Friday, September 23, 2016

Trane at 90

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Beyond Grace


In many ways, his speech at the United Nations, September 20, 1963, is a more radical moment than was the astonishment of American University, three months before. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty had been signed and was days away from Senate ratification. The Civil Rights Bill had been entered into the constipated corrupt halls of Congress; and the March on Washington had just been celebrated. Medgar Evers was dead. And children had died: four little girls in Birmingham, five days before; and the President's own prematurely born son, Patrick, in early August.


Here, Kennedy recognizes the State of Grace the world had entered in 1963, thanks to himself, to Nikita Khrushchev, to Pope John XXIII and other leaders. And how fragile that State was. He calls not for an end to the arms race, but for total worldwide disarmament. He calls for a newly established worldwide food distribution program, one particularly embracing poor children. Calls for the creation of organizations across borders providing health care, farm subsidies and equipment, science education and laboratories, for all in need. New laws and enforcement power preserving the beauties and health of our natural environment. And a new United Nations charter strengthening human and civil rights treaties and courts, proposing new laws and courts should conflicts arise not covered by existing measures.

Most stunning -- and self-destructive -- of all is his call for an end to the space race, for a unified effort to explore the stars, the planets, the moon -- and a ban on all outer space weapons and military-oriented satellites. This, combined with Kennedy's refusal to Americanize the war in Southeast Asia, would have cost the corporate/military/intelligence vampires trillions of dollars.

They wouldn't lose a dime, thanks to the greatest American mass murderer of the 20th Century -- and one of Kennedy's assassins -- Lyndon Johnson.

It is a celebration of hope, community, cooperation, and all we hold dear on our short journey from birth to death. "My fellow inhabitants of this planet. . . ."

My God, how far we've fallen. . .

Friday, September 16, 2016

Good and Blonde


The flip side of Holiday (1938). Here the rich are wacky, good-natured types, who only need to be taught how to act, by a butler who's secretly a fallen member of the ruling class. And who saves the day by a stock-deal too similar to Johnny Case's Seaboard coup. There, it blows everything up. Here, it makes everyone whole.

Ahh, so what? Lombard sweeps all before her.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Case


Johnny Case ~ one of the key characters from classical Hollywood, mostly forgotten. His eyes: far-seeing, haunted, engaged, melancholy. Case (and the man who played him) holds the secret of life, embodies the democratic nature of movies itself: joy, magic, movement, thought, energy, intelligence, luck, charm, grace, quality, hopes, dreams, and freedom.

In Holiday (1938), Case and his spirit are permanent polar opposites to all that is seen in the movie as anti-life and anti-spirit: money; and those who have it. Holiday reminds us what all Americans knew in their bones, until about 30 years ago: the American very rich are very stupid, humorless, in-bred pigs, capable of holding onto money and power only because of their single-minded opportunity and obsession to do so -- a brood that knows itself to be above others by right and beneath them in fact. (My Man Godfrey [1936] -- another great Depression comedy -- must've been more comforting to its slumming wealthy audience members.)

The story begins with Case -- proletarian and very temporary investment banker -- returning to New York City from a Lake Placid ski trip, where he has met the girl of his dreams. Visiting her home for the first time, he discovers she's the daughter of enormous wealth, living in a preposterously huge Fifth Avenue mansion.

(The hole in the movie is the wholly unbelievable notion that Case could fall in love with either Doris Nolan the actress or Julia Seton the character. Another hole is Katharine Hepburn. In a work of beautiful, understated performances, hers is often as artificial as it is righteous.)

Holiday revolves around Grant's magic, coming closer and closer, then drifting away. It begins on Christmas morning. (And we wonder: where are the decorations in this enormous house? 'Though we do see the family, sans Hepburn, attend Christmas morning mass.) Johnny's friends Nick and Susan (two classical 30s leftists, played by Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon) return him to himself -- when he is apart from them he is fretful and distracted. The negative attitudes shown toward Case on occasion by members of the Seton family or Seton family friends strike us as insane. Ned -- quietly played by the special Lew Ayres -- is someone we long to see brought in by Case, as comrade and brother-in-law: we know this will give him heart. Julia -- the intended -- will never take that heart, and so has no real use for Case. For the rich are naturally stunted, says the movie. Hepburn is already where she needs to be -- archly -- and how long could Johnny take her close-up, day-after-day? She already seems complete. The warmth and ardency of a young Lupino might've been a lovelier match. Or Ann Sheridan. . .

Seton Cram, played by Henry Daniell, seems to be playwright Philip Barry pouring it on. Yet aren't we now in a place of Seton Crams-on-steroids, runaway Crams draped in baggy Versace suits with washboard stomachs, carefully unkempt hair, tattoos and bee-stung lips? At one point Cram offers to help Johnny make his first million within a year: "It wouldn't take that long if we had the right sort of government." Ted Cruz couldn't have said it better.

And Grant to Hepburn: "There's a conspiracy against you and me, child. Vested interests. . ." Interests and conspirators who have completely won out.

Still, what a grand movie.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

State of Grace


She returns us to an age when Americans could look up to screen visions and ghosts with awe, wonder and appreciation. Unlike our own dreary marketeer non-cinema where almost all releases seem calculated to squash anything that might stir envy in the iron hearts of the narcissistic and the mediocre. After all, anyone can be Jennifers Aniston or Garner.

Who can be Kay Francis?

As a comedienne she was almost as great as Lombard. And sexy as hell. Her liquid voice is as languorous, warm, and dark -- dark as dark blood -- as are her movements. Her eyes are clear pools of light, reflecting how much love is coming toward her. Yet she was boxed in, mostly playing two types: a woman dying young; or an uptight Professional -- doctor, reporter, fashion editor, pilot(!) -- before her time. Or both. So her wit is mostly wasted. Within these types she is often the normal partner left for someone more exciting. Who would ever leave Kay Francis? (All nods to Lubitsch, but certainly not for Miriam Hopkins.) Besides Trouble in Paradise (1932), her only great film, she was rarely lucky with directors.  A (bad) Vidor, two with Borzage, several with Michael Curtiz. Otherwise, hacks.

Perhaps because she is echt Deco, she cannot be placed outside the 30s. She is too still and melancholy for screwball. And even her late 30s works -- such as Confession (1937), King of the Underworld (1939) and In Name Only (1939) -- how in the world can a movie with Grant, Lombard, and Francis be so dull? -- stiffen her up. Yet even there (most everywhere), when betrayed or spurned, she lapses into a sort of somber exclusion, away from the world, away from the movie, a curious communion with forces only she feels, a sort of mystic, dark state of grace. She is a miracle. There is no one else like her in movies.

* * *

We all know Trouble in Paradise, so let's look elsewhere. Tay Garnett's One Way Passage (1932) is a sort of pre-code, early talkie version of Tristan and Isolde, almost ruined by the non-comic antics of Frank McHugh. Almost. William Powell is a death row inmate recently escaped from San Quentin, at last caught up with in a Hong Kong bar, and incarcerated aboard a ship heading back to San Francisco. Kay Francis is on the ship, with her doctor; she is dying. Via some nice story turns -- and a moving subplot causing Powell's SF detective jailer (Warren Hymer) to also fall in love -- we are given Francis at her most ardent and beautiful. Strange and amorphous, she yearns through the trouble like a warm, glowing cloud blown in the middle of a storm. And Powell is worthy of her.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Forgotten

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What Were Their Names?


Their hopes? Their dreams? Their loves? Their mysteries?

WHAT WERE THEIR NAMES?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bred in the Bean


'Though the plot turns on a $25,000 contest prize -- big moola in 1940 Astoria, Queens -- no one in Preston Sturges's Christmas in July is defined in the least by money. They aren't defined at all. Milkmen, barbers, bakers, cops on the beat, working-class barmen and pool players, nurses, laundrymen, bootblacks, the kitchen help, taxi drivers (of the most non-Scorsesian sort). Salarymen and their secretary girlfriends. Radio announcers and company Presidents. If judged, judged by how good they are at keeping the craziness going. At times almost achingly tender toward the "poor," the movie's classes don't exist. Hardboiled and sweet-natured, here no one takes anything from anybody and no one means anyone any harm. (In this way would Sturges cover the class waterfront -- working here and in The Great McGinty, upper in The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story, middle in Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero, all three in Sullivan's.)

Dick Powell and Ellen Drew are the middling center of the Sturges whirlwind ~ dervishes captured and spun by Victor Milner's brilliant black-and-white (at times figures seem set in relief like reverse etchings on a silver pot) and Ellsworth Hoagland's blistering editing, in what seems like a race to steal the picture: Demarest as Bildocker, Pangborn the announcer (in such a warm and elegant radio studio), Alexander Carr as store owner Schindel, Harry Hayden as Mr. Waterbury, Ernest Truex as Baxter, and (the winnah!) Raymond Walburn as Dr. Maxford. ("Maxford House -- Grand to the Last Gulp") And Sturges lets the supporting players in on the game: Maxford's pretty secretary (Kay Stewart), Dick (Rod Cameron) the Baxter office wag who starts the plot (and who looks lots like John Candy's kid brother), the neighborhood cop (Frank Moran), Mr. Schmidt and Mrs. Schwartz, Sam the colored floor-sweep (Fred Toomes).

A 65-minute world of slogan contests in which everything happens. From 1940 -- an astonishing year for American movie comedy, on the cusp of world war: Christmas, His Girl Friday, The Great Dictator, My Favorite Wife, The Bank Dick, Philadelphia Story, Remember the Night, The Great McGinty, Shop Around the Corner.

And how 'bout that Davenola!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Spirit in the Sky

The Soul of Labor (and cigarettes), 1958.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Great Vibrations


Bobby Hutcherson passed on August 15th at the age of 75. Ken Laster with a beautiful 90-minute farewell (beginning at the 11:30 mark) to the supreme vibraphonist in all of jazz.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Programmed


Not at this radio station. Not then, not ever, as WKRP in Cincinnati -- cancelled by CBS after continued pressure from the Reaganoids and the Falwells -- went out with its bravest and most heartfelt season. This lovely and very funny episode from Christmas 1981 celebrates the days when radio disc jockeys were actually allowed to program their own music. Imagine that. . .

Monday, August 29, 2016

When We Were Men

Harlem, 1959

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vanished


The decade began with John Fitzgerald Kennedy; it ended with Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Yet -- compared to the political cesspool we're all drowning in today, a cesspool which has spat up the most loathsome and criminal candidates in United States history, the Presidential campaigns of those years clearly retain a connection between what Americans voted for and what they got. Yes, American politics even in the best of times was mostly a war among (usually hidden) elites, yet previously with enough cracks in the system to allow for true citizen influence. Now the cracks are all paved over, paving done by (among others) a Wall Street pimp and Drone Killer -- King of the Nowhere People -- who sucked many of us in eight years ago; or by a cranky gutless old man from Vermont, who conned many youngins throughout 2016. Now it is Endgame, the moment totalitarian corporatists have been moving toward since November 1980: a world with an absolute connection between wealth and political influence; a world with no connection between public needs and public policy. How tragic the American Democratic Experiment will soon result, less than 250 years after it began, in the most total of totalitarian states, one where the air we breathe, the water we drink, the hopes and dreams we have for our children will all be commodified. . .

But not then, not yet. Theodore H. White was the establishment's favorite political reporter during the 1960s, most certainly because none of his books mention 1950s culture and the sexualization of what was pretty neutral stuff pre-rock and pre-TV, nothing about the rise of the military-industrial-intelligence complex, nothing about the Dulles Brothers(et al), nothing about the vast nationalist movements across the world, nothing about the militarization of the society, nothing about the rise of the Western Cowboy economies (space, oil, weapons, big agriculture), nothing about class, nothing about capitalism itself or corporations (the words "capitalism / corporation" are not mentioned in any of his four books, totaling more than 2,000 pages!), and nothing about the slow takeover of media by the far right. His Making of the President series are fables about good men and bad men struggling to succeed in a system recognizable in the front pages of the New York Times, as well as from all elementary school books. As are the television documentaries made from White's volumes. . .

Produced by David Wolper, financed by Xerox, narrated by Martin Gabel, the movies are shadowless, from a time when the shadows were sometimes dominated by the light.


1960

1964

The Campaign.



The Democratic Convention's moving tribute to the removed leader.