Friday, November 21, 2008

Fake News, the Politics of Punctuation Dept.

Ignored by Arizona’s main daily paper, it’s still a Capital idea

With the election over and Barack Obama’s pending advent to the presidency of the United States, Phoenix residents have begun to wonder whether their hometown rag, the Arizona Republic, will re-evaluate its capitalization policy for the terms for America’s two most recognizable races in low-light conditions, the whites and the blacks.
As an example, passages appearing in a pre-election article in the Republic read: “There’s utter amazement at the prospect of Barack Obama becoming president, the son of an African father and a White mother from Kansas who seems divinely favored with temperament, talent and timing. ... There is also apprehension over reports that Blacks are being unjustly stricken from voter registration rolls nationwide—an unsavory reminder that outcomes can be manipulated. ...”
Given that the article in which these sentences appeared came off the wire and were written by a Washington Post columnist, and thus must have followed Normal Capitalization Style, the Republic clearly would have had to employ all the resources at its disposal to actively and concertedly capitalize the words “black” and “white,” in order to bring them into compliance with the local paper’s unique, if not singular, style practices.
The paper’s archivist, fact checker and humor columnist, Clay Thompson, offered some history of the Republic’s style preference in this area. “Going back to a much earlier era, the paper didn’t originally capitalize ‘Black,’ because it didn’t think black people were to be accorded the dignity and distinction of capitalization. And we didn’t often have opportunity to capitalize ‘white’ in the olden days, because we seldom reported on the doings of whites as whites. The black residents of the city, few as they were, also preferred to go about their business unnoticed, so it’s a little hard to find examples of the old cap-W, little-b usage.”
It was difficult, interviewing Thompson over the phone, to miss his trying to adhere to the Republic’s current capitalization style in his mere pronunciation of “white” and “black.”
The paper’s longtime publisher, Sue Clark-Johnson, defended the style policy in a written statement before her elevation to more rarefied executive levels within Republic parent Gannett in 2005: “Of course, the reason for the policy is accuracy, plain and simple,” she wrote. “‘Whites’ aren’t truly white—they’re kind of a pale pinkish. A Shader Pale of Pink, so to speak. And ‘Blacks’ certainly aren’t black, thank Goodness! I’m so happy that they are usually some shade—often a very nice hue, in my opinion—of brown. If they were black, in fact, that would tend to validate racism, as black is universally and incontrovertibly known to be a yucky and evil color, while white is pure and holy. So, we insist on upholding the Equality of the Races in this way.”
Johnson added she saw the style standard as a sign of respect for the races, “analogously to the few newspapers around the country that still accord people identified or quoted in their stories the titles ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ on subsequent reference—not just by their last names.”
The Wall Street Journal still dignifies its subjects and sources with such titles; however, the Republic appears to stand proudly alone, or almost alone, in its capitalization of racial designations.
Johnson and her successors have had the sad duty over the past few years of slashing the paper’s staff while also overseeing a controversial redesign and reformatting of the publication into “Information Centers,” rather than news departments. However, the overhaul did not include a revisiting the racial-reference style question. But reports in other local publications on the controversial and demoralizing moves revealed that in the staff reductions, undertaken at the behest of Gannett, some high-profile departures at the time were voluntary, and coincidental. Former Willo neighborhood resident and Republic business columnist Jon Talton, a perennial scold who constantly urged the Valley to diversify its economy away from purely real-estate-related activities, actually left in protest over the capitalization policy. He tried to evade and undermine it, to no avail, Talton—known affectionately in the newsroom as “Cassandra”—said. “You know the caps-lock feature on computers? I tried fooling around with it to see if I could use it to automatically uncapitalize ‘B’ and ‘W’ when, in between my cushy three-times-a-week schedule as a columnist, I had to fill in on the copy desk. But the computers were apparently set up to just keep those letters capitalized, based on a ‘fuzzy-logic’ context-dependent determination by HAL-9000 up in the publisher’s office. It made it really annoying to edit copy where the article was in fact referring just to colors, not different racial groups, ‘fuzzy logic’ and ‘context’ notwithstanding. Open the pod bay door, please ... there’s no intelligent life here.”
Precocious Republic Executive Editor Nicole Carroll, who in the Gannett-ordered downsizing also has had to put in regular stints on the copy desk, made no apologies for the paper’s practice. In fact, “You’ll have to pry my blue pencil from my cold, dead hand before I personally stop marking up sloppy copy that fails to conform to our clear, consistent standard,” she said.
Longtime civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson agreed the capitalization policy is obtuse and offensive, but said Obama’s ascension to the presidency offered no particular occasion or rationale for revisiting it. “He’s not Black enough for that,” Jackson said, the cap-B markedly more evident in his own enunciation than it was in Thompson’s. “He didn’t grow up the descendant of slaves like us authentic black Americans. He’s an African-American of a special, suspect kind—literally, since his daddy was Kenyan. I think William Ayres visited Kenya. Anyway, I say, if it’s a nation, it gets capitalization. No ifs ands or buts. And I still want to cut off his nuts.”
Jackson ran for the presidency in 1984 and ’88, but apparently the time was not—or his own nuts weren’t—ripe for a black man to become president.
The Associated Press, which publishes a stylebook used by most U.S. newspapers to achieve a consistent printed usage in matters large and small, has for years attempted to get the Republic to change its style in this area, to little avail. “It’s as if the Arizona Republic, even as the state’s main daily and the voice now of the fifth-largest city in the country, lives in a distant time and place of its own,” said AP spokeswoman Mary Ogilvy. “Maybe someday it will come into the 20th century. We’re considering fines.” It being pointed out that it’s already the 21st century, Ogilvy said, “Yeah, I know. One step at a time. One step for a Man, one giant leap for the Republic ...”

Political Shtick
As a side comment on the election: A caller to an NPR talk show following Obama’s victory said it now felt like an America where truly anyone could become president. Still, with the failed runs at the top spot by Barry Goldwater, Mo Udall, Bruce Babbitt and now Sen. John McCain, it’s only in Arizona that mothers still can’t tell their sons they could grow up to be president someday. On the other hand, who knows about daughters of the Grand Canyon State? Arizonan Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to be seated on the U.S. Supreme Court. And, in Willo resident and state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who following her re-election Nov. 4 became assistant minority leader in the state House, we may have our very own answer to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Similarly bespectacled, with a not dissimilar mini-big-hairdo and a fair degree of comparable (if not superior) babe-itude, should we look for a Sinema leading a major party presidential ticket in, oh, say, 2020? She, at least, knows that Darfur is a region in the country of Sudan on the continent of Africa. She’s even been there.

-By David Tell

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The VIP view--not as press; Marci's bank was a sponsor

Some films most excellent, at ’08 Phx Film Fest

Tom McCarthy, also a ‘Wire’ actor, follows ‘Station Agent’ success with a new, top-notch offering

By David Tell, Messenger Editor

Here it is eight years later and the Phoenix Film Festival is a real Event. Has been for several years, actually, drawing credible, high-profile films, celebs, money people, stars and other players. And film buffs. (And glam chicks who regard the Event as the apotheosis of the Scottsdale clubs scene, with a chance to get discovered, too!) Robert Altman, rest in peace, would have a field day.
Much credit is due to Laurel and Hardy—uh, Lamont and Carney—the duo whose brainchild Phx Film Fest is. (We don’t apologize for the comparison: the pair ham it up quasi-comically in their appearances kicking off the event and the opening night film, etc.; not that there’s anything wrong with that—it could be more painfully pompous, as when dignitaries do de rigueur honors giving the event its official proclamations. This year it was Vice Mayor Peggy Neely, in whose district the festival takes place—virtually in Scottsdale, at the Harkins 101 Cine Capri, as we’ve noted ad infinitum. But what’re you gonna do? As much as we preferred the previous venue at AMC Theaters Arizona Center, the event has probably outgrown that space. Maybe not. We do know the downtown business community was irked at losing the event. So, they should have stopped the move. Shame on them.) Anyway. Reviews of festival film entries follow.

The Visitor
One pleasant surprise was the opening night film, by—who else?—another alum of HBO’s excellent, just concluded, urban Baltimore series, “The Wire.” (Readers of recent issues will know we rubbed elbows with a number of other players from that show, who were in town—downtown—for the screening at the Almost Famous Short Film Festival of an awesome movie they created, kind of ensemble: “Sympathetic Details,” by writer-director Benjamin Busch (Colicchio on “The Wire”). The opening PFF work was "The Visitor,” starring Richard Jenkins, late of HBO’s "Six Feet Under" (though we think of him fondly from his role in “The Witches of Eastwick”—in which he beats his wife to death with a fireplace poker—and from various installments in the Farrelly brothers’ oeuvre).
Tom McCarthy, writer-director of the phenom “The Station Agent” a couple years ago (set in Newfoundland, N.J., where yours truly hails from), played a disgruntled, overambitious reporter at the Baltimore Sun in the final season of “The Wire.” In that role, he not only gets caught up in cop Jimmy McNulty’s fabricated murders of homeless men (staged to get funding to resume investigations into other murders, put on ice due to city budget cuts), but, egged on by an out-of-touch mentor, goes on to completely make up spinoff “Dickensian” articles about the lives and travails of the homeless.
Needless to say, the guy’s likely got a lot more integrity than his “Wire” role, as his films display a humanity and sensitivity to the subtleties of character and situation that commends them highly, among other factors. We spoke briefly to McCarthy after his film’s screening, and told him it struck us almost as “Missing” meets “Year of the Dog.” “I was in ‘Year of the Dog,’” he replied. “Oh, yeah, you were the [Laura Dern’s] husband”—part of an overprotective, politically correct parental duo, and not the one who wears the pants—we acknowledged. We elaborated on our comparison, saying we found his and Mike White’s film to have had a similar affectionate, slight distance, yet a closely observant feel in regard to their characters, as well as a running, lightly humorous tone, even in the face of sobering realities. McCarthy acknowledged the point, while adding he still found the comparison strange. (That’s all right—we find his characters despicable ... though again, it’s probably a testament to his talent that they are so viscerally dislikable, as he’s probably nothing like them.)
More apt, perhaps, is the comparison to “Missing,” by Costa-Gavras. A political drama like his iconic “Z,” “Missing” is about events surrounding the 1973 coup in Chile that toppled popularly elected Marxist leader Salvador Allende, replacing him with the CIA-backed villain Augusto Pinochet. In the film, Jack Lemmon plays an American businessman called to Chile by his daughter-in-law (Sissy Spacek), when his son gets caught up in the political turmoil. Lemmon plays one of his classic “dawning awareness” roles, as in “The China Syndrome,” where he goes from a implicit faith in the system to a grudging realization that the institutions he believes in are not always so benign. Likewise, that evolution loosely describes Jenkins’ character’s progress in “The Visitor,” as he deals with problems related to the immigration status of some new friends. But, like Peggy the bereft secretary (Molly Shannon) in “Year of the Dog,” Jenkins’ character, Walter Vale, is also experiencing a loss of connectedness to places, people, work that have barely been his mooring for years—and so he finds new sources of life, passion and belonging. From its soundtrack to the cinematography; pacing, casting, acting and story, “The Visitor” is virtually flawless. (Except, however, as to a technical musical detail: When Tarek is starting to teach Walter drumming, he warns him African drumming is based on a “three-beat,” not four. What he really means is, there is syncopation and other “exotic” tendencies; however, the rhythm he and Walter then start working with is a “four-beat”—actually, more or less a half-time meter, in which there’s two beats to the measure and a quarter note gets one beat. Or something like that.)
Speaking of casting, Danai Gurira as Zainab, reminds us, perhaps oddly, of Samantha Morton. Maybe it’s the shape of her closely cropped head, like Morton’s as the lead empath in “Minority Report”; then again, maybe it’s something in her eyes. But Morton in Jim Sheridan’s fine “In America" plays a role more similar to Gurira’s here, as an illegal in New York City. Too, Haaz Sleiman as Tarek is perfect as one of those eager-to-please, happy-go-lucky, live-for-the moment kind of people, who endears himself to the viewer every bit as much as he does to Walter. But we were fondest of Jenkins as Walter, who is a little formal, doesn’t smile much, is sometimes tough on others yet self-excusing, and so has to endure others’ (especially the female characters’) guardedness, even hostility, well after he has really shown himself to be kind, gentle, caring, generous—in his low-key yet self-respecting way.

The Life Before Her Eyes
The closing night film was also wonderful. It was directed by Vadim Perelman, from an adapted screenplay based on the novel of the same name by Laura Kasischke. (Perelman directed the moving, tragic “House of Sand and Fog," released in 2003, which we raved about at the time.) “Before Her Eyes,” like last year’s Sandra Bullock vehicle “Premonition,” is what I call a women’s film—which is decidedly not the same thing as a check flick. It’s a serious look at issues women face, through a woman’s eyes, from women’s perspectives. That’s not to say men won’t like and be thoughtfully stimulated by it too. The film is visually poetic right from the credits, with images, close-ups of flowers melting away through lenswork or computer tricks or both. The film’s axis is a massacre at a high school by a disturbed young man—hardly an untopical event these days. It follows a couple of female, teen-age best friends up to and well beyond the bloody events of that day. Rachel Evan Wood plays “Diana,” one of the two girls—a restless, sexually active, smart, alienated, self-willed and somewhat confused young woman, whose friend Maureen presents a counterweight to those qualities.
Uma Thurman plays Wood’s character as a grown-up, an art history teacher with a husband, a child, and memories of the day that changed everything. We’ll avoid spoilers, since right up to the end of this film, the viewer has been led to look at the film one way, and it may not be the right way. That said, there’s a “Sophie’s Choice” element at its crux, though one less gratuitously in its framing and in its consequences than I’ve always considered that hinge of Styron’s book (and of the film made from it). However, against the decisive turning point represented by the massacre, the film examines what seem to be a number of uniquely female preoccupations and dilemmas: For instance, there’s the question of sex. Men are generally all impulse, expressing the conatus of Leibnizian philosophy; women are the gatekeepers of sex. Women, adolescent girls deal with the good girl-bad girl issue: They can say no, and are expected by parents, by society to do so; but how long can they and keep a man they may want? So they deal with guilt. They deal with the pressure, and then, often the rejection, even by the same source of the pressure—young boys who then taunt their conquests as “sluts.” The blood of their period is akin to, can lead to, the blood of an abortion: this is the blood of Christian-viewed sin, not of “the redemptive blood of the Lamb.” Men, for the most part, hold power of life and death over other living beings, the “born”—they send others to war, to their executions. Women hold that power over the unborn. Maybe it’s a fair division. But maybe few would like to have either power, if they could avoid it.
Women are taught, socialized to make a relationship, a marriage, a home. If those things fall apart, they are told, in myriad ways, to look first to themselves to blame. Even with a philandering husband. Even with a child who’s simply programmed to behave, act out, resist, rebel; among other reasons, as part of the eternal cycle of mother-daughter conflict. As Thurman’s Diana says, “I thought if I cared for my child, helped my students, loved my husband, everything would be all right.” But doing those things, the right thing, doesn’t necessarily control outcomes, bring ultimate happiness.
It’s interesting how as an art teacher, Diana’s lessons focus on Gauguin—like Philip Roth’s early, seminal novel Goodbye Columbus. I’ll leave the lessons of that reference, that inclusion for the viewer to explore themselves, as with the Blake poem Diana reads to her daughter to soothe her to sleep. Likewise the ubiquitous imagery of water in the film; while young Diana, looking at the spray from a fountain, wonders where the boundary is between its mist and the air it is dissipating into.
There are a few false notes, as in the somewhat hokey dialogue about “the heart being the strongest muscle in the body.” Some other witty exchanges reminded me of the improbably smart, ready-for-the Dorothy-Parker-book-of-quips utterances by Ellen Page’s precocious teen in last year’s phenomenon “Juno.” But they’re infrequent, and dissolve quickly in the potent, larger mix. The title and final plot twist are in fact a hoary cliché—and a clue ... though one most people, I feel, are unlikely to crack. (The repetition of an old Zombies song, in various forms, is also a clue.) At least, I didn’t—the whole weight, momentum of the film are so forceful on behalf of a different supposition.
A gorgeous, thoughtful, disturbing film, one that—like “Being There,” last year’s “Perfume,” “2001: A Space Odyssey”—one can hardly imagine being anywhere near as effective in a non-visual medium. Which is why we have film these days, and why, in these pages at least, you’ll find it analyzed as the serious literature it sometimes is.

Then She Found Me
A film to have overlooked at our peril given its all-star cast, this was generally a crowd-pleaser—a well-made romantic comedy and to some degree a chick flick, and a female mid-life crisis film “with heart”—which is not to say it was great. Watchable, touching, funny ... ultimately, not my cup of chai. (But nowhere near as bad as “The Holiday,” that Nancy Meyers abomination of a couple of years ago, though that film could have some of the same nice things said about it, and has a similar feel ...)
I hate to be cruel, but it’s also about the only way Helen Hunt, who may be missing the days she seemed genuinely youthful and desirable—say, ca. “Mad About You” days, or even playing the two-timin’ Bree in “Dr. T and the Women”—is going to get to play the romantic lead to someone like Colin Firth: write and direct it herself (actually, she co-wrote the script with two others, listed first on IMDb).
I mean, this woman was never especially my kind of babe, but—nothing personal, no fault of hers, it’s her genes, she’s just not aging well—she looks awful. Occasionally, she rises to “pleasant-looking.” She’s just haggard, sorry. I’m sure she’s a nice person.
Anyway, —No, I’ll say this, too: Bette Midler plays her mom, and the actresses’ actual ages may even work. You could say, OK HH got more of her father’s genes. But, you know, I’d do Bette WAY before I’d do Helen. OK, got that out of the way.
This is a Jewy film, and of course, I like that. It starts out with a Jewish joke, which is the theme: People will set you up to trust them, then they will pull the rug out from under you, uncovering a trapdoor to a circle of hell you should subliminally have girded yourself to expect, to deal with, after all—but it’s still no picnic.
But the Jewish mother is wise, the Jewish brother is wise, the b’racha over lighting the Shabbat candles is heartwarming. (Interestingly, I think—I’ll swear, I’ll bet—that’s Salman Rushdie playing the ob-gyn in the film. He’s not in the credits, I’m sure he insisted he be left out. What, he wants another fatwa, a death edict from those crazy militant Muslims now, again, for appearing in a Jewy film? Examining HH’s private parts, no less? What’s he even thinking?)
Colin Firth is unaccountably smitten with HH, but he gets taken on a ride over her biological clock issues, her on-the-rebound issues, and, to top it all off, her “my biological mother, who is a major wack job, suddenly appeared in my life” issues. To the writers’ and their character’s credit, ole Colin does not suppress his anger over his mistreatment by HH, though he also apologizes for same and then lets himself in for more of the same. But he’s not totally contemptible.
Helen Hunt’s character kind of is, as she succumbs to the occult charms of her childlike ex, played by Matthew Broderick, just when things are getting seriously rolling with Firth. Anyway, there’s some nice lessons here, in the end: As usual, a woman has to acquiesce in the idea that she doesn’t know as well what she wants and needs and what’s good for her, and for everyone—rather than her being overweeningly selfish—as she thinks she does.
One cool thing is that Bette Midler’s character—who plays a kind of local-to-the-New York-market, Jewish Oprah—at one point alleges HH is a product of her union with Steve McQueen, and refers to his having been involved in the film “The Sand Pebbles” at the time of their dalliance. “The Sand Pebbles” is a now-somewhat-obscure film that was Candice Bergen’s first shot at fame, and is based on the novel of the same name by talented author Richard McKenna, who died untimely and whose novella Fiddler’s Green is the basis for our screenplay, “The Thirst,” which we have been trying to get produced since 2000. If they keep bringing up stuff of his, maybe someday my awesome sci fi-adventure-occult “’The Matrix” meets “Apocalypto” meets “Interview With the Vampire” etc. etc. will get produced.

Remarkable Power
Starring Kevin Nealon and Tom Arnold, and a couple of unknown kids in prominent roles as well, this was a clever, edgy film where multiple plot lines and disparate agendas on the part of various characters are neatly tied up, turn out by the end of the film to have been enmeshed all along. Be that as it may, the film still has the kind of low-budget, cavalier, in-your-face feel of a project a bunch of formerly high-profile celebrities got together to make because they miss the spotlight and didn’t have anything else particularly worthwhile going on at the moment.
Kevin Nealon plays a TV talk show host who learns his wife is cheating on him and who is being canned after a long successful run, by the new guys at the network. Tom Arnold plays a PI documenting low-level sleaze who bumps into a young woman making a living by ambulance chasing and posting the morbid photos she takes on a pervert website (she’s one of the unknowns). The other unknown is a kid—a stoner—who gets sucked up by a Tony Robbins-type infomercial success scam, and ends up committing manslaughter. Etc., etc., blah blab blah. It all comes out in the wash. This is not, however, of the caliber of the Tom Arnold vehicle that premiered at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2005—Don Roos’ “Happy Endings” (one of the approximately 2.8 million films that year calculated to remind me of the dispiriting midlife misadventure I’d gone on in 2004). So, apropos of that circumstance, I raced back to the Q&A following the film when my dear wife Marci chided me for not getting Arnold’s autograph for her. The Q&A was still going on. A last question was solicited by the producer. “Me me me, call on me!” my flailing arm said, quite eloquently, but insistently, for an arm. I got called on. “Tom, a few years ago a young woman tricked me into getting her pregnant, like your character in ‘Happy Endings.’ Did you do anything like that to prepare for that part?” Tom said no, and embarked on a rambling soliloquy about how Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in that film was after his money, but his character didn’t care, and so on ... The producer volunteered he hadn’t done anything like that either to prepare for ... I don’t know what! Then, as a sly follow up, the kind President Bush recently tried to rule out at his press conferences, I asked Tom, “Hey, Tom! Aren’t you kind of young to pairing yourself up in your films with every young cupcake of a wannabe actress you can find?” He misunderstood the thrust of the question and started to say, “You mean, ‘Too old ...’” because he didn’t let me finish: “No, I mean, like Woody Allen has been doing the past dozen or so years: Tea Leoni, Mira Sorvino, Scarlett Johansson, Debra Messing ... you’re too young to have to prop up your fragile male ego like that, don’t you think?” But I really didn’t get to hammer that point home, in its full articulation. By then, I was able to just go up to him and get him to sign his autograph on a copy of The Midtown Messenger, to the dear wife who’d been mistreated by my 2004 perambulation ... he was very kind. And, possibly, stoned. But a nice guy. I asked him if he was still Jewish (he converted upon his marriage to Roseanne; there was coverage of his unit having to be ritually nicked, since, as a good hygienic American male of my generation, he was already circumcised). “Always,” he said. “All right!” I commended him. And by the time I got out to the party tent to bestow his autograph upon Marci, he had already meandered out there and signed her festival program. Drat!

Roman de Gare
This looked interesting based on the title, which seemed to me a pun on “Roman de guerre,” which—it seems to me, who faked it all the way to French IV in high school—to mean something like, “story of war,” as roman a clef means mystery novel, etc. Anyway. What is it with these French films with middle-aged murderous novelistas? Like “Swimming Pool” a few years ago, with Charlotte Rampling and the delightfully saucy, naked Ludovine Sagnier (who also played the saucy, retro-garbed, tiny little luminous Tinker Bell in the great 2003 live-action “Peter Pan”). This was clever, and well made, if no masterpiece. But the interesting thing besides the labyrinthine plot was Dominique Pinon as the male romantic lead??? The nasty, cretinous guy who played the assassin in “Diva” 25 years ago??? I’m not kidding. Oh, the other cool thing was the likening of “the Writer” to God. I can relate.

Another must-see, we realized, since it got made by the producers snagging Minnie Driver in a lead role. Great film; shot with lighting and/or film stock that conferred a washed-out, bluish graininess to reflect the drear, grim thrust of the story. Reminded me of the filmic feel of last year’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” reviewed in this space a few months ago; then we had to defend our dwelling on Marisa Tomei’s extended frontal nude scene in it in a later issue. “Take’s” gist was, crime victim (Driver) is on a road trip, on her way to witness the execution of the guy who caused her loss. That guy—what a loser. Much of the film follows his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Which gets worse and worse that way as a consequence of his bad choices, granted. Like in “Devil.” But. The narrative arc of convergence of convict on victim or victim on convict is paralleled by the story-within-the-story of the convergence of the two on the infamous day of the crime. We didn’t stay for the Q&A, but I wanted to ask the producer or director, did you see this as an anti-death penalty film? Because it seemed to me to say, “If the victim can forgive the transgressor, what business does society have insisting on its vengeance?” (As a hyper-rational guy, I recognize that’s an emotion-based argument, not a logical one. I have other, unassailable reasons for opposing the death penalty.) Anyway, an excellent film; maybe, along with “The Visitor,” the best of the fest. (Won “best ensemble film” at the Fest, which shows they don’t know what “ensemble” means. Even in English.) But, an awesome acting job by Jeremy Renner, as the down-and-out, reprehensible, hapless Saul. I’m just damn glad they didn’t name him that because he was going to have a “Paul on the road to Damascus come-to-Jesus conversion” as his execution drew closer. In fact, he put up a pretty good fight, argument, against the chaplain sent in to give him final rites, solace, theodicy, what-have-you. A fine film—almost caustic to watch, but full of integrity, intensity.

Uncross the Stars
Well, there had to be one film we couldn’t stand to sit though, like last year’s “Ten Inch Hero.” This, like the initial screening of that one (at which all the aging friends of the director’s Scottsdale parents, the McKays, dominated the audience demographic), was heavily attended by residents of a senior community where a lot of the film takes place, and was shot. There’s nothing that will kill your interest in a film quicker than all the old people laughing at the sexual double entendres by a “Golden girl” wannabe hungering for the buns of a hot young guy. Only about a quarter of the way into the film somebody playing with their fancy new wireless lapel mike or something had their “Let’s see how this works ... See how great it picks up?” etc. picked up by the theater’s sound system, obliterating the film’s soundtrack. Hooray! But they stopped it, were going to fix it and run it back to where it started getting messed up. For me, it was pretty messed up from the get-go. We’re outta here!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Almost Famous Film Fest hosts real celebrities

Good things come in small packages

Local film fest to screen shorts; one by, featuring guys from HBO’s ‘The Wire’

By David Tell, Messenger editor

In reality, it’s graduated from the “Almost Famous” to the “Kinda Famous Film Festival.” It’s the event that in previous years took the form of a 48-hour short film challenge, in which local teams stepped up and conceived, wrote, filmed and burned to disk movies of less than 10 minutes’ duration—all in literally two days.
It’s been fun, and the hoopla has brought some profile and credibility to the festival and its founder and organizer, Jae Staats of the Willo neighborhood. But, despite the inspired move of bringing a writing professor and short film diva to Phoenix College in advance of the ’06 festival, to conduct a workshop and hopefully raise the average quality of the submissions, results remained somewhat uneven. The best films tended to be pretty good, and admittedly, the poorer-type efforts of the first year or two fell off and the bulk of the submissions hovered around “funny,” “interesting” and “watchable.” (Some, barely.)
This year, pros and semi-pros have made the films, and they’re pretty awesome—including an hour-long feature by Ben Busch and colleagues from HBO’s “The Wire.” View our comments on Busch's film on here, and all our comments on films on the site here. Following, read an interview with Busch by The Midtown Messenger:

The MM-A3F interview: ‘The Wire’s’ Ben Busch

Editor’s note: After several e-mails and some phone tag, we finally caught up with Benjamin Busch for a stimulating interview while he was at the laundromat folding clothes with his 3-year-old daughter. Busch lives in Reed City, Mich., near Big Rapids, itself somewhere near Grand Rapids—a city we know fairly well. Our condolences to all, vis-à-vis the climate (economic and otherwise) … Busch will be in Phoenix at the A3F for the screening of a film he made; actor Dom Lombardozzi (“Herc” on “The Wire,” “Dom” in “Entourage,” and “Vincent” in Busch’s film “Sympathetic Details”) may be with him.

MM: We have our theories why many directors start out doing horror films or mockumentaries. What made you choose an assassin film for your first writer-director project?
BB: Ryan Sands, my partner in crime, wanted to do that kind of film, wanted to play that particular role. So we wrote it around that idea, but I wanted to take the genre in a completely different direction. I wanted character to drive the action movie, so I was very particular in how I designed and edited it. I was thinking of Frank Reynolds’ “In the Bedroom,” which is a very slow film. I wanted to take what would easily be a fast-action film, slow it down to that speed, focus on things that mattered. Shoot-em-up is easy; what’s hard is drama and pause. It has a more European feeling as a film.
MM: Reading your director’s statement about the film, I felt vindicated in my long belief that many if not most directors approach films as a very conscious craft, in which the details and full box of the tools of expression in film are intentionally used to convey a subtext, an articulable idea, etc., beyond the topmost narrative level of the film—though also serving it, of course. When I first saw Jean-Jacques Beneix’s “Diva,” and I had this theory of Gorodish’s Zen-philosophical subtext of “stopping the wave” contrasted with the diva’s own kind of Zen-like refusal to let her performances be recorded (NOT stopping the [sine or sound] wave)—each coming at being “in the moment” in different way—my friends said, “Yeah, that’s logical, but we doubt it was all intentional.” I said, “You’re an idiot if you think it wasn’t.” [In his director’s statement and in e-mails, Busch had elaborated on his use of color, movement, vegetation, a significant photograph, overall environment, and other elements in weaving and conveying themes underlying the story in his film.]
BB: I can’t speak for many directors, although I’ve worked with a number of them. Not all are in tune with this kind of Gestalt filmmaking. I’m very interested in how sound and music go into it. I’m a photographer, so I frame a picture and then populate it. You’re stuck with the rectangle, so the rectangle itself becomes very important to me, the movement of the camera. With little money, it’s difficult with camerawork to do as much as you would like. I love to keep the camera moving; it sets a certain mood, if there’s motion which you use either for or against the characters. In “Sympathetic Details,” in the first scene, I’m just holding till we leave the first room. I storyboard very carefully. I had 12 days to shoot the whole film, so you have to know what you’re going for. There can’t be surprises. I wanted kind of claustrophobic interiors, up to the pigeon scene. I knew it was going to end in force, I wanted to have that symbolism throughout the film—you constantly see vegetation. Everywhere, somewhere, some place, there is encroachment of vegetation. It’s everywhere, just like people are. I moved all the plants in the hotel to make a corridor of black trees. Outside, you see a whole forest behind glass; inside you see an interior of vegetation.
MM: We’re thinking of other assassin-themed films: There’s “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “The Matador.” You mentioned you could watch Morgan Freeman read a phone book for an hour, so “Nurse Betty,” and the recent DVD release “The Contract” (with John Cusack), as well as “Lucky Number Slevin,” in which he plays a hitman or menacing mob guy, occur to us. We think of Jane Campion’s use of a specific color palette in “In the Cut” as paralleling your deliberate use of visual elements in your film. Speaking of “Slevin,” Bruce Willis’ banal speech to Lucy Liu’s hapless boyfriend before he kills him reminds us of Dom Lombardozzi’s (“Vincent’s”) monologue at the beginning of your film. Was that possibly an intentional reference?
BB: I did see that movie ... I don’t actually remember Bruce Willis in it that much, or that speech. It’s hard to say what rubs off on you, there are so many artists all rubbing off on each other. I was at war for two years. In the process we’ve moved a lot; in the past five years I’ve seen hardly any movies.
Films that have influenced me the most? “Blade Runner” has continued to blow my mind. I like the idea that it travels with, something about the existential message in that one. That movie has really been influential on me over the years. Although, I’m pretty small-scale. “The Professional” has also been an influence.
MM: How did you finance your project?
BB: We financed it ourselves, which means we’re in as much trouble as we can be! There’s that famous rule of the business, “Don’t do anything with your own money; use other people’s money.” As filmmakers, we promptly found that rule and broke it.
The actors did it for me, which was humbling. The crew came for cut rates. I begged the union for mercy, they were all people from “The Wire”; they were willing to do it for much less—all 12-hour days, pretty remarkable. They had such-and-such days to shoot an hour-and-a-half film.
MM: The film as submitted to A3F is about an hour; I assume you cut it?
BB: Yeah. I said, “I can’t knock more than a half hour off it.” I personally feel the scalpel marks on the script, we miss a few important moments to me. It’s hard to say how the audience will perceive it in its cut form; they’ll never know what the things are they’re not seeing.
MM: And, I assume, at an hour, it’s less marketable?
BB: Yeah, and anything less than an hour has no market at all. An hour can live on cable. There might be some love in the cable market for the film, especially with “The Wire” in its last season, getting attention again. I hoped to generate a little bit of buzz by submitting it to A3F. I’d like to get enough money to add the other half hour back in, reshoot and re-edit it, let it live a bigger life.
MM: Would it be disloyal of you to possibly agree with me that the hype around “The Wire” might be a little excessive? I love a lot of the original stuff on HBO, but I’ve only seen a few episodes of “The Wire.” However, I’m thinking of “Homicide: Life on the Street,” also about Baltimore and with “The Wire” writer David Simon contributing; “NYPD Blue,” to some extent; and “Hill Street Blues”—which I didn’t even glom onto till after its first couple years. Don’t they stand somewhat even with “The Wire?”
BB: I would disagree. The first three seasons of “The Sopranos” was brilliant, then it lost its way, except for maybe the last season or so. “The Wire” has never fallen down. But nobody watches it, it’s too smart for people. America’s gotten dumb over the last few years. It’s written like a novel; it’s not like episodic TV, which answers all the questions for you by the end of the hour, is kind of trite. You don’t just pick up a book and read a few pages and complain “I don’t know what’s going on.” It’s one of those great artistic travesties: “The Wire” has never gotten an Emmy. America is incapable of seeing itself; it has a complicated soul, it’s empire in decline. “The Wire,” its Baltimore, is kind of how we go out.
The language is also hard to follow, it’s really city language. [Playwright] Tony Kushner has said it’s like reading Shakespeare, “The Wire” is like a Shakespearean modern drama. The language is beautiful, but it’s hard to know what’s going on with it. It uses the slang of the time and place.
[Busch played Internet serial killer “Luke Ryland” on “Homicide: Life on the Street” for two episodes in 1999.]
MM: What led you to submit your film to the A3F?
BB: I think if you’re lucky the audience finds you. That’s why you do a lot of film festivals, they’re out there with the idea of getting filmmakers to talk to filmmakers. LA is kind of a veneer of something else. Festivals like Almost Famous are interested in what you did, why you did it, why is it important to the art of filmmaking.
I’ve had who knows how many conversations with journalists about my art shows—I have two traveling out there. It’s about the history of photography. One out of 25 understood anything about what I was talking about.
You’re our first interview about “Sympathetic Details.” It’s great to talk to someone who has a great grasp of the issues in film. In doing a hitman drama, I really am talking to the existential nature of life—the fact that nature is indifferent to us.
What I’m happiest about is that it was chosen to be viewed and it’s going to be seen. I’m not expecting it to pick up distribution just because it’s on the screen. I’m just happy that people like you are interested in it.

In an e-mail, Busch listed people from “The Wire,” etc., who appear in his film:
Ryan Sands is there with me in the back of the police readout room [in the first episode of the final season of “The Wire”]. Seth Gilliam is the police lieutenant who has to quiet us all down—he plays “Raymond” in our film in the pigeon room shootout. I cast him specifically because of his intensity and gift for projecting emotion. “Detective Lester Freamon” in the episode is reassigned as Major Crimes is disbanded and he plays “Carson” in our film, Clarke Peters. Clarke is television’s answer to Morgan Freeman. A magnificent performance. Domenick Lombardozzi, “Herc” on “The Wire,” in the bar scene with me and Seth, plays “Vincent” so brilliantly in the opening scene of our film. I rewrote that scene the most and it is one of my favorite scenes in film. I just play his bound and gagged partner. Can’t even get a line in my own film. John Doman, “Phillips” in our film, plays “Deputy Ops Rawls” on “The Wire” and gets to air some compassion after playing such a hard case for 5 years on the show. Jim True-Frost, “Prez” on “The Wire”, plays “Rogers” in our film. He dies by the tree at the top of the field with such wonderful disgust. I enjoyed casting him to play against his usual timid vulnerability. Edwina Findley played a doomed member of Omar’s crew on “The Wire” a few seasons ago and I brought her back from the dead to be killed again in the pigeon scene. Thuliso Dingwall plays one of the corner boys on “The Wire” and he did a brief, silent, and excellent job playing the pivotal collateral casualty in the pigeon scene that affects “Jonathan” too much and begins the end.
I cast all of them as I wrote the film and populated the rest with friends. The sniper, “Agent Money,” is Wayne McClam who was my team leader during my second combat tour in Iraq with the Marines. We called him “Money Gunny” until he was promoted from Gunnery Sergeant to Master Sergeant (a rank also known as “Top” for short) and then we called him “Top Dollar” so I named him “Agent Money” in the film credits. Somewhat of an inside joke if there ever was one. “Carson’s associate” is played by Daniel Silver who was my college roommate. Only Ken Arnold, who plays “Agent Chase,” and Marisol Chacin, “Lena,” were actually cast through auditions. Marisol gets to have the most fun. I would like to see then get some awards for their work. They donated their performances to me for this film and I am humbled by my debt to them.

In addition to his burgeoning film and TV resume and fine record of military service, Busch is also the son of the late novelist Frederick Busch. —David Tell

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fake News Dept. - 'World Mayor' Contest's local twist

‘Futurama’ Phil

Mayor Gordon seeks ‘world’s best’ nod—maybe in a Phoenix that is ‘capital of the whole universe,’ eh

Fresh off his hands-down re-election as mayor of Phoenix, Phil Gordon is already campaigning again—this time for “Best Mayor in the World.”
According to the website for the municipality “World,” “The World Mayor project, organised by City Mayors, seeks out mayors who have the vision, passion and skills to make their cities amazing places to live in, work in and visit.”
Charley Jones of the Pierson Place Association neighborhood group, who tirelessly forwards self-promoting notices from a variety of tirelessly self-promoting city officials to various weary e-mail recipients, commented on Gordon’s worthiness for “Best Mayor”: “Phoenix is an amazing place to live in, work in and visit. Especially around July 17, while held up in Midtown traffic due to light rail construction. Or, on any of our highways—you pick.”
Stephen Lemons, who writes a column in the city’s weekly alternative paper in which city officials are often lambasted, said he didn’t think Gordon could take much credit for the city’s amazing climate. “But I don’t think he’s done anything significant to detract from the constant oven blast that is Phoenix in midsummer. And early summer. And late spring. And late early spring. And mid spring. And fall. And early winter. He contributes at least his quota of politician’s hot air. And it’s not as if the design of amazing new downtown projects includes major sources of shade or other deprivation of searing solar radiation caressing downtown’s new contingents of students, city workers and undocumented immigrants—who are about the only midsummer ‘visitors’ I’m aware of, despite the touted Civic Center expansion and city-owned hotel.”
Gordon’s e-mail pitch for support in his quest for the “Best Mayor in the World” honor notes that the outreach is “paid for by Phil for Phoenix ... not at government expense.” “Clearly, city pols are having trouble figuring out what to do with the financial largesse lavished on them in Phoenix’s recent election cycle,” said alternative weekly reporter Sarah Fenske, who wrote in January about “campaign contributions” received by the donkeyload by the surprise winner of the city’s District 7 Council seat, following the election. The new councilman’s generous admirers said they had simply forgotten to sign the checks and buy stamps earlier, what with the holidays coming up.
State pollster and political maven Bruce Merrill speculated about the oddness of a “Phil for Phoenix” organization touting “Phil for the World.” “I’m guessing this means Phil is hoping to make Phoenix capital of the world,” he said. “After all, it’s quickly becoming the political center not only of Arizona, but of Mexico and the ‘mountain West’—as well as becoming an extension of Chicago and its political machine—or vice versa (no pun intended). With all the transplants moving here from the ‘Second City,’ Chicago is starting to become known as ‘Phoenix East’—not to be confused with east Phoenix, which is not to be confused with the East Valley, although east Phoenix is easily confused with Scottsdale, with the naive notion that the Phoenix Film Festival actually takes place in Phoenix anymore.”
“Phil’s major qualification for ‘World Mayor’ is his clear ability to be ‘all things to all people,’” said former legislator and sometime preservationist Earl Wilcox, who, along with former state Sen. Bill Brotherton, was endorsed by Gordon in the Democratic primary in which they contended for the same Senate seat in 2003.
“That’s why we get a piñata, a Hanukkah bush and a Christmas tree!” said Jake Gordon, Gordon’s youngest scion in his second, winter crop of offspring.
Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris agreed, noting Gordon’s success at being all things to all people in the recent controversy over whether police should check the immigration status of brownish people arrested in the city.
(As noted in this publication last year, Gordon is virtually the same person as ubiquitous-in-2006 actor Gael Garcia Bernal. In that guise, he often goes by the alias “El Gordo.”)
However, “Nah, I think it’s his ‘amazing’ record on civil liberties,” countered Brotherton, noting Gordon’s amazing insight into the guilt of the suspects apprehended in the “Baseline murders” case, immediately on their arrest a couple years ago. “He also was Johnny-on-the-spot when it was pointed out that porn was accessible via computers at the city library, due to bothersome Constitutional loopholes allowing freedom of speech and expression,” Brotherton added, noting that the “World Mayor” project, with its Anglicized spellings, clearly is backed by proponents of a world order that would hobble Gordon with no such civil libertarian constraints. “Their spelling ‘honour’ with a ‘u’—but not ‘Mayor’—is clearly part of the stealth nature of the campaign to elect the world’s top ... figurehead,” he said.
City Manager Frank Fairbanks, nearing retirement in Phoenix, had no comment whether he would serve “under” Gordon in a World-municipality administration.
“Frankly, I think it’s his ability to reach across party lines to get things done” that recommends Gordon for World Mayor, said maverick politician and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who received Democrat Gordon’s endorsement in the not-yet-geared-up general election against whomever the Democrats themselves pick.
Handicapping Gordon’s chances, Merrill pointed out his potentially crippling Achilles heel: literally, his weak Achilles heel, with a tendon injury from when hizzoner fell a couple of years ago, reportedly running desperately to get to a Starbuck’s minutes before closing. “He’s lucky one of our deputies didn’t see him running in the dark like that,” said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “We woulda picked him up for ‘running while possibly Mexican’”—an offense County Attorney Andrew Thomas was then already enforcing, a year before the Legislature even enacted it into law.
“And he’d better not let our sidewalk speed enforcement cameras catch him doing that,” said Gov. Janet Napolitano.
While “World” Mayor seems to imply “mayor of Earth,” it’s not clear that it doesn’t also include the universe as a whole in its jurisdiction—though provisions for lodging votes by denizens, or citizens, of Outer Space—a demographic Gordon has prudently counted on in the past—were not clearly explained on the World Mayor website.
Nonetheless, “He’s got my vote!” announced Lynne Spears. “My too,” echoed international goodwill ambassador Borat Sagdiyev, adding, after a long pause, “Not!” Failed Democratic presidential candidate and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel was rumored to be considering lending Gordon his endorsement.
—David Tell

Editor’s note: Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon’s being in the running—and touting himself—for “Best Mayor in the World” is not part of what is fake about this “fake news” article. For more about the contest—and to vote for or comment on Phil—visit

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Setback in campaign finance disclosure realm

'Building Our Future' judgment overturned

Appeals Court finds in favor of bond committee, on a technicality

By David Tell, Messenger Editor

Government watchdogs thought they had reason to exult last year when a committee pushing Phoenix’s massive 2006 city bond package was found to have violated state disclosure law as to the funding sources for their advertising.
But a little less than a year after a Superior Court judge found the committee had unlawfully omitted disclosure, and awarded the plaintiffs over a million dollars in damages, the state Appeals Court has overturned the judgment, on what might well be considered a technicality.
The Appeals Court remanded the case to the lower court and directed that a verdict be entered in favor of the defendants, with court costs to be borne by the plaintiffs: Sonoran News reporter Linda Bentley and Childress Buick-Kia owner Rusty Childress.
The reversal hinged on a question dealt with by the Superior Court—wrongly, according to the appellate panel—concerning the application of a clause in the law’s disclosure requirement: that the disclosure of an ad’s top four funding sources is only mandated when at least 50 percent of its language deals with “the same subject.”
Superior Court Judge Michael Jones had ruled that because the seven Phoenix bond propositions constituted a package, with interlocking and overlapping spending items, they together represented a single subject—i.e., “the same subject,” per the clause in the law. Over about 23 pages of findings and supporting discussion, Appellate Judge Donn Kessler drew on law, precedent and the dictionary to conclude that, in supporting all seven bond propositions, the ads were not about the “same” subject.
In an interesting line of discussion, Kessler drew in points about the state Constitution’s “single subject” provision as illuminating the disclosure law’s “same subject” clause. Separately, he outlined the history of precedents, and the legal justifications, that required that the overall 2006 bond proposal be broken up into its seven separate ballot propositions in the first place.
According to a passage quoted in the appellate ruling, “the pertinent principle is that two or more separate and distinct structures or units cannot be combined into one single proposition and submitted jointly as one question. In the great majority of jurisdictions the general rule is well settled that ... there must be a separate proposition on the ballot for each distinct, unrelated, and independent object or purpose for which indebtedness is contemplated, showing separately the amount desired for each.”
So, for the Appeals Court—ironically—while the city was required to put forth its proposed bond items as separate propositions (thus representing different subjects), advertising supporting them was able to simply, easily and conveniently avoid disclosure requirements merely by supporting all of them in a single ad.
Kessler discussed the constitutional “single subject” requirement for initiatives and referenda to try to explain why the Legislature would have added the “same subject” exception to disclosure requirements, thus enabling such an easy avoidance of disclosure:
“Presumably, the legislative intent was to alert voters of the identity of supporters of ballot propositions dealing with the ‘same subject,’ so the voters could determine the possible implications of the propositions. This is especially true when various propositions deal with the same subject, but are actually adverse to or conflicting with each other such as those supporting bans on smoking but one of which is supported by the tobacco lobby. In contrast, in adding subsection (H), the legislature saw no need to require such identification when the advertisements dealt with more than one subject on which voters could separately cast their ballots and which were not conflicting,” Kessler wrote.
“Here, the voters could cast their ballots to approve some of the bond propositions, but not others, and the separate propositions were not necessarily dependent on each other and were not conflicting. Identification of supporters of all of the propositions, such as BOF [Building Our Future, the bond political committee], would not serve to identify the implications of voting on any one of the propositions.”
Kessler’s reasoning seems to contain the seeds of its own refutation. For example, he notes that it’s “especially true” that disclosure may aid voters in determining the implications of various propositions when they are on the same subject but backed by different interests. But while disclosure may be “especially” useful in such cases, that by no means implies it’s not also valuable when voters are evaluating different propositions.
In the case of the 2006 Phoenix bond program, watchdogs pointed out that the undisclosed backers of the propositions included some—Westcor and Arizona State University, to name just two—that might well have expected to benefit from all or several of them. The plaintiffs in the case believed the voters were entitled to know the identity of those backers.
Nonetheless, while admitting the Legislature’s underlying intent was generally to require disclosure, Kessler argued the limiting exception must have been legitimately and knowingly intended: “Applying the test from the ‘single subject’ rule to A.R.S. §16-912.01(H) is also compatible with the requirement that we construe statutory language to fulfill the legislative intent underlying the statute.”
“While we agree with the superior court that the overall legislative intent underlying A.R.S. §16-912.01 is to require disclosure to the public of who is supporting a ballot proposition, the clearly-stated legislative intent limited such requirement under subsection (H) of that statute to require disclosure only when fifty percent or more of the advertisement dealt with the ‘same subject.’ While there is no legislative history to guide us on what the legislative intent was in using the words ‘same subject,’ we presume that the legislature knew and approved of the judicial branch’s interpretation of the ‘single subject’ concept under Arizona Constitution, Article 21, §1.”
The question remains, then, why the Legislature would add an exception to disclosure that could so easily be exploited and invoked to avoid it? As argued above, the Appeals Court’s implication that the disclosure requirement is only useful to voters when applied to ads on a “single subject” does not necessarily follow.
Plaintiff Bentley said she’s trying to pursue just that question, to bolster an intended appeal to the state Supreme Court. “I’m researching the law and Legislature’s original intent,” Bentley said. “It goes back a long way. If you read campaign finance laws, they require disclosure, disclosure, disclosure. [But the Appeals Court is] saying ‘If you logroll it all together, you can circumvent the law.’”
“Logrolling” is the prohibited practice of bundling together disparate items in bond proposals or different subjects in state ballot propositions. But Bentley points out that in the advertising for the set of 2006 bond items, the Building Our Future political committee in effect “logrolled” its support for them all. And thus, per the Appeals Court, “In your promotion, you’re exempt from disclosure. It sounds absolutely stupid,” she said. “Out-of-state interests and others have spent millions of dollars on logrolling [support for the bonds] together.”
But why would the Legislature have created a loophole so big you can drive a truck full of cash through it? “Legislators don’t all have the best command of the English language,” Bentley said. “If you read [the statute], you go ‘What the hell does this mean?’”
Bentley said she was surprised the reversal turned on the apparent exception clause. “They threw it out on the one issue, which we thought was the nothing issue,” she said, reiterating that the Superior Court judge had found the bond propositions so entwined that they were on “the same subject.” “There’s so much crap in some of those bonds individually. So if they passed Prop 1 but not Prop 2, you’ve bought radio equipment for new police stations, and you don’t build the stations.” Or vice versa, she added.
The Appeals Court said since it found basis for reversal just on the clause at issue, it did not consider other arguments by the defendants, including attacks on the constitutionality of the disclosure statute on First Amendment grounds. Those defense arguments were also thoroughly considered and countered by Judge Jones.
In the meantime, the defendants have obtained a fraction of their approximately $1.2 million judgment, and they only got that—about $130,000—through assiduous legal wrangling, Bentley said.
“We have whatever they had left in the bank. They did a fraudulent transfer. They took the money and transferred it to a bank account and gave it to Andy Gordon’s firm to appeal, as a retainer,” Bentley said. “After we won, they were spending our money. If they lost [on appeal], there would be no way to pay us because they would have spent it. We had to go for garnishment, had a debtor hearing to find out what they did with the money—had to do a debtor exam. Lauren [Weinzeig] of Gordon’s firm finally told [plaintiff’s attorney] Carolyn [de Szendeffy], ‘We took that for retainer on appeal.’ We had the court make them give it back.
“We’re not going to spend it till we know for sure if we won or lost, in case we have to give it back,” Bentley said. In the meantime, if they lose, the fact they’re responsible for court costs isn’t so bad, she said. “Costs aren’t much, a couple hundred bucks. They were just awarded costs, not attorney fees—that would be hundreds of thousands.”