Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Texas Page 1 of 12

Four Days on the Road to the Land of Lincoln

Dallas

Driving through Dallas.

DAY ONE: Our annual trek to and from (in this case, from) Austin, Texas is over.

We stayed in town for the Premiere of “Hit Man” at the Paramount in Austin (see previous article below) and I have included a pictorial representation of the journey.

First up: Dallas skyscapes. You will note that there is what appears to be precipitation on the highway. This is because we drove through a 400-mile wide derecho, which was NOT fun. It was so bad that we saw one truck which had crashed into the retaining wall without being forced there by another vehicle. By the time we passed that point on our 4-day journey the driver was gone—probably to a hospital, judging from the looks of his vehicle, which was facing the wrong way and had a smashed-in driver’s side.

Dallas during the derecho.

Driving through a derecho, near Dallas.

The weather was so bad by the time we reached Waco—which isn’t that far away from Austin—that we needed to get off the road and try to wait it out. We stopped at a Denny’s, only to be told that they had been struck by lightning and were unable to cook anything. They were running on a generator and the owner of this Denny’s, who was far away in Houston, had instructed them to close down for the day soon, as the generator would only work to keep their foodstuffs good for that amount of time.

I asked, “Can you at least give us a Diet Coke?” The waitress acknowledged that they could do that much, and I pushed further and asked if they could make us a sandwich, since it was still pouring outside and it was so bad that it was difficult to stay in your lane because you could not see for the downpour. We spoke with our son back in Austin and the deluge that had hit us twenty minutes earlier had now descended on Ava and Elise at their school, who were soaked as they awaited pick-up.

They did make us a club sandwich and poured me a Diet Coke and my spouse an iced tea, The sandwich was really good and we had promised payment in cash, since the cash register could not be operated due to the power outage.

Durant, Oklahoma, Indian casino.

Choctaw Indian Casino in Durant, Oklahoma.

FIRST NIGHT: We had pretty much had it by the time we reached the Choctaw Indian Casino in Durant, Oklahoma. This place has to be one of the largest casinos anywhere, with a variety of towers and the like. I failed to take a picture of the exterior from the road, so I have scavenged one from the Internet.

We were pretty tired from battling the elements and we decided to check into this extremely large mini Las Vegas in the wilds. But, as usual, we had the two suitcases meant to be taken into motels, the cosmetics bag, the spill-over bag with food in it for the trip, my twelve-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper, the laptop on which I am now typing this (in a pull case) and a jacket to compensate for A/C which, inevitably, would be overdone. We needed a cart to transport this assorted paraphernalia, although my husband suggested that we simply “pull our suitcases.” (Ha!) I had just seen a gold cart go by, although he had not and asserted there were none. I went over to the Manager of the suitcase-dropping-off area to ask for the use of one, since we were self-parking (Parking was $20 if they did it, but the parking lot was vast and very close). The guy literally spit on me (by accident) while denying that carts to move luggage existed.

Me: “I just saw a gold one go by.” (in incredulous tone)

Manager: “Well, we have to have someone go with the cart.”

I was standing next to a young man who seemed to not be doing much of anything. So, I said, “He wants to go with us.” (I will change his name to protect the employee, who had only been on the job for a short time, calling him Juan.)

He (Juan) was more than happy to accompany us to the tower—although he did not know exactly how to get there.

We found it and, on our way to the 7th floor, Juan shared that he was new and said “my manager is an a******.”  He described a previous job that sounded even worse, which was at a big box warehouse. [I hope that my husband tipped Juan well.]

Still wiping the spit from my arm from the unpleasant manager who lied to me about the existence of carts to transport our bags,  I agreed completely with Juan’s assessment. The goal was to force the cars into the “check in” lane and charge an additional $20 for the overnight parking, which was roughly 10 yards away and could easily be done yourself, if you didn’t buy into the whole “Park your car for you” thing. I understand the casino’s desire to make an additional $25 or so on the check-in portion of  entering the casino, but bald-faced lying to the would-be guest that suitcase carts don’t exist was weak.

Dallas skyline.

Dallas.

We decided on naps and casino, in that order, rather than eating after our Denny’s club sandwich. That meant that we had only a club sandwich for a meal all day.  I found myself eating Doritos in the wee hours of the morning, which was not a great idea. But, hey! We’re on the road. (I paid for that indiscretion with an upset stomach for hours. I needed Tums for half a day.)

The casino is so large that we could not find (or understand) half of the machines, which is all I was willing to play, since the cheapest Blackjack table was $25 a hand. My available cash after the Denny’s “you must pay with cash” experience had left me with $40 in ten-dollar bills, Period. The cash was left over from the recent Cancun trip, or I probably wouldn’t have had even that much, but I definitely did not have enough to bet $25 a hand at an Indian casino.

We wandered around trying to find the machines that let you change the game to be played from poker to Blackjack.  We did not find any. We found one that had Blackjack only and had a side bet called “Lucky Charlie,” which apparently was lucky only for Charlie. My kind and generous spouse gave me a $20 bill to put in the machine, which I promptly lost. I inserted one of my few remaining $10 bills and lost that, as well. So, minus $30 down, for me.

My much-luckier than me spouse lost $20—but he won most of his back in the morning hours while I slept in, stomach destroyed by Doritos in the middle of the night.

SECOND DAY

Next day: Friday. We ended up in Springfield, Missouri, after driving through Oklahoma, which has to be one of the least scenic states to traverse. We stayed at the Embassy Suites, which was definitely a blast from the past. The hotel resembles the hotel interior popularized by the Mel Brooks film “High Anxiety.” The Radisson in downtown Davenport, Iowa, represents the same floor plan. The hotel did not have a refrigerator in the room (bad) and there was no small coffee-maker. However, in its defense, the breakfast was great! Fresh omelettes were made for us, and that carried us all day, just as eating at an I-Hop (breakfast eggs, pancakes, French toast,bacon, ham, sausage) had sustained us the previous day for our one on-the-road meal.

Uranus Fudge Factory in Missouri.

Part of the Uranus Fudge Factor and General Store complex along the Route 66 which we traveled for “Ghostly Tales of Route 66” books.

Uranus Fudge Factory in Missouri.

Part of the Uranus Fudge Factory and General Store complex in Missouri.

Uranus Fudge Factory in Missouri.

Uranus Fudge Factory and General Store.

On the last leg of the journey, we passed large billboards advertising Uranus Fudge Factory and General Store in Missouri. Since we had now deviated from the road to experience the casino, I suggested that we stop at Uranus, which turned out to be quite crowded with people with similar intentions.  They sell Route 66 paraphernalia, as it is on or near Route 66, which I know a lot about, after driving it and writing about 10 books focusing on “Ghostly Tales of Route 66.” It was a fun pit stop and we purchased one of their tee shirts for Mark’s June 7th birthday, as well as fudge to be eaten as dessert after dinner in St. Louis.

THIRD DAY

Uranus General Store.

The Uranus General Store.

Saturday we arrived at Uncle Mark’s house and got to see his new addition (still slightly under construction. Niece Megan and husband Aaron and their almost 3-year-old daughter, Winnie, came over and accompanied us to dinner. We all watched Saturday Night Live on the new porch addition and wished Megan and Aaron well as they await the birth of Child Number 2, a boy, in late June.

FOURTH DAY:

Today is Sunday and we are back in Illinois, where, last year, we encountered a completely ruined kitchen that took four months of work to fix. This year, so far, so good.

Dinner in St. Louis.

L to R) Craig, Mom-to-be Megan, husband Aaron Eddy, Mark Wilson, Winnie Eddy, me.

Glen Powell Inducted into Texas Hall of Fame (5/15/2024)

Glen Powell

Glen Powell onstage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, at the screening of his new film “Hit Man” on Mau 15th, 2024.

Hollywood heartthrob and Austin (Texas) native Glen Powell was inducted into the Texas Hall of Fame at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin (Texas) on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Powell’s newest film, directed by Austin director Richard Linklater, “Hit Man” screened after his remarks to the assembled audience.

The Netflix extravaganza was by random drawing from those who were members of the Austin Film Society and there were assigned seats throughout the venue. While I would normally have attempted to apply for Press Credentials, our original plans were to leave town on Monday, but things changed for us and, when I learned I would be in town after all, I applied and was selected for the screening.

Lots of directions were sent to us, including where to park for free parking. I, of course, could not find the right parking area, and ended up paying $51 for parking. But the movie (and the free popcorn and pop that was provided) were well worth that price of admission. Much like tickets to movies in Chicago for members of the corresponding Chicago film society, you have to show up early to claim them, and that meant 5:45 p.m. I thought I’d dine at the nearby Roaring Fork restaurant in downtown Austin, my favorite restaurant in the city, but that was not to be, as we were herded in and basically spent the time waiting around for the induction of Powell, which was to precede the showing of his new film at 7:30 p.m.

Hit Man Ticket.

Hit Man Ticket.

I was given a seat quite near the front of the stage, which was great. My only problem was that all the photographers working kept standing in front of me, but I still managed to get the shots you’ll see here.

Powell was introduced by local Austin director Robert Rodriguez, who shared that he had been the first to cast Powell in a film when he was 14 years old. (Powell is now 35). The film was “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over” and young Powell worked alongside Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Holland Taylor, Ricardo Montalban, Sylvester Stallone, Salma Hayek, Mike Judge, Cheech Marin, Salma Hayek and Alan Cumming. Rodriguez wrote and directed the film and it started Powell on a film career that has included such films as “Top Gun: Maverick (2022), “Anyone But You,” “The Dark Night Rises” (2012), “Hidden Figures,” “Devotion” and—coming soon—“Twisters.”

When we entered the theater, there were white cowboy hats on some seats, which were assigned to Powell family members. At the end of the entire evening, many of the friends and family that Powell called out during his brief speech joined him onstage for photos.

Powell family members gather at the end of the evening for photos.

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell on May 15, 2024, at the screening of his new Netflix film “Hit Man.”

Powell seems to be a genuinely good guy, who thanked four of his teachers, present for the film and the ceremony. Peggy Langford, Powell’s kindergarten teacher earned a shout-out. Fifth grade teacher Julia Allen earned kudos, with the additional comment that she taught him about working for what you want and delayed gratification. “Thank you for that lesson,” he said. “It’s really paid off. Coach Wood instilled in Powell the importance of “showing up” and a counselor (whose surname I will probably butcher), Michelle Caterez helped young Powell “work the system” when he continued to try to continue acting. “Thank you for continuing to game the system” he said, with a smile. Tenth grade Creative Writing teacher Dr. Shack let Powell attempt to learn screenwriting while still in high school, and introduced him to Director Richard Linklater, as well as Linklater’s long-time editor, Sandra Adair, who was the editor for this night’s film. It’s pretty impressive when someone famous hands out kudos to the teachers who helped them along the way, (says the teacher who taught from 1969 until 2005).

The most touching moment came when Powell thanked his always-supportive parents, who were always there for him. “It’s incredible to have wonderful parents,” he said, “truly incredible.” (Brief pause) He described how his parents were present for every one of his 26 performances in “The Sound of Music” as a young boy. He also said that his kindergarten teacher had told his parents to encourage his interest in performing.

Richard Linklater.

Writer Director Richard Linklater in Austin on March 15th.

He threw in mentions of Aunts Honey and Taffy, sisters Lauren and Leslie, and his father, the original Glen Powell.

I’ve attended other inductions into the Texas Hall of Fame (and photographed same). This one was more personal and more meaningful, as it highlighted a rising star who has already achieved his goal but will undoubtedly continue on an upward trajectory.

Director Robert Rodriguez and Glen Powell.

Powell with Robert Rodriguez, his first director.

Retta in Hit Man.

Retta at the Paramount.

Connie Wilson

Enjoying the evening. which was truly memorable. My new found friend (in line) was in the Mezzanine.

Glen Powell

Glen Powell

 

Adria Arjona

Adria Arjona, co-star of “Hit Man” onstage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas on May 15, 2024.

 

Glen Powell & Richard Linklater Hit It Big with “Hit Man” on May 15, 2024

Austin’s own Richard Linklater and Netflix showed his latest film, “Hit Man,” to a packed audience on Wednesday, May 15th at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin. Prior to the showing of the comedy/film noir, its lead and co-writer, Glen Powell, was inducted into the Texas Hall of Fame, established in 2001 by Linklater to honor those Texans who excel in the film world.

The film was a delight and will start streaming on Netflix in the very near future. It will also be showing at the Alamo Drafthouse Chain in Austin (release date June 7, 2024).  The 1 hour 55 minute film is well worth your time. It is based on a true story, as is often the case with Linklater’s films, but poetic license has been taken with the plot. There really was a Gary Johnson, however, who was profiled by Skip Hollandsworth in “Texas Monthly” magazine. Gary Johnson was a college professor and tech guy turned mole for the New Orleans police department (70 arrests). Linklater, who knew the man and had access to records of Johnson’s police work, described him as “the chillest dude ever.”

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell on May 15, 2024, at the screening of his new Netflix film “Hit Man.”

The synopsis on IMDB describes the plot this way:  “A professor moonlighting as a hit man of sorts for his city police department, descends into dangerous, dubious territory when he finds himself attracted to a woman who enlists his services.”  I was reminded of “BlacKkKlansman,” where the real-life exploits of Ron Stallworth as a Black man joining the Ku Klux Klan were explored. The difference in tone between the two films, however, is vast. That’s good news for the audience.

This “Hit Man” (not to be confused with the Michael Fassbender recent release)  is a screwball comedy/film noir with an original plot and excellent acting by Powell, co-star Adria Arjona (“Father of the Bride”) and Retta (“Good Girls”). The screenplay, co-written by Linklater and Powell, was hammered out during phone calls during Covid (“we were never in the same room”), and the film premiered at the Italian film festival in September, during the writers’ strike, causing Linklater to appear pretty much solo to his expressed chagrin.

Since the title character, Gary Johnson, is a college professor, moonlighting as a pretend hit-man, we get some uncharacteristic depth of thought about life and “the eternal mystery of human consciousness and behavior.” Powell’s character says, “I had a knack for being the person they needed me to be” of his hit man persona and adds, “I had somehow found my stage.”

Glen Powell onstage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, at the screening of his new film “Hit Man” on Mau 15th, 2024.

The talented (and good-looking) Powell, seen in the comedy “Anyone But You” as well as “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022), has been aiming at a Hollywood career since age 14, when he appeared in “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over.” His remarks prior to the film reveal an Austin native who loves Texas and loves making movies. (“The most fun job on the planet.”)

More about his touching remarks about family (he choked up at one point) and significant teachers (he called out four of them in the audience by name) after discussing this truly interesting look at the life of a bogus hit man.  Powell says “All pie is good pie” a lot, in the encounters that we see onscreen, and I’ll add, “All plot twists here are good twists” building on that.

THE SCRIPT

The screenwriting duo (Linklater and Powell) apparently had a great time writing the script during Covid and the cast contributed by improvising some of the best lines that remain in the film. Co-star Sanjay Rao (Phil) said his favorite line (of Retta’s) that made it into  the final film was her remark that she would “rip out my IUD for Ron,” the cool guy persona that Gary Johnson adopted for his encounters with would-be customers. (That line brought a big laugh from the crowd).

It is not often that we get a philosophical discussion of the difference between cat people and dog people in an otherwise comic film. “Dogs are too needy. They’re like people. We beg for more…embarrass ourselves for the scraps of others.” Another line that amused was the remark that if a man is sitting alone, reading “Catcher in the Rye,” “historically speaking, that is never a good sign.”

The depth of the discussion(s) of change and role playing, the Id versus the Ego, and morality, as such, is unusual for a comedy that we might call “lightweight.” It IS lightweight, in the sense that this expert ensemble has turned a complex plot with loads of frothy humor into an exploration of so many deeper issues., one being change.

A few lines to illustrate:

“Your reality will change over time in ways that you cannot even imagine.”

“Seize the identity you want for yourself. Life is short. You gotta’ live on your own terms.”

And, in a line reminiscent of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, “Sometimes, you just gotta’ make a move.” (Sidelight: Cruise, who headlined “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022), where we see Powell playing beach volleyball, paid for Powell to take flying lessons, so Powell is now a registered pilot.)

THE SEX SCENES

Editor Sandra Adair (who visited Powell’s classroom when he was in high school), after editing one of the film’s truly hot sex scenes said, “I thought the screen was going to melt in the editing room!” (Side note: the film’s 35-year-old leading man supposedly broke up with his model girlfriend in 2023.)

Adria Arjona, co-star of “Hit Man” onstage at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas on May 15, 2024.

There are so many good sex scenes that it’s hard to point to which ones are the best. There’s the dancing sene in a nightclub called Virgo. There’s the tub scene. There’s the role play when Aria’s character, Madison “Maddy” Figueros, dresses up as a flight attendant to play seductress. The chemistry onscreen is hot, hot, hot. After the movie, during the Q&A, Adria Arjana said, “You have seen a lot of me tonight.”

The IMDB website gives the release date as June 7th. It’s a very good movie. It’s original, and you’ll enjoy it on so many levels. The cell phone scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Don’t miss this Hit Man. And remember when discussing the plot’s resolution: “There are no absolutes, oral or epistemological, in life.”

(*Induction into the Texas Hall of Fame remarks to follow; stay tuned).

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Holds Rally on May 13th, 2024 in Austin, Texas

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Holds Campaign Rally in Austin, TX is now available for viewing in the C-SPAN Video Library.

Let’s not forget that I covered the Presidential races of 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 and wrote 3 books on the candidates, often focusing as they came through the Iowa caucuses. I was named Content Producer of the Year for Politics in 2008 by Yahoo and my two books on that race are “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Vols. I & II. I am also responsible for BEE GONE about the 2016 election, which I was not allowed to advertise during DJT’s tenure, since it is a comic book rhyming presentation that was hilarious, but which the MAGA folk did not like at all. [One of them called me “Hitler with breasts.” Perhaps that one did not hear about my breast cancer diagnosis?]

If you want to try to find THAT one, your best bet is to go to ConnieCWilson.com and scroll down to “other” books and look it up that way. It is truly hard to find on Amazon and, last time I looked, they only had one copy (which I sent to a friend), If you want one, send me a note.)

 

 

I traveled to downtown Austin tonight to hear Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., deliver a speech. The main message of the evening was that RFK, Jr., has gathered enough signatures (more than enough) to get on the ballot in Texas.When I got there, I was told that the speech was not going to be held at that venue. It had been moved to somewhere on Brazos Street and was going to be live-streamed by CNN. The nice volunteer said she doubted that I could get in, but told me it would be available on C-span, live-streamed, which suited me fine.

I left the book that had RFK, Jr.’s picture in it (p. 33“Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House,” Vol. II) and went home, where I watched the speech on C-Span. This was a good thing, because out of an hour and 39 minutes, Bobby Kennedy (Jr.) didn’t come on for a very long time. With it being live-streamed, you could fast forward past the introductions and Nicole Shanahan’s speech.

The wealthy Nicole Shanahan, his running mate, gave a speech about soil.

Interesting, I thought. Something that everyone came for—[NOT].

I fast forwarded past all the greeters and announcers and the VP who is helping finance RFK, Jr.’s campaign (and paid for his SuperBowl ad) and listened to what Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the doppelganger of his famous father, had to say. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Holds Campaign Rally in Austin, TX is now available for viewing in the C-SPAN Video Library.

The first 2/3 of the speech (look it up on the C-Span archives) was random.

Then came RFK, Jr. Bobby told a lengthy story about an Amish farmer who does a podcast. This sounded like a contradiction in terms. Kennedy addressed that by saying that the 35-year-old young man (apparently an Ohio expert on soil and pesticides with very bright blue eyes) could not allow himself to be photographed. RFK (Jr.) had promised not to show the tape of his comments to the world. The conversation concerning the young Amish man’s encyclopedic knowledge of pesticides went on (and on) describing 2 rows of melons on the Amish podcaster’s farm, one of them grown without pesticides and, therefore, far healthier and more pest-free than the other. One was healthy. One was sickly. What this had to do with anything was hard to determine (but keep in mind that I skipped past the Shanahan soil speech, so shame on me). I am onboard with the idea that pesticides and pollution and the variety of pollutants that are covered so well in the documentary “Plastic People” that I reviewed during SXSW are harming us irreparably, so I will assume that RFK (Jr.) is as concerned about this as the Canadian documentary-filmmakers.

After talking about soil and Amish farmers for a rather lengthy time, the 70-year-old Kennedy talked about what a sick country we are, sharing the data that we have only 4% of the world’s population but, during the Covid pandemic, we had 16% of the world’s deaths. There were more remarks about how good health is not found at the end of a hypodermic needle (anti-vaccine position). I just watched (and reviewed) a documentary called “Plastic People,” mentioned above, and much of what RFK, Jr., was talking about this Canadian documentary supported, so I’m not throwing stones here. I have an interest in such things as why the incidence of breast cancer in young women is so much higher than in years of yore. Not to mention colon cancer in younger people, infertiity, and autism disorders.

The reason the CDC said so many of us succumbed to Covid, (said Kennedy), was that those who died had 3.8 pre-existing chronic diseases. Chronic disease was a recurring phrase and topic.  Kennedy named cancer, asthma, food allergies and then blanked out. He sought a disease to represent the fourth chronic disease, soliciting it from the predominantly young crowd. The crowd finally coughed up “diabetes.” (Heart disease did not rear its ugly head, and I wasn’t sure that food allergies qualified, but nevermind. Obesity might have made the list, based on another statistic he threw out about 40% of us being obese. No idea if any of these facts and figures were precisely accurate; just reporting what the candidate said,)

This is not a fact-checking article—so go ahead and listen to the speech (link above) for yourself. But don’t omit reading up about the candidate’s background, because we have already been “conned” once in 2016 and elected someone who built a totally fabricated background for himself based on being a success in business, when, in reality, that was very far from the truth. And don’t fail to check the candidate(s) out for their strength of character. We’ve seen THAT happen before (John Edwards, anyone?) and we don’t want to constantly be conned into accepting uncritically media presentations (Fox News, I’m talking about you.)

TRUST IN GOVERNMENT

One refrain that did strike a responsive chord for this seasoned political reporter was the remark that we no longer trust our government, because it’s been lying to us for years. To illustrate this, Kennedy repeated the Francis Gary Powers story.

For those of you who are too young to remember that 1960 U-2 event, Powers was shot down over Russia in a super-secret plane. Wikipedia:  “On May 1, 1960, Powers’ U-2A, 56-6693, departed from a military airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan,[13] with support from the U.S. Air Station at Badaber (Peshawar Air Station). This was to be the first attempt “to fly all the way across the Soviet Union. Powers was shot down by an S-75 Dvina (SA-2 “Guideline”) surface-to-air missile[15] over Sverdlovsk. A total of 14 Dvinas were launched,[16] one of which hit a MiG-19 jet fighter which was sent to intercept the U-2 but could not reach a high enough altitude.”

Attempted deception by the U.S. government

“When the U.S. government learned of Powers’ disappearance over the Soviet Union, they lied that a “weather plane” had strayed off course after its pilot had “difficulties with his oxygen equipment”. What CIA officials did not realize was that the plane crashed almost fully intact and that the Soviets had recovered its pilot and much of the plane’s equipment, including its new top-secret high-altitude camera. Powers was interrogated extensively by the KGB for months before he made a confession and a public apology for his part in the espionage.”

Kennedy’s point: that the American public quit trusting their government about the time that JFK was shot dead in the streets of Dallas and Bobby’s father was shot dead in Los Angeles, California, as a result of lies like the Francis Gary Powers incident, rang a bell with me. I am not a conspiracy theorist,  but I have always doubted the “single bullet” theory of JFK’s death. So did RFK, Sr.

If Bobby Kennedy (Sr.) had gone on to be elected, he had vowed to get to the bottom of his brother’s assassination. (I know this from reading the book by his nephew, Christopher Lawford.) I don’t doubt that there  would have been a much better inquiry than the Warren Commission provided. An investigation that Bobby (Sr.) would have conducted might have come to different conclusions about who was responsible for the death of his brother Jack (JFK).

RFK (Jr.) took a few shots at the national debt and how it is chewing up half of our tax moneys now, simply to service the interest on the debt. He pointed out that neither of the geriatric candidates has really addressed that very important issue. I do have one tiny bit of rebuttal there. While it is true that, “The national debt has increased by around $3.5 trillion under the Biden administration, as data from Statista shows, currently standing at $31.46 trillion. Year-on-year the debt has never decreased since 1957, according to Treasury data.”

However, it is also true that Biden is far from indifferent to the pressing need to reduce the national debt. Between 2020 and 2022, he was responsible for $1.7 trillion in deficit reduction. The exact quote that Biden gave was, “”I might note parenthetically: In my first two years, I reduced the debt by $1.7 trillion. No President has ever done that.” Obviously that is a drop in the deficit bucket and the GOP immediately began  to see investigating to see if it held up. (Does anyone besides me remember when Democratic President Bill Clinton left us with a budget surplus?)

Biden gets precious little credit for all of the good things he HAS done and selling a national debt decrease is going to be a hard sell. But it IS true that the debt went way up under DJT. (And the GOP would point fingers at Obama, before him.) We could also point out that desperate times call for desperate measures and some of those increases in 2020 on were created by the pandemic crisis. Was there graft and corruption during a tough time when we were navigating a nationwide pandemic? Is the Pope Catholic?

Fleeting references to the Issues of the Day (abortion, the border) were made. Bobby seemed more critical of the Republican candidate than of the Democratic candidate,  (despite the YouTube video that says the opposite). In fact, Bobby said that he, like his supporters in the room, needed to be independent of party noise. He added that he, therefore, had divorced himself from the Democratic party which so many of his relatives served. He said that divorce from being a Democrat was painful, as it went waaay back, even unto grandfathers and beyond. Traditionally, running as a third party has not worked well, even for Teddy Roosevelt and his Bull Moose Party,

The opening of the rally should be mentioned, as it had his famous father repeating some of his most famous quotes in that memorable voice (which, sadly, the younger Bobby cannot emulate because of spasmodic dysphonia, a disorder that causes his voice to quaver and makes speech difficult). He traveled to Kyoto, Japan, to have a titanium bridge inserted between his vocal cords to treat the condition.[315

]The film that  ran at the opening of the rally was very professionally done. It was certainly better than listening to a choir of January 6th miscreants singing from prison (and being hailed incorrectly as “hostages.”) Bobby Kennedy, Jr., was onscreen in this opening film introduction, but the voice was his famous father’s.

Many of the people introducing RFK, Jr. were Hispanic. The Big Announcement of the night was that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s name will be on the ballot in Texas with over 235,000 signatures and that the campaign will next move to New York to get on the ballot. He described these two states as the most difficult states to get on the ballot. Kennedy claimed that Texas had actually introduced legislation raising the threshold from a smaller number (150,000?) to one that the Texas legislature thought was too high to ever be reached.

I think the number the team actually secured was more than what they needed. I remember it as being 235,000, but I’d have to wade through the speech on the CNN archives all over again to actually establish that. Feel free to do so and correct me.

To me, it seemed like getting on the ballot was so difficult that, in some way, RFK, Jr., has conflated that  with actually getting the electorate to vote for him. Lord knows the country would like a younger leader.  Bobby Kennedy is 70, so is that what is meant by “younger?” He is the 5th member of his family to run for President, said Wikipedia. (Don’t ask me to cough up the names of the others: I could only think of JFK, Bobby Kennedy Sr., Ted Kennedy and—-? Maybe running for VP counts? Didn’t Maria Shriver’s father have a flirtation with elective office? Help me out here!)

Bill Maehr on his show criticized Kennedy’s lack of government experience, We all know about putting someone in office, an office for which they have literally no training or experience, and how that works. Or doesn’t. RFK, Jr., doesn’t fall into that category, as you will see for yourself if you visit his Wikipedia page. There’s a lot there to unpack. There is also this Internet page:https://www.kennedy24.com/

And then the rally was over after 1 hour and 39 minutes.

Shaking It Up: The Life & Times of Liz Carpenter- World Premiere at SXSW on March 10th

Liz Carpenter was a force of nature who, throughout her 89 years (1920-2010), was often front and center where history was unfolding. leaving her own indelible mark on events. She was a journalist, White House official, Women’s Rights activist, best-selling author, and humorist. Directors Christy Carpenter, Liz’s daughter, and Abby Ginzberg weave candid modern-day interviews with Dan Rather, Bill Moyers, Gloria Steinem, Luci Johnson and others into an entertaining and informative 77-minute World Premiere that took place at the Zach Theatre on March 10th at SXSW 2024.

Liz Carpenter

Liz Carpenter in action.

 

Born in Salado, Texas, five days after the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution granted women the right to vote in 1920, Liz’s family moved to Austin, the state capitol, when she was 7 years old. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas in 1942 and headed straight to Washington, DC, intent on starting her journalism career  in the midst of WWII.  .

At 22 years of age, she was attending press conferences held by both President Franklin and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt despite barriers against allowing women reporters to be present.

SUPPORTING LBJ

She began covering the political rise of Congressman Lyndon Johnson for the Austin American-Statesman. This developed into a lifelong friendship with LBJ and his wife Lady Bird.

Liz’s reputation as a dogged reporter quickly spread and, by the late 1940s, she and husband Leslie Carpenter established the Carpenter News Bureau. They covered Capitol Hill and the White House for more than a dozen newspapers. She was also known as “the funniest woman in Washington, D.C.,” which made her an in-demand speaker.

In 1954,  she was elected president of the Women’s National Press Club, a platform she used to attack barriers to participation in the males-only National Press Club, the foremost journalistic organization in Washington D.C..

LIZ AND JFK’S ASSASSINATION

Christy Carpenter

Christy Carpenter, daughter of Liz Carpenter and co-director of “Shaking It Up: The Life and Times of Liz Carpenter” at SXSW.

In 1960, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird persuaded Liz  to join his campaign for vice president. Once elected, LBJ convinced Liz to join his staff as the highest-ranking woman ever to work for a vice president. Liz Carpenter was one of a small number of his staff traveling with him to Dallas on November 22, 1963. She was riding in the motorcade, in a car behind JFK’s, when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.

Carpenter realized she was the only writer on LBJ’s staff aboard Air Force One.  On the return trip to Washington she crafted the newly sworn-in President’s first public remarks to a shocked world. LBJ delivered these 58 words, written by Liz while on the plane, upon landing and that footage is included in the documentary:

“This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep personal tragedy. I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help and God’s.”

The archival footage of the delivery of these remarks is historic.

BEAUTIFY AMERICA

Liz was appointed st aff director and press secretary to the new First Lady.

Although Lady Bird and Liz had very different personal styles, they were both women of action and vision, and together, over the next five years, they pursued an aggressive agenda including, “the most ambitious national environmental effort since Theodore Roosevelt,” according to Lady Bird biographer Julia Sweig. (I can still do a pretty fair imitation of Lady Bird Johnson saying, “Plant a tree, a shrub, or a bush,” with the Texas twang on ‘bush,'”—fodder for comediennes of the era.) The ubiquitous campaign to remove blighted highway billboards and beautify America by planting vegetation became a trademark of Lady Bird’s. A lake and park in Austin in her name perpetuate her legacy.

WAR ON POVERTY

Liz enabled Lady Bird to put a human face on LBJ’s War on Poverty by organizing strategic press tours of Head Start and Job Corps programs across the nation. My mother was then a kindergarten teacher in a small Iowa town. She fought tirelessly for the Head Start program, which, gave disadvantaged youngsters from minority and poorer homes an equal starting point with other 5-year-olds entering the system.

Liz was sometimes dubbed the “P.T. Barnum of the White House,” and was the key mastermind of Lady Bird’s historic and unprecedented Whistlestop campaign tour through the South during the 1964 presidential campaign. In the immediate aftermath of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Southern states were often far from welcoming to the wife of the man who had given Black citizens in the South the right to vote and a leg up on equal rights under the laws of the land.

AFTER THE WHITE HOUSE

Abby Ginzberg

Abby Ginzberg, co-director of “Shaking It Up: The Life and Times of Liz Carpenter” at SXSW on March 10, 2024.

After Johnson’s presidency ended in 1969, (with a populist anti-war backlash against Vietnam that saw my generation in the streets chanting “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”), Liz wrote a best-selling book about her White House years, entitled Ruffles & Flourishes. She would write other best-sellers, utilizing her storied wit and her historic experiences in government.

WOMEN’S MOVEMENT

Liz Carpenter got heavily involved in the growing Women’s Movement – a cause that would consume much of her time and energy until the end of her life at the age of 90 in 2010. Bill Clinton appointed her to serve on the White House Council on Aging.

In 1971, she joined feminist leaders such as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Congresswomen Bella Abzug, and Shirley Chisholm, to co-found a new organization, the National Women’s Political Caucus. This was a nationwide effort to elect more women to public office, eliminate discrimination, and to push forward legislation to improve the lives of women. Soon Liz was campaigning across  the nation, stirring up voters to elect women candidates.

THE ERA

Some fifty years after its introduction, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) finally sailed through Congress in 1972 with huge bipartisan majorities, says the documentary. (*I still have my ERA  bracelet in a drawer somewhere, along with the POW bracelet of a U.S. soldier MIA in action from that era.) Sadly,  however, after many early successes on the state level, the momentum for ratification began to hit speed bumps. That is putting it mildly.

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY & EAGLE FORUM

Phyllis Schlafly

Activist Phyllis Schlafly wearing a “Stop ERA” badge, demonstrating with other women against the Equal Rights Amendment in front of the White House, Washington, D.C.

The film doesn’t dwell much on Phyllis Schlafly and her Eagle Forum organization, but it should. That is my one criticism of this documentary.  It was Phyllis Schlafly and her anti-equal-rights work compiling lists of ultra-Conservative prominent women and men who were against the ERA that defeated it. Schlafly—who had her own political agenda—smeared the entire equal rights movement as a ploy for lesbians and women libbers and an anti-family movement. That was, at best, an over-generalization, a technique often used by the GOP to gloss over the realities of issues and, at worst, a hypocritical smear job. (*See “the border issue” in 2024). Although I realize that Phyllis Schlafly’s anti-ERA work merits an entire documentary of its own, I think she should at least have been mentioned in this one, as that opponent of the ERA kept it from passing nationwide and has left it mired in oblivion.

Donald Trump’s early organizational work involved getting those lists from the Schlafly organization, which had painted a biased picture of the efforts to achieve equality for women as being “a bunch of women’s libbers bent on destroying the family,” an untrue characterization.Liz Carpenter was called on to co-chair a new organization in 1976 – ERAmerica –focused on ratification by the last hold-out states. She spent several years lobbying states’ legislators, and governors, and galvanizing grassroots support. (It didn’t work.)

LIZ’s HUMOR

One important key to Liz’s success was her dynamic, magnetic personality, including her well-developed sense of humor — reflecting her pioneer roots and Texas-sized, can-do moxie. Humor was always integral to her identity and effectiveness. Like other recognizable Texas women such as Governor Ann Richards and journalist Molly Ivins, Liz was high-energy and innately funny, with a knack for shaking things up. Her life was spent trying to create a more just, democratic, beautiful and humane world.

CONCLUSION:

The archival clips, alone, are worth seeing this well-done documentary. It is a slice of 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s life and history. It details efforts— some successful, some futile— to advance equality for women world-wide, battles that Liz Carpenter helped lead.

While I have a few reservations about soft-pedaling the tactics of the opposition faced in the seemingly never-ending struggle for equality that women in the United States and the world face, this fine film goes a long way to showing how it can be done, if enough courageous, influential women remember Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s line, “And yet she persists.” See this one if, like me, you lived through it. If you didn’t, you need the history lesson,

“Hacks” Season Three Premieres @ SXSW on March 9, 2024

The Premiere of season 3 of “Hacks” (HBO Max) took place at noon on March 9th at SXSW. It was truly an audience of devoted fans. The feeling in the Paramount Theater was equal parts anticipation and shared enthusiasm, which is not always the case at SXSW. Everyone there knew they were in for a great time, although there was a remark about how it was pretty early for comedy. Saturday, March 9th in Austin, Texas, both Smart and Einbinder were at SXSW in person. Both looked great. Smart got a standing ovation.

SEASON 2

Jean Smart & Hannah Einbinder of "Hacks."

SXSW Season Premiere of “Hacks” with Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder during the Q&A on March 9th. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

At the end of season two, Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) fired Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder).  Deborah reassured Ava that the firing would be good for Ava’s comedy writing career. It is quite clear that the separation has hurt Ava more than it has hurt Deborah. You feel that Deborah is a mother figure for Ava; Ava felt abandoned. Of course, there was the unfortunate spilling of Deborah Vance stories to a journalist and the lawsuits on both sides last season. But, never fear, the dynamic duo is back together again for season three’s nine episodes.

The viewership for season two’s first episode increased +125% over the first episode of season one. It isn’t difficult to understand why if you’ve seen the show. It is top-notch. There are more laughs per episode in “Hacks” than in any other comedy on the air. That is due in no small part to Jean Smart’s savvy portrayal of seasoned veteran comedienne Deborah Vance, a part she seems to have been born to play. Jean Smart is only the second female—Betty White was the first— to win an Emmy in all three categories: leading actress in a comedy, supporting actress in a comedy, and guest star in a comedy series. Glen Weldon of NPR said, “I don’t know if the role of Deborah Vance was written for Smart, but she certainly makes it seem like it was.”

SERIES SUCCESS

Lucia Aniello.

“Hacks” writer Lucia Aniello.

Smart took home the Emmy for the leading actress in a comedy series two years in a row, 2021 and 2022. Hannah Einbinder is also great and has earned nominations for her work as Deborah’s sidekick. Einbinder is wonderful in the first two episodes of Season Three and we learn more about her personal life apart from her career. Hannah is the daughter of SNL original cast member Laraine Newman. The comic chemistry and timing the two bring to the screen is a magical part of the success of “Hacks.” The series won the Emmy, a Peabody award, a Critics’ Choice award, the DGA, SAG, WGA and GLAAD awards.

SERIES SIZZLE

“Hacks’” wardrobe department makes it clear that glitter is back with a vengeance. The Disco era’s demand to return its glitz is being ignored. I have noticed the increase in sparkly clothes being worn by average concert-goers here in Austin. Check out the wardrobe for “Hacks.” You’ll get the idea in the opening sequence for series three. We see a tall woman in a dazzling bejeweled long coat walking confidently into a casino. I’m sure everyone in the theater this Saturday afternoon thought it was Deborah Vance making her entrance. It wasn’t. (Check the trailer above for that glimpse).

SMART’S RESUME

From finding that Jean Smart has been a Type I diabetic since the age of 13 to learning that she lost her husband of 30 years, Richard Gilliland, in March of 2021, it’s been discovery week for me looking back at Jean Smart’s storied career. Delay-wise, there was the writers’ strike, the heart procedure, and the 2 years off television for “Hacks.” It’s hard to feel the funny when negative things impact you.

But veteran character actor Jean Smart is a trooper. She was one of television’s “Designing Women” (1986-1991). She has been in episodes of “Frasier,” “Fargo,” “Watchtower” and, more recently, in 7 episodes of “Mare of Eastwick.” Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) cast her in  “Babylon” as Elinor St. John, a gossip columnist based on Hedda Hopper and Luella Parsons. In “Hacks” she’s portraying a veteran comedienne based on such pioneering comedy greats as Joan Rivers, Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, Elayne Boosler, Rita Rudner, Paula Poundstone and Carol Burnett.

SCHEDULE

Q&A for "Hacks" on March 9th with Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, & Paul Downs.

“Hacks” Q&A at SXSW: Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, Paul Downs.

“Hacks” has been off the air for two years, leaving those of us who are true fans wondering if it were ever coming back. Didn’t it get renewed? The writer’s strike was given as one of the reasons that the absence was so lengthy. But, in February (2023) Jean Smart announced via her Instagram account that she had had “a heart procedure.” Even now, one department of “Hacks” has supposedly shut down while awaiting her complete recovery. The woman is 73, after all, and enjoying an unparalleled career resurgence.

The plan for season three is to air the Premiere episode (which is great) on HBO on May 3rd and then show two episodes a week until the Finale on May 30th. This season there will be guest stars like Helen Hunt, Christina Hendricks, Christopher Lloyd, George Wallace, and Tony Goldwyn. As for what the season holds, said writer Lucia Aniello, “I think there’s maybe a chasm between where they are respectively, in terms of their points-of-view of each other. I think it really brings up a lot, because they are so obviously invested in each other.”

And we, the audience, are so obviously invested in Deborah and Ava.

Lucia Aniello, Paul Downs, and Jen Statsky ("Hacks")

Lucia Aniello, Paul Downs, and Jen Statsky of ‘Hacks,

Hacks Season 3 Premiere
Showrunners: Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, Jen Statsky, Director: Lucia Aniello, Producers: Jen Statsky, Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett
A year after parting, Deborah Vance is riding high off the success of her standup special while Ava pursues new opportunities back in Los Angeles. Cast: Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder, Paul W. Downs, Megan Stalter, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Kaitlin Olson, Christopher McDonald, Mark Indelicato, Rose Abdoo, Lorenza Izzo (World Premiere)

“The Greatest Hits” World Premieres at SXSW on March 14th

The synopsis for “The Greatest Hits,” which had its World Premiere at SXSW on Thursday, March 14th said: “Harriet (Lucy Boynton) finds art imitating life when she discovers certain songs can transport her back in time – literally. While she relives the past through romantic memories of her former boyfriend (David Corenswet), her. time traveling collides with a burgeoning new love interest in the present (Justin H. Min).”

“The Greatest Hits” has echoes of older films like “The Butterfly Effect” (2004) or 1998’s “Sliding Doors.” Of newer films, there is the Hulu offering “Press Play.” This World Premiere at SXSW on Thursday, March 14th has time travel, a killer musical score, and a heroine (Lucy Boynton of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Murder on the Orient Express”) who relives the past via music.

 

Ned Benson

Director Ned Benson of “The Greatest Hits.”

Just hearing a snippet of a song can send Harriet (Lucy Boynton) back to a time when she and her boyfriend Max were happy and together. Director Ned Benson has tapped into the universal way in which music and certain songs can help us revisit memories. Benson has crafted a romantic 94 minute film that will stream on Hulu on April 12th and will show in theaters prior to that. From the stage during the Q&A Benson admitted to trying to “move into the John Hughes vein” with movies that have a great soundtrack. He has succeeded.

It’s been 2 years since Max (David Corenswet, “Pearl,” “We Own This City”) died in a tragic car accident that also put Harriet in a coma for a week with head injuries. Even before the accident Lucy could time travel via music. Therefore, she tried to warn and save Max even then. Harriet continues to try to save Max  throughout the film. Does she succeed?

COUPLES

Lucy Boynton and Justin H. Min.

Lucy Boynton and Justin H. Min of “The Greatest Hits,” World Premiere on March 14, 2024, at SXSW.(Photo by Connie Wilson)

 

Lucy Boynton and David Corenswet are a handsome and charismatic couple as Harriet and Max. The next love of Harriet’s life, David (Justin H. Min, “Beef”) represents a second chance at love for Harriet. There are multiple scenes of tender kissing, most of them involving Romance #2, Lucy and Justin.  The only true sex scene is an out-of-focus gauzy one, so the emphasis is on romance. It is also all about teaching us, through the counseling of Retta (“Parks & Recreation,” “Good Boys”) as Dr. Evelyn Bartlett, to go forward and live life in the moment.

Dr. Bartlett tells Harriet that we should all learn to “live the dashes.” She means the dash that appears on tombstones between the birth and death dates. Harriet is getting this message from close friends like Morris Martin, well-played by Austin Crute, too. She is told, “You’re making a conscious choice to hide out in your own grief.” Her friends and counselor want Harriet to move on and engage with life again.

Q&A

From the stage after this World Premiere showing of “The Greatest Hits” the director shared that his own home in Los Angeles was used for Morris’s apartment. He said that a friend’s house nearby was used as Max’s house, that Justin lived nearby, and shared, jokingly, that the neighborhood now hated him. Benson admitted that his editor, Saira Haider, had to convince him to lose some of the wonderful beach scene that the movie uses. “I was in love with that beach sequence.”

Austin Crute.

Austin Crute as Morris in “The Greatest Hits,” World Premiered on March 14th at SXSW 2014. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

An interesting question during the Q&A was to name a song that “took you back” in an important way. The team answered with very different responses (“Avalon” by Roxy for Ned Benson; “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” from Green Day for Justin H. Min; “I’m Sexy and I Know It” from Austin Crute) but Director Ned Benson gave credit to the enthusiastic crowd present this day in Austin, saying, “You guys were the inspiration (for this film) during Covid. This is such a special festival. I lived here in 2008. This film is a love letter to music.”

MUSIC & SPECIAL EFFECTS

Since the emphasis throughout the film is on love, grief, and music, special kudos go out to Sound Designer Ando Johnson and Music Supervisor Ryan Lott. During the credits for the many songs that comprise the amazing soundtrack (Mozart even made it in with “Fantasia in D. Minor”) there is even a credit for Ryan Lott and Nelly Furtado.  Nelly Furtado has other songs on the soundtrack, as well.

The presentation of time travel is done well. It’s a tough thing, if you think about it.  I had to think about it when writing one time travel novel (“Out of Time”). Exactly how do you describe or represent time travel in a book or movie?  Cinematographer Chung Hoon-Chung has figured it out for Director Benson; it works.

Cast of "The Greatest Hits" at SXSW 2024.

Director Ned Benson, Lucy Boynton, Justin H. Min and Austin Crute of “The Greatest Hits” on March 14, 2024, at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

 

It’s too late for Valentine’s Day, but see this one with that special someone. It’s a well-done, romantic 94 minutes. My only regret when the end credits came up were that Harriet’s first boyfriend Max (David Corenswet) was not there in person. He was off being “Superman” for an upcoming movie (“Superman: Legacy”) and has also been at work on “Twisters.”

If I could make one change in what Director Ned Benson described as “the perfect cast” it would be to reverse the order of boyfriends for Harriet, so that we had more onscreen time between Harriet and Max. Their chemistry onscreen (Lucy Boynton and David Corenswet) was crazy hot. The David character seems like a very sweet guy, but Max seems to have been the love of Harriet’s life, and we lose him too soon in the narrative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Billy Preston Bio-Pic “That’s the Way God Planned It” Has World Premiere at SXSW 2024

Billy Preston

Billy Preston, the “Fifth Beatle.”

“Billy Preston: That’s the Way God Planned it” is a documentary from Paris Barclay (“In Treatment,” “Glee”), whose own film accomplishments put him in a class that few can match. It was co-written by Cheo Hodari Coker. This is an outstanding documentary. It  will go right up there with my favorite from last year’s SXSW, “Little Richard: I Am Everything.” (Lisa Cortes) It is a tribute to the man who was multi-talented and always the best musician in the room.

Says the synopsis: “With his signature gospel sound on the Hammond B3, Billy Preston double-handedly elevated the greatest artists of his time – from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, from Aretha Franklin to Eric Clapton, from Ray Charles to Barbra Streisand to Sly and the Family Stone. In our film, we explore Billy’s career and influence on generations of musicians, as he scored several number one hits of his own and became one of the most sought-after musicians in the world. He did all of this as a soul divided — by his deep roots in the church, in constant conflict with his identity as a gay Black man, searching for a family of his own that would accept him for who he was.”

EARLY LIFE

Preston was an early phenomenon, playing piano and organ from the age of three by ear. In fact, he appeared on television for the first time at the age of 5. He sang a duet of Fats Domino’s song “Blueberry Hill” on Nat King Cole’s television show in 1957 at age 11, and from there his career went straight up, intersecting with nearly every major musical name of the past 60 years.  On film, Preston says “It’s been the way God planned it for me. I’ve never gone out and auditioned.”

Preston himself said, “You don’t know how glad I am that God laid his hands on me.” But, as articulated by Billy Porter (“Kinky Boots” on Broadway), “It’s hard being queer.” Porter, born in 1969, knows how much worse it was for someone like Billy Preston, born in the forties (September 2, 1946). Porter acknowledged that his own ability to openly declare his sexuality is based on those, like Billy Preston, who came before him. Director Paris Barclay, who is President of the Directors Guild of America, is an openly gay Black director of great acclaim.

Very close to his mother, Robbie Preston Williams, the Joe Cocker hit “You Are So Beautiful To Me” was  co-written by Williams for his mom. Robbie is shown playing and singing with Billy. Sadly, she didn’t protect him well enough from those who would take advantage of the youth. Billy was repeatedly molested by a piano player when he was working for the “Amos ‘N Andy” radio show. His mother either didn’t believe him or didn’t want to deal with it. That’s the way it was in 1955.  He also went on a European tour with Little Richard in 1962 when only 16, an experience that he would never discuss.

BEING GAY IN AMERICA

Billy Porter (“Kinky Boots” on Broadway)  appears onscreen commenting. Porter dismissed the idea that early sexual abuse would cause the young boy to become gay. Regardless, the sexual abuse when young did leave Billy Preston psychologically scarred. Preston was very careful not to discuss his sexual orientation. In the era that he grew up in, that was the way it was. It is not something he should have had to do. Porter tells us “God wouldn’t be so narrow-minded.” But I lived through those years. I understand his decision. (Think Liberace and his many lawsuits against those who publicly called him out.)

Narrow-minded defined the growing-up years that Billy Preston was ascending to fame and fortune. His talent was undeniable, but, on a personal level, he suffered. Part of it was his struggle with his sexuality. The Black church, so important in his life, said homosexuality was a sin. But Preston also suffered because he lost his older brother. His brother entered his home smoking a lighted cigarette. He was killed in the explosion that resulted from a gas leak.

Preston did not talk about his brother. He did not discuss the repeated abuse when he was nine. He simply threw himself into music, saying, “Music is my life.”  When not playing with the most famous names of the day he had a ranch in Topanga Canyon and rode horses, a stress-reliever that he shared with the documentary subject whose life story kicked off SXSW 2024, Stormy Daniels. (“Stormy”).

It would take a large book to list every famous musician who  worked with Billy Preston. Onscreen we hear from Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger. There is archival footage, showing Billy collaborating with the Beatles, whom he met in 1963 when touring Europe with Little Richard. The man was a dynamo, playing, singing and dancing.

1960s

When Billy returned to America, he did not talk about the Little Richard Tour, but he did talk about the Beatles. Preston developed a special friendship with George Harrison. Olivia Harrison, George’s widow, is one of the principal cast members speaking onscreen.

In the sixties Billy collaborated with the Beatles on the Abbey Road Album and is the only artist given a credit on a Beatles album for “Get Back:” The Beatles With Billy Preston.  Preston was dubbed “the Fifth Beatle.” Preston played keyboards on the Beatles very last performance from the New York City rooftop on January 30, 1969. He also appeared on television’s “Shindig” as musical director.

1970s

In 1971, Billy would leave Apple for Herb Alpert’s A&M records. He wanted to step out of his identity as just an instrumentalist and be able to do more, including more solo and singing performances.

In 1972, he won a Grammy for “Outa-Space’ as the Best Pop Instrumental Performance. (He was nominated for 9 Grammies and won 2, including Album of the Year in 1973.) In 2021 he was inducted into the rock-and-roll Hall of Fame for musical excellence.

Billy Preston was the Rolling Stones primary touring keyboardist from 1973 to 1977. I saw him on their Bridges to Babylon tour two times, once in Chicago and once in Minneapolis. Mick Jagger appears onscreen and admits to teasing Preston about the many wigs he wore onstage. They allowed the musician to wear a trademark huge Afro onstage, but remove it and become relatively anonymous.

CRACKS IN THE CAREER

Paris Barclay

Paris Barclay, Director of “Billy Preston: That’s the Way God Planned It” at SXSW 2024.

There may have been a romance with a woman named Kathy Silva in the early 70s. If there is a criticism of this documentary, it is how much this was soft-pedaled in the narrative. Whatever the relationship between Preston and Silva, it ended badly when Preston returned home to find her in bed with Sly (of Sly and the Family Stone). Some sources say that Preston swore off women from that point on.

It couldn’t have helped that Silva married Sly onstage in Madison Square Garden shortly afterwards. The film’s point-of-view is that Preston had both male and female lovers; everyone within the loop knew he was gay. His talent was so unparalleled that his homosexuality was not an issue. Perhaps accurate, but such a public betrayal had to cut deep and leave the artist feeling betrayed.

Disputes over money led to Preston’s departure from the Rolling Stones. In 1975 he was also the very first musical guest on the very first airing of “Saturday Night Live.” In 1978 he was cast as Sergeant Pepper in Robert Stigwood’s musical treatment of the famous Beatles album. It involved an all-star cast; it was a failure, which also bothered Preston.

1980s

With the dawn of the eighties and the emergence of disco, Preston’s star began to fade. He was Gospel, rhythm and blues, rock-and-roll—not disco. He became addicted to illegal substances and drank too much. A nighttime program built around comedian David Brenner, “Nightlife,” hired him to be  musical director. The program tanked after one season (1986-1987).

1990s

Preston was asked to tour with The Band in 1991. He did, but he was sentenced for cocaine and assault in 1991. That was the end of his ability to tour. In August, he was sentenced to 9 months in drug rehabilitation (in Malibu) and given 3 months of house arrest. In 1992 he was given 30 days in jail on another offense. There was a sex charge involving a 16-year old youth. (Think Kevin Spacey).

Preston’s intense for money to feed his drug habit became so great that he burned his own house down. When apprehended, he pled guilty to the $1 million insurance fraud and was ordered to prison and to pay $60,000 in restitution.

At this point, the film brings on the judge who sent him to prison, Bernard J. Kamins, a judge in Los Angeles District Court (who said it was his first interview in 80 years). The court appearance was in 1992. Billy Preston was 44 years old and had various probation violations. Although 7 (of 8) charges were dropped the judge felt that if the musician didn’t clean up his act, he’d soon be dead (the Mayo Clinic agreed.) He was sent to Avenol State Prison for a term that ended up being much less than the 4 years for which he was sentenced. However, his health—especially his kidneys—were failing.

BLOWS TO THE MUSICIAN

George Harrison, Billy’s great and good friend, died in 2001. (Preston participated in the Concert for George in November of 2002). His beloved mother Robbie died in 2005 (1917-2005). Even his good friend Eric Clapton said, “I had to let him go” (Clapton tears up after that comment).

Clapton was a kindred soul  and wanted to help Billy heal from his addiction, but it wasn’t happening. Billy’s last session was with Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave). Randy Jackson (of “American Idol”) fame is seen in the footage. We also see Sam Moore and Billy Preston flanking Paul Shaffer on a “Letterman” gig. Preston appeared on one “American Idol” segment.

Billy Preston called his last manager and revealed that he had finally told the others in group therapy that he was gay, something he had refused to do his entire life. He lapsed into a coma four days later, dying on June 6, 2006, in Scottsdale, Arizona (site of a Mayo Clinic facility) at age 60.

CONCLUSION

As one of Preston’s oldest friends, interviewed onscreen said, “How did we let someone like Billy Preston slip away?” She added (to spontaneous audience applause), “Can you imagine if church was really what it says it is?”

Do yourself a favor and make it a double-feature night. Watch the Little Richard documentary (“Little Richard: I Am Everything”) and follow it with “Billy Preston: That’s the Way God Planned It.” The documentary is an absolute gem and extremely well-done.

“Plastic People” At SXSW Describes A Harrowing Future

 

Ziya Tong.

Ziya Tong, one of the directors of Canada’s documentary “Plastic People.”

The Canadian documentary “Plastic People,” directed by Ben Addelman and Ziya Tong, had its World Premiere at SXSW on Saturday, March 9th, 2024. It is an absolutely terrifying piece of detective work, investigating how our fixation on plastic came to be and what plastic is doing to us. The synopsis said: “Plastic People is a landmark feature documentary that chronicles humanity’s fraught relationship with plastic and one woman’s mission to expose shocking new revelations about the impact of microplastics on human health.”

Directors of the Canadian documentary are Ben Addelman and Ziya Tong. Producers: Vanessa Dylyn, Stephen Paniccia.  Ben Addelman also wrote the screenplay.The film explores the origins of plastic (petroleum products) and suggests that, “Now we’re realizing that we made some big mistakes…We’re finding them wherever we look in the human body.”

Noting that 83% of tap water has plastic in it, the experts tell us, “We are slowly turning into plastic people.” Among other cheerily prophetic statements are these: “We are poisoning ourselves with our own hands. We are producing poisonous food.” And Christy Tyler, a PhD scientist says, “Every single person is exposed.”

BIG MONEY

Plastic People documentary at SXSW 2024.

“Plastic People” at SXSW 2024.

The income of makers of plastic is mind-boggling. With the efforts to curb the production of vehicles that use gas, the makers of plastic are looking at other ways to push up production and sales. One avenue was to support the single use of plastic, rather than recycling. Furthermore, says the film, the myth that some plastic can be recycled is pretty much that, since less than 10% of plastic, worldwide, gets recycled. (Forget the handy-dandy little recycle symbol.)

The film documents the following money made by big petroleum:

BASF – $65 billion

Exxon obil – $231 billion annual revenue

Dow Chemical – $48 billion

SABIC – $35 billion

Chevron Phillips – $3 billion

Plastic bottles used daily? 1.5 billion. Two million plastic bags are used every minute, amounting to 400 tons a year.

The film asks whether we want “to destroy the world to enrich a few?”

THE VERY BAD

plastic waste that is recyclable?

“Plastic People” at SXSW.

The entire message of the film is depressing. It doesn’t get any better when we see Dr. Celticki performing a brain operation and noting the presence of plastic that has crossed the blood-brain barrier. “If it can go to the brain, it can go everywhere,” he says. His message, “We are living in a synthetic world made mostly of plastic.”

Transferring all of this to an unborn generation means risking losing that entire generation. The effects of all of these chemicals on our bodies may not become clear for decades. What kinds of chemicals are we talking about?

Dibutylphthalate, Bisphonol A, Diethylnexyl phthalate, Decabro modiphenyl ether, hexabromo cyctodecane, perfluoralkyl and polyfluoralkyl nonyl phenol. All of them bad, of course.

All of these chemicals in our modern-day world have led to major increases in breast cancer, prostate cancer, and thyroid cancer. It is well-known that chronic inflammation is a precursor to serious illnesses. Fracking is another example of a very bad idea, health-wise.

In Portland, Texas a local resident talks about how the nearby Gulf Coast Growth Ventures Exxon Mobil plant spews pollution (1.6 tons of ethylene) and burns so brightly that you can come outside and read a newspaper at night.

PREVIOUS FILMS ABOUT POLLUTION

Plastic People documentary at SXSW.

“Plastic People” at SXSW.

Like the movie “Erin Brockovich,” Diane Wilson of San Antonio, who was defending the fishing industry, described taking on 10 chemical plants that were dumping 5 million gallons of toxic waste daily. (“Corporations do not have a conscience.”) She sued Formosa and won a $50 million-dollar settlement.  Her fight reminded me  of that waged against Teflon coating in frying pans by Mark Ruffalo’s character in the 2019 film “Dark Waters” or the 1998 John Travolta film “A Civil Action.”

RESOLUTIONS

Plastic People documentary

“Plastic People” documentary at SXSW 2024.

At film’s end, a Rwanda effort to curb single-use plastics is lauded, but its spokesperson says, “We need big countries to ban the use of single use plastic items.” The watchword is RESTRAIN and REDUCE (but nobody’s doing it).

CONCLUSION

This is not a “happy” film, but it is a necessary one. The scripted line, “Only when the problem becomes too big do we ask the questions” struck home. That sentiment also applies to climate change.  The weird weather anomalies that we are all experiencing now have come about because we have ignored a major problem for much too long.

One small bright spot was how the Philippines has done some clean-up of their extremely polluted shores. It followed right after the news that the big countries export their waste to the small countries, like the Philippines, something referred to as pollution colonialism. The prophetic word spoken to Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” (Plastics) has come back to haunt us Big Time.  What we are now seeing is described as “the embodiment of capitalism.”

After watching “Plastic People” I felt like I needed a drink, but straws are out now.

TV Pilots Screen at SXSW 2024

 

Six TV Pilots screened at SXSW 2024 on Sunday, March 10th. Here are descriptions of four of them.

Tossers Pizza TV pilot.

“Tossers” TV pilot at SXSW.“Tossers”  TV pilot featured a young girl applying for a job at two different pizza delivery services. Pizza Dome features a manager weird enough to drive Sophia from the joint and over to the competitor, Tossers Pizza. The overly attentive manager at Pizza Dome wants to give Sophia “the GT” or Grand Tour.  He talks about Domeo & Juliet and hassles a working employee to make sure that there are exactly 13 pepperoni per pie. There is talk of “slinging some za.” A yellow Gremlin car has a prominent role when Principal Thomson of Salt Lake Middle School calls in to order 125 pizzas by 1 p.m. due to the hot lunch supplies having gone bad. The task seems insurmountable, but, thanks to the emergency run to Foodies to buy more Mozzarella cheese. The showrunners/screenwriters/directors were Chase Block and Bryce Van Leuven and it was dedicated the loving memory of Papa T. It had its moments. My favorite line came when Sophia (who is told she needs to work for free for two weeks as “a trial,” which is a scam to avoid paying the help) assists in delivering a pizza, riding shotgun on the back of a motorcycle. The elderly customer takes one look at her and says to her companion, “She looks slutty.” Sophia, in a perfect deadpan voice, responds, “I’m wearing a helmet.” A relatable concept well executed.

"Marvin Is Sorry" TV pilot at SXSW.

“Marvin Is Sorry” TV pilot at SXSW 2024.

“Marvin Is Sorry” was the story of 25-year-old YouTube influencer Marvin Weaver who accidentally kills one of his fans during the filming of a YouTube video. The stunt was part of Marvin Weaver’s Ice Cap Refreezing Project. The participants are trying to see who can hold their breath the longest underwater. [Having just watched “7 Beats Per Minute” about freedivers who make deep dives without oxygen by holding their breath for more minutes than kills Marvin’s non-winner, the choice of 6 minutes seemed too little.] Marvin, well-played with elan by Sam Song Li, is sorry, as the film’s title suggests—at least at first. Marvin has 35 million subscribers to his YouTube channel but now that is gone.  He is told “No one with morals and a pulse wants you on his show.” Tag Taggart, a far right talk show host with 10 million watchers, however, does want Marvin to guest on the Tag Taggart Show. Pushed to near extinction by the backlash from the stunt gone wrong, Marvin finally gives in and makes an appearance on Tag Taggart’s show. Taggart, says the synopsis, is bent on “cultural domination.” The Tag Line is “life begins before conception.” Cinematographer was Ben Berkowitz. Director Clint Pang should have told his cinematographer that there are microphone booms visible in the upper left screen a lot of the time. The lead (Sam Song Li) saved the project with his personality.

"Neo-Dome" TV pilot screens at SXSW 2024.

“Neo-Dome” TV pilot screens at SXSW 2024.

“Neo-Dome” is a futuristic violent pilot about a woman traveling alone to the utopian dome on the horizon. It is a post-apocalyptic America, suffering economic collapse. Monica Dawes (Anna Camp) stops a car driven by Larry, whose shirt says Homestead Mechanic, his moronic sidekick, and what appears to be an old man asleep in the back seat (but is really a corpse). Monica tells the sketchy duo that she can give them a full tank of gas if they will give her a ride to her car, further down the road. The men are suspicious that Monica is not telling the truth and bargains back-and-forth with them, until things go South and bullets are exchanged. This Texas premiere was written by Matt Pfeffer and directed by Bonnie Discepolo. Producers were Anna Camp, Michael Johnson, and Matt Pfeffer. Cast was Anna Camp, Michael Mosley, Nicholas Logan, Anthony Discepolo. With only Monica still alive, one assumes that a series (of which this was the pilot) would involve other adventures that Monica would have on the road to the Neo-Dome, where the motto is “Trust no one on the road to the Neo-Dome.”

"Lucy & Sara" TV Pilot screens at SXSW 2024.

“Lucy & Sara” has Texas Premiere at SXSW on March 10, 2024.

“Lucy & Sara” – Showrunner/Director Screenwriter was Susan Park. Cast included Susan Park, Nicolette Morrison, Jeremy Joyce and Mark Holgate for this Texas premiere.  The synopsis says it is “a darkly comedic exploration of two unlikely sisters learning to lean on each other after the death of their beloved father in spite of their seemingly toxic relationship.” It was really about one sister urging the other sister to commit suicide, as she seems to be under the impression that her sister is simply “crying wolf.” I once saw George Carlin do a stand-up bit about suicide. People were streaming for the exits. For me, suicide isn’t funny. Especially in today’s climate of girlfriends urging boyfriends (or vice versa) to “just do it” (and some have) the topic seems sketchy. I can’t recommend this one.

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