Sunday, November 19, 2017

Reconsidering Woody Allen

by Eric Peterson

Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Brett Ratner. It seems that every day we hear about another powerful (and let's just say it -- male) figure in the entertainment industry who has been accused of sexual "misconduct" at best, and abuse/rape at worst.

While it's difficult to hear these stories -- sometimes because the stories themselves are horrendous and awful, sometimes because the men who were accused really disappointed us -- it's good that we're having this conversation, especially if it leads to real change within this industry that touches us all, whether or not it's where we spend our careers. But even if it takes us a while to make the kinds of changes that will make the worlds of film and TV a safe space for women to work and create, it's a positive development that both women and men who have been harassed or assaulted are generally being believed, and that everyone is waking up to how endemic sexual abuse really is.

With that kind of introduction, the fact that I'm about to launch into a defense of Woody Allen, of all people, might seem odd. But that's what I'm doing.

First of all, let me admit my bias. I think Woody Allen is one of the cinematic geniuses of our time. To put it simply, I'm a fan. Hannah & Her Sisters, released before the scandals I'm about to discuss, and Bullets Over Broadway, released afterwards, rate among my favorite movies made by anyone, ever. But add to that list Crimes & Misdemeanors, Interiors, Manhattan, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (but were afraid to ask), Annie Hall, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Midnight in Paris, Match Point, September, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Mighty Aphrodite, Radio Days, Alice, Another Woman, Broadway Danny Rose, Blue JasmineThe Purple Rose of Cairo, and more -- some of these films feel perfect in their construction and artistry, and even those with obvious flaws are still interesting, so much more interesting than what you're probably thinking about renting next. He's our generation's Chekhov -- an artist in the truest sense of the word.

None of which excuses bad behavior, of course. And while I'm busy defending the man and his legacy, let me just state for the record that Woody Allen has behaved, in my opinion, very badly.

So what exactly are we doing here? Okay, let's talk about his offscreen life for a moment, and then I'll get back to the movies.

The most serious charge against Woody Allen came from his own daughter, who was, at the time, named Dylan Farrow. She claimed that, during his separation from her mother, Mia Farrow, he molested her in an attic. Her story was, and is, harrowing. And, there's a lot of doubt surrounding the allegation. A much more detailed account of these doubts was written by Robert Weide (who produced and directed a two-part documentary about Allen's career for PBS) in The Daily Beast in 2014. You can read that essay here, but the most convincing point made, to my mind, was that the allegation was made very soon after the alleged molestation occurred, which allowed investigators to launch a thorough and timely inquiry. And they did so. And after six months of considering the evidence, including physical examinations, they concluded that Dylan had not been molested, by her father or anyone else.

What we do know for sure about Woody Allen is that he began a sexual relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, his girlfriend's adopted daughter when she was either 18 or 20 and he was 55. That is awful. No, really -- it's terrible. Moreover, it's creepy as fuck. In addition, it's a terrible thing to do to a woman you've been in a relationship with (and had children with) for twelve years. Also, it was a terrible thing for Soon-Yi to do to her mother. I totally get that. And if that makes you not want to ever watch a Woody Allen movie ever again, I will support you in that decision. But -- and this is the point -- the sordid tale of Woody and Soon-Yi is not a story about rape, or abuse, or assault, or even harassment.

At the time that they began their affair, Previn was very young, especially compared to Allen, but was, in point of fact, a few years above the age of consent -- so we can't accurately call this statutory rape. If she were to come forward today to tell the world that she had been emotionally manipulated or physically assaulted by Allen as a teenager, I'd certainly be willing to give her a hearing. But given the fact that she remains married to Allen a quarter of a century later, that's not likely.

As much as I support the #metoo movement, and I truly do -- part of supporting those who have experienced rape or abuse or assault or harassment is to 1) start by believing the alleged victim(s), 2) investigate the claims as thoroughly as possible, and 3) separate criminal behavior from that which is simply untoward or uncouth.

If you apply that measure to Woody Allen, he doesn't exactly emerge looking like a saint. But he's not a rapist. He's not an abuser. And if you still want to call for Harvey Weinstein's head one day and take in a Woody Allen movie the next, I won't call you a hypocrite.

Speaking of Woody Allen movies, did I mention how amazing they are? In them, Woody Allen -- the writer, the director, and to a lesser extent, the actor -- has an uncanny ability to see life through the eyes of so many different people, especially women. So if he can be a selfish cad, and clearly he can -- he also has the capacity for reservoirs of empathy. Like Walt Whitman, he contradicts himself, and while that's confusing and complex, it's also the most human analysis that can be offered about any of us. Witness the following scene, from Hannah & Her Sisters:

In the scene above, Hannah (Mia Farrow) meets her sisters (Dianne Weist, Barbara Hershey) for lunch. Holly (Weist, who won an Oscar for her performance) is at a professional crossroads, and has come to ask her sister for money. While she and Hannah negotiate this request, Lee (Hershey) is overcome with emotion. What the audience knows but neither Hannah nor Holly know, is that Lee is currently having an affair with Hannah's husband (Michael Caine as -- you guessed it, a selfish cad). In this scene, there are usually three or four things going on at once, dancing between what's known and what's unknown, what's practical and what exists in the darker corners of the heart. It's less than three minutes long, and it's masterful in its execution.

And there's another scene from my other favorite Allen film, Bullets Over Broadway, which came out in 1994 -- three years after Woody Allen's contentious break-up with Mia Farrow and the tabloid furor around his relationship with her daughter, that speaks directly to the question of whether or not artists should be excused for their bad behavior. I couldn't find this particular scene anywhere on the internet (do better, internet!), but the basic setup is this: David Shayne (John Cusack), an aspiring playwright, is in a conversation with Sheldon Flender (Rob Reiner), a selfish cad. Sheldon is explaining to David that artists exist on a separate moral plane than the rest of us ordinary mortals. This is probably exactly what David wants to hear, since he's cheating on his girlfriend Ellen (Mary-Louise Parker) with the leading lady of his new play (another performance by Dianne Wiest, another Best Supporting Actress Oscar), and also wrestling with the knowledge that Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), a bodyguard and the real creative genius behind David's new play, has killed Olive, the talent-deficient actress (Jennifer Tilly, who is hilarious in this movie) in an effort to save the play from being an artistic flop. However -- and this is key -- the audience hates Sheldon Flender, and we don't even know yet that he's sleeping with Ellen himself. When we hear Sheldon's philosophy from his own preening, obnoxious mouth, we reject it immediately, even after we laughed our heads off when Cheech killed Olive (no really, it's hilarious). Allen, the filmmaker, expertly makes us complicit, and then shows us the lie -- all while cramming more laughs into a single movie than he probably ever did before or since. Just to prove it, here's more genius from Dianne Wiest:

Woody Allen has a new movie coming out this winter. It's called Wonder Wheel, and it stars Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, and Jim Belushi. I'm going to see it. I typically see whatever Winslet does, and I'm not likely to pass up a chance to see her act a script that Woody Allen has written. I might even see it in a theatre, or I might wait until I can see it at home. But I'm almost definitely going to see it.

My final diagnosis is this: Woody Allen might be a decent guy who made a big mistake. He might be a completely decent guy who found the love of his life in the oddest of places. He might be the world's most rancid asshole and deserving of nothing good in this life whatsoever. I've never met Woody Allen, and I'm not likely to. I'm not even sure I'd want to. But watching Woody Allen's movies makes me a better person. They force me to ponder life's essential questions, and they often make me laugh so hard I don't even realize I'm doing it.

Y'know, if Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey never work again, I won't be upset. They have each exhibited a pattern of abusive behavior, and the stories of their victims stand up to scrutiny. It's important that they be held accountable for a history of assault, even if I, the moviegoer, miss out. There's zero chance that I'll ever see Daddy's Home 2, because I can't stand to look at Mel Gibson's face -- he's a racist, he's guilty of domestic assault, and I wouldn't enjoy watching that movie, or any movie he appears in for the rest of his career. And yet, I don't feel like I'm "boycotting" Mel Gibson. For starters, I wasn't all that likely to see Daddy's Home 2 to begin with; more importantly, I'm not trying to stop anyone else from seeing that movie. I'm personally not going, because I personally wouldn't be able to enjoy it; it's that simple.

If the public at large decided to hold Woody Allen accountable for being a selfish cad, and he stopped working after a long and prolific career, I suppose I'd survive that as well. But if Woody is still making movies (and he is), and if I, as a human being in this world, can benefit from seeing those movies (and I believe I would), then I'm going to see them. And I'm more than okay with that.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

I Can See My House From Up Here!

by Stacey Fearheiley

This week we talked about Angela Lansbury…wishing her happy 92nd birthday and basically being impressed with all she’s done artistically in over 70 years on the job.  I would love to say that the rest of this blog will be an in depth look at either Angela’s career or homelife or some other fun topic of popular culture and entertainment.

Eric and I also talked about, and continue to every once in a while, WHY we started this podcast.  Why we love pop culture and why we think it’s important.  We can even (YES, it’s true) get a little uppity on our high horses in our explanations and rationalizations.  We don’t mean to, but it happens.  Mostly because we believe it.

Yes, I would love for this blog to be all shallow pop culture, “access Hollywood” fun.   

Politically, as you know, every day brings another piece of ridiculousness.  We can’t get away from it.  But we try…through entertainment, through sports, through Pinterest.  But that’s not always an escape any more.  These last 2 weeks have brought that home.

As I watched my facebook feed stack up with “me too” after “me too”,   I felt more and more deflated.  I’m a “me too” as well.  And the sheer number of them was completely disheartening and I wondered…who the F cares about Angela Lansbury’s birthday?  Stuff is going down and we need to pay attention.

So I paid attention.  And I read stuff.  And I watched stuff.  The "real life" stuff.  And the more I pushed into my brain, the heavier the weight felt on my chest.  Sadder, harder, heavier...more painful.

And then the POPeration! podcast dropped.  And I listened. 

I also went on to YouTube and watched a little of my favorite Tubers (is that what they're called?)

And I smiled.  And I smirked.  I laughed. I breathed easier and some of the tenseness dropped from my shoulders.  I leaned back in my chair and just stopped.

Yeah, Eric and I can get pompous and pretentious about why we podcast about pop culture...but, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.   If this year hasn't been a huge THIS IS WHY WE TALK ABOUT SHALLOW STUFF advertisement, I don't know what would be.

Hopefully we can be your "escape" from reality sometimes.  And you know what?  I DO F'ING CARE THAT IT'S ANGELA LANSBURY'S BIRTHDAY!  She's awesome!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Art isn't easy

by Eric Peterson

In this week's show, we talked about ladies who make us laugh. Stacey and I made passing mention of the controversy surrounding that photograph of Kathy Griffin and what looked like Donald Trump's decapitated head. So, for this week's blog installment, here's something I wrote about that incident in the days after it occurred. (NOTE: This post originally appeared at Medium on June 1, 2017.)

* * * * *

In the last few days, comedienne and gay icon Kathy Griffin has found herself in a spot of controversy. Together with photographer Tyler Shields, Griffin created an image that depicted her holding the decapitated head of a man, covered in blood, and with a hairstyle unmistakably reminiscent of President Donald Trump.

The backlash was almost immediate. Angry tweets were tweeted by the likes of Chelsea Clinton, Griffin’s personal friend Anderson Cooper, and Trump himself, who noted that the image was very upsetting to his 11-year old son in particular. The consensus reached by both sides of the political spectrum was a sandstorm of outrage, offense, and condemnation. Liberals insisted that such violent imagery has no place in civilized debate, while conservatives predictably used the incident to indict the “hatred” they see as synonymous with liberalism, and wondered how liberals would have felt if someone depicted a violent death of Barack Obama.

Actually, we don’t need to wonder about that since violent images, often reminiscent of Jim Crow-era lynchings, depicting a violent death for Obama were all-too-common throughout his Presidency. And yet, liberals argued, two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because they did it, doesn’t mean we should follow suit. When they go low, we go high. In less than 24 hours, Griffin apologized. In a video, posted to Twitter, she said, “I’m a comic. I crossed the line … I beg for your forgiveness. I went too far. I made a mistake, and I was wrong.”

I couldn’t help but notice that in a political landscape so polarized that both sides have all but given up hope that we would ever agree on anything ever again, Kathy Griffin brought the entire country together in a matter of hours, with a single image, without ever saying a word. But it was difficult for me to celebrate this feat of momentary peacemaking, because I wasn’t so sure that I agreed with the masses on this one.

I will admit, firstly, that I’m a fan of Kathy Griffin; more often than not, she makes me laugh. I will also admit that I’m no fan of Donald Trump. As such, I should have been the perfect audience for this particular artistic creation — but something about it didn’t work for me. It didn’t make me laugh, or even smile. It didn’t inspire me to #RESIST, politically or in any other sense — it certainly didn’t fan any latent urges toward violence. Mostly, it just numbed me. I sat in front of my computer screen, taking it all in, mouth agape and eyes growing ever wider. “Wow,” I thought. Not much more than that, just … “wow.” (And not really a good wow, but more of a “WTF” wow.)

I noticed the look on Kathy’s face — not defiant, certainly not jubilant — but slightly panicked and somehow both manic and depressive at the same time. I noticed her oddly formal, bordering-on-frumpy blouse, which I was later reminded has a particularly named feature: the pussy-bow. I noticed the sheer amount of fake blood used to decorate the prosthetic head. And I reflected on the fact that I really, really dislike Donald Trump, and yet — I had to ask myself if I was okay with this. And the answer came slowly. And it was … no. No, I don’t think so. No, I don’t like this.

And yet, I’m not eager to condemn Kathy Griffin and Tyler Shields for creating this particular work of art, even though it makes me uncomfortable. I believe that many works of art, certainly this photo, are meant to make its viewer uncomfortable. And I can’t deny that this image taught me something about myself. It tested my limits; as a result, I learned that there’s a line I don’t want to cross. And I’m not upset at Kathy Griffin for crossing that line for me; in many ways, that’s an artist’s job.

Art is not a luxury. Art isn’t something to enjoy once life’s necessities have been taken care of. Art, even really bad art, has a purpose. Art, at the very least, has something to say. At its best, art is a vessel wherein the viewer learns something, not about the artwork, but about him or herself. And by that barometer, this shocking photograph is surely art. It might not have been a smart decision for Kathy Griffin to create this particular work of art; in fact, it’s already come at a financial cost. It might not have been politically savvy; many are suggesting that the photo gives Trump supporters license to dismiss any of his critics as violent hatemongers. It might not be in good taste; more to the point, it was likely never meant to be.

But it is art, nonetheless. And I am, ever so slightly, different than I was because of it.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Long

by Stacey Fearheiley

I know there are some who do NOT like to sit through the previews of movies when they go out to watch films.  I get that.  I even understand the logic.  But it's not me.   I LOVE TRAILERS.  Movie trailers.  Good ones and bad ones.

Why?  Dunno!  And I don't even WATCH 1/3 of the movies of the trailers/previews I see.  One reason this podcast about holiday movie previews was so long was because both Eric and I appreciate a well done and entertaining trailer.  We like watching them, and talking about them.

We discussed a little about what makes good trailers and what makes bad ones.  Even in 2017, there are still producers who don't know how to get a good trailer made.  But this got me thinking...this comparing of good vs. badly made movie previews.  And I started remembering the ones from back in the day that really hit the mark. 

So, below are some examples of "old school" trailers...AND, a great way to waste time.  Enjoy!

They run the gamut. And these are just a few, but I could watch these all day...a rabbit hole I would never come back from.
So, what are you going to see this holiday season?  Do you base it on previews?  Or do you hate the waste of time these little 3 min vignettes are?  
Wherever you stand, you have to admit, the trailer is an art form unto itself.  

Happy Movie Going!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wherefore Art Thou, Emmy?

by Eric Peterson

I hated myself for staying up and watching the Emmys until the end. After all, I had a busy day at work the next day, and could have used the sleep. And yet, it's not like this was a typical Oscars show that flirted with midnight (Eastern Time) before the awards were all handed out and the L.A. after-parties could begin.

And I was liking the show. No, the Sean Spicer cameo didn't sit well with me. First of all, I could have written that joke. Secondly - and perhaps more importantly - he doesn't deserve a warm welcome anywhere after facilitating the complete destruction in Americans' faith in our own government for six months. Finally, I could have written that joke. But I was liking the rest of it.

Aziz Ansari & Lena Waithe win an Emmy
I particularly enjoyed the diversity of the winners. I didn't enjoy the television industry's love letter to itself with regard to how inclusive they were. Because whatever. But the folks who actually walked up to receive trophies were a diverse bunch, and that was cool. Lena Waithe was the first black woman to win an Emmy for writing a comedy series. Aziz Ansari (an "Indian kid from South Carolina" was how Waithe described him) shared that award. Donald Glover was the first black person to win an Emmy for directing a comedy series. Sterling K. Brown was the first black actor in over two decades to win for Best Actor in a drama series. Reed Morano was the first woman in over two decades to win Best Director for a drama series. Riz Ahmed, a British actor of Pakistani descent, was the first South Asian actor to win an acting award at the Emmys.

Of course, some of my warm and fuzzy feelings about the rainbow of honorees were dimmed slightly when the producers of the Emmys cut off Brown's microphone before he finished his speech. Sure, this kind of stuff happens, but Nicole Kidman had just delivered what seemed like a lengthy list of thank-yous moments before, and the orchestra didn't make a peep. And moments later, they let Elisabeth Moss finish. Just sayin'.

But I liked the show, even though I haven't seen a lot of the shows and performances that were nominated. My own ignorance on this point was on my mind, because two days before, Variety published an article called, "Almost Nobody Watches Most Emmy-Nominated Shows," and that knowledge made me feel less alone.

And, it also seemed completely normal to me. There's just way too much television today for any one viewer to consume everything that might appeal to them unless they are lucky enough to get paid to watch television.

And, it also reminded me of the one reason why I like awards shows. Despite the fact that only 5% of television-watchers in America have ever watched Master of None (for which Waithe & Ansari won a writing Emmy), The Handmaid's Tale (for which Morano won her directing Emmy), or Atlanta (for which Glover won his directing Emmy) -- they might, now. If it weren't for Emmys or Oscars or Tonys or Grammys, or Pulitzers, the only television (or movies, or plays, or music, or books) that we'd ever see would be that which is explicitly designed to make the most money. Basically, every movie would be aliens blowing up the halls of Congress, every TV show would be cheaply made reality television, and every book would be Twilight. The fact that these awards shows exist make it somehow profitable for networks and studios and Broadway theaters and publishing houses to invest in quality. Because after a show or a movie or a play or a song or a book wins an award, there's a sizable audience out there who buys tickets or pushes the "download" button. And hopefully, quality art continues to be made by industries for whom the ultimate incentive is and always will be money.

So no, I'm not going to stay up to watch every award show until it's over. When I do watch, I will rail at the foolish choices of those voters and pontificate loudly upon why their choices were so, so wrong (still not over Brokeback Mountain losing - but that's another post for another day). But I'm ultimately glad that these shows exist.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I need to go watch that episode of Master of None. It just won an Emmy.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Laugh, fool, laugh...

by Stacey Fearheiley

So, why DOES Netflix have a whole category dedicated to stand up comedians?  Why do the ratings of comedy shows like Saturday Night Live, Late Night, Conan and the Daily Show  surge when tragedy hits?  Why are the biggest laughs in movies often in a scene at a funeral?

I remember several weeks after my father, to whom I was very close, died, I was reading an article in a magazine and there was a statement made that looked weird to me.  It didn't seem accurate.  I wasn't sure I believed it.  I sat there for a quick minute and realized that there was one person who would know about the accuracy and so I picked up the phone and started dialing my dad's phone number.

I believe I got about 3 numbers in when I realized what I was doing.  I stopped dialing.  I hung up the phone and I said aloud, " I don't have that area code."  There was a beat. Then I giggled.  And I knew my dad would have chuckled as well.  But my question is, why didn't I burst into tears?  What made me think that bizarre thought and then laugh at it?

Maybe it's because laughter and tears, happy and sad, comedy and tragedy are but 2 sides of 1 coin. Without one, the other isn't as understood.

As this world has seemed to be exploding and imploding, literally and figuratively for about a year, we have, as a society, been turning more and more to our comic entertainers.  Colbert has never been more popular. Samantha Bee has soared and SNL hasn't had a season like their last one in YEARS!

But this need to laugh through tears, to find humor in the abysmal isn't a new thing. Bob Hope was successful in his career before WWII, but his legacy that endures will be how he entertained the troops overseas through several wars.  How he made GIs laugh in the literal middle of war, with bombs sounding in the background, knowing that many of those young men would never make it back to the U.S.

In my lifetime, I'll never forget Jon Stewart talking to the camera for the first time after the attacks on September 11, 2001.  The Daily Show after 9/11 

What he said was exactly the answer to my questions.  The need to feel after we think we couldn't feel anymore.  To feel something better.  To feel like there is hope.

Why do we have so many comedians?  Because we need them.  Especially when it feels like there isn't one reason to smile.

When comedians talk about going back to work after tragedy, they talk about timing.  It is a thin line between the "right time" and "too soon."  In politics there doesn't seem to be "too soon", but for natural disasters and man-made terror the line is more blurred.  For the victims of the hurricanes and earthquakes, it may still be too soon to joke about the storms themselves as they are dealing with the nitty gritty of the aftermath.

But, Conan will still do his "Clueless Gamer" routine, Colbert will drop some "Midnight Confessions", John Oliver will talk about "How is this still a thing?" stuff and Netflix will keep adding to its comedian show catalog.  Because we need it.  Even if it is temporary.  Now more than ever.

I had a chance to see a bit of Comic Relief's Hand in Hand fundraising telethon last night, as it raised money for the victims of the hurricanes, etc.  Not a lot of funny, but a lot of good spirit.  And we need that too. Music was in abundance.  And while we need the comedy, we also just need the arts in keeps us human.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reclaiming my Time

by Eric Peterson

In the past few weeks in America, oh now let's see ...
  1. Actual neo-Nazis marched through the streets of Charlottesville and killed someone.
  2. Transgender servicemembers are being banned from the military for seemingly no reason.
  3. Hurricane Harvey became the single largest rain event in our country's history, burying our fourth largest city in a trillion gallons of water.
  4. Recipients of the DACA program have learned that the program is being ended, and if Congress takes no action, they'll likely face deportation.
  5. Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a Category 5 storm and is headed straight for Florida.
It's times like this when I sometimes pause and wonder why Stacey and I spend so much time watching movies and TV shows so that we can meet on the weekends and have long extended conversations about them. I mean, the nominal "leader of the free world" is a spray-tanned toddler and the planet is apparently trying to eat us alive, and this is what's important to us?

And you know what? Yes. Yes, it is.

For starters, I love movies. I love good television. Additionally, I love books and theatre and music. I have a love/hate relationship with awards shows, but I still end up watching them and caring who wins. I grieve (in my own way) when young artists die too soon and older artists leave behind a stunning legacy of work to inspire the next generation. I believe that pop culture is art. And I believe that when art ceases to be important, we're in real trouble.

Your hosts. And wine.
Also, if you haven't already noticed, most of the POPeration! episodes we record are basically me laughing hysterically. Stacey has always been able to make me laugh, no matter the topic, and so no, I won't give up the hours we spend together planning the next episode, fighting over which movies and TV shows we need to watch the following week, and recording our conversations; it's just too much fun.

And I need a little fun right now. I need some joy in my life. I suspect I'm not alone.

It can be very easy during troubling times to resist those things that bring you joy, but I believe it's a huge mistake. Yes, you should watch the news, if you can stand it; I do. Yes, if you feel so moved, you should protest; I did, and I probably will again before too long. But no, you should not stop doing things that make you happy. Walk your dog. Watch the game. Knit. Play a round of golf. Lose yourself in a good book. Travel. And if you're like me, see a movie you loved as a child or binge the latest must-see show on the streaming service of your choice.

Above all, laugh. If you don't have a Stacey in your life, you should get one. Vent about the state of the world if you need to, but at least tell a joke while you're doing so, and then change the topic eventually and do something that makes you happy.

Also, podcasts. Podcasts are good. I know of a really excellent one you should try; we're on Apple and Stitcher and Google Play and iHeartRadio and YouTube and ... okay, you get my point.