Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thief of Hearts

In the theater, you know, the old star actors never liked to come on until the end of the first act. Mister Wu is a classic example -- I've played it once myself. All the other actors boil around the stage for about an hour shrieking, "What will happen when Mister Wu arrives?," "What is he like this Mister Wu?," and so on. Finally a great gong is beaten, and slowly over a Chinese bridge comes Mister Wu himself in full Mandarin robes. Peach Blossom (or whatever her name is) falls on her face and a lot of coolies yell, "Mister Wu!!!" The curtain comes down, the audience goes wild, and everybody says, "Isn't that guy playing Mister Wu a great actor?" That's a star part for you! -- Orson Welles

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Once in a Lifetime



The American Film Institute is neither a museum nor an institute, it is a mausoleum preserving in aspic every conventional, unexamined, and corrupt notion expressed about American movies and television since time began.

Yet even a busted clock is right twice a day . . .

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lost and Found


Sometimes you get lucky. Three years before Citizen Kane (1941), 22-year-old Orson Welles directed a stage adaptation of William Gillete's 1894 comedy called Too Much Johnson. The production was to be an interchange between the live action in the theater and a projected movie. In a pre-Broadway test done in Stony Creek, Connecticut, mechanical problems prevented Welles's movie from being shown. The audience hated the show anyway. Broadway was canceled. And the movie was lost.

Until recently. Joseph McBride with the details.

Let us pray we can someday get as lucky with the missing 45 minutes of The Magnificent Ambersons.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Inglorious Goobers

Chris Floyd, here are.
It's amusing to see how our staunch progressives -- who believe so deeply in a level playing field and fair play, who railed so vociferously against crony capitalism back in Bush-Time -- are now twisting themselves in knots to dismiss the stories about that long-festering font of corruption, the Clinton Foundation. Suddenly, what was once evil and corrosive -- peddling elite insider influence for private profit -- is just old hat, no big deal, business as usual. Indeed, Digby, the very avatar of "anguished support" (Tarzie's deeply apt description of our progressives' blind self-tethering to a party whose leaders -- like the Clintons, like Obama -- are so servile to Big Money and war profiteering that they make Dick Nixon look like Diogenes), points us to an "excellent piece" by the ever-overexcited Charles Pierce, esquire (sorry, I mean Charles Pierce of Esquire), which sounds this very theme.

Pierce, wearing his prodigious classical learning lightly, informs us that "every politician since Cato" has engaged in the multimillion-dollar crony fluffing and policy twisting that the Clintons have been practicing for years. This kind of thing -- say, taking more than $100 million in "donations" from an uranium magnate who then reaps gargantuan profits when the Clinton-headed State Department greenlights the sale that makes said magnate richer and gives Russia (led by a man that Hillary ignorantly likens to Hitler) control of one-fifth of America's uranium production capacity -- is just "business as usual," says Pierce. "Every politician" does this, every single one of them -- and has done since the high and palmy days of Rome. You may agree or disagree with Professor Pierce -- but no one can deny that this is a deeply informed, richly nuanced piece of analysis.

Pierce, renowned in progressive circles for his sharp-edged acumen, here plays the naif -- Goober Pyle Goes to Washington. He scratches his head like a simple, honest feller befuddled by the silver-tongued talk of fancy-pants nabobs, and says that, as far he can tell, the detailed stories in the New York Times and Washington Post are just peddling a nebulous conspiracy theory, something about how President Hillary would be beholden to foreign donors or that the couple were pocketing Foundation cash or something. This is not, of course, the import of the stories, which lies in their fresh confirmation and amplification of the Clintons' particularly successful example of elite influence-peddling. But a simple shrug of the shoulders blows this straw man away, and Pierce is off to the races in his time machine, reliving the false accusations that assailed the Clintons back in Starr-Time.

And of course, many of the allegations assiduously peddled by partisan operators and the respectable press in those days were false, or petty, or pointless. And yes, the Clintons beat the rap (except for Bill's law license), and ended up with Bill as the most popular politician in America (a rank he still holds, incidentally) and Hillary in the US Senate.

But all of this was a sideshow. The learned Theban of Esquire somehow omits some salient facts from his magical history tour. For even as right-wing agents were needling Clinton about failed land deals and Oval Office canoodling, Clinton was overseeing the deaths of up to half a million innocent children (and many more innocent adults) through the draconian sanctions he imposed on Iraq. This, even though Clinton and US intelligence knew in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed all of its weapons of mass destruction. As I noted back in 2005, confirmation of this fact came from "from none other than the man in charge of the Iraqi WMD program, Saddam's defecting son-in-law, Hussein Kamel. Kamel's wealth of information on the destruction of Iraq's WMD 'was so extensive it was almost embarassing,' said UN interrogators."

This was not secret, by the way; it was reported in Time Magazine and other venues. And it was later confirmed independently by UN inspectors in 1998, who had verified the destruction of 95 percent of Iraq's WMD arsenal before they were stopped from finishing the job by Bill Clinton's four-day bombing assault on the country. Clinton justified the attack -- which killed dozens, perhaps hundreds of civilians -- by pointing to Iraqi "interference" in the almost completed inspections. The Iraqis were being quarrelsome, because they believed America had planted spies among the supposedly neutral inspectors. Clinton sternly denied such lies, and ordered the attack. (Conveniently, it occurred during his impeachment hearings.) However, just one year later, guess what: the UN admitted that, er, America had planted spies among the supposed neutral inspectors: "UNSCOM had directly facilitated the creation of an intelligence collection system for the United States in violation of its mandate."

Oh well. Bombing raids under false pretenses and the senseless death of half a million children due to sanctions based on "causes" known to be false -- I guess that's just "business as usual" too, eh Charles? As for Hillary's later vote to OK a whole war based on false pretenses (which, once again, saw the arms inspectors pulled out before they could confirm, again, the fact that Iraq had no WMD) -- well, hell, "every politician" since the dawn of time has done the same, ain't they, Goob?

But none of this matters to our progressives. Nor does Hillary's bloodthirsty record as Secretary of State, her vital role in the vast War Machine, ever pushing for more aggressive responses, for overturning governments (as in Honduras), for arming dictators (like her "close family friend," Hosni Mubarak), for targeted assassinations and drone attacks, for allying with extremists to reduce whole nations to chaos (Libya). Who can forget that moment when the mask slipped and Hillary revealed the true, brutal nature of our bipartisan ruling elite -- her gleeful exultation after Moamar Gadafy was sodomized and killed: "We came, we saw, he died!"

No, what matters is that Republican "ratfuckers" trumped up charges against the Clintons 20 years ago. (Charges that related only to personal and financial behaviour; the Republicans didn't care about the bombing and killing; they would've liked more of it.) The sleaziness of the Clintons' enemies absolves them of all blame, apparently. Any evidence of their corruption -- financial, legal or moral -- no matter what the source, is, ipso facto, nothing more than the noxious fumes of conspiracy.

As with Obama, there seems to be no crime or morally corrupt practice they will not countenance if it is committed by the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party. As Tarzie points out, they will "anguish" over their support -- both Digby and Pierce preceded their Clinton apologias with stern posts criticizing the drone attack that killed two al Qaeda hostages, and two other Americans said to be al Qaeda members. Digby took issue with the "targeted assassination" program and Pierce pointed out that the drone campaign only creates more enemies for America. But the fact that Hillary Clinton will certainly continue these polices -- and will probably intensify them -- doesn't stop the progressive duo from taking up the cudgels for her when someone questions her ethical and financial probity. The values and moral principles that underlie their attacks on the various depredations of the Terror War that Obama has expanded suddenly disappear at the first scent of partisan warfare. Their "ultimate concern" (to use Paul Tillich's term) is the political victory of the Democratic Party -- no matter what crimes and horrors its leaders perpetrate. However anguished their support, nothing will ever induce them to withdraw it.

There will be much, much more in this vein as the long, degrading freak show of the presidential campaign drags on. What our progressives once despised, they will soon defend. (As with Obamacare, which was originally -- and rightly -- scorned by progressives like Digby as an egregious sell-out to corporate interests and a death-blow to hopes for genuine health care reform, only to become a precious jewel to be adamantly defended against all attacks.) That thousands are dying, that extremism is spreading, that chaos is accelerating, that inequality is growing, that millions of people are suffering horribly from the deliberate choices of their champions does not, in the end, override their tribal instincts. And in this way, they help our rapacious elite insider to keep rat-fucking us all.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Freddie Gray and on and on and on. . .


On February 12, 1946 Isaac Woodard Jr., a black veteran who had served for 15 months in the South Pacific earning one battle star, received his honorable discharge. Hours later, on his way home, he got into an altercation with a white bus driver in South Carolina about the time allotted for a rest stop. The driver summoned two police officers, one of whom proceeded to beat Woodard with a blackjack so brutally that he was blinded in both eyes.

Also in 1946, Orson Welles appeared on a weekly 15-minute radio show called Commentaries. He read an affidavit from the NAACP signed by Woodard that described the incident, including Woodard's subsequent arrest and fine. Welles then gave an impassioned speech promising to root out the officer responsible for the blinding that is one of the most powerful pieces of political and social rhetoric one can hear -- impressive both as a piece of writing and as performance. Protests erupted against Welles. ABC fired him. It would be the last radio program the greatest of all radio artists would ever have.

As we celebrate his 100th-birthday, Welles's broadcast has never been as relevant as it is today.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

None But the Lonely Heart

Stewart: Doggone it, C.K. Dexter Haven! . . . Either I'm gonna sock you or you're gonna sock me.
Grant: Shall we toss a coin?
Both men love Hepburn. One she has destroyed, to the point of collapse and alcohol sickness. The other has just met her, in full swoon. It is the midnight before her wedding to another man -- a third man -- and the new kid on the block, drunk from pre-nuptial champagne, has come to awaken the broken ex-husband. Does the ex- still love her? Can I get his nod to make an appeal before she ties the knot with the loathsome betrothed?

Cary Grant and James Stewart were both in their middle-30s during production of The Philadelphia Story (1940). Both were at the top of their different Hollywood worlds and the scene embodies their very different powers and greatness. And how much greater was Grant . . . Stewart here is what he often was in the 30s and 40s: brittle, emotionally thin, reedy, righteous, rather humorless, self-centered, a terrier. He yaps and tries to dominate the seven minutes. (In his other scenes with Grant as well.) Self-absorption, which Grant absorbs; Stewart performing throughout as the Talented, Unappreciated Writer Seething with Wisdom. While Grant listens and watches, the most humanizing and generous-hearted screen presence in movie history – still, (by being still) he cannot help but expose the callowness of the Stewart character, and of the actor. James Stewart on screen is always only about James Stewart. (Brought to a brutal and tortured zenith, or nadir, by Hitchcock in Vertigo.) While the other man. . . .

He listens to Stewart with a faint smile, and a deep hurt in his eyes, as if, somewhere, he knows so much better than Stewart, about all that. About Tracy and moonlight and women and being taken and blackmail and the power of words. At one point he says, regarding the blackmailer (this blackmailer), "The world's his oyster with an 'r' in every month." "Hey, that's not bad. When did I say that?" says Stewart. "You didn't. I did. Sorry. . ." And he never will. For Grant has the remoteness of a man who's crossed some lonely terrain of experience, of loss and gain, of nearness to death which leaves him isolated from the mass of others; a remoteness which can spot a dirty dealer, or a true heart, from distance, on sight. He is never not sorrowful in the picture, while bringing the only moments of joy into this thin, joyless romp -- a picture firmly in the minor key of Stewart in conception; elevated by Grant's broken ardor whenever he appears. His physical grace and attraction are immense, yet he uses his powers to put others at ease, to naturalize things, to relinquish control and power.

Within eighteen months, across 1939 and 1940, Cary Grant appeared as "husband" in six pictures: In Name Only (sorrowful and trapped), His Girl Friday (complete control), My Favorite Wife (goofy and manipulated), Philadelphia Story (deeply hurt), Penny Serenade (a heart-broken failure), Suspicion (very dashing and very weak)  -- six men as different from each other as are the seasons, all men in love, Grant's love coming at us slowly, like a slow dark wave. Yet always isolated, in perfect, isolated darkness, outside the world. . .

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Ecstasy and the Agony

One of the great conversationalists of his time in conversation with the worst talk show host of his time.

Orson Welles and Dick Cavett, July 27, 1970.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Doctor

First broadcast two weeks after the dawn (the dusk) of Raygunism, Dr. Johnny Fever -- faced with the choice of soul and struggle vs. stupidity and cash -- makes the right move. We weren't so lucky.

A beautiful (and one-hour) WKRP in Cincinnati from February 7th, 1981.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Libertards


The goofy Thom Hartmann and the great Mark Ames on Ayn Rand, Rand Paul, and similar garbage.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Welles and War






How many of us have actually listened to it? Take the time for it is an astonishing piece of radio art, and perfectly believable as the source of mass 1938 panic.

The background.



All of Welles's Mercury genius can be found here.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

White Heat


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

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Devil in the Details

The Washington Post:
Is Hillary Rodham Clinton a McDonald’s Big Mac or a Chipotle burrito bowl? A can of Bud or a bottle of Blue Moon? JCPenney or J. Crew? As she readies her second presidential campaign, Clinton has recruited consumer marketing specialists onto her team of trusted political advisers. Their job is to help imagine Hillary 5.0 — the rebranding of a first lady turned senator turned failed presidential candidate turned secretary of state turned likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. Clinton and her image-makers are sketching ways to refresh the well-established brand for tomorrow’s marketplace. In their mission to present voters with a winning picture of the likely candidate, no detail is too big or too small — from her economic opportunity agenda to the design of the “H” in her future campaign logo.
“It’s exactly the same as selling an iPhone or a soft drink or a cereal,” said Peter Sealey, a longtime corporate marketing strategist.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Mister Bonds


As the San Francisco Giants begin their quest for a FOURTH championship in SIX years (and as the LA Dodgers prepare to spend their 27th straight season in the baseball wilderness), let us celebrate the greatest (and most complicated) baseball player of the last 50 years.

Grant Bisbee with a fine appreciation of No. 25.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Keeping On

Is 88-year-old Noam Chomsky, in two very recent talks.



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Germanwings

Mark Ames's "Forbidden Theory":