Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Hate The War

Jane Fonda has a new book out, Prime Time, that I highly recommend. Jane was on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) today and Ann called to ask if she could comment on a few things. Of course she could have. But I told her if she wanted I'd comment on them myself.

There are three main points I want to make.

1) A caller put out that Jane and her brother Peter both look like their father Henry Fonda. And the caller wondered if some form of discomfort on the part of Henry's over the years might be due to his seeing himself in them.

Jane immediately dismissed the possibility which was too bad. First of all, many a parent sees him or herself in their children and, yes, it can lead to clashes especially if the parent doesn't want the child to do as he or she did.

So on that level the caller is correct.

That wasn't the only level. Natalie Wood introduced me to Henry Fonda years and years ago at a party. He was polite, he was funny. And as soon as he walked off, I commented to Natalie on how uncomfortable in his skin he was and she quickly agreed with that.

The reason I bring this up isn't because Henry was a bad person (I don't think he was, I think he was wonderful in many ways). It's because Jane's 73. Hopefully, she'll live to be 100 but, as she herself knows, time is finite.

Jane and her father had a period of estrangement (Peter did with their father as well). And then that eased and it sometimes seems that Jane learned to accept his quirks. That's fine and dandy. But if she wants to really know her father -- and with time being so short -- she needs to accept his demons. He had them. Everyone does. There's a reason painting was such a relief to him. Henry felt acting was noble and a worthy pursuit. His feelings towards stardom were much more complicated. He knew he needed it to maintain his career. He also hated it because it did involve his appearance and a focus that he didn't want. But he wanted the stardom. (To be clear, he wanted it for acting opportunities. He didn't want fame for the sake of fame. He wanted it because it would allow him to continue to work. And it did.) And between the constant desire for stardom (and forever fear that he'd lost it) and the feeling on his part that stardom also required an emphasis on looks, you have a push-pull that creates a demon before you get into the fact that he didn't think he was good looking and was uncomfortable with his looks. There's a reason for the discomfort. Henry Fonda could make his first film next week and become a star. That's not true of a lot of actors who came along with him or a few years after. Henry would be considered by today's standards. His features -- especially his eyes, color and size and shape -- were not traditional in the thirties.

2) Next we're getting to plastic surgery. Diane chose to ask about that. I wish she hadn't, there are many important things in the world but I don't think plastic surgery is one of them (if it's elective, it's very important for people who need reconstructive surgery). I was troubled by Jane's answer which can be summed up as, "I want to continue to make movies and so I need to look my best." In addition, she noted that her passing reflection -- such as in a storefront window -- didn't match who she saw in her own mind. Jane looks incredible. But she looked pretty good before the facial surgery and she looked very real. My own personal bias/fear: Being under. In May, when I had to have surgery, well it's life or death, we get through what we have to in those situations no matter how frightened of being under I may be. But I don't do the plastic surgery. (I've always said I would have no problem with having a chemical peel. And if I ever had the time away from people to heal from one, I might have had one by now. But, for myself, I don't believe in face lifts or any other cosmetic surgery that puts you under.)

In the interview, Jane and Diane speak glowingly of Vanessa Redgrave and Vanessa's blessed with cheekbones that make a face lift a non-issue. When you're 73, who do you play after a face lift?

Does Jane look 73 to anyone?

She doesn't to me. I think she could pass for her fifties -- especially in real life. But is that what she wants to play? 50-year-olds? More and more, Shirley MacLaine seems not just smart but a genius. And what Shirley did by going older allowed her to now play her own age (or even older) and play some dynamic roles and give some amazing performances.

At 73, you really can't be leading lady and hopefully you have a lot more going on inside you which allows you to be more interesting than you could be as a leading lady.

But if anyone has blazed the trail, broken the mold and set new standards, it's Jane Fonda. She was a film star and leading lady in her 40s and 50s which is unheard of except for the true greats like Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and, yes, Jane Fonda.

So if Jane wants to act, smartest thing she can do is go back into production. She's responsible for films such as Coming Home, Old Gringo (a wonderful mosaic in my opinion -- daring for refusing to forsake the linear storyline), 9 to 5, On Golden Pond, Rollover and The Dollmaker. As important as her work in front of the camera has been, no one should shortchange the work she's done behind the camera or how it cahnged the industry and changed women's roles in film. For every actress who got a production deal only to learn that she's not up to it, there have been women like Sally Field and Demi Moore who've been tremendously successful (both artistically and financially) in production and as a result of the road Jane blazed.

If she wants to act, she can change the industry again. How so, find these roles that are calling to her and make these movies and do so on a very, very low budget. I'm talking self-finance. Bette Davis wanted to do Ethan Frome and never did, wanted to play Mary Todd Lincoln and never did, ended her career playing the best of the roles she was offered. Unlike Bette Davis at the same age, Jane is finanically set. And she can afford to self-finance several low budget films (I'm thinking in terms of six weeks shooting and using digital video) with stories and topics that mean something to her. Those who make a point to despise her (a small but vocal crowd) will insist "vanity project." They're going to criticize anyway. Jane's in the position that no other actress has been in. She's still got her health and her looks are considerable. When Bette Davis was Jane's current age, Kim Carnes was giving Bette a new lease on fame via the hit song "Bette Davis Eyes" (written by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss). Grasp that when Bette was doing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Bette was 20 years younger than Jane is now.

Jane's got a marvelous opportunity that no other actress has yet had. She has power that none of them did. And she's able to do something other than complain bitterly that Jack Warner wouldn't do the Mary Todd Lincoln film. It's a marvelous opportunity and one that should be valued and exercised if she wants to continue acting.

At 73, it's really time for bravery. Which brings us to the third point -- or closer to it. Jane has a new book, Prime Time, that is wonderful. Is the bulk of this entry war related? In some ways, I think yes. But I also think Jane is a cultural phenomenon worthy of this focus and I, honestly, also hope it makes you think about reading the book and maybe showing up for one of her book signing appearances.

3) But if she hadn't spoken about war on Diane's show today, Ann wouldn't have felt she had to cover it. And I wouldn't have felt I had to. Jane's a wonderful person but at 73 people need to use their voices and do so strongly. If you can't speak out at 73, when can you?

Diane Rehm: Here's one from Steve who says, "You have the most political movie star in the history of movies in the studio and you haven't asked her whether she's still opposed to war."

Jane Fonda: Of course, I'm opposed to war. I mean, who wouldn't be opposed to war. Yes, I'm opposed to war. I'm opposed to violence. I -- one of the things that I focus on now in this third act is trying to address the question and stop violence against women and girls, which happens worldwide. I work with the young girls and boys in Georgia still. My nonprofits are there and I, you know, I try to do what I can, you know.

Diane Rehm: War is very much with us. You had your own experience as you protested the war in Vietnam. Why do you believe there have been so few protests regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Libya?

Jane Fonda: Yeah. I think it's complicated now. You know, we were attacked, huh. It's very, very different than Vietnam where, you know, this was a people far, far away. They never attacked us or threatened us. There was a draft and so we were more viscerally involved across the board. I think that starting with the -- after 911 the government -- it was the Bush Administration then was very clever at manipulating public opinion in such a way that we supported going into Iraq, even though it was the wrong place to be. I think it's complicated now. And I also think that, well, people don't know quite what to do now about it. It's hard. I think the economy is one of the things, more than anything, that's going to force us to stop going to war. We just can't afford it anymore.

It's not complicated. Jane never spoke out when LBJ was in the White House (her activism in the US began when Nixon was in the White House) and she's silenced herself since Barack arrived in the White House.

At the DC rally in January 2007, Jane said what at the end of her speech? "Thank you for being here, and we'll continue to be here for as long as necessary."

When did it stop being necessary? Because Jane no longer talks about the Iraq War publicly unless pressed and then it's a bunch of generic bromides.

You're the one who told a huge crowd that "we'll continue to be here for as long as necessary." And you got a waive of applause for that line. You who are famous for doing the head tilt, mouth grimace move while saying/laughing, "And they'll hold me to it!" And I'm quoting you from the 80s. Long before 2007 in DC. So you knew what you were saying and you knew how it would be received.

So where are you, Jane?

Barack's been office for some time. He didn't end the Iraq War, he didn't end the brutal occupation that has enriched the Iraqi exiles and turned the people who lived in the country when it was allegedly 'liberated' into beggars and vagrants in their own land.

It's not complicated, it's very simple. If you continue wars and start your own, you are a War Hawk. If you're opposed to wars, you call War Hawks out.

It's really sad that the obvious question the caller asked came from the caller. The issue was avoided by Diane at other times when it should have been front and center. The war hasn't ended and people continue to die. Silence isn't going to end the illegal war.

It's over, I'm done writing songs about love
There's a war going on
So I'm holding my gun with a strap and a glove
And I'm writing a song about war
And it goes
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Oh oh oh oh
-- "I Hate The War" (written by Greg Goldberg, on The Ballet's Mattachine!)

Last Thursday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4477. Tonight it is [PDF format warning] still 4477.

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[Added 8-12-2011: The first sentence needed pruning, yes. I did that and corrected the spelling on one word -- thank you to Mena for e-mailing about that -- and put in numbers two and three -- thank you to Brad for e-mailing on that.]