Saturday, November 22, 2008

HC: My Evening with Emma, Dustin, and "Last Chance Harvey"

On Monday, November 17, I attended a Screen Actors Guild screening of the new movie Last Chance Harvey, starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson (see, for a trailer that gives away far too much!). The indie will be released in the United States on December 26th. The movie was described in Entertainment Weekly as a Before Sunrise (or Sunset, I don’t know the difference) for the AARP set, which, although derisive and dismissive, isn’t altogether untrue. I would describe it as a well-done romance between two intelligent grown-ups. We movie-goers know how rare that is.

After the screening, both stars were interviewed by a writer from Entertainment Weekly. Yes, Hoffman and Thompson trotted out, climbed up on high director’s chairs, and sat below and in front of the huge screen where minutes before the audience saw their faces huge, movie-screen high. It’s a great testament to both of them that they didn’t diminish in scope at all.

Hoffman sat in the middle, slouching and playing with his microphone like a little boy. He was very likable. When asked questions about his craft, he sort of shrugged and said, in his own wonderful words, just do it. The man has won tons of awards since he started acting in the early 1960s, including two Oscars (Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man). While Hoffman is a great actor, I’d never go out of my way to see a movie he’s in. Emma Thompson is another story…I simply adore her, and would crawl on broken glass to see her in anything. Also a two-time Oscar winner (Best Actress in Howards End, and Best Screenplay for Sense & Sensibility), Thompson is beloved by many. If you’ve seen Thompson as Margaret Schlegel in Howards End (one of my favorite films), or Miss Kenton in The Remains of the Day (another one of my favorite films), or Elinor Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility (uh, yes, another one of my favorite films), or the nonperiod The Tall Guy or Love Actually (hey! neither one is on my list of favorite films…but she’s great in both, especially the latter, bringing realism and heartbreak to an otherwise cotton-candy film), then you may feel you know Emma Thompson. She is an actress who brings a lot of who she is to each part. Actually an (ex-) friend once commented that that was what he didn’t like about Thompson: that she always plays herself in movies. I do not feel that to be true…hence, the "ex-" (although his opinion of Thompson was only one of many reasons for the end of our friendship). Thompson is not Carrington or Gareth Pierce in In the Name of the Father, both actual people she has played, but she'll make you think she is.

But I digress.

At the start of the Q&A, Thompson teased Hoffman about his use of the hand-held microphone, warning him that if he held it too close to his mouth, he “sounded like God.” Hoffman answered that he’d “always wanted Charlton Heston’s roles.” Hoffman and Thompson first worked together, albeit briefly, on Stranger Than Fiction. It was enough, however, for them to know they loved working together, had the same work ethic, and similar senses of humor. Hoffman has stated “It’s wonderful to work with someone, to have that kind of unusual experience, where the sexual innuendos are exactly the same for both of us at the same moment!”

Thompson talked a lot about the WORK of acting, that it’s hard and you have to work at it all the time. She is simply not impressed with herself at all! When asked about how she managed to write the screenplay for Sense & Sensibility, she said Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, screenwriter of most of the Merchant Ivory films, had advised her about “dramatizing everything in the book” and then seeing which parts worked and which didn’t. Editing, editing, editing down until you got to a filmable screenplay, and that she was never really sure it was “right.” The questioner said, “Well you did something right because you won the Oscar,” and she said, in essence, that that didn’t mean or prove anything, and that’s never why you attempt something. When an audience member wanted Hoffman to sign her 20-years-in-the-making Hoffman scrapbook, and then asked Thompson to sign it, Thompson said, “But this is all about Dusty, are you sure you want my name on it?”

In discussing the making of the movie (no spoilers here), both stars talked about being very impressed with the other one. Thompson made an acting choice that floored Hoffman, doing a line towards the end of the film in a totally unexpected way. Last Chance Harvey was mostly filmed chronologically, but Thompson talked about having to do the very last scene from The Remains of the Day first! She said somehow it worked for her and Anthony Hopkins, and that almost any disturbance or difficulty or mishap can be used within the character you are playing to benefit the film. Both actors talked about collaborating with the second-time director of LCH, Joel Hopkins, who also wrote and directed a movie called Jump Tomorrow. Hopkins was occasionally uneasy about the level of input from these two veterans, but learned to trust their instincts and improvising. Thompson talked about a scene in an airport bar, where, during the rehearsal, she and Hoffman circled around the bar and tables “like cats” until they found the best, most natural, most beneficial places for each of them to sit. Would her character be facing the entrance or would her back be towards Hoffman when he entered, etc. Perhaps minor things, but fascinating to listen to from these aces.

One person asked Hoffman if a scene of him on the phone shot from outside a large-windowed part of the airport was “an homage” to The Graduate. Another asked if his LCH character name “Harvey Shine” was at all a tribute to an early play Hoffman was in called Jimmy Shine. Hoffman said neither thing had ever even occurred to him until audiences brought them up.

Thompson’s answers were well thought out, beautifully delivered, and seemingly from the heart. Onscreen and off—and I can report this first-hand now—she is intelligent, sparkling, funny, warm, and just plain lovely in every sense of the word. After the question and answer period, many members of the audience gathered around each actor. I stood near Thompson and watched as she shook hands, took pictures, and chatted with many of them. She was so present, moving in closer to talk, her eyes never leaving the eyes of the one person in front of her. She was…lovely.

I’ve admired Thompson for years. Did you know she was a part of ActionAid, visiting people in Africa to spread information about HIV, AIDS, and condom use? (See for an interview.) She is also fighting sex trafficking with Public Service Announcements and a planned Times Square installation (see youtube and 

Last Chance Harvey is far from a flaw-free movie. One plot point doesn’t work, and one is thrown in for cheap laughs and wasn’t all that funny. However, it’s worth seeing for two actors at the top of their game, some interesting supporting people (James Brolin, Kathy Baker, Richard Schiff, Eileen Atkins, and Liane Balaban, who gave a powerful performance in the role of Hoffman’s daughter), and for the London travelogue. I admit it was a little hard to concentrate on the film, knowing that at the end of it I’d see, in person, an actress I’ve admired for 15 years! I’m also sure that I’ll like the film even more seeing it a second time at the end of December.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

AV: Perspective from San Diego

From time to time I post the column that I write for the monthly newsletter of the San Diego Democratic Club, which has been fighting for LGBT rights for 35 years and, at present, is the largest club in San Diego and one of the largest LGBT clubs in the state. That said, boy howdy, politics ...

President's Perspectives: Nov 2008

So much has happened since I last sat to write this column and yet, some things haven’t changed. I, like many of you, am still reeling from the aftermath of the election. And, like all of you, I’m heavily conflicted about the results. Torn. Kinda messed up, actually.

On the one hand, wow … President-Elect Barack Obama. Those are words strung together in a crazy wonderful sort of way, aren’t they? It’s almost too marvelous, but I’m catching up quickly to the reality of it. Did you hear he’s doing the traditional Saturday Radio Address on YouTube? President Barack Obama. Nice.

This is the result of a politics of hope that combined innovation with structure and discipline. It’s the ascension of a way of thinking that includes rather than excludes and allows for the idea that maybe there’s enough for everyone. Enough hope. Enough voice. Enough change. Enough equality. Enough.

But on the other side, there’s the fallout of politics as we have come to know … and loathe … it. It’s a politics of fear, of scarcity, and of polarization. It’s a politics that calls to our darker impulses and tells us there’s not enough. There’s only so much to go around. And if that’s true, then there’s only enough for “us” and we can’t let “them” get to it because “they” will take it all and leave us with nothing but our fear for company.

Proposition 8 was won with exactly that sort of politics. It is based on scarcity. There is obviously not enough equality to go around. In the fearful hearts of our staunchest opponents, there’s only one sort of “special” and if we are allowed to share in that specialness – the dignity of marriage – then it would no longer be special for them. Spoiled. Diluted. Not enough.

Perhaps we, as individuals, as a community and as a country, have grown too used to the lexicon of fear and mistrust over the last 8+ years. We have become accustomed to the behavior and spiritual/mental patterns of fear and defense. For some, that fear and defensiveness is in response to the unknown and the perceived danger of the Other. For some the fear is one of the known – the already-experienced – such as the prevailing of discrimination made law with the passage of Proposition 8.

All of this is held together with a dangerous expression of duality. Us vs. Them. If “Us” is good, then “Them” is bad, evil, or at least highly suspect. It becomes about our own tribal affiliation, law, and ultimately it becomes about division.

In the “Us” camp, to continue in the familiarity of our own mythology means to necessarily deny the complexity and humanity of our opponents. But sometimes our “opponents” are simply competitors. Regardless of how far afield or similar our ideologies may be, our tribal mythologies require that “we” form a separation from “them” and furthermore, that the difference must be reinforced, no matter how small.

We experienced this as a nation and as Democrats during the Primary while the Clinton and Obama campaigns spiraled into bitterness and divisiveness – and not because there were substantial differences in policy, perspective, or politics. These were two excellent candidates, both of whom many Democrats everywhere were delighted to have as potential Presidents.

We saw what happened and rather than focus on the weeks and months leading up to the Primary, I think it’s much more important to review what has happened since: a unity among Democrats that many pundits said could not happen. Democrats everywhere stood and listened to our better angels: the progressive values of expansive hope, increased opportunity, welcome diversity, full equality. An end to the politics of fear and scarcity.

And today, a little more than a week after the stunning contrast of one ecstatic victory and one desperate defeat, reports of 20 thousand marching in the streets of San Diego and many multiple thousands across California and the nation in the largest civil rights actions in decades.

Ah, this has done my activist heart good. As a longtime friend remarked to me as we walked the march route last Saturday, I knew barely a handful of the 10 thousand that were there. What a marvelous thing!

So many of those marching, rallying, and standing up have never done this sort of thing before. The organizers themselves are new to this kind of activism, most having never marched or demonstrated for anything anywhere anytime in their lives. How’s that for Democracy?

Next steps? This is surely part of the continuing path to justice for all and to the dream of shared equality and dignity fully realized. We heard many times over the last year that we were standing at the edge of history. How true that was. We just didn’t know it would look like this.

This, my friends, is an opportunity to reframe and reform into the sort of movement that includes, dignifies, and believes without question that there is enough for everyone. This is an opportunity to rediscover and reinforce a new politics of respect, of complexity, and of diversity of approach and perspective. An opportunity for so many more to engage deeply and passionately in all that we and those that came before us have worked for.

This is our chance for change. Hope, anyone?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

AV: Stonewall 2.0

All over the nation, demonstrations took place against the passing of Proposition 8 in CA, an amendment to the state constitution that took away an existing right for one single group of California citizens.

Thousands in cities all over California, and in Las Vegas, Memphis, New Jersey, New York, Washington DC, Dallas, Baltimore, Missoula, Minneapolis, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Anchorage ... and other cities all over the country stood up for equality.

But the largest was here at home: San Diego.
An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people (est by police).

(for those of you who know the city, this is Broadway looking westbound towards the harbor. The marchers are turning from southbound 6th Ave to westbound Broadway.)

The organizer, 23-year-old Sara Beth Brooks, stepped up after seeing, a site started by another young 20-something woman in Seattle. Using the internet and text messages, Sara organized a core group of new-to-all-this activists and as a result, over 20,000 people marched peacefully and energetically here in San Diego.

Ah ... it does my activist heart a great deal of good.

Last week, our march was 8-10K folks organized in only two days. I was honored to deliver the keynote at the Rally, having worked with the also-new-to-all-this organizers to massage key logistics and message clarification. You know, wonky stuff. Boy oh boy. What a rush.

What are you waiting for? This is the next step. History, baby.

and some more media above, a couple of photos from one of today's organizer-type folks, Sachi Wilson (#2, #3)and Rex Wockner, a local (and national) journalist (photo #1).

Saturday, November 8, 2008

WC: Good News All Around

In the past elections I donated money to Gore and Kerry, and after each lost, I said the same thing: "I want my money or my country back."

This year, all four people I donated to won!

--Barak Obama--PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
--Jeanne Shaheen--Senator, NH
--Kay Hagan--Senator, NC
--Betsy Markey--Congresswoman, CO

How lovely to be part of the zeitgeist!

And, after years of turning off the radio the second "my" president's voice came on, I am now basking in Obama's lovely turns of phrase, noun-verb agreement, and actual content!

We have a smart president. Yay!

And I'm, ahem, finally proud to be American.

Yes, hope is the word.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I feel something I haven't felt in so long: hope.

With a dignified, smart, and charming leader, perhaps America can start to heal?

With a person of color at the helm, perhaps America can be brought into the 21st Century?

President Obama will have a tough job. Perhaps the collective hope and happiness of all of us will somehow assist him?

Here's hoping! What a wonderful thing!!

SS: The Morning After (11-4-08)

I saw this sign outside a cafe in Manhattan, and couldn't resist having my own "sailor kisses a nurse in Times Square" moment.

~Sarah "Last shudder of the WASP Ascendancy" Stanfield

Monday, November 3, 2008

WC: President Obama

It has a nice ring, doesn't it?

(konohurrah, knock wood, etc)