Thursday, July 31, 2008

THE BOYS OF 2ND STREET PARK

Don't know if any of you ever saw this. It's a documentary a few years old I caught last night on some cable network.

It's about a group of boys growing up somewhere around Brighton Beach, Coney Island area and playing basketball in this park as kids and the bond it created between them.

They're all Jewish, I think, or at least most of them, and several of them are good ball players. It tells the story of their playing in a championship game and almost winning during their high school years.

Then it follows several of them as they move on to play ball in college (Harvard for one, City College for another, while a third plays ball in Israel for a year) etc. and others drop out and into the 1960s counter culture.

What I dug about it, and I dug it a lot, is that as William Carlos Williams taught me when I was a kid just starting out as a poet and writer, if you get specific enough, concrete enough about the details of the local, the message becomes universal, as opposed to vice versa.

The details of these guys' lives begin to stand for all of our lives. the disappointments and triumphs, the lessons learned, some slowly some quickly, etc.

There's romance, adventure, insanity, tragedy, but most of all honesty. Another qaulity I love and loved in this flick and the guys interviewed in it. To watch a group of city kids, who could have been any ehtnic group of New Yorkers, but in this case mostly if not all Jewish, be street smart and wiser with the years, was totally compelling.

Movies like this (the 7-Up series of Brit documentaries by Michael Apted are the best example) make these people as alive in my inner life and memory as people I have known personally in my real life are. I feel like I know these guys now, and the few women in the film as well, and I care about them.

I think you will too if you check it out.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

INSPIRING MOVIE LIST

I caught the end of BILLY ELLIOT last night and was choking up before I even realized it. I actually own the film, but somehow catching it unexpectedly like that as I was looking for a laugh before bed, sandbagged me, emotionally.

Movies like that inspired me when I was young, often based on true stories with plots that involve someone from a working-class background overcoming the odds to achieve some unlikely goal.

Now, at a later age, they just move me, sometimes because they remind me of some of my own struggles and how they were overcome, or not.

So, I thought I’d make another alphabet movie list (I have the feeling I’ve done one like this before) of movies that used to inspire me to push on with my own attempts to transcend my background and circumstances and now choke me up with emotional satisfaction as I watch them and sometimes see some of my life reflected in them.

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and APOLLO 13
BILLY ELLIOT and BREAKING AWAY
COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER and CHARIOTS OF FIRE
DANCES WITH WOLVES
ERIN BROCKOVICH
FIELD OF DREAMS
GOOD WILL HUNTING, THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED and GLORY
HOOSIERS
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
JERRY MAGUIRE
KILLING FIELDS, THE
LEAN ON ME and LUCAS
MY LEFT FOOT, MIRACLE and MISTER HOLLAND’S OPUS
NORMA RAE
ON THE WATERFRONT
PREFONTAINE
QUIET MAN, THE
RUDY, REMEMBER THE TITANS, ROCKY and ROCKY BALBOA
SEA BISCUIT, STAND & DELIVER and SCHINDLER’S LIST
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and 12 ANGRY MEN
UPSIDE OF ANGER, THE
VERDICT, THE
WHALE RIDER
X?
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY
ZERO FOR CONDUCT

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MCCAIN MAN

Here's a great quote (!) from former Senator, Phil Gramm, who McCain had speaking for him on "economics" up until he told the country that we're all just imagining things are tough financially out here.

But anyway, here's the quote, he's referring to the former chief executive of AT&T, Ed Whitacre, and says he was "probably the most exploited worker in American history." !!! Why? Because Whitacre only received $158 million dollars as a "pay package" as the NY Times calls it, instead of the "billions" Gramm felt he deserved for growing Southwestern Bell.

And the right wing wants to try and label anyone who raises the issue of the small percentage of our fellow citizens who have become the greediest and wealthiest (and controlling of the highest percentage of the wealth of the country—by this smallest percentage of people ever) as trying to wage "class warfare."

Well, who wouldn't, given what's happening.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

NATHAN KERNAN, WILLIAM CORBETT, AND PIERRE MARTORY

I think I’ve mentioned poet Geoff Young’s Gallery in Great Barrington in the Berkshires before. It’s on Railroad Street, over the art supply store.

If you’re ever in that town, check out the gallery. Geoff’s eclectic but educated taste, and the limited amount of space in his gallery, means every show is packed with small works of art that are always unique and often startlingly so.

Geoff also hosts poetry readings there, and last night I happened to be in town so I checked out the latest show and then took a seat to listen to Nathan Kernan read “LUNCH. A POEM”

A serial poem in 12 sections, it chronicles a son’s facing his father’s dying, but does it through memories of particular lunches, as well as asides like ones about the etymology of the words “lunch” and “luncheon” that are illuminated by wit and insight.

Kernan is not only a poet, but has been working for a while on a biography of the poet James Schuyler. Schuyler was for a long time the least celebrated of the “New York School” poets that included Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara (and in some accounts Barbara Guest as the only female member).

You can hear Schuyler’s influence on Kernan in “LUNCH. A POEM” —as well as O’Hara’s (whose LUNCH POEMS initially made O’Hara more widely read than any of them, when it first came out from City Lights).

But Kernan makes various influences his own by bringing them together in a highly personal and distinct way, one that resonated with me as he read it and I occasionally read along from the Pressed Wafer chapbook that contains the poem (with drawings by Anne Dunn).

Here is section 5:

"Mulligatawny soup
brought in by a friend,
was it only
yesterday? in a
tall jar, the soup

a beautiful pale
yellow, salad
with leftover poached
salmon
on top.

She said,
I had
a sense today of
the great emptiness
that will be coming."

Kernan is a presence on the New York scene, who I run into at art openings or book parties (as well as on the street and in the subway), and am always delighted to see. There’s something alert and attentive in his manner that makes me feel like my inability to engage in small talk and usual compulsion to get right to meaty subjects and intense personal conversation isn’t entirely unwelcome.

He seems familiar with the “New York School” not just in a scholarly or fellow poet way, but in a social and personal way. As his poem “LUNCH. A POEM” reveals, his father was a classmate of John Ashbery’s not only at Harvard but at Deerfield as well. The poem doesn’t actually say all that, just that they were classmates; I asked Nathan where during am abbreviated Q&A after the reading in an attempt by Geoff to stall for time until Bill Corbett arrived.

Corbett is the publisher of Pressed Wafer and has been a force in the poetry world since the 1970s at least. He’s often associated with the Cambridge and Boston literary scenes, as well as with New York. He was scheduled to read with Kernan. and was driving down from Northern Vermont and ended up miscalculating how long it would take, only arriving after Kernan was finished reading.

I was happy to see him looking so “hale and hardy” (or however that’s spelled). He has grown somehow in stature, both physically and intellectually, at least to me, in the decades since I’d seen him last.

He sat down behind a table and not only read from his latest book OPENING DAY (Hanging Loose Press) some terrifically personal and observant poems, but also from the poetry of others, including some of Ezra Pound’s CATHAY POEMS and from Jimmy Schuyler’s THE MORNING OF THE POEM.

Bill’s presence reminded me of Charles Olson’s the few times I heard him read and/or lecture back in the ‘60s. And as Corbett commented on his own and Pound’s and Schuyler’s poetry (and on Olson and a female poet whose name unfortunately I can’t remember and whose work I was unfamiliar with) I felt like I was sitting in on a really great teacher’s class.

The poems he chose to read of his own were mostly about painters, in honor of the setting, but his comments went beyond the anecdotal (although that too) and into the reasons for his choices, his taste, his passion for the poets he was reading and the art and artists his own poems were about.

The influence of Schuyler was present, is present in Corbett's poetry as well. Here's an excerpt from "BACKANDFORTH"—the longest poem in OPENING DAY:

"...
Ready or not is the rule.
In one year eyeglasses
and cloud-white hair
not the man I was
but the man I was going to be,
my dressing room so small
I stand up to nap, step outside
and see eight crows flap up,
legs dragging like hooks,
wet char into thunder
breaking wickedly.
..."

It was a perfect evening for me, including an after reading dinner at the nearby Helsinki café, with lots of good conversation. And earlier, during the break between the readings, the poet Rossanne Wasserman gave me a copy of THE LANDSCAPIST, the Selected Poems of Pierre Martory, translated by John Ashbery (The Sheep Meadow Press).

I hadn’t seen her, and her partner on the project, poet Eugene Richie (they co-edited the volume) in a long time as well, and was happy to see them and this book.

Martory is a relatively unknown poet in France, better known to some in the U. S. thanks to the publication of Ashbery’s translations over the years.

Here's a stanza from "Collage":

"Everything is conjugated in the past tense
And nothing starts
Nothing which is not absolutely
In the minute preceding nothing:
The polygon in its lines
The corpse between the signs
The fog in my desire."

I met Pierre the first time I went to Europe in 1974, where I visited him at his apartment in Paris thanks to Ashbery’s suggestion and long distance introduction. He was a charming man with whom I had long conversations about all kinds of subjects, just like my conversations with Ashbery in those days.

Martory, as Ashbery points out in his introduction, loved “American culture” and grilled me on my life in “the states” and my taste in movies and music and much more. He also shared some of his work with me (mostly his journalism and art and music criticism for Paris-Match, for which he was best known in France, that and an early novel).

Ashbery lived with Martory in Paris from 1956 to 1965. And as he admits in his introduction, he is only now beginning to realize the impact Martory’s poetry had on his own. So anyone interested in Ashbery’s poetry should check out these translations, as well as anyone interested in the kind of poetry that the world has a hard time classifying.

As Ashbery says of it: “…there is no very easy way to describe Martory’s poetry. It is sui generis and it deserves to be read. And reread.” I agree.

Friday, July 25, 2008

DARK NIGHT

THE DARK KNIGHT wasn't as dark as I expected. Or maybe I mean evil. But not because it didn't try to be.

I was afraid of the impact it might have on young minds, or weak minds. And I still think it could cause some of them to see evil as amusing, even enticing.

But it's too muddled actually to cause the kind of direct bad that I believe some movies do.

I have arguments about this a lot, and have my whole life.

Some folks find it strange, that a guy who has fought against censorship, for the First Amendment, and embraced some dark subjects and experiences in my own writing and in the writing of friends like Hubert Selby Jr., would get angry over movies I feel can sometimes cause audience members to do evil things they might otherwise not.

That's a little broad, but that's the kind of arguments I do get into sometimes.

After the flick THE BELIEVERS came out back in the '80s, and I saw it with my teenage kids at the time, they couldn't understand why I was so upset about it. "It's just a movie" was their refrain. But I felt the power and seductiveness of its message, and believed it could actually cause harm.

After it came out on video, a gang of drug smuggling, murdering kidnappers were caught living on a ranch in Texas, the base of their operation. They had been kidnapping U. S. college students on vacation in Mexico and killing them for their money and their i.d.s etc.

When they were caught, the bodies of these college kids were found buried on the ranch, and the viedo of THE BELIEVERS was found in their VCR. One of the gang said their leader had them watch it repeadetly for inspiration. The film isn't precisely about their murderous activities, but it related to them, and more importantly, seemed in the end to justify them.

I don't believe that movies can create criminals, although in terms of bending youg minds toward a criminal career, I do believe that. But they certainly can influence less decisive people, or give them arguments and images and justifications for behavior that otherwise they might have been convinced was anathema.

I was afraid THE DARK KNIGHT would be like that, and to some extent it is. The line I was hearing the young people who exited the movie with me repeating most, was the one where The Joker explains why he prefers murdering his victims with a knife rather than a gun, because he enjoys watching their agony etc. etc.

Smiling young people, maybe thirteen, fifteen tops, repeating this line and laughing about it.

Most of them, I'm sure, actually do find it amusing, and nothing more. But it still gave me the creeps.

Fortunately, like I said, the actual plot of the film and the seemingly justified belief that even to do good one must do evil (some of the plot points seemed like deliberate justifications for some of the actions taken by the present administration, disregarding the constituional rights of suspects, or of citizens, in order to "protect" them etc. etc.) is so muddled I doubt many in the audience could even follow it, let alone understand it.

And it certainly is a wonder and a sad one to see how great an actor Heath Ledger is, and wonder how much greater he may have become had he not died. By the way, after playing this role, which some say had a pretty heavy negative impact on him.

It may soon be the most popular movie in the world. Seen by a lot more people than will ever see that Obama New Yorker cover, despite the internet, that seemed to have so many on the left and the right so upset.

Yeah, I know, I know, it's just a movie Michael. And if moving pictures with words could really have that kind of impact, don't you think giant corporations would be using the same devices to influence people to buy things they don't really need and do things they might otherwise never do? Oh, yeah, that's right...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

PRESIDENTIAL FACTS

I got these from AARP, and found them interesting, not that a few I didn't already know:

First president to appoint a woman to his cabinet: FDR (Democrat)
First president to appoint an African-American to his cabinet: LBJ (Democrat)
First President born in a hospital: Jimmy Carter (!)

No president has been an only child (yet)
Only president to have been divorced: Ronald Reagan (Republican) (hmmmm)
Only 20th-Century president who didn't graduate from college: Harry S. Truman (Democrat)

Tallest president: Abraham Lincoln (6'4")
Youngest elected president: JFK (43)
Youngest to take office: Teddy Roosevelt (42)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"THIS COUNTRY BROKEN"

I got a great meal yesterday at a place local people call a "deli" though it's run by a short, tough, middle-aged Latina and most of the food available, besides candy, is hot—rice and beans, chicken, plantainos (sp.?) etc.

They just built a new police station next door, behind which they built a new skate park, or basically moved the ramps and such from the old skate park, next to the community pool, which was getting a little rough. So now it's perfectly safe, if a little smaller.

The food was delicious and unbelievably cheap. I thanked her for it, and she thanked me, seeming genuinely, almost teary eyed grateful (the kids, my son and his friends and others who came and went, only got soft drinks or candy) for my patronage.

I asked her if the new police station was helping her business. She shrugged, and said "little bit" and then "no good now, everything" and then threw up her hands and ended with: "this country broken."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

THE AIR WE BREATHE

Been up in the Berkshires a lot lately, where for at least some days the distant hills and mountains were shrouded in a haze that unfortunately was more pollution than moisture.

Back in Jersey, the air was even thicker with humidity and pollutants. The muggiest heat wave here so far this year, at least the way it feels to me.

I don’t ordinarily enjoy community pools, I always preferred the ocean, but the other day I was at the pool with my ten-year-old and spent what seemed like a few hours soaking and swimming and floating in and under the water, coming out with prune fingers like when I was a kid.

The humidity may be worse here in Jersey, but the polluted air isn’t, when I think of my almost twenty years in Southern California, where on my arrival you could see the distant mountains towering over the Los Angeles basin, or Catalina island “twenty-five miles across the sea” maybe eight months out of the year.

But by the time I left it was reversed. If you were lucky, and it was an especially good year, you could see the mountains and Catalina for what amounted to two months worth of days a year.

And let’s not even talk about Beijing, where at least in the TV images, it looks like you can’t see the tops of skyscrapers or nearby neon signs on a bad smog day.

This has happened before. In William Blake’s London the famous fog was more often air polluted from fires and industry etc. And the smog made famous by L. A. in the 1950s has never been as bad as it was then, in terms of visibility.

But in terms of the pollutants now crowding the air we breathe, they have increased not only in magnitude, but in the types of irritants contributing to the pollution. Just an easy and obvious example in my area, as it was in Santa Monica, is the animal—pet and feral—fecal matter blown into the air by those gasoline polluting “leaf blowers” that not only disturb the peace noise-wise, but have us breathing in particles of some nasty stuff.

Like all of life, the world, and people I guess, there’s good and bad in everything. And the Berkshires are still one of the most beautiful and natural—and as far as I can see pollutant-free environments—I know. So, as always, I remain hopeful. But on these muggy, blazing, roasting, burning days of the summers of recent years, I miss those “lazy, hazy days” Nat King Cole sang about back in the day.

I wrote a poem about this back in Santa Monica in the ‘80s I think, though it might have been the early ‘90s. It’s in the Black Sparrow collection IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE, and I thought I’d offer it up here as an expression of what I’m trying to say in this post (it's supposed to be centered, but even though I centered it in the post, and when that didn't work I wrote it up as a Word document and centered it there, it still returns all the way to the left when I post it, so imagine it in the middle of the page, with the lines justified left as they are here, but the title centered over the poem). It’s called:


WHAT?

Who won? I feel like
I’m almost there—what
were we competing for?
“the store” “the farm”
the barn where it all
began—the can of spice—
the nice lips on her face—
the place where we fell
asleep at last in peace &
woke up to the air we
remembered that isn’t
there anymore—the emp-
eror has no lungs left—
he’s only pretending to
breathe—& as for us—
who won—what?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

GENERATION KILL

I'm sure you've heard of it if you haven't seen it. HBO's new mini-series on the invasion of Iraq, from the personal experience of an embedded journalist.

It's touted as completley true. And may well be. I thought I caught a few false notes—like the only family photo they encounter on an Iraqi has a woman in a total burka (or however you spell that head-to-toe covering), though Iraq was the most secularized country in the Arab world at the time of the invasion (or one of the few of them), with very few women wearing even a veil, let alone the full burka.

Obviously some were in some areas. I'm not saying it isn't true, it's just not true to the bigger picture. But then, this is a very close-up view of one group of Marines and the reporter covering them. And as such, it's really pretty good.

In fact, it's one of those HBO experiences that's hard to match elsewhere. HBO hasn't been doing them as much, slipping to Showtime's version of what HBO started. But GENERATION KILL is worth watching, late at night when the kids aren't around. Though, these Marines aren't much more than kids themselves, come to think about it. As always.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

KIT KITTRIDGE

I took my ten-year-old son, my nine-year-old grandson and his 8-year-old friend to see this movie the other day, and their response was the same as mine: geez, that was a pretty sad movie (even if the story line that moves the film is pretty obvious and silly).

Actually what they and I were reacting to was the expectation that this was a true childrens movie and therefore would be light and funny, but it deals with a lot of serious issues and has a fair amount of sadness in it.

Not unlike many classic kid movies, come to think of it. I don’t know if this is a potential classic. But it’s pretty well done. It’s got a great cast, headed by Abigail Breslin, the child actor from LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

There are too many great adult actors to list, and all the kids, though unfamiliar to me except for Breslin, do a terrific job as well. Which is a tribute to the director, Patricia Rozema, whose only other work I’ve seen was that PBS version (maybe originally a film) of Jane Austen’s MANSFIELD PARK, which I remember liking a lot.

The movie is set in 1934, the middle of the Great Depression (which is the root cause for most of the sad moments that made all three boys and myself get tears in our eyes). The director and writers (Ann Peacock for the screenplay, Valerie Tripp for the "Kit Kittridge stories") go for the look and feel of a movie from that era (except in color), so that a lot of the plot and acting are stylized versions of old Hollywood cornball humor and knee jerk poignancy.

But the sad stuff is never overwrought, to my mind, (and part of the impact of those moments is the obvious parallels with present times—home foreclosures, banks failing, money scarce, etc.) and a lot of the humor is actually aimed more at the adults in the audience than the kids (part of the reason almost all of them, including the mostly girls that made up the rest of the audience, came out saying the same thing: that movie was kind of sad).

If you have a child or can borrow one, it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours in a movie theater.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

THE NEW YORKER OBAMAS COVER "CONTROVERSY"


I was waiting to get my copy in the mail so I could scan the cover (and may well do that when it arrives and add it). [done]

But several friends have emailed me asking what I think, so I thought I'd just go ahead and post this without the cover.

In case you haven't heard, the cover depicts, in a cartoony (New Yorker cartoony) way, the Obamas—Barack and Michelle—fist bumping but dressed in terrorist gear.

Obviously it's a satiric comment on Fox News starting the mini-"controversy" over Barack and his wife doing a fist bump in celebration of his winning enough delegates to be the presumptive nominee for the Democratic candidate for president.

The actual fist bump, at an enromous rally that Barack had just addressed, was almost sheepish, since these two are basically very attractive but very intellectual and relatively reserved folks. It made for a really cute picture.

But the right-wing managed to turn it into something else and the mass media went along, as always, like marionettes on strings being manipulated by them.

The New Yorker cover makes fun of this stupidty, the way I see it. But, like clockwork, the right-wing picked it up as "elitist" New Yorker blah blah blah and not just the mass media, but the left fell for it, as so many on the left have been doing in the past several years and in this campaign.

It's a joke. And if there are people out there who actually might view this cover and believe it translates into the Obamas are terrosists, they weren't going to vote for Barack in the first place, and if they were, they shouldn't.

I want him to win, very much so, but I also want to see his campaign and the media initiate their own stories and subject matter and stop reacting to everyone else's.

The mass media thrives, obviously, on controversy, be it celebrity behavior or political "wars" etc. They're always using that term "war" as if McCain and Obama were about to line their troops up and begin shooting real bullets at each other.

Obama has to get control of his campaign in a transparent and concrete and precise and compltete way, so that he doesn't fall prey to the syndrone I predicted the right would try and trap him into back when he first began running, the Adlai Stevenson one.

He lost to Eisenhower by allowing the right to depict him as an aloof intellectual far removed from the common man, an egghead who might even be a secret sympathizer with communists! While Ike was just a regular guy who regular folks could identify with, and who also happened to have won the bloodiest war of the 20th century.

McCain is doing his best Ike imitation, especially today with his "I know how to win a war" pronouncements. Which war was that he won? Viet Nam? Of course not (even though that's the only one he fought in). He means Iraq. As though we've won something.

But the Obama campaign's response to this is more studied and nuanced intellectual reasons why we haven't won in Iraq and why we need to win in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Unfortunately, not one great sound bite in Obama's speech.

I don't know if it's the people from Hilary's campaign that his has taken on who are getting in the way, or if his strategy of counting heads in electoral districts and counting on grass roots and local oragnizing to win for him, or if it's just a belief that he can convince the electorate with speeches. But it ain't working. he should be leading McCain by tweny points after what the Republicans have done to this country in the past seven yerars, let alone the world.

The New Yorker cover is just a diversion. An amusing one if you like that kind of satire. I laughed. But the only threat is in diverting our attention from the real issues.

Obama is dealing with a world used to not just sound bites but computer bytes. He needs to get his message out much more directly and boldly as he is obviously capable of doing, but has backed off from, for reasons that may be noble and/or well intentioned, but aren't working.

Monday, July 14, 2008

ESPERANZA SPALDING

Thanks to my son Miles for turning me on to this amazing artist (speaking of BODY AND SOUL ala last post). She's only 23, and if any of you ever played upright acoustic bass (I did some when I was her age) and tried to sing, let alone scat, while doing it, you'll know how difficult that is (name three jazz bassists, or any kind of acoustic upright bassists who are lead singers, or even that many electric rock'n'roll ones for that matter besides Sting and McCartney).

Check out this video all the way through, it's eight minutes but worth it, especially the mini interview and the reporter's final words!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

AMPERSAND & AND LIST

Restless night, woke up several times. Decided to do an alphabet list that I figured would be particularly difficult, and it was.

What I chose was works of art I dig that have three word titles with the second word being “and” or an ampersand—the symbol for “and” (“&”).

It was fun, though I’m still missing a bunch.

ANGELS AND INSECTS (the movie)
BODY AND SOUL (both the song—especially Lester Young’s version—and the John Garfield movie)
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (Dostoevsky’s novel)
DINNER AND NIGHTMARES (Diane di Prima’s first real book, poems and prose that capture the 1950’s Beat bohemian zeitgeist better than anything of that period to my mind) and DAVID AND LISA (the early ‘60s independent movie)
EZRA AND AGNES (Ed Cox’s poem about his parents) (all I could think of at first was ELVIS AND ME, the ‘80s TV movie based on Priscilla’s book, but I can’t remember whether I even liked it or not)
FRANNY AND ZOOEY (the J. D. Salinger book)
GUYS AND DOLLS (the movie version of the musical, with Brando and Sinatra et. al.)
HAROLD AND MAUDE (the movie)
I? [Ray DiPalma suggested one I forgot but should have thought of: Martin Buber's I AND THOU]
JULES AND JIM (or really JULES ET JIM, the French new wave flick that had such an impact—including on me—when it first came out)
KISS & TELL (the Brian Ferry song, I always think I don’t like Brian Ferry—I guess because I don’t always like the attitude in his songs and because the few times I was at parties he was at back in the ‘80s, the women ignored me for him!—but then I do, at least when I’m in the right mood)
LIGHT & SHADOW (the book of poems by Simon Schuchat) and LOVE AND MARRIAGE (the Sinatra song from the TV musical version of OUR TOWN)
MIN AND BILL (the classic Wallace Beery/Marie Dressler early talkie which I love) and MINNIE AND MOSCOVITZ (the John Cassavetes movie which I don’t love but appreciate) and MELVIN AND HOWARD (a movie I only like because it stars one of my favorite actors, Paul LeMat)
NIGHT AND FOG (the movie) and NUMBERS AND TEMPERS (the book of poems by Ray DiPalma)
OVER AND OUT (not the best Foo Fighters song, but not the worst either, and for me they’re always intriguing)
PAT AND MIKE (the movie)
Q? [Terry Winch reminded me of the movie Q&A, which I also should have thought of]
ROMEO AND JULIET (Shake’s classic in almost any form always works for me) and RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS (John Ashbery’s early collection of poems that had an enormous impact on contemporary poetry) and RENALDO AND CLARA (Bob Dylan’s film isn’t my favorite, but it certainly has moments that are unique and uniquely his) (could put Tom Stoppard’s ROCK’N’ROLL here too, but I haven’t seen the play nor read it, just heard that it’s terrific)
SPRING & ALL (William Carlos Williams’ great—and revolutionary, technically—early book of prose and poetry)
THELMA & LOUISE (the movie) and TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (not Shakespeare’s most successful but still provocative) and TRISTAN AND ISOLDE (the Wagner opera, though it’s a little too much for my taste, it’s certainly uniquely Wagnerian, and I suppose is actually TRISTAN UND ISOLDE)
US AND THEM (The Pink Floyd track from DARK SIDE OF THE MOON)
VINCENT & THEO (the Robert Altman movie)
WHITHNAIL & I (the movie) and WORDS AND MUSIC (the Beckett radio play)
X & Y (Coldplay gets knocked a lot, but every time I actually listen to them, I’m pretty satisfied with the results, including this more recent album)
YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL (the Elvis tune, speaking of him and Priscilla)
Z?

Friday, July 11, 2008

SOMETHING FOR THE DEMOCRATS TO BE PROUD OF

Paul Krugman has a column in today's New York Times that does a pretty good job of summarizing the Democratic victory in reversing some of the damage Junior's adminsitration did to Medicare. I think Krugman makes some good points. here's some excerpts from his column:

"...Senate Democrats won a huge victory on Medicare.

News reports stressed the cinematic quality of the event: Ted Kennedy, who is fighting a brain tumor, made a dramatic appearance on the Senate floor, casting the decisive vote amid cheers from his colleagues. (Only one senator was absent: John McCain.)

But the vote was bigger than the theatrics. It was the first major health care victory that Democrats have won in a long time. And it was enormously encouraging for advocates of universal health care.

Ostensibly, Wednesday’s vote was about restoring cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. What it was really about, however, was the fight against creeping privatization. Democrats finally took a stand — and, thanks to Senator Kennedy, seem to have prevailed.

The story really begins in 2003, when the Bush administration rammed the Medicare Modernization Act through Congress, literally in the dead of night. That bill established large de facto subsidies for Medicare Advantage plans — plans in which Medicare funds are funneled through private insurance companies, rather than directly paying for care.

Since then, enrollment in these plans has been growing rapidly. This has had a destructive effect on Medicare’s finances: the fastest-growing type of Medicare Advantage plan, private fee-for-service, costs taxpayers 17 percent more per beneficiary than Medicare without the middleman. It also threatens to undermine Medicare’s universality, turning it into a system in which insurance companies cherry-pick healthier and more affluent older Americans, leaving the sicker and poorer behind.

What does this have to do with cuts in doctors’ fees? Well, legislation passed a decade ago makes such cuts automatic whenever the growth in Medicare spending exceeds an unrealistically low target. This year, the automatic cuts would have reduced doctors’ payments by more than 10 percent, a pay reduction so deep that many physicians would probably have stopped taking Medicare patients.

In previous years, payments to doctors were maintained through bipartisan fudging: politicians from both parties got together to waive the rules. In effect, Congress kept Medicare functioning by expanding the federal budget deficit.

This year, the Democratic leadership decided, instead, to link the “doctor fix” to the fight against privatization and offered a bill that maintains doctors’ payments while reining in those expensive private fee-for-service plans. Last month, the Senate took up this bill — but Democrats failed by one vote to override a Republican filibuster. And that seemed to be that: soon after that vote, Senators Max Baucus and Charles Grassley had another bipartisan fudge all ready to go.

But then Democratic leaders decided to play brinkmanship. They let the doctors’ cuts stand for the Fourth of July holiday, daring Republicans to threaten the basic medical care of millions of Americans rather than give up subsidies to insurance companies. Over the recess period, there was an intense lobbying war between insurance companies and doctors.

And when the Senate came back in session, it turned out that the doctors — and the Democrats — had won: Senator Kennedy was there to cast the extra vote needed to break the filibuster, a number of Republicans switched sides and the bill passed with a veto-proof majority."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

THOMAS M. DISCH R.I.P.

I’ve already written this post once, but it got lost in the wonderful world of the internet. So here’s goes an attempt to rewrite at least the gist of the post.

First of all, Tom Disch has died. He killed himself, as I heard it. After a string of life changing tragedies, including the loss of the love of his life to illness, his house to a natural catastrophe (I don’t remember if it was fire or flood, but whatever it was it took whatever he was currently working on with it), and his own illness.

He was best known as a science fiction writer, one of “the new wave” in that genre. But his most popular book was actually a children’s book about a toaster.

I knew him though, as a poet. The few times I ran into him, he was always generous of spirit and praise for the writing of others (mine included) and a little mischievous in his pronouncements about politics and society etc.

In fact, I remember him with a glint in his eye, as he signed and gave me a collection of poems called ORDERS OF THE RETINA (and drew an eye with a glowing sunlike retina above his signature).

It was published in 1982 by Allan Kornblum’s first publishing venture THE TOOTHPASTE PRESS, before he started COFFEE HOUSE PRESS.

I didn’t like all of Tom’s poetry, but I really like some of it a lot and thought one of my favorite poems of his from that collection might serve very well as his epitaph:

WHAT IT WAS LIKE

Like a wine that burns the tongue
And leaves it thirstier, like glimpses
Into lit interiors from the windows
Of slow-moving trains, like rain
On pavements when the sky is clear,
Like isolated lines of verse
Reverberating in the mind,
Like figures in disturbing dreams
Condensed by waking to an article
Of clothes, like the loud cries
Of frogs or insects in the night
Or like the golden light of sundogs
Through a rift of cloud, like memories
Of wordless lies, like flies that buzz
About an opened fruit, like clothing
Folded in a drawer or like a pain
That vanishes as soon as felt,
Like butter melting in a bowl
Or like the color of a shoal of sand
As waves wash over it, like salamanders
Scurrying from walls, like postcards
Of suburban shopping malls,
Like scores of games with penciled names
Of friends forgotten long ago or like
A song dissolving in an empty room
While in the street below imported saplings
Glitter in the passing light of cars.

—Thomas M Disch

DIPALMA POEM DISSECTED

Here's one of the great things about the internet. Some guy I think in Belgium (but English?) has a blog on which he examines a short poem by Ray DiPalma. One of my favorites by the way.

He doesn't know Ray, he just likes his work and has been reading it and thinking about it for a while, obviously. He takes Ray's poem apart and examines every aspect of it as closely and carefully as he's able (and he's pretty able) and comes to some really interesting, as well as entertaining, conclusions.

His use of his close reading skills reminds me of the kind of passion Ray and I and other young poets in my youth bought to the task of reading and trying to understand poetry and also explain and justify our favorites.

Some of his observations and the connections and conclusions he makes of them may seem farfetched to some, but to me, they seem insightful as well as enlightening—and fun.

I hope you see what I mean if you check it out.

Monday, July 7, 2008

ANOTHER THREE QUICK THOUGHTS

1.
Jim Webb just took himself out of the running for Obama's Vice President. He was my choice, with his heroic military record, articulate and well reasoned rebuttals to this administration and Republicans in general, especially having been one and having worked in the Reagan administration etc. Says he wants to sitck it out as a Senator from Virginia. I hope he doesn't know something we don't.

2.

More deaths of American troops in Afghanistan last month than for any other time in that war, and then today's big blast in Kabul. The Taliban AND Al Queda on the rebound there.

I know probably a lot of you share with me the realization that we could have not invaded Iraq, stayed the course in Afghanistan where we actually were greeted as liberators by a lot of the population, brought democracy to the region by starting there and staying to support it and help rebuild infrastructure etc. etc.

What a success story that might have been, as well as given us the chance to capture Bin Laden etc. etc. etc. But, Afghanistan doesn't have Iraq's oil. What they did have was the Taliban refusing to let an oil pipe be laid across their land, which Karzai's (sp.?) government immediately agreed to.

So there was no reason for Junior and his oil cronies to fulfill the promises his administration made to Afghanistan, and instead pulled out troops and resources and money for the invasion and securing of Iraq, well, at least their oil fields, now going to be turned over, in part, to four "international" (i.e. Western controlled) oil companies kicked out of Iraq when Saddam originally took over the country. Oh, and with a no bid no competition process. Just let'em have it.

3.

How come the media ignore the fact that John McCain has no idea how a computer works (and by extension the internet and most of the work that gets done in this country) nor any interest in learning. He has minions to do that for him. Doesn't that seem relevant to anyone except a handful of bloggers and editorial writers?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

HANCOCK

Another comic book hero movie. Only this one is more fun than the other recent ones.

Few actors have Robert Downey Jr.’s chops, or Ed Norton’s for that matter. But Will Smith has had movie star charisma from the get go, for reasons that have to do with mysteries that haven’t been solved yet in his—and similarly difficult to explain adequately—case(s).

I mean Denzel Washington’s handsomeness and cool presence has always generated the kind of charisma most common among stars, that deep sexiness coupled with a sense of danger and power.

Others not so handsome but with such a magnetic screen presence and unique acting power, say Tommy Lee Jones, are also easier to explain, in terms of their stardom.

Will Smith, despite his height and generally handsome features (Clark Gable had ears as big after all) is not as obvious a star as Denzel or amazing an actor as Tommy Lee.

To my mind, Smith is more in the line of movie stars like Mickey Rooney or Jimmy Durante, who both had a kind of childlike appeal that, despite their sometime ham-iness and obvious desire to be liked, make them often irresistible to audiences.

I know I know, Mickey Rooney now often seems to be trying too hard in the movies he made when young, but that’s only in retrospect, at the time he was the most successful and most loved star of his time, as Will Smith may well be for these, or close to it.

Durante wasn’t as big a star as Rooney or Smith, if he is even considered one (though he did carry a few Hollywood movies as the lead) but even now, his appeal is obvious.

None of these guys look like your typical movie star, but they managed to be very successful at it—partly because they’re so likeable, something they obviously try hard to be—so hard, audiences give in.

Rooney eventually played a few bad guys later in life, at times very successfully, but essentially, especially when he was still king of the box office, he played guys who were upbeat, decent and lovable, while also being vulnerable, fallible, “normal” human beings. Durante never played a bad guy, as far as I know. Nor has Smith, really.

HANCOCK is as close as he’s gotten in some ways. Unlike the Hulk’s bad guy induced rage, or other comic book film heroes with various human failings in their human form, Hancock is a truly flawed human being AND super hero.

The movie is about, naturally, his redemption. The plot is too comic booky, and the fight scenes are pretty much what we’ve been getting for a while now from computer tricks to qualify as anything unique for this genre.

But what IS unique is that the super hero is an alcoholic! The story implies this is a result of Hancock’s having no idea who he is or how he got his powers, and feeling not only all alone and misunderstood, but angry about all that.

Less unique, in fact pretty common for this genre are the simplistic stabs at philosophy and psychology, Hancock is not only redeemed and transformed from the surly resentful drunk he starts out as—which Smith still can’t keep from making appealing—to the kind of selfless do-gooder we have come to expect our comic book heroes to be.

Some of the cinematography is pretty unique too. Not all the scenes, but a few, especially the most personal, evoke comic book frames of close ups of a face partially blocked out by the framing or the blur of another body or object not quite defined, etc. in ways that have rarely if ever been seen in a contemporary movie, if at all, and aren’t always flattering to Smith (though it doesn’t diminish Charlize Theron’s movie star beauty or usual on-the-mark acting).

Another thing that made HANCOCK a pretty enjoyable experience for me is Smith’s acting. I don’t think he’s a great film actor, but I do think he’s a great movie star who can really act well.

He makes Hancock seem as troubled as the plot insists he is (and as many contemporary comic book to movie super heroes seem to be) at least most of the time (sometimes it’s more obviously Will Smith just being a movie star). And in those moments, he evokes real sympathy for Hancock and his situation.

But basically, the movie is a mash of the fish-out-of-water-super-hero-adolescent-jokes-from-grown-man-with-childlike-appeal-bad-boy-redeemed-by-selfless-love-abridged-classic-myths-and-story-lines-good-guys-vs.-bad-guys-computerized-special-effects-oversimplication. But it kinda works.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

THREE BIG LIES

The Republicans—or maybe I mean the right-wing faction of the Republican Party that has controlled it for so many years and now seems to be extending its control into McCain’s campaign—believe, as I’ve said before, in the power of “the big lie” technique of propaganda, if not originated certainly perfected by the Nazis and Soviet Communists.

They know from experience that if you make a lie outrageous enough—that is, so obviously untrue it seems counterintuitive—and repeat it often enough, most people will begin to accept it as truth. Especially most people in the media, and especially those media outlets controlled by corporations whose interests are often served by these lies.

So here are three more or less recently promulgated lies that have been getting the right-wing repetitive onslaught treatment that makes it clear this is no accident, and which need to be countered by Democrats much more clearly, simply, and repetitively than they are doing so far.

1. IT’S THE DEMOCRATS IN CONGRESS FAULT

After totally controlling the executive branch for the past seven years, and congress for six of those seven, and still holding enough seats in the Senate to block any legislature they want to, Republicans and their right-wing media spokespeople and outlets are now repeating the charge that our country’s problems are the result of a “Democratic Congress” which has “failed to do anything” to redress these problems.

This is obviously false. First of all, during the years when the Republicans (controlled by their right-wing) totally controlled our government, no energy plan was passed that addressed our dependence on foreign oil, nor the causes for the rise in gas prices and therefore food and close to everything else, which was a direct result of the policies put into effect by Junior’s administration and rubber stamped by a Congress controlled by his party, including the ill-advised invasion of Iraq.

The mistakes and crimes committed by Republicans during Junior’s tenure are too numerous to even list (it would take days just to type the list up), but the top ones including the invasion of Iraq and the policies set in motion there after the invasion, as well as the response to Katrina and the unrest and corruption in Nigeria (where ten percent of our oil comes from, and the “sweetest” ten per cent, in oil quality terms) and climate change and incompetence among political appointees of this regime, etc. are exactly what the Democrats have been attempting to redress.

The Democrats in the Congress have introduced numerous bills to counteract many of these mistakes and deliberate crimes, but have managed to get only a few through, including the recent Democratic Senator Webb sponsored G. I. Bill for Iraqi veterans (passed despite McCain’s and Junior’s objections and the latter’s threat to veto it, because it got enough other Republican support from politicians afraid to be linked with keeping benefits from Iraqi veterans) and extending unemployment benefits during this supposed “downturn” that to many has been a recession for a while and for many others is already a depression. They’ve also passed legislation addressing the housing mortgage crisis, the flood damage crisis, etc.

The political possibilities, given the narrowest of margins by which the Democrats are a majority in the Senate, makes it impossible to pass any laws that the Republicans set out to block, and therefore, any legislation passed has to be truly bi-partisan, so these accomplishments and more are a sign of a major difference between the formerly Republican controlled Congress and executive branch that caused many of the problems and the Democratic majority one that is attempting to solve those problems.

2. BARACK OBAMA IS JUST ANOTHER POLITICIAN

Because he opted out of federal financing for his campaign in favor of private financing from millions of small contributors and hundreds, maybe thousands of big contributors, and has seemed to veer toward the center now that the primary season is over, Republicans are painting Obama as “just another typical politician” and McCain as anything but.

The fallacy in this one is equally obvious, but people are easily fooled. The main issue that brought Obama to the general public’s attention is the war in Iraq. Just go back and read the speech he made before the invasion to see how prescient he was. (I should have a link here but I’m not that techno adept to find it quickly or even figure out how to find it exactly.)

He predicted what would happen. And it did. That’s the kind of judgment he’s running on, and still is. He has been totally honest about the problems of getting out of Iraq easily, but at least he is focusing on ways to do it rather than defending ways to stay in, as McCain is.

And as one of the three or four most important issues facing this country, the fact that Obama has remained consistent on this one while McCain has been all over the map in the years since the invasion, demonstrates Obama’s NOT being your typical politician, no matter how the right parses every phrase Obama utters as an indication of shifts in policy and the media responds with its usual Pavlovian response.

In terms of any other major policy shifts, Obama hasn’t made any. He has always said he would pick what he thought were the best ideas for resolving problems, no matter whether they came from Republicans or Democrats or Independents or elsewhere. And whether you agree with his recent speech about keeping an altered form of Junior’s initiative to use faith-based organizations to address local problems, there isn’t anything in Obama’s proposal that counteracts anything he’s said before either about his faith or about local organizing.

That may offend some of Obama’s fans, who have a knee jerk reaction to anything involving religious organizations because of the biases of many of those organizations toward homosexuality or other religions etc., but what Obama has made clear, unlike any other politician, is that there are no short term solutions to the economic and health system problems either created by or made much worse since the 2000 complete Republican takeover of the government, and if local faith-based groups can be useful in bringing people some quicker relief, they should be used.

As for the rest of the petty hectoring of Obama’s policy stances, whether stated or implied or made up entirely by the right, the main thing is what I mentioned above, that he continues to be refreshingly honest about the possibilities of actual solutions being achieved rapidly or not, and with or without bi-partisan participation and/or compromise where necessary.

Do I agree with everything he’s saying? Not necessarily, but I haven’t heard anything yet that contradicts the new reality he brought into the public arena with that speech he made at the last Democratic presidential nominating convention in 2004, the reality of ending the blue-red divide, the control of government by extremists (in this case right-wing ones beholden to oil interests etc.) who fuel that divide, and the disputes of the 1960s that no longer apply.

That’s what he said he stood for, and he still does, and I think has been proving it in every speech he makes and every position he takes on the issues.

3. OBAMA IS AN ELITIST

I’m sure you’ve all heard or read by now about Carl Rove’s depiction of Obama as the kind of guy who leans on the wall at the country club dance with a hot date on his arm making fun of the rest of us! I know I know, how could anyone fall for that amazingly impossible scenario (the country club in the town I live in now wouldn’t even allow Catholics into it when my older siblings were kids, let alone Jews and Blacks and Asians etc.)?

Some have tried to parse Rove’s statement as secretly racist, implying that Obama would be the guy in that club who is married but is out on a “date” with someone not his wife, etc. A little too complicated and subtle for most I think, not exactly as blatant as that right-wing ad that hurt the Tennessee “black” candidate (Ford) with a white blonde looking into the camera and telling the happily married Ford to call her.

I think the real implication from pudgy, bald, Porky Pig looking Rove, is that because Obama is slim and handsome and has enormous charisma for people of all races and genders, he must think he’s superior and look down on the rest of us.

It was always part of the right’s undisguised envy as well as anger toward the Kennedys, from JFK to Ted. These are not only handsome, physically fit (until recent years for Ted) and highly attractive people, they’re also obviously really smart and articulate and successful, which undermines many of the basic tenets of the right (whose history includes the idea that the Irish were drunken dumb Papist cultists etc. and blacks were lazy shiftless un-ambitious sensualists—just look up the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Renquist’s early statements, and other Republican politicians over the past few decades).

But most objectionable to the upper echelons of the right, is that Obama has proven one of their basic tenets, that “anyone can succeed in America” through hard work and good character, but that success has not made him forget his roots, any of them, nor have to fake them (ala Junior’s cowboy jive) and obviously that’s a tenet they only subscribe to if the success means money and the person achieving it credits their own initiative or the opportunities in the corporate America “free” enterprise system rather than in community organizing, scholarship, diversity and Democratic Party ideals.

I just hope that the media’s lack of scrutiny of McCain’s regular guy style, as well as of his record, personal and political, doesn’t lead to voters buying McCain’s regular (old) guy image and the “Obama elite” charge as they did the Junior’s just a Texas good ole boy and Kerry the spoiled brat charge (when of course Junior was the spoiled brat and Kerry was the overachieving come from less success story).

Because, let’s face it, Obama has much more in common with almost all of us, than McCain has with almost any of us. Even those who made a branch of the service the focus of their early life and getting elected to and staying in the Senate the focus of the rest of their lives so far, never had the advantage of entering that service as the son of one of the most prominent of its elite, and then leaving the wife who had seen him through his early struggles when she was in need to marry a younger heiress whose worth is estimated at 100 million.

John McCain has no experience of what it is like or ever has been like for the rest of us, (as we will hopefully never have to endure what he experienced as a P.O.W.), but Obama does. That’s the message his camp needs to make clear and get out repeatedly. A lot clearer than I’m afraid I just did.

QUOTE OF A LIFETIME

Thanks to Gene Harris for hipping me to this quote, which supports something I've always felt and believed to be true (even just in terms of science it's true in the sense that our molecules continue to exist, including those elements that make up our atmopshere, etc.):

"What we are told as children is that people, when they walk on the land, they leave their breath wherever they go. So wherever we walk, that particular spot on earth never forgets us, and when we go back to those places, we know that the people who had lived there are in some way still there, and that we can actually partake of their breath and of their spirit. —Rina Swentzall, Santa Clara Pueblo

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A DISTURBING REVELATION

A disgrace to all the U.S. is supposed to stand for in this disturbing story in this morning's NY Times.

BEAUTIFUL BLACK AND WHITE FILMS

Like old friends who wake up in the night and get up and e mail me their thoughts and go back to bed, here’s a list out of my head just now after my ten-year-old woke me with a call to let me know he arrived safely in West Virginia with a friend’s family.

I had trouble going back to sleep so, I thought about my last post on SINCE YOU WENT AWAY and then of other black and white movies whose use of light and shadow, and/or framing, left indelible images in my head, and maybe yours, and came up with this list:

ASPHALT JUNGLE, THE (for the pre-stardom shots of Marilyn Monroe and that pre-climactic jukebox jitterbug scene) and ALL ABOUT EVE (for some of the shots)
BREATHLESS (Goddard’s original with some shots that look like Lee Friedlander photographs) and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (for the naturalness of some of the shots and scenes, though the framing and lighting aren’t as amazing as the story) [and how could I have forgotten Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, which came to mind after I posted this list]
COOL WORLD, THE (The Shirley Clark movie in which she used only “natural” light, including streetlamps for the exterior night shots) and CASABLANCA (of course)
DOUBLE INDEMNITY
8 ½ (a series of great images in many ways) and ERASERHEAD (I admit I liked the way the scenes were shot and lit)
FRANKENSTEIN
GRAND HOTEL
HUSTLER, THE (some of the framing of some of these shots, and the flat lighting, make the mostly static scenes seem almost abstract) A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (it’s like Richard Avedon’s black and white portraits come to life)
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
JEZEBEL (I dug the cinematography more than the film)
KING CREOLE
LAURA
MALTESE FALCON, THE
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
OUT OF THE PAST and ON THE WATERFRONT
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (the old black and white one obviously)
Q?
RED RIVER and RAGING BULL (another movie where I dug the cinematography more than the film, even though most people I know loved it)
SINCE YOU WENT AWAY, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and SUNSET BOULEVARD
THIS GUN FOR HIRE and A TOUCH OF EVIL (I like the cinematography here too better than I do the movie even though it’s another favorite of many I know)
U?
V? [Ray DiPalma suggested, wisely, VIRGIN SPRING for this letter]
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND
X?
YOUNG SAVAGES, THE (great framing and lighting I thought)
ZORBA THE GREEK

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

SINCE YOU WENT AWAY

Yesterday, I caught SINCE YOU WENT AWAY on TCM and had to get out the Kleenex.

In case you don’t know it, it’s a WWII home-front drama starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple, Hattie McDaniel, Monty Wooley, Robert Walker, Joseph Cotten, and Agnes Moorehead, among many others (including a young Guy Madison as a sweet hearted hunk of a sailor who looks like he flew in from the future—the 1950s to be exact—with his distressed pompadour hairstyle and cool charisma).

David O. Selznick produced it, and meant it to be a WWII epic in the mode of his great Technicolor triumph of only a few years earlier GONE WITH THE WIND.

Like that classic film, SINCE YOU WENT AWAY also focuses on war’s impact on women and the home, uses images of wounded soldiers to convey the tragedy of war, and co-stars the incredible Hattie McDaniel.

But SINCE YOU WENT AWAY is in black and white, at the height of Hollywood’s mastery of creating true art out of light and shadows without color. It is a beautiful movie to watch, with many, many frames suitable for printing and hanging on the wall as some of the greatest photography ever made.

The director was John Cromwell, whose work I’m unaware of otherwise, and I didn’t catch the cinematographer. But black and white movies as beautiful as this were almost commonplace by 1943 when this was made, so many cinematographers had mastered the medium.

There are elements typical of Hollywood “womens’ movies” of that time, including idealized love and romance and family life. But there are also no punches pulled when it comes to the cost of war.

Death is omnipresent, and the close up shots of wounded veterans in physical rehab learning to use the primitive prosthetic arms and legs of the period, though infused with upbeat cameos from many recognizable Hollywood character actors playing the less realistically injured veterans, must have been joltingly real for audiences of that time.

In fact, watching this movie with the realization that it was made in 1943, at what would turn out to be the midpoint of the war but no one could know for sure, and a time when finally the possibility of winning the war seemed real (’41 and ’42 being much bleaker in that respect), makes it even more powerful.

There are also the usual stereotypes, Hattie McDaniel’s black maid with the tough exterior but heart of gold who is constantly mispronouncing the multi-syllabic more intellectual sounding words she attempts to use regularly, with no family life other than the white family she’s working for.

But her character is fully rounded in her humanity, and as an actor she has a range of emotions to express and does so beyond the capacity of the majority of Hollywood actors of her time. And if her character is a bit of a cliché, so is “Mister Mahoney” who delivers the groceries with a terrible Irish accent and is chuckled at just as warmly if condescendingly by Claudette Colbert as she does at Hattie McDaniel’s “Fidelia.”

In fact Colbert plays a bit of a cliché herself, the WASP housewife and mother who has no clue how to run a household on her own let alone get a job to help the family unable to live on the departed husband and father’s officer’s salary.

The husband/father is the dominant presence in the movie, and much like the absence of men in THE WOMEN, his presence is felt in almost every scene, though he isn’t in any. An amazingly effective device, as is almost everything used in this movie to make it great.

Jennifer Jones is a revelation as she matures before our eyes without the help of anything other than her acting chops. The weakest link might be Shirley Temple, a little too big to be playing the innocent schoolgirl, and a little too stuck on her child star tics. But, she still pulls it off, because everyone around her is so terrific, and because she tries so hard you can’t help giving her credit for the effort.

Obviously a lot in this movie seems quaintly contrived, but in fact, from my reading and experience, very little of it is. It’s probably one of the least watched classic Hollywood films, whose imagery is most familiar—the shot of Jennifer Jones running alongside the train on the station platform smiling through her tears as she clings to her last contact with Robert Walker’s soldier off to the war has been used in so many Oscar and AFI montages, you probably think you’ve seen the movie by now.

And the iconic shot of Jones on the station platform after the train has gone, a tiny figure standing in a column of light casting a shadow many times her size is inimitable and, as I said above, worthy of framing and hanging on any wall whether home or museum.

If you’ve never seen this film, take the time to watch it some night, and just enjoy the beauty of the camera work, if nothing else (though I doubt you’ll be able to watch the whole thing without laughing out loud at least once or twice and getting misty eyed if not outright bawling a few times as well).