14 July 2013

A Recounting of My Weekend Focuses on Three Films I Watched As Well as Trips to the Gym

Somehow -- and there is no accounting for this -- my weekend began with a smooth and easy commute back to Berkeley. There was no long wait for public transportation nor was I packed sardine can style among other travelers. It happens.

I had a great workout at the gym with copious sweating. Ran 5.25 miles on the treadmill after and before the requisite stretching. Sat in the sauna and -- again proving miracles do happen -- no one had left a wet towel or bathing suit to dry and there was no one engaging in physical activity. Both are sacrileges as far as I -- a person of Finnish heritage -- is concerned. Actually there was a little bit of exercise going on but I was oblivious to it (and me with my hyper vigilance). At one point an older gentleman got up and repaired to the showers. A young man sitting to my right said "that was fucking weird, really weird." This got my attention. He then told another young chap that the older bloke had been staring at him and playing with his member. Glad I missed that. I've heard that such things happen at the YMCA but had never witnessed it nor known of it going on in my presence. Here is another reason why I wish to share a gym locker room and adjoining shower facilities et al exclusively with young female fashion models. Not -- I assure you -- because I would "try anything" and not because I would so much as hold my gaze for a second too long. Only so that I could be in the presence of the naked female form and not 60 year old hairy butts.

Got home. Made a smoothie. Both aimlessly and purposefully skimmed and scanned the internet. Then met the wife for dinner followed by a trip to the Pacific Film Archives. They have just begun a series dedicated to Raoul Walsh who directed films for 52 years. On this night they were screening Regeneration (1915) his first feature film. Frankly I went thinking that this would be an interesting oddity. A 98 year old movie. A movie made when there was still a czar and Russia a kaiser in Germany Babe Ruth a pitcher for the Bosox an World War I year in only its second year. But it was a good film.

Walsh would go on to make several notable gangster films including The Roaring Twenties (1939) and White Heat (1949) but this was the first feature gangster film that anyone made. It was the story of a hard luck youth who turned to crime and made a success of it. The extras included many actual gangsters of the time. The lead -- John McCann played by the wonderfully named Rockliffe Fellowes as an adult -- ends up meeting a lovely do gooder (Anna Q. Nilsson) and becomes torn between two worlds. It is a compelling story well told most especially for a film made so long ago. If it ever comes your way or to TCM or to DVD do yourself a favor.

You ever plan a lazy day of just sitting around watching a movie or two reading drinking coffee? Ever really look forward to said day? Ever execute your plan to perfection then feel guilty for having accomplished so little? That was my Saturday. The guilt was short lived however for the most part I enjoyed my leisure especially as it was much needed.

My Saturday matinee was Watch on the Rhine (1943). Some films have be watched in the context of when they were made. WOTR is one such movie. It is one of the many films cranked out by studios in the years preceding and during World War II that was meant to rally the country to the cause. (See this post by yours truly on that very subject.) Given that the cause was fighting fascism this was a good thing to rally to and many of the films were not only quite effective -- if a bit heavy handed at times -- but good movies in their own right. Casablanca (1942) is the perfect example. WOTR concerns a German born anti fascist named Kurt Muller (Paul Lukas) who is married to an American woman much his junior -- Sara -- played by Bette Davis. They've been living in Europe since their marriage 18 years ago but the story begins with them coming to the US to stay with Sara's widowed mother Fanny played magnificently by Lucille Watson. Fanny has plenty of dough and a big house near DC replete with obsequious African American servants a French companion of about Fanny's age (Beulah Bondi) a son and two house guests one of whom is a Romanian nobleman and rat fink who is going to sell Kurt out to the Nazis.

Dashiell Hammett adapted the stage play written by his girlfriend Lillian Hellman. The director was some shmoe named Herman Shumlin who directed a grand total of two films. He didn't do a bad job but there is nothing remarkable about his work here either. It seems he basically shot the play. A bigger problem was Davis. She was one of the greatest actresses ever but here she was far too mannered self consciously acting throughout the film. Kurt and Sara's three kids are far too perfect. The youngest is supposed to be precocious but is more annoying and the other two are cardboard cutouts. Yet WOTR has much to recommend it. Watson as Fanny is a treat and the story is engaging with a somewhat surprising and justifiably harsh denouement. I've seen the film several times before and may one day visit it again. For all its faults it is an important part of the history of Hollywood's war against Nazis.

I ended the evening with the Marx Brothers and Animal Crackers (1930). This was their second feature film and as much as I liked their first -- The Cocoanuts (1929) -- this was a great leap forward. All the madcap antics (I know it's a cliche but I love it -- madcap antics) of the brothers Marx that we would come to know and love were on full display. But what I like best was the surrealism. One example being the lyrics of the song Hello I Must Be Going.

I'll stay a week or two,I'll stay the summer through,but I am telling you,I must be going.

So much better than some stiff like Alan Jones crooning a syrupy love songs as the world would have to endure in later Marx Brothers films.

Then of course there is classic dialogue like this:


Capt. Spaulding: I used to know a fellow who looked exactly like you by the name of Emanuel Ravelli. Are you his brother?Ravelli: I am Emanuel Ravelli.Capt. Spaulding: You're Emanuel Ravelli?Ravelli: I am Emanuel Ravelli.Capt. Spaulding: Well, no wonder you look like him. But I still insist there is a resemblance.Ravelli: Heh, heh, he thinks I look alike.Capt. Spaulding: Well, if you do, it's a tough break for both of you

Today's comedies lack this kind of wit. Now they just have people getting kicked in the balls or pooping in sinks.

Groucho Marx has been a central figure in my life. Sure he was funny as hell but it was the way he was funny -- the wit the edge the fearlessness and the very joy in using words adroitly. He was -- like many comic geniuses -- an extremely intelligent man. Fortunately he left behind a treasure trove of films TV shows interviews and writings.

Sunday meant another trip to the gym with my run cut ten minutes short by tightness in the left calf. I'm not one to talk chances when it comes to something that could curtail future runs. I didid a little extra lifting to compensate. Back home to sit in the backyard and read a Richard Ford novel before tackling some household chores. I'll wrap things up by honoring Ingmar Bergmann's birthday with a viewing of Wild Strawberries. In fact I'm going to stop writing now and pop that into the DVD player....



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