When Hollywood Made Movies

Chance Gardener & Forrest Gump
Being There Poster
I just watched Being There. Not one but 4 times in order to reboot the mood of its age and when this phenomenal hit of l979 shook the earth.

Melvyn Douglas won an Oscar, Sellers was one of ten nominations, the film got 11 major awards. Superb cast. Peter Sellers (dead a year later) forces himself to be both kind and unfunny. Shirley MacLaine is at her gorgeously whimsical endearing best. Melvyn Douglas, top form. Jack Warden as President, superb and constrained.

I recognize Chance Gardener is Forrest Gump.  In both movies the central figure is a sheltered innocent of limited IQ who manages to draw people of good character to his side. Whereas they may or may not keep him from falling off cliffs, they introduce choices. But it is the hero himself who gently pushes the continuity of his life in absurdly pleasant progress toward ever-expanding emancipation. He seizes one opportunity after another. We discover both are living a more interesting life than can be got by scholarship, luck, Dickens’s touch of unexpected inheritance, and an average brain. The truth is if Gump or Gardener are in trouble they are clever enough not to exaggerate its importance.

In 1979 America was belly-filled reeling with deceptive politicians; Nixon’s 1974 resignation; the country being scolded universally for the sin of existence; repeatedly told we demanded more than we could ever hope for; facing the shaky end of a long and badly conducted war. Worst of all Jimmy Carter was at the helm~~ incompetent and incapable of inspiration.

Being There had the splendid timing of Chaplain’s The Great Dictator in 1940. It resonated big. We reject your master plan, your interference. Leave us alone; we will prosper and we will enjoy life and we know how to do it on our own.

Douglas plays an elderly, virtuous, powerful individualist (MacLaine’s husband in the film), they have taken Sellers in and been enchanted by him. Douglas has died. The funeral is crowded pomp. As they juggle the coffin to it’s final internment, Washington’s political bigs squabble over who to select for the next president. Sellers strays from the noise.

Seller’s/Gardener’s solitude is on target. He has trusted his brilliant survival skills and his individualism his whole life. Chance Gardener remains a man unencumbered by history or credentials.

He does a bit at the edge of the cemetery lake, clearing a dead branch and bucking up a troubled sapling. He surveys the watery expanse then unhesitatingly proceeds on foot across its surface! Momentarily surprised at his new skill he leans over to check the lake’s considerable depth with his umbrella, but ignores the mysterious and continues on his way. There is a voice-over eulogy of Douglas’ words: Life is a state of mind.

Being There, made 33 years ago, gives us a man devoid of expectation, rejecting convention, finding fulfillment. Forrest Gump too, showed us this 18 years ago.

It’s worth loving Sellers and Kosinsky again, and Douglas and MacLaine for demonstrating the promise-rich miracle of the individual who will blaze his own trail.

As MacLaine proudly proclaims at the end of the trailer, “MADE IN THE U.S.A.”  If Hollywood still had courage they’d do more of that, building an audience that loved them instead of expanding disgust for their politically corrected propagandized formerly electrifying celluloid worlds. You just can hardly stand to watch movies these days. Being There  is worth a look.


Casablanca VS Private Benjamin

The dangers of exhaustion, self-pity, and an eagerness to be rescued are no small dangers.

I’ve watched Casablanca a lot. I love it for it’s classy filmmaking, the wartime plot and easily hated enemies of life and romance; Ingrid Bergman’s beauty, and Humphrey Bogart’s skill in transitioning from a loveable, enterprising buffoon in African Queen to the height of handsome worldliness in Casablanca.

But over and over again I am struck by this: Holy shit, Ingrid! You got what you asked for.

It’s a guy’s dream movie, and up until the end, not bad for the girls. When Ilsa so memorably falls into Rick’s arms and says, “I can’t think anymore! You decide! You think for both of us!”  and Rick answers, “All right, I will!” we all melt. It’s ideal. Everything’s going to be all right.

On close inspection we see Rick’s wheels turning. Just how much does he want this young, bright, idealistic beauty in his life. How telling was it after all that he didn’t stay in Paris & risk his life to find her then. His drunken despair on parade when she reappears is Rick’s drama, Rick’s tribute to tortured love. It only lasts as far as the misty tarmac.

Whereupon Bogart forces Ingrid into the arms of a man who by description is Indiana Jones but in the flesh is a sexless aristocrat. Whoa!

What the writers did not do IN THE FINAL SCENE was put a gun into Ilsa’s right hand making the freedom fighting whosie get on the plane without her, leaving her left hand free to slap sense into Rick. And she’d have been some babe if she had done. Then maybe all us girls would have had a feisty adventuress for a role model, not some ultimate sop who trades her chance at an electrifying life for position and comfort in the arms of that unlikely safe man, and calls it honorable. She shows no outrage. She cries. She looks confused. She starts thinking Rick may be more trouble than he’s worth too, and this husband guy makes her look noble. Private Benjamin hadn’t been dreamed yet. Thanks, Goldie.

Being rescued has a lot of down sides, whether we long for it periodically or every minute of the day. Abandon the thought. Our own empirical experiences and resourcefulness are ultimately better on every level. It’s always good to have Paris but silly to suppose that once is enough for a lifetime.

Johnny Depp & Hunter S Thompson in Big Sur

Johnny Depp in Big Sur, buying paintings at the Hawks Perch Gallery. Anything’s possible as Lord Whimsy said.  And Depp is making The Rum Diaries, a Hunter S. Thompson book becomes film. And Thompson was a wild and violent eccentric in these parts. Big Sur remembers him with fear and loathing. 

This is an obvious progression of events. The movie’s done, Depp wasn’t around picking up local flavor except it’s all about Puerto Rico but what the hell. Maybe in pirate gear but we’d have noticed. Maybe. And of course Hunter S. Thompson isn’t around either. A lot of people are not saddened by that. I ran into a fairly young guy who caretook the writer’s property here and gardened for him. His first dramatic encounter with a drunk to the tits Thompson bearing and aiming a loaded shotgun, and insisting the intruder he’d hired and given housing explain himself. The kid quit. Prudent move. Thompson liked killing things.

Okay, back to Depp in my gallery (The Hawk’s Perch right off Highway One), a little bit of pradisical geography that’s drawn the likes of Steve McQueen (just finishing his portrait, come have a look) and Orson Welles (next in line) in the past so why not. I’d tell him I hadn’t seen every movie,  but I loved the Scissorhands one and the Don Juan with Marlon Brando, the Chocolate thing disappointed because it was such a blatant bad steal of Babette’s Feast. And Ed Woods is probably my favorite movie ever. Generally, I like how strange Depp is. Wouldn’t he like to commission me to paint his portrait. I’m good at reaching character in my painting, great with eyes. With actors it’s not easy to find that, the appeal of the stage and screen being the chameleon effect, so it’d take some long hard looking to find the brilliant machinery behind the flesh. But wouldn’t it be fine cool fun. Then too, art for art’s sake is okay, but life is more than sunshine, romance, Jack Daniels, and pigment. I’d want to get paid.

Surprise visit. Depp and his posse buy up every fabulous painting I’ve ever done that hangs (minus the sold ones) on my gallery walls. I spring for coffee. Dinner of salmon fish and chips at the Maiden Pub next door and their best Arrogant Bastard Ale. Or maybe cook them up some terrific Chateau Briand with Portobello mushrooms, garlic & fried onions. Wild rice. Mashed yams with coconut milk. Some green stuff. Pernod. Nice glass of port, Cointreau, Key Lime for a taste of the Caribbean, that sort of thing. Ready when you are, Depp and Thompson’s ghost. Welcome home. Turn a little more this way, that’s good, light’s good like that. Stop posing and sit still a sec. Expressionist painter paints Expressionist Actor.

Fire Monks

Zen and the art of fire fighting 3 years ago, beyond Carmel Valley in Cachagua. Their mountain retreat was saved by pure courage, the monks refused to leave what they had built and loved, a handful of the faithful against the flames.

The book they wrote has just been published. 8 pm. Slide show and talk and the very monks themselves! Henry Miller Library tonight. “Fire Monks: the Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara”.