Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rediscovering George

I’m pleased to take a welcome break from discouraging politics to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed the new documentary portrait of musician/singer-songwriter/film producer George Harrison, entitled George Harrison: Living in the Material World.  It debuted on HBO this month, and if you are or ever were a Beatles fan, not to mention a Harrison fan, it’s really worth seeing.  It features some familiar Beatles footage as well as Beatles material I’ve never seen, and, a lot about (and with) George individually.  Directed by the indefatigable Martin Scorsese and produced by him and George’s wife of 30 years, Olivia Harrison, the film also offers interviews with her and their son, as well as an assortment of music and film notables, including old friends and family.

I must admit that after the Beatles broke up, I didn’t pay much attention to Harrison’s ongoing career (I was wrapped up in John & Yoko), nor did I realize how many popular Beatles songs were written by him, rather than the famous Lennon & McCartney duo – among them “Here Comes the Sun,” “If I Needed Someone,” “Blue Jay Way” and “Something (in the way she moves)”; I did recall “Don’t Bother Me,” “I, Me, Mine,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Savoy Truffle” and of course, “Tax Man.”  Apart from the Beatles, Harrison released numerous albums and generated such hits as “All Things Must Pass,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Wah-Wah” and “My Sweet Lord,” to mention a few.

I also forgot that it was George Harrison who produced “The Concerts for Bangladesh” – the concerts, the album, the film – which was the very first rock- star-studded event to serve a charitable cause, pre-dating “We Are The World,” Live Aid, all the other Aids, and all of Bono’s good work.

Now all this may say more about my foggy memory than George Harrison’s show biz prominence, but I also forgot that it was he who assembled The Traveling Wilburys, which began as musical fun among friends: he and Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.  I knew he had produced Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, but I didn’t know he mortgaged his house to do it, or that he formed a film company that produced other Python movies, along with an impressive list of other well-respected films.

I knew it was George Harrison who discovered Hindu spirituality for himself and turned the other Beatles onto it as well.  I didn’t realize how strong a part it played in his life right up to the end, long after his band mates left it behind, or to what great extent his musical teacher, Ravi Shankar, was his spiritual teacher, as well.

Despite all I’ve written here, you’ll find much more to learn – and admire – about George Harrison, the man and the artist, in this new documentary.  It’s a reminder of how much the Beatles gave us, together and individually, how much we’ve lost – and how much they left us.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Noble Occupation

I’ve been paying close attention to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement since Week 2 and I have to say, as a counter-balancing relief from the babble of the current herd of Republican hopefuls, OWS is refreshing and encouraging.

What has surprised me is the number of people – mostly on the Right, but the Left and Center, too – who keep trying to dismiss (or smear) this socio-political phenomenon, because they haven’t stated clear goals, or provided a manifesto or list of demands.  It’s like listening to someone blurt guttural screams for HELP! and standing aside, asking, “Yes, I understand you want assistance, but can you please clarify exactly what it is you want help for; and if you don’t mind, could you put your request in writing so that it can be studied by the proper committees?”

Talk about you-don’t-get-it!

Remember the 1976 film Network (written by Paddy Chayefsky, directed by Sidney Lumet) starring the late, great Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and William Holden?  It’s set in the 1970s, when the three major networks still ruled television, and tells the story of a grand old broadcast newsman left over from the salad days of grand old broadcast newsmen, a la Edward R. Murrow.  One day, Howard Beale (played by Finch) comes to the studio to do his nightly newscast and instead he gives a sermon of desperation that is eerily pertinent to our times, even though it’s 36 years later.  The following is taken directly from the script:

            “I don’t have to tell you things are bad.  Everybody knows things are bad.  It’s a depression.  Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job, the dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter, punks are running wild in the streets, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.  We know the air’s unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit and watch our tee-vees while some local newscaster tells us today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  We all know things are bad.  Worse than bad.  They’re crazy.  It’s like everything’s going crazy.  So we don’t go out any more.  We sit in the house, and slowly the world we live in gets smaller, and all we ask is please, at least leave us alone in our own living rooms.  Let me have my toaster and my tee-vee and my hair-dryer and my steel-belted radials, and I won’t say anything, just leave us alone.
            “Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.  I want you to get mad – I don’t want you to riot.  I don’t want you to protest.  I don’t want you to write your Congressmen.  Because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write.  I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the defense budget and the Russians and crime in the street.  All I know is first you got to get mad.  You’ve got to say:  “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.  I’m a human being, goddammit.  My life has value.”  So I want you to get up now.  I want you to get out of your chairs and go to the window.  Right now.  I want you to go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell.  I want you to yell: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”  Things have got to change.  But you can’t change them unless you’re mad.  You have to get mad!”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what the OWS is about.  Beale’s rage against the machine and call-to-expression is one of the greatest in modern cinema, and I wanted to reprint it for those of you who have never seen the film (or haven’t seen it in a long time).  OWS is about everyday people being mad as hell with the economic and political system, with being ripped off, pissed on, treated like children, and being completely excluded from the bounty of the 1%.  What’s the mystery?

Network remains pertinent, timely, throughout.  At first, the network powers-that-be are furious.  But when they discover that millions of people from coast to coast are in fact yelling out their windows, they realize that Beale has hit a nerve – and they can capitalize on it!  They take Beale off the nightly news and give him a show of his own.  They call him “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves.”  And the old man comes out each week, gives a powerful rant, then swoons into a dead faint as the audience cheers.  Reality TV 36 years before its time!

But in art as in life, one day Beale goes too far.  Voicing the rage of the common man (which can always be ignored…) is one thing – but challenging the machinations of BIG big business is quite another.  Here’s what Beale says that gets him into trouble:

            “All right, listen to me!  Listen carefully!  This is your goddam life I’m talking about today!  In this country, when one company takes over another company, they simply buy up a controlling share of the stock.  But first they have to file notice with the government.  That’s how C.C. and A. – the Communications Corporation of America – bought up the company that owns this network.  And now somebody’s buying up C.C. and A! Some company named Western World Funding Corporation is buying up C.C. and A!  They filed their notice this morning!  Well, just who the hell is Western World Funding Corporation?  It’s a consortium of banks and insurance companies who are not buying C.C. and A. for themselves but as agents for somebody else!  Well, who’s this somebody else?   They won’t tell you!  They won’t tell you, they won’t tell the Senate, they won’t tell the SEC, the FCC, the Justice Department, they wont tell anybody!  They say it’s none of our business!  The hell it ain’t!”

This is the daily business reality that affects all of us.  This is the chicanery that OWS is mad about.  What’s the mystery?

Beale can’t be allowed to go on telling that kind of truth.  So Arthur Jensen himself (beautifully played by Ned Beatty), the corporate honcho of C.C. and A., takes Beale into an imposing conference room and reads him the corporate riot act.  Doesn’t this, too, sound very much like the global economic present – the era that OWS is mad about?  Just substitute China for Russia and the corporations of today for those of yesteryear and it’s enough to make you shiver.

Jensen says:
            “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it, is that clear?!...You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples.  There are no nations!  There are no peoples!  There are no Russians!  There are no Arabs!  There are no third worlds!  There is no West!  There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and… interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars!, Reich marks, rubles, rin, pounds and shekels!  It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet!
            “That is the natural order of things today!  That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today!  And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone!  Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?
            “You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen, and howl about America and democracy.  There is no America.  There is no democracy.  There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon.  Those are the nations of the world today.  What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state – Karl Marx?  They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do.  We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale.  The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business.  The world is a business, Mr. Beale!  It has been since man crawled out of the slime…”

This post has gone on long enough I think.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these golden snippets of Network and suffice it to say that you should think twice about the invectives being hurled at the OWS: they’re radicals, they’re killers, they’re anti-Semites, they’re a bunch of dirty hippies taking up space.

No.  They’re you and me and everyone in the country, who, for one (or more) countless reasons is mad as hell and won’t take it any more.  I hope New York has a mild winter.