Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ten plus One (minus two)


We're told there are over 10,000 books, mostly or wholly, about the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy registered with the United States Library of Congress. Most are chum, illiterate or self-serving, off the point or below it, corrupt and venal, distracting or downright conspiratorial.

These are, in my opinion, the best eleven (with a coda). Meagher is the best place to start.


Accessories After the Fact (1967) by Sylvia Meagher

She was the first and remains in many ways the best and most comprehensive. Her fury at the flagrancy and incompetence (for this was an incompetent whitewash) of the Warren/Dulles/Hoover/LBJ cover-up -- and toward the whore mass media, a Sixties media whose bondage to Power was much weaker than our own -- burns through every page. Unlike most authors (good and swill) attracted to this topic, Meagher is a beautiful writer; and a great detective. Perhaps her best chapter is on the concoction known as the murder of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit. Not only does Meagher prove accused cop-killer Lee Harvey Oswald innocent, since not at the scene, but that Tippit's very strange movements before and after the assassination suggest that J.D. may have been offed by one of his own. A masterpiece getting more masterful through time, even though written only two years after release of the Warren Report and its 26 volumes of non-supporting evidence.


Six Seconds in Dallas (1967) by Dr. Josiah Thompson

The perfect early-stage companion to Meagher. Dispassionate and architectonic, Josiah Thompson takes us as far as anyone has toward knowing the (because of massive corruption and destruction of evidence and witnesses) unknowable: when and from where the Dealey Plaza shots came. With immense photographic and artwork detail, Six Seconds in Dallas proves the two shots from the front, one to JFK's throat, the other to his right temple; two shots from the rear, one to Kennedy's upper back, the second to the top right of his skull; a missed shot from behind, flying over the limousine, hitting a curbstone, and causing a chip which injured bystander James Tague; and a shot from behind traveling through Texas Governor John Connally (and unfortunately not killing him). Here, the Magic Bullet Theory is destroyed. The Single Bullet Theory is destroyed. And so is the Warren Commission's nonsensical time sequence. Thompson's amazing work was accomplished without access to a moving Zapruder film, the autopsy photos, or the Dallas police dictabelt recording of the shooting.


Conspiracy (1980) by Anthony Summers

The first major book written on the case after public release of the Z-film and the dreadful autopsy materials, and after completion of the post-Watergate investigations (the Rockefeller Commission, the Pike Committee, the Church Committee, the House Select Committee on Assassinations). Itself, it is a magnificent piece of investigative journalism, a trove of leads. Summers makes available to the general public for the first time: Rose Cheramie; the witnesses to the strange incident at Clinton, Louisiana during the summer of  '63; Lee Oswald working for Guy Bannister; David Atlee Phillips and David Morales; Oswald's curious route through Finland on his way to his Soviet "defection"; the impersonating of Oswald in Mexico City; the fake Secret Service agents behind the grassy knoll fence immediately after the shooting. Here, an Irish-born journalist does what no U.S. journalist dared to do, what no U.S. journalist would permit any colleague to even begin. However, one must emphasize the 1980 edition of the work. For tragically, Anthony Summers turned tail and became just another greasy pole climber, just another condescending defamer of serious researchers who reject the Lone Nut fairy tale. First in a 1994 eviscerating "update" of Conspiracy, now named (nonsensically) Not in Your Lifetime -- Summers climbing aboard the hate Oliver Stone / love Gerald Posner media gravy train. And last month Summers did it again, with a second downgrading "revision" -- again with the nitwit Not in Your Lifetime title -- in which he runs headlong into the dear arms of the Obamian corporate / media police state by bravely dumping on his own original research, on long-dead Jim Garrison, on long-irrelevant Mark Lane, on the ignored Joan Mellen, and on everyone else who has anything to do with anti-Establishment action or thought. No rebel he, is sniffy Summers. Anthony Summers, he dead. Conspiracy (1980) lives on.


On the Trail of the Assassins (1988) by Jim Garrison

The great American patriot and district attorney tells of his breaking of the case, of his trial and investigative innocence and incompetence, of his own destruction by FBI, CIA, Johnson Administration, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and his aides, television and newspaper media, and the cracker establishment of Louisiana. Garrison was not only a great patriot, but an elegant writer and storyteller. And a very funny one.


Spy Saga (1990) by Philip Melanson

A micro-view of the assassination. Actually, not about the assassination at all. Philip Melanson takes the dribs and drabs given to us by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, fills in many gaps through his own sleuthing and forensic genius, and gives us a Lee Harvey Oswald as an operative who was never really allowed to come in from the cold. Under Melanson, Oswald was recruited by military intelligence while in the Pacific as a Marine (perhaps even earlier courtesy of Civil Air Patrol leader David Ferrie), taught Russian at CIA's Monterey School of Languages, sent to the Soviet Union in 1959 as a false defector, brought back to the States (now with a Russian wife) in '62, and used as a "dangle" in up to a half-dozen covert ops in Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico City (mail order gun sales, anti- and pro-Castro infiltration, voter registration drives, Communist Party USA) until his ultimate dangling in Dealey Plaza on 11/22/63. An astonishing read of very scanty (and withheld and destroyed) evidence.


Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (1993) by Peter Dale Scott

Looking through the other end of the telescope from Phil Melanson, our greatest political historian maps Dallas with a macro-coverage, using much the same method: Scott links small pieces of evidence through an economic, political, and criminal labyrinth most of us could not begin to fathom; for what we are used to seeing, trained to see from birth, is the public state, the public economy, and a concept of crime embraced by everything from Batman to Dragnet, from Columbo to The Wire. What Scott brings to life here is what he calls the Deep State, a malignancy which was nascent throughout the 1940s and 1950s, what was fully born on 11/22/63, and what has since swallowed the public state whole: a parallel international secret power system, composed of mafias, private corporations, military cadres, intelligence and security and police apparatus; financed by drugs, stolen government dollars (the 2008 "bank bailout" being the largest and most historic example), corporate funding; engaging in illicit violence to protect the status and interests of the powerful. In Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, Dallas is the template, a template which since '63 has suffocated us all. Honore de Balzac was the greatest of all conspiracy theorists. Among modern English language historians, Peter Dale Scott comes the closest to him. A dense, sometimes opaque book not for the faint-hearted.


The Last Investigation (1993) by Gaeton Fonzi

Alas, it would be so. Gaeton Fonzi was lead investigator for the hopeful, degraded, hijacked, yet still valuable House Select Committee on Assassinations (1976-79), a committee whose final report would point to more than one shooter firing at the Dallas motorcade. Under enormously difficult conditions -- funding cut by Congressional reactionaries and intelligence stooges; blasphemed by the press; cut-off at the knees by feuding staffers (some of whom were double agents) -- Fonzi was a miner finding much golden ore. It was he who discovered the key witness (Antonio Veciana) linking patsy Oswald to Kennedy assassination ringleader David Atlee Phillips; linking Phillips to CIA / JMWAVE Miami station chief David Sanchez Morales (Morales would also participate in the CIA execution of Che Guevara in Bolivia four years after Dallas, a fascist murderer for all seasons); Fonzi would nail George DeMohrenschildt, Oswald's Texas handler, to the wall, until DeMohrenschildt's untimely death, the day before a crucial interview with Fonzi. For it is death which destroyed the Last Investigation. Beyond DeMohrenschildt, there are the murders of Jimmy Hoffa, Sam Giancana, John Rosselli, top FBI administrator William C. Sullivan (supposedly shot when someone mistook him for a deer), Rolando Masferrer, Charles Nicoletti, Carlos Prio, Sheffield Edwards, William Harvey, David Morales, William Pawley, Thomas Karamessines, John Paisley: all murdered during HSCA's time, rivers of mid-70s blood, the glue holding together the fetid deep state system while it tottered. And my how it worked, leading to the Reagan Restoration -- and beyond. But not only blood. As Gaeton Fonzi tells it, one man castrated the HSCA from within: corrupt legal bagman, and Chief Counsel, G. Robert Blakey. It was Blakey who made sure all pointed toward Oswald, or the Mob (same distraction); all pointed away from CIA. Richard Sprague -- lion-hearted, unimpeachable, incorruptible, fearless Philadelphia D.A. Richard Sprague and his Chief Investigator Bob Tannenbaum were originally put in charge, before Blakey. Sprague was character assassinated  by the intelligence media, then fired. Tannenbaum quit. Leaving the HSCA to the stinking fixer Blakey. Gaeton Fonzi, a blessing, a hero, stayed on, giving us this brave, grand book.


Breach of Trust (2005) by Gerald McKnight

Professor McKnight's inside/outside investigative history is the first major work of the new century and it is the finest picture we have of what the Warren Commission truly was: a funnel for every piece of distortion, misrepresentation, false witness, suppressed witness, crime lab fakery, photographic fakery, autopsy fakery, ballistics fakery, Ivy League shyster and cover-up artist, ideological distortion, personality distraction, and psychobabble necessary to paint the Lone Nut fairy tale portrait -- composed, perhaps most disturbing, against a faux mournful tribute to the late President. McKnight makes clear: three men ran the Oswald Star Chamber, none of them named Warren: Kennedy assassin Allen Dulles, accessory-after-the-fact J. Edgar Hoover, and chief beneficiary of the crime Lyndon Baines Johnson. This is our J'Accuse!


Brothers (2006) by David Talbot

The most beautifully written, most passionate, and probably the saddest of all the books in the canon; rejecting all irony, camp, narcissism, deconstructionism, moral relativism, nihilism, sexual prurience and other malignancies of our time. John and Robert Kennedy were heroes. They were murdered by evil men. End of story. Talbot takes the top off the cesspool of enemies who brought down the US Government in 1963 and murdered the leading Presidential candidate of 1968. Who were the enemies? Sex haters, race haters, America-Firsters, oil junkies, mob guys, fascist intelligence agents, military dictators, tweed-covered garbage such as Dick Helms and Des FitzGerald, right-wing publishers and editors, drug executioners, psychopathic politicians, Goldwaterites. And that's the horror of the book. Fifty years later, what is left on a popular or establishment level of the idea that society and government must be judged by the way the weakest and most vulnerable among us are taken care of? The answer is: nothing. There is nothing left of that. Which is why the sense of doom and sorrow one takes from Brothers will be long lasting. The worst of our history murdered the best and got away with it. Scott free. Not only did they get away with it, but they've created the sort of society diametrically opposed to everything JFK and RFK stood for: a country where the least human and most nakedly aggressive dominate everything. This was the newer world others' sought. Born from the gore of Dealey Plaza, they've achieved it. For a bracing and deeply moving reminder of what was lost, one cannot do better than David Talbot's magnificent book.


JFK and the Unspeakable (2007) by James Douglass

If Talbot's Brothers is a tributary hymn-of-despair, Jim Douglass's JFK and the Unspeakable is also a hymn, in a way a companion piece to the Talbot book. But Douglass's sound is a hymn of belief, hope, and transcendence. In Kennedy's murder by the forces of the Unspeakable, a contemporary crucifixion, Douglass sees meaning beyond the resulting Vietnam genocide, beyond the takeover of our society by back-stabbers, soul-crushers and ghouls, beyond the shifting of cultural meaning toward something hideously empty and narcissistic -- meaning in the symbol of a man willing to die for his beliefs, for his (in Douglass's term) "turning." One can argue with this, for at the heart of Douglass's profoundly spiritual argument, there is something anti-political. Rather than view John Kennedy's murder as a political and economic act by men who saw themselves only in those terms, we experience it through Douglass's writing as a modern day Stations of the Cross. First Station: Kennedy refuses war with Laos. Second Station: Kennedy refuses invasion and air attacks during the Bay of Pigs; Third Station: Berlin Wall goes up, Kennedy lets it stand. Etc. It is an agony, as we follow Kennedy's turning and his movement toward the Golgotha of Dallas. So what do we do? Much can be said for acceptance and a belief in transcendence, a belief in Grace. But as Jack Kennedy said: "Here on earth, God's work must truly be our own." Do we let this crucifixion stand? Do we accept the vampires now in almost total control? Do we take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them? Can they ever be ended here on earth? Do we let Catholicism be defined by Hitler-Jugend Joseph Ratzinger and his successor, men who led the war against Liberation Theology? Do we let Christianity be defined by Tim LaHaye and his life-haters? Such questions. That JFK and the Unspeakable forces us to ask them marks the Douglass book as a rare and beautiful masterpiece, one to go back to many times through the years.


Into the Nightmare (2013) by Joseph McBride

Amid the cascade of assassination books covering us this 50th Anniversary season, Joe McBride's is the best. This journey by one of our great film critics (works on Hawks, Ford, Capra, Spielberg, several on Welles) begins with his role as a 12-year-old volunteer during JFK's run in the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic primary. (Kennedy's state chairman was McBride's mother.) We follow the author through the agony of Dallas, his belief -- as a patriotic anti-Communist Irish-Catholic teenager -- in the bona fides of the Warren Report, his transformations -- via Vietnam, race riots, the murders of Malcolm / King / RFK, and Watergate -- into something very different, to his search for the truth of the day (as Norman Mailer wrote) the post-modern world was born. And what a start to the search: it was McBride in a 1988 Nation magazine piece who exposed then Vice President George H.W. Bush, then running against sap Michael Dukakis, as a CIA enforcer from way back, beginning in the late-1950s, and who was up to his preppie neck in the Texas intrigues of November '63. The most valuable and astonishing parts of Into the Nightmare are the very fresh and convincing sections concerning officer J.D. Tippit. Rather than the unknowable dumb cop who just happened to get in homicidal Marxist maniac Lee Harvey Oswald's way during his escape from Dealey Plaza, Joe McBride makes Jefferson Davis Tippit well known: as part of the plot to kill Kennedy, Tippit's role was to track down Oswald immediately after the ambush and gun him down, before arrest, before Oswald had any chance to declare himself a patsy. He also suggests that Tippit -- a crack shot -- may have been one of the gunmen in Dealey Plaza. A beautiful and stunning book, with rare photographs, streets maps, and analysis.

*
Other necessary titles: Jim DiEugenio's Destiny Betrayed (second edition) and Reclaiming Parkland; Jefferson Morley's Our Man in Mexico; Joan Mellen's Farewell to Justice; Robert Tannenbaum's Corruption of Blood; Cover Up by Gary Shaw; Harvey and Lee by John Armstrong; The Assassination Tapes by George O'Toole; Crime of the Century by Michael Kurtz; Don Thomas's Hear No Evil; The Man Who Knew Too Much by Dick Russell; Pat Speer's web work; Girl on the Stairs by Barry Ernest; Oswald in New Orleans by Harold Weisberg; Mark Lane's Last Word; John Newman's Oswald and the CIA.

*
Finally, two keystones from the Land of Fakery edifice.

Vince Bugliosi's Reclaiming History is a 3,000 page monument to True Believing in Official Fairy Tales. Unlike 90% of Reclaiming History commentators, I've actually read all 1,700 text pages, 1,000 pages of endnotes (outstanding endnotes), hundreds of source note pages, plus two photo sections. You must hand it to Mr. Bugliosi: he is the Joan of Arc of this event. Regardless of POV -- and of course his POV is to basically suffocate and de-mystify the mysterious -- one cannot but admire his passion and hard work. And, he is a very funny writer. His various descriptions of Oswald the Cheapskate, Oswald the Potential Jet Hijacker ("jumping around the house in his underwear, preparing athletically for the hijacking, only caused baby June to think he was playing with her"), Marina the Sex Maniac, Marguerite the Harpie (and the Sex Maniac). His best humor (and his nastiest spite) is left for the real chuckleheads in the research community: the pathetic Robert Groden, the hapless photo expert Jack White, Mark Lane's endless self-promotion etc. But the fatal problem with the book is its boy scout level worship of everything official. Bugliosi discredits most everything he writes because from early on we see that his prism is exactly what one would expect from an establishment-based former D.A. So the book is a valentine to the honor of Gerald Ford, Earl Warren, Allen Dulles, David Belin, Arlen Specter, Henry Wade(!), Jesse Curry, Will Fritz, J.Edgar Hoover(!!), every member of the Dallas Police Department (except Roger Craig), every member of the FBI, every member of the Clark Panel/Rockefeller Commission/HSCA/ARRB, every member of the Secret Service (except Abraham Bolden), every member of the mainstream media circa 1963-64, the Bethesda autopsy doctors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dick Helms and James Angleton, those fine patriots David Phillips, David Morales, and Guy Bannister, plus every official crime lab Vince could think of. How touching. (Or as Vinnie would write, "my, my.") My-my indeed. What sort of world does Bugliosi live in? Are we really supposed to take on faith -- which is what one must do to accept much of the evidence he provides -- the honor of people involved in investigating such a history-changing event? Yes, we are. There must be a 1,000 instances in the text and endnotes along the lines of: "What kind of loonie-bird could believe [fill-in-the-blank] would jeopardize his life/career/reputation/freedom by covering up murder?" Well, where do we start? Sadly, the history of the world is one long continuing account of people in power doing exactly that in order to remain in power, exactly to keep their reputations/freedoms/careers. If a bunch of cheap Ivy League (and oh my how VB loves the Ivy League!) legal hustlers trying to make their bones are faced with the challenge of covering up a crime which if exposed would crack in two the very establishment they wish to enter and dominate, and if there is already plenty of proof that being offered that gig and turning it down for some kind of pusillanimous and righteous reason may lead to harmful effects (Ruby/Oswald being Exhibit A), the really confusing and naive conclusion would be to assume the hustlers would not grab for the brass ring. And to assume some sort of holy righteousness on the part of the apparatchiks who made up the Warren Commission, a personal morality that would lead John McCloy to stand up and say "Hey, Mr. Chief Justice. This stinks. And the odor is coming from my pal James Angleton's death-squad offices down at Langley, and from our Mexico City Station" -- to quote the great philosopher Michael Corleone: "Who's being naive, Vince?" If only the world and the powerful were that way. We know they are not. And surely former D.A. Bugliosi knows they are not. So one wonders what private ghosts he is trying to exorcise with this book. He's a brilliant man with a great sense of humor -- he can't possibly believe in the automatic honor of these people, can he? Is he trying to convince himself in a late stage of life that everything he did in service to establishment power was not so much sound and fury, signifying nothing? Is Mr. Bugliosi trying to make up for not becoming a revolutionary? Is he trying to avoid the same feeling Dave "Maurice Bishop" Phillips felt on his death bed, when he confessed to his estranged brother that "Yes" he was in Dallas on 11/22/63? -- the kind of feeling one gets when one looks toward eternity? I believe Mr. Bugliosi is -- unlike practically all members of great power elites -- an honorable man. There is no way someone creates this sort of work for the money. And it is heroic how far he went with his obsession. (In medieval times, like his role model Joan of Arc, he would've been burned at the stake.) An honorable book, however deranged.

No honor in the other, more typical, keystone. For it is something normally found in a dung heap. For thirty years, Norman Kingsley Mailer blew the trumpet of JFK assassination conspiracy, generally pointing his noise toward CIA, the military, and LBJ. As the 80s turned to the 90s, as Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone commandeered the discussions concerning how Power in America really works, and as Mailer married his 8th wife while his 7 previous brides were suing him for back alimony (half of whom he may have stabbed), this once-great, bravery-obsessed writer took on a pimp job offered up by Random House editor-in-chief and Reichsmarschall of the Culturally Depraved Sir Harold Evans. (Evans's immediately preceding hire was of some plagiarizing Botox-patient by the name of Gerald Posner.) Mailer's assignment turned into something called Oswald's Tale, which should have been called Mailer's Tail since the book is almost 700 pages of Norman Kingsley taking it up the bum from Warren Commission liars, U.S. fascist intelligence sources of all flavors, pathetic psycho-babble about Oswald's probable homosexuality (hence his need to shoot the virile JFK from behind), marriage counselor guidance, and "newly released" KGB forgeries concocted by Boris Yeltsin's mafia goons. For decades Mailer lived off the pose of being the most courageous dude -- and certainly most courageous writer -- in America: the Miller / Mailer / Manson man, Gore Vidal would call it. "God is not love. God is courage. And love is the reward." So it went. That we're all born with a cancer-gun inside us. That we're all faced with a moment when that gun is cocked, when we must choose between bravery and fear. If we fail to be heroic, the gun goes off. Cancer = cowardice. Norman Mailer lived for a dozen years after writing what surely is one of the most venal and corrupt books ever coming from a major writer. And it seems he did not die of cancer. Yet the cowardice contained within Oswald's Tale resounds with the force of an atomic blast.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Conspirators


The names of those who plotted, directly or indirectly, the murder of John F. Kennedy; and the names of those with foreknowledge of the plot. (Not inclusive.)
Allen Dulles
James Jesus Angleton
William Harvey
Lee Oswald
David Atlee Phillips
David Morales
Ann Egerter
Richard Helms
Desmond FitzGerald
McGeorge Bundy
Robert Maheu
Lawrence Houston
Frank Wisner
Ferenc Nagy
William Pawley
Tracy Barnes
Bill Bright
Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge
Ambassador Thomas Mann
Thomas Karamessines
Richard Cain
Colonel Boris Pash
J.C. King
Thomas Clines
I. Irving Davidson
Lt. Lucien Conien
Carl Jenkins
General Lyman Lemnizter
George Joannides
Sergeant Daniel Groth
E. Howard Hunt
Sheffield Edwards
General Thomas Power
Louis Bloomfield
Dr. Sidney Gottlieb
Hal Hendrix
Floyd Boring
Sam Halpern
Edward Lansdale
Lt. Col. George Whitmeyer
Sergio Arcacha Smith
Emilio Santana
Carlos Quiroga
William Sullivan
Ruth Paine
Henry Luce
Michael Paine
Cord Meyer
Eddie Bayo
Anne Goodpasture
Forrest Sorrels
John Rosselli
Eladio del Valle
Frank Sturgis
Mitch WerBell III
Dallas Mayor Earle Cabell
Richard Case Nagell
General Lucius Clay
Richard Bissell
Win Scott
Felix Rodgriguez
Elmer Moore
Jane Roman
Claire Booth Luce
John Martino
Rip Robertson
Jack Ruby
Thomas Eli Davis III
Emory Roberts
Jack Crichton
General Curtis Lemay
General Charles Cabell
Clint Murchison
Charles Willoughby
David Ferrie
Guy Banister
Ted Shackley
Cliff Carter
Lyndon Johnson

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Changed

The best documentary so far on the Dallas background, made mostly from outtakes of Assassination Weekend: reporters primping themselves before going on-air; color home movies of the entire motorcade, not just Dealey Plaza; local security warnings announced before Kennedy's arrival; corridors of the panicked Parkland Hospital; the sinister suffocations of the police department and Sheriff's office. Rare and fascinating stuff from pre-Technology Land.

The movie takes no POV on what happened that day or why. One thing stands clear: Lee Harvey Oswald was a tough motherfucker. Through the two days under arrest and before his public execution and silencing, Oswald never backed down, never stopped complaining about his treatment or lack of legal representation, never lost his cool, never made a single political pronouncement, and never admitted guilt. This isn't a man who's just committed political murder. This is a man with terminal confusion.

Nightmare on Elm Street

The best and most stylish documentary yet on Dallas (like Errol Morris with a purpose): Terrence Raymond's Evidence of Revision.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

50 Reasons. . .


. . . for 50 Years is Len Osanic's masterful YouTube series memorializing the November 22nd, 1963 Dallas coup. Osanic's weekly show -- Black Op Radio -- is a must listen for all those who care about what's happened to America and to the world.

Here, Osanic and author Joe McBride expose the cover-up role of the Media Industrial Complex.

Lost

What was, that day, per Oliver Stone.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Something Has Happened in the Motorcade

The best and most complete compilation I know following the trip from Dallas Love Field to Parkland Memorial Hospital, made from all known photographs and home movies.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Welcome



Dallasites celebrate Thanksgiving, 1963.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Melted


“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted." -- D.H. Lawrence

A Child is Waiting (1963) is, sadly, best known for its violent on-set conflict between director John Cassavetes and producer Stanley Kramer -- a conflict which ended with Cassavetes storming off set during late production and returning only to punch Stanley Kramer (who had taken over as director) in the chops. Yet the finished product -- dramatically unlike anything Cassavetes created before or after -- is extraordinarily moving and as representative of its time as any movie made during those very human years.

Set in an upstate New York hospital called Crawthorne (interiors actually filmed at Pacific State Hospital in California, with all street shots surrounding Crawthorne amazingly filmed on the same street sets used in Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave It To Beaver), the story follows a boy named Reuben (Bruce Ritchey), mildly retarded yet abandoned by his arriviste parents (Steven Hill and Gena Rowlands); the woman who falls in love with him, a newly arrived caretaker at Crawthorne (Judy Garland); and the man who runs the place, Dr. Matthew Clark (Burt Lancaster). Every moment of the movie drips with sorrow. And we wonder: Where are these children now? Where are the retarded? Why do we never see them anymore in movies or on television? Why are they never mentioned? Are there so much fewer of them? (In this toxic culture?) Or are they, like everything else not part of Happy Apple iSland or Fox Hee-Haw, made to be invisible?


The children, aside from Reuben, are the only happy people we see. Everyone else, especially the beautiful Miss Garland who performs here with an incomparable emotional nakedness, moves through the work wearing a crown of thorns. Everyone here is broken and wounded. Reuben's abandoning parents are paralyzed by their own sufferings -- in their love for each other, in their love for the boy. (And oh does this couple deserve a movie of their own. And I suppose, in a much different key, they were given that many times over in Cassavetes's 70s masterpieces and in particular his Love Streams [1984], perhaps the greatest American movie of the 80s.) Lancaster -- one of the true naturals of screen history; and who among our current Leading Men can compare with this man? -- clearly plays a Kennedy figure -- struggling with his own need to dominate, struggling with his own helplessness in the face of causes and creations which may be as immovable as God's will. And Garland. She was near the end of her strange and perhaps insane ride in the early 60s (she would die before the end of the decade and this would be her penultimate work); here she makes clear that all she needed to be great was something (someone) to believe in, and who would believe in her. A Child is Waiting does both.

As did an adoring past husband.



It is a project not destined for JC. And it is not hard to imagine why he prickishly demanded his name be taken off it. His contribution (and intentions) can be felt in the more out of control scenes between Hill and Rowland, and in the scenes with the children where we are made to feel uncomfortable, even made to feel a loathing toward their faces and voices. It can most deeply be felt in the horrific sequence where Lancaster takes Garland to experience the retarded in middle-age. (Dr. Clark does this to stop her from coddling Reuben.) Perhaps Cassavetes wanted to turn the story into his version of Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor, also from '63. Perhaps he did, since he made the bizarre choice of casting himself -- unrecognizable -- as the freakiest of the adult retarded. If so, let us congratulate Stanley Kramer on stopping him. One Shock Corridor -- 'though a masterpiece -- is enough.


There is no argument to be made against the monumental greatness of John Cassavetes, director -- a body of work artistically dwarfing Kramer's. But perhaps his loner cinema was inappropriate for an era of mainstream earnestness and the embrace of communal action.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Let It Bleed


Part Manchurian Candidate, part Sci-Fi, part detective story, "The Inheritors" is pure Kennedy Culture. (And a great example of what Mad Men is not -- a show about as cold and plastic as Barack Obama's heart.) Intentionally scheduled by Outer Limits creators in honor of the one-year anniversary of Dallas, this is a heart that bleeds.

Four Vietnam combat soldiers miraculously survive bullets to the brain; they subsequently embark on a shared mission which controls and confuses them, and arouses the hostile suspicions of government agents. Eventually the soldiers and agents discover that the mission involves kidnapping children, and only at the end do they discover its next step.

The Other as evil vs. the Other as not other: a driven visionary collective of men attempting something risky and noble, while paranoid Feds hound and revile them, suspecting only the worst in their motives, actions, and results.

As Fed Robert Duvall masticates the scenery, the great Steve Ihnat steals it as Lieutenant Minns.

The ending.

Oliver

With Amy Goodman, on Dallas 50 years later. Superb.



Part Two.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rainbow's End


Again, Smoke. If the Kennedy Years were a movie, which one? Like all things great and mysterious, it is a myriad: Psycho and The Birds. Lolita and Strangelove. Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Lilies of the Field and A Child is Waiting. Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Fail Safe. The Apartment. The Ladies Man and Nutty Professor. One Eyed Jacks and The Hustler. Advise and Consent. Courtship of Eddie's Father.

This is the one; our wound. 'Though made during the time, it breathes with the stunned sense of heartbreak we would feel about the time, about New York City, about adoration and elegance and honor and a way of falling in love, about how people must have been, even if they weren't.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

And Then Home. . .

"Why are you running?"
"Don't you know?
"No."
"Because I am longing. . . ."
-- Day of Wrath

It was born during Assassination Autumn, and no other American television series has ever been as drenched in sorrow and loss -- largely due to Pete Rugolo's music -- as this one. There's an ominous death rattle on the soundtrack, the death rattle of its time: a world of gasoline and bus stations, diners, local motels, drive-ins, stone cities, asphalt palaces, mechanic shops, coal trucks, great warehouses and amusement parks, factories and pool halls, steel mills -- a world where the air still smelled of the earth. And a power-saturated universe seething with conspiracies, all focused on the wrongly-accused of a famous murder, while the real murderer runs free. The mournful eyes of the star -- the eyes of a mountaineer -- and the voice -- like a wound in the throat -- match the eyes and timbre of the fallen leader.


It is hard to think of The Fugitive apart from the confusion and hurt the country must have felt as it began to realize the center of American life was passing the age where it could still look forward; now people looked back into memory, into the past of the nation. . .

"Landscape with Running Figures," Parts I and II.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Husband and Wife

"Ray Murdock's X-Ray," one of the best episodes from The Dick Van Dyke Show. And what a beautiful series it is, maybe the best ever: kind, gracious, graceful, elegant, very funny, modest, super smart, humane -- with (like the time of the show itself) always the good speaking.

At the center of the series is the loveliest and most realistic of TV marriages. Rob and Laura Petrie truly are the "marrying kind" -- and both are taken, by each other. End of discussion.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Girl We Left Behind


Of course, there were more than two Rosemary Clooneys. This lovely and emotionally complicated woman had many rooms to her mansion, creatively and privately. Yet there was a dividing point in the forward movement of her life that most people can agree upon -- her 1968 breakdown, coming after years of a Catholic holding-together of a marriage to the brutal and ever-cheating Jose Ferrer (a marriage and remarriage, resulting in five children) while falling ever deeper in love with arranger Nelson Riddle -- the final breaking point her presence at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, June 5th, 1968, witnessing the National Security State elimination of her close personal friend Robert F. Kennedy.

For years after she did not perform. In 1977 she came back - dramatically different look, dramatically different sound. Most jazz fans seem to prefer the post-breakdown, slatternly, husky, wearied Rosie. Not a chance.

The young Rose was a blue ribbon for blonde ladies in black. Her eyes were blue with a pannier of diamonds, wistful, looking out with tenderness, offering up, timidly, a little love. And they would glow. It is not common for blue eyes to glow in the dark of modestly-lit rooms of bars or clubs or recording studios, but Rose's light came from within. Her sound back then was full of red cheeks and Christmas, the color of it on most songs as startling as a view of wild red berries in a field of snow. And something more, a warning: with each song she seems to be burning a piece of the distant past, ash deep within her purity thickening from a membrane to a shroud. If love is a state of grace and must be protected by sacramental walls, then Rose did all she could to do the protecting.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Naked and the Dead

A solid episode of Naked City as it completes its final season, made special by a very moving David Janssen (six months before The Fugitive) as an advertising man dying of leukemia. The hour (including original commercials) is pure atmosphere, created by simply turning on the camera. New York in '63 was still saying goodbye to the impression that once some single power had had the place in grip, had given it an emotional and architectural unity and splendor now lost and forgotten.

"On the Battle Front: Every Minute is Important"

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Prelude and Opening


"When you love someone, you don't abandon them, no matter how they treat you."
-- Anthony Perkins in Psycho

The strobing, bristling, fractured malignancy of a black-and-white TV image. Music with no break, no rest, an endless loop of driving hysteria. And the star, the nominal star, with her name at the end of the acting titles.

A drift across the landscape of a seasonless hotbox. Phoenix, Arizona -- one of many urban weeds sprouted in the postwar explosion of Western cowboy economies. This is the middle of December?  Yes, it is Friday, Crucifixion day. We move toward a gargoyle of a building. No, beyond it, to the left. Now toward what appears to be the Texas School Book Depository. We enter it, the window. Is Lee Harvey Oswald waiting for us on the other side (as he was not on that other Day of Crucifixion)? Indeed he is.

I can think of no other previous piece of American popular culture containing a character such as the one we will meet: a young sexually-frustrated male loner who takes his frustrations out in mad violence. The 1960s (and beyond) begin here: Oswald, Bremer, Hinckley, Speck, Whitman, Raymond Shaw, Sirhan, Ray, Manson. Most of them were much more than lone killers, most with deep and sinister intelligence connections. But the myth is born here. How did Hitchcock know?


The divorced, debt-ridden poonhound looms over his latest catch, a girl so lathered up she never ate her egg salad sandwich or drank her bottle of pop, although it is already quarter-to-three, a lengthy lunchbreak. They entangle again, and we notice the mole on the girl's upper back and the stiffness of the man's Brylcreemed hair ('though not as stiff as is John Gavin). She breaks away from his touch and his glibness, to dress and to leave. Each act and word of longing from her is met with lounge-lizard glibness, or self-pity, from the man. "Will you lick the stamps?" he asks her, referring to the alimony he must mail to his run-away, far-away ex-wife. "I'll lick the stamps" she answers -- a moment always getting hoots from film students and revival crowds. Actually, a cause for one of the most heartbreaking zooms in movie history. When he asks her if she wants to leave him, she says "I'm thinking of it" -- a lie, for she winds up destroying her job, reputation, family, and her life, by stealing $40,000 for him, for their marriage. When he mentions marriage, he says she'll swing. What does he mean? An open marriage, perhaps? The sorrow of it; and the blinds -- draped over the world she imagines, one she will never have.


One thinks of the final shot of the work, of the white car being pulled from the black muck. The terror of it is obvious: Herrmann's music, the cut to it from Bates in his padded cell and the dissolve to the skeleton below his face. But something more. We have just listened to Simon Oakland's demystifications, his social psychology babble "explaining" Norman. Where is Marion's story here? Where is her pain and confusion and sadness and loneliness? Why is this attractive woman so desperate to marry? Why has she stayed in that nothing job for 10 years? Why does she still live with her ice-cold sister Lila? (Both the boyfriend and Lila remain affectless at the end, when told of Marion's murder.)

Marion's story is buried with her. That is the real terror. A story Hitchcock tells in a chain of masterpieces embracing female suffering, but not here. Bergman in Notorious. Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Vera Miles in The Wrong Man. Novak and Bel Geddes in Vertigo. Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest. Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds. Hedren in Marnie. Far from being a cold manipulator of movie audiences, Alfred Hitchcock was one of the deepest feeling (and greatest) artists of the 20th Century.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Do You Miss New York?


"My name is C.C. Baxter -- C. for Calvin, C. for Clifford.
However, most people call me Bud."
-- Jack Lemmon

No one in Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960) calls him "Bud."

More than fifty years after its release (it would go on to win Best Picture Oscar for 1960), The Apartment seems an object found on a distant planet; or perhaps from the bottom of the sea. Who are these people? These voices? This way of dress and directness, this way of relating and falling in love?

We all know the story: C.C. Baxter wants to be the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and throughout most of The Apartment seems ready to do most anything to achieve it. Along the way he falls in love with a lost, pretty elevator operator played by Shirley MacLaine -- who's being used for sex by the Head of Personnel, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), a man who also happens to be C.C. Baxter's boss. The girl's heart is broken, she attempts suicide (in Baxter's apartment), and Bud is forced to choose between love and his ambition.

Fifty years later, who notices the plot? For the real story of the movie is the time in which it was made; and most astonishingly, the city in which it is set: round and round we turn and beyond the Wilder narrative is the other narrative: Manhattan in 1960 still drifts with the Sweet Smell of Success, and her most characteristic quality is the remote and private air of a lady who has traversed some lonely terrain of experience, which leaves her isolated from the mass of others. In this collective vision -- the nights come low onto the steep and lonely city, with its pallid heavy facades up on stony inclines, and arches and great dark courtyards and outer stairways on unknown buildings. New York then was still saying goodbye to the impression that once some single power had had the place in grip, had given it an emotional and architectural unity and splendor now lost and forgotten.

They say decades don't start on time. The Sixties sure did, on January 2nd (the day after the movie's story ends).



It begins (after the credits, where we're first introduced to Baxter's apartment front and Adolph Deutsch's immortal theme) with a float over Manhattan island, less architecturally congested and vertical than it became. A narrator tells us it is November 1959 and the population of New York City is over 8-million people. We learn of the narrator's workplace (Consolidated Life Insurance, home to over 30,000 employees), his job (salaryman), and his apartment (West 60s, half-a-block from Central Park, $85 per-month rent!). It is Jack Lemmon's voice and we should listen carefully, because once we're filled in with the background details, we never hear from the narrator again. (Good job, Wilder.)

It is a movie made almost entirely of interiors. Literally, the title refers to the space within which C.C. Baxter's willing corruption takes place. (It also refers to Wilder's belief in the terminal "apartness" of Modernist life.) Baxter's agreed to basically allow his bachelor pad to be turned into a brothel -- only the customers are his married bosses and the ladies are Consolidated Life co-workers. We see why no one calls him "Bud."



In the conversation on the landing, Doc and Baxter watch each other as if watching a movie screen, forever separate from whom they're talking to and what they're hearing. Joe Dobisch's desperate call for cheap sex (so cheap he demands the taxi change back from the wonderful Joyce Jameson) occurs in a telephone booth which could be on the dark side of the moon, as much as it is just off a crowded and smoky bar. For Wilder, no one is anybody's true "Bud" in 1959 New York City. Yet we've seen the movie's first "object of light": the dissolve on the fading television signal, to the glow of Baxter's heating blanket control-knob. What are these objects: love, luck, faith, holiness, fate, God? Perhaps all things not-Modernist. Whatever they are for Wilder, they follow Bud and Fran around: angels of protection. They surround Baxter as he falls asleep in Central Park.


In the elevator on the ride up to glory.


Fran's boutonnière near his heart, for luck.


Later at The Rickshaw: ceiling lamps, the candle -- and the daiquiri (which seems to be made of the same substance that blew-up the world at the end of Kiss Me Deadly).


Christmas Eve and all is bright.


To 1960.


The Apartment -- as we can sense from the first scene in Sheldrake's office -- has no point-of-view regarding American-specific capitalism, corporatism, or patriarchy. Consolidated Life may just as well be the Kremlin, NASA, IBM, or Krupp Industries. For Wilder, evidently all power systems are the same. (In 1960!) One needs only to look at The Bad Sleep Well from the same year. 'Though mostly buried beneath Kurosawa's stale updating of yet another Shakespeare play (this one Hamlet), The Bad Sleep Well is a direct attack on post-war zaibatsu structure, ethos, and dominance of 1950s Japanese society. Unlike Baxter, whose sole motivation throughout The Apartment is a mealy and vague sort of professional ambition, Toshiro Mifune as Kurosawa protagonist Nishi burns with a vengeance against all things corporate. Unfortunately, most of this heat is redirected by Kurosawa (by Toho?) into channels of Freudian irrelevance.

Before we meet Jeff Sheldrake, let's take a look at the workplace architecture of Consolidated Life (and New York City in general): elevator operators (and starters!); hat and coat racks long as football fields; cigarettes and water coolers; zero security: workers overwhelmed by Modernism as Wilder and photographer Joseph LaShelle diminish them under long vistas of oscillation: corridors, angles, fluorescents, endless desks, and vanishing points which pre-Kubricks Kubrick for theoretical coldness. And like Kubrick, a mere aesthetic abstraction untethered to any interesting vision of society or power.


Edie Adams. What a likable and talented gal -- she and Ernie Kovas must've made a wonderful couple. Here, Wilder turns her into a bitter Modernist clown, right down to those ugly glasses. Being Mr. Sheldrake's gatekeeper (and ex-lover), she nastily waves Baxter into the inner sanctum.

And what a sinister hothouse it is. Most sinister being the man behind the desk, Fred MacMurray, in amazingly thick eye-makeup. (How did this monster get the TV role of uber-dad Steve Douglass?) Four hand-chairs match the strange painting at the back of four love-seats, matching the four users of the Baxter apartment, with some African-cum-Modernist print on the adjacent wall, also of four male heads. There's a wood-carving of a stronger naked man holding a weaker naked man over his head. "I sorta wondered what you look like, Baxter." Indeed. An appropriate setting because the scene is a flat-out seduction, rape-wise, to the point of the victim finally cumming with his hand-held nose-spray.



Fran leaves the Consolidated coldness, into the warm embrace of autumn New York. Before the city came down with Zagat's disease, she was honeycombed with hidden places, like tuning forks, vibrating with mystery: profoundly sophisticated with a deep acceptance of magic; places with a warm imagination and a gift that can lead to marvelous paths of coming to know someone else well. The movie seems to know the secret truth: that New York was sad before it was busy -- that it was a kind of inverted garden, with all the flowers blooming down beneath the ground. Like crystal notes or sparkling water, New York was still the potent formula of city lights, early death, and sounds at night. The Rickshaw is such a spot (is it Wilder's nod to Susan Alexander's nightclub?), embracing emotions the culture no longer has any use for. The heart turns over and produces a sorrow. Hardly any places are left to do that.

She enters, and this is different. There's an element of tenderness in Sheldrake's voice, and something veiled and remote in his eyes that Fran has never seen there before. He really is in love with her.



At the end of the scene, does Wilder "pull his gimp string," in the famous words of the ever-sour Manny Farber? -- by inserting a shot of Edie Adams as Jeff and Fran leave. Does Wilder pull it tighter by moving the movie's theme from major to minor key, as if embracing a suffering, wounded heart? Too bad, Manny. A beautiful and deeply-felt moment.

The Consolidated Life Christmas Eve Party, on the cusp of the 60s, wonderfully violating every sexual harassment rule imaginable.



Yet even during the party, the city beyond the windows is ominous, de-populated -- comparable to the mood of a landscape just before something awful is about to happen, or just after, one cannot tell. The grim buildings form a cemetery of Modernist tombs.

*
And so, in a rather unmotivated turn of events, Miss Kubelik attempts suicide in C.C. Baxter's apartment, after being abandoned there by Sheldrake on his way home for Christmas. (And after giving Fran $100 for her time.) Bud and Doc save Fran, and something in the two Consolidated employees both ache. Baxter lets his heart yield again towards her -- and his eyes, which have never left her face, which have never closed, slowly fill with tears. And his heart seems to burn and melt away in his chest.



Bud's apartment is an isolating arena of lonely experience. A sort of passageway like a sarcophagus angles through the central area. There's a strange stillness about the rooms, in their drabness and mostly rococo design. Among the Modernist prints on the walls and the Ella Fitzgerald albums, there lingers a kind of loneliness and happiness, as if it were a sunken place, and a feeling that it is good for one's heart to be there.



Cue the ominous music: enter cabbie Karl Matuschka, perfectly played by Johnny Seven. Wilder's idiotic stereotype of an "outer-borough" untermenschen truly does show him pulling the elitist gimp-string. Are Wilder's dead buildings actually walls to keep out the unwashed? (For the director, only Manhattan is New York City.) This class stupidity begins to mix with the expected smarmy cynicism, as the movie teeters.


                               Martin: "Why are you running?"
                               Anne: "Don't you know?"
                               Martin: "No."
                               Anne: "Because I am longing. . . ."
                                                                       Dreyer, Day of Wrath
As we approach denouement, there's a sense that The Apartment will end (as we expected all along) in some love cul-de-sac -- but who's to believe in it now? Coming after Buddy Boy informs Sheldrake that "the old payola won't work anymore" and quits, and after Karl the Kabman, why not just end the movie with Baxter grabbing hold of the fat new job, handing Fran off to the more than willing Sheldrake, and banging a couple hundred Consolidated Life gal Fridays?



The world of Billy Wilder's The Apartment is detached from everything we don't actually see in the movie itself: the worlds beyond Consolidated Life, beyond the island of Manhattan. Only now can we feel its longing to not be "apart" from what was soon to be born (and smothered in its crib): the feeling that the country was now part of the daily concern. One cared about it for the first time, the way you care about family or work, a good friend or the future, and that is the most exceptional of emotions.



Fran runs to Bud, as Billy Wilder ends as an unalloyed romantic. Stars are bright overhead and the buildings outline themselves on the sky. Below, the city is a black gulf. Winds blow, and limousines crawl through the night. Outside, the first day of the 1960s was in all its glory.