On Miley Cyrus

Jesse Ignjatovic, Executive Producer, 2013 MTV Video Music Awards

Jesse Ignjatovic, Executive Producer, 2013 MTV Video Music Awards

This ain’t nuthin’ but the devil! Here I am making headway on my review of Lee Daniels’s The Butler, and now I have to take time out to comment on this swill from Miley Cyrus. I will be brief. Cyrus did not just drop down onstage on a whim at the MTV Video Music Awards last Sunday night to perform the most bush league of choreography I have seen—evah! Pull back the curtain and see the wizards for who they are! Someone came up with that idea! Someone directed that choreography! Someone gave Cyrus the Green Light! Cyrus’s ‘trick’ had to be practiced to perfection(?) under the eye of a director before the award show even went on the air! Plus, costume designers put together each costume for Cyrus and the dancers, and you know there were fittings.

What is worse, Justin Timberlake gets handed the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award—this after he abandoned Jackson’s sister Janet at the Super Bowl (No! I will not get over that!)

I get it, I really do. Pop Culture is trendy and is subject to the whims of the public. As products for consumption, entertainers are fawned over one day, and the next day we’re channel surfing or streaming for that next ‘thing’ that pops. Remember the ending of The Truman Show? With that written, I understand the difficulty for artists to ‘keep it fresh’ so the public can stay interested in them. ‘Keeping it fresh’ is especially challenging for child stars; so it stands to reason that Cyrus desires to crossover from Hannah Montana to … well after Sunday’s performance … I don’t know to what- or to wherever. It just was a very loutish performance.

Hamish Hamilton, Director, MTV Video Music Awards 2013

Hamish Hamilton, Director, MTV Video Music Awards 2013

My question: Who let that ghastly cat out of the bag? Here are the answers: Jesse Ignjatovic, Executive Producer; Amy Doyle, Garrett English and Dave Sirulnick, Executive Producers. Joanna Bomberg, Jen Jones and Lee Lodge, co-Executive Producers. Hamish Hamilton, Director. There.

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Blue Jasmine @ The Ross

Cate Blanchett as Jasmine

Cate Blanchett as Jasmine

Woody Allen has hit a nerve in his film Blue Jasmine, and that nerve is in the vein of Tennessee Williams’s story A Street Car Named Desire. Jennifer oh, er, excuse me, Jasmine (played by Cate Blanchett) arrives in San Francisco on the doorstep of her sister, Ginger (played by Sally Hawkins) in an attempt to put her life back together (or what’s left of it) after her husband Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) suicide in jail. Jasmine and Hal were the elite of New York socialites only to find their world torn apart by divorce, infidelity, and the discovery of a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme ran by Hal.

Jasmine and Hal (Alec Baldwin) in New York

Jasmine and Hal (Alec Baldwin) in New York

As does Tennessee Williams, Allen explores what happens to a person’s psyche once she has been excommunicated from the very entities and people that made her the ‘who’ of who she is. Yes … sigh Jasmine has had a great fall, and all of Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Carolina Herrera cannot put her back together again. It is interesting that Allen moves out of his beloved New York and settles Jasmine in San Francisco, the leading financial and cultural center of northern California, for her to attempt to put together her emotional and psychological pieces. Allen’s lighting choices of highly saturated primary colors and complementary colors underline the pathos of Blue Jasmine in cool San Francisco. Allen, however, contrasts the experience with soft hues when he cuts to New York to show Jasmine and Hal at the top of their high society game. The flashbacks make for a very razor sharp viewing experience.

Jasmine arrives in San Francisco

Jasmine arrives in San Francisco

Blanchett’s performance is as a marionette lacking some of its strings and controlled by an inebriated manipulator or puppeteer. It’s a bothersome psychological dance, and Blanchett would have done well to consider a crescendo rather than a knee-jerk move into her psychosis. Kudos to Andrew Dice Clay, who plays Ginger’s ex-husband Augie. Clay’s Augie carries a controlled but haunting financial defeat after taking investment advice from Jasmine and Hal.

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Blue Jasmine plays through September 13 at The Ross in Lincoln.

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On Russell Simmons and Harriet Tubman (after the apology)

Harriet Tubman

I haven’t yet expressed my outrage on the smut accorded Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress Quvenzhané Wallis by The Onion. As she sat in her seat at the Oscars, a grown man from that social network looked on this nine-year-old and tweeted: “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c–t, right?”

Nor have I expressed my outrage on Justin Timberlake and his blatant demonstration of cowardice at Superbowl XXXVIII. He left—no he ABANDONED Janet Jackson on stage. Standing. By herself.

Nor have I expressed my outrage over Chris Rock’s signification on Janet’s breast and holding her totally responsible for the mishap during his HBO stand-up comedy special Never Scared.

Nor have I expressed my outrage over Li’l Wayne’s lyrical dare to compare his alleged sexual prowess to that of Emmett Till’s lynching. I won’t even mention R. Kelly.

These posts still are to come, but I do believe I curry a hesitancy that stems from trying to find the words to engrave the depth of my anger.

Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons

Now, this draff from Russell Simmons.

Yes, Simmons,

the Hip Hop magnate whose HBO Series Def Poetry attracted master wordsmiths such as Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, and Nuyorican Poets Café founder Bob Holman,

who mined the field for a whole new generation to appreciate the elegance and power of words, and

whose pioneering efforts honed the comedic talents of Ced, the Entertainer and D. L. Hughley.

Yes, THAT Russell Simmons who produced all of that artistic hauteur has thrown to us some of his prurient imaginings. What’s worse, THAT Russell Simmons expected us to LIKE them. After the apology, I wonder if he will reflect on his pop culture gesture, and what it will mean for him, a father of two young women. He obviously knows his history, and I’d like to know what was it about this particular moment in African American history that compelled him to make that video? What did he expect to accomplish? Why that particular storyline? Why Harriet Tubman? The Harriet Tubman Sextape is a blatant disrespect of African American history; more specific, his visual product is an attempt to devalue the vital role African American women have played in history.

I just have one last statement as I close out because I have to prepare to do what is necessary to keep my day job:

Russell Wendell Simmons, we are moving still through our grief over Trayvon Martin; some of us are shoring up the strength to see Fruitvale Station in honor of Oscar Grant; and, some of us are doing all that is necessary to free Marissa Alexander from that 20-year sentence down in Florida. We are in mourning; yet, the Harriet Tubman Sex Tape produced by you is what you hand to us to look on as we journey towards healing?

The Bluest Note ~ A Review

The blues notes no longer play for Tony Mann (Len Xiang)

The blues notes no longer play for Tony Mann (Len Xiang)

Marques Green (Que Films) is in good company with Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes because this independent filmmaker understands fully the ‘tune o’ those weary blues’ surveyed in his film short, The Bluest Note (2012). Penned by Oliver Webb, Jr., The Bluest Note is a brooding film that never releases the audience from its descent, even though we are hopeful until the very end. Hope indeed is the bluest note.

Len Xiang is Tony Mann, a once successful R&B / Jazz stylist whose own instrument—his voice–has betrayed him after having carried him through the hallowed halls of fame. The ‘blue notes’ elude him, and with every screech and scrag, Mann elicits from the audience a fervent plea to his vocal chords to serve the artist just one more time. Please? We learn later that a ruthless siren, Niva, has placed us under a spell. Played with uncompromising desire by model Jaynelle Clarke, Niva lures Mann to sing despite the vocal letdown. Mann’s wife, Christine (Stacey Lewis) relentlessly pushes her husband to see that Tony is “not that person anymore”, but she is no match for Niva. We, too, want Christine to stay out of our business!

Lewis inhabits Christine’s hope, taking care to throw into sharp relief the despair over what marriage itself cannot save. Both Tony and Christine yearn for a revival of sorts. Mann craves what he once was in the public spotlight; Christine collects pieces from their marital past with the hope Tony will see the value in a life the two of them created in private before the intrusion of fame. Of her character, Lewis explains,

Stacey Lewis (Christine)

Stacey Lewis (Christine)

Tony and Christine genuinely loved each other and were committed to their marriage. I believe, however, it was nearly impossible for her to accept and to understand that she and the life they had before the fame were not enough for him to stop seeking validation from the public. I think Christine’s anger, sadness, and jealousy stemmed from the fact she was no longer Tony’s muse and was not a strong enough deterrent to keep him from self-destructing.

The seduction and taunt of celebrity culture without question have caused Christine’s ‘weary blues’, and Lewis notes, “once celebrity is achieved by someone that person will move heaven and earth to maintain it, even to their own detriment and to the detriment of their loved ones. It’s as if the idea of being regulated back to ‘normal’ is emotionally, mentally, and physically painful.”

We feel the pain. Mann strives for his voice to recognize that they once were a team, and to remember the vibrancy of their performances. He actually could sing again. All he has to do is take better care of his instrument, practice, and schmooze among his fellow artists. After all, people remember him … but only ‘when’. It is an agony born out of loss and desperation, and Green dramatizes without restraint the emotional cost of a gift that has vanished only to return in disrepair:

I think the loss of one’s gift is a very challenging thing and can cause people to react in all sorts of ways. With The Bluest Note our intention was to explore this loss. […] This particular case is extreme, but I do feel that many can relate to losing something that is very important to them.

Xiang, who in real-life performs on trains in New York (called a ‘Buster’), appreciates Green’s exploration of ‘finding your way back’ after disappointment and failure in The Bluest Note. He believes this particular journey receives short shrift by mainstream Hollywood when telling the Black artist’s story:

I am so honored to be a part of this film. Eminem’s 8 Mile, 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Carey’s Glitter and others … they show the rise to the top; Hollywood perpetuates this image of us loving the struggle because we were slaves and this is where we come from. I’m over that! There is so much info and research that goes into our lineage as Black people. Why not the story of somebody who has made it to the top then falls down? What choices do they make?

With piercing heaviness, Xiang bears Mann’s burden of choices as he makes a ‘come back’ but only to a place that has no role for him to play anymore. Personally for Xiang, he is all too aware of an artist’s everyday hustle to ‘make it’ in a highly competitive market and what is necessary to sustain his status once success actually is achieved. His character’s journey, he reveals, touches close to his heart.

Really, there is no character there, that’s all me! The music, the songs, too. Tony’s struggle is a struggle I am going through right now, so it was an honor to be that brutally honest in that film. Artists have to figure out how to continue to be artists if they fall. What are those ways? Right now, I’m pushing my way into an industry that is no longer how it used to be. It used to be you signed with a label, and there it was. Now all of that is out of the door. YOU are your own label; your own brand.

The Siren, Niva (Jaynelle Clarke) returns for Tony

The Siren, Niva (Jaynelle Clarke) returns for Tony

In Green’s project, Xiang seamlessly interfolds his own story but still defers to Tony Mann and all of the identity politics that come with him. The Bluest Note glimpses, through Mann, the transition of an artist’s identity from a ‘you’ that embraces you then casts you out into the land of ordinary or onto the strip of normal. Clarke exploits the camera’s power and grants Niva full range to mock Mann with her wisps of possibility. Her skill on the runway, moreover, bolsters her threat not only to Mann’s marriage but to his psychological well-being as well. More striking, cinematographer Giacomo Belletti films Mann’s loss and Niva’s seduction in alluring shades of dark chocolate, maroon, and blue/grey mist; then, he shifts to hues of apricot, rose and ivory to frame Mann’s once sung happiness.

Green rightly acknowledges, with clarity and coherence, the peculiar nature of talent; how it can lose its flexibility and ease of production at any given moment; and, how it will refuse to stand and deliver no matter the force … no matter the prayer. What happens, then, to the ‘you’ left standing? Langston Hughes well may have replied “You move on, man, you move on.” In The Bluest Note, however, where you move can mean a matter of life or death.

Marques Green, Director (Moses Djeli Photography)

Marques Green, Director (Moses Djeli Photography)

The Bluest Note will be screened at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles on August 10; it screened at the The BlackStar Film Festival Saturday, August 3 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and won the Jury Prize for Best Short. In February, The Bluest Note won the Outstanding Independent Short by The Black Reel Awards: Saluting African Americans in Film.

For more information on The Bluest Note, ‘Like’ on Facebook. Visit http://www.quefilms.com for more information on filmmaker Marques Green.

The Bluest Note made its debut at the UrbanWorld Film Festival 2012 in New York.

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