When I was a high school student, I got involved in the music program at George Washington High School in Philadelphia. My choir teacher was the ebullient, sarcastic, funny, sometimes brash, amazingly talented Jay Braman. He had a tenor voice that made my heart soar every time he sang a melody, he had a sharp wit that could cut like a knife, and a biting sense of humor that he used to teach as well as entertain.
Jay had the kind of charisma that made you want to be better – not just to please him and to elicit a bit of praise, but also because you got a huge sense of accomplishment and pride when you got it. The music pieces he chose were intelligent – rarely the usual choir pieces you hear, highlighted by Handel’s “Messiah” and portions of Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis.” We performed Verdi’s “Stabat Mater” with the kind of steely precision and variations in volume required of that tough piece. We did Mendelsohn’s “Elijah.” We did arrangements of modern songs by groups such as Chicago, and simple arrangements of folk music such as “Simple Gifts.”
And we learned. We didn’t just learn music. There was definitely a lot of that, and Jay was always available during lunch to help with a particular piece. As a matter of fact, I spent all of my lunch periods in the music department, either practicing piano, singing, or otherwise hanging out with my teacher. But we also learned work ethic, history, a bit of politics, morality, and how to deal with life.
It is absolutely correct to say that Jay Braman was a significant part of shaping me into the adult I am today.
Jay is now retired, but to this day – more than 25 years later – we still keep in touch. I went to visit him and his family last year. His wife was the Vice Principal of our school when I was a student. He teared up openly when I walked in the door – I felt like a kid coming home to the proudest of parents. Both his daughters are now educators. I keep in contact with Valerie, who, despite having opposite political views, is a beautiful, sweet, dedicated person and teacher, whom I would have been thrilled to have teach me in school!
Some people are just an indelible part of your soul and your make-up. They become almost genetically ingrained in you, ya know?
Maybe that’s why the 1995 movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” hits me right in the feelz every time I watch it – and believe me, I watch it a lot, and I never get tired of it.
It’s not just the beautiful performances by Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headley, Olympia Dukakis, and the great William H. Macy. It’s not just the joy of seeing actors who have made names for themselves in Hollywood and on the stage as younger kids, including Terrence Howard, Alicia Witt, Forest Whitaker, and Joanna Gleason.
It’s not just the kickass, uplifting soundtrack, which includes rock classics by the Kingsmen and classical music greats such as Beethoven and Bach.
It’s the joy of seeing the delicate portrayal of a high school teacher – who got dragged into the teaching gig quite unwillingly – and who changed so many lives of so many people, including his own, by teaching them to love music, despite not being able to complete his own composition (or opus – did you know that the plural of opus is opera? I learned that from Jay Braman too!), and despite challenges he faced in his own life, such as a deaf son, who he thought would never be able to appreciate the beauty of music.
It’s the joy of seeing on the silver screen how music and art education, when done right – with love and dedication – can contribute to the creating of complete, consummate, imaginative, moral human beings. That’s what music education did for me, and that’s what some bureaucrats and some clueless, passionless adults want to eliminate today.
Yes, it’s important to teach reading, writing, mathematics, science, and history. But it’s also critical to instill an appreciation for beauty, imagination, and creativity in students, so that we don’t raise the next generation of soulless bureaucrats, who don’t care about providing a well-rounded education, but rather focus on sucking up more government funding and kissing politicians’ asses on all levels in order to promote an agenda.
This movie touches me in various ways, but most of all, it reminds me that despite all the problems we have in our educational system, there are teachers out there who will touch your heart, who will shape you, form you, and give you an appreciation for beautiful music and for the power of the written word. They don’t just teach you to write it or to listen to it. They teach you how to love it, and how to appreciate every bit of beauty in what seems to be a soulless world. They don’t do it because it’s their job. They do it, because they love this world and want to leave it a better place.
“Play the sunset,” Richard Dreyfuss’ character Mr. Holland told a student. Do we really want a world in which we no longer understand what that means?
Jay Braman made sure we understood it. He showed us the meaning of beauty in this world, and instilled in us a dedication to that beauty. We – who had the honor of having him as a teacher – are the symphony of his life, much like the students in the movie were the symphony of Glenn Holland’s.
Adult Gertrude Lang: Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.
We are. And thank you.
As many of you know, I’m not a typical conservative. Hell, I’m not a typical anything, really. I never was. I kind of do my own thing, and I have zero fucks to give if people don’t like it.
I’m a mass of contradictions. I love Camille Paglia, even though I may not agree with her on everything, and I hate the third-wave feminist douche tools. I hated the new Mad Max movie. I thought it was a cacophonous shitshow. I will spend my very last dime helping stray, abused, neglected animals and homeless people who just talk to me without demanding money, but I won’t give a dime to beggars who see it fit to demand my help. I strike up conversations with hobos, but at parties I’ll generally stand in a corner and not talk to anyone. I grew up on opera and Broadway music, and I didn’t even know what pop music was until I got to middle school. If you look at my iPhone, you will find a weird mix of Metallica, Evanescence, the music from the show “Nashville,” Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Josh Groban, Idina Menzel, and the music from “Glee.” I have a Broadway theater background. If you think I’m joking, I’m not. I played the Witch in “Into the Woods” my junior year in college. And yet, despite the brash stage presence, I’m one of the most introverted people you will ever meet.
Why did I just get into all that? Because there are quite a few fairly conservative readers of this blog, who will disagree with me on what I’m about to say: I saw the movie “Straight Outta Compton” on Sunday, and I loved it. I didn’t just like it. I absolutely loved it! And I know for many of you, that’s a shocking no-no. The misogyny. The violence. The disrespect for police. The culture. All of it. They glorify it, and the movie glorifies them.
The “them” in this case is N.W.A. or Niggaz Wit Attitudes – a rap group from Compton, CA – hence the movie title, which is also the title of their debut album, released in 1988.
The movie starred some relative unknowns, but also the great Paul Giamatti, who portrayed the group’s manager Jerry Heller with incredible delicacy, balance, and passion. Two of the group’s members, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, left N.W.A. after accusing Heller of mismanaging the group and only taking care of one member: Eazy E – the late Eric Wright. Heller also apparently completely mismanaged Wright’s earnings in an effort to make himself an easy dime. Despite all this, Giamatti’s portrayal of Heller was part paternal (Wright was a street kid who dropped out of school and became a drug dealer), taking care of Eazy-E, encouraging, nurturing, and protecting him. The portrayal was also one of moral courage, challenging the establishment’s and law enforcement’s treatment of black kids from the ‘hood, exuding pain and outrage at the discrimination and abuses, as a Jewish person not so far historically removed from the Holocaust would. And at the same time, there’s no doubt that Giamatti’s characterization of Heller was one of a cunning, shrewd, unethical shyster. To strike that delicate balance between those personalities is difficult and rare, and Giamatti – a massive talent – did it flawlessly.
I’d never heard of Jason Mitchell prior to seeing this movie, but his portrayal of rapper Eazy E was nothing short of flawless. He showed Eazy as at once a drug-dealing, unscrupulous thug, a naive little kid, a man whore looking for his next conquest, a lost boy looking for someone to care for and guide him, and a fragile soul looking for someone to love him. And in the end, as he was dying of AIDS, Eric Wright was someone who learned some hard life lessons.
Both O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and Corey Hawkins were terrific as Ice Cube and Dr. Dre respectively. I was actually floored at how much Jackson looks like his dad (If you didn’t know, he’s the real life son of Ice Cube and this movie was his acting debut). There were a couple of times during the movie, where I had to do a double take, because I thought Ice Cube was on the screen! Hawkins’ performance as Dr. Dre was very respectful. He understood the character. The Julliard-trained actor sat down with Dre. He made an effort to get in his head and understand his influences, both musical and family, and he played Dre with a sensitivity that went beyond just acting.
Did the film “whitewash” Dre’s brushes with violence? Well… yes and no. The film wasn’t about Dre. It was about N.W.A. It wasn’t about individuals. It was about the group and how the individuals’ lives made the group pioneers in gangsta rap. I think focusing on Dre’s multiple convictions in cases of violence against women would have been out of place in this movie. Tossing that issue in there just to portray Dre in a more accurate light would have been superfluous. So instead, the film focused on what made Dre, Cube, and Eazy the people that they were, which ultimately led to the meteoric rise of N.W.A. If you want to call that “whitewashing,” go ahead. It showed Suge Knight for the twisted, hateful thug that he is. Those are things relevant to the story.
Yes, “Fuck tha Police” was hateful toward law enforcement. But you know what? Back then, law enforcement was hateful toward black youths in the nation’s ghettos. Racial profiling, violence, and outright brutality – Rodney King – that’s what influenced N.W.A.’s art. They rapped about what they saw. They pulled no punches. And judging by the reaction to their songs, they touched a nerve in a lot of people. Sure, things have changed for the better, but as I always tell those who insist on taking down Confederate flags, history needs to be remembered… warts and all. And no, I’m not getting into the history of the confederate flat or its controversy here. My point is that like them or not, hate their music or not, N.W.A. had an indelible effect on our nation’s culture. They highlighted the realities they faced growing up. And they stood up to police and government intimidation and attempts to limit their freedom of speech and expression the only way they knew how: through their art. Like them or not, they spoke to millions of people. And like them or not, they did more to protect our First Amendment rights than any legisleech in Washington DC has done in the past 30 years.
Law enforcement targeted them. A Minnesota Attorney General wanted to prosecute stores that sold their albums. Their songs were banned from radio. And politicians, being the opportunistic whores that they are, all rushed to denounce the group’s music – probably without real understanding of what the movement they started was really about. And while the FBI sent a letter to the group, supposedly speaking for the entire law enforcement community, condemning “Fuck tha Police,” they ultimately had to justify the blatant attempt at intimidation.
Whether you like the music or not… whether you agree with the lyrics or not… whether you consider them offensive or not, is irrelevant.
What they accomplished was bigger than just songs with a whole lot of offensive language and themes. And that definitely warrants its own bio pic in my book – especially one so wonderfully acted!
By the way, ff you want to watch my “Into the Woods” performance, you can do so below, and yes, that is definitely me.
I’m not a men’s rights activist. As a matter of fact, I’m quite feminine and the proud owner of a vagina. I love strong female characters in movies – women who are smart, savvy, strong, great shooters, role models…
I loved “Hunger Games” (the movies and the books – yes, I read them!). I love the strong female in Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series. I love “Divergent” and its sequels. I loved “The Help,” and I watched its graceful, strong, classy, rebellious female leads absolutely burn up the screen.
So it’s not that I’m some kind of anti-feminist, downtrodden little girl. I’m an Army vet. I’m a gun rights activist. I’m smart. I’m strong.
I just happen to define “feminism” in a somewhat different way. I do not believe the development of a strong female character has to come at the expense of a strong male one. I believe the two can coexist and complement one another.
Enter the new “Mad Max” movie. “Fury Road” is bad writing, lengthy, irritating action sequences seemingly without rhyme or reason, tedious visuals, and thinly veiled social justice rhetoric hiding behind a transparent veneer of “feminism.”
Let’s start with the title character, Max, who spends much of the first part of the movie as a human “blood bag” to a radiation-mottled, white (VERY WHITE) “war boy” who basically uses the universal donor to stay alive as he and his VERY WHITE compadres imprison and subjugate the populace by controlling the water supply.
The cult leader – another VERY WHITE fat man named Joe or something – has a bunch of really pretty, really small, really helpless waifs whom he enslaves for breeding purposes. Pool little ones are completely helpless.
Enter Charlize Theron – the one-armed kickass Imperator Furiosa and the hero of this so far dull, loud, tiresome flick. She helps the really pretty, small, helpless waifs escape EVIL VERY WHITE Joe. Joe and his “war boy” army chase Imperator Furiosa through the desert, with Max strapped to the front of one of the vehicles, so he can continue to be a “blood bag” for the radiation-mottled VERY WHITE “war boy.”
Blah… blah… blah…
Chase scene, action scene, dull visuals of ugly, deformed VERY WHITE men chasing Imperator Furiosa and her cargo. Chase scene culminates with a bunch of twisted metal. The reticent Max winds up with the helpless chicks and the one-armed Imperator Furiosa. At first he does little other than grunt and point guns at them. The helpless chicks squeal in terror, and one of them – because she’s oh-so obviously the victim of Stockholm Syndrome or something – actually wants to go back to EVIL VERY WHITE JOE, because he might forgive them… or something.
Blah… blah… blah… Chase scene. More twisted metal and fire.
Somehow the sick VERY WHITE “war boy” winds up as cargo in Furiosa’s rig after said chase scene, where he’s promptly rescued by a hot redhead whose kindness transforms him and allows his true nature to shine through, despite his EVIL WHITE MALE upbringing. See what happens when a man’s environment changes and he’s surrounded by the glorious goodness of women?
Blah… blah… blah… They reach Furiosa’s supposed birth place only to find that it’s nothing but a handful of women who all somehow look like displaced Chippewa.
After some weird vision Max convinces them that what they really need to do is go back and take the water and resources from EVIL VERY WHITE Joe.
Blah… blah… blah… yet another car chase. Blood. Twisted metal. Fire.
Some of the Chippewa women are killed. EVIL VERY WHITE Joe is killed. Furiosa is mortally injured. She begins to die from blood loss. But guess what! Max turns himself into a “blood bag” yet again to save Furiosa. Because really… that’s all he is in this movie – a foil for the heroic, one-armed warrior, who despite her disability manages to kick way more ass than anyone else, and only really needs the normally hot Tom Hardy’s Max to be a “blood bag” for her. Nothing more.
They get back to EVIL VERY WHITE Joe’s lair and toss his bloated VERY WHITE carcass out of a rig. Everyone rejoices. All the VERY WHITE boys look confused, because, after all, they were raised in that VERY WHITE male hegemony! A rather large platform raises the one-armed Furiosa and the remaining no-longer frail, no-longer helpless waif chicks clad in white gauze up to the heavens like some kind of Goddesses, while the water flows to all the great unwashed.
Seriously. This is what the critics are raving about?
Rob asked me as we walked out of the theater today what I thought. “This was the biggest, most tedious bunch of social justice crap I’ve ever had the displeasure of wasting more than two hours of my life on,” I replied.
I hadn’t read anything about this movie when we went. I was just hoping to see some fun action and excitement. Apparently, there was some stink recently, because some Neanderthal complained about this being a feminist propaganda flick disguised as a guy movie to dupe unsuspecting knuckle draggers into the theaters. Because WAAAAH! We were tricked! I found this out after we just got back from the theater, and I had to giggle a little at the poor, helpless nerd-cum-meninist’s labia being all chafed at having to listen to Charlize Theron actually bark orders at Mad Max.
But now, having sat through this dreary, tedious, thinly veiled social justice statement on the evils of VERY WHITE MEN, I have to tell you. It sucked.
Rob disagrees with me that it sucked more than “Chernobyl Diaries” – that abortion disguised as a horror flick that came out a few years ago. I think it did. At least I could make fun of the acting in Chernobyl or something. But this… I think I would have rather sat through a bout of diarrhea brought on by those Haribo sugar-free gummy bears they sell on Amazon. It sucked that bad.
It sucked so bad, that I spent the next hour ranting about how much it sucked as we did some grocery shopping!
Don’t not see “Mad Max: Fury Road” because it’s an attempt to spew feminist propaganda. It is, but I would have happily sat through it if the movie was actually interesting.
Don’t see it, because it’s a dreary, soporific, badly written mess of a movie that attempts to elevate the Goddess character by reducing a strong, inherently good male title role into nothing more than a grunting, unimportant secondary, while pushing a badly developed plot, dull characters, and a whole lot of gross post-apocalyptic deformities.
Save your money for something useful and more pleasant. Like a colonoscopy.