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.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Five Movies 1949-1977. Two Golden Age Foreign Classics, One Golden Age Hollywood Comedy, One Neglected Classic, and One Exhibition of Edgy Modern Nihilism

Abigail's Party (1977)

British teleplay, written and directed by a young Mike Leigh, whose work I have always found a little too relentlessly unflinching and vicious. This might be the most depressing movie I have ever seen that didn't involve child rape, or the Holocaust or something. I didn't know anything about it, apart from the blurb on the sleeve, which made it sound like a comedy in which working class British people drink too much with socially disastrous results. Based on this, I induced my wife to watch it with me. She did not find it uninteresting, though at several intervals she did ask "What is this?" and "Where are you finding these things?" It is a comedy, of sorts, though of an extremely uncomfortable variety. It is not uproarious.

This work is better-known in England than it is in the U.S., and seemingly well-regarded there. I guess it is the sort of thing they like, and it speaks to their uniqueness as a people. For all of its artistic and literary virtues, I see it still as a story about vulgar, animalistic people who are neither bright nor virtuous nor original with and to and around whom nothing good or positive happens. It is almost a ne plus ultra of spiritual nihilism.

My wife thought it was the kind of thing certain people at St John's would have gotten into on account of its ironic, passive-aggressive edginess and alienation. Perhaps.

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Now we are back in the sunny days of the first flowering (in terms of popular success in the West) of the golden age of the great international directors, whose fame I suspect will continue on and occupy the position in the history of cinema that the famous novelists of the 19th century (Dickens, Twain, Austen, Balzac, Tolstoy, et al) do in the history of that genre, even if certain of their attitudes and concerns and even techniques become outdated or superseded. Everyone will still know them, better than they will most of their worthiest contemporaries, and will probably still like them to some degree because their films, especially the earlier ones, have many likeable qualities.

Kurosawa has at present perhaps the strongest cult following among this group, Bergman, Fellini, various other new wavers, et al, at least among important people. Maybe this is because he is not European. Sometimes it seems like it, that certain Western people want to respond to a vision that is more definitively other. I greatly admired Kurosawa's version of The Idiot, but that is to this point the only one of its films that has strongly resonated with me. There is a lot of fun and high spiritedness in this movie, and it conveys an optimism, about the direction of the art of cinema if nothing else that was characteristic of a lot of these celebrated foreign movies (though I think it picks up as well on certain other positive attitudes that were widespread in the later 50s even if brooding artistic types denies sharing in them). However, and this is about the third time I have watched it, my mind always wanders about during it, thinking about the terrain, and the sunlight on the rocks, and maybe the sweep of the vista in certain shots, and I lose track of the characters for minutes at a time. In truth, they are not as compelling to me. Of course, I have never been able to get through Star Wars either, large parts of the plot of which George Lucas has confessed to lifting from this movie. So there is something in the story that does not connect with me.

Edge of the City (1957)

I liked this one very much, perhaps because it is not especially well known, and thus a pleasant surprise for me (I had never heard of it before), though there is no especial reason for it not to be known at this point in time. It was the directorial debut of Martin Ritt, who went on to make many well-known films, the only one of which I have seen is  Hud, which however I also liked very much as an American movie with something of the atmosphere and sensibility of the European art films. This one has something of that as well. It also reminds me of Paths of Glory, which came out the same year. Sidney Poitier stars in what I think probably should be one of his more celebrated roles, along John Cassavetes, who is one of those people the edgy art-film crowd always talks about but whom I had never managed to encounter until now. It has a lot to recommend it besides being a solidly made movie: New York in the 50s, even some of the redeeming aspects of America in the 50s, a jazzy contemporary soundtrack of the sort that was criminally underexploited at the time, Poitier's character is extremely likeable, though perhaps primarily to whitebread types, as some prominent studies by black writers have been dismissive of the character. One example given in the Wikipedia article on the movie calls the character a "colorless black" with "little ethnic juice in his blood", who acts in the tradition of "the dying slave content that he has served the massa". I think this is a little harsh (To be honest, I also find it humorous. Why I do, since I am sure it was not intended for me to find it so, I think is because there is something of truth in it, though only partial truth, and I am pretty certain the effect that the film inspired in the critic was entirely unintentional). The Poitier character does not seethe with anger every second that he is around white people, though I don't think he lacks ethnic juice, nor is he in a totally submissive role relative to any of the white characters, though perhaps this aspect was somewhat sugar-coated for 1957. In the first scene when his light-skinned wife, played by Ruby Dee, appeared, I thought for a moment that she was actually white; but I knew there was no way that would have flown at the time. In fact I have seen several claims that this was the first American movie to depict a genuine interracial friendship, and one of the reasons it did not make a lot of money or otherwise have much of a national impact was because the studio didn't even bother trying to show it in the south. There is a lot here that I found moving. There is an undercurrent of anger in it, but it is understated and low-key and allows for a lot of fine impressions to come through.

Not available via Netflix. I bought a cheap DVD (around $1.99) on the internet, well worth it.

Pather Panchali (1954)

I had seen this probably three times already, but not in ten or fifteen years, and as it is to me one of the greatest of all movies, I was glad for the excuse its coming up in my system afforded for seeing it again. I cannot say much about it beyond what has already been said a million times, that it is so moving because it is really a very simple, ordinary story out of which great secrets and other depths have been pulled. This is not the whole of art, but it is a substantial and in terms of power usually underdeveloped part of it.

The night after I saw the movie I had a dream about the toothless, ancient "Auntie" who is one of the more visually memorable characters in all of cinema. I am usually rushed in the morning but I took a couple of seconds to jot down what I could remember of it:

"Twice came across Auntie blocking road while driving, once legless body, second time just a head still breathing. Both times waited for another guy to move her out of the way, set her up on the side of the road. Second time she stared at me hard in disgust. I couldn't think of what else to do. I was in New Hampshire, not India..."

Adam's Rib  (1949)

One of the famous Tracy/Hepburn "battle of the sexes" comedies that judging by this don't appear to have dated very well. Since I usually love just about anything from this time I watched it through twice just to make sure, but I could not get into it. Besides the changes in the male/female dynamic in our day that have rendered most of the jokes stale when they are not actively wince-inducing, the writing and direction in general I did not find strong enough to be able to overcome the contrivedness of the plot and the artificiality of the situations, including the marriage. The screenplay was written by women, which I suppose was somewhat unusual at the time, though many famous female writers of the 20s and 30s, such as Dorothy Parker, Anita Loos, Lillian Hellman, Mary Chase (author of Harvey), etc, received paychecks from Hollywood during this era, so it wasn't completely unheard of.

The most interesting character in this movie to me is the Cole Porter-esque piano-playing, always tuxedo-clad song and dance man who lives in the apartment across the hall from Hepburn and Tracy. He is interesting mainly because he was a type who was a staple in these kinds of entertainments who has largely faded away. What was the cause of his demise? Rock and roll, perhaps, or television, or the decline of the cocktail party in general, or the movement towards music-playing among those who could do so as exclusively an instrument for self-aggrandizement rather than shared camaraderie and joie de vivre? Yes, I wonder.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Break From Origin Story to Catch up on Movie Notes (1982-2009)

I actually have nine of these to do, but as I have only gotten through four and the end of the week approaches, I will divide this into two parts.
Me and Orson Welles (2009)

Period piece about the 1937 production of Julius Caesar directed by the 22-year old genius and egomaniac Welles, largely from the viewpoint of a teenager from, I presume, the outer boroughs or maybe New Jersey who lands a small role in the play. I like the period aspect. It is well felt, particularly in the romantic attitudes towards the arts and learning and New York City life (by outsiders) that seem to be more characteristic of that time, or at least my idea of it, than of our own. Welles, whose genius was evidently already established, or was forcefully impressed rather quickly upon anyone who had to deal with him, comes off as pretty insufferable, not to mention capricious, manipulative, bullying, and generally joyless. As long as all this is in the service of great art and the exercise of the g-word, it need not be of any concern to lesser mortals. However, in Welles's defense, I have seen real-life interviews with him in which, while arrogant, he displays more humor and charm than he is depicted as having in the film. He also, in these interviews, strikes me as engaging with the person talking to him, even if he is berating him, on a more personal and intimate level than is common with celebrities. On the other hand, as I get older, the Welles genius, at least as experienced through the medium of his movies, seems to be losing some of its appeal and power. Now I have only seen two of these since I began documenting all of my cinema-watching here, one being The Trial, which is not renowned as one of his better efforts, though some people still consider it good, and the other The Magnificent Ambersons, which I thought was great when I saw it in my twenties, but in my forties found to be difficult to concentrate on and be drawn in by, as there are long, long spells of verbose conversation unenhanced by music, etc, which effect had only gotten worse by The Trial. So while I do still like Welles to some extent, especially as far as what he represented in his youth, I would not regard him as someone who needs to be treated with the level of artistic reverence that I feel this movie thought it was obligated to do.

An Education (2009)

Another period movie, this time taking us back to the hidebound, provincial London of 1961 in which all of the better sort of young people are dying from boredom and waiting for things to loosen up and get exciting (hey, I'm 46 and still waiting for this to happen). It's not bad, though I found it kind of depressing. It's about a teenage girl (who, despite having hopelessly middlebrow and status-anxious parents, has a legitimate shot at going to Oxford), who has an affair of a kind with a comparatively sophisticated older man, who turns out to be disturbing for reasons other than his predilection for dating teenagers, which, while perhaps of a body with his other objectionable qualities, is not presented as a terrible thing in the movie. The supposedly cool, more alive people in this themselves have rather more of an air of desperation than joy about them. Even the teenage girl when she is swept up in the excitement of the more sophisticated, jazz-club and art auction life seems not to be exactly having real fun, though I guess that is the point, one has to be educated in these things before you can fully take part in them as an independent agent as an adult.

The girl, whose name is Carey Mulligan, is pretty (she was also 23 or 24 when the movie was made). The director was Lone Scherfig, who is a Danish-born woman and was part of the Dogme 95 movement that was a big deal for a time. Since this movie she seems to be working mainly out of Britain.

It is a point of emphasis of course that the era in which this is set was stifling and dull and culturally stagnant, especially for women, and while all that was doubtless true, especially for the more artistic and dynamic-minded, I don't see a lot of films depicting contemporary England that would indicate that the overall quality and tone of life has improved that much beyond the circumstances, usually presented somewhat superficially rather than deeply explored, that some people are more cosmopolitan, that women can hold important and lucrative jobs, travel is easier and more frequent, and so on. Working class horror show movies like Fish Tank and Wasp come immediately to mind, though the whole genre of Hugh Grant-type yuppie movies don't portray a way of life that I find especially attractive, and yes, I am assuming that these movies are rooted to some degree in reality or aspirations for some such lifestyle, or they could not have such similar attitudes, characters and so on.

This is based on a memoir. I hope for the father's sake he lived long enough to see his suburban London house appreciate to be worth half a million pounds or whatever it would go for these days. It would have given him real joy.

Hamlet (1996)

There was an article by John McWhorter that came out around the time I saw this in which he made a point that I was going to make in this article, which is that he, and presumably many other modern people, cannot really enjoy watching most staged productions of Shakespeare because it is difficult to keep up with the spoken language in real time, because the syntax and word usage and so on are not what we are used to processing, even if we have a lot of experience with and are able to enjoy reading them. Obviously this is not the case with many people, who are either able to process the language faster, or have committed greater snatches of the plays to memory, but I usually find it to be the case with me. There are some Shakespeare movies that I like, though these tend to be more cinematically (visually) oriented ones, like Olivier's Hamlet and Henry V. I also remember kind of liking the Zefferelli Romeo and Juliet, though I haven't seen that one since I was in 9th grade. Most of the film adaptations I find either too stagey without the warmth that a stage performance can sometimes convey or otherwise disconnected from, whether emotionally or by way of intellect.
As you have probably guessed, I have written this introduction because I did not have the time of my life in getting through Kenneth Branagh's four hour plus movie, considered by seemingly a lot of people who demand to be taken seriously to be the greatest of all filmed Hamlets. Besides falling asleep several times, which happens to me now during all movies except those most exactly fitted to the workings of my brain, and finding difficulty in keeping up with the dialogue, I was not inspired by any aspect of it, and nothing in it fit with or satisfied any of my pre-existing ideas about the story, which could mean that I understand absolutely nothing about it, though I doubt it. The cast is full of big name stars, including lots of Americans, even in minor parts. For the most part this was a distraction as far as perceiving the characters, who in the long run are more famous and greater personalities than most of the movie stars. There were even people in this that I like, and Gerard Depardieu I thought was pretty good in his part, while the effect of Jack Lemmon and Charlton Heston, who seem by the way like they have been dead for too long to have been in a movie with all of these other people, is just strange. Then there are the people I don't particularly like, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal as the gravedigger (spare me!). Kate Winslet is Ophelia. Since I never like her in anything, I am starting to think that maybe she can't actually act. I know unlikeability is considered something of a virtue now, especially when it is people like me who are doing the unliking, but I never really think she is all that good. However, casting directors love her. I will grant that she looks great naked, and in most of her movies (including this one), they'll put in a scene which requires her to appear in this natural state.

I've never liked Kenneth Branagh much either. He plays Hamlet here as a prick who luxuriates in his superior intelligence and facility with words and is aggressively contemptuous of everyone. Of course one can read it this way (Yes, I know you don't read Shakespeare, Shakespeare reads you. Another of my favorite people), and I shouldn't be surprised that your brash, in the arena types would interpret the most important character in world theatre to be temperamentally closer to themselves, just like everyone else does.
Missing (1982)

One of those movies that was a big deal when it came out but has to my mind been kind of forgotten, though whether because it is not similar enough to other stories that we have grown accustomed to in the interval or too much like them I cannot determine. It is based on an actual event, the disappearance of an American journalist during the 1973 military coup in Chile (though the specific South American country we are in is not identified in the movie), that is widely assumed to have been instigated in no small part by the United States government. I guess what I remember most (the movie, while well made and dealing with one of those dreaded serious subjects, does not seem to have left much of an impression on me) are snippets into the characters and mindsets of Americans of the time: the still overwhelming maleness of professional life, especially at the upper ends; male sexuality that is still aggressive and assertive; the know-it-all arrogance of the younger boomer aged males, and their often uncertain comfort levels with physical danger; the attitude of the father (at first) that diplomats and other U.S. government officials are in some way answerable to and should care about him at all. All of this did not add up to any great effect for me however.