31 May 2008

A rollicking good time


It's not in my top 100 movies of all time but in some ways "Little Big Man" (directed by Arthur Penn, 1970) creates the ultimate film experience. You want drama? Check. How about pathos? Check. Care for a little humor? Check. Like epics? Check. Want history? Check. Brilliant acting interest you? Check. I could go on.
I remember seeing "Little Big Man" in a theater when it debuted when I was a teen and I was blown away. What a life for a young man-to-be to contemplate. The imagination of an all ready imaginative young man was enthralled. Today my middle age imagination is still taken in by "Little Big Man."
How to capsulize such a story? Not easy but here goes: All family but a sister wiped out by hostile Indians, taken in by Cheyenne to, in the main character Jack Crabb's words, not just play Indian but to be an Indian. Only to be subsequently taken back into white society after "rescue" in battle. Then to be given a bath by Faye Dunaway. (Mmmmmm.) From there to be a swindler, gun fighter, family man, mule skinner, Indian again and one with a family at that. Having the "chore" of making love to your wife's three young widowed sisters....Then tragedy at the hands of General Custer. THE Custer!
With dignity and life's meaning seemingly gone to be a gutter drunk. Dickensian re-encounters with earlier characters and all this against the backdrop of the Wild West. Then to be at Little Big Horn...
"Little Big Man" is by no means a perfect film but it is a perfectly wonderful way to tickle one's interest in U.S. History and have a rollicking good time. Hoffman is superb in the title role making the character at once an everyman and larger than life. Viewers can both relate to Crabb and wonder at his incredible life (as can readers of the marvelous book of the same name and its sequel).
What a lot of fun.

For the books

After attending well over 1,000 baseball games I finally saw my first triple play last night. It was only the second the Giants have turned at home since moving to San Francisco so it is a rarer sight here than a no hitter. No, I've not seen a no hitter but I have seen a player hit for the cycle. I've seen all manner of feats, records and spectacular plays but the triple play was a genuine thrill for me. Sadly it came in a game the local nine ultimately lost in 13 innings.
The night was also made special as it was the Giants 15th Until There's A Cure Game. Also, they honored Omar Vizquel before the game for setting the record for most games played at shortstop -- by anyone, in the history of the majors. Among those on hand for the ceremonies honoring him was the man whose record he broke, fellow Venezuelan and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio. I've long appreciated the extent to which the Giants go out of their way to honor the game's and their teams rich history. History (a subject I love) is part of what makes baseball so special. The game's history is richly intertwined with the nation's fabric in a way that no other American sport can claim. Last night provided more examples.
If only the son of guns had won.

29 May 2008

The Horror, The Horror


So it's a horror movie with Boris Karloff in it, what's the big deal?
It's not what you think. It's John Ford's "The Lost Patrol" from 1934 and its ostensibly about a British army patrol in the deserts of Mesopotamia during World War I that gets, as the title suggests, lost.
There are no monsters, there is no supernatural but it has all the classic apsects of the horror genre. From virtually the first shot of the movie (no pun intended) members of the patrol are picked off by unseen snipers. These killers are not seen until the closing moments of the film and at that point their faces are obscured. Those not killed early on are pushed near or into madness by the desperation of their situation and the manner their comrades keep dropping like flies.
Victor McLaglen (who in real life served the British army in that war in that locale) is excellent in the lead role playing the troop's sergeant. Karloff is creepy as one of his charges, an evangelical Christian who starts losing the few marbles he has with a predictable but nonetheless poignant result. Reginald Denny also features. Film buffs are more accustomed to seeing Denny as the cocktail swilling raconteur in an expensive suit. He shines here especially when giving a soliloquy on his life. The ubiquitous Alan Hale has a relatively small role.
In many respects it is director Ford who stars. As with most of his films the phogrpahy is dramatic and expressive without a wasted shot.
The Lost Patrol is a very real and very scary movie that comments not merely on war but the manner in which people respond to situation of real life horror.
Imagine, a horror film disguised as a war movie.

And I Quote

The Scottish philosopher David Hume once said, "Beauty in things exist in the mind which contemplates them." I write that not to introduce a writing on beauty or the mind but merely to impress you. Quoting the famous yet not well-known (like Hume, David but not like Clooney, George) is a wonderful pretense. If I quote Hume or Descartes or Tennyson, it creates the illusion that I'm well versed in their thoughts and writings. I therefore must be a pretty erudite guy. I mean you wouldn't assume that I just came across the quote somewhere and know little or nothing else about the author.
Names like the aforementioned are ideal for the impressive quote. They're writers, philosophers, poets whose names have a vague familiarity. It's all well and good to quote Shakespeare or Lincoln but come on, everybody knows all about THOSE guys. No, to put on airs you need the vaguely familiar. Foreign names are good too like Flaubert or Schopenhauer. People who read translated stuff have got to be brainy. Or maybe you read it in the original language!
Of course referencing such people in conversation can have the same effect. And really, who's going to call you on it?

28 May 2008

Isn't it romantic?

I dated in the era before cell phones, email, texting and googling people. I was trying to imagine what it's like to date today. First of all it must be a whole lot more convenient. I remember leaving phone messages with the parents and later with roommates. Would she even get the message? If not she'd perhaps think I was no longer interested or that I was inconsiderate. This was also before answering machines were prominent (good God I'm dating myself here) so often you'd endure the frustration of ring after unanswered ring. And don't even get me started on busy signals.
Today you can call a cell phone, no middle man or woman involved. You can also text or send an email. You kids today have it so easy.
But I imagine there are perils too. You have a few too many and leave a randy message or send an inappropriate email. You can't take those back. Also, you KNOW she got your message so why hasn't she contacted you?
And don't even think about trying to BS a woman with an exaggerated life story. She can just go to google and there it is. You didn't go to Harvard, you never worked for the Rand Corporation, you didn't letter in basketball. You're right, this is a good thing.
My wife has a shoe-box full of love letter I wrote her. Do people keep love letters today? Do they write them? I'm sure there's love emails and you can save those, but it's hardly the same. Is it? Ninety per cent of the letters I wrote her were pounded out on an old Royal manual typewriter with a hand written signature at the bottom. That’s romantic.

27 May 2008

Can we talk -- and listen?

There's an awful lot to say about race in this country and there's a lot of talking that needs to go on. It occurs to me that the biggest problem is being able to listen.
Here's a problem for white people: If they're honest about their feelings one of three things is likely to happen - they'll either be exposed as racist, they'll sound racist, or they'll be accused of being racist. Therein lies a huge part of the problem, the word racist. It's so charged and its so overused. Racism itself is generally institutionalized, not practiced by individuals. Most people can be accurately accused of prejudices or bias but racism is pretty strong stuff and doesn't apply all that often anymore.
A lot of white people are afraid to engage in a dialogue about race. And I'm not even talking about those whites who don't see what the problem is (have you seen statistics comparing the number of African American males in college versus the number in prison? Or the poverty rate among African Americans compared with whites?). The conservative narrative doesn't even acknowledge that there's an institutional solution necessary or desirable.
The United States got in this jam because after slavery ended the Reconstruction Era failed the Freedmen. What followed -- after the oh-so brief run Radical Reconstruction enjoyed, was the Jim Crow Era and conditions for blacks that can be legitimately argued were worse than slavery. True racism became entrenched in this slave-free country and extricating ourselves from the mess it caused could not be accomplished by Civil Rights legislation alone.
There’s a lot of hatred, anger and bitterness. There’s also a lot of misunderstanding as there can be when you essentially have two different cultures. Many white people don’t acknowledge that they are part of the problem nor that they need to be part of any solution. After all, they can legitimately claim, it’s not MY fault. It’s hard for me to speak for my African Americans brothers and sisters but I know many are alienated from “the system” and discouraged, more intent on surviving day-to-day than even dreaming of systemic change.
As a nation we should be talking about this openly, and listening eagerly and doing both without fear. It would seem an impossible task but if an African American can be elected president later this year, who knows.

26 May 2008

The kid from Benkelman


Question: What do all the following films have in common?
Grapes of Wrath
The Maltese Falcon
It's a Wonderful Life
The Searchers
My Darling Clementine
Mister Roberts
The Mortal Storm
City For Conquest
Bringing Up Baby
Young Mr. Lincoln
Topper
It Happened One Night
Broadway Bill
Wild Boys of the Road
Fort Apache
Heroes For Sale
Lady For a Day
Gentlemen Jim
Sergeant York
You Can't Take it With You
Arrowsmith
Answer: Ward Bond appeared in every one of them. Quite an impressive list and I only included films I really like. He was also in Gone with the wind, They Were Expendable, Rio Bravo, The Sullivans and many many more.
One thing that's particularly noteworthy about this is that Bond only lived to be 57. Imagine what else he could have showed up in had be lived another ten years or so? Of course he might have focused more on TV in his later years. He'd already become a regular on Wagon Train at the time of his death.
Bond was the star of a grand total of zero of the movies in which he appeared. And in many of those named above he had very small parts (often as a cop). Also, a lot of these are John Ford films and being part of a famous director's "acting family" will get you in a lot of good movies. But Bond was also in movies directed by Hawks, Wellman, Wyler, Capra and Huston to name a few.
Bond was indispensable to many of these films. In It's a Wonderful Life his role of Bert the cop is key as his bravura performance as Reverend Captain Samuel Johnson Clayton in The Searchers. As someone once said, “there are no small parts only small actors.” Bond had a quality that made his relatively small performances big. He was also the embodiment of the supporting player as his outsized performances in small roles often served to nicely balance more nuanced leading men. Bond made the leading man more accessible to audiences (in a way that Alan Hale, Walter Brennan and Thomas Mithcell also did) by providing the raw emotion to a scene whether through anger or humor, that the star could play off of. There is no center without extremes.
By the way, Bond was born in Benkelman, Nebraska. I'm guessing he's that fair town’s most famous native son.

25 May 2008

You go Gould


In the magazine section of today's New York Times there was this story by notorious (my word) blogger Emily Gould http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/25/magazine/25internet-t.html By her own admission Ms. Gould was guilty of "oversharing." That is, revealing the too intimate and too much of it. It's an interesting tale in many ways peculiar to our times. Some of the online comments about the story called Gould "self indulgent" “sophomoric" "self obsessed" "pathetic." What's also curious is the comment "no one cares" that is repeated by commenters in various forms (yes there are also people like me who said nice things). If in fact no one cares why did the commenter "care" enough to comment. Indeed, why did so many feel the need to say that they and no one else "care."
Weird.
I suppose some of it is a natural reaction to a person writing about themselves (imagine!). It's also jealousy. The woman is clearly bright, very pretty, talented and has the feature article in the Sunday Times magazine.
I'm curious about the venting that goes on so publicly. People ranting about politicians, local sports teams, journalists, anything and everything.
To a certain degree its great. Evidence of a vibrant democracy and people sharing their thoughts. But there's so much vitriol in it. The under lying anger is a tad scary. Why are we all so pissed off and why do we take it out on each other?
Anyway, I'd like to give props to Emily Gould. She wrote an interesting story about personal experiences that has relevance in the still quite new world of the blogosphere. Like the rest of life -- only more so -- we're just figuring out this blog stuff as we go along. Her story helps.

I'm walkin' here!

Where are pedestrians supposed to walk in Berkeley? What are laughingly referred to as sidewalks are a hazard for anyone on foot. Bicyclists use sidewalks as an extension of the street, joggers run pell mell down the busiest walk ways and skateboarders imperil all. Many of these fine folk who intrude on walking paths take umbrage to any attempt to dissuade them from violating the sanctity of the promenade. Bicyclists can be especially aggressive yet they are in actual violation of the law. How long will it be before cars traverse the sidewalk? At what point will sidewalks be used as landing strips by the airlines. On rainy days will there someday be boat traffic on our streets?
Sincerely Yours,
Grumpy Pedestrian

24 May 2008

Glorious


Just watched Stanley Kurbick's "Paths of Glory" starring Kirk Douglas (1957). I've seen it at least twice before but this time I didn't just really like it, I loved it. The camera work is fantastic. The tracking shots through the trenches create some of the most vivid scenes you'll ever see. These cramped shots contrast wonderfully with the spacious indoor scenes featuring high ranking offices. The battle scene and the evening recon scene are exceptional. "Paths of Glory" is one of the better arguments you'll ever see for the beauty of black & white movies. This would be a completely different and less effective film in color.
The story is powerful and the performances by an excellent cast are also noteworthy but "Paths" really has Kubrick's stamp on it. He was more restrained than in later films when he seemed to think too much of himself. The over indulgence worked in "A Clockwork Orange" but not at all in "Full Metal Jacket" or “Eyes Wide Shut." I also think "Spartacus" -- another earlier film -- is a great movie but it seems less like a Kubrick, probably because he took over the project from Anthony Mann (at Douglas' insistence).
(For the record I thought Kubrick’s work on "The Shining" was good, but not great.)
"Paths of Glory" is one of a zillion powerful anti-war films. I reckon there are so many good anti-war movies because wars make for such compelling drama and making war look bad is not exactly a challenge. Even war films that aren't mean to be anti often serve the purpose quite well.
Mostly I think "Paths of Glory" is expert film making and I'm glad I watched it again. It just gets better with each viewing. The sign of a classic.

23 May 2008

Not in this town

Ever hear anyone in Berkeley use the word gal? I don’t either -- thankfully. Such an archaic term. Step outside the city limits and you’ll hear someone say something like” there’s this gal at work who....” Females are generally women or girls in Berkeley. Also those women and girls in Berkeley are gnerally make up free. Oh maybe a little but its not caked on. There's a lot wrong with Berkeley but not the way we refer to our women folk nor the way they dress.

22 May 2008

What are they thinking?

What are seemingly rational people who have loud public cell phone conversations thinking? Do they think: no one can hear me because I'm speaking into a phone. Do they think: people can hear me but because it doesn't concern them they won't listen. Or do they think: If people can hear and bothers them that's too bad, I’m me, I'm important and I need to have this conversation here now.
Of course its most likely that they aren't thinking at all. This is the essence of rudeness to not consider how your actions might effect others. I believe the word is thoughtless, without thought.
Earlier today I had the misfortune to overhear a couple arguing. It was clearly not an issue that needed to be settled then, they could have waited until they were in a less public place. But they were rude. And by the way, the man was a total jerk. He was trying to make his partner feel like a complete idiot.
If you're going to argue at all do it to get your point across and in the bargain pay attention to other person's position. Maybe you'll both learn something, perhaps they'll be a little give and take. Don't just argue to win and certainly don't try to make the other person feel bad.
Anyway, public cell phone calls, public arguments and people who just plain talk too loud are the main reason I usually leave the house with my ipod. Most of what is tuned out is stuff I don't want to hear anyway and I get to listen to Sinatra in the bargain.

21 May 2008

When the test comes first

"Experience is the worst teacher, it gives the test before teaching the lesson." I put that in quotes because it's not mine, but I'm not sure who said it and I am sure that I don't have the quote exactly right. I am sure that I have the meaning spot on. This has to do with why those of us in the second half of our lives are constantly lamenting that we didn't know what we know now when we were younger.
Imagine going back to high school or college with the life experience and knowledge we now possess. Sure we'd make mistakes, but not as many and all while clearer on possible consequences and the general direction we wanted to go.
And yes, dating and relationships are a large part of this lament. No matter how happily married we are there are memories of those "could have been" relationships that haunt us.
Even so, no matter who old we are it's never too late to learn, grow, evolve, change, be an old dog learning new tricks.
We can ruminate about our pasts or we can secure our futures. I learned that from experience.

19 May 2008

By any other name

If you refer to movies as “movies” you sound normal. If you call them “films” you sound knowledgeable. If you use the term “cinema” you sound pretentious. If you say “flicks” you sound like a dolt.
My mother, who grew up in the US during the 20's and 30's, referred, as did many of her generation, to going to the movies as going to a show. Probably because in her day it was much more than one movie preceded by too many previews and perhaps some ads. Back then you usually got a second feature and newsreels, cartoons, travelogues maybe a short. Plus there were giveaways. It WAS a show.
When I was a kid in the 60s there were still double features and some of the other what not my mother enjoyed was still around. I don't recall so many previews and we sure as heck didn't have to sit though ads. Of course this was also the time before the multiplex when you actually went to a movie "theater." Some were quite grand. There was loge seating, ushers and plush lobbies.
You don't know what you're missing if it doesn't exist so we didn't realize how bad off we are as we lacked the capacity to record movies on TV or rent them or -- can you imagine! -- BUY them. Being a film buff is so much easier today. The internet contributes by providing wonderful sites like imdb.com (best website ever) so you can read more about your favorite films, discuss them with others and figure out in what movie you'd previously seen the guy who played the younger brother.
And for the record, I prefer the term "film."

18 May 2008

I really do

Among the myriad things people say that annoy me is "I really do." As in, "I think he's a great shortstop, I really do." What, without the "I really do," we might have thought you didn't mean it?
Another is "I defintely think we'll do better this time." We would have believed that's what you thought without the defintely.
Actually that's better than the flip side: "I guess I think." What, you're not certain of your own thoughts? Why can't people just think something?
You know what I mean? My God that's irritating when said over and over as is the short hand version: "ya know." Some pople use "ya know" as punctuation. Where if they were writing there would be a comma, period or semi colon there's the always annoying, ya know.
I find it annoying...I really do.

17 May 2008

The impossible

Today was my father's memorial service. It's impossible to say everything about a man who lived for 92 very eventful years. In the case of my father,  it's also impossible to convey the true magic of the man. The best you can do is, well,  the best you can do. Pick the right words, convey the proper emotions, select the right stories, and show the right pictures. And that's a tall order.

Ultimately it's that way about so many things. Trying to relate what you've experienced or how you've felt. You rely so much on the audience's (be it thousands or one person) utilizing their life experience to appreciate what your words are meant to convey. We all end up putting with our interpretations anyway.

I always thought I had the best father in the world. He loved me unconditionally and gave me space. He helped when I needed it. And what I realized today that is truly remarkable...there was never in him an ounce of self pity. In life what happens to you is not as important as how you respond to it. My father always responded with aplomb, courage and. when necessary. combativeness. No whining, just getting on with.

Aimo Johannes Hourula, a great man.

15 May 2008

Happy Days

My children attended the same high school I did (one is still there) and our experiences there couldn't be much different. I attended Berkeley High (yes, Berkeley) in the late '60's and early '70's. The yearbook was wafer thin, the prom was attended by a handful (no one I knew), there were no rally days or Spirit Week. 

You see, we had demonstrations to attend. We had tear gas (some from helicopters),  the Blue Meanies (tac squad) the National Guard and all manner of police. We had flower power and long talks about whether violent or non violent protest was more effective. The world was changing and high school traditions were of another era. Anything and everything was possible. The Civil Rights movement had stirred us and we were going to stop the war, the draft, and oppression of all peoples.

Not incidentally we also had drugs. Not just weed, psychedelics. This was a veritable must for altering one's consciousness and contemplating the deeper meanings of life. Drugs were NOT just strictly recreational. Today there's no pretense about it:girls and boys just wanna have fun.

Who had the better high school experience? Well I wouldn't trade mine for anything but I've spent much of my adult life regretting missing out on the "typical" high school experience most Americans enjoy/endure.

As Sly & the Family Stone sang back in my day, "Different strokes for different folks."

13 May 2008

Fer instance

If you want to concur with the immortal bard that "brevity is the soul wit" by making that case yourself, you'd have to be succinct. No?

12 May 2008

Struttin'

It's important for a person to have their strut. It means you feel good about yourself. Self assured, confident and pleased. It need not be manifest in the way one walks (or struts) though it sometimes is. You often hear it in person's voice or note their bearing. 

As a former athlete I often strut around the gym when working out, though it is never affected or planned. That particular strut simply comes from taking care of myself and the release of those adorable endorphins. Never heard anyone refer to endorphins as "adorable" before? How better to characterize something one adores?

The thing about the strut is that you can't have it every waking minute of every day. If you do you're either insane or...well there's no other way around it, you must be crazy to feel that good all the time. Life doesn't allow it. It's just a law of nature that along with ups there are downs and in between them you want to keep as even keeled as possible. 

As a great friend of mine once said,  "You don't walk to get too up because then it's a long way back down and you don't want to get too down because then it's a long struggle back up."   Okay that was a digression but the point is that to truly experince one's life is to feel moments of sorrow, self-doubt worry and other forms of frowny face. You try to minimize them and be as heppy as you can as often as you can. Then strut.  

You go, you.

11 May 2008

Not pretentious

At the Safeway check out counter there was a book called," An Idiot's Guide to Nascar." Here's my question: Who else would want a guide to Nascar?  

I am about to go read some F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories. Telling you this along with my jab at Nascar perhaps seems pretentious. I can't help that. It's actually far worse to edit your life in order not to seem some way than it is to be that way in the first place.  

Hey, before going to the store I watched the latest episode of "The Simpsons" and a chunk of my day was taken up with baseball so I do indeed have the common touch. 

First blog post completed.