Saturday, December 18, 2010


Every production assistant, intern, receptionist, runner and/or other member of Hollywood’s aspirational poor can rejoice today as Bourne franchise and United 93 director Paul Greengrass held forth on the biggest unresolved scourge afflicting the film industry today. No, not piracy. No, not the Golden Globes. Greengrass has it out for the exploiters who are “raping and pillaging young people” for the sake of a few budget savings here or there. Bold!

[. . .]

The filmmaker participated in the Dunhill conversation series opposite actor David Morrissey who elicited the following response with a simple inquiry about Greengrass’s early days in documentary:

One of the problems we have in our industry is that young people in our industry are being exploited. There are companies in London, sadly, that are making very good livings on “work experience” — which really means people being expected to work for nothing. And if we — we in the industry who’ve had good livings think that we are creating a sustainable industry by raping and pillaging young people, then we’re very, very sadly mistaken. And if I were to point to a single issue in our industry that is not being dealt with and offers the most profound threat to the regeneration of our industry, it is the way we exploit young people.

Preach it! Or… not? I think we all know the difference between low- or no-pay and pure exploitation — the former offers exposure to professionals and actual work experience on a film or TV set, while the latter amounts to cleaning and coffee-fetching with little if any access to the happenings either behind or in front of the camera. Sometimes the job descriptions blur. But as someone who’s worked an unpaid internship or gopher role on more than a few sets and offices over the years, opportunity is more often than not in the eye (and initiative) of the beholder, and making smart decisions about certain gratis duties and jobs and employers (especially employers) can entitle rookies to a little more experiential leverage than a paycheck gets them. (S. T. Vanairsdale, “VIDEO: Low-Wage Hollywood Has a Champion in Paul Greengrass,” “Movieline,” 16 Dec. 2010)

Re: "But as someone who’s worked an unpaid internship or gopher role on more than a few sets and offices over the years, opportunity is more often than not in the eye (and initiative) of the beholder, and making smart decisions about certain gratis duties and jobs and employers (especially employers) can entitle rookies to a little more experiential leverage than a paycheck gets them. And what’s worth more?"

This Horatio Algeresque response -- make most of your opportunities, be smart with your resources, and you'll succeed where others failed -- has me thinking of this bit, from Morris Dickstein's book about the Depression, "Dancing in the Dark," about why power-differentials stood unchanged throughout the period:

As one psychiatrist who had trained with Freud later told Studs Terkel, "Everybody, more or less, blamed himself for his delinquency or lack of talent or bad luck. There was an acceptance that it was your own fault, your own indolence, your lack of ability. You took it and kept quiet." Thanks to this "kind of shame about your own personal failure . . . there were very few disturbances." (220)

Why must you always come up with the most vague, nonsequitur ways of making your arguments? All I'm saying is if you try to build an instinct for good opportunities, and then make the most of them when they occur, then that can add up to a fairly priceless investment in yourself.

Will it always work? No. And it's not for everybody. In a perfect world everyone would be paid what they're worth. But until they are you've gotta determine what sacrifices are worth it -- and then follow through as best you can.

Paul Greengrass is saying that abuse of youth by the film industry is cruel, and will amount to the degeneration of the industry. If youth mostly only encountered this wasting here, then your drawing them to make use of what resources are available to them is apt, and maybe very helpful, because they still have said resources to draw upon and continue to expand / cultivate, and so learn to manage best, and perhaps very profitably, this non-idealic "situation." However, if what he is saying is true of what society AS A WHOLE is doing to its youth -- and how can we not fairly from "here," "go there"? -- more making use of them than at-all properly developing them, then it's just not much use to point out that opportunities really do continue to exist if they could but school themselves to make use of them (since most of them are now by constitution doomed to be those who readily, even masochistically deliberately, fall into traps, whatever flag waved to forestall them), but a bit cruel too, as it actually plays to the sick part of how they're constituted in need of no further encouragement -- the voice in their heads, that is, that reminds them over and over again, in every unfair situation: "Quit complaining! Stop denying it: you know if you don't succeed, that it's mostly YOUR fault, you lazy buthole ... Things are tough. So what? -- And just what do you think should fairly be meted out to those who just expect life to hand things to them?"

I fully agree, though, that there remain opportunities, and people should not be too quickly discouraged; but am perhaps mostly not too much concerned about those who will make use of them so long as -- for instance -- every now and then they're reminded of others' successes in similarly trying situations. Rather, my mind is on the much larger crowd of youth who can only be saved if less-run-down / ruined elders think more in terms of systematic change than encouraging more one-on-one pep talks or broadly broadcasted fireside chats.

Sunnydaze mentioned the "rich kids." I see these people all the time doing "for experience" work, and I just know they'll do fine, that they'll be noticed and often-enough ushered ahead, that they're on their way. They'll never really be used, their experience of interning will be of it as a necessary, sometimes distasteful, always hard but all-in-all still encouraging and illuminating first step -- what the experience is supposed to be like -- not just out of resources and resourcefulness, that their advantaged parents / schooling gave them sufficient skills and "get up and go" to succeed, but because they don't so much draw out the more sadistic impulses of those over them. Their societal role now is to just succeed, to live life near as if nothing truly averse is happening -- everybody is beginning to now really feel it -- and so make clearer that a class of human beings is supposed to exist that is simply to be served, and so thereby everyone else of a class that is just supposed to suffer, that we are determined to make suffer, waste away, and yet still blame themselves for all of it. Stand in the way of this "due course," at your considerable peril.

That was the situation during the Depression, where the full consequences of the running-down of a whole generation that Greengrass fears (the next flappers weren't seen until the '60s, with the hippies) is on its way was actually effected, and which I do think we're right now once again stepping into.

Link: VIDEO: Low-Wage Hollywood Has a Champion in Paul Greengrass (Movieline)

Appendum: Sunnnydaze’s response:

The problem isn't just with young people. The attitude in this biz is that you are so lucky, so blessed to be involved why on earth would you expect to get paid? This for any age of individual. Makes some sense when a person is new to the industry but when you are 35 and have been in your craft for 20 years being asked to "volunteer" is an insult. It also creates an environment where the "rich kids" have all the fun and success while people who actually need to work for a living fall away and into other fields to survive.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Being resilient in crappy times"

Before Hollywood discovered it could reap huge profits by adapting comic books, mainstream movies used to attempt subjects that might have something to do with real grown-ups’ lives. That impulse rarely surfaces these days, but it’s the motor that drives The Company Men, John Wells’ downsizing drama set in the Boston area circa 2008, just as the economy was beginning its long, slow-motion crash.

The harsh reality is that being able to make a decent living from really working — as opposed to just pushing money from one place to another — is practically a luxury not just in America but, increasingly, everywhere in the world. You won’t get rich actually building or making things, or trying to run a company in a way that honors or respects its workers. The only way to make money in this climate is to squeeze people as hard as you can and then discard them. That’s a view The Company Men both acknowledges as a reality and rails against.

[. . .]

But in the end, it’s simply about being resilient in crappy times. And that’s something many of our parents and grandparents knew something about, even though each generation thinks its problems are original and unique. (Stephanie Zacharek, The Company Men Offers a Rare Portrait of the Working — and the Nonworking — World, “Movieline,” 10 Dec. 2010)

Cautionary note: people who like the idea of being persevering, generally ensure they end up living in an environment that shortchanges them. You take the current lot of American humanity, in their hunt for adultness / penance in self-sacrifice, small hopes, and hardship, and provide them magically with instead their every dream come true, they would hate you to the point of wanting to kill you for giving them way beyond what they're prepared to accept -- for adorning them after they've finally near sheared the most compromising parts of themselves off. So instead, a future of a first long bleakness; then some bits of New Deal solace amidst the shared suffering, the untended to, valid complaints of indifferent, resistant, ongoing corporate culture; until some massive sacrificial war permits a later generation to the moving-beyond actually involved in growing up. ("You can never outdistance your ancestors" -- I look forward to all the "growth" that'll follow that thought / inclination.) The challenge now is to make sure we don't too-fast race into the depression mind-set -- getting "there" before it too much settles in, would suggest it might just be following our lead.

Your fancy prose misses the point entirely. Most Americans are simply struggling with being poorer than they'd like to be, and it has nothing to with a "hunt for adultness / penance in self-sacrifice, small hopes, and hardship." And please, no one would kill you for making their dreams come true because they're some sort of scarred animal in a cage. Remember: it's the economy, stupid. (Tamar)

I hear your point, but to me, people get the economy they actually want. If they truly feel they deserve (have earned), if they truly want, happiness, you get the like of the 30 years of on and on growth that was 1950 to 1980. Nothing could put a stop to it, not corporations, late capitalism -- run-amock, widespread greed -- terrestrial limits, Celestial scorn, ancestors-all-in-disapproval -- nothing. However, if what they want is to be "Americans simply struggling with being poorer than they'd like to be," to be some (idiotic) generation that renewed all the "ennobling," "necessary" sacrifices their grandparents were stupefied (and stupided) by, who could believe themselves truly desiring of better ONLY given there being little chance any such would befall them, then nothing could stop it either. If aliens landed on the earth right now and forced endless bunches of riches into everyone's pockets, we're very near the point where we spoiled Americans would monk and monastery ourselves before the abundance. If they took that refuge away, and forced us forever into 5-star accommodations, then we'd deem virtual reality the "truer" one, and absolutely refuse to forego the Xbox so we could reify (yes, maybe even the likes of snobbish "I don't own a TV" critics) the likes of "Fallout 3" until the even-more-appropriate "Penance 2morrow" could be made. If they took that away, then we'd slowly go insane, depriving, UGLIFYING ourselves near to the point of hacking off our own limbs -- even if that 5 star-occupying, top-of-the-line refrigerator couldn't be managed to be appropriately tumbled to provide some unlikely-but-maybe-still-possibly? excuse

... unless of course they yet somehow proved killable, then, yes, we would kill them, for feeding us abundance when what we want is hardening through suffering, for drawing out our deepest, and truly regrettable, wishes, and forcing us to catch some sight of them. The zombified of the 1930s weren't perseverers; they were (in greater truth) grotesque willers of their own penance-born deterioration. Some (the interesting) mocked their own back then -- that is until everyone was about ennobling. Let's start with that, and see where it gets us -- I don't want a rehash of the 1930s/40s, even if it did end up serving out "adult" dishes of grace and wit, in film, in art, that apparently no critic seems to see the main drawback to (that it was always born out of and remained true to an ethos of compensation, not really enrichment).

Most of us have the hard choice between time or money. With money you have comfort which you can't enjoy because you are at work all the time... With time you have no comfort because the fuse has been lit and the bomb will go off at any minute, but you do get odd moments of true freedom before the sh*t hits the fan.

God did not decide this is the way things should be. Jesus doesn't want you to pay rent nor does Mohammad respect you for all of your hard work. This system was created by humanity and humanity VOLUNTEERS to work with-in.

The bottom has dropped out leaving people who work at Wal-mart paying money to eat at Red Lobster so the people who work at Red Lobster can afford to shop at Wal-mart.

The only real change will occur when enough people say, "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Thru out history this is known as REVOLUTION. And sometimes, this point of action succeeds in evoking positive change. Many times it just cuts off the head of one beast and replaces it with another more or less terrible entity.

But when things have gone as far as they can go, and things have gotten as bad as they can get> Is it worth the risk?

Gandhi once said, "10,0000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians, if those Indians refuse to cooperate."

This has become us and our corporate masters.

Question is> What are you going to do? (Sunnydaze)

I disagree. When people are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!, they do the likes of chopping off leaders' heads -- along with those of anyone even remotely connected to them, until numbers pile up beyond number, and even your best friend begins to seem suspicious. Only AFTER bodies of both sides lie everywhere, now so much seeming more born of the same purpose than foes of opposite stripe, only AFTER people have begun to forget the point of it all but still gauge that surely some awful blood price has more than fully been repaid, does society move ahead -- rock and roll, flower power, and even soldier mockery. Revolutionaries mostly want to sacrifice themselves, along with you too, more than probably. Never readily trust them, or their grievances -- they'd be shortchanged if their foes ever agreed to an agreeable compromise, and / or offered fair redress: almost always, that's not what they want. (There are exceptions ... I'd trust Krugman, for instance.) Society doesn't so much grow when people are prepared to fight hard for their fair lot; it actually mostly grows when people feel permitted to partake in and enjoy the rather ample lot that looks like it might be opening up for them -- even if it really doesn't end up requiring much of a fight. Their enemies could in fact step aside; amplitude, really just theirs for the ready-taking; and yet they'd manage even being somewhat truly pleased it proved all so all-so-easily-guilt-arousingly easy -- they're in mind to relax, and enjoy themselves some while, not to fight to salvage what is at least necessary for human dignity, from bastards who couldn't care less how much they've suffered, only that they yet try and shave, shower every now and then, serve, but otherwise be done with.

Link: The Company Men Offers a Rare Portrait of the Working — and the Nonworking — World (Movieline)

First, then second, consideration

The Tourist is one of those movies that will leave some viewers scratching their heads, wondering why there isn’t more action, more snazzy editing, more obvious crackle between its stars, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. But I suspect the people who get The Tourist will simply adore it: It’s the kind of espionage caper that doesn’t get made anymore, a visually sensuous picture made with tender attention to detail and an elegant, understated sense of humor. (Stephanie Zacharek, Espionage Caper The Tourist Offers Mystery and Glamour, Plus Depp and Jolie, “Movieline,” 9 Dec. 2010)


(First consideration) She is really good and appropriate in this picture. Something about how Angelina refuses the viewer, and her spare personality, works to remind you to attend to everything else perfectly worthwhile in the picture. Elegance, a sure splendor of it -- it's hard to imagine anything making an appearance in the film that wasn't (as Stephanie says, tenderly and appreciatively) "considered" ... But I followed this by re-watching "Knight and Day" -- a movie I just can't deny as one of favorites from this year -- and I'm reminded why something in the TRULY "Wisconsin"-born (read: large-hearted, big-souled American) (once Depp reveals his true identity, we should wish him well but still be quite ready to leave him behind -- his human undeterminedness was fake: he's as furnished and complete as the beautiful hotels he for a glorious time inhabited), hammy, down-to-earthness, can ultimately trump every element of fragile stunning beauty some place like Venice has to offer, perhaps in the same way a single human life, perhaps even before its begat into something storied and interesting, can still trump the whole awesome complexity of the entire rest of the ecosphere: no, I'm sorry, whatever your -- albeit -- formidable luxury of experiences and details, whatever the extent of patience required to appreciate all that's in their tiniest sliver, there's no comparing even the sum of it to spending time along someone with sufficient soul to remainder it all to backdrop.

Where Stephanie really scores points with me in this lovely, faithful review, is that Americans should be able to appreciate this (kind of) film, all that it respects enough to quite-to-the-exact-precarious-point-of distraction think about and love -- not just loud star vehicles -- and how many can? The film loses me, for its making its lesson by noticeably submitting the human -- nothing they "existed" made me really forget the kind of hotels (and trains, and such) they had been in. Great PEOPLE made those grand hotels, but more LIVING, vital presences should still readily backdrop them, and they didn't enough -- struck me as about near always-even (not quite, they surely existed more than the other human-types that "accompanied" them) -- for my preference. I COULD take my eyes off them, and though it opened things up, in retrospect, this isn't so much quite the thing I supposed it was on first consideration. Still a really good film, though.

Link: Espionage Caper The Tourist Offers Mystery and Glamour, Plus Depp and Jolie (Movieline)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Keeping the con alive

Salon readers have never been the shy and retiring type, but Monday's Life story -- "How I Became a Con Artist" -- certainly brought out the knives. "You don't deserve to live in a civilized society," read one of the 200+ outraged comments, peppered with such descriptors as douchebag, degenerate and morally bankrupt. At least one furious reader actually e-mailed writer Jason Jellick's employer to complain. Readers directed their scorn at us as well. "Is this the best Salon can do, especially at the start of the Christmas holiday season?" Ouch. We weren't just ethically bankrupt. We were ruining Christmas.

To clarify, Salon doesn't advocate stealing -- but for that matter, neither does Jellick. His account of a youth spent indulging in petty crimes against chain stores and other corporations ends with a hard stare at his own shady behavior, with a realization at just how much damage his behavior has wrought. Jellick's story is one of regret as much as misdeed. It is about the lies we tell ourselves -- that we are better and smarter than everyone else, that we deserve more than the shreds we've been given, that our swinging fist doesn't hurt anyone. Like all our Life Stories, his tale offers a window into human behavior in its imperfections and complexity. All of us have tiny private shames we're afraid to tell others. To confess them isn't just fascinating. It's liberating. (Sarah Hepola, “Our con story – and yours,” Salon, 2 Dec. 2010)

- - - - -

Thank you for your expulsion from Eden; welcome to Salon

His account of a youth spent indulging in petty crimes against chain stores and other corporations ends with a hard stare at his own shady behavior, with a realization at just how much damage his behavior has wrought.

All your life stories read like this, to the point of feeling prescribed. This isn't about discovery; and certainly not complexity, either. It's more about self-fashioning, and probably mostly about salvation: a collective concern to identify yourselves as amongst the repentant, and therefore feel less guilty. So much so, that I bet the author of this piece doesn't even allow himself to partake of what this piece is tantalizingly ripe to offer him -- namely, further sense that in he is rather still, artfully, nimbly, making use of others' route requirements to benefit himself -- the fox.

At some level, the author believes himself braver than most others. His true lack of courage comes not only -- as Hutman pointed out -- not doing anything near the Michael Moore and doing his thing directly before empowered adults (though it is true that some people might not manage what he managed, even if required for truly good benefit, and that this lack isn't to be shamed but certainly to be dealt with, to be insistently pointed out), but in his Salon-preference need to demonstrate himself imperfect but repentant, ultimately more formula, general-type, sumupable, quiescent, than an interesting, riseable particular, so he might count himself amongst those actually less worthy of a beating in these purity concerned times. If it still seems as if he's too much rejoicing in his memory of the "score," don't worry: though he is still laughing at you a bit (he can permit himself some of this -- after all, you're outside the gates in the land of the loud, pained, but ultimately powerless and distinctly separated letter writers; you're the plebs whose role is to uninterruptedly experience the snub, with never any worth-affirming real attention or recompense), he'll make it about further demonstance of his blatant (but ultimately actually redeeming) human weakness, and further expunge this voice in later writings.

And this bit:

It is about the lies we tell ourselves -- that we are better and smarter than everyone else, that we deserve more than the shreds we've been given, that our swinging fist doesn't hurt anyone.

is gross. How on earth are we supposed to accomplish anything if some of us don't imagine we might do better than what was done before, insist on better than we were handed, conceive of ourselves as noteworthy, and perhaps special? But you're about flattening a sinning generation now, aren't you? Submerging personality, uniqueness; every individual's desire sublimating into something the crowd would okay (I noticed how Andrew Leonard managed his desire to once again self-absorb in video games, by making it into part of a collective ritual of primarily more selflessness-intended sharing across generations. He made his son, that is, serve his lie.) Everyone abandoning every pretense to something special, sinking themselves as close to the ground, as obsequiously within the okays of the group, only rising to cut the legs out from those who would dare roam about on their own. Welcome to righteous, jealous-eyed, village life. Welcome to the the shamed covering-up, followed by the grim, self-preserving pointing of fingers, that follows the unaccounted for, hugely blasphemic, orgy. Welcome to Salon.

- - - - -


You do need to be able to con. You do need to be able, if there is just cause, to be able -- in an instant -- do otherwise than what you've always been told you're supposed to do. If society is turning puritan, for example, you do need to be able to protect, hide, those that are being assigned the role of the rats. If society is corporate, against cooperative efforts, you need to be able to find some way to help communicate that its control is not total. A first step toward this, may just come from the likes of returning books you never purchased: you may actually thereby be safely convincing yourself you can thwart authority, and survive: foundation for scarier, more relevant, efforts. If you sense that this is part of what your own cons were about, to do most good, you don't repudiate all you once did -- just work on why your efforts became to seem near mostly about repetition-compulsion, about always proving you can avoid the scrutiny of the angry eye, from your own projected parental-figure, about why you keep keeping it within a context whereby not corporations but vulnerable, perennially trapped people kinda like yourself, are actually the ones you imagine most at risk of being taken in your scams. There is psychological work you could make of this, and it could make it so that rather than a repentant, you become more truly what you once (however still faintly) set out to be: a truly moral person, who respects "the human" enough to be a potentially change-prompting, certainly anger-arousing, irritant, when appropriate.

I remember reading "Why They Kill," of how rapists and killers get "there" by first partaking of smaller thrills they believe others would fear to similarly manage, so I'm not ignorant: the truest villains can be made to seem heroes, if what you're mostly doing is championing deviance, deviation, defiance. Still, though there is a world of difference, heroes ARE those who can brave anxiety-provoking experiences, for some better purpose, and I do sense a little bit of the hero in this person. I just wish that there was an environment around to encourage it. As is, he's just doing what Tiger Woods is about to do, and castrate himself to a larger order, and participate in society's revenge against those who would dare range about as selfishly as he once did.

Link: Our con story – and yours

My books at

Essays on the Lord of the Rings Draining the Amazon's Swamp Wendy and Lucy, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings (and free at scribd...