Friday, March 22, 2019

White Heat


She is darkness, love, magic, passion, spirit, mystery, lustre, the sacred -- from a world where the blood has a different throb. And what is she (Simone Simon) tortured and finally murdered by? White bread efficiency and workload, Park Avenue psychoanalysis, the daily, the practical, the shadowless. She murders too: a preposterously rouĂ© analyst who sets up a secret rendezvous with her, but cannot come close to satisfying her lust. Irena’s refusal to sleep with Oliver (Kent Smith), her husband, is a blank space in the movie. For he is sexless (or gay), yet she seems to truly love him. Or perhaps it’s merely her fatigue toward being separate and alone. Her real tragedy. And ours ~ the literal driving lust out of the wind and out of the attic, out of all the lost primitive places.

Cat People (1942) is Jacques Tourneur’s first masterpiece and bears comparison to his greatest work, Out of the Past from five years later: Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is also destroyed by the pull between the darkness of Kathie (Jane Greer) and the bland safety of Ann (Virginia Huston). It was made during the fatal turn the culture took from the screwball gangster Berkeley 30s toward the Mrs. Miniver/Going My Way 40s, when Hollywood (with major, major exceptions) moved strongly toward Greer Garson and Gregory Peck, away from Cagney and Lombard. As the husband, his future wife (Curse of the Cat People), and the soon-to-be-devoured psychiatrist bloodlessly decide to put Irena away, so too did movies lock away the speed, joy, mad love, and wit that made them great, as we shifted into the ever monotonous and slowing Forties. (With major exceptions.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring is Here. . . I Hear

Courtesy of Bill Evans and filmmaker Javier Mayoral.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Jack

JFK in Ireland, the Spring of '63.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Conspiracy and Class Power

Dr. Michael Parenti from 20 years back.

Fresh as a daisy. . .

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Vinyl

WKRP in Cincinnati (1978 - 82) has been lost to us. A late-60s spirit fighting the crest of pre-Reaganism, the show premiered only weeks after the California passage of Proposition 13 -- the tolling bell of our Big Dark to come (a Big Dark now lasting over 40 years). Reagan would, literally, kill it. Episodes considered outrageous by members of The Administration caused complaints to be made personally to the always whorish Bill Paley. CBS immediately gave WKRP's skulduggery the ax.

And CBS is still giving it the ax. The first season DVD release was beheaded: "Music rights are too expensive" say the Viacom Vampires, especially for a politically progressive series set inside a small rock-and-roll radio station. Most songs were eliminated or replaced by synthesizer versions. Because of a fan boycott, there have been, and will be, no more releases. Good for the fans.

The Reaganistas went particularly bananas over "Who is Gordon Sims?" -- featuring the great Tim Reid. (Reid's strangled-in-its-crib masterpiece Frank's Place [1987 - 88] has also been disappeared due to "music clearance" issues.) Through the looking-glass: "Who is Gordon Sims?" is a peek into a moment when one could get and keep a job without feeling like the FBI was closing in.

(Due to some fine people on the internet, the episode is restored, complete, with original sound and songs.)

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Comfort

So let us celebrate our sure-to-be-snowy and frigid New York Spring with a beautiful episode from a perfectly beautiful first season. The show did shift over time. They lost and added too many characters. Mary Richards became too much of a (pre-)Yuppie. Too many boyfriends marched in and marched out. . .

But that's the future. This is where it began and the cheer, kindness and gentility of the first years seem to be from another dimension. A masterpiece of popular art, when it was great.

American pop culture was once as sweet and human as this? My gosh. . .

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Stop It!

Thank you, Paul. :-)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Unbuttoned


My original "True Heart" post from several years back should've included the PBS American Masters tribute from '05. The 2005 Bob isn't looking his best, but the show itself is very good.

Friday, February 22, 2019

True Heart


He was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1929 -- the second (and only son) of four (mostly) Irish-Catholic children. After stateside military service during the Korean War, he became an accountant, quit one year later. Then gave us this:



The first comedy album to hit Billboard's #1.

As Fred Astaire is the Mozart of American dance, Bob Newhart is the Astaire of American comedy. Dry, smooth, informal, light, perfect -- Newhart's is a comedy unpressured by extraneous events, by social hierarchy, by Attitude. Like Astaire, he was a master craftsman who required total control over his albums, television shows, and live appearances. His delivery is miraculously low-key, elegant, yet somehow omnipotent: he is the only one with pure moral clarity, the only one who sees the world as it truly is. This leaves him, of course, generally on the outside of the joke. But not always. . .

His first television series was called The Bob Newhart Show, one-hour of weekly variety that would win an Emmy and a Peabody, and would promptly be cancelled.



Following cancellation, he did a hysterical turn in Don Siegel's goofy Hell is for Heroes (1962).



A new variety show beckoned, The Entertainers in '64.



Then he got into some trouble, with Bob Newhart Faces Bob Newhart: for joking about giving birth, Adolf Hitler, and poodle poop. Oh how times have changed. . .



During our transition from the open vistas of '67 and '68 to Richard the Undertaker, Newhart appeared in Hot Millions (1968), Vincente Minnelli's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), Catch-22 (1970), and Norman Lear's flat comedy about cigarette smoking, Cold Turkey (1971).

Then came Dr. Bob Hartley. The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78) is as legendary and beloved as is the CBS Saturday night dream line-up it was part of: All in the Family (8:00pm), M*A*S*H (8:30), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (9:00), Bob (9:30), The Carol Burnett Show (10:00). (Saturday night? Wasn't the 70s the Swing Decade?) Among the group, it is the most unique and the least dated: laconic and shapely, it has none of the righteousness, nothing of the sweet tooth of its time. There are many brilliant episodes. Yet it is less great than its future competitor Newhart. There's a strange over-focus on professional status, a pre-Yuppie-ism years before that plague would infect us all. (Newhart's 80s greatness partly lies in its enchanted disgust with all things Yuppie.) And Suzanne Pleshette gives Newhart sex -- and that's a problem here. Again like Astaire, Bob Newhart's genius is apart from sex: self-contained and abstract, he needs a partner transparent, someone who can drape him (as does Rogers, as does Mary Frann) with the insides or outsides of the joke. The dark, passionate, and incomparable Pleshette is far from transparent.



One of the loveliest and funniest episodes of the 70s series holds Newhart's classical combination of grace, astonishment, and kindness in perfect balance. The final show of Season Four stars his good friend Tom Poston (as The Peeper), from February 1976.



Newhart (1982-90) is his masterpiece -- a sort of necromantic world where the dead are all dear oddballs and innkeeper Dick Louden a ghost apart. (How appropriate it would end as a dream.) Imagine the moments in Bringing Up Baby when Grant and Hepburn are led by leopard Baby into the midsummer's night of Connecticut -- with the heavy Hawks touch replaced by a gentler, kinder hand; and the bedroom communities of Connecticut turned into a Vermont of the mind. In Vermont Bob Newhart's surreal astonishments take flight apart from the weightiness of Chicago. Here the weather is magical, not restricting. There are no Bulls, Cubs, or Bears. No trains, elevators, or moo goo gai pan. There are woodsmen and bell-towers, the prettiest clown in the world and a runaway heiress. And it leaves him, and us, generous-hearted, without ballast. Here, we laugh with Newhart, never really at him, or at others, no matter how unknowing they might be. Despite his moral clarity, we never laugh from a height above, always at about the same level as the folks in the story. Everyone does indeed have their reasons.

Bob at the center on the outside looking in: "Co-Hostess Twinkie" from September 1986.



But sometimes, the world comes to him. From October '86, "Dick the Kid"



There were two more series in the 90s: Bob (1992-93), a 33-episode wonderment where Newhart plays a comic book creator working for a quadruply-merged company called AmCanTranConComCo (it is great and I so wish there were episodes available to show); and a real thud named George & Leo (1997-98) teaming him up with the ever-obnoxious Judd Hirsch(!).

We come full circle. In between the two failures, Newhart did an HBO special featuring his classic material, fresher than ever.



Beside Astaire, there is also something of Fitzgerald in Bob Newhart, a personal style which promises it would be sacrilege to give offense in a social situation, and in part the manner of Irish elegance: that a man must be caught dead before he takes himself seriously. It was Fitzgerald, after all, who first suggested that one could become the nicest man in the world. . .

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Betty

"Along Comes Betty": Art Blakey drums, Lee Morgan trumpet, Benny Golson tenor sax, Bobby Timmons piano, Jymie Merritt bass. From '58.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Moon and the Stars

Happy Valentine's Day to mine

Monday, February 11, 2019

Calvino

"The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and attention: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them love." -- Invisible Cities

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Importance of Being Earnest

Rick Nelson and the great James Burton.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Battling Wall Street


The best book yet written on John F. Kennedy's economic and domestic policies is Donald Gibson's Battling Wall Street. Out of print for 20 years and very hard to find, Progressive Press has just brought out a new edition (along with Gibson's superb sequel, The Kennedy Assassination Cover-Up). The book makes it clear: in the context of post-World War II US economic philosophy, JFK was a radical, a President who sought to circumvent the private money power by going beyond a Keynesian focus on demand by a dramatic industrial policy strengthening supply, not only within the United States but around the world as well -- a policy seeking to build-up national economies rather than destroying them, in order to retain a public / governmental control over each country's wealth. Post-Dallas, it moved entirely in the opposite direction, leading to the supranational world of vampire capital now destroying us all.

The great Len Osanic and Jim DiEugenio spoke with Donald Gibson for a brilliant 90 minutes. Grab the mp3 here.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Can You Forgive Her?


She is madly in love with him, like a schoolgirl, making things perfect for him in his absence ~ her place, his dinner, herself. He is, Devlin (Cary Grant), an American intelligence agent in the days before there was CIA. And he is her recruiter, down in Rio, against a postwar Nazi bund looking to acquire atomic secrets.

He is her torturer, now arriving with their first assignment.



Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is the beautiful daughter of a convicted Nazi traitor, a recent suicide cheating his life sentence. When we see her Miami life, she's surrounded by -- beyond the feral reporters and cops -- dumpy sexless middle-aged drunks and poop-a-doops. Enter Devlin. (We never learn his first name.) When we first see him, it's the back of his head we see. And we stay there throughout. For Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) is in the grip of Mr. Devlin's tortoruous, raging, ice-cold hatred (born of fear) of Alicia Huberman's sex. (A hate matched astonishingly by Ted Tetzlaff's sinister, silverplate photography.) The most engaged great actor we've had is estranged from all in Notorious, except his own burning. Grant's face does not light up once in the 102 minutes. His loathing of her has little to do with Alicia's father's past and all to do with the past of her scent, her body, skin and taste. His lust for her is overwhelming and petrifying. He has recordings of her and her father, recordings he uses to prove her "patriotism" and love for America. Actually, daggers to the heart, for she is already his; and Devlin has other recordings of her as well, of a different nature. Recordings of her bedroom, sofa and terrace, her bathroom. No wonder his look at her is hard from the beginning, before they have even met. All he thinks, he already knows . . . and when he reveals the recordings, he is delighted and diabolical. And when he tells her of her father's death, it's as if he's asking her to pass the salt. . .

Devlin is being driven mad by her, by his need to have it all, all of her, especially her past. Hitchcock makes it clear that he has had it from the start, much as Scottie has all of Madeleine / Judy a dozen years later in Vertigo. And, like Scottie, he is blind to it, so at each opportunity he does what he can to break her "tramp's heart." Yet the only other decent-looking man we see is Devlin's boss Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern) -- clearly no rival, even if others regularly remark on his good looks. Devlin sends Alicia on her way toward the physical embrace, and marriage, with the short, fey, unattractive Claude Rains as Alexander Sebastian. What if Sebastian had been a stud, a true threat to Devlin's game? A different picture all together. Perhaps a greater one too.

At the center is the crucified. Alicia is ripped apart by the sexual possessiveness and torment of three people -- Devlin, her dream man; Sebastian, her husband; and a figure straight out of Day of Wrath, Sebastian's mother (Leopoldine Konstantin).


When the turn of the screw comes, it is in the forms of a key, party champagne running low, and a wine bottle filled with uranium ore. Alicia is "saved" at the end -- but from what and especially toward what? In the midst of postwar triumphalism, Hitchcock presents a dead world, an ice-cold Cold War world where the weak and confused and relaxed are crushed. At the end, the "fat-headed guy, full of pain" does rescue her ~ temporarily overcoming his torture and sending his rival to sure death without a moment's look-back. Alicia Huberman's unavailability and physical possession by Sebastian distracts his torment. Yet the entire time Devlin is with her he treats her with contempt. Are we to believe the sadistic control he has over Alicia will not continue into and through a marriage? It is there before, all the way -- before she gives herself to another man as Devlin stands by, before she marries that man. Will it not be there going forward? As Alicia lived a childhood dominated and destroyed by an evil father, she will now perhaps live a marriage dominated and destroyed by a sinister husband. Even if he is Cary Grant.