Sunday, August 31, 2014

Played Out

I recently saw a local production of a play commonly printed as The Motherf**cker With The Hat.  It premiered three years ago on Broadway with a big-name cast.  So I was surprised to see this LA production--the first in town I'd heard of--was fairly low rent, in a small theatre with a no-name cast.

They did a good job, though.  That's the great thing about theatre.  They're going to perform the same play that was already done in a multi-million dollar production, and the magic can happen or not, regardless of the money spent. (On the flip side, bad theatre is much worse that bad cinema.  At least in a movie you can enjoy the production value, but you're stuck there in the theatre with living human beings performing right in front of you, and they can feel it failing just like you can.)

The program was a bit odd, with the cast and director not giving credits, but offering gratitude.  (In general, they weren't great writers, but that wasn't their job.)  Then there was the discussion of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis.  The program noted his plays have been produced on five continents.  So all night I was trying to figure out which.  Okay, North America we know for sure.  And I think we can rule out Antarctica.  But what of the five others.

Europe, yeah, sure, you'd expect it there.  Is Australia the odd continent out?  Could be, but they speak English there and would probably like to see a Broadway title.  Asia might not seem that likely, but it's got more than half the people in the world, so come on.  South America?  Can we take it away?  I don't know.  His characters in this play had a Latino inflection, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone put it on South of the border.  So that leaves Africa.  Who knows?  When you put this sort of information down, let us know what you're talking about.

PS  I just checked and sure enough there was a production in Southern California last year.  Not sure if it played in Los Angeles, though.

Fast Lerner

Alan Jay Lerner was one of the most popular lyricists of the 20th century. He also wrote the books to his musicals, which is a major talent in itself.  With his regular partner Frederick Loewe he created Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady and Camelot, not to mention the film Gigi. He also worked with other name composers, including as Kurt Weill (Love Life), Burton Lane (Royal Wedding, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever) and Leonard Bernstein (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue),

He also married eight times, a different sort of talent.










Saturday, August 30, 2014

Givin' some luv to LAGuy

Hmm. LAGuy moonlighting for Hulu?

Case Closed

I was watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents with the closed captioning on.  It was one of the CC cases where instead of pre-done stuff, apparently someone was typing while listening, so you get plenty of missed words, even sentences.

More entertaining are the mistakes.  Each show is introduced by Hitchcock, and this episode, "Death Scene," starts with Hitch holding a ticking case.  He opens it and finds an alarm clock.  On it he reads "tempus fugit."

So how does the CC typist hear this?  We get "tempt us fugitive." Usually they simplify, but in this case, it's seems to be someone trying to make sense of incomprehensible words.  I guess "tempt us fugitive" sort of sounds like a Hitchcock plot, but still.

PS  On another show, someone ordered "sherbert" at a restaurant, and the CC said "sherbert." I like this. No "sic" either.  If you fail to say it correctly, that's what the CC should show.

Have I Seen You Before?

Speaking of Route 66, TV used to be different.  People saw an episode once, maybe twice, and that was probably it. No one imagined box sets and Netflix.  So a show like Route 66, where leads Tod and Buz would drive into town and have a new adventure each week, liked to use actors more than once--who'd care, or even notice, if they appeared in different roles?

But I've been watching the show regularly on MeTV and it's hard to ignore.  In one episode, "A Fury Slinging Flame" (the show went for fancy literary titles), Leslie Nielsen is a scientist who figures there'll be a nuclear war soon.  Then two years later, in "Poor Little Kangaroo Rat," he's playing a different scientist who's studying the effects of cholesterol on sharks.  Did he change his name and specialty in the interim?

Tony-winning actress Tammy Grimes also makes two separate appearances.  The first time as a workaholic sonic expert, the second time--in the same season--as a physical fitness expert.  Susan Oliver, best known today as the woman in Star Trek's pilot "The Cage," stars in three separate episodes, as a death-obsessed woman, a woman with a split personality, and the girlfriend of a Viet Nam vet.  Ed Asner, who played smaller parts back then, shows up no less than five times--the producers must have really liked him.

Maybe this was a leftover from movies, when you could enjoy the same supporting actors in one film after another.  The practice seems to have ended.  I don't think those binge-watching fans would accept it any more.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Something to buy on eBay

If I were to ever buy a Rolex, I would feel pretentious. Unless it had a history.

Rethinking

I've always viscerally reacted to false courtesy, particularly when coupled with hypocrisy in interest.

But now I have scientific grounds for concluding that when a politician says "my distinguished colleague," he is speaking the truth.

Old Endings

I recently watched, on MeTV, the final episodes of two major 60s dramas, The Fugitive and Route 66.  The series had similarities--both lasted four seasons and both had the lead or leads traveling around the country, creating a new story in each place.  Route 66, however, was shot on location, while The Fugitive tried to make southern California look like every place.

Both finales were two-parters. The Fugitive's is famous--Dr. Richard Kimble, on the run so long for a crime he did not commit, is finally caught by Lt. Philip Gerard, but has enough time to find the one-armed man and discover who really killed his wife.  People had been waiting four years for this, and it was the most-watched TV series episode up to that point. It also effectively killed the reruns, because now everyone knew how things turned out.

The funny thing is, I didn't really watch the earlier episodes, so I wasn't particularly invested in the drama.  Yeah, yeah, big shoot-out at the amusement park.  Great.  It was in color, by the way, though the earlier seasons were in black and white, so Dr. Kimble got an upgrade.

Route 66 interested me more, even though the finale was incredibly silly.  The show fascinates me and I watched quite a few episodes (all in glorious black and white).  The two guys--first Tod and Buz, later Tod and Linc--start out each episode pulling into some new town in their snazzy Corvette.  Before you know it, they're involved in some local adventure (and getting into fights surprisingly often--these guys should be fugitives).

Most of the scripts are written by famed screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, though, to be honest, they're often pretty slipshod.  But, at its best, the show had an intensity, and also expressed a Jack Kerouac rootlessness and sense of searching that was unusual for TV.

By the fourth season, Buz--played by the intense George Maharis--is long gone and has been replaced by Linc, played by the lethargic Glenn Corbett.  In fact, Martin Milner's Tod has somehow become the more exciting character.

Anyway, the final two-parter, shot in Tampa, goes more for comedy--always a mistake on this show.  I won't go into the whole thing, but essentially it's a fight over a will, where a young woman, played by the beautiful Barbara Eden, marries Tod, while her aunt and uncles, fighting for their inheritance, try to kill him.  Don't ask why, but each of them have an accent--French, Spanish, Russian and British--even though they're all Americans. At the end of the first hour, Milner and Eden are on their way to their honeymoon when the taxi driver, in on the scheme, knocks Tod out with a wrench and throws him off a bridge into the river. The second hour has Tod secretly return and, with the help of Linc--not to mention costumes, makeup and accents that would embarrass a second-rate theatrical road company--get his revenge on each of the plotters.  Tod gets the girl and, believe it or not, no one gets the inheritance, even though the executor (played by Chill Wills) was required to give it to someone, I thought. Well, who cares.  Tod has found what he's looking for, which is what the series is about, and Linc will hitchhike back to Texas, where he's from, where he can reminisce about his years in Vietnam, and perhaps go back for another tour.

Not much of a send-off for the show. Certainly nothing compared to The Fugitive. But really the show ended somewhere in season three when Buz left.

Is There Anyone Finer?

Great jazz singer Dinah Washington was born 90 years ago today. (Though she died at 39 of a drug overdose.)








Thursday, August 28, 2014

LM Ends

For decades, Leonard Maltin's movie guide was THE reference.  It gave you the title, the year, the director, the main actors and let you know if it was in color.  Then there was a rating--from BOMB to four stars--and a short paragraph telling you about the film.  It filled a gap for movie fans, and millions were sold.

I bought the guide every few years or so, whenever I felt my old one was becoming out of date.  I often disagreed with his ratings, though that was part of the fun.  But the last time I bought it was in 2003 (as I can tell by looking at my bookshelf just a few feet away).  Why?  The Internet.  With thousands of sources for such information, and above all, the IMDb, Maltin wasn't so necessary.

Which is why the latest edition of the book, which has been put out there for 45 years, will be the last.  For years sales had been going down, and Maltin can see the writing on the virtual wall.  I'll be sorry to see it go, but he's hardly the first reference to hang it up.  Maltin himself (who's a nice guy, by the way) will continue writing and talking about movies, but it's the end of an era.

OK GO

Today is the centennial of Glenn Osser. (He almost lived to see it, dying earlier this year on my birthday.)  A Michigan boy who attended U of M, he went on to become a top musician, composer, arranger and orchestra leader.






Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Do little

Fresh on the news that we're getting dumber is some good news. At least someone on God's green earth is pulling their freight.

More Things Than Are Dreamt Of In Your Philosophy

There's an updated version coming out of the excellent oral history of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Miller, bringing it into the 21st century.  Excerpts published in The Hollywood Reporter discuss what went on behind an SNL mainstay, its political satire.

Will Ferrell did a fine George W. Bush, but with the 2008 election, there was a problem that has hurt late-night humor to this day--comedy writers haven't been able to get a handle on Obama, or, more likely, don't want to. (I think he's as easy to make fun of as anyone, but if you like the guy and don't want to hurt him, it's hard to do the kind of humor SNL can be so good at.)

But something else almost made up for that--Sarah Palin. Tina Fey's Sarah Palin, which was probably the most significant political impression ever done on the show after Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford.  Not that they changed the election results--I question if SNL has ever been that influential--but boy did Fey's Sarah Palin strike a chord.

The dynamic that exists behind-the-scenes, it seems to me, is well-represented by writer Jim Downey and performer Horatio Sanz.  And I have to say, I think Sanz comes off as a bit of a dick.  A tried-and-true Democrat, he wants the show to go after the GOP ferociously, but when they go after the Dems, suddenly they're not doing it right.  Downey, meanwhile, is a moderate who's willing to go after anyone.

I could describe the fight further, but why not let them speak for themselves:

Downey: The biggest risk to doing political comedy is, you always seem to have a choice: Am I going to piss off the audience by trying to get them to laugh when they don't like what I'm saying, or am I going to kiss their ass and get this tremendous wind at my back by sucking up to them? The second way makes me feel like I cheated. I'm sure there are a lot of people in comedy who completely share every f—ing detail, jot and tittle of the Obama administration, and all I can say is: To the extent that you're sincere and that's really the way you feel, then you're a very lucky person because, guess what, you're going to have a very easy career in comedy because audiences will always applaud. They may not laugh, but they'll always give you [a] huge ovation. That's Bill Maher, you know?

Sanz: I don't think the show itself has ever let its freak flag fly in the last 20 years. Lorne's very concerned with being neutral so he wants to make fun of everyone. … He doesn't want the show to be this liberal bash rag. He may be a little more conservative than he lets on. … And you also have Jim Downey, who's basically the Karl Rove of SNL. He's always writing the right wing sketches, and honestly I think a lot of times they're out of tune with the audience. … I think Lorne sometimes leans too much on Downey and not enough on guys like Seth. Basically in the last couple of years, it's been Seth going up against Downey to set the show's tone on politics, and I think we could definitely have been harder on the right. They deserved it, and we dropped the ball as far as getting them.

Downey: My mission is to try to write a funny piece using politics as the subject matter, and so I go with what I think is the most interesting, potentially funny idea that no one else is talking about.

Sanz: The week that Nancy Pelosi was made speaker, the only thing that we could come up with at the time was, because she was from San Francisco, to make her a dominatrix. I thought that was really, really cheap. … It was pretty frustrating. And it continues to be frustrating. I don't really like watching the political scenes that much anymore because they're not written in the writers' and actors' tone. They're written like Downey wants to put this message out. And I think that's kind of shitty.

Downey: I used to write this stuff with Al Franken when we started out; I was a standard-issue Harvard graduate commie, and Al was like a Democratic Party stalwart. I had contempt for the partisan stuff. And I became more conservative over the years, to the point where I'm now a conservative Democrat, which means in Hollywood terms I'm a McCarthyite, I suppose. But I have to say, and even Franken agrees with me — I've talked to him about this — that the last couple seasons of the show were the only two in the show's history where we were totally like every other comedy show: basically, an arm of the Hollywood Democratic establishment. [Jon] Stewart was more nuanced. We just stopped doing anything which could even be misinterpreted as a criticism of Obama.

SS

Happy birthday to jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock.  Actually, his real name was Warren Harding Sharrock, which is much cooler.






Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Our patron saint

"Don't even talk to me," says Dan Rather.

Dan, you've got yourself a deal.

Non-Liveblogging The Emmys

Okay, let's talk about the Emmys--as they happened while I was watching, but all at once for you.  Nothing I like better than seeing rich people pat themselves on the back.

Seth Meyers comes out, does his monologue.  Takes a swipe at Orange Is The New Black submitted as a comedy.  Don't care, let's get to the awards.

Amy Poehler walks up from the audience to give an award.  A little strange.  Best Supporting Actor In A Comedy.  Usually a strong category.  Will Modern Family get it?  Yep, it's Ty Burrell, who wins for a second time. Hard to complain.  Unless you're Ed O'Neill or Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who haven't won from the show yet. (The speech is allegedly written by the kids on the show who note they never get nominated.)

Next up, comedy writing in a sitcom.  An important category, though it's unclear who the favorite is.  Maybe Veep should win, or Silicon Valley, but there's no Modern Family or a ton of other good stuff.  Alas, Academy fave Louis CK, who has a fine show, but was up for a monologue about how tough fat women have it, wins.

Supporting Actress in comedy series (including SNL, for some reason).  Stronger category than the men's this year.  The winner, alas, is the weakest in the group--Academy favorite Allison Janney, for Mom, who won one (also undeserved) already this year.

Next, Comedy Directing.  Is this a big deal?  This is TV, not movies, directors do what they're told.  Some big names here, like Mike Judge, Jodie Foster and Louis CK.  The winner is Gail Mancuso, who's won before for Modern Family, and deserves to win again for her fine work in the farcical Vegas episode.

There's a comedy bit with on-the-street interviews which allows me to go to the bathroom.

Lead Actor in a comedy. So all the comedy first, I guess.  Big names, again. Louis CK (again), Don Cheadle, Ricky Gervais, Matt LeBlanc, William H. Macy and Jim Parsons.  All meant something before their show except for the winner, Jim Parsons.  This is his fourth win.  Enough. My idea has long been once you win an Emmy for a part you're retired from the award until you play something else.

Lead Actress in a comedy.  Very little suspense--it would be a shock if Julia Louis-Dreyfus didn't win again.  And she does. She wins for the third year in a row--Veep has only been on three years--and she deserves it.

Reality competition program. Who cares?  The Amazing Race wins this award for the tenth time, but I still refuse to watch it.

Another comedy bit involving stars in the audience.  Not bad, but I'm still thinking how much faster this show would move if they just gave out awards.

Outstanding miniseries or movie or special writing.  This is a gimme for Fargo, isn't it?  They're not going to give it to The Normal Heart, will they?  Sort of a shock--Steven Moffat for Sherlock, which I don't watch.  Maybe not everything will be predictable tonight.

Supporting Actress for miniseries or movie. Lock of the night. It'll be Allison Tolman for Fargo, beating Julia Roberts and some other big names.  But a shock--Kathy Bates for American Horror Story.  Halfway to an EGOT, Kathy--too bad you didn't win that Tony for 'night, Mother.  Guess the Fargo bandwagon isn't as strong as people thought.  And they're not that impressed with The Normal Heart either.(Does this also mean trouble for True Detective. And should it have submitted itself in this category?)

Supporting Actor for miniseries or movie.  Presenter Stephen Colbert comes out an commits to a bit that isn't working.  Two-thirds of the nominees are for The Normal Heart, but Martin Freeman wins for Sherlock.  Guess show biz people don't like gays.

Directing for miniseries, etc.  Two directors up for Fargo--will that split the vote (and does the Academy care to begin with)?  Hey, Colin Bucksey wins for Fargo.  So it's only The Normal Heart that looks like it'll be skunked.

Seth and Amy takes a long time to introduce presenters Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. They're here for Lead Actor in miniseries etc.  Some solid names (and another shot for Martin Freeman, but this time up for Fargo--if anyone wins for that show, though, it'll be Billy Bob Thornton.)  No surprise, Benedict Cumberbatch beating out bigger names for Sherlock--the Academy obviously loves this show.

Lead Actress for same category. Once again, big names. It'd be great if Kristen Wiig won for a comic performance in Spoils Of Babylon, but--no surprise--Jessica Lange wins it for American Horror Story. She's already got the E in the EGOT, though.

Weird Al Yankovic comes out and sings some TV themes with his own words--just the thing you'd expect him to do.

Top miniseries.  Is this Fargo's big moment? Yes, it is.  Once again, lucky True Detective wasn't up for this. Now top television movie--a separate (and not that great) category, but a chance for The Normal Heart to finally take something.  Or will Sherlock stomp it again?  Nope, the pull of class and Important Issues is too great for the Academy and The Normal Heart takes it.

Ricky Gervais comes out and complains he's lost 19 out of 21 times at the Emmys.  That's a problem? (Though if he'd beat Jim Parsons for his title role in Derek it wouldn't have been a bad choice.) He presents Writing for a variety special.  The most likely winner is Billy Crystal for his one-man Broadway show--is that variety?  A slight surprise--Sarah Silverman for her comedy special--another non-variety show, seems to me.

Director for variety show.  The Tony Awards wins. Really?  Seems like an inside job when Glenn Weiss accepts the award from the booth, as he's directing the Emmys, too.

Best Variety series.  Please, not Jon Stewart again. (Or Colbert.)  By the way, Fallon and Kimmel and Bill Maher are up, but not Letterman.  Has he aged himself out of the process?  Colbert wins for the second year in a row.  Colbert is the new Stewart.

Two hours down, one (we hope) to go. And we'll soon be getting to the best category, drama.

We start with Supporting Actor in a drama.  Great category--Peter Dinklage (former winner), Aaron Paul (double winner), Mandy Patinkin (Tony winner), Jim Carter (does anyone still care about Downton Abbey?), Jon Voight (Oscar winner) and Josh Charles.  Aaron Paul takes it.  I might have preferred Patinkin or Dinklgae, but this is fine--too bad some excellent co-stars on Breaking Bad never won this--often beaten by Paul himself.  Is this the start of a lot of love for Breaking Bad as it goes off into the wild blue yonder?

The in memoriam section, followed by a tribute to Robin Williams from Emmy loser Billy Crystal.

Directing of a drama series.  Shows are Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game Of Thrones, House Of Cards and True Detective.  First real test of True Detective, and it wins. And it should--the location shooting on that show was amazing.  Looks like it may be their night.  Why not?  Everyone but The New Yorker loved it.

Supporting Actress in drama.  Two from Downton Abbey and one each from Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, The Good Wife, Mad Men (Christina Hendricks, will you ever win?  Probably not).  Anna Gunn wins her second in a row for Breaking Bad.  Maybe the voters just feel bad for everything Sklyer's been through?  Does this make BB favored over TD?

Writing for drama--a major award.  Two Breaking Bad's--will that split the vote?  One Game Of Thrones, one House Of Cards and one True Detective.  Notice there's no Mad Men, no Aaron Sorkin, no a whole lot of stuff.  Moira Walley-Beckett wins for what many consider to be the hugest episode of Breaking Bad ever, "Ozymandias."  Luck of the draw, but she was up to it when they broke down the stories.  And it's looking like a Breaking Bad night.

Lead Actress in a drama. Claire Danes in Homeland has won twice in a row, but the year before that Julianna Margulies won for The Good Wife. And she's good again.  Julianna wins. (Would have been fun to see Lizzy Caplan win, even if she didn't quite deserve it.)

Oscar winner and Emmy loser Julia Roberts comes out to present the Lead Actor in a drama.  The real drama of the night.  Bryan Cranston (multiple winner), Jeff Daniels (won last year), Jon Hamm (nominated every year but never wins), Woody Harrelson (if anyone wins from TD it won't be him), Matthew McConaughey (already won the Oscar this year) and Kevin Spacey (Oscar and Tony winner).  Matthew is the favorite, but it is Bryan Cranston's last chance to win--and he takes it!  He's won four times for Walter White, and McConaughey will have to be happy with his lonely Oscar.

Jay Leno shows up--just try to keep him off NBC.  They're going to sneak in Best Comedy before the Best Drama.  Will Modern Family win it five years in a row, the only show to do it other than the undeserving Frasier?  Or is Orange The New Black?  There's also Veep, Louie, The Big Bang Theory and Silicon Valley, all worthy.  No surprises this year--Modern Family takes it again.  Hey, it's a good show, but is it that good? (Of course, they never nominated Community, or anything this year on NBC, so what are you gonna do?)

Oscar-winning Halle Berry presents the Best Drama award.  The choices--Downton Abbey, Game Of Thrones, House Of Cards and Mad Men. Oh yeah, also Breaking Bad and True Detective. (Bet the latter is starting to think maybe we should have gone for best miniseries.) And the winner--not exactly a shock at this point--is Breaking Bad. It won this last year, too, and it's the big winner of the night. Vince Gilligan knows how to go out big (unlike Matthew Weiner, it would seem).

Biggest surprise of the night--the show ends at the three hour point.

VS

Happy birthday, Valerie Simpson, of the songwriting and singing team Ashford & Simpson.  I admit I prefer them as the former.









Monday, August 25, 2014

Gunslinger Genzlinger

Kinda dumb piece in The New York Times by Neil Genzlinger about vintage TV.  I agree that people like to talk about golden ages that never were, and that a whole lot of TV used to be pretty weak.  But a whole lot of TV is weak today as well.  It just depends on which titles you pick.  And Genzlinger picks such poor examples for his piece it's like he's not even trying.

He says I Love Lucy doesn't hold up, and I admit I'm not a big fan, so I'll let that go.  But then he says of The Honeymooners "Couples defined by screaming seem more sad than funny today."  Genzlinger is missing the point--it's a chance to see Jackie Gleason and Art Carney at their best.  Argumentative couples are still a mainstay of sitcoms, but great clowns are few and far between.

But now let's look at the rest of the show Genzlinger chooses to explain how poorly retro TV holds up:  The Many Love Of Dobie Gillis, Gilligan's Island, Green Acres, Welcome Back, Kotter, Dallas, Boy Meets World and Sex And The City.

Bob Denver notwithstanding, I wasn't aware that anyone thought Dobie Gillis or Gilligan's Island were classics, or even particularly good.  Dallas I never watched, but as phenomenally popular as it was, did anyone ever think it was much more than an outrageous, even campy, melodrama?

I'm shocked to hear anyone thought highly of Boy Meets World, yet Genzlinger himself likes it: "This was and still is a wonderful show. I just don’t want to see it on TV again, because its mere presence might remind me of the sequel that just started, “Girl Meets World,” which doesn’t come close to clearing the bar the original set."  Doesn't this disqualify him as a TV critic?

I don't really have anything to say about Sex And The City, but, as it went off the air in 2004, and has been followed by two movies, even Genzlinger admits it's not truly vintage yet.

As for Welcome Back, Kotter, it was never considered that great.  It also wasn't that big a hit (never making the top ten) and it didn't win any Emmys, so why bother to attack it?  Apparently Genzlinger has an anti-Travolta reaction that was already happening when the show was originally on, so he's a bit late to the party.  (Actually, I've been watching the show lately and it's fairly enjoyable, especially the early seasons.)

Now we come to the dumbest thing he says:
 
‘GREEN ACRES’ (1965) Speaking of stereotypes, there was this empty-headed series. Along with “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Gomer Pyle” and a few others, it made sure “rural” and “stupid” would be wrongly linked for years to come.
 
The 60s featured a ton or rural series, and most of them weren't much, so why pick on the one that's special?  Far from empty-headed, this was a show with a lot on its mind.  At first blush it's just a reversal of The Beverly Hillbillies--instead of hicks moving to the big city, city slickers are moving to the sticks.  But this is a show where the characters can read the titles and hear the incidental music, where pigs talk, where moon rocks communicate while aliens stop us from communicating, where the characters put on their own version of The Beverly Hillbillies, and so on.  The show, at its best, was a slice of surrealism hiding behind cornpone humor, going to places few even attempted.  Makes you wonder if Genzlinger has ever actually watched Green Acres.
 
I'm all for critics having a little fun every now and then, but even for a playful piece like this, he might have put a bit more thought into it.

Lenny

Happy birthday, Leonard Bernstein.  He was a conductor, pianist and serious composer. But every now and then he'd take a break and write a Broadway musical, and it's looking like that's what he'll be remembered for.







Sunday, August 24, 2014

Favoritest Show?

I finally got around to watching Ricky Gervais' new series Derek.  He's up for an Emmy this Monday for his lead performance. As usual with him, there are two short seasons--only 13 episodes in all. (There still may be a third season, or perhaps--also the norm for Gervais--a finale.) What's unusual is the content, which is far more sentimental and occasionally melancholic that he generally does.

In the show that made him rich and famous, The Office, Gervais is a boorish boss who thinks he's the life of the party.  In Extras he's a caustic bit player whose gets to star in his own series and finds it's not all it's cracked up to be.  But Gervais as the title character in Derek plays a mentally challenged man who's makes the best of his life hanging out in an old folk's home.

The show still has humor, enough to characterize the half hour as a sitcom, but there's far less than in previous efforts.  Other characters include Hannah--essentially a co-lead--a saintly yet no-nonsense woman who runs the home; Kev, a sleazy loser who's Derek's best friend; Dougie (played by Gervais punching bag Karl Pilkington, though he leaves in the middle of the second season), the caretaker; and a number of others, including the denizens of the home.

Gervais does an impressive job creating a character so different from anything he's done before.  Derek is a believable character who, though a grown man, generally acts like a child.  His positive attitude, no matter what he's given, carries the show along, since there's plenty of tragedy, including more than one death. If there's any trouble with the comedy, it's that the show is so sweet that there are very few "bad guys" to make the sparks fly. Perhaps this is why the new caretaker in the second season, Geoff, is sort of a jerk--though even he's redeemed by the end.

The show isn't boring (except for occasional musical interludes with no dialogue), but it's highly sentimental, and occasionally gets a little sappy.  Gervais has shown slight indications of this in the past, especially in his finales, but he wears his heart on his sleeve here.

I prefer his earlier, rougher stuff--his specialty is highly awkward moments, and while they abound in Derek, there's a softness that prevents it from landing as strongly.  But as an experiment in comedy-drama, the show is mostly a success.

176 Keys

Louis Milton Teicher was born 90 years ago today.  He was half of the piano duo Ferrante & Teicher.   Last week I was talking about how old-fashionedSandler and Young seemed, but it's hard to believe how this semi-classical act kept going well into the 80s.






Saturday, August 23, 2014

Is he surprised?

Illya Shapiro asks, "Congress Gets Unlimited Power Because Slavery?"

No, Congress gets unlimited power because of pretext. This one just happens to be handy.

Circular Reasoning or The Eyes Have It

The AV Club has a fairly interesting piece by Scott Kaufman on The Hudsucker Proxy, arguing that the Coen brothers film is all about lines and circles.  Maybe, maybe not, but there's certainly a case to be made that the movie features a world of lines invaded by circles.

But then came something entirely tangential that caught my eye:

Thinking he has found a moron who can accelerate the company’s “downward spiral” aggressively enough to allow the board to buy the stock cheap when Hudsucker Industry goes public, Mussburger invites Barnes to be the new president of the company. His face is featured on the front page of The Manhattan Argus—which may be a reference to Odysseus’ faithful dog, who waited 20 years for his master, who was out having himself an Iliad and an Odyssey, to return so he could die—and he seems to be the epitome of that archetypal American rise from rags to riches.

No, not the use of "epitome" and "archetypal" so close to each other, but the speculation regarding "Argus."

The Coen brothers are very careful with their words, and "Argus" is a great title for a newspaper* in a movie set in the 50s (even though much of the film is their version of a 1930s screwball comedy).   In fact, "Argus" is (or was, anyway) a not uncommon name for a newspaper, though Kaufman doesn't seem to be aware of this.

It's true that Odysseus' dog was named Argus, sometimes spelled Argos, but it's not the only Argus in Greek mythology.  It's the most famous Argus, in fact, that these newspaper are referring to. That's Argus Panoptes, the giant with 100 eyes.  Argus was a great watchman, since he could sleep with half his eyes closed while the others were open.  In English, Argus has come to refer to a watchful guardian.  Thus all the journals.

*Another great fictional newspaper name, for different reasons, is the small-town paper in Green Acres, the Hooterville World-Guardian.

To Your Health

Occasionally I'll check the archives to see what I said about something.  And sometimes I find something interesting that someone else said.  Take this post, written just before Obamacare was passed.  Professional liberal E. J. Dionne bemoans how bad his party is at putting out their ideas on health care, while the ruthless Republicans steamroll over them.

Yep, that's right. The Dems, who took the Congress in 2006, and took the White House and got a filibuster-proof Senate in 2008, were no good at politics.  It must be tough supporting such a party.

Dionne couldn't understand how something so wonderful as Obamacare was having trouble passing.  But let's use his words:

The Obama administration argues that both the stimulus and the health bill are better than people think. That's entirely true, and this is actually an indictment -- it means that on the two big issues of the moment, Republicans and conservatives are winning an argument they should be losing.

The Stimulus had been passed at this point--it was practically the first thing the new Congress had done--and though the public didn't think much of it, apparently Dionne felt it had already worked.  Fine, whatever you say.

But I wonder, confronted with his words today, if Dionne would stick to his story.  The health bill is better than people think?  It's now been the law of the land for four years.  We don't seem, as of yet, to have discovered how wonderful it is. So if Dionne is right, either I guess the good stuff is still coming, or those evil Republicans have continued to pull the wool over the public's eyes.

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.

JD

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.





Friday, August 15, 2014

Is it the hat?

Pope Francis squeezes into Kia

Big deal. I do this every day.

Knick Of Time

I caught the pilot of The Knick.  The Cinemax show, starring Clive Owen, is set at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York in 1900.  Steven Soderbergh, whom I thought had retired, is producing and directing the first season.

There are plenty of things to like about the show. The cast is game.  The period setting is convincing.  And a serious look at the medical profession over 100 years ago--advances are being made, but it is still hopelessly primitive by today's standards--is fascinating.  The pilot shows us two rather graphic operations, and I assume more are to come.

But there are problems which make me question if this is a keeper.  While it's a sociological look at the city, concentrating on a hospital, the actual drama so far isn't much.  Much of the conflict is pretty weak.  This includes a black doctor the others don't want to work with and a woman who, as part of a powerful family, wants to have a say, which, once again, bothers all those white men.  When Mad Men deals with the casual sexism and racism of its era, it fits in pretty easily, and even then they sometimes overdo it.  But the issues here seem forced--more so we enlightened people today can scoff than for legitimate dramatic interest. For that matter, there's a scene where two rich men at the hospital bemoan how weak the poor immigrants are.  They might as well be twirling mustaches. In general the dialogue isn't great.  At one point Clive Owen makes a speech where he notes people used to live to the age of 39 but thanks to advances now live to 47.  I find it hard to believe anyone would talk that way back then.

Speaking of Owen, while he has the talent and presence to carry a series, they've felt it necessary to weigh down his lead character, Dr. John Thackery, with an opium addiction.  I've complained in the past about the need for that extra problem to make the protagonist interesting--Kelsey Grammer in Boss has dementia which is killing him, Claire Danes in Homeland is bipolar.  When you've got compelling characters in tough situations, weighing them down with a serious medical issues to make them more "complex" usually ends up just being a drag on the action.

I think I'll keep watching, but let's leave the waiting room and get this operation going.

Smokin' O.P.

Happy birthday, Oscar Peterson, one of the top jazz pianists of all.







Thursday, August 14, 2014

Odds And Ends

The upcoming election is all about the Senate.  The House isn't going to change hands in any case, but the GOP has a real chance of taking back the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. (If the parties had their pick of one, they'd probably take the Senate, if for no other reason than it has a say in Supreme Court picks.)

In fact, the latest polls indicate Republicans are likely to have a majority when the dust settles.  Here's why I'm still predicting they won't--or at least, that the odds are against that result.

First, it's still too early to read much into the polls. Sure, the elections are less than 100 days away, but it's summer vacation.  It's not till after Labor Day that millions start paying any sort of attention.

Second, while polls shows unhappiness with the President, and the party with the leader in the White House is usually blamed for the nation's problem, they also show Republicans are highly unpopular.

Third, a lot has to go right for the GOP to win.  They need a minimum net gain of 6 seats.  Don't underestimate the power of the incumbency. Yes, I know, in "wave" elections people are swept out, but the GOP still has to unseat--in addition to winning three empty spots previously held by Dems--at least three Senators who will give it everything they've got.  And let's not forget in two states, Kentucky and Georgia, the Dems have a decent shot at a pickup.

Finally, the GOP has been underperforming, if that's what you want to call it, lately. Yes, sometimes they've picked awful candidates, but it's not just that.  In 2012, it looked like that had two or three easy pickups in the Senate, and instead they lost two seats.  Even in 2010, another wave election, they had a decent shot at a net gain of 8 but only took 6.

And note 2012 is our most recent data point.  The question is was that different because it was a Presidential election, or was it a case of the Obama team doing a great job getting out the vote (in a country with a growing percentage of Dems), presaging a new era where the Dems, if anything, outperform the polls?  Don't forget that most of the races where the GOP hopes to beat an incumbent are so close right now that if the polls are even slightly overstating support for the Republican they'll probably lose.

Don't get me wrong---things are looking up for the GOP.  A few months ago I thought they had about a ten to fifteen percent chance of taking back the Senate.  Right now I'd put it at about one in three.  But the people who are acting like it's a lot more likely than not are jumping the gun.

The First One

Happy birthday, David Crosby, singer and songwriter for the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash.  He turned 73 today, though his liver is only 20.










Wednesday, August 13, 2014

We're No. 1!

Ohio's tobacco deal was the largest ever. It included CABs that brought in $319 million in return for an eventual $6.6 billion balloon payment 2014 a nickel on the dollar. Bear Stearns, Citigroup and other Wall Street firms made about $23 million in fees on the transaction, according to the bond offering document.

"We are confident that we can stimulate demand," Bear Stearns bankers told Ohio prior to a $5.5 billion tobacco bond package championed in 2007 by then state Treasurer Richard Cordray, who these days heads the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Thanks, Rich. Can we be confident CFPB won't be investigating any fraud here? Outside their jurisdiction, no doubt.

Deviants

This is the best Orwell I've heard in a while: "grade quotas."

How so much writing about something (and policy making about it) can be done without addressing the basic question of raw and relative performance is remarkable. I'm beginning to think we should quit teaching everything except statistics.

"No matter how good your work, if you weren’t in the top 35 percent, you weren’t getting an A."

Call the UN. Or Dilbert. Eric Holder . . .

Bye Bye Betty

Lauren Bacall has died.  She was one of the last of the major Hollywood stars during WWII.

She was named Betty, but changed it for the movies.  She was a teenage model who appeared in Vogue in the 40s.  Slim Hawks, director Howard Hawks' wife, saw her picture and thought she had something.  He signed her up and she made one of the biggest debuts ever in pictures as the female lead in To Have And Have Not in 1944.

Though a novice, she more than held her own against Humphrey Bogart.  Hawks liked his women tough, and he decided her character would be even more insolent than Bogie's.  He had her go outside and scream to lower her voice.  She was so nervous during shooting that she held her head down and looked up, which just made the character looks tougher.

The most famous scene, where she asks him if he knows how to whistle, was written as an audition piece, but it worked so well Hawks put it in the film.  Hawks (though married) definitely had designs on her, but Bacall, to her surprise, fell for Bogart (also married).  Bogie got divorced and the two married in 1945.

She made three more films with Bogart, all in the 40s, The Big Sleep (also by Hawks--a great film, though it's more Bogie's than hers), Dark Passage and Key Largo--these films, more than any others, are the ones on which her fame rests, though I think the first two are far superior to the final two.  Bogart died in 1957, but by then she'd established herself on her own in films, with titles like Young Man With A Horn, How To Marry A Millionaire, Written On The Wind and Designing Woman.

She took time off in the 60s, and when she returned to films was generally playing the older woman. But she also had some hits on Broadway, starring in the comedy Cactus Flower in 1965 and the musical Applause (she wasn't a great singer but she managed) in 1970. She'd come back in another hit musical, Woman Of The Year, in 1981.  She won Tonys for those last two shows.

Meanwhile, she was now a grand old dame in the cinema, appearing in films like The Shootist and Murder On The Orient Express. She wrote a fine autobiography, By Myself, in the 80s.  In her final decades she was a living legend, but the kind who works regularly. She was in movies and TV up till the end, sometimes in big Hollywood productions like The Mirror Has Two Faces--for which she received an Oscar nomination--sometimes in art films like Dogville.  One of her more memorable appearances in later years was playing herself on The Sopranos in "Luxury Lounge"--she gets mugged by Christopher.  She won an honorary Oscar in 2010.

She had a long and varied career. But I think she'll always be remembered and the young woman who taught Bogart to whistle.

Ho Ho Ho

Happy birthday, Don Ho.  He's certainly the greatest Hawaiian-born entertainer I'm aware of.





Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shazbot

Robin Williams is dead.  Definitely a shock. He was suffering from depression and as I write this it seems to be a suicide, though we'll know more later.  What we do know is he was one of the funniest, fastest comedian of his generation, and also a great actor.

Literally yesterday I was reading something I'd written about Williams--a negative thing about Bicentennial Man, actually--but even then I was thinking while he made his share of stinkers, he was a unique talent.

Williams became a star overnight. He'd gone to Juilliard and done some work in TV when Happy Days producer Garry Marshall heard about this funny guy who could do anything. He hired him to appear as Mork, an alien who'd be a formidable opponent to resident hero Fonzie.  They had a face-off in a 1978 episode and though Fonzie won, Mork got his own series later that year.

It was a smash hit and this previously unknown actor was suddenly appearing on magazine covers (back when people read magazines).  He was the whole show--Mork, who knew nothing of Earth, was a license for the frenetic Williams to do any and all sorts of jokes.  What some noticed, in addition, was an actor with technique and a surprising amount of depth.

The show changed time slots and retooled and soon fell out of the top ten, but Williams was no flash in the pan.  He used his fame to get starring roles in movies.  His earliest titles weren't always hits--in fact, the first film he starred in, 1980's Popeye, was a big disappointment-- and they weren't even always that good, but it was clear he had the chops, and he kept working.  He also stretched as an actor, not always playing it for laughs, in films such as The World According To Garp and Moscow On The Hudson.  Other films in the mid-80s--The Survivors, The Best Of Times, Club Paradise--were received indifferently, but even in his weakest film he often did good work. (He was also suffering from drug addiction, but that's a separate story.)

Then, starting in 1987 with Good Morning, Vietnam, he starred in a series of successes that also received critical approbation, including Dead Poets Society, Awakenings and The Fisher King. Except for the last, I'm not much of a fan of these films, but they made Williams a major star. He also occasionally took smaller roles, appearing to good effect in films such as The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen and Dead Again.

In the early 90s he starred in some high profile films that didn't particularly impress, like Hook and Toys, but also was delightful as the voice of the genie in Aladdin and had a huge hit in the title role of Mrs. Doubtfire (once again, it's often his smashes I like least).  He followed soon after with two more hits, and two of his best performances--Jumanji and The Birdcage.  Next, he won an Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting.  While I don't think that much of the film or his performance, I can see why he signed on--the role of the understanding psychologist who teaches the protagonist about life was designed to attract a big name and win awards.

But he also made other films not quite as successful, such as Jack, Father's Day, What Dreams May Come, and the above-mentioned Bicentennial Man.  Ironically, it was a solid hit where the critics really turned on him--Patch Adams, where he plays a doctor who uses humor to help his patients.

Starting in 2000, with a new generation of clowns rising up, he was no longer the king of comedy, and his attempts at bringing the funny--Death To Smoochy, RV (which I have a soft spot for) Man Of The Year and Old Dogs, didn't add up to much.  But his smaller films offered some of his most incisive performances, such as One Hour Photo and especially World's Greatest Dad.

Yet, to the latest generation, he's probably best known supporting role of Teddy Roosevelt in the Night At The Museum films.

All along, he was a top-notch stand-up, running around making up jokes on the spot (or at least appearing to make them up--he was so notorious for stealing (unwittingly?) material from other comics that eventually they stopped performing if he was in the room).  He seemed to always be on, and any Robin Williams appearance on a talk show was an event.  It's hard not to believe we were seeing the real man--a natural-born entertainer who craved the spotlight.

Last year he starred in a sitcom, The Crazy Ones, which didn't make it past the first season. It was an attempt to harness the wild energy of the Mork years once more, but it didn't work the second time around. But I have to believe if he'd stuck around, we would have seen a lot more of him, and he would still have surprised us.

PM

Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny turns 60 today.  His contemporary sound sometimes verges on the soporific, but it can be a nice place to visit occasionally.





Monday, August 11, 2014

Get Out Of Here

An odd piece about impeachment by Cass Sunstein on the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation. Much of it is a fascinating discussion of how the Founders came up with this punishment for the President.  As with so much of the Constitution, it was a compromise. Some wanted no impeachment, as it would damage the separation of powers.  On the other side, some--though not many--thought the President should essentially serve at the pleasure of Congress.

An early suggestion was the President could be removed due to "malpractice or neglect of duty," but this was thought too vague. Still, the essence remained--the great fear was of corruption, with the President selling out his office, not doing his Constitutional duty.  So we get the famous formulation "Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Thus, according to Sunstein, the potential Nixon impeachment--and if he hadn't resigned he was going to be impeached--was just what the Founders envisioned.

[T]he first article of impeachment was based on the Watergate break-in itself -- in particular, Nixon’s unlawful effort to obtain political intelligence from surveillance of the Democratic National Committee. The second article was based on Nixon’s unlawful use of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Internal Revenue Service for political purposes “unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office.” Both of these articles were tightly connected to the founders’ concerns about corruption -- in particular, presidential efforts to gain or keep the office by unlawful means.

Nixon's a bit before my time, so I'll take his word for it (though I do know some argue that, corruption-wise, Nixon wasn't that different from someone like LBJ, and his impeachment, as bipartisan as it may seem, was more a case of the Left finally getting the scalp of a guy they'd been going after for some time).

By the way, misusing the IRS is proper grounds for impeachment?  Is Sunstein trying to tell us something?

But what interested me most was how he ended the piece:

In recent decades, prominent people inside and outside Washington have called for impeaching both Republican and Democratic presidents for reasons that fall far short of these grounds. In the case of Bill Clinton, they succeeded. As we remember the painful events of 1974, it's worth honoring the seriousness of the lawmakers’ efforts -- and their impressive fidelity to the Constitution.

So Clinton was impeached for improper reasons.  This is because his high Crimes and Misdemeanors were not related to a corruption of his office, it would seem.  The argument, taken on its own terms, is dubious--it's quite arguable Clinton did what he did to protect his Presidency by preventing the public from knowing the truth, for one thing.

But harder to ignore is that he appears to have committed felonies while in office.  Did the Founders not care about such crimes, because they weren't about corrupting the system?  So Clinton, or any President, can go out on a spree and stab someone, or rape someone, and we just shrug and say we'll worry about this after he's out of office--or better yet, throw him in a cell from where he'll run the country, perhaps even campaign for a second term. It seems to me that there should be a presumption that any felony committed while in office is grounds for impeachment.

And let me ask Cass something, as unfair as this sort of argument is. Think back to the 80s.  Reagan's in office and you're a young hotshot professor.  And someone asks you "if it's discovered the President has committed perjury and obstruction of justice during his tenure, is that impeachable?"  Do you honestly think you'd ask back "what kind of perjury and obstruction of justice are we talking about?"

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