30 August 2009

Brain Droppings

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's that time again! Thus, without further ado...

  • I am extremely disappointed in the political discourse in America. Insofar as any American political discourse can be said to exist, it is dominated by half-truths and mindless slogans vomited forth by those media pundits whom we have come to affectionately call talking heads.
  • I need a new job. My current one is utterly boring and completely unrewarding--I simply just don't care about structural engineering. Furthermore, it doesn't even pay well. I won't even bother to say anything about the management.
  • I'm fascinated by firearms, but I really can't stand gun people or gun culture. I have a deep suspicion that paranoid white men will ultimately wind up bringing about the downfall of the country they profess to be defending from various bogeymen.
  • I haven't really read any actual fiction in quite some time. As it stands, my reading list is dominated by books about Greece and Russia. That isn't necessarily a bad thing by any reasonable standard, but I suspect I ought to diversify.
  • The two most attractive ladies I have seen since returning to Kansas City have worked at a coffee shop and a Futon store, respectively.

25 August 2009

Five Movies I'd Like to See on DVD

I usually try to shy away from list posts--they've always seemed to me a sort of lowest common denominator of blogging (not that my posts consisting entirely of a sole image and a pithy caption are much better). Unfortunately, my soul-crushing and unrewarding job usually leave me so burnt by the end of the day from staring at computer monitors that I can't quite motivate myself to write anything more meaningful.

Apologias notwithstanding, let's have a look at five movies that I'd like to see on DVD. Although it would be nice, I'm not asking for anything Criterion Collection-quality, a digital transfer of a decent-quality print of the film is all I'm asking for. And with many classic movies making their way to DVD thanks to efforts such as the Warner Archive Collection, perhaps my hopes may yet come to fruition.

1. Palmy Days (1931)

In Palmy Days, Eddie Cantor wreaks havoc in what must be the sexiest bakery in the history of the world. The plot might be about as thin as pastry dough, but the musical numbers are catchier than the Swine Flu (featuring choreography by none other than Busby Berkeley!) and the gags are fantastic (including a scene wherein Eddie disguises himself as a bakery girl to escape from two mugs who want to beat the tar out of him). Besides, with donuts and the Goldwyn Girls, you can do no wrong. Along with the other five pictures Eddie Cantor made for Samuel Goldwyn, Palmy Days has been released on VHS, so one imagines that a DVD version wouldn't be too hard to pull off.

2. Show People (1928)

Show People is great for a variety of reasons--it showcases the comedic talents of Marion Davies and William Haines and the directorial skills of King Vidor, but it is also a highly entertaining send-up of the motion picture business. The innumerable cameo appearances by moving picture stars of the day are an additional plus. The Patsy (another delightful Marion Davies/King Vidor collaboration from the same year) has recently been released on DVD, can Show People be far behind?

3. Señorita (1927)

I haven't actually seen this picture, so I can't give an honest appraisal of it's quality. Nevertheless, Señorita deserves a DVD release by virtue of the fact that it is not only one of the (seemingly very) few Paramount pictures that survive from the 1920s, but it also stars Bebe Daniels. Feel my Pulse (1928) is also extant and meets both of the aforementioned criteria, but Señorita seems like the more interesting of the two pictures.

4. Our Dancing Daughters (1928) / Our Modern Maidens (1929) / Our Blushing Brides (1930)

By this point I should even have to explain why I want these three movies on DVD. Besides, can you honestly tell me that this wouldn't make a great boxed set? You can keep your Lord of the Rings and forget about Star Wars; there is only one trilogy that truly matters, and this is it.

5. The Big Parade (1925)

King Vidor's moving portrait of American soldiers in the Great War deserves to be counted among the greatest films of the silent era. The scale of the film is comparable to any of Cecil B. DeMille's or D.W. Griffith's epics, and the special effects are astounding (by the standards of 1925, at any rate). It's such an engrossing picture, in fact, that I forgot at times that I was watching a silent movie. This is one that I really would like to see released as part of the Criterion Collection. A DVD release of The Big Parade would be a benefit not only to lovers of classic films, but to lovers of film in general.

19 August 2009

I Feel Like Posting a Picture of Jean Arthur...

...so here it is. I'd like to raid her piggy bank. If you know what I mean.

...That made no sense. I'm sorry.

16 August 2009

Idiot's Delight (1939)

I just watched Idiot's Delight earlier today, and I have to say that I was quite pleasantly surprised. This was one of those movies that I watched largely because of who was in it--in this case Norma Shearer--but wound up liking for its own merits. Clark Gable was very much likable in the role of Harry Van, a veteran of the Great War turned showman. His only ever song-and-dance number (the celebrated "Puttin' on the Ritz" routine) is especially great, although it is quite clear that Gable is, by any stretch of the imagination, no Fred Astaire. As for Norma, her performance as an expatriate Russian noblewoman is enjoyable (if a little hammy, thanks to her decidedly Garbonian accent, and also in spite of her disconcerting wig). It is also worth noting that Norma not only speaks passable Russian (albeit only a few words and phrases), but also hangs by her teeth in an acrobatic act (although that was probably a double in that scene).

There are, however, more important matters than romantic comedy addressed in the picture. Idiot's Delight was released in 1939, when the storm clouds of World War II were gathering. The reality of global politics was not lost on the film's producers. The impact of the impending war on the various guests of the alpine hotel where Clark and Norma find themselves is well-illustrated: a pacifist (played by Burgess Meredith) is arrested and shot for seditious talk against the war, a German scientist abandons his pursuit of a cure for cancer in order to design weapons instead and an industrialist heads back to his factories to oversee the production of munitions. Once the war actually breaks out, the hotel is severely damaged by bombs.

Another point of interest about this picture is the fact that it actually has two endings. It might not be the first film to do so, but it must be among the earliest. In the "domestic" (i.e. American) version of the film, Clark and Norma survive the bombing raid unscathed and plan to begin a show business career together. In the foreign version, however, the bombing raid is much more dramatic and the two stars maintain their composure by singing a hymn as the bombs explode around them. In my opinion, the latter ending is much more interesting, and also a much more honest take on the nature of the impending war.

Idiot's Delight is a romantic comedy, to be sure, but it is a romantic comedy with a much more profound message behind the smooching.

10 August 2009

Musical Interlude: Dovator's Cossack Song

"Dovator's Cossack Song" celebrates the heroism of General Lev Mikhailovich Dovator and the men of his 2nd Guards Cavalry Corps, many of whom died in the defense of Moscow (as did General Dovator himself).

The lyrics:

Сквозь леса дремучие, с песнею весёлою,
С острыми клинками, на лихих конях,
Движутся кубанцы, казаки-гвардейцы,
Чтоб с врагом расправиться доблестно в боях.

Эх, бей, кубанцы!
Руби, гвардейцы!
Рази фашистов подлых, пощады не давай!
На победу славную, на защиту Родины
Нас водил Доватор, любимый генерал.

С именем Доватора, полководца смелого,
Грозною лавиной на врага мы шли.
Где прошли доваторцы - казаки кубанские,
Гитлеровцев полчища смерть себе нашли!


Славными победами мы свой путь отметили,
Били мы фашистов, бьем и будем бить:
Пушками, гранатами, миной, автоматами,
Резать пулеметами и клинком рубить!


05 August 2009

Free Associations, Ep. 10

Now just you put that bat down and hear me out on this.

Perhaps the similarities lie not so much in the characters of Ren and Stimpy themselves, but in a particular episode. In the episode Stimpy's Fan Club, it is revealed that Stimpy is by far the more popular of the duo, receiving scores of fan letters whilst Ren receives not a single one. Ren is quite hurt by this, so Stimpy attempts to make him feel better by apointing him president of the Stimpy Fan Club. This only forces Ren to read more and more of Stimpy's fan mail, which begins to drive him insane.

Ren's anger and resentment boils over in what has to be one of the most unsettling sequences ever included in what was allegedly a cartoon for kids. As he watches Stimpy sleep, Ren launches into a psychotic monologue and plots to kill Stimpy. He plans to snap Stimpy's neck, but suffers a rather graphic nervous breakdown before the deed can be carried out. The next morning, Ren disguises himself as Stimpy, and tells the mailman not to deliver any more fan mail. The mailman, however, only has one fan letter and it is for Ren. Ren viciously taunts Stimpy as he reads his fan letter aloud, only to find out that the letter was from Stimpy himself. Ren feels like a total ass, and Stimpy, ever the magnanimous one, forgives Ren.

To me, this seems like a fairly accurate parallel to the respective careers of Joan and Dorothy--the dumb one (Joan) became immensely popular while the smart one (Dorothy) suffered in obscurity. And although it (probably) never happened, the image of Joan and Dorothy doing the Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy dance is so silly that it actually causes me physical pain.

02 August 2009

Happy Birthday, Myrna Loy

No words. Just awesomeness.