31 July 2020

News and Notes From Streams of Unconsciousness Headquarters

Photo taken at last night's party celebrating 1,250 posts
Our main office in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan is as busy as ever -- pandemic or no -- as we maintain our commitment to provide the best blog in the solar system. Executive director Reinhold Kadiddlehopper recently issued the following statement:"I'm too goddamned busy to release any goddamned statement."

There's a lot of remodeling going on. We are nearly finished with the museum expansion project. We're sure that visitors will be really pleased with how much more expansive the museum is, how many more displays there are and how spacious the restrooms are. We've also added more amenities to our refreshment stands, cafeteria and the museum shops. 2021 calendars are available for pre-order and we've partnered with Abercrombie & Fitch for a whole new line of tee shirts, sweatshirts, pajamas, caps, girdles and hoop skirts, all featuring the Streams logo. Check them out!

There have been some significant staff changes. Notably we had to let art director Colfax Newbury go after his convictions for bribery, mail fraud, kidnapping, burglary, extortion, jury tampering, espionage, treason and jaywalking. He will be missed. In his place we've brought aboard Gina T a recent graduate of Perksinville High School in Perkinsville, Vermont. We understand that she'll be bringing a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the position as well as months of experience designing school posters. Gina also boasted a B+ in Mrs. Hassleberry's art class. Welcome Gina T!

Another addition to our team is Konstantinos Lao-Ping who'll join our legal staff. A well-respected attorney in Kuala Selangor, Malaysia, Konstantinos speaks seven languages, though none of them our English, we're sure he'll pick the lingo up.

Our custodial staff welcomes Jezebel Inkblot-Jones a recent graduate from MIT. She'll be replacing Cy Sigh who is retiring after 40 years in custodial services. Happy retirement Cy!

Finally we have created a new position. It's long overdue but we are bringing aboard our first exorcist, Father Nigel Goldblum, formerly of the Vatican. I'm sure we'll be keeping him busy, so join me welcoming Father Nigel.

There are big plans for the Fall including a photo series on dilapidated barns, a probing look at the  refrigerator magnet industry and a profile of the prominent Manhattan pretzel vendor, Loki von Hapsburg.

We'll also continue to discuss films. Readers can expect a series of essays on how movies evolved from their rudimentary form in the 16th century to the lavish musicals of Colonial America and film noir in the Antebellum period. We'll also be ranking the best key grips of Hollywood's Golden Age (can't wait) and we'll be interviewing some of the geeks, losers and nerds who look for and publish goofs in films. Perhaps we'll be able to answer the question: what's their deal?

We're also maintaining our commitment to Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ issues and calendar reform (let's return to the more sensible Julian calendar!!!!)

The previous post on Streams was this blog's 1250th, we celebrated the milestone last night with a huge party featuring entertainment by Rihanna, Drake, Taylor Swift, Adam Levine, Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Jay-Z and Sir Paul McCartney. Thanks to all of you for appearing. A good time was had by all. Thanks to our events coordinator Sasha Melba Hyphen for putting on a great bash. The cocktail wienies were a big hit.

The museum will be fully opened on August 14, we, of course, ask that visitors wear masks and social distance. Also, due to the pandemic, the kissing booths will be closed for the foreseeable future. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience.

As always we welcome your suggestions, ideas and opinions. Please send them to notarealperson@notarealemailaddress.net.

Also, if you're interested in our Fall internship program contact either Mr. Bud Abbott or Mr. Lou Costello at P.O. Box 192837465 Crenshaw Falls, Paraguay.

Have a great August everybody and remember to spay and neuter your pets and all voting age Republicans.

29 July 2020

Remembering Good Ole Cantwick

I remember Canwick.

Cantwick was always the first to arrive at meetings and the last to leave. He sat patiently through the most tedious discussions, never slipping out early, actually seeming to enjoy every minute. Yet Cantwick never contributed a word to meetings, only ever speaking to ask a question, usually for clarification of a point that was obvious to everyone else.

Good ole Cantwick. Short, bald, a little mustache, glasses, a bit of paunch. Always wore a white dress shirt and plain dark tie and dark slacks, a tweed jacket and scuffed up loafers. He would recognize causal Fridays by merely eschewing the tie. Once he wore a striped shirt and Mary in accounting nearly fainted.

Such a cheery fellow, ole Cantwick. Greeted anyone he saw with a happy, “good morning” at the beginning of the day and made a point to wish everyone a “good evening” at the end of it. This he altered on Fridays with a “have a great weekend.” About the only thing he ever added was on Wednesdays when he adjoined his good morning with, “it’s hump day!” (He said it with the exclamation point.)

For most of most days Cantwick was anchored to his desk, nose seemingly to the grindstone. Cantwick didn’t pal around with anyone at work. Most of us chatted regularly or were friends with a few others and many of us socialized but Cantwick was not on intimate terms with anyone and never made appearances at the company’s social gatherings. Well, not exactly never. He came to the Christmas party once. He sat by himself for about twenty minutes sipping a whiskey sour then shook everyone’s hand wishing them a Merry Christmas and left. Good ole Cantwick.

Of course Cantwick was never the topic of any office gossip — we didn’t know enough about him to gossip — and he never rubbed anyone the wrong way. Maybe not everyone liked Cantwick, but surely no one disliked him.

We knew nothing of Cantwick’s life outside of work. Whether he was married and had children was frequently speculated on. As far as interests, hobbies or eccentricities, we were in the dark. No one got to know Cantwick well enough to ask about his off hours and he didn’t volunteer anything other than an occasional comment about the weather. It didn’t matter if we were talking about sports, movies or politics, Cantwick kept his own counsel. There were no personal items on his desk, no family photos, pennants of a favorite sports team or memorabilia from a vacation or museum visit. No clues at all as to who he was. Save a single, lonely plant.

Cantwick always took lunch alone at his desk and it was usually a sandwich, potato chips, carrots and an apple. Sometimes on cold days he’d bring hot soup in a thermos.

No one remembered Cantwick calling in sick or taking any personal days. He would take his three weeks in the summer and his week and a half around the holidays but was otherwise at his desk everyday, always on time and always staying until 5:00. “A real Steady Eddie,” Lois in legal often said.

Clarence in research and development said Cantwick drove an old Chevy and noted that once in his car he always put on a plain brown ball cap with no insignia on it. Clarence believed that Cantwick lived in the city though how he reached this conclusion was unknown to me.

You may have gathered by now that some of us spent a fair amount of time talking about ole Cantwick. This is true. There were about four or five months of the year in which it was extremely busy at work and few of us had time for anything but work and many of us logged a lot of overtime — Cantwick, by the way, for all his diligence was never seen working past 5:00. But the rest of the year there was a fair amount of downtime and a lot of us wiled away time by the water cooler or in the break room and many of us sometimes met for drinks after work. Our conversations covered a wide variety of topics as conversations among long time co-workers do. Sometimes we got around to ole Cantwick.

In one such conversation Doug from accounting said, “He’s an odd duck.”

“The odd thing is we know so little about him,” Clarice in shipping added.

“What exactly does he do? I mean what’s his position in the company?” Janet in advertising queried.

No one knew. Given the location of his desk it was difficult to say which department he was in. He seemed to straddle three areas.

“He’s our mystery man,” I said.

“Ole Cantwick, the enduring mystery. Who is he? What does he do? What’s his background? His home life?” Wondered Lyman from sales.

“The world may never know,” Susannah in reception concluded.

Then one day the big boss Courtland Haggis abruptly retired. His wife, Nelly, had gotten some seriously bad health news and CH (as he was called) was nearing retirement age, so he gave the board two weeks notice. We were all stunned. CH had been at the company far longer than anyone else — forty-one years to be exact. One of those go-getters who worked himself up from the mailroom to the executive office. He’d seen hundreds of employees come and go and most of those employees had liked him. No one I knew of claimed to have had a better boss.

“I always try to remember where I started from, what’s like to be at the bottom and the middle and to have to really hustle to impress a supervisor. I thus have great respect for everyone at every level of this company and will treat anyone square who draws a paycheck here,” he said when the board threw him a big 60th birthday bash.

To many of us, seeing CH leave was like losing a father and during those last two weeks leading to his departure there was a somber mood around the company.

No one seemed more somber than Cantwick. There was little enthusiasm in his morning greetings and he eschewed goodbyes all together. He still arrived early for meetings but sat glumly throughout. We were a bit surprised to see Cantwick so downcast. He were used to that even keel that he was always on. No one knew of any particular affection he’d had for CH, no one could remember seeing the two together, let alone chatting. But then, there was -- as I've made abundantly clear -- so little we actually knew about ole Cantwick.

It was six weeks after CH left that his replacement, Lane Jessup called me into his office. Lane and I had started with the company at around the same time fifteen years prior, but Lane came in with a lot of experience and I was neophyte. Lane and I often went fishing together.

Forgoing niceties, Lane immediately asked me a question: “What do you know about Cantwick and what he does here?”

This was, of course, an oft-asked question around the company but one that I found strange coming from the head of that company, even a brand spanking new one.

“Many of us have wondered the same thing. I haven’t a clue.”

“You’re the third person I’ve called and the third person who didn’t know. I’ve got two others to talk to.”

“Surely you’ve called down to personnel.”

“They don’t have a position title for him, if you can believe it.”

“Why not just ask him directly?”

“That would be beyond embarrassing. Imagine, if you will, the man in charge — never mind being new in the position — having to ask an employee just what the hell he does all day. But if if comes to it I will.”

“He comes to meetings — ”

“Yes and never has anything to say. All he ever does is ask simple questions.”

“I know this won’t help, but it occurred to me that I’ve never once seen him making photocopies.”

“Jesus Christ, everybody needs to make copies from time-to-time.”

“Why don’t you call CH?”

“I hate to bother him, not sure how Nelly is doing. But I’ve been planning to check in on him and he did say that I could call anytime.”

“Could you do me a favor, Lane?”

“What is it?”

“If you find out what he does, could you let me know?”

“Sure. Ya know, maybe CH had him on some sort of special assignment. God, I hate to think he’s been collecting a paycheck for sitting on his butt.”

I shared my conversation with Lane at lunchtime and we all began another round of speculation. Some people were convinced he was a freeloader who didn’t actually do a damn thing. Someone guessed that over the years his duties had been subsumed by other people and departments. A couple of folks agreed that he was spying on us for the board. Gus in maintenance suggested that he was CH’s brother-in-law. Lorelai in marketing said that simple explanation was that Cantwick knew where the bodies were buried.

A week later Lane called me into his office again.

“Thought I’d sate your curiosity about Cantwick,” he said.

I couldn’t recall ever being so eager to receive news in my life.

“According to CH, and here I quote, ‘Cantwick’s work is highly valued by the board and they’ll want him to continue in his current duties at his current position at his current pay grade. End of story.’”

I couldn’t recall ever being so deflated to receive non-news in my life.

“What do you make of it, Lane?”

“No fricking idea.”

Thus the Cantwick mystery deepened. We began to talk of him less and less. We’d gone from curiosity to frustration to annoyance. The seeming impossibility of ever knowing his story was now a sore point. No one referred to him as good ole Cantwick anymore. He was goddamned pain in the ass and we resented that he was collecting a paycheck evidently without producing a damn thing.

Finally one day a few years ago as five o’clock approached, I noted Cantwick coming out of the copy room with an empty box. I watched as he emptied the contents of a few drawers into the box, then gently placed his plant in the box.

“You leaving us, Cantwick?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said solemnly. “I’ve taken a position with another company." 

He walked over, shook my hand and said, “it was nice working with you, best of luck.” Then he waddled over to his desk, tapped the top of it with his knuckles as if for good luck, picked up his box and left, offering goodbyes to anyone he passed en route to the elevator.

Good ole Cantwick was gone.

“He got a job with another company?” I asked Lane incredulously.

“Yup. Their head of personnel called me and all he asked was what Cantwick’s salary was. Said they were hiring him.”

“To do what?”

“Beats the hell out of me.”

“Jesus…” I didn’t know what else to say.

“The good thing is that I don’t have to replace him because as far as I can tell he didn’t do a damn thing. His salary is off our books.”

In the days that followed some of us admitted it was strange not having Cantwick around. The following week we had our first big meeting sans Cantwick and afterwards a bunch of us met for drinks. The mood was oddly subdued until Crenshaw in purchasing proposed a toast: “To good ole Cantwick, the mystery man.”  There were shouts of “here! here!” And we all raised our glasses. Many of us got blotto that night.

27 July 2020

Hey! How About a Double Feature? I've Got 12 Suggestions

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Brining Up Baby
You've got plenty of time on your hands and love movies, right? Maybe it's especially hot where you are and you don't want to leave your air conditioning. Or perhaps you've got an injury or illness and are thus housebound. Or maybe you're incredibly lazy. Or -- like me -- maybe you just love films. Why not enjoy a double feature? Aren't you lucky that I'm around to offer suggestions? Well, aren't you? I here offer twelve choices with a little bit of something for everyone: screwball comedies, classics, war pictures, westerns, noirs. The offerings below do not include sequels or prequels as anyone can sort those out. I also do not include any pure remakes (a different versions perhaps, but all are different in significant ways). With one exception I've only suggested movies that I and most other cinephiles hold in high regard. I hope you find a duo that you enjoy.

Bringing Up Baby (1938) Hawks and What’s Up, Doc? (1972) Bogdanovich. The first is, of course, one of the great all time screwball comedies and features one of several pairings of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It's about a daffy dame who --we're not sure why -- falls for a straight-laced, serious and perpetually dead-panned scientist. The story involves a leopard named baby, a dog burying a dinosaur bone and all the requisite madcap antics that comprise a screwball comedy. What's Up is Peter Bogdanovich's modern version with Ryan O'Neal and Barbara Streisand assuming the two lead roles. San Francisco is the setting and its many hills prove vital to the climatic chase scene. O'Neal, like Grant, is scientist and Streisand, like Hepburn a pixelated woman who loves him. Both films include a fiancé for the male lead who in Doc it is Madeline Kahn in her film debut. The main and most important similarity between the two is that they are hilarious.

The Philadelphia Story (1940) Cukor and High Society (1956) Walters. Philadelphia Story also features Hepburn and Grant and throws in Jimmy Stewart for good measure. Our leads are a divorced and Hepburn's Tracy Lord is set to marry a man that anyone can see is ill-suited for her. Grant has been coaxed into showing up  at the wedding so that a reporter (Stewart) can get the scoop for a scandal sheet. It's a very funny film but not played solely for laughs as many of the scenes between the two leads show. High Society is a musical version of the story and the only film I here mention that I'm not a huge fan of. Still it is a passable film, as light as air and fun to watch when you consider that Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby are doing the singing and Louis Armstrong provides instrumentals. Plus Grace Kelly plays Tracy Lord in her final film role before she became the Princess of Monaco (true story).

Casablanca (1942) Curtiz and Play it Again, Sam (1972) Ross. I don't suppose anyone needs a detailed summary of Casablanca so I'll focus on Sam and how it is a nice accompaniment to the Bogie classic. Woody Allen plays a film critic who is obsessed with Bogart (here played admirably, if imperfectly by Jerry Lacy) and has conversations with him. He is best friends with a married couple (Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts) who try to help recover from a recent divorce and find true love. Allen finds love but it is in the person of Keaton's character. There's a very strong Casablanca influenced vibe to the story although with Woody instead of Bogie it is done for laughs. The climatic scene of Sam mirrors Casablanca. One of the great oddities of my film-viewing experience is that I actually saw Sam first. Anyway, watch them in the proper order and enjoy,

Madeline Carroll and Robert Donat in The 39 Steps
The 39 Steps (1935) Hitchcock and North By Northwest (1959) Hitchcock. If you like the films of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock (is there anyone who doesn't?) this is a natural pair to watch back-to-back. The 39 Steps features the cross country chase of an innocent man (Robert Donat) in which seeming allies turn out to be villains. During the chase our hero hooks up with a lovely blonde (Madeline Carroll). At one point in the chase Donat hides in a very public setting. The climatic scenes is in a famous place. North by Northwest features the cross country chase of an innocent man (Cary Grant) in which seeming allies turn out to be villains. During the chase our hero hooks up with a lovely blonde (Eva Marie Saint). At one point in the chase Grant hides in a very public setting. The climactic scene is in a famous place. So they're the same exact film? Not exactly. The former is in the UK and the later in the US. The McGuffins are different as are many other particulars of the stories. They are both delightful films, The 39 Steps being one of my all -ime favorites.

Winter Light (1963) Bergman and First Reformed (2017) Schrader. Some people might have paired First Reformed with Taxi Driver (1976) Scorsese (Paul Schrader wrote the screenplays for both) and indeed they bear striking similarities. However I think it bears more of a resemblance to Winter Light, my favorite Bergman film (which is saying a lot because he's my favorite director). Both center around ministers who are suffering crises of faith. Both are loved by a woman that he is cruel to. Both counsel a parishioner who is suicidal with similar results. There are many divergences in their stories, such as the love found by the minister in First Reformed. But both are very heavy movies that ask one to think about many topics including the big one -- God's silence. You may need to be in the right mood but you'll feel better for having watched them

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Blue Jasmine (2013). This is a pretty obvious pairing. Here we have two excellent films that feature bravura acting performances by actress who won Best Actress Oscars (Vivian Leigh and Cate Blanchett). Both played women who lost their marbles and watching that mental disintegration is a fascinating cinematic experience. There are numerous other similarities in their stories including a sister coming to stay with family in another city after a breakdown. Both women have suitors and in both cases the romances are ill-fated. While both feature strong supporting casts there is no matching Streetcar which includes Marlon Brando but that's to take nothing away from a fine performance in Jasmine by Bobby Cannavale as the testosterone-fueled muscle-bound brother-in-law.

Cristine Miloti and Andy Samberg in Palm Springs
Groundhog Day (1993) Ramis and Palm Springs (2020) Barbakow. Groundhog Day is the story of man who experiences the same day over and over again. It's become so ingrained in our culture that it is now part of the lexicon. It is also spawned several imitations and one can argue that Palm Springs is one such film. However, I think what Palm Springs proves is that repeating day movie has practically become a sub genre of film and television. One well worth exploring in different ways. In the original Bill Murray stars as the cynical careerist weatherman who keeps reliving February 2 (Groundhog Day) with sometimes hilarious consequences. However Groundhog is no mere comedy. It raises a lot of questions about how we use our precious time on this planet and how we can redeem ourselves. Palm Springs features Andy Samberg who continually repeats a day in which he is attending a wedding in Palm Springs. But he ends up with a companion and love interest (Cristin Miloti). It is not destined to be classic like the original but it is a damn funny film and a delightful romance. Palm Springs only just came out and is available on Hulu and I highly recommend it.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) Hall and Heaven Can Wait (1978) Beatty. In Mr. Jordan we have a boxer (Robert Montgomery) nearing a shot at the tile when he is mistakenly taken to heaven after an accident. In Heaven Warren Beatty is an NFL quarterback on the verge of the Super Bowl who is also mistakenly killed off in an accident. In both cases the execs up in heaven have to send the deceased back but need to find a different body and both end up temporarily occupying the form of a multi-millionaire of bad character until an athlete's body becomes available. Both find love along the way. They are funny, romantic, clever and interesting films that include excellent supporting casts. Edward Everett Horton, James Gleason and Claude Rains in the original and Jack Warden, Charles Grodin and James Mason in the latter film. Heaven has the advantage of featuring the scrumptious Julie Christie as the love interest but I still slightly prefer Jordan. Both good films and good fun.

Apocalypse Now (1979) Coppola and Platoon (1986) Stone. Why not go back to the muck and mire and blood and guts of  the Vietnam War? Other than the setting they have little in common, oh except for the fact that their fantastic films. Both are unsparing in their look at war. Apocalypse is based on Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness and stars Martin Sheen as a man on a US Army sanctioned assignment to kill a man. He'll need to weave through the war and some of its attendant insanity and insane figures to do it. Platoon is roughly a true story (there's nothing fantastic about it) of a young solider and his platoon (hence the title) as it experiences the horrors of war, particularly Vietnam style. There are atrocities, sudden and violent deaths, fear, anger and confusion. They are both brilliant films that -- like so many others -- show the ugliness of war.

John Goodman and Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski
The Big Sleep (1946) Hawks and The Big Lebowski (1998) Coens. Let's be clear that Lebowski is not an updated version of The Big Sleep, the classic noir in which Humprehy Bogart stars as the detective Phillip Marlowe working his way through a byzantine plot to solve...well it's hard to say what and I speak as someone who's seen the film countless times and read the book and read a book about the book. It is nevertheless a great film. Lebowski, starring Jeff Bridges is also a great film and it has a tenuous relationship with The Big Sleep. Both have twisting plots (like mangled pretzels) colorful characters, dead ends and u-turns with world weary heroes. Lebowski is a comedy that owes its inspiration to The Big Sleep and let's just leave it at that.

Little Big Man (1970) Penn and Dances With Wolves (1990) Costner. Two movies about whites being assimilated into Native American tribes as the frontier closes. Dances is a more earnest film and won a passel of awards including the Best Picture Oscar. Oddly it seems the much less respected of the two today and frankly its fall from favor mystifies me. Little Big Man is pure tall tale with Dustin Hoffman starring as an everyman of the old West who meets everyone, is everywhere and does everything. Most notably he is several times adopted as a member of the Cheyennes. In Wolves Kevin Costner is an American soldier who eschews the army and the white world to become a Sioux tribe member. Both films served as rebuttals to the negative portrayals of Native Americans that were such a staple of Hollywood from its beginnings. I wouldn't call either a great film but I've enjoyed repeat looks at both over the years as they are endlessly entertaining in their own rights.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) Ray and Mean Girls (2004) Waters. I'm proud of this double feature because I thought outside of the box (where exactly is that box?). From the 1950s and 2000s you've got two films about high school students. You could say the similarities end there and not be far wrong. Rebel is meant to be a serious look at teen angst and rebellion while Mean Girls is a comedy about high school cliques, fitting in and the vagaries of teen relationships. I like the idea of having two movies of different eras with different intents that touch upon the same milieu. 

25 July 2020

The Blogger Herein Answers the Question: What are the Best Decades Enjoyed by Films Directors

Woody Allen directing Radio Days (1989).
In my last blog post I checked in with my favorite active U.S. directors to see how their careers were doing. In doing so I noted what a terrific output Woody Allen had in the 1980s directing no less than eight excellent films. This inspired to me compile a list of the ten best decades enjoyed by film directors. There are several caveats, the most important being that my definition of a good or great film is based solely on my own tastes. I'm sure anyone else taking on the same task would have very different lists. Also I'm not going by ten-year periods but specific decades. Thus a director cranking out seven great films between, say, 1974 and 1983 is of no help.

This sort of list penalizes those directors who go or went years between films such as Stanley Kubrick, Charlie Chaplin or Quentin Tarantino.

Chance plays a huge factor. Two of the people on the list (Preston Sturges and Hal Ashby) made no other outstanding films outside the decade in question and happened to start their string of greats at the beginning of the decade. Still, I thought it a worthy exercise.

It's also interesting to note that other than Allen in the '80s all the other great director decades were in the '40s through the '70s. Not sure what to make of that. 

Hitchcock and Allen -- all notably prolific directors, each made the list twice.

One criteria I established was that a director had to have at least five qualifying films in the decade. This eliminated Francis Ford Coppola who had four great films in 1970s.

Final note: I lied in the first paragraph in saying that this is a list of ten as it includes 11 different decades. I winnowed down an original list of 20 by counting how many films I loved from the director's output that decade, how many made my list of great films and how many are in my top 100. I came up with a three-way tie for the final two spots and rather than spilt hairs decided to include them all.

I offer the eleven in no particular order, within the lists all films are in chronological order.

Woody Allen the 1980s
1. Stardust Memories (1980)
2. Zelig (1983)
3. Broadway Danny Rose (1985)
4. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
5. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
6. Radio Days (1987)
7. Another Woman (1988
8. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1988)
Note: Eight excellent films in one decade is outstanding.

Ingmar Bergman the 1960s
1. The Virgin Spring (1960)
2. Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
3. Winter Light (1963)
4. The Silence (1963)
5. Persona (1966)
6. Shame (1968)
7. The Passion of Anna (1969)
Note: This includes three films in my top 100.

Hal Ashby the 1970s
1. The Landlord (1970)
2. Harold and Maude (1971)
3. The Last Detail (1973)
4. Shampoo (1975)
5. Bound for Glory (1976)
6. Being There (1979)
Note: As said in the intro, this was the extent of it for Ashby, but oh what a decade.

Michelangelo Antonioni the 1960s
1. L'Avventura (1960)
2. La Notte (1961)
3. L'Eclisse (1962)
4. Red Desert (1964)
5. Blow-Up (1966)
Note: Those first four in five years represent a great four-picture run.

Robert Altman the 1970s
1. MASH (1970)
2. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
3. The Long Goodbye (1973)
4. California Split (1974)
5. Nashville (1975)
6. 3 Women (1977)
Note: Although he made very good films for the next 30 years, this was his peak.

Howard Hawks the 1940s
1. His Girl Friday (1940)
2. Ball of Fire (1941)
3. To Have and Have Not (1943)
4. The Big Sleep (1946)
5. Red River (1948)
Note: Hawks also had excellent output in the '30s and '50s.

Hitchcock directing Rebecca
Alfred Hitchcock the 1940s
1. Foreign Correspondent (1940)
2. Rebecca (1940)
3. Mr. And Mrs. Smith (1941)
4. Suspicion (1941)
5. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
6. Lifeboat (1945)
7. Spellbound (1945)
8. Notorious (1946)
Note: If I were ranking the decades this would likely be first or second (to Allen's '80s)

Luis Bunuel the 1960s
1. The Young One (1960)
2. Viridiana (1961)
3. The Exterminating Angel (1962)
4. Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)
5. Simon of the Desert (1965)
6. Belle de Jour (1967)
7. The Milky Way (1969)
Note: Some might say I cheated here because Simon is a short film.

Woody Allen the 1970s
1. Bananas (1971)
2. Love and Death (1975)
3. Annie Hall (1977)
4. Interiors (1978)
5. Manhattan (1979)
Note: Bananas and Interiors couldn't be more different.

Preston Sturges the 1940s
1. The Great McGinty (1940)
2. The Lady Eve (1941)
3. Sullivan's Travels (1941)
4. The Palm Beach Story (1942)
5. The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1943)
6. Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
Note: Not only did Sturges do all his great work in one decade, he did it all in a five-year span.

Alfred Hitchcock the 1950s
1. Strangers on a Train (1951)
2. I Confess (1952)
3. Dial M For Murder (1954)
4. Rear Window (1954)
5. The Trouble With Harry (1955)
6. Vertigo (1958)
7. North by Northwest (1959)
Note: He'd just had a great decade and had more to come in the Sixties staring with Psycho in 1960.

23 July 2020

The Blogger Checks in on the Careers of Eight Long-Time U.S. Film Directors

Scorsese (left) with Robert DeNiro during the filming of Taxi Driver.
I'm checking in with some of America's greatest living directors to see how their careers are going. I’ve been inspired to write this post by listening to Ben Mankiewicz's Turner Classic Movies podcast,  The Plot Thickens. The first edition of it is an eight-part story of Peter Bogdanovich, the noted director, writer and film historian and an oft-used talking head for DVD special features.

Besides working in films for over 50 years, Bogdanovich has gotten to know a who’s who of Hollywood's greatest directors and actors including Howard Hawks, John Ford, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Henry Fonda and Cary Grant. Bogdanovich is wonderfully entertaining to listen to, not only because of all the stories he can tell, but because the way he tells them which often includes imitating the person he is discussing. He’s also damn funny.

Mankiewicz is an excellent interviewer and in the podcasts he includes snippets from interviews with those who have known, worked with and loved Bogdanovich as well as sound bytes from various films. Bogdanovich's own story is damn compelling. His second film was The Last Picture Show (1971) one of the greatest American films ever made. Period. He followed that with two other huge hits, What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973). There then followed a succession of critical and box office flops.

Bogdanovich went on to make a lot of good films but nothing ever approached The Last Picture Show. He’s nothing to feel ashamed of, of course. He created a masterpiece, some other good films and has been an invaluable source of insight, information and anecdotes about the motion picture business. His story inspired me to look at some of the other better American directors of today and see how their career trajectories are going. I’ve limited myself to directors whose work I admire — so there’ll be nothing here about Clint Eastwood — and those who’ve been at it for at least 25 years. You'll note that this is totally subjective and I'm defining great, good, mediocre or bad films based entirely on my own taste -- though in most cases my opinions jibe with the general consensus.

It's interesting to note that several of these directors made their best films early in their careers. Why this is often the case is a topic I may explore at another time.

Martin Scorsese
In a period of 15 years he directed three of the greatest films of all time: Taxi Driver, (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990).  He has continued to crank out films in the 30 years since Goodfellas and although he won the Best Picture award for one of them (The Departed) (2006) he’s made no more masterpieces. Most of the films he’s made this century have been good (I particularly like The Aviator, (2004)Shutter Island (2008)) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)) but they lack the spareness and muscle of his three great earlier works. Scorsese’s recent pictures suffer from excess. They are bloated and not necessarily because of their length. He’s lost clearly lost some of the edge he had as a younger director.

Woody Allen
Arguably America’s most prolific director, he hasn’t let up in over 50 years of cranking out movies although evil forces have kept his latest picture, Rainy Day in New York (2019), from being released in the States and goodness knows about his upcoming feature, Rifkin’s Festival (2020). In any event, Allen hit is stride in the late Seventies with Annie Hall (1977), Interiors (1978) and Manhattan (1978) coming out in successive years. The first and last of that trio represent, for me, his greatest work although one can hardly say there’s been much of a drop off considering the Eighties saw the releases of such great Allen productions as Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), Another Woman (1988) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). That’s a helluva career in one decade. The Nineties were comparatively lean but still included Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), Bullets over Broadway (1994), Everyone Says I Love You (1996) and Deconstructing Harry (1997). The last 20 years have included some of Allen’s best work in Match Point (2005), Vicky Cristina, Barcelona (2008), Midnight in Paris (2011) Blue Jasmine (2013), and Wonder Wheel (2017). So while the 70/80s might have been his most fecund period, Allen has continued to grace us with great films and at 84 years of age does not appear to be slowing down.

Francis Ford Coppola
No one in the U.S. or anywhere else for that matter, has ever had a four picture run to match Coppola who from 1972 through 1979 made The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part 2 (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979). He has since directed 15 feature films and some have been good but most forgettable and none an American classic. On the one hand it is a precipitous drop but on the other hand The Godfather alone is more than enough to hang your hat on.

The Coen Brothers, Joel (left) and Ethan
The Coen Brothers
It’s hard to believe that they’ve been at it for 36 years as to me they seem to young and fresh and still outside of the Hollywood establishment. They started with Blood Simple in 1984, a great debut film, and have consistently put out good to great films ever since including Fargo (1996), The Big Lewbowski (1998), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), No Country For Old Men (2007), A Serious Man (2009) and Inside Llyewn Davis (2013). However since Davis they’ve only directed two films, both passable efforts, Hail, Caesar! (2016) and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018). Joel Coen was doing an adaptation of MacBeth when the lockdown took effect. It’s way too early to say they’ve fallen off their game but it will be interesting to see what they come up in the next few years. I would still have great faith in their ability to create another masterpiece.

Steven Spielberg
This is becoming a familiar refrain: His best work was at the beginning of his career starting in the 1970s.  Four of his first five films were Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and ET (1982). He’s had four other terrific films since all from between 1989 and 1998: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Schindler’s List (1993), Amistad (1997) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). In the last 20 years he’s had a few good movies but nothing —again this is a familiar theme — to match his earlier work. He's become a mainstream director who does not challenge himself preferring safer projects.

Quentin Tarantino
The youngest on the list at 57, Tarantino hit the scene with Reservoir Dogs in 1992. He’s made four brilliant films: Pulp Fiction(1994), Jackie Brown (1997), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood  (2019) all spread out nicely over the past 25 years with one coming out just twelve months ago. He’s only made ten feature films and four are masterpieces and none of the other six have been bombs. He’s already had a great career and at 57 has a ways to go. Simply put, he marches to the beat of hims own drummer and this serves the creative juices quite well.

Jim Jarmusch
Like many others, Jarmusch had a blazing start to his career with Permanent Vacation (1980), Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Down By Law (1986) back-to-back-to-back. In the following 24 years he’s made some films I’ve dearly loved (Dead Man (1995), Night on Earth (1991) and Patterson (2016)) as well as some such as Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) that I’ve dearly hated (can you dearly hate?). His most recent picture was The Dead Don’t Die (2019) which I didn’t see because I refuse to see anything about zombies. I also refuse to see any vampire movies but made an exception for Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) which I quite liked. There is zero evidence that his career flagging and at 67 could well have some more gems in him. Despite a few (for me) bombs, he’s had a terrific career with many of his better films later in his career.

Spike Lee
Spike’s first major film was his third and it was one of the greats of American cinema, Do the Right Thing(1989). It’s no insult to Mr. Lee to say that he’s done nothing since to match it. He’s had a very good if unspectacular career highlighted by Malcolm X (1992), Bamboozled (2000), Inside Man (2006), BlacKkKlansman (2018) and Da 5 Bloods (2020). He’s also made a lot of shorts, documentaries and documentary shorts. Spike Lee is 63, has another documentary in post production and a feature film in pre production, both likely delayed by the pandemic. He’s a had an exemplary career and it appears far from over.

21 July 2020

I Comment on Today's Headlines

The idea is simple: I gave you actual headlines from various news sources on the internet followed by a comment or comments. I will not have read any of the stories the headlines are for but will, of course, access any prior knowledge I have of the events described.

From the New York Times:

As Trump Slumps, Republican Donors Look to Save the Senate
The good news here is that is looking increasingly evident that -- assuming a fair election -- Trump will lose the presidency in November.  Less certain is the senate and it is of nearly equal importance to winning the presidency for Democrats. A Democratic controlled Senate and House along with the presidency will ensure the possibility that Washington can start to repair some of the damage done these past four years.

Trump Threatens to Send Federal Law Enforcement Forces to More Cities
Let's call it what it is, fascism. No wonder Trump admires strong man leaders.

Three Coronavirus Vaccine Developers Report Promising Initial Results
Am I understand that there's a possible end to this nightmare? Could we actually have ends to both the Trump presidency and the pandemic?

‘Anti-Feminist’ Lawyer Is Suspect in Killing of Son of Federal Judge in N.J.
Think about how much more likely you are to see the above headlines than one that says, "Feminist Lawyer is Suspect in Killing...." Anti-feminism is part of a toxic male culture that bends heavily towards violence.

Defying Trump, Lawmakers Move to Strip Military Bases of Confederate Names
Good. Get it done.

Global Warming Is Driving Polar Bears Toward Extinction, Researchers Say
I find this unbearably (no pun intended) sad. I can hardly bring myself to read these type of stories.

From CNN:

Republican leaders vow to fill a potential Supreme Court vacancy this year, despite some apprehension
Of course they would. They are raging hypocrites who care little for what is right, fair or moral. They are led by Moscow Mitch McConnell one of the worst human beings ever to disgrace the capital.

'Things could get very ugly': Experts fear post-election crisis as Trump sets the stage to dispute the results in November
From a spectator's perspective or that of future historians, November 2020 through January 2021 (and  perhaps beyond) could be a fascinating period. However for those of who live through it....Well, it may be very bad indeed. One has to hope for such a decisive Biden victory that Trump will look like a complete fool in disputing the results (he's used to that) and will be a lone voice drowned out by sanity.

Trump blasts Beijing in public, but privately Trump org imports tons of Chinese goods
Do I really need to comment on this other than to offer one word: hypocrite?

Republican governor: There are “growing indications” Covid-19 funding “is no longer a priority” for White House
Was it ever?

Gabe Kapler Among Giants to Kneel During Anthem Before Exhibition
I have been a fan of the San Francisco Giants for nearly 60 years and am especially proud of that fact today. The team was the first to have in Major League Baseball to have an AIDS awareness day that raised funds to fight that disease and to have an LGBTQ night and it initiated one of the first stadium recycling programs.

From BBC:

Coronavirus: Why are Americans so angry about masks?
Because so many Americans are fucking idiots. Next question.

Woman takes selfie as wild bear sniffs her hair
I saw this video yesterday. Amazing. Check it out.

Indonesia vows to end practice of bride kidnapping
It's amazing that this is still as widespread as it is in the 21st century. Then again there are still honor killings of young women and genital mutilation. The world has a long way to go.

Is video dating here to stay?
If so it'll radically reduce the spread of STDs. But seriously, one of the joys of dating (at least back when I was doing it back in pre internet days) was physical contact. This could be hand holding, hugging, kissing and even in some cases what we used to call "getting lucky."

From SG Gate:

Giants manager takes a knee. Trump gets upset.
Obviously the same story as from CNN above but now the added bonus of it pissing off Trump. I'm doubly proud.

Jeff Bezos adds record $13 billion in single day to fortune
This represents so much that is wrong with the US. No one needs to add $13 million let alone billion to their wealth in a single year let alone a day. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said, you don't earn a billion dollars, you take it. This is why I'm a socialist.

Placerville restaurant could lose its license after telling customers masks are 'not required here'
Good. Shut the fucking place down, end of story.

Trump threatens to send federal officers to Oakland
I'd worry about the safety of troops in certain parts of Oakland. But seriously folks...again with the fascist strong arm tactics. Appalling.

LinkedIn laying off nearly 1,000 amid hiring slowdown
If only there were a place where the laid off workers could post their resumes....

Kanye West slammed for Harriet Tubman criticism
As well he should be. Now could someone get this man the help he so obviously and desperately needs. Talk about a needless distraction.

From The Washington Post:

Who will be our conscience now that John Lewis is gone?
Those are some mighty big shoes to fill. John Lewis was a true hero. I hope there are buildings renamed for him and at least one of the recently removed Confederate statues is replaced by one of Mr. Lewis. I highly recommend his memoir, Walking With the Wind.

94-year-old ‘Rosie the Riveter’ once made warplanes. Now she makes face masks.
Speaking of heroes....

Biden to unveil $775 billion plan for child care, elder care, preschool
That sounds like a helluva good start. Under Democrats the country might once again start looking after its most vulnerable and needy citizens.

Trump is determined to bring home U.S. military forces from somewhere
Sounds like the dude needs a map.

That was fun. Maybe I'll do it again sometime.

19 July 2020

Hey Look, Everybody! It's Another Edition of Film Quotes

A Night at the Opera
Of course, that's why I'm sitting here with you. Because you remind me of you. Your eyes, your throat, your lips! Everything about you reminds me of you. Except you. How do you account for that? If she figures that one out, she's good. -- Groucho Marx as Otis B. Driftwood in A Night at the Opera (1935).

Hey, you! Manager! Fucker! Don't get ideas. I bark. That man there.
See him? He bites. -- Al Pacino as Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon (1975).

We're the victims of a foul disease called social prejudice, my child. These dear ladies of the Law and Order League are scouring out the dregs of the town. Come on. Be a proud, glorified dreg like me. -- Thomas Mitchell as Doc Boone in Stagecoach (1939).

You wanna boycott someone? You ought to start with the goddamn barber that fucked up your head. -- Robin Harris as Sweet Dick Willie in Do the Right Thing (1989).

He is always very depressed. I think that if he'd been a successful criminal, he would have felt better. You know, he never made the 'ten most wanted' list. It's very unfair voting; it's who you know. -- Louise Lasser as Louise in Take the Money and Run (1969).

I need him like the ax needs the turkey. -- Barbara Stanwyck as Jean in The Lady Eve (1941).

We spent the whole night talking things over. And for what? I'm so tired and depressed. Disgusted and confused. What can I say? There are times when holding a needle and thread, or a book, or a man - it's all the same. -- Monica Vitti as Vittoria in L’Eclisse (1962).

I know I'm different, but from now on I'm going to try and be the same. -- Barbara Streisand as Judy in What’s Up Doc? (1972).

Every act of preservation is an act of creation. Everything preserved renews creation. It's how we participate in creation. -- Ethan Hawke as Reverend Toller in First Reformed (2017).

Sweet Smell of Success
Way up high, Sam, where it's always balmy. Where no one snaps his fingers and says, "Hey, Shrimp, rack the balls!" Or, "Hey, mouse, mouse, go out and buy me a pack of butts." I don't want tips from the kitty. I'm in the big game with the big players. My experience I can give you in a nutshell, and I didn't dream it in a dream, either - dog eat dog. In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me. -- Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

If he had guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she'd be happy and then she'd stop picking on him. Because they make mush out of him! Just mush! -- James Dean as Jim Stark in Rebel without A Cause (1955).

George Washington shoulda' chopped this house down instead of the cherry tree! -- Hattie McDaniel as Hester in George Washington Slept Here (1942).

Just remember, beautiful, everything gets old if you do it often enough. So if you want to find out about monotony real quick, marry Duane. -- Ellen Burstyn as Lois in The Last Picture Show (1971).

That man is a head taller than me. That may change. -- Klaus Kinski as Don Lope de Aguirre in Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972).

Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours. -- Kate Winslet as Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

I was married for four years, and pretended to be happy; and I had six years of analysis, and pretended to be sane. My husband ran off with his boyfriend, and I had an affair with my analyst, who told me I was the worst lay he'd ever had. -- Faye Dunaway as Diana Christensen in Network (1976).

Waiter, will you serve the nuts? I mean, will you serve the guests the nuts? -- Myrna Loy as Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934).

A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room. -- Ruth Gordon as Maude in Harold and Maude (1971).

Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not "Mr. Lebowski". You're Mr. Lebowski. I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing. -- Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski (1998).

My Aunt Rose, take my Aunt Rose. Not a beautiful woman at all. She looked like something you'd buy in a live bait store. But, why? She had wisdom. And she used to say, "You can't ride two horses with one behind." So, you see what I'm sayin'? You see, that's my point. -- Woody Allen as Danny Rose in Broadway Danny Rose (1984).

17 July 2020

Ch-ch-ch-Changes, Differences Between Berkeley in the 1960s and 2020

You don't see parades like this in Berkeley anymore.
I grew up in Berkeley, and virtually all of my school years were between 1960 and 1969. I live in Berkeley again as I have for many years now. Below are some of the differences between the Berkeley of then and the Berkeley of today. I suspect this is one of those things that starting within hours of posting I'll continually be thinking of things I missed. So I may be revising this or posting a part two. Please note that I make no reference to political issues such as the demonstrations that were common place for much of that decade. These all pertain to daily life sort of stuff.

What You Don’t See Anymore
Groups of children wandering the streets without adult supervision.
Boys organizing their own baseball games.
Children riding their bikes without an accompanying adult.
Unleashed dogs walking the streets sans owner.
People smoking in theaters, at restaurants, on buses, at sports venues.
Rows of pay phones.
People paying for purchases with a check.
TV antennas.
Double features in movie theaters.
Women wearing dress gloves.

What You Didn’t See
People wearing ear buds or headphones.
People chattering away on phones while walking.
Homeless encampments.
People wearing bicycle helmets.
Openly gay people.
People staring at phones while they walked down the street.
More than a few fast food chains.
Commercials preceding movies.
Multiplex theaters.
People doing yoga in public.
People picking up their dog’s feces.
High fives.

What You Rarely See Anymore
Mom and Pop stores.
Locally owned drug stores.
People dressing nicely to go to the theater or a nice restaurant.
People littering.
People reading newspapers on the bus.
Boys with crewcuts.
Lettermen jackets.
Boy Scouts and cub scouts.

What You Rarely Saw
Adults riding bicycles.
Adult men wearing short pants or sandals.
Women wearing pants.
Restaurants that delivered food.

14 July 2020

The Macaroni Club, Preston Sturges, A Disappointing Special Feature, Franklin Pangborn and Watching Problematic Actors

Fonda and Stanwyck in The Lady Eve
I start off with this interesting tidbit -- which has nothing to do with the rest of the post -- from the good folks at Merriam-Webster:

Have you ever wondered why in the old Yankee Doodle song he puts a feather in his cap and calls it 'macaroni'? In the 1760s, a group of young well-traveled English men who prided themselves in their appearance, sense of style, and manners founded a club in London. At the time, macaroni was a new and exotic food in England and so the young men named their club the Macaroni Club to demonstrate how stylish its members were. The members themselves were called macaronis. And eventually the word macaroni came to mean the same thing as dandy, or "a man who gives exaggerated attention to personal appearance." Like one who wears feathered caps.

The more you know.

Received my copy of Criterion’s new release of The Lady Eve (1941) a few days ago. It is a film I greatly admire as evidenced by its place among my top 100 films. From 1940 through 1944 Preston Sturges directed seven films that, in my estimation, ranged from very good to cinema classics. They were the first directorial efforts from a man who had previously been a screenwriter. After that amazing run Sturges only directed six more films and they ranged from flops to mediocrities. Go figure.

Sunday I watched the latest edition to my extensive DVD collection (which I believe now numbers around 250 films) and as with each previous viewing, thoroughly enjoyed it. Co-stars Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda mostly featured in dramas but in this slapstick comedy they were revelations. The usual Sturges supporting players also enhanced the film, led by William Demarest who delivers The Lady Eve’s great closing line, “positively the same dame.” After the movie I looked forward to diving into whatever special features the good folks at Criterion had conjured. Goodness me. There was really only one to speak of and speak of it I will as it was laughably bad. The idea was to have a group of cinema experts discuss the movie and let me just say that’s a helluva good idea. The group included Peter Bogdanovich (who I love to listen to talk about movies) LA Times film critic, Kenneth Turan, Leonard Maltin, James L. Brooks, Sturges’s son, Tom and a few others who I was unfamiliar with. They appeared to range in age from old to very old. Their conversation was done on Zoom. Yes, old people (older than me, even) using Zoom. It did not go well. When the “conversation” started Bogdanovich wasn’t there yet. Maltin logged on but had trouble with the his earphones and no one could hear him. He finally sorted it and interrupted a conversation to ask, “can you hear me now?” Brilliant.

Bogdanovich finally joined and his phone started ringing. It was beyond annoying. He said someone would pick it up but no one did so he reached over and hung it up himself. People talked over one another in the way that can happen when people are unfamiliar with Zoom. Questions weren’t heard and answers were ignored. Brooks was in the middle of a sentence when he froze. Then he called Sturges who informed one and all that Brooks had lost his internet. It was all too painful for me and 18 minutes into the 42 minute “conversation” I gave up. Criterion really thought this was worth putting on a DVD as “special feature?” I’m dumbfounded. It’s an embarrassment. I have since written a strongly worded email to Criterion to express my discontent.

Franklin Pangborn in Hail the Conquering Hero
Speaking of Sturges films. I also recently watched Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), the last of his great run. It was one of many excellent films (several by Sturges) which feature Franklin Pangborn in a supporting role. (It is his real name though it would perfectly suit many of the characters he played.) Pangborn, who was gay, generally played fussy, officious, vaguely effeminate men often having their feathers ruffled by the antics of others. I don’t know that he ever had more screen time nor was ever better than in Hero in which he played a character labeled as Reception Committee Chair. He is variously flummoxed, frustrated, flustered and flabbergasted, especially during the reception for a returning war hero. There are several different marching bands scheduled to play and they keep getting the wrong cues and get into a cacophonous competition that drives the poor committee chair batty. Pangborn received a best supporting actor award for his performance from the National Board of Review. It was well-earned.

I read about Pangborn and learned that he fought bravely at the Battle of Argonne in World War I, was injured and earned a medal. He was clearly playing against type. He ended up with 238 acting credits, many from the silent days and many of those in dramatic roles. With two exceptions he stuck to TV after 1950 and had a brief gig as the announcer on the Tonight Show before being canned for a “lack of spontaneity.” He died shortly thereafter at the age of 69. Someone should write a book about him or make a documentary or hell, do both.

Speaking of supporting players....Among the cast of The Lady Eve is Charles Coburn who featured in  many classic comedies. Watching Coburn in a film is problematic when you know his politics. It's not that he was Republican (Stanwyck was and I forgive her) he was a Mississippian and a member of the  racist organization, The Citizen's Council (often referred to as the White Citizen's Council). The council was formed in the mid 1950s as a reaction to the burgeoning Civil Right's Movement. Their stated aim was to protect the rights of white people in the south at a time when segregation and Jim Crow laws reigned. In other words Coburn was a racist asshole (not to put to fine a point on it). It can  similarly be difficult to watch Walter Brennan who was such a racist that he reportedly did a jig when told of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. John Wayne, of course, held odious views. I wrote about watching his films a few years ago.

Of course, if you're going to avoid watching films that feature or were made by dubious characters you'll be left with very little. Among directors Hitchcock, Chaplin and Polanski are problematic. Also if you're going to winnow out films based on actors' political views you're going to miss out on a lot of classics. Then again some people "cancel" directors or actors based on accusations, even disproven ones (note the hysteria regarding Woody Allen who was twice cleared of the lone charge against him). I understand the impulse. It simplifies the world to cross people off lists, to mute them, cancel them, boycott them. Less choices. Less critical thinking on your part. Easier.

Before I sign off I'd like to thank my sponsors who have stuck with me throughout the pandemic: Pan American Airlines, Tower Records, Polaroid (now with Instamatic Cameras!) and the tourist boards of these countries: Ceylon, Prussia, The Dutch East Indies and Yugoslavia.  You all rock!

11 July 2020

A Tale of Two Generations - or - Father and Son, Illusions and Delusions

if all else fails write

That was his mantra and it had gotten him out of a lot of jams. Mental ones. His name was Royston Kidrick and he suffered from severe bouts of depression. The gloom would set in and surround him like a thick and heavy fog. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do when it took hold. Except to write. Which he couldn't do when depressed. Contradiction.

By the age of thirty-three, Kidrick had written six novels and several dozen short stories. Not a word of his had been published.

But he kept trying. That was one thing about Kidrick, he wouldn't quit. "You were persistent as hell as a toddler," his father, Lawton Kidrick a wealthy industrialist had told him.

It was late Winter 1993 and  Kidrick was sitting at his typewriter trying to squeeze out some words. It was like trying to force a bowel movement when constipated. Painful and frustrating. Maybe he’d taken too much Xanax. Kirdrick wasn’t sure how many he’d popped, keeping track of details wasn’t really his thing.

Trying to write while depressed was like trying to fuck with a flaccid dick, Kidrick told people. Yeah, it was futile and depressing. But not trying to write while depressed made the depression even worse. Damned if you did, damned if you didn't.

So he paced. He walked to the picture window and back to his desk. Repeat. But no words were willing to come and he was feeling worse with each passing second. Life was utterly and completely horrible. Where? Where was the answer? Or the end? Maybe it would come to an end and that was the answer. Who could say anymore? Kirdick had endured years of frustration trying to find meaning and a cure for his melancholia. Psychedelics hadn’t helped. Neither had yoga nor meditation nor exercise nor religion nor psychiatry. Especially not psychiatry. Just a whole lot of mental masturbation. Made it worse. None of the meds did a damn thing, either. Maybe a wank now would help. Do it while staring out the big window let the neighbors have a gander. Just a thought, if a crazy one. He had lots of crazy thoughts.

His wife, Rula, from India was a gorgeous woman, tall, intelligent lusted after by everyone, only twenty-one (some people said she probably married him for his dough and oh by the way he had inherited a lot). She was in Manhattan for the weekend visiting her parents and doing research for school where she was studying sociology.

How shitty that Rula is away. Miss her.

Maybe a swim, backyard pool. Maybe a wank in the pool. Maybe call an escort service, maybe call a friend, maybe go on a bender. Maybe read a book — better to try to write one. But those words were not coming anytime soon as far as Royston Kidrick originally of Framingham, Massachusetts could figure. Yeah, I'm from Framingham. What of it, he thought as if someone had made an issue of it. Now he lived just outside of Boston, in Brookline.

Not going back to the catholic fucking church, Royston thought. That was the worst. He'd been raised Methodist. His big brother Allie, a pediatrician, was an active church member. Royston had only tried catholicism for a couple of months but boy did it do a number on him. Wife was raised Hindu but he hadn’t tried that nor Judaism. Buddhism yes. Royston Kidrick’s fallback was atheism. He was currently between religions, philosophies or beliefs. Next maybe nihilism or Mormonism. That cracked him up. Felt good to laugh. Could call up Buddy Drake (nee Bruno Darrenofsky). Great friend, a professional comic. They could crack open a good bottle of scotch and laugh about all the shit the world was forever dealing in large shovelfuls. Why not?

Buddy didn’t pick up. No message. Why bother. Why.

Then a more powerful wave depression washed over him, roiling through his body. Bubble bubble lots of trouble and oh the pain of it deep in his intestines and his brain and his heart and ow, ow, ow. Yikes. Royston actually quivered with the pain. Maybe just swallow a bottle of Xanax. That'd do it. Thought of suicide a lot lot lot lot lot lot. But not not not not not not going to do it ever never ever never ever never. Just not an option my friend.

How about that scotch? Hated drinking alone. Save it. Buddy might call back. Didn’t leave a message. Called again. Left one this time. Sat down big frown out of town tried to write something out of sight not this night. But it was day. Still light out not night out. Out.

Deep long sigh the pain settling in deeper. Slowing down now. Sitting at the typewriter. Eked out a few words, not so much as a sentence, barely even a thought. Wow that’s bad. Bad. Sad. Please call back, Buddy. He was staring at the phone. Deep in. Pain seep(ing) in.

if all else fails write

But when the writing fails? Oh shit the tears coming now the utter complete and total anguish. All that money was bullshit. Didn’t do Royston Kidrick any good at all, not a bit. Soft somber tears. No buying his way out of this depression — it was soaking him. Drenched in the awful pain.

Distractions. Wash the dishes. Done. Pay a bill over the phone. Done. Fold the laundry. Done. Check the mail. Letter from Brown and Deakins Publishing Company. Great. Another rejection, no doubt. This will make, what 43? Wow, he would reach 50 soon. Tore open the letter. "Dr. Mr. Kidrick, We received your novel, Faith and Clarity and are very much interested in publishing it, pending minor modifications. Please…"

For the first time in his life Royston Kidrick fainted.

To Royston it had felt like hours later that he came to but it was actually only four minutes. The letter was still in his right hand, clutched tightly. This was a new one on Royston, an acceptance letter. He hadn’t gotten one since high school when he was accepted to Northeastern University. The feeling was overwhelming and utterly unfamiliar. It was a feeling in direct opposition to the depression that had been in him. Had been him. Euphoria now replaced misery. From despair to joy. Victory over defeat. Instead of the same old shit, a new chapter. Wow, life.


Hardy said it. "Dude, the dope that black people smoke smells totally different than the bud we smoke. It's so funky."

His friend Langston agreed. "I know it's like it smells dirty. Why is that though? Don't we all buy from like the same people?"

Carson said, "it's not like there's weed that's just sold to blacks and then some that's just sold to whites."

"But Carson, don't you notice it, man?" Hardy asked.

"Yeah, I totally do," he replied.

"Have either of you smoked with a black dude?" Langston asked.

"I have," Hardy said. "But it was from my stash."

"Yeah, I remember smoking with Devin Thomas and some friend of his. Totally your stuff," Carson said.

The three stood silently for awhile contemplating the mystery of why the marijuana African-Americans smoked smelled different. Hardy went to the fridge and pulled out a six-pack. He handed his two friends a Budweiser and took one for himself. He hoped what they'd been talking about wasn't racist. He sure didn't mean it to be. Shit, his mother was what they called a person of color and in a way he was too. Hell, not in a way. He was. Hardy got along really with African-Americans, even though none were among his best friends.

They were in Hardy's house, down in the carpeted basement that was sort of a playroom but mostly, since Hardy and his sister Eileen had entered their late teens, a place to hang out with friends. Eileen was at college now attending UC Santa Cruz and Hardy was a senior in high school. Langston and Carson were classmates of his at Berkeley High. Hardy's mother, Rula was a professor of Sociology at Cal and his dad was a successful author but also a man who'd been in and out of mental hospitals for twenty years. In the Fall Hardy would be going to college back East in Massachusetts, where he'd been born, at Tufts University.

"I don't wanna just sit here getting a buzz and talking shit, let's do something." Hardy insisted. It was a Friday night. There were usually parties somewhere but none of the boys knew of one this night.

"We can drive up to the hills and drop acid," Carson suggested. But the other two insisted it was too late in the day to be taking LSD, what with them having a lacrosse game the next day.

It looked like a dull night. Hardy was glad he wouldn't have to go it alone. He hated dull nights at home alone. His parents were out of town for the evening, down in LA where his mother had presented a paper at some seminar and his father had met with the producers who were making a film out of his latest novel.

"Hey Hardy, I tell ya I been reading one of your dad's books? The latest one?" Langston wanted to know.

"Man, don't tell me that. It's weird knowing someone my age, especially a friend, is reading one of my dad's books."

"But it's really cool. He's got a lot of sex in his novels and -- "

"Damn, man what'd I just say? I don't wanna know this kind of shit."

"Hey calm down, Hardy," Carson advised.

"Yeah, okay, sorry dude. But I just don't like to talk about it, okay?"

Langston nodded in an understanding he didn't have. Everybody liked Hardy Kidrick, but he was kind of weird about his dad.

Hardy had read some of his father's short stories a year ago and objectively thought they were brilliant. But for some reason he couldn't bring himself to read any more and couldn't even begin to imagine reading one of his novels, no matter how successful they were nor how often people told him what a great writer his father was. Hardy himself was a decent student who got good grades but did best in English, especially when it came to writing essays, compositions or short fiction. He liked to write. It made him feel good and seem to come naturally to him. His sister, who was a mediocre writer at best, was envious. Hardy had no clue what he wanted to do with his life but didn't discount the possibility that he might end up being a writer. Like his dad, but then not. Hardy wanted not to be known for being Royston Kidrick's son.

Royston Kidrick was the author of five published novels and two short story collections. He'd won numerous awards and his books had all been best sellers. One had been made into a highly successful film and his latest was in development with big name actors and a prominent director attached. But none of Kidrick's success had abated the demons that tormented him. Hardy was mortified by his dad's emotional instability, the frequent hospitalizations and all the medication he had to take. His mom tried to convince Hardy to be proud of all his father had accomplished despite his struggles but Hardy just couldn't see it that way. He saw a man who was not in control of his own brain and it seemed weak. His sister was totally different. She loved her father unconditionally and doted over him and sang his praises to everyone she met, just as her mother did. 

Hardy didn't hate his dad, hell, he loved him. He couldn't get past the shame of being the son of someone with mental problems, nor could he get over the fear that he would be thus afflicted someday too.

The three friends finished the six pack and smoked a couple of joints but never left Hardy's house that night. They all slept in the basement swapping stories until the wee hours before finally being overcome by sleep. They went out for pancakes late the next morning. The waitress asked Hardy if his dad was Royston Kidrick, she recognized him from a photo on a fan site someone had made for the author. Hardy allowed that he was, though at the moment he wanted to crawl into a hole.

"You're so lucky," the waitress said. Hardy barely managed a smile.

"Dude," Carson said. "She's hot, you should totally talk to her. You've got an automatic in with her."

"Yeah Hardy, use it, man," Langston added. "She looks like she may even be in college."

Hardy wanted to change the subject completely so he said that maybe he would come back and talk to her another time but that right now he wanted to focus on their game which was only a few hours away. The fact was that Hardy did not want to take advantage of his dad's fame for anything, even scoring with a hot chick. It just felt weird and wrong.

Later that day their high school lacrosse team took a shellacking from a nearby private school. The trio took it in stride and had pizza with two other teammates after the game.

It was dusk when Hardy got home. His parents had returned a few hours before. When he entered the house Hardy found his father on the floor mewling and flopping around. His mother had just called for an ambulance. It would be at least one more night in the hospital for Royston Kidrick. Hardy waited with his mom for the ambulance. He watched as his father was taken by stretcher into the back of the ambulance and his mother got in with him. Hardy went upstairs to his room, flopped on the bed and sobbed. He was alone and miserable.

It was an hour later that Eileen called. Hardy sobbed into the phone as he told her what had happened. His sister assured him that it would be okay, after all this wasn't the first time. Hardy looked out the window into the dark March night. Rain began to fall. "Fuck it," he decided. "I'm not going to let myself be miserable anymore." Hardy Kidrick blew his nose, went downstairs and made a sandwich and waited for his mom to come home.

Meanwhile, Hardy decided, I'll write.