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Archive for January, 2012

I went to see “The Artist” the other day as part of my efforts (not very strenuous) to see the Oscar contenders and buzzed-about movies. Occasionally I digress for the purpose of guaranteed mindless big-screen entertainment, as when I went to see “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (excuse me, is it just me or is Jeremy Renner looking absolutely fabulous?) But I digress…

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the film. I have middle-brow tastes when it comes to movies and I can scarcely be called a film buff. I love to look at color, although I have an appreciation of the beauty and mystery of black and white photography. I also traffic in words and none are spoke in “The Artist,” a love letter to the late twenties and early thirties and the entertainment that preoccupied America.

I loved it; loved the attention to detail; in the curl of a mustache or the arch of an eyebrow. I adored both the overt and sly references to classic movie tropes of the era: the highly choreographed scenes, the grand theatrical acting. Some of the references were out of the time period (defined as 1927-1932): I recognized a bit of Alfred Hitchcock; the lush score brought to mind the work of renowned film composer Bernard Herrmann and the supremely talented Jack Russell terrier put me in mind of Nick and Nora Charles and their beloved dog Asta. Wait: maybe I DO know my film history!

I noticed these oddities but I wasn’t bothered by them: this was a film about a film star and the culture he inhabited during a transitional time in American history. “The Artist” was captivating in every way and the symbolism evinced by the successful actor pushed out of his chosen profession by the advances of technology is certainly a parable for our time.

One thing that struck me was the absolute silence of my fellow viewers. It’s not just that no one spoke; I doubt my smart, sophisticated audience would have put up with that. But we were treated to plenty of cues about how audiences react to silent films via the film itself; we saw them laughing or clapping or gasping or murmuring at various moments during the plot. The silent-movie audience was vocal, not in an effort to impede the flow of the movie but in expression of their appreciation. Watching “The Artist” in a theater that was completely quiet except for the music was odd. No coughing, no crackling of paper; in fact, no laughing out loud, although I caught many smiles. No, we were reverentially still, as attending a concert.

Maybe the difference is in the present-day movie-going experience itself, which doesn’t teach us how to watch a movie without distraction. Maybe it’s the novelty of being several layers removed: a present-day audience watching actors who portray a long-ago audience using the same exaggerated style as the rest of the movie’s characters.

Or maybe, at least in this instance, it was just such a blessed relief to be free of the cacophony that surrounds us every day: to surrender to the music, to watch the action unfold on the screen, to marvel at the comic and dramatic elasticity of the actors and not need to have anything explained, enhanced or interpreted. We sat back and let the rich sounds of (relative) silence guide us.

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I’m into philanthropy. Not big-time, mind you; I’m not in a position to exercise noblesse oblige. But I’m at the age when budgeting for annual charitable

All rights reserved by hpebley3 via flickr.com

contributions, however modest, feels somehow mature. If I’d been a member of a faith-based organization, I might have started this process much earlier, but better late than never.

I’m hit up by the usual suspects: charities who purchased my address from the charity I gave to five years earlier; organizations who got my name through the $25 donation I made to my neighbors’ kids’ car wash to raise money for childhood cancer. I receive heart-rending letters from at least four charities focused on women in third-world countries (not including the one to which I donate). I’m often invited, courtesy of my connected friends, to fancy fundraisers that begin at $750 a plate for the privilege of sitting at a table in the back with people I don’t know and watching the tiny speck that is the famous featured speaker or performer. At least the local versions, which usually come in at a quarter of the cost, remind me that I’m part of a community.

I’m generally careful with my research, although I once gave $40 in cash to a young woman who came door to door, clipboard in hand, with a tale about raising money for blind kids in Africa. I never saw a receipt, or the young woman again; but I learned my lesson. No donations on the fly, in the subway or at my door.

At some point during the G.W. Bush years, I began to donate small sums to political action committees (PACS) and I do mean small. I was never shooting for a night in the Lincoln Room but I did want to throw my two cents into the effort to turn over both Congress and the White House. It was fun hearing from Emily’s List and getting thank you notes from the DNC Chairman. I felt as if I were making a difference.

In this coming election year, the stakes are at least as high as they were in 2008, if you’re inclined to vote (I am) and if you consider yourself far more likely to vote for one party candidate than the other (I do). Nevertheless, I’m unlikely to respond to any solicitations that involve politics because when it comes to promotion, my team is poised to play as dirty as the other.

 This year, gleeful Democrats are thrilled to be able to point to GOP front-runner Mitt Romney’s shifts in position in order to accommodate, one assumes, his primary voters. Payback for the attacks on John Kerry!  But as FactCheck.org has pointed out (the site should be required reading for anyone planning to vote), the latest DNC extended video “strains the truth to build a case against Romney by including some dubious claims” which it then goes on to list.

FactCheck’s home page demonstrates that Republicans produce far more questionable media pieces than do the Democrats. Grand Old Party operatives have perfected the art of burying a tiny truth within a mountain of innuendos, inferences, torquing contexts and twisting particulars.  Conclusions are supported by a lopsided mix of semi-legitimate observations and an overwhelming number of outright lies. All a party faithful has to do is point to the legitimate sliver of the message and say, “You can’t argue with that.” Hell, our candidates are happy to argue it isn’t absolutely essential, when making a larger point, to stick to the facts.

Meanwhile, political strategists assume we’re simultaneously biased (we already know what we like and don’t like) and inattentive and/or overwhelmed, which is why the credo “keep it simple, stupid” (KISS) is so popular. The problem when playing KISS and tell is that truth often has to leave the room.

Truth-twisting may be necessary to campaigning; it may even be inevitable—I hope not.  But I don’t have to pay for it. When Women for Women International tells me my money is going to sponsor women in war-torn countries, I believe it. When the DNC insists my donation will be used to get the truth out to the American people, I don’t.

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