Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Essential Cinema - 3


Jane Russell
Gilbert Rowland
Richard Egan
Lori Nelson

John Sturges

Walter Newman

Harry J. Wild A.S.C.

Two couples search for sunken gold in the Caribbean during the mid-1950s

Escapism. I suppose that once you graduated from Beach Blanket Bingo and started drinking rum and coke instead of Soda Pop Ricky's, you started watching films such as this. More of a travelogue for snow bound Midwesterners, it shows a lot of tropical settings and Jane Russell.

This isn't a great film, but it is an interesting window into the past. The primary reason for watching is Jane Russell. One of those actresses that could ooze a lot of sex appeal without taking off a lot of clothes. She captures the audience in any scene she is in. Richard Egan as her husband, is one of those 1950s stereotypical leading men, chiseled jaw, deep voice, good looking, rugged (probably gay). American virtue is on full display in this film. Love, honor, sharing, fairness, and no heavy plot twists or dark secrets. Everything is pretty much superficial.

By today's standards this isn't good film making. Whenever there is a reel change, there is noticeable fading at the ends and beginning of the film leader (bad film to digital transfer?). Often times there are tint or lighting changes in the same scene when there is an edit. I loved the yacht that serves as their base for scuba diving in the film. On the outside it is a small slope that could probably sleep four adults. But the interior shots of the boat show it to be as big as the Queen Mary with 10 foot high ceilings. There is a lot of travelogue footage of sailboats at sunset, and underwater scenes with bubbles and sharks, which take up about 1/4 of the film. An obligatory dance scene in a dance bar with a smokin hot Latin band. All the usual stuff to make the folks in Peoria wish they were somewhere else in November 1958. An interesting look back to a simpler time, when things weren't so complex.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Double Speak

The Good Old Boys

Tastes great
Less Filling
Its not food
Its engineering

The ketchup is shipped
in railway tank cars
The special sauce
in 55 gallon drums

Bells and whistles
Made in China
Someday, they
will buy them too.

We are safe
from terror
but can't defeat
what fostered it

50,000 miles
or 5 years
Its leased
You don't own it

The anxiety ratings
Today's body count
New virus
Details at 11

Brittany / Paris / Lindsay
Action figures
Leading by example
Your daughters someday

Its OK, Charge It!
That way
You'll pay

We want it bigger
We want if faster
no wonder
the rest hate us

You pay
for the packaging
and the distribution
not the contents

Send them back?
Hell No!
Who will mow the lawns
and pick the crops?

While savoring the juice
Ever wonder
where the meat
really comes from?

(An ode to our mass marketing culture. They tell you what you want, so they can make a profit.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Essential Cinema - 2

The Night of the Generals

Peter O'Toole
Omar Sharif
Tom Courtenay
Donald Pleasence
Joanna Petite
Charles Gray
Christopher Plummer

Anatole Litvak

Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn

Henri Decae

The murder of a polish prostitute in WWII Warsaw is traced to one of three Nazi Generals. A Nazi Intelligence Officer takes it upon himself to determine who the killer is.

There is something sexual and masochistic about Nazi regalia and the totalitarian aspect of Nazi occupation. As if a perverse and sadistic veil has fallen over society. These are Nazi Generals as tragic Shakespearean figures, caught in a web of power and deceit. This is war at the Board Room level, not in the trenches. Ego and power are at odds here, not tanks and planes. The major characters are all stereo types, the timid alcoholic, the anal retentive - closet homosexual, the manipulating power usurper, the truth seeking subordinate. This story could be placed in any setting where men wield great power, have no oversight and are burdened with dark unknowable secrets.

There is something about Peter O'Toole playing a mad Nazi general that is fascinating, and he does it pretty well. The cinematography is better than you would expect when viewed in its wide screen format. The plot does not have any confusing or misleading twists or turns and you can figure out the ending about 2/3 of the way through the film.

I am a stickler for accuracy in historic period pieces and this film does not get high marks in that regard. The vehicles are often times incorrect for the time, and none of the German officers even speak with a German accent, much less actually speak German. And it was a stretch to believe Omar Sharif as a German officer. But most of this can be overlooked by the fact that most of the players are first rate actors, and can pull off just about anything on film. Speaking of stretch, this film is over 2 hours long and probably could have benefited from a bit of editing. Overall an interesting work on the concept of power and secrets and how one can mask the other.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Artist

Stained Glass

I didn't know in the beginning
It all seemed scattered
No real structure
Paint cans and brushes

She changes her mind
So did Leonardo
and Michaelangelo
Painting over the mistakes

She never had the opportunity
Past lives, past loves
Repressed her
Like a seedling underfoot

When she realized
she had been released
She grew slowly
Took small steps

She transformed
a broken pipe
and shattered concrete
into a marble hall.

Bare windows
overlooking an alley
became Notre Dame
or a field of roses

Brick by brick
she rebuilt a house
with paint
and stencil

She wipes out the past
makes a new future
where beautiful things
cover the ugly

When someone this old
becomes a child again
it is a wonderful thing
to behold

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Essential Cinema - 1


Dan O'Herlihy
Walter Matthau
Frank Overton
Ed Binns
Fritz Weaver
Henry Fonda
Larry Hagman

Sidney Lumet

Walter Bernstein

Gerald Hirschfeld A.S.C.

A squadron of nuclear armed bombers is accidentally sent to destroy Moscow. The film centers around the deliberations of the politicians and military officers as they attempt to control the crisis and its potential ramifications.

Hard to envision in this day and age, but this film played toward the paranoia fostered by the cold war and the military industrial complex in the United States during the early 1960s. Taking the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to its limit. The film is dark and intense, with a minimum of special effects or military imagery. The age old struggle of good and evil, right and wrong, redemption and the ego are in full force here. The underlying message is one of technology getting away from its human controllers.

The film is well done and an acting tour de force for some of the cast. Henry Fonda, as the president, is a cross between Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Larry Hagman (before I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas) shows that he was a capable actor as the presidential translator. The Oscar here would have to go to Walter Matthau as the serious and calculating foreign policy professor who only sees opportunity in the incident and backs up his optimism with cool logic and projected death counts.

When it came out in the 60s, this film was considered subversive and anti-American for its portrayal of a military industrial system that had failed. It spread fear through the population that a nuclear attack could be considered an accident. As a backlash, Stanley Kubrick created the film "Dr. Strangelove" as a farcical black comedy with the same theme. All in all, a fascinating glimpse into a world that the youth of today (those under 30) have little understanding of. Back then, we were our own worst enemy and afraid of our own shadow.

Essential Cinema

Hurray for Hollywood (land)

I have this huge collection of film. Most of it is on LaserDisc, but there are other sources as well. Recently, I have been burning a lot of film to DVD from HBO and Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

I am not a big fan of the current crop of film from Hollywood. Ever since the expansion of mass media such as cable, satellite, VHS, DVD, Blockbuster and Netflix, films have become more of an everyday distraction and are no longer the hand crafted pieces of art that they once used to be.

In my ongoing attempt to not rail against the system but instead try and improve it (in some small way), I will be lighting this candle instead of cursing the darkness.

In an upcoming series of blogs called "Essential Cinema" I will be reviewing films. Not the new films that you pay $9 to see at your local multi-plex. These are films I have collected either because I know they are good, or because I am curious to see if they are good. Some I have seen numerous times, and some I haven't seen at all. But it is time to start sifting through the coal pile to find the diamonds in the rough.

I have learned from reading reviews by some friends on MySpace that it is best not to be long winded and over detailed about anything that you critic. So rest assured, these will be short blogs, direct and to the point. Hope you find them helpful.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Pump You Up!

Feel the burn...

I was watching some old Government films from the 1940s last week. I downloaded them from the Internet. You won't find these on any other media outlet like cable television or Blockbuster. No one watches them and quite frankly, no one wants you to. They show an America that doesn't exist anymore and it also shows things that they don't want you to know ever existed. The races were segregated, the government was all controlling and there wasn't any poverty or descent. It was a perfect world...on the surface. (See my other thoughts on our changing past in the blog Revisionist History.)

One of these short films celebrated the 1940 4th of July. It splashed a graphic across the screen to the sound of John Phillip Sousa.

Enjoy America, Land of the Free, Home of "Fair Play".

It sort of dawned on me, that "Home of the Brave" probably didn't come into vogue until after we whupped some ass in World War II. But it also sank in that this really wasn't the land of 'Fair Play' anymore.

While we still preach this ethic to our children and discuss it at cocktail parties, the truth is, no one plays fair anymore. You are considered a moron if you do. We preach safe sex and abstinence but the number of on-line prostitutes and clergymen groping little boys isn't diminishing. We continue to endorse the concept of American democracy, but even Republicans will tell you that George Bush 'bought' the White House, twice. (Read more of my ranting on this in the blog Don't Vote.)

Over the past few months we have been hit with this 1...2...3 punch of steroid / doping scandals. Barry Bonds is about to break the all time home run record in baseball, but should it really count? The Tour de France has seen leader after leader stripped of the Yellow Jersey and thrown off the tour for doping. Where I live there is a 'Federal' investigation of whether or not local Police and Firemen have been using illegal steroids. A pro-Wrestler (is there really such a thing?) goes into a psychotic rage after taking 5 times the recommended steroid dosage for over 6 months and murders his family over the weekend.

We still mouth the words that these people are 'cheating' and that this is a shameful thing to do.

Hold on a minute.

Is it?

In this society winning is everything. Sports, Business, Politics....are things we win at. We don't even give the losers a footnote. I can't even recall the name of the last person that lost the governors race in this state.

When you played baseball in the 1930s, it was for the love of the game and the fact that you could make a 'living' at it instead of working. You didn't have to grow up, you could be a kid until you were 30. Now, the 30 year olds are making over $50 million dollars a year. That is a bit more of a living than most of us make.

If the difference between being a minor league player who makes $35,000 a year and a Major League player that makes $135,000 a years is a needle with some testosterone in it, wouldn't you do it? Or would you settle for letting your kids go to public school and drive a beat up Volkswagen, instead of the Lexus?

If I call the police because there are three drunken transients sleeping in my back yard, I don't want Police Officer Limpet showing up in a squad car. I want the Incredible Hulk showing up with his buddies The Thing and Spiderman.

If I could pay $1500 for a pill that guaranteed me a 27% pay raise within the next year, would I be whipping out my credit card?

"Wait", the angel on my right shoulder is telling me the pill is illegal!

"After you swallow it, who is going to know?" says the little devil on my left shoulder.

Here, you take Visa, right?

Whether surviving in your job or excelling in your job performance, we are all looking for any edge we can get. Training and hard work is only going to get you so far.

I learned this in college. During my freshman year, I went out for the crew (rowing) team and made it. I worked out three times a day, ate right, ran 5 miles to the docks and back for practice. But regardless of how hard I worked out, there were other guys on the team that seldom worked out and had muscle mass twice mine. They didn't take steroids (we didn't have them back in the 70s). They were just luckier genetically. They were always going to be stronger or quicker than me. It was the luck of the draw. If I were going up against my old crew-mates in the real world, I know I could never beat them.....but with the little golden syringe I might stand a chance.

This is what any cop is going to think while driving through gang-land. That is what every second string corner-back thinks while trying to stay on the squad. The pressures on our society have made this a reality. Anything to get a head is acceptable. Playing fair and loosing, is just loosing. There really isn't any 'love of the game' anymore.

We have turned a corner in our evolution and are no longer willing to let nature make the decisions. The luck of the draw only gets you so far, best to have an ace up your sleeve. Or better yet....12 aces.

In our future, the young people of today will have a new concept of self worth and success. Breasts not big enough? get them enlarged! To fat?, gastric bypass! Not strong enough?, take this drug! Not smart enough....smoke this! Can't keep it up....try this little blue pill! Want to father a son instead of a daughter, rub this on your skin! want your boy to have blue eyes?, that will be another $100!!! (I have first hand knowledge of this, read my blog Scenes from a Marriage - Part 2 to find out why.)

Steroids, body enhancement, the human genome project, stem cell research, hair implants, botox, they are already here. The government might try and regulate them on 'moral' grounds, but that just means the research will be pushed off shore, where monetary gain has more sway than religious dogma.

Think of the ramifications. If you can choose the sex of your child, how many daughters will be born in India and China where women are considered second class citizens? If your enemy is twice as fast and twice as strong as your army, wouldn't you slip some human growth hormone into your troops k-rations? If a better figure, gets the handsome rich husband, isn't it a good investment?

We have moved past Darwin and Natural Selection. We are charting our own evolution into the future, without a compass. The coming master race won't be bred by the government. It will be created by those that have the money and the will to afford it. Barry Bonds isn't the cheater of the century, he is one of the pioneers of the new genetic age.