Saturday, March 3, 2012

"I was reading a book the other day..."

With my attention diverted to other matters, I've not been taking note of birthdays and events as per usual. Thursday March 1st was Glenn Miller's birthday. And yesterday, March 2nd, was Kurt Weill's. And, it was the anniversary of my radio show which started back in 2000. Today is the birthday of Jean Harlow, the first movie star to grace the cover of Life magazine. She was the first "Platinum Blonde", the first "Blonde Bombshell"; the terms were coined to describe her.

Harlow was a reluctant star. At one point in her life she married a man with money; they moved to Beverly Hills. Since she had a car, she drove a friend to a casting call at Fox. You can guess the rest. Her story is quite a saga, complete with controlling mother, one husband's suicide shortly after their marriage (the rumor mill had a field day), a studio arranged marriage to cover up an adulterous affair, extreme popularity, illnesses and untimely death at the age of 26.

Publicity still from "Red Headed Woman", with author Anita Loos.

She claimed that she never dyed her hair. Once, she was to play the role of Anne Darrow, screaming heroine of RKO's King Kong. During pre-production, MGM put her under exclusive contract, and the part went to Fay Wray, who wore a blonde wig for the role. 

When I was young, glamour images of Harlow were everywhere. There were a small handful which were iconic. They seem to have disappeared over the years. There are lots of images available on the internet, but many of them don't catch the Hollywood Glamour Machine in full force. Still, I managed to find a few:

Her acting talents were minimal. In their review of her role in Howard Hughes' "Hells Angels", Variety famously remarked, "It doesn't matter what degree of talent she possesses... nobody ever starved possessing what she's got."  And she did have it. She and Clark Gable steamed up the screen in several very successful pictures.

"She didn't want to be famous. She wanted to be happy."
-- Clark Gable

Happy Birthday, Ms. Harlow.

Some days I just can't

So. It's another where did the last four hours go morning, and I keep ending up back at the same place and shaking my head. I shake my head a lot these days. Side to side, not up and down. The same old place (as opposed to the old Same place) is a news story about the soldiers in Afghanistan who innocently burned copies of the Koran. Officials have officially stated, "Mistakes were made". Now that's the kind of statement that can cause one to become unstuck in time. Suddenly it is 1986 and that actor starring as President of the Good Ol' Boy US of A offers a non-apology apology over having sold weapons of destruction to Iran (violating the don't do business with terrorists pledge) to finance right wing Contras in Nicaragua, who were our okay because they were our terrorists. (The Contras were trying to topple the Sandinista government which had overthrown very bad man dictator Somoza and instituted programs for mass literacy, gender equality, and widespread easy access to medical care. Damned Socialists!)

Okay, so mistakes were made. And the Afghans overreacted by killing USA soldiers who were there to train their government in killing. Things got so bad the very model of a modern major general apologized, the President of the USA apologized, political candidates in the USA belittled the President, oh, a whole bunch o'shit hit the media fans.

And in all this time, no one, not one single columnist, not one single blogger, not one single reporter or commentator has, to my knowledge, wondered how it is that after 10 years amonkst the infidels no one had ever told those US soldiers that burning a Koran was an affront to Muslims? Did they maybe have sudden onset wisenheimers? I meant Alzheimer's. You know, the Reagan Thatcher demented-ia thing?

This just makes me wonder what "they" are covering up this time.
Or trying to hide.
As in distract us from.

Whatever it is, it certainly isn't trying to make US forget the rise in gas and oil prices.
This time it is supposed to be because the Iranians threatened to "close" the 24.2 miles wide Straights of Hormuz (why are fundamentalists always harping on being straights?) (Okay, it's only 21 point something in nautical miles.)There has been no blockade, just the threat of one. ABC News, to their Disney owned credit, ran an expose of Wall Street Speculators who had driven the price up. No one did an expose of the big oil companies and the extra monies they are raking in to bolster their already record profits.

Wait. Record profits. In a bad economy? Surely not oil companies like ExxonMobil? In the worst not a depression since the depression? You mean like GM? Or the insurance industry? Or medical product companies? Oh, that's right - we're all suffering; cut hours, downsizing, thrown out of work (does wonders for the bottom line), losing homes, homeless.... uh, huh. Can you say "managed economy"?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Walt sent me.

It's happened again.

On Sunday, I had one of those 4 hour shifts at work, 7 to 11 am. After getting home, I started falling asleep. That seemed preferable to getting all sulky over whatever came to mind. I was feeling kinda pissy that I was probably going to miss the Academy Awards, not that that is a big loss these days, ya know?  The mystique is long gone, that era passed. But it's fun to watch and bitch, dabble in occasional ridicule, try not to fall victim to the stupefy spell, that sort of thing. I'm not invested in it anymore; these last 15 years or so I don't even go to the movies much, it's too costly.  This year, the only movie with a nomination I'd seen was the last Harry Potter.

And then something possessed me. I decided to go to a matinee. Even then it's 6 bucks. But I really wanted to see The Artist. A silent movie. In black and white. That's how my movie obsession started. A silent move. In black and white.

Every now and then, for family birthdays, vacations, Christmas, my father would get out his 8mm Bell and Howell camera and take home movies. After a minute and a half, you had to stop and go into a dark room, open the camera's side door, and turn the film over and expose the other side. You'd send it off to the lab and a few weeks later (after expectantly going to the post office every day hoping for that "you have a package" slip to be in your mailbox) you'd get back a 3 minute home movie. In color.
You'd get out the projector, pull out the screen and watch the family stare or wave at the camera. Indoor scenes were a hoot - you had to have special lights. Ah, I'll go into all that some other time. What's important is that every now and again my father would, after much imploring, get out an old silent movie he had. It was called Gymnasium Jim. It starred a comic named Billy Bevan, and the Keystone Cops were in it. And I loved it. I still have it. There is this one scene, in which Bevan, in need of a car, enters a teeny tiny shed which is attached to a lamppost. The door swings open and he drives out in this -huge- car. I always smile or laugh. It's magic. It's the movies.

My Dad also had a few 16mm silent movies, and an old 16mm silent projector. There were a couple of newsreels, and a couple of Mickey Mouse cartoons: Orphans Benefit, and Mickey's Service Station.

I was hooked. I later found out that both were sound cartoons, and abridged. But that didn't bother me (then). Heck, the first 8mm movie I can remember buying was a 3 minute Castle abridgment of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; as a home movie it was silent. And black and white. Sometimes, the local tv channels would show a Charlie Chaplin short, or run an episode of - was it really called "Fractured Flickers"? A compendium of silent comedies, everything was cut, and the clips had a hokey narration added. I wanted more. I started collecting my own 8mm prints purchased mail order from companies with exotic names like "Blackhawk Films" of Davenport Iowa, wherever that was. I'd found them somehow, probably an ad in the back pages of an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

One day, I spent my savings on a feature film, Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. It was just about the last silent film made (it had a music soundtrack when it was released in theaters). I ordered it from a guy in Argentina who made 8mm prints of silent movies that weren't really legally available in the United States. I'd never seen it. I'd read about it in a book about silent movies written by a guy named Joe Franklin. But I took a chance. It turned out to be truly great, and one of my favorite movies of all time.

There was even a film collector's newspaper, The Big Reel. Then, a  number of 8mm movie and 16mm film collectors, concerned about the lack of film preservation, started a group called the Cinephiles. They began lobbying to save old movies and newsreels. In my memory, the National Film Institute was created as a direct result. 

As the years started adding up, I branched out into 16mm, and started on 35mm. After a decade in bookstores, I ended up working in film distribution for an insanely wonderful and often economically disastrous 20 years or so. And I've been thru Beta, VHS, Laser Disc and DVDs. I still prefer film. After the jobs in distribution faded away, I somehow ended up here, in a small town in Vermont, now working as a supermarket cashier at the age of 61, in an economy where I can't even keep my cable connected. Damned economy. Damned downsizing. Damned movies.

So, anyway, Sunday, feeling fairly burnt out on life, I went to a matinee to see what became this year's Best Movie Oscar winner:

It was silent.
And in black and white.
And, God damn it, I fell in love with the movies again.