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January 14, 2000

The opening of Santa Rosa's first art house energized me so much that I wanted to be there on the first night, whatever films were playing. I decided to see Princess Mononoke, but when I got to the theater I nearly gave up before getting in the line which doubled back on itself. I didn't mind standing in line for twenty-five minutes, but I thought I might have to choose another film by the time I got to the ticket counter. But the new owners took charge and had people advance to the front of the line according to the starting time of the movie they wanted to see, promising that no film would start before everyone who wanted a ticket was seated.

And I was glad that I waited out the crowd. The theater in which Princess Mononoke was playing was only about a third full when it started. A few children were in attendance, but the audience was made up mostly of adults. Apparently there were more people there, especially the younger crowd, to see the three more conventional films playing on opening night, American Beauty, Being John Malkovich, and Girl Interrupted. Two classic movies, North by Northwest and Some Like It Hot, were also on the opening bill in limited run, so it was quite an eclectic mix.

I was mesmerized by Princess Mononoke. The animation is as rich and beautiful as anything I've seen, and the adventure story is more profound and complex than any animated film I remember. It presents a richly imagined world of gods, demons, beasts and peasants, set in feudal Japan and acted by a brilliant English-speaking cast. Most of the actors are spot-on perfect, particularly Billy Crudup in the lead role of Prince Ashitaka, Claire Danes in the title role, and Jada Pinkett Smith as the iron worker Toki. Minnie Driver is wonderful as always, and the only false note is the casting of Billy Bob Thornton as the monk Jigo. Technically, the dubbing was so seamless as to be unnoticeable.

A time comes to every new civilization when the balance between the natural world and society shifts. The movie portrays the uneasy way that humans and nature live together, and the difficult task of finding a harmony between the two. The gods and demons represent nature itself as a living, breathing entity, but there is no ecological preaching. Learning to overcome hatred, by both humans and animals, is an uplifting theme that holds the intricate texture of the plot together.

There are no true villains, only misguided, sometimes difficult, often bad tempered individuals from all sides of the spectrum. I was drawn in by the characterizations and fascinated from beginning to end of this story of how the world can continue only if we find a way to live together.

This is exactly the kind of experience I was hoping for from the Rialto Cinemas Lakeside, and I'm anxious to see this enterprise become successful. I know I'll do whatever I can to support it, and from tonight's turnout, the chances appear bright.

And another thing. . .

While I'm no fan of the lightweight collection of major (or at least well-known) presidential candidates, I don't think that whether or not they managed to "avoid" service in Vietnam should be an issue in the election. First of all, the draft was not universal and there were many reasons a young man might not have served. (Personal disclaimer: I was a high school, then college student at the time, and after the draft lottery was installed I was fortunate enough to have a high number. This kept me from having to make a decision about what I might do if the call came. I could live with that then, and I can now.)

Also, many (tempted to say most, or even all) persons of conscience became opposed to the war at some time during the period. Few of us had strong opinions from the beginning, because so little was known about what was going on. This was another factor that led to our mistrust of the government, a fairly new concept at the time which is more like the common consensus now.

So I'm finding Al Gore's voluntary service as an Army journalist immaterial, whether or not it was done for political reasons, and whether or not he was afforded special treatment because of his political connections. (By the way, I'm not at all convinced that he was.) I would commend him for doing what he saw as his duty, whatever the circumstances. But it wouldn't make me vote for him over Bill Bradley or George W. Bush, neither of whom enlisted and both of whom survived the period without being drafted.

John McCain is another story. He's a heroic figure because of how he handled the circumstances he found himself in, and also because of his forthrightness in claiming responsibility for the compromises he had to make under impossible conditions. It's a shame he's become a pandering politician as he sucks up to the KKK in South Carolina, but that doesn't make him any less laudable for what he's done in his life.

With the California primary looming, I'm having a hard time deciding whether to waste my vote on someone I don't respect, but who has a chance to win, or to waste it on someone who has no chance but high ideals and strong morals. In the absence of a perfect candidate, I have to remind myself that there is no such thing, any more than there is perfection in any of us. But I should be able to cast my vote without holding my nose. I don't think that's too much to ask.

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