CHRISTMAS — FAMILY, FRIENDS, MOVIES, TV – By Garry Armstrong

Here we are again somewhere in what’s probably the most bittersweet or sweet bitter time of the year for most of us. It’s the jolly, holly Christmas to New Year period.  It’s the time of year filtered through childhood memories for many and wrapped in holiday music, movies, and hectic preparations to greet folks we don’t often see.  We need to force ourselves to shift gears, putting aside worries about health, bills and family drama to put on a happy face for the most wonderful time of the year. 

Emotions are curious. The holiday season plays fast and loose with our emotions. For those of us who internalize our feelings, it can be tricky. Smiling is not easy. Showing pleasure or happiness isn’t instinctive. It was easy for me to show emotions in my professional life. But we’re talking about real life. I’m past the September of my years. Getting into the Christmas spirit is harder than ever. I miss childhood.

Garry at work ChristmasAs a child, Christmas was a time of anticipation. I was the kid in A Christmas Story.  The year I campaigned for the two-gun Roy Rogers set was very anxious for me. My hopes were almost dashed when I thought Santa had not heard me as we ripped though our presents that Christmas morning. But my Dad who always had a funny smile during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, motioned to one last present. Yes!! It was the DELUXE Roy Rogers two-gun set with 2 rolls of caps!! Even Mom smiled as I squealed in delight.

I never thought we were as poor as Mom frequently reminded us because we usually got what we wanted on Christmas. Those holiday memories include relatives who are long gone. Our Christmas card list was long and included Aunts, Uncles and Cousins, Grandpa and Grandma who I can still see clearly in my sense memory. I used to carefully print the card messages when I was young. As I grew older, I proudly displayed my penmanship, writing endearments to my relatives. I thought they would be in my life forever.

These days, I am the only one in my family to actually write and mail Christmas cards. I take the time to write messages to each person. Usually I wind up with writer’s cramp for my efforts. But I see my Mother hovering behind me somewhere, nodding her approval. I have to remind myself NOT to buy or write cards to Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma and all those Aunts and Uncles. They’re all gone as are many of my friends.

Something is missing in those cherished memories. I have to force a smile. I’m not a kid anymore. I’m Gramps, one of the old people  as my 17-year-old Granddaughter calls my Bride and me. There is a sense of loneliness that won’t go away. The movies are my cure-all.

I grew up as a child of the movies. I  saw my first film, The Best Years Of Our Lives,  during the holiday season of 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war.  He was in uniform and seemed 10 feet tall as we went to the venerable radio City Music Hall to see the movie which is still a favorite with Marilyn and me.  Movies and their fantasies have always been a part of my life, my personality. I am comfortable, charming and loquacious when talking about movies. I lose myself in movies, especially westerns and holiday movies.

I can laugh, smile, cry and sing along with favorite movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me In St. Louis, A Christmas Story, The Shop Around the Corner,  and many other memorable films shared in our collective sense memory. But once the movie is over, it’s back to reality minus the celluloid good cheer. Ironically it was the same way during my life as a TV news reporter. I did holiday stories ranging from heartbreak to feel-good. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people over decades watched those stories and associated me with all the festive times.  The real me smiles at the TV reporter me — trying to separate fact from fiction.  Print the legend, as they say in that old western.

One of the nice things about this holiday season is catching up with long-lost friends who’ve found me on Facebook. One person, a former mentor, who I presumed dead chatted me up, clearly remembering the years when I was a young reporter full of myself.

Then, there was the overnight radio show I did on WBZ radio in Boston last weekend. It is hosted by my dear, dear friend, Jordan Rich. Jordan has been through a very rough patch recently losing a loved one. But he spread friendship and laughter for his gang of movie mavens as we entertained listeners who called in from all parts of the country to chat about favorite holiday movies.

During breaks and commercials, we laughed and giggled like teenagers. The listeners picked up on our mood and said that it was infectious especially for many who were alone, lonely or depressed. I cried a little when an elderly woman thanked Jordan for being a life line. After the show, now close to 4 am, Jordan and I lingered talking about our lives and our families. We hugged each other for a long time with plans to get together again for a movie night out with Marilyn.

As I walked out the door, I looked back and Jordan was smiling. I felt warm outside and inside. That moment  will stay with me throughout the holidays and beyond. It’s good to be able to smile!

BEAUTIFUL MUSIC AND A FINE CAST MAKES A LOVELY FILM – A LATE QUARTET

A LATE QUARTET (2012)

Director: Yaron Zilberman
Writers (screenplay): Seth Grossman, Yaron Zilberman

The Cast:

Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Robert Gelbart
Christopher Walken, as Peter Mitchell
Catherine Keener, as Juliette Gelbart
Mark Ivanir, as Daniel Lerner
Imogen Poots, as Alexandra Gelbart
Wallace Shawn, as Gideon Rosen
Anne Sofie von Otter, as Miriam.

Garry and I watched A Late Quartet  the other day. I bought it after reading its reviews. It sounded like a movie for grown-ups and there have been a dearth movies that don’t star fresh-faced children, but aren’t entirely about getting old. Jokes about getting old begin to get old after a while, so we were ready for a grown-up movie about life and living.The reviews were right. It’s a fine movie.

If the movie has a “hero,” that would be Christopher Walken who plays against type with elegance and grace. Add Marc Ivanir — usually playing an Israeli CIA sort-of-bad-guy on NCIS (he actually is Israeli and a hero) — as the dedicated, haunted first violin. Phillip Seymour Hoffman does his usual excellent job as the quartet’s jealous second violin. Catherine Keener (on viola) is the “could be better” wife to Hoffman  It’s a great mix of characters and some of the best work done by Walken and company.

Their movie musicianship is realistic. They did not actually perform the music on the sound track, but it looked like they knew their way around string instruments. Some of them may have had some early training, the rest were coached for the movie. However it was accomplished, the cinematographer was able to follow the actors’ performances closely, without resorting to long shots to disguise their identities. Well done!

While doing a little reasearch on the stars, I discovered that Walken attended the same university as Garry and I. He was probably there during one of Garry’s years at Hofstra University. Walken was there for just a year, then left for a gig in an off-broadway show. It was news to us that he’d been there at all.

It is one of the many ironies of Garry and my education that most of Hofstra’s most famous graduates are not graduates, but attendees who left before getting a degree to begin highly successful careers in Hollywood. We had a very good drama department and perhaps the biggest measure of its success is how many of the students in the program were “discovered” before they got degrees and went on to fame and fortune without benefit of that piece of paper.

Although it doesn’t hurt if you know some classical music. The world of classical performance is as competitive — more competitive — than any of the performing arts. Understanding this helps you understand the characters’ behavior, but regardless, it’s a good story and a well-written script.

The Story

It’s the 25th anniversary of “The Fugue”, a classical string quartet. Time is catching up with them. Christopher Walken, their cellist and oldest member of the quartet has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and needs to retire. The first violinist is in love with the second violinist’s daughter, and the second violinist wants to be the first violinist … and sex in the form of “oops” infidelity adds enough spice to imperil the survival of the quartet if the rest of their problems were not disruptive enough.

Walken as the sensible, down-to-earth member of the group, dealing with his own burdens and unwilling to tolerate the childish carryings-on by the other performers, is wonderful. “The Fugue comes first,” he says, or words to that effect. It’s interesting to see Walken cast as the stable, adult, not even slightly crazy, member of the group.

The Music

A Late Quartet refers to Opus 131, one of a group of string quartets written by Beethoven towards the end of his life. It is magnificent. I’ve rarely heard this piece performed at all. It’s challenging music, written when Beethoven had already lost his hearing, yet was still able to hear it in his head. It’s one of Beethoven’s most complex, intense pieces and it’s beautifully performed.

I love the music, studied classical music for many years. I love Beethoven. He is my favorite composer, whose music I play as I drift off to sleep at night and whose symphonies have been my companion on many journeys through my life.

It did not disappoint us. It’s not a light piece of fluff, nor is it depressing or hopeless. Problems come, problems are addressed, problems are resolved. Not everything has a happy ending but within the limits of what’s possible, these adults work out their problems — musical, health, personal and relationship — like … adults. How refreshing!

It’s worth a couple of hours of your time. The DVD is available on Amazon (which is where I got it). The soundtrack is available separately.

GAME CHANGER

Being a cast member on a movie set wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect since my experience with working on a film was altogether vicarious, drawn from depictions on television or movies. Even subtracting 95% of what I thought I knew to align my expectations with reality, I thought something should be happening. I guess it was, if you were one of the stars or co-stars.

movie-set-bostonBut extras? Which is what I was, though these days the term “extras” is out of favor and “background performer” is in. Whatever you care to call us, we got shuttled from set to set, fed three meals at lavish buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners where everyone chowed down with extreme prejudice. Otherwise, we waited. And waited. And then, we waited some more. While we waited we were required to be silent. Don’t annoy the stars. Don’t be in the way. Don’t go anywhere — including the bathroom – without permission. Permission you had to get from one of the dozens of assistants, those attractive young people running around with headsets and clipboards.

It was confusing to say the least. You never knew if someone might decide you or your group were needed in a scene, but even if you were never in any scene — entirely possible — you had to act as if you were about to be “up” any moment and your presence or absence was life and death. On a movie set, it turns out everything is treated like life or death. It’s a Hollywood thing.

It was mid-November, night in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I hadn’t worn enough layers. Cold.

My feet hurt. Not to mention my back.

I needed to pee.

I was bored.

The director was on the 128th take. Before the night was done, he would close in on 250 takes of this particular scene. It was the turning point of the plot. It included every member of the cast except a bunch of us “background performers.” No matter. We still had to be there. Just in case. I wondered how much money I was going to make, just standing around. I didn’t think it was going to be enough especially since it seemed unlikely this would be the night Hollywood discovered me. I wished I’d brought a book, though in the dark I wasn’t sure if I’d have been able to read.

That was when I noticed the woman. She was standing just off to my right, leaning against a street light. It looked like she was reading, but whatever it was she was holding wasn’t a book. Something else. It had a light attached.

I sidled over.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“You’re reading? What’s that? I’ve never seen one.”

“It’s a Kindle.”

“OH,” I said, things clicking into place. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before.”

She looked up and smiled. “It’s wonderful. I don’t know how I lived without it. I can bring books with me everywhere, as many books as I want. See?” she said, and she began to show me all the cool stuff it could do. Like being able to bookmark passages, get definitions of words and phrases. And carry a whole library with her in just this little thing no bigger than a paperback.

I held it, turned it this way and that. “You know,” I said. “This might be exactly what I need.” Certainly my bookcases at home were bursting at the seams. Anything that let me buy books without finding someplace to put them sounded like a really good deal. And this thing would let me take books everywhere without hauling a trunkful of paperback. It seemed a good idea. But the price was still too high for me and I wondered if I would like a book that didn’t smell like ink and paper. It was convenient, but it lacked ambiance.

Nonetheless, that conversation stuck in my brain. Long after the movie — in which I did not appear, though I had one scene which was cut and left on the editing room floor — had faded into memory, I remembered the lady with the Kindle. When the new generation of Kindles was released and the prices dropped, I bought one. Then I bought one for everyone in my family who reads books. And I bought another one that plays movies and audiobooks and checks email. Finally, I got an even newer one that does the same stuff, but (supposedly) better and faster.

I can’t even imagine life without my Kindle. I’ve got hundreds of books on it. It goes everywhere with me … literally everywhere.

A week or two ago — don’t remember exactly when — I had to read a paperback. It was heavy. It was awkward. I couldn’t hold it in one hand.

And where was the light?

This may sound like no big deal.  After all, it’s just another toy, one more electronic doohickie. But it isn’t. For me, it was a life changer. Because finally, I could always have books with me.

If you were to take away everything else, all my toys, gadgets and widgets — but let me read, I’d be okay. I can live without TV, movies and games. I can’t live without books. My Kindle has become a magic doorway into that world of dreams called literature, the place where everything is possible. Where I go to live when life in the this world is too real.

ROKU – THE LITTLE STREAMING WIFI UNIT THAT CAN

Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. Let me introduce you to the Roku.

Roku is a little streaming device that works off your wi-fi connection so you can stream movie and premium channels, free and subscription-based to your television. I wanted  to get Netflix and Hulu Plus, but I don’t like watching movies and other stuff on my computer and have no use for a pricey gaming device. I have a living room with comfy chairs and a big screen. That’s where I want to watch movies and television.

The Roku comes in different flavors — although they all work the same way. More expensive “advanced” models offer additional or augmented options, such as high-definition streaming, gaming, and earphone connections through the remote control.

In our case, there wasn’t much point in getting a very advanced model. Our high-definition television is an older model and only has one high-definition port — is already occupied with the connection to the cable box. So we weren’t going to be able to take advantage of Roku’s 1080P capabilities and we have no interest in gaming.

The price is right: the entry-level model is just under $50 (currently on sale for $39), the next model up — the one we bought) sells for around $50 right now. The top of the line is under $100, less than any gaming device. It’s small and connecting it is so easy that I could do it without help (though there were some nervous moments).

Basically, you plug A into B, B into C, C into D then follow the prompts. The instructions promise that this will bring out your inner geek. My inner geek is not hiding. I just don’t like dealing with hardware. I still don’t really believe that electricity isn’t going to spill out of the walls.

I got it put together and by golly, it worked. Despite appearances, there are only a very few free services. Most of the services are by subscription. I already belong to Amazon Prime, so I had one to start with. I wanted Netflix and was willing the pay the $7.99 a month for it. I haven’t decided about Hulu Plus yet. I figure I’ll jump into this slowly. Roku really is as easy as they promise. It works. And keeps working.

The bad news. It is what it is and that’s all it is. It is not configurable. There are no options to make it easier to use for people with special needs. There’s no help for the hard of hearing or visually impaired or anyone else who isn’t nimble of finger, sharp of eye and keen of ear.

The “search” capabilities are primitive and don’t deserve to be called “search capabilities.” The tools, such as they are, are clumsy and slow. Although there has been some improvement since I originally bought and installed it, the improvement is not substantial … and in some ways, actually makes it more difficult to use. It’s at best klutzy and at worse, brings out my resentment of poorly designed software.

It’s easier to find whatever it is on your computer than go back and pick it up on the television. Keep your laptop handy because you’ll need it. Closed captions are available on some channels, not others. You can’t set it so that any channel that offers closed captions will display them. You have to turn captions on for each channel individually. Not all stations offer close captions at all. Shame on them.

All that being said, the Roku is a fine piece of equipment for the price. It does what it promises. It’s worth the money, whether you buy the ultra economy model or top of the line.

Is it going to replace your expensive movie packages from your cable or satellite company? Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on your viewing habits, your technical aptitude, creativity and how your cable company has structured their prices. They don’t make it easy to delete pieces of your package. However, if you currently just can’t afford movie packages from your local cable or dish provider, this is a godsend. It’s affordable, easy to use (really as easy as they say it is) and it works.

Roku needs a better, more sophisticated user interface and a more efficient way of searching. There is a great deal to watch but finding it isn’t easy. Practice helps. It takes a while to get used to it. I’m fine on Amazon because I can set up my watch list on the computer and it is automatically available on Roku. You can also set up favorites and preferences for Netflix via the computer (easier than doing it directly on the Roku). I believe Hulu offers a similar option. You need a computer to get the most out of the Roku, but most of us have a few of them.

Standard set up couldn’t be much simpler.

Roku Instructions

Eventually, I will figure out how to find what I am looking for more efficiently. I figure Roku will also make a few improvements to the interface. In the meantime, it beats out the competition by several country miles (unless you are absolutely married to iTunes) and the price is more than reasonable. You get a lot of bang for your buck.

You need one unit per television, but you don’t need a different account for each Roku. One account works on all your devices: Roku, gaming devices, computers, tablets, telephones, and so on. It’s a pretty fair deal, especially compared to the price-gouging of traditional providers. Check them out. You may find it is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.

It’s on sale all over the place right now for Christmas and it’s a great gift for yourself or any friends that have a WiFi connection.

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DON’T PRINT THE LEGEND

Dusty Streets of Tombstone

I love westerns. I hate westerns. I grew up wanting to be a western hero, maybe the Lone Ranger. Never mind the gender issue. I knew by the time I was 5 that boys get to do a lot more stuff than girls, so I wanted to be one.

When I was a kid I didn’t know much. I didn’t count bullets and wonder how come they didn’t reload. I had no idea how many bullets there ought to be. I didn’t notice prejudice, bigotry and the near-genocide of Native Americans … hey, I was a kid. But I’m not a kid now. I know what it means when someone says “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

I understand westerns are not historical documents and I don’t need them to be. I’m used to historical manipulation, ignoring facts to make a story work. But I can’t seem to ignore cruelty, mass murder and the adulation of psychopaths. The claims of heroism for what are really acts of malice, stupidity and greed. It doesn’t roll off me.

Big things bother me a lot while small things bother me proportionately less — like an itch I can’t scratch. “Print the legend” does not work for me. I can’t wrap my head around the myth. There are exceptions of course … but mostly … westerns have become painful to watch. New-style and cynical — or old-fashioned and racist — it’s the same. The only difference is style. For me, it’s no longer entertainment.

It just hurts.

Afternoon walk - Tombstone

THE ONE AND ONLY ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS STORY

I need my annual fix — a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, quickly followed by A Christmas Story.

It’s a Wonderful Life is my sentimental favorite, but A Christmas Story makes me smile. We laugh before they show the funny parts because we know what’s coming. Watching it is our family ritual.

SantaAndRalphie

The original narration by the story’s author, the inimitable Jean Shepherd, is a gem. It’s the story of Christmas seen through the eyes of Ralphie, a kid like me. A kid like you. I don’t care how many musicals they make. The original will always be better. Between Jean Shepherd and Darren McGavin, it doesn’t get better than that.

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I’m not sure what my favorite scene is, but it may be when the neighbor’s pack of hounds gets the Christmas turkey. Or perhaps the lighting of the world’s ugliest lamp!

If by some stroke of ill luck you haven’t seen it, it plays on most cable channels sometime in December. Just in case we miss it, we have it — and all our favorite Christmas movies — on DVD. It was released last year on Blu-ray.

It is sometimes poignant, but it is never sappy. It succeeds in being nostalgic without sticky sweetness and funny without being annoying. It may be the best role of Darin McGavin’s career.

THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES

Halloween was always a special holiday for my group of friends. From the early 1970s, we held an annual Halloween party. Each year, we descended on a friend’s parent’s summer house in the Berkshires. The house was not huge, but we were young and found places to sleep, even if it was on the floor or a hammock on the porch.

In the dark, glowing Jack O Lanterns

Those were the days before DVDs or even videotape — long before big screen televisions — so we rented a projector, screen and a movie. The occasion called for a horror movie. We tended to the classics: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman (poor Larry Talbot!). … but lacking that, any horror movie would do. It was the centerpiece of the weekend’s entertainment … in addition to the fun of getting together to see each other.

Devil Jones rubberThe last year we had the party in the mountains, just before most of us got married and settled down on Long Island,  the guys in charge of movie rental were late getting to it. All the familiar films were gone. So, in the spirit of trying something new, they rented “The Devil in Miss Jones.” It sounded like a horror movie to them. Devil? Halloween. Right?

Given the audience and its condition — drugs and alcohol flowed freely in those halcyon days of yore — the movie had predictable but hilarious (depending on what you find funny) results. I won’t go into lurid detail, but I think it was our absolutely best ever Halloween party. Subsequent parties were more elaborate, bigger, almost like virtual reality rides at theme parks … but the year we all watched “The Devil in Miss Jones” brought us closer in ways we would not forget. I certainly haven’t, especially since that party was when Garry and I grew really close. Now we are fused at the hip and share those special memories. Do you youngsters ever wonder what grandma and grandpa are giggling about over there on the recliner?

So you see? Things can turn out fine, even when they apparently go awry. Thank you Georgina Spelvin and Harry Reems. It was definitely one of your finer efforts.

ALMOST MEL BROOKS: THE RAVEN (1963)

The Raven (1935 film)

It’s that time of year again. When every television station digs into its archives and hauls out the hoariest old horror flicks they can find. They don’t have to be good or even scary. If they feature one of the “classic” horror movie actors — Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi (you can sing along because I’m sure you know the usual suspects) – it’s good to go.

After avoiding the movie for 50 years, I sat through an entire showing of The Raven. It stars the usual suspects: Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre. It features some very serious curtain-chewing by Vincent Price who can barely keep a straight face.Given the dialogue, I can well understand why. Boris Karloff is very Boris Karloff. And surprise! There’s a major role for a very youthful Jack Nicholson. Directed by (who else?) Roger Corman.

Jack Nicholson? In a B horror movie? Yesiree. I didn’t recognize him until Garry pointed him out. Then he made a Jack Nicholson face and I said, “OH yeah, that’s Jack.” He did a couple of films with Roger before Easy Rider catapulted him to fame and fortune.

Vincent’s recitation of Edgar Allen Poe‘s at the beginning of the film is (sorry about the pun) priceless. It’s an unintentionally funny poem anyhow, but Price’s recitation  is so camp I realized the movie was never intended to be taken seriously. This was being played for laughs.

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Sure enough, the movie is a comedy. So much so  I felt as if I were watching “Young Frankenstein.” It wasn’t belly laugh or guffaw funny, but it was funny. Kitsch, camp and way over-the-top.

If you haven’t seen it — on purpose or by omission — take a look. I assume it’s playing on more than one cable channel. Consult your guide. It is bound to be playing somewhere. It’s funny and no, it isn’t scary unless you are 3-years-old and extremely easily frightened.

I will not burden you with the plot. It’s irrelevant. Not to worry. It’s just a bunch of old horror movie stars doing their thing, playing parodies of themselves. And a historically interesting performance by a very early Jack Nicholson, long before he found his way to superstardom.

This is a movie that’s fun to watch and surprisingly entertaining.

For extra credit, try reciting “The Raven.” No laughing allowed. Ham it up as much as you can. I’d be surprised if you can come anywhere near Vincent Price’s classic performance. He was The Ham of Hams. I don’t believe anyone before or since can match his lugubrious tones.

42 – The Story of An American Legend. The Story of America.

42

We meant to see this one in the theatre, but time slipped away and by the time we were ready to go, it was gone. But that turned out to be fine, because we have a wide-screen television and surround. I bought the movie and we got a private screening. Time for baseball and history. Not only baseball. Not only history.

The integration of sports is taken so much for granted today, younger generations can’t imagine when it was any other way. This is the movie that shows how it happened. It’s a movie about many things.

It’s the story of how and why Jackie Robinson became the first non-white player in Major League Baseball. How this began the integration of all professional sports. It was the beginning of modern baseball as well as the first significant move toward real integration.

That it was our original home town team, the Brooklyn Dodgers makes the story more personal for us. Branch Rickey, owner of the Dodgers, decided it was time to make a difference. Because he could, he changed the world. Harrison Ford as Mr. Rickey mumbles. He’s also real, touching, human. He actually made me cry. Harrison Ford is not known for nuanced performances, but he gives one in this movie.

JrobinsonI commented that Harrison used to be President, not to mention Indiana Jones. Garry pointed out that owning the Dodgers was far more important. I agreed. Because Garry and I agree: there’s nothing more important than baseball. Especially right now.

Chadwick Boseman bears a strong physical resemblance to Jackie Robinson. He doesn’t sound like him, but that’s quibbling. Nicole Beharie is a pretty good likeness of Rachel Isum Robinson. Who, as Garry pointed out, is even today, old as she is, one fine-looking woman. It was no accident Rickey chose a good-looking couple. He knew what they would be up against and it would be hard enough. Any small advantage they could gain by just being attractive … well, they were going to need it.

It’s hard for people brought up after the Civil Rights Amendment to understand the intensity of the hatred, anger and rage bringing a Black man into baseball caused.

It was 1947, the year I was born. The big war in Europe was over and returning Black soldiers were appalled and enraged that the service to their nation had done nothing to alleviate the oppression of Jim Crow laws. Segregation was not merely as bad as it had been. It was worse. Returning Black soldiers made racists all over America nervous that their position of supremacy was being threatened.

It would take 20 years to make get a civil rights amendment to the Constitution. Twenty more to make it real and twenty-five years more to get a non-white President into office. It will probably take another twenty before people stop noticing race … if indeed they ever do. Race and the judgments we make based on skin color are so ingrained, so automatic, so very American.

More than apple pie or the flag, we the people love to hate. It’s the most universal of all human behaviors. Not our ability to love but our willingness to hate.

Chadwick Boseman not only looks like Jackie Robinson. He has his swing. I assume they taught him the swing, but they did it very well and really got that gritty baseball “feel” into the movie. Everyone plays their part with authenticity, as those of us old enough to remember the real guys can attest. Maybe that’s the problem with many of the critics: they never saw the real guys, met them, cheered for them. Lived and died with them through the long season of baseball. They don’t remember, but we do.

The cinematography is great, moving smoothly and naturally between wide and close shots to give you the feeling of the game and more. Nice, tight segues. What is even better captured is the intensity of the abuse Robinson was forced to put up with, to swallow without complaint while simultaneously playing at the top of his game. I’d like to see any modern player survive this.

In many ways, Robinson didn’t survive it. He lived through it, but it killed him from the inside. He blasted open the door of the future and it cost him dearly.

Why did Rickey do it? There was a strong moral component. Rickey believed it was the right thing to do and the right thing to do for baseball. But above all, it was a sound business decision. There was a huge pool of talent out there and the Dodgers needed all the help they could get. By bringing in first Jackie Robinson while simultaneously planning to bring up more Black players, Rickey figured he was going to do some serious winning. He was right.

Leo Derocher

Leo Derocher

Christopher Meloni, ex of Law and Order: SVU, nails Leo Durocher, the crazy, quirky Brooklyn Dodger’s manager. He actually looks like Durocher.

If you love baseball, see it. Even if you don’t love baseball, see it anyway. See it for the history, to remember how hard the battle for equal rights was, is and will continue to be. How much baseball, the American pastime, has always been at the center of the American experience.

And finally see it because it’s the story of a genuine red-blooded American hero. In every sense of the word.

From Garry Armstrong:

I have to admit I was tearing up in places even though there’s no cryin’ in baseball. Critics aside, this was no pleasant Hollywood fable but a fairly authentic account of Jackie Robinson, the man and the player and the times that swirled around him.

Much of this is first-hand recall for me. I was 5 years old and already a budding baseball fan in Brooklyn in 1947 when the young player wearing number 42 became a household name. I remember all the excitement in my neighborhood. Some of it I understood. Some of it I didn’t. The newspapers and radio were full of the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson and how what they were doing would perhaps cause problems all across the country.

I remember angry things shouted by White people we encountered. I recall some very nice comments offered by White people who frequently said Jackie Robinson was “a credit to your people.”

I followed the Dodgers very closely over the years. I knew their lineup by heart, could emulate their swings and could recite from memory details of their personal lives along with the baseball stuff. In later years, I’d have the good fortune to meet many of the Boys of Summer including Peewee, Campy, Big Newk, Ralphie Branca, Gil Hodges, The Duke (My hero) and Jackie Robinson.

Later, as a reporter, they gave me their own first hand accounts of what it was like – that memorable year of 1947. I would also hear from Red Barber, the legendary sportscaster who called almost all of the games during the ’47 season for the Dodgers. One poignant memory involves a conversation with Campy (Roy Campanella) and Jackie Robinson. I was now a young reporter and a familiar face to many of the aging Dodgers. Campy was always “the diplomat”, pleasant and smiling.

Jackie always seemed angry. I thought he was mad at me sometimes until Campy said he was just “Jackie being Jackie”. The conversation was about how young Black people conduct themselves. Jackie thought many were irresponsible. Campy said they were just kids doing what kids do. Jackie glared at Campy and then smiled at me saying. “You get it, don’t you?”. I just nodded.

Sorry I strayed from the movie but it evoked so many, many memories. And, thanks Harrison Ford, for a splendid portrayal of Branch Rickey!

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THE FUNNIEST YEAR – My Favorite Year

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This is one of those movies that I will watch any time it shows up on cable. No matter when (doesn’t matter since we have DVRs all over the house), it’s laugh-out-loud funny, funny enough to laugh at the jokes in advance after you’ve seen it a dozen times or move. Everyone in it gives a perfect performances. If you haven’t seen it, grab it before it gets away.

It isn’t merely funny. It’s also history, the history of comedy. The crazy kids who grew up to create the movies and television shows that made history and formed the comedy genre as we know and love it.

This is a wonderful, nostalgic, hilarious movie based on the “kids” who wrote the material for the “Show of Shows”, a live comedy show starring the great Sid Caesar. Among the many writers to emerge from this incubator of talent were Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Howard Morris, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Norman Lear, Larry Gelbart (creator of MASH, the TV series) and many others. The writer’s room group reads like the who’s who of comedy.

Much of the story is based on an actual event, the week that Errol Flynn (Peter O’Toole) came to town to guest star on the Sid Caesar show. Mel Brooks, the kid in the movie was in fact assigned to “babysit” Flynn and make sure he stayed sober and showed up for the broadcast. Although the character is a bit of a composite, he’s mostly Mel.

Richard Benjamin directed it. Joe Bologna as “King Kaiser” (Sid Caesar) is wonderful. And as far as I’m concerned, this is far and away Peter O’Toole’s best performance. You may prefer Lawrence of Arabia, but this movie does it for me.

We never get tired of it. We never stop laughing. We watched it last night for maybe the 100th time and laughed as much as ever.

You WILL enjoy it. You have my personal guarantee on that. Or double your money back!

(Not really :-) )

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Weird Little Town

I live in the Blackstone Valley. We are part of the National Park system — what’s called a “National Historic Corridor.” Our quaint little towns and beautiful (slightly polluted) river has historic importance.

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In this valley was born the American Industrial revolution. Right around the corner. That’s where they built the first mills, using the power of the Blackstone River. Then they built a canal system and a railroad to carry those home-made American goods to markets around the world. Unfortunately, they also poisoned the river and it’s taken half a century to get it almost clean, but that was the price of industrialization. We should be doing better now. Are we?

My town has not accepted the new century. It never entirely accepted the last one either. It was dragged along, unwillingly through the mid-1950s. After that, the town dug its heels in and said “Hell no, we won’t go.” They weren’t kidding.

Little Dam

A World War I artillery pieces sits next to our Civil War memorial and just a few feet from the World War II bronze and stone grouping. Vietnam never made it, nor any war since. It’s all guns and churches. At various times of the year, there are events on the common, often called “the green.” The grass doesn’t care. It just hangs around, being lawn-like.

We have book sales, rummage sales and cake sales which usually coincide with a holiday. We have a Christmas Parade, our local version of First Night, but so early in December it always feels odd and out-of-place. I have no idea why they don’t hold it closer to the holidays. And there are porkettas and pancake breakfasts. All to raise money for something. We used to have great local fireworks on the high school’s athletic field, but one year, we ran out of money and that was the end. Other towns still have fireworks. We can see bits of them over the tops of our trees.

I miss the fireworks so we watch the Boston display on television every year.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Other towns complain about Main Street being destroyed by big chains like Walmart. We do not complain. We don’t have a Walmart although we do have a CVS — for which for sacrificed a great ice cream shop. Well, we didn’t sacrifice it. The people who ran the ice cream shop sold to CVS and used the money to open a brand new place in another town, but I digress.

If you want to buy anything beyond hardware, lumber, groceries, medication or fast food, you’ll need to go elsewhere. If you want a decent meal, you will have to go to another town. If you want to see a movie, go bowling, see a play, hear a concert … well, you know, Boston’s not too far and Worcester is just up the road. You can get to Providence in about 45 minutes — not counting parking. Depending on traffic. Whatever you want, you probably won’t find it here.

We do have a beautiful if underfunded public library. It’s in an old, elegant building that has somehow managed to remain alive despite having its budget repeatedly cut until it can barely keep the doors open to maintain membership in the public library system. And progress is encroaching, despite all resistance.

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After 20 years of arguing about it — after allocating millions of dollars to upgrade the old high school and having those funds vanish without a trace and with no explanation and no upgrades — our little town was told by the Commonwealth we had to build a proper High School or lose accreditation. Lack of accreditation would have made it tricky for graduates to get into college. So we built a new high school and our taxes almost tripled. The town has been so fiscally swindled mismanaged for so long no one can remember it any other way.

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There is a myth surrounding small towns. We’ve seen the movie — starring Tom Hanks or someone like him. There’s a supporting cast of caring local citizens. Cue up “The Andy Griffith” theme. In the movies (and on television) everyone has the best interests of the town at heart. Really, underneath it all.

Not! Here it’s all about nepotism, threats, bullying, and a committment to making life unbearable for anyone who gets in the way. They are not particularly concerned with the best interests of the town except insofar as it advances their own business and financial interests. They take what they want, refuse to answer to anyone, hire relatives and personal friends, give out contracts to their buddies and live the good life. It’s worked well for them. They always win.

What can you do? It’s a small town and you can’t spend your life fighting.

The mill by Whitins Pond

Town meetings end in fistfights and horrific verbal brawls creating enough bad feeling to last into the next decade. I opposed the new High School. Not because we didn’t need one. We definitely needed a new high school but I was still waiting for an explanation of where the millions of dollars to upgrade the old high school went. Eventually, overcoming all objections, they built it anyway and the explanation never came.

They asked Garry to run for town council when we first moved here. He was easily recognized from all his years on television, so despite being (then but not now) the only non-white resident, fame beat out prejudice. Garry declined the honor, explaining to me it would destroy our lives. We’d have mobs in the driveway throwing rocks at our windows. I didn’t understand until years later when I worked for a local paper covering debates preceding town council elections.

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Good grief! The level of personal vindictiveness and venom was a wonder to behold. Where were the good guys? Each  candidate was worse than the other, ranging from merely venal, through clueless, to possibly psychotic.

It was closer to Shirley Jackson‘s “The Lottery” than Andy Griffith. And yet, I do love the valley. True, I try very hard to not even think about why they do what they do and how they do it. The less I know, the happier I am. If my town were unique, it would be encouraging on some level, but all the towns around here are pretty bad. This town may take top prize for most blatantly bad government, but the other towns are close behind. They have better manners in public … but small towns are not like the movies. Really. Not.

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So — life goes on. White picket fences and green lawns. Big shade trees, lots of room for children to play. Safe streets, plenty of open space. Only two traffic lights in town, one of which is probably redundant. It’s ever so pretty. Just … don’t get too involved. Things aren’t necessarily what they seem. Think Chevy Chase in “Funny Farm.” Yeah, that works.

HOLLYWOOD BIZARRE – FLYPAPER AND OTHER WEIRD STUFF

A while ago, Garry and I watched what is I am sure among the lowest grossing movies of all time. I don’t say this lightly. In its theatrical run, it grossed exactly (according to both Wikipedia and IMDB) $1100, which even in our world is not a huge amount of money. No, there aren’t any zeroes missing. That’s the real number.

This is not the lowest grossing movie ever. The 2012 movie  Playback cost $7.5 million to film but only grossed $264 – the lowest-grossing film of 2012. And 2006′s Zyzzx Road, starring Katherine Heigl grossed $30

Flypaper only cost $5,000,000 to make, so they only lost $4,998,900 which, for a Hollywood bomb, is small potatoes. The movie was universally panned, opened in just one movie house (where?) on two screens, then disappeared, never to be heard from again until it popped up the other night on one of our cable movie channels.

Garry didn’t recognize it, so he recorded it on the bedroom DVR. One night, while I was reading in bed (my favorite indulgence), I noticed the bed was shaking. He was laughing. Really laughing. Garry doesn’t normally lay in bed laughing. He told me that he was going to save this one because he thought I’d like it. As a rule, there are many things I find funny that he doesn’t find amusing, but never has the reverse been true. If he thinks its funny, it’s funny.

Flypaper  is actually a good little comedy. It’s a spoof, a farce, a parody of bank heist movies plus slapstick, technobabble and a few good explosions. The dialogue is witty.

The cast features Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey. It’s directed by Rob Minkoff. The writers were the same guys who created the characters from The Hangover. Rob Minkoff is known for co-directing The Lion King. So they’ve got their bona fides in order.

My first thought, as the credits were rolling, was that it reminded me of the credits for the Pink Panther. And, it turns out, the movie reminded me of the Pink Panther too, minus Inspector Clouseau. The same sort of “What else could go wrong” humor. It’s not a great movie, but it’s fun. I would normally not write about it, but it’s gotten a bum rap: horrible reviews and no support from the studio. Showing it for one week in one movie theater on two screens, with no advertising or PR is not exactly a big opening. It deserved better.

The writeups in both IMDB and Wikipedia demonstrate that whoever wrote them never watched the movie. The descriptions are wildly inaccurate. Shame on whoever wrote them. I guess anonymity is not always a bad thing. I wouldn’t sign my name to that drivel either. Then again, I wouldn’t write about something I’d never watched. Call me old-fashioned, but it bothers me.

When I read movie reviews, I frequently wonder if the reviewer watched the same movie I did. Or watched any movie at all. They heap praise on movies that are boring and sometimes much worse than that. They pan movies that are creative, unique and interesting. They apparently take special pleasure in negative reviews, the more vicious the better. Meanwhile, they glorify obscure movies in which no one could possibly be interested.

Back in 1999, Garry and I were visiting friends in Michigan. Our group consisted of a lawyer, an engineer, a TV journalist, and a writer. We decided to rent the latest movie on which critics were heaping praise. It was the must-see  movie of the year: American Beauty.

Touted as a masterpiece, there were barely enough adjectives in the English language to say how wonderful it was. It was beloved of critics and grossed more than $350 million, won Best PictureBest DirectorBest Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

It stunk. It was affectedartsy, pretentious and incoherent. Did I forget annoying and dull?

Take this “interpretation” from Wikipedia as an example of just how thrilling it was:

Academics have offered many possible readings of American Beauty; film critics are similarly divided, not so much about the quality of the film as their interpretations of it. Described by many as about “the meaning of life” or “gender identification” or “the hollow existence of the American suburbs”, the film has defied categorization by even the filmmakers. Mendes is indecisive, saying the script seemed to be about something different each time he read it: “a mystery story, a kaleidoscopic journey through American suburbia, a series of love stories … it was about imprisonment … loneliness [and] beauty. It was funny; it was angry, sad.” (Translation: Mendes, the director, didn’t have a clue what the script was about.)

In essence, no one knew what, if anything, the movie was about, but it was so “au courant” no one was would admit they didn’t get it. After the fad ended, the movie disappeared. No one shows it on cable, no one rents it. It’s out of print. Because it was crap. Like in the story of the Emperor’s new clothing, no one wanted to be the first to point out the king was bare-ass naked.

About half an hour into the movie, our little group of well-read individualists looked at each other and briefly conferred. Was anyone enjoying it? No? Then why were we watching it?  We promptly popped the movie out of the machine and moved on with our evening. Pop corn goes well with conversation, too.

It reminds me of the Woody Allen movie Hollywood Ending. In it, a formerly prestigious director is broke and desperate for a movie project. He gets an offer to direct a big movie in New York. Because the offer comes from his former wife (Téa Leoni) and her current boyfriend (Treat Williams), he is reluctant to take the assignment, even though he needs the money and something to get his career on track.

He finally agrees to do it and is immediately struck blind by some kind of psychosomatic ailment probably induced by anxiety. The production hasn’t even started yet, but he decides to fake it.  It costs $60 million and flops. But, there is a “Hollywood ending.” The movie becomes a huge hit in France. He happily proclaims, “Thank God the French exist.” He knows the movie is awful, the worst thing he’s ever done. He had no idea what he was doing, but the French read all kinds of deep meaning into it. There will always be people to love things that don’t make sense because they figure it must be full of secret meaning. I went to school with these people. Didn’t we all?

My point is simple: Unless we are utterly lacking in critical judgment, I doubt the critics actually watched Flypaper. Maybe one guy watched it, didn’t like it, told the others who all followed his leader.

Flypaper is funny. We enjoyed it. It’s up there with some of the Zucker brothers nuttier comedies and a few of Mel Brooks’ later efforts. It’s as good as I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) and the same genre.

We laughed. A comedy should make you laugh. This does.

Flypaper is every bank heist movie you’ve seen with Murphy’s Law running rampant. Absolutely everything that can go wrong does so in the most spectacular way. Parts of the film remind me of Wily Coyote cartoons. You know something’s going to happen, but it doesn’t spoil the joke. The bomb is going to blow everyone to kingdom come. The fancy electronic computer gadgets won’t work. The money in the vault will be drachma, not dollars. You don’t care. The pacing is appropriately frantic, the actors manage to keep straight faces. The dialogue is funny and well-delivered. You have to listen because good lines are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.

Our favorite bit of dialogue is between two of the older bank robbers complaining that they miss the good old days when all you needed was a gun and a brown paper bag. This in the midst of what could only be called the most catastrophically unsuccessful bank heist ever attempted.

The ending is predictable … or maybe not. It depends how your mind works. If you bump into it on cable or somewhere, give it a look. It’s pretty good. Really. I’m not kidding. I did watch it, including the credits.

Available from Amazon on DVD, Blu-ray, and download, most people who actually watched it liked it. I’m still trying to figure out why the critics were so negative.

The more time I spend writing about movies, the less I understand critics.

WHERE DID YOU GET THAT THING YOU’RE WEARING?

“How come Gibbs is wearing a coat in Arizona in the summer?”

I was talking to Garry. It was an NCIS rerun. We watch a lot of reruns, though this new fall season of TV is shaping up better than I expected, so maybe there will be new shows to watch.

YLE Wardrobe

The question about costumes comes up often and on various shows. One of the more common “huh” moments is when the male lead is wearing a coat and the female lead is skimpily dressed. No explanation needed for that one. But more weird are when each cast member is dressed randomly, apparently without regard for the story in progress. One is wearing a heavy winter coat, another a light denim jacket. A third is in shirtsleeves. Some are clothed in jeans or other casual stuff while others look ready for Wall Street … or a cocktail party. Women are supposedly hiking and running from or after serial killers while they wear 4-inch spikes. My feet hurt just looking.

Garry and I have done a tiny bit of movie “extra” work so I’m guessing it goes like this:  “Go find something that fits in wardrobe and be on set in ten.”

Everyone hustles off to wardrobe, which looks like a jumble sale or the clothing racks at the Salvation Army store. Most of the clothing in wardrobe probably came from some second-hand source or other. Everyone dives in looking for something that fits. As soon as they find an outfit … any outfit … they head for a changing booth, then off to be on set before someone yells at them. Stars get slightly better wardrobe or wear their own clothing. Wearing ones own clothing, both on TV shows and movies is quite common. I understand why.

NCIS Filming

The real question is not why everyone on a show is poorly or inappropriately dressed. It’s whether or not the people who produce the show think we won’t notice. My theory is they don’t care if we notice or not. They are cheaping out on wardrobe figuring if you and I notice at all, we won’t care or we’ll keep watching anyhow.

It’s a bottom-line driven world and wardrobe is one area where corners can easily be cut.

The thing is, we do notice. You don’t need to be a professional critic or especially astute to see the incongruities of television costuming. Movie costuming is often no better. Whoever is in charge figures if you’ve noticed the clothing, you are must be watching the show. They’ve got you. Why worry?

The thing is, the overriding disdain for viewers adds up over time. Eventually it feels like a virtual slap in the face. As a viewer, I have to assume they think I am astoundingly unobservant or plain stupid … or so hooked on their product they needn’t worry about retaining my loyalty. They are wrong.

NCIS Filming

This nonchalance extends beyond costumes. Sloppy editing, crappy scripts, stupid plots that include blatant factual and continuity errors … Ultimately, we do stop watching. Because it’s obvious they don’t care so why should we?

You notice it on long-running shows that had good scripts and editing but suddenly don’t. The quality of the show starts to slide. Producers are baffled when loyal fans stop tuning in. It isn’t baffling to a normal person but is apparently incomprehensible to producers and network executives.

The most surprising thing is when quality stays high for more than the two initial seasons. Few shows survive more than 3 seasons anymore. An embedded disrespect for viewers is, in my opinion, the root of much of the illness besetting the television industry. They either treat us like morons or discount us because we are too young, too old  or some other incorrect and undesirable demographic. If you are under 18 or over 49, you literally don’t count. There are other, subtler forms of discrimination. Someone decided young people and old people don’t buy enough stuff. No TV for us!  Reality never intrudes into the decision-making process. I’m pretty sure I buy a lot of stuff and so does my granddaughter. Her and her friends are always shopping.

They should be nicer to us. We are, after all, the customers. Aren’t we?

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LEDA DOES THE SWAN

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The happy couple.

Back in my bright college days, I was for the first 2 years, a music major. When my fellow wannabe musicians hung out on the quad on warm sunny days, we would plan projects that were going to make us famous. Symphonies were planned. Great achievements as conductors and composers were spun as glorious dreams, although I don’t know that my class actually produced anyone who really hit the big time. Medium time seems to be as good as we got.

But my dream, my great project, was a full musical comedy based on the story of Leda and the Swan. I thought Broadway because in those days, there were no computer generated graphics to make the impossible real on-screen. Now, I think perhaps Hollywood would be the correct venue for this masterpiece.

In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes Leda. Which is never made entirely clear, but I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing getting raped by a swan. Even as Zeus, swans are not agile except in the water and their lack of hands and arms would seem to make rape difficult.

Regardless, Leda becomes pregnant by Zeus as swan. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus in his swan modality. Simultaneously (I’d like to know how she manages this) she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

In the myth, Leda is able to convince her parents and husband her extra pregnancy was not the result of a lover. No, no! Honest to gods, really, no kidding, it was Zeus who did it. Not merely was it Zeus –not some guy — but he was in the form of a swan!

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Hey, Zeus? Is that you?

My favorite scene would be the first act closer. In a highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. She explains — to hubby, mom and dad —  it really truly was Zeus.

Leda: Even in the form of a swan, I knew it was Zeus. And you all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird who is, after all, top God in the Pantheon? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having a few problems with this.

Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. He was disguised as a swan. You know how clever he can be.

Later, we all get to see the central event, Leda’s experience. In a carefully choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. I’m assuming it was seduction rather than rape. I mean, how big was that swan anyhow? And, uh, some of the technical aspects of the experience make for interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … Never mind. This is a G-rated site. Suffice to say it would make a heck of a scene. Now that CGI has come of age, with some well done special effects? Wow. This could have the audience on its feet!

There’s more. Depending on which version of the story you read, Leda either give birth to babies … or lays eggs. Lays eggs? Really?

Zeus and Leda?

Zeus and Leda?

Eggs open up a whole new world of possibilities. If she lays eggs, does she have to sit on them until they hatch? As Queen of Sparta, can she order her court attendants to sit on the eggs while she performs her royal duties?

Does she build a nest? In the palace? Do the hatchlings feel a compelling urge to dive into lakes and ponds? Are they born knowing how to swim? Or more to the point, paddle? Do they have webbed feet? How do they feel about feathers?

I no long feel up to writing a musical comedy, but I freely offer this amazing concept to anyone who feels inclined to flush it out. I think it might just launch more than one career. You think?

TRUE GLORY – A WORLD WAR ON VIDEO

Cover of "The True Glory - From D-Day to ...

From the Imperial War Museum Official Collection

The True Glory: From D-Day to V-E Day (1945)

The movie’s title is taken from a letter of Sir Francis Drake “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the True Glory.”

Question: Which President won an Oscar?

Answer: No, not Ronald Reagan. The 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature went to its uncredited producer, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower didn’t merely produce the movie. He also directed the Allied forces of Word War II, feat that deserved an Oscar. And a presidency. It was the best thank you America could offer.

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A co-production of the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information, The True Glory documents the victory on the Western Front, from the invasion at Normandy to the collapse of the Third Reich.

The officially credited director was Garson Kanin. British director Carol Reed was not officially credited, but is listed as director on IMDB and other sources. Paddy Chayefsky is the officially listed writer.

Other writers not officially credited are Harry Brown, Frank Harvey, Gerald Kersh, Saul Levitt, Arthur Macrae, Eric Maschwitz, Jenny Nicholson, Guy Trosper and Peter Ustinov. So many people were involved in this remarkable documentary — which received the Oscar for best documentary in 1945 — it’s impossible to list them all.

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film was brilliantly edited down from more than 10 million feet of film taken by hundreds of war photographers, none of whom are credited.

The editing involved is extraordinary. During one long segment of film, there must have been thousands cuts, each less than 2 seconds in length, most no more than one second long. That is a lot of splicing. It’s beautifully done, professional all the way.

You may have seen other propaganda films from World War II, but this isn’t one of those.

I’ve watched a lot of war movies and this is no less professional than any movie I’ve ever seen. The difference for me was knowing I was looking at real war, not a Hollywood version.

English: Senior American military officials of...

Senior American military officials World War II.

The effects were not done with a computer. The bodies of the dead are the bodies of soldiers. They aren’t actors pretending to die. The guns are firing ammunition, not special effects. The ships are on the seas. The aircraft, pilots, bombardiers are the real deal. The battles are life and death in real-time. It gave me the shivers.

As the movie progresses, there are maps that let you follow the progress of the various armies. It is the first time I actually understood where the Battle of the Bulge took place and why it was called “the bulge.”

It was like time travel for me, listening to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I grew up when Eisenhower was President. I remember his voice as the voice of the president of my childhood.

Perhaps it’s a good moment to ponder whether or not Eisenhower displayed the Oscar statuette in the White House. My guess is he didn’t. After you’ve been commander-in-chief of the Allied forces for a world war, the Oscar isn’t as big a deal as it might be for someone else.

English: Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower...

If you have not seen this movie, now available on a 2-disc DVD that includes not only the European war, but the Italian campaign and the battles in the Pacific … and if you have any interest in World War II … you should see it. It’s remarkable.

There are many good movies about the war, but this particular documentary — set of documentaries really — has the most remarkable footage. You’ve probably seen it before, or at least much of it in various pieces in many war movies.

Seeing it like this, without any Hollywood manufactured footage is like seeing it for the first time.

This is not a movie about the war. This movie is the war itself, in living black and white.