Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Generation X Actresses I Have Followed on Twitter--The Rundown

It isn't as many as I thought it might be at first, though it is still embarrassing that I ever followed any of them at all. They were the whims of a series of fleeting moments

1. Mira Sorvino (b. 1967)

I had forgotten about her, but then I saw her in a movie from 1999 and was reminded that I had thought she was cute and that she was supposed to be fairly smart too, so I thought why not catch up with what she is doing. She is mostly concerned with matters of great seriousness these days, women's rights, defending immigrants, hating Trump, etc. She's on the self-evidently right side of all of them, of course, and fiercely, as is called for (though her fierceness at least is more in support of the righteousness in her causes than in seeking the personal evisceration of her opponents). Even though their positions on everything and even their way of expressing them are utterly predictable, I have to admit I have always kind of loved girls like this. They are what I know, and they generally really do want to be good people and unlike the relentlessly militant types, they can be pleasant enough if they like you. The fierceness is regarded as a necessary attitude to adorn to demonstrate one's seriousness, but I don't think it is really their nature. My wife, as I have noted before, is more of a throwback to the 1940s, or even the 20s, in her manner of speaking and approach to political questions, and puts a more original spin on why she believes what she does than most people are able to muster, but I have only met a handful of women remotely like that in my life.

2. Meredith Salenger (b. 1970)

Meredith Salenger gave up acting at 18 to go to Harvard, so I guess we can assume she is fairly smart. She certainly regards herself as such. She too takes a fair amount of jabs at Trump, sexists, racists, and the usual objectionable suspects, though with less straining and earnestness, and more of an assured air of repulsed superiority. Otherwise her internet persona is more or less polite, though one suspects that probably gets some good zings in at people, even those who are purportedly her friends, in her private life. I can't say that I am getting a lot either emotionally or intellectually from following her either though she is an attractive enough person.

3. Liane Balaban (b. 1980)

Liane Balaban has appeared mainly in Canadian indie-type movies, so she isn't very well-known (it also makes me wonder why it never occurred to me to follow Parker Posey [b. 1968]). I followed her after finding an attractive picture of her drinking wine on the internet and watching a YouTube clip from her movie The New Waterford Girl. When she does tweet, she is about half a regular person and half a public figure. Needless to say, she loves all of the progressive things that are happening in Canada and the rest of the West, and hates the troglodytes who want them all to go away and for life to be horrible and ugly again.

4. Zooey Deschanel (b. 1979)

Zooey doesn't tweet much anymore now that her TV show is no longer on the air. Being the closest of this group to the height of her career she comes off as having an especially vacuous-seeming Hollywood lifestyle, though she is the only one of these people who has ever writes anything that I found remotely funny or endearing. Other than occasionally showing support for LGBT issues, she never mentions politics, and as her stage persona is rather retro in an implicitly 1960s white-bread manner, some male commentators on the evil fringes of the political right have expressed the hope that in some areas at least she may be sympatico with their views. However I would be surprised if she actually did not support the Democratic party.

5. Christina Applegate (b. 1971)

I not sure what possessed me to follow her. She is pretty sexy in a it's-hard-for-me-to-turn-the-channel-off-of-her kind of way, but she was so disturbingly stupid on Twitter that I just couldn't take it and had to stop following her, which takes a lot for me.

6. Winona Ryder (b. 1971)

In a fashion befitting her status as perhaps the quintessential Generation X person who is indifferent to everyone except selected cool personal friends who are never you, Winona Ryder never sent out a single tweet for years after I started following her, and eventually deleted her account altogether.

Nowhere in Africa (2001)

This is somewhat notable for my imagined readership for having won the Academy Award for best foreign film (it's from Germany). It is also directed by a woman (Caroline Link), which perhaps is worth something as well, since, unlike in literature and other artistic forms, there are still not a great number of really renowned movies that I notice having had female directors (My personal favorites off the top of my head are Lena Wertmuller and Vera Chytilova, if you to get an idea of what I would like). This has a World War II/Nazi theme, though in this case the story is about a Jewish family with a young daughter that left Germany to go live out the war in Kenya. They were cultured people, and the father was a lawyer/intellectual type, but they were not able to get out of Germany with much money, so they have to make a go of it in Africa by farming and living off the land, which did not suit his temperament/skill set, especially at first. The mother's happiness, not helped by her neurotic personality, was tested by this displacement both geographically and culturally and the sharp decline in social status, which she acted out by seeking and in at least one instance having extra-marital relations with European men more acclimated to the new environment. It is based on a memoir written by the daughter, who is from around aged 6 to 14 or so in the course of the movie. I don't usually explain so much of the plot outline, but I'm quite sure what to say about this. It isn't bad, but it is kind of joyless in that stiff Germans-trying-to-interact-with-(well, anybody who isn't them) way, even if the characters in this instance are Jewish. Also, though it is set in wartime (albeit the war itself is remote), and the upheaval of the family because of it is the basis of the family, this circumstance does not create the sense of overwhelming societal drama that is what makes the best civilian-centered war movies so effective. The African natives of course have no real stake in the European war at all, and while the British do, the movie is not especially concerned with them. At the end of the war (and the film and in real life) the family actually returned to Germany and seem to have lived out their lives there--the author of the memoir, Stefanie Zweig (no relation to Stefan or Arnold) died in Frankurt in 2014 at the age of 82--which seems like it could be the subject of an interesting book or movie itself.

Get Shorty (1995)

As I have often stated here, I am not much of a fan of 90s Hollywood. I have a soft spot for early 90s European cinema, and I suppose I like some of the American "indie" stuff from that era (though I haven't seen any of it in a long time), but the work of The Industry through most of this era seems to me regrettable to say the least.

Get Shorty is based on one of the best-known novels by the pretty highly regarded author Elmore Leonard, so I am assuming it is better than this movie (I haven't read it). If I remember correctly this was John Travolta's first big starring role after his comeback in Pulp Fiction (which I actually have never seen). It has a lot of famous Hollywood-insider type people of that era. in it hamming it up for the camera and making annoying name-dropping movie and Industry references--Bette Midler is in this, Danny DeVito, Gene Hackman who was in every other movie in this period, Penny Marshall. Billy Crystal oddly is not in it, though I kept expecting him to turn up. Rene Russo, who probably would have annoyed me at the time, is also in it, but now that I'm nearly 50 her look in this is the kind most men my current age would find attractive in a 40 year-old.

I really did not like this.

Daylight (1996)

This movie concerns a group of people who get trapped in the Holland Tunnel due to an explosion of nitroglycerine or something like that and have to be rescued by Sylvester Stallone. I adopted a new system a few years back that was supposed to generate different kinds of movies which are sometimes of interest because they are better than their reputations, or they provide an interesting window into a time that is now past. This one, alas, was not any of those things.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Idle Movie Post

De-Lovely (2004)

I had seen this before, back when I was going through a phase where I was especially into Cole Porter songs. It hadn't come up on the "official" record yet so when it did I felt obligated to see it again. If you like the music and the time period it is fun enough to see once--at least I found it to be so when I was ten years or so younger than I am now. I didn't find this second viewing of it to add anything to the initial experience. This modern movie naturally puts a lot of emphasis on Porter's luxurious lifestyle as well as his homosexual inclinations and the strain it put on his marriage, which don't hold much interest for me. In the absence of genius filmmaking, I honestly would have preferred to have seen scenes set at Yale, his more youthful years in Paris, his musical upbringing. While I didn't pay much attention to it the first time, I wasn't enthralled by the modern pop stars performing their versions of the famous songs. Elvis Costello was all right, I like him as an act himself, besides that I think he has a more visceral feeling for the traditions in which those songs were composed and are meant to be presented. The other singers seemed to be doing the songs in their own styles, which is what they naturally would do--I just don't happen to be a fan of these particular artists, as they are called.

Will Penny (1968)

Late stage classic period western starring Charlton Heston as an illiterate cowhand approaching middle age who can see his life options beginning to narrow. Perhaps it is a metaphor for the genre as a whole. It is pretty well-regarded, especially the script, though I found it to be kind of strange in many ways--the antagonists are a sadistic, almost proto-Manson family (without the orgies) led by a father who speaks in the language of a 17th century religious fanatic. I was hoping it would grab me, but it never did, really. The female lead was played by Joan Hackett, a woman of the type I am often interested in without any noteworthy reciprocation, whom I had never seen before. She reminded me of someone I knew who died of cancer when she was 41. Joan Hackett herself died of cancer when she was 49, which I found out in looking her up for this article, which is kind of a downer.

This is notable in my personal history as the first time I've had to turn on the subtitles in a movie made in English because I couldn't make out the spoken dialogue. This was in part because I watched this on a very hot night during the summer when I had on a window air conditioner that was difficult to hear over. But still.

I guess the most interesting aspect of this was the consideration of its aforementioned place in the timeline of the old style Western in film history, as well as that of Charlton Heston's run as a star leading man, which was also kind of at the end of the line here. It has a subdued, pensive atmosphere about it, not emitting a great amount of energy.

I'm clearly in a part of my life where movies are not speaking to me very much, at least not the ones I am seeing. I'm not putting in a lot of time on them, being down to about one or two a month now, but as I formerly got some enjoyment from the habit and there are still a lot of the types of classics that I like that I have never seen, I don't want to give it up entirely. I might be looking into re-tweaking my method of choosing films to get the kind of stuff I like to pop up more frequently however.

Edge of the City (1957)

Another one that I saw a few years back which finally became available via the Netflix CD service. Here's what I wrote about it 3 years ago. It's a stripped down, basic movie, but poignant, saturated with that quality of yearning that was peculiar to the 1950s and comes across today, to me at least, as appealing. I know there is some ambivalence, especially from more fiery or progressive observers, with regard to the career and film persona of Sidney Poitier, but it seems to me he is pretty dynamic in this, and is in general one of the major presences of the 50s and 60s. The objections to him, I gather, are that he is too watered down and therefore acceptable to white people, such as me, such that even when he is angry or decrying some injustice he is not threatening or existentially terrifying to the mainstream Caucasian ego in the manner that one might wish it to be. His character in this, as well as in numerous of his other movies, is something of a mensch, the only man to consistently display much in the way of what are thought of as admirable qualities (the John Cassavetes character is sympathetic, but is a weak and confused young man), so it is hard to dislike him.

I have a few more but I will put those in a second post.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The Vermont Country Store

The Vermont Country Store is, somewhat like L.L. Bean, an iconic, or at least near-iconic, New England business that has used heavy trading in particular aspects of the mythology of the region to acquire a cult-like following that, via its mail-order catalogue, stretches far beyond the borders of the Green Mountain State. While I have been to the flagship store in Weston as well, there is a satellite location near the Connecticut River about 30 miles from our camp, to which I have made many visits, especially in recent years when I often have too many children with me of too many disparate ages to attempt a more ambitious or challenging activity . Also like L.L. Bean, and unlike most other attractions in these parts, it stays open year-round, so most of the times that we have gone have been on dark and dreary afternoons during the long off season, on which it seems perhaps especially cheery. The experience is that of wandering through a large barn stuffed with antique-looking products that are actually brand new, and in many cases seem like they could actually be useful. I have myself at various times bought there aprons, tablecloths, lamps, and Christmas stockings among other goodies which I cannot recall at the moment. There are areas given over to candy in glass jars, various jams and butters and other spreadable delicacies as well as maple syrup, many of which latter are sample-able, and a children's area stocked primarily with brand new editions of classic, or at least instantly recognizable, children's toys, books and games of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (I don't think they have gotten to the 80s yet). You are allowed, in fact encouraged, to bring your dog into the store. In the summer they have a dairy bar selling maple syrup flavored ice creams and classic lunch staples such as hot dogs, grilled cheese, and various sandwiches featuring bacon, though this is shut down from November to May. On the front lawn of the Rockingham store in the warm months there are rocking chairs and shady trees, and lawn games and swings for children. Given that the whole complex is surrounded by empty fields giving way to woods as far as the horizon in every direction I suspect they have trails for cross country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter, and I would not be shocked to discover that they had an ice-skating pond somewhere, but I have not looked into this.

By now the (hypothetical) reader might be wondering, is there a point to this? or maybe Whatever happened to your series on literary studs? (answer to the second question--I never seem to randomly come across anything of that nature that wows me enough to make a post for it). But to the first, yes, there is kind of a point. Some older relatives happened to be visiting us from out of state a couple of weeks ago, and we were over at the Vermont house as these guests are not able to undertake anything too strenuous anymore, we thought we would take them to visit the Store. Since, as I noted before, we usually go there in the winter, I don't think I had ever seen more than 5-10 cars at a time in the parking lot. On a Sunday in August however it was quite crowded, the cars had overflowed the regular lot and were lined up along the side of the highway, which is not however a busy one. In spite of this the inside of the store was not overly crowded, as many people were out on the lawn, and I got the sense that for the most part everyone was enjoying themselves. It also occurred to me in these confounded race and sociologically-conscious times that as well as I could tell, every single person there, including the children, including the employees even, would be considered as not visibly contributing to diversity, which even around here is fairly unusual these days. It was as if the Vermont Country Store were either some kind of a trap unconsciously luring this particular kind of person to a place that maybe they would have been better off avoiding, or, even more sinisterly, emitting some kind of exclusionary vibe to other kinds of people, or at least sending out a signal that was completely undetectable to them, which is exclusionary in its own way. But the people who were there did not look like obvious deplorable types, many of them looked in fact like the kind of people whom I have always found attractive and wished I could socially interact with; judging by the way they presented themselves I would guess that many of them would not merely be politically opposed to Trump, but would fall into the camp that is vociferously so, and adamant that others begin demonstrating equally with themselves intentions to do something about the various atrocities being committed on a daily basis under the president's leadership. The insane lack of diversity would not have been something they would have consciously sought or approved of--it was not even something I sought or approved of, or would have expected to encounter--but the effect is, as it is said, what it is.

What might this be supposed to mean? Well, much of what this store is selling is what I think of as quintessential New England stuff, or ingenious and more convenient variations of this, that I would have thought of as holding a certain amount of general appeal, but the appeal is apparently much more specific. Not wholly unlike what we have learned in recent decades about the universal appeal of the saga and traditions and even the exalted achievements of Western Civilization, or, as many now modify it, so-called Western Civilization. And while it is possible that fireplace implements or wool dryer balls or ice saws or 1946-inspired Christmas wrapping paper will someday find a vogue among the newer populations of the region, or perhaps among their descendants, it is another reminder that the character of the region is not only destined to change, but has already largely long moved on from that of the era recalled by the store, and even from that which I knew when I lived here 20 and 30 years ago. I went to the barber shop about a week after this outing and, as I had to wait for a few minutes, I read a copy of the local newspaper that was lying around and realized how much I myself had lost contact over the years with the local community, or what remained of it, despite having lived here now for over 20 years and having no doubt one of the larger families in town. I stopped subscribing to this newspaper shortly after my older children were born, not so much on account of the internet as because I didn't have enough time to read it, and it was an easy expense to cut out. But it also was another means of cutting me off from my immediate surroundings. While I have worked at the same place for a very long time, technological advancement and the hyper-professionalization of ever more functions and positions have over time created a much more corporate character that it used to have, though perhaps this is the result of my aging and the aging of other people I have known over that period, along with the cultural disconnection I feel with most younger people. My children seem to me to have had a pretty rich and thorough New England upbringing--We have been at least once to almost every major place and done most of the stereotypical lifestyle/experience type things as well, either via their school or the family or the boy scouts or sports. None of them read very much, or seem to take a comprehensive view of their various life experiences (such as I suspect reading trains the mind somewhat to try to form) at least that they ever express to me, so it is hard for me to gauge what they actually make of anything. But I am going to stop this post now.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Notes on Trip to New York

This "trip" was actually two days a couple of weekends ago. The parents of an old schoolmate of mine who lived there had recently died and as my friend was cleaning out their apartment I was invited, along with several of my children, to come and stay overnight and take any books or other things I might want. Since I hadn't been there in seven years this was too good an offer to pass up, so after staying over Friday at the camp in Vermont to cut an hour and a half off of the drive we got up early on Saturday and with the light weekend traffic made it onto Manhattan Island and even found free street parking before noon. Once I was there I realized how easy it would be for me to come down this way for the day on a Saturday several times a year, though I probably won't do it because while I don't seem to do much somehow there is always something going on that makes it almost impossible to take a spontaneous day trip to New York. But I will have to watch for my opportunity.

I had three of my children with me--the ones aged 15, 10, and 8--and I didn't make any real plans for serious sightseeing or activities on this occasion, which is my way of saying we didn't do anything original or challenging in town by the higher standards of such things, though I felt excited enough just to be there again. As such our visit consisted of riding the subway to Times Square, walking around that area and then up Seventh Avenue to Central Park (Saturday) and then taking the subway to Coney Island, doing some rides and games there, then walking over the Brooklyn Bridge (Sunday). On Saturday night my friends took us out to an Indian restaurant, which was great, especially as they had enough food snob hauteur to insist that my children try the Indian food, where I probably would have thrown up my arms and gotten them pizza or a burger.

Weekends are obviously a lot different than if I were to go there doing the week--I don't seem to have gotten in any important person's way, except for one guy riding a bicycle across the Brooklyn Bridge, who (in my opinion unneccesarily) admonished me for having wandered a few steps into the bicycle lane to sidestep the crowd. I did get to walk a little around the gentrified part of Brooklyn near the bridge as well as the area of Lower Manhattan around City Hall and the Woolworth Building, which I had never done before. I would have walked a lot more, but having my 21st century children with me, they don't get wandering, they want to get somewhere.

The street vendors/food carts were selling things for a lot cheaper than I remember from my previous visits. One guy was selling hot dogs for $2, which is less than what it costs in Concord, and I saw $1 drinks (in plastic bottles) all over the place. I suspect something fishier than just the free market working its magic is going on.

I unfortunately couldn't make it to a bar this time. I did get some beer at the Indian restaurant at least.

I loved my subway ride, especially on Saturday. All of the beautiful women dressed for the 90 degree weather doesn't hurt, of course, but I like the ambience anyway. I read about all the complaints about the system, how antique and slow it is compared to every other great city, even London and Paris, but for me it's hard to bash it as it is now, considering that this is what the ride to Coney Island looked like for about the first 25 years of my life.

There is much discussion and celebration of New York's famed diversity, and much consternation from the denizens of that city about why much of the rest of the country cannot embrace it with the same enthusiasm. Of course the dynamic in New York, perhaps especially in 2019, is completely different from what it is in some exponentially smaller community, or even a larger but less cosmopolitan city. There are just so many people there everywhere all the time, most of whom at this point are either self-selected or have some purpose for being there--unlike Akron or Baltimore, there don't seem to be that many people trapped or left behind, especially in Manhattan and the gentrified parts of the other boroughs, anymore. For someone like me, the circumstance of there being so many  people--especially women--like the people you went to college with, or imagine you went to college with anyway, combined with the substantial decline in the crime rate means that the overall environment remains attractive and also familiar enough to not be as alienating as maybe some would wish me to find it. Also the continued presence of so many longstanding institutions and landmarks central to mass America's cultural identity, from Broadway to Carnegie Hall to the Yankees to Grand Central Station and on and on, make you feel that you are still at home even if you are the kind of old American who is not in the highest favor among the intelligentsia at present.

There was a blackout in midtown on Saturday afternoon about an hour after I was walking through there. I was back up near Fort Tryon Park where I was staying getting ready to go out to dinner when it happened and I didn't actually find out about it until I got home.

My mood was great, especially the first day. I haven't been able to get much excited about going places lately the way that I used to. Part of it is the children getting older--when they are small you can just drag around to where you want to go and they usually will like it well enough but now they have their own ideas about what is fun, or would be fun, that are usually at odds with my vision. Also both of my cars are very old (255,000 and 185,000 miles respectively), and while they have actually run this whole year since I had them inspected in January and gone on separate occasions to Florida, Maryland and New York in that span, I anticipate that they are going to break down anytime such that I can't really enjoy the journeys until I can breathe the sigh of relief upon arriving (and then immediately begin to worry about the ride back). But arriving in New York on a sunny Saturday morning was a tonic. Some people will make a sour face if I say anything about riding on the train with all the attractive women--theater people, Italian tourists, even the hostile progressive-signaling book readers shooting darting looks at the subhuman male dreck populating the car--but if that isn't a part of your regular experience it is a lift to the spirits.....

Shortly after I returned home I had an Ashley Smith dream. I don't know who Ashley Smith is or why exactly she keeps showing up in my dreams, which has occurred now at least twice. She is somewhere between 19 and 23, albeit very mature for her age, probably 5 foot 7 or 8, with pale skin and blue eyes, but straight dark hair which would fall to the middle of her back except that she always has it pinned up with those knitting needle/chopstick looking things girls like this wear in their hair. I have always loved this look, perhaps because I have only seen it on people who were strangers to me, never having gotten into or near a social circle or even a school where anyone was like this. During the dream I imagine that she is like the Franny character from Salinger, but she is a completely contemporary person, she wouldn't have to tell you that she disdains Trump or racism or homophobia, her superiority to all of these petty temptations projects itself from her being, at least where I am concerned. Ashley lives in New York City of course, in an apartment like one story house situated right on a busy but unidentified highway with what looks like the Triboro Bridge in miniature about a hundred yards away. Ashley's New York is very much the New York of Salinger in character, though I imagine it is the present, or at least no earlier than 1989-93, since I am obviously about 22 or 23 myself in these dreams. Hers is the kind of house that one always visits during some kind of holiday time, never on a Tuesday afternoon in March. Ashley herself, whom I always imagine for some reason when I arrive that perhaps something may exist or develop between us, always greets me at the door with great warmth that makes me feel like 50 million dollars, after which her charming parents come and say hello as if I were the Harvard quarterback in 1947 or something and actually belonged in their apartment as a personal friend of their incredible daughter. Ashley and her parents then invite me to sit in the living room while Ashley repairs to the kitchen and the parents to wherever it is they repair to, and I wait for Ashley to rejoin me; which however, she never does. As further evidence of her genius she never leaves me alone, for there are always other interesting people waiting with me in the living room, such as her adorable younger sister, whose name I don't know, invariably accompanied by one of her equally cute friends from boarding school who is visiting the city over the break, and these two actually talk to me a lot. When I wake up I always wonder why I don't pursue love with the sister, who is a 1% cutie herself, instead of pining for Ashley, though I think the sister is only 14 or 15, which does however seem to be about my maturity level. Other times there were humorous artists talking shop in the living room, and on this last occasion a classmate of mine from college who actually does live in New York, a robust and caustic fellow, a great smoker and drinker, who would be the sort of person who knew Ashley without being a romantic rival for her, not because he is not more desirable than me but because she is not really his type. When we met up on this last occasion we determined to walk out into the road and figure out which highway we were on and where this was relative to anything else and it all had the spirit of a great adventure. But Ashley never turned up again....

Here are a few pictures. I haven't done this much in recent years, since I got a phone. I had uploaded some to Facebook and then copied them to here but those seem to have disappeared. I'm not a big picture taker, especially when I have my children with me, so these aren't much.

Our triumphant entrance to the city on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

We happened to be wandering past Carnegie Hall, so I had them take a picture of me in some dignified surroundings. Not the greatest look, but it was about 90 degrees, which is hot for me.

My three children by the Dakota apartments. They don't pose, so I have to try to catch them when I can.

The view of the George Washington Bridge from the roof of the apartment building where we were staying.

The children in the subway waiting for the "A" train.

I thought this was a very good, eye-catching ad. It speaks to the New York dream many non-aspiring mogul type people have.

When we went above ground in Brooklyn, my children took many pictures from the train windows.

My daughter was fastidious about not getting any graffiti in her pictures (there still is some).

Coney Island. They were going to go on this Ferris wheel but they burned out.

The golf took a lot out of them.

Gentrified Brooklyn.

You can see that the pedestrian lane was crowded and it was difficult to stay out of the bike lane.

Me on the Bridge, shortly before the incident with the biker.

As with Carnegie Hall, I wasn't looking for the Woolworth Building, but I was quite excited when I noticed I was walking by it.

Friday, July 26, 2019

July 23 Post (Latest Movies--Almost Caught Up!)

This is a pretty good group, though noticeably lacking in anything recent, which is probably why I like it. Of course I consider 2008 to be contemporary, but can you imagine a filmgoer--even an aged one--in 1970 or 1981 or even 1992 regarding something eleven years old as up-to-date?

Taxi Blues (1990)

This is a Russian movie, made during the truly waning hours of the Soviet Union, and as such it looks like what I think most people my age and older still imagine that part of the world looks like, though in seeing some clips from more recent movies made there, in the cities at least stores, kitchens, computers, living rooms, etc, look like what you would see in the modern United States! At the time I saw this, which is quite a while ago now, I thought it was at least interesting, however I don't remember much about it now other than the dingy atmosphere and the seeming aimlessness of the lives of the characters, who were well into middle age. I think its relatively modest themes may have been for the present-day viewer superseded by the knowledge of the immense changes in the experience of life and perhaps consciousness itself under the new order. It is worth seeing for the end-of-the-communist-era aesthetic if nothing else.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

One of the all time iconic Hollywood movies of course, especially of the decade of the 50s, and as such I cannot help but to take some enjoyment in it, though I've never been able to see that it was particularly great. The plot and dialogue are more lumbering than even I usually like, the various messages seem heavy-handed, James Dean looks great of course but as much as I want to get into his acting I just can't do it--I really don't know what he is trying to say with this performance beyond the obvious, life-is-a-grand-disappointment-and-it-should-be-a-hell-of-a-lot-more-than-it-is kind of stuff. All that granted, every chance I get to see a young people type American movie from the 50s--and my system doesn't seem to generate very many of them for me to watch--I wish I could figure out a way to tweak it so I could see more, not that a lot of the sorts of things I would like would be available anyway, odd as that sounds.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

A documentary that I stumbled upon kind of randomly about the case of a male medical student named Andrew Bagby who was murdered by an unstable woman whom he had been involved with and gotten pregnant, the woman's flight from the United States to Newfoundland, the attempts of Bagby's parents both to have the woman extradited back to the United States and to get custody of their grandchild, and other sundry developments, made by one of Bagby's childhood friends. This is not usually the kind of thing I go in for, but I developed a certain affection for Bagby, video of whom as a somewhat goofball teenager, college student and 20-something appeared throughout the movie. He was around my age, and seemed like someone who could have been a friend of mine if I had known him, a genuinely nice guy, intelligent enough obviously to get into medical school, although he did have to go to Newfoundland for that, liked to have fun and was clearly beloved by his family (he was an only child) and his male friends. He seemed to have had some trouble connecting with women--you can see in some of the videos where he is dancing or making an over the top speech at a wedding reception that the women at the party are not really into his schtick. He had one girlfriend in medical school who seemed to be the kind of person guys like him (us?) spend most of their youth hoping they might be able to get someday, but she dumped him and ended up marrying someone else pretty soon thereafter, which led to Andrew's becoming depressed and probably to his unfortunately getting involved, however half-heartedly on his part, with the mentally ill woman who would turn out to be his murderer. As you can see the story of Bagby himself, ordinary as it was in many ways, quite interested me on a one-time basis, and he lived in a number of places, such as Latrobe, Pennsylvania and St John's, Newfoundland, that I have never seen in a movie before and have picturesque qualities. Whenever the documentary went away from him and focused on his parents or the deranged girlfriend I didn't find it as compelling.

Andrew with, I think, the girlfriend everybody liked who broke up with him

Belle Epoque (1992)

A Spanish movie that won the Foreign Picture Oscar in its year, I am not sure how I missed this when it came out, since it is exactly in the mainstream of early 90s American arthouse-friendly European imports that I regularly devoured at the Ritz 5 theater in Philadelphia and wherever else this class of movie was shown during that 1990-94 period. Since I hadn't seen one of these films in quite a while it awakened all sorts of memories and emotions in me while I was watching it and I frequently paused it to take down notes (on my phone!) for this review, which I probably should do for every movie that shows up here, though in most instances I am not inspired to say much about them. Here are some of my in-the-moment thoughts about Belle Epoque:

Early 90s art house world/era looks ever better.

Atmosphere great, fun, like the characters.

Usually I hate the guys who are being chased by beautiful women but I like this guy (in the movie a handsome young deserter from the Spanish Civil War takes refuge in the decaying mansion of a lapsed painter with four beautiful daughters, all of whom he has sex with--I don't consider this a spoiler since it is obvious this is what is going to happen the minute they arrive at the house--the question is what it is all supposed to mean).

Little touches, lovely things I haven't thought about in years, the night air (I almost never spend time outside late at night anymore), an outdoor party with cigarettes and dancing, beds in attics. It does make me want to be young again in a particular way that I have not felt in years. It reminds you what was fun about it.

Lot of SJC feeling. Early 90s, the old, deep Europe, an artistic family with books, etc.

It's one of those magic realism type movies, and has kind of a sad ending--the old European dream that the main body of the movie takes place in dies or fades out at the end and the young characters turn their faces, grimly in my view, to the modern world and the future, represented at that time by the United States.

While this is probably not a great movie, if you are my age and the kinds of sentiments and themes that I have mentioned here speak to you at all, I think you will find it emotionally rewarding if nothing else. But there seem to be fewer and fewer people who share my sentiments and reactions to anything as the years go by.

Belle de Jour (1967)

While very celebrated to the point that even people like me are familiar with its iconography, this is obviously an all-time classic, and I am becoming increasingly persuaded that Luis Bunuel is the greatest directing talent of the sound era at least, though like many directors who worked into the 60s and 70s I believe he may have started in film during the silent period, or close enough to it that his early attempts were informed by its peculiar requirements. Paris in the 60s, especially by '66-'68 when almost everyone was filming it in sumptuous color, always looks so perfect in movies. Ironically these were the last years just before a massive societal upheaval. One is reminded that the Paris/Europe of 1788 loomed as the lost Eden to many reactionaries through the first half of the 19th century at least. And of course perfect though it all looks, much of this film is set in a brothel, though certainly a clean and comparatively attractive one, is about characters who dress well but whose minds are (primarily) fairly vapid, who have little connection to each other. The only child I recall in the movie is the daughter of the brothel's housekeeper, about whose grades all of the prostitutes and even some of the regular customers seem solicitous. The later Bunuel movies that I can recall rarely feature any children, which I think is worth noting. The character of Henri played by the famous actor Michel Piccoli as a kind of prototype of the (compared to us) sophisticated adult French male with an assertive and unapologetic heterosexuality especially stood out to me. Remarkably, Piccoli is still alive at age 93, which means he would have been about 40 when this was filmed, a decade younger than I am now. I regarded his character as being at a stage of mental life much beyond my own, to which I had not yet attained. In truth however I missed that stage of life altogether and am probably never going to attain it. As to taking up going to brothels or propositioning the wives of acquaintances and engaging in role-playing and real sexual behavior in general, depraved or otherwise, with actual live women--that sort of thing is truly unthinkable. 

Ragtime (1981)

One of the more trite of the many trite comments that people make about older movies is to observe that "they don't make them like this anymore". Consequently I don't just try to avoid saying it, I try to avoid even having the thought as much as possible. However, in the midst of watching Ragtime, which was made during the period of my youth and which resembles in form and character a kind of movie that was common in that era, the thought kept recurring to me that, you know, they really don't make movies like this anymore. I'm not exactly sure what I mean by "like this". I liked the pacing of it, which seemed to suit the time period in which it was set, which had an decided energy, but not "energy" in the speed and volume and flashing pixels way that that word seems to be understood now. The shifting between multiple stories I thought was well done in giving some picture of America circa 1904, which comports somewhat with the idea that I and probably many people of my upbringing have always had of it (interestingly it was directed by the Czech √©migr√© Milos Forman). Nowadays the idea of a feature film aimed broadly at adults is itself a novelty, I suppose. I haven't read the book, and the meaning of the various plot resolutions beyond the obvious racism-is-foundational-to-America-and-the-rich-always-triumph themes didn't make much of an impression on me. But the possibilities just beginning to be felt and hinted at in this country at the turn of the last century are suggested appealingly throughout this movie.

I don't like to be a cast nerd in these reviews--I've held back from going too deep in that vein on some of the other movies in this very post--but this one has too many notable people to omit mentioning them. First of all, of course, Forman persuaded the aged Jimmy Cagney (!) to come out of a 20-year retirement. The medium is so much more comparatively mature and the exposure of celebrities so massive now that this effect of bringing back an old star would be impossible to duplicate today. Jimmy Cagney dated back to the very beginning of sound movies, he was a real *movie star* with a public persona largely bound within those limits and then he effectively dropped off the face of the earth, and came back for one last hurrah. I like it. There is also Elizabeth McGovern (naked too!) as Evelyn Nesbit--and she is Evelyn Nesbit, who admittedly doesn't seem to have been a terribly deep person to try to portray--and I have always liked her more than the usual. She must be my type. Norman Mailer (!) has a small role as the celebrated architect Stanford White, there was Brad Dourif, the stuttering guy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, who plays another weird guy here, there was Mandy Patinkin, who I read about for years in the New York Times theater coverage when I used to subscribe to it but never had any idea who he is, though I must have seen him somewhere. Howard Rollins, Jr, who I see died some years back at just 46, gave a famously strong performance. Pretty eclectic group.

Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

I thought this would be the weak link in the group, and while it was, it was not actually as bad as I thought it was going to be, and it probably succeeds on the terms it was seeking, which was to be a feel-movie for teenagers. To be honest I am surprised there are not more movies of this type. I also had some idea that this was fairly recent, but as you can see, it is not. I don't know how much more London has changed in the nearly 20 year interval since this was made. At that time at least, despite all of the ugly modern architecture and signs of cultural degeneration, there was still something beautiful about it, even just in the sky sometimes. It's a hallowed place in the psyche of many people, such as me, who can trace large portions of their mental formation to its environs. The director (Gurinder Chadha) noted in one of the extras that much of the shooting had taken place during a heat wave in the summer of 2001, and I was actually there during that heat wave, the last time I was there, in fact, so perhaps that association had an effect on my response.

I believe at the time the depiction of Indian culture in a mainstream film in Britain was still something of a novelty--the director Chadha presents it it seems to me as a fairly broad caricature, though not as bad as the caricature of the "traditional" (white) British family--Satyajit Ray she is not. At least as recorded by the right wingish internet, the old Britain went through a period of cultural squalor about a decade ago marked by extreme female promiscuity, public drunkenness (and I was thinking, oh if I could only be there!), educational decline and the like, media coverage of which at least seems to have abated in the most recent years. I haven't kept up much with what the British Indian community is doing, though I suspect they are doing fairly well, and their culture must be beginning to have some influence on the traditional British institutions which must be resulting in some conflicts, since it seems to me really different from the West and unlikely to hold much appeal to most people with any grounding in that tradition. But if our modern age has taught me anything, it is that I know nothing of the minds of other people and that almost every intuition I have about the current state of society could not be more misguided. So I will leave that here for now.

The real Evelyn Nesbit was a babe too.

Friday, July 12, 2019

July 4 Post

I've never cared much for fireworks. This may go back to the Bicentennial day, July 4, 1976, the only real memory I have of which was of going to the enormous fireworks display in Washington, D.C. sometime in the afternoon and sitting on a blanket on a hillside for hours and hours in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people waiting for the event to begin, and then at the end of it the ordeal of walking back to the car amidst that crowd for what seemed like forever. In retrospect, I guess it was too much for a six year old. My fondest memories of fireworks are of setting up a chair in the street in front of my grandparents' house during the years between 1985 and 1990 or so and watching the display from one of the parks in nearby Northeast Philadelphia, which was visible over the trees and telephone wires at the end of the street that formed the horizon. No crowd, I guess. In some recent years we have gone to York Beach in Maine where they shoot the fireworks off from a barge out in the ocean. Those days are fun, and my children like them, but logistically I don't find them enjoyable, finding parking, trying to feed a lot of people when everyplace is so crowded (yes, we bring a lot of food with us, but it's never enough), getting out again at night, being envious of the adults in the bars and nicer restaurants I am walking by. These are my associations with fireworks. A more hard-bitten critic would take them apart on some grounds of stupidity at the idea of gawking at a display of lights being shot into the air, and I admit that I do wonder what, if any, appeal these shows have to other people's minds, but if my family members like them, for whatever reason, I cannot bring myself to go full H. L. Mencken on them for the sake of trying to win points with some imaginary public or group of people that is going to then welcome me into their exalted society.

The other day I went to a store and the girl at the cash register had so many piercings around her mouth that were filled with rather sharp jewels that I realized you couldn't very well kiss this person on the mouth comfortably even if you were the sort to take liberties with little concern for any adverse consequences. But I haven't seen anyone complaining about this or writing about it being a problem from an actual kissing standpoint so the people who do kiss these girls obviously have worked the matter out.

Some people online were challenging themselves for the Fourth of July to list 50 reasons why they're glad to be an American. While I probably don't need to do this, as there is a lot of evidence on my blogs that I am something of a patriot, lists of 50 tend to be a challenge to come up with, and it is sometimes worthwhile to write things out in an organizing, clarifying way.

That said, there is a difference between "things I like about America" which is the way I instinctively began filling out the list, and "reasons I'm glad to be an American", which implies the condition "as opposed to something else" and is a little more difficult, and even prosaic, to express.

1. The United States is, for everything that is unserious about it, still an important country, at the center of many of the great movements and events of the time, not for the most part a backwater, and while I am not as connected as intimately with these exciting things as might have been hoped for, I am not as completely shut off from them as some people, even among our own citizenry are, either.

2. It is unlikely that the country is going to be invaded and occupied by an especially vicious, genocidal foreign army within my lifetime (I think). Some think the internal oppression will be ratcheted up to ever-increasing levels of dominance and humiliation and the like, but I don't consider matters to be at that point yet. I actually just missed crashing into 2 moose at 60 miles an hour on a dark road last Saturday night, which might have killed me off without a government domestic or foreign having to lift a finger.

3. Obviously I think our "mainstream" history, traditions, arts and literature, etc, are actually rather inspiring, and being somewhat immersed in/part of the continuity of this has always been something I've taken pleasure in.

I'm already worn out after three responses.

4. I personally found many aspects of my schooling experience, both at the high school and college level, to be highly rewarding, but I am aware that most people do not share in these positive associations, and there are indications that the quality of the experience in many instances is not as satisfying as it often was formerly.

5. I have not managed to travel in the wide open spaces of the country as much as I would have liked to do, and perhaps I would be disillusioned if I were to take the trip someday, but the romance of the idea is powerful, and even though I have never been near places like Texas, Arizona, Kansas, California, et al, and geographically they have nothing in common with where I have lived all my life, I still feel that the mythology associated with them is something I have some claim to.

6. American women are often maligned, though I think the real problem for most men is that if you are not yourself a winner in some way you don't have a lot of opportunity to come across the more attractive ones with pleasing personalities because they do not linger long in dead end, non-happening type situations (because they don't have to), and this does contribute to a sense of cultural desolation that I think is under-rated. Much of the country is almost more haunted at this point than elevated by their existence, or the idea of it, but without the idea, what do you have?

7. Football (and by extension baseball and basketball, but 1970s football was the first sport I took an interest in). While I prefer the 1960s and 70s version of it, and despite all of the highly publicized long term downsides to playing the sport, I do still kind of love it. It was the game I played most in my childhood, and to be outside at the onset of autumn as well as its gloomy end still calls up images of the old field set surrounded by the townhouses in the development where I lived, with the sidelines marked by the back fences of the houses on one side and the playground equipment on the other, and the silver electrical box marking the right corner of the goal line in the enclosed end of the stadium...

Going back to #6, do American men give up on enjoying life earlier than men in other places because of the difficulty/inaccessibility of interacting socially with charming women? It seems that they might.

I'm going on vacation for a week, and I'm not going to get to 50 by the end of the night anyway. There is enough here to make a posting though.

Friday, June 21, 2019

June 3, 2019 Movie Log

Separate Tables (1958)

This is one I saw on a VHS tape about five years back. After having sat in the "availability unknown" section of my Netflix queue for seven years or so, it finally turned up in the mail one day so I watched it again. I wrote quite a lot about it on that earlier occasion. I sounded like I was more sure of myself than I probably would be now, though I don't have any much stronger takes than I had on the earlier occasion. I evidently Burt Lancaster was out of place in this film on the earlier viewing, which I was not struck by this time, I thought his presence was good. I also wrote that the while the author of the play, Terence Rattigan, was gay, that any suggestion of homosexual themes were "nowhere in evidence." I feel like this isn't quite true. It isn't explicit, of course, but a number of the more repressed characters, those played by Wendy Hiller and David Niven especially, and maybe even Deborah Kerr's, seem like the explanation of some of their issues could lie in that direction. Most of the other comments I made I pretty much feel the same. One thing I noted on this occasion was the portrait of Queen Elizabeth, at that time still a very young woman, hanging in the hallway. I don't know what to say about that other than, it's been a long reign.

In looking over my movie books I discovered that this film I have watched twice now is not even the version of this play that I was supposed to watch for the list. There was a 1983 version directed by John Schlesinger and which starred Alan Bates and Julie Christie which was the one that earned 5 stars in my book. Copies of that version appear to be even more difficult to come by than the 1958 one however.

Scent of a Woman (1992)

I don't like the title and I don't like the ending. Some of the other parts of it were all right. I had no idea what this was about. I was surprised that prep school was involved, as well as a weekend jaunt to a New York City that was still somewhat recognizable to me. In general I like re-visiting the early 90s, it's a time in my life that I am fond of even if it was otherwise not the most exciting period, and in fact comes off at times as the last dull years before the explosion of technology and globalization that has really marked the adult phase of my life. Al Pacino won the Oscar for this, widely regarded by experts as a lifetime achievement award, as he had not won one previously. I would agree that while his role here was not wholly uninteresting, it was not a great one. I thought overall that this movie was not that bad at the time, but not much of it has stayed with me. There is a somewhat famous scene where Al Pacino's character (who is blind) expertly dances a tango with a young woman of my generation who, it is supposed, had never had the opportunity to dance with anyone skilled in the art before, but the scene is memorable mainly because the lady was so gorgeous (Gabrielle Anwar, born 1970, about a month younger than I am, in Laleham, Surrey, England, which is also the hometown of Matthew Arnold).

One minor pet peeve I had about this movie which is not a big deal unless you happen to live here is that the boarding school is supposed to be in New Hampshire and the story to take place over Thanksgiving weekend, but the weather is about six-seven weeks off, the fall foliage is still in its robust fullness and the students are still walking around in light jackets, which is a season that is over by the middle of October. Thanksgiving is pretty much winter, it's not getting above 40 degress and about a third of the time, including last year, there is already snow on the ground. So after going through 20 Thanksgivings in this climate the picture presented of it on the screen is not congruent with experience.

Medium Cool (1969)

Another one that I had already seen and that then suddenly showed up after languishing for years in the Netflix queue. It had held my interest when I saw it before so I watched it again. It throws a lot of zeitgeisty type things of its time at the viewer, most prominently the manner in which the modern media, especially visual media and television, frames and manipulates news and information and so forth, but also black empowerment, discontent over the Vietnam War, the assassination of Robert F Kennedy, middle class fear of crime and disorder, the war on poverty, drug psychedelic culture. The various issues are presented episodically, though there are a couple of main characters (a television journalist and a pretty young single mother who has moved from Appalachia to a poor part of Chicago) who re-appear throughout the story. While there is I guess some actual footage from the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, almost all of the movie is scripted and uses actors. The first time I saw it I was under the impression, I'm not sure why, that more of it was a documentary. It's different. Most of the themes raised in it are things I feel like everyone has been railing on my whole life without ever resolving to any serious person's satisfaction so I'm not sure in the end I took away much from this film even on the second viewing other than a sense of where certain observers thought society was headed in 1968/69.

Schindler's List (1993)

I remember when this came out it was a very big deal, or least to me as a 23 year old it felt like it was, that if one was any kind of regular moviegoer at least you were supposed to see/pay homage to it, the great, or at least colossally successful, Steven Spielberg's acknowledged magnum opus, at some point. The Best Picture Oscar was a foregone conclusion, the only year I can remember where there was not even a contrarian attempt at debate. It placed 9th in the AFI's by-the-book 1998 rankings of the one hundred greatest American movies of all time--the only post-1980 offering to crack the top 50. Yet for all this hoopla I don't remember any of the real giants of either the movie industry or among critics and historians making a passionate case for its being a film of this level of greatness. I did my duty and went to see it in '93 and I thought it was kind of what you knew it was going to be, a catalog of senseless atrocities and murders against the gloomy, dead, black and white backdrop of the Eastern European hellscape. I went with some intelligent friends of mine from school and their comments upon leaving the theater were pretty much of the shrugging "what can you say?" type. While it is very detailed and large in its scope, unless you went in knowing nothing, or at least not very much, about the Holocaust, it didn't feel like there was anything new to really chew over. It follows the Hollywood tendency to keep the focus on the most inarguable manifestations of evil and sensations of terror. Some of the better European films on the subject, such as the 1965 Czechoslovakian Oscar winner The Shop on Main Street, have always struck me as perhaps being a more accurate depiction, at least in some places, of what World War II in occupied Europe was probably actually like, a lot of people who were not especially smart nor brave nor, when their own hides were on the line, inclined to care much about the fate of anyone else, caught up in an enormous world historical event that nothing in their previous lives had begun to prepare them to navigate admirably. And yes, in these other films you get the snarling dogs and relentless searchlights and preening vulgar Nazis, but there was a lot more involved in the whole mess that Hollywood tends to leave out.

So, 26 years later this movie comes up on my very complicated selection system to see again. In the interim I had not thought much about it nor seen it referred to in the kind of movie writing that I read when compared with things like Fight Club and Office Space. Seeing it again, I do have respect for it as a production. It is well-made, even lush in its attention to detail and objects. I noticed more how stupid all of the German characters are depicted as being, and how foolish in believing themselves to be cultured. Even Schindler, who comes out in the end certainly as a kind of hero, is portrayed as somewhat lazy and not on the same level of shrewdness as the smarter Jewish characters. It's a stupid thing to notice I suppose but if you're putting it in the movie fairly unsubtly, especially in this day and age, of course people are going to pick up on it. It does still have something of a flat effect about it--it really is more like a monument in some ways than a work of art--that causes me to resist embracing it as the great movie it wants to be. Those are my main thoughts about it at this time.

I remember there was a guy at our college when this came out, not the smoothest operator, who after plotting for months to ask out a particular girl, when she accepted his request for a date, took her to see this. I don't think they went out again (this guy was not me by the way--my folly would have been taking somebody who was deadly serious and mature to something like a Jerry Lewis movie).

The word "taxi" came up in one of my internet search games that determines some of the things I do, so I ended up having a spate of taxi movies to watch. The next two both garnered "turkey" ratings, which is lower than even one star, in the most of the ratings guides I have, so I was a little disturbed that I kind of liked both of them.

Taxi (2004)

The--I don't want to say all-star but recognizable personality--cast includes Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon, Ann-Margret, Gisele Bundchen and someone named Jennifer Esposito whom I did not recognize but who is attractive. Except for Ann-Marget all of these people are around my age. This movie involves a lot of wild driving around New York City, especially in pursuit of Gisele and the gang of supermodel-gun-toting-bank robbers that she is the leader of. The premise is not really the attraction. That, I guess, would be the efforts of Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon especially to good-naturedly re-create some of the spirit of the more middle class New York City of my generation's teenage years and young adulthood, which was already waning by the early 2000s.  Gisele Bundchen is not the most accomplished actress, though she manages to smirk attractively a few times. In general I am not a big supermodel lover, in the sense of rating them so far above other attractive women. I often think that this is a somewhat artificial distinction promoted by wealthy and powerful men who need others to be convinced that their wives have as many times the value of lesser men's wives as they themselves do in their achievements/financial success, etc, over their lesser fellow creatures. But that's enough to say about this movie.   

D.C. Cab (1983)

This one I really was not expecting to last beyond a few minutes, especially when I saw it was directed by Joel Schumacher, whom I have always found to be perhaps the most execrable director in Hollywood who seems to have some idea that he is trying to be good. However the downtrodden characters had a camaraderie that was kind of infectious, maybe because it is something that you almost never see anymore, at least genuinely. It also has a goofy humor that is none the less engaging as well. Now, while it may be Joel Schumacher's personal masterpiece, I am not claiming that it is really a good movie. However, like the other Taxi movie, it reminded me of some things from my youth that I guess I missed without realizing them.

This picture is not from this movie but this girl (Jill Schoelen) was adorable.

Taxicab Confessions--New York City (2006?)

The sleeve this came in gave a date sometime in the 90s but the people in it speak of 9/11 as already several years in the past; at the same time no one has a smart phone yet so it can't be too many years afterwards. This is just a reality show where people riding in a taxi reveal things about themselves. Apparently there were episodes in other cities and so on. Again, there is nothing of greatness in it, but to me it is an interesting slice of life type of thing to look at for an hour because, especially since I have had children, I haven't really done anything else. I haven't gone out at night, I haven't ridden in a taxi in New York, no women have flirted with me, I haven't had conversations with smart people. I've been kind of dead to the greater world. So these sorts of shows which even suggest the possibility of nightlife or adventure hold more fascination for me than they really merit.