Watching One Of Dad’s Favorites

Dad’s favorite actor was Humphrey Bogart.  I don’t think anyone else was even a close second.  And his two favorite movies — both of which featured Bogie, of course — were Casablanca and The African Queen.  So when Kish and I went with friends to see Casablanca to kick off the Ohio Theater Summer Movie Series last night, at the bargain ticket price of only 50 cents a person, of course I thought about Dad.

It turns out Dad had pretty good taste in movies.  Casablanca is generally considered one of the very best movies ever made, and if you get a chance to see it on the big screen, you shouldn’t pass it up.  The tale of star-crossed lovers set in exotic, desperate Casablanca, with the grim early days of World War II as its backdrop, is a terrific, timeless classic that is filled with memorable lines and characters, from Dooley Wilson’s warm and decent Sam to Sidney Greenstreet’s fly-swatting Ferrari to Paul Henreid’s impossibly noble Victor Laszlo.  The chemistry between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s Isla Lund crackles and almost jumps off the screen, and stands in sharp comparison to many of the modern romance movies where the “chemistry” is either forced or totally lacking.  And Bogart’s depiction of Rick — the tough, fearless, gravel-voiced American who will stick his neck out for nobody, but turns out to have a conscience and a heart of gold — has become so iconic we tend to take for granted what a fantastic acting performance it was.  Watching the scenes where the anguished Rick is drinking to try to forget the painful wound that Ilsa has reopened should be required study for anybody who wants to become an actor.

One other thing about Casablanca that you notice in comparison to today’s Hollywood fare:  it somehow manages to combine a compelling personal narrative that grabs you by the collar, and real potential peril from believable villains, with great humor.  Claude Rains as Louis, the jocular Prefect of Police, gets most of the laugh lines, but Bogart has some and other characters do, too.  How many modern films can you think of that successfully feature drama and humor side by side — or even try to do so?  It’s one big reason why Casablanca typically ranks right up there on the GOAT lists.

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Living In A Van (But Not Down By The River)

The Hollywood Reporter has an interesting story about people living in vans in the Los Angeles area.  Unlike Chris Farley’s Matt Foley character, they aren’t motivational speakers — they’re just everyday entertainment workers who happen to live in their cars.

thr_mobile_la_thr_joe_4547_hirez_splashAccording to the article, the number of Angelenos who live in their vehicles has spiked.  In 2017, 600 vehicles were being used as homes; now the number is up to 9,117.  There’s even an organization called Safe Parking L.A. that operates secret, guarded lots where people living in cars can sleep with some security.

Why do so many people in southern California live in their vehicles?  The high cost of housing factors into the decision-making of virtually everyone interviewed in the article.  Some people simply can’t pay the exorbitant rents; others could afford the cost but object to doing so and live in their cars because it allows them to move more quickly toward their financial goals.  But living in your car obviously comes at a cost, too.  You have to strip down your possessions to a minimum and configure your vehicle to allow it, you need to develop a strategy for taking care of basic bodily functions, you’ve got to figure out where to park your car at night, and there are obvious, ongoing security concerns — which is why an organization like Safe Parking L.A. exists.

And there are other issues that people who don’t make their vehicle their home would never consider — like the need to drive very carefully through those crowded southern California highways and byways, because if you get into an accident and your car goes into the shop, you’ve just lost your housing until the repairs are completed.

Humans are highly adaptable creatures, and you have to admire the grit of people who have figured out how to live in vans.  But I also wonder:  is living in L.A. and being part of the entertainment industry really worth it if it means living in a van?

Burt’s Best

I was sorry to read of Burt Reynolds’ passing today.  He was a huge Hollywood star in his heyday, but he never seemed to take himself, or his acting ability, too seriously — which is an all-too-rare quality in the film and television industry these days.

longest-yeard-470x350Reynolds’ death has caused some people to debate what was his best movie.  I think Deliverance is great — and Dueling Banjos clearly was the single best song — but for my money the original version of The Longest Yard can’t be beat.  It came out when I was in high school, and it combined everything that would appeal to an adolescent boy — sophomoric humor and pranks, football and football players, a ridiculously implausible plot, crotch hits to bad guys, and the use of Burt Reynolds’ overwhelming sex appeal to convince the warden’s pasty-faced, beehived secretary (played wonderfully by Bernadette Peters in one of her first big roles) to part with some much-needed game film.  In fact, you can argue that no single movie is more calculated to appeal to teenage males.  And watching it, even now, remains a guilty pleasure.

RIP, Burt Reynolds, aka Paul Crewe.  Adolescent boys of the ’70s salute you.

A Pepper Spray Present

Every year, the nominees for the Oscars get a lavish gift bag with all kinds of special items donated by companies that are looking for a little big of PR.  The bags are not officially sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but they’ve become a kind of tradition and are loaded with goodies like plane tickets, high-end cosmetics, and new, uber cool gizmos.

So, what’s in this year’s swag bag?

promo343614230Well, among other things there’s a 12-day trip to Tanzania, something called a “24 carat gold facial” — that sounds like it will fit right in with the Hollywood tradition of wretched excess — and a “conflict-free” diamond necklace.  Oh, and multiple kinds of pepper spray, now that the Harvey Weinstein horror story and the exposure of many other producers, directors, agents, and actors have revealed Hollywood to be a place of rampant sexual harassment, gross sexual imposition, and outright rape.

It’s therefore not surprising that this year’s Oscar swag bag has a decided personal safety and security element to it.  It includes at least three different pepper spray options — including a key ring-sized device — two personal body alarms, and a kit that allows you to determine whether your drink has been drugged that no doubt will immediately come in handy at one of those Oscars after-parties.

It tells you something about what it must be like to be a part of the oversexed, overprotected, underinvestigated, and underbrained world of the Hollywood glitterati.  Normally I would object to the idea of Oscar nominees getting thousands of dollars in freebies on “rich get richer” grounds, but this year maybe the swag bags offer some hope and some perspective on what a wretched place Hollywood really is.  Maybe at least one of the nominees will grab their pepper spray and spiked drink kit, don the personal body alarms, sell the “24-karat gold facial” and the “conflict-free” diamond necklace for a little ready cash, jet off to Tanzania for that 12-day holiday — and wisely decide to never come back to the lewd and lecherous land of Oscar.

Cecil’s Lost City

I saw a report on a sphinx head being uncovered in the California desert and wondered for a moment whether there had been some tremendous discovery of a previously unknown ancient civilization.  Not quite!  It turns out that it was a lost city — but one dating from 1923, not the time of the pharaohs.

pay-sphinx-uncovered-from-under-californian-sand-dunesThe lost city was constructed for the filming of Cecil B. DeMille’s silent movie The Ten Commandments.  DeMille, who was legendary for filming extravagant, big-budget epics with colossal sets and enormous casts of extras, had plaster sphinxes and other Egyptian artifacts constructed for use in the film, at huge expense, to make the film look more realistic.  Then, when the filming was over, and it was too expensive to relocate the set, DeMille decreed that rather than risk it being used by rival filmmakers, it all should be buried under the sands of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, where the sphinxes and other materials have remained for nearly a century.  The Ten Commandments then went on to receive critical acclaim for its sweeping and realistic scenes.

DeMille’s decision to entombed the set beneath the desert sands became the stuff of Hollywood legend, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that people began talking about actually trying to find the buried set pieces.  Recently, archaeologists have begun to unearth the pieces and some of the other debris cast off by the film crew.  One of the uncovered items is a perfectly preserved sphinx head.

These days, it’s hard to imagine the ludicrous extravagance that routinely occurred during the early days of Hollywood — but what better evidence of that extravagance than dazzling set pieces, carefully constructed by craftsman at significant expense, simply being buried in desert sands and then abandoned?  And it’s even harder to imagine that modern environmental authorities would allow entire sets and film crew trash to simply be buried beneath natural sand dunes.

The world was a different place 100 years ago.

Seagull Over Stonington

Kish and I took a brisk morning walk today. It is a fine, glorious day, with a bright blue sky and seagulls wheeling overhead.

Being a Midwestern landlubber, seagulls still intrigue me, with their downy white feathers and aerial acrobatics, but the locals pretty much loathe them. They tolerate seagulls because the tourists expect to see them — what’s a port town without seagulls? — but they know seagulls are trash-eaters that like nothing better than picking at a dumpster for spoiled food and then coating your lobster boat with rank seagull poop. The outward appearance of seagulls is a lot more attractive than the actual reality.

Seagulls are kind of like Hollywood that way.

The Depths Of Depravity

In the wake of the disgusting Harvey Weinstein scandal, actresses and other women who are participants in the film and TV industry are stepping forward with their stories about sexual harassment, and worse.  They are ugly, extremely disturbing stories, and it seems as though there are many more stories to be told.

Molly Ringwald in Breakfast ClubMolly Ringwald, the youthful megastar of many hit movies of the ’80s, wrote an opinion piece for the New Yorker entitled “All the Other Harvey Weinsteins” that describes her experiences as the target of harassment and demeaning conduct, which included an incident that occurred when she was only 13.  Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Thompson, Reese Witherspoon, and other well-known figures have similarly talked about their personal histories in dealing with ugly comments, degrading behavior, and sexual assault.

Thompson says she thinks that sexual assault is “endemic” in Hollywood, and she seems to be right in her use of that word:  the incidents that she and others have related make it clear that the problem isn’t limited to Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.  From the stories being told, Hollywood has been a grossly depraved place for decades and maybe forever, a place where egregious behavior was tolerated, rationalized, and covered up, where powerful men were able to do what they wanted, no matter how sick or twisted, without fear of being caught and punished or otherwise held accountable, and agents, directors, producers, and others were all part of the culture of harassment and corruption who did nothing to help or protect the girls and women who were being subjected to shameful and at times criminal behavior.

Let’s hope that the dam has finally broken, and that the torrent of stories about harassment and assault in Hollywood finally changes the system for the better — but I wouldn’t count on it.  The depravity of the film and TV industry seems to have been so deep and embedded, with so many people either actively participating or looking the other way, that I wouldn’t trust Hollywood to self-regulate going forward.  In fact, I wouldn’t trust Hollywood types when they talk about just about anything.

It’s time for the news media and the government regulators to start paying a lot more attention to what happens behind the scenes and behind the cameras, to ensure that girls and women don’t become victims, again and again and again.