Being white – or not.

I was reading this article this morning in the NY Times, (Nicolas Kristof) and it hit me that I have lots of friends of lots of colors, although that wasn’t always true. I grew up in a very white town (Vermillion, SD) and even though I had/have a very large component of “Indian” blood, I wasn’t raised around Indians. Ben Black Elk and Oscar Howe (and families) visited our house and we were connected, but again, by and large I didn’t know much about the reservation. I sure didn’t know anything about black culture. black-white-guys

But that changed when I went to college. My brother and I ended up going to the University of Kansas at the same time. He was finishing school – I was just starting. I hung out at his place way more than I did at my own dorm room, and his place was an old house that had been converted into an apt. house. Upstairs where we were had 4 bedrooms and a bathroom, and 3 of those rooms had black guys living in them. It was a really interesting mix of guys. Now this was close to 50 yrs ago and I don’t remember their names, but I remember them. One guy was kind of a fraternity guy – very sharp dresser, and hip. His family had a little money and he had been going to KU for at least 2 years. The next guy was from Africa – older, studying science of some sort, and the third was from Kansas City, and didn’t seem to have any extra money at all – just starting out like me.

We all hung out – as dorm-mates will do. Chit chatting about whatever. The frat guy made fun of me all the time because I was pretty un-informed- about the hip things of life. He was a lot of fun. Once, the guy from Kansas City invited me to his house in KC to meet the family and like that. I was excited and we drove over – I din’t have a car, but he had borrowed one, so it was a nice day trip. I remember his mom was very nice, and their house was just regular house. In fact – every thing about these guys was “regular”. I never really caught that there was a “black” culture that had secret passwords or was unapproachable. It was the 60′s and we just hung out together.

That was my introduction to people I didn’t know much about. Since then, I have gathered all sorts of friends – black, white, red – maybe even a yellow person – lots of brown. I can see that people have different cultural experiences but I have to say that life in general seems to be about the same stuff for pretty much everybody – family, making a living, creating what you want, getting along in a good way. I wish that other folks could see that too.

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Doing what you love?

I was reading an interesting article this morning in the NY Times. It was about whether or not one should do what one loves. And it the article was a link to a video about a guy who calls himself Slomo. (as in Slow Motion) Now when I read the article I got the impression that this guy doesn’t think this other guy (Slomo) should waste his life roller skating all day – everyday. But in fact that’s not what the guy did. First of all he worked as a doctor for many many years – 30 or 40 and then he started skating all day.

The article suggests that one should do what one needs to do to in order to be good, or useful. “Duty-bound” as it might say in the bible. Kant believes that’s what we ought to do.

One of the reasons I thought about this so much is that I realized that I have pretty much always done what I loved, and yet…most of what I did was because I had a family that I needed to support. I’ve been a documentarian for over 40 years, and the vast majority of the time I was doing commission work – jobs that I got because we needed the money and the money was there, so I did it. Now I don’t deny that I enjoyed what I was doing, and pretty much of the time, I found something enjoyable in the topics that I was documenting. But I know I never would have chosen to do a piece on building a water pipe line, or public safty, or any of a hundred other topics that people wanted me to do. I just wouldn’t have. Probably wouldn’t have even thought about them. But simultaneously, I loved doing documentaries. Editing what people said into a form that was enjoyable to watch.

Since we moved to Minnesota, I have been splitting my time between commissions about topics that are OK, and pieces that I’m doing strictly because I love the idea. I don’t know what the answer is, or if I’m even capable of just doing what I want to do. I can say that I think the author of the Times piece didn’t really pay attention to Slomo – maybe he didn’t watch the film.

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Children play dangerously – what could be better?

When I was a kid – maybe 3 or 4 I was over at another kid’s house – in the alley. There was a fire – someone was burning their garbage, and my brother who was 3 years older, and his buddies suggested to me that I should grab a wire that was white and directly in the fire. They told me it would be fine, and because it was white – that meant it was cool enough to grab. So I did. Wow, did that hurt! I don’t remember what happened next but I can type and use my hands well enough today so I assume I recovered.

There are many aspects to this event that I’ve left out though. Where we were at was about 4 blocks away from where we lived. There were no parents around at all – none. Of course this was not unusual: there never were. They were all working, and so the best way to take care of the kids (that was us) was to turn us loose and tell us NOT to come back until lunch – or supper depending upon the day part. Nobody was concerned that we would get snatched away, or that we wouldn’t come back. Of course there were the occasional events that caused our parents anguish (like the time Dean fell out of a tree and broke his arm) but that wasn’t enough to change the habit of turning us loose to wile away the hours.

Yesterday I heard a piece on public radio with the author of a wonderful article in the new Atlantic, and then the magazine appeared in our mailbox, and I’ve started to read it. What the author was saying on the air was that parents today have done just about everything to remove any chance of a child experiencing anything that might actually build their character or subject them to some pain. I think this is nuts, and I wonder about my grandkids – growing up in a world where they are not allowed to be by themselves – so that they can figure out how to navigate the world and the lives they will eventually have to lead – all by themselves.

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Wonderful example of Cinema Verite’

I came across this this morning at . It’s a terrific article about the process that these folks used. Here’s the video that they shot:

I love this article and the video for a number of reasons. First of course because it’s amazing news, and fascinating. But on a more personal level – I’ve been a documentarian for over 40 years, and I love the way that they did the piece: no faking it, no setups, no “over the shoulder” shots that tell you it was all setup – just one camera (with a high quality mic which I love) – shooting something as it happens. I love it. It shows you the power of what simple emotions and straight ahead shooting really is.

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Questions about HER

I saw Her last summer and really enjoyed it. And since then, it has stayed in my mind, raising lots of questions. This morning I ran across this piece in the New York times and it raised even more questions.

But here’s the thing that doesn’t seem to come into the equation whenever I hear about the notion of “will machines become human minds?”. While folks speculate about whether or not you could actually have a machine with a human mind – as Samantha in HER does, they rarely consider the question of wondering. Wondering about stuff that you have never seen before, or even know if it exists or not does not seem to be in the cards. How could a machine create a new thought about something that isn’t there. What would be it’s reference point? Actually there are many aspects of something that isn’t there that come to mind (at least to my mind – which I assure you is somewhat human):

Deciding that you like something, or not. Choosing to do something because it makes you happy, and conversely choosing to not do something because it makes you sad. Creating an entirely new thing – something that no one has ever even thought of – just to name a few.

I’m not worried about computers becoming real live thinking machines – mostly because they would still leave the realm of art to us poor humans. Ah now that’s a fascinating thought.

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The Paws Report: 2013 Best Pix (that I saw)(and liked)

This notion of a a group of pictures or a single picture that was the very best is pretty tricky. Firstly, when I went through a list of the films that made the critics “Best” list – I saw at least another 10 films that I didn’t get to see at all. How good were they?

Such is life. OK so here’s my list. Some of the very best were all about the money – Blue Jasmine, and on the other side – Wolf of Wall Street – and then all over the place – American Hustle, Dallas Buyer’s Club and Nebraska – perhaps the strangest of them all. I especially liked Nebraska because it was so real. But I think overall in the group I probably liked American Hustle the best (although Blue Jasmine is the only one I saw twice)

Without any question the toughest movies of the year were all about race. 12 Years a Slave, Lincoln and the toughest, saddest, movie of the year- Fruitvale Station. This trio of films were all superb – in really different ways – each on more intimate. Lincoln of course was great to see the politics of America. 12 years was stunning in the brutality that was visited upon so many people. But when you see what happened to one man over a 24 hr. period, it really hits you that not much has changed.

The next group of films were kinda crime related – Prisoners, Mud, The Heat and American Hustle. I suppose Wolf fits in there too, and also Blue Jasmine, and of course Fruitvale Station, and sure, 12 Years.

The next Group – Love and Relationships. I really enjoyed Enough Said, and Her. Her was so strange – and hopefully NOT prophetic. Of course all (good) movies are about relationships so Blue, Hustle, and Mud are in this category too.

And finally, Family pictures – Nebraska, Blue Jasmine, Enough Said, and Mud.

So there’s my list. I realize that I forgot the best special effects movie of the year – Gravity, but they don’t generally make my list. Besides, it scared me too much.

Now it’s time to get started again!!

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The Paws Report: Walter Mitty

Went to see the last film in my own little Christmas Holiday Film Festival – the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. And what can I say – I loved it. But then again, I’m a sucker for sentimental movies about the oppressed, and normal. It was a very sweet love story between Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig, and of course Walter Mitty’s famed secret life. Do you remember the short story by James Thurber? Of course not – you aren’t old as the hills (well some of you are) but I do. The henpecked husband who has wild and fanciful flights of fantasy (too many “f”s?) This version is much less beaten down – more just really average – but still somewhat paralyzed in his daily life. Anyway – go see it – it was definitely the most fun I had in my film festival. An joyful and very woofable 4 Paws.

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Great speech on our health care system

I was listening to MPR today and heard this speech and I wanted others to hear it to. Such a great insight into our health care system. Please take a listen.

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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Last night, after a wonderful day of “tasting”, I decided that the perfect ending would be a movie. I had a choice – Sherlock Holmes or Tom Cruise’s new action thriller. I chose Mission Impossible, and am I glad I did! What a treat! Now I am familiar enough with movie trailers not to trust them to really show me what or how a film might actually be, and so I had seen the trailers to this film and was not intrigued at all. It was just way too fast, too mindless, too unending. But the film is not that at all. It’s a wonderful combination of suspense and action, and enough space between huge gigantic effects that you could breath. I was stunned by the end of the film how short it felt, when it was actually over 2 hrs long. OK, so here’s the plot: Tom Cruise is in a prison – in Moscow, and some folks are getting him out. After they do that, they discover that they need to stop a really bad person from stealing a nuclear bomb, and detonating in order to start a nuclear war. This of course means that they have to go to lots of interesting and exciting places – like Dubai, and India. But enough about the plot. The plot isn’t really all that important. What made the film for me was the excellent balance between action, fighting, crazy impossible devices, and crazy impossible encounters. Oh and what makes it fun is that the devices – the impossible devices that are supposed to give you the most amazing powers in the world – they keep falling apart and failing. I loved it. It adds terrific suspense, and like that.

Now the only thing that didn’t really work for me was the actual climbing and stuff up the outside of this really really tall building. Tom Cruise explained how he trained like crazy to be able to climb around on the outside of this film and like that, but it was so impossible to believe that he was really doing this stuff – I mean it was just beyond belief that anybody could do this stuff – even knowing that he had a safety harness and was wired up to the building, it was just too insane – it had to be done with computers – CGI (computer generated images)

So here’s my verdict: 4 big and fluffy paws! Run, don’t walk to see this film, and take along a chew toy!

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My Week with Marilyn

Michelle Williams channeled Marilyn Monroe. That’s the only way she could have nailed it so hard. Wow! She was really excellent, and everybody else in the cast was excellent too! Eddie Redmayne as her by chance confidant does an excellent job too. 4 fuzzy and very fluffy paws! A warm and bittersweet film about unrequited love, and the power of publicity to play on a person’s weaknesses. Highly recommended.

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