Monday, December 28, 2015

Mister Leonard

Auteur, indeed.

Sheldon Leonard was producer/sometime director/always chief creative boss of The Danny Thomas Show (1957-64), The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68), I Spy (1965-68), Gomer Pyle (1964-69) (one of the funniest shows of the 60s, Vietnam be damned, thanks to the professionalism of Jim Nabors and the comic greatness of Frank Sutton), plus the one season (1969-70) of the Emmy-sweeping My World and Welcome To It. No creative force dominated American TV culture as widely, as humanly, and with as much variety as did Leonard's product during the transition from Eisenhower to Nixon.

The jewel in the crown -- the best show of its time (and perhaps ever) -- was of course The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66). While it was Carl Reiner who drove the DVD car, Sheldon Leonard provided the road map, and what a map it was . . . kind, gracious, graceful, elegant, brilliantly funny, modest, super smart, humane -- with (like the time of the show itself) always the good speaking. The variety of Leonard's genius can best be felt by comparing DVD with Danny Thomas. The two shows overlap across four seasons, an overlap set within the entertainment world of early-60s New York City. Yet Thomas drifts with the Sweet Smell of Success: nightclubs, bars, agents, penthouses, taxicabs, tuxedos, and at times an almost hysterical aggressiveness. Van Dyke is quiet and gentle: it exists in back offices, suburban living rooms and bedrooms and kitchens, in a neighbor's dental chair. Throw in a small Southern town contained inside a bell jar, the black-and-white world of international intrigue, a military barracks, and the fantasy-filled study of a Thurberesque writer. . . amazing. Even more amazing: all of it good-hearted.

One of the funniest Van Dyke episodes (and the only one with a nightclub setting), stars the man himself: "Big Max Calvada" from November 20, 1963, on the cusp of the Unspeakable.

Friday, December 25, 2015

And Why Not?

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Dark Holiday

James Harvey -- along with Chris Fujiwara, Tom Gunning, David Bordwell, and Raymond Carney (except when Carney's writing about Capra) -- is one of my film writer/historian Gods. There is so much to learn from reading (and re-reading) Professor Harvey's two masterpieces, Romantic Comedy in Hollywood (1997) and Movie Love in the Fifties (2002). 'Though he hasn't published since '02, word is he's currently wrapping up a history of the Western to be published by Farrar Straus, and based on Movie Love's astonishing analysis of Johnny Guitar and The Lusty Men it is a release devoutly to be wished for.

The knockout punch for me in first reading Movie Love was the chapter on a forgotten and very hard-to-find (thank you, Karagarga) WWII noir called Christmas Holiday, directed by my favorite noir director Robert Siodmak (Phantom Lady, Cobra Woman, The Suspect, Spiral Staircase, The Killers, Dark Mirror, Criss Cross, Cry of the City) and written by the ever-strange Herman J. Mankiewicz.

Perhaps Siodmak's most famous sequence, Phantom Lady (1944).

Or maybe the opening to The Killers (1946).

James Harvey:
The script that Herman Mankiewicz supplied for Siodmak's Christmas Holiday had some resemblances to his Academy Award-winning Citizen Kane screenplay. It has the same skewed chronology, the same overlapping flashbacks; and entering it is a bit like stepping into a labyrinth (one of Welles's favorite movie metaphors), mostly because it begins so far away from its main story and characters. It's almost fifteen minutes before the star and central character appears or is even spoken of. In the meantime, there are (the opening scene) an OCS graduation ceremony (even a speech); a scene in the barracks with a young lieutenant (Dean Harens) getting a Dear John wire from his fiancée; a passenger-plane flight through an electrical storm; a forced landing in New Orleans; and the soldier getting a room at a hotel where people are all sleeping in the lobby (it's wartime and it's Christmas Eve). In the hotel bar he meets a friendly, half-soused newspaperman, Simon Fenimore (Richard Whorf). You got troubles? I'll take you to the Maison Lafitte, says the newspaperman. What's the Maison Lafitte? "It's a -- well, let's face it -- it's a kinda joint a little way outta town."

It looks like a Wolf Man outtake when we get there: a crumbling porticoed mansion in a raging night storm, overarching trees bent by wind and rain in the foreground of a long shot, as the two men emerge from their car and struggle through the storm onto the front porch. But inside the entrance hall, it's light, with a Christmas tree by the door at the foot of a stairway, and a crystal chandelier overhead, as a maid in cap and apron takes their coats and lightning flashes through the windows, while a Dixieland band rides and rollicks on the soundtrack. And after all the neutral, generic places we've been looking at before this (from the parade grounds to the hotel room), getting to this one -- lush and lively and tacky all at once -- makes you feel the way a good song does when it finally gets to the chorus. Now, we know, we're really at the movies.
Buy the book.

Robert Siodmak's Christmas Holiday (1944).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


They are lonely; the spirit of their writing and conversation is lonely; they repel influences; they shun general society; they incline to shut themselves in their chamber in the house, to live in the country rather than in the town, and to find their tasks and amusements in solitude. Meantime, this retirement does not proceed from any whim on the part of these separators; but if any one will take pains to talk with them, he will find that this part is chosen both from temperament and from principle; with some unwillingness, too, and as a choice of the less of two evils; for these persons are not by nature melancholy, sour, and unsocial, — they are not stockish or brute, — but joyous; susceptible, affectionate; they have even more than others a great wish to be loved. Like the young Mozart, they are rather ready to cry ten times a day, "But are you sure you love me?" . . .

And yet, it seems as if this loneliness, and not this love, would prevail in their circumstances, because of the extravagant demand they make on human nature. . . Talk with a seaman of the hazards to life in his profession, and he will ask you, "Where are the old sailors? do you not see that all are young men?" And we, on this sea of human thought, in like manner inquire, Where are the old idealists? where are they who represented to the last generation that extravagant hope, which a few happy aspirants suggest to ours? In looking at the class of counsel, and power, and wealth, and at the matronage of the land, amidst all the prudence and all the triviality, one asks, Where are they who represented virtue, the invisible and heavenly world, to these? Are they dead, — taken in early ripeness to the gods, — as ancient wisdom foretold their fate? Or did the high idea die out of them, and leave their unperfumed body as its tomb and tablet, announcing to all that the celestial inhabitant, who once gave them beauty, had departed?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Illegal Immigration

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


In my post about the great Kim Novak, I mentioned the way of Hollywood and miracles. She and many stars were the result of happy accidents only possible in an isolated creation chamber where all bets are covered cold. So one can take a chance on an awkward, shy girl from Chicago who came to LA for she knew not why. Or on a rodeo rider/poker player/roustabout just wandering in from the rails, and turn him into Robert Mitchum. Archibald Leach was a trapeze artist from England. Poof! he’s Cary Grant.

And the movies. Can one imagine Detour (1945) being born under any other kind of system? Gun Crazy (1949), Johnny Guitar (1954), The Marrying Kind (1952), The Big Sleep (1946), Holiday (1938), Lady from Shanghai (1948), Out of the Past (1947), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), My Darling Clementine (1946), Angel Face (1952) or White Heat (1949)?

Or Some Came Running (1959). Looking at the push novelist James Jones made as he proposed a $1,000,000 sell price for his yet-to-be-completed novel (by far the largest asking price in Hollywood history, eventually purchased for $200,000); looking at the best seller craze which dominated – and in many cases suffocated – 1940s and 50s Hollywood; and looking at the seemingly too-cool-for-school cast, one might think the movie, hoping to catch From Here to Eternity lightning-in-a-bottle, would be just another middle-brow social issue project come down with elephantiasis.

Enter Vincente Minnelli. One would be hard pressed to find two male sensibilities as opposed as those of Minnelli and James Jones: Jones a brawling small town southern Illinois street kid who knew little beyond the military and the men in it; Minnelli the complete urban sophisticate, far more in touch with style, beauty, female sensibility, and affairs of the heart. There's not a chance in heck that a director such as Minnelli (if we had one) would be brought together with a novel almost exclusively concerned with the problems of men, in the end-of-cinema Branding/Marketeer miasma we now suffer. But it was possible in 1958. And it is this melding and confrontation between the two sensibilities which gives us the miracle of Some Came Running: a swaying back-and-forth, beyond the control of Minnelli, the true "story" of the film, a thematic resolution unresolved. Until it is.

James Jones – perhaps because of the money and because he was allowed to hang with the Rat Pack – seemed pleased with the movie adaptation of his 1,200 page book. Which is kind of strange because Minnelli not only works to reverse the meaning of the novel, but challenges just about every part of Jones’s macho value system. Poker, drinking, broads, brothers, cars, back alley fights, the writer as warrior – all here, and all eventually trumped by a silly, stupid, madly-in-love girl named Ginny.

Veteran David Hirsch (Frank Sinatra) has decided to return home to Parkman, Indiana after 16 years away and a long hitch in the Army. Arriving from Chicago with a $5,500 poker bankroll burning in his pants, he learns he has arrived with something else as well.

Whatever happened to Shirley MacLaine, here so natural and warm and lovely. . .

But not for Dave Hirsch. Other things. His successful older brother, mostly. In a beautiful mix of sequences, Minnelli shows how much a part of mid-20th Century American male ethos Hirsch is, almost to the point of caricature. But not quite. Minnelli (helped by Elmer Bernstein's fine score) temporarily embraces the ethos, particularly in the strange and moving shot of Hirsch's favorite books. And in the character of gambler Bama Dillert (Dean Martin).

Hirsch meets a girl with the appropriate name of Gwen French (Martha Hyer), the daughter of a famous poet. She's also the teacher of a respected writing class at the University. And she's madly in love with Dave's talents as a writer.

Dave is already way past that.

Gwen won't have it. So Dave does what any red-blooded American male would do in the face of female resistance: run off to Terre Haute for girls and gambling. (And to learn of Bama's hat obsession.)

Upon Dave's return to Parkman, Gwen French receives two visitors.

At last, David Hirsch sees the light. And loses his best friend.

In the most famous and bizarre sequence, the work's contradictions erupt into a holocaust of color and movement. The sins are paid for. And in a final gesture of pure cinema, Some Came Running resolves itself.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tender is the Night

When the man tried, he was great at everything: fighting, loving, drinking, dressing, pimping for once-in-a-century Presidents.

Of course, he was the greatest male pop singer of his century.

And -- when he tried -- Frank was one of the great movie actors of classical Hollywood.

Happy 100th Birthday.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Heaven. . .

. . . Is Eleven.

Heaven, the sun, the moon, and the stars . . .

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015

And Thank You, Bob!

Newhart. Thanksgiving Day. Football. Moo goo gai pan. And ties, lapels, and collars you could rent space on. What more do we need?

"Over the River and Through the Woods" from November of '75.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

When Paris Comes Home

Chris Hedges:
It is nearly certain that we will endure, sooner rather than later, another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil. The blundering of our military into the Middle East; the failed states that have risen out of the mismanagement and chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan; the millions of innocents we have driven from their homes, terrorized or slaughtered; the bankrupt puppet regimes we have equipped and trained that will not fight; the massive amounts of munitions and military hardware we have allowed to fall into the hands of jihadis—thousands of them carrying Western passports; and the myopic foreign policy whose single tenet is that more industrial violence will get us out of the morass created by our industrial violence in the first place means that we, like France, are in for it.

All the major candidates for president, including Bernie Sanders, along with a media that is a shameless echo chamber for the elites, embrace endless war. Lost are the art of diplomacy, the ability to read the cultural, political, linguistic and religious landscape of those we dominate by force, the effort to dissect the roots of jihadi rage and violence, and the simple understanding that Muslims do not want to be occupied any more than we would want to be occupied.

Another jihadi terrorist attack in the United States will extinguish what remains of our anemic and largely dysfunctional democracy. Fear will be even more fervently stoked and manipulated by the state. The remnants of our civil liberties will be abolished. Groups that defy the corporate state—Black Lives Matter, climate change activists and anti-capitalists—will be ruthlessly targeted for elimination as the nation is swept into the Manichean world of us-and-them, traitors versus patriots. Culture will be reduced to sentimental doggerel and patriotic kitsch. Violence will be sanctified, in Hollywood and the media, as a purifying agent. Any criticism of the crusade or those leading it will be heresy. The police and the military will be deified. Nationalism, which at its core is about self-exaltation and racism, will distort our perception of reality. We will gather like frightened children around the flag. We will sing the national anthem in unison. We will kneel before the state and the organs of internal security. We will beg our masters to save us. We will be paralyzed by the psychosis of permanent war.

In wartime, public discourse emits the insane sputterings of King Lear: “Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!” Demagogues bellow for more bombs and more enemy corpses. The military and the war profiteers provide them. The public cheers on the slaughter. Victory is assured. The nation rejoices when the newest face of evil is eradicated. But when one face of evil—Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Abdelhamid Abaaoud—is exterminated, another swiftly rises to take his or her place. It is an endless and futile quest.

Violence generates counterviolence. The cycle does not stop until the killing stops. All that makes us human—love, empathy, tenderness and kindness—is dismissed in wartime as useless and weak. We revel in a demented hypermasculinity. We lose the capacity to feel and understand. We pity only our own. We too celebrate our glorified martyrs. We endow our sanctified dead with the lofty virtues and goodness that define our national myth, ignoring our complicity in perpetuating the ceaseless cycle of death. Our drones and airstrikes, after all, have decapitated far more people, including children, than Islamic State.

Jihadis troll websites and the dingy corridors of housing projects outside French cities and in the slums of Iraqi cities looking for young people discarded by war and neoliberalism, just as Army recruiters sniff out our own discarded and dispossessed and send them off to fight. Disenfranchised youths, offered the illusion of heroism, glory and even martyrdom, promised a chance to be armed and powerful, are seduced by these scavengers. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe have been cast aside by globalization as human refuse. They are worth nothing to the corporate state. They are denied jobs, benefits, dignity and self-worth. They are easy prey for the siren calls of those for whom war is a lucrative business. They dress in uniforms. They surrender their individuality. They experience the intoxicating drug of violence. They assume a new identity—that of warrior.

By the time they see through the illusions and lies, by the time they grasp how they have been used and betrayed, they are broken, maimed or dead. No matter. There are legions behind them waiting eagerly for their chance.

We have lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq as a unified nation has been splintered into antagonistic and warring enclaves. It will never be reunited. We ensured that Iraq would become a failed state the moment we invaded and disbanded its army, police force and government bureaucracy, the moment we foolishly attempted to dominate the country by force—including our arming and organizing of Shiite death squads that carried out a reign of terror against the Sunnis. The Iraqi insurgents, al-Qaida and, later, Islamic State, easily recruited the masses of enraged dispossessed whose families have been torn apart since the 2003 invasion, whose childhoods have been colored by extreme poverty, fear, a lack of education and basic services and horrific acts of violence, and who correctly see no future under continued U.S. occupation. Islamic State now controls an area the size of Texas, carved out of the remnants of Syria and Iraq. All our air attacks will not drive it out.

The situation is no better in Afghanistan. The Taliban controls more of Afghanistan than it did when we invaded 14 years ago. The puppet regime in Kabul we arm and support is hated, brutal, corrupt, involved in drug trafficking and crippled by cowardice. It is also heavily infiltrated by the Taliban. The Kabul regime will crumble the moment we depart. Trillions and trillions of dollars, along with hundreds of thousands of lives, have been squandered for nothing, even as climate change moves closer and closer to ensuring the extinction of the human species.

We waded into conflicts we did not understand. We were propelled forward by fantasy. The occupation of Iraq was supposed to have seen us greeted as liberators. We planned to implant democracy in Baghdad and have it spread across the Middle East. We were fed the absurd promise that the oil revenues would pay for reconstruction. Instead, our folly spawned political, social and economic collapse, widespread poverty, massive displacement, misery and a rage that gave birth to radical jihadism in Iraq and throughout the region.

The disintegration in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan has forced us to form a de facto alliance with Iran to battle Islamic State and the Taliban. This disintegration has upended our goal of overthrowing the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. We now function, along with the Russians, as Assad’s surrogate air force. And because Hezbollah fighters, whom the United States and Israel condemn as terrorists and have vowed to destroy, are integrated into Assad’s army, we also serve as Hezbollah’s surrogate air force. The Iraqi regime is dominated by the mullahs in Iran. The objectives used to justify these conflicts—including the promise to root out radical jihadism—have all failed.

In endless war, yesterday’s enemies eventually become today’s allies. This is a theme George Orwell captured in his dystopian novel “1984”:

    At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge, which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.

This will not end well. The massive violence we employ throughout the Middle East will never achieve its goals. State terror will not defeat individual acts of terror. More and more innocents will be sacrificed, here and abroad, in a furious and futile campaign. Rage and collective humiliation will mount. As we continue to fail to blunt attacks against us, we will become more aggressive and more lethal. Internal enemies—especially Muslims—will be demonized, endure hate crimes and be hunted down. The most tepid forms of criticism and dissent will be criminalized.

We are hostages, like Israel, to an accelerating death spiral. Only when we are exhausted and depleted, when the numbers of dead and maimed overwhelm us, will this lust for blood end. By then the world around us will be unrecognizable and, I fear, irredeemable.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Jim Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable:
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.”

The first 100 minutes from the CBS Network, 52 years ago:

Friday, November 20, 2015


"JFK accomplished an Americanization of the world far deeper and more subtle than anything Eisenhower, Nixon, or the Dulles brothers ever dreamed of -- not a world Americanized in the sense of adopting the platitudes and pomposities of 'free enterprise' -- but a world Americanized in the perceptions and rhythms of life. He penetrated the world as jazz penetrated it, as Bogart and Hemingway and Faulkner penetrated it; not the world of the chancelleries but the underground world of fantasy and hope." ~ Senator George McGovern

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Gutless Wonders

Chris Floyd:
So France, still in mourning, welcomes refugees, while America's big swaggering he-man "warriors" quiver with fear and panicky bluster. What a sickening display of utter cowardice -- and rank, hatemongering ignorance -- we've seen in the past few days. No wonder so many of our rough-tough super-patriots need to strap guns to their groins in order to walk the streets: they are all, every one of them, sniveling little cowards. As for the gutless governors, shivering behind vast walls of armed security while they deny entry to the victims of terror and war, they are a shame upon the nation, a pack of sinister fools wallowing in moral filth. A wretched, heartbreaking spectacle.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cui Bono

After months of Vladimir Putin and Russia's coalition-of-the-unwilling kicking Obama's Syrian ass, here comes ISIL / ISIS / (CIA) to save the day. Seven locations across security-obsessed Paris explode in carnage, perfectly timed, perfectly executed. Perfectly provocative. And perfectly believable -- if you can believe CNN or Fox or MSNBC -- that a rag-tag Islamic dirtband can pull this sort of op off, without the connivance or knowledge of MI6 or the Mossad or DGSI or NSA. Hence will come the re-push from the Western Capitalist Reich for re-control of the Syrian situation, with more bombs, more drones, and more troops.

A Parisian nightmare. And yet a daily nightmare for Syria and Turkey and Iraq and Yemen. But I suppose those dead do not eat the right sort of brie in the right sort of cafes.

Paris is burning. And Allen Dulles lives.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Absolute Zero

Ralph Nader and Chris Hedges talk about the Corporate Coup that's reduced the meaning of American voting to absolute zero.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Strange Dickie Loudon

A very favorite Newhart, from February of '88.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Wire Says Goodbye

Not only the best English-language television series ever, but one of the greatest works of popular art, in any form, from any time.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Beauty and the Beast

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Friday, October 30, 2015

The Devil II

As Allen W. Dulles roasts in hell (or runs it), historian David Talbot speaks with Len Osanic and Jim DiEugenio on a terrific episode of Black Op Radio.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Up the Rebels

Chris Hedges and Dr. Cornel West, the New School, New York City, October 2015.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"I Emphatically Deny These Charges"

Mr. Rob Clark (The Lone Gunman) with the finest and deepest understanding of Lee Harvey Oswald I know of, in print or audio. Here Rob blows open a door which is usually kept shut by the community, of whatever take. Too many people look at 11/22/63 with a cold eye, despite it being one of the most monstrous acts of the 20th Century. A young man, the most famous and powerful man in the world, seated next to his wife, both of them the parents of two small children, has his head blown off. FROM BEHIND. (So they say.) That is not the act of a nut, of a political ideologue, of a closet homosexual (Norman Mailer tended toward that nitwit interpretation), or of a lovelorn husband. It is the act of a monster. The act of someone capable of child murder, of mass murder, of Auschwitz. Of course, that sort of evil is not too hard to find within the US National Security State, a sort of death-worship which was the daily bread for the likes of Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, David Phillips, David Morales, Tracy Barnes, Des FitzGerald, and many others. As it is in our own day with the monsters who blow up women and children and wedding parties from within their air-conditioning drone-strike studios somewhere in Virginia or Nebraska or the Oval Office. But where is there any evidence of this sort of psychopathology in the life of Lee Harvey Oswald? Oswald, as Clark details, was never alone. He was a man who loved his family. Loved his wife, however difficult a time she seemed to give him. And who dearly loved his daughters. Baby daughters, the youngest one only weeks old when JFK was killed. So Oswald that day was not only killing Kennedy, he was killing himself, and the lives of his children as well, destroying lives that had only just begun. There is NO EVIDENCE he was that sort of man. None. Mr. Clark reminds us of that in a brilliant, funny, passionate, and unique way.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Oswald.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Devil

"That little Kennedy, he thought he was a God." -- Allen Dulles
The most important political history in many a year was published this week by HarperCollins: David Talbot's The Devil's Chessboard. Talbot -- author of the magisterial and deeply moving Brothers (2007) -- uncovers the life and enormous power of the most evil American of the 20th-century ('though Ronald Reagan comes close), capitalist gangster Allen Dulles. Dulles, flat-out WASP Nazi and little girl molester, spent his diabolical career destroying democrats and democratic movements across the world (and most certainly at home). A short list: through Sullivan & Cromwell, he bankrolled the Third Reich's extermination of home-grown and international anti-Hitler conspiracies; helped destroy the post-World War II freedom movements in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and West Germany; overthrew (or tried to) anti-capitalist governments and leaders in Laos, South Vietnam, Guatemala, Cambodia, Iran, the Congo, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Korea, India, Egypt, Haiti, Iraq. Dulles's crowning achievement: the murder of the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy; and two days later Kennedy's accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

David Talbot speaks with Amy Goodman.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Cross

Tag Gallagher on Carl Dreyer.

The complete masterpiece.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Dream Killers

Where have Drive-Ins, Revival Houses, Movie Palaces, and Independent Cinema gone?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Unto Others

One of 1000s of extreme human moments from The Wire:

Human moments. Not House Negro greasy-pole climbing moments featured in Orange is the New Black. (Four Emmy nominations in 2015 while even the show title is worthy of a Fashionista.) And surely no "How to Be a Hedge Fund Hipster" lessons, for all the office-operator mediocrities out there, bellowed about in Game of Drones. (Twenty-four 2015 Emmy nominations, a dozen wins, including Best TV Drama. Yuck yuck.)

David Simon's The Wire ran from 2002 to 2008. Number of Emmy nominations: two. Numbers of wins: zero.


Friday, September 25, 2015

St. Francis

Who could have imagine it, prayed for it? More than 50 years after the death of Pope John XXIII (all three Witnesses for Peace in 1963 -- John XXIII, Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy -- would be dead or deposed within a year), 50 years of Paul VI's rollback of Pacem in Terris, the murder of John Paul I, John Paul II (the CIA Pope) and his support (née silence) regarding all things Reagan/Thatcher, all things corporatist and privatized, and fascist altar-boy Joseph Ratzinger ~ we have Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Pope Francis.

Who was it who said "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"? Look at the pile-on as Francis tours the world: over here we have Leftoids & Femoids bleating about sexual abuse of parishioners, gays, the separation of Church and State, gays, abortion, divorce, gays, and female ordinations. Over there we see Donald Tramp and the Fox News baboons howling about sexual abuse of parishioners, the separation of Church and State (from US reactionaries, no less!), abortion, divorce, and the Holiest of Holies: The Free Market. Yet to define the Catholic Church by the likes of its more recent Popes and their fellow pederasts is like defining togetherness along the lines of the Manson Family. In the face of virulent attacks from Rome (most of them directed by Ratzinger), the magnificent socialist liberations across Central and South America flow from Liberation Theology as does the continuing model of the Cuban Revolution.

The timing of the original attacks on the Church, ignited by the child abuse scandals, has always smelled. One thinks of Chomsky's defense of government: "There's a lot of things wrong with government, but what the US Elites hate about it is what is right: that government is reachable and controllable by the people, that it is the only weapon available against increasing privatization and inequality." The attempt to destroy the public face of the Catholic Church -- a jihad coincidentally began under the most extreme WASP war administration in US history -- emerged to destroy what is right with the Church: its remaining preference for the poor, its involvement with anti-war, anti-globalist, anti-capitalist movements across the world.

As far as is known, no part of the Catholic Church is currently engaged in the destruction of Palestinian and other Middle Eastern cultures, homes, women, children or old men. Nor is the Church part of the Holy WASP Capitalist Crusade against the world in places like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan or Afghanistan. (Or Greece.) Let's face it, the buggery of children has gone on forever in the hallowed halls of:

Yale Skull & Bones
The Council on Foreign Relations
The TriLateral Commission
Sullivan and Cromwell
The Carlyle Group
Lutherans, Calvinists, and Presbyterians
Methodists, Anabaptists, and Anglicans

And all the other WASP bloodsuckers who have caused the deaths of billions of people over the past centuries.

So who could have hoped for someone like this Pope, a man who speaks of tenderness and modesty, the end of capitalism and corporatism, who embraces once again Liberation Theology and the Church's preference for the poor, who prays for the destruction of the "altar of money" and a return to a love of the earth.

Let us embrace him and pray for his safety and for the safety of all those he embraces.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Atone This

Jeffrey St. Clair with more deep background.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Money Makes the World (Trade Center) Go Down

And yet another week of grease, lice, halitosis, body odor, shit, piss, bed bugs, scum, vomit, and how po' widdle us was attacked because of all we have; because of how jealous the low-life darkies of the world are of it.

Actually. . . .

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Taste of Honey

Anne Francis. Better yet. Anne Francis in a full-body black silk leotard, high-heeled black boots, and black leather gloves, kicking the tar out of all the bad guys; and one of the great erotic experiences of the 1960s. . .

The premiere episode of Honey West from September of '65: "The Swingin' Mrs. Jones"

Friday, September 11, 2015

Abby is Back

More beautiful and righteous than ever.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Then and Now

First Day of Elementary School, September 2010.

First Day of Middle School, September 2015.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Time of the Assassins

"The one thing they did not want to hear about was that life is indestructible. Was not their precious new world reared on the destruction of the innocent, on rape and plunder and torture and devastation? Both continents North and South had been violated; both had been stripped and plundered of all that was precious -- in things. No greater humiliation was meted out to any man than to Montezuma; no race was ever more ruthlessly exterminated than the American Indian; no land was ever raped in the foul and bloody way that California was raped by the gold-diggers. I blush to think of our origins -- our hands are steeped in blood and crime. And there is no let-up to the slaughter and the pillage. Down to the closest friend every American is a potential murderer. Often it wasn't necessary to bring out the gun or the lasso or the branding iron -- they had found subtler and more devilish ways of torturing and killing their own. For me the most excruciating agony was to have the word annihilated before it had even left my mouth. I learned by bitter experience to hold my tongue; I learned to sit in silence, and smile, when actually I was foaming at the mouth. I learned to shake hands and say how do you do to all these innocent-looking fiends who were only waiting for me to sit down in order to suck my blood." -- Henry Miller

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Big 6

Happy Birthday to the blog!

A tender and very human episode of Route 66 from February 15, 1963: "Somehow It Gets to be Tomorrow"

Sure does . . .

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.


While we're at it. . .

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Trump Flower

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:

Shhhh. . . Dr. Huxley is thinking...

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

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

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. . . .