July 2009 Archives

gold diggers of 1933

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july 30 movie: Gold Diggers of 1933. Skipping ahead to tonight's movie, the delightful Gold Diggers of 1933. Coincidentally, a couple of weeks ago Kevin wrote into my show and requested Ginger Rogers singing "We're In the Money", which is the opening number in this movie, and I was crushed that I didn't have it on CD because it's such a fun number. Then TCM showed it a few days ago so I could record it and get the song for my show! Thanks TCM!

This was an early Busby Berkeley musical, with racy pre-code situations and dialogue. Here's an example:

"I look better in clothes than any of you. If Barney could see me in clothes --"
"He wouldn't recognize you."

The movie features incredible, deliriously strange numbers, like "Petting in the Park" (which I've written about before) and "The Forgotten Man." This time I'm including a clip of a quiet, sweet moment: Dick Powell serenading Ruby Keeler & accompanying himself on piano. Be sure to watch to the end, when Powell and Keeler blow kisses to each other. So adorable!


link if you don't get the right video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBkE6TOmMEU

I wasn't sure if Powell was really playing the piano in that clip, though it sure looks like it. While Googling to find out if he played piano, I discovered that he grew up in the same small town as my first boyfriend: Mountain View, Arkansas, population 2,876. Back then my boyfriend told me that no one famous had ever come from Mountain View except Grandpa from Hee-Haw. (Grandpa had a restaurant right down the road from the shop where my boyfriend's parents made mountain dulcimers.) How could he have neglected Dick Powell? Powell's childhood home is on Main Street, and I was right there in the late 80s! We went to the town square, I probably walked right past Powell's house. I wish I had known. Well, I didn't know who Dick Powell was back then, but don't confuse me with facts.

panciuto & scratch

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We just got back from an incredible dinner at Panciuto in Hillsborough. It was a "community dinner," everyone sat around one long table and the food was passed down the table on platters. Panciuto's regular chef was joined by Phoebe Lawless of Scratch (the pie lady from the Durham farmer's market). I think this was one of the best Italian meals I've eaten. Here's the menu:

Starter: Spicy Scilian Rusks and prosciutto (this was kind of a crispy thick cracker with a peppery/anise flavor, topped with a thin slice of prosciutto)

Breads:

  • Sardinian parchment bread (very thin flatbread)
  • Farinata (triangles made of farina)
  • Foccacine al griglia (don't know what that means, it was a grilled bread much like naan)
  • the breads were served with a fresh tomato spread

Dinner:

  • Torta di zucca e riso (a savory crust filled with rice and shredded zucchini. Had a lemony flavor. Maybe the best thing all night.)
  • Cheese with gooseberry jam (this is the one thing we didn't get, the platter was empty by the time it got to where we were sitting. I saw it on someone else's plate, it was that Italian cheese with whole peppercorns in it, which I love, but there was so much other wonderful food that I don't mind missing it. We can get that cheese at Whole Foods.)
  • Seared Cobia scallopine with cipollata, Sungold tomatoes and oregano vinaigrette (fish, perfectly cooked)
  • Ditalini (homemade pasta) with eggplant, tomatoes, basil, guanciale, breadcrumbs and ricotta salata (rivaled the torta for the best dish of the night)
  • Salad greens with tomatoes, watermelon, mozzarella and basil
  • Pattypan squash (the salad and squash sound plain compared to everything else, but they were wonderful)

Dessert:

  • Toasted corn gelato
  • Grappa infused peaches and blackberries
  • Zabaglione
  • Semolina-olive oil cake

Study: Abstinence-Only Lunch Programs Ineffective At Combating Teen Obesity

"It's not the government's place to step in and tell my kids about food and how it's okay in moderation or whatever," said Woodbridge PTA member Steven Bray, a father of two students. "My son's going to learn how to eat the same way I did--by watching monkeys do it at the zoo."

--The Onion (of course)

We had a great time at the WXDU outing to the Durham Bulls tonight. They had gotten one of those boxes in right field with tables and chairs instead of bleachers. And we were under a roof! It ended up not raining, but it sure looked like it was going to so I was relieved to see the shelter.

It was a pretty exciting game: the Norfolk Tides took an early lead, then the Bulls had a blowout fifth inning, then the Tides rallied in the 8th but weren't quite able to come back. The final score was 7-5 Bulls.

The funniest thing tonight was the drunk people in the box in front of us. They had a keg, and were working really hard at emptying it, so much that about half-way through the game I asked Georg if he thought they were satirically imitating drunkards, or were they actually plastered. He couldn't tell and neither could I.

It became clear that it was drunkenness, not satire, when one of them shoved a peanut up another one's nose, and he couldn't get it out. It wasn't so much the peanut going up the nose that gave them away; accidents do happen. It was the reaction: everyone in the box thought it was uproariously funny, except the guy with the peanut in his nose, who calmly explained to the woman who had done it that she owed him and was obligated to get the peanut out. Her reply: "I didn't know it would go so far up!"

He kept trying to give her a napkin (how that was supposed to help get a peanut out of his nose, I don't know) and then the two of them tried to find a pair of tweezers. They couldn't find anyone with tweezers, imagine that. Eventually one of the other drunks convinced the peanut guy to close the other nostril and blow out, dislodging the peanut. (It wasn't in the shell and wasn't stuck in there; it had just gone far enough up into his nose that he couldn't reach it.) That got the peanut about halfway out, and instead of pulling it the rest of the way out he sat there while all the other drunks took photos of the peanut hanging out of his nose.

The single funniest thing I've ever seen at a baseball game may be a pair of drunks trying to borrow tweezers so they can remove a peanut lodged in one's nose.

After cooking something greasy that doesn't stick -- like fried eggs or a grilled cheese sandwich -- in a cast iron pan, the best thing you can do for the pan is let it sit for a few hours rather than washing it right away. The grease coats the pan as it gradually cools and improves the seasoning.

See, I'm not letting my lunch dishes sit because I'm lazy. I'm seasoning the pan.

the more things change

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I've been wondering what HGTV is going to do for programming, now that no one wants to watch "Flip That House!" or "Yes, You Can Afford It!" or whatever the hell they called those shows all about people buying houses for outrageous amounts of money and then turning around and selling them for even more.

Well no one wants to watch those shows now. So how is HGTV responding to the the new era of bankruptcy, repossession & underwater mortgages? Apparently it's Real Estate Intervention, full of painful truths from a scary-looking bald guy. The ad I saw was full of homeowners frowning and saying "That is unacceptable" while scary-looking bald guy says "I tell them the things they don't want to hear!"

Is this HGTV's new austerity? Nah, they're probably just waiting for the economy to bounce back a tiny bit so they can start up again with reruns of "How Much Did That Asshole Pay For That Tacky McMansion!"

crossposting woes

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Having trouble making the new MT install cross-post to LiveJournal. It's a really old plugin with no alternative (which I do not understand, I can't be the only person in the world using both, and for crying out loud, SixApart used to own Livejournal) and every upgrade I worry that it will stop working. Crossing my fingers!

[eta: It's buggy, but seems to be working. Main problem looks like MT and LJ now define "publication date"/"creation date" differently. Trying to post an entry which is older than an already existing entry makes LJ very unhappy. I'll just have to be careful not to do that.]

bloggie's new home

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The migration to MT 4.3 last night went well! We got my blog and Georg's moved, I got my theme mostly set up and we put Georg on a default theme temporarily. I meant to do more -- work on his theme and get started on moving the Divaville Lounge site -- then I crashed around 11:30. Was suddenly so tired I had trouble finishing a sentence, and that is no frame of mind to be mucking around with code. So I went to bed.

This morning I was feeling lazy and did the Sunday crossword puzzle before my show instead of working. So it's back to it now! There is an actual work-related reason for this upgrade: MT 4.3 has some features I really want for a client site. But the beta is only in MTOS, the open source version. The client site runs on MT Pro and uses enough of the community features that I couldn't get the site to run on the 4.3 beta. Installing the beta on my own site lets me try out the features like true pagination of category lists and comments, and filtering search by author, date or category. I'm assuming the official release next week will offer both OS and Pro versions; am not mentioning these groovy new features to the client on MT Pro until I know for sure, just in case.

Now if they just build rating/voting into the core MT program, that will really make me happy. The only real option for that now is a plugin, which when I installed the plugin on the client site it made the whole site go kablooey. (thank goodness it was a test environment, not the live site!) The plugin author never responded to my request for help even though I paid for the damn thing. Judging from the comments on his site, there are a lot of people waiting for a response from him.

Speaking of migration I have been following @NPRTechTeam on Twitter as they prepare to launch a new npr.org today. They've got 50 people working on it! I hardly ever even go to npr.org and I'm still finding it absolutely fascinating. One new feature I'm excited about is an embeddable a/v player: they're adding the ability for people to embed audio from NPR stories on their own blogs or sites. That will come in handy.

upgrade

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Upgrading Movable Type tonight. Things may get a little weird on the blog for awhile. At least this time I had to sense to copy the database before I started. So I can easily go back if something goes wrong.

[ETA: running in MT4.3, now time to set up the CSS.]

[ETA: the styles aren't perfect, but more or less okay. Now time to migrate Georg's blog.]

so damn cute

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This is the cutest thing I've seen in ages:

I'm still humming the music.

a trip to the moon, for all mankind

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14327w_marina_warner_17.jpgJuly 20 movies: A Trip to the Moon, For All Mankind. In honor of the moon landing TCM showed movies about the moon all day. In the evening they had Buzz Aldrin introducing them, which was nice. We watched two: first, the 1902 Méliès movie A Trip to the Moon is a delight. I had seen clips of it before, like the legendary image of the man in the moon with a rocket ship crashing into its eye. But I had never seen the whole thing before.

For All Mankind was a documentary made for the 20th anniversary of the moon landing. There was no narration, not even titles or captions; just the words of the astronauts themselves, from recordings during the missions and from later interviews. I've never been overly sentimental about space travel, yet I found it genuinely moving, for instance when the astronauts are talking to mission control while seeing Earth for the first time.
My favorite incident was how the astronauts were allowed to bring one cassette tape each, so they could listen to music. One was a country music fan, and had gotten Buck Owens and Merle Haggard to record songs especially for him to listen to on the flight. The movie played bits of both songs, and in a spoken intro Haggard said "I have one request: please take me outside." And he did; they showed the astronaut tucking the cassette into his space suit. In a way, Merle Haggard got to float in space.

Tonight we also watched a half-hour compilation of Walter Cronkite's coverage of the moon landing, thanks to the History Channel. (And thanks also to Georg who noticed that it was on and recorded it last night.) It was really, really interesting to hear the live coverage, what Cronkite was saying as it happened. For one thing, he didn't catch the second half of Armstrong's famous line "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Cronkite complains audibly that he couldn't hear it and wanted to know what Armstrong had said. Also interesting was when they showed the conversation between Nixon and the astronauts, just after they put the flag up. For All Mankind eliminated Nixon from the story entirely: it showed Kennedy's speech promising to put a man on the moon, then nothing about presidents. I wonder if it just didn't fit into the movie, or if in 1989 Nixon was still too much of an embarrassment?
I was a baby during the moon landing -- I'm told that my mother held 6-month-old me up in front of the TV and told me to pay attention -- but Georg was old enough to stay up late and watch the coverage. Now I feel like I got to see a little bit of it too.

three wise girls

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July 20 movie: Three Wise Girls. 1931 drama starring Jean Harlow as one of three women from a small town, trying to make it in New York. Being pre-code, there's a lot of sex. One of the friends is the kept woman of a married man, who tries to assault Harlow the first time he can arrange to be alone with her. Let's see, there's also a suicide attempt (maybe successful? Hard to tell). And Harlow and the friend have jobs as models in a department store, allowing for many scenes of them changing in and out of lingerie. There's a hilarious scene where the friend teases Harlow for wearing dowdy cotton bloomers. And one incredible scene where Harlow is wearing a slip and bending over to put on her stockings in extreme closeup. She keeps almost popping out of the slip, and it's really quite erotic in that pre-code way. I recommend this movie if you want a fleeting look at Jean Harlow's breasts. And really, who wouldn't?

hair

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July 20 movie: Hair. "Let it fly in the breeze, and get caught in the trees, give a home to the fleas in my hair." Oh, lordie! What a blast from the past. The world's cleanest dirty hippies beg, steal, take drugs, trespass, disrupt a private party and start a prison riot, while taking on racism, the sexual revolution and the Vietnam war. Those lovable scamps!

I didn't see the movie until I was in college but before the movie was even made my parents had the Broadway cast album. As a kid I listened to it enough to know the songs by heart forever -- I remember over a decade later finding out who Fellini, Antonioni, "and also his countryman Roman Polanski" are and being like, hey! Those guys from that song, they're actual people!

Warning, the songs are fiendishly catchy. I've got several of them bouncing around in my head right now. Good morning, starshine! The earth says hello! As far as the movie itself, what surprised me was how earnest and sincere it all was. It seems to me that if this movie were made today, it would be dripping with irony. Everything is dripping with ironic detachment, and an anti-war movie about youth culture would be especially so. This movie was totally without irony. As Georg pointed out, though the movie was made in 79, the play opened in 1968. It can't comment on the 60s counterculture because it was so much a part of it.

Embarrassing personal memory: I didn't know what the words in "Sodomy" meant so I looked them all up in the dictionary. Which was a laborious and ultimately unhelpful process. First of all, it took a while to figure out how to spell the words. And none of them were in my dictionary so I had to go for the grownup dictionary with tiny print. Then the definitions were circular and meaningless to youthful me (9? 10? Somewhere thereabouts). For instance, the definition of pederasty was "of a pederast." I'm still puzzled by that.

the moon, for chrissake

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Forty years ago today. Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket.

holy crap

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I'm all caught up on the movie list! First time in months.

the hill

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July 18 movie: The Hill. Incredible drama directed by Sidney Lumet about a British military prison somewhere in the Middle East. Note this is not a prisoner of war camp; it's a military prison, for soldiers convicted of crimes. It's a brutal place where guards are free to do whatever they like to the prisoners, out of sadism, a misguided attempt to build character, or any reason at all. No one cares what happens to the prisoners, as long as no embarrassment is caused to the people in charge.

The titular hill is an artificial mound built of sand and rock in the middle of the camp, which prisoners are forced to run up and down in the blazing midday sun. The movie follows five new inmates at the prison and the guards' attempts to break them down. Sean Connery is great as the star, but I have to save the highest praise for Ossie Davis. He plays another inmate, and when his character is finally pushed too far, Davis steals the movie and never lets it go. His performance is electrifying. There's also very good work by Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen, Alfred Lynch, Roy Kinnear, Michael Redgrave and Ian Hendry. Everyone in the movie is great.

I read that the writer based the script on his actual experiences in a British military prison. That makes me feel a bit ill. (Really, not figuratively, it makes my stomach hurt to know this was based on reality.) It's a claustrophobic movie, not easy to watch but well worth it. Masterfully filmed to intensify the tension and make you feel like you're standing in 115° heat yourself. I have only one criticism: the volume ranges wildly from quiet speeched to VERY LOUD YELLING. More of the latter, though it shifts back and forth enough that I was constantly turning the volume up and down.

surfwise

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July 18 movie: Surfwise. Documentary about the Paskowitzes, a large family who dropped out of conventional life in the late 1950s, lived in a camper for decades, raised 9 children and surfed all the time. It was really interesting. At first it seems like a funny story about this cool family on a lifetime adventure. Gradually it comes out that the father was a violent, abusive control freak who forced his entire family to live out his bizarre ideas about the natural state of man, and then blamed them for not thriving in his grand experiment. Abject poverty, not enough food, not enough clothes, no education whatsoever, eleven people living in a 24 foot camper. What could go wrong?

One very telling moment in the movie comes when the subject of sex comes up. Several of the children talk about their parents' regular practice of having loud sex pretty much every night, right in front of the kids. (remember, 11 people in a 24 foot camper.) They described it as traumatizing. One of the sons describes his elaborate method of tucking and folding his ears in and pressing a pillow over his head, trying to block out the sound of his parents going at it. Then in a separate interview the father describes it as this fun, wholesome thing where he and his wife are expressing their healthy sexual urges while the kids sit around giggling. He clearly has no clue how his children actually felt.

I felt a little frustrated that the movie left so many questions about the wife unanswered. Why did she go along with this? How was she able to run such a household? Where did the money come from to buy what little food and clothing they had? Was this as difficult for her as it seems like it must have been? There are hints here and there -- for instance, a friend of the family says "Whenever you went to their camper, she was inside cleaning." One of the sons says he was the only one who ever helped their mother (though I think he means the only son who helped; I got the impression the one daughter did a lot of work). Then much later one of the children points out a family photo and says it's his favorite because "all of us were in the water, even Mom." Which seems to suggest that Mom didn't get to swim and play like everyone else did all the time. One of the children mentions almost off-handedly that by the time they were teenagers the mother was "beaten down" by it all. The father seems incredibly selfish, just up and decided to give up his career (he was a Stanford-educated doctor) so he could surf for the rest of his life, and threw the entire burden of caring for a huge family on his wife.

It comes off sounding a lot like those ultra-controlling patriarchal Christian marriages, where "the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church." In the very beginning of the movie the wife says that for 10 years she was either pregnant or nursing or both, every single day. And the father says that he instructed her to behave like the apes do -- if gorillas nurse their children for two years, then she better nurse his children for two years. I don't think the patriarchal Christians are into imitating animal behavior, but this dynamic where whatever wacko notion the husband gets into his head, the wife has to obey without question -- that sounds just like them.

Maybe I'm making it sound like I didn't like this movie, and that's not true at all. I greatly enjoyed the movie; I just didn't like the father. It was really interesting to get a look at one of these domineering relationships which I've read about but (thankfully!) don't know anyone who is involved in one. I do have to say that the wife does not express this view of the relationship. She concedes that her husband can be difficult to deal with, that he was too harsh with the children and that "there were a lot of tears in the early years," but she seems happy with him. Then again, the daughter believes that her mother is able to remember the years in the camper as happy by blocking out a lot.

Jul 18 movies: Jazz Heroes: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole. Not actually a movie, this was a TV series they were running on Ovation. We recorded a bunch and have watched these three so far.

Of the three, the Ella Fitzgerald special was the least enjoyable. First of all it was only a half hour, so there just wasn't enough time to get into any depth about anything. And what time they had was wasted on interviews with modern singers describing Ella's style and then singing in, I presume, what they considered to be Ella's style. Gee, it would have been nice if they'd played Ella herself singing. What a concept! When they did use clips of Ella's singing, they were always abbreviated and sometimes not appropriate for the story they were telling -- for instance when they said she had started out working with Chick Webb in the mid 30s, they played a clip of her singing much later. The arrangement and her singing were totally different from what she did with Webb. By the time the narrator repeated the old myth that Louis Armstrong invented scat singing, I was done with this program.

The Billie Holiday one was better because the interview subjects were people who had known Holiday. I especially enjoyed Carmen McRae who had been friends with Holiday. She told a hilarious story about how Holiday could drink her under the table any night of the week. And how McRae's birthday was the day after Holiday's, and every year she would spend Holiday's birthday drinking all night, and then miss her own birthday because she spent the whole day hung over from Holiday's celebration. A great story whether it's true or not.

All the interviews in the Nat King Cole show were with family members. As a result it was a very flattering, gentle look at Cole. Nothing at all about difficulties he'd had to overcome or problems in his life or career. Not really that much detail about his career now that I think about it. For instance they never even said the names of the other members of the King Cole Trio. Still it was nice to see his family talk about him, especially one of his brothers. At first I was surprised that any of his siblings was still alive, then I realized the interview was probably from the 80s. The best part about the Cole special was that they played not clips, but entire songs. I really appreciated that.

the boys are back in town

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July 16 movie: The Boys are Back in Town. About a month ago we watched a DVD called Let's Hear It For the Girls, a collection of performance shorts featuring women. Well this was the male counterpart. There was more star power here -- I remember being frustrating that so many important female singers were missing from Let's Hear It For the Girls, and that wasn't a problem with The Boys Are Back in Town. Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, the Dorsey Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan and Bing Crosby were all featured. Along with some lesser known musicians like Dick Haymes, Tony Pastor, Larry Clinton and even a couple I hadn't heard of.

bullets or ballots

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July 13 movie: Bullets or Ballots. Edward G. Robinson, Joan Blondell and a very young Humphrey Bogart star in this crime drama. Robinson is a cop who goes undercover and pretends to have turned into a gangster, to try and bring down organized crime. Bogart is the most villainous of the gangsters and Blondell is Robinson's love interest. It's not a great movie, still worth it to me because of the stars. Edward G. Robinson was such a good actor. Robert Osborne said that he initially refused to do this one because he was tired of being typecast in gangster movies. In his private life I've heard that Robinson was a very intelligent man who loved reading and collected art.

(I have absolutely no idea what the title means. I don't remember anything about ballots in the movie.)

a bridge too far

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July 13 movie: A Bridge Too Far. Another movie I rented on Kevin's recommendation. It was really good! The story of Operation Market Garden, the Allied mission to capture a series of bridges in German territory, focusing on the bridge at Arnhem in the Netherlands. Do I have to worry about spoilers when it's a true story that everyone familiar with war history probably knows about? I'll just say that the title is "a bridge too far" and leave it at that.

The cast is spectacular. Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Dirk Bogarde, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Maximilian Schell, James Caan, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O'Neal, and Liv Ullman for starters. I even saw John Ratzenberger in a small part! He has one line: "Major, have we got any more information about those boats?"

Redford's part is not huge, but it reminded me why he's considered such a great actor. He has one incredible scene (one of many, many incredible scenes in the movie) where he has to lead a group of soldiers trying to cross a river in small open boats, under heavy fire, in broad daylight. They're paddling and they don't have enough oars, so some of the men are using their rifles to paddle. As they head out he starts muttering "Hail Mary, full of grace" repeatedly. Not the whole prayer, just the first line over and over. As he keeps saying it, it starts to mean all kinds of things: a plea, a curse, a battle cry, all in the repetition. Through it all you can hear him using the words to hold himself together, and desperately hoping it works. Almost pleading with himself to keep going. It's really pretty amazing that he could communicate so much with just five words.

persepolis

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July 12 movie: Persepolis. We saw this when it showed at the Carolina -- last year I think? -- and I wanted to watch it again because Iran has been so much in the news lately. It's an incredibly compelling autobiographical story about a woman growing up in Tehran. She's about my age, was a child during the 1978 revolution, lived through the religious repression of the 80s, then moved to Europe and experienced severe culture shock. It's very serious and also very funny.

It's kind of sad to admit this, but I learned way more about Iran from this movie than I ever did in school. I remember the hostage crisis when it was happening, but I don't remember learning much of any actual information about Iran. It was all the same kind of "they hate us for our freedom" bullshit being served after 9/11. I guess oversimplifying foreign conflicts and sanitizing our role in them isn't new.

July 10 movie: The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Fred and Ginger's last RKO movie together, it's the only movie of theirs I hadn't seen yet. I had heard it was a lesser effort for them, and that's definitely true. They were constrained by the biographical story and couldn't do one of the silly screwball comedies that worked so well for them. The latter half is sort of a war movie, with Vernon joining up in WWI and dying during the war. There's a lengthy sequence where Vernon wants to join up as soon as the war starts, but Irene talks him out of it because she wants to retire to a country house and raise kids and have a quiet normal life. And Vernon has to convince Irene that her desire for quiet and ... one could even say isolation is wrong. With the movie having been made in 1939, I shouldn't have been surprised to see this come up.

I read on Wikipedia that Irene Castle, who was still alive, was a consultant for the movie, and she got really pissed off because of changes they made to her life story. She particularly clashed with Ginger Rogers, who refused to cut or dye her hair, or to wear accurate costumes. Apparently Irene Castle had been quite the trend-setter in the teens, but Rogers insisted on wearing clothes in the style of 1939. I did recognize a costume in the movie that was based on one Castle wore in a photo in Wikipedia, but you can tell that it was cut very differently.

the little princess

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July 9 movie: The Little Princess. From King Solomon's Mines to this is a case of the sublime to the ridiculous if ever there was one. This movie is pure corn from beginning to end. Shirley Temple in full Technicolor, with Arthur Treacher, Ian Hunter, Cesar Romero, more phony Cockney accents than you can shake a stick at, and Queen Victoria! I adore it.

king solomon's mines

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July 8 movie: King Solomon's Mines. I think this is Stewart Granger's best movie. Based on an H. Rider Haggard story, Granger plays a guide who takes Deborah Kerr and her brother into the interior of Africa. They're looking for Kerr's missing husband, who went in search of the titular mine.

It's an exciting movie, a great ripping yarn, and a gorgeous travelogue of Africa. Also interesting is the portrayal of African people -- it's the oldest movie I've seen which acknowledges that different regions of Africa have distinct communities with distinct languages and cultures. Near the end of the movie there is a breathtaking dance sequence which (according to Robert Osborne) was completely accurate to Watusi tradition, not Hollywood-ed up at all. Compared to Too Hot to Handle just twelve years earlier, with its extremely offensive scenes in the Amazon, it's almost amazing. Another really spectacular scene is the action sequence where the party is overrun by a stampede. I've watched that scene several times now and I'm still trying to figure out how they did it. It looks so real.

i didn't do it

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Visited one of my favorite blogs this evening and discovered this where the home page should have been: (click to enlarge)
balloonjuice.gif

I cannot be the only person who looked at that page, had a heart-stopping "oh shit!" moment of anxiety, and then thought, "Wait, this isn't my site. My code had nothing to do with this. Whew." Sadly, I've seen that error message (or one just like it) on my own pages many times.

who was that lady

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July 6 movie: Who Was That Lady. This movie was horrible. Well, let me qualify that. If you like the ugly misogynist humor of the early 60s, you may like this movie. Tony Curtis plays a college professor caught kissing a student by his wife (real-life wife Janet Leigh). She walks out on him, because she's "insanely jealous," so Curtis turns to buddy Dean Martin for help. Martin concocts this ridiculous story that they're both members of the FBI, and the girl is a foreign agent Curtis has to spy on. Martin uses his job as a writer for a TV network to get a realistic-looking gun and ID card, and they convince the poor woman that her philandering husband is really a super agent protecting America.

I found both these characters so loathsome that when they get their comeuppance, it wasn't nearly enough. And then when they're forgiven and everything works out in the end? Made me want to throw something at the screen. And I enjoyed Boys Night Out. I don't know why, but I did. This movie, I couldn't stand. (Maybe it's the difference between James Garner and Dean Martin.)

It wasn't all bad. There's a funny scene at the end where Martin and Curtis wake up in the boiler room of the Empire State Building, see all the equipment and think they're on a foreign submarine, and decide to scuttle it. They open all the valves on the boilers and then start singing "God Bless America." And the title song, sung by Martin of course, is pretty good because it's so sleazy. The chorus actually goes "That was no lady, that was my wife!" I have it on an album somewhere, maybe I should play it next week.

cleopatra

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July 6 movie: Cleopatra. The 1934 version with Claudette Colbert and Warren William as Julius Caeser. Also features Henry Wilcoxon, Joseph Schildkraut and C. Aubrey Smith (who looks ridiculous in Roman costume). Colbert is the reason to watch the movie, far and away. She is extraordinary. On the downside, movie includes the worst, most boring battle scenes I have ever seen in any movie. Just fast-forward over that part and get back to Claudette as quickly as possible.

One interesting note: Colbert was famous for favoring the left side of her face. She thought she looked much better on that side, and hated being shot in right profile or straight on. When she became a big success, she was able to demand that entire sets be designed so she could be filmed only in left profile. She had the nickname "the Dark Side of the Moon" because of this.

Well, Cleopatra was made before those days. The movie definitely favored the left profile, but there are a few close-ups of her in right profile. And you know what? She really does look different! Her nose is distinctly different on the right side. Georg says that I probably wouldn't have noticed if such a big deal hadn't been made of it, and he's right. Still, she does look different.

the greatest show on earth

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July 5 movie: The Greatest Show on Earth. I love this movie. Sure, it's an extended ad for the Ringling Brothers circus. Who cares? The cast is terrific: Charlton Heston, Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame, the luminous Betty Hutton, and Jimmy Stewart as a killer clown! Plus real life famous clowns playing themselves (the only name I recognized was Emmett Kelly.)

1776

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July 4 movie: 1776. What a delightful way to spend Independence Day. This was an early 70s musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The stars were like a parade of TV from my youth: John Adams was the prickly chief of staff from St. Elsewhere; Thomas Jefferson was the White Shadow; the New York delegate (the one who's always abstaining) was on Hogan's Heroes; the South Carolina delegate was on Northern Exposure. Also Howard de Silva was very good as Ben Franklin.

The songs are fun. I particularly liked the one about what our national bird should be, and the call and response between John and Abigail Adams: "Saltpeter!" "Pins!" My impression is that the movie is fairly historical, though it distorts the role of John Dickinson, the Pennsylvania delegate who opposes independence. In the movie he's pure villain, a sneering manipulative jerk. My understanding is that in reality, he was well-liked.

watermelon sorbet

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A brief interlude for a non-movie post: This recipe for watermelon sorbet is one of the best things I've had in ages. It was a hit at the barbecue we took it to. And it was really, really easy to make. If you have an ice cream maker you owe it to yourself to try it.

The recipe wants you to fuss around with cutting slices of rind, molding the sorbet into slice shapes on the rind, melting chocolate and piping out "seeds." Ridiculous! This is what I did:

  1. Buy a 10 pound watermelon. Cut it in half. Scoop out the prettiest half; save the rest for later.
  2. Put the watermelon chunks, and any liquid, into the blender. You should have about 5 cups of watermelon puree.
  3. Dissolve a cup of sugar with a cup of the watermelon on the stove. Remove from heat, add the rest of the watermelon and 1/4 cup lime juice.
  4. Run through your ice cream maker.
  5. Freeze the sorbet and the empty rind for several hours or overnight.
  6. Make a 1" layer of sorbet inside the rind. Press mini chocolate chips into the layer to make "seeds." Fill with the rest of the sorbet. Refreeze.

That's it! So easy and people were really impressed. The chocolate chips are a nice little surprise. It served 8 people, and we still have the other watermelon half in the fridge. I think I'm going to try watermelon-limeade.

1939

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July 4 movie: 1939. This was a TCM-produced documentary about 1939, often called the best year in Hollywood's golden era. It was interesting, they gave context to what was going on at each studio & the internal politics that led to the movies being made. Of course with so much ground to cover they don't go into much detail on any specific movie or studio, but it was still worth watching.

fog over frisco

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July 3 movie: Fog Over Frisco. This movie sucked! I recorded it because it features a very young Bette Davis -- so young she was still blonde and still playing gangster's molls. Really, really bad movie. I do not recommend it unless you're such a huge Bette Davis fan that you have to watch everything she was ever in.

On the bright side, Davis said in later interviews that the awful movies they put her in at first taught her a lot, so she was better prepared when she finally got parts in good movies. I'm grateful to Fog Over Frisco for teaching Davis what not to do, though I will never watch it again.

the deadly affair

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July 2 movie: The Deadly Affair. A movie version of a John le Carré novel, this dragged a bit (okay, a lot) in the middle. Then it really picked up at the end, leaving me wishing I had paid more attention and not let my mind wander when it was all talky and boring earlier on. Good acting from James Mason, Simone Signoret and especially Maximilian Schell. I was less enamoured with a subplot about Mason's wife being a nymphomaniac.

I'm not sorry I watched this, though if I wanted to watch another le Carré movie I'd watch The Spy Who Came In from the Cold again. Which by the way, it's the same character in both movies, they had to change the name because of rights issues.

more movies

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June 18: Let's Hear It For the Girls. This was a series of performance videos and soundies featuring women. It was clearly limited by the material they could get: no Ella, no Billie, no Judy. Some good material though, including a few acts I hadn't even heard of before.

June 19: The Carey Treatment. I recorded this because it starred James Coburn. Turns out it's the first Michael Crichton adaptation. A young woman dies after a botched illegal abortion, a doctor who performs abortions is blamed, and a pathologist (Coburn) turns amateur investigator and tries to find out what really happened. The subject of abortion before Roe v Wade is handled more thoughtfully than I would have expected. A wide range of points of view are portrayed, some admirable, some not so much, and the movie is careful not to vilify (or glorify) everyone who either supports or opposes abortion rights. It's not all "surprisingly thoughtful" though: the death of the young woman is gruesome, she's shown collapsing with blood pouring out of her crotch. (Not at all like Men in White, which also features a woman dying from a botched abortion, and was edited so heavily to pass the Hayes Code that I had no idea what had happened, didn't even know the woman had been pregnant. She spends two minutes alone in a room with Clark Gable, and the next time you see her she's lying on a hospital bed mysteriously dying.)
On the downside, the movie shifts at the end into a sort of generic mystery-thriller, with people being killed left and right and it's a bit silly. Also extremely silly was the "evil Swedish massage" scene.

June 26: Kagemusha. Kurosawa movie about a king who dies, and his top retainers find a lookalike to impersonate him to hold the kingdom together. The king and the lookalike are played by the same actor who played the king in Ran.

June 27: Marnie. Hitchcock drama about a kleptomaniac (Tippi Hedrin) manipulated into marrying an amateur psychologist (Sean Connery) who wants to help and/or study her. It was interesting, with a few really good scenes, particularly one near the beginning where Hedrin is almost caught robbing a safe. However, I can't recommend this movie if you have any feminist sensibilities at all. The attitude towards gender and sex is appalling. Hedrin is portrayed throughout as some kind of animal who has to be tamed by Connery. Most difficult to watch is a scene where Connery rapes Hedrin. Most reviews call it "marital rape" but in my book, rape is rape. At least it wasn't a rape passed off as "seduction," as older movies sometimes did (like Gone with the Wind for instance). She tries to kill herself first thing the next morning; to me that seems clear that Hitchcock intended it to be rape.

June 27: Psycho. After all this time and so many viewings, this movie still has the capacity to shock me.

June 28: North By Northwest, Notorious, The Philadelphia Story. Three classics that I don't have much to say about tonight.

June 29: The Women. I never miss an opportunity to watch this. When the movie was made, they bragged that there were no men in the picture at all, not the actors, the animals, the books on the shelves or the art on the walls. Well I read on IMDB that it isn't true, and I confirmed it on this viewing: early in the movie the women have lunch together, and Joan Fontaine is reading a magazine which clearly has a man's face on the back cover. A few minutes later Rosalyn Russell flops into a chair, and behind her is a framed photo of someone who could possibly be a teenage flapper, but is probably a young man. Later on in the fashion show there's a cardboard cutout of a bull whose bullish attributes are clearly on display, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

July 1: The Case of the Howling Dog. Perry Mason mystery movie starring Warren William. There were tons of these detective movie series in the 30s. The Saint, the Thin Man, Mr. Moto, Philo Vance, etc. The Perry Mason series was very much a lesser example of the genre, and I only kept watching because I like William. In fact I'm watching one of the sequels now. Why? Because I'm not sleepy enough to go to sleep, not awake enough to watch a movie good enough that I would want to pay attention to it.

movies

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I have got to catch up on the movie list. I have recently watched movies I want to write about, and I can't because of this list hanging around like an albatross! I'm going to combine a bunch into single posts until I catch up.

June 14: His Girl Friday, Ball of Fire. Two classic screwball comedies. Ball of Fire features a terrific performance by the Gene Krupa Orchestra. They do "Drum Boogie" with Barbara Stanwyck singing. Though at points in the song, it sounds like she's being dubbed by Anita O'Day.

June 15: Sullivan's Travels, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, The Palm Beach Story. They must have done a special on Preston Sturges. I hate "best this and that" pronouncements and I'm about to make one: in my opinion Sturges may have the best sense of humor of any director in Hollywood history. His movies were pitch perfect. Broad physical comedy at the right moment, arch and witty at the right moment, serious at the right moment. Of these three The Palm Beach Story is my favorite because I love Claudette Colbert so much. Here's a favorite line from The Palm Beach Story, said by Rudy Vallee who plays a rather prissy millionaire: "That's one of the tragedies of this life. The men who are most in need of a beating are always enormous."

June 17: Sombra Verde. After Ricardo Montalban became famous in Hollywood, he went back to Mexico and made a couple of movies including this one. He plays a scientist -- a manly, manly scientist -- on an expedition to find a special root (called a "yam" in the subtitles so I'm guessing some kind of tuber) which has been discovered to contain a key ingredient in antibiotics.
Montalban gets lost in the wild, his guide is killed by a snake, he stumbles into a remote hacienda inhabited by an old man who wants to kill him and a hotsy-totsy daughter who wants to, um, I think you can figure it out. As a movie, I can't recommend this. If you want to watch Montalban at his most virile, running around in various states of undress, this is the movie for you.

June 17: So Long at the Fair. I can't believe I never heard of this before! It was a thriller starring Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. Simmons goes to Paris with his brother, they check into a hotel, the next morning she gets up and discovers that as far as anyone else is concerned her brother was never there and doesn't exist. She spends the rest of the movie trying to find out what happened to her brother, and prove she's not crazy. Reminded me a bit of a Hitchcock movie like The Lady Vanishes, though it wasn't Hitchcock.

June 17: Hamlet. I really did not intend to watch this. Turned on the TV and saw Marianne Faithful and I was hooked. She played Ophelia and she was really good! Nicol Williamson starred as Hamlet, the movie also featured great performances by Anthony Hopkins as Claudius and Gordon Jackson as Horatio. I really like Gordon Jackson, he was in so many great movies. I first saw him in The Great Escape and The Ipcress File.

June 18: Stalingrad. Wow, this was intense. Kevin described it as his all time favorite war movie. My definition of "favorite" is all about the movies I'll watch over and over again, and by that definition this cannot be called a favorite. I will say that it's one of the most powerful, maybe the most powerful war movie I've ever seen. Not for the faint of heart, definitely. The movie, made in Germany, follows a small group of German soldiers to the battle of Stalingrad. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that, being set in Stalingrad, things do not go well. There's a spectacular battle scene early in the movie, when the Germans are trying to capture a factory, and another later on where men in foxholes with only small arms have to fight tanks.
One interesting thing to me is the sharp dichotomy between the rank and file soldiers and the officers. The soldiers are pretty much all portrayed as decent, ordinary men who are unconcerned about politics. The officers are mostly, not entirely but mostly, Nazi true believers. A couple are as evil and sadistic as anything you'd find in a 1944 Hollywood picture. I wonder how much truth there is to this idea that only the officers were Nazi sympathizers? I don't know a whole lot about WWII history.

ofa listening tour

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Tonight I went to the OFA Listening Tour. This is a meeting where Organizing for America (the organization formerly known as Obama for America) staff outline their plans and goals, and ask for feedback from the community on what our goals are, and what we want OFA to do to for us & with us. Unspoken but clearly also a purpose of the meeting was to identify potential volunteers. Because, face it, if you care enough to go to a political meeting then you are a motivated potential volunteer. They made us fill out a long questionnaire about what we had done for the campaign last fall and what we were interested in doing now. They're having these meetings all over (Raleigh is next week, Chapel Hill the week after), thus the name, "Listening Tour."

It was a big meeting, about 60 people attended. Mayor Bell and City Councilman Mike Woodard were there, also a couple of field organizers and about a half dozen volunteers I recognized from the campaign. The most interesting thing happened in the very beginning: apparently the meeting was supposed to be led by the two staffers in charge of North Carolina. A couple of days ago, they were at a youth event of some kind and were both exposed to swine flu. They're fine, they don't have it, and the person who does have it is also going to be fine. The two staffers were put under quarantine for a few days just to be safe, and so could not come to our meeting. Instead the meeting was led by the OFA guy in charge of the entire southeast.

I probably wouldn't have gone but for the high attendance -- almost 100 signed up so I thought there would be at least 50 there, and I was right -- because that drastically reduced the chance that we'd have to all stand up in turn and talk about our background and why we were there. Because I hate that. My voice doesn't carry well, I'm not comfortable talking to a crowd, and I didn't really have anything clear to say. I decided in advance that if compelled to say why I was there, I would say it was a "listening tour" so I was there to listen. Thankfully we did not. Instead he asked us to introduce ourselves to someone sitting nearby and spend 5 minutes getting to know each other. I talked with a really nice guy who had just graduated from UNCG and moved back to Durham. He had been a leader of the campaign on his campus.

Then the OFA guy talked for awhile about their goals, and then we broke into groups of 6 people and he asked us to discuss specific issues. Things like, "How to connect the national political agenda with local community issues." Or, "How should OFA be structured in our community." I don't think there were any startling insights in our group, but it was interesting to hear what people were thinking. I volunteered to take notes in my group, my fiendish plot to avoid contributing to the conversation.

It was interesting, the OFA guy was a good speaker though not as good at time management as the people who do these meetings all the time might have been. He promised in the beginning that we would finish on time; halfway through he said he was going to run ten minutes late; we actually finished 45 minutes late! It seemed to me that it ran so late because of something Rahm Emanuel said this afternoon, about giving up a health care public option to get more Republicans on board. People were really angry about that and wanted to vent.

The OFA guy told us that his boss has weekly meetings with the White House, so our comments would be sent up. I wondered if that was true. Late in the meeting one woman made a particularly good comment and the OFA guy looked excited and wrote it down. I'm thinking that is the comment that will get passed on.

I honestly don't know how much involvement I'll have in OFA going forward. I really wanted to work on voter rights, which the local Durham group was doing, but that either fizzled out or they dropped me from the mailing list. So I'll have to see what OFA is going to do. I'm absolutely not willing to knock on doors. I was happy to do it for the election, enjoyed it even, but I'm not going to interrupt people at home so I can talk to them about health care. There's a group with a table at the farmer's market every week. I might contact them, that sounds much better. Because you'd be talking to people who approached the table, not people who didn't want to be bothered.

[ETA because I almost forgot: the best thing about the meeting? Over 2 hours in a room with 60 highly political people, and I never once heard the words "Sarah Palin."]

happy birthday america

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I had such a good time this afternoon doing the Independence Day show! It's basically the same show every year -- songs about cities and states, about America, freedom and democracy -- and I try to add something new every year so it won't get boring. This year the new thing was an episode of "You Are There," an old radio show that dramatized historical events, set at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They pretended to have reporters at the Continental Congress interviewing Adams, Jefferson, Dickinson etc. I opened it in Audacity and made six short clips to drop in throughout the show. I think it was really fun! Hope the listeners did too. My only disappointment was that I couldn't find a song I had heard on satellite radio. It was called "He's My Uncle" and was about Uncle Sam. I couldn't find it on iTunes or in the song title search on Amazon.

I got the nicest call from a fellow who requested something from a Mel Torme album I didn't have! He said Sammy Davis had done the same album, and I didn't have that either! I was so intrigued (and embarrassed -- how often do I get a request from either Mel or Sammy that I can't fill, much less both) that I sat down as soon as I got home and ordered them both. Plus a box set of early Mel with the Mel-tones, which I found while I was looking for the requested album. What the heck, I just got paid by a client so I can treat myself to some music.

For a long time I've wanted to do an Independence Day show where I play a song for every state in the union. Next year my show will be on the 4th so I'm going to try to do it. Two problems with this plan: 1. I don't have songs for every single state, and 2. the average show only has time for about 35 songs.

I can deal with the time problem by asking the guys before or after me if they'd be willing to take the week off. Maybe I'll be lucky and one of them will go on vacation for the holiday. And a year ought to be enough time to come up with a song for every state. I'm posting what I've got so far behind a cut, so as not to clog up rss readers and friends pages.

mean girl

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News of Sarah Palin's abrupt resignation has the blogosphere all a-twitter (probably Twitter as well, though I haven't checked there). Some crazy revelations about her have come out in the past few days, and chances are good that there's something major still to come. I have to admit, the most telling detail for me was this quote from her interview in Runners World magazine:

"I used to joke around with John McCain during the campaign about coming jogging with me. And once I asked him what his favorite exercise was, and he said, 'I go wading.' Wading. He lives on a creek in Arizona, so he goes wading. That cracked me up."

I've read some on the right have convinced themselves that people like me hate Sarah Palin because she's hot and has a big family, and we're ugly, barren, miserable feminists who can't stand the sight of a womanly woman. Well, no. The paragraph above explains why I hate her. She is making fun of the 72 year old disabled war hero who gave her the biggest break of her career. Now that he's no longer of use to her, she feels free to mock his disability in a national interview.

I don't hate her for the compulsive lying, the incompetence, for being a parody of herself. On the contrary, she was a gift to the left last fall and somehow she's still giving. I don't even hate her for taking pride in being ignorant. If I hated everyone who did that, I'd be so busy hating I'd have no time for anything else. I hate her for the nastiness. The spite. She is a mean girl.

r.i.p. karl malden

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Karl Malden died yesterday. I never paid as much attention to Malden as I probably should have; I didn't make a point of looking for his movies, like say Alan Hale or Henry Morgan. But like them, he was one of the great character actors. I looked at his credits on IMDB and was surprised to see what a wide range of movies he had been in, from Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront to Birdman of Alcatraz, The Cincinnati Kid, How The West Was Won and Patton, to Billion Dollar Brain and Gypsy. Even in a stinker like Blue or Come Fly With Me, he was good.

He was 97 years old, and left behind his wife of 70 years. Thanks for all the movies, Karl.
karlmalden.jpg

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