Monday, November 28, 2005

Hollywood's Writer

In the early 1950s, the French magazine of film criticism Cahier du Cinema developed the Politique des Auteurs concept of film analysis. This posited that one collaborator in the film process was usually the effective "author" of the released product. This was a legitimate and insightful observation of the movies. In the Politique terms, the author might well be the writer, the producer or the star, but was most often the director.

Some American film critics, most notably Andrew Sarris, expanded on the directorial quotient to ridiculous extremes. Emboldened by this newly elevated critical status, the Directors Guild of America negotiated a contract awarding them the "A Film By" credit ahead of the Title. All Hollywood directors received this credit despite the fact that they were generally hired on the project many months, and even years after the writers and producers had crafted and developed and the material and the financing and it was ready to go.

Lost in this undue adulation of directors is the brilliant work of some truly great collaborative talents; producers like Darryl F. Zanuck and Hal Wallis, check their credits on IMDB, and maybe the greatest hollywood writer of them all, Ben Hecht.

Hecht comes to mind today because looking into the TV Times I see a Hecht double feature on TCM this afternoon, RIDE THE PINK HORSE and GUNGA DIN. Set your Tivos.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


This picture of footprints
in volcanic ash,
placed by Peter
on his blog,

is a haunting reminder of my attempt at writing the shortest story, and my epitaph:


He was here awhile, then he left.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

GM not so good

It was Charles Wilson, the former General Motors president who said in 1953, “I’ve always believed that what’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa.

Coincidentally, in a creative writing class I took in Chicago in 1952 I responded to one assignment with a withering satire on the over-sized, over weight behemoths Detroit had re-tooled from their tank division to the manufacture of Buick Roadmasters. In my paper I exaggerated that a British MG could fit into the trunk of a GM motorcar.

A couple of years later the VW and other German autos began making inroads, but GM and Detroit were too committed to planned obsolescence and profit turnover to pay much attention.

Then came Japan. Then Korea. And soon appearing at your neighborhood car mart, China.

And with the Camry now becoming the hottest car buy in the world, I'm just hoping that what is good for Toyota is good for America.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ban on Torture

The U.S. Senate wants to pass a bill banning the torture of prisoners under American authority and President Bush states he will veto any bill containing such a ban. Finally, W and B.J. agree on something. But the torture should suit the situation and the prisoner.

Judith Miller, for instance, should be stapped into a chair, her eyelids taped open and forced to ready every editorial in The New York Times until she reveals the source of her botched face lift.

George Bush should be forced to stop breathing in Karl Rove's ear while blowing smoke up America's ass until the smirks are wiped off their smug faces.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Alien Corn

Lunch with Peter Rashkin on 6th Street between Main and Los Angeles at the historic Cole's Pacific Electric Buffet. Great French dip pastrami sandwich.

Afterward, we drifted over to the art installation named Not a Cornfield in the old railroad yards at the northern edge of downtown L.A.

Where Peter got himself swallowed up....

And not a crop duster in sight.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Best Medical Care in America

I can barely hold my right hand to the keyboard. I called UCLA this morning to ask about a flu shot. I was told to come in for a check-up as I have never been seen by my Primary Physician, after about seven years as a member of the Medicare program, only a revolving stream of residents.

Okay, the exam went fine and the doctor could find nothing that needed treatment or further attention. So he sends me out for my flu shot and a pneumonia shot.

I got out before noon and went about my business. Then, about 3:pm. I began to feel really sore in the pneumonia shoulder. I have always held that a little pain never hurt anybody, but by 5 o'clock I was feeling a lot of pain whenever I even moved my right arm.

So I called the doctor and got his answering service. He call me back promptly and scolded me for bothering him. He hated his answering service for requiring him to answer calls like mine. Nonetheless, I explained my problem and basically just wanted to know if this side effect was normal. He refused to give me an answer over the phone and stated that "We were at cross purposes." Huh? And that whatever I did was up to me to decide: if I was concerned I could either go to the Emergency Room with my problem or wait until the morning to see an available resident.

Of course going to the UCLA Emergency at night is the same as waiting all night to see a doctor. Wounds, ODs, ambulance arrivals and other serious and visible traumas get priority attention. From past experience, I knew I would have to wait for a sign-in person. Then be interviewed by a teller to verify my insurance and required to immediately pay a $50 co-pay fee. Sometime before daybreak, I would have my pulse, temperature and blood pressure taken. If any of these factors seemed out of line, I would be sold some pain killer, discharged and told to call my Primary Physician in the morning, which it would then be.

And all I wanted was a flu shot.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Friday in Las Vegas

Sgt. Friday, that is.

I've been watching CSI since its beginning, and enjoying it, but it just dawned on me why. Of course I dig the gruesome procedurals of homicide investigation, and that the regular cast of characters sometimes rise in interest above the familiar cop cliches. But mostly I liked the quiet professionalism exhibited by Gil Grissom. As played by William Peterson, his laboratory investigator is calm, controlled and dogged. But only this week did I come to feel that Peterson's performance is derived from Jack Webb's great Sgt. Friday.

Friday wanted the facts, "Just the facts, M'a'm." Grissom wants only the evidence; he claims that the evidence speaks for itself. On Thursday's show, when he reveals his smug opponent on a courtroom witness stand presented psuedo-scientific evidence, the culprit is read his rights and put under arrest for perjury and obstruction of justice. As he is taken away, he snarls at Grissom, "You are the reason for this!" Grissom calmly replies, "I sincerely hope so." Dum da dum dum, dum da dum dum dahhh! I only needed the engraving hammer to fall to feel back in the good old Dragnet days.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Is it folly to be wise?

According to someone in the '6os -- was it Jules Fieffer? -- Julie and I were guilty of premature morality for protesting against the Vietnam War well before it got seriously underway. It now appears we were also guilty of premature intelligence because we knew back in 2002 that the George W. Bush administration was totally wrong about WMD or any legitimate reason for asking Congress for War Powers to attack Iraq.

I say premature intelligence because now, in late 2005, nearly everbody seems to know that Dick Cheney and the Bush Administration had no viable intelligence about WMDs or any other terrorist threat in Iraq. Suddenly, Democratic Senatory Diane Feinstein says she was duped, along John Kerry with most other waffling Democrats, by White House misinformation. What I don't understand is how we uninformed, out-of-the-loop California Dreamers had a better understanding of American Oil/Middle East politics than our highly briefed Washington representatives. Excluding the all too perceptive Barbara Boxer, of course.

The Libby indictment is all about the lengths of lying that the Bush cabal will stretch to. No matter how they try to paint it, the case can be put very simply. An Ambassador name Wilson revealed what the UN and most of the EC already knew: there was absolutely no evidence of WMD in Iraq. In an attempt to discredit and intimidate Wilson, they used accomplices in the media to blow the cover of an important CIA operative who happened to be Wilson's wife.

They broke the law. They ended her useful career and they endangered the lives of her operatives overseas. They did this in order to smooth their path to an illegal takeover of Iraq, its oil reserves and infrastructure. All of which would then come under the corporate control of Halliburton, Bechtel and the Carlyle Group.

They continued to break the law by lying to investigators of the original criminal disclosure. The reporters who publicly revealed the agent's name were not journalists, they were publicity hacks for Cheney and his lackey Bush. They were co-conspirators in the revelations and manipulators of their publications and readership and deserve their own indictments and convictions.

To give this ugly crew some benefit of the doubt, they probably thought the attack on Iraq would be fairly brief and might only cost a couple hundred American lives. In their cost efficient world, they were willing to spend those lives in the interest of increasing their own wealth and power. They knew some Iraqi lives would also be lost, but hey!

But their miscaculations are proving to be enormous. Already there are over 2,000 American dead and ten times that many wounded. Not to mention the 80,000 Iraqi dead, but hey!

So have the Feinsteins, Kerrys, etc. suddenly acquired belated intelligence? Or are they merely pursuing political self-interest in a new environment of public awareness and dismay? I feel I am caught tightly in the grip of a new political campaign. . . and premature skepticism.

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