Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Beautiful Chicago Mind

In which I briefly take on the back-to-back best picture Oscar winners from 2001-2002:


It didn't appeal to me. Raunchy 1970s musicals are not my thing, though they have always been popular with some part of the public. Even at the time I felt this element of the popular culture of my early childhood to be mostly grotesque. This movie was made in 2002, so everything is flashier and more antiseptic than it would have been in the actual '70s, but the grating songs and attitude of the original show have carried over annoyingly enough.

It is strange, cold, loud, and jarring, and has an odd and very flat cast. None of the characters has any appeal or reality. There was a lot of emphasis in the special features on the prodigious amount of work that was put in by all of the talent involved, but so what? This is one of the more annoying trends of contemporary life, the self-congratulation and calling attention to how many grueling hours one is putting into one's craft; even if something worthwhile has been achieved, it either strikes one forcibly on the screen (as in some of the Werner Herzog movies) or in whatever its equivalent is in other fields of endeavor, or it fails to pique interest. I have spent probably four or five hours straining to write this post. I don't want it to appear that way, but if it does, it is an effect of my style or construction. I don't think it should be a point of emphasis in publicity though.

Hollywood loves this story--this is the 3rd or 4th version of it they have made, including 1942's Roxie Hart, which I noted having seen here a couple of years back. Nothing in either the premise or the execution ever seems to fire my imagination with regard to it.

All of the main female leads are within a year of my exact age, which exercises in numerology always interest me. Renee Zellweger was born 8 months before me in Texas; Catherine Zeta-Jones 3 months prior in Wales; and Queen Latifah (nee Dana Owens) was born two months after in Newark, New Jersey. None of them strike me as having much commonality of experience or worldview or culture with me, even at the most superficial levels. The Queen probably would be the closest of the three, both due to geographical and socio-economic proximity (her parents were a public school teacher and a cop, which is about the same level of society that I come from). The other two I have no read on at all. Emerson says of the artist, that she "...should pierce the soul; should command; should not sit aloof & circumambient merely, but should come & take me by the hand & lead me somewhither..." This is not what I experience when I see Renee Zellweger.

A Beautiful Mind

This I liked, naturally. Who doesn't like movies set in the Princeton and MIT math departments in the 1940s and 50s? I'd like to know, and then have something done about it. This was one of the last films I ever saw in the theater, the night before my wife went into labor with our first baby. I enjoyed it well enough at that time too. I cannot put myself on a limb and say it is Great, because what I liked about it was the nostalgia and the evocation of high-intellect environments as I like to imagine they are, and in this it felt like the movie was flattering me rather than dealing with its own more interesting or serious subject and saying to the likes of me, "Try and figure out what it is actually about; though you can't", which would have been a lot better. When I saw it in 2002 I identified more readily with the genius mathematicians and Ivy Leaguers and Nobel Prize Winners. I confidently thought this was my natural crowd, more or less. Now of course I recognize that world and experience of life as it really is, hopelessly remote.

As long as we are on the theme of women who were born in 1969-70, we should talk about Jennifer Connelly. I will get the juvenile stuff out of the way first. Back around 1988 Jennifer Connelly--at that time her name was frequently preceded by the modifier 'pneumatic' in the press--starred in a movie called Some Girls, in which a typical schmoe college student, who somehow happens to be going out with her, or thinks he is, comes to stay with (and get worked over by) her artistic, rich, beautiful and sexually sophisticated family at their chateau in Quebec over Christmas break. I watched this at about 2 in the morning at the home of a friend of mine after an evening of revelry. This friend was a man who could juggle 3 women at a time and keep their energies turned to hating their rivals and figuring out how to eliminate them rather than directing any anger towards him. You are probably wondering why, if he was so cool, he was hanging out with with me at all, let alone watching movies with me on cable TV at 2 in the morning. It's a good question. For whatever reason, this guy found me amusing. Also, he usually took care of his seductions quite early in the evening, especially if one of his reliables showed up. He would excuse himself for a minute to go and banter with the newly arrived guest, all very casual and deliberate, though it did not take long for him to absorb the attention of his target and force whatever other people were present to wander off. He would then manage to maneuver the girl into a private room under some pretense and within 20 minutes the job would be done. We would then see the girl running out of the house in tears at having yet again succumbed so easily, and a couple of minutes afterwards our friend would rejoin us by the bar in a state of feigned agitation, as if he were angry at himself (or even us) for his own weakness. But in reality, the tension was off (for him), and he was freed up to revel with his male friends for the rest of the night. But back to Jennifer Connelly, at the conclusion of Some Girls, much of which involves the actress in question running around in a black bra tormenting the supposed boyfriend, with no intention of giving up the goods, my friend the stud turned and said, "Surrender, I think I am traumatized for life". If that was his reaction, you can only imagine what mine must have been.

Jennifer Connelly was born in the Catskills and grew up partly in Brooklyn Heights and partly in Woodstock, New York. She attended arts schools. Her father was Northern European Catholic (Irish-Norwegian) and her mother was Jewish, a combination I have frequently noticed to have produced dynamic results. Her parents appear to have been affluent, though not plutocrats. She attended Yale for a couple of years--if I had gone there I would have been in her class--and then transferred to Stanford for a while, but she returned to films before getting any degrees. All of this obviously makes her progressive/educated upper middle class East Coast to her core. She is definitely representative of a type in my generation that I was always trying hard to like because, in the first place, if you have any identification with this artsy-liberal-semi-intellectual east coast crowd, there are not very many alternatives, and secondly, because these women had the kinds of attitudes and personalities that were, for lack of a better word, 'approved', by whoever it was that determined what the women our age ought to be like, and what we ought to look for in them. The problem of course was that while these women were adequate, indeed more than adequate, a quantitative improvement in outlook and ambition and educational achievement over prior generations, too many males were not, and this mismatch of qualities and excellences between boys and girls drained much of the fun out of social life in that era. Jennifer Connelly is both an extreme example of this, and a walking bundle of contradictions. Her entire bearing in interviews and so forth, especially now (at late as 1995 she was still coming off as more a flakey-artsy rather than serious-professional artsy, which transformation she underwent sometime between the above date and 2001) speaks of someone who came of age socially in an environment with a critical dearth of adequately developed men compared to herself. Yet at the same time that she makes statements such as not respecting women who use flirtatious behavior to catch the attention of  males and get something that they want, the bulk of the roles in her career have been as a girlfriend/ supportive wife or unabashed object of not particularly sophisticated lust. Though perhaps I am seeing the wrong movies...

Contemporary Bonus

Over the course of the summer, I had the opportunity to spend time with people outside my immediate family. Sometimes movies were watched. These gatherings were largely made up of people who not do not want to watch Celine and Julie Go Boating, ever, so I happened to see a couple of fairly recent films that I wanted to briefly comment on, Cedar Rapids and Crazy Stupid Love. These were both middling to occasionally amusing Hollywood product. They shared several common themes with other recent run of the mill movies I had seen, which, as I rarely watch up to date movies, indicated to me that these similarities must represent real trends. I have already labored too long on this post, so I will simply list what I think these trends are, and perhaps I will elaborate at a later time:

1. The earnest and totally naive 30-something male character from the upper midwest. Characteristics: goofy, usually a virgin, wholly unironic, has little knowledge of the world beyond the 30 mile radius around his hometown in northern Minnesota. Basically a modern-day version of Dostoevsky's Idiot, only completely infantile and holly devoid of spiritual depth. Variations appear in: Lars & the Real Girl, Cedar Rapids. Fargo. What is the cause for the proliferation of this type? Fatigue with the cynicism of modern society, though I believe having the characters be male is a cipher for film producers' real desire, which is for the possibility/return of sweetness & innocence in women. They dare not express that openly though.

2. The Business Conference set at a hotel as a place for respectable middle class adults to be free to engage in wild behavior. Variations appear in Cedar Rapids, Up in the Air. What is the cause of this? Respectable middle aged Americans are so bored and desperate to have fun while at the same time avenues in which this is even a plausible fantasy are becoming more and more restricted. The fact that the Business Conference seems to be emerging as an adult fantasy where people imagine they might be able to meet and get away with having sex with a stranger is all you need to know about the kind of desperation that is afoot in the land. See point #5 also, which is related.

3. The group of unrelated, single professional friends who have often just met coming together to rescue/ intervene on behalf of a member of the group in trouble. Variations appear in: about 5,000 movies, though I date the trend as a grand theme of modern popular cinema to Four Weddings and a Funeral. This obviously speaks to the desperation of people, especially single urban professional people, for the camaraderie that is lacking from their lives.

4. The part of the player in Crazy Stupid Love appears to have been both shamelessly cribbed in whole from the game/pick up artist bloggers such as Roissy in D.C, and intended as satire. It didn't work as satire.

5. Sexual desperation of middle class 40-somethings. Yes, this is a constant theme of world history. Still, in Crazy Stupid Love, the main character's wife announces she wants to separate from him for a while, during which time he meets the player, who teaches him how to dress and talk to women, has one night stands with 8 attractive younger women he picks up in bars, makes his kids' teenage babysitter fall in love with him and take naked pictures of herself to send to him, before finally getting back with his wife at the end. The writers of this movie obviously realized that their fantasies and internet reading pretty much constituted the entirety of their mental activity at this point, so why not combine them and make a movie out of it?

6. The other notable things about these movies is how little there is at stake in them, because everyone is so atomized. It doesn't matter if Steve Carell gets back with his wife or what happens to his children other than to himself. In films such as The Best Years of Our Lives or It's a Wonderful Life the future of the whole society is seen to hinge on people's marital choices and their ability to cope with changes in society and so on. I suspect this is one of the reasons why so many modern movies, especially those aimed at mainstream audience, seem so thin and pointless. But I really have to go, and can't elaborate on this any more...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Big Fun

When I had my holiday we went up to the White Mountains and stayed in a hotel there for a couple of days. We indulged in the usual amusements there, and hiked up a modest mountain, and went to a state park with a lake that we hadn't been to before, and for the most part everyone was satisfied. At night after the children fell asleep we drank, though not to any level approaching excess, and put on the television. We do not have cable at home, so that is a novelty for us.  The first night there was program about a Mormon who had four wives and about twenty children which did not explain how he managed to afford them all, followed by one about Amish twenty-somethings let loose to party and find out important things about life in Los Angeles. I spent a lot of time glancing at brochures and those books of advertisements they have in hotel rooms in tourist areas while these were on. The second night I returned from getting ice and saw Fernando Rey on the screen, in his prime, sitting down as usual to a well-set table in a wonderfully cut suit of old European clothing in a perfectly handsome but not overstylized movie I had never seen before.

I: What is going on? I thought you hated this guy?

She replied with an enigmatic shrug.

I could not figure out what the movie was for the life of me. I knew it had to be a Bunuel movie. Convention was clearly being mocked even though everyone's clothes, drinks, manners, speech and collection of abilities were of a perfection that only the highest reaches of pre-war continental European society could attain. And then Catherine Deneuve appeared (with medium-brownish hair). It was not Belle de Jour, was it? (Not a Bunuel movie, though I could not remember at the time). But they were speaking Spanish, and to my amateur eye it looked like they were in Spain besides. Does Catherine Deneuve speak Spanish? No, her lips didn't match the words. It was dubbed. But why would the Turner Classic Movies channel be showing a movie dubbed into Spanish with English subtitles? It made no sense. But this was still during the Franco regime, and wasn't Bunuel kicked out of the country after Viridiana? But wait, Fernando Rey just insulted a priest. It's obviously a Bunuel movie. Did they film it in France, though they were speaking Spanish? Catherine Deneuve's lover is an impoverished but extraordinarily handsome artist. She falls ill and has to have her leg amputated...still nothing is telling me what movie this is. A sordid past obviously exists between her and Fernando Rey, dating back to when she was a schoolgirl. The sets and clothes and streetscapes in this movie are amazing...But where in Spain does it snow and get cold like this? In the mountains, sure, but what cities are in the mountains? I am thrown off again. Some surrealist touches, but not like his most famous movies. Catherine Deneuve marries Fernando Rey but denies him sex and affection. The movie ends with Fernando in bed, apparently dying from poison. It's "Un Film de Luis Bunuel". They still don't tell us what the movie is...

My Wife: I hope she didn't poison all those other men (who had been having dinner with Fernando Rey).

Other comments of hers included observations of the stylish clothing worn by the Spanish men, and a speculation that the amputation of Catherine Deneuve's leg was faked in the movie, though for what purpose I cannot remember. The only betrayal of her former animosity towards these principals came when during a dream sequence when a painted wooden likeness of Fernando Rey's head, detached from any body, was swinging in place of a bell, of which image she disapproved ("I know this is supposed to be funny"). On the whole though, I think she enjoyed herself.

So when we got home (no I-phone or traveling laptop for me) I quickly was able to discover that this movie was Tristana, which was made in Spain--the street scenes were shot in Toledo, which was of course the home of El Greco and as far as the tourist trade is concerned is kind of the Florence of Spain--and was released to much acclaim in 1970, the year I was born. It both seems like a 1970 movie, and at the same time it seems incredible that anything about the world was like what was in this movie at any time that I was alive. Yet Spain was deep in that time warp that the political and cultural and economic stagnation imposed by the regime had produced at the time, and Fernando Rey and especially Bunuel, along with doubtless many other people associated with the movie, were products of a very different culture and upbringing than essentially anybody who is alive and occupying any kind of prominent place in the world today has.

This is my second day in a row of putting up a hurried post. I don't think it will become a habit, but the Emerson I've been reading has for some reason made me want to get back into writing more. I still don't think he is an original or especially great writer, but his journals do give a sense of engagement that I find to be lacking in my own life. He is not brilliant, but he is observant, and he attempts to examine his views and reactions to things in an honest manner. Also of course he lives near me--his house is a little more than an hour from me--and while the towns, other than a few old landmarks, have for the most part nothing recognizable to a modern person, obviously the mountains and rivers and flowers and trees and animals that he writes about are well known to me, and this probably has had some effect on my desire to write more. Though you would not know it from this blog, there were about ten years where I wrote nearly every day for three or four hours. I may not have much to show for this effort, but I did achieve a certain fluency and sense of composition that I have, to my genuine astonishment, lost over the last six or seven years. Since I have not learned how to do anything else in the meanwhile and since the earlier practice provided me with a sense of purpose, however ridiculous it may have been, that I lack now, I think I will try to get back into some regular routine, with very rough postings for a while...  

Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Did Today

The details are mostly family stuff, surprise, surprise. I woke up at 8:23. My daughter, evidently worn out from our outing to Quechee Gorge on Sunday, slept late. The air was getting more humid. Some children and their mother were coming over at one o'clock, so the primary activity of the day would be cleaning.

I had a mini bagel and an English muffin. I must improve my breakfasts, eat less bread. When school starts and everyone is out of the house I will try to become organized in this. Weighed 223 lbs today. This is the least I have been in several years, mostly I have run 225-230 and last year I got as high as 235 at which point I reluctantly gave up soda. Am now on a pendulum from 220-225. I am 6'3", so I would probably look good at 210 or 215, not that anyone cares, but it is a game.

Put away laundry, did dishes, cut grass, did various other tasks. Not really worth having people come to the house, requires hours and hours of preparation. Topics of thought included wondering why so many hip-pish, modern educated people like Nate Silver--his analyses strike me as soulless and not very interesting--topics for blog posts, trying to determine if I held actual opinions about anything, or if I had been reduced to mere feeling, the usual thoughts about whether I could ever have been a professional/had the potential to have a lot of money doing anything. It seems less and less possible that I could have done it as the years go by, the knowledge and development required seem to have to be poured into the brain in its formative stages.

The guests arrived. I was unshowered and dirty, excused myself. Had a roast beef, swiss cheese and mayonnaise sandwich on a bulky roll, and a glass of orange juice. No mail came. Took daughter up to play in hot attic. Looked around at neglected objects, thought of taking pictures and making a facebook album about them.

Went to work. For dinner had lemon haddock and spinach, with a cup of Buffalo chicken soup, from which I had to extract at least 15 carrots. Work was dull, and my brain largely rotted. Did manage to read 23 pages of Emerson's Journals in slow moments. Enjoying better than other Emerson I have read, though the sense that any of it is meaningful is intermittent, as is the case with most of life (the format did inspire this post though). Wrote this post. Going to store to buy milk, then home. May watch last 45 minutes of a film and read a little before bed. Probably more of the same tomorrow, though I need a haircut.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Some Very Generic Pictures of What I Did This Summer

Putting pictures up is really too much work at times, at least when you have to do it at 1 a.m. Hardly any of them ever turn out to be much good, and I can't even find half of the sets I am looking for right now. But I am too far gone into the process to shut it down and too tired and hurried to find the rest, so I will put up a characteristically half-buttocked post.

I was on vacation for much of the last 3 weeks. I was off for twelve days, then had 3 days of work, and then was off another 5. I liked this arrangement, though I only was able to get it this year due to a fluke which required me to rearrange my original vacation schedule, and I probably would not be able to get it if I asked for it straightaway. This is the way the world works. We didn't take a big trip this year, but we did go away for a couple of overnight stays in standard tourist hotels, and we went to Vermont for a few days and  took some other day trips. Some of the day trips were literary related, and I put some of those pictures up on my even more rarely updated and lightly read (if one can imagine such a thing) Vacation blog.

I have gone to Maine four different times so far this summer. The first was for my class reunion back in June, which I wrote about a few posts back. On the second occasion we went to Wells Beach to visit some relatives who go there every summer and stay in an RV park, though they are probably the most affluent people in the family, and could go to Paris and put up at the George V Hotel for a month if they wanted to.

1. Running Around the IV Park. The place is popular with French Canadians, who are a big presence in many of the less-celebrated Maine coastal towns.

2. Wells Beach in the Evening. I was going for the moon here. There is no excuse for shoddy photography, but do bear in mind that I am often trying to shoot pictures at the same time that I am keeping an eye on numerous little children who are running around in all directions, and of course getting them to hold still, or even remain in the frame for a picture is practically impossible.

3. Ice Cream at High Tide. This is actually the head of a staircase leading down to the beach. At this time there was no beach, and the water was crashing nearly halfway up the steps.

The Wells trip was on the Sunday before my actual vacation started. When that came we went to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park for a couple of days. Even though I lived in Maine for several years, and have lived in northern New England almost half my life now, this was the first time I had ever been there. It's the sort of place I should have been going to for a weekend every year, or at least every other year. It seems to have a most salutary effect on one's state of mind, at least such a mind as is in the state to which mine has diminished. The town of Bar Harbor is so sugary as to be in danger of inducing mental toothache. At night especially, when it is lit up, it looks like a 1940s movie set of the perfect American town that supposedly never existed. On the whole the contrast of the class of tourist at Bar Harbor/Acadia to the class of tourist at Gatlinburg/Smoky Mountains National Park--which I also enjoy visiting, and am surprised more people from the northeast never bother to venture down to see, I should add--is quite remarkable. On one of the hikes in Acadia I was in the proximity of a late 20ish couple for about 20 minutes whose conversation the entire time concerned gourmet cheeses. There were a large number of obviously gay men in town, which is decidedly not the case in Gatlinburg, and a substantial portion of the tourists, even those wearing t-shirts and shorts and other casual vacation-wear, gave off an air of being expensively dressed and educated.

4. This is Along one of the Trails up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia. The Acadia pictures are not very good, and I did not even remember to bring the camera with me when I went to town. There was a book shop there whose storefront and window display were of such calculated and effective tweeness that I can't help suspecting a line may have been crossed.

This trail was the hard trail by the way. There was no parking at the easy trail. The smaller children, and, on the last leg of the ascent, your author, were not able to maintain a uniform happiness throughout.

5. View From the Mountain. I believe down towards the town of Bar Harbor, and across to the mainland.

6. We Are Actually On the Wrong Path Here. We were trying to get to the famous Sand Beach here. We found it eventually. It was pouring rain at this point, and all through our time at the beach, and everybody was so soaked and grouchy that I thought we were going to have to give it up and go home. We were on a one way loop road around the park however, so we drove for a little bit, until we came to the next famous site, by which time it had miraculously stopped raining. So we decided to give the trip another chance.

7. I Think This is Called Otter Point. This is all on the main road/itinerary of the park. Since it was our first time here, and we had all the children with us, I figured it was best to stick to the established highlights. This place we actually had to ourself for a good half-hour. If we are able to return regularly I have no doubt we will make it out to some of the islands and other remote parts of the park that have no restaurants or other tourist services and that hardly anyone therefore goes to.

8. My Daughter at Otter Point. To be honest she looks rather strange here. The color is hyperbright. 

9. This is on a hike near Manchester, Vermont. We did this in the afternoon after the picnic lunch in Stratton that you can see on the other site. It was a typically beautiful Vermont hike.

10. The View From Prospect Rock, Which is the Object of the Hike. The mountain in the distance is Mt Equinox, which is a mountain of some renown that we were at the top of a few years ago. There is an abandonded hotel on its summit that you can see from the ridge, though I am not sure if you can make it out in the picture. Evidently staying in mountaintop hotels has gone out of fashion, as there are several of them that are abandoned or altered into something else around the region, including atop Mt Washington.

11. Oldest Son at Prospect Rock, a Strong and Sturdy 11 year old. Certainly when compared with myself at the same age.

There are still other days to be relived. I will probably find those and put them on at some point.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Sad Songs I Am Listening To, Many By People Who Are Now Dead

I had forgotten about this guy...

This particular style of singing, with its exaggerated, but still in a certain sense somewhat earnest, affectation of passion and a soul in torment, has never really been imitated satisfyingly in the English-speaking world. I guess some soul singers go for this effect, but I generally don't like them. I suspect this is because I feel like everything about their performance is ultimately about them more than about me, which puts a different spin on the affectations. Julio Iglesias, who has sold 38 million records, slept with 5,000 women, driven the best cars and drunk the best wine and hung out in the most beautiful places in the world for the last 50 years and seemingly enjoyed every second of it, is decidedly not singing for or about himself, at least the way other people do. His job, for which he has a great instinct, is to use his talents and gifts for showmanship to express the passion and torment of others in a more pleasing and entertaining way than they are able to do themselves. Highly gifted entertainers grasp this without needing it spelled out for them.  

I generally find this group annoying, but I heard this song somewhere the other day--already I can't remember where--and it struck me as poignant. So I've been listening to it for the last few days. I still don't like any of the other Talking Heads songs that I know. This band was wildly important to a lot of people just a few years older than I am; by the time I was at the age where one is deeply susceptible to pop music whatever emotional power they exerted over young people seemed to be in decline, and it never made much of an impression on me. But for a brief time they really got to people.

I have to admit I think this is a great song. In fact I like quite a bit of Zooey Deschanel and the rest of her group's pop music. I did not want to succumb to the too-obvious charms of this woman, and for a long while I did not allow myself to do so, but she kept after me with a persistence that I found both touching and admirable; indeed I was almost flattered by her seemingly perverse determination to please me and bring happiness into my life, on which point most female celebrities of the moment doggedly maintain they will never stoop to do if they can help it.

While we are on the subject of performer's instincts as far as how to approach/deliver a song and present oneself as a vessel through which to articulate a more palatable version of your audience's sense of the world, hers are as good certainly as any mainstream pop star currently out there that I am aware of. She is filling a (presumably lucrative) niche in the popular culture that seems rather obviously to have been screaming to be filled, but that no one else seems to have had the right combination of instinct, personality, type of brain development (I suspect she is pretty smart by most standards outside the realms of professional mathematics and science) and connection to this particular corner of the culture to fill.

I haven't gone back to the 40s for a while. This first song was referenced in a short story I read ("Lost in the Funhouse" by John Barth--the mother sings a verse from it while they are in the car on the way to Ocean City on Independence day in 1943). The other selections here kind of followed from that. I like the voice of this singer Kitty Kallen here, whom I had never heard of previously. She was a serious looker too.

Going to have a bit of a Harry James fest here. This is another one that always puts me in a positive mood, no matter how far down into the existential abyss I am gazing. Terrific song.

Kitty Kallen again on another old favorite. Girl could sing.

This is a singer named Francey Lane, whom I find to have an interesting face, in that it looks to me more like the face of a woman born in the 1960s or 1970s than the 1920s. This clip (in which she sings while ironing dollar bills) is from a 1951 TV and is only one of two videos of her I have found, and the only one in which she sings.

The only other Francey Lane video I can find, evidently from the same TV program as she is wearing the same dress and interesting headpiece as in the other one. Here she is merely serenaded with a classic by future talk show host and game show producer Merv Griffin, who like so many of us got our start in the business as a singer.

Biographical information on Francey Lane is scant on the internet, but it seems she had something of a career on the fringes of real mainstream success, without ever really breaking through. Her name turns up in various projects or promotions dating from 1945 to 1956. Besides this TV appearance in '51 she appeared in two short movies as a singer ('45 & '52). She is probably most identified as a singer with the Johnny Long Orchestra. They put out a release of "Winter Wonderland" (1947) and an album of "College Favorites" (undated), at least. In 1949 Francey Lane had a hit song called "Easy Does It" and appeared on the cover of TV Guide. There are at least four different "busty" vintage promotional photos of her available for sale online. By 1953 she was posing with her arms and shoulders and neck covered up and was apparently heading her own orchestra. By '56 she was apparently still hanging on in the game (and was back to posing in strapless gowns) but her hair has been cut and the smile is forced and it isn't the same old Francey Lane I have taken such an interest in.

Monday, August 05, 2013

1946-1949 Movie Post

I have been on vacation, hence the delay in posts. For any secret regular readers out there.

On the Town (1949)

This movie is quite silly, it doesn't have any songs that I am particularly taken with, one of its three leading women is decidedly ugly, and one of its other leading women has something too all around weird about her for me to warm up to. One will imagine that I am now going to say that I like it anyway, but that would not be wholly accurate; however, I do like certain things about it, and it was painless to get through, though it should not have been. In addition to all of its bombast and effort, it had a lot of that real, unconscious postwar optimism that is so infectious, and the like of which someone my age has never known. There is the sense, for example, that New York really does in a way belong to all of "us" who have any feeling for it, and that when we are young and energetic it is reasonable that we should go there, for a time at least, and test ourselves and engage with the life to be found there, and that if we do this, a more interesting version of our lives should happen for us, even if at 27 or 32 or 38 or 45 our time and usefulness in the life of the city has run its course and we have to vacate the premises to let a new wave of energetic people take our places. Like many musicals from this period, the movie allows its audience the conceit that life, or at least life as presented in it, is full of fun, romance, new experiences, new and like-minded compadres and all of the other things ordinary boring people daydream about endlessly but rarely get to experience. There are variations on this attitude throughout the history of Hollywood especially, but they were able to most consistently, organically, and spontaneously achieve it in the way I am thinking of in those first few years after the war.  

Frank Sinatra's role in this is odd to the modern viewer in that he had not quite become Himself yet. He's surprisingly small and scrawny, and is not the commanding superman-type presence among the other actors that one would expect from his later iconic status and "My Way" reputation. He is pretty much one of the group here. His character is also the least worldly among the males, and he ends up with the least attractive, indeed nearly mannish woman, which is also a departure from type.

I watched this the night before Esther Williams died, which was a coincidence, since Gene Kelly, Sinatra, and Betty Garrett, who are all in this, had teamed up with her the previous year in Take Me Out to the Ball Game. The double play combination of "O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg" in that film was a reminder of those heady days, so short-lived that maybe they only ever existed in my imagination, when it looked like Catholics, especially the Irish and Italians, and Jews might be teaming up for some desirable cultural or social purpose, before the American Catholic population fell apart as a substantial force in society starting in the late 1960s.

For some reason I had not known this movie was in color before this viewing. I had always imagined it in black and white.

Oliver Twist (1948)

Solid British version, directed by David Lean, who is widely regarded, on the strength of this and 1946's Great Expectations, which I have not seen, to be the best cinematic interpreter of Dickens. The movie is handsome, well-acted, and the story well-told. Only one time did I notice I missed one of the numbers from the later musical version of the story:

The depiction of Fagin, played by Alec Guinness, has been controversial for being obnoxiously anti-semitic. Guinness wears an enormous hook nose, which has been usually explained away by observing that this is how the character was drawn in the famous illustrations that accompanied the book, which the filmmakers tried to adhere to as closely as possible. Guinness also plays the character with a lisp, which I am pretty certain is manifest through the dialogue in the story, which anyway does not in itself suggest Jewishness to me. I suppose there are other negative Jewish stereotypes written into the character, though if you were not already aware of them I doubt you would make the connection from what is given in the movie. The dialogue and idiosyncracies of the character are overall extremely well-written and well-acted. I cannot really convince myself that this is not in general true. Fagin, at least as played by Alec Guinness, who really demonstrates considerable acting talent here, is the most vivid, verbally interesting character in the film. Do the stereotyping and prejudice detract tremendously from the story? One may feel it should, but that is not the same thing as feeling that it does. Most characters in Dickens are caricatures of one kind or another with one dominant aspect that is developed to a greater degree. Fagin in this sense probably is more roundly developed than the run of characters in Dickens's books, though the author committed a major faux pas by investing the caricature here with insulting traits associated negatively with ethnicity rather than personal qualities or education level or class origins, which modern people are generally more willing to tolerate (though many pure and dogged souls, God bless them, will not). This story does present particular problems for the person who would rather avoid these kinds of unarguable arguments because the character in question is a good and more than usually interesting literary or cinematic character, in the sense of what he says and does in driving the story along.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Much-praised film noir that I had some anticipation to see because in addition of course to being a fanatic of this period I did not know what to expect at all. It wasn't bad but it didn't seem to me to be quite the classic it is made out to be either. As in a lot of these noirs, the premise is rather clumsy, and the film is dependent on other elements--atmosphere, dialogue, compelling performers/characters--to have anything to say to me, and none of that really happened here, apart from the scene where Lana Turner's lawyer gets her to spill out and sign the confession that turns out not to be official so that she would get it out of her system--that part was good. Of the two leads, Lana Turner was considered one of the absolute bombshells of the age at the time, and she is what she is, but I cannot say I find her all that fascinating; and the male star, John Garfield, I have to admit I had never heard of before this movie, though there was a short documentary about him included in the extras that made the claim that he was a huge star for about ten years from the late 30s to the late 40s, before getting called before the un-American activities committee and not naming names, shortly after which (1952) he died of a heart attack at the age of 39. He sounds like an interesting guy--he was an important stage actor in one of the major movements of the serious theater during the 30s--but I can't say he drew me in to him in this movie either.

The book on which the movie was based was written by James M Cain, who was also the author of Double Indemnity. Cain's father was on the faculty of St John's College Annapolis, and the author was born in the Paca-Carroll house on campus where the family lived. This building is now a dormitory, though so renovated as to be quite modern on the inside.