the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: Movies and Television (Page 1 of 8)

The Election of Donald Trump and the Hallmark Christmas Movie


I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, but after it became clear that he wasn’t going to be the nominee, I instantly backed Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton, an accomplished and intelligent public servant, was the obvious choice, compared to Donald Trump, an incompetent demagogue who used hate as his campaign message.

Last week, I waited an hour to get tickets to the big Clinton Election Night Party at the Javits Center, where the symbolic “glass ceiling” would finally be broken. I was excited to be part of history.

On Election Night, the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood around the convention center was chaotic, as thousands of Clinton supporters and the mainstream media crammed into an area blocked off by armed police officers. Those who had general public tickets, like myself, were sent to the back entrance to airport-style security. A few campaign volunteers grumbled about being stuck with the regular folk when VIPS, in their Wall Street suits, were guided inside without waiting in line.  But, all in all,  we all felt like we were on the same team, confident in a Democratic victory.

By nine o’clock, we knew Trump was going to win. The crowd turned to the brightness of their iPhones in a desperate attempt to distract themselves from making eye contact with others. It was heartbreaking.

In the subway going home, you could feel the gloom in the claustrophobic underground air. A homeless man sitting alone in the corner was screaming at his demons in Spanish. The darkness outside the windows grew ominous as the metallic screeches of the train’s wheels pulled us further into the unknown. I asked myself, “How did this happen? “How did Donald Trump become elected when we were so sure that Hillary Clinton was our next President?”

When I returned home, I was too wired to sleep, but too anxious to watch the news. I needed something stupid for entertainment, television as innocuous as possible. I went to my DVR and found my choice.

Every year, around this time, the Hallmark Channel starts showing their annual Christmas movies. These “feel-good” cable movies are hopelessly corny, like the type of network “movie of the week” starring B-list actors that felt outdated even back in 1975. But like many things lowbrow, people like me have turned them into an ironic guilty pleasure. I’m even involved in a Facebook forum where we dissect each new Christmas Movie premiere on the Hallmark Channel. These movies have become so popular, that Hallmark has even started to show them as early as October! I had recorded a few last week, so I picked a rerun that I missed. On election night, with Donald Trump now as the president-elect, I watched a Hallmark Christmas movie.

One of the reasons these Hallmark Christmas movies have achieved a cult- like status is that 85% of these films are the same story told in a slightly different way. It’s amusing to watch the writers tell another yarn from the same basic plot. The protagonist is someone from the big city who travels to a small town in Middle America for some nefarious reason. It can be a real estate guy who wants to turn the “old mill” into a Chipotle, a self-absorbed actress who returns to her roots for some photoshoot about her origins, or some snooty marketing executive who wants to sell off the family farm after her father dies. All of these urban characters have disdain for these boring small towns. They are blind to the fact that they are unhappy in NYC/LA/Chicago and that their big city fiancé or fiancée is self-absorbed and unfaithful.

You know what happens. The protagonist falls in love with the small town values. He/She falls in love with a cowboy/waitress/farmhand. And he/she pays back the small town by saving the mill/the farm/the Christmas parade.

The myth of these Hallmark Christmas movies has nothing to do with the Miracle of Christmas. They are about America. Big cities and small towns need each other, and learn from each other. The big city is more trendy and knows how to get things done in the outside world. They can teach the small town citizens about modern art and rap music. The small town can teach the urban dweller how to fish/hunt/farm, and most importantly, how to live in a loving community where people care for each other.

This pop culture myth of big city/small town, and their need for each other, has been part of American culture for two generations, especially popular after the Second World War, in which the country was required to be unified, and American soldier stood with American soldier, bonding together to save our country.  Our most popular Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, is about a small town man, George Bailey, who dreams of moving to the big city and living the exciting life, like his big-shot, college-educated brother. Instead, he is trapped in a crappy old town, living in a drafty old house with a broken staircase. But what is the final message of the film? Yes, George Bailey’s brother become a war hero, but it is George who saves the town and America’s values from Mr. Potter. George is as important as any soldier. He didn’t march into Berlin, but held the fort at home. Bedford Falls, and George’s values, is why America was fighting.   Small town values. America’s cities were important to this country, but if we let them create the values alone, we get the darkness of Pottersville.

Big city and small town must coexist or else America ceases to be. The big city is America’s muscle and brain, but the heartland is American’s heart.

As I’m watching this Hallmark movie on Election Night, enjoying this absurd romance of a lonely prima donna fashion editor from New York and a hard-working cowboy who’s wife had died, I ponder the mythology of the narrative. The myth of the big city and small town needing each other, learning from each other, was a myth that allowed us to live in the same country, to believe in one America. But as we started to watch different TV, get our news from different outlets, and follow different leaders, this all changed. The cultural interaction stopped. The cities grew more diverse and prosperous, but ignored any of the issues in the small towns, stereotyping their fellow Americans as fat racist losers who only shopped at Walmart. The small towns, at least the ones which declined as we shipped off jobs abroad, retreated into their comfort of white supremacy and anger at the elitism of the establishment. Hillary Clinton felt it was useless to woo small town America, especially in the Rust Belt. Donald Trump exploited the anger of small town America by spreading his vision of bigotry and racism.

We all discovered the real truth about our country today — the big city and small town now hate each other. Both Hallmark Christmas movies and America need a new myth.

HBO’s Girls: Black and White in the Media

There are quite a few articles today about a controversy revolving around the new Lena Dunham- created HBO show, Girls, and the lack of diversity in the cast, particular with African-American characters.  One of the reasons for the outcry over this show rather than the countless other all-white shows is that critics have been wetting their pants over the show, calling it the VOICE of the twenty-something generation of women.

Whenever something is crowned “the voice of a generation,” those who don’t fit into the demographic always feel left out.  We should retire that expression.

From Kendra James at Racialicious:

“If Lena Dunham and I come from similar educational backgrounds, honed our writing and narrative skills at the same school (and likely with some of the same professors), and grew up spending time in the same city (she’s from Tribeca, and I was a bridge-and-tunnel kid from a nice New Jersey suburb about 30 minutes away), then how could we conceive such radically different images of New York City? Why would I feel so ill-at-ease with her critics essentially declaring her as my voice?”

Ta-Nehisi Coates from the Atlantic, focuses less on the individual artist than those who run the media.

“There has been a lot of talk, this week about Lena Dunham’s responsibility, but significantly less about the the people who sign her checks. My question is not “Why are there no black women on Girls,” but “How many black show-runners are employed by HBO?” This is about systemic change, not individual attacks.

It is not so wrong to craft an exclusively white world–certainly a significant portion of America lives in one. What is wrong is for power-brokers to pretend that no other worlds exists. Across the country there are black writers and black directors toiling to bring those worlds to the screen. If HBO does not see fit to have a relationship with those writers, then those of us concerned should assess our relationship with HBO.”

I don’t write much about my own experiences in “Hollywood,” but I have pitched shows to executives at NBC, and worked at HBO at one time. I’m also originally from Queens, New York, which for my money has the largest percentage of citizens of different races, languages, and eccentric human beings in the country, and many of my idea stem from my childhood there.

It wasn’t until I visited my uncle in New Jersey when I was ten years old that realized that the majority of the world — and the power structure — was filled with white people. Remember the book, “The Preppy Handbook?” It was like reading a book about Chinese pottery; the concepts were totally foreign to me.   My move to Manhattan from Queens was more of a culture shock than when I moved from New York to Los Angeles.   On Easter weekend during my Freshman year, I went home with my roommate Tom to his family estate in Massachusetts, where he OWNED HORSES!

“What do you do with them?” I asked.

“We ride them!”

You can take the boy out of Queens, but you can’t…   I never got half of the jokes in “Stuff White People Like.”

Years later, I found myself pitching a sitcom idea to a Disney executive, an arrogant young guy who got the job because his father was a producer. He was playing mini-golf on his carpet as I nervously told him my brilliant story that I wrote in the shower that morning.

One of the plot points revolved around a son’s relationship with his father. The son’s mother had died and his father quickly remarried — one of his mother’s friends! The son was mad at the father for doing this, and didn’t get along with the step-mother until the final act.

At the end of pitch, the executive hit one more putt.

“The biggest problem with the story… is the new wife,” he said.

I was surprised to hear this. I had expected him to criticize the son or the father.

“The new wife is a black woman, right?” he asked.

It was a detail I hardly noticed when I pitched it. I was basing the story on a real-life situation of someone I knew from Queens. The father remarried a nurse who lived in the same apartment building.   She was a black woman.

“What’s the problem with her being black?” I asked.

“The audience will think that the son hates the new wife because she is black, and no one will like the main character.”

“Oh, no no no. He doesn’t hate her because she is black.  It is because his father is getting remarried so soon after his mother’s death!  The new wife’s color is irrelevant to the story.”

“Yes, but the audience will read it that way. So, let’s just make her white.”

“I see.  OK, let’s make her white.”

Was I acting racist by changing my black character to a white character?  Probably not. Just wimpy. Nothing ever happened with the script anyway.

Was the executive racist for asking me to change the race of the character?

I don’t think he was racist either.   In fact, there was a big plaque on the wall announcing that he was a big shot in the “Young Hollwyood Democratic Club for Change.”

The big issue was FEAR.  No one wants to touch issues of race because no one wants to be called a racist.

I’m not suggesting that it is good to be politically incorrect, but fear is never a healthy motivation.  And fear runs Hollywood, especially this unwritten law that blacks should only write about black people and whites about white people. It’s as if the media images are more segregated than America in 2012!   Sure, we need diversity in the boardrooms and our writing staffs, but we also need more diversity in our brains.

As a blogger, I sometimes feel that the political correctness of my friends is punishing me for growing up in Queens.  My world is diverse.  If I ever write a memoir, my childhood will all be about blacks and whites and Latinos and Asians learning to live together, not always perfectly.  About public school.   If I don’t write about this diversity, I would not be authentic. But I have also been criticized in the past, as if my white male “privilege” prohibits me from writing about anything other than white maleness.

One of my best — and funniest blog posts — was one that I only showed to a few of you, and was told not to publish it.

The tale found me taking the wrong bus home in Queens, the only white guy en route to Jamaica, Queens, a heavily African-American section of the borough.  During the ride, a bunch of rowdy kids in the back of the bus started an obnoxious game called “Tag the N****r,” where one kid tagged another by touching his shoulder, and he was forced to box the other until he cried uncle. There was real punching in these fights, and bloody noses. As the combatants scufffled violently, “Tag the N****r!” was shouted by the other kids.

The older passengers were disgusted, particularly at the use of language.  There was chaos, and the bus driver eventually kicked all the kids off the bus.  But according to some obscure MTA rule, the bus driver had to wait for a dispatcher to sign a document before the bus could continue on.   As we waited in the hot bus with no air-condition, another bus showed up, a fancy new one.  All of the teenagers climbed aboard the new bus, flashing their school passes, and took off to cause trouble elsewhere.   We were stuck there — all of the law-abiding citizens — for another forty minutes.

“You can’t post this,” said one blogger via email. “It’s not YOUR story to tell. It is one about the African-American experience.”

“But I was there!”

“Yes, but you were only a visitor.”

“Huh?  But I was there!  Why is this about the African-American experience?  And why am I visitor?  I live here too.”

“You don’t see your own privilege,” she said.

Good people could not see beyond the black-white schism, when in my view, the opposing forces in the story were old vs. young.  I had more in common with the older African-Americans sitting in the bus, minding their own business, remembering the civil rights movement than the teenagers.   I did not feel as if anyone singled me out as “the white guy.”  Most of the passengers were angry at the obnoxious teens.

“I have an idea,” said another friend. “Don’t mention ANYONE’S color in the story at all, so then there isn’t an issue of you seeming racist.”

I found her color-blind story suggestion interesting, but bizarre.  Race was not essential to the sitcom story about the father marrying his mother’s black friend, but in this case, the racial content MADE the story a story.  This would be a very different scenario if it were white teenagers playing “Tag the N****r.”

I’m fascinated by the current discussion over this HBO show.   I’m all for diversity — including in the blogosphere!  But I think the biggest obstacle is not the media, but our own discomfort talking about our similarities and differences in non-controversial, but real ways.

Let’s Remake Arthur Again

If I know my movie-buff friend, Danny, he has already complained about the remake of the perfectly fine 1981 comedy, Arthur, one of the most popular films from that decade.  The story, about a happy drunk who stands to lose a wealthy inheritance when he falls for the wrong woman, originally starred Dudley Moore, Liza Minelli, and John Gielgud.

The 2011 remake of Arthur stars Russell Brand, Jennifer Garner, and Helen Mirren.  I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.

Danny is what film critics call a “purist.”  He clearly doesn’t understand that time moves on, and the original Arthur is now 30 years old!  I’m sure his own teenage daughter is as unfamiliar with the late Dudley Moore as he is with forgotten silent film star Francis Lederer.  A new generation deserves a new Arthur.

And what is so wrong with Hollywood remaking Arthur 1981 into Arthur 2011?  Would we want Hamlet to only be performed once at Stratford-upon-Avon during the time of Shakespeare, never to be appreciated again by future generations?  There have been countless interpretations of Hamlet.  Just look at this list of well-known actors who have played Hamlet through the years —

Mel Gibson, David Tennant, Richard Burton, Kenneth Branagh, Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burbage, Thomas Betterton, Lewis Hallam. Jr., Edwin Booth (John Wilkes Booth’s brother), Asta Nielsen, Ethan Hawke, Kevin Kline, Sir Henry Irving, John Philip Kemble, Sir Ian McKellen, Edmund Kean, Sir John Gielgud, Sarah Bernhardt, Sir Derek Jacobi, Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Campbell Scott, William Charles Macready, Richard Chamberlain, Christopher Plummer, Nicol Williamson, John Barrymore, David Garrick

Russell Brand is not re-doing Arthur.  He is recreating the brilliant character developed by the Oscar-nominated writer/director Steve Gordon, who sadly passed away immediately after the release of the film.

Why should Hollywood waste time and energy searching for new ideas, when it can stick with the classics, such as Arthur?

In fact, Hollywood shouldn’t just stop with a Dudley Moore “Arthur” and a Russell Brand “Arthur.”  There should be a black “Arthur.”  An Asian “Arthur.”  An “Arthur” all in Spanish.  A “gay” Arthur.  An “Arthur” where the roles are reversed and Arthur is a woman.  A transexual “Arthur.”  A Pixar animated “Arthur” — in 3D Imax — where “Arthur” is a irresponsible racoon who is a glutton with his acorns rather than am alcoholic, in order to keep it G-rated.  I think there should be a new big budget “Arthur” produced EVERY 30 years.  Ten year old Raymond Ochoa of the children’s TV show “Drake and Josh” will be perfect in thirty years time as the womanizing drunk in the new new Arthur, released in 2041.

Hopefully, in thirty years, science will have perfected a time machine, so Hollywood studios, still hoping to recreate the success of the first “Arthur,” will go back in time to 1951, creating an “Arthur” appropriate for that era, starring Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, and Spencer Tracy.

Why should Hollywood executives be caught between the moon and New York City every time they need to produce a movie?  I applaud the creativity of Hollywood, with their unique ability to be Green and recycle ideas as easily as Ed Begley Jr. does with his paper towels.  In the next few years, I hope to see “Arthur” remade as many times as humanly possible!

Christmas Movie Pitch

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”

Premise:  So many parents today feel that they are “lying” to their kids if they tell their kids that there really is a Santa Claus, so a generation of children are growing up without the magic of Christmas in their hearts.  This is a movie to change all that.  What if a young boy learned that Santa Claus WAS real — very real — and presented him with the greatest adventure of his life?!

Plot:   Perfect A-student Ben goes to sleep on Christmas Eve, believing that Santa Claus is a myth and that his parents will be putting gifts for him under the Costco-bought Christmas tree.  But when Ben wakes up in the middle of the night, he learns that Santa is VERY real, especially when he sees his frustrated stay-at-home mother kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe.  Ben, furious at his mother’s betrayal, takes revenge on her by setting up his hopelessly unemployed father with the vivacious Mrs. Claus, but danger looms when she turns out to be a sex freak and terrorist with ties to Al-Qaeda.  After Ben’s father is kidnapped to North Korea and tortured as a spy, Ben must team up with his mother, Santa Claus, the reindeer, and special Mossad agent Hermie “The Dentist” in the greatest roller-coaster holiday adventure of them all – to save his father, his family, and the Free World from the clutches of an evil regime, culminating in a final battle for the North Pole.  In 3D.

It’s a Wrap

The TCM film festival is over. It was a blast. There was such a varied audience at the screenings — from twenty-something hipsters to senior citizens. Thank you Jane Devin for the intro to the cool people at GM.

By the last screening, I was feeling very sentimental. My father was a big movie buff, and I saw many of these films for the first time on our old RCA TV, sitting with my father in his bedroom. He would have loved to see these classics such as Casablanca and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre on the big screen, in Hollywood. It was especially cool to see Tony Curtis, another favorite actor of my father’s, at a screening of Some Like it Hot.

My father always told me this story — which I only half believed — that he was stationed in Hawaii during the filming of “From Here to Eternity,” and was used as an extra in the famous fight scene between Maggio and Fatso (Frank Sinatra and Ernest Borgnine). Ernest Borgnine was at this festival, speaking about one of his other films. I tried really hard to meet him and tell him this story, but kept missing him by a few minutes.

There was one famous classic film actor who I avoided all weekend for the oddest “six degrees of Hollywood” reason. When I was in film school, I was making this twenty-minute student film, and cast this actress. By the second week, I wasn’t happy with her performance, so I hired a replacement. Believe me, it was excruciatingly difficult to do, one of the reasons I ran to “writing” and not “production” after graduation. The original actress was angry at me over my betrayal, and wrote me an email saying something like “You’re going to go far in Hollywood because you’re such an asshole.” Years passed. One day, I see a photo of this famous older actor who has appeared in 100 films with his new girlfriend, a much much younger woman — yes, her — the actress who thinks I am an asshole because I fired her from a student film. And there they were at the film festival together this weekend, still a couple — this famous actor and his long-time girlfriend who hates my guts. Do you think maybe she forgot about it by now? Do actresses every forget?

Anyway, for now —

— Hollywood has gotten back to business.

Across the street from the Hollywood Roosevelt, three working actors, Marilyn, Freddy Kruger, and Beetlegeuse discuss their latest screenplay at the Coffee Bean.

When I first stepped out of my house this morning, there was a new neighbor checking out my Buick Lacrosse in the drive-way.

“New car?” he asked.

“Kind of. I’m just testing it.” I answered.

I didn’t feel like it was necessary to go into all the details about my blog and the film festival. I was also trying to impress him.

“It looks like an upscale Lexus.”

I made note of his comment. I had never met this neighbor before, and for a second I wondered if Buick had paid an actor to come over, as a subtle hint that I should write more about the car on my blog.

The neighbor started asking me all these car-oriented questions. “What is the mph?” “How many cylinders?” Etc. I had absolutely no idea. I knew the car looked and felt good, and was impressed that the steering wheel could HEAT UP! Luckily, Sophia came out and DID know the answers, considering that she has a subscription to Car and Driver.

Afterwards, Sophia scolded me.

“Buick sponsored you to go to the festival. You should at least know SOMETHING about the car other than the fact that you can listen to Oprah on XM radio!”

She’s right. It’s time to start blogging with integrity. Today, I am going to be driving all around town so I can give you my honest opinion of the Buick Lacrosse. I have only owned Japanese cars since moving to Los Angeles. Will this car change my mind?

First up — I will play with all the cool buttons on the dashboard.

“Have you ever made out in the back of a car?” I asked Sophia.


“Yes?! With who? You never told me that.”

“Haven’t you?”

“Uh, no.”

I still haven’t.

You ever notice in car commercials and advertisements the person driving his car is always completely alone on the road?

Isn’t reality more like this? —

Live from TCM Classic Film Festival!

I expected blogging to take me to new places, but filming a promotional video for Buick on Hollywood Boulevard is certainly a very weird and exciting surprise! It was a surreal experience There are so many classic Buicks in these films, and now I was driving around town in a cool new Buick being filmed myself.

Ryan Seacrest — watch out!

Saturday’s highlight was seeing a screening of “Singing in the Rain” at the Egyptian Theater. Sophia and I had the best seats in the VIP section. Before the screening, the director of the classic musical, Stanley Donen, stepped in front of the audience and was interviewed by TCM host Robert Osborne. Stanley Donen spoke about his experience working with Gene Kelly, Donald O’Conner, and Debbie Reynolds. He also told us how he was only nine years old when he first saw Fred Astaire in a movie, and how this inspired his career, and when he was twenty-five, he was already directing Fred Astaire in a film. After the fascinating conversaton, Stanley Donen sat in the audience to watch his own film — in the seats RIGHT IN FRONT OF US. Talk about a story to tell your grandchildren. I saw “Singin’ in the Rain,” one of the greatest movies ever, while sitting behind the director — Stanley “Freakin'” Donen!

Four Movies a Day

In “A Star is Born,” the first film showed at the TCM Classic Film Festival, James Mason “discovers” Judy Garland and arranges for her to get a screen test. He tells her that her life is about to be changed by success and that she should never lose her soul to the chaos of Hollywood.

I could use a little bit of that advice on my second day of this film festival.

As my first sponsored blogging gig (I received full passes for two — entries to all of the films and parties — and a new Buick Lacrosse to drive all week, from the festival’s sponsor, Buick), I understand that I am supposed to be blogging about my experiences here, but the festival is so all-consuming from 7AM to 2AM, that it is almost impossible to find any time to write anything very good. Do film critics write on their laptops in the middle of the movie? So far, this film festival has been a blast, but if you have been to BlogHer, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it is also exhausting!

Here is a quick recap so far, as shown through iphone photos —

Thursday night was the red carpet opening, a screening of “A Star is Born.” The day leading up to the event was chaotic. We were supposed to drive our fancy new Buick to the event, but the care got lost somewhere near Phoenix, and we didn’t receive it until two hours before the screening. We still haven’t had time to fully appreciate everything this car has to offer. Sophia and I had other concerns as well — what to wear! I bought a new shirt, but then discovered that it required cuff links. Who owns cuff links?

I wore cuff links once, at my wedding. I did what I always do nowadays when I need advice — I went on Twitter and asked for help. A female blogger, a Martha Stewart type, suggested I create my own cuff links from two buttons and thread.

“It’s very easy,” she said.

Yeah, right. I opted to change my shirt.

I ended up wearing this. This same female blogger, seeing this photo, criticized me for looking “too conservative for the red carpet.”

I had an even bigger problem. Sophia wanted to dress the role of old Hollywood glamour, wearing her mother’s vintage jacket from 1950’s Russia. Although it had an authentic feel, something a star might have worn to the original opening of “A Star is Born,” the jacket was made of… uh, well, FUR.

I visualized Sophia and I stepping out of silver Buick, onto the red carpet, and immediately getting covered in blood from some zealot from PETA. I’m not sure Buick, my lovely sponsors, would appreciate this, so I begged Sophia not to wear it. Did I wimp out? Probably. Selling out to the man CHANGES YOU!

Off to the red carpet in our Buick!

Hollywood was all abuzz with the film festival. The headquarters was at the Hollywood Roosevelt, and most of the screenings were at the Chinese and Egyptian Theaters.

I impressed Sophia by proving once and for all that my feet are bigger than those of Kirk Douglas.

Here’s a little secret about the red carpet. It’s not really red. It is more “cranberry.”

Next time I dress like Alec Baldwin. I WAS too conservative.

On Friday, Sophia and I attended four movies. One of the was “The Producers.” I hadn’t planned to attend it because I had seen it so many times before. But when I learned that Sophia had never seen it before, I was curious to see her reaction. Hey, Mel Brooks — I chose you over a screening of “Casablanca!” Mel Brooks was there for a discussion, having just received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier that day.

By the way, Sophia loved “The Producers.”

Sophia didn’t enjoy “The Sweet Smell of Success” with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, calling it “too dark.”

In the middle of the day, I met with a video crew, who filmed me driving all around Hollywood, talking about old movies and Buicks. Don’t laugh when I post this video! I was blabbing all over the place. Hopefully, they will edit most of it out.

I felt like one of those American Idol contestants making those music videos. It all happened so fast, that I hardly remember what I said or did. At one point, I was walking along Hollywood Boulevard like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, en route to the screening of the film (even though the screening was not really happening at the time, or even on that day). Hollywood!

Off to another day of movies. So far, it’s been a great experience, but I am a little dizzy. One of the oddest things is having people ask me about my blog, and having to come up with answers for “What do I write about?” Now I understand why you all put up those annoying “blog badges” on your blogs. There is something about wearing a badge around your neck that makes you more legitimate in the eyes of others.

“Your blog sounds fascinating,” some actress-type said to me, thinking that I was someone of importance, seeing that I had the exclusive all-access pass.


I think I fell asleep last night while Fred and Ginger were dancing cheek to cheek in a screening of Top Hat, but I’m not sure.

TCM Classic Film Festival

After years in Los Angeles, I finally made it to the red carpet of a star-studded premiere. And ironically, it was blogging that brought me there. Danny and I are attending the TCM Classic Film Festival, thanks to the recommendation of blogging friend Jane Devin and the cool people at Buick. There are movies and lectures about classic movies from morning until night. Hey, Roger Ebert, is it humanly possible to see five movies in one day?I once made it through a special showing of the Star Wars Trilogy, but I had a headache for a week, and I was drugged up on coffee.

My first post about the event is going to be a little short, because I am rushing to the Chinese theater to see King Kong! Most of the films are at the classic Chinese and Egyptian theaters in Hollywood, so that makes it extra special.

Last night was a showing of “A Star is Born” with Judy Garland, a favorite of anyone who has tried to make it in Hollywood, or any gay male. I have seen the movie so many times, but never on the big screen. At the party after the movie, there was much conversation about Judy Garland and James Mason’s teeth because the big image allowed us to see how imperfect and coffee and cigarette-stained they were. Imagine, movie stars with REAL TEETH! Ah, now that is classic cinema!

I love “A Star is Born,” but this was a re-mastered version where they added material that was edited out after the premiere. Danny explained to me that the movie was not a total success at first, so the studio edited out some scenes to quicken the pace, against the wishes of George Cukor. George Cukor is a brilliant director, but I think the studio was right. Do you ever see the extended version of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” where Spielberg added in a sequence of Richard Dreyfuss walking into the spaceship and meeting the aliens. Sometimes, less is more. However, it was cool that they tried to be historically accurate and show the movie exactly as it was during premiere night.

Since I have a guest pass, I’m bringing Sophia to many of the films. It should be interesting to hear her reviews.

Today should be a wild day of screening. Here is my schedule of what I want to see:

King Kong
Sweet Smell of Success (with Tony Curtis in attendance)
The Producers (with Mel Brooks in attendance)
Imitation of Life (with Peter Bogdanovich, Juanita Moore, and Susan Kohner)
Midnight Cowboy
and The Day of the Triffids at midnight

Let’s see if I can keep my eyes open. (but free popcorn and soda!)

Since Buick is a sponsor of the event, they are also MY sponsor. For a week, I can drive around in a fancy, classy new Buick Lacrosse, a really cool car. Buick is smart. They are aware that some of us still think of a Buick as “Dad’s car,” rather than something cool, hip, and timeless — like Casablanca.

“So if they want to position themselves as cool and hip, why did they ask YOU to do this?” wondered Sophia.

Nothing could be farther than the truth about Buick being old-fashioned. This is one nice car, and even I’ll agree that I looked sexy driving it.

More later, including OFF-CENTERED photos of me ON THE RED CARPET.

The Housing Market

(the following is written after watching a commercial for a horror movie on TV. I was taking Nyquil)

A young couple is being shown a three bedroom home in Long Island by a realtor.

YOUNG WOMAN: I love it. The kitchen is so cozy. And look, Ben, a breakfast nook.

YOUNG MAN: (to realtor) Are you sure the price is only $150,000. In such a nice neighborhood? Is this a foreclosure?

REALTOR: Oh, no. Absolutely not.

YOUNG WOMAN: It’s the economy, Ben. Housing prices have been going down.

YOUNG MAN: But $150,000?

REALTOR: There are some other factors.

YOUNG MAN: I knew it! It sounded too good to be true. Is there a problem withe the plumbing, because…

REALTOR: No, no, no…I didn’t mean that. It just that before it was renovated in 1965, this house used to be a funeral parlor.

YOUNG MAN: Oh, that’s fine. Isn’t it honey?

YOUNG WOMAN: Absolutely. That’s why the living room is so large. That must be where all the coffins were stored!

REALTOR: Exactly. It’s a beautiful room. Difficult to find wood paneling like that. The first family that lived here after the renovation, the Kensingtons, used to have gala Christmas celebrations in here, with sparkling lights and eggnog, and a beautiful tree.

YOUNG WOMAN: How lovely!

REALTOR: Sadly, the entire family was massacred by a roving band of escaped mental patients.

YOUNG MAN: Hmmm, that doesn’t sound very good…

REALTOR: Oh, don’t worry. The mental patients were captured and returned to the institution.

YOUNG WOMAN: You see, Sweetie. You worry over nothing! (to realtor) Can we see the bedrooms?

REALTOR: Of course.

They climb the creaky stairs to the master bedroom.

REALTOR: Don’t mind the blood stains on the walls. They’ll be cleaned off by next week.

YOUNG MAN: What happened? Why are there so many blood stains?

REALTOR: Well, this is going to sound silly, and rather unimportant, but many years ago, a group of women were burned at the stake as witches on this exact spot, and past owners sometimes complained of ghosts and evil spirts. But I don’t believe in ghosts or evil spirits, do you?

YOUNG WOMAN: Of course not. we’re professionals. We’re both web designers!

YOUNG MAN: You still haven’t explained the blood stains on the walls…

REALTOR: Oh, it’s the last owner. A young guy. A college kid with wealthy parents. He shared the place with some roommates. Lots of girls and drinking and sex, until each was killed in some grisly manner. It was a very odd coincidence.

YOUNG MAN: The owner was killed too?

REALTOR: Oh no, he committed suicide by impaling himself on the kitchen chandelier.

YOUNG MAN: That sounds a little uh, drama queen-ish.

REALTOR: Eh, you know, college kids. Sowing their wild oats. I was pretty wild myself back in Alabama State before I settled down with the little lady. Go Crimsons!

YOUNG MAN: (turning to his wife) Honey, are you sure this is the right house for us?

REALTOR: (pulling an envelope from his pocket) Oh yeah, the last owner left this envelope for “The Next Owner: Must Open Immediately.” But is it really necessary to read the letter? I think this place is perfect for the two of you. Why be bothered by anything right now that will ruin the moment?

YOUNG WOMAN: He’s right, Ben. I love it. So much room. We can have wonderful dinner parties in here with the Axelrods! We can celebrate Rob Axelrod’s early release from prison for that manslaughter charge!

YOUNG MAN: OK, then I guess we are interested!

REALTOR: And the envelope?

YOUNG MAN: Who needs to read it?! Rip it up! Let’s start fresh!

The Young Couple kisses as the realtor starts the paperwork.

The Orthodox Jewish Guy Outside the Supermarket

I went down to Pathmark Supermarket to buy whole wheat hamburger buns and some bottles of Snapple.   In front of the entrance, was an Orthodox Jew handing out leaflets.  He was wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit, a traditional fringed garment worn under the clothing.  I’ve seen these guys before.   Some ultra-religious Jews go around and try to get less religious Jews to pay more attention to the various rituals of Judaism.  These men believe that the spreading of their religious fervor will hasten the arrival of the Messiah.

Usually, these Jews only bug other Jews.  They frequently ask passerbys, “Are you Jewish?” before they annoy the hell out of you.   I understand that they are on a mission, but sometimes I just want to walk to the supermarket without having to discuss religious issues.   The only time I’ve ever said that I WASN”T Jewish had nothing to do anti-Semitism.   It was to avoid one of these ultra-religious guys pestering me on the street about lighting the Shabbos candles.

“Here, take some candles. Light them on Friday night. Do you belong to a temple?  Come to our temple.  We even will feed you!”

They will feed you. I know their trick.   You go to their temple.  They feed you some good chicken soup, and then they OWN YOU!

What surprised me about this guy outside the supermarket was that he was not asking, “Are you Jewish?” to anyone.   He was handing out his leaflets and talking to every passerby, whether they were black or white or Latino or Asian.  Some of these shoppers quickly walked by, while others politely took one of his leaflets.

Was he trying to convert everyone to Judaism?

Three years ago, I wrote a post advocating Jews trying to convert other religions. I was being a little tongue in cheek.   At the time,  I felt that if other religions are always trying to convert you, why not return the favor?   In reality, conversion is a dirty word for most Jews because it brings up a sad history of forced conversion, mostly at the hands of Christians.   Even though I wrote that post, I don’t really feel comfortable with anyone trying to convert another person.

I wondered if this zealot outside my Queens supermarket felt safe trying to convert others to Judaism because we were in Queens, and there were many Jews in the neighborhood.   Maybe he felt safe in numbers, despite the fact that there was a mosque right across the street.

This made me angry.   If I were a Jew in a Christian neighborhood, I would hate having someone try to convert me outside my local supermarket.  I would feel as if I was being pressured to be “one of the majority.”  I’m not a hypocrite.    Why should a Jew try to convert others in our neighborhood?   Surely, the religions of others — whether it be Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism — is as worthy a religion.   This smug Jewish guy, passing out leaflets, was arrogant.  It didn’t matter if he was “part of my tribe.”

I walked into the supermarket, using a side door, just to avoid him.

After I finished my shopping, I looked through the store window, and saw my Jewish friend deep in conversation with a black mother and her son.  The mother took the flier, nodding in agreement.  Did he just sucker in another victim to leave her own religion behind?  My face grew red.  This idiot was giving the Jewish people a bad name.

I walked outside, waiting for him to hand me a flier and engage me in conversation.  I walked by and he completely ignored me.   What was up with that?!   Did he see that I was angry and was worried about a conflict?   Or could he tell that I was already Jewish so he didn’t need to convert me?   And how did he know I was Jewish?   Was he judging me on my Jewish nose like a racist would do?   Was this Jewish man stereotyping a fellow Jew?

Hell, I wanted him to try to convert me!   I wanted him to hand me one of those leaflets, so I can shove it back in his face and tell him that this is not the ways Jews should behave.  That it is a shame for him to stand there in his yarmulke and tzitzit and show such disregard for other cultures and other religions.

I did a 360 and entered the supermarket again, just so I could exit a second time and get one of those leaflets.  I quickly re-walked my steps, leaving the market as I did before, not even waiting for the electric door to fully open.  I walked past the ultra-religious Jewish guy, who was eagerly handing out his leaflets — and the asshole ignored me again.

That was enough for me.   Like Abraham, who would sacrifice Isaac, his son, because of God’s word, I knew that it was my moral obligation to confront my Jewish nemesis.  I stepped in front of him.

“May I have one of those leaflets.”

“Sure,” he said reluctantly.

He handed me one. I held it tightly in my hand, ready to start my diatribe against religious hypocrisy.  And then I read the piece of paper:

“Looking to sell your condo?  Call 718-555-1212.”

When I arrived home, I looked at myself in the mirror. My hair had gotten long again. I was unshaven. I was wearing an old t-shirt. Apparently, I was stereotyped by this guy as someone who can’t afford to own a condo.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  Truth and Fiction

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