Saturday Odds & Sods: The Obvious Child

The Grande Jatte Hibernators by Max Ernst. png
The Grande Jatte Hibernators by Max Ernst.

Despite the whole Equinox thing, it’s still summer in New Orleans. I’ve been sweating like Orson Welles in The Long Hot Summer, my Paul Newman days are long gone. In other news, we had our umpteenth boil water order of the year, which means a lot of literal-minded folks didn’t bathe. I’m married to a microbiologist and we, well I, spit on that portion of the order. Even worse than stinky people, the boil orders bring out the same, inane jokes on social media. I wish I could bribe them to make it stop but I can’t. This one, by a crony of mine, is actually not bad:

Dr. A loves the Autumnal Equinox because one can stand an egg upright on the counter. Here’s an old picture of our late, great Torti Window and an egg:

Autumnal Window

As you can see above, some things never change: our messy housekeeping and the red plastic Proteus cup. Let’s move on to weightier topics.

Pope Frank is visiting America for the first time this week. He may be one of the few people to NOT get booed in Philadelphia unless, that is. some Republican politicians show up there. I’m not a Catholic but Dr. A was raised in the church. Like most sentient American Catholics, she has reservations about the church’s stance on many social issues. The genius of Pope Frank is that he has done what polite people do when there’s an ongoing, onerous discussion: he’s changed the subject. In this case to subjects more congenial to American liberals: poverty and the environment. He hasn’t changed the church’s stands on social issues but he’s signaled that he’s more tolerant and flexible. It’s worked thus far but the most important thing is his warm and pastoral nature. He’s managed to charm this atheist into thinking there’s some hope for the Vatican, after all.

Pope Frank is nothing like Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI aka Rodrigo Borgia who posed the eternal question, “Turds? You brought me turds?”

They were cigars from the New World, not turds. But “Turds? You brought me turds?” became a catch phrase in our house after we binge watched The Borgias on Netflix. In the end, Pope Alexander became a turd/cigar addict. I guess it beats the hell out of being a Cameroonian pigfucker…

This week’s theme song is inspired by both Pope Frank’s visit and the first item after the break. The connection is Paul Simon who wrote The Obvious Child after Pope John Paul conducted mass at the songwriter’s personal shrine: Yankee Stadium,

Crosses in the ballpark, crosses in the ballpark. Why deny the obvious child?

We’ll start with the official video:

Dr. A and I saw the Rhythm of the Saints tour when it came to New Orleans. It was a spectacular show. Here’s Simon and his crack band playing The Obvious Child in Central Park:

I made my peace many years ago with the fact that, as much as I admire him as an artist, Paul Simon is not a very nice man. He’s also a very short, vain man. In the live clip, he’s wearing boots with high heels and a toupee. He stopped wearing the rug about 10 or 15 years ago. I’m not sure if it had anything to do with this:

We go from toupees on the table to crosses in the ballpark. Why deny the obvious child? Something else is obvious at this point, it’s time for the break. See you on the other side of this life.

A friend who reads my ramblings commented that last week’s edition of the Saturday post was full of death. He was right but so, too, is life, which brings us to our first segment:

An Oral Tribute To Mike Nichols: Sam Kaslow and Charles Maslow-Freen of Vanity Fare interviewed scads of people who knew the late director and comedian Mike Nichols.  They produced an outstanding oral history of the life of a national treasure.

Despite the ultra-WASPY name, Nichols was a German Jewish refugee with a Russian name, Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky, when his family came to America. He recreated himself as Mike Nichols and became one of our finest theatrical and film directors.

His link to Paul Simon is quite interesting. Simon & Garfunkel provided some tunes for The Graduate including one you might have heard before:

Later Nichols cast both Paul and Artie in Catch-22. Simon’s part was cut out of the script but Garfunkel had an important role as Lt Nately of Nately’s whore fame. The movie was filmed in Europe and the shoot dragged on forever, which led to S & G’s breakup as well as this song about it:

My favorite part of the oral history is an exchange with Monty Python’s Eric Idle who worked with Nichols on Spamalot:

We were once in St. Paul de Vence, going to lunch, and we passed this art gallery, and it had a Salvador Dalí statue there in the window. He went in and he said, “How much is that Dalí in the window?”

And he would say the most outrageous things. He came in once a bit late for rehearsal, and he said, “I’m sorry, but the whole Upper East Side was Yidlock.” He could get away with these jokes.

That’s right, Mike Nichols was a card-carrying member of the pun community. Yet another reason he will be missed.

Speaking of dead show people it’s time for:

The Curious Case Of The Lazy Title. There’s a pretty good article by Karina Longworth at Slate about Hollywood Golden Age movie moguls Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg. It’s a subject of great interest to me as a film history buff. The title, however, is atrocious and, even worse, lazy: The Boy Genius and the “Jewish Hitler.”

That title is an epic fail on many levels. First, nobody in history is comparable to Hitler. Mayer wasn’t even the most tyrannical studio head of his era. That honor goes to Harry Cohn of Columbia. Second, you should NEVER compare a Jew to Hitler. NEVER, EVER. In this instance, Mayer was a contemporary of Hitler’s, which makes the whole analogy even creepier. Butchering Von Stroheim’s Greed is not remotely comparable to genocide. As much as I loathe Bibi Netanyahu, I would never even think of comparing him to Hitler. It’s stupid, lazy, over the top, and yes, offensive.

Slate tries to duck and cover-up by placing “Jewish Hitler” in quotes and attributing it to an anonymous enemy of Mayer’s. Just because an unknown, long dead person was an asshole, it doesn’t give you license to make Hitler comparisons. It curdles my blood and makes me want to yell at whoever wrote the clickbaity headline. I expect more from Slate.

The subject of Mayer and Thalberg has been on my mind since I read Neal Gabler’s superb book, An Empire Of Their Own: How The Jews Invented Hollywood. The title is based on a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon whose main character, Monroe Stahr, was based on the Boy Genius, Irving Thalberg. Did I cover enough bases there? Neither Fitzgerald nor Gabler compared Mayer to Hitler.Wise choice.

That brings us to our next segment, which is, in part, about politics and the movies; two of my favorite subjects. It’s Frank Rich’s cover story about the Insult Comedian for the current issue of New York Magazine, so we’ll start with the cover:

Trump NY Mag

Frank Rich On The Insult Comedian:  I disagree with Rich’s conclusion that the Trump freak show will somehow lead to campaign finance reform. Instead, I agree with Charlie Pierce’s takedown of said premise BUT the article is still full of interesting insights. I also think the Donald should stick with the powdered wig look. It would have the added benefit of stopping him from wearing that stupid cap.

As I said earlier, the strength of Frank Rich’s piece is in his discussion of political movies. It takes Rich back to his roots as a theatre critic and cultural commentator, that and his prose are, quite frankly, his strong suits:

Trump’s shenanigans sometimes seem to be lifted directly from the eponymous 1998 movie, in which Warren Beatty plays a senator from California who abandons his scripted bromides to take up harsh truth-telling in rap: “Wells Fargo and Citibank, you’re really very dear / Loan billions to Mexico and never have to fear / ’Cause taxpayers take it in the rear.” Bulworth insults the moderators of a television debate, addresses his Hollywood donors as “big Jews,” and infuriates a black constituent by telling her he’ll ignore her unless she shells out to his campaign. Larry King, cast as himself, books him on his show because “people are sick and tired of all this baloney” and crave an unplugged politician who calls Washington “a disaster.”

Trump also sounds like Hal Phillip Walker, the unseen candidate of the “Replacement Party” whose campaign aphorisms percolate throughout Robert Altman’s post-Watergate state-of-the-union comic epic, Nashville(1975). His platform includes eliminating farm subsides, taxing churches, banning lawyers from government, and jettisoning the national anthem because “nobody knows the words, nobody can sing it, nobody understands it.” (Francis Scott Key was a lawyer.) In résumé and beliefs, Trump is even closer to the insurgent candidate played by Tim Robbins and reviled as “a crypto-fascist clown” in the mockumentary Bob Roberts(1992) — a self-congratulatory right-wing Wall Street success story, beauty-pageant aficionado, and folksinging star whose emblematic song is titled “Retake America.”

I had almost forgotten about Bob Roberts, in which Tim Robbins not only starred but wrote and directed. I have my doubts that Trump has seen that film but wouldn’t be surprised if he’d seen Bulworth, which was, like, Bob Roberts, written and directed by its star. Bulworth was just added to the Netflix streaming library so if you haven’t seen it, check it out. It was Beatty’s reaction to the triangulation and calculation of Bill Clinton as both a candidate and Oval One. It’s a hoot.

Another reason I’m fond of Bob Roberts is that Gore Vidal appears as the title character’s opponent, Senator Brickley Paiste who is a witty patrician liberal. Anyone shocked? I thought not. Vidal wrote some of his own dialogue. No surprise there, imagine writing for the Master. But his work was uncredited. No big whoop when you’re Gore Fucking Vidal.


Anyway, I highly recommend Frank Rich’s article despite a conclusion that Pierce rightly derides: 

How exactly does Trump’s tasteless flaunting of his wealth work against the politics created by the destruction of our tepid campaign-finance laws? Look, Donald Trump is a tasteless clown. That means we should knuckle the Koch Brothers and elect Bernie Sanders, who has made repealing Citizens United a litmus test for his judicial appointments? Does any human actually think this way? Also, does Rich think that the people are supporting Trump because of their disgust with money in politics? Or because they realize that all politics is a sham of a façade? People are supporting Trump because he says the right nasty things about the people who scare them. Period.  If and when he loses, those people will move on to the next shrewd bigot who steps up to the mic.

One thing Charlie and Frank have in common is good prose, which is a very important thing as far I’m concerned.

I swore I wouldn’t write about death again today but why deny the obvious child?

The Prophets: On The Conjoined Legacies of Moses Malone and ‘Chocolate Thunder’ is Dave Zirin’s joint tribute to two fine basketball players who passed away recently. Moses Malone was one of the greatest players who ever laced on sneakers, and Darryl (Chocolate Thunder) Dawkins was one of the most quotable. They had something very important in common: Moses was the first high school to the pros player ever (in the ABA) and Daryl was the first in the NBA. That’s why Dave calls them the prophets.

I don’t entirely agree with Dave that going straight from high school to the NBA is always a good thing. I remember when the then-New Orleans Hornets drafted J.R. Smith out of high school. He was immature and selfish; traits that continue to manifest themselves 12 years later. Smith had committed to North Carolina before entering the draft. I’ve long thought he might have been a much better player if he’d worked with Roy Williams for 2 years but we’ll never know.

Speaking of conjoining together with the band, let’s turn our attention to the Hilton sisters:

Hilton sisters

Documentary Of The Week: Everyone knows that I’m sucker for anything about sideshows, freaks, and vaudeville. Bound By Flesh hits all of those notes. It’s the story of the Hilton sisters who were in Tod Browning’s Freaks but were only sideshow performers early in their career. At one point, they were one of the highest paid acts in vaudeville but that ended with the depression. In many ways, the poster does a better job of explaining Bound By Flesh than I can:

Bound By Flesh

The movie is currently streaming on Netflix. Here’s the trailer:

I like Bound By Flesh but it’s not quite as good as the last few films I’ve reviewed in this space. It drags at times and there are too many talking heads but I still give it 3 stars, an Adrastos Grade of B, and an Ebertian thumbs up.

Saturday Classic: It’s a pity that Badfinger are more remembered for their tragedies than their music. At their best, they were one of the best power pop bands of all-time. 1971’s Straight Up was their most successful album musically as well as commercially. Unfortunately, the master criminal Allen Klein ripped them off big time. Uh oh, I’m guilty of focusing on their sad story too. Here’s 42 minutes of Beatlesque rock bliss:

That’s it for this week. I hope nobody is cross about that whole crosses in the ballpark thing. If you are, it could be much worse. Repeat after me: