Monday, May 02, 2011

Anthony Mann and Martha Beck

Yes, an unusual pairing.  But those two individuals dominated my April.

It was an explosion of man-on-Mann violence in movies, while simultaneously reading self-help books!

However, first.  Before we get to the movies and books, a word about exercise music.

I haven't posted my treadmill music for a couple of months.  One reason is that I had a computer back up disaster that caused me to lose two years of new music.   After I cried, (and yes, I did cry) I got realistic.  I had bought a fair number of CDs, and I still had those.  And at least on iTunes, I was able to see what music I'd downloaded over the last two years.  50% of it - honestly, I didn't care enough to buy it again.  That was a real eye-opener.  I guess I can be impulsive about music.  What turned into a blessing was this:  I had made a folder a couple of years ago called simply: exercise music.  Anytime I heard a song that I thought would make me work out harder, I added it to the list.  Then I culled from it and made up an hour of music and changed it about once a month.  In general I get on the treadmill in my basement three or four times a week for an hour.  (Not when out of town.)  I don't run. (I hate to run.)  I walk fast - I set the pace at 3.8 mph.   I do some arm movements in three minute intervals.  I sweat.  60 minutes goes by.  For me, it's a workout.  But I need music to push me along.  I need to be both familiar with the song and yet surprised by it.  

I got a new hard drive, and happily, all the books I had downloaded from audible were in my "library" and I was able to download them again.   Then I set on this fun and serendipitous task of beginning a new exercise folder, starting from scratch.   After that I made another list - my current exercise list - it's one hour and fifteen minutes long.  This is good because I don't get through the whole list in each workout, (I set it on shuffle) and I'm always happy to hear what's next.  And yes, there are some - what you might say cringe-worthy songs - guilty pleasures, if you will.   Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" for example.  But you cannot beat that song for making your body move. 

1. Bonneville, The DB's
2. Angels, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey
3. Good Old Desk, Harry Nilsson
4. Shiny Happy People, R.E.M. featuring Kate Pearson
5. Loser, Beck
6. I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor
7. It's The End Of The World As We Know It, R.E.M.
8. Vertigo, U2
9. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
10. The Fall of the World's Own Optimist, Aimee Mann
11. Indoor Fireworks, Elvis Costello
12. Waiting For The End Of The World, Elvis Costello
13. Use Me, Bill Withers
14. Do I Ever Cross Your Mind, Emmylou Harris and Linda Rondstadt and Dolly Parton
15. Green Pastures, Emmylou Harris
16. Dance Me To The End Of Love, Leonard Cohen
17. Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight and the Pips
18. Survivor, Jill Sobule
19. Mayor of Simpleton, XTC
20. Pump It, Black Eyed Peas
21. Psycho Killer, Talking Heads

Okay.  Now onto books for the month of April.  I'm still not reading fiction and that's a shame.  I  have "READ FICTION" on my list again, and I cannot check this off because I have not read a single book of fiction for the entire month.  As often happens, the non-fiction takes over.  Another thing often happens: I read a book that causes a detour and I veer off in a whole new direction.  The queue of books is toppled, and instead there are all these other books.

That's what reading, "Leaving the Saints" by Martha Beck did.  I had a full-on crazy Martha Beck month.   I knew about Martha Beck from occasionally reading her column in Oprah magazine.   I can't remember what prompted me to buy "Leaving the Saints" although it's totally a book I would buy.  It's just been sitting around.  

Well, I devoured it.  I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, and I often woke up in the night to read more. Yes, I had my own leaving-my-religion experience, but hers is so super-charged and over-the-top and yet true!   Every experience I had was mild compared with hers.  My experience was really much, MUCH more cerebral than her experience.  The Mormon church has always fascinated me.  It's all-encompassing.  The nice, mildly intellectual Catholic community I grew up in was eons more open-minded and worldly than the Mormon community Martha came from.  Her father was a well known, high status apologist in the church.  And she had some recovered sexual abuse memories to deal with.  I didn't have anything like that in my experience.  Probably our biggest difference is that I chucked the whole magical world view, and she retained a good deal of it, mostly in the form of what I would call woo-woo, or new agey ideas that dance around scientific concepts (and seem to incorporate them to those who are not scientifically literate) but which really allow her to believe in a universe that cares about her, has a destiny waiting for her, and is a mix of predetermination with a dose of free-will driven by optimism.  

Wow, just writing that last sentence, one would think I don't like Martha Beck.  But no!  I do like her, and very, very much, too.  There's a lot left out of "Leaving the Saints."  I wanted to know more, how her marriage broke up, how she met her new partner, how she feels about being gay and her husband (apparently) being out too.  It's very poignant to me that they met and married and they both came out of the closet and they both left the church -- and they both left the church for reasons other than their emerging sexual desires.  All that seems so potent and compelling, and none of that is in this book.  I want more!

Still, it was great. I had so many experiences similar to Martha's but much subtler.  My parents being fine with my lack-of-faith privately but not fine with it publicly.  The constant battle - choosing between community and integrity.  The astonishment that hardly anyone in my growing-up Catholic community had thought much at all about the things I was struggling mightily with.  I too had many of the same types of "religious" experiences that Martha describes.  Not as intense, but I recognized them and I relate.  There were times when I was so distraught and so confused, and I had experiences too - where I was certain a divine presence was near me and this caused me to think everything was fine and going according to plan.  

I came to understand those experiences as psychological and biological strategies that do not come from a god or any supernatural source.  Martha came to redefine her relationship with God through those experiences.  She also puts much more confidence in coincidence, and uses those events to point to Ultimate Meaning where I think they are simply coincidences or are connections that I make on my own. 
To me, the most chilling scene in the book is when Martha's mother believes her accusations of sexual abuse, and then recants and calls Martha a liar.  I'm sure that is typical of these kinds of explosive revelations in families.
Martha mentions Steve Benson in her book a few times.  He happens to be a friend of mine.  He also left the Mormon Church publicly.  Steve's a Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist for a newspaper, the Arizona Republic.  His stuff is here, it's really good: Steve Benson cartoons.   His grandfather was the president of the LDS church (Ezra Taft Benson) and Steve's de-conversion was also painful and public and resulted in being ostracized from his family. He accidentally called me on Easter, thinking he was calling another "Julia" and we laughed about that and I enthused, "I'm reading 'Leaving the Saints!' You're in it!"  I think I scared him with my exuberance. 

But - back to the book.  I am typically very skeptical of sexual abuse claims, and I have to say that Martha's claims rest on pretty flimsy evidence.  It must have been traumatizing, but if I were her, I think I would have dropped the issue about sexual abuse.  It's her word against her father's and there is or was no winning or proving that point.  On the other hand, Martha is so candid about this very aspect of it, and is such a master at dissecting Mormon culture that cause this type of secrecy and sexual repression and outburst. Martha is also very insightful about what works inside the church and in the Mormon community.  And how scary it is to leave it behind.

I loved the book.  I just loved it.

So, I had to go and read everything else she's ever written. These are the books I read in April:

1.)  Leaving The Saints, Martha Beck
2.)  The Joy Diet, 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, Martha Beck
3.)  The Four Day Win, End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace, Martha Beck
4.)  Steering By Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny, Martha Beck
5.) Changes of the Heart: Martha Beck Life Coaches Share Strategies for Facing Life's Challenges, edited by Martha Beck
6.) Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, Martha Beck

So, you see.  You see how it all exploded.  Martha Beck was everywhere.  And you know, overall, even though many parts of several of the books literally made me cringe, even though it was kind of crazy to read so many self-help books all at once, even though I think if I were reading this blog post and I wasn't me I would be frowning and shaking my head right now - even though all that is true -- I got a lot out of each book.  The "Four Day Win" diet book was hands down the best diet book I've ever read, and people: I have read A LOT of 'em.  Have I followed it?  No.  Not specifically.  But some of the concepts are really useful and have been extremely helpful.  The finding your destiny books - North Star and Steering by Starlight - also very woo-woo, but if you can let that part go, if you can just say, "Hey, I'll go with it, just for now" they are insightful.  The thing is, it might be adaptive and helpful to selectively believe in some kind of magical thinking.  As long as you know you're doing it - like when you go to a movie.

Speaking of MOVIES.  Oh!   What a month, what a month, what a month!

Last summer I was visiting my dear friends Richard Jameson and Kathleen Murphy.  They're both film critics.  They are a couple.  They were both teachers of mine in college at the University of Washington in Seattle.  (I loved each separately as teachers and when I found out they were married I nearly fainted!)  Richard became the editor of Film Comment (requiring him to live in New York City) the same year I got on Saturday Night Live. For two years I lived with Richard and Kathleen in Brooklyn.  Now they live in Seattle again. They are still very active writers, mostly writing film criticism at

Anyhoo - I was at their house, and Richard had just recorded, off of TMC, "The Black Book" by Anthony Mann.   It's a rare noir film, set in revolutionary France no less, and the DP was John Alton, and I had never seen it before.  It was magnificent looking.  I couldn't stop thinking about it.  Richard sent me a copy.  That's what began my Mann education.  Richard keeps sending me DVDs, now I'm also getting them off Amazon and Netflix. I feel this deep love and appreciation for Anthony Mann.  I am so sad that he died, suddenly, while filming "A Dandy In Aspic" at age 60, in 1968.   I think I can now say that he is my favorite film director.  But I could just be in the first bloom of love.  I may have lost my head.   But I don't care!  I love Anthony Mann!  I just love him!

Richard and Kathleen sent me a book about Anthony Mann, by Jeanine Basinger.  It's by my bed, and I read chapters about the movie's I've seen just after I've seen them.  It's a continuing compulsion.  I think when I have seen everything I can see, I may start again - or at least watch the ten or so movies that I like most.   Anyway, that's why Anthony Mann is so heavily represented in my movie watching this month.

These are the movies I watched in April, 2011.

1. The Kings Speech, Tom Hooper for the second time
2. Dinner for Schmucks, Jay Roach
3. The Tillman Story, Amir Bar-Lev
4. Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson
6. Gasland, Josh Fox
7. Still Bill, Damani Baker and Alex Vlack
8. Castle in the Sky, Hayao Miyazaki
9. Amelie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
10. Nowhere Boy, Sam Taylor-Wood
11. The Furies, Anthony Mann
12. Railroaded!, Anthony Mann
13. Man of the West, Anthony Mann
14. Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino
15. T-Men, Anthony Mann
16. The Last Frontier, Anthony Mann
17. The Far Country, Anthony Mann
18. The Fall of the Roman Empire, Anthony Mann
19. Young Victoria, Jean-Marc Vallee
20. Nanook of the North, Robert J. Flaherty

Notes on the films:  "The Tillman Story" had me up for several nights.  Pat Tillman's story is so haunting and upsetting and mythic and yet real and mundane (sadly) that I cannot get him out of my head and I'd love to meet his mother.  I'm not generally a conspiracy-theorist-leaning-person, but I am skeptical about the Tillman's death - not just the cover up, but the whole thing.  I want to go on the walk (there's a "Pat's Walk" held every year which raises money for military scholarships) and I actually wondered for a split-second if they wanted "Pat" to go on "Pat's walk" (although the whole Pat thing is probably too much in the past and simultaneously too weird to even bring up.)   Anyway, as a supporter of his legacy, I'd like to go on that walk.  I wish I could have known Pat Tillman.

It was fun to watch "Reservoir Dogs" again, after almost twenty years!!!!  Michael had never seen it, so we watched. It was as good as ever. As creepy as ever.  And everyone looks so young.  Long ago, Quentin once arranged a night where everyone who was in the movie, and available, went to the Beverly Cinema in L.A. (I happened to be hanging out with Quentin a lot then and was there too) and watch "Reservoir Dogs" at midnight.  I ended up watching the movie (which I'd seen several times before) SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO MICHAEL MADSEN.  It was one of the most surreal life-experiences ever.   A few years ago, I was a co-host at the Academy Editing Awards in L.A. and Michael Madsen was at my table. He didn't remember me, but I cannot be around that guy without thinking that my ear is going to be cut off and I'm going to be doused in gasoline.

I watched "Still Bill" twice.  It's a documentary about Bill Withers and I found it very uplifting.  So inspiring, I insisted that Michael and Mulan watch it and that's how I came to watch it twice.  Surprisingly, Michael found it depressing.  I didn't.  I think this movie is a Rorschach test about how you feel about people "retiring" maybe.  I dunno, I loved it.

I'm not sure how we came to watch "Easy Rider." I'd never seen it and it must have come up on our Netflix queue.  Michael hadn't seen the film since he was a teenager.  It was funny and great, campy and silly, bad and good, all simultaneously.  What was ever better was the making-of documentary on the DVD.  In various ways it was more satisfying than the film itself.   I had a big surge of love for Dennis Hopper, who hosted SNL while I was a cast member.  My little glimpse of his personality was memorable.  He seemed "touched" in a good way - a special otherworldly person.  Terrible at SNL though.  Hilariously bad at sketches.

"Nowhere Boy" was a happy surprise.  After reading "John Lennon The Life" by Philip Norman last year, I was hankering to see this film, and I felt the filmmakers got the story just right.  The whole triangle: John, his mother, and his aunt Mimi, it's a story that could really be fucked up.   And yet,  it wasn't.  The tone was pitch perfect.  They got the weird motherly, authoritarian, sexual, mysterious, unseemly relationship between mother and aunt and son just right.  It was amazing.  Just astonishingly good.

We watched "Young Victoria" the night that Will and Kate wed in London. That's how we celebrated the wedding.  I was also happily surprised by how good this movie was.  Emily Blunt is a subtle, competent and amorphous actress.  What a part!

Okay, the Anthony Mann movies:  The one that stays with me the most is probably... Probably... Oh... How to choose...  Okay, if I have to: "The Last Frontier."  Victor Mature is GREAT.  He is perfect.  It's a complicated story and I was surprised again and again.  But also, "Man of the West" that was good too.  However, in both movies,  the women - the women characters, they really could've been better.  I wish I could rewrite and remake both films, even though I still loved them as they are.  The women were two dimensional, where they could have been more complicated.  "The Last Frontier"was really a modern film in many ways, and Robert Preston is in it as the evil military leader.  I have recently seen "The Music Man" and have reveled in his talent, so this was a treat to see him in such a completely different role. 

I just finished "The Fall of the Roman Empire" and I watched all the extras on the new Blue Ray DVD.  It was complicated and thoughtful, and I sort of can see why it wasn't a hit.  It deals with very complex material.  I felt the whole time like I was watching a film about the United States getting enmeshed in wars which they have no understanding of and that are getting out of hand.  How could this movie have been made then?  We need to watch it now, I think.  Christopher Plummer is phenomenal, giving a star performance.  

There was a documentary on the extras part of the DVD that featured Anthony Mann - I kept thinking: he's going to be dead in three years.  And yet he looks so happy.  (Odd, like I think he should know that he's going to be dead in three years...)  Of course this was before the movie was a flop.  And I don't think that depressed him all that much.  (Probably not as much as Samuel Bronston who went bankrupt.) But still, he looked so sweet and happy.  Like he would have been a great guy to know.  Oh!  I love Anthony Mann!