My son and I managed to watch all of the movies nominated Best Picture for this year, except for “Coda”.
My favorite top three, in order of preference, were “Drive My Car”, “Dune” and “Licorice Pizza.” The two at the bottom of my list were “Don’t Look Up” and “King Richard”. All the movies were good, though for the reason given I cannot opine on “Coda”.
After the awards ceremony ended, however, the only thing I could think of was Will Smith’s assault and battery on Chris Rock. I thought of it during the two hours before I went to bed. I thought about it until I fell asleep. I don’t think I dreamt about it, but I was asleep, so I don’t know. I thought about it upon waking.
Because I have some personal experience with physical abuse. My oldest brother was liberal with not only his intimidating verbal abuse; he was liberal with his slaps and punches, too. Another person, my best friend from late high school and university, was a tightly inserted cork waiting to pop. He exploded twice because he did not quite like my responses to his questions on two of his oil paintings.
Such behavior is a chill on first amendment rights. Ever since, I keep my opinions of art to myself.
So, yeah. I have some personal experience with physical abuse.
The morning after the Academy Awards the internet was chock-full of opinions on the matter. A majority sided with Chris Rock, though a surprisingly large number of people sided with Will Smith. Those siding with Will Smith and his actions tended to say that “Chris Rock had it coming.” This is language that I find very disturbing. It’s the language of abusers.
When I became a lawyer I took part in a court-sponsored workshop offered as a prelude to drafting declarations to accompany restraining orders. The workshop was about spousal abuse, and how to recognize it for what it is.
Of all the points touched upon that resonated with me, because of personal experience, the one I was finally able to identify is that abusers blame the victim, even when apologizing. There is always a “but”.
“I’m sorry, but you know, really, it’s your fault. You know that, right? You shouldn’t have….”
“You realize, don’t you , that his would never have happened but for the fact that you called the cops.”
“I’m sorry I hit you like that, but God, you know sometimes you just know how to drive me crazy. You don’t know when to shut up.”
There are a million reasons why abusers abuse. There are a million reasons why a slap or a punch or a kick readily substitutes for words.
Will Smith’s son Jaden proudly defended his father, saying, “And that’s how we do it.”
Good to know.
I’m not sure what Will Smith was crying and blubbering about for far too many minutes when accepting his Oscar for Best Actor.
And I’m not entirely sure why law enforcement agents didn’t pick up Mr. Smith for assault and battery. Or why, in this politically correct day and age, the Academy didn’t rescind Will Smith’s win. Chris Rock declined to press charges, but the criminal matter would be The People, and not Chris Rock, versus defendant Will Smith. Chris Rock is a witness, but there’s really no need for Rock as a witness, is there? I mean, it took place on national television, captured on tape, viewed by a live audience of hundreds, seen by millions of people on TV.
Chris probably wants to just be cool about it. He’s probably conflicted about it himself.
It is no grand revelation that comedy has a mean streak to it. Somebody is always getting the short end of the stick in comedy; someone is invariably getting made fun of. And yes, nobody — nobody — likes it when they’re the one being made fun of.
And there are degrees of mean. Ricky Gervais is known for humor that is just downright mean, otherwise he’d be charged with defamation. But not everything that is true should be fair game, and more importantly, if it’s not funny, then why? Gervais is often accurate but unfunny. And when victims react and try to defend themselves, he reacts like a cornered cat, hissing and baring his claws. Well. Comedy is comedy, what can be said? I believe it was Damon Wayans who, during a stand up routine, said that he came from a family of comedians, and that as kids they often could be mean to each other, like all families. “But if it was funny, you weren’t in trouble.”
Funny is funny.
And just as true, violence is violence.
Will Smith was the winner of the Best Actor award, but in my book, his actions Sunday night branded him a loser.
Me and mine caught the new cable version of Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” on HBO Max. I found the series absorbing, captivating, interesting, and worrisome.
We tend to give copious lip service to our concerns about the United States being so gun happy, and wring our hands in consternation. I saw a photographic spread in the New Yorker magazine, trying to capture some of the people for whom guns are a family tradition, a sport and hobby, a life. If I put my prejudices aside, I can imagine,know and understand that a good percentage (size/number unknown to me) of gun owners and enthusiasts are no different than the rest of us. You can have my Year’s Best Science Fiction Anthology when you pry it from my dead, cold fingers, dammit. Nonetheless, the statistics are astounding. Today there are 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the US. The population of the US is around 327 million people. That statistical comparison alone is alarming. The numbers according to the Brady website say that every year 115,551 people are shot. Last year (2021) 38,826 people died from gun violence. That’s 107 or so people dying from gun violence a day. A day.
There are categories that these numbers are divided into that give a clearer picture and understanding of what these numbers are. But any way how you look at it, these numbers are appalling.
I saw a posting sometime back, on Facebook, a picture of a woman in public holding up a placard that said:
LAST YEAR, HANDGUNS KILLED:
10 PEOPLE IN JAPAN.
50 IN GREAT BRITAIN.
47 IN SWITZERLAND.
611 IN CANADA.
105 IN ISRAEL.
41 IN SWEDEN.
38,658 IN THE UNITED STATES
GOD BLESS AMERICA.
Sounds like 2021.
But again: How did I like HBO Max’s “Jack Reacher”? As I said, absorbing, captivating, interesting, and worrisome
I am not a gun owner, but like most movie-going Americans, I do love my violence. I grew up with Dirty Harry growling, “Make my day.” And before that? James Bond, the Man From Uncle, Secret Agent Man. And today? Jack Reacher and The Punisher, and movies too numerous to mention that involve serious, chronic gunplay. Guns at the movies will get less of a restrictive rating that bare female breasts. (My opinion is that naked titties are more dangerous than a 12-gauge shotgun, but hey, that’s me.)
I think that guns are a subset of the Fantasy genre, up there with Tolkien and David Lindsay and Stephen King and such. Guns are part of the lexicon of magic, like wands and invisibility cloaks, dragons, wizards and spells and closets that lead into alien dimensions, elves and dwarves and orcs. Guns, like all the mentioned fantasy tools, are instruments of power and, in to many minds, security. Guns appeal, in part, to people who are afraid, who feel that a gun will make them safer. So I’ve read, and such would be my guess. A gun is like a Star Wars lightsaber.
And guns are fantasies you can buy and own.
You’re a good guy, no doubt about it. But the trouble is, bad guys get and carry guns, too. And I guess that that’s why so many of us want guns. Need to level the playing field. To, you know, deal with the bad guys.
Bad guys probably don’t see themselves as bad guys. They’re mavericks, don’t you know? Individualists, loners marching to their own drum beat. Ain’t no one gonna tell me what to do. This is America, dammit. The land of the free and the home of the brave. And if you’re talkin’ down my country, well, you’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me. But what happens when it’s not the beat of a drum that leads us on, but rather a voice in our head.
Well, as my mother used to say, maybe it’s a watermelon, maybe it’s a honeydew. I’m not sure. I don’t know exactly what’s what.
What I do know is that over 100 Americans are shot to death every day.
And since the violence has come close to me, it makes me skittish. I’ve had a best friend murdered with a gun. Many years later, another close friend committed suicide with a gun. And more recently, my best friend’s son was cut down by gunfire at a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks. I also saw a man in a car crash at an intersection on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley; it was in the news the next day that he’d been shot and killed while driving.
I’m sure my bemused reaction to all of this is nearsighted, like Colin Firth starring in a 2014 Woody Allen movie and thereafter fashionably protesting that hey, I had no idea at the time that the Woodmeister had been accused of child molestation. What? Do ya live in a hole in the ground, dude? Not buying it.
(By the way, I’m a fan of Woody Allen’s movies.)
But guilty as charged. Question is, to quote the Rolling Stones: What can a poor boy to do? What can I do? What is the solution? Is there a solution? A solution we can all live with.
I’ll have to think about this, I guess, but not just right now. I’ve got tickets to go see the re-release on the big screen of Coppola’s “The Godfather.” It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. I love the book.
Traveling in and of itself can be intoxicating. The ordinary and the mundane can become foreign, tinged with the sheen of the exotic.
I mean, who knew that IHOP had pancakes, right? Delovely and delightful pancakes that elevate butter and show off maple syrup.
Perhaps it’s the flight above the iceberg clouds, or the Lilliputian networks of lakes and rivers that glimmer like rose-tinged mercury then turn a dark quicksilver during the long leaf-fall onto a mirror world that looks like your own, but isn’t.
Huntsville, Alabama was, in my eyes, breaking through the looking glass.
I found Willa Cather in Alabama. I found Death in Venice in Alabama. I found Twister in Alabama.
I found art.
Upon a recommendation, we discovered the Mill. Having opened in 1900 and surviving bankruptcies, a fire, a myriad of changes in the U.S. economy, the Mill is currently a converted space, an artist’s haven, that in the past has been many things: a manufacturing hub for cotton “duck” canvas for the U.S. military; NASA were tenants once, developing the Lunar Rover there. They were home to a multitude of textiles manufacturers forever and a day.
It was a late Thursday afternoon when we took to wandering, my wife and son and I, through the brick building’s hallways. While the building was open for business, about two-thirds of the workshops and display rooms were closed. There was a pleasant trickle of visitor, which worked fine for me.
Peering through the windows of the painters and sculptors and lithographers and candle makers and confectioners and even a whisky still and tasting room, the ambience evoked the writer Anne Elliott’s collection The Artstars. I fell in love with her evocative and delicately heartbreaking and melancholic yet profoundly uplifting The Beginning of the End of the Beginning. The Mill was a space, a background, a stage upon which I imagined many of her words, images and stories played out on.
Magic and beauty are where you find them
And there was a fine chocolate candy shop there as well.
It’s wonderful how the Internet creates friction where very little of it exists.
It tells us that Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott think Marvel movies are, essentially, trash. Okay.
It posts an article to tell us why and how the Republicans have no shame and are full of shit, and that the Woke crowd are militantly tone deaf and full of shit. Okay.
Leonard Cohen was quoted in an article about the Beatles, saying that “They didn’t seem to be essential to the nourishment I craved.” In other words, they simply weren’t to his taste. Okay.
And the internet appeals to our sense of schadenfreude. That is, that pleasure we derive from another person’s misfortune. I use to love Ridley Scott, but for quite a while now I’ve found him tedious and pompous. His movies bug me too. So any article that trashes him warms me up. Bait and click is derided by everyone, but everyone still uses it in one way or another. Hey, I’m game.
But there are critics, and there are critics. Some critics have to get things off their chest and foist it onto ours. Others think that by getting what they see as the “last word” their vision of reality becomes the truth. Look at Taylor Swift, pronouncing her recorded romantic fatwas online and in her albums. Yes, the last word. It reminds me of high school, a weak unfocused zinger was slung at someone, the pronouncement itself was innocuous. What was rousing and angering, though, were the other students making a huge fuss about it, as if the weak-ass zinger was a Sicilian mouth-kiss of death, judging and marking the recipient. “Oh shit!!!” “Goddamn!!!” “Jeeze!!!” Disparaging water turned into vitriolic wine.
Other critics are usefully engaged in trying to widen our horizons.
I’ve read all the negative things about Villeneuve’s Dune. I agree with large portions of it. I still love the movie.
I’ve read articles praising Taylor Swift’s ground breaking songs and business savy, and I can envy her while still not changing my opinion of her music.
I can listen to a friend’s praise of gazpacho. I nod, wish I could like it (it sounds so good), but hell, I still hate cold soup.
It’s like telling Salvador Dali that his wife has a large nose and her eyes are too close. You think he would have loved her less?
It’s like telling me that John Lennon was a misogynist and a wife beater. That’s not cool, bro. But: I still love I Am The Walrus, Baby You’re a Rich Man and Across the Universe.
As a female critic pointed out when Mario Batali was felled by the Me Too movement, did this mean that she needed to get rid of Batali’s Pasta alla Puttanesca recipe, which she loved?
Some things are very good. Some things are very bad. Some things are a matter of jurisprudence. Others are simply matters of taste.
Read (good) critics with whom you disagree with a pinch of salt. It’ll make what they’re saying a little more palatable.
And remember, you don’t have to eat all of it.
I’m amused at the seriousness with which fans of genre fiction and film take up the defense of their fantasias.
Mind you, I’m a science fiction geek, although the genre has been infiltrated with those of Fantasy and Horror to a degree that it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to separate them out. They’re quite distinct flavors, those three, and while they can overlap, each genre has its own peculiar flavor. I’m not into horror, though I am a fan of Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, which is a fusion of both SF and Horror. The monster by itself would not do it for me. I need the space ships, the android, the space tech and the suspending animation cradles, etc. I also enjoy the different eras of “Star Trek” even though it freely mixes in equal parts of Fantasy, a genre that I am not that hot on either.
But that’s another story.
My biggest complaints, however, are often over the seemingly small things that lazy world builders think negligible. Nerd SF world builders need to get out a little more often, take a good look at the world around them.
Like “Star Trek”. I mean, what’s up with those stupid bowl haircuts that every — and I mean, every — Vulcan sports? A whole planet, mind you, a whole world of men, women and children who have a Moe Howard (you know, the bossy stooge from “The Three Stooges”) haircut? Really? That’s a writer’s idea of alieness? (Well: it is strange.) But please. Our world alone, has multiple continents, numerous races and genetic types and diverse cultures, not to mention a long, illustrious history. Perhaps it’s true that certain groups of people often have a preponderance for similar hair composition, but no, not everyone has the same goddamned haircut. What a profound failure of imagination on behalf of the writers.
And what’s up with those transporter rooms? In the original TV “Star Trek” with Kirk and Spock and Bones, people would light up when they were being broken down into individual atoms, dematerialized and moved from one location to another, like Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly”. They would remain static — that is, unmoving — during the process. Admittedly, this was probably due more to a low shooting monetary budget and inferior special effects. But it was nonetheless consistent with the laws of physics and it made cognitive common sense. I mean, how can you move when your entire body has been broken down into tiny bits of light? The light might waver or flicker, sure, but for crying out loud, you got not muscles! You got no body! How can you move? Your can’t turn to see what’s behind you. I mean, you got no eyes!
My favorite is the Voice on “Dune”. Now what hell is that about? How can practice alone in modulating the tone and timbre of your voice turn it into a weapon? How well does that work when your mom gets mad and yells, you jump. When your boss yells at you, you cringe. But that’s not THE VOICE. The “Dune” trick is kinda like the Star Wars Jedi “mind trick” where you can make somebody do something or believe something just by either waving your hand while, well, just talking. Modulating her tone and pitch, thank you. Really? How? (Let me try that at Burger King. “You will give me a Double-Double with cheese, fries and a Coke, and not charge me, bitch! Wait a minute there. Whadda you mean I gotta pay? Didn’t you hear what I said?”) On “Dune”, does the Bene Gesserit have a medical plan that gives discount on some sort of Sci Fi surgery to implant some sort of chip to modulate your voice and create over-powering Mento-Rays to hijack people’s wills, minds and muscle control? Well, that’s all you had to say, vato loco.
Oh well. That’s fantasy for you. Science fiction needs a reason; fantasy doesn’t.
It just is.
And by the way. This really isn’t the droid you are looking for.
When I was fifteen and back in Pasadena, California, my then-boyfriend Carlos and I drove 25 miles to a theatre on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills to see an art-house movie we’d read about, a strange foreign thing entitled El Topo by Alejandro Jodorowsky, in Spanish and poorly subtitled. We drove in a 1950-something Dodge Dart my lovely fool had gotten for his birthday, a white car with rusted chrome and aqua upholstery. It had buttons instead of a stick shift for changing gears and sounded ready to give up the ghost, but it ran. We’d gotten as far as Wilshire and Sepulveda and, parking at a gas station to buy low-lead for the car and Cokes for us, we saw the car’s dirty red transmission fluid spreading out beneath her like blood pooling under a murder victim’s head on the station’s concrete island. We pushed the car to a parking space along a brick wall, told the attendant we’d be back for it, and caught the next bus to the theater. We got there in time to miss the previews, but I remember that it was 9:49 p.m. when the theatre went dark and the world lit up.
It was 1972 and I knew then and there what I wanted to be.
A Zen cowgirl.
We of course never saw the Dodge Dart again, and one month and three fistfights later Carlos and I were history too. Four years after that I was walking up Fifty-Fifth Street in New York City, heading towards the St. Regis Hotel to meet Jodorowsky himself.
From the Novel MY DINNER WITH JODOROWSKY, by Gabriel S. de Anda
As Franz Kafka intimated, the sweetest music is often that which cannot be heard except in our stirred imaginations. David Lynch tried to capture DUNE in film, and John Harrison took a swing at it. Now Denis Villeneuve has brought us a new version which also seeks to awaken the dreamer within us.
But the time traveling saboteurs referred to by its enemies as the Kronokaze want to make manifest that music of the sirens which no one has ever heard and survived, including Ulysses, who only thought he heard it, as Kafka tells us. The Kronokaze want to give Alejandro Jodorowsky another bite of the apple of creation. And they’re making him an offer he can’t refuse.
“My Dinner with Jodorowsky”: a science fiction novel by Gabriel S. de Anda.
It was 1992 when Cat and I first met.
I had enrolled in a couple of classes at a local community college: a survey class covering select writers of science fiction literature across a decent spread of years; and a science fiction short story writing class. Both classes were taught by the same teacher. It had been five years since, as an adult, I’d fallen in love once again with science fiction. In the preceding decade I’d discovered some recent oldies — Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Gardner Dozois – as well as the newbies: William Gibson, Michael Swanwick, Kage Baker, Lewis Shiner. Writers such as Bradbury, Heinlein and Andre Norton were already part of that world.
It was in the class where we actually tried to write the stuff that Cat and I became friends. She shared a chapter of an SF novel she was working on which took place on an interplanetary cruise ship. The ship’s captain and the second in command, both women, were a romantic couple. It’s been nearly 30 years since then, and I don’t recall the plot of the novel. What I do recall is that the quality of the writing was sufficiently polished that, as a writer, I was able to take her seriously. I’d already sold three stories by this time.
When both classes ended, the teacher offered to lead a science fiction writers group outside of the college, at attendee’s private homes, and we in fact continued this way for a few years. It was still 1992.
It was the year that Cat had been separated from her husband, Wayne. For my part, I was head-over-heels for a young movie producer whom I had met at a Ventura party that year. By the end of 1992 Cat and Wayne would have gotten back together, while my movie producer girlfriend and I became history after an intense five months.
Throughout those months of 1992 I used to drive out to Cat’s house in La Crescenta on Saturdays. We would spend the day working on our writing. I was working on my first novel, titled Scissors, Rock and Paper Doll, which I completed by December. She also completed her novel.
After she and Wayne got back together they decided to move to Squim, Washington. If I recall correctly, this happened sometime during 1993.
We kept in contact, and we continued to share the things we were each writing. Cat was a heartfelt critic, lavish in her praise when she liked something, harsh in her critiques when she didn’t. It was what I valued most about her. Many critics are afraid of hurting your feelings, so they pull their punches, and as a consequence the feedback you get is compromised, uncertain, not as helpful as it might otherwise be. With Cat you always knew where you stood, and this was a gold standard that I loved and relied on and came to demand from others.
The following year I visited Cat and Wayne in Washington. I flew to Washington, and from there crossed Puget Sound in a ferry. Once there, I was hustled onto a smaller passenger plane and flew to a tiny airport closer to where Cat and Wayne lived.
I spent a week with them, and it was relaxing and wondrous. It’s usually overcast and often rainy in Washington, but Squim lies outside of what they call the Olympic Rain Shadow. Most of the summer days are cool but sunny, great for taking walks. I no longer remember with clarity, but I seem to recall that I was tickled by the fact that the sun rose and set on the same horizon. Mornings shone with the light of a dying day, and the evening felt like a call to breakfast. I spent a lot of time eating and drinking Bacardi and Cokes and writing fiction on a computer they made available to me. Before I’d arrived I had lost a file containing a large chunk of a story I was working on. I brought the floppy to Wayne, who had a rep with computers, and he managed to retrieve and save it for me.
On my last night Cat and Wayne took me to a fine restaurant in the port of Dungeness and I was treated to a magnificent meal of the famous Dungeness crabs. It was a memorable way to end my stay with them.
July of 1994 was the last time I actually saw Cat.
Oh, we of course kept in close contact, sharing and critiquing the pieces of fiction we were working in. She spent a number of years working on a science fiction novel titled Speak No Evil. I wrote four more novels during this time.
In 2019, Wayne passed away. It was the start of a difficult time for Cat. They’d had their ups and down, she and Wayne, but marriage is a bonding ceremonial, and his death left an emptiness in her that she was unable to fill.
Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit, and she become further isolated. From about March of 2020 on, we spoke at least twice a month by phone, as well as communicating by email. We began a collaboration on a story, but it didn’t take. Wherever her heart was, into was into writing fiction. I sent her a couple of new stories even though she told me she didn’t like short stories. (When had this happened? I wondered.) She critiqued my stories nonetheless and greatly helped me bring them into focus.
I did not know that Cat was not well. I always opened our telephone conversations with an inquiry into her health, just as a matter of protocol; she was 71 years old and had had a health scares a few years prior — a large benign tumor in her stomach, safely removed — and now there was this Covid pandemic. She started getting a little more impatient and churlish when we spoke. On a day in February I called her. She normally did not answer her phone right away, and I usually went through the ruse of leaving a message, pretending that I was someone such as an IRS agent doing follow-up, or some phony bill collector calling to harass her, and after about 10 or 15 seconds she would answer. On the February call it happened just that way, but when she answered she was curt, seemingly angry, somewhat incoherent. My thought was that she might have been a little tipsy. She then peremptorily hung up on me.
I decided to let her have her space.
On February 19th, 2021 I received a long email from her. She apologized for hanging up on me. She said she was suffering from orthostatic hypotension, a form of low blood pressure. She was scattered in her message, telling me about the few things that had been happening, and promising to email me again after things had settled and she felt a little better.
Then again, on May 19, she wrote an email about how she’d started an April Fool’s email but did not send it, saving it as a draft. She picked up where she’d stopped and again detailed her lack of focus and enthusiasm, and signed off.
On June 2, I sent her a long email letting her know about how I’d had two stories picked up by internet magazines and which were going to appear online. I again asked her if she been to visit her primary care doctor, and if she’d already been vaccinated for the Coronavirus. I closed by telling her that my son, who was to graduate from high school in a couple of weeks, had been accepted to California State University, Northridge. “Take care of yourself, Catmeister. You’ve been vaccinated, right? Good. Get out. Join a reading group or something(s). Eat a good meal. Treat yourself well. You are the most important person in Cat Bennett’s life. At least you should be.”
Twenty-eight days later I received a call from her neighbor Linda, informing me that Cat had passed away.
It was her neighbor, Linda, who found Cat’s quiet, lifeless body, lying in bed. It was on the 29th of June, 2021, a Tuesday. “I swear that she had a smile on her face. She looked so peaceful. I was happy about that.”
So was I.
Rest in peace, Cat.