Category Archives: films

The Lady Who Bulldozed Robert Moses … and more!

Robert Moses is one of those figures who are bound to stir up controversy. In the mid-20th century, Moses re-shaped Manhattan and the other boroughs with grand projects. Those grand projects were based on the idea of “city as machine”. Moses wanted to use modern technology to make the machine work better. That meant bulldozing neighborhoods for freeways. Stuff like that. People just had to adjust to the new realities. That was progress, as far as Moses saw it. And he saw himself as a visionary.

These days, this style of urban renewal has gone out of fashion. Instead of Moses as hero, we get his nemesis, Jane Jacobs as hero. And we will soon see this in a film to be released called “”Citizen Jane: Battle for the City“.

The new way of thinking is that people make the city. And treating the city like a big machine damages the human side of city life. We take James Baldwin’s comment, “Urban renewal means negro removal”. a tad more seriously.

I find it a bit odd that we embrace this as doctrine at the same time that we are awash in corporate money in our politics and elect a dude like Donald Trump to be president.  Could it be, as Elizabeth Warren argues, that we need to wake up to the way our political system has become “rigged” so that it cannot and will not deliver for the people?

Clearly, corporate power is at a high point. We want the efficiencies that cost reduction through market exploitation offers and that big corporations deliver. By and large, we are satisfied when we buy a car or shop at a supermarket. As Steve Jobs said in a different context, “it just works”.

At the same time, we may be just beginning to sense that Ayn Rand was full of baloney. Her vision of the rational and selfish heroics — a vision that captivated Alan Greenspan and led him to champion deregulating the financial system — is starting to look out of date. Contrary to Rand’s ideal, humans are not strictly rational. Research confirms that by and large, we are emotional creatures who use reason from time to time. Or as Dan Kahneman put it, we like to think fast (and act on pre-existing beliefs) rather than think slow (and question whether we know what the hell we are doing). Rand’s rational hero is not a slow thinker.

So where will this take us? Good question. It is too early to tell how the 21st century will move on from 20th-century silliness, just as the 20th century moved on from 19th-century silliness and the 19th century moved on from 18th-century silliness and the 18th century moved on from 17th-century silliness. But move on, we will.

Stay tuned.

The Omelet à La Tampopo

Did you know how to make a perfect omelet back in 1988?

Back then, I was still a bit wet behind the ears when it came to kitchen lore. I had the desire, but not the finesse to please.

I would have done well to watch Tampopo, where the Jacques Pepin omelet making technique takes center stage. Adam Rapaport did. I wonder why I did not: Hmmm … I will have to think about that.

Meanwhile, check out the link for a very fun short video of that movie sequence. Brilliant!

The Carefree Days of Somerville and Ross

Somerville and Ross were a pair of Anglo-Irish ladies. Edith Somerville was born in 1858 on the island of Corfu.  She then grew up in County Cork. In 1886, she met her cousin Violet Martin.  For reasons that are not altogether clear. the two decided that they were a superb collaborating team of writers and inseparable companions. They began to write together, assuming the nom de plume, Somerville and Ross. By the time of Violet’s death in 1916, they had written 14 books together.

Edith was stunned by the loss of Violet. She refused to accept that Violet was gone, connected with her regularly via seances and continued to write as if Violet were co-.authoring.  Hmmm … perhaps in a sense, she was.

They were birds of a feather. Though they had political differences (Edith was an Irish nationalist and Violet a unionist) they saw the world through the same filter. That filter was the nurturing and pleasurable country life, especially that of the upper middle class of the Anglo-Irish, to which they both belonged. And that enjoyment spills into their story telling. It is not serious and it is not meant to be serious. I would compare it to Jerome K. Jerome, who was writing around the same time. Though Jerome was more flippant.

Back in the 1980’s snippets of their stories were cobbled together into a TV series called “The Irish RM”. It is brilliant, due in large part to the acting of Peter Bowles (who played the English major with the job of RM — resident magistrate — trying to figure out obscure and clever Irish ways).  I highly recommend watching the whole series. Here is one episode.

But this does not give you a glimpse of the writing style of Somerville and Ross. To get that, check out how they open this story entitled “When I first Met Dr Hickey”

There was a wonderful chandelier in the hotel dining room. Fine bronze it was made of, with mermaids, and tritons, and dolphins flourishing their tails up towards the dingy ceiling-paper, and peaked galleys, on whose prows sat six small lamps, with white china receptacles for paraffin and smokey brown chimneys. Gone were the brave days when each prow had borne a galaxy of tall wax candles; the chandelier might consider itself lucky in that it had even the paraffin lamps to justify its existence, and that it still hung from a ceiling, instead of sharing the last resting place of its twin brother, in the bed of the tidal river under the hotel windows.

Wow! What a whopper! Overdone? Of course, but in a way that still draws you in, as it reveals that attitudes of the authors and the context in which they observe the world. And I love this story from The Irish RM.

In one scene, the (RM)’s English wife, Philippa (Doran Godwin) is dancing with Flurry’s groom, Slipper (Niall Toibin), at a servants’ ball. Slipper ventures to say that ‘The English and the Irish understand each other like the fox and the hound,’ to which the lady replies in good humour, ‘But which is which?’ The answer is, ‘Ah well, if we knew that, we’d know everything!’

Yes, this is comedy. Something we desperately need nowdays!

Lessons from Eudora Welty … and More!

Eudora Welty fits snugly into the great tradition of southern writing. There are several aspects of her style that brand it this way, First is the preoccupation with place. Southern stories happen in a particular setting. You might call that a community of shared values. And of course, if such a thing exists, it is bound to collide with individuals who feel constrained by those shared values.  There is a sense of being trapped, in context as the norm.

BTW, Kafka took this to an extreme degree, which is why I find his stories so compelling. Poe and Borges offers ways to escape, but into a strange emptiness.

This quote from Eudora Welty’s book “One Writer’s Beginnings” gives the flavor of this tension

As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring comes from within.

The shelter is the community. The daring? Well,  that emerges from individual choices that we make.

BTW, this tension between the sheltered and the daring comes out very well in the 1996 film “The Whole Wide World”. here is the trailer. Enjoy!

Annie Hall Just Turned 40?!

There is little doubt that Annie Hall was one of the best films made in the 1970’s.  No other film captured the New York lifestyle of that time.  And no other film offered such a tender glimpse of the imperfections of young adulthood.

As it turns out, capturing that took an enormous amount of film editing. The original uncut version had all sorts of “other stuff” that was great but not essential to the main theme.

Marshall Brickman talks about how that editing process worked and about what was left out. Carol Kane (who plays one of Woody’s love interests) weighs in.

Brickman’s most lamented loss is the Devil’s own guided tour of the nine layers of Hell. Level 5, for instance, was comprised of organized crime, dictators, and people who don’t appreciate oral sex, according to Rosenblum’s book.

A snippet of dialogue between Woody and Carol Kane

Allison: I’m in the midst of doing my thesis.
Alvy Singer: On what?
Allison: Political commitment in twentieth century literature.
Alvy Singer: You, you, you’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the, the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and the really, y’know, strike-oriented kind of, red diaper, stop me before I make a complete imbecile of myself.
Allison: No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype.
Alvy Singer: Right, I’m a bigot, I know, but for the left.

Great notalgia!

BTW, Annie Hall provides an excellent example of the “fractured storyline”. The reminiscence of what went wrong in life told by the unreliable narrator. This works when the narrator is likable enough to sustain your interest. Mark Twain was brilliant in using this.

Hollywood versus the Scottish Sheep Farmer

We love to go to the cinema to look at pristine nature. And there is a huge amount of money to be had in giving us that pleasure. Would we want that pleasure as much if we knew that it was driving folks off the land that we pay to see?

Before you answer, consider Jim Telfer. Jim is an 82-year-old sheep farmer who lives and works near Edinborough.

Jim … can trace his roots on the rolling farmland outside Edinburgh back to 1915, when George V was on the throne and Allied troops were in the middle of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. Three generations later and Telfer, 82, is still up before daybreak tending to the newborn lambs that gambol round his smallholding.

Jim owns his building but not the land that he uses. That belongs to his landlord, the Gibsones. And the Gibsones want to sell the land to make way for a film studio. That transaction was approved by the Scottish government, who see a severe need for the cash that film making can bring.

But Jim does not want to sell. He would be devastated if he could not continue farming sheep on that very land. And he is fighting the transaction all the way.

So here is the question. Which side are you on?

Help! I’m Addicted to Moronic Entertainment!

Yes, that would be the lament of Fast and Furious fans. The latest film in this series is out, and the plot makes perfect sense

The Fate of the Furious, ups the ante with Charlize Theron as a mysterious cyber-terrorist with terrible hair, who “seduces Dom back into a world of crime that he can’t seem to escape,” forcing the fast fam to “face trials that will test them as never before.” It also features a car jumping over a submarine.

Errr … did you get that?

And here is an addict admitting her addiction

I love the Fast Furious movies, despite the fact that I’ve never owned a car and generally avoid blow-’em-up action flicks. These films are patently ridiculous, with plot holes the size of Mars, clunky dialogue, and what can only be described as an alternate interpretation of space and time. Nevertheless, I see them all on opening night—the action sequences are increasingly impressive, the cast is one of the most multicultural on the silver screen, and, to my personal delight, food plays a pivotal role.

She watches Fast and Furious films for the food? Read on, if you dare!