Most likely there will be less posting today. I’m working on the technical side of the site. Some of it is going well, but other aspects are really frustrating. Also, I think I’m badly in need of a day off.
The great chemist Fritz Haber was born on this day in 1868. Knowledge can be used for good or for ill. He invented the process for synthesizing ammonia, which is important to fertilizers and is why we are able to feed the billions of hungry people around the world. But ammonia is also used to build bombs. And he used chlorine and other gases to create the first modern chemical weapons used in World War I. So he is often referred to as the father of chemical weapons. We humans are a mixed bag.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr was born in 1909. He was okay. I’m not a fan or anything. But I am rather fond of the racist but still very fun Gunga Din:
The great Lee J Cobb was born in 1911. He was the original Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. He also did a great job in On the Waterfront. But it’s his performance as Juror 3 in 12 Angry Men that blows me away. Estranged from his son, he wants to convict out of his latent pain of his personal loss. The scene where he tears up his son’s picture only to weep at the horror of the act is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in a movie. Here it is; watch it:
Kirk Douglas is 97 today. I’ve never been a huge fan of him as an actor. He’s okay. But apart from his acting, he’s been an impressive guy. In particular, he’s not a bad writer. He’s just a whole lot more interesting than the characters he played. I think most old people die out of boredom. There just isn’t much that interests them anymore. Douglas has kept his life interesting and I have little doubt that helps him to carry on. But the clock is ticking. He has a maximum of 27 years left.
Singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading is 63. I just love her song “The Weakness In Me.” We cannot control ourselves, especially in love. It isn’t rational. “I need to see you!”
Other birthdays: anarcho-communist philosopher Peter Kropotkin (1842); Tip O’Neill (1912); comedian Redd Foxx (1922); actor Dick Van Patten (85); comedy writer Buck Henry (83); actor Judi Dench (79); musician Junior Wells (1998); actor Beau Bridges (72); and kind of an asshole, actor John Malkovich (60).
The day, however, belongs to the great filmmaker John Cassavetes, who was born on this day in 1929. He was an actor of note, but I really don’t care. He wrote and directed some of the greatest films of the 1960s and 1970s. Forget the French New Wave (which I think is over-rated, but interesting). Cassavetes did revolutionary work. I especially like Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. What’s most important in his films is that people matter. Character is primary. And that’s important in a media (even going back to theater) where character really doesn’t matter. Characters are never pawns for the sake of Cassavetes’ plots. All kinds of filmmakers followed his lead, but in their own ways. Nothing is quite like the work that he left. Here is a scene I’ve used before but it shows the power of his work:
Happy birthday John Cassavetes!
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