Friday, January 30, 2009

Twenty-five random things about me

Terry was tagged to list twenty-five random things about himself the other day and in turn tagged a couple others. No one has tagged me, probably because no one knows about me or my blog, but I'm taking up the challenge anyway. A few of my random things may be familiar to you if you're one of the couple of people who read this blog:
  1. I've written two screenplays.
  2. My favorite actor is Cary Grant.
  3. Contrary to what Terry said, Ingrid Bergman was the most beautiful of all the movie stars.
  4. Though it's a crowded field, my favorite musician is Van Morrison. I can listen to his music at any time, in any mood, and never tire of it.
  5. My favorite classical composer is Beethoven, by a nose over Bach, and half a length in front of Mozart.
  6. I can't really name an all-time favorite author. There's a lot of good ones and I keep discovering more. I've already written about some of those who've influence me most.
  7. I cook terrific hamburgers.
  8. I used to be terrified of flying. Now I'm not.
  9. Contrary to popular belief, I think the past ten years have been "The Golden Age" of television, not the 1950s or 60s. The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Mad Men, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 24, Entourage, among others, are better entertainment than what was produced back in the day.
  10. Having said that, I hate reality TV.
  11. Like Terry, I can't dance. I have two left feet. My father, who could dance, gave me a quick lesson the day before I got married so I could get through the first dance with my wife at the reception. When I asked him how I did he shrugged and said, 'fair.' He was probably being kind.
  12. I have an acute sense of smell, probably inherited from my mother. Any perfume, detergent, or room deodorizer gives me an instant headache. If you see a guy holding his breath while walking briskly through the ladies perfume section at the department store, that's probably me.
  13. I've lived at my current residence for over twenty years. Before that, I'd never lived in a house for longer than a four year stretch.
  14. I know a lot about music - rock and roll, standards, blues, jazz, classical - but I know next to nothing about music that's been produced over the past twenty years.
  15. I love doing the Washington Post Sunday crossword puzzle. Usually, I can finish it.
  16. I've never skied and I've never ice skated. And I've never had any desire to.
  17. I love walking in any big city. I don't have to actually do anything, just walk around.
  18. I'm fairly lazy. My wife would probably agree with that statement if I took out the qualifier 'fairly.'
  19. Though I have a temper, I rarely lose it anymore. It's not worth it.
  20. I become more libertarian the older I get. Leave me alone.
  21. I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert twenty times back in the day. They remain the twenty best shows I've ever seen. But things change. I'll watch his Super Bowl appearance but I'm not excited about it. I don't even buy his records anymore. His songwriting ability has diminished over the years and I find most of what he does now dull and clunky.
  22. It's been over a year since I had an alcoholic beverage. Or I should say, over a year since I finished an alcoholic beverage. I ordered a glass of wine at dinner during our NYC family reunion back in December, but after two sips I put it aside.
  23. I've found the whole Rod Blagojevich episode highly entertaining. I'll miss him when he's gone. And I think he was just doing what politicians do, perhaps a bit more brazenly. That's no defense of Blago but rather an indictment of politicians in general. Most of them are little Blagos.
  24. I truly don't know who I want to win the Super Bowl tomorrow. I suspect once the game starts I'll find out.
  25. I guess I'm a pretty boring individual. Thinking up twenty-five random things about myself is some tough sledding.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Dark Knight

I recently watched The Dark Knight and it was good, up to a point. While the story was interesting and the acting good (especially Heath Ledger as The Joker, who was fabulous - truly scary) I was a bit dismayed by the direction, as I am with a lot of movies these days. The furious editing in modern movies, especially in action films like The Dark Knight, is so lightning fast that it's hard for the viewer to catch his or her breath. The camera almost never lingers on a shot for more than a second or two, even during calmer moments. During the most intense scenes it's impossible to tell what is really happening on the screen. You get the point - these movies are never subtle - but I defy anyone to tell me actual details of what went on during the action scenes, other than to acknowledge that a lot of things blew up. At the end you feel like you've been holding your breath for two hours. And your brain is muddled, wondering what exactly just went on. I suppose this is considered the new style in Hollywood, and it's certainly aimed at the younger crowd with limited attention spans, but to us old folks it is disconcerting. To those of us who value movies with lucid storytelling, fully-rounded characters, and even-handed rhythm and pacing, these movies are less satisfying than they could be. With good material like The Dark Knight, we get the impression that the moviemakers missed an opportunity. With other, lesser movies, you have a sneeking suspicion that those in charge are using these editing techniques to cover up the limitations of the script.

A case in point, the three Bourne movies. The first one had the strongest story but was directed by Doug Liman in a less manic manner. I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Then Paul Greengrass, one of the leading autuers of this new style, took over the direction duties for the second and third Bourne movies. Now, I think Greengrass is a terrific talent. If you haven't seen United 93 yet, get thee over to Netflix post haste. And I also like both Bourne movies that he directed. But it must be acknowledged than by the third one there really was no story to tell except "Get Jason Bourne." If Greengrass had reverted to more conventional methods of making these movies the weaknesses of the scripts would be glaringly obvious. So he was probably the perfect director for them: his lightning-quick pacing provided cover for the non-story. And he was able to make them enjoyable, if, as I noted above, a bit disconcerting. So the style has its place, if only as camouflage.

Now, there have always been directors in Hollywood who were noted for being professional craftsmen, who could take a dud of a script and make a somewhat interesting movie out of it. But I get the sense that Greengrass wants more than this out of his career - he's much too talented to be satisfied fluffing up material with little or no substance. While it may be the case that its the only trick he has in his bag, I doubt it. For him and all the other slap-dash artists out there I'd offer some advice: slow down. Let some air into the movie, give us some time to contemplate what you're presenting. Let us breath, and think.

1972 and 1988

I've been setting up my laptop to become my main computer. I'd had ITunes, all my pictures, my screenplay software, etc., all on the PC upstairs. But my wife is working on a project and is using the PC much of the time when I want to blog. So the laptop at the kitchen table is now mine. And I love it - much more convenient. I moved a bunch of pictures yesterday an came across these. Both pictures were taken at Salisbury Beach, MA. That's me, my Dad, my two brothers, and my Dad's second wife in both pictures. I'm fourteen in the first one and thirty in the second. I remember my Dad had broken his leg or his ankle in 1972 - you can see he's got his leg sticking out in the earlier picture to make room for the cast.

Salisbury Beach deserves a long post of it's own. It was a very important part of my life. So I'll get to it someday. For now, some of my relatives who keep up with the blog might like these old photos.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bubba and Biscuit

I gave Biscuit a haircut yesterday morning. It was time. He's a Persian and is just a ball of fur. Here's a picture of him - below left - with his hair long, and not even that long. He's been a lot furrier than this:

Pretty cute, huh? That's the main thing he's got going for him, he's adorable. We got him as a baby as a companion for Bubba when Bubba was about a year old. Here's a picture of Bubba:

My little Bubs is gone now. He died a couple of years ago; his little heart betrayed him. Oh, well. But he was my best buddy. Every night when I'd lie down on the couch to watch some TV he'd hustle downstairs and jump up with me. He'd lie down on my chest and bury his head in my neck while I rubbed him all over. And he'd purrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...

Every morning when I'd open the newspaper at the kitchen table he'd jump up and stretch his entire body across it, making it impossible to read. He thought that's what it meant, the opening of the newspaper. He thought I was calling him up to get his morning loving. I'd fool him though; after awhile I learned to open up a page I wasn't interested in and I'd keep the page I wanted to read on the side. So it worked for both of us: he'd get his rubdown, I'd read my paper:

Bubba loved to hunt and chase birds and squirrels. He loved being outside and spent a good part of his life there, or sitting at the door waiting for me to take his outside - he knew I was a soft touch. He liked it when I came out with him, so I'm sure I'm known in the neighborhood as the guy who's spends his whole life outside with his cats. I just could never say no to the little guy. He also loved to sleep, and he did so with a serenity that I still miss - it was impossible to be tense while in the same room with my sleeping Bubba.

Bubba also loved music. If I'd start to sing, he'd hustle over to me and paw at me the whole while. If I put on music he'd jump up on the arm of the chair I was sitting in and settle in. We'd listen together. Seems he had an ear for jazz, especially Billie Holiday. He was a cool hep-cat!

Most days, the first thing we'd see when we arrived home in the afternoon was Bubba sleeping in his bowl on the dining room table - he loved that bowl. He could curl up in it and get comfy and sleep, sleep, sleep:

In the spring and fall, he'd go outside on the deck and sleep the whole afternoon away - then he'd go out there again at night when he was wide awake - he loved the darkness, and the cool breeze. I'd go out every half hour or so and rub him up a little - he loved it out there but he'd get lonely if he was alone too long. I'd sit down in the glider and he'd hop up and cuddle up next to me.

Biscuit and he were kinda buds, though for the most part they kept to themselves. Once in awhile they'd play and wrestle, Biscuit usually being the instigator. Biscuit would follow Bubba around outside - Bubba was always the leader. Here's the two of them waiting at the door to get outside:
And then Bubba got sick. He was almost five when we found out he had congestive heart failure. He lasted another nine months after that. He died on December 10, 2006, age 5 1/2. I still miss him.

But we still have the Biscuit Boy and he's a little sweetie. But he depends on me so much that sometimes it's a bit much. He'll come in the room with me and just sit there staring, waiting for me to play with him, until I finally get up and play.
He used to go outside with Bubba but he seems to have lost interest since Bub is gone. I'll let him out but he's just hangs around the front door and is back in within minutes. Without Bubba around he has no one else to distract him and he knows my wife is no fun. So he hangs around me. If I ignore him he'll finally just wander off and go to sleep.

Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to have him around. He's not like a best buddy like Bubba was but I still love him to death. Anyhow, I've blogged about all sorts of things over the past few years but had yet to mention a couple of the best things in my life - Bubba and Biscuit.

This was Biscuit yesterday, immediately after the haircut:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Almost Famous

I watched Almost Famous again last night, one of the best movies about rock and roll ever to come out of Hollywood. That's no surprise because it was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who was there during the period the movie covers, 1973, and based the movie on his experiences that year when he was a precocious fifteen year-old writing for Rolling Stone magazine. I also turned fifteen in 1973, so Crowe and I are contemporaries, and while I was not involved up close with the music as Crowe was, I was smitten by it and was involved in the lifestyle; I read Creem and Rolling Stone, I read Lester Bangs (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie), and I read Crowe. I went to the parties and the concerts - at a certain point in my mid-twenties I counted up my ticket stubs, which I kept in a shoe box, and figured I had attended one show per week during the previous ten years. My serious record collecting was just beginning in 1973 but it would grow to a thousand over the coming years, with my brother, whom I lived with during the period, adding another five hundred or so. Having established my bona fides, I'm here to tell you that Almost Famous gets it right. If you want to know what those years felt like for those of us who were young and obsessed with rock and roll, watch Almost Famous.

In the movie, the Crowe character's love of rock and roll is sparked by the case of albums his sister leaves him when she escapes home and their obsessive mother to become a stewardess. He opens the case and flips through the records: Pet Sounds, Wheels of Fire, Tommy, Led Zeppelin II, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, Blue, Blonde on Blonde, some of the most ubiquitous albums of the era. I own most of them. The soundtrack includes songs by The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell, Little Feat (a terrific band who I saw many times live, and who were more popular in the DC area than most of the country), Neil Young, Deep Purple, Steely Dan, The Allman Brothers. Now, I didn't love all of these bands - Deep Purple were pretty much no talents and Steely Dan were always highly overrated in my book - but their music was everywhere; you couldn't escape it. You also couldn't escape the type of music played by the band the Crowe character follows on tour for most of the movie, Stillwater - there was dozens of bands with a similar sound, and I hated most of it, but it was there, on the radio, at parties, at friend's houses. The point is, the movie is spot-on when it comes to the catching the zeitgeist of the era, the spirit and the artifacts.

Two favorite scenes. Early on, Lester Bangs is being interviewed by a local radio station. He is flipping through their record stacks and comes upon a Doors record. "The Doors? Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon posing as a poet." Bingo.

And then the best scene in the movie, in the bus after the band has had an argument and everyone is tense. Tiny Dancer comes on the radio and soon one of the band members starts singing along. Then someone joins in, and then someone else. Before long the entire band and crew are singing along to the song, joyously, the argument forgotten. If you were of age in 1973 and involved in the music scene like we were, this scene captures what it was like. We had dozens of moments like this, moments of community, moments when everything else was left behind and all that mattered was the music. Almost Famous is a great film, a minor classic.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Steyn on Hammerstein

I've been meaning to mention Mark Steyn's appreciation of Oscar Hammerstein over at The New Criterion web site. And now I have. Excellent stuff. Now, I'm one of those who prefers Rodgers and Hart songs to Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, by a mile, but Steyn's essay did give me a new appreciation of Hammerstein. And, of course, Hammerstein's true legacy is the musicals as a whole, for he wrote not just the songs but the books, i.e. the scripts of the plays. That Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote better musical plays than Rodgers and Hart is a pretty well accepted opinion these days and I suppose I agree. The problem is that the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs often worked only in the context of the plays, whereas the Rodgers and Hart songs simply work; they are the backbone of the American Songbook. Still, Steyn makes an excellent case for Hammerstein and, of course, Steyn is always worth reading. Great fun.

It keeping with my new habit of accentuating my posts by embedding related musical tracks, and to go with the past few days seasonal songs, here's one of my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, done beautifully by Rosemary Clooney:

Terry Teachout's Pops: The Life of Louis Armstrong

I've mentioned Terry Teachout's blog About Last Night in this space on a few occasions. I read it every day and if you're interested in books, music, theater, and art, you should too. I've also read two of his books, his excellent biography of H.L. Mencken, The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken, and his collection of essays, The Terry Teachout Reader. Over the years I've gotten dozens of good ideas from Terry. For instance, I would never have discovered Edwin O'Connor's The Edge of Sadness, a book I love, if not for Terry mentioning it on his blog. In fact, I've read so many excellent books, discovered so much great music, and enjoyed so many plays and exhibits in NYC based on his suggestions that I feel eternally indebted to him. He's the best critic going, period. Terry just put the finishing touches on his forthcoming biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops: The Life of Louis Armstrong, due out in the fall, and he answers the question Why do we need another book about Satchmo? on his blog this morning. It's a fabulous post. Go take a look and start making About Last Night part of your daily routine.

You've noticed I've just discovered how to embed music into my blog. I gave you a couple of great weather-related songs the past few mornings (scroll down). Yesterday morning I was actually looking to embed Louis Armstrong's "Potato Head Blues," my favorite Armstrong recording, but apparently no one has the full version available for embedding - I could get only 30 second snatches of it. So I embedded Jo Stafford's "The Things We Did Last Summer" instead. Then later in the day, I watched "Manhattan," Woody Allen's 1979 homage to the city with the all-Gershwin soundtrack. I enjoyed the movie when it first came out but I found it extremely self-indulgent this time around. Self-awarely self-indulgent: Woody Allen appears to realize he's a megalomaniac. Anyhow, near the end of the movie the Allen character talks into a tape-recorder about what makes life worth-living, and he begins to list off the things he loves most in life - Willie Mays, Cezanne's still lifes, the second movement of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, and a few other things. And one of the things he mentions is Louis Armstrong's "Potato Head Blues". Say what you want about Allen, he has terrific taste in music. In fact, some of his movies are worthwhile only for their soundtracks. Listen below to one of the greatest jazz recordings ever.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Things We Did Last Summer

Much warmer this morning. The thermometer read 32 when I got up, a 31 degree warm up from yesterday at the same time. Still, we remain in the dregs of winter and with no end in sight. Since I don't feel like blogging much today, I'll leave you with a little more Jo Stafford to help get you through. To say I love Jo Stafford's music is a bit of an understatement right now - I've been listening to her non-stop for weeks. I'll post more about her later but for now, enjoy this version of "The Things We Did Last Summer", music by Jule Styne, words be Sammy Cahn. A perfect version of a terrific song:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

1 degree...

...according to our outdoor thermometer this morning. In honor of the weather everywhere:

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Rural Juror, etc.

I'd never watched 30 Rock until a few weeks ago. After hearing a few good things about it I started watching it from the beginning, on my computer via Netflix. I'm about half way through season one and it's terrific - very funny stuff. I didn't think they could make funny shows anymore on network television. The whole "Rural Juror" gag is hilarious - I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. Perhaps because I can't say it myself. I've always had trouble putting r's and l's together, for instance the word "scholarly" - can't do it unless I talk real slow. Anyhow, if you haven't seen "The Rural Juror" episode and plan to you don't want to watch the below video. If you have seen it and enjoyed it, enjoy again:

Jack's Back?

I mentioned awhile back that 24 had jumped the shark last season. Always implausible, it nonetheless had been riveting television for many years and served the useful purpose of reminding Americans that there are people out there who want to kill us. But last season descended into pure ridiculousness, what with a man cutting off his own arm (in silence no less, while Jack Bauer stood on the other side of the door), Russians smuggling nuclear weapons into the country and then threatening to go to war with us (!) because, after Jack secured the bombs, one of them went missing and it had all the Russian defense secrets encoded on it's internal computer chip (idiots). Then there were Jacks' dad and geeky brother being involved with the terrorists, some shady Chinese, a comatose Audrey, and other various and sundry howlers. The whole season was a mess and I looked forward not at all to the coming season. I figured I'd give it a shot for a few episodes but if it hadn't improved would drop it and never look back. It's very rare for a television show that's jumped to jump back.

I've watched the first three hours of this season and am so far pleased. It really got going in the third hour when (spoiler alerts!!!) Jack (along with old faithfuls Bill Buchanan and Chloe O'Brian) helps Tony Almeida escape from the FBI - Tony hasn't turned terrorist after all, he's under "deep cover" trying to find out who has infiltrated our government. The plot is quite intriguing and I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next. One quibble: did they have to use the execrable Janine Garofalo as the FBI's version of Chloe? Who knows though, she might be perfect for the part: maybe we're supposed to hate her. At any rate, my wife and I got a kick out of "the battle of the Chloes" with the real Chloe breaking into the FBI's computer system and the other, no doubt lesser Chloe, trying to keep her out. Being 24, you know our girl will always win out. We love Chloe.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"You're Quite a Boy"

So says Ingrid Bergman to Cary Grant in the opening sequence of Notorious and who would argue with her? Not Eva Marie Saint, a few years later, in North By Northwest: (Grant: "When I was a little boy, I wouldn't even let my mother undress me." Marie Saint : "Well, you're a big boy now"), nor Grace Kelly, in To Catch a Thief, as she presents Grant with some cold chicken at a picnic: ("You want a leg or a breast?"), nor Audrey Hepburn, in Charade: ("Won't you come in for a minute? I don't bite, you know, unless it's called for.") It's true that when Ralph Bellamy tells Rosalind Russell, in His Girl Friday, that he finds Grant sort of charming, she responds: "Well, he comes by it naturally - his grandfather was a snake," but that was the early Grant, the pre-war Grant, the slapstick Grant of Bringing Up Baby, the bravura comedian of Gunga Din. No woman alive would have called the "Cary Grant" character of the post-war years a snake. That Grant, as Pauline Kael wrote in her monumental essay, The Man From Dream City, was:
...a peerless creation....[w]ithout a trace of narcissism, he appears as a man women are drawn to - a worldly, sophisticated man who has become more attractive with the years....[t]he sensual lusciousness was burned off: age purified him....His acting was purified, too; it became more economical. When he was young, he had been able to do lovely fluff like "Topper" without being too elfin, or getting smirky, like Ray Milland, or becoming a brittle, too bright gentleman, like Franchot Tone. But he'd done more than his share of arch mugging - lowering his eyebrows and pulling his head back as if something funny were going on in front of him when nothing was. Now the excess energy was pared away; his performances were simple and understated and seamlessly smooth. In "Charade," he gives an amazingly calm performance; he knows how much his presence does for him and how little he needs to do. His romantic glamour, which had reached a high peak in 1939 in "Only Angels Have Wings," wasn't lost; his glamour was now a matter of his resonances from the past, and he wore it like a mantle.

The Washington Post this morning publishes this fine article by Sarah Kaufman about Grant. The article is timely in that a week ago I mentioned in passing that Humphrey Bogart was "my favorite actor this side of Cary Grant." Kaufman, who references Pauline Kael's article in her column, attempts to get to the bottom of the same thing Kael was writing about above: how critical Grant's physical grace was to his success.
It's always there, in every role, in the way he walks, the way he slips a hand into his pocket, the way he stands, with his shoulders melting just a bit toward the co-star his character is invariably secretly in love with.

Kaufman also reference's David Thompson's quote about Grant being "the best and most important film actor in the history of the cinema." Yes. She also calls His Girl Friday "one of filmdom's most perfect creations", and I couldn't agree more. Grant's portrayal of the Walter Burns character in the movie is perhaps the finest comic performance in the history of the movies. Watch the first six minutes of this video to get a taste:

Finally, here are a couple of clips from later period, once Grant had transformed himself into the suave, sophisticated icon, the man every other man wanted to be, the man every woman wanted. The first is the famous kiss scene with Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, the second Grant's conversation with Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, two of the sexiest scenes in movie history:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Groundhog Day

Sometimes you post something at just the right time. In my previous post (scroll down) I mentioned that I considered Groundhog Day one of the best movies of all time. I backed up my assertion by referencing conversations I've had about the movie with my buddy Mike and then linking to Jonah Goldberg's homage to the movie at National Review.

Then, right on cue, the New York Times earlier this week published Stanley Fish's Ten Best American Movies and he includes Groundhog Day. Fish is some sort of post-modernist literary theorist so there was some talk between Jonah and Mark Steyn on The Corner about how non-post-modernist Fish's list was. Steyn mentions Fish's inclusion of Meet Me in St. Louis, about as corny (but wonderful) a movie as can be, as perhaps some sort of joke Fish was pulling on his readers. But is Fish any different from most people who make up these lists? How often do you find movies from the past ten or twenty years on these lists? Answer: rarely. Almost all of us go back to the past when we consider the movies we love best, which is pretty fair evidence that they don't make 'em like they used to. Fish may be a post-modernist but he knows an enjoyable movie when he sees one.

So what do I think of Fish's list? Not bad. We agree on Groundhog Day. Besides that, Fish includes a lot of very good movies, some great. The Best Years of Our Lives, Sunset Blvd., Shane, Meet Me in St. Louis and Red River are all very fine movies though I certainly wouldn't put them in my own top ten.

Raging Bull
I consider to be highly overrated. Certainly Scorcese's talents are fully on display here but is the movie really that enjoyable? I got much more enjoyment out of Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and Taxi Driver than Bull.

Vertigo is also a fine movie but Hitchcock probably did a dozen things better. Off the top of my head I think of The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent, Rebecca, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, and North By Northwest as being superior to Vertigo.

I've never seen A Tree Grows in Brooklyn so I can't comment on that.

That leaves Double Indemnity and here Fish is on to a real gem - I love this movie, film noir at its very best. If is not in my top ten then it is very close. Fred MacMurray is perfect and Barbara Stanwyck even more so - she is the femme fatale of all-time. What man would not follow her down to his doom? He may even know it's coming but oh what a ride. If you've never had the pleasure, see Double Indemnity. A clip from the movie of MacMurray and Stanwyck's first encounter to whet your whistle:

My own movie top ten list will be forthcoming. I know you await with bated breath.

Friday, January 2, 2009

We'll Always Have Paris

I'm reading a marvelously entertaining book by Aljean Harmetz, The Making of Casablanca:Bogart, Bergman, and World War II, another Christmas gift from my wife. For many years, if asked, I would claim my favorite movie of all time was The Godfather but lately I'm not so sure. I find Casablanca so compellingly watchable that any time I run across it on television I can't pull myself away. There are a few other movies like that, movies that I can watch any time with pleasure - The Shop Around the Corner, (which I mentioned in one of this blogs very early posts), It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday, Groundhog Day. "Groundhog Day", you say? Yes, Groundhog Day. For years my buddy Mike and I discussed and considered the movie as one of the all time greats. It was not just a great comedy, it was also a love story, a morality tale, and a story of redemption, all wrapped up inside a tremendously funny movie. Mike and I thought it was just the two of us who appreciated its greatness until Jonah Goldberg wrote this column in National Review a few years ago. Clearly it wasn't just us. Read Jonah's appreciation of the movie, then rent it and watch it again. One of the finest movies ever, certainly of the past twenty years. (Another of what I consider one of the best movies of the past twenty years that may surprise you: this one.)

But I think if at this point of my life I had to pick a single desert island movie, it would be "Casablanca." It's as near to a perfect movie as can be. It's full of humor, romance, and suspense. It has some of the most memorable lines in movie history, and it has the perfect ending - the cynical hero performing a selfless act for the greater good. He gives up the girl, and his cynicism, to rejoin the fight. And, of course, it has Bogart, my favorite actor this side of Cary Grant, and Ingrid Bergman, the most radiantly beautiful actress ever. She exuded both innocence and sensuality at the same time. She had a perfect face and a perfect voice. When she is on the screen it's impossible to take your eyes off her.

"The Making of Casablanca" is chock full of interesting nuggets. Ingrid Bergman would apparently fall in love with many of her on screen lovers during filming (though interestingly Bogart was not one of them.) The book claims she had over a dozen affairs with her costars or her directors. But her love only lasted until the filming was complete:
...she was happiest when the emotions she was feeling on screen could spill over into real life. Bergman's first husband, Petter Lindstrom, told a biographer that his wife worked best when she was in love with her costar or her director. Whether the love was chaste or carnal, it never lasted beyond the last scene. Of his affair with Bergman on Saratoga Trunk, a bemused Gary Cooper told one journalist, "In my whole life I never had a woman in love with me as Ingrid was. The day after the picture ended, I couldn't get her on the phone."

That story made me laugh out loud. The book contains dozens of other interesting and amusing stories about the making of the movie, the studio system and its workings, the actors and their off screen personalities and peculiarities (Bogart, for instance, was extremely difficult to get to know. While not a primadonna, he was a loner who would retreat to his trailer once a scene was complete. Bergman summed it up: "I kissed him, but I never knew him.")

At any rate, if you love the movie the book will entertain you. If you don't love the movie, well, what's wrong with you?

Here's that perfect ending:

UPDATE: Looks like the original video I posted is no longer available. Here's another version:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

New Year's Day, time to take down the Christmas tree. When it's over, it's over, and it's time to move on. I put on disk two of the Bing Crosby collection It's Easy To Remember, a Christmas gift from my bride, while I worked. The first song on the record is the title of this post and it made me smile and shake my head. A pretty appropriate song to see out 2008, don't you think? The worst part is that the song may also sum up 2009 and beyond. Economically, things are bad out there and there's not much good on the horizon. I don't see anything changing until at least the second half of the year and probably not even then. I'm a bit afraid we may be entering the start of a long period, measured in years, of little or no growth, with static, moribund economic conditions. Obama's economic stimulus package will stimulate little, just as its model, FDR's New Deal, didn't. Aah, but I won't get into ideological battles, not today. Like I argued over a year ago, conservatism is dead in this country and those of us who still adhere to its tenets are in the political wilderness. And that's okay. Life is not all about politics (God forbid) nor is it all about money. Time to concentrate on other things. If I'm going to start blogging again my conversation will concentrate less on politics and economics, more on the arts - books, plays, movies, television - and life in general.

Happy New Year to you. My mom got me this Jo Stafford collection for Christmas this year and it is simply outstanding. What a voice. Ms. Stafford, who passed from the scene earlier this year, enjoyed a long, successful career, though apparently was not as popular with the critics as the public. But the public was right. Her voice was gorgeous, rich and resonant, and she sang the songs straight, with impeccable phrasing. Few are the female vocalists who could deliver a romantic ballad like her. There are about 100 songs in this collection; here is just one example of what you'll get if you purchase this record, the finest version of "Long Ago and Far Away" I've ever heard: