it happened to jane (richard quine, 1959)

One more visit with Doris Day. There's not much out there in streaming land ... Amazon has her TV series from the late-60/early-70s, and they also have this movie, and that's about it.

You can learn pretty much all you need to know if I tell you that Doris Day's character in this movie runs a lobster business.

It's a fairly typical rom-com of the late-50s, not as good as some of Day's efforts, but watchable. Most of the reason it is watchable is that Doris Day was a reliably consistent actress. It's not that she carries It Happened to Jane, it's just that she's a part of most of the good stuff. That's not quite accurate ... she makes the mediocre stuff passable. The movie is too silly to make it a classic, and the romance angle is not as foregrounded as it often was in her movies. But Day has plunk ... she is determined to get us through the movie, just as her character is determined to make her lobster business work. There's a greedy capitalist who sees the error of his ways, and everyone loves Day. I can't really recommend it, and it's not nearly enough to serve as a way to honor her passing. But I've seen worse movies. Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs co-star.

The film bombed, even when re-released as Twinkle and Shine.


doris day

In honor of the passing of Doris Day, here is the one Day movie I have written about here:

Move Over, Darling (Michael Gordon, 1963). I wanted to watch a James Garner movie, and chose this, which I hadn’t seen. Garner was the iconic star of more than one TV series, and he is known as one of the television stars who moved easily into the movies. His deceptively casual style always worked well on the small screen, and his effortless work on the big screen was always welcome. But it often meant he wasn’t quite the lead in movies … Move Over, Darling, for instance, is more a Doris Day vehicle, although they work well as a team. The film had a bit of a complicated history … a remake of the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne movie My Favorite Wife, it was originally meant to star Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin under the title Something’s Got to Give. That one was famously unfinished, with the remnants turned into Move Over, Darling. Day and Garner are good, but your response to the movie depends in part on your tolerance for the kind of unconsummated bedroom farce that Day made famous. It isn’t one of the better ones. For a better Day/Garner pairing, check out The Thrill of It All.


small world: sipowicz, sha na na, and me

I once wrote an essay for a book titled What Would Sipowicz Do? Race, Rights and Redemption in NYPD Blue. A couple of days ago, the publisher sent a group email to all of the authors, letting us know that the book, which came out in 2004, will be going out of print. As I often do when I get included in an anthology, I check out my fellow contributors, looking for names I recognize. This doesn't always make me happy ... Alan Dershowitz turned up in one of those books ... but it's fun, especially in retrospect, to see the company I once hung out with. In the case of the NYPD Blue book, there was Joyce Millman, one of the founders of Salon, and David Gerrold, writer of numerous books and perhaps best-known for his association with Star Trek (he wrote the Tribbles episode, among others).

One of the writers in that book responded to the email, copying all of us, thanking the publisher for letting us know. I thought that was a nice gesture, and looked him up online, just to see what else he had done. His name was Robert A. Leonard, and the piece he wrote for the book was "Forensic Linguistics in NYPD Blue". Leonard himself is a distinguished linguist ... among other things, he is the director of the graduate program in Forensic Linguistics at Hofstra.

Looking at his Wikipedia page and elsewhere, I found that I actually had an experience with Leonard many years ago, June of 1970 to be exact. I had just turned 17, and a friend and I went to Fillmore West. The opening acts were Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, and Pacific Gas & Electric, who had a decent-sized hit that year with "Are You Ready?"

My friend and I had never heard of the headliners. They had made their mark, though, in a movie which had been released a couple of months earlier that we hadn't yet seen: Woodstock. The band was Sha Na Na:

When we saw them, they were fun and energetic and very entertaining. Later I would learn that the original members of the band were students at Columbia.

I can still remember one song they played that night. Here it is at Woodstock (check out Jimi Hendrix taking in the act around the 1:15 moment):

The singer was "Rob" Leonard. According to Wikipedia, "Leonard spent two years with the band, until he stopped at the age of twenty-one. He left the band because he was offered a fellowship at Columbia Graduate School and wanted to further his education in linguistics."

Yes, my fellow author in the NYPD Blue anthology was the same man I saw sing "Teen Angel" at Fillmore West in 1970.


music friday: songwriters

Next month the Songwriters Hall of Fame will welcome its six latest inductees. Here is a song from each of those songwriters.

Dallas Austin: TLC, "Creep". "If he knew the things I did, he couldn't handle me, and I choose to keep him protected."

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

John Prine: "Everything Is Cool". "Everything is cool, everything's okay. Why just before last Christmas, my baby went away."

Tom T. Hall: Jeannie C. Riley, "Harper Valley PTA". "Mrs. Johnson, you're wearin' your dresses way too high."

Jack Tempchin: The New Riders of the Purple Sage, "Fifteen Days Under the Hood". "I got those dead-battery-broken-fan-belt blues."

Yusuf/Cat Stevens: "Father and Son". "If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them they know, not me."


20 best and rectify

I missed this article in the New York Times from January: "The 20 Best TV Dramas Since 'The Sopranos'". You might have different choices ... heck, the article ends with some of the critics choosing the shows they thought should be on the list but weren't. Many of the shows are obvious: The Wire, The West Wing, The Shield, Battlestar Galactica, Deadwood, Mad Men, The Americans, The Leftovers. In this era, when television watching is essentially based on "catching up", you could do worse than to hunt those 20 shows down and stream them, binge them, re-watch them, whatever. In a couple of cases, notably Atlanta, you can catch up and then continue watching, since it's still on.

But there's one show I was very happy to see on the list, a show that no one I know watched, a great show that deserves to be discovered: Rectify. In the article, Margaret Lyons writes:

Watching “Rectify” will turn your soul into a pensive cello song, and your hands into those of an aged person mourning their youth. You’ll discover an old handkerchief in the back of a drawer, behold it briefly in the dusty sunlight, then collapse onto the corner of the bed, weeping at the fragility of all human life — how fallible and wonderful it all is, how damaged and dark.

In my recap of television in 2016, I wrote:

"The best show currently on TV (The Americans is between seasons). Its glacial pace turns away most viewers ... it’s a gift that creator Ray McKinnon has been given the chance to tell the story in full, given the poor ratings. Recently, I decided the show reminded me of soap operas, where it takes months to resolve anything. Except I don’t expect things to be resolved on Rectify. I can only hope that sometime in the future, people catch up with it on streaming, and kick themselves for missing out in the first place. Aden Young, the unknown-to-me star, is as good as anyone, week after week. And this is what Abigail Spencer did before Timeless. If you actually want to take my advice, this is the show to start with.” Since I wrote this, Rectify’s series finale has been shown. There was more resolution than I expected, but even then, it was very much in tune with how Rectify worked. As Aden Young as Daniel said, “I’m cautiously optimistic.” I’ll emphasize this point one last time: Rectify is one of the best series to ever appear on television.

You can watch Rectify on Netflix.


come and see (elem klimov, 1985)

Elem Klimov was 52 when Come and See was released. He lived another 18 years. Before Come and See, he had directed more than half-a-dozen features. Given its status among critics (it is #141 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time), you might think Come and See suggested further great movies from the director. Yet he never directed another movie, saying in 2000, "I've lost interest in making films. Everything that was possible I felt I had already done." Watching Come and See, you understand Klimov's position, for it's hard to imagine anything topping what became his final film.

Come and See is a war film that will bring to mind other movies, good ones that pale next to Come and See. Apocalypse Now is often mentioned, as is Saving Private Ryan. I was reminded of the great Fires on the Plain, and to a lesser extent, Bernhard Wicki's The Bridge. Both of those movies have an intensity that makes them hard to sit through, which is also true of Come and See. This Russian film makes Apocalypse Now seem almost trivial.

The film begins with young Flyora and a friend looking for abandoned rifles so they can join the Soviet partisans against the Nazis in 1943. I'm tempted to say we see what transpires through the eyes of Flyora, but that is not literally true, because the face of Flyora is increasingly haunting over the course of the movie. Rather than seeing things through his eyes, we read them through his face. I had to look up Aleksei Kravchenko, the teenaged actor who played Flyora, to see if he had suffered trauma from making the film. He's in almost every scene, and the atrocities he sees can't have been easy to handle, even in a fictional form (it's hard for us in the audience to handle, as well). I learned that Klimov wanted to hypnotize his young actor during the most horrible scenes to help Aleksei get through relatively unscathed, but the actor couldn't be hypnotized. Some sources say that the teenager's hair turned gray while making the movies. He didn't appear on screen for 15 years. But apparently Kravchenko survived ... he returned to acting and became a regular on Russian television.

The title of the film warns us of what is to come. "Come and See" is derived from the Book of Revelation: "And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."

Klimov manages to include some black humor, although it comes mostly in the first half. There comes a point when you just can't laugh it off.


sports

Some context:

Liverpool is one of the most storied clubs in English soccer. They were founded in 1892. They have won the top flight of English soccer 18 times over the years, although their most recent was back in 1989-90, before the First Division became the Premier League that everyone knows today. Five times they have won the European Cup, which is more times than any other English team. Their home, Anfield, is world famous, and has been their home since their founding in 1892. Their fans are famously loyal ... they have a song, the venerable "You'll Never Walk Alone", which was originally from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. A version performed by the Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers hit the top of the UK charts in 1963, and it became the soccer team's anthem, played before every home game. That this is important can be seen whenever an Anfield match is televised here in the States ... the announcers never talk over the crowd's singing. Here is an especially spirited rendition ... their opponents were Borussia Dortmund, who also use the song as their anthem, so supporters for both teams joined in:

Today, Anfield welcomed Barcelona for the second match of two in the Champions League semi-finals. Barcelona had beaten Liverpool at home 3-0, which meant Liverpool was behind before today's match even began. Not only that, two of Liverpool's biggest stars, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, were out with injury. And let's not forget that the greatest player of all time, Leo Messi, plays for Barcelona.

Liverpool got an early goal: 3-1. Early in the second half, they got two more: 3-3. And then came a smart, tricky corner kick, when Trent Alexander-Arnold noticed that the Barcelona players were busy getting set up. He took the kick before they were ready, Divock Origi scored: 4-3.

That was the final score. Liverpool advance to the Champions League final.

That's enough context. Here is what happened after the match:


reaction

Anyone who has spent any time on YouTube knows the way it can become a giant time suck. You go there to watch one video, and by the time you leave the site, you've watched ten. I've been watching a lot of "reaction videos" lately ... I know that's what they are called, there's a Wikipedia page about them. They are exactly what you think: videos of people reacting to other videos, which often/usually appear on your screen along with the person doing the reacting.

Perhaps my favorite, which I have posted here before, is a compilation of fans of The 100 watching a key scene from the show that features (SPOILER FOR SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED YEARS AGO, BUT WHATEVER) the return of a beloved character thought to be gone for good.

An ironic note: Lexa's earlier death was a perfect example of Dead Lesbian Syndrome, the worst since Tara in Buffy. Fans were outraged ... many said they would never watch again. But in the above scene, we saw that while we can never forget that stupid death, showrunner Jason Rothenberg knew his character, and knew how to send her off properly (even if it took 9 episodes to get there). The 100 has just begun its 6th season, with a 7th already in place, but for me, Lexa's return remains the most emotional scene in a series that is full of them.

My recent binge has been focused on someone who calls himself Modern Renaissance Man. He gave himself the right handle, as a look at his Patreon page demonstrates: "videos, comedy relief, ministering, counseling, advice". As I type this, he has uploaded 963 reaction videos to his YouTube channel. What I find fascinating is that he is knowledgeable about music (he is, in fact, a musician in addition to everything else he does), but he is fairly young and not necessarily familiar with the classic tunes of older times. It can be a delight seeing his response to things that he has never heard, things that us old timers have heard so many times the songs become almost meaningless. Here is the first one I watched:

There is no way for me to go back to the moment I first heard this song. The next best thing is watching someone else hear it for the first time.

One more, a favorite song of mine, and a favorite video of mine as well:

Finally, something a little different, but again, an example of something us geezers have memorized but which might be new to others:


thoughts on kentucky

A few scattered thoughts, the day after the Kentucky Derby, many of which I have written about before. First, a post from 2012:

I’m looking at the will of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather on my mom’s side of the family. John Cralle II died in Virginia in 1757. Some excerpts:

To Thomas Cralle Lamkin, son of Mary Jones, widow and relict of Charles Jones, late of Northumberland County five negoes vixt: Little Ben, Isaac, Peggs Bess, Blacka Top and Aggy. If he should die before he arrives to age or day of marriage, his mother Mary Jones to enjoy two of the said slaves that may be left at his death, she to have her choice during her natural life, then to revert to my children the remaining part

To son William Matthews Cralle nine negroes vizt: Chnce, Cate, and their daughter Bess, Frank, Alice, Stephen, Cate, Dominy, and Edmond.

Mulatto man Will, may be free at my decease.

To son Rodham Kenner Cralle three negroes vizt: Harry, George, and Nanny and my watch.

To daugher Mary Foushee my silver tankard, and negro wench Rose Anna

Rest of my estate both real and personal to be equally divided between five children Kenner, John, Rodham, William, and Mary, except Ben and Matthews whom I give to my son Kenner, son John to have Rachel, Old Ben to make choice of his master among my children.

From "How African-Americans disappeared from the Kentucky Derby", by Katherine Mooney:

When the horses enter the gate for the 145th Kentucky Derby, their jockeys will hail from Venezuela, Florida, Panama and France. None will be African-American. That’s been the norm for quite a while. When Marlon St. Julien rode the Derby in 2000, he became the first black man to get a mount since 1921.

It wasn’t always this way. The Kentucky Derby, in fact, is closely intertwined with black Americans’ struggles for equality, a history I explore in my book on race and thoroughbred racing. In the 19th century – when horse racing was America’s most popular sport – former slaves populated the ranks of jockeys and trainers, and black men won more than half of the first 25 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. But in the 1890s – as Jim Crow laws destroyed gains black people had made since emancipation – they ended up losing their jobs....

Soup Perkins, who won the Kentucky Derby at 15, drank himself to death at 31. The jockey Tom Britton couldn’t find a job and committed suicide by swallowing acid. Albert Isom bought a pistol at a pawnshop and shot himself in the head in front of the clerk.

The history of the Kentucky Derby, then, is also the history of men who were at the forefront of black life in the decades after emancipation – only to pay a terrible price for it.

And finally, an anecdote I have told many times. When my maternal grandmother was alive, she always looked forward to the Kentucky Derby. She was born in Kentucky in 1903, although it appears she had moved to California by the time she was 7 years old. Each year, when they played "My Old Kentucky Home" at the Derby, she would cry. I don't actually remember this happening, but I definitely remember her telling me about it on several occasions. It mattered to her.

Her name, before she later married, was Georgia Catherine Cralle. She was descended from the aforementioned John Cralle II.

As in my earlier mentions, I don't know what to make of all of the above.


what i watched

Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong, 2013). When I first saw this in 2015, I was still at the beginning of my fascination with recent Korean film. I've often wanted to share those films with my wife, but at least when we are at home, we're limited by subtitles (she doesn't object to subtitles, but she is usually knitting as we watch, so being able to understand dialogue without looking at the screen matters). Snowpiercer is said to be 80% English (who did the accounting on this factoid?), and beyond that, it's the kind of movie I think my wife would like: futuristic sci-fi action with a recognizable cast led by Chris "Captain America" Evans. As I noted at the time, you wouldn't go to Snowpiercer for an introduction to modern Korean cinema ... it’s more American than Korean. But that makes it a good introduction for someone who is knitting. (She has also seen Boon's Okja, and liked it.) #476 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. For some reason, I buried some of my best thinking about Snowpiercer in a tagged-on paragraph the first time I wrote about it, so I'll cut-and-paste a bit of that here, changing my original focus:

The construction of Snowpiercer is ingenious ... it’s also perfect for a good six-page essay in an honors class for college undergraduates. The class structure presented in the film is clearly delineated, and while you could watch Snowpiercer simply as an entertaining action movie, it is almost impossible to miss the underlying themes about class. That’s why it would make a good topic for an undergraduate essay: there is something to talk about, but it isn’t hard to find. It would also make a good topic for an extended essay that closely broke down the presentation of class, critically analyzing what Bong has done. But I’m not going to write either of these on this blog, not a six-page essay, not a chapter for a book. I’m going to write a paragraph, or two or three. And in the case of Snowpiercer, once I’ve mentioned the basics, I don’t see the point in adding a paragraph to state the obvious: that the cars on the train represent various social classes, that even if the nominal hero manages to take the train away from the nominal villain, nothing concerning classes will have been truly answered, that the two young people who escape the train are the future because they don’t conquer the train, they escape it. I could say all that, but if you watch the movie, you’ll figure it out for yourself. And unless I’m prepared to write 2500 words on the subject, I’m better off just sticking to a paragraph.

The Nerdwriter offers an interesting (spoiler-filled) take on the movie:

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974). Fear Eats the Soul continues my very gradual introduction to the work of Fassbinder. (I watched my first, The Marriage of Maria Braun, in 2009, and my second, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, in 2015.) Still to come is Berlin Alexanderplatz, the 14-part, 15 1/2-hour long TV series which I have had on my By Request list for a very long time ... it has been hard to find, but now it's on the Criterion Channel so I don't have any excuses. I feel like I'm still searching for the common thread in what Fassbinder I've seen. Not that it doesn't exist, but watching three films over the course of ten years is not conducive to the discovering of commonality. I've liked them all. The story of a May-December romance (better described as June-November, I think), Fear Eats the Soul doesn't limit the examination of difference to the ages of the two romantic leads. Brigitte Mira, who plays Emmi, a woman in her 60s, had already had a long career in show business, but it was Ali that made her something of a household name in Germany. (She went on to become a Fassbinder regular and lived another 30 years.) Emmi is a realist who is surprised to find herself in love with Ali, a couple of decades younger than her. Ali is also surprised, but their affection seems genuine. Ali is played by El Hedi ben Salem, who like his character is a Moroccan living in Germany (in real life, Salem had moved to Germany to be in a relationship with Fassbinder). The film takes place a few months after the massacre at the Munich Olympics, and Arabs are the victims of prejudice in part because of that event. Thus, the struggles of the couple are not limited to their age difference. Emmi's family and workmates all disapprove of her marrying an Arab, and as problems arise in the relationship, the reasons are less because they are different ages and more because they come from different cultures. Salem's acting is amateurish, which works well here, emphasizing the awkward state of living outside your culture. And mention should be made of Barbara Valentin, "the German Jayne Mansfield", who underplays her oozing sexuality and serves as a visual and emotional contrast to Emmi. This movie is said to be based on Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, but I think the connection is more that Fassbinder was influenced by Sirk than that the specific movies are tied together (although they do have similar basic plots). #135 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.