The American Conservative Staff
(”A Farewell to Arms” is briefly mentioned in this.)

Just in time for Halloween comes Halloween—the hit movie that is. This new monster of a picture—it was number one at the box office over the weekend—is actually the 11th sequel to, or remake ...

(Review Source)
A Separation
The American Conservative Staff
(”A Separation” is briefly mentioned in this.)

9/12/2012 · I just saw Bachelorette (short review: Save yourself.) and have run across a couple links about how marriage and related issues are portrayed at the movie

(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”A Separation” is briefly mentioned in this.)

Because the movie severely compresses the novel’s time frame–thus forestalling the development of Maisie’s own awareness, by the way–all of this happens in the space of less than a year ...

(Review Source)
Steve Sailer
(”A Separation” is briefly mentioned in this.)


What proportion of the top creative artists in Hollywood, the heavyweight auteurs,...

(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”A Separation” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Culture Casual As a born and bred Yankee fan, I always felt a tinge of envy for the Dodger fans who could wear their politics on their sleeve.  Jackie Robinson—hard to deny his historical importance. And Dodger fans of a certain generation, a bit older than mine, could go through their day-to-day lives feeling virtuous, progressive, suffused with a kind of self-regarding anti-racist glow, in addition to enjoying great baseball. You would hear them boast about it for generations afterward. I’m not being sarcastic. Sports are only interesting with a rooting interest. Tiger, for or against?  (I’ve always been against, but now am now sliding towards for.) The Williams sisters? No. The Boston Patriots? No. The Miami Heat? No. The NCAA is a problem because I never have a natural team. Columbia, sorry. So one has to construct artificial rooting interests. I tend to pull for teams with two or three key white players—for integrationist reason perhaps, or because the game would become less interesting if it became solely black, I don’t know. The great Knick teams of my youth had Bradley, Lucas, and DeBusschere as well as the sublime Clyde Frazier and Captain Willis Reed. So, the Sweet Sixteen. Oregon Ducks. They have the only Iranian in the tournament, and probably in all of Division One basketball. Arselan Kazemi came to the states to play basketball, first at Rice, now with the Ducks. His father is an apparently bourgeois candy-factory owner; his parents learned that in America you could both study and play basketball, and here he is. I root for him for the same reason I rooted last year for “A Separation” to win the Academy Award for best foreign film. It was good movie, true. And it allowed one to observe cultural and moral life in a city (Teheran) in a time and a place that is globally important and not otherwise easily accessible.  But also because it humanized Iranians and made the war the neoconservatives want the United States to launch against them a tiny, tiny bit less likely. No, I’m not thinking that a little film has a big influence.  But if one can see the Persians as the ugly-bearded heirs of Hitler, it’s that much easier for The Weekly Standard and the rest of the War Party to persuade Americans they need to be bombed. And every little thing that makes that more difficult is a blessing. So, back to the Ducks. Arselan Kazemi is a thin  6-7 “power-forward”—of the kind you can only have in college. He’s a great rebounder. I think for the first two games of the tournament he set a record for most rebounds.  He runs up and down the court, collects the rebound, and hands the ball off to one of his guards. No attempt, ever, to shoot from more than five feet. You almost don’t see him. No flamboyant blocks or dunks (well one, when the game was well in hand.) I suspect rebounding is somewhat like reading greens in golf—that many people are decent at judging the right line of a putt, but some people are exceptional at it, and if so, it makes up a bit for other weaknesses. So at the college level, Karzemi is, or at least has been in the tournament thus far, a veritable Dennis Rodman. The Ducks have other players to shoot and score from inside. To get them the ball, they have Kazemi. Tonight—when they play number one seed Louisville, the tournament favorite at this point—will be a big test about whether they are ready to play at the highest level of college ball. Louisville is heavily favored,  but I’ll be watching. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”A Separation” is briefly mentioned in this.)
World Film “Inch’Allah,” Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s feature about Israel-Palestine, may be the strongest effort yet to convey the emotions of the supercharged struggle over land and dignity in the present period. For nearly a half-century, those who wanted justice in Palestine hoped that some representation of their narrative could reach the screen. They lived in the shadow, of course, of the epochal power of  “Exodus,” probably the most effective propaganda film in world history.  A great many years ago I recall Andrew Sarris telling a Columbia film class that the Palestinians were enthused when Jean-Luc Godard got funding to make a movie about their struggle, but were disappointed by the results.  What they had in mind was something like a modern western, with the fedayeen in the role of heroic good guys, a project which was never really in the French auteur’s wheelhouse. Numerous films have sought to convey  something of the moral ambiguity of the struggle, including Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.” I haven’t seen Julian Schnabel’s “Miral,” based on the novel/memoir by Rula Jabreal, the story of an orphanage for Palestinian  girls whose parents were killed at Deir Yassin.  Many had high hopes for the film, perhaps because of the widely acknowledged talent, warmth, and celebrity of Schnabel, but for one reason or another the movie never really took off. “Inch’Allah” can’t boast the star power of Jean-Luc Godard or Julian Schnabel; its director, Barbeau-Lavalette, is young and highly regarded in the Quebec film world, but not any sort of household name. But her movie deserves the hopes and access to screens granted to “Miral,” and more. It is a tough, gritty, and intense portrayal of Palestinian life under the occupation and the moral dilemmas faced by those—like the Canadian doctor played by the gorgeous Evelyne Brochu—who get involved trying to help them. The Palestinians, three generations ago a rural and pacific people, have been ghettoized and hardened. More than any movie I’ve seen, “Inch’Allah” conveys the something of the feel of Palestinian life, sarcastic and bitter in the younger generations, old-fashioned in the older ones, trying cope under a system of domination and control far more sophisticated than anything South Africans could dream up. The protagonist, Chloe, represents an element that has become a significant  part of the struggle for Palestine, the Westerners who have gotten  involved, often putting their lives on the line because however they might have felt about the establishment of Israel, they refuse to accept that this should mean Western complicity in Israel’s stamping on the Palestinians, forever. As Margaret Thatcher put it with precision, while Israel deserves to live in peace with secure borders, one must also work to fulfill legitimate Palestinian aspirations  “because you cannot demand for yourself what you deny to other people.” Barbeau-Lavalette’s Chloe figure has thrust herself into the lives of the oppressed as a doctor. But she is, as some of her patients remind her, “white” and can straddle the  two worlds;  when not with her patients and boyfriend in Ramallah, she pals around with an Israeli army conscript who shares her West Jerusalem apartment building. The latter, played expressively by Sivan Levy, tells her, “it’s not your war.” This is a gripping movie. I’m not going to engage in spoiler-alert descriptions, but there are two scenes—one no more than a conversation between two women, the other a portrayal of a well known consequence of the occupation—which are as powerful as anything I’ve ever seen on screen. In terms of acting and production values, it is accomplished: you really do feel immersed in the texture of  life, the sounds, the smells of the camps around Ramallah. It is sometimes slow, as indie films are. But at the very least it reaches the entertainment level of “No,” “Barbara,” “Rust and Bone,” “A Separation“—all widely available in theaters that show foreign and independent films, the last a winner of an Academy Award. I mention this because as of this writing “Inch’Allah” has been consigned to film festival purgatory; I saw its single showing at Filmfest D.C. It was released last fall in Canada, and there is no guarantee that it will make into American theaters. This would be a tremendous shame. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”A Separation” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Film There may not be many movies with happy endings more heartless than the one in “What Maisie Knew.” The new adaptation of Henry James’s novel about divorce as seen through the eyes of a small child does some things really well. All of the acting is great, especially Onata Aprile as six-year-old Maisie and Steve Coogan as her art-dealer father. Cell phones are used terrifically to create a sense of parental distraction, chaos, and irreconcilable conflicting demands. We sense that Maisie’s understanding of her situation is fragmentary and almost fantastical. She is compliant, and protective of the adults in her life, but repeated disappointments also make her scared and hesitant. She’s mercurial in a very real little-kid way; at times nothing seems to stick to her, but sometimes she’s clearly overhearing and remembering things her parents don’t expect her to catch. By forgetting some things (“Don’t you remember when Daddy threw you across the room?”) and holding on to others, she creates a narrative of her parents’ marriage and its breakup which is strikingly different from the one the parents themselves have, the ones they retail in the offices of schoolteachers and lawyers, and the one the audience itself creates. Maisie wears a big owl backpack with giant eyes, and later she’s dressed in a pink shirt with a glasses-wearing, also giant-eyed bunny rabbit, so it seems like the movie wants to tell a story about conflicting perceptions and hidden, obscure and partial truths. So why is it so simplistic? Massive spoilers here: Maisie’s parents break up, find new marital partners, and then those new marriages also break up and the stepparents themselves get together. Because the movie severely compresses the novel’s time frame–thus forestalling the development of Maisie’s own awareness, by the way–all of this happens in the space of less than a year, which seems extreme even for Andrew Cherlin’s America. There are a few home truths expressed in this narrative–unless you change, you will make the same mistakes in your new relationship that you made in your old one; four parents often provide less supervision than two; scheduling conflicts reflect deeper conflicts over the role the parents and stepparents and possible future stepparents play in the child’s life. And I’m tentatively okay with a movie positing that People Never Really Change, even though I think that’s false, cruel, and damaging–it might still lead to a good tragic movie. But that is the premise of this movie. Maisie’s mom and dad are basically awful and they never even really make an effort to change. (I don’t think her mother has a single non-dysfunctional interaction with another adult in the entire course of the movie.) Her stepparents, by contrast, are basically good, and when they mess up it’s only a few hours before they’re apologizing and reforming their ways. The plot of the movie boils down to: Innocent child is transferred from evil parents to good parents. This creepy fantasy is reinforced by the fact that all of the problems which consume the adults in the first nine-tenths of the film simply disappear in the final tenth. Money, job pressures, and custody battles have been huge tidal forces in the film… until New Mommy and New Daddy whisk Maisie off to the seaside and install her in a friend’s cabin. New Mommy is a nanny and New Daddy is a bartender. Are they somehow fighting a two-front custody battle somewhere offscreen, or planning to fight it? Did Old Mommy and Old Daddy just give up? Maybe the audience is supposed to infer that this is just a weekend idyll which will vanish very soon, when real-world pressures once again intrude–but I have no idea how the idyll even happened in the first place. I saw the movie with a friend who commented that “Maisie” makes it seem like you simply can’t be a responsible parent if you also hold down a job. And I don’t think these problems occur because we’re too deeply embedded in Maisie’s worldview; throughout the movie we’ve been given enough to judge situations on our own, with an adult’s knowledge and perspective, and there’s no indication that we’ve slipped into a deeper level of subjectivity for the ending. Even if this is a brief idyll, it’s one based on an unforgiving falsehood: the lie of good and bad people. Even if People Don’t Change (also false, but potentially more interesting), their unchanging selves aren’t all sheep or all goat, all the time. It’s hard to avoid unflattering comparisons with last year’s masterful Iranian child’s-eye-view-of-divorce movie, “A Separation.” In that movie people do change, and they’re frequently trying to become better; they’re complex, and even when they try their hardest to do the right thing they often deepen their tragedy. None of them are simply good people or bad people, even when they’re behaving well or poorly. In the first hour of the movie I found myself loving the acting, compelled by the story, and mildly disgusted by the saccharine, twinkly-indie-chick music. I’m sorry to say that by the end the music has taken over. Follow @evetushnet// <![CDATA[ !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs"); // ]]> ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”A Separation” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Culture Art Film I just saw Bachelorette (short review: Save yourself.) and have run across a couple links about how marriage and related issues are portrayed at the movie palace. The Right-Wing Film Geek reviews the new adaptation of Henry James’s divorce novel What Maisie Knew; Helen Rittelmeyer truffles up a sad/delightful quote from early Hollywood. (By the way, you should be following the guy behind RWFG on Twitter, and checking Helen’s blog.) I also have a question. I can think of several relatively recent really good movies which explore the suffering and shattering of identity caused by divorce (The Squid and the Whale) or adultery (Eyes Wide Shut, The Secret Lives of Dentists). But even in these movies, if I’m remembering them correctly, the couple or at best the nuclear family exists in a world of its own. That’s not a criticism–the claustrophobic or fever-dream nature of all three of those movies is part of their impact. But the role of friends and the broader society in creating and sustaining a marriage isn’t really portrayed. I’d be interested if any of you all can recommend recent, not-awful movies in which that role is explored. It doesn’t have to be an entirely positive view of society’s involvement in marriage–I think A Separation would count–just a view in which it’s not taken for granted that families or individuals are isolated in their time of crisis. ]]>
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”A Separation” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Eve Tushnet asks an interesting question: I can think of several relatively recent really good movies which explore the suffering and shattering of identity caused by divorce (The Squid and the Whale) or adultery (Eyes Wide Shut, The Secret Lives of Dentists). But even in these movies, if I’m remembering them correctly, the couple or at best the nuclear family exists in a world of its own. That’s not a criticism–the claustrophobic or fever-dream nature of all three of those movies is part of their impact. But the role of friends and the broader society in creating and sustaining a marriage isn’t really portrayed. I’d be interested if any of you all can recommend recent, not-awful movies in which that role is explored. It doesn’t have to be an entirely positive view of society’s involvement in marriage–I think A Separation would count–just a view in which it’s not taken for granted that families or individuals are isolated in their time of crisis. This is something I mentioned in my discussion of Sarah Polley’s film, “Take This Waltz.” It’s notable in that film that the Michelle Williams character – who leaves her husband – has no “people” of her own, while her husband, the Seth Rogan character, is surrounded by family and friends. Indeed, so far as we can tell, the Williams charter’s only friend is the Rogan character’s sister. In my view, this choice was dramatically necessary, because if the Williams character had told anyone that she was leaving her husband for a rickshaw driver, they would have tied her to a chair to stop her. But it did make for a suggestive contrast, the fact that the one who has no “people” flees the only “people” she has – her husband. Anyway, it’s a good question, and I wonder whether movies aren’t the ideal medium for exploring this territory. Most movies are single-protagonist quest narratives of one sort or another. Not all, but most. And narratives like that don’t lend themselves to exploring the network of society’s fibers. A movie is more likely to pit a protagonist against society. There’s also the question of time scale. Most movies play out over a relatively short span of time. (Though, obviously, there are exceptions.) Exploring how a network of friends and family support – or pull apart – a marriage sounds like it would require a longer span to do right. The first recent work of art that came to my mind that directly addresses Tushnet’s question is Donald Margulies’s excellent play, Dinner With Friends. It was made into a movie for television, but I haven’t seen it, and I hear it isn’t very good. But the play is a marvelous and complex exploration of the interaction between friendship and marriage. A recent movie that comes to mind is Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” though I don’t know that that movie is about how the penumbra of friends and family affect this marriage so much as how this marriage manages largely to avoid being affected by the emotional storms that rage in that penumbra. That’s its weakness as a film – it comes off as smug, because a happy family surrounded by unhappy people inevitably comes off as smug. But it definitely is a “family and community” film. In a very different way, The Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man” is also about a marriage embedded in a community. I paired it with “Tree of Life” because of the Job connection (got to get back to that pairing thing, by the way), but I could also have paired it with “The Godfather, Part II” for the family-community thing. The movie is a satire, but among the things its satirizing is precisely what Tushnet is interested in exploring. “The Last Station” is supposedly about Tolstoy, man and phenomenon, but his ideas are treated so superficially by the movie that what it winds up being is a portrait of a marriage more than anything else. And the tensions that tear it apart have everything to do with the conflict between the husband’s extra-familial identity and his role within the family. The Tolstoyan “community” isn’t exactly what Tushnet is talking about, but I still think it squeezes in. How about “Rachel Getting Married“? A movie that depicts a whole series of successfully healing marriages that nonetheless cannot heal the original nuclear family – indeed, that pull that family ever further apart, and away from the trauma that original broke it. A lot of people didn’t like this film, but I thought it was very powerful – and part of what made it powerful is that “family” is on both sides of the equation. It’s what provides comfort and solace to Rachel’s sister, mother and father. But what they are getting comfort and solace from is the pain that Rachel caused them – and she is also, inescapably, part of the family, even though the proliferation of families contributes to her progressive isolation. Then there’s that book that begins, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s not out yet, so I don’t know whether the new movie version is any good. (The casting and director leave me skeptical.) But it certainly fits Tushnet’s bill. And of course there’s the screenplay I’m currently marketing. Know any producers, Eve? ]]>
(Review Source)
A Single Man
Steve Sailer
Can a blackboard be beautiful? A liquor store car park? What about a sleeping bag? In Tom Ford’s hands the answer is always, “yes, darling”. When Colin Firth’s single man, Professor George Falconer, weaves his way to work through a catwalk throng of pristine students (not one fatso, not one freak), he reaches a lecture room of aesthetic rapture, a Mondrian-like portrait of black, white, and teak. When he later drives to a local store, a dusky sun transforms the parking lot into a glowing Eden. Even the sleeping bag, in which Falconer tries to kill himself, has a certain earthworm chic to it, particularly when jumpcut with enough art-house guile. You’d think this prettification, this ability to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, deserves an Oscar alone. But you’d be wrong. According to the critics, Tom Ford’s A Single Man is way too beautiful for its own good. Even those who’ve praised the fashion designer’s debut have felt the need to distance themselves from its glossy chic. And those who came away unmoved have sought to skewer the film’s aesthetic good behavior. The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw thought the film “an indulgent exercise in 1960s period style, glazed with 21st-century good taste”. Hang on one minute? Good taste, style, beauty: since when have these been pejorative terms? Since when have you ever heard anyone deliver a stinging rebuke with the words: “You tasteful ****!” No, nor me. So why is stylishness an attribute when levelled at a person and an assault when directed at a movie? Why are critics so snooty about cinematic good looks? What’s their beef with beauty? “In the heyday of Hollywood, no one questioned that style had substance. That the manicured rooms of the pent-up little cinematic gems by Douglas Sirk, his Magnificent Obsession or All That Heaven Allows, both provided candy for the eye and a resonant image for the brain.” Bradshaw would probably point out that, in conflating beauty and style, I am confusing two very different things. On the one hand you have the flotsam of style—Professor Falconer’s glistening specs, his immaculate draws, his catalogue kitchen—a transient, flighty, whorish companion to fashion, a shiny but low-grade thought, a take-away ideal. On the other, there’s beauty: permanent, higher, greater, more profound and more searching. Style is about getting things to look right; beauty is about sometimes getting things to look wrong. Style is the fluffy pink Angora jumpers that Falconer’s boy-candy sports, beauty is Beethoven’s Fifth. A very false distinction, I’d argue. Or at least the two ideas used to be much closer companions. Renaissance art was fixated with style. For Renaissance artists the idea of omitting stylistic details, fashion trends, a glossy appeal, the idea of not getting the right capes or coiffures, would have been absurd. Today, the transient tics that the great Renaissance works by Raphael and Titian would have had (like Ford’s au courant tiny collars and tight shirts) have worn off. A Titian can now simply irradiate wisdom and glow, in a way that A Single Man could never do, so weighed down is it with the stylistic arguments of its times. Yet don’t think for one second that it wasn’t fashion that originally dictated the composition, the shape and line of the great Renaissance art. The rules that patrol artistic beauty are the same as those that dictate style. (Style is just a young beauty.) The rules for a beautifully composed lecture room, liquor store car park or, yes, even, sleeping bag are the same as those for a finely composed landscape. An investigation of line, proportion, context, and history are the principals that lie behind each and every great aesthetic endeavor. In the 1950s we understood this. In the heyday of Hollywood, no one questioned that style had substance. No one tore down directors for their over-attentive eyes. It was a given that style was beauty. That the manicured rooms of the pent-up little cinematic gems by Douglas Sirk, his Magnificent Obsession or All That Heaven Allows, both provided candy for the eye and a resonant image for the brain. Some of Sirk’s combinations of lines, shapes, colors, and contours offer up a sensory experience that very clearly, very atmospherically, very mysteriously reflect that which is going on around them. Some don’t. Some just sit pretty, looking right. As does so much of A Single Man. And there should be absolutely nothing wrong with that. We like to think in this age that we have gone beyond the beauty of rightness, beyond the beauty of correct proportions. We’re in an ironic age, an age in which we laud the beauty of wrongness. Ford’s A Single Man is therefore not just a pretty film, it is a bold attempt to reassert a noble and time-honored pursuit that has almost completely been expunged in the past hundred years: a pursuit of pure beauty. googletag.cmd.push(function() {googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1456852648633-0');}); if(display_ads_server){document.write('<script src="http://a.intgr.net/tags/16_19.js"></script>');}; SIGN UPDaily updates with TM’s latest // delete this script tag and use a "div.mce_inline_error{ XXX !important}" selector // or fill this in and it will be inlined when errors are generated var mc_custom_error_style = ''; var fnames = new Array();var ftypes = new Array();fnames[0]='EMAIL';ftypes[0]='email';fnames[1]='FNAME';ftypes[1]='text';fnames[2]='LNAME';ftypes[2]='text';var err_style = ''; try{ err_style = mc_custom_error_style; } catch(e){ err_style = 'margin: 1em 0 0 0; padding: 1em 0.5em 0.5em 0.5em; background: ERROR_BGCOLOR none repeat scroll 0% 0%; font-weight: bold; float: left; z-index: 1; width: 80%; -moz-background-clip: -moz-initial; -moz-background-origin: -moz-initial; -moz-background-inline-policy: -moz-initial; color: ERROR_COLOR;'; } var mce_jQuery = jQuery.noConflict(); mce_jQuery(document).ready( function($) { var options = { errorClass: 'mce_inline_error', errorElement: 'div', errorStyle: err_style, onkeyup: function(){}, onfocusout:function(){}, onblur:function(){} }; var mce_validator = mce_jQuery("#mc-embedded-subscribe-form").validate(options); options = { url: 'http://takimag.us1.list-manage1.com/subscribe/post-json?u=0ba7696a8a378946b7e688500&id=f7706afea2&c=?', type: 'GET', dataType: 'json', contentType: "application/json; charset=utf-8", beforeSubmit: function(){ mce_jQuery('#mce_tmp_error_msg').remove(); mce_jQuery('.datefield','#mc_embed_signup').each( function(){ var txt = 'filled'; var fields = new Array(); var i = 0; mce_jQuery(':text', this).each( function(){ fields[i] = this; i++; }); mce_jQuery(':hidden', this).each( function(){ if ( fields[0].value=='MM' && fields[1].value=='DD' && fields[2].value=='YYYY' ){ this.value = ''; } else if ( fields[0].value=='' && fields[1].value=='' && fields[2].value=='' ){ this.value = ''; } else { this.value = fields[0].value+'/'+fields[1].value+'/'+fields[2].value; } }); }); return mce_validator.form(); }, success: mce_success_cb }; mce_jQuery('#mc-embedded-subscribe-form').ajaxForm(options); }); function mce_success_cb(resp){ mce_jQuery('#mce-success-response').hide(); mce_jQuery('#mce-error-response').hide(); if (resp.result=="success"){ mce_jQuery('#mce-'+resp.result+'-response').show(); mce_jQuery('#mce-'+resp.result+'-response').html(resp.msg); mce_jQuery('#mc-embedded-subscribe-form').each(function(){ this.reset(); }); } else { var index = -1; var msg; try { var parts = resp.msg.split(' - ',2); if (parts[1]==undefined){ msg = resp.msg; } else { i = parseInt(parts[0]); if (i.toString() == parts[0]){ index = parts[0]; msg = parts[1]; } else { index = -1; msg = resp.msg; } } } catch(e){ index = -1; msg = resp.msg; } try{ if (index== -1){ mce_jQuery('#mce-'+resp.result+'-response').show(); mce_jQuery('#mce-'+resp.result+'-response').html(msg); } else { err_id = 'mce_tmp_error_msg'; html = '<div id="'+err_id+'" style="'+err_style+'"> '+msg+''; var input_id = '#mc_embed_signup'; var f = mce_jQuery(input_id); if (ftypes[index]=='address'){ input_id = '#mce-'+fnames[index]+'-addr1'; f = mce_jQuery(input_id).parent().parent().get(0); } else if (ftypes[index]=='date'){ input_id = '#mce-'+fnames[index]+'-month'; f = mce_jQuery(input_id).parent().parent().get(0); } else { input_id = '#mce-'+fnames[index]; f = mce_jQuery().parent(input_id).get(0); } if (f){ mce_jQuery(f).append(html); mce_jQuery(input_id).focus(); } else { mce_jQuery('#mce-'+resp.result+'-response').show(); mce_jQuery('#mce-'+resp.result+'-response').html(msg); } } } catch(e){ mce_jQuery('#mce-'+resp.result+'-response').show(); mce_jQuery('#mce-'+resp.result+'-response').html(msg); } } } ]]>
(Review Source)
Taki Mag Staff
(”A Star Is Born” is briefly mentioned in this.)
The umpteenth remake of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s witty 1868 girls’ novel about growing up in Concord, Massachusetts, during the Civil War, is directed by Greta Gerwig and stars her alter ego, the lovely Irish lass Saoirse Ronan, as Jo March. As with the five sisters of Jane Austen’s 1813 book Pride and Prejudice, […]
(Review Source)
Steve Sailer
(”A Star Is Born” is briefly mentioned in this.)
From the Washington Post: A reasonable pick. Okay, but how about Ryan Gosling> Ryan Gosling also gives a tremendous performNE.= Michael Keaton for “Beetlejuice” (1988)n. John Malkovich for “Being John Mal
(Review Source)
The Unz Review Staff
I could have happily lived the rest of my life without seeing any of the now four versions of A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, 1976, 2018). But on a long flight, I decided on a whim to watch the latest version, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. I like Bradley Cooper as an actor,...
(Review Source)
Steve Sailer
(”A Star Is Born” is briefly mentioned in this.)
From The Forward: Not a good year for movies, so not a good year for Jews in the movie business. I should go back and look at older Forward articles like this, but this might be the worst year for Jews in movies in the last century. On the bright side ... Rachel Weisz is,...
(Review Source)
Steve Sailer
(”A Star Is Born” is briefly mentioned in this.)
A lousy year for movies, as shown by the Oscar nominations for Best Picture: BlacKkKlansman and Vice are bad movies with bad directing by Spike Lee and Adam McKay, respectively. Vice has good casting but McKay isn't content to let his expert actors (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, all...
(Review Source)
Steve Sailer
(”A Star Is Born” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Black Panther is an above average comic book movie, and I haven't seen the James Baldwin Beale Street movie, but Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman is groaningly bad. The Golden Globes also gave BlacKkKlansman a Best Director nomination to Spike Lee, a Best Actor nomination to Denzel Washington's son John David Washington, who is just amateurish, and...
(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”A Star Is Born” is briefly mentioned in this.)

Just in time for Halloween comes Halloween—the hit movie that is. This new monster of a picture—it was number one at the box office over the weekend—is actually the 11th sequel to, or remake ...

(Review Source)
Libertarian Agnostic

Shameless plug: If you’re interested in proof that hobos spend their money on drugs, then watch my ghetto DIY documentary on YouTube. I went undercover with hidden camera spy glasses and lived on the streets/in the shelters and proved the point … Continue reading

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(Review Source)
The American Conservative Staff
(”A View from the Bridge” is briefly mentioned in this.)

I suppose I should do one of these, since I failed to participate in our book symposium.FILM: There are a bunch of 2015 films that I still haven't seen, some of which I suspect I will really like.

(Review Source)
The Unz Review Staff
(”A Wrinkle in Time (2018)” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Captain Marvel is the typical Hollywood fantasy, with a woman playing the “captain,” plenty of heroic non-whites, and lots of bad white people. It will be released this Friday, March 8, which happens to be International Women’s Day. It’s all too trite for words. But Marvel Cinematic Universe and Disney may just be pushing their...
(Review Source)
The Unz Review Staff
(”Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” is briefly mentioned in this.)
Donald Trump has made China hot takes a busy and profitable enterprise. Thanks to his tweetings on Taiwan and other matters, I’ve put up a clutch of essays on Asia Times: November 23, 2016: Atlas Stumbled explores implications of a transactional Trump diplomacy for the tottering US pivot and its promise that China would fall on its *ss in Asia before America did. December 1, 2016 Donald Trump, Bombs, and Burgers holds out hope that a Trump presidency just might dance its way out of the denuclearization cul de sac of the Obama years. December 4, 2016 Trump in the Taiwan China Shop looks at the tactical dynamics of diplomacy a la Trump and posits that Trump is going with an aggressive Taiwan policy because the only available FP boffins left standing after the pro-Hillary crowd self-immolated is D**k Cheney’s Taiwan-loving neocons. December 9, 2016 The hole in the Heart of Asia takes an extremely disapproving look at America’s efforts to keep its fingers in the AfPak pie by putting all its eggs in Modi’s basket while sidelining the PRC. Yes, it’s as ugly as the mixed metaphor I just laid out. December 14, 2016 One China? Never, Trump! Back into the Trumptweet salt mines. I point out NeverTrump liberals are compelled to consume the rather unpalatable “Donald Trump is too hard on Communist China” menu item and point out that the hand on the wheel is Tsai Ing-wen’s, not Donald Trump’s. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. December 18, 2016 Drone Piracy in the South China Sea! Not a hot take, an extremely cool facty take on the PRC theft of a US Navy underwater glider thingy off the Philippine coast. Marshals a lot of not-widely-known information on the US Navy drone program, the PRC’s interests and concerns, and explains that the core issue the US Navy’s attempt to claim “sovereign US Navy vessel immunity” for these devices. With an absence of modesty I might point out this piece absolutely tore it up on China expert twitter thanks to Bill Hayton faving it. Thanks, Bill! But the big news is I got totally fed up with the anger and negativity in the world today and decided to do humanity a favor by updating my epochal Elvis Presley Christmas post. If you don’t have the time to wade through the full Elvis+Xmas, one of the longest pieces I’ve ever written, do yourself a favor and scroll to the very end of the piece. Play Elvis Presley’s rendition of “Peace in the Valley”, listen to the lyrics, and view the magnificent painting by Edward Hicks. You won’t be disappointed! Happy holidays! How Elvis’ Christmas Records Celebrate and Define American Music Elvis’ Christmas recordings provide a remarkable and perhaps unique opportunity to explore his profound gospel, rhythm and blues, country, bluegrass, and polka! dirty ditties! roots, the evolution of the American recording industry and Elvis’ career, and the postwar development of African-American music. For people interested in the revolution wrought in gospel music by Reverend Dorsey, race, appropriation, and how Elvis dealt with it, I particularly recommend Day 9: Hearing the Light: Elvis & Black Gospel It’s all here, folks, in a 12 Days of Elvis Christmas epic I originally put together in 2014, now with the Youtube videos recurated. Enjoy! And Happy Holidays! Elvis’ triumphant synthesis of American music is even more remarkable when you consider that most of his greatest achievements were recorded before he turned 23. Day One: Santa Claus Is Back in Town One of the early pinnacles of Elvis’ achievement is, rather surprisingly, the Christmas album he released in 1957. It is divided into secular and sacred sides. On the second side, Elvis beautifully sings some religiously-tinged Christmas songs and delivers magnificent and memorable renditions of “Peace in the Valley” and other gospel standards. It’s clear that Elvis loves his gospel, and his renditions are full of the power and dignity that characterize these noblest of popular songs. The pop/rock/R&B action is on the first side, and Elvis gets right down to business with the opener, “Santa Claus Is Back in Town”, a blues carol written by ace songwriters Leiber and Stoller in the studio on a dare in fifteen minutes. It is capped by the memorable couplet, sung in an ecstatic shout by Elvis: Hang up your pretty stockings, turn off the light Cause’ Santa Claus is comin’ down your chimney tonight! In their joint autobiography, Hound Dog, Leiber and Stoller recalled: The Colonel doesn’t laugh and the Colonel doesn’t smile when we run down the song for Elvis. I know the Colonel thinks it’s too bluesy and too black, but just before he can say anything, the King speaks out. ‘Now that’s what I call a goddamn great Christmas song!’ he tells the Colonel, ‘I told you these guys would come through’. And with that, Elvis proceeds to sing the [expletive] out of it. He does it in just a couple of takes. … For me, ‘Santa Claus Is Back in Town’ lives on as one of Elvis’ great blues performances. It took him back to his Beale Street roots, a place where he was always comfortable. Elvis was all of 22 at the time. I had the honor of communicating with Mike Stoller’s management team (Jerry Leiber has passed on) and was assured that the innuendo was completely intentional. ORDER IT NOWGiven this context, it is rather remarkable that the lyric apparently provoked no conspicuous ruckus. Maybe Irving Berlin had more than an inkling; he called for a boycott of the album, ostensibly because Elvis took some vocal liberties in his cover of White Christmas, which was sequenced right after Leiber & Stoller’s racy cut. Berlin’s objections did not stop the RCA from selling a mind-boggling 3 million units of Elvis’ Christmas Album in its original release, making it that decade’s biggest seller and a holiday soundtrack for generations of Americans (another 10 million sold as a budget-priced edition in the 1970s; indeed Elvis’ Christmas Album is his top-selling album, period, and No. 142 on Billboard’s all time list). Sneaking Santa Claus double entendres into pop songs seems to have been quite the vogue around this time. In 1950 Ella Fitzgerald sang about “fat and round” Santa Claus who “got stuck in my chimney.” About the same time, Sonny Boy Williamson II recorded “Santa Claus Blues” for Chess Records. Williamson’s double entendre of choice involves “drawers”: “Lookin all in my baby’s dresser drawers. Tryin to find out, What did she bought me for Santa Claus. When I pulled out the bottom dresser drawer, The landlady got mad and called the law..” In fact, in the R&B world in which Leiber and Stoller and Elvis were steeped at the time, “Santa Claus” had been invoked as the good thing, male principle division, since the pre-war era, as Gerry Bowler relates in his Santa Claus: A Biography. Blues scholar Paul Oliver has a chapter on Santa Claus in Screening the Blues and quotes a melancholy lyric from the great Texas country bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson: Just the day before Christmas let me bring you your present tonight, I wanna be your Santa Clause even if my whiskers ain’t white. So Santa is black and white. Get used to it! Happy holidays, everybody. Day Two: The Passion of Elvis A listener expresses her approval of Elvis’ canny alchemy of R&B, bluegrass, country, & gospel: Found this at a reddit photoshop battle (no credit, sorry). Says it was shot in the audience at an Elvis Presley concert in 1957, the year he recorded his Christmas album. What’s with the ping pong balls?   Day Three: The Dirty Xmas Ditty: Who Sang It Better, Elvis or Ella? Or Jimmy Boyd!?! Elvis, hands down. Elvis Presley and Ella Fitzgerald both did riffs on the venerable Santa Claus/chimney double entendre described in the First Day of Elvis post above. Elvis’ rip-roaring performance of Santa Claus Is Back in Town is one of the highlights of his catalogue. Ella Fitzgerald’s entry, Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney, well, not so much. In fact, Ella’s Santa dud is frequently invoked to illustrate how she languished in artistic purgatory at Decca Records before she was rescued by impresario Norman Granz in 1956. Granz built the Verve record label around Fitzgerald and secured her finances and artistic reputation with the Songbook series of releases. Granz also engaged in what might be characterized as d*ck moves to extract Fitzgerald from her management and Decca contracts, so traducing her Decca work is perhaps necessary to burnish his white knight credentials. Actually, a lot of Fitzgerald’s work on Decca is great, created under the supervision first under her mentor and bandleader, Chick Webb, and then A&R executive Milt Gabler. Gabler is impervious to efforts to paint him as Ella’s Mitch Miller. Miller notoriously subjected Ol’ Blue Eyes—then Young Blue Eyes and, in the eyes of Columbia Records, a problematic has-been—to a novelty duet with Dagmar (a television personality in vogue in 1951), Mama Will Bark, in which Sinatra impersonates (perhaps the correct term is “indoginates”) a lustful canine. Gabler’s artistic legacy is secure. Before moving to Decca, he ran Commodore Records, which released the “Song of the Century” according to Time Magazine, Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, when Columbia was afraid to put it out. Gabler started work with Fitzgerald during the 78/jukebox era, when an individual release was a single song (well, an A side and a B side) and it had to push the popular button on the first try. Gabler worked to ride the trends, and try to score the novelty record that might knock it out of the park, sales-wise (Mitch Miller was the king of novelty tunes; Mama Will Bark might have sunk without a trace and spurred Sinatra’s departure from Columbia, but I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus sold 2.5 million copies in 1952-3). Yeah, I know. But Columbia scored two gold records for this ditty, in the days when RIAA gold records were literally made out of gold. Keeping with the theme of Christmas lewdness, the whiff of scandal also helped propel I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus into the sales stratosphere. Per Wikipedia: Boyd’s record was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in Boston when it was released on the grounds that it mixed kissing with Christmas… Boyd was photographed meeting with the Archdiocese to explain the song. After the meeting, the ban was lifted. Gabler also paid attention to art & Ella, using commercial efforts to “pay for all the good things we want to do.” Ella Sings Gershwin, the first of Fitzgerald’s great American songbook triumphs, was actually recorded as an EP for Decca in 1950, immediately before the Santa Claus date. In 1954, just prior to Norman Granz’s successful effort to wrest Fitzgerald’s recording contract from Decca (Decca could not complete its soundtrack to The Benny Goodman Story biopic without obtaining releases from some Granz artists), Decca presented Ella Fitzgerald with a plaque commemorating sales of 22 million units over her career. Not too shabby. While celebrating the Granz era, which saw the rise of the LP, massive prestige recording projects like the Songbook series, and Fitzgerald’s elevation to The First Lady of Song, dumping on Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney has become something of a cottage industry. I’ve seen references on the Intertoobs along the lines that Decca was at first afraid to release it because of its salaciousness (I’ve seen no confirmation of this) and that during Fitzgerald’s lifetime her lawyers blocked its re-release (not sure how they could do this). Certainly, Santa Claus didn’t re-emerge during her lifetime. Verve did put it on a Christmas release bizarrely titled Yule Be Miserable a few years back. It was also repackaged into an omnibus Ella Fitzgerald Christmas CD titled Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. Since this CD includes the full Ella Fitzgerald Wishes You a Swinging Christmas—her first Christmas album, and an extremely successful release for Verve in 1960—some Internet commentators have incorrectly inferred that Santa Claus was cut in 1960 instead of 1950. I passed this error on to readers of China Matters in the original edit of the First Day of Elvis segment, and take this opportunity to issue a correction and an apology! As an example of 1) Ella Fitzgerald’s achievements during the Decca era 2) her fondness for novelty songs and 3) transgressive subject matter, here is a joyful performance of When I Get Low I Get High from 1936. Yes, it means exactly what you think it means. Happy Holidays! Day Four: The Elvis Presley Debt to Polka On the adult side of the pop music spectrum, “Santa Claus” can refer to the mindless male member…or the generous sugar daddy. Elvis recorded a rollicking cover of “Just Because” at Sun Records in 1954. It includes the verses: You’ve caused me to spend all my money. You laughed and called me old Santa Claus. Well, I’m telling you, Baby, I’m through with you. Because, well well, just because. And Well, well, well, There’ll come a time when you’ll be lonesome And there’ll come a time when you’ll be blue. Well, there’ll come a time when old Santa He won’t pay your bills for you. Ample qualification, therefore, for an Elvis/Christmas tie-in. “Just Because” is a country perennial that first surfaced in the 1920s during the Hawaiian craze in pop music. It was first recorded by the “Nelstone Hawaiians”, an Alabama combo led by Hubert Nelson & James Touchstone (hence the portmanteau name), which was a pioneer in the use of the Hawaiian steel guitar. In 1933, Leon’s Lone Star Cowboys, a seminal blues/western swing group, took an uptempo crack at “Just Because”: Then the Shelton Brothers (who had been involved in the founding of the Lone Star Cowboys and, depending on whose story you read, either wrote the song or ripped it off), recorded their version in 1935. The Shelton Brothers were a big deal in country music in the 1930s, recording 150 or so sides for Decca. America’s Polka King Frankie Yankovic launched his lengthy career with a cover of “Just Because” in 1948 (“Who Stole the Kishka?”, one of his last records, released in 2001, featured a cameo by the puckish, accordion-inclined, but unrelated “Weird” Al Yankovic). Yankovic believed so strongly in “Just Because” he offered to buy the first 10,000 copies himself to overcome the resistance of Columbia Records to releasing it. His confidence was rewarded as “Just Because” struck gold (actually platinum, selling over two million units). Elvis was, in his early years, serious about his music. One of the most striking photos of young Elvis shows him riding “the train” (what we rode before airplanes, kids) back to Memphis and listening again and again to the the acetates of his latest “records” (oversized storage media) on his “portable turntable” (like an iPod but the size of a small suitcase). However, he was no obsessive musical archivist with a stack of Bluebird and Decca 78s in his basement. Elvis showed up at Sun Records with little more than bits and pieces: You know, he sang a bunch of the old songs, but he didn’t know much of them—maybe just a verse and a chorus of each! When they got together at Sun, it was undoubtedly Scotty Moore—a veteran of the local music circuit, and member of a country band, the Starlight Wranglers, that was probably intimately familiar with the Shelton Brothers repertoire—serving as de facto arranger, who helped Elvis put the pieces together. This July, on the 60th anniversary of the first Sun session, Peter Cooper recreated the scene in the pages of the Tennessean: The evening began in self-conscious discomfort as Presley stumbled through versions of pop and country songs. Moore and Black were good enough musicians to replicate famous recordings, but Presley was raw and green and nervous. Phillips wasn’t interested in replication. The room filled with frustration, with failure in sight. This wasn’t working. It was getting late, and early morning would mean hats and tires to make, and a Crown Electric truck to drive. The men took a break, and Presley started fooling around and banging on his guitar. If he was going to blow his big audition, he might as well act like it was no big deal. That night, in staunchly segregated Memphis, Presley started goofing on an old blues song, “That’s All Right, Mama,” by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. Black jumped up and grabbed his bass, and Moore started playing some speedy guitar fills. “Fast music was what I liked,” Moore wrote in his memoir, “Scotty & Elvis: Aboard the Mystery Train.” “For years I had been making up guitar licks for uptempo music. … It wasn’t until Elvis was flailing away at his guitar that I suddenly knew where those licks belonged.” Turns out, those licks belonged everywhere. Phillips rushed to turn the microphones back on and captured the sound of the world’s shifting axis. A few weeks later, with ”That’s All Right” a local sensation, the trio took a crack at “Just Because”. Even though Elvis’ version seems closest in style and spirit to the Lone Star Cowboys’ take, I doubt anybody dug up that old chestnut. I expect the Yankovic polka was in the air when Elvis was a kid, and he was entranced with the clever lyric and the melody. Presley, Moore, and bassist Bill Black then put their heads together in Sun’s recording studio and came up with an fresh, energetic reboot. ORDER IT NOWThe alchemy that Elvis, Moore, and Black achieved with a stripped-down band, an untrained amateur singer, and a tired old retread of a country song that had most recently been fed through the Polka-matic is quite remarkable. Elvis gives a confident, joyful performance (he was 19 at the time) and Scotty Moore generously showcases Elvis’ vocal while at the same time driving the tune forward instrumentally with a forceful guitar-picking style that made a virtue of the empty spaces left by the small combo and inadvertently revolutionized popular music. Sun didn’t release the cut, but the master followed Elvis to RCA and was released on his first RCA LP. Amazingly, 37 years after Elvis’ death, Scotty Moore is still with us at the age of 83 (though he isn’t a much of a presence on his website & facebook pages and gave up personalizing guitars and other memorabilia a while back). The title of his autobiography, That’s All Right, Elvis, while riffing on one of the first revolutionary cuts at Sun, “That’s All Right”, refers to Moore’s grace in forgiving Elvis for letting Colonel Parker’s management team kick Moore to the curb and replace him with Hollywood studio talent after the move to RCA. The contribution of polka to Elvis’ sound may be forgotten, but Scotty Moore’s is, thankfully, remembered. Day Five: Blue—woo-woo-woo Christmas I am glad to learn that Elvis Presley apparently shared my lack of enthusiasm for “Blue Christmas”, a New York jingle writer’s gambit to cash in both on Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and white audiences’ rising postwar interest in the blues. Earnest Tubb had a hit with “Blue Christmas” in 1950, turning the mopey ballad into a mainstay of country acts during the holiday season. So it isn’t surprising that the sheet music for “Blue Christmas” found its way into the pile of possibilities for the 1957 Elvis’ Christmas Album recording session. We can thank Millie Kirkham for the fact that “Blue Christmas” actually made it onto the album. On December 16 of 2014, Millie Kirkham, who provided the distinctive soprano backing for the track, passed away at the age of 91. Her obituary noted: Singing as a sort of unofficial fifth member of The Jordanaires, Kirkham didn’t just lead the “whoo-ooh-oohs” on “Blue Christmas,” her first session with Elvis in 1957 — she came up with the part. As the story goes, The King originally didn’t want to record the song, but had to, and called on the singers to come up with something silly enough to keep RCA from releasing it. “I started going ‘Whoo-oo-oo-oo,’ “…[Elvis] motioned for me to keep doing it, so I did it all the way through the whole song. When we were through, we all laughed and said ‘That’s one record the record company will never release.’ But they did. And if I got royalties, I’d be a rich old woman.” When he sang it during his 1968 comeback special, Elvis called “Blue Christmas” his favorite Christmas song “of the ones he recorded.” He was perhaps engaging in some sly mockery. Wikipedia has something more favorable to say about the high level of musicianship that Kirkham and the Jordanaires brought to their work with Elvis: Presley’s version [of “Blue Christmas] is notable musicologically as well as culturally in that the vocal group the Jordanaires (especially in the soprano line, sung by Millie Kirkham), replace many major and just minor thirds with neutral and septimal minor thirds, respectively. In addition to contributing to the overall tone of the song, the resulting “blue notes” constitute a musical play on words that provides an “inside joke” or “Easter egg” to trained ears. Well, if you say so. The Jordanaires were a successful vocal quartet A.E. (Ante Elvis) with a recording contract, a spot on the Grand Ole Opry, and a lot of backing work for country vocalists. They also had several gospel songs in their performing repertoire, apparently a distinctive feature at the time. After hearing them perform their version of “Peace In the Valley” (much more about that on subsequent Days), Elvis, at that time still on the financially-strapped Sun label, declared to them that, if he got a big record company deal, he would use them as his backing group. Indeed, when he joined RCA, the Jordanaires, after some minor hiccups, joined him. The Jordanaires became pillars of the Nashville music scene and a major catalyst for its growth to prominence. The Jordanaires backed an astounding 2,000 artists and are heard on records with cumulative sales of 2.6 billion units. They also created the Nashville commercial jingle segment and are commemorated in the biz for their important role in setting up the Nashville branch of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists/Screen Actors Guild union. The Jordanaires also developed an easy-to-use musical notation, the now universally employed “Nashville Number System” or NNS, which assisted musicians without formal musical training to identify & play chords and was also present at the spawning of thousands of garage bands. Here’s what “Blue Christmas” looks like with NNS notation. I have a blue Christmas without you B7 E I’ll be so blue just thinking about you E E7 A Decorations of red, on a green Christmas tree F#7 B7 won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me. E B7 And when those blue snow flakes start falling, B7 E that’s when those blue memories start calling, E E7 A Bbdim7 you’ll be doing alright, with your Christmas of white, B7 E but I’ll have a blue blue Christmas. E B7 Ohh, ohh, ohh Ahhh Ahh ahh a ahh ohhhh B7 E ohh, ohh, ohh Ahhhhh Ahh ahh a ahh ohhhh E E7 A Bbdim7 You’ll be doing allright with your Christmas of white B7 E but I’ll have a blue blue Christmas, E (022100) B7 (x21202) E7 (020100) A (x02220) F#7(242322) And if you’re really, really hooked on “Blue Christmas” and NNS notation, and want to play the song yourself, here’s a nice tutorial from Eric Blackmon. Photo of Elvis Presley with Millie Kirkham and the Jordanaires copyright James Roy http://www.pbase.com/jroy/image/58198631 Day Six: Black Christmas Ironically, I guess, the blackest song on Elvis’ Christmas Album is “White Christmas”. Elvis’ version doesn’t harken back to Bing Crosby’s iconic 1942 version. Instead, he invokes the spirit of Clyde McPhatter, who cut a doo-wop version of the song with the Drifters in 1954. I daresay McPhatter is mostly remembered today by doowop, R&B, and rock musicologists. But he was a major figure in the development of R&B, soul, and rock, and a major artistic and commercial force in the music business, most notably with the Drifters and as a solo act, in the 1950s. McPhatter started out in gospel, and is credited with being one of the first—and most successful—at transferring the emotional gospel sensibility to secular pop. Sam Cooke, among many others, followed in his footsteps. So did Elvis. Indeed, Elvis’ long reach into gospel, both directly and via R&B, and appropriation of its vocabulary of emotional transcendence is perhaps what made him the transformative pop culture figure we know today, and not just another in a long line of smooth-voiced entertainers. Elvis adored McPhatter’s singing, as Sam Phillips recalled: ‘You remember Clyde McPhatter? Elvis thought Clyde McPhatter had one of the greatest voices in the world. We were going somewhere one time – down to the Louisiana Hayride or to Nashville – and we were singing in the car. Well, Bill Black couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and Scotty was worse. So Elvis and I were the only good singers in the car. But we were talking about Clyde McPhatter, and he said, ‘You know, if I had a voice like that man, I’d never want for another thing.’ McPhatter deployed melisma and slipped on and off the beat as he embarked on his emotional and musical journeys. In other words, he took liberties. I will admit I am not a fan of McPhatter’s demented-castrato take on “White Christmas”, but it was very popular with record buyers, and with Elvis Presley. It not only rose to No. 2 on the R&B chart in 1954 and reappeared on the chart the next two years, it was the first Drifters record to crack the mainstream i.e. white pop dominated Billboard 100 chart. When Elvis mimicked the Drifters’ “White Christmas”, these liberties attracted the baleful attention of the tune’s author, Irving Berlin. Berlin had not taken public notice of the Drifters’ version, but when the wildly popular Presley converted his beloved standard into a doo-wop yodelfest, Berlin took umbrage. In addition to resenting the rise of the loosy-goosy rock and roll performer at the expense of respect for the material and the Tin Pan Alley songsmith, Berlin may have had additional reasons for his anger. His three-week old son had died on Christmas Day, and Berlin and his wife visited the grave on every anniversary. In any case, Jody Rosen, the author of a book on White Christmas, told NPR: “Berlin couldn’t stand Presley, and Presley recorded a cover version of ‘White Christmas’ for his Christmas album, which Berlin took as kind of sacrilege,” Rosen says. “He really thought it was degrading to his song. So he and members of his staff launched a furious campaign to try and get radio stations to ban the Presley record.” The campaign to get radio stations not to play the song didn’t really get anywhere, though one DJ was reportedly fired. The Elvis commercial and artistic juggernaut could not be sidetracked even by Irving Berlin, composer of “God Bless America” and perhaps the most successful and prolific pop songsmith in American history. So Elvis’ take on “White Christmas”, though bland and unthreatening, is perhaps the most revolutionary cut on the album. Day Seven: Elvis/Jesus “Will Elvis take the place of Jesus, in a thousand years?”Jello Biafra Maybe he already has. Yes, it’s a thing, though tongue in cheek. I think. Jesus is spelled with five letters, ending in S. Elvis is spelled with five letters, ending in S. A star appeared when Jesus was born. (Matthew 2:2) Elvis almost appeared in A Star Is Born. Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ father. Elvis didn’t think Vernon was his real dad. Jesus’ parents took him to Memphis, Egypt (to escape Herod). Elvis’ parents took him to Memphis, Tennessee (to find work). Jesus said, “Don’t store away gold or silver, travel without money.” Elvis never carried any money on his person. Jesus is the Lord’s shepherd. Elvis dated Cybill Shepherd. Visit the web page of The Velvet Elvis homage artist (not “Elvis impersonator”, please!) for more parallels and imagery. Day Eight: Elvis/Nixon On December 21, 1970, on the cusp of Christmas, this historic meeting took place: This indelible image is the most requested photograph from the U.S. National Archives. In 1970, Elvis flew to Washington to request credentials as “Federal Agent at Large” to help the government deal with the illegal drug problem. Beatle envy–resentment that the drugged-out Fab Four had eclipsed the King–has been cited as the underlying motivation. In any case, Elvis, an avid police badge collector, sought out President Nixon because the Bureau of Narcotics and Drugs had denied him the precious tin. A George Washington University website documents the meeting and includes a PDF of Elvis’ letter to Nixon setting up the meeting. It states, in part: “I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing…” The punch line is that Elvis was allegedly stoned at the meeting. I guess we could recapitulate the Elvis/Jesus meme as Elvis/Nixon: “Elvis” & “Nixon” both have five letters, two syllables, two vowels, and one funky consonant each Both broke nationally in 1956 Both had comebacks in 1968 Both hated Communists and the Beatles Both abused licit psychoactive chemicals and both became more than a little paranoid And so on… Day Nine: Hearing the Light: Elvis & Black Gospel On his 1957 Christmas album, Elvis essays a gospel standard, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”. It is, to my ears, pretty but also pretty bland. And that, unfortunately, is something of an indictment of Elvis. TMHPL is, without too much exaggeration, the national anthem of American black gospel. It was composed in 1937 by Thomas A. Dorsey, himself the progenitor of 20th century black gospel. It was Martin Luther King’s favorite song. Literally his last words before he was shot down on the balcony in Memphis were to musician Ben Branch: “Ben, make sure you play “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” Mahalia Jackson, per King’s stated wish, sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral in Atlanta (the private service). Aretha Franklin sang it at Jackson’s funeral in 1971. Leontyne Price sang it at LBJ’s funeral in 1973. And so on. The song is most closely identified with Mahalia Jackson, who had performed it since the 1930s in her role as Thomas A. Dorsey’s chosen musical emissary to the African-American religious community. Her first known recording was on a Columbia LP released in 1956. Jackson keeps her fires well-banked in this version, probably reflecting the careful direction of Dorsey, who developed some “slow sentimental songs” like TMHPL for Jackson to use to reassure conservative churchmen about the dignity and value of his gospel approach. This Jackson version is, perhaps, more definitive: ORDER IT NOWThe Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church (Harris, Michael W., 1992 Oxford University Press, New York) links his music to the social and economic revolution wrought by the emigration of impoverished African-Americans to northern cities, especially Chicago, and the challenge they brought to “old-line” African American urban churches and their “talented tenth” emphasis on European music, seemly upper-class behavior, and the preacher’s dominance over the emotional and religious content of the church service. TMHPL seems to have created a sensation in African-American congregations with its direct emotional appeal for divine help. To my unreligious ears, it seems to partake of the same sort of emotional outcry directed by Catholics to the Virgin Mary and by Buddhists to Kuan Yin for merciful intercession that belies the theology of a stern and/or indifferent universe. In 1973 Dorsey supervised a recording of the song by Marion Williams. This track includes Dorsey’s first-person account of the terrible personal trial that inspired him to write the song and also perhaps best illustrates the kind of vocal Dorsey valued: one that used “trills, twists, and turns” both to excite the audience and elevate it to a religiously exalted state of awareness. The proliferation of African-American churches with a “gospel choir” headed by a female fire-eater, often trained in the school of Dorsey, leading a call and response with the audience, completely changed American perceptions of the character of black worship. Aretha Franklin’s first record, recorded in 1956 when she was 14–and a year before Elvis recorded his take–gives an idea of the kind of workout a gospel diva would bring to the tune. Compared to this incendiary performance, Elvis’ dutiful version is pretty much a damp squib. Elvis’ love of gospel, including black gospel is well-known. However, his perception of what was the best and most suitable presentation of gospel was filtered through his love of the white gospel quartets that dominated the southern scene when he was a boy. Elvis, if I may say so, religiously attended the monthly gospel musicales at the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis, a stone throw from the Presley home. The most conspicuous display of Elvis’ love for these quartets is his elevation of the Jordanaires to the position of his backing group on secular as well as religious recordings. As this documentary demonstrates, Presley was besotted with all gospel quartets and, indeed, had auditioned for membership in one the leading groups, the Blackwells. The white quartets often included black gospel numbers in their repertoire. However, it appears inclusion was often an act of appropriation, substituting the controlled, disciplined presentation by a white quartet for the emotive desperation frequently seen in black performance. As black assertiveness became more political and social and not just religious, white gospel seems to have become more defensive, retreating to a “southern white gospel” affirmation of white social and moral attitudes that, I suspect, always cohabited with the religious universalism that the white quartets could assert so blandly in more secure times. And Elvis, I’m afraid, turned to gospel to achieve the feelings of control and unity he craved in his increasingly disordered life, not the release and liberation he had witnessed in black churches. Day Ten: Death, Rebirth, and Elvis Alfred Wertheimer passed away in October of 2014. Wertheimer created a brilliant photographic record of “Elvis at 21”, following Presley as he navigated the choppy waters of celebrity in 1956. Wertheimer’s most famous picture is “The Kiss”. Vanity Fair tracked down the woman involved in 2011, just soon enough for Wertheimer to enjoy a final jolt of fame and prosperity before he died. Interestingly, Wertheimer does not credit Presley’s narcissism for the intimacy he allowed the photographer: Elvis was unique in that he permitted closeness, not six to eight feet away, which was standard, but right up close, three to four feet away. He was so intensely involved with what he was doing: it was as if he were laser focused; whether he was combing his hair or chatting up the girls, he would be himself. Here’s another great but less-known Wertheimer photograph: Elvis relaxing with his musicians while recording “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel” at RCA’s 24th Street studios in New York City. The background to this photo is provided by Baruch College, which took over the building from RCA for its “Newman Vertical Campus” and contributed a historical essay: The seven floor stable next to the horse mart [in the pre-automobile era, 24th Street was the equine center of the universe just as New York City was the world capital of horsesh*t—ed.] became a recording studio in 1955 when RCA-Victor Records moved their offices there from Rockefeller Center. A few months later, a young, still relatively unknown singer named Elvis Presley visited the studio and recorded some of his first songs that would make him known worldwide. Alfred Wertheimer, a photographer who followed Elvis described the last time that they had recorded in that studio. On July 2, 1956, a defining moment in the history of rock and roll took place. Elvis recorded “Hound Dog” and “Don’t be Cruel,” which were released by RCA as two sides of one single. This was the only time both sides of a single reached number one on the charts. The session at RCA Studio was also the last time Elvis would record in New York. Of course, I wasn’t aware of any of this when I arrived at the building on 24th street between Lexington and 3rd Avenues. I did sense that this recording session would provide with me[sic] a rare opportunity to observe another stage in the evolution of my subject. Located on the ground floor, the main studio where Elvis recorded was a large room with a lot of acoustical padding covering the walls. There were two small adjoining rooms, one of which was reserved for the sound engineers. Instead of having to book orchestra musicians for three-hour gigs, Elvis brought his own crew – Scotty Moore on guitar, DJ Fontana on drums, Bill Black on bass, and four Jordanaires as back-up. Shorty Long was hired as the piano player. Also present were Steve Sholes from RCA and the always necessary Junior, Elvis’s go-fer. The recording session began early in the afternoon and lasted until dusk. (The Recording Session: Studio One in Elvis at 21, San Rafael: Insight Editions, 2006) Death and rebirth are the traditional preoccupation of the winter solstice, and got rolled into the Christian celebration of Christmas. The sun goes out; the son is born. Elvis himself has enjoyed post-mortem vitality, and dominated the Forbes list of top-earning dead celebrities until Michael Jackson, onetime spouse of Presley’s daughter, exploded onto the scene in 2009. Today, Elvis is a solid No. 2, his earnings eclipsed by Jackson but, at $40+ million dollars, but way ahead of Albert Einstein (who earns a relatively paltry $11 million for his estate). Day Eleven: The Power and the Glory…Without the Joy Elvis’ life transition from pure joy to pure bullsh*t was pretty quick. In 1956—the period so hauntingly documented in Alfred Wertheimer’s photos—Elvis experienced music, fame, girls, and an intoxicating awareness of his own achievement. By 1958, Elvis was in the Army (where he apparently commenced his lifelong romance with amphetamines and, eventually, other legally prescribed pharmaceuticals); his adored mother, Gladys, had passed away; and the stage was set for a decade of fame, financial security, growing emotional and spiritual turmoil, and an infuriating harvest of crappy music and crappy movies courtesy of Colonel Tom Parker. A clear sign of where things were headed is Elvis’ historic 1956/57 TV appearances on the Milton Berle Show, the Steve Allen Show, and the Ed Sullivan Show. On June 5, 1956, Elvis appeared on the Milton Berle show in full gyrating fig. The Elvis Australia fan site has done a great job of locating and archiving Elvis footage and you can see Elvis’ performance of “Hound Dog”—which Elvis has clearly worked up as a salacious crowd pleaser for his live performance (with a slowdown grinding interval) even before he went into the studio to cut the track. When Elvis recorded the song in New York a month later, he pushed his musicians through 31 takes, a sign of the high expectations he held for his music at the time, and his respect for Leiber & Stoller. Berle is generous and good natured and the after-song patter celebrates Elvis’ burgeoning status as a sex symbol, while coyly dances around Berle’s legendary sex-machine prowess (google Jackie Gleason’s plea “Just enough to win, Milton” to get the idea). In an interview that Berle did for the Archive of American Television, he recollects that he got 400,000 “pan”– “not fan”–letters after the appearance, a sign not only of the powerful reaction that Elvis’ sexual display had on Americans, but also of the central place broadcast TV occupied in the US psyche in the 1950s. This was when the “sh*t got real” for Elvis. . Elvis was reportedly driven to tears by the imputation that he was “vulgar”. In July Steve Allen imposed his vision of the “new” housebroken Elvis, subjecting Elvis to the humiliation of dressing up in a tuxedo and singing “Hound Dog” to a noticeably disinterested basset hound. When it came time for Elvis to collect $50,000 dollars of Ed Sullivan’s money for three appearances in the fall of 1956 and early 1957, the game got more complicated. Sullivan, who considered Elvis’ act insufficiently family friendly, rather counterintuitively let Elvis do the full hound-doggin’ act on the October 28, 1956 show. Well, maybe not counterintuitively. After Elvis’ performance elicited a spasm of outrage—which apparently included burning him in effigy in two towns—and stoked the publicity engine, Sullivan, ostentatiously exercising his responsibilities as gatekeeper of American entertainment decency, ordered up some adjustments for the final show, on January 6, 1957. This was the notorious show in which Elvis was shot only from the waist up in efforts to transform him into a pop-music eunuch. Elvis’ sudden interest in world affairs and Hungarian relief, I suspect, is a further piece of image-burnishing that emerged from a summit between Sullivan and the Colonel. At the end, Sullivan gives the condescending showbiz “he’s a real decent fine boy” imprimatur, confirming, I guess, that Presley was qualified to follow the same path to the non-threatening adult entertainer pioneered by Crosby & Sinatra. In this context, Elvis’ closing number, “Peace in the Valley”, is quite interesting. “Peace In the Valley”, together with “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” (see Day 9) are the two signature creations of Thomas A. Dorsey, the founding father of 20th century black gospel. I have my issues with Elvis’ take on “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”, whose core identity as a desperate black call for religious support he doesn’t quite seem to grasp. “Peace In the Valley” is much less problematic, a reassuring vision of sanctuary, safety, and acceptance that had already been a huge hit for Red Foley, a talented and sophisticated star who could be considered the Bing Crosby of country music. Elvis, backed by the Jordanaires, turns in a flawless performance, delivered with a style of “Do my vocal demonstrations please you, Earthlings?” detachment that became more and more pronounced in his later years. The most convincing stories I’ve seen state that Elvis insisted on closing with a gospel number over the objections of CBS. I tend to think Elvis turned to gospel in order to asset his identity, dignity, and self respect as a musician and entertainer, maybe to his mom as well as to himself, and defy the “rock and roll vulgarian”/”safe as milk popstar” pigeonholes that the music industry and his manager had prepared for him. Elvis’ subsequently recorded a four song EP of gospel tunes (“Peace In the Valley”, “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)”, “I Believe” and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”), which became the core of the second, “religious” side of the 1957 Christmas Album. Elvis was not an enthusiast for the Pentecostal theology his parents practiced, and his own religious views became more and more idiosyncratic—and more scandalous to close and critical observers in the Christian world– as he grew older. Elvis’ hairdresser and close confidante Larry Geller presented this authentic-sounding account of the King’s table talk: ORDER IT NOW “I’ll tell ya, Larry, I’ve always believed in God, but my church really turned me off,” Elvis said. “I always knew there was a truth to my religion, and somehow I never lost faith in God, despite those ol’ preachers tryin’ to make people feel guilty for things they never done. I always knew that deep inside me there were answers that went beyond their rigid old closed minds.” “The first time I ever heard about the Almighty I Am was from my mom when I was a little kid. She believed in the supernatural and the Holy Spirit. She was mystical, man. She just naturally knew things. She raised me on it.” When Elvis’ father, Vernon, not a religious man, took his son to his first movie, the innocent “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” it was their secret, not to be shared with Gladys. She would have disapproved very strongly of her son going against the strictures of the church, which forbade attendance at motion pictures. Considering Elvis’ later involvement with the movie industry, it’s interesting to note that it was the discovery of this forbidden medium that was the first fissure in his relationship with the church of his youth. He was at the naturally rebellious age of thirteen, but he was also realizing for the first time that the preachers were humans whose teachings were colored by their own personal values and opinions. What was so bad about a funny movie? Was it indeed evil—and was he evil for seeing it? “They said movies were the work of the devil. But after I saw “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” with my daddy, I knew somebody had to be wrong. And it for sure wasn’t Abbott and Costello.” Elvis’ eyes sparkled. “Man, I loved that movie. We laughed all the way through it.” He turned serious again. “I’ll never forget that movie. You know, there’s got to be something wrong with a religion where everything you like is a sin. Man, that congregation would jump up and down, stomp their feet, and get themselves worked up to a frenzy. It really got wild. And there was the preacher threatening us with Satan. It used to scare me half –to death. He would march across the platform, screaming bloody murder, yelling about hellfire and damnation, fire and brimstone. I guess he was afraid God wouldn’t hear him if he didn’t yell. “But something good did come out of it. All that dancin’ and the free movement, it taught me that God is natural, and to move my body was natural. I give credit to my church for that. You know, I took a lot of heat when my career first took off. They said I was ‘controversial.’ And there were some preachers who actually said that my music was dirty, and I was leading the kids to hell. They even had a bonfire and burned my records and albums. Can you imagine that? Hell, all I did was what came naturally—what I learned when I was a little kid in church, movin’ my body to the music.” Religious orthodoxy, aside, Elvis appears to have maintained a core identity as a singer who understood, respected, & delivered genuine gospel music, even as his mind and body were inexorably blown by the unprecedented fame, temptation, weakness, and manipulation he experienced from the time he exploded on the scene as a 21-year old. Perhaps this sense of inner worth is what allowed him to sleepwalk through his movie and musical career under the direction of the artistically maladroit and venal Colonel Tom Parker; but it also allowed him to return to the power and glory of his first year of fame when he felt he needed it. Elvis’ twin 1960s triumphs are his 1968 NBC comeback special and the 1969 “Memphis Record” sessions. The TV special was an embarrassing necessity; the steady procession of dismal movies and soundtracks had eroded Elvis’ appeal to the point that the Colonel needed to throw in a TV program as a lagniappe in order to keep Elvis’ asking price from falling below the iconic $1 million/picture level. The TV special was originally planned as a cheapie Christmas schlockfest with Elvis singing a few carols. We can thank producer/director Steve Binder for reimagining the program—which aired on December 3, 1968– as a triumphant return to Elvis’ musical roots. In the end, the only Christmas song performed was “Blue Christmas,” off the 1957 album. Though I have my reservations about the original recording (Woo-oo-oo-oo-oo; see Day 5), Elvis nails it in this version. Day Twelve: Peace In the Valley To accompany Elvis’ rendition of Reverend Thomas Dorsey’s “Peace in the Valley” from his Christmas album, here is a supersized image of Edward Hicks’ The Peaceable Kingdom, inspired by the same passage from the Book of Isaiah,for viewing, contemplation, reflection, and consolation (use your scroll bar!) during Elvis’ magnificent performance. Hicks, an itinerant Quaker preacher in Pennsylvania, painted this blissful scene approximately one hundred times. Happy Holidays, Everybody! Peace on Earth! ]]>
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