New York City
How can I phrase it without sounding pompous? When very talented people dine together, it sometimes turns into a contest of wills and wits. Polite conversation, a French specialty whereby you say nothing in very many words, takes a back seat. When talent’s around, look for withering responses and brain-jolting verbal virtuosity.
I recently spent such an evening with the actor Harvey Keitel and his wife, Daphna; the director of Bugsy, Barry Levinson; and the birthday boy James Toback and his wife, Stephanie. Daphna Keitel, an outspoken Canadian-born lady, set off the fireworks when she announced that Levinson’s son Sam, who created a television series called Euphoria, was doing for young people’s morality what British Bomber Command and the USAAF did for the architecture of Dresden (not her exact words, but mine). Only worse. One can rebuild a city, but a young mind, once ravaged and corrupted, is a different matter.
Levinson, an intelligent man, defended his son’s abominable creation as best he could, but money talks in Hollywood and the lower the product sinks, the more money there is for its creator. James Toback then changed the subject somewhat dramatically by announcing his long-ago intention to kill Levinson: ‘I can’t believe that he’s attending my 75th birthday, after I swore to myself I’d murder him.’ (Toback had written the screenplay of Bugsy and wanted to direct it.)
After that things quieted down and we had a great evening. I sat next to Harvey and we reminisced. The first time we met, a long time ago, I asked him what a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn was doing in the Marine Corps. ‘Why aren’t you in Wall Street screwing people?’ ‘Who is this guy?’ he asked no one in particular. ‘I like him.’ It was the start of a Casablanca-style beautiful friendship.
The reason Daphna brought up the sore subject was her 15-year-old son. She worries about the influence subversive shows such as Euphoria have on the young. On everyone’s sons and daughters. Barbarism and brutality on screen have now gone mainstream, with militant secularists waging deliberate war on the Judeo-Christian morality that underpins our way of life. There are no restraints on these greedy Hollywood types, and they have managed to replace religion with celebrity worship.
Once upon a time the people were trusted to govern themselves in America. In turn, the people imposed moral restraints on themselves and over their own base instincts. But then came the militant secularists and the anything-goes mentality. As far as they were concerned, their war against religion — and any moral constraint — was the coolest ever. ‘Traditional values’ are now the two dirtiest words in the entertainment industry and in popular culture, the equal to racism and sexism. Oy vey!
After that tumultuous evening, I decided on a quiet one with my friend the British entrepreneur Robin Birley who was in town. He brought a beautiful blonde girl with him, one whose grandfather had fought as a Polish pilot in the Battle of Britain and had been highly decorated. I have always insisted that the Poles are the best people in Europe, along with the Hungarians. Yet Poland and Hungary are consistently picked on by the New York City unelected bureaucrooks of the European Union and called undemocratic. Such is the modern world, alas.
But now for a reality check: my sensei (or martial arts instructor) Richard Amos was going to Japan to visit our sensei Mister Yahara. Richard and I were filmed fighting and I sent my regards to my old sensei. Then I made the biggest mistake of my life. I looked at the film. In it a young man is fighting an old man. The latter is hardly lifting his legs off the ground and his attacks are tentative and stiff. No wonder the thug I grabbed by the throat in Central Park last month hardly reacted.
So I had the tape burned, and took a four-day crash course in looking like a young karateka rather than a stiff old man. The secret is to remain completely loose and attack with your groin. Yes, you read that right. This is how the Japanese hit you before you see them coming: they move belly-first. We westerners are top-heavy and move with our heads and shoulders. For four days straight I did belly-first only and then had the film reshot. A young Taki appeared on screen kicking like a cub.
I only hope my old sensei doesn’t think I’ve superimposed my head on a young man’s body. Remember, groin and belly first.