And now, for some really bad break-up writing!

And now, for some really bad break-up writing!

Oooh. Here’s a deep cut!

When I broke up with my last ex-BF about 12 years ago, it took me a long ass time to get over him. I don’t think I really am; it’s just a feeling I’ve learned to put into a different compartment. But, the concussive effects of that first wave of emotion were very new to me. I never understood why people would lose their shit after a breakup, but I learned quickly. My friend John sent me a mix CD labeled “Music for a Bottle of Merlot and a Razor Blade,” featuring such sad singleton hits as “Alone,” “All By Myself,” “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” etc. We laughed, but I found myself spiraling out of control shortly after.

I kept this little Moleskin notebook during those first months, which I hid a few years later. It reappeared during my Pandemic-induced decluttering of my home when we shut our office doors until further notice. That was about two years ago. (We’ve reopened them since, by the way.) Finding it was like the surprise you feel when you run into an old school friend’s mother during a Target run where you’re not looking your best, gussied up in chanclas and a chorizo-stained hoodie. Reading and revisiting the version of yourself that penned each entry was like being hit by a car driven by a deranged doctor’s wife from Texas seeking revenge. How do we all turn into Janis Ian or Phoebe Snow when boys break out hearts? I was surprised I even was capable of such maudlin displays in the first place, but how could I not? After years of favoring telenovelas and Douglas Sirk films, turning into Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass” shouldn’t be a stretch, right?

So, I am willing to share one choice bit of writing, appropriately titled “Alone.” Put on your favorite heartbreak ballad, wrap yourself up in that warm comforter known as nostalgia, and see if this hits a few emotional notes you recognize!

There’s a strange void in my heart as I look out the window from an empty house. I feel the start of a dream, always the day you first came into my life. I came to you first, though, searching for a gentle man.

You were that dream come true, and I was your saving grace. How did we get to this place?

The first years were unlike any happiness I’d known, yet in the last months, we’ve become strangers, barely able to see face to face. How did we get to this place?

This isn’t about fault. You loved me, then loved another. I can’t believe I’d be so easily replaced. How did we get to this place?

We can count the memories, but that’s just wasted sentiment. We can count our blessings, but that’s just wasted destiny. What I would give to make this day turn a different way. They say time heals everything, but I still can’t stand the thought of losing you.

I didn’t want to tell you how I felt or what I thought I should do. But that won’t stop me from crying an emotion or two.

You walked out the door for the last time. I hope he treats you fine. It isn’t the loss that hurts so much. It’s the silence of this space. How did I get to this place they call “being alone.”

Reading it back now, I think it is safe to say Taylor Swift has nothing to worry about here. (Cue laughter.) But I’m not ashamed about displaying my red scarf in this context. (Swifties will know what I mean by that reference.). If anything, I’m proud of what that experience taught me. I stopped romanticizing the past, choosing to live in the present while respecting the lessons learned from being in a relationship. Whenever that miracle happens again, I’ll be ready.

Brains, heart, and courage.

Brains, heart, and courage.

Being short-tempered with total strangers must be symptomatic of our pandemic reality. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. Throwing a strop because I didn’t notice PreChek was not part of my boarding pass is no one’s fault but my own for not stopping to notice it was missing, assuming my entitled traveler’s privilege was blissfully intact. It wasn’t, choosing smug indignation instead of calm acceptance with the TSA agents when they pointed it out.

Walking away, I started to think. “Fuck, bitch. You are being an asshole. Stop for a moment. Breathe. Be aware of how you’re responding to the outside world. They aren’t to blame for your being sloppy and careless.”

To be honest, everything sets me off. I’ve done more eye-rolling this week than I care to admit, practically a ballet in terms of its poetic flow and technique. Being reactive and not proactive will not serve anyone for the better.

I’ve been hearing people constantly calling out others for their bad behavior, of having the last word to stake the moral high ground. Will anyone take indignation and a finger-wagging, “Don’t do this to me or anyone else ever again!” to heart? Can it make us feel better spelling out such emotions in an era of selfishness and arrogance? If everyone is only out for themselves, is it cowardice to want to just let the shit go, opting to focus on your own peace of mind and wellness?

I’ve been hearing people constantly calling out others for their bad behavior, of having the last word to stake the moral high ground. Will anyone take indignation and a finger-wagging, “Don’t do this to me or anyone else ever again!” to heart? Can it make us feel better spelling out such emotions in an era of selfishness and arrogance? If everyone is only out for themselves, is it cowardice to want to just let the shit go, opting to focus on your own peace of mind and wellness?

How do we reach the point of keeping calm and carrying on without losing our integrity or mental stability? These are the questions I’m looking to answer for myself. Until then, I must remind myself to take a beat before reacting. My point of detonation has nothing to do with the situation; it’s a reaction to my frustration of knowing it is time to find a new path away from past mistakes and erasing my false selves holding me back from becoming a better, healthier person.

Two things come to mind that might work well within the themes of this post. First up, reading Rutanya Alda’s diary on the making of the infamous Joan Crawford biopic Mommie Dearest makes for an entertaining way to spend a flight. Within the juicy diary entries, Alda compiled into “The Mommie Dearest Diary: Carol Ann Tells All,” I found this gem of a quote about her estimation of Faye Dunaway, who submarined her career playing Crawford. Alda, featured in the infamous film as Carol Ann, Joan’s loyal secretary, secretly kept a vigilant eye and ear on the proceedings involving the production of the film. Towards the end of the book, it is clear Alda felt no real love for Dunaway, who distanced herself from the film upon its release and its eventual rise as a camp classic. Alda wrote this section in reaction to La Dunaway’s abusive treatment of the cast and crew during the making of the film:

“A perfectionist ought to be someone who sees perfection and finds perfection around them,” Alda stated. “It’s the imperfectionists like Faye and Barbra (Streisand) who keep looking for the imperfection until they find it, for what we focus on, we will find. Why demand perfection if you can’t offer it?”

Given my current state of mind, Alda’s quote resonated strongly. It became part of a double whammy thanks to watching The Wizard of Oz on the flight, my first viewing in several years. The Cowardly Lion says at one point he’s a “victim of disorganized thinking.”  Oh, that hit home, hard and fast. I am aware of my faults and know they’ve been the biggest obstacles in my journey to straighten up and fly right. But I refuse to allow my sentimentality and desire to “keep the peace” to be viewed as either or a crime or a sign of weakness.  The world is fighting for bragging rights, last words, and the power of being “right.” Fuck that jazz. I want to live.

As I put these final words down, my playlist du jour is bringing Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero” to my ears. I agree with her, too  It is exhausting rooting for the antihero, especially when you recognize the problem is yourself. Shut out the noise of people telling you what’s wrong and what you should do to fix yourself. I know it comes from caring, but only you know what it will take to be aware and “healed.” Until then, I offer this bolt of positivity: “You got this, kid.” Don’t lose sight of the prize, which is self-control and contentment on your terms. Engage your brains, heart, and courage. Until then, stop punishing yourself and the people in your orbit. They have their own journeys to reconcile.

I know you’re broken, but can you hurry up and fix yourself?

I know you’re broken, but can you hurry up and fix yourself?

Addressing issues of mental wellness cannot follow a timetable. Each person’s process is different for a reason. Addressing your problems is a huge win, but healing is not a sprint. Instead, it is a marathon covering an undetermined amount of distance. The closer you get to no longer fearing your issues, a finish line can appear on the horizon. But I don’t see the finish line yet, which doesn’t worry me. I see a lot of fog ahead as I wind through this unpredictable terrain.

What I don’t need to hear now is that I need to get to that point of healing faster to appease someone else’s timetable. You can’t will people into loving you, so why would you demand anything different when they’re working hard at addressing years of shitty motivations and behaviors?

I don’t know how I feel about making “getting your shit together” a group activity, especially in an office environment. I’m not sabotaging my health now with poor dietary choices. My new meds are working, despite issues of “waning” in diabetes. Not having access to Ozempic right now pisses me off since it was working, but some asshole is promoting its weight-loss capabilities, and now there’s a run on these injectable pens! But I digress. My A1C number is down from the awful high of 11.1 and into single digits again. To give you an idea as to why this number matters: An A1C above 9% increases the risk of long-term diabetes complications like blindness, nerve damage, and kidney failure. Under 7% is considered reasonable diabetes control. I’m currently at 6.8%

Chasing the food dragon is my biggest addiction worry, but I feel good about this progress. The last time I hit that single-digit A1C level, I acted like, “The war is over! Back to Casa Garcia for some ultimate nachos! Extra cheese and sour cream!” Or, “Let’s hit the pasta bar again!” Yeah, that won’t be happening for a long while, if at all. This struggle during the time of COVID nearly wiped out my resolve entirely. My goal is to be under 5.6% when I retest in three months, which is considered normal. (Provided the other tests involving my liver, kidneys, and pancreas do not reveal some hidden complication, of course.)

Yet, the rubble representing my past excesses remains quite a disaster zone. That’s causing me additional worries, which I won’t divulge since it is none of your business. If I seem like a ghost of late, it is because I see the damage in a new light, and it fucking haunts me. I hate what I see lurking, and my self-control still abandons me when I’m emotional or frustrated.

Someone asked me where my imagination lies these days. I didn’t have an answer. I can’t see what I want for my life once I clear this health hurdle. I know what I have now isn’t enough to piece back together this unmoored sense of body and mind. It is why I’ve traded comfort media to replace my using comfort food as a soul-soothing remedy. I bristle at the command, “To get my shit together already.” I am, dammit. But I am digging my way out on my schedule. Why can’t some people understand? Why does it also have to be about them? Is it selfish to expect patience and care, not receive tough love and a “hurry up already?” It makes me want. to scream, “I’m sorry if my effort to heal is proving a drag and inconvenience to you!”

Treading water at the shoals is not fun. I’d rather be on solid ground, and sooner or later, I will be standing on terra firma. I’m tired of endlessly finding soft places to land because it is easier. I acknowledge that self-destruction is not a solo reality because it does create collateral damage. That well of care and support does run dry with some people, and I’m sorry for pushing the limits of their concern to such unnecessary extremes. It ruined one of my closest friendships, which I miss every day. And I’m sorry to make people worry, but I am not doing this without professional help. I am listening.

I knew this process would be complex once I took it seriously. Change is not for the weak, but it can lead to incredible new freedoms and modes of creative expression if you hold on to your well-being with a firm grasp. I’m not alone in living in a mixed-up world. But as Sophie Ellis-Bextor sings in Mixed Up World:

So when you’re feeling kind of mixed up
Just remember, it’s a mixed-up world
And when you’re feeling life is just too tough
Just remember you’re a real tough girl

Trust you’re tougher than you know when you feel your weakest. It will pull you through.

Then again, maybe I will.

Then again, maybe I will.

Think about who you were before you discovered socialization. That steady beat of your self-appointed drummer defined you once. I never needed my parents’ validation, as I had three other siblings vying for their attention. I found a willing audience of one, amassing a tribe of books from the library, magazines spinning tales of the city of New York. Between memorizing the lyrics to Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” listening to rhapsodies colored blue, and mimicking the moves of girl groups supreme, who cared about the outside world of an aspirational bedroom community that was Pico Rivera.

Once you enter the Thunderdome of public school life, you learn quickly what the kids will or won’t accept in the schoolyard. Waxing lyrical over drum solos on rock stations KMET or KLOS was okay, but telling your Little League teammates that the drum hit in “Perón’s Latest Flame” from Evita was not okay.

I chose to hide, seeking approval by adopting their likes. It wasn’t me, choosing instead to encase myself in an armored suit of fat and fur to shield myself from standing out from the crowd too much. Amazing what the portly and jovial trope can do for you once you know the right words for people to hear. You become huggable, adorable, non-threatening, always brandishing a quip, and never the one who gets kissed in the rain. I would stay in that lane for a long fucking time, too long.

As I make my way over the hill of my mid-50s, I am revisiting the books that marked my pre-teen and early teen life, books written by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume. Their combined insights into what it was like being an adolescent in the 1970s and 1980s spoke to me quite loudly. Danziger’s “The Cat Ate My Gym Shorts” and, especially, Blume’s “Blubber” and “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” helped me feel understood by someone close to me. It bugged me that most of the books of this genre focused on the social and gender problems endured by girls. What about the boys? (While Blume did pen “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t” as an answer to the success of “Are You There God…,” it didn’t quite fit the bill enough.)

The lead characters of the Blume and Danziger canons found their strength in family and friends by the final pages, reaching a plane of understanding, evolving just enough to support the life lessons of these often compelling and universal narratives. (Even being a first-generation-born Latino in the suburbs east of Los Angeles did not exclude me from these books. Oh, the feelings I found validated by Blume and Danziger’s prose still give me goosebumps today.)

Much has changed in how we deal with social Thunderdomes today, and much remains woefully the same. We still bully, a phenomenon that hangs just as poorly on adults as it does on kids. (Maybe it feels even more savage today, given the speed of how quickly we post our negative comments against one another.) As I stumble through my ennui with the world, I feel perhaps it is time to revisit that younger me and give him a different context.

Perhaps the full circle moment I’ve been looking for is to start at the beginning of a creative life shaped by the books and stories that ultimately helped refine my voice. When in doubt about yourself and the world, perhaps that is when you must create something and express yourself.

I’ve been listening to this one track from Sara Bareilles quite a bit. It’s called “Little Voice,” and its chorus felt like lightning bolts of truth to me:

It’s just a little voice
And if you’re listening
Sometimes a little voice
Can say the biggest things
It’s just my little voice that I’ve been missing

Big or small, I can’t wait to start this journey.

Carreón Cinema Club: Olivia Newton-John

Carreón Cinema Club: Olivia Newton-John

For a specific generation, the sight of Sandy’s evolution as the quintessential “good girl” gone “bad” in the camptastic 1970s movie musical Grease, you’d think an opera diva hit a high note.

Olivia Newton-John in “Grease” (1977). Photo: Paramount Pictures

It rocked many of us to the core, seeing Olivia Newton-John wearing those skin-tight pants and the red Candie’s high-heeled mules, that ciggie forever burning her amazing self into our minds. Coupled with an equally sexy John Travolta as Danny Zuko, we all wished we could be one or the other — and in most cases — both.

Yet, when I think of Olivia Newton-John, my mind returns to my family’s legendary drives through the American southwest as we vacationed by car to visit Dad’s family in Mexico City. Dad most trusted co-pilots remained me and the car radio during those long-haul night drives through the lonely desert as the family slept. (I had to stay awake as I didn’t want to miss anything!)

Dad and I didn’t talk much as he didn’t want distractions as he drove fearlessly across some mind-numbing landscapes that I imagined contained all sorts of nefarious creatures. But we forged and shared an appreciation for the sounds of ONJ, an earnest voice keeping us company as AM stations played many of her iconic hits of that time. The warmth in her voice proved as seductive as a siren song as we made our way across the US southwest during those memorable trips. My love of ONJ began and grew with every new pop hit, her starring roles in Grease and, especially, Xanadu.

News of her passing at 73 makes for a bittersweet trip to a time I keep compartmentalized as an adult. I’m suddenly seven years old, 10, 13, and 14 at the same time, all ages marked by her music and movies, moments that resonate just as strongly today. I never was able to see her perform live. Yet, I join her legion of fans that will honestly and hopelessly proclaim their love and devotion for ONJ today and onwards because she will forever be true magic as an artist and human being.

Rest in power, Olivia.

Olivia Newton-John in 2020. Photograph: Brett Goldsmith/The Guardian

And Just Like That… I Am 55

And Just Like That… I Am 55

Today, I am officially 55 years old. That’s (still) the legal speed limit in some areas, but I’ve never been interested in sticking to it in terms of living my life. I had to get THERE, wherever THERE was at that moment. Now is an excellent time to think about HERE or where I am today.

I did attempt to stop and look around from time to time, but that just meant having to allow specific thoughts and realities to make themselves known in my head. Demons remain my chosen go-to passengers on this ride and for as long as I can remember. Food. Spending. Status. Validation. Funny, I rarely viewed love and companionship as priorities at the beginning for being too dangerous. Neither stayed very long on the passenger side when it did happen. The demons made sure of that, like damn sure.

Friendship and family remain my favored angels, and thank heavens for them. Otherwise, I would have intentionally hit the cosmic center divider a long time ago. It always seemed like a surefire way to shut those demons down for good. But they’re resilient little fuckers.

Emma Caulfield as vengeance demon Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Demons sound cute to me in a post-Buffy world, all latex, make-up, and effects. Fear is something, well, scarier. Fear exists as my twin because I LET that happen. I’ve known Fear as long as I’ve known myself. Every fall on the sidewalk, every perceived failure, the bullies I let get in my head and under my skin. These exterior forces which tormented me as a kid were NOTHING compared to what I’ve done to myself over the years as an adult.

But I’m still here and for good reasons.

Not to let the demons share my airtime but to shift focus away from them. Maybe even speed up the breaking up process already. Every minute I refuse to succumb to fear is a significant victory. Choosing not to sleep away the day is a cause for celebration. Cooking a healthy meal on my own and not consuming one designed to keep me sick is a source of jubilation. Trying to find ways to spend ALL of my hard-earned coin to make myself sound or look attractive is a thrill on par with a musical’s overture when the curtain rises.

These are not gifts but the tools to find a sense of balance, contentment, and especially hope. I possess them and more because I’ve learned to understand the importance of such devices. Yet, Fear still distracts me or, more often than not, kills the desire.

Not today.

From Stories of Cinema at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

As I look around and take in the view of 55, I see all that the demons, Fear, and that annoying cousin Depression seek to absorb and destroy. That cannot be without my help, at least. Do you know those first sparks cast to start a campfire? Writing this feels like that, trying not to let moisture or wind snuff out what can lead to something bright and warm. You fan the embers too much; you smother the flame.

From Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse at LACMA

Words, music, films, art, design, and photography are all selfless acts of courage. It still takes courage to be queer, to not be part of the mainstream, to be one’s true self today. To exist as a gay Latino remains an act of defiance, no longer allowing oneself to hide or blend in with the herd of scared masses. We know what Fear can do to an individual in their quest for betterment. We see the power of Fear in a group. Start one lie, and create a mob of terrified people to disavow truth, science, and logic.

Someone sent me a meme with the legend, “I picked a stupid time to be alive.” I laughed at loud. Then again, this is also a time NOT to be stupid. I’m not alone in recognizing how emotional paralysis stems from what we consume in terms of information, social media especially.

It would be easy to live out one’s life like a 21st-century Miss Havisham, hiding amongst souvenirs of a perceived better past. That’s not an option in a world determined to live on the defensive about everything. Why beat yourself up about where you’re supposed to be in this life?

At this moment, I am encouraged by being 55, albeit cautiously. I’m not sure what tomorrow will be like or the day after that. Will I have personal stumbles and moments of shrill assholeness? Probably. Whatever happens next is always up to us. Forward motion isn’t always about avoiding the past. We have to avoid being defined by it. When I find the courage and clarity to stop and admire the view again, I have the hope and excitement that what I see will be different, empowering, and still delightfully the same.

Now, about that one-man show I keep threatening to stage…

xJc

Carreón Cinema Club: “Lightyear”

Carreón Cinema Club: “Lightyear”

How much did I love “Lightyear?” Quite a bit.

In this era of instant, gleeful takedowns, social and mainstream media punishing this “Toy Story” spin-off for not reaching Pixar’s usual box office heights is the more significant disappointment in this narrative. “Lightyear” gifts viewers, especially adults, a chance to breathe and appreciate a thoughtful story. Armed with Chris Evans’s rich vocal performance, “Lightyear” deserves a look for its poignant story, beautiful visuals, and the element of surprise in terms of its characterizations.

Now that the film is being re-launched on Disney+ starting August 3, “Lightyear” may finally break through the pop culture barrier. Criticisms that the film is not linked strongly enough to the “Toy Story” universe are unfounded. The device that “Lightyear” is the film that ignited the toy line character is all you need to know, and it is enough. The rest is a loving tribute to space film odysseys, big and small. (Even James Cameron’s “Aliens” earns some prime real estate!) 

Photo: Pixar/Disney

However, one of the things I appreciated most about “Lightyear” is the humanity of its characters. Buzz’s rigidity, determination to right a terrible wrong, and stalwart loyalty to those around him make for such rich storytelling moments. Evans commands the screen, creating a Buzz that stands on his own. (And yes, he still hits a few notes that recall Tim Allen in the “Toy Story” franchise for purists.)

As for the unnecessary fury over the same-sex kiss involving his best friend and commanding officer Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) and the character’s wife? Relax. It is part of something organic and integral to Buzz’s emotional journey. That people turned this thread into a “pearl-clutching” moment sanctimonious “outrage” is not only offensive but ignorant.

No, the true power of “Lightyear” is its view of a world its creators attempted to realize beyond the toy. That they chose to reflect today’s multi-culturalism, not a homogenized future, gave me a reason to smile. Imagine having films like “Lightyear” when many of us were growing up? Seeing ourselves in the entertainment we favor does speak and inspires volumes to a generation that champions this art form. 

Last thing: If you do not connect with Peter Sohn’s vivid performance as Sox, the robotic cat that functions as Buzz’s Watson to his Sherlock, you’re made of stone. 

Directed by Angus MacLane, and written by MacLane and Jason Headley, “Lightyear” stars Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, Bill Hader, Uzo Aduba, Efren Ramirez, and James Brolin.

“Lightyear” is now showing in cinemas, premiering on Disney+ on August 3. 

Carreón Cinema Club: “It Could Be Worse” Edition

Carreón Cinema Club: “It Could Be Worse” Edition

At last, the Carreón Cinema Club returns, and it only took being placed in quarantine before a shoot in CDMX to make it happen. Sitting in my hotel room these last few days, the theme of “It Could Be Worse” began its slow development in my brain.

El Ángel de la Independencia in CDMX as shot by J. Carreon, 2022.

Viewing a large amount of negative content on TikTok and other social media platforms could only add fuel to this fire. The Troll Patrol turned yet another harmless place into a burn book about anything and anyone. Screaming heads dominate social media narratives, another variation of the pundits who ruined mainstream news with their constant diatribes of hate, anger, and “this is why it sucks” vitriol.

If TikTok stood as our only source of information, the unpleasantness and unhappiness of Generation Whine would manifest itself with an algorithm of “content” that wilts one’s ability to believe in hope if you look at it long enough. Couple it with the “woke” and “cancel” threads, and you’re soon freebasing kitten videos to preserve your humanity. Anyone with a phone could use this power for good, not let the alt-right scream at the world with their often libelous and ludicrous dis-content.

Yes, it can be worse unless we stop the flow of misinformation and the endless lunacy of Kamp Karen videos to find reasons to create and not hate. (And, for the record, having a smartphone makes you as much a journalist as a pundit makes you an “expert” on any topic if you’re snarky or loud enough.)

Thus, as I sat in wonderment in my aerie above Paseo de la Reforma in CDMX, I pushed aside thinking over how fucked up we’ve become as a society. Instead, I began to mull over the films that could illustrate just how bad things can get unless we all pull our asses out of our heads long enough to deal with the weapons of mass distraction threatening our ability to evolve positively. Ergo, behold the “It Can Be Worse” edition of the Carreón Cinema Club, starting with the end of the world as depicted by Peter Watkins’s seminal film, The War Game.

THE WAR GAME (1961)

Produced, Written, and Directed by Peter Watkins

Narrated by Michael Aspel and Peter Graham

Paul Freeman as Dr. René Belloq in the 1981 classic adventure “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Once Kate Bush started “trending” thanks to the thieving Cultural Belloqs at Netflix ruining a good thing in the name of marketing, the 1970s and 80s never felt so omnipresent as they do now. Wars, nuclear threats, insane dictators, inflation, the gas crisis, and other nightmares threatened lives on Elm Street, alright. We were ready for the unforgettable fire to descend upon us, a fear ignited and realized with intent by the Mad Max films, “The Day After” and “Threads.”

But then again, it wasn’t the first time art harnessed the abject horror of humanity, letting stupidity get its way with nuclear bombs. In 1964, the BBC engaged award-winning filmmaker Peter Watkins of “Culloden” fame, a documentary covering the 1746 Jacobite uprising, a narrative presented as a parallel to the ongoing Vietnam conflict. Based on its success, the network turned to Watkins anew to craft an episode for its “The Wednesday Play” series. The innovative filmmaker delivered The War Game, a withering pseudo-documentary film chronicling the effects of nuclear war on Great Britain. Watkins, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, presented his work to a gallery of executives reacting with apprehension and panic, which government leaders also felt. The War Game wasn’t just shelved but censored by today’s standards. It did earn a token theatrical release instead of airing on the network. The BBC stated publicly, “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting. It will, however, be shown to invited audiences…”

A scene from Mick Jackson’s seminal 1984 nuclear war drama, “Threads.”

Following its presentation at the National Film Theatre in London and several leading international film festivals, The War Game would earn the 1967 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Curiously, the film remained an elusive relic until 1985, when it was televised by the BBC to a mass audience, honoring the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. This time, it would air before an encore presentation of another iconic and harrowing nuclear drama, Mick Jackson’s equally devastating and award-winning telefilm, “Threads,” first broadcast in 1984.

Viewing The War Game today, you will see what unsettled the BBC executives and politicians at that time. Unrelenting due to its brevity, the hour-long documentary spares no one’s feelings or sensibilities in its raw and accurate depiction of the human and environmental costs of a nuclear exchange. Shot with live news precision by Peter Bartlett and an uncredited Peter Suschitzky, viewing the catastrophic effects of detonating missiles in real-time in such a visceral manner gives you pause. People asphyxiate in the heat, their eyes melting, or their homes lit on fire by the proximity of the blasts. Watkins left much of the horror to the viewer’s imagination, using graphic descriptions in the voiceover versus graphic visual effects.

Shot on location in and around the towns of Kent, Watkins chose an ensemble cast of non-actors, adding a sobering layer of emotional power to the verité style of the film. What will make you want to shout are narration scenes recorded by Peter Graham, coupled with Michael Aspel reading the quotations from source materials from actual and fact-based government and religious sources. At times conflicting and surreal, the visual parallels further illustrate how unprepared Great Britain, politically and socially, will only make you wonder if we’ve progressed at all.

As the war in Ukraine rages on with surprising support for the MAGA-inflamed populace, The War Game takes on stronger resonance today, if that’s even possible. Yes, friends, it can be worse if we allow such hateful rhetoric to excuse away the evils that are not ready to leave us alone.

I purchased a VHS copy of The War Game years ago off Amazon to complete my legendary collection of nuclear war-themed movies. You can now buy the Blu-Ray version (coupled with “Culloden”). Also, check your local library or indie video store for the DVD of The War Game, and search YouTube and Vimeo for the full-length presentation.

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961)

Directed by Val Guest

Written by Wolf Mankowitz and Val Guest

Cast: Janet Munro, Leo McKern, and Edward Judd

1961 Theatrical Release Poster

Chances are you’ve already experienced the century-mark temperatures baking the nation. Still, think climate change is bullshit? Remember that when cities burn, infrastructures fail, and people die from the heat that’s not showing signs of abating. Yet, the topic of a burning planet is not a new one, either. I distinctly remember watching a telefilm called “Heatwave!” on ABC, chronicling a young couple’s desperate escape to the mountains from the growing heat of a big city. First broadcast in 1974, it was TV’s answer to the disaster movie trend. So, where is this leading? The award-winning 1961 sci-fi classic known as The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

While it’s more a cautionary tale about the perils of nuclear proliferation, it lists why we still argue about what we’ve done to overheat this planet. What happens in Guest’s film is tragic and mindblowing in science and fiction. Yet, hearing people bitching about the heat and the state/energy companies’ inability to keep the power grids from shutting down makes me want to make them force watch what could be worse.

True, the conceit of The Day the Earth Caught Fire is the result of what happens to the planet’s orbit thanks to the US and USSR detonating giant bombs on the same day in both the North and South Poles. But when it starts to get hot, the planet reacts unexpectedly, leaving its citizens scrambling for any relief or survival.

What I love about the film is that it centers around how a group of Fleet Street reporters at the Daily Express break the story in the first place, as well as other believable human drama involving the principals, Edward Judd, Leo McKern, and Janet Munro. More, real news editor Arthur Robin Christiansen is prominently featured in the film, adding a nice layer of honesty to the film. The urgency of visuals illustrating water rationing, the burning of London landmarks, and other tragedies make the film a sobering viewing experience.

Edward Judd in “The Day the Earth Caught Fire.”

Far from being a quaint black and white film of the 1960s, Guest deploys an arsenal of effects and human emotion to give the film its resonance. Even the ending is unexpected by leaving the planet’s fate unresolved. Although, it is humorous that the original US release featured an augmented ending of the sound of ringing bells, indicating that science might have spared humankind from being BBQ’d. By the end, however, you’ll respect the sun’s power.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire is available for rent and purchase on most major streaming platforms.

NUEVO ORDEN (“New Order”/2020)

Directed and Written by Michel Franco

Cast: Diego Boneta, Mónica Del Carmen, Naian Gonzalez Norvind, Fernando Cuautle, Darío Yazbek, Eligio Meléndez

2020 Theatrical Release Poster

Much of the industrialized world faces a widening gap between its socio-economic classes, leading to erratic and alarming shifts in political ideologies with high consequences with each election. Mexico’s economic chasm is no different and gaining further volatility with the rise of American gentrification in its capital city and other parts of the country. The Mexican-French production Nuevo Orden sought to unleash an uncompromising “what if” scenario with wildly uneven but impactful results.

Following its award-winning premiere at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, earning the Grand Jury Prize, the arrival of Nuevo Orden during a pandemic seemed like outrageous misfortune. The appearance of its trailer, featuring images of POC taking over the white elite enclaves, earned a harsh backlash of racial stereotyping in its home country. Despite its acclaim from critics worldwide, citing the film as being powerful and timely, the film continues to earn negative colorism commentary in its post-release life.

Directed and written by Michel Franco, Nuevo Orden chronicles the lives of an upwardly mobile family impacted by the rise of the underprivileged in Mexico City. The effects of class warfare go from the micro to the macro as the invasion of the family’s wedding event is projected upon a canvas of a violent coup. What seemed to be an explosion of one’s group’s frustration with the status quo is painfully revealed to be the machinations of a government seeking to establish a military rule.

Designed to provoke and challenge the safe and paranoid sensibilities of viewers not paying attention to the current news cycle. Franco’s narrative hits individual buttons by focusing on the destruction of the privileged and entitled classes, leading to why hailed as necessary by many of its champions. Unfortunately, Franco loses control of his narrative with the revelation that the military is behind the coup, undermining the more important message of social divides. Unlike Bong Joon-ho’s groundbreaking “Parasite,” Franco cannot sustain the foreboding tension in this clash of economic classes to a gut-punching finish, despite its many bold attempts otherwise. Regardless, as speculative fiction, however, Nuevo Orden does successfully visualize a world of devastating change that could be possible given our current state of affairs in the US and worldwide. Yes, folks, it CAN get worse if we ignore the signs.

Nuevo Orden is now streaming on Kanopy.

Whatever happened to class, respect, civility, or just plain good manners

Whatever happened to class, respect, civility, or just plain good manners

What the hell is happening with Broadway audiences?? Is baiting theater legend Patti LuPone the source for new “Karen videos” aiming at creative dis-content infamy? What about Jesse Williams‘s nude scene in the play “Take Me Out” being shot and posted onto Twitter?! Why are we hellbent on ruining the once simple pleasure of enjoying live theater in such a callous, selfish way?

As our social mores continue their sad, rapid decline, I seriously thought live theater would be the last bastion of good taste and deportment. I guess I should have known the writing was on the wall the last time I attended a play on Broadway (“Burn This” in 2019) which was attended by more people in flip flops and shorts than I’ve ever seen. The recent events involving Ms. LuPone and Mr. Williams just adds more fuel to the pyre.

Live theater became a religion for me in 1983 when I took my first trip to NYC. The original productions of La Cage aux Folles and My One and Only, plus Nine and Doonesbury the Musical were my first Broadway musicals, a transformative experience to say the least. The audiences could not have been more respectful or well-heeled. I even wore a tie to each performance. Yet, reading the latest headlines of hooliganism on the Great White Way makes me ponder when it all went south.

Theater legend Patti LuPone (Photo: Twitter)

We’ve seen how the toxicity of hooliganism transforms sporting events into something both demeaning and dangerous. Yet, since talk shows such as “Jerry Springer” and “Ricki Lake” started rewarding bad behavior with a rabid television audience leering for more, are we that surprised as to what passes for “class” today? Screaming at people is an art form thanks to those reality shows involving “real housewives” and other scions of dysfunction. But the toxicity level hit its vertiginous peak with the rise of social media, allowing for the telebasura or TV Trash to be captured, crafted, and posted with incredible ease. Witnessing “Karens in the Wild” best sums up our complete breakdown of manners and civility in any public space, big or small. So much so, the Trumpian Era of politics ushered levels so base and classless behavior it succeeded in re-branding the Ugly American into a superbeing.

America’s “finest”: Lauren Boebert & Marjorie Taylor Greene in action. (Photo: NBC News)

How can any rational discourse, much less good manners, exist in a world where human hyenas fight for camera time on Fox News or the floor of the Capitol Building. More, this lack of boundaries and good taste is giving free license to people to use their mobile phones as weapons of mass distraction. As to their endgame, I can only imagine it is fuel their desperate need for views and followers to validate their self-worth while promoting their ravenous desire for attention and status.

How do we turn the tide? With the NY theater community still reeling from the creative and financial meltdown caused by the COVID pandemic, that several houses and productions are bouncing back is a veritable miracle. The venues are getting stricter by locking down mobile phones, extending the mask mandates, and other health-driven initiatives. But what about the audience itself? At what point do we engage a mandate for people to stop being for damn loathsome in public? This era of constant whining, lack of accountability, and good sense is not how we achieve greatness. With our hard-earned democracy in shambles while the MAGA-fueled right fiddles as Rome burns, maybe complaining about shitty audiences seems like a waste of time.

But take a good look around you and ask yourself, “What ever happened to class?”

We share and resend the motto memes of “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Unless we start making that happen now, I’m honestly hoping for an asteroid to take charge already and slam into this damaged planet.

Cue 1975’s classic showtune from Bob Fosse’s Chicago, written by John Kander and Fred Ebb. It was cut from the 2002 Oscar-winning film version, but thankfully it was shot with Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones and included with the home entertainment special features as a deleted scene.