Thursday, May 29, 2014

Observation, 1969 — End Of The Kennedy Era

Humans walked on the moon for the first time.  Richard M. Nixon became president. 100 counties signed a nuclear proliferation treaty. Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi overthrew King Idris of Libya.  The U.S. Supreme Court demanded an immediate end to segregation in public schools.  Alcatraz was seized by Native Americans who demanded the land be returned to them pursuant to another treaty not honored. Stonewall Riot began gay rights revolution.  Chinese-Russian border clash resulted in 100s dead. Golda Meir became prime minister of Israel. Sirhan Sirhan was sentenced to death for killing Robert Kennedy. Senator Edward Kennedy left the scene of a drowning, ending any chance for a presidential run. Kennedy dad, Joseph Kennedy, died.  James Earl Ray pled guilty to the killing of Martin Luther King.  Electron microscope was developed. First in vitro fertilization of a human egg occurred. Woodstock happened.  DDT was banned.  Paul McCartney was forced to deny he was dead.  Rolling Stones fan killed at Altamont. The last episode of “Star Trek” aired. Mario Andretti won the Indy 500.  Willie Mays hit his 600th home run. Cabaret closed on Broadway after 1166 performances. Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw premiered in London. The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Samuel Beckett. We read The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The Mystery Writers of America gave their top prize to Jeffery Hudson for A Case of Need. On the silver screen we watched Midnight Cowboy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Wild Bunch, Easy Rider, and Anne of a Thousand Days. Beatles’ album Yellow Submarine was released. We also listened to “Sugar, “Sugar” by The Archies, “Aquarius” by The Fifth Dimension, “I Can’t Get Next To You” by The Temptations, “Honky Tonk Woman’ by the Rolling Stones,  “Everyday People by” Sly and the Family Stone, “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly and The Family Stone, “Build Me Up Buttercup” by the Foundations, “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells, and “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones.  Shuffling off the mortal coil were Dwight D. Eisenhower, Judy Garland, Jack Kerouac, Sharon Tate, Boris Karloff, George “Gabby” Hayes, Thelma Ritter, Robert Taylor, and Sonja Henie.  Taking on the coil were Jack Black, Jay Z, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Anniston, Simon Baker, Gerard Butler, Edward Norton, Matthew McConaughey and Marilyn Manson.  If you were around, what were you doing this year of the earth rooster?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Film Pairings — Animal Kingdom Times Two

Other than murder Animal Kingdom and Strangers by the Lake seem to have little in common. Yet, in both we witness the lack of even a thin line to separate we humans from the coldest killers of the animal kingdom. Cinematically, there is a kinship as well. It is how this chilling reality is portrayed. While the camera lacks sympathy, it is richly intimate.  It is as if the viewer is there, unseen to be sure, an invisible peeping Tom, witnessing the events, knowing what’s going to happen next yet unable to do anything about it. We are so close, so powerless. And it may be this frustration that keeps us from achieving any emotional satisfaction when the films end.

In Animal Kingdom, Joshua, 17, played by James Frecheville, had been living with his heroin-addicted mom. He comes home one day to find her dead.  An overdose. It is an awkward time for her to die.  He’s not ready emotionally or financially to strike out on his own.  He turns to his mother’s understandably estranged family.  Should be better, shouldn’t it?  His grandmother (Jacki Weaver) invites him in — frying pan to fire — and he is unfortunately accepted by the pack of criminal relatives.  It’s clear that his upbringing or lack of it didn’t prepare him to question whatever the world dealt him.  By the time he understands his situation it is much too late.  We would like to have warned him. Yet as I mentioned earlier, our powerlessness to do so is the point. Like our protagonist we were unable, in the end, to change things. Life set him up. The film was written and directed by David Michôd. It was well accepted critically.

In Strangers By The Lake, we desperately want to save Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) from himself. Though he is unaware of our presence, we are with him every second of the film.  We see what he sees. We can almost feel the heat on the rocky beach, the breeze, and the coolness of the water. Despite its slow, low-key tone or perhaps because of it what we experience seems natural, real. The acting, too, is invisible. And I suspect the very explicit sexual action among males might seem too real for many. That too is intended.  Similarly, once we understand what’s going on, how serious it really is, we want to change the direction of the film.  We want to warn the protagonist. But the end seems libidinally destined. The film was written and directed by the award-winning Alain Guiraudie.

If you have family or friends who seem determined to ruin their own lives even though their choices should be recognized as horribly destructive even to them, these two films will strike painfully familiar emotional chords.  They are also crime film originals.

Both films received all the stars they could from Rotten Tomatoes. As an accompaniment in honor of the French influence on both films, I suggest Pernod.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Observation — 1980, Another Brick In The Wall

 The U.S. broke diplomatic ties with Iran. An aborted rescue mission in Iran resulted in eight dead U.S soldiers. Nuns killed in El Salvador — just part of a 12-year-nightmare that did not reflect well on any of the participants. FBI undertook ABSCAM (inspiration for the movie, American Hustle). John Lennon was killed. John Wayne Gacy was found guilty of killing 33 young men. Mount St. Helens erupted, awakening after 123-year slumber. President Jimmy Carter announced boycott of the Moscow Olympics.  Ronald Reagan was the Republican’s nominee for president and won it. The Mariel boatlift brought many Cubans to Florida. Ted Turner launched CNN. Voyager I reached Saturn. Paul McCartney was jailed in Tokyo for drug violation. Larry Bird edged out Magic Johnson for NBA “Rookie of the Year.” Johnny Rutherford won the Indy 500. Mallord William Turner’s painting, “Juliet and Her Nurse” sold for $6.4 million.  Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson picked up the Pulitzer for best drama and Norman Mailer did the same in literature for Executioner’s Song.  The Nobel Prize for Literature was given to Czeslaw Milosz. The Mystery Writers of America gave its top Edgar to Arthur Maling for the Rheingold Route. We also read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy-Toole, and The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum, The Covenant by James Michener, Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon. and Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz. Top of the music charts? “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd, “Magic” by Olivia Newton John, “Rock with You” by Michael Jackson, “Do That To Me One More Time” by Captain and Tennille, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen, and “Coming Up” by Paul McCartney. On the big screens were The Shining, The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane, The Blues Brothers Caddysack, The Elephant Man, and Raging Bull. Jake Gyllenhaal, Macaulay Culkin and Yao Ming were born.  Alfred Hitchcock, Jesse Owens, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mae West, Erich Fromm, Steve McQueen, Jimmy Durante, Jean Piaget, David Janssen and William Douglas died. If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the metal monkey?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Observations — 1986, Transitions

Oprah Went National

Haiti’s “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled to France.  Ferdinand Marcos left the Philippines to hide in Hawaii. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger resigned.  Antonin Scalia was appointed. Ronald Reagan denied Arms For Hostages trade. Iran invaded Iraq. Chernobyl happened. Tut tomb was found n Egypt. Voyager 2 sped by Uranus. Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev began their famous chats. The Supreme Court affirmed affirmative action. The U.S. government was shut down.  Hepatitis B vaccine was developed. Microsoft went public. Reggie Jackson hit his 537th home run, breaking Mickey Mantle’s record. The Oprah Winfrey Show went national. The Nobel Peace prize went to Elie Wiesel. The Pulitzer Prize for Literature was awarded to Larry McMurtry for Lonesome Dove.  The Mystery Writers of America gave their top award the Edgar, to L R. Wright for The Suspect.  We also read It by Stephen King, Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy, Whirlwind by James Clavell, The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum, Hollywood Husbands by Jackie Collins, Wanderlust by Danielle Steele, I’ll Take Manhattan by Judith Krantz, Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, and A Perfect Spy by John Le Carré.  We watched Stand By Me, Aliens, Top Gun, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Labrynth, and Platoon.  Out of Africa won the Academy’s best picture award. The Grammy that year went to Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie for “We Are The World.”  Other popular music included “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne And Friends, “Say You, Say Me “by Lionel Ritchie, “I Miss You,” by Klymax, “On my Own” by Patti LaBelle. “Broken Wings,” Mr. Mister, “Party All The Time” by Eddie Murphy. 1986 births include Lady Gaga. Robert Pattinson, Usain Bolt and Shia Labeouf.   Quite a few notables departed the realm:  L. Ron Hubbard, Donna Reed, Cary Grant, Desi Arnaz. James Cagney, Benny Goodman, Forest Tucker, Ray Milland, Gordon McCrae. Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith, Georgia O’Keefe and LiIi Palmer.  If you were around, what were you doing during the year of the fire tiger?

1986 Corvette, Indy 500 Pace Car

Monday, May 19, 2014

Commentary — Who Killed The Who-Dunnit and Other Random Thoughts.

There are those who think we ought to respect the notion that Tom Clancy and/ or his family should be left alone regarding the cause of the best-selling author’s death. If privacy is requested, it should be honored, they say and I won’t debate it.  On the other hand it is difficult for those of us with a who dunnit nature not to be curious.  And I am not ashamed to admit that I Googled the late author from time to time to see if anyone has uncovered what really happened to Mr. Clancy. Finally some news.  I was shocked to learn that it was because he knew too much.  Hear that, Hitchcock? Obama, as part of a Marxist-Muslim plot, had Clancy killed.  That’s what I learned from one web site. What’s worse is that there will be no new mysteries…ever again because we all know who did it, whatever it was. Obama did it.

Sunday was party-time in San Francisco.  This was the day of the annual run — Bay to Breakers— the longest, toughest and silliest marathon race in America. There are some very serious runners to be sure, taking on the torturous Hayes Street hill as they head from the San Francisco Bay on the Embarcadero to Ocean Beach and the mighty Pacific.  Among the runners are the costumed contenders making the race a kind of Boston Meets New Orleans event. Police are there to discourage backpacks, drinking and nudity. But banning nudity seems counter productive. I you’re naked it’s hard to hide either a bottle of tequila or any kind of weaponry. Also, “Stop and frisk” takes on a whole new aura.  Perhaps nudity should be mandatory.

But it’s important to know, Obama didn’t kill Disco.  It was alive and shaking my apartment to its old bones at 9:00 a.m. this Beta Breakers morning.  There was a momentary impulse to wave my cane and tell them to get off my lawn.  But it isn’t my lawn.  It is the back yard for the building that contains three flats next door, occupied I’m told by a bevy of nurses.  Apparently the dying and the injured took the day off because the nurses dressed as eagles or chickens — I couldn’t tell which  — were tending the bar, not patients.   Also, the early start may work to my advantage, Might not they be worn out by the time I’m ready to go to bed?  Who am I kidding?

The truth is I enjoy the music, disco eventually augmented with a little techno. It’s fitting my retreat through time.  I’ve been rummaging through the past.  J. Kingston Pierce, editor of Rap Sheet, the best spot for crime fiction news, wondered what the hell I was doing with the little time- capsule posts I arbitrarily write. They are only marginally related to crime fiction. He’s right, of course, but my blog occasionally takes a personal turn. This all started while I tried to sort through old photos. I’d find a photo of me at 13 and I’d match it up with events and perhaps the mood of 1957.  What was that boy listening to? What movie was he watching?  

These posts became a kind of obsession. I found more general connections. I noted for example when the music changed  — somehow the bands we listened to went from Tommy Dorsey to Pink Floyd. I realized that Thurgood Marshal became the first black Supreme Court Justice the same year Lester Maddox became Governor of Georgia, and that land-grabbing Russia had simply morphed from Stalin to Putin.  The lists are compiled from all sorts of sources — History Orb, Infoplease, Billboard, The New York Times, etc. — gathered, pruned, compressed, judged. I was 40 in 1984. In this critical year for most humans, what was going on? Not much happened that year despite Orwell’s warning.

The party next door expanded, then shrunk and expanded again.  At some point there was an abundance of Vikings. I don’t know why. In thirty or forty years the nurses — bless them — and their friends might remember the 2014 Beta Breakers and the fact that some folks made a big deal of the U.S. having a Black President. They will remember major events that have not yet happened and celebrities not yet born.  And I will have long stopped trying to make sense of it.