Friday, October 31, 2014

Magic


The best Halloween (and stop-action) movie I know: beautiful, haunted, strange, creepy, sad, sweet, very funny, and very moving.

Happy Halloween!

Queen of My Heart

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dynasty!


Threeeeee!



MadBum!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Kind of Woman


I suppose for all of us -- boy, girl, straight, gay -- there's a moment in adolescence when we see an object, usually somebody we don't know, who crystallizes for us all the lust we have and makes it burning hot. It is a great moment, 'cause from then on we begin to understand what we're attracted to.

For me it happened on a Saturday afternoon in my parents' home, sometime around the age of 11 or 12. I was watching on TV, but not paying much attention to, a colorful 1950s musical called The Band Wagon. About 20 minutes into it, she entered. A Brunette Dream. Eyes like black diamonds, skin clear and golden, goddess-like. Hair jet-black and fine and smooth, glossy as a bird's wing. Long-stemmed, and wearing the sexiest shoes ever created, on the sexiest feet.

I began to pay attention. Toward the end of the movie, there was this -- and my boyhood was gone.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saviour

"I know there is a God -- and I see a storm coming;
 if He has a place for me, I believe that I am ready."
-- John F. Kennedy
He was the only one. The only one in the Administration who refused to attack the island. The only one who stood up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stood up to the rest of his National Security State (which wasn't his at all), stood up to the established media chorus calling for invasion and air strikes, stood up to the strategic coup being organized behind his back by one of his future killers, Lyndon Johnson. As we now know, the Cubans and Soviets had operational battlefield nukes which, if fired, would have taken out Miami, Washington DC, and New York City. Hence, the end of the world. At every turn, he refused confrontation. When the missiles and sites were discovered. When he ordered the blockade of Cuba, and the Soviet ships approached the quarantine line, he pulled that line back -- four times. When the Soviet tanker Bucharest, almost certainly not carrying any missiles or other armament, steamed toward the blockade line, he decided to let it proceed to Havana, again against all advice. Privately, Kennedy had begun to doubt the validity of the CIA photos, ostensibly proving the existence of the Soviet missiles. (CIA had doctored photos before, during the Bay of Pigs.) When Rudolf Anderson, Navy flier, was shot down in a National Security State covert operation directed against Kennedy by sending -- against direct White House orders -- a U-2 surveillance flight over the island at the hottest moment of the crisis, he kept the shoot down quiet until the crisis was over. "He chickened out again!" bellowed Air Force General Curtis LeMay. (A further anti-Kennedy covert op also involved a U-2: one just happened to "stray" low over Soviet territory, then was "rescued" by nuclear-armed F-102s back to base.)
"There was now the feeling that the noose was tightening on all of us, on Americans and Soviets and Cubans, on mankind, and that the bridges to escape were crumbling. But again the President pulled everyone back. . ." -- Robert Kennedy
When two letters arrived from Khrushchev -- the first agreeing to all United States demands, the second belligerent and escalatory -- Kennedy decided to proceed as if the second letter never arrived. (JFK would later agree, after the crisis was settled, to all the Soviets had asked for, in the second hard-line letter.) In the most dangerous moment in human history, when all force was on his side, he refused all force. As he whispered to his brother as the Joint Chiefs started clamoring for a first-strike against Moscow: "And we call ourselves the human race. . . I think of all the children in the world who have no idea what the United States or the Soviet Union even are. . . Well, better Red than dead."

Better Red than dead. Was this heard by anyone else? James Douglass:
For at least a decade, JFK’s favorite poem had been "Rendezvous" by Alan Seeger, an American poet killed in World War One. Kennedy recited "Rendezvous" to his wife Jacqueline in 1953 on their first night home in Hyannis after their honeymoon. She memorized the poem, and recited it back to him over the years. In the fall of 1963, Jackie taught the words of the poem to their five-year-old daughter, Caroline.

On the morning of October 5, 1963, President Kennedy met with his National Security Council in the Rose Garden of the White House. Caroline suddenly appeared by her father’s side, and she said she wanted to tell him something. He tried to divert her attention while the meeting continued, but Caroline persisted. The president smiled and turned his full attention to his daughter. He told her to go ahead. While the members of the National Security Council sat and watched, Caroline looked into her father’s eyes and said:
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath-
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
After Caroline said the poem’s final word, “rendezvous,” Kennedy’s national security advisers sat in stunned silence. One of them said later the bond between father and daughter was so deep “it was as if there was ‘an inner music’ he was trying to teach her.”

Henry Miller often wrote that each of us are placed here on earth in order to learn one lesson. We then move on. It is hard to appreciate John Fitzgerald Kennedy's life apart from its ending -- a manner of ending surely influenced by his actions during the Missile Crisis. Yet perhaps the miraculous singular purpose of his life was to save us all. For he did.

The Monday night, October 22nd, 1962 television address:



Many actors have played Jack Kennedy in movies and TV, on stage. None have captured the self-effacing, realistic, inner grace of the man. The decency. The isolation. The melancholy and fatalism. Here Bruce Greenwood does. Thirteen Days (2000) itself is merely in the deep end of the theatrically-released Movie of the Week genre and is nearly drowned by Kevin Costner's endless, insufferable presence. (He plays White House Chief of Staff Kenny O'Donnell who had little to do with the Crisis drama.) Greenwood makes it special. A remarkably intelligent actor who gives us the hardest of all things to capture on film: thought. And he embodies Kennedy as not only the center (despite Costner's suffocations); but also as target.



No one has appreciated John F. Kennedy more beautifully and profoundly than Catholic theologian James W. Douglass, in his masterpiece JFK and the Unspeakable and in continuing lectures. Here is Douglass at his most moving, Seattle, Washington, September 2008.



And a wonderful new documentary presented by the JFK Library showing what would have been, without President Kennedy: "Clouds Over Cuba"

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Giants Win the Pennant!

Again! Third time in Five years!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Are You an Acceptable?

The young Robert Vaughn sure hopes not, in a classic FKB from December of '56:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Tale of Three Cities


Los Angeles, California, United States of America. On the nights of August 9th and 10th, 1969, Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Tex Watson, and Leslie Van Houten brutally murder seven upscale Caucasians in the Benedict Canyon and Los Feliz sections of the city. Three months later, the five killers -- known as the Family -- are arrested and put on trial for their lives. The following year all are convicted and sentenced to death. The death sentences are commuted to life in prison without parole, due to the California Supreme Court's People v. Anderson decision invalidating all death sentences imposed in the state prior to 1972. Forty-five years later, Manson remains incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison; Tex Watson at Mule Creek State Prison; Patricia Krewinkel and Leslie Van Houten at the California Institute for Women at Frontera. At Frontera in 2009, Susan Atkins passed away of brain cancer.

My Lai and My Khe, Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam. On the day and night of March 16, 1968, in the peasant villages of My Lai and My Khe, over 500 men (mostly elderly), women, and children are killed and multilated; most of the women raped before death. The twenty-six murderers are part of an organization known as the United States Army -- more specifically Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, blah, blah. Only one of the killers serves any time, a Lieutenant by the name of William Calley. Calley's "punishment" is to be held under house arrest at Fort Benning, Georgia, pending appeal. Three years into his little vacation, Calley is pardoned by President Richard Milhous Nixon.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Word

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Acceptance, Forgiveness, and Love



Louis Prima. Joe Franklin. Cigarettes. The old. The accented. The poorly dressed. People with scars, moles, jowls, wigs. Bad noses. Bad hair. Delis. Plastic-covered furniture. Howard Johnson's. Colony Records. Lumpy bodies. Cigarettes. S&S cream-cheese cheesecakes and pecan pies. Cherry cheesecake. Heaps of corned beef and pastrami. Blood-soaked, untrimmed steaks. Cigarettes. OTB. Optimo. Cocktail waitresses. Smarm. Ventriloquists. Escape artists. Smiler's. Accordion music. Chain smokers. The dirty grease on groovy hamburgers. Cigarettes. Terrible (but funny) jokes: "I just saw a horrible accident. Two taxi cabs collided. Thirty Scotchmen were killed." The working class. Sweetness. Zest. Enjoyment. Life. Ways of caring. Earnestness. Devotion. Joy. The naive and the silly. The human range of New York City. The lost. The lonely and alone. The broken and crippled. Cigarettes.

Vanished. No, not vanished. Banned. From the public, cultural face of the Apple. Gone.

Woody Allen's 1984 valentine to the disappeared of New York City is his best and most moving work. And the funniest. His embrace of all we never see anymore -- the shunned -- is keyed to the tune of the true hearts: those who may be talentless and unsophisticated, mediocre and boorish, ugly and uncool. Doesn't matter, because all they do is heartfelt and self-forgetful. Toward them here is shown not a moment's camp, condescension, or cruelty. Here, they are celebrated. As are the great stand-ups from the time just before Allen hit it big: Corbett Monica, Sandy Baron, Jackie Gayle, Will Jordan -- from places like the Latin Quarter, the Copa, the China Doll.

Only caveat: Gordon Willis's inappropriately gloomy photography. Why not shoot it like this?



Of course, before and after Broadway Danny Rose, Allen's cinema gave / will give a strong push off-stage to the dear hearts. But this is his penance. This is his un-Manhattan.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October

If one would ask how the monumental can be tender, October in New York is the answer. The city then recalls us to the brutal and to the awesome. Her wood and asphalt and brick skin becomes luminous in any pale light ~ it also reflects the shadow of the rock: New York in such shadow on a sunny day, the glass of her eyes have the blue of the sea. Days and nights slow down, and people seem much readier to recognize others, before the Transfiguration of Christmas. New York October: when the magnificent blue sky glows like sapphire, after the sun sets. Streams and ponds and lakes of water flash blue. Great lines of silver-grey poplars rise and make avenues ~ or airy grey quadrangles ~ across the Park. Their top boughs are spangled with gold and green leaf. Sometimes gold and red, a patterning. A bigness ~ and nothing to repress the romantic spirit.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Impressions


September, 1963 -- McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums.

Tenor, John Coltrane, born 88 years ago today.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wanted for Treason (and Murder)

Why murder him? What did he? By what right? Who told you to?
-- Racine
Released to co-conspirator Lyndon Baines Johnson 50 years ago today: the Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy -- the Warren Report. A death gas in book form, the Report (more accurately titled the Dulles Report) attacked what wasn't destroyed of the American spirit by the Dealey Plaza gunmen of 11/22/63; and finished it off. The Report carried out its two functions superbly: 1) allowing Kennedy's murderers to go free and undetected; 2) making sure nothing public and governmental would ever be believed again, weakening public power and allowing private tyranny to take over all American life. A takeover now complete.

We turn again to documentarian Shane O'Sullivan. Here, O'Sullivan and researcher Douglas Horne expose the most gruesome element of the Warren/Dulles malignancy, the medical cover-up.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ghosts

I've never been much of a fan of Rod Serling and his original Twilight Zone. (Its contemporary genre sister One Step Beyond has always seemed more genuinely strange and mysterious and honest). There's a quality of over-literary slumming to most TZ episodes (the same feel I get from Herb Leonard's Naked City and Route 66 [George Maharis!] -- Method Museums both). Yet, from the position of hate and degradation we're all covered in by our current Commodity Culture, to deny the show's occasional greatness is absurd.

Episode number five was called "Walking Distance" -- premiering October 30, 1959 and starring the sadly forgotten Gig Young (who seems to have once lived in the Amberson mansion). Strange to say for a network TV show, but the greatness of "Walking Distance" is in its music -- perhaps the most moving ever written for a single episode of any series, by Bernard Herrmann, coming off of Vertigo and North by Northwest, and preparing for Psycho. An excess of love seems to come from the sound, a kind of abnegation and loneliness which speaks of what is tender and what is lost forever. Herrmann's music contains the ghost of tenderness itself. (And how much better the episode would be without Serling's nail-on-the-head narration.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Angels Flight


Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
-- Christina Rossetti, Remember

“There’s a new art in the world and this doctor’s starting a collection.” – Velda

That Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is a great American film, one of the greatest ever made, only a rash or foolish person will deny. While its greatness seems now to be generally recognized (contemporary critics of the 1950s all trashed it), the core of the greatness appears not to be. It is normally taken up by the Quentin Tarantino / Martin Scorsese types who embrace it as little more than director Aldrich, in this only his third big studio picture, sneering around with private eye / tough guy / sexy girl genre works of the post-WWII period: a meta P.I. movie. It is far beyond that. Kiss Me Deadly seeks to capture and does, via early-50s Los Angeles and the private eye and science fiction genres, a moment caught between a dying Deco / FDR culture -- a culture which intensified the individual while strengthening the community beyond -- and the cold technical Modernist world to come.

The movie is based on one of the better jobs done by the most popular hack writer of his time, Mickey Spillane. Erstwhile Mike Hammer picks up a hitchhiking girl on the highway, a lovely girl wearing nothing but a trench coat. After passing through police checkpoints, they are immediately hijacked, the girl killed, Hammer left for dead. It seems the girl (Berga Torn in the book, Christina Bailey in the movie) knows something very important and everyone wants to know what it is: the "Great What's It?" in the movie's words. Practically everyone (and in Robert Aldrich's original movie ending, everyone) winds up dead. The differences between the Spillane world and Aldrich's are enormous. In the movie, New York City becomes Los Angeles. Four-million dollars in heroin becomes a box of atomic energy. The Mafia becomes the Dulles Bros. national security state. Most important, Spillane's thematic vacuum becomes a work about one era dying and something sinister and incomprehensible struggling to be born.

Robert Aldrich is the anti-Carl Dreyer, in this work. Rather than stripping down all decor until one finds a purified essence, Aldrich floods the film with an excess of mid-50s urban Modernist detritus -- architectures, automobiles, ladies clothes; the interior designs of apartments, hospitals, business hallways -- making all of it seem radioactive, in what may be the first movie to be usefully called a film blanc. (Aldrich's 1955 follow-up The Big Knife would also qualify.) While at the same time -- in a vertigo of decoration -- placing us firmly in a destoyed and desiccating Los Angeles: Kaiser Hospital, born in the 30s, seemingly refurbished by Mark Rothko; sweet Nick's dumpy garage where he works on Mike's white '51 Jaguar, then his '50 MG convertible, and dies working on Hammer's '54 black Corvette; a zinc-white Calabasas gas staion: a haunted mansion on what was once called Hill Place: Bunker Hill, all of it, especially Angels Flight and the flophouse once home to Christina and her roommate Lily Carver; the Hillcrest Hotel; Club Pigalle; the Hollywood Athletic Club; Hotel Jalisco. All gone. Classical 20th-century Los Angeles, the L.A. of Raymond Chandler and Lew Archer, being destroyed as Kiss Me Deadly was being made, or soon after. In Aldrich's world, Mike Hammer seeks meaning and clarity, similar to Philip Marlowe in Chandler's "The Long Goodbye" from the same time, in a vanishing L.A. of the foreign, the frightened, the lost, the individual (while the authority figures all trying to hold it together -- and all authority here, "criminal" or "the law," are the same -- are interchangeable).

Into a normally muscular and artless genre (especially artless under the insanely butch hand of Spillane), here we are given the feminine and creative: poetry, opera, painting, ballet, sculpture, music both classical and jazz, writings. (Christina's stunning apartment inside the Bunker Hill dive is museum-like in her artworks and books and music. Quite a girl.) And the movies. Aldrich and director of photography Ernest Lazlo, from the glowing titles which move backward, as Mike's rocket-ship car (and Nat King Cole) moves him and Christina back into the past and toward the future simultaneously, a vertigo of time, an astonishing start to a movie (meaninglessly ripped-off by hack George Lucas to begin his Star Wars) -- from this opening every shot is strange, mysterious, beautiful, and unique. Throughout Aldrich intensifies Hammer's confusion and estrangement by intensifying the palette of his own form: extreme cuts and angles, dissolves and freezes and fades and his deep use of sound: the music and the soft protected sounds of homes and apartments, traffic noises always beyond the windows, Hammer's sorrowful wall answering-machine, echoing stone hallways and stairs, concrete sidewalks, the sounds of science and technology, the hollow under-furnished echoing of "Lily Carver's" terrible place. And Frank DeVol's overall score: Caruso, Chopin, Schubert, Johannes Brahms, his own. It is only extreme camera movement which Aldrich foregoes, as his main figure Hammer is frozen between Scylla and Charybdis.

Mike's journey -- movingly played in as beautiful a manner as it is brutal by Ralph Meeker -- is a despairing and failed one, however much he struts and smirks, however much he seems to have a magical power to get himself out of jams and to knock people out or to kill them. There's a greater magic against him, a State of anti-Grace, an occasion of sin. Mike's great love is for cars (and possibly for his sexy operative Velda) and yet most of the people he contacts die via car -- Christina Bailey, Nick the mechanic, boxer Lee Kawolsky, Nicholas Raymondo, the real Lily Carver. Those he touches who don't die by car, die anyway, including Velda and himself in Aldrich's original end-of-the-world ending. Mike Hammer stays tough and super confident, until he doesn't, until by the end he becomes a stunted wounded zombie -- dead too, in a way. Dead to all he knows.

Of all great movies, Kiss Me Deadly is perhaps the one that captures its moment in time the most deeply, beautifully, and mysteriously -- and most shocking: the most concretely. Until at the finish, when the Point Dume beach house explodes and the world ends, we are left with a giant, flaming, American Medusa unearthing her hideous face, freezing us -- as she had Mike throughout -- with an oracle of things to come.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forgotten

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy Anniversary!

To the U.S. War on the World!
Since  9/11, the United States government -- supported by a majority of the U.S. population -- has murdered:

1,000,000 Iraqis

200,000 Afghans

150,000 Syrians

80,000 Pakistanis

60,000 Libyans

10,000 Iranians

8,000 Yemenis

5,000 Somalis

Conservative figures all. And not counting those murdered by U.S. proxies (Israel, Ukraine, Georgia, Mexico, Columbia, Chechnya, the Phillippines, Indonesia). Also not counting "stateless" persons, foreign and domestic -- no doubt in the 10,000s -- who were just in the way or didn't pay the vig on time . . . or who died of broken hearts.

Current score: USA:          1,513,000
                        Evil Doers:        2,753

All right!!