Sunday, May 28, 2006

Remembrance of things present

A pleasant Memorial Day Weekend in New York City is too good to pass up. In the parlance of THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES* (1942), which I watched on Turner Classic Movies**, this one "hits it right out of the park," a relative rarity, given so many that have been grounders (my teeth are still chattering from the rain-soaked MDW 2003, where the temperature struggled to reach 55 degrees, setting the tone for a dismal summer). But it's been in the 80s since Saturday afternoon, with a perfectly balmy Monday on the horizon, and I'm not much in the mood to consider the semiotics of the X-MEN, intertextualize THE BREAK-UP, or calculate the odds of the Cannes winner of 2006, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY, reaching $200M at the multiplexes with such a rousing title. I spent part of the afternoon chowing down at the DanceAfrica Celebration in my Brooklyn neighborhood, which had the usual Manhattan street fair items like sausage and peppers but improved mightily upon them by adding Caribbean/Muslim items like jerk chicken wings to the mix.

The old neighborhood was much on my mind this weekend, as I visited my parents in Randolph, NJ, home to us for 35 years this year. It was basically a large construction site at that time, with the manmade Shongum Lake as its central attraction. When I was a kid I set a short story about mutant killer bass there, which I may want to rework for the Sci-Fi Channel someday. There's am island in the center of the lake, once barren, now wildly overgrown. I thought it might be a good place to base a FRIDAY THE 13th-type scenario but again I was behind the curve. Such destructive fantasies back then.

The once-migratory Canadian geese, known for their great honking noises when flying overhead, took up permanent residence in the community long ago. The family-album shot is cute but they can be rather ill-tempered creatures, easily ruffled and provoked. I probably contributed to their overstaying their welcome by feeding them bread when I was a lad.

The long-necked swans are newer, more graceful residents of the lake, pictured with their young. They live near the narrow, shallow inlet. There was a considerable scandal a few years back at a neighboring lake when teens killed two of the birds, an unconscionable act I would not have considered for even my most morbid short story. I hope they got the book thrown at them.

To end on a wistful note appropriate for the day, a closeup of one of my mother's rhododendrons, which should be in flower for another week. They're being cut back this year, which, as I recall, means no new blooms for another three seasons. Memories are all they will be.

*PRIDE is a favorite of my baseball-loving cousins, and a film I had not seen in its entirety. It has its cornball moments, like the hokey, much-parodied scene where Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth (the real Babe Ruth, viewed on the very day Barry Bonds broke his record) square off to hit homers for the potentially crippled kid in the hospital--but how wonderfully that scene pays off at the very end of the picture, which is a gale force of tears. Such an actor Gary Cooper was; the way he plays the tremors, the imminent collapse of Gehrig's faculties. But what's the story with that three-minute interlude at the midpoint, where the movie stops absolutely dead for ballroom dancing and an orchestral performance? Did producer Samuel Goldwyn find baseball, mom (a Freudian subplot), and apple pie a little lowbrow, that the picture needed a little "classing up"? [Not likely.] Did he have the nightclub performers under contract? So strange, and I'm sure most TV stations over the years simply cut it, to fit the two-hour film into two-hour time slots. Imagine the characters of BULL DURHAM suddenly taking in a New York Philharmonic performance and you'll have some idea of what it's like.

**TCM, as usual, is bombarding the airwaves with war movies. The most interesting is Otto Preminger's IN HARM'S WAY (1965), with the stoic heroism of John Wayne contrasted with the psychosexual bent of Kirk Douglas in a stew of soap and sadism set during the Pearl Harbor era. Saul Bass' expressive end credits, a series of waves, magnificently encapsulate the entirety of the Second World War***. How nice, though, if TCM devoted one Memorial Day Weekend to movies about peace****.

***I assume the most fictionalized conflict ever. Does the Civil War even come close?

****Which is what the 194-minute director's cut of Ridley Scott's KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, now on DVD, is all about--if you can get past the beheadings and catapults. It is an even-handed, even-tempered film about the Crusades I would have thought impossible this day and age, with the accent on brotherhood and conciliation rather than revenge. I liked it substantially more in this edit; liked, but did not love, given the weak casting of the two leads, the faded Orlando Bloom and future Bond girl Eva Green, in the leads. They don't hug the screen, but are forgivable, given an otherwise rich tapestry of 12th century life and a vivid portrait of the wily Saladin, a genuine Islamic hero.

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