Thursday, March 29, 2007

Movie Review of the Month: Fists in the Pocket (Italy, 1965)

I started watching this film twice and gave up 10 minutes into it. For some reason, the beginning is a bit confusing, and the initial scene with the family is bizarre. Then I tried watching it again the other night, and was totally taken in by it. In fact, I watched it a second time this evening. Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca) was the debut film for Marco Bellocchio in 1965 with an incredibly penetrating and complex performance by first timer Lou Castel. The story centers on Alessandro (Lou Castel) and his attempt to do away with his dysfunctional family, in order for his older, and normal (read, bourgeois) brother to be able to marry. When Bellocchio took a copy of the film without sound to the Venice Film Festival for consideration, he was told to abandon it altogether, to not finish it.

I think you have to understand the context of the film to understand how revolutionary and shocking it was at the time. Italian society was stiflingly bourgeois and Catholic in the early 60's. Cinema was still identified with the past masters, such as Antonioni and De Sica. Bellocchio turned these values on their head with his outrageous plot full of black humor, and presaged (along with fellow film student Bertolucci) the student riots in Europe in 1968. I believe it was Lou Castel, years later, who characterized the film as the "rumble before the earthquake".

If you're a serious film person, and haven't seen it, you must.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tony Snow Job

I consider myself a little left of moderate, and Tony Snow, obviously, much further on the conservative side. However, I never minded watching him when he moderated the Fox Sunday News show. Yes, he was narrow minded, but there as a semblance of intelligence. But now that he's become the White House spokesperson, well, he's followed the first requirement for the job: check your intellect in at the door. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has lost mounds of respect for this guy. Why anyone would think it was a step UP to go from Fox News to the White House ventriloquist dummy, is perplexing. But, then, to hear him spout the lamest excuses for the administration's arrogance and bullying of Congress, the courts and, lately, U.S. Attorneys.

His latest retort to the Democrats issuing subpoenas for top White House advisers is to accuse them of playing "politics", something we all know the Republicans consider anathema. The Bush administration has typically acted with sheer arrogance and from the viewpoint that the Executive Branch is sacrosanct. It feels no need to consult Congress, by casting their decisions as in the interests of American safety. Bush has gotten away with this attitude of moral superiority, largely because of a Republican-dominated Congress, and some clueless Democrats who were just as asleep at the wheel.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Anna Turns 21!

My darling Pisces daughter turned 21 on March 12th. Her mom and I took her to Craft, the restaurant at the W, for a superlative meal, and then to the Ghost Bar afterwards for drinks. She had the time of her life, needless to say. The staff at Craft treated her very well, wishing her happy birthday as we entered the restaurant, and at the end bringing out a special box of chocolate truffles made just for her. The food is really as good as I've tasted in Dallas, and that's saying a lot. It was a nice place to celebrate the occasion of a 21st birthday. hip, sophisiticated design, modern and urbane. She felt really special. Afterwards, we took the elevator to the Ghost Bar, for ungodly expensive drinks, but, hey, it'll be her only 21st Birthday, ever. Great view of downtown Dallas (but not so great view of half a dozen parking lots below). You can check out a few photos on my site HERE.

She left for NYC for 4 days today, her first trip like this on her own. She was so excited this morning, as I took her to the airport. I asked if she wanted me to come in while she checked in. She said no, matter of factly. This was a first. I know most 20-year-old women long since don't want their father to accompany them to do something like that, but our relationship has been different. She's always wanted me to do those kinds of things. I knew the time would come, however, and it has, and though it's bittersweet in one way, it's really wonderful to see her grow into her own person She's really a beautiful person through and through. I've always tried to stay conscious that our father-daughter relationship was not about me, but about her. I'm ready for her to be her own person because she's ready.

I had the feeling that the next phase of our lives together had begun. Last night was a celebration of milestones, and human passages. I recently watched a documentary about the great songwriter, ex-Small Faces founder Ronnie Lane, who died of complications from MS at 51. Several times through the documentary he says, "Life is a short movie."

I'll leave it at that.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Al Gore for President

I want to go on record with this prediction before it becomes really obvious: Al Gore is going to announce his candidacy in about a year, after Hillary and Obama have self-destructed. He is a prime candidate for the Democratic Party:
1) He has lots of Senatorial experience.
2) He has no embarrassing vote for the war in Iraq
to explain away.
3) He can raise the money easily, just on the internet.
4) He can capitalize on his longstanding warning about
global warming, now that the Republicans have quit denying
its legitimacy.
5) He won a freakin' Oscar!
6) We'll finally have a President with an intellect again, and one who can
articulate complex thoughts. Not a President who says, for example, that he tried diplomacy in Iraq "to the max."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

If you don't listen to the weekly Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio, you're missing out on one of life's great musical pleasures. Okay, so I don't subscribe to XM Radio, but was fortunate to find the shows online. Listening to a show today, Dylan played a number from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and he strongly suggested that the listener go to YouTube and see her in action. I did, and here it is for you, too!

We ain't gonna study war no more.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Is PBS Getting Weirder?

Has anyone noticed that PBS seems to be searching for the 21st century version of The Lawrence Welk Show? They seem to be debuting a whole host of insipid musical shows lately. I just caught a glimpse of a show called "Heavenly Voices". The point seems to be to sing in a voice not too dissimilar from the theme song to "Black Adder" (but, seriously), or to try to sound like the Vienna Boys Choir using one pair of vocal chords. The singers seem to favor this intense and hushed, breathy voice. The female singers wear dresses that take their cue from the stage curtains, singing "Dust in the Wind" with slow motion shots of Colorado aspens in fall foliage fading in and out (must be the "breathtaking visual effects" described in the promotional literature).

Then there's the VERY bizarre show "Celtic Woman", comprised of several ethereal-looking "Celtic" women (I'm assuming here), and a violinist named Máiréad, who sways around the stage playing the instrument like Nancy Wilson on guitar.

I won't even go into all the musical nostalgia shows reuniting old 1950's and 1960's groups (or what's left of them). We have Petula Clark, for example, and Peter and Gordon, all straining their voice to sound like they were teenagers again. And seeing all the old, overweight people in the audience, hands in the air, swaying back and forth, singing along, is enough to make one want to outlaw nostalgia. It gives Gerry & the Pacemakers a whole new meaning.

So, all this to say, please donate to PBS so they won't be so desperate!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Richard Thompson at the Lakewood Theater

Just saw Richard Thompson for the second time in the last 2 years. If Clapton is God, then there must be a "Supremer Being" who created God, and that would be Richard Thompson. One of the original founders of Fairport Convention, Thompson has for the past 40 years made his own way ("still paying the mortgage", as he put it last night) in a world where most songs long for the "Top 100" to validate their existence. Thompson's genius is that he has merged the medieval English/Scottish troubadour with the English Music Hall entertainer. Ray Davies and Paul McCartney also come out of that English Music Hall tradition. And it's precisely that Thompson IS so English that he has stayed so fresh.

But, in Thompson's case, add to that, the most accomplished guitar player playing today, and you see where he enters the pantheon of modern music. When he plays, he is usually keeping a bass line running, simultaneously playing lead with three of his fingers, and interspersing chords among that symphony of sounds: in effect, he makes one guitar sound like three guitars. And, might I add, flawlessly. Eliza Gilkyson, who has been opening for him on this tour, said it best: "He doesn't wank". Anyone who plays acoustic guitar knows how difficult it is to avoid hitting an occasional wrong string, or muting a string accidentally. Thompson is playing at lightning speed, with almost all 10 fingers moving this way and that, and doesn't make a single error.

Add to that, he is one of the best living songwriting talents, with moods ranging from dark ("From Galway to Graceland") to satirical ("Dear Janet Jackson": suggesting she use her breasts for their original purpose).

If you have more than tin for a musical ear, you have to put Richard Thompson among the artists you want to hear before you die.

P.S. Thanks to the Richard Thompson website for including this tribute on their website, which you must check out here.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Favorite Photos from Other Blogs #1

Was checking some other blogs today and found this great photo of a men's bathroom in New Zealand.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Poor Decisions...Life is Precious and Cheap

The criminal trial process (see previous blog entry) wore me out, emotionally and psychically, and I decided on an early bedtime last night. I went to bed thinking about how comfortable my home is and how much I love it. I had my cat sleeping on the bed, a good book, these creature comforts that you normally take for granted. I then called my daughter at Texas Tech, and she told me she had made an 81 on a tough Geology test. I told her about how the trial had involved a group of 18-20 year old guys making very poor decisions, and how much I appreciated the fact that she has always used good judgment with regards to the people she had hung around during her teenage years and presently. I think I appreciated everything in a new way. And then this made me think of Kris McLarty, the defendant, now 21 years old, going to bed last night in a jail cell, realizing he was going to be in prison for the rest of his life. I couldn't stop thinking about him, and trying to imagine how he grew up. What decisions did he make that led him down this path? Who was there for him, to teach him about the value of life? He obviously didn't have a father, and his mother barely cared for him. It came out in testimony that when he was 16, living in Dallas with his mother, that he moved to New Orleans to finish his high school education, which he did. Was there some desire to get on the straight path? I wish prison was more rehabilitating, because I know it's not. Is anyone there going to care about him? Kris had apparently made a lot of poor decisions in his life, and this murder was the one that he didn't get away with. And neither did Juan Castillo, who lost his life.

Juan's young widow came up to the witness stand after the Guilty verdict had been delivered, for what is called the "impact statement". This was her chance to speak directly to the defendant, and let him know how the murder had affected the victim's family. She spoke very eloquently. Several of the jurors started to cry, and I had to fight back the tears myself, because it pushed all the buttons about parenting and children at all levels and about how simultaneously cheap and precious life can be. I was so grateful my two children, both in their 20's, had made the right choices about friends. Juan's widow mentioned that their daughter would grow up with a big void in her life because her father would not be there. This thought struck me two ways: sad that this girl wouldn't know her father, and sad that this daughter would one day learn that her father was killed in a drug deal, that amounted to $400. I feel sure it will be explained to her that is was all out of her father's love for her and wanting to support her and her mother. But would she see that it was poor judgment on her father's part? That he foolishly risked his family's welfare in this way? That pain will resonate for her in more than one way.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Yin and Yang at Criminal Court.

I just spent the week on a jury listening to a capital murder case. It's a life-changing event, and very sad. This case involved a drug deal which resulted in the death of a 20-year old Juan Castillo, whose wife was 2 months pregnant at the time. He was working full time at a tire center, to support his family, but he was also selling marijuana on the side to earn extra cash. He was shot trying to sell a pound to a 18-year old black guy named Kris McLarty who had decided he wasn't going to pay for it--and he had a gun. This all happened the day before Katrina hit, and one of the guys involved had just fled New Orleans to Dallas. Kris, the defendant, had no family show up in court, except for his mother on one day, who only showed up under intense coercion on the defense attorney's part. She seemed like she was done with her son, and didn't care about him. She wasn't there today when we delivered the sentence of guilty, which carried an automatic life sentence. The deceased's family, about 10 or 12 family members, were there during the entire trial. This affair was a sad tale of a bunch of 18-20 year olds all using bad judgment. Really, really sad.

The other side of this experience was meeting the other 11 people on my jury, whom I wouldn't have met under other circumstances, like Edna, a sweet diminutive black woman in her late 60's, not many teeth, but with a really infectious spirit. She also wore a very cute, turban-like cap. One day red, the next day the same cap in cream color. Edna had been a cook all her life (as was her mother), is now retired, but still loves to cook at home for her son and her father. She is a single parent with a now 36-year old musician son living at home with her. She also loves to look at beautiful paintings, and she writes poetry. When I asked her what kinds of food she cooked, she opened her purse and pulled out a Polaroid snapshot of several plates of food on her dinner table, including a plate of homemade biscuits. I thought it was so sweet that she carried around a photo of food she had cooked at home.