Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Alison Thinks about Alison Dubois's Oscar Speech & White Privilege

There’s a complex relationship between power and privilege, that manifests in ways both subtle and semantic, but it exists nonetheless, as Patricia Arquette learned this week. She was probably best known for playing Alison Dubois on TV’s Medium until Sunday, when she won an Oscar and her speech included an E.R.A.-infused call for equal pay.
On the one hand, good for her for issuing a “call to action” to raise awareness that children suffer the most when their moms are paid less than they deserve. That said, it might have been prudent for Arquette to have spent a bit more time on her ‘victory speech’ and, when asked to elaborate upon it, to have thought more globally about women’s issues.
Combating inequity isn’t as simple as shouting out the lyrics to “Come Together,” and watching an army of individuals, each uniquely ‘disadvantaged', combine to form a fighting unit against the powerful. The hard, cold, heartbreaking truth is that some people are more unequal others. I don’t doubt that Arquette has been discriminated against in her industry because of her gender, but the reality is that she’s also likely had advantages owing to being attractive, blonde and white. I bet she’s also been talked down to and trivialized for those reasons, but on balance, I suspect she isn’t in deficit because of those attributes.
It’s no surprise that so many black women, including some of my American journalist friends, were outraged by her remarks. Well, it isn’t to me anyway... And I base that on my own experiences working in Los Angeles as a TV critic between 2003 and 2010.. 
When people ask me about the experience, I tell them about the stars interviewed, the sets visited, the snacks consumed, but I rarely discuss the part of American culture that puzzled and troubled me the most:  its lingering race-based caste system.
That it still lingers is puzzling; that so many white people, even educated, liberal ones, remain oblivious to it is so deeply, deeply troubling. I’d sit in media conference listening to journalists (white ones) pose questions, oblivious to the kernels of racism and classism within their own queries. I hope I haven’t offended my American friends by saying so; after all, I was just a guest at their party. 
Personally, I have never felt so blonde or as white as I did while working in the “Hollywood” milieu. Those aspects of my physical being were pointed out to me on a daily basis when I was in Los Angeles.  And the comments were usually accompanied by gestures and offers of special treatment.  Meanwhile, here in the land of weather that’s not fit for man nor beast (which I lovingly call home), that rarely happens. Here, I'm more like any old gal who doesn't see the point in shaving her legs between December and April. If the privilege offered was the norm, then what I experienced in the U.S. would not have seemed so very anomalous to me. 
White privilege does exist. It’s not comfortable to admit that. People who've only lived with that experience may not be able to see it or admit it. Maybe some encouragement will help. Only when that happens, will the world's women truly ‘come together.’

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

When You’re Strange: A film about The Doors

Keyboard player Ray Manzarek is now 70; drummer John Densmore is 65 and guitarist Robby Krieger, at 64, is the baby of the band. They are - to put it plainly - senior citizens, but as young men they made up three-fourths of The Doors, once one of the world’s most-popular and innovative bands.

Their story comes to TV tomorrow (Wed. May. 12) on PBS’s American Masters, in When You’re Strange, a 81-minute feature documentary from director Tom DiCillo, narrated by actor Johnny Depp and produced by TV leviathan Dick Wolf (Law & Order). The film features a plethora of rare and previously unseen film footage, shot by Paul Ferrara, once the band’s unofficial ‘official’ photographer.

When You’re Strange is worth watching, but for fans looking for a definitive work on the band and insight into what led to legendary lead singer Jim Morrison’s death in 1971 at the age of 27, there really isn’t much in the film’s script that’s new.

Tons of glorious music? Check. Intriguing archival footage? Check, reams of it, including the movie Highway, made by Morrison in the late 1960s. (Photo, from Highway) But finally a revealing look into the band’s internal dynamics? Not so much. New interviews? None. And while the film’s hit-filled soundtrack benefits from having the participation of the three surviving band members, the film’s weakness likely springs from the same.

All three surviving band members signed off on the film, though it’s rare to see the three together. When Densmore and Wolf met with reporters in Los Angeles earlier this year to promote the film, Manzarek and Krieger were notably absent. They still perform together, but Densmore rarely joins them. In fact, he sued the pairing in 2003 for touring without him as The Doors.

“There’s four Doors: me, and Jim and Ray and Robby. Not Robby, Ian, Fred, Tom and Bill. But that’s all straightened out now,” he told reporters. “[Jim’s] dead and I want to try to honour my ancestor.”

Remarking on the band’s lasting appeal, he added, “I thought if we lasted 10 years. That would be great. You know, I’ll walk down the street, and I’ll see a kid with The Doors on his T-shirt and [think] ‘This is odd.’ “

The film includes highlights from the band’s early TV appearances, including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Show, and tracks their ups, downs, and eventual coming apart, largely due to Morrison’s drug and alcohol abuse. “This is the real deal, isn’t it?” says Densmore. “And there’s some humour in here and lightness. You see a young Jim, and that pleases me, because he was a blast in the beginning, before his self-destruction kicked in. He became an alcoholic really. So it’s more well-rounded that way, and that pleases me.”

Morrison comes across as being waif-like, mischievous, both confident and shy, and charming. One of the film’s more interesting moments comes when the camera captures Manzarek saying to Morrison, who’s ill and struggling with drug addiction, “We need you to stay in the game.” Morrison replies, “But what if I don’t like the game?”

It’s not clear if Manzarek is expressing concern for his bandmate or for his own future. And while Depp observes in voice-over, “the band members didn’t know how to help him,” the script doesn’t indicate how much was done to help Morrison or what it was like for the band to make music with him.

It’s revealed that during one particularly trying recording session, Densmore walked out, quit, but later returned to the band. His relationship with Morrison seemed strongest, while Manzarek and Krieger appeared to be close.

As Densmore talked about his past with reporters, it was clear his grief over Morrison’s death is still present. “Creativity sometimes comes in the same package with self destruction,” he noted. “It doesn’t have to. Picasso lived to 90. In Jim’s case, 27 was it.

"I look to him now, as the years go by, the more I feel that..it’s just his destiny to have this quick shooting star and make a big impact. And it’s all tangled up in his self-destruction. Well, my example of here he’s really down, and then he goes and writes these words about how lonely he felt. You know that’s channelling the angst in the muse into magic. So it’s all tangled.”

During their years together (1965-71), The Doors released six studio albums, and to date, continue to sell a million releases per year.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

In Memoriam: The Spellbinding Babz Chula

A mix of sadness, love and gratitude fills Vancouver’s arts community this morning for the life of actor, singer and extraordinary woman Babz Chula, who died yesterday after a long battle with cancer (she kicked its ass for almost 10 years).

Babz will be remembered, loved and missed by many. Her legacy includes gracing all who had the privilege of meeting her with her open-hearted warmth, wit, and fierce intelligence and her incredible body of work in film and television and on stage (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0161075/). She starred in the CBC series These Arms of Mine...

A memorial is being planned for late May.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kathy Reichs's Latest Mystery "Spider Bones" Due this August

So many real-life mysteries to solve, so little time, but finally author and forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs has penned an episode of Bones, the series inspired by her novels and work. The Witch in the Wardrobe airs tonight (Fox at 8 pm), and voila, the obligatory preview clip is below.

I regularly watch Bones, the series from Canadian Hart Hanson, based on Reichs’s novels, the Temperance Brennan mystery series. I’d read the books before the series premiered (five years ago) and liked it from the start. Unlike a lot of fans of the books, I appreciated that actress Emily Deschanel’s Brennan is (thanks to the demands of TV?) a much younger version of a 40-ish literary alter ego.

Many die-hard Reichs readers weren’t that appreciative in the early days. I recall going to see and listen to Reichs here in Vancouver, at a Q&A to promote the book Ashes to Bones, when it was released. Many in the crowd made it clear to Reichs that in their opinion TV’s ‘Tempe’ was 'too young.' Reichs offered the same answer then as she did recently when talking to reporters about her first TV-writing effort.

"I do think there was some reaction, maybe negative reaction, initially. But I don't think that's true anymore. People understand that we had a younger Tempe...on TV and a 40-something...in the books. But they understand that's an older part of the character," says Reichs, who in addition to writing serves as a forensic anthropologist in North Carolina and here in Canada, in Montreal, Quebec. She appears to have an affinity for many things Canadian, and has set several of her stories in this country.

Her next book, however, will very clearly be set in the United States and will tell a very-American story. Spider Bones, set for an August release, will be set in Hawaii and will again be pulled from the pages of Reichs's personal career archives: her forensic work on the reclaiming of American war dead.

"It draws on my experience," said Reichs. "I consulted for years [to] our central lab in Honolulu for the identification of [American] war dead. It's called JPAC, the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Commission. All of our war dead from Southeast Asia, Korea, World War II are identified here. So, it's going to draw on those experiences and Tempe will be going to Honolulu to straighten out a mix-up [of] an ID back in 1968."

Reichs has tackled many challenging subjects and projects. She was part of the recovery team in New York City following the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. "Probably the most difficult working situation was Ground Zero. That was both physically and psychologically very demanding. But each case bring something different to the table, literally."

"I've got, for example, a little child's skeleton in my lab up in Montreal that I've had since 1989 that's never been ID'd although I think we may finally get this little guy identified."

The work can take a toll on anyone and although TV's Brennan displays hilariously little "EQ," emotional intelligence, the same can't be said of Reichs. "We have a similar sense of humour," she says. "But as far as her social awkwardness goes and her inability to form close relationship, I think we're different in those ways."

She certainly has built solid relationships with many fans, both on the page and on screen.

Here's the forensic evidence: photo above: The excessively gracious Reichs (C) takes the time to pose with fangirls, yours truly (L) and screenwriter Kat Montagu (R).