Thursday, March 23, 2017

Off-Topic

This is something I was going to post on Facebook within the last couple of weeks, but I didn't do it because the people I am aiming such posts at and the people who actually read and comment on my posts there most of the time are (mostly) not the same people, and I didn't think the latter group was likely to get my point the way I wanted it to be gotten. But I still want to write the thought down, so why not do it here, where I need content and where I have no real idea who, if anyone is likely to see it:


So the other day I finished reading the second volume of Knausgaard, and in the spirit of that book I thought I should take a similarly honest appraisal of the essential banality of my ordinary thought and activity. As most people have probably noticed, the last year has not been a very happy one on Facebook most of the time, particularly for those of us whose friend base is 98% affiliated with the Democratic Party (I have only two friends out of 133 who openly supported the Republicans in the elections last year--ed.). Most of the time nowadays I wonder why I even bother looking in. When I tried to think of what in the last year had given me the most happiness on Facebook it had nothing to do with people who had performed virtuous or courageous or defiant acts or who were defending truth and speaking it to power in the current age of lies, of course not, it was discovering that people who I have always thought of, and still do, as attractive, cool, and successful to a degree that I have never been able to attain go camping with their families in the summertime, and appear to enjoy it and think it a fine way to travel. I don't think anything else could have done so much to help in improving my own attitude towards camping, which had been largely negative and reluctant, only undertaken on my part because I am so desperate to go anywhere sometimes that I will even agree to sleep on the ground in the middle of the woods miles from the nearest town if that is the only option. But being able to see that certain people of the sort that I imagined myself being excluded from the company and atmosphere of by going camping camp themselves is the sort of thing that makes me keep checking in. I would have hated to have missed that.


I'm glad I did not actually write this. This is a good example of why I don't have any real-life friends with whom I have serious conversations. I cannot form a coherent thought without working through it first for several weeks, let alone trying to say anything in real time. I appear to have no idea what I think about anything, or even why I like something if I am overcome with genuine pleasure, though this is not exactly true. I simply have no idea how to say it unaffectedly in a way that would be socially acceptable or that I would not be embarrassed by.


The internal debate I had over this half-baked paragraph took place before I found out that another one of my classmates (aged 45) had died suddenly. These (and there have been quite of them, considering what I take to be our relatively young age as far as dying is concerned) are always shocking to some degree, since so far they almost all happen out of the blue, but this one was especially shocking. I am of course interested in knowing about what happens to all of the people I used to know, even tangentially (though this particular person I knew somewhat more than tangentially) and something like Facebook is good for that, I suppose. I am increasingly cognizant now of having most of my life behind me, and that probably even most of the trips and drives and outings and ice cream stops with my children are in the past, though I do still have a two year old. However, my energy as far as organizing and carrying out these activities on a regular basis seems to have declined noticeably in the last couple of years, though the desire to do them is still there. You see, I am talking about myself again instead of the person who has died, but it is hard to say anything at the time, I was even like this when my grandparents died, the real meaning of their absence, what they really were, the kinds of things that went out of my life or were not said or thought anymore when they died did not really become clear until they had been gone for a while.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Notes on Movies Continued

As I am months behind in this, I am going to have to do a few of these. The good news is that I have not seen too many movies either, so three (posts) might do the trick. Of course at my rate that could take another two months.



Anna Karenina (2012)

I admit I liked what they did with this. They got Tom Stoppard to write the screenplay, and his vision was to take episodes from the book and put them in a theater setting, but the theater is usually just a starting off point for a good deal of clever filmwork. I remarked at the time that the movie makes a lot of assumptions that viewers have read the book and have a good recollection of it. Many minor characters for example make appearances without any introduction or explanation of who they are, you have to recognize them from the novel, and a similar dynamic is applied to various of the situations that the major characters are involved in, they appear or are alluded to in the course of the movie without being any further developed. As in often the case with modern productions that have some money to work with, the colors and sets and clothes and most of the people are lustrously beautiful. I was not enamored some of the casting, in particular Keira Knightley as Anna, though she does seem to fit with many people's idea of what Anna is. Older men (by which I mean older men than me) in the business love her, she is an ideal art-world sex goddess for them. Personally I don't detect much of a soul there, or an appealing mind either, though reputedly she is very smart. Maybe I don't like her, or Anna, because they are too superior to me all around, or at least there is no opening for me to approach them in a way that is pleasing to me. Even in the book there is with Anna much of a sense that her mental and emotional life, more as the result of cultured habit and upbringing than intellectual development, are inaccessible, certainly to the lowlier sort of reader.










I didn't like the actor they had playing Levin either, who played him as more of a goober than I think was merited. I thought it was widely known, or understood, that Levin was modeled in large part after Tolstoy himself, and in the book he had some cachet in Moscow society even if he was regarded as a bit of an oddball.
I do remember thinking that Vronsky was well-cast.




The King's Speech (2010)


I had seen this a few years back and I gave it another try. It still strikes me as a weak Oscar best picture winner. The material is too slight, the class dynamic strikes my American sensibility as rather gross, not that we do not have problems of our own in this regard; some of the particular forms of the British system are still alien enough to strike me as strange. The uninspiring George VI is not one of my favorite British royals. I was always partial to his disgraced brother, mostly on account of his clothes. I suppose the film had some appeal for me as a period piece, given my general affection for this period, though even in this I thought the effect was overly drab. Not in the physical sense--I like drab as an aesthetic in that--but in its animating forces.






It appears from reading this that I think it is dreadful and was rolling my eyes and generally not enjoying myself throughout the movie, but I am not fierce enough to denounce anything that thoroughly. Some of the performances are quite good. Still, overall I found it a disappointment.





The Hurt Locker (2009)


The second of the back to back Oscar winners from the turn of the current decade, and I suppose the best-known movie to deal with George Bush II's Iraq War. What I remember most about it was that it was filmed in videotape, and its overwhelming aura of alienation and nihilism. Compared with World War II movies or even to some extent Vietnam movies it is striking to me how little emphasis is placed on the connection of the soldiers with the greater society back home, effectively there is not much of one, and this is of course one of the themes of the movie. While I am partial to some landscapes more than others, I usually am able to feel some sense of beauty in most places. Iraq in this movie at least looks to be oppressively unlovable and alien in a geographic sense. The barracks--trailers I guess--where the soldiers reside are equally devoid of any tribute to aesthetics or positive cultural associations. We are reminded that there are still men in the world--I don't remember there being any women soldiers in this movie, which was somewhat famously directed by a woman--who take to the life of soldiering and war as their calling, though perhaps there are not as many being produced in the Western nations as there used to be, for good or ill, I am not clear in my own mind on this point. The Iraq War is presented in this movie as a somewhat endless series of military exercises and maneuvers, which, however skillfully executed, do not seem to be leading towards any obvious end, at least from the American point of view. Perhaps I should see it again sometime. It is not an enjoyable or hopeful movie in any way however.




 
Top Gun (1986)


Another military-themed movie, of a sort, though immersed in late Cold War Reagan-era jingoism rather than the fractured confusion that in the public mind at least has characterized the more recent conflicts. What a difference 30 years makes! I was not looking forward to seeing this, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, not because of anything to do with the story, but because I found it (as I have on several of the rare occasions when I take up movies from these particular years) so much fun to be back again in the oddly lost world of the mid-1980s, which were my high school years and the details of which therefore I recollect very vividly and which belong to me--not that I was myself doing anything very exciting compared to most people at the time--much more than the present does. There is a lack of oppressiveness in the atmosphere of this movie compared to pretty much everything about life in the present that does ring true in my memory. The look and demeanor of the women in the 80s were so comparatively pleasing too. Of course it is easy to be gulled by movie stars, but with the NCAA basketball tournament being on this week I was looking on the internet at some of the old games of the 80s and when the cameras scans the crowd or shows the cheerleaders they look a lot happier and like they are having a lot more fun, and are therefore cuter, than what I feel when I look at similarly aged people today, though perhaps I am partial to my own time. And then of course the lively, beautiful young women of the 80s are the 40 and 50-somethings who seem to be not especially happy with circumstances in the present.





And Quiet Flows the Don (1957)

3 part, 6 hour Soviet adaptation of the Sholakhov novel about Cossacks during the period of World War I and the Revolution. I found it to be very poignant. Why would this be, given all of the horrible things that not only take place in this story, but that we know are going to happen in the future to anyone who is surviving at the end as well? To begin with I am emotionally susceptible to the historical events of the period under consideration more than most others. I am as well susceptible to certain of the particular sensations which cinematic evolution had become adept at projecting by the 1950s, so much so that much that the default or base of most my ideas about geography and how the natural world especially is supposed to look like date from this time. I had also read the book, and the story is moving and stirring, in the sense of having sweep and movement. Even though they were a wicked regime and our enemies and they stifled entrepreneurship the circumstance that it seems to have been a prestige project in the Soviet Union may have made some impression on me also, the idea of the existence of this whole other film industry completely cut off from Hollywood certainly, but even Western Europe, full of actors and directors most people in the West know nothing, who if they ever had occasion to speak English, did not do so professionally. The movie was shot in bright and unsubtle color that makes it appear somewhat cartoonish at first but I found it grew on me.







I have written in the past about my time in Prague in the 90s and how I found certain lingering aspects of the lifestyle and organization of the era appealing, namely in the form of (certain of) the kinds of shared experiences that people had with one another, which seemed to me superior to the weak shared experiences, if there are any at all, that I at least have with anyone in the United States. This called some of that to mind too.


This came with a 4th disc exclusively devoted to some of the oddest special features I've ever seen. There was a droning interview with a modern day Cossack ataman (something like a chief), who was a balding, heavyset, rather unwarlike middle aged man wearing a medal-covered blue dress uniform and sitting behind a desk in what looked like an office in a community center. There was about a twenty minute segment devoted to traditional Cossack songs and dances which I was going to take a quick glimpse at and move on, but I found I was drawn into and rather uplifted by it, because, at least during the performance, the people were so proud and comfortable in their own skin not merely as awesome or superior individuals but as members of a community with some sense of positive identity and purpose. I know this sort of thing is discouraged nowadays among us because it often ends in conflict and people getting killed, but it is very attractive when you see it. The anomic life spent in shuffling about with one's head down, unable to drawn strength from or commune with such vitality as does exist around you is pitiful in comparison. This was what I was thinking while watching the dances anyway.





Friday, February 10, 2017

Some Things I Would Like to Do This Year

As the dates on the postings will bear out, this has been the longest hiatus in the history of this site, at nearly three months. Of course I thought I ought to say something about the election, and all of the ensuing drama, but for the time being at least the subject with all of its various aspects has defeated me. There is too much to it, and I don't have the concentration anymore to be able to organize all of the material I wanted to address. I still hope that some day it may come back, but I suspect it isn't.


The problem I was having in my political essay was that while I acknowledged all of the awfulness that Trump is inflicting on the country, I am not seeing any element of the opposition to him that I would want to align with or desire to see in power all that much more either. The whole country is clearly a mess, and if there is one particularly evil side, it is not like there is a more reassuring one to turn to, at least if you are me. Even the supposedly good and caring people on the left have become absolutely vicious in their various antagonisms to an extent that I think has become counterproductive and seems at times to be verging on Jacobin territory in its rage. It is going to take a while now to sort all of this out and find some reasonable basis and common ground on which people can sort of begin to relate to each other again, men and women perhaps most urgently. Trump is a product of these underlying problems and certainly seems to be the catalyst for an escalation of the hostilities currently at work in society, but getting rid of him and replacing him with someone slightly less volatile does not fix the serious issues, it just moves them along more rapidly to whatever form they are going to take next.




The issues themselves I find myself constrained to talk about, because while I don't exactly agree with most of what Trump is doing, and especially with his manner of doing it, I am not as insanely angry about it as everyone else is and I think his opponents go too far in the other extreme on many things as well. Trump and his supporters would probably point out that this kind of nervous response in men--confused, reactive, revealing a lack of intestinal fortitude and control--is emblematic of some of the problems that have spurred his political ascendance. However I am not going to attempt to go on about this any more. I'm sure I will have the opportunity to give some sense of my thoughts on various of these matters in the course of writing about other things, if anyone cares about them. In truth I am still much angrier about my personal failures than about the country's descent into fascism. Maybe this will change if people are forced to choose a side or ideology and accept that the consequence for choosing the wrong one will be death.


I am going to write down some things that I would like to do, that I feel like I haven't done in a long time. I feel like I have not had any real adult fun in some years. I am going to Florida in a couple of weeks and I am looking forward to that. Most of my ideas involve going places and seeing things and not really doing activities. I like (or liked) activities if I am doing them with some kind of egalitarian group and there is a party or going out on the town afterwards, though I guess I am getting too old to do that now anyway.


I am keeping my ideas in the realm of plausibility. I would really to go and wander around Spain for a few months or something, but I am a ways off from doing anything like that.




1. Go to a brew pub. I haven't been to one of these places maybe since before my children were born. I don't really want to be educated in beer drinking by some twenty four old bartender, but apart from that I generally like the atmosphere in these places. Related to this, I would love to find a Czech restaurant or beer hall somehow and have a meal there. There aren't too many in the northeast, that I am aware of. There was one in Astoria, Queens, New York in the late 90s that I went to. It looks like it is still there.




This segues into #2, which is to go to New York City again. It has evidently only been 3 or 4 years since I was there, as I have a photograph on my bookshelf of five of my children, including my still just 5 year old daughter standing upright and with fully grown out shoulder length hair, standing on the piano at the late lamented FAO Schwarz toy store. It seems like it has been longer than that. Besides, I am getting older, and there are only so many more times I have left to go there, and so many things there I have still not done. I should really make a point of getting there this year.




3. Long rides to see rocks. This is something we used to do a lot when my older sons were little, before everybody was in school and had activities and all of that. There are a lot of famous rocks in New England, and they are usually free to visit. I enjoyed those times quite a bit. I forget that the family stamina for long drives is not what it was in those days, people fighting and so on. We are driving to Florida, though my oldest is going ahead on a plane, because we can't all fit in our car anymore, and it is cheaper to buy one plane ticket than to rent an eight-passenger van. So there will probably be a lot of fighting on that trip though much of it is as night and we try to break it up.




4. I have got to get to Cape Cod one of these years. Last summer we went to Newport, Rhode Island, which is in that general direction, and which we had also never been to, for a few days, because my wife was possessed with the inspiration/desire to see some of the mansions there, so maybe we will get to the Cape, finally, this summer.




5. The Stowe area in Vt. We did go there once about 12-13 years ago. It's only about 3 hours away and I think it's time to go back. I would like to try to climb Mt Mansfield. It's a famously beautiful area, and pictures of it feature prominently in all of the old 1950s and 1960s Vermont Life/Yankee Magazine compilations I have collected over the years. I should spend more time up there.
Along similar lines we should get over to see Lake Champlain and all the stuff going on there sometime, which we have also not done in our family, though I was there once as a child.




Hopefully now that I have started I can get back to blogging on a somewhat regular basis again.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Final Word on the Election

I didn't feel like writing about this at all, and now I have run out of time so I am not going to able to be too expansive in any event but I feel like I ought to make an account of my positions, given the amount of fury and sanctimonousness and other emotions that the race is bringing out in people, which I for the most part do not share, except against the Clinton campaign; however I cannot help feeling in many instances an object of this general rage, which would bother me less if anybody actually liked me, other than my children, who don't know any better. But at this point of my life I often feel like I am being despised by people who are generally much more beloved than I am in actual life, not to mention more successful and smarter and with much richer and more exciting pasts than I have to look back on. But that is always how I have seen things.

I have to admit, America has kind of lost me with this election. I guess I can sort of understand how some of these people can like Hillary Clinton, but I don't know why anyone would expect me to like her. I think she's awful. I think what she and her organization have put this country through in this election with all of their machinations to clear the field for her on the Democratic side as well as clearly desiring Trump, almost the most toxic political personality imaginable, as the opponent, is unforgivable to me. I still don't know what I am going to do. I will still go to the polls and vote for the state and local races, but the presidential race I am seriously thinking about taking a pass. I am really quite upset about this. The ordeal that we have had to endure to get this woman elected has not been worth it, not to me. Now I am not going to vote for Trump, whom I have known to be evil since I was about thirteen. You can argue that I am imperiling the nation, but does anybody even consider me part of the nation anymore? I don't feel part of it, or at least not this political part of it. Maybe I will write in Bernie Sanders, not because I love him, but at least he had enough gumption to oppose the Clinton behemoth. I have tried very hard to believe what everybody I know wants me to believe, that Hillary Clinton is a great candidate for president, that all--and I do mean all, for in the minds of her most fervent supporters, she has essentially become flawless and innocent of any taint of wrongdoing--all of the shady accusations and unpleasant revelations about her are lies. But I am not able to believe this, and any reassuring qualities that might compensate for the many ugly ones I am not persuaded of.  If I had any confidence that Hillary Clinton was going to lead the country in any direction that I would like it to go in, I can't believe that I would not support her wholeheartedly. But where do her loyalties lie? not with any interests of the mass American public, or at least the male part of it, that I can see. Maybe, if it is convenient to her, she will exert influence, in positive ways that mitigate some of the burdens these currently impose on people, on the health care system, the higher education system, the criminal justice system, the wage and employment problem and the cost of housing. But how can she do this if she is too beholden to interests that appear to be largely antagonistic to and contemptuous of this population at the present time?

While it is true that the older she gets the more grating is the effect Hillary Clinton's persona and manner of speaking have on me, as is the case with many men, I was not always so averse to her, or to the whole Clinton political operation, as I am now. In the 1990s I think they were to some extent right for the times. My impression is that Bill Clinton ushered in a more recognizably modern and corporate approach to governing and the Washington culture, with a lot of emphasis on raw brainpower and talent and innovative approaches and workaholism as a badge of in-groupness. This was not a favorable group of traits for me to have to compete against as a young man, but it has certainly set a tone for this whole Clintonian era, which seems however, as if it should be running its course. I actually wanted Hillary Clinton to run in '04 very badly. I felt that that election, getting George Bush out of office, was the critical one as far as preserving the country--Trump to me is a joke, a sign that things are too far gone to be taken too seriously anymore--and I thought the Clintons would have been able to beat him, and those four years would have made a huge difference. Too many things have been done since that cannot be undone now, especially with the Clintons' evolving worldview and overarching political philosophy, which I have doubts about being what is needed at this particular moment. So I was very disappointed in 2004.

I had a lot I was going to write about the outcry about the revelations of Trump's behavior with regard to women, and the pointlessness of hapless and sensitive men trying to denounce the attitudes and actions of their less sensitive and more entitled brethren in order to appease or reassure or show solidarity with women or whatever they mean to do, raising feminist daughters, and what I worry about in these matters where my own children are concerned, and all of that, but I am out of time, and maybe I will write about that in another post. When I am less tired.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Moving On to the Next Pile of To-Dos

I will get to those election and election-issue related essays. Especially those of us whose overall righteousness was subject to question anyway are being called to account for themselves in the wake of this ongoing debacle that has revealed the presence of so much rancidness in the body politic. But I have to make quick notes on all these movies and then I should be set on that for a little while.








Julia (2009)






This was pretty good, it had a plot that was both different and edgy (by bourgeois standards), professional grown up acting, much of it takes place in Mexico, which seems on film like a more free flowing and natural, and therefore in many ways more alive, place than the U.S. at this point. I thought the ending was anticlimactic, if perhaps the most 'realistic', though the film had not been particularly realistic up to that point. Tilda Swinton is the star, and I must say she is quite aggressively good as an abrasive, middle-aged alcoholic wastrel with no evident family, or career, or interests outside of drinking. Most of the characters in this movie come from this down and out milieu, or are professional criminals. The main plot involves Julia's kidnapping a child, the grandson of a well-known millionaire, with some vague idea of collecting a ransom. It held my interest.








Traffic (2000)



Before the Fall


This won the Best Picture Oscar in its year, which I still think of as recent, though in fact it was over a third of my life ago. It takes on the cross-border drug trade, and also has a good portion of it set in Mexico. It has some entertaining aspects, though a bit over the top, particularly the storyline where Michael Douglas's daughter goes from being an Ivy League-bound straight A student at her prep school to whoring herself out to vicious drug dealers in the hood to support her coke habit. Maybe this really happens a lot, but to me it is a sign of how the times have changed just since 2000. There kind of was a perception, certainly in the 90s, that hard drug use tended to be concentrated among spoiled upper middle class brat types and was something of a problem. But I don't perceive this to be the case now, while of course in poorer rural areas the rates of drug addiction and even drug-related death have soared to levels that I think would have been shocking in 2000. So the movie also is dated in the sense that the serious problem it was trying to address seems only to have gotten gradually worse, at least up to this time.








Rear Window (1954)




More my scene


This is, thus far, my favorite of Alfred Hitchcock's later (post-1950) movies. Sitting at a window in a big important city looking out at people, with my beautiful girlfriend attending me and engaging with me in ongoing commentary, appeals to my sensibility anyway, and then there are the various fascinations that whatever version of the past I am watching hold for me. So this one is very easy for me to get into. The plots of most of these Hitchcock films, and especially their resolutions, always seem rather simple and almost primitive to me, but of course the style and composition and the intelligence and wit of the dialogue are where their main value lies for me. I know there are endless critical studies that explain the intricacies and hidden depths of these movies in excessive detail, and I have read some of them, but I am rarely struck by anything in them that seems important. What is important here are the simple activities of seeing, and thinking, and talking, and noticing, and offering something for others to notice.




I missed the Hitchcock cameo in this. I have to assume he was at one of the songwriter's parties, or passed by the alley.




Since Donald Trump has now unleashed a scarcely precedented outpouring of feminine rage in this past week, which is probably not going to abate until at least after the election, if even then, I did take note of the especially egregious sexism of Jimmy Stewart's war buddy the detective in his dismissive analysis of the workings of the feminine mind. The popular entertainment of the 50s and 60s, for reasons I have explored elsewhere in my writings, seem to be the most offensive to our sensibilities in this regard. In my opinion the condescension and general assurance of male competence was not as pronounced in the 20s, 30s and even early 40s. The combination of success in the war and the male-centric prosperity that arose after it made American men feel perhaps a little overly good about themselves, at least as vis-a-vis women.




In addition to her other attractions, Grace Kelly is probably the most famous figure to emerge from Philadelphia's Irish Catholic community, with which I have familial connections as well. In other words I am kind of claiming an especial closeness to her.






The Bank Dick (1940)






A W.C. Fields comedy that seems to have claimed the mantle among modern critics as the Most Essential of his titles. I didn't really get it. I thought it was silly, slow, cheap-looking, and not remotely funny. Of course the experts can't be that wrong, so I will assume I am missing something. I had never actually seen a W.C. Fields movie, so I was expecting him to be a lot different, namely a more slashing wit and the kind of, if not manic, certainly aggressive energy that I associate with more modern comedians. None of this is in evidence here, in which the humor, or attempts at it, take fairly mild and languid forms. Not one of my favorites.






Grand Illusion (1937)






Regularly celebrated as one of the greatest movies of all time, and among the most poignant. If one of the themes of the film is the passing of the aristocratic ethos of old Europe as a result of World War I, it is experienced by us as being made with a particularly old European, and especially old French, sensibility of its own that was itself about to pass away forever. I had seen this a very long time ago, and I'm sure I liked it, or the atmosphere of it but I had not remembered it all that well, and doubtless almost all of the class and historical symbolism must have gone over my head. But I was more attuned to that this time. I should note, it also helps that I have a new television that is about five times as big as the one I used to have, so watching movies now is much more like a theatrical experience. Jean Gabin made the strongest impression on me that he ever has (I assume I must have seen him before in something besides this; on the other hand, after perusing his 'filmography', perhaps I haven't). He has a great star presence. The role of the enigmatic von Stroheim of course is also legendary, but it is borne out in the viewing, his signature and unusual combination of haughtiness and deep melancholy is very affecting. I had not recognized Pierre Fresnay, whose work as Marius in the Fanny trilogy I remember praising, as Captain Boldieu, nor Dito Parlo, the German farm widow, as the newlywed from L'Atalante. I note these trivialities because all of these movies represent something important to me--indeed, in some ways the entire purpose of this whole project is as an excuse to see certain films without appearing to unduly favor them--and I like to be conscious of the relation and continuity of the artistic people involved in them.


While I am willing to believe this may be one of the twenty or so greatest films ever, I cannot with honesty rank it there on my own list, because for all of its depth of character and generosity of spirit I have not been able to reach the point with it where it has resonated with me emotionally, in terms of true love. But I do admire it.


The Awful Truth (1937)






Even though I do my best when finding a movie to put on my list to have as random and eclectic a selection as possible, there are periods when by whatever coincidence certain actors seem to turn up multiple times within a very short space. I have gone through a Toshiro Mifune period, a Burt Lancaster period, even a mini-Fernando Rey period. For the last year or so I feel like I have entered a heavy Cary Grant period, after almost never encountering the man over the first forty-five years of my existence. To my mind he has not aged as well as a movie star as some of the other golden age titans like Spencer Tracy or Jimmy Stewart or Bogart, because he is either strangely impersonal (queue the famous Mel Brooks monologue about going out to lunch with Cary Grant) or because his persona is not really like that of anyone nowadays not only in show business but in life itself. My wife likes him however, and in addition to the movies I write about here we have seen quite a few of his other ones with the children (whom we periodically subject to oldies as a supplement to whatever other education they might have picked up over the years), such as Arsenic and Old Lace, Room For One More, etc. And of course a lot of his movies are pretty good or otherwise have some interest about them, but him personally I don't really find appealing at all. Something about him makes me uncomfortable. Not like Jean Gabin or Erich von Stroheim. I'm very comfortable around them.


Getting back to the subject at hand, The Awful Truth is I guess one of the more celebrated of the 30s screwball comedies, in which genre Grant was one of the true mainstays. His foil in this one is Irene Dunne, whom we have also been seeing a lot of lately (Anna and the King of Siam; Life With Father), though about ten years younger than she was in these other roles. I like it--I don't love it, the screwball comedy not being a genre I have fully taken to (yet). Maybe I will watch this again soon, as part of the children's classics series. I am not sure if my wife has ever seen it, and she often has very original insights about things, because she is intelligent but is not mentally in the same rut as everyone else because she reads very little contemporary media, criticism, and social commentary. One thing I have to admit is that, as much as I love a lot of 1930s Hollywood product, the over the top depiction of wealthy characters that flourished in this era I often find to be wearying. All the furs and jewelry, the enormous doors and dining rooms, the silver table settings, the silk bathrobes and the top hats, the dogs of the ladies, when there is one. I don't find it attractive, I suppose.


The Crowd (1928)




Hitting a little too close to home at times


Great late silent movie about mediocrity in a mass society and its feeble consolations that is surprisingly modern and still packs a considerable emotional punch almost 90 years later. It isn't available on DVD for some reason (it was one of the first 25 movies designated for preservation by the Library of Congress, so it's not like it is that obscure) so I sprung for a VHS copy. I can't recommend it enough, though it is a little depressing. My wife found out that a child dies in it and refuses to watch it on that account, which is unfortunate, since I would have valued her observations and perhaps reassurance about the film, since the two lead characters are quite similar to us, the man being delusional and lacking the drive to advance in life, eventually becoming an unemployed and unemployable loser, the woman (played by notable silent star Eleanor Boardman) being supposedly ordinary but appearing to her husband of course as the most beautiful girl in the world, which she in fact is close to being, more responsible and harder-working but too indulgent of her husband's flaws and, the movie suggests, culpable in their situation by not taking a more hard-headed stand against his frittering away of money on entertainments and other frivolities. There are just so many famous scenes that are painful to watch, because the director is not wholly sympathetic to his subjects; he is a little, and they are to some extent victims of circumstance, but they also walk blithely into every trap the world has set for them, and we can't really admire that, can we? It is an all-time great movie though, and in its time very innovative.






Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Return to Nothing

Not much time left before the election. Like so many people nowadays, I feel, between the fate of the Republic being possibly at stake and my own special place in society due to various superiorities of my person, personally obligated to make at least one concluding statement about it. But I am not going to do that tonight, because I am so far behind on my movie notes that I have to take a couple of posts just to bring those semi-current.


Anna Christie (1930)
Adaptation of one of Eugene O'Neill's plays, early talking picture, starring Greta Garbo in the title role in what her first appearance in a sound film. Reminiscent of German expressionism, and in fact, the DVD included a German language version of the movie that must have been made concurrently, as it also stars Greta Garbo (though the other actors are all different), and the sets and scenes are more or less identical. I have read the play, but not seen it on the stage. This seems to me a more or less satisfactory adaptation. Apart from being Swedish (Annie Christie is a 1st generation Swedish-American), the glamorous Garbo does not at first seem an obvious choice to play a hard-drinking sailor's daughter who has had a hard time of it in life herself. The characters are still well on the outside of mainstream American society, certainly the respectable part of it. As with many O'Neill plays, the characters are drawn from the rougher laboring classes, and the obstacles they face, with the emphasis in this being on the woman Anna, to make their way through life with any degree of stability and respectability are largely particular to those ranks of society. The movie achieves a grittiness that is suited to the source, an ability that was lost as the 30s went on, largely doubtless as a result of the Code, which facilitated the trend towards 'overstatement' that became dominant as the decade went on,  though I also suspect that due to the inevitable improvements in production values that something of this effect would have happened anyway.




The film was directed by Clarence Brown (active. 1916-1952), who had a solid, if not quite spectacular career. He also directed the film version of the fine O'Neill comedy, Ah Wilderness! (1935) which I have not seen. Others of his movies that I have seen are The Yearling (1946), which had good points about it but was not gripping, and the 1951 version of Angels in the Outfield, a light picture about baseball, Roman Catholics and lady sportswriters, which I once watched with my two older children and they seemed to enjoy it, so I am positively inclined towards it for this and many other reasons particular to myself.


The King and I (1956)


Classic, or once-classic, musical, and the third version of the Anna story which I watched after reading the book earlier this year. While I am often pretty enthusiastic about what is now perceived as popular art from this time period, a lot of the stuff that achieved blockbuster-level success in that era has not aged so well. I would include most of the film versions of the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals in this category (I do think that The Sound of Music, itself much maligned nowadays, holds up better than the others). They do not contain a lot of things that excite me at this point in my life. There is only really one song in The King and I that I like ("Getting to Know You"). I like Deborah Kerr, mainly in her 1940s British movies, and she is likable here, but it feels at times like the production is somehow not in sync with what she has to bring to it. Yul Brynner is so famous as the King and devoted the better part of his life to the role and I respect that, though I think I actually prefer Rex Harrison in the 1946 non-musical version. Even when he is humorous, Brynner comes off as being rather serious and mannered, while Deborah Kerr I think was not that way by nature, but a lot of her roles in the 50s especially took place in movies that had these kind of restraints built into them against which I feel like she was frequently mismatched.






On the whole I like the 1946 adaptation better, not that it was itself a great movie, but it is closer to the feeling of the Margaret Landon book, to which none of the movie versions in my opinion really add anything.


Safe Haven (2013)


Once in a while some odd thing like this, an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, will manage to land on my list of movies. I will watch them to make sure I am not missing anything worth noting (usually not) and to get an idea of what kinds of things people are into nowadays and how they live or aspire to live or perceive themselves as living. Nicholas Sparks is something of the Thomas Kinkade of literature, and there is nothing in the movie that would be of interest to a sentient person, with the exception of the circumstances that: (1) there is not a single person in the entire movie who is not white. Indeed there is not a single character who is not an American, or at least who identifiably speaks non-American accented English. (2) there are also no people who present as identifying as remotely gay, let alone trans or any of those other in-between genders that most people still need to be brought up to speed on. (3) This is not quite as important, but the present day southern town in which this movie was set was not only devoid of people of color, foreigners and homosexuals, but any sign of recognizable national franchises or even brands. (4) It made quite a lot of money at the box office, over 97 million dollars (it cost 28 million dollars to make), and was the #3 movie in the country on its opening weekend, and not very far behind #s 1 and 2. It's obviously mostly women, and very white ones, and not, I think, particularly old ones, who have to be consuming this slobber. Probably a lot around my age. Probably not terribly intellectual, but suffering from varieties of the same discontents and quiet desperations that afflict their more intellectual sisters, channeled in different streams of frustration, and perhaps not always as consciously apparent, even to themselves...






Given all the seeming brouhaha about the lack of representation of multicultural people in Hollywood, which nearly everyone in the industry publicly at least seems to agree with, I wonder how the actors and other professionals who work on movies like this that are blatantly and aggressively exclusive of non-white people are treated by the good progressives who as far as publicity goes dominate the scene. The star was the admittedly strikingly pretty and very Aryan Julianne Hough, native of Utah, where her father was the chairman of the state Republican party, country music singer, and two-time winner on the Dancing With the Stars television show. She has not appeared in many movies, but she gets some work, most recently in Dirty Grandpa, which just came out this year (and made about the same money as Safe Haven, though Hough was not the star). The male lead, Josh Duhamel, has been in number of productions, most notably the Transformers movies, and appears to be somewhat established as a second or third tier star. He was a fashion model, and is apparently what frustrated 30-something Middle American women envision as an ideal lover/husband. He is originally from North Dakota...


Will stop here. But there is more, much more, to come.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Olympics Wrap-Up (Disclaimer: Has Lots of Babe Pictures)

Needless to say, I have been dabbling with this article for several weeks. I have continued on with it since I hate to throw anything away, though I don't really have anything to say about this year's Olympics. It was looking for a while like I might be getting a new computer, probably a laptop, that would just be mine, mainly for trying to keep this blog somewhat up to date. However my son was starting high school and we had to get one for him, since apparently it is impossible to function in high school now without a computer. Then my seven year old spilled juice or iced tea on his mother's laptop. Being a professional, she needs one for work, so we had to replace that. Maybe next year.


In spite of all the brilliant points that are constantly made against it, I remain an Olympics fan, and if anything am becoming more of one as I get older. It is cheering to see so many healthy and flourishing young people gathered in one place. Sadly, this too is, or has become, a rare spectacle in most of actual life outside of certain exclusive and expensive locales, the goings-on in which are not usually televised. I didn't get to see a lot of the Games because I work in the evenings and am generally busy during the day, and I also went on a three day vacation over the middle weekend. So I mostly caught the late night coverage, which was mildly festive, though it only gave a taste of what was going on. I saw no wrestling, or weightlifting, or boxing, or modern pentathlon, or other of the traditional Olympic sports that contribute to the grandeur of the event. I ended up seeing what seemed like mostly volleyball, both of the indoor and beach variety, and diving, as well as track and swimming heats and a few replayed highlights. Apart from a few of the classic events I don't care too much about the results or even the competition. I like the idea of Being that is embedded in the Olympics. Since I am so swamped with children and keeping my life in semblance of order I do not go out very much--I have never been to a steakhouse, for example, or a winery, and I haven't gone to a bar or hotel that any educated adult would find mildly exciting or interesting in years. I've noted here several times that I have not flown on an airplane since 2001. So the Olympics on television gives something of an opportunity to vicariously immerse oneself in that kind of elite life, being part travel video, part collegiate atmosphere (or post-collegiate, given that the typical age of participants seems to be going up; on several occasions I heard a competitor described as being "only" twenty-five, which during the era of the amateur ideal would have been considered about the upper limit for Olympic participation in most cases). It is tiring to always feel. or be, completely out of place everywhere that is semi-desirable, not counting one's own home of course.




I don't have enough moral indignation on one side or the other to weigh in much on the various "controversies" that arose during the games. I admit that I kind of liked Ryan Lochte. He doesn't appear to be terribly smart, but I like that he is open about his desire to enjoy his life and have fun, of course while still managing to be good at something. Is he a jerk? Probably, in the sense that a lot of cool people come off as jerks to those not as socially blessed. I will concede that he may be a little too old to be vandalizing gas stations. I probably did or took part in something somewhat similar on at least one occasion (as Lochte attempted to explain, with little avail, when you are very intoxicated it is hard to remember the details), though I was probably more like 22 than 32. This theme of the older, or professional Olympian I will be returning to later.




The controversy of the (possibly) intersex 800 runners running as women, particularly Castor Semenya, was arousing the ire of progressives in my Facebook feed to the point that people were announcing the throwing of symbolic bleach in the face of intrepid commentators who merely indicated that they were entertaining the possibility that there might be a legitimate cause for the controversy, without committing themselves to the position that there was one. (The bleach throwers were not my friends though it was one of those threads you can see anyway. I can't figure out who one of the people is, though I must know her, since she is friends with all the people I knew at school. People who are that insanely progressive always hated me from the start for being so insipidly normal and morally limited. However I am beginning to think we are getting to that part of the revolution where the left begins to devour its own. People are beginning to demand behaviors and submissions and ideological adherences that normal people who want to live in any kind of reasonable human society will not be able to accept). I admit I don't have a strong opinion on this with regard to the competition. I gather they did away with the old sex testing for too high testosterone levels, and no one has made the argument I don't think that these runners are in fact men, so it appears legitimate for them to compete in the women's race. Of course their hormonal composition seems to give them a huge advantage over more traditionally distinct women, not that physical disparities and advantages are not endemic to sports competitions at all levels in the first place. If the question is whether the scale for who is a "woman" and who isn't for Olympic purposes needs to be narrowed (again), I don't know. But other people know (do they ever).  However, if I had to rule, I would say that besides that the world isn't moving in that direction anyway (banning people from competitions for things which are not their fault), it should not be, unless the testosterone levels involved are outliers to such an alarming extent compared with even regular world class female athletes that it is unreasonable to claim that the competition as a women's competition is any longer meaningful. Got that?


What else was there? Hope Solo? I don't have anything constructive to say about her. I actually like meanness to an extent, but maybe she is overindulged. There was some other scandal but I don't remember what it was already.




I didn't get to see too many finals in the Track and Field, other than the last weekend. Among the men I missed all of Bolt's races, except for the relay. Also the 400 and 800, which seem to have been exciting races. I did see the relays, the 1500, which, incredibly, an American won for the first time since 1908, albeit in an extremely slow race, and the marathon, which being traditionally the last event, or at least held on the last day, I always find to be stirring. I don't think I saw any women's finals other than the relays and the 5,000 meters.




Dafne Schippers, the World's fastest white girl (5th in the 100, Silver Medal in the 200). Yes, I am terrible for even taking note of these things, but hey, besides being fast she is pretty cute too.




In laying out a sort of outline for this post I had this section labeled 'Intro to babe talk'. This is the part where I discuss certain women of the games who caught my attention for reasons only tangentially related to their performances. This is a little bit frustrating since one only sees a fraction of the participants, many of the events require equipment or move too rapidly or involve teams that make it difficult to identify or focus on anyone long enough (and I don't need much time) to identify them as a television romantic interest. Thus athletes in a handful of drawn out individual events are at a distinct advantage, which, liking to be as thorough as possible, is unsatisfying to me.


If anyone considers this a somehow inappropriate objectification of women, I just can't care. Man cannot live on feminist manifestos alone. It is too great a pleasure to see healthy, athletic and for the most part attractive young women, especially when one lives in a social environment that is largely devoid of them.




Though I still consider beach volleyball to be something of a sham event and am annoyed that it gets so much television coverage, especially in the late night hours when I am able to watch it, it did provide me with my primary Olympic crush, Isabelle Forrer, a 34 year-old Swiss player. When her team was eliminated in the round of sixteen I felt her absence so keenly that I took to following her on Twitter (by the way, if you want to follow me on Twitter, my address is @Michael29024447. I only have 27 followers and feel that I deserve more. Not a lot more, but some more. I do not tweet very often, admittedly, only around 180 in four years). She mostly tweets in German about all the volleyball tournaments she goes to. Her physical beauty is augmented by a soulful and mature European demeanor that the Olympics ideally were at one time intended to showcase. Doubtless she knows numerous culturally important languages, knows how to eat, is at home in all the great cities, etc, etc.




Isabelle Forrer a little glammed and cheesecaked-up. I wouldn't say that she does not photograph well, but I couldn't find any photographs that precisely captured the quality that catapulted her to such a prominent position in this article.






As the Olympics wound down in the second week I became so desperate to find someone to fixate on before the show ended that I developed interest in the 38 year-old ex-diver turned commentator Laura Wilkinson, who won a gold medal in Sydney in 2000 and finished in 2004. She is (and always was) mildly goofy-looking, and she was, I thought, a pretty bad commentator, but I supposed the circumstance that she looked into and spoke at the camera like a Montessori preschool teacher fascinated me, since it was such a contrast with the rest of the announcing team. Laura W. is from Texas and is a devout Christian who is into saving children and things like that, which sounds like the kind of person I would zero in on to try to hook up with (hopelessly) at the final party at the end of the school year or some other cathartic event. I looked at her Twitter account but decided I couldn't stomach following her.




Laura Wilkinson, probably in much younger days.




Here is the more recent mom version.


This is a 21 year-old American diver named Kassidy Cook. This is the kind of person one probably needs to be able to hook up with if one wants to ever do so successfully and manfully with all of these more complicated and mature women, though I doubt they realize as much. They may be the culmination, but culmination requires groundwork.




She is another Stanford person though(!)




This one really takes the cake.




Last but not least there was a swimmer named Maya Dirado from Stanford who was getting a rather inordinate amount of attention because she was retiring from swimming after the Olympics to begin working as an analyst for the McKinsey consulting company in Atlanta. She was not a particular love interest of mine, though of course she was intelligent and personable and seemed a lot older than the other twenty three year-olds. Here are a few of her California/Napa Valley wedding pictures which include, presumably, friends of hers from Stanford or that milieu. These people are all like gods, especially when combined with the setting:


I mean, for real. I had seen more in the same vein before, but I can't find them now.


This was of interest to me because it seemed like there was a big deal made about the job, and the retirement from sports competition. Of course, this was in contrast to many of the other athletes who seem to be hanging on to the sports into their thirties because they don't know what else to do with themselves or there isn't anything out there for them. And these are young people who have a lot going for them and have the experience of years of dedicated serious training and the absorption of instruction from world class adult mentors. You would think this would translate long term to adult success, however one wants to define that, though work in a field that pays respectably is a part of that in most cases. I didn't really get across what I wanted to here, but it's a complicated subject and I've been working on this post for how long? Maya Dirado may have started her job by now.