Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Company They Keep

I don't know about you, but I always thought that the concept of "guilt by association" has gotten a bad rap.  I think you can judge a person -- certainly a politician -- by who they choose to hang out with and use to advance their political careers. In fact, as secretive and unknown as some of these people are, sometimes that's all you have. 

Take right-wing darling Rep. Paul Ryan from Janesville.  Ryan has been a rising star in the Republican galaxy for some time now, if only because he is one of the shrinking party's' few congressional members who can appear on TV without triggering the gag reflex.  At least that's what I hear from others. I still have throat trouble when I see his slick head of hair and boyish smirk appear on yet another talk show, but then I have always had trouble laughing and swallowing at the same time.  If you want a good laugh, check out his recitation of the GOP's health care "plan" to maintain the status quo.  It's a riot.

Anyway, in this morning's paper it is reported that Ryan has caught some flack from his constituents for attending an event presented by the Federation for American Immigration Reform.  FAIR has been called out by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its racist leaders and funding sources, but continues to be one of the many questionable places where Republicans like Ryan go to soak up attention and contributions.  You might even feel sorry for GOP glory-hounds like Ryan who have to patronize the well-funded rapid-right activists in Washington to gain street-cred with their dwindling base. I mean, you can't swing a stick in a room full of those people without hitting someone who is racist, homophobic, anti-feminist or some form of offensive. 

For his part, Ryan blamed his FAIR appearance on a radio talk show host in St. Louis.  It's an interesting defense.  I suppose if Charlie Sykes invited Ryan to some other slimy greed-fest with a cast of unsavory charactors -- Citizens for Responsible Government comes to mind -- Ryan would go and blame it on the radio guy if somebody with any sense found out about it.  This is the way it works with Republicans these days, I guess, getting jerked around on a chain by wingnut radio hosts to take full advantage of the hours of free political advertising mainstream radio currently provides the GOP.

We should take the "guilt by association" meme and move it to its next logical step.  It seems incompetent part-time Milwaukee County Executive and full-time gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker has a free pass to call in to any right-wing radio show in the state any time to promote his candidacy.  It happens on almost a daily basis, on shows large and small. 

If the wingnuts are going to get that involved in the campaign, they should be held up to scrutiny themselves, and Walker should be held to account for the company he keeps.  Hey, Scott Walker -- when you spent a half-hour getting stroked by Mark Belling, did you sit around with him during the breaks and tell wetback jokes and talk about how to prevent obnoxious minorities from creating another Crimeville? Tell us, Scott, do you agree with Sykes that black leaders like Al Shaprton should be referred to as "pimps" and that Lee Holloway is a "thug"?   All of these are fair questions, I think.  And, if the answer is "no" to each, what are you doing hanging around people like that?

Actually, the problem may be for the radio squawkers hanging around with Walker.  Do they really want to be associated with someone who would soak up all these in-kind political contributions from your radio stations without reporting it on his campaign forms?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Jerks of the Week

As if to prove how petty and irrelevant he is to the film fesitval business, Shepherd Express publisher/editor and Charles-Foster-Kane-syndrome sufferer Lou Fortis uses the formerly-interesting Expresso column in his newspaper this week to try to piss on the Milwaukee Film Festival that replaced his vanity-based Milwaukee International Film Festival. It was an embarrassing effort that resulted, as these things often do, in the pee running down his legs and soaking his shoes.

Under the headline "Issue of the Week", Fortis' paper mentions the MFF for the first time; claiming that the first year of the new festival "failed to generate the excitement [well, for Fortis and Dave Luhrssen, maybe] and attendance of the original and very successful [of course it was successful -- just look at it now] Milwaukee International Film Festival".  Fortis gloats that the last year of the MIFF -- which might still be active if he and Luhrssen had only gave up control and allowed the appointment of an independent board -- enjoyed a "45% greater attendance than this year's event." 

Still, an impressive 20,000 attended the event, one of which, you would hope, was Dave Luhrssen. Luhrssen's supposed love of independent film was exposed as a fraud when he failed to cover or even list the films in the festival in the S-E.  If he showed, maybe he would have learned something about cinema itself, or at least bumped into some other critics who could have given him some badly-needed pointers for his own bland, often incomprehensible film reviews.  While Luhrssen ignored the independent films and pounded out tripe about Hollywood product like "Bright Star" and "The Informant!" during the weeks of the festival, much better writers in the Journal Sentinel (your welcome, Duane) and places like OnMilwaukee covered and promoted the films in the festival.  Luhrssen used to cover and promote the films in "his" festival like he was in the midst of film rapture.  Was it about the "love of cinema" or his, Fortis' and the S-E's self-promotion (and finances)?  I think we now have our answer to that one.

The real film-lovers are the dedicated culture-builders like Chris Abele, who justifiably moved their money away from Fortis' ego-enhancement project and built an independent festival to go along with the independent film it celebrates. "The numbers speak for themselves," writes Fortis in his snide jibe at the MFF -- and, indeed, they do.  The numbers go something like this: 20,000 people celebrated independent film in Milwaukee for a couple of weeks in theaters all over town.  2 people -- Lou Fortis and Dave Luhrssen -- spent those two weeks hunkered-down in their bunker, plotting revenge and lawsuits; putting out their dreary 56-pages-and-shrinking lame excuse for a weekly paper.   

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Silent Movies at the Shepherd Express

You know, I can’t help myself. Every Wednesday, on my way to the Courthouse elevators, I still have to see if the new Shepherd Express is on the sloppy racks on the ground floor, right next to the Milwaukee Courier and Conquistador. By late morning, the next issue is usually there in bright stacks and, ever hopeful, I pick it up. Hey, I convince myself, I have to have something to read before the Onion appears on Thursday.

Alas, the decades-long disappointment of the failure of Milwaukee to develop a decent alternative weekly continues. Lou Fortis’ vanity sheet has fallen into a predictable tediousness, even worse than we last discussed it almost two years ago. Now, to go along with the embarrassing Boris and Doris society column (now attributed to "Shepherd Express Staff"), the shrinking weekly paper features a full-page (or two) sports "conversation" between formerly respectable sports writer Frank Clines (late of the Journal Sentinel) and S-E’s never-funny mascot Rip-Tenor-as-Art-Kumbalek (on the cover this week as one of the potential governor candidates — hilarious, ain'a? Stop, yer killing me!).

It is the most ludicrous kind of half-informed sports-talk, run through the stupid-on-purpose Kumbalek shtick. Who reads this stuff? Who could possibly think it is funny (if that’s what it is supposed to be)? Who has ever read all the way through even one of these dreadful indulgent exercises in amateur prognostication and sloppy yuk-yuk tripe? Imagine an out-of-towner reaching for the S-E with the Packers cover a couple of weeks ago and finding nothing about the Green-and-Gold but....this crap.

Maybe the S-E can run one of its cheap little polls on this issue. No publication in history has run reader polls less creative and more sloppily presented than the S-E. Whoa! Beer is the preferred beverage by 46% of Shepherd readers! Who knew? Who cares? Next week, how about a poll asking: Which regular S-E feature do you like to read more: Boris and Doris or The Fairly Detached Observers? None of the above – 96%!

But, for all that the Shepherd Express isn’t and never will be, I have noticed something else missing over the past two weeks. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – in the S-E about the Milwaukee Film Festival that is wrapping up this weekend at various theaters around town. No listings, no reviews – nothing. The absence of any recognition of the festival’s very existence is another example of the typical thumb-sucking by Fortis and the S-E’s supposed film advocate, Dave Luhrssen, who lost their attempt to control the former Milwaukee International Film Festival for their own self-aggrandizement and as a way to keep the struggling paper afloat and are now taking their ball (the one no one wants anyway) and going home.

Since 2002, we have had the fall pages of the Shepherd filled with puff pieces about the big and small films that somehow made their way to the MIFF, which began as a noble effort led by Fortis and Luhrssen and ultimately crumbled last year under the weight of self-imposed financial problems and Fortis’ outsized ego. The interesting story is told here by film actor Mark Metcalf at OnMilwaukee (skip to this page for the money shot).   For Fortis' self-serving version, there is this last-gasp essay.

The bottom line is the chief financial backers pulled the plug and created a new Milwaukee Film Festival, independent from Fortis’ control and machinations. Fortis responded by getting his friend Ed Garvey to file a lawsuit trying to get money out of the festival idea in a way he couldn’t when he controlled it. The lawsuit is properly languishing in the Courthouse. Question: What’s the first thing you do if you file a lawsuit claiming someone is about to hijack your film festival? Answer: Ask for a restraining order to prevent the new festival from going forward. No such effort from Garvey here, showing he knows the strength of his case. Perhaps the defendants will settle at some point for the suit’s "nuisance value", although it is the community at large that is being annoyed.

In any event, Fortis and Luhrssen’s supposed love and support of independent film apparently exists only as far as they can control it.  Their failure to cover any aspect of the new festival puts the lie any notion that they care about cinema in any meaningful way.  If they did, they would put aside their petty disappointments (and get past the Journal Sentinel's sponsorship) and cover, if not promote, a major cultural event in the city.  That they can't makes them even more irrelevant than they were before  -- which was pretty damn irrelevant.