Thursday, February 1, 2018



CEJ: the titular "Straight Guy On His Day Off"

("What's this 'Straight Guy's Musings?") 

     Well, at first it's a witty title meant to grab your attention. But ultimately it's much more. Welcome to the "Man Cave". I guess every writer, musician, illustrator, etc. has their creative "trysting place" where they secretly rendezvous with the muses, or artistic "delivery room" to which they'll retreat "when nature speaks" and those infants of the imagination kick and scream loudly within your belly that they're ready to be born and step into the natural world.

    “MUSINGS OF A STRAIGHT GUY ON HIS DAY OFF” is a title dreamt up years ago for a one man play wherein a fellow on his day off from work kills time while waiting around all morning for the Cable TV Guy to show up - as they‘re always freakin‘ late! He decides to kill said time by breaking down the “fourth wall” between himself and the theater audience, and by (“pseudo Hemingway”-like if you will) shooting the sh*t with them about all manner of things from a more pronounced American male point of view. Things which run the gamut from gender specific to socio-politically controversial, irritating, heartbreaking, uplifting and pretty much everything in between - not unlike daily life itself which more times than not, and without any rhyme, reason, recognizable rhythm, and surely without any fairness, will dig it's spurs into your sides and “Yippie Ki Yay!” free ride your ass down the block when you least expect it.

     During those "when you least expect it" moments we're going to attempt to slow them down a little, dissect them, and, using the dialog between our guy and the audience, also attempt a better understanding of him and that audience - he and they essentially acting as stand-ins for us and the people and various world views we interact with everyday.

Various renditions of THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA:
 (L to R) for stage (2017), film (1958) and television (1990)

     Here's a good analogy, I guess - think of it in some respects as a condensed and modernized version of the three days Hemingway's Santiago does battle with that huge-assed marlin in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Having no one to chat with during those three days, through Hemingway's prose Santiago allows the audience in on his personal thought processes. And over the course we the readers begin with an external (even cliche'd) view and opinion of him as an older, hairy chested "man's man" who, yeah, has happened upon a bad patch of luck lately, but is determined, as all "men's men" are, to grit it out honorably even if it kills him. But as the elements - including the weather, along with his aging body, recollections of the past and more begin to slowly eat away at Santiago's rough, tumble and (originally thought of as) callous outer layers, we come to discover a genuinely deep and philosophical human being below those callouses.

     In a way Santiago's boat becomes his theater stage, ... his "theatrical Man Cave" of sorts. And this here is the Wal-Mart / Dollar Store knock-off version of that. Oh, and interestingly the final act of our theatrical presentation turns into a two person play when the Cable TV Guy shows up and is revealed to be the Cable TV Woman. And whom, after being filled in on some of the earlier topics of discussion, dives into the proceedings to add her own (at times opposing) take on things.

     Envisioned in a weird way it's kinda / sorta the impressionistic flip-side “guy version” of Eve Ensler’s THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES mashed-up with the Hemingway thing. And yeah, describing it as such paints it as an oddball thematic amalgam to be sure, but I think it works, ... or rather will work. At any rate the intent was always to cull its script from a series of blogs (most of them written casually and near stream-of-consciousness-like in the early A.M.) as well as from responses to those blogs. So consider yourself at ground level with me; the two of us sitting together cross legged on the floor, each with notebooks in our laps, and jotting down subjects, anecdotes and argumentative topics which we think will absolutely fly, ... only later to be scribbled out and replaced with something definitely absolutely a dozen times better. But that's the creative process in general.

    Some of the entries (like the short "Trolling" one which follows below) will be relatively casual, conversational and lightweight social and artistic observations, musings and "Really, who ultimately gives a damn?" opinions, while others will be much more serious and "journalistic" in tone and execution. Over the last few weeks I've been working on two longer entries along those lines - one dealing with bullying, school violence and teen suicide; and the other concerning America's at times harrowing history of immigration policies and practices. As a screenwriter, film maker and (once upon a time) illustrator, some of the entries will of course deal with the creative media arts. As a man some of them will be semi-angry screeds delving into the interpersonal hypocrisy and b.s. of men and women as they (as we) go about the daily energy-sapping grind of "he said / she said" sexual politics and games playing. Another may be a rumination on childhood-to-adulthood. And yet another a nostalgic remembrance of now defunct toys and their buried personal and / or sociological significance. I mean with that one, when a culture goes from "G.I. Joe with the Kung Fu Grip" and JONNY QUEST to Care Bears and My Little Ponies, that's an indication of a society in flux, and with changing views on the roles, assumptions and presumptions of gender in that society. And whether or not one considers that change or flux "good" or "bad" or other will surely speak more to the backstory and worldview of the individual person (and the era in which they grew up) more than anything else. Hey, who knew? Freakin' toys!

     I'd say most personally, however, the entries closest to my heart are the cherished recollections of meetings and conversations with iconic historical and literary figures such as Rosa Parks and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright / actor Jason Miller. As those are the kinds of experiences one can never forget, they definitely help to chart your future life course and world view as much as (if not more than) anything else.

     All of this to say MUSINGS OF A STRAIGHT GUY is essentially a $3-per-movie dump bin of ployglot ideas, experiences and opinions which don't quite fit anywhere else. A pinball machine of the miscellaneous in which to ricochet around under the glass (what appears at first glance to be) unrelated mental hyperboles and hypotheses and posits and possibilities. And maybe even the playground / cage of those metaphorical gorillas who invade a printing shop, toss the individual letter blocks into the air, then when the letters fall to the ground, the apes find that the blocks have somehow aligned themselves into Shakespeare's HAMLET. Okay, maybe that one's a bit much. But you get the idea. In the end we just want to throw a bunch of you-know-what at the proverbial wall to see what actually might stick. And when all's said and done, maybe, hey, just maybe we'll emerge with some semi-intelligent throughline or two which a theater audience can latch onto and take home to chew on a bit. That's not without a little writerly honor, is it? Anyway ...

     As the saying goes, "It ain't brain surgery". Or hey, maybe it actually kind of / sort of is. At any rate ...

     Chat with 'ya soon.



(... and probably a coward too)! HERE'S WHY ...
by CEJ
"Therese Dreaming" (1938) by Balthus: the subject of debate at New York's Met museum

     "Put up or shut up!"
 When's the last time you actually remember hearing someone use that phrase? In an era of being careful to not offend anyone's sensibilities, and where the "Backpedaling Two-step" has become the most popular social media / journalistic version of DANCING WITH THE STARS, it seems to have gone the way of the American buffalo - not quite yet extinct, but perhaps dangling in that "near threatened from existence" category. But just as shouting "I do believe in fairies!" brought Tink back to life, and staring into the mirror and saying the name "Candyman" three times in a row brought him from the land of the undead into our world ("Beetlejuice" too for that matter), I say we verbally pull a big time Lazarus on those magical and powerful words. So, say 'em with me now. But remember, ... you have to believe.

     Put up or shut up, ... Put up or shut up, ... Put up OR SHUT THE RIGHTEOUS F**K UP!
     There will forever be those who tear down and tear apart George Lucas, Michael Bay, and even Oliver Stone, Spike Lee and others. Ultimately no one's immune. As a screenwriter and life long film fan, hey, I get it. And a part of me even says "So be it" as even Her Majesty's own doesn't score a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card on this one. I read a piece a few days ago about how many Millennials are going back, watching the earlier James Bond films, and are (surprise!, surprise!) appalled at those movies' rampant political incorrectness. And many of those Millenials are expressing their displeasure quite vociferously about the cultural icon. On the one hand you just roll your eyes and say, "Oh, brother!". But on the other hand this and other scenarios ... . And hey, it's not just the Millennials, so let's quit beating up on them for a few minutes, huh? But this and other scenarios, such as the recent one where a petition called for the removal of Balthus' painting "Thérèse Dreaming" from New York's Met museum because some felt the image of the young woman in it was "being sexualized", reminded me of a satirical dig legendary author Arthur C. Clarke inserted into his 1990 novel "The Ghost From The Grand Banks".

The far-from-politically-correct GOLDFINGER (1964)

     From the pen of the literary giant and socio-spiritual referee co-responsible for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, the primary "A" narrative of GHOST is a whale of a sci fi tale about two rival corporations in the (then) future world of 2012 racing the other to be the first to raise their half of the sunken ocean liner Titanic. But in the backdrop of this "advanced" society - where both political correctness and capitalistic fervor rush hand-in-hand to cash in on damn near any and every thing - classic b&w movies are not only colorized to make them more financially appealing to a new generation of film goers, but they're also digitally altered (with CGI Bogies, Bacalls, Bergmans and others) to be more politically correct. Famous books too! And in retrospect it's funny (that's "funny" disturbing, and not "funny" haha) how Clarke wasn't too far off on predicting that one. At any rate what follows here is what I believe to be much a more sensible (and courageous) alternative to the ever-growing contemporary tide of petitions, demanded alterings, censorship and more when something comes along, or is deemed after being around for decades, as that which may offend another person's or one's own sensibilities. I'll use two examples to illustrate this bit of wisdom: Sidney Poitier and Melissa McCarthy.

BUCK AND THE PREACHER (1972) dir. by Sidney Poitier

     Back during the height of the "blaxploitation" film era of the 1970s many African-American leaders (Jesse Jackson, the NAACP and others) called for a boycott of films like SUPERFLY, HELL UP IN HARLEM, BLACK CAESAR and the like which they felt were perpetuating negative stereotypes about blacks. And hey, they were kinda right. But Poitier and Harry Belafonte felt a better / more complete solution was to "Give people an alternative" which they might enjoy more than what was presently out there. So they teamed on the 1972 western adventure (one with a lot of good-natured humor) BUCK AND THE PREACHER. Scripted by Ernest Kinoy (ROUTE 66, NAKED CITY, VICTORY AT ENTEBBE) the story followed ex Civil War soldier Poitier and con artist preacher Belafonte, who cross paths then end up helping a group of former slaves traverse the frontier to Kansas where they and their newly freed families are promised they'll be able to own and work their own land. Of course there are many determined to keep that from happening. Directed by Poitier it was a hit with both black and white audiences; a hit which led to Poitier's next film with Belafonte (... and Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor and Flip Wilson and Paula Kelly and Rosalind Cash and Calvin Lockhart and many more), 1974's comedy caper UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT.

     In UPTOWN, Poitier and Cosby play a couple of blue collar working stiffs who decide to lie to their wives one night in order to sneak out to an illegal after hours club to drink and gamble. They're winning big time at the craps tables, and feeling that their life's luck is changing, when the club is then robbed and the patrons stripped of their wallets, jewelry and more. The next day the two luckless friends have to come clean to their significant others upon learning that within Poitier's wallet (taken during the robbery) is a $50,000 winning lottery ticket - a situation which has landed them in hot water with their ladies to say the least! Things go from bad to worse (and hilarious) when the two schmoes - in best Ralph Kramden / Ed Norton fashion - set out to find the ticket, and in the process find themselves stumbled and tumbled into a gangland war between mob bosses Harry Belafonte (doing a great Brando THE GODFATHER send up) and Calvin Lockhart.

UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT (1974) dir. by Sidney Poitier

     While below the surface it's twisty-turvy plotline is an homage to Damon Runyon (of GUYS AND DOLLS and LITTLE MISS MARKER fame), and while even the gangster characters' dialog and names ("Silky Slim", "Geeche Dan", etc.) have a Runyon-esque tone to them, on an even more sly and intelligent substrata level the bad guys in the PG-rated / family friendly UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT function as hilarious spoofs of, and manage to cut the legs out from under, the mob boss and pimp characters seen in earlier films such as the aforementioned SUPERFLY as well as CLEOPATRA JONES, SHAFT'S BIG SCORE, COFFY, FOXY BROWN and the rest. An even bigger crossover hit than BUCK AND THE PREACHER, Poitier's UPTOWN led to him directing two popular follow up comedies starring himself and Cosby as well as later films such as the Gene Wilder / Richard Pryor classic STIR CRAZY.  But more impressively UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT proved to the major studios that there was a huge audience waiting for a lot more than (as Pryor's bogus private eye character says in UPTOWN) those "Super N**ger who beats up on the white boy from the Mafia" movies.

     Now fast forward to Melissa McCarthy.

BRIDESMAIDS (2011) dir. by Paul Feig
     One couldn't help but be impressed as all hell with McCarthy's class, poise, and focused creativity back when she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2011's BRIDESMAIDS. Normally when an actress is nominated, fashion designers fall over themselves like contestants on THE BACHELOR in offering to make the nominated actress a dress to wear to the grand red carpet event as it's huge publicity for said designer's label. But because she was a large woman McCarthy didn't have that gauntlet of designers beating a path to her door. But rather than go into a funk, pen blogs about the industry's impossible standards of beauty, and point fingers during interviews, McCarthy very much said "F**k 'em!", and decided (as she'd herself also studied design back in school) to launch her own clothing line of stylish attire - both formal and casual wear - for larger women like herself.

     She also decided to not wait for others to create respectable roles for her, but (like Poitier) took her destiny into her own hands by founding the motion picture company "On The Day" with husband and frequent director Ben Falcone, which would go on to produce films such as TAMMY, THE BOSS and the upcoming Brian Henson puppet comedy / thriller THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS. Pretty hard after all of that to not totally fall in love with McCarthy as both an artist and as simply the most damned admirable of individuals in general, wouldn't you say? And that's the point.

     Damned easy to from a distance troll and chuck stones at another person and / or their work; and then to later plead / "hide" behind the nuevo "Fifth Amendment" stance of "I'm entitled to my opinion". But much harder however to step out, step up and offer one's own alternative to that which you say is lacking in that which is presently being offered. Hey, as for those guys like Michael Bay who catch a lot of flack for the "Loud crap movies" they make? No, he's no Hitchcock or Cocteau. Nor does he pretend to be. But, like Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg he feels he should always be working. And as such if it's not on a film it'll be on commercials or music videos or Victoria Secret spots (nice work there if you can get it!) or whatever, as it allows him to become acquainted with the newest equipment, techniques and talented young up-and-coming film makers out there. To me that's a work and artistic ethic I can admire.

     The same with Spike Lee. While some may not dig all of his films, he's constantly directing not only features but concerts, plays-to-film, commercials, documentaries, stand up specials (he helmed the now classic THE KINGS OF COMEDY, y'know!), you name it. And once again, mucho respect for the work ethic there. There's a lot to be learned from that even if one isn't necessarily personally inclined to his or Bay's brand of film making per se. We live in world now where it's much easier for anyone, more than it was even ten years ago, to write their own script, short story or comic book or comic strip; or to shoot their own mini-doc or short film. Hell, in many instances you can get better near-professional cinematic results these days with an iPhone pimped with consumer friendly accessories, and an editing program on your laptop, than you could back in the 1990s and early 2000s with straight up professional film equipment. Then from there, instead of spending a year or two submitting to, and being rejected by, various film festivals, look at all of those who post their work to YouTube, Vimeo or any number of other online outlets for it to be seen by the masses. There are even online outlets now which function as both streaming sites for short films and works-in-progress as well as crowdfunding portals to raise money to see those films completed or expanded into features. So today there's no excuse to sit on the sidelines and merely chuck stones.

     I know actors, writers and directors who got fed up with waiting, and with putting up with the sometimes abusive, harassing and "'We'll get back to you'-but-they-never-do" nature of the industry. So they did a Melissa McCarthy "FU!" then went out and did their own thing. And I'd bet next month's rent or mortgage that many of you know musicians and comic book artists, and game designers and fashion designers and photographers and painters and more who did the same, and have since established careers by choosing not to spend their valuable time and energy trolling, protesting and tearing down someone else's work, or trying to have it censored because it may be perceived as offensive. But no, they chose to take the Poitier road of creating an alternative. They chose to channel that energy into doin' their own sh*t, being straight-up "Put up or shut up!" kinds of people. And those are the kinds of people who see and effect real change; and not those who spend hours coming up with alliterated verbal putdowns, or pasting together disparaging and insulting memes.

     How 'bout you there sitting cross-legged on the floor with me? ...

2013's ten minute thriller THE FLYING MAN, which posits the disturbing notion of a violently 
psychotic vigilante with super powers, was written & directed by FX animator Marcus Alqueres on a 
budget of approx. $5,000 (Canadian) dollars. It has since become an independent online hit, and 
garnered the attention of Sony Pictures with an eye towards expanding it into a feature.

     Will you "ride the bench" as we used to say back in Pop Warner football? Will you sit on the sidelines offering mournful and angry 5th Amendment-like "opinion" on how "Things are just not like they once were", how everyone is "nowadays f**king everything creative and good into oblivion with remakes and sequels", or how "AutoTune and ProTools just cover up for people who never learned how to read music or carry a tune"? Or will you count yourself among those who get up off the creative couch and toss their own hats into the ring in an attempt to bring a little heart and soul to that which they genuinely love? 

     In the end it seems (to me at least) that the most likely reasons not to step out (or step out once again!) and do one's "own sh*t" most often boil down to little more than laziness and / or a fear of putting one's own self "out there". Because when one does, that person very much sets himself or herself up as the next possible target at which some other troll, etc. can (and most certainly will) chuck some huge-assed stones. But hey, there 'ya go. No one ever said it was gonna be fair or kind. But in the end "Put up or shut up" always wins the day, and even changes one's own world.

     Just ask Sidney and Melissa.

     Thanks for stopping by the "Man Cave". We'll have to do this again.

     Chat with 'ya soon,


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