Category Archives: the telly

The Last Picture Show

I find Roger Ebert’s movie reviews consistently not quite on target. He tries to get at the art of a film, but his comments still seem surface-y to me. OK, I don’t read his reviews very often, so maybe that’s not fair. Here’s my case in point. Last night Ez and I watched The Last Picture Show. We’d Tivo’d it off of TCM. I can sing the praises of TCM again here. They can air it, uncut and in all its original complexity, late at night when most young kids won’t be up. And let’s face it, most young kids are not going to get through the first ten minutes of this nuanced black and white film anyway. So… I had tried to watch this film once or twice before many years ago. I think I had some idea in my head that I would watch it because I liked Cybill Shepherd from Moonlighting. I didn’t get past the first few minutes. Her performance is good, but there’s so much more going on in the film, and so many other great performances, it would be a shame to focus on her and miss or discount all the rest.

I really loved it. Most of the reviews I’ve seen focus on how it’s a story about a dying town. They debate whether it’s nostalgic or anti-nostalgic. They talk about how it fits into film history and how it shows Orson Welles’ and Howard Hawks’ influence. Those are all interesting and important parts of the film, but for me the best part are the shockingly great performances–and so many of them. The connection between Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Ruth (Cloris Leachman) works so well, and is so heartbreaking right from the start. They are both fantastic, and the end is just perfect for the film. I knew I wanted an ending something like that as I watched the film, and the way it’s done is just right.

So… After seeing the movie I poked around online and read some reviews. Ebert supplied this one , which is OK, but never seems to get to the heart of things, and this one, which is much better, but still not entirely satisfying (to me). I hate how he flatly states that one scene is “the best.” The scene he’s talking about is a great scene, and it’s very important to the film as a whole, but there are lots of other “best” scenes. It seems wrong to splice up the movie that way. I guess I like this review, from Neil Young (odd little coincidence, I guess!), because it finally gives lead actor Timothy Bottoms his due. Why don’t people rave about his performance? So many of the other actors in the film were nominated for and even won Oscars, and there seems to be lots of talk about how great they were and how this was their breakout film, but he is rarely mentioned. I thought he gave possibly the best performance in the whole film (along with Cloris Leachman, who is just devastating). I like that the reviewer juxtaposes the film against American Graffiti. I made a similar mental comparison. And I guess I also like this review because he talks about the last scene. I love the acting in this scene. I love how the emotions come across more from their movements and their faces and their hands than from words. Sonny and Ruth have this deep sadness, and they “get” that sadness maybe more than any other characters in the film. That the town is dying is interesting. Where it fits in American cultural history is interesting. But what’s much more interesting to me is what’s happening inside all of these people in that town.

The Video Archives

Over the weekend Ezra purchased a nifty adapter thingamajig that allows us to capture video from analog devices like vcrs or an analog video camera (should we ever get one) and load them onto a computer. I have been wanting some such tool for a while, as I have something like 15 or 20 6-hour video tapes from about 1986-1994 that I’d like to convert to DVD before they disintegrate. I started the process of capturing and editing the clips over the weekend, and it was much fun. I started with one of the oldest tapes, figuring I’ll work my way through more or less chronologically. Many of my old tapes were recorded on a mono vcr and they’re well-loved, so some are in rather delicate condition. I took a certain nostalgic pleasure in dealing with all the blips and tracking issues. I particularly enjoyed seeing a 1987 MTV clip on REM in which an earnest fan says that she doesn’t think REM will ever get huge because she doesn’t think they’ll let themselves. In the feature, Michael Stipe is more on target (probably more than he knew) when he says that he thinks they’re at a crossroads.

Alas, my old mono vcr seems to have died with me only about an hour into the first tape. The mono tapes don’t play properly on Ezra’s stereo vcr, so now we have the adapter, but not the right vcr for the project. We’re working on that. If you know of a cheap mono vcr in excellent working order, speak!

Our latest sensations old movie-wise

If we were watching a lot of old movies before, the Tivo we got for Christmas is enabling us to watch even more.

I think in the past when I heard too much about a particular iconic film, I tended to discredit it in my mind. I guess it became cliched for me. I’m learning to get past that (lesson #1), as I’ve seen some really great films lately that I ignored in the past.

Two such films are Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Hustler–both Paul Newman films, now that I mention it. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is over the top, but it’s supposed to be. It’s Tennessee Williams, and I tend to really like Tennessee Williams. Some of the characters annoy me, and some of the performances annoy me, too. But I think they’re supposed to annoy me. Part of the fascination for me has to be that I saw this film for the first time in December, and I couldn’t get over the fact that it stars Burl Ives–and he’s really pretty darn good. I didn’t know that Burl Ives was in films. I’m a fool, of course, because he was in lots, including other adaptations of dramatic literature (Desire Under the Elms, East of Eden). So that’s lesson #2.

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The first time I really saw a significant chunk of The Hustler, I tuned in when Eddie (Newman) has already hooked up with Sarah (Piper Laurie). I think my ignorant view of this film had been negatively impacted by the fact that its 1986 sequel stars Tom Cruise and has a 1986 soundtrack (Don Henley, Robert Palmer, Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler–you get the idea). I didn’t realize that Piper Laurie was even in the movie–didn’t know about that part of the movie, or about George C. Scott’s role. Well… duh. For me, that right there is the best part of the film. It’s another sort of over-the-top one, but I kind of love it. Laurie and Scott are both great in it, and it has tons of atmosphere. Doesn’t hurt in my book that it’s 1961, either (got to admit the positive biases along with the negative ones). I think Ezra, being a Twin Peaks fan, got a kick out of seeing Piper Laurie in it, too. Needless to say, I’ve now seen the whole film from beginning to end. It’s quite dark, and not in the silly way that I thought it might be. To me, the fact that Eddie plays pool is really not the point. The emotional stuff, the stuff about self-worth and self-loathing (and more)… that’s all more interesting to me.

I’d never seen a Bette Davis film before, either–really! That was another case of something too-over-hyped, and I’d never seen the proof that she was this great actress “everyone” said she was. Well, I’ve seen three films over the last several months that have changed my mind about Bette Davis.

The first I saw was The Petrified Forest, a 1936 film starring Davis, Leslie Howard, and Humphrey Bogart and based on a Robert E. Sherwood play. I think I’d always seen pictures of Bette Davis in All About Eve–a later picture–so it was new for me to see her in a role where she was supposed to be very young and beautiful. Davis, Howard, and Bogart are all quite good, as is much of the supporting cast.

Next I saw June Bride. I’m not sure what made me Tivo this one, but I’m glad I did. It’s one of her few comedies–a light and witty 1948 romance with Robert Montgomery (another discovery–thanks TCM!). In it, Davis plays a smart, independent women’s magazine editor. Montgomery, a writer and an old flame, is assigned to work with her on the magazine when opportunities for him as a foreign correspondent dry up after the war. They take their crew out to Indiana to cover a charming June wedding–in February. It’s fluff, but it’s good fluff, and their banter is pretty great (I hear they weren’t too palsy off-screen). My only gripe–the ending could have been handled differently. Though it wasn’t unexpected, it was still a disappointment. Supporting actress Mary Wickes (she played Emma in White Christmas and has lots of other films and TV roles to her credit) shows up in this one, too.

In fact, she’s also in the other Bette Davis film I just saw–the best of the bunch–Now, Voyager. It’s quite melodramatic and there are so many heart-breaking goodbyes–between the same two people!–that as a viewer you sometimes feel emotionally tormented along with them. But, you suppress cynicism (at least I did) with no trouble and you’re rewarded for it. Ez and I turned this one on at 11:00 one night. I thought we’d just have a peek and watch the rest some other night. Ha ha–fat chance. There was no convenient place to stop, and I didn’t want to. It sucked me in! Bette Davis plays Charlotte Vale, an unmarried woman in a distinguished Boston family, a late daughter of an awful, controlling mother (played with loads of venom by Gladys Cooper) who keeps her from having any sort of a life. Charlotte spends a few months in a sanitarium under the care of Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains) who helps her become her own person. She then goes on a cruise and slips into a wonderful romance with the married Jerry Durrance (played fantastically by another Casablanca alum, Paul Henreid*). When she returns to her family after the cruise a new person, their shock and her reaction are delicious.

now, voyager

But the movie doesn’t stop there. Charlotte and Jerry cross paths again and again. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, I can’t give it all away (though it’s one of those movies that a lot of people probably know about even without having seen it). It’s clearly taken from a novel (I’d love to read it), and a lot happens. There are some great smoking scenes. That’s another thing I’ve discovered–Bette Davis was one hell of a smoker. She smokes like a chimney in June Bride and she and Henreid share some rather intimate cigarettes in Now, Voyager. Anyway, go see that one.

*OK–technically Now, Voyager was released in the US about a month before Casablanca.

Fun and Frolic

First off, a pal sent me a vhs tape of the 11/8/04 Interpol show at Lupo’s in Providence. I’ve been waiting to see it since the show (it was obvious at the time that it was being filmed), and well–it’s fantastic! Yay! It was aired on an odd Showtime channel that I couldn’t get even if I wanted to. Anyway, happy times for the Interpol fan.

Ez and I had a fun-filled (you know, skipping the bad parts) weekend. The weather was super gorgeous. On Saturday we ran lots of Ez errands. He ordered up some new eyeglasses and finally got his beloved Powerbook. The mall, I must say, is a scary place on a Saturday. We ran quickly to the nearest Whole Foods and purchased ingredients to do some cooking this week. That night we tried a tofu and mushroom marsala from the current Vegetarian Times. Pretty tasty…

Yesterday I did a bit of work and a little sketch. Then last night Ez and I went to see Of Montreal and the Management. The Management were pretty silly. I wasn’t really dwelling too much on their silliness because I was so psyched to have my camera with me. It was new camera’s first show. When the guys in the Management weren’t flailing too much, I took their pictchas.



I could be a jackass and tell you that I am too cool for Of Montreal. But what a shame that would be. Of Montreal are this big tidal wave of a party band. I imagine seeing them is the closest I will ever get (maybe) to an experience anything like what seeing the B-52s must have been like circa 1979-1980. And Of Montreal formed in Athens, too. I was probably one of the older people in the crowd–at least, up front. It seemed like a sea of college freshman. But it was so great to see the kids dancing that I really didn’t care that many of them seemed at least 10 years my junior.

I’ve noticed that happy music is coming back (or maybe it’s not coming back–maybe it IS back). I don’t know if this is obvious… but I was thinking last night that during the 90s, when on the surface the Western world seemed to be humming along pretty well, a lot of music was dead serious and full of righteous posturing (Pearl Jam, anyone?). Now that the world situation, on the surface, is not so rosy, music is turning back to being more about fun. It was the same for part of the 80s, I think, and maybe the comparison could be drawn back even further.

Anyway, Of Montreal was a blast. If I’d left my camera at home, I would have danced more. As it was, I was happy to snap a few shots before my battery died (I’m still learning the hard way how to be a responsible digital photographer). They provided lots to look at.

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Of Montreal

Of Montreal

I loved the beak. And I think my mom used to have that shirt! The guitarist standing right in front of me reminded me a lot of Alice In Wonderland-era Peter Cook. He was a cutie and kept smiling like a kid. They all seem like fun people… good attitude (or lack thereof).

Anyhoo… return to the workweek–it’s always a challenge. So far it doesn’t seem like it will hit 90 today as predicted. I hope not!

Saturday, Farewell, The Good Fairy, and Blue Moon

Nora went home today. It was so nice to visit with her… it seemed weirdly sudden when we dropped her off at the airport. Later at home Ezra was saying that he was about to ask me when Nora would be back from whatever she was doing, and then realized that she’d gone home!

Her parents came by last night, too. It was really nice to see them. I last saw them at Nora’s wedding, and before that I hadn’t seen them for probably close to ten years.

So there were a few rough hours this afternoon after Nora left. It was hot and stuffy in the apartment. I felt wiped out. The Red Sox were on tv, but they were on Fox. At least flippin’ Joe Buck wasn’t on. They started out winning, but ended up losing in another miserable turn of baseball events. Finally it has cooled down a bit tonight.

Ezra and I made yummy empanaditas for dinner… so delicious… hot veggie food with cilantro and mexican spices and raisins–ah so good! Then we watched some UB Iwerks cartoons, followed by a favorite Moonlighting episode, The Murder’s in the Mail. It’s the “man with a mole on his nose” episode. It’s been fabulous for me watching the old episodes. I can’t believe I was only ten when the pilot episode aired.

Maddie: “What are you doing?”
David: “Nothing. I’ve been clean for years.”

Now we’re going to watch the end of The Good Fairy (1935) with Margaret Sullavan (love her), Herbert Marshall, Frank Morgan (yes, the wizard), Beulah Bondi (Ma Bailey), Alan Hale (the skipper!), and Cesar Romero. We watched the first half the other night… it’s good, as I expected it would be.

Thoughts from the World

Riding the T today I was moved to write the following:

“Television is so bitchy these days. It seems like all “reality tv” is bitchy… but it’s not just there. Today at the gym I found myself imagining, totally spontaneously and somewhat subconsciously–like a waking dream, that Ellen Degeneres leaned forward, faced the raucous individuals in the music video on the TV screen next to the one broadcasting her talk show, and yelled at them to shut up. I imagined that spawning a catty shouting match among several individuals on the various TVs. Is it imagining those things that makes this stuff enjoyable to some? I can’t say I can stand that stuff, but my little vision did amuse me. Why does bitchiness appeal? Does it validate people in their desire to be bitchy themselves?”

The thoughts of someone who is becoming dehydrated, clearly. Or maybe it was the fumes on the T.

I’m annoyed with my dentist office again. It’s such a long pathetic story. Basically, they are totally unprofessional in their attitude. Today I went in for an appointment that we’d rescheduled because the dentist switched on me at the last minute earlier this month. The woman I spoke with never noted my new appointment anywhere, but the woman at the desk today acted like I was an idiot. When I suggested that perhaps the woman who had rescheduled my appointment might have forgotten to write it down because it seemed like she was rather busy and maybe a bit flustered, this lady looked at me askance and basically said that could NEVER happen. Though I opened our conversation by saying that my appointment had been rescheduled, she said something like, “Well, maybe they never did get in touch with you about rescheduling.” Huh?? And what was I doing there if I had no appointment? I mean, did she think I just picked a date and time out of thin air?? Gr… I don’t care so much that the woman failed to write in my appointment… It’s the attitude that I’m the idiot that annoys me. They should be kissing my feet! I’m probably paying for that guy to build a yacht. Well, maybe not… I mean, my teeth aren’t bad.

Peep Show, Anyone?

No, I’m not talking about a little voyeur action, exactly… I’m referring to the BBC comedy. Ez and I saw one episode at the farm over the holidays (they got Direct TV or something), and liked it. It’s about these two twenty-something guys who engage in a bit of silly self-loathing, which we hear in their heads. The BBC site provides this description. Of course, we don’t get BBC America, so I guess I won’t be seeing another episode for a while!