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memory

Sarah Griffiths has a good piece over on Medium: "Your Childhood Memories Are Probably Fake".

Fictional memories seem just as real as those we have evidence of and therefore know to be true. Brain scans have shown that the neural activity for false memories in adults looks incredibly similar to the activity for a real memory and involves the same regions of the brain, including the hippocampus. This means it could be questionable whether we have any “real memories” that can be relied upon at all, because to some degree all our memories are reconstructions.

I used to obsess about this stuff when I taught classes on critical thinking. Well, I still obsess, I just don't teach classes on it, so I don't have the opportunity to force it down my students' throats. One of my favorite anecdotes about the hazy nature of memory is about July 30, 1959. On that date, future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey made his major-league debut, going 4-for-4 with 2 triples against another future Hall of Famer, Robin Roberts. We know this happened because baseball has detailed records.

I remember this game, not because I was in attendance, but because it was a big deal. The Giants only arrived in San Francisco in 1958, and it was normal to hear the games on portable radios wherever you went. I had just turned six years old, so this is one of my first memories, and what I remember (besides McCovey which can be looked up and verified) is where I was at the time, with my family. And what makes that interesting is if you ask my brother, who was six years older than me, or my cousin, who was seven years older than me, they will tell you they also remember that day, and remember hearing it on the radio, only they were at a different place than I remember ... with my family. Someone's memory is wrong.

Baseball is a useful way to check people's memory. Often, Giants announcer and former pitcher Mike Krukow will tell a story about some game he pitched, and I'll check it out to see if he has his facts right (he often does pretty well). I can tell you the date of the first time I took my son to a baseball game. If I was relying solely on memory, I'd tell you it was 1978, and he was three years old. But I also remember Giants catcher John Tamargo hitting a triple in that game. It was an important hit, bringing home the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, sending the game into extra innings, where the Giants eventually lost. But I can tell you the exact date, because John Tamargo only hit one triple in his entire major-league career. So all I have to do is find that date, and voila! (It was September 2.)

Here's one I was reminded of the other day when I was at the park and saw a famous (to Giants fans) photo:

David bell 2002

The man sliding across home plate is David Bell. The Giants players are celebrating because when Bell scored in the bottom of the ninth inning, it gave the Giants the win that sent them to the 2002 World Series, their first trip to the Series in 13 years. Anytime I want, I can close my eyes and remember Bell's slide. It looks just like it does in this picture.

Except ... in those days, I had season tickets, so I was at the game in question. My seats were in the upper deck, almost directly behind home plate. Here is the view from those seats:

Seatview2_edited

You see the problem here. When I watched David Bell slide across home plate that evening, from my view he was sliding diagonally along the base path from left to right. The famous photo, on the other hand, was taken from the right side of the field (and lower/closer, for what it's worth). From my seats, #35 (Rich Aurilia) was jumping in our general direction. In short, Bell's slide looked to me nothing like the way it looks in the photo.

But, as I said, nowadays, 16 years later and counting, when I close my eyes and remember the slide, it looks like the photo. The photo has become my memory, overriding the event as I actually experienced it.

Just to complete everything, here's how it looked on national TV:

 


music friday: 2003

OutKast, "Hey Ya!" A favorite song of so many, a favorite video of so many ... count me among the many in both instances.

The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army". Amazing that two such iconic songs came out the same year.

Beyoncé, "Crazy in Love". Amazing that three such iconic songs came out the same year.

Nacho Vegas, "En la sed mortal". New to me, which happens more often as I get closer to the present.

Bruce Springsteen, "Waitin' on a Sunny Day". Cheating a bit ... from a 2002 album, released as a single in 2003. Popular with audiences, but not much of a favorite to the hardcore fans.

Missy Elliott, "Pass That Dutch". Never sleep on the importance of Missy in her prime.

The Thrills, "Big Sur". The first two tracks on their debut album were "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)" and "Big Sur". They are from Ireland.

Pharrell, "Frontin'". His first solo single. Jay-Z pops up on this list for the second time, which is pretty good considering I didn't include any of his own records.

Girls Aloud, "No Good Advice". Huge in the U.K. (20 straight top-ten singles), a nonentity in the U.S. (as far as I can tell, they never released any music in the States).

Dizzee Rascal, "Fix Up, Look Sharp". A story similar to Girls Aloud, in terms of chart presence.

Spotify playlist: 


revisiting performance

I can't remember where I read this, or even whether the review in question was positive or negative. But one thing has always stuck with me. In a review of Rock 'n' Roll High School with The Ramones, the critic said that one day in the future, we would be watching TV and Rock 'n' Roll High School would come on. It made the future seem like a lovely place.

Last night, Performance turned up on TCM. It is the kind of movie I never expect to find on the TV, even with all of those channels we didn't have in the Rock 'n' Roll High School days. Oh, I remember once back in 2004, it was shown a few times on a now-defunct network, Trio, but that's it. I was surprised to see it on TCM, and of course I had to watch it.

The reason for the film's appearance is simple: Keith Carradine was participating in the TCM "Guest Programmer" series. Carradine's choices were fairly standard. He said he loves TCM and loves old black-and-white movies, and this is reflected in his choosing Captains Courageous and Random Harvest. He was asked to choose one of his own movies, and he selected Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us.

And, Performance. He admitted he wasn't sure TCM would go for it, although he said it's a classic, and TCM has the word "classic" in its name. Host Ben Mankiewicz joined Carradine in noting that the violence and sex in the movie was perhaps a bit more extreme than what one usually saw on TCM. But they showed it, nonetheless.

Carradine called the film "psychedelic noir", which is pretty good ... I think I'll steal that one in the future. I've been obsessed with the movie since I first saw it when it was released in 1970. I put it at #10 on the Fifty Fave Movies list I did several years ago, and I don't think that has changed. Rewatching it for the Fave Movies, I realized I was misattributing a lot of what I liked about the movie. In the early 1970s, when I was a film major, Nicolas Roeg was my favorite director. Since the movies he directed after Performance, Walkabout and Don't Look Now, featured a fractured style quite similar to Performance, I assumed it was Roeg that came up with the style to begin with. But we've learned a lot about Performance over the years. I wrote, in 2012,

What is interesting, in retrospect, is that I attached my devotion to co-director Nicolas Roeg, when at least two others were equally responsible for the style of the film. When Roeg went off to make his first solo-directing film, Walkabout, Donald Cammell was left to edit Performance into something acceptable for a recalcitrant studio. He worked with an editor named Frank Mazzola, who was uncredited. The two of them created the jagged style of the final product.

Last night, I was dragged in as always to the movie as it progressed. I've never tired of it. It was a nice gift to find it on TV.

Here is a short documentary about the making of the film, cut into three parts for YouTube:

 


crazy rich asians (john m. chu, 2018)

When it comes to truth in advertising, Crazy Rich Asians hits two out of three. It is about Asians, and it is about being rich. But calling the movie and its characters "crazy" is a stretch. The movie takes a fairly standard rom-com approach, but it never attempts to reach out to the screwball genre.

It's obvious why Crazy Rich Asians is important. It's a crowd-pleasing film for the whole family, with a largely East Asian/Asian-American cast. It's a box office hit ... a sequel has already been given the green light. At a time when it still seems impossible to get studios to back movies with diverse backgrounds, Crazy Rich Asians joins other recent hits, most notably the enormously successful Black Panther, in demonstrating how backwards those studios are, not just culturally but on the bottom line. On a basic level, Crazy Rich Asians is a worthwhile movie simply because it exists. That it is also enjoyable makes the experience even better.

But ... I've noted that it's not a very crazy film, and that it is a strong representation of a culture we don't see often enough in American movies. That leaves Rich ... and lord, do the people in this movie have riches. Crazy Rich Asians is like Downton Abbey without all of those troublesome servants. It would be unfair for me to claim that the movie ignores class distinctions ... in fact, those distinctions drive much of the plot. But the classes we see are fairly limited: old rich, new rich, and Constance Wu as the Cinderellaesque heroine, Rachel. It is telling that Rachel, the "lower class" character, is an economics professor at NYU. And when Rachel triumphs over the old school, as she inevitably must, it's a victory not for the downtrodden but for the professional class.

Crazy Rich Asians is a pleasure to watch ... the locations are gorgeous, the money porn is enticing, and the cast is uniformly excellent. (Shout out to the always great Michelle Yeoh, who gives real depth to her part as what passes for a villain, and to Gemma Chan from TV's Humans.) I liked it better before I thought about it, though.

And a bit of Gemma Chan in Humans, just because:

 


behave yourself! (george beck, 1951)

Sometimes I watch these obscure movies where the trivia is more interesting than the movie. To get the movie out of the way, Behave Yourself! is a mystery/farce featuring counterfeiters, Farley Granger and Shelley Winters as a rather naive married couple, and a dog. The movie itself is pretty much a dog, too. So, to the trivia.

The ad campaign for the movie included a Vargas drawing of Shelley Winters in negligee. This was when Winters was still in her "Blonde Bombshell" days.

This was the only film directed by George Beck, who otherwise worked as a writer. I have no idea how he ended up directing this one. It shows no real personality I can ascertain.

Winters and the bisexual Granger had a lifelong relationship. I'm not sure if this is where they met. Google is your friend if you want to know more about this.

In 1951, Granger was in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Winters was in A Place in the Sun, for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Somehow, they managed to find time for Behave Yourself!.

The film is in the public domain, and is easy to find. The prints are crap ... at least the one I saw was.

Granger seems to be channeling Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace, which is unfortunate because 1) he's not as good as Grant at frantic farce, and 2) that was Grant at his worst. I've seen the relationship between the married couple played by Granger and Winters as reminiscent of Nick and Nora Charles, but that's ridiculous.

The supporting cast is full of That Guys: William Demarest, Lon Chaney Jr., Hans Conried, Elisha Cook Jr., Sheldon Leonard, King Donovan, Kathleen Freeman.

Behave yourself


music friday: 2002

Bruce Springsteen, "My City of Ruins". The ultimate 9/11 song, except it was written in 2000 about Asbury Park.

The Roots, "The Seed 2.0". Who would have guessed that a dozen years later, The Roots would be the house band on The Tonight Show.

Missy Elliott, "Work It". Ti esrever dna ti pilf, nwod gniht ym tup.

Solomon Burke, "Don't Give Up on Me". The album earned Burke his first Grammy, at the age of 62.

Eminem, "Lose Yourself". My choice as his greatest song.

Ms. Dynamite, "Dy-na-mi-tee". A Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Nirvana, "You Know You're Right". Released 8 years after Cobain's death.

Sleater-Kinney, "Sympathy". Corin Tucker's finest moment, and another ultimate 9/11 song.

Norah Jones, "Come Away with Me". The album earned Jones her first Grammy, at the age of 23. Also her second, third, fourth, and fifth Grammy. It was her debut album.

Pink, "Don't Let Me Get Me". I obsess over this video. I used it in the classroom. I've written about both the song and the video before. After seeing her live for the first time, in 2002, I wrote:

The show had many highlights ... the oddest one for me came with the final song of the night, "Don't Let Me Get Me." This was the anthem all the girls had been waiting for, and seeing and hearing them sing along to this complex song was bizarre. What does it mean when a bunch of kids happily shout out "I wanna be somebody else"? The closest thing I can think of is when the audience would sing along with Johnny Rotten's "No Future!" ... as if in the act of proclaiming our nihilism, we were expressing our love of life. Except I don't ever remember wanting to be Johnny Rotten, while I think a lot of people in that audience would have been happy if the "somebody else" they got to be was in fact the woman who introduced those words to us in the first place: Pink.

Spotify playlist: 


the thin man (w.s. van dyke, 1934)

MGM head Louis B. Mayer didn't want Myrna Loy in the part of Nora Charles. Also, the studio needed her in three weeks for another movie. Director W.S. Van Dyke had worked with Loy and William Powell in another movie, and wanted them to play Nick and Nora. Van Dyke had a nickname around town, "One-Take Woody". He had no problem bringing pictures in on time. There is some disagreement on how long it took Van Dyke to shoot The Thin Man ... some say 16 days, others say 18. One thing everyone agrees on is that he was done before the three weeks were up.

You can feel this in the breeziness with which the picture goes by, and Powell and Loy deserve a lot of the credit. Their interplay as a happily married, often drunk couple had not been seen before. They made marriage sexy. They were doing something right ... The Thin Man was such a success, it spawned five sequels with the stars. It was nominated for 4 Oscars.

Roger Ebert noted that the relationship between Nick and Nora was like that of Fred and Ginger in their musicals. "The movie is based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, one of the fathers of noir, and it does technically provide clues, suspects and a solution to a series of murders, but in tone and intent it's more like an all-dialogue version of an Astaire and Rogers musical, with elegant people in luxury hotel penthouses and no hint of the Depression anywhere in sight." It was the film of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep that famously lost track of who killed who, but long before that, The Thin Man showed that no one cared who did it when the stars were so much fun to watch.

In fact, despite its reputation, The Thin Man drags through much of its beginning, basically until Powell and Loy turn up. And the big reveal, which takes place at a dinner party, is endless ... the only good parts are the occasional wisecracks, as Nick Charles explains who done it. None of this matters when Nick and Nora are drinking and being in love. If it all seems a bit familiar now, it's only because it set a standard that has been copied many times over since then. Also with Maureen O'Sullivan and Cesar Romero.

 


film fatales #43: india's daughter (leslee udwin, 2015)

A documentary about the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, an Indian med student, India's Daughter fills its 63 minutes with just the right amount of information, never losing the feel of outrage and anger while connecting the act to the larger Indian society. We also see the enormous reaction of the people who weren't going to accept what had happened (along with the repressive actions of the state against those people).

The people who support the traditional Indian ways come off the worst, none more than defense lawyer A.P. Singh, who states, "If my daughter or sister engaged in premarital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight." Even so, some have complained that just by allowing such people to air their thoughts, Udwin is giving them a platform they don't deserve.

The film's title also exposes some of the problems with the movie. While it is specific to India, enough so that the Indian government banned the film, there isn't an effort to connect the problem to the worldwide presence of rape. You can only do so much in 63 minutes, and again, Udwin is being specific to the case in question and its ramifications for India, so I'm not sure this criticism is useful. More important, though, is the insistence, reflected in the title, that this is a movie about a daughter. As Tanvi Misra wrote:

The film shows Jyoti as an abstract symbol. She is “India’s daughter”—mourned by parents, and appropriated by both a cause and its opposition for their respective agendas. She is split in the imagination of her country. For the rapists and their lawyers, she failed her daughterly duties and bore the consequences. “India’s daughter” is supposed to have guarded her own modesty, which is linked to the prestige of the family. She was supposed to have been virtuous and virginal, protected and defined largely by male relatives....

The other narrative strain in the film ... talked about how “good” Jyoti was. She was a good daughter (she had asked for her parents’ permission to go out that night), a good student (she worked very hard), and a good friend. In this telling, she was ultimately a martyr—sacrificed to rally a country behind a cause....

I’m not saying that all these things about Jyoti—that she was a good student and devoted daughter—are untrue. I’m saying that they don’t have to be true for the crime committed against her to be just as heinous. The film shows this “good girl” and “bad girl” rhetoric—“India’s daughter” is either, depending on who’s talking about her—but not much else. In the movie, she’s a 2-dimensional figure. But Jyoti, the person, was probably much, much more when she was alive.

India's Daughter is compelling, and you can't help but be angry over what happens to Jyoti, and how Indian tradition reinforces misogynistic patterns. It's perhaps unnecessary to ask for more.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)