The featured image is of Max von Sydow playing chess with Death in the Ingmar Bergman classic, The Seventh Seal. Von Sydow had a long acting career in America; often playing in horror movies. He died earlier this week at the age of 90. This is the first time I’ve ever started a Saturday post with an obit. I like to change things up.
The Seventh Seal is set during the Black Plague. It was an era with clueless and ignorant leaders; much like the US&A in 2020. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
This week’s theme song continues our board game theme. The Game Pieces was written by Chris Leslie and Nigel Stonier for Fairport Convention’s 1999 album, The Wood and the Wire. Here’s a woody and wiry live version:
I’m a lousy chess player but I know a good song about chess when I hear one. Just say Yes:
Now that we’ve established that we’re all good people, let’s take a straight and stronger course to the break.
While we’re playing games, here’s Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo:
I’m chessed out right now. Many of the other chess tunes out there are by Hip Hop artists. It’s not my thing so I’ll pass. I could, however, use some Lemon Chess Pie right about now. Mmm, pie.
We begin our second act with a segment that’s depressingly in sync with the times.
Contagious Movies: When I was searching for a picture of Max von Sydow playing chess with the Grim Reaper, I stumbled into a piece at The Wrap by Ross A. Lincoln about virus outbreak movies. The good news is that they’re not exclusively zombie movies, which a genre that’s been so overdone that I broke up with it years ago. But I remain fond of Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later.
There’s one major omission: Elia Kazan’s Panic In The Streets, which was set in New Orleans. This week we had Panic At The Grocery Store. It was worse than making a hurricane prep run.
Warning: This listicle is a slow loader because there are so darn many images. Of course, my PC is elderly and still running Windows 7. It’s now unsupported so using it may well be insupportable as is that pun. We’ve gone from game play to word play, all in the same post.
The last word of the segment goes to Frank Zappa and the Mothers:
We move from an article by a man named Lincoln to a segment about the man who is buried in Grant’s tomb.
American Ulysses: I just finished reading Ronald C. White’s magisterial revisionist biography of General President Ulysses S. Grant. I filched its title for this segment. It’s hard not to like Grant as a human being. He was disarmingly modest and unpretentious. I miss spending time with him. That post-presidential world tour was a hoot.
Grant’s record as president is flawed but has been distorted by the Lost Causers of academia as White pointed out last year in an op-ed piece for the WaPo:
A chief insight in the reappraisal of Grant is the recognition that, at the beginning of the post-Civil War period of oppression, he acted courageously to protect the rights of freed men and women. As a Republican president, when states refused to act, Grant used the power of the federal government to battle domestic terrorist organizations, particularly the Ku Klux Klan (as The Post’s Charles Lane depicts in his new book “Freedom’s Detective”), even as his own party was growing tired of the struggle.
Grant’s fall from American grace largely coincided with the rise of white supremacy in the early 20th century. During that period, leaders who stood up for the rights of African Americans were not often lionized.
Grant’s drinking has also been exaggerated. He was no teetotaler but he didn’t spend much of the Civil War in the bag as his enemies have claimed. There’s even an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies in which Granny confuses an actor playing General Grant in a movie with the real deal. What can you expect from a woman who called a swimming pool the cement pond? Anyway, that Grant was forever drunk. The real Ulysses knew how to hold his liquor.
One of my favorite things about White’s great biography are the quotes from Grant’s letters and memoirs. They prove that the notion that Mark Twain wrote Grant’s autobiography is errant as well as aberrant.
Let re-set the dial on the Wayback Machine to the 21st Century.
Dueling Documentaries: The crimes committed by former New England Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez are the stuff of tabloid legend. I’m something of a true crime buff so I’ve watched two documentaries about his life and times: Oxygen’s Aaron Hernandez Uncovered and Netfilx’s Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. I’m going to refer to them by network since both titles are long.
Are you ready for some sub-sub-headers? Sounds like a sub-basement to me…
Oxygen: This documentary series seems to be the authorized account. It features extensive interviews with Hernandez’s fiancee and his defense attorneys. One of whom, Jose Baez, is the hero of the piece. I had no idea that he was the greatest most perfect lawyer ever. #Sarcasm.
One of the strengths of this documentary is that it’s presented in chronological order, which makes this twisted tale of entitlement and murder easier to follow. The downside is shared with the Netflix series. It makes excuses for Hernandez and even argues for his innocence in the murder for which he was convicted. Being a closeted gay man and having CTE is not an excuse for killing someone. It reminds me of Dan White’s Twinkie defense in the Milk-Moscone murder case
Netflix: This documentary series is guilty of speculation and conclusion jumping as well. Its strength is access to people from Hernandez’s youth. The flashback structure, however, confuses matters at times.
It’s more artfully made than its Oxygen counterpart; both of which benefit from the fact that Hernandez’s trials were televised. Score one for the Nutmeg State court system.
Here are the trailers for both documentary series:
The Hernandez case is a helluva yarn, which is why I liked both documentary series despite their flaws. I give them both 3 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B.
The last word of our second act goes to the Kinks with a song about the man who shot Pope John Paul II. Like Aaron Hernandez, Mehmet Ali Agca had:
We begin our third act with our favorite stolen feature.
Separated At Birth-Casting Edition: As Ulysses Grant’s reputation has risen, Woodrow Wilson’s has fallen. The reason is the same: race. Wilson was a complicated man: a genuine progressive and internationalist who was also a segregationist. He was a prisoner of his times but reimposing Jim Crow on the District of Columbia is a serious blot on his reputation.
There’s a major mistake on the stolen image above. Brian Keith played Theodore Roosevelt in The Wind and the Lion, not Wilson. The picture is of Alexander Knox in 1944’s Wilson. Knox was nominated for best actor and really looked like Tommy Wilson.
Speaking of intolerance and songs with games in the title, here’s Dolly Parton’s version of a Joe South song:
It’s time for another Grant; one of the greatest comedic actors in cinematic history, Cary Grant.
The Classic Movie List: It’s amusing how these lists overlap. Cary Grant was prominently featured on last week’s Howard Hawks list. Three of those movies make an encore performance this time around.
My Top Ten Favorite Cary Grant Movies:
- The Philadelphia Story
- His Girl Friday
- North By Northwest
- Bringing Up Baby
- Only Angels Have Wings
- The Talk Of The Town
- People Will Talk
This was another tough one. It was hard omitting Suspicion, The Awful Truth, It Takes A Thief, My Favorite Wife, Gunga Din, and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Archie Leach made a lot of fine films. It’s why he’s one of the greatest movie stars of all-time.
Since we all have time to kill nowadays, here’s a Cary Grant movie poster collage:
Saturday GIF Horse: I still have my Cary Grant mojo working. Here he is as Dudley the angel in The Bishop’s Wife. Not a great film but it’s entertaining holiday fare.
Watching Cary pluck the harp strings made me think of Harpo Marx. I passed on Harpo’s harp GIFs in favor of this one of him cutting up with his brother Chico.
The intro to that segment gave me an earworm. Here it is:
Let’s take a trip to the Antipodes.
Weekly Vintage Videos: Neil Finn’s record company spent some serious money promoting his first solo album, Try Whistling This. Here are two videos from that album:
Now that I’ve sinned and had my way, let’s close things out with some music. The blues to be precise.
Saturday Classic: Here’s another live show from the KSAN archives featuring Chicago bluesman Paul Butterfield and his crack band, Better Days.
That’s it for this week. The last word goes to the Grant statue at Washington City; Ulysses, not Cary.