Monday, 13 July 2020

PLAGUE DIARY 116: SKY WRITES REVIEWS OF OLD BAD HOLLYWOOD MOVIES TO KEEP HIM SANE DURING THIS TIME OF HORRIFIC INSANITY

Blithe Spirit (1945)
I know it all too well. It’s not my favourite Noel Coward play, and Coward himself didn’t much like this movie. I’m not sure what went wrong — but the banter between the married couple is tired and not very witty — never was — the only thing that’s really marvelous about the movie is Margaret Rutherford (see blog #34). The idea behind this play is unbeatable — a man is tormented by the ghost of his first wife, who appears to him, only — and his present wife can’t see her. But that’s really all here that’s brilliant. Coward wrote much better plays —Private Lives, Hay Fever and Present Laughter are my three favourites. Present Laughter and Hay Fever are about imagined worlds that keep impinging on real ones, and this is also the appeal of Private Lives — though there it is the fantasy of one couple’s love that seems able to survive even the most harrowing real-life conflicts. But it’s when Coward lets his language get away with him that his work is truly unique and truly dangerous — for words do have a life of their own. I still have no idea what this blog will be about; this is my fourth night in Montreal and I’ve told myself I wouldn’t get drunk. It’s going to be a task to turn Montreal from a vacation place to a place where I might live now and then, because of course — in spite of Baudelaire, one can’t always be drunk, can one? That is a harrowing thought, and I am trusting this blog to take me away somewhere instead. I saw my favorite coat check boy at Starbucks today and I was unable to speak to him. He was with another lovely young man, and who knows — maybe they are a couple, or soon to be, and I just didn’t want to appear like a cloying nutty old man, but I do like him. I think he is very nice and would probably have welcomed a hello. I never talk to anyone here. The other day a fan spoke to me — for the second time — at Starbucks — he seems very nice and though he is not my type, I found him somewhat sexually attractive. (Maybe I shouldn’t have written that because he might be one of the few people to actually read these blogs!) But things that you write do have a way of becoming true. I thought of showing the coat check boy the blog I wrote about him; but I didn't do that either. The balcony of our Montreal apartment is very ‘Rear Window,’ there are three sets of windows clearly visible on each side, and three balconies also. There is often a dog on one of the balconies; he is my only companion when I write in the mornings. He is a very cute bulldog and seems to me, forlorn, but that is probably projection.  A heterosexual couple lives one floor down on the left across the way; I can see everything they do and they never close their curtains. I’m no peeping Tom but I can’t help looking. He is lean and young and hardly ever wears a shirt (well, it’s hot) and she is a young woman who has no problem whatsoever stripping down to her thong in front of the window. (I’m not blaming her, just saying.) To the right the curtains are closed at night but a big screen TV can be dimly viewed playing constantly, I imagine it’s a young man who is shutting me out. Across from me and beyond the modest trees is a giant parking lock for some sort of huge nefarious business. I call it nefarious because it’s a giant ugly building that has to do with delivering things, and trucks keep pulling up and to me it just seems me semi-operational and shady. There are also shady people constantly walking across this parking lot; they are the perpetually unwashed— the street people, Montreal’s poor — there are sadly, so many — and there is usually a crisis that is being yelled about, girls in high heels and bedraggled looking boyfriends hauling giant bags or garbage, stopping only haggle. Why do I want to disappear into this blog? Why do I want to disappear, period? I think it would be easy enough to psychoanalyse me and blame it all on homophobia or my hard life but truth be told my life has bee comparatively easy. Can I suggest that it is a universal wish — that we all want to disappear inside something that’s not real — something that is not us —as long as we can safely come back? In  Private Lives when Amanda is lying to her new husband about how she just happened to see  — but didn’t speak to — her previous husband — Elyot — she pretends she viewed Elyot from a safe distance — on the beach: “Down there, in a white suit.” And Victor says, skeptically “White suit?” And Amanda says — “Why not? It’s summer isn’t it?” This whimsical wishing of fantasy into truth brings to mind the recent Broadway production of Present Laughter with Kevin Kline. He is lying to some young woman, speaking of how much he loves her and how difficult it will be to give her up, when he realises that the lie is not working — and Kline shoots her a look as if to say 'Oh, you’re not buying that are you? Then let’s try another one.’ Or in Hay Fever, when Judith is quite accidentally kissed by her daughter’s boyfriend — she suddenly flips into melodrama; she must tell her husband “ everything” -- terrifying the young man. I toured with a play a couple of years ago starring a beautiful actress who I love very much. But I got to know her in ways I hadn’t expected, and her personal life was so charmingly odd. That is, she became a kind of Judith from Hay Fever. She’s so gorgeous and very sexual and is always flirting with everyone including me, and always complaining that no one is interested. Well her lack of success with men didn’t make any sense to me, until I saw her in action. We met a young man at a Jazz Club — who was definitely giving her the eye — and she came on to him so strongly that fled, terrified, and it became clear to me that this whole narrative was a fantasy/reality of her own making; the only reason young men run from her is because she’s frightens the hell out of them. It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy — but it’s a story she likes telling herself, about herself, and when she believes it enough it becomes real. I am persuading myself that this night will bring me to a pleasant mystery and maybe (am I asking too much?) a mild epiphany? And who’s to say it won’t? The point here is that if I can imagine it, it can happen, and if you think that’s just corny, old-fashioned positive thinking’ it might very well be what’s stopping you from living.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

PLAGUE DIARY 115: SKY WRITES REVIEWS OF OLD BAD HOLLYWOOD MOVIES TO KEEP HIM SANE DURING THIS TIME OF HORRIFIC INSANITY

Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964)
It’s got all the right ideas, too bad they couldn’t make it into a movie. Richard Wilson, the director of this creaky mess, was apparently associated with Orson Welles, which doesn’t speak well for Orson Welles (who is overrated anyway). Invitation to a Gunfighter stars Yul Brynner and George Segal. Segal is the surprise as he is young and handsome, blonde and blue eyed, and a very convincing dramatic actor (I remember him as his older comic self in the 70s). Then there’s Yul Brynner — the only reason to watch this movie — if only for his smouldering sexuality alone. He just stands there and  burns up the screen in tight black pants and a frilly shirt — talk about mastery, well he could master me anytime. By the way, he was discovered by Noel Coward, who saw him in some play — and recommended him for the part of the The King of Siam in The King and I, because they were having a hard time finding an Asian actor to star opposite Coward’s beloved friend Gertrude Lawrence. Brynner is not Asian, he is part Mongol/part Swiss — but Coward knew a young man bursting with talent when he saw one. Invitation to a Gunfighter is about racism, and again Brynner is asked to play a race other than his own -- in this case, Creole. And they darken is skin; he appears at times to be in blackface. He’s confronting racism in a southern town "full of old folks, cripples and Mexicans.” Brynner’s character is the prototype for many non-white characters in films, plays and movies — a character of the Sydney Poitier ilk — meaning perfect (except for the scars of racism). Brynner is more eloquent, handsome, well turned out, and musical (he plays harpsichord, and guitar, and sings) than any other dude in this one-donkey New Mexican town. He ends up wrecking the place — literally — it’s a Black Lives Matter moment, and remarkably prescient. If only it was watchable. Wilson has directed the tedious script tediously, all the actors act endlessly, every moment is milked for — I’m not sure what — it’s sure not maximum effect. What’s worse is Brynner’s character is not only good but wise, the keeper of the truth. Really, I never did this, ever. The most sympathetic protagonist in my plays (I hope) is drag queen Lana Lust, who while making a plea for the right to be ‘different’ also mentions that she has swallowed ‘busloads’ of male sperm. Brynner and Poitier never made any such admissions, and it’s insulting to insist minority characters must be perfect. Honestly, if you don’t believe me, I’ll say it now; most gay men are assholes — because most people are assholes — and gay men are people. But also, they are more damaged, because of homophobia which (unlike these screen paragons) leaves them truly screwed up. I rarely meet an older gay man I like or can talk to, because most of them have drug problems, or are just unfulfilled and unhappy, and even if they’ve got it together somewhat, often they never learned how to deal with their own sex lives and act out ‘inappropriately.’ (No this is not because gay men were born bad people, it’s because being trained to hate yourself screws you up.) With younger gay men it’s drugs and lack of self esteem. And if it’s not that — it’s the opposite — acting odiously perfect. (I’ve dealt with that kind of gay man all my life). James Joyce talked about it — it’s a disease gay men have (no not that one) — and the Irish had it too. The Irish were routinely ridiculed as drunken, lazy louts, and as a result there was a type of Irishman who Joyce named (but I can never find his reference to it, anyway) —super-respectable, pretentious, dreadfully overcompensating for the abuse hurled against him, acting holier-than-thou-I’m-better-than-you-and-my-asshole-doesn’t-smell. Now it’s true that most gay men’s assholes don’t smell. I know one gay man who  over-douched to such a degree that he killed all the helpful bacteria in his gut. So when it comes down to it, we’re clean as a whistle back there, but there’s no reason to be proud of it. My point here, is that it doesn’t serve any minority (and I know being gay is not the same as being black) to try and appear over-sanctimonious and judgemental and virtuous (I say that because whenever anyone is evidently virtuous, they are pretending, they aren’t really being virtuous, if you are virtuous you just are, and you don’t tell anybody, and nobody really notices except quietly when it counts). But lets get back to aesthetics, because art is much more important than life, because life is very fake anyway, but we don’t admit it, we pretend it’s real, we pretend our experiences are the only truth, and the only experiences, and that everyone has the same ones, but they don’t. So it’s art that matters -- because it at least is (or should be) openly a lie that offers us alternatives and possibilities. I saw a play last summer (remember plays?) where the black protagonist was not a good man -- the author could get away with it, because the author was black -- and God it was good. There was a great scene in it where a Hispanic church lady came to visit him (he was a black cop) and redeem him and she ended up sucking him off , and he hadn’t had an erection in years. So it was a miracle. God it was beautiful. And this black man was a fallible character because he had accused a white man of racism -- a white man who was not racist. All I’m saying here is that if and when you see a movie or a play and any character is basically as good as Jesus Christ, you aren’t going to get much out of that play or movie. Christ is not an entertaining or morally uplifting character in a work of fiction (like, let’s say The Bible) — he’s just boring. In medieval morality plays the devil is the juicy part; I know I played him once -- I wore a giant codpiece that had a face on it, and I cackled like the Bad Witch of the West. I say to gay men, at least — because that’s the culture I know —  If you’ve been through a lot of crap and you’re a mess, I personally find it’s best to just admit it. I’ve been through a lot of crap and I’m a mess, I’m lousy in bed, and selfish, and insensitive, and the only thing I’ve got going for me is this blog, so there you go, how sad is that? I can’t even come up with something profound to say at the end of this. Maybe I’ll just leave it dangling. There is something about dangling, though.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

PLAGUE DIARY 114: SKY WRITES REVIEWS OF OLD BAD HOLLYWOOD MOVIES TO KEEP HIM SANE DURING THIS TIME OF HORRIFIC INSANITY

The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)
It was a scam to revitalize Edward G. Robinson’s career. He was tired of playing gangsters, and the public was tired of seeing them, so in The Whole Town’s Talking he plays a man mistaken for a gangster. He gets to be both mild-mannered and threatening, and Robinson is such a good actor that he pulls it off. The Whole Town’s Talking gives me a chance to talk about Jean Arthur though; her screen presence makes me feel good when I feel bad, and today I just feel ‘uncertain.’ You will remember her from the ‘Mr. Smith’ and ‘Mr. Deeds’ movies — but she’s another one of those pre-feminist dames with spunk. When we first meet her she’s smoking a cigarette, tosses it, then punches the time clock for work. Her boss confronts her for stepping in late at 9:30 — “Well if you must know it’s because I saw fit to step out at 9:30 last night” at which point he threatens to fire her, and she says “In that case I quit — do I go now?” This scares him, so she plonks her feet up on her desk and reads the paper. Her cocky, kooky self-confidence is never false and Jean Arthur acts as if good nature alone is enough to get you through. It all has to do with love; she offers it to all the men in her movies quite freely, and they take it — with her little girl voice and her pretty face she’s irresistible — and I’m so glad to know she’s there. But I don’t know what to say about this movie, it’s a slice of entertainment made to delight the masses, which I'm sure it still does. I suppose it would be on Netflix today. The only thing remotely resembling an idea comes at the beginning when Jean Arthur is mistaken for a gangster’s moll and a female reporter says “Yes, she has a cruel sinister look,” which make us think about the power, and magic and ultimate danger of entertainment which has been and still is, 'the news.' Shakespeare was all about this, which is why I go on about him. Honestly though, if one of my friends tries to tell meabout his favourite friggin’ Netflix series  again I’m going to scream. I’m not interested in your stupid Netflix. ‘What’s on tonight?’ I’d rather kill myself. Yes I’m in Montreal again, and suddenly it’s possible to live. They’ve opened strip clubs and bathhouses. I had a fabulous conversation with my favourite coat-check boy. I know him cuz once I actually caught him in the ‘bear’ store once trying on a pair of spangly shorts, and gave him some advice. They were too big, and he is very small — at least of frame — and I advised against them. Last night he was reading a piece of ‘mythological fiction’ at the coat check — which is beyond me - but at least it was a book. I tried to talk to him about it, but eventually we got to talking about COVID-19. He kept lowering his mask and indicating that he wasn’t. buying. any. of. it. Well why should he, is he insane? On the train yesterday I was bullied for sitting with my significant other (how’s that for a euphemism?) but last night I was pressing my lips to the body part of a stranger which should not be mentioned in polite company. It’s been so long since I’ve done that. So my reluctance to go anywhere near Netflix has everything to do with this, because it’s the only choice that has been given us. It what is provided not merely to fill those gaps (and those gaps need some real fillin’ let me tell you!) but to replace every human need. The problem is this; before the digital world, there were natural curbs on mankind's ability to get what they wanted from fantasy. There was the problem of who would create it, then -- how would it be disseminated, and, of course -- would it to be approved of by the powers that be? (I’m talking about these fantastical gory sexy images that we called up in our memory banks and poets utilised to create poetry before The Enlightenment shut it all down.) Then finally computers came along, and suddenly the problem of who would create fantasy was taken care of. It would be created not by each of us for ourselves, but by mega-corporations. And of course the digitalisation of everything covered dissemination. And finally — who in hell is going to disapprove, anyway? We are talking about Disney here — no one disapproves of Disney — and Netflix is the Disneyfication of America. Sure you can find your odd indie or foreign film if you really search. But that’s not what Netflix is for. Just like yes, you can still get interesting books online, but eventually you won’t be able to; all will you find is Harry Potter and it’s adult equivalent (although some adults do, apparently, adore Harry Potter). Last night the most beautiful boy in the world came into my room at the baths and I under no circumstances would have assumed he would ever be attracted to me, but he was — in an effortless way that boggled my mind -- but thank god did not boggle my body. He ended up getting into the weirdest position — which was totally convenient for what I had in mind — and what made this old guy go (i.e. me) go in for the long haul was that he wouldn’t give up. I must say I am impressed by that kind of persistence, and it is something that I find in certain people (I have mentioned before it is a working class trait; devotion). Yes, the truth of the matter is I have abandonment issues. And for a person like me if you can find someone who will absolutely never under an circumstances abandon you (it’s called unconditional love) it’s kind of ‘the ticket.’ Now this was, to be frank, only a good lay, but when it was over he was all devoted: ‘anytime, anytime’ and ‘I work just across the street’ -- and at first I wanted to put all that information into my cellphone— then I thought no, not sure, it’s a little sad and desperate that he wants to get married already. But really, I’m not complaining. As I get older and shall we say ‘things’ (there’s a euphemism for you) — take more time than they used to — someone who won’t give up is a Godsend. And I have no doubt God sent him, but God sent everyone to this earth. Or if you don’t believe in him  you believe Mother Nature did? If not that, then -- fortune, chance, or — atoms? And nothing. Nothing created this, and nothing comes to nothing, but if you’d just stop gazing so adoringly at your computer for one damn second  then you might dive into this tremendous aporia we call life (aporia means hole — black hole — if you wish) knowing you may come up gasping for air and empty — but it might just give you a great ride.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

PLAGUE DIARY 113: SKY WRITES REVIEWS OF OLD BAD HOLLYWOOD MOVIES TO KEEP HIM SANE DURING THIS TIME OF HORRIFIC INSANITY

The Seventh Seal (1957)
I do get it that Ingmar Bergman made it to help himself conquer his fear of death, and I’m glad it seemed to help. But I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about. I do remember liking Bergman once — Scenes From a Marriage, that sort of thing. But even then I had some reservations, it all seemed somewhat of a downer. How can one not be grim about death, or perhaps one should be, I’m just saying that particular sensibility is not as interesting to me as let’s say Fellini’s somewhat lighter touch. I am someone who has not experienced death very much (knock on wood). My friend Larry Clemson died of AIDS, I often write about him, and my friend David Pond also died of AIDS — I don’t write as much about him, but both were in other cities, and there was just a final phone call. My friend Ken McDougall died — but we were not really friends anymore. I was supposed to be in a film with him, filmed at Casey House, while he was dying. I  couldn’t do it, which has to do with what a coward I am — but  also I knew Daniel MacIvor would take my place, and that’s who Ken was actually in love with— not  me, and it only seemed right for Daniel to be there at the end. I’m not able to watch it (it’s called The Last Supper) which probably speaks to my own lack of a certain kind of what — character? And then there is my mother’s death, which I was present for, but she was unconscious, and at that point she had left my life long ago. And — oh yes. I was not there when my father died, but two weeks before, he collapsed on the floor and couldn’t get up, and I did help him up. I remember how bewildered he looked. I wish I had seen some of that bewilderment in this film. There is a confidence about The Seventh Seal which pretty much amounts to arrogance; and I know I sound very arrogant in these blogs, but there’s really nothing else you can do in an essay like this. I feel as if the reader wishes me to be certain of what I am saying, or else why listen? Of course sometimes I feel dreadfully uncertain, and am quite honest about it. And that’s okay too, I feel, as long as you are one way or the other. I’m on the train to Montreal and I yelled at one of the conductors, or attendants, or what are they? You know one of those people who order you around, and there are so many of those everywhere these days. I suppose it’s a good thing, in a way, because people need jobs, and there are lots of jobs now for cleaners, security guards, and people who like to order you around. Well, anyway, it’s all very odd here no on VIA because up until now we could choose our seats and were spaced out, and didn’t have to wear masks. Suddenly we do have to wear masks and the trains are packed, but oddly, we still get to choose our seats. So it’s kind of chaos. But we don’t really get to choose our seats, because sometimes we sit in the ‘wrong’ places. So here we were my (partner/friend/lover/significant other/or some other completely inadequate term) sitting, of course, beside each other and a woman comes up wearing one of those orange outfits with a big yellow cross on it, which used to indicate school crossing guard, I think now it just means ‘COVID-19-beware!’ She told us we couldn’t sit together, and we were confused, then she said you have to move, sit someone else, in a four seat area. This confused us as there were couples sitting together everywhere, and I had not heard a rule that couples could not sit together, and then it suddenly occurred to me that this women did not actually consider us a couple, and I got more and more agitated by her telling us we couldn’t sit together —shouldn’t that have initiated a lightbulb? Anyway I went a bit off my noodle (I think it’s because I’m smoking less) and said ‘why are you being prejudiced against us!' —which I know is over the top. But she triggered me -- it seemed like homophobia — maybe it wasn't, but what else could it be? Well maybe it was just ignorance, but aren’t ignorance and homophobia the same thing? Anyway, it’s over now, though the person I am traveling with (I won’t attempt to describe our relationship) was not very pleased with my outburst and I had to sit penitent, for awhile. He said we could have been kicked off the train, which is the kind of thing you have to think about nowadays, or worse yet, becoming a headline on everybody’s iPhone that says “Strange large Effeminate Man with too many Tattoos let Loose with Incoherent Tirade on VIA’. But to get back to The Seventh Seal, it seems arrogant to me, because it’s just brimful of philosophizing, it’s a film about death where people talk about death all the time, like: “Fate is a villain crawling with worms!” or " You — bloated with complacency — don’t you see this could be your final hour” Or probably my least favourite moment -- when someone who is going on about the plague -- (oh yes, did I tell you, this movie takes place in the ‘time of plague’) says to a pregnant lady: “You woman filled with the lust of life. Will you wither and fade before dawn?” That sort of thing. As far as I can see this movie is just a big Party for Protestants, and protestants don’t really party, they get together just to feel guilty about everything and think about how death is such a punishment — which is really what’s going on in The Seventh Seal. I‘m really not fond of Nordic melancholy, or any melancholy, though I do get that way, but certainly not all the time, and I don’t think there’s anything necessarily profound about it. The latest COVID-19 news — speaking of plagues — is that the ‘inflammation’ that they found in children turns out (they’ve done tests) not to be related to COVID-19 at all, but (surprise!) doctors are still convinced it is. You know there is something I love about how convinced all these doctors are about things that are not true, it reassures me once again that we haven’t abandoned art, or artists — as scientist are artists, and Fauci is more a poet than a doctor. And like Bergman, he is painting an unconvincing and somewhat unbalanced picture of our devastating lives, but if it makes him feel better (as I say, for Bergman, it apparently did the trick) then more power to him. But we’re such a long time dead anyways; it just makes little sense to me to contemplate that hole in the ground, even if we are digging our own graves.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

PLAGUE DIARY 112: SKY WRITES REVIEWS OF OLD BAD HOLLYWOOD MOVIES TO KEEP HIM SANE DURING THIS TIME OF HORRIFIC INSANITY

Ninotchka (1939)
It’s about dogmatism and there’s a lot of that running around now; you might catch it — like COVID-19. The best way to fight dogmatism, as this film teaches us, is to laugh. That was the tagline for Ninotchka —  ‘Garbo laughs” — and that is the turning point for her. Melvyn Douglas tells Ninotchka joke after joke, but nothing penetrates her grim, politically correct exterior. Then suddenly he falls off a chair. She is as convulsed as Garbo might ever be, and after that she is a new person. Laughter is magical; Bergson tried to explain it, he said laughter happens when we see human behaviour that resembles a mechanism. But this explanation is inadequate — any explanation might be. If it strikes us as funny, it’s as random as striking us as beautiful, and the two responses may come from a similar place. Could the key be that very unpredictability? (the very opposite of Bergson’s theory?). I feel guilty for  reviewing Ninotchka because it doesn’t in any way qualify as a bad movie, but for some reason it didn’t make a big impression on me when I first saw it many years ago. But there was no ‘woke’ back then, nor had feminism taken the #Metoo route. What’s amazing is that Garbo, as a Conscientious Communist, is as much a Modern Woke Feminist, as anything. And by ‘woke feminist’ I mean, by definition, a humourless person. I have a friend who's a female writer, and she wrote a novel many years ago, in which a man throws a woman down the stairs. And that scene is meant to be funny. The novel’s female editor said that it could not be funny for a man to throw a woman down the stairs. But what can I say, it was. This goes to the very basis of art; it must be what we don’t expect or what offends us, because the element of surprise is what shocks us out of life, which can be very boring. Ninotchka in the first half of this film resembles a certain kind of woman — the kind of woman I no longer have as a friend. The world is filled with them these days; what I notice is that they cannot accept that I am a girl inside. This is odd to me, because the women who disapprove of me  are usually committed feminists, and trans-enthusiasts. But that’s the point; I am not trans, I am sexual gay man (an old thing really, and by that I mean not just an old man, but an old concept) that is not in vogue and is now offensive. For these modern sexless woke feminists, gay men are even worse than straight ones, because they are more sexual even than straight men (after all, we tend to come in pairs). Well when I am with these women I can feel their creeping contempt when I start to act girly (am I making fun of them? making fun of trans?); they refuse to accept that a being with this body and a penis that works so well (at least mine did, up until recently) could ever have a girl inside. So I admit it, now I try and hang around with women who adore homosexuals; because yes I’m somewhat of a narcissist, and I feel comfortable with women who not only tolerate me, but love me too. At any rate, when I meet the kind of sex-hating feminist I’m talking about (they used to be lesbians, now most of them are straight women or trans men) it’s impossible because I am addicted to anarchic irreverence; when I feel a judged I just want to crash through the envelope. Just in case you don’t believe that Ninotchka was satirising these glum disapproving wokies as far back in 1939, consider what happens when a valet tries to take Ninotchka’s bag. She says — “Don’t make an issue of my womanhood.” And when the valet replies that taking her bag is his ‘business,’ she says — “That’s no business, that’s social injustice.” I quiver in fear nowadays when I hear that term social justice: and not — as you might suspect — because I am so unjust, but because social justice warriors judge people only on their ideas — they are impervious to your energy, intentions, and yes, any love  you have in your heart -- and will instead respond robotically to the content of your thoughts. (Maybe Bergson was right after all, it is this robotic-ness which is funny about Ninotchka, and which invites us to laugh at ‘social justice warriors’ — that is, when we're not terrified.) At any rate Ninotchka can teach these modern politically correct feminists a thing or two, when she says unequivocally to Melvyn Douglas -- “I have heard of the capitalistic male in western society. It’s your superior earning power that has made you that way. Your type will soon be extinct” -- this is what we hear in the voice of young trans pioneers who are oh so pleased to inform me that the rule of cisgendered males is over, and they have come to take my place. (There is no doubt that I am already extinct; the best I can hope for is that after I'm dead all these blatherings will be studied as example of ancient irrelevant attempts at wit that have no relationship at all to social, political, or cultural redemption). But Ninotchka, unlike the modern woke warrior, is somewhat sympathetic to a rich, powerful male: “You are the unfortunate product of a doomed culture” she says “I feel very sorry for you.” But we only have pity for Ninotchka. She gets drunk with Melvyn Douglas (apparently Garbo had to be convinced to do it — she had quite a bit of Ninotchka in her — she found the drunk scene ‘vulgar’). After which, Ninotchka says “No one can be so happy without being punished.” How true that is, especially these days. But for me the moment that rang most true was when her three Russian compatriots defected to Constantinople and opened a restaurant, and had a sudden realisation: “Imagine, we don’t have to whisper anymore!” Or maybe it's when Ninotchka first sees the Eiffel Tower, and says matter-of-factly: “I do not deny its beauty, but it’s a waste of electricity.” I know  several men who are on the autism scale, and they sometimes say things like that; I know that life is not easy for them, and I just want to help. Perhaps the challenge and the allure for me — being with all those who do not laugh — is trying to make them do so, and it’s been one of my biggest mistake in life, to mistake that laughter for love.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

PLAGUE DIARY 111: SKY WRITES REVIEWS OF OLD BAD HOLLYWOOD MOVIES TO KEEP HIM SANE DURING THIS TIME OF HORRIFIC INSANITY

A Woman’s Face (1941)
It contains one fascinating idea — the inside should resemble the outside — and that the inside was in fact meant to resemble the outside, and that somehow the inside and outside are the same. It’s a fantasy, and really, the quintessential one, the stuff of Shakespearean comedy. I’ve certainly known enough beautiful young men to understand that beauty and truth are often two very different things. And yet one can’t help hoping. In A Woman’s Face Joan Crawford starts out as physically ugly. And by this movie’s standards, she’s therefore not really a woman. But after all, it’s only movie ugliness (which is all one can imagine Crawford consenting to). The terrible burn scar on her face looks  like someone attached it with Scotch Tape. I did try and like this movie, but Crawford sticks in my craw. She’s best at the beginning when she’s vile and angry  — because it seems to come naturally to her. But not so much after the transformation to ‘beautiful and good’ takes place. And that's this movie’s unpleasant fiction. Crawford submits to 12 operations. Melvyn Douglas is her doctor and the man who sees the beauty inside her. Finally, with calculated slowness, it seems, he peels off the final bandage. Lo and behold — she’s beautiful! Meaning she’s Joan Crawford — and from then on Crawford does the same thing she always does: act quiet, and martyred, and underestimated, smiling sheepishly, and showing off those noble cheekbones and that straight yet sensuous mouth, that says — kiss me if you want to, I’m beautiful — but honestly I don’t know it. So A Woman’s Face is perfect for Crawford because she gets to act like a woman who doesn’t know she’s beautiful, because she’s never been beautiful before. But at this point the fiction becomes repellent. On a feminist level, the idea that a woman who is beautiful is nicer inside — whereas ugly women are mean — is abhorrent. So I guess no one is attracted to an ugly woman -- whatever that is -- men, women, and even children just turn away? After the operation Crawford is so grateful when people suddenly turn toward her and fall a little in love. It is suggested that this is the way it should be for women. If not, they turn bad, like meat left to rot in the sun. That’s the other miserable lie: that if people love us, we become good people. Well I certainly think it’s true in some cases. Sure, lots of people are mean because they’ve had traumatic childhoods (someone kicks them, and they kick the dog). And this is certainly today’s creed: the mantra of victim politics. (But it was James Baldwin who said; “There is something very safe about being a Negro…… at one point, somewhere inside yourself, you have to realise you’re responsible for what happens to you. You cannot blame anybody for it.” This from a man who was very gay and very black at a time when both identities were reviled, is perhaps -- in today's present cultural climate -- a little impossible for us to understand.) However,  for each person we meet who was treated badly, and ends up badly, we can point to 3 others who were treated equally badly and turned out just fine. Ignoring that constitutes the sanctimonious posturing that makes this kind of melodrama somewhat execrable; A Woman’s Face wants us to feel that women must be loved for their beauty, and that being loved for their beauty is good for them, and if we were all just kinder to people they would all turn out fine. But I’m a sucker for Crawford’s final lines. She explains that her need to be a wife and mother is ubiquitous -- that every woman wants it -- “I want to have a home and children, I want to go to market, and cheat the grocer, and fight with the landlord — I want to belong to the human race!” These lines are as self evident as ‘all men are created equal’ — and just as toxic in a certain context. I’ll explain something to you — not because it’s such a terribly complex idea, but because most people seem resistant to it for some reason (I think it’s because they think I’m trying to spoil their fun). This movie, like all manipulative melodrama, is quite persuasive, but what you have to do is separate the candy coating from the poison inside. And that may ruin it for you; it always seems to, when I try and explain what I think these old movies — and many new ones — are really saying. It’s like when I tell people Cary Grant was gay —‘No, I don’t want to hear — you’re ruining it for me.’ I understand; and I'm not saying Crawford's goodness is unbelievable because she apparently used to beat her children in real life. (I do take exception to Faye Dunaway though — she blamed the fags for ruining her career because we loved Mommy Dearest -- but it’s not our fault you actually believed your own bad acting in a camp classic was Oscar-worthy!) No — I don’t care what stars do off screen, what Crawford’s projecting is simply fake; and it's what this movie is about  — that fakeness, the beauty that's only skin deep. It’s what attracts us, and what, sadly, we really want, or think we do. But if you know it’s morally bankrupt at the centre, it's quite alright to still want it. Honestly. I give you permission. As long as you separate the two, and see them for that they are, you can still lick the sugar on the outside no matter how toxic it is at the centre. Last weekend I saw a waiter on Church Street who I’ve lately been obsessed with -- it’s mainly about the way his fine plump young ass meets his furry thick legs — (there I said it, it’s quite often about that with me). I was trying to gather up the courage to give him a compliment and tell him how hot he is. (Oh yes and it also has to do with the fact that he is so gay, a total queen, such a girly boy, and so snooty too). Anyway, I told my friend -- and once he figured out who I was talking about, he said — “No, no don’t go there, no, bad news.” I pleaded — ‘But why? Why?” And finally he said..”Drugs…” as if that shouldn’t have been self evident — and I said nothing to that young man, probably will say nothing, and it’s probably better that way. But I will still yearn to touch that outside, to feel his fine young arrogance close to me — in fact I’m fantasizing about it now! Because at least I will know the consequences and will be going into ‘it,’ so to speak, with eyes wide open. And don’t knock empty pleasure; it’s like leaving the lights on when the barn doors are open, and enjoying watching the horses having quite the party as they’re on their way out.

Monday, 6 July 2020

PLAGUE DIARY 110: SKY WRITES REVIEWS OF OLD BAD HOLLYWOOD MOVIES TO KEEP HIM SANE DURING THIS TIME OF HORRIFIC INSANITY

Every Dawn I Die (1939)
Another gay movie, everyone’s favourite Cagney film, and the only film he starred in with George Raft. Cagney and Raft gaze into each others eyes, and though it's his girlfriend (Jane Bryan, her film career lasted only 3 years — though she’s quite sweet here) who fights for Cagney’s life, what really impresses us is that Cagney manages to soften the heart of convicted killer George Raft when he helps him escape from prison. So Raft puts himself back in jail just to save Cagney. When they are reunited you think they’re going to kiss. After all, they both came from the same bad backgrounds, but Cagney got the breaks and made better choices and — you get the idea. At the end Cagney is reunited with Jane Bryan — but who cares? — because The Warden hands Cagney a signed photo of Raft, that says “To a square guy.” However, it’s Cagney’s speech when he gets released from solitary that that I won’t soon forget: “When I first came here I believed in justice / Now I hate the whole world and everybody in it for letting me in for this  / Buried in a black hole because I’m a good citizen / Now I’m a convict, I act like a convict, smell like a convict / I think and hate like a convict / Beat me, kick me, put me back in the hole / I can take it.” Cagney is a crusading reporter, framed by a sleazy high powered district attorney; the crooked American legal system crushed him, but he never gives up and never stops fighting. This was Joseph Stalin’s favourite film, and I can see why. The end of the COVID-19 lock down is not going as expected; we all thought we would be set free — as Cagney wishes to be — but instead, we keep getting sent back to solitary. And some people aren’t giving up. I still respect those kids they keep interviewing on the beach, and they’re getting more articulate. They just used to just ejaculate, drunkenly 'Let's party, man!' now they’re challenging the statistics: “I just don’t believe it’s dangerous enough to shut everything down.” But it’s the Nick Cordero story that is doing me in. It took him three months to die, dammit, and he went through hell, and he was from Hamilton Ontario — where I live — and a Broadway star — his beautiful wife had just given birth to a baby boy. I don’t for one minute deny that his death was tragic — more than that — torturous —  or that he went through hell. The problem is, I don’t believe he died of COVID-19, And I think it’s an insult to his life and death for those in power to use his death to keep kids off the beaches in Miami. Nick Cordero had three COVID-19 tests. Yes, three. He tested negative twice, but the doctors believed he had COVID-19. They figured he’d make a good poster boy to keep those errant kids inside. So on the third test — lo and behold — the doctors won, and Cordero was diagnosed with you-know-what. Now the media can bring his brutal suffering to the masses, interview his wife, and then turn to those beach kids, grief porn in hand, and speechify. 'Is that the kind of suffering you want to cause? All for your fun? You’re killers, do you know that? All you kids are killers. And for what? For a little friggin’ pleasure? You had to have your cheap kicks, and it ended up killing this poor man — not just killing him, but putting him on the rack. Are you happy now? With your ‘COVID parties,’ and you’re whining -- I don’t want to put on a mask, it doesn’t look good, and it’s itchy -- well Nick Cordero is dead, and it’s you’re fault. I hope you’re satisfied.'  If it isn’t Nick Cordero, then it’s some overweight woman going on about how she's certain she got ‘dementia’ from COVID-19 — a first person account (no doctor in sight) someone who appears as if she has lived her life as a victim, telling us about the nightmares — the awful nightmares — she saw a vision of her dead mother, can you imagine? - beside her bed — and her mother has been dead for years! Okay so who dares now to claim that people with COVID-19 don't suffer? And I swear, nowhere is there a single statistic that puts this in context. Sure, all these young people who are supposedly testing positive ‘may not die — but they may end up with lasting effects.’ This is not doctors pontificating, just the usual public health suspects, the dark talkers with the sad grim eyes. It all takes me back to AIDS — stay home, stay home, it was the same message then. Why can’t we just learn to stay at home? Drinking, singing, dancing, screwing, these things bring it on — we always knew those things lead to bad shit — why do people insist on doing them? If you stay home with your family, you are safe. An old friend of mine just wrote an article about how COVID-19 is for him the same as PTSD, and that we are all to some degree traumatised. I would say instead that we are all now permanently victims. We used to love those medical shows on TV, now we get no actual news — what is happening in Russia? Thailand? Syria? We don’t know, we’re too busy clicking our tongues at teenagers who are not social distancing, and enjoying people suffer and die. People always suffered and died, but you know what the problem was? We didn’t think about them enough. As of today, you must understand that just because you’re healthy and happy it doesn’t mean that everybody is. It’s time that you took a moment from your selfish little life to think about someone else. In fact, it would be better if you just covered yourself with a shroud, sat at home, and poured dirt on your head. I think that’s best; because if you think it’s a good thing to have fun in times like these, then you have no morality, no pity, no love. Well I’ve had it with this forced mass contrition, and like James Cagney — if you’re going to throw me back in solitary for saying so, then go ahead. You’ve met your match. You’ve met someone who doesn’t give a rats ass if you hate him. In fact I enjoy being hated. I enjoy outraging people! There yes, I said it. Perhaps in fact I am writing this just to outrage you. Yes, it’s giving me immense satisfaction! Is there no depth to my depravity? No, none; I give you license to hate, to dig down into the darkest recesses of your soul, where you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are one of the good ones, one of the virtuous few — and that I am evil incarnate. I’m feeling rather Christlike.  But that would be too good for me. I’m not dying for you sins, but for your virtue.