Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Mulan sings along with "Oklahoma!" in the basement home theater. 

It was a hot, happy, and somewhat harried August.

Here are the movies I watched in August 2011:

1. Pitfall, Andre DeToth
2. To Kill A Mockingbird (twice), Robert Mulligan
3. They Won't Forget, Mervyn LeRoy
4. Young Mr. Lincoln, John Ford
5. It's Always Fair Weather, Gene Kelly & Stanley Donan
6. The Edge of the World, Michael Powell
7. Vera Drake, Mike Leigh
8. Gun Crazy (twice), Joseph H. Lewis
9. Sweet Land, Ali Selim
10. A Canterbury Tale, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressberger
11. Contraband, AKA Blackout, Michael Powell
12. Ballerina, Bertrand Normand
13. Oklahoma!, Fred Zinnermann
14. Bleak Moments, Mike Leigh
15. A Passage to India, David Lean

It was a very enjoyable film-watching month.  I actually happily appreciated every single movie, well - perhaps with the exception of "Sweet Land."  That film was just glaringly underdeveloped, in my humble opinion.  Oh, and also - surprisingly, "A Passage to India."  I'm sure the book was better, but jeez.  Yeash.  I wanted to yell at the screen: When characters behave in unbelievable ways, it does not make them complicated!  It just makes them unbelievable!!!!!!  How could Mrs. Moore have left India?   Maybe the book makes it clear, I dunno...

The highlights, if I had to parse them out, would be seeing "Gun Crazy" for the first time ever - and then, after almost losing my mind over how great this film is, I forced Michael to watch it with me.  In a period of six hours I'd seen it twice.  The long tracking shot in the car while they start their bank robbing spree - the parking lot, the feeling of claustrophobia and fear and titilation are incomparable.  I liked it better than Bonnie and Clyde (heresy!)   The scene where they meet each other - at the carnival, c'mon.  Very hot.   Funny, and actually steamy too.  Fantastic.  God, you just have to see it!  I was laughing out loud from sheer delight and excitement!

I got "Gun Crazy" from Netflix, but I didn't listen to the commentary, so I think I might send for it again.

We watched "To Kill a Mockingbird."  Mulan promptly announced that was the best movie she'd ever seen.  I was surprised, since I hadn't seen the film since I was a kid  - at not only how great it was - but how iconic its been for me my whole life, and without me being completely aware of this.  Boo Radley is such a potent character, one I've been inspired by in my own screenwriting.  Of course Atticus and Scout and Jem and Dill - the whole world of it.  It was so good, we (Michael, me and Mulan)  were all three crying by the end.   The image that arrested me most surprisingly was the scene when Atticus sits on the top of the jail house steps (with the standing, crook-necked lamp next to his wooden lawyer's chair) and quietly reads, attempting to protect Tom Robinson who's inside.  Just the sight of Atticus sitting there - before the crowd of angry men arrive, and then the children - just that single image of Atticus so alone, so calm, and so clearly doing the right thing, made me get a lump in my throat.  I didn't realize that this image has always been with me, I see it when I read certain stories in the paper, when I see decency and courage and quiet all wrapped up in some person.  That lamp and that chair have unknowingly become for me a symbolic screen-shot of justice and protection.

I didn't realize that when I first came to know about Obama, I had that image in my mind too.  I think I must have thought he was a kind of modern Atticus Finch - his careful speech and deliberate manners.  I guess we are all hoodwinked by our fantasies.  I used to think that conservative Republicans who didn't care for Obama must have thought he was conjured up magically, the perfect Democrat in every way.  I've tried hard to look the other way in poor choice, and sad unnecessary compromise again and again, thinking there was some master plan that I just didn't know about.  I thought I really knew and trusted Obama, especially after reading "Dreams from My Father."

But now, after so many disappointments - the capitulation on the debt ceiling and the latest scrapping of the proposed EPA regulations on smog and oil drilling - those two things being just a couple in a long list of bad moves.  I know he's being strangled by an inept and clearly stupid Congress, but I think he can do a lot more.  I don't think he has to give in constantly even before the fighting starts.  I just don't get it.  Seriously I'm baffled.  I have lost the sense that Obama personally cares about doing the right thing, even if it's impossible to accomplish.

I'm really finding it hard to see the difference in Obama's policies and Bush's, and now I'm wondering if Obama isn't just a magical conjured person dreamed up by Republicans!  Okay, I'll say it:   I think I'm ready to jump ship.  I don't feel I'm capable of supporting him.  It would require blind faith and I have run the gas out on blind faith in Obama.  No, I don't want Rick Perry (or Mitt?) to scare me into voting for Obama.  But I have to admit that I'm completely depressed and disillusioned by this current administration.  I could go on - I won't for now, but it's very very sad to me and causes me a lot of distress.  (I'm beginning to not-secretly wish that Bernie Sanders would run for president.)

Frankly, I'm still livid over the fact that Bin Laden was not captured and tried in a court of law.  And I guess I bring this up here because seeing "To Kill a Mockingbird" again, after so many years... well, I see how far we've come when even our Democratic president abandons the process of law.   I remember when I was a kid and saying to my Dad something about some hateful dictator - I said, "Why don't we just go and kill him?" And my dad said, "That's against the law.  Because that is wrong.  There are international laws in place, and even the most heinous person must be allowed to defend himself in a court of law."  I really felt that the world - the United States - had made that leap into civilization.

God, what a joke that is now.   Jeez.  The truth is we did just what Bin Laden was wishing we would do, (which he blatantly said, in recorded audio release again and again and again) and draw the U.S. Military into countless Middle East wars and bring our nation to bankruptcy.  

Enough.  Breathe.  Slowly now...

I need to take a walk around the block.

I'm back.

Okay.  So...

At the end of August, my mother and my two aunts (my mother's two sisters) came for a long weekend visit.  There was really only time for one movie.  Mulan insisted we watch "To Kill a Mockingbird" again.   The extras on the DVD are excellent - very good interviews with all the main players and a making-of doc that's well done.  When I read later that when Gregory Peck died, Brock Peters (who played Tom Robinson) gave the eulogy at the funeral - well, that gave me tingles.

What other film highlights?  "Pitfall" is a long-neglected film noir that is very well done and hard to see now.   "Young Mr. Lincoln - of course I had seen that before but a long time ago.  I remembered liking it a lot.  But this time, I realized it was even better than I recalled.  Henry Fonda is soooo good.  This movie shows that in the hands of a master like John Ford, even a straight flattering bio-pic can have style and punch and substance, even leave you with a sense of having watched something profound.

"Oklahoma!" was fun, and Mulan is now constantly singing all it's songs.  In the last two weeks, I often hear her singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" in the kitchen while she's making her breakfast.  God, that is so funny to me.

After watching "Vera Drake" I was up all night, going over this scene and that one.  I'm on a Mike Leigh jag and want to see everything he's ever directed.  Leigh's good.  There is just nothing like his films.  Long improvisation and character development with actors pays off.

"It's Always Fair Weather" is my favorite musical.  It has a real adult, complex story and fantastic singing and dancing.  Should we just say, categorically, that Cyd Charisse has the best body ever on film?  Maybe ever in the history of women?  I think so.  I think she's the best dancer too.

I'm also trying to catch up on all the Powell-Pressberger movies.  "The Edge of the World" was made before their partnership was cemented - by Powell, but it really haunted me.  It takes place on some Scottish Islands - or are they Irish?  I don't remember, but it feels like a book I read - it has that kind of feeling that gets under your skin. You feel you've lived it.  Oh! And "A Canterbury Tale" - the Archers collaboration - so good.  Incredibly odd plot and yet uncanny in it's deceptively meaningful story.  I read that there's a yearly hike along the route of the film in England. I want to make that some year.

 Books read in August, 2011:

1.) Anthill, by E.O. Wilson.   Jeeezhus.  Is there nothing this man can do?  I guess I had low literary expectations, but he's not only a great scientist, he's a good writer too.  It's a compelling and well-written story.  And I learned a lot about ants.  The Ant Chronicles are the main characters master's thesis and they comprise about a third of the middle part of the book.  Really funny and scary and good.  I agree - we have no free will.

2.) The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larsen.  I still have about a quarter of the book left.  Larsen is a terrific writer.  I know that the Architecture Foundation here in Chicago has a tour of the sites from the book.  I think I'll go this weekend.  The book's about the 1893 Columbian Exhibition and a serial killer named H. H. Holmes.  It's so sad, bone-chillingly creepy, shocking, and then - with Burnham, the architect and leader of the exposition - he is really human and deeply inspiring.  And Olmstead!  God what a great character come to life.  I've surrendered my mind to this book.

Two Architecture Tours Twice in August:  Went on the Chicago River Architecture tour twice with two sets of guests, then did it all again as we did a Sunday bus tour of Highlights of Chicago.  I could go on both of those tours a few more times before I'd be tired of it.  Great tour guides.  I'm going to start trying to go on two architecture tours a month now.  This month my goal is: Calvary Cemetery Tour (where my great grandmother and grandfather are buried along with several other relatives) and the Devil in the White City tour.   I am feeling so lucky to be living here right now.

I went to New York City for four days in August, and I took Mulan with me.  We went to two Broadway shows together:  War Horse, which was very schmaltzy but very enjoyable.  Mulan loved, loved, LOVED it.   I guess Spielberg is making the film.   The stage craft is very good.  We also saw the Book of Mormon.  I think it's genius.  I bought the soundtrack.  I love the songs, they're still in my head all the time.  I could tell that "The Invention of Lying" and Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life" were big influences.  But it was great.  Funny and it got better as I thought about it.  Really top-notch.  Mulan didn't like it!  But she knows nothing about religion. She kept tugging my sleeve and asking things like, "What is a baptism?"  Lots of explaining.  Wow, my kid has no religious knowledge whatsoever.


HemlockMan said...

That's how I was raised. No religion whatsoever. By the time I finally heard about that stuff--at eight years of age--it took me about a week to deduce that it was bullcrap.

Kizz said...

I'm willing to concede that War Horse was a little schmaltzy but considering the genre of book it was adapted from it took the right tone. And it reduced me to tears for pretty much the entire thing. You can't just put the pets in peril and have me not dissolve.

Priss said...

I'm feeling the same sad way about Obama. I had such high hopes. And then as they faded, I still thought that I had to vote for him because if a Republican wins in 2012, the Supreme Court is finished as anything but a mouthpiece for conservative Christianity, the rich, and corporations. Now I feel that he won't do much better at all with his Supreme Court nominees and even if he did pick someone great, they wouldn't get confirmed with this Senate. So now all I can really hope for is a changeover in Congress and a stronger Democratic Senate. I fear that my hopes are groundless though. I have nearly no optimism left.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a little comparative religion reading is in order for your daughter. In polling, atheists generally out-perform all other groups in terms of general knowledge of the major religions. I believe understanding the basic teachings and assumptions of the major religions is a more effective innoculant than leaving those lessons to some unknown, possibly charismatic True Believer, that she may encounter at some vulnerable moment in the future.

Glad to see you reading Erik Larsen! I recommended his blog in comments last month, particularly the page devoted to his late, great sweetheart of a dog.

As to Obama, I share your disappointment, but this website may help you recognize that it hasn't quite been ALL bad:


Voting for the lesser of two evils feels cynical and wrong, but in our winner-take-all system, it is definitely the rational choice.

Star said...

Yeah, and the flat tax for everyone isn't the good idea it sounds like, either. 10% out of my pocket hits me A LOT harder than 10% out of someone's pocket making even $50,000...or a lot more..., but the tax system does need to be simplified, that's for sure.

Jackson said...

Hey,It is great website..Really i got very important info on this site..Thank you so much for this work.
Online Viagra

A Strange Boy said...

Oh man, To Kill A Mockingbird. Just an amazing movie. I'm going to have to watch it again soon.

I understand how you feel about Obama. One liberal blog I follow referred to him as "the best Republican president in a long time". I am curious what you thought of his jobs speech on Thursday, though. It was nice to see some of the fire back after all those times of him giving the Republicans his lunch money and them giving him another swirly anyway.

Tom said...

This is really random but speaking of movies have you seen the documentary Earthlings? I'm curious about your thoughts on it.

Luna said...

Good selection of films here Julia, it's inspired me to watch a few of the classics again myself.

Gregory Peck's performance is so real and timeless, and David Lean's A Passage To India - wow what an epic tale - talking of David Lean I feel like watching Lawrence of Arabia Again!

Thanks for sharing Julia, as always, an enjoyable read x

Daniel Fisher said...

Julia, I'm a big fan of yours. Love your work. One quick comment, Osama bin Laden wasn't a dictator or leader of any country. It wasn't illegal to kill him. One question might be: what does the process of capturing someone like him look like? How many lives should we have been willing to sacrifice to be able to have captured him and run him through a legal process? Rather than killing him or sacrificing other lives to capture him, should we have let him be free? How many lives should we be willing to sacrifice for that? I too am a big fan of the due process, but it's very difficult to imagine how one could apply that idea to someone as well armed, intelligent, and dangerous as bin Laden was. It's analogous to a well armed mad man mowing down a bunch of innocent people. We could have a process in place to capture such a person, but as a society we place a higher value on protecting the lives of others first. I think that (saving the lives of innocent people) is a morally justifiable position since there was plenty of evidence tying bin Laden to a lot of evil activities. IMHO!

Rock on.

Portland, Ore

Paul said...

Love you, Julia. Letting Go of God is a permanent fixture on my iPod - it never gets old. In A Family Way is great, too. I happen to be listening to Christopher Hitchen's God Is Not Great audiobook as well - his is longer (about 8 hours) but yours is more entertaining!

Glad that you're doing a show for New Year's -- any chance of a new monologue in the works?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Years ago, when Obama first got voted in and people were dancing in the streets (many of them, the same people who had gleefully voted for Prop 8 and denied me my right to marry the man I love), I knew all this hero worship would soon be over. As Obama did one stupid thing after another, and in one way or another supported Prop 8, I watched as his supporters continued to worship at his feet, and derided me as an UNBELIEVER who just didn't understand their faith that he had some Grand Design that would explain his actions (or non actions). I also knew that, once the truth about him was revealed, being RIGHT about him wouldn't feel as good as I hoped it would. I knew that it would just feel sad. And here we are. And I was right. Sadly.

-- Sheldon

Anonymous said...

I was looking for the film documenting your brother and his passing. I found such great comfort in that film - the love, strength and conviction shown was one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. I lost my son in a different way but I was struck by the love and honesty you chose to deal with your sorrow in a solemn and yet wryly funny way (is that an Irish thing?. Is it available or will be aired again? Thank you for your real sense of humor and expressing it!

Rufus said...

I enjoy your blog when you get to it. I love Letting Go of God.

Concerning bin Laden. Could you describe what you think his trial would have been like? Both here and abroad?

MARSIAL2010 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jelltex said...

Being a Brit, I can't speak with much authority about Obama, but I don't think any person could have lived up to all that hope.

Anonymous said...


kopi tribulus said...

I see a girl singing in-front-of television. What a nice action!

Sally Cragin said...

I just rediscovered yr blog and am glad of book postings. E.O. Wilson was one of the great "memorable sightings" around the Harvard campus in the 90s (he and J.K. Galbraith are startlingly tall). A favored possession: I was hired to PA a shoot for the Nature Channel a friend was doing on Wilson. So I brought my Audubon guide to insects. He autographed the first Ant page, and drew a tiny ant next to it. I later reproduced the drawing and printed it on each panel of a box you could fold -- this was the inside cover of an issue of Button (new england's tiniest journal of poetry fiction and gracious living). The Anthill section of the book is one of the best things I've read in years...

Forzest said...

Excellent work. It is really useful and informative. I really appreciate with your post. waiting for your next post.

Steven Strauss said...

I keep thinking there's a great grown up movie that's been dying to get out of The Music Man; it's really got a chance to be about becoming honest after a lifetime of being dishonest. It seems to have mattered to the man who wrote it.

I must say I was unrealistically interested in seeing Jeff Goldblum really play Harold Hill - how would it remind me of Dustin Hoffman's Willy Loman? Imagining his diction and delivery of "Trouble" has caused me to laugh out loud to myself in public. "Now I know all you folks are the right kind of parents -- I'm going to be PERFectly frank!" With his left hand extended in front of him, his thumb pressing down on the curl of his index finger.

It was so nice to come back to your blog today and read your dispatches. Sending canine healing energy to beautiful Arden, whose early behavior issues made for such entertaining reading in years past. Thanks for being here!

Blondie said...

What you have exposed in one of your talks Julia is Mormonism. No true christian believes that stuff. I think you have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. If intellectualism is our God then we are our own God. Not a pretty prospect. God knew and forsaw these things and made faith in Jesus the thing that opened the way to God. I have more to complain about in my childhood than you seem to have but I have found faith against the odds. Please do not lump religion together. The is much false religion that is why God sends the Spirit of Truth to help us and comfort us.

Anonymous said...

Julia, part of your blog post says:
"Mulan ... she knows nothing about religion. She kept tugging my sleeve and asking things like, "What is a baptism?" Lots of explaining. Wow, my kid has no religious knowledge whatsoever."

A few words that can be useful with the "Lots of explaining"
and help Mulan get some "religious knowledge" include:

Proverbs 1 (NIV1984 Bible)):

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,"