hope & a bucket of popcorn

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Like all good year-end reflections by all decent upstanding homosexual men of a certain age, mine begins with Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand. And oddly enough in 1991, not 2017. See, in 1991 at the age of 19 I was living alone in an apartment in downtown Denver. Yes, I was working at my parents bookstore. Yes, I was going to school but what really made me an official adult out on my own was the ability to see movies all by myself. The hours of waiting for someone to take me and the days of practiced pitches about why we should go see Beaches instead of watching the Super Bowl were over. I could go see whatever the hell I wanted and when I wanted. And I did just that. While 1991 wasn’t exactly peak Streisand or hot as flames comeback Midler but that didn’t stop my gay ass from going to see The Prince of Tides and For the Boys, respectively. I’m pretty sure I loved both movies but what I really loved was the new act of independence along with the old comfort that film had always provided. Today, at the tippy top end of 2017, I’m happy to report that comfort and hope that movies have always given me is still very much alive and thank fucking god.  2017 was a year where movies really, really needed to do their job and here’s four films, in no particular order who did that job spectacularly.

The Florida Project: Every year, there’s a smaller, more emotionally driven film that critics love and that I usually love but somehow gets flattened when it comes to Oscars season. (Don’t talk to me about what happened to my beloved Boyhood. I’m still angry.) The film like that this year looks to be The Florida Project. Much like my trips to see Barbra and Bette, I saw this one alone at a matinée. Not flashy or hot button or big budget, I dare say The Florida Project is the most American film of the year. At once a portrait of America’s “hidden homeless” and a rollicking look at childhood mischief, The Florida Project easily pinpoints everything right and wrong with how we live in 2017. Heartbreaking, hilarious and utterly unforgettable, this movie made me remember why I love movies in the first place: at their best they show us the possibilities and serve as a mirror. The Florida Project delivers on that and so much more. Plus, it has the best ending of a film that I’ve seen in years.

Wonder Woman: My love and admiration of Wonder Woman is long and storied. Suffice to say, I dressed up like her in kindergarten and even have her tattooed on my arm for over decade. Thus my expectations were high and I’d been reading about the proposed movie versions for nearly two decades. To think we almost got versions with Sandra Bullock and Beyoncé. Shudders. Well, obviously it was worth the wait. In fact, I’d say Wonder Woman showed up just in time. While she was fighting Nazis on the big screen, real life Nazi assholes marched later that summer. Likewise, it was hard not think of her when modern villains like Harvey Weinstein were being heroically taken down by brave women. Aside from being a movie of the moment, it’s just a darn entertaining film with a fantastic lead performance and jaw dropping action sequences.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri: Many a long-winded internet essay has been penned on this film and the multitude of hot button issues it touches upon. From missing the boat on delving deeper on violence against women to being tone-deaf on racism by law enforcement, everybody has something to say about this movie and respectfully, I think they’re all wrong. What I have yet to read about this film is how it’s a meditation on grief and resentment which turns into revenge. It looks at our worst impulses and somehow makes them relatable and even funny. Darkly hilarious, the script by  Martin McDonagh is razor-sharp and takes no prisoners. A true playwrite, McDonagh isn’t afraid to let these people talk and have opinions, even if their opinions are horrible or wrong. Utterly unforgettable and badass in every sense of the word, Frances McDormand gives an already iconic performance in a film that you won’t soon stop talking about either.

The Shape of Water: I’ve already put my boxing gloves on and I’m ready to throw down with the first person who poo poos this film as a lightweight fairytale. Why? Because it’s so much more and perhaps more important than we realize. Without discounting the numerous and significant cinematic charms–the delicious soundtrack, the stunning visuals, the crisp pacing, The Shape of Water is at its heart a film about generosity and tolerance.  A black woman, a gay man, a mute and yes, a sea creature all love and protect one another in a movie that’s part Beauty and the Beast and part 50’s horror film. Guillermo Del Toro does what he does best in creating an unforgettable world but also shows us how the people we so often throw away take care of one another. I confidently say it’s my favorite film of 2017 and one I believe other 19-year-old movie nerds will find hope in too. It’s a beautiful film, a magical film and even an important film. And I’ll fight anybody who says otherwise!

Additional shoutouts to other cinematic hope providers like the witty, wonderful and wise Lady Bird, the complicated and scary The Beguiled, the important City of Ghosts, Tiffany Haddish’s performance in Girl’s Trip and the totally gorgeous Call Me By Your Name. I guess it should be noted that I have yet to see several big films like The Post or hard to find movies like Faces Places and BPM. But I will! In the meantime, what are some of your favorites from 2017?

 

 

 

 

 

 

what feeds me

shutterstock_94824595Currently, there are two pans of bread crumbs drying on my counter for two different types of stuffing or dressing or savory bread pudding or whatever your mom called it and now you call it. Because nothing says a small, sober alcoholic Thanksgiving like two different types of stuffing. Likewise, there is a container of chipotle sweet potato hummus in the refrigerator, two pumpkin rolls in the freezer and a big bag of potatoes in my cupboard awaiting that ancient Mahoney mashing magic.  And lest we forget, a turkey. I was thinking this morning as a laid in bed plotting my gravy strategy (because everyone needs one of those) that if per chance the apocalypse were to happen on Thanksgiving, this wouldn’t be so bad. We certainly wouldn’t go hungry. At least my version of the apocalypse features pie and a parade on the television.

I would say food is dominating my thoughts today because it’s Thanksgiving, which is by far my favorite holiday, but that would be a lie. I pretty much think about what I’m going to eat, what I’ve eaten, what I’ve never eaten and even wonder what your eating all throughout my day. As we’ve discussed here a few times, I love cooking, going to restaurants and sharing meals with people I love. Now that I don’t look forward to waking up and drinking a bathtub of tequila everyday, I look forward to what I’m eating. I will admit without shame or remorse that there are invitations to things that I have either accepted or denied based solely on the food being served and said event. Wanna talk to me about taxes over a plate of tacos? I’ll be there! Wanna have a friendly chat at a vegan juice bar? Hard pass! I try to celebrate and enjoy everything I eat– from a really great, perfectly ripe banana to a birthday cupcake. So hopefully it makes a choosier eater and happier Sean all the way around.  But when I think about what actually feeds me, what actually nourishes me and what really satisfies my appetite, then I’m thinking in a deeper universe far beyond my gravy strategy from earlier(still important, btw).

I had a day last week where I laughed really hard with two newer  but suddenly beloved friends on the phone. That same day I also read a great novel on the train into work as it was raining outside. There was also two delicious cups of coffee, some homemade corn chowder and a dinner of dumplings to be had that day. Sure, those things didn’t entirely make my day. Far from it. That was a day at work when me and a coworker sat with a screaming person suffering from mental health issues trying to get committed to the hospital. Additionally, I was faced with a nagging personal issue at work that I’ll eventually have to deal with before it turns into the demogorgon of my professional life. Naturally, there was also another avalanche of gross, depressing ass headlines (which do we even make any other kind of headlines in 2017?) just to top things off. But what I’m really left with today, what really stuck to my ribs and fed me was all the bright spots of that day.  Particularly, the laughter.

There is something about laughing with other people that does more for me than any pan of brownies ever can which is truly saying something if you really know me and know how important brownies are to me. But it’s true. When other people are making me laugh or I’m making them laugh, I feel like I know why I’m here on the planet. I feel like all this bullshit we listen to and people we put up with are totally worth it. Laughter is this rebellious pocket of joy that waves its middle finger at everyone and everything telling us how horrible the world is. Laughter can’t be kept down and wants us to keep pursuing it and I for one am 100% on board.

As a creative person, another thing that really feeds me is great art. This time of year for film lover like me is basically the cinema version of Thanksgiving. There are so many knockout, brilliant films pushed out from now until the end of the year that a movie amateur would feel overwhelmed. But for junkies like myself, its absolute heaven. Already with my sleeves rolled up and checking off movies one by one, I can’t say enough nice things about Lady Bird. The film directed by Greta Gerwig is getting heaps of praise and it’s easy to see why. Gerwig captures those awkward teenage moments while never deviating into cliché. But for my money the movie that knocked me on my ass and blew my mind at the same time is The Florida Project. While telling the tale of kids who live in rent by the week motels outside of Disney World, the movie also will open moviegoers eyes to the existence of America’s hidden homeless population. But what the movie really does is show that these kids are still capable of having fun while being homeless. Shot in a clear hilarious homage to The Little Rascals, Sean Baker focuses on  6-year-old Moonee and her friends who don’t need big fancy suburban houses to cause trouble. Really funny, heartbreaking and packed with the most devastatingly beautiful ending of a film that I’ve seen in years, The Florida Project fired my creative juices up and whet my appetite for more delicious seasonal film offerings.

As the clock ticks down and I get ready to transition from normal guy in pajamas to crazy person in the kitchen, the biggest thing that feeds me recently is more present than ever: love. There is a great moment in the film Marvin’s Room that goes like this:

Bessie: Oh, Lee, I’ve been so lucky. I’ve been so lucky to have Dad and Ruth. I’ve had such love in my life. You know, I look back, and I’ve had such… such love.

Lee: They love you very much.

Bessie: No, that’s not what I mean. No, no… I mean that I love them. I’ve been so lucky to have been able to love someone so much.

This exchange has stuck with me for over 20 years since that film was released and not just because it’s between Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. But because the longer I’m sober and hopefully less self involved, I want to be grateful for the love I get to have for people and not chase love for what I’ll get in return. I know. Sounds lofty and hard and a little corny. Still, I think I’ll try it. I think I’ll try to love my husband, my cats, other addicts and alcoholics and my family the best way I know how.

And today what that looks like is lots of laughs and two different  kinds of stuffing.

 

 

 

was it the movie or was it the moment?

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“A place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?”

Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

If the world right now seems like an overwhelming, horrible fucked up place, that’s because it is. And let’s get it out of the way- I won’t be the one to ever tell you to channel your anger and sadness and go make a change. I mean this isn’t “The Man in the Mirror” and I am not Michael Jackson. While I am already trying my damnedest to write the least motivational post of all time, we might as go for broke here and I’ll give you my advice for dealing with a world in turmoil: don’t. Seriously. For a moment or perhaps a day or even a few days why not take your voice out of the chatter and go sit in the dark and watch a movie.

Sure, it sounds like stupid advice which it probably is, considering I’m a person who hates advice. I’m also a drug addict who loves avoiding life so naturally I’d go tell you to run and hide from anything unsavory or depressing. But hear me out. Whether it was monster movies on in the middle of the afternoon on local tv or sitting and watching Redford and Streep in Out of Africa on the big screen, I was always able to find what I was looking for as a kid when I went to the movies. Growing up in the dawn of cable and the VCR era of the 1980’s meant we suddenly had access to all kinds of movies and for a cinema nerd like me, it was heaven. I’d basically watch whatever was on as I tried to figure out what I loved and didn’t love. I wanted to see every movie that books about movies talked about. I wanted to see movies like Jaws and Flashdance that were R-Rated and therefore forbidden to my Catholic soul. I wanted to see every movie that came out during the summer, even if I wasn’t excited about them. I wanted to see every movie. Period. It was how I learned about the world but more than that movies were also how I dealt with the world. At an early age I figured out that movies provided a safe space, a respite and a relief from the real world. Growing up in an alcoholic home, my real world was realer than a lot of other kids so movies gave me something the real world sometimes couldn’t: hope.

Some four decades later, film does the same thing for me. Yet thanks to recovery and plenty of time dealing with this here real world, I have a healthy relationship with movies. On Friday afternoon after discovering it was on Amazon Prime, I decided to watch The Wizard of Oz. The movie was on my mind after me and some of my twitter buddies started the #30DayMovieChallenge. This is one of those list challenges where everyday for  a month you come up with different films for different categories. It’s a blast and currently providing a break from the shitstorm of bad news to be found online. When my pal Susan said The Wizard of Oz was her all-time favorite movie, something hit me. Maybe I need to watch it again. I hadn’t seen it in decades and due to early childhood flying monkey trauma, the movie had always kind of freaked me out. I even sluffed it off on the “hate it” pile for a while. Sure, I’m gay and love Judy Garland but I didn’t get the never-ending love for The Wizard of Oz.

Now being older and of (slightly) more sound and open mind, I really wanted to watch it. Suffice to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it and marveled at the tricks it was able to pull off for being made in 1939. There’s a sadness and desperation now found in all of Judy Garland’s work for me so that made her already great performance here even better. Plus, the music is really clever and well done. But it triggered something that I forgot: I really loved Glinda the Good Witch as a kid. Sure, in her pink sparkly gown with her coy one-liners and shiny hair it seems obvious that 7-year old Sean would love her. But somehow my brain forgot that and only remembered those flying monkeys (still creepy AF, by the way). Billy Burke is a delight and I was happy to reunite childhood me with her. This little matinée in the merry old land of OZ got me thinking: maybe the movies are magic but maybe the moments in which you see them certainly help.

Nursing a terrible cold with really spicy pasta arrabiata and The Philadelphia Story. Ditching class to see Natural Born Killers only to walk out halfway through (Woody Harrleson has that effect on me). Watching Almost Famous with my grandma and both of us crying as we talked about it on the bus ride home. Feeling heartbroken after my grandfather died and numbly binge watching 80’s movies like St Elmo’s Fire. I’ll never forget these films nor will I forget what was going on in my life those moment.

Elsewhere in my brain live movies that were really important because of who I was at the time: Top Gun being a film I saw with a group of new friends as an awkward tween, Reality Bites with my first real boyfriend and The Fantastic Mr Fox during my first year of sobriety. In every case, the importance of the actual life milestone and of the film itself bleeds together. They become one big sticky, sugar-coated memory which as a person who doesn’t like to feel their life I really enjoy. The movie and the reality of the moment are now gilded together forever making them both easier to remember. This is incredibly helpful for a person who did so much Ecstasy they’ve been left with the memory of a goldfish. The movies and the moments help one another out in the watery vortex of my brain.

Yet movies (and moments too) end. Therefore, my dear Toto, there isn’t a place in the real world where there isn’t any trouble. We do get to lean on movies, though which on the day after the senseless tragedy in Manchester means a lot. We get 90 minutes or so to see something else, to be someone else, to feel something else. And that sounds pretty valuable right about now. But mainly, we get to remember that, despite the horrible fucked up shit in the headlines, humans are capable of beauty. Movies are proof of that.

a new acceptance speech

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I guess it comes as no surprise that I’ve watched nearly every telecast of the Academy Awards since about 1982. But I’ve never seen anything like last night. A screw up of epic proportions befell poor old Bonnie and Clyde and the internet is unlikely to shut the hell up about anytime soon.  Nevertheless, Moonlight ending up winning and La La Land graciously danced off stage. But the real winner last night, believe it or not in a glitter covered affair oozing with self-congratulation, was humility.

Within seconds of La La Land being mistakenly announced, my twitter feed was filled with angry fans raging about “white mediocrity” and “rigged” awards shows while some even said they’d thrown their phones and turned off their televisions. We’re so used to feeling victimized by information, (or letting ourselves feel that way rather) that we swim in the reactionary pools of the times and join the angry mob chanting, “See? We Told you. Everything is fucked!” Being a person who is still not over Sissy Spacek not winning for her brilliant work in In the Bedroom, I understand this thinking. Films are passionate things and therefore bubble up volcanic responses. In 2017, after the most contentious political season ever, we’re now more prone to react and feel like we’re being taken advantage of. Yet within moments what we thought we knew, what we were ready to rage against, had completely changed. And what had emerged was humanity, a simple mistake. Talk about the ultimate plot twist! Maybe it isn’t always bad guys winning or terrible circumstances. Maybe we just fuck up. It’s a hilarious twist and the pitch perfect dose of humanness that even the most optimistic writer of musicals couldn’t come up with. By now, all the requisite apologies have been sent out and people are embarrassed. But I think it’s poetic. Maybe the most punk rock thing you can do in an era of a president who likes to incessantly toot his own horn is to admit that you screwed up. Certainly worked for Adele a few weeks ago at the Grammy’s. Certainly works in my own life too.

Anybody who’s gotten sober or had to ask for help at any point in their life has had to muster up a shitload of humility. My own journey in sobriety is a never-ending slew of moments of me saying, “I screwed up. Can you help me?” I’m honestly tired of how many times I have to apologize, ask for help and accept things I can’t change. I mean can’t somebody else do that shit for a change? Alas, no. And so I’m lucky to continue my spiritual growth (also known as “the fuck up and clean it up program”) with the hope that maybe I’m a tad better than I was yesterday. This tablespoon of humility and acceptance, although tough for an entitled diva like myself to swallow, sure makes day-to-day living a fuck ton easier and even enjoyable. I’m getting ready to move (I know. I know. I’ve mentioned it so many damn times that this blog is starting to feel like The Secret of NIMH for fucks sake) and it’s brought up a lot of fear and old behavior. In a fancy hotel room just a few days ago, I had to admit all of this to my beloved who quickly reassured that it was all going to be okay (and it was) but the point is I wouldn’t have felt better had I pretended I was okay even though I was freaking out on the inside. I’m a human and when I remember to act like one, crazy emotions, fears and mistakes included, I just feel better.

As I type this, trolls a plenty are bashing the Oscars for that one mistake, for being human. Which is too bad. There were so many other fantastic moments to focus on. From that moving Sara Bareilles tribute to that incredible Viola Davis speech I literally spent most of the night sobbing into my mozzarella sticks. I personally found the whole show to be beautiful, celebratory and inspiring. Look, nothing is perfect. Not even Moonlight, which in my film opinion suffers from a soggy second act, timid direction and an inability to really go balls out, since you asked.

But the point is beauty is still exists and it shows up when I accept things for the fabulous fucked up, imperfect way they are.

lost weekends found

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To all my people who know where your wallet is this morning, put your hands up!

All my people who woke up in their own beds, put your hands up!

All my people, who didn’t have to read their sent text messages to remember their weekends, throw your hands up!

I mean not to invoke every terrible, cornball hiphop 90’s song ever but if you are sober and accomplished those things over the weekend, bra-fucking-vo. I mean it. Staying present during this nightmare happening in slow-motion is some badass stuff. What a time to be über conscious! Like of all the eras I picked to not check out and live in my own chemically enhanced alternate reality, I chose this one. I’m just thrilled.

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Heavy sighing and bitchy remarks aside, I am actually glad that I’m sober right now. Incredibly so. Believe it or not, I’ve tried to drink my way through difficult times and I just wasn’t that fabulous at it. The problem is you eventually wake up (perhaps covered in puke or not knowing where your phone is. Throw your hands up!) and you are still you and the world is still the world that you were trying to obliterate. So here we are sober as fuck with a front row seat to the world’s crappiest real-time reality show. Pass the popcorn. popcorn-gifdream-of-jeanniebarbara-eden.gif

When people ask me, “How was your weekend?” I’m always a Debbie Downer as I usually work weekends. These best weekend ever weirdos are the same ones who are giving themselves aneurysms trying to have the best Halloween ever and the best New Year’s Eve ever. Exhausting. The best weekend ever for me involves a decent night’s sleep, tacos and plenty of pop culture. So yeah I fail miserably at that question. I should probably just have prerecorded messages like, “It was awesome! I went wind surfing!” that I can press play on and walk away when asked. Nevertheless, my weekend was great. All the boxes were checked including tacos plus bonus deep dish pizza with friends. In general, I’m winning at life (as long as I don’t read any current news or look at Facebook for extended periods of time.)

It has been on my mind recently that I do have it really good. I’m not rich by any means but I have a roof over my head and regular employment (things I didn’t always have, even in sobriety). My health is better than ever, despite being dealt a whack immune system and a delightfully Scandinavian set of mental health challenges. But mainly the big freaking gift here is I am not in a constant state of chaos like I was for so many years. And I’m not being alcoholic-dramatic when I say “many years”. My drinking, drug abuse and its subsequent fallout happened from about age 14 to the tender age of 36. That’s roughly two years longer than the run of Gunsmoke and just eight years less than The Simpsons, to put it in television terms. Therefore not living like a lunatic for several years at a row is  something that never stops being cool.

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Remembering entire weekends is something pretty special too. There are large chunks of time that are fuzzy at best for me. You don’t do as many drugs as I did to not lose whole portions of your life. Hello. That was sort of the  whole point. Mission accomplished! Now, knowing where I am, what I said to people and how I got home is my new normal. While I still have to apologize for being a jerk (All. The. Dammed. Time.) I,at the very least, remember being a jerk and can clean it up fairly quickly.

Last week, I recorded a new episode of Sloshed Cinema about the 1945 film The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. The story centers around a man, who fresh out of rehab, relapses and falls into a weekend of alcoholic insanity. It’s a terrifying film that is trying to have an evolved conversation about alcoholism in 1945. Director Billy Wilder, whom I adore like most movie nerds, does a fantastic job of portraying the disease as a real nightmare. Yet what really resonated with me is the film’s ability to tap into the chaos and insane thinking. I had so many weekends (and weekdays for that matter) filled with alcoholic despair and downright insane actions that I just got sort of used to living in terror. My last few months drinking, I had a series of heart pounding anxiety attacks which really felt like the end of the world and the only thing that would make it go away was drinking more. This is exactly the horrific predicament that Ray Milland finds himself in the movie. He either drinks and stays miserable or he ends his life. It’s a chilling place that most of us wind up and the fact that a movie so old was talking about it is amazing. Films like The Lost Weekend and the conversations they have are precisely why I do my podcast. Movies have this ability to tap into things that maybe we haven’t ever talked about out loud (Moonlight is currently doing just that in theaters across the country). When I research these films, nine times out of ten, somebody on some message board posts, “Watching this made me realize I had a problem” which is incredible.

In addition to being a plug for my podcast, I do have an actual point in post this. No, it’s not just the Jeannie eating popcorn gif. It’s that I need reminders that things are actually good today. I need to remember that I’ve come a long way and that no amount of racist, baffling headlines refutes the miracle that I am sober. I need to stay grateful, no matter what. So all my other grateful people out there, throw your damn hands up.

 

Bukowski, Booze & ‘Barfly’

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Insanity. There’s a word you hear a lot when you first try to get sober. Personally, I sort of took offense to it. I mean other people who drank everyday were crazy.  But me? I had seen worse. In fact, I know now that I purposely stacked the deck with folks crazier than myself to appear less messy,more normal. The thinking was classic bait and switch. If people noticed what trainwrecks I was with, my own trainwreckness would go unnoticed. Suffice to say, people noticed. People without serious drinking problems are rarely met with phrases like, “Thank god you got sober!’ or “You seemed pretty miserable.” Much of my insanity, as it turns out, was not actually knowing how insane I was. And therein lies the very thing I love about poet and certifiable drunken hot mess Charles Bukowski.

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I started reading more of the man’s work in preparation for a Sloshed Cinema episode about Barfly. The 1987 film starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway was written by Bukowski and is,my mind, the very definition of alcoholic insanity.At one point, right after they’ve met, Dunaway and Rourke’s characters illegally hop over a fence to steal corn growing in a random downtown Los Angeles lot. The batshit initial idea to the sloppy execution to the police chase back to Dunaway’s apartment personifies the kind of bad behavior we indulge in when we’re wasted. Bukowski, who said the script was inspired by his own life, embraces the day-to-day craziness. His script makes zero attempt at redemption for these characters and in fact at times literally spits in the face of the very idea. Grimy, disgusting, loopy and oddly charming, the world of Barfly doesn’t give a crap if we the viewer likes it or judges it. There are itsy, bitsy glimmers throughout the film that maybe Henry and Wanda might have a chance of getting their shit together but in our hearts we know that won’t happen. Mainly, because Henry, Wanda and the other seedy sleazeballs that hang around in downtown LA shitholes are pretty freaking happy to wallow where they are. It’s a fascinating stance for a film to take too. Movies about drunks, of which I’m kind of becoming an expert, usually have to either make the drunk get better or get his comeuppance. Hollywood draws a very clear line in the sand, especially in classic films. Be horrible all you want but eventually you’ll pay a price. So having Henry and Co. gleefully march towards their drunken, destitute destiny with a “Who gives a crap” attitude is nothing short of revolutionary. Bukowski’s barfly status in real-life certainly helps with the authenticity of the film. He explains, here in a classic interview with Roger Ebert:

“The movie is called ‘Barfly,’ and it’s about me, because that’s what I was, a bar fly,” Bukowski explained. “You ran errands for sadists and let the bartender beat you up, because you were the bar clown. You filled people’s days with your presence, and maybe you’d get a few free drinks now and then.”

We were hunched down with our elbows on the padded edge of the bar, talking quietly, like conspirators. Linda, Bukowski’s wife, was taking down mental notes of everything.

“The way I became a bar fly,” he said, “was, I didn’t like what I saw in the 9 to 5. I didn’t want to become an ordinary working person, paying off the mortgage, looking at TV, terrified. The bar was a hiding place, to get out of the mainstream.”

“Did you decide to become a bar fly, or did you just look up one day and see a bar fly in the mirror?” I asked him.

“I can’t answer,” he said. “It was kind of a subconscious decision. Meanwhile, I was a writer on the side, selling short stories to dirty magazines. I gave up the writing after awhile and concentrated on the drinking. I refused to accept the living death of acquiescence.”

While Bukowski never officially got sober and eventually died of leukemia, the man’s legacy as the “laureate of American lowlife” is firmly cemented and we are lucky it was captured on film. In addition to Barfly, Bukowski’s alcoholic exploits played out on the big screen in 2005’s Factotum with Matt Dillon playing a version of the poet this time around. Bukowski’s own insanity works well on camera in both films and is the very thing he built his brand on. And while it definitely makes for fantastic film discussion, I can’t help feel a little grateful that I’m no longer crazy myself.

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from ‘are you drinking’ by Charles Bukowski

 

Sobriety Stereotypes ‘Smashed’

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Ye old timey idea of what alcoholics and addicts look like can certainly be reinforced in the world of film. The white guy with the great career and beautiful wife who drinks it all away has become a trope of sorts, wheeled out by every actor from Ray Milland to Jack Lemmon to Michael Keaton and beyond.Short of beat up porkpie hat, a jug of wine and a mangy dog,  we know this sadsack drunken character the second we see him. However, in the hands of talented storytellers, films about drunks and addicts can be incredibly relatable, compelling and even entertaining. Which thank god because if they weren’t it would make doing my podcast, Sloshed Cinema excruciating. The amazing thing is that I’ve been exposed to a wealth of movies about addiction and alcoholism. Some terrific, some not so terrific and some just fucking weird. My mission for season 2 (currently available on Soundcloud & iTunes!) was a simple one: think outside of the box. Sure, there’s the classics that everybody knows and talks about. They’re classics for a reason. I’ve even done shows on some of them. But I really wanted to have different films or maybe forgotten movies that immediately didn’t pop into your mind. I also wanted to challenge myself and watch things I hadn’t seen before. Smashed,episode two’s film, topped that list for sure. It seemed, on an intuitive level, like the kind of thing I’d enjoy even though I didn’t really know much about it. Well, score one for intuition because I was right.

The film, a Sundance hit back in 2012, Smashed tells the story of Kate and Charlie Hannah (played with excellence by MAry Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul). They seem fun, hip, cool, like the kind of couple you’d want to hang with and have a few beers with. They’re two twentysomething LA kids. He’s kind of an unemployed maybe musician with wealthy parents and she’s a teacher in an elementary school. Nice as they may seem, we pretty much know right away that these two like to drink. A lot. When super-hungover Kate barfs in front of her class early in the film, you get the picture that maybe her current lifestyle isn’t exactly a healthy one. This vomiting sets in motion a big time lie to her boss as well as a series of comedic but sad misunderstandings. Oh and like it usually does, Kate’s drinking gets worse. Capped off by a crack smoking caper in downtown Los Angeles, some Lochte-style urinating on a liquor store floor and messy drunk sex Kate decides to sober. Here’s where the central conflict of the film shows up: can you get sober when your spouse is still drinking? It’s an interesting question and one not unlike the dilemma we see Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon go through way back in 1962. Yet what makes Smashed compelling is that it has something those other drunk films don’t have. Kate.

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Not only is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance as Kate unforgettable but so is the character. I read that the one of the writers of the film, Susan Burke wrote the movie on her own experiences of getting sober as a young woman and felt like her story hadn’t really been told. This intention is one of the things that makes Smashed feel important. This wasn’t some old white guy. It was a nice girl whose life keeps getting fucked up and she just wants it to stop. Her life is messy. Her relationships,outside of the ones she forages in recovery, are disastrous. Kate and her struggles are real, especially to anyone who’s been in early recovery. I found myself nodding my head and relating to Kate even though I’m a forty-something gay man.

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And that right there is why and how addicts share their stories is so freaking cool. “What it was like, what happened and what it’s like now” is the basic framework of how we drunks and addicts tell our stories. But everything else in between? All of the juicy details and personal flares? Those are as varied as the faces you see in the halls of recovery or online. Peruse one of the many thousands of sobriety blogs and you’ll see people from all walks of life going through what you’re going through. It’s true certain types of sobriety writers online trend big time, therefore certain voices seem to be louder. Right now, the voice of recovery online is distinctly female and that’s cool considering we didn’t even talk about women being alcoholics until the 1950’s. Plus, a deeper Google dig reveals that really all types of people trying to stay clean, one day at a time. Films like Smashed are important because they’re reflecting our expanding idea of what sober people look like. Ditto with the growing voices of recovery online. True, there’s still work to be done (yeah just try finding movies about people of color getting sober–it ain’t easy!) and bullshit we need to stop all together (enough with the bashing/justification of how others choose to get sober!). The point is film and art is starting to reflect what we’ve sensed all along: people trying to get sober look just like everybody else.

 

Choose Life: 20 Years of Trainspotting & Its Epic Soundtrack

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Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?
And so starts the funniest, most gruesome and heart pounding cinematic heroin adventure of all time, Trainspotting.

Released in the United States 20 years ago today, I watched Trainspotting earlier this summer for an upcoming episode of Sloshed Cinema. At two decades old, the film still has a lot of guts and the signature take-no-prisoners style of 90’s independent filmmaking so sadly missing from movies of today. There are stylistic choices and plotting that read a tad dated in 2016 but make no mistake about it: Trainspotting captures the delusion of drug addiction while putting it on the run in crime caper-style movie which cements it as a classic. One of the things Trainspotting does so well that is definitely so 90’s is have an incredible soundtrack.  So incredible is the Trainspotting soundtrack that it even it came on two CDs. Films like Romeo and Juliet, Stealing Beauty, Pulp Fiction, Singles, Reality Bites, Empire Records, Great Expectations all had these mind-blowing, very of the moment soundtracks that were often better than the movies themselves. And Trainspotting has the perfect soundtrack for the decade and for a film hell-bent on taking the audience on a terrifying hilarious ride.

From the opening montage to the closing credits and in dialogue throughout the movie, Iggy Pop and his iconic song are now synonymous with Trainspotting. It played in the trailers. The characters talk about seeing him concert. Pop himself is one of the more famous junkies on Earth. And “Lust for Life”, although it was released some 20 years earlier, perfectly sets up the tempo and action for everything Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie will do for the next 90 minutes.

New Order was a massive part of my growing up gay, terminally unique and addicted so it fits in the Trainspotting world like a glove. An underrated track stateside, “Temptation” has killer songwriting which captures the isolation and independence of the film’s lead Renton. “Temptation” is so spot on for Trainspotting that the character Diana even quotes it in a really trippy sequence. Another song called “Temptation”, by Heaven 17 also shows up in the film.

There are final hits and then there are final hits, Renton informs us. So fittingly, electronic duo Leftfield came up with a track for the film entitled “Final Hit” which illustrates the style of music dominating the times while helping to tell the film’s heroincentric story.

So much of the music of Trainspotting works overtime to create the mood of the movie. This song by Blur does that nicely, with its pounding piano and haunting vocals.  The same goes for the songs by Lou Reed, Elastica, Fun Boy Three and the below song from Primal Scream.

By the time, you get to the end of Trainspotting you’re nearly out of breath. Director Danny Boyle did such a bang up job of catapulting us from heists to overdoses back to heists again that by the time we reach the last scene, featuring this excellent Underworld track, we feel like we’ve just stepped off a thrill ride. As an electronic music listener and drug doer myself(albeit not heroin, thank goddess) this song still gives me goosebumps. My 43-year-old self sat on the edge of my couch while it played right before the final credits rolled. That’s sign of a film that held up well and a soundtrack really kicking ass. While putting this together, there were so many songs that were post-worthy but I found myself out of breath, once again. Did I miss your favorite? Post it in the comments section below. And choose Sloshed Cinema for your next podcast listen and of course, choose life.

cruel summer/best summer ever

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Right up there with griping about the earth being round and politics being terrible is complaining about seasons. I mean, honestly. There’s no surprises here. Winter’s always cold. Fall’s always slightly melancholy while spring might be a little too optimistic. And summer? Well, summer is the Beyoncé of seasons. Everybody tells you to love summer. Everybody else has a great relationship with summer. Everybody posts how magical summer is. Everybody is having the best summer of their lives. Everybody but me. Much like the aforementioned songstress, I don’t get summer’s appeal. I hate sweating. The movies, for the most part, are crap. I’m usually working and therefore cannot embark on a life changing summer odyssey. And I have no interest in participating in anything that would constitute in best summer ever behavior. Except for eating ice cream. But if we collectively decided that spring was the time when we’d eat more ice cream, I’d be okay with that.

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I will own my immoveable and snotty behavior when it comes to summer. Like many aging (gasp) hipsters, I still cling to the “everyone loves it therefore I must hate it” philosophy. Childish yet true. Seeing as this particular summer has been incredibly sad, violent and, for a lack of a more poetic phrase, fucked up, I’m left with a stronger distaste than ever for the season. Yet a crazy thing has happened: I might be really having the best summer ever. Now they don’t usually put crying, writing and self-realization on posters for the best summer ever but as I’ve mentioned, there’s been a little bit of that going on. Okay. A fuck ton of that going on. Emotions, like current temperatures, are running high. If there’s something to feel, I am feeling it.Don’t have time to feel something? Fear not! I will feel that shit for you.  Like the shite blockbuster in 3D that you spent too much money to sit thru, my emotions are loud, pounding and in my face. My emotions, as directed by Michael Bay. Somehow, I’m keeping it together. I’m getting out of bed. I’m calling people back. I’m going to meetings. I’m trying to find ways to be helpful instead of self-involved jerkface. Despite my gloomy inclinations, I’m even having fun.1970s-mens-underwear-ads-6

Not that ^ kind of fun but fun nonetheless. “Fun” I should mention is also a concept I find overrated.  I know. What am I the devil? I hate both summer and fun. Yeesh. Maybe not so much overrated but subjective. Like lots of things I think are fun (reading and drinking coffee on my patio) are not other people’s idea of fun. Likewise things like sports, mountain climbing, shooting guns at targets are not my idea of fun. I love that we tell people, “Have fun!” like it’s some kind of order. Have fun or else! Have fun or spend your life like Sylvia Plath. These are your only options. (Sidebar: what was Sylvia Plath’s idea of fun?)

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But yes. I am having fun. Outdoor concerts, train trips to the mountains, strolling around arts festivals, having friends over for game night and, yes, lots of ice cream excursions. And I have naturally found plenty of pop culture to obsess about. The Great British Baking Show isn’t just a reality baking show on PBS but a TV program I actually want to live inside of. (I could yammer for 6,000 words about the show but Linda Jones of NPR totally nails it. ) I’ve gobbled up a weird James Franco movie and the snappiest Sinatra movie about heroin for Sloshed Cinema. I finally watched Trumbo and shuddered at the realization of how paranoia and fear still exists today and enjoyed spending 2 hours with Bryan Cranston in a bathtub. What I’m getting at is even though I have summer issues(just like Seventeen magazine but more bitter) I am really enjoying myself.

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Two thoughts from minds with more perspective than my own will hopefully help me wrap up this seasonal blathering.

1.)I was given the advice during my first sober holiday season to “embrace it or get crushed by it” meaning I could lean into a season known just much for suicides as it was carolling or I could wallow in how fucked up my life still was. I chose the former. Maybe this summer I’m doing the same thing. which brings me to….

2.) The husband and I were talking about this thing called summer and he said something very profound. “Well, yeah you can absolutely have a great summer and make the most of it even if you don’t love it or if it’s hard.”

And that was it! Maybe I was making the best of hard times and maybe I was still heartbroken or sad. Who says I can’t be both? Nobody. So maybe your summer sucks too but you’re finding joy somewhere. Or maybe on paper everything looks good but you’re still mangled. Or maybe things are just hard and there doesn’t have to be a best summer ever. All of it is appropriate. Besides, no one’s getting graded on summer. No one’s failing or getting pulled over for doing summer wrong. The way I see it is if I’m living my life a little less horrible than the day before, I’m okay. My summer is okay. Fantastic even. But just for the sake of being festive, I’ll double down on the ice cream. You know. For summer’s sake.

 

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ 50 Years Later Drinking With George & Martha is Still Terrifying

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Everybody has shown up to a party and immediately thought, “Maybe we should go.”

50 years ago today, in movie theaters, Nick and Honey wondered the same thing. Nick and Honey are nice young couple who are new at the university, so when the president of school’s daughter and her professor husband invited them to attend an after hours party, they jump at the chance. But upon entering the pair see their hosts George and Martha arguing, they wonder if they made a bad choice. And so begins the cocktail party from hell that has been inspiring movie-watchers for five decades to think twice about late-night invitations.

I watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf a few days ago in preparation for the season 2 premiere of Sloshed Cinema. My podcast “that talks about movies that talk about drinking, drugs and getting sober” has had the film on its list for quite some time. A writer friend of mine,who is not an alcoholic, argued recently that the film and the play it’s based on aren’t really about alcoholism and certainly not about recovery. While I agree on the last thought, I have to disagree that it isn’t about alcoholism. Sure, it’s about A LOT of stuff and alcohol is certainly the lubricant for gnarly topics to come up. But George and Martha don’t drink like people in search of good time. They drink like people who want to forget. They drink like a couple who wants a way out. Edward Albee, the author of the play, from all accounts certainly grew up around alcoholism and is an alcoholic himself. After a bout of really bad behavior at a dinner party, Albee wrote,”By nature, I am a gentle, responsible, useful person, with a few special insights and gifts. With liquor, I am insane.” Sounds like me and every alcoholic I’ve ever known. Certainly sounds like George and Martha.

George and Martha(played with pitch perfect acidity by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton)are bubbling volcanos of emotions who the run gamut between deep marital love and total disgust with one another even before their guests show up. Their house is messy and ramshackled. Martha does that half-assed version of drunken cleaning we alcoholics know so well. Dirty dishes shoved in a drawer, rumpled clothes shoved under the blankets before the bed is made and generally trying to make something presentable that hasn’t been so in a while. This goes double for their marriage. But the effort there is even less inspiring.

From moment one George and Martha set out to, in their words, “get the guests” meaning everything vicious, uncomfortable and unpresentable is now on display and at times gleefully so. In true alcoholic fashion, Martha takes particular delight in tearing George down in public and George can go toe-to-toe with Martha all without spilling a drop of his drink. The writing in those first scenes is solid gold. There’s no wonder the play is performed almost daily on stages of all sizes around the globe. Alcohol, in my mind, is almost the fifth character in the film. It makes George and Martha go wild. It pushes poor Honey to the point of vomiting. And it loosens Nick’s lips and clouds his judgement. The whole charade and destructive dance is familiar to anyone who has ever been in an alcoholic relationship. Sure, in the film you could walk away with the idea that this was a one time thing but for those of us who’ve been there, we assume this is just another Saturday night for George and Martha. There came a point in my drinking that I wasn’t fun to be around. That me and my significant other at the time were toxic and not a couple you wanted to drink with. George and Martha are at that point. There’s something that happens with alcoholics who drink together. They live with lie after lie and pour alcohol on these lies in hopes of having them vanish. Yet at the same time they really want to tell it like it is and let their version for the truth shoot out of their mouths. It’s vital. A lot of this happens in the film. George and Martha want these virtual strangers to know their truths or their lies and they both want to be seen and heard. Albee himself said the title means “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, which means who’s afraid of living life without delusions?” I’m probably not alone when I say fear and delusion were huge parts of my drinking.

As a sober person, I found myself cringing a lot when I watched this movie again. I’d seen it dozens of times, mostly when I was drinking and caught it a few years ago on stage. It struck me how sharp Albee’s language is 50 years later, how breathtaking the performances are and how Albee, whether he set out to or not, perfectly painted a marriage destroyed by regret, anger and yes, alcohol. I, myself hosted or participated in more than one cringe worthy cocktail function or as the B52-s called them a “party gone out of bounds”. My intention, I thought anyway, was simply to have a good time. But now I’m not so sure. It’s pretty clear what Martha’s intention is which I won’t spoil if you haven’t seen it. I didn’t want to feel my life and I wasn’t having a good time. Like ever. Liquor never made it all go away. It made me crazier, sad and terrible to be around. Just like our hosts. I think it deserves a place in the conversation about movies that talk about drinking because it nails the insanity that a couple who drinks together feels on a regular basis.

Yet there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this film. Some fantastic trivia, Liz and Dick alone could eat up 2,000 words and all of the crazy ass symbolism in the text has been chewed over by drama nerds for decades. So it’s a good thing that Sloshed Cinema is back! There’s so much to gab about with this film, I’ve even invited my buddy Amy along to the party. Join us, why dontcha? I promise you won’t regret it.

Listen to the season premiere of Sloshed Cinema here & here!