Go See Pride

October 19th, 2014

When lesbians and gays helped out the coal miners

Pride movie starring Bill Nighy

You should know, by now, that if a movie stars Bill Nighy, I’m going to have something to say about it. Although Nighy takes a backseat in Pride, his role is fun, perfect and integral to the story.

But this isn’t about Bill Nighy.Pride movie poster

This is a movie — based on an extraordinary reality — about a time in 1984/1985 when a small group of lesbian and gay Brits chose to help out Welsh coal miners who were on strike. I couldn’t believe it was a true story; subsequent research showed me it was. Part of the movie was even filmed in the same small town in Wales where the events of the 1980s originally took place.

“Mining communities are being bullied, just like we are,” says one of the lead characters. In truth, both parties shared three common foes; the police, the Thatcher government and the tabloid press. Even so, it seems remarkable that LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) jumped in to help back then.

“We’ve been through some of the same things you’ve been through,” is the common theme.

But shared experiences and shared goals don’t necessarily make for harmonious relationships. Tensions ran throughout the movie. There was tension not only between the coal miners, their families and the Brits trying to help them, but also interpersonal tension and humor between all the different factions involved.

There’s something for everybody in the film. If you like humor you’ll find plenty of it. If you like 80s music, sure, there’s a great sound track. Dancing, check. Your favorite British stars? How about Moriarty from Sherlock (Andrew Scott). How about Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter (Imelda Staunton). There’s Richard Burton from Burton and Taylor (Dominic West). If you saw The Book Thief, Ben Schnetzer plays that German-Jewish prisoner that’s hidden in the basement. He’s really an American and in Pride, plays an Irishman living in London. That’s some impressive range. And as always, there’s the incomparable Bill Nighy.

If you need to categorize movies, think of this one as Kinky Boots meets Billy Elliott. Those two movies were eventually made into very successful plays. Pride’s director, Matthew Warchus also directed the stage version of Matilda. I’m not really a gambling guy, but you can bet people are already talking about bringing Pride to the West End or Broadway.

I was lucky enough to see this a few weeks early, while visiting my daughter in Ireland. Skye has always been an advocate for LGBT causes, including helping get the Troy, Michigan mayor kicked out of office for her homophobic remarks. During the movie, we laughed a lot and, yes, cried too. Mine were mostly tears of joy during the closing sequences and subsequent credits.

By the way, there is absolutely no reason for this film to be rated R. Reviewers and activists speculate that the Motion Picture Association of America is a bit homophobic itself.

This is one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year and will undoubtedly make my year-end list. As I said in the title, go see Pride.

 

Belfast: Coming back from the brink

October 13th, 2014

Tensions remain, but the Northern Ireland city is thriving.

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As the sun sets on Belfast, young people walk past the murals on The Falls, a road where violence was once commonplace.

The Troubles.

That’s what the conflict in Northern Ireland has been called for generations. We’ve been told that everything is fine now. The violence has ceased and both sides, Irish Catholics and English Protestants, are getting along fine.

Our taxi driver painted a slightly different picture. With visits to mural after mural, we were told that there is trouble just beneath the surface. Homes and businesses in Belfast have large, colorful murals painted on them. They depict the struggle throughout the decades, in many cases from both sides of the story, the English and the Irish.

The walls are full of murals. The walls have sides too, one protects the Unionist Protestants from the Nationalist Catholics, the other, The Nationalist Catholics from the Unionist Protestants. They are a long series of barriers separating the two factions in Belfast. Incongruously, they’re called peace walls. They are generally open during the day and closed at night, walling each faction off from one another.

A large majority of the city’s residents say the peace walls remain up because they remain necessary, even though the Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, eased tensions.

Three quarters of the island that makes up Ireland is ruled by the Irish. But the six counties to the north, Ulster or Northern Ireland, are ruled by the British. Half of the population, the Protestants, are fiercely loyal to the crown. The other half are Catholic and align with a united Ireland.

There are signs everywhere, though, that point toward a relaxation of the conflict. First and foremost is commerce. Belfast is booming, and not because of the bombs that used to rip apart neighborhoods. The downtown area, that used to have soldiers on every corner, now have coffee shops and restaurants instead. Tourism is back and international companies are investing heavily and often.

The second sign that things have improved are the youth. The further they get from The Troubles, the more it becomes their parent’s problem, not theirs. Instead of joining paramilitary organizations as teens, Catholic and Protestant kids do what all kids do; hang out, text each other, flirt and get into trouble — but not Trouble.

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One of the peace walls, on the Catholic side, displays “martyrs” from the decades long sectarian violence.

 

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Our tour driver shows supposedly benign plastic bullets that have injured or killed neighbors.

 

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In 2012, to commemorate the great ship, The Titanic Experience opened it’s doors. Created to look like several of the ship’s hulls, the museum was erected on the exact site the Titanic was built, helping raise Belfast from the depths.

 

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Displays, scale models, interactive exhibits and even a ship building ride show visitors everything before, during and after Titanic’s sinking.

 

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A Belfast town father looks out over the city center, now a thriving metropolis.

 

Trying Pop Rocks For The First Time

October 10th, 2014

American diplomacy at its best

While visiting my daughter during her term abroad in Ireland, we got to meet some of her new friends. These people, from Germany and Finland (and a couple from Australia), are helping her out so much, we decided to pay them back with silly American gifts.

First, we gave them some yummy Sanders chocolates from Detroit. Next we fed them what one student labeled fluffy “sugar and fat,” or Twinkies as we call them. We even brought along some “stroft” American toilet paper, but the most obnoxious thing we gave them were these.

To our credit, they asked ahead of time for kitschy, zany American items.

Our daughter will surely be friends for a long, long time with these wonderful people, despite our ridiculous gifts. And no students were harmed in the making of this video.

Yet Again, These Are My People

September 19th, 2014

Scenes from a cancer conference

Every 18 months I have the ultimate pleasure of volunteering at a blood and marrow transplant conference. I’ve written about these conferences in the past, saying “These are my people.” This year, in particular, I felt that way even more acutely.

First, there were all those people checking out my book, which was just a thrill. Then there were the nutty people with the nutty shirts. There were the lovely patients who were still struggling through their own personal hells and the pioneers from more than 50 years ago who are still going strong, living large.

And then, there was the breaking news of radical new non-invasive therapies and cures for our brothers and sisters still in the throes of their diseases. You can read about them here, in The New Yorker, if you care.

It was an exhausting weekend with me running around like a wild man, hauling my flash units everywhere, making sure I documented every single speaker — then putting together a slide show at the end. All of it was made possible by my friends at BMTinfonet.org.

Look, cancer sucks (as my shirt says), and blood and marrow transplants can knock the stuffing out of you. But if you must join our club, these people are some of the most amazing folks I’ve met so far on this planet.

 

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There’s nothing quite like the thrill of seeing a bunch of people reading your book, AND SMILING!

 

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Nancy McLain, left, had her bone marrow transplant the year I was born. She got the marrow from her twin sister, right. It was incredible seeing how far they’ve come, both in their lives and in the art of transplants.