Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Be Afraid

David Cronenberg's The Fly premiered over thirty years ago this month and seems to have been largely forgotten. (While other US movies of the period continue to receive attentions and accolades -- Hannah and Her Sisters, Platoon, Back to the Future, After Hours, friggin' Blue Velvet.) Upon release it was generally (Kael, for once, got it right) dismissed as just another hi-tech remake and gross-out movie. It is instead one of the great works of art of the 1980s, a movie about separation and loneliness, fear of love and sex, fear of communion and hope. It is about Reaganism and what the 1980s did to our emotional culture. Consciously or not (we know Cronenberg's father died during production of a terrible cancer), the director seems to have sensed that we were taking a turn, that our hearts we're growing quieter, something of the best in human life was now going away forever; that what was public and communal would now be forced back into the darkness of privacy; from now on we would have to look more inward for satisfaction and understanding, through imposed hatred of all things public and the increased dominance of technology. Very hard to watch, it is a movie of overwhelming pain and sorrow and loss, with only three major speaking-parts in its almost 100 minutes.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is a genius scientist who works and lives in a warehouse on the dark side of the moon, his only companions being his lab animals. At a science convention Brundle meets a magazine reporter (Geena Davis, Goldman’s soon-to-be-wife of three years) who takes up the goofy and earnest man’s invitation to see something which will “change the world as we know it.” Indeed. We sense that Seth has tried this approach before, without much success. Since Ronnie (the reporter) hands over one of her silk stockings while flashing a gorgeous leg right after arriving at the warehouse, she must like him. Her first stance toward him, however, is a rather knowing condescension – until he demonstrates what will change their worlds: he “teleports” the silk stocking from one “telepod” to another (initially she calls them “designer phone booths”). She rushes back to her magazine’s editor-in-chief, a typical prick mediocrity perfectly played by John Getz. Seth is outraged and he convinces her (and the editor) to wait. He offers to bring her with him, step-by-step, until he and his travel/space revolution is ready to launch; and in hopes she will along the way fall in love with him. She does. Almost from the moment she does, he (literally) begins to fall apart. And the rich red aroma of sorrow – embraced by Howard Shore’s Grunenwald-like score and captured by DP Mark Irwin’s Tintoretto darkness – descends like a mourning veil.

Brundle is a man who wants nothing more than to love, to be part of something other than his own mind. Something it is not in his nature, or destiny, for him to have. He follows his self-destruction and lonely descent into hell with purity and courage. He does not fight it. It is all he really knows. After successfully teleporting a lovely baboon (his first attempt was not successful), Ronnie suddenly leaves him – to finally rid herself of the prick boss/ex-boyfriend. Within moments of her leaving him, Seth begins to fade, feel insecure, jealous and possessive. He drinks, gets quickly drunk, and in a stupor decides to teleport himself before the pods are ready. Successfully he believes.

Ronnie returns to him and they fall. At first, she makes him feel like a sexual superman. When we next see the couple in public, Seth is in full Yuppie regalia, turned into a would-be Don Johnson. He's now rocketing and she cannot keep up, she is too sexually square for this once and future shut-in. So he dumps her, after degrading her. “I don’t need you anymore! Never come back here!” He decides to prowl the streets and kick some Gentrification City ass. (Literally Toronto but a stand-in for Portland or Seattle or the Loop or some other pseudo-hipster shithole). After breaking an arm or two in half, he feels like the toughest stud in town.

Apart from Ronnie, the descent is fast, as he quickly becomes as physically repulsive as he must have feared he was his whole life. After a month, he asks her to return. He has been turned – like the failed attempt with the first baboon – inside/out, his fear and self-loathing now exposed for her to see. She has no choice but to turn away.

I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man,
and loved it. But now the dream is over,
and the insect is awake.

She shakes her head. But soon, Ronnie will plead with Getz to arrange an immediate abortion, words Seth will hear:

You should have seen him!
There could be anything in here,
in me, in my body. . .
I don’t want it in my body!

Penultimately, she is to kill his baby. Finally, he commits suicide by begging his loved one to murder him.

He also instructs her about Insect Politics:

Insects don't have politics.
They’re very brutal.
No compassion.
No compromise.
We can’t trust the insect.

A perfect description of our post-Reagan world, and never so anthropodic as in ObamaLand.

Only three characters speak for the movie’s first 50 minutes. (Five minor roles later include Cronenberg as Ronnie’s gynecologist, and a very nice and sexy turn by Joy Boushel as Seth’s bar pickup.) Getz is serviceable (and heroic at the end). Davis is beautiful and moving throughout. But the greatness of Jeff Goldblum is hard to describe or compare. Not for a moment does he hide beneath the make-up or technology. Unlike his character, he is a man to the end.

BrundleFly is what we have become, what we have been forced to become. On our way to becoming what Seth is at the very end: part-human, part-heartless insect (or should that be iNsect?), part-thing.

Be very afraid. . .

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Three ways.


Lee Morgan.

Brother Bill Evans.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


A sultry Friday night at Sportsman's Park, June 8th, 1962. Juan Marichal vs. Bob Gibson. Harry Carey and Jack Buck. The best club in San Francisco Giants history (they were 40-17 at the start of the game) against a young up-and-coming Cardinals team that would win three pennants later in the decade. Funny and sweet radio spots. Lots of smoking and drinking and lots more good cheer.

They've been saying around here that Camelot was a myth. The heck it was.

Monday, August 21, 2017


Old viper John Simon once joked that Jerry Lewis could cure muscular dystrophy overnight if during his next Labor Day telethon Lewis announced he would disappear forever if everyone watching sent in 25 cents. One of the worst of the two billion degradations in our current pop culture is that far more people think of Lewis in terms of "his kids" and that annual telethon than think of him as one of the great movie directors of his age. Which he was.

Lewis's movies are deep and complex and necessary, movies
which are especially beautiful to look at, with amazing and ever-changing pace. And it is here where we begin to understand just how deeply and devoutly Jerry Lewis believed in the magic and in the transformative possibilities of movies themselves. His Total Filmmaker is one of the best (and funniest) filmmaking books around.

The Ladies Man (1961) with Jerry's commentary.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


Tonight's guest, that star of stage, screen, and radio. . . . Lee Oswald?

The second part (36:00), recorded several days later, is a marvelous job of mousetrapping and just a taste of what Lee would get a few months hence, on his way toward oblivion.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Oz and best friend Thorny argue about a series of books called The Rover Boys (Ozzie claims there was no Rover Boys Go to Treasure Island while Thorny insists there was). Having absolutely nothing in the world to do, Ozzie rushes to his nearest library and there runs into son David's English teacher. When she asks Oz what he's looking for -- ashamed to mention the Rover Boys -- he grabs the nearest book at hand, a 25-pound version of The Peloponnesian Wars, Volume One. Astonished at this scholarly taste, the teacher invites Ozzie to lecture on Ancient Greece to her PTA book club -- an offer David's dad cannot refuse. This all happens quickly and soon we're into the near-entirety of the episode: Ozzie struggling through four massive volumes of Sir Henry Parkinson's unread masterpiece. Strangely, Thorny's also going through the books, even though he wasn't even invited to attend the lecture. Eventually, Harriet saves the day by calling the English teacher and telling her Ozzie is sick.

A mind-boggling 23 minutes (wish I could find the uncut version) composed of less than 50 shots -- average shot length over 30 seconds. (The average Curb Your Enthusiasm, for modern example and a show not editorially-retarded, runs 28 minutes containing over 500 shots.)

Ozzie Nelson is the Carl Dreyer of television!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Besides the greatness of Rick Nelson, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet is best remembered for its astonishing longevity (14 seasons, 435 episodes!) and for the equally astonishing moribund irrelevance of its later years (1960 and beyond). At its best, however, it was great. Under the total creative control of Ozzie Nelson (who it's said made Otto Preminger seem like a pussycat on set), it was the original "show about nothing." Ozzie never had a job, seemed to have no plans for the day, was considered a boob by everyone, and was surrounded by friends, relatives, and neighbors who also had pointless, jobless lives. (What a refreshing change from the CV-obsessed garbage of modern television!) Yet everyone was happy, warm, relaxed, and gentle -- without a hint of smarm or calculation.

One of the wackiest early episodes is called "The Orchid and the Violet," from April of '53. Oz is mistaken for a bum (as he should be) by a florist and his wife, hysterically played by the great Alan Mowbray and by Orson Welles's own Jeanette Nolan, reprising her role here as Lady Macbeth.

Crazy, man!

Monday, August 14, 2017


One man is looking for a little girl's doll; the other for a cone of tutti frutti ice cream.

Cops, a druggist, his wife and best friend, the store manager, telephone operators, his sons: all do what they can to help Ozzie Nelson find that tutti frutti ice cream. Meanwhile, Oz plays cards and cooks hamburgers at four-in-the-morning, files a false police report about being lost, raids a 24-hour supermarket, wakes up his sleeping wife after having a tutti frutti nightmare, wakes up a sleeping druggist, throws rocks at his neighbor's window in order to wake him up in case he has the ice cream, is woken up by the same neighbor (played by the great Parley Baer) who now also has the tutti frutti bug, wakes up the boys and tries to fob off some cherry ice cream mixed with fruit cocktail as tutti frutti on them -- with no one in sight having a care in the world as morning approaches. . .

Larry David's L.A. is a city of gargoyles: racists, liars, assholes, cheats: amoral psychopathic egoists -- a place where one is naturally murdered by tire-iron for honking a car horn at a driver who has backed into you. In the first few seasons, David's character is a rather befuddled and passive Joe who, like Ozzie, rarely works and who, unlike Oz, gets into deeper and deeper trouble the more he tries to do the right thing. Everyone he meets outside his closest circle (and sometimes within) treats him with dishonesty, loathing, suspicion, condescension, arrogance: so-called friends, cousins, his receptionist, his dentist, co-workers, other drivers -- everyone. It's amazing the character hasn't gone postal (yet). But midway through CYE's run, Larry David changed character: thereafter, David becomes the instigator of most unpleasantnesses; and seems to get off on them. When this wrongheaded shift originally occured, I figured it was prelude to the ending of the Davids' marriage -- 'cause who wants Larry to be just another schmuck victim of a betraying wife? But the marital split didn't occur until the end of Year 6, so no. A strange choice, and while probably a leap toward what the "real" Larry David is like, the show lost its Everyman quality and has too often been "this week's politically incorrect kick in the teeth to": Orthodox Jews, kamikaze pilots, gay Barneys workers, the deaf, devout Christians, Lesbians, blacks blacks blacks, pregnant women, little girls, and Koreans who eat dog. Still -- as Ozzie represents the giddy "what me worry?" exhilaration of Eisenhower's suburban white Eden -- Curb Your Enthusiasm embodies the prick heart of 21st Century America, as well and as consistently as anything in the pop culture.

And oh yeah. . .

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Willie and the Mick

The very first Home Run Derby, from December of '59.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

All Time

RIP, Glen Campbell.

Friday, August 11, 2017


Father Knows Best was alive for six years (1954-60) and -- sharing the same condition with Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver -- crashed and burned when midnight approached on the decade. Like LITB (but unlike O&H which had the good sense not to turn Rick Nelson into a big man on campus), the Anderson kids changed quite a bit and not for the better. The show is at times preachy, always drenched in Eisenhower monochrome conservatism, somewhat predictable, and toward the end Jane Wyatt as Mother turned herself (or somebody did) into a piece of arch waxworks so annoying as to ruin most episodes from years 5 and 6. Still, I love it, most of the time. It is beautifully photographed, scored, and paced. What's most attractive is its radical faith in the basic goodness of people. Unlike O&H and LITB, there are unrepentant bad characters in FKB (unlike any other 50s family show). There's a war going on here -- internal and external -- between Christian light and Christian dark, and when necessary both sides get their due. But the human good, in the most earnest way, always has the last word.

A lovely episode from March 1955, "No Partiality"

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Empire is Born

Friday, August 4, 2017


A lonely man meets an abandoned little girl on Tomoyasu Murata's Scarlet Road (2002).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Under the hand of Vincente Minnelli.