the candler blog

Scriptnotes: A Refugee Story

Link, Movies, News

In a break from regularly scheduled Scriptnotes programming, screenwriter John August spoke with his Quote-Unquote Apps collaborator Nima Yousefi about Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslim1 refugees and others from entering the United States. It’s a great, simple listen that almost brought me to tears on my ride home last night.

Nima does amazing work with John. When he was just a baby, his family fled the Iranian Revolution for the US. Any delay on their asylum in the US was life or death. That’s not hyperbole; it’s fact.

Listen to the episode and let Nima speak to his own experience. His most salient point is that we are talking about people here. Real people. It’s easy to offer up armchair commentary about an order that won’t make a dent in your daily life. But just think about the fact that we’re talking about human beings here. This is happening, and it’s happening on our watch.

  1. The White House wants you to think this isn’t a Muslim ban, but it is. Just read the order (emphasis mine):

    Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.

    All seven countries covered under the EO are Muslim-majority countries. Meaning Muslims from those countries, according to this text, cannot emigrate to the United States as refugees. Hence: a Muslim ban.

2016: Films Watched, Books Read

Books, Movies

Ah, 2016, you horrible mess of a year, goodbye forever. Well, goodbye in just another moment. First I’d like to take stock of all the movies I saw and stuff I read. Then we can move it along to 2017.

Last February I wrote a bit about how I would try my best to track my viewing throughout the year. For the most part I managed to keep a decent log in Day One, but it wasn’t a perfect solution. Getting the films out of the app so I could organize them in a list proved frustrating. It made me wish I had stuck with Letterboxd all year.

Anyway, in that same February post I set the following goal for myself:

If I can do it, I’d like to try and keep a ratio of at least 6:1 in terms of old vs. new films I watch this year. In other words, for every six films I watch I should see at least one 2016 release.

How did I do? I saw 65 older films and 31 new releases, 2:1. Not bad! But 31 is way too low. Last year I saw 35 new releases, so this is kind of a let-down. I think the list of older films I saw this year is extremely well-rounded, but I feel like I barely saw any of the major new films of the year.

So let me just get this out of the way now: my goal for 2017 is to see at least 50 new releases and maintain that 2:1 ratio of older films.

I can’t really do a top 10 list this year since I feel like I missed so many great films. Films I enjoyed the most, in no particular order, would probably be Hail, Caesar!, Miles Ahead, Green Room, Little Sister and Morris From America. I was a huge Sausage Party booster when it premiered, but my enthusiasm wore off a bit when it came out in theaters.

If those films are any indication, it should be clear that smaller, more independent films are where all the action was in 2016. Rogue One is probably the best tentpole film of the year, but look at the competition… I know few will agree with this, but of the superhero films (set Rogue One aside for a moment) last year I probably enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse the most. Pound-for-pound it felt the most visually interesting.

I was a voracious reader in 2016. Somewhere along the way I got into comics. I’m still working my way through older titles, though I dipped my toes into single issues with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s run of Black Panther. I’m still not quite ready to be a guy who hits the comic shop up every Wednesday (single issues confuse the hell out of me) but I’ll keep reading what I can.

My favorite comic discovery was probably China Miéville’s Dial H, which is so, so good. That led me to his The City & The City, a wild concept executed perfectly.

I really tried to branch out my reading last year and I think the list below shows I did a decent job doing so. Some of the reading had purpose, scratching little itches about ideas I had at the time. Some was just a distraction. The Aeneid almost destroyed my reading streak for the year, but I powered through and I’m glad I did. A curiosity: why is The Odyssey perpetually filmed but The Aeneid is practically invisible in cinema. It seems the only movie version of the tale is Giorgio Venturini’s 1962 The Avenger. It’s on YouTube

So here it all is in one place: stuff consumed in 2016. The films link to IMDb, the books and comics go to Amazon.1 I tried my best to keep the links as useful as possible, pointing to the info I would want to know. I indicated if I saw films at a festival. All of the new releases I saw this year were either DCP screenings or seen at home. I indicate if the older movies were seen on film or DCP; otherwise I watched them at home. Books and comics are in the order they were read.

New Releases

Older Films

Books Read

Comics

  1. These are affiliate links. I thank you in advance if you use them.

Dishonorific

Politics

I have a tiny slice of the internet here on the candler blog, and I can do with it as I please. So I will take an editorial stance, a quiet protest of letters: I will not give Donald Trump an honorific.

Here, on these pages, and in my tweets and Facebook posts and whatever other scraps of writing I have editorial control over, he will either be Mr. Trump, Donald Trump or plain old Trump. Nothing more.

It’s a small but important reminder to me that he is not my president. He represents hatred and bigotry, cronyism and corruption, mismanagement and failure. He is an American embarrassment, so I’ll withhold the honorific until he earns it. He’s got a long way to go.

Vigilance

Thoughts

I’ve started this piece so many times. A million different ways. All year. I’ve been trying to find the words, but never have. I hoped others would. They did, but it didn’t matter.

Donald Trump has all the hallmarks of a fascist dictator. He is a racist, a xenophobe. He espouses white supremacy. Make no mistake: the America he thinks used to be great was punishing for many. His rhetoric puts Americans at home and abroad in danger. And we knew it. Our country elected him with eyes wide open.

I regret not publishing those words before today. I write now simply to be heard. I want to make sure I say out loud that we didn’t all support him. None of us knows what the future holds, but when I look back on this era, at least I can say I was not for Trump. History should know that we existed, that we tried.

Growing up Jewish, two words are hammered into you: never forget. My people have had a very rough go over the centuries, particularly in the previous two. We were run out of Europe amid a campaign of intimidation, amid massacres. Some, like my relatives, were lucky enough to make it to America a generation before Hitler.

Jews have enjoyed incredible acceptance in the United States. But Jews were also accepted in Europe, once upon a time. History moves slowly and is rarely clear when you’re in the middle of it. The lesson passed down to me after a century of unspeakable horror was one of vigilance. Pay attention. Engage. Question. And never, ever forget.

It’s not paranoia that has me feeling this way. It’s experience.

The Ku Klux Klan is jubilant. Trump’s divisive talk has galvanized racists, bigots and anti-Semites in this country. Many of Trump’s supporters don’t see themselves that way, and I’m sure millions of them are well-meaning Americans frustrated by our political system. Yet they have thrown in with a dangerous crowd. I worry where this leads.

Ever since Trump announced his candidacy by viciously attacking Mexican-Americans, Martin Niemöller’s famous stanzas have been ringing in my head daily.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

When I speak with friends about my concerns as a Jew, they often tell me it won’t happen here, that I am overreacting. But it’s already happening, just not to me. A man spent a year-and-a-half selling Americans on the forcible expulsion of millions of immigrants and shutting them off from us behind a wall. And then he got elected president. If the mass deportations happen, or if the wall gets built, this is a dark path for our country. And that will only be the beginning.

I’ve been quiet here for too long. If I don’t speak up now I may never get the chance.

A closing thought. This world is nothing without art. Culture is not an addendum to civilization; it is its raison d’être. Today was a tough day and there will be many of those ahead. But the beauty around us has not disappeared. If anything it stands out in stark relief more than ever. Creativity has sustained humanity through its toughest moments. So if you create, create like hell. We need you to.

Back On Instagram

Apps, Photography

Me, December 2012:

I don’t begrudge Instagram their efforts to monetize their service, nor Facebook’s attempt to get a bit of money back on their billion dollar investment. That doesn’t mean I need to be a part of it though.

And so I’m moving to Flickr.

Last September:

I’ve been inching closer to returning to Instagram in the past year…

This week I signed up for Instagram once again. I’ve been feeling the slow pull back into it for some time, but the final straw was getting an iPhone 7 Plus last weekend. I’m already having a great time shooting with all three (!) cameras on the 7 Plus, and I know I’m going to want to share those photos.

Why did I leave Instagram four years ago? The short answer: ads. I didn’t like Instagram’s terms back then because they wanted the ability to sell user photos to brands without giving the photographer a cut. They reverted their terms after a public revolt, but the damage had been done for me. I lost trust in the company and left.

If I’m honest with myself I can admit that my writing about leaving Instagram played a bigger role in my resisting coming back than the reasons I originally left. That may seem silly, but stubbornnes usually is. Getting over that hurdle and taking a serious look at why I wouldn’t join again was a years long process.

I was right to leave then, but I’m also excited to come back. I’ve seen the fun that friends and family have with the app. There is something about it that really makes it a powerful photo sharing platform. I’m still wary about Instagram and Facebook, but I can be wary from the inside instead of from the outside looking in.

When I deleted my account, Instagram said I was forfeiting my username for good, but that turns out not to have been true.1 So if you’re looking for me on Instagram, I’m @poritsky.

Here’s my first photo, taken with Apple’s beta “Depth Effect.” That’s Hazel. I suspect there will be plenty of her in my feed. Happy snapping.

  1. File that one under being wary.

Shimon Peres: 1923-2016

People

I’m sad to hear of the passing of Shimon Peres. My friend Judah Ari Gross, a journalist in Israel, put it best two weeks ago when he compared Peres to Benjamin Franklin. In Israel and abroad, that is roughly the stature Peres has been able to maintain for decades.

I had the great pleasure to meet Peres twice. I helped organize an event in college bringing him to the University of Pennsylvania. At a reception, a staff member introduced me to him. We shook hands and I said something to the effect of, “It’s a great honor to meet you.” His answer was one word: “Yes.” He wasn’t wrong.

The other time I met Peres was on a trip to Israel with organizers of similar events across the U.S. He was incredibly gracious with his time. He spent his entire adult life in Israel’s public eye, famously brokering the Oslo Accords, which remain the most ambitious, most audacious effort to bring peace to the region.

It seems like a distant memory now, after so many more years of war, but in early 1990s it felt like we were sitting on the edge of history. Peace really seemed possible thanks to Peres.

There will be many fond remembrances of Shimon Peres. Tzipi Livni wrote a beautiful piece for The New York Times. This passage sums up what set Peres apart.

We could all see it in his eyes; he wanted to be loved — but he was not willing to give up on his beliefs.

I saw it every time I watched him ignore the cynics, risk being called naïve, and continue doggedly to speak for and pursue peace. This was the lesson that every leader needs to learn: Follow your inner compass no matter what.

He will be missed.

iTunes Movie Bundles

Movies

Apple is running an amazing deal today celebrating 10 years of iTunes Movies. They have 6 movie bundles, each with 10 films, for $9.99 each.

At the 2006 Apple special event where Steve Jobs introduced the feature, Movies in iTunes were a signature “One more thing…” moment, but then he outdid himself and added a “One last thing….” That last thing was the Apple TV, then an experimental device nicknamed the “iTV.” Crazy to think the Apple TV is only a year older than the iPhone. When they launched iTunes Movies they did it with only 75 movies. A lot can change in a decade.

The movies in these bundles cost between about $10 and $17 a piece, so even if you only want one film you’re walking away with a deal. The Paramount bundle, which has the most movies I’d want to watch again and again, would set you back about $150 before tax separately.

Here are the full lists. These are affiliate links, so I thank you in advance if you do any shopping. The deal is only good for today, so chop chop.

10 Years of iTunes Movies - Warner Bros.

10 Years of iTunes Movies - Universal Studios

10 Years of iTunes Movies - Paramount

10 Years of iTunes Movies - Sony Pictures

10 Years of iTunes Movies - Lionsgate 1

10 Years of iTunes Movies - Lionsgate 2

Mitchell’s McSorley’s in Color

Photography

Jen Carlson at Gothamist has gathered 40 color photos of New York City in the 1940s from a trove of Charles W. Cushman’s collection, digitized and maintained by Indiana University. It’s an incredible collection.

One thing about the city that’s always mystified me is how it manages to always feel like New York, even across time. The skyline and the fashions have changed, but in general it looks exactly like the place I called home for six years.

One of my favorite photos in the collection is this one of McSorley’s Old Ale House:

I’ve mentioned McSorley’s here once before, two and a half years ago, in a story about accidentally taking Brett Terpstra and a co-worker there. In retrospect my writing is a bit embarrassing:

I took them to McSorley’s Old Ale House, something of a tourist trap with sawdust on the floor that only serves small glasses of their house beer. It was a bit of a mistake on my part but we got a round and got to talking.

Earlier this year I finally picked up Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, a collection of the writer’s profiles from The New Yorker. I had been meaning to read it for years, ever since John Gruber and Glenn Fleishman discussed it on The Talk Show back in December of 2013. But I put it off. I wish I had at least looked at the cover illustration that initiated their conversation, then maybe I would have avoided calling it a tourist trap.

Mitchell’s first story in Up in the Old Hotel, “The Old House at Home,” from 1940, is one of the great pieces of New York writing. And it’s about McSorley’s Old Ale House. I’d only been the one time, but I’d love to go back again and take it in a bit more, considerings its long and storied history.

Charles W. Cushman’s photo of the McSorley’s façade is dated October 7, 1942, which means this is the era of “The Old House at Home.”

It is a drowsy place; the bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for many years. The clientele is motley. It includes mechanics from the many garages in the neighborhood, salesmen from the restaurant-supply houses on Cooper Square, truck-drivers from Wanamakers’s, internes from Bellevue, students from Cooper Union, clerks from the row of secondhand bookshops north of Astor Place, and men with tiny pensions who live in hotels on the Bowery but are above drinking in the bars on that street.

Mitchell painted an incredible picture with his pen, but it’s nice to have this kodachrome image too.

Frankenstein, the Baroness, and the Climate Refugees of 1816

Books, History

Gillen D’Arcy Wood has an article over at The Public Domain Review that is a reminder that history and literature are not as finite they may seem. They grow and change with the times.

In Frankenstein’s Creature, Mary Shelley offers us the most powerful possible incarnation of the loathed and de-humanized refugee. The “Year Without a Summer”, with its ghost story competition by the lake, remains one of the best-loved biographical vignettes of the Romantic period. But now, as we commemorate that direful year, it is no longer the story it was.

Fantastic piece of historical journalism. Adding Wood’s Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World to my “To Read” list.

(via Joe Dawson at Coudal.)

Dusty Bought This Huge House in Southampton

Art, Movies

Robin Pogrebin has an interesting piece in the Art pages of The New York Times, “Can the Old Masters Be Relevant Again?” Apparently art collectors aren’t buying old paintings much anymore.

“They want to be associated with the new and the now,” said Edward Dolman, chairman and chief executive of Phillips auction house, who spent much of his career at Christie’s chasing works by old masters but now focuses on contemporary art.

“We have no intention of selling old masters pictures or 18th-, 19th-century pictures, because these markets are now so small and dwindling,” he added. “The new client base at the auction houses — and the collecting tastes of those clients — have moved away from this veneration of the past.”

To be sure, the interviews in Pogrebin’s piece ring of old versus new money classism couched in “they don’t make ’em like they used to” (with “’em” being wealthy art collectors) lamentation. Put another way, this is a problem that’s not a real problem for most.

Nonetheless, the article got me thinking whether there is a similar divide in cinema. Are audiences losing interest in the “old masters,” instead opting for “the new and the now?”

This is not an easy comparison, since films aren’t really “collected” the same way paintings are. Yes, film lovers buy Blu-rays and DVDs, but since they are rarely scarce, they can be gotten at a reasonable price. Paintings are a whole different ballgame.

I think movies may actually have the opposite problem from the art world: maybe the contemporary isn’t revered at all. New works seem to just fade away as we shore up the thrones of our old masters. Go seek out photos and anecdotes of, say, Stanley Kubrick or the original Star Wars and you’ll be lost for hours, maybe days, before running out of material online. But will what is contemporary now get such treatment in the future?

Consider, as an example, two films released in the U.S. in 2014: Jodorowsky’s Dune and The Dance of Reality. The former is a documentary covering the filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt in the 1970s to make a film out of Frank Herbert’s Dune, the latter a contemporary film by Jodorowsky. I still haven’t seen the documentary (I have no doubt it’s good) but the latter was my favorite film that year. Somehow, the story of a film not made proved far more popular than an actual work from the same artist. An old master, as it were, was outshone by his younger.

My favorite bit in Pogrebin’s article comes from the salty sounding art dealer Christophe Van de Weghe:

“People who come into the contemporary field like colors that go well with their couches,” Mr. Van de Weghe said.

“All these new buildings — with high ceilings, big windows,” he added, “they scream for contemporary art.”

This immediately called to mind Daniel Stern’s small but memorable role in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. He plays Dusty Frye, a wealthy rock star decorating a new home. His accountant, Elliot (Michael Caine), sets up a meeting with his sister-in-law’s lover, the artist Frederick (Max Von Sydow).

Dusty and Frederick head to the basement to see his larger oil paintings (“Well, are…are they big? … ’Cause I got a lot of wall space there.”) and they return in a shouting match.

DUSTY

(gesturing)

I ask you if you have something with a little puce in it, you gotta fly off the handle!

LEE

(in a slightly higher- pitched voice)

What’s the problem?

FREDERICK

(pulling the nude drawings off his easel angrily)

I’m not interested in what your interior decorator would think, okay?!

DUSTY

(overlapping, gesturing)

Well, I can’t commit to anything without consulting her first. That’s what I have her for, okay?

FREDERICK

(carrying the drawings off)

This is degrading! You don’t buy paintings to blend in with the sofa!

DUSTY

(looking after Frederick)

It’s not a sofa, it’s an ottoman!

For one character, art is decoration; for the other, art is more visceral. They’re both right.

In cinema, they can both be right too. Films can be disposable entertainment and lasting masterpieces at the same time. They can “blend in with the sofa,” so to speak, and rock us to our core anyway. I just hope the films of today stick around long enough to become “old masters.”