Monday, April 30, 2012
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012
"Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of — against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it…. was before…. he was before the social programs from the standpoint of… he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against first…. Roe v. Wade?” — Rick Perry
Friday, April 20, 2012
With this double feature, we are revisiting directors Henry Waxman and Fritz Lang (See Kiss of Death and The Big Heat — The Birth of Two Villains). The Dark Corner is the story of a private eye (Mark Stevens) who is trying to go straight after a stint in prison. However his shady past makes him the perfect fall guy for a murder someone else commits. William Bendix, TV’s lovable comic dad, plays an even shadier private eye and Clifton Webb is the sophisticated (witty, what else?) art dealer with a clever plan to get rid of his younger wife’s lover. The plot has enough twists and turns and talented supporting players to make this a very worthwhile film. Lucille Ball plays the secretary to the reformed P.I. and is, in fact, his backbone. There was a comic turn in her fine performance now and then, but not the broad comedy she would show the world later.
At roughly the same time Lucille Ball was making the move from film to TV, the lovely, more cynical Ann Sothern did the same, also with considerable success. Before that, she had a successful career playing the pals of the ingénues (Anne Baxter in this case). Raymond Burr in Fritz Lang’s The Blue Gardenia, is the believable womanizer and murder victim. He plies the sweet and innocent Baxter with Polynesian Pearl Divers, an umbrella’d drink of super potency. She goes home with Burr and blacks out. When Burr ends up dead, all signs point to Baxter as the murderer. Even she believes it might be true. She seeks help from newspaper columnist Richard Conte. The story isn’t as strong as The Dark Corner, but it’s a lot of fun just the same. The music is by Nelson Riddle. Nat “King” Cole has a gig in the nightclub, The Blue Gardenia. Even Superman (George Reeves) makes an appearance in the film — as the main cop. No cape. No tights.
My recommendation for the evening is to sip a bit of fine rum during the first film and then go all island with fancy rum drinks with the second. Look up such tacky Tiki rum drinks as The Virgin’s Lament or the Missionary’s Downfall. Don’t drive. Don’t commit murder.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
Saturday, April 14, 2012
It’s time for the human race to enter the solar system.” — Dan Quayle
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." — George W. Bush
"I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will." — Mitt Romney
Friday, April 13, 2012
In the 1970s, Americans were very much obsessed with sex — either scared out of their wits by the sudden hedonism or thrilled by the increasing disintegration of taboos essentially based on superstition. At the very end of the ‘60s, Hair (and the dawning of the age of Aquarius) revolutionized Broadway while a few blocks away the Stonewall crowd (I’m not going to take it anymore) ushered in a new era for gays and lesbians. In 1978 the Supreme Court threw out obscenity charges against poet Allen Ginsberg’s, controversial, sexually expressive Howl. The revolution was in full swing. American filmmakers were also feeling a little more adventurous about the subjects they tackled. The prudishly restrictive Hays Code that governed what could be seen, heard and suggested in Hollywood films went away in favor of the less stifling rating (or warning label) system we use today.
The 1970s, relatively free of the bluenoses, ushered in the decade of sexual freedom, maybe sexual obsession. The pornographic films Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door were blockbusters. Playboy magazine peaked in the ‘70s. Bookending that decade are two films, Klute in 1971 and American Gigolo (1980), which probably couldn’t have been made in the 1950s. John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” could easily have been the decade’s theme song.
Jane Fonda won a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in Klute. She played an unapologetic prostitute. The remarkable aspect of this story isn’t that is about prostitution, but that it is a riveting thriller as well. A young and obviously talented Donald Sutherland portrays a relatively inexperienced cop from Pennsylvania hired to find a missing corporate executive on the mean streets of New York. Things get nasty. Does Klute (Fonda) hold the key? The determined investigator thinks so. Both Fonda and Sutherland bring depth and understanding to well-developed characters giving us more than the mystery to contemplate. The subject matter is relevant today. Roy Scheider co-stars. Alan J. Pakula directed.
Though it didn’t receive the critical praise of Klute, American Gigolo was a box-office smash. It introduced the professional male escort (read “prostitute.”) as a central character. Paul Schrader directed Richard Gere, who took the role that scared others. A strikingly good-looking, fashion conscious, very successful, self-reliant professional, Gere’s character is obviously in charge of his life and his world. He needs no one and let’s everyone know it. We gradually begin to see that this makes him ripe for the takedown. That’s what happens. There is a murder. He’s implicated. Moment by moment, his world disintegrates. The beautiful Lauren Hutton co-stars. Hector Elizondo plays the Columbo-esque homicide cop. Wikipedia says that this was first American film to feature full male nudity and that the film also “put Armani’s male fashion designs on the map.” Curious juxtaposition.
While Klute’s perversions were set against a dark, shadowy, almost derelict New York, American Gigolo’s perversions were set in high style, sunny Los Angeles. Yet the parallels are definitely there. Sadomasochism plays a part in both films. Also there is the similarity of the two title characters. Loners and seemingly proud of it — Gere’s and Fonda’s benchmark performances as escorts contributed mightily to their careers. The films themselves not only reflected but may also have helped bring about the cultural shift in America’s views of sexuality — something to celebrate. For the libations, I’d go open a bottle of champagne.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Monday, April 9, 2012
I watched a bio the other evening — William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe. I admire people who stand up in public and brave waves of unpopular opinion to fight for what they believe in. Kuntsler aggravated quite a few people and, over time, seemed to cherish a gaggle of cameras as much or more than doing the right thing. But most of the time, whether he won or lost the case, the criminal defense and civil rights attorney seemed to be doing the right thing — freeing the Chicago 7, trying to avoid the brutal and unnecessary massacre at Attica, and winning the Wounded Knee case for native Americans who stood up against a bullying government. He also defended as best he could innocent young blacks in the famous “Wilding” case. He lost that case and suffered attacks by an irate and irrational public throughout the trial. Seven years later, he was proven correct, and his harshly condemned and wrongfully convicted client was freed.
Whenever I think of these kinds of bigger-than-life people, I think of Cassius Clay, the one from the 1860s, who, as a relatively rich white guy, not only fought against slavery but also stood his ground no matter what the odds or what the world thought of him. The film on Kuntsler also made me think of my childhood hero Clarence Darrow, who fought redlining (preventing blacks getting loans to buy homes in certain neighborhoods), who, earlier than Kuntsler, fought against the death penalty, and who defended John Thomas Scopes, a teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, who had the audacity to teach evolution as science to his students.
In this instance, Darrow lost the trial, but won public opinion and the century. He fought against former “cross-of-gold, Christian fundamentalist presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan. If you watched the movie Inherit the Wind, you might have gotten the idea that Bryan’s ultimate moral defeat was the end of the debate. Unfortunately, a strange thing has happened. Even though we’re in a new century, the State of Tennessee has again seen fit to circumvent real science and elevate creationism, a subject that belongs either in Sunday school or in a class of Comparative Religion, this time as a “scientific” alternative to evolution. What are they drinking in Tennessee? Certainly not the good whiskey.
Now, as a confession or more accurately a concession, I was born and grew up in Indiana. It’s my state and I love it, but I’ve always found it a bit to conservative for my tastes. Lately, my home state has been behaving badly. Especially so. A short time ago, a Republican state legislative representative attacked the Girl Scouts of America as “a radicalized organization” that promotes homosexuality and communism. Before that little tantrum, the Republican-dominated legislature became the first state to defund Planned Parenthood. Hoosier lawmakers also tried to double-down on the already existing ban on same-sex marriage by passing another law to ban it (Is this a de-double ban?) and this time they added a ban on civil unions. This means that gays and lesbians may not enter into legal contracts that look like they contain any of the same elements found in “marriage.” In addition, several representatives of the state legislature demanded that special donor license plates with proceeds going to support troubled LGBT kids — bullied youth, children disowned by their parents, etc. — be denied that funding even though that funding was private charitable giving. To cap the crazy, hateful season Indiana’s House of Representatives tried to pass a bill to do what Tennessee appears to be doing with slightly more subtlety — teach creationism as literal truth. The bill in Indiana was allowed to die quietly, meaning that, compared to Tennessee, Indiana is a bunch of “zany” liberals.
But this foolishness exists on a national scale. We have the Republican presidential nominees wanting to stem not only women’s choice on reproductive issues after contraception, but also contraception itself. No matter the health consequences, women may not include any form of contraception as part of a health plan if their Catholic employer objects. And they do. Men may continue to have their Viagra covered. Can a repeal of women’s right to vote be far behind?
In 21st Century America, money is equated with free speech and corporations have the same rights as individuals, so says the U.S. Supreme Court. Women and LGBT people don’t, it seems. Now we’re watching as a déjà vu all-over-again moment comes back to haunt us. Tennessee revisits the famous “Monkey Trial” 87 years after the issue was settled to claim there is valid argument for the earth being only 6,000 years old and that Eve was literally formed from Adam’s rib and, further, that’s how we became humans. DNA be damned. Carbon dating, get out of here. Fossils? I don’t need your dirty rotten fossils. The Governor of Tennessee, Republican Bill Haslan has indicated he will sign the bill that essentially repeals intelligent thought. I can only hope that young students in Tennessee are smarter than their governor. Otherwise the pro-dumbness faction of the current Republican Party will continue to multiply. Soon, the earth will be flat again. Perhaps we can dispense with gravity.
Despite the fact that I believe that anything is possible, there are commonly held scientific truths. Two plus two might — just might, though there are incredible odds against it — be five. But I’ll go with four. And while I’m all for creativity and thinking outside the box, an alternative theory that two and two are five is something we should not give equal weight to in math class.
So where is this rant going? Here. We need some brave souls in what has become a soulless, mindless Republican Party to stop the hate and discrimination that has increasingly taken over. I’m certainly a liberal on most things, but I’d love to see a serious philosophical discussion among candidates for President, candidates who at least agree that our country is interested in equal rights for everyone, understand the separation of church and state and want to stop the bribery of our elected officials (through unlimited, unregulated funding by individuals, corporations and other organizations). We need to agree on at least that much before we try to engage in the real issues facing our democracy — health, education, the economy and other quality of life issues.
And what do William Kuntsler, Cassius Clay and Clarence Darrow have to do with all of this? The Kuntsler bio — and the corruption he fought against — got me all riled up and one thing led to another….
Update: (April 11, 2012) The Governor Haslan allowed the bill to pass into law without his signature. This is the coward's way out.
Captions: (Top) Poster from the documentary; (Middle) Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Monkey Trial; (Bottom) The first Cassius Clay, abolitionist and Ambassador to Russia.