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After the Oscars and Fashion Week, some men are still afraid to dress well!

The hype over Fashion Week and Academy Award fashion choices has passed. That leaves us with those who are often the afterthought of the style scene: men. Now, they have an opportunity to scrape the blandness and timidness from their personal style.

Where women dominate the fashion scene, you’d think that men have no interest in it – And that’s often true. But, according to a woman who has been helping to clothe men at a British-themed boutique that’s inside a national retailer, some men are clueless about dressing up or dressing for work.

I went shopping for shirts that would be welcome in business circles but also make me stand out as distinctive. My wallet is tight. In my less than $70 range I found only the typical and timid choices: white and blue shirts with pointed down collars. I sought spread collars that would deemphasize my skinny frame. If you are a man who is self-possessed, sees meager value in dressing to fit in then a place where conformity is prized is the wrong one place to hope to find department stores that carry daring clothes.

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When I passed a British boutique that’s housed within a nationally known retailer in downtown Minneapolis I met a young woman who asked if she could help. With my sartorial ambition, I asked her why so many men make the safest, most conservative choices instead of those that distinguish them.

The candor of her response was novel: “I think that some men are afraid to dress well because they don’t wanna be mistaken for gay, and have men flirt with them,” Michaela said.

Then after having been pressed to elaborate, she said that the Millennials in Minnesota are a very different generation, and haven’t been taught to dress up. I don’t wanna generalize, and I don’t wanna say all men, because I don’t think all men are like that,” Michaela said. “But if a guy comes in I will ask him ‘is pink is a color he’d wear for a dress shirt”. Maybe he’ll say ‘yes’. I still have to preface the situation with… ‘would you do a pink, would you do a paisley, would you do a floral?’ And I ask these questions because I’ve learned to”, Michaela said.

Even though this essay is about men’s style and them dressing to make memorable first impressions, women also wear clothing that makes you want to knock your head against a brick wall.

“Oh, my god. My husband and I were driving home and… So we’re at a stop light and to the right of us there’s a bus stop for the #10. And it’s dark out. And this woman is smoking a cigarette. She has her coat on. Underneath she has her hoody. But she has these pajama pants on…tucked into her boots, and then she has a pale pink hoody to match.”

“And Rob (her husband) was like, ‘Oh, my god, when did it become acceptable to wear pajamas in public?’” And I went ‘yeah, you’re right’. And he’s a man. Doesn’t have to dress up for his job. But he clearly gets it. You know.”

Speaking generally, and avoiding judgment, “I also wanna say where are people’s priorities? I get it: Not everyone can afford to dress up..,” she said.

At some point during the conversation, she mentioned Pantones, and the Color of the Year. These being news, you have to ask a couple of questions:  What is Pantones? What is the Color of the Year. If those are work-a-day words for you then you’re one up on this essayist.

Pantones is a paint company. What is the Color of the Year? Michaela said that any paint company can chose a Color of the Year. But just because a paint company chooses a color to emphasize for the year, who are they say what color you should wear?

Her answer was solid: Because we have been, and historically they’ve been right on the money. I was talking about that Marsala color. These bright colors that are making a statement, and then you have something you would not expect.

Knowing about Pantone, why should men both younger and older care to know what Pantone is or what the Color of the Year is? “Men should know stylistically what’s going on in the world? The more you now about a color and how it works with you, she said.”

The hype over Academy Awards fashion emphasize women’s style. That’s because most men simply take a typical route by wearing something that is suitable, but not sensual: a typical tuxedo. Some of those men who attended the Academy Awards ventured beyond that banal black tuxedo; for some of them it was a success, for some not, and still others (Jared Leto) it was debatable. The Los Angeles Times reported on those choices.

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The star of Selma, David Oyelowo, wore tuxedo, yes. But what color was it? Black? No. White? No. It was Marsala. What’s that? It’s a shade of red. While Pantone may not admit to it, burgandy is synonymous. Mr. Oyelowo’s choice was dapper, daring and smart. And it complimented his brown skin.

Michaela saw a photo of him from the red carpet. Did it work? “Definitely, I think like a deeper jewel tone. It’s beautiful. I think it’s fun. I like how the vest and bowtie are set of just a little bit. A shade lighter, a shade richer.”

Using Pantone’s Color of the Year worked phenomenally with his skin color. That’s one reason why anyone who wears clothes should care about how they make them look, and needs to appreciate which colors flatter their skin, eye and hair colors.

But how doe the guy whose friends cling to college-age wardrobe, and who believes fashion is a code he can’t break? Well, dress for the occasion. But up a notch. Dress more smartly. Dress to make yourself feel a cut above the rest.

Malcolm X & Sidney Poitier’s birth (& death) days reveal clashing ideals in Hollywood, among blacks.

Black History Month can symbolize the heritages of black Americans in about as many ways as there are blacks. Unfortunately, the events often celebrate an exclusive group of historical icons, which includes Messrs I Have A Dream and The Ballot or the Bullet.

During Black History Month you might notice a surprising coincidence on the calendar: Malcolm X died on February 21st, and Sidney Poitier was born a day earlier, on February 20th. Those dates make this writer scratch his head and stroke his chin, and find a sliver of pop cultural resonance; together they stand as contradictory beacons.

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With the 87th Annual Academy Awards on the masses’ minds, this writer contends that in many ways Mr. Poitier’s do-no-wrong Negro was Dr. King’s cinematic counterpart. That’s something to chew in the wake Sony Picture’s hacked emails revealing its former chief’s candid and comfortable bigotry, and the whiteness of the latest list of Oscar nominees.

Mr. X is just as misunderstood today, in the Obama era, as he was in his own, 50-years-ago. During his 39-year life, he lived an odyssey, which few people bother to appreciate or consider. While he committed himself to peace in the end, few people know the man beyond the implicit violence, which he never advocated or acted on.

Mr. Poitier’s reputation and legacy aren’t yet complete but he undertook a disparate road from Malcolm X’s to become an icon. Astonishingly, he arrived when Hollywood was ready for or would only tolerate the safest and most neutered Negro. In him it saw and sought that.

The zenith of Mr. Poitier’s popularity burned brightest when black American movie-goers’ and activists’ patience with pleas for patience had worn out. Blacks wanted to see someone like a Malcolm on-screen (it wouldn’t until 1971 that John Shaft would venture on-screen kicking ass!) fighting the establishment with righteousness and indignence, and his wits.

What does the juxtaposition of these two men’s birth and death dates mean to our pop cultural or media mentality? Anything? Nothing? It depends on what background and baggage you bring to those questions; but they do merit discussions.

A new book about black movies says blacks helped invent the medium.

The Indiewire blog Shadow & Act told us about a new book, Envisioning Freedom: Cinema and the Building of Modern Black Life. According to that post’s title, New Book Shows African Americans Helped to Invent the Movies! If that is true, if the book by Cara Caddoo, a professor of American Studies at the University of Indiana, does find that black hands had a say in inventing the medium, then that’s a revelation.

But, in skimming the book’s introduction you can deduce that the title of Shadow & Act’s post is hype. Why? There is no clear evidence of black hands helping to invent the medium, or any of the filmmaking craft or technology. But the title commands attention.

The cover to Prof. Cara Caddoo's book "Envisioning Freedom".

The cover to Prof. Cara Caddoo’s book “Envisioning Freedom”.

That is disappointing. In a year when Sony Pictures’ hacked emails and the Oscar nominations were best summed up by the Oakland Tribune’s headline about the Oscar for the Best Caucasian Going To revealed the natural prejudices and bigotry of American movie culture and traditions, good news would refreshing. That revelation would be like a glass of icy water after a hike through the Gobi desert. Few people know much about American film history, much less those movies made by or for black American viewers. Those were considered race movies.

To talk, write about, or comment on film or video history with credibility you need to understand it from various vantage points and on various levels. The professor’s book will help movie geeks or students to understand the history of black movie goers and the aesthetic of the movies that were made for their eyes.

A former professor of music at the University of Minnesota, Geneva Southall, taught upper-level classes on the history of black American music. She opined that her class really should be a part of the foundational courses on the history of American music. It’s just as strong of a thread as any other in the quilt of America’s story; You could say that about the history of black American film and video makers.

Envisioning Freedom, while apparently not revealing that black Americans invented any film making technology, does introduce black American film-going and production culture, which preceded those of Messrs Micheaux, Williams, et. al.

Emails exchanged between this writer and the author, Prof. Caddoo, reveal that, while no blacks invented any of the production craft, she found that Moses Fleetwood Walker created “an alarm system that enabled film projectionists to switch seamlessly between reels of film,” as Shadow & Act reported. Looking professional and competent was vital to blacks who yearned for white Americans to perceive and acknowledge their equality.

Those who have studied the history of American movies beyond the fundamentals know about the lineage of pioneering black filmmakers: Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams and then a long pause before Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles emerged an innovators. They are rarely included in the basic lessons about American film history.

Why not begin on the right foot: After you find a copy of Envisioning Freedom check out Black Cinema Treasures, from the University of North Texas Press, and A Separate Cinema, for facts about the origins of a separate black American cinema.

An “American Sniper” calls movie goers to consider art and its politics.

Clint Eastwood’s film American Sniper has captured $213-million in ticket sales, American imaginations and a lot of controversy. Military veterans, film critics, and pundits are disputing what it says about the virtues of war, of service and of killing for a cause.  This shows just how much the arts can affect society, even if you don’t agree that Mr. Eastwood’s film is art.

Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle in 2012.

Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle in 2012.

A story of Navy SEAL and sniper Chris Kyle. His 160 confirmed kills make the Chief Petty Officer the deadliest sniper in American military history. A Vietnam-era Marine sniper comes in second; Carlos Hathcock was renowned for his 93 confirmed kills.

PBS’ Newshour did a segment about this controversy. When a piece of art compels or impels viewers to discuss or dispute what it says or what they believe it says, that’s great. That means it has affected them. That means it was memorable and might stand the test of time. I remember discussions about JFK, Schindler’s List, Winter’s Bone, An Education, and others.

I wish that David Edelstein’s opinion of the film was more dispassionate about the film’s portrayal of context and reality. And I wish that the point of view of Cody McGregor, the former Army sniper and Texas state director of the Concerned Veterans of America, was less simplistic and less explicitly patriotic. But that is a typical format for these politically sensitized stories.

Bottom line: As a film lover and movie snob, I smile when people talk about a movie (but not during one). When the arts affect people, make them think, or spar, especially over worthy issues, like the purposes of art or of war, or their respective virtues, or the lengths to which the former goes to support the latter then the arts satisfy their raison d’etre.

But I suppose this appeals to a minority of viewers. Most movie-goers simply want a distraction. They want something that’ll let them forget about their stresses or daily life for a couple of hours. This minority is different: it is introspective, intellectual and curious, and probably educated. It follows IndieWire, Film Independent, Film Movement and maybe Shadow and Act.

I believe that the final big question to ponder for those who avoid forgettable or nonsensical movies is this: How often do we have anything of substance to say about a film? Let’s flip that around; how often does a film, a piece of mass entertainment have anything of substance to say about our American character? Forgettability is the entertainment industry’s mantra/stock in trade. Most movies are not memorable, don’t stand the test of time, and don’t warrant discussion.

No matter what you think about American Sniper or how you feel about it, aren’t you glad that the story and the way in which Mr. Eastwood tells it makes people ask questions about and consider the issues it deals with?

How can you mark Int’l Holocaust Remembrance Day with a movie?

Neither the Holocaust nor Nazism is a fun subject, makes for light conversation or big-screen fun! Nothing about them is entertainment-bound! And yet movies, like The Producers, and entertainment in general do make it easier for us to swallow hard-to-swallow stories.

There might be no harder-to-swallow story than the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was one of the most notorious of the Nazi’s death camps. And this day also marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

If you’ve educated or even edified yourself by watching a film about this subject, then you’ve probably seen the obvious, go-to films: Au Revoir Les Enfants, Triumph of the Spirit, Europa, Europa, Homicide, Schindler’s List, or The Reader.

Before those titles came, well before, was Mel Brook’s comedy movie The Producers. How do you make light of life under the Nazi’s? Well, imagination. Have you forgotten about the TV show Hogan’s Heroes? It wasn’t somber. That coterie of allied prisoners of war wasn’t in a concentration camp. But they weren’t happy campers either. At least one storytelling trait was vital to put together the idea for that show. Imagination.

That’s what distinguishes films like The Producers and others of its ilk from the somberness of other Holocaust stories is a special power.

Films about the Holocaust are almost always somber. In dealing with the politics at the heart of the arts and race, some subjects are simply somber. But some choices among Holocaust-themed stories dazzle us with remarkable imagination! That virtue lifts them beyond competence; it also makes them into something that you want to watch. That makes them special and memorable.

Some of you remember The Twilight Zone warmly because of late-night TV or nostalgia channels on cable or Hulu, etc. Its creator, Rod Serling, produced a brilliant story, Deaths-Head Revisited, that was just as compelling as it was distressing.

Here is a clip from it; this is the opening monologue from host and writer, Rod Serling.

In November 1961, this episode relates the story of the fictitious commandant of Dachau as he returns to it. Soon, he finds himself confronted by the ghosts of some of the prisoners. As with many of the episodes that Mr. Serling wrote, this one was and is…haunting. It transports you. Brilliantly.

Do you know how many times Mr. Serling’s writing dealt with this monstrosity? At least twice.

In 1960 he wrote a TV movie for a genre of television that morosely no longer exists for fictive works: Live TV. For Playhouse 90 he produced In the Presence of Mine Enemies. The New York Times summarized it thusly: “a study of members of a Jewish family in the infamous Warsaw ghetto that was exterminated by Nazi bestiality”. It’s hard to find video of the original production. But here is a link to the Times’ reporting on it.

Both of these Serling stories seem to have been forgotten to the sands of time, and in a rush for the average person to be immersed in web-centric distractions. That’s disappointing.

What is it you used to ask your mom or dad when you were a child: Tell me a story…

These are two of Mr. Serling’s best, and most imaginative! It’s a shame to pass them by. The most vital message of this anniversary of the Holocaust is to not forget.

Dr. Martin L. King is arrested.

What connects Dr. Martin L. King Day with Al Madrigal’s comedy: being “Half Like Me”.

It’s been a week of racial and identity politics. We commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Day on Monday. Al Madrigal’s special Half Like Me which premiered on Fusion on Thursday. He’s known as the Senior Latino Correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. There must be a connection between the concerns about freedom and identity which Martin Luther King, Jr Day raises and those which Half Like Me has the potential to.

Dr. Martin L. King is arrested.

Dr. Martin L. King is arrested.

But the events seem to be separated by generations and traditional ideas of propriety; As in, it’s hard to connect comedy to Martin Luther King, Jr even though he must have had a great sense of humor in order to stomach his opponents’ biases! For example, a series of events called him to write a Letter from A Birmingham Jail. If he didn’t have a sense of humor then those events might have crumpled him like an exhausted worker does a flimsy piece of paper into a ball at the end of an endless day.

Really, the right and freedom to be half or mixed in America without being judged by anyone from any of the slices of your ethnic pie is a part of what Dr. King fought to respect and protect. Without him Half Like Me might not be seen.

Good Morning America’s Lara Spencer had a nice conversatory with Al Madrigal about being Half Like Me.

I have to bring comedy in because that genre has historically been the most effective secret agent against bigotry, e.g., if different peoples can laugh together then they can’t fight or hate each other (supposedly). Like Russell Peters’ equal-opportunity “hating” comedy, Mr. Madrigal’s special promises to take on this hard and personal subject. But does so from a different vantage point. That is vital because it lands squarely in Dr. King’s arena: racial diplomacy and activism.

What his successors did from their vantage point, Richard Pryor, Freddie Prinze, Franklyn Ajaye and others did in order for Mr. Madrigal to be embraced for telling those silly bigots and the silly racial barriers we cling to that their pants have fallen.

So I see an arc connecting that which Dr. King fought for and that which Al Madrigal can and has said about color and race and the politics involved in blurring those not just in real life, but on screen. A screen where comedy reminds us that, while those convictions which Dr. King fought for were not silly, the fight over color & class, which “everyone” says they want to end is.

The 87th Oscar nominations are out and #OscarsSoWhite! How do film snobs choose better?

Over the weekend the 72nd annual Golden Globes awards came and went, and snubbed some and surprised others. Today the 87th annual Academy Awards nominations were announced, with directing nominations for Anglo (read: “white”) men only. I ignored the Golden Globes, and hope to ignore – or try to – the Oscars; the rest of the world and pop culture followers are already watching. They don’t need me!

But let’s return and refer to the Golden Globes. This tweet from @Melsil (Melissa Silverstein), of Indiewire’s blog Women and Hollywood, caught my attention:

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@melsil  ·  Jan 11 I don’t know how Selma could walk away with only best song. Really HFPA?

That was just a taste of the backlash that the #OscarsSoWhite twitter protest and reporters would unleash.

perfectly encapsulates our rage: First time all 20 acting nominees have been white since 1998 http://bit.ly/1CdNo9K

Newsweek ‏@Newsweek The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite is all over Twitter in response to the lack of diversity in nominations —http://bit.ly/1CbAeKo

The Last Time the Oscars Were This White Was 1998 (By ) #OscarsSoWhite
they announced their ‘whites only’ nominees on MLK’s 86th birthday
Upset about ? Here are some reasons to be optimistic about this year’s crop of nominations.
They didn’t see Selma but their housekeeper said it was really good.
All the gift bags will have copies of ‘Birth Of A Nation’

And people look at me like a nuts when I describe my disdain for the Academy Awards, and for most Hollywood movies?

Hollywood movies aren’t bad or evil or worthless – But I find them to be worth less than we deserve; Most of their movies are insipid retreads, lacking substance and nuance, and most kinds of ethnic diversity or otherness. The 87th annual Academy Awards nominations are an example of this, and the twitter #OscarsSoWhite backlash was a nice affirmation!

This friction between Hollywood tastes and indie movie tastes reminds us of its bigotry. Then we have to resolve ourselves to ignore as much of its mediocre products and its small minds as we can possibly tolerate.

So how do film geeks organize or prepare for a year of film watching, while largely sidestepping Hollywood movies? Maybe, in describing how I do it, that will serve as advice for how movie-lovers will curate their viewing.

I’m a film geek. Rather than looking to and following the mass Zeitgeist usually a film geek wants to see stuff that they haven’t yet. The stories that few others have seen.

Realistically, then you have to look for independent and foreign voices. So, that’s my goal with most films I watch; and considering how few films from among the 1000s that are released show that promise, I curate my viewing according to a merciless stanmindledard and watch very little of the movies that come out. You have to be willing to see far fewer films, and waste less of your time!

By setting a higher bar for what you watch, you’ll see fewer films, but hopefully more of them will have characters of color, and you’ll find yourself advocating for more movies be of that ilk! (But some folks just want to kill 90-minutes with something mindless, which is their prerogative.)

Here is my video commentary about how I curate: