Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vincent Van Gogh & Gossip

Awhile back, there was a lot of press about Van Gogh: The Life written by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White.  It's been months, and yet I continue to think about their theory regarding his death.
From "New Book Claims Vincent Van Gogh Didn't Commit Suicide" by Megan Gibson, Time Magazine, October 17, 2011The authors argue that a teenaged boy named Rene Secretan, who had a history of harassing the artist, and his brother Gaston accidentally shot van Gogh while the three were out drinking together. Although it’s widely believed that the 37-year-old artist committed suicide — having famously said,”Do not accuse anyone, it is I who wanted to kill myself” —  the authors posit that van Gogh only claimed to have shot himself in order to protect the boys.
Whatever the Truth is, I love this because it is such a great reminder that you just can't know.

Thinking about the possible alternate ending to Vincent's life leads me to think about all of the regular folk I have known, that other people have told me stories about.  Usually the information is second- or third-hand and/or based on a hazy interpretation of events that may or may not be connected.  As much as I love concocting alternate tellings of the gossip, attempting to cast the lead as a misunderstood hero, I'd happily give it up to never hear another flip comment disparaging the abilities, choices, or whatever of someone not present.  A friend of mine recently said that she thinks people should, "tell their own stories." I think this is brilliant.  And it has already led me to bite my tongue a few times.

Maybe, instead of attempting to create a picture out of an incomplete set of puzzle pieces, maybe we let the person tell us.  And, if someone's not talking, but you've got some odd shaped fragments of a picture that you're itching to link together, before you start man-handling the corners to "fit," think about your favorite movies, books, tv shows.  Most all of the characters you love and admire could be judged quite harshly.  They're flawed.  It's what makes them interesting and relatable.  You know their thoughts and their personal context, and so you understand their poor choices and root for them to find their way.  Think of those fictional characters, and then apply that same open-minded, big-hearted acceptance to the people you actually know.  Trust that the people amongst us are the leads in their own story, and that they have their reasons.  Skip past the potentially damaging conjecture and settle at simply wishing the best for them.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think making educated attempts to flesh out history should stop (if it weren't for that, I wouldn't have had this new theory about Vincent to kick around for weeks on end).  And I wouldn't necessarily choose Jesse Pinkman for a neighbor, send Jackie Peyton to pick up my prescriptions, hire Larry David to watch my cats while I'm out of town, or marry Hank Moody (on second thought, given my history, I probably would do that last one). And I am aware that certain kinds of talk about other people can be a positive (e.g., "Patton Oswalt deserves an Oscar for YOUNG ADULT." or "When are we going to tell Amanda that her blog sucks.")  

The thing is this, well, the two things are this:  1) If you're looking at another person's life and thinking you've got an open and shut case, indictment-wise -- think of Vincent.  "Of course, the crazy, ear-cutting, paint-eating drunk shot himself.  Saw that coming."  Well Super-Worldly-Knower-of-all-the-Hearts-in-all-Mankind, maybe you anticipated something, but that might not be the thing that happened, even if it kinda looks like it did, and 2) If it's even remotely possible that troubled and tormented Vincent Van Gogh had the grace to prevent young men from becoming "the ones who shot that painter," then maybe we can all give each other a bit of slack.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Man vs. Machine: The Holiday Edition - The Final Stretch, Never Alone

It's so easy to forget, but it's always true that no matter what you've got going on, you're not alone. In "Those Are Marshmallow Clouds Being Friendly" (The Paris Review, December 22, 2011) Rachael Maddux describes how, like me, her holiday retail experience was shaped by the music.
During this time, my one reliable coping mechanism was to give myself over to the power of our management-mandated holiday-themed satellite radio station. I used to believe stores played incessant Christmas music to anesthetize shoppers. But now I’m inclined to believe it’s for the sake of holiday retail employees—offering a synthetic place for their minds to drift toward, away from the maddening, small realities at hand.
Yes, the same music machine I've been battling.  I've been wrong, all wrong.  War is nothing if not a breeding ground for regrets.  Everyone was so cranky about the arrival of holiday music, that I thought my challenge would be to still love it once the holidays were done.  Yet, whatever my initial motive, the end result was the same, I made it my enemy. I was mistaken to rigidly attempt to pace myself for the long-haul, as though I could mete out my fondness with precision control. It seems I should have relaxed and simply been thankful to have a friend with me at work each day.  It's right there in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, "The world is your snowball, just for a song.  Get out and roll it along." (For the record: The Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin version of this song is the gold standard).

This could be post-holiday grief come early.  When you lose someone, it's natural spend a spell thinking of what more you could have done.  During all those early mornings alone on the dark, empty 3rd floor, sometimes as early as 4am to prepare the store for shoppers, I danced, whistled and sang along more than I'll ever admit.  Yet while I read Ms. Maddux's piece about the candy store, I had to pause and wonder if I had done enough.

But I did.  I did just enough. I showed up and was present when it was time, I'm not hanging on after it's over, and I did not embarrass myself overindulging on things like ornament earrings, reindeer antlers, or thinking that anyone wants anyone else to give them cologne as a gift.  It turns out, my relationship with the holidays is one of the healthiest and most functional I have.

Knowing the holidays, they'll show up next year, accompanied by exuberant and wistful music, and treat me as though I had never doubted them.  It's not a matter of the holidays forgetting, or choosing to rise above my behavior, they'll just get on with who they are and what they do.  And they'll let me do the same.  Or, like this year (and probably more years than I am aware), they'll actually help me do what I do.  Whatever it is that year.

Nope, never alone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Man vs. Machine: The Holiday Edition - Missive from the Front Lines

I am battle weary, but I soldier on.  Though I catch myself lost in the thousand yard stare, I have not yet resorted to earplugs.  I am confident the war will be won, but if I do not return, tell future generations I was a Jennifer, and not a Bailey.  It'll make for a better park statue.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

HOLIDAY | 1938 | aka The 5th Avenue Anti-Stuffed Shirt and Flying Trapeze Club

“I never could decide whether I wanted to be Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, or John L. Lewis."
(Katharine Hepburn as Linda Seton in HOLIDAY)



I had to look up that quote because I wanted to be sure I got the order right.  I was pretty sure she listed those people in chronological order, because that made sense organizationally and it sounded good when said aloud.  Still, I felt compelled to diligently confirm the facts before I posted the quote on a blog that no one reads, where errors go undetected and/or can be quietly corrected.


While searching, I discovered this article ("It Happened One Decade: What the Great Depression Did to Culture," The New Yorker, September 21, 2009 by Caleb Crain) containing the fantastic idea that the sharp dialog of screwball was an application of "the hardboiled style of crime stories to the softhearted subject matter of a couple falling in love".  


Even then, folks were embarrassed to write rom-coms and were compelled to toughen 'em up a bit.  

Sometimes a sense of shame can be beneficial. 

It might actually be tied with necessity as the mother of invention.  

Actually, when it comes to the arts, shame probably beat necessity with a TKO for the title.

But that's a tangent.  Actually this whole post will be a grab-bag of tangents.  As much as I adore this film, I'm not going to nail this post.  Which kind of breaks my heart.  Did I mention that I adore this film?  I do.  Adore it.

I had intended to write a simple, fluffy little thing about a screwball set during the holidays to kick-off the season, but now realize that starting with HOLIDAY might be a mistake.  
It's more of a late holiday season movie.  Partly because there's a key party scene that takes place on New Years Eve, and also because the tone of the film just isn't busting with anticipatory and celebratory goodwill.  Instead it feels like that bubble between the December 26th and January 1st, that window of time when the holiday decorations look precisely the same as they did on the 23rd, and have lost none of their enthusiasm, and yet they feel a bit world-weary somehow.  A really fantastic and enjoyable phenomenon, but not really right as a seasonal starter.


Plus, finding the article in the New Yorker has put my focus back on the actual non-holiday essence of the film.  The title isn't only referring to the setting of the film, nor is it only referring to the holiday in Placid where Johnny Case (Cary Grant) meets Julia Seton (Doris Nolan), it is most significantly referring to the holiday Johnny wants to take from work.  That's the holiday that ruins one romance, but ultimately lands him with the best, most appropriate mate (as all screwballs aim to do for their leads).

Johnny is a smart, athletic, self-made (as much as any one individual actually can be), capable of making money, as well as conducting himself appropriately among all classes; economically and socially mobile, one version of the American Dream is in the palm of his hands.  He's just not sure the goal of life is to "pay bills and to pile up more money" and he wants to take the time to figure out what he wants his life to be about.


Referring to my screwball hymnal, Screwball Comedy:  A Genre of Madcap Romance, it makes reference to a 1938 article in Time Magazine that defined the chief problem of HOLIDAY as "The prospect of having too much money."  Although that is certainly a screwball dilemma to have, I'm not sure that's quite right (but I need to read the actual article before totally ripping that theory apart).

The thing is, Johnny seems fine with having money.  When he learns that his fiance is one of those Seton's he says that he wishes he'd known earlier because he'd have proposed to her in two days instead of ten, and he equates discovering her wealth as discovering she could play piano ("I'd be delighted, wouldn't I?").  Plus he's set to earn millions from a deal of his own construction, so he's definitely not anti-money, he's just wise enough to know it's not the end all be all.

And that is how Linda Seton comes to be the correct pairing for Johnny.  She knows the limitations of money, she's had it all her life.  She saw wealth go from a positive freeing thing when her Grandfather earned it, to becoming a limiting and constrictive thing when her father labored to preserve it.

If I haven't sucked all the fun out of it, you should watch this film at some point between Christmas and New Year's. It's a nice prompt by way of getting your priorities sorted out and re-established for the fresh batch of 365 days coming down the pike.  Also, thanks to the state of our world economy, the comedy and concerns of this film don't feel at all dated.

Screwball Checklist:


Comic anti-hero struggling to identify and/or earn the best, most appropriate partner?
Johnny isn't an anti-hero in that he is failing or flailing, he's an anti-hero in that he's rejecting the status quo.  He has the ability to be a full-speed ahead hero, but choses to be something different.  Better, actually.

Class conflict?
The film makes it very tempting to draw the lines of the conflict along lines of education.  Johnny has an academic couple as his best friends and a sort of moral center, and their presence keeps him from being absorbed by the two Seton's preoccupied with status and propriety.  It seems the class conflict here is really about values.  It feels like opportunities are fairly equal among this cast of characters, but each made different choices based on what they value in life.  Julia Seton and her father are classy people because of what they have, while Johnny, Linda Seton and Ned Seton and Johnny's academic friends are classy people because of what they do.


Urban setting?
NYC.  As per usual.  Though this one sticks nearly exclusively to the 5th Avenue Seton mansion, and the contrast between the grand museum-like rooms and the cozy childhood playroom.  

Value placed on child-like outlook?
See childhood playroom.  This is where true natures are revealed, and where the "Fifth Avenue Anti-Stuffed and Flying Trapeze Club" is formed.  'nuff said.

Art & Fart?
In this case, this is probably best put as High and Low Comedy because the lowest HOLIDAY goes is pratfalls.  It travels no where near anything farty.  Still, behavior is absolutely used to define classes.  In this cast there are characters who are playful, do acrobatics, play music, sing songs, and drink, and then there are those that don't.  Guess which batch are our heroes? 

Baseline dissatisfaction with the status-quo?
This is the core conflict of the movie.  Johnny Case, Linda Seton and Ned Seton see the opportunity money affords as sacred, they just don't worship the dollar.




Released: 1938
Writer: Donald Ogden Stewart, Sidney Buchman (based on a play by Philip Barry)
Director: George Cukor
Producer: Everett Riskin
Leads: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Edward Everett Horton, Jean Dixon, Lew Ayres, Doris Nolan, Henry Kolker
Genre:  Rom-Com, Screwball
Plot Summary and reviews of HOLIDAY @ Rotten Tomatoes

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"The Vision Thing: How Marty Scorsese risked it all and lived to risk again in Hollywood." | Fast Company | December 2011/January 2012

From a feature on Martin Scorsese in the "How to Lead a Creative Life" issue of Fast Company:
"Three months ago," he remembers, gesturing to the room around us, "I had a screening here for the family. Francesca had responded to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so I decided to try It Happened One Night. I had kind of dismissed the film, which some critics love, of course, but then I realized I had only seen it on a small screen, on television. So I got a 35-millimeter print in here, and we screened it. And I discovered it was a masterpiece. The way Colbert and Gable move, their body language. It's really quite remarkable!"
It took me a few days to get through the article, but it was worth it.  And not just because it ends with Scorsese proclaiming that It Happened One Night - a screwball comedy and one of my favorite films - is a masterpiece.  I don't need that kind of validation.  Scorsese.  Pfft.

Take the time to read this article, or at least skim for quotes, it'll be worth your while.  After, if you feel like it wasn't time well spent, read it again. Read it 'til you get it.

I have more to say, but that'll have to do. For now, at least.

Oh, and, in case I don't return to this subject: Thank goodness Mr. Scorsese made Hugo. In an alternate reality it ended up in different hands, and the result was tragic.

I don't have more to say on that bit.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Home for the Holidays | 1995 | Screwball-ish Thanksgiving Holiday Family Dramedy (Worst Yet Most Descriptive Blog Post Title Ever)

My plan was to write about Home for the Holidays well ahead of Thanksgiving, but it's now the Sunday after.  I just finished hastily writing out the post below because I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.  Essentially, there are over 340 days potent with the opportunity to prevent me from writing about this Thanksgiving holiday movie during the 2012 Window of Thanksgiving Relevance.  When you look at it that way, this post isn't half-assed and a little bit late, it is one individual attempting to beat on against the current... via sad little blog posts about movies.



Home for the Holidays may not be a card-carrying member of the screwball genre, but it is definitely welcome at the meetings.  It likely never aimed to be anything like a screwball, and it looks nothing like a screwball, and yet it ticks quite a few of the screwball boxes.

Claudia (Holly Hunter) is just the sort of comic anti-hero found in screwballs - smart, articulate, a bit of a mess, and destined to be paired with the most appropriate partner possible within the span of the film.  Also, like a few other screwballs (Bringing Up BabyIt Happened One Night among them) the film sends their cosmopolitan and urbane leads out to some version of wilderness (in this case it's the suburbs) providing opportunity to gather fresh perspective on their personal status-quo and make changes accordingly.



On the note of status quo, in most screwballs the lead is dissatisfied with it, while in this film it's the lead and pretty much everyone else. And this unease is linked to the class conflict in the film, which takes a different shape here than most screwball.  In Depression Era Screwball Comedies, the class conflict is between the classes, here it's within a class.  It's the mid-20th century American middle class beginning to realize its Golden Age is ending, or has ended, and is unsure how to proceed.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Screwball Tweet | Amtrak, Men and Style


















This tweet might be a reference to NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  Which isn't a screwball comedy.   So, why do I care?  Why post it here?

Well, you can find a good amount of both trains and Cary Grant in screwball comedies - oddly, not at the same time.

Plus, screwball tends to be the opposite of everything contemporary Amtrak too. Style-wise.

And that is the behind-the-scenes story that led to my sharing this tweet as a post here on this blog.

Scintillating, yeah?

I know. I just took a perfectly pithy tweet and pooped all over it.

Man vs. Machine: The Holiday Edition

I'm a merchandising temp at a department store, ensuring you all have access to jeans bedazzled with rhinestones, tops featuring cats in Santa hats and other holiday apparel necessities.  And, on November 1, the machine at my job started playing Christmas music.

Now, keep in mind, everything negative at this retail establishment is actually good fortune waiting to be revealed.  For example:  According to some numbers gathered and crunched by off-site, mother-ship management, we are an "Opportunity Store".  In layman's terms, that means we are a "No Place To Go but Up Store."

Accordingly, I see my work soundtrack as an opportunity to slurp from the goblet of holiday cheer, and drink that music machine under the table.

Not that I see Christmas music as a negative, but it seems most people hate, hate, hate-y, hate, hate it.  Or claim to.  As often as possible.  Customers and employees alike started complaining about the music before it even started.  Anticipatory kvetching.  Not me.  I love the holidays:  the music, the decorations, the lights, the movies, the cocktails, the city sidewalks...  busy sidewalks...  dressed in holiday style.

To me, it's like everything else, there are pros and cons, good and bad, on the whole, though, I am thumbs-up on it all.  I love it when I am fortunate enough to get a fully festive year.  And I also love it when everything about the season - the love, the sharing, the reunion, the belonging - is absent from my life, and the whole institution seems established only to mock me at every turn.  Because, even then, especially then, I find comfort thinking about all of the people whose turn it is to live in a Marshmallow World that year.

I tend to think that life is like a big, complex, large-scale game of musical chairs.  If you're standing, you'll get another chance at a chair soon.  If you've got a chair, you'll lose it soon enough, so enjoy it while it lasts.  It's totally random and unfair, but it can be fun.  Can be.

Sure, it would be ideal to not start with Christmas right after Halloween.  The classy thing would be to wait until Thanksgiving is done, but there just aren't any good Thanksgiving songs.  What's a store with a healthy profit motive to do?  And that's the thing, as much as folks hate that the season kicks into gear right after Halloween, it works or the stores wouldn't do it.  Perhaps y'all doth detest too much.

No matter.  My ears are deaf to your objections.  I am engaged in battle.  And that machine doesn't know what it's up against.

You might be wondering, in this battle between the music playing machine and Amanda, what will victory look like?  Like me, of course.



Don't forget:  November 25 is Buy Nothing Day - enjoy!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Update on my relationship with Simon Schama and its potential impact on my future


Since last April when I posted about wanting to be his drinking buddy, and in spite of the visit by a horrified Me-from-About-Twenty-Years-Ago, I have become an official Simon Schama fan.

His name is doodled on all of my PeeChee folders, and I've got Schama TM ice cream dishes, pajamas, posters, throw pillows, eyeglasses guaranteed to make any idiot look fully smarty-pants - the works.  Actually, I have only watched The Power of Art, read Scribble, Scribble, Scribble, watched The American Future: A History, read a bunch of random articles, and watched a new Charlie Rose interview.

Me-from-About-Twenty-Years-Ago has not reappeared.  Schama was likely both the straw that broke her back and forced her to become a time traveller, as well as the tip of the iceberg.  For her I imagine the visit a bit like stopping in on an elderly parent, thinking you'll start helping out once a week to bridge gaps caused by dottiness, only to learn there's nothing but full-speed batty going on and it's time hire a professional caretaker.

If I know me, I'll bet that she is back in the past force flapping butterfly wings, chucking stones into ponds, and desperately creating any and all kinds of ripples in hopes something will alter this future of hers.

I applaud her efforts, and I hope that she is successful making some changes, but I also hope Simon isn't lost in the shake-up.  I really think she could learn to like him.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Guy Who Talks About the Garfield Movie Too Much | Zach Galifianakis

This was on a perpetual loop in my head today.  If I had actually talked to people, this is probably all that would have come out.



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Flick Chicks by Mindy Kaling | The New Yorker | October 3, 2011

"But what I’d really like to write is a romantic comedy. This is my favorite kind of movie. I feel almost embarrassed revealing this, because the genre has been so degraded in the past twenty years that saying you like romantic comedies is essentially an admission of mild stupidity. But that has not stopped me from enjoying them."

Read full article @ The New Yorker site.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

DIY Double Feature: FUNNY FACE & BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK

I want to recommend that you watch A MAN NAMED PEARL & BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK, but two documentaries looks more like homework than Double Feature Fun, so I'll save Pearl for another time.  Though you'll get extra credit if you spend an evening with those two gents.  They just might change your life.

This DIY Double Feature is two films about fashion, but really about authenticity and artifice, art and commerce:  FUNNY FACE & BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK.

First watch FUNNY FACE.  Enjoy the color.  Absorb the style.  Take it for all it's worth.  Accept it for what it is.



Then watch BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK, and be thoroughly charmed (and hopefully inspired).  Bill thinks the world would be dreary if everyone dressed like him, I think the world would be markedly better if everyone acted a bit like him.

Then buy me a drink and I'll reminisce about times I never lived and people I don't know.  Buy me two drinks and I'll start quoting Bill ("Who the hell wants a kitchen and a bath?"), and I'll rattle off evidence of the lack of soul in our society these days (starting with the Carnegie Hall hullabaloo), and then I'll chastise myself for being no better, and then I'll transition to talking about how I've wasted my life in all the ways that matter, and...  I don't recommend you ever buy me more than one drink. 



If you're allergic to musicals, skip FUNNY FACE and pair one of the following with BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK:
SEPTEMBER ISSUE
VALENTINO:  THE LAST EMPEROR
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (the Stanley Tucci film w/ Emily Blunt)

Looking at that list, it's clear to me that Bill beats all.  Grace Coddington (September Issue) is a distinguished also-ran.

Enjoy!



FUNNY FACE
Released: 1957
Director: Stanley Donen
Writer:  Leonard Gershe
Leads: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson
Plot summary and what not of FUNNY FACE @ Wikipedia

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
Released: 2010
Director:  Richard Press
Leads: Bill Cunningham
Plot summary and what not of BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK @ Wikipedia

Thursday, October 20, 2011

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE | 1944 | Spooky Screwball

Halloween.  I don't know enough about its history to compare its origins to the ways we currently observe it, and explore how the differences reflect how we're evolving as a people.

And you can thank goodness for that.  I know I do.

However, based on what I do know, both then and now Halloween seems to have a strong component of wish fulfillment.  Way back when it was about hoping that if you celebrated the dead, perhaps the creeps wouldn't jump you or your livestock during the long, dark, vulnerable winter nights.  Now it's about hoping that if you get drunk enough to believe you're making the sexy nurse costume work, then everyone else will too.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE is delightful, suspenseful, takes place on Halloween, and dramatizes one of my greatest wishes:  To be sat down and told I'm not related to my family.  That sounds mean, but it's not.  Despite my best efforts, I assure you they have the same wish.



Mortimer (Cary Grant) is a famous New York theater critic who wrote a book called Marriage:  A Fraud and a Failure,"an sneered at every love scene in every play.  (In other words, me as a teenager and young adult).  When we meet him, Mortimer is in line at the Marriage License Bureau preparing to marry Elaine, the girl next door (literally).  After, the newlyweds head back to Brooklyn so he can tell his Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha, and she can tell her minister father, before they head off to Niagara Falls for a honeymoon.

While at his Aunt's home, Mortimer discovers a dead man hidden in the window seat.  At first he figures his Uncle Teddy, who believes he's Theodore Roosevelt, has progressed to murder.  Teddy's sisters quickly clarify that they poisoned Mr. Hoskins (the man in the window seat), and that Teddy had nothing to do with it.  Well, except that as part of his delusion, he digs locks for the Panama Canal in the basement (which Abby and Martha then use to bury their victims).

Mortimer now feels like he needs to take care of his family by ensuring the murdering stops and that no one ever finds out, not even his new wife, sitting next door, waiting to go on their honeymoon.  His efforts are further complicated when his brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) returns home with a plastic surgeon named Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre).  The two have a dozen murders in their rear-view mirror, a fresh kill in their car (a "hot stiff on their hands" as Dr. Einstein calls it), and have recently escaped a prison for the "criminally insane".  Their immediate plan is to hide-out at the aunts house, and while they're there, have the alcoholic doctor to give Jonathan a new face so he can't be identified and hauled back to the big house.

Technically this may not be a screwball comedy, but I'm going to make an argument for it because it's October, so...

The way this study is shaping up, it seems the primary indices of screwball are:  something to do with marriage (getting engaged, married, or divorced), some kind of class conflict, adults struggling with what society expects from grown-ups (comic anti-heroes and general dissatisfaction with status-quo), a primarily cosmopolitan setting (though often the adventure of the story occurs in the country), a mixture of high and low comedy, and alcohol.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE doesn't handle all of these traits in the ways most Classic Screwballs do.  Most notable is that the alcohol isn't cocktails in a nightclub, a posh hotel room, or on a butler's tray - it's in a glass carafe on a sturdy wood table in a quaint Brooklyn house.  And it's poison (not in a "choose your poison" way, but actual poison).

The comedy includes pratfalls and other standard screwball physical comedy, like tension from characters lingering a bit too long in certain rooms then walking out just in time to be found out (or not).  It includes a lot of the smart, sharp and witty dialog that defines screwball for a lot of folks.  But there's also some more conceptual comedy about sanity, like when Teddy's thinks he might be coming down with a cold until his sister informs him that he didn't sneeze, he just heard a sneeze.

Class and setting are mixed together in that Mortimer's rabbit hole is the trip from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  He goes from famous Manhattan theater critic without a shred of domesticity, to crossing the river and finding himself dealing with serial killers, basement graves, escape convicts, a cop aspiring to be a playwright, and more, yet he's unable to walk away because it's his family.  So class is not simply rich vs. poor, but sane vs. insane, evil vs. innocent, criminal vs. lawful, nature vs. nurture, culture vs. domesticity, independence vs. interdependence, and cosmopolitan city vs. provincial borough.

Over the course of the film, Mortimer transforms from selfish, immature and romantically petulant, into a selfless family man.  Though his family is nuts, he risks his reputation to protect them.  And, once he's aware precisely how seriously crazy his family is, he attempts to cut Elaine loose to shield her from the insanity.  It's a dramatic change, but it's so seamless that it goes down easy and is totally believable.  Ultimately - 67 year old spoiler alert! - Mortimer learns he is not actually related to his aunts, his uncle or his brother, and so he can be with Elaine.  And after the events of the evening, he now knows what that really means, and it's not anything to do with all the trite cliches that had previously turned him off marriage and the like.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE covers all of the Screwball Comedy bases (at least my working definition), plus it is every bit as strong as the films on the Classic Screwball list, so I'm calling it Screwball.  It's my blog, I can do that.

Happy Halloween!


Released:  1944 (filmed in 1941)
Writer:  Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein (based on play by Joseph Kesselring)
Director:  Frank Capra
Producer:  Frank Capra, Jack L. Warner
Leads:  Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, Peter Lorre, John Alexander, Raymond Massey, Priscilla Lane
Genre:  Black Comedy

Friday, October 7, 2011

In Honor of Occupy Wall Street et. al.



Yeah, it's relevant.

It's easy to lose focus in the face of entertaining distractions and delicious beverages.

To the protestors in the streets, please forgive those of us who are focused on keeping afloat, looking the other way, and meliorating our frustrated existence with a steady stream of comedy and light entertainments.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs Apple Thank You [sic]

Today there was a gentleman in fatigues and sneakers, standing on the street, holding a sign that read "Steve Jobs / Apple / Thank you".  I only wish that the steel drum guy from yesterday had returned again today to play "Penny Lane," because that would have rounded out the pleasant incongruity of the scene for me.

It wasn't only because the gentleman looked more like he, of all people on the street corner, would be voted "Most Likely to be Holding a Support Our Troops Sign" (that was actually on the back of his sign), but because it was a note of gratitude, to Steve Jobs, on a handmade sign, on a street corner.  Not a status update, not a tweet, and not even a print-out.

Words on paper, on a stick, held by a human, in open air.  It can still be disarmingly effective.  It got my attention.  More than that, though.  Of all the words about Steve Jobs' death I read and heard today, I vote this one "Most Likely to Be Remembered By Me".


The Gentleman.  Captured on an iPhone.

Friday, September 30, 2011

It can't work like this. You're a dog. I have cats.

My apartment building is surrounded by one way streets and at certain times of the day, while searching for parking, I can get caught in traffic, at the same intersection, multiple times.  The other day I was zoning out on a red light when I felt eyes on me, I looked up and found them instantly.  It was a dog.  It was sitting on a bed placed in a large floor to ceiling window just above some storefronts.

He sat there kind of Sphinx-style, apparently zoned out on me in the same way I had been on the red light.  At least, this is what I thought.  But then I questioned my theory.  Surely he was just looking into the middle distance, or a bug on his window, or any number of things not me.  

Yes, I am aware I am using "he" when I don't really know about this dog.  It's because of what happened next, something I've shared with a he or two.  What happened is this (I swear), his eyes pulled focus and realized I was looking at him, looking at me.  Then his eyes started darting around.  At first super-awkwardly, like he was trying to look at anything but me, and then he regained composure and slowly moved his head as if to say, "I was just scanning the street, and you just happened to be in my line of sight."

I am completely aware this is not the most likely interpretation of events, but it's what seemed to have happened, it's what it felt like.  Additionally, this version of reality makes me laugh, and so I'm going with it.  Actually, I'm going with that, and a bit more.

The light turned green.  As I turned the corner I thought of this guy I once knew, who I hadn't thought of in awhile, who was charmingly, endearingly awkward.  In the same manner as the dog.  And it might not have been his first choice to be reincarnated as a dog, but it would definitely have been in his top three.  And if he wanted it, if there's any justice in this world at all, he got it.

I circled the block and failed to find parking.  Even the second time around, he continued to look at me.

The dog.



Sunday, September 25, 2011

DIY Double Feature | TRUMBO & ONE, TWO, THREE | Blows, Blowing, Blowed

This DIY Double Feature is two Cold War films.

Watch TRUMBO first because it's slightly more heartbreaking than it is inspiring (just slightly), and so it might leave you feeling a bit defeated.  Like, no matter how talented and skilled you are, and even if you're...  well, right, you can still get totally fucked by the current events of your day.  And if that's the case, what chance do the rest of us commoners stand?

Watch ONE, TWO, THREE second, because it's like a feature-length political cartoon that plays a different aspect of the same era for laughs.  It never tries to tell you that things are anything less than fucked up, but it does seem to want to help you shrug it all off and enjoy your life...  no matter which way the wind blows over your days.

And, odds are, it will blow.
Totally.


Clip from Trumbo


Opening scene from One, Two, Three

Saturday, September 24, 2011

ARTHUR | 2011 | Probably Better on Paper.

When it was announced that a remake of Arthur was on the way and that Russell Brand would be taking on the role defined by Dudley Moore, it feels like there was a lot of indignant outrage flying about.  I have nothing to back up that assertion.  I just recall observing people who were clearly passionate about the original film, and yet were acting in a decidedly un-Arthur way about the remake.  I'm pretty sure it was people and not person.  If it were person, I'd share an anecdote because it would be a singular memory.  So, you're going to have to trust me when I say there was a minor controversy about casting this film.

This is what I have to say to the, possibly made-up, people outraged about what they thought was the Arthur 2011 Castastrophe:  Perhaps Russell Brand is no Dudley Moore, but he's no Dane Cook either.  Of all currently available options by way of casting the title role of an Arthur remake, the best one happened.

Meanwhile some folks, many of the same folks, seemed to think the whole idea of remaking Arthur at all was misguided, regardless of casting.  I took a wait-and-see approach with this complaint, but kind of felt like I'd end up agreeing.  But it turns out that story-wise, the Arthur remake is actually slightly stronger than the original.  Sadly, those strengths were weakened by the direction, and so in the battle of Arthur (1981) vs. Arthur (2011), I think we can call it a draw.




Sunday, August 21, 2011

Greatest Generation Came Out Fighting

I recently visited my Dad at Willamette National Cemetery.  I tend to think that when I die, that'll be it - over and out; but that's not what my Dad believed, so just in case it's a "chose your own adventure" situation, I stop by from time to time.  I have much more to say about that topic, but theories about the possibilities of an afterlife have to take a back seat to my Dad's neighbor, a guy who completely stole my attention.



















The guy was born December 1942 and yet he still saw action.  Considering the Germans surrendered in May 1945, and Japan surrendered in September 1945, Mr. Christensen wasn't quite three years-old and he was a fighter.  Greatest Generation, indeed.

Perhaps someone filled out the form wrong, and listed the date Mr. Christensen enlisted in the Army instead of his date of birth.  Still, how did it get this far?  What's the story here?

I have a few theories that reach beyond bureaucratic mistake.  My favorite is that it's some sort of Jason Bourne / Captain Jack Harkness situation.

Also puzzling, "Together Forever" is a sentiment usually used when two people are buried next to each other.  I think that is done at this cemetery, but it doesn't seem to be the case here since there's only one name on this stone.  And if the other name isn't there yet, then why not wait for that eventuality and put the 2nd name plus the together bit down all at once?  I don't see any efficiencies gained by jumping the gun on togetherness.  Not here anyway.

I also wonder if I'll continue to ponder far-fetched and elaborate explanations, or if I'll do some investigating.  The most likely next step of this discovery is that someone will provide evidence and/or explanation that will make me look like a dope for even giving a second glance at my Dad's neighbor.  That's usually how it goes whenever I get all fired up about something and start going all Khrushchev shoe-slamming about it, someone will tap me on the shoulder and say, "Uh, Amanda, actually it's true, 2+2 does equal 4."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

TWENTIETH CENTURY | 1934 | Per Viv and Larry

Nice little bit of well deserved praise for TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934) here.

It's from the good looking Viv and Larry blog that's devoted to the equally good looking Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier.  Spend some time there, it'll be worth your while.

My post on TWENTIETH CENTURY can be found here.  It borders on treatise and occasionally veers off-topic, so you may want to make yourself a snack before clicking through.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Christmas in July | 1940 | Part 2

My initial post on Christmas in July wasn't my most comprehensive work, and so I have decided to circle back and try to actually contribute something to this study I created.

I have two things to say about this film:

1.
This Sturges comedy feels like Screwball, but doesn't hit the classic markers in an obvious way.  There are class struggles here, but the posh, heavily drinking, NYC society isn't present - which is kind of what I think of when I think of Screwball.  I'm learning there's more to Screwball, but I think I'm always going to note when the drunk East Coast elite are absent in a film considered to be part of the genre.

I have a feeling this is Screwball in disguise, similar to Hail the Conquering Hero.  I called that one "Screwball Victory Garden-Style," which I imagine could make Christmas in July a "Dry Screwball" (Yikes! That sounds unpleasant!)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

CHRISTMAS IN JULY | 1940 | It's so funny.



I may write more on Christmas in July later, but I might not.  In some ways it seems silly, because the subtext of anything I'd write is fully covered in this guy's YouTube review; but, then, I started this damn blog so I should make an effort.  Time will tell if I do or not.

Regardless of whether I revisit this film and share some of my sparklingly brilliant thoughts on how it fits in the Screwball/Rom-Com family tree, you should watch it.  It's only 67 minutes long, and someone has it posted the whole thing on YouTube.  So, watch it.  It's funny.  So funny.


Released:  1940
Writer/Director:  Preston Sturges
Producer:  Paul Jones, Buddy G. DeSylva
Leads:  Dick Powell, Ellen Drew, William Demarest
Genre:  Romantic Comedy
Read more about CHRISTMAS IN JULY @ Wikipedia.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE | Variety Review | December 31, 1937



Below is the crazy accurate 1937 Variety review of BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE (entire review below and link to review on Variety site at end of post).
Par's talker remake of the Alfred Savoir farce [in the American version by Charlton Andrews], a thin piece basically, isn't given much more heft under the Lubitsch touch or with the celluloid trimmings. It's a light and sometimes bright entertainment, but gets a bit tiresome, despite its comparatively moderate running time. 
Once the premise is established that Claudette Colbert wants to deflate the multi-millionaire Gary Cooper, who buys his wives - seven of 'em prior to her - as he buys a fancy motor car, making pre-marriage settlements with them, etc, it then becomes an always obvious farce. 
Atmosphere is rich and French. It starts on the Riviera and wanders over the European map, focusing finally in Paris. The Brackett-Wilder scripting is ofttimes bright but illogical and fragile. 
Edward Everett Horton is more or less of a bit as her father and the rest are casual. David Niven has a mild opportunity and Herman Bing, with his characteristic style, is another who makes his rather light chore stand up.

As much as I love Lubitsch and Wilder, I don't disagree with a single thing in this review.  Watching movies that are more than 70 years old, I do sometimes wonder how much I'm missing, not getting, or put off by schtick that landed solidly with audiences back in the day.  It's comforting to think I might have been getting it all, all along.

It occurs to me that as much as I love the genre, I have been keeping the films at a distance.  I have been marveling at their modernity the way one is impressed with a dog taught to dance the meringue.  Maybe I was confusing old with old-fashioned, but what I had been identifying as "surprisingly modern" is actually "human," and the humanity evident in these films is what makes them timeless.

That the Variety reviewer saw the same weaknesses in Bluebeard's Eighth Wife that I did makes me realize I don't have to wear archival gloves on my brain when discussing these films.  Coming at the things full-force won't hurt my precious pet genre, and it might actually do me some good to use my fucking brain.  Now, don't get your hopes up.  My new resolution to let grey matter run free may not result in Seabiscuit level discourse, but I'm pretty confident I can pull up something on par with Mr. Ed.  In other words, don't look for a magnificent or impressive steed, but you can safely expect something mildly amusing (as far as free entertainment goes).


Variety Review of BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE | December 31, 1937

Screwball Study on BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE | September 1, 2010


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Art & Fart: Louis CK on The Daily Show

This clip doesn't have a lot to do with Screwball Comedies, but it has much to do with the whole intersection of highbrow and lowbrow comedy that is an element of Screwball (filed on this blog under "Art/Fart").

I don't imagine any Screwball will ever boast a 42 second long fart, but it's possible.  Perhaps there will be a Millennial Recession Screwball Renaissance and audiences will be delighted by that and more.

"You don't have to be smart to laugh at farts, but you have to be stupid not to." (Louis C.K.)

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Great McGinty | 1940 | Screwball-free Sturges




The Great McGinty is a political satire, but it's still awful fun - if you're into that sort of thing.

This film is neither Screwball nor Romantic Comedy, but it's here on this blog because it is one of the Seven Wonders of Sturges.  It belongs here out of respect if nothing else.

According to the lore on the Internets, Sturges sold this story as a package deal - the studio got a solid screenplay for $10 and he got to direct his first feature.  If not for this Oscar winning screenplay there might not be as many as seven wonders, there might not be any.  This is the start of Sturges as we know him.

Though without this film there could have been more plays.  And maybe some Tony awards too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

EP DIY Double Feature: THE TREE OF LIFE & THE POWER OF ART

If you're thinking of going to see THE TREE OF LIFE, consider watching THE POWER OF ART first.  You don't need to watch the entire eight hour series, maybe just pick one or two artists.  I think Rothko is an especially appropriate episode, but you can't really go wrong with any of 'em.



I spent the first 30 minutes of THE TREE OF LIFE talking myself into staying in my seat.  Part of me really resisted it, and found the whole thing annoying, pretentious, indulgent, unfocused, and/or possibly a brilliantly subtle satire of a bad art-house film.  The more adventurous part of me found a way to silence all of that bluster, and I eventually relaxed into the film.  I won't go so far as to say that I got it, but I think I got a hint of the essence of the thing.

Both Simon Schama and Terrence Malik are focused on transcendence through art - Mr. Schama analyzing, and Mr. Malik creating - potent images used to evoke huge sensations, and to put a person in mind of the big, the eternal...  life.

I frequently hear people referencing the E.M. Forester quote, "only connect," as if it were the final word on the goal of any creation.  It is a top-notch notion, but its significance has been diluted through overly generous interpretations.  Now, it's as if a shared chuckle over a spit-take counts as such a connection.  And it does, but there's so much more that should be going on at the same time.

This is dicey territory for me, this blog exists because I wanted to examine the value of the comedy and sundry things that are often dismissed as frivolous or devoid of cultural value.  And this film and mini-series are kind of the opposite.

For now, I'm going to take the easy way out and say that there is commercial art of cultural significance, and there is art.  I think THE TREE OF LIFE is, or at least strives to be, art.  Not an art-house film, or a significant film worthy of academic study and/or screenings at universities and museums, but plain, flat-out, art.

As per usual lately, I am having difficulty being articulate.  And, obviously, individual results with this sort of Extended Play DIY Double Feature will vary.  But, if you've ever played a Beatles record backward, if you've ever watched THE WIZARD OF OZ while listening to DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, and especially if you've never done either of these - you owe it to yourself to watch an episode or two of THE POWER OF ART, then go see THE TREE OF LIFE.

If you're lucky, like me, your experience will be something like this:  You'll watch THE POWER OF ART and wish that your teachers had zipped-it and run Simon Schama DVDs all semester, because - odds are - your entire life would be better; and then while watching THE TREE OF LIFE you will feel conflicted and uncomfortable and awestruck by Stan-Winston-meets-KOYAANISQATSI images that shouldn't work, but really do (cumulatively if not immediately); and then you'll leave the theater to sit in your car and cry.  Just for a little bit.  Just enough.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Variety Review of MY MAN GODFREY: Genesis of the Genus?

On Blogdanovich today, Peter Bogdonavich writes that Screwball as a genre got its name from a 1935 review of MY MAN GODFREY (full review and link to Variety post is below the clip).

Actually the brief Variety review just says she's a screwball character, but I don't have a reason to argue with the assertion that this ultimately defined the genre.  In younger days I might have gone in pursuit of "fact" or "truth" but this assertion seems as good to me as any other possibility.  Besides Bogdanovich is a fan of screwball, plus the guy kinda knows a thing or two about film, and so it feels like I should be deferentially collaborative.  At least until I have a good reason not to.

As a reward for skimming through the blah, blah, blah above, here's a fun clip:




MY MAN GODFREY | by Variety Staff | December 31, 1935 
William Powell and Carole Lombard are pleasantly teamed in this splendidly produced comedy.  Story is balmy, but not too much so, and lends itself to the sophisticated screen treatment of Eric Hatch's novel. 
Lombard has played screwball dames before, but none so screwy as this one. Her whole family, with the exception of the old man, seem to have been dropped on their respective heads when young. Into this punchy society tribe walks Powell, a former social light himself who had gone on the bum over a woman and is trying to become a man once more in butler's livery. He straightens out the family, as well as himself. 
Alice Brady, as the social mother in whom the family's psychopathic ward tendencies seemingly originate, does a bangup job with another tough part. Gail Patrick, as Lombard's sparring partner-sister, is excellent. Eugene Pallette, as the harassed father, and Mischa Auer, in a gigolo role, a beautiful piece of sustained comedy playing and writing, are both fine. 
1936: Nominations: Best Director, Actor (William Powell), Actress (Carole Lombard), Supp. Actor (Mischa Auer), Supp. Actress (Alice Brady), Screenplay


Earlier post on Screwball Study:  MY MAN GODFREY | 1936 | Then and Now

Sunday, May 22, 2011

BRIDESMAIDS | 2011 | Classic Screwball Made Modern




Annie (Kristen Wiig) has a failed bakery in her recent past, an x-boyfriend who bailed when times got hard, a sad little broken-down car, a not great job she doesn't do very well, a couple of invasive and unpleasant roommates, and a relationship she's hoping is something more than a fuck-buddy situation (but it clearly isn't).

Her self-esteem is so low that she doesn't even notice that the cop who pulled her over is a nice guy, easy on the eyes, and totally flirting with her.

And now, she's failing her Maid of Honor duties for her long-standing best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), and terrified she's losing the title as well as the friendship to the beautiful, intelligent, wealthy, and obnoxiously competent event planner, Helen (Rose Byrne).  

If Apatow films are bromances at their core, then this is a womance.  The core relationship in this film is not Annie's romance with Officer Nathan (Chris O'Dowd), but her friendship with Lillian.  And it's that relationship that ticks a whole lot of screwball comedy boxes.  Let's go to the list...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO | 1944 | Screwball Victory Garden Style



Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith's father is a war hero, but he has just been booted out of the Marines after one month due to chronic hay fever.  While stewing on a bar stool, feeling like a failure, Woodrow happens to cross-paths with a batch of Marines (led by William Demarest) who deliver him home in a war-hero package.  Small, well-meaning, insignificant lies swell, and soon Woodrow (Eddie Bracken) is responsible for a massive boondoggle of his Mom, his girl and his entire beloved hometown.

This is screwball with a ration book.  The class conflict here isn't between the haves and have-nots of the Great Depression, it's between the powerful and powerless of WWII, with military and politicians as the haves and regular folk as the have-nots.

It's an inventive wartime reinterpretation of classic screwball, and is solidly successful screwball-wise, comedy-wise and rom-com-wise.  Though the nightclub isn't bright or posh and the music isn't lively or sexy - our heroes arrive broke and/or depressed, the windows are blacked out, and the singer croons about "Dear Old Mother" - it's still screwball.  Like other screwball antiheros, Woodrow must battle to preserve his integrity and earn his girl, only rather than dealing with a Manhattan businessman he's got to outsmart a pack of Jarheads and the civic leaders of his hometown.  Similar power issues, different players.  

Eddie Bracken and William Demarest are delightful in this wise, fair, and fully merciless lampoon of all America holds dear, but so rarely gets right.


Related Reading:
"When We Hated Mom," (New York Times, May 7, 2011)
Article about the changing perception, image and role of Mom in America.


Released: 1944
Director/Producer: Preston Sturges
Leads: Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines, William Demarest
Writer: Preston Sturges (Oscar Nomination, also nominated for "The Miracle at Morgan's Creek" - same year, same category)
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Screwball
@ Amazon:  Hail the Conquering Hero

Sunday, May 8, 2011

THE AWFUL TRUTH | 1937 | Adults Become Grown-Ups




Leo McCarey.  Look him up.  Watch his stuff.  THE AWFUL TRUTH, DUCK SOUP, LAUREL AND HARDY, and more.  Do it.

On with the post...

THE AWFUL TRUTH begins with Jerry Warriner returning home to his wife after a trip to Florida (with a basket of California oranges to prove it).  Instead he finds an empty house.  Eventually his wife Lucy returns home after spending the night with her voice instructor (due to some car trouble).

We know that Jerry wasn't where he said he was, but we're not sure about Lucy's story, and so it feels like his guilty conscience is what makes it impossible for him to believe her innocence.  They quickly argue themselves into divorce.

In the divorce she gets custody of the dog, Mr. Smith, but Jerry gets visitation rights.  Which means he's around when Lucy begins dating Dan, an Oklahoma oilman (Ralph Bellamy).  Jerry does what he can to mess up the relationship.  Nothing mean-spirited, mostly he just pushes situations to prove the mismatch.  Of course witty dialog and hilarious hi-jinks ensue.  Just when it seems Jerry and Lucy are on track for the inevitable reunion, the voice instructor reappears resulting in both Dan and Jerry leaving Lucy (this is one of the best scenes of the film).

Next, Jerry takes up with an heiress who has "millions of dollars and no sense," and it's Lucy's turn to show him that the choice he's made isn't a good one, and get her husband back before their divorce is final.

As far as Classic Screwball characteristics, this one has cocktails, nightclubs, class conflict, urban living, and a pet dog as stand-in for child (linking romantic couple).  Contrary to the standard screwball anti-hero, Jerry is pretty capable in life (except, perhaps married life).  He is neither pauper, nor a self-made tycoon, nor inheritor of old money, but he is successful financially and socially.  The only time he gets flustered, frustrated, acts ridiculous and fails is when he's not being entirely straight with Lucy.  She challenges him in ways other women do not, and he needs it.  Without Lucy, he dates club singer and a wealthy heiress.  Each young and boring, and incapable of seeing his childish, manipulative ways.

And this is another way the film diverges from a classic, blue-blood screwball comedy; Lucy isn't a loopy, wealthy heiress.  She improves his life, not by insinuating herself into his life ala BRINGING UP BABY or MY MAN GODFREY but by leaving him.

Although she gets herself into some silly situations, Lucy is not a child-like romantic lead often found in screwball comedies.  The reason the two divorce is because she is an adult, and calls Jerry on his double-standard when he won't let her off the hook for being out all night with her voice coach, and refuses to acknowledge he has done the same thing to her (at least).

One other twist on the Classic Screwball Rulebook is that when Jerry is close to becoming engaged to the heiress, Lucy shows up to remind Jerry they belong together.  This is notable because it's usually the other way around.  Often it's the woman who has opportunity to marry wealth but chooses the heart and authenticity of the male lead.  Here, it's Lucy who puts her heart on her sleeve and makes a public plea for the guy's heart.  She does it by showing she's smarter and classier than the singer he'd been with before, yet a whole lot more fun and genuine than the heiress he's linked to at that moment.  She does it by wearing a trashy outfit, faking drunkenness, accusing an upper-crust family of stealing her purse, and performing a tawdry dance number while pretending to be Jerry's sister - effectively terrifying his potential new in-laws.

Like Jerry, she's neither this nor that.  The awful truth is that they're a perfect match.


Released: 1937(Oscar nomination, Best Picture)
Director: Leo McCarey (Oscar win)
Leads: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne (Oscar nomination), Ralph Bellamy (Oscar nomination)
Writer:  Arthur Richman (play), Vina Delmar (Oscar nomination, Best Adapted Screenplay), Sidney Buchman (uncredited)
Genre:  Romantic Comedy, Screwball
@ Amazon:  THE AWFUL TRUTH

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dissecting a joke is like dissecting a frog, nobody is interested and the frog dies.

The "thesis" for this blog is still taking shape, but I will do my best to avoid anything like this...


The folks on this panel (The Art of the Kvetch:  Jewish Humor as Secularism, The New School University, April 29, 2011) are crazy smart, and the subject of their study isn't wholly dissimilar from where want to go with this blog, but - yawn.  This panel goes on for 98 minutes, and it's often a tough slog.

Which is probably why I've been posting to this blog sporadically.  I've been reluctant to delve too much into anything because over-thinking ruins most everything.

Yeah, that's it.

I set out to blog about the intersection of light and dark, comedy and tragedy - how sad is often funny and vice versa.  I guess this is an example of substance intersecting with comedy and causing a slow-motion fender-bender with no reported injuries...  because it was so boring the local reporter fell asleep at the scene of the accident.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Simon Schama, Drinking Buddy. Younger Amanda, Indignant.

When watching Simon Schama on Charlie Rose, I was first drawn in because Mr. Schama's mannerisms are very much like my boss at the first job I had after college.

The more I watched, the more I just wanted to go out drinking with this guy.  Something I never wanted to do with that boss.

Then there was a knock at the door, it was me from about 20 years ago, I was not given opportunity to greet her, as she started straight in with, "You want to go out drinking with British historian you saw on Charlie Rose?  Really?  Where did I go wrong?"

I could have sat her down and drawn a direct line from her to me.  Instead I just shrugged.  I had to protect her.  Her present needs to be unconcerned with the seemingly inevitable prison of lameness we eventually call home.  There's still time for her to enjoy some of her journey here, even if she can't change the destination.

That said, Simon does seem he'd be an awesome drinking buddy.

Click here to see Simon Schama's 4/14/11 visit to Charlie Rose.

















Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. Letterman.

I know this is a bit fan-girl-like, and definitely the behavior of someone much younger than I am, but I'm doing this birthday post anyway.



Friday, April 8, 2011

Shadow of a Doubt | 1943

Joseph Newton:  A bathtub.  Pull the legs out from under you, hold you down.  It's been done, but it's still good.

Charlie Newton:  Oh!  What's the matter with you two?  Do you always have to talk about killing people?

Joseph Newton:  We're not talking about killing people.  Herb's talking about killing me and I'm talking about killing him.

Emma Newton:  It's your father's way of relaxing!

Art & Fart



With this post, the Gehring definition of Screwball is officially dropped.  It's still pretty valid, and it'll probably be part of this blog going forward, it's just no longer the working definition for this study.

Cue trumpet fanfare.

The first proposed characteristic of Screwball Study's very own definition of screwball is:  Contains both high-brow and low-brow comedy.

This was inspired by listening to Trey Parker and Matt Stone on Charlie Rose.  The two talk about how they think a thing can be both art and fart jokes.  And they're right.  So right that it might also be true that a thing can't be comedy without the art.  Without art, fart jokes aren't comedy, they're just fart jokes.

I know.  I know.  That opens up a whole can of worms.  What is art?  What is comedy?  Well, the question of comedy is probably the actual question motivating this whole blog.  And now that high-brow and low-brow have been married together as a key characteristic of screwball, the question of art is now part of this study too.

You may not have noticed, but I just totally dodged writing something substantial by acknowledging that something substantial needs to be defined.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Are you going to arise to a stiffy on the day?

My Fair Colbert:  Stephen interviews British historian Hugo Vickers
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Fortune's Child (Review of ARTHUR 2011) | Reason Magazine | 2011

The most hysterical thing about the new Arthur (as opposed to the old Arthur, the 1981 movie starring Dudley Moore) is the instant wave of hatred it has drawn from the nation’s 10 million movie reviewers.

When I was a teenager I had a slight crush on Kurt Loder.  Though we've both outgrown MTV, though our politics have gone in different directions, and even though neither of us knew the other had an interest in Screwball Comedies, I still feel like I can say, "We'll always have ARTHUR."

As ridiculous and non-sensical as that statement is, it gets worse:  I haven't even seen the 2011 ARTHUR remake.  But everything Mr. Loder writes in this article is precisely what I thought about the "controversy" surrounding the remake, and everything I hope to experience when I finally see it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Howard Hawks' Monkey Business | The New Yorker | August 2009

This bit on Howard Hawks' Monkey Business reminded me of the great many charms of the film.

Although it is true that it's not a great comedy and the performances are a bit inconsistent, it's still worth watching.  Most notable are Cary Grant's two experiences with the youth serum, and the relationship between Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers as husband and wife.

There's a theory that a good movie is a few good scenes and no bad ones.  This one has a handful of good moments and more than a few awkward ones.  No scene is fully bad, but not one is entirely off-the-charts great either.  It's an okay movie, and worth watching.