Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rating Game Redux 15: The Literary Life

Hard on the heels of Mizzy and the TV-Tones, our local paper has asked us to wax autobiographical, and list the three "best books your high school English teacher made you read." Now, far be it for me to indulge in self-absorption [INSERT GIANT SLOBBERING ALL-ENCOMPASSING SMILEY EMOTICON HERE]; still, I took a shot. And while I left out all kinds of things--the poetry of John Donne, a pleasant smattering of European short stories, The Screwtape Letters and Metamorphosis (although the last two don't count; I found them on my own in my high school library--a cool cover has often helped me judge a book, old saws to the contrary notwithstanding)--I think the ones I picked reflect genuine eye-openers as "I traveled in the realms of gold," back at the mid-point of High Late Adolescence.

King Lear
At 17, I shouldn’t have been ready for a play about the madness and despair that can come with age; but the heart-breaking degradations of Lear’s situation—whether or not of his own making—compelled me to open my eyes to the “primal sympathy” we share in suffering.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
For better or worse, since reading about Huck and Jim I have been convinced that the best stories depend on journeys, from On the Road to Lord of the Rings—and back to The Odyssey and forward to Star Trek.

A Clockwork Orange
A rough ride, but hey, it was 1974, and what better time to read a book that brutalizes not only youth but also the forces that seek to suppress youth?

I can remember hearing about James Earl Jones as Lear--maybe I even saw it, on Great Performances. It seems 1974 wasn't so bad after all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rating Game Redux 14: All Together Now

Unlike last week's impossible mission, I did not hesitate to choose the three best TV theme songs for The Register-Mail. And while many more than three would be better--as always (my heart breaks to leave out The Dick Van Dyke Show or Mr. Ed--although both are mentioned in passing--let alone the deeply reassuring strains of the various covers of the Law and Order theme--a melody that I greet with Pavlovian immediacy, mouth watering for both crime and punishment, with cool guest stars, Columbo with a better wardrobe--I chose the following for an obvious reason: their complete internalization by anyone my age--50 and counting (by cracky)--who, as David Byrne once sang, "grew up in a house with a television always on."* In particular, the first involves snapping fingers; if pressed I will confess I enjoy hearing that sound in a song more than hand-clapping--which has its own all-systems-go attractions. The second features whistling--every song should feature whistling, even classical music. And the third gets even more iconic in my head if I think of the Mad magazine parody. ("By the way, how's your Mom, Ed?") Together, these three have served to gleefully deaden intellectual faculties for decades, providing for many of us a respite from rational thought and pragmatic deliberation. In other words, truly mystical experiences.

The Addams Family
Vic Mizzy (Mr. Ed, Green Acres, F Troop), who sings the lyrics himself, embeds into the collective TV Generation mind a literally finger-poppin’ paean to all things creepy, kooky, and of course ooky.

The Andy Griffith Show
As Andy and Opie head off fishing, Earle Hagen (The Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl, The Mod Squad), who does the whistling himself (another multi-tasker!), perfectly captures the breezy, casual mood of the best of all sitcoms about small-town America.

Dom-dah-DOM-dom. Dom-dah-DOM-dom-DAH. Like Jack Webb’s persona, this manages to be no-nonsense, relentless, surreal, and implacable, all at once. Just the facts, courtesy of composer Miklós Rózsa.

*And Good Grief! how could I have forgotten The Twilight Zone? I apologize to the little boy I once was, happily scared to death by that theme, a little spidery dance along my spine, sharp and venomous.

By the way: Suavity. Some have it, some don't. (Lest we forget, Don, lest we forget.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rating Game Redux 13: These Lists Just Got a Whole Lot More Impossibler

So, the Register-Mail call went out: "Three Best Movie Lines." That's right, for once a no-brainer. All I needed to do was wade through eighty-plus years of talkies and emerge with three little lines that once and for all closed the case.


What could I do? I chose at random--although one had been a part of my email signature for a few years, and another is one of two great lines from Unforgiven--the other being, "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."--while the Raging Bull mantra really is among my actual favorites; it reminds me of the contrarian insistence that the best Shakespeare line is poor King Lear's five "never"s at the end of everything--his wits, his life, the play, and all.

On a personal note, there's also the list of friends' favorite lines, the ones they've latched onto in their own quirky responses to movies. My favorite of these is Stephe's, who, despite all the justly famous lines of Casablanca, prefers Rick's comment when Sascha kisses him after Rick lets the young refugee win so that his girl won't have to sleep with Captain Renault: "Crazy Russian!" So best be damned; these are simply some that have stayed in my head, long after the more quotable quotes have slipped into, if I can manage the phrase, enervating ubiquity.

From the final scene of Raging Bull (1980):
Jake LaMotta: “I'm the boss, I'm the boss, I'm the boss, I'm the boss, I'm the boss ... ”
(Greek tragedy, middleweight class.)

From Unforgiven (1992):
The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) on seeing a man die: “I guess he had it coming.”
Will Munny (Clint Eastwood): “We all got it coming, kid.”
(Judgment Day, with a squint.)

From Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959):
The Amazing Criswell: “We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.”
(It’s funny because it’s true.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rating Game Redux 12: Sound of Female

Preoccupied as I am by yet another writing project, this site languishes. And the current entry--despite potential cheeesecake appeal--will do little to re-vitalize things, being a non-movie list I submitted to the Galesburg Register-Mail. But, thing of Nature as I am, I abhor a vacuum, no matter how quiet and relaxing, so here you go:

Three Best Rocknroll Bad Girls

Poison Ivy (Rorschach)
Sidewoman for the infamous psychobilly Cramps. With album titles like Stay Sick and Smell of Female (I kid you not), one almost has no choice but to submit to this latex-lovin’ orgone gone wrong.

Pat Benatar
Before you groan, let me hit you with her best shot (OK, with that you may groan): 1991’s True Love, in which she covers 1940s-‘50s R&B tunes with irresistible gusto. You haven’t heard a bad girl triumphant until you check out “Don’t Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes at Me.”

You know, the “Woo Hoo” band, a Japanese three-piece girl group who for twenty-plus years has shaked-n-baked American music with a combination of wide-eyed affection and sly-fox grin.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Rating Game Redux 11: War Isn't Hell ...

... Picking only three "best" war films is. In responding to our local paper's latest call, I realized one would need to subcategorize the genre to even approach any kind of list. I opted for war films that were at once intensely personal and thoroughly fed up with the whole bloody mess. Even then, so much is left behind, from Ballad of a Soldier/1959 to Three Kings/1999. And I've offered no real surprises here, no early Sam Fuller (Fixed Bayonets! or The Steel Helmet, both 1951) or mondo weirdo cross-gender war-as-metaphor freakouts (Bob Clark's Dead of Night/Deathdream/1974, Joe Dante's Masters of Horror entry, Homecoming/2005). Just bigtime classics--my comments slightly expanded from the original newspaper version-- with an Honorable Mention to All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

And due apologies for not posting in a long time. I'm working on Something Big, and it takes up much of my time. But not to worry: If it never gets published, I'll just slather it all over a new blog.

Paths of Glory (1957)
The organizers of a hopeless campaign during World War I cover up their incompetence by condemning to death three arbitrarily chosen soldiers, defended onbly by the seething--but impotent--moral outrage of Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas, in a performance so achingly clenched you can almost hear his teeth grinding down to the nubs). With Full Metal Jacket (1987), this marks Stanley Kubrick’s ongoing dissection of the blind brutality that underlies unchecked power.

Ran (1985)
Akira Kurosawa adapts King Lear as a meditation on the loss of compassion in the face of greed. Among the most overwhelming scenes of battle filmed, Saving Private Ryan’s digitized apocalypse included.

The Deer Hunter (1978)
War is reduced to a game of Russian Roulette in which the winners fare worse than the losers. Michael Cimino and a peerless cast (Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, John Savage, George Dzundza, Chuck Aspegren--and that Immortal of the Screen, John Cazale) tally up the costs of war as everyday moments of despair and survival.

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