Showing posts with label actual history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label actual history. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

SW Reads! Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock


Author:  Dr. Christina Lane
Year Released:  2020
Format:  Audio Book and Book

A while back I learned of Dr. Christina Lane's book, Phantom Lady:  Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock, which ticked a lot of boxes.  Lane's subject matter covered an area with which I had some familiarity - 1940's and 50's Hollywood (I don't claim an encyclopedic knowledge, natch).  The focus of her exploration was a person I didn't know anything about, but whose work I actually knew.

A biography of British-born film writer and producer Joan Harrison, it turned out that I had seen - and very much enjoyed - films produced by Harrison, not least of which was the eponymous Phantom Lady.  As one would guess, Hollywood was not overrun by women in positions of management or executive decision making in the 1940's and 1950's, and so I was curious enough, but then Lane was also featured on TCM's Noir Alley series as a guest, discussing Harrison in conjunction with some of her films.  I was sold.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Madeleine Albright Merges With The Infinite


 
Madeleine Albright, a woman of legendary accomplishment, has passed.

Albright was the first female Secretary of State, and had the intelligence, personality and skill one would expect of a trailblazer at such high levels.  Her deftness in diplomacy was what you want out of a Secretary of State, and we saw her charm and conversational skills up front in an era where talk shows welcomed Secretaries of State and the population (a) could name who that person was before they took the stage, and (b) could watch them speak without shouting slurs at someone from a party to which they did not belong.  

But as a refugee first from Nazis and then the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, as someone who went for it in an era where expectations were she stay home and live a quiet, domestic life, Albright's pivot to law and public policy after becoming a wife and mother was notable, before she began her climb.  

Her tenure was perhaps one of few bright spots of the second half of the Clinton administration, though not unmarred by the challenges of the role and the expected disagreements in a political context, both from the right and left.  No one plays at that level and escapes unscathed.  

It was an amazing life and career, and I hope folks appreciate and understand what paths she created in the US and what she did for the nation as ambassador and Secretary of State.


Friday, January 7, 2022

Sidney Poitier Merges With The Infinite



Screen legend Sidney Poitier has passed.  One of a handful of actors who truly helped change the world.


Monday, December 27, 2021

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Merges With The Infinite


 
We talk a lot about movies and cultural artifacts around here, but the world has genuine heroes.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu has passed.  

The Archbishop's efforts in the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and his role as ambassador to the world were instrumental in the disintegration of the old government in his homeland.  And then he kept working.

We will see his like again, and it's important to know these lights when we see them. What a gift he was to the world.  

From the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa:

A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world
If you subscribe to the NYT, this is worth a read.   https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/26/world/africa/tutu-death.html




Sunday, December 5, 2021

Bob Dole Merges With The Infinite


Senator Bob Dole has passed.

Dole was the GOP candidate in the first presidential election in which I could cast a vote, and so I spent no small amount of energy reading up on Dole, watching debates, etc... in an era where - personally - I was still understanding how my values, beliefs and personal predilections stacked up against the platform and policy of a candidate.  And, Bob Dole and I might have not agreed on some things, but I came to understand him as a dedicated public servant, a brave veteran and a survivor of wounds that might have stopped others.  Instead, he'd persevered and and pursued a remarkable career.

After the election, he was still as powerful a voice in public discourse as he'd been which led to his nomination.  And I always understood why he held the stances he did (except for the pro-cigarettes thing, which... two years later, I don't think he would have leaned into that one).   

Someone who was a tremendous force in American government and the direction of the country has passed, and he'll be assessed and written about for years to come, certainly.  Hindsight is 20/20. But take note as a person who actually did things and wanted the country to be better, has passed.


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Doc Watch: Malfunction - The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson (2021)




Watched:  11/20/2021
Format:  I saw it on TV, but I believe they're trying to get you to watch it on Hulu
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Jodi Gomes

I was flipping channels and somehow caught what I thought was someone's rushed attempt to get in front of the "coming to Hulu" documentary by the New York Times about the fateful Super Bowl performance in which Justin Timberlake removed an item from Janet Jackson's wardrobe, exposing her breast on TV for a blink-and-you-miss-it moment.  But, no, it was the actual doc.

I am not sure that Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson (2021) is the final word on the incident.  I think it has a lot to say that I think is worth reflecting on, but at the center of the doc are a few gigantic questions it won't/ can't answer, and I am unsure some of the arguments are fully explored.  What the doc manages to do is paint the most complete picture of the Super Bowl incident and the fallout, giving detail I'd not heard, following the incident's years-long legacy.  But I can't quite sort what the doc is trying to say.  Nor am I sure revisiting the incident is as compelling as cultural conversation as we'll treat it for a few weeks here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Doc Watch: The Celluloid Closet (1995)




Watched:  11/07/2021
Format:  TCM 
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1990's
Directors:  Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

This doc came out while I was in film school, and I remember it being suggested viewing, but I don't recall an actual theatrical release locally, and then I just never got to it.

As a cultural touchstone, this film feels like it needs a review by The Kids(tm).  It captures a moment in time, just before Gen-X would start driving the cultural conversation and the ending, cast as hope, now seems quaint in some ways and like a ship was missed in others.  But if nothing else, the film shows the realities of what things came before the mid-90's and - extrapolating to the modern era - how much has and hasn't changed in what is a relatively brief period.  

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Hallow-Scream Watch: Gothic (1986)




Watched:  10/16/2021
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Decade: 1980's
Director:  Ken Russell

Gothic (1986) is one of those movies I remember always seeing on the shelf at movie rental places.  It was always in, but I never pulled the trigger and watched it.  I'm thinking the copy on the box describing the movie was not great, because - I believe - had it been more accurate, I would have rented the movie.

Based loosely on some real-life events (and then deeply fictionalized), the movie imagines about 24 hours of drug-fueled shenanigans in a mansion in Geneva at the turn of the 18th to the 19th Century as Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin (soon to be Mary Shelley) and Mary's step-sister arrive to have a hang with the notorious libertine, Lord Byron - in self-exile from England.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9-11 Twenty Years On




It's been a while since I posted even an image to mention 9/11 on this blog.  

I was 26 when the planes flew into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and a plane fell in Pennsylvania, headed for somewhere else.  I saw online today that they now believe that plane was supposed to target the US Capitol.  As devastating as it was to see the towers fall and the footage of a plane slamming into the Pentagon, I can't imagine where we'd be had that plane headed into DC airspace, let alone reached its target.

At the exact time of the crash, Jamie and I were in a hotel room in Las Vegas.  She'd been laid-off, and I was still just figuring out a new job, and we were married for a year and a half. 

You can't really explain to young people, without sounding naive, that in the years before 9/11, the people on the news weren't always insane, and that they used to do actual, fact-based reporting.  Or that we knew our political systems was divided and a little broken, but we could agree on some list of fundamentals someone had to carry with them when they went to Washington on our behalf.  

It's hard to say that didn't fall with the towers.  

A lot of other things happened, then, too.  It wasn't just the endless cycling of footage of burning buildings and plumes of debris and ash filling New York's avenues.  

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Fourth of July


July 4, 1776 is the date that the Second Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence.  A vote had been held on July 2, 1776 to agree to seek independence from Britain in the form of the Lee Resolution.  However, a formal Declaration of Independence did not appear until July 4th.

Perhaps the date we observe has as much to do with the stirring text of the Declaration as anything - and it is the formal document eventually signed by most of the delegates to the Congress. 

While not a document which laid down the manner in which the government would be run, which would not arrive for over a decade in the form of the Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence does lay down the moral reasoning for our separation from England.  The Preamble, often memorized by school children over the years, and familiar to most Americans, formed the ethos of America as a state which required the consent of the governed, and that the government would serve the needs of the people.  But also that government not be changed on a whim - but when the government no longer responded to the needs of the governed.  

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Goin' Home - 1 Year Later


A year ago today marks the day the pandemic toppled our lives.  In the morning, I saw a message that my employing institution was closed and we were to not come to campus.  We spent the day scrambling, setting up impromptu work stations with our laptops we'd been instructed to take home nightly for weeks at that point.  

By late in the evening, Jamie had gone to bed and I was left with myself, sorting through the erupting confusion and fear, and then I saw the video of  famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing the familiar tune by Dvořák.  I won't lie - I sat here in this same spot on my sofa watching the recording on this same laptop and I sobbed.

Exhaustion, crippling uncertainty...   After a day of scrolling endlessly through stories of what was coming, what we didn't know, and the posts and communications between friends and family offering what we could in support and all feeling the same darkness closing in, Ma reached for kindness - a prescient kindness - with his simple recording. 

In a year that has seen horror and cruelty, that seemed to set the world ablaze over again each morning, I'm still stunned by how he seemed to know and know what to do.

"Goin' Home" is a sentimental song even without lyrics - it had some retroactively applied years after the song was originally penned.  And even with all of us stuck in our houses, "Goin' Home" - returning to a place of comfort, to a time when we can see our parents without masks, share a meal with friends - is something that made sense then as we peered into the unknown, and all the more a year later.   

Today Ma received his vaccine injection, and in the fifteen minute wait/ observation window, he brought out the cello and played some favorites.  

At the outset of the pandemic, celebrities tried to read stories or write poems and stay in touch with their audience.  Patrick Stewart gamely read Sonnets.  Ma partnered with painist Kathryn Stott and put out an album - the proceeds of which will support musicians struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.


Friday, March 12, 2021

In a Time of Virus: One Year Later


29.3 million cases of COVID.   Now over 530,000 dead as of 11:37 PM on 03/11/2021.

Since I quit writing posts we had an election, and Trump was shown the door.  But then we had an attempt at a violent overthrow of the US Congress as they moved to certify the electoral college on January 6th of this year.  You can look it up - it was very bad.  In the wake of the election loss, the GOP has more or less dropped the final bits of illusion suggesting they give a shit about democracy or decency.  Meanwhile, the Democrats remain the same spineless twits they've always been.  

Vaccines started appearing at the beginning of the year, and as of this writing, Jamie has her first shot, my parents and my brother have both of theirs, as well as my father-in-law and cousin.  The way they've rolled it out is intended to first serve the most vulnerable as the disease tends to hit, so first take care of older people and people with medical conditions.  But even as I write this, the picture is changing on a daily basis.  The White House is working on its plan to get vaccines available, and it seems to be actually working.  Meanwhile, the governor of Texas decided he's done with COVID and we're opening everything back up.  So, look for our numbers to spike uncontrollably for a while.  

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Noir Watch: Native Son (1951)




Watched:  02/28/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Pierre Chenal

Look, there's easily a book to be written about this movie, not a blog post.  It's a remarkable bit of cinema for a multitude of reasons.  

Based on a novel by celebrated author Richard Wright, and *starring* Richard Wright(!), the movie is maybe the most surprisingly frank depiction of the world a Black American lived within in mid-20th Century America captured on film at the time that I've seen.  Now - let me also say: it is very true I watch studio movies of the era, and have not had access to, and am not aware of, much of the independent Black cinema of the the 1940's and 50's, which I am sure had plenty to say and show.

But, look, this movie was never, ever going to get made in America at a studio - at least until the 1960's.  And so it wasn't.  Shot in Argentina to get around the Hayes Code, the movie does feature a good number of American actors, but not all of them are... the best.  And there's some serious ADR work happening over some of the rest of the talent that must have been local.  But - just imagine in 2021 hearing "we had to leave the country because telling this story was so controversial, the US just couldn't handle it".  I mean - that is not a great thing to have to say in a supposedly free society.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Inspirational Watch: Eddie the Eagle (2015)


Watched:  01/02/2021
Viewing: First
Decade:  2010's
Format:  Disney+
Director:   Dexter Fletcher

"Based on a true story" is more or less Hollywood speak for "we got the three things you remember about this event right, and everything else doesn't bear up to a quick Wikipedia check".  It doesn't mean this or others movies aren't worth watching, but always always always Google the subjects of "true story" movies after finishing a film.  It's inevitably more interesting than what's in the movie.

I do not remember the 1988 Calgary Olympics at all.  I was 13 and lived in Texas where none of the sports existed, and didn't watch much TV at that time in my life.  Jamie was actually at those Olympics, so she remembers the actual events and guy.   I think I vaguely remember watching hockey.  

Eddie the Eagle (2015) is a fine movie - a decent one for kids and adults.  Unlikely guy goes to the Olympics to compete - and the glory is in trying.  I've spoiled nothing - you can still watch.  Everything is very color-by-numbers and has the edges removed.  I mean, it's fine - I enjoyed it for what it was.  





Monday, December 7, 2020

Chuck Yeager has merged with The Infinite



When I was eight years old, my dad took the family to see The Right Stuff.  I was a spacey little kid interested in Star Wars and fantasy, but we also were read stories of real-life heroes, from Jackie Robinson to Benjamin Franklin to Louis Pasteur.  I couldn't remember a time when I hadn't known about my father's interest in aviation and NASA.  We lived less than 90 minutes from the Johnson Space Center, and visited frequently.  

But by 1983, the names of the Mercury mission crew were no longer household names.  Let alone Chuck Yeager.  But as much as I admired those Mercury astronauts, and somehow got my head around what the movie was doing at age 8 - I think the person my brother and I asked about the most afterward was Chuck Yeager.  

My idea of who Yeager is will forever be enmeshed with the portrayal of Yeager by Sam Shepard on the big screen (oddly and sadly, Shepard died before Yeager, passing a few years back).  When I think of the heroes of post-WWII America, it's hard for me to not to put the idea of Chuck Yeager strapping himself into jet after jet and surviving, including that day when he got in the Bell X1.  Ignoring the very real possibility of death, he pushed boundaries willingly - gladly, in fact.  In a small, strange rocket with his wife's name painted on the nose.

 I've read articles about him, seen him interviewed, and followed him on social media when he participated for a while.  The first thing I look for at the Smithsonian is always the X1.  The carefully crafted myth-making of cinema is just that  - it's not who the man was, even when it is very much what he was and what he did.  

I'm glad he lived long enough to see himself become a legend, and a hallmark of American grit and courage.  I'm fine with Yeager being more myth than real in my mind. 



Sunday, August 23, 2020

PODCAST: "The Straight Story" (1999) - featuring an interview with screenwriter John Roach! Disney History w/ NathanC and Ryan!


Watched:  08/08/2020
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1990's
Director:  David Lynch

For more ways to listen


NathanC returns for more Disney History - and this time he brings an interview with screenwriter John Roach! We're discussing the only G-Rated entry in the filmography of David Lynch, bringing his brilliance to a completely different kind of story. And - we have an interview with one of the key storytellers! Get some insight into this remarkable film courtesy a screenwriter who was there from start to finish! It's a very different (and special!) episode of The Signal Watch.





Music:  
Laurens Walking - Angelo Badalamenti, The Straight Story OST
Country Theme - Angelo Badalamenti, The Straight Story OST


Playlist - Disney History w/ NathanC:



Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Doc Watch: Howard (2018)



Watched:  08/10/2020
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's
Director:  Don Hahn

Let me start by saying: in a lot of ways Disney+ is much better than I ever expected.  I've enjoyed the Disney "from the vaults" content, catching new material, behind the scenes at parks, movies, etc... with One Day at Disney and two series - one on the making of The Mandalorian and an exceptional doc series on the making of Frozen 2

And, of course, then the release of Hamilton.  I haven't watched Black is King yet, but that's a pretty big line in the sand for the Disney brand to put out on their flagship, no-doubt-this-is-Disney streaming service when Disney has usually just avoided anything that invites cultural critique.*

But Disney+ putting a doc about Howard Ashman, a gay man who died of complications from AIDs at the height of the epidemic, and being honest and open about his sexuality and struggle with the disease, is... kind of mind-blowing.  There's something about the platform of their own streaming service and that you've already paid your money to have it that seems to have freed up the Disney Corp to tell some stories well worth telling I don't know we'd see if they didn't have this avenue.

The doc, itself, is the life story of Howard Ashman who - paired with Alan Menken - wrote the musical numbers for Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.  He also wrote and originally produced Little Shop of Horrors - which was his big breakout hit off-Broadway. 

It's really a pretty great story, well told, and has the heart-breaking knowledge of what happened to Ashman in the back of your head.  And, sadly, the fact he was the musical partner of Menken and that he died of AIDS was all I'd known about him until watching the doc. 

I don't want to get into details too much, but as loving as it is, it isn't shy about who Howard Ashman was and doesn't make him into a saint - while illustrating pretty clearly what sort of mind he had that helped push the Disney cartoon back into prestige territory (and why Disney was flailing at the time he showed up).

For fans of animation, musical theater, or Disney-history - well worth the viewing. 




*Disney tends to get lambasted no matter what they do, and I've stood there and listened to lines of people parrot back the criticisms of Aladdin, Lion King and Little Mermaid during 3 summers at The Disney Store.  I would invariably listen and then say "well, I make $4.50 an hour working here and while I'll tell my manager...  really, your best bet is writing the studio in California."



Monday, July 20, 2020

Musical Watch: Hamilton (2020)



Watched:  July 3, 2020
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020/ 2010
Director:  Thomas Kail

Certainly the most discussed musical in decades - and with far better reason than most (whether you like it or not) - Hamilton had become a cultural event well before Disney+ released a recorded version of the show on the platform on July 3rd.  This was not a film adaptation like we've seen in the last few years - like Les Miserables or even Cats.  Movie stars who can carry a tune were not swapped out for the Broadway cast, and we're not decades away from shows debuting, making a splash, touring and becoming so ubiquitous, you might as well make a movie because why not?

Instead, Hamilton (2020) as released is the version shot on stage roughly four years ago, starring mostly the original cast, which - since 2016 - has since scattered to the four winds, seeking their Hamilton-derived fortunes (I actually like Leslie Odom Jr's new record, Mr., for whatever that is worth to you).  The film existing is a wonderful change for Broadway, who has told themselves lots of stories about the need for the immediacy of theater's live experience and has usually only dropped original cast recordings as documents of how a show was conceived and presented.  Directed by the show's actual director, Thomas Kail, the "film" of Hamilton is thoughtfully, and, indeed, artfully shot.  Heck, last week "One Perfect Shot", a twitter account with the best in cinematography, included a shot from Hamilton.

Friday, July 17, 2020

John Lewis, American Hero, Has Passed


I can't begin to sum up the importance and achievements of John Lewis, and what he has meant to this country.  He has passed at the age of 80, still calling for a better way, every day, to the end.

#goodtrouble

From the New York Times

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Doc Watch: Becoming (2020)


Watched:  06/26/2020
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Nadia Hallgren

I'm aware Michelle Obama is a polarizing figure, what with encouraging kids to eat healthy and being an interesting, intelligent counterpart to her husband.  But, hoo boy, in a period of American journalism which seems distant and we can hope is on the ash-heap, the press sure tried to find ways to make her a villain.