Previous month:
January 2014
Next month:
March 2014

music friday, baker's dozen edition

A friend following a friend took part on Facebook in a meme where you listed 12 favorite albums, plus one for luck. I’m going to do it here, with a couple of caveats. First, like many folks, I’ve become much less of an “album” guy in the Streaming Music Era, so this will likely include a lot of old albums. Second, I’m going to take advantage of the wording … this will be 12+ favorites, not my 12+ favorites, which is a different thing. I’ll list them in alphabetical order, just so I don’t have to try to rank them.

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks. Alphabetical or not, this is probably my favorite album of all time. Lester Bangs’ essay on Astral Weeks is one of the great pieces of rock writing.

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run. After all of these years writing this blog, I shouldn’t have to explain this one. Remember, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.

Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out. The change was made uptown and Janet Weiss joined the band.

Prince, Dirty Mind. Damnit, Prince, you make it hard to find a proper video link.

B.B. King, Live at the Regal. He was a great singer, but listen to the guitar solo around the 3-minute mark … 30 seconds of ecstasy. Because this track comes in the midst of a medley, you can quit listening after the solo.

The Clash, London Calling. Great album, full of great songs, but I worked in a factory when it came out, and so “Clampdown” hit especially close to home.

Pink, M!ssundaztood. The video for “Don’t Let Me Get Me” takes a great song and, in the last minute, gives it extra depth. I want to be somebody else.

Blondie, Parallel Lines. It’s like a greatest hits album.

The Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique. Contains the single most aggravating/pleasurable sample in history, so of course, I can’t find it on YouTube. So I stuck a demo version on there.

John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band. Interesting that this is the closest the list comes to The Beatles.

Sly & the Family Stone, Stand! I must be feeling OK today, or I would have included There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt, Trio. My kids were forced to listen to this album for much of their formative years.

The Velvet Underground and Nico. I don’t know just where I’m going.

bewailing the loss of youth

Recently, my friend Catherine Hollis posted something on Facebook from a poem by François Villon:

My time of youth I do bewail,

That more than most lived merrily,

Until old age ‘gan me assail,

For youth had passed unconsciously.

It wended not afoot from me,

Nor yet on horseback. Ah, how then?

It fled away all suddenly

And never will return again.

We had a short conversation in the comments section, wherein she kindly said I was “authentic”. I noted I couldn’t really take credit for that, to which she replied, “Well, there’s only one of you anyway!” And that made me realize/respond: “That's true! And thus, even when I'm being inauthentic, I am in fact being authentic.”

One of the categories I tag on this blog is “science”. It has been neglected for too long … the last time I used the tag was April 23 of last year, in a post that was more about music than science in any event. The reason the post warranted the science tag was that I was prompted by an article titled “Why You Truly Never Leave High School” that focused on neuroscience.

And there’s this picture, which I posted on Facebook in response to someone else’s photo of Taco Bell back in the day:

Taco Bell  A033

This photo brings back many memories for me. For one thing, my longtime friend Dub DeBrie is cut out of the picture (he’s on the left), and in some odd way, that makes him more memorable than if he’d shown up in the photo. The fellow on the left, John, was a truly wonderful guy who has dropped out of touch with us all over the years. On the right is Ann, with her Cheshire cat grin and her languid demeanor … yes, I had a crush on her. I can look at myself and date the picture within a fairly tight time frame: my hair was just starting to grow out for the first time, which means I was no longer under my parents’ control in that area, which means summer of 1970.

What drew the most commentary on Facebook was that thing I’m wearing. It’s a poncho, although for reasons that now escape me, I called it a serape. I wore it pretty much every day for about three years … when someone pointed out the likely exaggeration in that statement, several people who knew me then came to my defense and said yes, he did wear it all the time. I don’t think I gave it much thought back then, but playing amateur psychologist now, I’d say I was looking for an identity that wasn’t confusing, and decided I’d be The Guy Who Wore the Poncho. (I still dress kinda like that. I’m not as bad as Steve Jobs, but I’ve got maybe three shirts, one pair of jeans, and one pair of shoes that I wear around 95% of the time. It’s not related to identity any longer, though … I’m just lazy.)

I want science to explain all of this to me. I treat science the way many people treat religion, in that I have no idea how it works, I just believe in it. I want to know why that fragmentary memento of Ann on that particular day at that particular Taco Bell makes me feel nice. I want a concrete explanation for my various madeleines.

I say this as someone who married his high-school sweetheart, with our 41st anniversary coming in May. That makes no sense, and when people ask me how I’ve done it, I just say that I married the right person and she didn’t leave me. But in the back of my mind, even as I talk about romance and love, I still think there’s an explanation somewhere in our brains.

This makes me think of my psych meds. The person in that photo wasn’t on meds (although my parents had me on something for awhile when I was much younger). You might say I self-medicated, given the amount of psychedelics I ingested in those days. But that guy in the poncho is “authentic”. Now, I’m not nearly so sure of myself … maybe I need another poncho to re-establish my authenticity. The thing is, now that I’m on meds, I feel less authentic than ever. It’s a good thing … I’m not nearly the asshole I used to be. But the meds have never dulled me to the extent that I didn’t know they were working. I think the same stuff I always did. I just don’t act on those thoughts quite as readily, which is for the best.

The question is, am I being less authentic because I take chemicals that change my behavior, or am I being more authentic because the chemicals allow me to be “myself”?

by request: groundhog day (harold ramis, 1993)

(This movie was requested by Jeff Pike. You know, it’s been about two years since I asked people for requests, and I got enough of them that I’m still working my way through the list … there are at least 30 more to come. So it’s not like I need more requests, although I’m always looking for them. But what happens is, it can take me a couple of years to get to a request, by which time I imagine the requester has forgotten all about it. For the record, Jeff offered up 14 requests on July 3, 2012, of which I have now written about 7.)

Last Sunday, Twitter legend Ellen Barkin tweeted, “’Pompeii’ did not do too well at the box office this wknd...too soon?” It stuck with me, partly because I thought it was funny, and also because it came to mind when I heard about the death of Harold Ramis. People sent out their regrets over the loss of another artist, but my first thought was that maybe now Ernie Hudson could be moved into the picture on the pan-and-scan versions of Ghostbusters, now that Ramis wasn’t around to complain. Too soon, I know.

I thought to honor Ramis by watching one of his movies, and I happen to own an old DVD of Groundhog Day, so that was my choice. Plus, as noted above, it was on my request list. Plus, I’ve only seen a few of his directorial efforts, didn’t like one at all (Analyze This), can barely remember another (Club Paradise) and found a third funny in a “lets watch the best scenes on YouTube” way (Caddyshack). (It occurs to me that I like Ramis best when he is working with Bill Murray, and I thought that before I found out that they had a falling out during the making of Groundhog Day that persisted, as far as we know, to Ramis’ death. I am not privy to any inside information, nor do I know anything about how Murray and/or Ramis works. But Bill Murray is so good so often that I tend to think he has qualities of his own that don’t depend on Ramis.)

My wife told me today that she had never seen Groundhog Day. I always thought she’d seen it and disliked it, but she said no, it’s just that she was never that interested in the basic premise. When I asked her what she thought that premise was, she said a guy gets stuck in a time warp wherein he repeats the same day, over and over. And you know, that’s a fair description of the movie. It just doesn’t go far enough. There is nothing in that description to suggest it’s a romance. You assume it’s a comedy because Bill Murray is the star, but, as my wife said, it reminds her more of episodes of Stargate SG-1. And there is nothing in that description that helps you understand at least a little why Buddhists seem to like the movie.

All of which is to say that there is a lot going on in Groundhog Day, that it is a rare movie that invites not only shared jokes about Ned Ryerson but also philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. And what is even more rare, it is never syrupy sweet or droningly boring. And I don’t mean to disregard the contributions of everyone who worked on the movie, in particular writer Danny Rubin. But what makes the film work is Bill Murray. His comic persona, always untrustworthy, prevents the syrup from showing up. His acting skills, and his ability to reflect inner processes, make the changes he goes through in the movie seem right, not forced.

Not everything works. There’s a car chase that is more John Landis Blues Brothers than is necessary. But those are minor complaints. And the built-in repetition works a trick on the audience: it seems better with each viewing. I am surely not the only person who made the lame joke that I’d seen Groundhog Day a hundred times, because every time I saw it was like watching it tenfold. But it grows on you. When it came out, Roger Ebert gave it a decent review, 3 out of 4 stars. Twelve years later, he included it in his Great Movies series, writing “Certainly I underrated it in my original review; I enjoyed it so easily that I was seduced into cheerful moderation.” I’m of a similar mind … in the past, I’ve given it 7/10, but I’m bumping that up to 8/10 this time around. It is easily my favorite film directed by Harold Ramis, and ranks with favored Bill Murray films like Rushmore and Lost in Translation. #279 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. For a companion piece, check out the Bill Murray movies I’ve noted above, including Ghostbusters.

(Since I wrote this, Mary Elizabeth Williams offered a strong column on Ramis and Groundhog Day. As she points out, “the film isn’t on multiple film studies syllabi just for its sly one-liners. Nope, it wound up in the United States National Film Registry for its ‘deft, innovative script’ on ‘self-growth, redemption and personal rebirth.’” But it’s her opening that suggests why my own thoughts aren’t in line with the norm: “There is no shortage of great comedies for which Harold Ramis, who died on Monday at age 69, will be remembered. Without his contributions, there’d have been no ‘Animal House,’ no ‘Stripes,’ no ‘Meatballs,’ no ‘Ghostbusters,’ no ‘Caddyshack.’” You see, I don’t think any of those movies are great movies. Which, as needs to be said whenever the topic of comedies comes up, is all about my taste preferences and not the actual quality of the works in question.)

downton abbey, season four finale

As is usually the case, if a series makes it through four seasons, I’ve run out of things to say about it. I suppose Season Four was an improvement on Season Three, although the truth is, I’ve come to question my previous notion that there is a difference in quality between the seasons. I faulted Season Two for being too much like Season One, and most of what I complain about is still there in Season Four, so how much has actually changed?

To summarize my comments from the past few years … I think Downton Abbey is too fond of the old established order. The narrative is supposedly about how society is changing for the rich, but the one place where that change might truly matter (downstairs) stays the same. OK, the one guy has gone from being a servant at Downton to being a chef somewhere else, and one of the assistant cooks will now be a cook in America. But outside of The Evil Barrow, every member of the staff accepts their place. Carson insists on his preeminence among the staff, but he would never think to rise above that station, and the rest of the staff doesn’t question Carson’s preeminence, much less aspire to the upstairs. Tom Branson marries his way from staff to family, but he always feels like an outsider. There was an attempt to recall his radical politics in Season Four, which was welcomed, but I’m guessing it goes nowhere. Meanwhile, Barrow chafes under the strictures of hierarchy, but this only makes him villainous.

I appreciate that Downton Abbey is far more popular as a story about the rich than it would be if it were a story with Bates and Anna at the center. I remain a bit confused about why this is true in the U.S., where at least we pretend we don’t believe in royalty. But the acting is still very good, and if the storylines are less than I’d hoped for, at least after four years we’ve come to know the characters enough to want to visit them weekly. My personal grade for Downton Abbey is in the B range, but I wouldn’t argue with those who would make that a B+, even if I’m thinking more of B-.

world cup is coming

Experiencing the online joy of Canadians as their men’s and women’s Olympic hockey teams beat the USA reminds me that another every-four-years international sporting event is coming where people who happily ignore the sport for the majority of those four years get caught up in the excitement. I confess, this thought came to me as I read the missives of the gloating Canadians. They deserved every part of that gloating, and there was nothing I could say in response, except to note that in a few months, while here in the States we’ll be watching the U.S. in the World Cup, our neighbors to the north will be watching … the U.S. in the World Cup.

Soccer, as a spectator sport, is increasingly popular in the U.S., and for all the talk about how soccer was destined to become a big deal in this country because of all those kids playing youth soccer, what matters has always been how many people would turn up in the stands and in front of their televisions. In the past, the World Cup was the one time when Americans paid attention, much like the Winter Olympics makes luge fans of people who don’t think about the sport in the years between Olympics. As always, the anticipation in advance of the World Cup finals grows so intense the closer we get to the tournament that the actual Cup will be hard-pressed to meet expectations. Great moments are guaranteed, as is great drama. The soccer? No one can really say, but at the least, we’ll be getting a month of most of the best players in the world (there will be a few notable absences, most notably, the magical Zlatan Ibrahimović, whose Sweden did not make the finals). It’s no surprise that I get obsessive about this stuff, effectively removing myself from public life for a month while I try to watch every single match. I’ll even crank up my World Cup blog, which made its first appearance in 2006.

Here’s the truth about the World Cup, though  … and I can’t claim to originality here, but neither can I provide a link to where I first read it, because I’ve long forgotten it. The World Cup will not feature the best soccer in the world.

If, say, Liverpool has a weakness at right back, they can go out on the transfer market and find someone who is better than what they have. And they can look anywhere … they aren’t the richest club in the world, but they do have plenty of money, and the international market is open to them. (Their current squad includes players from Belgium, the Ivory Coast, Denmark, Slovakia, Brazil, Wales, Uruguay … even their manager is from Northern Ireland, and the owners are Americans who also own the Boston Red Sox.)

But if there is a lack of good English right backs, the England manager has no choice but to play the best he has. He can’t just go find someone on the international market. It is much easier for a club to repair holes than it is for a national team.

Also, clubs build teamwork over the course of a season, and soccer is definitely a team sport more than something like baseball. Sign a free-agent starting pitcher, and his performance will be within expected parameters. Sign a right back, and the team will be better once the new player has had time to blend in with his teammates. National teams, though, mostly lack the time to create such a blend.

This isn’t to say that the play in Brazil will be subpar. On the contrary, amidst all of those great players, some will perform bits of excellence to take our breath away. And some managers are better than others at building a coherent squad in a short period of time. To say nothing of the inherent drama of a World Cup.

But if you want to watch the best soccer, the place to look is the Champions League, an annual tournament that features the best clubs in Europe. The best leagues are in Europe … there’s more money at the top level, so someone like Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, will be on display for Argentina in the World Cup, but he plays his club soccer for Barcelona. If you buy the argument that the best clubs play a bit better than the best national teams, and accept that the best leagues are for the most part in Europe, then a competition of the best teams in Europe will, all else being equal, be the best possible competition.

The 2013-14 Champions League is currently in the Round of 16, and over the next two days, there will be matches featuring teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, and Real Madrid. Paris Saint-Germain are still in the tournament, which is especially nice since their big star is the afore-mentioned Zlatan Ibrahimović, who you won’t see in Brazil (he scored twice in a 4-0 drubbing of Bayer Leverkusen last week).

And there are plenty of other options for Americans wanting to watch soccer, which wasn’t true a few years ago. Your domestic league, MLS, begins in a couple of weeks. If you are lucky enough to have a team in your area, get out and see them … the atmosphere can be great at MLS matches (for an extreme example, check out the season opener in Seattle on March 8, shown on NBC Sports Network).

Also, you could do worse than to pick a team to root for in the English Premier League, and start following them. The Premier League isn’t necessarily the best league in the world … Serie A in Italy and La Liga in Spain are in the mix … but it is the easiest of the top leagues to follow in the States. NBC bought the U.S. broadcast rights to the EPL for three years ($250 million), and it’s quite remarkable: they are doing a great job. It’s a dream come true for American soccer fans, who have grown used to crappy televised soccer productions over the years. Between their broadcast, cable, and mobile outlets, NBC shows EVERY match live. They have a very strong crew of announcers and commentators, they have decent highlights shows … basically, they make it easy for an American to keep up to date on the league.

Start watching now, and by June, you’ll have seen many of the stars of the World Cup in action. Today, for example, I can watch Champions League matches, and/or Copa Libertadores matches (that being the South American version of the Champions League). This weekend, depending on what kind of cable/satellite package you have, you’ll have the opportunity to watch league matches from England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, and Mexico, with the U.S. to follow the week after that.

what i watched last week

The Werewolf (Fred F. Sears, 1956). It’s not exactly an undiscovered classic on the level of Detour, but it’s better than you’d expect from a Jungle Sam Katzman production. None of the actors do a bad job, and Steven Ritch as the title character actually elicits some sympathy from the viewer. The presentation is straightforward … there’s none of the usual fantasy element of the werewolf story, just a tale of a man who becomes a victim of a scientist’s experiments. Some people seem to equate exceeding expectations with actual quality, but The Werewolf isn’t anything special. It’s just better than the usual junk, and closer to film noir than to Lawrence Talbot. 6/10. For another Katzman/Sears classic, try Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942). Interesting Bette Davis romance that goes a few places I didn’t expect. Davis is the “ugly” youngest daughter in the Vale family, and she is dressed for the part: mousy makeup, nondescript dresses, old-people eyeglasses. She ends up in a sanitarium, where a doctor played by Claude Rains sets her on a different path. From there, she goes on a long cruise, where she meets Paul Henreid, playing a decent man stuck in a bad marriage. They fall in love, they separate at the end of the cruise. Already the warning signs are up: woman is “fixed” thanks to two men. And when she returns home, I feared the worst, thinking her awful mother would force her to retreat to her earlier stage. But Davis won’t put up with it … she really has changed for the better. There is still plenty of romance to come, and various plot shenanigans that keep our attention if nothing else. But Davis opts for the life she has made for herself, even rejecting Henreid, and it is quite refreshing. Won an Oscar for Best Music Score. #748 on the latest update to the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10. My favorite Bette Davis movie is All About Eve.

The Killer Shrews (Ray Kellogg, 1959). I’m not sure what it means, that I’m trying to catch up on Oscar-nominated movies, and I’ve got an All Is Lost Blu-ray sitting here, yet I’ve bypassed it for two Creature Features in one week. Like The Werewolf, The Killer Shrews is marginally better than you’d expect from the title, with “marginally” being the important word. The main character is played by James “Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane” Best. The female lead … well, the only woman in the entire film … is played by a former Miss Sweden. Ken Curtis was the producer, as well as playing a cowardly drunk, only a few years after playing an important role in The Searchers and only a few years before he joined the cast of Gunsmoke, playing Festus. Curtis’ un-credited co-producer was radio legend Gordon McLendon, who also took on the only acting role of his career (he stinks). Sidney Lumet’s father plays a scientist who creates the title characters. It’s hard to pass up classic dialogue like “Hematoxic syndrome - it must be hematoxic syndrome.” To top things off, it runs only 69 minutes. Somehow, with a budget of around $159 and coon dogs standing in for the shrews, it’s still mildly scary. 6/10. It’s easy to suggest a companion piece: The Giant Gila Monster, made simultaneously as a double-feature partner for the Shrews.

lost landscapes of oakland

I had the pleasure today of taking in Rick Prelinger’s latest “lost landscape” production, “Lost Landscapes of Oakland”. Prelinger is one of the most fascinating people you’ll ever meet, and with his wife, Megan (also fascinating), has given us the Prelinger Library and the Prelinger Archives. His lost landscapes offer compilations of archival footage to tell a part of the story of a time and place that might have been lost to us. So, in Lost Landscapes of Oakland, we got home movies, newsreels, industrial films, and the like, showing Oakland through the first 70 or so years of the 20th century.

The word is out regarding these showings (he has previously done them in San Francisco and Detroit). The Oakland Museum of California had to turn people away … we were glad we’d decided to arrive early. Rick invites the audience to participate as the films are showing … in particular, he’s looking for information about places that he doesn’t yet know. So there’d be footage of Oakland in the 1920s, and someone would shout out the name of the street, or tell us what theater that was. When we saw the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League at Oaks Park for the opener of the 1918 season, someone wondered aloud what now stood in the Park’s location. Someone else shouted out, “PIXAR!”

I found a couple of items to be particularly interesting. There was footage of a big fire in Berkeley in 1923, and I wondered if we’d get anything more recent (my mom, a Berkeley native, having been born in 1928). Sure enough, there was a bit from the late 30s, and I could imagine my mom as a young girl.

There was also quite a bit about the Key System, which transported people between San Francisco and the East Bay. I had mentioned on the ride to the showing that I wondered if we’d see anything about the Key System … I don’t remember it, myself, but I do remember people of my parents’ age talking about it in the past tense.

It might sound boring, watching this stuff for a little more than an hour, but it was nothing of the sort. In a Q&A session after the showing, one person asked Rick what movies we might shoot now that would be good for a future Lost Landscape. He encouraged us to document our neighborhoods.

music friday, 1986 edition

Run-D.M.C., “My Adidas”. Hard to complain about the product placement when the song is as good as this.

Billy Bragg, “Levi Stubbs’ Tears”. A different kind of product placement.

Gwen Guthrie, “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ on But the Rent”. No romance without finance.

Public Image Ltd, “Rise”. Anger is an energy.

Prince, “Kiss”. It’s never easy to find Prince videos online, so this is a cover version. I’m pretty sure you can guess which one.

Janet Jackson, “Nasty”. She was 19 when this was released.

Cameo, “Word Up!”. Wonderfully 1986.

New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle”. I’m always looking for an excuse to include a New Order song.

The Bangles, “Manic Monday”. Here’s one way to sneak in a Prince video.

Hüsker Dü, “Sorry Somehow”. AND I’M NOT SORRY! (Happy belated Valentine’s Day!)

they shoot pictures, don't they 2014

The 2014 edition of the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They 1000 Greatest Films list is now up. The top ten includes the same movies as last year, in a slightly different order. The top three remain the same: Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The I Check Movies website hasn’t updated yet, but based on last year’s version, of the 1,016 movies in the Top 1000, I’ve seen 539.

Here are the rankings for my own Top Ten movies, as listed on Facebook a couple of years ago:

  1. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (7/20 … yes, I cheated and counted them together.)
  2. The Sorrow and the Pity (452)
  3. Bonnie and Clyde (217)
  4. Rio Bravo (74)
  5. The Third Man (43)
  6. The Rules of the Game (5)
  7. Citizen Kane (1)
  8. The Wild Bunch (67)
  9. A Streetcar Named Desire (777)
  10. Performance (165)

FWIW, I had Vertigo at #16. 2001 was nowhere on my list.

what i watched last week

A Woman Is a Woman (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961). I am a big fan of Godard’s early work, from Breathless through Weekend. There are classics (I named Breathless my 13th-favorite film of all time, and Vivre Sa Vie is just as good), near-classics (Masculin Féminin), near-classics that I might call true classics if you caught me in the right mood (Pierrot le fou and especially Band of Outsiders), even some interesting almost-normal movies (Contempt, Alphaville). A Woman Is a Woman is, to my mind, lesser 60s Godard. It resembles one of his movies … the long scenes of chopped-up dialogue, the playful deconstruction of genre, the love for those same genres. It’s his first movie with his great muse of those days, Anna Karina, and his infatuation with her is crystal clear. Yet everything is a bit off. The rule-breaking doesn’t seem nearly as revolutionary a year after Breathless, and the inside jokes feel more self-indulgent than usual. I’d rate this higher if I didn’t have such powerful expectations for his work in that era. I think it’s not as good as the movies I mention above, but I’d still rather watch it than Captain Phillips. #881 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. For a companion piece, choose any of the other Godards from that period. Vivre Sa Vie is especially good if you love Anna Karina, and all of them are cultural touchstones, from Masculin Féminin’s “The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola” to Band of Outsidersdance scene.

Little Miss Marker (Alexander Hall, 1934). Here’s an example of the power of Shirley Temple: this film has been remade at least three times. There was Sorrowful Jones in 1949, starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. Next was 40 Pounds of Trouble in 1962, which had Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette. Finally, in 1980, came another Little Miss Marker, which had Walter Matthau, Julie Andrews, and (again) Tony Curtis. The interesting point in all of this is that in none of these cases is it necessary to list the actress who played the Shirley Temple role. Because that role wasn’t important. In 1949, the part was played by Mary Jane Saunders, famous mostly for being married to long-time baseball player Jay Johnstone. In 1962 it was Claire Wilcox, in 1980, Sara Stimson. None of these three even have their own Wikipedia pages; Stimson only made one movie. Three movies featuring adults, based on a movie whose star was 6-year-old Shirley Temple. No one thinks of the original Little Miss Marker as an Adolphe Menjou movie, even though he is the male lead. No, it’s a Shirley Temple movie, one of her earliest hits. The movie barely had a reason to exist other than to showcase its child star. And indeed, Temple dominates the film. What she does is remarkable … for all her mugging, she comes across as a natural, and you never get the feeling she’s just reading her lines. There is no use denying Temple’s talents. But Pauline Kael came closest to describing Temple in Little Miss Marker when she noted, “People hadn't seen anything like it; that doesn't mean they needed to.” As for the movie itself, it’s a Damon Runyon trifle, and your enjoyment will be affected by your taste for character names like Sorrowful, Bangles, Regret, Sore Toe, Canvas Back, and Benny the Gouge. It’s hard to get yourself noticed when Shirley Temple is on the screen, but Dorothy Dell offers an appealing performance. Sadly, Dell died in a car crash just a week after the movie opened; she was 19. A good double-bill can be made by just adding another Shirley Temple movie.

The Tingler (William Castle, 1959). Entertaining piece of junk that is a marker for Baby Boomers who saw it a dozen times on Creature Features in their youth. It revels in its own idiocy … the title “character” is this thing that looks kinda like a lobster, which grows on people’s spines when they are scared. Of course, one of the tinglers gets loose, and terror results. One of Castle’s most creative stunts is featured here: “Percepto”, wherein a few seats in selected theaters were wired to set off a slight buzz at just the right moment. Then, the tingler escapes into a movie theater, the screen goes blank, and Vincent Price shouts out that a tingler is loose in the theater, and tells everyone to scream. This might have worked in the theater, especially ones rigged with the electric buzzers, but it’s such a goofy effect that it works in some odd way even when you watch on TV. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is a subtext, but the two primary marriages in the film are depressingly awful. If you didn’t grow up on this movie, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. Me, I’m a Boomer, so I'm always up for a re-watch. (Trivia note: this was the first “major” picture to show the use of LSD. Vincent Price shoots up with it, and almost scares himself to death.) For another Castle film starring Vincent Price, try House on Haunted Hill. For a loving sendup of Castle, check out Joe Dante’s Matinee, which focuses on a movie called Mant (half-man, half-ant).