Reviews of Several Movies, One of Which I’ve Seen

 

I didn’t sleep well last night and as a result am as dumb as a box of rocks today. My husband came home with a “temporary” flip phone to replace the flip phone I lost (I think it’s really Under Something), and I told him I had to keep my phone number because I’m incapable of remembering any new numbers, even when I get plenty of sleep. It’ll take several hours to two business days for them to arrange for the new number.* I also have to think carefully before saying or writing my new address. I scramble the numbers. Anyway, this may turn out to be a disjointed post, but it won’t be the first.

Scene from the 1912 Broadway production of Little Women, adapted by Marian de Forest. Via Wikipedia. Public domain.

David and I saw the latest adaptation of Little Women two weeks ago. I’d read glowing reviews but had also heard some viewers are conflicted, haven’t decided what to think.

I loved it. Absolutely loved it.

I’m embarrassed, sort of, to admit I’ve never read the book. I’ve skimmed it. But, as high school freshmen say, I saw the movie—the one made in the ’90s, and I loved it, too. I’ve also seen the version in which Katherine Hepburn played Jo. And the series aired on PBS a couple of years ago.

I’ve read three or four of Alcott’s other novels. In the sixth grade, I read Alcott’s Eight Cousins–and recently found the book report I did on it–and its sequel, Rose in Bloom. The latter was very affecting; I cried when that poor young man died in an alcohol-induced accident, but that’s what happens to young men who’ve been spoilt by their mothers and as a result are wild and even their Cousin Rose can’t reform them. Rose then fell in love with her medical doctor Cousin Mac, whom she’d always thought of as “the worm”; that’s what happens to women in novels of that period. I think Mac was a doctor. Or a medical student. He was Serious and Responsible. So was Rose.

At the end of Little Women, Alcott marries Jo to a teacher and scholar, as the director does at the end of the movie—hurrah for faithful adaptations—but the movie makes clear that Jo did so reluctantly. The director allows viewers to infer that Alcott was just as reluctant. But she wanted the book to sell, and the public wouldn’t have accepted a spinster who goes to New York to publish or perish.

A documentary that aired a few years ago on PBS includes the reading of a letter Alcott wrote refusing a proposal of marriage. It was hilarious. I’m glad I wasn’t the would-be groom who received it.

The movie’s one flaw is that the story is not told in chronological order. I think the format works perfectly. But the movie jumps back and forth in time without adequate transition from scene to scene. Viewers unfamiliar with the story might have trouble following along.

Louisa May Alcott, ca. 1870. Via Wikipedia. Public domain.

I also have a concern about the script, which applies to all the LW feature films I’ve seen—the characterization of Marmee. In this movie and the one made in the ’90s, she’s depicted as a cheerful, youthful feminist, neatly and attractively dressed, rather perky. In the PBS series, she looks older, as if she’s raising four daughters on a tight budget, with a husband away at war, and a seriously ill daughter, and mid-19th century housework that affords no time for idleness. She’s happy, but not perky, and she often looks tired. “Housekeeping,” wrote Louisa May Alcott, “ain’t no joke.” She knew. At one point, while her impractical philosopher father discussed and wrote about ideas, his wife and daughter worked as domestics.

When David and I got to the ticket window, we were told there were only three seats available, first row. We took the two on the far aisle. I hadn’t sat on the front row since I saw Toby Tyler when I was nine. Fortunately, the seats reclined, so I didn’t get a crick in my neck from looking up at an 88-degree angle. There were four people, including David and me, on the front row, the other two on the opposite aisle. At least half of the reserved seats were empty.

David commented afterward that there weren’t many young(er) people in the audience. No, the majority had gray hair, or at least visible wrinkles. Post-Boomers don’t know, or want to know, I guess, about Little Women. It’s all Game of Thrones, or whatever. Since retiring and losing the school’s subscription to Booklist, I don’t know anything about recent publications. My latest read was written in 1908. It was delightful. More about that later.

The other movie—there was a trailer—was a new Dr. Doolittle. It’s a 2020 adaptation. I think Robert Downey, Jr. is as cute as a bug, but I’ll skip this one. There’s so much noise (chaos) I couldn’t hear the animals talk, except for one little bear, or something, lying on his back and crying, “I’m too pitiful to die.” I think that was what he said. He was on board a ship in a terrible storm on the open sea.

I once cried something like that when I was on board a cruise ship in choppy waters. Nine other relatives and me, celebrating Thanksgiving in style. First night out, a norther hit. The next morning, when I phoned for someone to come attend to the carpet, the man in housekeeping, or whatever they call it, said, “You bomited in your room?” Yes, I bomited in my room. Which was better than the rest of the revelers, who were bomiting in the halls. That afternoon, they had to give me an injection of phenergan and pills to take every three hours, after which, because I was blissfully unconscious, I stopped wailing to my travel-agent cousin/roommate, who that morning had brought me a Sprite and abandoned me to my fate, “I’m going home. When we find land, you get me a plane ticket or I’ll walk home.”** The next day, we walked to the market in Cozumel and I bought some earrings.

Well, sorry for the disgusting story, but when I saw that poor little bear, that’s what I thought about. He might have just been afraid, but I suspect he was plain old seasick.***

###

*It might be a burner phone, which will come handy for research when I put one in a mystery, or if I myself decide to do  something untoward.

**Her leaving was heartless but for the best. An optimist, she kept saying I would be fine tomorrow and I was not going home. Mal de mer is misery enough. Victims do not need the added affliction of cheerful healthy people.

***Those patches work. The next cruise, I went prepared.

 

Day B: Ben Hur #AtoZChallenge

Sunday night, and I’m watching Ben Hur on the local PBS channel. I saw it the first time on a Saturday afternoon at the Rita Theatre in Del Rio, Texas, in 1961. The movie was released in 1959, but Del Rio was an out-of-the-way place, and films didn’t travel as quickly then as they do today.

It’s a beautiful movie. The highlight is the chariot race that pits the main character, Judah Ben Hur, against his childhood friend, later enemy, the Roman Messala.

My friends and I didn’t go home raving about the chariot race, of course. The story was about friendship and betrayal and hatred and revenge and forgiveness–mature themes–and if we appeared too much interested in the race, adults might think us childish. Nine-year-old girls don’t like to be thought childish.

Watching tonight (for the fifth or sixth time at least), I think how silly we were. The chariot race is magnificent. Andalusian horses and Lippizans, pounding hooves, blades on the hubs of Mesalla’s chariot cutting through his rivals spokes, cars tipping, drivers flying out, being dragged and trampled, Messala lashing Judah with his whip, the crowd cheering…

One critic wrote that chariot race “will probably be preserved in film archives as the finest example of the use of the motion picture camera to record an action sequence. The race . . .  represents some 40 minutes* of the most hair-raising excitement that film audiences have ever witnessed.”

Wreckage from the chariot race in Ben Hur (1959) trailer. Public domain. Via Wikipedia.

Moreover, it was done without the aid of sophisticated computer software. Those were real men, real horses, real dangers. I’m glad I grew up before special effects became easy, when we were still capable of being impressed and saying Wow!

A Baby Boomer, I’ve had a lifetime of Wows! When I was five, Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea. Wow! When I was nine, Alan Shepard traveled into outer space. Wow! When I was ten, the Absentminded Professor ironed Flubber onto the soles of high school basketball players, and they bumped their heads on the gymnasium ceiling. Wow! When I was eleven, John Glenn orbited the Earth. Wow! When I was eighteen, two Americans walked on the moon. Wow! 

Older people told stories that elicited Wows, too. In 1910, my great-uncle and -aunt, Maurice and Bettie Waller, and Aunt Bettie’s best friend, Miss Annie Barber saw a stage performance of Ben Hur. After sending students home early–Aunt Bettie and Miss Annie taught together at a rural school–they and Uncle Maurice traveled by horse and buggy fifty miles north to Austin, saw the play, and immediately headed back home. They arrived just in time to open school the next morning.

When Aunt Bettie told me that, I was so impressed. Bouncing over a hundred miles of gravel roads in a horse-drawn buggy in less than twenty-four hours, just to go to the theater–that was a big deal.

But even more impressive–there was a chariot race. Two real chariots and two real horses. On the stage.

Wow!

 

To read what other A to Z Challenge bloggers wrote on Day B, click here.

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* The chariot race scene lasts for nine minutes. I’m not sure what the critic’s reference to 40 minutes means.

Color Me… Something

This blog was offline during April while I tampered with its appearance. I tried nearly every theme WordPress offers. I tried nearly every color WordPress offers.

I understand that for blogs, white is in fashion, but I like color. I’ve played with the colors a lot. My main specifications:

  1. Background must be light enough for text to be easily read.
  2. Font must be dark enough for text to be easily read.
  3. Colors must enhance header.
  4. Colors must be attractive.

Numbers 1 and 2 are easy enough to satisfy, but 3 and 4 are just bears. Grays are too brown or too blue; whites are too yellow or too pink; blues are too green or too gray; greens are too blue or too yellow; reds jump out at you; pinks and yellows are insipid.

All I want is what I want. It shouldn’t be that difficult to get.

After serious consideration, I’m putting Telling the Truth, Mainly back in public view.

But I still don’t like its looks.

Happy Birthday, Veazey

seven-cousins (2)Today is my cousin Mary Veazey’s birthday. I will not say how old she is. I’ll say only that she is old enough that she’s always thought she had the right to boss me around.

We have had many good times together.

The most memorable, right now, aside from the times we almost broke up church because we couldn’t stop laughing, and the time she made me go on the Cruise from You-Know-Where, is the time we went to the drive-in movie to see The Great Gatsby, and her eleven- and twelve-year-old sons–I’ll call them Boy C and Boy G–sat in the back seat griping for the length of the dumb, boring show and yowling to go home.

When the second feature came on, however, the boys displayed immediate interest. It was The Sterile Cuckoo, a cute, sweet movie starring Liza Minnelli. We hadn’t planned to stay for it, but every time Mary Veazey said we had to leave, the boys protested. This was a real good movie, Mom, so we stayed.

We stayed so long that we ran into the scene in the little motel room in which Minneli’s college freshman girl, Pookie Adams, offers Wendell Burton’s sweet, shy freshman boy the opportunity to “Peel the Tomato.”
 And there we were, as they say, ketched.

The boys in the back seat were leaning head and shoulders into the front. They were very, very quiet. I don’t think they were breathing.

Their mother and I didn’t breathe either, because if we had, laughter would have bounced off the screen and echoed throughout the lot.

Suppressing that much laughter for an entire scene hurts.

Finally, the camera pulled waaaay back on the two young characters walking across a field of green, accompanied by the Sandpipers’ lovely rendition of “Come Saturday Morning.”

Mary Veazey saw an opportunity and grabbed it. “Okay, time to go.” She replaced the speaker on its stand, started the car, threw it into gear, and tore out of there.

Boys: “Aw, Mom, it’s not over yet.”

Mom: “Yes it is.”

Boys: “But the music isn’t over. Let’s stay till the music’s over.”

Mom: “No, I want to get out before everybody else does. Don’t want to have to wait in line.”

Boys: “Awwww, Mom. We want to stay.”

Mom: “No, it’s late. Gotta get home.”

Kathy: “Hahahahahaahahahaha.”

Mary Veazey couldn’t give me the evil eye because by that time she was laughing, too.

All the way home, we heard from the back seat, “Boy, that was a good movie.” “Yeah, that was good.” “I wish we could have stayed till the music was over.” “Yeah. That was good.” Periodically, one leaned forward and said, “What’re y’all laughing at?”

Then Boy G said, “What was the name of that movie?” They looked back at the still visible marquee.

Boy G read, “Shirley Cuckoo.”

From the front seat: “Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…”

“Not ‘Shirley,'” said Boy C. “The Stirlee Cuckoo.”

Front seat, louder, “Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…”

Laughing that hard hurts, too. And it can be dangerous. I’m surprised Mary Veazey didn’t run the car up onto the sidewalk and get us all hauled off to jail. It’s good she didn’t, because we’d have just laughed harder.

The next morning no one mentioned the movie. But that afternoon, while the boys and two neighbor girls played cards in the living room, and I sat in the kitchen waiting for cookies to bake (cookies the boys were making, hahahaha again), I caught part of the conversation.

Boy G (quietly): “We went to a movie last night.”

Girls: “What was it rated?”

Boy C (whispering): “X, I think.”

I was sorry Mary Veazey was at work and missed the punch line.

Several years later, The Sterile Cuckoo aired on television. About five minutes into the movie, the phone rang. It was Mary Veazey. “What are you doing?”

“You know what I’m doing. Watching The Stirlee Cuckoo.

“Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…”

Happy Birthday, Mary Veazey. We ought to take the boys to the movie again sometime.

 

*****

mamaw in hat
Mary Veazey Barrow

Note 1: Our grandmother’s maiden name was Mary Veazey. For people who say, Mary What?, it’s pronounced VEE-zee. Alternatives, for those in the family, are Veazey, Merveazey, and other such diminutives. She introduces herself as Mary. I got the Mary part of our grandmother’s name but was spared the Veazey confusion. My problem comes from the Katherine I got from my great-grandmother. I’m Kathy, but I have to introduce myself as Mary to anyone holding an official, or unofficial, record. On seeing Mary Katherine, many people say, “Are you a nun?” I’m not.

Note 2: All this happened in 1974. I don’t know whether Boys C and G have even seen the real ending of The Stirlee Cuckoo. I don’t know whether they ever learned the correct title. I don’t even know whether they remember any of this at all. But if I send this post to their wives on Facebook, they will.

Note 3: President Nixon resigned later that week, but the movie is my more vivid recollection.

Note 4: Both The Great Gatsby and The Sterile Cuckoo had been out for several years before this story took place. I’m always behind in my movie-going.

Here’s a clip from The Sterile Cuckoo.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elegance

Dinner with the cast of Giant at El Paisano in Marfa, Texas.

 

Photographs of James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson by Kathy Waller shot from photographs hanging in El Paisano Hotel, Marfa, Texas

Patterns

I’m watching Patterns, a movie written by Rod Serling. Van Heflin plays a young production engineer hired by a ruthless industrialist to replace his vice-president, whose ethics and integrity make him, in his superior’s eyes, a liability to the company. The new executive finds himself caught in a pattern he’s determined to break.

The movie’s name reminded me of the Amy Lowell poem, in which a woman trapped in a different pattern wishes to break free.

PATTERNS

English: Formal Garden, Quarry Bank Mill This ...
Formal Garden, Quarry Bank Mill This section of the former mill-owners garden is laid out in a formal pattern. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I walk down the garden paths,

And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.
My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.
And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.
I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the
paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles
on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon —
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.
Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se’nnight.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam,” said my footman.
“No,” I told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.
In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, “It shall be as you have said.”
Now he is dead.
In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

Black Swan and Rattlesnake

Held captive in the doldrums Friday evening (by Justice Scalia and the Texas Legislature), I told David I needed to see Black Swan to make me feel better.

I knew even as I said it that my wish was ultra-self-contradictory, sort of oxymoronic with the emphasis on moron.

Anyone who’s seen the publicity knows Black Swan wasn’t made for the Hallmark channel. Two friends had warned me about it. One said that two days after viewing, she still had that feeling some movies send you away with. The other said the movie is graphic. I said graphic what? and she said graphic everything.

By Saturday morning, having regained my normally sunny outlook, I worried that the intensity of an anti-Mary Poppins might bring on Black Mood.

But I chanced it.

So as not to spoil anything, I’ll skip to the review: Black Swan is very very very very very good.

Aside from the fact that I remember when Barbara Hershey was a teenager, I felt better coming out of the theater than I had going in.

But I have not shaken the spell. There’s so much to remember, to ponder.

I was pondering when I reached into the kitchen cabinet for a can of tuna and found a rattlesnake.

The hiss was unmistakable. I jumped backward against the electric range, heart pounding, setting the oven racks a- shuddering.

When strike didn’t follow hiss, I stepped closer but saw nothing resembling Crotalus atrox.

What I did see, right in front, was a can of Pam cooking spray, the one I knocked off the shelf a couple of days ago. The cap shattered when it hit the floor, and the can is now hatless.

Obviously, when I reached over the Pam to get to the tuna–heaven forfend I should simply clear a path–my arm pressed down on the exposed nozzle. The spray made a hissing noise, as sprays do.

If I’d spent a peaceful day at home, I’d have thought, That was the Pam.

But I’d just seen Black Swan, so I thought, SNAKE!

Note: There are no snakes in that movie.

But a lot of doors open.

Perhaps that’s the secret to suspense well done. Once under its spell, the viewer, or the reader, glides along on a mixture of experience and anticipation. A closed door becomes menacing. A suggestion of horror is harrowing. The most successful effects stay with us. Fifty years later, a shower curtain still gives bathers pause.

It does me, anyway.

I’m not saying that Black Swan resembles Psycho in any way. They’re entirely different.

I’m sorry Edgar Allan Poe isn’t around today. The man who limited his poems to approximately a hundred lines and his fiction to pieces that could be read in one sitting might be interested in the unity of effect that can be achieved on film.

Black Swan is stunning. It drew me into the illusion and still won’t let me go.

But what will he do for clothes?

Our weekly movie on DVD was about John, a young editor sent to Italy to persuade Robert, a famous writer, to end a twenty-year hiatus and start writing again. It’s a sweet story with all the necessary ingredients, including John’s falling in love with Robert’s daughter, Maria, and Robert’s encouraging John to leave publishing and concentrate on his own writing.

There was also the requisite hitch in the romance:  Maria told John that, although she loved him, she couldn’t go to London with him because she didn’t belong there.  And she didn’t show up at the railroad station to tell John goodbye.

That’s when I perked up. It appeared there might be a realistic ending. John wasn’t yet a published writer, and he wasn’t a risk-taker. That kind of person doesn’t throw away a stable career for a beautiful girl and a typewriter.

But when it comes to romance, movie makers don’t like risk either. Boy-meets-girl rarely turns into girl-tells-boy-she-won’t-go-with-him-and-boy-leaves-anyway. Writers share the characteristic. Even Charles Dickens couldn’t end Great Expectations as he wanted. Advised that the public wouldn’t be pleased to see Pip and Estella go their separate ways, he revised asap. Nobody wants the audience to go away mad.

Understanding caution, I doubted the chance of a realistic conclusion. John was still at the station. There was plenty of time for Maria to show up with her suitcase.  There was also the possibility that when John boarded the train, he’d find Maria waiting for him.

I watched. John got on the train, put his suitcase on the overhead rack, and sat down. An old woman carrying a birdcage sat down across from him. No Maria. The train pulled out of the station.

They’ve done it, I thought.

Then John spoke to the old lady, and the old lady spoke to John, and a light appeared in John’s eyes. He looked out the window and saw Maria on horseback, loping alongside the train. She held the reins of a second horse, its saddle empty. John pulled the emergency cord, jumped off the train, mounted the riderless horse, and loped back to the village with the beautiful girl to resume typing.

It was lovely.

And I spoiled it by shouting, “Don’t forget your suitcase!”

That exclamation exemplifies the difference between me and the scriptwriter. I worry about suitcases. I worry about paychecks. I worry about horses. My father didn’t let me run a horse on unfamiliar terrain. He said the horse might step in a hole and break a leg, or throw me off. He didn’t think much of horses in parades either, because they might slip on the pavement, especially if they were shod. When I see a mounted sheriff’s posse in the Tournament of Roses Parade, I cringe.

Lest anyone blame my father for my nitpicking, I offer another example to show I didn’t need instruction: Every time I thought about running away from home (which I considered once a week the year I was four), I got hung up on one detail: I didn’t know how to work a can opener.

Anyway, when it comes to stories, I have a handicap. I see the holes, the lapses, the flimsy, the far-fetched. I never believed Carson Drew really let Nancy leave home by herself. After the time she went detecting and ended up locked in the back of that truck, she was either grounded or sent to a convent. And when I see a man run away from his suitcase, my suspended disbelief goes plop.

That’s a shame. I like happy endings. If John hadn’t stayed in Italy with Maria, I’d have been sad. I wanted ET to stay with Elliot, and Rhett to stay with Scarlett, and Gilly Hopkins to go home to Trotter, and all the terrorists and the hostages in Bel Canto to live in harmony forever.

But life doesn’t work like that. Nor do all writers. Some of them understand about suitcases.

Still, if the writer who conceived the story of John and Maria wasn’t thinking about me, he was thinking about the rest of his audience. He wrote for people who want romance, and he gave them the appropriate ending: boy got girl, girl got boy, horses cantered off into the sunset. Everyone was happy.

Including me.

Because, as David pointed out, John could always buy another toothbrush.