“The Godfather”: 45 Years Later

Just like a good book, a good movie deserves repeated examinations.   To commemorate the 45th anniversary of its release, “The Godfather” played in theaters last week and I went to see it again.

In 1972, I was too young to see the film when it premiered so it was a few years later when I saw it at a revival house.  However, I have strong memories of my older brother taking my father to see it because it was the last film my dad ever saw in a movie theater.  At the time, my parents rarely went to see new movies so it was exciting that my dad was seeing such an anticipated film based on Mario Puzo’s huge bestseller at the time.

Back then, multiplexes did not exist.   Each city had its own single-screen movie theaters:    Glendale had the Alex and the Glendale; Burbank had the California and the Magnolia.

And movies opened in select theaters, not in every city.  When a first-run film eventually screened in the San Fernando Valley, it was weeks, sometimes months later.  So, if one wanted to see “The Godfather,” a person would have to travel into Hollywood or Westwood and stand in line for hours if the film was popular.

Along with 1974’s “The Godfather II,” both films were nominated for 22 Academy Awards, winning nine including Best Picture for each; some critics even think the sequel superior to the first one.

All the still-living principal actors of director Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece—Al Pacino (age 77), James Caan (77), Robert Duvall (86), Diane Keaton (71), Talia Shire (71)—including Coppola (78) were on hand in New York recently, organized by Robert DeNiro (73) for his Tribeca Film Festival, who, even though he was not in the first film, portrays the younger Don Corleone (the Marlon Brando character) in the sequel.

Two things surprised me in seeing it again.  One, the film’s notoriety over its violence has much to do with the way Coppola handled those scenes.   Of its three-hour length, only minutes of it contain violent moments.  It is the way the scenes are edited that creates the impact on the audience.

The violence often erupts when you least expect it, and it is over quite quickly.  But the violent acts are depicted realistically, leaving the viewer with the impression that “The Godfather” is an ultra-violent film.

When Michael Corleone guns down the police captain and a mobster in an Italian restaurant, it is the acting of Pacino, the close-ups of his eyes, that holds the emotion in that scene, not the killings themselves.  The audience shares what is going on in his mind, that his next move is going to the bathroom to retrieve the hidden gun.

Also enlightening was that the film did not have one f-word or s-word.  It would be hard to make a film like this today without a plethora of obscenities.

Another integral aspect to “The Godfather” is the iconic music by Nino Rota whose Academy Award nomination for Best Score was ruled ineligible when it was revealed that the love theme music, while his, was actually composed for the 1958 Italian movie “Fortunella.”  He did win the Oscar for the sequel, sharing it with Coppola’s father Carmine.

Finally, this absorbing three-hour epic did not seem 180 minutes long, another reminder how riveting it is to watch a film on a big screen in a darkened theater.   Home viewing, be it on a 60” TV or a cell phone, drains the cinematic experience of its life.

Of course, just as with books, not all movies provide revelations upon repeated viewings.  A cast reunion of another 1972 offering, “The Thing With Two Heads,” has not yet been arranged.

Life Lessons: How to say “goodbye” to students

At the end of the school year, I often struggle finding an appropriate way to sum up all the work with the students.

Thanks to my son’s seventh grade English teacher at Muir Middle School in Burbank, Lynn Rothacher, the proverbial light bulb went off above my head.

At the end of the course, Ms. Rothacher passed out a handout entitled “life lessons from the literature we’ve read this year,” a brilliant idea that crystalizes all the important literary works students studied on a single page.

The lesson to “open your heart (and your pocketbook) to others” derives from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

This inspired me to create a similar document as a way to say “goodbye” to my tenth grade students.  In addition to listing the life lessons and the works, I added a quote from each piece of literature that supported the lesson.

First, I modeled an example. For Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, one lesson is to be tolerant of those different from you:  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Next, I had my students come up with their own lessons and quotes for the other works including Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address.”

After they shared and presented these, I had them write reflections.  What they had to say made the previous 179 days of school with its ups and downs all worthwhile.

“This is my favorite thing we’ve done the whole school year.  I feel like at school, the place we’re supposed to be preparing for the real world, we’re never really taught life lessons.”

“I love these quotes so much I plan on keeping them with me because I feel that they can be seen at any point in life and give hope, or inspire you to do certain things. Reading them really made me reflect on life.”

“With these lessons and morals in mind, we can make ourselves better people and influence others to become better also.”

“This creates more of a long-lasting positive impact than anything else we could have done.  This activity reminds us of all that can be taken from literature.”

“School is not great on covering how to apply our knowledge in the real world.  This class had a purpose.  Now I know the importance of literature and I am more aware of life.”

“This is something that will stick with us throughout the rest of our lives.  We probably won’t remember the technical aspects of literature as well as the life lessons they provide.”

“I have gained an immense understanding of human nature as a result of these pieces of literature and I know for a fact that I will never forget any of the life lessons.  I feel like I know how to be a better person and hope others do as well.”

“This shows us why we spent countless hours reading and understanding these books.  It puts all our work into perspective and makes it worthwhile.  In this class I’ve learned the most about myself and what kind of person I am.”

“Talking about this definitely has an emotional element to it.  You don’t realize in the midst of reading, annotating, analyzing, and taking tests on these works that they’ve actually been specially chosen to teach you things that aren’t required by the school.”

“I loved doing this.  It made me explode with happiness and excitement.  No one really notices the meaning of why we read the books we read and why our teachers assign these books.  This lesson really opened my eyes.”

Even after nearly 30 years in the classroom, I am still learning new ideas.   Thank you, Ms. Rothacher.

 

 

My son, the high school graduate

The end of high school for seniors is often bittersweet for their teachers who may have known the students for up to four years.

The end of high school for a parent of a senior, however, resonates deeper for it marks a significant rite of passage.

One senior graduating this year in particular means a great deal to me.  He is my son.

People who know Ben frequently comment that “he’s a good kid.”  Any parent would be proud of a child who generates that reaction from others.

Goodness is in short supply in today’s world.  It does not show up on a standardized test.

Ben is very polite, always responding to a meal at home with a “thank you for the tacos” without any prodding; it comes naturally to him.

I overhear him talk to grown-ups on the phone asking “How are you?” interested in having an adult-like conversation.

He makes his own breakfast of eggs and oatmeal each morning, and often assists me with dinner.

He engages in adult-like perceptions on politics and the world.  Our family TV time is watching Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN and “60 Minutes” on Sundays.

He knows cultural history, recognizing an Ella Fitzgerald vocal or an Alfred Hitchcock film.

He has a taste for long-established restaurants such as the Smoke House.

He doesn’t mind getting dressed up to go out for dinner, or picking up after the dog in the backyard.

He rarely wants anything.  His iPhone is not new, his car as old as he is.

He still sleeps in the same bed that he got back in elementary school, though lies diagonally accommodating his nearly six-foot frame.

His only luxury is a flat screen TV that his uses primarily for playing videogames on his PS4.

Something else Ben does:  when he is out, he always calls us (not texts) when he is coming home.   This is not something that we have demanded; it comes from Ben’s own sense of responsibility.

What is the recipe for a good kid?  Along with love and support from family and friends, Ben’s teachers deserve recognition: kindergarten teacher Ms. Solyom, third grade teacher Ms. Rostomyan, fifth grade teacher Ms. Essex, sixth grade social science teacher Ms. Lamb, sixth grade P.E. teacher Ms. Asmussen, seventh grade English teacher Mr. Martin, eighth grade English teacher Mr. Rothacher, biology teacher Mr. Margve, astronomy teacher Mr. Movsessian, AP Psych teacher Mr. Collazos, AP English Lit teacher Mr. McNiff, and AP U.S. History teacher Mr. Thomson.

My wife and I were amazed as his maturity blossomed earlier this year.  Within a matter of weeks, he made the decision to attend CSUN and got his first job.

It was a surreal feeling to have my photo taken with my son in front of CSUN”s Oviatt Library where I graduated 35 years ago.

Back then, the idea that one day I would have a son who would attend the same college as I did was not even a flicker of a thought in my mind.

When we moved into our house 18 years ago, Ben was three months old.  Today, in that same bedroom lives an 18-year-old.   Oh, the baby still lives in the man.  You can it in his eyes, his smile, and the way he speaks.  And you can see his younger brother looking up at him from an early age, absorbing Ben’s life as a textbook on how to grow up.

Ben, you have had a good life so far.  I hope you continue being good and doing good in the years to come.

No Surprise: Trump Diminishes Teachers of the Year Ceremony

Teachers rarely receive national attention which is why the annual ceremony acknowledging all states’ Teacher of the Year honorees is so significant.

For 65 years, these gifted instructors have been showcased at the White House hosted by the President.

If you are a teacher, it is a moment to cherish.   This year, it was a moment to forget.

Last week, President Trump hosted the teachers in the crowded Oval Office, the favorite room of his where he greets paeans, remaining seated as if he was a king on his throne. Also in the room was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an anti-public education advocate, all making nice smiling for the pool cameras.

Remember, Trump lambasted public education in his inauguration speech as a system that “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”   This came from the same paragraph lumping education with poverty, job loss, and crime as part of the “American carnage.”

Yet there he was reading from a TelePrompTer about how valuable teachers are.

The entire ceremony took barely five minutes.

Compare this to the forty minutes former President Barack Obama shared with last year’s winners.

Obama relished this annual event, treating it as more of a celebration than a static photo op.  Last year’s ceremony was held in the East Room to accommodate more people, with the teachers standing on risers so that they all are clearly seen.

Obama is announced at the same time as Jahana Hayes, the 2016 Teacher of the Year, allowing her the spotlight and the lectern first to deliver a four-minute speech, about the same amount of time given to this year’s entire ceremony.

Not only does he personally hand the Crystal Apple award to Hayes, but tells a story about her so that the public can gain an insight to what makes her such a special educator.

This year’s Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, lost among the crowded pack of educators surrounding Trump, wasn’t given an entrance, wasn’t allowed to give a speech, and had very little said about her.

Standing to Trump’s right, Trump barely looks up at her, quickly pats her arm, then awkwardly holds the Crystal Apple himself smiling at the cameras as if it were meant for him before giving it to Chaffee.

He doesn’t shake her hand, he doesn’t stand up to hand the award to her, he doesn’t say anything about her except her name, what she teaches, and where she works.

Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss discovered that very few relatives of the teachers were allowed in the Oval Office; most “who had traveled at their own expense for many hours to attend were left to wait in a building near the White House.”  Even Chaffee’s husband and daughter “were kept waiting in a hallway before being allowed to enter the Oval Office.”

In fact, the video does not appear on the official White House website link of “events” videos.

One video that is featured came a week earlier showing Trump welcoming this year’s Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots.  Their ceremony happened in a larger arena on the South Lawn with more observers and media in attendance.

Trump spent 16 minutes with the team, underscoring how some people care more about the champs on a football field than the champs in the classroom.

But not Obama as evidenced by what he said:

“Part of the reason this event is so important is for us to be able to send a message to future generations of teachers, to talented young people all across the country to understand this is a dream job; that this is an area . . . where you have the potential to make more of a difference than just about anything you can go into.”

If only Trump did his homework and plagiarized even a bit of Obama’s remarks as his wife did copying Michelle’s.  Then again, to paraphrase his comment about healthcare, who knew that honoring teachers could be so complicated?

Buckle up and put that phone down

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month.  Considering the car calamities that occur regularly on the road, such a proclamation should be year-round.

I bet if you asked a bunch of people in a room to raise their hands if they knew of anyone who was involved in some kind of accident due to a distracted driver, at least one hand would go up.

One out of every eight drivers uses a phone while behind the wheel as reported by the California Office of Traffic Safety in 2016.   Such distractions affect 80 percent of car accidents.

 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost 3,500 died (16 percent of all fatal crashes) and 400,000 were injured in 2015 due to distracted drivers.

The AAA Foundation discovered that drivers ages 16-24, who use their phones one-fourth of the time while on the road, have the highest incidents of deadly accidents due to inattention.  In fact, six out of every 10 accidents involving teens is due to driver distraction.

Both my wife and I have been hit by drivers using phones, luckily minor collisions.

In one 24-hour period I observed at four-way stop intersections three drivers who were looking down at their laps or holding their phones near their heads barely stopping and rolling through the stop sign to the amazement of other drivers.

Just last week a young man was driving behind me on Kenneth Road.  Since I always check the driver’s face in my rearview mirror, I saw he was looking down more than half of the time.  The car ahead of me inched up to turn left so I couldn’t proceed.  But the kid behind me sensing movement started accelerating, then had to slam on his brakes to avoid rear-ending me.

I noticed a shocked look on his face.  So, I thought, “Good, now he knows not to use his phone while driving.”  Wrong.   He continued behind me for several blocks, constantly glancing down at his lap.  If a near-miss did not alter his behavior, what would?

What is scary about those who refuse to put their phones down while driving is that it doesn’t matter how defensively one drives, there is no protection against a person willfully breaking the law.   Many innocent people have lost their lives due to these selfish, self-absorbed menaces.

Cars should have sensors that prevent the car from operating if a driver is using a phone in any way, similar to navigation systems which do not work while the car is running.

It’s not just cell phone use that creates distracted drivers.  Everything from talking to eating to applying make-up can make a difference between a near-miss and a casualty.

And drivers with earbuds in their ears:  can they hear sirens or screams?

Peculiar that people have no problem texting while driving, but for some reason can’t use their blinkers, an action that would require less effort.

Instead of autonomous cars there should be signals that automatically go on if a driver turns his wheel a certain number of degrees in either direction.  That would also save automakers money since there would no longer be a need for the turn signal lever on steering wheel columns.

It seems that the only way a driver obeys the law is if an officer is spotted nearby.  That logic of “not to get caught” creates dangerous people on our highway who evidently count on others to obey the law.

Some neighbors have posted lawn signs that read, “drive like your kids live here.”  They should say “drive like your kids are in the other car.”

 

Vulgar Words Against Women Must Stop

“Daddy, can we eat breakfast at Eggslut?”

“Sure,” replies the father to his 10-year-old daughter.   “What do you want to get there?”

“The Slut, of course,” answered the young girl.

Call me 20th century, but I don’t understand why this hypothetical exchange would not bother a parent who cares about his daughter’s self-esteem and how women are viewed in this world.

Still, many parents and their children are waiting up to an hour to eat at this breakfast spot which recently opened in Glendale.

I feel embarrassed even writing the word down for this column.  In fact, when I type the restaurant’s name in Google on my work computer, the filter blocks it out.

But having the word on a business stirs nary a protest.

I tried contacting Eggslut’s part-owner and chef Alvin Cailan about the word he chose for his business, but received no reply.

However, in a 2015 interview with the Asian Journal, he explained that he selected the name to “make waves.”

He said that not everyone liked the name, calling it “disgusting and vulgar” and, because of that, “we couldn’t do [some] events.”  Still, he continues using the name.

One popular dish on the menu is even called the “slut.”

I don’t care if that is the most delicious food on the planet, I won’t patronize a business that is so insultingly named, just as I wouldn’t support one with an ethnic slur.

Didn’t Cailan feel his food was good enough without having to insult over half of the U.S. population?

People go to the streets to protest the policies of President Trump, especially the words he uses to describe women.  Why aren’t the same people in front of this restaurant protesting its name?

What I don’t get is how women’s issues have grown in prominence since the Equal Rights Amendment days of the 1970’s, yet the proliferation of sexual insults against women has likewise risen in songs, TV programs, and social media.  The ubiquitous B-word is to women what the N-word is to African-Americans.

Back in 2012 after a six-month courtship, Kanye West showed the world his love for his future wife, Kim Kardashian, by writing a song for her, “Perfect B—.”

People are becoming so desensitized to words and, in doing so, have no barometer, no sense of when their words are not ones others may want to hear.  That is why more and more I get looks of puzzlement from students whenever I ask them to watch their language.   They apparently do not know what words are appropriate to use.   For many, the way they talk at school is the same way they talk to their friends and is the same way they talk at home—no sense of adapting to various environments, or being sensitive to others.

If the name of an establishment pushed the envelope further such as Bacon B—-hes, would that be okay as well as the BLTs were delicious?

It is difficult to have serious conversations about campus assaults when women are vulgarized throughout mass media and popular entertainment.  As a society, how do we reconcile mandating sexual harassment job training while allowing a free-for-all outside of the workplace?

For all our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, the message must be clear.  If we want to view women as equal to men in every way, then we need to clean up the language and stop accepting hateful words that demean them. Not in locker rooms, not on iTunes, not on Neflix, and definitely not for breakfast.

 

 

 

 

Legalizing Illegal Bicyclist Behavior

Drivers are often reminded through posted signs to “share the road” with bicyclists.  But what about “share the laws”?

If assemblymen Jay Obernolte and Phil Ting get their AB 1103 passed, this will no longer be true.

AB 1103 would allow bicyclists to run stop signs legally.

Obernolte told the Times that bicyclists’ “loss of momentum causes them to spend a substantially longer amount of time in the intersection.”  In other words, those two-ton monsters roaming the streets ruin their cardio workout.  Well, drivers could argue that stopping for bicyclists and providing a three-foot clearance for them impedes their progression as well.

Bicyclists will be the one type of vehicle traversing the highways that follows Mad Max-type of rules, leaving the rest of us drivers and pedestrians at our own peril navigating along Fury Road.

Imagine the confusion as you pull up to a stop sign, and when it appears to be clear, you press the accelerator only to quickly slam on the brakes due to a blur of wheels speeding in front of you.

If the rule of thumb is to change laws to reflect the way drivers and bicyclists operate their vehicles, then you might as well do away with stop signs and red lights altogether since so many people run through them.

Whenever I see a driver or a bicyclist speed through a four-way stop intersection as I alone obey the complete stop, I think about what would happen if the other person met someone like himself.   The result?  A crash.

Instead, these menaces count on law-abiding citizens to keep them safe.  How loony is that notion?

Once I observed a bicyclist going at least 30 mph downhill in a residential neighborhood, blowing through a four-way stop.  A driver honked his horn at him to which the bicyclist stopped, turned around, and gave him the middle finger on both of his hands.   The bicyclist knew what he did was illegal and wrong, but didn’t care, even about his own life which could have ended right there if not for the driver following the law in stopping at the intersection.

It is amazing that there aren’t double the number of traffic accidents when one sees on a daily basis blatant disregard for rules of the road.  No wonder Glendale has the distinction as one of the least safe cities in terms of traffic in America.

And before we unleash anti-immigrant venom into the discussion to explain this behavior, I have seen young and old, driving jalopies and jaguars, all perpetrators of bad driving.

The cause is complex, but much of it is rooted in the increasing selfishness of people.   They don’t care who is around them on the streets; they are determined to do whatever they want without risk of being caught or shamed.

What motivates a bicyclist or a motorist to make a complete stop when there is no one else around?

I feel embarrassed if I do something wrong in public; too many others do not feel the same.

To bring sanity back to the streets, I have three suggestions.

One, hire more parking enforcement officers.   Provide them with more training so that they can issue moving violations such as running stop signs.   Station them at four-way stops.  The revenue from all the tickets will more than pay for the additional jobs.

Two, have a public service campaign that educates the public how to behave on the road.

Three, contact Assemblymember Laura Friedman who represents the Burbank/Glendale area and express your opposition to this proposed law which will legalize bad behavior, something for which there is no drought.

Doing the right thing can’t be legislated, but neither should be doing the wrong thing.