24 October 2008

Come Again?

And just what are you insinuating, Turner Classic Movies? I know she wasn't the most stable personality in Hollywood, but that's a bit far-fetched, even for me. Then again, who knows what deep, dark secrets those big eyes were hiding?

P.S. Yes, yes, I know she plays a murderer in Strait-Jacket. But doesn't the insertion of biographical short into a block of films about psycho killers seem a bit incongruous to anyone else? ...Maybe not.

22 October 2008

"Oh Lord, this must be Heaven..."

My first conception of Heaven was a graveyard. When I was a child, I lived in the vicinity of several cemeteries, one of which was right next door to the playground where my classmates and I used to go for recess. All that separated the basketball court and the swing set from row after row of marble headstones was a chain-link fence that the more athletic among us would occasionally climb over to retrieve the odd lost basketball. My understanding of death and eschatology was considerably limited, but I figured out fairly early on that the cemetery was where the dead inevitably wound up. In retrospect, that curious arrangement seems a poignant reminder of the thin line that separates life here on Earth from the great beyond.

One of the earliest of my dreams that I can recall with any notable clarity was a dream wherein my parents decided that they wanted to be rid of me. Having been turned out of my home, I wandered outside. A great light now came from the sky, and as I looked up I saw the blue sky part like satin curtains, revealing an idyllic cemetery, the kind one might expect to find in a churchyard on an island off the coast of Britain. What I remember most of my vision-within-a-vision was a monolithic black headstone, in the shape of a cross. For all I knew, it might well have been my own headstone. As I beheld this sight, slack-jawed in wonder, I was overcome by a great sense of longing and, more poignantly, a desire to be there, in that cemetery.

Ever since I had that dream so many years ago, cemeteries have held a profound appeal for me. Whenever I pass one, I always feel an inexplicable desire to go inside and to wander among the headstones, reading the names inscribed upon them and wondering who these departed souls were. One of the more interesting twists of fate in my life is that my first lessons in driving took place in a cemetery.

My conception of Heaven (and indeed of the afterlife in general) has changed greatly over the years. I tend not to think of the afterlife so much as a material place as a state of mind. I think of death and the afterlife as an eternal sleep. If the soul is at peace, its dreams will be peaceful. Heaven, then, is a kingdom of sweet dreams--serene images either remembered from one's life experience or imagined. The comparison of sleep and death is as old as human life itself. Indeed, the connection is present in the very word cemetery, which derives from the Greek κοιμητήριον, meaning "sleeping place."

The only thing I want from life is for my soul to be at peace when I die. I can forgo all the material symbols of success and good life, so long as I can be die a truly peaceful death, and take my place in the cemetery to sleep the eternal sleep and dream eternal dreams.

18 October 2008

Free Associations, Ep. 5

Signing big names to fat contracts like nobody's business.

16 October 2008

And now... Political Commentary

John McCain: True. Grim. Cult.

14 October 2008

Film Stills: The Cell (2000)

In terms of cinematography and art direction, The Cell is probably one of my favorite movies. The creation of a virtual world based on one's conscious and subconscious mind is a concept that I find extremely fascinating, and when the mind in question is that of a madman, the world that results from it is an extraordinary one, indeed. Much of The Cell takes place in the mind of a serial killer, and in the hands of director Tarsem Singh, the scenario is visualized with some truly breathtaking results. Also striking is the contrast between the mind of the madman and the mind of the psychotherapist who tries to cure him. The following stills are just a few examples.

13 October 2008


This definitely looks like a movie I'll want to see. It features two of my favorite plot elements: cloche hats and insane asylums (even if the latter may not, in the end, be that prominent in the mix). I've never thought Angelina Jolie was that attractive (a sentiment that no doubt places me in a very small minority, I know,) but she does look pretty good in period garb. It's also hard to go wrong with John Malkovich.

09 October 2008


When it comes to sports, it should be no secret by now that Football (specifically the American iteration of the game) is the gold standard for me. A few years ago (sometime during 2003 or 2004) Rugby (and to a lesser extent Australian and Association Football) was added to the list. For the longest time, however, I couldn't quite bring myself to get into Baseball, and not for lack of trying. I've been to a couple Baseball games, and while I've typically enjoyed watching the game in the park, watching the game on television was always something of a chore. That might not be the case for long, however.

Ken Burns' excellent documentary on the sport--aptly entitled Baseball, in keeping with Burns' apparent penchant for Laconic titles--is instrumental in my conversion. Though I've only seen the second and third installments of the nine-part series, knowing the history of the sport and it's place in American culture has done wonders for my interest in the game. Burns has a way of presenting the subject matter with an inimitable degree of enthusiasm. I'm convinced he could produce a documentary on stamp collection and somehow make it seem interesting.

Of course, now that I'm attempting to get into the game, I'm faced with the decision of what team to favor. The logical decision would be the Seattle Mariners, as I live in Washington. On the other hand, they do suck. I've decided instead to follow in my late grandfather's footsteps and become a Yankees fan (with the Chicago White Sox at number two). This decision carries with it the bonus of allowing me to antagonize everyone, because everyone hates the Yankees. Before you jump down my throat, I'd like to remind you that I made my decision knowing full well that the Yankees missed the postseason. Yes I decided to like the Yankees when they sucked, not when they were good. How about them apples?

06 October 2008

Singin' in the Rain

Viddy well, old brother, viddy well...

01 October 2008

Rio Rita (1929) vs. Dixiana (1930)

1929's Rio Rita and 1930's Dixiana are two films that are in many respects quite similar. They are both RKO Radio Pictures productions, they are both musicals, they both feature the talents of Bebe Daniels and the comedy duo of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, and both feature lavish technicolor finales. They are, of course, not without their differences. Both are enjoyable early talking-picture gems in their own right, but which one was better? That's what we're here to find out.

Rio Rita is a film adaptation of the 1927 Ziegfeld stage production of the same name. Plot-wise Rio Rita isn't anything to write home about--a fairly trite love wherein Rita Ferguson (played by Bebe Daniels) is the object of the affections of Jim Stewart, Texas Ranger (played by John Boles, who, sad to say, doesn't kick anyone in the face) and Ravenoff, the local Generalissimo (played by Georges Revenant). I haven't met too many Mexicans named Ferguson and Ravenoff, but that's movie magic for you. The film is is made more interesting, however, by the fact that Ziegfeld himself produced the film, with the result that Rio Rita has all the glitz and glamor you'd expect from a a production bearing the name of the man who masterminded the numerous installments of the Follies.

On the other hand, the Ziegfeld touch also means that Rio Rita features more unnecessary singing and dancing than karaoke night at your local dive bar. Even with a few reels missing, Rio Rita does drag on at times, especially during the musical numbers. Bebe Daniels has a fine singing voice and is certainly easy on the eyes, but her faux-Mexican accent is a tough pill to swallow--she sounds rather like a distaff Speedy Gonzalez.

Not only does the Wheeler and Woolsey subplot ultimately end up being more interesting than the main story but the duo (along with Dorothy Lee) truly seem to carry the movie at times. Still, if nothing else, the technicolor climax is rather a treat to look at. Ultimately, Rio Rita is a lot like the Histories of Polybius--fragmentary, and perhaps more interesting as an historical document than as a great work in and of itself.

Dixiana, meanwhile, takes place in the idyllic antebellum South that never actually existed; New Orleans, specifically. Unnaturally jubilant negro slaves, chivalrous Southern gentlemen and elegant Southen Belles abound. Bebe Daniels plays Dixiana, a circus performer with whom Carl Van Horn (Everett Marshall) and Royal Montague (Ralf Harolde) are both smitten (are you seeing the pattern here?). Van Horn is the son of Pennsylvania Dutchman who has come into the ownership of a plantation, whereas Montague seems to have no raison d'etre beyond simply being an all-purpose scoundrel (there's a word I don't get to use as nearly as I'd like to).

Wheeler and Woolsey reprise their roles as the comic relief, and again wind up being more entertaining than the main plotline of the film, though fortunately by a less expansive margin this time around. Daniels and the rest turn in good to decent performances, with the possible exception of Everett Marshall--sure, he can belt the notes out like there's no tomorrow, but he has a habit of singing out of the corner of his mouth, which has the unfortunate effect of making him look alternately perplexed and constipated. He's also a much better singer than an actor.

I was also a little disappointed by the ending--it had the potential for some serious tragedy, when during Mardi Gras Dixiana puts on Van Horn's costume just moments before he is set to duel with the unscrupulous Montague. I can only imagine what would have happened if, to save the life of her lover, Dixiana were killed in the duel in Van Horn's place. Hell, I would have been just as content if Dixaina were to kill Montague in the duel! But no; this is, after all, a romantic-musical-comedy-drama sort of affair, so a tragic ending is not in the cards (and besides, busting a cap up in a motherfucker is terribly unladylike, even if said motherfucker is a punk-ass bitch of no mean stock). I won't give away what actually does happen, but I don't think you'll be shocked if I tell you that the ending is a happy one.

Although it's blatant, Gone with the wind-esque racism is perhaps hard for a modern audience to swallow, Dixiana is probably the better of the two films. Not only is Bebe Daniels much more believable as a Southern Belle than she is as a Mexican Seniorita, but the musical numbers in Dixiana are by and large better than their Rio Rita equivalents. Where the two films are evenly matched, however, is their technicolor sequences which, though they are of the more primitive two-strip variety, are nonetheless quite charming.

Their respective shortcomings aside, Rio Rita and Dixiana are both significant achievements in cinema history--not only are they among the earliest film musicals, but they are also among the few technicolor efforts of the pre-code era. Were they not entertaining in their own rights, that fact alone would make them worth watching at least once.