It was essential to start the broadcast reviews from the Carreón Cinema Club with a comedy because we need a laugh.
I also wanted to showcase a film from the past that continues to inspire and engage audiences today. I ran through my favorite film eras, and the minute I thought, “1939,” I knew what I had to do.
What was so special about 1939, you ask? Not much, just that it was the year audiences witnessed future classics galore, including one of my favorite films ever, George Cukor’s “The Women.” And how about “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and, of course, the legendary and still controversial “Gone with the Wind?” Yes, it was a monumental year.
I knew a museum piece would make your eyes glaze over. Nor did I want to pick a title that would encourage “cancel culture” discourse. The chosen film was one I saw, finally, for the first time thanks to Turner Classic Movies. Ergo, 1939’s leading romantic comedy, NINOTCHKA, kicks off the Carreón Cinema Club.
Starring the legendary Greta Garbo in her first real American comedy, NINOTCHKA remains a classic film thanks to its famed star, a winning ensemble cast, its peerless writing, and the deft directorial “touch” of Ernst Lubitsch.
Let’s take a look.
Written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and the soon to be legend himself Billy Wilder, NINOTCHKA is an elegantly rendered satire of clashing ideologies, including gender, sex, capitalism, and communism.
Garbo stars as Nina Ivanovna “Ninotchka” Yakushov, an incredibly severe Russian envoy, itself a send-up of her previous dramatic personas on screen. Sent to Paris to retrieve the jewels of a deposed countess in exile, Ninotchka instead finds herself questioning her commitment to the Soviet cause thanks to the city’s charms and, mostly, the persuasive romantic attentions of the playboy Count Léon, portrayed by Melvyn Douglas.
I’d wanted to see this film for years but never got around to it until this summer. The lively banter between Garbo and Douglas, the absurd situations experienced with glee by a trio of other failed agents, and the biting visual commentary of life in the Soviet Union in that era is all spun into this delicious confection with substance.
What truly made me fall in love with this film was its famed scene between Ninotchka and the count in a Parisian blue-collar diner. Determined to make her crack a smile, Count Léon tells Ninotchka a slew of jokes, all of which land with a resounding thud. Her analytical mind keeps taking the piss out of his stories, frustrating him to the point of giving up. Then, it happens.
As the count beats a hasty retreat to his table, he trips on a chair and goes crashing down. The whole place erupts in laughter, including his steely Russian paramour. To witness the stunning Garbo bust a gut with delight is a huge turning point for the character. More, her glee is infectious for the viewer, too. I couldn’t stop laughing, rewinding the scene several times because it made me laugh out loud. To be frank, it just felt good. It’s ridiculous and human, all at the same time.
NINOTCHKA goes beyond the time capsule because it’s a perfect mix of all that we want in romance and comedy, with something for the brain, too. The film’s commentary on the Soviet Union takes up much of the final act, which speaks volumes for what Americans thought of the “Red Menace” before entering World War II. It’s not a pretty picture of communist life, dry and drab, but strangely warm at the same time. It is striking when watched through the prism of 2020, given how much anger American society felt for years. While Russia is still a hot button today, it has evolved into something more dangerous and polarizing. Nevertheless, you will gain an appreciation for how the film juggles spoof with sophisticated humor. Lubitsch was a master for a reason and worth investigating further once you’ve enjoyed NINOTCHKA.
Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Garbo’s 4th bid), Best Original Story (Melchior Lengyel), and Best Screenplay, NINOTCHKA would be shut out by the “Gone with the Wind” juggernaut. (Believe it or not, director Ernst Lubitsch didn’t warrant a nomination at all. And for all her cinematic might and acclaim, Garbo never won an Oscar ever.)
The glamourous fizz of NINOTCHKA reached further potency thanks to MGM’s legendary promotions and publicity team. Best slogan? “Garbo Laughs!” spotlighting her switch from drama to comedy. Runner up? “Don’t Pronounce It – See It!”
In the end, it was a bittersweet achievement for Garbo as the film was her penultimate effort. While she had worked with Douglas before in 1932, MGM was quick to pair them up again for another comedy, George Cukor’s 1941 effort “Two-Faced Woman.” Unfairly roasted by critics, Garbo found herself labeled “box office poison.” She would not return to the screen again. Instead, one of the cinema’s most enduring faces chose to stop acting at the age of 36, hiding from public view for the rest of her life.
The legacy of NINOTCHKA endures, however. Famed composer Cole Porter would set the story to music with the 1955 Broadway musical “Silk Stockings,” itself made into a film in 1957 by MGM with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse playing the leads. Still, the original remains the finest interpretation, one meant to be rediscovered and appreciated.
While the film is not streaming for free now, keep an eye out for it on TCM as it frequently appears on the channel. You can also rent the movie on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu for a nominal price. Better yet, check out the DVD collections at your local public library or visit the wonderfully eclectic collections at Vidiots in Los Angeles or Vidéothèque in South Pasadena.
Thanks for watching this first edition of the Carreón Cinema Club! Subscribe! Follow me on Instagram (@CarreonCinemaClub) and Twitter (@CarreonClub) for more content!
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.
“Whoever has provoked men to rage against him has always gained a party in his favor, too.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
“People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.” — Will Rogers
I’ve gone from labeling 2017 as a “dumpster fire” to a “Trumpster Fire” instead. And it shows no signs of abatement in 2018.
The cruel ineptitude of the Trump Administration and the monster that functions, barely, as our president, has revealed we possess no real limit as to the amount of rage we contain as a public today. It’s permeated even the banalest of conversations between friends or strangers anywhere in the world. It clogs our social media feeds. It can be seen out in the world as people unleash unholy hell in viral videos captured on planes, local markets or city streets. We race through red lights in complete disregard of the consequence of a car crash.
We yell out our frustrations to ourselves or each other. Many of us take to the social media sites to commiserate, castigate, or simply troll others with this remixed brand of hatred.
Rock icon David Byrne of the Talking Heads wrote:
“Facts are simple and facts are straight.
Facts are lazy and facts are late.
Facts all come with points of view.
Facts don’t do what I want them to.
Facts just twist the truth around.
Facts are living turned inside out.”
But we aren’t patient or even interested enough in any of the facts anymore. We Tweet, we react, we pass judgments that only stoke the fires of a pitchfork mob. We turn “fake news” into a rallying cry. We turn lies into truths. We let pundits twist facts around like our favorite licorice candy, chew, spit, or shit it out into oblivion. And we pat or stab ourselves in the back with validation for being a “good American.”
I fear we are all turning into a version of Trump now, whatever our sensibilities, affiliations or political beliefs.
I don’t look good in orange. No one does.
We are a society being corralled into dark spaces by bots unleashed, all paid by the highest bidders so we can exterminate ourselves. And personally, I’d rather limit my interaction with trolls to the ones played by Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake in that animated film.
What really scares me is my growing intolerance for white privilege, for people who consider racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia as a return to “core values.” Hijabs are a beautiful, cultural tradition, not the headwear of terrorists, no matter what the media whores of oligarchs like Alex Jones, Tomi Lahren, Jeanine Pirro, and Sean Hannity love to scream out loud as if they’re having an orgasm of rancid ideology. No, American-born white terrorists wear Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, buy their guns at Wal-Mart, and blame anyone and everyone who is not like them for the selfish woes. They extol the virtues of being white as if it was blackwashed by eight years of the Obamas, but really, it is just an excuse to be racist, ignorant, and selfish assholes who are seeing their own decline in real time.
We have nowhere to go but up, but love is our new four-letter word. It refuses to penetrate those who are holding on to our shitty past before civil rights like a wino holding on to a cheap vintage. I don’t want to be angry anymore. I know many people don’t either. But too many of us continue to congregate around a water cooler of rage, particularly in sites like Facebook.
Trumpists, the ones with the money, of course, want the remaining parts of America to stay fat, stupid, lazy, sick, old, and ultimately dead. And they’ll charge us along the way. Remember that the next time you feel the need to turn orange about how shitty your life was under Obama.
Remember, orange doesn’t look good on anyone unless they’re the devil himself.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
**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.
Dad was a big fan of Glen Campbell. That these formidable men have been afflicted by Alzheimer’s is still tough to fathom. Today, Mr. Campbell succumbed to this disease. He leaves behind generations of fans, a loving and supporting family and a legacy of art that is without compare.
I will never forget the sound of his music playing over the car radio as my family and I drove through the Southwestern desert on our way to visit family to Mexico in the early 1970s. My Dad would hum along, tapping the steering wheel, offering back-up. It was a late night, our family Impala cutting its path through the star-filled darkness. Dad didn’t know I was awake, his silent co-pilot, determined to remember it all.
Years later, before Mr. Campbell retired from touring, my siblings and I took Dad to see him perform live at the Pala Casino outside of San Diego. His own family shared the stage, with his daughter carefully guiding her legendary father through the songs. I remember holding back tears as my father smiled and tapped along to the music, clearly engaged by the Campbell musical experience like it was those many nights long ago.
Both men were in the throes of dealing with Alzheimer’s at that moment, never knowing what they had in common that evening. That one of these two men is no longer with us fills me with a surge of fills me with a surge of emotion. I am very blessed t still have my father in my life, despite the hardships of this disease. While Dad was far from being a rhinestone cowboy or a Wichita lineman, he still towers in my heart and life. And the music created by Mr. Campbell? It is a shame I can’t tell him it will forever be something so profound and poignant for my family and myself, now and forever. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, for leaving us this gift, too.
As posted on the Glen Campbell website: “In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Glen Campbell Memorial Fund at BrightFocus Foundation through the CareLiving.org donation page.
It was the summer of 1978 and I was in Mexico City. Dad had left me and my sister Lil in the care of his family. His parting wish was that we not only get to know all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins but that we learn Spanish and understand what it meant to be part of two cultures.
In the years since that legendary visit, the lessons learned continue to fill me with pride. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been at odds with my American and Mexican identities in the years, but at 50, I am glad to be that perfect mollete of American & Mexican ingredients. Back to 1978…
I was already a voracious reader and I brought along quite a few books to help me deal with the shyness that was still my want at that age. As the weeks went by, my shyness lessened, but I had my moments. One weekend, Tía Beba and Tío Pio headed to their ranch in Celaya, Guanajuato. They were this amazing duo, a matriarch and patriarch culled straight out of Tennessee Williams by way of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She was fair, blonde and every inch a Ms. DuBois. He was dark, silver-haired and a caballero from an era long passed. Their passing left a gaping hole that swallowed the entire family alive in the end, but that’s another story left to be told in the future.
I didn’t want to go to the ranch that day. I preferred to be left alone in the hotel we were staying at outside the property since construction was still shaping up the main house. For whatever reason, I chose to read my book, a novelization of the NBC mini-series “Holocaust,” in the lobby. I’d seen the series earlier that year and the novel was no less vivid or engrossing. I was so immersed in the book, feeling this overwhelming horror and sadness over the plight of the Weiss family. That this happened in the 20th century scared me speechless.
As I continued reading author Gerald Green’s adaptation of his screenplay, the degrading atrocities experienced by European Jews tapped into my own burgeoning abilities of imagination and empathy at that age. I pondered, “What if that were me? What if that were my family? I felt a fear I did recognize. At that moment, the light fixture hanging from the ceiling chose to fall and shatter upon reaching the tiled floor. It only took seconds for me to get up and call my family to come get me. I didn’t want to be alone anymore.
Nearly 40 years later, I woke up on July 27 to feel a similar sense of fear and dread felt on a summer evening in Guanajuato. However, it didn’t leave me speechless. Quite the contrary, anger surged within me. We were still dissecting 45’s petty and bilious speech at the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree. The scorched Twittersphere and media landscape is still digesting Trump’s infamous decree that transgender men and women are barred from enlisting in the military. Imagine the cruel joke that is the trash fire known as the Trump Administration doubled down on further eroding the protections for the LGBTQ community:
“The Justice Department has filed court papers arguing that a major federal civil rights law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, taking a stand against a decision reached under President Barack Obama.
The department’s move to insert itself into a federal case in New York was an unusual example of top officials in Washington intervening in court in what is an important but essentially private dispute between a worker and his boss over gay rights issues.
“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” the Justice Department said in a friend-of-the-court brief, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. ‘It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.’
The department filed its brief on Wednesday, the same day President Trump announced on Twitter that transgender people would be banned from serving in the military, raising concerns among civil rights activists that the Trump administration was trying to undermine lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights won under previous administrations.” — From the New York Times article, published on July 27, 2017.
The Pentagon has no intention of changing its criteria on transgender enlisted officers just yet. The intervention sought by the White House and Department of Justice is also going to take the time to resolve and will be challenged in court. But Trump’s daily Twitter coffee and cigarette dump succeeds in playing to his support base of intolerant miscreants with such power, the message is too loud to ignore. That’s what strikes fear and anger is so many. It is being digested and accepted by those who want to see the LGBTQ lose its protections sectors of this American society seeking to blame the dreaded “Other” as their sources of woe.
Once he took office, Trump’s Orwellian desire to erase any and all achievements of President Barack Obama was just the start of his all-too obvious agenda of hate. The media still blasts his “achievements” with tongue in cheek, snide glee reserved for the second rate reality star that he is. Too many of the electronic and digital media sites are breathless in their constant, “Oooh. Look what he’s doing now!” If I wanted to watch a monkey throw shit out of his cage, I’ll go to the fucking zoo!
It’s infuriating, but not nearly as maddening as the lack of balls shown by the Democrats or the lack of concern from the Americans who DIDN’T vote for him. And how about the center ring of this circus manned by the Unholy Trinity of Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and, just added to the cast, Anthony Scaramucci?
When cabinet members take to giving interviews to The New Yorker and utter statements like “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” you have to wonder if this is really our new normal — more — is this the start of the fall of the Great American State? You have to ponder the “show” that is being carefully curated and unveiled every given day. Cock sucking statements issued by Scaramucci is just a distraction. The Boy Scout Jamboree rant is just a distraction. The real show is what’s happening in between, slices of tasty sandwich meats topped with savory cheese but only available to select few. It’s not designed to satisfy us all.
The cowardly acts perpetrated by this administration are tailor made with the skins of the LGBTQ community because of the bias that already exists against them. It doesn’t matter the race, color and creed because being gay/trans/cisgender strikes that chord of terror-fueled intolerance in many people. But what the rest of us need to realize is that being silent makes us complicit in the eroding of precious civil liberties. Don’t think for one moment that Trump’s wrath won’t include you at some point.
This era of complicity is shaping up to be the personification of “First they came…,” the legendary poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller, first published in 1947. Europeans, especially Germans, saw the signs of an imminent genocide at the hands of Adolf Hitler. In the end, over six million men, women, and children would lose their lives. Silence allowed scores of husbands, wives, daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, doctors, artists, writers, scientists, all major contributors to society, to be eradicated without mercy. How many do you want to see claimed if Trump and his acolytes continue the brandish their brush of white wash on this country? Perhaps they won’t be murdered, but they will be stripped of their American identity, a crime in itself.
When I first started this essay, it was meant to be an examination of being gay, a piece inspired by the month of Pride festivals all over the country. Other life events took ownership of my thoughts, of course. Then this week of infamy started. It has dredged up a few unsavory realities about my earlier life. Like how I grappled with the desire of wanting to be white. I didn’t want to be treated differently because I wasn’t born into the tribe of Muffy & Trip. Or, how I stayed in the closet for as long as I did because for some being gay made you a carrier of AIDS, which was viewed as a punishment by those who felt it was “killing all the right people.”
We are born how we are born. Choice exists in what we learn in terms of how we live our lives. Men like Trump prey on those with weak minds with the isms that define the darker side of being human. It is when we are most distracted that the thieves storm the castle, and not always at night. It is here why stupidity has a habit of getting its way.
This is the time to be heard, not succumb to a herd mentality.
This is the time to be strong, not weakened by being divided. This is the time to be out and proud, not hidden or silenced.
This is the time to be a true American.
This is the time to have pride, in ourselves, in our nation, in being a human being.
While I’ve been bicoastal for work, I’ve joked to friends that eating in the ATL is a challenge, that “even the air is fried.” Or, I’d say with the solemnity of confession, “It is impossible to eat healthy in this city.” The truth is I lost all and total control. I acted like a kid who was left off at summer camp with the idea that anything goes now that mom and pops ain’t watching me.
I’ve been watching myself see the scale move up about to the tune of 11.5 pounds of MF’in bloat in a month of unnecessary stress and/or emotional eating. That’s the end result of letting this last month of working in Atlanta get to me. Here’s the rub: I wasn’t even stressed or emotional! In other words, I fell off the food addiction wagon so hard, I literally broke my spirit.
Welcome to Fatlanta.
I spent most of the first day back from the latest trip to Atlanta in a sulk. Sure its mostly sodium intake, but that’s no comfort, dear. Today, I ate two apples, some raw pepitas, hummus and a turkey/egg white scramble, had a latte and just sulked. I can’t even be mad at anyone since no one person or situation put all that food in mouth at gun point. I knew exactly what I was doing, which makes me even feel worse. Wait. Checking my glucose reading the Saturday after my return from this latest trip clocked in at 200! That does feel worse. It’s triggered The Eeyore Effect again, where I feel heavy, slow, sweaty and incredibly morose.
Fuck me. It’s enough to not feel depressed right now or beat myself to a Waffle House and BBQ sauce-infused pulp right now. I think about those episodes of “Designing Women” when Delta Burke’s weight gain was starting to become an issue for the show. Series creator Linda Bloodworth Thomason would write some of the best episodes of 1980s television around Suzanne Sugarbaker’s weight. A former beauty queen, like Burke herself, the character’s struggle with her weight hit a raw nerve for many of us dealing with the same challenges.
In the end, Burke would be fired from the show in a nasty public split that is the stuff of industry legend. The show never recovered from the loss of such a vivid character. All of the women were remarkable on that show, but Suzanne was the reason many watched with such fervor. (I won’t lie. All four of the original cast are my spirit characters.) Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion, too. (To quote another Southern pop culture queen.) I spent part of the day watching some of the best of Suzanne Sugarbaker’s moments, just as a reminder that this set back is not permanent. Nor does it diminish the achievement of getting closer to understanding why I eat the way I do. The cycle can be broken, which is what I am determined to focus upon after this day of wallowing in self-pity. One day. No more, dammit.
Being in Georgia these many weeks has reinforced the horror and sadness I feel when it comes to the tyranny of food we continue to endure in this country. We sure love our excess as much as we love NOT being told what to do, especially when it comes to our health. With the recent return of Trumpcare and the rollbacks of key legislations to help keep our children healthy, I realize that many of us are being set up to fail. We won’t be told by anyone what we can or can’t do to our bodies! Keep us poor, stupid, fat and consuming everything in sight. That’s what is means to be an American!
When will we realize that we are being set up to fail, to stay sick and die? We are just being led to the slaughter, fattened by ignorance, greed and pride. We are at the mercy of the privileged few who stand to earn more by just watching us eat ourselves to death. This is where education is so vital! We keep cutting curriculum that can so benefit us from a young age! That “Dollars & Sense” class or home economics courses, why are these considered a luxury today?
It made me sad seeing how race and income dictated what food was available in every sector of Atlanta I visited. You could find a Waffle House, Bojangle’s or Chik-fil-a on every corner, but a Whole Foods or Sprouts was still relegated to the affluent Buckhead-type areas of the city. Publix and Kroger’s offered some healthier choices, but these options were usually relegated to the back of the store, away from the towering displays of chips and soft drinks that were substantially cheaper. The produce I purchased at several Wal-Mart stores was subpar and not as plentiful or as fresh compared to the Super Target Market offerings outside of the city.
It would be too easy to say, “Well, it’s Georgia!” But, you can’t avoid the same problems in Los Angeles. When I was studying at ELAC with Professor Norma Vega, she incorporated a section on the politics of food in her advanced Spanish class. If the seeds were sown then, perhaps the importance of believing “We are what we eat” still needs to be nurtured in order to flower. At least in my own way of living.
I was weak in resisting the excess of movie set treats during these weeks on location. Even with the tough love of several key friends this week, I still reached for the fried pickles, sweet tea, Magnachos, waffle, grits and corn bread with extra maple butter. Why? I wish I knew. I told myself I can get back on track when I get home, that I’ll just return to my program later. I can lose it, no problem. Going backwards to move forward again is getting old. I knew better and the classic addict behavior displayed only made me realize I have a long way to go to be truly healthy again. That being cavalier is on par with being complicit or silent when people are doing all they can to tear you down in the name of progress or #MAGA.
Driving through South Pasadena today, I thought about stupid I felt for bemoaning I have too much to eat when countless others are struggling to find their next meal. It is a gross abuse of body, mind and soul. I am beyond fortunate to know that I have the means and knowledge to be healthy and sated. That is no excuse to act like I have all the resources and chances in the world to avoid the inevitable, which is an untimely death. I will take this to heart when I return to Atlanta again later this week. No more side trips to Fatlanta, either. Passage denied.
Part of the struggle of healthy eating is knowing when you’ve had enough. To push yourself away from the table and say, “I will not intake anymore of that which can hurt me.” As we lurch forward through this era of chaos, anger and confusion, focus is essential. In order to be able to object and resist, you need strength and conviction. If you can’t control what you eat, then maybe it is time to get out of the kitchen. More, maybe it is time to take stock of what makes you strong and able and offer that part of yourself with those who are willing to listen and learn along with you.
We are what we eat, just as much as we are who we choose to lead.
“I just want you to love yourself as much as we love you. We all want you to be here. Please do this for you. Please do this for us.”
When you hear a voice that is trembling with tears and emotion, you listen. I took me by surprise, to be honest. I’ve been on this weight loss path many times over the last 20 years. It’s been a journey my friends have supported on as much as they’ve endured my misadventures in dating. But the urgency in my bestie’s voice belied something different. We’ve seen loss, quite a bit of it to be honest, in the last year. We’ve seen what poor health choices can do. Look at George Michael. Luther Vandross. Perhaps it was a colleague or a family member. Many of us have endured the pain of knowing they could have saved themselves from diabetes, heart disease or the effects of high cholesterol.
I have the trifecta of these ailments that are prevalent within the Latino community. I’ve seen their effects and it is painful and scary to know I can succumb just as easily. Yet, I’ve done nothing to combat them in the last 14 months. I’ve had the skills and resources to do something about my health and my attachment to food for 20 years now. It’s been a war I’ve been battling since I was a kid. If buttered toast with jam made me feel better, I had to have four pieces. I can still hear my tearful young self ask my aunt Beba, who was visiting us from Mexico City, for those pieces of bread. And like all good moms, she enabled her “gordito querido” because he was sad.
I still get sad. A lot. And I keep reaching for that bread or nachos or carnitas burrito or any of of the salt bombs that could detonate without warning. Why? I stopped caring about my future. I couldn’t be bothered. If I’m going to go, I was going to go big. But as I started the new year, I just couldn’t justify that course of self-destruction anymore. (I think it is the Lexapro doing its job.)
I’ll admit I was a bit cavalier when I posted an image of my sullen face on Facebook, which made this simple decree:
Today is my first day back on @leanforlifelindora. I am still processing my emotional attachment to food, something that continues to hurt me as much at 49 as it did at 19. I know I’m not alone in this struggle. As I approach 50, I have set one goal for myself during these next 18 weeks of healthy eating, counseling and exercise. “I want to see 51 and beyond.”
The reason my friend called was to offer support on that statement. It was happenstance that one of her colleagues advised her that a friend of theirs was found dead over the weekend. He was overweight, suffering from diabetes. He succumbed to illness at the age of 63. She called me in tears to urge me to take better care, to take charge. I was humbled and rattled at the same time. Because, that’s what it is about for us all, right? We must take care and control of selves, to fight that which could adversely affect us in more way than just our health.
I went back to Lindora and was given this mantra: “Carbs are not your friend. They turn to sugar. They make you sick.”
Not all carbs, I know. But the carbs that I tend to favor are not good for me. Apathy is not good for me. Depression is not good for me. A slow death is not good for anyone. I do want to see 50 and 51 and as many years as I can count so I can still be part of this dialogue for change. As I told my friend, I will be here. Too much is at stake. And, you know, I think I actually mean it this time.
Glucose Reading: 213
This is the point where you tell yourself, “It’s not a sprint. It’s not a race. It’s for life.” I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled to see not even a little drop in my weight this morning. Instead, it went ever so slightly in the other direction, dammit.
It’s been a struggle to engage with my rational sense of optimism today. All the white noise of our new president’s administration turning us into a Margaret Atwood novel is keeping me from focusing on what really matters right now. I can’t seem to focus on much else but post these angry missives on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s like I want to reach out and slap the shit out of every idiot who thought Trump was the right choice. And don’t get me started on the former classmates who follow me on Facebook, who fill their pages with “We need to respect the President” or “We need to pray to God to help Trump show him the way.” Better yet, “I’m so tired of all the negative on my feed.”
Fuck you. Wait until we have to put our backs up against the wall, then tell me how God will deliver us.
I’m a fat, hungry, angry, gay Mexican right now. But through this haze of red, I can say thanks to Protein Day #1, my sugar was down a whopping 62 points. More, the famed Lindora Ketosis stick had some real color. Fat is going somewhere. I think it was the jeans I keep wearing as nothing else fits right now. Hahaha. Tomorrow, I’m wearing gym shorts for weigh-in. And the numbers will go down because I can do this. I even did a 1.86 mile walk around Hancock Park today. However, I can safely say during the next 18 weeks I doubt you will find me writing like Little Maria Sunshine.
Oscar winning director Danny Boyle earned his master status by never making the same film twice. In recent years, he’s been engaged by decidedly human tales with an edge of romance (“Slumdog Millionaire”) or harrowing survival (“127 Hours”). But what would audiences make of “Trance?” One word: Underrated.
Revisiting the moral grit that made “Shallow Grave” and “Trainspotting” two of his best films, “Trance” emerged as its own entity. An unforgettable, old school psychological thriller that is beautifully sleek and modern, “Trance,” at least to me solidified Boyle’s position as a filmmaker of great muscle and nerve. And, if any actor was born to be part of a Boyle Ensemble, it is the fearless Rosario Dawson.
While Dawson has been firing up the Marvel Cinematic Universe of late as Claire Temple in the Netflix series “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and the new “Luke Cage,” the bigger heat has been reserved for this year’s presidential election. A fervent supporter of Bernie Sanders, Dawson has garnered headlines for her commitment to Sanders’s “party of the people” agenda during the DNC. Earlier this year, she was among the protesters arrested in April during Democracy Spring in Washington, D.C. It is exactly this fervent desire for change and to continue the conversation of creating a civil and honest society that makes Dawson one of my favorite people to interview.
Whether it was on the set of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” in Vancouver or in a hotel ballroom in Santa Monica for “Unstoppable,” she has never wavered in terms of her candor, sense of humor, authenticity or grace. In this edition of “From the MediaJor Vault,” Dawson proved “entrancing” when she spoke about her role in the film during this interview from March, 2013 in Los Angeles.
(Interview produced by Jorge Carreon and edited by Sara Gordon Hilton.)
The groundbreaking vision of AMERICAN HORROR STORY may not be to everyone’s taste, nor has it remained consistent. But AHS has its legion of fans for very specific reasons and that loyalty was cemented with its dark and unsettling second season, “Asylum.”
No one can deny that AHS features one of the strongest ensemble casts assembled for any screen — silver or otherwise. With careful precision, filmmaker and television powerhouse Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Crime Story”) gathered a cast of players that not only committed themselves to the challenging, genre-driven material at hand, they elevated it to vertiginous heights. Next to the legendary Jessica Lange, no other AHS player proved themselves as fearless than Sarah Paulson.
As intrepid reporter Lana Winters in “Asylum,” Paulson brought a humanity and soul to the often soul crushing abuse she endures at the infamous Briarcliff asylum. What made Winters such an unforgettable character was Murphy and the series writers never allowing her to become a horror victim stereotype. Winters always has a plan, keeping her wits about her no matter how dire the circumstances. She may look like Mary Richards, but she possesses an edge and a survivor’s mettle that makes her all the more unique.
The contrast between Paulson’s contribution to the first season of AHS, where she played a moony psychic, to her role as a lesbian journalist in “Asylum” is a testament to her versatility and strength. While she also went full witch mode for “Coven,” she hasn’t been put on such vivid display in the subsequent installments of AHS. But, no fan will ever forget her steely control in the “Asylum” finale, when the last act of Ms. Winters’s harrowing journey proved to be appropriately mindblowing, indeed.
Being part of the Ryan Murphy Players has been quite good for Paulson, nabbing two Emmy nominations this year alone for her work on “AHS: Hotel” and for her searing turn as attorney Marcia Clark in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” The Emmy voters may need to be sent to an “asylum” if they don’t finally award Paulson with one of those darned statues already. In the meantime, take a look back and out what Paulson had to say to me in January 2013, right before the infamous series finale aired in this edition of “From the MediaJor Vault.”
UPDATE: Congratulations on your long-deserved Emmy win for your leading role on “ACS!” Ms. Paulson!
(Interview produced by Jorge Carreón; edited by Sara Gordon Hilton for The MediaJor Channel.)