This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient but I do love Fig Newtons

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Blog!!!!! Again!!!!!

Yeah, I get bored easily. I'm starting another blog. What can I say, I'm a wayward and inconstant doof. I like "12 grand in checking" a lot, but I feel like this blog is too aimless sometimes and therefore has no identity. I need an identity. That's why I cooked up my idea for a blog that's more focused, more purposeful; something that can incorporate my love for older pop culture and tie it more directly into my interest in current-day cultural politics.

The guiding philosophy of the new blog is what I'm calling a "retro manifesto," which argues that early and mid 20th century pop culture AS A WHOLE is superior to the pop culture of today. It's not to say that there's nothing good going on in the pop arts today (that's obviously not how I feel since I watch and read and listen to plenty of current stuff), but that, taken as a whole, our culture was simply better (in terms of popular media -- music, film, television, literature, comics, journalism, etc.) "back then" than it is today. Maybe you think that theory's all wet, but I don't care. I'm a true believer. I think it's important to spread the retro love around and maybe get some converts. Call it retro evangelization, if you will. I want to proclaim the gospel of retro and hopefully bring in the wayward prodigals who realize there's something a little soulless and empty in their day-to-day media consumption that a walk on the retro side might cure.

See, the thing about retro is: there's no corporate cross-promotion or blaring, inescapable wall of media to bludgeon you into paying attention to it. There's no incessant advertising campaign, no constant headlines, no subtle groupthink that informs pretty much everything "current" that we come across in the media maelstrom. Retro culture is an old toy in the attic, the one the world tells us is useless and gross and weird and old -- irrelevant -- but the retro lover is the one who can break out of media conformity and see beyond the groupthink haze, the one who looks at that dusty old toy and thinks, "Why not?" And then a new world opens up. Suddenly he begins to question the assumptions of his age and he's no longer a slave to what the current media world has to offer. Suddenly, he can know a time and a place and a people beyond the bubble of his twenty-something lifetime. It's about realizing that you don't have to be stuck with "beautiful" women like Paris Hilton for your image icons or the latest cookie-cutter rap star for your musical "geniuses" -- Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth and Carole Lombard are waiting for you; Frank Sinatra and George Gershwin and Cole Porter are waiting for you. That's what my retro revolution is all about.

The new blog uses salty, rough-edged language, so you've been warned. It's more provocative because I figure it takes a bit of blaring hyperbole to get read on the internet and I do want to be read (I mean, I write because I like to, but let's face it, we all want eyeballs looking at our page). It'll be a mindtrip through all the movies, TV, music, art, comics, literature, and nostalgic junk that I dig (and dig up) from the past. It'll be a little more political and little more strident. It won't be all old stuff all the time -- I'll find time to wax on about the greatness of things like NBC's action-comedy-drama CHUCK or the latest garage punk band I'm blissing out to at the moment -- but I'll try to always bring it back to The Retro if I can. I'm also considering a podcast and other "extras." I want the new blog to be big. It's my mad-scientist experiment in making retroheaded monsters, technicolor punks for a new millennium.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Highly Personal Top New York Movie Moments: #3. Almost Famous

"It's all happening." If there's ever a sentence that describes New York City, it's that one. It's all happening in New York: business, theater, arts, sports, fashion, life. The city that never sleeps, the place where all the world seems gathered in Times Square at 2 a.m., it's the center of everything. In NYC, it's all happening because anything can happen.

"It's all happening" is one of the great lines from Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. It's the constant refrain of the rock 'n' roll characters because it expresses the very ethos of their lifestyle: limitless possibilities -- for drugs and sex and love and music, for anything that can be experienced. For the rock stars and their groupies (sorry, "Band Aids"), "It's all happening," is both a hopeful declaration and a desperate plea. It all has to happen -- right now, tonight, after the show -- because all these people have is "the moment," the brief window of The Now in order to feel something, anything that will give their lives meaning. Anything for that human connection and a chance to feel alive in this lonely world.

That's why I love the New York sequence in Almost Famous. It manages to capture both the limitless possibilities which are promised by the city as well as the desparate loneliness that lurks around its edges. It give us New York as a world for Cool and Hip and Rich. And then it give us New York for the Melancholy, for the world-weary coming down after the high of champagne and quaaludes. And perhaps best of all, it gives us New York in the 70s not as it was in reality, but as it was made to seem by the movies of that era. The Almost Famous New York sequence is like an amalgam of Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same concert film, Annie Hall, and a Neil Simon play.

And as if the images and writing weren't enough to evoke "1970s New York," Crowe throws in one of the best Elton John songs ever -- Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters -- to play over one of the movie's most climactic moments. If ever there was a song that breathed New York, it is Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters. This swirling, bittersweet ode to the city takes me to Manhattan every time I hear it. The song simply IS New York for me.

All those yellow cabs against the browns and greens and grays of 1970s Manhattan, that mandolin strum, Elton John's voice calling out to the weary streets, a kid recklessly, desperately, dashing out onto the sidewalk to find the girl he loves -- that's New York City.

Cool and slick and chic. New York has moved beyond the already-fading "grooviness" of the hippie culture.

New York is glam, baby.

New York is a suite at the Plaza, gaudy, decadent, and filled with booze and pills and room service, and it's all just expensive set dressing for an adolescent love story. It's an impossibly tragic and romantic moment, a little bit cynical maybe, but also fantasy, a moment that doesn't take itself too seriously even though the heart of the moment is utterly sincere. He's about to go where many, many men have gone before. And he doesn't care. Because he loves her. That's New York.

I can't think of a better description of the magic of New York than this image.

The scene where Penny Lane tells William all her secrets. In the original script, this beautiful moment is set in an airport terminal. Thank God, Cameron Crowe changed that. What better place to walk off a hang-over and open up your heart than in Central Park?

Penny: I guess what I'm trying to say is, that I've done twice the things I said I've done.
William: What about your mom?
Penny: She always said -- 'Marry Up.' Marry someone grand. That's why she named me Lady.
William: She named you Lady?
Penny: Lady Goodman.
William: Lady Goodman? That's... great. [and he means it too]
Penny: Now you know all my secrets.

It's all happening in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, one of my favorite New York movie moments.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Savage Omission

Maybe I missed her, what with the constantly moving camera, the pull-backs and wide shots and weird angles, and Queen Latifah taking up half the frame half the time, but I didn't see Ann Savage in the "In Memoriam" tribute at the Oscars. What gives? No love for "Vera"?

Not cool, Academy. Not cool. I was kinda hoping for a little Noir moment in the montage, a little Richard Widmark, followed by Evelyn Keyes, then Ann Savage, and then Jules Dassin to round it out. Instead, Ann was missing, and the other three were interspersed throughout instead of grouped together as they should have been.

I don't know why I keep expecting the people in Hollywood today to be geeky film lovers like me, but every year I keep tuning in to the Oscars to hear if the people in the audience will cheer wildly for old timers from the Golden Age -- like Nina Foch and James Whitmore this year -- and every year I'm disappointed.

Here's to Ann!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shoulda Won the Oscar... It's the song of the week!

I know a lot of people wanted "Blame Canada" to win (and really, how awesome would that have been if it had?!). But for pure emotional punch; for making me cry every dang time I watch it; for the sheer beauty of that golden sunlight as it streams through the autumn leaves of the trees. For all the heartache and longing and sadness and truth contained in these few minutes. Shoulda won the Oscar for Best Song in 1999:

"When She Loved Me" written by Randy Newman, performed by Sarah McLachlan

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Little Trouble in Big Hollywood

I'm saying this as a friend. I'm sympathetic to Big Hollywood's mission and I especially admire editor-in-chief John Nolte, whom I've been following for years both on Libertas and his own website Dirty Harry's Place. I'm a cinephile and I'm a conservative.

But something just ain't right at Big H'wood. It's not that the website is terrible or unreadable or anything like that. I usually find something of interest there everyday. But it's not living up to its potential, and in fact, I think it might be hurting the conservative movement more than helping it.

For instance, a lot of the posts at Big Hollywood come off as whiny and negative. Many of the site's contributors spend all their Big H bandwidth pissing and moaning about all the stoopid liberal actors and liberal films that come out of Hollywood and it's not really all that fun to read, even when I happen to agree with what they're pissing and moaning about. It's like being in high school again and Big Hollywood is the band room where all the band geeks spend their lunch hour bitching and talking shit about how mean and evil the popular kids are. It may be kinda true, but it's a drag to listen to day after day. I love the TCM Pick O' the Day from John Nolte, and I think a lot of that has to do with the positive tone that comes with these posts. It's a celebration of film and there's a real love of cinema evident in Nolte's writing. Plus, he's trying to educate the masses about The Greats.

(Note: I think the model for Big Hollywood in this respect should be the conservative pop culture blog Yeah Right. This is a website that is upbeat, fun, pop culture-driven and not politics-driven, while still maintaining a conservative approach to pop culture and the arts.)

The other problem I've noticed is this: there doesn't seem to be much LOVE for cinema at Big Hollywood (other than the notable exception of Nolte's stuff and the posts from Robert Avrech). As the Self-Styled Siren has pointed out: "[Big Hollywood] is tilting toward being just a conservative site with the occasional movie review." I completely agree. Frankly, one Hot Air is enough, but it seems like Big H'wood is striving to be Hot Air West. It's mostly the same old political commentary that could be found at any number of big right wing websites and what's the use of that? It's just more white noise in the increasingly echo-chamber-like political blogosphere.

Many of the posts at BH are only tangentially related to movies, TV, or theater. Often, it's just a Hollywood conservative writing about what's cheesing him off that week -- no different that the site's liberal counterpart, the Huffington Post, and just as uninteresting.

My (probably unrealistic) ideal for Big Hollywood is of a place where conservatives can write about film and television from a place of love and passion -- as film lovers who happen to be conservative, not conservatives who happen to watch films.

This is most evident in the comments sections. A little story to illustrate my point:

I happened to be reading a fun article from Nolte about the top 5 films you know you're supposed to think are great but just can't dig, and I thought Nolte's choices were thought-provoking and a little surprising. It was a good article. Then I started to make my way through the comments and ever-so-slowly I began to feel a knot in my stomach. Were the people commenting here really my fellow conservative cinephiles? Were these philistines really representative of the conservative "movie lover"?! I was so shocked by the lack of taste and judgement of several of the people who commented -- people who share my political persuasion -- that I was ready to stamp an Obamessiah Hopeychangey bumper sticker on my car and just give up on the Reagan Revolution completely. It wasn't just that many of them missed the point of Nolte's article (Nolte's point, as I understand it, wasn't to say definitively that these five movies aren't great and popular opinion is wrong wrong wrong, but that he just doesn't "get" them for some reason and the fault is probably his own -- that's why he continues to watch them occasionally to see if he can change his mind).

What shocked me was the attitude so many of these people took towards these classic films. As if admitting you think The Maltese Falcon is garbage is some kind of great act of independent thinking and individualism. Like the people who wear it as a badge of honor that they think Shakespeare is boring. Guess what morons? Shakespeare is brilliant. The problem isn't that Shakespeare is boring but that you are dull and incurious.

Similarly, we can argue whether The Maltese Falcon is overrated or not -- and it certainly may not be everyone's favorite type of movie (if you have an aversion to a certain genre, it makes sense you won't like even the masterpieces of that genre). But the triumphant attitude, the smug superiority of the commentators who disparaged certain classics wasn't the same as the humility of Nolte, who recognized that his dislike of certain "classics" might be entirely his own problem and not a reflection on the objective goodness or badness of said films. People were confessing their cinematic "sins" with glee, as if disparaging these films was the same as sticking it to the stuffy liberal elitists in the political realm who said mean things about Sarah Palin. For instance, I don't "get" David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, but I don't go shouting it in comments sections like it's some badge of honor. Instead, I recognize that my inability to appreciate that film is a deficiency on my part and that my life as a movie buff is probably poorer for it. And it certainly doesn't mean anybody who does like the flick is some Commie Pinko Ivy League Elitist Film Snob Liberal Dhimmicrat.

And it wasn't just that everyone was picking on poor Maltese Falcon in that thread. Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Godfather (!), Gone with the Wind, and Bicycle Thieves were among the many films that got thrown under the bus. I remember reading through the thread and thinking: "These people want to be taken seriously in a conversation about cinema and art?!" I know I sound like a terrible elitist, but I couldn't help muttering under my breath: "Philistines."

I know the people who run Big Hollywood can't control what kind of people show up to comment on their threads, but if these are the conservative "film lovers" of America, and Big Hollywood is hoping to bring to life a conservative presence in the arts... with these blockheaded commentators as the disciples? Cancel my subscription to the resurrection.

Finally, I think the other problem facing Big Hollywood is the quality of its main articles. Are these the best writers conservative Hollywood has to offer? Some are excellent (the already mentioned Avrech and Nolte, as well as writers Burt Prelutsky and Andrew Klavan, though they post things far too infrequently); and others write interesting stuff on occasion (the anonymous theater guy, Stage Right, is a good example; and comics writer Bill Willingham has made some nice contributions in the past). But then there's everybody else, either writing generic conservative boilerplate stuff or flat-out bad and boring arts commentary and amateur movie reviews.

And this is where I think Big Hollywood gives conservatives a bad name. Stupid comments threads are the norm for big websites like this and they can't really be helped by the people who run the site, but the official contributors need to be held to a higher standard -- they're the public face of conservative entertainment commentary on the Internet, and they're not doing a good enough job of representing us to the wider world. Liberals involved with film and television will continue to dismiss conservatives as long as we settle for the kind of mundane drivel that often shows up on websites like Big Hollywood. Maybe the problem is that there are so few conservatives who can write convincingly and intelligently about the arts that we're forced to suffer through less-than-stellar work. But there are people out there who can help. I've seen Christian Toto show up on Big Hollywood a few times; why isn't he writing more for that site? Also, can anyone compel Terry Teachout or Victor Morton or Peter Suderman to join the show over at Big H?

Conservatives have to hold themselves to a higher standard because we're working against thirty-plus years of liberal domination in the arts and we can't just whine and cry about it, we have to be so thought-provoking and persuasive and witty and insightful that film lovers of whatever political stripe will be clamoring to read what we put out there -- because it's just that darn good. And we have to be writing about movies and TV and books and theater and whatever else as works of art, and not just as excuses to score flimsy -- and uninteresting -- political points. Conservatives should believe that there is more to life than just politics (it's one of the things that I think separates us from radical leftists). We should remember that truth and beauty are worth examining in and of themselves. If the writers at Big Hollywood can approach the arts from a place of love and fascination; if they can write as true film loving conservatives instead of "Conservative Commentators Who Watch Movies;" then maybe those on the left and the right can come together and realize that party affiliation doesn't have to separate us when it comes to engaging with the arts.

If we want to see Hollywood make things that appeal to conservative-minded people, we can't just say, "To Hell with 'em!" We have to show Hollywood that they have something to gain from engaging with conservative art lovers. That *together* we can make better art. Maybe that makes me a squish in some people's eyes, but I don't care. Politics isn't the be-all and end-all for me anyway. It's just something that keeps me distracted in between film screenings.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

drunk..... drunk?

yes. I wish i was in my dream now. black and white and smokey. stream of consciousness marathon. i don't mean to be so empty, so fallow and self pitying. it's a fall back position, a default of that certain artistic temperment. i suffer from arrested development. i suffer from immature achievements. i suffer from melon swelling.

why do vodka gimlets taste like the bile of my stomach mixed with expectation? i wish i could taste such possibility, but it always washes away with the reality of my failure. is it possible to be successful at 29? that's my goal, though if I fail I'll always have 32.

It's a sad possibility that nobody realizes the genius of Gregory La Cava. and when I say "nobody" i really mean the fools and glassy-eyed loved ones who tolerate my dereliction. i live in an illusion, so why would I want to escape and face the lonely face of reality, where no one knows the color of ginger rogers's stockings? to sleep, perchance to zone out in television movie playground...

what am i saying?????? what am i doing? i've been writing the same shitty novella since november and i'm so ashamed of it i'm ready to credit the shitpile to one D.Q. McGillicutty, my drug-addled alter ego. Geo. Oeg. Goe. Eog. Spelling is for chumps and hores.

i showed double indemnity to a friend the other day, yesterday or tomorrow, i'm not sure, and it didn't take for her. like the revelation that you and only you is the only one who likes neil sedaka or Caddyshack II, the sad state of solitude, i can't believe i'm writing this for all the rest to see, how could someone NOT like that movie?! i guess i'm just outisde of normal time and felicity; i'm just cut from the mold of nostalgia, the pain from an old wound that i never felt but can feel just the same.

is this what it means to be outside, to be in solitude? i never realized I was so far gone. how much farther can a soul sink before it fans out in a whisper and empties itself into the ether?

i would give my arm for the next person to say they knew what sophisticated boom boom means. i need to listen to happier music.

i need a cigarette. i need a coke. i need a dvd recorder that works. i need a vfccccccccccccccccg xrshytgfmxxxxxxsytmzsjrtzgfnvdfsddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

whoops. i guess i need a pillow and not my keyboard.

the saddest sound in the world is a face in joy and no one to share it with.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Big Knife

part of the Great Movie Watching Challenge

From 1955, directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Ida Lupino, Jack Palance, Rod Steiger, Wendell Cory, Jean Hagen, and Shelley Winters. Whew!

The movie's based on the Broadway play by Clifford Odets, and the lead part of Charlie Castle was supposed to be played by John Garfield, who originated the part on the stage, but Garfield died before the play could be adapted to the screen.

Ida Lupino (who plays Charlie Castle's wife in the film) was pretty much miserable during filming because she was reminded too much of her good friend "Johnny" Garfield. But Jack Palance does a fine job in the role Garfield originated, and Ida's performance is filled with heartbreak and passion, so I would say they both did Garfield proud by their work in this film.

The story is about a big-time actor named Charlie Castle (formerly, Cass) who sold out his New York stage roots to find fame and fortune in Hollywood. Now the studio he's been working for wants to sign him to a fourteen year contract (basically, they're gonna own him till he's fifty) and he's got to decide whether he wants an easy living making schlocky pictures in Hollywood or a return to the legitimate theater and the life of a real artist back east.

Lupino is his estranged wife, and she wants her husband to reject the offer and be an artist again. Steiger is the maniacal studio boss who tries to bully Charlie into the contract; Cory is Steiger's sleazy right-hand man; Hagen is the wife of Charlie's friend, but she wouldn't mind a roll in those fabulous Hollywood silk sheets with old Charlie himself; and Winters is the slushy floozy who knows Charlie's secret.

Funny how a film can hit you hard when you're least expecting it.

I always thought I was one of those writers who wasn't so pretentious as to stick my nose up and look down on the "entertainment for the masses" (as the artistes so snootily call it) (and isn't it just like those snobby types to denigrate something that the average person likes! humph!). You know, those movies that come out of Hollywood (usually in the summer months) that are mostly easy, light bits of entertainment; fun and flashy but not particularly deep. I always thought I was on the side of the common man who prefers his superhero movies to those Oscar-bait snorefests the highbrows like to pump out around Christmastime. I always thought I wasn't the type to get preachy about "selling out," since selling out often means making something that a lot of people like, that brings ordinary folks a little bit of happiness and escapism and what's wrong with that? And "being true to your art" often means making some pretentious crap that only image-conscious hipster-types like. Guess what hipsters? I like comic books! I like Tolkien! I'm against the feces-flung desecration that passes for "art" in the Modern Art museums of the world!

But I'll tell you what, when I was in Hollywood, I did feel an icky sense that it was all about the money, and about the world of power and sex and fabulously rich possessions, and I feared what would happen to me if I stayed out there too long. Not that a person can't work in Hollywood and keep his integrity and morals -- there are brave souls, good, holy souls out there right now doing it for real, some of them are my friends and they can make it, they have the strength -- but I'm weak like Charlie Castle; I'm too easily tempted.

And I too longed to "get back east where they have four seasons" (a line from the film that hit me square in the gut).

So once again a movie confirms undeniable truth #17: New York is better than Los Angeles, always and forever. New York City is where the artists are. L.A. is for wealth, power, and soulless parties. The California sunshine just masks the empty ghostly figures by giving them a nice tan.

Or, at least, that's how this movie made me feel and maybe I've fallen prey to its illusion. Filmmaking, afterall, is about a certain perspective, i.e.: who's putting the camera down and where's he pointing it (and where isn't he pointing)?

This film is a New York playwright's indictment of Hollywood. Take that how you will. But it sure took me for an emotional ride and sorta made me glad I packed up and headed back east.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's going on in my brain

I wish I knew.

Spent the whole day sick on the couch watching a marathon of Ann Sothern films on TCM. It's the centennial of her birth today.

What a dream world TCM is! You sit there all day just watching movies nobody but a film geek's ever heard of and in between the features are shorts, trailers, interviews with people who lived the Golden Age, tributes to Richardo Montalban, a movie lover's paradise.

It's weird being part of an obscure fandom like the classic movie fandom. You rarely meet a fellow member face-to-face (grandmas don't count), so you seek them out on the Internet in various soggy corners. But even then, it's not exactly what you'd call a robust online fandom. A few bloggers and a couple of dull message boards isn't really enough to get your fix, if you follow me.

It's such a lonely hobby, which I guess makes sense since it's just you sitting on your couch alone watching images flicker in the dark. But I'm the type who doesn't care much for being alone. Watching and talking about a movie with someone else is always better.

Also, I'm one of those conservative freak-types who loves movies and television and entertainment, so how come I can't seem to warm to Big Hollywood. Actually, that's not fair: I do click on it everyday and read at least one or two posts. But something's missing over there; it's not quite living up to what I wanted it to be. I can't quite put my finger on it yet, so I'm gonna hold off on too much commentary until I can figure it out. Maybe it's just that there's not enough John Nolte?

Or maybe I'm just in the midst of Internet/blogosphere fatigue. It hits me every once in awhile, where I just look around cyberspace and yell, "Say something interesting already! Something original! Stop the same tired endless echo of talking points!"

I need a drink.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Soddy Odds

  • I once read somewhere that writers shouldn't do their writing in bed. It keeps you up at night, or something, 'cause your brain thinks bedtime = worktime. I'm writing this post in my bed, btw.
  • Recently rewatched We Are Marshall and cried like a little girl about 50 times. My brain knows it's not a very good movie, but it just can't seem to pinpoint exactly why it's bad. Instead, just as The Brain is on the cusp of finding that elusive badness, the music swells, Matthew Fox cries, and pretty soon I'm unleashing my sinuses all over the couch and the carpet and sniffling, "This is such a good movie!" McG, you magnificent bastard!
  • Trying to read more books. So far I've finished America: The Last Best Hope, Vol II by William J. Bennett, Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI), The Forgotten Man by Amity Schlaes, and I've got about 100 pages to go in Jane Austen's Emma. I'm also attempting to wade through A Theology of History by Hans Urs von Balthasar and yes, it's exactly what it sounds like: crazy hard philoso-theology that makes my brain hurt. Poor Brain has had quite a time lately, what with high-level theology books and sappy sports movies driving it into a tizzy. I'm also reading the Gospel according to St. John and a book about the Church Fathers. So, you know, light reading. (Seriously, do I sound like the stuffiest conservative pretentious twat ever with these books or what?! I mean, seriously, even my "light reading" novel -- Emma -- is by THE great conservative Women's writer, Jane Austen. I'm gonna have to go straight-up Jack Kerouac/Philip K Dick/Grant Morrison/Lester Bangs after this to strike the proper intellectual balance.)
  • I'm working on a horrible, horrible novella right now. It's really bad. It's warmed-over beat, stream-of-consciousness drivel, but for some reason I can't seem to quit it. It's like I have to finish it in order to finally say, yes, I can write long things that aren't movie scripts. For some reason it seems like when you give someone a hundred page "book" to read they're more impressed than when you give them 120 pages of screenplay. At least, that's how I think people will react when I give them the novella. Whenever I finish it, that is.
  • Watched Definitely, Maybe tonight. Read some mildly positive reviews so I thought I'd give it a chance. I'm susceptible to Romantic Comedies, though I always hate myself afterwards. Is that the same kind of self-loathing that follows bad sex? I wouldn't be surprised... Anyhoo, I have to say [SPOILERS ABOUND FROM NOW ON, including spoilers about The Umbrellas of Cherbourg], I always root for the married couple to stay (or get back) together. Being Catholic, what with that no-divorce thing, I've always considered divorce a tragedy. I just can't find a happy ending in stories where we're supposed to root for the hero/heroine to end up with someone other than his/her spouse. It's why, at the end of the day, I'm a Don/Betty 'shipper despite the fact that, yeah, Rachel Menken is just too cool with her cigarette holder and feathery pink hat. If Don and Betty don't end up together in a relatively happy marriage, then my heart will break a little, even if the show tries to make it seems like they're happier with other people. That's just how my brain works, and my heart too.
  • [SPOILER WARNING CONTINUES] So when Definitely, Maybe tries to be oh-so-modern and have Ryan Reynolds' character get a divorce from his wife and mother of his child only to have the girl he really loved the whole time just happen to be available and still totally into him it set both my "Yuck!" meter and my "Cop-out!" meter to red. It's obvious from their first scene together that Reynolds' and Isla Fisher's characters are in love with each other, but when it's (predictably) revealed that Reynolds has actually married his college sweetheart Elizabeth Banks (predictably, because his daughter makes a comment at the beginning that the college sweetheart simply can't be her mom, since the first girl in the story is never the girl the guy ends up with, which is such a total anvil that you just know Girl Number 1 is definitely, not maybe, coming back and she's going to be your mother, kiddo, what a tweest! -- and btw, if you want a for-reals synopsis, go here, I ain't got time for that blah blah --), the movie at this point has only two options: The modern-day, divorce is no-big-deal approach to "soul mates" and "happiness" and other such selfish garbage, or the Umbrellas of Cherbourg way. Of course, Definitely, Maybe takes the first option and why shouldn't it? Divorce is such a no-big in our culture nowadays, I'm the odd one out for wanting the married, though-maybe-not-as-happy-as-they-once-were couple to stay together.
  • [Side note: The other problem with D,M is that they never show why exactly Elizabeth Banks and Ryan Reynolds were ever together in the first place. They simply "were in love," but we never see them fall in love, so there's no emotional attachment to them as a couple for the audience member. The problem for a viewer like me is that I still think of marriage as a sacred bond, so if two people are married in a romantic comedy that means they must have once been in love and that that love is worth saving, even if the filmmakers couldn't be bothered with showing us how that love came about, and so the story is only a satisfying happy ending if the married couple stay or get back together. It's also a problem because we never see what drove them to divorce. So all the (old-fashioned) viewer like me gets is a married couple that (we presume) was once in love (yeah, it might not have been a big passion, but there was certainly tenderness and affection), who have a child, and who are now getting a divorce but are amicable enough to spend the day together with their daughter at the Central Park Zoo and share a few laughs and smiles and faces of longing and regret. Why are these two people getting divorced?! Their daughter wants them to get back together. I want them to get back together. And yet, at the end of the film we're supposed to gush and sigh when the man goes back to his "one true love" just so we can have a happy ending and make sure the two stars get their final romantic embrace?
  • [AGAIN, WITH THE SPOILING] The Umbrellas of Cherbourg way, instead, is the more realistic, and yet for my money, more emotionally satisfying way to end things in a movie like D,M. In Umbrellas, the young lovers try to make things work, but time and distance and circumstances all interfere and by the end of the film both have moved on with other lovers and other lives and even though they can still remember being in love with each other -- maybe they still harbor feelings of love, even after all these years -- they're both adults now, with children and spouses and adult responsibilities and the lives they have are actually pretty good and they're happy, as happy as people in this fallen, mixed-up world can be. It's a sad ending, to be sure, but it's also hopeful, because the movie is saying that we can still be happy even if we don't get the fairy tale ending.
  • D,M, on the other hand, wants to play like it's realistic (he's getting divorced! he's jaded and settled into a stifling career! he's got a lot of emotional problems and makes mistakes!), but it cops-out with the fairy tale ending just the same. Ryan Reynolds loves Isla Fisher and even though he has married someone else, he's gonna end up with Isla no matter what, and we're supposed to sigh and love it. A better movie would have made us see why Reynolds goes back to Banks's character and marries her (instead of stopping just on the brink of that moment). It would have shown us why they get divorced (obvious motive is on Reynolds' still carrying a torch for Fisher's character). And then finally it would have shown us that Fisher had moved on, that it was too late, and that Reynolds was throwing away a perfectly ordinary happiness to try to recapture something from his past. And then to satisfy me and my need for married people to stay together and be (pretty much) happy, he could have gone back to his ex-wife and realized that not all love stories have to be the grand passion, that sometimes we miss the ordinary realistic love while we're off searching for the Romantic Comedy-version of it.
  • I just rambled on incoherently about Definitely, Maybe for twelve paragraphs it seems, so take a much more succinct view from Victor Morton, who nails why this movie creeps me out in three awesome sentences: "But still, never have I seen in a conventional romantic-comedy, a child spend the movie’s last reel trying to get her father back together — not with her mother — but an old girlfriend whom the child had never met. And not because her mother is abusive or somehow “out of the picture.” Now, we consider divorce so routine (a reason for the one in this movie is never even hinted at, as if there’s no need) that we consider it an acceptable fantasy for a child of divorce to express, not the natural wish about her parents, but about a step-parent. If there’s been a conventional romantic-comedy with that rather self-rationalizing-for-adults premise (”it’s what the kids WANT”) — I’m unaware of it."
  • Finally, I'm sorry, but January Jones and Jon Hamm were robbed of Golden Globes the other night. The Globes are a joke award anyway, but still, it sucks to lose, no matter how stupid the award is. My sidebar has a quiz about the whole situation, since Sookie Stackhouse or whatever her name is is the worst character on True Blood and Betty Draper and January Jones's performance this past season of Mad Men was revelatory. And yeah, that word is overused when it comes to things like this, but it truly was a revelation to watch Jones in this role. I mean, she used to model for Abercrombie and Fitch for gosh sakes, and now she's rocking the socks off with her performance on TV's best drama!
  • Watched Beyond the Rocks on TCM (eh, wasn't too bad, but nothing special really; formerly lost films often seem to promise more than they deliver) and decided to read up on Gloria Swanson who I only really know from Sunset Blvd and that she used to be a big silent movie star. Turns out (according to imdb) that she made nearly $8 million between 1918 and 1929 and spent almost all of it. That's got to be at least, like, $80 million dollars in today's money, or something. Crazy.

Monday, January 5, 2009

No Time for Comedy

part of the Great Movie Watching Challenge

From Warner Bros. in 1940, this picture starring Roz Russell and Jimmy Stewart and written by the Epstein Brothers of Casablanca fame, has the alternate title of "Guy with a Grin." I guess "No Time for Comedy" works better, though, since it's got more truth in advertising.

The picture starts off with a cast and a logline and a first act that seems to say, "Romantic Comedy," but pretty soon Comedy's left the highrise apartment and the romance is all one-sided on Russell's part as Jimmy goes off searching for his soul and his art and to have his ego stroked by a sycophantic New York socialite bee-yotch who wants to have an affair with him. No time for comedy, indeed. By the end of the thing, Jimmy's an asshole lush who wants to suffer and make "great art" and the delightfully superior Roz just stands by her ass of a man and makes him feel all "important" and "genius" and the whole story just ends in a big pile of mush. The tonal shifts in this thing were so big you could fit every pretentious artiste's sense of self-importance inside them.

The premise is that Stewart is a Minnesota small-town guy who has written a witty New York comedy of manners even though he's never even been to New York before. When he finally arrives in town to oversee rehearsals for the play, nobody can believe that he's the author and the producer wants to cancel the whole thing. But Roz falls for Stewart's "Jimmy Stewart Ways" almost immediately and she convinces everybody in the cast and crew to work on the play anyway because she believes it'll be a big hit. The play is a hit and Roz and Jimmy share a charming and romantic late night in Central Park where they decide to get married and that's about it for the comedy part. I should have known there would be trouble when the characters ended up getting married about 25 minutes into the picture. It's very hard to do a romantic comedy about marriage and so of course, comedy takes a back seat to marital troubles and "art." Was Preston Sturges thinking of this movie when he wrote Sullivan's Travels? A girl can only dream!

The second and third act are basically "Guy with a (bottle of) Gin" as Jimmy's character starts to drink in order to make it through the day as a "suffering" artist who has had a string of light comedy hits but wants to write something "serious" only he can't seem to make it work. The whole thing is like the anti-Bandwagon. Whereas The Bandwagon is a delightful send-up of pretentious Broadway windbags, full of fun and great songs and dance, No Time for Comedy takes itself far too seriously to be anything but a joke of a movie that thinks it has something serious to say. Note, The Bandwagon's theme was truer and better displayed than the mess that is No Time for Comedy. Point is awarded to the musical comedy. Heh.

Yeah, yeah, Stewart's character is convinced by the end that he should go back to comedy, but he decides to write a satire! So even in the end, the movie couldn't quite give up the notion that light comedy is sorta worthless for an artist and that egos still need to be stroked and awards still need to be won, so why not try satire, that always closes on Saturday nights! Blarg.

Russell is simply wonderful in the way she employs a devilish wink or a witty line and even though you can tell she's madly in love with Stewart through the whole picture (even when he's acting assy) she carries it all with an easy-going nature and never gets hysterical (meaning, she acts like a real human being and not an over-dramatic movie character who's being forced to act in an over-dramatic movie). Why she loves a prick like Stewart's character with such steadfastness is never fully explained though.

Stewart is so unlikeable in this movie I simply don't know how to explain it. His character here makes his character in After the Thin Man [beware, there's a spoiler coming] seem almost charming, and that guy was a murderer! [end spoiler]

In No Time for Comedy, Stewart is a cranky drunk who thinks he's a brilliant genius writer of "serious" plays, so he gives up his lucrative job as a light comedy writer to piddle away his time with a drippy woman (who is not his awesome wife, but somebody else's stupid wife) who flatters his every word. Meanwhile, Roz's character is his elegant, sparkling, sexy, and clever wife and she gets dumped on the whole time for having no "feelings," unlike her "feeling" husband, who "feels" so much he has to almost destroy his marriage in order to write a lame-o script about death or something equally predictable and banal. And then to top it all off, Roz apologizes to him in the end! It's like, the film assumes we'll love his jerky ways simply because he's Jimmy Stewart and Jimmy Stewart is just so darn likable why should it matter that we've written him as an insufferable egotistic jerkwad! Gah.

I'm really hating on this movie for some reason. Maybe with the cast and crew pedigree I just assumed it would be a little romantic comedy piece of froth, enjoyable but not particularly brilliant, just the kind of movie I like to lose myself in on a weekday afternoon folding laundry. Unfortunately, by the end I wanted Jimmy Stewart to kill himself or for Roz to leave him and become the toast of the Manhattan theater set again, charming everyone with her sophisticated wit and knowing smiles and down-to-earth elegance. I was disappointed, alas! Reader: they got back together and I had just wasted 105 minutes of my life.

Allyn Joslyn and Louise Beavers co-star and try to do what they can to salvage the "comedy," but it's to no avail. Even Roz -- who gives a delightful and poignant performance -- can't escape a script that's a turgid mess. Poor Jimmy Stewart, though, is the film's greatest victim, as he's made to act the part of a giant turd who gives up a good career and an even better wife so that he can stroke his ego and win awards for writing "serious" (read: pretentious) plays. Screenwriters, heal thyselves. A movie called "No Time for Comedy," starring Rosalind Russell and Jimmy Stewart and with a set-up about a rube who goes to New York to write plays and ends up being the toast of the town should have had plenty of time for comedy.

Oh well. It just goes to show: I don't like every old movie, you know.