The Carreón Cinema Club: The “Films and Television Series That Give Us Life”

The Carreón Cinema Club: The “Films and Television Series That Give Us Life”

Welcome back to the Carreón Cinema Club, mi gente!

I’m sure a lot of life has happened to you all since the Club’s last gathering. Perhaps a little too much of 2020 bled into the start of 2021, but it is vital to keep looking at the optimistic side of a pessimistic reality. Sooner or later, we will catch up to our changed lives and turn this cosmic Titanic around. Until then, I thought I’d kick off this year’s edition of the Carreón Cinema Club with “The 3 Films and Series That Give Us Life.”

AUNTIE MAME (1958)

Directed by Morton DaCosta

Written by Betty Comden & Adolph Green

(Adapted from the novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis; and the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee)

Starring: Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne, Peggy Cass, and Jan Handzlik

Streaming: TCM (Check listings), Amazon Prime (Rent), Apple TV+ (Rent)

Rosalind Russell was already a comedic force of nature before she scored her most iconic role as everyone’s dream relative in Auntie Mame. During the early 1950s, Russell turned to the Broadway stage when starring film roles became less plentiful. After scoring a whopping success with the musical Wonderful Town in 1953, she hit it big again with the play Auntie Mame. Based on famed eccentric Patrick Dennis’s madcap best seller, it was adapted for the stage by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, becoming a box office smash for two years running. After the play closed, Russell returned to the big screen as Mame Dennis in the film version released in 1958. Directed by Morton DaCosta, Russell’s towering performance again entranced audiences, with the film still a beloved classic.

Watching Auntie Mame is almost a rite of passage for some. Turner Classic Movies often broadcasts the film today, particularly around the holidays. However, it was on the now-rebranded American Movie Classics channel that my family and I first saw the film several decades ago. Russell’s incandescent performance as a wealthy, stylish bohemian is one for the ages. Her transition from a woman of leisure to becoming the mother figure to her orphaned nephew Patrick is a beautiful and hysterical arc to follow. It’s hard not to want to be part of Mame’s riotous crew if it means meeting people like Vera Charles. Who wouldn’t want to hang with the first lady of the American stage, a salty broad who loves a drink as much as her stage entrances, maybe more?

The wonderful thing about Mame Dennis as a character is that she does evolve as much as she influences the people closest to her. Whether it’s her pregnant, possibly unmarried, secretary, the mousy Agnes Gooch, or her exuberant oil baron husband Beauregard Pickett Burnside, especially her little love, Patrick, combined, they redefine the concept of family. The same applies to the ensemble that surrounds Russell is as charged up as she, with Coral Browne, Forrest Tucker, Peggy Cass, and young Jan Handzlik, all giving as good as Russell.

In the end, Mame proves victorious over those who dare mess with her family, culminating in an outrageous “reunion” finale that makes the whole journey worth the ticket. Author Patrick Dennis’s real-life story is worth a film of its own, one that shares many of the same colors as Mame Dennis. The original novel’s success led to a sequel book and a smash hit Broadway musical with Angela Lansbury. Alas, Mame’s fortunes dimmed quite a bit when a misguided Lucille Ball brought the musical version of Mame to the screen, resulting in a box office bomb that damaged her reputation. Yet, word is Mame may rise again in the 21st century thanks to writer Annie Mumolo of “Bridesmaids” fame and the fearless Oscar winner Tilda Swinton as the fabulous Ms. Dennis. We shall see. Otherwise, to quote Mame, “Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” In this era of too little happiness and endless complaint, you would do well to take in the meal offered by joining Rosalind Russell as Mame and company.

MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988)

Directed by Jonathan Demme

Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell, Mercedes Ruehl, and Alec Baldwin

Written by Barry Strugatz & Mark R. Burns

Streaming: Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ (Rent)

It’s hard not to picture Michelle Pfeiffer as forever being an A-list star, yet, believe it or not, her ascension did take a while. After making her leading lady debut in 1982 with the infamous musical sequel Grease 2, she made sure no one would use that cult classic against her thanks to early memorable roles in Scarface and The Witches of Eastwick. 1988 would prove a watershed year for her with the release of the awards season hit Dangerous Liaisons and the mafia comedy Married to the Mob.

What made Married to the Mob significant for Pfeiffer was that the film allowed her to show off a sublime sense of humor as an actor. Director Jonathan Demme made an inspired and bold choice to cast her as beleaguered mafia wife, Angela DeMarco. She nails not just the “fuggedaboutit” accent and wears Colleen Atwood’s divinely OTT costumes with confident style; Pfeiffer brings luminous humanity to a woman who aspires to a better life.

Once hubby “Cucumber” Frank DeMarco is iced, played to the coolest hilt by Alec Baldwin, the widow DeMarco finds the power to leave the mob rule and find a new home for her and her young son. Unfortunately, Alpha Male don, Tony “the Tiger” Russo, portrayed by Oscar nominee Dean Stockwell, can’t think about anyone else but her. Neither can the FBI, led by Matthew Modine, whose investigation into Frank’s murder turns complicated when he pieces together Angela’s true agenda. Yet, hell hath no fury like Tony’s wife, Connie Russo, played by a scene-stealing Mercedes Ruehl. As the one person Tony fears, Connie is not about to let someone take her man.

Pfeiffer staked her claim as a leading actor of her generation the following year in The Fabulous Baker Boys, a star turn that brought her a first Best Actress Oscar nomination. Married to the Mob put her on the path, though, and in honor of the late Jonathan Demme’s recent birthday, it merits a visit as a film that will give you life.

COMO AGUA PARA CHOCOLATE (1992)

Like Water for Chocolate

Directed by Alfonso Arau

Screenplay by Laura Esquivel, adapted from her novel

Starring: Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, Ada Carrasco, and Regina Torné

Streaming: Hulu, HBOMax, Amazon Prime

Food on film has a long history of making audiences hungry for more. With such classic films as Tom Jones to Tampopo and Babette’s Feast, cuisine’s cinematic power will forever tantalize all of our senses. The arrival of author Laura Esquivel’s romantic fable Como Agua Para Chocolate (or Like Water for Chocolate) added a layer of magical realism and romance to the recipe. Here the food not only dictates the fate of its protagonist, Tita, it also manifests itself in the emotions of those who consume her meticulously prepared dishes.

Released in 1992, director Alfonso Arau realized Esquivel’s book and screenplay as an amber-hued period piece, particularly in the recipes captured on screen. However, the innocent beauty of Lumi Cavazos as Tita is the main reason the movie works so well. Her devotion to the culinary arts pales in comparison to her love for Pedro, her older sister’s husband. Being the youngest daughter, though, she’s trapped by tradition to forever care for her iron-hearted mother, Mamá Elena. Regardless, Tita finds her power by cooking for those she loves, an extension of her heart that affects them all in surprising ways. In the end, love does triumph, but she must endure several tragedies to reach that destination.

A novela aspect does exist in the film thanks to the steely presence of Regina Torné as Mamá Elena. Also, Arau’s visual ambition does overreach a bit in terms of its magical realism. Still, Cavazos pulls the film through in every scene, a relatable heroine for any generation, as illustrated in this scene from the film (presented in its original Spanish).

I think what I love most about Como Agua Para Chocolate is its blend of nostalgia and culture. It remains a seminal film of the 1990s, reigning as one of the most popular international movies of its time. More, it brought Mexico back into the fold of world cinema for a new generation. After years of exporting broad comedies about female truck drivers and narco life, film enthusiasts of Mexican cinema no longer made do with just a steady trickle of what was considered the “art film.” This genial, romantic period piece broke that cycle with great success, giving way to a powerful group of Latino cineastes that continue to influence cinema today.

WANDAVISION (2021)

Created by Jac Schaeffer

Directed by Matt Shakman

Based on Scarlet Witch by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby and Vision by Roy Thomas and John Buscema

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kat Dennings, and Kathryn Hahn

Streaming: Disney+

I’ll be honest in saying I watch very little in terms of today’s television series. I’ve spent one too many months re-watching The Golden Girls, Designing Women, and that 80s relic It’s a Living, an admission that will probably prompt an intervention. I don’t read recaps, and I feel the leading streaming platforms only care about a young audience. Then, I saw the teaser for Disney+’s WandaVision, which led me to the first episode, exploding this old geezer’s brain.

Led by the dynamic duo of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as Wanda Maximoff and Vision, this glorious extension of Marvel’s Avengers universe is not just for the supers crowd. Oh no, far from it. It does help to have a little knowledge of these characters going in, but it is so well crafted, I honestly don’t think it will matter. The premise is that solid and affecting. Imagine loving someone so much; you find the power to remix the physical world to bring him back from the dead.

Now entering the home stretch on Disney+, what makes these final episodes compelling is discovering the true depth of Wanda’s pain and the power it has unleashed. The loss of her great love, Vision, continues to overwhelm her, something she refers to as a wave that keeps taking her down whenever she finds the strength to stand again. Emotional poetry exists beyond the clever homage to the classic situation comedy tropes that frame most of WandaVision. Each lushly produced episode looks and feels like a motion picture, action-packed and large in scale. The devil is in the details, with a nostalgic aesthetic expertly woven in and out of our present time with breathless pacing that does not overshadow its emotional impact.

Thanks to a winning ensemble, especially the comic brilliance of Kathryn Hahn, the show within a show format feels ordinarily human and extraordinary at the same time. With one episode left ahead, how WandaVision decides to conclude this mesmerizing season is anyone’s guess. For those new to the party, the chance to see it all unfold in a marathon sitting is on par with being in a move theater again. Rest assured, this isn’t hyperbole from a fanboy. You’re in for one of the year’s most engaging series on television today.

It is hard to believe we’re heading into the first anniversary of our collective pandemic lives. To be honest, it feels great to share a little something with the Club again. I look forward to sharing more Club entries as the year continues. By the way, I’ve moved on from The Golden Girls to enjoy watching all seven seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I’m on season 4, and I have to say, it is way better than taking Lexapro. Let’s turn the world with a smile! Hasta pronto, mi gente.

The Carreón Cinema Club: Election Day Edition

The Carreón Cinema Club: Election Day Edition

If you’re like me, this Election Day is all about comfort food and comfort movies. If you need to break away from the pundits & prognosticators, here are the Carreón Cinema Club’s Top Five Election Day Movies to help steady, or jangle, your nerves as we await the results of a lifetime.

  • TED (2012) – Feeling the need to bust a gut, look no further than Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar-nominated hit, TED. One of my favorite R comedies ever, the image of a trash-mouthed, alcoholic teddy bear is perfect for tonight. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, prepare for a case of the moist fuzzies thanks to MacFarlane’s pitch-perfect voice performance as Ted. It’s for anyone who needs a thunder buddy tonight.
  • THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) – One of my favorite films ever, George Cukor’s 1940 classic THE PHILADELPHIA, is as perfect a comedy as you’ll ever see. Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart in his only Oscar-winning performance, this is a film to treasure thanks to a screenplay that is practically music to your ears. Classy, legendary, and funny in its depiction of class, media, and marriage, you will swoon away the anxiety in no time.
  • WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (1988) –Tap into the pop kitsch of Spanish iconoclast Pedro Almódovar’s first mainstream hit, WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. This Spanish-language comedy from 1988 reveals how far an anxious woman will go to get a call back from a straying lover. A hilarious look at relationships and gender, you’ll be ignoring your telephone as election updates start coming in.
  • NETWORK (1976) – If you need something a little more substantive, why not Paddy Chayefsky’s brutally funny but accurate look at media with NETWORK. Directed by Sidney Lumet, this prophetic movie details how a last-place network taps into the era’s popular rage with outrageous and tragic results. Featuring William Holden and Robert Duvall, it is the Oscar-winning trio of Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch, along with Chayefsky’s script that makes this film a classic for any media age.
  • Z (1969) – For the nihilists just looking for a cathartic release, may I suggest Costa-Gavras’ Z, a dark and chilling account of Greek politics following the assassination of a Greek political leader. Inspired by real events, Z’s representation of the event’s aftermath, including a mass cover-up and a coup d’etat, is sobering and all-too timely. One of the first films to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Foreign Film Oscars, winning for the latter. Unforgettable.

Hang in there, mi gente. We have each other for whatever happens next. See you on the other side of history.

The Carreón Cinema Club: Journey to Italy (1954) and The Human Voice (1967)

The Carreón Cinema Club: Journey to Italy (1954) and The Human Voice (1967)

Welcome back to the Carreón Cinema Club. Get ready for a double feature of failing marriages and the importance of communication. But seriously, both films are remarkable for their emotional frankness and the artistry of the great Ingrid Bergman.

It is not a coincidence that I am focusing on another glamorous Swede after debuting the Club with Greta Garbo. The luminous Ingrid Bergman, a three-time Oscar winner, couldn’t avoid becoming a Hollywood legend thanks to such films as Notorious, Gaslight, and, of course, Casablanca. However, the discovery of her later works on the Kanopy and Prime Video channels revealed to me how she was one artist who didn’t shy from taking a chance on difficult material, especially at a time where public perception was actually against her.

After representing the perfect leading lady image in the 1940s, Bergman’s popularity took a severe hit in the early 1950s thanks to her relationship with Italian director Robert Rossellini. They had met while working on Stromboli in 1949, kindling a passionate affair. Both were married to other people. More, Bergman was also pregnant with her first child with the famed director. Deemed “scandalosa,” the actress stayed exiled in Europe for several years. Yet, that didn’t stop the duo from working together. Bergman’s collaborations with Rossellini were often compelling and nothing like her films that garnered her much success.

According to daughter, actress Isabella Rossellini said in a recent interview with Reuters, “She showed that women are independent, that women want to tell their own story, want to take the initiative, but sometimes they can’t because sometimes our social culture doesn’t allow women to break away from certain rules.”

Watching JOURNEY TO ITALY on Kanopy only reaffirms her daughter’s sentiments. Coupled with Rossellini’s stature as one of the most prominent members of the neo-realist movement in world cinema, Bergman flourished with portraying complex women who break the rules attached to traditional gender roles.

Much like Nicole Kidman today, Bergman had no problem stripping down the veneers of poise and gentility to reveal her truest self. Her emotional vulnerability resulted in a fascinating showcase in THE HUMAN VOICE, a one-hour televised adaptation of the famed and influential Jean Cocteau monologue. Speaking to an audience of one via telephone, Bergman captures all that can dismantle us when communication with a loved one becomes difficult and unbearable.

I love films that deal with unfiltered relationships and offer real psychology as to why we put ourselves through such trials, even when we face an absolute end. It makes for incredibly beautiful catharsis on film. That’s why Bergman leads this second entry of the Carreón Cinema Club. First up, JOURNEY TO ITALY.

Journey to Italy (1954)

Director: Roberto Rossellini

Cast: Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders

In JOURNEY TO ITALY, Bergman co-stars with George Sanders of All About Eve and Rebecca fame. As the film opens, the signs are evident that the moneyed duo of Kathryn and Alex Joyce may be facing the end of their marriage. Heading by car to Naples to unload an inherited villa, their trip starts as a vacation, a chance to reconnect. Instead, they find their conversations taxed by Alex’s sarcasm and Kathryn’s hair-trigger sentimentality. At constant odds for most of the trip, misunderstandings and jealousy sully the waters further, prompting Kathryn to ask for a divorce on impulse. Where the film takes a stunning turn, however, is when they visit the almost lunar landscape ruins of Pompeii. Seeing the discovered bodies of former lovers encased for eternity in ashes rattles Kathryn to the point that she begs Alex for them to leave. The impact is profound, one that delivers a final scene that is both powerful and unforgettable.

JOURNEY TO ITALY is no travelogue, although Rossellini’s composition of black and white shots is often beautiful and striking. No, the territory covered is all heart and mind. It is a fascinating journey to watch, even though not a lot happens for most of the film until the final act. The non-linear trajectory of the narrative, however, is what gives the story its forward motion. What captured my attention most was how urgent the emotions played throughout. Director Rossellini would tell the actors their dialogue before cameras started rolling, which sounds like a risky endeavor. Yet, Sanders, and especially Bergman, deliver such raw and unfiltered performances, you can only imagine how it felt like working without a net. The possibility erases any chance for overembellishment, never robbing the characters of their truth. They are living it out loud at that moment. That is why JOURNEY TO ITALY is such a wonderful experience to watch, one I hope you enjoy as well. It continues to be available on Kanopy. Take the journey. It is so worth it.

The Human Voice (1967)

Based on the play by Jean Cocteau

Adapted by Carl Wildman

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Cast: Ingrid Bergman

Jean Cocteau’s famed one-act play, has returned to court public attention this year thanks to Spain’s Oscar-winning auteur Pedro Almódovar. The toast of the 2020 Venice Film Festival, Almódovar took a giant creative leap with his adaptation, a short film no less, and in English! For the first time. Ay la leche! Starring the equally fearless Tilda Swinton, the threads of his passion for Cocteau’s have finally flourished. You can see how the story of a woman’s desperate phone call proved influential for his iconic 1988 comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. As we await the US release of his adaptation of THE HUMAN VOICE, what a pleasant surprise to know we have access to Ingrid Bergman’s interpretation of the role to offer a study of contrasts.

Now streaming on Prime Video as part of its Broadway HD channel, THE HUMAN VOICE finished the one-season run of the ABC anthology series, ABC Stage 67. Bergman stars as an unnamed woman dealing with the emotional wreckage after her husband leaves her for another woman. We are allowed to hear what is probably be the last conversation between this couple, but only her voice. Representing her husband is the cold instrument known as a telephone, her literal lifeline as she makes a desperate attempt to stay connected in more ways than the unpredictable wire. We never hear from him, only seeing clues of his torn picture and a magazine feature image of his new love.

The premise is unadorned, offering an actor a bravura role that lasts just under an hour. Bergman takes full advantage. Chainsmoking and unable to keep her voice was quavering, she turns herself into a human rollercoaster of emotions, rising and falling throughout the often-painful conversation. Forget the part of her being famous; it is hard not to feel uncomfortable for eavesdropping before the famed actress hits specific notes that feel both personal and relatable as the conversation reaches its peak. The audio effects of a clock ticking, dial tones and silences on the other line are often intrusive and heartbreaking, punctuating the reality she’s not going to turn this situation around in her favor.

The look is all 60s television, abstract and theatrical. The camera work is not subtle, and the pauses for commercial breaks are annoying as transitions. Bergman feels a bit mannered at the start. Yet, it is a beautifully calibrated star turn by the end, offering a persona that is real and honest. Amazing what the human voice can do to us when we know it is close to being removed from our spheres of living.

You can see what several artists have taken on Cocteau’s play. Interestingly, Roberto Rossellini directed THE HUMAN VOICE in 1948 as part of a two-part Italian film titled L’Amore with Anna Magnani and Federico Fellini. It is now showing on HBO Max, which I will make a point to watch.

Thanks for reading this second installment of the Carreón Cinema Club, home of films with big feelings! Don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube channel, as well as follow me on Instagram: @CarreonCinemaClub and Twitter: @CarreonClub. Lots more to share ahead. Keep on reading. Thanks for your attention, mi gente.

The Carreón Cinema Club: An Introduction

The Carreón Cinema Club: An Introduction

For as long as I can remember, movies were my refuge of choice whenever the world felt like it was out of control. Even more so than books, films were that perfect, transcendent experience.

Genre did not matter to me, at least not at first. I allowed myself to be transported beyond worlds big and small with time, from fantasy to gritty realism, from historical epics to contemporary narratives of great emotion and truth. It didn’t matter the language, either. What mattered most was what captured by the camera and how it made me feel. At 53 and with over 25 years of working in the film industry, the education I’ve received introduced new perspectives and profound respect for those who dare to engage an audience.

With today’s comment box mobs raking most efforts through the coals instead of offering profound analysis, it is hard not to take offense. If you don’t like what you see, make your own damn film. See how it feels! Worse, in this era of YouTube and TikTok stars, I fear the historical significance of so many masterworks from the past will simply turn to dust.

While I understand streaming platforms’ entertainment value, I admit I was slow in making them a part of my viewing outlets. I still prefer sitting in a plush movie theater, a luxury I sorely miss during these days of the pandemic. When I do connect with the streamers, I find more comfort watching television series from the past than anything of the moment. Some days you just want a nice grilled cheese sandwich with a hot bowl of tomato soup, right? In reality, I accept not being the demo for most mainstream streaming platforms’ original programming. Thankfully, friends and colleagues have offered sublime alternatives, which has turned my living room into an international film festival.

A pattern is emerging from what I’ve made time to watch these last few months. Seeking distraction from what ails us is not always an admission that serious events undermine our fragile and privileged peace of mind and ways of life. It is essential to be aware, to make a difference through educated activism or donating to a cause, all actionable outreach, to ensure these dark days are not the harbinger of worse things to come. My motivation to turn away from social media, in particular, was to stop screaming into a void, to not contribute to the virtue signaling of hashtag politics, and to fully restore a sense of civility and humanity, at least in my sphere of living.

I’ve found so much to ponder and marvel thanks to The Criterion Channel, Kanopy, and the TCM App. While Hulu and Amazon Prime possess some gems, I didn’t expect the sites mentioned earlier to remind me why I fell in love with film oh-so-many years ago. Expertly curated, they offer a window into the world, past, present, and even a bit of the future. From a personal level, I find my faith in the creative process restored as I reflect on the universal themes and emotions that inspire us to write, act, and roll the cameras.

We don’t know what lies ahead in our shared futures, but I resolved to view 2020 as a bittersweet gift. This painful reality we continue to witness is a much-needed moment to take stock and build a better self. We may never get a chance like this again. Why not look back at our world film history and see what we can carry forward in terms of the art we seek? In any language, the power of cinema is its ability to capture a moment in time. For however long the feature lasts, you know events happened, a group of likeminded artists lived it, and their record of said events remains eternal. You will feel the best part, for at times you can’t help but think it still can be a beautiful life, indeed.

Since I was in middle school, I wanted to be a film critic. My first printed reviews were on David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” and the classic comedy “9 to 5,” starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, both released in 1980. Amazing what can happen to a young David Ansen in 40 years. My career took its path through studio film publicity before reaching its peak as a content producer/interviewer. Still, I never lost sight of that first dream, even achieving it briefly for the excellent Latinx entertainment news site Desde Hollywood. That’s what brings the Carreón Cinema Club full circle.

The Club was inaugurated over a decade ago when my siblings and I would take my late father to the cinema every weekend to see the latest blockbusters. We created this joyful tradition before Alzheimer’s ultimately made it difficult for him to participate during the summer of 2018.

Up until that point, Dad never missed an opening weekend thanks to us. His reviews would often make us smile because you can see he enjoyed being with us in the dark, eating popcorn, and escaping the world for just a moment, too. Dad left us in February 2019. It is that smile of his that guides me through this next project at hand. I will always picture Dad sitting next to me, offering some popcorn or reacting to the film’s incredible sound design on the screen with a “thumb’s up.”

In the days ahead, you will see capsule film reviews highlighting the best of what certain streaming platforms have to offer. Curated with classics from around the world, Hollywood blockbusters, bad movies to love, and other cinematic gems worth your time, the CCC is here to offer a break from what ails us all. A bolt of positivity, no snark, awaits. Either way, it is with the love and emotion that started the CCC I hope translates onto the video chapters to come.

Welcome to the Club!

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Filter for your thoughts?

Filter for your thoughts?

In case you haven’t noticed, being in a reflective mood is a big part of who I am as a person.

I’ll pause for the rolling of your eyes, dear reader.

Yeah, I think too much. I think too much about stuff that is hardly ground shaking anymore. I, too, suffer from that illness of wanting to make myself seem so fucking interesting. So much effort has gone into curating a self that could be deemed “fabulous” or “fascinating” by others that I now question whether it was worth it. Losing Dad last month has allowed for a sense of clarity to take over. Revisiting all of our struggles together, the endless array of pendejadas I’d craft just to piss him off. And for what? He forgot them all due to his Alzheimer’s. However, what took over was something totally real and true. Each time he smiled, I knew we were in a good place. We laughed and lived out some of the best years of our lives together with respect. It will be a gift that will keep on giving.

These many years of trying on and shedding personas were exhausting, for me and everyone around me. The irony? Going back to my OG self now makes the most sense. Take out the chaos and “big feelings” and I have a nice rack of lamb to offer the world. That’s what brought me back to Dad. With him, I discovered that life doesn’t need an excess of adornment. It needs to be tended to with care and purpose. You nurture the best part of yourself and the people you love with sun and air, not artificial light, filters, and the prism of a stranger’s validation. Why it’s taken me so long to figure that out has more to do with what I thought I wanted to “see” in myself and the world.

Born a preemie, I guess I was determined not to fade into the background since day one. I had to see what lurked outside the safety of Mom’s womb! Haha. Once I started going to school, it became apparent that I had a voice and the power to be heard. Shyness be damned, the first person I made laugh in kindergarten was a revelation! I was aware of what made me different from the other kids. In the end, my early interests would dictate much of who I would be as an adult. It happened organically thanks to the people who remain my role models, at home, school, the library that was my second home. Then, I started to doubt my own singularity.

IMG_2881When I think about our mania to be noticed today by being considered an “influencer” or a “public figure” on social media, I can’t help but marvel over how it is also doing us such harm. It’s just a setting, for crying out loud. Creating a false persona took real skill in “my day” and we could not depend on a filter to cover the flaws. To bear witness to the elements of sameness projected by people all over the world today scares the shit out of me. We seem less inclined to break free from the pack to fervently embrace this culture of uniformity. Copycat beauty is not a celebration of individuality, which contradicts a generation’s determination to eschew the context of the past. Many parrot the importance of fluidity in their lives, but they swirl around the contained space of a very specific and packed fish tank.

This concept of curating an authentic life is also just another variation of “keeping up appearances.” And whoever coined the term, “adulting” should be ashamed. We live in an era that invents so many terms and slogans to validate confusion and insecurity. Most people can’t even commit to a simple meet and greet because of their lives being so “hectic.” Yet, they still want to be praised for doing the things you’re supposed to do as an adult! Argh. But yeah, planning and taking photos of yourself at brunch and Coachella will take it out of you. This doesn’t apply only to the millennials, either.

Sigh. I’m rambling here, I know. That I’ve grappled with the same insecurity of being ignored and feeling irrelevant for so long is one of my biggest failures. The trigger point from childhood, when I stopped letting my own true self exist for fear of being labeled “different,” cannot be allowed to be pulled. Opting to create an exaggerated self with the threads of what made me different wasn’t any better, either. Dad wasn’t always enamored of my colorful self, but he admired my voracious need to read, watch films, go to the theater, and articulate what I loved about what I was watching or reading. (Except “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He tore a companion picture book in half and threw it in the trash.)

I digress.

Dad believed in the power of words and I have found comfort and solace in recognizing that part of him. I know I won’t fade into the background anytime soon. My will to speak and write is too strong. However, the point is to allow our words to count. Empowerment and courage will forever exist in words, even in a fish tank.

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 10.36.35 AMHaving the courage and will to express myself is what will get me through this next chapter without him. Nostalgia has also proven a great source of empowerment, lessons that were buried only to resurface as I contemplate my own future. For example, when I was a kid, visiting the family in Tampico, the tíos thought it would be great to get me on a horse. I was about 4 or 5. Tío Paul was so proud to see me ride. Instead, he saw me fall off, which wasn’t unusual for me. Graceful athleticism was left out of my DNA stew.

I didn’t get back on that horse. I often wonder what life would have been like if I just got back in the saddle again.  No filter, either. It speaks volumes to me today. I don’t need a horse anymore, but I do know I won’t be staying down if I fall. I’ll just dust myself off and keep on moving forward as my singular self. Witnesses welcomed, but not required.

 

The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978

The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978

If you know my family, you’ve probably heard the tale of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It remains one of our favorite stories to tell because it has everything, laughter, drama, realizations about a child’s true nature, and mummies. It makes sense that it includes mummies since most Latino families pretty much embalm all sorts of moments they can drag out from its tomb now and again. It usually happens at a family gathering, especially during the holidays.

But I digress.  First, a little context to the Tut connection.

From 1976 to 1979, the treasures found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb toured seven U. S. cities, including Los Angeles. The exhibition was a wild success, to put it mildly. “King Tut Mania” was the only pyramid scheme destined not to bankrupt the regular folk. It was as if a Cecil B. DeMille film had come to vivid life, seeing these treasures. The mystery, the glamour, the history! All of it on display and separated by glass. Angelenos lost their proverbial shit when it arrived at the L.A. County Museum of Art. About eight million Americans made the trek nationally to the “Treasures of Tutankhamen” when it hit their chosen cities. However, more than one million visitors were tallied in Los Angeles alone. (You know how Latinos love their gold!) And, I represented two of said entries at LACMA. Reasons exist as to why.

Dad was already caught up in the fervor. A factory next to his was manufacturing swag to cash in on “King Tut Mania.” He’d bring home such replicated artifacts as Tut’s funeral mask, a small statue of the goddess Isis encased in a lucite pyramid. Yes, these were factory rejects, but so what? It was so rare to see Dad get excited by such things, but his being a pragmatic man meant that he was obsessed with science and history. He loved truth and facts versus the fantasy of the abstract represented by fiction.

Tickets were sold out for the LA exhibition, but Dad was so proud when I was chosen to be one of the fifth graders from South Ranchito Elementary to visit with the Egyptian boy king at LACMA. It meant something to him that one of his family members could bear witness to this glorious exhibition of rarely-seen history.

A few weeks later, as the exhibition prepared its departure, Dad had this wild notion of heading down to LACMA to see if we swing two tickets. As he always stated, “The worse they can tell you is ‘No.'” So, we jumped into our aqua blue VW Beetle and made our way down Wilshire Blvd.

Mind you, Dad first sent me by myself to the box office to see if any cancellations were available. He waited in the car and I bolted up the steps to the museum entry. (I don’t think any parent would do that today. I was 10-years-old and Wilshire Blvd. was still a muy busy thoroughfare then.) Unfortunately, my this first inquiry did result in a “No” that held until I got back to the curb where I was to wait for Dad as he made a turn around the block.

As I kept a vigilant eye for Dad, I felt someone tap my shoulder. I looked up with nary a look of surprise to gaze at a handsomely dressed woman. She smiled this congenial smile and asked, “Are you trying to get tickets for Tut.” This wasn’t a “Stranger Danger” moment as she looked like she’d been to Bullocks Wilshire and that mattered to me then. Haha. I think I said something like, “Yes, ma’am. But there aren’t any tickets.” She then reached into her pocketbook and pulled out one of those Golden King Tut tickets from her pocketbook.

You could almost hear an angelic choir at that moment. I went’ from a “No” to a shocking “Yes!” Fortune really favors the child left alone on a busy street, dammit!

“My friend isn’t able to make it, so why don’t you take it,” she said.

I wish I remembered more of that exchange because all I know is after saying “Thank you, ma’am!” I took a good look at that ticket just as Dad pulled up to the curb. I do remember that I was too excited to enunciate, “Dad! I got a ticket. Look!” Dad smiled this huge smile.

Then I said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going back in!” And boom, I was off!

Oh, how my family and I discussed the selfishness. The lack of awareness. The utter glory of my young self-absorption! For years!  Reflecting on that moment now, I know my Dad would have never left me in the car while he walked through the exhibition… again. Although, he did leave me to my own devices at the ticket office. Whatever. The important thing was for me to say, “Dad. Here’s the ticket.” For him to decline it would be a lesson in how we sacrifice our own needs and feelings. (Orale, Latinos católicos! Guilt starts early!) Haha.

Well, it is kind of true.

I do remember Dad’s dejected look as I turned and walked away. When we got home, I remember the silence in the car. I knew I hurt him a little. Once home,  I also remember hearing Mom and Dad talk about my brazen nature, my incredible luck, and my brazen nature again. It was followed by laughter, but I knew I disappointed them. Hell, I’d live to disappoint them again and again, but this episode remains my favorite since it carries a better layer of charm and innocence.

In the end, we both did get our chance to share the Tut experience in 2005 when “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” made its appearance at LACMA. This time, the entire family made the trek to Wilshire Blvd. Of course, that adventure is marked by Mom saying, “Hmmm. This looks smaller than the exhibition your father and I saw in Cairo. You know, in Egypt.”  (Hahaha. Yes, we’re THAT family.)

In the end, my globe-trotting parents did venture to the land of Pharaohs to get a singular view, first hand, to the wonders of Tut and more. As much as I envy them, I am also proud of my parents, who took their vacations in places far and further away. They were our first guides, showing us the way to see the world as a source of adventure. We were meant to leave our backyards to see what doesn’t have to exist in a museum brochure. As a result, we’ve created our brand of history, too, and I love that.

It’s wonderful to see our family history repeating itself as Tut has returned to LA yet again. It’s been 100 years since Tut’s tomb was discovered, thus the largest exhibition of artifacts ever will be touring the world to honor the occasion, perhaps the last time they will ever be seen outside of Cairo. Los Angeles was selected to host the world premiere of “King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharoah” at the California Science Center. Of course, my family and I made the journey yet again and yes, the day is sold out. However, due to Dad’s current health issues, he won’t be able to make the trek to the California Science Center with us. Mom and Neto were also down for the count due to having colds.

My family and I know we don’t need a reason to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It is a bummer to note that glorious golden mask can no longer leave its home in Egypt. It just means our spirit of adventure will take us to the heart of the Nile, see the pyramids, and give them our best from our parents who stood there in awe and joy so many years ago.

This is such a powerful full circle moment nonetheless, one I will share with Poppadoodles when we return from our visit with El Rey Tut. I am reluctant to write more now as I feel tears building up. I have so much more to say to Dad from “Remember when?” to “Thank you” to “You were so right!” That’s a conversation that has to happen sooner than later and time is no longer on our side, I’m afraid.

As my family and I take in these treasures anew, I can’t help be reminded of the beauty of history.  Wherever these essays may rest long after I’m gone, I hope people will appreciate the love and respect that remain the hallmark of my Dad, as a parent and a human being. What I hope is also unearthed years from now is that our history as father and son, and as the Carreon Family as a whole, was a precious one indeed.

 

 

“Of spare parts and DREAM Acts 2.0: La Vida Robot Revisited” — #SaveDACA

“Of spare parts and DREAM Acts 2.0: La Vida Robot Revisited” — #SaveDACA

In my first conversation with President Trump on Inauguration Day, I thanked him for the positive things he had said about the Dreamers. He looked me in the eye and said: “Don’t worry. We are going to take care of those kids.”

Despite many of the terrible immigration policies this Administration has put forward, I have always held out the hope that President Trump would keep his word and “take care” of the Dreamers. After all, the President told America, “we love the Dreamers.”

But today’s announcement from Attorney General Sessions was cold, harsh, threatening, and showed little respect, let alone love, for these Dreamers.

Starting this countdown clock will require Congress to act fast to stop rolling mass deportations of hundreds of thousands of young people—students, teachers, doctors, engineers, first responders, servicemembers, and more. Families will be torn apart and America will lose many of our best and brightest unless Republicans join with Democrats to right this wrong immediately. I first introduced the Dream Act sixteen years ago to ensure these young people could stay here, in the only country they’ve ever known. Now Congress must act on this bipartisan bill, and act now. These families cannot wait.  

— A statement from U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration. 

The intent of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy signed by President Barach Obama in June 2012 was to allow undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. As of 2017, an estimated 800,000 young people, also referred to as “Dreamers” (after the failed DREAM Act), enrolled into the program. As for September 5, 2017, DACA is no more. Now, they face an uncertain future, whether they enrolled into the program or are no longer eligible for its protection.

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Political Cartoon by artist Lalo Alcaraz, 2017

Living in fear as an undocumented individual is just one of the many realities faced by millions of people living in the United States today. Historically speaking, to be an immigrant is to be responsible for all the societal ills and woes of a nation. We’ve seen what humanity can do when it vilifies and turns against “The Other,” that group of people who become the target of genocides and “final solutions.” How anyone can venerate such monsters, as witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia last August is beyond the pale. Yet, we have only begun to see the ramifications of a president who has inspired those living with white privilege to exact a sense of revenge, of taking back a country they feel has gone to the dogs. That’s what many of us are to certain sectors of America, animals unworthy of being deemed human.

Since Trump took office, he’s made an art of playing to the cheap seats, that coterie of angry trolls sporting those damn red caps with the legend “Make America Great Again.” His propagandist rhetoric continues to target journalists, Women, the Muslim community, Black Americans, the LGBTQ community, the Latino Community, anyone who just isn’t white. He targets anyone with a brain able to deduce just how dangerous his screaming brat mentality really is for us all.

Trump wants to be worshipped, not challenged, even by those he chooses to marginalize. He demands your respect, although he’s done nothing to earn it. To challenge him is to stir his pitchfork mob of fans while most the members of his political party of choice opt to stick its head in the sand or stay silent. All fear to lose their moment of power, even if it means sacrificing the greater good of the nation. I often wonder who will stand up for anyone if most of the nation is excluded from the bullshit Trump country club our president and his acolytes have chosen as its manifest destiny for our nation.

Our most treasured national icon, the Statue of Liberty, is an ageless beacon, offering shelter from the storms of inhumanity elsewhere. Trump has turned our borders into the frontline of class and racial warfare, its motto is “Keep Out. You Don’t Belong Here.” If we are now known for turning people away, mercilessly deporting the rest, how will that not stop the war on terror? How will it not inspire new groups to target this great nation with their own brand of wrath? We cannot keep punishing the many for the sins of the few who refuse to honor decency and peace.

This entire nation owes its very identity and soul to the millions of other immigrants who have risked life and limb for decades to secure a better life for themselves and their families. To believe otherwise is absolutely un-American. Perhaps if those who fear “The Other” understood that not everyone who dares to call America their new home is a criminal run amok. Perhaps they need to be reminded of the ones who come here for a specific reason, to find their version of the American Dream. Like my parents. Like many of my friends’ parents and families. Who knows what immigrants can offer this nation in terms of innovation, inspiration, and beneficial to us all lucky enough to be citizens of the United States. Perhaps they need to know that not everyone who comes here is looking for a handout or abusing the social welfare system. I offer one reminder for your consideration.

In 2005, writer Joshua Davis penned an extraordinary article for Wired Magazine chronicling the lives of four undocumented teen boys from Arizona. What made them unique? They bested universities such as MIT and Harvard to win a robotics prize at UC Santa Barbara. Titled “La Vida Robot,” Davis’ meticulously written story of Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vazquez’s journey to victory was truly the stuff of Hollywood films. A decade later, that film, rechristened “Spare Parts,” was produced.

The Carl Hayden Robotics Team and Coaches
From left: teacher Allan Cameron, Lorenzo Santillan, Oscar Vazquez, Cristian Arcega, Luis Aranda, and teacher Fredi Lajvardi. Photo: LIVIA CORONA

Directed by Sean McNamara and starring George Lopez, “Spare Parts” benefited from the momentum of the early DREAM Act (DACA) era, when the Latino voice had never been more urgent in terms of our national narrative. While the film relied on the “feel good” tropes of the underdog story, it did not shy away from the fact that these “illegals” are not the enemy in this ugly, paranoid era of fear mongering and reactionary politics.

La Vida Robot Revisited -- #DACA
Writer Jorge Carreón with Oscar Vazquez and his wife Karla on the New Mexico set of “Spare Parts” in November 2013.

I had the privilege of meeting journalist Joshua Davis and the real boys of Carl Hayden High, interviewing them and their cinematic counterparts for Pantelion Films. Along with producer and star George Lopez, they first expressed the importance of the Latino imprint in terms of mainstream films. However, their ultimate goal was to not only provide quality entertainment, it was to also illuminate an essential community still undervalued or unfairly marginalized by some Americans.

“Spare Parts” opened in January 2015, renewing attention on the lives of Vasquez, Arcega, Santillan, and Aranda. Over the course of a decade, the group from Carl Hayden High School inspired countless newspaper and magazine pieces. Writer Davis followed up his “La Vida Robot” article with a book, also titled “Spare Parts,” catching up on the lives of the boys. Director Mary Mazzio was inspired by the Hayden students to create the documentary “Underwater Dreams.”  The quartet was also included in “Dream Big,” an IMAX feature-length documentary about engineering achievements. Even the team’s famed robot Stinky had its moment when it was put on display at the film’s premiere at the Smithsonian.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

— President Donald J. Trump during a campaign speech, June 16, 2015. 

Yet, with all the attention and praise for their underdog story, life after high school for Vasquez and several of his classmates has not been without its complications. As of 2014, Vasquez was able to secure his American citizenship after a challenging decade that saw him return to Mexico at one point. His return to his homeland meant a 10-year ban of re-entry to the U.S. It was or the assistance of Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who helped overturn the ban, allowing Vasquez return to the States with a visa. Enlisting in the U.S. Army, Vasquez saw combat in Afghanistan before returning and finishing his college education. Now a U.S. citizen, he and wife Karla moved to Texas with their family, where he works in an engineering-related job with BNSF Railroad.

Dreamers in Action
Photo: Livia Corona

Aranda was already a citizen when the team won the robotics contest. Arcega and Santillan both attempted college careers but ultimately were forced to drop out due to the changes in Arizona state law that required all students without legal status to pay out-of-state tuition fees. Today, Santillan runs a catering company with former classmate Aranda, appropriately called Ni De Aqui, Ni De Alla. Translation? “Neither from Here Nor from There.”

“The Making of ‘Spare Parts'” featurette produced by Jorge Carreon @ Monkey Deux, Inc., edited by Steve Schmidt and Drew Friedman for Pantelion Films.

The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens. —

From U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions statement on the Trump Administration’s rescinding of DACA, September 5, 2017, 

As of  September 2017, the more than 800,000 undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents are awaiting the other chancla to drop now that “President” Donald J. Trump has announced the end of DACA. Its effect will be catastrophic, breaking families apart and ending opportunities, like finishing an education or gainful employment, that have been hard won. What we stand to lose as a nation, however, is on par with a lobotomy.

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The hope generated in 2012 when President Barack Obama signed this bold piece of legislation into effect was designed to protect them from a growing sense of paranoia and fear stoked by members of the GOP, and especially, Trump. They don’t know who are the Dreamers affected, nor do they care. Trump’s campaign engaged classic fear-mongering tactics, stoking the fires of intolerance with his supporters. It didn’t matter if the facts were true or not. The lack of employment, our border safety, our homes, our lives, we were all under attack by this scourge of evil from Latin America or elsewhere. We smirked that Trump could never be elected on such a brazenly racist and xenophobic platform. No one was laughing as the election proved otherwise. Now we have the sound of fear and it is palpable. (That American-born Latinos even voted for him because they deemed “her” unpresidential and untrustworthy is a testament to self-loathing that deserves its own essay. I say to them now, “Look what you’ve done to your brothers and sisters in blood. Shame on you.”)

As the child of immigrant parents, I am beyond angry. As an American citizen, I am ashamed. I wasn’t raised to hate people. I was raised to believe in the innate good of humanity, because good can flourish, even in the direst of times. Yet, to be told that I’m not good enough to be an American because of my Latino heritage or my sexuality is enough to make me want to take up arms. This is not the America that raised me and I’ll be damned if I let it harm anyone else out of fear and intolerance. What Trump offers is not the American Way. It is HIS way. That’s not good enough, not for this beautifully diverse nation.

Immigrants are not here to eradicate white history or white privilege. Nor are they here to tear this country asunder. That is a total lie to keep the status quo of xenophobia. We excuse the horrors of white terrorism, but movements like Black Lives Matter are deemed dangerous, inspiring legislation to declare such movements as being illegal.

American history was never just white. It is every color and creed and orientation, no matter how hard people try to obfuscate it. We are at a crossroads that will have consequences for generations to still to come. What we lose by excluding the many undocumented individuals now forced to live in the shadows again won’t be felt immediately, but it will be felt. Nothing stirs up a public more than paying for the poor decisions of our leaders. And we will pay for the loss of DACA is many ways, socially, morally and economically.

We are deporting the wrong groups of people. To be silent is to be complicit in this cruelly interminable series of unjust and un-American traitorous political acts. If we continue down this path of eradicating those deemed unworthy of citizenship, we will cease to be the United States of America. We will become the Dishonorable States of Trump, a soulless and rudderless nation offering nothing but a smirk, hatred, and violence to the world that once looked to us for guidance, protection, and inspiration.

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Ana Rice, 18, of Manasas, Va., holds a sign that simply reads “SHAME” outside the White House. Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

**Now that the DACA program has been shut down, here is a breakdown of the Trump decision and what people should know:

Some DACA recipients won’t lose their DACA on March 5, 2018: People who have DACA now and whose DACA doesn’t expire until after March 5, 2018, will continue to have DACA and the work permit that comes with it until the expiration date of their DACA.

It’s too late to apply for DACA: The president ended the program so from Wednesday (September 6) on no more applications for DACA are being accepted.

A deadline that shouldn’t be missed: People whose DACA expired Tuesday, September 5 or will expire Wednesday, September 6 through March 5, 2018, can renew their DACA, but they must apply by October 5.

The ball is in Congress’ court – or Trump’s?: Between now and March 5, 2018, Congress can draft legislation to revive DACA, come up with a substitute or even do away with what the administration has put in place. Some opponents of DACA disagreed with the program being authorized by the president but may support a congressionally created program. Late Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he may “revisit” the DACA issue if Congress doesn’t act.

Legal challenges could play a role: There’s always a possibility of a court case. President Donald Trump came up with the DACA phase out plan under threat of legal action by a group of state officials. A young immigrant and immigration group filed a lawsuit in New York Tuesday challenging Trump’s action. There could also be discrimination lawsuits as a result.

 

Generic: Vin Diesel (2008)

Generic: Vin Diesel (2008)

 

Fun fact: Since 1999, I’ve been hailed around Hollywood as “The Generic Guy.”

Now, in entertainment industry parlance, that means I’m the one studios call to handle their “generic interviews.” These were either fashioned into featurettes or similar “behind the scenes” programming, as well as feature stories planted in specifically chosen print or digital sites. Such a job did have an enviable quality as I would usually get a lot more time than most journalists, as well as travel wherever the talent was best available. Junkets, film festivals, film sets, these interviews were never boring and the best part? It was always an adventure. 

This is no longer the case in 2017 since my focus is strictly placed on creating original content for broadcast, home entertainment and, mostly, online platforms. But those early, palmier years had me interviewing more celebrities than Barbara Walters at her peak. It was like having the jet setting talk show of my dreams, without an audience knowing who the hell was asking the questions.

Being a producer in this capacity fulfilled my biggest dream of becoming a journalist, despite its also being an extension of my career as a publicist. That I was firmly embedded with the International film publicity teams was just one of the many blessings. They were fantastic colleagues and collaborators, all of whom treated me with great respect, care and trusted my ability to do the best job for their films and tv series. Why I was able to last as long as a “generic interviewer” was because I aimed to avoid asking generic or gossipy questions.

I believed then and now in the power of conversation, even in a junket setting, which was can be as in depth as speed dating. The rewards are so much greater when you just relate to the person in front of you. It takes about 30 seconds for most people to either be engaged or write you off. We all get a few talent who prefer to be in lock down mode or rip the mic right off, or just sit there taking up oxygen. Fear of libel prevents me from naming names. I’d rather focus on the positive anyway.

A lot of candid and entertaining chatter has happened over the years and I’ve often thought about collecting the best interview transcripts into a book. I even have a title: Generic. Envision a brown paper cover on the outside, a Hollywood life chronicled on the inside. 

So, why not test run a chapter?

Thanks to Facebook, I was reminded of an August afternoon in 2008 when I went face to face with Vin Diesel. He was promoting the infamous futuristic thriller “Babylon A.D.” What makes this interview interesting was knowing he was about to return to “The Fast and the Furious” after a run of flops that slowed down his momentum as a box office draw. The swagger that was hallmark was tempered a bit, most likely from his also being a new father at that time. Regardless, the ensuing conversation was one I won’t forget as it was referred as a “fireside chat” by the studio’s publicist. Adding, “All that’s missing are the brandy snifters and the velvet smoking jackets.” 

If only.

Yet, we did talk about the fear of building walls at our borders, a key theme in “Babylon, A.D.”  Funny what can happen in nine years. Here’s more of what happened that August afternoon at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City

No matter the generation, when a film star is launched, audiences can’t wait for a second helping of what sated their hunger in the first place. But, pop culture is notoriously fickle, and people will move on to their next craving without mercy. It is a wonder why anyone wants to be an actor in the first place, but yet, the temptation is too great for some to ignore. And — which one of us can’t resist a delicious fantasy to post on our walls, computer screen – or beam down on us from a big screen at the multiplex?

Enter Vin Diesel.

Since hitting the box office lotto with THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, Diesel has become the ultimate representation of not only macho cool, but the face of a multi-cultural generation finally seeing itself on screen.

Born in 1967 as Mark Sinclair Vincent, Diesel was a product of the Love Generation. Raised in an artist commune in New York, Diesel was determined from a young age to express himself through the arts. Acting since he was 7 years old, he would encounter adult rejection because of his mixed heritage. Deemed either too black or too white or sometimes not enough of either, it was his supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning SAVING PRIVATE RYAN that would prove to be more than a lucky break.

As a counterpoint to his sensitive voice performance as the robot in THE IRON GIANT, it was Diesel’s brash confidence that proved the “Nos” to fuel such films as PITCH BLACK and XXX. With the box office returns to prove it, Diesel was being hailed as the arrival of a new kind of action hero.

And then the banquet became something less enticing.

For Hollywood pundits, his refusal to return for the FAST AND FURIOUS and XXX sequels was on par with career suicide. Then, the head scratching decision to star anew as PITCH BLACK’S Riddick in the epic CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK with mild success. Perhaps in a bid to stave off further disappointments, Diesel went the route of The Rock in playing rock hard and cuddly with THE PACIFIER. While a surprise hit, Diesel seemed to be enduring an identity crisis on screen.

Seeking real challenges and opportunities to add new ingredients to his own screen recipe, Diesel showed great dramatic prowess as real-life mobster Jack DiNorscio in Sidney Lumet’s FIND ME GUILTY. Despite receiving acclaim for his performance, the film offered disappointing returns – and an uncertain future for Diesel himself.

I sat down with the actor for a one-on-one interview during a press tour for his latest film effort — French director Mathieu Kassovitz’s wildly controversial BABYLON A.D. A bold take on the dystopian future personified by such films as BLADE RUNNER and THE FIFTH ELEMENT, Diesel anchors the film as a soulless mercenary for hire named Toorop. Engaged by a crime lord to escort a mysterious young woman to New York, their danger-filled journey reveals the girl actually harbors the power to save a desperate world from itself.

After serving as executive producer on last year’s HITMAN, it appears Diesel enjoyed the chance to engage in the aesthetics of another French auteur. To hear him discuss BABYLON A.D., however, it comes as no surprise that Diesel is a real Showman, as brash and confident as the anti-heroes he’s played over the last decade.

However, I was surprised to find that Diesel is less concerned about trying to replicate any kind of prefab formula. He just doesn’t give a shit as to any labels the industry/media have, as he is content with his life:

He’s a new father.

He’s got a new film that sated both his comfort zones in action and drama.

He knows success and failure and he’s fine if either strike at any time.

I often wonder why every comic wants to be a serious actor, and why action stars want to be more than just brute muscle. I also don’t know why audiences can’t seem to want to see their favorite star recipes tampered with. What I enjoyed in our conversation was that Diesel is determined to give people what they want, but on his terms.

He’s a man of action for a reason.

JORGE CARREON:

You seem to be content with following your own path, despite people wanting to keep you locked into a certain type. Why return to this particular genre now?

VIN DIESEL:

I was talking to my father last night, who was in the screening. I always act like I don’t know what movie he’s talking about when he talks about a movie, ‘cause I want to get as much as I can. I said, “So it was packed with action?’ and he said, “Yes, it was.” I said, “So, Dad, so this other studio wants to move forward on this action film. Would it be too soon? Should I go back to the dramatic thing right now, and then do an action after?” He said, “Vin, your action film audience can’t get enough. “ There’s something about the action film genre. When you’re a fan of action films, you can’t get enough. It doesn’t matter how old you are. And he then went on to tell me a story about the guard that lived in our building. And he said, “Yeah, Vin’s got another movie coming out.” This is a guy that knew me as a child. And he goes, “Is it action?” And my father said, “Yeah,” he said “GOOD! And I’m there!” I probably never considered it as much as I did just last night talking to my father, how loyal and almost fanatic we are about action movies. We need to have them and expect to see them and make an event out of them. When I go to see an action movie, I get that charge, you know? I was raised to study the craft intensely from a very young age. You’d almost think well action movies are action movies. First of all, “action movie” is a new term, okay? Films like THE WILD ONE, GONE WITH THE WIND could be called “action movies” since they were made with the best effects that technology could provide at that time. It wasn’t until the Arnold generation that this title of action movies even came about. So every movie that I approach, every character I approach, I approach with the same conviction and the same attention to the craft, whether it’s a dramatic piece by Sidney Lumet or whether it’s an action piece.

CARREON:

What’s your take on Mathieu Kassovitz’s vision of the future in BABYLON A.D.?

DIESEL:

The thought of this was taking something that had the action component and then string it together if you will all these sequences with this real French auteur style, you know? That’s what the fun of doing this film was and the challenge of doing this film and what was attractive about doing it. I had just come off this incredible experience with working with Sidney Lumet. I was hungry for different kinds of directors. The fact that it was an action piece was a comfort zone. That was the easy part, so to speak. And I was going to go. What was attractive was having a visceral take on an action movie.

CARREON:

Do you have faith? Do you have faith in humanity?

DIESEL:

Yes, I do have faith in humanity. And I will guard that faith against any cynicism to my dying day. But, I’m the son of an idealist. I’m the son of artists. I am an artist! I think by being an artist, you have to have some kind of faith in humanity otherwise you wouldn’t be an artist. You wouldn’t expect anyone to get what you are saying in your art.

CARREON:

Do you have a spiritual faith, or a faith in yourself?

DIESEL:

I have a spiritual faith.

MJ:

That’s interesting in the context of the film because you are a man of blank morality.

DIESEL:

You are so right, you are so right. Fascinating and interesting about playing that role, but the real me? Very strong on the spiritual faith. It’s interesting because part of the subtlety of the Michelle Yeoh character was that representation of that kind of spiritual faith.

CARREON:

Mélanie (Thierry, Diesel’s co-star in the film) was saying, in her mind we are not too far away from the world that is presented in BABYLON A.D. Do you share the same belief?

DIESEL:

I don’t know. I know that when we were making this movie, we were making this movie about a character having to export somebody through borders around Russia. I would pick up the New York Times and you’ve got borders increasing around Russia. Specifically Russia and Georgia and all that. And you see the seeds of something that is scary.

CARREON:

I guess we’re not too far after all, Vin you’re scaring the shit out of me!

DIESEL:

No, I’m just saying in the general sense. I have my own philosophy about how the border thing is working and how it’s…

CARREON:

And how it’s not.

CARREON:

And how it’s not and where we’re going to be in a few years with borders. But everyone might think I’m crazy.

CARREON:

We’ll have to look at this ten years from now and see if you’re right. I hope not.

DIESEL:

It’s a tricky thing because the borders will be increased and strengthened in a way no one will recognize. No one will ever see them being built. The walls of China, so to speak, that are going to divide our world are going to be constructed while we’re not paying attention. What we’ll be focused on is the virtual world where there are no borders. So the physical world is going to build its borders while we indulge further into the Internet, into a world where there are no borders. When you are locked in front of that screen you’ll never see the wall being built.

CARREON:

And they’ll be surprised.

CARREON:

And they’re going to be surprised.

CARREON:

Which did you find more challenging, the physical or the emotional aspects your role in BABYLON A.D.?

DIESEL:

Both are challenging in different ways. I become the character. As crazy as that sounds, live in that character and I don’t think of anything as being more challenging than the other. Might not be the smartest thing because when I’m in character I jump off the roof, I jump off the roof. It’s less of a specific thing that’s more challenging. The more you delve deep into a character, the more exhausting it is on you, right? You know, you hear all the time about actors that go and do these really deep performances and than need a year to try and detox and cleanse. Because, if it is done right and done with integrity, becoming a character is a heavy deal.

CARREON:

It ain’t easy.

DIESEL:

It ain’t easy. You live in that space. That’s if you are striving to do something significant in your craft. You end up living in a space and that space ain’t always a comfortable space.

CARREON:

Why do you think the multi-cultural face enhances this move?

DIESEL:

For me, any film that has a multi-cultural face is enhanced, personally. But I think it plays to this movie in a really good way. You know, Michelle Yeoh was originally written in the book as an old French kind of typical nun. And I think by casting Michelle Yeoh in that role, as opposed to the traditional, she was able to bring an unspoken spirituality. A spirituality that you didn’t have to really talk about too much, but she brought it to the screen, she brought it to the role and it helped the overall picture.

CARREON:

And Mélanie is interesting as well.

DIESEL:

So exciting! She’s one of our big finds in the movie. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Mélanie.

CARREON:

You have a huge vested interest in this. Why?

DIESEL:

I’ve done enough movies now. You reach a place where you realize dreams which is surreal. It’s a surreal experience. I want my work to be significant. I take great pride in the art. I come from artist housing. It was government subsidized in New York, which were basically projects for artists that made less than ten thousand dollars a year. That’s the environment in which I was raised. That’s kind of affected me in Hollywood because sometimes I don’t take the big Hollywood picture payday thing and that causes a ripple because the studio needs that thing and I’m too idealistic. And the script isn’t good! And no one really gives a shit whether I think the script is good or not, but they care when they know I care, that I’m invested in a movie. I’ve had my challenges with that because sometimes I can be too precious and too involved, but I stand by the work that I do and I stand by the films that I do. And my philosophy about making movies is that everybody included in that process of making a movie should feel that way. I feel like the third wardrobe assistant should feel just as accountable for the movie as the director. That’s my own thing.

** This interview with Vin Diesel was conducted on August 20, 2008, at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City for 20th Century Fox International. It has been edited from the original transcript.

“The End”

“The End”

“The American people are turning sullen. They’ve been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression; they’ve turned off, shot up, and they’ve fucked themselves limp, and nothing helps. So, this concept analysis report concludes, ‘The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them.'”

Diana Christensen (as written by Paddy Chayefsky) in “Network” (1976)

“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path”

— As Tweeted by Donald Trump, “President” of the United States (2017)

 

11/20/1983

“It seems fitting to begin with the end.”

That’s how journalist Harry F. Waters’s cover story on “The Day After” for Newsweek began. I’ll never forget reading that piece, nor that opening line. The publicity machine over at the ABC network had been working overtime. TV Guide featured its own cover story and countless news reports added further momentum, worrying that the highly publicized telefilm’s depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear war on midwestern Americans would be too graphic and devastating for audiences, especially children. Others declared it was merely a leftist polemic for ratings. Yet, ABC did detonate one of the most watched television events ever with “The Day After,” a three-hour telefilm that answered of the ultimate “What if?” question. And more than 100 million people in 39 million homes tuned in one November night in 1983 to find out the answer.

Directed by Nicholas Meyer and featuring an ensemble led by such era heavyweights as Jason Robards, John Lithgow, JoBeth Williams, Amy Madigan & John Cullum, “The Day After” was actually conceived as a two-part event. In the end, audiences would witness a three-hour film chronicling the lives of several Kansas families as they deal with the horrific aftermath of a nuclear exchange.

Whatever its technical limitations, the irradiated images of blast vaporization, flash burns, radiation sickness and the futility of restoring even the most basic of societal structures burned into the consciousness of a generation. President Ronald Reagan, who viewed the film prior to its airing, credits the experience as being the reason why he reversed his stance on certain nuclear arms policies.  (Reagan wrote in his diaries how the film was “very effective” and left him “greatly depressed.”)

Broadcasting a political statement as “entertainment” into the nation’s living rooms remains its hallmark. It was polarizing, but we had to watch, my family included. I recall how we sat in the den, my Dad, my sisters, and I. Mom or my younger brother weren’t present. Maybe, maybe not? What I do recall was sitting on the floor, leaning against the sofa and whispering, “Here we go” as the movie began. And our collective nuclear fears hit an unforgettable peak for the rest of the decade.

And we are still here.

In the 34 years since “The Day After,” we’ve seen and heard elected officials, dictators, religious zealots, grandstanding fringe media show hosts and a rogue’s gallery of other malcontents wax lyrical about warmongering. Then America elected Donald Trump.

Flannel shirts. Will & Grace. Roseanne. David Letterman. Fiorucci. Nuclear war! Sooner or later, everything comes back in vogue. Even the end of the world. Or maybe that prospect has never left us?

To those who know me, I am obsessed with apocalyptic fiction. I don’t know where it began, but movies, novels, mini-series, I loved the idea of “the end.” Hell, I even read the endings of books and hit Wikipedia to see how other narratives end. Haha. So, “When Harry Met Sally,” yo.  I still joke that such eccentricities were preparing me for the inevitable. I’ve written about this before, stating that I watch films like “The Day After,” “Threads,” and “Special Bulletin” because no matter what we go through today, it still isn’t a nuclear wasteland.

I guess the jokes on us? Maybe?

 

Seriously, Trump is the quintessential rebound boyfriend, the one that is a huge swing away from the one who treated you well, but you broke up with anyway. He’s that loud mouthed douche who talks a lot of shit but can’t back any of it up. He’s the surprise date your friend brings to dinner and you all wonder, “The sex can’t be THAT good. Why is he with him?” At best, he’ll leave you with a case of crabs, but that can be treated. At worst, he’ll leave you with a scorching case of the uncurable herp. And let’s face it, America,  you can’t afford to be left with another social disease transmitted through “fake news” or abject hatred. Bad enough we don’t have the healthcare reform to treat it.

For those of you who lived through the Reagan era, the idea of witnessing a nuclear war was solid enough to kick start the low sweat stage in us all. Yet, how lucky to know we survived to see Trump engage in social media saber (i.e. penis) rattling. Now, I ponder whether “the end” as entertainment is no longer just a scary scenario. Can it manifest itself this time? And what does that mean for us all? It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine after all.

At times, I wonder if we are better of being dust in the atmosphere, given what we’ve done to ourselves and our planet. Then again, I’m not ready for “The End.” I refuse to give up on my right to dream of a good boy or girlfriend, the one who makes us all think and laugh at the dinner table, the one who believes in justice for all. Let all the haters ride the bomb to oblivion. We can’t allow for stupidity to have its way again.

“Basic”

“Basic”

As defined in the Urban Dictionary:

1. Used to describe someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to.

2. Lacking intelligence and unable to socialize on even an elementary level.

3. Annoyingly frustrating because of the above

Oh her? Don’t even worry about her, girl. She’s so basic.

I think I preferred being gay in the 1990s. Well, sometimes I do.

That’s not an admission of not enjoying my gay life today. I enjoy it very much, although I probably hide out more than living out loud. Still, I honestly believe I am not alone in recognizing the limits that exist within the complex reality of the community today. Our tropes have been remixed, rebranded, shaken, and stirred into such a vast panoply of categories, it is no wonder we have begun to lose our connection to each other. It’s the same phenomenon of having too much choice. And while we continue to be political firebrands, I often feel it is hard to a distinguishing voice, one that embraces the entire group. Perhaps that’s an impossible task.

When I was sorting out my gay identity in the mid-80s to 1990s, I will never forget the fear and desperation I felt over what I perceived as a paucity of role models and resources with which to understand being homosexual. Yes, I loved watching old movies, Paul Lynde and broke my mother’s kitten heels as a kid, pretending that I was Ann-Margret in “The Pleasure Seekers.” Yes, I fell under the sway of Gershwin & Porter, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt’s “What’s New” and Joan Rivers’ infamous comedy album “What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?” I wasn’t led to all of these places. Most happened by osmosis. Some of my favorite teachers, who probably felt I needed a little encouragement, steered me ever so gently towards some cultural touchstones. Bottom line, it all felt right, just like the crushes I felt for Han Solo, Steve Austin and Thomas Magnum, private investigator. However, as I poured through the oeuvre of Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, and Jacqueline Susann, their depictions of homosexuality only left me titillated and confused. Man, I had questions and no one to turn to for answers.

As a teenager, you didn’t dare mention anything “gay” for fear of being ostracized or brutalized by the macho fucks who prowled the school hallways. Pretty much anything that did not look or sound like them meant “faggot.” Advanced vocabularies were a secret shame for us chubby, nascent homos. It was all closets, stereotypes, and slurs, as I am sure it was for many teenagers surviving the early 80s. It didn’t help that the HIV/AIDS crisis was being treated like a biblical pestilence by the media. But how else would you view the deaths of 40,000 people between 1981 and 1987 as anything but a genocide? Gomorrah was burning and it was devastating to hear from Anita Bryant and your own friends’ parents that being gay was the match that lit the fuse. Asserting your homosexuality at that time was not going to be like an ABC Afternoon School Special.

As I ventured to UCLA and beyond, I began to discover the resources with which to further define my gay identity. It was about being part of the “gay and lesbian” community, even if only the white gay male narrative was what clearly in focus. I still didn’t see myself in the growing media presence of gay men. Although, we have come a long way in that regard. In many ways, it still is a very white focus, regardless of the gender. Room for progress? Yes.

While I stayed firmly in the closet when it came to my parents, I had no problems letting my gay flag fly elsewhere. After UCLA became an educational Waterloo, CSU Long Beach can take credit for leading me to the artistry Armistead Maupin, Charles Busch, Reinaldo Arenas, David Leavitt, Manuel Puig, Larry Kramer, Keith Haring, Joe Orton, Harvey Fierstein, Pedro Almódovar and so much more. Once I landed at Paramount Studios as an intern, I hit the mother lode (and not that stalwart WeHo bar.) Several of the men I worked with in the studio’s National Theatrical Publicity department presented themselves as being incredibly secure with their bad ass gay selves. It was the first of many safe and illuminating havens I experienced in terms of associating with professionals who were out in the workplace.  I was made aware just how gay men and women were the ones to make life and style synonymous terms. In this ACT UP era, it was time to understand we were “fierce.” More, I became hyper aware as to the debt attached to the attitude, parlance, and strength of the community, realities contributed by African-American, Latino and Asian queers. It all made for an intoxicating existence, especially when viewed on display at clubs Circus or Rosie’s or Jewel’s Catch One, where we embraced each other, fell in love on the hour and felt so invincible on the dance floor.

When I started writing this post on being “Basic,” it was meant to be another statement on dating today. That was before I sat down to watch the poignant if erratic “Strike a Pose” documentary. It is a “where are they now” piece that was produced by a Belgian-Dutch team, the film celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” itself a cultural moment of considerable influence. The documentary regrouped seven of Madonna‘s unforgettable backup dancers, charting the course of their lives, trials, and considerable tribulations in the years since their co-starring in the Material Girl’s iconic 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. That zeitgeist moment, one that influenced so many young gay men and women, had a bittersweet impact on these men’s’ lives. How a defining cultural gift proved so challenging and heartbreaking for these incredibly talented men helped me broaden the context of what I wanted to say about this era of being “Basic.”

I was very much one of those fans who found refuge and pride in a movie theater during that summer of 1991. I instantly re-felt the impact of “Truth or Dare,” despite the difficulties faced by this group of men as chronicled by “Strike a Pose.” It was also like finding being a letter from a long-ago love. Witnessing these men, all nearing 50, still moving to their own music with purpose helped me understand the need to keep moving forward, of re-embracing my own strengths and colors. More, they inspired me to not feel adrift or isolated as a result of being 50 and gay in a world that still caters to the proverbial youthquake.

The first paragraphs on “Basic” were these:

When it comes to 21st century dating between men, two categories remain in play. The first group – or the Exceptionals – are men worth dating, but are most likely paired off or not interested in being a couple at all. This group does not include those who are in open relationships, a social phenomenon that is just more macho-induced “having your cake (or cock in this case) and eating, too. And then we have group two: The Basics. Oh, man.

Created by the internet, this constantly trending crowd thinks it’s redefining our world and perhaps they are with their throwback looks and sway back attitudes. They live for the now, even if they don’t know what that means.  It isn’t just millennials, either. Basicdom is spreading to all age groups like a virus as social media swallows the rest of us whole. And what’s in between is a collective of damaged goods spouting mangled psychosexual manifestos and more. It is no longer men you date or men you don’t. What we have today are next level distrust and basic human disconnection.

I couldn’t continue down this path, one I’ve covered before and a Bombeckian take felt trite and unnecessary. Instead, I wanted to focus on how unfunny being labeled “basic” is to those who wield it as a joke or a tone-deaf insult.

While I applaud how millennials have turned up the dialogue to address and give names to the many facets of out and/or queer life, they are still working on variations of a theme long-established. I don’t think today’s young gay men quite understand the debt they owe previous generations, their lives, struggles, deaths and everything in between. Gay is a living, breathing creature, one that can decide the color of its plumage without a care in the world. Hide it, suppress it, oppress it, this creature will fight its way forward to be seen and with even greater radiance. A context to our present is missing today, a respect for history and the sacrifices made for us all to be able to say, “Sissy that walk.”

You will find nothing “basic” about being gay, now or ever. But it pisses me off that we are quick to diminish someone for not possessing whatever trend or ideology that makes them “interesting” or “worth devoting time to” in this world.  We all can’t look like refugees from the Electric Company or Romper Room. More, we can’t let striking a series of selfie poses, drinks up and duck lips be what defines our sexual freedom!

We all will get older. We all will find how our experiences can impact the future if take our narcissism out of the equation. How we dare shame those who are poz or act like PrEP is the golden bullet that will keep us young and fuckable. How dare we ignore those who choose a unique brand of queer, or want to unleash their true gender identity, are older or chubbier or a different color or creed? Bad enough religious zealots want us dead, still! We cannot castigate or diminish our own brothers and sisters. Not now.

Homosexuality is a reality that was never about a life style choice because it sparks to life in our very DNA. We should remix “basic” and take the dialogue back to basics when we were all vital human beings living life on our terms: compassionate, honorable, forward thinking and positively sexy.

 

Key Photo: Art by Keith Haring