Monday, November 02, 2020

Pre-Election Jottings

(Written a Month Ago)

I am at the stage in my blogging career where sometimes I just have to sit and wait for a few days for a topic to suggest itself to me. I may take a little trip over to Maine this weekend, with the foliage thrown in and all, and if nothing comes to me perhaps I will wait and write a travelogue of that escapade, but I would like to get something out this week. I know the politics have been insane this week. I don't have anything that I need to say about that right now. My political commentary tends to build up over a period of a few months at least, and I just wrote something about it recently. I suppose if the President dies I will want to record my thoughts on the occasion. 

Yesterday I was very worked up about a guy on Twitter with higher status than I have who considers himself to be very very smart indeed. I know I should not go on Twitter but I don't have any social community even to observe in real life or otherwise online that holds much interest for me. This thread started with his remarking that he found Moby Dick excruciating and that it bored him to tears, which I don't agree with, but people with adroit minds often look at things in different ways, and this could perhaps be an interesting opinion with a little more elaboration and some speculation as to why so many other people who have some demonstrable intelligence (I will recuse myself from this group) may have come to an opposite conclusion. However he did not do this but asserted somewhat arrogantly, as if it were something that was both a) widely known to be true and b) relevant to the greatness of the book as literature, that Melville had made up a lot of the stuff about the whales. This is the sort of thing that has always upset me, it's something clever people always throw at you when they don't want to have a discussion with you in good faith, but just want to shut you out, and I have never been able to effectively respond to it. What does it even mean, made up a lot of the stuff about the whales? What is it referring to? To what extent is it important? Why hasn't it bothered anyone else that I am aware of until now, including legions of important teachers and cultural figures? Is our traditional understanding of literature too compromised by the overwhelmingly fictional nature of its subject matter in a data driven age? Needless to say I don't take this view of the matter but people who do seem to increasingly dominate the public space and discourse, and I am nowhere.

(Written October 16)

I said I wasn't going to write any more about the election, but I probably will at some point, though not tonight. I may recuse myself from voting, because I don't think I understand what is going on. I am completely defeated, if not directly by the propaganda coming from both sides, then by the force of that propaganda on everyone around me. I feel obligated to vote for the Democrats, but I take little pleasure in the prospect of their winning, I have no belief that they have any workable policies that are going to improve the country in any way that I really care about, and while I get the dread of Trump and the other Republicans, I don't understand what other people see in them (the Ds) to be excited about. They are at best less terrible, and maybe they aren't even that.

Social media, despite the best efforts of earnest people to police it, being the degenerate arena that the mass of humanity would dictate it must be, has been full of discussion regarding the hotness, comparative and otherwise, of the various middle-aged women at the center of our present political drama. Is Kamala Harris hot? Melania Trump? Amy Coney Barrett? Michelle Obama? All have their champions and their detractors in this department, neatly drawn of course for the most part along partisan lines. Even to me it seems rather unseemly to be aware of the looks of any of these people, let alone make judgments upon them as if they bore any relevance to their roles and achievements; but even the most progressive quarters have felt the need at times to expound upon the elegance and beauty of Michelle Obama, as if the thought of it helps bear them up through the dark times they are enduring now...

(November 2)

It's now the night before the election. I should be studying the candidates for local office, because I'll get there and won't know who any of them are, and sometimes they don't list what party the people belong to. I am not excited about voting. I don't think I like politics. I'm very sour on the Democrats. The wife of one of my best friends from high school is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in a very hotly contested race in another state, and while I know these people to be very intelligent and very funny and I will be pleased and even somewhat reassured if she does win, politically she is a completely conventional, almost vanilla 2020 Democratic candidate who says all of the things people of her class are supposed to say, and think, all of the time. Obviously that bothers me a little even in people I know and generally have faith in, and generally agree with, and I don't know why. But I am out of time and I have to post this before it's too late and I miss the election. Last time I didn't post for several months afterwards because everything was just too serious and dire for me to chime, so I guess we'll see what happens after tomorrow. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Mike Trout Era

Often around this time of year I do a baseball post, in which, as obsolete old men have done since the players began wearing gloves, I more or less lament how the sport is being ever more ruined every year (and I was someone who was already lamenting the at that point still recently lost glory of the game when I was ten. Of course I hadn't seen anything yet). I do this because like all old people I genuinely miss the things that have gone away, like pennant races, a shorter but more intense playoff season, separate leagues, fewer teams, Wrigley Field not having lights, pitchers batting (pitchers pitching, for that matter, for more than 1/2 or 1/3 of the game at most), which make it hard for me to get very enthused about present day baseball. Even the advanced statistical analysis, which I took an interest in when it first emerged in the 80s and 90s, and seems now to constitute the major area of focus among both baseball executives and the sports' remaining fans, has long moved beyond me and seems, in its increasingly oppressive influence on the game as it is played on the field and is organized at the lower professional levels, to be draining much of the life out of it. As I have written elsewhere, I probably would have given up following the sport altogether except that two of my sons (aged 18 and 11) are quite dedicated fans, to the extent that they are 2 of the fifty or so people under age 75 who are still watching the Red Sox games in the last week of the season.** I do find that touching, so I try to watch the games with them when I can, because we won't all be together like this forever. But I don't much enjoy the way the games, or the seasons, play out now at all.   


This is a rather roundabout way of getting to the main subject of this year's gripe-post. Mike Trout has been almost unanimously acknowledged by the experts to be the best baseball player in the world since his emergence on the scene as a 20 year old in 2012, and it is not uncommon to see him rated already as one of the top ten, or even top five players of all time, with a strong likelihood of laying claim to being the greatest ever to play the sport if he continues to perform over the second half of his career as he has up to now. In his eight full seasons to date, he has been voted the American League MVP 3 times, been runner-up four times, and finished 4th once, in which latter season he missed 48 games due to injury and his team had a losing record and finished 21 games out of first place. Many knowledgeable observers consider that he was robbed of the award in several of the runner up seasons. He has famously never come close as of yet to playing in the World Series, and has only appeared once in the watered down modern playoffs, on which occasion his team was swept in the first round. In spite of this lofty status, both in contemporary and historical terms, in what is still probably the second most popular professional sport in the United States (and being a white, native born American superstar to boot), he is not much of a celebrity in the world outside baseball, nor has he really established, to my mind at least, the kind of iconic visual image or character of himself actually playing baseball that immediately comes to mind with almost every other legend one can think of, including players like Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner whose careers largely predate the era of film, and for whose images we are reliant on photographs and hundred year old anecdotes. Trout's colossal stature is built primarily on his statistics, in particular those such as WAR, On-Base percentage, OPS+ and the like that have become so widely embraced within the last decade especially. His traditional statistics are consistently outstanding across a wide range of measurements* but, in the 20th century, probably would not have identified him at this stage in his career as being already an obvious Hall of Famer nor, I dare say, netted him seven top-2 finishes in the MVP voting.    




Trout's statistical dominance combined with his strange lack of vividness as a player (I say this as someone who watches, admittedly from an eastern base, a decent amount of American League games, the league in which he has dominated the MVP voting over the past decade, and he has made no impression on me in the games I have watched him other than he has a lot of long boring at bats that end up as walks after your attention has wandered) makes him a most apt face for today's game. Everyone who does talk about him, including me, must always be mindful to emphasize how great he is, but it is always done in a way stripped of any emotional resonance, unless you have evolved to the point where a spectacular WAR can make your eyes well up. Do any fans love him, or for that matter fear, or at least dread him?*** I would imagine some fans who follow his team day in and day out must, but that team (the Los Angeles Angels) does not have a terribly high profile fan base. The reasons for this lack of resonance nationally are I think a combination of factors, many of which derive from the demise of pennant races, which results in a lack of meaningful games outside of the playoffs (which Trout is never in), as well as, if not a complete lack, somewhat more difficulty in establishing rivalries, both on a team and an individual basis. The end of pennant races has also affected the MVP voting, which in the last decade especially has become almost entirely statistics-based (with the increasing sense that it should go almost automatically to the highest ranked player by WAR). This has become so accepted that it is commonplace now to see past selections, such as Willie Stargell in 1979 or Kirk Gibson in 1988, mercilessly ridiculed. At the time however, I don't remember them, and didn't think of them, as being terribly controversial. A 162 game season with a single team in each division making the playoffs really was a lot like following a novel, and as you didn't get a compelling story every year, that made the years you did get one all that much more memorable, and gave a boost to particular players at the center of those drives in the MVP voting that I don't think bothered a lot of fans or people in the game. If Trout has ever had another player as an identifiable rival, it would probably be Miguel Cabrera, who famously was the first triple crown winner in 45 years--an event many fans of my generation thought might never happen again--in 2012, Trout's rookie season, in which he emerged with not only perhaps the greatest rookie season, but one of the greatest seasons, as measured by WAR, of all time by anyone. The modern stat geeks were so carried away with their excitement at the arrival of such a superplayer in the new dispensation that old-fashioned fans who expressed their own excitement at the prospect of a triple crown were savaged as simpletons and know nothings, and all of the professional writers under age 50 or so who wanted to remain relevant, seeing which way the winds were blowing, took up the banner of Trout for MVP, pooh-poohed the triple crown (as well as pitcher wins, and innings pitched, and batting average and unadjusted ERA) as if they were not even worthy of interest, and picked apart Cabrera's game (no speed, negative defensive value) with as much disdain as if they considered him to be about as good as post-2015 Chris Davis. The shock was not so much in the lionizing of Trout but, as always, in the revolutionary zeal with which the old system and its idols were ridiculed and trashed. In 2012 the old guard dominated the MVP voting enough that Cabrera prevailed, getting 22 1st place votes to Trout's 6. The following year, in 2013, Cabrera, though he did not win the triple crown again, actually had slightly better triple crown stats, won the MVP even more handily (23-5 in 1st place votes) despite Trout's again having much higher war and being the subject of another relentless scorched earth campaign in his behalf being carried out by the new guard. After this the old writers were primed and softened up enough that in 2014, with Cabrera declining enough to fall to 9th place in the voting, Trout was elected unanimously...



So this is not the most polished or coherent piece--but it has been two weeks since I've posted, the regular season, which is what I mainly care about now that the playoffs lack legitimacy, is ending this weekend, and I want to move on to edify my readership with my wisdom on other topics...   

*They are legitimately great. While he has only led the American League once in any of the traditional triple crown categories (RBIs in 2014 with the less than jaw dropping total of 111), he has finished in the top five in batting average and home runs 4 times each, with a career high of 45 homers last year, and he has finished in the top 4 in slugging percentage every year he has played, topping .600 in each of the past three seasons (he is at .595 with three games left in this truncated season). However he has not really had a season where any of his traditional numbers by themselves would have blown away a newspaper reader of old checking the league leaders throughout the season--no .360+ average or 140+ RBI campaign, for example. Eventually of course he would begin to accumulate huge career totals in the counting stats, move into the upper reaches of the all time lists and so on and be positively judged in that way, which statistics (apart from perhaps home runs) do not seem to be as obsessively monitored and reported now by writers and announcers (as opposed to computers) as they were formerly. 

**Tonight was the last home game for the Red Sox. In a terrible season, which saw no fans at the park, and the majority of the team consisting of forgettable, transient players. Yet it was still kind of sad. 

***Some players I have dreaded/feared/loathed in the course of my years following baseball include Gary Carter and Steve Garvey (smug, arrogant, abused my team), Dusty Baker (killed my team), Willie Stargell (terrifying, killed my team), Lenny Dykstra, (obnoxiously troublesome, I hated him until he actually got traded to my team, at which point he began immediately became my favorite player), many Yankees of their recent golden age (Jeter, Rivera, Posada, Matsui, Sheffield all inspired various degrees of dread). Barry Bonds, especially in his (presumed) steroid incarnation, was genuinely terrifying, in that you were almost reliant on luck to get him out. My children who are fans find Aaron Judge, who is fortunately for them frequently out of the lineup due to being often injured, to be scary in this regard, that the pathetic Red Sox pitchers are essentially powerless to prevent him from hitting a home run unless he screws it up himself. But they don't feel this way about Mike Trout, they feel that he can be gotten out if properly pitched to, which is not always a given. They used to feel this way about A-Rod as well, who was much less frightening than about five other guys on his Yankees teams, even though overall he was evidently the best player. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

This Week's Semi Off the Cuff Thoughts About Politics/The Election

I think it is important for me to try to get down in words as much as possible what I think about all that is going on. Other people clearly know what they think, and in case you have not noticed, their patience with people who either aren't paying as close attention or are not having similar visceral reactions has long worn thin. Since I think about these things somewhat more clearly in the daytime, when unfortunately I am usually not able to sit down and write, I jotted down some notes on my phone. These are rather like tweets I suppose, but I am not quite ready to publish them as tweets, because they are impressions and works in progress, and not meant to be arguments, or the starting points of arguments. They are meant, mostly, to help me figure out why I do not feel the horror and shame and anger at what is going on with the same intensity as everyone else. 

My interest in the upcoming election from the point of view of faction is not high--I am often annoyed that I have as I suppose no choice but to vote for the Democrats, who don't deserve it. However as around half of my actual real life acquaintance is so hysterical about Trump being in office and convinced that anyone who is not committed to getting him out with every fiber of their being is a party to world historical crimes against humanity, I feel obligated to see that he is removed even though I don't really believe that a Democratic administration is going to be any kind of real improvement. Obviously I am unable to truly foresee whatever unspeakably horrible thing it is that people are worried about, a Trump-inspired and orchestrated genocide, or apartheid-like oppression or whatever; however, as many seem to regard this as a possibility, I obviously don't want it on my conscience.

What are people on the left so afraid of/hysterical about with regard to Trump specifically? I have never understood this. George W. Bush seems to me to have been at least as bad in many ways, as well as probably dumber, and people were never unhinged like this. Even if Trump does lose, then what? The euphoria I think is going to be short lived. There are a lot of expectations to be managed, and the work that needs to be undertaken to make this any kind of a functioning society again I am still not persuaded has been accurately identified by the people who are going to be in charge.

Much of what is going on is not real to me, partly because of my age, partly because I have lived in an isolated and pretty well-functioning corner of the country for so many years that the crazier aspects of national politics and movements are like a show that takes place far away and never really infringes upon my life. 

I believe election chicanery is much more likely to come from the left than the right, because the anti-Trump faction is desperate in a way that I have never seen before. As I have stated before, I was surprised that he was "allowed" to win the last time since the entire narrative was that it would be the end of country and a disaster to end all disasters if he did, so surely any all-powerful interest such as we are led to believe is tirelessly active behind all the scenes that direct our national life would have wanted to prevent that from happening, wouldn't it? 

What good do people imagine is going to happen once Trump is gone? The country is in a state of complete social and organizational disarray, and nothing I have seen proposed is going to change that. Is punishing Trump voters (and such as might be identified as such) going to be enough?

While I have come across Trump supporters, or at least anti-Democrats, online that I kind of like and think are smart and perceptive and at least as well educated as most of the proudly educated anti Trump people (I think anybody who is truly educated would be too disgusted to express enthusiasm for either side--if you have to reluctantly support the Democrats because the Trump party is that unspeakably evil, sure, but are they really anything to write home about themselves?), I don't know anyone even moderately sharp or educated who I trust among my actual acquaintance who supports Trump, which does carry a lot of influence with me. I do know some business type people who I suspect are holding their nose and voting for Trump because they think it is protecting their interests and they hate what they perceive will be the Democratic agenda if they get in. But I am not going to throw my lot in with them.

People who spend all day rattling on about the various terrible things Trump does, recounting all of his lies, his undermining of supposedly treasured institutions, as if that day's new outrage is finally going to be the one that breaks the Republicans in their feed and forces them to confess how misguided they had been and how humble and contrite they are going to be for the rest of their lives going forward, are missing the point in a way that I have rarely seen in modern history, and this includes many people, top writers and Ivy League professors and so on, who are supposed to be smart and possessed of insight. The overwhelming spur to Trump's support, it is obvious to me, is not pro-Trump, it is anti-the Left. And Trump, unlike other Republicans, provides enough of a contrast to this despised group, which is especially emphasized by the enemies' over-the-top revulsion towards him, that his voters rally around him.

Sick of everyone being enraged. Why should I care if you are enraged? People who actually have reasonable ideas don't carry on in such a manner.

The insistence that Trump and his voters are fascists or white supremacists, or at least effectively  sympathetic with the vile aims of such people, has become tiresome, and serves no serious purpose other than to demonize people you know nothing about and consider yourself to be above engaging with. Everybody wants to put the burden of racism, at least in its really sinister manifestations, on somebody else, preferably someone they already don't like. Yes, of course, NPR and Harvard University and the Starbucks corporation and educated northeastern liberals will concede that racism is so pervasive that even they themselves must be doing something wrong though of course they aren't doing it on purpose and they are sparing no effort in rooting it out, or at least trying to identify how it keeps creeping back into their lives and organizations, since a lot of these entities have been against racism for quite a long time now. To the extent that there is a fascist or authoritarian right, they seem a lot less adept at actually getting what they want than the authoritarian left (and they complain about this online, that none of the things they want are ever delivered or even given a hearing, all the time). "White supremacists" (as distinct from downtrodden garden variety simple racists) are beyond a joke, they can't even get any girls to like them, which girls would if they were as dangerous and powerful as the media seemingly would have them be. They barely exist .

People profess to be worried about Trump refusing to leave or setting up a dictatorship or something. How is he going to do that? None of these multitudes of powerful people who hate him would be able to prevent that from happening? He personally would be able to liquidate the constitution over the objection of literally almost everyone in the respectable classes and declare that his term of office was not over on January 20, 2021? This is not plausible to me.

I need to study up more on the business with the children in the cages, since people are really upset about that, and I have neglected looking into it--as a bureaucrat myself I have tended to assume that there is some reason for this policy other than just the fulfillment of sadistic urges which no one has felt the need to try to explain to the public, but it is my fault for not being more diligent about discovering what that might be. Can the families being held not, upon being informed at the border that they will not be admitted and will be detained, leave and go back to their native country, or some other place upon finding the U.S. so inhospitable?  My general sense is that decent people want to allow everybody from anywhere who wants to come into the country to come in and, if not stay forever unconditionally, more or less be able to do so in the absence of really egregious crimes, if even then. But I need to study the cage situation more thoroughly.

What I wanted to happen in the 2016 election was for Hillary Clinton to win, but by such a narrow margin that it would frighten and perhaps chasten her supporters, who had become so obnoxious by the last days of the race that I couldn't even log on to the internet the night of the election to endure their bleating and gloating and man-bashing and whatever else they were planning to do, into maybe toning it down a little and governing the country like the serious adults they all claimed they were. But I see now that there was no way that would have happened anyway. 

I had a question about the 190,000 (thus far) people that have died, some say been killed, by Trump's particular mishandling of the virus, and wondering how many of those would be alive and thriving if Hillary Clinton were president. Perhaps there wouldn't have even been a virus if Hillary Clinton had been president, or it would have been contained and nipped in the bud due to better international coordination and openness. I have to say that in spite of all the deaths, the virus does not feel, especially now, like it is the real problem, and that I feel like there would not be a crisis going on without either Donald Trump or the pandemic, but that something else would have come up because the society as whole is not well...Now though I have hit my limit for the week and I've got to put this up...

Friday, September 04, 2020

"You Will Get Nothing"

The title is another phrase that plays on constant replay in my mind, usually whenever I think of something that I would like to be able to have but am certainly not going to get. Writing the other little catchphrases out as blog post titles does seem to have done some good as far as not having them repeating in my (mind) ad nauseam after I did it, so maybe I will have a similar result with this one.  

Birds of Prey (1973)

Another weird selection, this is a made-for-TV movie from 1973 that somehow got on my list and that I could never find a copy of. One night when I didn't have any DVDs, due to a delay in the mail probably, I was searching through the fairly large group of movies on my list that have never been available to see if any of them happened to be streaming for free on Amazon, and this one came up. It had not been re-mastered or anything, so the quality was reminiscent of watching an educational movie on a reel-to-reel projector in school in 1978. It was only about 70 minutes long, but I fell asleep about 20 minutes in, and while I would occasionally revive myself, I could never do so enough to concentrate long on what was happening. I saw enough that I didn't feel the need to try to watch it again on a night when I was better rested. The premise, about a middle-aged World War II pilot who was working as a helicopter traffic reporter on the radio in Denver* who has to assist the police in chasing down (through the air) some people who have committed some kind of major crime and escaped via a helicopter of their own, was not uninteresting, but the whole movie was too subdued and yellow-hued to keep me awake. 


In my memory Denver was kind of a trendy, up and coming place in the 1970s, but it has faded in the national consciousness in our day compared to places like Seattle and Portland. I never think of it or have any sense of what kind of people live there now.

The Sea Hawk (1940)

Swashbuckling, big budget (for the time) Errol Flynn vehicle, in which Flynn was reunited with his frequent collaborators, director Michael Curtiz and co-stars Claude Rains and Alan Hale, Sr (but not, alas, Basil Rathbone and Olivia de Havilland). I was probably influenced by the general deprivation of late of golden age Hollywood movies that I have inflicted upon myself (lest I never bother to explore anything else) but this was real excitement for me. I love the dialogue in these movies, the espirit du corps, the usually outrageous but highly entertaining interpretation of history. I almost never like post-1965 male movie stars, especially if they are considered good-looking, but Errol Flynn--safely long dead and not any kind of immediate personal threat to one's self, to be sure--I always find eminently likable in his film roles. He is always believable as a man that other men would trust and gladly follow even in the most dangerous or hopeless situations, and it is certain that such men have existed at such times in the world and accomplished astonishing feats, though we do not see this depicted or celebrated much it seems to me in our time, at least in such an appealing way. 

This movie is set in the time of Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada by the way, with all of the accompanying madcap tomfoolery in the depiction of the arrogant Spanish ruling class that might be expected. Flynn's daring sea captain is pretty obviously based on the career of Sir Francis Drake, though he is not named as such. Made during the early part of World War II before the entrance of the United States into the conflict, the parallels between the contemporary English position and the historical period of the movie probably don't need to be spelled out. 

A Civil Action (1998)

I admit I groaned when this came up on the program. Apart from being about lawyers, it has a very off putting promotional poster featuring an unbearably smug-looking John Travolta adjusting his cufflinks. I also had an idea that it was based on a John Grisham book, which kind of put me off as well. Not that I have anything particularly against John Grisham, but I think of him as representative of the rather bloodless, data-driven New Class of the 90s that has kind of ruined everything that I used to like in American public and cultural life. However, this was not based on a John Grisham book--it was in fact based on an actual case that was already fairly famous--and it was not that bad, as far as such things go though it isn't like I enjoyed it or anything. I had a few disparate thoughts while watching it that I will try to remember, since I neglected to write them down.

1. It is set and filmed in and around Boston, in largely unglamorous parts of it, especially in suburban Massachusetts, which being a longtime resident of this region, I get some pleasure out of seeing on film. When I was younger, it felt like nothing was ever filmed in New England--even if a movie was supposed to be set there, they would still shoot it in California. But over the last twenty years I note a great many more films being shot around here, in Boston and its environs especially. One oddity is that while most of the outdoor scenes seemed to be filmed during the grittier and most unattractive parts of the year, when the trees are bare, the sky is gray, and the snow is dirty, Robert Duvall's Harvard professor/corporate superlawyer character is always listening to the Red Sox game on the radio whenever he appears (of course there are rarely games played in the middle of the afternoon except on Sunday either, when I would not expect even top law offices to be operating at full capacity, but this is nitpicking).



2. Not having studied up on the case beforehand, I naturally expected a typical Hollywood resolution ending in John Travolta attaining a complete triumph for the average schmo over Harvard and corporate America, so when this did not happen I don't know exactly what I thought, because I approached this movie with deliberate detachment, but I suppose I felt some credit was due. From the vantage of the present day I found it quaint that the complainants in the case were insistent that they did not want money but an apology and admission of wrongdoing (which needless to say they didn't get) from the corporations. 

3. I guess you would say that this movie is a well-made generic late 90s Hollywood product, completely bloodless, full of famous and highly competent actors, glossy. The stars are maybe too big for their parts. They all come off as if they visiting the world of this movie in their Hollywood personae rather than inhabiting it in for some kind of artistic. One imagines John Travolta and Robert Duvall are on the plane heading back to Los Angeles even before the closing credits have started to roll.

Play It Again, Sam (1972)

Written by and starring (though not directed by) Woody Allen in his early period, this movie is, to be honest, kind of a mess, and it may even be inappropriate for anyone with no memory of the 1970s to put what they are seeing into some context (I was only two years old in 1972, but I remember the second half of that decade very well). It really isn't very good, and I didn't even find it to be all that funny, which was disappointing since it deals with all of the great early Woody Allen themes ("Why can't I be cool?") which I usually find hilarious. It is, however, still interesting, mainly for being smack dab in the middle of that insane era (the Woody Allen character's main goal for most of this movie, to which the viewer is supposed to be sympathetic and to bring about which the spirit of Humphrey Bogart has been summoned up for assistance, is to bed his best friend's wife) which was comparatively such a departure, both artistically and socially, from what has traditionally prevailed in this country (and which I thought of, coming into my first consciousness of the world, as the normal state of affairs, or at least what would be the normal state of affairs henceforth. We get a little glimpse into the 1970s cinephile scene, which I would have been into for the babes alone, but I also miss watching the kinds of movies I like on a big screen in a public theater or auditorium. I hadn't realized Diane Keaton, who I really do not like, was on the scene this early. The guy who always played Woody Allen's more successful and worldly friend in the 70s and 80s, whose name is Tony Roberts, is in this as well. I find it somewhat of interest that all three of these people are still alive, since watching this movie now feels like coming upon an artifact not much less remote, and in some ways even more strange, than something from the era of Beowulf. 



I am aware that this film as a stand alone work of cinema has its fans, and I mean to make a point of seeking out some of that commentary after I make a record of my personal reaction, since I am interested in seeing what others of a sharper or more penetrating eye may have seen in it.  

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)    

Yes, even though it was, and still remains popular, I knew this was going to be bad going in. I was even prepared for it--one gets these kinds of creeping feelings about certain things--to be one of the worst movies I have ever had to watch for this blog; and despite all of this advanced preparation it still managed to be brutal beyond what I was already resigned to. Was anyone involved in this seriously trying to make something good? It is hard to see any evidence of it in what made it to the screen. Supposedly this is one of the key roles that cemented Tom Hanks's superstardom and status as his generation's Jimmy Stewart. Huh? What is the role? What is the character? It's all a big bucket of slop and nothing. The plot is stupid, the screenplay is completely unfunny and unendearing. I know that you, (my idealized reader), know all of this without having had to actually watch the movie. Still, most things that are genuinely popular even when I know they are no good I can usually understand why people like them. But I am baffled by this one. The only remotely saving grace of the whole thing, and even it is a minor one, because I don't really like her either (though I would have happily gone dancing with her, don't get me wrong) is that Meg Ryan is confessedly very pretty and has beautiful hair. Her character is ridiculous however.


A few more brief notes on this. I was in college at the time this came out, though like most mainstream Hollywood rom-coms at that time, it was about the later baby boomers, who are only about ten years older than I am, though I think of them as having belonged to a completely different world, as one does. In the early 90s, Seattle--which, I might note, I have never been to--was widely seen as being perhaps the coolest place in the country, certainly among the more up-and-coming cities. I thought of it as being especially identified with the alienated Generation X grunge people, though that is certainly not the "Seattle" that is depicted in this movie. Granted, "Seattle" is not depicted in this at all, other than as somewhere with yuppie restaurants where one can live on the water if one makes the kind of income a person should, though I had assumed that they had the character live there rather than Cincinnati or Binghamton because it was currently fashionable...

I would have organized this last section better but I want to post this as I have to leave the computer for three days now...      

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

"Life is a Struggle For Me"

The title is another one of my catchphrases. It's my go to expression to myself to cope every time I walk past or espy an especially attractive group of people who are socializing and appear to be really enjoying the experience. Of course it is ridiculous, I have never struggled any near to the extent that I ought to have, and that would have been good for me, but like many pampered modern people who are occasionally unable to get everything they want on demand, I like to think of myself as a social victim and the idea has always had a very prominent place in my conscious thought. 

I haven't done a post of videos in a while. The imbeds do not generally last, so these posts age especially poorly. However, it is another record of where my mind is at particular points in time, so I like to do them occasionally. This is a sample of what I have been looking at lately. I am probably missing something that was actually really good, but if it isn't coming to me it isn't coming to me.

Jo A Ram--Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da


One of those things that is kind of infectious, at first anyway. And what can I say, she is very cute. She has many videos, but this is the best one I have found. 

The Dream Academy--Life in a Northern Town



Somehow I missed ever seeing this back in the 80s. Wherever they filmed this is amazing. It doesn't look quite like where I live now, though it has similar weather, but it does remind me a little of some of those hilly towns in the interior of Pennsylvania, Pottsville or Hazleton or Wilkes-Barre and places like that, which are quite dreary in the winter, though poignant.

Texas Real Estate Lady

  

I don't know how I came upon this, but something about it held my attention. My northeast bias is really going to come out strong here, but I cannot imagine living in a place like this (even though it is apparently in the very desirable Austin area). That kind of landscape and climate is more alienating to me than almost anything else I have seen in the United States. I would feel more at home in the town in the last video. However, maybe if I went there I would feel differently. I used to have a revulsion towards Florida and the south before I went to see it for myself, and I enjoyed my visits, though I still think I would be depressed if I had to live there.

Wolters' World 



I've been watching a lot of travel videos lately--I was already in of those states where I was fixated on when I was ever going to be able to fly somewhere glamorous and cosmopolitan again before the current situation in which many commentators are giddily speculating that most regular people won't be doing much traveling in the future even if the pandemic ever does end. I still like Rick Steves's shows, not going too upscale, but still having a nice view and getting to linger over dinner and drinks in an atmospheric setting, and I found this guy, Mark Wolters, a university lecturer from Illinois who has a very affable personality and is very positive, qualities that I admire but sadly have never been able to attain. Most of his videos are just him standing in some picturesque location talking about various aspects of travel, but his presentation of his experiences I often find to be interesting. His videos seem to me to have gotten better over time as he has gotten more practice. He seems to be about seven years younger than I am and in light of my own recent experience he strikes me as a heart attack waiting to happen within a few years, so I hope he will be all right. These things sneak up on you as get towards fifty.
 
Jo Stafford--You Belong to Me



I come back to Jo Stafford at various intervals. I had one of her records when I was in college that I did not play all the time, but on certain occasions and times of year that seemed extra-significant or prescient of a change or transition of some kind, this always seemed to fit my particular emotions at such hours. Her voice always reminds me of ice cream.

The Sundays--You're Not the Only One I Know


The epitome of ca. 1990 wimp rock, no doubt--the Megadeth fans at my high school would have wanted to beat the brains in of any male who expressed the slightest affinity for this stuff, to what end it is not exactly clear to me but the emotion behind this desire I believe was genuine. I like this song though, I find it resonant and nostalgically wistful in my advancing age, and this video is one of the best in the pop-song-meets-classic-movie genre that I have seen. Everything about it screams out "Where my youth go? Where did our youth go? Where did our art go?" emotions which are very cathartic and congenial to me.

New Edition--If It Isn't Love


I heard this on Rite-Aid radio, which has been a surprising source of forgotten hits for this page over the years. I don't think I had heard this in decades, and couldn't remember the title or who sang it, I had to try to call up some of the lyrics from the darkest depths of my memory. This is pure me-wandering-around-suburban-Philadelphia-in-the-summer-of-'85-waiting-for-something-exciting-to-happen stuff here. Nothing particularly exciting ever did happen, which may be for the best, because if anything had, it would have been so monumentally great that perhaps the rest of my life could not have lived up to that memory. Or perhaps I would have been launched on a lifetime of building on my early positive experiences to generating ever-better ones by habit and expectation. One never knows. 

Nothing else is coming to me tonight.  

Friday, August 07, 2020

The Fantasy of Popularity

I've always wanted to use this title. I imagined it would resonate with the public. However, the material to go with it never materialized, yet it maintains an odd presence in my daily imaginative life. So I am wondering if finally using it will kill it off.

I know it has been two months since I have gotten a post up on this site. I am just going to pretend it has only been a couple of days. I am catching up on my movie reviews.

The Star Chamber (1983)

This is not the sort of thing I am generally interested in (it's about lawyers, who also operate a secret vigilante society on the side), but it is pretty well-made and well-scripted, and retains something of the distinctive qualities of the 1970s, pre home-video style of filmmaking. The settings and the acting feel a little less superficial and corporate product-like than what was soon to come, the pace is less frenetic, the story, which could be confusing, is laid out clearly and with deliberation. That said, coming from a background of literature and traditional plays, these kinds of Hollywood stories about competitive, cynical lawyers, with a lot of gun and explosion generated violence and death, I have a hard time getting into, and always have.


Mr Wonderful (1993)

This kept turning up in my game that I use to pick movies, so I thought I would try it. It's a romantic comedy from the early 90s, which was kind of my time, though it's more about late baby boomer people than people my age. I thought that maybe there would be something about it I'd like, but it was pretty bad all around. The script is weak, and it is exacerbated by unfortunate casting. The married middle-aged English professor having an affair with a grad student is a motif I can sometimes be persuaded to like, but unhappily the professor here is played by William Hurt in the full realization of his inimitable smarminess. (Ugh) Matt Dillon and Annabella Sciorra are the leads around whom the plot centers, and there is no chemistry between them at all. Annabella Sciorra didn't have any chemistry with William Hurt when she was his mistress either, so she really did not have a good movie. I remember sort of thinking Matt Dillon was all right in something at some point in the 90s, but I can't remember what it was now, and it seems hard to imagine after seeing this. The part of the plot where Matt Dillon and his electrician buddies are looking to get out of their (presumably) pretty well-compensated union jobs to pursue the dream of restoring and re-opening a dilapidated bowling alley in what looks like Lower Manhattan was painful to watch from the vantage of having lived through the past twenty years.

The actress Mary Louise Parker was appealing in this, though mainly because she reminds me of a type of early 90s girlfriend/love interest that never quite materialized. Maybe I'm not ready to revisit  any Hollywood movies from this era yet even for nostalgia purposes, regardless of their quality. There is still too much that causes me pain to remember. I like the European films from this time though, those make me happy. I suppose because I can identify them with my more pleasant dreams at the time, and not with the painful truth of my actual social existence.

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)



I read this book some years back (and liked it), and I thought this was a good adaptation, as did most critics and even moviegoers at the time, as it was a decent hit at the box office. It accurately identified, I think, what were the best and most interesting parts of the book, and made those particular dynamics the points of emphasis in the movie, which I find to be the case with most of the better film adaptations of literature. This is obviously the kind of movie I am inclined to like, romance between collegiate English major type people, 1960s America--and, pretty rare for the 60s, a Mid-Atlantic setting outside of Manhattan Island--characters, attitudes, rooms, dinners, activities, and so on that are recognizable to me from my childhood but that have increasingly gone out of the world. Many contemporary commentators note that this reminds them of The Graduate, and they are kind of similar in structure and general mood, I guess; I would think of them as belonging to the same family, but the things that work in this are not the same things that work in The Graduate, or at least that it is famous for. The soundtrack by the rock band The Association, for an obvious example, was a complete flop compared to the classic Simon and Garfunkel songs in the other film, and the pool scenes and cocktail parties, despite taking place at a country club, come off as shabbier and less assured. Goodbye, Columbus struck me as perhaps more humane. I had not really understood the ending when I read the book, in the sense of what was the real point, and when the same dilemma come up again in the movie some idea did occur to me which I wish I had written down because I can't remember what it was now. It had to do of course with Brenda being guided inwardly by what her parents would have wanted, but also with why she had even gone out with the guy in the first place, which seems like the real question...but I can't remember what it was now. 

I was going to write up six or seven movies here but time has defeated me this week, so I think I will just post these three. Goodbye, Columbus is an interesting movie from its time if you have somehow missed it. The book was published in 1959 but the film is clearly set in the late 60s and it works just as well. The star of the movie, Richard Benjamin, whom I don't remember seeing before though I guess he was something of a name for a while in this era, starred a few years later in an adaptation of Portnoy's Complaint which seems to have been a bomb. 

I'm not sure why this picture is at the bottom. The new Blogger format is throwing me off here.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Quarantine Movies I

I know the riots have been going on and of course I considered that perhaps I ought to say something about them, but I don't see any good in trying to write some earnest commentary about this at the moment, especially as I don't perceive that anyone is looking to me for any, so I am going to write about what I want to and presumably whatever I think about these important societal matters will be expressed therein.

I did have a dream the other night that one of my middle aged female social media friends and former top ten crushes, who now seems to be in the vanguard of the revolution, had an appointment to come to my house to help me de-colonize my bookshelves--it's looking like putting up those pictures in the last post might not have been a great idea. I was genuinely apprehensive in the dream that she was going to just set them on fire when she arrived, even though she is a St John's graduate, because she is so ferocious now, at least online. But she was actually very polite when she arrived and we had a nice discussion about the de-colonization process like real adults rather than her telling me to sit down and shut up so she, or somebody else, could educate me, or, even worse, tell me to educate myself. She was also of course only about thirty years old in my dream, so she looked like her lovely old self. So the culture war and its effects are clearly making some impression on me.
 
Now, to the post in progress...

I haven't seen many movies lately. I have too much to do, there are too many people in my house, and they are older now so someone is up late watching TV pretty much every night (and none of them share my taste, or my lists' taste, in entertainment). Also between what my system is generating lately and what is available I've going through a stretch of movies of the sort that I don't like that much, so I haven't been in a hurry to get around to watching them.

Goodbye, Christopher Robin (2017)

This actually is a kind of movie that I do like, and now that I am fifty and have accepted that I am never going to ingratiate myself with any kind of real film-connoisseur crowd, do not even feel guilty or ashamed about liking anymore. It is a slickly produced, emotionally manipulative, middlebrow film set in a (no doubt) impossibly glorious-looking past, in this case England between the wars. Everything in it is beautiful, the language is literate if not ingeniously inventive (at this point I'll take it), and the plot is easy to follow, not devoid of interest, and I would assume must be somewhat historically accurate, since it is not entirely flattering to its subjects. I watched it a second time with the whole family, with the exception of the youngest, and all of the children (ages 8-17) found it comprehensible and/or tolerable, and several of them even claimed they enjoyed it. This is not easy for us to pull off these days.

Every chance to lay on some classic cliched Englishness is seemingly taken. Tea-drinking, cricket-playing, and rose-planting take up much screen time. Young Christopher Robin loves his nanny more than he loves his mother, in keeping with the popular idea of the period. When he goes to his posh public school he is immediately set upon by cruel bullies who continue to torment him for the ensuing ten years.  All of it is highly stylized. Still, take me back to England in 1926 any day (when I say this sort of thing, I mean as a tourist. I would like to visit it for a couple of weeks, ride the trains and drink in the pubs and see classic plays on their early runs and that sort of thing, and then return to my own time).





I don't think the Pooh books are holding up too well in the current age (they certainly aren't showing up on any of the suggested reading lists currently being promoted by the "educate yourself" crowd), even more than other older children's classics. We tried reading some of them with our older children-- sadly, we are so overwhelmed now that we don't do, or at least never finish any, literary reading with the younger ones--and they didn't really take to them, though they liked the Pooh Disney movies, which I remember thinking at the time were not that bad either. I had not known much about the life of A. A. Milne, had not realized that he was a veteran of the First World War, had been at the Somme and so on, and according to the movie he seems to have suffered a pretty severe case of PTSD and become rather withdrawn. He only had the one child. His wife, who was played by a very beautiful actress (Margot Robbie, who is actually Australian), was depicted as rather spoiled, status-seeking, unsympathetic and not especially maternal person for much of the film.

I remember reading once that the murder rate in England sank to historic and almost incredible lows during the 1920s--something like 12 in the entire calendar year of 1928--but I don't remember the book I read that in and I am not finding anything to corroborate that number in a quick internet search. But my impression from the many books I have read set in and about that time over the years is that it was an unusually tranquil era.

Tidy Endings (1988)

This was a made for TV film (HBO) about the AIDS crisis. It was written by and stars Harvey Fierstein, a longtime New York theater person and actor, who was in his 30s at the time. It is more like a play, and may have originally been written as such. I think it would work a lot better as a play in a very intimate (100 people or less) setting, because most of it is two characters in a New York apartment talking through their pain and anger following the death by AIDS of a character with whom both of the leads knew as lovers, one as the deceased's ex-wife, the other as the same sex partner he later moved on to when he embraced his dominant inclination, the intensity of which would be much more vivid in a live setting. On TV it's easier for someone like me who never had any visceral connection to the AIDS catastrophe--in truth at the time I was barely aware that it was even going on--to get distracted and find fault with the writing and what strikes me from my vantage as a grouchy middle-aged man with a lot of children as immaturity and selfishness in the gay lover character. But I do think it would be good as a play.

Conflict (1973) 

A.K.A The Catholics. Another made for TV movie, British I think. This belongs to a fairly extensive genre I didn't know existed until recently, Martin Sheen Catholic movies. This is set in a remote monastery in Ireland where the day to day life of the monks is, certainly compared to our time, pretty pre-modern, though they do have electricity, I think. I am reminded of how old-fashioned and civilized life in Europe comes across to well into my own lifetime. Anybody you run across in a school or religious institution or other profession requiring a formal course of education actually has a quite solid educational foundation and can call on it readily when talking to other adults of the same background. It's incredible. That was the main pleasure of this movie, the plot of which concerned the monastery's rebellious act of reverting to the Latin mass against the dictates of Vatican IV and the envoy sent from Rome to impose discipline on the order. Vatican IV is not a misprint, the story is nominally set in the future, roughly around the year 2000, but the cars, the clothes, the televisions, the telephones, the hair, the roads, and everything else are exactly as they were in Ireland in 1973, so imagining that this is taking place anywhere remotely proximate even to the 1990s is pretty much impossible to anybody who was alive at that time.




The Ghost in the Darkness (1996)

Not much to say about this, I thought it was completely boring and without interest. It's set sometime in the late Victorian age in colonial Africa and is about an Englishman trying to build a railroad bridge but the project was disrupted by some vicious and practically unkillable who kept breaking into the camp and mauling and eating the workers. No spark about it whatsoever. Didn't like it.