Saturday, January 30, 2010

MY FAIR LADY (1964)



Some have called My Fair Lady the greatest musical of all time. *

Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, about an arrogant phonetics instructor named Henry Higgins who makes a lady out of lower class Eliza Doolittle, is certainly one of the best known musicals of all-time.

George Cukor’s 1964 film features Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, Wilfred-Hyde White as Pickering and Stanley Holloway as Alfred Doolittle. And of course, there was much controversy (which apparently still festers in the hearts of many according to internet blogs) over the non-casting of Julie Andrews as Eliza, a role she created on stage. I agree it would have been nice to see her in the screen adaptation, but Audrey Hepburn (with a little help from Marni Nixon) is a more than adequate replacement.

As I was watching My Fair Lady, I was thinking about what to say about it and just decided to list my ten favorite songs from it in descending order.

10 On the Street Where You Live- One of My Fair Lady’s many songs that would be regarded as a “standard” now. Though I guess my definition of standard is what an over-the-hill lounge lizard might sing to a group of drunks in an overpriced piano bar on a Saturday night (Definition may not be 100 percent accurate). Sung by My Fair Lady’s somewhat incidental character Freddy who has to be the happiest stalker I’ve ever seen depicted in any film.

And I never saw a more enchanting farce
Than that moment when she shouted
"move your bloomin' "....


9 Wouldn’t It Be Loverly- Eliza’s opening song... A plead from the lower class just for a little necessity here and there. And Audrey Hepburn…I mean Marni Nixon is in good voice here.

All I want is a room somewhere,
Far away from the cold night air.
With one enormous chair,
Aow, wouldn't it be loverly?


8 Ascot Gavotte- The aristocracy recite this song as a group and with complete lack of emotion. Damn aristocratic morality. It’s pretty funny though.

Moment at the Ascot op'ning day.
Pulses rushing! Faces flushing!
Heartbeats speed up! I have never been so keyed up!


7 You Did It-Mostly fun because it’s really the only song where Pickering gets to sing, as he and Henry Higgins revel in their achievement of making a lady out of Eliza without giving her any of the credit.

There he was, that hairy hound From Budapest.
Never leaving us alone, Never have I ever known
A ruder pest Fin'lly I decided it was foolish
Not to let him have his chance with her.
So I stepped aside and let him dance with her.
Oozing charm from ev'ry pore
He oiled his way around the floor.
Ev'ry trick that he could play,
He used to strip her mask away.


6 I’m an Ordinary Man (Let a Woman in Your Life) My Fair Lady/Pygamalion seems ripe for picking as an obvious subject for feminist film criticism. Henry is undeniably misogynistic. But is he Henry Heterosexual ('eterosexaul)? Homosexual ('omosexual)? Asexual (Ah-sexual)? If Henry had only sung “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Ass,” we’d have less doubt about his preference in this matter. (And of course he would pronounce ‘ass’ with an ‘ah’ sound.

Let the others of my sex, tie the knot around their necks,
I prefer a new edition of the Spanish Inquisition
than to ever let a woman in my life


5 Hymn to Him (Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man) –A kind of reprise of I’m an Ordinary Man. More misogyny, but it really does seem you can get away with things when you talk and sing with a firm grasp of the King’s English. (Clever songwriting doesn’t hurt either.)

What can’t a woman be like you?
Women are irrational, that's all there is to that!
There heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They're nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and infuriating hags! Funny, but he has issues.


4 Just You Wait-I love the look from Audrey Hepburn after she wishes for ‘enry ‘iggins ‘ead. (And who can blame her really?) Nice duet from the king and Audrey…I mean Marnie Nixon. Acutally, Audrey does some of her own singing this time.

All the people will celebrate the glory of you
And whatever you wish and want I gladly will do.
"Thanks a lot, King" says I, in a manner well-bred;
But all I want is 'enry 'iggins 'ead!"


3 With a Little Bit of Luck-Sung by my favorite character: Alfred Doolittle. His philosophy of just getting by and just getting away with whatever he can is shown humorously here. He’s a man who wants none of middle class morality…until later. This song later became the theme to a mayonnaise commercial which I can’t seem to totally shake…Damn Madison Avenue morality.

Oh, it's a crime for man to go philandrin’
And fill his wife's poor heart with grief and doubt.
Oh, it's a crime for man to go philanderin'-but
With a little bit of luck, With a little bit of luck,
You can see the bloodhound don't find out!


2 Why Can’t the English-Snappy introduction to Henry Higgins’s worldview. And pretty much sets the pattern for the rest of the movie. Can elocution lessons make the man (or lady)? Of course, Professor Higgins thinks so.

Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
Norwegians learn Norwegian; the Greeks have taught their
Greek. In France every Frenchman knows
his language fro "A" to "Zed"
Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of summer lightning.
And Hebrews learn it backwards,
which is absolutely frightening


1. Get Me to the Church on Time (I’m Getting Married in the Morning) –Just about my favorite performance of any song from any movie. Alfred Doolittle gets money, respectability, his girl friend wants to marry him…and he couldn’t be more unhappy. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but this song is loads of fun.
Damn middle class morality.

I'm gettin' married in the mornin'
Ding dong! the bells are gonna chime.
Kick up an rumpus But don't lost the compass;
And get me to the church, Get me to the church,
For Gawd's sake, get me to the church on time!


* Felton & Fowler's Best, Worst, and Most Unusual was one if memory serves, though I haven’t looked at the book in thirty years.

Monday, January 18, 2010

CRUMB (1994)


C’s attempt to recount the dream he had last night about R. Crumb

C: What are you doing here?

R. Crumb: You tell me. It’s your dream.

C: Are you a muse? A nightmare? Is it just because I watched your documentary?

R. Crumb: I repeat. It’s your dream. You have my undivided attention…at least your image of me does, but I won’t give you an autograph.

C: I don’t want your autograph!

R. Crumb shrugs and I notice his large hands. He is wearing a straw hat, thick glasses, and is tall and thin. This isn’t one of my amalgam dreams when I combine people. This is all Robert Crumb. I feel the need to seize this rare opportunity, but am unsure what to say.

C: I can’t really draw.

R. Crumb: I think what you’re trying to say is you can’t draw at all.

C: But if I could, I might draw like you.

R. Crumb: You mean you might draw a ‘Keep on Truckin’ t-shirt.

C: No, I mean the headless Amazon women, killer ostriches, Fritz the Cat, all the other…I want to tap into your more creative instincts.

R. Crumb: I think you’d sell out pretty quick.

C: Just because I had an Adidas shirt in 1974? When are you going to let me get over that?

R. Crumb: It’s not me. This dream is really just an extension of your id. Don’t forget that.

C: You do specifically mock Adidas shirts in the movie. It just cut a little too close to home.

R. Crumb: Okay. You can’t draw. What are you going to do?

C: I write this blog. Isn’t this a form of artistic expression?

R. Crumb: If you say it is. That’s up to you. If you’re looking for validation from me or even your image of me, I suggest you look elsewhere.

C: (Looking downward) I just feel sorry for your brother, Charles. Talk about an artist that never sold out. He never left his house, wouldn’t put in his teeth and wouldn’t even do his art. And we get, or at least I get to really like him during the movie and then find out at the end he committed suicide a year after the film. Made me feel terrible.

R. Crumb: I understand. But what would you like me to do?

C: I don’t know. You’re just an extension of me, as you said. So I’m really just talking to myself anyway. I could go sit on a bed of nails or pull down the pants of women I don’t know like your other brother, Max.

R. Crumb:(Growing impatient) Even in this form my time is limited. What do you want to know?

C: Where does art come from? You mentioned LSD was a springboard for a lot of your characters and ideas.

R. Crumb: Have you taken LSD?

C: I’m not willing to get into that…

R. Crumb: I didn’t think so. You aren’t willing to let yourself go enough. To be the real you. You’re afraid you’ll end up begging for bread on the street.

C: Or like Charles.

R. Crumb: Or like Charles.

C: We all want to be seen as artistic in some form.

R. Crumb: You speak for everyone?

C: Don’t get smart with me. I can at least speak for myself. Maybe I’ll take up the saxophone. I could still be Charlie Parker.

R. Crumb: Or you could add a throwaway jazz reference in your blog to show that you’re ‘hip.’

C: I’m starting not to like you, Crumb!

R. Crumb: Times running out. Soon you’ve got to wake up and go be the library beancounter. So, any last words on my movie.

C: I wouldn’t say I envy your art, but somewhere between envy and admiration the truth lies. Still feel bad about Charles. I know the movie’s fifteen years old and his death is water that has long flowed under the bridge. Still feel bad.

R. Crumb:(Smiling) Would you really like an autograph?

C: Yes.

R. Crumb: Well, you can’t have one!

C: I stepped into that one. Any parting advice?

R. Crumb: Avoid clich√©. (R. Crumb’s figure begins to fade as my subconscious hears the morning alarm sound.)

C: Good advice. And don't forget to ‘keep on truckin.’

(I could swear I see Crumb smile at my parting jab as he disappears.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988), THE FOG OF WAR (2003)


I was reading Chuck Klosterman’s book Eating the Dinosaur when I came across this quote about Errol Morris:

Errol Morris is the most recognized American documentary filmmaker of the modern era and arguably the finest American nonfiction director of all time. What makes Morris such a brilliant artist is the simplicity of his technique: He simply asks the questions, films their response, and then finds stock footage that accentuates the import and context of what his subject is saying. He does this through the use of "interrotron," a self-designed camera that allows the interview subject to see a live image of Morris's face in the eye of the recording camera.

Arguably the finest American nonfiction director of all time.
A bold statement. I decided to check out Morris’s Academy Award winning film on Robert McNamara The Fog of War, as well as, Morris’s film from the 1001 movie list, The Thin Blue Line.

I’ve been John O’Hara’d, McNamara’d
-Paul Simon

I definitely got McNamara’d with The Fog of War. Morris picked as his main subject someone who is brilliant, controversial, a major player in 20th century politics and mostly forthcoming. Let the cameras roll, let McNamara speak and all that’s left is asking the right questions and editing the material in the right order (which is not always chronological).
The necessity of fire bombing large Japanese cities during World War II is studied. The narrow aversion of a catastrophic war during the Cuban Missile Crisis is examined. At least we’ve learned our lesson from the Vietnam War. Right? Oh, I forgot. We haven’t.

The Thin Blue Line tells the story of the accusation and trial of Randall Adams for the murder of a Dallas police officer. It examines how justice works. Well, it actually shows how justice doesn’t work. Morris’s style of telling his story through interviews and recreations has been done over and over again since, but it is interesting that he gets almost all the main players involved in a complex criminal case and trial to appear in interviews.

I really like the way Morris picks his images based on the material presented. In The Fog of War, he has a tape recording of Mcnamara and LBJ discussing Vietnam policy. He shows a reel tape spinning on the screen during the exchange, the tumblers to the tape counter dramatically changing to the next number as they speak. He uses the same technique to show low-life David Harris’s tape recorder confession in The Thin Blue Line.

The Fog of War’s subtitle includes Robert McNamara’s eleven lessons of war. I was wondering if these lessons could also be applied to The Thin Blue Line. I’ll give it a shot.

1.Empathize with your enemy
The Dallas County shrink’s “attempt” in this regard toward Randall Adams was to get him to draw a few pictures and ask him what “A rolling stone gathers no moss” means. His conclusion from this 15 minute exercise: NO PAROLE! Next!

2. Rationality will not save us
Someone completely untrustworthy points at you and says “You did it.” Shouldn’t the logical conclusion be “That witness is unreliable” instead of “He must have done it?”

3.There's something beyond one's self
There may be a thin blue line of police that separates the public from anarchy, but the fog of war is so complex, it’s beyond the human mind to contemplate all the variables involved.

4. Maximize efficiency
When you’re looking for a Mercury Comet, don’t spend weeks looking for a Chevy Vega.

5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war
If you’re going to see a Swinging Cheerleaders double feature at the drive-in, you might consider just leaving after the first one is over.

6. Get the data
If the accused leaves the crime vehicle two hours before the crime takes place then the accused probably didn't commit the crime.

7.Belief and Seeing are often both wrong
Especially when the damn witnesses are just making it up for money anyway.

8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning
One of Adams’s defense attorneys says something to the effect of “the wheels of justice began rolling in the wrong direction and began going so fast noone could stop them.” Obviously, the D.A.’s office didn’t take this guideline to heart.

9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
The judicial system sometimes hides the facts to get the right man. Sometimes it even hides the facts to get the wrong man.

10. Never say never
Randall Adams’s attorney says all those she saw prosecuted for capital murder by the Dallas County DA's office were guilty-except Randall Adams.

11. You can't change human nature
David Harris was clearly on the road to being a lifelong criminal at 16. He finally did something that stuck enough to send him to the electric chair in 2004.

The Thin Blue Line is a recommended documentary, but The Fog of War is the one I’d choose for the 1001 list.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

DRACULA (1931)


Librarian’s Journal
(January 7)

I was in a state of great consternation when I saw the Count again. My fear was he and all that surrounded him would be too slow moving, that his pacing would be too static. These were justifiable fears, but I must say I found him to be largely accessible. Iconic is a word bandied about and I think my time with the Count reinforces that thinking with me as well. Other Counts have come and gone and some have made a lasting impression, but our image is now and will probably always be of this Count.

His castle was a wonder. The swirling stone steps, the giant cobwebs, the candles, the armadillos. The armadillos? I confess I have never seen a castle with armadillos before and I don’t know how they got there, but I hope it is a sight I will never see again. The three women of the night will be filling my dreams for a fortnight, I’m sure. Whether for good or for evil, God only knows.

But the count, the women, the castle and the armadillos were outdone by one. The one who made the greatest impression on me. The one referred to below.

Librarian’s letter to the late Dwight Frye
(January 9)

Dear Mr. Frye,
I understand that you left this plane in 1943, but I hope you can somehow get the message that you are so cool! Love your laugh and your crazy smile and did you know that Alice Cooper wrote a song about you? I love that song Billion Dollar Babies . Do you like Billion Dollar Babies, Dwight? May I call you Dwight? Sorry about that whole typecasting thing and lack of roles after Dracula, but honestly, who would ever remember you if you played a kindly clergyman in some Robert Montgomery melodrama or the renegade brother in a Fred MacMurray/Claudette Colbert historical romance?
But we remember Renfield. Yes, we do!
In conclusion, just let me reiterate: RENFIELD RULES!

Librarian’s Correspondence to the Criterion Collection
(January 8)

Dear Criterion,
Another excellent job with The Dracula Legacy Collection. Restoration was a success. Version with Phillip Glass musical store, though interesting, proved to be too much over the long hall. The commentary with Dark Carnival author David Skal was very good. He incorporated the Bram Stoker novel in the discussion at all the right times. The documentary about the evolution of Dracula from original conception to 1931 film was informative. Other movies included: Son of Dracula (Sorry, Lon Chaney Jr. is NOT Dracula), Dracula’s Daughter (Missed Lugosi and Frye in this one and who is Gloria Holden again?), House of Dracula (Just throw all the monster in and see if any of them stick) and the Spanish version of Dracula (This was the best of all the extra movies, and is a must for Dracula buffs and not just for the scantily dressed Lupita Tovar..) Good work Criterion. We’ll meet again.

Memorandum
(January 10)

From Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, and McCormick M. D. M. R. C. S. L. K. Q. C. P. I ETC, ETC, ET AL, ET AL, vis-à-vis, i.e., in lieu, to wit, semi colon, ipso facto, quote unquote.
Gentleman? (On the penultimate not on the diphonic)
Forgive me, I need to brush up on my Transylvanian, so get a Transylvanian and brush up on him. In relation to the letter, remember to not leave out the body. Which isn’t a given when you’re dealing with Vampires. So, leave the body and mark it fra-jilly. If you can’t spell it, look it up under fragile. Let’s also include 2 quotes. Which makes four pints. Four pints? Well, that takes care of dinner for the evening. And that reminds me of the time I shot a vampire in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know. I was saying something about sending the soil from my homeland to London. But I made two carbon copies of this letter and threw the original away. Then I threw the carbon copies away.

Regards…

Saturday, January 9, 2010

SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS (1964, SOVIET UNION)


Husband: I’ve got, um, another movie.

Wife: It’s got to be a step up from the last one. You know, that Pommegranate one from that Armenian dude. What was his name?

Husband: Sergei Parajanov?

Wife: Yeah. I don’t even want to think about it. The first level of purgatory is probably filled with screenings of what’s his name again?

Husband: Sergei Parajanov.

Wife: Right. Let’s put that one behind us. What’s this film about?

Husband: Uh…Uh

Wife: Uh, what. (She grabs the DVD case from his hands and begins reading the label) Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors directed by Sergei-oh no! Not another artsy-fartsy Ukranian love-in!

Husband: I resent that. This film has a pretty straight narrative. Besides you’ve got to learn to live outside the box a little more and appreciate artistic interpretation.

Wife: Oh, please! I suppose we could go out in the yard and stare at a pile of poo and render an artistic interpretation of it…Wait a minute.

Husband: What?

Wife: I would never say ‘pile of pooh.’ That’s going too far.

Husband: What do you mean? You have to say it. It’s my blog. I’m the one writing this!

Wife: No. It was bad enough you made me say artsy-fartsy, but I draw the line at ‘pile of poo.’ I think I’m going to go take a bubble bath. Enjoy your movie.

(She leaves the room and closes the door behind her.)

Husband: Honey! Could you come back? (He knocks on the door) Honey? I’m sorry I made you say ‘pile of poo.’ Are you still there? Honey? Okay, fine! I’ll just watch Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by myself!

(The man’s daughter comes through the opposite door)

Daughter: Hi, Dad.

Father: Hey, sweet pea. You want to watch a movie with your old dad?

Daughter: Is this another one of your artsy-fartsy blog movies?

Father: You just said artsy-fartsy. I didn't force you to say that, did I? I want to make sure that you don’t have a problem saying artsy-fartsy. And what's your opinion on pile of poo?

Daughter: Pile of what?

Father: Never mind.
(Loudly, hoping wife might overhear) I’m just glad that you’re being a little more cooperative than your mother. Now, have a seat.

Daughter: All right. Just don’t make me cuss.

Father: What are you talking about?

Daughter: Mom would really scold me if I cussed…

Father: Who said anything about making you cuss? Besides, you wouldn’t actually be cussing if I did have you cuss, because I’m the one who’s writing this!
Forget it! Let’s just watch the movie.

(94 minutes later)

Father: What did you think?

Daughter: Colorful. Lots of snow. Lots of red. Big moustaches. And why so many goats? The romance was interesting.

Father: A true Carpathian love story.

Daughter: Carpathians? Is that like the Summerians?

Father: No, it’s not like the Summerians. I don’t think so anyway. But overall what did you think? Did it speak to you in any kind of artistic way? Personally, I thought the narrative was crisp. And this director’s eye for images is really starting to grow on me. I can honestly say I’m coming around to the Parajanov camp. Of course, the last part was a little bit, what’s the word?

Daughter: Yeah, that part at the end was a load of….Hey, wait a minute!

Father: What?

Daughter: I was about to say load of…and then a bad word. You were going to make me cuss. Weren’t you?

Father: No! I was not going to make you cuss!

Daughter: I’m telling mom! You were going to make me cuss. She’ll never get me my Nintendo DS now!

(Daughter storms out of the room as the father stares at the door after she closes it behind her. After a minute, the man's Golden Retriever comes into the room and nestles beside him.)

Dog Owner: (He pets her) Hey, girl. I know I’ve got someone who won’t run out on me when the going gets tough. What’s say you and me watch the extras of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors?

(The dog looks up at him confused and walks away, but not before depositing a ‘pile of poo’ on the carpet in front of him)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988, JAPAN), PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997, JAPAN)


I admit to being pretty much a novice when it comes Anime. So, I decided to check a scholarly source* which describes anime as being : a style of animation originating in Japan that is characterized by stark colorful graphics depicting vibrant characters in action-filled plots often with fantastic or futuristic themes. Well, that seems to serve my purposes well enough. And Manga is when you draw it, right? Once again, that’s sufficient. I still use the term Japanimation, though I’m not sure you can use that anymore.

Anyway, I grew up watching shows like Kimba, the White Lion (Which was later Xeroxed by Disney for The Lion King) , Astro Boy (Which I thought was cool simply because what boy wouldn’t want to fly?) and Speed Racer (Which, even when I was six, found far fetched that Speed could solve a crime in the middle of a race, and still have time to return and win the very same race after race by a hair. It’s okay for Speed to finish fourth or fifth Trans-Lux!, He just caught a gang of poachers after all! Keep it real!)
Later entries in amime I am somewhat familiar with are the exaggerated Sailor Moon (Girlame, if there is such a word) and One Piece (which seemed typical of the type to me with the exaggerated movements and mannerisms) and of course Pokemon, (Which is basically impossible for an adult to understand. An adult understanding Pokemon…It’s like try to talk to the fuzz about what’s cool, you dig?)

So my expectations for Mizuchi’s Princess Mononoke wasn’t necessarily high or low, but I must say I enjoyed more than I thought I would. A farfetched fantasy adventure story for sure, but none of the exaggerated silliness of tears flying out of faces or the characters sporting smiles that should swallow their entire face if logic were to hold.

Not that the plot was always easy to follow. Their were a lot of gray areas as to who the good guys and bad guys were at different times. (But that’s a good thing, right?) And Billy Bob Thornton supplying the voice as a Japanese monk on the English dub was more than a little disconcerting.
Still worthwhile for fans of fantasy anime and ex-prostitutes turned smelters, lepers turned gunmakers, enigmatic boars, wolves and tree monkeys (I think they were monkeys, but the images are starting to run together. I knew I should have written this blog sooner after seeing it.)

The only animation I can recall as depressing as Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies might be Watership Down, which I’m sure isn’t as dark as this. A brother and sister in Japan at the end of World War II, try to survive after the firebombing of their city and their parents die or are unreachable. Not for everyone, that’s for sure, but a powerful film. Roger Ebert sees part of the film’s success stemming from “the lack of visual realism in his animated characters allows our imagination more play; freed from the literal fact of real actors, we can more easily merge the characters with our own associations.”

“What he said,” I add, while pointing at Roger Ebert.


*The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.