Friday, March 31, 2017

Can You

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" wonder Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Bob Bates, and Joe Dodge.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Minor Meeting

Major, actually. Sonny Clark on piano, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Clifford Jordan on tenor, Pete LaRoca on drums -- March 29, 1959.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Up

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ages Ago

Perhaps the greatest dramatic cut from Sinatra and Capitol.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Great Scott


This month marks the 30th anniversary of the death of one of classical Hollywood’s great figures, Randolph Scott. How to describe what made him great? That he is the center of all happenings in his movies made with director Budd Boetticher (and others) ~ all flowing to and from Scott. That he is the human and character embodiment of everything Boetticher cinema cherishes: quiet, fanatical moralism, separation, longing for communion, no division between man and nature, directness.

Scott's great because he is one of the best examples we have of the essence of movie character and movie performance, and of what these essences are not. They are not biography or resume, they are not materialism or possessions, not economies or politics, and most emphatically not social psychology. They are thematic and emotional states personified by the performer, states which change shape throughout, however subtly. Scott’s persona is most subtle. That is where the mysteries and dramas of movies live; not in “story beats” or three-act structures. Scott at his best contains the art of film within himself: hidden, secret, very difficult to get at, always elusive – until it’s not. He is anti-Method, anti-theory, unexplained. And a beautiful subject, as beautiful as the horses he rides with such elegance, as beautiful as the dust and land and water he moves across. As do others, Scott proves that great movie personas are born, not formed by the Yale Drama School or ambition or the difficulties of life. The miracle of Scott and Boetticher (or Peckinpah in Ride the High Country, Scott's last work) is a film artist’s marriage with a performer who ideally lives the director’s heart, mind, and soul on-screen.

He is big and shaggy, with flat square shoulders and arms too long in bloused sleeves. His hands, swinging curve-fingered by his sides, are big and veiny. His hair is blonde-brown and dry and dead, blowing around his head like a bad toupee about to fly loose. His mouth is a quick stroke, bloodless. His face a chipped chunk of concrete, with amber, wounded eyes. Yet his presence is astonishingly intimate, almost feminine, as he draws us in and forces us to pay attention to gesture and to the silence between words. And his voice is a beautiful instrument. Inside the West Texas twang, it is warm, dark, hushed, and sad.



He is not afraid of being shamed or beaten. In Decision at Sundown (1957), the bad guy (John Carroll) is “bad” because he had a rollicking affair with Scott’s loose wife – one of many such affairs for the wife. She kills herself (presumably under the pressure of Scott’s rage) so he decides to track down her last lover and kill him. But at the end, the bad guy remains alive, leaving town with the sexiest and most loving girl in the movie – while Scott’s vengeance causes his best friend (Noah Berry Jr.) to be murdered, and Scott himself more alone with his demons than ever, on the road to alcoholic death.

He is always looking for a home, one he will never find. ‘Though tortured by lost or non-existent wives (in Ride Lonesome [1959] – a masterpiece – the lost wife has been hanged by Lee Van Cleef), and while women clearly respond to him sexually, Scott never sends out signals of attraction or need. Seven Men from Now (1956) is the first pairing between Scott and Boetticher. Like all their movies, it is under 80 minutes. Again what moves the story is a dead wife, this time murdered because of Scott’s pride (booted out of a Sheriff's job by rigged votes, Scott broods, forcing the wife to take work in a post office: one in which she's killed by robbers, the "seven men" of the title). He makes us quickly forget the story, as we move from one intense moment of human exposure to another. (Although the wagon being the stolen-gold transport is an awesome twist.) So many wonderful moments in such a short time: Lee Marvin (stealing the movie beyond Scott’s presence) “accidentally” almost smacking the weak husband (Walter Reed) in the face with his coffee tin; Scott peeking over his horse to see Gail Russell’s reaction to their near-kiss as he leaves her; Scott initially refusing to speak to Russell about his dead wife, then saying everything necessary in about 20 words. Due to Scott’s command throughout, there is more tension in the pauses between lines here than in all of Eastwood’s neo-Western humbug.

Seven Men from Now.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Master on Master


Great film artist Hou Hsiao-hsien explained by great film teacher David Bordwell.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jack

JFK in Ireland, the Spring of '63.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Word(s)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

End Game

Patrick Martin on the final days of our four-decades campaign: the destruction of the 1960s.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spring is Here

Monday, March 13, 2017

My Kind of Guy

“Another serious challenge to our identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

“The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

“What else but the loss of the ability to self-reproduce could act as the greatest testimony of the moral crisis facing a human society? Today almost all developed nations are no longer able to reproduce themselves, even with the help of migration. Without the values embedded in Christianity and other world religions, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it natural and right to defend these values . One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question.

“At the same time we see attempts to somehow revive a standardised model of a unipolar world and to blur the institutions of international law and national sovereignty. Such a unipolar, standardised world does not require sovereign states; it requires vassals. In a historical sense this amounts to a rejection of one’s own identity, of the God-given diversity of the world.

“We agree with those who believe that key decisions should be worked out on a collective basis, rather than at the discretion of and in the interests of certain countries or groups of countries. We believe that international law, not the right of the strong, must apply. And we believe that every country, every nation is not exceptional, but unique, original and benefits from equal rights, including the right to independently choose their own development path.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mondo Coco

Here the sexiest cartoon character around talks to squirrels, becomes a tutor, an inspirational speaker and author, a reggae singer, an airplane pilot, a supermodel, a Japanese TV celebrity who becomes Prime Minister, and falls in love with a yeti in a mad episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Characters, April 2008.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Quiet American

Fifty-six years ago this week, freshly inaugurated John F. Kennedy was forced to make the first decision which would put him at odds with the rest of his own government: whether or not to send 150,000 United States combat troops to Laos.


On January 19, 1961, Kennedy was given a transition-briefing by outgoing President Dwight David Eisenhower. (Two days before, Ike had given his famous "military-industrial complex" warning speech.) Kennedy asked him an unexpected question, regarding Laos: "Which option would you prefer? A coalition government including the Communist Pathet Lao; or intervening militarily through the cover of SEATO?" Eisenhower was stunned by the naivete of the question: to even raise the possibility of a Communist-influenced ally! "It would be far better to intervene militarily -- even having to go it alone apart from SEATO -- than to live with a Pathet Lao-included coalition," he responded. Later, Kennedy would tell friends: "There he sat, telling me to do exactly the thing he had carefully avoided doing himself for eight years."

The Pentagon Papers: "Vietnam in 1961 was a peripheral crisis, compared to Laos. Even within Southeast Asia it received far less of the Kennedy Administration's and the world's attention than did Laos." The New York Times had twenty-six columns of items on Laos in 1961, only eight on Vietnam.

Two weeks after Eisenhower's scolding, Kennedy met with U.S. Ambassador to Laos Winthrop Brown, who began the conversation with standard State Department boilerplate before being convinced by Kennedy to forget official policy and explain what the Ambassador really thought. Brown opened up. He attacked the hijacking of U.S.-Laos policy by CIA/Pentagon forces, and attacked the blind support of CIA-installed anti-Communist ruler (and opium trafficker) General Phoumi Nosavan. Brown strongly endorsed neutralist leader Souvanna Phouma, the same man Eisenhower's CIA had already overthrown several years before. Kennedy backed Brown's ideas, agreeing to push hard for a neutral government under Souvanna Phouma, a neutralism which would be guaranteed by the U.S., France, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Winthrop Brown would remember the conversation with Kennedy as a "very, very moving experience."

Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff stepped up pressure for massive military intervention in support of General Phoumi. They insisted that the Pathet Lao army would walk over Laos unless the U.S. acted quickly. At a March 9, 1961 meeting of the National Security Council, Kennedy revealed that the United States had already sent in far more military equipment to aid Phoumi Nosavan over the past year than had the Soviets in aiding the Pathet Lao, by a ratio of almost fifty-to-one. The next day, Kennedy's Soviet Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson told Nikita Khrushchev that the U.S. now supported a neutralist Souvanna government. At a press conference on March 23, Kennedy publicly declared his support for a "neutral and independent Laos" and called for an international conference to try to localize and resolve the matter. The Soviets agreed. Fourteen countries would meet in Geneva on May 11th.


Kennedy was, however, being led to the brink of war. The Pathet Lao army was advancing and seemed ready to take control of Laos even before the beginning of the Geneva conference. Kennedy's military brass began publicly attacking Kennedy's chosen ruler of a neutralist Laos, Souvanna Phouma -- labeling Phouma a Communist dupe. A series of events made Kennedy feel he was being drawn into a trap. First was the Bay of Pigs. The very same CIA and Pentagon people who lied to him about Cuba (and set an intervention trap for him there) were urging 150,000 U.S. troops sent to Laos by the beginning of the Geneva meetings.

Head of the Navy, Admiral Arleigh Burke: "Each time we give ground, it is harder to stand next time. We must throw enough in to win -- the works." Army General George Decker: "If we go in, we should go in to win, and that means bombing Hanoi, China, and maybe even using nuclear weapons." Air Force Chief Curtis LeMay: "I don't even know what our policy is on Laos, Mr. President. I know what the President keeps saying on the topic, but we're unable to back up the President's words with actions." General Lyman Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs: " If we are given the right to use nuclear weapons, we can guarantee victory."

No troops were ever sent. No American bombs were ever dropped on Laos. Under Kennedy. (After his execution, Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bomb-load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973; U.S. bombers dropped more ordnance on Laos than was dropped by everyone during the whole of the Second World War.) In October 1961, leaders of the three Laotian factions agreed to neutralist Souvanna Phouma becoming prime minister in a provisional coalition government. The Soviet Union agreed to guarantee all Communist states' compliance with the neutralist government. The mostly unwritten declaration became known as the Pushkin Agreement.

Kennedy's opponents did all they could to destroy the peace. They arranged daily provocations and violations of the cease-fire by General Phoumi Nosavan's army. In May 1962, Averell Harriman told Kennedy that his Laos policy was being "systematically sabotaged" by CIA and the Pentagon. Harriman said: "They want to prove that a neutral solution is impossible and that the only course is to turn Laos into an American bastion." The coalition government of Souvanna Phouma would survive until the mid-1970s, when nationalist forces took control in the wake of the U.S. bug out from South Vietnam.


Would Kennedy have done in neighboring Vietnam what he refused to do in Laos: Americanize the war, send 100,000s of U.S. troops, prop-up one Potemkin government after another, destroy the country in order to "win" it? Of course not. Still, conjecture. In Laos, we know. He had many opportunities to turn the country into a Southeast Asian test case, pushed hard by most members of his own Administration to do just that. All opportunities refused.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

An Apple a Day. . .


. . . keeps the humanity away.

Perhaps the most righteous episode from a show that was as righteous, beautiful, funny, and brilliant as any cartoon show ever was. Here, Matt Groening takes down 21st-century capitalism, Steve Jobs, iPhonies, Twitter Twits, and YouToobers.

Futurama, from July 2010: "Attack of the Killer Ap!"

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Demons


Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon (1957) is one of the strangest and most controversial movies of the 1950s. A viewer either goes the way of Dana Andrews and the atmosphere surrounding him; or does not. As someone who's always been a great fan of Tourneur's work, I must say that I just don't dig it.

Chris Fujiwara does.



You decide.