Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Real Wonder Woman: Meryl Streep in "Ricki and the Flash" (and everything)


So bored was I trying to watch Wonder Woman in the theatre that I came home and instead rented Ricki and the Flash (2015) starring a true Wonder Woman: Meryl Streep. Who else could, at the age of 65, play the sh@# out of a raunchy rock-and-roll mama so well. She even learned to play guitar for the role, and did all the singing.

The film teams Streep with Kevin Kline as her ex-husband Pete, in their first screen pairing since Sophie's Choice for which he, too, should have won the Oscar. Her other love interest is the impossibly cute and talented Rick Springfield, who everyone my age (including me) has been in love with since "Jesse's Girl" and Dr. Noah Drake. What inspired casting.

Unlike Wonder Woman, this movie is written by a woman, Diablo Cody (Juno) and it shows. It's got heart, and soul, and yes, a revelatory marijuana scene.

Streep's daughter Julie, played by her spittin' image Mamie Gummer, is undergoing a crisis that calls Ricki back to the family she left in the dust of her dreams. Julie bites her absentee mom's head off when she arrives, and tellingly tells her the next morning, "My therapist has had me on Effexor, and I think we need to titrate down a little bit. It's made me volatile." She also says she has, "Ambien shits from my suicide attempt. I had them on hand because I'm an insomniac."

Similar to Jane Fonda's character Grace in Peace, 
Love and Misunderstanding, Ricki asks about the marijuana she found in the fridge just at the moment when the family is about to turn in at 9 PM rather than face each other. Next thing you know, everyone's chill and listening to music, after which Streep and Kline laugh their faces off, munch out, and actually have a conversation about their troubled children. Meanwhile, insomniac Julie snoozes to an old movie on TV with Judy Holliday saying, "you know, it just smells nice." 

The bummer boom comes down the next morning in the form of the stepmom, who wants Ricki and her marijuana out of the house so that they can go back to prescription-medicating her daughter. "It's a plant," Streep scoffs. In the end, she's there when her daughter needs her, like a true shero.

Springfield, who as Greg the Guitarist is sweetly supportive in the film, wrote about getting stoned and listening to Hendrix, or spending all his money on weed and girls, in his memoir Late, Late at Night (which in 2012 was named No. 23 of "The 25 Great Rock Memoirs of All Time" by Rolling Stone). 

But back to Meryl. With the possible exception of Susan Sarandon, Streep has now played more female stoners on screen than any other actress. She portrayed Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa, passed a joint to Cher in Silkwood, sniffed some exotic plant material in Adaptation (pictured) and "poked smot" with Steve Martin in It's Complicated. Reportedly she smoked medicinal pot as a cancer patient in One True Thing.

Streep has the stones (i.e. ovaries) to stand up to the current administration, causing Tweety D. to single her out as an "overrated actress." Which may be the biggest lie he ever told.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Anita Pallenberg: "She was the catalyst"


Actress, artist and muse Anita Pallenberg has died. Pallenberg had a 12-year relationship and two children with Keith Richards, but first she dated Rolling Stone Brian Jones, after famously bringing him hashish backstage after a concert in Munich.

In her memoir Faithfull, Marianne Faithfull wrote,  "How Anita came to be with Brian is really the story of how the Stones became the Stones. She almost single-handedly engineered a cultural revolution in London by bringing together the Stones and the jeunesse dorĂ©e."

Jones reportedly mistreated her, and she and Richards were drawn to each other. They hooked up while traveling and checked into a hotel as the Count and Countess of Zigenpuss. "By the time we got to Valencia, it was summer," Richards wrote in his autobiography Life. "I still remember the smell of the orange trees in Valencia. When you get laid by Anita Pallenberg for the first time, you remember things." The next stop was Marrakesh, where band members were hanging out with Very Important Pothead Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin, who contributed the hashish fudge recipe to the Alice B. Toklas cookbook.

Anita ended up in prison overnight a drugs charge in Rome while filming Barbarella. While filming Candy based on the Terry Southern novel, co-star Marlon Brando "kidnapped her one night and read her poetry and, when that failed, tried to seduce Anita and me together," Richards wrote, adding "Later, pal."

As so often happens with power couples, forces conspired to pull them apart. When Anita was cast opposite Mick Jagger in Performance, the tongues wagged about a possible affair with a third Rolling Stone. It was during this time that she says she started using heroin. 

In 1972, Anita was arrested for marijuana in Jamaica, and the Rastas took care of her children while she was in jail. In 1977, she and Richards were arrested and charged with hashish and heroin possession in Toronto. After undergoing a painful withdrawal and facing a long sentence, Richards repented and went into rehab, including electroshock therapy, according to The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen.

In his memoir Life, Richards wrote: "Anita came out of an artistic world, and she had quite a bit of talent herself—she was certainly a lover of art and pally with its contemporary practitioners and wrapped up in the pop art world." Her ancestors were painters, and she hung out with "Fellini and all those people" at the age of 16 while on scholarship to a graphic school in Rome. "Anita had a lot of style. She also had an amazing ability to put things together, to connect with people...in New York she'd connected with Warhol, the pop art world and the beat poets....She was the catalyst of so many goings-on in those days."

At one point Anita introduced the band to filmmaker Kennith Anger, who took them down the road to Aleister Crowley and satanic stuff, culminating in "Sympathy for the Devil," and forever attaching the word "witch" to Anita (who did backup vocals on the track). She also inspired the song Angie, among others, and was a fan of Timothy Leary, who visited them in France. 

Apparently Anita left behind no writings of her own. She made a memorable appearance in 2001 on the British series “Absolutely Fabulous,” playing the Devil in a fantasy sequence, alongside Marianne Faithfull, who played God. In her later years, she retired to "an allotment in Chiswick where she grew strawberries, artichokes, leeks, broad beans and enrolled in botanical drawing classes" according to The Telegraph. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What's Wrong with "Wonder Woman"

There can be no doubt that in the very earliest ages of human history the magical force and wonder of the female was no less a marvel than the universe itself; and this gave to woman a prodigious power, which it has been one of the chief concerns of the masculine part of the population to break, control, and employ to its own ends. —Joseph Campbell, 1964

I really wanted to like the new Wonder Woman movie, but I couldn't even sit through half of the 2 1/2 hour epic, driven away by drippy dialogue and lame characterizations.

The film is directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins), but the screenplay is by Allan Heinberg, with a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs (three nonwomen). It shows. Men seldom look earlier than the Greek times, and this is in fact when "history" began. But "herstory" started long before that.

Wonder Woman first appeared in comic form in January 1942. She was said to be sculpted from clay by her mother the Amazon Queen Hippolyta, and given life by the Aphrodite, goddess of love. Later comics, and the movie, instead have the male god Zeus giving life to Diana/Wonder Woman and indeed, all of humankind.

This has significance because in the first written story of mankind, The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2500 BCE), it is the goddess Belet-ili (also called Aruru) who sculpts men from clay. The men then team up to chop down the cedar forest and denigrate the goddess Ishtar (who opens my book, Tokin' Women). Flash forward to the Greek play The Eumenides, wherein a man is found not guilty of matricide on the grounds that people are not related to their mothers, who merely carry men’s seed. The goddess Athena, who testifies in the play that she sprung whole from the head of Zeus and was not borne by a mother, seals the move from the old god/goddess pantheon to the new, patriarchal one.

Myth matters. As Joseph Campbell said to Bill Moyers, "If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor."

As revealed in Jill Lepore's book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, the character was created by the American psychologist and writer William Marston, who was inspired by early feminists, especially his psychologist wife Sadie Holloway and the birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Sadie, who attended Mount Hollyoke at a time when women were called Amazons for going to college, once wrote DC comics suggesting instead of "Vulcan's hammer," Wonder Woman should exclaim, "Suffering Sappho!"

In the movie, Wonder Woman sets out to destroy Ares, the god of war, and thereby end WWI. Ending war was a goal of Sanger's as well. She argued in Woman and the New Race that overpopulation is the cause of all human misery, including poverty and war. Birth control, she said, is "the real cure for war" and "love is the greatest force of the universe." Lepore writes, "Women should rule the world, Sanger and Marston and Holloway thought, because love is stronger than force."

After making an appearance as cover girl on the first edition of Ms. Magazine, Wonder Woman was objected to last year when she was named an ambassador to the United Nations. The announcement, which was attended by TV's Wonder Woman Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot of the big screen, came weeks after seven real-life women were rejected as UN Secretary General. Some men objected to a women-only screening of the film, to which New Yorker fact checker Talia Lavin tweeted about the all-male panel that's working to remove birth control options for women in the US healthcare plan.

In the movie, there's a witchy female character who concocts deadly poisons for the modern Ares, who's seen inhaling poppers in much the same way as Hitler took methamphetamine. I'm guessing, after many special effects and pyrotechnics, Wonder Woman kicks his butt (but leaves something open for a sequel).

I will say I had a little more spring in my step as I left the theatre, walking tall like a woman. It was nice that Connie Nielsen got to be a gladiator (Hippolyta) this time, and to see Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) playing a strong character (Diana's warrior woman aunt Antiope) who isn't underhanded like Claire Underwood. I liked some of the lines like, "How do women fight in these clothes?" and "This is what passes for armor in your country?" when Diana is considering corsets and frills. But on the warrior costumes, why the codpieces?

I see on her Twitter feed that Nielsen is founder of Human Needs Project, and Road To Freedom Scholarships. Those are the kinds of battles where we need our warrior women.