Saturday October 31, 2015
The Debate Over 'The Arab of the Future'
Here are a few quotes about the graphic memoir, “The Arab of the Future,” which details the upbringing of cartoonist Riad Sattouf in Syria and Libya in the 1980s, and which is causing a sensation in France. They're all from Adam Shantz's excellent profile on Sattouf, “Drawing Blood,” in The New Yorker:
- “Sattouf is faithful to what he sees, and he doesn't beautify reality.” -- Subhi Hadidi, a leftist member of the Syrian opposition.
- “Sattouf describes things as they are.” -- Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis.
- “[The book's appeal in France] rests on an unconscious, or partly conscious, racism. ... Because he's part Arab, everything he says becomes acceptable, including the most atrociously racist things.” -- Yves Gonzalez-Quijano, a French scholar of the Arab world.
- “The problem isn't Sattouf, who has written a funny and sympathetic book. It's the readers who think they've understood a society as complex as Syria because they've read a single comic book.” -- Elias Sanbar, a Palestinian writer and diplomat, who is now Palestine's ambassador to UNESCO.
The above quotes get at what I don't like about certain forms of political correctness in this country. I like the search for truth. If you find the negative in that search, well, welcome to the party, pal. To pretend otherwise isn't just PC; it's PR.
What is the difference between PC and PR? Is it that PC is for the marginalized, PR for the dominant? Either way, they're both anathema to the artist.
I've already ordered the first volume of Sattouf's book, which just went on sale in the U.S.. and will try to refrain from thinking I've understood a society as complex as Syria. But I imagine I'll at least understand it a little better. Won't be hard.
Being faithful to what you see: harder than it sounds.
Friday October 30, 2015
Q&A with Aviva Kempner on ‘Rosenwald,’ about the Jewish businessman who built more than 5,000 schools for African-Americans in the South
Julius Rosenwald was born in 1862, the son of an immigrant peddler, and rose to become part owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, which he helped build into the largest retailer in the U.S. He was also a philanthropist. Along with various good works in Chicago, where he lived, he helped build more than 5,000 two-room schoolhouses in the South for African-Americans, which became known as “Rosenwald schools.” From 1917 to 1948, the Rosenwald Fund also made grants directly to African-American artists and researchers, including Langston Hughes, Jacob Lawrence, James Weldon Johnson, Augusta Savage, John Hope Franklin, Charles Drew, Gordon Parks, Jr., and James Baldwin. Rosenwald died in 1932.
Documentarian Aviva Kempner (“The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg”) brings Rosenwald’s story to life in “Rosenwald,” which is playing this week at Sundance Cinemas in Seattle, with a special screening tonight, Friday, October 30, with Rosenwald’s grandson and biographer, Peter Ascoli, in attendance. There will be a Q&A with Mr. Ascoli after the 6:45 screening.
I spoke with Ms. Kempner on Monday.
After viewing your documentary, and hearing Julius Rosenwald’s story, I was amazed—and a little chagrined—that I’d never heard of him. How did you come across him?
I was lucky enough, 12 years ago, to attend a lecture by Julian Bond about blacks and Jews. I thought it was going to be about the Civil Rights era, but Julian surprised me by talking so eloquently about Julius Rosenwald and the schools, and how his own father and his uncle had gotten money from the Rosenwald fund. So I decided that had to be my next film.
It fit in with my M.O. about doing films about under-known Jewish heroes. I suspect he is the most under-known. It also fit ... In all my films, my protagonist is fighting an ism: Hank Greenberg was fighting anti-Semitism and Fascism, Molly Goldberg was fighting sexism and McCarthyism, and with this film, obviously, Rosenwald was fighting racism.
Early in the doc, one of your talking heads, Lester Mae Hill, who attended a Rosenwald school, asks, “What was his interest in doing this for the African-American community?”
Isn’t Lester wonderful? She was just so amazed, coming from the Jim Crow South, why a white man would want to do it.
I know your documentary is an extended answer to that question, but what’s the short answer?
I think we answered it several ways. Reading Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, [Rosenwald] realized what a profound problem there was in the South in terms of literally keeping African-Americans in the field and not affording them a good and equal education. Second, his Rabbi had taught him the tenets of Tikkun olam: “Repairing the world.” And I think growing up under the corner shadow of Abraham Lincoln’s home, he was inspired. He really operated on the philosophy, “Give while you live.”
So why do you think Rosenwald’s story, which is an amazing American story, is not better known?
I think it’s a combination of things. It was over 100 years ago; he was such a modest man; and it was in the South and the Midwest. So the people who went to the schools remember it, and people in Chicago certainly knew who he was. But I can’t tell you how many people ... Just the other day, someone in my audience said, “I grew up in Chicago: How did I not know this story?”
Exactly. In some ways he’s the bridge between Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education.
Well, it’s interesting because some of this [archive] footage was shot by Charles Hamilton Houston. He was the mentor to Thurgood Marshall.
Did Rosenwald ever get criticized for helping educate black people?
Eugene Talmadge, the governor of Georgia, really called him out on it. That’ll probably be in the DVD. And I think burning down the schools is criticizing, don’t you?
When you began your research, what did you discover that surprised you most?
Going in, I thought it was just the schools. Then I heard about the fund. Even more surprising is the fact that so many of the young people who work for me, black and white, don’t know who Marian Anderson is, and how important her story is. I’ve had an older white woman at one of my screenings come up to me and say, “I learned more about African-American history watching this film than I ever learned in all the years at school, including college.”
Rosenwald also did a lot with Jewish charities in Chicago. Why not include more about that in the documentary?
Well, what can you do? I think that’s more what you would expect him to do, and I really wanted the film to be how he rose beyond what you would expect: How a successful Jewish businessman in a major, very northern city [helped African-Americans in the South]. And I had the people that were really affected by it.
I could do a whole other film of what isn’t in the film. He was also on the crime commission—this was the time of Al Capone. There was a horrible [race] riot in 1919 and he was on the commission to study that. He and the mayor of Chicago prevented Birth of a Nation from being shown in Chicago for a while.
In your documentaries, you do something I haven’t seen many other filmmakers do: You use feature-film footage to illustrate some part of the story that doesn’t have footage—as when Rosenwald’s father is peddling in Virginia in the 1850s and you show a clip of Gene Wilder in “The Frisco Kid.”
I think these scriptwriters oftentimes get it really right. It’s proven when [historian] Hasia Diner says, you know, “The peddler would sell to the immigrant, the African American, the Indian,” and I remembered an episode of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” and it was exactly in that order.
You also have Clint Eastwood in an old episode of “Rawhide” being taught the word “schlamazel” by a Jewish peddler. Nice find. Where did you get that?
The Paley Center for TV and Film. You just spend the time researching. Almost every cowboy series had a peddler. Probably because there were a lot of Jewish screenwriters.
There’s a great lesson for rich people today, too, particularly those running for office. [In the documentary Rosenwald says the following: “Don’t be fooled by believing that because a man is rich he is necessarily smart. There is ample proof to the contrary. Most large fortunes are made by men of mediocre ability, who fumbled into a lucky opportunity and couldn’t help but get rich.”]
Oh, I’d say it’s the best [antidote] to Trump’s line.
So which under-known Jewish hero is next?
Whoever I really can fall in love with. And I can get the money up front.
But who would be ideal?
I like the idea of [MLB catcher and OSS spy] Moe Berg. Go back to a little baseball.
Wednesday October 28, 2015
Quote of the Day
“A lovely game, a sparkler, with plenty of fielding gems to light it up. ... A lovely thing that now drooped and yawned its way through four more scoreless innings while Eastern Daylight Time moms and dads went to bed or didn't, and their school-night kids fell asleep beside their under-the-cover smartphones, and pitchers came and went and grew elderly. The last two verticals were the Royals' thirty-six-year-old Chris Young and the Mets forty-two-year-old Bartolo Colón, with Colón the loser at last—or, rather, the Royals the winners—after a throwing error by David Wright, a single to right field, an intentional walk, and a cleansing, game-winning sac fly by Hosmer.”
-- Roger Angell, “Post Patsy,” on The New Yorker site, about Game 1 of the 2015 World Series, which the Kansas City Royals won, 5-4, in 14 innings. It's “pitchers came and went and grew elderly” that I love in particular. Joe Posnanski also has a nice report on the NBC Sports site.
I watched it all, or most of it (the Fox Sports feed cut out for a while), but that's an advantage of west coast living. The game ended after 1 AM for Angell, after midnight for Posnanski, and at a quite respectable 10 PM for me.
Tuesday October 27, 2015
Quote of the Day
“Right now in Los Angeles, there’s an overwhelming assumption that the Dodgers are going to fire manager Don Mattingly. I mean, once Rob Lowe calls for your head, there’s really no place to go.”
-- Joe Posnanski, “Firing Line: The Best Move for the Dodgers May Be No Move At All,” on NBC Sports from last week. Posnanski uses the Royals as a model for sometimes staying put, staying the course, not getting distracted by the baubles. The Dodgers obviously listened to Rob Lowe instead.
Tuesday October 27, 2015
2015 World Series: At Least One Title Drought Ends in the Battle of the Expansion Teams
Game 1 of the 2015 World Series is tonight and I'll be rooting for the Kansas City Royals; but if either team wins it'll end a title drought of at least 29 years. We haven't seen that kind of matchup since 2010, when the Giants (last title: 1954) played the Rangers (last title: nevah).
For the curious, here's the list, sorted by years since a team's last World Series title. For the eight teams without titles, I went with the year they were founded:
|Series Apps||Team||Most Recent Title||Most Recent Appearance||Year Founded||Years Since Title|
|2||San Diego Padres||n/a||1998||1969||46|
|4||Kansas City Royals||1985||2014||1969||30|
|5||New York Mets||1986||2015||1962||29|
|18||Los Angeles Dodgers||1988||1988||1884||27|
|2||Toronto Blue Jays||1993||1993||1977||22|
|1||Tampa Bay Rays||n/a||2008||1998||17|
|1||Los Angeles Angels||2002||2002||1961||13|
|5||Chicago White Sox||2005||2005||1901||10|
|40||New York Yankees||2009||2009||1903||6|
|19||St. Louis Cardinals||2011||2013||1882||4|
|12||Boston Red Sox||2013||2013||1901||2|
|20||San Francisco Giants||2014||2014||1883||1|
Some interesting numbers. The Cubs, despite not having dipped a toe in the World Series since 1945, have still been to 10 of them, which is more than all but seven other teams.
This year's Series is also the first between two expansion teams. That surprised me. It also surprised me that none of the expansion teams have done well historically. In fact, these two, the Royals and the Mets, are the most successful of the newcomers. The Mets, founded in 1961, have been in the same number of World Series (5) as the White Sox and Indians, founded in 1901. They've won as many titles (2) as the Indians and Phillies and Cubs. If the Royals win this year, they'll join them. If the Mets win this year, they'll share the same number of titles (3) as the Braves, Twins and Orioles.
I guess this is what surprised me most: World Series titles are tough to come by unless you're the Yankees. Only eight teams have five or more titles in their history and only two teams have 10 or more: that would be the St. Louis Cardinals, with 11, and the New York Yankees Suck with ... 27. The Yankees have the same number of titles as the bottom 21 teams combined. And people wonder why I call them the 1% of baseball.
But at least the Yanks won't be adding to that number this year. Here's hoping for a good Series with a Royals victory. Here's hoping for Cubs/Indians sometime in the future.
Don't try this at home: Lorenzo Cain went from first to home on a single for the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 8th inning of Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS.
Tuesday October 27, 2015
Box Office: Latest Vin Diesel Movie Bombs, But That's Not the Story
This past weekend, the fourth go-round for Ridley Scott's “The Martian” returned to first place at the domestic box office with a $15.7 million take, the second weekend of “Goosebumps” fell to second with $15.5 mil, while the second weekend of “Bridges of Spies” held at third with $11.3 million.
But that's not the real story.
The ginormous success of the “Fast and Furious” franchise is apparently still not transfering to its star Vin Diesel. His latest, “The Last Witch Hunter,” debuted in fourth place, grossing $10.8 mil in 3,082 theaters. That's his second-worst wide release ever, after “Babylon A.D.” opened to $9.4 in 3,425 theaters in 2008. Both movies got slammed by the critics (6% for A.D., 15% for TLWH) but you could say that about most of Diesel's movies.
But that's not really the story, either.
Here's the story. Two movies debuted in more than 2,000 theaters and did so poorly they ranked 4th and 5th all-time in terms of worst per-theater openings for wide releases.
The stinkier is “Jem and the Holograms,” which is about, I guess, this smalltown girl that totally uploads a music video on YouTube and becomes famous? But then they like redo her look and her personality and her name and her makeup? Until she doesn't know who she is anymore? Anyway, that thing debuted in 15th place, grossing $1.3 million in 2,413 theaters, for a per-theater average of $570. Fourth worst ever.
The movie in fifth place did a little better, earning $1.4 million in 2,012 theaters, for a per-theater average of $731, but the shocker there is the movie's lineage. “Jem” was written by no one I've heard of, directed by no one I've heard of, and stars no one I've heard of, while “Rock the Kasbah” is a Barry Levinson comedy starring Bill Murray, Bruce Willis and Kate Hudson, among others. And no one went.
Here's the top 10 in per-theater average worsties:
|1||Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure *||$443,901||2,160||$206||Aug. 2012|
|2||Delgo **||$511,920||2,160||$237||Dec. 2008|
|3||Saw 10th Anniversary ***||$650,051||2,063||$315||Oct. 2014|
|4||Jem and the Holograms||$1,375,320||2,413||$570||Oct. 2015|
|5||Rock The Kasbah||$1,470,592||2,012||$731||Oct. 2015 #|
|6||We Are Your Friends||$1,767,308||2,333||$758||Aug. 2015 ##|
|7||Major League: Back to the Minors||$2,087,011||2,322||$899||Apr. 1998|
|8||The Real Cancun||$2,108,796||2,261||$932||Apr. 2003|
|9||The Adventures of Pluto Nash||$2,182,900||2,320||$940||Aug. 2002|
|10||The Rocker||$2,636,048||2,784||$947||Aug. 2008|
*Yes, something that dares call itself “Oogieloves” deserves this fate.
** I blogged about this bomb back then.
*** Does a re-release really count? Particularly of an Eli Roth film?
# Never open in October.
## Never open in August.
This weekend, Patricia and I saw “The Martian,” which is recommended.
The Last Witch Hunter is sadly not the last Vin Diesel.
Monday October 26, 2015
Movie Review: The Walk (2015)
In Philippe Petit’s 2002 book, “To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers,” the epigraph is from Werner Herzog, who directed a documentary on Petit 10 years earlier. It reads:
Philippe, you are not a coward—so what I want to hear from you is the ecstatic truth about the twin towers.
Truth and ecstasy is exactly what we don’t get from Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk."
Did the filmmakers go wrong from the start? They have Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) telling us the story from the torch of the Statue of Liberty, with the twin towers and lower Manhattan in the background, which Patricia thought “dorky.” Or was it earlier—when they cast Gordon-Levitt in the role? Is he too American? Not imperious enough? They make him seem like us when Petit can’t be us. We look into the void and our legs turn to jelly and we feel the void’s pull. He looks into the void and gathers strength and rises.
The worst part? They make Philippe Petit seem like an amateur.
Surprising the sky
Here’s how they do it. In 1972, during a Paris street performance, Petit hurts a tooth and goes to a dentist, where, in the waiting room, he sees an article about the twin towers being built in New York City. This is where he gets the idea for “le coup”: walking between the twin towers. And that’s when he begins to take wirewalking seriously. He learns from Papa Rudy (Ben Kinglsey, wasted), practices a bit with his girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon, who is almost too pretty to be in movies) and his friend Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony); then he makes his debut, walking over a brook at an outdoor fair. He falls in. Oops. Then he pulls off the Notre Dame coup—walking between the spires of the ancient cathedral. And then it’s off to New York.
That’s right. In the movie, the twin towers walk is his third public performance.
The dental scene is correct but it took place in 1968, by which time Petit had been wirewalking for two years. From a 1999 New Yorker profile:
[By 1967], I taught myself to do all the things you could do on a wire. I learned the backward somersault, the front somersault, the unicycle, the bicycle, the chair on the wire, jumping through hoops. But I thought, “What is the big deal here? It looks almost ugly.” So I started to discard those tricks and to reinvent my art.
Falling into the brook? Never happened. Notre Dame did. So did the Sydney Harbor Bridge walk in Australia, which the film ignores. Anyone who’s seen “Man on Wire,” the Oscar-winning documentary from 2008, remembers the footage of Petit in that field in France with the wire strung between the trees: the insane shit he could do on it. He practically lived on that wire. So why do Zemeckis and first-time screenwriter Christopher Browne pretend otherwise? To increase tension? It’s so reductive it’s dull. Tension droops.
OK, but to the question everyone wants to ask: How is the walk itself? What’s it like to see that?
It’s not bad. But early reports about getting vertigo and throwing up? Nah. I was actually more wobbly-legged when Petit was on the edge of the building than I was when he was on the wire. Maybe because I can relate to being on the edge of a tall building. Maybe because once he lets go and steps out onto the wire we’re into the realm of superheroes. I know he won’t fall the way I know Superman won’t fall.
But they kinda fuck up the walk, too. Zemeckis sends a police helicopter to circle around Petit when 1) there wasn’t time, and 2) he’s a funambulist not King Kong. In the movie, the cops are abrasive when he’s on the wire and respectful when he’s back on the South Tower, when it was actually the other way around. In his book, he calls the cops “the octopus” for the way they grabbed him. He writes that the most perilous part of his six-year adventure was when he was being pushed down the tower’s narrow staircase by New York’s finest.
Why didn’t we get the press conference? The stupid questions and his imperious answers:
I do not appreciate the phrasing of most of the questions and make a point of correcting it as I answer: “No, I am not a daredevil, I am a writer in the sky!” “No, do not connect this with looking for a job—I do not need anything!” All I wish to describe is the beauty of seeing from such heights the city waking up, and my elation at reaching the clouds and surprising the sky.
In the movie, afterwards, he and his friends enjoy a meal in Chinatown, but in reality, elated, a folk hero now with all the perks that entails, he had sex with a beautiful woman he’d just met. It’s hours before he meets his friends. “Jean-Louis and Annie are angry,” he writes. “I’m hungry. I win.”
Throughout, the moviemakers tamp down Petit’s eccentricities, what makes him him. In the eighth chapter of Rick Burns’ documentary on New York, “Center of the World,” for example, there’s a great section on the walk. Petit provides voiceover:
So at some point the Gods—the god of the wind, the god of the tower, the god of the wire, all of those invisible forces that we persist in thinking don’t exist but actually rule our lives—might become impatient, might be annoyed by my persistence. ... So my intuition told me it was time to close the curtain of this very intimate performance.
All of those invisible forces that we persist in thinking don’t exist but actually rule our lives ... It's like something I'd hear from some sad woman at a party who's oversensitive about vegetables. But from Petit, I'll take it. Because he did what he did.
Something somebody would never see again
In case you can't tell, I get great joy from Petit's story—it's so brave and beautiful and pointless. He once said, “I would’ve felt myself dying if I’d had this dream taken away by reason,” and that’s key. Reason is the problem and unreason is the answer, and Zemeckis is all too reasonable in his storytelling. We needed a more unreasonable director. Someone like Herzog, or Scorsese, or Audiard.
I was hoping we’d get a clip of Sgt. Charles Daniels, too. Daniels was one of the octopi on the South Tower, a classic-looking 1970s Port Authority cop. And the way he described Petit to reporters afterwards was just this beautiful mix of Jack Webb-like police protocol and open admiration:
Well, after arriving on the rooftop, Office Myers and I observed the tightrope dancer—because you couldn’t call him a walker—approximately halfway between the two towers; and upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh, and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire. He then went down to one knee. We stepped into the background and I said for everyone to be quiet.
And at this time he laid down on the high wire, and just lackadaisically rolled around on the wire like. He got up. He started walking and laughing and dancing. And he turned around and ran back out into the middle. He was bouncing up and down—his feet were actually leaving the wire—and then he would resettle back on the wire again. Unbelievably, really, to the point that everybody was spellbound in the watching of it. And I personally figured I was watching something that somebody else would never see again in the world.
Philippe Petit didn’t just do something that terrifies most of us, he made art out of it. Someday a filmmaker will do the same.
Sunday October 25, 2015
Movie Review: American Ultra (2015)
You can just imagine the studio pitch: “Bourne Identity” meets “Pineapple Express.” Small-town stoner is in reality, and unbeknownst even to himself, a top CIA assassin.
The surprise is how sweet “American Ultra” can be. The tenderness in some of the early scenes took me by surprise. But then gore and general cartoonishness took over.
Mike Lowell (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in the dying town of Liman, West Virginia (an homage to “Bourne” director Doug Liman), where he gets high, eats Fruity Pebbles, and sits on the hood of his car with his girl, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), and tells her the further adventures of his creation “Apollo Ape,” which he can’t bother to write down. He works at the local Cash & Carry, a dying all-night grocery store, and looks for the perfect moment to propose to Phoebe. He also can’t leave Liman. Physically. He gets anxiety attacks and throws up.
Turns out this is part of his programming. Mike is the last remnant of a CIA program that turned three-time offenders into assassins, but which is now part of an internecine struggle between its creator, Victoria (Connie Britton), and middle-management douchebag Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), who has his own program, codenamed “Tough Guy,” that turns psychopaths into assassins.
After Yates seeks to eliminate Mike, Victoria activates him, but some of Mike’s mental wiring is frayed. When threatened, his pupils dilate and his inner assassin takes over; then he reverts back to the vulnerable slacker. He kills two people with a spoon, for example, then needs a hug from Phoebe. “I have a lot of anxiety about this,” he says, surveying the damage.
Eisenberg makes the most of this dichotomy, and his rapport with Stewart, his co-star from 2009’s “Adventureland,” is touching.
But there are missed opportunities and unanswered questions. How much of the stoner Mike is the real, pre-CIA Mike? A mid-movie reveal dampened rather than deepened my interest, while the CIA here is over-the-top, calling in drone strikes on American shopping markets.
It’s Eisenberg who anchors things. The stoner who is really an assassin is the movie’s least cartoonish element.
-- Originally appeared, in slightly different form, in The Seattle Times
Saturday October 24, 2015
The 11 Teams that Haven't Made It to the World Series in the Wild Card Era
Since neither the Cubs nor Blue Jays made it, the list remains unchanged from last year except for the numbers: How many postseasons they've been in and how close they got:
|LA Dodgers||9||54 outs away: lost 2013 NLCS to Cardinals, 4 games to 2|
|Oakland A's||8||108 outs away: lost 2006 to Detroit, 4 games to 0|
|Minnesota Twins||6||81 outs away: lost 2002 ALCS to Angels, 4 games to 1|
|Baltimore Orioles||4||54 outs away lost 1997 ALCS to Indians, 4 games to 2|
|Chicago Cubs||4||5 outs away: Up 3 games to 2 in 2003 NLCS vs. Marlins, led 3-0 in the 8th w/1 out no one on|
|Cincinnati Reds||4||128 outs away: Up 2 games to zip in 2012 NLDS, they led 1-0 in Game 3 until Giants tied it in 3rd; never led again|
|Seattle Mariners||4||54 outs away: lost 1995 ALCS to Indians, 4 games to 2|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||3||135 outs away: lost 2013 NLDS to Cardinals, 3 games to 2|
|Milwaukee Brewers||2||54 outs away: lost 2011 NLCS to Cardinals, 4 games to 2|
|Washington Nationals||2||109 outs away: 1 out away from winning Game 5 of 2012 NLDS vs. Cardinals, instead lost 9-7|
|Toronto Blue Jays||1||54 outs away: lost 2015 ALCS to KC, 4 games to 2|
Three teams, all in the NL—Nats, Reds and Pirates—have never made an LCS in the Wild Card era.
The team the furthest from the World Series has been the Pirates, despite being in the postseason the last three seasons. The closest was the Cubs in the Steve Bartman year: just five fucking outs away. (Recommended viewing: “Catching Hell,” a “30 for 30” documentary about scapegoats in general and Steve Bartman in particular, by Alex Gibney. Rough.)
The team that crushed the most dreams? The Cards, who, over the years, eliminated the Nats, Brewers, Pirates and Dodgers.
In the AL, it's the Indians, who crushed the hopes of both the Mariners and Orioles, before, of course, having their own crushed in the World Series.
Oddly not crushing hopes on this list? The New York Yankees, who have certainly crushed their fair share of hopes over the years.
In 2003, the Cubs were only five outs from their first World Series when this happened. Well, this, and then: double, walk, single, E6, double, intentional walk, sac fly, intentional walk, double and single.
Saturday October 24, 2015
“Vidal lacks the wound.”
-- Norman Mailer
Based on Leo Robson's book review/essay of Jay Parini's authorized biography, “Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal,” in the latest New Yorker, it's probably more accurate to say Vidal hides the wound. That's not Parini's diagnosis, by the way; that's Robson channeling Anaïs Nin, whom Vidal met in 1945, and who always felt Vidal hid his true emotions in favor of a public pose of world weariness. Indeed, Robson comes to the conclusion—delivered in the first graf—that Vidal's famous bon mots were mostly a form of projection. He was cataloging himself.
Maybe. Robson, at least, makes me feel better for never having gotten into Vidal's novels—whether self-referential (“The City and the Pillar”), historical (“Burr”) or satire (“Myran Breckenridge”). But I still want to go back to the essays. Pre-9/11, of course.
The three saddest words in the English language? “Joyce Carol Oates,” Vidal said.
Friday October 23, 2015
Movie Review: 99 Homes (2015)
I think I’m getting hard-hearted.
In “99 Homes,” written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (“Goodbye Solo”), we’re supposed to root for Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a young carpenter/construction worker who can’t find work in Florida during the global financial meltdown, and he winds up losing his family home.
Admittedly, that’s a powerful scene. In court, the judge tells him he has to vacate the property but he has 30 days to file an appeal. But the very next day the cops (or off-duty cops dressed up for private contracting?) show up, along with Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), the real estate broker who foreclosed on the home, and they order the family, including Nash’s mom, Lynn (Laura Dern), and his son, Connor (Noah Lomax), out. In two minutes. “This isn’t your home, son,” Carver tells him. Later, amid chaos, crying and shouting, Carver adds, “The two minutes is a courtesy. You’re trespassing right now.” Imagine that. You are given two minutes to gather all the possessions you have, to leave all you know, and this sliver of time is called “a courtesy.” The free hand of the market is often a fist.
And after the two minutes? I wondered if they would lose everything. Instead, sketchy-looking laborers simply dump the rest onto what was once your front lawn. You take what you can and leave with your tail between your legs, while the broker who foreclosed, who is actually making a killing on the deal, stands on what was once your porch smoking a cigarillo.
(I thought the cigarillo a bit much.)
Nash and his family wind up in a motel-like way station with the rest of the wretched refuse (pst: blacks/Hispanics), but he returns. His life turned to shit because he’d chosen the wrong moment to take a loan out on his mortgage to buy tools for his construction/carpentry business, and one of Carver’s scumbag laborers swiped some of those tools. It’s the final insult. So he goes to Carver’s business, finds the guy, starts a fight. Just then, Carver emerges with the news that another of his homes has been abandoned with the toilet overflowing and a shit stream is spilling out into the yard. Nash tags along and reveals himself to be resourceful and willing to get dirty. And Carver offers him a job.
That’s the set-up.
Bailing out winners
It’s a good one. In order to survive and get back his home, Nash has to work for the man who turned him out of his home; and his job is turning other people out of their homes. Carver puts it this way:
You go to church, Nash? One in a 100 is going to get on that ark, son. Every other poor soul is going to drown.
He also puts it in Donald Trump fashion:
America doesn't bail out the losers. America was built by bailing out winners—by rigging a nation of the winners, for the winners, by the winners.
Carver says he began his career wanting to put people in homes, not take them out of them, but the world changed. The government deregulated, banks gave out subprime loans, and everyone tried to capitalize on the easy money to be made in the housing market. Then pop went the bubble. Now Carver is getting rich off of everyone else’s slide into poverty. He shows Nash how to get rich, too. But unlike Carver, Nash is conflicted. He feels bad about it. He still wants the people he’s throwing out of their homes to like him.
He's so conflicted he lies to his mom and his son about where the new money is coming from. He claims it’s construction work. He doesn’t let them know he’s become the enemy. He keeps pretending you don’t have to do what you have to do in order to survive in the world.
That’s why I liked Carver, the movie’s ostensible villain, more than Nash, the movie’s ostensible hero. Carver is clear-eyed about who he is and the way the world works. It’s not heroic, it’s just interesting. Nash's conflict just isn't interesting to me.
I was even more annoyed with Nash's mother, sitting back and moralizing while she contributed ... anything? She objected to the way Nash brought them money? Helped them survive? I would’ve liked a scene where Nash told her, gently maybe, but with an undercurrent, that her kind of morality was for the comfortable. And they were no longer comfortable.
Stacking the decks
“99 Homes” is worthwhile because it shows us that modern America isn’t about hard work; it's about working the system. That's how you get ahead.
But Bahrani screws it up. He doesn’t let the movie live in the gray area between Nash’s morality and Carver’s lack of it. He stacks the decks against Carver. He turns the moral issue, with its undefined lines, into a legal one, with its clear demarcations. He gives us a clarity we don't need.
In clean, conference rooms, Carver makes a deal to turn 100 people out of their homes by a certain date in order for him and Nash to capitalize. Unfortunately, the 100th turns out to be a problem. He’s this guy, Frank (Tim Guinee), that Nash vaguely knows, and with whom he sympathizes, and Frank has actually done the paperwork to keep his home. So Carver sends Nash to falsify the record so they get the home anyway. But then Frank flips out, holes up with his family in his home, brings out a rifle. He’s making a stand in the grand, stupid American tradition. It’s actually a little nutty. This is the guy that Nash hopes will like him? That we’re supposed to sympathize with? The guy shooting at the cops?
Of course this is the moment Nash finally opts for morality. He enters the fray, arms raised, and owns up to falsifying the record. Frank stands down, Nash is arrested. And in the back of the patrol car, waiting to be taken to jail, Nash looks over and sees Frank’s tousle-haired boy staring at him. And the boy smiles.
Nash is liked!
Really? Is that supposed to be a glimmer of hope? The smile from the kid? Some glimmer. The kid's father will be arrested and imprisoned, so they'll lose the home anyway. If Carver is arrested someone else will simply take his place. Nash, he gone. The real estate market continues. The free hand continues. It's the saddest of endings and the movie doesn't know it. It thinks it's giving us a gift.
Thursday October 22, 2015
- What's The Red Drum Getaway? The place where Alfred Hitchcock's Jimmy Stewart meets all of Stanley Kubrick. Question: Does this little video, so expertly rendered, indicate the future direction of movies? Where no new stars are needed? Where we can just put old stars and characters into new stories? I get the feeling we're not far off from that day.
- Jonathan Chait says Marco Rubio's ideas about climate change and energy are terrifyingly stupid. Shocked, shocked.
- Post-Democratic debate, Paul Krugman asks “What's the matter with Denmark?” His answer: Not much. OK, well, this.
- Last year, Rany Jazayerli fell in love with the 2014 Kansas City Royals and didn't think another team could take their place. But in some respect, one team has: the 2015 Kansas City Royals.
- I like this opening to Michael Schulman's New Yorker piece presaging the documentary, “Tab Hunter: Confidential”: “Imagine an alternative universe in which being gay in nineteen-fifties America was not just tolerated but celebrated. The hottest couple in Hollywood would undoubtedly be Tab Hunter and Anthony Perkins.” The rest is fascinating, too. I want to see it.
- Larry David, the patron saint of curmudgeons, killed it as Sen. Bernie Sanders on SNL.
- Would you have sex with Paul Rudd? Billy on the Street asks half of Manhattan.
- Why do young men go on mass shootings? Or join al Qaeda? Bill Maher says it isn't because of bad parents or video games or rock 'n' roll music. He thinks they just need to get laid.
- Malcolm Gladwell has a more in-depth answer in the latest New Yorker: Yes, some were traumatized as children; yes, some are psychotic; yes, some are psychopaths. But research is suggesting kids are doing it because other kids do it. (Plus they need to get laid; getting laid always helps.)
- A new book compares the lives of two 1920s film actresses, Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl, and the different paths they took.
- Nice New York Times Q&A with Steven Spielberg: on “Bridge of Spies,” “Lincoln” and looking back at old movies with Clint Eastwood.
Marlene during the war, entertaining U.S. troops (in this case, the 17th Airborne) as part of USO shows. Riefenstahl took a different path.
Wednesday October 21, 2015
Movie Review: Rocky IV (1985)
“Victory,” one of two films Sylvester Stallone starred in between “Rocky II” and “III,” was filmed in 1980 in Budapest, and, according to a July 1981 New York Times article, it made Stallone a “U.S. booster”:
Stallone came home from Hungary a flag waver. He says if everybody had to spend two weeks in a Communist country, “patriotism in America would reach epidemic proportions.”
“To this day, I believe all our hotel rooms were bugged,” he says. “If you had an amorous night with your wife, you’d walk downstairs next morning and everyone would be grinning. The police have keys to everyone’s house. They can turn off all the electricity in a city if they don't like what’s going on. And every couple of months the tanks run down the streets, just to remind people that they’re there.”
Without “Victory”—in which Allied prisoners symbolically defeat Germany in a soccer match—would we have had “Rocky IV,” in which the U.S. symbolically defeats the U.S.S.R. in a boxing match?
Fucking Hungary, man.
Change and change: What is change?
Here’s the joke from back in 1985: “This time Rocky beats up a big white guy.” But it was Stallone who laughed all the way to the bank. The movie was the No. 3 grosser of the year, after “Back to the Future” and “Rambo: First Blood Part II.” It was Stallone’s peak, top of the world, ma, but it was also the beginning of his end. His movies were becoming too stupid even for his fans.
What a dull mess this thing is. Unadjusted, it’s the highest-grossing “Rocky” but also the shortest (91 minutes); there’s not much there there. Paulie gets a robot, the Soviets enter professional boxing, Ivan Drago kills Apollo Creed in an exhibition bout, so Rocky goes to Russia to train and fight him. Cue: fight.
Poor and garrulous in the first film, Rocky has now become rich and taciturn. His mouth used to run a mile-a-minute as he struggled to entertain (Adrian), advise (little Marie) or explain (Gazzo). He wasn’t the brightest bulb (the locker combo in his hat just killed me), but he was sweet. He had charm. His charm was not knowing he had charm. Here, he’s kinda smart, counseling Apollo correctly, but he barely says anything in the second half of the film. He’s serious and charmless. I miss the old chatty Rocky.
We don’t even get impediments to the fight. In the other “Rocky”s, something always puts the fight on hold: He could go blind (“II”), he’s lost the eye of the tiger (“III”), he’ll die (“V”), he’s old (“Rocky Balboa”). Here, nothing. That’s why so short.
The movie continues the “Rocky” death cycle. We lost Gazzo after “II,” Mickey in “III,” and Apollo here. Actually, the one I miss most is Bill Conti. The emblematic “Rocky” score, as well as its signature song, “Gonna Fly Now,” is lost for some shitty ’80s songs by Survivor and John Cafferty: “Burning Heart” and “Heart’s on Fire.” Apparently the theme is “heart.”
Wait, did I say there were no impediments to the fight? Adrian, in a thankless role, tries to be that (again). She tries to get Rocky to not fight, but it sets up an absurd contradiction. Here’s the exchange:
Rocky: We can’t change what we are.
Adrian: Yes, you can.
Rocky: We can’t change anything, Adrian!
Contrast with the speech he gives the Soviets after his victory:
During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that's better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!
So Rocky fights because we can’t change, but after the fight he tells everyone that we can change? In what round did he learn that lesson?
Another one. In the first “Rocky,” it’s vaguely ominous that Rocky’s bout with Apollo Creed is seen as “a show,” that it’s just marketing, that it doesn’t mean anything. Of course, in the first round, Rocky disabuses Apollo of this notion. “He doesn't know it’s a damn show!” Apollo’s trainer says. “He thinks it’s a damn fight!”
In “IV,” Drago’s bout with Apollo is seen as “a show,” that it doesn’t mean anything. But in the first round, Drago disabuses Apollo of this notion. “What are you guys doing?” Apollo’s trainer yells. “This is supposed to be an exhibition!”
Rocky making the fight real in the first movie is a positive, but Drago doing the same in “IV” is a negative? OK.
I watch this thing now and think about how sad we were; what need we had.
We need to portray this Russian, and hence all of Russia, as stoic villains who would kill our heroes without a second thought (“If he dies, he dies.”). We need to portray ourselves as the underdogs, smaller and weaker, but naturally strong rather than chemically-enhanced. (They cheat). Then we need to show us going toe-to-toe with them for 15 rounds for the right reasons rather than their wrong reasons (Drago: “I win for me! FOR ME!”), and, as a result, not only do we win, but we win over the crowd, which chants “Rocky! Rocky!” like it’s Philadelphia rather than Moscow. (Question: Was “Rocky! Rocky!” the forerunner to “USA! USA!”? I’m serious. I’m curious.) We even get the Politburo to stand and applaud for us. But being us, we’re magnanimous in victory. We talk about change. Then we drape ourselves in the American flag. Because the star-spangled shorts just aren’t patriotic enough.
Oh, and all of this takes place on Christmas Day.
Fucking Hungary, man.
Tuesday October 20, 2015
Last week, after Joe Posnanski wrote THE BEST ARTICLE EVER about a baseball inning, he added a pretty good follow-up, “Everything's Coming Up Royals,” in which he talks about how snake-bitten the Kansas City team was in the years between George Brett and Lorenzo Cain.
But his opening graf might as well describe the current Seattle Mariners:
There is something about being a terrible team that goes beyond wins and losses and boos and jokes and all the other obvious stuff. It's hard to explain precisely, but every fan of terrible teams intuitively understands. When a team is terrible, everything goes wrong. It's like reverse mojo — let's call it “ojom.” Seemingly sound draft picks bust. Logical free-agent acquisitions turn into disasters. Promising young players get hurt. Sensible coaches and managers lose their marbles and start doing self-destructive things. Owners panic and overreact.
Change “overreact” to “underreact” and you've basically got the M's from the end of the Edgar Martinez era to now.
My friend Jim and I talked about the M's bad luck this summer. How we couldn't catch a break. How everything we touched seemed to turn to shit. Among others:
- We pick highly touted prospect Dustin Ackley with the 2nd overall pick of the 2009 draft (Mike Trout went 25th), and watch him flail for the next six years before trading him to New York.
- We trade a great rookie pitcher to New York for highly touted prospect Jesus Montero, whom everyone agrees is the real deal, and watch him flail for the next four years.
- Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak? Thank you kindly.
- We sign Chone Figgins, 32, who is a lifetime .291 hitter with a .363 OBP, and is coming off a career year. Over the next three seasons, he hits .227 and puts up a .302 OBP. His OPS goes from .751 with the Angels to .585 with us.
- We finally catch a break with Franklin Gutierrez, who seems like the real deal. Consequently he pulls hamstrings, then gets irritable bowel syndrome, then develops ankylosing spondylitis.
- We sign superstar Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract, and in the first half of his second year he puts up some of the worst numbers in baseball; then he announces he's suffering from acid reflux.
And on and on. A lot of it is bad management but not all of it.
M's fans, what would you add?
Monday October 19, 2015
Movie Review: Steve Jobs (2015)
For a movie that combines two of the things I dislike most in the world—backstage drama and product launches—it’s not bad. But it ain't good.
Was there a better way to tell this story other than the three-act play? Or the symphony?
Ah yes, the symphony.
Here’s what we get. As Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) gets ready to launch three iconic products—1) the Macintosh in 1984, 2) the NeXT Cube in 1988, and 3) the iMac in 1998—he interacts and argues with, among others, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple computer scientist Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), and Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). Flitting around the edges is Apple marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), who does a poor job of protecting her boss just before he gets on the big stage. The opposite. To her, the half hour before a product launch is the exact right time to lambast Jobs about his “child problem.” In that he has one but won’t acknowledge her.
These are the main points of backstage contention:
- Pay for your child and her mother, ya deadbeat
- Acknowledge the Apple II dudes, ya ingrate
- Is a closed system really such a good idea?
- Was that 1984 Super Bowl commercial really such a good idea?
- Who fired whom?
Themes are revisited. The clue to the Time magazine cover, railed over in the first act, is revealed in the third. The clue to Jobs’ adoption, which may or may not be the source of his fierce drive, is revealed in the third. In the first act, Wozniak asks/demands that Jobs acknowledge the people who worked on the Apple II at the launch of the Macintosh, which seems like a bad idea even to me. In the third act, he demands the same damned thing at the launch of the iMac. Really? I thought. Again with the Apple II? Man, that wore on me.
Most of the arguments wore on me. It was screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s usual script—hyper-articulate people walking hallways while others trying to keep up physically and mentally. There was so much bickering and carping, and in such public view, it felt like a Silicon Valley version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
I liked moments. Lisa, the unwanted child, becomes wanted when she plays well with Jobs’ other child, the Macintosh. I like Jobs’ admission about the Cube: “I guess you could say, in layman’s terms, we don’t have an OS.” That made me laugh. Could you argue that Jobs is like a closed system himself? He doesn’t communicate well with others. “I’m poorly made,” he says in the end. Good line. For all of us.
But Sorkin and director Danny Boyle go too much with the conductor metaphor. In the second act, Jobs tells Wozniak something conductor Seiji Ozawa supposedly told him: “Musicians play their instruments; I play the orchestra.” That’s who Jobs is. We know that immediately, but Sorkin drives the metaphor home. Relentlessly.
Is “Steve Jobs” too much of a closed system? Does it strive for a kind of artistic perfection at the expense of something more expansive and interesting? I wanted to know more about Jobs’ early days: How he met Wozniak and why computers and what they learned in the garage. I wanted a story and got this.
Here’s a story. It relates to the iconic Super Bowl commercial from 1984 (not to mention “1984”), which creates buzz but not demand. Jobs thinks the Mac will fly off the shelves but it doesn’t. It’s good, and friendly, but too expensive, not to mention a closed system, so it’s Microsoft, a year later, that takes off, since its software communicates with the hardware of other companies. Consumers mix and match. They buy low. Yet when I was in a position to buy my first PC, eight years after that iconic commercial aired, I bought a Mac. Why? Because I thought that’s what everyone used. And this is in 1992. In Seattle. Which reveals either how effective that ad was or how dumb I am. Both. For the record, I haven’t stopped using Macs. I’m writing this on an iMac: OS 10.9.5 and counting.
There’s great acting here—particularly from Fassbender—and I could watch Michael Stuhlbarg in almost anything. He has a gentleness to him; he has kind eyes.
But overall “Steve Jobs” is too many unpleasant people having too many arguments that never end. Sorkin and Boyle keep taking us backstage when I wanted to get back to the garage.
Saturday October 17, 2015
Lancelot Links Flips Its Bat
- The most important article you'll read this year was in the New York Times last Sunday: 158 families have contributed almost half of the contributions to the 2016 presidential campaign, and most of it to Republicans. Who are these families? They tend to come from the financial sector and from energy. They're new money and secretive. They know each other but not us. Thank you, Justice Kennedy.
- After the first Democratic debate, most people felt the way the Times editorial board felt: Thank god the grown-ups have arrived.
- There's been a lot of good writing on the 7th inning of Game 5 of the ALDS between Toronto and Texas but nothing better than Joe Posnanski's conversation with Michael Schur. Read it and weep with laughter.
- So who's going to win the ALCS between the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals? To Josh Wilker, it's all in the cards. (P.S. Vada Pinson is one of my all-time favorite baseball names.)
- John Amos on working on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (thumbs up), “Good Times” (and why he left), and “Roots” (and what he thinks of the reboot).
- A former CIA agent who's worked at Fox News as an analyst since 2002 has been arrested ... for lying about being a former CIA agent.
- Nathaniel posterizes Steven Spileberg's 21st century films and asks us to rank them. Me: Munich, Lincoln, Catch Me If You Can, Minority Report, Tin Tin, A.I., War of the Worlds, The Terminal, War Horse, Indiana Jones and the Yadda Yadda. I was surprised I'd seen them all. But it is Steven Spielberg.
- Joey Poz on how the Kansas City Royals went from Charlie Brown to Snoopy in a few short years.
“I’ve said this so many times to people who call baseball boring: Sure: Baseball IS boring. Then it isn’t. That’s the magic of it.” — Joe Posnanski
Friday October 16, 2015
Dodgers Dodge Another World Series
I've been lucky so far this postseason. Going into the division series, I wanted Royals over Astros, Blue Jays over Rangers, Cubs over Cardinals, and mixed on the fourth. I got them all. In that fourth, last night, the Mets took care of the Dodgers, 3-2.
I know a lot of people were rooting for the Mets, who are kind of a Cinderella-ish story this year, but I wouldn't mind seeing Kershaw, Greinke, et al. in the WS some time. I'm also aware of the Dodgers' futility when it comes to the postseason. I just didn't know how bad it was.
This is how bad it is: Since the advent of the wild card in 1995, the Dodgers have made the most postseason appearances without making it to the World Series.
They lost the LDS in '95 and '96, skipped a few years, then lost the LDS in 2004 and '06. In 2008 and '09, they lost the LCS two years in a row to the Phillies, then lost the LCS to the Cards in 2013. The last two years, they only made it as far as the LDS.
Nine appearances, bupkis.
Second place in the blue-ball awards goes to the Oakland A's: eight times without sealing the deal. Then my Minnesota Twins, who've made six appearances and only once made it past the LDS.
Here's the list of teams who've never made it to the World Series in the wild card era, ranked by how often they've made the postseason:
|Los Angeles Dodgers||9|
|Toronto Blue Jays||1|
Two of these teams, Jays and Cubs, have a chance to get off the list. But not the Dodgers.
What's the saying again, Brooklyn?
Thursday October 15, 2015
TV: What the Hell Happened Between 1974 and 1977?
TV in 1974: Showing us to us.
While doing a little research on another project, I came across some Nielsen figures that were a little surprising to me.
Here are the top 5 TV shows for the 1974-75 season:
- All in the Family
- Sanford and Son
- Chico and the Man
- The Jeffersons
I knew “All in the Family” was popular but I had no idea about “Sanford and Son,” “Chico and the Man,” and “The Jeffersons.” Two of the five shows have black casts; three of the five focus on the working class. There's a sense that TV is trying to show us to us.
Now here are the top 5 shows three years later: 1977-78:
- Laverne & Shirley
- Happy Days
- Three’s Company
- 60 Minutes
- Charlie's Angels
The working class is either slapsticky and nostalgic (“Laverne and Shirley”) or sunny and jiggly (“Three's Company”). There's less dysfunction, more fantasy. It's also much younger and much, much whiter.
And three years after that? It gets a little yee-ha:
- The Dukes of Hazard
- 60 Minutes
- The Love Boat
That was the turn—where we went wrong. It happened right in there. Why?
TV in 1977: Younger, more jiggly, and very, very white.
Monday October 12, 2015
“An election in 1932 ended up killing fifty million people around the world.”
-- Sen. Bernie Sanders, from Margaret Talbot's New Yorker piece, “The Populist Prophet: Bernie Sanders has spent decades attacking inequality. Now the country is listening.”
Sunday October 11, 2015
Lancelot Links Brings Back Sung Woo
- Dear Baseball Hall of Fame: Don't make Joe Posnanski angry. You won't like him when he's angry.
- Dear Yankee fans: Your tears of unfathomable sadness (after your one-and-out postseason) are delicious. Alright, so this was actually a classy post.
- But it's Roger Angell who has the metaphor for the Yankees' season; and it's from the 1937 classic “Lost Horizon.”
- Dear Rick Moranis: Please make movies again. Or TV shows. Or at least resurrect the forerunner of YouTube, Gerry Todd. Which you can now see on YouTube.
- Speaking of YouTube (and Vimeo): Nathaniel Rogers over at Film Experience has assembled the trailers for all 81 (minus one) best foreign-language film contenders. What can we fathom of the world from the 80? Among other things: War and its consequences, cultural barriers and how to overcome them, man's cruelty and women's beauty. And God's a jerk. And I'm only up to the D's.
- OK, this 30-for-30 short on Sung Woo, the biggest Royals fan in Asia, is just joyous. Also fascinating, in terms of cultural mores.
- Long read of the week: Margaret Talbot's profile of Sen. Bernie Sanders in The New Yorker. I might just have to vote for the man.
Saturday October 10, 2015
Why I Love the New York Times Archive, I
From February 1977:
He was the “kid from Kotter” and his “disco movie” had just begun filming and was called “Saturday Night.” There was also “Grease” talk. He also wanted to play more mature roles. Like someone in their mid-20s.
Interestingly, right next to this profile, there's an ad for the movie “Rocky,” which had just been nominated for 10 Oscars, including best actor and screenwriter for its star Sylvester Stallone. Six years later, Stallone would take the kid from Kotter and put him in a sequel to the disco movie. He would train Travolta, get him sleek and glossy, and star him in a sleek, glossy and awful, awful movie that would bomb.
Saturday October 10, 2015
You Are the Star Tonight
I watched “Hearts of Darkness” the other night for the first time since its release in theaters in 1991. Still a fascinating portrait of a man (director Francis Ford Coppola) and a period (the aftermath of the '60s), and how art imitates life (making a movie about the Vietnam War ended up being like the Vietnam War). “There were too many of us,” Coppola says at Cannes in '79, “we had access to too much equipment, too much money; and little by little we went insane.” Another unmentioned but obvious comparison: neither the U.S. nor Coppola knew how to end it. Maybe that should've been Coppola's ending: not being in control of the ending.
What really struck me this time, though, was a scene in which Coppola directs his star, Martin Sheen, in the Saigon hotel scene where Willard has a nervous breakdown, and which led to Sheen's own heart attack at the age of 36.
Coppola has heard that officers like Willard are often vain men; they admire their looks, their bodies. And he uses this tidbit as he directs his star:
Marty, go look at yourself in the mirror. I want you to look at how beautiful you are. I want you to look at your mouth—your mouth and your hair.
(Sheen runs hands through his hair.)
You look like a movie star.
I thought: He is a movie star. He's a movie star playing a guy who wants to look like a movie star.
And I thought: That's it right there.
We so want to be them (for the glamour, the girls, the fame), but in the movies they so want to be us (for the reality; to make it meaningful.) And they so want to be us, they'll pretend to be us pretending to be them. Because that's part of what defines us: wanting to be them.
Hollywood is under me
I'm Martin Sheen
I'm Steve McQueen
I'm Jimmy Dean
Friday October 09, 2015
The House She Lives In
From William Finnegan's excellent profile of Univision's Jorge Ramos, “The Man Who Wouldn't Sit Down”:
In May, Ann Coulter appeared on Ramos's Fusion show. They taped the interview in front of a live audience, and Coulter's eagerness to give offense was breathtaking. At one point, she said, “I have a little tip. If you don't want to be killed by ISIS, don't go to Syria. If you don't want to be killed by a Mexican, there's nothing I can tell you.” Ramos likes to say that silence is death on TV, but at that moment he said nothing. The audience, too, seemed shocked into silence. After a long, awkward pause, Coulter went on, “Very easy to avoid being killed by ISIS. Don't fly to Syria.” Ramos finally asked, “Are you really saying . . . ? We're talking about forty million immigrants in this country.” Coulter, arguing for an end to immigration, talked about how certain “cultures” from which large numbers of people immigrate to the U.S. “are obviously deficient,” making cryptic reference to “uncles raping their nieces.” It was, in its way, good TV.
Do people still debate Coulter? Why? The only honest reaction is to shrug and say that there have always been people like her: Americans warning Americans about the latest group of people wanting to be Americans, who are “obviously deficient”: Irish, Italian, Jews. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese. Muslims. Yet in many ways, there's no one more American, more positively American, than the immigrant, who knows what it's like where they're from, and who risked everything to get here.
Thursday October 08, 2015
#tbt: Halloween 1972
Admittedly not a very scary costume, even if, once upon a time, the Vikings' defense was known as the Purple People Eaters. I was a small, sickly kid who never played football and could barely do the three-point stance. But I did love this team.
Purple People Eaten.
Memory tells me I began to get into the Minnesota Vikings the year Gary Cuozo led them to a 7-7 record, but Football Reference tells me my memory sucks. The last year Cuozo was the Vikings' main QB was in '71, when they went 11-3 but lost in the divisional playoffs to the Dallas Cowboys. It was the next season, the first with Fran Tarkenton as QB again, that we went 7-7 and didn't make the playoffs—the only season between '68 and '78, actually, that the Vikings didn't make the playoffs. I believe the above photo is from that 7-7 season.
There was an early karmic symmetry to the Super Bowl that I noticed back then and relied upon in some sad fashion. It went like this:
- The loser of the first Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs, won Super Bowl IV three years later.
- The loser of the third Super Bowl, the Baltimore Colts, won Super Bowl V two years later.
- The loser of the fifth Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys, won Super Bowl VI a year later.
- The loser of the sixth Super Bowl, the Miami Dolphins, won Super Bowl VII a year later.
So it was my assumption that when the loser of the fourth Super Bowl, my Minnesota Vikings, played the Dolphins in Super Bowl VIII, we would finally get our due. It would be our time for cosmic, karmic rebalancing. Right? Or at least, for God's sake, in Super Bowl IX against the Steelers? Or, c'mon, for fuck's sake, against the Raiders in Super Bowl XI?
Thursday October 08, 2015
I Belieeeeeeeve! That One Day I‘ll See ’The Book of Mormon'
I'm obviously late to this party but I finally saw Andrew Rannells doing “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon” on the Tony Awards in 2011. And wow:
- The lookaway he gives at “What's so scary bout that?”
- The little nudge he gives the warlord on “...Jesus has his own planet as well.”
- The testify dance at the end, where he's the only one testifying.
- “And I belieeeve ... that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!”
- “And I belieeeve ... that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri!”
I also like that the clunkier beliefs are embedded in clunkier lines. And how joyous it still is.
P and I have tried to see “Mormon” a bunch of times but it's always sold out. But I believe that someday we'll have our own planet. Um, tickets.
Wednesday October 07, 2015
Movie Review: Rocky Balboa (2006)
“Take It Back” plays over the title credits of “Rocky Balboa,” which is appropriate since that’s what Sylvester Stallone does here. He takes us back 30 years to the days of “Rocky.”
We get Spider Rico again, the first boxer we saw Rocky fight, and Little Marie, the “Screw you, creepo!” girl who didn’t listen to his advice when he walked her home that one night. We see two turtles in Rocky’s room, replacements for Cuff and Link, and instead of running through the Italian market to Bill Conti’s ridiculously uplifting score, Rocky (Stallone) buys produce for his restaurant, Adrian’s, where he acts as gregarious host telling old boxing stories to the patrons.
Adrian’s dead now, joining Mickey (“III”) and Apollo (“IV”), which leaves us with Paulie (Burt Young), the one who won't go away. He’s back at the meat plant for most of this movie, and is the complaining chorus as Rocky, on the anniversary of Adrian’s death in 2002 (“woman cancer” Rocky explains to Little Marie), does a nostalgic tour of their old haunts—or at least the ones from the first movie. There’s the pet shop where she used to work; there’s Mighty Mick’s, more rundown than ever. The ice rink where they went on their Thanksgiving date is torn down now, so Rocky stands beside the rubble, reminiscing. He even goes by his old apartment—the 1818 one—the one he couldn’t wait to get away from; the one that STINKS. He’s fond of it now.
Which raises a question: In old age, do we get nostalgic about even the things we hated in our youth? Or is the nostalgia tour more for Stallone? A reminder of better days for him, and for the movies?
A cruise or something
I always felt “Rocky” epitomized the split between good ‘70s films and crap ‘80s flicks. The first half is a ‘70s character study of a down-on-his-luck dude, skirting morality and legality; a man who WASTED his life, in the words of Mickey. The second half is, you know, “Rocky”: an inspirational tale of perseverance and success. When the receipts came in, making “Rocky” the No. 1 box-office hit of 1976, Hollywood began to run with the second half of this equation and hasn’t stopped. We got less and less character study and greater and greater wish-fulfillment fantasy. In the subsequent “Rocky” movies, it wasn’t enough to go the distance; Rocky had to win. Then he had to beat: 1) angry blacks; 2) Russia; 3) punk kids. He got sleeker and smarter and less talky. In the original, he talked forever. Whatever was on his mind. He filled gaps.
We get this Rocky again. He’s not sleek here; he’s a pug. The first half of the movie is a character study of the lion in winter, and it’s not bad. It’s touching when Rocky puts on his glasses in the Italian market to read from his grocery list. There are subplots with his son, Robert Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia from “Heroes”), that aren’t cartoonish. Junior has a corporate job with a douchey boss who belittles him even as he admires Rocky. He’s trying to create space for himself away from his father’s shadow.
I think the relationship between Rocky and Little Marie went on too long and go too creepy (creepo), but I like the dialogue after he first drives her home. It says a lot about our society. Two kids, one black and one white, are hanging near her front stoop. That’s my son, she says.
Rocky: You know he sort of resembles you—he’s got that big Irish hair.
Marie: Yeah, it’s the other one.
Marie: His father was from Jamaica.
Rocky (nodding): Jamaica. European. [Pause] Was you on a cruise or something?
I was hoping it would remain this kind of character study, but it’s a Rocky movie so we have to have a fight. But even here Stallone goes retro.
During the training sequence, Rocky drinks raw eggs and pounds frozen meat, neither of which he’s done since the first film. More importantly, his opponent here, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), isn’t demonized the way Rocky’s post-Apollo opponents were. Clubber Lang was all seething trashtalk, Ivan Drago amoral Teutonic stoicism, Tommy Gunn whiny, spoiled need. They’re cartoons. Dixon is a little more complex. The movie has mixed feelings about him that bend positively. He winds up a good guy. At the same time, he’s kind of a non-entity.
In the sequels, Rocky always won. Here, as in “Rocky,” he goes the distance but loses. But in losing he wins. As does Dixon. It’s win-win.
So “Rocky Balboa” isn't a bad movie. I’d probably say it’s the second- or third-best Rocky movie.
Sunshine and rainbows
Sorry, but it makes no sense that the boxing match is a win for Dixon. The criticism of him in the press is twofold:
- He doesn’t have heart
- He wouldn’t have lasted a round against the superior fighters of the past—like Rocky Balboa.
In the match with Rocky, he shows heart. He breaks his hand and keeps going. He shows people he’s a true champ—that’s what everyone says afterward. But look at that second criticism. He barely wins a split decision against a 60-year-old man. What does that tell you about his place in boxing history? In losing, Rocky wins, but in winning, Dixon loses. He should never have taken the fight. It was lose-lose from the beginning.
We also get a ton of fudged messages to arrive at the feel-good ending. Paulie tells Rocky, “You’re livin’ backwards,” Robert Jr. tells his father he’s having trouble living in his shadow, and everyone objects when Rocky decides to fight again. All of these people are essentially correct but the movie doesn’t recognize that. In the movie, the fight totally makes sense, his son shouldn’t use excuses for why he’s not his own man—that’s what cowards do—and apparently it’s OK to live in the past if it’s with the girl you loved.
There are better lessons the movie could have played up. This, for example, is what Rocky says to his son before telling him that cowards use excuses:
The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.
So if nobody hits as hard as life, why isn’t that the story? Why go into the ring for the lesser hits? Why not make the superior hits the story?
I know. Because that’s not what the public wants. Or what studio execs think the public wants. Of course, back in 1975, studio execs didn’t think we wanted a feel-good story about a down-on-his-luck boxer going the distance, either.
Tuesday October 06, 2015
A Song for the 2015 New York Yankees
Sing it, Carey. And sing it slow and sad.
Astros 3, Yankees 0. Start spreading the news.
Tuesday October 06, 2015
Lancelot Links Goes to 'Jaws 19'
- Jeff Wells has a nice quick write-up on Michael Shannon, who's in two movies getting awards attention this fall.
- A day before the last day of the regular season, Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals pitched one of the great games in baseball history: a no-hitter in which he struck out 17 and walked nobody. Only an error in the 5th prevented a perfect game. It's Scherzer's second no-hitter of the season and only five other pitchers have ever done that. Scherzer's no-nos came against the Pirates on June 20th and the Mets October 3rd, and both teams are playoff-bound. Has that ever happened? No. David Schoenfield crunches the numbers.
- Nice piece by Kostya Kennedy on all the have-nots of baseball making the postseason this year. Not that I was exactly unaware.
- John Oliver on guns and mental health. But mostly mental health. Good last line.
- I realized this years ago but it's nice to see someone hold Kate Winslet's “Titanic” character responsible for the death of Jack.
- E.J. Dionne applauds Pres. Obama turning the word “politicize” back on its do-nothing users.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson tells Reddit users the 8 essential books every intelligent person should read and Maria Popova objects that there's no women on the list. Really? I'd just be happy if people (including me) read these books. She adds, “Tyson's selections remain indispensable despite their chromosomal lopsidedness.” So there's that.
- 2015 is the year Marty McFly landed in “Back to the Future II,” so we've been getting various cultural reminders throughout the year. Here's a good one: a trailer to the movie in a background marquee: “Jaws 19” (“This time, it's really personal.”) The faux trailer is great, but do you know what remains unstated in H. Perry Horton's synopsis? By the time “BTTFII” was released in 1990, the Jaws series was up to “Jaws IV.” And there it's remained. There hasn't been a “Jaws” sequel since. In a way, the piece made me nostalgic for a time in which Hollywood kept making “Jaws” sequels I never went to see. Cf. Holden's last line in “The Catcher in the Rye.”
- Long read of the week: William Finnegan on Univision's Jorge Ramos and his recent run-in with Donald Trump. Check out the Ann Coulter parts. But I would've ended the piece one sentence earlier.
A “Back to the Future” sequel mocking Hollywood sequels. Now it all feels so nostalgic.
Monday October 05, 2015
Alternate History: What If Baseball Had Never Gone to the Division Format?
So baseball's 2015 regular season is over and we have our 10 postseason teams, and in a short series anything goes. But I‘ve often wondered what would’ve happened if baseball hadn't changed to a playoff format in 1969, and the team with the best record in each league continued to meet in the World Series.
This year we would get the Show Me Series: the St. Louis Cardinals (100-62) vs. the Kanas City Royals (95-67), 1985 Redux. AKA, the “Take Pity on Don Denkinger” Series.
We still might get it. But how likely is it? How often do the teams with the best records in each league meet in the World Series?
I'm glad you asked:
|Year||AL Best Record||NL Best Record||AL Pennant||NL Pennant|
|1969||Baltimore Orioles||New York Mets|
|1970||Baltimore Orioles||Cincinnati Reds|
|1971||Baltimore Orioles||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|1972||Oakland A's||Pittsburgh Pirates||Cincinnati Reds|
|1973||Baltimore Orioles||Cincinnati Reds||Oakland A's||New York Mets|
|1974||Baltimore Orioles||Los Angeles Dodgers||Oakland A's|
|1975||Oakland A's||Cincinnati Reds||Boston Red Sox|
|1976||New York Yankees||Cincinnati Reds|
|1977||Kansas City Royals||Philadelphia Phillies||New York Yankees||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|1978||New York Yankees||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|1979||Baltimore Orioles||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|1980||New York Yankees||Houston Astros||Kansas City Royals||Philadelphia Phillies|
|1981||Oakland A's||Cincinnati Reds||New York Yankees||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|1982||Milwaukee Brewers||St. Louis Cardinals|
|1983||Chicago White Sox||Los Angeles Dodgers||Baltimore Orioles||Philadelphia Phillies|
|1984||Detroit Tigers||Chicago Cubs||San Diego Padres|
|1985||Toronto Blue Jays||St. Louis Cardinals||Kanas City Royals|
|1986||Boston Red Sox||New York Mets|
|1987||Detroit Tigers||St. Louis Cardinals||Minnesota Twins|
|1988||Oakland A's||New York Mets||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|1989||Oakland A's||Chicago Cubs||San Francisco Giants|
|1990||Oakland A's||Pittsburgh Pirates||Cincinnati Reds|
|1991||Minnesota Twins||Pittsburgh Pirates||Atlanta Braves|
|1992||Toronto Blue Jays||Atlanta Braves|
|1993||Toronto Blue Jays||Atlanta Braves||Philadelphia Phillies|
|1995||Cleveland Indians||Atlanta Braves|
|1996||Cleveland Indians||Atlanta Braves||New York Yankees|
|1997||Baltimore Orioles||Atlanta Braves||Cleveland Indians||Florida Marlins|
|1998||New York Yankees||Atlanta Braves||San Diego Padres|
|1999||New York Yankees||Atlanta Braves|
|2000||Chicago White Sox||San Francisco Giants||New York Yankees||New York Mets|
|2001||Seattle Mariners||Houston Astros||New York Yankees||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|2002||New York Yankees||Atlanta Braves||Los Angeles Angels||San Francisco Giants|
|2003||New York Yankees||Atlanta Braves||Florida Marlins|
|2004||New York Yankees||St. Louis Cardinals||Boston Red Sox|
|2005||Chicago White Sox||St. Louis Cardinals||Houston Astros|
|2006||New York Yankees||New York Mets||Detroit Tigers||St. Louis Cardinals|
|2007||Boston Red Sox||Arizona Diamondbacks||Colorado Rockies|
|2008||Los Angeles Angels||Chicago Cubs||Tampa Bay Rays||Philadelphia Phillies|
|2009||New York Yankees||Los Angeles Dodgers||Philadelphia Phillies|
|2010||Tampa Bay Rays||Philadelphia Phillies||Texas Rangers||San Francisco Giants|
|2011||New York Yankees||Philadelphia Phillies||Texas Rangers||St. Louis Cardinals|
|2012||New York Yankees||Cincinnati Reds||Detroit Tigers||San Francisco Giants|
|2013||Boston Red Sox||St. Louis Cardinals|
|2014||Los Angeles Angels||Washington Nationals||Kansas City Royals||San Francisco Giants|
For the first three years, it was a wash. Same same. Then divergence. If it seems the divergence got worse, it did, because the playoffs became more complex: from best-of-five LDS until 1984, to best-of-seven LDS until 1993, to a two-tiered playoffs with wild card that we have today.
But back to the question: How likely is it for a team with the best record in its league to make the World Series?
- Best-of-five LCS (1969-1984): 56%
- Best-of-seven LCS (1985-1993): 61%
- Wild card era: best-of-five LDS, then a best-of-seven LCS (1995-present): 32%
- The Braves have suffered the most from the playoff format. They had the best record in the NL nine times but only went to the World Series five times, for a deficit of 4.
- Cubs and Pirates also suffered. Both have deficits of 3. That's right: in a non-playoff format, the Cubbies would‘ve gone to the World Series three times in the last 30-odd years: in ’84, ‘89 and ’08.
- The Giants have benefitted most from the playoff format: best record once (in 2000, when they lost to the Mets in the LDS), but five World Series appearances for a net gain of 4.
- The Yankees have a deficit of 1, so they'd have 41 pennants rather than 40. Also their period of domination would‘ve been more recent. No pennants in ’96, ‘00 or ’01, but pennants in 2006, ‘11 and ’12.
- The two teams that have never been to the Series (the Mariners and Nats), each would‘ve gone (’01 and last year), but now four teams would be no shows, since they‘re all post-’68 teams that have never had the best record in their league: Rockies, Marlins, Padres and Rangers.
We would‘ve gotten Royals/Phillies in ’77 rather than ‘80. The Braves wouldn’t have gone in ‘91 but would’ve gone in every subsequent year in the decade, plus ‘02 and ’03. In 2000, the Yankees/Mets subway series would‘ve been replaced by the White Sox/Giants series, but would’ve reemerged in ‘06.
Certain teams seem to do particularly well when they have the best record. The BoSox led the AL in wins three times, and each of those times (’86, ‘07, ’13) they won the pennant. And good news for Cardinals fans: Six times they‘ve had the best record in the NL and five of those times they made the Fall Classic (2005 was the misstep).
But overall the playoff format seems tailor-made for upstarts. It’s October 5, 2015, and a whole new season.
Who could forget the great Cubs-A's World Series of 1989?
Sunday October 04, 2015
It's the Last Day of Baseball's Regular Season: How Did April's Predictions Go?
It's the last day of the regular baseball season so a good time to check out how all those predictions went back in April. We live in such a predictive culture but we always forget this part. The accountability part.
Here, for example, is Sports Illustrated's four “Baseball Preview” covers from April:
These aren't exactly predictions—they went with teams that traditionally win bupkis—but they went with the wrong teams. Doesn't help combat the myth of the SI cover jinx, does it?
In a way it's even worse over at Grantland, where, on April 6, six writers predicted how the season would go. Put it this way: It went better than their predictions.
There are 10 postseason positions, five for each league, meaning 60 predictions in all from these six writers. They divided them into division winners and wild card winners but I'll just take them all at face value. Choose the Blue Jays as a wild card and that's good enough for me.
So how many of the 60 slots did these experts get right? Twenty-one.
That's 35%. Keep in mind, 10 of the 30 MLB teams, or 33%, make it, so 35% is almost bare minimum. The experts at Grantland did about as well as a horse stomping its foot might do.
Or worse? None of the pennant winners the six writers chose are still in the running. Four of the writers picked the Nats in the NL, two went with the Miami Marlins. In the AL, we got four Sox rooters (two Red, two White), one dude chose the M's while the sixth went with the Angels. In a way, the Angels guy wins. They weren't eleminated until today, so he was closest. Kudos.
And in the AL? Good god. Of the 30 possible slots, they got three right. Three. Three Blue Jays. No one predicted Texas or Kansas City, last year's A.L. pennant winner. Everyone thought the Yanks would be a no-show again. No one thought Houston would go anywhere.
Maybe this is the beauty of baseball. It can still surprise us.
Except for the St. Louis Cardinals, of course, who enter the postseason for the fifth year in a row. And of course my Seattle Mariners, who don't enter the postseason for the 14th year in a row. Now that the Blue Jays are in, that's the current record in postseason woes.
Wait 'til ... Aw, screw it.
Sunday October 04, 2015
From Kristof's column, “A New Way to Tackle Guns.”
Kristof's new way doesn't really feel new but it does feel reasonable: universal background checks, tighter regulation of gun dealers, a 10-year prohibition on possessing guns for anyone convicted of domestic violence, assault or similar offenses. The problem is he's trying to talk to unreasonable people.
Saturday October 03, 2015
Catch of the Day: Kevin Pillar
This was yesterday:
Superman comes to mind. You can see it here.
Saturday October 03, 2015
A Few Thoughts After Watching '2001' Last Night
I was thinking about Kubrick in the mid-sixties making it, when the year 2001 was in the future, and me in my living room last night watching it, with the year 2001 now more than a decade in the past.
And I was turning over the four-part structure of the film:
- The dawn of man, in which a group of ape creatures, driven from their water hole by a rival tribe, awaken to a thrumming black monolith, and thereafter make the giant leap forward: they use a bone as a weapon and take back their water hole.
- The near future, 2001ish, and the discovery of the monolith buried on the dark side of the moon.
- The mission to Jupiter, 18 months later, in which the HAL 9000 computer malfunctions, then kills four of the five crewmembers before being deactivated.
- Whatever the fuck is going on at the end. Old age and new births. A new dawn of man? A dawn of AI?
And I thought about what the year 2001 meant to its creators and what it wound up meaning to us.
To Kubrick, it meant a bland, clean, artificial efficiency. To us, it’s the year a rival tribe grabbed a new weapon and beat its enemies. It’s a year you would associate with the first part of the film (millions of years ago) rather than the last three parts (the near future).
I think Kubrick would've smiled at that.
A vision of the future from the past, with Pan-Am flights to the moon and Howard Johnson’s Earthlight Rooms.
Friday October 02, 2015
Freedom vs. Community: The Lone Ranger Solution
I like this quote from “A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980” by Robert B. Ray, from a chapter examining the movies, “It's a Wonderful Life” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”:
As a way out of the impasse between the attractiveness of the outlaw hero's life, lived solely in terms of the self, and the need for community responsibility, the Classic Hollywood movie had proposed the archetypal American solution: the individual hero whose willingness to help society was pictured as a temporary departure from the natural and proper pattern of his life, which remained free of abiding entanglements. Involvement, then, represented only a momentary concession to emergency and not a genuine acknowledgement of society's claims. As Leo Marx has pointed out, such a view discredited politics in America; to make a career out of involvement was somehow suspect.
Cf., Bob Dylan:
The Lone Ranger and Tonto are riding down the line
Fixing everybody's troubles, everybody's 'cept mine
Somebody must've told 'em I was doing fine
Cf., as well, Zorro, “Kung Fu,” “The Incredible Hulk.” Cf., Ethan in “The Searchers,” delivering Debbie but not crossing the threshold to the house. Cf.,...?
He even wore the outlaw's mask.
Thursday October 01, 2015
Saddest Headline Ever
I posted this a few weeks ago but we had server issues and it was never saved. So here it is again. It's from The New York Times:
It took me a moment to realize what that headline was saying: that even though our overuse of oil is warming the planet, it's not warming it fast enough for oil companies to immediately monetize the Arctic for more oil exploration.
It's an open admission that what we're doing is destroying the world as we know it. But the only concern is that Big Oil can't do more of that thing.
I can't imagine a culture more lost.