Monthly Archives: March 2021

Boy Erased

This is my second poem about Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, based on the 50th Psalm this time, and in the voice of Russell Crowe’s character, a minister who firmly believes that his faith prohibits sodomy and that, if his son is gay, he cannot be Christian.

Here the rejection of homosexuals is only implied and has no connection with the original text, showing how flexible the rhetoric of divine wrath can be when we choose to invoke against a given group of outcasts. Ironically, the speaker’s commitment to homophobia is extremely inflexible, and takes no note of the highly varied and extremely dated, parochial contexts from which the Bible’s abundant repertoire of hatespeech is culled. This Davidic Psalm belongs to an obscure Levite tradition in the Hebrew original (for extensive footnotes, see Robert Alter’s translation, The Hebrew Bible).

When God speaks to us, when the Lord calls us,
he calls to all creation with one voice
from east of the dawn to west of the night.
From the citadel of the promised land
God’s light seeks us out to show the way home.
We pray that he will come and not be still.
Ahead of his oncoming wrath burns hell,
and his coming is like a hurricane.
Let him summon the hosts of the heavens
and earth assembled to judge his faithful:
“Gather together all the believers,
who would follow the Lord in his mercy”
and let heaven itself pronounce justice,
for Christ the King is our Lord and our judge.
“Hear me, my congregation, when I speak,
as a Christian, what I witness to you.
I preach from the gospel, the word of God.
Not by your offerings does God weigh you,
nor your attendance at service or prayers.
We do not gather here for a head count,
neither does God need our money, our time.
For his are the forests, oceans and skies,
the summits of mountains, the sun, the stars.
He knows every sparrow’s nest and burrow,
all things bright and beautiful dwell with him.
Should God want for praise, come seeking us out?
No – in him dwells all breath in its fullness.
Would he fritter through our pocket money
and set store by our comings and goings?
Come to worship in hopes of thanksgiving,
and tithe in the fulfilment of your vows.
Call on the Lord in your day of distress –
he will save you. For this, we worship here.”
And I say unto the false believers:
“Why do you fling the Lord’s words in my face
and call yourselves Christians, people of faith,
who, in your sin, too proud to be chastised,
have cast aside God’s Testament wholesale?
You follow the wicked in temptation,
surrounded by the vilest criminals.
You dare speak out in defense of evil,
and constantly trip over your own lies.
You sit in the pews, and yet defy God,
betraying the bond that makes us one faith.
All this you have done while I kept silent.
Did you imagine I sanctioned your crimes?
Today I reprove you and make my case.
Reckon with this, you who spurn consequence,
lest the wrath of God bring you to nothing.
Those who come here in thanksgiving know God
and commit their lives to the Christian faith.
To these true believers God shows his love.”

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Filed under Boy Erased, Directing, Dream Ensemble, Poetry

The Insider

The Insider, easily one of the best films of the 1990s, tells the story of a 60 Minutes interview with tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand that blew the lid off the industry’s secret to success – nicotine addiction. This stylish film directed by Michael Mann stars Al Pacino, Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer, and picked up 7 Oscar nods, including Best Picture.

Before Wigand’s court testimony and 60 Minutes interview, most people knew smoking was a tough habit to kick, but after, it was public knowledge that the tobacco industry banked on the addictiveness of nicotine, that indispensable ingredient that made all the difference in determining whether smokers would come back for more, even if they knew that smoking was killing them.

That this was common knowledge more than 20 years ago is kind of appalling, when you consider how passive the FDA has been about the rise of nicotine addiction in minors since the introduction of new “nicotine delivery devices” in the form of vapes.

Vapes aren’t required to be labeled for their nicotine content, and the accuracy of their labeling leaves a lot to be desired – nearly half of sampled flavored vapes that claimed to have 0 mg/L of nicotine actually did contain a small dose of nicotine per puff. Although nicotine addictiveness varies with dosing, the correlation is non-linear (an inverted U-shaped curve), meaning even small doses have the potential to get kids hooked on the drug.

Nicotine is now known to be more addictive than heroin, but is still not regulated by the FDA.

This poem, based on the 49th Psalm, is about a standoff backstage at 60 Minutes over whether the footage from Wigand’s interview should be cut to avoid litigation from the tobacco industry over the violation of Wigand’s confidentiality agreement.

Tell your audience to hear him out in full,
tell them we’ll broadcast his entire statement.
Everyone needs to hear this, piped to their homes,
this story touches the rich and poor alike.
You’ve known me how long? I know what I’m doing,
and this is where I stake my reputation.
When I ask someone to tell the world the truth,
I put my tradecraft and my clout behind him.
Why should I balk at these cowardly warnings,
with the public interest hanging by a thread?
These executives trust in vague corporate worth
and boast of their six-figure salary checks –
but what do they have to show for their careers,
except a soulless ransom for their bare skins?
To redeem such cheaply sold lives at this price,
it’s too much – one comes to an end forever.
Do these lawyers expect to live forever?
Will this well-paid lackey see where she’s headed?
For she sees that the wisest among us die,
no less than the rich fool and the unschooled lout,
and the dead can take none of their wealth with them.
Their graves will be their homes when all is settled,
to moulder there alone for generations,
no matter how much influence they have now.
No man rests in splendor for eternity.
We are born to die, as surely as the flies.
These excuses they offer areshallow lies,
and to make amends after – more empty words.
They are paving the way to irrelevance –
cheap monied interests have shown them the way down –
and those who refuse to back down will not fail.
These corporate tools will fritter away our name,
and make us bed down with the merchants of death.
But I will stake my career on this story,
and on the weight of Wigand’s testimony.
These broadcast executives in fancy suits,
they don’t intimidate an old hand like me.
For when this program goes to air, lives will change,
but those fools will leave no mark on history.
They spend their whole lives on self-serving projects,
and thank me only when I make them richers.
But they will join their ancestors in the grave –
without a thought for their own posterity.
We do not have the luxury to live so.
Our days are numbered – only our work lives on.

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Filed under Acting, Classic Crowe, Directing, Dream Ensemble, Poetry, Roll Credits, The Insider

Broken City

Broken City flew under the radar commercially, but was warmly received by critics as a grungy neo-noir A-lister, starring Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright and Barry Pepper as players in a corruption scandal that leaves none of the principals untouched.

Set in the Big Apple, the story revolves around the choices of an ex-cop (Wahlberg) with skeletons in his closet that just won’t leave him alone. His spunky assistant Valerie (played by Britney Theriot) steals the last scene right out from under Wahlberg, but I won’t give too much away.

This poem, based on the 48th Psalm, is in the voice of the mayor’s wife (played by Catherine Zeta Jones), pressing a compromised P.I. (Wahlberg) to help expose her husband (played by Russell Crowe) before he gets a fast one past the voters of New York (again).

Power befits a Mayor so highly praised
in New York City’s ruthless commanding heights.
Built on a grand scale, the world’s symbol of wealth,
this city’s imperial skyline rounds out
the Mayor’s turbulent fiefdoms in high style.
Here is a force to be reckoned with – its steel
and glass irruptions spring from the Mayor’s clout.
For when the Ivy League elite conspired,
those proud outsiders could only pass on through.
They themselves witnessed the city’s growth, amazed,
and faced with this great juggernaut, they withdrew.
You’ve seen the whites of their eyes – they shuddered, stared,
writhed in their seats like women or dogs in heat.
With a rallying cry that captured their mood
this Mayor stole his rival’s thunder – crowds cheered!
As we heard in their debate, so we can see
the Mayor’s staying power – this is his town.
The people want him back – he polls in the lead.
You’ve witnessed the Mayor’s generosity
with the fruits of power, ensconced in his hall.
He’s built up a great name, and he extracts praise
from the lapdog press to the satellite news.
His brand of justice sets the tone for business.
All Manhattan is proud to celebrate him,
the burroughs and brownstones are yielding to steel
skyscrapers worth billions because of his trades.
Go visit the brownstones yourself – look around.
Count the families whose homes now stand in his way.
Set your mind to the memories living there,
and find some way to expose his backroom deals
before he robs another generation.
If you don’t act on what you know, he will win.
This Mayor would kill to have his victory.

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Filed under Broken City, Corruption, Poetry