JANE FONDA – HANOI OR HOLLYWOOD

This week’s Internet has carried reports that Jane Fonda is sorry for the 1972 picture and film of her sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery, laughing and otherwise joyously carrying on. North Vietnam was the enemy during the Vietnam War, itself a huge, costly mistake that never needed to be fought. That War with more than 58,000 deaths brought out the super stupid in two Presidents, Johnson and Nixon, and their stooges – generals, secretaries of state, national security advisors…

Now Jane Fonda says the pictures and the film were huge mistakes. What was her first clue?

Jane was in the movies, going from glamour puss to excellent actress while arising from a gaggle of Hollywood brats. She believed in the Hollywood hype – I’m on film. I have money. I am famous. Everyone loves me. Nothing can happen to me. In early 1972 she won an Oscar for her role in the 1971 film, Klute. Thereafter, she went to North Vietnam for her photo shoot.

The current Internet has incorrect and omitted quotes of Jane Fonda and boyfriend (eventual Hubby), Tom Hayden. This list is incomplete but it represents her state of mind after returning from Vietnam and after the return of American prisoners of war e.g. John McCain. “Walking through the streets of Hanoi with their heads bowed in front of a woman with a bayonet might be torture,” Jane said, Daily Californian, April 12, 1973, p. 1; see Berkeley Barb, April 13, 1973, for more Jane Fonda opinions on the torture of American POWS; Holzer, Henry Mark and Erica, Aid and Comfort: Jane Fonda in North Vietnam, McFarland & Co. Hayden, Reunion, p. 455: Either Tom or Jane about the time of the 1973 Peace Treaty, “the POWS were ‘liars, hypocrites and pawns in Nixon’s efforts to rewrite history.’” Jane and Tom were among a group of myth-makers, see Susan Sontag, Styles of Radical Will, NY, 1969, “Trip to Hanoi,” p. 205, 208, “The North Vietnamese genuinely care about the welfare of the hundreds of American pilots and give them bigger rations than the Vietnamese population gets ‘because they are bigger than we are…’ and ‘they’re used to eat more meat than we are.’”

[These citations are from my novel, Bitch., 2013, iBookstore.]

The time to correct misimpression’s, miscommunications and mistakes was when the quotes first appeared in 1973, or whenever they were made. 2015 is too late to go on TV and apologize. I cannot take Jane Fonda seriously. She is not sincere. She acts like the same stupid little Hollywood girl she was in her first movies in the early Sixties.

Entertainment disapproved of that war. John Wayne’s Green Berets is the most ridiculous pro-war movie from the mid-1960s. There were no similar films except for POW and POWS-left-behind films after the peace and departure in 1975. I imagine in Jane’s own family, brother Peter, a fine actor whom I’m always happy to see on film and her father, the venerable Henry Fonda opposed the War. I doubt if Henry let his views to break up his long friendship with Jimmy Stewart. Both Henry and Peter had a maturity in 1970 which Jane has yet to exhibit.

Jane left Tom Hayden in the early 1980s, did the exercise tape thing  and was the subject of wonder on supermarket tabloids: Which sexual orientation did she want? It’s publicity. She ran off to Ted Turner but wasn’t sure she wanted to do the tomahawk chop at Atlantic Braves games. CNN, the Braves, buffalo ranching and Time-Warner were all too much. She left Ted.

Now it’s all make up and plastic surgery. Today Jane looks like she’s forty years old. But what’s in her brain? She’s in her mid-seventies, and it appears she wants to compete with Anne Hathaway and Heather Graham, actresses born after Jane made her most damning statements.

Jane Fonda is not a little Public Relations’ problem. She wants to be known and respected as a good person, although much she had done has left her living on the same street as Charlie Sheen, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, and Jane is the most notorious of the neighbors. Jane cannot write another book, like the one she released in the last decade: Throughout it, anyone could read I’m lying; I’m a dishonest person. I want you to love me.

This is her conundrum.

CORRESPONDING WITH CARLOS – Charles Barber

This engaging, funny, instructive, artistic book is part biography of the late twentieth century Austrian conductor, Carlos Kleiber; the other part of the volume is epistolary, letters from the conductor to the author. Kleiber is recognized as one of the best conductors of his times. He did not record much; he did not pursue fame. He took extreme care in performance (mostly opera) and on recordings to get the best music, performed and presented.

Art and perfection in its presentation are the most difficult feats for any person to achieve in performance. Kleiber has no set process. No conductor and no artist should. If one writes a book review, a novel or a biography, the writer should be conscious of different processes required from each product. It is true with a painter – self-portrait, landscape or city scene; a composer – a piano piece, a symphony or an opera. Each work of art should have its own forces, thoughts and games by the originator.

A conductor takes each piece of music, sets it into its style, regionally and historically, and brings out the voices, rhythms and sensations. Corresponding describes this process incompletely because Carlos Kleiber was always unsure of himself: He had great talent, devotion, energy, discipline and imagination, and although he had an ego and it seems colossal and unerring at times, doubts arose. He knew his knowledge, understanding and abilities had limits. He always wanted to know whether Verdi composed an opera while eating a boatload of bad calamari; it was useful to know the inflammatory patterns of Wagner’s hemorrhoids while he composed Tristan and Isolde. But in doubt about other stuff and getting an orchestra to perform to the conductor’s interpretation festered uncertainty.

Learning to conduct involves all the musicianship taught at conservatories, plus experiences of a lifetime, conducting orchestras and ensembles plus seeing and hearing other conductors, preferably in person. While big named conductors, including Kleiber, rehearsed with orchestras other big named conductors liked to sit unobtrusively in the seats and listen. Security sweeps of the house would remove the uninvited guests That degree of intimacy by the rehearsing conductor, the product soon to become public, did not protect trade secrets – nobody stole ideas because any decent conductor would have an understanding of music apart from the jumble in rehearsal. Kleiber himself had no students except the author, Charles Barber, a graduate student from Stanford 7,000 miles from Munich. The American figured how to get instruction – deliver VHS tapes of other conductors to Kleiber and await his reactions. It is true in the arts that the best instruction is sometimes delivered briefly, 35-40 words, and that is what Kleiber does.

In the biographical potion of the books (60 percent of the pages) may of the conductors were European. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony came up and Kleiber (two recordings) gives his impressions. On and on Kleiber went, and the text didn’t mention Pierre Monteux, primary a symphony (not operatic) conductor. Monteux has many recordings including dynamic presentations of Beethoven’s Seventh and Dvorak’s Seventh. There is very little of him on film. In the epistolary section I was relieved that Kleiber liked and admired “the walrus” (Monteux had a big white mustache).

It is helpful and perhaps essential to have a rudimentary understanding of music and recognizing pieces like is done in music appreciation classes. The book is written to a general audience – 70 percent of everyone will pick up and follow the artist themes. The remainder are embellishments, the knowledgable reader understanding the next 15-20 percent, and the final ten percent is understood by musicians who know or who have played the music being discussed.

In a score I know how to find a passage and understand some of the discussion in the last ten percent, but that is no longer important to me and does not yield a greater understanding of the book. [It would provide a greater understanding of the music and how Kleiber heard and did it.] Sometimes knowing everything is ludicrous; the readers sees moods, manias and childnesses: Tutti in a score means all instruments of one kind (flutes, trombones, etc) play. During a bad rehearsal Kleiber was dissatisfied and unhappy; he began to pick on various players. He told the first-cellist to change tables with the tutti-cellist (a grave, life-lingeirng insult) because the tutti cellist had been playing with more enthusiasm.

These sorts of nasty, artistic outbursts are common in the artistic word. Writers want to murder everyone, including the characters on the pages before them while they, themselves, butcher the language. Michelangelo painted Jesus Christ on Judgment Day throwing a cardinal the artist detested into Hell. This temperament is part of artistic lives and impulses also extant in Corresponding. Anyone seeking that experience, influence and stimulation would benefit from a thorough reading of this volume.

Producing Art

In volume 2 of the Paris Review Interviews is a piece with James Baldwin. 

The last question: “How does it strike you that in many circles James Baldwin is known as a prophetic writer?”

Answer: “I don’t try to be prophetic, as I don’t sit down to write literature. It is simply this: a writer has to take all the risks of putting down what he sees. No one can tell him about that. No one can control that reality. It reminds me of something Pablo Picasso was supposed to have said to Gertrude Stein while he was painting her portrait. Gertrude said, ‘I don’t look like that.’ And Picasso replied, ‘You will.’ And he was right.

THE WEST OF THE IMAGINATION

This excellent book by Wiliam H. Goetzmann and William N. Goetzmann (father and son) attempts to explain how perceptions of the West (of the USA) live and how many are myths and legends. Our views are sculpteed by lands which are artworks in and of themselves. No artist, painter or photographer can ever represent Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon or numerous physical features elsewhere. In and among these monuments to the earth have come human beings, many illiterate and others incapable of recording life. The motto for the American West (and perhaps for all human history) is best described in a John Ford movie: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Art and painting represent the legends of the West. Most paintings were made put on canvass in the West. Early on, painters sketched and painted in the off-season in the East. OR, paintings were made in a studio long after an incident occurred e.g. Custer’s Last Stand. Indeed, one depiction was known as the “Anheuser-Busch Poster” a marketing tool. Beer drinkers could sit in bars and saloons and speculate about the Last Stand. Of course, recent forensic studies have proven all the paintings, legends and eye-witness accounts, are pure fantasy. In 1913 another Indian battle Wounded Knee, was filmed using as many participants of the original incident as could be gathered. All but one reel of the film has been lost.

More myths? How many United States soldiers did Native Americans kill after 1865? Another history gave the answer of fewer than 1000. But given the massacres depicted in film and in some books, it seems the total amounts to a genicide. Until reading the Goetzmanns’ book I did not know that forts west of the Mississippi were not attacked by Native Americans alone; they knew the futility of attacking fortifications. The books mentions one of the last attacks of a fort or settlement, circa 1770, Booneville, Kentucky, the settlement of Daniel Boone. Yet, film is primarily responsible for perpetuating the myth of numerous attacks in the nineteenth century.

The chapter on Frederick Remington is excellent. When individual artists come up much humorous stuff comes out: Buffalo Bill’s first impresario, Ned Buntline, had the unprofitable careers as an U.S. Army deserter, an politician-instigator of race riots in St. Louis, a bigamist and a temperance reformer, all before he went into entertainment. But the best chapter is about Charles Russell and his business-savey wife, Nancy. When he was considered to paint a mural for the Montana House of Representatives, Russell told the committee in very Western fashion: “If you want cupids and angels and Greek goddesses, give this New Yorker the job. If you want a western picture, give it to me.”

What Remington and Russell show in paintings, drawings and sculpture was motion in the world they knew. They did that as well as anyone. Viewers can see a paintings and know what had happened in time before the painted scene; the viewer can anticipate what will happen. Viewing A Dash For the Timber  (Remington) horses and riders are coming at the viewer. Russell’s, Smoke of a .45, the viewer is in a gun battle and wants to stand out of the way of bullets and fleeing men on horses. These paintings catch motion as completely as Rembrandt did in The Night Watch, or Michelangelo did with Moses. (see Sigmund Freud essay) Yet contemporaries of Remington and Russell (Impressionists) did not show motion well. Their paints relied on technique and style to project the images.

The painters and most other Western painters knew the animals they painted and drew – standing still, at peace, cold, war, running, off balance. At art schools in the East horses and other animals were dissected in classes to demonstration motion of the animal, for the greenhorn students. And all artists knew the magic of horses: Frank Tenney Jackson explained, “People like to buy pictures with white horses. If I paint a picture with one horse in it – it’s a two-hundred dollar picture. If I paint the horse white, it’s a four hundred dollar picture.” (319)

This book is entirely too short. Not every picture discussed is shown. There could easily be another 100 prints. More text could be hand about a painter’s impression of his intervention with nature to produce art; and the historians could tell by interpretation the painter’s impressions. In its survey the text runs through movies as being an extension of painting and photography, but movies distort the history, perpetuating myths and legends. The text about movies runs until 1970; Westerns are on the decline; comedy rips apart the genre in Blazing Saddles; also omitted is the saloon scene from The Great Race. The end of the Western era arguably lasted in 1976 with John Wayne’s, The Shootist.

A sidebar about Westerns and movies: Taking the place of Westerns and its heroes  and anti-heroes in this day of Machines Take Command are crime stories whether the protagonist be a detective, a private investigator, a low-life cop or a rogue spy. The common elements to these characters, whatever be the previous job, is an obsession for truth, justice and the underhanded way, plus a speck of heart that is gold. 

Finally, the authors of The West of the Imagination observe an disturbing trend that is running amock today:  “Modern publishers seem to think that the eye measures the depth of the popular mind.” (314) As for this book, READ IT.

LARRY

“The logic of Michelangelo’s David, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Einstein’s Physics [has] been replaced but that of the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitros

The naked guy was a student who used to walk onto the Berkeley campus wearing only shoes and a day pack. He went to class. I saw him once or twice. He wasn’t bothering anyone, but he eventually was disciplined and left the campus.

Thereafter, the University of California at Berkeley had nothing cultural or artistic to offer the world. Nothing was engagingly odd, alluring entertaining or unique. The campus needed something to contribute to American culture. One day in the mid-1990s a black guy named Larry showed up with his drums and a stool. Larry sat in the middle of Sproul Plaza from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and pounded his drums. Some passer-bus claimed that Larry varied his beats and rhythms, but most knew Larry had one routine and it was very annoying and loud. University employees in the west facing offices of Sproul Hall, in the Student Union and in the nearby cafeteria were crushed: Pounding every academic day of the semester, day after day, hour after hour, second after second.

Larry would talk to people and acknowledge others as the parade went by. He claimed to be a drum teacher and was in Sproul Plaza drumming up business. The pun was intended. From the campus police station in the basement of Sproul Hall came authority, after about a year. An arrangement was reached. Larry would move 150 feet sound to the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph. He could pound his drums all he wanted on City of Berkeley property.

If the University of California had known and correctly realized where City of Berkeley property started in 1964, there would have been no Free Speech Movement.

Larry moved south and changed his hours, 11:30 a.m. into the evening. Same drumming, same parade and a different audience hearing the pounding, heart rendering thunder now across the street from second story apartments. Larry could be heard two blocks away, over traffic, voices and the business of the city. 

Larry was there a long time, a new students wondered why the noisemaker was tolerated and allowed to disrupt the peace near the campus. There were complaints, but the University cops laughed, and the City police had more important matters than objectionable art to fuzz.

I had my car near the University a few years later. I was driving a friend from Boalt on the east side of campus to BART near the west side of campus. It was a warm and pleasant fall evening as we drove west on Bancroft Avenue. As usual I had to stop at the traffic light at Telegraph.

To our right about 30 yards ahead on the sidewalk was Larry pounding his drums. My friend has a voice that can carry a quarter mile. I said, “Tell Larry he sucks.” Down came with window.

As I peeled out, my friend boomed, “LARRY, YOU SUCK!” 

We had driven a half block when we heard the drumming stop.

Shortly thereafter Larry stopped drumming at Telegraph and Bancroft, period. It was the end of any contribution from the University of California at Berkeley to American culture. Imagine an artist stopping all effort because a complete stranger yells, “YOU SUCK! It happened, and that is the only possible result when the artistic effort and cultural contribution is ephemeral, for the moment, temporary and offensive. It’s foundation was based on public indifference backed by the worst of all human attitudes: Let him do his thing.

Americans are unwilling to draw distinctions; they don’t want to be judgmental. But all art and surviving culture is judgmental; What exists and survives is excellence, not something that people have ignored it. Yet Americans usually will pay to witness mediocrity. The choreography by cheerleading squads at most high school football games exceeds that of dancing by song-singing rock stars. Yet people pay big bucks to see the two-stepping lip-syncing robots on stage. There is one feature not available from the high school units. If the dancing and songs are not catchy in music performance, perhaps removing clothes, using drugs or being arrested for beating up someone will attract fans..

And what of the great talent from the music world. Some of it isn’t much better than Larry’s drumming. In a writing by a blogger this month, he wrote that classic music should just die. He correctly pointed out that concert halls were expensive and musicians were always asking for money. He omitted a egregious, parallel comparison: The money spent to build stadiums for professional athletics to benefit owners and athletes. The money spent there dwarfs the money spent on concert halls and symphony orchestras, and no one, if ever, tears down or stop using a music hall. Whether professional athletics is a worthwhile cultural activity is an issue I will not deal with here.

But to the doubting blogger, does he know how long it takes today’s musicians to put together an album of 75-90 minutes? It took George Frederick Handel 25 days to compose Messiah, including the orchestration, about 150 minutes of the arguably best choral music ever composed. Or try being blind and old and compose arguably the best choral music ever composed: Bach did it in the B Minor Mass. Or be DEAF for eight years and compose music that became the best symphony, and perhaps the best music ever conceived and composed: Beethoven did that in the Ninth Symphony. PLUS Beethoven may have been unhappy with the fourth movement of that symphony and considered writing a movement without a chorus. Listen to the whole symphony and wonder why Beethoven may have been unhappy.

In the field of human achievement Messiah, the B Minor Mass and the Ninth Symphony surpass artist achievements in most media. Americans could learn and appreciate much if they knew these works – if Americans replaced and oriented themselves to them rather than let themselves languish and linger, YOU SUCK in the bogs of professional sports and their rock concert fore-times, half-times and after-times.

I would rather spend money on fitful classical musicians than waste money on fitless professional athletes. 

SILLY CULTURE

“The logic of Michelangelo’s David, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Einstein’s Physics [has] been replaced by that of the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” I like this sentence from Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitros. 

What does it mean? It can be stated as a sinking bottom line i.e. when there is no foundation there is no building and no edifice. The meaning can be found in other ways. I must paraphrase H.L. Mencken: No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. A third way of saying the sentence comes from Georges Clemenceau covering the American Civil War for French newspapers and in World War One French Prime Minister: (paraphrased) America went from barbarism to decadence without the usual intervening period of civilization.

A question always arises is the relative importance of culture and its excellence to society, the economy and to a nation’s well being. Until 1870 France was becoming a stilted, static place. After a crushing military defeat in 1870 and a harsh peace of 1871 France transformed itself initially by culture. In the fine arts French painting, music and sculpture excelled and pushed the envelope in those media. France became the place to write, paint, sculpt and compose, a reputation it maintains. France is the most obvious example telling the importance of excellent culture and artistic output and those significant influences they have on the people of the country. In short excellent culture allowed France to rebound quickly and strive ahead.

When culture and art become idleness, slight entertainments, annoying diversions or amusing ephemera, it represents nothing more important than something produced on an assembly line – pieces of throw away stuff. How often do Americans hear about a one-time “priceless” work of modern sculpture sold for its scrap-metal value, like a Pentagon weapon system gone bad or an awry government computer program? Art is supposed to entire forever, not be dismissed because it has served its purpose: The artist [creator, originator or mechanic] has been paid and has garnered more commissions off the recognition of the sale. Yet Americans continue to treat music, painting, writing as something thrown against a wall, and if it sticks it will be there offending until it the environment forces it to fall off.

Culture allows a people to backstop problems, issues, events and potential solutions. It lets people retreat to what is good about the society, perhaps live a fantasy or a dream, while the pile emits its bad or good seeps from it. What has a solid footing and does not seem obviously derivative, inordinately temporary, brazenly artificial may survive, be accepted and become part of the lives of the people. But that seldom happens. Today what remains of art produced 10 years ago? About artists I know of, musicians, which pieces of music introduced in 2004 are played today other than franchise themes? Music to TV shows, ads, ditties on computers. The best anyone can say about America is that it is in a rut; it is at sea without an anchor. The backstop supposedly holding American culture is actually a canyon into which we empty more and more stuff. 

Alarmingly, Americans seek solice not in the excellence of human activity and production, but in religion, faith or secularized philosophy. No one can disagree with those individual choices, but they provide and afford few, if any, comprehensive solutions. Religion, faith and philosophy are terrific means to provide comfort to individual means and to guide individuals, but extending those belief systems are not conducive to acceptance or they are offensive to persons with contrary religions, faiths and philosophies. Imposing laws are to force compliance is coercive and debilitating. It results in less respect for law. Because law seems not to work, Americans attempt to rectify imperfections by voting solely for representatives who believe in their religion, faith or philosophical systems.

The so-called Right has justly been accused of voting this way. The so-called Left also votes this way. The commonality of Left and Right is the means of obtaining money and power, but no community remains – Right or Left. And there is no culture except a buzz, a ring, static, a din. And Americans are left to accept the meager entertainments coming to them cheaply and engaging them momentarily. None of it feeds the spirit, the enlightens the soul and fills the essence. None of it braces an individual for the uncertainly of tomorrow.