What The Hell Do Ya Do When Ya Realize — Half The Entertainment Ya Love Was Made By Racists Or Pervs?

So I’m flipping around the satellite television last night — something I rarely get to do in my house. But, having the house to myself, the only person there to argue with me was me. I agreed to behave.

When “Gone With The Wind” popped up on the channel guide — over on Turner Classic Movies — I went for it. I’m a movie buff to the core. Hell, I write screenplays (occasionally for a living even). I can remember when I was in high school and MGM rereleased Gone With The Wind to theaters. My friend Andrea Zipper and I went equally apeshit over it.

I still have visual memories on file of Andrea’s remarkable ability to morph her face into Clark Gable’s. They looked nothing alike, I assure you.

I arrived just as Atlanta was burning to the ground. The back half of the movie (including intermission) comprises losing the war and suffering through reconstruction. That’s SLAVE HOLDERS (who never apologize to their former slaves for stealing their labor but whose former slaves never stop behaving like slaves) suffering deprivations. After losing a war. Over slavery.

We acknowledge — as a culture — that D. W. Griffith’s technically brilliant “Birth Of A Nation” is deplorably racist from its first frame to its last. But, have we stopped to consider that lots of other “technically brilliant” books and movies are equally racist (just not so blatant)? “Gone With The Wind” isn’t technically brilliant (though it’s an example of great craftsmanship and artistry) but it contains a character that makes the piece brilliant: Scarlett O’Hara.

In a lot of ways, Scarlett is a very modern character trapped in antebellum times. She’s a resilent, goal-oriented pragmatist. She does everything she can to pursue the thing she wants most — Ashley Wilkes — even after she knows he’s not the man she needs him to be. That’s the antebellum part of her character. A modern author writing Scarlett today wouldn’t dream of Scarlett continuing to want a weak partner like Ashley. Aside from that though (and her inherent racism), Scarlett’s a dynamo. She’s a survivor: smart, determined and pragmatic. She’ll do what she has to do. And if it all comes a crapper? Tomorrow is another day.

But there’s the racism in her heart. And she’s our hero. Our other hero in the piece — Rhett Butler — is just as racist (even if it seems kinder and gentler). Captain Butler has risked his life for the Confederacy. That makes him a traitor. And a slavery enabler.

In the end, I had to turn off “Gone With The Wind“. All that normalized racism just isn’t as entertaining as it used to be.

It brought to mind what happened the night before while I was flipping channels and found Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” playing. Allen made “Sleeper” back before “Annie Hall” turned him into a filmmaker. Even though “Sleeper” is one of Allen’s “funny movies”, I couldn’t watch it without thinking of the whole Soon-Yi story… and all the other stories about Woody Allen.

“Manhattan” horrifies me now. A grown man dating an inappropriately under-aged HIGH SCHOOL GIRL should have been the movie’s deal-breaker — why no studio would put up the money to make it. Let’s compare it to to Lolita for a moment — its most obvious relative. Lolita is a satire whose whole point is Humbert Humbert’s perversion. Humbert comes to a terrible end as does his nemesis Quilty. They both end badly because they lusted after Lolita.

While the age difference between Allen’s character and Mariel Hemingway’s character does get talked about — it’s never really seen as grossly inappropriate; in fact, it’s understood to be okay ultimately. At the end of the movie — where Allen casts himself as Charlie Chaplin at the end of “City Lights” — the sad lover whose love will go unrequited — the under-aged girl character overlooks every bit of her inappropriately older lovers’ terrible behavior and attitude toward her. What’s worst: the thing Allen’s character craves — and fears losing — is the thing he destroyed at the start: Tracy’s innocence.

I can’t watch “Manhattan” now. Can’t watch any of Woody Allen’s work. That kills me because an awful lot of it IS brilliant. Hannah And Her Sisters, Crimes & Misdemeanors and Brodway Danny Rose are all great filmmaking. Great comedy but also great art.

But I cannot separate an artist from his or her product. An artist is defined by the prism inside their head — that thing through which Life refracts and translates into art. In Woody Allen, that same prism that refracts life experience into great movies also refracts some very unhealthy, misogynistic attitudes about women. In the absence of the Soon-Yi story in his bio, jokes about one’s ex-wife play one way. But, knowing that Allen was attracted to, secretly courted and married a girl he should NEVER have looked at “that way” — it colors those formerly funny one-liners.

There was chatter about Kevin Spacey going back eons here in the showbiz trenches. Sexual predation has been part of Hollywood’s business model going back to when the first guy showed up in LA with a movie camera and a dream. He’s got great taste in material, does Kevin. He’s a good actor with lots of range. But he’s a predator — and his love for boy’s bottoms is the bottomest line there is.

Can’t watch “The Usual Suspects” anymore… Can’t watch “American Beauty“…

While we’re at it — and we should be at it because this is all racist bullshit that we have to stop excusing as being “of its time and place” — “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (the movie, not the book) has to stop playing because Irish to his core Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese character is offensive even on paper — never mind seeing it brought to horrible, embarrassingly racist life…

The same goes for every Charlie Chan movie in TMC’s vault. Charlie Chan was played by white guys like SWEDISH Warner Oland, mostly SCOTTISH Sidney Toler and POLISH-JEWISH Ross Martin.

And, though it pains me deeply to write this, the same should probably go for classic movies like “Lawrence Of Arabia” and “A Passage To India” wherein one of my favorite actors ever — Alec Guinness played an Arab and then an Indian. Sir Alec’s saving grace — he wasn’t mocking his characters like, say, an American actor in blackface or Mickey Rooney. Seriously, if you’ve never seen it – this tiny slice of the movie’s opening is all you need to know…

I’d complain about losing all the great movies of my youth to racists, racism and racist memes but that just seems to “First World Problem”, know what I mean?

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Movies I Adore: “Don’t Look Now”

Every now and then you have to quit bitching and moaning and shout your love for something. Being a filmmaker, movies have always “spoken to me”. I adore it as a form of storytelling. It’s so easy to get wrong. Soooooo easy.

But when a movie is right. It lives inside your head. It’s the storytelling and the look and the characters and the dialogue and the music and the casting and even the greens and set dec — it’s all sublime. There are lots of “directors” but only a handful of artists. I’ve had the pleasure of working with an artist — Bob Zemeckis.

In a way, Bob’s an “artist of the impossible”.

Bob was one of my Executive Producers when I did Tales From The Crypt for HBO. I wrote most of the episodes he directed. For starters, he is an incredible collaborator. He truly knows how to get the very best out of everyone he works with. Which is where the “impossible” comes in. At some point, in a Zemeckis piece, there’s going to be at least one shot that — if you’re looking and realize you’re watching it — is impossible. Meaning — yeah, the shot’s there in the movie but how the hell did they get it? It’s impossible!

When I was a young buck, a terrific documentary filmmaker I had the honor to know — Greg Shuker — turned me on to Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” — a psychological thriller starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.

Don't Look NowI don’t want to give away a great ending but — that the ending works as effectively as it does, that it’s as memorable as it is — it’s a testament to the masterful work director Nic Roeg has done up till then.

Water plays heavily.  The color red, too.  Sutherland plays John, an art restorer preparing for a project he’s about to start in Venice, Italy.  He and Christie’s Laura own a farm out in the country where their two young children are playing on a rainy day.  Their young daughter drowns in the pond — something her father “senses”.  He rushes outside but too late.  He pulls her body — clad in its red mac — from the pond with a doleful wail.

It’s a few months later.  They’ve buried their child.  Their son is at boarding school as the restoration project in Venice begins.  On their first night, Laura and John make love (for the first time since their daughter died) then go out to dinner.  At the next table are two elderly English sisters.  One is blind.  They happen to be in the ladies’ room when Laura enters.

The blind sister is psychic.  She says she’s seen Laura and John’s daughter.  She was happy.  Laughing.  Laura is blown away.  She doesn’t know what to think.  But John — when Laura tells him — thinks it’s all nonsense and wishful thinking. 

And yet.  As the movie goes on, John begins to catch glimpses of a fleeing figure in red.  Is it the spirit of his daughter — or something else?

Roeg was a director of photography before sliding into the director’s chair.  His films look great.  He captures Venice’s wateriness — its dullness.  Its greyness and fog.  He captures the feeling one gets — being there — of wandering in circles — hopelessly lost.  But the Roeg’s real genius as a director was in how he cut.  He had a way of intercutting two scenes that no one else could touch.

An excellent example — the scene where John and Laura make love for that first time since their daughter’s death.  Roeg intercuts the sex — which is very intimate (there have always been stories that the sex between Christie and Sutherland was real) — with John and Laura, post-coital, get ready to go out for dinner.  You really get the feeling that they’re a couple — which makes the sex we keep intercutting back to feel more organic and real.

For my money, the sex scene in Don’t Look Now is one of the best 2 or 3 sex scenes in all of movie history (the caveat being that most sex scenes suck).  And — here’s the kicker — it’s between a married couple.  That’s a sex scene you never see — between married people.

Nic Roeg died a few months ago.  I still owe Greg Shuker — for introducing him to me.