Thursday, August 29, 2013

TIME MACHINE: The March on Washington



Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the event known as the The March on Washington. Also known as The March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom or The Great March on Washington, the famous Civil Rights event took place in Washington D.C., on August 28, 1963. 

The event was organized by a group of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations under the theme "jobs, and freedom". Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 to 300,000. Observers also estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were African-Americans. Organization of the march originated with A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Negro American Labor Council and vice-president of the AFL-CIO and activistBayard Rustin had begin planning the march as early as December 1962. They hoped for two days of protest that included sit-ins and lobbying, followed by a mass rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Randolph and Rustin wanted to focus on joblessness and to call for a public works program that would employ blacks. In early 1963, they publicly announced "a massive March on Washington for jobs". Amalgamated Clothing Workers unionist Stanley Aronowitz gathered support from radical union organizers who could be trusted not to report their plans to the Kennedy administration. The unionists offered tentative support for a march that would be focused on jobs.

Without securing the cooperation of the NAACP or the Urban League, Randolph announced an "October Emancipation March on Washington for Jobs" on May 15, 1963. He reached out to union leaders, winning the support of the UAW's Walter Reuther, but not of AFL–CIO president George Meany. Randolph and Rustin intended to focus the March on economic inequality, stating in their original plan that "integration in the fields of education, housing, transportation and public accommodations will be of limited extent and duration so long as fundamental economic inequality along racial lines persists". While negotiating with other leaders, the pair expanded their stated objectives to "Jobs and Freedom", acknowledging the agenda of groups that focused more on civil rights. A coalition of civil rights and union leaders known as "the Big Six", which included Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., met with President John F. Kennedy on June 22, 1963. Kennedy warned against creating "an atmosphere of intimidation" by bringing a large crowd to the nation's capital. The activists insisted on holding the march. After a good deal of negotiations with the Kennedy administration and with the different activist groups, finally agreed to a date in late August for the march.

While the event was being organized, it encountered a great deal of opposition from the country's conservative element. Many conservative politicians branded the event as being organized and inspired by Communists, despite the planners' rejection of help from Communist groups. This mindset was especially espoused by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who singled out Rustin as a Communist and homosexual. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered an investigation into the event's organizers for any Communist ties. When he received a report citing Communists' failure to infiltrate the Civil Rights movement, Hoover immediately rejected it. However, opposition to the event also came from liberal activists. Rustin harbored doubts due to his fears that the march might turn violent. Malcolm X, spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, condemned the event as a joke as labeled it the "farce on Washington".

On August 28, 1963; participants who lived outside of the Washington D.C. area arrived in large numbers. The event attracted a media assembly larger than President Kennedy's inauguration over two years ago. The march failed to start on time, due to its leaders meeting with members of Congress. To their surprise, the participants began the march at the Washington Monument and headed for the Lincoln Memorial. The event's leaders arrived late and linked arms in front of the marchers on Constitution Avenue in order to be photographed leading the march. At least 50 members of the American Nazi Party staged a counter-protest, but were dispersed by the local police. Most of the city's citizens stayed at home and watched the event on television. The official program, which began after the march reached the Lincoln Memorial included performances by Camilla Williams (who sang the National Anthem), Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Odetta Holmes and the group - Peter, Paul and Mary. Speakers included both Randolph and Rustin, John Lewis (of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committe), Joachim Prinz of the American Jewish Congress, and Morehouse College president Benjamin Mays, who closed the program. Roy Wilkins announced activist W.E.B. DuBois' death, which occurred the night before. However, the highlight of the event proved to be Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. 

Historians and activists have been debating on the consequences of the March for the past five decades. Many radicals have embraced Malcolm X's criticism of the event as a co-optation of the white establishment. Others tend to focus more on King's famous speech and the civil rights legislative successes that followed in 1964 and 1965. And recently, many historians have been focusing on Bayard Rustin's organization of the event. Just recently, President Barack Obama The symbo of the March has been contested since before it even took place. In the years following the March, movement radicals increasingly subscribed to Malcolm X's narrative of the March as a co-optation by the white establishment. Liberals and conservatives tended to embrace the March, but focused mostly on King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the legislative successes of 1964 and 1965, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The cooperation of the Kennedy Democratic administration on the issue of civil rights led the Democrats to give up its Southern Democratic support, undivided since Reconstruction to lure a high proportion of black votes from the Republican Party. More recently, historians and commentators have acknowledged the role played by Bayard Rustin in organizing the event. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 8 of this year. There was one negative consequence from the March. Two months after the event, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy gave Hoover and the F.B.I. permission to initially begin a wiretapping campaign against Dr. King. It lasted until the activist's death in April 1968.

For more information about the March on Washington, check out the following books:

*"The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights" by William P. Jones

*"Nobody Turn Me Around: A People's History of the 1963 March on Washington" by Charles Euchner


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"2 GUNS" (2013) Photo Gallery


Below are images from the new action movie, "2 GUNS". Based on the graphic novel of the same title and directed by Baltasar Kormákur, the movie stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg: 

"2 GUNS" (2013) Photo Gallery











Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"THE LONE RANGER" (2013) Review

"THE LONE RANGER" (2013) Review

My memories of the 1950s television series, "THE LONE RANGER", is a bit sketchy. Actually, it is downright vague. I can recall Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels in their costumes - the latter wearing a mask. I can recall Moore bellowing "Hi ho Silver!" every once in a while. And I do recall that the series was shot in black-and-white. I have no memories of a particular episode or storyline. I never invested any genuine interest in the series during my childhood.

When I learned that the Disney Studios and Jerry Bruckheimer planned to produce a movie about the Lone Ranger, I regarded the announcement with very little interest. Not even the news that Johnny Depp would portray Tonto could generate any excitement within me. Usually, I would have been excited by the news of another collaboration between Bruckheimer and Depp - especially since this collaboration marked the return of Gore Verbinski as director. But my lukewarm regard toward the old "THE LONE RANGER" made it impossible for me get excited. Instead, I merely adopted an attitude of "wait and see" and dismissed the news from my mind . . . until the release date for the movie finally approached.

Directed by Gore Verbinski, "THE LONE RANGER" was not only based upon the 1950s television show, but also the 1933 radio program. The movie is basically an origin tale of how a Commanche named Tonto met the man who became the Lone Ranger. It begins in San Francisco 1933, in which Will, a young boy and fan of the Lone Ranger myth, meets the elderly Tonto at a Wild West exhibition at a local fair. The story jumps back 64 years to 1869 in Colby, Texas; where a young attorney named John Reid is returning home by train to become an assistant district attorney. Also traveling on the train as prisoners is the notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish and Tonto. Cavendish is heading back to Colby to be hanged, following his capture by John's older brother Dan and the other Texas Rangers in the area. However, Cavendish's gang manages to rescue their leader and escape, leaving John, Tonto and other passengers aboard a runaway train. The latter eventually derails at a rail construction site for the unfinished Transcontinental Railroad and Tonto is arrested by the Reid brothers. Dan, who is married to John's childhood love Rebecca Reid, deputizes his younger brother as a Texas Ranger before the whole group sets out to recapture Cavendish and his gang. Unfortunately for the Reid brothers and their fellow Rangers, there is a traitor amongst them who sets them up to be ambushed and killed by the Cavendish gang. Only John survives, due to the assistance of Tonto, who managed to escape jail. Seeking revenge, John sets out to find and capture Cavendish with Tonto's help; unaware that the Commanche has his own vengeful agenda regarding Cavendish.

The question remains . . . did I enjoy "THE LONE RANGER"? I can honestly say that I did not like it as much as I had liked the three "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" movies that Gore Verbinski had directed - "THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL", "DEAD MAN'S CHEST" and "AT WORLD'S END". I take some of that back. Perhaps I liked it as much as I did "AT WORLD'S END". I certainly liked it more than the fourth "PIRATES" movie, "ON STRANGER TIDES". However, "THE LONE RANGER" had its flaws. One, I found the 149 minutes running time a bit too long about the movie adaptation of an old radio/television character. This movie could have undergone a bit more trimming, leaving the movie slightly longer than 120 minutes. What could Verbinski, Bruckheimer and the three screenwriters have cut? I have no idea. Well . . . I would have cut the 1933 sequences. I really did not see the need of an aging Tonto recalling his first meeting with the Lone Ranger with some kid. Two, there were some minor aspects of the plot that could have been a bit more clear. For instance, who saved Rebecca and her son Danny Reid from Collins, the Texas Ranger who had betrayed her husband? The movie never explained. The movie also failed to explain how Tonto had escaped from the Colby jail in time to find a wounded John Reid and nurse him back to health. Three, I was not impressed by Hans Zimmer's score. To be honest, I have no memories of it. And if there is one thing that can contribute to the quality of a movie, is a first-rate score. "THE LONE RANGER" simply did not have one. And finally, I could have done without the train wreck that Tonto and John survived near the movie's beginning. I wish screenwriters Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe could have found a less over-the-top way for Cavendish to escape the hangman's noose.

Despite these flaws, I still managed to enjoy "THE LONG RANGER" very much. The screenwriters still managed to construct an interesting and entertaining tale about frontier politics, justice and revenge. In fact, the movie not only featured its usual staple of humor and action found in an Depp/Verbinski/Bruckheimer film, it also featured some pretty dark moments in its plot. Aware of moviegoers' current dislike of summer films with a dark undertone - unless its a movie about some comic book hero or simply a drama - I was rather glad that the screenwriters and Verbinski managed to inject some darkness into the plot. The tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of Dan Reid and his fellow Texas Rangers, along with the reasons behind Tonto's desire for revenge against Cavendish, the deadly attack upon the Reids' ranch, and the threat of railroad construction and the U.S. Army against Commanche lands made this story very interesting. Another fascinating aspect of the movie's plot proved to be the relationship between Tonto and John aka the Lone Ranger. First of all, I liked how the screenwriters made Tonto responsible for the creation of the Lone Ranger myth. Two, the development of Tonto and John's relationship proved to be an uphill and hard-won battle. The screenwriters did not make it easy for the pair. A fellow co-worker had complained of John's reluctance to trust Tonto by following the latter's advice. A part of me agreed with him. Another part of me understood John's reluctance, considering that Tonto had failed to be completely honest with him. Although I was not impressed by Zimmer's score, I must admit that I truly enjoyed how the composer used the old Lone Ranger theme - Gioachino Rossini's "William Tell Overture" - to accompany the movie's final action sequence. I found it so inspiring.

"THE LONE RANGER" also featured little moments that I found very interesting . . . and entertaining. One of those moments was a hilarious flash-forward that depicted the Lone Ranger and Tonto's robbery of a local bank that contained an item used by the pair to defeat the villains. Another scene that I enjoyed centered on the pair's efforts to escape from being trampled upon after being buried in the ground by Commanches. I also enjoyed Tonto's rescue of John, who was nearly hanged by Cavendish and the U.S. Army. And I especially enjoyed the last action sequence in which the pair tried to prevent the transportation of silver stolen from the Commanche lands by Cavendish and his partner. But my favorite moment - and it is a small one - centered around the love triangle between the Reid brothers, the woman they both loved, Rebecca; and a blue silk handkerchief used in the most subtle and erotic manner.

As for the movie's technical aspects, I must admit that I left the movie theater feeling very impressed by it. I found Bojan Bazelli's photography of the locations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Colorado very beautiful. There was another aspect of Bazelli's photography that I found interesting. The movie's color scheme started out as chrome gray as soon as the plot shifted to 1869 Texas. Yet, even the 19th century "flashbacks" eventually grew in color as the story unfolded and the relationship between Tonto and John strengthen. I also have to commend the film's editing done by James Haygood and Craig Wood, especially in many of the film's action sequences. And Jess Gonchor did a beautiful job in re-creating mid-19th century Texas through his production designs - especially in the Colby and railroad construction sequences. Three time BAFTA nominee Penny Rose, who had designed the costumes for the "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" movies, collaborated with Bruckheimer and Verbinski again as costume designer for "THE LONE RANGER". I could rave about Rose's work and how she perfectly captured the style of frontier fashions at the end of the 1860s. By why bother, when all I have to do is point out her work in the image below:

I found the performances featured in "THE LONE RANGER" outstanding . . . aside from two. One of those exceptions proved to be Helena Bonham-Carter's portrayal of Red Harrington, an ivory-legged brothel madam who assists Tonto and John. Actually, Bonham-Carter gave a colorful and earthy performance as the one-legged madam who also sought revenge against Cavendish. Unfortunately, the movie's screenplay failed to do anything with her character, other than allow her to provide some information to the pair in the movie's first half and assist them for a brief moment in the final action sequence. Elliot, Rossio and Haythe pretty much wasted her character and Bonham-Carter's time. Barry Pepper gave a colorful performance as the xenophobic U.S. Army Captain Jay Fuller, who allowed himself to be corrupted by Cavendish and his partner. But as much as I enjoyed Pepper's performance, I found myself a bit unsatisfied with how the screenwriters handled his character. Captain Fuller's transformation from a determined Army officer to a corrupt one struck me as a bit rushed and clumsy. James Badge Dale fared a lot better as John Reid's older brother, Texas Ranger Dan Reid. He gave an excellent performance as the professional lawman torn between his love for his younger brother and jealousy toward his wife's continuing feelings for the latter. Remember my recall of the scene featuring the blue silk handkerchief? Badge Dale's performance in that scene really made it particularly memorable for me. It has been a while since I last saw William Fitchner in a movie - over three years, as a matter of fact. The man has portrayed a vast array of interesting characters over the years. And I would definitely count the outlaw Butch Cavendish as one of those characters. Fitchner skillfully portrayed the outlaw as a walking horror story with an impish sense of humor.

Tom Wilkinson, whom one could always count on portraying interesting and complex characters, skillfully portrayed another one in the form of railroad tycoon, Latham Cole. Wilkinson did an excellent job in portraying Cole as a subtle and wily man whose desire for Rebecca Reid, power and wealth; along with the construction of the railroad makes him a potential enemy of both Tonto and the Lone Ranger. I was surprised to discover that British actress Ruth Wilson had been cast as Rebecca Reid, John's sister-in-law and the love of his life. I have always felt that she was a top-notch actress and her portrayal of the spirited Rebecca did not prove me wrong. But I was very surprised by how she easily handled a Texas accent during her performance. If someone ever decides to do a remake of the 1965 movie, "THE GREAT RACE", I would cast Armie Hammer in the role of Leslie Gallant aka the Great Leslie. Hammer did a beautiful job in conveying a similar uptight and annoyingly noble personality in his portrayal of John Reid aka the Lone Ranger. In a way, I could see why a good number of fans found John's stubborn refusal to improvise in dealing with Cavendish rather annoying. And if they did, Hammer succeeded in his performance on many levels . . . and still managed to be likeable. At least to me. Some critics had complained that Depp's portrayal of Tonto failed to become another Jack Sparrow. Others complained that his Tonto seemed too much like Tonto. I will admit that Depp, the screenwriters and Verbinski utilized a similar sense of humor in the portrayal of Tonto. But thanks to Depp's performance, the latter proved to be a different kettle of fish. Not only did I find Depp's portrayal of the wily and vengeful Commanche rather funny, but also sad, considering the character's back story. This allowed the actor to inject a tragicomedic layer in his portrayal of Tonto that reminded me why he is considered one of the best actors in the film industry.

As I had stated earlier, "THE LONE RANGER" did not strike me as perfect. I certainly do not regard it as one of the best movies from the summer of 2013; due to a running time I found too long, a few problems with the script and the presence of two characters I believe were mishandled. On the other hand, it turned out to be a first-rate action Western with a plot that featured some surprising plot twists and a dark streak that I believe made the story even more interesting. It did help that I not only enjoyed the post-Civil War setting, but also the performances of an excellent cast led by Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer and a very entertaining direction by Gore Verbinski.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Coronation Chicken


Below is a small article about a dish that was created in the early 1950s called Coronation Chicken. I first learned about the recipe while watching a "SUPERSIZERS" episode about the 1950s: 


Sixty years ago last June, the citizens of the United Kingdom and the remaining British Empire celebrated the coronation of their new monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. She had ascended the British throne upon the death of her father, King George VI on February 6, 1952. A year and four months later on June 2, 1953; the Queen was crowned in a ceremony called a coronation.

Among the events scheduled in celebration of the event was a coronation luncheon hosted by the Queen. A chef named Rosemary Hume and a food writer/flower arranger named Constance Spry, who were both associated with the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London, were commissioned to prepare the food for the luncheon. When the two women set about preparing the food, Spry suggested the idea of a recipe that featured cold chicken, curry cream sauce and dressing that would later become known as coronation chicken.

Many believe that the Coronation Chicken recipe may have been inspired by another recipe called Jubilee Chicken, which had been specifically created for Silver Jubilee of the present Queen's grandfather, King George V, in 1935. And for Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebration in 2012, guests at the Royal Garden Party were served "Diamond Jubilee Chicken", a variation of Coronation Chicken created by Heston Blumenthal. 

Below is the recipe for "Coronation Chicken", from "The Constance Spry Cookery Book", written by Rosemary Hume and Constance Spry:

Coronation Chicken

Ingredients for Chicken
2 Young chickens
Wwater and a little wine to cover
1 Carrot
1 Bouquet garni
3-4 Peppercorns
Cream of Curry Sauce

Ingredients for Cream of Curry Sauce
1 Tablespoon oil
2 oz. Onion, finely chopped

1 dessert spoon Curry Powder
1 Good Teaspoon Tomato Purée
1 Wineglass red wine
¾ Wineglass water
1 Bay-leaf
Salt, sugar, a touch of pepper
1 Slice or 2 of lemon 
1 Squeeze of lemon juice, possibly more
1-2 Tablespoons Apricot Purée
¾ Pint mayonnaise
2-3 Tablespoons lightly whipped cream
A little extra whipped cream


Poach the chickens, with carrot, bouquet, salt and peppercorns, in water and a little wine, enough barely to cover, for about 40 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool in the liquid. Joint the birds, remove the bones with care. Prepare the sauce given below. Mix the chicken and the sauce together, arrange on a dish, coat with the extra sauce. For convenience, in serving on the occasion mentioned, the chicken was arranged at one end of an oblong dish, and a rice salad as given below was arranged at the other.

Cream of curry sauce: Heat the oil, add the onion, cook gently 3-4 minutes, add curry-powder. Cook again 1-2 minutes. Add purée, wine, water, and bay-leaf. Bring to boil, add salt, sugar to taste, pepper, and the lemon and lemon juice. Simmer with the pan uncovered 5-10 minutes. Strain and cool. Add by degrees to the mayonnaise with the apricot purée to taste. Adjust seasoning, adding a little more lemon juice if necessary. Finish with the whipped cream. Take a small amount of sauce (enough to coat the chicken) and mix with a little extra cream and seasoning. This is an admirable sauce to serve with iced lobster. 

Rice Salad: The rice salad which accompanied the chicken was carefully cooked rice, cooked peas, diced raw cucumber, and finely chopped mixed herbs, all mixed in a well-seasoned French dressing.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"THE WOLVERINE" (2013) Photo Gallery


Below are images from "THE WOLVERINE", the sixth movie in the X-MEN movie franchise. Directed by James Mangold, the movie stars Hugh Jackman as Logan aka the Wolverine: 

"THE WOLVERINE" (2013) Photo Gallery






New Photo From The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman and Hiro Sanada






















Saturday, August 17, 2013

"THE EUROPEANS" (1979) Review


"THE EUROPEANS" (1979) Review

Merchant-Ivory Productions first began as a production company in 1961. Formed by Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory, the film company produced and released a series of movies, usually written by German-born screenwriter, 
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. A few years before Merchant-Ivory entered its artistic heyday of the 1980s and 90s, it released"THE EUROPEANS", an adaptation of Henry James' 1878 short novel, "The Europeans: A Sketch"

Set in antebellum Massachusetts in either 1849 or 1850, "THE EUROPEANS" begins with the arrival of an European visitor named Felix Young, who is in the United States to visit his American cousins, the Wentworths. The first member of the family he meets is Gertrude Wentworth, who is shirking attendance at church. Felix eventually meets the rest of the family - patriarch Mr. Wentworth, Charlotte and the youngest member, Clifford. He also meets Mr. Brand, the local minister who hopes to marry Gertrude. Felix's sister, Eugenia Munster, arrives the next day. Not only does she meet the Wentworths and Mr. Brand; but also Robert and Lizzie Acton, a brother and sister who happen to be neighbors of the Wentworths. 

It is apparent that Gertrude has not only become enamored of her European cousins' lifestyle, but especially Felix. Meanwhile, Eugenia and Robert have grown increasingly attracted to one another. However, Eugenia is reluctant to sign the divorce papers that would signal the end of her morganatic marriage to Prince Adolf of Silberstadt-Schreckenstein, whose family wants the marriage to end for political reasons. Despite Eugenia's marriage and her obvious dislike of her cousins' Unitarian society, she managed to become attracted to Robert . . . much to his sister Lizzie's distaste. As for Felix, he and Gertrude become romantically involved. Unfortunately, the Wentworths are not thrilled by this new development between the distant cousins. All of them expect Gertrude to marry Mr. Brand - including Charlotte, who happens to be in love with the minister. The story ends up as a clash between 19th century European and American sensibilities and culture; and also a series of love stories or subplots that feature family disapproval, procrastination and bad communication.

I might as well say it. "THE EUROPEANS" is not exactly an example of the Merchant Ivory team at its cinematic best. Mind you, the movie is visually lovely. And thanks to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's screenplay, it does featuring some amusing wit. But there is something archaic, almost static about this film. I get the feeling that Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory were either overwhelmed by the film's period setting. Or else they, along with Prawer Jhabvala, were determined to indulged in some cliched view of stoic 19th century New England. There were times when "THE EUROPEANS" struck me as a bit too slow, almost bloodless. This pristine, yet chilly style even permeated the movie's production designs managed by Joyce Herlihy.

But there were plenty of aspects of "THE EUROPEANS" that I enjoyed. Cinematographer Larry Pizer beautifully captured the New England locations of the film. Although Henry James' story was set during the spring, Merchant, Ivory and their production team were so dazzled by the region's beauty during the fall season that they decided to change the story's period. I was also very impressed by Judy Moorcroft's costume designs. Not only did I find her costumes beautiful, but I was also impressed by Moorcroft's successful attempt to make her costumes a near re-creation of 1849-1850 fashions in Western countries. A good example is the following outfit worn by Lee Remick:


Despite my complaints about the movie's staid adaptation of James' novel, I must admit that I still managed to enjoy the story. What I found surprising about the movie's plot is that the so-called battle between the cultures did not result in any real winners. Did American or European culture win? My answer is "neither". But individuals won, especially three particular characters - Felix Young and the two Wentworth sisters, Gertrude and Charlotte. The romance . . . or flirtation between Eugenia Munster and Robert Acton proved to be a bit more complicated. Despite their flirtations and battles of will, I came away with the particular feeling that neither really triumphed in the end. Yet at the same time, I found it equally hard to believe that either of them had suffered a sound defeat. The Eugenia-Robert romance proved to be one of the most complex literary relationships I have ever encountered. Most of the performances in "THE EUROPEANS"proved to be solid, especially those from Tim Woodward, Lisa Eichhorn, Robert Addy and Norman Snow. But the two performances that really impressed me came from Lee Remick and Robin Ellis, who did a marvelous job in conveying the complicated Eugenia-Robert romance.

As I had stated earlier, I would never consider "THE EUROPEANS" as one of the best movies produced by the Merchant-Ivory team. I found it a bit slow and at times, bloodless. It lacked the earthy humor and drama of some of the production company's bigger successes in the 1980s and 90s. On the other hand, I must admit that it looked beautiful and still featured some complex characterizations, thanks to a solid cast led by Lee Remick and Robin Ellis. With patience, one could overlook the movie's flaws and still manage to enjoy Henry James' tale.

Friday, August 16, 2013

"MAD MEN": The Waste of a Potential Character



After the character of Dawn Chambers was introduced on "MAD MEN" during Season Five, some fans and critics had expressed disappointment at the series' failure to dip into her character. However, many of them - especially those writers from theSLATE online magazine, who with article after article, continue to defend creator Matthew Weiner's handling of race issues on the show. Even non "SLATE" articles such as this one get into "defend Matthew Weiner" game, claiming that "MAD MEN" is the wrong series to begin the topic of race. And honestly, I am getting sick and tired of it all. 

Race has really been a problem for Americans to deal with, let alone confront for God knows how long. It certainly seems to be a problem with Matthew Weiner. During an appearance on PBS's "CHARLIE ROSE", guest host Gayle King asked the following question:

"As you move through time, I’m wondering will we see some black people?"

Weiner gave this answer:

"I do feel like I’m proud of the fact that I am not telling a wish fulfillment story of the real interaction of white America and black America. … How is [integration] coming into their lives? [Black people] in the service industry, they’re in entertainment, and this is how people are experiencing civil rights, on television. Hopefully when we get to the part of the ’60s [where race is more clearly addressed on the show], you won’t have trivialized the contribution of someone like Martin Luther King. I don’t think people understand what that impact is, to have a world leader, an international figure who is an African-American who is telling the truth and poetic — Don hears the speech, “I Have A Dream,” and he turns off the radio. It’s just a news event. They don’t even know. If I was telling a story of the black experience, it would be very different. But I’m very proud of the fact I’m not doing this guilty thing.

Like you see a movie about California in 1970 and you see black and white kids going to school together. Guess what? There was no integration in California public schools until, like, 1972. It’s a shameful part of our past. Guess what? It’s real."

I suspect that Weiner is trying to simplify a situation that proved to be a lot more complex and chaotic. Yes, the California public schools did become officially desegregated by 1972. But Weiner failed to point out that a good number of them had ended segregation long before 1972. I should know. I had attended grade school in Southern California between 1971 and 1974. There were already African-Americans and Latinos kids attending school with white kids at Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood, California; a Los Angeles suburban district in the San Fernando Valley by the beginning of the 1970s. I do not recall any conflict between white and minority kids at the school I had attended during that period. Nor do I recall any white parents protesting against the idea of their children attending school with minority students. Hell, only the mentally and physically disabled kids were segregated from the rest of the school's students. Frankly, I find Weiner's simplified comments about segregation in California schools a cheap way to excuse for his failure to directly address race on "MAD MEN".

After Dawn Chambers was introduced as Don Draper's new secretary . . . nothing really happened. She was merely regulated to the background, except in one episode called (5.04) "Mystery Date", in which fear over racial violence near Harlem led her to spend the night at Peggy's apartment. Viewers learned nothing about Dawn. They did learn for the second time during the show's history that Peggy was capable of subversive racism. After "Mystery Date", Dawn was shoved into the background. She did not emerge as a major player in an episode until Season Six's (6.04) "To Have and to Hold". In this episode, Dawn clashed with former office manager-turned-partner Joan Harris after Harry Crane's secretary, Scarlett, convinced her to punch the latter's time card in her absence. The incident not only led to an embarrassing conflict between Joan, Harry and the other partners; it also led Joan to leave Dawn in charge of the time cards and with the key to the office supply closet. Although Dawn expressed gratitude for the new responsibilities, Joan warned her that she might not be so grateful in the foreseeable future. In this one scene, Weiner set up the possibility of some kind of conflict between Dawn and the firm's white secretaries. And as the season unfolded, Weiner did nothing to exploit this possible story line. Instead, Dawn resumed her role as a background character.

Now, one might bring up the topic of the episode that followed "To Have and to Hold" - namely (6.05) "The Flood". In this episode, the show's various characters learned of activist Martin Luther King's assassination in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968. "The Flood" featured reactions and points-of-view from many of the show's white characters. Although the episode also featured the reactions of Dawn and Peggy Olson's secretary, Phyllis; it never explored the assassination from their viewpoints. Many critics and fans defended this aspect of the episode, labeling it original. I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. Would it have really killed him to convey Dawn's own personal perspective on the assassination? Even for one lousy scene? 

After Dawn receded into the background once more, the show continued on its merry way. The last time Weiner brought up the topic of race - in more than a few seconds - occurred in the episode (6.08) "The Crash", when Don and Megan Draper's Park Avenue apartment was invaded by a middle-class African-American woman who happened to be a thief. "Aunt Ida", ladies and gentlemen. This home invasion occurred while Don and Megan were gone and the Draper children were staying at their father's home. And while actress Davenia McFadden gave a memorable performance, I found myself wondering what on earth had Weiner meant by getting to the point where race is more addressed on the show? In a potential storyline that was dropped by the following episode? In an episode about Martin Luther King's assassination in which audience never get a personal peek into a black woman's view on the event? Or in an episode in which the main character's apartment is robbed by a middle-aged thief, who happened to be black? "MAD MEN" had just finished its penultimate season, which was set in 1968. And it has yet to unveil the black perspective of one or two characters on the show. Not really. Not with any real depth.

Of course, one encounters the excuses made by critics and other fans. Excuses such as:

*Blacks in the 1960s only worked in service occupations.
*Dawn is a minor character.
*Both racism and gender are side issues on the show.
*Dawn is not intimately connected with a main character (as if this was an excuse to minimize her character).
*The number of blacks and other minorities in the advertising industry was less than 5% during the 1960s.
*Matthew Weiner can write about what he wants. "MAD MEN" is his show.

The above are only a handful of excuses I have encountered in the past. Allow me to address them.

*Blacks in the 1960s only worked in service occupations. - Contrary to social myths, middle-class and wealthy African-Americans have existed in the United States since the Colonial Era. Their numbers may have been a lot smaller than the middle-class and wealthy white Americans, but they have existed for over three centuries. And yes, there were African-Americans who have worked in advertising since the mid-1950s. The argument that a black copywriter or executive in a 1960s advertising agency would be unrealistic does not hold water for me; especially since the series featured a 20-21 year-old woman with no college degree and EIGHT MONTHS of secretarial experience becoming a copywriter by the end of the first season - a situation that I find ten times more unrealistic.

*Dawn is a minor character. - Really? Then why did Matthew Weiner even bothered to include her in the series' cast of characters, if she was mainly there to serve as background? And why on earth would he waste the show's only black character (since Carla's departure) as a minor character, when he could have easily used her to explore race issues on a personal basis?

*Both racism and gender are side issues on the show. - Race has been treated as a side issue on "MAD MEN". Gender issues have been fully explored, thanks to characters such as Peggy Olson, Betty Francis (formerly Draper), Joan Harris and Megan Draper.

*Dawn is not intimately connected to a main character. - Since when was sex the only liable excuse to explore any character? Dawn did not need a romance or tryst with the main character or one of the major supporting characters to have a bigger role. As I had previously stated, she has been the only major minority character on "MAD MEN" for the past two seasons. That fact alone should be a good excuse to explore race in the workplace . . . or at the now dubbed Sterling Cooper & Partners.

*The number of blacks and other minorities in the advertising industry was less than 5% during the 1960s. - That is true. But that is not a good excuse to exclude a story line for Dawn or any other potential minority character. The number of women in the advertising industry was just as low or almost as low. That did not stop Weiner from exploring gender issues or allowing the 21 year-old Peggy Olson to become a copywriter with no college degree and eight months of secretarial experience, Joan from becoming a partner with the firm or Megan from becoming a copywriter following her marriage to Don.

*Matthew Weiner can write about what he wants. "MAD MEN" is his show. - I have no argument with that excuse. "MAD MEN"is Weiner's show to do what he please. But if Weiner is only interested in exploring race from a limited point of view, why did he bother to include Dawn to the cast of character in Season Five? What was the point? But if Weiner can do whatever he wants with the show, as a viewer I can either praise or complain about any aspect of his show. Which is what I am now doing.

Speaking of Weiner, I am drawn back to that comment he made on "CHARLIE ROSE". In his comment, Weiner said:

"I do feel like I’m proud of the fact that I am not telling a wish fulfillment story of the real interaction of white America and black America. … How is [integration] coming into their lives? [Black people] in the service industry, they’re in entertainment, and this is how people are experiencing civil rights, on television."

What wish fulfillment story? No one is demanding that the employees of Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Pryce or Sterling Cooper & Partners accept Dawn without any bigotry on their part. No one is demanding that the series' white characters behave with any political correctness when they are around Dawn. Some of us would be interested to know Dawn on a personal basis and watch how she deals with racism in the workplace. Was that so damn hard for Weiner to fathom? Apparently, Weiner suffers from the same myopic view that all black Americans only worked as servants or entertainers before the 1970s.

However, "MAD MEN" has only one season left before it permanently leaves the air as a first-run series. Weiner has one season left to explore Dawn's world from a personal point-of-view. But my instincts tell me that Weiner will continue his usual shuck-and-jive regarding Dawn and race issues. Perhaps it is simply too late. I doubt that Weiner can rectify six seasons of treating race like a minor issue with one last season. Poor Teyonah Parris. Weiner had a perfect opportunity to explore race with her character. Instead, he simply wasted her time -except in one episode - for two seasons. I will probably continue to watch the series until it finally ends. But whatever feelings I had about the series when it first began has somewhat eroded with Weiner's reluctance to fully explore the issue of race. Perhaps other fans of "MAD MEN" would not mind. As I have stated earlier, Americans are generally reluctant to confront the issue of race - even to this day. They are especially reluctant to face the fact that racism is alive and well in the United States, despite the presence of a president of African descent in the White House. This is very apparent in many of the show's fans and critics. They either make excuses for Weiner's failure with race issues or pretend that such issues do not exist. I came across several articles on the Internet about"To Have and to Hold". Very few articles explored Dawn's role in that episode. Some of them briefly mentioned her presence. And some pretended that her presence had a bigger impact in that episode (and others) than it truly did. I even came across one article that featured a photograph of Dawn and Joan from that episode. But it never mentioned Dawn's name, let alone her situation with Joan and Scarlett. I found that a joke.

For a series that explored the nation's changing social scene throughout the 1960s, I find its creator's reluctance or refusal to explore one of the biggest social issues of that decade remarkably short-sighted and a major blight on the series' reputation as one of the finest in television history. The ABC series "HOMEFRONT" told a story about a small Ohio town in the years following the end of World War II. This series only lasted two seasons and featured "MAD MEN" cast member John Slattery. Yet, it not only explored gender, class and religious issues, but also race without any of Weiner's pussyfooting. Between the acting, writing and willingness to confront social issues on all levels, "HOMEFRONT" makes "MAD MEN" resemble a portrait of mediocrity in my eyes.