From The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/09/10/120910fa_fact_hemon?currentPage=all
September 10, 2012
On the monitor screen, Tom Hanks’s eyes, in extreme closeup, flickered through a complicated sequence of emotions: hatred, fear, anger, doubt. “Cut!” Lana Wachowski shouted. The crew on Stage 9 at Babelsberg Studio, near Berlin, erupted in a din of professional efficacy, preparing for the next shot, while Hanks returned to his chair to sip coffee from an NPR cup. Lana and her brother, Andy, who are best known for writing and directing the “Matrix” trilogy, were shooting “Cloud Atlas,” an adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 best-selling novel of the same name.
The novel has six story lines, and the Wachowskis and their close friend the German director Tom Tykwer, with whom they’d written the script, had divided them up. They were shooting at Babelsberg, using the same actors, who shuttled between soundstages, but Tykwer had an unplanned day off. Halle Berry had broken her foot while on location in Mallorca and he needed to wait for her full recovery to shoot a chase scene. And now there was another problem: the actor Ralph Riach, who played a small but crucial role in one of the story lines that Tykwer was working on, had fallen ill and been hospitalized, and his state was progressively worsening. Tykwer had been on the phone with Riach, and the prognosis was, at best, unpredictable. Tykwer, with a bad cold and a large scarf around his neck which resembled a Renaissance millstone collar, had stopped by the Wachowskis’ set to discuss the situation.
The filmmakers huddled near the monitor and in low, concerned voices debated whether to wait for Riach to recover or to hastily find a replacement and reshoot the scenes he’d already appeared in. The decision: they would wait, even if it meant prolonging the shooting schedule. “The rocket ship is falling apart,” Lana said afterward, shaking her head. “We’re sitting in this capsule, can’t get out, only one engine working—and we have to make it to the end.”
In the Wachowskis’ work, the forces of evil are often overwhelmingly powerful, inflicting misery on humans, who maintain their faith until they’re saved by an unexpected miracle. The story of the making of “Cloud Atlas” fits this narrative trajectory pretty well.
There was something surprisingly cruel–and equally cowardly–about the way Republicans glibly touted their exclusionary position on marriage in this week’s Convention. “The man who will accept your nomination,” said VP nominee, Paul Ryan in the obligatory “values” line of his speech praising Mitt Romney, “is prayerful and faithful and honorable. Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best. Not only a fine businessman, he is a fine man, worthy of leading this optimistic and good-hearted country.”
On the surface, it looks like the typical throwaway line to the conservative base that signals a commitment to values of religious belief, banning abortion and denigrating gay people. It was that, but this year it was both more muted and more invidious. Perhaps because the acceptability of anti-gay sentiment in polite company is waning even in some conservative circles, that sentiment was especially truncated this year. The three words, “defender of marriage” were the only ones in Ryan’s speech referencing the same-sex marriage question. Romney’s own speech last night reinforced the message by saying simply that he would “honor the institution of marriage”–a harmless-sounding phrase meant to set him apart from the adulterous Bill Clinton and the gay-marriage-loving Barack Obama.
But the cavalier juxtaposition Ryan drew of Romney’s position on marriage and his experience in marriage–gays must not be allowed to do what Romney does so beautifully–was stinging. It evoked, for me, the stark imagery of anti-black and anti-immigrant exclusion by supremacists and chauvinists who feel entitled to their unearned status.
When I was six, my family joined an all-white country club in a black area of Philadelphia (actually, word was that Bill Cosby was a member, but I never saw him there). As a kid I rarely stopped to consider how the African American residents of the neighborhood might have felt passing by the high brick and iron walls, glimpsing the lush blanket of grass tennis courts peopled by white-skinned players clad in the required white tennis clothes. I’m not sure I even wondered the obvious until years later: why was I allowed in, and they weren’t? (The club’s make-up diversified greatly in subsequent years).