Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983

Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983
STMcC in downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"THOSE ARE HIPPIES, STEPHEN"

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HAIR
starring Treat Williams
1979
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I still remember the moment clearly: It was one day -- probably in “The Summer Of Love” (1967) -- when I was eight years old and my Mother was behind the wheel as we turned a corner in Garden Grove, California. Referring to a group of colorful, flowing Flower Children standing on the corner and waiting for the red light to change to green (what a buncha fourth-rate rebels!), I asked, “What are those people, Mom?”
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Her reply was the first time I’d ever encountered the term HIPPIE. A couple of years later and I would be dressing just like 'em -– Keith Partridge and Greg Brady had nuttin' on me! (I still have the original patches from my denim jacket back then: the classic Yellow Smiley Face; the star-spangled hand forming the Peace sign; Have A Nice Day; Come Together, etc.)
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The one thing that nearly every big city American who came-of-age in the 1960s and ‘70s has in common is the soundtrack from the Broadway musical HAIR. It seemed like that “Licorice Pizza” (LP) with its green, yellow, and red cover was in everyone’s collection. Mine spent a lot of time on the turntable. (Obviously, my Parents didn't know the lyrics to some of those songs I was listening to!)
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In 1979, Milos Forman, unquestionably one of cinema’s most talented directors -– only four years removed from his monumental, 5 Academy Awards-winning achievement, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest -- decided to put the old 1960s musical icon, HAIR, onto the silver screen. It went mostly unnoticed. The old hippies were now too respectable and forward-thinking in their three-piece suits and plush offices to look back at their past; and the kids had shaved heads and the loud, lean sound of Punk Rock on their minds. Hair? Nobody wore it. Nobody saw it. Too bad.
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In a sense, the entire movie is almost like an LSD hallucination. HAIR opens with peaceful shots of a green, pastoral Oklahoma landscape and a son and his dad attempting, in their painfully rigid way, to express their mutual affection before the young man, Claude Bukowski (John Savage), boards a bus for New York City to answer Uncle Sam’s draft notice for an adventure in Vietnam. The old man says, “Don’t worry too much. It’s just these smart people that’s got to worry. The Lord will take care of the ignorant ones.” Soon the screen explodes into Free Love and Psychedelia. But at the end of the picture, the old man’s joke is revealed to have been weirdly prophetic.
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In New York’s Central Park, Claude meets up with a band of hippies led by George Berger (Treat Williams). There are a couple of nifty performances in HAIR: Savage with his hangdog, fish-out-of-water country reticence; Annie Golden as the screen’s most likeable little airhead since Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday; and Miles Chapin as Steve, the put-upon “proper” product of old school traditionalism. But unarguably, HAIR belongs to Treat Williams.
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ANNIE  GOLDEN  AND  TREAT  WILLIAMS
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Very rarely does an actor just light up the screen with “presence.” James Dean did it in East Of Eden in 1955. Girls in the theatres began screaming the moment he appeared on screen, inexplicably drawn, no doubt, to the brooding intensity of his animal magnetism. In recent times, Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday in Tombstone stole every single scene he appeared in with the power of his charisma. There have been a few others, Treat Williams in HAIR among them.
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When I first saw this movie in the theatre, I labeled Williams a can’t-miss soon-to-be superstar. Although his work in Prince Of The City was highly acclaimed, somehow Williams whiffed. I thought Kenneth Branagh’s performance in Dead Again was going to propel him to megastar status, too. (Remind me of these misjudgments the next time I tell you that I’m never wrong.)
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It’s the ultra-cool confidence and dynamic presence Williams exudes that carries this movie and keeps it moving. He is the follicle of HAIR. (I’m sorry! "The devil made me do it." ...See the patch in 'Patch Photos' #4 of 5 above.) 

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Although Forman ultimately comes down on the side of the Hippie Movement, he takes jabs at, and also embraces, different aspects of the two social armies engaged in a cultural war that took place at home concurrent with an American “police action” on another continent. And Berger, despite his narcissism and hedonism which often antagonizes the “authorities” and widens the Generation Gap, is also the peacemaker who can empathize with others and effect a reconciliation. He’s a complex and fascinating character worthy of deep analysis. 
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There are a few abysmal songs to be found in HAIR, but also some real winners. Most notably, Where Do I Go? (with poor lip-synching from Savage), Good Morning Starshine (for me, Oliver’s #3 hit version from 1969 captures this era like no other song), and especially Easy To Be Hard. This last one anchors a brilliant segment in which Forman’s extraordinary directorial skills are on display. Easy To Be Hard (an outrageously powerful performance by Cheryl Barnes and alone worth the price of the soundtrack) is an exceptional piece in which hippie Lafayette’s cold distance toward his girlfriend is expressed in snowy long shots of him walking away from her and into the city. This is contrasted with close-up shots of her singing, signifying the fullness of the heartrending emotional wound he has inflicted upon her. If this scene doesn’t give you a little chill, you’re a mighty chilly person, friend.
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There are several other memorable scenes in HAIR: Although I don’t approve of nudity in movies (it's never truly necessary) and I hardly needed to see chunky Beverly D’Angelo sans the costumer’s art, if that bit where she hails a taxi in Central Park doesn’t make you laugh-out-loud, check for a pulse!
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And I’m a "confident heterosexual" (any Rustler's Rhapsody fans out there?), but if the Black Boys / White Boys segment with the Army’s Induction Board doesn’t at least elicit a smile from you, you’re definitely wound a little too tight.
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Berger’s brief visit with the folks back home is a gem (with a delightful cameo by Antonia Rey playing his mom). And then there’s that surprise ending with its growing sense of claustrophobia and impending doom swallowing up the helpless leader, which brings us back to the beginning and the old man's prophetic joke. The entire segment is another example of Forman’s artistic vision brilliantly executed.
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No, this is not a movie masterpiece. There is, however, a lot to like about HAIR, and it certainly beats by leaps and bounds the vast majority of what is being produced today. HAIR is a strange “TRIP”, but one that is definitely worth taking.
 
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~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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20 comments:

  1. Stephen,

    I do remember the movie but I don't think I ever saw it. I remember the the smiley face and peace patches not from the 60s, although I lived through that era like you, but the 70s. I think life in rural southern West Virginia was a bit more safeguarded from cultural influences or at least this is the way I see things through my retrospective thinking.

    The "Flower Power" you describe didn't catch up with us until the 70s and even then it didn't the scales like in big cities. Some of the fashion made its way to our rural community but the attitude I don't remember. Maybe I chose to not remember. I don't know. I know little to nothing about the whole drug scene of those times and the closest I ever got to being high was a bit of a buzz from sipping Moonshine. Oh, that's awful tasting stuff and if my mama had washed my mouth out it would be an improvement over drinking that horrible gut wrenching concoction.

    The plot of HAIR probably didn't appeal to me when it came out because of it's serious nature and I had enough sense to know that it wasn't cool to protest the war. Sure, war is an ugly thing. Young men and women die but to stand against it meant, in my young eyes, that you're not a patriot. I hated the act of war and all of it's terror. Three uncles served and saw combat in this war. I remember crying myself to sleep and praying for them often. By God's good grace, He brought them all safely home.

    Your movie review does cause me to want to see this film just to see what it's all about and I'm certain it's better written and portrayed than most flicks are today. Also, it's great fun to visit retro movies because often things that are offensive today are written into these old movies where no one gets offended. :)

    The one thing I love most about the 60s is the mewsic. It's still some of the best sounds! Thanks for sharing your new site and this review. Have a good day, my friend!

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    1. Thanks for the extensive and informative comment, CATHY. It's nice to learn a bit more about you.

      Yeah, the whole war topic is something I could write and write and write about. There was a time (when I was very young) that I would have thought protesting a war was kind of unpatriotic. But like so many, I had been conditioned to believe whatever Uncle Sam told me. Today I call him "UNCLE SCAM" and I don't believe ANYTHING he tells me.

      I am no hippie. In fact, I'm a strict Constitutionalist according to the Founders' vision -- meaning I'm as conservative as "Conservatism" can get.

      I despise both parties, the Repugnantcans and the Marxocrats (both are controlled by International Bankers -- most of whom are luciferians). And if I were 18 today and the Vietnam "police action" was occurring now and I got a draft notice, I'd take it straight to city hall with lighter fluid and a match.

      An anti-War Constitutionalist -- that's me. My political views are hard for most people who have been brainwashed by the media for decades to understand, but they are completely consistent with LIBERTY and the AMERICAN PRINCIPLES our Founding Fathers blessed us with.

      Not sure if you'd like this movie. But I think it's fun, occasionally a bit aggravating, with some great scenes and some great music.

      I own 'HAIR' on DVD, so I guess that says quite a bit.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment!

      ~ D-FensDogG
      'Loyal American Underground'

      POSTSCRIPT: I once drank some very expensive, upscale liquor from China. It was so horrendous that I had to write a blog bit about it on my old 'STUFFS' blog. You know that acid that once in a great while can shoot up into your throat and instantly incapacitate you? That's pretty close to what this legendary Chinese liquor tasted like. I'm pretty sure I'd choose the mountain moonshine over that. Ha!

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    2. Stephen, I certainly understand where you're coming from on your viewpoints regarding the government and the two major parties. I don't believe government anymore than you do. They lie to you, they steal from you, they make you to look like the bad guy, and a whole lot more. Most politicians are corrupt and are in it for what they can get from it which means the contents from your wallet. I guess knowing what I know today if I went back in time then I'd have a different perspective and attitude on dealing with the whole scenario but honestly I was too young to understand much of anything. The only thing I did understand was how our boys were treated after they came home. They did what was asked of them and then their fellow Americans shunned them. Our Vets are treated horrible. I'm eager to see how the Trump administration changes how they are treated and compensated. Like I said, the movie might not be a winner with me but I'm open to watching it if I can find it Netflix or Amazon Prime.

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    3. CATHY ~
      Yep, I agree with all you said. 1994 was the most significant year in my life. In '94 I was simultaneously taught the truth about the U.S. Government and was baptized by Jesus and accepted His sacrifice as my personal Atonement for sins.

      If I had to select just one thing that really set me off (at least prior to 2016 and the revelations of PizzaGate), it would be when I learned that our government knowingly left behind American soldiers in Vietnamese prison camps. Uncle Scam knew they were there but just wanted to get out and end the whole ordeal rather than prolong things through negotiations to get them back.

      Apparently Uncle Scam did the same thing in Korea, too, but on a smaller scale. My real knowledge is focused on the Vietnam disgrace.

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  2. Your title drew me right in, Stephen, being an old hippie in spirit. ☺ I was hooked from the moment Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco" hit the airwaves in 1967. Of course, living first in Europe and then Canada, this tumultuous period in American history was only experienced through the media. Loved the "Hair" soundtrack, but didn't see the play or the movie. This cracked me up because it's so true: "The old hippies were now too respectable and forward-thinking in their three-piece suits and plush offices to look back at their past." (I became a corporate slave.) Thanks for the review. Adding "Hair" to the list for future viewing.

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    1. DEBBIE ~
      Were you wearing flowers in your hair? Ha!

      Thanks for supporting this new blog endeavor! I really appreciate it.

      If you don't like the movie 'Hair', tell me how much it cost you to rent it and I'll send you a check for it. I'm being very serious!! That's how sure I am that you will dig this one.

      ~ D-FensDogG
      'Loyal American Underground'

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    2. I wore more headbands, but yes, there were flowers in my hair when I got married in 1973. ☺ Your posts are always interesting and well-written, so it's my pleasure to support you, Stephen. Rent movies? Nah; I find these for free on the internet. Here it is: (you need an Adblocker, though) HAIR.I'll watch it this weekend and let you know what I think. Cheers!

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    3. DEBBIE'S HUBBY has a bit of the hippie look also. Woot!-Woot!

      Thanks so much.

      All this yakking about HAIR inspired me to watch it again last night. I have the DVD.

      Yeah, please tell me what you think. I'll be shocked to my toes if you dislike it.

      In 1981, Charles Haid told me I looked exactly like a younger version of his very best friend. His best friend? John Savage. (Wish I had his money.)

      ~ D-FensDogG

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    4. And we still have long hair in our 60s. ☺ This movie has everything - humour, music, pathos and a shocker of an ending. I was NOT expecting that at all! Some scenes were downright "Fellini-esque". I did like it and may even watch it again, in future. You think Beverly D'Angelo was chunky?? She looked fine to me, or do you prefer that Hollywood anorexic look? ;) You know Charles Haid? He was great in Hill street Blues, wasn't he? Going by your photo, there's a definite resemblance to John Savage. Do you still look like him now? Thanks again for the movie recommendation. I'll stay tuned for more. Have a good week.

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    5. Yeah, that's some ending, eh? In my review I wrote:

      >>... And then there’s that surprise ending with its growing sense of claustrophobia and impending doom swallowing up the helpless leader, which brings us back to the beginning and the old man's prophetic joke.

      It was a little tricky trying to address the ending, tying it into the movie's opening while not actually spoiling it for anyone in any way.

      Yeah, "Fellini-esque", I get that. I couldn't imagine you disliking this movie, based on things you'd said.

      Well, no, I'm not really into the anorexic look but, yeah, Beverly seemed a shade soft for someone who was going to appear almost entirely nude for the world to see. Curves are good but maybe somewhat smaller curves? Ha!

      I don't know what John Savage looks like today, but at one time I did look just like THIS.

      I used to work on 'Hill Street Blues' once in awhile, as a member of the Irish gang. That's how I met Charles Haid.

      My #1 choice of viewing when it comes to Charles Haid? Not 'Hill Street Blues'. Have you ever seen 'ALTERED STATES'? That movie is a trip and a half and William Hurt and Charles Haid were both great in it!

      I've never written a review of that movie, but I own it on DVD, so that gives you a good idea of my opinion.

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  3. MASH, Hill Street Blues...what else were you in? Can you tell that showbiz fascinates me? I once dreamt of becoming an Oscar-winning screenwriter, but life got in the way. (Not that it was a bad life.) My uncle lived in L.A. He was a camera operator for Desilu and Warner Bros. in the 1950s. We called him "Mr. Hollywood". I don't recall ever seeing "Altered States", but based on your recommendation I will look for it. Thanks!

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    1. Yeah, life's a pain in the butt. It's always been in my way, too!

      'ALTERED STATES' is a kind of SciFi / Horror / Love story. Ha! A little something for everyone. The fact that generally I do not at all care for the SciFi and Horror genres speaks volumes about how well I think this movie was made.

      But it's a really freaky, wild ride. I dig it though, and have seen it maybe 8 times.

      What else was I in? Hmmm... Well, I was doing Background work while trying to build an acting career from 1977-1983, and was working about 3 days a week on different sets. So, that list would be very long (if I were even capable of remembering it).

      But I worked on most TV shows that were filming at that time -- Happy Days, One Day At A Time, CHiPs, etc. -- as well as some TV commercials and movies (like 'The Fury', 'And Justice For All', etc.)

      So, an awful lotta stuffs. But most of all 'MASH', and prior to that, a now-forgotten TV series called 'James At 15' with Lance Kerwin (I was his stand-in).

      The funny thing is that of all the productions I worked on, I think I disliked (or, at best, felt ambivalent about) every one of them. With one exception: the cable series 'Dream On'. I was a real fan of that show back then and I worked on it just one day, but it was the only time I was on a set and felt kind of awed by it. Oddly, that was also the very final day I ever worked in (what they like to call) "The Industry".

      ~ D-FensDogG

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    2. Sounds like you had a steady career going as a background actor. Stephen. That must have been interesting! "And Justice for All" is a favourite movie. Believe it or not, I remember "James at 15", but not "Dream On'. If I'm not being too nosey here (and please tell me if I am), what made you decide to give up showbiz? Anyway, I'm not much of a SciFi or Horror fan either (except for Star Trek), but I did watch "Altered States". Incredibile premise and some great acting, but it lost me after William Hurt starting morphing into an ape. At least he got back together with his wife, in the end.

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    3. Well, I like the idea that love conquers all -- even a self-induced horror brought on by a too-curious scientist. (Hmmm... That's pretty good. I think my next book shall be titled 'CURIOSITY KILLED THE SCIENTIST'.)

      I was working on 'James At 15' once (or maybe it had become 'James At 16' by this point) and we were doing some ice cream shop scene or something. Some teenage hangout scene. And in the ice cream shop (really a set at 20th Century Fox), during the scene, Billy Joel's 'JUST THE WAY YOU ARE' was playing.

      We spent so much time shooting and re-shooting that scene that by the end of that day, I NEVER wanted to EVER hear that song again!!! And prior to filming that day, I actually liked that song.

      Why'd I quit? Well, honestly, I'd begun to find my REAL SELF and kind of lost the desire to be a bunch of fictional characters.

      I have a theory that most actors are not really comfortable in their own skins -- most of them don't even really know who THEY are -- and so it's all about being "other people", and needing the applause of strangers to acquire some sense of self-worth.

      I've known LOTS AND LOTS of actors, performers, and wannabe actors and performers, and most of them are pretty pathetic people.

      As I "found myself", that burning desire to perform for others diminished. I reached a point where I really knew myself, and then I didn't give a hoot how many people approved or disapproved of me.

      I had a friend who was studying film in the L.A. area and she needed to create a 20-minute movie for her final project. She yakked me into writing a screenplay for her. And then one night while I was a bit buzzed and we were cruising the Sunset Strip (with a tapped keg of beer in the backseat of her V.W. BUG - Ha!-Ha!), she yakked me into playing the lead role, too. It was 'A Day In The Life Of Jim Morrison' (years before the movie with Val Kilmer was produced).

      The part of "Jim Morrison" for a student film was the last bit of acting I ever did. After that, I began concentrating more on writing and leaving the "exhibitionism" to other less self-aware and secure folks.

      BTW, that friend of mine, her name was Lin, and she went on to become an editor in Hollywood. One big project she worked on was the movie 'GROUNDHOG DAY'. That must have been a MAJOR editing project when you consider the storyline.

      ~ D-FensDogG

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    4. Your showbiz stories are fascinating, Stephen. Ever thought of writing a memoir? That theory about actors rings true. Some are so insecure, they need constant validation from the public. Is that student film online anywhere? Portraying Jim Morrison must have been challenging. Val Kilmer really nailed it. Depressing film, though, like Morrison's actual life. Congrats to your friend for moving up in the Hollywood hierarchy. "Groundhog Day" has become a cult film.

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    5. Thanks, DEBBIE!
      No, I've never entertained the thought of writing a memoir. Some of it has been an interesting life, I think. But the MOST interesting parts of it really have to do with my Spiritual adventures and experiences, not the Hollywood years.

      That student film was a bit of a sore spot with me for quite awhile. Not only is it not online anywhere, but the fact is that I myself NEVER once got to see the finished product!

      Yeah, I wrote it and I portrayed Jim Morrison in it, but I didn't get to see how it all turned out. It was a 4 or 5-student group final exam project. My friend Lin did the editing. But immediately after graduation (like a week after the film was completed), the student who had financed the project moved away (to Lake Tahoe, if memory serves me) and he took the film with him. I never got to see how it turned out.

      And what I REALLY WANTED TO SEE was NOT my performance, but this: We shot one day in the Hollywood Hills, just below the "Hollywood" sign. And I had come up with the idea of mounting the camera on a car, speeding up the film and shooting the twisting, winding little roads down from the Hills to Hollywood Boulevard, with the song 'PEACE FROG' as the musical soundtrack for that segment.

      I KNEW that was going to look ultra-cool. 'PEACE FROG' had the perfect rhythm and tempo for that. (It also happens to be my favorite Doors song.)

      So, that's what really irked me! I'd have actually been satisfied enough if I could have just seen that one 2-3 minute portion of the film.

      To this day, every time I hear 'PEACE FROG' I mentally see a headlights' POV of hairpin turns on a tiny road in double-time speed.

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  4. Now, you're talking...I loved the musical Hair (as opposed to the singing rabbit of cartoon fame, an alternate singing hare). Awesome and I DID read the other comments and a few unrelated thoughts:

    1) Cathy Kennedy is from WV and now lives a few miles from me? There should be a club for West Virgina-born, living-in-K-ville people. Our name is legion.

    2) Beverly D'Angelo...I just don't see why she is such a big deal. Never did. I'm sorry, Beverly, wherever you are.

    3) I'm glad you didn't tell the ending.

    4) The ending made me adore Treat Williams even more. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it's fiction -- but if I wanted to sit around and tell myself "that's not real," I wouldn't even watch movies. Come to think of it, the feeling of "hey, dat could be real" is one of the ways I assess the quality of a movie.

    Following, in one of my only "following" type activities. Love it!

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    1. Welcome, DOC MacSIS ~
      Interesting. I would not have guessed you as a fan of HAIR. No, not at all.

      Yes, I've never understood how Beverly "made it". I can't think of anything about her that is particularly notable. I went to school with plenty of girls who were better looking, and her acting chops are no more than average (she can memorize her lines and say them).

      Honestly, I always felt that it probably had to do mostly with the Casting Couch and her obvious willingness to disrobe before the cameras. But what do I know?

      Yep, great ending. There were a number of excellent and fun scenes in that movie, all leading up to THAT ending. Hokey-Smoke!

      Thanks for Following, Sis.

      ~ D-FensDogG

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    2. Artsy stuff...music...things that are unique...creative...a good plot line...those things will always pull me in and many times, it matters little (or not at all) how much I relate to the characters on a personal level. I want art to take me somewhere else. I've got plenty of reality.

      My mantra: Moderation in all things, including moderation - 'cause you have to be passionate about something.

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    3. Yeah, and "reality" is way overrated, in my never-humble opinion.
      :o)

      ~ D-FensDogG

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