Sunday, May 21, 2017

The original and the remake

Is it that I am necessarily a big fan of old movies? No. It is more a that I am not a fan of new movies. There are some old films that I love. There are some old films that I find interesting. Thinking that you may love or find them interesting as well, I want to bring some films to your attention so that you may catch them some time and hopefully enjoy them as much as I do.

This time around I have an opportunity to discuss an old film that I enjoy – another one that I watch just about every chance I have. It is also a film that was remade in 2015 that is a great example of why I am not a big fan of most newer Hollywood movies.

The old film of which I speak is one that I touched on briefly seven years ago (we’ve been at the Table for seven years already??).     

It is an MGM film from World War II – 1943 to be exact. The film, based upon a William Saroyan novel, was called The Human Comedy. The story concerns a teenage boy named Homer Macauley, played by 22 year old Mickey Rooney. Now don’t roll your eyes when you read the name Mickey Rooney. This film works.

Homer Macauley (Mickey Rooney)

Homer's mother, Mrs. Macauley is played by Faye Bainter. Homer’s older brother Marcus (Van Johnson) is in the army. Homer also has an older sister, Bess (Donna Reed – yes, that Donna Reed) and a little brother Ulysses (Jack Jenkins). The dead father, Matthew (trust me, it works in this film) is played by Ray Collins (yes – Lt. Tragg from Perry Mason). Oh, keep your eyes open for a young Robert Mitchum.

Matthew provides some narration from time to time. In a nutshell, Homer gets a job as a telegraph messenger to help with the family finances now that Marcus is off in the war. The telegraph office is run by Tom Spangler (James Craig). The head telegrapher in the office is Willie Grogan (Frank Morgan). 

Willie Grogan (Frank Morgan)

Mary Arena (Dorothy Morris) is Marcus’s girl next door. Tobey George (John Craven) is Marcus’s best friend in the army and was an orphan who never had a family or a home or home town.

Tobey George (John Craven) and Marcus Macauley (Van Johnson)

The two central relationships of the film are between Homer and Willie Grogan, and between Marcus and Tobey George.

Willie Grogan is an old-timer whom the company would just as soon put out to pasture. He has seen a great deal in his 67 years, much of it painful. He has a tendency to drink away his pain. He is a warm person and Homer forms a tight bond with Willie.

Marcus takes Tobey under his wing. Tobey learns all about the Macauley family and of their hometown of Ithaca, California (a fictionalized Fresno). From afar, Tobey falls in love with Bess. Tobey and Marcus plan on settling in Ithaca after the war raising families with Bess and Mary, respectively.

This is not a film without pain. One of the first telegraphs Homer has to deliver is to an Hispanic woman whose son was killed in the war. Homer is distraught. In a very touching scene, the mother of the dead soldier ends up comforting the young Homer.

It is a film about people facing those things they have to face. It is also a film about love and compassion. Being a 1940’s MGM film, you know the schmaltz is laid on with a trowel – but it all comes together. It even turns a sad ending into a somewhat happy, hopeful ending. As I said seven years ago, “Watch this film, but buy an extra box of Kleenex before you do.“

Now lets us move to the 2015 version, Ithaca. This film marks Meg Ryan’s directorial debut. I suffered through this film. And I mean suffered. I must admit that often it is hard to see a remake of something when you loved the original. While granting that, I can point to specific issues about it that detracted from it.

First of all, there is a strong “this war is useless” attitude. While I can certainly understand a sentiment of “I wish we didn’t have to fight this war,” or a pacifist's “war goes against the word of G-d,” I do have problems with a modern “this war is stupid” masquerading as 1943. People in 1943 may have hated the war, but they generally would have recognized why we were at war.

If I had not seen The Human Comedy first, I would not have really had any idea of who some of the characters were. Tobey is almost a throwaway. Mary? Alfred Hitchcock almost left bigger impressions in his cameos than Mary did in this film.

Ithaca is a dark film. While The Human Comedy is a film full of love, there is no love in Ithaca. Worse, none of the characters the film does focus on are at all likeable. I can see why Rooney’s Homer is drawn to Morgan’s Willie. However, if I were Jack Quaid’s (Meg Ryan’s and Dennis Quaid’s son) Homer I would have done what I could to spend as little time with Sam Sheppard’s Willie as possible. And I didn’t give a rip about Quaid’s Homer. I also get the impression in this version that Matthew (Tom Hanks) committed suicide.

So: watch the 1943 version, skip the 2015 version.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Usual Suspects

I don't know how it is now, but in the past radio stations were expected to spend a certain amount of their time playing programs that were in the public interest. That's why radio stations would have public affairs programs early on Sunday mornings and late on Sunday evenings. Religious programs also fit into that category.

Back when I was a young lad and working in radio, one syndicated program was called Rock and Religion, or something to that effect.

I had known that show for a few years. One day, we received a promotional record (many programs were syndicated on vinyl back in the day -- including Casey Kasem's American Top 40) from the producers saying that they were going to revamp the show and change the name. My program director wanted me to listen to the record with her to get my feedback.

At one point during the show, the announcer said "And we will have more than just Christian artists. We will also have popular music artists as well."

At that point I interjected, "...such as Roger McGuinn, Barry McGuire, and Leon Patillo -- formerly of Santana."

Then the record continued,  "...such as Roger McGuinn, Barry McGuire, and Leon Patillo -- formerly of Santana."

The program director looked at me with amazement. If California had a lotto game back then, she would have asked me for the next week's winning numbers.

"How did you know that?" she asked incredulously.

"Because whenever they have a popular music artist, it is always Roger McGuinn, Barry McGuire, or Leon Patillo -- formerly of Santana."

I remembered this after hearing some of the news stories of the past few days. How many times have you heard recently a news story that said, "Even some Republicans are critical of President Trump."

After you hear that, you say to yourself, "Hmmmm, let me see. I don't suppose John McCain would be one of them, now would he?"

And Roger McGuinn, Barry McGuire, and Leon Patillo -- formerly of Santana, wondered how you knew that.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

There I Was

Saw Simply Red in a small theatre venue in Vancouver a gazillion years ago. Great show very intimate, which suited the music.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Moment's Reflection

It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of Bob Owens, a true patriot and a man who took many hard hits for the team. He and I corresponded in those early heady days of blogging and making connections; IIRC he even posted here a few times. His blog Bearing Arms was a champion for 2nd amendment gun rights. Although I didn't know him well, and haven't spoken with him in years, my heart is heavy. Bob was a rock, and an all-around good man. He'll be missed.

I don't know what demons drove him to end his young life. We all have our battles. Bob, we'll do our best to carry on the fight, but your shoes will be hard to fill. Rest in peace, dear man. We've got this. 

Heartfelt condolences to Bob's family and many friends. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What is happening?

When I was in the seventh grade, I was the manager of the 7th-8th grade baseball team for my junior high school. Most of the students were children of soldiers, ranging from enlisted men to officers. (Our dear Florie had gone to the same junior-senior high school).

At one point we were tied for first place.We were scheduled to play the other first place team -- a private academy. The game was to be played at their home field.

The umpire for the game was the superintendent of that private academy.

By the time the game was over, seven innings as I recall, our pitchers had walked twenty-one (21) batters. Twenty-one. I doubt our pitchers threw a called strike that day.

I don't remember what the score was, but I was disgusted by the whole thing. Everyone on the team was disgusted by the whole thing. But nobody would have seriously thought that we should try to cause bodily harm to the umpire.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Films to see

Is it that I am necessarily a big fan of old movies? No. It is more a that I am not a fan of new movies. There are some old films that I love. There are some old films that I find interesting. Thinking that you may love or find them interesting as well, I want to bring some films to your attention so that you may catch them some time and hopefully enjoy them as much as I do.

This is the first.

If you were to ask me what I kind of film I enjoy, It would answer this way: I enjoy films where people find themselves in situations that may not be of their own choosing; they meet the challenge head on and come out better on the other side.

If you were to ask me my favorite film of all time, I would probably answer the film with Sidney Poitier's Oscar winning performance in 1963: Lilies of the Field.

Mother Maria (Lilia Skala) and Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier)

Friday, April 21, 2017

There I Was

Continuing (with your indulgence) a series of posts featuring artists I have seen live.  Tonight (and previously featured on the Table) British Jazz legends Cleo Laine and John Dankworth.  My mother was a big fan and this is the reason I was/am familiar with their music.  I saw them both in concert 3 or 4 times in the 80's.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Night Open Thread

So. Let's talk about the current political situation.

Right. Bad idea, huh. Because where do you even start?
[Not that that's ever stopped us! 😎 ]

Monday, April 3, 2017

Musical Meanderings but with a Conclusion.

In the summer of 1969, KJR Seattle played the latest single from Simon and Garfunkel. It was an opus of over five minutes long. Frankly, I don't recall what I thought of the song at the time.

Now I live in Canada. Canada has what is known as the Can(adian )Con(tent) regulations. That means that there is a requirement that so much of a radio station's playlist has to be performed or written or produced by a Canadian or recorded in Canada. It is on a point system. The more categories it satisfies, the more points it gets.

Yes, that mean there is a bunch of crap on the radio. (TV also has similar requirements. TV production is, by and large, underwritten by the government. Most of it stinks. I was once listening to a news-talk station from Vancouver. A caller phoned in and was talking about a program that had been canceled by its Canadian network but was going to be picked up by a U.S. cable network. The caller said, "I know this won't sound right, but it does not look Canadian." In other words, it was not crap.)

But anyway: the CanCon regulations were put in place in the early '70's to combat -- not the American music, but rather the music from the UK that was dominating the airways.

That takes us to 2009. Fay and I were in the UK. After a few days I finally found the radio in our rental car. It was a Mercedes -- which in Europe is probably looked at as is a Ford Fusion in the U.S. I found an oldies station that I had previously discovered on the internet.

I was somewhat surprised. it was almost as though they were required to AVOID playing music from the U.K. Most of it was American. I think I heard two U.K. song per hour. That is not to say they had a large playlist. One song that they tended to play a great deal (I don't know how many times I heard it there) was one that never got too much airplay in the U.S. It was the song I heard on KJR in 1969.

I have grown to really appreciate the song. If anything could be said to be one of Paul Simon's shining hours, it would be this song.

This song is cinematic to me. It builds on a story with its lyrics. However, I think it continues to build on the picture painted by the lyrics even after the "words" have finished.

I know someone who thinks that the end of this song is just as boring and redundant as the end of Hey Jude. I disagree.

While Hey Jude continues doing the same old thing over and over (radio in the U.K. pays by "needle time" -- how long the song is played on the radio), The Boxer builds to a climax. To me it represents the pain and hurt the boxer goes through in his life. More and more instruments come in. More voices come in. Finally, all of that goes away and soft guitars play with soft percussion, then the song ends.

That is just not the end of the song. It is the end of the boxer's life. He had found peace at last.

May we all.

Friday, March 31, 2017