Monday, September 30, 2019

The Tweetstorm of Donald J. Trumprook

Scusate i perdenti e gli odiatori, ma il mio I.Q. è uno dei più alti e lo sapete tutti! Per favore, non sentirti così stupido o insicuro, non è colpa tua.

      Let us go then, me and you,
As the scandals crowd out all the other news
Like a porn star paid and splayed upon a mattress;
Let us read, within these rumpled crumb-strewn sheets,

The incoherent tweets
Of sleepless nights upon the throne of ease
While pinching out my message by degrees:
Tweets with which I push and pull the government

With criminal intent
But I’m not capable of much reflection...

I don’t regret, or still less rue it—
When you’re a star, they let you do it.

In the House the members congregate
Thinking back on Watergate.

      The Democrats will try to stop construction of my wall,
So beautiful, so perfect, so unclimbable, my wall,
That keeps the rapists, gangs and dealers out of here,
The border camps where wetback babies crawl...

Babies. Yeah, that Epstein guy—a loser, that’s for sure
Nabbed at the airport, made his last farewell,
And once the prison guards had fallen fast asleep,

Was left (who knew?) to hang around his cell.

      And indeed they will serve time,
The yellow cowards who still ignore my tweets,

Copping their pleas like Cohen in open court;
They will serve time, they will serve time
Or if they play it safe and decide to be discreet;

There will be time to perjure and negate,
And time for all the works and days of hands

That go into a first-class license plate;
Time for thee but not for me,
And time yet for a hundred indiscretions,
And to evade another hundred questions,
Like in the days of Sarah Huckabee.

In the House the staff attorneys huddle
Plotting further trouble.

      And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do U care?’
Time to descend the escalator,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: “What’s that thing upon his head?
Some animal, some possum, must have crawled there: is it dead?”)

My necktie, made in China, polyester, red and shiny—
(They will say: “How is it that his fingers are so tiny?”)
Is it fair
My press is so adverse?
It’s called executive time.
For decisions and rescissions which a court will soon reverse.

But I have blown them off already, blown them all—
The courts, the Congress...enablers and buffoons!
I have measured out my life with cofveve spoons;
I’ve heard the voices leaking, leaking with an eye
Upon the main chance there in the green room.

            So how dare they presume?

      And I’ve denounced the spies and traitors, slammed them all—
The whistleblowers trilling with their same old songs,

And when I’m called upon it, called on CNN,
When Fake News flacks will not excuse my gall,
Then how—heaven forfend—
To spin all of the revelations of my wrongs?

            And can we just assume

      That I have sold the Russians secrets, let them pick?—
As I am perfectly entitled to
(It says so right there in Article Two!)
Is it semen on a dress

That makes me such a mess?
No, that was what’s-her-face, that Monica Lewinski chick.

      And should I cop a plea?
            And what’s in it for me?

      Shall I say, I have golfed all day on well-mown greens
The only thing that makes my putter rise
And dropped the ball routinely some two feet from the hole?...

I should have stayed a star on pay TV
Hustling my brand to easy dimwit marks.

      And the rubes who watch the news, they take it placidly! Soothed by Fox TV,
Tucker Carlson...or Hannity
Always dependable, always for me.

Should I, having satisfied my vices,
Rouse myself to instigate another crisis?
But though I have gorged and bloated, binged and purged,
Though I have seen my pate (grotesquely bald) the object of some laughter

I am no statesman—not now nor hereafter;
I have seen the needle of my ratings wiggle,
And I have seen the Secret Service roll their eyes, and giggle,

            And in short, I was betrayed.

      And would it have been worth it, do you think,
After Moscow, the prostitutes, the pee,
The commentariat, who’ve been routinely mean to me,

Would I have gone too far
Once I’d given DOJ to William Barr
And made it just another arm of Trump, Inc.,

To kick the Constitution into flinders,
To say: “I’m the Donald, you’re the Apprentice,
I’m here to tell you that you’re fired, you’re fired”—

Yet, Stormy paused before she gave me head,
      And said: “That is not what I want at all.
            That’s not it, Sir, at all.”

      And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the hearings and the subpoenas and the sprinkled sheets,
After the scandals, after the phone calls, after the House decides to vote me out—

What the hell is that about?—
It is impossible to know just what I knew!
But as if a TV camera spewed some hacks to blather on the tube:
Would it have been worth while
If one, waking up at three and tossing off a tweet,
And turning toward the TV, should say:
“Lock up Crooked Hillary,

      Lock her up for good and all!”

      Yes! I’m a stable genius, clear for all to see;
Am a compliant dunce, one that will do
To pack the courts, pass a tax bill or two
And serve the rich; no doubt, I’m always down,

Presidential, glad to be on board,
Impulsive, reckless, occasionally profane;
Abused, insulted, frequently ignored;
At times, indeed, almost insane—
Almost, at times, the Clown.

I’m senile…infantile…
I shall serve my sentence stably in denial.

Shall I leave my hair behind? Do I dare to join a gang?
I shall wear a bright orange jumpsuit, and walk along the yard.

I have heard the inmates singing to the guards.
I do not think that Pence will pardon me.

I have seen the prosecutors on the case
Looking for backups on the White House LAN:

It won’t be good when all this hits the fan.

We have frolicked on a mattress soaked with pee
In opulent hotel rooms trimmed in gold—
Until we face indictment, and we fold. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

When in Rome

(Another in a series of repurposed film reviews from 2016. tl;dr version: On a state visit to Rome a bored and exhausted European princess escapes from her handlers and stumbles into the keeping of an opportunistic American reporter, who sees in her the newspaper story that will make his career, provided he is prepared to be caddish about it. Aw, hell, who are we kidding? It’s Gregory freaking Peck, and you know that he’ll do the right thing in the end because, after all, he falls in love with Audrey Hepburn. So, beginning with this picture, have a couple of generations of moviegoers. Photographed in creamy black & white on location in the Eternal City, Roman Holiday might have been a mere piece of fluff in lesser hands, but a magical confluence of director, screenplay and cast makes it, on the contrary, a piece of fluff for the ages.)

Even the casual fiilmgoer will have noticed from time to time a convention in movie title sequences that goes something like this:

[Really Big-Name Star]
(and sometimes)
[Equally or Almost as Big-Name Star]
[Movie Title]
[Actor Name]
Actor Name]
[Actor Name]
(and sometimes)
[And Another Big-Name Star]
[Character Name]

The Hollywood film industry is one of the more rank-conscious fields of human endeavor, and for many, many decades the placement of an actor’s name before the film title was a signifier of very high status indeed. Gregory Peck was nominated for an Academy Award in his second film, in 1944, and by his nineteenth, Roman Holiday, he was an A-list star routinely granted the coveted top-o’-the-title slot in the credit sequence. Audrey Hepburn, by contrast, was just starting out in 1953—she’d had what amounted to a couple of walk-on parts before she was cast, largely on the strength of her stage performance as the title character in Gigi on Broadway the previous year, as the female lead opposite Peck. Because she was virtually unknown to the moviegoing public, the most she might ordinarily have expected would have been an “and Introducing Audrey Hepburn,” which was the sort of token recognition studios were in the practice of giving first-time actresses whom they hoped might become better-known over time. Peck, however, before the film’s release, went to the studio chiefs and said in effect, “Look, you know and I know that Audrey’s going to bring home the Best Actress Oscar for this, and the rest of us are going to look like complete clowns if her name isn’t above the title.” And so, rare for a fledgling starlet, her name appeared up front. The studio never regretted it.

Some have said that the movie’s Princess Anne was the role that the actress was born to play. What they meant was that Audrey Hepburn was the role Audrey Hepburn was born to play, and she incontestably did so to perfection, although this also limited from early on the range of roles she’d be offered, and perhaps she never did reach her full potential with so many gamine roles stacked up waiting for her to perform them: lazy directors just wanted her to be herself, or at least her image.

This mid-century fairy tale begins, as so many fairy tales will, with a princess: “Princess Anne” is touring the capitals of Europe on behalf of her unnamed country (presumably not the United Kingdom, since London is one of the capitals she is depicted visiting in newsreel footage), and her entourage has tightly scheduled every waking hour for her. She’s getting bored, tired and cranky. Sure, first-world problems and all that, but after all, being a princess in European royalty has been known, even in living memory, to be a bit of a drag, with the princesses in question being treated variously as trade goods and as brood mares in the service of dynastic succession. It’s not all musical numbers and singing animals, let me tell you. Anyway, after she pitches a mild tantrum, Anne’s handlers stuff her full of tranquilizers to calm her down. These appear instead to have the unanticipated effect of parting the princess from a normal person’s fear of falling from a great height, and she nimbly escapes from an upper floor on the embassy grounds and onto the streets of Rome (smuggling herself to freedom disguised as a load of soiled laundry inside a delivery van, if I recall aright) before she passes out. If she tried such a stunt today, of course, Audrey/Anne would likely find herself in a Tunisian brothel when she came to, but this is a fairy tale, remember, so instead she doesn’t completely lose consciousness until she has first run into stand-up guy Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), a lazy reporter for an American wire service who, initially unaware of Anne’s royal identity, reluctantly takes her to his small apartment, where nothing untoward happens. He draws the line at giving up his narrow bed, and makes the girl sleep on the divan—there are limits to knight-errantry!—but before she revives in the morning he has checked in briefly at work, where he realizes to whom he has extended his hospitality. He rushes back to his flat and moves the sleeping princess onto the bed so that she won’t know that she only rated the divan. A favorite scene, early on: Anne, still a bit groggy from the drug, wakes up in Joe’s apartment, in Joe’s bed and in…”Are these your pyjamas?” “Umm-hmmm.” A look of panic crosses her features, and her hands dart under the covers. Joe, drily: “Lose something?” Anne (with visible relief): “No.” That was pretty racy stuff for 1953.

There follows an enchanted interlude of cross-purposes as Joe, his photographer pal Irving, and the princess tool around Rome, visions of Pulitzer prizes dancing in the men’s heads, with Irving surreptitiously snapping photographs of the royal, who is innocently unaware that her incognito has been compromised, or that she is being squired around the city by a couple of jackals of the press. Meanwhile, of course, everyone’s in a panic back at the embassy, and badass-looking truant officers are flown in from home to track down the country’s delinquent princess. Anne has only a few hours out from under her professional responsibilities (“I’m in public relations,” she tells Joe at one point), but Joe and Irving help her make the most of them and ultimately cannot bring themselves to betray her trust.

Certain films appear to have been made under a supremely favorable alignment of the stars: there’s a reason that Casablanca (the cast and crew of which didn’t realize they were working for the ages) is beloved today. Carol Reed’s The Third Man is, albeit on a higher level of artistry, another one that clicks on all cylinders, and I submit that it’s tough to conceive how Roman Holiday could have been any better than it was. Gregory Peck used to joke that for years it was certain that any role he was considered for had first been offered to Cary Grant. So it was with Roman Holiday, and you know what? It wouldn’t have worked as well. True, Peck had to stretch a bit to portray his character’s raffishness, which Grant could have communicated in his sleep, but by the same token it’s hard to imagine Grant matching Peck’s bedrock solidity and decency: there would inevitably have been a knowing smirk to spoil the illusion. The producers wanted Elizabeth Taylor to play the princess: I do not think that the film would be remembered today had they got their way.

Fortunately, posterity has been delivered a perfect movie, shot on location(!) in Rome(!!), a romantic comedy overlaid with a poignant fable of of duty, escape, responsibility, renunciation and decency, in which a princess sacrifices freedom and perhaps love for the obligations laid upon her, conjoined with vast privilege, by rank and birth, and an ambitious reporter foregoes professional success and a nice bundle of cash as chivalry summons him to the better angels of his nature. And to return for a moment to the subject of movie credits, the screenplay was written by one Dalton Trumbo, a gifted victim of the Hollywood “blacklist” whom no one in 1953 would hire because of his supposed communist affiliations. Upon the original release the script was credited to another writer, a common practice at the time, and won an Oscar for best screenplay, which Trumbo of course could not acknowledge or accept. His name was finally restored to the credits in the 1990s, and the Academy at last gave him that Oscar, a gesture he would doubtless have appreciated had he not been, like, dead for a couple of decades by then.

Friday, September 13, 2019

“Are you looking at me?” – One-Eyed Jacks

I’m going to go out on a limb here and call One-Eyed Jacks incontestably the finest western ever shot in Big Sur. This troubled production, helmed by star Marlon Brando after original director Stanley Kubrick quit or was fired (accounts differ), had gone way over schedule and over budget by the time the would-be auteur grew bored with the project and left it in mid-edit for the studio to assemble (the Paramount executives opting, not surprisingly, for the most conventional of the several endings Brando shot, some under duress).

The final product, though scarcely without flaw, nevertheless remains after half a century a compelling if undisciplined piece of work. Karl Malden (”Dad” Longworth) and Brando (”Kid” Rio) portray bank robbers working the lucrative Mexican market who are parted by mischance and meet up again in California after half a decade, having in the meantime followed dramatically different career paths, with Dad pursuing a career in law enforcement while the Kid busies himself for most of this period crafting artisanal license plates. Their reunion is, to put it mildly, fraught.

Beautifully photographed (the Death Valley and Big Sur sequences particularly), with several memorable set pieces. The marvelous supporting cast includes a lot of John Ford regulars, including Ben Johnson and Slim Pickins, and the love interest is the luminous and tragic Pina Pellicer, whose reputed on-set romance with the charismatic leading man turns out to have been a publicist’s cynical fantasy: Pellicer played on Team Sappho. Long neglected, the film fell into the public domain, and has hitherto been available for home viewing only in atrocious no-name “budget” editions which, as an industry informant told me once, “look like they’ve been mastered by someone’s dog.” It has now been meticulously restored for the 2016 Criterion release.