There was no helping the sense of pride I felt in learning that Dolly Parton's musical version of her film "9 to 5" would have its world premiere in my hometown. I thought, even if it turns out to be a huge stinking mess, it's not often Los Angeles gets the honor of seeing a Broadway-quality show *before* it gets to Broadway. Luckily, it's far from a huge stinking mess. (The only mess of the night was the crowded parking situation created by the opera being performed at the Dorothy Chandler right across the way from the Ahmanson.)
Though a few songs and all of the first act need tightening, "9 to 5: The Musical" has the elements of a likely hit: addictive music, relatable characters, mesmerizing sets, well-placed humor and lots of heart. One wouldn't expect any less from a creative dream team of stars and Broadway veterans. Joe Mantello's direction and 2008 Tony-winner Andy Blankenbeuhler's choreography are seamless and captivating. Musical director Stephen Oremus's orchestration and arrangement skills are evidenced by the fuller sound given to Parton's score, which happily invites the audience into the world of the 1979 workplace.
The book, written by the film's screenwriter Patricia Resnick, could use work. Using lines from the film works well with audiences, but there were a few too many cliches. Several cliches, however, ceased to be so when said by Allison Janney. She doesn't try to play Lily Tomlin playing Violet Newstead -- she plays a new Violet Newstead. It's clear she's not a natural singer, but her voice is quite good and it fits the character well, not to mention the fact that her acting could make up for any musical shortcomings.
As newcomer divorcee Judy Bernly, Stephanie J. Block lives up to the hype created by fans of her "Wicked" days. Her voice is unique and stunning, almost bigger than one would think. But her real strength is being able to show a clear journey for her character, and it's thrilling to see Judy finally take control of her life and stand up to the man who wronged her in the showstopper "Get Out and Stay Out." Block will help bring in the younger fans who loved her in "Wicked," but by the time she's done with "9 to 5" she should have gone beyond "Wicked" to become a true Broadway star. The same can be said for Megan Hilty, who plays Parton's old role of secretary Doralee Rhodes and had the audience eating out of her hand at her first line. If you need a near-perfect example of an actress completely inhabiting a character, she's it.
The three stars -- Janney, Block and Hilty -- have palpable chemistry that makes them believable as partners in crime. I relished any point in which they sang in 3-part harmony. On another note, the ensemble is very strong; this show can only benefit from all the talent collected on the stage.
Despite great performances all around, there are some issues that definitely need addressing. That's what out-of-town tryouts are for. The final scene of Act I needs reworking: we need to really feel that thrill of taking control of the boss and it's not quite there. The same goes for "Out of Control," the number where Judy has a battle with the Xerox machine. It's been toned down too much. One can't convincingly sing about being out of control if the scene doesn't show that she is. I'd personally like to see more development of the two most prominent male characters, Hart and Joe (Violet's love interest, created for the musical). Hart is technically the fourth lead, and currently he's a tad weak and without depth. The best antagonists are the ones that are fully developed and not one- or two-dimensional. As for the sets, I'm happy they're working at last, but they seem to envelop the cast and make them seem small. This is good for the first act, but as the women take control they need to stand out more, and their strong, solid costumes in the finale don't quite make them stand out enough.
Ultimately, the aforementioned issues don't keep "9 to 5" from being enjoyed thoroughly by the audience. The applause at the end of the show, particularly for the three ladies, strongly suggests that "9 to 5" could make a big splash when it arrives on Broadway next year.
Photo: Craig Schwartz / Center Theatre Group
Strange weather we are having, no? First we had a little rain and now it's hot, hot, hot. My father shakes his head and mutters, "Earthquake weather." I'm too hot to point out that it's earthquake weather every day. But it's the truth. Today is also the last day of National Preparedness Month.
How did Los Angeles celebrate the month?
Beverly Hills posted Emergency Preparedness banners all over the city and, on 9/15, hosted a lecture by seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones on the culture of preparedness. I always hate it when agencies bombard you with information but never provide concrete access to supplies. I grumble every time I see a "Be Prepared" bus shelter so I was pleaded to learn that the City of Los Angeles held its 17th Annual Emergency Preparedness Fair at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits on September 13th. The same fair was repeated at the Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park, near the L.A. harbor, on 9/20 and in Panorama City on 9/27. The L.A. City Employee Preparedness Expo at City Hall Farmers Market happened on 9/11. The Red Cross staffed an Emergency Preparedness Fair in Spanish and English in Huntington Park on 9/28. Hermosa Beach Neighborhood Watch hosted “Map Your Neighborhood” session, training residents how to organize their neighbors in the event of a disaster on 9/27.
And I missed each and every one of them. Typical. I always hear about such opportunities after the fact.
Just because Emergency Preparedness month's over, doesn't mean I can't get prepared now. We're heading into a season loaded with earthquake preparedness fairs and workshops.
The Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council is hosting a Shakeout Block Party on Saturday, October 4th from noon till 5:00pm in preparation for the upcoming Great Southern California ShakeOut Drill, scheduled November 13, 2008. The ShakeOut drill centers on the ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario, a realistic portrayal of what could happen in a major earthquake on the southern end of the San Andreas Fault. Created by over 300 experts led by Dr. Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey, the scenario outlines a hypothetical 7.8 magnitude earthquake originating near the Salton Sea, which would have the potential to devastate the region.
Participants register and perform the earthquake drill "Drop, Cover and Hold On" at 10 AM PST on November 13th.
I've registered and set up my own ShakeOut page. I plan to gather supplies from vendors and agencies at fairs organized around the November 13th event. I'll report in on how I am faring with my disaster kit assembly all October and November. I just bought an emergency backpack kit for 2 at Home Depot on Friday. I may be single and childless but I have cats, people! Let me know what you are doing, too.
The ShakeOut will be the largest collective earthquake drill organized in U.S. history: here's a list of events happening in LA.
L.A.'s going to have its big rally on November 14th from 4 pm to 11 pm in the Nokia Plaza of L.A. Live.
That same week, the City of Los Angeles will host the International Earthquake Conference at the Omni hotel so the whole town will be shaking with buzz about disaster plans.
Like the weather, it's going to be impossible to ignore.
Governor Schwarzenegger recently did the right thing by supporting the new law against texting while driving. We have to keep all our attention on the road. (Maybe he should increase enforcement of the hands free law, too, since I still see people driving with a phone to their ear.)
Meanwhile, it's still up in the air whether his veto today of a law banning your dog from sitting in your lap while you're behind the wheel is a good thing. After all, nothing's funnier than passing what looks like a bull mastif in the driver's seat, on the freeway.
Anyway, this all got me thinking this morning after my dog, Windsor, brought in the paper, made me a cup of coffee, poached a couple eggs, and shared my joy over the Governor's latest veto. Then we talked about a story I'd recently read in the paper, a heartwarming tale of how a dog's master had taught him to dial 911 in an emergency -- and then the dog actually saved the guy's life. Fantastic.
Dogs are smart. So smart in fact that I'm going to teach Windsor to text for me ... while sitting in my lap ... looking for all the world like he's driving my car. Shouldn't be too ruff. He's already got text-speak down cold.
And -- OMFG! -- it's ALL perfectly legal.
A hearty congratulations and considerable sympathy is due freelance writer Susan Paterno, whose American Journalism Review article "Santa Barbara Smackdown" so upset the owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press that the journalist ended up in court for two years before having the case dismissed this month.
That's two years of courtroom conflict that should light a fire under every American journalist, and not just the freelance writers who aren't reading their contracts before they sign them.
As Howard Kurtz reported a year ago, the publisher of Paterno's story, American Journalism Review, "was not originally named as a defendant but agreed to pay Paterno's legal bills and indemnify her against any judgment."
And what did AJR get for doing the right thing? Kurtz had that answer too: "management was stunned to discover that its libel insurance did not cover freelance writers."
Like AJR, a lot of mainstream newspapers are contracting out more and more of their content, which in many cases exposes their freelancers to the same sort of experience Paterno suffered.
Every journalist ought to consider the chilling effect this is bound to have on freelance journalists covering business and government at every level. Will injustices go unreported for fear of retaliation? I don't know. Is two years in hell too long?
The rundown of Paterno's case is here at LA Observed.
Cross-posted at TJ Sullivan in LA
The play Equus opened on Broadway this week, starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. It's based on an actual incident that unfolded some time ago in the British countryside, in which a young man, roiled by horses and shamed by their gaze, blinded six of them with a spike.
Unbeknownst to many people, such episodes have been playing out across our own lands for decades. In fact, as I document in my book Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, a two-pronged war against wild horses is underway, and is heating up as our flag-waving President heads off into the sunset - on foot, across a field of bones.
One front in this war involves agencies tasked with wild horse management, primarily the BLM, which recently floated a proposal to euthanize thousands of "excess" wild horses in its custody - animals removed from public lands during the voracious round-ups of the Bush administration, and those that preceded it.
The other front involves lone operators who venture into the wilderness and kill wild horses - which is illegal, although arrests are rarely made and when they are, the cases often fall apart. For the sake of brevity, I'll skip the incidents that occurred before federal protection for mustangs went into place 37 years ago (the law that was unravelled under the Bush administration). But for the record, let this be known: In 1973, in Howe, Idaho, ranchers on snow mobiles and saddle horses chased a herd of 32 mustangs for 45 days, driving them into a narrow canyon and trapping them on a shelf. Some jumped off the cliff to their deaths. Others panicked and jammed their hoofs into rocks.
To make them more manageable, ranchers sewed hog rings into their noses. The fright escalated and some horses broke their legs as they scrambled on the rocks. “We didn’t know what to do,” one rancher said. “We disposed of them by cutting their legs off. I mean it was gruesome. We sawed that one sorrel mare’s legs with a chain saw.” When it was over, the six surviving horses were shipped to a packing house in Nebraska. A few days later, the dead and mutilated horses were found at the foot of the cliff.
In 1989, over a period of months in Nevada, at least 500 mustangs were mowed down by rifle fire. When coyotes came to feed, they too were killed. In 1992, 54 burros were gunned down on Good Friday outside Oatman, Arizona. In 1998, 34 wild horses were gunned down outside Reno at Christmas time, an episode I explore in my book (and include the story of the survivor of this incident, an amazing mustang -now ten - named Bugz).
In 1999, four wild horses and two burros in the Spring Mountains in Nevada were shot and killed. (In the same year and the same state, this time in Fallon, a grazing and military town, eight cows were raked with automatic weapons, one while giving birth, by two Navy airmen). In 2000, 37 wild horses were shot to death in the Rock Springs area of Wyoming - one of the largest federally sanctioned livestock grazing regions in the country.
In 2001, seven wild horses were shot to death in eastern Nevada, and six more later that year. In 2002, nine wild horses were gunned down by two ranchers in Utah. In 2003, possibly as many as 500 Nevada mustangs – known for the record as the Fish Creek horses - died after being rounded up in an ongoing territorial dispute between a pair of Shoshone Indians and the feds, adopted by a rancher in California, but left without food in BLM corrals as they awaited relocation and then dumped in the wilderness after they starved to death. In 2006, a mare and stallion were shot to death in Gerlach, Nevada. The mare had aborted her foal during the incident and it too perished. In fall of that year, seven horses were shot and killed near Pinedale, Arizona. The BLM offered rewards, but no one has come forward.
On October 11th and 12th, people from around the country will gather at a wild horse summit in Las Vegas to try to figure out how to end this war against the animal that blazed our trails and carried us through our greatest battles. "Is it possible," a character asks in Equus, "for a horse at a certain moment to add its sufferings together, and turn them into grief?" Certainly that is one way to explain its big sad satellite eye, which has seen it all.
Two years ago, the Ahmanson Theater was daring enough to stage The Black Rider, an avant-garde extravaganza that featured music by Tom Waits; sets, costumes and lighting by Robert Wilson and words by William Burroughs. Seeing this ravishing, dreamlike show and observing the audience response brought to mind 1912 Paris when Nijinsky first danced “The Afternoon of a Faun.” Our laid-back Angeleno audiences didn’t throw rotten tomatoes or riot but season subscribers walked out in angry droves, which left prime seats vacant for the hoi polloi like me to slip into as ushers looked the other way. I don’t know of any show in recent memory that has so polarized audiences. You either loved it or hated it.
The Black Rider captivated me like a fever dream, but like all things it has slowly dimmed. So I was thrilled to learn that some kind soul has recently put much of the 1990s German production up on YouTube. While I miss Matt McGrath’s earnest Wilhelm, Vance Avery’s sexy Pegleg and Nigel Richards’ delirious Georg, the European actors are just as good and all the songs are all in English – albeit sung with European accents. The sets, costumes and make-up are also very similar to the Ahmanson production, so all you Black Rider junkies can now get your fix and those who missed it can see a tiny fraction of what the fuss was about.
I found The Black Rider so mind-bending that I went back five or six times, mostly using those nifty $20 rush seats. On closing weekend, I sat between a 20-ish girl who’d painted her face green and purple and a middle-aged teacher who showered roses on Pegleg and Wilhelm at curtain.
I wish the Ahmanson would release a soundtrack or video of the Los Angeles production of The Black Rider. I’ve worn grooves on my Tom Waits CD of the same name, but the stage production had additional songs and music. I’m not sure why L.A.’s theater-goers didn’t flock to this surreal cabaret. Hollywood is the Dream Factory, after all. Which means the world of The Black Rider is also here. It’s just hiding in the shadows.
The Los Angeles Times reported today that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign the state budget Tuesday, a full 85 days late.
Considering the 80,000 unpaid state bills that have accumulated during that time, among other things, what better day of the week than Tuesday to sign it?
Much as J Wellington Wimpy embodied the antithesis of the tough characters California's governor has portrayed on film, Wimpy often found himself in financial straits similar to those Arnold is in now. And, as Wimpy so famously stated:
"I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today"
My favorite place in Joshua Tree National Park, the rocks in the shape of Billy Martin, has taken on even greater significance now that Yankee Stadium is vanishing. To mark the occasion, I decided to visit the ironic outcroppings and see if the late NY Yankee manager had a word or two about this sad summer epitaph. As per my previous treks to the shrine (see http://www.villagevoice.com/2003-04-22/news/rocks-in-the-shape-of-billy-martin/ for general directions), I placed a shot of tequila in a crevasse and uttered a secret incantation designed to call forth the managerial ghost of so many unforgettable seasons of victory and play. Soon, the booze began to disappear, and I raised my canteen in reply. "Are diamonds still forever?" I asked after awhile. No answer was forthcoming, and all I could think of was the crumbling Ozymandias of the house that Ruth built and the spirits that would be homeless once it was gone. But then a raven arrived, and soon a pair of coyotes, and I even think I heard a snake rattle (but maybe imagined it all), reminders every one of desert miracles, and the truth I had momentarily forgotten: that the ultimate sandlot - the Mojave Desert - wasn't going anywhere; in fact Billy and DiMaggio and Gehrig and Mantle would forever roam here, in the land where no one can steal your seat and home plate is wherever you stand. So farewell Yankee Stadium, where I once saw 80,000 people scream that Nixon sucked, screamed with them in fact; leaped to my feet and into the arms of a beau when Mr. October homered in another one; cried when the home team came out with black arm bands for Thurman Munson, and now utter this prayer of thanks for a thing I cannot really name.
RE: LA Times owner Sam Zell's Dear Partners note:
"... we are all in this together …"
"... We're being watched and imitated …"
"... We are partners. We need to act like it."
I have seen the future – and it should have been ours. A sprawling city, but made up of a variety of self sufficient neighborhoods. Sounds familiar, but then differences begin. There are parks – large and small – everywhere. It is almost impossible to be more than two blocks from efficient mass transit with two interconnecting metros, a great bus system then smaller eclectic tram cars to go into residential areas. Sidewalks are so wide they can accommodate several feet of a different color pavement reserved for bikes. Garbage cans everywhere that are color coded for waste, paper, glass and plastic. Only cars with low emissions are allowed in the central city.
This is Berlin, where I recently spent several weeks and where every day brought a new revelation of what can happen when green is a priority. You want a plastic bag at the grocery store? That will be fifteen cents. The hotel rooms all have key cards that are used to turn the electricity on. You take the key when you leave and all the electricity goes off. Toilets have two choices of water flow. They have made it look so easy. I checked with a few travel sites looking for those innovations in American hotels and I see that they aren’t being used because there is a fear that some people might be concerned their room will be dark when they enter and that low flow toilets might not do the job. Well they do and they can save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. And once the changes are in, people will adjust.
I travel a lot and I always love coming home to Los Angeles, but this was the first time I looked around in outright dismay. I am a fourth generation Californian who had it pounded into my head from an early age that Californians were always on the cutting edge. That is hardly the case today. How much greenery would we have left in the city if it wasn’t for cemeteries and golf courses? Our idea of conserving is not to water the lawns between 8 and 4 and pass laws against leaf blowers that aren’t enforced. I take a bus three miles to the beach and it takes me an hour with one transfer. Where is the political will to make the environment a priority?
Looking in vain for a macro response and not wanting to be a Lindsey Graham whiner, I told myself to shut up and do something micro. So for a couple thousand dollars, I bought an electric car. It is really a golf cart on steroids and I have to stay off of streets that are for 40 miles an hour or faster, but it is fine for running errands or for my son to drive to school. Truth be told, there are often days where I don’t go anywhere that is more than three miles away from home. I don’t have to pay anything in parking meters and a couple of hours of charging in a regular socket lets me drive for 35 miles. It has only been a week and the looks I get are a bit strange, but very supportive. Drivers even wave me in front of them and smile about it. So far anyway. But I like to think they too are pleased that somebody is trying to do something while we look for leaders with that political will.
While riding the 302 Rapid along Sunset yesterday, I witnessed a miracle. A young girl with lemon-colored locks boarded the bus at Sunset and Vine with a huge bag of books in her arms. Unfortunately, she dropped the bag in the aisle when we stopped at Western. Passengers scrambled to corral wayward tomes so that departing riders could get out the back door. Overhead, TransitTV screens played a book trailer from Readers Entertainment TV. "Don't Get It Twisted" read the title card as the sweet young thing collected her reading material.
Who says no one reads in L.A.
Speaking of book trailers, why doesn't Amazon.com integrate book trailers into its systems since it will now show video on its subsidiary, IMDB.com?
Things are also looking up in the L.A. literary landscape. Diesel, A Bookstore opens their third store (2nd in Southern California) in Brentwood today. Alan Alda will kick off the store's event series with a reading from his memoir, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, at 7 PM
DIESEL, A Bookstore in Brentwood
225 26th St., Los Angeles, CA 90402
Diesel, A Bookstore opens a new store in Brentwood. Alan Alda marks the occasion with a reading. Book trailers go Metro.
It was a strange weekend, filled with hope and dread as sad news kept rolling in about the Metrolink crash, David Foster Wallace's suicide, Damien Hirst's unprecedented art auction and new financial turmoil triggered by Lehman Brothers efforts to stave off bankruptcy.
But I come from a family whose motto is "when the going gets tough, the tough draws strength from beauty." So I spent the weekend looking at art. On Saturday, I ventured over to the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades for a lecture by a Brit with two last names who traveled across the continent to share stories about a venerable organization of classical antiquities collectors, called the Society of the Dilettanti, the subject of a new exhibit at the Villa. One hundred or so Angeleno Anglophiles crowded into the auditorium to hear Charles Sebag-Montefiore's illustrated lecture about the society's origins as a dining club for eighteenth century aristocrats with an enthusiasm for classical archeology and its evolving role as a driving force behind the rise of neoclassicism in the 19th century. After the lecture, he led a tour of the exhibit itself, twenty minutes before the Villa closed for the day. I could tell he was an aristocrat by the way he blithely ignored the pointed announcements of museum guards that the "Villa will close in 5 minutes." His audience remained rooted to the spot, filling a long, dark gallery populated by erotic figurines as Mr. Sebag-Montefiore pointed out bawdy 18th century cartoons from his own collection.
"The Villa will close in 5 minutes" boomed another guard eight minutes later. They were making me nervous so I hurried out into the gardens, stopping to admire a pomegranate tree heavy with fruit. I'd never seen pomegranate growing before. I hurried on to collect my car and join the long line of autos snaking down the cypress-lined driveway to the sea at PCH.
I joined a different group of art connoisseurs at the Pasadena Museum of California Art on Sunday. The William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts hosted a reception there to introduce the recipient of the 2007 William H. Johnson Prize, L.A. based artist Rodney McMillian. Like the Dilettanti, the Johnson Foundation has an interest in preservation and wields a bit of influence in contemporary art circles. But this foundation provides resources for emerging African American artists, gifting a new recipient with a $25,000 prize each year. After enjoying drinks and Kai European Catering's exotic appetizers served on porcelain spoons (offered by even yummier waiters) on the museum's terrace, we ambled down to the exhibit gallery to view a retrospective exhibit of works by Kori Newkirk, recipient of the 2004 William H. Johnson Prize. It was nice to see a former recipient build his career and fulfill the promise the foundation had spotted earlier. Surrounded by Mr. Newkirk's wall hangings fabricated from beaded strands of braided hair and a wall-sized image of a limousine created using hair pomade, it occurred to me that I had happened upon strange fruit as rare and special as the pomegranate at the Getty Villa: a successful mid career artist nurtured early by patrons in Los Angeles.
According to the Wall Street Journal, women can't wait to get their hands on the Kawasaki frames that Sarah Palin favors. Evidently, these versatile and stylish eyeglasses are a must-have for the modern gal on the go. Yes, whether she's blowing the head off a moose, whacking wolves from the air, or protecting the border from wayward Russians, today's woman must take care of business and look good at the same time. Plus there's a bonus: if the vice-presidency thing doesn't work out, the frames guarantee a job as a dental hygienist. So, my friends, what are you waiting for? Crank up that AK and rock the frames!
If you have even an ounce of self-love, oh my movie-going Sisters then you will spare yourselves the agony of “The Women” opening in theaters today. This remake of the exquisitely campy 1939 George Cukor classic about acid-tongued women competing for men has been updated and de-fanged for a kinder, gentler, post-feminist, Girl Powered audience. And it sucks.
The original 1939 film about a cuckolded wife losing her man to a cheap hussy, going to Reno for a “quickie” divorce, then finally getting her revenge and her man back, starred a glittering lineup of actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age: Norma Shearer as Mary Haines, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard and Mary Boland. Based on the play by Clare Booth Luce, “The Women” was notable for not having a single male ever appear on camera. Though men were invisible, they were ever-present, the object of the women’s endless plotting and feuding. The coiffed and idle she-wolves gossiped and backstabbed with heady élan – they were exercising what power they had in the pre-Feminist world of 1939: their beauty and their wits.
As feminism emerged in the 70’s, seeking to further women's personal, political and economic power, women were exhorted to see each other not as competition, but as sisters in arms in the fight for equality. A laudable notion, but one that made Cukor’s “The Women” something of a guilty pleasure – a politically incorrect bon-bon that has kept smart, snarky women, (and the gay men who love us) secretly cackling through our late night Haagen Dazs for decades.
Enter the remake -- a sad, empty shell of its former self, a bland and unfunny, politically correct pot of comedy tapioca. It’s not just that the script is a tepid, jangly collection of cliché’s and dull yuks. Nor is it the way English (of Murphy Brown) directs the film like a hokey sitcom that has already jumped the shark. It’s not even that she takes some of our best female comedic talent and coaxes bogus, mawkish performances out of them (honestly, how do you get Annette Bening to suck?). It’s that this movie stands as an artifact of the shambles feminism lies in after fifteen toxic years of “Girl Power.”
Somewhere toward the end of the last century, “Feminism,” that thorny, hot-under-the-collar, outspoken bitch, got batted aside by the far more kittenish, media-friendly notion of “Girl Power.” A sound bite ideology brought to us first by those icons of female strength and wisdom, The Spice Girls. Girl Power was sassy and fit nicely on a baby-tee. “You go girl!” a vague directive at best, exhorted us to be done with all our fussing and fighting and just focus on shopping and accessorizing and dressing for success. Instead of burning our bras, we let our g-strings show, because Girl Power as taught us that owning our sexuality is all the power we really need. Girl Power made old-school, politically-focused feminism feel as appealing as a belted Kotex – uncomfortable and out of date.
The fact that a group of smart, funny, experienced, talented women old enough to know better would make a film this inane, is heartbreaking. Say what you will about the deplorable bitchery of the first film, at least those ladies had razor-sharp claws, but in the remake they purr and sulk and lick their wounds. The original film crescendos with Joan Crawford saying point blank to her frenemies: “There’s a name for you, but it is seldom used in polite society or outside a kennel.” In the remake that line is delivered as an aside by Bening to a literal bitch, her lapdog.
The girl-empowered women of “The Women” are goopily supportive, weeping on each others shoulders, wallowing in guilt. In one scene, Mary comes home to find her teenage daughter (who we can assume has been raised on American Girl and Hanna Montana) burning tampons (because A: its just so easy to blame our vaginas for our problems and B: we need our metaphors to clobber us). Rather than discussing with her daughter what being a woman in today’s world might actually mean beyond heartbreak and menstrual cramps, Mary instead apologizes to her daughter for being so self-focused. Anger is sublimated once again by guilt – a logical outcome for women who have been given no sense of history outside of personal history.
As the story crescendos, Mary’s character development is signaled not by good acting or smart dialogue but rather by a stunning act of hairdo feminism: Mary irons her naturally curly hair into submission. In a classic movie resolution she transforms herself from frumpy hausfrau into a sleek, stiletto-heeled glamazon, and really shows ‘em all. Once she has completely discarded her authentic self, and has her new, designer, Carrie Bradshaw-esque look in place, she is finally ready to take on the biggest challenge of all: painting her nails Jungle Red and getting her man back.
The film is brought to you by Dove which does nothing to hide its corporate agenda. Its message of “real beauty” is slathered over every scene. Dove commercials play in the middle of scenes, products litter the women’s countertops, and everyone pays collagened lip service to the no-duh truth that fashion models don’t actually look that hot in real life. Meanwhile, unacknowledged is Ryan’s obvious extensive plastic surgery, which makes her look like someone trick or treating as Meg Ryan circa 1992, rather than the forty-seven year-old woman she, in fact, is. Her girly mask is incongruous beside Bening’s who is only three years her senior, not fifteen, as it would seem. Ryan’s face belies the film’s (and Dove’s) canned beauty message signaling the total capitulation of the discussion of feminine beauty to feelgood corporate sound bites. Back in the old, cold cream days of 1939 women had to make the most of what they had: their beauty and their wits. Today we trade in our faces for new ones in a desperate attempt to hang onto our Girl Power, having clearly lost our wits along the way.
All of this would be bad enough in a regular week, but a lipsticked pitbull has been in the headlines recently, threatening to use her own Girl Power to set back the goals of feminism another thirty years. Movies like “The Women” set the stage for Sarah Palin, who has been correctly identified by Gloria Steinem as “Phylis Schlafly, only younger.” Will we fall for Sarah Palin’s updo, good skin and interesting frames and vote against our own interests in the upcoming election? There was a time when women spoke up, but right now we’re too busy shopping for our ass-kicking outfits to actually kick any ass. It is all so terrifying that I have to ask, as Miriam Aarons does in the original 1939 film, “Listen Sister, when are you gonna get wise to yourself?”
I understand that the goal of this magazine is to sell lots of ads, and so they’ve steered away from edgy, provocative content. But why does that have to result in pablum? Los Angeles is one of the world’s great cities, where the mix of cultures, immigrants, movie studios, hedonism, landscape and climate create innovations that drive both high and street culture. People the world over come here for inspiration. So why can’t we have more stories that reflect this deeply strange and fascinating place instead of recycling tired topics.
For instance, we’re told in “Hunt and Seek” that “great ingredients are everywhere in L.A. – if you know where to look.” Lora Zarubin, who writes as if she doesn’t actually live here or venture far off the beaten path, says that “to its credit, Los Angeles now offers an embarrassment of riches for great ingredients.”
Um. L.A. has been a culinary mecca for a long time and Surfas and farmers markets are nothing new. I’m sure Zarubin is a fine writer. She apparently won the Julia Child award, was food editor at House&Garden and buys her fleur de sel in Paris (as she proudly tells us). So why does the piece read like it was edited by a wide-eyed and chirpy 14-year-old?
In another story, we learn that veganism “seems to have come out of the closet and gotten, dare I say, hip.” Really? Somebody tell Hollywood, quick, because movie stars are going to want to jump on that bandwagon.
The story about Compton stables was nice, but the LA Times wrote about Mayish Akbar three years ago. Fashion’s bad boy Rick Owens has been profiled in the paper too. I appreciated the Michelle Obama Q&A but like Kevin, wondered why it was buried. Andrew Bridge’s essay about his harrowing childhood in foster care and finding redemption helping kids like him was the standout piece for me, but it grew out of a New York Times bestselling memoir published seven months ago.
I sure wish magazine editor Annie Gilbar had hired more people like Sam Dunn, though, who profiled iconic LA architecture firm A..C. Martin Partners. That’s another thing this city is full of – great writers who really understand LA. So keep the shelter and bauble ads but fill those pesky blank spaces with more essays and reportage by people like noir and graphic novelist Gary Phillips or L.A.’s irreverent Miss Manners Amy Alkon. Authors such as Edgar-award winning Naomi Hirahara and Susan Straight are here for the taking. Gina Nahai, Luis Rodriguez, Steve Erickson, Seth Greenland, Mark Haskell Smith and Anthony Miller would all add color, wit and fabulist verve, and the extra bonus is they’d actually sound authentic, avoid the faux hip patter and go easy on the exclamation points!!!!
In her inaugural “Letter from the Editor,” Annie Gilbar promises that the new incarnation of the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine will provide “insider information from those who really know.” She tells us that we “know a good story when [we] read one…captivate me,” you say. “Take me to places I don’t normally go.”
I know you’re a smart woman and a veteran journo, Ms. Gilbar. And I have hopes that you’ll be the one to break the calamitous Curse that has long afflicted the LAT Magazine. But for now, mostly, I’m still waiting.
Time and again, on some of the biggest stories of this new century, from the start of the war in Iraq to the presidential campaigns of 2008, the mainstream media has appeared unwilling, or unable, to do what American humorists do so well — tell it like it is.
Much as some in journalism's ranks like to champion the great lengths to which reporters go in pursuit of fairness, the spin doctors of DC are getting better at making us all wolf down pap like USDA prime.
Hypocrisy, for example, has long been a staple in America's daily news diet, not quite as substantial as tyranny, but at least as important as skulduggery. Yet, many in the media shrunk in recent weeks from their duty to point it out, to provide context and analysis, and ask questions despite the application of political pressure.
At least we still have the humorists (and, of course, bloggers), who give hope to those of us who can't watch the evening news without talking back to the TV.
Humorists and journalists have always been linked by a shared desire to reflect truth no matter how ugly, including the truths that make some want to smash the mirror, rather than face up to it. For that reason, it's no surprise so many American humorists have risen from journalism's ranks, the most well known of whom was the late, great Mark Twain.
There are still plenty of brave journalists who are both truthful and determined (Campbell Brown in particular), but they certainly seem fewer in number, or perhaps less willing and able to tell it like it is.
Easy as it would be to blame the many cuts news staffs have taken, I'm afraid that's merely another symptom, not the cause.
The blame rests with greed — that ever-increasing emphasis on the profitability of news delivery that Wall Street started applying more than 30 years ago.
Used to be that news organizations relished holding that mirror regardless of whether the reflection was well received. But now I worry that editors sometimes stop to think whether doing so will cost them advertisers, or subscribers, or drive down the stock.
Shooting the messenger is nothing new. What we ought to worry more about is whether its effectiveness has improved.
Click to e-mail TJ Sullivan in LA
"Fellow citizens," George Bush said last night, "if the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will." Well, the so-called angry left won't have to because the angry right already did it.
According to Republicans themselves, it was pressure from the party's rapture freaks that made McCain - the guy who won't bend under pressure - cry uncle and choose Sarah Palin as his running mate, over such preferred choices as Joe Lieberman, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and others.
How this happened is something that we can only imagine. Did they have something on the media's favorite maverick? Did he simply change his mind - and apologies for rolling out this overworked phrase - to "shore up the base"? Or did he actually think that she was the best idea?
However it played out, George Bush's Roveian equation of the left with the North Vietnamese is not just inflammatory, it's backwards - because it's his very own people who have broken McCain. In doing so, they have foisted one of the worst running mates in American history onto the ballot and all too close to a possible Presidency.
This is one time I think the candidate should step down to spend more time with her family. A cursory look at Sarah Palin’s personal life, details of which are exploding as from an overripe papaya:
· She's the mother of an infant
· She has four other kids
· Her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant
· She may have canned an official who refused to can her brother-in-law
That her husband has a decades-old DUI, I don’t see as fair game. He’s a grown man and she’s not in charge of what he did as a 22-year-old. She does, as a mother, have untold responsibilities to her kids. You know how much work an infant is? Not much, but it’s a ton of time, as a baby tends to have needs at any and all and often inconvenient times. Okay, so maybe she farms out that part of the mothering job; she gets a nanny. She can also hire cooks and drivers and tutors, so the day-to-day family stuff is taken care of. But the kids still need attention, and if you think older kids don’t, I will only say: ha. My 18-year-old daughter called me yesterday from JFK airport in New York (I’m in Portland, Oregon). She was in the back of a cab and wanted to know how to get to downtown Brooklyn.
“Just tell the cabbie to take whatever way has less traffic at this hour,” I told her.
“But he’s asking me which way,” she said, sounding cranky from the red-eye flight, maybe feeling a little unsafe, unsure.
And this kid’s not pregnant. Anybody out there remember the first time she was pregnant, the 100,000 questions, the fears and tears? If you were seventeen and living at home with your parents, whom would you ask? And expect to answer you? Do you farm this out, too?
I imagine there are people reading this whose hair is going up in flames at the idea I’m suggesting the above might be a mother’s job, and interpret this to mean, I don’t think a woman should be president. Bull. But I don’t think this woman should be president right now. I think it is nigh impossible for her to optimally perform both jobs at the same time. Would I be of the same opinion if Palin were a man? I don’t know. And if I thought she would make a truly outstanding president, would I surmise she could do both? Yes.
But I don't think she would. Leaving off any parent’s responsibilities, let's look at the responsibilities of a politician. From the Washington Independent:
If a small-town mayor ever ruled with an iron fist — it was Palin. Eleven days after taking office in 1996, she mailed letters to each of the city’s top managers requesting that they resign as a test of loyalty.
The Anchorage Daily News at the time reported the strange events: (via Nexis)
Mayor Sarah Palin sent the resignation requests Thursday to Police Chief Irl Stambaugh, public works director Jack Felton, finance director Duane Dvorak and Mary Ellen Emmons, the head of libraries. A fifth director — John Cooper, who oversaw the city museum — resigned earlier this month after Palin eliminated his position.
Cooper initially resisted resigning, but to no avail. Palin also later fired the police chief, saying she knew in her “heart” that he did not support her. She left the head of libraries a letter saying she was out — though Palin later decided to spare the librarian after being convinced that she would tow the line.
Go home, Sarah Palin, and use that "heart" to support your family, though there are questions as to the costs of that loyalty, too.