The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Three Christmases

Had three Christmases. One on Christmas day with just Tananarive and Jason. The day after, we drove up to Paso Robles to celebrate with Nicki's mom Toni and her family (wonderful people), and then Saturday Joyce and her family (my niece Shar, her husband Mike, nephew Steve, brother-in-law Mitz, and Nicki and her guy Micheal [arrgh! Too many Micheals!]) and that was fun. But wow, driving from L.A. to Paso and back in the same day is definitely a stress. Woke up the next day feeling hammered. But it was worth it.


I want to see "Valkyrie" today. Always liked Tom Cruise, even if he is more interested in being a star than an actor. More money in it. But I do get a bit disturbed by people's reactions to his Scientology beliefs. So he jumped on Oprah's couch. So what? He didn't hurt anyone. Didn't hit-and-run, beat his wife or a papparazzi, throw heavy objects at his assistants, get caught in a sex scandal, or anything like it. He has some kinda whacky beliefs, but what religion doesn't sound a bit whacky when viewed through a logical lens? And exactly what is it that Scientology has been accused of that other religions have not? I really can't resist the sense that there is some simple, straight-forward religious bigotry going on here, people looking for an excuse to dislike people who "worship" something they disapprove of. Now, that makes sense in a way. Stars (as opposed to actors) are paid largely for how much people like them, the degree to which audience identification or hero-worship makes audiences want to come out to see them regardless of the film project.

It's the image. If John Wayne had gotten his ass kicked in a street fight, don't you think it would have affected his box office? Meg Ryan had the "wholesome girl next door" thing until she paraded her affair with Russell Crowe in front of everyone. Trashed her. No, I don't think it's primarily sexism. Angelina Jolie ALWAYS had a rather bad-girl image, so when she "stole" Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston, it didn't hurt her at all. It arguably HELPED her, because her image was "man, if you ever got her alone, she'd rock your world." and this was just more proof that she wasn't a tease. So whereas women are certainly more penalized for being sexually aggressive than men (while men are penalized for passivity of any kind) stars have to be very careful about their public images...whereas actors just have to perform. But stars get paid about ten times what actors get, and they are one of the only "sure things" in the movie business.

Has Cruise blown that? I don't know, but it's possible...though for the time being I'll bet on him. I think the guy is smart as hell, and a little bit of a physical freak. I'm still weirded out that he began doing physical stunts so late in his career. Ever see the "behind the scenes" footage of MI2? He was outperforming the stunt-men in some fairly complex gymnastic movement. I've never seen that, except with actors like Stallone who have been highly physical their entire careers. It was a little spooky, and made me wonder if those e-Meters might have something to them after all.


I do think that some of Hubbard's ideas have merit. The concept of "Engrams" is a lot like Sufi "Nafs" or Coach Sonnon's "Fear Reactivity"--kinks in the psychic wiring. Straighten them out, unknot them, and your life energy (whether viewed as literal or figurative) flows more easily. Use a galvanic skin response device to measure your reactions while a therapist de-sensitizes you? Makes sense to me. The problem comes when they tried to create a proprietary system, insist that their e-Meters are somehow quantum leaps beyong the GSR meters you can get for twenty bucks at Radio Shack, and that you need to spend vast amounts of money to have their councilors "clear" you. Ever heard the story about Hubbard producing a supposedly "clear" student for the press? His writings suggested that a "clear" would have a perfect mind, perfect memory, especially...and she didn't remember what color tie Hubbard was wearing. Hysterical.

Well, that's probably why most religions don't promise a quantifiable result. Bad press if you can't produce.


But none of that changes the fact that I often sense some gleeful bigotry in criticisms of Cruise...maybe I'm over sensitive to intimations that the STATED reason for liking or disliking something is very different from the REAL reason, even if the person is unaware of it.


**Warning, Sambo Alert. Minor Spoilers**

So....Will Smith's "Seven Pounds" dropped to #7 in its second week. It's earned about 31 million, total. No way it's getting across the 100 million mark unless it pulls off a minor miracle. So the Curse is still happily in place whether you think its a matter of audiences, artists, or studios...something is wrong, I have my theories about it, and you have yours. But there is one interesting thread that shouldn't be missed. Like I said, two black characters in "Benjimen Button" are clearly engaging in behavior which, in say a James Bond movie, I'd label a "love scene." I think that Button will cross the 100 million mark.

Does this count? Well, it's certainly a step in the right direction. In this case, if it works, then we can look at the fact that the woman involved is a mother figure (but not a Spiritual Guide: she has her own life and love, and ultimately rejects Benjamin for her own child), the black male is utterly minor (I can't even remember his name), and Button is very sexual in his own life. So then, we're left with the following rules:

1) Be a minor, supportive character guiding a white actor or actress toward sucess

2) Be servile and non-threatening

3) Be very oblique in presentation

4) Die.


Of course, there will be those who say "that's not was just a lousy movie. The audience would have been happy to see it it it had been good."

Right. And "Wild Wild West" and "Hancock" were good movies. Like "good" is what gets a movie across 100 million. It's all just coincidence. Truth is, I made a comment a while back: "if Will Smith can't get laid, Obama can't get elected." And I suspect that that's reflexive: in other words, it will work both ways, that given the right property, at the right time, the door is cracked open now, even if the opening isn't terribly wide. SOMEONE will get through it. Who? Smith? Terrance Howard? Jamie Foxx? Denzel? I don't know. But my guess is that it will happen this year, and possibly within the first six months. But please: none of this "gee, they were looking at each other with passion in their eyes...doesn't that count?" Nonsense. Nope. Two people, alone, kissing and sinking toward a bed...fade-out. Fine. Worked in old "Hitchcock" movies, and everybody understood the cinematic short-hand just fine. That's the "PG" level. We all know what the PG-13 and R-rated iterations look like. When the percentage of black-starring films having sexual content is the same as the percentage of white-starring films, and it doesn't create a negative blip at the box office or the mysterious "gee I don't know, but all the movies where black guys get laid just somehow seem terrible to me..." response, I'll know America has crossed an unconscious threshold. We're close...but not there yet.


How were your holidays, and whatcha doing for New Years?


Unknown said...

Honestly, I intensely dislike Scientology, more than my usual feeling about a religion I don't belong to, and I have a specific reason for that. Scientology is very down on medical treatment of mental illness, and some people (my husband, for example) really do need medications to manage their moods (in my husband's case - he's bipolar) or other mental quirks (for those who are schizophrenic instead, for instance). Tom Cruise in particular has pushed this line; if I remember right, Brooke Shields (who has suffered from postpartum depression) has taken him to task, quite rightly, on this point.

But that's neither here nor there when it comes to seeing his movies. My husband and I are perfectly willing to separate our disagreement with some of his views from our attitude toward his acting. (I've watched movies with actors or directors who did much worse in their personal lives than Tom Cruise ever did.) And I don't really care how silly he looked jumping on the couch. We saw Valkyrie for Christmas.

For the New Year's, I'll be baking the traditional Greek New Year's cake and taking it to a friend's open house.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

So far as Scientology is concerned, it has a very bad reputation for taking life-damaging amounts of money from people. Most religions aren't accused of that.

Do you know anyone whose life was definitely improved by Scientology?

I can believe that a lot of opposition to Scientology is amplified by people having fun attacking an outsider group.

Scientology might be contributing to Cruise's physical abilities, but it would also be worth knowing what else he might be studying.

There's a group that's been working on getting the good out of Scientology's ideas while not having the money and secrecy problems. I'm hoping that someone here knows the name or that I can dredge it out of memory. This isn't the kind of thing google's very good for.


It's seriously weird that the US would sooner elect a black president than be comfortable with a black man having a sex scene in a movie.

Afaik, people's status shapes art more than art shapes status, but I don't know what the typical lag time is. Just by feel, I'm betting on the kind of movie you're looking for within a couple of years, especially if Obama's presidency goes well.

In re sensory motor amnesia-- the things I've found that helped the most were doing some Feldenkrais exercises from Hanna's Somatics and Heggi's Running with the Whole Body.

I didn't do much for Christmas, but I'm going to be spending New Year's at a long house party.

Marty S said...

Out family is a little strange. The Christmas eve party was at my son and daughter-in law's house and featured three Christians and six Jews. The Christmas day party was at our and featured one Christian and seven Jews. But turn around is fair play. Our last Passover dinner featured five Christians and three Jews. At any rate a good time was had by all and I'm sure Santa enjoyed the delicious cookies the kids left out for him.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Nancy, the organization you're reffing is called the Free Zone.

Steve, my disagreements with Scientology have zip to do with its silly ideology and everything to do with what they do.

I've had a great Christmas. My oldest daughter is home from her first semester at college -- hadn't seen here in almost 4 months, and we missed her.

We just moved into our new house after two months in an apartment while we house shopped. Just in time, too -- the apartment was one of those Life Mistakes you get only a few times in life, if you're lucky. The guy who rented it to us showed it two us twice -- at 1PM in the afternoon, both times. Only time he was available.

It Turns Out .... that the empty lot down the street wasn't an empty lot; it was a construction site where they started the jackhammers every morning at 6 A.M.

The high school down the block wasn't a problem for us; we have high school age children. But they didn't mention the marching band that practiced most afternoons less than a hundred yards from us. They were so loud we couldn't have phone conversations when they practiced.

... and then there was the gay nightclub two lights away ... which got started each night around midnight and went until 4. Each night. Every night.

I'm not anti-Rick Astley, honest. And George Michaels, I kinda like his stuff. And really, who doesn't like YMCA?

Not me. Not any more.

After two months of sleep deprivation, I love our new house. Love it, love it, love it. And Christmas with the all the kids home, woohoo. :-)

I suppose it's possible to overrate the value of a good night's sleep, but after two months of not sleeping, my hands shook.

Kami said...

We had a great holiday snowed into our house. After close to two weeks stuck in the house, going shopping for the first time was a kick. We had lots of fun, and didn't have to fight crowds where we went.

For New Year's we'll stay home, have a champagne/Martinelli's toast, feast, and play Risk or Balderdash or both and maybe work on a puzzle.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Dan, thanks for the pointer to Free Zone material. I'm finding some high quality stuff there-- it reminds me of Gurdjieff-influenced material, with very precise introspection and application to ordinary live.

This essay from Idenics is about the relationship between imagination and experience, and the importance of not mistaking what one imagines (generally triggered by experience but going way beyond it) for what's actually going on. This is especially interesting to me because I've been working on the difference between actual T'ai Chi and what I've been imagining and using as a goal.

This video is very good about how people react to disillusionment.

Anonymous said...

>> Tom Cruise in particular has pushed this line; if I
>> remember right, Brooke Shields (who has suffered
>> from postpartum depression) has taken him to
>> task, quite rightly, on this point.

Worse than that, as I recall. Shields was touring for her book discussing her postpartum depression, and how she'd been saved by medication. Unbidden, and in a completely different venue, Cruise went out of his way to stick his beak into the situation, saying she wouldn't have needed the meds if she were into Scientology, and that in fact, he thought such meds were actually dangerous.

So, sure, I can overlook the couch incident, but when such a well-known (and presumably respected) figure comes out and says such stupidly wrong things, things contradicting known medical science, things that could flat out damage other people, well, that's an entirely different matter than some loopy stunt on a chat show. In my book, he's a jerk, and his 'religion' is the kernel of why.

As others as said, I'll still see his movies. The dude sure can act, and has an amazing screen presence, I'll give him that.

Bill Moonroe said...

As I'm preparing a manuscript as a last-minute entry to this quarter's Writers of the Future contest, I have mixed feelings about Scientology to be sure. I suppose that if I end up gaining from WOTF, which allegedly has minimal ties to Scientology (though I wouldn't send them a story in which Tom Cruise gets drawn and quartered in the middle of Century City), my view of them might be a little less than neutral.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, one of the main problems people have with it as a religion is that it _demands_ money. Not just requests it, but "You can't be a Scientolist unless you give us money."

mjholt said...

I stood in front of an eight or nine foot tall back-lit plastic "poster" for Seven Pounds while Xmas shopping at the Mall. Smith look grand, but the words bothered me. I looked up a couple of online ads for the movie, and the high-concept creeped me out. It would make no difference to me who played Smith's role, I would not see the movie. Ick!

I am curious about the Valkyrie. While there is some tension in the plot, this should be a character-driven movie.

I know that Scientology has parted many people from their money, but so has so many other religions, investment schemes (Madoff comes to mind), and cheap-ass crap (WalMart comes to mind), that I have to delete that aspect from my consideration.

I have worked with several Scientology adherents and they are great people to be around. Each had similar stories, and I offer one. A man explained that while their families was bitterly angry that he and his wife joined, her mother and sisters found that she was able to get beyond issues that they were stuck in, and joined in too, apparently to their benefit. His family, he told me (and I know a couple of them apart from him), was so focused on "should be's" that they ignored the facts and tried to warp what was real with what they thought should be real. OK, that sounds like most families, but for this couple, Scientology provided them a path out of dysfunctional families and into a whole, prosperous life that they embraced, and as far as I can tell do not regret. When I worked with them, they were genuine, honest people. They were not gaming me (which I get all too often) or others.

I am not a Scientology adherent. I am a very liberal United Methodist (my family is not Methodist). I am not sure that the UMC is placing me or anyone else on a path. For me, it provides sign posts for my journey.

On another level, I am quite tired of Tom Cruise and his family. He and former wife Kidman seem to have forgotten their mutually adopted children in the wake of their recent fecundity. At least Jolie/Pitt seem to treat and love them all equally. I think that Pitt showed great self-preservation dumping Ainston, who seems to be bent on proving that she has little inner substance.

Answer to the New Year's question, I probably will stay home and nest with the cats and dog while my husband who works graveyard shift sleeps. I've been nesting for a week, and that includes writing. I am about 1/3 of the way through a story that I am enjoying. It's the first time I've written SF set on a ship. Lots of fun with technology, science, and agriculture.

Vince Moore said...

I had an interesting conversation in my guise as comics shop employee this weekend. A regular customer of the store, a black guy, wanted to talk about Hancock. Which we did. One thing I learned was that the so-called unrated version of the movie on DVD actually shows a kiss between Will Smith and Charlize Theron. A kiss that I did not see when I saw it in the theater. This makes the second Will Smith film--I Am Legend being the first--where a somewhat different movie ends up on DVD, one that shows Smith in any kind of relationship with a woman.

Part of me thinks these other versions are the ones shown in Europe and Asia where there may not be as much of a hang-up on interracial relationships as in America.

Another part of me thinks this is the genius of Will Smith at work. He knows that Americans will not accept a black man in love with any woman on screen, not without tragic consequences occurring. So he allows those acceptable versions to hit the big screen but has the right to get another version, his preferred take, put on the DVDs for people to see at home in confort. Given what you said about the trajectory of his last three or four films, he may be preparing America for a serious black romance on screen in his own way. That if enough people can accept a fully human Will Smith in their homes--one that loves and can be loved out in the open--then they will be able to accept it in the theaters.

Steven Barnes said...

I agree that Smith is playing fascinating, high-level games and manipulating the social image systems. Brilliant guy. I'm still betting he'll be the one to get across the line. The race is on!

Bill Moonroe said...

As for what I'm doing for New Year's, I intended to start on the Lifewriting (my "carrot" for completing my NaNoWriMo novel) program on the First. However, I couldn't wait to dig into it, so intend to write my Future History before going to yoga, after which I plan a manic dunking in the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean. "Bengal tiger strength"? Try "Siberian tiger insanity". The crock pot of black eyed peas will be pretty welcome after that...

Lis Riba said...

Here's one you might find interesting:

How the trailers for "Seven Pounds" differ depending whether the ads are targeting men or women.

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