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May 2018

tender age baby jails

We are seeing things right now on our American borders that are so shockingly and disgracefully inhumane and un-American that it is simply enraging. And we have heard people in high position in the American government blaspheme in the name of God and country that it is a moral thing to assault the children amongst us. May God save our souls.

-- Bruce Springsteen

I was born on this date in 1953, and in my 65 years I've lived through a lot that I found shocking and enraging and disgracefully inhumane. Over the years, I have heard many people in high positions in our government assault people, children and adults, with their self-proclaiming morality. There is no God to save us ... if salvation comes, it will come from us, not a higher power.

I am no longer able to say that the kind of behavior we are now experiencing is what Bruce calls "un-American". For there comes a time when we have to admit that it is all too American. We are not the good guys. Hunter Thompson once wrote, "This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable." Thompson wrote this in 1972.

In 1630, John Winthrop famously wrote of what would eventually become America, "We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us." Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting Winthrop, and it is fairly common nowadays for politicians to reference Winthrop's city. Winthrop was warning his people of the dangers of living an improper life. "So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake." But today, that city is used not as a warning, but as a reminder of American exceptionalism, a braggart's boast.

And, as Thompson noted, we no longer give a fuck what the eyes of all people think of our actions.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.

-- Abraham Lincoln


today i am 65 years old

The first time I had a birthday during the life of this blog was 2002. I was, what, 49 years old. Doesn't seem so old to me now, although it seemed ancient when I was 19. On that first-ever birthday post, I quoted Pink ... yes, I've been doing that for 16 years. Here are the lyrics I quoted, along with the song's video, which is deep ... I used it in class a couple of time.

I'm a hazard to myself
Don't let me get me
I'm my own worst enemy
It's bad when you annoy yourself
So irritating
Don't want to be my friend no more
I wanna be somebody else
-- Pink, "Don't Let Me Get Me"

 

 


gun crazy (joseph h. lewis, 1950)

Nowadays, we can't help but recognize similarities to the real-life story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, but this noir doesn't actually remind me much of the later classic film. Joseph H. Lewis makes good use of his limited budget, culminating in a single-take getaway from a bank robbery that is a marvel of low-cost invention. The IMDB has some great trivia about Gun Crazy, including this:

The 17-page bank robbery sequence was scheduled for a three-to-five-day shoot with numerous camera set-ups, but Joseph H. Lewis decided he didn't want to do it the conventional way. He told the producers he could pull it off in a single day with one shot that never entered the bank. Since that would cut down on production time and eliminate the need for a bank set, the idea appealed to their budget consciousness, but he still had to prove to them it was possible. So he did a test run with extras using his own 16mm camera. 

There is nothing particularly unique about Gun Crazy, just another low-budget noir with a femme fatale and a sucker of a man. But the leads, Peggy Cummins (Curse of the Demon) and John Dall (Rope) are so good they lift the film a level or two. (There is a full 12 inches between the 5'1" Cummins and the 6'1" Dall, which somehow makes her ability to control him even more impressive.) Combined with the solid job by Lewis (aided by a script by Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted at the time), you have a movie that approaches the level of Detour. It doesn't have that film's evil meanness ... the two robbers, Annie Laurie Starr and Bart Tare, really do seem to care for each other. But Bart loves guns without quite knowing why, while Annie is pretty much a psycho, just as good with a gun but also with a taste for killing. And their attraction to each other goes beyond their shared love of guns. Another IMDB anecdote:

In an interview with author Danny Peary (1981), director Joseph H. Lewis described how he instructed lead actors John Dall and Peggy Cummins: "I told John, 'Your cock's never been so hard,' and I told Peggy, 'You're a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don't let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting.' That's exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didn't have to give them more directions."

That's a pretty accurate description of how it plays on the screen. #701 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

 


20 faves #17: prince, dirty mind

17th of 20, roughly by chronology.

I'm showing my age ... it took me 17 albums to reach the 80s.

I've chosen Dirty Minds for my Prince album. Others might be better ... Purple Rain, Sign 'o the Times ... but this is when I discovered him, and so here it is. Every song is at least good, some are great, "When You Were Mine" is a classic. As great as this album is, Prince's talents were so diverse that Dirty Mind only begins to suggest future directions. And, oh yeah, there's a lot of sex on this album. As Christgau said, "Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home."

Dirty mind


what i watched

Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley, 2015). I asked myself a couple of questions as I watched this movie. Would I have bothered to watch it if the subject was any actor other than Brando? (Probably not.) Would someone with no knowledge or interest in Brando find this movie worthwhile? (Definitely yes for actors, not sure for others.) It's an innovative documentary that makes use of hundreds of hours of audio tapes Brando made to allow the actor to, in effect, tell his own story. It's like an autobiography made after the fact. This is partly a trick ... Riley had the cooperation of the Brando estate, but Marlon Brando has nothing to do with the making of the film, so despite its autobiographical trappings, Riley is the one who pieces it all together. He is far more than a mere ghostwriter. It's not clear if Brando made these tapes for posterity, intended them to be public, but we have them now. He is very honest about his life, and comes pretty close to telling an unvarnished version of that life. (There are things that are left out, but what is included feels real, and he doesn't flinch from the implications of his actions.) Since Brando was the greatest screen actor of his generation, what he says about the acting process is fascinating. His comparison of the fighting style of Jersey Joe Walcott to the art of acting is a perfect description of Brando on the screen: "He'd be boxing and he'd follow some punches and boom! He'd have his fist into somebody's face. You'd think it was going to come out of the southwest and, there, it comes out of the northeast. He would never let you know where he was gonna hit you. Never let the audience know how it's going to come out. Get them on your time." So many of his finest moments as an actor came when the slightest gesture or facial expression surprised you into believing the character was real. To top the film off, Brando once had his head "digitized" ... "I made a lot of faces and smiled and, and, made a sad face. So they've got it all on digital. And actors are not going to be real. They're going to be inside a computer!" Riley occasionally syncs Brando's ramblings to a video of the digitized actor. It's creepy and marvelous at the same time.

Flying Down to Rio (Thornton Freeland, 1933). Featuring Brando's second wife (not at the time, he was 9 years old at the time). I watched it, I liked it, but I'm mostly just cleaning house here ... this has been sitting around for a few days while I buried myself in the World Cup, and I don't have a lot to say now. The first movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but they are the sidekicks in this one. They have good chemistry, and it's fun to see them outside of the fairly narrow framework of their starring movies. Ginger is more the wiseacre that she was early in her career, and it's fun to see. It's also one of the last of the pre-Code movies, so there's see-through outfits and lots of double-entendre dialogue. And there's the impossibly beautiful Dolores del Rio. The big dance number ("The Carioca") goes on forever, and only features a little of Fred and Ginger. There's a loony number on the wings of airplanes. Nothing is taken seriously. Lacks the emotional resonance of the "real" Fred and Ginger movies, but watchable.


music friday: 1990

Sinéad O'Connor, "Nothing Compares 2 U". One of the all-time great videos.

Primal Scream, "Loaded". The band gave a song from their previous album to DJ Andrew Weatherall to remix. This was the result.

A Tribe Called Quest, "Bonita Applebum". Among the definitions for "bonita applebum" at the Urban Dictionary, we get "A girl with a nice booty."

The Cocteau Twins, "Iceblink Luck". The distinctive vocals are by Elizabeth Fraser.

Digital Underground, "The Humpty Dance". Sampled in more than 100 songs.

LL Cool J, "Mama Said Knock You Out". This is one of the 100+.

Saint Etienne, "Only Love Can Break Your Heart". Neil Young, covered by an indie dance band. The band's singer, Sarah Cracknell, hadn't joined yet, so the vocals are by Moira Lambert. Lambert refused to be in the video, so a third singer, Lucy Golden, lip syncs Lambert's vocals in the video. (I think ... this gets complicated.)

Happy Mondays, "Kinky Afro". #1 in the U.S., and a key song from the Manchester music scene.

Madonna, "Justify My Love". The Immaculate Collection is one of the best albums of all time.

Public Enemy, "Welcome to the Terrordome". There is a lot of hip-hop on this 1990 list, which makes sense. The four tracks also demonstrate the variety of music being made at the time within the genre. A Tribe Called Quest doesn't sound like Digital Underground, who don't sound like LL Cool J, who didn't sound like Public Enemy.

In honor of the World Cup, here is how the United States made it to the 1990 tournament in Italy:

 


20 faves #16: the clash, london calling

16th of 20, roughly by chronology.

Favorites lists are by definition personal. Many of the albums I've chosen made room for me to climb inside, which led to a lifetime of connections. London Calling worked the opposite way: it climbed inside of me. I always had an odd relationship to punk ... steelworker, married with two kids, a fairly mundane life. But it mattered to me, and none of the punk bands mattered as much as The Clash. The ambition behind London Calling was life-affirming, that a genre that was so simple originally could expand so effectively in such a short time. The Ramones were simpler than most, and they mostly just worked at getting better at simplicity. The Clash took on the world. Perhaps no song demonstrated this better than "The Right Profile", "about" Montgomery Clift. Some songs spoke to my soul as an unhappy factory worker ... "Clampdown", obviously, and "Death or Glory".

There are many interpretations of the line "London is drowning, and I live by the river". To me, it signified the ways living by the river meant we were always in danger of drowning, but when the whole city is drowning, well, welcome to our world. It reminds me of "River's Gonna Rise" by David and David.

London calling


two by request

Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018). Another entry in the "Movie That Is Praised for What It Isn't" category. Hereditary is getting great reviews, and a common thread is that it's not like Saw and its ilk. Richard Roeper: "'Hereditary' is one of those rare and treasured horror films that does not rely on 'Gotcha!' music stings, or rhythmic knocks on the door in the dead of night, or the cat jumping into frame during a tense moment." Justin Chang: "There are none of the gratuitous jump scares or pointless fakeouts that have reduced mainstream horror cinema to so much self-defeating gimmickry." Hereditary is more than just the absence of gratuitous gotchas, and there is a long, fine tradition of horror movies that affect us more by their emotional creepiness than by the standard tricks of the trade. Aster wants to be in their company, but Hereditary isn't up to the likes of Don't Look Now or Rosemary's Baby. Still, I admire his intentions, and I prefer to say the movie is reminiscent of Don't Look Now than to say the movie isn't Saw. There is much to admire in Hereditary, and Toni Collette's performance is impossible to ignore ... some people will think she's over the top, but no more than Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I was reminded of Drag Me to Hell, or rather, I wished I was watching Drag Me to Hell. That movie has fun with the common tropes. There is nothing fun about Hereditary. A better comparison would be The Babadook, and if you get one thing from this review, it should be that you need to watch The Babadook if you haven't already. Hereditary turns grief and family life into a horror show, and that's a pretty good trick. But if you go in expecting Drag Me to Hell, you'll be disappointed.

Tarzan and His Mate (Cedric Gibbons, 1934). Said by the ever-accurate Wikipedia to be "The first major instance of censorship under the Production Code" thanks to a nude swimming scene by Maureen O'Sullivan's body double. The scene didn't use a body double because O'Sullivan was shy ... rather, the double was Josephine McKim, like Johnny Weissmuller an Olympic Gold Medal winner in swimming, thus able to better handle the swimming "ballet". The real raciness comes not from the swim, but from the flimsy outfit O'Sullivan wears through most of the film (the closest thing I can think of to that outfit would be Jenny Agutter's in Logan's Run). There are topless "native" women early in the movie ... there is Weissmuller himself, a strapping, gorgeous athlete who wears even less than O'Sullivan ... there is the matter-of-fact way we understand that Tarzan and Jane sleep together. But what makes your jaw drop, even in 2018, is Jane's damn outfit. It certainly got someone's attention ... the next Tarzan movie, which was definitely post-Code, featured O'Sullivan in a much more modest outfit. Besides O'Sullivan, Tarzan and His Mate offers reasonable action scenes and a cringe-worthy treatment of the jungle natives. It's not as cheesy as most of the future films in the series, which is something.

Jane and her mate