Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Mulan sings along with "Oklahoma!" in the basement home theater. 

It was a hot, happy, and somewhat harried August.

Here are the movies I watched in August 2011:

1. Pitfall, Andre DeToth
2. To Kill A Mockingbird (twice), Robert Mulligan
3. They Won't Forget, Mervyn LeRoy
4. Young Mr. Lincoln, John Ford
5. It's Always Fair Weather, Gene Kelly & Stanley Donan
6. The Edge of the World, Michael Powell
7. Vera Drake, Mike Leigh
8. Gun Crazy (twice), Joseph H. Lewis
9. Sweet Land, Ali Selim
10. A Canterbury Tale, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressberger
11. Contraband, AKA Blackout, Michael Powell
12. Ballerina, Bertrand Normand
13. Oklahoma!, Fred Zinnermann
14. Bleak Moments, Mike Leigh
15. A Passage to India, David Lean

It was a very enjoyable film-watching month.  I actually happily appreciated every single movie, well - perhaps with the exception of "Sweet Land."  That film was just glaringly underdeveloped, in my humble opinion.  Oh, and also - surprisingly, "A Passage to India."  I'm sure the book was better, but jeez.  Yeash.  I wanted to yell at the screen: When characters behave in unbelievable ways, it does not make them complicated!  It just makes them unbelievable!!!!!!  How could Mrs. Moore have left India?   Maybe the book makes it clear, I dunno...

The highlights, if I had to parse them out, would be seeing "Gun Crazy" for the first time ever - and then, after almost losing my mind over how great this film is, I forced Michael to watch it with me.  In a period of six hours I'd seen it twice.  The long tracking shot in the car while they start their bank robbing spree - the parking lot, the feeling of claustrophobia and fear and titilation are incomparable.  I liked it better than Bonnie and Clyde (heresy!)   The scene where they meet each other - at the carnival, c'mon.  Very hot.   Funny, and actually steamy too.  Fantastic.  God, you just have to see it!  I was laughing out loud from sheer delight and excitement!

I got "Gun Crazy" from Netflix, but I didn't listen to the commentary, so I think I might send for it again.

We watched "To Kill a Mockingbird."  Mulan promptly announced that was the best movie she'd ever seen.  I was surprised, since I hadn't seen the film since I was a kid  - at not only how great it was - but how iconic its been for me my whole life, and without me being completely aware of this.  Boo Radley is such a potent character, one I've been inspired by in my own screenwriting.  Of course Atticus and Scout and Jem and Dill - the whole world of it.  It was so good, we (Michael, me and Mulan)  were all three crying by the end.   The image that arrested me most surprisingly was the scene when Atticus sits on the top of the jail house steps (with the standing, crook-necked lamp next to his wooden lawyer's chair) and quietly reads, attempting to protect Tom Robinson who's inside.  Just the sight of Atticus sitting there - before the crowd of angry men arrive, and then the children - just that single image of Atticus so alone, so calm, and so clearly doing the right thing, made me get a lump in my throat.  I didn't realize that this image has always been with me, I see it when I read certain stories in the paper, when I see decency and courage and quiet all wrapped up in some person.  That lamp and that chair have unknowingly become for me a symbolic screen-shot of justice and protection.

I didn't realize that when I first came to know about Obama, I had that image in my mind too.  I think I must have thought he was a kind of modern Atticus Finch - his careful speech and deliberate manners.  I guess we are all hoodwinked by our fantasies.  I used to think that conservative Republicans who didn't care for Obama must have thought he was conjured up magically, the perfect Democrat in every way.  I've tried hard to look the other way in poor choice, and sad unnecessary compromise again and again, thinking there was some master plan that I just didn't know about.  I thought I really knew and trusted Obama, especially after reading "Dreams from My Father."

But now, after so many disappointments - the capitulation on the debt ceiling and the latest scrapping of the proposed EPA regulations on smog and oil drilling - those two things being just a couple in a long list of bad moves.  I know he's being strangled by an inept and clearly stupid Congress, but I think he can do a lot more.  I don't think he has to give in constantly even before the fighting starts.  I just don't get it.  Seriously I'm baffled.  I have lost the sense that Obama personally cares about doing the right thing, even if it's impossible to accomplish.

I'm really finding it hard to see the difference in Obama's policies and Bush's, and now I'm wondering if Obama isn't just a magical conjured person dreamed up by Republicans!  Okay, I'll say it:   I think I'm ready to jump ship.  I don't feel I'm capable of supporting him.  It would require blind faith and I have run the gas out on blind faith in Obama.  No, I don't want Rick Perry (or Mitt?) to scare me into voting for Obama.  But I have to admit that I'm completely depressed and disillusioned by this current administration.  I could go on - I won't for now, but it's very very sad to me and causes me a lot of distress.  (I'm beginning to not-secretly wish that Bernie Sanders would run for president.)

Frankly, I'm still livid over the fact that Bin Laden was not captured and tried in a court of law.  And I guess I bring this up here because seeing "To Kill a Mockingbird" again, after so many years... well, I see how far we've come when even our Democratic president abandons the process of law.   I remember when I was a kid and saying to my Dad something about some hateful dictator - I said, "Why don't we just go and kill him?" And my dad said, "That's against the law.  Because that is wrong.  There are international laws in place, and even the most heinous person must be allowed to defend himself in a court of law."  I really felt that the world - the United States - had made that leap into civilization.

God, what a joke that is now.   Jeez.  The truth is we did just what Bin Laden was wishing we would do, (which he blatantly said, in recorded audio release again and again and again) and draw the U.S. Military into countless Middle East wars and bring our nation to bankruptcy.  

Enough.  Breathe.  Slowly now...

I need to take a walk around the block.

I'm back.

Okay.  So...

At the end of August, my mother and my two aunts (my mother's two sisters) came for a long weekend visit.  There was really only time for one movie.  Mulan insisted we watch "To Kill a Mockingbird" again.   The extras on the DVD are excellent - very good interviews with all the main players and a making-of doc that's well done.  When I read later that when Gregory Peck died, Brock Peters (who played Tom Robinson) gave the eulogy at the funeral - well, that gave me tingles.

What other film highlights?  "Pitfall" is a long-neglected film noir that is very well done and hard to see now.   "Young Mr. Lincoln - of course I had seen that before but a long time ago.  I remembered liking it a lot.  But this time, I realized it was even better than I recalled.  Henry Fonda is soooo good.  This movie shows that in the hands of a master like John Ford, even a straight flattering bio-pic can have style and punch and substance, even leave you with a sense of having watched something profound.

"Oklahoma!" was fun, and Mulan is now constantly singing all it's songs.  In the last two weeks, I often hear her singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" in the kitchen while she's making her breakfast.  God, that is so funny to me.

After watching "Vera Drake" I was up all night, going over this scene and that one.  I'm on a Mike Leigh jag and want to see everything he's ever directed.  Leigh's good.  There is just nothing like his films.  Long improvisation and character development with actors pays off.

"It's Always Fair Weather" is my favorite musical.  It has a real adult, complex story and fantastic singing and dancing.  Should we just say, categorically, that Cyd Charisse has the best body ever on film?  Maybe ever in the history of women?  I think so.  I think she's the best dancer too.

I'm also trying to catch up on all the Powell-Pressberger movies.  "The Edge of the World" was made before their partnership was cemented - by Powell, but it really haunted me.  It takes place on some Scottish Islands - or are they Irish?  I don't remember, but it feels like a book I read - it has that kind of feeling that gets under your skin. You feel you've lived it.  Oh! And "A Canterbury Tale" - the Archers collaboration - so good.  Incredibly odd plot and yet uncanny in it's deceptively meaningful story.  I read that there's a yearly hike along the route of the film in England. I want to make that some year.

 Books read in August, 2011:

1.) Anthill, by E.O. Wilson.   Jeeezhus.  Is there nothing this man can do?  I guess I had low literary expectations, but he's not only a great scientist, he's a good writer too.  It's a compelling and well-written story.  And I learned a lot about ants.  The Ant Chronicles are the main characters master's thesis and they comprise about a third of the middle part of the book.  Really funny and scary and good.  I agree - we have no free will.

2.) The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larsen.  I still have about a quarter of the book left.  Larsen is a terrific writer.  I know that the Architecture Foundation here in Chicago has a tour of the sites from the book.  I think I'll go this weekend.  The book's about the 1893 Columbian Exhibition and a serial killer named H. H. Holmes.  It's so sad, bone-chillingly creepy, shocking, and then - with Burnham, the architect and leader of the exposition - he is really human and deeply inspiring.  And Olmstead!  God what a great character come to life.  I've surrendered my mind to this book.

Two Architecture Tours Twice in August:  Went on the Chicago River Architecture tour twice with two sets of guests, then did it all again as we did a Sunday bus tour of Highlights of Chicago.  I could go on both of those tours a few more times before I'd be tired of it.  Great tour guides.  I'm going to start trying to go on two architecture tours a month now.  This month my goal is: Calvary Cemetery Tour (where my great grandmother and grandfather are buried along with several other relatives) and the Devil in the White City tour.   I am feeling so lucky to be living here right now.

I went to New York City for four days in August, and I took Mulan with me.  We went to two Broadway shows together:  War Horse, which was very schmaltzy but very enjoyable.  Mulan loved, loved, LOVED it.   I guess Spielberg is making the film.   The stage craft is very good.  We also saw the Book of Mormon.  I think it's genius.  I bought the soundtrack.  I love the songs, they're still in my head all the time.  I could tell that "The Invention of Lying" and Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life" were big influences.  But it was great.  Funny and it got better as I thought about it.  Really top-notch.  Mulan didn't like it!  But she knows nothing about religion. She kept tugging my sleeve and asking things like, "What is a baptism?"  Lots of explaining.  Wow, my kid has no religious knowledge whatsoever.