Mid90s Movie

The life of a software expert witness involves quite a bit of “hurry up and wait.” Thus did I recently find myself in Easton, Pennsylvania waiting for things to move in the Federal Courthouse. After roaming the strip mall to find treasures for the kids, I spent an evening watching Mid90s.

Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t rate movies for wokeness, so maybe I can add that this movie should get a 40/100 on the wokeness scale. Positive: the only intelligent, wise, and ambitious youth in the movie happens to be African American. Negative: A 13-year-old enagages in sex acts with a woman of 17 or 18. The older sex partner is the initiator and therefore it is unclear if the encounter can truly be described as “consensual.” Certainly the 13-year-old does not explicitly say “yes.” Unlike the kids who’ve had sex with teachers recently, he is not damaged to the tune of $millions by this experience and, in fact, seems proud of it and happy to have had it. Definitely not in sync with our modern (enlightened/woke) thinking about youth sex.

The movie is primarily about this 13-year-old who is curiously undamaged by his sexual encounter. He is not loving life at home. The 36-year-old Mom started having sex with a long list of random guys beginning in the mid-70s. Two of the sexual encounters resulted in pregnancy and childbirth so the 13-year-old has a violent 18-year-old half brother. The mom’s sexual encounters with strangers have been reduced in frequency recently, but the 18-year-old reports that noise from these events would often disturb his sleep when he was young.

(Mom has enough money to sustain a middle-class LA lifestyle, but it is unclear if this is due to wages from work or child support from the biological fathers of the two boys. Her boys were born prior to the formulaic child support guideline system (history) so it may be the case that she didn’t get a lot of money out of them and/or that she didn’t have sex with men with sufficiently high income (California provides for unlimited child support revenue for single mothers who select high-income defendants; see this calculation of what Ellen Pao could have made by having sex with her boss).)

The 13-year-old escapes the half-brother and the mom by hanging out with older skateboarders, all of whom are burnouts except for the African American (see above). The stunts are pretty awesome and, I think, done by the actors themselves (but maybe Hollywood magic is hard to detect?). The movie is strong on teenage life before the helicopter parenting age. Adults don’t interfere too much with tribal activities and are seldom even seen.

There is a dramatic car crash in the movie, which makes me like it less. It is a cheap way to generate drama. One thing that I love about Sideways, for example, is that nothing unusual occurs. The filmmakers have to work harder to make the audience care. At the opposite end of the spectrum are movies where a main character becomes paralyzed or is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Mid90s is closer to Sideways, but not as pure in its rejection of the easy way to audience hearts.


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Artwork of victimhood strategy proves unprofitable for our local museum

The deCordova museum hit the financial wall recently and is being absorbed by a more successful nonprofit. From the press release:

Like many non-profits, deCordova has an endowment that has not grown over time to keep pace with the organization’s needs. The endowment currently covers only 7% of the annual operating costs, compared to a national average of 22% for art museums, and up to 70% for some museums in the Boston area. While the Museum has expanded and diversified its revenue sources, it was not enough to support even a dramatically pared down operating budget.

Integration with The Trustees will provide deCordova with long-term fiscal stability, but that’s not the only reason this integration makes sense.

The museum’s main strategy recently could be characterized as the “the artwork of victimhood.” From “Expanding Abstraction: New England Women Painters, 1950 to Now”:

This exhibition presents a vital yet lesser-known history of abstract painting in New England by showcasing the work of women painters with strong connections to the region. Despite their relative exclusion from mainstream and male-dominated conversations on postwar abstraction, these artists have made significant contributions to the field.

From Dana C. Chandler Jr.’s “The Ghetto”:

Since the 1960s Dana C. Chandler Jr. has been committed to addressing social inequities fostered by racism in the United States. His art confronts the stark realities of poverty, incarceration, and oppression as well as leadership and empowerment in African-American history and contemporary life.

Well, you get the idea. How could they have run out of money given this virtuous program? The museum is surrounded by Millionaires for Obama. If these folks are as committed to social justice as they say, why wouldn’t they open their checkbooks, as well as their hearts?

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An hour’s train ride north of Manhattan, straight up the Hudson River toward Poughkeepsie, is the new Dia:Beacon art museum.  I stopped there today on my way back to Boston from Washington, DC.  It is a vast warehouse of contemporary art, sort of like Mass MOCA, but much more a celebration of the art and the artists and much less about the building and the institution.  Where Mass MOCA has big signs talking about the history of each room, the Dia:Beacon has only signs giving information about the art.  Where Mass MOCA crams the art into whatever space is convenient for a season or two and then shoves it back out the front door, the art at Dia:Beacon has found a permanent home.  Each artist gets at least one room to him or herself.

Philip and Annie’s tips for would-be visitors:

1) Don’t judge Dan Flavin, the fluorescent tube artist, by what you see in Beacon; go to Marfa, Texas (another Dia-funded project).

2) The cafe is rough around the edges.  Eat before you arrive unless you just want coffee and carbs.

3) Don’t miss the Robert Irwin garden (same guy who did the garden at the New Getty) and the big collection of Serras in the adjoining basement.

4) Be sure to read the essay in the Sandback string sculpture room, which is also available on the Web site (pull down “Riggio Galleries” from the “Beacon” menu).  Favorite excerpts:  “space is both defined and imbued with an incorporeal palpability”; “each sculpture is newly parsed for the site”; “Fact and illusion are equivalents,” [Fred Sandback] asserts; “Trying to weed one out in favor of the other is dealing with an incomplete situation.”  [Getting to the Dia:Beacon had required flying through 30 minutes of cumulus clouds on an instrument flight from Gaithersburg, MD, the rest of which was obscured by the same kind of summer haze that proved fatal to JFK, Jr.-style; imagine if the airline pilots flying through the same conditions decided that fact (what the instruments say) and illusion (one’s natural perceptions of being straight and level or falling sideways) were equivalent.]

For pilots or people whose friends are pilots:  You get to Dia:Beacon by flying into Stewart Air Force Base, KSWF, an active base for C5 cargo jets.  The runway is 11,800′ long so if you have trouble landing a Cessna there don’t tell anyone.  Taxi over to Rifton Aviation and borrow a crew car (1994 Ford Escorts with 110,000+ miles on them, perfectly adequate with air conditioning and a radio, thus proving the previously stated theory about the $2,000 Chinese car) for a 15-minute drive over to the east side of the Hudson River.  Take the first exit on 9D and follow signs for the train station in Beacon.  The museum is just south of the train station.

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Saturday Night at the Movies

Today’s theme is nostalgia.  We start by renting the 1955 Picnic, starring William Holden and Kim Novak.  This provides a fascinating portrait of early 1950s small-town Midwestern life as a backdrop to some ageless tensions (rich/poor, intellectual/ignorant, natural/stuffy).  Move next to the 1996 When We Were Kings, which documents the 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in the then-new nation of Zaire (now back to its old name of “Congo”).  The subjects of the documentary can’t foresee that the new leader, Mobutu, will become one of the 20th century’s most notorious kleptocrats (though as discussed in the Israel Essay, he actually did not steal as much from his countrymen as the average Fortune 500 executive team steals from its shareholders).  Nor can they foresee that many of the dancing and singing children among them will be dead of AIDS by 2003.  At some level the movie is about two guys who hit each other really hard but the innocence of the time and optimism about Africa’s future is what really touched me.  Some favorite lines:  “I’m so mean, last week I murdered a stone–I killed a rock”; “No Vietcong ever called me ‘nigger'” (Ali served a prison sentence rather than be drafted into the Vietnam War).

[Warnings  This film’s clips of Ali’s efforts to influence his fellow Americans may make you see our current crop of leaders, black and white, as intellectual and spiritual midgets.  When We Were Kings is also marred by a few minutes of interviews with Spike Lee, the movie director, who tries to sound profound while stating the obvious.]

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Should every golf course contain a Mark di Suvero?

Today was a flying day.  We departed BED, stopped to pick up a friend at MMK (Meriden, CT), crossed the Hudson River and landed on the 12,000′ runway at Stewart Air Force Base (SWF).  We made a detour so that our artist friend (let’s call him E.A. for Extra Aesthetic) could see Bard College’s Gehry-designed auditorium from the air.  E.A. said “What’s great about metal buildings, if they’re sited well, is that they pick up interesting light and reflections at different times of day.”  After landing at SWF and taxiing among the C-5 cargo jet behemoths, we stopped at the Rifton general aviation gas station.  Guys came out to help us park and actually spread a red carpet on the tarmac.  We borrowed a  “crew car” (free) and headed over to the Storm King Art Center sculpture park.  Although it is only a 1-hour drive from Manhattan and it was a fine Saturday in May, the 500-acres of rolling hills was nearly deserted.  E.A. mentioned that they’d had some financial problems in the past and that sparked an idea:  the rolling hills that separated the sculptures from each other would also make for a fine, if challenging, golf course (with plenty of space in the bordering woods for the obligatory McMansions that accompany golf courses these days).

It became quickly apparent that this idea would not sell very well among people who take their sculpture seriously.  But what about the reverse idea?  The American landscape is being progressively uglified as golf courses supplant rustic farms and natural scenery.  In certain muncipalities there are requirements that people putting up office buildings spend a certain percentage of the total budget on art.  Why not have the same requirement for golf courses?  A golf course is a totally man-made landscape.  Why shouldn’t it be dotted with some interesting huge modern sculpture?  The presence of the pieces would add some additional hazards and challenge for the players.  There are plenty of living artists with cranes (e.g., Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero, etc.) and there is a worldwide glut of steel.  If the golf nerds are absolutely committed to working only with natural materials, they could hire Andy Goldsworthy, whose wall at Storm King alone makes it worth the trip.

Any golfing readers care to comment, presumably from a position of greater expertise?

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Saturday Night at the Movies

In theaters everywhere (well, maybe in Manhattan):  Rivers and Tides, a documentary showing Andy Goldsworthy at work.  If you’ve not seen Goldworthy’s books basically the idea is to go out into the woods and arrange or alter natural items such as leaves, rocks, dirt, and moss.  Governments and foundations pay him to do this and before Nature reclaims the work he takes photos to sell and put into art books.  I thought that the funniest scene is in his kitchen at home in Scotland.  He finishes a cup of coffee and tells his wife “I’m going out to work at the tree” in much the same tone as a factory worker.  Worth seeing on a big screen, especially for the sequences of leaf chains flowing through streams.

Francis Ford Coppola provides an excellent argument for the DVD format with his director’s commentary on the Conversation (1974), a superb movie to begin with.  He really explains the how and the why of the camera angles.  His commentary on the Godfather DVD is also interesting for students of the interaction between the suits and the creative types in Hollywood.  According to his commentary, Paramount was ready to fire Coppola 2.5 weeks into the filming.  This despite the fact that Coppola had already captured some of what are today regarded as the best scenes in the movie, which of course went on to be one of the most profitable pictures ever.  Mario Puzo’s book, on which the film was based, had become a bestseller and the studio thought a bigger name director was warranted.  Coppola only saved his job by firing 4 of his subordinates whom he’d felt to be disloyal.  This confused the studio sufficiently that he was able to finish shooting.

One Day in September (1999; Academy Award winner) documents Yasser Arafat’s terrorism operation at the 1972 Munich Olympics, told primarily by retired German offiicials, the Dutch widow of the Israeli fencing coach, and Jarnil Al Gashey, one of the killers (currently hiding, with his wife and children, “somewhere in Africa”). 

The plot is vaguely familiar.  Palestinians walk into the Olympic Village, kill two Jews and take nine others hostage.  Despite the murders and the hostages the Games continue.  The German government refuses to let an experienced Israeli hostage rescue team enter the country.  Tens of thousands of curious onlookers and TV crews surround the apartment building in which the Arabs have holed up.  The Bavarian police organize a group of untrained volunteer policemen to rescue the hostages but the effort is called off when they realize that it won’t be possible to surprise the Palestinians given that (a) the TV crews are filming the police sneaking around the roof, and (b) the terrorists are watching TV inside the apartments.  The terrorists ask for a plane to take them to “an unspecified Arab country” and the German government arranges a decoy 727 at a nearby military field, to be filled with policemen (disguised as crewmembers) ready to overpower the leaders.  Events at the airport go wrong very quickly.  Apparently the public was kept informed of the plans and tens of thousands gawkers clogged the roads to the airport.  The police in the 727 get scared and abandon their position, leaving an empty plane.   The two Arabs who go into the 727 to check it out find that there aren’t any pilots so they come back out screaming that the whole thing is a trap.  There is some shooting, meanwhile the hostages are trapped and tied inside two helicopters.  The Germans organize a team of 5 police snipers to take on the 8 Palestinians but do not supply the snipers with radios.  In the ensuing confusion, a sniper on the terminal roof shoots a sniper on the tarmac by mistake. The police forgot to order an armored car and weren’t willing to get anywhere near the terrorists without it (2 hour delay after the shooting started).  The Arabs toss grenades and machine-gun fire into the helicopters, killing all 9 remaining Jews.  Less than two months later, the surviving terrorists are freed by the German government and are given a hero’s welcome in Libya.

Around the same time that the movie was released, Abu Daoud, the planner of the operation, who was living in comfortable retirement in Jordan, released a French-language book about the operation that won the 1999 Palestine Prize for Culture.  Yasser Arafat had denied involvement with the Munich murders at the time, claiming that it was the work of a radical spinoff of his own terrorist organization, but Daoud writes that Arafat saw him off on the mission with the words “Allah protect you”.

The movie is mostly interesting for what it reveals about how much has changed and not changed in 30 years.  The TV clips show a festival atmosphere around Palestinian terrorism that persist in Muslim countries today but which has gone out of fashion in Europe and the U.S.  German families were bringing their kids out to picnic and watch the exotic Arabs with guns.  You probably wouldn’t see that today, even if the authorities would allow families with kids to get within a few hundred yards of an Arab hostage taking.

What hasn’t changed is the success of French and German policies toward violent Arabs.  In the 1970s, Palestinian terrorists flowed freely in and out of these countries’ jails in exchange for the understanding that terrorist attacks would not be carried out in France of Germany proper.  What do we see 30 years later?  The September 11th terrorists using Hamburg as their planning and finance base; France and Germany being Saddam Hussein’s strongest supporters in Europe.

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