Monthly Archives: August 2019

What Killed the Rialto?

rialto-1

When I was a child in the 1970s I got to experience the cultural moment that every millennial dreams of. I saw  Star Wars — I refuse to call it “A New Hope” — in its original theatrical run. As an adult with more sophisticated tastes, I can easily point out why Star Wars isn’t a very good movie. But as a 10-year-old it got me so excited that, between the moment when Darth Vader choked the life out of the rebel captain to the destruction of the Death Star, I had to go to the bathroom at least 6 times. That feeling, that sense of a larger world opening up right before your eyes, was what cinema was all about. Had I seen Star Wars on a laptop via Netflix, or a cell phone, or even on a wide screen TV, I doubt it would have had the same effect.

Now the Rialto Theater in downtown Westfield, New Jersey, a small city of about 30,000 people 20 miles west of New York, is gone, probably for good. I saw better movies than Star Wars at the Rialto. I saw the original Rocky. I saw Saturday Night Fever, with my parents (it was rated R and after the horrific rape scene in the back of Tony Manero’s car, I think they were sorry they brought me). I was not allowed to see Monty Python’s Life of Brian. It was also rated R. The 18-year-old girl selling tickets refused to believe that I was a 23-year-old who had grown up in New York City and had never bothered to get a driver’s license. That was my story and I’m still sticking to it. Later, after I turned 18, I saw The Untouchables, Goodfellas, Amadeus, and a now mostly forgotten old film called The Mission that above all made me want to learn the Oboe. I never did. I remember seeing a revival of The Graduate sometime in the late 1970s. I was well under legal age, but somehow I got in.

To be honest, the Rialto Theater in Westfield never really meant very much to me. All through the 1970s and 1980s it was exactly what it is today, a rather full commercial film house that played conventional Hollywood blockbusters. What really excited me as a boy was getting on the train and going to Newark or Plainfield to see Kung Fu movies. They never played in suburbia. Bruce Lee was too hot for Westfield or Cranford, too radical, too ethnic. After they made the mistake of showing The Warriors down the road a few miles in Roselle Park, and it caused riots in some of the local high schools, the ticket takers in Newark and Plainfield even started checking IDs. There were over a dozen local movie theaters, and while you could see porn — the Five Points “Jerry Lewis” theater in Five Points in Union played the film Caligula for over a year — there was not a karate chop or a roundhouse kick to be had. Kung Fu movies had been effectively banned in Union County, New Jersey, not for me of course because I was an urban kid with no fear of the big city, but certainly for anybody in conservative, Republican Westfield. The rich, preppy kids in that town were afraid of anything with any melanin at all, even Italians.

Eventually, in the 1980s, the Westfield Rialto split up into a multiplex. That was probably the moment it was doomed. That glorious big screen that made Star Wars such a different experience in the theater than it was at home on HBO was gone, replaced by 6 smaller screens that could easily be replicated in the comfort of your home by a wide screen TV and a good sound system. I suppose that if the owners had transformed the Rialto into something like New York’s Film Forum, it might have worked. It’s almost impossible to see anything outside of the mainstream in suburban New Jersey, and going into the city adds a 16 dollar New Jersey Transit ticket to the price of the movie ticket. But there’s a reason the Film Forum is in New York City and not Westfield, New Jersey. The audience for “good” cinema these days is fairly limited. It takes a megalopolis of 7 million people, not a small city of 30,000, to generate enough ticket sales for a theatrical run of the latest high art film from Iran or Eastern Europe, or God, forbid, France. In the 2010s, the Westfield Rialto played exactly what they play at the multiplex on Route 22 in Mountainside or Route 1 in Linden, Marvel Universe comic book movies. It’s probably more fun just to play video games.

In the early 2000s, when they “revitalized” downtown Westfield by giving big corporate chains like Starbucks and Victoria’s Secrets tax breaks, and basically turned the whole town into a big open air shopping mall, they decided to to keep the Rialto around. My guess is they thought “well this is a real, walkable downtown so we need a real movie theater,” but it had long outlived its usefulness and nobody bothered making any repairs. These days, when those same corporate chains that grabbed so much market share in the 1990s and 2000s are giving way to Amazon and Grubhub, they’re also scaling back. Victoria’s Secret is gone. Starbucks is mostly a place to pick up mobile orders on your cell phone. The rents and property taxes are still high and its still almost impossible to find a place to park. So vacancies in downtown Westfield are on the rise. The final goal of neoliberal capitalism is probably for nobody ever to interact with anybody else in real life.

vacancy

But none of that is what killed the Westfield Rialto. It probably would have gone on forever showing men (and women) in tights getting into CGI fights if not for a greedy landlord. The landlord, who the media seems reluctant to name, stopped making repairs. The theater company stopped paying the rent, and that was that. I suppose they’ll replace the Rialto with mixed use condos. You can never have too many of those.

Can a White Actor Play a Black Historical Character?

I found this old interview of James Earl Jones by Dick Cavett. Anthony Quinn (a Mexican of Irish descent) had planned to make a film about the Haitian Emperor Henry Christophe.

It’s fairly clear that Jones doesn’t think Quinn should play Henry Christophe but he makes his point in a very nuanced, sophisticated way that’s far more convincing than the absolutist arguments you here on social media today.

I also think Jones would have made a great Beethoven(when he was in his 40s, although he’s probably a bit too old now at 88). For what it’s worth, Quinn was quite convincing as a Libyan in the film Lion of the Desert.

Charles Bukowski Wonders Why Americans are Incapable of Rebellion

“People simply empty out.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/10/people-simply-empty-out.html

Well, we live under a fascist President. We’re watching the earth dying in real time because of pollution and global warming. The corruption is right in our faces. Yet we continue to care about one thing, our jobs and upward mobility for our kids. All we’re really willing to fight for is getting a good deck chair on the Titanic.

Bukowski nailed it back in the 1980s. We’ve just emptied out.

The Gun Cult’s Asymmetrical War on Reality

https://twitter.com/JewishWorker/status/1145699069677002752

The gun cult in a nutshell: Take a look at this Elizabeth, New Jersey cop. He’s an armed agent of the state guarding a literal concentration camp where innocent people are imprisoned based on nothing but their immigration status, and yet he’s fooled himself into believing that his membership in the gun cult means that he’s somehow guarding our “liberty.”

Mass shootings in the United States has become so common that they might even motivate the newspapers to bring back their evening editions.  Last week, on July 28th, a 19-year-old gun nut named Santino William Legan bravely exercised his Second Amendment rights against our tyrannical government by shooting up the Gilroy Garlic Festival and killing a 6-year-old child. Not even a week later, a 21-year-old gun nut named Patrick Crusius decided to strike a blow for the white race by murdering 21 innocent people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Since he published a manifesto detailing his obsession with the neo-fascist “great replacement” theory, there was no question about his motivations. Like so many gun nuts in America, he probably had a secret stash Waffen SS memorabilia in his closet.

Not to be outdone, however, we leftists seem to have produced our own mass shooter. Connor Betts, the Dayton Ohio gun nut who killed ten people, including his own sister, had previously expressed admiration for Satan, socialism and Elizabeth Warren. In other words, due to our mutual admiration for Satan, he was someone I might have even hung out with in real life.

Pretty much anybody these days might become a mass shooter. Guns are so readily and easily available,  Americans are so alienated and politically disempowered, there’s so much anger and nihilism that if it’s an American and it has a penis — women don’t become mass shooters — it might at some point think about walking through some random crowd somewhere in the United States slaughtering random innocent people with an AR-15. These mass murders could easily be stopped. Gun control works. A majority of Americans support at least a ban on assault weapons. But the tiny minority of pro-gun American extremists has so much political clout that nothing is going to be done. The mass shootings will continue. Politicians will continue to offer their thoughts and prayers, and the corporate media will continue to frame the issue as a “problem to be solved.” Even worse, the left and the right will continue to try to pin our epidemic of not so random random mass murder on their political opponents. If the shooter is a white supremacist, the left will make sure we know. If the shooter shows any kind of anti-establishment bias, the right will not be silent. And therein lies the problem. A small group of pro-gun extremists and their allies in the mass media has forced the “debate” on mass murder into a framework that is nothing less than an asymmetrical war on American reality.

First a few points:

1.) You cannot debate the “motives” of a mass murderer from a distance. Only a trained psychologist with years of experience and years of access to the killer can figure out what makes one of these monsters tick.

2.) There’s no mystery about the solution to mass shootings. Confiscate the guns and pass strict gun control laws. Having a “debate” about something so obvious is a bit like having a debate about whether or not 2 + 2 = 4 or 5.

3.) The gun cult isn’t interested in debating how to stop mass murder. They are not having this “discussion” in good faith. Quite the contrary, they are trolling you. They are gas lighting you. Most of us, liberals and even conservatives, don’t want to see a 6 year old ripped to pieces by an automatic rifle. For the gun cult, however, every mass murder, every senseless death allows them to push their fascist agenda.

So what is the gun cult’s agenda?

Back in the 1940s, the German novelist Thomas Mann, who had originally been a monarchist and a conservative, but later turned to New Deal Liberalism after the Nazis rose to power in Germany, gave perhaps the best, most succinct description of antisemitism. Antisemitism, he argued, wasn’t only about a hatred of Jews. It went further. Classical antisemitism, with its baroque conspiracy theories and grotesque paranoia was about undermining rationality itself. The antisemite wanted not only  to kill all the Jews. He wanted to kill our sense of what was true and what was false. He wanted to murder the Enlightenment and even Christian universalism.

The anti-semitism of today, the efficient though artificial anti-Semitism of our technical age, is no object in itself. It is nothing but a wrench to unscrew, bit by bit, the whole machinery of our civilization. Or, to use an up-to-date simile, Anti-Semitism is like a hand grenade tossed over the wall to work havoc and confusion in the camp of democracy. That is its real and main purpose.

http://www.openculture.com/2019/04/thomas-mann-explains-the-nazis-ulterior-motive-for-spreading-anti-semitism-in-rare-1940-audio.html

I’ve argued for awhile that the single most important event leading up to the election of Donald Trump was the massacre at Sandy Hook in Connecticut. To be more specific, it was the birth of the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us were shocked when a mentally ill young man slaughtered 20 grade school students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton Connecticut. I invite you to think about what a 6-year old child who’s been hit by fire from an AR15 looks like. Go ahead cowards. I dare you. The gun cult, however, the gun cult in the form of a white nationalist and antisemite named Alex Jones, however, was ready. The Sandy Hook Massacre, they argued, never happened. The reason we never saw photos of the dead grade school students had nothing to do with our delicate sensibilities, but the fact that nobody died. It had been staged by the Obama Administration as part of a plot to take away our “liberty.” But it gets even more complex. Immediately after proclaiming that the Sandy Hook Massacre had never happened, he reversed himself, denying that he had ever even made the claim.

Jones, Clinton declared Aug. 25, 2016, “even said, and this really just is so disgusting, he even said the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre were child actors and no one was actually killed there. I don’t know what happens in somebody’s mind or how dark their heart must be to say things like that.”

The same day, Jones disputed Clinton’s statement, telling viewers of his Austin-based program that Clinton “lied, not only to the U.S. but the world… that I say that no children died at Sandy Hook and they were all actors. I’ve never said any of those things.”

A moment later, Jones went on: “They can’t find anywhere where I have said that I know the kids killed at Sandy Hook were actors or that it didn’t happen” and furthermore, he said, he’s been criticized by conspiracy theorists who maintain the Sandy Hook events were fake–“because I don’t buy into that.”

https://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2016/sep/01/hillary-clinton/hillary-clinton-correct-austins-alex-jones-said-no/

In other words, Jones was fucking with our sense of reality. He was trying to throw a hand grenade into the democratic process that might lead to a new assault weapons ban. Even more, he was trying to undermine our ability to come to terms with what should be a rare tragedy and grieve. He was feasting on our pain over murdered children. Above all, he and the far right were making a statement about just how far they were willing to go. Anybody willing to psychologically torment the families of murdered grade school children has no limits, no boundaries, no line he won’t cross. Liberals, and even many leftists, never understood the extremist nature of their opponents until Donald Trump was in the White House yammering on about “fake news” (fucking with our sense of reality). Sandy Hook Conspiracy theories were a declaration of war on the American people, and most of us never saw it.

I think it’s important to keep this in mind the next time there’s a mass shooting. Don’t debate the gun cult. They’re not arguing in good faith. But even more, don’t debate the motivations of the shooter. Observe how the gun cult, the NRA and its supporters in the mass media try to spin the murder. Observe how they try to undermine your sense of reality and common sense. Observe the unproven assumptions they try to slip into the dialog when you’re not looking. Take note of their agenda, and start to think about how you’re going to defeat them politically.