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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Last Saturday night, I was sitting in Philly’s 30th Street Station waiting on a connection. It was a slow evening and the old cavernous railway hub was sparsely filled. I’d missed my scheduled train because it hadn’t been announced. Apparently, the departure of New Jersey Transit commuter lines are occasionally overlooked by the station attendants and only frequent users of those lines have solved the mystery of scheduled departures.

I was on the phone discussing a few creative ideas with The Ab. We hung up and then I saw her. She sat down on the bench in the row in front of me. Her back was to me, but her profile was evident while her head was slightly bowed as she read. White hair, two braids, glasses, simple – bohemian. My heart sped up a bit because I didn’t believe it was her. But it was; like me, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Patti Smith was quietly waiting for a connection too.

I walked over and asked politely, “Excuse me, are you Miss Smith?”

She said in that unmistakeable raspy voice, “I am.”

I replied, “I’m Gary Harris, I worked in many record companies, and I grew up in the hip hop business.”

Her first records came out while I was in high school. I was too busy keeping up with Earth Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder to pay much attention. Later, in Boston, when I involved myself in the little 10 watt college radio station that would change the course of my life forever, Ray Fallon, a classmate with cutting edge rock tastes, kept our little funk, jazz and soul station honest by being the primary programming ear for our morning rock show. As a result, I gained exposure to the first recordings of The B-52s, The Police and early stuff from Patti. I still didn’t pay much attention to her music because an androgynous upstart named Prince was the dominant new voice that captured my attention.

Later still, I became immersed in the ’80s world of Downtown New York, the bohemian paradise below 14th Street in Manhattan, that was populated by artists, designers, dancers, fashionistas, musicians, hustlers, socialites and rule breakers of every type. An experimental scene knitted together by punk, alternative and hip hop cultures, and where clubs had names like Danceteria, Area, The Roxy, The World and Save The Robots. It was an era when Madonna, Basquiat, Keith Haring, Grandmaster Flash and others made their bones. Due to the ghettoization of the disciplines of all of these artists, we were all forced to hang out in the same spots, and somehow or another, we were all considered punk to a greater or lesser extent. Patti Smith was our predecessor and an architect of the aesthetic that shaped that world. At the time, I was a little busy promoting underground hip hop acts to mainstream radio to have paid much attention to her records.

But I read. Some say a lot, I’d say not enough. There’s never enough time to get it all in, but I make an effort to search out new and interesting authors. A few years back, Patti’s brilliantly observed and exquisitely written memoir “Just Kids” came into my life, and for a little while it lit up my world. Her descriptions of her relationships with controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, playwright Sam Shepard and the music, art, theater, poetry and photography that formed them are beautiful.

We talked briefly, but covered a wide range of topics. I asked where she was coming from. “South Jersey,” she said.

“Do you still have family there?”

“Yes.”

I told her that I’d loved how in her book she’d detailed growing up in stifling working class conditions, and that, “I loved the way you described how listening to early rock & roll gave you creative and emotional freedom,” I said, “I’m from Jersey too. The town where The Isley Brothers and Wilson Pickett lived.”

She asked, “Did Jimi Hendrix used to play with The Isley Brothers?”, and continued, “Johnny Mathis played my high school prom and in a smaller ballroom off to the side, The Isley Brothers were playing. They had this great looking guitarist who was doing splits while he performed and I remembered that they were all laughing at him. Later when I saw him (Hendrix) perform, I wondered if that was the same guy.”

I asked incredulously, “Johnny Mathis played your high school prom? Wow. That must have been some high school.”

“It was a sponsored event,” she said.

“Obviously,” I replied. And then I continued, “Yes Jimi played with them, and in fact, he lived with them when they were all still with their mom in a house right across the street from my junior high school.” I told Patti, “I loved how you referenced (John) Coltrane in your book. He recorded A Love Supreme in the area where I grew up. The engineer who recorded the record (Rudy Van Gelder) still lived there when he died recently.”

“I can’t believe I’m running into you at the train station in Philly,” I said.

“We’re both in our hood,” and she went on, “When I first moved to New York, I walked along 57th Street…”

“When you worked at the book store?”, I interrupted.

“…no, before I worked at the book store. And I stopped at a church… I don’t remember the name of the church…”

“And that was when you ran into the elderly couple who looked at you and your friend and said to one another, “Look at those two. They seem so interesting, you think they might be artists?” And you overheard the reply, “Nah, I don’t think so, they’re just kids”.

Patti Smith is a national treasure. She came up as a muse and poet who was convinced by others to record and perform. Reading her memoir was a deeply moving experience unlike few I’ve gotten from a book. I’ve already read it twice, and along with her newest “M Train” I intend to read it again.

Meeting her felt like speaking with an older relative with highly evolved mystic gifts. Her demeanor was quiet and powerful.

I mentioned that I’d seen her documentary on PBS and she shared that it was a labor of love that took a decade to complete. Shot while she was based in Detroit, it covered a period of semiretirement when she grieved over the loss of her husband and brother, while she raised her kids.

We talked about many other things, but when I began to relate the experience to a friend, I became overwhelmed with emotion and began to cry. The force is very strong with that one. I’m happy that we both made our connection.

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For Michael Stipe, Annabella Sciorra, Julie Panabianco, The Ab, Hilly Kristel (R.I.P.) and Ray Fallon

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Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix wanted to make a record together, but Hendrix died before they could get it done. And before his death, Davis was searching for a hip hop producer to cut tracks with. Davis was an adventurous spirit who pushed the envelope until the end, and he was definitely not going to continue to play Bill Evans charts or Cole Porter and Gershwin standards forever – he moved on. At some point, we all have to. I loved the record business of the ’80s, 90s, and ’00s but I’m excited about the way it is now, and I am optimistically looking forward to the future.

As a major label promotion man who eventually experienced platinum level success as an A&R man, I was a reasonably well compensated and high profile participant in what was essentially a manufacturing business that placed ultimate importance on the shifting of the plastic and vinyl that the music was embedded on as its end game. But that’s all changed, even though there’s an upswing in vinyl sales, now the little pieces of plastic and vinyl are being phased out – by the record companies that once all but murdered in order to sell them – so the music itself can be consumed digitally over the web. 

Technology has realigned virtually every critical relationship in the process that begins in the mind and soul of a creative individual – with musical intentions – and eventually makes its way to the end user. Internet and satellite radio are plentiful, and this has all lessened the grip that brick and mortar retail, terrestrial radio and record companies had on the game. With no one to guide, lead, force or promote them, consumers can now find new music on You Tube, on Soundcloud and Mix Cloud. Once they’ve heard it they can download the music legally or illegally from any number of independent digital outlets, underground file sharing services or from iTunes. Or they can stream the music on one of several services. 

I adapted to this new reality; I began to network aggressively on social media, I took several digital subscriptions to consumer publications and read them for news of e-business. I read The Digital Music Report and Pitchfork. I used my extensive knowledge of music, and my collection of over 30,000 MP3 files to program iPods for celebrity friends and others. I read books. I read scripts. I looked for Music Supervision gigs in film and television by using the apps for Hollywood trade publications. I became an advisor to the Universal Hip Hop Museum and suggested that in advance of breaking ground on a physical space, a “virtual museum” collection could be curated and displayed on a website. I became a freelance writer, and an announcer on Beats 1 Radio. I realized I wasn’t going to beat ’em so I joined ’em. Call it gospel, blues, jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, trap or Urban it’s all Black Music, and much of it is still the music of struggle, of strength, of joy and pain and I am proud to continue to play some small part in its preservation and it’s exposure. 

Black Music is no longer the sole province of the well dressed occupants of corner office suites located on high floors of Sixth Avenue skyscrapers. The democratizing affect of the Internet has eroded the need for the middle man mentality that impeded the progress of hip hop in its early years, and denied the impact of downloading and file sharing until it was almost too late. Now the music has outgrown the relationship that record companies enjoyed with retail and radio for decades. It’s viral, it’s infected everything and everyone in its wake, it’s global. It’s bigger than the radio, bigger than spins, bigger than anyone who induced spins for a living. 

For the entire summer of 2010, leading up to the release of his Dark and Twisted Fantasy project, on a weekly basis, Kanye West previewed early mixes of each album track on Twitter, for free, before he dropped the completed album in the fall. During the promotional set up phase of the project he went to the home offices of Google and Facebook to perform selections from the album. When the record was released he went to number 1 on Billboard’s Pop Albums Chart. Beyoncé no longer turns her record into her record company or services radio with a single, she now shoots a long form video, plays it one time on HBO, and for a limited amount of time, she now makes the album exclusively available through Tidal – her husband’s streaming service – waits a bit, puts the record up on iTunes for downloading and goes to number one. She then embarks on an extensive Black Lives Matter influenced tour and sells out football arenas across the nation. And Frank Ocean, after feeling unappreciated by his record company, fulfilled his contractual obligation to the label by releasing an album exclusively through Apple Music, and then bought his way out of his deal, digitally released another record the following week with no radio, no set up, and no warning and entered the Billboard chart at number one. Clearly things have changed. The artists are no longer playing the game the way it had been played before. They’ve started a league of their own. 

Now the music is in the The Roots Picnic, The Made In America Labor Day jump off and Afro Punk. It’s in the fourth season of the Yeezy fashion collection, it’s in the bespoke sartorial splendor of Nile Rodgers’ gear, it’s in the startling world wide success of Straight out of Compton, it’s in the deal that Apple struck with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, it’s in Barack Obama’s voice as he sings an Al Green classic from the stage of the Apollo Theater. It’s Q-Tip going to the White House. It’s in the Hotline Bling, it’s in the Bad Boy Reunion Tour, the Netflix series, The Get Down, the 50 Cent produced, STARZ series, Power, the deeply sarcastic and brilliant humor of Donald Glover’s FX series, Atlanta. It’s Rhianna covering Vogue, it’s in her Work. It’s in Revolt TV. It’s in the bohemian hood funk of Anderson .Paak, the songs of freedom of Gregory Porter and the sweet and low sexiness of Kandace Springs. It’s Amy Schumer telling Charlie Rose that Obama’s summer playlist is cool because it includes a track from D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar album, it’s in Chris Rock’s Top 5 MCs, it’s Black Thought and ?uestlove rocking with Adele on The Tonight Show. It’s in All Def Digital. It’s in the prose of Colson Whitehead, Bryan Stevenson, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Heather Ann Thompson. It’s Kendrick Lamar illustrating the genocide of over incarceration on stage at The Grammys. It’s in the bold swagger of Ryan Coogler’s Creed, it’s in Common’s acceptance speech at the Oscars, it’s in Meshell Ndegeocello’s moving score for Queen Sugar. It was on the CDs that Alton Sterling was selling, it’s in Formation, it’s in your Lemonade, it’s in this essay, it’s everywhere. Can’t you feel it? 

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Nina Simone was way ahead of her time. “What Happened, Miss Simone?” the new Netflix documentary – that went up on the site this weekend – clearly depicts this fact. Oscar nominated, Liz Garbus and producer/music industry vet, Jayson Jackson have come up with a tale of art, power, pain, and sacrifice that has lit up the independent film festival circuit and is a must see.

Simone was a bi-polar, bi-sexual, genre defying artist/activist, whose career arc began as a child prodigy in the Black church. While growing up in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, Jim Crow was master of all he purveyed. But in spite of this, Nina’s obvious talent attracted the attention of white patronage and tutelage. Eventually, aspirations were stoked within the young artist’s soul for a career in classical music. The dream of glory on the stages of the great European concerts halls, playing the compositions of Beethoven, Bach and Brahms was dashed, when racist thinking prevented her acceptance into a prestigious Philadelphia based music school.

Young Nina found hope and opportunity nonetheless, and began to pursue a career as an Atlantic City nightclub singer. Notoriety that she received from this period led to a recording contract and the release of her smash rendition of Gershwin’s standard “I Loves You Porgy” and a stunning debut at the Newport Jazz Festival. What then appeared to be a promising career as a jazz influenced standards singer was redirected by the bombing death of four little girls in a Birmingham, Alabama church, the assassination of Mississippi activist, Medgar Evers and Nina’s eventual participation in a civil rights movement in full swing.

With all of her standing in the international creative community, she chose to fight for the rights of her people. Nina’s commitment to change, to justice and to better may have caused her to lose millions. The radicalized Simone performed for marchers on the eve of the Selma protests, hung out with James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Langston Hughes and became the next door neighbor of Malcolm X. Simone’s defiant expression of Afrocentric creativity not only planted seeds for the eventual emergence of hip hop, but found supporters and followers in a nascent feminist movement that has flowered into a serious presidential candidacy for Hillary Clinton.

Last February, when John Legend received his Best Original Song Oscar for “Glory,” his collaboration with Common, from the soundtrack of “Selma,” he both quoted and thanked Nina Simone when he said, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” Through his music and his work with the Black Lives Matter Movement, Legend has proven to be a creative and political son of Nina Simone’s that she might have been proud of. Along with Talib Kweli, J. Cole, Jigga and Q-Tip, Legend has risked commercial acceptance by raising his voice for justice.

The recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and Charleston remind us that the struggle that Simone was engaged in is not over, and that lessons from the past must inform our fight for a better present and a more hopeful tomorrow. Revolutionary activist, Angela Davis has contributed liner notes to a forthcoming compilation album, “Nina Revisited: A Tribute To Nina Simone” that has been inspired by the film, and that will feature five new vocal performances from Ms. Lauryn Hill. Davis wrote this of Simone, “I first heard Nina Simone’s music as a high school student in the late 1950’s in New York. Although her name did not yet by itself evoke black freedom, as when she later sang “All I want is equality/ For my sister, my brother, and me,” I do not think that I was alone in feeling that something in her phenomenal voice beckoned us toward the battle to come. It was from Nina Simone that we learned, for example, how not to interpret the tactical importance of nonviolence as mitigation of our collective anger against racism. Thus “Mississippi Goddamn” became as important an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement as “We Shall Overcome.”

On this last weekend of Black Music Month, and while we fight to reform an unjust system that must be reminded that Black Lives Matter, it might be instructive to watch “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and remember how much further we must travel before we overcome and how hard Nina Simone fought to get us here.

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SCOTT RUDIN and AMY PASCAL

Last month, Sony Pictures became the victim of a massive hack into its computer systems and the company’s dirty laundry has been incrementally aired over the web ever since. Fascinating details of the inner workings of a major Hollywood studio concerning salaries, material, talent, and politics have emerged and become a dynamic source of debate on the Interwebs.

One of the leaked e-mail threads, in particular, has stirred a tremendous amount of anger. Sony Pictures Chair, Amy Pascal and top Hollywood and Broadway producer Scott Rudin had a personal e-mail exchange where they both made a racist conjecture about Barak Obama’s taste in films. In light of a recent Hollywood Reporter cover story where my old friend Chris Rock penned an essay that spelled out the reality that Hollywood was a town filled with racist liberals who, on the whole, continue to exclude blacks from decision-making positions, both Pascal and Rudin look like country club rednecks who secretly have the confederate flag hanging over their fireplaces. Ironically, the event that prompted the poorly chosen private joke was a high-powered fundraiser for Obama that Pascal would be attending later. After the story hit the web, both Rudin and Pascal issued apologies the next day.

Yesterday morning, after I posted an account of the TV producing powerhouse, Shonda Rhimes accusation that the press had been less than forthcoming by describing Rudin and Pascal as “insensitive” rather than “racist” when she Tweeted, “U can put a cherry on a pile of shit but it don’t make it a sundae,” a young Facebook friend of mine inquired, “Where’s the NAACP on this?”

When I responded, “What do they need to do? They apologized. It’s over.”

My friend was not too pleased with my response and posted, “Racism isn’t over. Wish it were that simple.”

Producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, creator of the

THE POWERHOUSE

In my opinion, that’s not debatable but it is an oversimplification. I don’t apologize for racists, but I think there’s more at work here so I answered, “And what would you suggest? Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Jay-Z are involved in Sony’s biggest Christmas movie (Annie). Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, and Beyoncé have all worked with Screen Gems (a Sony division), any complaints from them? Scott Rudin has produced the new Chris Rock movie (Top Five), you expecting to hear anything from Chris? Pharrell had Sony’s biggest record this past year, worked on the last Spider-Man soundtrack, and hired Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar, you expecting to hear anything from them?”

He’s a smart kid, but an outsider whose reply indicated that he was less than impressed, “Facetiously, I suggest we say and do nothing and continue to receive handouts. Mere pittance. I say resoundingly, that there are more Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamars, Elbas, Foxxs…out there. While I love all of those individuals that you and I named, I suggest Hollywood stop going to the same individuals and let everyone on, not just Alicia, Idris, Lamar etc…. There are so many talented artists out there and they are being hindered and suffocated by the Pascals and Rudins of the world. Racism is subtle and cunning.”

It was early yesterday morning, and I didn’t have time to explain to my earnest friend the idea of bankability, the requirements to open a movie or that none of the previously mentioned artists were “let” in. No, they worked, clawed, fought and got themselves in a position where their talent was not only noticed but in demand. So I hit him with this, “I do not disagree that it’s cunning. I asked what would you do, not what you would have Hollywood do. You protest against policies not e-mails. Annie is not a pittance, and Will Smith is not taking handouts he is partnered with Sony management. Is there a need for more black involvement in Hollywood? Sure. Will boycotting Sony achieve that? I’m not sure it will. The real issues are these; 18 Sony employees in management are making north of half a million a year, none of them is black, and only one is a woman. Amy Pascal jokingly inquired of Rudin about what should she say to Obama because she doesn’t have enough black people in her circle. Entertainment is a closed network and cash intensive. If you know of independent third party financing that is really interested in serious entertainment driven by black creativity, let me know. I can help ’em get in the game quickly. You certainly can make your mark independently, but if you want to have true international success, you at some point will have to work within a corporate structure, and that means racists. Previously, the closest thing to this was the Imus situation and Donald Sterling neither of whom had the good sense to apologize. Rudin and Pascal have. Don’t expect to hear from the Hollywood NAACP on this they want to work.”

Are they racists? Perhaps. Was their exchange loaded with racist attitudes? Definitely. Are they discriminatory? That is the more important question, and in that regard the answer is less clear. Sony has helped Will Smith become a wealthy and powerful mogul. Before the hacking “Annie” was set to make a fortune for Smith, his producing partner Jay-Z and the film’s star, Jamie Foxx. Sony has also been instrumental in channeling the mega-wattage of Kevin Hart into films. Rudin has brought Denzel Washington, Chris Rock and Whoopi Goldberg to Broadway, remade “Shaft” with Samuel L. Jackson, has a film version of the ’70s TV series “Good Times” in development, and is working with a friend of mine to develop a musical version of a classic ’70s blaxploitation film for the big screen. Though Pascal and Rudin’s private e-mails reveal racist attitudes that are troubling their practices are not exactly discriminatory.

Barak Obama’s white house called Pascal and Rudin’s apologies, “appropriate”. I would have to agree. In addition to Pascal’s written apology, she also called Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson to offer her apologies to them as well. Sharpton issued a statement that indicated that she needed to meet with him. That’s code for, “Hit me with a consultant’s check, hire my people, and I’ll help this go away for you.” Here’s where I am with it: If Al puts the bite on her for more gigs, access and content then this was all a good thing. I personally don’t care what the contents of her personal e-mails are as much as I care that her production budget, marketing budget, and slate are both more inclusive and more reflective of where we are right now.

These are heated times we live in. Race and class based discrimination seen through the lens of new technology and Social Media has various factions of society at each other’s throats. Cop killers are getting away with murdering black people, and in response, people of good will of all colors, and from varied backgrounds are uniting in solidarity for justice. Students, artists, athletes, workers, intellectuals and politicians have all participated in demonstrations, die ins, I can’t breathe ins and marches of some sort since the Staten Island and Ferguson grand jury decisions were made public.

Later today, three marches in Boston, New York and Washington will continue to illuminate the corrupt practices of the criminal justice system, and mount public pressure on elected officials to address the will of the people. Despite the long hard journey ahead this is a moment that gives hope. For those of you who are uncertain of the usefulness and impact that these acts will eventually have, remember this: The Eric Garner grand jury decision was shared with the public last week, and since then, worldwide reaction has been stunning. If change does not come it won’t be because we didn’t fight for it. Personally, I remain hopeful and I’m encouraged by the amount of love that has been displayed on a global basis.

I have several friends who are participating in the organizing, the marching, protesting and the all out pursuit of justice for those who have been unjustly murdered, and their families. Hopefully, we will all get through this period in better shape than when we started. And if they are paying attention to the drama of the moment, maybe Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin will green light and produce a film of quality that depicts the struggle that we are going through. If they do, they should hire me as the music supervisor. I know what they are missing.

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For Debbie, Sammy, Rush, Mike, Dream, The Justice League NYC, the inspired and the Freedom Fighters

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MIKE NICHOLS ON THE SET OF THE GRADUATE

The 30th of October, 2001 was memorable. It was a crisp fall evening and the opening night of the NBA basketball season. Michael Jordan had come out of retirement one last time and donned the uniform of the Washington Wizards. He’d been granted an equity stake in the team, and had gotten that itch to lace ‘me up again. Coincidentally, the old Knick killer was scheduled to make his season debut at Madison Square Garden against a Knicks team that was in decline. I was a newly installed Executive Vice President of a fresh start-up record company that was based in LA, and I was traveling back and forth between both coasts while trying to sign artists and establish a New York office. I got a pair of tickets for the game and a date.

New York was still on it’s heels after having taken a devastating combo on the chin when both World Trade Center towers were destroyed on 9/11. National Guardsmen were patrolling the streets and paranoia filled the air. Buildings that you could previously walk through in order to take a shortcut were closed. Metal detectors were everywhere, and anyone with a Middle Eastern appearance was mistrusted on sight. Racist propaganda was spouted from every possible source, and patriotism was the thing that made it okay. The Bush administration was preparing to take advantage of the patriotic fervor by invading two countries that we still haven’t fully gotten out of, and by directing then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to use the moment to empower all intelligence services to begin to monitor civilian communication by phone, and the web – they called it the Patriot Act. We were badly in need of an evening’s entertainment.

This particular night, the game was being played in the stands. Jordan brought the A-list out and seated next to me was SNL’s Darrell Hammond, and his date, Lorraine Bracco of the Sopranos. My seats were cool – right on the aisle of the first row behind the fold-ups on the Eighth Avenue baseline. We were in the corner nearest the Knicks bench. The networking thing was in full effect. My date was a leggy Italian attorney with a great smile and gorgeous eyes. I’d given her the seat on the aisle and she was being chatted up by one of the City’s great power couples, Good Morning America anchorwoman, Diane Sawyer and her husband, the great film, and theater director, Mike Nichols. Lovely people. It was an honor to spend an evening in their company.

Of course, at that point, I had already been a Nichols fan for nearly 35 years after seeing his satirical groundbreaking masterwork “The Graduate” as a child. And since then, I’ve seen it many, many times more, along with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, Working Girl, Silkwood, The Birdcage, Postcards From The Edge, Wolf, Heartburn and his unforgettable contemplation on morality, fidelity and the Internet, Closer.

Earlier today, news came to us that Nichols died of a heart attack. I do remember that the Knicks beat the Wizards that night, but I most remember meeting one of the greatest directors that America has produced. I am grateful to have lived during the era that formed him. R.I.P. Mike Nichols, you did your thing.

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For Sylvia

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Newburgh

Newburgh, New York, currently has the highest murder rate per capita in the state. Like many of America’s urban centers, manufacturing jobs have fled, and in the wake of outsourcing, they have been replaced with directionless African-American males, gang warfare, drug abuse and neglected, abandoned housing. Recently, four citizens from this dystopian, post-industrial New York City satellite ran afoul of federal authorities and were ensnared in an F.B.I. sting operation that alleged the men were Muslim terrorists planning to shoot down a U.S. Army airplane, and then blow-up a synagogue in the affluent Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. HBO has commissioned “The Newburgh Sting”, a documentary from award-winning filmmakers, David Heilbroner and Kate Davis detailing the F.B.I. plot to entrap the aforementioned four poor, Black males in a case that falsely labeled them as terrorists and sent them to prison for the attempted demolition of the synagogue and military plane. Using actual F.B.I. surveillance footage from the case, and on-camera testimony from four Newburgh defense attorneys, ex-F.B.I. officials and family members of “the four”, “The Newburgh Sting” is a searing exposé that unearths the U.S. government’s abuse of the criminal justice system in the name of Homeland security; the film premiered tonight on HBO. S/O to Jayson Jackson and Monica Lewis.

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The film “American Hustle” by director, David O. Russell, is a dark, hyper real, screwball comedy, caper film with fever pitch pacing. Stylistic flourishes from “The Sting”, “His Girl Friday” and “Goodfellas” and a white hot cast give the film the energy that should power it to several Oscar nominations.

Russell’s fictionalized account of the ABSCAM scandal, the F.B.I. sting operation that ensnared several congressman and a US Senator in the New York, New Jersey area in the late ’70s crackles with larger than life characters speaking great dialogue and engaging in morally questionable activity. Greedy, power mad government officials on the take, con men and grifters who know the angles, and wisecracking chicks who know the score and who all have extreme taste in hairstyles and wardrobe, contribute to making this one of the best movie going experiences of recent times. In an era that is obsessed with appearance, the costuming and styling in the film deserves special mention.

“American Hustle” is great story telling and played by an ensemble of stars that is quickly forming a familiar Russell troupe.

Russell is on a winning streak, his two previous films; “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook” deservedly made many of the year-ending top ten lists when they were released, and earned Oscars for Christian Bale and Hollywood’s hottest star, Jennifer Lawrence.

Bale won in support of Mark Wahlberg while playing an in and out of jail, washed-up, punch-drunk, crackhead ex-fighter who has hung ’em up to help his kid brother become the champ that he could never be. And Lawrence lit screens up, last year, as a mentally challenged dance contestant with a poor emotional filter, and went on to sweep the award season’s female lead trophies while cementing her position as the showbiz breakout of the past two years.

Bradley Cooper was also nominated in Oscar’s Best Actor category for playing opposite Lawrence and Amy Adams (who seems to turn up in just about everything good these days) was nominated for a supporting role in “The Fighter”. Cooper and Adams are also members of the fine ‘Hustle’ cast. And Jeremy Renner – a new addition to the Russell company – takes a turn as a naive and generous pol who falls prey to government overreach.

The cinematic lineage of “American Hustle” can be traced to “His Girl Friday”, “The Sting”, “Goodfellas” and other movies where fast talking film flam men and women are out to get more. Many of these films are set in economic periods of hard times where the central characters carve a slice of the pie any way they can and this one is no different. The end of the single term Carter administration that served as a placeholder between the Nixon and Reagan eras, and provides the backdrop for the movie was one of high unemployment, rampant inflation and a warning sign of the havoc that the voodoo economics of trickle down was about to cause.

Christian Bale shines as a low level grifter, with a heart of gold, who’s hard luck tale begins as the son of a glazier who breaks windows to help his father make his numbers. Lawrence provides manic comic relief as a stay-at-home mom who uses every trick in the book to hold on to Bale. Cooper is an F.B.I. agent with dreams of grandeur that lead to a tragic ending. And Adams steals the movie as Bale’s partner in crime and love and the shill who enflames Cooper’s passion for advancement.

This overly ambitious group of strivers with “little town blues”, is not satisfied with the state of things and not patient enough to wait their turn so they game anyone and everyone. Anyone who stands in their way is a potential mark, and the plot is hilariously driven by game playing, manipulation and lying.

In this America everyone is hustling; the Rudy Giuliani like US Attorney, the bologna king from Long Island, the pyromaniac homemaker, the mid level F.B.I. agent who lives with his mother, the mayor with big dreams to revitalize his state, the dry cleaner with the banking schemes and the small town stripper looking for a way up and out. In an era when economic inequality is the underlying issue of the day, Russell’s film holds a mirror up to our times and and reveals the darker side of the American dream. It is a must see.

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