Daily Archive: 23 Nov 2013

Nov 23

Kennedy’s Legacy

John F KennedyYesterday was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy. There has been something on my mind about it, but it seemed wrong to bring it up—even though it isn’t disrespectful. Obviously, the murder of Kennedy was a great tragedy—for those who knew him and more generally for the country. But in the long term, I think his death was helpful. In particular, it’s not at all clear to me that he would have been able to get the Voting Rights Act passed.

The way I look at it, Johnson pushed it because he knew it was an important issue to Kennedy. But instead of the push coming from a northeastern liberal, it came from a Texan—a conservative Democrat. That alone gave the bill more credibility. What’s more, Johnson used the memory of Kennedy to push for the bill. There is nothing like a tragic death to get people to do what is right for a change.

There is more to this. If it weren’t for the Vietnam War, Johnson would be as great a liberal hero as FDR is. His domestic accomplishments are, if anything, greater than those of FDR. But I wouldn’t ever have guessed that he would have been such a great liberal president. And I doubt that he would have predicted it either. In his State of the Union address in 1964, he said, “Let us carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy—not because of our sorrow or sympathy, but because they are right.” And that is exactly what he did.

So in this way, Johnson’s legacy is Kennedy’s. I don’t mean to suggest that Johnson was a greater steward of the legacy than Kennedy would have been. They each had their talents. But the assassination of a beloved president provides real political power. No one wanted to dishonor his memory and part of that was supporting his policies. Even as bad as things are today, had Obama been assassinated in November of 2010, I doubt that the Republicans would have kept up their unreasonable opposition to Obamacare. Even they have a great sense of honor than that.

Maybe all I’m saying is that I’m an optimist who wants to see things in the best possible light. It is certainly true that I want to see Kennedy’s assassination in a way that makes it more meaningful. I think that’s what behind all the conspiracy theories. People don’t want to believe that such tragedy could be caused by just one unstable man with a riffle and three bullets. Unfortunately, tragedy is often that easy or easier. But we move on and hopefully our tragedies make us stronger as we move into the future. I think that was the case with the assassination of John F Kennedy.

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Nov 23

The Q Filmcast

The Q FilmcastI’ve written a lot around here about the distinction between a critic and an ombudsman. When it comes to film, there is very little criticism. Mostly, so called movie critics are nothing but ombudsman. People get the idea that I think there is something wrong with being an ombudsman. There isn’t. My problem is that these “critics” claim to be more than they are. All most people want is an ombudsman.

So I was quite interested to hear about The Q Filmcast. It is a podcast featuring five guys. Each week, they all watch a film that is available on Netflix Instant Watch and then discuss it. It has something to do with WRFN in Nashville Tennessee, and it is very professionally done. At least one of them is on-air talent, with the kind of voice that fills me with a combination of jealousy and disgust. How dare you speak like that, and how can I learn to do it! Other people are techs. I figure they all work at WRFN one way or another.

The thing about the show is that it is pure ombudsmanship. And given that there are five of them, the listener actually gets different perspectives. That’s great because no one claims to speak the ultimate true. I’m kidding! They all claim it, just as we all do. But you get a variety of that. And that was well on display for last week’s episode, which was on The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

The group was split: four of the guys really liked the film and one really didn’t. Out of 10, they gave the film: 8, 7, 7, 6, and 2. Eventually, one of the 7 guys bumped his rating up to 8 and the 2 guy bumped his rating up to 3. I felt sorry for the guy who panned the film. His name is James Savage and I gather that he is usually like this. But he highlighted how there are many ways to love a film but generally only one way to hate it. One of the criticisms was that it was repetitive. But nothing could have been more repetitive than Savage’s review which was basically, “It just didn’t…”

Often I find myself in conversations about films which the other person didn’t like. And they have nothing to say. It is like Tim the Enchanter describing the Vorpal Bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “He’s got huge sharp… He can leap about… Look at the bones!” In describing his reaction to the film, Savage was reduced to, “It didn’t have enough… The aliens were too… It just wasn’t good!”

I’m not putting the guy down. The film is not for everyone. In fact, it isn’t for more than a small subset of film viewers. And as a lover of films myself, I don’t recommend The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra to most people. For the right kind of person, it is a triumph. For most people, it is an extremely weird and silly thing. But this gets to something really important to me when I talk about films: did the film work on its own terms? Look at my article about Ethan Hawke’s attempt at Shakespeare, Another Sucky Hamlet. I really hated it, yet I wrote, “Don’t get me wrong, the film is not all bad. In fact, the film shows every sign of being a very creative endeavor. I don’t think it works, but the producers were trying to do something new and I applaud that.”

So I think it is important to distinguish between “I didn’t like this film” and “this film is no good.” And as an ombudsman, I think this distinction is critical. Savage seemed to back himself into a corner. In fact, near the end, he rejected his position as thoroughly as one ever does in these situations. He increased his rating to 3 out of 10. But he was cheeky about it, indicating that what was wrong with the movie wasn’t really up there on the screen but rather inside his brain. He didn’t like it because he didn’t like it.

The people who liked it did a better job as ombudsmen. And I’ll go further: they make the film more enjoyable for someone about to watch it. Because they clearly got it. As I indicated before, most people watching the film will just be confused by it. This is why generally it is best to watch comedies with an audience. We all learn how to approach the film from others. And most audiences include people like me who I call “easy laughers”—people who see the humor in everything. So the four guys who like Cadavra provide a kind of introduction to how one should watch the film.

There was one bit of criticism brought up a few times that I thought was correct. The film does drag a bit in parts. To me, this is part of what is brilliant about it—what makes it something more than just good entertainment. But from the standpoint of someone who just wants to watch an enjoyable film, it doesn’t necessarily work. Both the end of the first act and the beginning of the third act are padded. This is entirely correct for genre. Even though Blamire isn’t still pushing the jokes as fast as ever, most people would find these parts a tad slow. I think these are the best parts of the film. But most people do not intend to watch the film ten times. (Although one of the guys said he watched it three time!)

Anyway, I think The Q Filmcast podcast is a much better introduction to a film than any review that you are likely to read. The conversation is very animated and often amusing. And everyone clearly takes it seriously. Even Savage had paid close attention and knew the film well. That alone is a lot more than many “critics.”

Afterword

In each episode, they come in with “top 3” lists. For example, they’ve done “child performances” (No question: Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon.) and “visionary directors” (How about: Alejandro Jodorowsky.) and so on. For this film, they wanted, “Top 3 Films with Skeletons in em’.” They mentioned the clear ones: Jason and the Argonauts and Army of Darkness. Almost as an afterthought, they mentioned one of my all time favorites: House on Haunted Hill. That was the first film I thought of when the subject came up. But I would definitely add what is clearly a strange pick, but which has an image that has stayed with me my whole life, Manhattan. “What are future generations gonna say about us?”

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Nov 23

She Didn’t Really Hate Boris Karloff

Boris KarloffOn this day in 1859, famed outlaw Billy the Kid was born. What I find interesting about him is that he was an attractive young man. And I think this is why he is alternately described as dashing and despicable. The biggest prejudice among humans is against the ugly and for the beautiful. The best is always assumed about attractive people. As a result, I think that Billy the Kid was a psychopath. Of course there are other issues. I don’t think a life a crime is natural even for psychopaths. We have a screwed up society that actively generates desperation and then sits back and enjoys the feeling of superiority when desperate people behave badly.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

We have met the enemy and he is us

The great screenwriter Robert Towne is 79 today. He is known in Hollywood as a “script doctor.” These are the guys who fix crappy scripts that other people have written. Or at least, that’s the theory. In practice, I’m sure that most scripts are perfectly fine. I always know there is trouble ahead when a film has too many screenwriters. It is usually an indication that the director really didn’t know what he was doing and so had many (mostly uncredited) writers hack away at it. But Towne also writes his own original scripts. The most important of these was Chinatown.

Other birthdays: Russian impressionist Konstantin Korovin (1861); Harpo Marx (1888); comedian Steve Landesberg (1936); and the president of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro (51).

The day, however, belongs to the great actor Boris Karloff who was born on this day in 1887. He is best known for his performance as Frankenstein, which he performed with great depth. (You really should own Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection.) I tend to remember him for later B films like The Raven and The Comedy of Terrors. But his greatest performance, for me, is in The Mummy. Still, I have to present the following scene from Bride of Frankenstein and not just because I have such a big crush on Elsa Lanchester. The monster acts the way all men do when women spurn them. And what is wrong with him in the end? He’s a sweet guy, “She hate me—like others”:

Happy birthday Boris Karloff!

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