The Forgotten Part of Dirty Dancing

I love the movie Dirty Dancing. Yes, even though I’m a straight male. And I love it unironically too (I don’t do irony): the music, the setting, the cars, the coming-of-age story, and yes, the dancing. And like everyone who loves this movie, I break out in a huge grin at the climatic moment when Johnny announces that “nobody puts Baby in a corner.” It’s one of the all-time great cinematic “feelgood” moments, isn’t it?

But people tend forget a very significant subplot of Dirty Dancing, the whole reason Johnny and Baby are thrown together in the first place. The fact is, this “cute” little movie has a rough edge just below the romance… a rough, dirty, damn-near-fatal edge…

Here’s a post I encountered on Facebook the other day, written by a woman named Elissa Gonzales, that I think bears repeating:

When we think about Dirty Dancing, we often picture the bottom image. We forget that the whole reason Baby has to fill in for Penny is because Robby gets Penny pregnant and refuses to take responsibility.

We forget that the abortion is so expensive Penny cannot afford it, even from a questionable practitioner, and when Robby refuses to pay for it, Baby has to get the money for her.

We forget that Penny nearly dies because abortions are illegal. We forget the horrible conditions she is forced to endure in order to get the abortion and the incredible pain she was in afterwards.

We forget her tears.

We forget her shame.

We forget the judgment and condemnation towards her.

We forget Robby’s endorsement for college and smug attitude as his life remained unchanged.

While this is a movie, there have been real life Pennys. We must not return to the time where this is the norm. Abortions have never been an issue for the wealthy. Money affords opportunity and secrecy.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate amongst industrialized countries. Banning abortions is not going to help that number.

#DirtyDancing #WarOnWomen #abortion #maternalmortality #womensrights

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Banning abortion will not stop abortions. It will only stop safe abortions. Everybody who has been celebrating this nakedly regressive Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade is celebrating a return to the circumstances we see in that “cute” little movie from the 1980s, a period when a woman’s right to choose was so taken for granted that we never thought twice about a subplot in a period-piece summertime crowdpleaser… it was only a movie, after all, and that sort of thing was all long past. But now it’s not just a movie any longer. And soon desperate women will face that same horrific decision that Penny does: whether to risk her literal life to end a pregnancy that will end her quality of life. And a lot of women will be desperate enough to go through with it, and a lot of those women won’t have Baby’s father, a compassionate and skilled doctor, nearby to save the day. They will die.
I’ll say it again: Banning abortions will not stop abortions. It will only stop safe abortions. Think of that the next time you hear “I’ve Had the Time of My Life.”

We Need an Amendment

I know I’m about to grab the third rail here, but in light of recent and ongoing events, I can’t hold my tongue any longer. May the Force be with me.

It’s been clear for a number of years that certain freedoms my generation grew up taking more-or-less for granted are not as inalienable as we had assumed. That judicial decisions alone simply aren’t strong enough to protect these freedoms. Not when institutions that were formerly… well, maybe not objective but at least not lopsidedly and blatantly partisan… are now dominated by activist judges (yes, I went there) who are quite obviously determined to overturn “settled law” now that they have the raw power to do it.

I’m speaking, obviously, about a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy.


Such an innocuous word that’s been rendered into an ugly epithet by decades of heated arguments.

Now, before anyone flies off half-cocked, I am not interested in having one of those arguments here. The way I see it, the two sides of the abortion argument — and it is an argument, not a true debate — aren’t even shouting about the same issue. Pro-lifers are concerned with the morality of ending a potential life, while pro-choicers are defending the individual autonomy of people who are already here. That is, the pro-choice concern is whether or not it’s moral to compel someone to undergo a life-altering event if they don’t want to, for whatever reason. These two concerns are adjacent, obviously, but they are not the same issue.

For the record, my own position on abortion is much the same as it is on any number of “morality issues,” including drugs, prostitution, and teenage sex: pragmatism. It frankly doesn’t matter what I personally think about abortion, or what you think either. The fact is, there are some activities that have always been part of the human experience and always will be, and that it’s a waste of energy to try and prohibit them altogether — the War on Drugs being a prime example. It’s been raging for decades, we’ve spent fortunes on it, militarized our police, incarcerated thousands of people, killed people, turned our borders and cities into warzones, and guess what? Our country is more awash in drugs now that it was when Richard Nixon declared this war. People like their drugs, and as long as there is demand, there will be a supply. The same applies with all these “moral problems.” Our goal shouldn’t be to try to do away with these things but rather to reduce the overall level of harm associated with them, for both individuals and for our society in general. To wit, women have always found ways to do away with unwanted pregnancies. Always. All throughout history. It’s not something that was invented in the 1970s. But prior to the ’70s, a lot of women died or maimed themselves while doing it. So what’s the greater harm? To allow something that a lot of people (but not all people) think is a sin but isn’t ever going to go away, or to try and prohibit it and drive it back into a dangerous underground?

I know, of course, what the hardcore pro-lifers would say. They unequivocally equate abortion with murder, and who thinks it’s a good idea to allow legal murder in our society? The thing is, though… not everyone agrees that abortion is murder. We all know what murder is and (hopefully) we all agree that’s something that is truly harmful to individuals and society. We don’t have that kind of collective clarity around abortion. Which is probably why 72% of Americans still believe it should remain legal, according to recent polling. Nevertheless, it’s very likely that a partisan Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, ending a 50-year-old paradigm. I fear we’re about to find out exactly which is the more harmful route.

The thing that really concerns me, though, is the likelihood that the crusaders who see victory within their grasp won’t be content to stop with abortion. There are other “morals issues” that were decided by SCOTUS decisions, and there are already rumblings that those decisions could also face being overturned by this current Court. Gay marriage is definitely in danger, but so is legal contraception and possibly even interracial marriage — things that are now so much part of the fabric of American life that many people today find impossible to imagine them ever not being legal. In short, the entire sexual revolution could be undone in the next couple of years. The freedom Americans have enjoyed (nudge nudge wink wink) for over half a century — the freedom to marry the person they love, the freedom for consenting adults to enjoy sex without fear — could very well be taken away. A minority of religious conservatives want this. They see it as a reestablishment of a natural order, a  return to their definition of responsibility (i.e., no sex outside of marriage for straight couples, no sex without the possibility of pregnancy, and no legal homosexual activity at all). I — and I imagine a lot of other Americans — see this scenario as a huge step backwards, a regression into a less-civilized time defined by fear and a tyrannical pulpit. I say it’s nobody’s business what other people do with respect to love, sex and reproduction, and that trying to push the genie back into the bottle is going to result in utter chaos… and a lot of pain.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Supreme Court is not as agenda-driven as I fear they are and will rule on the side of true conservatism, i.e., not rocking a long-established boat. I hope that’s the case. But either way, I think it’s time to stop depending on judicial decisions for our sexual and marital rights. I see now that this has been a historic mistake. It’s long past time to codify these rights. The House of Representatives passed a bill to codify abortion rights back in September, but as far as I know, it’s gone nowhere in the Senate, and even if it does somehow pass — and I know that’s incredibly unlikely — I don’t think that’s enough. For an issue so utterly fundamental to true human liberty, we need to pull out the big guns. We need a Constitutional amendment to guarantee freedom of marriage, freedom of reproductive choice (abortion and contraception), and while we’re at it, freedom of privacy as well, which has always been the foundation of those other freedoms in the relevant judicial decisions but is not, as so many have pointed out, specifically articulated in the Constitution. Let’s call it… the “Pursuit of Happiness” Amendment. It needn’t be a long or complicated thing, and in fact, it would probably be better if it’s not. Here’s my back-of-an-envelope draft:

  1. The right of an individual to make their own reproductive choices shall not be infringed.
  2. The right of consenting adults to marry whomever they wish shall not be infringed.
  3. An individual’s right to a reasonable amount of privacy around their personal information and affairs shall not be infringed.

Now, I’m not a legal scholar, obviously. I don’t know if that language would be sufficient to do the trick or if there are loopholes or other problems there. I’m also not naive. I know that getting any amendment passed, on any subject, is a Herculean effort, and that the odds for something like this succeeding would be incredibly slim. Hell, we couldn’t even manage to ratify the ERA, which seems to me like a total no-brainer. But I do know that the way to make change is to start talking about ideas. And I am convinced that we’ve got to start talking about something like this amendment, and very soon. So… how do we get this ball rolling?


The Adventure of a Lifetime

Thirty years ago tonight, a new television series debuted: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Coming only a couple years after what we then thought was the final big-screen adventure of our favorite fedora’d archeologist, this little show was a very big deal for Indy fans. In fact, I don’t remember being so excited for the premiere of a TV series since the original Battlestar Galactica when I was a kid. And I don’t think I’ve been so excited for any TV series since.

Looking back now, though, Chronicles was clearly a bit of a mixed bag, and for many viewers who expected something like the cliffhanger-serial, high-adventure style of the Indy movies, it was an outright disappointment. The series was not like the feature films. Aside from the pilot and a later TV movie that came out after the show ended, Young Indy did not hunt for ancient treasure. The show was far more concerned with character and conversation than action, and it was overtly intended to deliver a history lesson to kids. In addition, the tone veered wildly between tragedy, wistful nostalgia, and juvenile silliness. I think that, coupled with the creative decision to alternate every other week between stories about 10-year-old Indy and teenaged Indy, made it difficult to find an audience, or even to figure out who the audience was supposed to be. It didn’t help that ABC kept changing the show’s time slot, or outright preempting it for football games. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when it was cancelled only a year later. The last few episodes didn’t even air until The Family Channel cable network reran the series later in the decade. In the end, I guess Chronicles must be viewed as a failed experiment, a mere footnote in the Indiana Jones franchise.

Nevertheless, I liked it.

Like I told the show’s star, Sean Patrick Flannery, at a convention a few years back, I was probably a bit older than the target audience — I was 22 in March of 1992 — but I identified with the teenaged version of the character he played. Like him, I was restless and idealistic, well-read but naive in a lot of ways, and I wanted more than anything to see the world. The show’s airing overlapped with the beginning of my own travels, and it’s no coincidence that the journal I used during my 1993 study-abroad adventure in Cambridge, England, resembled the one Young Indy carries on the show. (Yeah, I know, I’m a dork.) In certain respects, the character’s maturation paralleled my own, or so it seemed to me at the time. If nothing else, Chronicles is very special to me as a reminder of that period in my life. (Flannery seemed genuinely touched by all that; he’d seemed sort of cocky when I first approached him, but he dropped that attitude as I spoke, then extended his hand and sincerely thanked me for sharing that with him. It was one of my more memorable celebrity interactions.)

Sadly, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles isn’t available today, at least not in its original form. Just like he did with Star Wars, George Lucas couldn’t resist tinkering with it, and what came out in a lavish DVD release in the mid-2000s is not the show I watched a decade earlier. Even the title has changed; the series on DVD is called The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. Long-time readers of this blog can probably guess how I feel about that. Fortunately — for a given value of “fortunate,’ considering the picture quality — I’ve still got my old VHS recordings of the broadcast episodes, and one of these days I’ll get around to digitizing them. But damn, that’s a lot of work…


When the World Came to Salt Lake

A random Facebook post this afternoon reminded me that the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, which were held right here in little ol’ Salt Lake City, opened 20 years ago today. Hard to believe so much time has passed already. The Olympics were perhaps the biggest thing that’s happened to this place — which I’ve always thought of in very similar terms to Luke Skywalker’s description of Tatooine — since the Mormons first arrived here in 1847. The stakes were impossibly high. The bidding process that landed us the Games had been tainted by allegations of bribery, and there were budgetary shortfalls on the order of several hundred million dollars. Mitt Romney — yes, that Mitt Romney, the future governor of Massachusetts and current US Senator from Utah — was brought in to assume control of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and get things back on track. Local scions like the Eccles family contributed money to help, as did the federal government, and a crash program was implemented to build venues and infrastructure, including the TRAX light-rail transit system connecting downtown Salt Lake to the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley and an ambitious expansion of I-15. In the end, much to the surprise of… well, everyone, I think… we pulled it off. The 2002 Winter Games were a financial success, ending with a surplus of $40 million. Moreover, the Games were a cultural success, viewed by some two billion people around the world (according to IOC estimates) and putting Salt Lake on the map, as it were. In my travels prior to 2002, nobody ever knew where I was talking about when I said I was from Salt Lake; afterwards, everyone responded, “Where the Olympics were held?”

It’s funny to me that I’m thinking about all of this with such nostalgia now, because in the beginning, I was solidly opposed to the whole damned thing. When Salt Lake was awarded the bid in 1995, I imagined that hosting the Games would be nothing more than a nuisance. Ungodly traffic jams and a small handful of hustlers, er, entrepreneurs getting rich while the rest of us got stuck with the bill. Later, as the event grew near, I became concerned about security (remember, the Games took place only a few months after 9/11), not to mention the very real possibility that my parochial little home — then one of the least diverse places in the United States, whose greatest culinary highlights were fry sauce and funeral potatoes, and whose religious, unworldly citizens prided themselves on being “a peculiar people” — would fall on its face in front of the entire world. I didn’t know how Salt Lake would fall on its face, but I just didn’t think the city or its people were up to such an enormous undertaking, and I didn’t want to face the collective humiliation that certainly awaited. Or the traffic. I hadn’t forgotten the traffic. To be honest, I gave serious thought to planning a vacation to coincide with those two weeks.

In spite of all my big curmudgeonly talk, though, I stayed in town after all. And before it was all said and done, I couldn’t resist making a few treks downtown to experience everything that was going on. I was pretty oblivious to the actual sporting events — you know, the whole reason for hosting the Olympics! — but the Games had also attracted a lot of ancillary cultural offerings, many of them limited-time things that had never visited Utah before and, for all we knew, would never come again. Anne and I saw Savion Glover dance and took in an exhibition of glass artist Dale Chihuly’s work. (I knew about Chihuly from a PBS documentary I’d seen, but this was the first time we’d encountered his work in person, and we both became fans almost instantly.) As I recall, we attended a couple of special film screenings. And most of all we were just there, soaking in the atmosphere. There was an irresistible crackle in the air, the electricity of something big and novel and seemingly historic.

For two weeks, this boring, buttoned-down, beige-stucco’d outpost of conformity on the edge of a vast desert wasteland felt… important. Not only that, it felt different. More diverse, more active, freer, somehow more grown-up. Cosmopolitan. As impressive as the Chihulys and Glover’s tapping were, the thing I most remember is just walking around downtown, marveling at familiar skyscrapers transformed by those giant banners you can see in the photo above, immersed in a stew of different languages and accents from all over the world.

The first trip I took anywhere as an adult was to San Francisco, way back in 1991 when I was a mere babe of 21 years old. I remember experiencing a bit of culture shock at suddenly being surrounded by so many different kinds of faces and languages after coming from such a whitebread place as Utah. It was exotic and it was exhilarating. And for two weeks, I got to experience that same feeling right here in my own back yard. That’s what the 2002 Winter Games were for me. I can’t tell you who medalled or in what sport. But for two weeks, Salt Lake was an exciting place to be.

According to various think pieces I’ve read, Salt Lake City has become surprisingly progressive in recent years, at least relative to the rest of the state. It’s now home to a vibrant LGBTQ community and you see a lot more people of color in downtown than you used to. And SLC is now a political outlier, too, a pocket of Democratic blue in a red, red state. I don’t know if these changes have anything to do with the city hosting the Games or if they would’ve happened organically over time anyhow. But the one thing I do know is that Salt Lake is no longer invisible to the rest of the country, or the world. It’s no longer “the planet farthest from the bright center of the universe.” And I am relatively certain that that, at least, is the legacy of the 2002 Olympics.

There’s talk about Salt Lake bidding to host the Games again. I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, we’re in a much better position now to do it. The venues are already in place and have been maintained. We know what to expect. But somehow I just can’t imagine that it would be as much fun as it was the first time. No matter what happens with another Games, though, I still get a warm glow whenever I glimpse Salt Lake’s very own Chihuly installation — originally just a loaner that became a permanent fixture — through the windows of Abravanel Hall. And I still have my Roots beret, too.


Five Years On

Carrie Fisher died five years ago today. I still mourn for her, still get teary-eyed when this day rolls around and I read her daughter Billie’s annual tributes, and on some level, I know it’s crazy because I didn’t really know her. I met her once and spoke with her for about 90 seconds. I had a boyhood crush that became a middle-aged-manhood crush when she flashed those deep brown eyes at me across a book-signing table. But… it feels like I knew her. It feels like we all did. And how could we not? We grew up with her. Princess Leia was our big sister, our first crush, our hero. General Leia was our mom… and our hero… and maybe our continuing crush, too. And figuring out where Leia stopped and Carrie began was very, very difficult, even for Carrie. Maybe especially for Carrie.

I’ve written a lot of dead-celebrity posts on this blog over the years. Some of them have been quite good, if I say so myself. And they’ve all been from the heart; I always feel genuine emotion about the loss of the people whose work matters to me. But not like Carrie. Not like her. I’m not ashamed to say that when Carrie Fisher died, a big part of me went with her. A part that came from childhood and from adolescence, from my imagination since I was seven years old, and from the reality of the woman I once met and wished I could’ve spent more time with and really gotten to know as a friend. I don’t know how I could’ve loved her any more if I’d actually known her.

Here’s a photo of her that I particularly like.


The Town Christmas Tree

There used to be a mansion down the street from my house when I was a boy.

Well, it seemed like a mansion to me. Really, it was just a large, old two-story home that stood in a prominent location near the main intersection in town, back when there was only one intersection in this town that really counted for anything, the one everybody referred to as “the red light.” The red light, the only one in town, the traffic semaphore that switched to a flashing mode late at night instead of cycling through the green-yellow-red sequence for an empty street. When giving directions, you’d say things like, “Go down to the red light and hang a left… ” I still remember what a big deal it was when the town’s second traffic light was installed a half-mile to the east. That happened when I was ten or twelve maybe, and it felt like a seismic change. Yeah, I really did grow up in a small town. Me and John Mellencamp.

That old house, though… it was grander and showier than the humble bungalow where I lived, or any of the other assorted bungalows and farmhouses on the street, so naturally I thought it must be some kind of mansion. It had a short wrought-iron fence out in front, more decorative than functional as you could hop over it easily enough, but you had to be careful of the spikes on top. None of the other houses I was familiar with had one of those. More evidence of mansionhood. And then there was the tree in the front yard. An immense pine tree, taller than the house itself and probably as old. A century tree, surely, one of those serene giants that you wish could tell stories of all the history it had witnessed.

The house and its great tree were surrounded by the town’s business district, such as it was back in the 1970s and ’80s: a bank with multiple drive-through lanes to the north, a mansard-roofed single-story commercial building to the south, a rock-clad dentist’s office and grocery store behind it, to the west. Across the street to the east, a row of brick buildings that looked like places Bonnie and Clyde might once have robbed if their reign of terror had extended to Utah.

I don’t remember anyone living in the house even when I was very young. At some point in the ’80s, it was converted into a restaurant space, first a fine-dining establishment that didn’t last long — a misjudgment of the market — and then a Chinese takeout that did considerably better. Or maybe the Chinese place came first? I honestly can’t recall anymore. Eventually, I think it became a realtor’s office for a few years. I think. It irritates me that I no longer have perfect recall of this stuff. But I clearly remember the tree… in a sense, that tree was the town’s mascot, visible from the intersection no matter which direction you were coming from. It was also the town’s communal Christmas tree.

Every December, a truck with a cherry picker would snuggle up alongside it and workers would hang strands of big light bulbs vertically down the tree’s body, surrounding the evergreen in stripes of color. I’ve never seen another tree in another town festooned in quite the same way. It was ours, that tree, our town’s, a point of civic pride. It was like an old friend, the first thing you saw that welcomed you home after you’d been away. And it was beautiful. I loved that old tree, especially in snowy years when the branches would become caked in white and the bulbs glowed beneath, suffusing the snow with soft color.

There was one night in particular… I was in my twenties, driving home from my movie theater job. I was running projectors by then, so my nights were late, late enough that I had the intersection all to myself. Conditions were bad. It’d been snowing for hours, the roads were packed and slick, and a fierce wind was hurling flumes of snow past my windshield. They looked more like ragged puffs of smoke than collections of distinct snowflakes. The old tree was mostly invisible in the storm, just a dark mass obscured by all the blowing white, but the light strands were still visible, the points of color glowing defiantly, the vertical lines of them rippling in that wind as if they were underwater, as if they were tall columns of sea weed being stirred by an churning current.

My long-time readers know I’m not especially fond of Christmas, not since my teens anyway. It was different when I was a little kid. But once I grew up past a certain point, the season started tending to fill me more with anxiety than any sort of contentment. Right then, though, at that moment, sitting alone in a chilly car with all the sounds of the outside world muffled except the whooshing of the implacable wind, watching the sea-weed strands of colored lights, I had a rare moment of peace. I might have even smile a bit.

I sat and watched that hypnotic motion of the lights for a long time, long enough that someone behind me would’ve started honking if anyone else had been stupid enough to be driving in that mess. But there was no one there but me. Me and the lights and the snow and that old tree in the middle of those old commercial buildings. As Springsteen once declared in a pensive growl, my home town… this is my home town. Mellencamp and Springsteen in one essay. Who saw that coming?

Then came another evening evening when I was driving home and the tree was gone.

It was removed without any announcement, cut down by unsentimental workmen, chopped up, run through the chipper, and trucked away in the course of a single day. It had been there that morning, and by evening there was only a pile of mulch and a depression in the ground to suggest it had ever existed. A hundred years of life, of witnessing the lives around it, gone in a single day. My heartbreak was as keen as if I’d lost a relative. Something died that day besides just a tree. My home town was never the same again.

The old house I used to think was a mansion still exists, but not in that location any longer. It was moved some years ago… sawed free of its foundation, jacked up and placed on a trailer, hauled a mile or so away. It’s on a quiet cross-street now, alongside the town’s old cemetery — as opposed to the new one on the other side of town — and after all that effort to save it for posterity, it’s now serving as a Montessori school. They put a Taco Bell on the site it used to occupy, over there in the center of the old business district. The Taco Bell didn’t last; the building is still a Mexican fast-food place, but now it’s a local chain.

All the commercial buildings that used to surround the old mansion are gone, replaced by different commercial buildings and a much enlarged intersection. The two-lane road that used to run past the town Christmas tree is now a full seven-lane highway. Surprisingly enough, the Chinese takeout that started in that old house with the giant pine tree in front is still around. It’s situated in a strip mall on the other side of the red light where it’s been for 30 years.

And of course… I’m still here too.

It’s raining, not snowing, as I write this on the night before Christmas Eve. And there’s precious little left of the town I grew up in. Nothing looks remotely the same anymore. But as the traffic has died down tonight and the house has grown quiet around me and I’ve started to feel the solitude pressing in against the windows, I’ve found myself feeling something like the way I did that other night so many years gone when I sat at the red light and watched the town Christmas tree dance with the wind. I miss that time, all those simpler, smaller, quainter times. Those ghosts of Christmas (and summer and fall and all the other times of year) past. I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing them.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


The Original Trilogy Gets Preserved… Kind of…

Every year, the Library of Congress selects 25 films to add to its National Film Registry, acknowledging those movies that are of “cultural, historic or aesthetic importance.” In other words, these are the movies that are deemed worthy of saving for posterity. As a lover of old movies, film preservation has been an interest of mine for a long time, and I always look forward to seeing which titles get selected every year. Naturally, it’s especially pleasing when those selections are films I happen to like. This year’s batch, which was announced today, includes quite a few of those:

  • Strangers on a Train, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 thriller
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the batshit-insane pairing of real-world rivals Bette David and Joan Crawford
  • Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, still one of the funniest comedy concert films ever, in my opinion
  • Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, a GenX horror classic
  • The Talking Heads’ concert film Stop Making Sense, which I fondly remember dancing along to one night at the University of Utah’s student union
  • Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring
  • And Wall-E, an animated delight that plays like a silent romance for something like half of its runtime

But of course the one I’m most enthused about making the cut is Return of the Jedi.

With Jedi‘s selection, all three parts of the “Holy Trilogy” are now present on the Registry — Star Wars was inducted in 1989 as part of the Registry’s “first class,” and The Empire Strikes Back in 2010 — and that means that Mrs Davis, my third-grade teacher who once snarled so nastily at me that Star Wars was a trashy waste of time has been overruled by our nation’s arbiters of culture. And yes, I do feel vindicated by that, thank you for asking!

It’s just too bad that Lucasfilm isn’t cooperating with the Registry’s mission.

You see, the Library of Congress archives a 35mm print of each inductee for future preservation efforts, and the last I heard, Lucasfilm has refused to provide the Library with prints of the original original trilogy, the unaltered pre-1997 editions that we grew up with, which are of course the versions that made the actual impact on our culture.

Long-time readers of this blog just rolled their eyes, I’m sure. “Oh no, he’s on about this again.” Well, yeah, I am. And no, I will never stop tilting at this particular windmill. Because it’s one thing to withhold the pre-97 editions from home video release or even to block them from public screenings — that’s aggravating, but there are workarounds, as most hardcore fans now know — but to deny the Library of Congress access to the specific version of a work that has been deemed significant… well, it’s a slap in the face of the very concept of the Registry, isn’t it? A Registry that exists in part, ironically, because of George Lucas’ passionate lobbying for it back in the 1980s. But of course, if you look closely at what he said back then, he was concerned with saving films from corporate tampering and neglect, not from his own. George has stubbornly maintained since the mid 1990s that the versions we grew up on were really only rough drafts that ought to be forgotten, and that the Special Editions (or whatever the latest home-video releases with subsequent tinkering are called) are the “real” trilogy.

When Disney acquired the franchise a few years back, I hoped that they would see the value of doing a modern restoration and transfer of the originals. I envisioned them releasing a box set containing all the versions of these films in modern-quality presentations so that the consumer could ultimately decide which version they preferred to watch. There is precedent for this: The Godfather trilogy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Apocalypse Now, and most notably — because it’s the most comprehensive — Blade Runner have all been handled in this way. But evidently George made it a condition of his deal with the Mouse that his preferred version was going to be the only version. Either that, or Disney doesn’t think the originals would sell, which I’m convinced is untrue.

Ultimately, it’s no longer that big a deal for resourceful fans. In the past 20 years, an underground culture has developed that’s dedicated to preserving and distributing the versions of these films that we old farts remember. As a result, there is now a bewildering array of bootlegs floating around out there, including a couple that were sourced and scanned from actual film prints that are in private hands (which puts the lie to George’s insistence that these films “no longer exist” and could never be reconstituted). The so-called “Despecialized Editions” are probably the best-known of the boots, and it seems like everyone has a copy of those. I’d still prefer to have an officially sanctioned restoration and release — what can I say, I crave validation of my tastes — but in the meantime, there are options for home viewing, and I’m glad of that.

This situation with the Film Registry, though… that’s a whole other outrage, on a whole other order of magnitude. It’s not right that all Lucasfilm is willing to provide them is the 1997 edition. It’s just not right. Until and unless someone gets a 35mm print of the original, historically important, real Star Wars films to the Library of Congress, placing the trilogy on the Registry is little more than lip service. I may have won my remembered beef with Mrs. Davis, but in light of the details where the devil dwells, it feels like something of a Pyrrhic victory.




Republicans vs Democrats

“Republicans largely feel like they’re an insurrectionary force fighting an unscrupulous liberal establishment. Democrats, by contrast, feel like they’re a fundamentally admirable establishment being pecked to death by an insurrection of reactionary zealots—and they don’t know what to do about it.”

— Kevin Drum, “Why are Democrats so downbeat these days?

I have no real point to make here, I just thought this was an interesting (and largely accurate) way of framing the current mood in the country.


A Gen Xer’s Lament

There was a meme floating around Facebook earlier today that said something to the effect of “I was born in the 1900s, I’ve seen some things.” Leaving aside the depressing connotations of coming from “the 1900s,” as if I used to wear a straw boater and a fur coat while I motored about in my flivver, I was inspired to have a bit of fun with Rutger Hauer’s famous “tears in the rain” monologue from Blade Runner. I’m rather proud of the result… and a bit wistful about that vanished world where everything was harvest-gold and wood-paneled…

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… television consoles the size of sofas… I’ve stood in shag carpeting and breathed secondhand smoke in public spaces… all these moments will be lost in time… like… dimes in broken payphones…



Words to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

In the never-ending stream-of-consciousness that is Twitter, a hypothetical was proposed: “You meet 16-year-old you. You have 10 seconds only. What do you say?

And here is my wistful response, speaking as a white-bearded middle-aged man who can look backward on more than a few regrets (just imagine me studying the light shining through a glass of single-malt as my words slowly unwind in a Harrison Ford-style grumble):

Don’t be so afraid of making the wrong choice. Take the risk. If it doesn’t work out, don’t sulk, move on. Travel more. Write more. Give more serious thought to moving away for college. And above all, don’t just assume you’ll “get around to it someday.”

Why are these things so clear in hindsight?