Monthly Archives: May 2021

Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi’s black comedy about the Hitler Jugend fills a generation gap for audiences who missed Swing Kids, and think they’re immune to the social ills peddled by the likes of Adolf Hitler. But Jojo Rabbit is so infectiously funny, one doesn’t necessarily think about the implications when soaking in the drama, and some critics even claimed it wasn’t dark enough for a topical film, as if there were some things you can’t make fun of without apologizing in sincerest earnest. I don’t think those critics have heard of holocaust humor, the zany stripe of gallows humor known only to holocaust survivors (and those they share their laughter with).

This poem is a twisted take on the 54ths Psalm, in Jojo’s voice, when he calls on his imaginary friend (Hitler himself, played by director Taika Waititi himself), to rid his home of an intruder whom his mother has stowed away in the crawlspace without telling him.

Heil Hitler! We call on our leader for rescue,
his mighty S.S. will come take up our cause.
Dear Adolph, I know you are near in my prayers,
can’t you hear me today when I shout out your name?
A stranger is crouching right here in our attic
and threatens to kill us if I say a word.
She says she’s a cannibal, even a Jew.
But look – I know Hitler’s about to save me,
our leader will stick up for us and our kind.
He will get even with all my assailants.
Demolish their inhuman ways with the truth!
I’ll do my part as a spy, an observer.
“Heil Hitler!” is my manifesto, my cause.
From the worst kind of boredom, my Adolph saved me,
and from him my enemies run in defeat.

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Filed under Directing, Dream Ensemble, False controversies, Poetry

L.A. Confidential

The critically-acclaimed L.A. Confidential was a milestone in Russell Crowe’s career, marking his first Best Picture nod at the Academy Awards, of 6 and counting. (He likes to tell people he’d rather be congratulated on playing Bud White in a movie the cool kids dig, than hear fans shout “Are you entertained?!” at him across the street in public.)

It’s a film you can go back to on its 20th anniversary and still feel carried away by. His brief cameo in War Games as ‘Bob White’ feels like a tongue-in-cheek fan reference, and his slapstick hit The Nice Guys (also starring Kim Bassinger!) sometimes feels like a spoof of this Hollywood classic. (It’s hard to describe any film starring Kim Bassinger without using the word ‘classic,’ isn’t it?)

This poem, based on the 52nd Psalm, is in Jack’s voice (played by the inimitable Kevin Spacey) and addressed to newly-minted detective Ed Exley (admirably played by Guy Pearce), warning him that the finesse with which he’d snagged a big promotion would rub a lot of other police officers – and significantly, Russell Crowe’s Bud White – the wrong way.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet and are thinking about it now, be warned, it should come with trigger warnings for police violence, racially motivated police violence, and police-involved murder. This is a film that doesn’t pull any punches, and it lays the hidden curriculum in police work out on the table in plain view. I can see experts on police reform screening this film at a seminar to just talk about the implications for reformers – what sort of cultural landscape they’re up against, both in police lore and in pop culture’s reflection of it.

Sure, you can boast of the Night Owl.
But no one forgets what you’ve done.
Politics may be your forte,
but to them, you’re a back-stabbing fraud.
You want laurels, and at any price;
street justice means nothing to you.
You mince out your ten-dollar words,
and make scapegoats of men who bleed blue.
Bud White won’t rest til he’s stopped you;
he’ll beat the bushes for cause,
and he’ll root you out, badge and all.
The righteous will marvel to see it,
the rank and file cops will laugh last.
A man who forgets the blue line
cannot count on his badge in the end;
perhaps you believe in your wits,
but mere cleverness won’t save you then.
Our brotherhood shelters the bitter,
as trees shelter snakes in the grass.
One trusts in no power beyond us.
Today, we acclaim your good name:
early promise, a fine legacy.
Tomorrow, though, Bud White will see.

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Filed under Acting, Directing, L.A. Confidential, Poetry, Roll Credits

Oscar and Lucinda

The banner for this blog is from Oscar and Lucinda, a gorgeous love story set in Australia and told by the gifted director Gillian Armstrong. Here’s another poem about that unforgettable film, this time treating an episode that comes late in the action but proves decisive as a turn of events. (Spoilers!)

Our hero, played by Ralph Fiennes, has fainted after a terrible journey, and awoken in the amorous embraces of a woman he hardly knows, much to his chagrin. His true love sent him on this great adventure, and he feels he has betrayed his feelings for her, even though he cannot be certain she feels the same for him. He takes refuge in the glass church she designed and manufactured, which he has been given the mission to convey to a remote parish in the Australian hinterlands, as a gift to her dear friend. There he prays, alone and afraid, for a way forward.

The poem here is based loosely on the 51st Psalm, which has a superscript assigning it to the reaction of King David, when the prophet Nathan confronted him about his seduction of Bathsheba (and about the murder of her husband, naturally). Translator Robert Alter suggested that the last few lines of this Psalm could be omitted, as an editorial amendment intended to correct a priestly faux pas in the text (the editors didn’t want readers to slack on their contributions to the priestly revenues). So this poem is a few lines shorter than the Psalm that inspired it.

Dare I pray for grace, out of God’s kindness,
dare I seek to wipe away my own crimes?
Where else could I lay my transgressions out
and beg God to cleanse me of my offense?
For I know, my skin is hot with my crimes,
that reverberate through me even now.
Who have I offended most – my conscience
or my friend? Do I call this act evil?
My father seemed harsh when he passed sentence,
yet my heart now fears he was right to judge.
Perhaps he fathered me in transgression,
and by offending, my mother conceived.
By works, I sought to redeem my secrets;
in happenstance truth conceals great wisdom.
Can this glass chapel lift my heart again
and wash me with a cold spring’s clarity?
Dare I recall the gladness that we felt
when I began this journey for my friend?
Can she avert her thoughts from my offense,
and with warm laughter wipe my fears away?
Can love instill me with lucidity,
renew my vows and give my spirit strength?
Would my father fling me from his presence,
and strip the orders of my faith from me?
Can prayer restore the happiness of chance,
and noble sentiments sustain my soul?
Have I the faith to teach transgressors love,
and bring offenders back to God’s embrace?
Save me from this brutish fate, this bloodshed,
if ever you have tipped the scales for me.
Teach me again to give thanks for my luck.
Speak through this liquid sanctuary’s walls,
help unseal my lips, to praise providence.
For no winnings will atone for my sins,
I know you do not seek indulgences.
God’s hand gathers up a broken spirit.
This shattered heart, I know you will not spurn.

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Filed under Acting, Directing, Dream Ensemble, Poetry