Just beyond his reach

Jean-Michel Basquiat at work

Jean-Michel Basquiat at work

I just watched a documentary about Basquiat ("The Radiant Child," 2010), and I kept thinking that he cared way too much about what people thought of him and his work. He was so affected by what the critics said about him because he knew it meant he wouldn't be celebrated widely for a time, maybe not for a long time. And he couldn't handle not being considered the cream of the crop. Perhaps because he knew in his heart that he was. They weren't exactly ready for him -- the powers-that-be in his industry. Would they ever have given him his due if he had lived? He had a huge following in life until he fell out of favor. But he wanted the people at the very top to embrace him. I can understand that. And trying to navigate in a world that will always view you as different -- other. It's all so poisonous.  

Fran Lebowitz on laziness

I watched a documentary tonight about Fran Lebowitz called "Public Speaking" (2010). Scorsese directed it. I had never heard of her before I read a review of this documentary in The New York Times earlier today. She's a modern day intellectual. I use the expression "modern day" because it's an archaic concept these days -- being an intellectual and that's all. It's typically tied to being a writer, and she is a writer. But she has not been prolific, and she hasn't written anything substantial in a long time. She basically just goes around speaking. She's a "wit," like Dorothy Parker, to whom she is often compared. It was a fascinating documentary, and she is or was friends with several people who inspire me, like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. Anyway, she talked at one point about how lazy she's been -- that no one has been as lazy as she has as an artist. She mentioned how it was 1978 and then all of a sudden it was 2007, and she thought, "Gosh, I better get to work." I could identify with that. But what I really identified with was her reply when asked why she had procrastinated so long. She said that she had trouble with authority, including her own. It was good to hear that I'm not the only one who struggles with such inertia. I suppose it's not uncommon, though.

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REVIEW

Truth and consequences

Al Gore's voice of reason falls on knowing but guilty ears

July 2006

Al Gore changed my life. Growing up in a small Southern town, I didn’t have much use for public transportation. There were buses, but I wasn’t allowed to take them. I got my driver’s license the day I turned 16, my first car a few months after that, and I never looked back. When I moved to the big city for my first year of college, I took the subway a few times (including a disastrously ill-conceived trip to the grocery store), but only because my car was back home waiting for the second semester to start. 

In short, I’m a girl who appreciates her personal space and her own vehicle. But now, even though I’ve known about the environmental threats to our planet for many years, I am finally prepared to limit my contribution to the problem by taking the train to work every day. Yep, I’ve been Gored. I must attribute this awakening to the effectiveness of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore’s lucid and, dare I write it, engaging documentary about the world’s climate crisis.

How is it that a glorified PowerPoint presentation (as one of my friends has affectionately dubbed it) could lead me to consider rebuking 30-plus years of ingrained automobile entitlement? I think it’s because there’s more to it than that. The film packs a punch of overwhelming logic and genuine concern. Being as personable as his unfortunately stiff demeanor allows him to be (which is still surprisingly personable), Gore guides the audience through the issues surrounding global warming with the polish and aplomb of your favorite college professor who managed to keep things short and simple for the ADD-afflicted and naysayers alike. 

"How is it that a glorified PowerPoint presentation (as one of my friends has affectionately dubbed it) could lead me to consider rebuking 30-plus years of ingrained automobile entitlement?"

He begins with the first photograph of Earth taken from space – a striking image and a quick way to bring everyone into the focus of the piece. He spends most of the first half of the film explaining the concept of global warming and showing the damage the planet has already sustained as a result, including photos contrasting the dissipation of some of the most important mountains, bodies of water, and other habitats with how they appeared a few short decades ago.

He uses a couple of animated shorts that were rather corny (except for the drowning polar bear, which was completely heartbreaking), but the charts and graphs he used to illustrate the facts were compelling. Actually, there are quite a lot of facts, figures, and footage being tossed at the audience, but it never becomes overwhelming. The simulations that showed what would happen if Greenland and Antarctica lost significant portions of their western glaciers was particularly eye-opening: Miami, lower Manhattan, and the San Francisco bay area – all under water.

The film is interspersed with vignettes that explored facets of Gore’s personal and professional life, which broke up the lecture nicely. I especially enjoyed the ones related to his family and his childhood. Although some political posturing did sneak into it at times, it was good to learn about his work ethic and how various disappointments (losing the 2000 U.S. presidential election) and tragedies (losing his sister to lung cancer) shaped his philosophy.

Besides presenting the case for urgency, Gore wisely takes the time to rebut the arguments and assertions of those who are in denial on this issue. The alarmingly rapid decline of the Earth’s atmosphere is well-documented. Gore explains how extensive research revealed that there is no disagreement among the top scientists (regardless of political affiliation) that global warming is a real phenomenon, but somehow the majority of the media reports on this issue leave room for doubt.

Gore also rebuts the notion that the economy must be sacrificed to save the environment. With logic any five-year-old could grasp, Gore points out that all the scheming on the part of U.S. car manufacturers, namely GM and Ford, to foil attempts to comply with lower emissions standards are getting them nowhere – as they are being beaten to a pulp by all other car manufacturers.

"He expressly rejects the throw-up-your-hands mentality of people who argue that the problem is too big to tackle."

And the thinking of the current administration isn’t much better, according to Gore. He illustrates this point vividly in one of a few moments that elicits laughter from his documentary audience (and more than a few chuckles from those of us in the movie theatre), showing a slide that depicts a stack of gold bars on one side of a scale and Earth on the other side of the scale. The slide, he explains, had been used in a White House presentation about environmental concerns. Gore didn’t have to say much to demonstrate such a fundamentally unsound comparison. Is it any wonder that we’re one of only two industrialized nations that haven’t ratified the Kyoto Protocol?

In spite of the seeming ambivalence of the masses and head-in-the-sand antics of many politicians and corporations, the prognosis isn’t all bad. Several states, the most pro-active being California, are planning to impose lower emission requirements for their citizens’ cars. They are doing this in the face of opposition from U.S. automakers that seem hell-bent on giving us the rope to hang ourselves.

Gore paints a grave picture, drawing on the words of Winston Churchill that this is “a time of consequences.” But he can’t help but project a sense of idealism with the realism, and he expressly rejects the throw-up-your-hands mentality of people who argue that the problem is too big to tackle. In fact, the credits are playfully presented interchanging the names of the film crew with tips on how to help save the environment. One of the more intriguing suggestions that bears scrutiny is running for Congress -- an idea that I would love to see take off among those of us who are not in the throes of power lust and greed.

As I walked out of the theatre with these seemingly small steps we could take to make a difference lingering in my mind, a theatre attendant handed me a small round sticker with the words “I saw the truth” printed on it. I felt like I had voted, and I knew that my vote – my subsequent effort – would make a difference.