Anderson Cooper shuts down Donald Trump: “With all due respect, ‘He started it!’ is the argument of a five-year-old”

In tonight’s CNN town-hall, Anderson Cooper asked GOP front-runner Donald Trump about a photograph he re-tweeted which appeared to anyone with eyes to cast Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi in an unflattering light. Trump replied that despite it being fairly obvious that he was attempting to do just that, that wasn’t his intent. “I thought it was a nice picture of Heidi,” he said. Cooper replied, “Come on, you’re running for president of the United States.” “Look,” Trump replied, “I didn’t start it.” “Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a five-year-old,” Cooper said. “It is not,” Trump replied. “It is not!” “The argument of a five-year-old is, ‘He started it’!” Cooper said. “You would say that. But he started it! The problem with our country — that thinking, that’s the problem with the country. He sent out a picture” — Cruz did not, as Cooper noted, it was an anti-Trump group — “it was Romney people, they were very embarrassed he did so poorly four years ago, he choked like a dog.” If you have trouble following his logic there, don’t worry, nobody else any could either. Watch the entire exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714986912042336257In tonight’s CNN town-hall, Anderson Cooper asked GOP front-runner Donald Trump about a photograph he re-tweeted which appeared to anyone with eyes to cast Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi in an unflattering light. Trump replied that despite it being fairly obvious that he was attempting to do just that, that wasn’t his intent. “I thought it was a nice picture of Heidi,” he said. Cooper replied, “Come on, you’re running for president of the United States.” “Look,” Trump replied, “I didn’t start it.” “Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a five-year-old,” Cooper said. “It is not,” Trump replied. “It is not!” “The argument of a five-year-old is, ‘He started it’!” Cooper said. “You would say that. But he started it! The problem with our country — that thinking, that’s the problem with the country. He sent out a picture” — Cruz did not, as Cooper noted, it was an anti-Trump group — “it was Romney people, they were very embarrassed he did so poorly four years ago, he choked like a dog.” If you have trouble following his logic there, don’t worry, nobody else any could either. Watch the entire exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714986912042336257In tonight’s CNN town-hall, Anderson Cooper asked GOP front-runner Donald Trump about a photograph he re-tweeted which appeared to anyone with eyes to cast Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi in an unflattering light. Trump replied that despite it being fairly obvious that he was attempting to do just that, that wasn’t his intent. “I thought it was a nice picture of Heidi,” he said. Cooper replied, “Come on, you’re running for president of the United States.” “Look,” Trump replied, “I didn’t start it.” “Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a five-year-old,” Cooper said. “It is not,” Trump replied. “It is not!” “The argument of a five-year-old is, ‘He started it’!” Cooper said. “You would say that. But he started it! The problem with our country — that thinking, that’s the problem with the country. He sent out a picture” — Cruz did not, as Cooper noted, it was an anti-Trump group — “it was Romney people, they were very embarrassed he did so poorly four years ago, he choked like a dog.” If you have trouble following his logic there, don’t worry, nobody else any could either. Watch the entire exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714986912042336257In tonight’s CNN town-hall, Anderson Cooper asked GOP front-runner Donald Trump about a photograph he re-tweeted which appeared to anyone with eyes to cast Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi in an unflattering light. Trump replied that despite it being fairly obvious that he was attempting to do just that, that wasn’t his intent. “I thought it was a nice picture of Heidi,” he said. Cooper replied, “Come on, you’re running for president of the United States.” “Look,” Trump replied, “I didn’t start it.” “Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a five-year-old,” Cooper said. “It is not,” Trump replied. “It is not!” “The argument of a five-year-old is, ‘He started it’!” Cooper said. “You would say that. But he started it! The problem with our country — that thinking, that’s the problem with the country. He sent out a picture” — Cruz did not, as Cooper noted, it was an anti-Trump group — “it was Romney people, they were very embarrassed he did so poorly four years ago, he choked like a dog.” If you have trouble following his logic there, don’t worry, nobody else any could either. Watch the entire exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714986912042336257In tonight’s CNN town-hall, Anderson Cooper asked GOP front-runner Donald Trump about a photograph he re-tweeted which appeared to anyone with eyes to cast Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi in an unflattering light. Trump replied that despite it being fairly obvious that he was attempting to do just that, that wasn’t his intent. “I thought it was a nice picture of Heidi,” he said. Cooper replied, “Come on, you’re running for president of the United States.” “Look,” Trump replied, “I didn’t start it.” “Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a five-year-old,” Cooper said. “It is not,” Trump replied. “It is not!” “The argument of a five-year-old is, ‘He started it’!” Cooper said. “You would say that. But he started it! The problem with our country — that thinking, that’s the problem with the country. He sent out a picture” — Cruz did not, as Cooper noted, it was an anti-Trump group — “it was Romney people, they were very embarrassed he did so poorly four years ago, he choked like a dog.” If you have trouble following his logic there, don’t worry, nobody else any could either. Watch the entire exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714986912042336257In tonight’s CNN town-hall, Anderson Cooper asked GOP front-runner Donald Trump about a photograph he re-tweeted which appeared to anyone with eyes to cast Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi in an unflattering light. Trump replied that despite it being fairly obvious that he was attempting to do just that, that wasn’t his intent. “I thought it was a nice picture of Heidi,” he said. Cooper replied, “Come on, you’re running for president of the United States.” “Look,” Trump replied, “I didn’t start it.” “Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a five-year-old,” Cooper said. “It is not,” Trump replied. “It is not!” “The argument of a five-year-old is, ‘He started it’!” Cooper said. “You would say that. But he started it! The problem with our country — that thinking, that’s the problem with the country. He sent out a picture” — Cruz did not, as Cooper noted, it was an anti-Trump group — “it was Romney people, they were very embarrassed he did so poorly four years ago, he choked like a dog.” If you have trouble following his logic there, don’t worry, nobody else any could either. Watch the entire exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714986912042336257

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Donald Trump insists he was assaulted by reporter who charged his campaign manager with assault: “She had a pen or something”

To describe the initial exchange between Donald Trump and Anderson Cooper about the assault charges filed against his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski by Michelle Fields as “testy” would be the height of — “Let me finish, can I finish? Let me finish” — understatement, as the likely GOP nominee will not allow the CNN host to finish a single question. In fact, as Cooper attempted to do so, Trump put his hand in the air and pulled from his pocket a printed version of Fields’ statement, which he then spent the next ten minutes dissecting in great detail. As if his word-by-word dismissal of her claims was not bad enough, Trump later accused her of having assaulted him. “She had a pen,” he said, “and the Secret Service doesn’t like them. It could be a knife or a bomb or something.” Trump also accused her of trying to ask a question, which she shouldn’t have been doing since the press conference had already ended. Watch the frankly amazing exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714983272346951685To describe the initial exchange between Donald Trump and Anderson Cooper about the assault charges filed against his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski by Michelle Fields as “testy” would be the height of — “Let me finish, can I finish? Let me finish” — understatement, as the likely GOP nominee will not allow the CNN host to finish a single question. In fact, as Cooper attempted to do so, Trump put his hand in the air and pulled from his pocket a printed version of Fields’ statement, which he then spent the next ten minutes dissecting in great detail. As if his word-by-word dismissal of her claims was not bad enough, Trump later accused her of having assaulted him. “She had a pen,” he said, “and the Secret Service doesn’t like them. It could be a knife or a bomb or something.” Trump also accused her of trying to ask a question, which she shouldn’t have been doing since the press conference had already ended. Watch the frankly amazing exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714983272346951685To describe the initial exchange between Donald Trump and Anderson Cooper about the assault charges filed against his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski by Michelle Fields as “testy” would be the height of — “Let me finish, can I finish? Let me finish” — understatement, as the likely GOP nominee will not allow the CNN host to finish a single question. In fact, as Cooper attempted to do so, Trump put his hand in the air and pulled from his pocket a printed version of Fields’ statement, which he then spent the next ten minutes dissecting in great detail. As if his word-by-word dismissal of her claims was not bad enough, Trump later accused her of having assaulted him. “She had a pen,” he said, “and the Secret Service doesn’t like them. It could be a knife or a bomb or something.” Trump also accused her of trying to ask a question, which she shouldn’t have been doing since the press conference had already ended. Watch the frankly amazing exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714983272346951685To describe the initial exchange between Donald Trump and Anderson Cooper about the assault charges filed against his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski by Michelle Fields as “testy” would be the height of — “Let me finish, can I finish? Let me finish” — understatement, as the likely GOP nominee will not allow the CNN host to finish a single question. In fact, as Cooper attempted to do so, Trump put his hand in the air and pulled from his pocket a printed version of Fields’ statement, which he then spent the next ten minutes dissecting in great detail. As if his word-by-word dismissal of her claims was not bad enough, Trump later accused her of having assaulted him. “She had a pen,” he said, “and the Secret Service doesn’t like them. It could be a knife or a bomb or something.” Trump also accused her of trying to ask a question, which she shouldn’t have been doing since the press conference had already ended. Watch the frankly amazing exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714983272346951685To describe the initial exchange between Donald Trump and Anderson Cooper about the assault charges filed against his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski by Michelle Fields as “testy” would be the height of — “Let me finish, can I finish? Let me finish” — understatement, as the likely GOP nominee will not allow the CNN host to finish a single question. In fact, as Cooper attempted to do so, Trump put his hand in the air and pulled from his pocket a printed version of Fields’ statement, which he then spent the next ten minutes dissecting in great detail. As if his word-by-word dismissal of her claims was not bad enough, Trump later accused her of having assaulted him. “She had a pen,” he said, “and the Secret Service doesn’t like them. It could be a knife or a bomb or something.” Trump also accused her of trying to ask a question, which she shouldn’t have been doing since the press conference had already ended. Watch the frankly amazing exchange below via CNN. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/714983272346951685

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Ted Cruz: “Of course” Donald Trump planted the story about his alleged affairs in the National Enquirer

In tonight’s CNN town-hall discussion, host Anderson Cooper asked Texas Senator Ted Cruz whether he could sure that Donald Trump’s organization was responsible for rumors that surfaced over the weekend in the National Enquirer. “You claim that the story was ‘planted’ by Donald Trump,” Cooper asked, “do you have any proof of that?” Instead of being circumspect, Cruz said quite plainly that he is positive that Trump was responsible for the rumors. He noted that “the story on its face quoted one person on the record…Trump’s chief political strategist and hatchet man, Roger Stone” and noted that Trump himself had proposed that the editor of “the head of the National Enquirer, a guy named David Pecker, is good friends with Donald Trump.” “But you don’t know for a fact that Donald Trump planted that story,” Cooper replied. “Of course I do,” Cruz said. “Do you know that in its history the National Enquirer has never endorsed a presidential candidate until Donald Trump? Trump suggested that David Pecker, the head of the National Enquirer, should take over Time magazine. Who in their right mind would suggest that?” Cruz later said that “the media is engaged in a love-fest with Donald Trump,” and when Cooper noted that he’s invited Cruz to be on Anderson Cooper 360 on numerous occasions, and that he’s always refused to appear, Cruz could only say, “I’m here now!” In tonight’s CNN town-hall discussion, host Anderson Cooper asked Texas Senator Ted Cruz whether he could sure that Donald Trump’s organization was responsible for rumors that surfaced over the weekend in the National Enquirer. “You claim that the story was ‘planted’ by Donald Trump,” Cooper asked, “do you have any proof of that?” Instead of being circumspect, Cruz said quite plainly that he is positive that Trump was responsible for the rumors. He noted that “the story on its face quoted one person on the record…Trump’s chief political strategist and hatchet man, Roger Stone” and noted that Trump himself had proposed that the editor of “the head of the National Enquirer, a guy named David Pecker, is good friends with Donald Trump.” “But you don’t know for a fact that Donald Trump planted that story,” Cooper replied. “Of course I do,” Cruz said. “Do you know that in its history the National Enquirer has never endorsed a presidential candidate until Donald Trump? Trump suggested that David Pecker, the head of the National Enquirer, should take over Time magazine. Who in their right mind would suggest that?” Cruz later said that “the media is engaged in a love-fest with Donald Trump,” and when Cooper noted that he’s invited Cruz to be on Anderson Cooper 360 on numerous occasions, and that he’s always refused to appear, Cruz could only say, “I’m here now!” In tonight’s CNN town-hall discussion, host Anderson Cooper asked Texas Senator Ted Cruz whether he could sure that Donald Trump’s organization was responsible for rumors that surfaced over the weekend in the National Enquirer. “You claim that the story was ‘planted’ by Donald Trump,” Cooper asked, “do you have any proof of that?” Instead of being circumspect, Cruz said quite plainly that he is positive that Trump was responsible for the rumors. He noted that “the story on its face quoted one person on the record…Trump’s chief political strategist and hatchet man, Roger Stone” and noted that Trump himself had proposed that the editor of “the head of the National Enquirer, a guy named David Pecker, is good friends with Donald Trump.” “But you don’t know for a fact that Donald Trump planted that story,” Cooper replied. “Of course I do,” Cruz said. “Do you know that in its history the National Enquirer has never endorsed a presidential candidate until Donald Trump? Trump suggested that David Pecker, the head of the National Enquirer, should take over Time magazine. Who in their right mind would suggest that?” Cruz later said that “the media is engaged in a love-fest with Donald Trump,” and when Cooper noted that he’s invited Cruz to be on Anderson Cooper 360 on numerous occasions, and that he’s always refused to appear, Cruz could only say, “I’m here now!”

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Don Cheadle on playing the drug-addled Miles Davis in “Miles Ahead,” and the toxic costs of Hollywood racism

No doubt it’s an obnoxious film-critic cliché to say that there are certain actors who are always worth watching, even in bad movies or mediocre TV series. I mean, if they’re so great, why can’t they make their movies and shows better? Let me ratchet up the obnoxiousness even more by saying that I made this same observation to Don Cheadle over breakfast in New York last week. Because Cheadle is absolutely one of those actors who often seems bigger than his material. He’s an immensely versatile performer who does comedy and drama and action and even self-mockery (as in the Funny or Die “Captain Planet” shorts, or his appearance as himself on “30 Rock”) with unwavering grace and total commitment. Cheadle was an entirely good sport about it, as you’d expect. In person, he’s an elegant, genial fellow who doesn’t give much away. (I said “breakfast,” but the only thing Cheadle ordered was black coffee and a glass of tap water.) But his eyes widened momentarily when I wondered whether he’d ever made a movie with John Malkovich, another suave, distinctive all-purpose actor in that same category. “I would love to do a movie with John,” he said. I suggested that they needed to play a villainous gay couple in a spy thriller or a superhero movie. “Will you please write that movie?” Cheadle said. “I’d do that role in a heartbeat.” There’s my pitch, studio heads! The line forms on the right. In the latest twist of a long and varied career that began with bit parts on “L.A. Law” and “Hill Street Blues” in the mid-‘80s, and includes his starring roles as the ruthless Marty Kaan on Showtime’s “House of Lies” and Col. James Rhodes, aka War Machine, in the Marvel Comics movie-verse, Cheadle has now moved behind the camera. He’s done so in the most challenging way imaginable, as the director, producer and co-writer of the colorful, uproarious and tragicomic biopic “Miles Ahead,” in which he also plays the central character, jazz legend Miles Davis. Selected as the closing-night feature in last fall’s New York Film Festival, “Miles Ahead” is an obvious labor of love, born out of Cheadle’s lifelong obsession with Davis’ groundbreaking music and troubled personal life. Although the movie can’t avoid all the pitfalls of the showbiz biopic, it’s a subtle and complicated example of the form that gracefully weaves together numerous episodes and historical periods, and never seeks to whitewash the more painful aspects of Davis’ story. In the present tense of “Miles Ahead,” it’s about 1980 and the trumpeter has become a Howard Hughes-style recluse, living alone in his New York brownstone buffered by cocaine and alcohol, and refusing to surrender the tapes for his long-contemplated comeback album. A Scottish music journalist played by Ewan McGregor (and we’ll get to the controversy surrounding that role) gets into Davis’ house and at least partway into his confidence, and unleashes numerous adventures along with a stream of almost Fellini-esque reminiscence and association. So Cheadle’s screenplay (written with Steven Baigelman) locates Davis at a personal and professional low point, but weaves in bits and pieces from throughout his remarkable career: the bebop years after World War II, the extraordinary small groups of the early ‘60s, the symphonic orchestrated works created with Gil Evans (Davis himself always preferred “Sketches of Spain” to the immortal 1959 sextet LP “Kind of Blue”) and the then-controversial jazz-rock “fusion” albums of the ‘70s, which alienated much of his middle-class white audience and anticipated musical innovations that still lay ahead. If you’ve ever seen Cheadle act in anything, I hardly need to tell you that he grabs your attention and holds it throughout the film. You could say that Miles Davis is a role he was born to play, but then again Cheadle could play anything. (If given a role as an Irish leprechaun or a Nazi officer, he’d find a way to make you believe it.) He doesn’t look much like Miles Davis, but he captures the musician’s door-creak voice and hesitant body language without making it feel like mimicry. To give a performance this layered and complex and unstinting while also directing the film around it, which is risky and imaginative and full of life, testifies to impressive powers of concentration. “Miles Ahead” is just one movie, and Don Cheadle obviously can’t be the answer to Hollywood’s racial problems all by himself. I sure hope he gets to direct another one; John Malkovich is out there waiting. The show business biopic is such a well-established genre: You have to tell some of the person’s life story and yet you don’t want to fall into a whole series of psychological and narrative clichés. How did you approach that problem? I guess I did wrestle with this, off and on, during the writing of the piece. How much are you beholden to payoff? How far away from it can you go and still bring people along? At the end of the day, when I was speaking with Miles’ family, who were the people that in some way I cared the most about, I said I wanted to do something that was in the spirit of Miles Davis as a creative artist. Not as much as trying to do something that would either be some kind of a love letter to him or the Cliff Notes of his life where people could walk out of the theatre and go, “Well, OK, now I know everything about Miles Davis. Next thing.” I wanted to do something as a storyteller that felt like my experience of Miles Davis as I listened to his music, as I read about his life. Something that was more experiential than didactic or informational. You accomplish this marvelous but sometimes disorienting feeling in the film, where we’re never quite sure where we are with relation to reality, fantasy and memory. Was that something you started with, that idea, or did it emerge from making the film? We started with an idea of this person, one of the most prolific voices in the 20th century living this sort of Howard Hughes life. Herbie Hancock [Davis’ longtime pianist] would say he would come to the house, knock on the door and Miles would open it a crack and ask Herbie to go buy stuff for him. He’d bring him something back and he’d say, “Thanks,” and he’d shut the door and he wouldn’t see him again for weeks. How does that happen? And once you’re in there, does he come out of it? Does he stay in it? So that just became a point of departure. And without trying to sound too grandiose, I wanted a meditation on a person as opposed to some record of him. When you’re coming at it from that angle, it’s about where does memory move toward reality, or history become fantasy. The boundaries are very porous. You can move back and forth and everything makes sense, so Miles can be thinking about Frances [his ballerina ex-wife, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi], and she can pirouette and start to fall, and then Dave [McGregor’s character] can finish her fall, because this is all really the container for a musician going “I’m going to tell you how to tell this story.” And puts his horn to his lips and blows the story. This is his performance of his story, his telling of his story through music. Within that, yeah there are rules, there’s a container but it’s permeable and you can move through stuff. You made this film in collaboration with the Davis estate, with his family. So at least you didn’t wind up in the same situation as John Ridley, who made a film about Jimi Hendrix where we never hear “Purple Haze.” So you got access to the music, but that also put a certain responsibility on you. You didn’t want to write a love letter or cover over the ugly parts. I’m not going to say it was just a glide path, because there were a couple “come to Jesus” moments where there was a meeting with Erin, Cheryl and Ben [Davis’ children] a couple of times and they had to be like, “Yo what are you gonna do now?” [Laughs.] Once it became real and we finally got our financing and we’re going. It’s like, “So — you’re really going to do that?” It’s one thing when it’s theoretical, it’s another when you’re actually in the process of doing it. Erin and I go off together sometimes. I remember we were writing and I was pitching the idea and she’s like, “Are you going to talk about John Coltrane at all? What about when he met Bird [Charlie Parker] and left Juilliard? What about when he went from modal to fusion? Aren’t you going to talk about any of those moments?” I said, “All of that music will be represented in the movie. But I want to use it cinematically. And let the music be apart of a story as opposed to going, ‘Now let’s make sure we’re locked into 1967 so that we can talk about the second supergroup. Let’s make sure in 1958 we know that was Cannonball Adderley and that’s John Coltrane.’” I personally care about those things, as someone who’s interested in his life, but I don’t know how that’s inherently dramatic, it just sounds like we’re trying to give information. Right. You’re not making a film for the DownBeat magazine connoisseur audience. Yeah, the 3 percent of people that really, really know Miles Davis. I used to walk around all the time and just take a poll. “Miles Davis — what do you know about him? Who is he?” And people go, “Jazz guy right?” And I go, “OK! Got one right.” What did he play? There was a 30 percent drop-off there and then I’d go, “Trumpet.” And people would say, “Oh, OK. Is he the guy who blew his cheeks out?” [Laughs.] Very few people knew a lot about Miles Davis, but for those who do know then it’s wall to wall, the deep tracks of Miles Davis stuff. “Junior” was Miles Davis nickname when he first got to the town. His wife is Irene, his kid is Cheryl. That’s Miles’ first wife, it’s all in there really, we tried to do stuff for everybody. People who really knew him, but mostly for people who knew nothing at all. As I was talking to Erin, I said, “We could do this version of it where I do all of those things that you say or we could do something that feels like this. Which do you think your dad would want? You think he’d want to be in this sort of a gangster-crazy movie, or do you think he’d want to be in a version of those movies that he’s gone on record as saying he doesn’t like?” Well, I was fascinated by your decision to focus on that “darker” Miles period, in the ‘80s, which I can remember. I was exactly the kind of white boy who was obsessed with Miles Davis, but I assumed that a lot of the stories about how crazy he was and all the stuff he was doing were apocryphal. Your movie makes it sound like it really was that crazy. How much of the story you tell is true? Almost all of it. Like any good biopic, things are elided and characters are omitted. Things that happened this place, we make happen in another place. Dave is an amalgam of many different people that were in Miles’ life at that time. I’ve never really wanted to go down the list and fact-check it for everybody, but it’s easy to do. There’s tons you can read. You can read his autobiography with Quincy Troupe, you can read an article with Alex Hayes. There’s tons of places where you can go find what really happened. Again, we wanted to take the puzzle of his life, cut his life into a bunch of puzzle pieces and then throw it in the air, and then reconstitute it in to be a story. I’ve had the pleasure to sit next to a few people I’ve depicted in movies. I was with Paul Rusesabagina when we shot “Hotel Rwanda.” I was with Earl Manigault when we did “The Goat.” We did the Petey Greene story, and I was sitting next to the man who played his best friend and we shoot these scenes and I go, “So, Paul, you like that?” And he’d be all “Well you know … he wasn’t really there, it happened over there.” [Laughs.] I said, “If we’re gonna do this, I don’t want to be coy. Let’s go all the way and do something that feels like Miles Davis.” One of the stories I heard many different times, was that there was a store around the corner and Miles said to his manager one day, “I’ve always wanted to rob this store.” He’s like, “OK.” So he went into the store and says, “Hey, Miles would like to hold you guys up.” They’re like “Oh, Miles Davis? Sure, sure.” Miles comes in, holds them up, they give him all the money, he goes out and gives it to his manager and his manager goes back and gives it back to the guy. Stuff like that happened around him a lot. In various ways this movie suggests that Miles’ turn to electronic fusion in “Bitches Brew” and some of his subsequent projects, which was so controversial in the ‘70s, was actually way ahead of its time. I wouldn’t argue that those albums were perfect … I don’t think he would either. He didn’t think that about “Kind of Blue,” which is insane. He’s like, “Eh, we got close, it wasn’t exactly what I was trying to do. I was going for some other kind of sound, but it’s cool. The record’s cool.” [Laughs.] Do you have that sense about his later music, that he was pushing for something that wouldn’t actually happen until later? I think he always was. That’s what I thought about all his music, that he was always chasing something that he heard that not everybody else around him was hearing. And that he appreciated when people were doing the same thing, which is why he let Coltrane play for 20 minutes. He’s like, “He’s looking for something, he’s trying to fucking find something.” People are like, “Why do you let this guy go on for so long?” He’d say, “Because he’s working something out. And I appreciate that, I like that. Let him go until he gets to it.” He created space for everybody else to do that. That’s why all those guys, whoever he played with went on to be leaders in their own right, and he was always chasing it. You listen to “Bitches Brew” — that album sounds like it’s coming together and falling apart all at the same time. Here’s a dude who’s showing you how the sausage is made, which to me is the highest respect you can give to the listener. “I’m not going to give you my prepackaged thing, completely finished with a bow on it.” He’s like “I’m going to bring you into what it sounds like for us to figure some shit out.” The journey is the destination, right? Yeah. “Deconstructionist” is an overused term in criticism, but it fits in this case. It feels like Miles was trying to do that in his music. I agree. All the time. Every album, no matter how we want to see it, how the record company wants to put it out — for Miles that was always in process and you hear it. There’s a song on “Quiet Nights” where he plays this really beautiful ballad, and as the last note is lingering and the drummer hits the last brushes on the snare, as soon as he finishes, he’s like, “Play that back! Play that back!” There’s no reverie, he’s like, “Next fucking song.” He lets you see the bad-haircut days, you know what I mean? He lets you go through it, like “Eh, that wasn’t so good, but the next one might be.” I saw him in the “We Want Miles” tour [circa 1981]. And right there, if you look at that band, you’re like, “What’s he doing?” Of course he’s trying to do stuff with a rock guitar player and an African percussionist, and a nouveau-jazz clarinetist and a funk bass player and an R&B drummer. He’s trying to put a group together to spit out something that no one’s ever heard before, including himself. I think about stuff that came out just a little bit later, toward the end of his career or shortly after his death: A Tribe Called Quest, or the Roots. Groups that wouldn’t have been possible in an era when rock and hip-hop and R&B and jazz were understood as separate realms. Yeah. You got a tuba in your band? You can’t have a tuba. [Laughs.] They all sit on the shoulders of that kind of experimentation and that way of putting music together, which I would think started with his Gil Evans period, the nonet, Miles +13 or +14. Just different: a bassoon and a French horn, a sousaphone but no piano. Letting those instruments play the chords against what you’re soloing, or breaking your solos into parts. It just was a very different way to compose music. This is something I’ve spoken to Wynton Marsalis about. He says, “People always want to talk shit about Miles because he stopped playing jazz. Because he never said that’s what he did.” Out of his own mouth he said, “I’m not a jazz musician. I play ‘social music.’ I play the music of the time. I’m trying to deal with the sonics that are in front of me. I’m not trying to play old shit I played 40 years ago. I did that.” It just really shows you people’s need to compartmentalize. There’s this nostalgic thing about it too. “No! You’re the music to my first make-out session in the back seat. It’s not that! When I want that other thing, I listen to AC/DC or Hendrix.” How many different looks do you think of when you think of Miles Davis? How many different styles? The cars, the women? He was always changing everything, so when you look at the whole picture I think you’re looking at a man who was in constant flux. So it makes perfect sense that he would try everything. It’s bad on us that we’re going, “But you’re this. You need to stay like that.” Now I have to ask you about those reports that you were pressured to put a white sidekick in the movie, and that’s how Ewan McGregor’s role wound up in there? When I talked about that after the #OscarsSoWhite thing, I thought, Oh, everybody’s gonna seize on that.” It wasn’t a white actor specifically, no one actually specifically said those words. But me and my team knew what was being said although it was not actually being said. What’s being said is, “You need an international piece of casting that can allow you to sell the film overseas.” We could’ve gotten a Japanese actor if we needed Japanese money. We could’ve gotten a big French actor, set it in France and gotten French investors. We needed another piece of casting that would allow us to sell to international markets, and more often than not, that piece of casting is a white actor. That’s just the way it is. It’s a reality. And in fact you were able to use Ewan’s character to play with some of the racial and perceptual issues we’ve been talking about. How the purist jazz audience of that time, which was predominantly white, viewed Miles and his music. Absolutely. I think it was nothing but additive. There was no, sort of, “Oh fuck, now we gotta cast Ewan McGregor.” You kidding? We get to cast Ewan McGregor and now we get to, without hitting it right on the head, explore and expose all of that stuff. Just the fact that he’s driving Miles and it’s the opposite of “Driving Miss Daisy.” He’s Miles’ chauffeur, he’s going around and doing this stuff for him that would let all those other things happen. The flashbacks, or the beating story, the love story, the muse story have a greater resonance. It gives us a bigger understanding of all that stuff. I think it was a brilliant piece of casting, actually. We were very fortunate to have him. Talk about the challenges of playing someone who was very well known and had a larger-than-life public persona. I didn’t want to do mimicry. It’s something that we also kind of bumped up against when we were doing “The Rat Pack.” [In which Cheadle played Sammy Davis Jr.] Our director was saying, “Look, I can get four guys from Vegas who can crush all these parts and sound like these guys and look like them, but I’m trying to get under that and reach something that makes that person tick. That’s way more important to me than you not looking or sounding like Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr.” But there’s a balance. You can go to “I’m Not There” and have a little black kid and a woman play Bob Dylan. You can go all those ways, but we wanted to kind of have Miles Davis, or as close as we could, be the container. His voice is obviously emblematic of who he is; if you’re not doing that it’s hard for people to know who you are. But the way I plugged into that is that his voice became that way because he got in an argument with somebody about money after he had throat surgery and was told not to speak. I can wear that and totally own it and feel completely secure about it. It’s based in something, it comes out of character. All of the other stuff, that’s the container. That’s Miles. The hair, the sunglasses, the attitude. How much were you thinking about the cultural change that was going on around Miles during this time period? Because of course it’s the ‘50s, it’s the Civil Rights era, it’s the chaos of the ‘70s and then it’s the edge of the Reagan years. Again, I didn’t want it to be like about those things, about themes. I wanted it all to be story. We wanted to put that incident in front of Birdland [where Davis was arrested for loitering during a break between gigs], but it still needs to come out of the story we’re telling. It’s because of America, it’s because of racial issues, it’s because of things that if you’re a conscious, sentient being in 2016, we don’t have to go that far to understand. We’re looking at the election right now. You have to just whisper that out there and people will understand what you’re dipping your toe into. For us, it was always also about the story. He rejects Frances, in a way. He rejects the muse. He turns away from that thing which feeds him, and sort of the Greek punishment for that is what happens out on that sidewalk. Don’t get too ahead of yourself. Don’t forget who you are. You step away from me, you’re stepping into that. That was in the storytelling of it. But, yeah, what’s underpinning that is everything that’s happening in the country with race: “I don’t care that you’re on the marquee. I don’t care that in there you’re a big dude. Out here you’re just a nigger on the street smoking a cigarette.” That was a part of who he was too, and I think when you go back into the present-day part of the movie with his edge, you get all that. There’s a lot of protection going on there. He was a very sensitive person, or he couldn’t have created what he created. That music can’t come out of an insensitive soul. That comes through clearly. You explore all of these facets of his personality, but you don’t offer excuses for his worst behavior. It’s not excusable, I don’t think, to the people to whom it’s happening. There’s no excuse that in any way excuses it. But there’s an interesting contract that’s happening [in Miles’ abusive relationship with Frances]. I understand a possessive person, a controlling person, a jealous person saying to someone else, “You have to quit everything you’re doing and support me.” But when the other person says yes to that, it’s like, oh, there’s only one way this can go. To us, the success of that story was that she did run out. That she eventually did say, “I’m out of here.” Not to fling a spoiler into the middle of an interview, but there is one scene between Miles and Frances where the audience is going to be, “Wait, we don’t like this guy now.” Yeah. If she goes down into that basement with him, that’s it, possibly. That might be it. She was good friends with someone else I talked with a lot, and she said, “That day really happened, that’s totally true, and she did know that if she went down those stairs she might not be coming back.” She said, “I just had to get into his insanity and focus it and be the matador for a second and say, ‘This way, bull.’ And he went that way, and I went that way and never came back since.” She sent somebody to get her clothes and that was it. You’ve been outspoken at times about the racial dynamics of Hollywood. I wonder what you made of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s recent argument made the case that the Academy members are, by and large, not racist on an individual level, and that what happened with the Oscars the last two years probably came as a surprise to most of them. How do you read that situation? You know, I have no idea. Without doing a survey of every individual member of the Academy that voted … and knowing that even if you did, who’s going to tell you? The membership is predominantly white and over 50 and men. We can talk all day long about what we believe is better or worse. These are completely subjective determinations. Bias and all of those things always come into play when you’re picking anything. When you’re going to the store to pick mayonnaise or mustard you have a reason why. So it’s impossible for me. I don’t know how people are snubbed. I think you can be snubbed by eight people, if they all decide together not to recognize you. But if we’re talking about 3,000 or 4,000 people or however many people are voting … It feels like a snub is a singular decision made by a collective to not recognize something. That’s how I would feel, anyway. I think it’s very likely that everyone voted for those people that they like and the performances they thought were the best. Now, if they don’t have a frame of reference for “Straight Outta Compton,” which is likely, that doesn’t say anything about “Straight Outta Compton” being good or bad. It says something about their point of view. It says something about their perspective, potentially their bias, potentially how they value what is good or not. “Those aren’t even actors, they just got a bunch of gang-bangers and put them in a movie!” I don’t know what people are thinking, so I guess if you address it with the membership and the membership is more diverse in every way — sex, age, sexual orientation — you may have different things come to the fore. And we may see that if these changes take place. I don’t know that you can say definitively that they’re not racist. I would never say that they are. But I don’t think you can say that they’re not either. We don’t know. It’s like Chris Rock’s whole thing. Is it “lynch you” racism? No. Is it “burn a cross” racism? No. It’s maybe “You’re not quite ready for our sorority” racism. Where does that live, and what does that actually mean? We’re talking about something that starts way back in somebody’s office in Studio X, where they won’t even greenlight you. It’s about what gets made, first and foremost. It’s way more about that for me. It really matters. But perspective matters too, right? In “Beasts of No Nation,” Idris Elba scared the crap out of people, and that generally has not been the way for a black actor to win an Oscar. It’s been about playing someone who is noble and suffering, or playing a criminal who is punished. Playing a really scary African warlord who recruits child soldiers is too frightening. That’s right. And another thing — let’s be honest, we don’t know that everybody is seeing everything. It used to be that you had to go to the Academy, you had to check in, they had to know that you saw that movie and then you could vote for that movie or not. If you get 52 screeners at your house and watch four movies, then you’re voting for people who you like or don’t like. “Did you see ‘The Danish Girl’?” “No, but I think that guy’s a good actor, so I’m gonna vote for him.” I don’t know how these people are making these decisions. The point of the actual Oscar or nomination itself — it matters in the lifeblood of the movie sometimes, it matters in the parlay. I remember when “Hotel Rwanda” came out and we were getting different nominations, I was sitting next to an executive from MGM at the SAG Awards, and we didn’t win any SAG awards. And he said, “If we don’t get any Oscar buzz or nominations, we’re not going to put any more money into the advertising.” I said, “I can hear you. I’m sitting right next to you.” [Laughs.] He’s like, “Oh, yeah. If we don’t get any nominations why would I spend more money?” And that’s the first time I understood that, because before I was like, “Who cares? It’s a pageant.” No, this is critically important for our film to have legs. It’s how the cultural economy functions, and it’s how the real economy functions for these studios. It gives them the ability to put that on the cover of that DVD package. That stuff matters. You see an uptick in money, which allows you to parlay your own career. In that way, that’s important. It’s not about going onstage and somebody handing you something and getting to thank a bunch of people. That’s the furthest from the important part of it. “Miles Ahead” opens this week in New York and Los Angeles, with wider national release to follow.No doubt it’s an obnoxious film-critic cliché to say that there are certain actors who are always worth watching, even in bad movies or mediocre TV series. I mean, if they’re so great, why can’t they make their movies and shows better? Let me ratchet up the obnoxiousness even more by saying that I made this same observation to Don Cheadle over breakfast in New York last week. Because Cheadle is absolutely one of those actors who often seems bigger than his material. He’s an immensely versatile performer who does comedy and drama and action and even self-mockery (as in the Funny or Die “Captain Planet” shorts, or his appearance as himself on “30 Rock”) with unwavering grace and total commitment. Cheadle was an entirely good sport about it, as you’d expect. In person, he’s an elegant, genial fellow who doesn’t give much away. (I said “breakfast,” but the only thing Cheadle ordered was black coffee and a glass of tap water.) But his eyes widened momentarily when I wondered whether he’d ever made a movie with John Malkovich, another suave, distinctive all-purpose actor in that same category. “I would love to do a movie with John,” he said. I suggested that they needed to play a villainous gay couple in a spy thriller or a superhero movie. “Will you please write that movie?” Cheadle said. “I’d do that role in a heartbeat.” There’s my pitch, studio heads! The line forms on the right. In the latest twist of a long and varied career that began with bit parts on “L.A. Law” and “Hill Street Blues” in the mid-‘80s, and includes his starring roles as the ruthless Marty Kaan on Showtime’s “House of Lies” and Col. James Rhodes, aka War Machine, in the Marvel Comics movie-verse, Cheadle has now moved behind the camera. He’s done so in the most challenging way imaginable, as the director, producer and co-writer of the colorful, uproarious and tragicomic biopic “Miles Ahead,” in which he also plays the central character, jazz legend Miles Davis. Selected as the closing-night feature in last fall’s New York Film Festival, “Miles Ahead” is an obvious labor of love, born out of Cheadle’s lifelong obsession with Davis’ groundbreaking music and troubled personal life. Although the movie can’t avoid all the pitfalls of the showbiz biopic, it’s a subtle and complicated example of the form that gracefully weaves together numerous episodes and historical periods, and never seeks to whitewash the more painful aspects of Davis’ story. In the present tense of “Miles Ahead,” it’s about 1980 and the trumpeter has become a Howard Hughes-style recluse, living alone in his New York brownstone buffered by cocaine and alcohol, and refusing to surrender the tapes for his long-contemplated comeback album. A Scottish music journalist played by Ewan McGregor (and we’ll get to the controversy surrounding that role) gets into Davis’ house and at least partway into his confidence, and unleashes numerous adventures along with a stream of almost Fellini-esque reminiscence and association. So Cheadle’s screenplay (written with Steven Baigelman) locates Davis at a personal and professional low point, but weaves in bits and pieces from throughout his remarkable career: the bebop years after World War II, the extraordinary small groups of the early ‘60s, the symphonic orchestrated works created with Gil Evans (Davis himself always preferred “Sketches of Spain” to the immortal 1959 sextet LP “Kind of Blue”) and the then-controversial jazz-rock “fusion” albums of the ‘70s, which alienated much of his middle-class white audience and anticipated musical innovations that still lay ahead. If you’ve ever seen Cheadle act in anything, I hardly need to tell you that he grabs your attention and holds it throughout the film. You could say that Miles Davis is a role he was born to play, but then again Cheadle could play anything. (If given a role as an Irish leprechaun or a Nazi officer, he’d find a way to make you believe it.) He doesn’t look much like Miles Davis, but he captures the musician’s door-creak voice and hesitant body language without making it feel like mimicry. To give a performance this layered and complex and unstinting while also directing the film around it, which is risky and imaginative and full of life, testifies to impressive powers of concentration. “Miles Ahead” is just one movie, and Don Cheadle obviously can’t be the answer to Hollywood’s racial problems all by himself. I sure hope he gets to direct another one; John Malkovich is out there waiting. The show business biopic is such a well-established genre: You have to tell some of the person’s life story and yet you don’t want to fall into a whole series of psychological and narrative clichés. How did you approach that problem? I guess I did wrestle with this, off and on, during the writing of the piece. How much are you beholden to payoff? How far away from it can you go and still bring people along? At the end of the day, when I was speaking with Miles’ family, who were the people that in some way I cared the most about, I said I wanted to do something that was in the spirit of Miles Davis as a creative artist. Not as much as trying to do something that would either be some kind of a love letter to him or the Cliff Notes of his life where people could walk out of the theatre and go, “Well, OK, now I know everything about Miles Davis. Next thing.” I wanted to do something as a storyteller that felt like my experience of Miles Davis as I listened to his music, as I read about his life. Something that was more experiential than didactic or informational. You accomplish this marvelous but sometimes disorienting feeling in the film, where we’re never quite sure where we are with relation to reality, fantasy and memory. Was that something you started with, that idea, or did it emerge from making the film? We started with an idea of this person, one of the most prolific voices in the 20th century living this sort of Howard Hughes life. Herbie Hancock [Davis’ longtime pianist] would say he would come to the house, knock on the door and Miles would open it a crack and ask Herbie to go buy stuff for him. He’d bring him something back and he’d say, “Thanks,” and he’d shut the door and he wouldn’t see him again for weeks. How does that happen? And once you’re in there, does he come out of it? Does he stay in it? So that just became a point of departure. And without trying to sound too grandiose, I wanted a meditation on a person as opposed to some record of him. When you’re coming at it from that angle, it’s about where does memory move toward reality, or history become fantasy. The boundaries are very porous. You can move back and forth and everything makes sense, so Miles can be thinking about Frances [his ballerina ex-wife, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi], and she can pirouette and start to fall, and then Dave [McGregor’s character] can finish her fall, because this is all really the container for a musician going “I’m going to tell you how to tell this story.” And puts his horn to his lips and blows the story. This is his performance of his story, his telling of his story through music. Within that, yeah there are rules, there’s a container but it’s permeable and you can move through stuff. You made this film in collaboration with the Davis estate, with his family. So at least you didn’t wind up in the same situation as John Ridley, who made a film about Jimi Hendrix where we never hear “Purple Haze.” So you got access to the music, but that also put a certain responsibility on you. You didn’t want to write a love letter or cover over the ugly parts. I’m not going to say it was just a glide path, because there were a couple “come to Jesus” moments where there was a meeting with Erin, Cheryl and Ben [Davis’ children] a couple of times and they had to be like, “Yo what are you gonna do now?” [Laughs.] Once it became real and we finally got our financing and we’re going. It’s like, “So — you’re really going to do that?” It’s one thing when it’s theoretical, it’s another when you’re actually in the process of doing it. Erin and I go off together sometimes. I remember we were writing and I was pitching the idea and she’s like, “Are you going to talk about John Coltrane at all? What about when he met Bird [Charlie Parker] and left Juilliard? What about when he went from modal to fusion? Aren’t you going to talk about any of those moments?” I said, “All of that music will be represented in the movie. But I want to use it cinematically. And let the music be apart of a story as opposed to going, ‘Now let’s make sure we’re locked into 1967 so that we can talk about the second supergroup. Let’s make sure in 1958 we know that was Cannonball Adderley and that’s John Coltrane.’” I personally care about those things, as someone who’s interested in his life, but I don’t know how that’s inherently dramatic, it just sounds like we’re trying to give information. Right. You’re not making a film for the DownBeat magazine connoisseur audience. Yeah, the 3 percent of people that really, really know Miles Davis. I used to walk around all the time and just take a poll. “Miles Davis — what do you know about him? Who is he?” And people go, “Jazz guy right?” And I go, “OK! Got one right.” What did he play? There was a 30 percent drop-off there and then I’d go, “Trumpet.” And people would say, “Oh, OK. Is he the guy who blew his cheeks out?” [Laughs.] Very few people knew a lot about Miles Davis, but for those who do know then it’s wall to wall, the deep tracks of Miles Davis stuff. “Junior” was Miles Davis nickname when he first got to the town. His wife is Irene, his kid is Cheryl. That’s Miles’ first wife, it’s all in there really, we tried to do stuff for everybody. People who really knew him, but mostly for people who knew nothing at all. As I was talking to Erin, I said, “We could do this version of it where I do all of those things that you say or we could do something that feels like this. Which do you think your dad would want? You think he’d want to be in this sort of a gangster-crazy movie, or do you think he’d want to be in a version of those movies that he’s gone on record as saying he doesn’t like?” Well, I was fascinated by your decision to focus on that “darker” Miles period, in the ‘80s, which I can remember. I was exactly the kind of white boy who was obsessed with Miles Davis, but I assumed that a lot of the stories about how crazy he was and all the stuff he was doing were apocryphal. Your movie makes it sound like it really was that crazy. How much of the story you tell is true? Almost all of it. Like any good biopic, things are elided and characters are omitted. Things that happened this place, we make happen in another place. Dave is an amalgam of many different people that were in Miles’ life at that time. I’ve never really wanted to go down the list and fact-check it for everybody, but it’s easy to do. There’s tons you can read. You can read his autobiography with Quincy Troupe, you can read an article with Alex Hayes. There’s tons of places where you can go find what really happened. Again, we wanted to take the puzzle of his life, cut his life into a bunch of puzzle pieces and then throw it in the air, and then reconstitute it in to be a story. I’ve had the pleasure to sit next to a few people I’ve depicted in movies. I was with Paul Rusesabagina when we shot “Hotel Rwanda.” I was with Earl Manigault when we did “The Goat.” We did the Petey Greene story, and I was sitting next to the man who played his best friend and we shoot these scenes and I go, “So, Paul, you like that?” And he’d be all “Well you know … he wasn’t really there, it happened over there.” [Laughs.] I said, “If we’re gonna do this, I don’t want to be coy. Let’s go all the way and do something that feels like Miles Davis.” One of the stories I heard many different times, was that there was a store around the corner and Miles said to his manager one day, “I’ve always wanted to rob this store.” He’s like, “OK.” So he went into the store and says, “Hey, Miles would like to hold you guys up.” They’re like “Oh, Miles Davis? Sure, sure.” Miles comes in, holds them up, they give him all the money, he goes out and gives it to his manager and his manager goes back and gives it back to the guy. Stuff like that happened around him a lot. In various ways this movie suggests that Miles’ turn to electronic fusion in “Bitches Brew” and some of his subsequent projects, which was so controversial in the ‘70s, was actually way ahead of its time. I wouldn’t argue that those albums were perfect … I don’t think he would either. He didn’t think that about “Kind of Blue,” which is insane. He’s like, “Eh, we got close, it wasn’t exactly what I was trying to do. I was going for some other kind of sound, but it’s cool. The record’s cool.” [Laughs.] Do you have that sense about his later music, that he was pushing for something that wouldn’t actually happen until later? I think he always was. That’s what I thought about all his music, that he was always chasing something that he heard that not everybody else around him was hearing. And that he appreciated when people were doing the same thing, which is why he let Coltrane play for 20 minutes. He’s like, “He’s looking for something, he’s trying to fucking find something.” People are like, “Why do you let this guy go on for so long?” He’d say, “Because he’s working something out. And I appreciate that, I like that. Let him go until he gets to it.” He created space for everybody else to do that. That’s why all those guys, whoever he played with went on to be leaders in their own right, and he was always chasing it. You listen to “Bitches Brew” — that album sounds like it’s coming together and falling apart all at the same time. Here’s a dude who’s showing you how the sausage is made, which to me is the highest respect you can give to the listener. “I’m not going to give you my prepackaged thing, completely finished with a bow on it.” He’s like “I’m going to bring you into what it sounds like for us to figure some shit out.” The journey is the destination, right? Yeah. “Deconstructionist” is an overused term in criticism, but it fits in this case. It feels like Miles was trying to do that in his music. I agree. All the time. Every album, no matter how we want to see it, how the record company wants to put it out — for Miles that was always in process and you hear it. There’s a song on “Quiet Nights” where he plays this really beautiful ballad, and as the last note is lingering and the drummer hits the last brushes on the snare, as soon as he finishes, he’s like, “Play that back! Play that back!” There’s no reverie, he’s like, “Next fucking song.” He lets you see the bad-haircut days, you know what I mean? He lets you go through it, like “Eh, that wasn’t so good, but the next one might be.” I saw him in the “We Want Miles” tour [circa 1981]. And right there, if you look at that band, you’re like, “What’s he doing?” Of course he’s trying to do stuff with a rock guitar player and an African percussionist, and a nouveau-jazz clarinetist and a funk bass player and an R&B drummer. He’s trying to put a group together to spit out something that no one’s ever heard before, including himself. I think about stuff that came out just a little bit later, toward the end of his career or shortly after his death: A Tribe Called Quest, or the Roots. Groups that wouldn’t have been possible in an era when rock and hip-hop and R&B and jazz were understood as separate realms. Yeah. You got a tuba in your band? You can’t have a tuba. [Laughs.] They all sit on the shoulders of that kind of experimentation and that way of putting music together, which I would think started with his Gil Evans period, the nonet, Miles +13 or +14. Just different: a bassoon and a French horn, a sousaphone but no piano. Letting those instruments play the chords against what you’re soloing, or breaking your solos into parts. It just was a very different way to compose music. This is something I’ve spoken to Wynton Marsalis about. He says, “People always want to talk shit about Miles because he stopped playing jazz. Because he never said that’s what he did.” Out of his own mouth he said, “I’m not a jazz musician. I play ‘social music.’ I play the music of the time. I’m trying to deal with the sonics that are in front of me. I’m not trying to play old shit I played 40 years ago. I did that.” It just really shows you people’s need to compartmentalize. There’s this nostalgic thing about it too. “No! You’re the music to my first make-out session in the back seat. It’s not that! When I want that other thing, I listen to AC/DC or Hendrix.” How many different looks do you think of when you think of Miles Davis? How many different styles? The cars, the women? He was always changing everything, so when you look at the whole picture I think you’re looking at a man who was in constant flux. So it makes perfect sense that he would try everything. It’s bad on us that we’re going, “But you’re this. You need to stay like that.” Now I have to ask you about those reports that you were pressured to put a white sidekick in the movie, and that’s how Ewan McGregor’s role wound up in there? When I talked about that after the #OscarsSoWhite thing, I thought, Oh, everybody’s gonna seize on that.” It wasn’t a white actor specifically, no one actually specifically said those words. But me and my team knew what was being said although it was not actually being said. What’s being said is, “You need an international piece of casting that can allow you to sell the film overseas.” We could’ve gotten a Japanese actor if we needed Japanese money. We could’ve gotten a big French actor, set it in France and gotten French investors. We needed another piece of casting that would allow us to sell to international markets, and more often than not, that piece of casting is a white actor. That’s just the way it is. It’s a reality. And in fact you were able to use Ewan’s character to play with some of the racial and perceptual issues we’ve been talking about. How the purist jazz audience of that time, which was predominantly white, viewed Miles and his music. Absolutely. I think it was nothing but additive. There was no, sort of, “Oh fuck, now we gotta cast Ewan McGregor.” You kidding? We get to cast Ewan McGregor and now we get to, without hitting it right on the head, explore and expose all of that stuff. Just the fact that he’s driving Miles and it’s the opposite of “Driving Miss Daisy.” He’s Miles’ chauffeur, he’s going around and doing this stuff for him that would let all those other things happen. The flashbacks, or the beating story, the love story, the muse story have a greater resonance. It gives us a bigger understanding of all that stuff. I think it was a brilliant piece of casting, actually. We were very fortunate to have him. Talk about the challenges of playing someone who was very well known and had a larger-than-life public persona. I didn’t want to do mimicry. It’s something that we also kind of bumped up against when we were doing “The Rat Pack.” [In which Cheadle played Sammy Davis Jr.] Our director was saying, “Look, I can get four guys from Vegas who can crush all these parts and sound like these guys and look like them, but I’m trying to get under that and reach something that makes that person tick. That’s way more important to me than you not looking or sounding like Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr.” But there’s a balance. You can go to “I’m Not There” and have a little black kid and a woman play Bob Dylan. You can go all those ways, but we wanted to kind of have Miles Davis, or as close as we could, be the container. His voice is obviously emblematic of who he is; if you’re not doing that it’s hard for people to know who you are. But the way I plugged into that is that his voice became that way because he got in an argument with somebody about money after he had throat surgery and was told not to speak. I can wear that and totally own it and feel completely secure about it. It’s based in something, it comes out of character. All of the other stuff, that’s the container. That’s Miles. The hair, the sunglasses, the attitude. How much were you thinking about the cultural change that was going on around Miles during this time period? Because of course it’s the ‘50s, it’s the Civil Rights era, it’s the chaos of the ‘70s and then it’s the edge of the Reagan years. Again, I didn’t want it to be like about those things, about themes. I wanted it all to be story. We wanted to put that incident in front of Birdland [where Davis was arrested for loitering during a break between gigs], but it still needs to come out of the story we’re telling. It’s because of America, it’s because of racial issues, it’s because of things that if you’re a conscious, sentient being in 2016, we don’t have to go that far to understand. We’re looking at the election right now. You have to just whisper that out there and people will understand what you’re dipping your toe into. For us, it was always also about the story. He rejects Frances, in a way. He rejects the muse. He turns away from that thing which feeds him, and sort of the Greek punishment for that is what happens out on that sidewalk. Don’t get too ahead of yourself. Don’t forget who you are. You step away from me, you’re stepping into that. That was in the storytelling of it. But, yeah, what’s underpinning that is everything that’s happening in the country with race: “I don’t care that you’re on the marquee. I don’t care that in there you’re a big dude. Out here you’re just a nigger on the street smoking a cigarette.” That was a part of who he was too, and I think when you go back into the present-day part of the movie with his edge, you get all that. There’s a lot of protection going on there. He was a very sensitive person, or he couldn’t have created what he created. That music can’t come out of an insensitive soul. That comes through clearly. You explore all of these facets of his personality, but you don’t offer excuses for his worst behavior. It’s not excusable, I don’t think, to the people to whom it’s happening. There’s no excuse that in any way excuses it. But there’s an interesting contract that’s happening [in Miles’ abusive relationship with Frances]. I understand a possessive person, a controlling person, a jealous person saying to someone else, “You have to quit everything you’re doing and support me.” But when the other person says yes to that, it’s like, oh, there’s only one way this can go. To us, the success of that story was that she did run out. That she eventually did say, “I’m out of here.” Not to fling a spoiler into the middle of an interview, but there is one scene between Miles and Frances where the audience is going to be, “Wait, we don’t like this guy now.” Yeah. If she goes down into that basement with him, that’s it, possibly. That might be it. She was good friends with someone else I talked with a lot, and she said, “That day really happened, that’s totally true, and she did know that if she went down those stairs she might not be coming back.” She said, “I just had to get into his insanity and focus it and be the matador for a second and say, ‘This way, bull.’ And he went that way, and I went that way and never came back since.” She sent somebody to get her clothes and that was it. You’ve been outspoken at times about the racial dynamics of Hollywood. I wonder what you made of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s recent argument made the case that the Academy members are, by and large, not racist on an individual level, and that what happened with the Oscars the last two years probably came as a surprise to most of them. How do you read that situation? You know, I have no idea. Without doing a survey of every individual member of the Academy that voted … and knowing that even if you did, who’s going to tell you? The membership is predominantly white and over 50 and men. We can talk all day long about what we believe is better or worse. These are completely subjective determinations. Bias and all of those things always come into play when you’re picking anything. When you’re going to the store to pick mayonnaise or mustard you have a reason why. So it’s impossible for me. I don’t know how people are snubbed. I think you can be snubbed by eight people, if they all decide together not to recognize you. But if we’re talking about 3,000 or 4,000 people or however many people are voting … It feels like a snub is a singular decision made by a collective to not recognize something. That’s how I would feel, anyway. I think it’s very likely that everyone voted for those people that they like and the performances they thought were the best. Now, if they don’t have a frame of reference for “Straight Outta Compton,” which is likely, that doesn’t say anything about “Straight Outta Compton” being good or bad. It says something about their point of view. It says something about their perspective, potentially their bias, potentially how they value what is good or not. “Those aren’t even actors, they just got a bunch of gang-bangers and put them in a movie!” I don’t know what people are thinking, so I guess if you address it with the membership and the membership is more diverse in every way — sex, age, sexual orientation — you may have different things come to the fore. And we may see that if these changes take place. I don’t know that you can say definitively that they’re not racist. I would never say that they are. But I don’t think you can say that they’re not either. We don’t know. It’s like Chris Rock’s whole thing. Is it “lynch you” racism? No. Is it “burn a cross” racism? No. It’s maybe “You’re not quite ready for our sorority” racism. Where does that live, and what does that actually mean? We’re talking about something that starts way back in somebody’s office in Studio X, where they won’t even greenlight you. It’s about what gets made, first and foremost. It’s way more about that for me. It really matters. But perspective matters too, right? In “Beasts of No Nation,” Idris Elba scared the crap out of people, and that generally has not been the way for a black actor to win an Oscar. It’s been about playing someone who is noble and suffering, or playing a criminal who is punished. Playing a really scary African warlord who recruits child soldiers is too frightening. That’s right. And another thing — let’s be honest, we don’t know that everybody is seeing everything. It used to be that you had to go to the Academy, you had to check in, they had to know that you saw that movie and then you could vote for that movie or not. If you get 52 screeners at your house and watch four movies, then you’re voting for people who you like or don’t like. “Did you see ‘The Danish Girl’?” “No, but I think that guy’s a good actor, so I’m gonna vote for him.” I don’t know how these people are making these decisions. The point of the actual Oscar or nomination itself — it matters in the lifeblood of the movie sometimes, it matters in the parlay. I remember when “Hotel Rwanda” came out and we were getting different nominations, I was sitting next to an executive from MGM at the SAG Awards, and we didn’t win any SAG awards. And he said, “If we don’t get any Oscar buzz or nominations, we’re not going to put any more money into the advertising.” I said, “I can hear you. I’m sitting right next to you.” [Laughs.] He’s like, “Oh, yeah. If we don’t get any nominations why would I spend more money?” And that’s the first time I understood that, because before I was like, “Who cares? It’s a pageant.” No, this is critically important for our film to have legs. It’s how the cultural economy functions, and it’s how the real economy functions for these studios. It gives them the ability to put that on the cover of that DVD package. That stuff matters. You see an uptick in money, which allows you to parlay your own career. In that way, that’s important. It’s not about going onstage and somebody handing you something and getting to thank a bunch of people. That’s the furthest from the important part of it. “Miles Ahead” opens this week in New York and Los Angeles, with wider national release to follow.

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“It’s not a cult!”: Scientology looms large over “The Path,” a sexy new drama about faith and doubt

The first episode of “The Path” is the hardest, which is ironic, because in all likelihood, the first step of the show’s proverbial path—the first step of the cult of Meyerism, “The Path”’s Scientology-like “religious” “movement”—is the easiest. The seductive qualities of Meyerism’s shining ladder—the members are all identified by which rung they’ve “attained,” be it 1R, 6R, or 10R—are the most communitarian and positive at the start, when they find ways to help you cope with the regular horrors of life. It’s midway that the trouble starts; politics, manipulation, shaken belief, and the systematic ostracization of those who don’t share Meyerism’s way of life. Which is why, to the viewer, just living in this world with these characters, no matter how well-drawn or beautifully crafted, is extraordinarily difficult. “The Path” puts its viewers through the paces of the daily life of cult living with such intimacy that it is hard to not feel the itchy restlessness of getting in too deep, or the feeling, on the back of your neck, that someone is about to corral you with an immovable yoke. The characters speak in institutional abbreviations and significant-sounding verbs; an “I.S.” is someone outside the cult, to “unburden” is to speak the truth or express full feelings, an “offset” is the good deeds a devotee does to make up for “bad” behavior. At the very least, the characters’ willingness to be wrapped up in what is clearly the self-interested ideology of a cult is bewildering and even angering. In one scene, family man (and 6R) Eddie (Aaron Paul, of “Breaking Bad” fame) reads a picture book to his daughter titled “The Ladder,” one that explains, via cheery illustrations, that the whole world is lies—except the path, of course. “The Path” is not just about the hypocrisies of its fake cult, though. The first episode opens on Mary (Emma Greenwell), a heroin addict who is rescued from a storm-ravaged landscape and taken to the cult’s compound in upstate New York. She is offered water, medical treatment, blankets, and—when she goes into withdrawal—counseling for her addiction. There are strings attached to the help she’s given, of course. But the renewed hope and self-possession Mary feels is very real, even if the path’s faraway promise of immortality (probably) isn’t. And this is one of “The Path”’s basic strengths. Throughout the show, as the origin stories of more and more characters come to light, it is difficult to find cynical fault with any of them—because yes, the world is pretty terrible, and anything you can find to cope with that, or otherwise help you survive it, is well within your rights. The believers of Meyerism include abuse survivors, abandoned kids, traumatized victims of gun violence, and recovering addicts, and if they find solace with something called the Ladder, well, whatever. What’s most off-putting about the world of “The Path” isn’t the newcomers; it’s the deeply indoctrinated, the higher-up rung-sitters who have more and more to lose. And this is where we find Eddie (Paul) and his wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), the poster children for a happy and functional Meyerist family. Their two children are joined by Sarah’s substantial extended family, who are all also in the cult; their evening prayer, chanted in unison while holding hands, takes long, weird minutes to complete. They work for and live on the compound; they have almost no connection with the outside world. Their children are required to go to school, but at the start of the series, their 15-year-old Hawk (Kyle Allen, a dead ringer for a young Heath Ledger) is asking if he can drop out of high school to take his vows early. And in their world, the world of the somewhat seasoned Meyerist, the combination of performatively unshakable belief and devious, manipulative acts becomes all the more pronounced. No one in the cult bats an eye at the idea of a member spending 14 days in solitary confinement, being interrogated by a higher-up cult member. The “medicine” handed out to the devotees is ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drug that makes its users feel mystically connected to the universe. The members truly believe that their founder, the original Dr. Meyer, is immortal, and “transcribing the last three rungs of the ladder” at their outpost in Cuzco, Peru. It’s a bunch of New Age bullshit, but as the show demonstrates, it’s New Age bullshit with teeth. People’s lives are ruined when they run afoul of Meyerism’s teachings. A woman is pulled from her home and tossed into solitary confinement. The cult sends strapping, tall believers to rough up threats or drag wayward addicts back to the path. And when another woman tries to leave the cult, she is stalked, mercilessly, albeit with a devotional smile and a hand reached out in fraternity. The impending crisis for Meyerism—and it’s one that has affected many religious movements, including both Scientology and Christianity—is that its leader is about to die. The great Dr. Meyer is believed to be immortal by his congregants, but he is in fact dying slowly on a hospital bed in Cuzco. And even though it’s kind of insane that they really thought he wasn’t going to die, the unsettling news, as it trickles down to the believers, begins to wreak havoc on this community built entirely on faith. Above all, “The Path” is interested less in why people believe—that’s a question more for HBO’s “The Leftovers”—and more in how they process faith’s ever-present twin, doubt. So as Meyerism’s realities punch through its glittering myths, all of the characters who are old enough and advanced enough to understand the truth begin to embody different ways of coping. Eddie opts for doubt, serving Jesse-Pinkman-devastation with his usual bewitching vulnerability. Sarah opts for even more radical belief, clinging to the ideals of the cult she was born into with a devotion that begins to look like desperation. And Cal (Hugh Dancy)—Sarah’s former lover, and the highest-runged member on the East Coast—opts for the most terrifying path of all; a descent into self-denying and self-obsessed consolidation of power. Dancy, is, in short, playing a fictional version of what has been reported about David Miscavige, the current leader of the Church of Scientology. Miscavige has, to put it most mildly, has been dogged by controversy for his extreme practices, including the suggested forced imprisonment and/or exile of his wife, Shelley. The details are different enough that probably no one can be sued—indeed, “The Path” makes sure to reference Scientology, in order to distinguish Meyerism from it. But the parallel is easy to draw. As Dancy plays him, Cal is a pained, ruined, desperate man, capable of great violence and great humanity. When the series starts, he is an unassuming, loserish type, drifting on the margins of Sarah’s marriage with Eddie, sniffing around for an opening. By midseason, he’s a murderous wreck, doling out punishments and making them sound like gifts. He’s so high up in the organization that he knows all of its secrets, but that only seems to strengthen his belief in Meyerism; when it comes out that he came to the compound as a 5-year-old boy, tasked with handing out pamphlets from that young age, it becomes clear that Cal has to believe in Meyerism, whatever it ends up being, because that is literally all he has in his life. A nice character beat pops up when he’s driving around in his car; he listens to self-help tapes describing alpha male dominance in the animal kingdom as an analogue for success and power in the real world. His incredibly creepy liaison with addict and refugee Mary is one of feeding off of her childlike admiration for him, with every disturbing implication that raises. Eddie and Sarah, meanwhile, are at a crossroads at their marriage, without fully realizing it; Sarah is a singularly tiresome woman of faith, and Eddie is getting all of the tiresome parts of her now that he’s grappling with nagging doubts. “The Path” is not a particularly funny show, which can make it hard to watch, but it is—unexpectedly, perhaps—a surprisingly sexy show. Paul and Monaghan barely have chemistry while speaking, but in their frequent lovemaking, they are able to exhibit the almost teenage passion that first brought them together. Showrunner and creator Jessica Goldberg came up under “Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights” showrunner Jason Katims (who is also an executive producer for “The Path”), and it shows: The family intimacy and sincere empathy for the trials of everyone under Eddie and Sarah’s roof smack of the community-oriented, regular-people dramas that have defined Katims’ career. One of the most affecting plots in the show is Hawk’s crush on a classmate, simply because it is treated with such breathless, innocent joy. And hearkening to that history of beloved network shows, “The Path” does not feel like a run-of-the-mill streaming-platform drama, which often have poor episode definition and result in saggy, overlong seasons. It could stand a touch more editing, probably. But if anything, “The Path”’s individual episodes of the five I watched have stronger beginnings and endings than HBO’s “Vinyl” or Fox’s “Empire.” Despite having a lot of creative freedom, the show is pointedly well-made—from the way certain religious experiences are filmed, which lend them that bewildering, otherworldly quality that is so seductive, to even the sound mixing in some scenes that creates a soundscape backing the characters that reminded me, incongruously, of Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color.” I do tire of shows that are so gloomily serious that watching them feels like taking a shot of strychnine—remember how funny “The Sopranos” was? “The Wire”?—but with “The Path,” the lack of humor seems deliberate, instead of a way to grasp at the atmosphere of “prestige drama.” (The funniest thing that ever happens in the show is the repeated line, when an outsider calls Meyerism a cult, to reply, with pained indignation: “It’s not a cult!”) The characters have trouble laughing because they believe themselves to be a somewhat beleaguered minority of truth-tellers; what they express instead is a whole lot of sexual energy, which is, I guess, one way to do it. I’m interested to see where “The Path” goes with its musings, because although it took me a while to accept the premise of the show, I cannot deny that it is well-made and thoughtful, if mostly concerned with the thoughts and feelings of very frustrating people. I imagine that “The Path”’s lawyers are working very hard to separate the show from Scientology, staving off lawsuits however they see fit; to my mind, though, the show attains actual relevance because it does hit so close to reports about the actual institution. As long as we are living alongside and tolerating a powerful religion with any number of reported abuses to its name—indeed, in a world where we live alongside religious fanatics of every stripe, including the militant atheists—it is perennially involving to wonder why people believe the way that they do. Sometimes faith feels like the most explored facet of human nature, and sometimes it feels like the only facet that still is a complete mystery.

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“Blue Velvet”’s mystery of masculinity: How David Lynch’s masterwork reshaped American consciousness

Right about the midpoint of David Lynch’s 1986 breakthrough “Blue Velvet” — and given Lynch’s structural obsessions, it may literally be the midpoint — there is a brief sequence that captures this powerful, disorienting film and all its themes in miniature. It begins when Frank Booth, the psychotic, charismatic antihero played by Dennis Hopper, turns and looks at the audience (he certainly isn’t speaking to any specific person) and announces, “I’ll fuck anything that moves!” Then Frank disappears, literally. The room where he’s standing, in a dreary apartment Frank has described as “pussy heaven,” is seen empty for a second or two. I don’t know if I have the shot order right, but then the scene shifts and we get a number of shots in rapid succession: the double yellow line on a rural highway; the front grill of Frank’s Dodge Charger; Frank’s sweaty face, looking demented or ecstatic; the face of our hero, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), looking nervous; the movie’s femme fatale, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), wedged between two guys in the back seat; and the speedometer as it nudges above 100 mph. The bad guy, the good guy, the dangerous girl and a fast car on a midnight ride. All the most alluring, addictive and ambiguous elements of American cinema, in about six seconds. I’m old enough to remember the impact “Blue Velvet” had on its initial release, and I was already old enough then to have screwed-up relationships. I was mad because my then-girlfriend went to see it with another guy, so I was determined to have a bad opinion of the film: Oh, sure, a dreamlike, perverse and erotic crime thriller from the director of “Eraserhead,” starring the counterculture hero of “Easy Rider” and the gorgeous daughter of a legendary Italian filmmaker! How good could that be? To make matters worse, one of my roommates, a crazy, chain-smoking French girl I never successfully slept with, came home from seeing it completely freaked out, and electrified, and made me stay up all night so she could tell me what a horrible and amazing experience it was. I tried to fact-check this anecdote with another ex-roommate, who was then her boyfriend, and he reports that she actually walked out of the movie after the scene when Jeffrey hides in the closet and watches Frank and Dorothy have kinky sex that’s right on the border between consensual BDSM and rape. So he was mad at the time, and now he’s going to be mad at me for saying that I wanted to sleep with his girlfriend, 30 years ago. This is how “Blue Velvet” messes up people’s lives. Anyway, at some point I went to see “Blue Velvet” myself, however resentfully, and of course I was traumatized and blown away. In terms of alternative culture during the Reagan year — not just independent film but fashion and visual art and overall psychic Zeitgeist — there was before “Blue Velvet” and there was after. Consider Frank’s immortal line of dialogue: “Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!” We are still dealing with the effects of that decades later, when recent college graduates in Williamsburg and Austin and Echo Park know that they are supposed to drink the crappy, watery beer with the awesome logo design, but don’t really know why. (Heineken is of course much better beer. Hell, Coors is better beer.) Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” which came along eight years later, was both a more popular film and more widely imitated. It was easier to imitate, for one thing, but I don’t think “Pulp Fiction” has anywhere near the mysterious psychological profundity of “Blue Velvet,” or that its effects were ultimately as far-reaching. Lynch and Tarantino are far more different than similar, but there is certainly some overlap: Both translated a set of arcane 20th-century artistic and cinematic references into the language of post-boomer pop culture, and both created works that became poles of an ambiguous new American canon. Lynch often talks in interviews about his love for “movies that make you dream,” often referring back to 1960s European art films his fans quite likely have not seen. (This is shorthand, but if Tarantino is the offspring of Jean-Luc Godard, Lynch’s parentage leads to Bergman and Fellini.) In one sense, that’s Lynch’s admission that he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing or why he’s doing it when he makes a film. “Blue Velvet” bears more resemblance to normal narrative cinema than several of the Lynch movies that followed it, including “Lost Highway,” “Mulholland Drive” (subject of this legendary exegesis published on Salon) and the nearly impenetrable “Inland Empire.” It has a hero and a villain, a blonde and a brunette, and a slowly unfolding criminal mystery that almost makes sense. But the seeds of those ambiguous, shape-shifting and often nightmarish later works are clearly visible in “Blue Velvet” now, and its similarity to a classic American crime movie is deceptive. “Blue Velvet” treats crime cinema as a dream spun from the collective American unconscious; it both evoked the dream state and shaped the dreams of everyone who watched it. I recently watched the spectacular 30th-anniversary digital restoration of “Blue Velvet” at New York’s Film Forum, where it opened this weekend. (Other cities and dates will follow, and it’s safe to assume a home-video rerelease is in the works.) I think I saw the film on VHS at some point in the ‘90s, but I hadn’t seen it projected since the original release. Yes, the cars and the hairstyles look dated — Frank Booth’s American-hoodlum wardrobe remains timeless — but even after 30 years of quotation and emulation, “Blue Velvet” is as powerful and strange as ever. It doesn’t feel contemporary, exactly, but it never did. Lynch’s vision of polymorphous, perverse, gender-blurred sexuality was far ahead of its time in 1986, and remains so in a different register today, in our neo-Puritan age of terminological caution and mandatory sensitivity. Rather than write another review of one of the most discussed and debated films ever made, I bounced a few questions and observations off my friend Martha P. Nochimson, a critic and scholar who knows Lynch and has interviewed him numerous times. Martha has published two outstanding books that illuminate his life and his films: “The Passion of David Lynch,” on the director’s early years, up to and including and foray into Hollywood with the 1990 “Wild at Heart,” and “David Lynch Swerves,” which focuses on the later, more disorienting works that followed. Even where I disagree with Martha’s opinions or interpretations, or especially then, she compels me to see things in this director, and his 1986 masterwork, that I hadn’t seen before. Martha, I will start with the obvious observation that in “Blue Velvet,” David Lynch employs or evokes many of the symbols or plot devices of film noir, but the end product barely resembles noir at all. There is a hero drawn into the criminal underworld, a good girl (fair) and a bad girl (dark), a charismatic but dangerous antihero. I could go on: the bad girl is a nightclub singer, the bad guy has a fast car that expresses sexual potency, there’s an elaborate criminal scheme that makes no sense, and for unexplained reasons the protagonist descends into creepy erotic obsession. What do you see in the film that helps Lynch both fulfill all these conventions of American crime cinema and also leave them behind? Applying the conventions of noir to Lynch loses both the poetry and originality of Lynch and the power of noir. The dark, dangerous woman and the fair, nurturing girl are longstanding literary conventions — but not of noir. The essential femme fatale of noir is not always dark. Does the name Elsa Bannister strike a familiar chord? [She is the title character played by Rita Hayworth in Orson Welles’ “The Lady From Shanghai.”] And there aren’t always the dark and light pair. See the same film for reference, and many more. The noir hero tends to be world-weary and deeply scarred when he meets the femme fatale. [Whereas Jeffrey Beaumont, the character played by Kyle MacLachlan in “Blue Velvet,” is innocent and unworldly.] But what is constant in noir is that all the problems of the world are linked to female sexuality. The opposite is true in “Blue Velvet.” The darkness Jeffrey finds is in masculinity — Frank and his minions. Nor are Sandy [Laura Dern] and Dorothy [Rossellini] neatly polarized. Dorothy is sensual but overwhelmed. Sandy is naive but strong, and has her own connections to darkness. That’s where she emerges for Jeffrey. That said, this movie is not the anti-noir either. When Lynch says that 90 percent of the time he doesn’t know what he’s found he’s not kidding. That’s how artists work. It’s craftsmen-storytellers who intentionally work within and against conventions. For Lynch, there is only vision, and all he has seen or heard will be used by his vision. But to reduce “Blue Velvet” to familiar fragments that have gotten caught up in his vision is to be estranged from the film. And what is the vision of “Blue Velvet?” The mystery of masculinity, which reaches critical mass in Meadow Lane when Frank tells Jeffrey: “You’re like me.” Well, that’s one of the questions and challenges people keep posing to Jeffrey, which present an intriguing pattern and speak to the dreamlike quality of the film, and the dream logic of the storytelling. On this viewing, I felt strongly that the performances of the supporting cast — his older female relatives, or Detective Williams, the cop who is also Sandy’s dad, or Mike, Sandy’s ridiculous letterman boyfriend — are intentionally flat or blank. It has the effect of suggesting that those people don’t matter or aren’t quite real, and makes the four principal characters (Jeffrey, Sandy, Dorothy and Frank) stand out even more. One way to interpret the narrative, it seems to me, is that the severed ear Jeffrey finds in a field is like the rabbit hole of “Alice in Wonderland,” a portal or passage into a symbolic realm that may not be the same one where Jeffrey’s story begins. Sandy asks Jeffrey, “Are you a detective or a pervert?” He does not answer the question. Dorothy Vallens asks him “Do you like me?” — but only after she has seduced him into sexual acts that, at least officially, he doesn’t want to perform. (The real question might be whether Jeffrey likes himself.) Frank asks Jeffrey whether he wants to go for a ride, and whether he has ever been to “Pussy Heaven.” (That one cracks me up, partly because of how profoundly unsexy Pussy Heaven turns out to be.) Again, the answers to both questions are officially no, but out in the audience we know better. One of the oddest and most striking moments in the film comes when Jeffrey says to Sandy, “You’re a neat girl,” and she responds without hesitation, “So are you.” It takes a full beat before she corrects herself, and she seems confused about why she said that. You just mentioned “the mystery of masculinity” as the central issue. Sandy’s strange response suggests that Jeffrey is literally “unmanned,” and that this story presents a realm where heterosexual, monogamous norms of sexuality and gender have been overthrown. What gender is Jeffrey? Are his two female lovers different people or the same person? Is Frank straight, gay or bisexual? Is Dorothy abused and victimized, or a woman exploring her sexuality? Those questions don’t have answers, partly because Lynch never offers us any moral high ground or platform of narrative certainty from which to render such verdicts. Let’s go back to the line I quoted above. In the original script for “Blue Velvet,” what Frank tells Jeffrey before the beating in Meadow Lane is “You like me.” But in the filmed scene it sounds like, “You’re like me.” Lynch was receptive to a happy accident that enlivened his art, and either re-recorded the line to make it clearer or kept the mistake. Just as Lynch’s artistry is founded on receptivity, Jeffrey’s journey leads him to evolve a receptive manhood by following the images in his subconscious as he crosses the line that separates the flat, blank, normal people you mention from the depraved Frank. “Blue Velvet” depicts normality as an illusion that limits aggression by forbidding knowledge and vision. Jeffrey will not have masculine identity like that of the darkly comic normal Detective Williams or Mike [Sandy’s boyfriend], with their pale frustrated aggressions. Mike even sounds like Frank manqué when he tries to get even with Jeffrey for taking Sandy away from him. But he won’t develop the sadistic aggressions of Frank either, though he sees the attraction. Frank knows only the base lower depths of the subconscious. Jeffrey gains vision, by going through the depths to a larger receptive knowledge. The beating in Meadow Lane liberates Jeffrey, instead of intimidating him as Frank intends. Both Lynch as artist and Jeffrey as detective expose themselves to being thought of as perverts as they build the architecture of visionary, receptive manhood, in opposition to the cultural myth that aggression and violence are the hallmarks of a “real man.” The 30th-anniversary restoration of ”Blue Velvet” is now playing at Film Forum in New York, with further dates and cities to follow.Right about the midpoint of David Lynch’s 1986 breakthrough “Blue Velvet” — and given Lynch’s structural obsessions, it may literally be the midpoint — there is a brief sequence that captures this powerful, disorienting film and all its themes in miniature. It begins when Frank Booth, the psychotic, charismatic antihero played by Dennis Hopper, turns and looks at the audience (he certainly isn’t speaking to any specific person) and announces, “I’ll fuck anything that moves!” Then Frank disappears, literally. The room where he’s standing, in a dreary apartment Frank has described as “pussy heaven,” is seen empty for a second or two. I don’t know if I have the shot order right, but then the scene shifts and we get a number of shots in rapid succession: the double yellow line on a rural highway; the front grill of Frank’s Dodge Charger; Frank’s sweaty face, looking demented or ecstatic; the face of our hero, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), looking nervous; the movie’s femme fatale, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), wedged between two guys in the back seat; and the speedometer as it nudges above 100 mph. The bad guy, the good guy, the dangerous girl and a fast car on a midnight ride. All the most alluring, addictive and ambiguous elements of American cinema, in about six seconds. I’m old enough to remember the impact “Blue Velvet” had on its initial release, and I was already old enough then to have screwed-up relationships. I was mad because my then-girlfriend went to see it with another guy, so I was determined to have a bad opinion of the film: Oh, sure, a dreamlike, perverse and erotic crime thriller from the director of “Eraserhead,” starring the counterculture hero of “Easy Rider” and the gorgeous daughter of a legendary Italian filmmaker! How good could that be? To make matters worse, one of my roommates, a crazy, chain-smoking French girl I never successfully slept with, came home from seeing it completely freaked out, and electrified, and made me stay up all night so she could tell me what a horrible and amazing experience it was. I tried to fact-check this anecdote with another ex-roommate, who was then her boyfriend, and he reports that she actually walked out of the movie after the scene when Jeffrey hides in the closet and watches Frank and Dorothy have kinky sex that’s right on the border between consensual BDSM and rape. So he was mad at the time, and now he’s going to be mad at me for saying that I wanted to sleep with his girlfriend, 30 years ago. This is how “Blue Velvet” messes up people’s lives. Anyway, at some point I went to see “Blue Velvet” myself, however resentfully, and of course I was traumatized and blown away. In terms of alternative culture during the Reagan year — not just independent film but fashion and visual art and overall psychic Zeitgeist — there was before “Blue Velvet” and there was after. Consider Frank’s immortal line of dialogue: “Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!” We are still dealing with the effects of that decades later, when recent college graduates in Williamsburg and Austin and Echo Park know that they are supposed to drink the crappy, watery beer with the awesome logo design, but don’t really know why. (Heineken is of course much better beer. Hell, Coors is better beer.) Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” which came along eight years later, was both a more popular film and more widely imitated. It was easier to imitate, for one thing, but I don’t think “Pulp Fiction” has anywhere near the mysterious psychological profundity of “Blue Velvet,” or that its effects were ultimately as far-reaching. Lynch and Tarantino are far more different than similar, but there is certainly some overlap: Both translated a set of arcane 20th-century artistic and cinematic references into the language of post-boomer pop culture, and both created works that became poles of an ambiguous new American canon. Lynch often talks in interviews about his love for “movies that make you dream,” often referring back to 1960s European art films his fans quite likely have not seen. (This is shorthand, but if Tarantino is the offspring of Jean-Luc Godard, Lynch’s parentage leads to Bergman and Fellini.) In one sense, that’s Lynch’s admission that he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing or why he’s doing it when he makes a film. “Blue Velvet” bears more resemblance to normal narrative cinema than several of the Lynch movies that followed it, including “Lost Highway,” “Mulholland Drive” (subject of this legendary exegesis published on Salon) and the nearly impenetrable “Inland Empire.” It has a hero and a villain, a blonde and a brunette, and a slowly unfolding criminal mystery that almost makes sense. But the seeds of those ambiguous, shape-shifting and often nightmarish later works are clearly visible in “Blue Velvet” now, and its similarity to a classic American crime movie is deceptive. “Blue Velvet” treats crime cinema as a dream spun from the collective American unconscious; it both evoked the dream state and shaped the dreams of everyone who watched it. I recently watched the spectacular 30th-anniversary digital restoration of “Blue Velvet” at New York’s Film Forum, where it opened this weekend. (Other cities and dates will follow, and it’s safe to assume a home-video rerelease is in the works.) I think I saw the film on VHS at some point in the ‘90s, but I hadn’t seen it projected since the original release. Yes, the cars and the hairstyles look dated — Frank Booth’s American-hoodlum wardrobe remains timeless — but even after 30 years of quotation and emulation, “Blue Velvet” is as powerful and strange as ever. It doesn’t feel contemporary, exactly, but it never did. Lynch’s vision of polymorphous, perverse, gender-blurred sexuality was far ahead of its time in 1986, and remains so in a different register today, in our neo-Puritan age of terminological caution and mandatory sensitivity. Rather than write another review of one of the most discussed and debated films ever made, I bounced a few questions and observations off my friend Martha P. Nochimson, a critic and scholar who knows Lynch and has interviewed him numerous times. Martha has published two outstanding books that illuminate his life and his films: “The Passion of David Lynch,” on the director’s early years, up to and including and foray into Hollywood with the 1990 “Wild at Heart,” and “David Lynch Swerves,” which focuses on the later, more disorienting works that followed. Even where I disagree with Martha’s opinions or interpretations, or especially then, she compels me to see things in this director, and his 1986 masterwork, that I hadn’t seen before. Martha, I will start with the obvious observation that in “Blue Velvet,” David Lynch employs or evokes many of the symbols or plot devices of film noir, but the end product barely resembles noir at all. There is a hero drawn into the criminal underworld, a good girl (fair) and a bad girl (dark), a charismatic but dangerous antihero. I could go on: the bad girl is a nightclub singer, the bad guy has a fast car that expresses sexual potency, there’s an elaborate criminal scheme that makes no sense, and for unexplained reasons the protagonist descends into creepy erotic obsession. What do you see in the film that helps Lynch both fulfill all these conventions of American crime cinema and also leave them behind? Applying the conventions of noir to Lynch loses both the poetry and originality of Lynch and the power of noir. The dark, dangerous woman and the fair, nurturing girl are longstanding literary conventions — but not of noir. The essential femme fatale of noir is not always dark. Does the name Elsa Bannister strike a familiar chord? [She is the title character played by Rita Hayworth in Orson Welles’ “The Lady From Shanghai.”] And there aren’t always the dark and light pair. See the same film for reference, and many more. The noir hero tends to be world-weary and deeply scarred when he meets the femme fatale. [Whereas Jeffrey Beaumont, the character played by Kyle MacLachlan in “Blue Velvet,” is innocent and unworldly.] But what is constant in noir is that all the problems of the world are linked to female sexuality. The opposite is true in “Blue Velvet.” The darkness Jeffrey finds is in masculinity — Frank and his minions. Nor are Sandy [Laura Dern] and Dorothy [Rossellini] neatly polarized. Dorothy is sensual but overwhelmed. Sandy is naive but strong, and has her own connections to darkness. That’s where she emerges for Jeffrey. That said, this movie is not the anti-noir either. When Lynch says that 90 percent of the time he doesn’t know what he’s found he’s not kidding. That’s how artists work. It’s craftsmen-storytellers who intentionally work within and against conventions. For Lynch, there is only vision, and all he has seen or heard will be used by his vision. But to reduce “Blue Velvet” to familiar fragments that have gotten caught up in his vision is to be estranged from the film. And what is the vision of “Blue Velvet?” The mystery of masculinity, which reaches critical mass in Meadow Lane when Frank tells Jeffrey: “You’re like me.” Well, that’s one of the questions and challenges people keep posing to Jeffrey, which present an intriguing pattern and speak to the dreamlike quality of the film, and the dream logic of the storytelling. On this viewing, I felt strongly that the performances of the supporting cast — his older female relatives, or Detective Williams, the cop who is also Sandy’s dad, or Mike, Sandy’s ridiculous letterman boyfriend — are intentionally flat or blank. It has the effect of suggesting that those people don’t matter or aren’t quite real, and makes the four principal characters (Jeffrey, Sandy, Dorothy and Frank) stand out even more. One way to interpret the narrative, it seems to me, is that the severed ear Jeffrey finds in a field is like the rabbit hole of “Alice in Wonderland,” a portal or passage into a symbolic realm that may not be the same one where Jeffrey’s story begins. Sandy asks Jeffrey, “Are you a detective or a pervert?” He does not answer the question. Dorothy Vallens asks him “Do you like me?” — but only after she has seduced him into sexual acts that, at least officially, he doesn’t want to perform. (The real question might be whether Jeffrey likes himself.) Frank asks Jeffrey whether he wants to go for a ride, and whether he has ever been to “Pussy Heaven.” (That one cracks me up, partly because of how profoundly unsexy Pussy Heaven turns out to be.) Again, the answers to both questions are officially no, but out in the audience we know better. One of the oddest and most striking moments in the film comes when Jeffrey says to Sandy, “You’re a neat girl,” and she responds without hesitation, “So are you.” It takes a full beat before she corrects herself, and she seems confused about why she said that. You just mentioned “the mystery of masculinity” as the central issue. Sandy’s strange response suggests that Jeffrey is literally “unmanned,” and that this story presents a realm where heterosexual, monogamous norms of sexuality and gender have been overthrown. What gender is Jeffrey? Are his two female lovers different people or the same person? Is Frank straight, gay or bisexual? Is Dorothy abused and victimized, or a woman exploring her sexuality? Those questions don’t have answers, partly because Lynch never offers us any moral high ground or platform of narrative certainty from which to render such verdicts. Let’s go back to the line I quoted above. In the original script for “Blue Velvet,” what Frank tells Jeffrey before the beating in Meadow Lane is “You like me.” But in the filmed scene it sounds like, “You’re like me.” Lynch was receptive to a happy accident that enlivened his art, and either re-recorded the line to make it clearer or kept the mistake. Just as Lynch’s artistry is founded on receptivity, Jeffrey’s journey leads him to evolve a receptive manhood by following the images in his subconscious as he crosses the line that separates the flat, blank, normal people you mention from the depraved Frank. “Blue Velvet” depicts normality as an illusion that limits aggression by forbidding knowledge and vision. Jeffrey will not have masculine identity like that of the darkly comic normal Detective Williams or Mike [Sandy’s boyfriend], with their pale frustrated aggressions. Mike even sounds like Frank manqué when he tries to get even with Jeffrey for taking Sandy away from him. But he won’t develop the sadistic aggressions of Frank either, though he sees the attraction. Frank knows only the base lower depths of the subconscious. Jeffrey gains vision, by going through the depths to a larger receptive knowledge. The beating in Meadow Lane liberates Jeffrey, instead of intimidating him as Frank intends. Both Lynch as artist and Jeffrey as detective expose themselves to being thought of as perverts as they build the architecture of visionary, receptive manhood, in opposition to the cultural myth that aggression and violence are the hallmarks of a “real man.” The 30th-anniversary restoration of ”Blue Velvet” is now playing at Film Forum in New York, with further dates and cities to follow.

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Consent alone is a low bar for sex: “We have become more comfortable talking about girls’ victimization than girls’ pleasure”

I’m not going to tell you to go right now and buy a copy of Peggy Orenstein’s “Girls & Sex.” I’m going to tell you to buy two copies: One for yourself, and one for the teenager in your life. Because kids — boys and girls, gay and straight — need to understand not just what a new generation of girls is doing in their intimate lives. They need to know what they’re not doing. Like when they’re not saying no to stuff they’re not into, because it’s easier than arguing about it. Like when they’re not asking themselves what feels good — for them. And it’s high time, in a cultural moment fraught with sexual panic about hookups and sexting and questions of consent, to shift the conversation — and to fight for young women’s right to orgasm. Peggy Orenstein is a uniquely qualified advocate. As she told me recently in a raucous, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”-referencing Skype session, “I feel this really intense connection and resonance with girls. I love talking to girls; I love hanging out with girls. That’s why I keep coming back.” That she does — Orenstein has spent much of her journalistic career in girl world, from 1994’s “Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap” through her 2011 bestseller “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.” It’s been five years since Orenstein’s bold, hilarious and occasionally terrifying foray into the princess industrial complex. Now, the same girls she wrote about then — including those high heels-wearing baby divas — are hitting puberty and beyond, and Orenstein is back to see what happens after growing up with “that 21-piece Disney princess makeup set.” Her newest book is an exploration of the lives of high school and college-aged girls today, shown through their various forays into purity balls and walks of shame, into hooking up and coming out. It is not, refreshingly, a condemnation of millennials and their successors — or a hand-wringing call to alarmism. Yes, it discusses frankly the often performative aspects of female adolescent sexuality and doesn’t ignore the realities of sexual assault, but “Girls & Sex” refuses to be judgmental or doom and gloom. Instead, it offers something else — a demand for education, enlightenment, and ultimately, the radical notion of equal satisfaction. When I got your book, I got a copy for myself, and one for my teen daughter. Now she’s passed it around among her friends and having conversations with them. Did you imagine it would be used that way? I keep hearing that, and that’s exactly what I’d hoped. Generally what happens with my books is that the first line is parents, but that it quickly migrates to high school girls and college girls. They can just read it themselves and talk with their friends. It gives them information. And that’s power. I thought, I’m going to give this book to my daughter the summer before she goes into ninth grade. I wrote it because my daughter’s going to be going to a gigantic high school where all bets are off and I was hearing a lot of stuff from my friends whose kids go there. I thought, I need to understand this, and I need to make the world better before my kid gets there. One of the things that bums me out is seeing young girls who can be so empowered and forthright everywhere else, and then in private they don’t even know that they’re allowed to want things. They’re giving sexual favors and getting nothing in return. You talk about how revelatory it is for these girls when they have an orgasm. Yeah. One of them said, “I cried. I cried.” I mean, that’s amazing. One of my favorite stories is talking to girls about the nonreciprocal thing and saying, “What if guys asked you to get a glass of water, over and over, and they never offered to get you a glass of water? Or if they did, it was totally begrudging?” They would laugh. It’s less insulting to be told that you’re never going to have reciprocal oral sex and you’re always going to be expected to go down on a guy than get him a glass of water. But we set girls up for that from the get go. Everything in the culture tells them that they are supposed to perform, that they are supposed to pay more attention to being desirable than their own desire. We don’t as parents name that whole area between belly button and knees. We don’t tell them what a clitoris is. We don’t even tell them what a vulva is. We just avoid the whole situation. [Kids] go into puberty ed class, and female pleasure is not necessary to talk about when you’re talking about reproduction. So we don’t. We talk about periods. We talk about unwanted pregnancy. And with boys we talk about erections and ejaculation. Then, no surprise, only a third of girls masturbate regularly, only half have ever masturbated. And then we tell them to go into their sexual encounters with a sense of equality. How is that supposed to happen? We have completely shrouded them. Maybe they figure it out. Maybe they do. But maybe they don’t, or maybe they have to get over their early experience, and that’s wrong. Look at research: When we talk about sexual satisfaction, we’re not talking about the same thing. Young women tend to measure sexual satisfaction by their partner’s satisfaction — which is why lesbians are more likely to have orgasms. They’re like, “I want you to feel good! No, I want you to feel good!” Heterosexual girls will say, “If he’s satisfied, I’m satisfied.” Boys are more likely to measure sexual satisfaction by their own orgasm and their own pleasure. On the flipside, when they talk about bad sex they use completely different language. Boys will say, “I didn’t come or I wasn’t that attracted to her.” Girls will talk about pain and humiliation and degradation. Boys never use that language. We’re talking about really different experiences going into it. That’s why I love that term “intimate justice.” To think about this in terms of equity and power dynamics and who is entitled to engage sexually. Who is entitled to enjoy? Who is the primary beneficiary? So what is different now? What is it about this generation that is not just historic “girls pleasing boys” crap that we’ve all gone through? Some of it is the same. When I think about that I think, why is it the same? When girls are so much more empowered, when they are so much more vocal — why have things changed so much in the public life and not in the private life? I think all of those things that have grown more intense in an age when the culture has grown so visual and so focused and even more saturated in sexuality. You have a hookup culture where sex precedes intimacy rather than the other way around. And that’s not saying, “Only have sex in relationships,” because that’s not true. It’s not a moral judgment. We’re not saying, “Oh heavens.” We’re saying, what are you getting out of your sexual experiences? What do you want to get from those experiences? What are you entitled to, and how do you get there? What I wanted to do is say, this is what it looks like. This is what you’ll probably get out of it. This is what you won’t get out of it. Once you know all that, you make your informed choices. Otherwise, the choices are just presented by the media and it’s like, we rip off half our clothes, we have intercourse with nothing preceding it. We both have orgasms in three seconds and it’s great. Then real girls go into real encounters and think, “What’s wrong with me?” When you have not even yet had your first kiss, nobody says to you, “It’s a symbolic repression that if acted out isn’t going to feel particularly good for women.” That’s part of trying to normalize conversations around sex. It’s not about “the talk” when we’ve never told them they have a vagina and now we’re going to tell them about reproduction. That’s about talking about these ideas about rights and entitlement in sexual relationships. You make it clear that kids who have abstinence-only education are going to have sex pretty much at around the same time their peers are and they’re going to do with less protection. So what can we learn from religious conservatives about what they’re doing right? I went to a purity ball in Louisiana. I feel like it would be really easy to go to one of those things and just slam them, because the idea behind them is completely wrong. Kids are not going to abstain. We know that maybe they delay sex a little longer. But they have greater rates of pregnancy, they have way higher rates of disease. The boys are six times more likely to engage in anal sex and both boys and girls are more likely to engage in oral sex and not see that as compromising their virginity. So we know that that’s really crap. That said, there was something really moving about the event, and seeing that the fathers there were having this conversation about their values around sexuality and their expectations around sexuality and their hopes around sexuality with their daughters. It wasn’t the conversation I wished they’d have. But when I talked to the girls who were from more typical families, if I asked what their fathers said to them, they just laughed. Their mothers — not always but often — talked to them about risk and danger. Their fathers said nothing. It was almost as if, once we stopped saying, “Don’t do it till you’re married,” we didn’t know what to replace it with. And we just thought, we aren’t going to look. I didn’t like what those fathers were saying. I didn’t think it was the right conversation to be having with girls. But I thought at least they’re having some conversation and I can’t say that that’s true among my peers. I also think there’s a lot of things our kids don’t want to talk about. I think we have to normalize the conversation. What I try now to do with my daughters [aged 16 and 12] is say, “You deserve to be with people who think you’re great. Who think you’re awesome. That’s who deserves your company.” And I talk about people and I don’t talk about “boys,” because fewer and fewer teenagers identity as exclusively heterosexual. I say that I want the people you date to respect you, to like you, to see how funny you are and I want you to have fun within that. And if it does’t feel good for you, then there’s something wrong. I always say that this conversation that we’re having about consent is so important. But consent is such a low bar for a sexual experience. We’ve got to do better than that. We have put a lot of emphasis on consent, because we should, but the for girls, sometimes they feel, “It ought to feel good because I said yes.” And if it’s not good, that’s confusing and upsetting and hard to understand. We have to say, yes, consent, obviously consent, but consent is the baseline. It’s not the experience. We are weird that as a culture we have become more comfortable talking about girls’ victimization than girls’ pleasure. I have had a lot of conversations about this over the years with my nieces and my friends’ daughters, and a lot of times I would give anything for the earth to swallow me up so I don’t have to talk to them about orgasms. But I make myself do it. With one friend’s teenage daughter I said, “I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I want you to think about these questions. Do you know where your clitoris is? Have you masturbated? Have you had an orgasm? With yourself? With him? Are you comfortable telling him what you like sexually?” A lot of adult women aren’t comfortable with that. If what you’re trying to do is express intimacy and mutual pleasure, I’m not sure that rushing to intercourse without understanding that pool of experience is going to get you there. So why are you doing it? I’m not saying it’s wrong from a moral perspective, but from the perspective of understanding yourself and your sexuality and exploring, building agency and strength. Ask yourself those questions. It’s so important for girls. What do you think this generation is doing right? What gives you hope for change? I had this conversation with a girl and she was saying that all the women in her family were super strong, and then she told me this litany of non-reciprocal experiences and I said, “Why did that happen?” And she told me, “Well, I guess girls are taught to be so meek and deferential.” I said, “Wait a second, You just told me how strong you are.” She said, “I didn’t know that ‘strong woman’ applied to sex.” But then she said, “I’m not doing any other girls favors by pretending these things are okay. I’m going to start going into my encounters demanding reciprocity and demanding respect, because otherwise these guys are going to think this is okay — and they’re going to keep doing this with somebody else too.”

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Michael Ware’s Iraq War doc doesn’t hold up: “Only The Dead See The End Of War” captures the horror and confusion, but skimps on analysis

“Only The Dead See The End Of War” is difficult to interpret without context. This is frustrating, because documentaries, usually, are vehicles that provide context—and for the topic of fomenting insurgency during the Iraq War, context would be extraordinarily useful. The documentary’s title is a slightly different form of a famous quote from one of George Santayana’s soliloquies, “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” which is often erroneously attributed to Plato and used as the epigraph for 2001’s “Blackhawk Down.” In a confusing twist that appears to prove my point, the film was released as simply “Only The Dead,” and only has the extra words for HBO’s premiere this Monday night. Context helps. But it is hard to see context when you are in a lot of pain. The subject of the pain in question is Australian war correspondent Michael Ware, who spent seven years in Iraq as a journalist for Time magazine. His docu-memoir, distilled from hundreds of hours of handheld-camera footage, is devoid of explanation and analysis, even while the story he is telling has profound implications for our present-day War on Terror. Ware witnessed firsthand the breakdown of national stability into factional conflict waged by militants and mujahideen; he became a trusted reporter for both the occupying military and the homegrown insurgents, one that was privy to grisly combat operations on both sides of the battlefield. But what he learned, and what the viewer could extrapolate from what he saw, is generally abandoned by the narrative itself. Instead—and understandably so—“Only The Dead” is preoccupied with Ware’s trauma, one earned both honestly and dishonestly. The journalist’s assignment in Iraq was only supposed to last three weeks, which is when he started filming the proceedings, almost compulsively, on his camcorder. But as the weeks stretched into months, and the months into years, Ware describes feeling both trapped by the intricacies of the war and of his own “dark heart.” “Only The Dead” features unflinching, nearly raw footage of the aftermath of violence all over Iraq—from a live feed in the press room of the United Nations headquarters there, when it was bombed, to the carnage outside the Jordanian embassy, where Ware’s handycam tracks damaged and blown apart bodies being dragged out of rubble and through crowds of onlookers. These events end up shaping the arc of Ware’s time in Iraq. His obsession with what drives men to suicide-bombing leads him to follow the rise, reign, and fall, of sorts, of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose organization in the shattered remains of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is a progenitor of today’s ISIS. Not that you would know that from watching the film, though maybe you would guess, driving through Zarqawi-occupied Haifa Street—at one time, the commercial center of Baghdad, but when filmed, festooned with the militant’s black flags. Ware’s memoir comes from the footage he has, so his tape from that day driving through Haifa ends when one of Zarqawi’s men stops their car, pulling a pin out of a grenade to coerce them. Ware goes on to narrate his apprehension and near-execution, were it not for a few choice words and a warning. The episode haunted him so deeply that shaving—the act of putting a blade to his throat—still, he says, destabilizes him. But for all that the series of events is a powerful one, putting it together in this way doesn’t let the impact of the kidnapping resonate. “Only The Dead” is a documentary made by a non-filmmaker, and it shows. As understandably horrible as the events were—and as obviously unfair as it is to ask for a better-quality production out of seven years spent in horror in Iraq—this film is difficult to watch and even more difficult to make sense of. The events are graphic, but disconnected, or filmed incompletely. And though that is, in and of itself, a valid stylistic choice, it’s not one that facilitates greater understanding of combat in Iraq. It might facilitate an atmosphere of increasingly unhinged chaos and despair—a kind of nonfictional “The Hurt Locker,” the 2008 Kathryn Bigelow film—but even that is undercut by Ware’s own heavy-handed narration and the too-cinematic score from Michael Yezerski. The fact is that “Only The Dead See The End Of War” doesn’t hold up against the major, defining documentaries of the Iraq War. Alex Gibney’s “Taxi To The Dark Side” (2007), for example, is a documentary about the American War on Terror that creates rock-solid narrative out of slippery details and incomplete records; Deborah Scranton’s “The War Tapes,” from 2006, uses footage filmed by three soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom, creating a visual atmosphere much like Ware’s here. We are too saturated by brilliant documentary film, on all topics, to not see the flaws in “Only The Dead,” even as a purely personal journey of trauma. Ware struggles to create a narrative out of his footage, and he ultimately fails to frame his handycam experience in a way that adequately communicates its relevance. What the film does have, though, is an absolutely haunting series of images, even when it’s difficult to understand what Ware and co-director Bill Guttentag are trying to make you understand. Ware’s closeness with militants brought him to witnessing the final moments of an anointed suicide bomber being sent to blow up an American ammunition depot. His on-the-ground reporting unearthed a roadside execution, being conducted without fanfare or secrecy, in the rapidly destabilizing environs of Baghdad. And in the last half of the film, several long takes from Ware’s camera are featured without much commentary, and the result is unnervingly immersive, whether that is in a building being stormed in Fallujah under cover of darkness or—in the film’s most enduring image—a teenage boy slowly dying at the feet of a group of disinterested marines. “Hurry up and die, motherfucker,” one says. Another carelessly throws a rag over the boy’s still-breathing face. Ware is fully aware of his own complicity; he does not speak up for the boy, but instead just films him twitching and gasping to death. Following that scene, which is nearly at the end of the film, Ware apparently began to realize just how much he had lost his own humanity. According to Ware’s former colleague Phil Zabriskie, Ware (to put it inelegantly, and non-medically) lost his mind after leaving Iraq, and made this film as one of the many ways he was trying to cope with the horrors he’d seen. Ware quit working at CNN—his job after Time—because the network would not give him time off to recover from post-traumatic stress. He also later called out the network for refusing to air the footage of the boy gasping to death—a depiction of what Ware called a war crime. None of that journey makes it into the film, except for the film itself; Ware cannot quite articulate what Zabriskie describes thusly:

I never did go back to Iraq, and I certainly did not do what Ware did, but I later spent time in Afghanistan, Gaza, and other conflict zones, reporting on war, trauma—and what comes after. I carry all of it with me all the time. I know how alluring and exhilarating that sort of reporting can be, and I know what it feels like later, when you can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, and struggle to relate to people in your life, including those who love you. That’s part of the horrible privilege of seeing the worst humanity has to offer.

Watching “Only The Dead See The End Of War” is best accompanied by the writing around the film, including Zabriskie’s piece, the film’s tepid reviews, interviews with Ware, and more context on insurgency, PTSD, and the particulars of the Iraq War. It is an unhelpfully shocking piece of filmmaking on its own, but I do appreciate that it made me find that context on my own, to struggle through reams of information to find what Ware was going on about. I wish the film were a bit more accessible, but it is impossible to deny that is deeply and purely felt.

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Scientists have discovered an unbelievably simple new way to fight childhood obesity

AlterNetChildren in America are steadily getting more and more obese. The numbers are staggering. In 1980, 7 percent of American children aged 6-11 years were obese. By 2012, that figure more than doubled, to 18 percent. During the same period, adolescent obesity rose from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, who has set his sights on tackling America’s obesity epidemic, has singled out the problem of childhood obesity in particular. Last October, he welcomed two dozen children from the I’m A Star Foundation to the nation’s capital to present nearly a year’s worth of research on the topic and ask their suggestions to combat it. In his speech to Murthy, Aaron Johnson, Jr., 13, a seventh-grade student at James Weldon Johnson Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida, said the main hurdle to overcoming childhood obesity was the fact that kids aren’t involved in the solutions. “Our concern is that the vast majority of the ‘call to actions’ and strategic plans for childhood obesity are written by adults, shared by adults, discussed by adults, and the information never gets out to the people most impacted: the children,” Aaron said. One of the main battlefronts in the war against childhood obesity are the nation’s schools. After all, kids are in school for around eight hours every weekday in a controlled sitution. “Schools can create environments supportive of students’ efforts to eat healthy and be active by implementing policies and practices that support healthy eating and regular physical activity,” notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has provided a set of guidelines for schools to follow. The CDC reminds schools in its guidelines that access to water fountains is required by law. Water fountains are “a healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages and can help increase students’ overall water consumption. … As a result of participation in a K–12 health education curriculum that includes nutrition, students should have the knowledge and skills to … [d]rink plenty of water. It may seem odd to say that kids need the “skills” to drink water, but a central part of the problem is that kids aren’t drinking enough of it, instead gulping sugary beverages like soda and sports drinks, which contribute to weight gain and an unhealthy lifestyle, not to mention tooth decay. As I noted in an earlierarticle about how beverage companies use marketing to target the poor, sugary beverages make up the third highest source of calories for kids and teens. New research proves that water may be the key to solving the childhood obesity crisis. A five-year study conducted by researchers at New York University and Syracuse University, and published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Pediatrics, has concluded that making water more available in public schools through self-serve water dispensers in cafeterias resulted in “statistically significant” declines in students’ weight. Over the course of the study period, about 40 percent of New York City’s schools received a water jet as part of a program designed by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Department of Education. The water jets—large, clear, electronically powered jugs with a push lever to dispense water—each cost around $1,000. The researchers analyzed more than one million students in over 1,200 elementary and middle schools across New York City, and compared students in schools with and without the water jets. Kids at schools that had water jets for at least three months experienced a reduction in standardized body mass index—.025 for boys and .022 for girls—compared to kids at schools without water jets. The adoption of water jets was associated with a .9 percentage point reduction in boys’ likelihood of being overweight, while girls showed a .6 percentage point reduction. “This study demonstrates that doing something as simple as providing free and readily available water to students may have positive impacts on their overall health, particularly weight management,” said the study’s senior investigator Brian Elbel, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone and NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. “Our findings suggest that this relatively low-cost intervention is, in fact, working.” “We are in a place right now where we are trying to find anything to help with childhood obesity,” Elbel told the New York Post. “It’s great that a straightforward, fairly low-cost intervention had an effect on kids’ BMI, and I think it makes us want to look a lot closer at simple policies to improve water availability.” Drinking water can help simply by being a substitute for sugary beverages and other caloric drinks, like milk and chocolate milk, which kids often drink. “Decreasing the amount of caloric beverages consumed and simultaneously increasing water consumption is important to promote children’s health and decrease the prevalence of childhood obesity,” said Amy Ellen Schwartz, director of NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy. “Schools are a natural setting for such interventions.” But that’s not the only way increased water intake can help. As Brooke Alpert, a registered dietician and founder of B Nutritious, a Manhattan-based nutrition counseling firm, says, “Water consumption is directly correlated with weight loss.” Scientific research supports that idea. According to a 2008 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Dietetic Association, dieting obese adults who drank two cups of water before breakfast lost five more pounds than dieters who didn’t increase their water intake. There may be a physiological response to increased water intake. Some research suggests that the body may produce more heat in response to water consumption, thereby increasing metabolic rates, which in turn burns off more calories. Whatever the reason, it appears that drinking more water can help keep the pounds off, and for America’s kids, that’s great news. There are also important anti-obesity initiatives underway, like a bill in Baltimore that seeks to put warning labels wherever sugary drinks are sold. But the simple prescription to drink more water is one initiative that should make seventh-grader Aaron Johnson—who wants kids to participate in their own battle against obesity—particularly happy. After all, for the vast majority of kids out there, taking a drink from a water fountain is a piece of (calorie-free) cake.AlterNetChildren in America are steadily getting more and more obese. The numbers are staggering. In 1980, 7 percent of American children aged 6-11 years were obese. By 2012, that figure more than doubled, to 18 percent. During the same period, adolescent obesity rose from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, who has set his sights on tackling America’s obesity epidemic, has singled out the problem of childhood obesity in particular. Last October, he welcomed two dozen children from the I’m A Star Foundation to the nation’s capital to present nearly a year’s worth of research on the topic and ask their suggestions to combat it. In his speech to Murthy, Aaron Johnson, Jr., 13, a seventh-grade student at James Weldon Johnson Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida, said the main hurdle to overcoming childhood obesity was the fact that kids aren’t involved in the solutions. “Our concern is that the vast majority of the ‘call to actions’ and strategic plans for childhood obesity are written by adults, shared by adults, discussed by adults, and the information never gets out to the people most impacted: the children,” Aaron said. One of the main battlefronts in the war against childhood obesity are the nation’s schools. After all, kids are in school for around eight hours every weekday in a controlled sitution. “Schools can create environments supportive of students’ efforts to eat healthy and be active by implementing policies and practices that support healthy eating and regular physical activity,” notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has provided a set of guidelines for schools to follow. The CDC reminds schools in its guidelines that access to water fountains is required by law. Water fountains are “a healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages and can help increase students’ overall water consumption. … As a result of participation in a K–12 health education curriculum that includes nutrition, students should have the knowledge and skills to … [d]rink plenty of water. It may seem odd to say that kids need the “skills” to drink water, but a central part of the problem is that kids aren’t drinking enough of it, instead gulping sugary beverages like soda and sports drinks, which contribute to weight gain and an unhealthy lifestyle, not to mention tooth decay. As I noted in an earlierarticle about how beverage companies use marketing to target the poor, sugary beverages make up the third highest source of calories for kids and teens. New research proves that water may be the key to solving the childhood obesity crisis. A five-year study conducted by researchers at New York University and Syracuse University, and published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Pediatrics, has concluded that making water more available in public schools through self-serve water dispensers in cafeterias resulted in “statistically significant” declines in students’ weight. Over the course of the study period, about 40 percent of New York City’s schools received a water jet as part of a program designed by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Department of Education. The water jets—large, clear, electronically powered jugs with a push lever to dispense water—each cost around $1,000. The researchers analyzed more than one million students in over 1,200 elementary and middle schools across New York City, and compared students in schools with and without the water jets. Kids at schools that had water jets for at least three months experienced a reduction in standardized body mass index—.025 for boys and .022 for girls—compared to kids at schools without water jets. The adoption of water jets was associated with a .9 percentage point reduction in boys’ likelihood of being overweight, while girls showed a .6 percentage point reduction. “This study demonstrates that doing something as simple as providing free and readily available water to students may have positive impacts on their overall health, particularly weight management,” said the study’s senior investigator Brian Elbel, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone and NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. “Our findings suggest that this relatively low-cost intervention is, in fact, working.” “We are in a place right now where we are trying to find anything to help with childhood obesity,” Elbel told the New York Post. “It’s great that a straightforward, fairly low-cost intervention had an effect on kids’ BMI, and I think it makes us want to look a lot closer at simple policies to improve water availability.” Drinking water can help simply by being a substitute for sugary beverages and other caloric drinks, like milk and chocolate milk, which kids often drink. “Decreasing the amount of caloric beverages consumed and simultaneously increasing water consumption is important to promote children’s health and decrease the prevalence of childhood obesity,” said Amy Ellen Schwartz, director of NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy. “Schools are a natural setting for such interventions.” But that’s not the only way increased water intake can help. As Brooke Alpert, a registered dietician and founder of B Nutritious, a Manhattan-based nutrition counseling firm, says, “Water consumption is directly correlated with weight loss.” Scientific research supports that idea. According to a 2008 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Dietetic Association, dieting obese adults who drank two cups of water before breakfast lost five more pounds than dieters who didn’t increase their water intake. There may be a physiological response to increased water intake. Some research suggests that the body may produce more heat in response to water consumption, thereby increasing metabolic rates, which in turn burns off more calories. Whatever the reason, it appears that drinking more water can help keep the pounds off, and for America’s kids, that’s great news. There are also important anti-obesity initiatives underway, like a bill in Baltimore that seeks to put warning labels wherever sugary drinks are sold. But the simple prescription to drink more water is one initiative that should make seventh-grader Aaron Johnson—who wants kids to participate in their own battle against obesity—particularly happy. After all, for the vast majority of kids out there, taking a drink from a water fountain is a piece of (calorie-free) cake.

Continue Reading…


Source: New feed