Friday, March 31, 2017

The snow this time

Another snow is falling.

I have things to do, but I don't feel like doing them.

Watching the snow is peaceful, even with the roar of traffic going by; the sounds, not of quiet, but of tires on wet asphalt, punctuated by the whirrs of small motors, and the occasional groans of trucks.

I haven't been able to write much, and what I have been able to get out has been in orgasmic spurts on Facebook, commentary meant to attract the reader to news stories that seem important.

There are too many stories.
There is too much to try to understand.
There is too much to think about,
there is just too much.

One night last week, I watched 'Gojira', the 1954 Japanese movie that was altered for release in the United States, where it became known as 'Godzilla'. I dare say everyone knows the outline of the story: a few years after the atomic bomb, a monster arises from the seas, a monster that shows little use for logic, a monster bent on destruction.




Such plots call for a scientist who will quell the beast. In 'Gojira', that role was filled by Takashi Shimura, known to film buffs worldwide for his roles in the films of Akira Kurosawa. In his role as the scientist fighting Godzilla, every time the camera zoomed in for a close-up of his concerned face, all I could see was his face at the end of Kurosawa's 'Ikiru', in which he plays a bureaucrat struggling to find the meaning of life, his life, as he dies of cancer.



The picture I want to use as illustration shows the actor, in the snow, on a child's swing. It has a stock photo company's watermark on it. A lot of photos which used to be considered to be in the public domain are now claimed as the property of such companies. They want to be paid for their use, and the amount they want to be paid, even for a blog almost no one will read, is not cheap. I know the progression of this takeover for a fact, as for several years I have done occasional searches for particular photos, and watched as this has happened. In this case, a 65 year old photo from a Japanese movie is claimed to be under the ownership of a stock photo company. Much of the world seems to be becoming divvied up by owners who were not creators.

The snow outside of my window isn't sticking to the road yet, but is already piling up on the earth which had just started to suffer the appearance of crocus and the earliest signs of Spring.

About two weeks ago, I woke repeatedly throughout the night, which is not at all an unusual occurrence. That evening was different, however, in that every time I woke, I was in the same dream. I only remember the part at the end, from my stirring in the early morning. That's a metaphor, I suppose. In the dream, people were being rounded up. Color was draining out and everything was becoming, well, not black and white, but gray. Gradations of gray. Gray upon gray. People were being rounded up and sent off to somewhere. Younger men were being sent to the army, that much was known. Other people were being sent someplace unknown, to be unknown. I managed to sneak away from the roundup, and made my way down a long corridor which seemed an endless void. There were doors everywhere, lined up neatly, evenly, like some Levittown style apartment house. As I came close to my door, the corridor was flooded with people, people rounding up people, people trying to escape, there was a crush of people. I managed to open the door to my place, and snuck in, hopefully unobserved in the chaos. It was my space without a doubt. Except that my stuff had been largely removed. The furniture that was left had been covered by sheets and tarps, resembling one of those old closed up apartments opened years later with layer upon layer of dust covering everything. That was when I woke up.

The snow covers the world like layers of dust.

I feel stupid. I may have misread the situation, and the intentions of the Trump coterie. I just read several of the comments made by Nikki Haley, the new United States Ambassador to the United Nations. The situation in my country grows more surreal by the day, by the hour. I'd long assumed that the takeover by the reactionary right was an attempt to gut the government, to remove any help given to the working class, to move as much money and resources as possible to the rich, the oligarchs, the robber barons of our time. This seemed like the natural, and predictable, outcome of years of de-regulation, of lies and distortions by media representing the far right. A fight that had used the religious culture wars had paid off, but the cost was Donald Trump and the destruction of the Republican Party. I think I was wrong. I should have kept focus on the religious right. They don't just want to end abortion, or end gay rights (and gays). They don't just want their version of Sharia law, a world in which the husband will rule the home, with an obedient wife to wait on him (if she knows what's good for her - by now a working life in an often corporate culture should have taught women that they are expendable, their roles replaceable).

As I look at the proposed cuts to -this year's - budget, the toll in human misery can easily blind one to the toll on science, on the arts, on international aid, basically everything. I thought these people were simply ignorant of the interdependencies of the world, and had no understanding of the outcome of their actions.

But it's what they want. They are depending on it. Many of this crowd are fundamentalist Christians. The Bible is their word, their God, infallible, and Trump is His servant. They are not here to destroy the world so the United States can take over, so the moneyed class can acquire more than they already have. They are here to destroy the world. Period. They seek nothing less than to force Armageddon; they aren't looking for the end times - they consider that we are already in the end times. They are looking to hasten the end.

Mr. Trump isn't the intransigence and chicanery of the Republican Party come back to haunt them. He is their monster, rising out of the sea of their despair, come to destroy.

And me? I'm just another observer, a loser at life, swinging back and forth in the snow.







Sunday, March 12, 2017

Time. Again.

This morning I'm a little hung up on the concept of time. Again. Which means that we've monkeyed around once more with its perceived linear construct for the purpose of Daylight Savings. These days, it's about the only 'savings' most people have. I waited until this morning to set my clocks ahead. For a brief moment, I considered setting them so far ahead that I'd have to deal with the Morlocks rather than the Trump reality show.


For those who have forgotten, or for the uninitiated, the Morlocks are creatures who inhabit a utopian/dystopian future in the H. G. Wells novel, 'The Time Machine' and its various subsequent radio, film, and television adaptations. In its future epoch, long after nuclear wars have devastated our planet, humans have evolved into two distinct branches. The Eloi live on the planet's surface enjoying -without work- a strife free existence of idle play, lush vegetation, and meals of fruit provided for them. Their only task is reproduction. 'Eloi' is the Hebrew plural for 'lesser gods' in the Old Testament. Think idle rich. The workers of this future have lived in the dark underground for so many eons that they can no longer tolerate light. They are the Morlocks, who tend the machines, and collect and provide fruit as food for the Eloi. Central to the story is a giant sphinx. This is more of a Greek sphinx that an Egyptian one. In Greek legend, the Sphinx asks a riddle. Those who can not answer it are killed and eaten. And therein lies the relationship between the Eloi and the Morlocks, who are, as you might guess, meat eaters.


I have the 1960 George Pal film adaptation in my DVR. I saw it at the movies back when it was released, and I've never forgotten it. In the part of the pretty blonde girl in distress (there was always a pretty blonde girl in distress back then) was Yvette Mimieux, who would be emblazoned into my consciousness in 1964 as the epileptic surfer girl love interest for tv's Dr. Kildare, as personified by the sigh-worthy Richard Chamberlain. The first episode of the two parter was called "Tyger, Tyger", a reference to a poem. I searched it out, and that is how I began reading William Blake at the age of 13. Surfer girl had grand-mal seizures, which was my introduction to such crises and attendant terminology. Also in the movie, in the part of 'best friend', was Alan Young. Mr. Young was quite well known to me, as he had been appearing on tv since 1958 as Wilbur Post. My father's name was Wilbur, so of course I was amused by this coincidence of nomenclature, and a fan of the show. The show was 'Mr. Ed', whose hero was a talking horse. Considering the movies and tv shows I watched as a kid, (which included action heroes like Superman and Zorro, do-gooders who wore capes and extremely tight pants) no wonder I was/am so fucking weird. (Sorry for the language there. I had considered the euphemistic 'fugging', which Norman Mailer utilized in 'The Naked and the Dead'. That tome was written in an era in which such words could not be seen in print without risking some quality time in prison. When Mailer was introduced to Tallulah Bankhead, she immediately remarked, "Oh, Yes. The young man who can't spell." As I often engage in battle with various spell-check and auto-correct programs, I am loathe to be the old guy who can't spell. At least my time at the computer isn't in the basement where I won't have to deal with a biologically acquired aversion to bright light while indulging in carnivorous pursuits. No, I'd be the Time Machine's narrator, trying to help the poor thoughtless Eloi survive. In my version of the story, the Morlocks are led by Steve Bannon.



I first recorded The Time Machine when it was last on Turner Classic Movies a couple of years ago, and deleted it after watching. That was before I got the video projector. When it was shown again last month as part of their Academy Award films run-out, I recorded it again. (It won for Special Effects.)
It should be noted that the lengthy set of steps going to the dome under which the Eloi eat and sleep were originally built for the 1944 MGM version of Kismet, which detailed fun with Muslims in old Bagdad. They were used every now and again, most memorably (for me) as the steps to a library on the Twilight Zone. By the way, in the Time Machine novel, neither the narrator, nor the machine's inventor, are named. In the 1960 movie, the hero is referred to as 'George'. Which was the G in H. G. Wells. Furthermore, when George sits in his machine in the movie, we see an engraved plate on the console which states, 'Manufactured by H George Wells'. In need of space on the DVR, I thought I'd delete the movie, but as I had only watched the Victorian era part of it via the projector, I decided to catch the rest of it first, which I did a few days ago. Seeing the various future sets, and noticing how cheap some of them were, there was no way I could erase it yet. It was just too much fun.


As it happens, there is a fairly recent entertainment trend of the last couple of years with which I've been intending to catch up. I first noticed it with a Fox tv series in which Ichabod Crane wakes up to fight the Headless Horseman, as well as various minions of darkness, in present day Tarrytown, NY. There are now three or four shows whose heroes travel around in time to solve whatever existential crisis is featured that week. I find it interesting that as vampires returned to being a bit passé, as zombies began wearing thinner than their ragged clothing, and as superheroes became too numerous and oversaturated, the problems we face are now solved through time travel. I should point out that one of the new tv shows, based on a 1979 movie, has a plot in which H.G. Wells uses his time machine to visit the present to track down a time traveling Jack the Ripper. I suppose in my mental casting for the ripper, who is out to destroy whatever he can, the part will be played by Stephen Bannon. Or maybe Stephen Miller.





Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dreams remembered

For the last few days those moments just before waking have provided a continuation of the same dream. I don't remember most of it; Dreams often fade quickly. I can recall that just before waking, in an era in which people with education were suspect, a roundup of intellectuals and dissidents had begun.
I was trying to save people, including myself.

Every morning has seen an intention to write in this space. I have started many posts, and left them abandoned. I am certain of the cause; it starts, much as it always does, with reading the news. It just happened again as I began sipping my coffee on a beautiful late Spring morning during the last official month of winter. The news makes me wonder about the use of winter as a metaphor.

For many years, I have kept a file in the "pictures" section of my computer labelled "Dreams Remembered". It consists entirely of old, often fading, photographs of men together, or women together. They are part of a history intentionally buried. When such images were found, often I would guess after the owner of the photo passed, they were destroyed by concerned family members. A good number of them escaped attention even though the pictures seemed to show affection between the subjects. After all, people note, men and women were freer to show affection to each other in days gone by. Such photos depict good friends, or family members. Yet now, in a more liberal time, many such photos seem to imply other relationships were depicted. They may be mementoes of a more innocent time, but they are also stories lost, or destroyed. For those who can see what is there, they are dreams remembered.

Two civil war soldiers in a hand tinted photo from the Library of Congress, posted to the Shorpy site.
Lest anyone assume that over interpretation is involved, here's a relatively sedate photo in which closeness
is portrayed, but there is no physical contact. Poet Walt Whitman is on the left, Pete Doyle on the right.
Pete Doyle, it should be noted, was Whitman's lover.
Having one's picture taken in those days was expensive. There was only one copy per photograph.
Were these two friends sharing an expense, a memento of a friendship, or something more?

As the process of photography changed and the cost was reduced,
some photographs began to suggest a little more about the nature of a relationship. 

These dreams come to mind due to a four night drama program which has been unfolding on the Disney owned ABC broadcast television network. "When We Rise" is a slightly fictionalized story of three people whose lives intersected in San Francisco, and the parts they played in the gay liberation movement.  The first part was shown on Monday, just a few days after the newly installed U.S. Attorney General rescinded and abandoned the previous administration's policy that allowed transgender teens to use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify. The new Attorney General had promised, just a few days before, that despite his past record in the segregated South, he would uphold civil rights of all Americans. He was passed on a party line vote, "conservative" and reactionary Republicans outnumbering the Democrats. The mini-series episode that night portrayed a time, in the first years after the Stonewall riots, when gay men and women were considered mentally ill, were routinely denied the rights of Americans, were routinely dismissed from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, denied housing, and just as routinely beat up and/or killed by thugs and police alike. I remember all of it, and was not ready for the pain it brought back.



Anita Bryant, pictured above, was a singer and orange juice pitchwoman who campaigned to rescind a Florida law
which banned discrimination of the basis of sexual orientation. She famously said that she would prefer
"my child be dead than homo".


The second night of the mini-series was postponed due to the new President of the United States giving an address to the entire assembled Congress. The speech was remarkable for dropping Mr. Trump's confrontational style, acting like an adult instead of a raving lunatic. The immediate response from the press, which Mr. Trump had constantly belittled, castigated, accused of making up stories (i.e. the unfavorable ones), and declared the enemy of the American People, was overly kind, remarking that he suddenly seemed presidential. They didn't really discuss his misrepresentations, distortions, outright lies, and attempts to cover up what may or may not be the truth.










Last night's episode of 'When We Rise' focused on relationships being built by the story's participants, the elation of the election of a gay man (Harvey Milk) to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, his assassination 11 months later, and the rise of what was being called a 'gay disease'.


The episode ended with one of the principals holding a protest in which people in San Francisco began posting the names of friends and lovers lost to this new disease onto the side of city hall. I've been crying a lot. The memories of the death of dear friends, the men with whom I was forming my family, have been overpowering.






This morning, intent on resuming my post of thoughts arising from the old movies I've been watching, I logged onto my computer to discover news that the new Attorney General had been caught lying about his contacts with Russia. These contacts, as well as a number of others surrounding the new administration, seem to expand into an ever deepening well. There are lies upon lies. As the stories of investigations into these incidents become public, they aren't just denied, the press is accused of making them up to discredit the President. Also in the news were further stories about the new administrator of the Federal Communications Commission and his repeal of polices protecting access to the internet, programs which helped the poor afford the internet in their homes, and rules of privacy which had hemmed in internet providers ability to keep records of what sites and information anyone had accessed. All of this is, of course, in the name of fostering business growth and competition. Such information would never be used to assist in rounding up people.



Other news stories concern the President's travel bans, people being deported due to such criminal backgrounds as having traffic violations, people being detained for hours or days without warrants, people having their identification papers checked as they left a flight which started and ended within the United States, and so forth. When the travel ban was imposed to protests and legal actions across the country, Homeland Security backed the President. They will be getting 15,000 new agents. The Department of Defense will get billions, partially to fund new atomic weapons. Other areas of the budget will have to be cut; these include monies for health care, social security, education, and the arts.



The man in the center of the above photograph is Bix Biderbecke. He is one of the men who was instrumental in the development of jazz. He was an alcoholic who died young, at the age of 28. He was gay.




Saturday, February 18, 2017

Paul's Grandfather and the sky blue sky.

It's a beautiful Saturday morning here in Vermont. It's gone from 29 degrees Fahrenheit when I started writing this blog entry, to 36 degrees; wispy cirrus clouds spread themselves over portions of a sky that can't seem to make up its mind if it wants to be light blue or Columbia blue.  The piles of snow reflect white, unless they are near the roadside, in which case they are topped with shades of sooty black, and disturbed dirt gray, an effect of automotive exhaust and road/sidewalk plowing. They remind me of the days when snow was generally mixed with soot, when hanging icicles at my father's house were multi-colored thanks to the Dupont plant about an hour's drive away. Memory drifts to my days at the beach, summer in Ocean City, and one particular trip to New York City. I was too poor at the time to afford more than an occasional visit to the laundromat, and having few "good" clothes, hand washed much of what I wore on a day to day basis. I washed my best non-suit shirt for a day trip to New York. The next morning, I washed it again. The water turned black, darker than the color of a well used cast iron frying pan. The black was from the soot in the air. That was the era when smog hung over our major cities and industrial areas, when breathing problems began to be noticed amongst the populace. The daily news programs on the tv reported a smog index. In 1970, under the administration of President Nixon, a Republican, the Environmental Protection Agency was created to deal with such problems. The concept for the EPA had been pushed by Democrats, and modeled on the suggestions which Representative George Miller (a Democrat) had put forth in 1959. More conservative Republicans, as well as major industries, have been attempting to discredit the agency, and gut its regulations, ever since - often using incredible distortions of the truth, and outright lies about the agency and its actions. In the meantime, due to the work of the EPA, the severity of smog was reduced in the United States to such point that it is barely mentioned anymore. This is not true of other countries, like China.


To help consumers make purchasing decisions based on cleaning up the environment, the Safer Choice label was created. Years later, the Energy Star ratings were added to consumer products such as air conditioners and heaters.

Our drinking water has been cleaned up and protected by the EPA. Legislation covered over 80% of our nation's drinking water supply. Reports often seem better than the actual situation, as a number of pollutants never came under regulation. And smaller streams are still used as chemical dumping grounds by corporations which refuse to foot the bill for proper disposal of their effluent. Stories of various areas of the country being told not to drink their water can be found a few times a year. That problem would be much worse if it weren't for the EPA.


The EPA's Clean Air Act was amended in 2011 to include greenhouse gases. Last year, the hole in our planet's ozone layer began closing.

These are just a few of the many things the EPA has accomplished. It is now an agency under siege. Within a day of two of President Trump's inauguration, all of the EPA's research on climate change was deleted from their website. A gag order was imposed by the President preventing any release of information from that agency. It gets worse; I'm only glazing the surface of what has been happening.

Yesterday, Scott Pruitt was approved by a vote of the majority Republicans in Congress to run the EPA, and sworn in as the head of the agency. As close as I can gather, this was done during the President's contentious news conference, in which he castigated news reporting as being unfair to him, mentioned his imagined margin of victory, insulted minorities, and comported himself in such a manner that his denial of creating chaos in the government was obviously a falsehood. Mr. Pruitt was yet another of President Trump's picks to run agencies which they have actively opposed or called for dismantling. Mr. Pruitt has described himself as a ""leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda". Over the last 6 years as Attorney General of Oklahoma, he sued the EPA 14 times over water standards, clean air standards, coal emission laws, and etc. (all of his suits have failed). He also fought for "religious freedom" laws (which would allow someone to refuse business or other service to anyone whose existence violates their religious beliefs - i.e. legalized discrimination), and against the Affordable Care Act, abortion rights, and gay marriage (he even tried to claim that the ruling of the Supreme Court allowing gay marriage did not affect Oklahoma).

I could, and probably should, go on, but I won't.

Today's post was going to be about last night's screening of 'A Hard Day's Night', the 1964 movie which starred the Beatles. I guess I shouldn't have mentioned the blue sky, for that sent me off in another direction. I should probably note that part of the thread of the plot of 'A Hard Day's Night' centers on Paul's Grandfather, a cranky old man who spreads dissention, chaos, and creates arguments wherever he goes.



Friday, February 17, 2017

"Preposterous, but the laughter dies upon the lips."

Days have gone whizzing by again. Around the time I reached my 40's, I came to the realization that the years were going by quickly, but the days seemed to take forever. Now even the days go by quickly. It's a couple of the hours that have become painfully, agonizingly slow.

True story: I have a friend who comes over quite often. We spend a good deal of time not doing much, talking about the world while watching the news as I make dinner. Then we screen a movie. My friend has difficulty sitting through an entire feature without cigarette breaks, which he takes outside at my request. At any rate, about two weeks into the Trump Presidency, we put a film on hold while he took a cigarette break. As I was expecting a communiqué from someone, I used that pause to check my computer to see if the missive had arrived. When my friend returned, he saw me reading something off of the screen, while my left hand was raised to the side of my head. Without missing a beat, my friend asked, "What's he done now?"

Movies at my place look better in the dark, but this shows off the size of the screen.
On screen, Rod Taylor is about to take off in 'The Time Machine' (1960).


That's how it is now, in this age of the Trumpenstein monster. The news is the circus train wreck from which we can not look away, one of those overlong mid century modern Cecil B. DeMille roadshow spectaculars where they sold souvenir books along with the candy at Intermission. God forbid they stop carrying the souvenir books, you'll hear about it. It is probably worth pointing out that for the 1956 version of 'The Ten Commandments', the voice of God was uncredited. One of the rumors was that it was DeMille himself. My memory suddenly conjures up the early 1930's pre-code DeMille favorite, "The Sign of the Cross", a saga of early Christianity in which the faithful are sent to the lions, and Rome burns. One critic commented, "Preposterous, but the laughter dies upon the lips." That comment is easily applicable to the political situation in which my country finds itself. See, I can't even keep this paragraph focused. Indulging in free association has always been a bit of a hobby of mine, but then again I'm not the President of the United States speaking to reporters or supporters, or allegedly running the show.

Charles Laughton as Nero in "The Sign of the Cross" (1932), which is worth an entire post of its own (and will get one).


I was all set to comment upon some of the many movies I've watched since my last post, but at the moment... nope the thoughts are gone. See this is the problem. Mr. Trump is like some kind of 1950's black and white commie witch hunt paranoia sci-fi creature that sucks all the air out of a room. It would be an interesting phenomenon if we weren't all gasping for air while we slowly choke to death. It's all a roll of the dice.

From Ken Russell's 'The Boy Friend' (1971)


Several nights ago, I watched 'The Boyfriend', one of those Ken Russell movies that seems to have something to say, but which careens out of control, and goes both over budget, and on too long. It's somewhat unsatisfactory as a complete whole, but absurdly entertaining in many other respects. Based on what was supposed to have been a charming off Broadway style revue, Russell's movie tells a story that is pastiche backstage movie musical cliché, concerned with a struggling theatre troupe, and equally struggling actors, their temperaments, and their crushes. There is an on-stage story, with various complications arising from the backstage story, and then there are the imaginings of the actors, sometimes as themselves, and sometimes as their characters. Most of the scenes are photographed with such care to their design that they appear, at first, to be beautifully composed paintings, which convert almost immediately into low camp.

Twiggy as Pirouette in 'The Boy Friend'. 


I've always liked Russell's movies. They're fun entertainments, with frequently memorable images. I think my problem with 'The Boy Friend' is that it promises to say something about movies, or musicals, or whatever you please, but never quite gets there. It just skips off to another idea. Maybe the problem is that the viewer ends up identifying with the Glenda Jackson role of the star with the broken ankle; who can't go on and must sit in the audience the night the big Hollywood movie producer is in attendance. We should be in the show, but we're once removed, helpless in our seats. At any rate, my point in mentioning 'The Boy Friend' was that the morning after viewing it, I read the news, which of course centered on the new President, and immediately could not remember what movie I'd watched the night before.

Twiggy dances with her love interest, a chorus boy played by Christopher Gable.


The night after I watched 'The Boy Friend', I watched 'George Washington Slept Here', adapted from a Moss Hart - George S. Kaufman Broadway farce. I've never read the script, even though I was always fond of the Kaufman-Hart shows. While the movie version wasn't really successful, it wasn't painful either. Jack Benny was the city loving apartment dweller whose wife (Ann Sheridan) uses the family money to purchase a run down country place in Bucks County, PA (where several NYC theatre denizens had homes). Of course, complications ensue. It turns out that Washington hadn't stayed in the house - it was Benedict Arnold. There's a wonderfully taciturn handyman, played by Percy Kilbride to laconic perfection. (There is a story that Kilbride, who had performed the same handyman role on Broadway, and who was hired at Benny's insistence, so cracked up his co-stars that the film was going over budget due to re-takes. Benny allegedly resorted to staying up all night so that he'd be too tired to laugh during filming.)

The highlight of 'George Washington Slept Here' (1942) was Percy Kilbride's performance as Mr. Kimber.
Kilbride would later be typecast as Pa Kettle in a series of films with Marjorie Main as Ma Kettle.


Also involved in the storyline is a rich overbearing uncle in the guise of Charles Coburn. There's the cranky neighbor preventing happiness through any number of means, portrayed by Charles Dingle as though he had just wandered off the set of 'The Little Foxes'. Hattie McDaniel is the housekeeper. There's a bratty kid relative who comes to stay for the summer (his parents are divorcing, and neither want to deal with him). There's an ornery dog (who had played Toto in the 'Wizard of Oz' ). There's the actors who arrive for a summer theatre production of 'The Man Who Came to Dinner' (another Kaufman-Hart play). There's even a plague of locusts. If the house itself seems familiar, it was the set which had just been used for 'Arsenic and Old Lace'. There's plenty of topical jokes which only those versed in the news of 1941-42 will get. (The Lend-Lease program gets mentioned a couple of times, etc.) In the Broadway version of the show, the husband bought the house to the wife's dismay. That set up was changed to having the wife make the purpose to better match up with Benny's miserly, complaining character familiar from his radio show. Which gets a few in-jokes as well.


Of course, everything finally works out, and a letter from George Washington, which quotes Thomas Paine's "The American Crisis", is found and read. It may have addressed the situation of a United States that had been drawn into WWII, but there's enough in that letter that perhaps a revival of the show (maybe set in Vermont) is due:

"We are facing a time of peril so grave in our brief National history, that there is now only the choice of serving the country a little longer, or having a country no longer to serve... In the words of Thom Paine, 'These are the times that try men's souls. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness alone that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.'


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The natives are restless tonight...

The other night I screened another old favorite which I hadn't seen in years, "Island of Lost Souls". A 1932 opus released in 1933, it melded popular genres of the day; the horror movie ('Dracula', 'The Mummy', 'Frankenstein', 'Freaks'); the horror movie subset of the mad doctor-crazed evil scientist movie ('Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', 'The Mask of Fu Manchu', 'Chandu the Magician', 'The Invisible Man'), and the Island picture ('Tabu', 'Bird of Paradise', 'The Most Dangerous Game', 'King Kong'). All of the above (as well as a number of others) were released during the first few years after the use of sound was mastered, between 1931 and 1933. Even Mickey Mouse got into the act as in the following: (I always recommend using the full screen option)



All of these movies were released before the production code began to be enforced. Various church groups, as well as other moralist busybodies, had become upset at some of the content of the movies; a censorship was implemented to keep the movies from being censored. If you have trouble with the logic of that statement, I would advise against following the news in this era of Trumpenstein.

Many of these horror stories had originally appeared as novels, with subtexts intended to provoke thought on social movements and concerns of the day. In the hands of the early sound filmmakers, they were turned into grandly visual entertainments with thought provoking subtexts regarding the human condition. That particular horror film cycle occurred during the darkest days of the Depression, and often seem to send a message that some of the people who had created the monstrous worlds in which we found ourselves were victims, too. (The capitalists of industry must have breathed quite a bit easier without the showing of distressed populations in revolt.) In that era of such stories, a satisfactory conclusion often depended upon groups of people working together towards a satisfactory resolution; often including the creators of the monsters. A new horror cycle started in the early 1940's. With the rise of fascism, Nazi Germany, and Imperialist Japan, resolution began to depend on Super Heroes. ( I left out the Italians - no one really paid attention to them, unless they were stock comic relief characters.) The heroes of both eras had egalitarian American values, stood up for their neighbors, as well as anyone being oppressed, and took action without thinking too much about it. A sock in the jaw often started the richly deserved payback. The monsters in our stories are now usually aliens, and resolution is out of our everyman hands - the only role for 'the people' is as victims. These new horrors can only be stopped by the intervention of deus ex machina superheroes, who are now tortured souls full of self doubt and dark thoughts. This is all off the cuff generalization; perhaps it will become its own blog entry some day.



"Island of Lost Souls" is based on H. G. Wells', "The Island of Dr. Moreau". Mr. Wells was not happy with this first adaptation of his 1896 novel. He felt that stressing the horror elements downplayed his themes, which included moral responsibility, human identity, tampering with nature, vivisection, pain and cruelty. The film had changes from the book, one of which, the inclusion of sex in the form of the Panther Woman, was incorporated into later tellings of the tale. The story centered on a (mad?) doctor, who uses his private isolated South Seas island as a research center for his work in speeding up evolution. It will not give much away to note that this process is accomplished by operating on animals and turning them into human beings. The operations are performed without anesthetics. Unsuccessful experiments are ejected from the Doctor's compound, and forced to live on the island. The film struck pay dirt in costuming Dr. Moreau and other (upper class) persons of authority in white, which immediately conjured images of colonial authority over those considered lesser beings than themselves. (In the book, the Doctor and his men are described as wearing blue work clothes.)  By the way, the release of the movie in England was delayed by censorship until the late 1950's, and I think in Australia it didn't see the light of a projector until the 1980's (but I can't find my note on the date). The print broadcast on Tuner Classic Movies, which I believe is available as a Blu Ray DVD from Criterion, was made from a variety of 35mm prints, including a few frames from 16mm. It is easily the best quality I've ever seen on this title. Watching it is still a disturbing and eerie experience.


The role of Doctor Moreau was performed by Charles Laughton. While the movie itself can't be accused of much subtlety in its 70 minutes, Laughton's doctor is part visionary genius, and part insane sadist, sometimes expressed with childlike glee. It set a standard for such roles that has not been often equaled. I seem to recall that Laughton once stated that he based his character on his dentist.


Bela Lugosi played a leader of the island's rejects, the "Sayer of the Law". The Law had been set down by the good doctor. Lugosi and "the natives" would chant in call and response fashion, "What is the law?" "Not to spill blood. Are we not men?" "What is the law?" "Not to go on all fours. Are we not men?" The law is something each creation must learn after it has left "The House of Pain". If you're recognizing a few things that would later show up in association with various 1970's and 1980's rock bands, I should probably note that the movie was also the source of a once popular saying, "The natives are restless tonight." That, by the way, was not a good thing.

 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"I'm not crazy, my reality is just different from yours."

It has been difficult to return to writing here, even to just jot random notes about the movies I've watched. It's not that I don't want to do so, and it's not the laziness of older age; I think my reluctance has more to do with wanting to protect what has become my own little bubble of sanity and security. Movies, after all, have much value as escapism. As the ad campaign for 'That's Entertainment' put it, "Boy, do we need it now".

Ticket Booth, Times Square, 1954. Photo by Frank Oscar Larson.
Last night, the anchor of the CBS News program introduced a segment by saying, "It has been a busy day for presidential statements divorced from reality". My cable box has the capability to 'rewind' whatever has just been shown, kind of like a videotape could be rewound to replay something, or instant replay on a sports program. I had to go back and listen to that introduction again. At first, it was because I couldn't believe the anchor, Scott Pelley, had actually said it. Then I watched it again to savor the moment. And a third time to accurately note the wording of the quote. Frankly, I'm still amazed. It's not something I ever expected to hear on a news report. Certainly not on one of the major networks, and certainly not on CBS, once the center of great reporting by journalists like Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite, now fallen on the same hard times that beset most news departments under the purview of their networks' entertainment divisions. It would seem that even CBS News has had enough. The sad thing is that most people probably don't realize how important and unprecedented it was to make that statement.


 It is snowing at the moment. It is, as a voice somewhere in the back of my head would put it, "coming down at a pretty good clip". I don't have a particularly wonderful view; Putney Road gets a lot of traffic as it's the main artery going north to the land of shopping malls, empty stores, pizza joints, supermarkets, discount palaces, auto parts, and fast food. A couple of old mid 19th century mansions, once the homes of the local gentry, are in evidence peeking out from under trees, and from behind hedges of evergreen. Even with the traffic, it is still mesmerizing, calling forth the little boy still trapped somewhere within. It's probably the boy who is so entertained by the movies. Certainly the movies lead me to reading a number of books which became favorites. I often bemoan my books being in storage, but I suppose it's better that way. Just before they all got packed into boxes for the trip to a friend's early 18th century barn, I had to sell off quite a few of my best, my favorites, my - yes, friends. It was during a period of unemployment uncertainty and had to be done to raise the necessary emollient for modern life. I don't quite know what I still have left. I would be crushed to discover I sold my Compleat Sherlock Holmes, my annotated copies of Dickens, my reference edition (including manuscript) of 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking-Glass'. The Alice books have been on my mind a lot recently.


The quote which serves as the title for this post is from one of the Alice's. With the beauty of the falling snow visible before me, the image of falling down a rabbit hole into a world of nonsense seems a fit metaphor for the current political situation in these United States. I've occasionally railed against the present unpolitic politic on Facebook, which does not lend itself to writing of more than a few sentences. People seem to read a paragraph or so and move on. People post links to articles with wildly exaggerated headlines they think bolsters their reality, without having read the accompanying story. Only liberals and reporters seem to be bothered by statements which stress "alternative facts", as noted by one of President The Donald's hench spokespeople. I could go on and on, but I don't want to at the moment. I'm feeling peaceful while looking at falling snow, and such moments of peace are few and far between just now.


I'll try to force myself to come back later, or tomorrow, to make a few notes about some of the movies I'm already beginning to forget. After all, tomorrow is another day. (cue swelling music)