I have been fixated on the Presidential election and the World Series so I haven’t got any local tidbits to share this week. Shame on me.
When this post hits the internet, I will be at Tipitina’s with my sweetie seeing the Jayhawks. I cannot report on the show because I’m writing this beforehand. It makes me feel like a time traveler, which, given my obsession with the Wayback Machine, seems appropriate. I may have to bone up on the Back to the Future movies now that time travel is my thing. It’s a pity that my wife is a sane scientist, not a mad one, but one can’t have everything..
This week’s theme song was written by Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan. I never thought I’d write that phrase but I just did. The whole farce between Dylan and the Nobel committee is one of the funniest things since A Day At The Races: Get-a your tootsie frootsie ice-a cream. Dylan is likely to reject the award: it’s a pity he can’t send George C Scott or Marlon Brando to accept it on his behalf. Now *that* would be funny: bring on the award rejecters to accept the Nobel fucking prize. I do wish Dylan would accept the prize money and donate it to a worthy cause like, say, my cats…
Back to the theme song. I like Dylan as a songwriter but I’m not a fan of his singing, which is probably why I chose these versions of My Back Pages. The first one is from Bobfest in 1993. Dylan sings a verse but so do Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison.
The best known version of My Back Pages is by the Byrds from their 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday. Ain’t nothing quite like the sound of McGuinn’s twangy 12-string guitar and Byrdsy harmonies:
“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” are words to live by at least until the break. After that all bets are off.
We begin with one of the most enduring film genres of them all: the Western. Let’s saddle up and ride off into the sunset or some such shit. But before we continue, a message from the greatest Western director ever, John Ford:
The American Epic: There’s a terrific piece in the Guardian by Stuart Miller about Westerns. They seem to be mounting a comeback, pun intended as always. I would argue that they never went away given how most sci-fi flicks are Westerns with aliens and space suits. Star Trek was originally pitched as Wagon Train to the Stars. That makes James T. Kirk a sheriff. I’m sure Shatner is down with that. But he’ll never be the strong and silent type who kisses his horse instead of the leading lady. Nope.
As I just pointed out, not all westerns involve horses and 10-gallon hats. The fine recent film Hell or High Water is set in modern-day Texas. It successfully merges the road movie, buddy picture, and the Western. If you missed it on the big screen, check it out wherever you can find it. It stars the current Captain Kirk, Chris Pine, as well as the great Jeff Bridges as a jovial Southern Fried Javert.
The western has been a movie staple since the pioneering 1903 film, The Great Train Robbery. It became the dominant genre, especially after the second world war, creating an image – John Wayne – of rugged American self-reliance and manliness. From 1910 through 1960, approximately a quarter of all films featured hats and horses and the television landscape was similarly populated with cowboys.
The western will never return to those days but The Magnificent Seven remake reached number one at the box office last month and the past two years have also pushed the boundaries of the western with The Revenant and The Hateful Eight as well as smaller films like Bone Tomahawk and Slow West, HBO’s lavish and twisted Westworld blends genres while David Milch says he’s three months from shooting his long-awaited conclusion to Deadwood (“though I may be kidding myself,” he adds), and the network is reportedly developing another western with Deepwater Horizon director Peter Berg; meanwhile, AMC has a sprawling saga, The Son, coming in 2017.
I sure hope the Deadwood thing comes off but with David Milch, ya never know. I refuse to see The Magnificent Seven remake despite the presence of Denzel Washington. You cannot beat Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen or Toshiro Mifune in The Seven Samurai for that matter. Read my lips: I hate remakes. They’re guilty until proven innocent.
It’s movie list time. Here are my Top Twenty Favorite Westerns in no particular order. I throw some teevee shows/mini-series in there for variety.
- The Searchers
- Red River
- Unforgiven (1992)
- Fort Apache
- My Darling Clementine
- Lonesome Dove
- They Died With Their Boots on
- The Wild Bunch
- High Noon
- Ride The High Country
- Rio Bravo
- Vera Cruz
- The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
- Open Range
- Little Big Man
- The Magnificent Seven (1960)
- Two Mules For Sister Sara
- Blazing Saddles
I did that list off the top of my head so I’m sure I missed some good ones. I deliberately omitted Robert Altman’s revisionist Westerns because he had his own list a few weeks back. Sorry, Bob.
Let’s move on to the remarkable story of the 1948 World Series champion Cleveland Indians: the team that integrated the fall classic. I’ll let the NYT icon/link serve as the segment title. It’s hard to beat Satchel Paige and Larry Doby, after all.
I first became interested in the ’48 Tribe when I read Veeck As In Wreck by Bill Veeck and Ed Linn many moons ago. It remains one of the best baseball books ever written. Veeck was the owner of the Indians and the driving force behind integrating the team. If you’re into baseball history, it’s a must-read even if some of the stories have turned not to be 100% accurate. It’s a memoir for fuck’s sake.
Bill Veeck was a remarkable man who lost part of a leg whilst serving in the Marines during World War II. He wouldn’t be rich enough to own a MLB franchise in 2016: the pharisees own the temple now. Here’s Veeck with his old pal Satchel Paige after the Negro League superstar was signed by the Indians:
The coolest thing about the Guardian piece is that Les Carpenter interviewed the late Steve Gromek’s son about the fall-out from that great photograph:
The photo was disseminated around the country and ran in papers all over the United States. The players hardly seemed to care. “My father didn’t see color,” Gromek’s son Greg says. They were too happy to be so close to a world championship, which Cleveland clinched two games later. But plenty of people did mind. The idea of whites and blacks playing, traveling and changing together in the same clubhouse was still new. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were more than a decade and a half away. The image of white and African-American team-mates embracing so naturally, with cheeks touching, angered plenty.
After the Series, when Gromek returned home to Hamtramck, Michigan, he was anything but a World Series hero to many around town. Letters poured in from infuriated racists irate that a white player would ever pose for such a picture. While the mail was unsettling, Gromek seemed to ignore the contents, Greg Gromek recalls. What really bothered Steve Gromek were the things said by local residents, people he grew up with, people he thought he knew.
“Some of his friends really reacted negatively,” Greg Gromek says. “They said things that were sort of shocking to him. What bothered him was that these were his friends. He kept thinking: ‘What kind of friend are you to say these things?’”
Sounds like the reaction of many people to their Trumper friends and family in 2016.
Speaking of bigotry, let’s spend some time in a cinematic courtroom and meet David Irving and Deborah Lipstadt. I suspect you’ll prefer the latter, at least I hope so: Irving is a notorious Holocaust denier.
Ripped From The Headlines: Given the depressingly anti-Semitic undertone of the 2016 campaign, Denial is a timely film indeed. It recounts the libel case filed by Hitler fan boy David Irving against real historian Deborah Lipstadt in 1996. Irving sued in the U.K. where libel laws favor the plaintiff and the truth is not an absolute defense. Lipstadt prevailed after a lengthy battle.
Denial is superbly cast. It’s always interesting when a likable actor such as Timothy Spall is cast as the villain. Spall is best know for his roles in Mike Leigh films and his performance makes Irving a three-dimensional character as opposed to a caricature.
The movie, however, is dominated by Rachel Weisz as the feisty, combative, and funny New Yorker Deborah Lipstadt. She’s in nearly every scene and there’s no denying that she has both the star power and acting chops to carry Denial. One of her best lines is when she describes the Judge as “a Masterpiece Theatre character.” Her barrister, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) reminds me of a taller, thinner Rumpole of the Bailey. Who among us doesn’t like a quirky English lawyer?
Denial is simultaneously illuminating and entertaining. That’s a difficult balancing act given the subject matter is the Holocaust and the denial thereof. David Hare’s adaptation of Ms. Lipstadts book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier pulls it off very well indeed.
Here’s the trailer:
You may have noticed that I really liked Denial. I hope Rachel Weisz is nominated for an Oscar for her brilliant performance. I give Denial a rare Adrastos Grade of A, 4 stars, and an exuberant Siskelian thumbs up.
Since Halloween is next Monday, it’s time to present some scary images.
Separated At Birth: I haven’t done this Spy Magazine influenced feature for awhile but I had to share these images. It turns out that Trump lackey Rudy Noun Verb 9/11 Giuliani bears an eerie resemblance to Max Schreck as Nosferatu.
I’m not sure which is scarier: the fictional vampire or Rudolph Ghouliani. Schreck only rhymes with dreck but that’s what Rudy’s reputation has turned into after his stint as the Insult Comedian’s primary surrogate.
The actor who played Nosferatu in F.W. Murnau’s silent classic was a weird little man named Max Schreck. He was such a creepy chap that the cast and crew of Nosferatu wondered if Schreck was himself a malign supernatural being. The Schreck experience inspired a swell 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire with Willem Dafoe as Schreck and John Malkovich as Murnau.
“Shadow of the Vampire,” a wicked new movie about the making of “Nosferatu,” has an explanation for Schreck’s performance: He really was a vampire. This is not a stretch. It is easier for me to believe Schreck was a vampire than he was an actor. Examine any photograph of him in the role and decide for yourself. Consider the rat-like face, the feral teeth, the bat ears, the sunken eyes, the fingernail claws that seem to have grown in the tomb. Makeup? He makes the word irrelevant.
In “Shadow of the Vampire,” director E. Elias Merhige and his writer, Steven Katz, do two things at the same time. They make a vampire movie of their own, and they tell a backstage story about the measures that a director will take to realize his vision. Murnau is a man obsessed with his legacy; he lectures his crew on the struggle to create art, promising them, “our poetry, our music, will have a context as certain as the grave.” What they have no way of knowing is that some of them will go to the grave themselves in the service of his poetry. He’s made a deal with Schreck: Perform in my movie, and you can dine on the blood of the leading lady.
John Malkovich plays Murnau as a theoretician who is utterly uninterested in human lives other than his own. His work justifies everything. Like other silent directors he has a flamboyant presence, stalking his sets with glasses pushed up on his forehead, making pronouncements, issuing orders, self-pitying about the fools he has to work with and the price he has to pay for his art. After we meet key members of the cast and crew in Berlin, the production moves to Czechoslovakia, where Schreck awaits. Murnau explains that the great actor is so dedicated to his craft that he lives in character around the clock and must never be spoken to, except as Count Orlock.
If you get the chance to see this weird and wonderful movie, go for it. I give it an Adrastos Grade of B+, 3 1/2 stars, and an enthusiastic Ebertian thumbs up.
Saturday Classic: I went on about the Jayhawks at the start of the post so it’s only fitting to post their great 1995 album, Tomorrow the Green Grass. It was one of their best-selling records so naturally then co-leader Mark Olson left the band thereby sealing their destiny as cult heroes.
That’s it for this week. Since I spent a lot of time on the last world championship Cleveland Indians team, I’ll let the legendary double play combination of the 1908 Chicago Cubs: Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance bid you a fond adieu.