Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” (1960 Disney film)

I think I read a young person’s illustrated version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “boys’ life” Alan novel “Kidnapped” (written in first person) in tenth grade, in the spring of 1958, about the time certain other interests were developing in my mind.  I remember typing the book report at home.  A lot of other book reports with this teacher were “in class”, but this one I remember doing at home.  We had recently read George Eliot’s “Silas Marner” and been tested on it.  That’s what sophomore English was like: grammar and literature, in alternation.

Note the original long title of the book: “Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Cast away; his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; his Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he Suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson.”

The Walt Disney Technicolor 1960 film (“Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped”) is ironically directed by Robert Stevenson (no relation) and aired on Turner TCM on September 11.  The plot is a picaresque adventure, as was common for some English novels of the time(1886).  An appealing 16 year old boy David Balfour (James MacArthur) is beckoned to a gothic estate when his father dies, but quickly finds his uncle is conniving (there is a scene inspired by Vertigo).  He is then drawn to a ship voyage, where he is shanghaied (essentially kidnapped) into servitude, and threatened with slavery.  He soon meets up with a Jacobite, Alan Breck Stewart (Peter Finch) and go on a long adventure together, after both are falsely accused of murder. Alan is a Jacobite rebel in Scotland, as both escape the British redcoats about the time of the American French and Indian Wars (and the James Fenimore Cooper novels).  Eventually they get back to David’s uncle and David gets his inheritance with a trick and his friend’s witness.

I do recall that the enduring idea of the novel, especially in its later passages, is “friendship”.  Having read this book may have helped inspire my controversial first theme in English at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, which would help precipitate the ironic events that would later lead to my expulsion in November 1961 (as in my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book).

MacArthur (who was 23 when this film was shot) seems quite mature and handles himself so well, as in that fight with the Gaelic highlander and other foes.  He seems like a low-keyed predictor of the superhero movies to follow a half century later. How many role model teenage boys like this do you meet in a lifetime?  I can think of a few.

Jacobite painting wiki.

The broadcast also included the 1938 Mickey Mouse cartoon “Lonesome Ghosts”, with “personal animation”.

Name:  Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped”
Director, writer:  Robert Stevenson
Released:  1960
Format:  1.37:1 now 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  TCM 2017/9/11
Length:  97
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Pictures
Link:  TCM

(Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

“My Cousin Rachel”: Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic horror and a warning about inherited wealth

As I recall, my late mother liked to read some of Daphne Du Maurier’s novels back in the 1950s. Despite the French (Norman) name, she fits well into courses in “English literature”, following the Victorian novelists, writing about their time period but with a touch or gothic horror and supernatural as well as class given romance. I remember reading two novels by Thomas Hardy (including “The Return of the Native”) in 12th grade, and some George Eliot aka Mary Anne Evans (“Silas Marner”) in 10th, with the way a little girl named Eppie humbled the Scrooge-like Silas.   The best known film based on Du Maurier that I had seen before was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”, with the burning of Cornwall at the end.  The other classic film, based on her story story, was Hitchcock’s “The Birds” in 1963 (I have visited Bodega Bay twice).

My Cousin Rachel”, the new British period gothic romance film by Roger Michell for Fox, based on Du Maurier’s mature 1951 classic gothic novel, is set in the same Cornwall, and opens with a shot of the fragile coastal cliffs that will play a crucial role in the movie plot (the details of which, Rachel’s death, are changed from the book). Here let’s say that the movie and book touch on the whole moral question about the proper way to behave with inherited wealth and estates. Think of the politics: the conservatives (the GOP in the US) wants to eliminate the death tax and grow family generational wealth, Trump-style; the radical Left, like the People’s Party of New Jersey which I spied on in the early 1970s, wants to eliminate privilege and especially inherited wealth. There are questions even in how I manage my own estate (link).  A good friend from California in the Log Cabin Republicans world tells me and an entertainment attorney tells me that George Eliot’s novels dealt with the “dead hand” and the proper use of inherited wealth a few times in her novels, and this seems to be a preoccupation of English novelists. (High school English teachers, take note, even if I’m not subbing for you now; good test question material.)  People could be pursued by relatives or other interests based on the way arcane language in a will is re-interpreted, the source of a lot of handwritten-document intrigue. This whole English class system seems to fear expropriation. As if the inheritances hog wealth that could become a poorer person’s safety net, even in conservative parlance. The really radical Left regards inheritance as stealing. Even Thomas Piketty doesn’t go that far.

The central characters are Philp Ashley (Sam Clafin), the 24-year-old looking forward to taking over his guardian’s estate (cousin Ambrose, who has mysteriously died in Italy), cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz), the godfather Nick (Ian Glen), now supervising Philip until he comes of age at 25 and more distant relative Louise Kendall (Holliday Grainer), who has plenty of suspicion of Rachel. Let us say that Philip is assertive and dominating, if a bit of a home-body. One scene shows a real hairy chest, but in those days women didn’t have to shave their legs, either.

The plot is both Hitchockian and a bit of a stretch. Philip first suspects Rachel of poisoning his guardian. A trip to Italy and shown Rachel in cahoots with one Rainaldi. But once back home, as she moves in and as Philips gives her an allowance, he starts to fall in love with her.

Here comes the stuff about inheritance. The guardian Ambrose had left the family estate to Philip, so he doesn’t need another job and keeps the servants. But there had been another will leaving it to Rachel, unsigned because apparently Rachel didn’t have child. Philip feels conscience-bound to turn it over to her, but expects to marry her and live off the wealth anyway.

The late part of the movie turns into the love-hate. Philips has potentially procreative sex with her once (and in older families people do have sex with cousins, and it happens today in some circles, not a good idea). Philip gets sick, and suspects her of poisoning him. Their interactions become surreal (as in a stage play, something Jesse Eisenberg could come up with), as Rachel, after Philip turns over the estate to her, won’t marry him. There are hints that she has a lesbian relationship on the side, and that Rinaldi back in Italy was homosexual and wanted much younger men. Even so, I was left with the impression that at first wanted just to do “the right thing.”

Then Philip finds a clever, undetectable way to get rid of her. It’s different from the book, but pure Hitchcock.

At the end, you feel you have indeed watched a horror film. Other reviewers have criticized the film as too tame, but I found it rather compelling.

The film draws out the period look, showing how people sign legal documents with quill pens to make then so final and official.

The movie reminds me of “Raising Helen” (Disney, Garry Marshall, 2004), where a young woman has to (or gets to ) raise a sister’s child as part of an estate. And I recall the short story by John Knowles, “The Reading of the Will”, in an anthology “Phineas”, which contains the story upon which the coming-of-age prep school tragedy [anticipating the WWII draft] “A Separate Peace” film (1972, Larry Peerce) was based. Yes, he jousted the limb,

Lands End at Cornwall, wiki

Name:  “My Cousin Rachel
Director, writer:  Roger Michell, Daphne Du Maurier
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2017/6/9, evening, fair crowd
Length:  106
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Fox Searchlight
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, June 10, 2017 at 12 Noon EDT)

“The Great War” airs on PBS American Experience in 6 hour film


PBS American Experience is airing a three-night six hour film “The Great War”, giving a chronicle of the history of World War I. It is directed by Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak and Rob Rapley. It is produced by Mark Samuels. Oliver Platt narrates.  It should not be confused with Ken Burns’s “The War” about World War II.   Writer Alan Axelrod often speaks. The series airs April 10-12, 2017 on PBS stations.

The documentary opens with a portrayal of Woodrow Wilson, as a somewhat frail and pious man who would be devastated by the loss of his wife. But sometimes his judgment, even early, seemed dated by today’s standards, as he reimplemented segregation among federal employees.  He was the only Democrat born in a Confederate state (in Staunton, VA) and knew what it was like to “lose a war”.

In the early days of WWI, American companies made money selling ammunition and supplies to Britain.  It would gradually become more difficult for America to remain neutral.

The war quickly became horrible, with the destruction in Belgium and France, leading to civilian refugees.

Some young men in upper classes felt obligated to volunteer to fight for France, to prove they could become ballsy and prove themselves by taking risks for the causes of others.  Eventually, there were summer military camps.

The documentary covers the sinking of the Lusitania. In early 1917, more American ships were sunk, and intelligence showed possible German plots to get Mexico and Japan to go to war with the US, and a German “terrorist” tried a home invasion at the estate of J.P. Morgan.

Wilson entered the War on the basis of an ideology, to “make the world safe for democracy”.

People got their news from songs composed in a Chelsea mill of composers, whose songs giving ews from Europe got published the same day.  “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.” There was irony that classical music was based on German composers, and it gradually became shunned.

The draft would be sold as a kind of volunteerism, “Selective Service”, from which the government would cull who would actually serve.  (Technically I “volunteered” for the draft in 1968.)   The Army remained segregated by race.  Native Americans were regarded as “white”.  But the authorities feared that blacks with weapons could turn on them.

There were conscientious objectors and “slackers”.  But 680,000 men were finally drafted on the first day of official conscription in July 1917.

To sell the war, “Chief of Public Information” (propaganda) George Creel recruited the “four minute men” and “gave them the words” to sell patriotic messages at projectionist breaks in movie theaters, at circuses and other public venues.

Basic training in those days comprised 14 hour days of training.

Wilson wanted the men to fight in separate forces from the French, who were waiting for the Americans to rescue them.  The Germans transferred more men to the West after Russia pulled out, as Bolshevism and Lenin gained attention for a new socialist world order.

Alice Paul led the American “Suffragettes” and eventually Wilson agreed surreptitiously to support female suffrage.

J. Edgar Hoover led the effort to mobilize the food effort, and Americans started watching each other on the home front, over loyalty, even the informal rationing of food, and the quasi-compulsory purchase of war bonds.  Conformity was enforced by groups like “The American Protective League”.  The vigilantism sounds shocking. But it helps explain the authoritarian attitudes of the generation I grew up in.

In a major incident, an African American soldier achieved great valor sacrificing himself on the battlefield.

The earlier Espionage Act was followed by Sedition Act in 1918, which wounds today like a shocking and unbelievable encroachment of the First Amendment, as people could be jailed for the most innocuous complaints against personal hardships, let alone the draft.

The last part continued to show the enormous carnage and sacrifice of American “doughboys” who overcame the Germans in the fall of 1918.  The Germans agreed to Armistice because they feared more Americans and believed Wilson.

The film only briefly covers the catastrophic Spanish flu pandemic in 1918; but young soldiers found that their robust immune systems did them in, as their lungs filled up quickly and could die within hours.

The documentary continued to portray the aggressive attempts to find civilian “slackers” (draft dodgers). After the Armistice, conscientious objectors could be brutally treated at Leavenworth.  A labor leader, Eugene Debs, stayed in jail over sedition. The government appeared determined to punish those who had refused to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. My own view is to see sacrifice as just that, not always honorable.

Wilson (who crafted “The 14 Points”) once noted that statesmen would have to start thinking about people as people rather than as components of countries or nation-states. Yet Wilson was willing to compel a whole generation of young men to sacrifice themselves for what seemed like an ideological and abstract goal set by others, for the future.  He would not tolerate others criticizing his zeal, even after his sudden change to get into the War. Wilson’s story probably helps us understand authoritarian intolerance of free speech today.

Returning black soldiers were feared and treated badly, and Wilson would do little about it.

The best PBS link is here.

Another descriptive link is here.

(First posted on April 11 at 11 PM EDT)

“The Zookeeper’s Wife”: a story of resistance against Nazis seems timely now

The Zookeeper’s Wife”, directed by Niki Caro and written by Angela Workman, is another story of local resistance to Nazi occupation, and of the moral dilemmas people face when a foreign enemy knocks on the door.  Th film is based on the non-fiction book by Diane Ackerman.

As the film opens, Jan Zabiniski (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain) run the bucolic zoo in Warsaw in the late summer of 1939.  Antonina makes a great show of greeting visitors, and the animals have the run of their lives.  One night she interrupts a party to help an elephant deliver a baby (that is, bring the baby to life).

On September 1, 1939, the Nazi Blitzkrieg arrives with sudden aerial bombardment. Animals escape and the family has to prepare to endure.  But the Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) draws her into a discussion of saving the zoo by using it as a breeding farm.  Externally, there is a lot of talk about the Nazis as legitimate permanent political authority, that will persist “when the war is over”.

But soon the family’s Jewish friends take shelter in own their property, out of sight of the Nazis.  One of them has an insect collection, and kids draw “cave art” with fingerpainting in the basement.  The city is divided into “free” and ghetto.  Then the Jews are transported East and the ghetto is torched. Eventually the family secretly shelters over 300 people.

The film traces the family through all of World War II until the Soviets take over occupation after the end of the war.

The film may seem politically relevant today, as some faith-based groups resist the new anti-immigration crackdown by providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants in the U,S.

I visited Warsaw for one day in May 1999, having ridden the train north from Krakow, where I had visited Auschwistz-Birkenau for one day.

The film was actually shot around Prague.

Warsaw today, Wiki.

Warsaw war ruins, Wiki.

Name:  “The Zookeeper’s Wife”
Director, writer:  Niki Caro
Released:  2017/3/30
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, sneak, late 2017/3/30, sparse attenance
Length:  124
Rating:  R
Companies:  Focus Features
Link:  official

(Picture: Washington DC zoo, lion area, Feb. 2017)

(Posted: Friday, March 31, 2017 at 11 AM EST)

 

“Bitter Harvest”: drama shows the Holodomor in the Ukraine in the 1930s

Bitter Harvest”, from German director George Mendeluk, does seem at first like a stock “conservative” film, out to prove that communist Stalin (Gary Oliver) was every bit as much a monster as Hitler. The film depicts a historical fiction (story by Richard Bachynsky Hoover) escape by a likeable artist Yuri (Max Irons), protecting his family, literally swimming underwater a border river into Poland, from the Ukraine in 1933, to escape the Soviet-Ukraine Holodomor.

On a certain moral level, the film is timely given today’s controversy over illegal border crossings and asylum. It also seems reflectively pertinent given Valdimir Putin’s preoccupation with nationalistic expansion into Ukraine in the past two years.

As the film opens, Yuri gives a little history, about how the Bolshevist revolution had at first freed Ukraine peasants from the czars, only to be undone with the Soviet Union and with Stalin’s plans to expropriate land and agricultural output from the farmers (apparently temporarily in private hands, giving them freedom) to feed factory workers. The film depicts Soviet soldiers storming into farms, seizing lands and demanding, at gunpoint, that farmers join collectives.

Yuri escapes, so to speak, to Kiev to go to art school, where his work is soon criticized for not being politically correct enough. (This is what happened to composer Dmitri Shostakovich for a while.) There are some lines about whether artists view themselves as elite and privileged about the mores of ordinary proles.

At this point, let me say the script is often a bit corny (it may be translated for English), but the political carnage becomes more believable and compelling as the film progresses. Yui winds up in jail, but uses his artistic (and hand-to-hand combat) talents to escape prison and get back home to help the family escape the famine.

I can relate the ferocity of the extreme left from some personal experiences back in 1972, when a radical meeting expressed the need to eliminate all inherited wealth (which is how the commies seized land). Yuri has no real moral dilemma (as would I) over whether to join a counter mass-movement.  But it’s ironic that Ukraine’s own movement is also communist, but somehow “fairer”.

The early scenes in the film (shot in flat areas in Ukraine) look rustic, with people living simple lives without electricity (there are a few cars).

Ukraine landscape similar to film (Wikipedia).

Name: Bitter Harvest
Director, writer:  George Mendeluk
Released:  2016/10
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2017/3/7, afternoon, small audience
Length:  103
Rating:  R
Companies:  Roadside Attractions
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, March 6, 2017 at 8:30 PM EST)

“Apostle Peter and the Last Supper”: church film actually poses a challenge in the science v. faith debate

Sometimes Biblical dramas produced explicitly for churches do pose real questions about how faith applies today, and how people could view Biblical narratives in comparison to their own modern lives.

Apostle Peter and the Last Supper” (2012, directed Gabriel Sabloff) presents an elderly Peter (Robert Loggia) in jail, a few days before his own crucifixion, giving his jailer about his own time with the real physical Jesus, including the Last Supper.  A deleted scene on the DVD actually shows the Ascension, also.

The “back story” is about the life of the apostles following Jesus on his journeys, witnessing his miracles, and them coming down to the climatic Last Supper.  The young man Peter (Ryan Alosio) certainly experiences upward affiliation for Jesus (Bruce Marchiano), and wonders how Jesus can be so sure that Peter will deny him, and that at least one other disciple will betray him with the “Judas Kiss”.  There are a few brief moments where Jesus appears supernatural in the flesh.  Life is quite communal; there is no intinction.

The men had apparently given up “normal” economic and family life the follow Him around, behavior that in the modern world would seem insecure and immature for a young adult male, who ought to be raising his own brood.  I’ve been in that situation myself.   (But some of the disciples were married.)

The Last Supper scene is indeed intimate. Jesus washes Peter’s feet, as if Jesus were showing and experiencing humility.  I did wonder, why was Peter’s leg hairless?  He was still a young man.

In thus ancient world, at a special time, all knowledge comes from religious authority, and there is no opportunity to map it onto science as we know it today. “Following me” could be appropriate in their world when it would not be in ours.

Imagine if a teen Clark Kent like in “Smallville” really does exist, maybe as a twenty-something now.  You would have to see it to believe it; there could be no Doubting Thomas.  Even then, it would be hard to make “Him” credible;  in social media it would be seen as part of the fake news aggregation.  Clark Kent might well stay off social media.  There could be a risk that if he tried to get a following, the group would become a cult.

In the modern world, there is a schism in what we are asked to believe, compared to what an “I” in the ancient world could experience.  A personal relationship with “Him” still seems abstract. But it was not so for Peter, even if he “denied” Jesus momentarily to avoid taking an unnecessary “bullet”.  For the disciples , to become apostles, they had seen and lived it.

I call to mind an incident in 1979 in west Texas, at a camping weekend sponsored by MCC Dallas, when a particular young man put his arm around me and stated I was lost and tried to “recruit” me to follow “Him”.  But “He” was still invisible, and no longer personal.  But the young man at the camp was all too personal.  What if one really could return to the original setting of Resurrection?

In fact, there is a 1969 novel “Behold the Man” by Michael Moorcock that sets up this dichotomy with tike travel; I vaguely remember reading the paperback while living in Dallas in the 1980s.

I’ll add that in the 2011 gay sci-fi film “Judas Kiss”, the title refers to a short film made by the character Danny about his abusive father, but I don’t recall the real connection to Judas.

It has always struck me that Jesus, as depicted in the past, was always shown as a young man who would be seen as perfect by conventional gay male values.  Perfect for upward affiliation, except from the Rich Young Ruler, who has too much to lose so he panders Jesus.  Jesus was seen as someone who would never be desecrated, until He allowed the crucifixion to pay for our sins.  But then, he “came back”, in perfection, and rose to the Heavens in perfection.  Today that’s the stuff of UFO’s and science fiction.

If a “Clark Kent” really exists somewhere (even in “Kill Bill 2”) it could mean the end of time, for us at least.

Note the meaning of the terms “apostle” and “disciple”.

The film was shot around Malibu with Italian money. But a lot of the scenery looks constructed. The DVD has a 20 minute “Behind the Scenes” and 11 minutes of deleted scenes.

Name:  “Apostle Peter and the Last Supper
Director, writer:  Gabriel Sabloff
Released:  2012
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Netflix DVD
Length:  93
Rating:  PG
Companies:  PureFlix
Link:  NA

(Posted: Friday, February 3, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

“Jackie” is a rather dour retelling of the First Lady’s experience during and right after the JFK assassination

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Name: Jackie
Director, writer: Pablo Larrain, Noah Oppenheim
Released: 2016/12
Format: 1.66:1
When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, 2016/12/12
Length 100
Rating R
Companies: Fox Searchlight
Link: official site

Jackie” (directed by Pablo Larrain, written by Noah Oppenhei) is a rather morose exercise in dramatizing Jackie Kennedy’s life in the week after the assassination of president John Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

The film is framed as an interview of Jackie (Natalie Portman) at home in Hyannisport in early December, 1963 by journalist Ted White (Billy Crudup). Portman’s raspy voice and intonation help make her seem self-centered, sometimes almost creepy.

But the screenplay flashes back into two layers: one of black and white segments of Jackie’s arranging the White House interiors to celebrate American history (“A Tour of the White House”, rather like a Smithsonian museum today). These way-back’s use Caspar Phillipson as a caricature of John Kennedy.
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But the more interesting, if titillating, part of the film traces the assassination itself: Jackie holding the president’s bloodied head as they speed off to Parkland Hospital; her dealing with blood-soiled garments on the flight back to Washington, then the reenactment through BW television of Ruby’s execution of Lee Harvey Oswald. “He’s been shot!” I recall that moment, riding with my parents down 17th Street in Washington the Sunday after the assassination and hearing the second event live on a car radio. A major issue is whether Jackie will walk outdoors during the funeral procession, a security risk.

Peter Sarsgaard becomes a distortion of his usual self in the extreme closeups as brother Robert Kennedy. John Carroll Lynch plays LBJ, who will draft me in less than five years, and Beth Grant is Lady Bird, and nothing right now is “so good”.

The original music score, for small string orchestra, is by Mica Levi; it often sounds post-Mahler, but with some sliding or quarter-tone glissandi in the phrasing. There is a scene where Jackie plays an LP of “Camelot” on an old record player that would have tracked heavy, in the White House (although by 1963, good turntables, cartridges and tonearms for reliable fidelity in stereo vinyl were well developed already).

Everybody, most of all Jackie herself, smokes. It’s depressing.

The film is shot in the slightly reduced aspect ratio of 1.66:1 instead of 1.85:1; I wonder why. The film was partly filmed in France (for indoor scenes).

Possible comparison’s would be Oliver Stone’s “JFK“, as well as “The Day Kennedy Died“, “Interview with an Assassin“, and “Parkland“.

(Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2016, at 9:45 AM EST)

“Rules Don’t Apply”: period comedy about reclusive Howard Hughes again presents a post-teen as the adult in the room

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Name: Rules Don’t Apply
Director, writer:  Warren Beatty
Released:  2016/11
Format:  1.85:1 (unusual for this studio)
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, light audience, 2016/11/29, evening
Length 127
Rating PG-13
Companies: 20th Century Fox (Searchlight?), Regency, RatPac
Link: official site

Rules Don’t Apply”, a period dramedy in which director Warren Beatty plays the eccentric billionaire isolani Howard Hughes, gives another case where the kid parents that pap.

Alden Ehrenreich plays the 20-something Uber-careful driver for Hughes in 1958 Los Angeles, made to look art deco with all the sunny valley smog.  Pretty soon he, following the fraternization rules, is escorting aspiring actress Mamie (Haley Bennett), and he gradually gets brought in to helping Hughes and Mathis (Matthew Broderick) managing Howard’s flailing legal problems as he faces Congress.

Why does he get this opportunity?  Frank seems like the only grownup in the movie.  Yes, he has a good evangelical upbringing in Fresno, and takes the idea that sex implies marriage seriously, at least for starters.  Pretty soon he is flying private planes, going to Europe, and DC, keeping Howard out of trouble,  At the end of the film (as most of it is told in flashback), there is a press conference in LA in 1964 where reporters want to locate Hughes (in Acapulco), rumored to have dementia, lying in bed I a resort, admitting that “I need to get out more.”  It’s sad.  Frank could have used all of this to get rich himself, but he just always does the right thing, or almost always.  There is, of course, some heterosexual temptation.

The plot has an interesting twist:  Hughes has to face the idea that if he gets married, a sympathetic spouse could protect him from getting committed.  Yup, he’s become an M.P., like what I saw a NIH I 1962.

Beatty has said that this film is not really a biography of Hughes, but rather a story of a religious young man and woman coming to terms with the coming sexual revolution.

Ehrenreich looks spiffy, having grown chest hair since “Beautiful Creatures”.

Beatty, remember, starred as a young man, the virile and tempting Bud Stamper in Elia Kazan’s “Splendor in the Grass”, where the young girl (Natalie Wood) winds up in a Kansas mental institution over family sexual repression – and they each marry someone else at the end.  Based on the Wordsworth poem, the film got a lot of attention among students at William and Mary in my lost semester in 1961;  my roommate said he had “emoted” over the movie (just before I saw it).  Then in 1964 he plays a virile attendant in another mental institution who gets gradually undone by “Lilith” (Jean Seberg).  I remember seeing this at the old Buckingham Theater in Arlington VA.

Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016 at 11 AM EDT

“Daniel Boone and the Westward Movement”: metaphor for Donald Trump’s nationalism today?

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I made a quasi-pilgrimage to Cumberland Gap, repeating a visit from 1990 when I had just started a new job, this time partly to drive the new tunnel on US 25E.  On the Kentucky (north) side of the tunnel, the National Park Service has a visitors’ center, and plays a documentary film in a curious upstairs theater with rocking chairs.

The film is “Daniel Boone and the Westward Movement” (2000, directed by Gary L. Foreman, with music score (sound rather Copland-like) by Arkenstone.  I didn’t have time to watch it and bought the DVD (Native Sun Productions) expecting a feature.  It turns out to run just the 23 minutes.

The film starts with the history of explorer Thomas Walker, who first found and crossed the gap in 1750.  The gap can be traversed by climbing a minimum of 400 feet, which does raise the question as to the necessity of the tunnel (which does allow returning the passing to its original condition as a trail)   But in the 18th Century the Gap was perceived as the easiest passage to the west in the mid-Atlantic to mid-Southern regions.  Today, the Park Service maintains a visitor’s road to the Pinnacle, which, although “only” 2440 feet at the summit, is very steep to drive, and offers spectacular views of the gap over the tunnel, covering  Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia just to the East.

But Daniel Boone would eventually lead the settling of the land with passages from 1769 through 1782, during the time of the American Revolution.  Boone would lose two sons in fighting with the native populations, especially along “Warrior Path”.  He would convince his progeny of the agricultural richness of the land.

The progressive settlement of lands west of the Eastern Continental Divide, which Daniel Boone’s expeditions catalyzed, has become seen as a metaphor for all of American nationalism — from “manifest destiny” to the ideology of Donald Trump today. It seems like it was predicated on expropriation of lands from the native Americans.  Does this parallel the West Bank of Israel today?

NBC sponsored a TV series “Daniel Boone” with Disney star Fess Parker in 1964.

(Published: Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, 9:15 PM EDT)

“Crimson Peak”: Bloated period piece gothic horror

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Name: Crimson Peak
Director, writer:  Guillermo Del Toro
Released:  2015/10
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2016/8/13 Netflix DVD
Length 119
Rating R
Companies: Universal, Legendary
Link: official


Crimson Peak” (2015) is a big-budget period gothic horror movie, comprising all the latest cinematic tricks from Guillermo del Toro, who, with Matthew Robbins, also wrote the clever story. The film stock really makes a lot of various shades of red. And this is no “Moulin Rouge”.

The story is set at “the turn of the century” but looks a little earlier.  Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska)  As a character, she is of some interest to me because she aspires to become an esteemed novelist or “auithor”.  She contemplates ghost stories, partly due to visions of the remains of her mother’s consciousness after her passing from black cholera.  She is pressured to write conventional romance novels, as is now expected of women (post George Elliot).  Indeed when she moves to Allerdale Hall in northern England, she is told “everyone falls in love here, even women.” Also, “We don’t talk about the things we need to disclose.”  Later, her writing ability is rebuffed altogether. “You know nothing of love; you’re a spoiled child, you should return to ghosts.”

When her self-made father (Jim Beaver) is brutally murdered, she is indeed is drawn to the British aristocrat Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), whose mansion sits on top of a liquid clay mine. Once the movie moves to Cumbira, it become fixated on a the Hall that rather reminds me of the prairie castle in “Giant”. Of course it’s haunted, and inside Edith gradually learns of her husband’s horrible crimes, and must escape.

The film was actually shot around Toronto with many of the effects generated with CGI.

The Chopin “Revolutionary Etude” appears with some effect early in the film.

A reasonable comparison would be “Burnt Offerings” (1976), Dan Curtis’s film based om Robert Marasco’s novel, which I actually read. I remember the line, “I know what I do.”

Somehow I am also reminded of the 1948 film “The Woman in White” by Peter Godfrey with Eleanor Parker as the doppleganger woman tempting a young artist in England;  curiously this film was shown on a late night “Chiller” series in the early 1960s.

(Posted: Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)