Monday, November 19, 2012


I don't know why it is that setting your teeth into a well-browned hunk of hog makes you feel good, but it works for me. For Thanksgiving and Christmas I want meat, and I don't mean a measley, puny, stunted portion, either. I want big, maddeningly fragrant mounds of steer, hog or bird, or maybe all three, drenched with gravy.

Holiday meats should be baked until all you have to do is gently nudge some critical joint, and the whole thing sweetly falls apart into neat little sheaves. This meat is not burned, it is charmed, and you can eat right through its coral bones.

I wonder what spiritual eunuch first banned "cooking odors" from the home? I want to smell that heavy hunters-and-gatherers food baking. Morning of the banquet day you put the standing rib roast or the big boss bird in the oven. If it's a turkey, you might dip a length of cheesecloth into a pound of melted butter and snugly wrap up that tom. He's now your big gilded turkey baby. In the next hour, ragingly delicious smells will expand in golden waves from the kitchen.

Then the best of times comes. You sit down with those you love to eat the food you love. A glass or two of crystal white wine or potent red goes well with this--wines that are the soul of grape and sun-drenched vineyards, so that they seem to kiss you back when you smack them.

At the end, there are berry pies nestled in buttery crusts. In our family, there's also a hundred-year tradition of serving candied nuts in the same gorgeous china bowl. I'm sure you know there are saints' bones that are handled with less reverence than we lavish on that bowl. Then everyone alternates sipping his or her dark, fine coffee and nibbling the brown-sugar-crusted nuts of the field. We look around the table and see  these faces we love, and every single one of us (and we are very spiritually diverse) thanks someone in his heart: Lord Jesus or sacred oak tree, Blessed Virgin or earth goddess, corn maiden or Krishna.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Actors fight, dance, leap from great heights. They creep with style, shimmy and even walk better than you or I do. They may be privately shining with sweat from the effort of making these moves, but up on the screen they're dusted with stars. Here I'm going to concentrate on four famous ways of covering ground.

JOHN TRAVOLTA  owns one of the best walks in modern movies. He shows it all in his street-strut through the credits in SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. He steps out in his 70's regalia,  pointy-toed red shoes which match his flare-collared red silk shirt. The infatuated camera admires him from the ground up, lingering on the billowing cuffs of his black polyester slacks and the magnificent aggressiveness of his proudly popped collar. I love this scene a lot more than the later ones in which he gets up to his ice-cream-suited, dancy-dance nonsense.

Travolta also delivers a satisfying moment when he climbs stairs in a busy fern restaurant to vent justice. In GET SHORTY he's been insulted by a gangster standing on a landing. Wrong move, goon! Travolta heads up the stairs with that brisk can-do set of his shoulders. He's unhurried, with a confidence so serene he doesn't even look cross. He collects the nasty guy like a bad debt and heaves him down the stairs like manure off a pitchfork, all without missing stride. Travolta is the Walk King of his

In my opinion, RICHARD GERE is never convincing in Good Guy roles. Maybe it's too much of a stretch for him, who knows? But he did surprisingly well in INTERNAL AFFAIRS as a cheating, lying, betraying, wife-seducing bad guy. He was also very effective as a shameless sleazebag of a celebrity lawyer in PRIMAL FEAR. Which brings us to his walk. Maybe it's not his fault. After all, babies learn to walk around a year of age. But Richard Gere walks like a drag queen. He walks as if he's thinking about his hips a lot more than men usually do. There's a seductive little hitch in his get-along, to put it mildly. This fits with his dark and ambiguous roles, but is one of the reasons we can't believe him in the saintly ones.

JOHN WAYNE walks with his whole bulky body, something like a sasquatch would do, as if he were holding the sky up on his big shoulders and the earth down with his feet. He plows ahead no matter what the plague or disaster. In THE SEARCHERS, for five long years he never ceases to search for his kidnapped niece, by sunlight, moonlight, firelight, through storms and floods, under attack and threat of death. He searches mainly by horseback, but also in large part by the almost demented concentration and forward impetus of his walk. We never doubt that walk will find her, and it does.

For me, the most endearing walk is that of ROBERTO BENIGNI in the Italian movie THE MONSTER. Through his usual series of disastrous misunderstandings, Roberto's gentle character Loris is suspected of being a mass murderer. Nicoletta Braschi is the tough-minded undercover detective assigned to his case. She shadows Loris constantly, and gradually becomes fascinated by the wildly eccentric little man. Now, as for his walk: in an early scene, with typical Roberto reasoning, Loris has decided he'll avoid the notice of his landlord, to whom he owes money, if he crouches down and walks like a duck below the man's line of vision. He does this more or less successfully, but rather sadly. There is something very lonely about a man walking like a duck all by himself. But Nicoletta sees this ruse of his. By this time she's realized that, contrary to the evidence, he's an innocent at heart. She gently crouches down beside him, and as they duck-walk away together, his face lights up with a shy man's happiness.

Friday, June 29, 2012


I was about twelve when I first learned that movies could be about something other than Lassie making it home. My sister Helen and I were sitting in the little Prairie du Sac theater, comfortably settled in with our Junior Mints. We were watching a movie called THE NAKED JUNGLE, with the young Charlton (my father called him Charlatan) Heston and gorgeous Eleanor Parker. My innocent parents thought it was a nature film about South American fauna. However, Helen and I couldn't help but notice that Charlatan was very hot, barging around the plantation in his ass-kicking boots, bossing the natives and flailing whips. You thought Heston was always a pompous old geezer, shilling for the NRA? Just believe me: back in the day, the man was fine.In THE NAKED JUNGLE, Heston and Eleanor slept in separate bedrooms and he was very mad at her, we didn't know why. She showed up for dinner every night in magnificent ballgowns which had huge bustles, but no top. He ground his teeth and cracked walnuts with his bare hands. Finally there was a scene where Charlatan kicked down Eleanor's bedroom door and fell on her like a thunderbolt, flinging bottles of perfume over her cleavage and giving her lock-and-load kisses. Little Helen and I looked at each other, big-eyed: WHOA!

It seemed they were headed for the divorce court, but then a huge horde of giant red killer ants overran the plantation, devouring Heston's peons. Heston and Eleanor bonded over fighting the ants, but I thought that part was almost anti-climactic.

Thousands of romantic movie scenes later, I still believe THE NAKED JUNGLE might win for sheer door-busting energy. But the grand old silent THE SHEIK is a close second, and in that case, the hero had to use title cards to declare his intent to ravish.

In THE SHEIK, Ahmed (Rudolph Valentino) is a powerful and sexy Arab lord of the desert who kidnaps beautiful but cold English aristocrat, Lady Diane (Agnes Ayres). She's arrogant, icy, and according to the title cards, asking for trouble. Ahmed snatches her, and charges across the desert sands with her flung across his saddle like a bag of feed.  Finally he reaches his desert kingdom.
We know that Diane is in over her head when we see Ahmed's opulent tent. It is filled with voluptuous Oriental fabrics, suggestively tasseled and bobbled. He strides back and forth with a pantherlike tread, gloating over Lady Diane with slitted eyes as she cowers before him.

Finally she asks what may be the most stupid question in all cinema: "Why--why have you brought me here?"  At this he flares both his nostrils and the whites of his eyes at her and famously replies, "Are you not woman enough--to know?"
This scene still sizzles, although the alert viewer will notice that both Ahmed and Diane are wearing numerous layers of clothing. Diane is sweltering in a full white linen riding suit with hat, ascot scarf, gloves and boots. Ahmed struts around in turban, cummerbund, jeweled dagger, embroidered waistcoat, huge pantaloons, a puff-sleeved shirt and more boots. Realistically, it would take Ahmed at least half an hour to fight his way through to skin.

But to this day, Valentino packs such a punch that we are never, ever in any doubt:
Rudy/Ahmed can do it! By the end of the movie, we're not surprised that not only is Lady Diane happily sporting harem pants, but in their romantic scene, her lovingly submissive title card really should read, "Have mercy, Ahmed...or not!" And they become formally engaged. It's sort of outrageous, given the circumstances, but what can you do? Personally, I raise my glass to the adorable couple.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Defanging the Vampire Bully

"Never allow yourself to be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life. Define yourself."

"A bully is a big a--hole with a little bit of man attached."

"I was the kid who used to get shoved into lockers by school bullies. Because of that, I have never felt like a star in my life."

"I paid a worker at New York's zoo to open it just for me and Robin." (Tyson's then-wife.) "When we got to the gorilla cage there was a big silverback gorilla there just bullying the other gorillas. They were so powerful, but their eyes were like an innocent infant. I offered the attendant $10,000 to open the cage door and let me smash the silverback right in the snotbox. He declined."
MIKE TYSON, boxer, who as a young child had been savagely abused.

"He seemed to delight in his ability to frighten me...a bully is an emotionally retarded vampire. He is not entitled to your blood."

"Stalking is bullying. One of the hardest jobs a cop will ever face is getting it through the head of a real sleazebag that he can't dog, follow, threaten, or otherwise torment a woman he wants, who won't have anything to do with him. Quite often he's married to somebody else, or got a girlfriend. He'll lie to them about what he's doing, lie to his own mom. It's not rocket science, ladies. Is he following somebody around? Trying to access her email, Facebook account? And she's made it clear she despises his guts? The guy is a creep. He thinks we don't know about him? We know."

"All bullying should be met by steel."
GYPSY saying.

"When I was six years old I went and complained to my Mom because I was being punched around by kids. She gave me some of the best advice I've ever had. She said, If somebody is pushing you around, drop something very heavy on his head. Worked then, works now."
JOHNNY DEPP, actor. To this day his most cherished tattoo is the one on his strong left bicep: his mother's name, BETTY SUE.

"I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid-a-hand-on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them."

JOHN WAYNE, actor, always said that this line from THE SHOOTIST expressed his own ideas of human dignity and strength, and the way people should treat each other. I think he was right.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dr. Sabra Explains Autistic Thinking

(I'm going to reprint a post that turned out to have legs. People keep finding it, and they either love or hate Dr. Sabra, and they obsessively TELL me about it. As far as I'm concerned, that's fine.)


My friend Dr. Sabra (not her real name) is a psychiatrist of fame and powerful flair. I thank God every day that I'm her friend and not her patient, since paying her consulting fees would definitely make me more depressed than before. She's famous for cracking her patients like whips, for being plain-spoken to the point of eye-popping rudeness. Who needs it? If I want someone to tell me off, there are many friends and relatives who are eager for the task, and they won't charge hundreds of dollars an hour.

According to rumor, when in full psychotherapeutic rant, Dr. Sabra might accuse one patient of "wallowing in the mire of your Mickey Mouse obsessions," or another of "returning to your evil Ex like a dog to its vomit." Not everybody enjoys being accused of having inferior obsessions. Not everyone wants an impossible but beloved former partner to be compared to barf. Dr. Sabra will also sometimes casually mention, during a session, that she hates the patient's haircut.

But, whether you love her or hate her, she knows her psychiatric onions. So she was the person I asked to explain a term which has been cropping up lately: "Autistic Thinking." Politicians, poets, conspiracy theorists, celebrity couples, suddenly everybody is accusing everybody else of this. What does it mean?

As Dr. Sabra considered the phrase, her eyes gleamed like a mighty tigress spotting a juicy gazelle. "That's one of my favorite subjects. It's simple. And the phrase has almost nothing to do with true autistics. It has to do with whether a person insists on lying to himself.

"There are two types of people in this world. There are people like me, who know that reality is their friend. They don't want to wander in fantasyland. Their home is planet earth. They want their feet on the ground and their eye on the prize, whatever that might be for them. They want to listen, learn, think, and then move in response to reality. I love people like that. They really have a chance in this world.

"Then there are the autistic thinkers. They think that reality is whatever they prefer to believe.
'No, it's not, you idiot,' I tell them. A lot of my patients are like that, but also many everyday people who would never think of themselves as disturbed. I've conducted thousands of hours of sessions, and believe me, they don't always sound so different from conversations with friends. A patient tells me that the earth is 6,742 years old, or that the drunken husband who shoved her head in the toilet last Saturday night is really a good guy at heart. 'No, he's not good,' I tell her. Or a friend tells me at a bar mitzvah that his adult children, who haven't visited for eleven years and only call when they want money, really love him. 'No, they don't," I tell him. Is that cruel? How cruel would it be to let him keep waiting for those children?

"We all know people like this. There's something wrong in their heads that makes them think they can mash reality around like it was a piece of Wonder Bread. One of my acquaintances is a nasty gossip. She makes up stories about people she sees as a threat. She's fearful that she's going to lose her partner, be kicked out of the house that the partner owns. She was spotted rushing around outside throwing gravel on a neighbor's roof whom she dislikes, God knows why. She said it was because of 'something she heard.' Would you like to be holding your breath until this woman admits to herself that she heard WRONG? What would you call someone like that?"

"Hysterical cow?" I suggested.

"You got it. An autistic thinker denies the plain evidence of his senses, and is an enemy to his own brain. Some of them are rich and successful, but I always think of them as orphans of the storm. I picture them driven across the sky by violent winds, with their heads upside down and their hair spiralling out in electric shocks, like in a Marc Chagall painting. When they're my patients, I try to convince them to climb down, or jump, or cannonball, or do whatever they need to do so they're no longer stuck in the sky of delusion.

"Why are they so afraid? Truth, facts, reality, all of these can cause pain. But it's always better to know. Because nothing, nothing, could ever be more painful than to move like a stranger in their own minds."

Thursday, January 12, 2012


As a college student, I first saw the great old movie LAURA at a campus Film Noir retrospective. I went with my buddy Ron, a budding film critic who took his duties very, very seriously. This was a period when students viewed their films with life-and-death passion. We had seen two members of the Film Society rolling in a frenzied homicidal fight on the floor of the Student Union over a scheduling disagreement. Cups of boiling coffee were flung in faces when some sacred European director was disrespected.

I was eighteen years old, Ron was twenty. We arrived early for LAURA, and for several minutes before the screening I listened, enthralled, as Ron and another young critic, Jared, bitterly quarreled about whether LAURA could really be called a Noir. (SPOILER ALERT) Jared's stance was that it could not, because it had a happy ending.

"You KNOW the detective and Laura are going to get married," he snarled accusingly. "A Noir has to end badly, not with a white wedding and release of doves!"

Ron responded in a flat, deadly, damn-you,-you-ignorant-swine sort of voice. He argued that the detective (Dana Andrews) is hard-edged, jaded, insane, and nasty to his girl--the perfect Noir anti-hero. "If it's got feathers and it quacks, it's a duck," Ron added, somewhat obscurely.

I listened humbly to these 20-year-old cineastes, dazzled by their insights, so uncompromising and pure. As I understood Ron's reasoning, LAURA was Noir because the detective acted like a jerk. This seemed odd, but I accepted it because Ron was dropdead sure of himself.

Both Ron and Jared were wearing trench coats and ironic fedoras. Jared was smoking an actual Gaulois, which his girlfriend said he bought in Chicago when he visited his parents. Ron smoked Benson & Hedges, unfortunately an English-speaking cigarette, but they came in a very cool box that opened like a tiny drawer. Ron and Jared blew smoke in each other's faces as they laughed sneeringly at each other's theories.

The movie started. Halfway through it, the murdered Laura comes alive again. Whoa! I almost jumped out of my seat. But even so, I couldn't help but notice that Ron sighed deeply every time Laura (staggeringly beautiful Gene Tierney) left the room, bent over to look in a cabinet, ascended a staircase, or at any time turned her back to the camera. I heard Ron mumbling mysteriously....

"...Oh Gene, my Gene," he softly murmured to himself. "I could watch you walking away forever."

He explained later, over espresso. We were sitting in the romantic semi-gloom of a little cafe. His dark eyes looked poetically sincere by candlelight.

"You see," he said earnestly, "Gene Tierney had the best backside in Noir. The '40's were the heyday of the girdle, so even Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Russell had this Uni-butt look, all scrunched together and flattened out. But somehow Gene Tierney..." He sighed tenderly, infatuated. "Well, she just always looked...REAL. And of course those slinky silks of hers didn't hurt. YUMMY, you know what I mean?"

I did. So that is why I don't worship film critics, especially the male ones. We assume they're pondering the influence of Kierkegaard on Ingmar Bergman's religious themes, and all the time they could be thinking about Gene Tierney's caboose.