Friday, July 13, 2018

What still matters?

Scout (Mary Badham) and Atticus (Gregory Peck) in the 1962 film adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Does "To Kill a Mockingbird" Still "Matter?" Also — More Birdland in New York ..."Broadway Barks" Again ... The Dangers of "Sharp Objects" ... the Importance of Pronouns and finally — a Good News a Story!
by Denis Ferrara

Click to order.
“TURNING AWAY from the church of fame takes courage,” said  writer Mark Childress about the latter day seclusion of Harper Lee, author of one of the most famous novels of the 20th century, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

This remark is culled from a fascinating new book, “Why to Kill a Mockingbird Matters: What Harper Lee’s Book and the Iconic American Film Mean to Us Today.”

It is written by Tom Santopietro, who has lavished attention on performers and films as varied as Barbara Cook, Barbra Streisand, “The Sound of Music,” “The Godfather” and most brilliantly, Doris Day.  His “Considering Doris Day” is THE chronicle of this brilliant woman’s career and persona.

Tom packs a helluva lot of info into his books, all of it accurate, all of it meaningful, and he does “To Kill a Mockingbird” proud.  There is a lot of loving biographical material on Harper Lee, on how she came to write the book, examining the beloved characters, especially lawyer Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout.
We get the inside tale of the book’s publishing history and success and then the making of the famous film.  The chapters on the movie are particularly salient. (This author is always at his most enthusiastic and erudite on matters of film and its stars.)

Santopietro also addresses issues that have surrounded the book for many years — is it actually racist, for instance? 
Atticus (Peck) and Tom Robinson (played by Brock Peters) in the film.
As to the remarkable, long-lasting appeal of the book (and the movie) the author writes: “If, as we continually claim, we want our children to embrace the world in all its diversity, then by enlightening them at the same time as entertaining, ‘Mockingbird’ succeeds in the basic task of literature: the expansion of worldviews by means of exposure to differing communities and cultures.” 

Harper Lee died in 2016.  But even she — so reticent, so resistant to attention — would have been mighty pleased at this affectionate, meticulous and masterful explanation as to why “Mockingbird” still matters.
Jonathan Burnham, Jane Friedman, and Harper Lee at Michael's celebrating the author's 80th birthday on April 28, 2006. Photo: JH.
THIS ‘N THAT:

... The Birdland Jazz Club has completed construction of a new live venue that will occupy the lower level of the existing Birdland at 315 West 44th Street. (Between 8th and 9th Avenues).  The first season of this new spot begins later this month, and scheduled headliners include Lucie Arnaz, Marilyn Maye, Billy Stritch, Robert Fairchild, the Emmett Cohen Trio, Jamie deRoy & Friends and two of my all-time favorite gals, Miss Coco Peru, and the great Anita Gillette. Visit www.BirdlandJazz.com.
... ON July 14th, the annual Broadway Barks event in Shubert Alley happens.  Founded 20 years ago by Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters, the organization has evolved from animal adoptions to programs as varied as providing books in Braille for children who are visually impaired — it’s called Braille Tails because animals are still involved (shelter dogs help kids with communication issues, and children who read to dogs can gain confidence and overcome insecurities.)  Broadway Barks is also involved in the remarkable ability of dogs to literally sniff out early stages of cancer, before it is detected medically. The event is, as usual, produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  Ms. Peters and Victor Garber host the event, which invariably lures dozens of great big names to Shubert Alley, between 44th and 45th Street. 
... NOW, you guys know I like some pretty dark stuff.  I mean, I had a number of notes from people wondering how I could have watched “Patrick Melrose,” which was about the terrible effects of childhood abuse on poor Benedict Cumberbatch.  Well, I didn’t say it “enjoyed” it, but it was so brilliantly acted, I couldn’t look away.  This is why you’ll be stunned to learn that I could just barely get through the first episode of the limited HBO series “Sharp Objects.” I really like five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams, and I worship Patricia Clarkson, who plays Adams’ delicious monster mom.  But I thought I’d lose my mind.  Of course, I’ll give it time — I’ll probably watch the whole thing.  (Listen, I watched all of “Westworld” this season and that was a load of crap, except for Thandie Newton.)  But yeah, I hope it picks up, because I don’t take antidepressants anymore, and “Sharp Objects” Episode One actually had me looking for sharp objects.
... JUST when I thought the most loathsome characters on TV were gone for a while — and I do mean everybody on Showtime’s “Billions,” there’s a whole new crew to despise on HBO’s “Succession.” This is about a monstrous dysfunctional high-powered family embroiled in all manner of back-stabbing machinations.  The situations and dialogue are even more unrealistic than “Billions” and “Succession” employs this weird zoom camera thing that reminds me of old TV movies from the '70s and '80s.  I’m hate-watching it, and not even consistently.  Sometimes I have to switch away because I dislike these people so much.  However, the dislike fascinates me. I feel like I’m a mongoose and “Succession” is a cobra. (The mongoose generally wins, I’m glad to say.)
Oh, speaking of “Billions,” I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest.  There’s a character on the show, Taylor, played by the talented Asia Kate Dillon. In real life, and as the character of Taylor, Kate is gender-nonbinary.  Asia prefers to be referred to as “they.”  Asia sounds like a girl and looks like a girl, but as Taylor, sports a near-skinhead and wears men’s clothes.  Whatever — I am out of my league in discussing this with any 2018 sensitivity. (The landscape has changed a lot since I knew and hung with trans people, drag-queens and boys and girls who would today be “fluid.”) 
But, in the fictional world of “Billions,” Taylor deals with crass, evil, soulless politically incorrect characters.  These people might use “they” and “their” to Taylor’s face, at work, but in private, amongst themselves, never.  To watch long scenes between these terrible people discussing Taylor — sometimes in quite disparaging ways — but consistently using the respectful non-binary terms was ridiculous.  There was one slip-up, by John Malkovich.  He was appearing as a vicious Russian thug businessman — somebody who wouldn’t in a million years even think about 21st-century gender politesse.  But there he was, arguing with Damian Lewis saying “they” and “their.” (Actually he was suggesting killing “they.”)  At one point Malkovich, gleefully offering Lewis a lethal favor, referred to Taylor/Asia as “she.”  I’ve read some interviews with Asia and they are pretty strict about such pronoun deviations.  I wonder how that one got by?
ENDTHOUGHT: Just when I thought only Turner Classic Movies and maybe Orlando Bloom canoeing in the nude again, could really get my mind off, you know — the world — those boys in Thailand were rescued.
I didn’t cry; I didn’t even mist up.  I hadn’t tracked the story minute-by-minute because I can’t stand the vast majority of what passes for vital info.  But as the days passed, I hoped I could turn on the TV one morning and not want to vomit for all sorts of reasons — the news, the people who deliver the news, etc.  And indeed it turned out well — except for the one Thai Navy Seal who lost his life early during the ordeal.

But, even without tears, I felt lighter, better, healthier!  I didn’t go to church or thank God, but I couldn’t legitimately roll an eye at anybody else so moved.  I’m onboard for other people’s religion, so long as they don’t tell me I have to have any, or use their religion to mess with my life. My motto is go with God, but please leave me to hitchhike in peace on the road to Damascus. Maybe I’ll catch a ride ... someday.

I didn’t watch the cable news aftermath too long, because as soon as the anchors said, with studied concern, “what a great story,” you could tell they were really itching to get back to all the crap.  And they did. 

Hollywood is turning the tale into a movie, which I bet will somehow include Mark Wahlberg or Tom Hanks — or both!  These guys are determined to leave a legacy of hyped-up true-life tales of heroism. 

Anyway, I’m going to try to hold onto my good feelings about the Thailand soccer players, even though Stormy Daniels was arrested and that means, inevitably, more, more, more of greasy carnival barker lawyer Michael Avenatti, who will be treated by the morons at MSNBC and CNN just like he is ... Atticus Finch! 
 
Contact Denis here.