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Posts Tagged ‘The Grapes of Wrath’

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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

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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.

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Another gray, wet, cold Sunday morning here in paradise. The sun lately seems like a stranger who, on those rare occasions when it appears, I have a vague recollection of once seeing. It’s grim and has me gazing out my window, hoping that the ghost of Tom Joad, like he had somehow stepped right out of The Grapes Of Wrath, might emerge out of the darkness set against the distant pines. This weather puts me in that mood, that grim feeling of that we need somebody to stand against the darker forces of this world.

Tom Joad, as dark and ill-fated a character as he seems, still gives me hope that there are still people out there who won’t turn a blind eye to injustice and inequality. People who haven’t been numbed by their own self-interest and comfort. They don’t have to be heroes, just plain people with a sense of decency and an unwillingness to turn their back to the wrongs they witness.

We sure could use some more Tom Joads.

Here’s my Sunday morning music. It is, of course, The Ghost of Tom Joad, from Bruce Springsteen. Have yourself a day– good, bad or indifferent– and if you see Tom Joad, tell him I am looking for him.

 

 

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Celluloid HeroesI have always been a big fan of the movies.  I’ve written here in the past how I will often paint while an old movie plays in the studio, especially some of the older classics that were often based on great ideas and great dialogue.  They are not distracting in most cases and it’s easy to pull thought and emotion from these films that finds its way into my work.  It’s hard to not want to inject more feeling into whatever I am at work on when I listen to some of the lines from The Grapes of Wrath or so many other great films.

Tonight are the Oscars, that night when Hollywood celebrates the past year’s top films.  I have watched faithfully since I was a kid even though recently I seldom have seen many, if any, of the nominees.  It usually takes a year or so after the awards for me to catch up on them and in some cases I lose interest in pursuing them.

Sometimes when I do catch up on them I regret not having gotten to them sooner but often I am glad I waited  because the film just wasn’t that good or simply wasn’t my cup of tea.  But it’s always been like that.  In the heyday of Hollywood they produced more than their share of bad movies.  It’s easy to think otherwise because we see the classics over and over.  A bad movie is a bad movie regardless of the time in which it was made.

But let’s not focus on bad movies.  Let’s hope that there are movies this year and in the future that will inspire and move us.

It seems like every year there is some sort of controversy with the Oscars and this year is no different, with all of the the acting nominees having a decidedly pale complexion.  I don’t have any answers except to say that filmmakers are missing out on a quickly growing demographic by not developing more films that simply tell good stories with people of color in larger roles without resorting to portraying them as gang bangers and drug dealers because that is not the experience of the overwhelming majority of this segment of the population.

It’s up to writers, especially those of color, to create work that goes beyond these stereotypes.  If they can create compelling stories featuring people of color that appeal to the common human experience to which all people can relate, these films will be made.

I believe it can and will be done eventually.

That being said, let’s have a little Sunday Morning music with a Hollywood theme, one of my favorites from one of my favorite bands.  It’s Celluloid Heroes from the Kinks.  Have a great Sunday!

 

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Dorothea Lange - Migrant Mother

Dorothea Lange – Migrant Mother

In a couple of days, on September 18th, there is a new exhibit of the photos of Dorothea Lange opening at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown.  If you don’t know the name, you still probably are familiar with her images which include the iconic photo shown here on the right, taken in 1936 while she was working for the Farm Security Administration.  Migrant Mother is one of those images that seem to capture with a glimpse all of the sorrow and hardship of those affected in the Depression-era Dust Bowl,  in this case a mother forced to leave her home and wander in search of work that will provide for her children.

Her worry is etched on her face.  While John Steinbeck‘s book The Grapes of Wrath brought the plight of these displaced farmers of that time to the light, it was  Lange’s imagery that  gave them  a sense of humanity  and dignity that reached out and created an empathy with the viewer.  It was powerful, plain and simple.

Dorothea Lange- Grandfather with grandson  at Manzanar CA Camp

Dorothea Lange- Grandfather with grandson at Manzanar CA Camp

Some of her most powerful work came from an assignment she took with the War Relocation Authority during  WW II, when she was hired to document the interment of Japanese-American citizens.  Lange captured the humanity of these prisoners of race at a time when even the liberal and progressive elements in this country maintained silence over the shameful treatment of these citizens.  The photos were censored by the army during the war and were never seen until they were quietly moved to the National Archives, almost 50 years later.

Lange lived from 1895 until 1965, surviving the polio as a child which left her with a distinct limp for the rest of her life.  But neither the limp nor the chronic ulcers that plagued her for the last decades of her life could slow her down.   She sought to affect social change with her images, to give voice to the disenfranchised and down-trodden.

So, if you’re in the Cooperstown area, I highly recommend stopping in at the Fenimore Art Museum to see this work by this giant of American photography.  I know that I am looking forward to seeing it.

Dorothea Lange-  Flag  at Interment Camp at Manzanar CA

Dorothea Lange- Flag at Interment Camp at Manzanar CA

Dorothea Lange Dust Bowl Farm Dalhart Texas

Dorothea Lange- Dust Bowl Farm, Dalhart, Texas

 

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Grapes of Wrath Book CoverIt was on this date 75 years ago, in 1939, that John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was published.  Following the Joad family as they lose their family farm in Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma and head for fields  and groves of California,   this epic tale has parallels for the dispossessed and downtrodden everywhere and in every time.   The book and subsequent movie, the 1940 John Ford classic starring Henry Ford as the everyman Tom Joad,  have influenced my perspective on the world since I was child.

When it was published, The Grapes of Wrath was an instant bestseller but it also stirred more than  a little controversy.  Many were shocked at the portrayals of poverty and couldn’t believe they were true, that such destitution could exist in our country.  Many were alarmed at the book’s themes of collectivism, feeling that it was a nudge in the direction of some form of Soviet Communism instead of  a gathering of the preyed upon and voiceless into a form that had a strong and unified voice and gave them protection against their oppressors.

I am sure there are many who still see the book as some sort of threat to the status quo– it is still one of the most frequently banned books in the country.  I think that says a lot about the strength of the powers-that-be and the fact that there are even more  families like the Joads out there today– dispossessed, voiceless and feeling absolutely alone in the world.  I am sure that Steinbeck could find plenty of source material in today’s America to write a modern day sequel.

It’s a powerful book and movie, one that I play at least once a year in the studio.  It still moves me deeply ad always will.  I wrote about the movie here a few years back in a post titled Then Who Do We Shoot?, outlining my early brush with the movie and how it affected me as a kid. I also had the video below which has a review from the NY Times with a few of the many great scenes including Tom’s farewell to his mother.

Happy 75th, Grapes of Wrath.  You haven’t lost a step.

 

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