Monday April 19, 2021
NY Times Buries Lede on OAN
The New York Times ran a good article yesterday about OAN, the right-wing network run by Robert Herring, but under a lousy hed/sub:
One America News Network Stays True to Trump
A recent OAN segment said there were “serious doubts about who's actually president,” and another blamed “anti-Trump extremists” for the Capitol attack.
Why is that lousy? This is the fourth graf:
Some of OAN's coverage has not had the full support of the staff. In interviews with 18 current and former OAN newsroom employees, 16 said the channel had broadcast reports that they considered misleading, inaccurate or untrue.
First: Not the full support of staff? I guess that's right. I guess 12% isn't full. Second: The 88% who disagreed with their own news coverage didn't do so lightly. It was vehement. Some even hoped that Dominion Voting Systems, which has sued Fox News for defamation, will do the same to OAN, since “maybe if they sue us, we'll stop putting stories like this out.” Which gets to the larger point: It feels like the Times buried the lede, while its headline missed it entirely. OAN staying true to Trump isn't exactly news. But OAN staff disagreeing with OAN coverage? And hoping it'll get sued? That's news. I don't know why you wouldn't highlight that. I don't know why the Times keeps softening its coverage of how off-the-rails the right-wing has become.
Actually I do know why. Goes back to Agnew. They're scared of being labeled “liberal news.”
This was the JFC moment in the piece for me:
Assignments that the elder Mr. Herring takes a special interest in are known among OAN staff as “H stories,” several current and former employees said. The day after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Mr. Herring instructed OAN employees in an email, which The New York Times reviewed, to “report all the things Antifa did yesterday.”
Herring is another rich old codger holding America hostage with his delusions. Great.
Here's another word missing entirely from the Times story: propaganda. It's like when they couldn't bring themselves to call Trump's lies lies. C'mon, guys. Plant your feet and tell the truth. Do your job. Don't pretend you don't know what you know.
Sunday April 18, 2021
Bette Davis' First Days in Hollywood
An excerpt from “The Lonely Life: An Autobiography,” by Bette Davis, published in 1962. The book began slowly but I skipped ahead to the NY theater years and it's been interesting ever since. The voice is definitely hers. This is from her first days at Universal Studio lot.
On Monday I drove to the studio. I was whisked through the gates. Word had spread that the “Davis girl” had arrived and one by one studio executives found reasons for wandering in and out of the reception room to get a glimpse of the “find.” I waited and waited and, at last, Mr. Laemmle opened his door and I was ushered into his office. I was wearing no makeup except lipstick. I had never plucked an eyebrow. I had never even seen the inside of a beauty parlor. My hair was worn simply, with a knot in back. Mr. Laemmle's face was a study. He was immediately convinced that I was not right for Strictly Dishonorable. That was apparent to me. Mr. Laemmle later said, “She has as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville!” ...
After a tour of the lot, I was photographed in the still gallery, introduced to officials and one actress, Genevieve Tobin, and saw a few others I recognized. I was told the studio would call me tomorrow and arrange for some tests. It was rumored on the lot that Bette Davis was “a little brown wren.” I think Mr. Werner [the man who signed her] was sent to Siberia. The rest of the week was spent making what they called photographic tests. They supposedly found out your good angles and your bad angles. All I wanted to do was act!
The following week I was sent for and told I was being tested for a part in a picture. I was not given a script for the test, which I thought odd. I was simply asked to lie on a couch. Vague doubts assailed me as one male after another bent over me whispering, “You gorgeous, divine darling. I adore you. I worship you. I must possess you.” He would then make ardent love to me and end lying on top of me. “O.K. Cut!” I would hear the director say. “Fine. Who's next? Who's next?”
The most compulsively dedicated harlot never had a morning like mine. No less than fifteen men—all of them well-known names—repeated the scene. Only Gilbert Roland had the sensitivity to see how shocked I was. Before he started that awful monologue, he whispered, “Don't be upset. This is the picture business. We've all gone through it. Just relax!”
I didn't understand. Was it like going across the equator the first time? Was it an initiation? Relax? My ancestors were revolving in their graves.
And thus began the career of the woman who wound up with more best actress nominations than anyone not named Meryl or Kathrarine. At this point, she and Humphrey Bogart are at Universal, so i'm curious how they wound up with Warners. And can you imagine signing both Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart and losing them? That's worse than Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock. It's the Sox selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
Saturday April 17, 2021
Mariners Fancare: That's a Problem
I'm part of a season ticket group for Seattle Mariners games at Mariners Field (formerly Safeco, currently TMP, should be Griffey Park), and because of You Know What I haven't seen a game there since Sept. 2019 (M's over Reds, 4-3); but last month, the man who runs our group, Stephen, told the group there would be a season-ticket presale for socially distanced games in April. Anyone in? Some were. I considered it but decided not. I'd been vaccinated but I tend not to go for April games anyway. It's a time of high hopes but low temps. This year's beautiful April notwithstanding.
May, I went for it. My favorite games are weekday getaways, and we had one on May 5 against the Orioles. I wanted to see the Angels, too, with their triumverate of great stars: Trout, Ohtani, Pujols. Anthony Rendon would be a star in most cities but seems an afterthought in Anaheim. Last night Stephen came through: an email from Mariners Fancare: “Stephen Just Sent You 2 Mariners Tickets.” Yes!
And here my troubles began.
To get the tix I had to create a Mariners account. OK, sure, there you go. Which is when the website told me: “Your phone is your ticket” and “Add your ticket to your digital wallet.”
I've had iPhones forever but I never use the digital wallet. So I opened the app and tried to figure out what was what. What app did I need anyway? A Mariners app? No, a TicketMaster app. Crap. TicketMaster. OK, whatever. Yes, and here's my Apple ID password to download the app. Nope, that's not it. The password field shook its head at me. Double-checked the password. It was the right password. Did I input it wrong? I did. This time no headshaking.
But not yet: “You need iOS 13 or later to use this app.” Navigated to Settings —> General —> Updates. I was all updated. At 12.5. Went online and learned that iOS 13 is for iPhone 6S-Plus or later. I was on iPhone 6. I couldn't get iOS 13, which meant I couldn't get the TicketMaster app, which meant I couldn't get the Mariners tickets I'd just bought. Fun. Way too much fun for a Friday night.
The original email did come with a Mariners Fancare phone number at the bottom, so I tried that. I pressed what I needed to press for digital tickets, and after much ringing a voice message: If you know your party's extension, etc., otherwise press 0 to return to reception. There, I got an actual person, began talking about digital tickets, and she said, “You want digital tickets,” and transferred me back to the first line again. Repeat. When I got back to her again, I quickly explained the Sisyphean loop I was in, and she said, like Edgar in the famous commercial, “Yes, that's a problem.” Her solution was to get the tickets in person at the M's box office, which I might do. I'll also try the phone line again later today.
All of this has taught me an important lesson about being frugal and using my iPhone as long as I can. That's not the American way, gramps.
Hope to see you at the ballpark someday.
Wednesday April 14, 2021
Bette Davis by Bette Davis, the Early Years
From her autobiography, “The Lonely Life, which I was reading last night. Middle of the night, actually. Insomnia. You know.
The first passage is about one of Davis' breakthrough performance in Vergel Geddes' ”The Earth Between“ at the Pronvinctown Playhouse in Greenwich Village in March 1929. After opening night, she and her mother, Ruthie, are reading the reviews, including one by St. John Ervine of the World:
He loathed the whole evening with a passion but interrupted his brilliant invective to remark that our other play was ”remarkably acted especially by Miss Bette Davis.“ Ruthie screamed. I started skipping the texts and looking for my name—unabashedly. After all, that's what mattered. One after the other—the News, the Graphic, the Sun, Telegram, Mirror Journal, Brooklyn Eagle—all of them were excessive in their praise. It had come to pass and Mother was crying. We had saved the Times for last and now Ruthie hysterically quoted Mr. Atkinson. ”Miss Bette Davis who is making her first appearance is an entrancing creature who plays in a soft, unassertive style.“ I fell back on the pillow in relief.
Then this passage, about the curtain calls after she played Hedvig in Ibsen's ”The Wild Duck,“ which starred stage icon Blanche Yurka, a few months later:
Then up went the curtain again, and the whole cast once more joined the star. The audience is certainly extremely responsive this evening. There was a certain persistence in its ardor—an ungratified passion. The audience seemed insatiable. Suddenly Miss Yurka took my hand and led me to the footlights and the curtain fell behind us. This was a tremendous honor and most gracious of her. But then she let go of my hand, smiled that secretive smile of hers and walked off the stage—leaving me alone. The theatre now shook with applause and bravos. People actually stood on their seats and cheered—for me. It was really just for me. Wave after wave of love flooded the stage and washed over me. I felt my face crumble and I started to cry. The weight that was Charlie [her fiance, who had broken off the enagement] was lifted like a miracle. ”Bravo! Bravo!“ I was alone—onstage and everywhere; and that's the way it was obviously meant to be. ”Bravo!“ My first stardust. It is impossible to describe the sweetness of such a moment. You are at once the indulged beloved and the humble lover. Alone! All those marvelous people. My heart almost burst. This was the true beginning of the one, great, durable romance of my life.
I love how she doesn't hold back. Me me me me me me me me. ”After all, that's what mattered.“ ”The one great, durable romance of my life." Refreshing.
Can't wait until she sinks her teeth into Jack Warner.
Tuesday April 13, 2021
Oh Right. The Oscars. II.
So the DGAs and the PGAs recently made their choices, and both went with “Nomadland” as the best picture of our shut-in, theaterless, pandemic year. The DGAs has been around since the late '40s, the PGAs since 1989, which means there have been 31 Oscar seasons before this one in which both have given their opinions. Of those, how often have these two guild bodies agreed? A lot: 22 times or 71%. And of those agreements, how often did the Oscar for best picture go to a different movie? Five times: 77%. So I'd still put money on “Nomadland.”
Have to say, the early years when Oscar went a different path doesn't speak well for Oscar. It feels like the Academy was overly influenced by something tawdry: Weinstein PR pushes (“Shakesepare in Love”), homophobia (“Crash”) and whatever the hell happened in '95 to elevate Mel Gibson and “Braveheart.” More recent years have been better. Feels like the Academy is rewarding artistry. That bodes well for “Nomadland,” too. Although if Oscar had been rewarding diversity, going with “Moonlight” and “Parasite” over “La La Land” and “1917,” then we could get an upset: “Judas and the Black Priest,” for example.
April 25, FWIW.
When the DGAs and PGAs Agree
|2017||The Shape of Water||The Shape of Water||The Shape of Water|
|2016||La La Land||La La Land||Moonlight|
|2011||The Artist||The Artist||The Artist|
|2010||The King's Speech||The King's Speech||The King's Speech|
|2009||The Hurt Locker||The Hurt Locker||The Hurt Locker|
|2008||Slumdog Millionaire||Slumdog Millionaire||Slumdog Millionaire|
|2007||No Country for Old Men||No Country for Old Men||No Country for Old Men|
|2005||Brokeback Mountain||Brokeback Mountain||Crash|
|2003||Lord of the Rings||Lord of the Rings||Lord of the Rings|
|1999||American Beauty||American Beauty||American Beauty|
|1998||Saving Private Ryan||Saving Private Ryan||Shakespeare in Love|
|1996||The English Patient||The English Patient||The English Patient|
|1995||Apollo 13||Apollo 13||Braveheart|
|1994||Forrest Gump||Forrest Gump||Forrest Gump|
|1993||Schindler's List||Schindler's List||Schindler's List|
|1991||Silence of the Lambs||The Silence of the Lambs||The Silence of the Lambs|
|1990||Dances with Wolves||Dances with Wolves||Dances with Wolves|
Monday April 12, 2021
Movie Review: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
Kong before Kong, when he was just Erik.
I’m probably the only person in the world who watched this early Universal horror film because of Arlene Francis.
Francis was a frequent game show participant in the 1950s and ’60s, sharp and sardonic, and she played the same as James Cagney’s wife in Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three,” and did it fabulously. So I was curious what other movies she made. Sadly, not many: 19 actress credits, of which only seven are feature films. This was the first. She plays a bit part: “Woman of the Streets.” Yes, Arlene Francis. That’s what led me here.
The movie is one hour and one minute long, and it’s not much. Based on an Edgar Allen Poe short story, it’s got Bela Lugosi hamming it up a year after “Dracula,” and Leon Ames as the boyfriend-hero a decade before he played the stuffy father in “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
Ames is Pierre Dupin, a medical student and amateur detective, who, while investigating the recent, mysterious deaths of young women, takes his fiancée Camille (Sidney Fox) and their friends to a carnival, where they visit the sideshow of Dr. Mirakle (Lugosi) and his caged ape. During the show, the ape grabs Camille’s bonnet and tries to strangle Pierre. Mirakle tries to make it up by offering to replace the bonnet and creepily asks for Camille’s address. They pass. But he has them followed.
Everything is related of course. In his investigations, Pierre discovers the same foreign substance in the blood of all the victims, and it’s something Mirakle injects into the victims to see if they’d make a good mate for the ape. I think. As for why Mirakle is looking for a human mate for his ape, the movie is silent. He just is. Cuz mad scientist.
A couple things stand out for me. One is personal:
Apparently Erik with a k was big for creepy villains in the 1920s and '30s: that Phantom, this ape. Now it’s big in the Marvel universe for villains whose dastardly schemes make sense: Magneto, Killmonger. I'll take the upgrade.
The police don’t come off well. Mirakle sends Erik to abduct Camille, Pierre hears her screams, bursts in and finds empty room. So the police arrest Pierre. Then we get the second thing that stands out for me: the most digressive bit of ethnic-based comedy I’ve seen in a horror movie. Three witnesses tell the gendarmes they heard screams and someone speaking in a foreign language, but each disagrees on the language: the German says it was Italian, the Italian says it was Danish, the Dane says it was German. The bit goes on for minutes until someone discovers Camille’s mother stuffed up the chimney, dead, with what looks like ape fur clutched in her fist. That, as they say, puts an end to the comedy routine.
By now Mirakle has discovered Camille will make a perfect mate for Erik. But then he’s surrounded by the cops, Pierre’s pounding on the door, and Erik does the monster-movie thing of killing his maker. That leads us to the third standout moment: Erik the ape grabs Camille and carries her over the rooftops of Paris as he’s pursued by the police. It’s like a mini-version of “King Kong” a year before “King Kong.” In the end, of course, Pierre shoots Erik, Erik falls into the Seine, the lovers are reunited.
“Rue Morgue” was directed by Paris-born Robert Florey, whose career began with a 1920 silent short named “Isidore a la deveine,” continued with the Marx Bros.’ first feature, “The Cocoanuts,” and whose last credit is an episode of “The Outer Limits” from 1964. Think of that span and the technological changes within it. Somehow he navigated it all.
Sidney Fox’s career was a great deal shorter. She was discovered by Universal in several Broadway comedies, was named a “Wampas Baby Star” of 1931, but never quite caught on. Her marriage to writer Charles Beahan was tabloid fodder, she tried Europe for a bit, but by 1934 her movie career was over. She killed herself with sleeping pills in 1942.
Overall, in these early films, it’s the oddities I like. The ruts of Hollywood storytelling hadn’t been dug deep yet. They were still throwing things on the wall to see what stuck. This didn't. Moments did.
Sunday April 11, 2021
Replacing Tucker Carlson
I keep thinking I've posted this passage from the beginning of chapter three of “Ragtime,” written in 1975 by E.L. Doctorow about turn-of-the-century America. Lord knows it's been relevant in 21st-century America. But each time a new xenophobic idiocy arises and I think to post it, and look at it again, I always go, “Nah. Too subtle for this doltish age.” But fuck it, here we go.
Most of the immigrants came from Italy and Eastern Europe. They were taken in launches to Ellis Island. There, in a curiously ornate human warehouse of red brick and gray stone, they were tagged, given showers and arranged on benches in waiting pens. They were immediately sensitive to the enormous power of immigration officials. These officials changed names they couldn't pronounce and tore people from their families, consigning to a return voyage old folks, people with bad eyes, riffraff and also those who looked insolent. Such power was dazzling. The immigrants were reminded of home. They went into the streets and were somehow absorbed in the tenements. They were despised by New Yorkers. They were filthy and illiterate. They stank of fish and garlic. They had running sores. They had no honor and worked for next to nothing. They stole. They drank. They raped their own daughters. They killed each other casually. Among those who despised them the most were the second-generation Irish, whose fathers had been guilty of the same crimes.
The latest xenophobic idiocy comes from the immigrant-founded Fox News, of course, spoken by Tucker Carlson, of course, this time about how the far-right “white replacement theory” is, to Carlson, a voting rights question. Immigrants come in, Carlson says, and dilute his voting power. Sure. And new babies are born that eventually do the same. Does Tucker want blanket, enforced abortions to protect himself? Does Tucker know he's going to die someday? And be buried and eaten by worms? There's your utlimate replacement theory. I like that the Anti-Defamation League is now calling for his repacement, on Fox News, sooner rather than later. Nice potential irony. But what a sad world that we have to parry all day long with such idiocies.
Anyway, read more Doctorow.
Friday April 09, 2021
'Al Pacino's Jewish?!'
Another excerpt from Mark Harris' bio of Mike Nichols, this time about the casting of the HBO film “Angels in America,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Harris' husband Tony Kushner. The anecdote reflects something I've long been curious about:
[Al] Pacino had agreed to portray Roy Cohn, the play's vicious, droll, and profane embodiment of ruthlessness and self-deception. “I wanted Mike to cast Dustin Hoffman,” says Kushner. “I love Al Pacino, and of course I ended up thrilled with his Roy. My only initial worry was that when he was young, he was gorgeous. He was Michael Corleone—someone born into power. What I wanted for Roy was someone who'd had to struggle all his life for every bit of power he had. The day after Pacino was announced, I was at a party and I felt someone kind of hit me from behind. I turned around and it was Dustin Hoffman, and he said, 'Al Pacino's Jewish?! Fuck you, and fuck Mike, too!'”
I've always been curious if it bugs Jewish actors when Italians in particular are cast as Jewish characters. Apparently it does. Or at least this one Jewish actor. One wonders if Dusty did the same to Martin Scorsese after he cast the Jewish “Casino” gangsters with his usual Italian crew. “Robert De Niro's Jewish?! Fuck you!”
And it raises a couple of interesting points. Whenever people talk about inappropriate racial casting, they bring up almost every overlooked group but Jews, and probably for this reason: Jewish people are generally not absent from positions of power in Hollywood. Which means when most people talk about racial miscasting/appropriation, they're really talking about something else. They're talking about power. Ten white people deciding a white actress should play an Asian character is one thing; two Jews deciding a gentile should play a Jewish character is another.
Which leads to the second interesting point—a pattern I've noticed in the way Nichols cast roles. “The Graduate” called for a blonde WASP and Nichols cast Dustin Hoffman. “Carnal Knowledge” called for a Jew and he cast Jack Nicholson. “Heartburn” called for a Jew and he cast Mandy Patimkin, then fired him and cast Jack Nicholson again. Then Pacino for Roy Cohn. Nichols' WASP antihero becomes Jewish while his Jewish villains become gentiles. Don't know if there's a there there, but it's intriguing.