Tuesday, December 30, 2008
You Gotta Give 'em Hope, Pt. 2
I finally got to see it. Thanks to Hulu (one of the greatest inventions of the Internet). I had heard this documentary was out there, floating somewhere in the media universe. This documentary won an Oscar and brought the Milk story into public awareness unfiltered by sensationalist news media. This film features interviews with people who knew and worked with Harvey. It’s a realistic portrayal of the man that far exceeds the new Sean Penn film.
You may have previously read how much I liked the MILK movie. I like this documentary as much or more than the new film. If you have seen the movie, I recommend you now watch the documentary to help put into perspective what you have seen. This does a much better job of showing the political and historical importance of what Harvey did.
After watching the documentary I have become a little less impressed with Sean Penn’s work. Please don’t misunderstand me. I respect his courage for taking on a role that many A-list actors would have run away from with the cowardice that only popularity crazed celebrities can muster. Penn’s Milk was an endearing portrayal. However, his interpretation was more a caricature than a character. While watching the documentary it becomes obvious that Milk was an intense, assertive and aggressive man. Penn’s character was an effeminate, flailing, capricious pixie compared to what the real man must have been like. Watching the footage of the real Harvey Milk debating with politicians supporting Proposition 6 showed real strength and intelligence. Also, any man that had the guts to stand up to Diane Feinstein was certainly no limp-wristed fairy. I’m disappointed that Penn felt it was necessary to bring those stereotypical personality traits into his performance. Surely he knows enough gay people in Hollywood to understand we don’t all act like that. Perhaps he feels the only way an American audience would believe the character was gay was if he “acted gay”.
Seeing the coverage of the Dan White trial made me even more angry than I had been after the movie. Listening to the interviews with his defense attorney, wife and supporters was sickening. The idea that Dan White should be pitied and that what he did was justifiable and excusable is gross. There are a lot of people in the world who have much more difficult circumstances than All-American athletic pretty boys like Dan White and they don’t resort to murder to solve their problems. The justice system failed Moscone and Milk in this instance.
Monday, December 29, 2008
A few months ago I discovered an amazing new artist that is doing beautiful things with his work. The young (25 year old) and very talented David Kawena combines the romanticized fantasy illustrative style of Walt Disney’s animated classics with seductive male subjects. I previously posted a series created by David called the “Disney Heroes”. I was happy to write a brief review of the series and we have occasionally corresponded since then. The Disney Heroes series has gained David a large and growing fan base. I’m very happy for him. I was also happy to find a new Disney Hero David created based on the character Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean. This work is the first of the Disney Heroes based on a live action character instead of an animated hero.
The likeness to Orlando Bloom is remarkable. In keeping with the theme of the remainder of the series, Kawena employs an almost monochromatic sepia-toned palette to give it an Abercrombie and Fitch styling. It was fun to see animated characters brought to life this way. Its nice to see Kawena can achieve the same effect with live characters. Kawena’s Will Turner is appropriately costumed in a sexy version of his movie wardrobe. Its as if our rookie pirate decided to shop from the International Male catalog. He’s accessorized with his Aztec gold medallion and head wear borrowed from his buddy Captain Jack. I hope the swooning Miss Swann appreciates his new look as much as the rest of us do.
I have wondered why Kawena’s work has gained popularity so quickly. The obvious reason is that the subjects are very sexy. However, the Internet is full of websites featuring photos of attractive fitness models. David’s work appeals on another level. He interprets the male subject with a non-threatening innocence. The men in Kawena’s artwork are sexy and accessible without being vulgar. Female subjects have been portrayed in this way for years. Romance novels are covered with bodice busting imagery. A sexy, scantily clad woman can look trashy or virginal and vulnerable just by the costume, setting and expression of the model. David Kawena has found the technique to accomplish the same thing with male subjects.
The other key to his success is the cultural shift that has occurred. At one time animated characters were subjects for children. Cartoons were a medium to keep kids entertained on Saturday morning while mom cleaned the house and dad washed the car. But now, thanks to Japanese anime and manga, this artwork has gained an audience that includes the young adult/college-age generation. The saturation of our media with animated characters in video games and graphic novels has developed a very discriminating audience. They are also very comfortable with this media and don’t see it as juvenile or immature. Those of us from the previous generation are charmed by the nostalgia of this work, remembering the fantasies inspired by the original Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and Little Mermaid. It should be no surprise that Kawena’s work has found a large and growing audience.
I would like to extend my thanks to David Kawena for providing me with an unwatermarked copy of this work to post on the blog. It’s a real honor for me to be allowed to post and review his work. In checking my website statistics I have found that the articles written about him are the most visited on my site. The David Kawena search terms are the most frequent entry points for new viewers of the Gemini Art blog. Pages featuring his work receive hundreds of page views per month.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
What do the following works of entertainment have in common? Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story, Firefly/Serenity, Angel? They are all successful movies and television shows, you might say. True. They are all written, directed or produced by Joss Whedon. True. Joss Whedon has produced a new and very entertaining new musical. TRUE!
If you have not yet discovered it, let me be the first to introduce it to you. “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” is the latest invention of Joss Whedon and like everything else he has made, its outstanding. Just like any blog, its available for viewing online for free anytime (let’s hope Whedon has pioneered the next generation of entertainment distribution). Of course, there are links to purchase CD’s, mp3’s, DVD’s of this great little musical.
How did I find this little gem? I regret that I came across it months later than the rest of it’s cult following. I have spent the last few weeks watching old reruns of Buffy and Serenity. Last night I was satisfying my scifi itch by watching Starship Troopers again. Of course, I was completely entranced by a plucky young Casper Van Dien acting all butch and killing bugs. But, the long and lanky Neil Patrick Harris shows up occasionally on the show and I think to myself, “Gee, its nice to know that Neil is part of the family.” I wondered what else Neil might have done recently. I knew of the “How I Met Your Mother” thing and don’t care for it. A quick blog search found Neil as Dr. Horrible. A quick click later and I was hooked.
The blog begins with Neil as Dr. Horrible reading responses to blog viewers. We find that he is currently building a freeze ray but is in need of Wonderflonium. His nemesis is the dunderheaded hero Captain Hammer played by the hunkalicious Nathan Fillion (captain of the Serenity in Whedon’s Firefly). The story is wonderfully corny and silly. The plot is nothing more than a love triangle with our two male leads competing for the love of Penny (Felicia Day). In the hands of such experts this little jewel really shines. Neil and Nathan ham it up beautifully. The music is top notch the voices are great. Might we be looking at the next Rocky Horror Picture Show? I can certainly see this easily being expanded to a stage treatment. I hope Joss is thinking about it.
At the end of 43 minutes it leaves you begging for more. Whedon created this little indie short back during the summer while the writers strike was going on. Making it on his own instead of in the studio system allowed him to do his own thing. It’s great. If you remember, Toy Story was a musical and one episode of Buffy was a musical. It shouldn’t surprise us that Whedon would find success with Horrible in this genre. But, who knew that Fillion (the hunk) could sing and that Neil actually had comic chops?
Check this out. As Martha would say, “It’s a good thing.”
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I saw the movie, MILK, last night. I was skeptical at first. I was afraid this was Hollywood once again trying to capitalize on another sensational historic event like the assassination of JFK, Jimmy Hoffa, and the 9/11 tragedy. I was pessimistic because I suspected the straight actors involved were more interested in self-promotion than sincerely portraying this important turning point in the human rights struggle of gay people. You know how they are. Most celebrities will wear any ribbon and support any cause just to get another thirty seconds of publicity, i.e., “save the whales”, “don’t eat meat“, “have your pet spayed or neutered.”
To a certain degree those things were true of this movie. The story is sensational, the roles will get a lot of attention for the cast members, and the topic is a culturally relevant issue in modern current events. However, it still succeeded as a meaningful and entertaining film. I’m glad I saw it and I recommend everyone in the country to see it because you either know a gay person, or you should “get to know” a gay person. The film sets a perfect tempo of mixing shocking archival footage to let the viewer feel the discomfort and shame that gay people feel in our society with just the right amount of humor to remind us to laugh at ourselves and experience the joy of life more than the sorrow of it.
This movie could have easily drifted into the cliché mode with lots of, “Gay Pride” slogans or “I’m here, I’m queer, get over it” quotes. But, the director smartly stayed away from that and replaced it with a more universal theme of, “You gotta give them hope.” While Harvey Milk was a gay city supervisor, he ultimately represented not only gay people, but a constituency of many that were unrepresented by the system, the homeless, elderly, the handicapped. I like that the film’s protagonist was the country’s conformity to the status quo. The idea that injustice is acceptable as long as the majority doesn’t disagree with it was the great obstacle to overcome.
I was a child when these events were being played out in California. I vaguely remember seeing Anita Bryant on TV complaining about the terrible sinners that were destroying our country. I grew up in a religious family so it was not something we talked about. I didn’t understand that I was gay and I didn’t understand that Anita was talking about gay people. The movie did a wonderful job of crystallizing that whole ugly mess. It wasn’t until last night that I, a forty year old man, understood all that Milk and his supporters did to combat such a crusade of bigotry and hate. If I was unaware of it, then I’m sure that people younger than myself knew.
Gay young people today have it so much easier than my generation when it comes to finding acceptance in society. My generation is even finding it easier to be open and honest with our friends and families. Many of us at middle age are beginning to hope that we might have the possibility of a “normal” open and loving relationship during our lifetimes. Much of this is due to the work began by Harvey Milk and his supporters. If nothing else, this movie is important because it has made us aware of that.
The movie also makes us aware of some missteps taken by the “gay rights” movement. I was unaware that it was Harvey Milk that started his speeches with the words, “I’m Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.” While those of us with a bit of intelligence understand that he was “recruiting” people to support his cause of human rights and social justice, the homophobic extremophiles insisted that he was recruiting wholesome heterosexual young men to become homosexual. There has not been any more damaging concept about gay people than that we are not born gay but that we recruit, teach, and train innocent, vulnerable straight people to be one of us. The idea that gay people have the magical powers to convert heterosexuals into something they are not has been deadly.
The villainous character, Dan White, was expertly portrayed by Josh Brolin. The writers and director designed the character to represent everything that is still oppressing gay people. Dan White was a charming, attractive face that masked a deep underlying evil of hatred and intolerance based on moral superiority and religious intolerance. Dan White represented everything that we Americans love in a man. He was a fireman, a police officer, he was heroic. He was a masculine and attractive, religious family man. He was an ignorant and incompetent public official who was elected based on his many appealing superficial qualities. When those pitiful charms failed to help him accomplish his meaningless agenda, he reverted to the violent animal that he truly was. Perhaps this portrayal by Brolin will help some people re-evaluate what they consider to be the marks of a “real man.”
MILK is a great movie. I can’t encourage you to go see it quickly enough.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
I have been very down during this holiday season because of the move and a few personal tragedies that have occurred. I know several readers have been concerned and I have regretted imposing my emotional baggage on this audience. Today I have been somewhat restored to the true Christmas spirit.
So many of my recent past Christmases have been solemn for various reasons. But, today I spent Christmas with a family with children. I had said in a previous post that I felt Christmas is a holiday of love that is best enjoyed by romantics and families with young children. Today I experienced a Christmas morning that included smiles and laughter. I felt the joy of a family that was able to overcome for a few hours the worries of a bad economy and the anxiety of a troubled world and focus on each other. I felt warmth and inclusion with their family. I was given the temporary status of “Uncle” and had a stocking on their mantle of my own. There was a small gift for me to remember what it feels like to tear paper and be surprised. I had hoped that light and love would come back to my Christmas and it has.
Recently my family and friends have once again endured loss during the holiday season. I expected to have another melancholy holiday. But, last night the symbolism of the Catholic service I attended spoke to me. I was reminded of the plight of a young expectant mother in need of comfort on a night when no one was willing to offer shelter. I sat in a darkened room at midnight imagining how much greater her sense of hopelessness and despair must have been. My family and friends have recently suffered loss and felt such despair. Then the church lights blazed at the stroke of midnight, and I and the other musicians struck a brilliant fanfare on brass instruments, organ and voice. Suddenly, light came from darkness, hope returned to the world and a Child was born.
This morning I am reminded that this holiday is all about hope. Its all about love. This is the day when mankind was given a way out of hopelessness and despair. Remember that in the darkest most desperate hour a miracle can occur. In our scientific age we rarely consider the act of birth to be miraculous. But, let’s remember the miraculous potential that every life has. The life of one Child changed the world. I pray that each of us continues to experience that light, love, and sense of hope during the remainder of this season and for the entire new year.
Photo credit, C.A. Muller at Flickr
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This news is increasingly sad because it is one more heartbreak to add to our family that has suffered so much tragedy near the holidays. Both of my grandmothers passed away between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just a few years ago I remember that my maternal grandmother passed away and many of the flowers at her funeral were poinsettias. That plant no longer holds much appeal for me. When I was in college my uncle and his family were involved in a terrible car accident the night before Thanksgiving. My aunt died in the crash and the entire family was very seriously injured. Our turkey and dressing Thanksgiving dinner became the visitation meal to feed all the mourners.
As you can see from this post and from the previous one, I am not used to much joy and cheer during the holiday season. Once again our family will celebrate with one more empty chair at our table, one more gift left unopened. Perhaps there is a lesson in this. Our family has certainly learned that holidays are solemn occasions. There is deeper meaning to these days than overindulgence and excessive materialism. All of us are forced to turn introspective and do serious soul searching. We have learned to value each other. We must focus more on what we have and less on what we want. To celebrate it otherwise would be disrespectful to the memory of those we have lost. I hope one day the light and love of the season will find its way back into our Christmas. Until then, please keep us in your thoughts.