Wonderland: Movie Review

Wonderland  2003  Rated R  1 hour 44 minutes  

Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment

Takes place in the summer of 1981. Laurel Canyon’s Wonderland Avenue was the scene of grisly murders. Porn star John Holmes was a prime suspect.

Actors:  Val Kilmer (John Holmes), Kate Bosworth (Dawn Schiller), Lisa Kudrow (Sharon Holmes), Josh Lucus (Ron Launias), Dylan McDermott (David Lind), Eric Bogosian (Eddie Nash), Carrie Fisher (Sally Hansen), Geneane Garofalo (Joy Miller). 

Directed by James Cox

For quite a while I have recognized that I have a harder time deciphering movies that employ multiple timelines that flashback, roll forward, land in real-time, roll forward, real-time, flashback…ey, yi, yi. Not only that, the story is told from two, at times three, points of view. Each point of view has a different take on what actually went down. Some people are lying and some people are telling the truth. Some characters are doing both. At movie time it is as if my mind goes into relaxation mode and multiple timelines make me work harder than I want. It’s irritating, but that’s just me. Give me a chronological tale anytime. So, when it comes to the 2003 movie Wonderland the cards were already stacked against it for my particular tastes. Four people were actually murdered in 1981 in Laurel Canyon. This makes me think of the Manson murders which are actually referenced when one of the detectives says the place was one of the most horrific crime scenes he’d witnessed in his entire career. That is where the comparison ends since there is no mastermind or brainwashing going on here; just out-of-control druggies who want a big score. I do like the setting of L. A. with its flash and desert landscapes but we don’t get much of that. Boisterous house parties? Check. Sleazy motels? Check. This is not the shiny side of Hollywood. This is the down-and-out, drug-addled, detective questioning type where you wish everyone would snap out of it.  It is somewhat interesting to learn about the real lives of porn stars, but almost instantly the character of John Holmes is someone you definitely do not want to know. Far from my favorite activity lies watching dumb characters consistently stay dumb and fumble their way through their lives.

While John Holmes (Val Kilmer twelve years after his spot-on portrayal of Jim Morrison in The Doors) was being “The King ” of porn, he obviously was not planning his future with a money manager or buying valuable land in California. Maybe he thought he could ride his massive train forever and not worry about the future. Come to think of it, this Holmes character shares many similarities with the characterization of Jim Morrison: always making self-defeating moves; being oppositional at every turn. Holmes is a cokehead and crack smoker and continues on this path for the entirety of the story. His wife has already left him and although they are still married, he treats his current lover, Dawn Schiller (the beautiful Kate Bosworth) in exactly the same manner. Although he is done making the porn that broke up his marriage, he has become an unhinged druggie and Dawn puts up with it. Holmes is such an out-of-control addict that he burns every drug dealer in town which forces his hand to become involved with Eric Bogosian’s character, Eddie Nash (aka “The Arab”). Just to be on the safe side, you probably don’t want to depend on The Arab for anything. Why would Holmes’s peers put him in charge of making a drug deal with The Arab? He’s totally unreliable and keeps stringing the group along as they beg for their next fix. At one point Holmes sends his girlfriend into The Arab’s house alone. Why? The motive is never established. There was once a short duration when Holmes and Dawn were broken up. You know what psycho addicts do? They call your parents every night when they can’t find you and say they love you and shit like that. In one of these timelines, but after the hit on The Arab’s house, Holmes visits Nash very casual like as if nothing is out of the ordinary. They take him hostage and threaten to track down his family. Holmes is just a stinking pile of idiot. Holmes lies to the detectives during questioning and lies to everyone else as well. During a flashback, we see that Holmes and his wife were actually in a good relationship until he had an epiphany one day that he could make money with his giant cock. He chose porn over his marriage and that is where it ended. After the murders, Holmes and Dawn escape to Florida where they live under assumed names. She eventually turns him in because god…he is such an asshole. There is no arc in character; he learns nothing. There are no redeemable character traits within Holmes. Although that makes him frustrating to watch, at least we didn’t have to live with him. John Holmes was never convicted; AIDS got him instead.

Another and perhaps stronger frustration with Wonderland is that the women in this movie are simply there for show. They play no part in the meat of the plot; it could have taken place without them. They have no agency and display no active thinking skills. When she is freaking out on the street surrounded by prostitutes, Sally Hansen (Carrie Fisher) picks up Dawn in an effort to take her home, clean her up and feed her but Dawn keeps calling for John. She wants John Holmes to come pick her up. This makes no sense; he’s not the one who saves her from the streets. Next, Holmes and Dawn are driving place to place for money and drugs. Dawn says she really has to pee but has been ordered to stay in the car. When she begs to pee Holmes hands her a Coke can so she can pee in it. And she does it! What the fuck is going on here? She’s a semi-drug-addicted semi-prostitute outside of a drug dealer’s house…pee anywhere! Holmes gets them a sleazy motel room but she doesn’t mind. Dawn begs him not to smoke crack, but he does anyway. Oh, well. She doesn’t want him to leave her alone in this crappy motel, but he does anyway. She ends up so bored that she smokes crack herself. I have to say that women who are in love with addicts will go to the ends of the earth for them, even if it doesn’t benefit them and it makes no sense. They will sometimes get addicted themselves and will make allowances for almost anything because they are in love. Dawn could have left at any time! She could have gone to a variety of places to get herself back on track but it doesn’t even cross her mind. At one point Dawn is asked (forced?) to go into The Arab’s lair to what? Case the place? Find the location of the safe? It is unclear why she went into Eddie Nash’s mansion (the biggest nightclub owner in L.A.) but the results are not good. She ends up being scrubbed in a hot bath while she stares off into space. This doesn’t make Dawn want to leave Holmes? Dawn, you don’t even really like drugs. Coke heads usually can’t get it up so why exactly are you torturing yourself? Dawn has somehow become friends with Holmes’s wife, Sharon (Lisa Kudrow). In a meeting with Sharon before questioning by the detectives, she tells Sharon that she did get away once. She went to Oregon and worked in health care. Then her parents began telling her that John was calling every night saying how much he loved her and to tell her good night. Dawn doesn’t get angry that Holmes is disturbing her parents. She doesn’t get livid that she still hasn’t completely gotten away from this loser. No! Oh, it is all so romantic how he just couldn’t forget her. She eventually takes his calls and boom! She’s back where she started. Dawn ends up lying to the cops and running away to Florida with Holmes as if they are going to get away with the botched everything. For whatever reason, six months later Dawn turns Holmes in and never sees him again. Just like many of us when we finally get over the “gotta have that bad guy/girl” phase, she grows up, moves back to the Pacific Northwest, starts a family, and writes a book. (I would much rather have met this Dawn Schiller.)

There is one bright spot in this entire wacky drugs and gun-toting world and that is the former (but still married) wife of John Holmes (Sharon) played by Lisa Kudrow. All of the characters have been so dumb and out of control that when Sharon comes on the scene with her no-nonsense attitude and sharp words you feel like shouting, “FINALLY!” She has enough emotional distance from John that she totally does not care that he has a girlfriend; in fact, she likes Dawn. She encourages Dawn to get out of this dysfunctional relationship. Pack all the bad things up in a box and leave it behind (like she did). Dawn admires Sharon and did attempt at one time to begin a better life, even working in the same field as Sharon. The best part is when Holmes comes to Sharon for help and is trying to convince her they can go into the witness protection program and run away. She says she doesn’t want to fucking run away with him. What the fuck are you talking about? “Are you going to fucking cry? Don’t cry, John.” Holmes’s trumped-up emotions have no effect on Sharon; she’s seen it a million times before. If Holmes were to call her parents every night she would fucking change their number. No wonder Kudrow took this role. She is the first woman who has any gumption and point of view in the entire movie. Since all we’ve been surrounded by are dimwits she shines bright like a biting diamond. She eventually pays Holmes off to permanently exit her life. She is never asked to testify against her husband but after his death reveals that she did see Holmes the morning of the murders. She maintains a relationship with Dawn Schiller.

All told, there are some fun moments like when crazy house party Ronnie takes an epic leap over a coffee table to land on Holmes’s chest. The fashion and music are fun and I really wish I’d been at that crowded house party although I would have been in the pool and not in the room with tweaking Ronnie drunkenly shooting antique guns.  There are some sped-up and split-screen transitions that look very cool. If you enjoy unhinged drug culture movies and don’t require chronological continuity, sex, gore, realistic goatees, or intellect, you may enjoy this flick. Three out of ten. Kudrow’s character earns all three stars.

Stream of consciousness synopsis with digging commentary:

John Holmes was the first porn star dubbed “The King”. “This is the story of what happened once the legend was over.”

Monday, June 29th, 1981 Hollywood Hills. Prostitute on street stands alone at 1p. She bites her fingernails while holding a Chihuahua. She cries and shakes while other prostitutes roam the street. VW bus pulls up. The girl, Dawn Schiller, (Kate Bosworth) is picked up by Sally Hansen (Carrie Fisher) but the girl wants her boyfriend, John Holmes (Val Kilmer) to come pick her up. Holmes: “Whatever it takes to get you back, baby. Whatever it takes.” He breaks out the coke as she starts to laugh. Mountains of snow. Snorting coke and having sex in the bathroom. 

Next, John makes Dawn wait in the car while he scores more drugs. She badly needs to pee so he hands her a Coke can. She doesn’t get out of the car to fucking pee? She pees in the Coke can? How dumb is this person? We’ve gotta turn what is in the briefcase into cash. John keeps hopping into rundown places to do skeezy things. Now in motel. He blocks the door. Smoking the coke although Dawn doesn’t want him to. He leaves. This is just what almost every female partner of an addicted man goes through. She doesn’t want him to do it, he does it anyway, then leaves her alone. 

Cool transition with split-screen and music. Now Dawn is smoking the coke in the motel room alone. A map shows John’s meanderings. Quick click views, split-screen. 

When he comes back it is daylight. He brings beer. He takes some unknown pills and drinks a beer for breakfast. John says he’s had an accident. Dawn hears on the news that four people have been found dead during the time John was missing. A detective says it is the most horrific crime scene he’s witnessed in his entire career, reminiscent of the Manson murders. 

Random guy in bar on the phone. Phone on other end of call is bloody and no one answers. Random guy has flashback of pointing a gun at a man. So far, all we know is that the random guy at the bar is calling his connected friend who says he’s going to take care of everything. The guy in the bar is having flashbacks of violent events. We have not been properly introduced to these two new characters. Eddie Nash (AKA “The Arab”) is played by Eric Bogosian. He steps off a plane. He’s the biggest nightclub owner in Hollywood. 

The bar guy is now at the crime scene wandering around. Blood everywhere. Detectives Nico and Cruise arrive. They’re just going to let a dude walk around a crime scene and break things and take things? What kind of cops are these? The bar guy’s name is Lind who ends up in the questioning room and he’s about to tell a story. Lind looks totally stupid. The costume department looked like they pressed on his goatee and his hair is so colored black it is fried. Right now he has on a do-rag with a sleeveless black t-shirt. He looks ridiculous. Why is his hair that black? Detective Nico (played by Ted Levine) is the actor who was the killer in Silence of the Lambs. If you spotted that in the first ten seconds you would be as good as my movie-watching partner. I don’t think many people can do that. Flashback to good times with drugs, girls, and money. Mr. Lind is trippin’ back to the good old days of house parties where all the chicks are hot and everyone is doing drugs. Bell bottoms, leather jackets, rock and roll, guns. In a house with a hundred and fifty people, Lind starts talking to his drunk friend, Ronnie, who is brandishing guns. “Hey man, you gonna sell those?” Ronnie says he’s been looking for a fence. Lind asks for a place to crash. There’s the couch. All of a sudden we see Lind making out with his girlfriend. What happened to the hundred and fifty people? Is this three days later when everyone is passed out or what? 

John Holmes is introduced to Dave Lind. Holmes has already established himself as the king of porn which the detectives know. This is of interest: male-on-male sexual intimidation. When gun-wielding Ronnie knows Holmes is at the party he publicly challenges Holmes to show everyone his penis. Holmes doesn’t want to show off his dick, but Ronnie shoots his pistol into the ceiling. “Show them!” Holmes does it. A girl looks to Ronnie, (not the owner of the penis) and asks, “Can I touch it?” So he doesn’t even own his dick? I like this little switcharoo even though it’s icky. Have a man sexually intimidate another male every once in a while. Why not? No wonder Holmes is a cokehead. 

Why did Holmes hang out at Wonderland? Because he had burned every other drug dealer in town. The detectives know Holmes as a scumbag, thief, bad news. Joy Miller (Geneane Garofalo) comes in and is tweaking on the couch. It is inexplicable why Garofalo even took this part. The guys need to go to The Arab because they can’t find drugs anywhere else. When Holmes doesn’t come back with drugs from The Arab, Ronnie makes a fucking epic leap over a coffee table and lands on Holmes’s chest. Ronnie gives Holmes a deal: the money or the guns in two days. “Now get the fuck out of here.” All these tweakers are around Holmes asking what is the deal with The Arab? When are we getting our shit? We just have to wait; he’s bringing it all in at once. The plot is becoming a little confusing because we are at the same time listening to Lind tell the cops this story, so it’s a nested tale. Lind is telling the cops and we are seeing the story in flashbacks. It is getting convoluted. 

Holmes draws a map to give his friends so they can break into The Arab’s place. They case the place. The more Holmes says a stash is hidden there, the more Ronnie wants to do it. Ronnie wants a big score so he can live in Maui. Earlier that day, Ronnie gave Holmes money to go to The Arab to get some shit. Bogosian as the Arab is surrounded by women, drugs, rock and roll. They wait for The Arab to go to sleep. They are loaded for bear. A gaggle of druggies break into The Arab’s house at 8a all coked up. The mayhem begins. Ronnie has The Arab by the hair. They want to find the safe. Lind discovers as the safe is opened that this is Eddie Nash…he did not know that. They take as much as possible and exit. Great ‘70s music with a smoggy L.A. in the background. Getting in the car with guns and other stolen goods. Pretty cool. Holmes was waiting back at the house. In this version of the story, Holmes was not involved in the hit. They are all excited when they return to the house with the loot. Everyone is kissing and hugging. Yea! A great Saturday morning. Seven kilos of cocaine, cash flying everywhere. Two, three, four hundred fifty thousand dollars. One ounce pure heroine. They are adding up the money. Five thousand quaaludes. Antique guns. Total take: one point two million. Everyone is clinking glasses. It was a good score and nobody got hurt. There is a strong Natural Born Killers feel to the scene where all the goods are being revealed. All the girls are excited. 

Here is where the rift begins between Holmes and the rest of the drug ring. Although Holmes sets it up and knows when the target is going to be out or asleep, the ring feels they are the ones who take all the risk and do all the hard work. They are the ones who go into the house with guns blazing. When they get back and Holmes wants his cut, they give him just a wee bit and Holmes doesn’t think that is good enough. Lind does some heroin as his reward while Holmes smokes crack. Do you want to see a guy take a shot of heroin in the tongue? Oh wait, no…that’s a pixie stick. It would have been cooler to take a shot in the tongue. Ronnie and Holmes argue until Ronnie throws a briefcase out the window, breaking it. Holmes leaves in a huff. Lind says when he saw the news on television he knew it had to be Holmes. The group becomes paranoid and begins to close ranks. Nobody gets into the house unless buzzed up. They have to keep a low profile. Holmes is the only one who knows about the Nash hit. He is the one who let Nash in and “got my butterfly killed.” When Holmes is all fucked up in bed with his girlfriend, she asks why four people are dead in a house that he’d talked about and taken her to before? Holmes is so fucked up he can’t really give a straight answer. Women are totally ineffectual in this film. 

LAPD breaks into the motel room and now Dawn is in for questioning. In a flashback, Dawn takes on an alias and goes into The Arab’s house and says, “What do you want me to do?” The Arab says to dance. The women in this film have no agency, no weapons, no thoughts, no free will, no vote. Holmes waits in the car freaking out because he’s sent his girl into no man’s land. The Arab says, “Touch me.” Despite this flashback, Dawn tells the cops she’s never met The Arab. Dawn and Holmes go to the motel. He is scrubbing her in a bathtub with bubbles. Drug addicts don’t usually have the wherewithal to stop at Walgreens for bubble bath.  Obviously, she didn’t just dance. She was violated in some way because she is being scrubbed with hot water and soap and she is staring as if disassociated.

July, 1981 Newspaper headlines. Lisa Kudrow  (Sharon Holmes) finally shows up. She’s reading the headlines in her house. Opens door to find Dawn and her dog. Kudrow is not happy to find Dawn has nowhere else to go. Sharon is mad at Dawn for still being with this loser creep. Dawn says she did get away when she went to Oregon. “I was a nurse, kind of like you.” I had a job, but he kept calling. Okay, here’s what psychos do. She is explaining to Sharon (her sister? The connection has not been established) that Holmes used to call every night. He used to call my mom every night and say, “Tell Dawn I love her. Tell Dawn goodnight.” He used to call every night. So eventually I took his calls. This is what weak women do when they date addicts. The advice Sharon gives her is put all the bad things in a box then you put them away and you get away. One of the detectives is going to take these two women to see Holmes. Why? One of my weak points in movie watching is getting easily confused with timelines. So, if we go forward in time, then backward in time, then we are current, followed by backward then forwards, I get confused. So I don’t know where in the timeline we are now. I know that some shit has gone down and these two women are with the detective. Maybe the detective is in real-time and they are going to see Holmes. Holmes and Sharon meet. Sharon says they have offered her a deal and she thinks she is going to take it. Is Sharon the first woman who has any sense in this movie? Holmes is trying to convince her that they can go into the witness protection program and run away. She says she doesn’t want to fucking run away with him. What the fuck are you talking about? “Are you going to fucking cry? Don’t cry, John.” OMG, they are married! No wonder Kudrow took this role. She is the first woman who has any gumption and point of view in the entire movie. Finally!

Old friend Bill comes in. Maybe an ex-cop? He comes to question Holmes in a separate room while other detectives listen in. Holmes says Lind is the liar, not him. OMG, I think Paris Hilton is on this yacht. This is where Eddie Nash introduces himself. “This is my boat!” This is Holmes’s first meeting with Nash. Flashback to Holmes trying to make a gun deal with Nash but Nash refusing. This is an alternate story of events where Holmes is with the group about to hit The Arab’s house. He is in the backseat and they create the map of the house. He doesn’t want to go in (contrary to the earlier related events). Holmes is giving an alternate story to what we’ve seen so far. The group wants Holmes to unlock the kitchen door and he does. In this alternate story, the group who comes back after the hit is trumpeting their success, answering the phone, telling everybody, using the drugs, living it up. Another Natural Born Killers knockoff scene of chaos where a girl punk band is blasting. The scene speeds and speeds.

Holmes calls Nash (after the hit?) and acts casual. Hey man, what’s going on? The Arab says come on up. Now when Holmes goes there they all know or suspect he was involved in the heist so they beat him up. The robbers do drugs all during the robbery and on the way out someone says, “John Holmes says hello.” The Arab is holding Holmes hostage and is looking up the addresses of his family members. “When they’re dead, I’m going to cut off your fourteen-inch cock and shove it down your throat until you are dead. You are going to do to those guys on Wonderland what they did to me.” 

After all this goes down, Holmes returns to his delinquent friends and says hello. Let me in. He does a couple lines and when he goes out he leaves the door ajar. Holmes lies for all the rest of the questioning session. No, I didn’t see them go in. No, I didn’t see them in the car outside. (From flashbacks we know he is lying.) Were you present during the murders? No, no, no. He doesn’t finger Nash and he doesn’t put himself at the scene. The detectives begin to piece together that Holmes set this whole thing up: a revenge murder that he wasn’t involved in. Sharon is willing to pay Holmes off to get him out of her life. She gets Dawn her dog back and gives Holmes money and is like, good riddance. Another flashback: Holmes drives to Sharon’s house in the middle of the night, his shirt red with blood. She discovers he has no wounds; it’s not his blood. Holmes confesses he killed (who?) so The Arab would not get her name…his black book. He insists he left before anything happened. We get backstory between Holmes and his wife and why they broke up. She loved him, but when he discovered that his dick could make him money he decided porn over her. That is where the whole thing broke up. In the flashback, Holmes goes to the house and is the one who, with a gun to his head, beats Ronnie’s wife. She ends up in the hospital.

End of movie script: “John Holmes and Dawn fled to Florida under assumed names. Holmes was arrested in Florida six months later and stood trial on four counts of murder. He never took the stand and was acquitted of all charges. He died of AIDS in 1988. David Lind served as lead witness in the state’s prosecution of John Holmes and Eddie Nash. Both trials ultimately ended in acquittals. Sharon Holmes was never asked to testify against her husband. After John’s death, she revealed that John had visited her the morning of the Wonderland murders. She maintains a close relationship with Dawn to this day. Susan Lenias survived significant injuries. She testified to remembering nothing more than shadows that night. Her whereabouts are unknown.” We see a car driving crazily into the desert. “Dawn Schiller escaped with John to Florida. She reported his whereabouts to authorities six months later and never saw him again. She has just finished a book about her experiences and lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. Eddie Nash was indicted in 2000. He pled guilty to federal racketeering. Charges including conspiracy to commit the Wonderland murders the night of July 1, 1981 and was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison. He currently resides in the greater Los Angeles area a free man.”  

A Hard Day’s Night: Movie Review

A Hard Day’s Night: Disc 1 Collector’s Series [rented disc from Netflix]

A review

1964  Directed by Richard Lester and often considered his best film

Comedy  Black and white  1 hour 32 minutes  Rated G

Starring: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Wilfrid Brambell 

    I don’t often choose a movie that is purely a showcase of talent, but that is the simple premise of A Hard Day’s Night. I quickly realized I wasn’t waiting on a plot to formulate; instead, I was merely asked to sit back and take in the mania and glory that was the Beatles. This movie came out before I was born so although I grew up with the Beatles, I did not go through the teen freakout of the 1960s that was Beatlemania. Viewing the movie today allows current pop culture explorers insight to the elements that made the band so beloved.

For current music lovers this movie is a great example of what “mania” really meant back in the day. The screaming girls often drowned out the songs they came to hear. One of the tropes of musical mania is a voracious mob of teen girls chasing their male idols in such a way that can amount to real pain! In the opening scene the band is running from a frenzied mob and Harrison bites the sidewalk in an obviously unplanned heap. The band duck, weave and hide in order to outwit their fans and end up escaping by train. We also see young teen girls losing their minds during the culminating “show” with close ups of their tears and hair pulling. They wave their scarves in a desperate plea for eye contact. This is a clear window through which modern music lovers can gaze at mania history and see how our mothers and grandmothers used to go insane. Although there is an innocence in that the girls are not up-ending bottles of Jack Daniel’s or passing joints around, there is a strong vibe of being totally unhinged and out of their minds. (The same thing happened to me when I saw Shaun Cassidy in the ‘70’s. I cried all the way home and didn’t know why. I know of what I speak.) Point is, these gals were rabid and would probably tear their idols limb from limb and scurry away with the pieces to place at religious altars to pop music to worship forevermore. A fellow viewer who was equally bowled over by the fanatical energy asked, “What do they hope to gain from this [chasing and pounding on escaping car windows]?” The only idea I could manage was, “A kiss?” More realistically (but totally unrealistically) the girls were most likely ardently wishing that their Beatle of choice would take one look at them, swoon, scurry her away to a gothic castle at which time he would get on bended knee to ask for her hand in marriage. Oh, she’s only thirteen? No worries; we’ll have a long engagement. That the members of the group were at least ten years their senior made no discernible difference to the fans. In a way it is creepy, yet it has been this way since time began. 

Another element the movie provides for young lusties is close up shots of their idols. When you are young and in love, you just can’t get enough of the images of your beloved. A Hard Day’s Night does not disappoint with director Richard Lester really getting the camera in close to revel in every drop of sweat and every tweak of the eyebrow. If young girls of the day could have only paused the movie they would have sat staring and crying while their parents and brothers left to eat dinner. The up close and personal approach is multiplied in one scene in which McCartney is singing and his cute little head is copied and repeated down the line as he sits next to multiple televisions. An added bonus comes at the end of the movie when a variety of headshots is displayed of each of the band members. Each band member sports a black turtleneck against a white backdrop and employs various expressions across multiple shots. The close up clarity and excellence of these photos may have caused a swoon or two while credits were rolling. I suppose movie theater staff had to call some parents for assistance at that point.

The peripatetic plot takes place over the course of two days while the band, one grandpa, and a couple managers travel to perform for a television audience. On the way we get to know each band member and as a bonus, they often spontaneously break into song. Getting to know them is pure pleasure. Although these guys were not trained actors, they have a natural feel and cadence to their dialogue and actions. I haven’t taken the time to look up and watch Beatles interviews from the past so I did not have a feel for each man’s personality. Each is comedic in his own way. The mood is light, fun and fast-paced. Wilfrid Brambell (he of gargantuan teeth and bespectacled shifty eyes) plays McCartney’s grandfather who, for unknown reasons, accompanies the group on their way to perform the TV appearance. One at first supposes he is there to play the straight man but we quickly learn he is cheeky and twisted in quite a different way than the others. One of the themes is that the band (and Grandpa) cannot be kept in hand; they are always running off like errant children with ADD. Supposed to be answering fan mail? No. They end up at a club dancing and drinking. Supposed to be prepping for the TV show? No. They have lost Ringo and are off to find him. The police, managers and television production crew play the exasperated “adults” who are continually aggravated by the group’s shenanigans.

The scene in which Grandpa is giving Ringo life advice is my favorite part of the movie and perhaps the only real conversation we can explore. They both end up at a diner where Ringo quietly sits reading a book. Grandpa, with his famous (and creepy) side eye, begins, “Would ya look at ‘em? Sitting there with his hooter scraping away at that book.” 

Ringo asks, “Well, what’s the matter with that?” 

Grandpa yanks the book from Ringo’s hands and asks, “Have ya no natural resources of your own? Have they even robbed you of that?”

“You can learn from books,” Ringo says, snatching the book back.

“You can, can ya? Bah. Sheeps’ heads. You could learn more by getting out there and living.”

“Like where?”

“Any old where! But not our little Richard…oh, no. When you’re not thumpin’ those pagan skins you’re tormenting your eyes with that rubbish.”

“Books are good.”

“Parading’s better.”

“Parading?”

“Ah! Parading the streets, trailing your coat, bowling along…LIVING!”

“Well, I am living.”

“You? Living? When was the last time you gave a girl a pink-edged daisy? When did you last embarrass a sheila with your cool appraising stare?”

“You’re a bit old for that sort of chat, aren’t ya?”

“Well at least I got a backlog of memories when all you got is that book!”

Ringo fights back. “Oh, stop picking on me. You’re as bad as the rest of ‘em.”

“Ah, so you are a man after all.”

“What’s that mean?”

Grandpa states, “Do you think I haven’t noticed? Do you think I wasn’t aware of the drift?” [This scene is enhanced by Grandpa moving about the diner in search of sugar while he doles out his advice.] “Oh, ya poor unfortunate scruff. They’ve driven ya into books with their cruel, unnatural treatment. Exploiting your good nature.”

“I don’t know.”

“Ah, sure, that lot’s never happy unless they’re jeering you. And where would they be without the steady support of your drumbeat? That’s what I’d like to know.”

Ringo agrees, “Yeah, that’s right.”

“And what’s it all come to in the end?”

Ringo beginning to turn, “Yeah. What’s in it for me?”

“A book.”

Ringo throws the book on the table. “Yeah. A bloomin’ book.”

“When you could be out there betraying a rich American widow or sipping palm wine in Tahiti before you’re too old like me.”

“Yeah, funny really, ‘cause I never thought but being middle aged and old takes up most of your time, doesn’t it?”

With a sad expression Grandpa says, “You’re only right.”

Ringo picks up his stuff and heads for the door. Grandpa asks, “Where you going?”

“I’m going parading before it’s too late.”

Out of ten stars I would give this a solid eight, especially if you are into pop music history, teenage mania and Merseyside/Liverpool-ish/”Scouse” dialect. Recommended.

Synopsis with light commentary and dialogue:

The movie opens with the band being chased through the streets until they escape by train. We discover their cute accents. We get our first evidence of magical realism letting us know that this story is in no way nonfiction. We see the guys leering inside a train window from outside the moving car; seconds later they reappear inside. We see a train passenger reading a Son of Mad magazine. Ringo says he plays the drums to make up for his short stature. They lock Grandpa in the luggage area, deal cards, then are suddenly playing a song with instruments that magically appear.

Next they arrive at a fancy hotel. Ringo asks if he snores. Paul says, “With a trombone like that it wouldn’t be natural if you didn’t.” Grandpa chides, “Paulie, don’t mock the afflicted. It may be a joke, but it’s his nose. He can’t help his great big hooter…and the poor little head tremblin’ under the weight of it.” The band manager commands them to stay in and answer pounds of fan mail, but the guys escape to a club while Grandpa finds a gambling hall. The manager has to round everyone up. Lennon ends up in a bubble bath with his hat on. When the water is let out John walks out of the bathroom perfectly dry. 

The band has a press conference where they are asked only dumb questions. A stage is being prepared but the guys perform a song before everything is ready. It miraculously sounds perfect. Instead of getting ready in the dressing room, the guys take the fire escape. These days they would use a drone, but there is a long shot from above that watches the guys run around an open green area. The manager laments that it is “a battle of nerves between John and me.” Everyone smokes cigarettes.

Next we see Harrison wander into a fashion office but says fashion is “grotty” and that trendsetters are “a drag.” Grandpa has a money making scheme by taking the band’s promotional photos, signing them, then selling them on the street. The band has no patience for wardrobe fittings or makeup. There is a great shot with Paul singing with multiple TV screens focused on his face. The Beatles knock a dance troupe off the stage to do another song. They have a one hour break. Lennon leaves with a girl. Now that Grandpa has filled Ringo’s head with “notions” they don’t know where to find him. Ringo is out on the town taking pictures. He buys thrift clothes for disguise and plays near the water. He talks with a boy who is skipping school then Ringo becomes a troublemaker at a pub and gets thrown out. The stage manager is freaking out: where is Ringo? He is found by the police and taken to the station. Grandpa is brought in too. (That’s what they get for parading.) The general consensus is that “all coppers are villains”, but then the cops offer their prisoners tea. Grandpa, with his wiley ways, escapes the cops and goes to tell the manager where to find Ringo. They make it just in time for the cure all: a cup of tea and then on to the show.

The Beatles perform three songs and break a sweat. We see long shots and close shots of the screaming female audience; not a boy in sight. With the fourth song Grandpa escapes his handcuffs and the theater. The band runs straight from the show to a waiting helicopter. The movie ends with headshots of each of the band members. They are all taken with a white background. Each band member sports a black turtleneck and employs various expressions. These are excellent photos.

The songs that we get to hear during the movie sound excellent and appear as follows:

“A Hard Day’s Night”

“I Should Have Known Better”

“I Wanna Be Your Man”

“Don’t Bother Me”

“All My Loving”

“If I Fell”

“Can’t Buy Me Love”

“And I Love Her”

“I’m Happy Just to Dance with You”

A Ringo instrumental called “This Boy”

An instrumental of “A Hard Day’s Night”

A reprise of “Can’t Buy Me Love”

A reprise of “I Should Have Known Better”

“She Loves You”

And the reprise/closing credits of “A Hard Day’s Night” 

Nightbreed: Movie Review

Aaron Boone (protagonist) played by Craig Sheffer

Psychiatrist Doctor Decker (antagonist) played by David Cronenberg

Lori (single name girlfriend of Boone) played by Anne Bobby

Directed by Clive Barker based on his novel Cabal

Rated R    1 hour 41 minutes    1990

Music by Danny Elfman

Review:

Nightbreed is a monster flick written and directed by Clive Barker who is mostly known for his novels (since the 1980s) and his breakout movie, Hellraiser. Before even viewing this movie ask yourself: 1) do I want to know more about the history of American horror movies and 2) do I like a cheesy aesthetic that can only look way out of date? If both of your answers are yes then proceed with a pinch of salt. It is difficult to determine the budget for this movie because at once there is top-notch music, explosions and an extreme variety of monsters. On the other hand, (besides David Cronenberg in an acting role) there are only lesser-knowns running this show although the acting is decent. In many ways, Barker (who wrote and directed) turns expected combinations on their heads. For example, the male is the one imperiled, the female is the hero and the monsters are the victims. Woven within the story (based on Barker’s 1985 novel Cabal) are various themes. Here is what I found. 

    One of the themes of Nightbreed is misplaced trust in authority. In a way, this movie is based upon the premise that we should always seek a medical second opinion. If our protagonist, Aaron Boone, (Craig Sheffer) had refused his psychiatrist’s assessment that he must be repressing memories of murderous rampages he would have at least appeared to have a mind of his own. Then Boone is given some unknown pills by the evil Doctor Decker (David Cronenberg) who just happens to have them in his desk drawer. Boone immediately downs one of the pills without even asking what they are! This is one of the illogical drawbacks of the story. Doctor Decker then begins working with the police in an effort to frame Boone for a spate of recent murders. Why do the police believe in and consistently work with the doctor? This is another unexplained misstep within the story. In effect, we have authority (the police) trusting authority (the doctor) and they never question each other. Is that the normal tacit agreement between white men in suits and uniforms? In Nightbreed, one should always question authority because they are hiding sins much greater than those with less power. The ones with power in this story are serial killers and violent instigators. A mob forms towards the end of the movie made up of stereotypical rednecks and hicks who each bring a truckload of arsenal to the monster fight. The police and fathers in the mob would ideally be peaceful citizens enjoying their homes and families. Too much faith is placed in these authority figures to do the right thing. 

    These men of power must destroy that which they don’t understand. To “other” is to set oneself apart from those who differ from the self; moreso in a hierarchical format where the norm is believed to be better than the unique. The evil Doctor Decker wants to destroy all; for everyone has become sick in his worldview. Instead of helping those with mental disorders, he comes to view them as irredeemable cretins and decides they need to be wiped from the face of the earth. Ironically, Doctor Decker becomes more sick than his patients and takes up a side gig as a serial killer. In addition, there is a very dynamic and gruesome scene reminiscent of the Christian Crusades–the ultimate act of othering. This short sequence shows us how the monsters (the others) were killed, beheaded, crucified and burned due to the fact that they did not look like the majority. They were driven underground and eventually rebuilt their own society away from the judging eyes of the “naturals” living in the sunlight. The monsters progress to build their own culture. They seem to live in peace within their underground gated and guarded community. It is only when the protagonist draws attention to the group that the transgressions against their way of life begin to repeat history. The monsters are living underground where no one (except the few who are “called”) knows about them. Why take the time and effort to destroy a community hitherto unknown? It is the deliberate seeking out and killing of the other that Barker highlights placing the monsters squarely in the category of underdog for whom we cheer. The theme of good vs. evil within this story is a turnabout: the monsters are good (although a bit blood-thirsty and strange) and the evil ones are the men in power who destroy those around them for no reason other than a vulgar display of power.

We cannot forget that the driving force of the story-telling thread woven throughout is the love between Aaron Boone and his faithful girlfriend, Lori (Anne Bobby). In a welcomed flipping of gender roles, it is Boone who is in trouble and Lori who sets out to save him. While Boone believes mad doctors, swallows unknown pills and feels he is being called to hell through his dreams, Lori is the sane and stable force that figures out various ways to locate and save Boone from himself. She finds Midian, the underground lair of monsters that seem to be calling Boone in his nightmares. She passes her first test by picking up what looks like a skinned cat to return to mystery woman, Rachel (Catherine Chevalier). This thing is super gross, but Lori is brave enough to perform this request in order to gain access to the underworld. Lori does get an assist from Boone when Narcisse (Hugh Ross) gets overly amorous, but she plays an important role in being our eyes when we flashback to see how the monsters were driven underground. Lori is also our guide through the underground highrises of the monster world which is one of the highlights of the movie. She doesn’t scream, tremble, cry or fall down while running away. Lori is determined to find Boone and that is what she does. Lori also owns her sexuality and can be a little kinky. While making out with Boone before leaving his jail cell she says she is not afraid of him. As they begin to make out, she pulls away to look at his face which is turning into a beast. She doesn’t care; she digs it! Let the girl get her freak on! Lori survives the entire story and gives Boone the strength to carry on and rebuild Midian. Note that the monsters hailing Boone as their new leader is a third misstep in the logic of the story. Yes, perhaps Baphomet was calling to him in his dreams, but if Boone had stayed well away from Midian their home and culture would still be intact.

If using a scale from one through ten with ten being the best, I would have to break that in half to say that any grade under five would be a waste of time. Any movie over five I would recommend with either more or less drawbacks. I would rate Nightbreed a six. The music is top-notch and the acting is not too bad. Narcisse’s cutting of his own scalp and the flashback to the Crusades-like scene are worth a viewing. Horror movie fans, especially of flicks from the  ‘80s and ‘90s, along with long-time Clive Barker fans, will be interested if only for the vast and spectacular city of monsters to be paused and played again to wallow in all their gory glory. Don’t worry too much about logic; just have fun.  

Detailed synopsis with light commentary: 

Aaron Boone (known by his last name) has nightmares of hell. His psychiatrist, Doctor Decker, is calling him…always a bad sign. Elsewhere, a masked man is stabbing a family of three. The mask is super creepy and creates a feeling of dread. It pulls over the head with button eyes and an off-center slit for the mouth. It seems to be made of a pliable, extremely grungy light canvas. During Boone’s first meeting in a long while with his doctor, the psych brings up Boone’s nightmares. Weren’t those dreams of a hellscape called Midian? (Midian is a true spot on the map mentioned in both the Hebrew bible and the Quron. In the Hebrew bible, Midian is related to the Israelites.) The doc asks what sins Boone was seeking forgiveness for; possibly murder? Six families have been slain in ten months. For some reason, Boone puts up no resistance to the idea that he may, without his own knowledge, be a serial killer and asks what he should do. Doc pushes unknown pills on the young man and he immediately takes one. (This movie seems to be based on the premise that one should always seek a second opinion.) Boone ends up in the hospital after a hallucination. Upon waking, he hears a fellow patient desperately calling to be taken away to Midian “where the monsters go. It takes away the pain.” When Boone approaches, he asks directions to Midian (since he’d been dreaming of this place). The crazy guy’s name is Narcisse. He thinks Boone is his savior there to take him to Midian so Narcisse must show he is worthy of entry. Narcisse has rings with shark-fin-like talons. He puts them on and at 14:01 into the movie we get our first gore…and it’s pretty good for 1990! Unexpected and extremely gross. Narcisse begins cutting around his own face which makes one think he is going to pull it off, but eventually he ends up scalping himself. For the rest of the movie we see his bloody skinless head. Narcisse is meant to be our comic relief as he continues to appear throughout the movie, but he’s never very funny. Humor is not Clive Barker’s strong suit. When Boone sees Doctor Decker who deliberately gave him hallucinogens, he runs. Decker begins building a murder case against Boone. Our protagonist then takes the basic directions Narcisse gave and finds a cemetery known as Midian. The headstones suggest it is a safe place for satanists and their deceased.  Boone has trouble getting into the underground lair of Midian. He wants to commune in hell with other serial killers. When he is confronted by the monster watchmen they test him and find Boone innocent which leads dreadlock monster (who looks to be played by a professional wrestler) to take a bite out of him: “Meat for the beast.” (There is also a moon-faced monster played by Nicholas Vince. Although his costume looks dumb in this film, he played the stuff of nightmares three years earlier in Hellraiser when he was the Chatterer Cenobite.) When the cops show up to apprehend Boone the evil doctor says the young man has a gun so Boone is shot multiple times. (Why does this doctor keep showing up with police? Why are they allowing him to tag along and share all their information?) The bite Boone incurs is imbued with magical powers allowing him to escape the coroner’s table. “In Midian I live forever.” Doctor Decker sees his plans begin to unravel. Lori is Boone’s girlfriend. At most, I heard her name twice in the movie while the name Boone is said about a million times. Lori is on the trail of Boone. She meets Narcisse who becomes her guide. Boone passes a monster test and is accepted into the underworld of Midian. Lori asks a beautiful mysterious woman, Rachel, (played by Catherine Chevalier) to take her to Boone, but “what’s below remains below.” Lori must enter the subterranean world. She only makes it to the bottom of the stairs; innocence is not allowed. When Lori returns to her friend who’s been waiting in the car she finds her dead and bleeding tied to a tree. She sees the canvas masked killer and runs back to Midian. (Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.) It is around this point that the audience knows Doctor Decker is the serial killer and is trying his best to deflect attention. Boone’s new powers allow him to sense that Lori is in danger. He fights monsters to get above ground. Boone confronts Doctor Decker who stabs Boone, but the dead can’t die. When Decker runs, Boone inhales a cloud of wispy magic in order to shape shift into a monster. (The cloud-like magic air is very cheesy.) Boone shifts back to hot guy to protect his girl and the monsters are getting upset that he has brought attention to their happy, quiet gated community. While Decker continues killing, Lori wakes up underground in a coffin with Rachel and her daughter, Babette. Rachel explains that the nightbreed are weirdos, shape shifters, who had been driven underground by those who did not understand their differences. The nightbreed do not feel they are any less than those who persecuted them; instead, they feel they are the things of dreams and to be envied.  When Babette takes Lori’s hand she is able to see the past and how the nightbreed were forced underground. The scene is definitely intended to evoke the Christian Crusades (from 1095-1291). The “weirdos” (the other) were slaughtered, crucified, and beheaded. Great job on the wicked scenes of genocide. Dark, blustery, red, filled with torturous imagery. There is a central figure of the nightbreed called Baphomet. Lori asks the entity for Boone’s location. There is a great visual juxtaposition when we see Doctor Decker in his ugly mask while wearing his business suit; perfect combo. Decker explains to an extraneous character that he got sick of treating sick people who went on to have sick children and the sickness would leak from one generation into the next. If he is so disgusted with treating the mentally ill, why does he turn into a serial killer? Does he want to become the king of the mentally ill? Decker becomes “death, plain and simple.” Lori travels through the underworld on her quest to reunite with Boone. This is an excellent part of the movie where we travel past window after window of monsters just hanging out at home. They are all different; the sheer variety is extremely impressive. Where did they get this budget? The cops are still listening to Decker. Why? Lori and Boone finally reunite. Although Boone feels he can’t leave, Lori convinces him they are meant to be together. They escape to a motel to rest and re-group. Boone can smell blood and sees that Decker has increased the body count in the room next door. When Boone smells blood he shape shifts (very vampire-esque) and has to have a lick. One hit of magic breath and he is back in human form. The cops find Boone at the scene, call him a “freak and a cannibal”, and beat him up before shoving him into a cell. Meanwhile, a posse of small town folk and all the police within a ten-mile radius are at Midian kicking monster ass. One can see a clear message when one of the monsters named Ohnaka (played by Simon Bamford who was the Butterball Cenobite in Hellraisers I and II) reaches out to touch the shoe of a black cop as Ohnaka is being beaten. He makes eye contact with the cop as if to ask, Don’t you feel my pain? The cop moves his foot back and the monster is killed. This cops sees the monsters burst and turn to dust in the sunlight. While the town is distracted with monster killing, Narcisse releases Boone from jail. Lori runs to his arms saying she is not afraid of him. They begin kissing and he turns to beast. She sees his monster face, but continues to make out. She’s digging it! The mob vengeance being pummeled on the monsters is reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster and the ending of Night of the Living Dead. The townspeople use all their explosives to blow up Midian. Boone becomes a leader: “If we want to survive, we can’t hide. Brother and sisters, it is time to fight.” One female monster named Shuna Sassi (Christine McCorkindale) uses her exposed breasts to entice a couple of distracted cops; so easy. Then she showers them with giant porcupine quills that sprout from her skin. Pretty cool. It is all-out war; even Baphomet seems to want to give up, yet “we are the tribes of the moon.” In this monsters vs. “naturals” war the sympathy is squarely placed in the court of the monsters. They are the ones persecuted by the normie white men who don’t understand their kind. Deep within the heart of Midian a cell door is opened and a gaggle of super beasts is released. Clive Barker throws in little fun things like a female monster who bends to get some blood on her fingers then wipes a little on her bare breast before taking it to her mouth. Doctor Decker and Boone meet in the underworld. When Decker stabs, Boone turns to monster. Boone removes Decker’s mask and pushes him off a ledge. Baphomet is then reanimated and speaks. Boone begs him to rebuild and save the monsters. “You are Cabal!” (According to Merriam-Webster, a cabal is “the contrived schemes of a group of persons secretly united in a plot [as to overturn a government].” One could also “unite in or form a cabal.” In Clive Barker’s novel Cabal [1985] Baphomet baptizes the protagonist: “He was no longer Boone. He was Cabal. An alliance of many.” Another title associated with Cabal in the novel is he “Who Unmade Midian.”) Boone, Lori and a core group of monsters make it out of the burning underworld. Boone becomes a legend. Why? His coming there leads to their destruction! Decker remains in hell, but he has his acolytes as well. When one evil worshiper imbues Decker’s flayed gut with secret sparkling sauce, he is reanimated. A surprise ending to set up the next battle between good and evil: Aaron Boone the shape shifter vs. Doctor Decker the serial killer!

Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage

I read this book in the hopes of learning why more young people do not enter college. The relevant information is shared below. In brackets, I have placed brainstorming ideas on how to ease or combat a prohibitor to college entrance.

By K. Edin and M. Kefalas

Introduction

“…children of single parents are still at greater risk” (3) [therefore, we need to target single parents and their children].

“While the poor women we interviewed saw marriage as a luxury, something they aspired to but feared they might never achieve, they judged children to be a necessity, an absolutely essential part of a young woman’s life, the chief source of identity and meaning.”

“…a baby born into such conditions represents an opportunity to prove one’s worth” (6).

“…an expectant mother uses pregnancy to test the strength of her bond with her man and take a measure of his moral worth” (7).

“But this insistence on economic independence also reflects a much deeper fear: no matter how strong the relationship, somehow the marriage will go bad. Women who rely on a man’s earnings, these mothers warn, are setting themselves up to be left with nothing if the relationship ends.”

“…it means lifelong commitment.”

“…poor young mothers seldom view an out-of-wedlock birth as a mark of personal failure but instead see it as an act of valor” (9).

“…central tenet of good mothering can be summed up in two words–being there.”

“Millie’s experiences show why the standards for prospective fathers appear to be so low. The answer is tangled up in the young women’s initial high hopes regarding the men in their lives, and the supreme confidence they have in their ability to rise to the challenge of motherhood. The key to the mystery lies not only in what mothers believe they can do for their children but in what they hope their children will do for them.”

“In some profound sense, these young women believe, a baby has the power to solve everything” (10).

“…mothering role, how it can become virtually the only source of identity and meaning in a young woman’s life.”

“…they manage to credit virtually every bit of good in their lives to the fact they have children…”

“…poor urban neighborhoods that have seen the most dramatic increases in single motherhood” (11). 

“Forty-five percent had no high school diploma, but 15 percent had earned a GED. A surprising number, nearly a third of the total, had participated in some kind of post-high school educational activities such as college, nurses- or teachers-aid training, or cosmetology school.

“…almost half were neither working nor in school when we met them. Forty percent held low-end service-sector jobs at the time, working as telemarketers, childcare workers, teacher’s aides, nurse’s aids, factory workers, cashiers, fast-food workers, waitresses, and the like” (25).

One: “Before We Had a Baby…”

Early pregnancy causing parents to abandon education and move directly into low paying jobs. 

“Yet expressing the desire to have a baby together is far from a promise of life-long commitment.”

“…the bond that shared children create may be the most significant and enduring tie available.”

“…extraordinarily high social value the poor place on children” (31).

“While middle-class teens and twenty-somethings anticipate completing college and embarking on careers, their lower-class counterparts can only dream of such glories. Though some do aspire to these goals, the practical steps necessary to reach them are often a mystery.” [We need to take the mystery out of this process.]

“A childhood embedded in a social network rich with children–…creates the illusion of a near Dr. Spock-like competence in childrearing.”

“As talk of shared children is part of the romantic dialogue poor young couples engage in from the earliest days of courtship…”

“Some youth decide to begin trying to get pregnant so they can escape a troubled home life” (33).

“Children…Young women also hunger for the love and intimacy they can provide.”

“…pregnancy offers the promise of relational intimacy at a time few other emotional resources are available.

“Trust among residents of poor communities is astonishingly low–so low that most mothers we spoke with said they have no close friends, and many even distrust close kin. The social isolation that is the common experience of those who live in poverty is heightened for adolescents, whose relationships with parents are strained by the developmental need to forge an independent identity. The ‘relational poverty’ that ensues can create a compelling desire to give and receive lobe. Who better to do so with, some figure, than a child they can call their own” (34). [The need to build supportive communities to thwart emotional isolation.]

“…many young women come to see parenthood as the point at which they can really start living” (35).

“…nearly universal agreement that all children ought to have a sibling or two to play with” (36).

“The potent mix of social shame, self-doubt, and compelling desire leads to accidents waiting to happen” (39).

“These young women often reject the idea that children–or at least the first child–will damage their future prospects much” (40).

“So though their neighborhoods and schools offer plenty of examples of young mothers who had to leave school and face extraordinarily hard times, they still provide an ample supply of counterexamples–young unmarried women who have succeeded in doing well by their children, ensuring that they’re clean, clothed, housed, fed, and loved. Armed with these role models, they insist that it doesn’t take a college education, a good job, a big house, matching furniture–or a marriage license–to be a good mother” (41). [Could women in this situation provide mentor duties for various programs?]

“Children, whether planned or not, are nearly always viewed as a gift, not a liability–a source of both joy and fulfillment whenever they happen upon the scene. They bring a new sense of hope and a chance to start fresh.

“…the way in which a young woman reacts in the face of a pregnancy is viewed as a mark of her worth as a person. And as motherhood is the most important social role she believes she will play, a failure to respond positively to the challenge is a blot on her sense of self” (43).

“…most still view the termination of a pregnancy as a tragedy…Virtually no woman we spoke with believed it was acceptable to have an abortion merely to advance an educational trajectory.” [So it would be unwise to focus on reducing young pregnancies. We have to focus on what comes next.]

“In absolute terms, the poor have more abortions than the middle class, but that is because they also have more pregnancies” (44).

“In choosing to bring a pregnancy to term, a young woman can capitalize on an important and rare opportunity to demonstrate her capabilities to her kin and community. Her willingness and ability to react to an unplanned pregnancy by rising to the challenge of the most serious and consequential of all adult roles is clear evidence that she is no longer a ‘trifling’ teenager” (45).

[Could we capitalize upon this can-do attitude to include education and job training?]

“…poor young women grab eagerly at the surest source of accomplishment within their reach: becoming a mother” (46).

“…for these disadvantaged youth, a pregnancy offers young women who say their lives are ‘going nowhere fast’ a chance to grasp at a better future. Choosing to end a pregnancy is thus like abandoning hope” (47).

Two: “When I Got Pregnant…”

“A child is one of the few things a young man can say he has created and one of the few ways he can make an early mark on the world.

“Unmarried fathers who ‘step off’ of their responsibility to their children–as they often do–are still the subject of contempt in these communities” (60).

“…the mother’s own mother is often an integral part of the parenting team as well” (66). [Could recruit mother/daughter teams to school or family combos?]

“Thus, the tiny row homes of these crowded urban neighborhoods often house a revolving cast of characters that spans three, sometimes four, generations. In fact, nearly half of our mothers live in such households” (67). [So, would living independently even be a benefit?]

Three: How Does the Dream Die?

The goal remains to marry and attain a stable relationship. [Couples counseling? Individual training to set up expectations, boundaries, and communication skills? What if there were a system set up that when one man left, the single mother would be paired with another single mother as a resource? They begin to work as a team.]

“Lack of money is certainly a contributing cause…”

“Job insecurity is endemic…” (75).

“Over time, however, a chronically unemployed father proves too much for most mothers to bear.” 

“Money usually becomes an issue because he seems unwilling to keep at a job for any length of time, usually because of issues related to respect. Some of the jobs he can get don’t pay enough to give him the self-respect he feels he needs, and others require him to get along with unpleasant customers and coworkers, and to maintain a submissive attitude toward the boss” (76). 

“Young mothers regularly rail against young fathers who squander too much of their earnings on alcohol, marijuana, new stereo components, computer accessories, expensive footwear, or new clothing, while the needs of the family are, in their view, not adequately met” (78).

“These disagreements over the father’s work effort and spending habits cut right to the heart of the couple’s relationship because, for the new mother, his behavior with regard to money is an emblem of his dedication to the family. Financial responsibility is often the yardstick by which she measures his love for and commitment to her and the child. For young and impoverished mothers working to establish a stable environment for their children, the making and spending of money is much more than a matter of income and expenses, of budgets and balance sheets: it is a morality play. Few women expect their baby’s fathers to be the sole breadwinners, but they believe that good fathers should at least try to stay employed, work at a legitimate trade, and turn over most of their earnings to the family” (79-80).

[Need to work on male level of responsibility.]

“…mother usually points to far more serious offenses as the prime forces that pull their young families apart. It is the drug and alcohol abuse…criminal behavior…incarceration…repeated infidelity…patterns of intimate violence…drug dealing…” (81).

“Young mothers reject drug dealing for both symbolic and practical reasons. On a symbolic level, residents of even the poorest communities believe that a good father must earn his living by respectable means. While drug money may substitute for legitimate pay at times, mothers agree that it ought to be a stop-gap measure during financial crises, not a long-term career. Practically speaking, dealing drugs is simply not a family-friendly activity. For starters, most mothers believe that life in the trade will land their baby’s father in a cell or a casket–not the ideal scenario for the man they are relying on the ‘be there for them and the child” (82-3).

“Though middle-class mothers are only rarely investigated for child abuse or neglect, the poor are much more likely to be under the scrutiny of Child Protective Services, whose workers are sometimes derisively called ‘baby snatchers’ by mothers in the communities we studied. Second, mothers also know that dealers often become ‘their own best customer,’ and ‘druggies’ make poor parents as well as poor partners. Mickey told us, ‘The drugs he was selling he started doing, which was cocaine.’ Finally, even those raising children in the worst of urban neighborhoods want desperately to teach the right values. Thus, the only thing worse than a baby’s father who is trying to make a living on the corner is a son or daughter who ends up doing the same” (84).

“…a prison record is an ongoing handicap for a man struggling to be a responsible father and support his children” (86). [Do we need to build in support for the formerly incarcerated through job partners that accept and know how to work with these men?]

“…heavy drinking and an addiction to drugs…It is impossible to overemphasize the devastating impact of drugs and alcohol on the lives of the men in the eight communities we studied. Outside observers often find it impossible to ignore the public displays of these addictions, the men with bloodshot eyes drinking ‘forties’ on the stoops, the strung-out addicts huddled in doorways or weaving down the sidewalks. But the destruction these toxins wreak inside of the family is equally profound. Drugs and alcohol can quickly transform men who are valued partners and fathers into villains who threaten the well-being of the family” (87).

“The first evidence of an addiction to alcohol or drugs is often a startling change of personality, a dramatic reshuffling of priorities that results in draining precious economic and emotional resources from the family as the addiction ‘takes him over’” (88).

“Physical abuse can be just as corrosive of trust as repeated infidelity, and though it occurs across class lines, it occurs more often among the poor” (94).

“Domestic violence, the chief culprit in most stories of relational ruin, is more common among our Puerto Ricans and whites than among the African Americans. Part of the reason may be that African American mothers are less likely to cohabit with a male partner, and the lack of common residence could serve as a protective factor. Infidelity was an equal opportunity relationship wrecker. The third most common problem, criminal behavior, was a more prominent feature in the breakup stories of our African American mothers. Given the restricted legal labor market for unskilled black men, this is not surprising. Similarly, incarceration figured in the accounts of more African American mothers. …drugs are more likely to bring trouble with the law” (98).

“Women seem to welcome the social closure that a birth brings… Very often, though, the father seems to catch cabin fever.

“Fathers also get fewer rewards from their peers in their new status as a parent than mothers do.”

“The transition to parenthood means that the demands on young men dramatically increase just as the rewards of the relationship are radically reduced” (100).

“Many men respond to these pressures by returning to their street-corner associations in a relatively short period of time” (101).

Four: What Marriage Means

“Unlike women of earlier generations, poor women today almost universally reject the idea that marriage means financial reliance on a male breadwinner.” Maybe why more women are in college? “…they believe their own earnings and assets are what buys them power” (112).

“These women believe that getting married to a man and living off of his earnings practically ensures an imbalance of power they’ll find intolerable” (113).

“Poor young women who put motherhood before marriage do not generally do so because they reject the institution of marriage itself, but because good, decent, trustworthy men are in short supply. Though they hope for marriage and often hold it as a central goal, most are at least somewhat skeptical that it can be achieved” (130).

“They hold marriage to a high economic standard, one requiring as much from themselves as from the men they hope to marry. Even more important are the relationship standards they hold for marriage. Though many do find men who are seemingly decent, the mistrust generated by painful past experiences means that even the most hopeful mothers approach marriage with extreme caution. Marriage, which should be for life, requires all the thought and care in the world. In the meantime, they get on with the business of creating a family” (131). 

“Some have argued that the decline of marriage, which is most pronounced among the poor, can be traced to declining male wages. Indeed, men with a high school education or less have seen large losses in hourly wages over the last thirty years, and far fewer are able to find full-time, year-round employment. But it is clear from these stories that even if the employment and wage rates in these neighborhoods returned to their 1950s levels, in the heyday of Philadelphia’s economy, the marriage rate probably wouldn’t increase much. Though male wages for unskilled workers were higher in those days and jobs more plentiful, unskilled male laborers were not paid that well, and the nature of Philadelphia’s system of small craft production meant that even jobholders in the 1950s still faced a highly unstable job market.

“Most studies suggest that at best, declining male employment and earnings can only account for about 20 percent of the sharp downturn in marriage. Our stories suggest that many of the men who would have been considered marriageable in the 1950s would not be so today, for few 1950s marriages waited on the acquisition of a home mortgage, a car, some furniture, and two solid jobs. Even fewer 1950s brides insisted on monitoring their mates’ behavior over four, five, or six years’ time before they believed they could trust them enough to wed” (135).

“This does not mean that marriage has lost its significance, either for the culture as a whole or for the poor. The most fundamental truth these stories reveal is that the meaning of marriage has changed. It is no longer primarily about childbearing and childrearing. Now, marriage is primarily about adult fulfillment, it is something poor women do for themselves, and their dreams about marriage are a guilty pleasure compared to the hard tasks of raising a family. Though women living in disadvantaged social contexts often wish they could indulge in a marriage at the same time that they’re raising their children, it is simply not practical for most. If a marriage is to be lasting, it must have a strong economic foundation that both partners help to build, in which the woman maintains some level of economic independence. The couple relationship must also be strong enough to overcome the problems that so frequently lead to divorce, because marriage, which most still say is sacred, involves making promises–promises to be faithful and stay together for a lifetime. And as Deena Vallas puts it, most are not willing to make promises they are not sure they can keep.”

“…unless poor women can improve their own positions through education and work, they have no choice but to abandon the dream of marriage altogether or attempt to change the available men” (136).

Five: Labor of Love

“Spending time with their children is one of the most powerful tools women like Dominique feel they can use to shield their children from the dangers of their neighborhood’s streets.”  [Bring older kids to class?]

“Modeling a commitment to education…” (139).

“…The neighborhood is often the greatest impediment to their aspirations for their children” (149). [Providing on or near-campus housing for families during the length of their education. Home placement after graduation.]

[Both learning in the same classroom?] “These mothers often admit that their own difficult experiences with school make them tentative and anxious when dealing with teachers about their child’s academic progress. For a mother who still struggles with reading, her seventh-grader’s language arts homework may contain vocabulary words she has never heard. Likewise, a fifth-grade math curriculum may be beyond the capacity of a parent who struggled in school herself, leaving her ill-equipped to help with homework. Even many middle-class parents we know complain that they barely understand some aspects of their fifth or sixth grader’s math homework. Jasmine, thirty-eight, a Puerto Rican mother of two adult children and a four-year-old, who dropped out of school in the eleventh grade, worries in particular about math. ‘I’m lousy with math, and that’s the one thing I’m afraid of. I’m thinking, Am I going to be able to help him out with math?’ She says that when she was in school, ‘I didn’t have no one to [help me]. That’s why I struggled…I would just sit there [in math class] terrified.’”

“A central problem among the mothers we spoke with was how to reinforce the value of school to their children when they themselves had often not listened to their own parents in this regard. Mothers with histories of academic failure often find themselves in the awkward position of preaching the message ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ while they threaten, bribe, and cajole their children not to ‘mess up,’ urging them to ‘do better than Mommy.’ Paula, a Puerto Rican forty-year-old who did not manage to realize her dream of completing college, tries to encourage her fifteen-year-old to take a different path by pointing to the consequences of her own missteps and failures. ‘I want her to be more educated…I used to go to school [and] clown around a lot…check out the boys. And I never really paid attention to reading and all the spelling.’ At the same time that she tells these cautionary tales, she attempts to instill the high aspirations that she believes will motivate her child to do well. ‘You want a real good job making $40,000 to $50,000 per year. You want to be a doctor? You have to know how to read real good, spell real good and know your math real good.’ ‘Nowadays,’ she reasons, ‘if you want a job [even]…flipping burgers, you need a high school diploma” (153)! 

“A woman’s boy is meant to have children! Your breasts, your ovaries were given to you by God to bear children, not just to give a man sexual pleasure. It is selfish and wrong to be childless” (165)!

Six: How Motherhood Changed My Life

“…many unmarried teens bear children that are conceived only after they’ve already experienced academic difficulties or dropped out of school.”

“Poor youth are driven by a logic that is profoundly counterintuitive to their middle-class critics, who sometimes assume that poor women have children in a twisted competition with their peers to gain status, because they have an insufficient knowledge of–or access to–birth control, or so they can ‘milk’ the welfare system. Yet our mothers almost never refer to these motivations. Rather, it is the perceived low costs of early childbearing and the high value that poor women place on children–and motherhood–that motivate their seemingly inexplicable inability to avoid pregnancy.

“These poor young women are not unusually altruistic, though parenthood certainly requires self-sacrifice. What outsiders do not understand is that early childbearing does not actually have much effect on a low-skilled young woman’s future prospects in the labor market. In fact, her life chances are so limited already that a child or two makes little difference, as we document in the next chapter. What is even less understood, though, are the rewards that poor women garner from becoming mothers. These women rely on their children to bring validation, purpose, companionship, and order to their often chaotic lives–things they find hard to come by in other ways. The absolute centrality of children in the lives of low-income mothers is the reason that so many poor women place motherhood before marriage, even in the face of harsh economic and personal circumstances. For women like Millie, marriage is a longed-for luxury; children are a necessity” (172).

“…many mothers tell us they cannot name one person they would consider a friend, and the turmoil of adolescence often breeds a sense of alienation from daily as well.” [The need for peers and friends.] 174

Conclusion

Making Sense of Single Motherhood

“Providing more access to stable, living-wage employment for both men and women should therefore be a key policy objective” (219).