Nina Simone, other singers of justice

It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy

The official site for Nina Simone (1933-2003) refers to her as The High Priestess of Soul. As a 2014 New Yorker article noted, she “turned the movement into music.”
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
Mississippi Goddam

The “Godfather of Soul,” released the iconic song… in August 1968, just four months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “Randall Kennedy, a Harvard law professor, said he remembers when he first heard the song. The funk- and soul-inspired hit was like nothing he had heard before — especially at a time in which Kennedy said overt ‘colorism,’ or the preference for lighter skin color, was prevalent in the black community.

“Kennedy writes for The New York Times that “it was precisely because of widespread colorism that James Brown’s anthem posed a challenge, felt so exhilarating, and resonated so powerfully.” Some stations would not play this song. The apocryphal punch line is that JB bought some radio stations in response.
Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m ProudJames Brown (1933-2006)

“The Impressions formed from the union of two friends, Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield of Chicago, Illinois. The two had sung together in church as adolescents, and had traveled with the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers and the Traveling Souls Spiritual Church.” Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999) got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once with the group, once as a solo artist.
Keep On Pushing – the Impressions.

From the legendary What’s Goin’ On album that Berry Gordy was reluctant to put out. I’ve said the subtitle a LOT.
Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)Marvin Gaye (1939-1984).

Saw the face of Jim Crow under a bald eagle

“PE redefined not just what a rap group could accomplish, but also the very role pop musicians could play in contemporary culture. Lyrically, sonically, politically, onstage, on the news – never before had musicians been considered ‘radical’ across so many different platforms.”
Fight the PowerPublic Enemy.

From the movie Selma. It won the 2014 Oscar for Best Song.
One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh one day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Glory – Common, John Legend (Alternative version here).

The Godmother Of Rock ‘N’ Roll has, “in recent years, been rightfully celebrated as a woman who broke every norm.”
This TrainSister Rosetta Tharp (1915-1973).

The Queen of Gospel is revered as one of the greatest musical figures in U.S. history.
We Shall OvercomeMahalia Jackson (1911–1972).

All of the artists here, save for Common and John Legend, are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2015 in review

All men and women living on the Earth.
Ties of hope and love,
Sister and brotherhood,
That we are bound together

2015This is the thing that Jaquandor does on December 31, but I do on January 1.

Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

If I made one, it was to do less. I failed miserably, except when I had to because of the hernia operation, which felt really good, actually.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

Not that I recall.

Did you attend any weddings?

Affirmative: Ron and David, just a couple of weeks ago.

Did anyone close to you die?

Well, yes, three people in the first six weeks of the year. Jimmy Rocco, who was in my church choir, and Bonnie Deschane, who cleaned our house for a while, and Robert Yates, my mom’s first cousin, who was closer in age to me than her. I think it made the winter far more difficult. And the average of 12F in February, cf the normal of 19F, didn’t help.

What countries did you visit?

None and I would like to change that someday.

What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

World peace. Or some approximation thereof.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Surviving November.

What was your biggest failure?

Not finding someone to whom I could delegate a specific task.

What was the best thing you bought?

Marvel Masterworks book of The Defenders comic book, written by Steve Gerber.

Whose behavior merited celebration?

Anyone who acts with caring and compassion in the midst of fear and paranoia.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

And speaking of fear and paranoia, let’s just put it this way: I’m more distressed by the political supporters of a particular political candidate than I am with the candidate.

Where did most of your money go?

The house, specifically the bathroom renovation.

What did you get really excited about?

Learning new stuff, often through this here blog.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

I have to admit, sadder.

Thinner or fatter?

Yo-yo much of the year.

Richer or poorer?

Richer, marginally. We had pledged a chunk of money for our church’s elevator, and that is paid off.

What do you wish you’d done more of?

Reading books.

What do you wish you’d done less of?

I’d like to say “watching the news”, but I don’t want to be beholden to false narratives, so I watch more, from various sources.

How did you spend Christmas?

Christmas Eve means singing at church, so that. Eventually, we go to the in-laws.

Did you fall in love in 2015?

You betcha.

How many one-night stands?

Jaquandor: “Now, that’s not the kind of question a gentleman answers! (Another stock answer!)”

What was your favorite TV program?

The Good Wife, CBS Sunday Morning, JEOPARDY!

Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Hate hurts the hater. Now, intense dislike, I have a few.

What was the best book you read?

The Heart of Christianity by Marcus J. Borg. This will require a review, eventually. But kudos to Jaquandor for Stardancer.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

I blame someone from church, who put two Bruno Mars songs on a mixed CD, one of which was Uptown Funk. But more important, and on the same mix, is the song Glory, from the movie Selma. The more I listen to it, the more I appreciate it. Some lyrics:

The biggest weapon is to stay peaceful
We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through
Somewhere in the dream, we had an epiphany
Now we right the wrongs in history
No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy
Welcome to the story we call victory
Comin’ of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory
God Isn't Fixing This
What did you want and get?

Out of Corporate (frickin’) Woods, and working downtown.

What did you want and not get?

An office with a door, which was bitterly disappointing beyond belief.

What were your favorite films of this year?

Selma; Love & Mercy; Inside Out.

What did you do on your birthday?

I thought I would have written about this, but I can’t find it. I had my annual hearts game with friends Broome, Mary, and Orchid. Lifelong friend Karen came up because of work that evening, regaling us with stories about Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, and elevators.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

See these stories. This is about five minutes longer than what I care about in terms of fashion.

What kept you sane?

My dads’ group in church.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, George Takei.

What political issue stirred you the most?

Congress couldn’t even limit guns to those on terror watch lists, because FREEDOM, which epitomizes my despair that ANYTHING will happen to make guns less available to people who ought not to have them.

Who did you miss?

Madre, padre.

Who was the best new person you met?

Our acting presbyter, and a young woman at a church dinner.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015:

Doing the right thing sometimes backfires.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

After the Charleston shooting, James Taylor sang Shed A Little Light in Columbia, SC. The lyrics:

And recognize that there are ties between us,
All men and women living on the Earth.
Ties of hope and love,
Sister and brotherhood,
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world
Become a place in which our children
Can grow free and strong.
We are bound together by the task
That stands before us
And the road that lies ahead.
We are bound and we are bound.

Truth in movies

I’m not looking for documentaries in my biopics.

American-Sniper-2014If you’re a big movie fan, you’ve noticed the wealth of movies that based on real-life events, including Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken, and Wild.

Someone named Penelope Puddlisms wrote: “I read your interesting review about the Selma movie and the issue about its accuracy. It makes me wonder why anyone would risk fudging even a small bit of the facts when every other aspect tries so painfully hard to be carefully spot on and provide a documentary feel. This happens in lots of similar movies.”

That is a reasonable question. One could ask “why” of the novelist who fictionalizes real events. A lot of the real things that happen are not very dramatic. Movies often combine characters, and tighten time frames, because the absolute, unedited factual events are often BORING.

Of course, the further from the present one is, or events that took place in remote locations, not documented by camera. Inevitably, one has to extrapolate dialogue, at least.

Beyond that, and I’m neither a novelist nor a filmmaker, I suppose, it is to make a greater point about the situation.

For example, in American Sniper, a movie I have not seen, Chris Hedges writes:

Enter The Butcher—a fictional Iraqi character created for the film. Here we get the most evil of the evildoers. He is dressed in a long black leather jacket and dispatches his victims with an electric drill. He mutilates children—we see a child’s arm he amputated. A local sheik offers to betray The Butcher for $100,000. The Butcher kills the sheik. He murders the sheik’s small son in front of his mother with his electric drill. The Butcher shouts: “You talk to them, you die with them.”

I surmise, and I’m just spitballing here, that by making the bad guy more villainous, it makes the killing of “savage, despicable evil” more justifiable, even palatable.

The Imitation Game, which I liked quite a bit, nevertheless took great liberties with many characters, as you can read in Slate. For instance:

[Christopher] Hodges [author of the book Alan Turing: The Enigma] paints Turing as shy, eccentric, and impatient with irrationality, but Cumberbatch’s narcissistic, detached Alan has more in common with the actor’s title character in Sherlock than with the Turing of Hodges’ biography. One of Turing’s colleagues at Bletchley Park later recalled him as “a very easily approachable man” and said “we were very very fond of him”; none of this is reflected in the film.

Why the character alteration? Perhaps because it made a more interesting story, more of a contrast with some of the other participants.

Time magazine analyzed Big Eyes, another film I appreciated. While some parts were deemed as true:

In the film, next to nobody is allowed in the Keane house for fear that they will discover Margaret’s studio and therefore the Keane secret. Though it is true that nobody—including Margaret’s daughter and their staff—was allowed in Margaret’s studio, Walter Keane would invite socialites and celebrities to their home.

I surmise that the fiction made her seem even more isolated, since “Margaret rarely met these celebs since she was painting 16 hours per day. Even when Walter left the house, he would call Margaret every hour to ensure that she hadn’t left.”

Entertainment Weekly fact-checked Theory of Everything. Stephen Hawking deemed the movie about his life with his ex-wife, “broadly true.” I liked it, but maybe if it were less true to its source, it might have been a more exciting film.

I’m not looking for documentaries in my biopics. It may be useful to check to see how much the story varies from the facts, but I certainly never felt the need to do so before seeing any film, only after the fact.

Oscars for 2014 films

I’m hoping to see all the Best Animated Short and/or Best Live Action Short nominees at The Spectrum in Albany before Oscar night.

2015-oscar-nominees.nph“Everyone knows” that the only reasons that the Oscars matter is so 1) audiences can go to some obscure movie and complain, “THAT was Oscar-nominated?” or “THAT was an Oscar winner?” and 2) writers can put it in someone’s obituaries: “Oscar winner John Wayne…” The Academy Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, will take place on February 22.

As I’m still in movie season mode, which runs, approximately, from November to March when it’s colder, and the better movies tend to come out, I may still see a few more films before Oscar night, or shortly afterward.

I’m pleased that I managed to see the two Best Picture nominees that were released early in the year, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel. (I’m going to link to my reviews of the films I saw, on the first mention.)

Are there Oscar snubs? Should Jennifer Aniston have been nominated for Best Actress in Cake? Should The Lego Movie, which I liked, have been on the list of animated features? Perhaps. I do appreciate this breakdown of “The Whitest Oscar Nominees Since 1995” because he names names; THIS should have been chosen instead of THAT. I don’t necessarily AGREE with the analysis.

Wow, there are a number of Oscar-nominated films this season based on real events: American Sniper, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, Mr. Turner, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken, Wild.

Best Costume Design

#Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice
#Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods
Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive, Maleficent
Jacqueline Durran, Mr. Turner

I’m rooting for Budapest, because these costumes defined the characters so well, though Into the Woods was worthy.

Best Documentary — Feature

Finding Vivien Maier
Last Days of Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth

Citizenfour, which is about Edward Snowden, played at Proctors in Schenectady for three days, but I didn’t catch it. Finding Vivian Meier is about this woman who took thousands of photos, discovered only after her death. I’ve seen a woman involved in The Last Days of Vietnam, a harrowing period, on The Daily Show. Wish I had seen these.

Best Visual Effects

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy, Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
#Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
X-Men: Days of Future Past, Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Interstellar was impressive, though the film itself was sometimes tedious. Sometimes they give this to the big box office champ, which would be Guardians of the Galaxy. AND it reviewed well overall.

Best Sound Editing

American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray, and Bub Asman
#Birdman, Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
#Interstellar, Richard King
Unbroken, Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Best Sound Mixing

American Sniper, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Walt Martin
#Birdman, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
#Interstellar, Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
Unbroken, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
#Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Four movies in common in these categories. For mixing, I’m rooting for the fifth, Whiplash, which had a sound in the music competitions that had a visceral impact. But Birdman was good too, and based on just the previews of American Sniper, I figure the competition will go to one of those two.

Best Animated Short

The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

Best Live Action Short
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
The Phone Call

Best Documentary—Short

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

I’m hoping to see all the Best Animated Short and/or Best Live Action Short nominees at The Spectrum in Albany before Oscar night, but I almost never see the documentaries anywhere, except, occasionally, online.
The best supporting players, in alpha order.

Best Production Design

#The Grand Budapest Hotel, Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
*The Imitation Game, Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
#Interstellar, Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
#Into the Woods, Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Mr. Turner, Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

I really thought Budapest was quite remarkable visually.

Best Film Editing

Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, American Sniper
#Sandra Adair, Boyhood
#Barney Pilling, The Grand Budapest Hotel
*William Goldenberg, The Imitation Game
#Tom Cross, Whiplash

Putting together a coherent story that was filmed over twelve years will almost surely mean a win for Sandra Adair for Boyhood.

Best Animated Feature

#Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

I liked Big Hero 6, but have no real info on the others.

Best Original Song

#“Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie; Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
*“Glory” from Selma; Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me; Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
#“Lost Stars” from Begin Again; Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

“Everything Is Awesome” is such a cheeky song. I thought the music from Begin Again was fine, and functional for the movie. Will the Academy voters throw a crumb to the fine song from Selma here? Or does it go to the dying Glen Campbell?

Best Original Score

#The Grand Budapest Hotel
*The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
#The Theory of Everything

Though I’m a music kind of guy, I don’t feel particularly savvy at comparing scores while watching a movie, because it becomes part of the texture of the whole. Maybe this is where Interstellar will win.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard, Foxcatcher
#Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White, Guardians of the Galaxy

From the preview, they managed to make Steve Carrell look REALLY creepy in Foxcatcher. Budapest is great, but, from the ads, so is Guardians, which I’m guessing will win.

Best Original Screenplay

#Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
#Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
#The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy

It could well be Boyhood, or Birdman, which I did not love, but which won the Golden Globes. But I’m rooting for Budapest, which was wacky fun.

Best Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper, Jason Hall
*The Imitation Game, Graham Moore
Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
#The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten
#Whiplash, Damien Chazelle

I suspect American Sniper will win, but I’m rooting for Whiplash.

Best Foreign Language Film

Ida, Poland
Leviathan, Russia
Tangerines, Estonia
Timbuktu, Mauritania
Wild Tales, Argentina

There were years I’d get to see one or two of these, but not this time out. Does anyone out there have any opinion on these?

Best Cinematography

#Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
#Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins, Unbroken

I’m guessing Birdman, though Roger Deakins on unbroken is a name I actually recognize, so maybe that. Of course, I’m rooting for Budapest.

Best Supporting Actress

#Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
*Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
#Emma Stone, Birdman
#Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Without Patricia Arquette’s steady presence, Boyhood doesn’t work. She won the Golden Globe over three of these four women, and she deserves the Oscar. My only knock is that it’s hardly a “supporting” performance.

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge
#Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
#Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
#J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

I’ll tell you a selfish truth: I was enjoying Whiplash being this little movie that no one heard of, but that I liked a lot. Then Simmons had to spoil it all by winning the Golden Globe against all four of these guys. He deserves to win the Oscar.
Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
#Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Gone Girl played for a week at the nearby Madison Theatre, but I missed it. Jones was fine but didn’t feel like “best actress” material. I never heard of Two Days One Night. Still Alice, for which Julianne Moore won the Golden Globe, hasn’t even come to town yet. Hard to judge.

Best Actor

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
*Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
#Michael Keaton, Birdman
#Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

I suspect it’ll be Keaton, who won a Golden Globe for Comedy or Musical over Redmayne, who won it for Drama.

Best Director

#Alexandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
#Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
#Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
*Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

I’m guessing this will be Boyhood’s director Linklater since he won the Golden Globes over the Birdman and Budapest. He’ll get a point for the vision thing.

Best Picture

American Sniper
#The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
#The Theory of Everything

If it were not very good, the fact that Boyhood took a dozen years to make wouldn’t have mattered. Had it been more conventionally made, with different actors as the boy, and makeup for the adults, it wouldn’t likely have had the same impact. But ever since I saw Boyhood, I was convinced it would win Best Picture. The way they vote, only in this category, is such that, if the voter thought Birdman or Selma or The Grand Budapest Hotel were the best films, but Boyhood was surely second or third on their ballots, it would win.
SamuraiFrog reviews Grand Budapest Hotel HERE. He reviews all the other Best Picture nominees, including his brilliant dissection of American Sniper, HERE.

At Central Casting, Hollywood’s Bit Players Need to Stand Out Before They Can Blend In.

The Human Seat Warmers


Selma’s Bloody Sunday took place on my 12th birthday.

selmamovieIt seemed like the obvious thing to do. The Wife and I went to see the movie Selma on the Martin Luther King holiday, which also celebrates Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Arkansas Mississippi, and, notably, Alabama.

While The Wife dropped off the Daughter at the sitter’s, I waited for her, and for the massive crowd to see this film. And there was a stream of people coming in the Spectrum Theatre, to see… American Sniper, which, to be fair, had just opened, while Selma had opened the week before. Still, our theater was about 85% full.

You must understand that I recall these events extremely well. Bloody Sunday took place on my 12th birthday. I remember Andrew Young, Bayard Rustin, Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams, and others. I surely remember Sheriff Clark. When a guy named James Reeb comes on the screen, I say to myself, “He was a Unitarian minister from Boston.”

So here’s my review: it was great. Director Ava DuVernay was visionary in recreating the feel and look of the period. David Oyelowo didn’t so much look or sound like Martin Luther King Jr., as embodied his essence. The same can be said for Carmen Ejogo as
Coretta Scott King.

But I was having trouble writing this review, not because I didn’t know how I felt about the movie, but rather because I didn’t know what to make of the “controversy” around it. Specifically, it had to do with the role of President Lyndon B. Johnson, played extremely well by Tom Wilkinson. Even before we saw the film, an in-law had mentioned that “Selma, the film, is not exactly true.” After seeing the movie, all I can say is: claptrap.

It’s not that Selma should be impervious to being critiqued. It’s only that the criticism, which the ‘Selma’ director responded to, seems disproportionate to the total picture. Folks who well know the Alan Turing story found The Imitation Game enjoyable, even while recognizing that it’s far different than the actual events. Walt Disney didn’t actually go to London to pursue the “Mary Poppins” author, as it was portrayed in Saving Mr. Banks.

In the case of the film Selma, I believe not everything was factual – the reference to the Birmingham church bombing was in 1963, not as chronologically close to the 1965 Selma story as it might have appeared. But it showed a greater truth about a people being terrorized by racism.

Bill Moyers, who I admire greatly, thought the film was wrong in suggesting that LBJ was behind J. Edgar Hoover’s sending the “sex tape” to Coretta King. I had a chance to talk with a film critic, and we both thought the movie was far more ambiguous than that.

These two articles pretty much reflect my sentiment: It’s Critics of ‘Selma’ Who Are Distorting Civil Rights History and What’s really behind the “Selma” backlash.

I didn’t agree with this section of the article from Slate: “The film’s running time is a swift two hours; I wouldn’t have minded an extra 30 minutes to learn more about the rest of the civil rights pioneers (all real historical figures) who march arm-in-arm on the front lines with King.” The film, as it says at the end, is not a documentary. There are plenty of them already about this era.

This was an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, especially considering the movie doesn’t use the actual words from MLK’s speeches, for copyright reasons.

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