Just as I am

“Just As I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.” –Cicely Tyson

The scenes with Cicely Tyson and Viola Davis in the TV series “How to Get Away With Murder” were raw, unyielding, and true. Before that, Tyson walked many miles in many roles since most of us became aware of her in “Sounder” (1972) and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974), after some nice roles in the 1960s.

She was the actress I most wanted to meet, not outside some stage door, but at a gathering where we could talk because, in her eyes, I saw wisdom that–now that we lost her January 28th–I hope to find in Just as I Am.

Long-time actors and actresses have much to tell us, partly from their exposure to so many roles and to the business of making plays and movies, but also from finding a way out of hard-times beginnings to success. In many ways, one can see the soul and experience of a performer in the way s/he presents his/her most difficult roles.

If you can find the episodes (possibly on YouTube) of “How to Get Away With Murder” with Tyson that aired (I think) during the series’ two final years you will find her best work of late and understand why authors and others could have learned so much from her had she taught a class.

“I never really worked for money,” she said in her last interview. “I’ve worked because there were certain issues that I wish were addressed about myself and my race as a Black woman.”

She certainly did that,

–Malcolm

Old People, Still Here, God Love ’em

I confess: I’m among those who see obituaries on Facebook and news sites for famous people and think, “I thought s/he was already dead.”

I can look on AARP Magazine’s “Big5-Oh” page and see that a lot of old people are still here. In the current issue I learned that Mary J. Blige is 50, Julia-Louis Dreyfus is 60, Wayne Gretzky is 60, Phil Collins is 70, Joan Baez is 80, Faye Dunaway is 80, and James Earl Jones is 90.

I also learned that, at 86, Sophia Loren–the sexy heartthrob of my high school years–is starring as Madame Rosa in the Netflix movie “The Life Ahead.”

According to Wikipedia, “Madam Rosa is a former prostitute and Holocaust survivor. She provides childcare for the children of “working women.” After a 12-year old Senegalese street kid robs her, she reluctantly agrees to take him in. They develop a deep bond and she tries to help him find his way in life, as he learns she is both a Holocaust survivor and an ex-prostitute.”

Roger Ebert.com says, “Loren inhabits the role of Madame Rosa as if it was written for her. (You can see why Ponti wanted to remake it for her). Bringing to the table her lifetime of experience, talent, and sense of truth, Loren’s Madame Rosa is alternately warm and cranky, imperious and funny, strong and fragile. Madame Rosa has led a hard life, and it shows in her face, her actions, but she is still capable of acts of great generosity. Madame Rosa often goes into fugue states when the trauma of her past gets to be too much. She retreats from the everyday world. In those moments, Loren seems truly broken, staring into space, unreachable. When feeling comes up in her, it’s so sharp and immediate it seems to surprise even her.”  

Oh good, she’s still “got it.”

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Nervously watching ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

As I watched “The Queen’s Gambit” about an orphan chess prodigy named Beth Harmon in the miniseries on Netflix, I kept thinking about Bobby Fischer whom I think was the United States’ best chess player ever. He, too, was a prodigy and after achieving great things in chess, things went badly for him. From a layperson’s viewpoint, he became (or possibly always was) a psychological mess. And we all watched him self-destruct.

There are two gifted people in my family. One is gone. One struggles on. Like those I’ve read about, they were and are at odds with life itself. Anya Taylor-Joy does a wonderful job portraying a fictional gifted child who becomes a prodigy and achieves great things in chess.

She has huge issues with alcohol and drugs and implodes occasionally throughout the series into multi-day episodes that might well end her life and career. As the episodes moved toward the all-important-big-game finish, I came to dread the ending of the series because, having imploded during one big match, Harmon seemed likely to implode again.

The series was so well done, I expected to see the main character fall apart, Bobby-Fischer-like before all was said and done.  I’ll give you no spoilers here, but the ending was better than I expected.

I fear for the gifted child. I have seen several up close and nobody knew what to do with them, much less how to save them. If you like drama, whether you play chess or not, this is a wonderful series. And yet, it will haunt me because it reminds me of people I have known.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of multiple magical realism, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal novels and short stories. The most recent is “Fate’s Arrows.”

Let’s hear it for Ma Rainey

While my contemporaries were listening to Elvis and the Beatles, I was listening to folk music and the blues. So, of course, I heard Ma Rainey songs and wondered what it would have been like to see one of her over-the-top, gravel-voiced performances in person. Sadly, not possible since the “Mother of the Blues” died here in Rome, Georgia before I was born.

As I wrote my Florida Folk Magic Series of novels about a Florida conjure woman, I heard the blues inside my head and wished the cost of getting permission to include the words of still-copyrighted songs wasn’t more than I could afford. Yet, the series of novels is built on the blues and the lives one led to understand and experience and play the blues. And, Ma Rainey.

As Wikipedia explains, The singer began performing as a teenager and became known as Ma Rainey after her marriage to Will Rainey, in 1904. They toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later formed their own group, Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. Her first recording was made in 1923. In the next five years, she made over 100 recordings, including “Bo-Weevil Blues” (1923), “Moonshine Blues” (1923), “See See Rider Blues” (1924), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (1927), and “Soon This Morning” (1927).”

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” coming December 18th on Netflix. As I said on Facebook after seeing the trailer, Viola Davis appears to be exceptional in the role, one that’s quite a bit different than the character we saw in her TV show “How to Get Away With Murder.” Before any of you embarrass yourselves by asking why anyone would make a movie about Ma Rainey’s butt, I should point out that the title refers to a dance, not human anatomy even though Rainey’s persona and many of her songs radiated sex.

My fantasy while writing the four novels in the series was that Davis’ production company would find the books, put an option on them, and produce them with Davis playing the conjure woman. Seeing her in the Ma Rainey role tells me she would have been a very convincing Eulalie.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that the movie lives up to its trailer and the early reviews.

Malcolm

You can buy all four novels in the folk magic series in the so-called Kindle boxed set.

When Bond, James Bond, Reaches the Pearly Gates

He will throw his hat on the right-hand gate post, engage in light-hearted banter with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), tell M (Barnard Lee) that everything he did in this life was for Queen and country, and then slip downstairs to tell Q (Desmond Llewelyn) that all the equipment he destroyed was the price the U.K. had to pay to get the bad guys.

James Bond (Sean Connery) is gone now, but he’s about to learn he’s being sent back because there’s more work to be done. The Queen demands it and Miss Moneypenny admits she wants to be shaken and not stirred. M has the paperwork ready to go and Q has something called a Delorean with a special flux capacitor.

“Do be careful with the motor car or you’ll end up in the year you just left,” Q will caution him.

“The powers that be would have me bang to rights then,” Bond will say.

“Only a gobshite would do that,” Q will say, “so since that means you’ll do it, I’ve added a few special features.”

“I read the owner’s manual later,” Bond will inform him.

Q will shrug because the world always spins in the wrong direction when Bond gets a new toy.

Both Q and M know that the Queen loves James and would have married him if he’d come from a proper family. Hence, he can do what he wants even if it’s a bit messy.

The bad guys don’t have a chance.

Malcolm

A bunch of stuff for Sunday

  • We’re all looking for ways to cope with pandemic anxiety. You may find this free workbook from the Jung Center to be of help.
  • Several things have helped me cope. First, I don’t have to leave the house often. Also, I have chores (like mowing the yard) and enjoyable work (a new novel in progress). As you get older, you’ll discover that even with a riding mower, cutting the grass is a multi-day project. One day to cut it and several days to recover from all the aches and pains that arise from riding over a fairly rough yard that was part of a farm several years ago.
  • I’m re-reading Jeff Shaara’s historical novel A Chain of Thunder about Grant and Sherman’s siege of Vicksburg. Vicksburg is often overlooked by those who study the Civil War because the battle ended one day (July 4, 1863) after the Battle of Gettysburg (July 3, 1863). Both were important Union victories, but Vicksburg was far away in what was in those days called “The West” and Gettysburg was close at hand.
  • I know all of you have been waiting with bated breath for news about the pot roast I mentioned recently in my slow cooker post. It came out great. We’ll finish it at supper tonight: that means I’m not spending the afternoon in a hot kitchen. My wife grilled some asparagus for a tasty side dish.
  • With most of our regular TV shows done for the season, we have been turning once again to old movies. In addition to Netflix, we find many of them on Turner Classic Movies which is part of our basic package on DISH. The Noir Alley films air at midnight on Saturday. (We archive them to view later.) Many of TCM’s movies are introduced by hosts who provide a little background. I especially like Noir Alley’s Eddie Muller because he provides interesting facts about the movies, directors, stars, and trends before and after the films.
  • A favorite author of mine said she has a new book coming out soon. I can’t tell you who she is or the name of the book because it’s not yet in release and if I mention it here before the publisher announces it, there will be hell to pay. Fresh hell, probably.

–Malcolm

My novel Mountain Song is free on Kindle through the end of the day today.

Oscar Nominations Prove That Hollywood Still Hasn’t Waked Up and Smelled the Coffee 

Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” appealed to a dangerous brand of white, male nostalgia that evoked a mythologized time that was good for them and no one else. The 2020 Oscar nominations are an embarrassingly transparent primal scream by the Hollywood establishment hearkening back to the same.

Source: The 2020 Oscar Nominations Prove That Hollywood Still Hasn’t Seen Through the Smoke | Literary Hub

For several years now, acerbic pundits–including hosts and others of the televised Academy Awards ceremony–have said that the Oscars are really the “White People’s Movie Awards.” We’re also hearing that the awards are quickly becoming irrelevant because they don’t reflect population trends or attempts by various politicians and groups at greater diversity in all areas of the country, including publishing and filmmaking.

At present, whites (other than Hispanic whites) make up 73% of the U.S. population, while African Americans are at 12.7% and Hispanics are at 16.6%. We read that by 2044, the majority race in the U. S. will no longer be white. This is the reality. Some say that minorities should be represented (in various fields) to an extent larger than their percentage of the population due to long-time discrimination. (That’s a discussion for another kind of blog.)

It would be kind of petty for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to establish a policy that 12.7% of its nominations must be African American and 16.6% must be Hispanic. Needless to say–and this is perhaps debatable–nominations are based on merit rather than race or gender. It’s easy to see, though, that the nominations are skewed toward the traditional mainstream white (or WASP) idea of America.

We can and should do better.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Remembering the film ‘Body Heat’

“Body Heat is a 1981 American neo-noir erotic thriller film written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. It stars William Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Richard Crenna, and features Ted Danson, J. A. Preston, and Mickey Rourke. The film was inspired by Double Indemnity.” – Wikipedia

My wife and I saw this film in a theater with another couple soon after it was released. Our first comments outside the theater afterwards were about the silence of the audience during the sex scenes. You could have heard a pin drop. It was like nobody dared to breathe. The mood was that intense.

Sex, nudity, body heat, the heat of a Florida summer, the music with the moaning saxophone, the pitch-perfect performances, and the very strong film noir style brought this story together as a very unforgettable film. I think every author hopes, should his work be adapted to film, that the ambience will be this overpowering.

I’m a long-time fan of film noir. I’ve seen most of it. There’s a brittle, hopeless nostalgia surrounding such films. Fate, too, I guess.

My wife and I have seen “Body Heat” on TV several times. It remains strong after all these years. But sitting in our living room, the experience is not as intense as that of a small-town movie theater.

What impresses me with such films is their intensity and the fact that the audience is dragged into them with no exit even after the final credits fade from the screen. I’m impressed by the direction, cinematography, music, and acting that come together to present such a powerful experience.

I thought of the intensity of the film as I read Temptation Rag, reviewed in my previous post, and recalled Doctorow’s novel (and feature film) Ragtime. Some films and some novels, even those not highly reviewed by the critics or remembered by prizes and awards, pull readers into their stories–with or without their consent, perhaps–and those are the books I remember.

Authors hope their audiences will lose themselves in their stories just as surely as many of those in the theater were lost in “Body Heat.”

Malcolm

The OSCARS risk becoming irrelevant

Once upon a time, I watched the Academy Awards on TV without fail. I loved the movies and everything about them. But not anymore.

What’s changed?

On a practical note, I’m too hard of hearing to go to movies. I don’t see them until months after their release dates when they finally appear on TV with closed captions. So, as of OSCAR night, I have seen none of the nominated films and, other than a few news stories and trailers, have no clue what they’re about. That pretty much kills my interest in the broadcast.

But even if my hearing were fine and I had seen a fair number of the nominated films, I wouldn’t watch. Yes, I might care about the winners, but I’d learn about that the following day on the news.

I am tired of actors and actresses using the OSCAR broadcast as a political pulpit. Like most viewers (I hope), I see the broadcast as being about the movies, not poltical statements in opening monologues, sketches, and acceptance speeches. I get more than enough of this from the news and social media day in and day out and think it’s out of place on an awards program.

Hollywood stars have just as much right as anyone else to express their opinions. Nonetheless, the Academy Awards broadcast is not the forum for that.

When they speak of politics during the broadcast, they appear to be stumbling over each other to prove that they are the most liberal, the most intelligent, and the most politically correct person in the theater. Do they not realize that everyday people see them as members of the so-called filthy rich? I want to shout, how dare you lecture me on politics when you earn more in a year than I do in a lifetime and own multiple homes, each of which is worth more than my entire neighborhood.

You, dear actors and actresses, who can afford the taxes that you might be forced to pay if your left-leaning social programs were implemented, fail to realize that the rest of us cannot afford a government that looks like an unlimited charity. Sure, we support many of the same ideas, but you go too far because you can afford to go too far. You stand on that stage in clothes worth more than my annual income and–with a knowing wink and nod to the audience–advocate programs that will raise my taxes to the point where I cannot afford to live in this country.

Of course you believe you can do this because believe you are America’s royalty, right? We wish we were you, right? We wish we could sit for a few moments in your presence, right? We go to your movies because we love you and know that you care about all of us, right?

Frankly, I would be embarrassed to be you.

So you are turning the OSCARS into a PAC, so to speak, that’s out of sync with most of the country. That’s why, one day soon, we’ll stop caring about you and your awards program. You want us to think OSCAR night is about the movies. But that’s not true, is it?

–Malcolm

 

 

Some of my favorite noir movie lines

I’ve always been a fan of noir movies (and a few neo-noir movies as well). If you like noir and have Turner Classic Movies on your Cable or Satellite, they show a lot of them, especially on Noir Alley, a program with some cool commentary before and after the film. Here are some of my favorite lines, starting out with a 1975 neo-noir film with Robert Mitchum.

  • Wikipedia Photo

    “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” ― Raymond Chandler, of course.

  • “Okay Marlowe,” I said to myself, ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough—like putting your pants on.” – Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944)
  • “I can afford a blemish on my character, but not on my clothes.” – Vincent Price as Shelby Carpenter in “Laura” (1944)
  • “You know what he’ll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.” – Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe in “The Big Sleep” (1946)
  • “You knew when a woman loves you like that, she can love you with every card in the deck and then pull a knife across your throat the next morning.” – Van Heflin as Jeff Hartnett in “Johnny Eager” (1941)
  • Wikipedia photo

    “What a beautiful picture. Moonlight. Sagebrush. My wife with a stranger.” Vincent Price as Lloyd Rollins in “The Las Vegas Story” (1952).

  • “With my brains and your looks, we could go places.” – John Garfield as Frank Chambers in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946).
  • “Flossie had looks, brains, and all the accessories. She was better than a deck with six aces. But I regret to report that she also knew how to handle a gun. My gun.” John Hoyt as Spencer in Brute Force (1947).
  • “Maybe I’ll live so long that I’ll forget her. Maybe I’ll die trying.” – Orson Welles and Michael O’Hara in “Lady from Shanghai” (1947).
  • “Decency and integrity are fancy words, but they never kept anybody well fed. And I’ve got quite an appetite.” Howard Duff as Jack Early in “Shakedown” (1950).
  • Wikipedia photo.

    “When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses.” – Humphrey Bogart as Frank McCloud in “Key Largo” (1948).

  • “I sell gasoline. I make a small profit. With that I buy groceries. The grocer makes a profit. We call it earning a living. You may have heard of it.” – Robert Mitchum as Jeff Bailey in “Out of the Past” (1947)

If you’re interested in film noir, one of my favorite books about it, Voices in the Dark: Narrative Patterns of Film Noir just happens to have been written by a colleague of mine, J. P. Telotte, from Berry College, Rome, GA. We saw a lot of noir films whenever we went over to his house for dinner. He’d bring a projector home from work and run one of the films he was discussing in the classroom. While we agreed on the film noir and the Federico Fellini films such as “Juliet of the Spirits” (definitely not noir), we always clashed on whether Katherine Hepburne and Meryl Steep were good actresses. I said “yes,” while he said “no.”

Some people think noir is a bit of a downer. Perhaps that’s true. But the atmosphere, the voice-over narration, and the snappy dialogue always lure me into it.

–Malcolm

You’ll find a touch of noir in Campbell’s audio book “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”