Category Archives: Movies

Pottersville?

I fear we are living in Pottersville.

The aspiring angel Clarence failed and did not get his wings. George Bailey leaped from the snowy bridge to his death.

Messieurs Potter, Trump, McConnell, Bevin, Kushner, Carson, Mnuchin, Ross, Nunes, DeVoss and fellow ravagers with their toolkits of greed, grift, groping, grabbing…and coarseness are reshaping and renaming our country.

Pottersville.
It’s cold.
It’s venal.
It’s violent.
It’s coarse.
It’s wrong.
It’s inevitable……no, wait……I don’t believe that.

But tonight I need some reminders of hope and honest goodness and competence.

I need to hear Greg Turay sing “Anthem” from the musical Chess. I need to hear Michael Preacely sing anything at all. I need to see Dr. Everett McCorvey conduct 22,000 basketball fans singing our national anthem. I need to see the Texas softball player sink to her knees in tears when her soldier brother appears at her Senior Night game after three years of service overseas. I need to read some more Paul Prather. I need to remember my friend Becky Johnson’s noble attempts to learn how many children every cab driver in San Miguel has, in her high school Spanish that seemed to improve with every cab ride.

These reminders have nothing to do with generating a monetary profit exploiting other humans, or driving another species to extinction, or further wounding our planet.
They are the antithesis of Pottersville.

I’ll work on all that.

I’ll also vote, as early and as often as the law allows, to get us out of Pottersville.

But for tonight I’ll have to settle for watching Yadier Molina demonstrate his mastery of the catching position (no, he’s no Johnny Bench, but he’s jes’ fine), and admiring Patricia Belcher’s bellow of “PIE!!!” at Geico’s talking lizard.

They are better and far more interesting than Pottersville.

End-of-the-Earth Day

Yesterday was Earth Day and I hope you had a jolly one…or a merry one…or at least a hopeful one.

Well, that’s over with now. If you need proof of that, check out Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) schedule for tomorrow. I’m thinkin’ it must be End-of-the-Earth Day. It’s one mad scientist after another.

It’s devil bats (floppy puppets), giant shrews (big dogs with fake plastic teeth), human flies, perilous body fluids, disappearing corpses, human panthers, living heads on the wrong bodies, and of course man-made men who tap dance (“Oh, sweet mystery of life…”).

Whatta buffet of planet-threatening buffoonery.

I love it.

And I love TCM.

A few days ago, an affable representative from Metronet called on us to explain their new venture aimed at competing with Spectrum for our cable and internet service.

Janie will make that decision for us. She’s a smart modern gal who watches a wide selection of TV and visits a large number of useful websites and services, all of which make our lives infinitely better. That’s what she said.

I’m a well-oiled geezer who toddles from TCM to CNN to MLB. It’s about the same number of channels I watched when I was ten and three channels were all we had. I’m told we grow and progress, but sometimes the evidence…

As Janie absorbed the pros and cons (and prose and cons – see what I did there?) of the pleasant and earnest sales rep, I perused the list of channels offered by Metronet. It was the usual 5,436 channels.

I skipped through the 400-page document until I had assured myself that TCM, CNN, and my beloved Reds were represented.

My work here is done.

Wait!

If we switch to Metronet, will I still be able to see the Spectrum “monster” commercials? I would truly miss that sandstorm-loving mummy and his murderous puppet friend.

That might be a deal-breaker for me.

And that friends, is why we let Janie make those decisions.

Happy End-of-the-Earth Day!

On Dangerous Ground

Movie night!

Tonight’s treat is as old as me, and no it’s not silent.

ON DANGEROUS GROUND features Ida Lupino, Nicholas Ray, Robert Ryan, and a raging Ward Bond; strong ingredients in this noir that ranges from the alleys of New York City to the snowy hilltops of Upstate New York.

Have you ever played the game where you imagine the all-time guest list of the perfectly fascinating dinner party? I do constantly. For many of those rosters I include Ida Lupino. She’s smart, strong, smart, pretty, and pretty damn smart. I’m bettin’ she has some tales to tell. I understand she directed (uncredited) this film for several days when Nicholas Ray was ill.

In this film, Ms. Lupino plays a blind person. In spite of a script that calls for the other characters to be oblivious to her lack of vision for ludicrous lengths of time, she’s just fine. And when she huskily rebuffs sympathy from Robert Ryan near the end of the flick, tears are near at hand.

I’m a fan.

For me, Robert Ryan can be intense and effective (THE RACKET and THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE) or dreadfully unengaged (THE LONGEST DAY). This is pretty good Robert Ryan. He’s scary as a hardened NYC detective, and confused and vulnerable with a brave lady in distress.

I’m buyin’ it.

Ward Bond is a vector of vengeance in the snow. I hope he doesn’t find me.

For me, film noir only works when the ammunition is live.
The pound of flesh must be paid.
Redemption comes, but there are consequences.

Check, check, and check.

This film’s a good’un.

Slouching Towards Hermitude

I find myself slouching towards hermitude these days. Every morning Janie and I sit on the sofa in our living room, with our coffees and muffins and digital newspapers and dog and cat. At some point I ask her; “And what is on your agenda today, young lady?” She usually has one or two things planned. If, between the two of us, we have more than two obligations, something inside of me dims a bit. If we have less, I thrill.

That probably sounds dull and sad.
I don’t care.

I’m grateful for Janie, the sofa, the coffee, the muffin, the dog and the cat… and the space and the time.

After 40+ years of fretting about getting stores open in bad weather and keeping them open in the face of employees’ and lawmakers’ whims and peccadilloes, I am genuinely surprised to learn I prefer fretting about which book I should read next, or which Puccini I should listen to, or whether Fellini should have made Amarcord before I Vitelloni and La Dolce Vita…or whether my beloved Reds could truly be a contender this year given their winter acquisitions.
Of course my fretting doesn’t affect any of those things, but they affect me and I believe I’m made better by them.

Oh yes, I now watch too much news and fret about that also. And no, my fretting doesn’t affect any of those happenings. And yes, they do affect me and I am not made better by them. All I can do is resist and await opportunities to act and vote and stay focused on what’s right and kind.

It’s tempting to burrow into our library and fret in solitude…as long as Janie and the critters aren’t too far away………and as long as my friends are within reach somehow, even if it’s by smoke signals (some of my friends nurture odd Urban Amish habits – one of them just started using email last year though the fake news didn’t report it).

What kind of ersatz hermit is that?

Last night I babysat with an old friend. He’s just had a knee replacement, is recuperating and has challenged his wife with his recuperation. I surmised her sanity remained intact though her patience was exhausted. She needed a break and my friend needed some of Janie’s fine veggie/beef soup. I delivered the soup and a few hours respite.

It was just the two of us and the soup and a movie and the continuation of a conversation that has lasted for slightly over fifty years.

Most of the time it’s been civil.
Most of the time it’s been intelligent.
Occasionally it’s been clever.

100% of the time it has been continued in the blissful belief that this conversation is important to our health and the health of the planet. All problems are solved…even if it’s by disagreeing and going away to ponder a bit.

There’s no hate. There’s no name-calling.
There is some sneering, but that’s just because that’s the way my friend’s face is constructed when he gets excited.

It was a real good time.

I seek these opportunities with my friends, old and new, and grow from them. Janie and I thrive on the laughter and the foolishness and the wisdom of our friends.

What the hell kind of hermit is that?
I fear I’ll never earn my Hermit Union Card at this rate.

I guess that’s OK.

But…
…I slouch on…

Welcome to the 60’s

I have a friend who recently turned 60, or as he ruefully admitted to me; “I’m entering the 60’s.”

My reply to him was that he’s a little late. I entered the 60’s almost 60 years ago and enjoyed the hell out ‘em.

Oh, certainly there were unfortunate things in the 1960’s; things like assassinations, Viet Nam, George Wallace, Nehru jackets, Manos Hand of Fate, Tiny Tim, the Association’s Cherish, Richard Harris’ MacArthur Park……and tie dye.

But these travesties we more than offset by Woodstock, the Kennedy’s, bell-bottoms, the Beatles, the Stones, the Animals, and the whole British Invasion, Bob Dylan, Sean Connery’s James Bond, Psycho, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, La Dolce Vita, Cool Hand Luke, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Strangelove, Bonnie and Clyde, Joni Mitchell, going to the moon……and tie dye.

And as I think about my impossibly young friend, he was born to enjoy the 60’s. He’s smart, well-read, and sometimes wears a beret. He questions all authority, thinks the moon is pretty cool, and knows all it is worth to know about popular music.

And he even likes Manos Hand of Fate.

He’d have loved the 60’s and I’m sure he’ll enjoy the hell out of his 60’s.

But, enough about him – what about me? Would I like to go back to the 1960’s?

Nah.

As Mr. Dylan said; “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

Besides, if I went back, at some point I’d probably have to hear the Ohio Express informing me; “Yummy, yummy, yummy, I got love in my tummy.”

Talk about TMI.

An Opera House…in Kentucky?

You Can't Take It 10It would have been about 1:00 in the afternoon on a weekday in 1970…
…in an opera house…
…in Lexington, Kentucky.

Why was I there?

Was it to see a production of Carmen, or Madama Butterfly, or Rigoletto?

Nah!

I was there for the weekday bargain matinée at the Opera House Movie House on a fairly sketchy block of North Broadway. For a $1.50 I was settling in for a cinema mini-festival of the Barbra Streisand/Jack Nicholson classic; On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (she sang, he didn’t…thank God) followed by Waterloo featuring Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer in the mud (neither sang as I recall…thank God).

The theme of this film pairing is strikingly apparent; tedious films employing and contrasting singing and cannon fire as mediums for selling a ticket or two…and maybe a tub of Buttercup Popcorn.

Frankly, I don’t recall much of the afternoon that was indelible in an uplifting way. I recall a long afternoon of affordable and forgettable flicks. I recall dimness, not just in the screening room, but in the lobby (skimping on lighting – a double savings; lower electric bills and less spent on actual housekeeping). I recall passing on the Buttercup offerings; the dim lighting couldn’t obscure the sharp, refinery whiff emanating from the butter(?)-dispensing mechanism. I recall the occasional skittering noises of the legendary rodent cleaning crew in the dark rows of the screening room celebrating the discarded remains of the Buttercup offerings.

Hey!
Buck fifty.
Two films.
You get what you pay for.
Plus Yves Montand and Ivo Garrano…and Mickey and Jerry (without Tom).

Well…that was then.
Eight years later, at age 27, I’m playing the 70+ year old Grandpa in Studio Players’ production of You Can’t Take It With You on the Opera House stage – same building. The seats are new. The balconies and boxes are gilded and populated with Lexington theater-goers. The lights are bright. The lobby, halls, staircases, carpets, and aisles are proudly pristine. No Buttercup products are in sight (or in smell).

What happened?

In the 70’s, the Opera House was attacked by ice storms, gravity, and old age. The wrecking ball loomed.
The city of Lexington and a group called The Opera House Fund said “No.”
A serious architect, and a serious Lexington, and a serious Opera House Fund (thank you Linda Carey and W. T. Young) redesigned and restored the structure – not to a museum roadside attraction, but to a thriving driver of Central Kentucky’s performing arts community.

A year after the success of You Can’t Take It With You, I played a deliciously young and foolish Cornelius in Studio Player’s production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker in a Saturday afternoon performance to 54 (count ‘em!) attendees in a house that seats about a thousand. Another fairly grim afternoon in the Opera House, but at least the grimness was in striving for something good, not for hygiene or affordability.

I should mention here that in both of these shows I got to work with my friend Paul Thomas. Paul has retired a myriad of times from the teaching profession and is now the House Manager of the Opera House. I believe the Opera House muckety-mucks value his participation, but are unaware that his best and highest use is ON-stage, not off. Such is fickle fame.

In 1981, I urged everyone to “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in Lexington Musical Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls. This was a notable production for Paul’s vocal exploration of musical scales of which Schoenberg never dreamed.

In 1982, Paul and I played in Brigadoon, also for Lexington Musical Theatre. Paul demonstrated a technique for holding a gun that the NRA is still trying to explain and justify.

Both of these edifying experiences were on the Opera House stage.

In 1987, I had the totaling fulfilling experience of playing Dr. Watson to my friend Eric Johnson’s Sherlock Holmes in the world premiere of my friend Chuck Pogue’s luscious script; The Ebony Ape, on the Opera House stage in an Actor’s Guild production. A two-story set, perfect and beautiful costumes, Fred Foster, Julieanne Pogue, Martha Campbell, Rick Scircle, Matt Regan…a glorious time for Mrs. Leasor’s little boy.

This was also on the Opera House stage…thank you very much.

A year later, in The King and I (a Lexington Musical Theatre production directed by my friend, Ralph Pate), Janie and I appeared in our one and only show together. She was lithe and lovely. I was…not so much, but I got to sing some beautiful songs for which I was not particularly suited (not, alas, an uncommon occurrence).

This was also on the Opera House stage. Sorry about the singing…but look at Janie! Isn’t she fine?

Carousel 01Now…
…skip ahead with me to 2006.

I’m asked to play the Star Keeper in the University of Kentucky Opera Theater’s production of Carousel at (you guessed it) the Opera House.

Well, I guess I could find time for that.

I got to walk out on the Opera House stage, count the stars – the stars!– , revive the protagonist and inspire him to briefly return to his former life and assure his daughter that she’ll “Never Walk Alone.”

Whoa.

This is a far cry from 1970 and Waterloo and…

“On a clear day, rise and look around you and you’ll see who you are.
On a clear day, how it will astound you that the glow of your being outshines every star.
You’ll be part of every mountain, sea, and shore.
You can hear from far and near the words you’ve never heard before.”



Well…
…maybe…
…not so far.

Jake

Jake is probably the finest dog I’ve never met.

And there are so many amazing dogs I’ve never met;

I have great admiration for the feats of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Sergeant Preston’s King, Flash the parachuting dog in THE FLAMING SIGNAL (1933), and Smokey & Shadow the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet Alsatians in SIGN OF THE WOLF (1941).

I empathize with Nick & Nora’s Asta, and Red’s Rover…they have to endure much and they endure it with good humor.

I root for Lady’s Tramp (successfully) and Ol’ Yeller (not so successfully).

I laugh out loud at Goofy, Pluto, and Odie.

Benji, the Shaggy Dog, and all 101 of those Dalmatians…well, maybe not so much…but they’re cute, I guess.

But they’re not real dogs. I mean some of them are real dogs, but none of them are REAL DOGS.

<< side note >>

Didja know that the Shaggy Dog was played (uncredited) by a dog named “Chiffon”? Chiffon needed a better agent.

<< end of side note >>

I think Jake is a real dog

Jake belongs to a friend of mine who doesn’t live in Lexington. She has posted pictures and escapades and gripes about Jake for several years. Through her postings I feel like I know the critter and he’s fine one.

I know of his dietary lack of discrimination. “If I can chew it and pass it, it’s food.”

I know of his utter and violent defiance of screen doors. This stems from his belief that if aliens (or Russians) wanted to infiltrate our country, they would come disguised as screen doors.

I recognize (from afar…far far afar) his olfactory ability to locate patches of otherwise unidentifiable dead things (Charnel No. 5), and roll with vigor, applying them liberally until said olfactory abilities have been obliterated.

Now that is a REAL DOG.
That is a dog’s dog.
I’m a fan.

I understand Jake is going through a tough time right now. That means my friend and her family are going through a tough time.
If you would, send some good thoughts their way.

Zeke’s a fine dog. There’s not much better to be.
And I’ve never even met the guy.
Sigh…

Speaking in Tongues

After a month of mummy flicks, I thought my fez-and-bandage Egyptian was getting pretty good.

“Ya prem a-sharif yaru-ha ab-variyah makhutasa a dó an takh valahyi ivanté dah-yi alla contallay…”

I laboriously translated that to mean; “My rags need changing and I’m getting’ a little gamy.”
It doesn’t.

I finally realized that once again, I had been played for a sucker by a fantasy language from books, films, music, and movies. It has happened repeatedly since I became a media-sponge about the age of eight.

Tarzan brought me to full alert with his ape-language cry of “Kreegah! Bundolo!!” (Beware! Kill!!).

Michael Rennie opened the heavens for me; “Klaatu narada dikto” (intergalactic for “Can you hail me a cab?”

Then there were the unending elvish chants of Tolkien extolling the amorous escapades of Beren and Tinuviél (who aren’t even in the story).

The gleeful jazz exhortations of Cab Calloway; “Heigh-dee heigh-dee heigh-dee ho!” Which I translate as “Waiter! A round of jalapeno poppers for everyone, please.”

And of course the rock-n-roll voodoo Witch Doctor’s advice; “Ooh-eeh ooh-ah-ah, ting tang walla-walla bing bang.” Which means; “Dinner and a movie is your best chance, Bubba.”

Janie takes classes in Spanish at the library.
I watch movies and read sub-titles on movies and operas.
Her chosen path is the sensible and useful one.
Mine?

“Vos tokh vi yah-ta mahallah ah varitah yi-ah.”

That’s Egyptian for “Go forth and prosper……and thanks for the fish.”

Well…
…no, it’s probably not…
…sigh…

The Big Lebowski

I’ve been looking forward to seeing The Big Lebowski on a big screen in a real moo’om pitcher theatre.

I finally got around to watching The Big Lebowski on an endless and gloomy flight to Alaska. I watched it on my tiny laptop with a lousy headset. I possess an overblown belief in the grand, super-sized movie screen housed in my imagination. I believe I can watch my friend Chuck Pogue’s Dragonheart on a TV screen at home and hear Sean Connery’s dragon whisper behind me, from a mouth of teeth and fire that could fricassee my head and swallow it like a hot-buttered kernel of popcorn and never miss a word of “The Code” until a burp interrupted his recitation.

I actually believe that…and it fills me with happy wonder.

But this Lebowski viewing plumb defeated me and was totally unfair to any flick. I’m sure it affected my judgement.

I like some of the Coen Brothers’ work a lot. Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Blood Simple are favorite films for me.

I know Lebowski has a fervid following. But I found it to unpleasantly disjointed and certainly overly reverential to bowling. I have bowled in the past (in a league no less!) and enjoyed the hell out of it, but I never experienced the metaphysical awe of flying pins represented in Lebowski. I mean, come on! It’s not baseball!

What I admired in the film was;
– John Goodman’s boisterous performance.
– John Turturro’s sharp cameo.
– Sam Elliott’s finest performance since his star turn in Frogs. (Talk about damning with faint…)
– The opening and closing monologues (again Elliott).

It was an OK film, but it was no Blood Simple. I don’t think I blinked after the first twenty minutes of that film until the closing credits.

I’m hopin’ the big screen at the Kentucky Theatre will “pull it all together” for me.
The geezer abides….

Follow up note;

It did!

Shelter from the Storm

Whoosh!

That was a storm!

It may have been a genuine eyewitness-authenticated “frog-strangler”. I went out après-cataclysm and inventoried the frogs in our pond. I’m missing two. Perhaps they’ll reappear after a jaunt to Oz, but I’m doubtful.

Vanishing with the frogs was electrical power, internet access, and cable TV to the house. Quel horreur! I wasn’t sure how I’d survive till the generator kicked on thirty seconds later and gave me enough light to find the pizza delivery phone number.

Janie fled the state, leaving me with a compromised house, instructions on feeding feral cats three miles away, and two depressed critters (oh man, we have to put up with the white-haired geezer all week!)…and a giant plate of brownies for the ciné-cabal assembling at the house Saturday night.

She’s a complex woman.

I waved as she drove away to the relatively storm-free Finger Lakes. Bob Dylan’s protective heroine in his wonderful song “Shelter From the Storm” came to mind.

“In a world of steel-eyed death, and men fighting to be warm, ‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm.’”

Not my lady! She’s hittin’ the road, Jack, and won’t be comin’ back till the electric coffee-maker’s perkin’.

I confess.

I felt bitter.

Then I turned and walked into my generator bubble of quasi-comfort and munched on a couple of muffins she’d baked and left for me (I gave half of one to the depressed dog).
Shelter from the storm…it can take many forms. One form may be a roof, or a hedge, or a generator, or a muffin…or a gathering of friends.

The clan assembled Saturday night to enjoy three of the many good things in life; laughably-lousy films, any pizza, and each other. It’s a group of geezers of an age as yet undetermined by carbon-dating. They’ve suffered some losses. Some physical; alacrity, hue of hair (or hair itself), stamina… Some losses are of the heart; Sidney, Georgeanne, Tonda, Glen, Craig, Harlan… They’ve also gained from the years; thoughtfulness, vocabulary, timing, patience…waistline inches, dammit…

They are a group that has done and continues to do much. They teach, act, think, write, care, sing, paint, think, direct, care, speak, manage, organize, think, and care. In the stormy outside world they are looked to for answers: they are authorities in various fields. Tonight, however, they gather in the shelter of each other’s company to laugh at all the storms.

And laugh they do, often and raucously, loudly and sometimes inappropriately.

Their moms would probably be ashamed.

I’m proud to know ‘em and thrilled I can bribe my way into their busy company occasionally with pizza, bad flicks, and shelter from the storm.