Listen, my friends I had to force myself to go and see it. Even after my daughter Lori made a special call to convince me to go. I put her recommendation into the back seat of my mind. I loved the recent Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. What more was the movie going to show me? Nothing I did not already know. Right?
I was soooo wrong. It has nothing and everything to do with Mr. Rogers. And even though reviews have been very positive, from my point of view, none of the reviews touched on why today, more than at any other time in this world, everyone needs to see this movie.
Let me try to write how I experienced as I watched the movie unfold. From the opening, before the credits, a “lego-set “of a residential area of a nameless city (although if you know Pittsburgh, you recognize the three bridges that cross two rivers or is it three… I forget) and suddenly Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers walks into the set and begins to do the Mr. Rogers opening.
But, it is different from the one he usually does in his show as he introduces a picture board of different characters… most of whom you know from his show and one who you did not know, the writer who under duress and in anger has been assigned to do a profile on Mr. Rogers. From that very first moment, I was captured, captivated, you name it. I was had. The mystery, and it is a mystery of a plot unraveled.
A little background: I am in Florida. It was a rainy day. Perfect afternoon for the movies. And perhaps a dozen others thought the same thing. And from that very same beginning moment, this small audience breathed as one. I mean it. We all inhaled at the same time. We exhaled at the same time. No one moved a muscle… no popcorn munching. No slurping. No candy wrappers. We were all suspended in the one hour and 59 minutes of this movie.
Now I am not going into any more detail about the movie. You want to know how this story unfolds. Go to your movie house. I know it is playing there now.
By the end of the film, as the credits rolled, this small audience in a darkened theatre released their breath and applauded as if they were in a live show.
Why? They were moved. The cathartic emotional release of all was palpable. We had all, together, been part of an experience where anger and bile were transformed into love and forgiveness; released into the stratosphere by the catalyst of a vulnerable and fallible human named Fred Rogers.
What are you doing still sitting reading this? Get up. Get out. Get transformed.
I have a new
friend. He is nice. He is black. I am white. I didn’t mean to but I offended
Here is the
In December 2018,
I saw the film, Green Book. I flipped. I loved it. No, I mean I really
loved it. I was in the local movie art house and there was hardly anyone
else watching with me. I would say maybe 10 people at most. I laughed. I cried.
I thought Viggo Moretensen and Mahershala Ali were beyond brilliant. I ached for
each of them in the many cathartic moments of the film. I was enraged at the
America that made it necessary to publish a horror like Green Book.
I was beyond the stratosphere at the music. Don Shirley’s classical music background blending with a jazz originality to create a sound that kept my head, my hands, my feet, and my heart moving constantly every time he played. (Just so you have all the information… the pianist, Kris Bowers, composed the movie score and played the piano parts and he too is brilliant.)
I’m glad the theatre was empty. The way I was swinging with the music, I may have been asked to leave.
And when it was over, I stood up as in those rare standing ovation moments at the theatre. I say rare because for me to stand means to know you have witnessed a genius rarity not likely to happen again. I yelled, “BRAVO!” I applauded. I was ignored as the very few fellow audience members left, walking rapidly, perhaps nervous that some cuckoo was on furlow for a matinee.
I practically danced up the aisle. As I left the theatre, the ticket taker was standing at the door. She is black. I stopped. I took her hand. She withdrew it. Undaunted, I gushed my enthusiasm for the film. I asked if she had seen the movie. She looked hard at me. She said in a very clear voice. “No! I don’t watch rubbish.”
I guess that should have been my first clue. But, I ignored it. I couldn’t wait to get home and call my near and dear ones. If they ever wanted to see or speak to me again they needed to pass the test of seeing this movie.
Fast forward to the next day after the Academy Award ceremony…
Don’t hit me. I didn’t watch. I never watch. They
always leave out the one movie I thought was really great or the actor or the
writer…and basically, I am not sure about awarding best anything to any
artist. The competition is within the artist. Don’t tell me
someone is better than someone else. I don’t believe you can compare
apples and oranges. However, God forbid the money men and women don’t
make their money back on their product. And for them, it isn’t about
art. It is about “product”.
All to say, if they called my name for an Oscar, I’d probably be there.
My new friend and I were talking about the Oscars. Those who know
me know. Those who don’t know me are pretty sure. I have an opinion
on everything. Ask my daughters.
I had read Spike Lee was angered by Green Book’s big win. I opined that it might be sour grapes. I had seen his film, BlacKkKlansman and thought it was great. The perfect example of trying to compare apples and oranges.
My friend said he enjoyed Green Book, but he was also in agreement with Spike Lee. For him, the Academy was doing its usual thing. Rewarding the white man as he rescued the black man. Another movie to make the whites feel good.
I don’t often keep my own counsel. I continued on and on about how Green Book detailed the possibility of a bigot changing his tune. And isn’t that what is needed in a world gone mad with so much hate and bile. A world growing more and more into “them and us”. Separating humans of ever color from each other.
As I pontificated, I assured him, I knew what he was feeling.
There came a very pregnant pause. A close
to delivery pregnant pause. The pause was so awkward it actually shut my
After some time, we broke the pause with
banal conversation. Not going near the subject, we talked awhile and then
After we parted, I recalled what I had been saying. What was it that brought about the pause that did not refresh? As I did, I realized my new friend had been trying to tell me something without telling me something. No matter we are both minorities. I am Jewish and a woman. But I am white. He is black. I cannot and will never know what it feels like to be black.
Later that same day, I wrote an apology. I wrote that of course I could never know how he feels. I have had some of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune thrown my way, but against being born black in this world, past or present, not comparable.
He acknowledged my apology. We have not continued the discussion. Hopefully someday we will. Slow and steady as the friendship deepens, anything is possible.
I don’t know. I do know there are those who want to see a better world. Me, for one. And for me, a better world would be one where we all wake up one morning and find we are color blind. If that were true, then Green Book and BlacKkKlansman and all movies about race would be Fairy Tales. A collection of very Grimm Fairy Tales.
Is it possible?
As long as we are still breathing the world of possibilities will always exist? Right?
Of course, Right!
P.S. It seems no matter where I turn, going to the movies, reading a book, I am surrounded by with racism, bigotry, and the inherent anger, resentment and frustration.
In a recent biography of Frederick Douglass, David W. Blight writes of an event which occurred in Washington, D.C. on the 11th anniversary of the end of the Civil War as well as the 11th year anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. At the unveiling of a monument honoring Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, with President Ulysses S. Grant and all of official Washington present, Frederick Douglass spoke:
It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man…
He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration… My white fellow-citizens… you are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity.
Excerpt from oration delivered by Frederick Douglas at the Unveiling of The Freedmen’s Monument in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., April 14 1876
That speech was given in 1876. It is 2019. Have
things changed? Externally, yes.
However, haven’t I been reading how the Executive Branch, the Congress, our Supreme Court are colluding and searching for ways to limit and deconstruct the civil rights legislation LBJ pushed through after JFK’s assassination.
Isn’t this what happened to the promises of Reconstruction after the Civil War?
I think this is the time to bring out my favorite Voltaire quote (a very dear, very old, very close friend of mine),
Look for the Silver Lining was one of my mother’s favorite songs so we know this is an ancient tune. Praise the internet for shortening research time. Look for the Silver Lining, written in 1919 (the year my mother married) by Jerome Kern and Buddy DeSylva for the Broadway show SALLY.
I was not a child until at the very least, 1938. I remember my mother telling me how she went to see Sally in the 1920’s, falling in love with the star of that show, Marilyn Miller and the Silver Lining song she sang.
As I write this now, I ponder, was that the reason I was named Sally? Then why did my mother add the hyphen and the Jane? Since she is the only one knows the answer, I shall add it to my ever-growing mountain of unanswered questions. Am’t I supposed to get smarter as I get older? I used to think so. I think whatever intelligence I thought I had has definitely reversed direction and is heading towards oblivion. And I have to tell you, on certain days I am mightily relieved… oblivion is so much nicer than the news.
But I digress (my favorite pastime and present-time, too)!
Here are my suggestions… I chose the song, Look For the Silver Lining because of two recent movies I was privileged to see, both documentaries.
Now for those of you who don’t know me – give me good trash! As a friend of mine once said, “Oh, Sally-Jane, she can be had by the commercials.” That was before I became addicted to streaming. And now I don’t know from commercials… so I save myself for the trash. That is, until seeing these two documentary films.
RBG, the title of the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, our Supreme Court Justice, who like Atlas single-handedly holds the world safe to keep it from spinning out of orbit. Well, that’s what it feels like for me, my friends. In future history books, she will be known as The Great Dissenter. And I feel, every dissenting opinion she writes will, when we straighten up this mess, be turned into laws that will help not hinder the people. It is also the very candid and real journey of a woman climbing a female sand mountain. I would like to think it’s not as high a mountain as it used to be. But the verdict isn’t in yet, I fear.
This is not just another dance company looking for funds. (Tell me any cultural organization you know that isn’t having difficulty getting funding for their programs. Museums, orchestras, non-profit theatres they are all in trouble). This dance company has a very unusual program. As someone put it quite succinctly, ”this documentary titled, Moving Stories, shows dance as soft power supporting people that political and social failures have hurt.”
The film profiles the Dancing to Connect program of Battery Dance Company. Six empathetic and inspirational dancers from the company each travel to 6 different locations around the world – New Delhi, Bucharest (Roma children), Busam (where traumatized children escaped North Korea), and defectors from China mix with South Korean teens to create motion through their emotions, and a young Iraq hip-hop dancer, given lessons through Skype moves towards his destiny.
Moving Stories is about far more than how Dancing to Connect teaches stigmatized, abused, frightened children to dance. It is about how the children learn to unlock their hesitation and dance together. Together…. oh, what a lovely word!
Just so we are clear. I have not given up my good trash viewing. However, what I have done, for myself, and hopefully, for those who are interested is to signal for all who are depressed by a world gone mad – a light at the end of the tunnel. Otherwise known as hope (and I don’t care what you say this is not a dirty word… another lovely word… how’s this – “Together hope”?) Hey guys, who knows maybe the world has always been mad. Yet another question for my growing mountain of unanswered questions.
Maybe that is why the song popped into my head. Sure the lyrics are cornball and cliché, but isn’t it written somewhere, it’s only a cliché because it is true. Well, if it isn’t written somewhere, it is now.
Here are the cornball cliché lyrics:
Look for the silver lining Whenever a cloud appears in the blue Remember, somewhere the sun is shining And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you
A heart full of joy and gladness Will always banish sadness and strife So always look for the silver lining And try to find the sunny side of life
One more suggestion… Won’t you join me as we sing together in hope?
As I watch the leaves change and fall, mostly fall without changing this year, I hear two questions consistently from friends, relatives, and passers-by:
How did this happen?
Are people ever going to be nice again?
There are plenty of pundits that give chapter and verse concerning both of these questions. Answers are about economics, racism, politics as given reasons for the way the vote went and for the lack of civility. Yes, I think they are connected… somewhat. But that is not all of it.
Alright already, so what happened??? Phew! I never thought you’d ask.
The following thoughts were provoked by my viewing the PBS series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick – The Vietnam War. And over the course of very intense viewing, my thoughts began to brew and now they are spilling over. Ready or not, I want to share because I believe we can be better and nicer, no matter who we voted for.
My thoughts before viewing: I was a 30-year-old unpolitical wife, mother of 3 babies, and a professional actor, singer, dancer living in Washington, D.C., a city that had no rights and an 80 percent black population. In this city of political shenanigans, I was innocent, which is another word for dumb. I read newspaper headlines and scripts. Viewing this series began my late education of Vietnam. My passion for movies gave me somewhat of a head start.
Two films. Indochine, a French movie starring Catherine Deneuve and an American cult classic, Medium Cool. The French film gave me a history of Vietnam – brilliant and devastating. The second was shock treatment for this American, thinking it couldn’t happen here – the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago with the world watching as Mayor Daly’s storm troopers beat the anti-war demonstrators. I remember running around the house screaming “This can’t be happening! This can’t… someone is going to stop it… Isn’t someone, please, going to stop it?!” I was awakened from a deep sleep. And it wasn’t by anything as gentle as a sweet kiss. It was the rudest awakening ever!
To begin with, I began my viewing with one chapter (2 hours) a night. However, after the first five chapters, I had difficulty sleeping. I also noticed I was holding onto my chair like I was being sent to the moon. Such tension! And though at this point I knew what was happening and what was going to happen, I kept talking to the television and telling it, “No, don’t let it happen, please, don’t!”
I fell in love with all the foot soldiers – American, North and South Vietnamese – that were interviewed so many years later. Every one of the grunts, airmen, seamen… and all the others who, as Westmoreland and Lyndon Johnson kept increasing the draft, were being sent to Vietnam and I wondered how Ken Burns had found them. They came to do what their fathers did in World War II and when they got to Vietnam, recognized this wasn’t Europe or even Japanese occupied islands… this was a Political Swamp... Having nothing to do with helping anyone except politicians in their quest for elected office. Sound familiar???
And that’s when I decided I had to pace myself. From number 6 to the last of the series, I watched one every three days. Not only was I able to sleep, but I was able to think through each one I had seen and slowly, as I said at the beginning, my thoughts took me to new places that connected dots in a way I had not previously been aware of.
As Nixon became the spokesperson of The Silent Majority, (I had forgotten that one), everything I believed in, all the brilliant history of The Founding Fathers, our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, were being used as kindling for a fire that is still raging.
Then there was Kent State. The National Guard and State troopers shot and killed college students on their own campus during an anti-war demonstration. I don’t think I was the only one who walked around afterward in a disbelieving daze. But did you know that in a poll 58 percent of the American people approved of the shooting?
All of this and more came out in this series. And I am thinking, “This is not new.”
Here’s what I need to know… how do these beautiful soldiers, sailors, airmen, POWs on all sides… how do they make sense of a war where so many died, were wounded and when they returned were shunned and shamed. These are the true poets of this series.
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, in the last installment, throw us a life raft. And if you choose to, you can climb into it with me… It involves the selection and building of the Vietnam Memorial. The meaning of it to the veterans who make a constant stream of visits to touch a name, to say a prayer, to be where a buddy they lost can for the moment be found. And even more thrilling, the story of the many Vietnam veterans who returned to Vietnam to redeem and reconcile their tours of duty to help rebuild a destroyed country.
Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu created an environment in South Africa of reconciliation and truth-telling.
The first President of the first all-German Parliament after World War II, Richard von Weizsäcker had this to say,
“The desire to forget prolongs the exile, and the secret of salvation is remembrance. We cannot save ourselves, nor can we undo what has been done. We have lived through unfathomable and abysmal events and take part in them. But one thing we can and must do. Look at our past steadily, recognize its truth. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations.”
OK guys… all praise to PBS, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and all who made it possible to help us look at our past without punishment or judgment. Yes, you can disagree with various points in this series, but you cannot disagree that it is time to look at this most divisive war and how it ruptured the country. With the direction our country is moving, along with the lack of civility I referred to at the start of this blog, it’s worth looking at…
Do not look away.
Do not say that was then.
Do not say now is now.
Because, my dear friends, now is then.
The men and women in this film give new meaning to forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation.