This is going to sound a bit strange, but late last night I experienced what felt like a kind of epiphany — a sense of myself and especially my hardnosed style of writing that that I’m suddenly not happy with on a certain level, and an idea that henceforth I need to dial that down. I’m not talking about abandoning my voice but chilling it down some.
After last night’s debate I was reading over some of my old stuff, and the strangest thing happened. I was suddenly stepping outside myself and reading the material like a 30something critic from England, and I was saying to myself, “This guy pushes too hard and uses too many adjectives. I could make him sound better by turning the current down and easing up on the pugilism.”
The combination of listening to Donald Trump bark and goad like a junkyard dog and then (this is going to sound really strange) watching Mervyn LeRoy‘s The FBI Story (’59), a total Eisenhower-era propaganda film that is nonetheless about basic middle-class decency and serving something greater than yourself…the combination of these influences seemed to open a door within, and all of a sudden I was saying “I have to stay as far away from caustic Trump vibes as possible, and I need to inject a little Jimmy Stewart into my soul.”
I know, I know…I’ll never be Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks either. I’m a sober, cat-loving Chris Walken from Connecticut by way of Next Stop, Greenwich Village, The Dogs of War, At Close Range and The King of New York. But I just knew last night that I needed more Stewart and less barking in my life.
The daily HE grind is a bear. It’s tough to push out four or five riffs or rants or reviews in exactly the right way. Sometimes a column piece won’t really read right until I’ve edited it over a 12-hour or even a 24-hour period, and then even then it sometimes feels a bit off.
I only know that I need to calm things down and not push quite so hard. I learned the value of “less is more” back in the ’70s, but I need to re-apply it. A voice is telling me this, or more precisely a whisper. Which is how inspiration always makes itself known.
To echo that great South African critic and cinematic seer Guy Lodge, “What a brand!”
Over the last 22 years Hollywood Elsewhere (including the early expressions on Mr. Showbiz, Reel.com and MoviePoopShoot) has gone through four phases.
First was the frank, occasionally tart, sometimes bludgeony attitude that began with the October ’98 launch of Mr. Showbiz, and which ended in April ’06 when I junked the twice-weekly column posting with “The Word” (short items) and shifted into a daily bloggy-blog format.
HE output increased greatly after that, and built up steam between ’06 and ’12 — a somewhat more gushy, stream-of-consciousness tone began to take over, and with that a certain…well, brashness-and-buckshot approach from time to time. Not always but now and then.
Phase Three began to take hold when I embraced sobriety on 3.20.12. The effects of a dry lifestyle are always gradual and drip-drip-drip (and sometimes one step forward and two steps back), but the wild and woolly era of ’06 to ’12 began to downshift in…I don’t know, ’13 or thereabouts. Certainly by early ’14.
Phase Four began in early ’18 when the wokester Robespierres began to seize the reins and go after transgressors, and despite the fact that my sins have never been about anything other than being overly mouthy and intemperate within the confines of the column, things became to get increasingly combative and punitive. A consensus began to take hold that I was some kind of obstinate shitheel and that I needed to dial it down and eat a little humble pie. More and more the title of this column became Hollywood Elsewhere: Under Siege.
I’ve been working at this racket for over 40 years (my first freelance submissions began in ’77), and running my own online column/business since ’04, and now, because of a stupid paragraph in a private letter that was written in a state of mild inebriation in 2007 (and to some extent because I recently admitted to falling solemnly in love with a younger woman in the mid ’70s while discussing the Ansel Elgort situation, which was then tweeted about by a certain Blood on Satan’s Claw mentality)…because of these two things and some other blurt-blurts from the wild and woolly period certain persons want my throat cut. They don’t want me chastised or scolded — they want an ice pick in my neck.
Like I said, this is an unusual post but hear me out. I can’t take back the past and I know that a certain party has spent a lot of time pointing out every wrong thing I’ve said as to reaffirm what a terrible person I am. I also know that some out there have been offended by what I’ve said on my site, and the way I’ve said it.
Well, all of a sudden I’m a little displeased also. It sounds off but something came over me last night and suddenly I’m saying “wait a minute…”
I’ve always wanted to be 100% honest about what I thought, because that is everything journalism should be. My column is personal. I have not shaped it to be less or more offensive to people but just to lay it down plain and come what may. My readers give me a hard time with at least 50% of my output but I know that one of the reasons they keep coming back is that there are very few places left online where people can or will share the good, the bad and the ugly of it.
But I also understand that we’ve just gone through a long wave of trauma for the past three to four years, give or take. We were not prepared for Trump. We were not prepared to deal with the waves of outrage and pain suffered at the hands of a guy who has no shame and who has gotten away with everything his entire life. To that end, I have not been as sensitive as I should have been to keep some of the things I think and believe, or stories from my past that are offensive now even to myself.
I offer up this post to anyone out there who might give a damn one way or another, and to say that I do care and for whatever pain I have caused, I am sorry. The only thing I can try to do is be less honest in order to be less offensive. Not as pushy or scalding, more moderate and restrained.
The internet is a casually cruel place and I know that people taunt me and I have taunted them. This will sound like whiny-ass bullshit but I didn’t have the best upbringing. I had a loving but domineering mom in my early childhood, and a brusque alcoholic dad all through it. My whole family struggled with abuse and addiction (my mom excepted) and I know that although I was the strongest of the three kids (my younger sister and brother died in ’08 and ’09 respectively) I’ve grown up with at least a part of that wounded heritage. Life is full of stumbles and pitfalls. Growth and recovery is a process that never stops.
But I have never done anything “wrong” to anyone — never assaulted or harassed any woman, never tried to cancel anyone or get anyone fired, never taken a swing at anyone. People object only to the things I have said. That seems like something I can work through. I am trying to do that. It’s a process. Call it Phase Five — Hollywood Elsewhere Mild.