September 2013


Woody's Women



With Woody Allen back on his game, and having scored yet again last month with the release of Blue Jasmine, I thought about the women of his cinematic life. Some of whom of course, have also intertwined with his personal life.


I thought of this because the performance by Cate Blanchett in this latest film, is stunning; alternately dancing between comedy and tragedy without once ever missing a step.


Although an actor of renown, she is new to his world. She is the new face on his screen. And in regard to intertwining, she has done exactly that. Not with Woody of course, but with her fictional character built upon Tennessee Williams’ archetypical tragic heroine. The result is that “Cate Blanche Blanchett Dubois” has turned in an Academy Award worthy performance.


Cate knows Blanche well. She played her like a violin, while earning a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a production that played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2009. But for all the talent an actor can bring to a role—even one as gifted as Blanchett— it needs the foundation of a well written character and a nurturing director. And that’s where Woody excels. Particularly, and ironically, in writing parts for women.


Ten nominations and six Academy Awards have been garnered by women in his films. These include Diane Keaton’s Best Actress nod for Annie Hall, and Dianne Wiest’s two Best Supporting Actress Oscars for Bullets Over Broadway (which is being made into a Broadway musical next year), and Hannah and Her Sisters.


Contrast this to just five Oscar nominations for male actors in his films (including one for himself in Annie Hall), with only Michael Caine taking home the trophy for Best Supporting Actor in “Hannah.”


As Woody may seem befuddled by men and where they are coming from—most especially himself (once saying rather dismissively in the midst of the whole Soon-Yi brouhaha, “The heart wants what the heart wants”)— that may account for why he has not written many great in-depth roles for his gender. But that has not been the case with women. He gives them lots to chew on. Granted, not all audiences and critics have agreed with his treatment of women—either on and off the screen— to say the least.


He has married some and had long term relationships with others. And some as we know, became part of his “reel life” as well. Mia Farrow appeared in thirteen of his films in featured roles—a record that will never be broken. Woody turns 78 this December, and one can’t imagine any other film maker using a featured actor that many times in the course of a career.


Still others who have known him, and not in the biblical sense, have given bravura performances under his astute direction. Theater legends such as Geraldine Page and Maureen Stapleton, both received Oscar nominations for their work in Interiors—Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively—in that very underrated Bergman-influenced film. But of course, whenever he delves into something “serious,” there are always the dissenting voices such as that of a Martian from his film Stardust Memories: “…you're a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.”


Then there’s Scarlett Johansson, still a relatively fresh face at the time, when he cast her in a critical role in Match Point, generally considered to be his “comeback film.” The New York Times said of her then “…some of the best acting seen in a Woody Allen movie in a long time.” She was not too shabby in Vicky Cristina Barcelona either.



A cousin who has appeared in small roles in four of Woody’s films, tells me that he gives actors a great deal of leeway in letting them make their own discoveries in fleshing out a scene. He doesn’t dictate exactly how he wants it played, and is open to interpretations that may run counter to what he initially had in mind. That too is the mark of a good director: knowing when to get out of the way.


With an ersatz “nebbishy” persona, and still scorned by some for his affair with the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn, (though he and Soon-Yi have been together for over two decades and married since ‘97), Mr. Allen goes about his business undaunted. And that business has been about cranking out a movie a year for over four decades. And in regard to women, he cranks well.







Of a Certain Age



It’s about time. It’s always about time.
That snail that inches along at the speed of light.


That tortoise that beats the hare
       not by a hair
but by infinity;
the outcome set as it is in amber.


That pending free fall of Harold Lloyd.


Why did I take so long? What’s the hurry?


Wasn’t it only yesterday when
Moses descended from the mount
toting two tablets?
                            Where goest the time
when thou art sinning?
White lies/ blue balls/ I Am Curious (Yellow).


Then the wet dreams/the dry realities/
I love you/ I hate you/ we enjoined/we parted.
The dogs had their day.
In dog years.
                      Lord, then there’s the flies


for whom time really—
I won’t say it.


Did one of the Wright brothers really die in my lifetime?
God damn you Orville.


Remember the time when…


… was it you? Me? Him? Her? They?
Coxey’s Army? (GOOGLE it).


We used to do this and that
putting it all off until tomorrow.
Today is tomorrow.
The Earth is 4.5 billion years old—
the fastest fucking
six days you never saw.


Happy Birthday.

                                                                      —Ron Vazzano






















Running With the Bullshit of Pamplona



As if we don’t have enough bad behavior born of our own history and culture, we have now sanctioned the importation of that time honored foreign form of lunacy: running with the bulls. Because, of course, how can one resist the thrill of taunting a potentially lethal animal for sport? How “Hemingwayesque!” Bulls and balls: it’s a guy thing.


In case you might not have heard, as this one seemed to have slipped under the radar for many people, or at least in the circles in which I run (with the bibliophiles)…


“The Pamplona-inspired Great Bull Run will begin an eight-state tour after a wild, man-vs.-beast event at a drag-racing strip just south of Richmond, Va., on Aug. 24…


About 5,000 people have already signed up for the inaugural bull run, despite the high risk for injury or death.


Other bull runs are planned for cities in Georgia, Texas, Florida, California, Minnesota, Illinois and Pennsylvania.”

                                                             (New York Daily News, August 8, 2013)



A stampede pushes through a crowd of runners during the Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain.


While we’re at it, why don’t we expand the concept of interspecies interfacing, with say, swimming with the sharks, pulling on the pythons, beckoning the bengals—in fact while we’re at it, why don’t we go back to the good ole Roman Empire days of “lions vs. Christians.” What fun.


                                                    The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)


Yes, it’s a guy thing. It’s always a guy thing. Leaving one to ask “Y.”


You don’t expect to start off in a place just south of Richmond Virginia, and wind up in “Chromosomeville,” but here we are.



One runs out of where else to look in the face of such repeated gender disparity in brutal behavior at its worst, and bad behavior at its best. Which could lead us to Anthony Weiner, but we won’t go there. Running with the bullshit is enough for one day.


As you would expect, animal activists are protesting:

“These events are a shameful example of cruelty for the sake of nothing more than entertainment and profit,” Ann Chynoweth, senior director of The Humane Society of the United States’ End Animal Fighting & Cruelty Campaign, told the AP.”


Good luck with that, given that a simple law requiring a background check in the selling of a gun, could not be passed though 90% of Americans were in favor it. It’s a guy thing Ann. It’s a guy thing.







the LA river






“Landscape Math” and the Mayor



As the Democratic candidates gear up for the New York City mayoral primary this month, there have been some rather extensive retrospectives—notably in The New York Times and The New Yorker—on the twelve year run of Michael Bloomberg which will end in December.


At the core of any discussions on Bloomberg’s performance and who might possibly succeed him, lies the issue of the ever growing income disparity among New Yorkers. This on top of the fact that they live in a city with a cost of living, that is one and a half times as great as the national average. The middle class is feeling the squeeze…the lower socio-economic groups? Fuggedaboutit.


Not being a political pundit nor financial wiz, and having been a resident of this city once again for only the past two and a half years, I can’t tell you whether this is Bloomberg’s fault, and whether or not he has been a good mayor. Come to think of it, you didn’t ask. But what I can say, is that this is not the New York I left over 30 years ago, nor the New York of my misspent youth. It has a far different landscape which in turn has produced a far different culture. And that, all told, has been for the better.


Landscape, unlike political rhetoric or the “Potato Syndrome” (i.e. if a Republican says “potato,” a Democrat says “po-tah-to…” and vice versa), is tangible. There are those green and blue painted bicycle and pedestrian zones that I find beneath my feet … the tables and chairs in the middle of a street… the bicycles going every which way— which nearly run me over— as I jaywalk with a muscle memory attuned only to the patterns of motor vehicles … the buildings where once there was only space (and behind the Pepsi-Cola sign in Queens?)…the transformed riverfronts… the plethora of pleasing parks. And you can’t help but wonder: “Where did all this come from?”


The short answer? Pun most intended— Michael Bloomberg.


A politician cut from a different cloth —when you have that much money you make your own cloth— he has managed to piss off both parties, more or less equally, throughout his tenure. And when it concludes, it will place him with Fiorello LaGuardia, Robert Wagner and Ed Koch, as the only mayors in the 108 year history of New York City, to have held the office for three terms.


Beyond the reach of a mayoral office, with all its inherent grass roots challenges, Bloomberg has been very vocal on national issues as well. He did after all once have his eye on the presidential prize. And he has championed causes, that in turn have caused the courts to have to reel him in. Yes, Michael Bloomberg does have a giant soda of an ego.




One recent and highly spoofed example being, his view on the role government ought to play in mandating a healthy lifestyle. Can one imagine any other politician going anywhere near something like seeking a ban on soft drinks of 16 ounces or more? Earning him in some circles, the sobriquet of the “Mommy Mayor.” Yet he still enjoys relatively high job approval ratings, as his administration is winding down.


But back to the turf.


This is now a place, that through his vision— and the creativity of Amanda Burden who heads up the Department of City Planning— has opened its arms wide, to encourage people to step outside into the fresh air (another cause he is passionate about), to look up, to take it all in, to have a seat and smell the coffee, to enjoy the feeling of being alive. Yes, that far sweeping. Or just poetic fantasy?



But the prose is equally thrilling, especially when read in the context of the trending statistics that reflect the new face of this city. In particular, the inverse relationship between tourism and crime. A record fifty million tourists annually… up 56% from a year ago; 414 yearly murders… down 36% from a year ago—an all time low. (But then again, there are some who want to murder all these tourists). In 1990, the annual homicide rate had peaked at 2,605.


New York is now among the safest big cities in the country. A recent ranking list compiled on FBI statistics, illustrates this point.




Certainly this is not the doing of the Bloomberg administration alone, as these numbers have been trending in this direction for many years now. And certainly Rudy Giuliani must get credit for initiating that development. And certainly low crime rates are due to a multiple series of factors. But the creation of an aesthetically pleasing upbeat environment, contributes to a better citizenry and quality of life. Which then also has a potential financial upside. Though it’s not about money. And it doesn’t cost a dime to sit on one of the newly developed piers looking out at the sunset over the Hudson River.


                                                                 Pier 1; August 2013 photo by Ron Vazzano©


So the legacy of Bloomberg just might lie in what might be called the “landscape math.” Here are a few fascinating numbers culled from various media sources that have been generated on Bloomberg’s 12-year watch.

• 40,000 new buildings—including Barclays Center
• 40% of the city rezoned
• 450 miles of bike lanes
• 6,000 bikes in a bike share program
• 750,000 new trees planted
• 800 acres of city parkland—including the High Line

And it all adds up perhaps, to something along these lines…

…Everyone’s in a wonderful mood,
joking, taking walks through the still streets
that the single reporter allowed inside has described as


“unleavened with reminders of the old city’s
       complicated past,
but giving off some blue perfume from the early years
       on earth.”

—David Berman
New York, New York
from Actual Air © 1999


Like him or not, Bloomberg has changed the local culture. Thereby demonstrating, that even in the Potato Syndrome world of politics, such things are possible. And to paraphrase the words of that “New York, New York” anthem: “If change can be made there/change can be made, anywhere.…”






Quote of the Month



         “The taste for quotations (and for the juxtaposition
          of incongruous quotations) is a Surrealist taste

                                                              —Susan Sontag


       Sand Castle by Matthew Long in Lower Manhattan: August 2013; photo by Ron Vazzano©







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