January 7, 2005

THIS MICHAEL MOORE MOMENT BROUGHT TO YOU BY BILL WHITTLE

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Michael Moore was a guest on SUNDAY MORNING SHOOTOUT, for which I am the editor. I recused myself from that taping. There are, to my knowledge, only five people that I fear may cause me to lose control enough to become (progressively) embarrassed, fired, arrested or executed. O.J Simpson is one; the second is the absolutely execrable Ted Rall, and the final three are Michael Moore.

Besides, my normally straightforward colleagues broke the news that he would be a guest on the show in the same way you might tell someone young and full of life that they have only three days to live. Me and Mike have more than an oil and vinegar thing going; it's more particle / anti-particle. I have dedicated my life to fighting everything he stands for. I would correct those who have said I am the anti-Michael Moore. I deeply appreciate the sentiment, but the fact is, he is the anti-Bill Whittle.

He is a great TV guest however.

Funny, self-deprecating, animated, interesting. Today I first saw the raw footage preparatory to commencing my Dark Arts. Since I have about an hour of raw tape on Mike, I toyed with the idea of taking an hour or two and editing a little two-minute movie of MM telling us what a great and good man George W. Bush is. A decent editor can string together a funny series of quotes in this manner. A really good editor ' and forgive me this little vanity, but I am a really good editor ' can do it in such a way that it does not look funny at all. It is completely seamless.

Michael Moore is a really good editor. Just watching the trailer for Fahrenheit 9/11, I could see all the techniques: the judicious cutaway before the smile that shows the speaker is joking, the juxtaposition of two images to suggest a third, completely new thought or emotion'that sort of thing.

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[By the way: during the 1920's. Sergei Eisenstein ' shown above in this undated audition photo for Eraserhead ' and other Soviet filmmakers found themselves critically short of motion picture film (not to mention bread, toilet paper, electricity, and happiness ' this was The Big State At Work, remember.) Sergei and his truly brilliant fellow filmmakers had nothing to do but play with editing by re-cutting old films. They just took some hoary old silent classics and re-cut them again and again, trying to make them say something different. They would also experiment, by taking a shot of a man staring into the camera with absolutely no expression on his face whatsoever, and intercutting it with pictures of a sumptuous feast. When shown to an unsuspecting audience, every person in the theater later dutifully reported on how hungry the man looked. When the exact same head shot was cut against gauzy photos of a beautiful young woman, the audience remarked on how lonely he seemed. And so on.

In this society, with the visual language we all now speak, a citizen who does not understand the power of the cut is likely to be taken, and taken badly, by the likes of Michael Moore and me.]

Anyway, Michael was up to form in many ways, and I will now give you a very brief preview of a few things he said. I remember them very clearly. They are seared into my memory ' seared, I say, in a manner reminiscent of John Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia. I remember them because I just spent the afternoon like Pippin looking into the Palantir: horrified, appalled, and unable to look away:

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Somewhere in the middle of the deeply, deeply sincere protestations that he hates controversy, and that the very idea of politicizing the Oscars is deeply, deeply distasteful to him, and that only at the very last minute did any idea of saying something nasty ever occur to him, Michael told what he considers the lesson of the election.

The lesson of the election ' pay attention ' is that the Republicans won because they had a compelling story to tell. 'Never mind if it's fiction,' said Michael. (I am only quoting from memory here, so it will be burned-neuron verbatim, believe me. His voice is echoing in my head like the endless fugue of screams and rudely spat-out cries of Sex Dwarf! in that classic old Soft Cell song ' pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel.)

The (remember, fictional!) Republican story of the election, he said, voice deepening in faux drama, as if being sold to children at bedtime, was as follows:

Out of the ashes of September 11th, rose a man who stood upon the rubble of Lower Manhatten, with a bullhorn in his hand, and said "I will protect you, and you will never'be attacked...again."

And the people were never'attacked'again. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Now I listened to this, and my first thought was: And what part of that story was fictional, you son of a bitch? That sounds just exactly like what happened to me.

'What was the Democrats story?' he asks. Peter Guber comes up with my answer: 'He changed it so many times no one knew.' Mike agrees, but that's not his point. Kerry's story, he says, was 'I'm not Bush.' That's not a story, says Michael Moore: that's a tagline. They got 57 million votes with a tagline! It's a miracle, really, if you look at it a certain way. Of course, if you look at it another way, it's just another page in 25 years of presidential defeats for Democratic candidates not named William Jefferson Clinton.

There then followed some general muttering that, when all is said and done, John Kerry may not have been the greatest candidate to ever grace these sacred shores. 'Now that the election is over, let's be honest.' Sure, why not. Now's as good a time to start as any, Mike.

Now Michael starts to get religion! He balls his hands into small fists, peeling off the points. What the Republicans don't want the Democrats to know ' all you Democrats, please leave the room! ' is that the secret to electoral success is that America loves Hollywood! Americans just love actors so much, we common folk hold them in such high esteem, that we'll go for just about anything they've got! 'Where is our Arnold?' implores Mr. Moore. Mike, and presumably many other liberals, want to know exactly this.

(Note to Terry McAuliffe: Please, please don't throw a Martin Sheen / Ben Affleck ticket at us Jesuslanders! We'd have no response! Our celebrilicious genes would take over and we'd be paralyzed to resist! The election would go Dem in a cakewalk! Dear God, Terry ' anything but that!)

Then Michael Moore said something that was accidentally interesting. The Republicans run actors all the time! They know it's the ticket to success!

Then he listed them: Ronald Reagan' And, to be honest, I must here confess that I honestly thought that the moment that Michael Moore even started to mention the Rea' in 'Reagan' -- in other words, the instant God was sure he wasn't about to casually mention something else on his mind ' Ronald McDonald, say ' then he would suddenly burst into flames and wither into a smelly, burning pile of microwaved cheese. If there is a God, he does not watch much TV -- that much we can be certain of.

But the list of Republican actors turned successful politicians continued: Ronald Reagan. Arnold. That guy from The Love Boat. Fred Thompson. Sonny Bono'

Republicans know the secret to getting elected is to run an actor. Where are the liberal actors? Hollywood needs to find some and out them on the ticket.

Yes, where, where in the name of all that is Holy, can one find a liberal actor in Hollywood?

Anyway, this got me to thinking. There are only eight conservative actors in the history of Hollywood, and five of them have been elected to high office. (The sixth was elected president of the National Rifle Association, the seventh was elected Mayor of Carmel, California on a pro-business platform, and John Wayne had the class to never run for ' or from ' anything.) If, as my precisely scientific calculations show, liberal actors outnumber conservative ones by a ratio of 37,454.7 to 1, then where, indeed, are the elected liberal actors? Michael's plea does make a species of sense for a change. Why are there no liberal actors elected to high public office?

I have a theory as to why the liberals have no 'Arnold. ' Our Arnold ' you know, the Arnold' is pro-business, pro-self-reliance and unabashedly, gloriously patriotic. This is a man who fessed up on national television to being smitten with Richard Nixon because he sounded anti-Communist. Arnold has seen real communists, as opposed to say, leading liberal Presidential wish fetish Warren Beatty, who has played one on the Silver Screen. Somehow, we poor, dim Americans ' remember, Michael Moore loves to tell overseas audiences that the stupidest Canadian / Briton / German / Frenchman / Burkino Fasoan is smarter than the brightest American ' we poor, simple-minded, drooling morons somehow think that Arnold's vision of an America opposed to real Communists is somehow a more compelling story than that of millionaire pampered playboy Warren Beatty's misty-eyed view of them as a nation of daring, romantically doomed poet-philosophers in Reds. Or Blues, I suppose we should say, now that some kid in the 2000 CBS election results graphics department decided to reverse the natural order of things and call the most conservative parts of the country red states.

May I quote Don Rickles? Way to go, you Hockey Puck.

Message to Mr. Moore, from the Peanut Gallery behind the electronic vale: You are the Left's Arnold. The Left can't field a candidate who's an actor because every single leftist actor on the planet sounds like the editorial columnist for Pravda circa 1963. You know where your Progressive Arnold is? It's you, boyo. You perfectly encapsulate the rabid anti-Americanism that Hollywood adores, and that has stolen the heart from a once-proud party. By all means, run to Hollywood in the future. Surely, a nation as stupid as you claim us to be, will buy anything with George Clooney's or Julia Robert's face on it, right? God, I would like to see that particular theory put to the test: preferably seven or eight times ' at least as often as Communist governments have collapsed ' just to make sure it was 'done right.'

Two other brief points:

First, look back on that list of conservative actors Michael Moore named. Who knows what they all have in common?

Anyone? Buehler?

That's right! Person right there in the back row!

They're all really terrible actors. (Okay, except for Clint, but he's probably more Libertarian than Republican anyway.)

Sure, they can hack their way through a scene as the tough guy... Oh, who am I kidding: Sonny Bono and the Love Boat guy can't even do that. But can they handle Hamlet? No, they cannot, which reminds me of one last conservative actor, and that is Mel Gibson.

No, some are great movie stars, but generally speaking they're miserable actors. But in person, truly great personalities. Which tends to confirm a theory of mine, which is that people who are really terrific actors are some of the most boring, colorless, hollow people you would ever be unfortunate enough to meet. I have met a few, and by and large they are simply empty vessels into which better, brighter people ' the scientific term for them is writers ' pour intelligence, wit, courage and character. That's why these fictional creations are called characters. They're the people actors want to be ' but due to some defect, some lack of inherent character, these people cannot go out and actually become such people: soldiers, astronauts, cowboys ' you know, interesting people. People they make movies about. Actors have to pretend to be them. Actually, first writers have to pretend to be them, then the actor takes these written-down make-believe instructions and then adds their own Eye Crinkles, Thoughtful Stares and Charming, Boyish Grins and viola! It's a lot easier than actually becoming such a person, so you must admire the strategy, at least from a conservation of energy point of view.

There is very little in our safe, sanitary, prosperous world more disappointing than listening to an in-depth interview with a favorite celebrity and discovering, to our growing then endless dismay, that there is a long, long, looooooong way between Gillian Anderson and Dana Sculley. Or to see how far Jack Ryan is from Alec Baldwin. Or from Ben Affleck.

No, these conservative actors did not get elected because they were great actors. They got elected because they grew up. They all went out and had to deal with reality, and the possibility that things might not turn out according to the script. They had the guts to run, which means they had the guts to risk losing.

You know. Being unpopular and all.

I think that there are no liberal actors being elected because none of them have the inner character to take that risk ' the risk of unscripted reality. The great actors just don't seem to have the chops off the set. If someone has a better explanation, I am, in the words of Ross Perot, all ears.

A last swipe to drown my pain:

Jon Stewart's name was mentioned as a possible candidate, and Michael Moore, the man who endorsed Howard Dean until he imploded, then Wesley Clark until he fizzled, followed by John Kerry until he'uh'lost, endorsed the idea of a Jon Stewart candidacy. 'People would vote for him,' said this incredible political visionary.

Now to his credit, Jon Stewart seems to think the very idea of him holding serious office a joke. But here's what I don't find so funny: Stewart uses The Daily Show to routinely mock and belittle not just the hard and dirty work in Iraq, but to mock earnestness pretty much everywhere. That's his right of course. In fact, it's his job.

But when I watched him mocking the Freedom Medals given to Paul Bremer and Tommy Franks for being the creators of the debacle, the fiasco, the catastrophe, the quagmire of Iraq, I suddenly said to myself here is a man who has people to style his hair, do his makeup, light him in a flattering way, write clever lines for him to say, edit out his gaffes, missteps, and just plain screw-ups. He lives in the center of an environment so controlled and rehearsed and scripted that those of you who have not seen the Hollywood Machine in action up close cannot fully imagine it.

Jon Stewart can mock Tommy Franks and Paul Bremer and George Bush because he, like Michael Moore, has the luxury of not having to come up with something better. He does not have to make a gas station profitable, he doesn't have to run a farm. He certainly never has to face the messy uncertainty and compromise and setbacks that an aircraft designer, say, or even a football coach has to deal with. And I dare say that he and Alec and Susan and Barbra and Sean would grind to a smoking, screeching mental halt if they had to confront the kind of responsibility, uncertainty, and just plain risks that our men and women in the military face each and every day. All Jon Stewart has to do is sit there, look into the camera, and say something that he or someone else has usually had hours or days to think of. He, like Michael Moore, and unlike George Bush, has a quick tongue and can turn a pithy phrase. They can criticize, belittle and mock the earnest, often messy and sometimes disastrous policies and actions of better people, better because they actually produce policies and actions rather than use then as a laugh line to grow their multi-million dollar bank accounts.

And Michael Moore thinks such people are the salvation of the Democrats. That's what passes for ideas on the far left these days: run celebrities for ' Moore actually used the term ' 'the masses.'

That's not good enough. Not for reality. I'll take good character, over a good characterization, any day.

You can catch the whole thing and make up your own mind: SUNDAY MORNING SHOOTOUT airs Sunday morning, January 23 on AMC. Check listings for local times. Just remember this: I watch Michael Moore so that you don't have to. The BUY SILENT AMERICA button is at the top of the page, to the right. Shower me with love and money; all negative comments will be pre-emptively deleted by My People so as not to offend My Delicate Sensibilities. That's why I came to Hollywood, after all.

Posted by Proteus at 12:54 AM | Comments (171)

January 1, 2005

MY NEW YEARS REVOLUTION

When I was a small little tyke, my mother said something to me that I have never forgotten.

I was about four or five, as I recall. Life was excellent. It mostly revolved around sitting on a beach in Bermuda after school. The British school I attended was very hard. I loved it. In the summer there was enough time to hurry home and maybe get in a little snorkeling or a hot dog before I headed up the hill for home. Sitting next to my younger brother Steve, my snorkeling wingman (truth be told, I was his snorkeling wingman ' he went through the water like a torpedo and still does), surrounded by hot beach chickies ' well, life was good.

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One night, around this time, we were at a dinner party at the hotel my father managed. Afterward, in the Bermuda Room at the Carlton Beach, several of the gathered luminaries were smoking cigarettes (this was about 1965) in their white Dinner Jackets and talking politics. I sat there in my little blazer with my bow tie and short pants.

One of the guests, an imposing, kind of pushy fellah smoking a cigar that smelled like a dead rat, said: 'Hell, we'll be on the moon in five years! By the time Billy's old enough he'll be leading the expedition to Alpha Centauri!'

Without thinking, I snorted rudely, and said: 'Unlikely, sir. There's no foreseeable drive configuration with great enough specific impulse to provide the necessary delta-vee; except just possibly some form of thermonuclear propulsion, and we lack the political will and social capital to invest long term in that arena' And then I turned away and went back to my Shirley Temple.

(Ever had a Shirley Temple, by the way? Ginger Ale, and thick slick of enough red grenadine to put the Exxon Valdez to shame, run aground on the shoals of seven or eight maraschino cherries and served with an adult-type swizzle stick. Enough sugar to nearly crystallize, and good-old-fashioned imagination fuel for certain types of active boys. Awesome. )

Anyway, my mother grabbed me by the arm, pulled me away from the surprised table, muttered an apology, and said under her breath very, very emphatically :

'Billy, I've told you: if you can't say anything of deep and meaningful scientific or political import that is not supported by fact, reason, historical precedent and in-depth step-by-step logical analysis then don't say anything at all!'

This advice I took to heart. Which is why I post so infrequently.

The fact is, the longer I am away, the more important I feel the next piece needs to be. Which keeps me away longer, which raises the bar further, which leaves me like Jimmy Stewart spinning into the Vertigo spiral, arms flailing, mouth open in a silent scream. Et cetera.

So I am making one New Year resolution only, and that is this: to try, on an experimental basis, to post something ' even stupid things like this ' at least a few times a week. The big uber-essays will still be there, but instead of a blank page in the interim, I'm going to make a determined effort to write a lot more frequently. You know those little mini-Snickers? A handful of those in between Turkey dinners. That's the plan.

As I mentioned before, I sometimes feel I might as well rename this The Apology Blog. But since we're pals I can tell you what's been holding me up.

I work as a video editor on a weekly show. We just finished our 50th episode. Steady work in the entertainment field is like a well-informed celebrity: refreshing, impressive and rare.

About ten weeks ago, we sold the show to the international market, which means that 26 episodes had to be recut, from scratch, in about 13 weeks. That means I have to do one regular new show each week, plus two recuts in the same week. Which means nights, weekends, Thanksgiving morning, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, most of yesterday, this morning (New Year's Day) and now, after a brief nap, back again tonight for at least four hours.

Now don't get me wrong. It's the best job I have ever had (other than Author ' thanks to you all), and I make some extra money doing it, but it is taking a lot of my time. It should be finished by mid- to late-January. I should be able to find the time to scratch together SANCTUARY well before then.

In the meantime, I'll give you a little thumbnail update of my recent flight across this entire country of ours in a small airplane, aided by an excellent flight crew:

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That's our own Great Hairy Silverback and Dana in Vero Beach the morning we set out. Steve is writing a small novel recording the entire journey, which was not short on adventure. I won't go into too much detail here. But'

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Here's Dana getting ready to launch on Sunday morning. Beautiful, smart, sweet, a great pilot and, she does windows. Tough not to like!

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I'm looking snarky next to the Jetson's car that's going to take us from the Atlantic to the Pacific. That's what we did, too: climbed out over the Sebastian, FL inlet, turned over the East Coast, and headed west to Dallas and a great night at Kim and Connie Du Toits, where we feasted on bottlenose dolphin fillets, Giant Panda steaks, and some delicious roast California Condor. Good eating! Met many great people there too.

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Here's the view over west Texas at 10,500 ft. Not too shabby at all, although there is a lot of west Texas. Not as much as there is by car, but a lot.

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Stopped the second night in Prescott, Az with some of Steve's relatives. That's a great city, and a great little airport, although pretty cold the following morning.

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Only 90 minutes later, we were on the ground in Torrance, to show off the rocket ship at the flight school where Dana and I both train. Then we took her out over the Pacific, along the Palos Verdes peninsula. What an amazing trip.

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Anyway, here's GHS at the end of the last night, looking justifiably proud.

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And here's Yours Truly just before we walked away. Happy camper. About as happy as that kid sitting on the beach eating a hot dog.

So much of this I owe to all of you. Thank you.

Anyway, a detailed trip review by GHS is coming in a day or so, followed by 3 new essays as soon as I have time to breathe.

BTW, did I say Happy New Year, yet? No?

Well, Happy New Year to all you fine people. I have great hopes for all of us. I believe in my heart we have turned a corner, and while we are not yet out of the woods, the light definitely seems to grow brighter through the leaves.

Posted by Proteus at 9:26 PM | Comments (45)