taylor was at this pinnacle of everyone’s collective “wow” for about 15 straight years.

So the question at hand… when would you like to meet Elizabeth Taylor?

But first a quick tangent: One thing I’ve noticed in doing this “it’s not just who but when” series is that people can really look different in different periods of their lives (and I’ve already picked everyone I’m going to write about in the series so I have a big sample size here). Some stars have aged beautifully. Some not. Some shock you with their youthful, luminous glow at age 20 that you never knew they had, while others barely look like their ultimately famous personas years we come to know later. And so far, many of the upstanding women I have covered have been in that latter category.

Taylor is different. Up until a certain point in her career she just seemed so… ageless. She first got her start as a child star, where her presence is somewhat jarring in retrospect, because she just looks like a Tiny-Elizabeth-Taylor. It’s bizarre. Check out THERE’S ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE (1942)  and be thoroughly weirded out.  It is less jarring with her “awkward years”(2)  in NATIONAL VELVET (1944) and CYNTHIA(1947), where certain features seemed out of whack with the mini and adult versions of Taylor. She got closer to her period of distinction with her role as Amy in LITTLE WOMEN(1942), except she has this scary platinum blonde hair. I mean, yikes. Then her breakthrough role came in the original FATHER OF THE BRIDE(1950).  It marked her transition from teenager to “young woman”(3) and from that point on she was the “it” girl until about 1966. Picking a moment to meet Taylor in that long period is a daunting task.

And sadly, my answer depends on hair. Yes. Hair.

You see Taylor spent much of that period with a hairstyle I that particular hairstyle that many of us younger folks recognize. You know what I’m talking about. This one:

She had Grandma hair.

Yes, it was the style at the time (and she certainly knew how to rock it,) but the problem for today’s onlooker is that Taylor’s face had such a relate-able, modern aesthetic; she would simply look so much better with modern and/or longer hair. Perhaps it’s just generational and simply due to how our current era identifies someone as being in their 20’s. Granted this is astoundingly subjective and I’m behaving as if it’s not, but it is an interesting dynamic to consider when discussing the timelessness of “style.” Could there be people who are “style” outliers? Born out of a time that style fits their features best? Maybe it’s more black and white than that;  certain people look great with long hair, certain people look great with short hair. So I insist there can be a rough consensus on the basis on facial structure and norms of symmetry. And even if there isn’t, screw it.  I subjectively think Taylor looked stunning with longer hair. So there.

Her first cinematic appearance with longer hair would be in QUO VADIS(1951)… but since she was barely in that movie anyway so we must go to IVANHOE(1952). (1)

So there’s the long hair (props to getty images, a great overall resource for old movie pictures). You can’t see her so well, but you get a sense of how much it works with her profile and facial structure. And yes, I know those are probably extensions, but whatever! It’s what we got to go on. So what about pictures that show her more clearly?

Damn.

Coincidentally, IVANHOE was the first film I saw her in…  I think. It was elementary school and I had to do a book report on one one of those silly abridged novels and I picked Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe.”  In traditional lazy fashion I watched the movie instead. (5) And boom, I was hooked on Liz. Then again, I had a surprising amount of crushes in elementary school and they tended to be out of left field (Alley Mills!?!). So as silly as this childhood crush seemed, it was really just par for the course.

Taylor dominated the next six years in terms of star power, including a starring role in the uber-popular film GIANT (1956). But while her work was always high profile, she was not necessarily known for her actual acting ability. Then came CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF(1958).  I love all of Tennessee Williams’ work and I feel like this is one of the best adaptations. Between Paul Newman’s drunken seething and Taylor’s smoldering sultriness/angry fireworks, this film provides such a tangible mix of mood and energy. You can practically feel the oppressive and titular heat. And Burl Ives, ladies and gentleman! Burl Ives! If you haven’t seen it, put it on your list for sure. It marked Taylor’s arrival as a real talent and established a persona she could really sink her teeth into in the coming years (aside from the “attractive woman” she had been playing before).

Taylor was deservingly nominated for an Oscar in the role, but of course it went to the immortal performance of Susan Heyward’s I WANT TO LIVE!(1958)… Huh?!? That nonsense movie won her an Oscar?! See, this is a great example of why I can’t stand the Oscars.  Little do people realize, they’ve always sucked. Mostly because the level of misappropriation is off the charts. Yes, I know “opinion” is a part of it, but the politics of choosing a winner truly is the rule of the thumb. Trust me, I know Oscar voters. They don’t watch a lot of the films. They pick to spread awards around and reward past performances, their friends, and whoever would be the better story over the more impacting and lasting performance almost every time. Case in point: everyone was so impressed with Taylor’s performance in CAT that it garnered her sufficient clout that she actually won the Oscar for her subsequent performance in the completely mediocre BUTTERFIELD 8(1960). Plus she was then sick in real life  and everyone felt sympathetic for her [Facepalm].  Of course that undeserving reward had further consequences: Taylor receiving the nonsense Oscar is what prevented Shirley Maclaine from winning an Oscar for THE APARTMENT (1960). This horrible cycle has gone on and on for years. We’re giving out awards to people because we fucked up and didn’t give it to them for the performance they deserved it. This happens every year. It happens in every category (only like 30% of the movies on AFI’s list are best picture winners). It’s political, inane, and nonsensical. That’s why I hate watching the Oscars…  Sorry about the tangent. End Rant.

Anycrap… Taylor’s pin-up heyday had one last Hurrah with THE SANDPIPER(1965), but her next film was a dramatic reversal of that image. A singular performance that took what she established in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and brought it to fruition.  I’m speaking of course, of Martha.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?(1966) is probably on the list of my 50 favorite films. Some of the most ardent readers here might find that odd because I’ve hated pretty much every modern incantation of the “marriage sucks” mini-genre (Revolutionary Road, etc). You know the kind of movie I’m talking about: a married couple yells at each other and say bitchy things and it’s all about how the institution of marriage is  corrupt, yada, yada, yada. It the kind of assessment that is so far off base from my personal disposition, but that’s they the whole when-the-film-was-made thing comes into play. The film works best as a counterpoint to the long tradition of sterile marriage comedies of the 40’s and 50’s.(6)  It’s scathing really; the popular discourse is something that really, truly matters in this world and WOOLF had a sincere and lasting impact. It was the kind of sobering portrait that made a lot of couples really uncomfortable the night after watching. Particularly, a lot of intellectual, “progressive” couples. Plus, WOOLF isn’t really saying those inane negative things about marriage itself. In the best tradition of grim art, it’s meant to work as a mirror, albeit one with constructive intentions. It never caves to banal platitudes or trite moralism, but instead presents an distressing alternative to your own life. It is meant to give you a glimpse into the abyss, so that you can stay clear away. After all, most of us are not like George and Martha.

What also helps WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is that it is, you know, a flawlessly constructed work. Richard Burton channels the empty vessel of nihilism, a man clinging to his last shreds longing, so completely that it’s frightening.(7) George Segal and Sandy Dennis simply nail the young couple, who ride the roller coaster of the evening, falling into various context after context, examining themselves. And then there’s Taylor. She imbues Martha with pure venom, her words are practically corrosive. More importantly, they’re often right. She’s is at once an acute characterization of all the points in the feminist movement, while still being a singular, faulty, and angry-as-hell human being. The movie depends on Martha having credibility and a (distanced) sense of sympathy, otherwise it’s an indictment of women at large. (8)  As horrible as these people are, most of their anger comes from the fact that deep down they need each other. That reality cannot be conveyed in some cheesy way either or else the whole thing collapses in on itself. Luckily, it all comes together beautifully. The source material of Albee’s seminal play is the main reason for this; it’s a work that should stand the test of time, but the director of WOOLF understood exactly what to do with it. In fact, I can only think of a handful of directors whose first film is a total masterpiece and with WOOLF, Mike Nichols is one of them. (9)

There is a true lasting legacy of WOOLF upon Taylor’s career. It defined her late period roles and showed she was better than a pin-up, even better than a political choice for an academy award. She could deliver an iconic performance. Something that more than set the model for the litany of “unhappy marriage performances” that followed, but actually altered the discourse of feminism and liberalism. The word iconic was chosen carefully. Unlike most others, she is an Icon with every facet of her career.

So there. There’s over two-thousand-five-hundred words of my long, rambling thoughts on Elizabeth Taylor.  I could actually say a lot more as I feel like I barely covered anything. Like most of the people in this series, she has a crazy personal life and a ton of marriages that a lot of people seem to care about. I just don’t. I care about the performances. I care about the legacy. I care about her effect on culture, aesthetics, and politics.

She’s the game changer.

Welcome to the 50’s.

ENDNOTES

1- You know… like J-Lo.(a)

(a) intentionally semi-dated reference. (i)

(i) I hate having to explain jokes in blog/extended-footnote from. This is more because of my selfish insecurity that people won’t get it, because, yes, I know most people get it… ugh. Moving on.

2 – Awkward for her standards, not our hellish ones.

3 – Remember, this was back when teenagers didn’t act like young women in films.

4 – Ivanhoe. I can’t think of it without thinking about the classic Simpsons line. [Bart is writing a book report and reads it back to himself]: “Ivanhoe is the story of a Russian Farmer and his tool.”

5 – My more studious nature didn’t kick in until middle school.

6 – Which is not to say the era was devoid of more adult themes. It’s just of societal darkness was crammed subtlely or uns-ubtlely into the Noir genre.

7 – I realize this could be interpreted like I’m advocating the idea that women tear down men until they are shells of their former selves, which is an opinion many take away from the film. I could not disagree more. Burton’s nihilism is strictly his own doing.

8 – Similar themed works by Updike and Yates, fail to understand that basic principal. They’re pretty much sexist pigs who think women are to blame.

9 – He actually upped things with his next film “The Graduate”… or as it’s more colloquially regarded “the best comedy of all time” and/or “one of the top 7 movies of all time”… If you want to get all qualitative or whatever.


Like: TREME Episode 3 “Right Place, Wrong Time” … and the effects Malcolm Gladwell framework from “The Tipping Point”

April 28, 2010

On the plane to New Orleans this past week I finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” I’ve been meaning to read it for years and so when I saw the paperback in the airport bookstore I bought it as an impulse purchase. This moment I consider to be a bit serendipitous.  It ended up providing a fascinating sociological framework with which to approach my visit to N’awlins.  For those who haven’t read it (like me, last week) the basic conceit of the book is that little, seemingly trivial details can push huge trends and epidemics in the community wildly in one direction or another.  Of course it’s a lot more nuanced than that, but this specifically applies to the idea that context and environments play a huge role in terms of our actual behaviors, far more than we previously believed. One example he explores in great detail is the dramatic turnaround of crime prevention in New York City largely being a matter of physically cleaning up trash and graffiti on the subway. The idea: an environment that accepts simple lawlessness and petty crimes will therefore accept/encourage harsher crimes. So they changed the physical environment and crime plummeted. Context rules.

But what about more specific community traits? For example, Fist-Fighting in Boston is a largely tolerated cultural; two knuckleheads would beat each other up, the cops would show up and ask who started it, and then they’d go to the can for a night and be released. No one would sue anyone else. This happened all the time. The first thing I noticed when I moved to Los Angeles is “where are all the dudes fighting each other in front of bars?” There weren’t any. And if they did, someone for sure was getting sued. Same laws. Same country. It’s just that one place is more culturally tolerant of a behavior and the other is not. But Los Angeles is a city five times the size of Boston and bars are everywhere, so how does this happen? Maybe it’s the kind of people who live here. Maybe it’s the nice weather putting everyone in a better mood. Maybe it’s because people are wearing less clothes. Maybe it’s because people are afraid that the other person is gang affiliated or something and maybe carrying a gun (the violence situation south of the 10, and east of the 5 is far different after all). Either way, I’ve seen hundreds of fist fights in four years in Boston and none in five years in Los Angeles. The difference is the environment, and therefore the context. And context rules.

So what if the difference is about positive behavior? What if a city had a context of joy and indomitable spirit? Would the context of that that spirit really hold sway over the city’s constituents? Over the tourists? Can the overwhelming joy and kindness of a city be as contagious as Gladwell argues? My conclusion was yes. After all, context rules.

By the way, that city is New Orleans. I spent the last four days there and, prompted by the Gladwell read, I spent the entire time being fascinated by the context/environment. Every single person I met was relentless positive, affable, and engaging. Not just the cab drivers, bartenders, hotel managers and assorted folks whose jobs it was to be cheerful and welcoming. And not just the citizens of New Orleans, who always seemed to manage to say a friendly hello as they walked to work, or strike up a conversation as they stood in the doorways to beat the sweltering sun. But what contagiousness argues for best, is to look at your fellow visitors. What mood do the Tourists and the Party Folks take upon their visit? By all accounts, they were likewise celebratory, kind, affectionate. People who you couldn’t imagine dancing on the street would do just that. One wonders how so much (relative) good behavior happens with so much alcohol involved, but it’s a function of the environment. People are there to drink, enjoy music, and have a great time. It’s a kind of debauchery that lacks the animosity that seems to characterize much youthful partying these days (think woodstock 99, etc).  Especially after the storm, where it seems the desire to embrace and reignite the things that make New Orleans special have become priority #1. The environment is now one of healing and pride. And it’s frickin’ contagious.

After all, Context Rules.

So upon arriving home, I watched TREME episode 3, with a sense of… is there a word for “immediate nostalgia?” So as far as cinematics goes, here’s the good and the bad…

Good:

-Wendell Pierce plays the best drunk ever. This is inarguable.

-The episode struck me as funnier than the previous two.

-Khandi Alexander is poised to win some serious awards. Maybe? She’s putting on a clinic.

-I remembered that John Goodman can do subtlety. We’re always wrapped up in his usual gravitas and Walter Sobcheckian-yelling that we forget just how acute he can be too. The scene on the porch between him and Zahn is priceless, “Just piano lessons.”

-Melissa Leo, high marks all around. She’s perfectly cast.

-Zahn. Not as manic as the first episode. A bit more manic then the second. But still finding balance and had some real nice moments. Even his doucheyness is starting to be charming, which seems to be the point. He mostly works as a great foil for Kim Dickens.

Bad:

-Meanwhile, Sonny is the douchiest douche in douchetown. How are we supposed to feel about him again? Are we supposed to like this guy? Because he’s giving hipsters and even badder name. Drinking his girlfriend’s birthday present because she got a surprise big-deal-gig and just happened to be busy for a little bit? And Sonny got to go to the gig too?! What is he, fucking five? Shut up Sonny you whiny little brat. For the record, I find most complaints of hipsterism and/or emo to be inane, simplistic, and often just plain irrelevant, but dear lord Sonny. Come on man. You’re actually justifying all of those diminutions. And yet, because this is David Simon, I will wait patiently. Maybe we’re suppose to hate this douchebag in the long run. My guess though is that his seemingly pretentious stories of saving people in his boat (the ones that people can’t seem corroborate) will actually end up being true. And really he’s just working out his shit or some other backstory. I dunno.

-His girlfriend Annie is far more tolerable, except she makes a face when playing fiddle that looks like she’s passing stones.

-There’s a fine line in film/tv between something that feels real and something that feels forced. This seems obvious, but authenticity is such a rarity in entertainment that we’ve learned to embrace the ridiculous as an alternative. Meanwhile, Simon’s shows (Homicide, The Corner, The Wire) have built a reputation on being authentic above all else. So in regards to the scene in episode 3 where the cops suddenly go ape-shit on Antoine for, like, no reason… well, it immediately set off my bullshit detector. Which is odd, because I’ve seen that exact same kind of horror go down in real life multiple times. But if it is something that’s painfully real, what’s the problem? The problem is the “how” of course. Since DO THE RIGHT THING(1), we’ve seen the no-reason-police-beating many, many times in our cinematic experience, and many of these immitations are often done for contrived/imitative/knee-jerk reasons. Unfortunately, we can’t help but bring all those negative connotations with it. This scene in episode 3, however, builds up beautifully; Antoine drunkenly sings with Annie and Sonny as the police car slides carefully into the backround. They finish their song. He starts to drunkenly walk forward. You slowly feel it coming. It’s perfect film-making. Then the second his horn taps the cop car, the police are instantly on top of him and within a second are beating the shit out of him, spewing the kind of dialogue we see in “evil cop” movies. Even the style of the scene changes, as it ultra-edited and with multiple angles to accentuate the violence.(2) You sense the filmmakers wanted to show how quickly things can turn and how impacting real police violence can be, but in doing so they’ve created a scene that achieves in the exact antithesis of what it was achieving when it started. In this culture of stylistic violence you need to be doubly careful. Even the shaky cam has a action-movie connotation now. You need the same kind of unblinking de-stylization that made the action of The Wire so heartbreaking.

Anywho it’s just something to look out for in future episodes, as it’s the crux of what makes a David Simon show work.

And I swear I’m going to have have another “It’s not just who but when” post up this week, it’s almost done.

(1) – It goes back further of course, but the scene of Radio Raheem remains the last major touchstone for a lot of us.

(2) – In comparison to the normal Simon standards, not, like, Michael Bay.


Like: Rosalind Russell (1940)

March 10, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

My feelings about Rosalind Russell are really just something tied up in my feelings for HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940).

I have an overwhelming sense of devotion to this film because I believe it is a masterwork of dialogue, pacing, plotting, and performance. It’s a shame we sort of lost our way with the screwball comedy, but I guess it is understandable. The things that make HIS GIRL FRIDAY so distinct were things that became so copied throughout the rest of the decade that it to modern audiences it just seems so… I dunno… contrived? dated? old timey? what have you? I don’t feel that way of course, but it’s naive of me to think that certain film languages would hold up to everyone given the texture of today’s films. (Footnote #1) Still, I really do believe that HIS GIRL FRIDAY’s script holds up better than the lot. Despite being an adaptation of a play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the screenplay was written beautifully by Charles Lederer who’s got his fingerprints on a whole bunch of excellent stuff. Lederer’s contribution to this classic, however, is only half the story.

It seems Rosalind Russell was not the first choice to play quick witted dame Hildy Johnson (Hawks wanted K-Hep or one of the usuals) and tired of feeling like an “aslo-ran” she hired her own writer to punch up her weak part and simply included these brilliant lines during the ad-libbed takes of the movie. That’s moxie kid. And more importantly she did the film a great service as the tete-a-tete performances between Cary Grant (who was aware of the little scheme) and Rosalind have become legendary. Make no mistake, this is Cary Grant’s best performance and usually he is one most remembered of the film, but Rosalind is the one who makes it all happen for him. She sets him up for every great line, gives a perfect facial tick to every one of his slights.  Never mind simply getting out some of the tongue-twisting reparte on display, that sheer audicity of hers is what feeds the entire procution. The film has become famous for it’s “natural” sounding speech, but this is only in the sense of their overlapping dialogue (2). Truly the dialogue is anything, but natural because no one could be that witty, that self-assured, and that funny.

Rosalind would work steadily throughout the decade, but most of the attention and goodwill from the movies success were given to director Hawks and Mr. Grant. So much of what she gave the film went unnoticed simply because she was “the third scoring option” on the team. Of course, the film wouldn’t have worked without her. And had they cast one of those major stars, who knows… it might have just been another notch in their belt and most likely a substandard version of the incredible film we got. By the 50s Rosalind where her career slowly petered out. But truthfully, her career and real life persona seem like an abstract to me. There is only Gilda in HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Perhaps that kind of thinking is just what undermined what could have been a much more significant career, but I can’t help it.

In 1940, in that movie, there was no one better.

(1) A great example of this dynamic is with the film BODY HEAT (1981) where it’s slow brooding pace, warm colors against dark sets, and bad jazz score were all ripped off to high heaven for decades by cinemax and USA films. The effect renders a modern viewer complete incapable of separating BODY HEAT’s texture from the steaming piles of trash found on late night cable. When in reality BODY HEAT was a superbly made film with an updated sensibility that got copied endlessly for a reason. 40’s screwball comedies meanwhile became so perfunctory as to render their stylings “quaint” to the viewer, nullifying their once potent affectation.

(2) No, Altman wasn’t the first one to do it folks.


Like, Best of the Decade (Sports): The 2004 ALCS

January 5, 2010

The best sports events of the decade in some order… Please keep in mind I have no interest in (or feeling of some authority for) doing a list of sports events that is anything but  a matter of personal taste…  Meaning yeah, they’re all pretty much Boston sports related.

1. The 2004 ALCS – The Red Sox always let you down. This was common knowledge. There is some debate among sports fans about what kind of dynamic is worse, when the team you love is a constant bottom dweller who can’t muster together a payroll or any substantial interest, OR when a team you love constantly gives you hope then always (and in heartbreaking fashion) ends up letting you down and playing second banana. I’m really not sure. But for 86 years the 2nd banana routine of the Boston Red Sox really sucked. Sure I was only around for like 22 of those crappy years, but still, no one ever let you forget. It permeated everything. Way-too-angry and bitter dads would coach you into thinking a ball going between your legs was the most unforgivable thing in the universe. I watch grown men chew little children out over this on more than one occaision (the underreported aspect of the Buckner fallout). Bostone was defined by this kind of losing and anger. Seriously. The most happy go lucky player could come into town and within weeks, the attitude seeped into them. Everything thinks we can’t win when it matter. They’re here. They’re cheering. The love us. But they hate us too. The don’t think we can’t win. It was a disease of expectation. The Red Sox always let you down.

So what has to happens to reverse all that? To literally turn around the fortunes of an entire city?

How about the greatest comeback of all time? This may seem to be hyperbole at first glance, but I am fairly confident that this is an unquestionable fact. In the history of American sports there has only been two teams who have come back from 3-0 to win a seven game series. One of them was the Boston Red Sox in 2004 (the other occured in professional hockey with the 1975 New York Islanders). What’s more significant is that it was done against the perennial franchise enemy and part of the most popular rivalary in all of professional sports. The comeback was executed in the most spectacular fashion possible with two games all-time great games (game 4 and 5) and two excellent games to finish the series. Most of these single game comebacks were made against the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, and those who think he bested him in his twilight years it was 5 years ago and he just had another dominant performance this last season. The series made an absolute star out of David Ortiz and it cemented the Red Sox as a nationally beloved team for the next several years on. It was one of those truly great sports moments not just of the decade, but in the history of sports. And it was defined not by a singular blink-and-you’ll-miss-it occurence within the game, but a story of micro-evolotion over the course of a week or so. It was long but graceful pendulum swing of a series, defined by a fulcrum moment in which Dave Roberts executed a hair-line must steal to turn the tide of game 4. It’s a singulary small moment that encapsulates a change in flow. Everything that happened after was purely a result of that successful steal. Somehow, everyone seemed to understand it at the time. There’s something innate and palpable in the air. An energy. Everyone instinictively understood what this meant. And it would be echoed in the years that followed. We were the red sox “and then Dave Roberts stole second”…  I watched every single second of this series (even ducking out of much-anticipated concert to see game 6), and it was truly an experience.

It will forever define my love of sports.

2. The 2002 Superbowl (for 2001 season): remember when the Patriots were the good guys? The scrappy underdog who bested the Greatest Show on Turf with an absolutely improbable win? The team that symbolically represented the country (e.g. “Patriots”) in the wake of the greatet modern national tragedy in 9/11? Remember that team? Seems like a long time ago. But it should be noted that this win was far more significant for Boston than it often gets credit for. It sort of gets lumped in with the other two super bowl wins and Adam’s other great winning kicks, but for Boston sports fans of a certain age (late 20’s, like me), it defined the first championship moment of our lives. We were very young for the Celtics champtionships, too young to fully understand them. I was fully cognizant for the team’s waning years, when they was ailing and injured and simply too old to win it all. So for all intents and purposes, 01-02 Patriots suberbowl win was my first real championship. It was pure elation. I had no idea what to do with the feeling, so I just went nuts and ran around my college dorm a lot… which is exactly the reason that so many people love sports. It gives normally level-headed and carefully constructed people the ability to get outside themselves and participate in a completely unfiltered moment of total joy. And there’s nothing better than that.

3. Pedro Martinez in 2000 – This would technically include his 1999 year as well, but watching Pedro during these two years will go down as the sing most exhilarating individual performance I have ever seen from an athlete. Unreal. JUST UNREAL. Look at those seasons. A 1.74 ERA and a .71 whip IN THE STEROID ERA. And the guy is, like, my size. I’ve detailed my love for him a bunch of times on this blog, but all of it is deserved. For a few years he was doing something no one else could do on the planet. And everyone knew it. Before the days of the non-stop sell-outs getting tickets for a Pedro game was the thing to do in Boston. It was the best example I can ever give where watching sports felt like an actual privledge. Unfortunately, everyone knew it couldn’t last. Pedro’s frame was never meant to handle that kind of torque and absurd arm positions (try throwing a curveball like he does with any kind of effectiveness. I’m convinced it’s impossible for anyone else). No matter what, I will always remember Pedro’s years of dominance as the greatest singular performance of the decade.

4. The 07-08 Celtics Part I: The Kevin Garnett Cavaclade – Basketball has maybe become my favorite sport. (I’m really surprised how much PED scandals have diminished my ability to enjoy the Baseball. I did think it would matter. Turns out it did. Likewise with sabremetrics. They were fascinating at first, but have gotten so accurate and telling in their analysis that they have literally come to define the game for all intents and purposes… it sort of ruins the fun. Think I’m joking? The NBA changed the hand-check rules because of it and viewership instantly shot up as a result). But oh yeah basketball. I loved it as a kid and teen, but fell out of love with it post-jordan as the league’s young superstars got paid too much too soon, and defensive dominance became the standard of the league (note: you want defense to the be the hallmark of a few teams, not the entire league. Play and functionality suffer in that scenario). The fact that the Celtics continued to be unfathomably terrible just helped ensure my growing disinterest. Anywho, fast-forward to 2007 and I begin watching basketball again as the arrival of foreign players made it terribly exciting, the suns were fun as all hell, and I get to watch Kobe operate in total dysfunction. To boot, the atrocious celtics were finally in the running for kevin durant sweepstakes (I never understood the Oden love. Even then. Durant was always going to be THE GREAT one of the two. Why it was even a debate was beyond me).  So the warriors have an amazing upset over the mavs, we’re treated to some excellent textbook basketball from the spurs, and ping pong balls go and the celts don’t get a shot at durant. So they put their chips all in and manage to aquire ray allen and Kevin Garnett. Well now then… The great thing abouts sports is we get to talk about intangibles and how important they are to impossible legnths (watch espn. 90% of what they’re talking about is completely circumstantial and prognostication and it’s still pretty fun). So getting to see Kevin Garnett bring a host of intangibles to a team of veterans and young guys was just exhilerating. The buzzwords used were “he changed the culture.” It went beyond that. He changed how his teammates played the game. He changed their focus. He changed the reasons WHY they even played. It it brought the team just an excellent championship. I’ve maintained that certian hallmark teams of a sport should always be good. Not necessiarly win it all, but should always be good. The Yankees should always be good. The Canadians should always be good. The Steelers should always be good. They’re institutions of the sport and should always be represented as such. They’re there to be beaten. To be an obstacle. To be the standard bearer. And for nearly two decades on of the NBA signature fanchises was a complete and total joke. No one felt good about it… Until Kevin Garnett changed it all just by showing up and being himself.

5. The 07-08 Celtics Part II: The Pierce/Lebron Duel – Part of the 2008 playoff run. Game 7 of the 2nd round. The game came down to who would outperform who down the stretch. These are just the best part of basketball. And Pierce, one of the great underrated scorers of all time (not that he’s known as being under-rated but that he’s under-rated for his relative offensive greatness) had his moment to show that he was one of the NBA’s elite. He would carry it into the finals to earn Final’s MVP. Watching him toil on those shitty Celtics teams then get his moment to shine was just a joy.

Best non-Boston sports moments:

-2001 world series – Diamondbacks beating the yankees. Symbollically one one level it sort of sucks: a flash in the pan midwestern expansion team beats the standard-bearer of the sport… On the other hand, it proved great pitching truly does win in the post season. It won two all time great starters their first ring. And it overthew a dominant team from a recent string of titles. A great series. (I was obviously less-happy w/ the marlins result… though it did get the Red Sox as shot at Josh Beckett.)

-Warriors and their round one upset of the Mavricks 2007 playoffs – perfect storm of nellie-ball, beards, and uncalled-for MVPs.

-Texas/USC, 2006 Rose Bowl – I was in LA for this one. What a doozy.

… There’s a bunch of others I’m going to leave off this list, because they will be mentioned below and I don’t want to double up on anything.

The Best Athletes I loved watching:

1.Watching Pedro Martinez in 2000 – Mentioned above.

2. Watching Peyton Manning/Tom Brady (tie) – I fully admit that over the last four years the story has changed on this one. It used to be that manning was the great performer who couldn’t win the big one and Brady was his foil. Now it’s seemingly the opposite. They two are still the greatest quarterbacks of our era and part of a wonderful, intrinsic rivalry. Even though he’d still be one superbowl shy, if Manning wins this year he will be the greatest quarterback of all time.  His performance and value is immersurable.

3. Watching Allen Iverson – Wait, what? Iverson? Yeah. Iverson. Why him? Because he was the most exciting offensive player to watch this decade. LeBron is a better all-around player. I’d rather have KG on my team. But when it comes to watching from a non-fan distance, nobody had more insane and jaw-dropping moments then AI. He was a 6’1 skinny pitbull of ferociousness. Yes he took a lot of shots, but he also never had a supporting cast (people seem to forget how good Pippen was because of his 2nd banana status. Some people argue he was the 2nd best player of the Dream Team). Well AI made it to a finals when he was the only good guy on the team. Good for him. He had a crazy persona sure, but a lot of antiquated folks had a problem with his thug style first and foremost. He about the fact that he wasjust  exhilerating to watch.?

4. Watching Roger Federer – wait, WHAT? Tennis? Yeah. Tennis. I don’t really watch it. But when I do, I stop to watch Federer. He’s nearing the waning days, but for a good solid run he was the best there was and maybe the best there ever will be (considering his ability to stay healthy in a converse relationship to modern tennis). Check out this amazing DFW article on him.

5. Watching Manny Pacquiao – There hasn’t been a boxer this exciting since young Tyson. I’ll stand by that. De La Hoya was (and Mayweather is) a wonderful technical fighter, but none of them can match paq man’s sheer ferocity, spirit, and determination. The guy is an animal. But unlike most bruisers, he (like Tyson) can focus into a singluar moments of sublime combat. And unlike Tyson, he has speed, durability, vitality, endurance, and a rocky-like sense of invincibility and hard headed-ness. Yikes… Go back and watch him in the Cotto fight. Every significant Cotto punch was countered not just with an excellent shot, but an almost taunting-like resolve from paq man egging him on.  Can’t wait for Paq/Mayweather.

6. Watching Kobe in 2009 – This is by far kobe’s best season. Why? Cause he finally gets that basketball dominance is about taking over only when you really need to. Congrats to Kobe. The best player in the league in 2009. There I said it.

7. Watching Usain Bolt – Usain scares the shit out of me. Why? Because he hasn’t started trying yet. Really. I have yet to see him finish one of his world record setting runs  IN FULL SPRINT AT THE END. He trails off cause he’s already dominating. It’s ridiculous. True, I’ve often been quick to downplay his achievements as world records in olympic events get broken constantly. His records won’t last too long and it’s part of an evolution, but that’s all just in the grand scheme of things. The fact of the matter is that he’s breaking by such alarming margins and not even really trying yet… frightening.

8. Watching Tiger Woods – Sure he’s the most dominant and amazing athelete of the decade. He should be at the top of this list… I’m just not crazy about watching golf. I like golf. I like playing golf. I like watching him play. I just can’t sit there and watch him play all day long. Hence, he’s lower than the rest of these guys. Which is more a function of my enjoyment of TV golf and not Tiger.

-And not watching Lance Armstrong… good for him and all, I just can’t get into cycling.


Don’t Like: 4th Wave Feminism (But It’s VERY Complicated)

October 18, 2008

Warning: This is a discussion of semantics.

I am a Feminist… I am a dude.

Understand I’m not trying undermine the notion of being a feminist. I know some women take issue with how liberally men are willing to label themselves as such and deeply respect that. I know this guy who considered himself a feminist and he was also a remarkable verbal abuser and one-time physical abuser.  But in his deranged head, he was “oh so feminist”. So one can understand the apprehension.

But… well, I’m going ahead and saying it anyway.

I’m doing it because feminism has a lot of different definitions, and most of them are pretty reasonable definitions. That’s what happens in a good discourse.

To be fair, 4th Wave Feminism isn’t even a thing. It’s a term some people kind of assigned to describe what’s happening right now in feminism. There were of course other real waves: 1st wave) suffrage. 2nd wave) women’s lib movement of 60’s-80’s. 3rd wave) early 90’s corrections to the “failures” ie women have the right to act like a man, earn the same wages/positions/etc. There’s more to third wave, but since there’s no singular defining trait/event, that’s an okay description.

So… 4th wave.

First off, let me state that I think that sexism is still such a huge problem in this country. HUGE.

Societal Problem #1- the mixed messages we’re sending young girls. We live in a culture with an increasing religious population which abhors both women’s sexuality, femininity, and homosexuality. At the same time, we have a secular society where sexuality is increasingly out in the open (some in a good way too, but mostly a bad way). Think about MTV/Reality shows. Hell, most everything on television is nuts. It’s not the “showing of the skin” it’s the unintelligent and crass way this sexuality is presented (HBO may be the most gritty but they deal with their subjects so intelligently it’s often to make a point… except Entourage but that show sucks).  With the two conflicting messages, every young girl is trying to fight between being a madonna and a whore. This conflict has always been an element to humanity no doubt, but within today’s culture there are a lot of new kinds of obstacles. (There was a great recent movie about this subject: “Towelhead” by Alan Ball.)

Societal Problem #2 – Frat culture – I’m not speaking ill of fraternities necessarily. I’m speaking ill of the associating stereotype of how “frat guys” behave. And we all know what I mean by that. Now going off that mentality, I have this dumb pseudo-pop-psychology theory and it goes something like following: Elementary school boys grow up and are afraid of girls. They want the approval of their guy friends and for those guys to think they’re totally awesome. They start to grow up and have problems relating to teenage girls and react by starting to get angry/misogynistic. It gets worse and worse and soon they’re just trying to score chicks so they can get high fives from their buddies. So they hate/resent women and only use them patriarchal status symbols…. And I think this is fucking 50% of the male population. I really do. I see it everywhere and it pretty much disgusts me. Don’t get me started on the college boys who put drugs in girls drinks at parties. To me there’s nothing more abhorrent than that kind of behavior. It’s a hate crime to me.

Societal Problem #3 – It was kind of always this way. These are not new problems for our society. It’s mostly just that sexual abuse is FINALLY starting to be reported with more frequency. And these aren’t the final numbers by a long shot. The amount of rural sexual abuse that goes unreported is simply stunning. Absolutely stunning… And historically it was even worse.

Societal Problem #4 – there’s no central concrete obstacle for feminism at the moment – the problems with the third wave feminism are only multiplied today because the perceived problems are all conceptual. With the advent of title 9, increased support for equal pay, etc. there are fewer and fewer concrete obstacles.  So why are things still so shitty? It’s because the attack is now on a thought system and that makes things, uh, rather difficult.

As a result, I think 4th wave feminism is pretty fractured. It’s somewhat like today’s music, it’s like there’s competing genres. Do you like emo or hip hop? Are you super indie Mr. Hipster or top 40? Feminism has similarities. There’s some more militant forms of feminism now, but since I tend not to like militant forms of pretty much anything, I won’t even get into that.  One the other side of the political spectrum, there’s the amazingly strange “feminists for life” group . The name does not imply they are feminists for the remainder of their living years, but instead being women who are intensely pro-life… that one’s… interesting. But most kinds of feminism today are now in the form of micro-analysis; the daily interaction of men and women, the subtexts of film and literature, and international comparison. It leads to a lot of fascinating stuff that I enjoy reading with vigor.

… It also leads to a lot of unfair stuff.

What’s specifically is unfair? Lots of stuff really, but one example of the negative aspects would be modern feminism as a game “of gotcha”. Now the dynamics of “gotcha” are now surprisingly popular in the era of Palin and her complaints of “gotcha” media tactics. The main difference is these journalists are trying to expose the woeful political ignorance of a candidate. Asking about the Bush Doctrine is not a gotcha question. Heck, if I know what the bush doctrine is it is NOT A GOTCHA question. Anycrap, I digress. Gotcha feminism is taking valid arguments and points and applying them to situations where they don’t necessarily apply.  It’s like (a) set up a valid point (b) apply point to a given situation that may not apply and (c) tear into it. Examples:

Example #1: The bechdel test

let’s go to wiki: The Bechdel test: The strip popularized what is now known as the Bechdel test, also known as the Bechdel/Wallace test, the Bechdel rule, Bechdel’s law, and the Mo Movie Measure. Bechdel credits her friend Liz Wallace for the test, which appears in a 1985 strip entitled “The Rule“, in which a character says that she only watches a movie if it satisfies the following requirements:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something besides a man.[4]

(ignore the boldness here, I’m have formatting problems, sorry) First off. I really love Bechdel rule. As a writer it helps me immensely. I also think it’s pretty obvious the point of the test is to really just point out how few movies actually do this… which is great. But following this test? My god. There’s so many great movies that say a heckuva lot of interesting things that do not pass this test in any way. AND there are a lot of shitty, pandering movies that say awful things about females and DO pass the test (I’m looking at you 27 Dresses). And yet I’m constantly surprised by how many people use the test as some kind of justification for a movie’s validity. (It all goes back to how most screenwriters are males who have no idea how to write female characters, that’s how simple it is).

Example #2 – Firefly is sexist!

Here is an excerpt from a feminist blog that got passed about the internet for awhile for it’s almost stunning over-reaction. It was in regards to Joss Whedon (a popular figure in the “girl power” arena) and his show Firefly. The author decided to tear into the show and expose it for the sexist piece of shit she thought it was:

Aside from women being fuck toys, property and punching bags for the men, the women have very little importance in the series. I counted the amount of times women talk in the episode Serenity compared to the amount of times men talk. The result was unsurprising. Men: 458 Women: 175. So throughout the first episode men talk more than two and a half times as much as women do. And women talk mainly in questions whereas men talk in statements. Basically, this means that men direct the action and are active participants whereas women are merely observers and facilitators.

That’s what we call gotcha tactic. The points she brings up have no real baring on whether a show is sexist or not. It simply can’t. It’s classic scientific conundrum of correllation and cause.  Add in the fact that most of the characters are male (especially all the evil baddies) and one of the female’s main character is crazy and only talks rarely, then well… it just seems even more irrelevant.

I really suggest giving this blog post a look http://users.livejournal.com/_allecto_/34718.html … the funny thing is the more I read the post the more I find bits of validity to her points… but it is such a strong reaction to something that doesn’t have nearly the kind of malice she is describing. Of course the show doesn’t stand up as the perfect model of feminism. That’s not what he’s trying to do in the slightest. The kinds of feminist issues in Buffy aren’t even on this show’s radar. And more importantly, they don’t have to be. Firefly is really about a universe that’s crumbling. It’s crumbling on a epic scale and they live in a stunningly depraved world. So a lot of bad, bad shit happens. On top of that, much of whedon’s “sexism” is coming from a critical view. Every one of them is a deeply flawed character, that I don’t think he even had a chance to scratch the surface with (look at the first season of buffy… and where it ended up going. That first season was crap in comparison). I’m inclined to think that he’s cognizant of the females and I think he’s hyper-aware of their feminist drawbacks. But oh yeah… the show happens to be pretty darn good.

I showed the blog post to my friend and he simply wrote back “here’s a list of things that do not fit in with my narrow world view”

Sure that’s a little curt (he did so for humor’s sake) but it gets at the very point I’m trying to make. It may seem like I’m just picking on these two examples but there are countless other instances that overwhelm my impression of the direction of feminism (at least on the collegiate level). Most forms of modern 4th wave feminism are just so darn limiting in their scope. Does “not feminist” = bad? It’s just an inherent question one has to ask themselves when participaing in “feminism”. By adopting any ideology do we limit the exceptions?

At one point in the blog the author digs into the interracial relationship in firefly and makes this comment:

Let me just say now that I have never personally known of a healthy relationship between a white man and a woman of colour. I have known a black woman whose white husband would strangle and bash her while her young children watched. My white grandfather liked black women because they were ‘exotic’, and he did not, could not treat women, especially women of colour, like human beings. I grew up watching my great aunts, my aunty and my mother all treated like shit by their white husbands, the men they loved. So you will forgive me for believing that the character, Wash, is a rapist and an abuser, particularly considering that he treats Zoe like an object and possession. Joss Whedon does not share my view, of course, and he paints the relationship between Zoe and Wash as a perfectly happy, healthy union.

First off, I’ve personally known healthy white male/black female relationships. That statement is wholly fucking ridiculous and maybe even racist. There can’t be? Really? That’s simply naive. The author may claim I’m naive because I’m being ignorant, but that’s horseshit and i’ll stand by it. And yes, OF COURSE the aforementioned racist exoctism is an issue in our society. But that doesn’t mean we have to rush out and make every interracial relationship ABOUT the problems of the interracial relationship. That’s ridiculous. She even goes onto bring up excellent films which deal with the subject of racial sexuality and says we should watch those instead. The movies she mentions are all excellent (like Rabbit Proof Fence). But, folks, wtf does that have to do with Firefly. That’s not the subject

As a result of this kind of feminist gotcha-ism, many males go on to make ridiculous conclusions about feminism on the whole… like this:

Needless to say, but that’s a dumb conclusion. Is it complete without merit? YES. That is a sentiment without any merit. It’s a sexist statement down to its very core. But what it does highlight is an unintended consequence to some of the 4th wave’s more unfair analysis. Now I’m not JUSTIFYING a reaction like this in the slightest. A sexist reaction is a sexist reaction. But in the wake of discourse, it awakens the notion of pragmatism in micro-analysis.

There it is… pragmatism. It seems like the biggest obstacle of the 4th wave is the limits of its structure. Does micro-analysis eliminate the scope of macro-analysis? Does feminism need to incorporate the human condition? Can feminism adapt to incorporate a wide range of definitions?

Most of the male/female relationships I know are pretty even handed, both economically, socially, and fundamentally.  But some of them definitely would run against the grain of someone’s differing notion of feminism. And once again, YES this even-handedness is CERTAINLY not the consensus on the whole of this country. How can it be? The 50% frat culture I mentioned before and religious sentiments make me nuts. Most pornography makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Those are the obvious battles and I’m talking about the more subtle ones that stem from battles over the things that shape our modern cultural landscape like Firefly and the Bechdel test.

With that, how does 4th wave feminism, in it’s current position, move forward?

There are still some public obstacles. The glass ceiling in the economic front. I think there needs to be some rebellion against the confines of the growing religious attitude, the confines of frat culture, and a global movement toward feminist aid in 3rd world countries where human life is worth less than an IPhone.

And heck I’ll say it… In some ways I think the American feminist experience is becoming much more about redefining the male role than ever before. How do men indeed become feminists while still owning, well, let’s just call it “the male mystique?” (to borrow a phrase). Yes, I’m sick of the “frat” culture. I’m sick of the blatent sexism… but how does feminsm combat that? I simply don’t see the trend of micro-analysis helping. I don’t know… Sometimes it does very well and I’ll read an article that pinpoints these exact problems in our daily life… but a lot of times I encounter the other stuff.

Maybe we’re just approaching a difficult time where the line between feminism and humanism is becoming blurred.

* Final note: I fully realize this whole post is dangerous. Please keep in mind It’s not a paper. It’s not well thought out. I only looked over it once.  It’s kind of a stream of consciousness tangent designed to bring up points. That’s all it is intended as. And I hope all it’s taken as. Thank you.

UPDATED –

-Finally have a second post that sort of adds to this discussion in somewhat tangential ways. About Gene Tierney’s performance in the 1944 film LAURA.


Like: The WATCHMEN Trailer

July 18, 2008

here: http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/watchmen/hd/

First things first: this looks incredible. Which is good. Cause something incredibly cool looking will get people’s butts into a theater.

WATCHMEN is one of my top 10 favorite things ever. It’s status as “The greatest graphic novel of all time” is wholly justified. It is the masterpiece of the great Alan Moore and flushed into the world through the wonderful art of Dave GIbbons.

It deals hyper-intelligently in matters of history, politics, and socialization. It’s a wonderfully written epic story that also happens to be a complete deconstruction of superheroes.

It spans 50+ years of history and 2 planets.

What if heroes and superheroes were real? How would our political history be different? How would our society be different? (all using specific events).

It’s enthralling to me.

… and yes Zach Snyder, the guy who directed 300, has directed the movie version of WATCHMEN… which I’m on the fence about. The trailer definitely shows he got Dave Gibbons sensibility for the world down and the stylization feels just about right.

But the question is can Snyder get Moore’s nuance and subtlety? Can he show intellectual depth in the film? He really hasn’t had that kind of challenge thus far, but if he keeps all of Moore’s dialog in tact then most of the job will be done for him… which leaves it up to the actors. I love two of the choices (jackie earl haley, patrick wilson), think two will work out pretty good (cudrup, matthew goode), think it will be a break out role of (can’t remember the guys name who’s playing the comedian) and I have magnificent doubts about Malin Akerman. Everything I’ve seen her do thus far has been… um… pretty awful.

But with the look? yeah… really nice.


Love: This Exchange Between Kevin Garnett and Bill Russell

June 18, 2008

Kevin Garnett: “Did I make you proud?”

Bill Russell: “Yes you did”

Got to be honest folks… there’s was a tear or two in my living room after that one.