Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The terrible prescience of “Glengarry Glen Ross”

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

On this blog, I write about Donald Trump as little as I can bear; he already hogs too much of my day everywhere else, so I don’t want it here as well.

But I can’t resist linking to this terrific little piece that compares Trump, and his latest amanuensis Anthony Scaramucci, with a character in the 1992 film version of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” As this piece notes, the stage version doesn’t include the much-loved opener with Alec Baldwin, which has continues to serve as an unfortunate model for some. (Just this past week, someone in the business world brought the Baldwin character up to me — and was dumbfounded to learn that it isn’t in the stage version.)

Anyway, here’s the piece. It’s an all-too-true characterization of the current president of the United States.

The surprise ending to the most frightening sequel

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

“The Conjuring” scared the pants off me, and there’s a new sequel, “Annabelle: Creation,” opening soon.

But the frights to be found there pale in comparison to those forecast in “An Inconvenient Sequel,” the followup to Al Gore’s previous documentary warning about global warming. The new one opens this Friday.

Last night, I took my two teenagers and a friend of mine to an invited preview of the film at the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood. I wanted them to see what we’re up against with climate change, and also, I hoped, to see that there are people working on solutions (or improvements). But inwardly, I feared that the movie would be so bleak it’d leave us feeling hopeless — much as a close friend told me that a recent piece about global warming in The New Yorker left her feeling.

Yes, the film shows the ravages of melting ice, surging hurricanes and rising ocean waters, both here and abroad. But to my great surprise, it’s frequently funny and terrifically hopeful. The pace of technological advance is great, as are the numbers of people and nations working on solutions. If the movie sometimes candy-coats the situation — yes, we are moving away from fossil fuels, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be somehow restoring melted glaciers — it also ends with rousing optimism, as Al Gore documents the previous struggles that humankind has surmounted.

The former vice president was present at the theatre for a talkback. Yes, he said, sometimes he despairs — but he noted that even some naysayers are coming around, and that last week here in California eight Republican members of the state Assembly voted with Democrats to pass cap-and-trade legislation. (He also shared that one of his “personal heroes,” Governor Jerry Brown, was at that moment in the next screening room watching the movie.) Every great campaign for progress has setbacks: the film documents a particular instance with a research satellite getting decommissioned courtesy of Bush/Cheney, and of course also the perfidious presidency of Donald Trump. However: the film also shows Gore and others working a deal that convinces India not to build 400 (!) new coal-burning plants, plus an impressive graphic depicting the increase in renewable energy production.

I didn’t expect to leave the theatre feeling that my hope was renewed, but it was. My friend felt the same way, and told me he’d feared that it would be depressing.

Now I’m urging everyone to see the film. Go see it, learn about the real-world, right-now, impacts of global warming on places you’re familiar with — places like Miami (which is partly underwater), Nebraska, New Orleans, New Jersey, and Manhattan, all of them shown on-screen under siege from radical new weather.

And then see how tomorrow isn’t impossible. Want to feel that progress is possible about the greatest challenge facing all of humankind? Then this is the film for you.

One final thing: Al Gore has been working on this issue as a personal mission since the 1980’s — the movie shows scenes to this effect. Given the work he’s been doing in build coalitions and making deals that help address this issue, he may be our greatest ex-president. I was happy to shake his hand after the screening.

War is Peace

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

WonderWoman2017

I went to the 9:40 showing of “Wonder Woman” this morning. I wanted to see the movie, plus I didn’t have anything else I was going to be doing at 9:40 a.m., plus I wanted to save half the ticket price.

Before I say what I’m going to say, let me say that I enjoyed the movie very much. Even with the obvious plot points and non-revelatory reveals. (My interior monologue:  “Hm. Wonder Woman has two mother figures, one will die, I’m going to say… that one. Yep. Okay, there’s a hidden bad guy, they’re establishing this character, so it’s him. Yep.” And so forth.)

In addition to the extremely powerful charm and beauty of Gal Gadot, and the eye-catching magnitude of Chris Pine’s eyebrows, I couldn’t help noting the pro-war bent from a movie that seeks to present itself as anti-war: The Amazons on Themyscira are in constant training for a battle they seem not to have fought to eons; Hippolyta seeks to shelter her young daughter from said training even though, evidently, training in battle is the only thing going on in that land; when transported to London, Diana asks how women could possibly fight in their constrictive 1921 street clothes, her assumption being that of course everyone is constantly engaged in battle; and, really, the entire film is a run-up to a massive war, one between good and evil (i.e., the Allies and the Germans) and an evidently even more important war, between a goddess and her uncle.

War is all over this thing, even though Wonder Woman constantly calls for peace.

Is she serious, or is this a pose?

If peace were declared, for ever after, what would she do? Would the women of paradise island take up knitting instead?

Driving home, I thought about “1984,” where Big Brother tells us that “War is Peace.” This, on a day when Donald Trump released a video beckoning us to cheer as he wrestles journalists into submission. In 2017, with a world in chaos and the country feeling unmoored, messages mean more. However entertaining, what is the message of “Wonder Woman”? What does it mean that the god of war advocates for armistice just so he can show it won’t work? How entertaining can simple entertainment be when it makes us feel like we should take up arms, during a time when what we really need to do is come to some agreement? Is Wonder Woman just the latest in a long line of hypocrites?

Incredible, incredible dialogue

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Here’s the transcript of the Associated Press interview with Donald Trump. I don’t expect you to read it all. I certainly don’t expect him to.

I will say that this would serve as the script for my next play, but lately I’m not writing Theatre of the Absurd.

Paid vacation

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Paid by YOU.

Political theatre (of the absurd)

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Godot” in four months. Six years later, the GOP are still trying to draft their replacement for Obamacare. All they’ve got so far is intermission.

The Red Skull trumphant!

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

One rite of passage for presidents is a comic-book appearance. These appearances tell us something about how their times, and history, have viewed these U.S. leaders.

There are many examples of this, but here are just a few.

Abraham Lincoln, as a redwood of our history, is portrayed in a simple but saintly way.

lincolncomic

Theodore Roosevelt, who, like Lincoln, was dead by the time this came out, is shown as a 1930s-era action-adventure hero.

TRcomicbook

 

His cousin Franklin Roosevelt is retconned as the secret founder of the Justice Society of America! (Plus the All-Star Squadron, to boot!) In other words, he’s effected great change, frequently from behind the scenes.

FDRcomicbook

 

Lyndon Johnson is a straightforward executive who restored calm and stability after the Kennedy assassination.

LBJcomic

 

(But shortly thereafter (and prior to discontent about the Vietnam War), he becomes a crusader for social justice.)

comic-great-society

And here’s Barack Obama, against a blue sky, radiating hope.

AmazinSpidermanObama

 

And now, just one month into his presidency, Donald Trump has made his entry into comic books. Unfortunately, it’s as the voice of the Red Skull. Who is the Red Skull? A supervillain known as a Nazi leftover, archenemy of Captain America, and the antithesis of American democracy.

These, below, are Trump’s exact words, but now assigned by Twitter account “President Supervillain” to an ages-old image of the Red Skull as he battles Captain America.

TrumpRedSkullTorture

Captain America, it should be remembered, was created by two Jews.

Make of all this what you will. I know what I make of it.

For more about President Supervillain and President Donald Trump as the Red Skull, click here.

Monday, not Sunday

Monday, February 20th, 2017

While in the past I’ve been happy to celebrate Washington’s birthday, or Lincoln’s birthday, I’ve never wanted to celebrate President’s Day, for the simple reason that I don’t celebrate all of them. I didn’t like it when George W. Bush was the president, I don’t recall liking it before that, and I certainly don’t like it now.

In addition to not-celebrating the holiday, another reason I had a hard time just a minute ago remembering that it’s Monday and not Sunday is that I spent the morning eating a leisurely breakfast with strong coffee, horsing around on my iPhone playing far too many rounds of Drop7, and making mental lists of things I should do today but probably won’t. In other words: Sunday activities. I was especially confused when the newspaper was even slimmer than usual — pretty slim for a Sunday! … Oh.

Yesterday, on what felt like Saturday but was actually Sunday, I took my daughter to LACMA to see the exhibit of German art of the Renaissance. My forebears were torn between two factions (in this case, the Catholics and the Protestants), an awful conflict that gave rise to some great art and some very snotty illustrations that reminded me of the underground comix o the 1960s. (Good thing nothing like this is happening these days.) The work was deeply beautiful and generally disturbing — very warlike, with representations of the chosen arbiters (Martin Luther or the Pope) swinging between deific and demonic, and with much heraldry, spilled blood, and tortured Christs. The portraiture of the one-percenters (who, of course, could afford portraits of themselves), was necessarily flattering. Hats off, then, to Albrecht Durer, who had the audacity to depict one such Burgermeister as a thin-lipped, cold-eyed coot. I can only wonder what this person thought of his portrait.

While we were there, we paid extra to see the exhibit showcasing the work of Diego Rivera and Pablo Picasso. I’d never thought of the two together, associating the former with a sort of socialist-peasant art and the latter with modernism, and I wasn’t aware of their friendship, but now I’ve been educated. I was especially interested to see how informed Rivera’s work was by Mayan art, with its simple uninflected portrayals of people, and also to see Picasso’s elementary illustrations of a translation of Ovid; it’s astounding how much he could convey with just a simple fluid line.

My friend and former playwriting workshop member Tira Palmquist is having quite a year or two or three. She’s been racking up productions all over the place, and just broke through the LORT curtain with her play “Two Degrees,” which is currently running at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. She says a number of smart and useful things in this interview, and is even so kind as to give me a shoutout. In with all the other wise things she says here, I particularly recommend this advice: “Write as much as possible. Set difficult goals.”

Go to the gym. Do the grocery shopping. Write as much as possible. That’s my to-do list for today.

That’s entertainment

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

One night last week, after another full day of Trump, I decided to take my wife to see the touring production of “Motown the Musical” at the Pantages in Hollywood. I’m not generally much for musicals, but I love Motown (who doesn’t?), and I thought it’d be a fun evening out, and a welcome distraction from everything going on in the news:  protests, police actions, presidents breaking the law, and more.

The show was everything I was hoping for:  great songs well-sung, interspersed with some storytelling as we moved chronologically through the history of Motown. If a glance at the program left me wondering just how on Earth the show was going to get through more than sixty hits from the Motown catalog, the show soon clarified it:  while occasionally you’d get the full song, or most of it, for the most part you’d get about three bars, which is the musical equivalent of a nod in the direction of a song you know. Which was frustrating. You’d get keyed up to hear a song you love, and just when you recognized it, it was over. Imagine hearing, say, a “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — but then having it cut off at “Ain’t No–.” It was kinda like that; like ain’t no song finishin’ no how.

That said, the performers were terrific, especially a little boy who completely channeled the pre-adolescent Michael Jackson, and a beautiful honey-voiced young woman who, in an extended sequence that replicated Diana Ross’s solo debut in Las Vegas, reminded everyone present just why Ross was a huge star.

The show also reminded everyone about something else.

As the history moved further and further into the 1960s and later, the backdrop turned to Vietnam and Watergate… and protests, police actions, and presidents breaking the law.

My wife turned to me and said, “Wow. Nothing ever changes, does it?”

Mapping out our past (and our future?)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

diversemap

Here’s a map from 1940 showing just how diverse the United States of America has always been. (And an explainer, here.) Just as a reminder to some.