Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘At the Movies’ Category

Been thinking about what drives people to extremism, about how seemingly normal people can take on attitudes and perform actions that seem completely out of character for them. The kind of thing we’ve seen in recent years here where people retreat into online venues that echo back their fears and prejudices in a way that magnifies them beyond all reality. That online virtual world of fear and hatred eventually finds its way out into the real world and an extremist mob is formed. Such was the case on January 6.

This all reminds me of a post from back in 2009 that I reran in 2017. It seemed like a good time to run it again. It features Henry Fonda who, for me, is the voice of the American conscience on film. His characters in Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath, 12 Angry Men, My Darling Clementine, Mr. Roberts and the film featured below, The Oxbow Incident, were men of character, principle, and great conscience.

They tried to do what was right even when it went against the mob. Even when its futile.

I urge you to watch the short clip from the film. It speaks volumes. Then and now.



The Oxbow IncidentI don’t like crowds.

Maybe it’s just some sort of neurosis like agoraphobia or maybe it’s just having developed a sense of uneasiness from seeing how individual people could react differently after becoming part of a group.

It always confounded me from an early age how the dynamics of a group could change the behavior of an individual person, bringing out characteristics that might be undetected in one-to-one interactions. It’s as though the protection of the group brings out extreme attitudes that would otherwise be stifled. The whole moral compass is pushed further from the center and whatever sense of conscience that is present becomes diluted.

I was reminded of this feeling when I saw a short film about the actor Henry Fonda that talked of the parallels between his character’s experience  in the movie The Oxbow Incident , where his character was the lone voice of reason against a mob that lynches three men without evidence of their guilt and those of a being witness to a horrific episode as youth in Nebraska.

As a 14 year-old boy in Omaha, Nebraska in 1919, he witnessed a mob storm the courthouse that was located across the street from his father’s printing business. They  were inflamed by allegations made by a white woman that she had been assaulted by a black man. A suspect had been taken into custody and was in the courthouse. The mob, whose size was estimated to be between 5000 and 15000 people, exchanged gunfire with police in which two of the mob were killed.

The mayor of Omaha tried to intervene  and was beaten and himself lynched before being saved. The suspect was not so lucky.

The accounts of this mob rule are horrific. Fonda carried this memory with him for the rest of his life and it informed many of the roles he had over his career. In The Oxbow Incident his character confronts the lynch mob afterward in a bar and reads them a letter written by one of the hanged men to his wife.  I could go on and on but I think the clip says it all…



Read Full Post »

“Memory and Return”- At the West End Gallery



It was odd getting up this morning and not staggering out the door to climb on my tractor to plow. It was almost becoming habit. Not having to do so felt liberating and it was nice to relax as I walked over to the studio under a still hanging half-moon that made the icy surface of the deep snow sparkle.

It was nice image. It made me wonder if these sort of images linger in our subconscious, becoming enmeshed and part of who we are.

They say that your life flashes in an instant in your mind’s eye just before you die. Would these be one of those images that would flash before my eyes when my time comes? Would they be random moments that didn’t even register in our conscious mind, hidden clues to who we are that lay deep in our brains waiting for the final moment to reveal themselves?

Or would they be those moments and faces and places that we do remember consciously, that we have already placed in our memory as being important?

I find myself often wondering about what sort of imagery, if any, would be there. Sometimes I will stop in the woods on those seemingly perfect days when the temperatures are pleasant and the sky peeking through the trees is that rich color of placid blue. Looking up, I will think to myself that if this were the last image in the final flash of my life, I would be okay with that.

And if not, it’s a perfect moment of calm in the present moment. Win-win as they say.

I guess I won’t know the answer to my questions until that last moment so I most likely won’t be able to write about them here. I just hope I am satisfied with what I am shown.

It would be awful if I were to end up like the Albert Brooks character in his film Defending Your Life who has to make the case after his death, using flashbacks to vital points in his life, that his time on Earth was well spent and that he was worthy to move on to the next world. His flashbacks focused, to great comedic effect, on his many fears and his weaknesses. 

I was hoping for something a little more zen, perhaps even answers to what the meaning might be for this particular life on this strange spinning planet.

But you get what you get, I suppose. We most likely have to do our own editing now, while we have the opportunity, if we want to be pleased when that flash comes before our eyes. 

That brings me to the painting at the top, an 8″ by 8″ piece called Memory and Return that is part of the West End Gallery’s annual Little Gems show of new small work, that opens next Friday, February 12. This piece has that feel of an image that might flash in my mind during that final slideshow of my life.

I don’t exactly know why.

While I am hoping the rest of the film will reveal the answer, I am mainly hoping I don’t see this film for some time to come. 

Here’s a lovely rendition of a favorite song that continues this theme. The song is In My Life from the Beatles and this version is from Diana Krall.

Give a listen, then go work on your own film and have a good day.



 

Read Full Post »

Scene from “A Matter of Life and Death”



Taking a small break this morning without mentioning the Supreme Court decision from yesterday, which speaks for itself. But I did want to mention that TCM is playing a favorite movie of mine, A Matter of Life and Death, tonight at 8 PM

Released in 1946 as Stairway to Heaven in the UK, it was created by the collaboration of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger along with legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff. I am a huge fan of this team which made extremely interesting and thought provoking films– The Red Shoes, Parallel 49, Black Narcissus and so many others– with storylines that were well outside the norms of traditional cinema storytelling of the time, featuring spectacular visuals often filled with gorgeous saturated color and groundbreaking effects. This film very much fills all those boxes. 

It is a fantasy about a WWII British flyer who inexplicably survives the plane crash that was supposed to end his life which basically causes a rift in heaven. He falls from the sky and is found on an English beach by a US Army nurse. They form an instant bond which is the basis for the rest of this film as the flyer attempts to fend off the efforts of the heavenly agent sent to retrieve the wayward soul. It is said to be a metaphor for the revival of the British nation as well as the PTSD that was affecting so many returning troops in the post-war era.

It’s a beautiful film with scenes that alternate between great examples of Technicolor, black and white and super saturated color, each designating a different phase of the flyer’s experience. Film is, as with all arts, a subjective experience and I imagine that many folks will not find this to their liking. But for me, it’s a masterpiece. If you’re interested in great filmmaking, take a look tonight.

Here’s a link to an interesting article on this film from the Criterion Collection as well as the trailer, below, which was made for it’s recent restoration and theatrical re-release.



Read Full Post »


Even if it weren’t Halloween today, there’s plenty enough scary stuff taking place. And, unfortunately, it won’t end with the passing of this day of normal tricks and treats. I am just hoping that there are more treats than tricks in our near future.

But today I am just sticking with Halloween and playing a song that kind of aligns with the day. It’s Season of the Witch from Donovan from way back in 1966. Great sound. One of my favorites, Richard Thompson, does a good cover but I am sharing the Donovan original.

The video that accompanies the song below is from a landmark 1922 Swedish silent film made by Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen  titled Häxan which was called Witchcraft Through the Ages in its English release. It has truly remarkable and sometimes disturbing imagery, sometimes seeming as though it were pulled directly from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. I have written here about my admiration of the silent films around this time who were realizing the visual potential of the medium and this is certainly one of those films that come to mind. I have included a trailer for the film below the song’s video.

There was also a rerelease of the film in 1968 which was shortened and featured a narration from author William S. Burroughs and a jazz score featuring violinist Jean Luc Ponty. It’s interesting but I don’t think it has the same impact as the original.

Anyway, have a safe Halloween. Be careful because, as we are seeing, there are a lot of witches and devils out there. Hoping we can exorcise some of these demons on Tuesday. Have a good day.


Read Full Post »

“Life Pop”- Now at the Principle Gallery


“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

― Noam Chomsky


I thought I would focus on being optimistic today.

It’s hard these days but it’s a necessity if you want to ever live in the future of your own desires. Planning and preparation are acts of optimism, carried out with the belief that you will be able to have a say in that future.

I have to admit though that my own optimism, my own capacity for looking and planning forward, has lessened over the course of this year. The future just didn’t seem so sure on most days. 

At least, a future with which I was comfortable and at least somewhat satisfied.

But like the words above from Noam Chomsky point out, you have to have some belief that you can shape the future and make it better, even if only in the smallest way.

This sort of optimism is a statement of responsibility.

It says, “I will.”

And that short phrase is enough to begin the process of moving toward that desired future.


Note: Speaking of planning ahead, a film from one of my favorite creative teams, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is on TCM tonight at 10 PM. It’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, from 1943. It’s a film I wrote about here back in 2009.  Like all of the Powell and Pressburger movies, such as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, it’s beautifully crafted and thought provoking. The beginning sequence is ahead of its time, feeling like a modern music video. Worth a watch.

Have a good day.

Read Full Post »


“But what they find most amazing and despicable is the insanity of those who all but worship the rich, to whom they owe nothing and who can do them no harm; they do so for no other reason except that they are rich, knowing full well that they are so mean and tightfisted that they will certainly never give them one red cent during their whole lives.”

― Thomas More, Utopia, 1516


It might have been written in 1516, but Sir Thomas More sure understood human nature and our ever mystifying adulation for the rich and powerful.

Some things never change.

I am going to leave it at that but do want to add one more thing on the subject of Utopias.

This Saturday evening on HBO premieres the Spike Lee film  America Utopia, which is a performance of the recent Tony-winning Broadway show of the same name from David Byrne. It was one of the shows that I would love to have seen. Of course, the pandemic has brought live performance to pretty much a halt. But at least there’s a film to celebrate this show. The trailer looks great.

Here’s that HBO trailer for America Utopia followed by a performance from the Colbert show from Byrne and the rest of his talented crew. Enjoy and try to have a good day.

Read Full Post »

One of the very few surviving drawings from the Warsaw Ghetto


“Zog Nit Keynmol (Song of the Warsaw Ghetto)”

Never say that you have reached the very end,
When leaden skies a bitter future may portend;
For sure the hour for which we yearn will yet arrive,
And our marching step will thunder: we survive!

From green palm trees to the land of distant snow,
We are here with our sorrow, our woe,
And wherever our blood was shed in pain,
Our fighting spirits now will resurrect again.

The golden rays of morning sun will dry our tears,
Dispelling bitter agony of yesteryears,
But if the sun and dawn with us will be delayed,
Then let this song ring out to you the call, instead.

Not lead, but blood inscribed this bitter song we sing,
It’s not a caroling of birds upon the wing,
But ’twas a people midst the crashing fires of hell
That sang this song and fought courageous till it fell.

So never say that you have reached the very end
Though leaden skies a bitter future may portend
Because the hour which we yearn for will arrive
And our marching step will thunder: We survive!


I like history and am a fan of World War II movies. Now when I say that, I don’t mean the combat films, though there are many fine examples. My favorites are those that focus on the people who fought as Partisans against the fascist forces of that time. Movies like Hangmen Also Die!, The Seventh Cross and Watch on the Rhine are such examples and favorites of mine. Casablanca, at its core, is also such a film.

There is something in these films that goes beyond the horror and stupidity of war and brings a very human element into the conversation. For me, it is the portrayal of common people fighting for their freedom and dignity in any way they can against brutal and overwhelmingly oppressive forces that I find so appealing. They often band together in covert underground organizations to form a network that attempts to stymie their oppressors expansive desires.

Many of these groups of partisans had rallying songs that they used to unite themselves and to shore up their strength and courage. In Watch on the Rhine, one of my favorite characters in all filmdom, a Resistance leader played to perfection by Paul Lukas, sings a song that he sang as a German soldier returning from WW I that had been adapted as a song of resistance to the Nazis. Very powerful stuff.

The song below (with lyrics above) is such a song. It is Zog Nit Keynmol which is sometimes called The Song of the Partisans or The Song of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was sung during the siege of the Warsaw Ghetto and is still sung today as an anthem of defiance and perseverance.

And survival.

Most versions of this song are in Yiddish or Hebrew but I am sharing the version of this song from the great Paul Robeson that integrates both an English translation along with the original Yiddish lyrics.

If you need to shore up your own courage and strength in the iffy days ahead, give a listen. Powerful stuff, indeed. Have a good day and stay aware.


Read Full Post »

*********************

The film Jojo Rabbit premiered on HBO over the weekend, which made me very happy. It hits a lot of sweet spots for me.

A great cast and a script filled with a beguiling mix of dark satire and tragic poignancy. Strong visuals. Big laughs and plenty of tears. Ridiculous (but still scary) Nazis.

Hitler eating a unicorn.

Yeah, you read that right.

There’s even some poetry from Rainer Maria Rilke as the film ends, a snippet from his poem Go to the Limits of Your Longing, which is shown at the top. Words that seem applicable to this time, for sure.

It also uses its soundtrack brilliantly. It begins with the Beatles singing their German version of I Want to Hold Your Hand over archival clips of Hitler’s adoring fans at huge nationalistic rallies that are chilling in their magnitude and fervor. Images from the infamous Nuremberg rally always puts a knot in my stomach. The film ends with the German performance from David Bowie of his always rousing Heroes.

Filmmaker Taika Waititi also makes brilliant use of the song Everybody’s Gotta Live. It’s a song from 1972 from a band of that era, Love, that is very underappreciated. Led by the late Arthur Lee, it was an interesting group, a multiracial group that dabbled in folk rock and psychedelia a la the Byrds. Their 1967 release, Forever Changes, is on the Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Rock Albums and was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2011.

Even so, I am sure most of us haven’t heard much of their work. But it shines in Jojo Rabbit and is certainly worth examining further.

Here’s a video with the lyrics and images from the film just to give you taste. If you get a chance to see the film, I recommend it highly. But be forewarned, that it is art and, as such, is a subjective thing. What I love may not move you at all.

Take a look and give a listen then have a good day. We all deserve one.

Read Full Post »

*************************

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

— A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

**********************

It seems like this current period of time, this year we call 2020, might be memorable. It definitely falls somewhere among those terms that Dickens set out in the opening paragraph of his A Tale of Two Cities.

I’m still waiting for the best of times part but maybe it will eventually show its shining face at some point this year. Got my fingers crossed on that one.

The painting at the top is part of my Social Distancing show that opens 4 weeks from tomorrow, June 5, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. As I was working on it, further into the process it felt like it was acting as a marker in some way of this year. It certainly reflected the social distancing in the show’s title.

But there was something more than that to it, something more like the Dickensian ( finally got to use that word!) words above. Perhaps best of times, worst of times sort of stuff.

Season of light and season of darkness, definitely.

I think it’s a fitting piece for this period with its fractured sky and darker, ominous tones set against the light from the sun/moon(?) and the sturdiness of the house.

It is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Not fearful either nor foolishly filled with hubris. The word I might use is enduring.

Kind of like the final speech from Ma Joad ( played brilliantly by Jane Darwell) that ends the film version of The Grapes of Wrath:

“I ain’t never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked like we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn’t have nobody in the world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and nobody cared…. Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain’t no good and they die out too, but we keep on coming. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people.”

That speech always moves me because it speaks so strongly to my own survival instincts. There have been times when I wanted to give up but this same drive that Ma Joad describes kicks in.

You take the beating today but you keep plodding forward, doing whatever is needed to see the next day.

Because maybe that’s where the answer will be.

That’s what I see in this painting. Enduring. Resilient. Good time, bad times, fight through the darkness and look for the light. Just keep going on and not giving up.

I am calling this painting, which is 20″ wide by 30″ tall on wood panel, In the Year 2020.

It was somewhat borrowed from the old Zager & Evans 1968 hit In the Year 2525. That time 50 some years back felt as apocalyptic as this moment seems now. I am sure there was a lot of use of the best of times, worst of times at that point. But we did somehow endure the turbulence of that time. There might be much more ahead of us now that we will have to struggle past but we will most likely endure and look back at this year with mixed feelings someday, remembering the awfulness along with the goodness we discovered alongside it.

Here’s a video of that Zager & Evans song set to visuals from the 1925 silent futuristic dystopian classic from director Fritz Lang, Metropolis.
Have a good day and stay strong.

Read Full Post »

Watch on the Rhine- Bette Davis and Paul Lukas, 1943

**********************

In Praise of the Fighters

There are men who struggle for a day and they are good.

There are men who struggle for a year and they are better.

There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still.

But there are those who struggle all their lives:

These are the indispensable ones.

Bertolt Brecht, The Mother,  1930

********************

I came across this short poem/song taken from the play The Mother written by Bertolt Brecht and was reminded of one of my favorite movies, Watch on the Rhine, which featured one such indispensable fighter. I was reminded, as well, of the path we are hurtling down as a nation, especially in the light of the events here of the last few days and weeks. The transformation is accelerating as all guide rails that have protected us in the past are smashed aside. The parallels between what is happening here at the moment and the formation of other authoritarian/fascist regimes in the past century are haunting.

But this short verse and this movie favorite of mine remind us that in almost all of these other regimes, they have been opposed and often defeated by people of great strength and resolve. They were Anti-Fascists or Freedom Fighters who put aside concerns for their personal benefit or safety and devoted their lives to opposing, in every possible manner, the cruelty of fascist rule.

You might read this and shake your head and think that this is an overstatement of what is taking place, that things are not so dire as I might see them and that we are light-years away from fascism.

I hope you’re right.

But I remind you that in all of these past regimes there were large numbers of their citizens who thought just that same thing, that such a thing was inconceivable. It can’t happen here. But authoritarianism creeps up on you, taking hold little by little. Then, when there is a window of opportunity for it to impose its total will on the citizenry, it accelerates at a pace that exceeds the ability of normal response to restrain it.

It may be too late beyond that point but for these people who stand in brave opposition. The fighters.

I urge you to see Watch on the Rhine if you get a chance or at least read the original play. The film was made in 1943, adapted for the screen by Dashiell Hammett from the prize-winning play written by his wife, Lillian Hellman. It concerns a well-heeled family in the Northern Virginia area across the Potomac from Washington whose daughter ( played beautifully by Bette Davis ) returns home from a war-torn Europe for the first time in many years with her husband and children. It is set, and was written, in the year or so before before our entry into World War II.

Her husband is a German freedom fighter named Kurt Muller who is a fugitive leader in the underground movement against the Nazis. He is played by Paul Lukas in a magnificent performance, one that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor that year over Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bells Toll. Yes, it was that good.

His Muller is the common man who finds himself in the role of the selfless hero willing to give up everything– his career, his family, his life– in order to stand against evil. Muller did not seek this task but knows that it is one he must shoulder. His words are simple, direct and powerful.

Lukas, who also originated the part on the Broadway stage, is brilliant. Whenever I see this movie, I am haunted for weeks afterwards by Lukas’ performance. The power of it thrills me but I find myself questioning my own strength and beliefs as a human. Thankfully, to this point, I have never been put into a situation like that faced by Kurt Muller and hopefully never will.

But would I be able to stand with even a fraction of the grace and courage of Lukas’ character?

I really don’t know.

There is a different first line of Brecht’s song at the top of the page taken from another translation of the verse from its original German: Those who are weak don’t fight.

I sincerely hope I don’t fall into that category if the situation ever presents itself at my door.

And I worry that it is coming up my walkway even as I write this.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: