Thursday, August 27, 2015

Some Kind of Hero


A 21st-century movie and television culture (The Golden Age) has basically adopted the following persona: "I'm smarter than you are. I'm more educated than you are. I dress better and have far better taste in music and movies. I'm cooler. My career is everything, plus I've memorized every episode of Game of Thrones. I'm on my second divorce and my kids are everything, except when they're not. I Twit, Kindle, and Kopi Luwak. And you don't" with no janitors, nor watchmen, salesmen, grocers, bus drivers, plumbers, mechanics, railroad clerks, pharmacists, cloth cutters, electricians, security guards, pipe fitters or painters in sight (or site) . . . all around us nothing but TV children of Reagan, a generation faced with no draft, no economic hardship if they play the game well enough (and Golden Age binge-addicts do nothing but play the game), no industrialization, no assassinations, no race or gender revolutions, and remote control drone-wars with no body bags allowed to be seen. . .

Yet there is David Simon, our hero. Better than that: our Balzac.

10

While we're at it. . .

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Be Afraid


David Cronenberg's The Fly was released twenty-nine years ago this month and seems to have been largely forgotten. (While other US movies of the period continue to receive attentions and accolades -- Hannah and Her Sisters, Platoon, Back to the Future, After Hours, friggin' Blue Velvet). Upon release it was generally (Kael, for once, got it right) dismissed as just another hi-tech remake and gross-out movie. It is instead one of the great works of art of the 1980s, a movie about separation and loneliness, fear of love and sex, fear of communion and hope. It is about Reaganism and what the 1980s did to our emotional culture. Consciously or not (we know Cronenberg's father died during production of a terrible cancer), the director seems to have sensed that we were taking a turn, that our hearts we're growing quieter, something of the best in human life was now going away forever; that what was public and communal would now be forced back into the darkness of privacy; from now on we would have to look more inward for satisfaction and understanding, through imposed hatred of all things public and the increased dominance of technology. Very hard to watch, it is a movie of overwhelming pain and sorrow and loss, with only three major speaking-parts in its almost 100 minutes.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is a genius scientist who works and lives in a warehouse on the dark side of the moon, his only companions his lab animals. At a science convention Brundle meets a magazine reporter (Geena Davis, Goldman’s soon-to-be-wife, of three years) who takes up the goofy and earnest man’s invitation to see something which will “change the world as we know it.” Indeed. We sense that Seth has tried this approach before, without much success. Since Ronnie (the reporter) hands over one of her silk stockings while flashing a memorable leg right quick after arriving at the warehouse, she must like him. Her first stance toward him, however, is a rather knowing condescension – until he demonstrates what will change their worlds: he “teleports” the silk stocking from one “telepod” to another (initially she calls them “designer phone booths”). She rushes back to her magazine’s editor-in-chief, a typical prick mediocrity perfectly played by John Getz. Seth is outraged, and he convinces her (and the editor) to wait. He offers to bring her with him, step-by-step, until he and his travel/space revolution is ready to launch; and in hopes she will along the way fall in love with him. She does. Almost from the moment she does, he (literally) begins to fall apart. And the rich red aroma of sorrow – embraced by Howard Shore’s Grunenwald-like score and captured by DP Mark Irwin’s Tintoretto darkness – descends like a mourning veil.

Brundle is a man who wants nothing more than to love, to be part of something other than his own mind. Something it is not in his nature, or destiny, for him to have. He follows his self-destruction and lonely descent into hell with purity and courage. He does not fight it. It is all he really knows. After successfully teleporting a lovely baboon (his first attempt was not), Ronnie suddenly leaves him – to finally rid herself of the prick boss/ex-boyfriend. Within moments of her leaving, Seth begins to fade, feel insecure, jealous, and possessive. He drinks, gets quickly drunk, and in a stupor decides to teleport himself before the pods are ready. Successfully, he believes.

Ronnie returns to him and they fall. At first, she makes him feel like a sexual superman. When we next see the couple in public, Seth is in full Yuppie regalia, turned into a would-be Don Johnson. He's now rocketing and she cannot keep up, she is too sexually square for this once and future shut-in. So he dumps her, after degrading her. “I don’t need you anymore! Never come back here!” He decides to prowl the streets and kick some Gentrification City ass. (Literally Toronto but a stand-in for Portland or Seattle or the Loop or some other pseudo-hipster shithole). After breaking an arm or two in half, he feels like the toughest stud in town.

Apart from Ronnie, his descent is fast, as he quickly becomes as physically repulsive as he must have feared he was his whole life. After a month, he asks her to return. He has been turned – like the failed attempt with the first baboon – inside/out, his fear and self-loathing now exposed for her to see. She has no choice but to turn away.

SETH
I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man,
and loved it. But now the dream is over,
and the insect is awake.

She shakes her head. But soon, Ronnie will plead with Getz to arrange an immediate abortion, words Seth will hear:

RONNIE
You should have seen him!
There could be anything in here,
in me, in my body. . .
I don’t want it in my body!

Penultimately, she is to kill his baby. Finally, he commits suicide by begging his loved one to murder him.

He also instructs her about Insect Politics:

SETH
Insects don't have politics.
They’re very brutal.
No compassion.
No compromise.
We can’t trust the insect.

A perfect description of our post-Reagan world, and never so anthropodic as in ObamaLand.

Only three characters speak for the movie’s first 50 minutes. (Five minor roles later include Cronenberg as Ronnie’s gynecologist, and a very nice and sexy turn by Joy Boushel as Seth’s bar pickup.) Getz is serviceable (and heroic at the end). Davis is beautiful and moving throughout. But the greatness of Jeff Goldblum is hard to describe, or compare. Not for a moment does he hide beneath the make-up or technology. Unlike his character, he is a man to the end.

BrundleFly is what we have become, what we have been forced to become. On our way to becoming what Seth is at the very end: part-human, part-heartless insect (or should that be iNsect?), part-thing. Be very afraid. . .

Thursday, August 20, 2015

1962!


A sultry Friday night at Sportsman's Park, June 8th, 1962. Juan Marichal vs. Bob Gibson. Harry Carey and Jack Buck. The best club in San Francisco Giants history (they were 40-17 at the start of the game) against a young up-and-coming Cardinals team that would win three pennants later in the decade. Funny and sweet radio spots. Lots of smoking and drinking and lots more good cheer.

They've been saying around here that Camelot was a myth. The heck it was.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Trump Flower

Monday, August 17, 2015

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Happy 89th, Comandante

"The fascists stop at nothing. They try to find the weak spot. They invent the most ridiculous lies. They try to create terror and unrest among the people by telling the most outrageous lies. Their appeal is always to the gutter instincts: hatred, fear, envy, racism, economic insecurity, selfishness, ignorance. They feed off of keeping people stupid. They resort to every method they can think of. And what do fascists do when their own institutions no longer guarantee their domination? How do they react when the mechanisms they've depended on historically to maintain their domination fail them? They simply go ahead and destroy those institutions, without a moment's look back. The fascists stop at nothing."

Monday, August 10, 2015

Noir ~ and How It Gets That Way


Per David Walsh and Joanne Laurer, at WSWS.

Perhaps the greatest noir of all:

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Movie Love in '38


"What the camera does, and does uniquely, is photograph thought." -- Orson Welles

Both star Hepburn and Grant. Both are monuments to Screwball ~ one earthbound, the other very much in the air. And both, even while allowing us to wallow in wealth, are anti-rich. Yet Holiday and Bringing Up Baby are as different as ground and vapor, as apart as consequence and anarchy.

By 1938, Roosevelt's time had passed. His Supreme Court packing plan had been routed by a US Senate overwhelmingly of his own party. The so-called Second New Deal was given up on before the fight even began. Because of a largely universal isolationism toward Europe and the Far East, the country and culture felt quiescent, even stagnant. The proletarian intensity, speed, blistering wit, and radicalism of the early and middle parts of the decade were gone, never to be seen or heard from again. The swooning Deco elegance and romanticism were also at low tide. The wheel had turned. In movies, fashion was now splashy appliqués, witch hats, snoods, turbans, Chinese peasant clothes. Present was the muted, almost embarrassed luxury of many settings: outdoors often, white and light-colored woods and fieldstone, with only now and then a glimpse of the streamlined urban glitter from the decade's past. There's a new obsession with psychoanalysis. The lighting is lower-key, the photography softer. Almost all of Baby is shot out of doors; it breathes of freshly turned earth. But there was no new Deco planting. This really was the end.

Bringing Up Baby is, in many ways, echt '38; Holiday a throw-back. The verbalized obsession in Holiday with Vested Interests and how they get that way, and how to escape them, is rare in late-30s American movies. Holiday's Nick Potter (Edward Everett Horton) and wife Susan Potter (Jean Dixon), best friends of Johnny Case (Grant), are dowdy Leftist academics, running off to Europe (in 1938!), while pining for the sentimental dreams of Roosevelt; they are trying to escape the approaching nightmare of history's on-coming night, inspired by a terror of the future as much as a revulsion toward the present. Grant's Johnny Case remains one of the strongest figures in Thirties movies because he is the voice, the passion and good humor, of everything in America which was defeated, idealistic, innocent, alienated, outside. He is a cry from the Thirties when Time was simple. He is the enemy of the slick Technique, the oiled gears and the superior generals of the oncoming Corporate armies. He is the plea of the bewildered who hunger for innocence again. He is what we have lost.

The two movies share things beyond their stars, more because of the pictures' time and genre than in particulars: smart dialogue, elegance, bounce, glamour, recognizable humans (mostly), grace, and a faith in transcendence and in how all things of the heart somehow work out. More specifically as well. Both are about a man who is eagerly engaged -- to the wrong woman. Both Johnny Case and Baby's Dr. David Huxley (Grant) earnestly ride the pre-nuptial rapids 'til the end. At the end, the pictures split. David Huxley is manipulated throughout by Susan Vance (Hepburn) so he will dump fiancée Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker). (Another difference. Baby is full of sexual innuendo, while Holiday remains sexless, as always with Cukor.) Yet it is Alice, once exposed to the mess of jungle cats, criminals, arrests, jails, and the losing of a $1,000,000 museum grant, who dumps David, forlorn about his dumping in the final scene. Johnny Case in Holiday is thrilled at the end, making us feel it was he who manipulated fiancée Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) into dumping him. Both movies give us the taste of riches beyond our dreams. Both give us the Manhattan of the late-1930s. And both are, despite an obsession with wealth, intensely apolitical.

The differences are enormous, as large as the space between the talents of directors George Cukor and Howard Hawks. Cukor in Holiday contributes little beyond the level of stage director, letting playwright Philip Barry dominate. (Barry's play had been filmed once before in 1930, nailed to the floor with little to recommend it.) Yet Cukor's minor genius, a beautiful way with actors against a master's touch which heightens the emotional tone of whatever time and place he's working with, is perhaps born with Holiday. He captures the post-New Deal loss of idealism and faith, with no idea what would be around the corner. All the actors, particularly the special Lew Ayres as brother Ned, are beyond Barry's types. And Grant. . . . Under Cukor's direction he is revealed in a way he is not in any other movie. While Grant in Baby is pure (perfect) performance, in Holiday he is often caught unawares, distracted and fretful, pondering what to do, always thinking, trying to keep it all together. (It is Johnny Case who is thinking, not Dr. David Huxley.) Johnny Case loves his freedom, it turns out, more than anything else. Grant gives us that in a magical, haunted, and healing way -- an embodiment of freedom itself, as Grant must have been in life (for he is the most intelligent of movie actors), second only in greatness to his C.K. Dexter-Haven of two years later, also under George Cukor. Cukor's limitations are here as well. For all his massive body of work, who was he? What did he think and feel about life, the world, his art? In service to material and actors when they were good, he was good, even at times great (The Marrying Kind, Grant in Philadelphia Story, A Star is Born, It Should Happen to You). Beyond that service, there is nothing. His movies are normally about couples, yet strangely sexless. And Cukor's service comes with a major flaw. He was way too kind to his leading ladies, most especially Hepburn, and not just in Holiday: Sylvia Scarlett, Philadelphia Story, most of her pairings with Tracy. ('Though the dreadful Woman of the Year must be pinned on George Stevens.) All the false notes in Holiday come from Hepburn's Linda Seton. Cukor gives her her head (in a way not present in the play or the 1930 version) and what we get at times -- all the times when the naturalizing genius of Grant is absent -- is artifice, archness, self-regard, and self-righteousness. Qualities not present under her directors in Stage Door, Alice Adams, or the lovely Quality Street.

Or under Howard Hawks. There isn't a single false note in Bringing Up Baby. How did this miracle movie happen? It feels to have exploded into existence one bright morning: there it is. While as Screwball (and screwy) as a picture could be, it is incomparable, unlike anything else in the genre. The craziness we experience is craziness erupting from its two lovers, David (Grant) and Susan (Hepburn). They aren't actually up against anything, not poverty or society, not family or community. (It is that rarest of Hawks masterpieces, a work without a bonding group.) No worries about health or position. The only force endangering David and Susan is time itself: the game ending, exhaustion, boredom, responsibility and consequence. Keeping them together, beyond their perfect romantic pitch, is a sweet leopard, a crazy dog, and a missing Brontosaurus bone. So why does Bringing Up Baby feel like the couple -- and the movie itself -- could jump the rails at any moment?

It is director Hawks's first great work. A dozen years into his career he was already a master, having made many unforgettable pictures, 'though mostly in parts: The Criminal Code, Today We Live, Louise Brooks in A Girl in Every Port, The Dawn Patrol, The Crowd Roars; all of them now feeling like sketches of greater works to come. Scarface is too butch and nasty, at times hysterically so. (How much can one take of Paul Muni?) Twentieth Century comes closest, as Barrymore and Lombard take flight. Yet the original Hecht/MacArthur play weighs it down. (Compared to His Girl Friday, what wouldn't feel heavy?) We can guess that Come and Get It, Hawks's work previous to Baby, would have been a full-blown masterpiece if the director had not walked off set, leaving it to William Wyler (and Sam Goldwyn) to blow it. It is the most tender of Hawks movies, Frances Farmer being perhaps the ultimate Hawks heroine.

Bringing Up Baby cannot be imagined outside the world of movies. It is Hawks's first full embrace of the art's magic, leading the way toward Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Red River, on and on. All magical atmospheres where life and death are equal, movement finding its way beyond good and evil, toward elation and transcendence. It is his most romantic movie, not perhaps in the content or thrust of its narrative (Big Sleep would be that), but in its total courtship of an artist with his art.

Money, and not the directors, is the great divide. Among other divisions, Holiday's look is flat with four-square framing, a refusal to glitter or glamourize a story which renounces money power. Baby hates money too, but not its front: the Ritz Plaza, country clubs, a Park Avenue penthouse, a Riverdale mansion, white-tie and tails, and Westlake, CT. How could it not glow and glisten? Until it doesn't. Once Susan Vance and David Huxley and leopard Baby and terrier George escape into the wilderness, the atmosphere becomes as dark and miasmic as Only Angels Have Wings. Sex, too. Holiday is Cukor-sexless. Bringing Up Baby begins with these lines:

ALICE SWALLOW
Shhhh. . . Dr. Huxley is thinking...

DAVID
(after a pause, holding up a dinosaur bone)
Alice, I think this one must belong in the tail.

ALICE
Nonsense. You tried it in the tail yesterday and it didn't fit.

DAVID
Oh yes, I did. Didn't I?

Holiday has the structure of what it was: a three-act play, occurring over three days. Christmas ('though strangely the only sign in the movie is the singing of "Come All Ye Faithful" in the Protestant cathedral. The Seton mausoleum is decorationless.) New Year's Eve. And a day in middle-January. Baby has all the structure of a windstorm. "The wind bloweth where it listeth. . ."

But money in '38 stays put, says the two pictures. Both tell us what Americans knew in their bones up until Reagan: 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, from two years before -- another Screwball masterpiece -- must've been more comforting to the slumming wealthy part of its audience.)

In Holiday, concerns are very real and very daily. For all of Grant's charm, grace, and joy, it remains low to the ground. It touches on the consequences of a money-rejected life, yet playwright Barry and director Cukor pull the gimp-string by having Johnny Case depart on his holiday only after a Wall Street gold strike. (Something to do with Seaboard National.) Johnny's wish to depart is heartfelt, but he runs off to Europe with his Red friends -- and with a huge wad in the bank. Holiday's solution is not confrontation and battle, but a greased escape.

A couple years later, Preston Sturges would create a more honest comedy about the horrors of unmoneyed life, with Christmas in July.



Like Holiday, Sturges's folks are obsessed with money. Unlike Holiday, no one in Christmas in July is defined by it. And there seems no way out. All definition in Holiday is shaped by one's attitude toward money. On one side we have father Edward Seton (Henry Kolker), fiancée Julia, and the noxious Seton Crams (Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes), who are very much for it. Johnny, Linda, Nick and Susan Potter, and baby brother Ned -- agin' it. It leaves us nowhere, on a moral or political level. But for Grant, who gives us everything.

Johnny Case is one of the key characters of classical Hollywood; and largely forgotten. His eyes in Holiday are far-seeing, haunted, engaged, melancholy. Case 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. His spirit is the polar opposite of all that is seen in Holiday as anti-life and anti-spirit: money, and those who have it. If Case hates the suffocations of riches and The Rich -- that's good enough, without consequence or solution. Holiday's most famous lines are: "Whenever I have a problem, whenever I feel a worry coming on, I ask myself: 'What would General Motors do?' Then I do the opposite." To view Holiday in an era in which the conspirators and Vested Interests Johnny seeks to rid himself of have completely won out, is a revolutionizing experience.


The anti-money world created by Howard Hawks in Baby is a strange one, with the local community normally the ballast of that world absent. How does one triumph over the money world? How does one immunize oneself against it? Escaping to a moneyless community as in Rio Bravo, Only Angels Have Wings, El Dorado, Red River, The Big Sky. Escaping through honor and professionalism: The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, Hatari. Finding the perfect partner: Twentieth Century, Angels, His Girl Friday, To Have and Have Not, Sleep, many others. Bringing Up Baby has no group. And Dr. David Huxley's lack of professionalism is the chief running gag of the movie, as he at last drops all pretense in order to escape the suffocations of his profession. In its place: joy, speed, silliness, having fun from dawn 'til dawn. Leading to what must become cheerful violence and cut-throat anarchy. There is madness in David and Susan's method, one that keeps the simmering dark side of what we see under control while we see it. Here there is lawlessness, talk of gas chambers, kidnappings, maulings, guns and jails and theft and murder. In the most astonishing moment in this whirlwind of astonishment, David barely restrains himself from strangling Susan, when she's at last gone too far. It is real. Beyond their beautiful bubble is little but danger and death.

Another scene surrounding a jungle cat hits it.



Hawks goes all the way. It is his greatness. When one goes all the way, in his world, the only survival is communal love, honor, professionalism, and the right partner.

Both movies begin with Cary Grant engaged to the wrong woman. In Holiday, with glee. Rather grimly, in Baby.



George Cukor filmed a Lake Placid scene he did not use, so we do not see Johnny Case meet the wrong girl in Holiday. We see David meet the right one in Bringing Up Baby.



Johnny's long-remembered reunion with Julia Seton, fiancée. Not a good start.



David Huxley's reunion, at the Ritz Plaza, with Susan Vance.



Johnny talks of hopes and dreams to Linda Seton, Julia's older sister. His real match.



Dr. David Huxley tells Susan Vance his hopes and dreams.



Johnny Case meets the enemy.



David meets his enemy, Susan's Aunt Elizabeth (the wonderful May Robson).



Holiday's dark side.



A glimpse into Baby's darkness.



To Linda Seton, Johnny shows his heart. And to his "fiancée" and future father-in-law. . .



David wins over Aunt Elizabeth -- and Major Applegate (Charles Ruggles), in his way.



Johnny and Linda come together, against conspiracies and Vested Interests.



In the midst of madness, Susan tells David she loves him.



Johnny Case says a final goodbye to a relieved Julia Seton.



Alice Swallow says goodbye to David.



Baby embodies the one force most dangerous to money: anarchy. Holiday, not at all. David and Susan's trip is the very holiday Johnny Case yearns for. At the end of Baby, David decides to try to make the holiday permanent. Not a chance. Even though Baby is the energy suppressed by all money, it is the consequence-free energy made possible by money. Hawks springs the trap. Dr. David Huxley is a determined Professional; Susan Vance's life is a workless one. How would it be possible for them to stay together for as long as a year, or even a month? Just as it's impossible to imagine Johnny Case and Linda Seton remaining together after a return from their European escape. But Johnny Case and Susan Vance keeping alive a madball world? You bet. And Dr. David Huxley would survive, not needing the Seton riches, a life with Linda Seton, as both take themselves and all around them very seriously.

Both pictures are tonic, both run riot over what is anti-life, over the forces now seen not only as the Paragons of the Earth but as the only Paragons possible. There Is No Alternative. Murderers of the Spirit, indeed. Forget confrontation. At last, Holiday and Bringing Up Baby are one:

Escape. 1939 is coming. . . .

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Greatest Sequence in Movie History?

The husband has tried to kill her. Worse, he has broken her heart.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dung

Chris Floyd.
We are living in a world gone through the looking glass when the most strident, unequivocal -- even scatological! -- denunciations of capitalism and its discontents are coming from … the Bishop of Rome. While Bernie Sanders pushes centrist notions as "radical" reforms and Britain's so-called Labour Party tries to recover from the defeat of Michael Dukakis -- sorry, Ed Milliband -- by kowtowing even more abjectly to corporate power (and demonizing the only leadership candidate not bending the knee to Big Money), Pope Francis is out there literally likening the capitalist system to shit.

Speaking in Ecuador at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a gathering of groups representing the poor, the dispossessed and others pushed to the wall -- or off the cliff -- by the Davos Dominionists who now hold sway over so much of the world, Francis said that behind the neoliberal economic order, "there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called 'the dung of the devil.'"

I don't suppose we'll be hearing anything like from Hillary at her next Wall Street fundraiser. Francis went on to give a perfect description of the system that our bipartisan transatlantic elites have done so much to impose on the world -- by force or, as in Greece, by blackmail. Thus saith Mr Bergoglio:

    "An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home."

The pope, introduced by Ecuadorean President Evo Morales (who was sporting a Che jacket), kept hammering at a slogan that he said must undergird a new economic order: "Land, Lodging and Labor," guaranteed for all. Lenin would be spinning in his grave (if Stalin hadn't mummified him) to hear the distinct echoes of the slogan he coined just about 100 years ago: "Land, Peace, Bread."

In September, Francis is heading to Washington, where John Boehner may now be re-thinking his plans for a gala "inauguration-like setting" for the Pope's speech to the joint houses of Congress. Barack Obama too might find it awkward when he recalls the pope's words in Ecuador about the kind of liberty-stripping, corporate-coddling trade pacts he and Boehner have been pushing so relentlessly. Francis called these treaties by their true name: “the new colonialism," which, like Old Cloot himself, takes many forms:

    "At times [the new colonialism] appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain 'free trade' treaties, and the imposition of measures of 'austerity' which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor." (Francis also apologized for the old colonialism in the “so-called conquest of Americas,” and for the Church’s part in the many evils committed against the indigenous peoples by the European invaders and their successors.)

To escape the capitalist dung we’re now mired in, Francis called for a "truly communitarian economy" where "human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life." All this, plus guaranteed "access to education, health care, new technologies, artistic and cultural manifestations, communications, sports and recreation."

Ordinary people controlling, er, the means of production and distribution? Guaranteed access to all available social goods? Perhaps the pope should have borrowed Morales’ jacket for the speech. But despite the rhetorical resonances, Francis is no Leninist. For one thing, Lenin would never have accepted the idea that the kind of wholesale transformation of society the pope is seeking could be accomplished without a revolutionary vanguard laying down the party line. Yet Francis concluded his call to action with a remarkable statement from someone who supposedly has a direct line from God on how the world should be ordered:

“Neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social reality or the proposal of solutions to contemporary issues. I dare say that no recipe exists. History is made by each generation as it follows in the footsteps of those preceding it, as it seeks its own path.”

This actually might be the most radical thing that Francis said in the speech, although it’s unlikely that he grasped the deeper implications of the remark. For, taken seriously and literally, it not only undermines the doctrine of papal infallibility but the authority of any ideology or belief system, religious or secular. It looks not to divine truth or the putative laws of history or economics, but to the creative — and always provisional, ever-changing  — attempts of imperfect human beings to make something better of the turbulence of existence they are thrown into. (This creativity would include, of course, proposed solutions to such “contemporary issues” as contraception, abortion, gay marriage and several other “social realities” on which Francis still holds hurtful, hidebound doctrine-shackled views.)

Francis called the workers and peasants in his audience “social poets,” creating new structures, new realities, in the ruins that “the world market” has made of their lives and their societies. They cheered, then gave him a miner’s helmet, which he promptly put on.

It was perhaps the most noble — and hopeful — headgear any pope has ever worn.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Say Hey?


This bizarre 1967 view of the greatest baseball player of all-time -- not counting Barry Bonds -- seems to have been put together by a circle-jerk composed of Roone Arledge, George Wallace, George Putnam, and Colonel Harland Sanders. Did Willie see the finished product? Did he know he was being set-up as the Good Patriotic Negro while the police and army burned down Newark, Detroit, Cleveland, and Hue? Well, at least we get the original commercials. . .



And at least we were spared this.


Dr. Hunter S. Thompson with some ideas on improving the game of baseball:
Hi, folks. My name is Thompson, and I don't have much space for this high-speed presentation, so let's get started and see how tight we can make it. My job is to devise a whole new set of rules and concepts to shorten the time it takes to play a game of Major League Baseball, or any other kind.

Everybody agrees that baseball games must be shortened, but nobody is really working on it ... Meanwhile, the games get longer and longer. The good old "meat in the seats" argument won't work after midnight, when the seats are mainly empty, and TV networks get nasty when they start having to refund money to advertisers when the ratings sink lower and lower. Pro wrestling and golf are bigger draws than baseball games ... I have not been to a live baseball game in 20 years, and I hope I never see another one. Not even the New Rules would drag me back to the ballpark -- but I am a Doctor of Wisdom, a professional man, and some of my friends in the business have asked me to have a look at this problem, which I have, and this is my solution, for good or ill. I am keenly aware of the angst and bitter squabbling that will erupt when somebody tries to screw with the National Pastime.... But it must be done, and if I don't do it somebody else will. So here's the plan.

ELIMINATE THE PITCHER: This will knock at least one hour off the length of a game, which is now up to 3:42. One World Series game took five hours and 20 minutes, which is unacceptable to everybody except the pitchers. Yes ... So we will ELIMINATE THE PITCHERS, and they won't be missed. Pitchers, as a group, are pampered little swine with too much money and no real effect on the game except to drag it out and interrupt the action.

LIMIT ALL GAMES TO THREE HOURS: Like football and basketball and hockey, the Baseball game will end at a fixed time. THE SCORE, at that moment, WILL BE FINAL, based on an accumulation of TOTAL BASES IN 3 hours.

ALL BASE-RUNNERS MAY RUN TO ANY BASE (but not backward) -- First to Third, Second to Home, etc. And with NO PITCHER in the game, this frantic scrambling across the infield will be Feasible and Tempting.

ALL "PITCHING", by the way, will be done by a fine-tuned PITCHING MACHINE that pops up out of the mound, delivers a remote-controlled "pitch" at the batter, and then drops back out of sight, to free up the whole infield for running. ... If a batter hits a home run with the bases loaded, for instance, his team will score 16 total bases (or 16 points). But, if it's 3 up and 3 down in an inning, that team will score Zero points.

Think of 22-5, perhaps, or 88-55. Yes sir, we will have huge scores and constant speedy action for three straight hours.

The heroes of the game will be CATCHERS, not Pitchers. The CATCHER will dominate the game and be the highest-paid player. ... With no pitcher and no mound to disrupt the flow, runners on base will be moving at the crack of the bat, and it will be the catcher's job to shut them down or pick them off whenever possible. Foot-speed and a bazooka throwing arm will be paramount. ... There will be no more of this bull about bullpens and managers scratching their heads on TV for hours on end, no more lame pick-off throws to first, no more waving off signs and agonized close-ups while pop fouls bounce off the roof.

No, there will be no such thing as a base on balls. Each batter will get five "pitches" from the robot -- only FIVE (5) and if he doesn't get a hit by then, he is out. ... And the CATCHER will control the kind of drop or curve or speed he wants the machine to throw. And it will obey.

Those damn pitching machines can put a slider past you at 98 miles an hour five times in a row, with no problem. They can throw hideous wavering knuckleballs and half-moon curves -- all depending and according to what the CATCHER wants to dial up on his remote-control unit. He can even order that the batter be whacked in the ribs by a 102-mph fastball, although that will cost his team TWO (2) bases, instead of one. And you won't want to have some poor Cuban drilled in the ribs when you're nursing a 31-30 lead.

OK, folks, that's it for now. I am already late, and I have written too many words -- but the concept is sound, I think, and there is a clear and desperate need for it. ...

Next spring ESPN will put my theories to the test by sponsoring a series of "New Rules" baseball games in New York, Chicago, Omaha and Seattle, among others. ...Tickets will be sold and big-time sports talent will be employed. The success or failure of these games will determine the fate of baseball in America.

Purists will bitch and whine, but so what? Purists will Always bitch and whine. That is their function.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wonderful Life


Chuck Workman's earnestly detailed and paced picture (2014) of the art and times of George Orson Welles includes all the basic points and people one would expect. (Surprise guests include "critic" Elvis Mitchell, Steven Spielberg ~ the idiot who spent $55,000 at auction for a phony Rosebud sled ~ on Citizen Kane, George Lucas on Touch of Evil, and some crone named Julie Taymor on God knows what...) Yes, a rather straight and narrow glimpse of one of the most baroque artists of the American Century. Welles's life was a wonderful and necessary one, filled with miracles. So, good enough.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Simpich


Bill Simpich is one of the bravest and brightest lights in the current constellation of Kennedy assassination researchers. His (free!) book -- State Secret -- is an investigative and interpretive masterpiece, one of the major works in the canon which not only names names but proves the naming as well. While I depart from Simpich's view of a very contained intelligence cadre taking out JFK (a conspiracy theory that smacks of pique as the primary murder motive rather than anything systemic or money-based), his detailing of the Mexico City heart-and-soul of the plot goes beyond anything we've had before: a thorough indictment of William Harvey, Richard Bissell, David Morales, Anne Goodpasture, Tracy Barnes, David Phillips, George Joannides and others deep enough to bring before any of the Hanging Judges in a true court of Heaven. If we had one.

Here, Bill Simpich indicts another member of the plot, more hands-on and closer to home: Dallas police captain W.R. Westbrook.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hot!

As stupid and pointless as is summer in New York. Still . . . a favorite.