The lost A List

As A List Hol­ly­wood stars come out to tell their Har­vey Wein­stein couch harass­ment sto­ries, I have to won­der about those who didn’t make it through after say­ing no — actress­es who saw their roles evap­o­rate and left act­ing. The New York Times head­lines pro­fil­ing Wein­stein accusers touts Gwyneth Pal­trow and Angeli­na Jolie but also intro­duces us a woman who is now a psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor in Col­orado. How many bet­ter actress­es and strong-minded women would there be in Hol­ly­wood if so many hadn’t been forced out?

I thought of this after read­ing by a tweet from the actress Rose Marie. She’s best known as one of the jovial side­kicks from the 1960s’ Dick Van Dyke Show. Not to dimin­ish the rest of the cast, but Rose Marie is one of the best rea­sons to watch the show, espe­cial­ly dur­ing those rare moments she’s allowed to step out from her character’s wise­crack­ing spin­ster per­sona and sing or act. On Twit­ter, she shared that she lost a music con­tract in the 1950s because she wouldn’t sleep with a producer.

What if a tal­ent­ed actress like Rose Marie had been giv­en more oppor­tu­ni­ties and wasn’t just known for a sup­port­ing part in a old sit­com? What if the psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor had got­ten the Shake­speare in Love lead? (Imag­ine a world where Pal­trow was only known to 800 or so Face­book friends for too-perfect fam­i­ly pics and memes from dubi­ous health sites.)

Dis­claimer: This is a minor point com­pared with any actress­es who weren’t able to deal with the harass­ment and the indus­try silenc­ing machin­ery. I’m sure there are tragedies that are more than just career pivots.

Quakers acting badly

Friends don’t have a particularly good track record with regards to controversy. There’s no reason we need to pretend to be talking historically. We’ve had two major yearly meetings break up in this summer (meet Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting and North Carolina Fellowship of Friends), with at least one more “at bat” for some future long hot summer.

Controversies flare up in many places. Friend Sa’ed Atshan just broke his media silence to talk about the cancelation of his talk at Friends’ Central School in February and the subsequent walk-outs, firings, and litigations. The controversy around Avis Wanda McClinton’s disownment by Upper Dublin Meeting continues to incense large numbers of Philadelphia Friends, with fuel to the fire coming from the role that the Undoing Racism Group does or doesn’t have in the yearly meeting structure. Last year a majority of Friends of color boycotted public events at the FGC Gathering over frustration at the site selection process and the underlying issues extend to other Quaker venues.

The most-commented recent article in Friends Journal is “It Breaks My Heart” by Kate Pruitt from the online June/July issue. Many readers related to her sense of alienation and loss. Two comments that hit me the hardest were:

Not all Friends are found in Quaker Meetings. You’re better off without your meeting.

Gone now is the hope… of finding community among Quakers. To be frank, why bother? There’s plenty of brokenness right where I am.

And I get enough “Why I’m leaving Friends” manifestos in my email inbox every month that I could turn it into a regular Friends Journal column.

It seems to me that are a number of underlying issues that tie these controversies together. What do we do when a group of Friends starts acting in a manner that seems contrary to our understanding of Quaker testimonies and practices? How do we balance love and judgement when conflict arises among us? When do we break out of Quaker niceness? Maybe even more challenging, how do we maintain our integrity and accountability when controversy breaks us into camps willing to engage in exaggeration? And just what do we say when the outside public only gets half the story or thinks that one side is speaking for all Friends?

So this is a plug for submissions for December's Friends Journal.  The theme is “Conflict and Controversy" and the submission deadline is September 9. We’re not looking for blow-by-blow accounts of being mistreated, and we’re not terribly interested (this time) in manifestos about Quaker cultural norms. I'm less interested in specific issues than I am the meta of discernment: How do individuals or small groups of Friends move forward in the heat of controversy. What do we do when the easy solutions have failed? How do we decide when it's time to break out of Quaker niceness to lay down some truth—or time to kick the dust off your sandals and move along?

What could have been: a review of Hitchcock’s flawed Torn Curtain

Torn_curtainI recent­ly lis­tened to Alec Baldwin’s pod­cast inter­view of Julie Andrews and thought I mis­heard when she men­tions work­ing on a movie direct­ed by Alfred Hitch­cock. The effect was only height­ened when she men­tioned that her co-star was Paul New­man. Although I could do the math and real­ize the careers of these three leg­ends would over­lap, the younger stars seemed to come from a dif­fer­ent era. Julie Andrews espe­cial­ly seemed a mil­lion miles from the ubiq­ui­tous icy blondes of Hitchcock’s lat­er movies.

The movie is 1966’s Torn Cur­tain. The plot is dri­ven by a clas­sic Hitch­cock MacGuf­fin: a sus­pense sto­ry where we don’t ful­ly under­stand (or even care about) the objec­tive over which everyone’s fight­ing. In this case it’s a for­mu­la for some sort of anti-missile defense rock­et, some­thing called the Gam­ma Five (umm, sure Hitch, what­ev­er you say).

There’s a rare alche­my need­ed to cast famous stars in dra­mat­ic roles. Do it right and the star­dom melts into the char­ac­ter. Hitch­cock can pull it off. We love watch­ing a sur­pris­ing­ly com­plex Cary Grant in North by North­west, part­ly because so much of his lat­er comedic act­ing had becom­ing self-referential (he was almost always play­ing Cary Grant play­ing a char­ac­ter). Some­how Hitch­cock used Grant’s famil­iar­i­ty to turn him into a quick-witted mod­ern Every­man with whom the audi­ence could identify.

But the mag­ic doesn’t work in Torn Cur­tain. From the moment I heard Andrews’ famil­iar chirpy clipped voice from under the bed­cov­ers I won­dered why Mary Pop­pins was engag­ing in post-coital pil­low talk with The Hus­tler. I could not muster enough belief sus­pen­sion to see Paul New­man as a bril­liant math nerd and I cer­tain­ly couldn’t imag­ine him as a lover to prim and fussy Julie Andrews.

The sto­ry revolves around per­son­al and nation­al betray­al and defec­tion but we nev­er real­ly under­stood why Newman’s Michael Arm­strong would defect or why (as we lat­er learn) he has gone into a kind of free­lance espi­onage behind the Iron Cur­tain. The defec­tion of prac­ti­cal­ly per­fect Julie Andrews, who as Sarah Sher­man we now know to be par­tic­u­lar­ly deter­mined and loy­al, feels even more inex­plic­a­ble. As I watched the movie bounce aim­less­ly from one close call to anoth­er my mind drift­ed away to imag­ine the Hol­ly­wood board room where some mogul or anoth­er must have strong-armed Hitch­cock to cast two up and com­ing stars for roles which they didn’t real­ly fit.

Then the plot. It mean­ders. But even more damn­ing­ly, it focused on the wrong lead. Newman’s Michael Arm­strong is pre­dictably lin­ear in his objec­tives. The most inter­est­ing plot turns all come from his assistant/fiancée, Andrews’ Sarah Sher­man. She is full of pluck and intel­li­gence. It’s Sher­man who insists on com­ing along on the ini­tial cruise to Copen­hagen and it’s her sharp eyes that spot the mys­te­ri­ous actions that tip off the com­ing betray­als. She notices Armstrong’s tick­ets, picks up the mys­te­ri­ous book, fer­rets out the true des­ti­na­tion, and then has the chutz­pah to board an East Berlin flight to fol­low her lying and errat­ic boyfriend. Her tena­cious impro­vi­sa­tion remind­ed me more of Grant in North by North­west than any­thing New­man did.

There are some intrigu­ing scenes. The strug­gle with Gromek in the farm­house is fas­ci­nat­ing in its length and has the kind of bril­liant­ly bizarre cam­era angles that could only come from Hitch­cock. The the­ater scene was legit­i­mate­ly nail-biting (though I found myself imag­in­ing Cary Grant ’s face as he real­ized how hope­less their escape had become). One of the most mes­mer­iz­ing scenes was the bus chase — will they have to stop for a pas­sen­ger?!? It’s the the kind of Hitch­cock twist we all love.

After read­ing the spoil­ers from WIkipedia and IMDB, I see that many of my com­plaints have good sources.

  • The basic plot was Hitchcock’s idea, inspired by husband/wife defec­tors Don­ald and Melin­da Maclean and In the fall of 1964, Hitch­cock unsuc­cess­ful­ly asked Vladimir Nabokov to write the screenplay.
  • The orig­i­nal focus was on the female lead (I was right!) The first screen­play was writ­ten by Bri­an Moore, a screen­writer known for strong female char­ac­ters. After Hitch­cock cri­tiqued the script and hired new writ­ers, Moore accused him of hav­ing “a pro­found igno­rance of human motivation.”
  • For cast­ing, Hitch­cock had orig­i­nal­ly want­ed to reunite North by Northwest’s Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. Grant told him he was too old; Hitch­cock then approached Antho­ny Perkins. But…
  • Lew Wasser­mann was the Hol­ly­wood exec who insist­ed on bank­able stars. Hitch­cock didn’t feel they were right for the roles and he begrudged their astro­nom­i­cal salaries and con­strained sched­ules. How is it that Alfred Hitch­cock hadn’t secured total con­trol over his projects at the point in his career?
  • The actors and direc­tors were indeed from dif­fer­ent eras: Newman’s method act­ing didn’t fit Hitchcock’s old school direct­ing style. Hitch­cock used his casts as chess pieces and expect­ed the direct­ing and edit­ing to dri­ve his films. When New­man pressed the direc­tor for Armstrong’s moti­va­tion, Hitch­cock report­ed­ly replied “moti­va­tion is your salary” (can’t you just hear him say­ing that in his famous­ly arch tone?)
  • Hitch­cock didn’t like the way the movie was unfold­ing and shift­ed the atten­tion to Newman’s char­ac­ter part-way through. It’s always a bad idea to tin­ker with some­thing so fun­da­men­tal so late in the game.

I think Julie Andrews could have stepped up to the chal­lenge of act­ing as the main pro­tag­o­nist. If Hitch­cock had treat­ed her as the Cary Grant “Every­man” char­ac­ter — and made New­man stand in as the dumb blonde! — it would have bril­liant­ly turned Hitch­cock on his head. As it is, this movie rates a mid­dling “meh” rat­ing, more inter­est­ing for what it could have been than for what it was.

Sheen: Appealing to almighty God

In the Bruder­hof mag­a­zine, an “inter­view with actor Mar­tin Sheen”:www.bruderhof.com/articles/sheen.htm?source=DailyDig. It’s a pro­file that focus­es not only on his act­ing fame or activist caus­es but on his reli­gious faith and how it under­pins the rest of his life. Read, for instance, Sheen on civ­il disobedience:
bq. It is one of the only tools that is avail­able to us where you can express a deeply per­son­al, deeply moral opin­ion and be held account­able. You have to be pre­pared for the con­se­quences. I hon­est­ly do not know if civ­il dis­obe­di­ence has any effect on the gov­ern­ment. I can promise you it has a great effect on the per­son who choos­es to do it.
Sheen’s rad­i­cal Catholic faith is not a super­fi­cial con­fes­sion that pro­vides him with a place to go on Sun­day morn­ing, and it’s not pas­sive iden­ti­ty from which to do polit­i­cal orga­niz­ing. Rather, it’s a rela­tion­ship with God and truth that demands wit­ness and sac­ri­fice and suf­fer­ing. It’s the faith of some­one who has per­son­al­ly gone through the depths of spir­i­tu­al hedo­nism, and who has watched his coun­try become the “most con­fused, warped, addict­ed soci­ety,” and who has found only God left standing:
bq. God has not aban­doned us. I don’t know what oth­er force to appeal to oth­er than almighty God, I real­ly don’t.
I could quote him for hours, but read the interview.