Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A little extra and the Bishop's wife

I pay a little extra to the cable company to have a cable box with DVR, digital video recording.

I could write more than a few posts deriving from that one sentence. The cable company's rate structure and business model makes me think of modern day pirates. The quality of digital recording is excellent, and it records in high definition if one has that service - I pay a little extra for that, too. Why I should have to pony up more money for high def in a world in which high def became the broadcast standard some years ago has not been explained. Did I use the word 'pirates' yet? There is a problem, of course. (Isn't there always?) The box fills up with recordings, at which point programs and movies have to be deleted to make way for new items of interest.

I record a lot of movies, mostly from the classic movie channel. You know, the one that I was fortunate to get when it was part of a special deal? Otherwise, I'd have had to pay a lot extra for an entire service level of sports channels which I would never watch in order to get the one non-sports channel in that package, i.e. the classic movies channel. Did I use the word 'pirates' yet?

Well, anyway, since I gave myself that relatively inexpensive video projector for Christmas, I've been watching a couple of movies just about every week. The way I currently have things set up, the old Hollywood style projected picture is about 5 feet wide, and a little under 4 feet in height. Widescreen, well at least the tv version of it, is over 6 feet in length. In my small-ish space, I could reorient things and get a much larger picture, but my current method allows for a guest or two without totally rearranging the furniture.

Last night, I finally caught up with "The Bishop's Wife". For some reason or other, I'd never seen it. It's another of those movies with a somewhat messy history. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn using facilities at MGM, it was distributed by RKO, and somehow ended up looking like it might have been filmed at Paramount. The story told of a somewhat fastidious Bishop who had become so focused on the task of raising money for a cathedral that he was ignoring his wife and daughter, as well as the needs of parishioners. Heavenly intervention arrives in the form of a rather rakish angel. Goldwyn became so dissatisfied with the dailies he called a halt to production, replaced the director, had changes made to the sets as well as the script, and changed one important bit of the casting. The role of the Bishop was played by Cary Grant, the Angel was played by David Niven. During the hiatus, the director and Goldwyn decided that the roles should be reversed. Grant was allegedly not very happy with this turn of events. The story has changed over the years, however, so that now it is said that the change in roles was Grant's idea and it was Niven who was unhappy. (Niven was at a low point during the filming. His wife was injured in a fall and died from ensuing complications leaving him with two young sons to raise.) However the change happened, both men gave excellent performances in their new roles. Loretta Young does a decent job as the Bishop's wife, suffering neglect with admirable restraint, but was not quite as inspired in her performance as her co-stars.

One of the stories from the set told of a day the director had trouble with both Mr. Grant and Ms. Young. They each insisted that for one particular scene, they be photographed from their "good side". The only problem was that they both favored the same side. The director filmed the scene with the two stars standing side by side looking out a window. Mr. Goldwyn was not happy. The next day he confronted the director and the stars on the set. After having the situation explained to him, he is said to have remarked that if he was only going to get a shot with a half of the stars faces, then they would only get half of their salaries. There were no further such demands.

The rest of the cast was rounded out with instantly recognizable character actors. Well, instantly recognizable for anyone of my age, or for inveterate moviegoers. I especially liked Monty Woolley in the role of a history professor, and Gladys Cooper as the rich widow funding the cathedral. Elsa Lancaster had been cast in a maid's role, but had to withdraw due to other commitments. During the production delay, she finished up her other role and ended up replacing her replacement who had to exit due to commitments of her own. Two of the young players in the previous year's holiday picture, "It's a Wonderful Like" are in the cast - the fellow who played the young George Bailey, and the young lady who played ZuZu of the petals.

Although the film got glowing reviews, it didn't do a lot of business at the box office. Under the theory that the title made people think it was a religious story, the advertising was changed (and in some markets the name of the picture as well) to read "Cary and the Bishop's Wife!" In those markets, the box-office increased 25%.

It's easy to see why it became a Holiday classic back in the days when movies were regularly shown on broadcast tv. A charming sort of romantic comedy, there's Christmas shopping, snow scenes, and a tad of religion. In once scene, Cary Grant plays a harp in the home of the rich widow. The melody became popular, acquired a set of lyrics, and became a minor hit for Nat King Cole as "Lost April".

Most of the movies currently on my DVR are old favorites which I haven't seen in many years. I'm running out of movies I've recorded that I haven't seen. Soon I'll be watching a number of old favorites which I haven't seen in a long, long time. I'm still surprised I spent the money for the projector (it cost about the same as my 16mm print of Casablanca, purchased in 1975 or so). All the little extras I've spent which used to make me feel slightly guilty over the expense incurred have made this possible; it has turned out to be more rewarding than I ever imagined.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Such impermanence.

Okay, here's the thing.

I'm really tired of torturing the language to find ways not to start a post with "I". Such an opening seems far too egotistical. In the long run, however, this blog is about - well, me. My attitudes, my thoughts, my activities, my diatribes against the slings and arrows, my fears (if I want to go that far), and so on and so forth. That's a lot more 'me' than I sometimes find comfortable expressing, or for that matter, reading. In the long run, I suppose this is kind of like scribbling on a fence or a bathroom wall somewhere. I don't really kid myself that I'm all that interesting, or that my thoughts are all that different and are therefore deserving of notice. My writing style isn't especially interesting either. Sometimes I kid myself that distant friends, internet friends, far off family, can occasionally check in and see what is happening in the life and times. Maybe a nephew or niece will one day decide to find out whatever happened to that crazy uncle who, rumor has it, all but ran away to join the circus. It would be nice if they found these ramblings and read just enough to catch the memories, dreams, ideals, and contradictions that make up the old psyche.

I verbally ramble. I am not comfortable with the quick spittle expressions of not quite face to facebook, or tweeting twitterers. My thoughts and words meander. I often feel helplessly old fashioned in this regard. I've no burning desire to be as verbose as Charles Dickens who, after all, was paid by the word. Then again, reading Dickens is a joy in my universe. (I'd have said "in my book" but the books in question were his.) (Ba-da-dumb.)

This morning, I wondered (not for the first time) why I hadn't seen any posts from Delores' blog in about a month. I subscribed to her 'Under the Porch Light', so her posts arrived by email. She had trouble some time back with her electronic interface device, and I had assumed that she was either taking a break, or that such trouble had returned. She was often the only person to leave notes on this page of the electronic universe. I steered my browser to her blog. It is gone, vanished into the sub electronic ether, the online evidence of her being has been removed. There may be any number of very good reasons for this turn of events. Perhaps there was too much information which was used by someone stealing her identity. A hundred quick explanations form in the thought process.

The blogs, facebook accounts, and etc. of people I know or hardly know or would like to know have vanished before. I find it unsettling. These twistings of the ones and zeroes are part of the evidence that we were here, they are expressions of our humanity, a record of our species, the modern equivalent of graffiti etched onto the walls of ancient Egypt. It is unsettling to realize how quickly it all can vanish.


Today, March 8th, is International Women's Day. I think I've noted it in previous posts. For the last couple of years, I've done my annual radio show about the "all girl" big bands on the weekend closest to this date. This year, I had other plans, as it's the 16th anniversary of my program; I've been giving serious thought to calling it a day and closing down the show. I've thought about doing it a couple of times over the last year or so. The anniversary seems like an appropriate time. Last Saturday's show was going to be a kind of tale in the telling, a history of how the show developed and why I think it might be time to stop. This coming Saturday would be the actual anniversary, the slam bang fabulous finish. Now, my show is on for two hours starting at 6pm on Saturday nights. It's a time when people are making or eating dinner, getting ready to go out, deciding what to watch that night, etc. I've always thought it more of a music show and less talk about the music or the whys and wherefores. So deciding to proceed in such fashion was an exception to the way I've conducted my program. Of course, the guy on at 2 o'clock that afternoon suddenly decided to do a show in which he autobiographically told the story of how he found the music that became important to him, and what meaning it had in his growing into allegedly responsible adulthood. It was a great show. I couldn't follow that act. I'd intended to play a song or two for International Women's Day, but with the last minute change in plans ended up playing about an hour's worth. The remaining hour was more or less just doodling around, not unlike the way the show started out. I still haven't made the decision about the future of the show, I've wavered back and forth. I guess in a way it's my scratchings on the wall.

As always, I hope any listeners enjoy the show.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Paying for the Fiddler

This morning, as I was perusing the New York Times online, I stumbled upon a mention of the current Broadway revival of the musical "Fiddler on the Roof". The mention was in the headline of an article about the lifestyle of one of the show's performers. As I checked to see if I was interested in the article, I noticed a link to the show's review, from which I surmised that the revival started its run a few months ago. That review contained a link to the original production's review from 1964, which I also read.

from the 1964 review
I must mention that I subscribe to the New York Times online. Personally, I still I prefer the old fashioned experience of holding a newspaper, folding and turning the pages (and the sound that made), and getting my fingers smudged with rubbed off ink. I liked seeing the ads for products in which I had no interest; graphic concoctions of art and commerce that helped pay the paper's operating expenses. I liked seeing articles that piqued my curiosity, I liked reading opinions that differed from my own. I do not wish to be party to the slow and painful death of newspapers and objective reporting, but the fact of the matter is that the Times is unaffordable for me to purchase on a daily basis. My online fee, acquired during a special promotion, runs $15.00 a month and includes the paper's historical files. I would not be able to afford one month of the paper's Sunday edition for that price. These promotional deals are often set for a number of months, and bear constant watching, as the monthly fee is deducted automatically from my bank account. When the deal expires, one will find one's account charged at a much higher rate without warning. A month isn't really a month - the date on which my subscription fee is deducted from my bank account is a moving target, forever edging forward. At the beginning of this past autumn, the deduction was made during the third week of the month. It is now made within the first few days of the month. This maneuver, of course, is not unique to the Times. My cable/phone/internet bill does the same thing. As that one is a much larger amount, I can't let it be set to automatically deduct lest I be caught short. But the date for that bill still changes, a month is not a month, and the 'due by' date seems to move forward as well. But I digress. 

When I lived in New York City, or within a hour or two of it, I greatly enjoyed going to shows. Reading the original review of 'Fiddler', I started to wonder how much it cost back in 1964 when it debuted. As the review was in a .pdf scan of the paper, I went to the next page to check the theatre listings for the price. In 1964, an orchestra seat for that brand new musical cost $9.40 on a Friday or Saturday night when prices were highest.

As cost is relative, I looked up the minimum wage in 1964. The Federally set minimum in those days was $1.25 an hour. Which means, that forgetting taxes, deductions, and etc. someone earning the minimum wage would have to work for 8 hours to afford one ticket.

The top price for an orchestra seat for the current revival, which is far less than the price of a new show, is $167.00 for a Friday or Saturday night. Someone working at the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour would have to work over 23 hours to afford one ticket.

The Broadway Theatre, one of the few theatres whose entrance is actually on Broadway. It was built as a movie palace with a stage. Mickey Mouse made his debut here before it switched to live shows. It returned to movies for the premiere of Disney's 'Fantasia', and once again for the premiere of Cinerama. When I was seeing shows there, the exterior looked quite different. (The first show I saw there was 'Cabaret', back in 1968.) The current façade and marquee are from work done when the neighboring skyscraper was built a few years ago.

My curiosity got the better of me, and I looked to see how much an average orchestra seat for the current hot ticket, the hip-hop infused musical 'Hamilton' would cost. Finding ticket prices is somewhat difficult if one isn't ordering, and for 'Hamilton', tickets are hard to get. I found someone who complained in a letter written last June that the mid-orchestra seats they had just acquired for that November cost $327.00 each. I decided to check the show's website, which claimed that a few seats were indeed available. The cost for next Friday night was well over $1,000.00. I think it was close to $1,200 something, but my eyes and mind boggled. I had to look away.