Saturday, December 28, 2019

Tourism Nostalgia Part 1

The older I get, it looks less and less like I am ever going to be able to do the kind of extended, leisurely touring that I have long dreamed of doing and have sunk a considerable amount of time in my life in plotting lists and itineraries for. But even if I were to go, I have the sense that the mid-level European travel world of my imagination, of train station hotels and walk-up pensions with faded carpets and curtains and 1960s amenities, of afternoons and evenings lolling about in cafes on the town square and taverns and small wood-paneled restaurants gawking at, if not the beautiful people, more than adequately attractive ones, all at prices manageable for the possessor of American dollars, may largely have ceased to exist even compared to what remained of it in the 90s, especially in the most famous locations. Now of course it is possible that I would find the new contemporary Europe much more exciting and vital than this old one that I am talking about, and certainly it would make my time there more interesting and myself a more attractive figure than if I were reduced to lamenting to just lamenting all of the things that were not there or that I could not afford to do anymore. It is a real disappointment in my life that I am not a more adaptive person. By the time I could study or absorb enough to have any sense of how to enjoy the culture of the present day, it will have long changed into yet something else.
I guess it is difficult to explain to anyone who did not grow up before the internet the imprint that certain books and certain pictures looked upon hundreds and hundreds of times over a period of many years would make on one's mind. That is obviously a common theme of my blogs, the strange desire I seem to have to keep up my relation to these books from my childhood that I looked up to and aspired to enter the world of in some way. This post has a bunch of pictures of Great Historical Sites of Europe taken from my college Western Civilization textbook which was published in the early 1960s. For some reason I have always loved these rather simple pictures, which I imagined was what these places looked like through the eyes of a cultured person who was really respected for his intelligence, which I have had some idea since an early age was the truly highest state that I had any realistic hope of attaining to. I thought I should look at them side by side with some picture of what they look like now, and record my thoughts on it.

1. Ancient amphitheater at Epidaurus. Everything, for me, has to start with Greece, or the Greek world. Look at those dried out, ancient looking hills in the background, and the sense that a traveler trekking across an empty country could just stumble upon this grand, perfect ruin.

I actually cannot find a modern picture of the place where it is overrun with vulgar tourists, commercialism, etc, so maybe it actually is not ruined, and my whole project of lamentation is going to be defeated.

I have seen more stirring old pictures of the Parthenon, but I'm trying establish a mood here.  

This is more like it, although most of these people at least look young, which is more bearable. Still, the romance of communing with the glory that was Athens is probably hard to achieve when there are this many people.

Aqueduct at Segovia. There's a nice little crowd here even in the 50s, but manageable. You're still going to get that centrally-located room and night of outdoor dancing with comparatively elegant people without too much hassle if you want it.

This is the most crowded modern picture I could find, and at least one blogger has written a post describing Segovia as "That Idyllic European Town You've Been Looking For" so maybe there is still hope for me to live out my European fantasies, or some of them anyway, and this will be an optimistic rather than a pessimistic post.

Mausoleum of Theodoric the Ostrogoth at Ravenna. Those trees. I feel like I'm at the end of a classic movie.

I like the 1950s approach better. The whole setting in the modern picture makes the tomb look less substantial, it looks a little like a CCC-era public restroom in a city park.

Image result for mausoleum of theodoric in ravenna overrun tourists

The cloth hall at Ypres. This building was rebuilt from 1933-1967 after the medieval structure was destroyed during World War I. This picture may be of the original, I can't tell. The solitary man in this picture decked out for an Alpine expedition as he crosses the square is one of my oldest tourism role models. The spirit embodied in this enthusiastic pilgrim will be mine too, someday, I can imagine myself thinking.

More cars now.

Walled Town of Carcassone. Another picture to arouse the leisure-lover's imagination. Another sleepy afternoon in the village just as it's been for the last 600 years. And a long-haired girl sitting on the wall...

I'm just not finding the nightmarish scenes I was hoping for. 

No nightmare here.

Cologne Cathedral. I'm pretty sure this picture must predate World War II.

Kenilworth Castle, England. I love the muddy approach here.

The modern picture somehow always lacks the romance of the older ones, but this place seems to have stayed pretty true to itself. 

Reims Cathedral. I'm going to bet this is still pleasant and civilized. But the neighboring areas, the nightlife, the cafes, those are all dead now, right? It's not possible that I could still find something of what I imagine I have always wanted, is it? 

This is the most crowded picture of Reims Cathedral I could find. Once again, the older picture makes it look so much more grand, but I am sure that it is pretty exciting to see in real life. Most of the famous places I have been to generally were.

Gratuitous Notre Dame picture. One of the central loci of the old Western European dream that so many today are successfully weaning themselves off of. 

Abbey at Cluny

This place is looking just as good as it did before.

This is the most important of these pictures, the one I came back to the most because it is the one that projects, in those who can make some claim to possession of its ultra-superior qualities, the most authority and self-assurance, and of course it is that that I have always lusted after with complete and shameless abandon. 

I would definitely still go and see this if I were able. It's got too much lore and connection to classic Europe to be too diminished in my eyes.

Well, maybe.

House of Jacques Coeur, Bourges

The Doges Palace always has had a little bit of a crowd--no one dreams of going to empty cities, even generally misanthropic intellectuals.

Now it's the poster child for overtourism. They are getting very close to implementing a fee to enter the city.

Medici-Riccardi Palace. I had to get something from Florence in here. It's another one of the old standbys of the touristic imagination that sounds like it has become somewhat more difficult at least to partake of the feeling of being somewhere very special and great. Perhaps this is not true. I was there in '97, pre-Euro,and the numbers of visitors, while lamented at the time, were certainly much smaller than now, and I felt that I found a great deal of what I was looking for. 

I'm going to publish this now. I was almost finished on the 23rd but I had a bit of a health incident on Christmas Eve so I don't know if I'm going to be up to polishing this for a few weeks. However I may do a short end of year type post in a couple of days because I am laid up for a few days.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Two Movies Named After 20th Century World Leaders

Now that I have caught up on making a record all of the movies I've seen I can see that I'm down to seeing about one a month. I'm going through a stretch now of seeing a few from the periods and categories that I have always liked. I am sure that there are probably a lot of movies from this century that I would like, but I haven't devised a system yet to consistently lead me to them (and I love operating off of systems), so for the time being I still get much more enjoyment out of what I am accustomed to. In any event the idea of generally preferring novel things, or that would even be able to make much of an impression on me, seems more and more strange to me as I get older.  I grasp the argument that one must grow tired of endlessly revisiting familiar things, but I guess I have not experienced in person enough of the tired images and activities and encounters that crowd my imagination to have had my fill of them such as to be always craving novelty. This will be the subject of some upcoming posts.

Tito and Me  (1992)

Another movie in that early-90s European arthouse vein that I have discovered of late enough positive associations that I have grown fond of it. This is a somewhat light-hearted Yugoslavian film about a chunky 10 year old set in 1954 that was made during the period when that country was in the act of violently breaking apart. The description on the DVD box that I bought it in order to watch it, since it isn't streaming anywhere, identifies it as being in the tradition of other wistful European films about childhood such as My Life as a Dog, Small Change, and a third one I had not heard of before the name of which escapes me. The appeal of this to me, and I did largely like it, lies in the details of its depiction of what looks like a fairly tranquil childhood in a minor European capital in a minor and I suppose even backwater European country under communism. The adults, especially those in their prime years, are all pointedly living in despair, from the two married couples and two children and one grandmother living together in a single one bathroom flat, to the artistic parents who frequently have to perform for party officials, to the teacher who writes on the chalkboard with great violence and flings the chalk on the floor afterwards, to the miserable leader of the student pilgrimage to the various sites around the country associated with Tito. The boy who is the main character I would not say loves Tito but develops an oddly vapid fascination for him that leads to his inadvertently winning an essay contest, the prize for which was to be a pilgrim on the aforementioned trip. I think this is supposed to be a metaphor for the absurdity of leader-worshipping political systems. There is a subplot involving a gangly girl from an orphanage who is the object of the protagonist's fledgling attempts at romance that I found oddly endearing. Having had a little glimpse of some of the less threatening remnants of that communist world when I lived in Prague I liked all of the parts that reminded me of that, such as when the student travelers camped out in the main hall of an old mansion on their trip (we did things like that!) or the easier familiarity of people who seem socially accessible to me with the worlds of arts and humanistic learning in general.  Also like many of the European films I am discovering from this time its way of understanding and engaging with the greater world whether via school or walking or traveling or the arts are just familiar to me in a way that I have had great difficulty finding anywhere in contemporary life.

Wilson (1944)

Big budget biopic of the now seriously downgraded 28th President of the United States, who is presented here as the near heroic but ultimately tragically over-idealistic figure that the popular histories of my youth still depicted him as. This flopped at the box office upon its initial release and I had never heard of it nor seen it come up in any discussion of Golden Age Hollywood, though it did get 10 Oscar nominations, including best picture, and won 5. I found it interesting and liked it, even though as a narrative it hits on all the points of the standard story of Wilson. There is Princeton, there is the governorship of New Jersey, the 1st Presidential campaign, the early progressive legislative successes, the contention with the Republican faction led by Henry Cabot Lodge, the death of his first wife, the courting of his second wife, the narrow re-election, America's entry into World War I, the Fourteen Points, the Versailles Peace Conference, the frantic tour around America to win support for the Treaty, the final collapse and debilitating stroke that left him bedridden for the final year of his Presidency. Filmed in technicolor with fairly loose restraint on expenses, it's a great-looking movie, almost worth seeing for the sets alone, and it has a cast full of very distinguished-looking though not especially well-remembered actors--the most recognizable to modern audiences (or at least audiences of my raised-on-TV 70s and 80s generation) would likely be Thomas Mitchell and Vincent Price, who appear here in minor roles. Wilson himself was played by Alexander Knox, a Canadian-born actor, in what appears to be by far his most prominent film role. Geraldine Fitzgerald, a very handsome Irish actress who had a solid career in the 30s and 40s, appearing frequently in adaptions of literary classics, portrayed the 2nd wife of the President. The 3 Wilson daughters were played by the kind of wholesome looking 1940s all-American girls I like, and the English actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who was pretty celebrated in his day, was striking as Henry Cabot Lodge. The notable French actor Marcel Dalio, who appeared in several of Jean Renoir's 30s classics, appeared as Clemenceau, along with Henry Cabot Lodge the traditional villain foiling Wilson's noble plans. It was directed by the longtime Hollywood stalwart Henry King, several of whose pictures I have written about here, mostly positively.

As someone who is generally a fan of the aesthetics of the periods of American history covered in this movie (those being the 1910s as they were remembered in the 1940s) I was able to get a lot of pleasure from being able to revisit that alone. The beautiful fashions and hairstyles and rooms of the time, the confident energy of the still-rising American nation. There is a scene where the student body of Princeton (all-male at that time of course) serenades Wilson outside his house on the night of his election to the presidency which I suppose would be regarded by most sentient people as corny but which always evokes to me something attractive about the spirit of that time. I liked the football game scene and the golfing scenes as well.

Given the recent controversies surrounding Wilson's evidently severe racism and the demands that places that still publicly honor him, at Princeton and elsewhere, stop doing so, there is an amusing scene at the end of the movie when the ailing Wilson laments to his wife that his grandchildren and the generations of the future will judge him hardly for his failures at achieving disarmament and getting the United States to join the League of Nations and so forth. That 100 years after his Presidency the most salient aspect of him to these people of the future, and one that was essentially universally regarded as negative, would be that he was an enthusiastic supporter of segregation and other appalling racial attitudes, probably never occurred to him. It certainly doesn't seem to have occurred to the script writers of the 1940s or most critics up to modern times who disliked the film for other reasons either.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Forward-Looking Me

Or at least in-the-moment me. I'm going to do a post of short takes regarding pressing current (trending?) subjects. Especially since I have some of my more typical backward-looking ones in the queue preparing to roll out.

I was going to riff on whatever was coming across my Twitter feed, but I just logged on and someone is talking about what is the best Shakespeare play. Well, I can start with that. The best play is obviously Hamlet, right? All of those big tragedies would take up the "best" spots mostly. My favorites, meaning those I derived the most spontaneous enjoyment from reading, would be something like 1. Henry the Fourth I, 2. Antony and Cleopatra, 3. Julius Caesar, 4. Romeo and Juliet, 5. tie between Hamlet and As You Like It.

If called upon to give an unplanned 18-minute TED talk, what would you discuss? I don't know about anything that is up to date enough to interest a professional audience, so I would probably just talk about some the neglected American Literature of the period between the Civil War and World War II and what arguments can be made for its relevance to the present, which is something not a lot of other people are talking about anyway, though I doubt it would go over well.

Hatred of Trump. I am as tired of talking about Trump as much as everybody else. I haven't liked him going back to the 80s--indeed I probably hated him then more than I do now, I was younger and more hopeful about things and I thought it was terrible that the media seemed to celebrate and encourage his rude and disrespectful behavior. In the present day, I don't have anywhere near the inchoate fury with regard to him that other people have for him now. This hatred in a lot of people seems to be motivated by the sense that they are morally good while he is an abomination, or that they are intelligent while he is stupid, but I am not capable of feeling indignant in this way anymore. I have theorized that the subconscious cause of a lot of this rage is that he overtly make a mockery out of so many people's lives and earnest efforts by his ridiculous successes in fields that others take very seriously and devote much of their lives to trying to have a career in, not only politics but book publishing and selling, entertainment. How many Phds toil in poverty for decades trying to land any position, while Trump founds his own "university" and has people sending him their life savings right away? For all that he is despised by multitudes of women for his appalling, unenlightened, misogynistic, gross, etc, etc, etc, he has willingly taken to bed more reasonably attractive women than the average well-intentioned male feminist or beleaguered modern liberal husband could hope to lay a finger on in a hundred lifetimes, or five hundred. I know the self-righteously angry men online, or some of them anyway, do not care about their personal inability to have sex with an army of bimbos at the drop of a hat when the scourges of sexism and patriarchy need to be opposed and defeated, and . But I'm not going to pretend that I don't care about it or take the hard cold truth into consideration. 

Somebody watching the Pretenders performing in Austin. I had their greatest hits album on cassette back in '89 or so, and it was one of the handful of albums I would listen to pretty much from beginning to end. "Kid", "Talk of the Town", I liked those songs, I'd kind of forgotten about them. I only remember being made fun of by a cool person for listening to this one time.

Somebody Supporting Julian Castro. Why? I am completely at sea on the election now. I don't know who to vote for. Even the candidates of whom I kind of like something have serious drawbacks.

I admit I didn't follow the impeachment hearings very closely. I had no interest in them, or in anything that came out in them. I guess I have to force myself to pay attention more.

Oh yes, Kamala Harris dropping out. I was never sure why anybody thought she was going to catch fire. Regular people didn't like her, there was no evidence that she even had any interest in seriously addressing the decline of the middle classes, and former middle classes of America, which for the time being is what these elections are primarily about.

I took a day off and now I'm going to give this a second try.

Guy trashing Jason Garrett's coaching and raving about the Chicago Bears' socks. I don't have anything to add to this (assuming that these are the traditional Chicago Bears' socks) although the Jason Garrett criticism is approaching the beating a dead horse phase. The Dallas Cowboys overall are the sports team I have felt the most hatred for/fear of over the course of my life, though as I approach fifty, and the eras where they loomed most menacing recede ever further into the past my capacity for that level of loathing is weakening. I still enjoy watching one game in a week when I get the chance, though.

My Friend and Sometime Reader of the Blog Gil Roth is tweeting about a new book claiming that Albert Camus was murdered by the KGB. That is a new one to me. Further emphasizes that being a serious international-level author entails a lot more than it looks like when you're a teenager thumbing through these books sitting in a plush chair in a library on a snowy day in Maine.

Death of Journalism/Learn to Code Joke. I have let some younger people into my feed. The Learn to Code meme I think is played out. What is my opinion of people in their 20s and 30s? A few of them are clever but seem aimless.  I find very few who both reveal a sense of humor/personal charm and are "serious" or accomplished in some professional or recognized way. I've known a few women from this age group--late 20s to 30s, mostly teachers or otherwise involved in children's activities--who seemed to me like they would be pretty good catches for marriage or whatever, but were single and didn't even have boyfriends as far as I know. I suppose it's possible they weren't interested in that, and we are certainly trained to assume that as the default position unless told otherwise, but I don't know, if you're 32 and working in a school in New Hampshire, making some effort to be conventionally attractive, I am guessing that they probably would like to get married at some point.

Stephen King on how the Trumpers hate the 3 million vote differential in the popular vote in 2016. I actually do not have that impression. It's the anti-Trumpers who bring it up incessantly. I am not one of these people who wants to get rid of the Electoral College. It may be an unwieldy system but we have inherited it and I think we should try to preserve our foundational institutions as long as we can until they become completely untenable. Even with the election of Trump I don't think that time has come yet.

Joe Biden Challenging an 83 year old voter to an IQ test.  Not great. There are actually several themes here related to future posts, so I will save my thoughts for that future occasion.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Return to Music Videos

I haven't done one of these posts in a while. I probably waited too long, since I was going to draw heavily for this post from a great YouTube "channel" called Munrows Retro, which had dozens, if not hundreds of cool videos of 50s-70s pop songs, mostly featuring vintage film clips of attractive white people having what appeared to me to be fun. But apparently a video was put up in which someone was naked--I missed that one--and the whole channel was taken down, and has not been put back up again. But there are a few other ones I have liked lately.

Francoise Hardy--Tous les Garcons et les Filles

I can't believe it has taken me this long to delve into the oeuvre of Francoise Hardy. She is really something else. I used to find certain American new wave singers like Debbie Harry annoying even though I liked a lot of their songs because they always had that extra gear of coolness that kept people like me at Bridge-and-Tunnel's length. But Francoise Hardy is somewhere beyond even needing to be cool. I have been gabbling a lot here lately about how great 1960s Paris was anyway, and then I find this stuff, which is a veritable compendium of everything people like me imagine that era to have been like.

Francoise Hardy--Une Fille Comme Tant d'Autres
I could do a whole post on her, but here is one more keeping with the 60s in Paris theme. I know the present is great if you understand how to engage with it (I don't), but the atmosphere they had going on back then, or at least were able to conjure up, really suits my sensibility.

The Smiths--Well I Wonder
This is the kind of video the Munrows Retro channel had with the 1950s or 60s film stock, although those were usually jollier. This is the Smiths though. I listened to them a lot as a teenager, so I can't hear most of their songs with particularly fresh ears now. However a number of the songs from the Meat is Murder album, this one, I Want the One I Can't Have, and That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, as well as Bigmouth Strikes Again, seem better to me than they did when I was younger.

Actually I can't embed this one, so I will link to it.

Walter Egan--Magnet and Steel
One of those 70s songs that sounds pretty good 40 years. Plus I like this guy's face. Most singers, to be honest, look like people I would find obnoxious, but I can imagine hanging out with somebody like this. I like the ghostly nostalgic 50s imagery slipped in at the end too. An all around crowd-pleaser.

Steely Dan--Dirty Work
Munrows Retro had an awesome video of "Hey Nineteen", which is probably my favorite song by this group, though this is my second favorite song, and this is a good video too, lots of ridiculously beautiful people, the effect of which is about the same as a full three minutes of Francoise Hardy by herself.

The KCTU Dancers

Wholesome high school kids on public access TV in Wichita, Kansas. I did at first think they were college-aged. The low production values combined with the retro sensibility and the positive energy make it appealing.

And another one

The Romantics--Talking in Your Sleep

Inexplicably, I am kind of fascinated by this song and video lately. Doesn't it have an oddly clean sound?

Barbara Mason--Yes, I'm Ready

One of those songs I heard in the drug store that got through to me, so I decided to look it up when I got home.

Obviously I haven't been listening to much variety or discovering a lot of new things (that I like) of late. I've also gotten away from seeing much in the way of older movies, and then a lot of the videos I was going to post got taken down. I need to set myself up with some kind of music program--even the classics both of high European culture and jazz I am not really that familiar with--rather than just aimlessly falling into the old ruts.

On that note I will seek inspiration in this quest by closing with another great Francoise Hardy video

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

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

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

1. Mira Sorvino (b. 1967)

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

2. Meredith Salenger (b. 1970)

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

3. Liane Balaban (b. 1980)

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

4. Zooey Deschanel (b. 1979)

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

5. Christina Applegate (b. 1971)

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

6. Winona Ryder (b. 1971)

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

Nowhere in Africa (2001)

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

Get Shorty (1995)

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

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

I really did not like this.

Daylight (1996)

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Idle Movie Post

De-Lovely (2004)

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

Will Penny (1968)

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

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

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

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

Edge of the City (1957)

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

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

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The Vermont Country Store

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

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

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