BICYCLES AND THE ZEN OF PHOTOGRAPHY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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As HEDley Lamarr once said, “My mind was a raging torrent,” as I saw the bicycle and the folks settled in front.  They were dipping their toes in the lake on a warm, sunny day.

Actually, I was thinking of a scene from one of my favorite movies, “Night of The Hunter”. There’s a shot through a cobweb of kids playing in a field. So, my inspiration came from Charles Laughton, the acclaimed actor in his his only directorial effort.

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The bicycle, its spokes, the people, the lake and beyond offered many possible stories.

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The images on images also reminded me of dream sequences. I was so inspired that I lay down on my stomach to get some of these shots. I would later regret that effort.

File this under my fountain of youth/Fellini picture shoots.

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OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough

We watch it every year on Memorial Day, the best movie ever made about ‘the war to end war.’ It was just as good this year — in the same funny, awful way — as it was every other year.

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I first saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I — in song, dance, and irony. The catchy score sticks in your brain. The songs are those sung by the troops, and the cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans. So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any. When the war began, it was the old world, ruled by crowned heads of ancient dynasties. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918, the world was remade — beyond recognition. The monarchies were gone. A generation of men were dead, the death toll beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease and starvation. It remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, paving the way for major political upheaval and revolution in many nations.

You can’t make this stuff up. And why would you want to?

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could well be categorized as an organized international effort to murder a generation and they did a damned good job of it. The absurd statements and dialogue of the historical characters, all safely lodged a safe distance from actual fighting, sound ludicrous.

Did General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really say: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? Apparently he said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans, their takeover of the endless war and bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to preserve, is a great moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would they still be fighting it today? Would Europe even exist or would it be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs are mixed with pithy comments by generals, kings, Kaisers and occasionally, soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and the meaning of those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny and catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and also love great movies, grab one before they disappear. Over Memorial Day weekend, one of the movie channels usually plays it. I didn’t see it listed this year, but we own a copy, so I didn’t look very hard.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and surprisingly informative, this motion picture is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You will not be disappointed and you will never forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I never forgot it.

MEETING HITCH – GARRY ARMSTRONG

A friend just sent me a link to the Alfred Hitchcock Geek site. I didn’t follow it but was reminded of the night I met the master of mayhem.

I’ve always been a Hitchcock fan dating back to his early films like “The Lady Vanishes” and “The 39 Steps”. “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, the TV series, was a family favorite.

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Flashback to a warm summer evening and the Boston première of “Frenzy.” I was psyched for the encounter and hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed. It happens.

The “Master” approached me, two drinks in his hands. I figured he was fortifying himself. But he handed me one of the drinks and said “Salud!”

Cognac! Top shelf stuff. I savored the aroma before taking a small sip.

“Good show!”, Hitch said approvingly.

“Good stuff”, I replied. We smiled at each other as we drank slowly. I noticed his face was very, very red. He snapped his fingers and two more cognac arrived. After we finished our third cognac, Hitch nodded. It was interview time.

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We chatted about favorite films. I mentioned “The 39 Steps” and my crush on Madeline Carroll. Hitch’s face grew redder and he pursed his lips. We swapped names of favorite stars. Hitch approved of my taste.

Conversation about “Frenzy” was minimal. Hitch didn’t seem excited about his latest film. We were up to our 5th cognac.

Hitch surveyed the crowd as we chatted. The interview had ended a few minutes earlier. A publicist tried to intervene but Hitchcock brushed him off. We were standing close to each other so we could hear ourselves talk. It became clear that Hitch had started on the cognac well before we met. He was smiling broadly now and his face was a scarlet red as he stared at some of the women who were staring at him.

It occurred to me that Hitch was making conversation as he evaluated his female admirers. He asked if I was a film critic. I told him I was a film maven. He burst into laughter and slapped me on the shoulder.

A trio of publicists approached. Hitch looked at me with a wry smile and said, “Tally ho!”, as he was reluctantly led away.

BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was watching Randy Scott in Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) last night as my “fall asleep movie” in bed. Headset on, so I could hear everything. I’ve seen this film countless times before. But last night, it finally dawned on me — the movie is awful.

"Buchanan Rides Alone FilmPoster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

“Buchanan Rides Alone” – Film poster licensed under Fair Use via Wikipedia.

I know this is heresy. This is a 1950’s Randolph Scott western. It’s directed by the legendary Budd Boeticher. Here’s the rub. The bad guys are just plain stupid. Not scary. Stoopid! Moreover, Randy’s character is aimless and a little dim-witted.

In a pivotal scene, Randy, L.Q. Jones, and another guy, leave a trio of bad guys loosely tied in a shack after a mediocre fight. Next, Randy and the boys leave the bad guys’ guns in the shack — with the bad guys. And, to complete the picture of truly dumb, they leave the bad guys’ horses conveniently tied up, just outside.

Randy and his pals trot slowly away. Very slowly.

What a surprise! A mere five minutes later, the bad guys catch Randy and his pals.

Randy wears an idiotic smile throughout the film. Now I know why Buchanan rides alone.

LIFE IN THE REAL DESERT: WESTERNS AND OLD MOVIES

Marilyn Armstrong:

The best affectionate analysis of this genre I have ever read … and I’ve read a lot of them. Beautifully written. If you love Westerns, you’ll love this. Promise!!

Originally posted on Mikes Film Talk:

Town sign outside of Burger King
My life in the real desert thus far has consisted of much more than personal injury and the shock of having no television. It includes the reading of old western favorites and movies that remain in the collection. Split into blu-ray, NTSC, Region 0 and Pal, the DVDs are spread out between RV and 5th wheel. In terms of stimulation, the tales by Louis L’Amour are hard to beat. Each story a sort of male romance novel built around rugged and hard men who must either fight, solve a mystery or puzzle, or defeat a villain who has designs on the girl of the protagonist’s dreams.

It took me awhile to figure out that these adventure stories of the old west were, in fact, the male answer to Harlequin Romance. These gunfighters, gamblers, cowboys, miners, lawmen, soldiers and so on are all just men searching for something. In the books…

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HELL’S COMING WITH ME: A TESTOSTERONE MOMENT – TOMBSTONE, 1993

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Wyatt Earp: All right, Clanton… you called down the thunder, well now you’ve got it! You see that?
[pulls open his coat, revealing a badge]
Wyatt Earp: It says United States Marshal!
Ike Clanton: [terrified, pleading] Wyatt, please, I …
Wyatt Earp: [referring to Stilwell, laying dead] Take a good look at him, Ike … ’cause that’s how you’re gonna end up!
[shoves Ike down roughly with his boot]
Wyatt Earp: The Cowboys are finished, you understand? I see a red sash, I kill the man wearin’ it!
[lets Ike up to run for his life]
Wyatt Earp: So run, you cur… RUN! Tell all the other curs the law’s comin’!
[shouts]
Wyatt Earp: You tell ’em I’M coming… and hell’s coming with me, you hear? …
[louder]
Wyatt Earp: Hell’s coming with me!

CASABLANCA – OF ALL THE GIN JOINTS, IN ALL THE TOWNS, IN ALL THE WORLD …

Last night, we watched Casablanca. This is the pre-Academy Awards month, when Turner Classic Movies does “31 Days of Oscar.” Every night, they present another great movie. Last night, it was Casablanca, arguably the best of breed. The greatest of the great.

There are other, more exciting movies, more thrilling movies, though I find Casablanca pretty thrilling. What Casablanca gives us is the reality of war that never was, but which we want. Need. The passionately dedicated French underground. The anti-Nazi heroism of ordinary people, willing to put their lives on the line for the greater good.

“What if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.”

Not the way it was, but the way we wanted (maybe needed) it to be. Even now, we want the grandeur of people at their finest. Truth be damned.

And love. Undying love that lasts through war and loss, no matter what the world brings. As we watched — and we know the movie well enough to hear the line coming — Garry looked at me and I grinned back. Wait for it … wait for it … Ah, there..

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

There’s the first of many great lines, There are many more. We went to the movies to see Casablanca on The Big Screen when TCM sponsored a release of the 1943 Oscar-winning classic a few years ago.

“We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”

The filming of the movie was a crazy time. The script was written — and it’s a great script — page by page. The actors didn’t know what they’d be doing any day until the pages arrived. The set was chaotic and Ingrid Bergman wasn’t happy. Bogie was underpaid — a bad contract with Warner’s he had signed before he was a big star. Casablanca went a long way to fix that. Claude Rains earned more than Bogie, and he was arguable worth it.

(Standing in front of the plane in the fog.) “I’m saying this because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

“…But what about us?”

However it happened, Casablanca is movie magic. Brilliant, witty script that plays even better on the big screen than it does at home.

“…When I said I would never leave you…”

“And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

(Ilsa lowers her head and begins to cry.)

“Now, now…”

(Rick gently places his hand under her chin and raises it so their eyes meet, and he repeats–)

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Maybe it’s something about how differently we focus when we watch it in a theater than when we see it at home, with the dogs, the refrigerator, and a “pause” button. A difference in the “presence” of the film. The clarity of the visual presentation.

“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

I’m sure it was and somewhere, it still is.


DAILY PROMPT: Silver Screen — Take a quote from your favorite movie — there’s the title of your post.

JAMES GARNER AND THE GARNER FILES

Marilyn Armstrong:

I reviewed this a couple of times. Now, yet another great review by a great blogger. James Garner was an under-appreciated performer, but turned out a wonderful body of work. His autobiography is worth reading … rather better written and less self-promotion than you expect from a celebrity bio. And this is a fine review.

Also see: THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012) on Serendipity.

Originally posted on Eagle-Eyed Editor:

Oklahoma Sunset in Oklahoma. Image courtesy of zaccrain, Morguefile.

The movie “Support Your Local Sheriff” with James Garner playing sheriff Jason McCullough has to be one of the funniest Western spoofs ever made.  One of the best scenes has Garner walking out of the sheriff’s office during a gunfight, hollering “Hold it! Just hold it!” A bunch of puzzled gunfighters stop shooting as the sheriff makes his way across the street. As Garner reaches the other side, he shouts, “Okay, go ahead!” and dives behind a woodpile as the shooting resumes.

Humor seems to have played a large part of Garner’s career as an actor. With Jon Winokur, James Garner wrote a wonderful memoir called The Garner Files. (Hey, when a book has an introduction by singer/actress/legend Julie Andrews, can it fail to be good?) In the book, James Garner talks about growing up in Oklahoma, what it was like working on “Maverick”…

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