The Salinas-J. Edgar Hoover connection, a CSUMB grad’s Sundance success and David Ligare’s artistic accomplishments…
Monday, December 20, 2010
HOOVER DAMNED?: Dustin Lance Black is on the phone and he’s ready to do battle—politely but firmly—with the forces of evil. The North Salinas High School graduate who won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2009 for Milk (Sean Penn took home the Best Actor award for his portrayal of the assassinated San Francisco gay rights advocate Harvey Milk), is preparing for his next project, a biopic about J. Edgar Hoover, the late, unlamented FBI director and his “friendship” with longtime crony Clyde Tolson. The film is tentatively scheduled to begin production in a couple of months under the directing and production aegis of Clint Eastwood, with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the notorious lawman.
There are similarities—and differences—between the two projects, Black, who is based in Los Angeles these days, allows.
“Milk’s story was uplifting, because he was someone who was able to come to terms with himself, and in doing so, turned into a great man,” he said. “Hoover, on the other hand, although he was someone who obviously had a great mind, even as a young man, was someone who stifled his personal life.
“(Although) I’d like to be clear that’s not what the movie’s about, (Hoover was) a character who’d made the complete decision to conceal his identity and shut love out of his love. In no way, is this just a gay film—it’s about so much more than that. But it is something that sparked my interest.’’
Asked about reports that the alleged relationship between Hoover and Tolson is not spelled out explicitly in the project, Black just laughed: “I hope it’s as truthful as it was in reality. I didn’t hide anything. I tried to write what I find. I don’t pull my punches—that’s not my style.”
So…how much does he show?
Black laughed again: “I want you to go see the movie. There’s always a theme, whether it’s in this movie or Milk, of a character coming to terms with himself, or not. I certainly feel like I can say without giving too much away that Hoover never grew comfortable with his sexuality But let’s be honest, he was facing these issues for 40 years before Harvey.”
Black cited his portrayal of Milk’s assassin, Dan White, in the movie, as an example of psychological complexity.
“I tried to look at his story, and his fight within himself, with compassion. I’m not drawn to characters in movies that are portrayed in black and white terms. I’m interested in the man, and all that was good and bad about him.”
Speaking of fighting, Black is also deeply involved in two other front-burner issues, the Proposition 8 court battle—currently under consideration by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco— and ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ the long-awaited repeal of which was finally ratified by the Senate on Saturday.
“In full disclosure, I’m a founding member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which helped fund the legal challenge to Prop. 8,” Black said. “I was up in San Francisco for the hearing on the case and am quite hopeful. One of the things that’s so refreshing about being able to take a case about gay and lesbian civil rights to court is that the people testifying are under oath, and can’t lie. No one is willing to say on the stand all these lies we’ve heard for generations now about (gays) hurting children or being bad parents because they don’t want to perjure themselves, so they’re left with no argument. The only argument they were left with was that of gay and lesbian people were allowed to marry, then heterosexual people would be discouraged from procreating. These are very smart judges, and I can’t see how anybody, whether they’re coming from the left or right, sees that as a cogent argument.”
Black also has a personal connection with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” debate.
“I grew up in the military,” he says. “My stepfather was in the Air Force and my mom was in the Army. She worked at Walter Reed Hospital. Then we bounced around to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and Fort Ord—that’s what brought me here. It was no secret that many of the women she worked with were lesbians and had children—they just weren’t allowed to talk about it. Gay people are already in the military. We just have to come around to accepting it.”
He has fond and some not so fond memories of his teenage years in Salinas.
“It was not an easy place to be gay. I did get picked on, but I had a few teachers who I really loved,” Black recalled. “Miss Yee, my English teacher, was very inspiring, so I focused on that. I spent most of my time at the Western Stage Theatre, which is connected to Hartnell College. They put you in an apprenticeship program in a different department each summer, whether it was lighting, being part of the set crew or dealing with props. We did productions of Steel Magnolias, The Crucible, Cabaret, Chicago and Babes in Arms. The last year, I auditioned for Peter Pan, and got the role of John, so I got to put on glasses and fly! It was a sell-out production and got written up in the newspaper, which was a big deal for me at the time.”
Dustin reports that he will be spending the Christmas holiday reconnecting with his Mormon brothers and sisters: “Yes, it’s true, the LDS Church invited me and a gay caucus...to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas Spectacular in Salt Lake City,” he informs. “We’re looking for common ground...and actually finding some.”
SURFACING AT SUNDANCE: Prairie Love, the indy film by local boy Doug Mueller, has been chosen to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT competition in late January. But it’s most definitely not his only project in the works. Mueller, whose day is as production manager for the Carmel Bach Festival, recently did an eight-minute video highlighting the Festival’s Youth Chorus.
“We shot some interviews with incoming Carmel Bach music director Paul Goodwin over the summer,’’ says Mueller. “Another project I’ve got going is Intermezzo 1, a documentary about Carey Beebe, the Bach Festival’s keyboard tuner.’’
It premiered at the Nashville Film Festival this year and will screen at the Ozark Foothills Festival in May 2011.
IN THE PAINT: Congratulations to David Ligare, who has been selected as the Arts Council for Monterey’s Lifetime Achievement winner. Also to be honored at the ceremony, which takes place Jan. 22, 2011 are sculptor/inventor Larry Fischer, nonprofit Salinas youth center Caminos Del Arte, singer-songwriter Alisa Fineman, dedicated Greenfield arts volunteer Marcela Diaz, Megan Heath, founder of the South Monterey County Center for Arts and Technology, and educator Linda Havern, who has developed arts-related pilot programs for seniors and for arts risks and incarcerated youths. Proceeds for the event, which costs $95 ($85 with reservations before Jan. 15) go to supporting youth arts education. Information: www.artsformontereycounty.org. You can also support their important work by donating to the Arts Council through the Weekly’s montereycountygives.com ongoing charitable campaign.
MJ LIVES: And, in addition to the much-ballyhooed release of the “new” Michael Jackson album, veteran California musician Robert Walcott, now leaving in New Joisey, informs that his just-released CD, “After Monterey—We Remember Michael,’’ is a tribute to the Jackson’s musical legacy that he hopes will connect with the great ears of long-time jazz lovers here. Information: www.blueribbonpress.net/Carnival.htm
That’s a wrap, at least for now. Your thoughts—and tips—on the cultural scene are welcome, as always, at email@example.com.