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five years plus sixteen more

Back in 2004, I had a post called "Five Years" that celebrated this fifth anniversary of our getting broadband internet at home. Which means it's been 21 years now, so long that I can barely remember what it used to be like. I tried to explain it to my 8-year-old grandson ... how we used the phone lines to connect, how before cell phones you had phones connected by phone lines, how your modem connected to the same lines, how you couldn't talk and compute at the same time ... I finally gave up trying to explain.

In that old post, I wrote:

If I had to list the three most important events in our home computing lives, they would be:

1983, when we got our first computer.

1984 or thereabouts, when we got our first modem.

August 31, 1999, when we got cable internet.

Those are all events that happened to us, in our house ... getting a computer, getting a modem, getting faster internet access. The Internet is a lot different now than it was then, but those changes have come from outside the house. We still have a computer, we have an Ethernet connection to the cable internet that is similar to what a modem used to do. I guess wireless access would be the fourth most important computing event since then, as it allowed us to connect our phones and laptops and tablets as well as our computers. (It's a sign of how old I am, that I still use a desktop computer.)

But the things we associate with home computing aren't exactly "in our house" anymore.

Google was founded in 1998.

Wikipedia launched in 2001.

The roots of Facebook came in 2003.

YouTube was created in 2005.

Twitter came along in 2006.

You get the idea. All of these are better for our having broadband internet ... you could say that much of them wouldn't exist, at least in their current form, if broadband hadn't expanded into more homes.

Of course, now, schools from kindergarten to college are taught online, thanks to the pandemic. Those of us who are trying to stop the expansion of that pandemic mostly talk to our friends and family via video chats.

If you want to go back in time, try to remember before there was Google. (At least there were search engines before Google.) Or try to remember before home computing was even a thing. It was a long time ago.

geezer cinema/film fatales #91: lost girls (liz garbus, 2020)

Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?) is a documentary film maker, and Lost Girls is one of those "based on a true story" movies, which makes it an interesting choice for Garbus' first fiction film. And sure enough, Lost Girls plays a lot like a documentary, except for the obvious fact that there are actors like Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) rather than the actual people. Ryan is perfectly cast ... well, anytime Amy Ryan is on the screen, she is perfectly cast, because she's a great actress ... she can make you forget she's an actress, which is appropriate for this kind of docudrama.

Which isn't to say that Ryan is low-key here. Her anger throughout is palpable, and it drives a movie that we know from the outset will have no closure (we are informed at the beginning that Lost Girls is "an unsolved american mystery"). Her Mari Gilbert is a mess, but when her eldest daughter disappears, Mari persists in searching for the truth, most often by pressing the police, who aren't good for much. If this were a different story, Gilbert might be plucky ... at one point, a detective calls her "feisty", which amounts to the same thing. But Mari is a bit deranged, which is partly why she is so dedicated to finding what happened to her daughter, but which doesn't really match with a stereotypical pluckiness. But, there is no avoiding the conclusion ... in real life, the culprit has never been found ... and whatever resolution Gilbert achieves must remain philosophical at best.

Stay for the brief words at the end which, in good true-crime fashion, tell us what has happened to the characters since the film's conclusion. There, we learn of one person's closure that is unexpected and unsettling, to say the least.

(Letterboxd list of our Geezer Cinema movies.)

(Here is a letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies.)

chadwick boseman

This is what I wrote about Black Panther in 2018:

african-american directors series: black panther (ryan coogler, 2018)

I'm not sure I'm up to the task of writing about Black Panther, which is so much more than "just" another Marvel superhero movie. Just to address the Marvel-ness of it, I am marginally conversant with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I mostly like the movies I've seen ... well, I didn't think much of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but the rest, sure, they're OK. But I usually only see them because my wife is a fan. Personally, I prefer some of the TV series, especially Agent Carter. So one thing that set Black Panther off from the rest is that I wanted to see it; I didn't wait to be dragged into the theater. And my desire was justified, because Black Panther works on its own as a movie, separate from Marvel mythology.

I was delighted to see how much Oakland love was in the movie. We saw it at a theater less than a mile from the Oakland border (in Emeryville, home of Pixar, who are always putting animated local landmarks in their films), and right at the beginning, when a title tells us we're in Oakland in 1992 while Too $hort's "In the Trunk" plays on the soundtrack, the crowd erupted in applause, a tangible example of how audiences see themselves on the screen when watching Black Panther. (It wasn't shot in Oakland ... I think Atlanta was the location ... but given that director/writer Ryan Coogler was born in Oakland, the visuals are on target.)

Black Panther serves its function as an origin story, and since we're told at the end that the character will be featured in Avengers: Infinity War later this year, it is clear that Marvel is in this for the long haul (it doesn't hurt that Black Panther is already one of the biggest grossing films in history). But Black Panther didn't leave me wanting to see Infinity War, even if my wife inevitably gets me to watch it. I suspect this is because, as I noted, Black Panther works as a movie ... it made me want to see the next Black Panther movie Coogler works on, which isn't the same as wanting to see Infinity War because Black Panther will be in it.

Much has been made of the political statements the film is making. Black Panther wears its political heart on its sleeve. The message of the movie is messy, which accounts for the various disparate explanations of what is going on. But you don't have to dig very deep to start the discussion.

I have read some convincing arguments that Black Panther is ultimately something less than revolutionary in its narrative (the plethora of black filmmakers and actors in the film is revolutionary in itself, of course). Much of the film's thrust involves deciding who will be King of Wakanda, and that decision is based more on hand-to-hand combat than on a reasoned confab on politics. Since Erik Killmonger, who proposes that Wakanda should be sharing its wealth to help liberate the oppressed all around the world, is presented as "The Villain", his revolutionary position is attached to a "bad guy". Supposedly, this taints the radical politics of Killmonger, and I understand why it seems that way.

But people have been rooting for the bad guy for a hundred years of movies. Jack Nicholson's Joker is evil compared to Michael Keaton's Batman, but Nicholson's acting in the film is much more enjoyable than Keaton's, and Batman is a bit of a fascist in that movie anyway, so I didn't have any trouble "rooting" for the Joker. It is true that Keaton's low-key approach to his character allows Nicholson to take over the film, but it is also true that without Nicholson, Burton's Batman would be even darker than it already is.

A comparison of Joker/Batman and Killmonger/Panther doesn't completely work. In Batman, not only does Nicholson dominate the movie, entertaining the audience in the process, but Batman is not a benign leader of men, but instead a fascist. In Black Panther, we are led to think of T'Challa as a good ruler ... he is easier to root for than Bruce Wayne. And while Nicholson overwhelms BatmanBlack Panther is full of strong characters (many of them women) and thrilling performances. One reason it's hard to root for Killmonger is that Chadwick Boseman is himself charismatic ... he makes us want to accept T'Challa's way.

Yet I would argue that Michael B. Jordan overcomes Boseman's excellence. I am a longtime fan of Jordan's, so I may be too biased. But he is so great as Killmonger that he breaks through the attempt to make the character into a villain. Yes, Killmonger is a sociopath, but ... OK, I know there is no "but" for some people, but like Nicholson's Joker, Jordan commands the screen with such intensity that I found myself rooting for him, despite the way in the end the film denounces Killmonger. It is like those 30s gangster movies, where the bad guy had to die in the last scene, but when you walked out of the theater you remembered the excitement of the film's first 85 minutes, not the required comeuppance.

Of course, those gangster movies weren't making explicit political arguments. It's a sign of the greatness of Black Panther that it is not only a great spectacle (we saw it in IMAX 2D, which I much prefer to 3D), but it inspires discussion after the fact.

music friday: emmett till

On August 28, 1955, Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi.

A.C. Bilbrew wrote "The Death of Emmett Till", which was recorded in 1955 by The Ramparts, who was actually Scatman Crothers.

In 1962, during his first radio interview (hosted by Cynthia Gooding), Bob Dylan played a new song that wasn't officially released under his name until 2010. It was called "The Death of Emmett Till".

On her 2011 album, Hard Bargain, Emmylou Harris included "My Name Is Emmett Till", which she also wrote.

i may destroy you

I've been trying to come to terms with Michaela Coel's astonishing series I May Destroy You, and I've realized I may never get there. Coel turned something from her own life (she was sexually assaulted) into a work of art that is unflinching. I May Destroy You is hard to watch ... Coel is not afraid to show humans at their worst as well as their best, and at times I feared for the future of the human race. But the discomfort you feel when watching the show reflects the very real trauma that Coel, and her fictional character, an author with writer's block named Arabella, have suffered. If we weren't uncomfortable, Coel would have failed.

Arabella's actions over the course of the season are often hard to explain, hard to accept. But, as with the show as a whole, Coel isn't just trying to get the audience to understand what she went through. More to the point, she is working her way through the experience, and yes, she hopes we understand, but she doesn't tailor her writing to please the audience. And there isn't going to be a direct line through which Arabella resolves her feelings, no matter that viewers might prefer that to be the case. She inches towards the finish, two steps forward one step back, and as she struggles, we struggle as well. But since she is willing to show Arabella as not just nice, we are angry with her as often as we are sympathetic. At times, we are angry and sympathetic at the same time.

I was hoping for some resolution at the end ... I don't think I was alone. Coel doesn't exactly resolve anything, but the final episode perfectly establishes why resolution isn't necessarily what Arabella (and thus the show) needs. Arabella goes through a series of what-if scenarios involving her attacker, and I admit, I got vicarious excitement from the scenario where she beat the man to a bloody pulp. But what matters is when Arabella accepts that while she will never erase or forget what happened, she can continue with her life, can finally refuse to be defined by her assault. In what can only be called a delightful turn, she is able to clear her writer's block and finish her book, at which time, we realize the series I May Destroy You reflects the book Arabella writes, and serves the purpose for Coel that it does for Arabella. Coel doesn't give us a by-the-numbers autobiography ... she goes deeper, showing us her emotional journey without needing to exactly match events in her life.

Coel is aided by a fine supporting cast, including Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu as Arabella's best friends. Both characters are as finely drawn as is Arabella, equally balanced between good and not-so-good behavior. Life is complicated in I May Destroy You, as are the characters.

I'm pretty sure I haven't gotten to the bottom of my feelings about the show. But it will be hard to forget it.

african-american directors series: 4 little girls (spike lee, 1997)

Spike Lee has made his name as a top director of fiction films, but he has also made some strong documentaries (I am partial to the two-part series on Katrina and New Orleans). 4 Little Girls was his first full-blown documentary feature, immediately establishing his excellence in this genre.

Lee put the film together for just a million dollars. The key behind-the-camera collaborators were cinematographer Ellen Kuras and editor Sam Pollard. Lee interviewed family, friends, and lawyers ... his small crew helped make the family and friends comfortable. He also intersperses archival material to give context to the events of 1963, when racists bombed a church, killing four young black girls. This material serves to remind the viewer of just how volatile America was at the time (of course, it feels very timely now, as well). Lee gathers an impressive list of people to comment on the times, including Andrew Young, George Wallace, Ossie Davis, Walter Cronkite, Jesse Jackson, and Coretta Scott King. The result is a movie that works as history, while also making an emotional appeal to the audience. Lee obviously has a point of view, but he lets it emerge naturally from the stories of the families.

Lee and Kuras rely a lot on close-ups ... the speakers become real to us. And 4 Little Girls is tight, with no wasted space. It grips you, it forces you to think, and there is no rest during the film's running time.

(Similar to the Film Fatales series, I have begun a Letterboxd list, "Black Directors Matter", that includes movies directed by African-Americans. I've also added a category to blog posts, "African-American Directors".)

negamco and me

My grandson just turned 8, and he never seems to run out of things to do or to think about. Part of this comes from his parents, both of whom know a lot of different things that they love to pass along to him. So he is already a bigger expert on all sorts of subjects than is his old grandpa. I tried to remember what I was like when I was 8, and what my parents passed along to me. And no wonder I don't know anything. We learned a love of music from our parents, and my dad introduced us to sports simply by being interested in them himself. Once in a while he'd come out on the front lawn to throw a ball around. But that's it. I mean, my mom taught us how to play the piano, but that didn't really stick. I'm not saying I had bad parents, but they were a lot different than my grandson's parents.

I was left to my own devices a lot of the time. One thing I looked forward to every year was the annual release of new rosters for the Negamco baseball game. I'm pretty sure I played this when I was 8.

Negamco baseball ad

Each year, you would get rosters with all of the players from the previous year, rated so they would perform in the game as they did in real life. While it seemed pretty complicated, once you got the hang of it, there was nothing to it. The box looked like this:

Negamco baseball box

There were classier (i.e. more expensive) games ... among other things, they used dice to determine outcomes. Negamco used a spinner:

Negamco spinner

The box, the spinner, everything was pretty cheap, so after about a week, the spinner dial would get bent and the spinner board would get warped, so you'd get 17 all the time, which kinda destroyed the notion that you were using random variation.

It all seemed so real when I was 8. In 2020, games are a bit more complicated. That game I had, it had very few player ratings. A batter would be rated on how many hits he got, and how many of those hits were home runs. Pitchers were ranked from 1-7. No pitchers experienced fatigue, and there was nothing like lefty-righty matchups. So the results would resemble real life a little bit, but not too close, and of course that #17 would screw things up. Now, simulation games like this are computer games, with every possible detail built into the program. Negamco is a thing of the past. (A few of the better board games are still being made, although as I understand it, many of them have moved to computers.)

creature feature: the man who could cheat death (terence fisher, 1959)

This is a mediocre Hammer film, directed by Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula). Christopher Lee is the biggest name in the cast, but he isn't the lead ... he's not even the villain. That job goes to Anton Diffring (Circus of Horrors), who was in everything back in the day. Perhaps the most notable member of the cast is Hazel Court, one of the first Scream Queens, and an early example of the kind of actress Hammer liked to put in their movies (i.e., cleavage). Court says they even filmed a brief nude scene "for the European market" ... she's modeling for a sculptor. No copies of that version exist. All we have is one still of a topless Court, which was a big deal in 1959. (In fairness, Court in the nude is still a big deal.) The censors may have succeeded in burying the nudity, but throughout the movie we see a bust of the sculptor's work, which shows Court's assets off quite clearly.

The movie is almost all talk, and thus, almost entirely dreary. The plot is a mishmash of mad scientist and Dorian Gray. None of it is particularly interesting. Among the films it played with in the theaters: The Evil That Is Eve (aka A Kiss for a Killer) and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. The Man Who Could Cheat Death will cheat you out of 83 minutes of your life, time that is better spent using Google to find that still of Hazel Court (you'll still have 80 minutes left over to do what you want).

by request: blindspotting (carlos lópez estrada, 2018)

I'm sorry I missed this when it came out. It was a time when it felt like Oakland was the center of the movie universe. Oakland's own Ryan Coogler had given us Fruitvale Station and Black Panther ... Bay Area legend Boots Riley directed his first film, Sorry to Bother You ... and there was Blindspotting, perhaps the most Oakland of them all, from Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Blindspotting doesn't just have the feel of Oakland, it's shot in Oakland and these people know Oakland.

Which doesn't limit the film, or make it important only for Oaklanders. But Diggs and Casal, who wrote it and star in it, offer their story as both specific and universal. Its examination of identity and race and gentrification connects beyond Oakland, and the two leads inhabit their characters so perfectly that it feels like a "based on a true story" recreation as much as it does a fictional movie.

Of course, while there is a true realism to many of the scenes, Carlos López Estrada isn't afraid to stretch that reality. But Diggs and Casal, who spent nine years writing the screenplay, are not afraid to being things back to basics, leading to intense scenes that expand our knowledge of the characters while getting in the audience's face just as much as the characters are in each other's faces.

It may not be clear from the above, but Blindspotting is also very funny at times, and the mixture of comedy and drama doesn't feel forced. The entire movie is tight. There is a convenient coincidence at the end of the movie that too clearly exists as a plot setup, but I had barely finished rolling my eyes when the most powerful scene in the whole movie emerged. That scene makes excellent use of Diggs' rapping skills ... the writers have made reference to "heightened language", which adds a Shakespearean element to the dialogue while existing within the frame work of rap. Rap sneaks up on you during the film ... the characters break into it on occasion, and again, it feels real, but it also serves as a setup for the climactic scene, which is powerful both for what is being said and for how it is being said.

Here is that scene ... serious spoiler alert, if you haven't seen Blindspotting, don't click on the video. Just go watch the movie.

There were some excellent movies in 2018, including Black Panther, Roma, and Shoplifters. Blindspotting is as good as any of them.

(Letterboxd list of the top movies of 2018)

music friday: jazz at the fillmore, 1967

On this date in 1967, during the Summer of Love, the Count Basie Orchestra and the Charles Lloyd Quartet played the second show of a two-night visit.

Lloyd had been there all week, opening first for Chuck Berry and then for the Young Rascals. He is still with us, 82 years old. Lloyd was popular with the budding Bay Area "underground radio" community (KMPX had gone to 24/7 rock music two weeks earlier). Forest Flower, recorded at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966 and released in early 1967, was big, as was Love-In, recorded at the Fillmore in early 1967 and released about a month before this concert. In both cases, the Quartet featured legends Keith Jarrett on piano and Jack DeJohnette on drums, with Lloyd on tenor sax and flute.

Here are two from Love-In. First, "Temple Bells":

And the Beatles' "Here, There, and Everywhere":

Far as I can tell, these were the only two nights Basie played the Fillmore for Bill Graham. Basie was a prolific artist ... there is some conflicting evidence, but he recorded somewhere between 4 and 6 albums in 1967 alone, when he was in his 60s. The album Basie's in the Bag, featuring mostly hits of the day, was recorded a couple of days before the Fillmore shows.

I'd be remiss without including two other Basie tunes. "Blues in Hoss' Flat" was used as the theme song for Bay Area legend Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins on his various radio and TV shows:

And on television, Basie's "Jumpin at the Woodside" would signal the appearance of another legend: