Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: News (Page 1 of 9)

Steve Bannon is Profiled in “American Dharma” by Errol Morris

Errol Morris, one of the world’s foremost documentary filmmakers (“The Fog of War,” “The Unknown Known”), presents us with his latest film, “American Dharma,” a sobering peek into the mind of the man “Time” magazine dubbed the Master Manipulator, Steve Bannon.

Dharma means “duty, fate and destiny,” according to this past and present Trump advisor.  Before the film screened, the Chicago Cinema documentary chief (Anthony Kaufman) read a brief note from the filmmaker which said, “Who would have thought that Henry King, David Lean, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Ritchie and Orson Welles would offer such fertile ground for Fascism.  This is my most despairing and horrifying movie.” Morris was referencing Bannon’s frequent allusions to films he has seen which have spoken to him, none mentioned more frequently than “12 O’Clock High” starring Gregory Peck, (directed by Henry King).

There is little doubt that Bannon (assisted by Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway), entering the Trump campaign at the eleventh hour with the financial backing of Rebekkah Mercer and family, saved Trump’s campaign. Bannon brought with him a game plan and what he refers to in the film as the Honey Badger spirit of never giving up. Bannon brought a first-rate mind and education (Harvard Business School, among others) to the battle, albeit a reputation for being “a stone-cold racist” and someone who is “doubling down on fear.” As Bannon says onscreen, “You need to be a blunt force instrument.”   He adds, “We just did it and now we’re gonna’ march on the Capitol.  We’re gonna’ drop the hammer.”

Bannon, who was Executive Chairman of Breitbart News under Andrew Breitbart said, “The medium is the message and he (Trump) understood that.”  Bannon described 15 to 18% of the voting public as people who didn’t like either candidate offered them in the presidential race, and notes that two-thirds of those people opted to vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton.

Bannon—who has been taking his show on the road covering the European circuit since his dismissal by Trump after Charlottesville— reminds the interviewer that “We had Brexit as the canary in the mineshaft.” Says Bannon, as campaign guru he felt the Trump campaign needed to convince the American voting public of 3 things:

  • That Trump would stop immigration.
  • That Trump would bring jobs back to the United States from overseas.
  • That Trump would get us out of foreign wars, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Referencing a cautionary speech by Hillary Clinton in her campaign, known as the “alt right” speech, in which Hillary warned of the dangers inherent in a Trump presidency, Bannon crows, “That’s when I knew we had her. They’d walked right into the trap. If they (the voters) see you as the instrument to get their country and their jobs back, they’ll vote for you.” His point: Hillary did not represent the change that the states of West Virginia and most of the Midwest wanted to see.

Citing quotes like “When the legend becomes more powerful than the truth, print the legend,” and “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid,” Bannon pulls from Errol Morris an admission that Morris voter for Clinton “because I was afraid of you guys.  I still am.  I did it out of fear.”

Another favorite Bannon quote from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is, “I’d rather reign in Hell than serve in heaven.”

Morris asks Bannon if he’s all abut destroying everything and Bannon basically acknowledged that he is, saying, “We have to clean out some of the underbrush” and “A complete rejection of the system is due,” which he predicts will come after another financial crisis and will be “like a scythe through grass. It is coming.”

THE GOOD

In addition to warning us all exactly how this administration thinks, the solemn, depressing, insistent music, courtesy of Paul Leonard-Morgan, adds immensely to the tone and impact of the film. The cinematography by Igor Martinovic, who frequently poses Bannon in profile against the horizon, is good. Setting fire to the hangar (Quonset hut?) where the interview takes place is both a great metaphor for Steve Bannon’s philosophy of “the Fourth Turning” and makes for great visual imagery.

THE BAD

Is there anything more depressing than listening to someone this close to power telilng us, “Revolution is coming. It will come, as night follows day?” Aside from the Steve Miller-crafted “American Carnage” speech, [which George W. Bush on Inauguration Day declared was “Some weird shit”], how uplifting is it to hear Steve Bannon tell say, “I’m saying if we don’t make changes we’re going to have an Apocalypse.” (Bannon also claimed that Trump wrote the speech himself and denied that Trump ever lies.)
Recommended, but have something uplifting awaiting you when you finish up watching this important 95 minute documentary from the master.

 

 

“Friedkin Uncut” in Chicago with William Friedkin on October 15, 2018

Anthony Kaufman and Francesco Zippel onstage at the North American Premiere of “Friedkin Uncut!” in Chicago at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

William Friedkin, the Director of such 70s masterpieces as “The French Connection” (1971), “The Exorcist” (1973), “Boys in the Band” (1976), “Sorcerer” (1977) and “Cruising” (1980) was awarded a Career Achievement Award on Monday, October 15th, at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival.

Friedkin, who is now 83, was thought to be the youngest man to win the Oscar for Best Director when he won for “The French Connection” in 1971, at 36 years old. (This record is now held by Damien Chazelle, who won at 32 for “La La Land”). That proved wrong. However, William Friedkin is now the oldest surviving winner of the Best Director category for “The French Connection” in 1971.

I recently heard Friedkin speak before a showing of “The Exorcist” in Austin, Texas, and after a showing of his new, short documentary of an exorcism (“The Devil and Father Amorth”), which Friedkin filmed in Italy himself using only a GoPro camera.

This night, the audience was treated to the North American premiere of Francesco Zippel’s film “Friedkin Uncut,” where we heard from his actors and fellow directors, including Ellen Burstyn, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Matthew McConaughey, Walter Hill, George Lucas, William Peterson, Philip Kaufmann, Gina Gershon, Willem Dafoe, Juno Temple, Francis Ford Coppola and many more. Dafoe and Peterson cited Friedkin’s “energy, passion, intelligence. One of the smartest people I’ll ever know, and he has balls that clank. “ Friedkin, himself, said that a filmmaker needs, “Ambition, luck and the grace of God. You have to go out and try to make your chances.” He cited Kathry Bigelow and Damien Chazelle as two of the best new filmmakers and said “The Babadook” was one of the scariest of the “new” horror releases.

Watching the uncut, uncensored William Friedkin (“Billy” to his close friends) talk about movies and movie-making onscreen was followed by the genuine article. And William Friedkin is a raconteur. He would have talked for another hour in Austin, had the showing of the 1973 film “The Exorcist” not been scheduled.

In addition to the stories of how he began in the mail room of WGN and grew up on the north side of Chicago, other directors paid tribute. George Lucas, alluding to Friedkin’s roots as a documentary filmmaker, marveled that Friedkin’s early documentary (1962) “The People vs. Paul Crump” caused the governor to commute Crump’s death sentence after seeing it. Coppola found this a powerful message and others, like Director Wes Anderson, shared that, “His films are built on something very solid.” Said one, “What ‘Star Wars’ was to science fiction, ‘The Exorcist’ was to horror.” (It was a bit of a blow to Friedkin that the phenomenal success of “Star Wars,” which was released very shortly before “The Sorcerer,” left his film in the red after the studio had spent $22 million making it.)

William Friedkin disposing of Michael Kutza’s notes.

Friedkin came out and joined retiring founder and Director of the Chicago International Film Festival, Michael Kutza, at the podium. Kutza reminisced that they had begun together 55 years ago. Kutza then began reading from the award that Friedkin was to receive, but, somehow, the award had Carey Mulligan’s name on it (she was to receive her award the next night) and that was all it took for Friedkin to riff and joke and, ultimately, throw all of Kutza’s notes on the floor.(See photo)

Friedkin worked that way when directing, also, and Gina Gershon told a story of his treatment of her while they were on-set and Friedkin was trying to evoke a certain reaction from her. She thought he didn’t like her, she said. He was just trying to provoke a certain reaction.

Friedkin, himself, told an amusing story about casting Max Von Sydow as the priest who performs the exorcism in that 1971 film. Because Von Sydow was an atheist, he kept having trouble saying the line, “The power of Christ commands you!” Said Friedkin, to laughter, “On a list of 100 things that could go wrong, Max Von Sydow blocking on a line was #100!”

Director William Friedkin and Chicago International Film Founder Michael Kutza.

Friedkin’s films illustrate his documentary origins, with their gritty realism and the premier chase sequences of “The French Connection” and “To Live and Die in L.A.” The director also commented on the continual battle between good and evil (in life and on film), mentioning Hitler and Jesus. Said his colleagues, “He’s always looking for people to put themselves out there. He’s in it. He’s passionate and he expects people to give 200% because he’s giving 200%.”

Friedkin  said, “Rehearsal is for sissies. Dummies. I’m a one-take guy. F***** bring it! I’m not looking for perfection; I’m looking for spontaneity.” He went on to say that 80 to 90% of a film’s success “is casting” and added, “My thing is to be real.”

I had gifted Friedkin with my book “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” in Austin. I went down after the showing of his documentary of an exorcism and gave him the book. He signed it and handed it back.”

“No…this is for you. Three of your films are in it.”

He thanked me.

This night, I joined a crowd that was much bigger, clustering around the famous man. I tried to find his wife Sherry Lansing and his son Jack, who were in Chicago with him, but they had disappeared in the mob. Many of the people were asking Friedkin if he remembered this person or that person from his Chicago days. (Philip Kaufman, director of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with Donald Southerland, was a classmate). I eventually had one second to ask him if he remembered receiving the book about seventies movies (“The New Hollywood”), which consisted of 50 representative films, 76 photos, and interactive trivia, and my reviews from the Quad City Times, painstakingly brought up to the pixel standards of today over a period of 8 years.

His response? “No. I don’t remember.”

Well, the man IS 83 years old, after all, but he seems as sharp as the proverbial tack. He also nearly died of a congenital heart defect way back in 1977. But he seems quite happy with his Auteur Emeritus status and shared that “acting and filmmaking are both jobs.”

Friedkin shared that his favorite films were “the great MGM musicals” and also said “They’re dead.” We learned that he has staged several operas, at the explicit urging of Zubin Mehta, and it was (now-retired) “Vanity Fair” editor Graydon Carter who urged him to film a real exorcism when he returned to Italy and to write about it for “Vanity Fair,” leading to his short documentary (which, quite frankly, is not  riveting.)

Friedkin thanked his wife Sherry Lansing, head of Paramount Pictures for many years, whom he married 26 years ago. Prior to that, Friedkin had been married three times, but none of his first 3 marriages lasted over 3 years (Jeanne Moreau, ’77-79; Lesley-Anne Down, ’82-’85; Kelly Lange, ’87-90.)

Director of the documentary “Friedkin Uncut”, Francesco Zippel said, “This film has been very important to me.  I had the chance to look back at all the films with him.  I tried to give him the chance to talk about himself and his career in a way that was closer to him. I thank William Friedkin so much for allowing me to do this.”

Of Chicago, in particular, Friedkin said, “This is the most beautiful city in the world. Chicago is not a city that brags about itself.  I got my sense of curiosity from Chicago. It is easily the best city in this country—but I do like Venice (Italy).”

“FEAR:” Chapter One

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                     Steve Bannon, The Man Behind the Throne

In Chapter One, Bob Woodward concentrates on Steve Bannon. He traces Bannon’s meeting with Trump back to August of 2010, when David Bossie, longtme House Republican investigator and conservative activist wanted to put Bannon, then 57, together with the Trumpster.

The chapter conveys Bannon’s linguistic style as very casual (“Dude” is one of the terms he uses repeatedly when speaking to Bossie). Bossie asks Bannon to come with him to New York to meet Donald Trump.:

“What about?” says Bannon.

“He’s thinking of running for president,” Bossie answers.

“Of what country?” Bannon responds.

It is casual insouciance like that exchange that gives us our first glimpse of the evil genie behind the throne, the Breitbach editor turned kingmaker. Bannon responds, “I don’t have time to jerk off, dude.” [Again, the casual insouciance].

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David Bossie (“Politico” image).

Finally, the meeting does take place, and Bannon and Bossie inform Trump that his plan to potentially run against Obama in 2012 has some problems. For one thing, his record shows him to have bankrolled those who might be considered liberal, and to have underwritten causes for candidates who are pro abortion, while, they tell him, he must be “pro life.” They suggest that he become a “Populist” president, but Trump never seems to be able to repeat the word “Populist” correctly, repeatedly calling it “Popularist.”

At that point in time, Bannon found Trump to be “engaged and quick. He was in great physical shape.  His presence was bigger than the man, and took over the room, a command presence. He had something.” Bannon felt that Trump was: “Archie Bunker, but a really focused Archie Bunker.” (Just what we all hoped for: Archie Bunker for President!) It is interesting to note how Omarosa talks about Trump’s physical and mental deterioration in her book “Unhinged”, based on having known and worked with the man for 15 years. It would be hard to imagine anyone today saying that Donald J. Trump was either “engaged” or “quick” and he is definitely not “in great physical shape.”

They reveal, to Trump’s amazement, that there are voting records that show he has only voted once in a primary in his entire life. (For Rudy Giuiliani, in 1989). Trump seems woefully ignorant of the most basic political facts and realities, but he keeps repeating that “that can be fixed.” The two old pols tell him to run in 3 states as though he were running for Governor. The three states are Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first 3 caucus or primary states. They instruct him to start contributing $2,400 (the maximum allowed by law) to Republican candidates in a handful of battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. They suggest he produce a policy book. (“You ought to do a book about what you think about America and these policies.”).

Later, leaving the meeting, the two men discuss the potential candidate. Bossie asks: “What about the policy book?”

Bannon responds:  “He’ll never do a policy book.  Give me a f****** break.  First off, nobody will buy it.  It was a waste of time except for the fact that it was insanely entertaining.”

And that (plus perhaps the Correspondents’ dinner roasting of Trump by Seth Meyer and Obama?) gave birth to the perfect storm of 2016 and Donald J. Trump’s candidacy.

Bob Woodward’s Book “FEAR”

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(Image from “The Headline”)

Bob Woodward’s new book “FEAR” came out today, and I am reading it.

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Bob Woodward (Twitter image), co-author of “All the President’s Men” and “Fear”

As with Omarosa’s book about the goings-on inside the White House (“Unhinged”), I will attempt to share with those of you with less idle time on their hands some of its revelations.

Today’s installment will deal only with the first 1% (I ordered it in e-book format), the Prologue. First, let it be known that Woodward had A LOT of help from his research assistant Evelyn M. Duffy, who has worked with him on five previous books.

PROLOGUE:

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(General Mattis, Gary Kohn, and General Kelly from the ArmWood Opinion Blog)

Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs and one of the president’s top economic advisers comes off as one of those who is trying to keep Trump from screwing up by signing things he shouldn’t. Cohn, who spent 27 years at Goldman Sachs, is 6′ 3″ and full of self-confidence, notes Woodward. He is also from GOLDMAN SACHS, and, if you remember, Trump made a Big Deal of Hillary Clinton’s speech to Goldman Sachs, but now brings its president on as one of his most trusted advisers. (Go figure).

The Prologue deals with Trump’s unhinged (Omarosa’s book title) efforts to withdraw from the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, or KORUS. It isn’t so much that we get economic good from this agreement as that we get the ability to detect any attack that might  be heading towards the U.S. mainland from North Korea because of the work of the military infrastructure present in South Korea, which has been there ever since I was a little girl (the early fifties). The U.S. stationed 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea and operates the most highly classified and sensitive Special Access Program (SAP) providing sophisticated Top Secret codeword intelligence and military capabilities.

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(Image from 9news.com.au)

Woodward’s book (“FEAR”) notes that a missile from North Korea would take 38 minutes to reach Los Angeles. Thanks to this treaty and the intelligence apparatus in place there as a result of it, we would know that it was headed for us in 7 seconds. Compare that to the time it would take for Alaska to let us know if an attack from the Russians (15 minutes) and you realize that the ability to detect a lunch “in seven seconds” would give the United States military the time to shoot down a North Korean missile.”

Does Trump recognize that fact?

Apparently not. Woodward notes that it is “Perhaps the most important and most secret operation in the United States government. The American presence in South Korea represents the essence of national security.”

Why, then, did Trump want to withdraw from this important strategic alliance? Because he was angry that the U.S. had an $18 billion annual trade deficit with South Korea, plus our troops there cost us $3.5 billion a year to maintain.

Woodward notes, “Trump was always shifting, rarely fixed, erratic.” Prior to that, Woodward says, “Despite almost daily reports of chaos and discord in the White House, the public did not know how bad the internal situation actually was.” (Or should we say “is”?).

The letter, which Woodward displays on the page, was dated September 5, 2017. It was the trigger to a potential national and international security catastrophe. And Cohn, therefore, removed the letter draft from the Resolute Desk and placed it in a blue folder marked “KEEP.”

Woodward: “In the anarchy and disorder of the White House, and Trump’s mind, the president never noticed the missing letter.” Rob Porter is then noted as contributing to this attempt to stop Trump from doing something stupid. Porter attended Harvard and Harvard Law School and was a Rhodes Scholar, something no one has accused Trump of being.  “Cohn and Porter worked together to derail what they believed were Trump’s most impulsive and dangerous orders.” “Cohn at times would just yank it (an order), and the president would forget about it. But if it was on his desk, he’d sign it.”

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(No copyright infringement is intended & there is no profit from the reprinting of this cartoon image.)

Cohn: “It’s not what we did for the country.  It’s what we saved him (Trump) from doing.” Porter said, “A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he (Trump) had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren’t such good ideas.” After citing the technique of “slow walking” a bill or order that Trump might unwisely sign, Porter said:  “It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually…It was like you were always walking right there on the edge.”

When confronted with arguments as to why the treaty with South Korea needed to remain in place, Trump said, “I don’t care. I’m tired of these arguments! I don’t want to hear about it any more.  We’re getting out of KORUS.” The cooler heads told son-in-law Jared Kushner that a good draft needed to be prepared and, from there, “Cohn and Porter did not prepare a next draft. So there was nothing to show the president. The issue, for the moment, disappeared in the haze of presidential decision making.”

Concludes Woodward, as the Prologue winds to a halt:  “The reality was that the United States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader…It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”

Trump Revokes Security Clearances of True Patriots Like John Brennan

Wouldn’t it be too perfect if a black woman (Omarosa) finally took down Donald J. Trump’s presidency? For her part, the reality TV star turned White House hanger-on has said, “Donald Trump has met his match.” And this sorry presidency marches on, revoking the security clearance of former CIA Chief (and CBS on-air expert) John Brennan.

Today, with the vindictive actions of Trump in regard to true patriots like former CIA Chief John Brennan, in revoking Brennan’s (and others) security clearances, primarily to divert attention from the release of and content of the Omarosa tapes (the original order removing the security clearances was dated July 27, but NOW is a better time to distract the public) there has been push-back. Trump has admitted he took his action in a vindictive fashion, much like dictators in tin pot banana republic might punish opponents by actions like this, or worse.

When will ALL members of Congress wake up and see this for themselves? Some have, but they are the ones (Jeff Flake comes to mind) who have deserted the sinking ship of state, even though Trump is ostensibly a Republican. Hard to believe that anyone believes he is really a Republican, but nevermind.

Attorney McNamara (also a woman) for Simon & Schuster has taken the grenade that Trump directed be thrown through their publisher’s window, picked it up and thrown it right back, with the response that they will not let their clients be intimidated and are planning on releasing Omarosa’s book. McNamara said they have documentation that sounds vaguely intimidating if you are Donald J. Trump, crouched in the White House in a stance that Richard M Nixon learned to know only too well. The guy has to be unraveling and this latest action—-erratic, unkind and ungrateful as it is—seems to be just another symptom of Trump’s spiraling status.

“Is it appropriate for you to punish your critics?” asked a reporter at the White House. Trump glowered and did not respond, as per usual.

“Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash,” said John Brennan. A retired Navy Admiral called John Brennan “a man of unparallelled integrity and honor.” He went on to say he would consider it a badge of honor to have his own security clearance revoked by the current occupant of the White House, whom Spike Lee calls Agent Orange.

But Donald J. Trump a man of integrity? Not so much. I saw a “breaking news” bulletin that stated this even more baldly, declaring that “Trump has humiliated us abroad, embarrassed us, and divided us as a nation.” All true.

Fierce fall out has come from Congress, (but not fierce enough yet). Susan Collins (R, Maine) says she doesn’t see the grounds for revoking John Brennan’s security clearance. Senator Orrin Hatch came to Trump’s defense; really, Orrin? Trump’s unconscionable actions speak for themselves, including his dalliances with prostitutes and porn stars and other remarks (“dog” aimed at Omarosa) and embarrassments (remember him shouldering aside the head of another country at that summit meeting?).

In a free democratic society, freedom of speech is granted each of us and there is no excuse for this kind of vindictive action towards John Brennan or anyone else who has dared to point out the fact that it is very likely that Donald J. Trump colluded with Russia in order to win the 2016 election. He is entitled to his opinion, which is also my opinion and probably that of the majority of right-thinking U.S. citizens, at this point.

Only Trump’s most loyal base members think otherwise. Savvy customers like John Brennan can see for themselves what most of the rest of us admit, (some of us more grudgingly than others.)

None of us WANTS to believe that the plot of The Manchurian Candidate has become fact

As my former chemistry teacher, Bill Hatfield, used to say, “Facts and figures don’t lie.”

He also used to say, “Figures don’t lie, but any fool can figure.”

This guy in the White House is a verified serial liar who can’t get the facts right,— if he even knows them. Nor can his Press Secretary, who released incorrect data during a recent press conference on the number of jobs for African-Americans that were created under Trump vs. Obama (Trump’s nemesis and constant target.)

When will those in Congress and the Senate decide that “enough is enough” and impeach this guy?

 

 

Michael Kutza Is Honored In Chicago as Founder and Director (55 Years) of the Chicago International Film Festival

“Celebrate Michael” In Chicago on July 14, 2018 celebrated Michael Kutza’s retirement as longest-serving Artistic Director of a Film Festival in North America.

Michael Kutza, Founder and Artistic Director of the Chicago International Film Festival for the past 55 years, was feted at a gala celebration at Loews Hotel, 455 N. Park Drive, in Chicago on Saturday, July 14th.

(Photos by Connie Wilson)

Michael Kutza with Paula Wagner, producer of the “Mission Impossible” films.

Those present to honor his legendary career as the longest-serving Artistic Director of a Film Festival, (which is also the oldest Film Festival in North America), included Producer Paula Wagner, known for her collaborations with Tom Cruise on the “Mission Impossible” series (among others); Kathleen Turner, star of “Body Heat,” “Romancing the Stone” and many other films; Andrew Davis, Director of “The Fugitive”, Joe Swanberg, Steve James and many others.  Kutza started the Chicago International Film Festival in 1962 as a 22-year-old film buff.

Mr. and Mrs. Terrence Howard. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

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Terence Howard, of television’s “Empire”, (which shoots in Chicago), was present with his wife at the invitation of Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, who served as one of the co-chairs of the event. (Howard received a call from their babysitter while on the Red Carpet). Howard said he’d only met Kutza once previously, in 2005, when given an award by the

Michael Kutza, with the co-chairs of the “Celebrate Michael” gala on July 14 at Loews Hotel, including Chaz Ebert, (widow of Roger Ebert), center.) (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Phone call from the babysitter. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

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Chicago International Film Festival, but expressed admiration for Kutza’s contributions to cinema in Chicago. He also told Chinese/American interviewer Meiling Jin that family was important in delineating a character, as it formed the basis for all human emotion.

Meiling Jin has been interviewing celebrities in the United States since high school and now, at 27, is listed as the 91st most influential media expert on films for a Chinese audience, with millions of hits daily. She also models and serves as CEO of Meiling Jin Television and Video Productions.

Kathleen Turner (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Kathleen Turner, in speaking with me, advised that “Less is more” (Mies Van der Rohe) in acting and urged directors to “trust their actors,” but also suggested that a screenwriter might wish to think about the many sets or set-ups in writing a screenplay. (As a Finalist in several screenplay competitions right now, including the Windy City Film Festival to be announced tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., as well as San Antonio’s, this was good advice for me).

(l to r), Connie Wilson, Patrick of the omnipresent hat, and Meiling Jin, CEO of Studio Meiling Productions, LLC. (Photo by Studio Meiling Productions, LLC).

Also on the program this night, besides awarding Kutza a Lifetime Achievement Award, would be bidding on a series of gala items, including a guitar signed by Tom Petty, a poster signed by the entire cast of the movie “Black Panther,” and a limited edition poster from the original “Star Wars” film (only 25 were made) signed by all the original “Star Wars” cast members.

Michael Kutza To Be Honored as Retiring Head of Chicago Film Festival

In 1964, film buff Michael Kutza founded the Chicago International Film Festival, with silent screen star Colleen Moore. The debut of the Chicago International Film Festival (now in its 54th year) was at the Carnegie Theatre at Rush and Oak Streets, on November 9, 1965. (Photo of Michael Kutza by Connie Wilson)

Mimi Plauche will become Artistic Director of the Chicago International Film Festival, while Vivan Teng will remain Managing Editor. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Kutza, then 22, has served as Artistic Director longer than any other film festival director in the country (55 years). The Chicago International Film Festival is the oldest film festival in North America; it is often called a Director’s Festival. Kutza will be passing the torch to Mimi Plauche as Artistic Director and VivianTeng as Managing Director.

Michael Kutza. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Kutza’s illustrious 55-year career heading up the festival and Cinema Chicago and his contributions to film as a visionary helping advance the careers of so many luminaries in the industry will be celebrated on July 14th. He is being honored (Saturday, July 14th) with “Celebrating Michael,” an event that will take place beginning at 6 p.m. at Loews Hotel Chicago and will culminate in the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Kutza.

ORGANIZERS

Chaz Ebert, one of the “Celebrate Michael”organizers. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner are Honorary Chairmen and the event chairs are Chaz Ebert (widow of famed critic Roger Ebert), Candace Jordan and Maria Pappas. Many celebrities will be in attendance, either in person or via video-taped salute, including Kathleen Turner (“Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Romancing the Stone”) and producer Paula Wagner (“Mission Impossible I-III”).

GALA AUCTION ITEMS

Exclusive items will be available for purchase at the Gala, including an autographed “Black Panther” movie poster, an autographed Special Edition “Star Wars” poster (one of only 25 in existence), a signed “Godfather” poster, and a guitar signed by Tom Petty, a trip to Naples, Florida and much, much more.

HONORS

Michael Kutza with Michael Douglas at the 1997 Chicago International Film Festival. (Cinema/Chicago Archives).

Kutza has been a ubiquitous presence on the Chicago International Film Festival scene and he will remain affiliated with Cinema Chicago as Emeritus CEO. Over the course of his 55-year career he has received many awards, including the Chevalier de l’Order des Arts et des Lettres from French Minister of Culture Jacques Lang at Cannes in 1984, the Silver Lion Award at the 32nd Venice International Film Festival, the Chicago “Sun Times” award for “Exceptional Contribution to Chicago” and, in 2010, placement by “Chicago Magazine” on their list of the Top 40 Chicago Visionaries. Also weighing in with awards have been the President of the French Republic for Kutza’s achievements as “an internationally recognized graphic designer, filmmaker and the Founder of the Chicago International Film Festival” in June of 2015. In 2017 Kutza was awarded the Onorificenza di Cavalierato, the highest honor awarded to someone in the arts, bestowed by the President of the Italian Republic.

CELEBRITIES

The list of those whose careers Kutza has fostered is long. A partial list would include Martin Scorsese, Rainer Werner Fassbender, Krzysztof Zanussi, Claude Lelouch, Wim Wenders, Margarethe von Trotta, Tsai Ming-liang, Mike Leigh, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, John Carpenter, Joe Swanberg, and Taylor Hackford.

Clint Eastwood with Michael Kutza at the 38th
Chicago International Film Festival. (Official Cinema/Chicago archives).

Among those who have attended the Chicago International Film Festival over the years, a partial list would include: Harold Lloyd, Bette Davis, Jack Lemmon, Vincent Minnelli, Sophia Loren, Jack Nicholson, Shirley Maclaine, Francois Truffaut, Director Spike Lee, Director Oliver Stone, Director Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastood, Liv Ullmann, Dustin Hoffman, Will Farrell, Jodie Foster, Director Kevin Smith, Halle Berry, composer Howard Shore, Director Richard Zemeckis, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier, Helen Mirren, Director Claude LeLouche, Director Philip Kaufman, Jane Fonda, Chadwick Boseman, Vanessa Redgrave, John C. Reilly, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Director Guillermo del Toro, Director Danny Boyle, Director Peter Bogdanovich, Ed Burns, Alan Cumming, Robert Downey, Jr., Forest Whitaker, Director Steve McQueen, Writer/Director Charlie Kaufman, Sterling K. Brown, Geraldine Chaplin, Gary Cole, Colin Farrell, Jessica Chastain, Helen Hunt, Dennis Farino, Joan Allen,Directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Mark and Jay Duplass, Ron Perlman, and the director of “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle.

Said Executive Board Member Byron Pollack, “Michael has had a tremendous impact on the film industry world-wide as well as on the cultural vibrancy of Chicago.” Gala co-chair Candace Jordan said, “We are pulling out all the stops to make this the most spectacular Cinema/Chicago gala ever!”

For tickets to this event, call 312-683-0121, x108, or visit chicagofilmfestival.com. Tickets start at $500.

Teaching in America Today From the Prism of 37 Years in the Field

It is Tuesday and I have not posted since last Tuesday, May 22nd. In keeping with the title of this blog (WEEKLY Wilson), I will now share some of Fareed Zakaria’s Sunday morning show statistics, leavened with a few personal observations on teachers and teaching in America today.

Fahreed began his Sunday morning GPS show on May 27th with this quote from John Steinbeck’s (1902-1968) “East of Eden:”

“In the country, the teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside.  A family could, indeed, walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.” Fareed went on to say that Steinbeck’s quote, written in the early part of the 20th century, was “now unrecognizable” as far as the status of teachers in America today.

Nobody knows that better than I do, someone whose mother began teaching school in 1927 and who encouraged her two daughters (my sister Kay and me) to follow in her footsteps.

I went to Iowa on a Ferner/Hearst Journalism Scholarship and a Freshman Merit Scholarship awarded to the entering 5% of the freshman class, and I intended to be where the action was—reporting the news, living in the moment. Then I saw what beginning journalists were paid, and my mother began her refrain of “Get your teaching credential so you have something to fall back on.” (As Richard Dreyfuss said in “The Competition,” “The problem with having a career to ‘fall back on’ is that you tend to fall back.” (He played an aspiring pianist in that one, believe it or not.)

So, I continued as a Journalism major for 3 years and then was forced with the Sophie’s choice of either working all day at the Daily Iowan, helping turn out that student newspaper, or student teaching, which usually meant getting on a bus and being trucked 53 miles down the road to Davenport, Iowa. (*In my case, I lucked out and was given an assignment at the University Lab School which university professors children attended, now defunct, but only because I was a member of Old Gold Singers and needed to be present for practice at noon each day at the Union.)

After marriage and the birth of my first child, I first tried to go to work for our local newspaper, but the pay was  pathetic. Teaching wasn’t much better back in 1969, but it was actually better than being a reporter, and I began teaching for $5,280 a year. If this sounds incredibly low, you’re right.

Silvis (Illinois) was always the worst paid district in the Quad Cities and in those days, we still had the Rock Island Lines Railroad paying taxes AND the John Deere Foundary in Silvis, neither of which still pays taxes to the city and neither of which has really been replaced in the tax base of the Silvis Public Schools.

My pay rose if I went back to school and got additional hours, so I finished my Master’s degree in record time (under 2 years) and my pay eventually rose to the less-than-impressive amount of $25,000 my final year on the job (1984-1985). It was 1985 and I quit to write a book for a New Jersey firm (Performance Learning Systems, Inc.)  which promised they could match my pay level, which wasn’t difficult. The condition was that I had to quit my tenured full-time job as Department Chairperson. (I had asked if I could write it during my summers off.) I was supposed to travel for them, as well, and do interviews for their newsletter. In fact, I was scheduled to interview the “Teacher in Space”—until they blew Christa McAuliffe up.

When I asked what would happen to me AFTER the book came out, no one (including me) seemed to know, but, after 4 terms as Co Chair of the Silvis Education Association, during which I worked tirelessly to earn recognition for our teachers’ union (and succeeded, after 3 contentious years), I was ready to move on.

I had taught 5 years of 7th grade Language Arts, 5 years of 8th grade Language Arts (by request), taken a one-year leave of absence to try to find gainful employment at a higher level, and, unsuccessful, returned to teach a mixture of 7th AND 8th graders. Most of my friends from the struggle to achieve recognition, [which ended when the League of Women Voters was brought in and the district’s 50 or so employees voted to have them recognized as their bargaining agent] had left. Some left teaching all together. Some went to the high school level or to another district, where the pay was better.

It should be noted that our school board first had to be changed to allow us to even HAVE such a revolutionary vote. And it shouldn’t have BEEN a revolutionary vote, since the Silvis Education Association had been formed in 1962,  when I was still in high school! This was 1979-1980, so why wasn’t it “recognized” and why weren’t the teachers being asked for input on their teaching conditions, class size, materials, and pay? (Every other district had been meeting with their teachers’ bargaining representatives for years, but we got to read ours in the paper and it sometimes went down.) 

In order to be allowed to bring in the League of Women Voters we had to first elect 3 members of a 7 member board that would agree it was a good idea; that was the difficult part. The old board would not have allowed it.

We backed some concerned citizens in the community who agreed that Silvis was a bit behind the times ( about 20 years behind) in terms of  agreeing to bargain with its employees in a hopefully constructive manner, and we did not tumble to the IEA (Illinois Education Association’s) advice that we do “bullet voting” and try to elect one member at a time over a longer period. We took on getting 3 board members on at once and we succeeded, which the Powers-That-Be in Springfield said was one of the few times in Illinois history this had occurred. I was even asked to lead workshops around the state to explain exactly how we had pulled off this small miracle.

So, I left Silvis, Illinois as Chairman of the English Department making $25,000 a year, went to work for PLS (Perfomance Learning Systems, Inc.) making the same amount, wrote their book (“Training the Teacher As A Champion”) and handling their news letter, and, at the end of my time writing the book (which was published in 1989), no one had any idea what to do with me.

Thus, I became the founder of a Sylvan Learning Center (2nd in the state of Iowa) and an adjunct faculty member at 6 colleges in my spare time, and performed my duties as CEO, chief marketing director, H&R, community representative, and sometime substitute teacher uninterruptedly until I sold that business and the Prometric Testing Center that I had also founded within our walls in 1995, in April of 2003.

I had noticed that the students coming to me from the elementary grades over the years were coming in with less and less basic knowledge and less and less parental support. The parents usually sided with the student and the teacher was at fault if little Johnny failed. Respect for the profession was sliding even then. As an example of how the students were losing ground I often cite a short story writing contest I ran at Halloween time to write a “scary” story.

When I started teaching, the students wrote fairly good stories of more than one paragraph. By the middle of my 15 years in Silvis, the students had difficulty knowing enough about good grammar and punctuation to even write 3 paragraphs. By the end of my time in Silvis, I was teaching them how to write 5-line paragraphs and we had scrapped the entire idea of writing fiction.

And United Township’s High School Creative Writing Class, which had blind judged the stories and picked the winners, had also been scrapped, so we no longer had judges for my junior high school students’ work. I persisted in teaching Literature, Grammar (yes, we diagrammed sentences), Spelling (a separate grade), and Writing/Composition.

I made sure that my students always were entering any writing competition that was being offered in the Quad City area. (They often won.) I was always correcting papers while waiting in a dentist’s office or a doctor’s office and once left a stack of them there and had to go back to retrieve them. ALL of my students wrote, but, because of the excessive amount of time it takes to truly critique and proof a paper, I had to schedule one class at a time to do their writing assignment, and I did.

I worked at Sylvan for 3 years taking no pay, since we were a new business, and I had an acrimonious break-up with the woman I had invited to join me over ‘creative differences’ in our vision for the business. Since I was the President, founder and CEO, I bought her out and started over again from the bottom of the ladder, right after the birth of my second child in 1987. (She opened one in Cedar Rapids, but it no longer exists, either.)

Here are some facts about teaching today, some of which I researched for the book for PLS entitled “Training the Teacher As A Champion” and some of which Fareed Zakaria highlighted on May 27, 2018:

  1.  The average pay for teachers has declined over the last 15 years, while health care costs have risen substantially.
  2. In 2003, the median household income was $63,777, but teachers made only $59,141.
  3. In 2009, the median household income was $64,803, but teachers made only $58,257.
  4. In 2016, the median household income was $61,768, but teachers made only $61,675.
  5. Teachers are 5 times as likely as the average full-time workers to have a second job; adjunct faculty even approach the poverty level and qualify for food stamps (especially in Chicago, it seems). Colleges are fond of what I term “the sponge mentality,” where they  hire teachers with advanced degrees, but only allow them to have just under the maximum number of hours that would make them full-time, squeeze out all the good, and then cast them aside; hence, no benefits need be paid, like health insurance or retirement pension moneys.
  6. Teachers make 60% less than a professional in another career with a comparable education (I had a Master’s + 30 hours,  the equivalent of a PhD)
  7. Because of low wages and teacher stress, teachers burn out at two  times the rate of other workers. (Linda Hammond of the Lang Policy Institute). the Boston Women’s Study I remember reading for the PLS book pegged the “burn out” time as ten years.
  8. Enrollment in teacher preparation courses is down 35%.
  9. We are facing a massive teacher shortage at at time when teachers are being asked to put their lives on the line for their students and a debate rages nationwide about arming teachers.
  10. The shortage of teachers from the U.S. is so bad that 100,000 teachers are being recruited from countries like the Philippines.
  11. There is a significant link between teacher pay and student achievement.
  12. Singapore/Finland and South Korea can recruit the top graduates because they pay well and there is respect for the profession in those countries, unlike in this country.
  13. “Over the last 30 years, being a teacher in America has become a thankless job. And that is the one profession that makes all the other professions possible.” (Fareed Zakaria)
  14. My own observation(s), from a family that has logged about 200 teacher years (Mother, sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law): When I graduated from high school (1963), I was offered 3 possible job options: nurse, teacher or office worker.
  15. I graduated second in my class, but no one said I could become an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer. In fact, when I took the LSAT (Law School Aptitude Test) 3 times as I was graduating from the University of Iowa in 1967, scoring in the top 1/2 of 1% on the English portions, I was told, by my old-fashioned parents that they would help finance a post graduate career in English, but that I shouldn’t aspire to go to law school. Several law students (all male, of course) seconded that assessment, noting how much the professors disliked having females in their classes. [up the spaceLest you think I am making this up, just look for Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s remarks about how her law professors told her that she and her 8 female classmate were “taking  for 9 male students.”] I took the LSAT in the chemistry auditorium, which holds roughly  500 students, and only one other woman was there taking the examination, and she was Forrest Evaschevski’s daughter-in-law.[ *If you don’t know who Forrest Evaschevski was, he would be the equivalent in that day and age of Hayden Fry or Iowa’s current long-time coach, Kirk Ferentz.]

Fareed went on to say, “Have you thanked a teacher for his or her service, like you thank the military?”

There have been 17 shootings in 2018 alone in classrooms, the highest number during any year since at least 1999 according to a Washington Post data base. The debate is raging here in Texas and across the nation about arming teachers in the schools. If I had been approached to carry a gun and be prepared to use it, I would have changed majors so fast it would make your head spin.

An Indiana Middle School teacher (my teaching level), Jason Seaman, was just released from the hospital after being shot 4 times defending his class from a young student who entered with a hand gun and opened fire. Jason Seaman played for Southern Illinois University’s Salukis’ football team from 2007 to 2010 and is 29 years old. He was a defensive end, tallying 88 tackles and 8 sacks with 2 forced fumbles in 47 games. He was a three-sport athlete in Mahomet, Illinois. He ran at the shooter and pinned him to the wall and immobilized him, despite being shot in the abdomen, hip and forearm.

As a student witness, Ethan Stonebraker, described it:  “Immediately, Mr. Seaman was yelling and running right at him and tackled him to the ground. I was trying to stay crouched behind the back table, but also see what’s going on and that’s when Mr. Seaman was running right at him with his arms in front of him, and then he just tackled him against the wall. Then they were on the ground after Mr. Seamans swatted the gun from him an Mr. Seamans just laid on the shooter so he couldn’t do anything else.”

During my teaching years, I was aged 24 to 40. I had played intramural basketball as a point guard who was small and quick, and I had been a cheerleader for 2 years. I once ran out of my own non-air-conditioned classroom when a horde of ground bees invaded through our windows [which had no screens], in the heat of August, followed by most of my class. I was also told I was “too small” to be a lifeguard when in high school, despite having passed all of the coursework. I am 5′ 2″ and weighed about 130 pounds when I was a junior high school teacher. I know nothing about tackling young males who might assault me or my class, either with or without a weapon, and soon learned that, if I had contentious students who were going to throw punches at each other (which happened), I should quickly summon Mr. Pyevich or Mr. White, whose classrooms were on my left and on my right.

How effective do you think I would have been in a shoot-out? Why should my good friend Karen Schootman’s daughter now have to run drills for her classes to decide where they will hide and how they will barricade themselves against shooters when they come in armed to the teeth and start shooting innocent students and teachers? GET IT TOGETHER, PEOPLE. WE NEED GUN CONTROL LAWS LIKE EVERY OTHER CIVILIZED NATION!

And, yes, the cream of the crop does NOT seem to go into teaching any more. (Do you wonder why?) I even quit an Honorary Educators’ group (Delta Kappa Gamma) that was encouraging youngsters to go into teaching, because how could I, in good conscience, tell them this is a “good” job today?

Mr. Seamans, after his shooting, released this statement:  “I want to let everyone know that I was injured but I am doing great. To all students, you are all wonderful and I thank you for your support. You are the reason I teach.”

Ella Whistler, the 13-year-old girl shot in the head by the attacker, is still in critical but stable condition in the hospital.

A small footnote to the screed above: at least 10 states have laws allowing teachers to carry guns on K-12 campuses and 17 states have considered bills to arm school staff since the Parkland shooting. Mississippi, for one, has been interested in this “solution.” But here’s where it gets interesting:insurance firms balk at selling policies to schools if educators are armed. The Pro-Gun NRA (which has been infiltrated by Russians) says this is because the insurance providers are notorious liberals, trying to turn this into a political decision.

The Associate Executive Director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, Mark Tallman, said:  “I don’t think insurance companies are notorious anti-gun liberals. We think they’ve got good reasons for not doing it.” The 2007 Virginia Tech shooting where a student gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17 more cost at least $50 million in security upgrades and lawsuit settlement costs. And all this at a time when federal money is being directed away from education and into militaristic pursuits and Betsy DeVos—the most incompetent and unqualified Secretary of Education in history—is running the show.

In 2014, a sixth grade teacher in Utah mistakenly shot a school toilet. As I said in a previous post, I have known teachers who should not be allowed to operate a pencil sharpener in their classrooms, let alone come in packing a gun!

And so it goes. Comments welcome.

AP, CNN Reporters Barred from Scott Pruitt Public Meeting

Difficult as it is to believe, today journalists from CNN and the AP (Associated Press) were physically shoved out of a public meeting chaired by EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, with only those whose names were on a White House list being allowed to enter and report on this public meeting of the PFAS National Leadership Summit. The information being shared was not classified and it was a public meeting. Journalists being banned from a public meeting or mistreated when attempting to attend is why I no longer cover presidential races in the U.S., but focus on film.

The official excuse used by EPA spokesman Jehan Wilcox was that “there wasn’t sufficient room.” Photographs from journalists who were allowed inside showed plenty of room. 

Oliver Darcy, Senior Media Reporter for CNN, was nearly apoplectic as he was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer and Sally Buzbee, AP (Associated Press) Executive Editor also issued a statement denouncing this obvious attempt to stifle the press press.

Wake up, people. This is how dictatorships seize and hang on to power.

Things I Learned at the Nail Shop: Annette Bening as Super Hero

When you go to the nail shop in Austin, you are surrounded by technicians who mainly speak to one another in Vietnamese (at least, I think it’s Vietnamese). Otherwise, you have only the large flat-screen television to occupy you. I learned that Annette Bening is going to be a Super Hero in the Marvel franchise—or, at least, that’s what the talking heads said, and it set off a fair amount of discussion amongst the three women and two men onscreen at the time.

 Annette Bening is being touted as a Super Hero for a Marvel movie. This caused a phenomenal amount of interest on the program I was watching (don’t know the name of it; think it’s local). The African-American young man, who had been talking about tickets to go backstage at a Justin Timberlake concert by signing up somewhere, posed the rhetorical question, “Which would you rather see? Annette Bening in a Marvel movie or Justin Timberlake?” (Please… May I phone a friend?)

It could be a very funny “riff” for “SNL” to take on this rumor, as all the icons of yesteryear seem to be fading into oblivion, since “Vanity Fair’s” Editor for decades,Graydon Carter, recently retired and the rumors are also rampant that Anna Wintour (memorialized, fictionally, in the film featuring Emily Blunt,  “The Devil Wears Prada”) may have just attended her final Met Gala. (Oh, the humanity!)

When you couple the above news with Elton John announcing that he is not going to tour any more after his final tour and the many headline names (Tom Petty, to name one) who shuffled off this mortal coil, often very unexpectedly, you begin to see the future. It is filled with Kanye (West) moments. And Justin Timberlake, who gave up bringing sexy back to going all woodsy on us and giving us a perfectly forgettable Super Bowl Halftime Show. [If my choices are watching Annette Bening in anything and Justin’s Super Bowl show, I’m going for Bening. (Sorry, Justin.)]

I was recently offered a deal where I could stream old classic movies for a monthly fee. It was suggested to me, in particular, because I review film, and, of course, how could I be “up” on ALL the movies of the past. (How could ANYONE be “up” on all the movies of the past, is more like it; I think I’m pretty solid on anything from 1955 on, but I’ve been outsourcing the Marvel epics.)

I need to make you aware of the soy bean crisis and the teacher crisis, so pardon me while I leave you with these images of the potential Super Hero at Sixty (birth year: 1958) and the interesting fact that her parents, staunch Episcopalians, were from Iowa. I wonder what they thought when they heard she was marrying Warren Beatty, then known as the World’s Biggest Womanizer?

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