Category Archives: popular culture

The Beginning of the End of Art

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 10.12.14 AMWhile I am hardly the first person to lament the unfortunate course of recent events in the entertainment industry concerning the film, The Interview, I do feel I should go on record. It’s over – or it soon will be anyway.

Free expression in this country is doomed.

Members of the entertainment industry – exhibitors, distributors, and studio executives have caved to threats.

And for what? A Seth Rogen/James Franco film? Threats from North Korea?  Give me a break. The free world has been staring down its rocket launchers at the North Koreans since the 1950s and it is going to take a movie to provoke an international incident? All due props to Rogen and Franco – but we’re talking about satire here.

Let’s be clear. I am not jumping on board with the ever-so-trite “now the terrorists win” crowd. Nor am I joining in with the glazed-over jingoistic flag raisers. What I am saying is that the decision to pull The Interview from theaters is tantamount to censorship.

The precedent, my friends, has been irrevocably set. And so now whenever anything offends anyone at anytime all they have to do is make some threats and well…there you have it. What has happened to us? Will this now lead to government censorship? Corporate censorship? Self censorship? It’s all fair game.

So here is my response to all involved in pulling this film: STICK IT.

Art exists to challenge, to push boundaries, to inspire. It exists so individuals can freely express whatever they want – be it offensive or not. It even exists to make people angry. And trust me, every artistic endeavor contains within it a little something to upset everybody. So I guess we’re done now. It’s ruined. Now every artist will have to consider whether or not his or her work will ever reach the public – for fear of its potential to incite…something that might put someone off.

And if you think this stops with art…well guess again. Your intellectual freedom is next on the chopping block.

But of course, I’m not entirely ruling out the possibility that this whole thing is just a clever ruse undertaken by Sony to drum up interest for a film. If that’s the case…good one. Subterfuge, I like it.

With compliments,



In Search of the Knickerbocker

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 12.53.57 PMAs part of my effort to understand what made film maker D. W. Griffith tick, I wanted to pay a visit to his last residence: The Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. The hotel, located on Ivar Street just north of Hollywood Blvd, has something of a storied past. It is rumored that Marilyn Monroe met Joe DiMaggio at the hotel bar,  the same bar that Rudolph Valentino had regularly imbibed before his untimely death, Elvis Presley stayed there while in town making Love Me Tender, William Frawley suffered a massive heart attack walking down Hollywood Blvd and then died in the lobby, Irene Lentz jumped to her death from her 11th story window – distraught over the death of Gary Cooper, and alas, D. W. Griffith suffered a cerebral Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 12.54.11 PMhemorrhage and died after being discover unconscious in the lobby.  By the 1970s, the luster had faded from the hotel facade – both figuratively and literally. Today it is a retirement home – apparently, for Russian senior citizens.

I went for a visit today and could not get in. Residents only. But I hear there is a plaque inside honoring Griffith, so plan B is to contact the manager and see if I can get a personal tour. Wish me luck!

With compliments,


The Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert



You have all by now surely seen the British grocery chain Sainsbury’s exceedingly well-done Christmas advert depicting the famous 1914 Christmas truce and football match – where German and British soldiers put aside their weapons and come out of their trenches for a brief moment of camaraderie.  As one who writes about soldiers,  memory, and reconciliation I found this commercial very interesting. Understanding that Christmas is for sharing, these men show no spirit of enmity. Rather, they enjoy a celebration of humanity and selflessness in the midst of chaos while recognizing, as the ad implies (with the distant sound of artillery), that they will soon have to return to hostilities.

What are your thoughts?

With compliments,


The Americanist Independent

The NAACP and The Birth of a Nation

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.56.46 AMThere’s an old adage in Hollywood that claims there is no such thing as bad press. Case in point: according to historian Melvyn Stokes, evidence suggests that the protest campaign launched by the National Association of Colored People against D. W. Griffith’s controversial film The Birth of a Nation did more to stimulate interest in the picture than it did to dissuade audiences from attending. The NAACP worked vehemently against this film beginning at its debut in 1915 at the Clune auditorium in Los Angeles. They protested screenings (pictured left in 1947) and demanded that the more racist depictions of African American be cut from the film.

In the end they were largely unsuccessful. Even white liberals who supported civil rights balked at the notion of censorship…and so the film went on screening across the land. The silver lining? The protests also garnered a great deal of attention for the NAACP, and as a result, their ranks swelled during the first half of the twentieth century. So not all was lost. Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.57.35 AM

With compliments,


Portrait of a Badlands Dandy

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 8.06.56 PMI have just recently set aside a little time to have a look at Ken Burns’s latest effort: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Visually, it’s exactly what I expected – period film clips conjoined with vintage photographs presented in Burnsian fashion (pan right…pan left…cue Ashokon Farewell, et cetera). Though I find it hard to imagine that Burns will ever duplicate his epic 1990 nine-part documentary masterpiece, The Civil War in either innovation or public acclamation, The Roosevelts is nevertheless worthy of recognition. I particularly appreciated the film’s take on the remarkable transformation of a young Theodore Roosevelt from ninety-eight pound asthmatic to robust outdoorsy American icon – the blue-blooded sheltered wimp to Bull Moose narrative. The juxtaposition of New York patrician and rugged Dakota Badlandian is especially absorbing…right down to the custom tailored hinterland garb and Tiffany silver-plated Bowie knife. I suppose in one sense, you can take the boy out of the posh but not the posh out of the boy. But what’s most intriguing is that frontier fopism notwithstanding, TR had the goods to tough it out with the best of them…earning the respect of the Badlands rough and tumble. And Burns does a lovely job telling that story. Bully!

With compliments,