Sunday, October 25, 2009

When A Protest Fills Trafalgar Square, It Is Serious Business Indeed



Fig. 1 We marched from Hyde Park, and the numbers swelled... (all photos mine)



Fig.2 Bill Patterson reads protest poetry and Corin Redgrave is justifiably outraged.



Fig.3 Hetty Bower is 104 and still marching.



Fig. 4 They tried to bar her, and then gave in

Just by a chance encounter, I took part in a major protest to mark the EIGHTH anniversary of the Afghanistan invasion yesterday in London. In the vanguard, I witnessed all the procedures from start to finish, and all were executed with integrity and high purpose. The route from Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square lay open to us, traffic being entirely diverted. Once in Trafalgar Square, a succession of speakers eloquently stated the essentials of the protest, which indeed reflect the growing disapproval of the war in newly overwhelming numbers. A UK soldier who was refusing to return to Afghanistan spoke, as did a Gitmo survivor (who said that Bagram is worse than Gitmo; indeed, those in Bagram would RATHER be in Gitmo...), the eminent Tony Benn, and the always-on-target Tariq Ali, among others.

Personally, I felt connected to all of them, as I too, in my own tiny way, had been completely opposed to the 2001 invasion. It was a vindication, I suppose, but without a unsuccessful outcome as of yet. The emphasis was on the fact that awareness must be spread, and unremitting pressure to be brought on all politicians. Gordon Brown was heavily indicted.

We concluded with a lively march on #10 Downing St., where a lady from Liverpool, who had collected 30,000 signatures opposing the war, was able, after some tension, to present her petition to the Prime Minister. I was chagrined (but not surprised) to see that Downing is now a fortified compound. One used to be able to stroll by #10 at any time. At any rate, the woman had success in offering up her contribution to the quest for peace.

London Has Called


I am enjoying the season in London. Naturally, there's a lot going on. I shall try to enter here, as I can. Wandering in this city has a tendency to produce world-class 'product', so to speak...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This'll Take More Than Just A Tweet

At NPR, 'National Correspondent' Maw-ra Liarsson and Juan 'The Yawn' Williams make obeisance to Fox News. Why shouldn't NPR's Most Serious And Credible Correspondent, Tom Gjeltin, get a piece of the action, too?

Gjeltin is currently doing a 3-part series on natural gas exploitation in the US. He is an evangelist for the newish technique of blow-jobbing millions of gallons of water into stingy shale strata below the Keystoned State (and anywhere else that is eligible within the Homeland), so as to deliver the US from smack-like addiction to heavy oils as pedaled by candymen in hostile countries.

OK, that's a noble cause - on the surface. Who WOULDN'T like to be free of any addiction? Thing is, Gjeltin's angle ain't quite what it seems to be. You see, there are many aspects to this extraction process that make for unpleasant side effects. Naturally. Like, harmful chemicals, seismic side effects, uncertain safety, etc. Stuff like that.

Gjeltin appeared on the Diane Rehm Show this morning, to do a little junketing, supporting the NatGas company men. His appearance on the Rehm show proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is an advocate for the natural gas industry. Dismissing any sort of criticism as 'anecdotal', Gjelten's embeddedness within the industry is nothing short of blatant. Several of the callers, especially an attorney in Ft. Worth, provided a wealth of contradictions, to which Gjelten responded with restrained huffiness, which says more than words can in these situations.

What's in it for Gjelten? Realistically, I can only speculate that, if it isn't kickbacks, it's the egotistical notion that he can say, down the road, 'I helped save the nation from oil-dealing Antichrists like Hugo Chavez' - or some such.

This is a cardinal example of corporate forces tapping into the NPR networking system. You can imagine in a given board room, the conversation: 'It is imperative that we get NPR in the loop on this. They have some credible-sounding people there who know how to sell a story. Tom Gjelten's got a gravitas that people respect and don't question. Let's give him a call...'

And Gjelten, good, high-level shill that he is, takes up the cause with enthusiasm.

[Superficial note: Gjelten is well within my list of NPR-niks who are officially difficult to listen to. That over-serious, dry voice has 'constipation' written all over it. He should go back to the toilet and finish now what he couldn't finish then.]

In the Rehm show many other issues and concerns about this nouveau gas culling were brought up by other guests and callers, to which Gjelten and the company men stonewalled.

But Gjelten & Co. bank on the fact that the audience who listen in detail to these talk shows are only a fraction of those who catch the PR package on the ME and ATC drive hours. It's all very slick and calculated.

Another Gjeltinism thought: beware those who are aggressively sober in their presentation. The Becks and Coulters are easy for the opposition to brand as 'over the top', while the wily Gjeltins are getting much more done in their quieter 'establishment' ways. Just like Cheney did, all those years before and during his presidency.

And Gjeltin's resume is there for all to see, if we choose. From his NPR bio:

"His new book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: A Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work. His 1992 series "From Marx to Markets," documenting the transition to market economics in Eastern Europe, won an Overseas Press Club award for "Best Business or Economic Reporting in Radio or TV." (quote courtesy of NPR)

Talk about an agenda! I suppose his next book will be: 'Unjustly Ripped Off: How The US Lost Cuba Because Hyman Roth Was Kicked Out'.
(To non-'Godfather' fans: Hyman Roth was a mob leader who was exploiting pre-Castro Cuba via underworld activities. His character was based on multiple real life mobsters. How could Bacardi NOT have been involved??

Finally (for now), a thought on PR technique. During the Rehm show, Gjeltin, in the face of considerable opposition, reverted to the old maxim that Bob Moses used when he was ruthlessly transforming NYC into an automobile-dependent metropolis: 'to make an omelet, you gotta break eggs.'

The dignified Gjeltin didn't use such coarse words of course, but his wussy 'rebuttal' used the same damn theme.

Public Relations is a craft, not an art, and sometimes you don't even need to know how to operate a soldering iron to effect proper attachment of wires in order to make a communication network operative.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some Urgently-Needed Spit-Up Concerning NPR

So much to deride this morning. I heard the whole crappy Mourning Edit show, and it didn't help my PRE-EXISTING stay-at-home bellyache, naturally.

Inskreep had a glee-moment when he actually had the nerve to exhort the name of GEORGE ORWELL. Seems an eatery in evil old Moscow was compelled to change its name from 'Anti-Soviet' to 'Soviet' cafe, but folks still tend to call it by the old name. 'George Orwell would be thrilled', uttered our Steven, no doubt rubbing his hands with a 'touche for Free Market Capitalism' flourish. NOW will you use the word 'torture', Steven? If you pretty-please do, George Orwell will be thrilled.

He already is, Steven. He already is.

Inskreep still must writhe on our front burner. His parlay with Best Foxy Friend Liarsson about Obama's AfPak dilemma was outrageous. HOW DARE these, these, self-loving FREAKS make qualified statements about a president's handling of such a f-ing monstrous war? It was as if they were treating it like some K Street gossip or something. Mawra's imperiousness has reached new heights of megalomania. Even Inskreep seemed in awe, hearing such words from a goddess, who lives on Mt Olympus, herself. She has spoken, and she's wiser than Athena, folks. And like most egomaniacs who are getting away with all they do, she's coming across as softer, more serene, and more SURE than ever that what she's saying has metaphysical certitude (as McLaughlin would say...)

Then we've got Miss Julie (McCarthy) giving absolutely worthless hearsay reports from Islamabad, and the increasingly controversial Jaysuck Bobo-bian, worshiping his beloved Gramps from far-off Ciudad Mexico.

(However, until further notice, I will heartily defend good Quist-Arcton in her reports from DAKAR, if only for the stylish way she says that word - just about the only style that appeals to me on Neurotic Public R.)

And speaking of imperious, you can’t get much higher in NPR royalty than Dame Linda (Werthenweisenwhatever). Her too-cool banter with the clearly enlightened head of the Mayo Clinic seemed to spoil her morning because all she could do to try and trip him up was that tasteless bit about there being no poverty in the upper Midwest. Like my good buddy Paul Wolfowitz, who stated that there were no sacred sites in Iraq (because they weren’t sacred to HIM), Dame Linda does not have the scope to recognize things she doesn’t – and can’t - understand. Typical, oh-so-typical dismissive NPR-ism.

More gigantic evidence that these NPR-niks are in the world WAY over their heads. They never seem to have grown as individuals. But what am I thinking? Shills simply don't grow, they can't grow. They are in denial of their puppet strings because their egos are constantly being jacked off by the very fact that millions (?) of people are listening to them, and that they think they're doing 'journalism' and all that rot.

I can scarcely think of anyone now at NPR who has any of that classic and healthy skepticism that made Mencken so wise or Murrow so perceptive. All their academic accomplishment (totally conventional and mainstream) hasn't helped much, either. It's just made them into a rinkydink elite class - a fact they would of course vehemently deny.

Once every five centuries or so I dedicate about two seconds to actually feeling sorry for NPR. They're so hopelessly mixed up, and I'd brand them as a failure. They often come up with interesting subject matter (methods totally copied from BBC's much longer tradition), but to my mind, the botch-up frequency in handling said interesting subject matter is plainly unacceptable.

I'll revive an old war cry: Scrap NPR. Start over.

I could even adopt a Teabaggy point of view: I don't want no government in broadcasting!!!!

(I wonder what entity Mawra's & Yawn Williams' health insurance is with: NPR or Fox? I know, stupid question...)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lost In Place


Fig.1 Dreaming of his own planet (nothing against chimps; I respect simians!) Image courtesy of Mytwords

We have duly noted here, repeatedly, how much NPR is relying on its in-house mutation, Planet Money/Monkey/Moneygrub/Monkeygrub, WHATEVER. With its' lousy - but whimsical! - mascot: a Mr Magoo astronut suit, all topsy-turvy, so that you have to rotate your head to see who's inside, and it is...... one-buck George Washington!!! Ha ha!

Here's the point though. As a self-appointed Style But No-Substance cub reporter making a pest of himself, scratching around this blog, I have to tell you that Adumb Davidson's fatal flaw as a money guru can actually be distilled down to one very telling characteristic.

(Yes, he was on Mourning Ed with Renaay Mundane, explaining some more about how Narcissistic Capitalism - my term, not his - works.)

And what is that telling characteristic? (If we were tweeting, I could ask for a multiple choice quiz...)

On with it!

It's that little quasi-laugh - almost a suppressed snicker - or a titter - or a scoff-laugh, that Adumb strategically applies to various words and phrases that immediately and permanently makes him invalid as any sort of source for information. He is, of course, a veiled apologist for raw, untreated capitalism, no matter what he says or implies, but that's not my point.

To dissect on a nano level, this little Davidsonian laugh or smirk indicates that he, the wise one on all things, considers himself above and beyond the stupidity of things lower than himself, so he betrays this attitude by these little mirth punctuations, just to remind you that he is just so cool and hip. beyond that it gets harder to explain.

You can tell he actually succeeds in stopping short of outright guffaws when talking about things that he particularly considers stupid or absurd, so listeners might actually characterize him as a clever but well-mannered gentleman who knows how to reign himself in.

Bottom line though is that, giggles or not, Davidson is difficult to listen to, difficult to absorb, digest, eliminate. The verbiage is delivered by bulk mail, supposedly ingenious, but not worth the VU readings its carried on.

See what you think when you listen to him. One of my favorite bits of observant wisdom is from Wally Shawn, and I paraphrase him: these people, these media people (and Neocons, essentially), they CHUCKLE as they're talking about death (or in this case, money).

I interpret such chuckling as indicating a superior-minded detachment, a smug knowledge of profiting from the game. But you know, Davidson is actually quite a tinkertoy player in such a league, as compared to the Richard Perles of the world.

OK, I plainly don't like this Adam Davidson person. neither do many of us, for varying reasons. At least Glenn Beck is a certified loony and Jim Cramer is an obvious fake and Lou Dobbs is plainly an abomination. But Davidson & Co. smirk their way through a Cheneyan dark side, relishing their self-delusions that are facilitated by public broadcasting, laughing all the way to the bank.

I, uh, don't like that sort of thing at all.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Where Michael Lieth

I, your host, have indeed stood in the Court of Honor, deep inside the Great Mausoleum in fabled Forest Lawn (Glendale), in the year of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust Tour.

While that was many a summer ago, I still have the eerie, unsavory, and unclean feeling of that experience, which, out of sheer common sense, led to quiet mockery on the part of myself and the two friends who accompanied me on that edgy expedition.

There, above us in the so-clean-it's-sterile but so-icky-it-can't-be-ignored environment of expensive stone from quarries around the world (despite the fact that much of the building's jumbled and incoherent exterior is covered in standard LA stucco, with sober Gothic accents tacked on for propriety's sake) was the candy-colored and sexed-up rendition - in stained glass - of Leonardo's 'Last Supper', for all those who would never bend their steps to Milan, to wonder at.

Aggressively regarded as a sacred trust, the management (hereafter referred to as 'The Builder' - the avatar of 'Dr.' Hubert Eaton, the all-but-canonized godfather of the empire that became Forest Lawn) obviously feels that this stained glass masterpiece is more better than the original, because it's new and improved, and it lights up at all hours. Quality-wise, it's a conventional exercise in Middle American small town churchiness, but there's a kind of comic book vividness to it that's more Archie & Jughead than Classics Illustrated.

Anyway, it's this Last Supper mixing bowl that serves as lobby for the nether galleries that house some of the VIPs of our cinematic lore, and there are some dandy ones there. I can't help but think though, that thank God Gable & Co. aren't alive to see the package that contains them.

Of course, I'm pretty much odd man out in my tastes. People seem to be duly impressed, and feel confident that Forest Lawn 'does it right'. America is a democracy, but most everyone wants a royal monument to themselves. They at Forest Lawn can give you just that. (e.g. Do it not for yourself, but for your family! Our Wide Range of payment plans can be readily negotiated by our alert team of Councilors, housed in the sinister Vaguely Tudor offices next our heavenly front gates...!)

I must say, the bread-and-butter stretches of Forest Lawn Glendale, with the mandatory flat markers, are pretty tasteful and routine. Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, with its rather well thought-out 'patriotic' American theme works much better; Old North Church knockoffs in the hills are reminiscent of a movie set - most appropriate for cinematic Hollywood, instead of the botched and bilious Christendom of Forest Lawn Glendale... But alas, the Hills are not secure enough for Michael...

Back at Glendale, the climax features crown the hill, like the Great Maus, Das Wee Kirk 'o the Heather (Ronnie's knot-tying #1 site; Nancy would NEVER have chosen such a ghastly concoction...), and, most troubling, the Hall of the Crucifixion/Resurrection, which looks like Sister Sharon's doomed tabernacle in 'Elmer Gantry'. In the latter are housed two mega-paintings, 'The Crucifixion', a worthy work by Jan Styka, in Cinerama proportions, which is the best thing about the Glendale site (at least it is a work of academic competence) and 'The Resurrection' by '?', (no artist credit was given when I was there), a really awful panorama of sickening colors, not even worthy of a fourth-rate Sunday School circular. The worst Brigade Painting from the Stalinist era has more comfort, more character...! Anyway, you sit in a vast auditorium while these paintings are presented, with full narration, instructive tips, and musical cliches: I ask you, what else would/could accompany the unveiling of this 'Resurrection' painting than Handel's 'Hallelujah Chorus'? A bit of muffled stage machinery operation was heard as the set changes occurred. I think that the big Vegas showrooms studied here for automated stagecraft tips.

Let us hasten back to the Great Maus before things really get out of control. Even the Columbarium at Paris' Pere Lachaise cemetery, itself a disturbing contrast to the surrounding lively and varied tombs overground that positively throb like one big jabbering conversation, is downright homey compared to the tedious and disappointing galleries that extend past the Last Supper's public point. Like the Closed Stacks of an elitist library, those privileged enough to access their Loved Ones back in there can shed uneasy tears amidst the brain-dead aesthetics designed to impress. Oh, how one pines for a country churchyard under sweeping skies and fresh air!

But no, the Loved Ones here are supposed to conform, like good little shades crossing the River Styx in orderly fashion. Yet there is no mythos, no Poe-poetics, not even any cinematic qualities present. Why, given the opportunity, Tim Burton could really make something cool out of this depressing repository!

The bottom line resources for any sane overview of Forest Lawn and its kind remain Jessica Mitford's 'The American Way of Death' and, most rewardingly, via satire, like Evelyn Waugh's 'The Loved One', brought to the screen in perfect fashion by Tony Richardson, Terry Southern et al, and starring everyone from Jonathan Winters to Bob Morley to Ayleen Gibbons (as Mom Joyboy!) to Liberace (as Council Starker) to Ed Reimers. It is a masterpiece of a film, and it brings us back to earth with a refreshing and satisfying belly laugh.

But right now, this is about Michael Jackson, you know. Yesterday he entered unto this exalted but disquieting environ, shut away from the palm and pine in the mellow smog-tinted LA sun...

Yet! A cinematic - if not apocalyptic - backdrop to the King of Pop's wrapup: the tragic and malevolent doomcloud of the Station fire, which has been raging in the further hills these many days! A sign - of farewell and disapproval for the King's untimely and now homicidal departure?

Not to compare this procedure with the recent and very great loss of Ted Kennedy, but how appropriate, inspiring, and classy was the farewell to the great man of the Senate, from Hyannisport to the JFK Library, to stately Arlington. The American way of death can still be noble and well done.

But I did compare the two, didn't I? Well, Arlington is East Coast and Forest Lawn is West Coast. No further explanation is necessary. Condolences to all. Requiescat in pace.

I can only wish anyone who interacts with Forest Lawn well, for if they are comforted by such an environment, and they think it's right for their Loved Ones, so be it. Because, when you get down to it, Forest Lawn themselves make no bones about what's up with their scene. Their motto (at least when I visited) ran: FOREST LAWN SERVES THE LIVING. Fair enough. After all, the Dead have gone on before us. What care they for the earthquake-proof halls and The Builder's Creed? Michael can lie in private, with the rest of them, and shall tread in Neverland nevermore. I never knew the guy, but I hope it all turns out okay...

(Hollywood Gothic can really hook one, can it not?)

I can only end by paraphrasing Mark Twain's wonderful maxim concerning dogs: 'If there are no dogs in heaven, I'm not going.' (My puppy loves that one, too!)

Thus, if paradise be Forest Lawn Glendale, I'M NOT GOING.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Dogs of Straw and Dogs of Plasticine

Question: which film is more violent:

A) 'Straw Dogs'

B) 'Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit'

?

Answer: B), of course.

I really didn't care for either one, although the cinematography in 'Straw' was intriguing, and the animation in 'Were-Rabbit' was of course brilliant. Thing is, when a film is off-target from the get-go, and all the elements are considered, chances are iffy that it will get better.

'Straw' hasn't aged well. Dustin Hoffman's character is a vacuum-brain type, but he's actually very 21st century in his self absorption, narcissism and simple selfishness. He's supposedly a 'pacifist', but seems more interested in smoking cigs than anything else. He FINALLY blows up at the intruders who are closing in on his house, though he doesn't even know that his wife has already been raped repeatedly. Poor but Brit-pretty Susan George does her best, and David Warner (unbilled) does what he can with his greasy hair, but everyone else is a tedious contributor, and not much more than a parody.

Now I think Peckinpah is an interesting director, and not just because of the much-hyped violence factor. 'Major Dundee' was truly a different kind of western - edgy and uneasy, in the guise of a mainstream vehicle for Chuck Heston. But with 'Straw' Sam P. doesn't seem to know if he should do a 'Wuthering Heights' approach or play it as a 'Sky West And Crooked' (i.e. bucolic Englishness) gone horribly wrong. I for one know firsthand how off-putting rural Cornwall can be. (I spent a bleak midwinter there), but, except for some action with Dustin's Triumph Stag and some interplay with a neat old beater lorry (a Commer?) driven by the hooligans, the scenery could just as well have been cardboard. Any Cornish bleakness was squandered in favor of cig smoking and chalkboard backgrounds.

While 'Straw' of 1971 is of course a period piece that was breaking awkward new ground in pushing the borders of violence, 'Were-Rabbit' of 2005 was manufactured (because it is a construction first of all, and a film second) well within a mainstream where violence is a foundational ingredient in roping folks into picture shows, because even more than sex, violence always sells - and for all ages, too!

But wait - the premise of 'Were-Rabbit' may be quasi-spooky, but the application of the violence therein is so aggressively done with gentleness that any Great British censor, like grumpy old Lord Harlech, would have to find it unimpeachable in its kiddie appeal. It's in the Road Runner category where its non-stop action is concerned, but without the brevity of wit.

This kid-friendly picture aspires to be 'very British' (or more accurately, 'very, very English' - or even Home Counties-ish) in its' appeal, but I'm afraid it doesn't do that very well at all. Charm-wise, this ain't no 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' or 'Genevieve'. Any Englishness that it tries to extol is cut and pasted into the fabric with ham-fisted forcefulness. Like Shostakovich was said to say about the final movement in his Symphony #5, it's 'forced celebration; we ORDER YOU TO CELEBRATE. WE ORDER YOU TO CELEBRATE.' This may sound a bit cruel to apply to a DreamWorks animation masterpiece for the whole family, but I swear, the assertiveness of the film ruined any chance it had to be a winning bit of now-vanished Albion. An Austin Seven does not a Penguin Book-perfect portrait of postwar Britain make.

In Peter Greenaway's 'Drowning By Numbers', a remarkable ambience of Englishness is presented in multiple ways, most memorably in a nighttime scene of lovemaking amidst a fall harvest's bounty. The strange comfort of that scene was so perfect, so accurate, and completely genuine. Not that I expect it to be reproduced in a Wallace & Gromit adventure...

(I wonder if 'Were-Rabbit' director Steve Box is related to the stellar John - David Lean's premier production designer, or Betty, one of the most durable of rare women producers of the 40s-70s...)

Actually, I really shouldn't push the violence issue with 'Were-Rabbit'. That isn't the main thing that rankled me about it. It was simply too much - as in, excessive. Excessive cleverness, excessive skill, excessive frenzy, excessive anxiety to top the previous scene with eye-popping ingenuity. 'Were-Rabbit' tries - oh, how it tries - to make something of its opportunities, but it suffers from a lousy, unfunny script. Ralph Fiennes's character is supposed to be THE butt of jokes and slapschtick, but like John Candy, I was waiting in vain to crack a smile. Ten seconds of Terry-Thomas is better than the whole of this strained affair.

The music score is, well... pretty dreadful, I think. But I know that the makers were very pleased with it. I suspect they were hoping for a bit of grand old Arthur Sullivan or Eric Coates, or even Ketelby, but to me Julian Nott's music inspired a sort of biliousness that some of the visuals merely completed. Why? Excessiveness! Trying too hard. American brashness instead of English understatement. Missing the target, old boy.

I just can't get away from being repulsed by the makers' standards of human or animal appearance: the polished eyeballs and tooth-baring mouths (easy for animators to rotate, easy to reach all the teeth...), which constricted the individuality of the characters, so that only hairstyles or 'Freaks'-inspired craniums seem to be their standout features. The Vicar and the Lady Totten-whatever characters possessed hair that looked like some sort of ghastly glandular discharge that has been coagulated and modeled. I know, it was supposed to be bizarre and funny and over-the-top. A satire on the aristo classes. But... but... very off-putting, chaps. Laid on a bit thick, eh?

In the grand scheme of W&G lore, it is, I'm afraid, a fatal mistake not to have Gromit able to talk - even in dog language. The poor pup doesn't even get to have a mouth! Instead we are too dependent on Wallace (voiced by saintly/beloved Peter Sallis, who does the cliched old brick routine ad nauseum). And somehow, I just can't leave behind the Gromit/Vomit word association. Who would name a nice puppy something like that? Gromit is of course a can-do hero, and his makers chose to make him the strong, silent type - a shocking bit of cruelty, as far as the way they do it. I'd take the wise-cracking Charlie Dog any day.

There's no doubt that 'Were-Rabbit's intentions are sincere. Yet it's as if the freedom of its technical abilities has ruined any chances of deftness or wistfulness or even quality entertainment. I admire the makers' skill of course, but I feel sorry that they couldn't combine with, say, a John Mortimer or a Harold Pinter (both now, alas, no more) or a Bob Larbey or someone who wrote for 'Red Dwarf' or 'The Brittas Empire', for crying out loud. Get your ingenious script FIRST, then apply your ingenious animation to it. I really did want 'Were-Rabbit' to be a stunner. I just couldn't lie to myself that it was.

Finally, I confess, I didn't finish watching 'Were-Rabbit'. I forget exactly where I left off. Oh, I think something fantastic and carefully animated was happening. That much I know. (I assume the bunnies who were trapped in the Dyson-ish vacuum chamber were cheerfully rehabilitated...) I actually made it through 'Straw' though, but emerged, as Sir Walter Scott would say, unamused and unrefreshed. Sometimes I'm just out of step with films, (I never bought into the whole 'Star Wars' wonder-package) but I readily own up to such a responsibility. On the other hand, some films, despite their craft, have no art. To have art, you have to have a soul, and some films just don't have one.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Hoonta Is A Hoonta Is A Hoonta

This morn I encountered a really beautiful example of what might be a new Viv Shill/Always On (TM) motto for NPR: 'By Sounding like Dumbshits, We Learn'.

Renaay was chatting with Mike Sullivan about Burma - uh, you know, MEE-anmarr, Mee-ANNmarr, or whatever the Junta wants - and she was, you know, doing her 'I'm just an all-American gal - despite my Frog name - and you know, there's this wacky country over by Sullivan somewhere that has some problems, or whatever...' act, and Mikey was in casual mode, too. Renaay was like, 'what's WITH those crazy MEE-anmarr dudes, anyway?' (Sounding ditzy can really be quite effective in reaching today's ADD-oriented listeners - trust me, Viv knows!)

Anyway, Mikey almost sounded droll, as if over a latte in Starbuck's, gently educating his ding-dong 'host' at the other end, about Burma in a nutshell, and how warfare can be harmful to citizens in the way of it, and other silly time-filling thoughts. Apparently, there are a bunch of refugees who've crossed over into China. Apparently, Renaay thought that the Junta tightly controls everything within the Burmese borders. (Honey, nobody's EVER tightly controlled everything in Burma. You have a lot to learn, and I hope you never learn it...)

It was as if they were talking about a high school football game that they were hardly interested in.

(Speaking of which, there followed TWO school football tales afterwards, both which involved death, and both of which were dealt with in utter seriousness. Never mind the hundreds - more likely thousands - of Asiatics who've perished beyond the purview of NPR, where life is cheap and icky and, well, way far away...)

Is it any wonder that NPR can be enraging?

For his part, Mikey, in his new conversational (but just as boring) style, seemed anxious to file this routine filler report and get back to the hi-rises and fleshpots of Communist Hanoi, which, rumor has it, make tiresome old Bangkok look like a gopher hole.

Cushy gig, Mike. Spinning Burmese speculative chat from the comforts of the Hanoi Hilton. Enjoy it before Viv gets to your neighborhood and dumps you, replacing you with texting tweeterers on the local scene, who are much more hip - and cost-effective - than you'll ever be. If that actually happens, I'll applaud her.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Forty Years After


Fig. 1 Wavy Gravy (photo courtesy of Mike M.)

A friend brought over the 40th Anniversary Director's Cut DVD package of 'Woodstock' this past Friday night. Now even though I worked in the music business in the 70s and had crewed-and-cleaned up in many a mini-Woodstock, I hadn't the awareness that this was the anniversary weekend or that anything should be done about it. But with the prospect of any Director's Cut viewing of any picture of consequence coming down the pike (hell, I'd consider a Director's Cut viewing of 'Myra Breckenridge' if I thought it's reveal anything of value... but maybe not...), how could I say No?

You could tell that the folks at Warner Bros. (probably Hollywood's most competent and respectful presenter of past classics on DVD, known and unknown) were, in this case, not of the Woodstock Generation, because of certain kitschy aspects to the packaging. The whole kit is contained in a custom-fitted buckskin-fringed suit, and there is a completely worthless paperweight thing included, with tilt-'n-look pix of the 3 days of peace, love and music.

However, it's the film itself that counts here, and the extras. The offerings are superb: masses of extra footage reveal underknown gold. There's no running commentary through the film as a whole, but at the end of the extras, there's a modest bunch of reminiscences about making the movie from some key players, including director Michael Wadleigh, who's interviewed by Hef (with the legendary Barbie Benton in their presence) on the dangerous-sounding 'Playboy After Dark' in 1970.

Speaking of Wadleigh, he mostly disappeared after Woodstock. In the recent interviews, he seems rather fragile. It could be as a result of any number of things, but no doubt his confidence was shaken, as Woodstock was a pretty tough act to follow. For those of us who like to follow the tech side of filmmaking, Wadleigh's rundown on using the Eclair cameras to film the event was fascinating and enlightening. I had thought they used Arriflexes, and in 35mm too, but the Eclair was the bold alternative back then. I think Kubrick used them for 'A Clockwork Orange'. The blowing up of 16mm clear up to 70 was stunningly successful, a process that was repeated with 'The Concert for Bangladesh'.

Anyway, when it comes to the music, the film is just simple, head-on documentation, but very close-in and so intimate that the epic DeMille-ness of the audience's mass has to be remembered. We are indeed reminded of their presence regularly, but because of the basic setup of the stage, no straight-on master shot of the performers could be attained from out front. So, the camera is either right in there with the music, or is way out in the fringes. It doesn't really matter though, as such conventionality of predictable structure is not to be expected at an event like Woodstock.

The general feeling is that 'Woodstock' was so successful it prevented Warner Bros. from going under. There was gold in them thar hippies, and no doubt conservative/hardass old Jack L. Warner was thanking his lucky stars for the Maharishi, Joe Cocker, and Sly Stone.

Too many memorable moments to list here, but a few: Canned Heat's lead singer's gigantic yellow t-shirt, the stormy skies above the threatened lighting towers, Grace Slick's BLUE eyes and her straight, straight nose, lookin' so neat in that white fringe outfit, Wavy Gravy's Tom Mix hat and toothless grin, the cheerful septic sucking service guy, the gorgeous girl in the water shaving her armpit, Country Joe's Vietnam anthem, Joan Baez' humbleness, the Dead's long, dark middle-of-the-night prowl, and of course, Jimi Hendrix's transcendent, symphonic genius in closing down the show.

The coverage of the weekend's 'racier' side - you know, the nudity and the free love - is unavoidably voyeuristic but never prurient. After all, this was an event where people were electively choosing to reveal behavior that is, well, attention-getting. There's no evidence that anybody with a camera was threatened to get his head busted for aiming it at them (something that would most likely happen today... meth does terrible things...), and this is remarkable because there was bad acid circulating around. The reportage of interviews, casual encounters, and comments from all types, is random and a very mixed grille. It is also familiar to me personally as well, and in almost a generic sense. At most any rock festival one can encounter similar exchanges, even unto this day. The Woodstock Effect lives!

The film holds up well. It is not belabored or pretentious. There are a few period quaintnesses - how could there not be, what with John Sebastian's far-out-correct speech, The Who's off-color performance, and so many performers wearing fringe outfits (Grace Slick can wear all the fringe she wants - all the time!), but there's virtually nothing for later, superior-minded viewers to mock or deride.

'Woodstock' is a document of social and historical value, but it is also, first and foremost, a helluva concert film.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tweetworthy Movie Thoughts #1

Just to get 'em out there...

- Truffaut's 'Jules et Jim': Deeply thoughtful, but not quite what I expected. I thought it would be more like Rohmer than Bergman. That's not a negative criticism. One thing is sure: Oskar Werner was one of the greats.

- 'Black Books' BBC series. A new favourite. Inspired tweakiness, consummately gut-busting.

- 'Monarch of the Glen' BBC series. What a series SHOULD be. People you care about. When will Richard Briers receive his deserved knighthood? Get QE2 on the phone!!!

- 'Mad Men' It really IS that good. People you don't like, but done with style and patience. For adults, at last.

- 'Duel in the Sun' Never get tired of it. I've been gawking 'Duel' long before it got the Scorsese endorsement. Solemn, grand and unabashedly sexual. High 40s art.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

This Hasn't Been...

...a very 'posty' summer here at Yakky Doodle Hall, has it?

Everybody's probably getting mighty sick of that Madoff picture, just below. Madoff-who?

Well, there's too darn much to yak about!

Rest assured, after the puppy days of summer have eased a bit, there will be a medley of verbiage spewing your way. So, patience!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Beware Of Madoff Coverage


Fig.1 Leonine Wintriness: Who is this, exactly? A distinguished and strategically-melancholy writer? Of Mailerian standing, perhaps? A distinguished neurologist or historian, maybe? NO! Merely a temporarily-distinguished small-time swindler (Mario Tama/Getty Images)


Within this, the Post-Michael Jackson Era, begins another new epoch: the Madoff Service Era. It's not quite 20,000 years in Sing Sing, but Bernie's perch in his cage is likely to get pretty guano-encrusted.

I've read the three Madoff Saga entries in 'Vanity Fair' and found them to be clearly stated and non-sensational. That's the extent of my foray into Madoffology, and I think it might be sufficient to make the following comments.

The thing is, I have a hunch that Madoff, even though he's billed as the biggest-time swindler ever in the history of the universe, is actually pretty small potatoes. Plus, he turned himself in. It's not that he got caught, though it was only a matter of time. Nevertheless, Madoff ain't the only game in town. Not by a long shot.

To those who haven't been caught in their fraudulent enterprises (and never will be, as Madoff has been a very handy warning to regroup, hunker down and obfuscate further) Madoff is the latest poster child, whipping boy, and chosen one to take the fall, while the media drools over the very audacity of this - this - outrageous Ponzification brought upon the privileged masses who trusted him unto doom. But Madoff the man is essentially a bore. A control freak who did some dainty hanky-panky with masseuses a few times.

This is not to minimize the Madoff deeds, but his career choice shows how easily fraud fits in with raw, untreated capitalism. Much of the time, the two are synonymous. Madoff was merely a rather dutiful and successful practitioner of the arts that make up the concepts of private profit in our honor-system-based modern world. A cheapie auto mechanic can pull off the same shit on a single customer and get away with it time after time. Bernie, on his Olympian pinnacle, was nothing but a common opportunist. The media has made him a superstar, but star quality is not in this man's ken.

The Allen Stanford SwindLingThing is also swooping about the media. Another diversion from the Lurkers - a candy-colored clown swaying from a hangin' tree in a sombre landscape is more noticeable than the camouflaged snake that inhabits the same tree, but the snake flourishes in its deadly invisibility. Stanford is a noisy buffoon - quite a different critter than the ultra-low-key Bernie. Both are perfect for the larger purpose: to steer attention away from the grander, more sinister - and smarter fraudsters, opportunists, and corrupt masterminds. Those who are too canny to 'do a Madoff' will continue to ply their trade, to benevolently suffocate the grannies out of their savings, and do it with new and improved techniques, while Bernie awaits his possible Jeffrey Dahmer moment in a toilet stall in need of cleaning.

RecessionDepression or not, there're still giga-tons of money out there that need to be managed. Those who Lurk behind the media-made scenery of Madoff/Stanford showtimes stand ready to maintain their quality of work - and their quality of life.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Silent Technicolor Extravaganza - With Sound - And Music


Fig. 1 Romanza: Loretta in the delightful fruit tree sequence; imagine it in Technicolor


Fig. 2 A perfected color process worthy of the painterly compositions to come

Henry King (1886-1982) was a pioneer director whose capability in delivering solid and well-crafted motion pictures is often overshadowed by his contemporaries. John Ford comes to mind because both directors took on many of the same subjects. Ford is immediately more of a stylist, but King's competence and sensitivity indicate that he was concerned with substance over style. Both made westerns and pictures that dealt with bygone Americana, but no further comparison is necessary.

As a mainstream studio director (predominantly at 20th Century-Fox), King's diversity was remarkable because, pretty much anything he took on he did extremely well. C.B. DeMille may have mastered the Hollywood epic, but King's production of 'David and Bathsheba' (1951) signaled an alternative style of epic depiction, meant for more adult and intelligent audiences. His handling of musicals (e.g. 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' (1938) and 'Carousel' (1956)) was mature, intelligent and classy. His forays into Hemingwayland ('The Snows of Kilimanjaro' (1953) and 'The Sun Also Rises' (1957) are less successful, but one of his greatest achievements, 'The Song of Bernadette' remains as one of the most compelling and powerful examples of sheer storytelling in the studio era.

Randomly picking a title out of King's oeuvre, one can always find something of interest. I had never seen 'Ramona' (1936) before, but I did last night. It was glorious, and not only because it was filmed in glorious 3-strip Technicolor. It is the tale of a half-caste girl (Loretta Young) who falls in love with an Indian youth (Don Ameche) whose sincerity and fidelity make him respected by all. Rejected by the aunt who raised her, Ramona and her lover run off, are wed, and seek out a pastoral life in the arcadia that surrounds them. The ending is tragic but uplifting.

King, like Ford, was a Catholic, and in this picture, Catholicism is a saving grace. King may go for the sentimental in his films, but never the sappy. The plot may sound operatic, but it is really quite humble in its aspirations. It is, after all, a Romance, not a romantic comedy or an operetta, or a kitschy dalliance. Romance as a genre was much more defined and developed in that era, and the original book, by Helen Hunt Jackson, was a perennial favorite, having been filmed previously by Griffith and others.

The storyline is not new, of course, but some of its attitudes are refreshingly contemporary, if not revisionist. The white folks in the drama are basically depicted as prejudiced, greedy, opportunistic and suspicious, while the persons of color are shown to be honest, hard-working and virtuous, and with considerable dimension. There is nothing pat about any of the characters because their motivation is quickly and economically made clear. The Indians are driven off their prosperous land by whites who have taken advantage of legal loopholes. The matter is not skirted, but it is dealt with straight-on because the drama demands it. Looking back to the film's era, that's not bad for a mere romantic entertainment. Amongst the love-drama are to be found humanitarian notions.

The musical score of 'Ramona' is a milestone. One of the happiest factors in the studio system's workings is that, due to contractual arrangements made by the moguls, creative personnel of exceptional talent could, by sheer assignment from the head office, regularly collaborate, and with brilliant results. Such a case is the stellar roster of Henry King films scored by Alfred Newman, Hollywood's consummate film composer.

Darryl Zanuck, recent emigre from Warner Bros., felt, like Jack L. Warner, that his most lavish productions should have equally lavish scores - nearly wall to wall music, that increased the given picture's prestige. (Conversely, MGM had a much weaker music department at this time.) And because of the corollaries that exist in the film business, greatness in film music could flourish. In this case: Newman was a youthful conductor on Broadway. Irving Berlin heard him and used him for one of his shows. Berlin went to Hollywood and thought Newman would be perfect for scoring talkies (1930). Newman took up Berlin's invitation to Hollywood. Sam Goldwyn heard him and put him under contract. Along with Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Newman consequently forged the theory of film scoring as we know it today. Zanuck then tapped Newman for the 'Ramona' score, based on his soulful scores for Goldwyn. And Newman delivered. The score for 'Ramona' is ultra-romantic, touching, and full of longing - and fulfillment. Poignant, ecstatic, and moving, it is perfect for its purpose.

But in the cinema, the score is always subservient to the more attention-getting aspects of imagery. In this, 20th's first Technicolor outing, all stops were pulled out in fully showcasing the crowd-pleasing (and very expensive) attributes of the process. William Skall, who would later contribute to such vast color mural-storytelling as 'Quo Vadis' and 'The Silver Chalice', was behind the camera, and he well qualifies himself as one of the great 'painters of light' in the cinema. The cameras were huge and bulky, the lighting required was fierce and hot, and the demands from the Technicolor Corp on the creative side often severe, but Skall captures the moods and subtleties of Old California in an almost Mission Style manifestation of pictorialness.

It has long been fashionable (if not the general default) of successive generations to mock such productions as 'Ramona', but my appreciation of this picture is not at all 'revisionist'. No need. I think that many such films might be compared to the effects brought forth by, say, Puccini's 'La Boheme' or Charpentier's 'Louise'. That is, audiences do not laugh them off the stage because they are too syrupy or too kitschy. No, audiences luxuriate in the romantic/dramatic aura and emerge moved, touched, and yes, entertained. If romantic opera gets such respect and appreciation, its' poor cousin, Romance picture shows, might still be eligible as well. So I guess I approach pictures like 'Ramona' with the same expectations I would apply to 'Madame Butterfly' and the like. It is indeed liberating to take a given film for what it is and not for what one thinks it should be in the eyes of others. It is indeed right that audiences should be opinionated about films, or anything that is placed before the public for their absorption, but the conformity of reaction to certain genres gets to be tiresome, to say the least. There's something out there for everybody, and for everybody's moods. Why worry about being embarrassed about actually liking something that is not likable in the conventional sense?

That said, I don't regard 'Ramona' as a guilty pleasure. It is simply an excellent example of its genre, a genre that audiences once loved intensely, otherwise it would not have been made.

Henry King's 'Ramona' is a unique work: the aesthetics of the silent era are given their last presentation, as it were, by a director schooled in the silent style, yet yielding to the obvious benefits of spoken dialogue, original music and postcard color. It represents the closing of one era, and the inevitability of another.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oh, Hello Guy


Fig. 1 Rear projection with purpose

Alfred Hitchcock broke new ground in 'Strangers On A Train' (1951), his most in-depth psychological exploration of psychopathic behavior passing as normality, to date. Consequently, 'Strangers' might be called Hitch's creepiest picture. 'Shadow Of a Doubt' (1943) was the director's first foray into disturbingly quiet innuendo, with mild-mannered Joseph Cotton as one of the screen's most balefully nuanced characters, but Hitch loved the limitations of trains - nowhere to go but over the edge - and 'Strangers' is all about being cornered by such rail-bound limits.

The plotline is simple: a genial chance meeting between two men on a train leads to, well, murder. And quid pro quo.

As some critics have pointed out, 'Strangers' is also Hitch's development of a homoerotic subtext. Bruno (Robert Walker), 'comes on' to Guy (Farley Granger) on more levels than just attraction. Several viewings are necessary to explore the film's multiple levels, and the experience is always compelling.

No spoilers here, but it must be mentioned that the merry-go-round disaster is one of Hitch's most violent and startling sequences. The special effects, all done up in nightmarish monochrome, introduce a most unexpected sense of loss of control, not thought possible in light of the calm control of the picture up to this point.

Dimitri Tiomkin's score is subtle except in the right places, such as the triumphant movement of great trains out of great stations, and in one of the picture's finest 'psychotic' moments, when Guy's mom reveals the painting she's been working on: a horrific portrait that perverts deKooning's 'Woman' series. The scoring behind the climactic tennis match is lightly-stringed and empathetically worried - perfect for Hitch's to-and-fro tension.

Hitch was in top form with one of his favorite cameramen, Bob Burks. Their exploitation of the murder victim's obnoxious and face-distorting glasses, the progression of the merry-go-round operator under the raging contraption (played by Harry Hines, who was Mr Miggles in 'Harvey') and Bruno's extremely 'normal'-appearing close-ups, are among the most memorable shots in the film.

I know of people who can't sit through this picture because it is too creepy. Hitch would perhaps be pleased with such an effect, though the resolve at the end is neat and complete. For the viewer, it is always a pleasure to brand a film as a masterpiece, and in this case of 'Strangers On a Train', it is also a cinch.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Swatted Down

I am one of those who thinks that the current elevated misfortunes of Pakistan are a direct effect from the US/NATO failure in Afghanistan. The droning and bombing, the slaughter of the innocents, the twelve kids who were blown up when they were playing with an undetonated bomb, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the general intensifying of stability issues, and now, the tragic exodus of the embattled residents of the beautiful and traditionally peaceful vale of Swat and its district, and hundreds of other outrages, none of these and many other events need have occurred but for the encroaching crises exported from an occupied Afghanistan, inflaming Pakistan's vulnerabilities and enabling them to expand.

When I was in Peshawar years ago, I checked into visiting the Khyber Pass. I was told it could be done, but an armed escort was necessary. Not for protection against the Taliban or al Qaeda (or drones - or even friendly fire - from our NATO 'peacekeepers'). No, back then it was for protection against mostly smugglers and tribesmen, people who have never been under any greater power's control, whether they were Mughal, British, or Pakistani. It was an exciting prospect, but rather an expensive one, so I passed. Peshawar was a charming city, full of Arabian Nights magic, cordiality, and excellent green tea.

Granted, political instability has been a way of life in Pakistan. Death in front of the mob was perhaps Bhutto's destiny all along (witness the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty's precedents in India), and there has long been an uneasy Pak-Talibanian association. But the aggressive actions in Afghanistan, and US (et al) blunderings, have clearly exacerbated Pakistan's issues to the boiling point.

Finally, an entirely selfish point to make, but one that is at least peaceful in its intent: I always wanted to visit Swat. When I was near to it, I turned back, in the interest of other threads to follow in the region. I figured, 'it'll always be there, so I'll get there next time.'

Alas, alas for Swat...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Showbiz Econ 101

Yes friends, it’s TREATISE TIME!

You know, such as when you have to make statements and back ‘em up, like them Ivory – I mean, Ivy League scholars do, though they be brutalized by the hideous specter of Publish-Or-Perish™, but churning out bales of esoteric gobbledygook does wonders for tenure tracking, plus it does a body’s ego good.

So now we have TREATISE TIME. And why? Well, a yak is a yak (good ‘n cheap), but sometimes the cheeping has to abate for a spell, so that one can spout a tad bit of theory instead. What follows aims to be fairly serious, and I hope that it will be considered in that light. No Keynesian or Krugmanian authority here, but there might be a bit of tap dancing of some quality. It is not meant to add to the already burgeoning silage stew that bubbles and pops with expertness and analysis in the melted down media – concerning our blown-out economy. (Although I don’t see how it couldn’t.) Notwithstanding current conditions, I’m just offering up some cultural aspects that might be bitter food for thought as to why some personalities of power led us into this rather unpleasant and kerosene-tasting pickle – in which we now find ourselves.

At any rate, it’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to, ramble if I want to, ramble if I want to, and you’d ramble too if it occurred to you . . . So, here goes . . .

Part of the problem with today’s economic meltdown is that a whole culture of what I call ‘Lunge Economics’ has been built into the financial systems of contemporary (free market) capitalism.
‘Lunge’ meaning: those who have major control, or are key participants in the global world of money, have desired to get all they can out of its opportunities, and what’s more, they endeavor to do it as fast and as completely as possible. The preceding may be a run-on sentence that purports to substitute itself for one word: greed – but that’s not the whole of it.

In our accelerated consumerist world, where time has been crunched from blocks into filaments, the prevailing attitude is that the obvious is undeniable: that time passes quickly – more quickly than ever, because we are carried along with the packaging of it, and that means it’s all about impatience and superficiality – and with ever-increasing speed. Therefore, the old saw, ‘get all you can while the getting’s good,’ though it be hardly utilized any more, is nevertheless the banal but standard modus operandi of any smart money controller, whether they be a top CEO, or money-poor conservatives who are sympathetic to capitalists because they aspire to be one (but never will be, for someone has to serve as the ruling elite’s bedrock of pre-hornswoggled constituents).

By this simple phrase: ‘get all you can’, etc., stark mortality becomes a chief incentive for greed, more than heightened pleasure or mere power ever could be.

No longer do turbo-capitalists think and act in long-term frameworks. The imperative has been to seize (I think the term ‘lunge after’ is better) opportunities so as to maximize profit – ostensibly under the guise of honestly slaving for stockholders, while the true goal is to maximize personal acquirement, with the rest being ego-erotic gravy to slather on the soul’s nakedness before the altar of Mammonic Achievement. (Corny, but that’s how these primitive dick-size-obsessed organisms think, I should think.)

Of course there has always been a built-in tradition and expectation of carpe diem in free market capitalism – to be filed under the category of ‘competition’ – but never has that supposedly stimulating concept been firmer entrenched in the general image of the engine that powers the entity of money. Behind the perceived scenes, what proven money controller has not been tempted by the simple dream of monopolistic, center-of-the-universe-type mastery over all that lies below the Olympian upthrust he (or not very often, she) occupies? It is only natural that high stakes players think in absolute elimination terms regarding their rivals. Darwinism when applied to elites has to be an exercise in evolution achieved. Anything else would be a mockery to the progress of the human race.

Nevertheless, the steady institutionalizing of a Lunge Economy was clearly established in the Reagan Era, that liberalizing and legitimizing epoch of greed, under the friendly premise that, well, anyone and everyone can achieve monetary success without actually having to resort to old fashioned . . . greediness. If anything, the prospects were that financial windfalls would descend unto everybody who was worthy – you wouldn’t even have to work that much (enter entitlement complexes and the resultant sullenness that inevitably waits down such a road), as its powers were as yet undefined. The simple license was to just let the markets spread their beneficence over all. Even financial dumbos would be provided for, though way up there somewhere, the true masters would be far beyond mere peasant-expectations, in a realm where superstars of pecuniary power could not help but enjoy the bliss they deserved, free of all unsightly and dirty bits of the Great Unwashed. And in this rarefied atmosphere, power and product would only expand – exponentially. To the naïve but lucky participant: prepare to be blown away by the possibilities.

As a proper sobering notion, like the old man who rode with Emperors of Rome to remind them that they were only mortal, and to keep the lesser folk in willing thrall, the mass publicizing of Mutual Assured Destruction (M.A.D.™) betwixt the armed ‘n ready superpowers at the time, was at its height, and ready to brake the upstart intentions of any haughty comer who intended on muscling in on the Lungers’ Elysian domain.

Thus, a corollary: we live in apocalyptic times, therefore, since U-Haul trailers are not usually seen behind hearses that are still in undertaking service, and with the decline of mainstream religious faith (à la Western tradition beliefs) once prevalent in the upper moneyed classes (if much of it was never there at all, perhaps a touch of conscience was), and even psychology’s failure to convert society with its cause/effect-cum-environment premise, because the society had grown too ‘smart’ for any such massaging, due to the dearth of any serious philosophy to rival money as a principal raison d’être, license must logically and plainly be given to the goal of ‘get all you can while the getting’s good’. Simple as that. And the boom of the 90s, plus the Great Fear of 9/11 and its resultant wars of opportunity speeded up the lunging with real exponentiality, as it were, and indeed, legitimized it in the public’s mind (with the aid of Neocon publicizing, by the way).

However, the actual range of the lunging could not last. Though there were many Houses of Usher in numerous ghettos within that urine-gold city of Reaganopolis on the hill, their doors were not marked with conscientiously-applied lamb’s blood. Corruption tends to be chameleon-like in its adaptability and craft. It would take more years of milking the still bloated cow by the lungers to drain the essentials of growth that the snake-oiled public naively thought built for the ages, and whose buttermilk they would surely partake of, any day now. Collapse must, by the laws of physics, necessarily occur, due to the sheer weight of the lunged effect and its’ consequences (e.g. pillaging, for one), made chaotic by incompetence and greed-based mismanagement, as enacted by super-powered financial controllers. Thus, one person’s (me) hunch about the current econ crisis.

And there’s another thing, another part of the problem of today’s meltdown, and it’s an aspect to Lunge Economics that’s pretty important. It does not ‘legitimize’ the dizzying greediness, but it does serve as an understandably reasonable possibility in explaining any existing non-greed-based veering toward catastrophe in the state of capitalism, based on the sheer instinct of capitalism to multiply upon itself. And that aspect is: ‘The Showbiz Model’, I’ll call it. (I don’t at all like the overused and lazy-trendy term ‘model’ as a catch-all for imitative and non-creative emulation based on, say, ‘what experts tell us’; it sounds really cheap, but I suppose it’ll have to do . . . Blah, blah, BLOP, Frank Luntz!)

This – this Showbiz Model goes back to the 1960s-70s. It doesn’t exactly matter who was president at the time. The thing was, in Hollywood, the moguls who had founded and still ran many of the studios were aging or dying off, and had either been discredited due to flop productions (Spyros Skouras at 20th-Fox, due to ‘Cleopatra’; MGM’s ‘Mutiny On The Bounty’, which ‘they’ blamed on Brando!) or had sold out to the newly hip Wall St. corporate interests (Warner Bros., Paramount, United Artists). Those being the cases, studios were indeed picked up, basically for pennies a serving, by those new pioneers in globalism, the conglomerates. Such as Transamerica (United Artists), Kinney Services (Warner Bros.), Avco (Embassy Pictures), Gulf+Western (Paramount), and later, in the second great wave of corporate acquisitions, Sony (Columbia and TriStar), Matsushita (Universal), Rupy Murdoch’s News Corp. (20th-Fox), and Time-Warner (Warner Bros.), later AOL-Time-Warner (Warner Bros. again, plus New Line), Disney (Miramax and ABC) and Viacom (Paramount, again). Incidentally, people should remember that Viacom started as a spinoff of CBS, for the handling of its’ syndicated product – they succeeded in creating a monster, who tried to eat its mom . . .

(Quiz: what does AIG stand for? American International Group. You mean, American International Pictures is part of that ‘group’ – y’know, the studio that brought you ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’, ‘Sergeant Deadhead’, and Roger Corman’s Ed. Al. Poe series? Not this time, no. AIP was a profitable ‘minor’, and Sam Arkoff sold it to Filmways for a fortune. AIG is another matter entirely, and without benefit of Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and Vincent Price . . .)

The essential fact with the Showbiz Model is that canny suits in Wall St. discovered that motion pictures, having entered the Blockbuster Age, could be good little – strike that – good big earners, because box office receipts meant cold hard cash in the till the very night of the show. No waiting months for transactions or decades to make a profit. Booms were possible, if not overnight, then certainly over the weekend. Granted, more people have seen ‘Gone With The Wind’ than ever saw ‘Love Story’, but with inevitable inflation of ticket prices, ‘Love Story’ turned out to be a monster – hit, which helped confirm the importance of the golden eggs to be laid in Hollywood for the studios’ conglomerational (sic) masters. Ali McGraw’s dying on Ryan O’Neal thus made Charlie Bhuhdorn of Gulf+Western (or as Mel Brooks wagged it, ‘Engulf+Devour’) a king of Hollywood for a time, and he didn’t even know what a dissolve or a glass shot were. (I say ‘a’ king, because there is room for many kingdoms in Tinseltown, though not too many. Besides, musical crowns are a tradition, baby.)

On the other hand, Blockbusterism indeed became a restoritative success that led to some wising up on the part of those who toiled in front of the cameras and who also happened to have celebrity status – plus, more than a few smarts. The suits and/or producers weren’t the only ones who got hip.

It is well known that showbiz is full of stories of artists who were ripped off of their just monetary dues. The most blatant cumulative example being numerous black artists who were shut out of their royalties by sleazy, lying shysters, managers and record companies (i.e. ‘That’s what it says in the contract, and you signed it!’). Among many others, Dorothy Dandridge and Doris Day were shamefully taken advantage of. Lots of kid actors, too.

But it was the unprecedented and mind-boggling profits from the new blockbusters in the early 70s that illustrated the naked contrast between performers and corporate profiteers. Film stars with clout, like Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier and Steve McQueen got organized and formed their own company, the humbly-named First Artists, with the intention of controlling their associated finances and fates, from high concept to box office totals. (United Artists, formed by cinematic pantheon members Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks and Griffith, was of course the inspiration, the source of the famous phrase, ‘the lunatics are now running the asylum’, until acrimony and lack of will turned UA into an entity that was conventional in its corporate structure, but consistently adventurous in its projects, until they were ruined by corporate pressures and preferences. ‘Heaven’s Gate’ didn’t help much, either.)

First Artists did not have staying power as a company, but the legacy of the point it made is still with us today. That is, if a star or stars provide a guarantee or at least a promise of big B.O., that star or stars shall successfully negotiate a contract in which either a salary commensurate with the presumed receipts of said picture is secured, or else a percentage of the profits from said picture shall be delivered. The best example of the latter is perhaps Jack Nicholson’s humungous percentage of the take from the first resurgent ‘Batman’ picture of 1989. As Jett Rink, played by James Dean, said with a vengeance in ‘Giant’, ‘I’m RICH!’

Inspired by these glamorous and well-publicized achievements, the suits of Wall St. (and other financial climes), knowing of their own stardom in their own minds, embarked on their own lawyer-facilitated efforts to secure bigger and better pieces of the ‘take’, whatever their business entailed. There could be stars in the armaments industry just as much as their could be on the flickering screen, and hell, their numbers made the receipts from ‘Jaws’ look like housefly feed. But it was the Model that counted.

This eureka trend was/is particularly appealing to Baby Boomers, who, inculcated with their own rights to specialness and entitlement, usually seem to seek out and attempt to capture notions that promise fulfillment of their own aggrandizement (mostly as consumers, not contributors), with the expected side benefits of (inferred) sex, (prescription) drugs, and a bit of tasteful rock ‘n roll (but not too loud any more).

Most of them, of course, have not realized such success, but to the few who have, the disease of greed and its co-pathology, the notion of ‘enough-is-never-enough’ have infiltrated their personas to a potentially world-shaking extent.

Meanwhile, back on Wall St., the supreme lungers who attained M.U. (Master of the Universe) status, have, through their lunging and grabbing, brought the financial world to its bony knees. How else could the collapse of ’08-’09 be explained, free of ‘experts’ and media hacks, or of Bushistic Neocons? Those Neo-conservative strategists and egomaniacs were themselves key players in this Lunge Bowl, for they stood in the shadows of advantage, behind the movie stars and the vain spinning pinwheels of Young Executives in Wall St., a brotherhood rooted in Darth Cheney’s ‘dark side’, who expanded the playing field way past Boomed-but-Busted mundaneness and into some really nasty shit. For example, Dave Leasor’s ugly mug rules Halliburton from a discreet and extradition-proof citadel in Dubai, but he ain’t no fun-lovin’ Eagles fan, out for a good time. He and his kind are into war profiteering and related sick ventures. That’s what they do. Dave’s a lunger, ‘big time’, but he’d never admit it, not even to the mug in the mirror. He and his kind represent the full flower of toxic exploitation of the vulnerabilities of the human condition, in the name of, well, helping, or something. With mentors like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and anyone else out of the American Enterprise Institute, lunging even degrades into grabbing, clawing and trampling, for there is plenty of dusty death in Mesopotamia and greater Bactria to show for it. But there are capitalistic/corporate psycho-sociopaths, and there are common opportunists. I’m mainly talking about the latter here.

There are stars in all walks of life, of course. And the more important and/or glamorous the field, the more its stars have a right to shine. Even though the shine is decidedly dubious. Remember Malcolm Forbes? He was supposed to be making out with the babes on his Harley into his 100s, but he blew out years ago. Yeah, but there’s Kirk Kerkorian, now in his 90s, still mucking up American institutions, like MGM and Chrysler, and still doing more diabolical dinking around in Vegas than Howard Hughes ever dreamt of. At least H.H. was a genuine original. A lunger if there ever was one, Kirk has always toyed with, then devoured, then shat out whatever remains, then moved on, ever on. (Prediction: K.K. will be the prime agent in harvesting marble from US state capitol buildings for use in their serf-built castles by the New Warlords of the New Feudalism – when he’s 130 years old . . .)

Remember when General Motors was ‘the biggest company in the world’? That moniker lasted a long time. That’s when the deals with the unions were made. Like a movie studio being obliged to dish out fair profit sharing (to those who had negotiated it), the unions got a fair-ish chunk of GM’s profits. But now that the behemoth might be going belly-up, there’s no contingency plan in the event of fallen-into-the-cistern profits. None was created because profits were never designed to fall. Contracts are re-negotiable, but the same terms of profit and the sharing of it will still render any outcome exclusive of the possibilities of company failure. GM will blow out, reorganize, become successful again, and any profit sharing will be on management’s strict and discriminating terms. Take it or leave it. While unions are indeed guilty of their own corruption and hoggishness (like the management above them), blaming them for the downturn/collapse of, say, GM is a sour and absurd choice, though an easy one. But that’s like pre-blaming the unions under Exxon-Mobil for high gas prices. Never mind E-M’s unprecedented profits – the starkest example of Showbiz Econ ever – as gasoline is similar to box office profits for its instant gratification.

Oh, but let’s not cast GM adrift in the waters of Assured Bankruptcy without mentioning (newly former) CEO Rick Wagoner. Having presided over GM’s decline, the White House asked him to leave his office – but with 25 mil in tow. Not a bad U-Haul. Poor misunderstood Rick . . . There have been quite a few voices that thought he got a raw deal! Regardless, I notice that he went quietly. Smart guy. He could read the handwriting on the wall, because, with his divine powers, he wrote it himself. (Interesting trivia: there are more Lincoln hearses today than there are Cadillacs, though Jimmy Suburbans still do a lot of pre-embalmed body-hauling.)

Free market capitalism provides for many variations though, because the seeds of its destruction are permanently sown into the bedrock below it all, and growing seeds can crack and conquer stone. Thus, maybe the Epic of Money is cosmic in its destiny, way beyond even those who merit an M.U.

So, while it isn’t just successful movies that caused the present money crisis (experts will advise you to get hung up on stupid folks gittin’ involved in bad mortgages, ‘n stuff), the fact remains that, as great cinema inspires an audience, the tantalizing profit from blockbusters inspired those whose sole purpose in life it is to make money, and in maximum terms, with unlimited prospects.

It’s not a question of blame. Actually, it is a tribute to artistic creation. But, creation of what? Successful films are products of invention, and at least they give something back. Their success means that people like the movies, and are willing to access them by paying money up front. And to those who profit from the peoples’ tastes, they are supposed to reinvest their receipts into the system, for its perpetuation, naturally. But those who are apart from it, profiting through other means, but basing their technique on the Showbiz Model, have no intentions of giving much, if any, of their gains back into a culture of caring. Not even caring for the culture of capitalism, which got them to where they could leverage their destiny, no less. Their operations are not intrinsically charitable, of course. They are, to use an old fashioned term that is no longer very powerful, simply selfish.

What-ish?

These are not people who are burdened with ‘sin’ concepts, such as selfishness, greed, or hypocrisy. They are free of such limitations and repressions of behavior. That’s what’s handy about employing the term ‘sociopath’ here.

One thing about showbiz though, is its sincerity. There may be a lot of cynicism in entertainment, but compared to pure plutocratic endeavors, a money man who supports a tap dancer is saintly when compared with a financial lunger.

After all, lungers are only out for themselves. A tap dancer at least offers a diversion. But nothing can divert the lunger’s attention from the ultimate goal: to cheat death by sheer bribery. Hell, if you can buy a president, or a dictator, or even a religion, a creaky old rinkydink Grim Reaper’s got to be for sale. Probably cheap. So they’ll hitch that U-Haul to the hearse that will no doubt bear their pathetic remains (but without their egotistical expectations), not to any Valhalla, but to complete and utter oblivion.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Maurice Of Maurices



It is only fitting to say a few words as a tribute to the great Maurice Jarre, who departed this globe at the refreshingly antique age of 84 earlier this week. (I still don't think of people born in the mid 1920s as all that old - witness Paul Newman...)

Along with Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Leonard Rosenman and John Barry, Maurice Jarre helped forge what film music connoisseurs call the Silver Age. That is, not as foundational as a Golden Age, but just as good in different ways.

At any rate, Jarre proved that, in spite being a young Frenchman with an almost Poulenc-like sound, he could score any picture that came his way. His first international splash was of course 'Lawrence of Arabia', with its very British premise and its Ottoman/Bedouin settings. It was a stroke of genius on David Lean's part to hire the very facile Jarre - and keep him - for the remaining pictures in his career. I daresay, Bax, Walton, Malcolm Arnold or John Barry could have made something splendid with 'Lawrence', but here was Jarre, taking an alternate path: the film spoke to him and he replied with pure film music, a perfect meeting of the arts, gimmick free, and with great themes, to boot. The 'Desert' theme everyone knows, but I like the Main Title the best, with its earnest aspiration, dignity and promise.

Lean's under-appreciated 'Ryan's Daughter' is elevated to a higher plane by Jarre's unexpected score, and 'A Passage To India' could hardly be scored with more originality, as it is entirely lacking in stereotypical expectations. 'Doctor Zhivago' is a score where everything works effortlessly, even Lara's rinkydink-sounding semi-striptease for heavy-lidded Rod Steiger.

The wonderful thing about Jarre though, is that he had an immensely rich career past Lean. What he did with 'Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome' was an absolute triumph of epic scoring, and 'The Train', 'Is Paris Burning' and 'Isadora' are all sterling works.

His profound and sensitive score for Zeffireli's 'Jesus of Nazareth' ensured him a place beside the greats like Alfred Newman, Miklos Rozsa and Franz Waxman.

Like Goldsmith and Bernstein, permanently confident in his style, Jarre never lost his touch. Though the greatness of the films he scored came less often, Jarre's music stands out as artistic integrity that is exemplary.

One example of later Jarre that is plainly a masterpiece is his score for 'Tai Pan'. In this film, that should have been better than it was, Jarre creates harmonic excitement that is free from token exoticism, yet it is evocative of Opium War-era China in ways that only a wholly original composer can come up with. The lengthy End Title music is Jarre at his best. As the camera slowly zooms out into a tremendous panorama of Hong Kong as seen from the Peak, Jarre lets all his powers loose to form a triumphant paean to an idealism that the film itself didn't touch, a pure flight of glory that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with 'Tai Pan' at all, and is more of a tone poem than specific program music. Like many of the finest film composers, Jarre regularly transcended the film he was hired to score

(While I will always prefer the Main Title to be at the beginning of a film, the End Title credit crawl has been a gold mine for film composers to show what they've got, which is reason enough to be the last one to leave the auditorium if the score is a good one...)

There is always something high-flying and free about a Jarre score, as if his music is up in the atmosphere, but, ever mindful of the job it has to do - to support the film that is its reason for being - a grounding in drama and tone is always present as well.

Thus do I salute Maurice Jarre (1924-2009) as one of the all time great film musicians.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Barthelona, With Vicky And Crithtina

Late, or medium late Allen (Woody-type) is turning out to be a particularly sophisticated phase in the director's career. With 'Match Point' being a pretty potent version of 'Crime and Punishment' themes (I saw it in a small town in Sweden, and the audience was just as respectful as they would be for Bergman or Troell), 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', powered by its three starring muses, is a wonderful contribution to the cinema of the personal-level short story, told in layers.

Perhaps this picture stands out as particularly admirable because of its comparative rarity: character development is equal with story-telling. Even the scenery is secondary, though it is a welcome ornament. Many filmmakers today deliberately avoid getting too 'scenic' in location-shot films, as if they are too cool to stoop to mere situational grounding, as that would give too much clarity and suppress cleverness. 'Slumdog Millionaire' which is a remarkable film, nevertheless missed the boat as far as capturing Bombay is concerned, as most of its scenes could have been shot in any large Indian city.

But Barcelona is just too tempting to resist, and Woody provides just the right doses of locale to support his characters and story. And the characters! Predictably (and happily) you can depend on Woody's characters to be attractive - at least physically. Three of the most fetching women in pictures today are in it, and Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, and Penélope Cruz have never looked better. Plus, their craft ain't bad, either. But there's a flaw: not enough Cruz! Her role, Oscar-winner that it is, is comparatively brief. Almódovar knows how to use her (e.g. 'Volver'), and now, so does Woody, but more, baby, MORE!

As the sole and pivotal male in this ménage à quatres of sorts, Javier Bardem holds his own with Cruz, Hall and Johansson, and indeed, he might be considered the star of the picture.

More than ever, Allen is a true auteur - one of the few active in film today. As contemporary audiences have basically lost their way in appreciating auteur-authored films, Allen's audiences and box office and production deals have shrunk, but into a size that in no way inhibits his creativity, while in fact it is enhanced. He also wisely chose to go overseas for locations, into more inviting and sympathetic surroundings. (He's doing more London-based films.)

'VCB' need not be pigeonholed as 'a Woody Allen film'. It is an original work, and it leaves you with unique thoughts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jones-ing Over Carmen


Fig.1 Turn this poster on its side, and you almost have the CinemaScope aspect ratio; Saul Bass' design always works, whether vertically or horizontally

Two of the best things about director Otto Preminger are: 1. He knows how to handle a camera, and 2. His fearlessness. John Huston said, 'Time and again (Otto) has demonstrated his courage, his morality and his fearlessness.' He was also famous for shrieking at people on set, but that needn't concern us here.

Preminger's 'Carmen Jones' (1954) has guts, integrity and high quality in its every aspect. Based on Bizet's opera (with new lyrics by consummate Broadway man Oscar Hammerstein II), the settings are WWII North Carolina and Chicago, and what's more, the whole thing works.

All-black cast musicals were nothing new, but 'Carmen Jones' is an entirely different kind of vehicle: mature, nuanced, and generally non-stereotypical, because its drama transcends race. If it is a novelty it is because its drama possesses equalizing forces, yet the talent who realize them happen, in this case, to be African-American. Otto facilitates, but the work is transformed by the ensemble cast.

That said, the film itself is exceptional. Every performance is excellent. Harry Belafonte is somewhat restrained, due to Otto's choices to keep him relatively static, but on the other hand, nothing gets in the way of Dorothy Dandridge's completely dynamic Carmen. She is wholly engaging in the most intimate and invitational ways, and though we may be intimidated by her initially, her humanity becomes embraceable and ultimately moving.

In a later era, Dandridge would have been allowed to become a great star, but we should feel fortunate to have what we have of her.

The immediately recognizable Brock Peters kicks off his illustrious career with a supporting role of consequence, and Olga James, in a gem of solid performance, creates a strong presence as an alternative to the fiery Carmen.

Sam Leavett's camerawork, guided by Otto's fluid style, is particularly elegant and logical and displays some of the most exciting use of the wide screen, even when seen fifty-some years later. CinemaScope was at its widest (2.55:1 - before it was squared off to 2.35:1), and instead of balking about it, Otto takes advantage of its real estate with quasi-expressionistic narrative purpose.

The musical direction by Herschel Burke Gilbert, ably assisted by Jester Hairston and even Dimitri Tiomkin, is Hollywood professional musicianship at its best. Bizet is well served, with all dramatic flames lighted full blast, all the way through.

One thing about Preminger as a director: he delivers the goods, and with 'Carmen Jones' the delivery is high-powered, and as a consequence, becomes cinematic time well spent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Wonder Of Werner

Guess what? I'm doing a mini-Herzog festival!

The liberating concept of acquiring used DVDs of esoteric classics is something hard to resist. First up: 'Fitzcarraldo'.

What a deep joy this picture is! So rich, so giving, so much to grab on to! I saw it when it first came out, but I swear, the DVD viewing was better and more meaningful for me. Perhaps because I am mature enough for it now. Plus, back in '82, cinema was populated with much more exciting product, so 'Fitz', which was derided for being indulgent, didn't stand out so boldly, despite its utterly bold premise.

I'm so glad Kinski got the part. Jason Robards, in the first version, is an institution, but nothing can match Kinski's grandeur and facial expressions and enlightened optimism, so perfectly wedded with edgy sweat in an out of muddy reality.

And what could be a happier screen relationship than Claudia Cardinale's and Kinski's ecstatic approach to life? Every moment they share is zestful, passionate and mutually understanding and supportive. What a refreshing concept!

Even the one fakey bit - the quite reasonable decision to capture the boat's passage down the rapids in miniature, has a compelling sweetness to it. The giant water drops look like protective nectar that will see the ship through, in spite of all threats.

(Spoiler follows:)

And what a triumphant ending - not an anticlimax at all, as Fitzcarraldo does indeed bring opera to the city in the jungle, as he promised.

Next: 'Nosferatu'!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Inadequate Hearting And Minding

Hearing Gwen Thompkins' and S.S. Nelson's reports this morn from E. Africa and the Afghan-Pak border respectively, I couldn't help but detect some classic American earnestness in action. In all their torrent of words (Ms Gwen seemed to use ProTools to morph her voice to squeeze into its allotted slot) I learned much less than a more mature and concise reporter such as Ofebia Quist-Arcton or Philip Reeves would give (both of whom I've praised in the past, and who are 99% BBC and 1% NPR in their journo genetics). It sounds strange to say, but I find that American reporters (not just uNPR-oids) in these and other locales just don't 'get it'. I'd need a thesis to explain, but hell, I've learned more about the Sudan from the film 'Khartoum' and Robert Young Pelton's 'The World's Most Dangerous Places' (various editions - I'd recommend it for any on the ground research of trouble spots), and of the Afghan Pak frontier from Kipling and Olaf Caroe's seminal 'The Pathans', not to mention old National Geographics - than I've ever gotten from US NPR-niks. (Plus, bumbling around Peshawar as a tourist - way before today's troubles - was pretty cool; I've never heard anyone on NPR really capture what an incredible city Peshawar is - or the region, for that matter...)

In my opinion, Americans make pretty poor hearts-and-minds imperialists, while they obviously excel in the military/industrial version (at least ostensibly - recent evidence shows 'Fiasco'-level flops there, too.)

In WWII, my recently late dad fought for a Marshall Plan-innovating, UN-assisting, peacemaking USA. I still foster that ideal.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Let The Follies Begin

Oh yeah, National Peep-peep Radio was positively abuzz this morn, jiggle-dancing over Obama's speech last night.

There's a new glee at NPR: that Obama's gonna be pretty big pickin's as far as NPR slop-generation is concerned. Republicans can now be unashamedly coddled and given a forum to pout, as they are now suppressed minority underdogs, and the smirking and bemused condescending from Inskreep 'n Mundane can be flaunted without hesitation.

And GO, DON, GO!!! There goes Don Gone (I used to refer to him with the vulgarism 'Don Gonorrhea', but I needn't stoop to such wordplay any more...), who's ALL OVER THE PLACE doing mop up on Barry's stern oration, having the time of his life. (The Don's speech rhythms still make me barfing-seasick).

And the Reagan comparisons - made, by the way, as if O'Bama could never approach the majesty of the Great Communicator! Well folks, I vividly remember all about the Reagan years (when Baby Stevie and Renaay were still squeaking in their kaka-lined cribs), and that was when I first realized that America as a humanitarian organization was doomed. Romancing over that sick era is something I can't abide. All the seeds of the Bush Dark Age were sown then...

You know, taking a furlough from NPR really gives you a neat perspective. When you resume listening, the stark realization looms: that NPR is about the most rinkydink, stupid-sounding source for information imaginable, with doofus personalities who will never be ready for prime time, populating a front for sinister and contemptible agendas.

Silly me - having to learn that all over again!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Things Are Just Fine The Way They Are

I haven't wasted any irreplaceable time yakking about NPR (UnPR) on these here pages much lately, as it is a futile business at best, but I have some DEFINITIVE statements to make about it.

That is, I don't care if such types as Yawn Williams or any Heritage Foundation critter happens to babble away on NPR. Because, that's standard procedure these days. I shall not pine for anything that NPR was or should be. (What I really want is for them to be OFF THE AIRWAVES.) You see, I don't want them to 'get better'. I don't trust NPR now,and I don't think I could ever again. As the saying goes, when you lose your keys in a crack of molten lava, man, they're GONE.

That's what one does when one truly writes something off: no trust involved.

Just felt a need to reiterate the obvious. Maybe it has something to do with Valentine's Day: make love, not crappy journalism...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

RESTORATION

It is done. The 800-year Bush Dark Age. As Howard Cosell said, 'IT'S OVAH! IT'S ALL OVAH!'

Now the tough part: how to heal.

I'm hearing lots of voices on the Net, saying that Obama's just the same as BushCorp and that he's already slipping into predictably sleazy behavior. Well, about an hour ago he just became president. (Never mind that Plain John 'Android' Roberts mucked up the oath; puppets are rarely ready for Prime Time...) My default is to give the man a chance.

Why not be suspicious? Because I am weary of the conditioning which the Bush Dark Age has inculcated us with. In other words, we have been forced to inflict our own thoughts, our own minds, with the hideous rot spawned by BushCorp and its Neocon interests. When sociopaths are in power, they produce strains of subtle and insidious thoughts, notions, and opinions that, when ingested, retard and pervert even healthily critical-thinking minds. Propaganda has a way of doing that. It's great to be feisty and skeptical, but when the show runs on and on, and the task looms daunting and never-ending, the resistance erodes and the depression takes over. That's what a Dark Age is.

But, on this day, a Dark Age has just officially ended. It really has.

How then, to negotiate this historical fact and embrace it? How can we mature with it?

These are the inner questions which we must ask ourselves, again and again.

I shall of course remain wary, and ready to leap into critique mode When and If. But for the present, if only for a day, the liberated mind cries: Peace! Restoration! A saner path has been opened! An end now to suppression! An end to insanity! An end to fascist manipulation!

Better a flawed nation with sincere intent than a false and dangerous empire. History has not ended, as was the Neocon dream. We are still its subjects, and we'd better restore our wisdom from its lessons if we intend on navigating the future. Obama's address touched on this and other issues. Purposeful words they are, and hopefully, not just words.

In short, I would rather now regenerate as a somewhat hopeful naif than remain in the toxic mud puddle of dreary expectations that, when chosen, cement the mind with their fastness.