Friday, August 22, 2014

How would we know?

"Opinion is divided as to whether the downwards trend is long-term"

Apparently we are becoming stupider. I'll buy it:

Deb Day

Happy birthday, Debbi Peterson, the blonde drummer of the Bangles. She wrote a bunch of their songs and occasionally sang lead.

Awed By Claude

One of my fave rave composers is Claude Debussy, so let's celebrate him on his birthday.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

In One Era Out The Other

When I was discussing Jesse Walker's top ten list for 1933 we both agreed the Oscar winner for the year, Cavalcade, isn't much of a film.  I recently had another chance to watch it, and while I didn't change my opinion, I can see why it succeeded in its time.

It about an upper class British family through the last thirty years, starting at New Year's Eve 1899 and going through such events as the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the Titanic, World War I and the Jazz Age, ending up in the present--1933 in the film.  It was based closely on Noel Coward hit 1931 play of the same name.  The original British stage production was an extravaganza with hundreds of actors and gigantic sets, and included several musical numbers, both songs of the times and Coward originals.  I think the idea of the film was to get as close to the original as possible, though spectacle comes easy to Hollywood and as such the film isn't quite so dazzling. (It's often mistaken for a British film, but while the cast is from across the pond, it was shot here at Fox studios).

The plot is simple, close to generic, and the characters are drawn with simple strokes.  The kids grow up, fall in love, some of them die--both in war and on the Titanic--all while the parents take it with a stiff upper lip.  It's full of short scenes where the family and its servants react to the greater events of the day with plenty of Coward's brittle dialogue--which generally plays better on stage than in movies.

I'm sure it must have resonated more strongly when it was still the recent past. (The most recent past in the movie--the Jazz Age--Coward barely knows what to do with since he has no perspective. For that matter, he doesn't even mention the Depression--of course, though the movie ends as 1933 dawns, it's really following the play, which ends on New Year's Eve 1929.)  And so the audience could fill in the meaning to the shorthand scenes. The audience of the time also preferred the melodramatic style in which the movie is written and acted.

It's possible to make any part of history come alive through art, but this is a film for its time.  It's still, I suppose, set in "modern" times--that to me includes anything in the 20th century--so the events don't seem impossibly distant, just not personal.  Imagine a film set in 1840 that looks back to the old days of 1810, or 1770 looking back fondly on the simple days of 1740, or 1520 looking back at the wild times we all had in 1490.


Happy birthday, singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon.  Her biggest hits were in the 60s, and they often felt like they could only have been recorded in the 60s.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jordan Riefe Now

I don't particularly like one-man shows.  It's generally best to have characters bouncing off each other if you want drama.  But who knows--a one-man show about Frederick Douglass might illuminate this significant figure.  So I thought I'd find out about it in this review in The Hollywood Reporter by Jordan Riefe.  I was disappointed. Not by the show, but by Riefe.

Frederick Douglas Now (don't like that "Now"--the show should be relevant without grabbing you by the lapels and telling you) is written and directed by its star, Roger Guenveur Smith.  He's a busy actor who may be best known as the mentally challenged Smiley in Do The Right Thing.  Here's how Riefe describes that role in his first paragraph:

While Smiley isn’t the sharpest resident of Bed-Stuy, his canny solution to the systematic denial of rights to minorities is a combination of Malcolm’s militant call to arms when power concedes nothing and King’s efforts to expose the barbarism of bigotry via dignity, eloquence and courage

He had a canny solution?  What I recall is everything gets destroyed and no one ends up with anything but a hollow victory at best. In any case, this is our first indication that Riefe isn't interested in reviewing the show so much as informing us of his political views.

In fact, it's pretty hard to get an indication of what the show is like at all--the minimum requirement of a review--except that it's mostly made up of essays and letters from Douglass, with modern interpolations from Smith.

Here are some selections from this "review":

Ostensibly the work is about race, but as the middle class diminishes and people of all colors find themselves further and further from the American dream, Smith and Douglass’ words take on meaning beyond the context of black and white...

...Douglass’ words ring true today when minorities are targeted under stop-and-frisk laws or a homeless grandmother is beaten by a cop on the 10 Freeway, or when peaceful protesters are pepper-sprayed at UC Davis and no one is made to answer for it...

...Douglass’ arguments, as irrefutable as they are, made him an outlier in his time. The fact that some of his ideas remain controversial even today is a sad reminder of how far we still are from a “post-racial” America.

I thought The Hollywood Reporter was a professional journal covering show business.  So what is this empty editorial masquerading as a theatre review doing in it?

PS  Here's a line from a review at the AV Club by Gwen Ihnat of this week's episode of Masters Of Sex, set in the late 50s:

I know it’s been a rough week for us all—especially as we witnessed that current-day Ferguson, Missouri does not appear to be so far removed from 1950s St. Louis.

Oh, it's pretty damn far removed.  But that doesn't stop critics who don't know much about history, but know what people will pat them on the head for, from making this comparison.

Singing In The Reeves

Happy birthday, Jim Reeves. Died at 40 in a plane crash, but was one of country's biggest acts in the 50s and 60s.   The following are all #1 hits.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My copy lost in the mail

It must be on my desk somewhere . . .

The Voice

Don Pardo has died.  He may have the most famous voice of our time. He was the announcer for numerous game shows, most famously Jeopardy! in it's original version.  He was also an announcer for NBC News. And then, when other men might think of retiring, he had a second act and became the announcer for Saturday Night Live.

He was one of those rare guys whom you wouldn't recognize in person, but imagine if you heard him over the phone.

Fumio In Stereo

Today is the centennial of composer Fumio Hayasaka. He didn't live very long--died in 1955--but in his short time on Earth not only created some pretty decent stand-alone compositions, he also managed to create the scores for several classic Japanese films, including Kurosawa's Rashomon, Ikiru and Seven Samurai as well as Mizoguchi's Ugetsu and Sansho The Bailiff.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Not Young

Happy birthday, Tony Sandler. He was part of the singing duo Sandler and Young, the type of act that was so outmoded in the rock era that it's hard to believe anyone ever enjoyed them.

Back To Bach

Happy birthday, Barbara Harris.  Not the actress, not the ADR expert, but the lead singer of The Toys.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You said a mouthful there, sister

"Porn industry satisfied-for now"

Go Go Girl

Happy birthday, Belinda Carlisle, lead singer of the Go-Go's.  She also had a successful solo career.

Late To The Party

I was planning to celebrate the birthday of cowboy singer Carson Robison. I'm a little off, but better late than never.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Age of Obama

Close One

Here's the headline:

Huge Asteroid that 'could end human life' defying gravity as it moves towards Earth, scientists say

Then you read a little further and discover the scientists are talking about "asteroid 1950 DA, which has a one in 300 chance of hitting the planet on 16 March, 2880."

I realize headlines are supposed to grab you, but they're not supposed to make you spit up your cereal.

Forget the one in 300 chance--let's assume it's 100% certain it'll smash into Earth.  Not only will we be long gone by then, but we'll have eight centuries of more technology.  Compare what we have today with the 1200s, then multiply the advances by 100.

We'll be living on other planets then. We'll have repellant rays that can move moons around.  And anyway, our minds will be in clouds, ready to reload any time necessary.

If the asteroid was coming in a decade, yeah, let's drop all wars and get on this project.  But as for 1950DA, let's save it for the people of the 29th century to deal with.

Bill, Not Gil

Happy birthday, Bill Evans. He died fairly young--a seeming occupational hazard for jazz musicians--but in his day he played piano like no one else.

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