Another three minutes with the CAMFT board

 

These CAMFT board meetings: they happen three or four times a year, in hotel conference rooms up and down the state, always on a Saturday. The board of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists consists of a dozen members, men and women who don’t talk like therapists, but rather business people or lawyers. They don’t even seem to think like therapists, but for three minutes at a time at the outset of these all day gatherings, they promise to listen to therapists.

Being listened to is not something I expect, necessarily. Recently, it’s been hard going, getting others to take things in. There are clients as well as certain others who don’t return calls. Publishers and agents who won’t respond to e-mails. Even Pete Townshend, who asked to meet me after my Tommy paper got published, didn’t have much to say and walked off before I could start a conversation. Why? I wonder. Why am I so drawn to unavailable men? Anyway, at eight-thirty on a Saturday morning, my friend Ben and I showed up at a San Francisco hotel ready to be listened to, about AB1775, that stupid child porn law I’ve been blogging about, and—from Ben, mostly—the problem of insurance companies not paying claims. That’s actually far more serious, I later thought after hearing him speak.

At eight thirty we were ready to take part in one of these ‘members forum’ segments of a board meeting. They are supposed to last thirty minutes and proceed on a first come first serve basis. Wading through a vestibule, entering the room allocated for the proceeding, Ben and I found ourselves alone, gazing at an array of chairs circling a large table. Moments later, board members sauntered in, chatting, carrying cups of coffee, schmoozing. They looked at us and acted surprised, as they’d not been told there would be ‘observers’ this time around. A woman I recognized named Cathy Atkins, who also recognized me, took a quick look my way but then glanced off, choosing to admonish Ben: “in future, perhaps you could write us an e-mail, let us know you’re coming.” Weird, I thought. Last time I came to this thing there were about a dozen ‘observers’, all ready to speak—no RSVP seemed necessary. I once saw a video of one of these meetings in which the room was filled with over fifty members, also lining up to speak. And by speak I really mean protest. Something’s changed, I realized. The spirit of dissent in this organization has, shall we say, diminished?

After a call-to-order and reading of agendas, a woman in charge announced it was time for our members’ forum to begin. Slightly disorganized, she asked who had the timer for the three minute segments. Then, looking down at the forum sign-in sheet, which contained only two names (Ben and I), she looked over and beckoned me to speak, pronouncing my name correctly, which rarely happens on a first reading. I’d have been impressed but for the sight of the woman next to her, whispering her knowledge of who I was, which was both gratifying and not. The three women at the head of the table were the new president of the board, plus two lawyers. The femicratic air was balanced by four or five men, most of whom sat at the other end of the table, looking detached, if thinly adversarial.

I began speaking through the anticipated personal blocks: the dry parch in my throat, which can drain the life from my hard syllables; the halting pass at stretched vowel sounds—a more common nemesis of mine. Then there were the externals to contend with: the expressions of a dozen people, most of whom gave effortful looks of interest; some bothered to twist their necks around to face me. There were one or two earnest faces, and even a faint nod from a former president—warmly supportive, if relieved to no longer be in charge. So, here’s what I said.

CAMFT MTG. ON 9/24

1.)      A year ago I was at this meeting in Santa Clara protesting 3 things: the passage of bill AB1775, which now mandates therapists to report ‘downloading’, ‘streaming’, or ‘viewing’ material depicting sexual conduct of minors;

2nd: CAMFT or CAMFT attorneys’ role in not only endorsing the bill, but writing it.

3rd: CAMFT’s misrepresentation of several aspects of AB1775 to the CAMFT membership

2.)      Yet it was clear to me after listening to a later ¾ hour discussion by this board that several members were like many therapists I’ve spoken to: they had not fully understood the implications of this bill at the time of its writing. They regretted their support.

3.)      Others appeared to support the bill, but with dubious arguments: that offenders should be reported to authorities, and by implication persecuted, not treated because “sex offender treatment is not effective”. This is an unfair and reductionist view. Another member, unwittingly paraphrasing the US attorney general, suggested that viewers of underage porn enable its production and are AWARE of the exploitation entailed in child porn. Interesting–not to mention one of our society’s staggering hypocrisies. So if we were aware of the child poverty, the exploitative labor conditions around the world ‘enabled’ by our innumerable consumer choices, would we be culpable…reportable? This insipid bill was written for facile people who concern themselves with exploitation, but only as it pertains to sex.

4.) But finally, for the future: member Mark Perlmutter argued that CAMFT should take a second look, as in scrutinize AB1775 in 2017, with a task force that CAMFT members might be invited to join. Well, 2017 is three months away. My requests to be a part of a task force have been ignored or deflected. I cannot get straight answers from CFS officials as to whether abuse reports have increased because of the new law. Well, they’ve gotten none from me, I’m proud to say. And the director of the SJPD internet crimes against children task force does not return my calls. Perhaps he doesn’t talk to therapists. Perhaps, like some lawyers and legislators, he’s got better things to do.

 

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Sex addiction stigma debate (part two)

  She spoke haughtily, which has a peculiar effect on me: I start questioning my right to think. “You’re speaking of men who acted out with their sexuality, and society is pushing back against…

Source: Sex addiction stigma debate (part two)

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Sex addiction stigma debate (part two)

 

She spoke haughtily, which has a peculiar effect on me: I start questioning my right to think. “You’re speaking of men who acted out with their sexuality, and society is pushing back against that kind of privilege.”

“Acting out? Wait, are we now talking about something different than when you spoke of female sex addiction?”

“The men you indicated are compulsive philanderers, porn addicts, acting upon an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Women are no longer willing to tolerate that.”

“Whereas female sex addiction is…different?”

“Women are stigmatized for simply having sex before marriage. Men aren’t!”

“Okay, but women are not being assessed as sex addicts for simply having sex before marriage.”

She waved her hand in an expansive fashion. “No, but that’s part of the context, that generally lesser tolerance for their sexual freedom. It just makes it harder for women who do have problems to come forward and get help.”

I tilted my head, affecting skepticism.

“I can see you’re having a hard time accepting this.”

“You say ‘accepting this’ like you’ve already landed a truism, and I’m like a holocaust denier or something.”

“Seriously, you don’t think society has traditionally been harsher, more devaluing of women’s sexual behavior than men’s.”

“Traditionally is a key word there. Time’s change. Not sure I accept the conclusion based upon your premise.”

She shook her head. “You lost me,” she said.

“So let’s go back to the earlier point. You say that women feel a greater stigma around their sexuality than men, right? And this stigma, which is a societal phenomenon, is internalized by women, causing extra layers of shame?”

“Correct,” my colleague said cautiously.

“Well, consciousness leads to change. That’s the basic promise of our profession, after all. Now again, we’ve had at least two generations since the so-called sexual revolution, which sought to liberate men and women from sexually repressive values. I think many women now externalize the problem of that stigma you reference. They resent society’s traditionalist constraint of their sexuality, and therefore push back against institutions, including schools of thought like sex addiction treatment models, that would pathologize that newfound sexual freedom. It’s like when political outcasts used to get diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illness labels: I think some people think the term sex addiction is a sex police invention, and I think it at least one alternative reason why women especially, as well as the gay community, might reject sex addiction treatment.”

My colleague offered a soft utterance, one aimed at neither agreement nor concession, but merely diffused conflict. I think she wasn’t sure if we were saying different things.

“Interesting,” she said neutrally. “Still, I think the women that I see and talk to retain that traditional internalization, and they hold other women to the standard they believe in.”

“With respect, most of the women you speak to are over fifty, and their husbands are John Wayne-types.”

“Maybe. But I just don’t think men judge each other about sexual misbehavior as women judge other women who act out.”

I sort of rolled my neck, like I was straining to take this in.

“You don’t agree? You don’t think men encourage other men, even boys, implicitly or not, to be sexually active, to have as many partners as possible?”

“I’m not sure that matters with respect to the issue at hand. If women, traditionally or presently, stigmatize men for their sexual misbehavior, and you aren’t disputing that—merely justifying it, sort of—then men will have problems in relationships. Period. It doesn’t matter what the ‘patriarchy’ thinks today. If I cheat on my wife, for example, it’s not like I can say, ‘but my buddy Jay says it’s cool’ and expect everything to be all good with her. And that’s what matters to the men who seek treatment, who are mandated into treatment: they want to fix things with their partners.”

She shrugged coolly, apparently more at home debating this issue amid tangents.

“Seems to me it’s the same for women, only I think history and tradition lingers more than you believe it does. But if, as you suggest, it doesn’t matter so much—this matter of stigma, whether it’s directed by the same sex or not—then what’s this discussion about?” She shrugged again, this time presaging finality. Suddenly, she sounded weary, not so much curious, only I wasn’t done.

“Because it seems important, this question of why people go into treatment and why they don’t—why women don’t seek treatment, which is what you said today, only your bias suggests that women are being under-served, which implies women would choose sex addiction treatment if they were offered it. Like I said, it’s 2016. I think many, perhaps most women are shedding terms like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’, or trying to, anyway—and that places the problem in society, not in individuals. Meanwhile, I think men are internalizing what’s happening to some of their fellow alpha males. That lesser judgement, or entitlement, that you perceive? It has a flip side, one that’s center-stage now. Justly or not, the men I talk to take on board labels like ‘horndog’, accepting their comparison to animals, their compliant exile to the ‘doghouses’ when they’ve ‘strayed’. Then they sit with me, feeling incompetent and saying, ‘I was never raised to share my feelings’, having internalized that feminine critique also.

Joanne averted her eyes, like she wanted out of this conversation; it’s ambiguous agenda and questioning of trends. What would she do with this, I could hear her thinking. She finished her coffee, asked a passing waitress where the bathroom was. The epicene worker whom she stopped had an untroubled, these-matters-are-not-on-my-radar look about her. She (I think) wordlessly pointed to a door just beyond our table, concealed by a disorganized gathering. It was a tiny room, this bathroom—not big enough for the café’s throngs, and amongst customers, unbeknownst to café owners, it was controversially unisex.

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Sex addiction stigma debate (part one)

 

During a local talk on sex addiction to an earnest group of Saturday morning listeners, my two female colleagues, Joanne and Gina, and I gave a modest introduction to the demographics of our business. As we sat listening to one another, we gave supportive nods, affirming all of our thoughts, though in truth, a couple of my one colleague’s ideas had me bristling. One of her chestnuts concerns the under-researched area of female sex addiction: “as shameful as this condition is for the men, it is especially stigmatizing for the women.” She also said something about men being raised with a ‘John Wayne’ model of emotional expression, and were thus constricted, suffering from intimacy disorders, which in turn impacts their partners. Everyone nodded, including me, only more faintly. I didn’t say anything contrary, partly because of time constraints, partly because of the agreeable ambience in the room, and also, frankly…I’m not sure how important this issue is.

It seems worth writing about, anyway. And arguing about, I guess. As Joanne made one or two other similarly-themed remarks, I recalled the comments of her junior colleague, Gina, from a day earlier, during a staff meeting at our shared agency. At that time the context was our much maligned room schedule board, admittedly outdated, but still in use because no one wants to take time to devise a new system, or tear down our old but beloved white board, streaked as it is with cheesy black demarcation strips and years’ worth of dry erase pen smudges. An online calendar would be best, chirped our newest colleague, proclaiming it is 2016, after all, not 1972.

Not 1972. My mind turned back to the present context and Joanne’s assertions. Frozen in time, I think. Afterwards, over coffee, I told her that I thought some of her pronouncements tired and superannuated, though I didn’t quite put it like that. How so? She queried, comfortably unoffended.

“Well, let’s take the one about women and sexual stigma. You say that women feel an extra layer of stigma in society about sex addiction, and therefore shy away from treatment or recovery, which is why we have less research about them.”

“That’s right.”

“Okay, but the point seems moot, because men aren’t seeking treatment either.” Her head sort of went crooked at this point, indicating surprise and perhaps something else; a playful rebuke, maybe. I was nit-picking, or something. Anyway, I continued. “You said later in the talk that many if not most of the men in our program are mandated: there because of a court order, or a demand from a disgruntled partner. So in my opinion the more pertinent question is this: if there are scores of untreated female sex addicts out there, why aren’t their disgruntled partners mandating treatment?”

She was unperturbed by this challenge, but still waffled with unconvincing polemics. Husbands and boyfriends are less forgiving, she opined, and also—many of those women’s partners are also sex addicts; that women are more judgmental of each other’s sexuality than men are. She spoke with authority on these points, as if she had volumes of data at her disposal. We don’t know these things, I contested, though I sort of agreed with the middle assertion, while thinking the first and the third contradicted each other. We danced around items of research for a bit, eventually dissolving the ‘evidence-based’ part of the discussion and finally dropping into what’s left: what people actually think, which is what matters. I countered her first idea: “While there may be something to your first point—the humiliated male being an especially unforgiving figure—I’m not sure that history or tradition shows that the cuckolded man is a fiercer image than the ‘hell hath no fury’ woman. But regardless, as Gina would say, this is not 1272, or 1972, and by the way, millennials don’t even know who John Wayne was.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is this: over the last generation, possibly two, most of the scarlet-lettering that happens in society—at least that which gets media attention—has been aimed at men. Or maybe you can tell me: who would be the female equivalents of Tiger Woods, Anthony Wiener, Elliot Spitzer…Bill Clinton?”

“That’s different,” she said, a bit sharply. It was on.

 

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And sharks do not eat gas tanks

 

It’s not as though suspension of disbelief isn’t a thing. In Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden, the reader has to believe that three children, whose parents have both died of separate illnesses in quick succession, can live undetected by neighbors, schools, police or social services, for several weeks, even as corpses rot in their home’s basement. In Jaws, that trauma-inducing film of my youth, the viewer must accept (or not think too much about) if wanting an optimal thrill, that sharks might leap across boat decks or swallow gas tanks.

In my novel, Venus Looks Down On A Praise Vole, there are numerous events, plot points and situations that stagger credulity to one degree or another, though none are fantastical in nature. Somewhat mundanely, the reader is meant to believe that my protagonist, Dr. Daniel Pierce, a psychologist, can pursue a career while regularly drinking in between sessions; that he could spend several hours in the company of a transgendered individual (admittedly in a pre-op stage) and not notice the person’s transformation; that he could forget names and patient details, not maintain adequate records, stop listening to people, actively dislike some of his patients, and still be a practicing clinician.

Well, that’s why he’s taking a break from his practice. Daniel Pierce goes on hiatus. That’s the opening plot point: his recognition of his falling apart, his need to stop working and deal with issues, some bad habits, and some losses: the estrangement of his son, the recent passing of his wife. But before he’s even fashioned a plan of restful inaction, his working life pushes back, or rather pulls him back into a working stance, only it will be a much different day on the job, what happens next. It will suspend his disbelief, make him think before the adventure’s done that he’s being seduced, patronized, rescued, recruited, chased…scapegoated.

Perhaps the most difficult event to accept is Pierce’s meeting of a former client in a sober living home. Kirkus reviews made this complaint, thinking it unrealistic that a psychologist would drop out of society, drop into a rehab-like environment, and meet one of his former patients, and even have the man as a roommate. Even if I hadn’t given cursory hints that this might happen—indicating that my unnamed setting is a small town; a hackneyed statement that the world is small—I’d grumble about this critique. After all, what’s so hard to accept? That a mental health professional would have a drug or drinking problem, need treatment or a retreat? That he wouldn’t take special care to avoid contact with his client base? Perhaps my reviewer isn’t aware that certain professionals—doctors and airline pilots, for example—do require or demand segregated, occupation-specific services, precisely because of this concern. It’s actually quite strange that the accommodations that are afforded these professional groups aren’t made for psychologists and other professional counselors.

But for me, this rather ordinary discussion misses an important point: namely, that a strict adherence to what is orthodox or realistic isn’t the most important aspect of a fiction; hence the term fiction. I had Daniel Pierce leave the structure he was in, or the rut he was in, because in order to regain his vitality and sense of mission, he has to leave not only his comfort zone, but almost his entire frame of reference. That’s an equally important axiom of drama, surely. Therefore, he has to perform an impromptu therapy in the most unlikely of circumstances; he has to not conform, challenge authority in ways he never has before. He has to observe ugliness that he’d previously been sheltered from; rethink gender, justice, his oldest notions of fitting in. In being responsible, being anything close to a heroic figure, he must consider that he may be right or wrong about the judgments he ultimately makes, but make his decision anyway.

 

 

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Flowers Out Of Season

 

Harry and Marvin, two late middle-age guys, sat quietly in the waiting room of the Find Recovery Treatment Center, straining to make conversation ahead of group. Restless, Harry settled for default mode, remarking on the mid-summer weather, cooler than the usual riotous heat by a good ten degrees.

“Glorious,” he intoned. “I was just telling my wife yesterday that we’re so lucky to live where we do. No hurricanes, or tornadoes. Not even humidity. It’s great.”

Marvin shrugged and chuckled, seeming to agree. He noted the wife reference, thinking he’d follow-up later, when it was Harry’s turn to check-in during group. Marvin liked talking about wives, about his wife: about how much he loved her, wanted to take care of her, especially since she’d started having knee and back problems, and more especially in the wake of…well, ever since his behavior had come to light. Marvin always called it the behavior. It was the reason he’d been coming to Find Recovery every Thursday night for a year, not that he talked much about that. He didn’t like to go there. He preferred to talk about his wife instead.

“Too bad violets aren’t in season,” Marvin said.

“Excuse me?” said Harry.

Marvin chuckled again and shuffled, embarrassed. “Sorry, I was just thinking, since you mentioned your wife, about flowers. My wife’s favorite flowers are violets, only I can’t find them currently.” He air-snapped his fingers in mock-disappointment.

Harry mouthed acknowledgement, half-smiling, mildly if inconsequentially confused. Were the more senior members of the group—senior as in seniority—present, they would teasingly school the newcomer on Marvin’s non sequiturs: how to deal with them, indulge them, and if in group, re-direct back to important matters. Just then, Dave, the group leader, breezed in cheerfully and told the guys the group room was ready, as in available. Group always started on time, regardless of who was present. The others would file in tardily, sequentially, making perfunctory comments about traffic, a work meeting running late, childcare needs; the soccer game or swim meet that didn’t finish on time. Dave thinks of his female colleagues, how their women’s group members present the same excuses, only in reverse order of frequency.

Harry struggled through the first half of group. Six weeks in, he was sporadically engaged, speaking when another’s share touched on some aspect of his life; silent and nonplussed if he didn’t relate. At times, Dave would glance over at him and appear to nod, as if this would jolt the new member’s attention. He did this if a member’s eyes appeared ready to drop, a head poised to slump into a chest. Nothing was worse than a group member appearing to fall asleep during another member’s share. Group members could talk about the perils of “judgement” all they liked, but Dave could think of nothing more rejecting, more therapeutically devastating for a client than seeing someone else pass out while they were talking. At the hour mark, Dave called upon Harry as if to rescue either him or the group from this calamity.

Initially, Harry’s share mirrored the norms of group. He said things like “we’re doing fine” to indicate himself plus a non-group member, his wife, like they were a fused unit, inseparable. He declared progress in their communication, a slowly re-building trust previously broken by an ever alluded to but rarely specified betrayal. Dave, the facilitator, dryly noted the irony of all this loving focus on spouses which—while the comment didn’t pass over members’ heads—didn’t exactly re-shape the process, either. Harry pronounced himself patient, prepared to wait for his wife to learn recovery while he did what he could do: avoid temptation, learn about his addiction, stay focused, one day at a time. Focus. Harry had long-known, exploited, abused, the currency of focus.

“What have you learned so far about your addiction?” Dave asked, seizing upon that piece: a generic question, but timely, right on point. Harry stared back levelly, appearing to collect his thoughts, his resilient cool. In the silent interim Dave expanded the preface: “I mean, when you think of those twenty years of visiting prostitutes, spending thousands of dollars and managing somehow to keep that from being noticed, you must have considered what made it all worthwhile. So what was it that justified all those trust-eroding risks? What was it in those women that so turned you on, year after year, one day at a time?”

The sideways glances of the group’s core suggested they’d been waiting for this. Ostensibly, while it was anyone’s prerogative to ask probing questions, invariably it was Dave’s job to go for the jugular, or call out the unsaid. The most senior members smiled ambiguously, half-appreciating a group rite of passage, half finding pleasure in a newbie’s discomfort. Harry admitted he was uncomfortable, but tactfully applauded the process, even before he delved in. Dave was set to protest until Harry—anticipating the critique—suddenly dropped the glibness and dropped instead the following: he liked disinhibition. No, he loved disinhibition; had been craving it throughout his whole marriage, maybe his entire life—he couldn’t tell. And his wife? She just wasn’t into all of the things he wanted; the things prostitutes would not only provide, but also volunteer. And that was the bonus: he wouldn’t even have to ask. Upon Dave’s prompting, Harry named the acts he sought. Spilling it out, he spelled it out.

Nodding heads suggested he was getting somewhere, was being honest in a way he’d never been before, with witnesses. There was a pause in which engaged minds scrolled for the best follow-up questions, the most astute comparisons; the most painful shared experiences. Harry wasn’t done. There was more to share—more tantalizing, ugly detail—but there was a sense in the room that everyone related; that everyone was on board with Harry, ready to support him as he took new risks, was about to join the group, truly, darkly. More deeply. Dave canvased the room, thinking it time to invite response.

“I see a lot of nodding heads. Feedback?”

A hoarse cough heralded a bad turn. Marvin’s once-per-group body shuffle always struck Dave as a strange and disturbing motion. It seemed like the gesticulating action of a suddenly awakened creature. Marvin’s words leapt into the space as he glanced at Dave but then turned, excitably, to face Harry.

“I know this if off topic, but I was just thinking. Have you ever thought of getting her roses? They’re never really out of season, roses. Trust me, you can never go wrong with roses.”

** this entry is a fiction

 

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The Black Stallion

 

If you’ve never seen this film, do so, for it will teach you something plain about the wild or the traumatized, human or not. I saw the film when it first came out, in 1979 when I was a newly emigrated child, feeling like child actor Kelly Reno looked in this film: dumbstruck and wide-eyed, trying to adjust to a new life. It’s not clear in the story where Reno’s character, Alec, and his father are going on their story-opening sea cruise, only that the boy is lonely and quiet, the father garrulous yet preoccupied with gambling on a ship that seems less-than-family friendly. A collector, drifter (possibly a grifter), and storyteller, he gives Alec a tiny model of an exotic black horse, foreshadowing the subsequent attachment, but he is implicitly neglectful. He seems less so when a storm hits and the smallish trawler is threatened with a wreck. By this time, Alec has become enamored of the eponymous wild horse, being kept in storage on a lower deck of the ship, cruelly mistreated by its Arab owners. As the ship capsizes Alec is thrown overboard, though not before freeing the animal from its restraints. Meanwhile, his father is missing, having tried but failed to secure a lifeboat. Treading water, Alec sees the horse flailing through the waves but managing to swim, so he latches on to the severed restraint ropes and is thereafter pulled to safety.

Sometime later Alec wakes up on a deserted island beach, apparently safe but also marooned. He sees the horse at a distance, and in spurts over what may have been days, possibly weeks. The animal appears watchful but wary. If Alec approaches, the horse gallops away with impressive speed, seemingly frightened, and distrustful of humanity, naturally, if not from life experience. However, when Alec is threatened by a snake, the horse appears out of nowhere and stomps upon the serpent, killing it. Alec, determined to make a friend of the horse, persists with his approaches, offering leafy snacks and coaxing the beast towards him. Finally, in an intimate scene, the two make contact on the beach. Alec steps forward and then stops, withdraws, then approaches again. The horse, likewise coy, does the same. After a few minutes of this sequence, remarkably filmed, they inch closer and finally touch. The scene feels like an attachment drama played out. It seems fanciful to compare this dance to that which happens between me and a reluctant client, but what can I say. I am reminded.

Soon the boy is riding bare-back on the horse as it gallops across beach-kissing waves. The cinematography that captures this is iconic. Later, Alec is discovered by fisherman and ostensibly rescued, though the fishermen misunderstand about the horse. The bond between boy and animal is conveyed as the horse wades into the water, following the boat which might have left him behind, despite Alec’s beseeching protests. The scene of the horse chasing the fishing boat, determined to follow Alec, is one of the most beautiful in cinema, climaxing as it does the film’s better first half. Back home Alec is welcomed as a Robinson Crusoe-like hero (we learn his father was killed in the wreck). Black, as Alec nicknames or christens the horse, is temporarily kept near his and his mother’s rural home, but he runs away from this strange western domesticity, wild as ever. Incorrigibly so, says Henry, a retired racehorse jockey played by Mickey Rooney, who has found and caught the horse. With Henry’s help, Alec learns to tame the animal, but recalling Black’s speed on the island beach, he convinces the former jockey to train both he and Black for the racetrack. To do this, Henry and Alec must also persuade Alec’s widowed mother that their plan is worthwhile, and above all, safe. As the mother, Teri Garr plays a similar role to the one she’d played in Close Encounters two years earlier. Irritable yet sympathetic, jaded by masculine risk-taking but ultimately forced to indulge it, she is a bystander witnessing a compulsion. This comparatively predictable second half leads to a climactic match race at a professional event before thousands of spectators.

While the outcome might be foreseeable the execution of this footage is anything but. Without stirring music, and with minimal dialogue, the race finale recalls the earlier scenes on the beach while the soundtrack re-enters the silent bond between rider and horse, adding only the vivid sounds of hooves thundering against a sandy track. Black initially falters, disturbed by the racing protocols—the entrapment of the “gate”—but once in his stride, instinct and power takes over. And this is what sententious art has to say about trauma: our native selves will prevail. Over several laps Black bridges the gap between himself and his rivals. As he passes them and victoriously sprints across the line, the exultation of the crowd is finally heard, returning from a dim background. It is as if the director were finally letting them, and the viewer, share in this moment.

Check out The Black Stallion. Be reminded of something.

 

 

 

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