Mannion Family Movie Night feature presentation. Friday, March 11, 2016. Posted March 19.
South Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp, right) with his lieutenants making plans over beers at Triple O’s Lounge, one of Bulger’s favorite hangouts, in a scene from the movie Black Mass that could have played out in real life with me and some friends having lunch at a nearby table.
The Boston depicted in Black Masswas there and not there when I lived in Boston. You heard stories. Got hints. And odds were, you didn’t come into contact with it first hand yourself, you knew someone.
Who knew someone.
At the movie theater I worked at, I knew a guy. Who knew a guy. Who knew a guy.
I ever needed a favor, my guy said, one of his guys who knew guys who knew guys would be glad to help out.
The proffered favors included drugs, girls, placing bets, securing loans to cover the money lost placing bets, and, I’m pretty sure my guy meant to imply, getting someone whacked. He was bragging. He wanted me to know he was connected. At the time, early 1980s, you were either connected to one of the Irish mobs or to the Mafia, and they were connected to each other in the business of knocking each other off by way of carving up territory.
I knew another guy. He knew guys. The guys he knew knew guys, of course, but the guys they knew were their fathers and uncles and older brothers and cousins who one way or another had been involved in the gang wars that led to the rise of Whitey Bulger, the South Boston mob boss played by Johnny Depp in Black Mass who turned FBI informant while still continuing to run his often violent criminal operations, a mutually beneficial relationship in which agents for the Bureau literally helped Bulger get away with murder. One of the guys’ father was dead, gunned down though I don’t think killed by Whitey himself. Another’s was in prison. A third’s had been a cop almost certainly on the take. Not sure if he was on Whitey’s payroll or in the pocket of a rival. The father of the guy I knew had owned a bar he’d sold because he didn’t know which side to pay the protection money, Whitey and the Winter Hill Gang or the Italian mobsters trying to muscle in on Winter Hill’s vending machine racket. Some of his friends, my guy’s friends, were seriously considering applying for entry-level positions and apprenticeships as bagmen, legbreakers, pimps, drug dealers, and bookmakers. The gangs were always hiring. The factories and construction companies weren’t.
Point is, if you wanted to find your way into Black Mass’ Boston, Whitey Bulger’s Boston, you didn’t have to look hard to find it. Just being a student having to work a part-time job and always on the lookout for a cheap meal could take you there.
One time I found my way into it without looking for it or knowing I was there.
Some friends and I went for lunch at a bar in Southie we heard about served a very cheap seafood lunch plate. Lobster roll. Chowder. A vegetable. Steamers for the table. Five bucks.
I don’t know if Whitey was there when we were, but it’s a real possibility. He and some of his lieutenants might have been there having lunch and discussing business at a nearby table, just as in the photo up top.
Black Mass isn’t so much a true crime story---and it’s not as true as it could have been, anyway. Too much is left out, there are too many elisions, too much that’s condensed or combined---because there’s not much a story to tell about Bulger’s criminality. His crimes, including his murders, vicious as they were, were banal. They were mostly opportunistic or impulsive, things he decided on the spot needed to be done as routine matters of business or because he felt like it at the moment. In Black Mass, they aren’t portrayed as pieces of a grand scheme or as steps on a descent deeper and deeper into hell. They’re simply episodes.
And Black Mass isn’t a biography in the sense that it relates the history of a person in relation with the particular time and place in which he lived. The period during which the movie takes place, 1975 to 1991, is visually present in the clothing and cars but it doesn’t figure in the events or in the thinking of the characters. Boston is mainly just a backdrop. Bulger doesn’t seem to live in Boston. He just operates there.
His relationship with the city as a particular place and to its citizens in general is the same as his relationships with anybody and anything not part of him and his, which is, as business associate and supposed friend asked to describe the nature of their dealings says, "strictly criminal."
This is all more by way of observation than criticism. Like I said. Black Mass isn’t about the time and the place. It’s about the corrupt and criminal dealings of two men whose intertwined stories happened to play out at a time and in a place I happened to be while it was playing out. I would like to have seen more of that time and that place and not only for nostalgia’s sake.
The repetitiveness of the scenes of Bulger being Bulger might have been mitigated. The motives of the corrupt FBI agent who forms "an alliance" with Whitey, John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton), his sense of having been deprived and denied his due and his desire to get some of his own back and to be seen as a big man in the eyes of the town and the people who’d failed to recognize and reward his worth when he was growing up, would make more than dramatic sense.
In my Boston, student Boston, which overlapped with bohemian Boston, tourist Boston, and various parts of ethnic Boston, depending on where we got jobs and the neighborhoods where we could afford to rent apartments, criminal Boston did its business but generally out of sight and out of mind. There were, of course, sections of town where the criminal and the legitimate did business openly side by side with more than occasional overlaps and with minimal conflicts of interest. This is how it was possible for families to have one side who were all cops and teachers and nurses and construction workers and another that was pretty much all criminals and it causing only minor awkwardness at weddings and funerals. And it explains how there could be one family in particular in which one son would grow up to be the most powerful crime boss in the city and another son would grow up to be one of the most powerful politicians in the state not named Kennedy or O’Neill and few Boston natives would wonder about it or ask how the brothers arranged it so that neither got in the other’s way or they didn’t cause each other any embarrassment or trouble.
This aspect of life in Boston is largely left out of Black Mass and going by the taking-it-for-granted treatment the relationship the movie gives the relationship between Whitey Bulger and his brother William Bulger, who really was the president of the Massachusetts State Senate, you might conclude the director Scott Cooper and screenwriters Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth are like those Boston natives who were so used to the legitimate and the criminal being mixed up together they’d long ago given up any effort to try to sort them out and just took it for granted that a crime boss and a political boss were two sides of the same coin to the point of not even being curious about how that worked.
More to the point, how one brother ends up a criminal and one of their boyhood friends an agent for the FBI with nobody thinking there’s anything extraordinary about it isn’t part of the movie’s story.
Black Mass's map of Boston is tightly circumscribed. The movie's geography is pretty much limited to Bulger’s South Boston hangouts---which included his favorite killing field and burial ground---and the FBI’s offices in Government Center, which you wouldn’t know from watching the movie is an easy walk from the North End where the Italian mobsters they needed Bulger’s help to track and take down had their headquarters. It’s also an easy walk to Beacon Hill, the financial district, the waterfront, Quincy Marketplace, and (when I was living there and they were still in business) the movie theater where I worked and knew those guys who knew guys. It’s also not far from the State House where Billy Bulger presided over the state senate and no distance at hall from the mayor’s office. They’re in the same building complex. The building the movie shows as the cover shot when the scene switches to FBI headquarters is the City Hall.
Political Boston, student Boston, working Boston, tourist Boston---the Bostons I knew and Bulger’s criminal Boston served and preyed upon---are there only to be glimpsed in Black Mass.
It’s there but not there. We hear stories. We get hints. Characters know people.
Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper, screenplay by Mark Mallouk and Jezz Butterworth. Based on the bookBlack Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, Julianne Nicholson, David Harbour, Juno Temple, Cory Stoll, and W. Earl Brown. Rated R. Now available on DVD and Blu-ray and to watch instantly at Amazon.
Really wish Bernie’d stop using the word “Revolution.”
Purely personal reaction. Just me being a crank about words again. I don’t expect you to agree with me. Better you don’t. Crankiness isn’t good for the mind or the soul. But the word doesn’t conjure up any positive associations for me, unless preceded by “American” or “Scientific” or followed by “No. 9” or used in connection with what the earth is doing in relation to the sun. Otherwise I immediately think “French”, “Russian”, “Chinese”, or “Sexual.”
Nothing really bad about that last one. Certainly not in the same league as the other three. Again, it’s personal. I don’t think of Stonewall or Roe vs Wade or even of my own good luck in entering my dating years after it did its job revolutionizing. I just see fleeting images of guys with heavy mustaches and gold chains and heavily made-up women in bell bottom jumpsuits.
My own cranky knowledge of history is also at work in my antipathy to the word. Generally, it’s used with an implicit or explicit “political” attached and it’s my belief there’s only been one political revolution in history that didn’t end with something terrible in its own way or as terrible or worse than what it replaced governing the place that got revolutionized and that was ours---and the reason for that was that the “new” government was already in place and running things before the shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. In fact, it can be argued that the “new” government was actually the old government restored after the King and Parliament “revolted” and tried to impose their authority illegally on the self-governing colonies.
Can be argued?
That’s pretty much the case as it’s laid out in the Declaration of Independence.
Most of the founders were liberal-minded and liberal thinking men but they were temperamentally conservative and not comfortable in their roles as revolutionaries. The American colonies had enjoyed generations of benign neglect by England and were used to governing themselves that included electing men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams to public office. Those men saw themselves as defenders of a status quo the King was disrupting. As far as they were concerned, they weren’t the ones trying to turn the world upside down. The world had been turned upside down by the King and the so-called revolutionaries were trying to turn it back rightside up. The King didn’t know to leave well enough alone. The Patriots weren’t taking power. Their constitutional powers were being taken away. In that light, the king was the revolutionary and they were the conservatives.
So, there’s that. Then there’s my prejudiced feelings about the people I’ve known who’ve been most enamored of the word and the concept and the prospect---Right Wingers and Leftists.
It’s not just the Tea Party types who showed up at protests in knee britches and tricorn hats or who have Gadsden flag decals on their Hummers who see themselves as revolutionaries in the spirit of the Founders as popularly imagined. The whole thrust of movement conservatism---of the “Reagan Revolution”---has been towards overthrowing the liberal elites Right Wing Republicans (which is to say all Republicans now) believe have imposed their illegal authority upon the good, God-fearing, regular and real American people. And of course the outcome of their Revolution will put them in charge. That’s what revolutions are all ultimately about. Who gets to be the boss. In my experience, the most revolutionary spirits are also the possessors of the most authoritarian mindsets. What they want most is to be the bosses. That goes for the leftists as well as the Right Wingers.
I can’t help it. I suspect most leftists of being frustrated authoritarians. No. I don’t suspect it. I know they are. All the ones I’ve ever known have been, at any rate. What they want is to live in a world that has been made over new in their image. They want to be the ones in charge, if not directly, then through someone strong enough and bold enough to make sure that the way they think things should be run are the way things are run, no ifs, ands, or buts, and no compromise.
The leftists I’ve known and loved, would-be revolutionaries all, are contemptuous of the processes of Democratic government, because it’s messy, it’s unpredictable, and uncontrollable. Things are continually working out in ways not to their perfect satisfaction. The system is rigged. They know this because it must be. How else to explain why they or at least people who think exactly like them aren’t in charge, running the country exactly as they know it needs to be run. They can’t believe there are that many other people who have other interests and needs of their own, other ideas of their own, other expectations that they can be outvoted in so many places in so many elections. And their only explanation for the perversity of voters refusing to do what leftists know is best for them and everyone is they are corrupt or ignorant. If the former, they are irredeemable. But there’s nothing wrong with the latter a little consciousness raising can’t sure. They can be saved, if only they can be made to listen to reason and submit to some re-education.
Like I said up top. This is just be being a crank. But…
You say you want a revolution?
Bernie Sanders’ campaign has been based on the idea that the country is on the wrong track and headed for ruin, the President and the Democratic Party have failed us, and a major shake up is needed, a revolution, even, in order to…
Wait for it....
Make America great again.
This is what I crankily worry about.
If you convince people that the world needs to be turned upside down and everything made over new, they will follow the person they believe is strong enough, tough enough, and willful enough to do the turning and the remaking. If it all needs to be burned to the ground, they will hire an arsonist. If the temple needs to come crashing down, they will look for a Samson who won’t mind getting himself and everyone else crushed in the process.
There are two candidates in the race for President running on the promise to tear everything down and start over.
If tearing everything down is what you think needs to be done, then Donald Trump is the guy, because he is the one most gleefully geared for demolition and destruction.
Oscar Weekend continues in Mannionville. Posted February 27, 2016.
Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan in Bridge of Spies.
Of course I knew the story going in. Thought I did, anyway. May, 1960. Height of the Cold War. American U-2 spy plane pilot Gary Powers shot down on a mission over the Soviet Union. Tried and convicted of espionage. Spent two years in Soviet prison before being swapped for a Russian spy.
I didn’t know the swap included another American, a grad student named Frederic Pryor the East Germans had accused of espionage and were holding without charging him in East Berlin. I didn’t know much about the American lawyer who negotiated the swap, James B. Donovan, or about the Soviet spy, a KGB officer called Vilyam Fisher but known as Rudolf Abel. Learning about them and their parts in the story would have made Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies enough of welcome history lesson for me to make the movie worth seeing. But it turns out there’s more to the story than I knew. Much more. So much more I was convinced while I was watching it that much of that much of that much more was made up by Spielberg and his screenwriters Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen. And Donovan and Abel seemed too good to be true.
Turns out they really were too good to be true. At least, Donovan was. Couldn’t find out as much about Abel when I looked them both up when I got home, but he does seem to have been one of those people whose real life and character are more dramatic and interesting than fiction.
And, except for taking a little poetic license here and there, Spielberg and Charman and the Coens weren’t making stuff up to make the story more dramatic. They were leaving stuff out, probably for reasons of time and money. But possibly to keep from overwhelming the audience with the implausibility of it all.
But given that Bridge of Spies is historically inaccurate mainly in its not including enough history, I wondered why it didn’t look historically accurate. It looked like a movie trying to look historically accurate.
More to to the point, it looked like a movie.
I should say it looked like the movies.
Instead of looking like a realistic recreation of the period---Cold War America and Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s---it looked like spy movies made in Hollywood in the late 1940s, and early 1950s, formalized, mannered, perfectly composed, somehow reminiscent of black and white even though it’s in color and the palette is fairly bright and extensive, and theatrical---that is you can imagine many of the scenes taking place on a stage in a play. It’s realistic but it’s the realism of the sound stage and the workshop from back in the days before cgi when if a scene called for rain, you had to make it rain on the set and if it took place on a city street with period storefronts, you had to build the city or at least a block of it. Even scenes shot on location look as though they were shot in a studio. And Spielberg makes no attempt to hide it. Just the opposite. It’s as if he wants us to notice and is deliberately calling attention to the artifice.
There is in fact a scene in which Tom Hanks as Jim Donovan attempts to elude some shadowy figures following him that takes place at night in the rain on a city street that for all I know was shot at night in the rain on a real city street but looks like it could have been filmed on a studio backlot circa 1940. The night-time darkness is both too dark and too light and so conveniently shadowed here and neon-lit there that you think it has to be an effect of clever lighting and black backdrops. The drenching rain is too drenching and looks like it’s coming out of sprinklers overhead. And the storefronts, doors, and windows along the street display a suspicious lack of activity that suggests that if you could look through them you’d see nothing much going on behind them because there’s nothing actually behind them but struts and scaffolding.
The climactic scene on the Glienicke Bridge connecting East and West Germany is lit and shot in such a way that at times the bridge is more suggested than seen, just as it might be in a movie shot on a soundstage or in a play.
What’s more, there’s something about the way Hanks’ part is written and the way he plays him that makes it easy to imagine Donovan as played by Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper, or even Cary Grant. And since Fonda, Stewart, Peck, and Grant all worked for him on some of his best pictures, it’s easy to imagine Bridge of Spies directed by mid-career, pre-Technicolor Hitchcock.
For that matter---and maybe I’m stretching now---although her part isn’t as important or as developed as it would have been had Bridge of Spies been a Hitchcock film, Amy Ryan as Donovan’s wife has something about her of the type of golden blonde Hitchcock liked just a little too much, and I could see the part expanded and played by Joan Fontaine or Eva Marie Saint.
Not by Grace Kelly, though.
Hitchcock would never have cast her as a wife and mother.
The point is I was aware that I was watching a movie and felt as if I was meant to be aware, almost in a meta- way, which is not like Spielberg.
At first I thought this might be simply due to practicality. Spielberg knew going in he would have to re-create East Berlin in 1962 or at least a good sized chunk of it and whatever way he went about it, either by building expensive sets or using cgi, the rest of the movie would have to look like what he did with that. There may be some cgi but most of the scenes in Berlin take place on sets or on locations that have been so decorated and disguised they might has well be sets. Which explains why street scenes in New York City and interiors in both cities are allowed to look artificial. I thought that letting us notice might even have been Spielberg apologizing for his not being able to make a more realistic-looking movie, although apologizing for anything he puts on screen isn’t any more like Spielberg than going meta-.
Then I remembered how much Spielberg loves movies, particularly those movies, and I thought he might have been doing it for the sheer fun of it. Tell him one of his movies looks like one of those movies and he’d probably take it as a high compliment.
I don’t remember at what point in the movie it dawned on me that reason Bridge of Spies looks like a movie might have been thematic.
There are times when real life is like a movie and even more like a movie than most movies, and this episode in history was one of those times.
Before taking this further, I need to say something about Tom Hanks.
The movie doesn’t exist without him.
One of Hanks’ upcoming films is the Clint Eastwood-directed Sully in which he stars as Chesley Sullenberger, the airline pilot who back in January of 2009 saved the lives of all 155 of his passengers by landing his disabled plane in the Hudson River. In taking on the role of a pilot, Hanks is continuing what seems to be a career-long plan to play every type of person a little kid might dream of growing up to be.
He’s been a soldier, a ship’s captain, an astronaut, a lawyer, a cowboy, a train engineer, various types of cop---police detective, FBI agent, prison guard---a baseball player---well, a baseball manager who had been a player, but a Hall of Famer!---a gangster, a doctor, a stand-up comic, and a famous animated cartoonist and movie producer. He hasn’t played a President yet---and that needs to be fixed quick, with someone casting him as Nixon before he's too old---but he has played a Congressman. He hasn't been a scientist or a priest, a minister, or a rabbi. Technically, he's played a teacher but I don't count it because we don't see him in the classroom. And he hasn't played a spy. I guess a case could be made that in Bridge of Spies he’s finally playing one, an amateur one, at any rate, but Donovan’s another lawyer and not only acts and thinks like one, his lawyerliness is crucial to his success in bringing Powers and the grad student Frederic Pryor home. Which brings me to something Hanks has always been excellent at playing. Intelligent.
I don’t mean he’s simply good at playing smart guys. He’s good at playing guys who are smart in the particular, focused, and knowledgeable ways that make them good at their jobs. You believe he could captain a freighter, manage a baseball team to the brink of a championship, and track down and capture the most brilliant and elusive of con artists. It’s this ability to play not a simply personality but a professional at work that distinguishes his characters from each other and from Tom Hanks, even though they all tend to look and sound exactly like Tom Hanks.
As Jim Donovan he lawyers his way through Bridge of Spies, outmaneuvering and outwitting the professional spies and diplomats on both sides because by training and practice and through a combination of talent, temperament, intelligence, and quickness of wit, he’s skilled at anticipating opponents’ arguments before they’ve even thought of them themselves and also because, again by training and practice and temperament, he’s persistent---when something doesn’t work, he takes a step back, reconsiders, and comes back at the problem from another direction. And as intellectual and emotionally detached as this makes Donovan sound---and Hanks plays him this way---Hanks makes clear that Donovan is also warm-hearted and committed, with his feelings totally engaged on his clients’ behalf.
Hanks puts Donovan’s lawyerly intelligence into his voice, as well. It’s there in the intonations, inflections, and modulations that at times gives a theatricality to things Donovan says, which is in keeping with his being a good lawyer since most good lawyers are not only good public speakers, they’re good actors as well. Donovan is the type of actor who deliberately and cunningly underplays his parts but there’s no doubt he plays parts. It’s just very hard to catch him at.
Like Hanks himself
Hanks is as good as Tom Hanks can be, and like I said he makes the movie. Nothing surprising in that. Mark Rylance, however, was a revelation to me.
I’d never seen Rylance before and had only known of him by his reputation as a great stage actor. But there’s nothing stage actorish about his performance. He does not mouth it nor saw the air too much with his hands. In fact throughout the movie Abel seems to be suffering from a perpetual cold and there’s a hoarseness to his voice that suggests it’s a strain for him to raise it above a whisper, and while a great deal of Rylance’s brilliance of characterization goes into what he has Abel do with his hands, his most elaborate movements are the careful lighting of a cigarette, the careful sketching of a face on a piece of paper---Abel is an artist when he’s not busy spying---and the wiping of a paint brush. As for the torrents, tempers, and whirlwinds of his passions. whatever they are, he keeps them almost entirely hidden. His face is always a perfect mask of impassivity and resignation. Rylance gives one of the deadest-panned of deadpan performances, only his eyes giving anything away and that’s not much. They’re permanently set in a hurt child’s wide-open expression of surprised sadness.
And Rylance makes clear that his performance is Abel performing. The mask he puts on is Abel’s devising. Like Donovan, he’s an actor. But his acting isn’t just a key to his success as a spy. It’s the reason for his survival.
Hanks and Rylance make a good team, as a pair of fine actors playing off each other, as characters learning to like and depend on each other, and as a visual effect---the big, teddy bearish Hanks contrasting with the puppet-like delicateness of Rylance. And Rylance’s extreme underplaying makes Hank’s underplaying look almost histrionic. It’s rare when a character played by Hanks as the overly-emotional one. But that lets us see that as low-key and detached as Donovan manages to appear to be, his feelings are deeply engaged.
“Aren’t you worried?” Donovan asks Abel in a typical exchange that’s repeated with minor variations several times throughout.
And Abel replies, the mask firmly in place, “Would it help?”
And it doesn’t help.
Abel’s mask gets us back to the movie’s movie-ness.
As I was saying, I think it’s thematic.
And it’s not just that this particular episode in the Cold War when real life was like a movie. The Cold War itself was to a great degree fought through movie-like fictions and by real people and through them whole nations acting out roles they’d assigned themselves in attempts at deceiving their enemies and their own civilian populations.
Donovan is put in the predicaments he’s in because the United States government has cast him in a role. He’s playing the part of a defense attorney in a the government’s fiction that Abel’s being given a fair trial because that’s the kind of nation we are.
As CIA Director Allen Dulles says to Donovan when he asks him to negotiate the swap, Abel for Powers, "A lot of fiction going on."
But Donovan’s then able to do what he does because his principles won’t let him play the part as written or exit the scene when he’s supposed to. He re-writes the script as he goes, without telling any of his fellow players that that’s what he’s doing, and he either re-writes their parts in the process and incorporates them into his own plot in a way that they are trapped by their own play-acting.
A judge who prides himself on being tough but fair-minded is manipulated into acting with tough-minded fairness. A vain and ridiculously self-important politician is made to feel he is as important as he thinks he is and as a result makes a decision he’s bound to regret when he’s asked to explain it to his Soviet masters. And an American spy is checkmated into behaving like an American, his return to principle symbolized by Donovan’s forcing him to have the American breakfast at a hotel restaurant, a Spielberg-ian touch that marks Donovan as a stand-in for a movie director. Like a good director, he’s adept at using other people to tell the story he wants to tell.
Maybe I’m reaching with that one.
But it does mark Donovan as a lawyer. Lawyers are also adept at using people to tell the stories they want to tell.
One last thought and I’m done.
Hanks is great at playing smart but he’s great at playing other qualities too.
At one point, Donovan returns home completely worn out from his latest legal adventure. He staggers upstairs, collapses onto the bed, and falls asleep immediately.
Acting schools should have their students study Hanks sleeping,
I swear I’ve never seen anyone on screen looks so realistically dead to the world.
Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Scott Shepherd, Dakin Matthews, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Michael Gaston, Mikhail Gorevoy, and Sebastian Koch. Rated PG-13. Available on DVD and Blu-ray and to watch instantly at Amazon.
Revised at the suggestion of commenters sabretom and Ed Crotty. See below.
“Move ‘em out!”: John Wayne, one of the few real box office stars who starred in 1961’s star-studded war epic The Longest Day, a movie I’ve always taken for granted starred more real stars than it actually starred.
Last spring, when the cast of The Big Short was being announced one star at a time---Brad Pitt. Ryan Gosling. Steve Carell. Christian Bale.--- I joked to my students that it was on its way to becoming this generation’s The Longest Day.
I don’t think any of them got the joke.
But I was wondering if like The Longest Day the movie was going to feature just about every bankable male star who could be drawn in for a day’s shoot to do a one or two minute cameo. Who’s next, I asked nobody but myself, George Clooney? Bradley Cooper? Denzel?
When Melissa Leo joined the cast I began to look forward to the addition of a dozen great leading ladies and character actresses.
Things stopped well short of that and the actually more apt 1960s movie parallel turned out to be Ocean’s 11---(My students would have gotten that joke, although they’d have assumed I meant Ocean’s Eleven.)---a parallel I’d be happy to elaborate on just for fun, if it hasn’t been a thousand years since I last saw Ocean’s 11 and didn’t take The Big Short so seriously.
Now, come to think of it, a more apt parallel to a movie from that era---1958 was when it was released. The Longest Day came out in 1962.---not in tone or style or theme but in taking on a serious subject and starring an ensemble of four male stars at the height of their appeal: The Young Lionswith Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin, and Maximilian Schell.
Might be a post in that.
But just thinking about The Longest Day as a marvel of casting, I’ve been more impressed by who’s not in it than by who is.
In fact, when I started listing who’s not in it in my head---starting with Marlon Brando and Paul Newman---and comparing it to the list of who is---Eddie Albert, Red Buttons---The Longest Day began to diminish in my appreciation, reminding me more and more of 1970s disaster film or TV movie, a cast of past their primes, second-tier and third-tier stars, has beens, and not quite ever was-es and second-tier and third tier stars being marketed as if they were recent Oscar winners one and all.
The Longest Day actually features only two of the biggest male box office stars of the early 1960s, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, and almost none of the best actors in their primes or young actors on the brink of fame. Like I said, Brando’s not in it and neither is Newman. Also Missing in Action: Montgomery Clift, Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, William Holden, Glenn Ford, Richard Widmark, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster---either Douglas or Lancaster would have been great as George Patton. Patton was sidelined on D-Day; he was being used to decoy the Germans into thinking he’d be leading the invasion of France from the Mediterranean, but a great scene could have been made of his frustration at that. Trivia: Lancaster was the first choice to star in Patton, which reminds me that George C. Scott isn’t in The Longest Day either. Among the about to break out: You wouldn’t expect Robert Redford who was only just becoming a star on Broadway or Clint Eastwood who was “just” a TV actor. George Segal’s on hand in a not quite blink and you’ll miss him character part. But these guys aren’t to be found: Steve McQueen, James Garner, George Peppard, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Ben Gazzara, and Warren Beatty.
I’m not sure how to categorize Karl Malden, Lee Marvin, or Anthony Quinn at the time---all three went back and forth between second male leads, character parts, and heavies---but they were big names and they aren’t in it.
As for the Golden Age greats still on the scene: No Spencer Tracy. No James Cagney. No Cary Grant! Henry Fonda’s in it but not Jimmy Stewart who’d have been perfect as George Marshall or William Bradley.
That’s just the Americans. (I count Cary Grant as an American.) I can’t begin to discuss the Brits and other Europeans except to point out how much fun it is to see pre-James Bond Sean Connery in a part that’s basically comic relief.
At any rate, it’s not just that the actors who aren’t in The Longest Day are impressive individually and collectively. The length of the list is astounding. How was there enough work for all these guys? How many movies were being turned out a year back then that there were roles for all these leading men?
Thinking about it some more, I began to wonder what a list of all the female stars and soon to be stars from the time would like. I’m not going to start listing them here. (If you’re making a list yourself, you started with Elizabeth Taylor, right?) But a quick review in my head makes me suspect this list would be considerably shorter than the list I just made of male stars.
I’ve deliberately left someone off the list of stars who weren’t in The Longest Day, someone who had been nominated recently for an Oscar, who was at work on the movie for which he would win an Oscar, who was already a big box office draw and on the brink of becoming one of the biggest stars of the decade.
Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde.
Fun movie trivia game is to list actors who turned down or lost out on roles in movies that turned out to be big hits, classics, and career-makers for whoever got the part instead and argue about how much they might still be kicking themselves over it. The problem with this game is an inherent misunderstanding of how movies work their magic. The premise assumes that the movie would have been the same movie with the disappointed not-the-star starring in it. In fact, it would have been a different movie with a different subsequent history.
Robert Redford as Michael Corleone? Jim Carrey as Edward Scissorhands? Tom Hanks as Jerry Maguire?
Actually, I’m not sure the last one wouldn’t have made the movie better.
But Ghosbusters wouldn’t have been Ghostbusters if John Belushi had starred in it as originally planned. Which is why I don’t care about the reboot. Ghostbusters is Bill Murray’s movie. You don’t have the thirty-four year old Murray playing Peter Venkman, you don’t have Ghostbusters.
“Casting is destiny,” says [Beatty]. “Particularly in movies, because casting is character---and character is plot. Casting really controls story. One guy would do one thing, another guy wouldn’t. And if you’re the guy in the close-up, character acting isn’t going to help---you either are that guy or you aren’t.”
Beatty was talking to Harris about the making of Bonnie and Clyde, which Beatty produced, and Beatty wasn’t his own first choice to play Clyde.
The Owen in this quote is Robert Owen, a rich and successful Welsh textile manufacturer in the early Nineteenth Century, who on a trip to the United States in 1824 visited a Shaker village near Albany, New York, looking to get ideas for a Utopian community he planned to build. That community was to be the beginning of what he called “the New Moral World” and it was going to be based on economic principles and practices that were decidedly socialist. Owen was a capitalist who dreamed of ending capitalism and with it crime, poverty, and hunger:
Then, as now, the principal economic case against communism was that it suppresses productivity and innovation by diminishing competition, thrift, and personal incentive. John Stuart Mill laid out the the counterargument as it was understood by Owen: “The objection [to communism] supposes that honest and efficient labor is only to be had from those who are themselves individually to reap the benefits of their own exertions. But how small a part of all the labor performed in England, from the lowest paid to the highest,is done by persons working for their own benefit” Like Mill, Owen saw that industrialism had made this problem of workers laboring almost entirely for someone else’s benefit even more acute. “A factory operative has less personal interest in his work than a member of a Communist association, since he is not, like him, working for a partnership of which he is himself a member....And though the ‘master’s eye,’ when the master is vigilant and intelligent, is of proverbial value, it must be remembered that in a Socialist farm or manufactory, each laborer would be under the eye, not of one master, but of the whole community.”
I get it. Hillary’s dirty. Seriously compromised if not outright corrupt. A tool of Wall Street and in the pockets of the corporations and the big banks.
Bernie is good and pure or, at least, not bought and paid for.
Know why that is?
Because he’s a senator from Vermont!
The junior senator.
Who’s going to buy him? Ben and Jerry? Who wants him in their pocket? The maple syrup lobby?
And as far as I know, no big banks have their headquarters in Burlington, Bennington, or Montpelier. The reason he’s not a Wall Street tool is that Wall Street doesn’t think they need him to fix anything.
Know what’s one of the major industries here in New York?
What’s another one?
Tourism. Right again.
But what’s a third?
It’s a fact that a senator from New York, even a junior senator, naturally has more power and sway in Washington. It’s a fact that if the junior senator from New York is the wife of a former president she has even more power and sway. There’s a powerful incentive for everybody who does business here to try to influence her or at least buy her attention.
And senators from New York had better pay attention. They’d better look out for the interests of one of the major industries---which is to say employers---in the state.
I expect that Bernie has been looking out for the interests of the maple syrup producers and the dairy farmers who produce the milk that goes into Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. At least, he better have been.
I’m not saying that if the maple syrup lobby and Ben and Jerry were as obscenely rich as the big banks and hedge funds and they offered Bernie has much money as Hillary’s been given by the bankers and hedge fund managers he’d have taken it. I’m sure his principles wouldn’t have let him.
In which case he probably wouldn’t be a United States Senator.
He would never have been able to afford to run against opponents whose principles didn’t preclude accepting campaign contributions from maple sugar barons and ice cream magnates.
There is a lobby Bernie has been paying attention to. Gun owners.
You notice I wrote “gun owners” not “gun manufacturers” or “the NRA”? Vermont is a mostly rural state and voters in rural parts of the country like their guns the way they like their other tools. And for them, guns are tools. Regulating their guns is like regulating their snow blowers and chain saws. This is why I’m not as bothered by his votes on gun controls as many other liberals are.(I said as bothered.) I think he’s trying to represent the interests of the people of Vermont the way Hillary used to try to represent the people of New York. I don’t know how many jobs and businesses in Vermont depend on unrestricted gun ownership but a lot of votes do and if Bernie doesn’t get those votes he can’t go to Washington and represent the interests of the other businesses he’s there to represent, like the maple syrup producers.
That’s the kind of corrupt and cynical compromise with principle all politicians have to make in order to have the power to put their other principles into practice. Bernie’s gun votes show that he’s not as good and pure as many of his supporters would like to believe.
Like I said, though, I’m not arguing that if the maple sugar industry had the money to spend that Wall Street has, Bernie would be bought and paid for. I’m also not saying that Hillary’s accepting all that Wall Street money is nothing to be concerned about.
Although looking out for the finance industry’s interests in order to look out for the interests of all your constituents who work in that industry---which includes secretaries, janitors, and what used to be called filing clerks and then data entry operators and now I’m not sure what although I’m afraid it’s “outsourced”---and those whose businesses and jobs depend on that industry---the owners of the take-out places downtown and their delivery people, for instance---requires you to listen to their ideas and concerns about what’s best for their industry and take those ideas and concerns into account when making decisions that affect their interests, it doesn’t require you to take instructions from them. And it requires you not lose track of why you’re listening and on whose behalf you’re really doing the listening.
It’s a serious problem if HRC has gotten too cozy with the bankers and hedge fund managers and too dependent on their money coming in. It’s a serious problem if the constituents she’s most worried about are the ones in nice suits who take cabs home from the office and not the ones in jeans and sweatshirts who take the subway home after a night shift on the loading dock.
And the fact is she doesn’t represent New York State anymore and she’s running to be the chief representative of all the people in the United States and all its industries and all the people who work in them.
Maybe it’s enough of a concern to be a reason not to vote for her.
But here’s the thing.
I expect that if Bernie’s somehow works some magic and wins the nomination, he’ll compromise on some his principles. At least, I hope he will. He’ll have to. He’ll have to take money from people he’ll hate himself for taking money from. He’ll have to sit back and let the Super PACs go to work. He’ll have to rely on the DNC and the money it’s taken in from corporate executives and hedge fund managers. Bernie really is, I believe, good and pure. But not that good and pure---I hope!---that he’d rather lose than dirty his hands with that money. He’ll need it if he’s to have any hope of defeating Donald Trump who will not be self-financing his campaign after he wins the nomination. It’s a very expensive proposition, running for President, and Bernie would need every dime he could get to keep up. And the required number of dimes isn’t going to come from average Janes and Joes like you and me kicking in three bucks here, five bucks there, when we can afford it, from now until November.
Your faith that he’ll remain that good and pure isn’t persuasive.
The proof that someone has given into temptation isn’t that they’ve been offered temptations. And the proof they will remain good and pure isn’t that so far they’ve resisted temptations they never had to face.
Bernie came to Congress as an outsider. He wanted to be one. He promised to be one. And he’s chosen to remain one. And, in a way, it was a good choice. For him. It’s given him a certain kind of freedom. But it’s also cost him in power and influence. That’s made him a less attractive commodity to lobbyists with a lot of money to spend on buying up politicians. I expect that’s a big part of why he’s chosen principle over power: to put Satan behind him.
But Bernie isn’t like Jesus fasting in the wilderness. Satan didn’t take him up to the mountaintop, show him the kingdoms of the world, and say, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
He’s been more like the ascetics who “resisted” the temptations of the flesh by going to live alone in caves in the desert.
He’s left his cave and come in from the desert to run for President.
Most of you regular readers of the blog probably know and the rest of you can likely guess that I’m not real fond of the political pundits’ notion that Democrats need to stop disrespecting and dismissing Trump supporters and start showing more sympathy or come November we’ll regret it. The idea behind this preposterous pretense of egalitarianism on the part of some of the snootiest and most condescending elitists on the planet is that Trump voters ought to be a natural Democratic constituency; hardworking blue collar types who’ve been having a tough time of it for a long while now and feel that nobody in Washington is listening or cares. They feel they’ve been screwed over every which way and don’t see anything ahead but a further screwing. They’re mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore. Which is all true. To a point. It leaves out what else they are.
Hateful. Hate-filled and hate-fueled.
They are hardworking white working class types who are mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore from THEM.
Yes, they’ve been having a tough time of it. Most of us have. But they blame everybody but themselves and while that includes bankers and Wall Street types and corporate bosses, it includes them vaguely and abstractly. They get a little more specific and concrete when they direct their anger and resentment at the Republican Party Establishment. But they get most specific and concrete when THEM means just about all black and brown people here and abroad. THEY’RE to blame more than anyone else and Trump voters want THEM punished for it and put back in their place, which for some of THEM is Mexico and others is the grave and a lot of the rest jail.
And Trump is promising to do the punishing.
And while he’s at it he’s going to take THEIR money, the money THEY stole from YOU, and divvy it up among his supporters.
That’s what he means and what they hear when he boasts he’s going to be “Greedy for America” and his supporters have both their hands out.
Hard to sympathize with that.
And while studies show these just plain folks have strong authoritarian streaks, which means that they like to boss and be bossed, and many of them sound like fascists, we’re told what they really are are good old fashioned populists and Democrats should be sympathetic to that. Except…
The only continuing tradition of populism in the country right now, which used to be a feature of the Democratic Party but hasn’t been since the segregationists stormed out of the party and, by invitation, stormed into the Republican Party followed by northern and midwestern working class white folks riled up by George Wallace and welcomed by Nixon and Reagan, has been Southern Populism. And Southern Populism is racist, nativist, know-nothing and selfish.
Southern populists were happy to share in the benefits of the New Deal. They just didn’t want to share those benefits with any of THEM.
We’re supposed to show some understanding? Fine. Then let’s understand them completely. Let’s understand that when Trump says he’s going to be greedy for America they hear the same thing Huey Long’s supporters heard when he said “Share the Wealth”: All for us, none for THEM. And when Trump boasts he’s going to make America great again, his supporters heard what Long’s supporters heard when he promised to make every man a king: You’re going to be on top and then you can push around everybody whoever pushed you around, especially THEM.
Why should Democrats sympathize with that? How could they do it without insulting and alienating their base? What good would it do to win them over if it caused real Democrats to stay home on election day in disgust.
A case can be made that trying that is why Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina have brand new Republican senators and Kentucky has its same old one.
Instead of cozying up to Trump’s supporters, I had the idea of using them against him by simply showing them up for what they are.
I thought it would be a good idea to run ads with the theme “Do you really want to be on the same side as these racist idiots?” The ads would use news clips from Trump rallies and campaign events of his supporters straight-forwardly explaining what they thought it means to make America great again and why Donald Trump is the guy to do it.
This is why nobody pays me for my political advice.
Here’s the problem.
Ads like this would look like what they would be: the work of smug elitists humiliating put-upon and powerless working people who can’t fight back.
People watching would feel sorry for them and sympathize with them.
I would feel sorry for them and sympathize with them.
Ads like that would epitomize one of their major complaints: they are in trouble and nobody in the elitist leadership of either the Democrats or the Republicans seems to want to do anything to help them or to even care.
And the truth is that as much as they might not want to share with THEM, that’s a complaint they share with all working people of all colors and religions.
The way the political media cover things, it often seems they think no working people vote for Democrats. It often seems they think all working class people are white. And it often seems they think no white people vote Democratic.
I don’t have much sympathy for Trump’s supporters because of what they want done about their plight (and who they want it done to) but I have a lot of sympathy for their plight because it’s the plight of too many working class Americans and many of those working class Americans---millions of them---don’t have to be lured into voting Democratic because they’re already Democrats and have been voting Democratic all their lives. They’re hurting and they’re in trouble. They’re getting screwed every which way and don’t see much ahead for them but another screwing. They’re mad as hell and they don’t want to take it anymore and there doesn’t seem to anybody with the power to help them with their problems who's listening or even cares. But they aren’t racists. They aren’t blaming THEM. They don’t want anybody punished, except maybe a few bankers and hedge fund managers and the corporate types outsourcing their jobs. They don’t want what Trump is actually promising, which is revenge. They just want some help, which they’re willing to share. The party needs to sympathize with them and their problems and do something more to help them because we need them and we owe them and because it’s the right thing to do.
Let me tell you what got me started writing this post.
I’m at the McDonald’s up the road from Ken Mannion’s dojo, waiting for him to be done with his karate lesson. As usual, I’m trying and failing to resist the temptation to listen in on the conversations of people at the nearby tables. A little while ago I tried and failed not to overhear this:
"I don't want that man for president. He's too arrogant. One wrong move and you're fired? You don't like the way he talks, you're gone. Who needs that in a president?"
The speaker was a middle-aged white woman, probably blue collar, out with her teenage daughter and mother. My reasons for thinking she’s working class include the way she was dressed, her hair, and her manner of speech. But my main reason is that I could tell by the way she talked about Trump as a boss that she knows what it’s like to have to work for someone who holds all the cards and whose mercy and good nature you have to depend on to keep your job and your pride and yourself and your family fed.
I don’t want the Democrats to want Trump’s supporters’ votes or to do anything to get them.
But I do want them to want that woman’s vote and do whatever needs to be done to help her and her family.
Joe Namath was a hard-liver with a (well-earned) reputation as a drinker. But some of that was self-medication. He got banged around a lot during his career, played hurt week in and week out, and finally finished with a career of unfulfilled promise because he was just plain worn down. That’s the subtext of this quote, although it was still only January of 1969 and he didn’t know what a hard and disappointing road lay ahead of him. He was only celebrating the Jets AFL championship victory over the Raiders and looking forward to beating the Colts in the Super Bowl:
On the flight from New York to Florida, [Namath] vented about the prohibition of locker-room champagne in the AFL by the league commissioner, which had forced [him] and his teammates back into the training room. He was told to keep booze out of sight of kids watching on TV. Namath called out the league on its hypocrisy. Didn’t the commissioner see Lassiter and Davis knocking Namath loopy in the league championship? And some celebratory champagne is bad? “You know what the real image of football is, it’s brutality,” Namath said. “Why don’t they tell kids like it is? Tell the kids that this guy is trying to hurt that guy and knock him out of the football game.
Is Twain on record as having an opinion on football?
The Melbourne Cup is the Australasian National Day. It would be difficult to overstate its importance. It overshadows all other holidays and specialized days of whatever sort in that congeries of colonies. Overshadows them? I might almost say it blots them out. Each of them gets attention, but not everybody's; each of them evokes interest, but not everybody's; each of them rouses enthusiasm, but not everybody's; in each case a part of the attention, interest, and enthusiasm is a matter of habit and custom, and another part of it is official and perfunctory. Cup Day, and Cup Day only, commands an attention, an interest, and an enthusiasm which are universal--and spontaneous, not perfunctory. Cup Day is supreme it has no rival. I can call to mind no specialized annual day, in any country, which can be named by that large name--Supreme. I can call to mind no specialized annual day, in any country, whose approach fires the whole land with a conflagration of conversation and preparation and anticipation and jubilation. No day save this one; but this one does it.
In America we have no annual supreme day; no day whose approach makes the whole nation glad. We have the Fourth of July, and Christmas, and Thanksgiving. Neither of them can claim the primacy; neither of them can arouse an enthusiasm which comes near to being universal. Eight grown Americans out of ten dread the coming of the Fourth, with its pandemonium and its perils, and they rejoice when it is gone--if still alive. The approach of Christmas brings harassment and dread to many excellent people. They have to buy a cart-load of presents, and they never know what to buy to hit the various tastes; they put in three weeks of hard and anxious work, and when Christmas morning comes they are so dissatisfied with the result, and so disappointed that they want to sit down and cry. Then they give thanks that Christmas comes but once a year. The observance of Thanksgiving Day--as a function--has become general of late years. The Thankfulness is not so general. This is natural. Two-thirds of the nation have always had hard luck and a hard time during the year, and this has a calming effect upon their enthusiasm.
There were several reasons the other Jets players didn’t like him. Resented him might be the better way to put it but reasons stemmed from the Jets' feeling that Namath got special treatment from the team’s owner and head coach and from himself because he was the star. And they felt he wasn’t that good he deserved to be as big a star as he was. He was good, no doubt about that, but they didn’t think he was the best player on the team. Or maybe it was more they case they didn’t like him thinking he was the best player on the team. When they voted on their team MVP from the previous season, Namath placed sixth.
Namath liked being a star. He liked being young, handsome, and famous in New York City. He liked to drink. He liked to party. He liked to chase women and be chased by them. Of course he liked all that. Trouble was he seemed to like it all more than he liked to play football. And he did it all all during the season. He did it on nights before practices and nights before games and then showed up late for work still showing the effects, tired, hungover, distracted, his mind still on the fun he’d been having and on the fun he was planning to have later. And he didn’t pay a price for this. He was allowed to get away with it. The other Jets felt there were two sets of rules for players. One for them. One for Joe.
That was bad enough and would have been hard enough to put up with if he’d been as good a quarterback as he thought he was. He wasn’t that good and it wasn’t because he wasn’t that talented. It was because he was careless, undisciplined, too sure of himself, and, when it came down to it, not that smart about what he was doing on the field.
He threw too many incompletes. He threw far too many interceptions. He threw. He threw and threw and threw. He threw, his coaches observed, as though he thought he had to throw a touchdown on every pass and as if he was sure he would throw a touchdown on every pass.
He was, at least at the start of the Jets’ championship season, a knucklehead.
And in reading Fun City I was reminded of a current New York City star athlete who seems to enjoy being rich, young, and famous a little too much and who I think is also a knucklehead on the field as well as off.
Mets ace Matt Harvey.
I wrote about Harvey’s knuckleheadedness back in October, before it cost the Mets the World Series. Remembering that post, my friend, colleague, and fellow Mets fan Bill Peace sent me the link to this column by Paul Lebowitz writing at Today’s Knuckleball. That’s Knuckleball, not knucklehead. Lebowitz sees a resemblance between Harvey and Namath too. Not quite the same resemblance as I see and he doesn’t call either a knucklehead. But he’s thinking along the same lines, with a key difference:
There are two different Matt Harveys the New York Mets have to deal with. One is the ace pitcher with the fiery competitive streak and a touch of meanness that keeps opposing hitters on their toes and imparts upon his own teammates a comfort that he will protect them and retaliate if liberties are taken. The other is the bon vivant Matt Harvey who is a familiar face around the hottest shows, dates models, goes on a wide array of talk shows, likes seeing his own name and face plastered all over the media, and consternates and flusters the Mets organization and its fans with his occasional inability to differentiate between useful self-promotion and embarrassing gaffes.
In effect, the Mets are dealing with a different version of “Harvey Two-Face” from the Batman comics. The good side is currently far outweighing the bad.
The latest foray into the headlines for something other than his pitching came from his appearance on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” with Andy Cohen. Harvey and newswoman Connie Chung were guests. You can watch portions of the show here.
While talk of his free-spending ways and sexual habits, among other things, were presumably cringe-inducing for some of the Mets hierarchy, this is not indelibly harmful to Harvey or the club. The question of whether or not this is a big issue is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Harvey’s statements might seem outrageous, but there’s a calculated nature to what he says and does. Aware that you can’t go on these shows without being interesting or provocative, he tends to share his life in ways that will unavoidably make his bosses uncomfortable.
Harvey has expressed an admiration for Derek Jeter and the off-field persona that the former Yankees shortstop was effortlessly able to cultivate. Harvey’s way, however, is more in the category of Joe Namath. There’s no harm; he’s a charming rogue, he’s able to perform on the field, and the damage, if any, is controllable. He emerges from it largely unscathed.
“Controllable” and “unscathered” are where I disagree with Lebowitz’s assessment of Harvey’s and, by extension, Namath’s knuckleheadedness.
Going by Fun City, what Namath’s teammates didn’t like about their charming rogue of a quarterback is that while he could emerge from his personal misadventures unscathed, they didn’t. The damage to his reputation might have been controllable. But the damage he was doing on the field wasn’t. As for Harvey, I haven’t heard that his teammates are boiling with resentment at him or think he regularly puts himself and his fun ahead of what’s good for the team---although David Wright wasn’t very happy with him towards the end of the regular season last year when Harvey, still not sure that he’d completely recovered from his Tommy John surgery and quite reasonably worried about blowing out his still fragile pitching arm, debated with himself in public over whether or not the Mets should sit him down at least until the playoffs.
My own feeling, as a fan, is that the damage he causes by being a knucklehead on the mound, which is where it really only matters, would be controllable if he’d learn to control himself better. I think he’s too confident, too proud, too much of a hothead, and too prone to let his pride and temper get the better of him. At crucial moments, when he needs to slow down and think harder he stops thinking and just throws harder and grooves one.
But, look, I don’t really know what I’m talking about when I talk about sports. Just to begin with, I don’t get to watch enough games. All I know is what I read in the papers and online and I believe sportswriting is a form of fiction writing and I’m not as ok with that as I let on in this post. The purpose of most sports writing that isn’t simply reporting on what happened at the game is to let sportswriters show off both their writing talents and their insiders’ knowledge and savvy and to make fans feel smart and as if what is in fact a trivial pursuit is a serious endeavor with important consequences.
And one of the ways this is accomplished is by treating players and coaches as if they're fictional characters who can be edited to fit whatever story's being told at the moment.
Deveney isn’t practicing that kind of sportswriting in Fun City. Deveney is by trade a sportswriter and the book does feature a lot of fine sports reporting but it isn’t sportswriting. It isn’t a sports book. It’s a work of historical journalism about New York City politics at a time when sports was an even larger and more important aspect of the city’s daily life and culture and sense of identity than it is now. It’s a story of parallel lives, a dual portrait of two extremely talented and transformational figures who did the city some good but ultimately failed to achieve the height of success expected of them and which they expected for themselves, Namath and Mayor John LIndsay.
Lindsey, it appears, could be more than a bit of a knucklehead too, but a developing narrative arc of the book is that he and Namath both learned to be less knuckleheaded as they went, Lindsey becoming a better politician and civic leader, Namath a better team leader, team player, and quarterback.
For the record, I don’t really think Harvey knuckleheadeness cost the Mets the World Series. I don’t even think he was being a knucklehead when he browbeat Terry Collins into letting him go out to pitch the ninth inning of the fifth game of the World Series when he was almost certainly out of gas. You want your ace pitcher to want the ball in moments like that. I think Collins was knuckleheaded for letting himself second-guess himself. Matt Harvey has some maturing to do before he’s the kind of great player whose judgment a manager should trust ahead of his own.
You should read all of Lebowitz’s column, but I have a couple of reservations. There’s some fiction writing in it. Lebowitz engages in some mind reading of Harvey, Jeter, and Mets GM Sandy Alderson. And I picked up a bit of a Boys Will Be Boys attitude that’s always problematic because it’s an attitude that often excuses more than mere knuckleheadedness. Anyway, here’s the link: The Continuing Public Adventures of Matt Harvey Not Worth Concern.
“Colorado Demoncratic Senator Gary Hart at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, California. Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem are at the table. Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder is standing at right.” Photo by Nancy Wong via Wikipedia.
Gary Hart was running for President when I was at the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1984 and he came to the University to speak sometime before the caucuses. I went to hear him. I can still picture him in my mind: his big brown head above the heads of all around him, his long-jawed face deeply tanned, his smile broad and bright, youthful but not boyish, ruggedly handsome as the cowboy he wasn’t in any way despite being from cowboy country and with nothing about him suggesting the divinity student and aspiring minister he’d once been. But for the life of me I can’t remember what I thought of him or of his prospects of winning in the caucuses, taking the nomination, and defeating Reagan in the general election come November.
Considering who else was running---Walter Mondale, George McGovern, John Glenn, Fritz Hollings (Yes, the Democrats had two candidates who went by the name of Fritz.), Jesse Jackson, Alan Cranston, Reuben Askew---you’d think Hart would have been my guy or at least the guy I was most drawn to, unless it was Jackson, but I’m pretty sure I’d have remembered that.
It may be that I didn’t feel strongly about any of them because I didn’t think any of them had a hope in hell of beating Reagan and I was reserving my hopes and affections for 1988.
But it’s still curious to me that I didn’t caucus for Hart.
I caucused for George McGovern.
That was pure sentimentalism on my part. I did it for Pop Mannion. Pop had headed a slate of McGovern delegates in 1972. The slate lost. My sentimental hope was that I’d help send a McGovern delegate to the national convention who’d cast the vote for McGovern Pop hadn’t been able to in ‘72. There was zero chance that would happen, even if McGovern had survived the first round at our precinct. Which he didn’t.
So the question I’m asking myself is how did I end up with the Mondale people in the second round after our little McGovern group was declared unviable?
Why didn’t I join the Hart people?
I’d like to think I wasn’t particularly drawn to Hart because I was out and out against him.
I don’t see how I could have been for any Democrat who’d run for the United States Senate on a platform of “open contempt” for the legacies of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Hart was the rock star of the 1974 Democratic candidates. He wore expensive cowboy boots with his silk suits. Not really a populist, he was, however, a reformer: his big campaign play was publishing the names of his opponent’s contributors and the amounts they gave. Evans and Novak said Hart’s “abandoning abrasive liberal ideology for a bland moderate facade” was actually subterfuge. Clearly they had not read the book he’d published the year before about the McGovern campaign, Right from the Start. “American liberalism,” he had written in it, was “near bankruptcy.” And George McGovern, while he brought into liberal politics the greatest organizers in a generation, “did not bring in a new generation of thinkers. he did not because it isn’t there.” Hart’s billboards read, “They had their turn. Now it’s our turn.” His outmaneuvered opponent, the once-popular two-term conservative incumbent Peter Dominick, said Hart seemed to be “trying to get to the right of Attila the Hun.”
Hart seemed almost angrier at other Democrats than at Republicans. His stock speech, “The End of the New Deal,” argued that his party was hamstrung by the very ideology that was supposed to be its glory---that “if there is a problem, create an agency and throw money at the problem.” It included lines like “The ballyhooed War on Poverty succeeded only in raising the expectations, but not the living conditions, of the poor.” That was false: the poverty rate was 17.3 percent when LBJ’s Economic Opportunity Act was passed in 1964 and 11.2 percent as Gary Hart spoke. But such claims did appeal to the preconceptions of people who Hart claimed must become the new base of the Democratic Party: those in the affluent suburbs, whose political power had been quietly expanding during the 1960s through redistricting and reapportionment. He called those who “clung to the Roosevelt model long after it had ceased to relate to reality,” who still thought the workers, farmers, and blacks of the New Deal coalition were where the votes were, “Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats.” He held them in open contempt.
Still, it seems odd to me that I’d have preferred Walter Mondale to to the dynamic and charismatic Hart no matter how much Hart was still sounding like the most egregious sort of New Democrat. Good old Fritz? Jimmy Carter’s Vice-President? Bland, predictable, no fire in the belly Fritz? And in 1984, Hart, along with the other Democrats in the race, would have been running hard against Reagan so maybe he’d changed his tune. I doubt that, though, considering he was touting himself as the candidate of “New Ideas” which implied Mondale was the candidate of the old ideas and Mondale was an unabashed and unapologetic son of the New Deal who’d have been proud to call himself an “Eleanor Roosevelt Democrat”.
Maybe it isn’t so odd that I preferred Mondale.
But it does seem odd that I don’t remember struggling with the choice of what group to caucus with next after McGovern was eliminated.
Maybe that choice wasn’t there to make.
It’s possible that there were no Hart people in that church basement that night.
That seems unlikely, doesn’t it? But maybe it was a tactical decision by the Hart campaign. Maybe he didn’t have the troops in place. Maybe he was really running for the nomination in 1988. Mondale was the presumptive nominee, although I’m not sure how “inevitable” his nomination was thought to be, and, of course, the almost universal assumption was that Reagan would win re-election with relative ease. Hart may not have made a play for every precinct in order to save time, energy, and effort, intending only to make a respectable show of it to enhance his position coming out of the gate next time. I can’t tell you.
I can’t tell you the state of his organization or what his thinking was about his chances, although I feel should know. It’s not as if I wasn’t following the election. I was all up in the news, as the great Wev McEwan likes to say. One of my many favorite things about my time in Iowa was being able to read the Des Moines Register and the Chicago Tribune every morning. But there’s a good reason I don’t remember much about that election season.
My mind was on other things that naturally left a more lasting impression.
My loftier thoughts were focused on matters literary. It was more important to me to understand what Chekhov was thinking when he wrote “The Duel” than what any politician was thinking as he plotted his road to higher office.
And my time and energy were taken up with matters romantic.
I was busy having fun being a young writer in love and in lust.
Within a few weeks of the caucuses I was down in Florida, enjoying spring break in Miami and Key West with the future Mrs M (the Blonde as was). I remember those two weeks in vivid detail.
Still, it bothers me I don’t remember the other stuff. I’d like to know what I was thinking, just for curiosity’s and vanity’s sake.
I’d like to know if I was as smart about politics as I thought I was.
I’d like to know if I was right.
Or at least what I wrong about so that maybe I would know to adjust my thinking to make myself a little more right---or less wrong---now.
I could find out, I suppose. Sometimes I get mad at my grad student self for not having started keeping a journal. But I wrote lots of letters. Long letters. You think my blog posts are long? Ask my friends who sometimes got letters from me of thirty pages what long is. So maybe I wrote to one of them about the caucuses. I could ask around to see if any of them kept my letters but it’s not really worth it. What I personally remember isn’t as important as what actually happened.
Hart came in second in the caucuses, with 16.5 percent of the vote, which doesn’t sound like much but it was a much better showing than was expected. It didn’t just set him up for 1988, it gave him a significant boost going into the ‘84 New Hampshire primary which he won. Handily. He beat Mondale by very close to 10 percentage points, 37.28 to 27.86, and from there the campaign became a real race. Finally, it wasn’t close, but Hart won in 25 states and stayed in it all the way to the convention, and at that point there seemed no doubt that he’d be the Democratic nominee come 1988.
Unless that rising star Mario Cuomo got in it.
But here’s the thing, again.
I don’t remember any of that race. My memories skip from caucus night to the convention and Geraldine Ferraro being nominated for Vice-President and then from there to Ferraro herself turning up at a rally at the University shortly before Election Day and then to me walking past a frat house on Election Day that had a big sign on a bed sheet strung across it that said “Come to the Reagan Victory Party Tonight! Democrats Welcome!”
The only specific thing I remember from the primary campaign was the first time I heard Mondale’s “Where’s the beef” ad.
It was during that spring break trip to Florida. I was driving up to a Waffle House in South Beach to meet the future Mrs M, who was getting off her overnight shift at the news service where she was working, for breakfast. I can still see that Waffle House through the windshield of the car. But the memory isn’t connected to Hart or to the campaign in general. It isn’t a political memory at all.
The future Mrs M was cultivating a terrific tan that needed constant admiration.
So that’s it. My memoir of the time I caucused in Iowa. Not much to it. Like I said, for personal reasons I wish I could remember more, but I don’t think it would make a better story if I did. 1988, on the other hand…
I have much clearer memories of that awful election year. But, once again, I don’t remember how I felt about Gary Hart, except angry.
Hart, as you probably remember, was the presumptive nominee when the campaign season started. And you certainly remember why he no longer was before the campaign really got underway.
But beside being furious at him for throwing away not just his own chances but the Democrats’ chances of taking back the White House, I don’t remember what I thought about Hart or even if I supported him.
And in going over it all again as I’ve been writing this, I’ve got to thinking.
Maybe this isn’t saying something about me and my memories.
Maybe it says something about Hart himself.
Maybe I don’t remember what I thought about him because he was hard to know what to think about him.