Friday, September 12, 2014

Musicals, The Maligned Movie Genre

Mayor Shinn, of River City, shakes his fists from his podium as he reminds the townspeople of how much money "Professor" Harold Hill has taken from them for instruments, uniforms, and instruction books, promising to create a boys' band. When he loudly demands to know "Where's the band?" Hill is saved by the town's boys who have

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learned to play Beethoven's Minuet in G on their instruments. Although their technical expertise leaves much to be desired, the boys' parents are enthralled. The somewhat ragged boys' band marches out of the town hall. As they begin to march, they are magically transformed into a spectacular marching band dressed in resplendent uniforms, playing and marching with perfection. Seventy-six trombones, do indeed, lead the big parade.

While the aforementioned scene is a fun way to end a charming family movie, I, unfortunately, know people who cite this scene as evidence that musicals are a joke genre.  They point to an entire town spontaneously knowing complex choreography, and claim musicals are nothing but corn ball drivel for the low brow masses.

I disagree.

OK, there's no denying that musicals deliver a certain amount of fantasy based cheese.  However, in amongst the glitz and the high steps, audiences are given access to characters inner most thoughts and feelings.

In Grease, when, tough girl, Rizzo belts out the lines,
"I could hurt someone like me,
Out of spite or jealousy.
I don't steal and I don't lie,
But I can feel and I can cry.
A fact I'll bet you never knew.
But to cry in front of you,
That's the worse thing I could do,"

the audience understands the depth of the emotional facade she's been hiding behind in order to protect herself.

Even more poignant were the lines,
"The rain can't hurt me now,
This rain will wash away what's past,
And you will keep me safe,
And you will keep me close,
I'll sleep in your embrace at last,"

sung by Eponine as she dies in the arms of the man who never knew she loved him, in Les Miserables

Of course, this seen stirs the same feelings as when West Side Story's Tony lay dying in Maria's lap while she gently tells him,
"There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us,
Peace and quiet and open air,

Wait for us,

 knowing it to be a lie.

 With the possible exception of the narrated hard-boiled mystery, typical movies don't give viewers a glimpse into characters' motivations and thought processes, to the extent that musicals do.

What's our favorite musical?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I Want To Live In Springfield

As I write this, FOX owned FXX Network is running every chapter of "The Simpsons" -- all 552 episodes, plus the movie -- in a 12-day marathon. What began, in 1989, as a series of family based animated shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show

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has evolved into a 25 year chronicle of the, fictional, town of Springfield. While I haven't watched the entire marathon, needing at least enough time to catch the premiere of DOCTOR WHO's 8th season and True Blood's grand finale, I've caught enough stretches of the marathon to know that I want to live in Springfield.

While many of its inhabitants are simplified  caricatures of societal stereotypes, Springfield seems to work somehow.

First, everyone has a productive roll to play, and no one is treated like an outcast.  Even Otto, the town stoner, is employed as a bus driver, and Barney, the town drunk seems to have an automatic spot on any sports team the town puts together.

Equally impressive is the glaring lack of hard core crime in the town.  Sure, Nelson is the school yard bully and Fat Tony is the local mob boss, Springfield never sees 17 year old boys raping & killing 6 year old girls.  Crimes in Springfield are more benign and easily solvable.

Most alluring though, is the long term maintenance of the status quo.  Babies can be fawned over for decades, childhood never ends, friend today are friends tomorrow, and family units are stable.

Of course, such a place doesn't exist.  Freezing time with photos, journals, and cherished memories may be as we can get to living in Springfield.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

This Is Mork Signing Off

I won’t rehash his biography, or list his extensive library of cinematic roles.  NBC Nightly News has already done that.  I’m not going to talk about his struggle with addiction, speculate on the causes of his depression, or try to discern the motives for his final solution.  A special episode of 20/20 will undoubtedly do that.  All I can do here, is to record my reaction to the August 11th suicide of, the comedy genius, Robin Williams.

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In 1980, my father organized the parking garage for the, then brand new, Marriott Hotel, in Portland.  As a job perk, dad was given a suite, for our family, for a three day weekend.  Part of the package were tickets to the double feature, Flash Gordon & Popeye.

The ten year old me loved the Star Wars-esc action of Flash Gordon, but I remember also being enchanted by the music and comedy of Popeye.  Seeing the man, I knew as Mork, play E.C. Segar’s classic character was a treat for my young eyes.

 His unpredictable wit has entertained me for decades.  I enjoyed his improvisational wit and his willingness to step, even leap, outside of the box for a laugh.  Meanwhile, I found myself inspired by his charity work for organizations such as Comic Relief, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the LiveStrong Foundation, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and more.

Robin Williams’ talent, humor, and compassion literally brought joy to millions of people.  Keep in mind, I’m also a huge fan of Maverick and The Rockford Files, but I don’t think the recent death of James Garner hit me nearly as hard as the death of Robin Williams.

By ending his own pain, Robin Williams chose to stop spreading joy by denying his talent to the world.  He chose to quit making millions of people happy; that’s the part that stings the most.

R.I.P. Robin Williams.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Tradition Of Hate

On June 12th, 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped, and later killed, in Gush Etzion, in the West Bank, as they were hitchhiking to their homes.  Under the assumption Hamas (a Palestinian Sunni Islamic organization, with a military wing known as the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades) committed the crime, the Israeli military began bombing Gaza.

Since then, rockets have killed multiple civilians and destroyed infrastructure on both sides.  As the death toll has risen, diplomats have appeared on Meet The Press, and other talk shows, to explain their  solution to the crisis.  Such conversations are based on the idea that this struggle is over political goals, land acquisition, or justice.  It’s not.  If it were, the fact that Hamas has been cleared of the June murders would have ended the conflict.

This is a conflict about hate and blame.  Israel blames Hamas for suicide bombings, Hamas blames Israel for 30 murders committed in a Hebron mosque by Baruch Goldstein, and the blame goes back and back and back four millennia before we’re done.

4,000 years ago, when Abraham was one hundred years old and his wife ninety, Sarah gave birth to a son. Abraham called him Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day, making him a party to the holy covenant God had established with Abraham.

However, Isaac was not Abraham’s first born, for Hagar had borne him Ishmael thirteen years earlier. Sarah implored Abraham to send Ishmael away. Abraham feared to send his son away but, God told Abraham to do as Sarah had requested.  Thus, Abraham  sent Hagar and Ishmael away, providing them with water and food for the journey.

Lost and near starvation, Hagar and Ishmael were saved from death by an angel. God blessed the boy, for he was Abraham’s son. Ishmael grew to have many children. His children multiplied and became known under the name of Ishmaelites, or Arabs, the people of the desert.

Meanwhile, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac.  He prepared to do so, only to be stopped by God at the very last moment.  Touched by Abraham's obedience, the angel of God called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven and said, "By Myself have I sworn, says the Lord, that because you have done this thing and you did not withhold your son, your only one, that I will surely bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore, and your descendants will inherit the cities of their enemies.“

As a result of this blessing, Isaac fathered Jacob, later renamed Israel, who fathered the children of Israel, or the Israelites.  The Israelites have been feuding with the Ishmaelites ever since.

The current conflict may have been triggered by the June murders, but it was NEVER about those crimes.  As bizarre as it sounds to many of us, the current crisis is simply an extension of the conflict initiated by Sarah’s jealously.  The murders were an excuse for the fighting to start, and the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem are simply trophies in an age old tradition of hate.