It came as a shock when it was reported last week that actress Erin Moran died in Indiana, her body unceremoniously removed from a rural trailer park. In the 1970’s, she was one of the most recognizable faces on television. At twelve she played Ron Howard’s little sister Joanie Cunningham on the sitcom Happy Days, the cute girl who “The Fonz” used to call “Shortcake”. The show had a ten-year run after which she starred in a spin-off, Joanie Loves Chachi, which was cancelled quickly. After that, Erin’s life spiraled downhill, and she became another in the long line of show business children whose lives ended tragically.
I have heard of the “snowflake generation,” but, on some level, thought the idea of grown men and women unable to tolerate anything outside their “comfort zone” without crumbling to dust, was a clever, media-derived sound-bite thing.
The progress seen in the pitched battle between Iraqi troops (supported by U.S. forces) and ISIS for control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul may seem like the light at the end of the dark Islamic State tunnel. But that hopeful glimmer may just be a geopolitical freight train coming the other way.
In one scene in this British film, two women who work together are having a conversation and one remarks to the other that she appears tired and worn out compared to how she looked some time before when she looked so ______; she searches for the right adjective, waits several beats and finally says “so vivid.” The retrieval of this uncommon “mot juste” as opposed to more generic possibilities, crystallizes what lifts this small movie into the realm of memorable film. The dialogue is precise and intelligent; the characters speak in complete sentences; they are adults living through the blitz during the second world war. There are no stock caricatures to be found. The narcissistic actor who craves the spotlight is also articulate and self-aware with redeemable charm. It’s a part tailor-made for Bill Nighy and his delivery is flawless. The ingenue, a young woman who gets recruited to help write a propaganda film to entice the U.S. to enter the war, is someone who already had the gumption to leave Wales and live with her lover. Her earnest collaborator wears serious glasses but is intuitive enough to have guessed much more about her background from a small detail which I won’t reveal. The two of them spar and circle each other but we feel their growing bond and cheer them on.
Last Tuesday, Roberta Smith, art critic for the NYTimes, presented an even-handed discussion questioning whether art that angers should remain on view (NYT 3/28/17) It was an odd way of framing a different question entirely, for nobody gets angry at the display of Picasso’s Guernica, Goya’s Black paintings or any number of other historical paintings of war, massacre or political brutality. This article was stimulated by the inclusion in the Whitney Biennial of a painting by Dana Schutz, a white artist, showing the body of Emmett Till, a black teenager wrongfully accused of raping a white woman and killed and disfigured by white men. The aspect of this that provoked anger was the now popular concept of “cultural appropriation,” a concept that applies equally to the frivolous (cornrow braids and sombreros) as well as the sober issues of racism and historical events. Some black people have decided that whites cannot possibly empathize with the grief attendant to a racial lynching and therefore have no right to deal with that subject artistically.