Wednesday, February 29, 2012

John Lennon with George Harrison (1971)



I love the process involved in making records. It's "magic", mixed in with a bit of technology, and a ton of emotions. In this clip from You Tube, John Lennon records "Oh, My Love" for his second solo album, "Imagine", with a little help from George Harrison on guitar, and Nicky Hopkins on electric piano. John played the acoustic piano on the recording. Phil Spector is also present, although he seems to contribute nothing of value to the session. This was a few years before he got mad and fired a pistol into the studio ceiling, which caused John Lennon to ban him forever as his producer.

The real meat of this video is in the transformation which the song takes; from a discussion about the meaning of love, to the first; and unorganized, version of the recording; and then through a bit of anger, before emerging, beginning at 2 minutes and 55 seconds into the film, as the wonderfully sensitive ballad which it is. Especially of interest to me is watching George Harrison effortlessly move about the neck of his guitar, totally at peace with himself, as well as his instrument. I'm still trying, on both accounts.

Happy Leap Year! See you tomorrow with an actual review of something....

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leap Year, George Washington and the Jewish Calendar

Imagine having your summer vacation in January, or Christmas in June. Seems unlikely, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly where we would be at today if Caesar had not adopted the changes to the “Julian” calendar when he added one day every fourth year to keep everything in order. Of course, we know it as leap year, and it is an accepted part of living, engendering such witticisms as, “If you’re born on February 29th then you don’t get to vote until you’re 72 years old!” Or, “If you marry on February 29th then you only have to buy the wife a gift every 4th year.” Right; you try it, and let me know how that works out for you.

I have always been fascinated by numbers, even when failing math in grammar school.(I was fascinated at how low my grades were.) Still later, while working as a grocery clerk, before the advent of the modern day cash register, I was further enamored of the precision of numbers in general. And, still later, as a Quartermaster in the Navy, and then as a qualified 3rd Mate aboard oil tankers, the absolute nature of the stars in their movements, hooked me on math forever. In that spirit I offer the following, and accepted, mathematical reasons for the need of a leap year.

In 46 BC, Julius Caesar was faced with the problem that the Roman calendar then in use had slipped 81 days. This was especially noticeable at the spring equinox, which was an agricultural benchmark affecting the planting of crops. Something needed to be done to correct the error. Caesar simply added 81 days to the calendar, and instituted the leap year, bringing all things back to their proper order; for a time.

The Julian calendar, which is the one in use from 46 BC until 1582 AD, was based upon 365.25 days for one journey around the sun. Now, this was pretty good shooting for 46 BC, but by the 16th Century advances in science, and navigation, had revealed the actual length of time to orbit the sun as being a bit shorter; 365.2422 days, which meant that we were now out of whack by 10 days, which was fouling up the date on which to observe Easter. In preparation for Easter of 1582, Pope Gregory XIII deleted 10 days for that year, which reset the clock, so to speak. That became known as the Gregorian calendar, which is what we still use today.

As time has gone by, even the Gregorian calendar has come up for correction. George Washington, the father of our country, was actually born on the 11th of February in 1732. His birthday was advanced by 11 days in 1752 when the colonies switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. I have never really been sure of why the colonies were using the older Julian calendar, so I will have to look into that. But poor George Washington, he seems destined to never have a permanent birthday, as we now celebrate his special day as a three day weekend, or President's Day, which gives him a “leap” in his birthday every year, rather than one in every four.

There are many different calendars in use around the world, each with its own version of Leap Year. My own religion, Judaism, makes use of the older Lunar calendar which requires a correction of almost 20 days, or so, making it a 13 month year. That month is named Adar I, or, the "lucky" month. It is neatly slipped in between the months of Shevat and Adar, giving the leap year a total of 385 days. The Jewish Leap Year is also known as the "Pregnant" year; "Shanah Me'uberet" in Hebrew; as it bulges with extra days. These leap years are distributed 7 times over a 19 year period, and occur during the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years of the cycle. This is known as the Metonic cycle and marks the moons return to the exact place, at the same longitude, with the same constellation in the sky. Moreover this occurs at the time when the moon is in the exact same phase as it was at the beginning of the cycle.

I don't know whether I'll post tomorrow, or not, what with it being Leap Year. It seems like a lot of trouble; that's why I'm posting this today. But knowing me, I'll probably post something anyway. Being compulsive kind of becomes a habit.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"Blessings In Disguise" by Sir Alec Guinness

It would be hard to argue that Alec Guinness, often referred to as "the man with no face", is one of the finest actors ever. He has triumphed in every arena he has performed in. From stage to screen, from Shakespeare's "Hamlet", to George Lucas' "Star Wars", few actors can really claim to have managed such diverse roles, pulling them all off with perfection, and then some.

Who can forget Mr. Guinness as the indomitable Colonel Nicholson in Pierre Boulle's "The Bridge Over the River Kwai", or the crafty Fagin in David Lean's film version of "Oliver Twist." I can go on, but why?

In this very theatrically toned memoir, Mr. Guinness recounts his early years as the child of a mother and stepfather; who fell in and out of fortune at regular intervals; which left him to his own devices when not confined to boarding school. His childhood straddled the years between the two World Wars, which were amongst some of the most politically interesting decades of the 20th Century. The different characters whom he meets during these years are a fascinating, though odd, assortment of talented people.

He recounts his introduction to the theater, and then acting, naming long forgotten performers; who's names I am unfamiliar with; but through his remarkable style of writing, still manages to convey their wit, and importance, in the theatrical circles of their time.

One of the more amazing things, to me at least, about this book is the way the authors words convey his personality so well. He translates on paper just as well as he did on the screen. I cannot say how his films, or this book, compare to his stage appearances, never having had the honor of seeing him in person. As close as I've gotten to his level of performance is seeing Richard Burton in "Camelot" when I was about 7; I really did think that he was King Arthur; and then seeing Claire Bloom in Ibsen's "Doll's House" when I was 14. Jason Robards co-starred in that, it was a Sunday afternoon matinee in a loft somewhere in Manhattan for $4 a ticket. One of my friends mother's took us there, and I fell in love with Ms. Bloom that day, though she has still never answered my letter.

That's another thing which makes this book so readable. For all his accomplishments, and title, Sir Alec was very much like you and I. For instance, when he was 7 he saw Nellie Wallace in a music hall performance and sent her flowers, just as I had sent a note to Claire Bloom. In Mr. Guinness' case, Ms. Wallace returned the gesture with a note and some flowers of her own. (Ms. Bloom, please take note.)

Through all of his years in the theater; where people are sometimes apt to take themselves too seriously; and in all of his performances as Kings, Colonels, Princes, etc., he never ceased to be Alec Guinness. He even begins the book by stating that he was born out of wedlock. No excuses offered, just the unabashed fact. And that's the way the entire 200 pages, or so, reads, as a collection of facts, presented almost in vignettes that define the author’s life.

At the beginning to the final paragraph Mr. Guinness writes, "At the risk of pretension I have to say that, for me, the great adventure could be yet to come, had I only the courage and strength of will to embark on it: a spiritual journey, all foibles, silliness and ill-will mastered and thrown overboard and a genuine attempt made at achieving total simplicity. A day dream only, I fear. I lack sufficient humility and it is so warm and cozy on shore." That's quite a statement from a very unique and humble man.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Brooklyn" with James Cagney from "The West Point Story"



This is a scene from the 1950 film "The West Point Story" with James Cagney, Virginia Mayo and Doris Day. At 2 minutes 26 seconds in this clip, Cagney sings about walking down Kings Highway. The movie is a bit dated, but still captures the spirit of the city. And Mr. Cagney's tribute to B,K,L,Y,N really does make me want to go back and walk down Kings Highway again.

The plot involves Broadway director Bix Bixby, played by James Cagney, who is down on his luck due to a gambling problem. He is persuaded to go to West Point military academy with Eve, his secretary and sometimes lover, to help put on a show. A cute story with plenty of singing and dancing, this one was a surprise for me, as I had not seen it before. But of course the best part was this when Cagney is lined up with the other cadets, still in civilian clothes, and tells them about Brooklyn.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"14 Karat Rabbit" with Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam (1951)



This is one of the classic Mel Blanc cartoons. Mel Blanc did all of the voices in the Looney Tones Cartoons back in the late 1940's and the 1950's. Some people have commented on You Tube that this is an anti Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender cartoon. The overwhelming objection seems to be the opening scene, which says "The Klondike - Where Men are Men, and Women are Women - A Darn Good arrangement." I think they are reading way too much into it. This is just a funny cartoon from 1951. Enjoy it!

Friday, February 24, 2012

"LBJ" by Phillip F. Nelson

This is the latest in the myriad of books about the assassination of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, in Dallas, Texas, on November 22nd, 1963. I am an avid fan of the genre, both pro, and anti-conspiracy. It is, for me, the parlor game to end all parlor games. Who killed JFK, and more importantly, why?

Mr. Nelson has made a splendid effort, according to the author's bio on the cover he retired early to pursue writing this book. His premise is that the assassination was the sole brainchild of Lyndon Johnson, and further that the whole episode was caused by Johnson's lifelong desire to be President. He has even included the oft told story of LBJ declaring, at age eleven, that he would someday be President. Truth be told, many an American boy, and now girls, have harbored that same dream.

To set the record straight concerning my own feelings about the murder of JFK; I say murder rather than assassination simply because assassination usually involves a political goal, whereas the murder of JFK was more of a business decision by a wide group of influential people and organizations; I believe that Kennedy was killed by a group which included the CIA, Cuban exiles, the Mafia and Military Intelligence Units. Their motivation was a confluence of events, which, when taken collectively into consideration, affected all of these groups in such a way that it was deemed necessary to take action.

Mr. Nelson hits most of the key points, but never really connects the dots. For instance, take the Presidents changed route to the Trade Mart; the question is not so much who changed the route, as much as it is why the Trade Mart was to be the venue in the first place, rather than the larger Convention Center? The President should have been speaking at the Convention Center, which was booked in advance by Pepsi Cola for their annual meeting. LBJ was even a keynote speaker at that event. Their main concern was the spiraling price of sugar, caused in large part by Castro's takeover of Cuba. One of the guests, who flew out of Dallas just hours before the assassination/murder, was then ex-Vice President Nixon. He, ironically, was not involved in the plot.

The Convention Center was booked in order to force the President to utilize the Trade Mart instead. In that way he would have to pass the Texas Book Depository, which had only been purchased 6 months before the President’s visit, and leased, to a private firm only 6 weeks before November 22nd. The name Texas School Book Depository is also an attempt to camouflage the real owners. Most people still think that the Book Depository was a state owned facility at the time, and that it had been in operation for years.

The flight of Air Force One from Dallas is called into question by the author. His conclusion of Johnson wanting to fly aboard Air Force One, rather than Air Force Two, as further proof that LBJ was the "mastermind" of the plot to kill the President is not credible at all. Officially, he was there to accompany the body of the slain President in order to show a continuity of government at the height of the Cold War. But, in reality he was the de-facto "getaway driver."

Under Federal law in 1963 it was not a crime to kill the President. The location of the assassination held the jurisdiction for the murder and any subsequent trial. Indeed the President's security detail clashed violently with the Dallas Police Department when they removed the Presidents body from Parkland Hospital. Weapons were drawn, with the Secret Service the obvious winners.

In addition, both sides wanted the body for different purposes; the doctors at Parkland wanted to conduct an autopsy, which would have fulfilled their obligations under Texas law at the time. Dr. Crenshaw, at Parkland, had already established that JFK was shot from the front, rather than the rear. The Secret Service wanted the body back in Washington to conceal the drugs in Kennedy's system, as well as his STD's. It was at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland where the autopsy was altered to indicate one lone gunman firing from the rear.

Once aboard Air Force One with the body of JFK, and having taken the Oath of Office as the new President, who was to stop the plane from taking off with the body? The autopsy was then performed, with dubious results, at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, rather than at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, as required by the applicable laws of the time. The assassination of the President would not become a Federal Crime until 1967.

Although Mr. Nelson is correct in that there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, his work has all the earmarks which make one wonder if this book was deliberately written to discredit "Family Of Secrets" by Russ Baker, which manages to tie together all of the principal culprits from the Bay of Pigs affair through the Watergate Burglarly. All of the same players are neatly tied together in a fully researched and believable fashion. That book answers all of the questions which may be lingering in reference to the death of President Kennedy. Zapata Offshore Oil, anyone?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"We and They" by Rudyard Kipling



On October 10th, 1977 Alec Guinness gave a rare interview on Michael Parkinson's BBC show. He reminisced about his life in show business and his fascination with animals. He even donned a cap and in a small boys voice read the following poem by Rudyard Kipling. I recently ran across the video of that performance as a bonus feature with the film "Kind Hearts and Coronets." I have not been able to find a clip of it on You Tube. But I'm still looking! In its absence I have posted a clip from the 1948 David Lean Production of "Oliver Twist", in which Mr. Guinness appears as Fagin. In this short clip he evokes all the necessary emotions imaginable; from kindness to greed and suspicion.

Alec Guinness has often been described as the actor who has no face. You can literally see him in several movies in a row and not recognize him. He is also Colonel Nicholson in Pierre Boulle's "The Bridge Over the River Kwai", as well as Obi-Wan in the iconic "Star Wars" films. Talk about versatility!

The Parkinson's interview was a bit over an hour long, and when it was through, it simply wasn't enough. And to cap off the interview, during which he had impersonated various animals which he had used as inspiration for several parts in his films, he donned a cap and glasses, reading, in a child's voice, this wonderful poem by Rudyard Kipling.

"A Friend of the Family"
From "Debits and Credits"(1919-1923)


Father and Mother, and Me,
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But-would you believe it? --They look upon We
As only a sort of They!

We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
While they who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn't it scandalous? ) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!

We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We
As an utterly ignorant They!

We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Disposal of the Koran (Qur'an)

It has been alleged that the Koran (Qur'an) has become a means of communication between prisoners at Bagram Airfield, in Afghanistan. These books, considered holy by some, were defaced by the prisoners when they used them as a covert means of passing messages to one another. These defaced Korans (Qur'ans) were then thoughtlessly burned by Order of U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, who has since apologized. While his actions may seem to have been a rather "politically incorrect" way of solving the problem at the time, it is not altogether unfounded in Islamic law. The Islamic jurist Hanafi Imam al-Haskafi is the noted authority on the subject, but there are parts of his teachings which have not been aired by the media.

In all honesty, I am not a big fan of the Koran (Qur'an); which instructs its adherents to pray for my destruction 5 times a day; but I am a fan of accuracy, and so, in the name of accuracy; as well as curiosity; I was compelled to seek out information about the correct way to dispose of the Koran (Qur'an). It seems to me that the General was acting under circumstances which did not permit the preferred disposal of the Korans (Quar'ans). However, by virtue of the teachings of the noted Islamic scholar and jurist Hanafi Imam al-Haskafi, the General was acting in good faith, all be it unknown to him, at the time. The last paragraph describes the conditions under which the General was acting; he was very unlikely to have been able to destroy these defaced books without inciting violence. At the same time he would have been decried as a bigot if he had not replaced them. The following is what I found to be the general consensus amongst the Islamic sites which I used to answer the question in a fair and honest way.


Question: How does one get rid of unwanted religious literature, such as religious books, leaflets with the name of Allah, etc? Also, please state the ruling on what should be done to the copies of Qur’an that are no longer in a useable state:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Answer: In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

With regards to getting rid of unwanted religious and Islamic literature, the great classical Hanafi jurist (faqih), Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“Books that are no longer benefited from, one should wipe away the names of Allah, His Angels, and His Messengers, and burn the rest. There is also nothing wrong with casting them into a flowing river as they are (i.e. without wiping away those names) or burying them, and this (burying them) is better.” (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 5/271)

Thus, if one decides to dispose of religious literature, the best thing would be to bury it by wrapping it in something pure first, in a place where people would not normally walk. It would also be permitted to tie the books and papers with something heavy and cast them into a flowing river. Alternatively, the literature may be burnt, but in this case, only after erasing the names of Allah, His Angels and His Messengers.

Disposing Unusable Copies of the Qur’an

As far as old and unusable copies of the Qur’an are concerned, it is not permitted to burn them unless there is no other way to dispose of them.

The great Hanafi Imam, Imam Ibn Abidin (may Allah have mercy on him) states:

“If a copy of the Mushaf (qur’an) becomes old and it is difficult to read from it, it should not be burnt in fire. This is what Imam Muhammad (m: student of Imam Abu Hanifa) pointed out and this is what we take. It will not be disliked to bury it. It should be wrapped in a pure cloth, and a Lahd grave (m: grave that has a incision in the side wall, customary in hot climate countries where the earth is solid) should be dug, because if a Shiq grave (m: grave with a straight opening, common in cold climate countries due to the earth being soft) is dug and the copy of the Qur’an is buried, it will entail the soil falling on top of the Qur’an which is a form of disrespect, unless a slab is placed as a roof…” (Radd al-Muhtar, 5/271)

In light of the above, there are two methods of disposing of an unusable copy of the Qur’an:

1) Wrapping it in a pure piece of cloth and burying it respectfully in a place where people (normally) do not walk about. In cold climate countries (such as the UK), one may dig a Shiq grave, but a slab should be placed first and over it the soil.

2) Fastening the Qur’an with a heavy object like a stone and then placing it respectfully in flowing water.

If one is able to implement the above two methods, it would not be permitted to burn the copy of the Qur’an. However, if the above two methods are difficult to carry out, then one may burn the Qur’an and bury or drown the resulting ash.
And Allah knows best

Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK

This site has proved useful in the past to debunk some of the things I have read in the papers and heard on the radio. It has also consistently squared itself with the Koran (Qur'an) at my local library. It's worth a visit;

http://www.ummah.com/forum/showthread.php?221340-how-to-dispose-of-islamic-literature-in-a-halal-manner

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"The Chase" with Marlon Brando, E.G. Marshall, Angie Dickinson and Jane Fonda (1966)

Changing societal conventions collide with booze, money and power in this barnburner of a film by director Arthur Penn. Bubber Reeves; played by Robert Redford, escapes from prison; and promptly becomes involved in a crime which results in a murder he does not commit. With the entire state on the lookout for him, he heads home to his South Texas town to see his wife, Anna, played by Jane Fonda. She has been having an affair with the married son of Val Rogers, played by E.G. Marshall, the local oil and cattle baron, who provides a great deal of employment to the people of the town. He also causes a great deal of resentment toward the Sheriff.

Sheriff Calder, played by Marlon Brando, is married to Ruby Calder, played by Angie Dickinson. Together they run the courthouse, seemingly at the direction of Val Rogers. But that myth is shattered the night Bubber returns to town, and the "respectable" citizens show their true colors. All have something to hide, or prove to others, and to themselves.

With Sheriff Calder alone looking out for justice, can justice prevail? Old tensions flare, and the film ends on an apocalyptic note; literally; as the town utterly destroys itself.

Working from the novel by Horton Foote, the screen play by Lillian Hellman captures all the drama of the fragility of the human condition. When a whole town can be so adversely affected by one event, the question of just what constitutes society is called into question.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"At the Devil's Table" by William C. Rempel

This is the story of Jorge Salcedo, a seemingly respectable, college educated engineer and businessman from Bogota. His father was a military man who was targeted during the years of the La Violencia, from 1946 through 1957, when as many as 300,000 Colombians were killed by the military, and by rival political groups, each vying for control of the government. Jorge was born into this environment.

The author casts Mr. Salcedo as a self-sacrificing hero, who, in this factually correct account of the Cali-Medellin Cartel Wars in Colombia during the late 1980's and early 1990's, covers the life of Mr. Salcedo from an ordinary man to his rise as the head of security for the Cali Cartel. An engineer by training and a security consultant by choice, Mr. Salcedo is approached by the Cali Cartel to kill Pablo Escobar, the legendary leader of the Medellin Cartel. Escobar is known for his extreme and violent rule. Kidnappings, murders and extortion were all part of his trade, and the Cali Cartel, headed by the Orejuela family in the Cali region of northern Colombia, wanted protection from this "madman".

Jorge is connected to many powerful people in the world of "security", and so he is able to tap into a group of British mercenaries, whom he imports to Colombia, intending on taking down the entire Medellin Cartel. But once the mission is accomplished, and Escobar is killed; with a seeming "nod and a wink" by both the United States and Colombian governments; things are not any better for the Cali Cartel, or our "hero" Mr. Salcedo. On the contrary, their bad times are just about to begin.

After the Colombian government announces that it is willing to enter into negotiations with the Cartel, the younger members refuse. After all, they haven't made their money yet. This serves to split the strength of the Cartel, making it easier for the government to conquer them. Mr. Salcedo, sensing the rapidly closing web, attempts to leave Cartel, but the cartel owners refuse his request. He's in; for better or worse.

When he then approaches the United States government; offering up his former employers, while seeking immunity for himself; he finds that nothing is ever that easy, and that he is not immune from anything which he has done. Things really heat up at this point, as Mr. Salcedo looks to save himself, from both the Cartel and the governments of Colombia and the United States.

There is a lot more to this book than meets the eye. In my own opinion, Pablo Escobar was killed by a British mercenary group, but it was really a hit orchestrated by both the CIA and the Colombian military. Escobar could not be taken alive. He simply had too much to say about too many high ranking people. The real aim was to silence him before he could talk about such things as the "economic turnaround" in Arkansas; which lead to the Iran-Contra Affair; and the 1992 election of then Governor Bill Clinton, to the Presidency.

That "economic turnaround" in the mid 1980's was accomplished with the help of then Vice President George H. W. Bush; supplying guns in exchange for drugs in order to arm the Nicarauguan Contras, in violation of the Boland Amendment. He went on to become a one term President, losing his re-election to Clinton in 1992. That election marked the first time in which the CIA fully owned both candidates for the office of President. Indeed, it is the one issue on which neither candidate was willing to engage the other during the entire campaign.

This is a very insightful book, but also one which seems, somehow, to divert attention from the very important questions concerning the role of our own government in the acquisition, transfer and sale, of huge amounts of cocaine at the height of the War on Drugs. Who were those powers? And, more importantly, where are they today? This is a very thought provoking book, if you allow it to be.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

No Book Today

For obvious reasons reading has been a bit difficult these past few days. So, this is a day off. I was going to post a re-run, but this was actually easier. It's my Nick Nolte pose. See you tomm'w.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

"The Car of Tomorrow" (1951) / "Mouse In the House" (1947)



This is an old MGM cartoon directed by Tex Avery. Apparently there is another version of this floating around which was shortened slightly in order to be more politically correct. This is the original, which still has the Chinese and Indian cars which were removed. Since I just had an accident, which totaled my car, I'm looking for a good used one. Rather than start with Craig's list, I figured that looking on You Tube might prove to be interesting.

And right below is a very good "Tom and Jerry" cartoon from 1947, titled "A Mouse in the House." It's the same old story you read about in the news all the time - too many people and not enough jobs. This one is directed by the legendary team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who would later bring you Fred and Wilma Flintstone, as well as the town of Bedrock.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Going My Way" with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald (1944)

I'm not in the best if shape to really read right now, what with this lump on my head, so I'll be doing movies for the next few days while I get back to normal, whatever that is. Luckily for me, the Mooreville Public Library has outdone itself this year with their acquisition of some of my favorite classic movies. This one turned up just the other day; you can tell by the marking on the cover that it was just purchased in the last few weeks. I used to watch this every Christmas when I had a larger VCR collection. When I made the switch to DVD I found it too cumbersome to change from one format another every time I was watching something, so a lot of those tapes were given away. And sometimes it's just plain fun to run across an old favorite unexpectedly, rather than have it at your disposal constantly. Somehow it loses value when it can be taken for granted. I suppose that’s true of most things.

At any rate, this one was a sheer delight to watch again. Briefly, Bing Crosby, playing Father O'Malley, comes to the aging parish of Saint Dominic's, which has been the domain of the aging Parish Priest Father Fitzgibbon, played by Barry Fitzgerald in his unique and mischievous way. Unknown to the elder Priest, Father O'Malley is there to replace him. But who would break this old man's heart with the news? His life, after all, has been spent in this one Parish, where he is known, and loved, by all.

Through a series of mishaps, Father O'Malley manages to get off to a bad start with some of the local parishioners, but manages to strike a chord with some of the neighborhood roughnecks. The Parish is in an impoverished area of the city, which makes it all the more challenging for Father O'Malley, while Father Fitzgibbon has grown a bit too "long in the tooth" to be completely effective.

The church is in debt and in threat of foreclosure if it cannot meet its financial obligations. The same bank also owns the tenements which exist in the neighborhood. At the same time in which the owner is evicting one of the tenants; an old woman with no visible means of support; the owner's son is becoming romantically involved with a young woman, Carol James, played by Jean Heather, who aspires to become a singer. He has even installed her in an apartment in the same building in which the destitute old woman lives. This sparks a scandal, which must be handled by the irrepressible Father O'Malley.

O'Malley is no stranger to love, having once been in love with opera star Genevieve Linden, played wonderfully by real life opera star Rise Stevens. Their reunion scene; and her part in helping Father O'Malley with the children; form some of the more poignant parts of the film.



While attempting to navigate this veritable mine field, O'Malley, with the help of a fellow Priest named Father O'Dowd, played by Frank McHugh, manage to help Father Fitzgibbon overcome a fire at St. Dominic's, while quietly engineering a re-union of the old man and his mother, a woman of 90 who still resides in Ireland. They also find the time to form some of the local kids into a Boys’ Choir with the help of Ms. Stevens. When Christmas Eve arrives , and the Boys’ Choir is performing, Father Fitzgibbon is re-united with his aging mother on Christmas Eve, bringing this movie to a beautiful finish, and leaving the viewer a bit misty eyed in the process.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wrecking the Car

I was on my way home about 5 PM today when I managed to smack the car in front of me - really hard, too. Aside from the obvious and fatal damage to my beloved Mitsubishi, the other guy was taken away in a neck brace and ambulance. The hospital will be calling later to fill me in on his condition. His name is Craig, but he was in no shape to exchange info beyond inquiring about my injuries. And I was equally concerned about his.

208,000 miles and I loved that car. It was just inspected 3 weeks ago and passed with flying colors. With a new set of tires, brand new catalytic converter, and a kick ass Boss stereo system, including a USB port, she will be missed.

But I did get to take home a little memento of the occasion - it seems that there is a big lump on my head and my right knee hurts. Aside from that, I'm fine. But, we're a one car family now.

"Marty" with Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair (1954)

Long before "McHale's Navy", or "SpongeBob SquarePants", Ernest Borgnine was the Oscar Winning Actor who starred in the Oscar Award Winning Film "Marty", in which he plays an unmarried butcher in New York during the 1950's. The play, written by Paddy Chayefsky, who also did the screenplay, was the first of two films which Mr. Borgnine did with the legendary playwright. The other was "The Catered Affair", in 1956 with Bette Davis and Debbie Reynolds. If you have never seen either of these two films, then you have never really seen Ernest Borgnine act.

Both of these films were made on location in New York; in the Bronx, and Manhattan. The film has the gritty feel of the 1950's as Marty, played by Ernest Borgnine, struggles to find peace with himself. He is 35 years old, unmarried, and lives at home with his widowed Italian mother, Mrs. Piletti, played by Esther Minciotti. They are very content with their lot in life, he works in the butcher shop, and she stays home caring for her only unmarried child. But beneath this idyllic facade there is discontent. Mrs. Piletti wonders why her son is always alone, hanging around the house, or out with friends. His younger brothers are all married and the pressure is mounting upon Marty to do the same.

Marty's friends are not much help. Misery likes company and they are all unwilling to let Marty walk away from their mutual meaningless existence; that would only underscore their own short comings.

At home, Marty faces another dilemma; his Aunt Catherine, played by Augusta Ciolli, is living with her son and daughter in law, with little success. Aunt Catherine is hyper-critical of her daughter in law and there is much friction. Since, as Mrs. Piletti observes, "Two women can't share one kitchen", Aunt Catherine moves in with Marty and his mother. Soon, Aunt Catherine has infected her sister with the worry of what will become of her should Marty ever meet a woman and marry. Will she be left alone? Or worse, will she be cast out, as her sister has been? All of this serves to further conflict the affable Marty as he struggles with his loneliness.

When circumstances place Carla, a shy and average looking woman, played by Betsy Blair, in his path, Marty is ecstatic. He has always felt that he was one of those people destined to never find love. Carla, who has had her share of disappointments as well, is equally happy to have met Marty, hoping that things will progress further.

But first, Marty must try to sort out his conflicted feelings. On the one hand, he doesn't want to be alone forever; but on the other, he is guilt ridden over the thought of leaving his mother alone. And on top of that there is always the fear of rejection on the part of Carla.

Will Marty break free of his friends grip? Does he have what it takes to take a chance on love? The answers to those questions lie in this wonderful play by Paddy Chayefsky. Filmed in, and around New York City in the 1950's, the film captures the feel of the city in all of its black and white glory. As I said before, if you have never seen this film, then you have never really seen Mr. Borgnine act. Oh, and did I forget to mention that I'm a big fan?


To read a review of Mr. Borgnine's autobiography, go to;

http://robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com/2010/04/ernie-autobiography-by-ernest-borgnine.html

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"The Palm Beach Story" with Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert and Rudy Vallee (1942)

One of the scenes shown in yesterday's Valentine's Day post depicted a woman’s toes curling. It was one of the ones I guessed correctly. Coincidentally, it is also one of the newer selections just purchased for the Classics Collection at the Mooresville Public Library. So, naturally I had to take it home. And I'm so glad that I did. It has been awhile since I have seen this quirky, off-beat comedy by Preston Sturges, and in this case, absence makes the heart grow fonder, both for the principal characters, as well as the viewer.

Tom Jeffers, played by Joel McCrea and his wife Gerry, played by Claudette Colbert are broke. He is a struggling architect and the bills have mounted up. They are being evicted from their Manhattan luxury apartment when J.D. Hackensacker III, played by screen legend Rudy Vallee enters their lives as the meddling old millionaire "Sausage king." With a self-deprecating wit and charm, he pays off the couples debts. This causes some friction between the two, and Gerry decides that she can serve her husband best by getting a quick divorce. He is in complete disagreement.

After a night on the town, Gerry leaves Tom, bound for Palm Beach by train. (There are some great scenes of the old Pennsylvania Station in this part of the movie.) Without any money for a ticket, she vies for the attention of a group of old millionaires who are all members of the "Quail and Ale" club. This group is composed of some of Hollywood’s finest character actors, including William Demarest and Chester Conklin, along with Fred "Snowflake" Toones as the beleaguered black bartender, "Snowflake", in what would today be considered a "politically incorrect" role. They are on their annual outing to go hunting, drinking and singing. They quickly vote to adopt her as a member and pay for her ticket. Tom arrives at the station just in time to see his wife leaving.

In despair, he heads home, only to discover that J.D. Hackensacker, III is now his neighbor. The old gent is irritated that Tom is not chasing his wife in order to get her back. So, he finances Tom's train ticket to go and chase her down. On the way he discovers that Hackensacker's sister, the Princess Centimillia, played by Mary Astor, is after him. With the plot all set, it only remains to be seen what happens next in this typically fast paced and funny production, written and directed by the master of the ridiculous, Preston Sturges.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Classic Clips and a Song



I wasn't really sure what to post for today. It's my daughter Sarah's 25th birthday, and that's special. But I wanted something more universal to post, something that would appeal to the romantic in all of us. So, I hit You Tube, looking for Classic Valentines Day Films. I got a compilation of love scenes from 41 different films. I did pretty good, identifying about 2 dozen of the clips correctly. I did have to do it twice, my mind doesn't run as fast as the compilation does.

See how many you can identify without looking at the list provided by saraismyname, who posted this to You Tube last year. The answers are listed below the following video of the Bangles doing their 1989 hit song "Eternal Flame";



These are the films in order of appearance:

Wife vs. Secretary
Made for Each Other
Family Honeymoon
Random Harvest
Love Crazy
Mrs. Miniver
The Palm Beach Story
Conquest
Adventure
Two-Faced Woman
When Tomorrow Comes
Mrs. Miniver
Never a Dull Moment
Remember the Day
Two-Faced Woman
You Can't Take it with You
Penny Serenade
Sitting Pretty
Conquest
Adventure
Stamboul Quest
Remember the Day
Sentimental Journey
If You Could Only Cook
Rebecca
We Were Dancing
The Palm Beach Story
A Night to Remember
Four's a Crowd
Over 21
Random Harvest
Wife vs. Secretary
A Night to Remember
Forsaking All Others
The Gilded Lily
Arsenic and Old Lace
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Mr. Blandings Builds HIs Dream House
Adam's Rib
Julia Misbehaves
We Were Dancing

And while I'm on the topic of Valentine's Day, let me wish a very special and heart felt Valentine's Day to all of the women in my life who make the world so much more than it would be without them. Of course, that starts with my wife Sue; pictured here with our friend the Frog; and my daughter Sarah. (Quick thinking and a nice save by me on that!)

Monday, February 13, 2012

My Boyfriend Went Vegan



I have been disgusted with PETA ever since the time they made the kids cry at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. That was 10 years ago, when they were trying to make their point while holding signs up in front of small children depicting the horrible scenes in a slaughterhouse. But if I thought THAT was offensive, this new on-line ad, scheduled for TV release tomorrow, goes way further in the category of poor taste than even I would have imagined. And I have quite an imagination!

If you haven't seen this yet, you will soon. It's about the most offensive commercial I have ever seen from a so-called charity, or aid group. And it offends on several levels. First, it implies the boyfriend has become a super stud simply by going Vegan. Secondly, it depicts the woman as having "wanted it", "enjoyed it", and then even "coming back for more". All rapists take note, this could work out well for your defense. Just tell 'em you went Vegan and it's not your fault...

If this commercial is an indication of what your brain looks like as a vegetarian, then order me a double cheeseburger real quick!

"Cabaret" with Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and Michael York (1972)

It took me a long time to watch this film. I was reluctant to see it at the time it was released in 1972 because I had seen it on Broadway in 1966 when I was about 12 years old. Jill Haworth had the leading role as Sally Bowles, and being 12 years old, I had a huge crush on her. Added to that, I had recently seen "Pookie Adams", and that movie simply did little to make me a fan of Ms. Minnelli's. I have to add that when I watched that film years later, I found it to be very moving. But the Broadway production of "Cabaret", and Jill Haworth in particular, had quite an effect on me, so when "Cabaret" came out as a movie, I simply didn't go to see it. Nothing, at least in my mind, could compare to the show.

Twenty years went by before I took the film out, in VCR format, in 1992. At that time I was hyper critical of the additional musical numbers which had been added to the soundtrack, while lamenting the loss of some of the original songs in the show. "The Pineapple Song", along with "Don't Tell Mama" and "Meeskite", come to mind immediately.

But time has a way of changing ones perceptions, and this movie lends validity to that line of thought. And, so it goes with this wonderful film version of "Cabaret."

If Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli had never done another film, or show, again after this adaptation of the original Broadway show, they would still be immortalized for their performances in this movie. Bob Fosse, the genius Broadway choreographer, is at his best in this film. He even outshines his own work in the stage version with the addition of the musical number "Mein Herr".

At first I was a bit upset at the deletion of Lotte Lenya's role as the landlady, along with her subsequent romance with one of the boarders. But after watching the film again with a more objective mind, I see the wisdom in focusing more on Sally Bowles and her relationship with Brian Roberts, played by Michael York. The screenplay gives a wider range of motion than can be achieved on a theater stage, and so it would have been almost impossible to reproduce the show exactly as it had been presented on Broadway. The pity of it is that it took me so long to acknowledge this.

The story, of course, concerns a young American woman named Sally Bowles, who works as a singer and dancer in one of Berlin's many decadent pre-war nightclubs. Joel Grey plays, as he did on Broadway, the irrepressible Emcee of the Kit Kat Club where Ms. Bowles works. His exuberance in his role leaps from the screen, underscoring the tumult, and decadence, which marked Germany in the days after the First World War. Germany, having been saddled with war reparations designed to keep it from ever becoming a military threat again, had fallen prey to the ravages of the Great Depression. With that fall came two opposing ideologies; one ultra-Liberal, as defined by the Communists and the Kit Kat Club; and the other, ultra-Conservative and defined by the Nazi Party.

Into this foray comes Brian Roberts, a young Englishman who has come to Germany planning to write. In the interim he gives English lessons. And, in the long run, he falls in love with Sally Bowles. When Maximilian von Heune, a rich playboy, played by Helmut Griem, enters the picture, things heat up as the sexual tension builds amongst the three. Brian, who has thought of himself as homosexual after three failed attempts at love with women, is at first confused by his feelings for Sally, who desperately seeks true love. And when his feelings for Maximilian are added to the mixture, he is further confused by all that is happening to him.

Added to the story is the plight of their mutual friend, and Brian's student, Fritz Wendel, played by Fritz Wepper, who fancies himself a gigolo looking to marry for money. To his chagrin he falls in love with Natalia Landauer, played by Marisa Berenson, who is a Jew. He is confused by this turn of events, but proposes to her anyway. She declines citing their religious differences as the reason. This gives way to the secret which Fritz has been hiding all along; he is Jewish! He has only been masquerading as a Christian for social purposes. He is now forced to come clean, hoping that she will understand. His biggest complaint now is that "she has made an honest man of me!"

Still, after all these years, one of my favorite numbers in the show is "If You Could See her Through My Eyes", in which Joel Grey, as the Emcee, dances with his true love, a gorilla. After extolling her virtues, and lamenting that others would never understand his love for her due to their differences, he reveals that "if you could see her through my eyes - she wouldn't look Jewish at all!"

"Cabaret", both the show and film, are based upon the 1951 Broadway play "I Am a Camera", which was based upon Christopher Isherwood's book "Goodbye to Berlin" which is part of "The Berlin Stories." That book begins with the quote, "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking."

A delightful film, with excellent performances by the entire cast, this movie has some disturbing parallels to the world in which we live today. An excellent adaptation by the creators of the original Broadway show; with some new musical numbers added by the original composers and lyricists, Fred Ebb and John Kander; make this film as entertaining as it is poignant.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"The Murder of the Century" by Paul Collins

Years ago, long before I was married, I formed the habit of not dating murderesses. I'm too much the nervous type to be looking over my shoulder all the time, or sleep with one eye open. Also, once you fall in with a murderess, there is, like the Mafia, only one way out. William Guldensuppe was ignorant of this fact. And that ignorance led to his untimely demise. You might even say he lost his head over the whole affair.

Augusta and Herman Nack arrived in America from Germany around 1890. He was a bakery driver, delivering fresh breads to the neighborhood stores by means of a horse drawn cart. Mrs. Nack was a mid-wife, trained in Germany, but unable to use her skills in New York City, which had outlawed the practice some time before her arrival. But, armed with her knowledge of medicine and obstetrics, she was an able, although illegal, abortionist. At $25 apiece, doing several of these procedures a week, she was doing quite well for herself. She also took in boarders. And there-in lies the true mystery behind the mystery presented by Mr. Collins. With all that money rolling in, why did she need to take on a boarder?

In this highly charged and readable book, Mr. Collins painstakingly traces the mystery of a human torso found floating off the East 3rd Street Pier in Manhattan on a hot summer's day in June of 1897, a year before all 5 boroughs would unite to become New York City as we know it today.

Briefly, Mrs. Nack took her boarder, William Guldensuppe, a masseur, as a lover. With her husband, Herman Nack, gone for fourteen hours a day, she had plenty of time for her abortion business, which she ran with the help of a local pharmacist, a local doctor, and an undertaker. She also had time for a lover, in this case it was first William Guldensuppe. Later, there would be another lover, Martin Thorn, who would help her dispose of Mr. Guldensuppe.

On June 26th, 1897 in the midst of a scorching heat wave, 2 boys swimming in the East River found a parcel wrapped in oilcloth. When they opened it they found a human torso. There was nothing else; just a torso. This was baffling enough, but when more body parts; which all fit the previous parts perfectly; were found scattered about the Bronx, and Queens, the police, urged on by the newspapers of the day, were hard pressed to act.

This case touched off a newspaper rivalry which would lead to the rise of the new so-called "Yellow Journalism", and spark the famous tabloid war between Wm. Randolph Hearst's Journal, and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World.

With forensics largely non-existent, the case turns on good old fashioned police work. The crime was committed in such a daring fashion, with Mrs. Nack pitting one lover against the other in her quest to avoid detection concerning her illegal business. Just how she ran this business is as fascinating as the murder of Mr. Guldensuppe himself.

From the Public Baths of Murray Hill, to the Washington Bridge in East Harlem, all the way to a house in Woodside Queens, and back to the East 3rd Street Piers, Mr. Collins has written a history of New York at the close of the 19th century, as well as presenting a highly charged true life murder mystery. This is one book you will not be able to put down.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"The Wise Little Hen" - Walt Disney (1934)



This is a "Silly Symphony" cartoon from 1934. The "Silly Symphony" cartoons were the means by which Walt Disney built up his cast of cartoon characters, starting with the earlier Mickey Mouse cartoons in black and white. In this cartoon, Donald Duck makes his first appearance as a duck who doesn't want to do his share of the work in helping to gather corn.

Along with Pete Pig, the two feign stomach aches in order to escape the work. But the Wise Old Hen has a surprise in store for the two when they go to eat some of the corn that she has gathered for the other animals. This is a very simple, and age appropriate cartoon which extolls the virtues of working for what you want, or need. All of the classic cartoons from the 1930's evoke the values of hard work, and charity, which would help carry America through the Great Depression.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Police Gazette

When I was in elementary school I was not much on paying attention in class. I had all sorts of distractions at my disposal. The window by my desk offered a full view of Wm. Kelly Park in Brooklyn, and though it was empty during the school day, the subway tracks ran alongside of the park, with trains passing every few minutes. I used to watch those trains and daydream about the people on them, and where they were headed.

But, by far, my favorite distraction were the many books and magazines I smuggled into the classroom. My two favored literary choices in 5th grade were the latest Mickey Spillane novels my Dad used to read, as well as the Police Gazette.

While the former had all the suspense of a good murder mystery, along with a voluptuous secretary named Velda, the Police Gazette had all the lurid details of whatever horrifying crimes were making the current rounds. In addition to this attraction were the many "true" crime stories from New York City's past. I always preferred the ones from the turn of the Century. Being removed from the events by several decades made them seem less horrid, and more like entertainment.

So, I would fold the Gazette up, as best as I could within my loose-leaf book, and be transported to places far from the boredom of the classroom. It was a good system, at least for a while.

I had already been admonished by my teachers, and parents, about Mickey Spillane being inappropriate for a 5th grader, but the Gazette, well that was news, or at least current events in my opinion, and so it was fair game to read that in lieu of paying attention during "Social Studies". To me they were about the same. But not everyone agreed with my 11 year old thoughts on the matter.

The whole thing came to a head one day after recess. I had carefully folded my Gazette into my book and placed it in my desk, a two person affair with a space beneath the writing surface for storing books and pencils. Then I went to recess, with little idea of the betrayal which awaited my return.

As I re-entered the classroom that morning, something didn't feel quite right. Mrs. Denslow was looking at me with that sly, slightly amused look she always had when dealing with recalcitrant little boys such as I. But wait! As I passed by her I spied a copy of the Police Gazette on her desk! Could it be true? Mrs. Denslow, she of the halo braided hairdo, read the Gazette just as I did? I had always thought of the Gazette as a "man's" magazine, indeed I had first taken up reading it in the barbershop, where it lay alongside of Playboy and Esquire.

I gave Mrs. Denslow a knowing look, as if we shared some great secret between us. Summoning me to her desk she asked if I knew what the Gazette was. I happily replied that I did indeed, and I had the very same issue in my desk. I also added that I was very happy that we shared the same taste in reading material. That's when it hit me! Someone, most likely my desk mate, a refined young lady, had turned me in while I was at recess.

Mrs. Denslow explained to me that I was in class to learn, not in a tonsorial parlor, and as such, the Gazette was not really proper for me to be reading. She would have to call my father about this. We had already been through the Mickey Spillane episode, and I guess that she thought the issue of appropriate reading material had been duly addressed. My father was summoned to school for a meeting with Mrs. Denslow .

The next morning, about a half an hour before school began, my father and I met with Mrs. Denslow in my deserted 5th grade classroom. There is nothing more threatening to an 11 year old than being in the classroom alone with your father and your teacher. No good can possibly come of it.

Mrs. Denslow got right down to the issue, informing my Dad of my transgression, and reminding him of our previous encounter concerning Mickey Spillane. She was of the opinion that I should not be reading either those books, or the Gazette. My father agreed that these were not appropriate for class, but drew the line at her "suggestion" that I not read the Gazette in the barbershop. In his considered view, "What went on in the barbershop" was sacrosanct, and that included the Gazette.

I'm thinking about this episode now because I am just finishing the last Chapter of a book which recalls every lurid article I ever read in the Police Gazette. Like those stories, this one takes place in New York City, at about the turn of the century. Now, Mrs. Denslow was my favorite teacher in elementary school, and she may have been right about the choices I made concerning reading Mickey Spillane at such a young age. But, after all these years, I still have to disagree on the Gazette. Through its pages I developed a love of New York City and its criminal history. And that fascination has remained with me to this very day.

Without a Draft - A Culture of Violence

Major Gabrielle Chapin, a spokeswoman for the Marines at Camp Pendleton, wants you to believe that the Marines pictured above in 2010 posed with what they thought was a flag denoting their status as Sniper Scouts. "I don't believe that the Marines involved would have ever used any type of symbol associated with the Nazi Germany military criminal organization that committed mass atrocities in World War II," Chapin said. "It's not within who we are as Marines." Bullshit.

I resent her implication that Marines are stupid. Almost every American has seen films of the Nazi's and the attendant World War Two atrocities. And most have heard of, or seen, the logo used by the dreaded SS as they stormed across Europe, murdering millions.

Compare the two images for yourself, the one above is identical; save for the blue background; from this photo of a real Nazi SS flag used in World War Two. The Major’s explanation does not wash clean. It would seem that I hold the Marines in more respect than the good Major does, because I expect more of them as Americans.

Yes, their job is tough. Yes, the battlefield is not always the place for political correctness; a doctrine in which I do not believe anyway; but this photo, and these men in it, are not representative of real American values. And that is why we so desperately need to re-instate the draft. Only by having a cross section of Americans involved in defending her interests abroad can our nation accomplish anything for the better.

When you take a culture of violence, as we have here in America, and combine it with a bad economy and two wars, you get only the bottom feeders in the lower ranks. Highly impressionable young men; some with only high school and some video games behind them; make up the bulk of those who enlist. This brews a culture of acceptable violence, and when coupled with a severe lack of responsible and intelligent leadership, the result can only be what you see above.

This is not the first time in which the symbol has appeared in recent years. It has even been used in training of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines sniper group based in Twentynine Palms, California as far back as 2004. This is further evidence of Major Chapin's obfuscation, and evasion of the issue. The fact that this symbol is even used for training should enrage all Americans. And, if you had a relative in World War Two, this should disgust you.

I am a Navy Veteran, and I served alongside many Marines in my enlistment. And later, as a member of Military Sealift Command, I sailed with many more. They were all fine young men, doing their duty. None of the Marines I knew would have ever posed with that Nazi flag, the difference in color notwithstanding. I'm afraid that Major Chapin needs to go back to school and learn how to more appropriately perform what is clearly "Damage Control" on behalf of the United States Marines.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Beatles - February 1964



On February 7, 1964, the Beatles were heading over the Atlantic, towards America, on Pan Am Flight 101. With them were their manager, Brian Epstein; roadies/friends Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall; also the infamous Phil Spector and his wife Ronnie, and The Ronettes. They were accompanied by a few journalists. None of them had any idea of what was awaiting for them upon their arrival.

Surprisingly, they had only received word the previous week that they had the Number 1 Record on America's Billboard chart for several weeks already. This lack of knowledge, on their part, was one of the main reasons that Brian Epstein had signed The Beatles for 4 shows, contracted at Union Scale, on the Ed Sullivan Show. In between they would be making a limited amount of stops in America, "testing the waters", as it were. And those waters were boiling!

I only mention this because history has a way of repeating itself. I have been on a Dean Martin binge for a few weeks now. That, in itself, is not unusual, as I am a huge Dean Martin fan. His voice is like a single malt whiskey; pure and aged in oak, and then aged again, making it extra mellow. It's the timing that is surprising.

Just as he did in 1964, Dean Martin has done it again. At the height of Beatlemania, in 1964, he upstaged them with the number one hit "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime", which became his iconic, signature song, even replacing "That's Amore" in popularity, as well as sales. And now, 48 years later, my Dino binge eclipsed the anniversary of the Beatles arrival in America.

But, "give the devil its due", the Beatles were a lasting influence on an entire generation, and so it would be wrong to fail to mention them this week. It was 48 years ago when these guys stormed America. I still remember watching them, sitting in the living room, on the Ed Sullivan Show. Those were still the days of one TV households, and we all watched the show together. My parents and brother said they were a fad, with long hair and collarless, or "cardigan", jackets. Except for me, and millions of other kids; we felt the magic; so enjoy the above video of the Beatles doing "I Saw Here Standing There", and "Long Tall Sally", from Swedish TV in October of 1963, several months before they came to America. The energy is fantastic.

And here is one of the Beatles doing "Revolution" in the studio "live" in 1968 for the David Frost Show in England. It was later re-broadcast here on the Smothers Brothers Show in September of that year, along with "Hey Jude." Not bad, for a "fad."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Love Me or Leave Me" - Nina Simone



Only Nina Simone could pull off this amazing piano solo in the middle of a jazz number. Ms. Simone, a native of North Carolina, began playing piano at the age of 2. Just look at the decisive way she bears down on the keys, like she's been living with them all her life. And she did!

By 12 years of age Ms. Simone was already performing in public and by her early 20’s had graduated from Julliard School of Music in New York City as a classical pianist. That would have been around the year I was born in 1954. I did not become aware of Ms. Simone until I was listening to WLIB radio in New York when I was about 15 years old. This voice came out of the radio, singing a scathing set of lyrics, using her vocal chords almost like a stinging electric guitar. That record was "Backlash Blues", a poem written by Langston Hughes shortly before his death in 1967. If you have never heard it, you should be hitting You Tube right after reading this. It's a powerful song about Civil Rights, which I have posted here before. As a matter of fact, I’ll post it here again, with lyrics, at the end of this piece.

Ms. Simone, a native of North Carolina, where I live today, went on to become an iconic jazz performer and singer-composer in her own right. Some folks say that her 1976 album, "Nina Simone - Live in Montreux" is one of the greatest jazz performances ever caught on vinyl. All I know is that when I was 15 years old she knocked me over with a voice I had never heard before, singing Langston Hughes' poem about social injustice. In one of her last conversations with him, Mr. Hughes told her to sing the song wherever she went, because he wouldn't be around much longer.

Jump around a bit on You Tube for some incredible performances by Ms. Simone, either alone at her piano, or in one of the many combos she performed with over the years. And here is "Backlash Blues", followed by the Langston Hughes poem;



THE BACKLASH BLUES
by Langston Hughes


Mister Backlash, Mister Backlash,
Just who do you think I am?
You raise my taxes, freeze my wages,
Send my son to Vietnam.

You give me second class houses,
Second class schools.
Do you think that colored folks
Are just second class fools?

When I try to find a job
To earn a little cash,
All you got to offer
Is a white backlash.

But the world is big,
Big and bright and round--
And it's full of folks like me who are
Black, Yellow, Beige, and Brown.

Mister Backlash, Mister Backlash,
What do you think I got to lose?
I'm gonna leave you, Mister Backlash,
Singing your mean old backlash blues.

You're the one
Will have the blues.
not me--
Wait and see!

For more about Nina Simone hit the following link to The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame; http://northcarolinamusichalloffame.org/

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Red Summer" by Cameron McWhirter

The summer of 1919 would become known as the Red Summer, not for the Communist scare sweeping the nation under the heel of the Palmer Act, but for the red blood of African-Americans, coast to coast, who were beaten, stabbed, shot and hung, from Connecticut to California.

Imagine coming home from war after having served your country and being denied the rights of a full citizen as a reward for your efforts. In the summer of 1919 African-American veterans of the First World War, during which they had shown supreme courage in some of the longest fighting of the war, earning more medals than their white counterparts, were faced with exactly that.

In the first part of the year, African-American troops returning from France marched up Fifth Avenue and through Harlem, with crowds, black and white, cheering all the way. Savoring the moment was a good idea, as the camaraderie wouldn't last long.

By July of 1919 the United States would be gripped by a wave of fear and paranoia. First there was the Red Scare engendered by the Communists, which prompted the infamous Red Act, which stifled political dissent and saw many Americans imprisoned for their belief in a different political system. On top of that there were the Unions, with their attendant violence, making their way across the land, further fueling the fears of political change.

But the straw that broke the camel's back was the expectation of thousands of African-American Veterans; men who had fought to preserve the system now under fire from the Unions and Communists; that they would be free at last from the yoke of Jim Crow laws, which had proliferated in the days after the Civil War. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, these brave men received some of the most brutal treatment in the history of the nation.

In many cases these men were victimized by the very soldiers that they had served with overseas. The white Veterans could not stand to see the African-American Veterans receive the same accolades as themselves for their service. This attitude, which begat the wholesale violence of that summer, was not confined to just the South, but spread like wildfire across the entire nation. Rumors and outright lies were the cause of most of the violence.

As Mayors and Governors attempted, in some cases, to quell the violence, politics entered the fray. These politicians, who wished to be re-elected needed to choose a side, and they did so quickly, mobilizing the local Police and National Guard units to quell the violence, mostly at the expense of the victims, who in many cases would not have the right to vote for almost another 50 years.

But something different was beginning to happen in America; African-Americans were starting to fight back. They had fought for the liberty of all Americans, including themselves. From this point on, there would be no turning back. The bloody summer of 1919 would give life to the Civil Rights Movement, and though it would take the better part of the 20th Century to accomplish the goals set forth by its members, the long march toward equality had begun in earnest.

Carefully researched, with 60 pages of notes on the sources used in writing this book, Mr. McWhirter has given us a complete and accurate picture of just what it took to spark the fire which would lead to the quest for racial equality in America.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"And Then There Were None" with Barry Fitzgerald, Roland Young, and Walter Huston (1945)

Sit down in your favorite armchair and enjoy this classic British whodunit by Agatha Christie, with a screenplay by Dudley Nichols. The basic plot is just as it sounds, ten unrelated people are invited to an island for the weekend, by someone whom they do not know. Once there, they are made privy to the details of one another's indiscretions and short comings. And then, one by one, they are killed in retribution. But by whom?

It may sound trite and simple, but this is a fun movie to watch. The cast of characters includes the wonderfully wry Barry Fitzgerald, the majestic C. Aubrey Smith, a remarkable Walter Huston, the ever bumbling Roland Young, a cold and aloof Judith Anderson and the perfectly inept Mischa Auer, to name just 6 of the 10. Directed skillfully by René Clair, this is one of those rainy day movies that made growing up fun.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The First Elvis Impersonator



The best thing about this little clip is that Elvis and Johnny Cash were still very much in contact with one another at the time it was made. This video is from the mid-late 1950's when both were still growing in popularity as members of the so-called "Million Dollar Quartet", the group of musicians from Sun Records on which the show of the same name is based. It's a great clip of a fun time in musical history. Also, this may be the first professional "Elvis" impersonator on record!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

"Hoppity Goes to Town" by Max and Dave Fleischer (1941)



If you have never seen this wonderfully idealistic cartoon before, then here's your chance. Max and Dave Fleischer, my favorite cartoonists of all time, collaborated on this 1 hour and 12 minute feature in 1941. The story takes place in New York City, in a weed patch known as Bugville. The inhabitants of this tiny weeded lot are making an attempt to live peacefully amongst themselves, as well as their human hosts, with all sorts of problems.

The myriad of characters are a sheer joy; there is Hoppity the grasshopper, the dreamer; Mr. Bumble Bee, who owns the honey shop, and his daughter Honey Bee; C. Bagley Beetle, a businessman, who schemes for greed, and enjoyment; Smack, the aptly named Mosquito; and Swat the common fly. Last, but not least is Little Buzz, a "young bee" who is a member of the Bee Scouts.

Long before contemporary animated films such as "Avatar", with all of its technology; or "Wally", with its politically correct message, would attempt to tackle the problems of mankind, Max and Dave Fleischer were already taking note of the human condition. Then, with the comparatively primitive technology available to them at the time, they played it back to us in the form of simple animation, hoping that we would see ourselves more clearly.

Look closely, and somewhere in this cartoon you will see yourself, as well as all of the problems with which we still live today. Throw in a couple of cool songs by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser, and this is a really entertaining piece of work. The film was also released under the title "Mr. Bugs Goes to Town."

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes" by James Palmer

I have always considered myself to have a good grasp of contemporary Chinese history, and the 20th Century; particularly the years between the Boxer Rebellion through Mao's Long March; have always held a strange fascination for me. This was a period of struggle in which China sought to throw off the yoke of colonial control and establish a unified nation. This was also the time in which China became the largest Communist nation on earth.

The years after the Communist takeover in 1949 have always been a sort of confusion for most in the West, with its attendant purges and political maneuvering. This is not to say that we are that much different. We did, after all, have our own McCarthy Era to contend with. It may not have been as brutal as the purges in China, but the whole concept of that episode was not all that much different in its aims.

The ten years which spanned 1949-1959 saw many failures in China, both in industry and agriculture. The famine of 1960-1962 still stands as one of the most terrible periods in modern Chinese history, perhaps only eclipsed by the insanity of the Cultural Revolution which began in 1966, and would last almost 10 years. Both of these events would have far reaching consequences, influencing everything from the way buildings were constructed, to the way food was harvested and distributed.

In a largely misguided effort to hold onto power, Mao Tse Tung pit one faction against the other, resulting in stagnation in every part of Chinese life. All of this added to the country's lack of preparation for the year of 1976, which would see changes, both great and tragic, in China.

Just as we in the United States were finishing our Bicentennial celebration, marking 200 years of freedom, China was being tested by both nature and politics. The year began with the death of Premier Zhou Enlai, a leader more beloved than Chairman Mao. When the people attempt to publicly mourn his passing, they are beaten back by the Gang of Four. The tide of bereavement became a tsunami of anger sweltering beneath the surface. And that anger erupted in August, when a massive earthquake shook Tangshan Province, killing a half million people.

In the aftermath, the chaos and lack of preparation of the Chinese government surfaced, exposing the differences between the elite and the poor, ordinary working Chinese people. The result was a loss of confidence in the ability of the government to take care of the people, and highlighted the need for change. This would come to mark the end of the Cultural Revolution.

By the end of the year, Chairman Mao would be dead, and the infamous Gang of Four would be on trial for crimes against the state. These trials would expose a lavish life style among the leaders of what had once been a peasant’s revolution, changing China forever, and setting her on the path to becoming a world economic power.

James Palmer has done a fine job in piecing together both the political history of China from 1949 through 1976; and an even better job at depicting the earthquake and the mass chaos that followed. Drawing on survivor memoirs as well as official government documents, he has managed to write a very reader friendly account of what has become known as China's "Unlucky Year."

There is an old Chinese proverb which states, "When Heaven cracks, the Earth shakes." In this book, the author brilliantly puts across just what that means.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"How Green Was My Valley" with Maureen O'Hara, Roddy McDowall and Donald Crisp


One of the most remarkable things about this film is that it was filmed in California. Unlike John Ford's later classic, "The Quiet Man", which would be filmed on location in Ireland, this one was filmed in America due to the Second World War, which had already begun in Europe, making it almost impossible to ship the actors, equipment and technicians safely to Wales. But, with John Ford directing, magic could be created anywhere.

This is the story of a Welsh coal mining family, living outside of Cardiff at the turn of the century. The Morgan's were a coal mining family; they always had been; and it was expected that they always would be. They lived in an idyllic town with all the things that were necessary to live a decent, if not hard, life. Mr. Morgan, played by Donald Crisp, and his wife, Sara, played by Sara Allgood, have 4 sons. The youngest, Huw, is played by Roddy McDowall, whose character also serves as the narrator, looking back on his time as a child in the valley. The Morgan's also have a daughter, Angharad, played by Maureen O'Hara.

The paradise of Huw's youth is interrupted when men from another town, who are out of work, come to Huw's village looking for jobs. Taking advantage of the glut in labor on the market, the owners of the mine choose to reduce wages, prompting the men of the town to form a Union and go on strike. The elder Mr. Morgan is aghast at the prospect and even outraged when his own sons decide to take part in that effort.

When Mr. Morgan is threatened over this issue, by the very men he has worked alongside for so many years, his wife, Sara, who has learned of a secret Union meeting that night, gets Huw to take her to the place where the meeting is being held. It is winter, and a snowstorm rages as Mrs. Morgan lambasts the men as cowardly in their actions towards her husband. After venting her rage at the men she leaves, with Huw, in the midst of the storm.

As the men, who are now somewhat ashamed of themselves, make their way back to their homes, they hear a cry for help. Mrs. Morgan has fallen into the stream, with Huw holding her head above the freezing waters. The men save her, and Huw, returning them to their home. It is months before the two recover from the events of that night, with Huw having to learn to walk again.

In the middle of all of this there is also the story of the Preacher, played with acidic cruelty by Arthur Shields, one of the finest actors to ever grace the stage or screen. He is a fire and brimstone preacher, who shows his true colors when he attempts to cast out a girl from the village who is unwed and pregnant. Only the brave protestations of Mrs. Morgan and Angharad save her from being exiled for the crime of being human and falling short of "God's glory."

While the Preacher is a vengeful man, his assistant, Mr. Gruffydd, played with great sensitivity by Walter Pidgeon, is just the opposite. He is kind and understanding. He is the one who helps Huw learn to walk again after that freezing night in the stream. He brings Huw all of the classics to read, things like "Treasure Island", which transport the boy beyond his limited world and sufferings. When Huw has recovered he is able to gain entrance to a Public School, opening the way for him to go beyond the coal mines to make a living. But the boy will have none of it, instead choosing to work beside his father and brothers in the mines.

When Angharad falls in love with Mr. Gruffydd, he gently lets her down, explaining that he has given his life to God. This sets the stage for her to marry the mine owner's son, which should give her happiness, but does not fill the hole she carries in her heart for her true love.

When the price of coal drops and the mines reduce wages again, 2 of the sons leave for America, breaking their mother's heart. The movie largely resembles some of my family's own background. They were Welsh, living just outside of Cardiff, at about the same time this story takes place. Perhaps that is why this movie strikes such a chord with me.

The film is filled with the imagery and hard work which was the way of life in Wales back then. Director John Ford, using wide sweeping panoramas, as well as tight close-ups, conveys all the joy, and hardships, of an era that tested the hearts and souls of all who struggled through those times. With the added attraction of the Welsh Singers, who play themselves, along with the antics of Barry Fitzgerald as the town "sportsman", Cyfartha, this film garnered 5 Academy Awards, and 5 additional nominations. From start to finish, this is a movie that will resonate with the viewer forever.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Blue Yodel #9 - In Black and White



Back in the early 1970's Johnny Cash had the most unusual variety show on television. Each week, like Ed Sullivan did on his show, he featured a popular musical act, or musician; but with one major difference; Johnny Cash was a musician and songwriter himself, and so he managed to get out there with his guest stars and perform with them. It was quite a treat for the viewer, and I suspect, for Johnny Cash as well.

This performance of Jimmie Rodgers "Blue Yodel #9" is really unusual at first glance, but when you look a bit further into the history of country music and blues, it's really not.

Here's an audio link of the original July 16th, 1930 session which Mr. Armstrong refers to in his conversation with Johnny Cash;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7rfq25JDJg