THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (May/June, 2020)

Okay, once more not even close to the last ten I watched but I’m tryin’. really I am. On the upside, a lot more first and second viewings than usual. Here goes:

May 25-A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, d. Elia Kazan, 2nd Viewing)

Well, it had been twenty years, so it was time. Vivien Leigh still scared the bejesus out of me but at least I knew it was coming. Brando’s best performance by miles, though you can still see her cocking an eyebrow and hear her whispering sotto voce, “Yes, dear, but are you willing to tip yourself into madness?” And if you listen close you can still hear him saying…”Maybe?” The question was never asked again so he was never forced to resolve it before the short journey to self-parody was completed. Everyone else is terrific acting their little hearts out in the background. If you wonder whether he knew what happened, just study the sad arc of his life. One of the essential American movies, though not perhaps for the reasons most people seem to think.

May 26-Viva Zapata! (1952, d. Elia Kazan, 1st Viewing)

Okay, truth be told, I’ve had the Elia Kazan box sitting around for at least a decade, trying to watch them all in order and just waiting until I was up to Streetcar again. (I broke the sequence to re-watch Man on a Tightrope, about which more when I do my Handy Ten on Gloria Grahame). This was next in line and another chance to see early Brando. He only had to deal with Anthony Quinn and Dr. No in this one so he was, alas, in his comfort zone. Still pretty interesting, but given the talents involved, I couldn’t help thinking it might have been more. And frankly, the Great Actor of the Age wasn’t as convincing a Mexican as Chuck Heston in his much-derided Touch of Evil turn.

May 30-The Great Escape (1963, d. John Sturges, Umpteenth Viewing)

Well, for all the reasons I’ll always watch it, up to and including the moment when Virgil Hilts (not Steve McQueen, not his stunt man, Virgil Hilts, who by that point is no longer fictional or even a composite) make that leap. But the reaction shots alone are always worth the price of admission and time spent. Plus, it’s out in a great new eye-popping transfer from the Criterion Collection. Get it if you can!

June 2-The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015, d. Guy Ritchie, 1st Viewing)

I’m always looking for good popcorn in the bargain bins of America while they last. Took a chance on this one and I’ll say it’s…pretty good. Seemed like I was just catching hold of the odd rhythm when it ended so I’ll probably watch it again at some point. Given some of the things they’ve made franchises of, I’m surprised this hasn’t produced at least one sequel.

June 3-The Last of Sheila (1973, d. Herbert Ross, 3rd Viewing)

Because it had been a long time, I had it lying around, and somebody or other was lauding it on Twitter. Thought what I thought the other two times I watched it….Wanted James Coburn to have the last laugh and he doesn’t. Wish there was more Dyan Cannon…and there isn’t. Still, diverting, as, with that cast, it could hardly fail to be.

June 5-Dance, Girl, Dance (1940, d. Dorothy Arzner, 1st Viewing)

Out this summer on Criterion, (with notes from my blog-pal Sheila O’Malley, who also did the same for The Great Escape…the lady has range). This is a combo backstage musical/women’s picture from the only female director working under contract for a major Hollywood studio at the time and it’s a small gem. It’s odd, disorienting, feature is that a young Lucille Ball makes a young Maureen O’Hara look dowdy. Granted, the worldly, wise-cracking dame always has an advantage, but I guarantee that’s the last time that happened! A cracking good time for anyone who has the good taste to like this sort of thing.

June 6-The Wild and the Innocent (1959, d. Jack Sher, 1st Viewing)

This was the first film in a four-movie set of Audie Murphy westerns I scored cheap on Amazon. It was the weakest of the lot and, like most of Murphy’s lesser efforts, still pretty entertaining. Even the eternally baby-faced Audie was a little long in the tooth to be playing the teenage frontier hick who’s never been to town. But it works out over the long run, with Gilbert Roland giving a nice twist on a sympathetic villain and a genuinely touching performance from Sandra Dee that suggests there might have been a lot more to her than heaven, Bobby Darin, or Hollywood allowed.

June 6-The Lincoln Lawyer (2011, d. Brad Furman, 2nd Viewing)

Now this is a popcorn movie, as good as it gets. So good, in fact, that it transcends the concept and has some insightful and occasionally moving things to say about this modern land that so many somebodies who weren’t paying attention during the whole Frozen Silence (1980-2016) or even the early Trump years, have suddenly awakened to find has turned into a crap-hole while they were busy staring at the disco ball. You want a sign of the Apocalypse: there’s been no sequel. What, are Matthew McConaughey and Marisa Tomei just too busy?

June 7-Liberty Heights (1999, d. Barry Levinson, 1st Viewing)

Another bargain bin pickup. I hadn’t seen any of Barry Levinson’s Baltimore movies except Diner, which is a big fave. This isn’t as good as Diner. Like all of Levinson’s movies, post Wag the Dog, it’s a little awkward, as if made by a man who is not sure he’s in the right profession any more. But it’s got a sweet spirit made melancholy by the distance the world has traveled in the wrong direction since its 50’s setting…or even since its 1999 release date. I could still swear the trailer had a scene that cut from a baseball crashing through a window, and kids scattering, to Joe Montegna saying (as only he could) “Put Joe DiMaggio on the phone.” In the movie that exists, it’s “Put the Fuhrer on the phone.” in response to the Jewish teenage protagonist dressing up as Hitler for Halloween. It was funnier in my head when it was Joe DiMaggio so if anybody knows where that movie went, let me know. I swear I didn’t dream it.

June 7-On the Waterfront (1954, d. Elia Kazan, 2nd Viewing)

I’m being a little hard on Brando, as happens from time to time, so let me just say that this is a great performance. I don’t think it’s anywhere near the greatest performance of all time–heck, I don’t even think it’s Brando’s greatest–see above), any more than I think Citizen Kane (a very great movie) is the greatest film of all time, but you can be pretty darn great and still not be the greatest ever. This was only the second time I watched it, and the first time I watched it without the baggage of unreasonable expectations. Now I just have to figure out why Noam Chomsky thought it was an anti-union, or even anti-Communist, film.

It could take a while.

Til then….

 

 

 

 

 

THE FASCISM THING (Adventures in Language: Seventh Journey)

This post isn’t about the Continental Op….but all will be explained.

I receive updates from several email feeds that keep me abreast of the new philosophical wine being poured from old political bottles. The one that pours furthest from the Left at the moment is Medium (I have several others that move round the table and blot the mind from various Conservative and Liberal angles).

Here’s one I got this week, although it was published in early June, when Ninth Phase Trump-is-Hitler mantra was swirling around the issue of the Mexican border (I think the Eighth Phase was “Stormy Daniels” but don’t hold me to it–my attention span isn’t what it used to be).

By all means click through and read the whole thing but there are a few things I want to highlight.

First, I know little about the author, Umair Haque. His brief online bio states he is director of a “media lab” and an “influential management thinker.” That sounds like a standard euphemism for bootlicker to me, but your mileage may vary.

In any case, he does show a certain mastery of commissar thinking.

To wit:

He begins with a headline: “IS AMERICA UNDERGOING A FASCIST COLLAPSE?” (perhaps not composed by him, but, for once, an accurate evocation of what the essay is about–he uses the phrase “fascist collapse” several times).

Of course, the essay answers the headline’s question for those few who didn’t know already–we are in fact in the midst of a fascist collapse!

Next we get this:

Here is the textbook definition of a concentration camp: “a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc.” 

Note the ready imposition of totalitarian language–the hammer that always lies at the top of the bootlicker’s tool box.

“The textbook” which provides this particular definition (which you may have thought was the proper province of dictionaries but what do you know?) is Dictionary.com which is not a textbook and is neither more nor less authoritative than any number of other dictionaries-not-textbooks. Thus, in the space of “the textbook definition” Haque allows me to go all Continental Op* and count at least three lies (he’s an exemplar of the crowd who insist we not mince words by using soft substitutes like “falsehood”) in the space of three words.

By “the” he means “a.”

By “textbook” he means “dictionary.” (Textbook would apply, in this case, to a standard work on concentration camps or perhaps fascism, about which more in a minute.)

By “definition” he means something that would be provided by a dictionary–which Haque used even though he insisted it was a textbook, or, rather “the” textbook–and include the full meaning of the word being defined.

Which brings us to “etc.”

What comes after etc. in the source Haque himself cites is this:

especially any of the camps established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II for the confinement and persecution of prisoners.

Now don’t blame him for cutting it short. He didn’t want you to be led astray by equating the “cages” at the US/Mexican border (shown in a dramatic photo above his essay, which, of course, was taken in 2014), with the Nazis right up front.

That comes later, after he’s tied Nazism to Donald Trump’s current practice at the aforementioned border (since rescinded–the essay is from June–by Trump’s own executive order–because that’s just what Hitler, who, in case you are wondering what the “forcible suppression of opposition” about to be mentioned below looks like, had a hundred and thirty of his chief political opponents, including members of his own party he deemed insufficiently loyal, assassinated [not arrested, assassinated] within days of assuming power, would have done), through reliance on rhetoric instead of fact.

That’s the second tool in the bootlicker’s box.

For fun, here’s a “dictionary” definition of fascism (the real issue):

1 often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

That’s from Merriam-Webster, which used to be considered “the” dictionary, if  one accepted there could be such a thing.

I wonder why Haque didn’t use that one, even in truncated form? Hmmm…

Trump does exalt the nation, although since it’s the American nation, it is tricky to presume he’s exalting it, or race, “above the individual”–“centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition” being anathema to Americans generally and Trump supporters in fierce particular (follow other lines of reasoning in the Medium universe and you’ll find this cantankerousness to be precisely the problem)–or that the faces whom the world’s “management thinkers” tend to front would really excoriate him for proposing such devices, so long as they were the clear beneficiaries. (And it gets to extremes here: At one point, Haque even suggests we are in an era when the leader is beyond criticism–to suggest Trump is being treated as “beyond criticism” is an order of delusion usually associated with heavy use of psychotic drugs.)

As for the rest: The bulk of Trump’s policies–deregulation, rollback of Obamacare, tax cuts, and, lately, moves to implement prison reform and decriminalize weed–have been almost universally away from centralized government. There are arguments to be made, for and against, any of these policies, but even their fullest implementation hardly constitutes oppression, political or otherwise. The one major exception to this anti-authoritarian strain is immigration, where his sins have amounted to enforcing laws long on the books which previous administrations enforced at whim, when they needed a talking point about being tough. (Remember, all the photos of cages, including the one from Haque’s article, that left so many women in my Twitter feed unable to sleep at night, were from the Obama administration and those who reminded them, however gently, were immediately blocked–not me, incidentally, I know better than to challenge such a precious reality with mere facts.)

There’s a lot more in this vein throughout Haque’s piece before it comes to the point he really wants to make, which is that we never did achieve perfection (who knew?) and were always a fascist country anyway.

After all, the Nazis got all their best ideas, like concentration camps, from us.

I guess he thinks those of us who consumed this idea with our Chomsky and Cheerios in 1983, need reminding. Else a new generation needs grooming.

But, as I always used to ask even then: If we’ve always been fascists anyway, how can we “collapse” into fascism now?

And, oh by the way, when did Fascism ever amount to a collapse?

The two most famous fascist countries (Italy and Germany) rose from collapse.

So did almost every other brutal authoritarian regime or party in the history of the world.

First collapse, then tyranny.

And, of course, we are on the path to collapse. I doubt Donald Trump can do anything about that. But it’s civilizational, not political collapse. The political system is working about as well as it ever did–about as well as any ever has.

And it’s about as close to “fascism” as it ever was–within far shouting distance but no closer.

Donald Trump hasn’t altered that equation either.

I might have more to say about that later–why people are really afraid–and it might even have something to do with the “larger truths” Time magazine had to insist they were pursuing when they put out an issue featuring a cover of a little girl who had been horribly and forcibly separated from her mother, knowing full well that no such separation had occurred, and knowing no one would hold them accountable when the lie (we’re not to call them falsehoods remember) was exposed within forty-eight hours…Now that‘s civilizational collapse on the road to tyranny.

And still nothing new.

Meanwhile, Fascism might or might not be the form of tyranny that follows the collapse.

But when the real collapse comes–the one management thinkers at Medium, Time and elsewhere are always thirsting for in the name of “resistance” because it will gift us with the opportunity to reform–there will be some form of tyranny.

Which is why I view “management thinkers,” whatever their professed ideology, with a jaundiced eye.

They are always pointing at some big, shiny ball above your head, so that you’ll be less mindful of the soft, tiny, relentless erosions beneath your feet.

When the chaos comes, after all, there will be an awful lot of managing to do.

These thinkers see themselves charging a pretty penny to rescue us from ourselves then.

And they are a class supremely confident in their ability to find the right boot to lick in order to get paid.

That’s because not one of them has ever been in the room with the Devil.

Else they’d know better.

Remind ’em Eddie….

*From Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op story, “Golden Horseshoe.”

“I was reading a sign high on the wall behind the bar:

ONLY GENUINE PRE-WAR AMERICAN AND BRITISH WHISKEYS SERVED HERE

I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more…..”

My formula for happiness: Read more Hammett. He may have been a communist, but he was no management thinker.

AND YET ANOTHER VICTIM….THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

It almost doesn’t do to point these things out. I’m good with (or is that guilty of?) slang and euphemisms myself, especially in every day conversation.

So I’m not exactly a paid up member of the Language Police.

But it starts to grate a little when language is being specifically abused in epidemic proportions by people who really should know better.

I realize “really should know better” is itself a slippery concept in a society so fiercely anti-intellectual that we haven’t produced an actual intellectual in decades. I couldn’t even name the last one worthy of the name. These days we settle for Noam Chomsky and George Will.

Still, in regards to one particular word, the tidal wave of self-righteousness that has attended the almost daily revelations of some new figure from Hollywood, the publishing industry, Broadway or the world of politics being accused of inappropriate behavior towards adolescent boys and girls has swept the beach of all reason and left a state of pure delusion in its place.

News flash: Having sex (or attempted sex, or behaving in a sexual manner without actually having or even attempting sex) with a fourteen-year-old is not pedophilia.

There is a word for that behavior and that word is pederasty (see clarifciation below).

And there’s a  reason why I–and probably you, and probably no one–haven’t seen that word appear a single time in the feverish condemnations of Roman Polanski, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, et al. who are specifically accused (in Polanski’s case convicted, though “accused” is often attached even in news reports) of sexual misconduct toward young teenagers ranging from inappropriate touching to exposure to rape.

The reason is simple.

Pederasty is no longer a dirty word.

We’ve been sexualizing adolescents for so long–roughly, and not coincidentally, the amount of time we’ve been infantilizing adults–that we’ve obliterated the distinction. And now, at last, when we feel a need to condemn atrocious behavior, we have no word for what has actually happened.

So we reach for another word, one that still has a bit–though only a bit–of sting in it.

To all those who participated in the long fall–and who by their newly feigned ignorance of their own language are participating still–I ask the same question I asked of those who lined up on one side or other of a meaningless political divide in the three-and-a-half decades of unrelenting cultural and political pollution that finally produced Donald Trump as either culmination or antidote, take your pick.

What did you think would happen?

Take it Gene…

UPDATE: Commenter Neal correctly pointed out that Pederasty only applies to man/boy relations. For the cases where underage girls were molested (Polanski and Moore in my examples, though the Moore case is thus far only an allegation), substitute real or attempted Statutory Rape or simple misconduct, which also do not carry the weight of “Pedophile”…witness the standing ovation given Polanski when he won an Oscar in absentia.

My apologies for getting off course. My original idea was to post on Spacey specifically and Pederast got stuck in my mind. Like I said, I’m not a good member of the Language Police, but I should have been more careful, especially in a post where I was criticizing others for misusing the language, so thanks to Neal for riding herd.

I should have stuck with Spacey, but I believe my main points still stand.

TO THE KOCH BROTHERS (Late Night Dedication #7)

…On the occasion of them, to the surprise of no one who observes political reality (as opposed to accepting pat-on-the-head “narratives”), ordering their wing of the Republican house to step in and save Obamacare.

Granted, in order to observe this particular reality, you had to be watching the business channels or following alternative media.

The “news” channels spent the day focused on the irony of it all.

But, if you read your Chomsky way back when (as you should have…he wasn’t always an incoherent babbler), you already knew that. I mean, you didn’t really think they were gonna throw O-Care out the back window just when it’s about to become really lucrative, did you?

So here’s a double-shot from Hot Chocolate….One dedicated to Friday morning…

And one to Friday night…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw8vw55GzhU

BTW: Hot tip on the conservative side of the blogosphere tonight is that single payer is now a done deal. Expect it some time before Trump runs for re-election.

If Sundance is right (and he often is), then my 49-state Trumpslide-in-2020 prediction just came creeping a little closer.

Hope that comforts everyone equally.

THOUGHTS ON THE 2016 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME NOMINEES

Since my first post on the Hall several years ago, at least a few of the acts I considered egregious oversights (Donna Summer, Linda Ronstadt, The “5” Royales) have found their way in. I’m confident I’ve had nothing whatsoever to do with this, except maybe cosmically, but the cosmos must be attended, so I take heart and keep plugging away. My lists of the most deserving not yet inducted are still very much the same and can be found HERE, HERE and HERE.

I try to do something a little different each year, simply because my relationship to each new batch of nominees is bound to change at least a little. This year, it’s a simple breakdown: 1) Acts (well, one anyway) who are in my own pantheon and therefore no-brainers; 2) Acts I have at least some strong feeling for, either because I think they filled some place in Rock History that can’t be entirely ignored or I just like their records a lot; and 3) Acts I don’t pretend to get.

So, in reverse order:

Acts I don’t pretend to get (or can at least easily eliminate from this particular ballot):

Nine Inch Nails and The Smiths: Charter members of the Gloom Squad, representativesof which, given the air of stagnation and hopelessness that began to dominate the culture in the late eighties and has continued to suck at our collective oxygen supply every single day since, we are almost certainly stuck with in perpetuity. If they are your thing, peace be upon you, but let’s do cancel the dinner reservations.

Yes: I really like “Roundabout.” But, as one record arguments go, it’s not exactly “La Bamba,” or “Summertime Blues.”

The J.B.s.: Very worthy. Please induct them immediately in the Musical Excellence or Sidemen category, as should have been done long ago. Can’t see spending a vote on them in the performer category.

Chicago: I’m at least a little torn on this one. I do like a lot of their records (more than I think I do actually, unless some event like this one forces me to focus). But I can’t say I’ve listened to them a lot so I just don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other. I will say their lack of critical respect and their capacity for annoying the crit-illuminati by selling millions of records hardly count against them in my book. That said, if the ice is beginning to thaw around the idea of acknowledging AM giants as a necessary and vital part of Rock and Roll History, give me Three Dog Night or the Fifth Dimension any day. Not to mention Tommy James.

Chaka Khan: I could see voting for her some time, especially if (as happened in the past) she was being considered along with her great interracial funk band, Rufus. But she might be one of those acts I can always consider voting for in theory who just never happens to crack the top five on any given ballot. Time will tell. BTW: Interracial funk bands have a way of getting overlooked by the Hall: Think War, Hot Chocolate, KC and the Sunshine Band. Apparently Sly and the Family Stone are enough for the “Hey I’m not really opposed to the concept” crowd. I’d like to see this change, so Rufus would be more likely to get my vote than Chaka alone.

Acts I’d at least strongly consider:

Janet Jackson: She’s a strong candidate and, as someone who generally chides the Hall for seriously slacking on recognition of women and black people, she should be a natural. She was a major superstar and I even like a lot of her records. I can’t say I ever had that special “moment” with her, though. There’s no one record that makes me pull her records off the shelf at least every once in  a while. Since this is very rare for me with any rock and roll act who had even a modest run of sustained success I have to be at least a little bit suspicious. Why Janet? Why aren’t we connecting like we should? Why are Chaka and Chicago in the not-ready-for-consideration category when no record you ever made is on a level with “Tell Me Something Good” or “Just You ‘n’ Me?”  Why does life hold so many mysteries? Withholding judgment on this one…

N.W.A.: The other act on this ballot who are considered a likely slam dunk. Overall that’s a good sign. I can’t remember the last time the two favorites going in were African-American. Wish I liked their music as well as their story. I mean, should burnishing my street cred feel so much like eating my broccoli? Or reading my Chomsky? Withholding….yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

Chic: Yes, yes they should be in. I love “Le Freak” unconditionally (as well as a number of Rodgers and Edwards’ productions for other artists) so there is no problem with the “connection” missing in the previous two entries. And yes, I’m probably going to vote for them. I still don’t quite get why they’ve been on the ballot ten times and Barry White and KC and the Sunshine Band have zero nominations between them…But I’m probably still going to vote for them. Let’s wait and see.

Deep Purple: I was keener on them until I started listening to Joe South again and realized his version of “Hush” not only wastes theirs on the, you know, emotional level where you except a singer-songwriter to have an advantage, but actually rocks harder. Still, they had a real role in making hard rock “heavy.” And I wouldn’t want to put together the classic rock comp that’s going to play on the Celestial Jukebox at the End of Time without “Highway Star” or “My Woman From Tokyo” somewhere in the mix.

Los Lobos: They made one truly great album. That was enough for Guns N’ Roses, whose great album wasn’t quite as great (though it sold a lot more and caused a lot more head-banging). It’s enough for me to certainly put them under strong consideration. I wish they were a little less professorial, of course. But if rock and roll is truly democratic, surely there must be room for the professors too….Mustn’t there?

Steve Miller: The Hall is often perverse. Should we even be surprised that this very long in coming nomination is for Miller alone and not The Steve Miller Band, which is the title under which he made his records? Sure there were a lot of different people in those bands, but the Hall has made room for similar aggregations before, so who knows what the thinking is. As for the records themselves, I’m obviously putting him ahead of Chicago, even if it’s only a hair. I’m hazy on his early, more critically acclaimed work. It was out of San Francisco so familiarity with it, might make me feel more strongly for or against (in a Grateful Dead, no, Jefferson Airplane maybe, CCR or Sly or Janis, yes, sort of way). Which leaves me wondering if the lead-in riff to “Jet Airliner” is enough to make him worthy all by itself? I lived the Seventies. I very specifically lived 1977. And I have to say it’s a very close call.

Cheap Trick and The Cars: Gee, not a month ago I was gently lamenting that I clearly liked Power Pop a lot better than the Hall did, and here they go and put two of the Big Five on the ballot at once. Granted I don’t listen to either as much as Big Star or Raspberries or the Go-Go’s, but they’re both fine bands and the Cars have the additional lift of being the most popular band in the little-genre-that-couldn’t-quite-save-rock-and-roll-but-sure-had-fun-trying. Hall worthy? Definitely. Possible to vote for one and not the other? Tough call. I think I can manage it. I think I’ll probably have to. Which one?….Which one, knowing that the chances of the three even greater bands being considered in the future ride heavily on how these two do? Which one, knowing that these two have the decided advantage of being mysteriously accepted at “classic rock” formats?…Oh, God.

NO-BRAINER:

Spinners: The premiere vocal group of the seventies, the last decade when the competition was fierce and the distinction therefore amounted to an epic accomplishment. Stop the nonsense. Stop dumping on seventies R&B. Stop dumping on vocal groups. Put them in already, so I can start banging the drum for the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites! (insert maniacal laughter here!)

Final ballot:

Spinners…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SBnN4Wp81U

Los Lobos…

Cheap Trick….

Janet Jackson…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNyK_E-9Xzs

Chic…

(and a Rodgers and Edwards bonus….)

…First alternate, the Cars…

If you want to participate in fan balloting you can access the Future Rock Legends site here (you have to scroll down a bit). The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s actual ballot, which has a very small effect on actual voting (but, I suspect, may have a very real effect on considerations for future nominees) is here.