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Hard Day’s Night. A Little Light in the Darkness.

Reblogging on the occasion of Richard Lester’s birthday

conradbrunstrom

harddaysnight

A correct response to the insane and vicious political maelstrom is to cherish things that you truly love.  That’s part of a correct response at least.  While raging against the dying of the light, you need to sort of remind yourself of what “light” consists of.

A few days ago, I bathed in the light somewhat by watching Hard Days Night (Lester, 1964) again.  What a remarkable film it is, though I prefer its French title Quartre Garçons Dans Le Vent.  It sort of invents the pop video – but it’s far more than that.  It is an engrossing film about the trivial aspects of celebrity and the claustrophobia of living in a bubble.  The four boys are fond of being around girls, but (unlike any other youth orientated film of its era), there is no romantic subplot whatsoever.  These four boys in the wind (perhaps four boys in a…

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Stairway to Heaven. Laurel and Hardy in “The Music Box” (1932).

stairs

No Laurel and Hardy fan or completist references The Music Box as their favorite Stan and Ollie movie.

Citing this most famous of films as your personal favorite is a waste of an opportunity to show off your own wide-ranging knowledge.  It’s like saying that Mozart is your favorite classical composer or that the Mona Lisa is your favorite painting.  It’s just not a stated preference that confers what Adorno would call cultural capital and what Bourdieu would call “distinction”.

In all honesty, The Music Box isn’t the Laurel and Hardy film I most look forward to rewatching, despite (or perhaps snootily because) of its Oscar glory.  Big Business, Helpmates, Towed in a Hole, Busy Bodies, and even Come Clean come higher on my top ten list, a list that’s always being revised.

You probably already knew that The Music Box was a remake of one of their own silent films (now lost) called Hats Off, in which our heroes heave a washing machine rather than a piano up this very same set of steps.

Our heroes have a delivery business – “Foundered in 1931”.  This morning they are to deliver a piano (actually pianola) to the home of a snooty professor, as played by Billy Gilbert – one of the more colourful and melodramatic of recurring antagonists.  The huge flight of steps does not deter them and with a contrapuntal heave and a ho they get that crate up the stairs despite many setbacks.  LA Police officers in the 1930s were free to deal out discretionary nuggets of corporeal correction without fear of disciplinary action.  At least they didn’t seem to kill people.  Those who are momentarily inconvenienced by the slow ascent of this box are utterly without compassion for Stan and Ollie, and are unwilling to make the smallest concession to the notion of wriggling around.  Each time the box is sent plummeting down to street level, Stan and Ollie sigh and resume their work uncomplainingly.   Perhaps the best moment in the film is when Charley Hall informs them, having reached the front door, that the road where their cart is parked spirals round to the front door, making the whole laborious ascent redundant.  There is nothing for it, but to slowly carry the box all the way down the steps so that this more logical strategy be belatedly effected.

The film is far from over with the ascent, however.  Everything that can go wrong with a block and tackle goes wrong.  Ollie suffers an agonising foot injury.  Despite all the crashes the box has received, the pianola turns out to be in perfect condition, and we’re treated to a deliciously little dance number as they commence the clean up operation.

The conclusion to the film somewhat arbitrary.  Gilbert attempts to destroy his own birthday present with an axe, becomes reconciled with his wife, and then has ink squirted in his face.

What is it that elevates this film to such canonical status?  I’m inclined to think that it’s the steps themselves.  Everybody has to carry something large and heavy up too many steps at some point in their lives.  There’s nobody who can’t empathise with their condition.  There’s an eerie beauty to these steps in any case.  These steps belong in a pantheon of cinematic steps which include Eisenstein’s Odessa steps and the fatal steps in The Exorcist.  Although I’m also reminded of A Matter of Life and Death, I am reminded that that film is dominated by an escalator, not a staircase.

I think I have an old blog somewhere about steps on film.  I’ll rummage.  Ah, here it is…

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/babies-in-prams-rolling-down-steps/

The Myth of Sisyphus haunts the modern imagination.  The idea of an agonising task with no purpose or end to it offers the very definition of hellish eternity.  Sisyphean labour can also illustrate a perverse definition of heroism, however. As Albert Camus sagely remarked:

“But perhaps the the great work of art has less importance in itself than in the ordeal it demands of a man and the opportunity it provides him of overcoming his phantoms and approaching a little closer to his naked reality.”

If this is true, the The Music Box represents an eloquent commentary on twentieth-century existentialism.

I’ve some thoughts about a few other Stan and Ollie classics.

Like Any Old Port:

https://wordpress.com/post/conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/33082

Helpmates:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/ollies-worst-and-finest-twenty-minutes-laurel-and-hardy-in-helpmates-1932/

“On the Loose”:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/on-the-loose-41-seconds-of-laurel-and-hardy-2/

Beau Hunks:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/29/no-time-for-levity-its-laurel-and-hardy-in-beau-hunks-1931/

One Good Turn:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/we-havent-eaten-for-three-whole-days-yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-laurel-and-hardy-in-one-good-turn-1931/

Come Clean:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/well-tell-the-truth-about-this-woman-well-come-clean-now-you-go-in-and-tell-em-laurel-and-hardy-in-come-clean-1931/

Pardon Us:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/they-fought-the-law-and-the-law-won-laurel-and-hardy-in-pardon-us-1931/

Laughing Gravy:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/and-now-a-choice-of-endings-laurel-and-hardy-in-laughing-gravy-1931/

The Stolen Jools:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/the-stolen-jools-all-of-1931-hollywood-in-2-reels-part-of-why-laurel-and-hardy-is-great-2/

Chickens Come Home:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/everybody-has-a-past-laurel-and-hardy-in-chickens-come-home-1931/

Be Big:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/these-boots-arent-made-for-walking-laurel-and-hardy-in-be-big-1931/

Another Fine Mess:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-most-famous-misquoted-catchphrase-of-them-all-laurel-and-hardy-in-another-fine-mess-1930/

The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/oh-the-grimacing-butler-the-laurel-and-hardy-murder-case-1930/

Hog Wild

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/what-price-decent-reception-laurel-and-hardy-in-hog-wild-1930/

Below Zero:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/what-have-they-done-to-deserve-this-laurel-and-hardy-in-below-zero-1930/

Brats:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/child-is-the-father-to-the-man-laurel-and-hardy-in-brats-1930/

Blotto:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/they-should-never-have-ended-prohibition-laurel-and-hardy-in-blotto-1930/

Here is Night Owls:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpres

Angora Love:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/angora-love-laurel-and-hardys-last-silent-comedy-the-one-with-the-goat/

The Hoose Gow:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/a-hard-time-had-by-all-laurel-and-hardy-in-the-hoose-gow-1929-reviewed/

They Go Boom:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/they-go-boom-1929-they-really-do-this-laurel-and-hardy-title-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin/

Perfect Day:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/perfect-day-laurel-and-hardys-not-lou-reeds/

Men O’ War:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/05/men-owar-and-the-dawn-of-doh-laurel-and-hardy-in-1929/

Berthmarks:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/berth-marks-1929-laurel-and-hardy-and-the-comedy-of-confined-spaces/

Unaccustomed as We are Are:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/unaccustomed-as-we-are-laurel-and-hardys-first-sound-film-in-1929/

Bacon Grabbers:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/12/repo-men-original-and-best-laurel-and-hardy-in-bacon-grabbers-1929/

Double Whoopee:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/double-whoopee-the-laurel-and-hardy-film-set-entirely-in-a-hotel-lobby-and-in-the-street-just-outside-it/

Big Business:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/retributive-perfection-laurel-and-hardy-in-big-business-1929/

That’s My Wife:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/25/the-marriage-of-true-minds-laurel-and-hardys-thats-my-wife-1929/

Wrong Again:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/rich-people-are-different-laurel-and-hardy-in-wrong-again/

Liberty:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/laurel-and-hardy-nearly-plummeting-to-their-deaths-over-and-over-again-liberty-1929/

We Faw Down:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/secrets-and-lies-laurel-and-hardy-in-we-faw-down-1928/

Habeas Corpus:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/knowing-where-the-bodies-are-buried-laurel-and-hardy-in-habeas-corpus-1928/

Two Tars:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/21/appetite-for-autodestruction-two-tars-1928-reviewed/

Early to Bed:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/will-success-spoil-oliver-hardy-oh-you-betcha-early-to-bed-1928/

Should Married Men Go Home?:
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/the-golfing-one-laurel-and-hardy-in-should-married-men-go-home-1928/

Their Purple Moment:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/24/their-purple-moment-1928-dont-you-just-love-it-when-stan-and-ollie-are-all-shy-and-flirty/

You’re Darn Tootin’:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/the-descent-to-trouser-fighting-youre-darn-tootin-1928/

From Soup to Nuts:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/laurel-and-hardy-embarrassing-rich-folk-satisfaction-guaranteed-from-soup-to-nuts-1928/

Leave em Laughing:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/leave-em-laughing-1928-gas-attack-in-culver-city/

Battle of the Century:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/battle-of-the-century-1927-the-pie-fight-is-sublimely-vindicated/

Putting Pants on Philip:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/putting-pants-on-philip-laurel-and-hardy-and-coming-to-america/

Hats Off:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/indiana-jones-why-dont-you-try-to-find-hats-off-the-lost-laurel-and-hardy-film/

Call of the Cuckoo:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/call-of-the-cuckoo-1927-laurel-and-hardy-are-bit-players-again-and-their-hair-hasnt-grown-back-yet/

The Second Hundred Years:
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/laurel-and-hardy-in-the-second-hundred-years-1927-it-begins/

Flying Elephants:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/flying-elephants-laurel-and-hardy-were-never-faster-or-crazier/

Sugar Daddies:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/sugar-daddies-1927-laurel-and-hardy-and-finlayson-go-to-venice-beach/

Do Detectives Think?

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/watching-the-detectives-laurel-and-hardy-do-detectives-think-1927-this-one-is-the-real-thing/

Sailors Beware!:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/laurel-and-hardy-in-sailors-beware-1927-the-worlds-first-eisenstein-parody/

With Love and Hisses:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/with-love-and-hisses-1927-laurel-hardy-and-the-archaeology-of-kickdownism/

Love ‘Em and Weep:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/love-em-and-weep-still-not-a-laurel-and-hardy-film-but-say-hello-to-james-finlayson-and-mae-busch/

Slipping Wives:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/slipping-wives-1927-and-yes-i-am-going-to-blog-a-review-of-every-single-laurel-and-hardy-movie-i-genuinely-think-its-a-good-use-of-my-time/

45 Minutes from Hollywood:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/45-minutes-from-hollywood-some-context-for-laurel-and-hardy/

Duck Soup:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/duck-soup-the-laurel-and-hardy-film-the-first-laurel-and-hardy-film-arguably/

The Lucky Dog:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/the-lucky-dog-laurel-and-hardy-first-meet-on-film/

 

Keith Joseph would have been 100 years old today. I sort of met him once.

joseph

He’s known as the man who converted Margaret Thatcher to monetarism. Starting out as a run of the mill “One Nation” Tory (and despite what David Cameron and others might tell you – these really don’t exist any more), he spent much of his political career thinking of governance in terms of the careful management of progressive change, in which benign state intervention played a major part.

In the early seventies he converted to Milton Friedman and monetarism, and persuaded Thatcher to come with him.  He had meanwhile made an “unfortunate” (trans. “horrible”) speech with eugenic overtones in 1974 warning that “our human stock” was being threatened by the wrong people doing too much breeding.  In the hideous second decade of the 21st century, this kind of talk would probably fast-track your political promotions prospects, but back in the 1970s it still considered quite nasty.  As a consequence of this speech he was written off as Tory party leadership material, but throughout the 1970s and 80s he was regarded as one of the most influential members of Thatcher’s inner circle, helping to define government policy for a post-Keynesian era.

And towards the end of his cabinet career, he came to speak at my school.   He was a strange and slightly scary physical presence, as I recall.  Widely mocked by Steve Bell and others as a deranged ideologue, he didn’t seem to be going out of his way to allay this widespread instinctive impression.  He had rather mad hair and wide staring eyes – not unlike a cartoon of himself.  Worst of all, he seemed to really enjoy lecturing schoolboys.

“Can anyone tell me where jobs come from?” he boomed from his lectern.

To this day, I kick myself that I didn’t shout out – “the stork brings them!”

For sure, I would have been swiftly identified and given a week’s detention for ragging such an esteemed luminary.  I hated detention.  I wasn’t thinking then of the honourable glow that would surround this punishment decades later as I entered my anecdotage.  But the truth is, I’ve never been much of a heckler.  It’s not really my idiom.  So instead, I asked him a question.

Keith Joseph had told us, in a rather mannered slow and heavily cadenced way, that it is consumers who bring jobs.   So I asked him something to do with the austerities of monetarist economics undermining the consumer base that’s supposed to create markets that in turn lead to job creation.   I actually wanted him to try to answer the question.  In all honesty, as a little lefty (as opposed to a much older and wider lefty looking back), I wanted him to try and fail to answer the question.  I wanted him to flounder.  What he actually did was far worse.

He beamed.

“That’s an excellent question!”  he declared.  “That’s such a good question I think you should stand up and ask it again – only louder.”

With a face like beetroot, I was compelled to do precisely that.  What Keith Joseph’s eventual answer was I can no longer remember, because I’d been converted into a teacher’s pet in front of the whole school.  He could walk away from this encounter, but I was going to have to live with this meeting for years to come.

When our children get their act together and build a generous and humane world that rightly shames my generation into regular rituals of contrition, historians will ascribe Keith Joseph a central role in the brief dominance of that cruel aberration known as “monetarism”.  Can I also add to the charge sheet, the fact that he made me stand up in the middle of school and made me look like a teacher’s pet.

 

 

 

Martin Luther King on “Face to Face”(1961)

king

I can’t think of many modern politicians who would submit to this interviewing format.  Although the programme is called Face to Face, only the interviewee’s face is visible, often brightly lit and in extreme close up.  John Freeman is all but invisible.  Police interrogations are (or should be) more equitably staged than this.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00lgzyl

There’s not even a “thank you” at the end of the conversation.

Some of John Freeman’s interviewees from the early 1960s, notably Gilbert Harding and Tony Hancock, crumbled very visibly under the pressure.

In 1961, King was widely admired on both sides of the Atlantic, but he was very far from being consensually venerated.  It is contextually evident that Freeman is actually very sympathetic to and admiring of Martin Luther King, but he’s also professionally committed to giving King something of the same “going over” that his other victims have received.  This interview takes place before any Nobel Peace Prize and before any “I have a Dream” speech.  Indeed, the whole format of the show is antipathetic to the exercise of oratory.   King has no idea what the next question is going to be.

King stays very calm, answers slowly, and refuses to be riled or goaded.  There are no flights of rhetoric on display here, only an exhibition of someone subjecting an emotional experience to rational inquiry.

Watching this interview in the twenty-first century one is of course struck by the constant use of anachronistic and inappropriate words like “negro” and “coloured”.  It also seems strange to hear Freeman continually pressing King on the extent to which King personally was at the sharp end of violence and oppression while growing up in Atlanta.   Why should this be so important either to Freeman or to the segment of the television audience Freeman must have felt he was ventriloquising?  Freeman then presses King on whether or not the situation for African Americans in 1961 isn’t immeasurably better than it was in 1941, with an implied tone of “is your journey really necessary?”

On the witness stand, King replies carefully and evidentially, describing the occasion of his own stabbing in the same tone of voice that he uses to instance far more systemic and institutionalised forms of oppression still alive and well and angry in 1961.

Perhaps the most demanding and unanswerable moment occurs when Freeman asks King if he feels like “an adequate symbol” for “his people”.  There is no easy or right answer to this question, and King responds, after a brief but assured pause by confessing his own physical fears and fears of inadequacy.  He neither boasts nor grovels.

Given the scale of his challenges and achievements, surviving a 30 minute BBC interview with John Freeman may seem like a very minor footnote in the biography of Martin Luther King.  Not everyone survived these interviews though, and the manner of King’s survival is revealing of the man.  The performance preserved is the performance of supreme self-discipline and subordination of personal feeling to a higher cause, while allowing the effort of that self-discipline to register sufficiently for a sense of necessary personal investment to communicate itself.   It is not that MLK comes across as dispassionate in this interview, only that passion has been organised into a larger pattern.

Fox News yesterday ran a piece telling people not to “politicise” MLK, declaring that Martin Luther King Day should be a day of national unity.  Of course, when the Reagan administration turned King’s birthday into a national holiday, they did so as an act of appropriation, sanitisation and neutralisation.   Reagan himself had, after all, been an opponent of civil rights and the 1965 civil rights act.  There’s a conservative narrative dating from the 1980s onwards that wants the legacy of Martin Luther King to be so vague as to be meaningless, and so speciously bland in its inclusivity as to threaten or challenge nothing and nobody.

Remembering Martin Luther King properly is to remember someone constantly in the firing line.  Someone always in an interrogative spotlight.

Sombre Meditations on the completion of a Quinquagesimal Solar Orbit.

me

January 15th 2018 satisfies all the conditions of so-called “Blue Monday” – officially the most joyless and demotivational day of the year, as defined in 2005 by Cliff Arnall.  Arnall devised a formula that looks like this:

realformula

Converting these mathematical terms into rather more descriptive prose – it becomes evident that the third Monday in January, in this case Monday 15th of January, is a date when everyone feels the bite of Christmas over-expenditure, the next paycheck is a long way away and winter has lost any glimmer of yuletide festivity while still projecting itself weeks and weeks into the foreseeable future.

It’s also, (co-incidentally?) the day that my raddled old carcass readies and steadies itself to be dragged around the Sun for the fifty-first time.

So, everyone’s miserable and nobody has any money on my birthday.  I get that.  In fact, the 15th of January is such a disastrous date from an economic point of view that I cannot remember an adult birthday that has not reminded me, to some extent, of economic failure.

I suppose many people must feel the same way when they turn fifty.  The last ludicrous and hubristic aspirations of youth give way to the far more modest yet far more urgent ambition to have lived a life that can at least be rationalised as “mostly harmless”.  The question is no longer “do I have enough time left to fulfill a hopeful list of life goals?” (HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!), but “do I have enough time left to make some kind of restitution for the hurt and harm I’ve probably done other people?”

So I think I’ve decided what I want for my birthday.  Given that we’re all broke right now, it’s important to be very focused about this.  So I’ve decided that I want what we all want.  Love.  But not just any love.  Tough love.

If I’m to attempt to make any constructive sense of remaining 35-40% of my life, I think I need to know the scale of my restorative project.  Over the decades, petty cruelties calcify into habit, abusive behaviors are normalised as exhaustion,  while past wrongs are smudged with sepia into careless innocence.  So, all things considered, I’m not sure I can keep track of all the people I must have hurt and harmed over the years.  So perhaps I should start to write stuff down.  Increasingly, I feel I need to write stuff down anyway.    So if anyone reading this remembers me hurting them in any way or at any time, then do drop me a line, and your legitimate grievance will make it onto a list.  It could have been yesterday or it could have been thirty years ago.  But time is off the essence.

Any grievances that need addressing that involve a monetary component may need to wait a bit, seeing as it’s January etc. etc. etc.

So, for my 50th, on this worst of all possible days of the year I want the kind of tough love that can help me to structure a timetable for restorative justice.

Let’s face it – it’s the only kind of present you can really afford.  And the only kind I really need.  Or deserve.

Shithole Countries and Baskets of Deplorables. Is it less politically damaging to be a racist than to identify racism?

deplorable

Trump’s casual and disgusting hatred for a substantial chunk of the human population is and is not shocking.  It is shocking for those of us who feel that it’s important to remain shocked by such things.  It is not shocking in the sense that it’s in any sense surprising or out of character.  Those Republican senators who are reported  to be “surprised” by Trump’s language could, for the most part, be more accurately characterised as hypocritical enablers who are pretending to be surprised.  The sorry truth is that a lot of people love hearing a POTUS use this sort of language, because it validates feelings they’ve always had and always resented having to sometimes feel a bit ashamed of.

Nor, sadly, will this latest nugget of vicious insanity make much of an inroad into Trump’s core support.  Those who are still willing to publicly  identify as Trump supporters are people who are either pleased by Trump’s racism, or don’t really care about it.  If you still support Trump at this stage then racism is not a deal-breaker for you.  And if you look at UK news sites, you are grimly reminded of just how much Fascism there is in Britain right now as comments sections are overwhelmed by applause for Trump’s hideous world view.

And then I was reminded of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment, in the fatal weeks leading up to her failure to win the electoral college and become President.  The sheer offensiveness of the utterly true statement that a hefty percentage of Trump’s supporters cherish some pretty deplorable attitudes is felt to have played a significant role on Clinton’s defeat, particularly in core target constituencies in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Having remembered Hillary Clinton,  I was reminded of Gordon Brown, unknowingly being recorded as he registered his frustration with a “bigoted woman” just before his own election defeat in 2010.  Brown’s situation was more problematic in that he’d just had a polite conversation with the same woman, with that painful grimace on his face that demonstrates his perennial difficulty with being forced to smile in public.  Brown’s “bigoted woman” remark illustrates at least the threat of the charge of hypocrisy… being one thing in public and and another in private.

But what both Brown and Clinton’s political “folly” illustrates, from a really depressing point of view – is that being racist is nowhere near as damaging as calling people racist.  The most racist people on earth have developed a sense that someone being a racist might be regarded as a bad thing – and they are therefore demanding the right never to be called it.  A critical asymmetry in free speech discourse has arrived.   Racists are demanding the freedom to say any horrific and painful thing that comes into their head and justify themselves by saying that they aren’t “politically correct”.  When others exercise their own free speech by pointing out that these racists are in fact – racist – then they are being oppressive – part of a “PC tyranny”.

I repeat – within this toxic political culture – racists are free to call people every racialised slur they want – but nobody is free to call a racist a racist.

The hideous reality is that between 30% and 40% of the US and UK electorates really are baskets of deplorables.  They might not be deplorable all the time, and they might do admirable things on occasion, but between 30% and 40$ of the US and UK electorates have endorsed some deplorable things.  They have sided with all that’s deplorable at critical historical moments.  Who dares say this out loud?

Did Clinton and Brown shoot themselves in the foot by (deliberately and/or accidentally) by pointing this out?  Do we live in a world where white privilege, nativism, casual sexism, homophobia, and outright xenophobic panic have to be endlessly appeased and never ever confronted?

The recent Alabamian election suggests something different.  The despicable Roy Moore (who compounded his awfulness after the election with baseless race-baiting charges involving  phantom Mexicans who had shown up  to defeat him), was taken down not by placating Deplorables but by getting a big enough percentage of Non-Deplorables to the polls.

If anyone is going to to take down Trump, or mitigate/reverse a suicidal version of Brexit, it will only be by motivating at least two thirds of the sane and reasonable to show up on polling day.   Crazy and/or deplorable people are highly motivated.  Once, as a Trumpite, you’ve nailed your colours to the mast of the good ship Disgusting and Delusional Race-Baiting Sex Criminal, it’s hard to prise them off again.   The sheer scale of the folly and viciousness of certain political decisions makes them hard to reverse, insofar as the greater the sin, the harder it is to acknowledge.

But if 98% of Deplorables show up to vote, and 62% of Non-Deplorables vote – then the Non-Deplorables win.  That’s the math that counts, and efforts to motivate and inspire this >60% need to start (or accelerate) right now.

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Johnny Cash playing Folsom Prison

folsom

Yes, on the 13th January 1968, Johnny Cash played two sets at Folsom Prison, which were edited together to create his famous album a few months later.

One was at 9.40am and the other at 12.40pm.

I don’t know the maths of Folsom’s prison’s acoustic properties, but on the live album, every semi quaver of Johnny’s Cash’s quiet sense of conviction echoes superbly.  He only played Folsom a full thirteen years after he’d first written and recorded his famous song about it.  As a consequence of this record, it’s vaguely assumed by many that Johnny Cash served hard time – which he never did.  He might have spent a few nights in a cell – but prison time -never?  Yet Cash never sounds like a tourist.  He never sounds patronising, even in the frequent conversations between tracks.  Folsom had long been calling to him, and January 1968 feels like a perverse “homecoming”.

Because there’s a lot of love in the house.  At the very moment when California as a whole is dreaming in tie-dye and the power of love is everywhere being invoked – it is being focused and distilled in the very darkest place in California State.  This album is love injected where it’s most needed.

It seems that the Folsom experience may have turned Johnny Cash’s head somewhat.  A massive investment in the Christian narrative of death, descent to Hell and subsequent resurrection led to his pushing past orthodox Christianity in the general direction of Messianic delusion.   Cash increasingly felt that it was his peculiar destiny to go into the dark places of the world (high security prisons) and lead people to redemption.  He would be subsequently disappointed in some of his redemptees… needless to say.

Of course, Messianic delusion has been the province of more than than one popular singer.  Michael Jackson springs instantly to mind, and to a lesser extent John Lennon, who was vaccinated against its worst excesses by a functioning sense of humour.  Johnny Cash differed from these others in that his sense of Messianic mission inspired some of his best work.  Thinking he was Jesus might not have been good for Cash, but it was good for the rest of us.  The Man in Black was never more energised and expressive than when he felt he was showing people the light.

It’s also instructive to reconsider Johnny Cash’s extreme investment in Christianity’s most central redemptive logic at a time when the darling president of most self-identifying (white) “Christian” in the USA is Donald Trump – a man who boasts about never forgiving and never apologising – a man who rejects any notion of expansive love or unexpected redemption with utter scorn.  Cash’s sense of Christ might have been hubristic and dangerous on its own terms, but it should cast a dark shadow on those many many people for whom Christianity is just a brand logo, or a bag full of smug hatreds that define the spiky borders of a privileged tribe.  In his own way, Cash was a heterodox theologian who should get everyone of faith to start thinking what they believe and how and why.

The events of fifty years ago inspired if not the greatest live album ever made, then the most atmospheric album ever made – the album that evokes a specific moment in time better than any other.  It’s a light in darkness that changes the shape of the darkness.

Paradoxically though, it’s the only great live album that doesn’t make me feel “I wish I wish I’d been there in the audience though…”

“Any Old Port” (1932). Two ten minute films stitched together and starring Laurel and Hardy (1932).

any old port

This is a two reel film that functions very much as a diptych.  It’s pleasant enough, but it’s not likely to crack anyone’s top ten lists.

Stan and Ollie are whalers on shore but emphatically not on shore- leave.  They have no particular job prospects when they rent a room at “Mugsy” Long’s dockside boarding house.  It so happens that the hideous and terrifying Mugsy is determined to force a marriage on the beautiful maid of all work employed at this wretched establishment.  Despite the fact that Mugsy is so brutishly immune to pain that billiard balls bounce off his head without him noticing, Stan and Ollie somehow manage to facilitate the girl’s escape just in time and send Mugsy splashing into the harbour prior to making their own quick getaway.  With their money left back at the “hotel” and unretrievable, Ollie takes up the offer of an old friend, now a boxing promoter, to take fifty dollars in return for lasting four rounds with his current champ.  Ollie, rather unfairly, forces Stan to do the actual fighting.  In the ring, Stan’s opponent turns out to be none other than Mugsy, who is not content with his own massive weight and strength advantage and insists on weighting his own gloves with metal.  However, a subsequent mix up with the gloves leads to Stan knocking out Mugsy cold.  Ollie, meanwhile, has persuaded a drunk in the front row to bet against Mugsy winning, so he’s rather unfairly cross with Stan at the film’s abrupt conclusion.

Walter Long was a typecast “heavy” who had already appeared with Stan and Ollie in Pardon Us, and would subsequently appear in Going Bye Bye and The Live Ghost.  In essence, he inherited the roles played by Noah Young during Laurel and Hardy’s silent era.  His evil designs on Jacqueline Wells cast Stan and Ollie in the role of kindly, chivalric if inept protectors – a role they would more frequently play in some of their later features.

Coming straight after the supremely well structured and focused HelpmatesAny Old Port cannot help but seem a bit of a mixed bag – not so much a continuous story as a rather shapeless receptacle to shovel jokes into.  The fight scene itself is modeled on Laurel’s previous experience in the ring in Battle of the Century and relies heavily on the inherent comedy of ludicrously mismatched pugilists.  Incidentally, I’ve read elsewhere, that Stan’s signature scissor jump received its valedictory outing in an earlier film – One Good Turn, but it can in fact be glimpsed briefly during this bout.

Of course, in detailed terms, the clowning remains superb.  The palaver attached to signing names in the guest book is well prolonged.  This routine had previously been showcased in Double Whoopee (1929), but here it is seen in close up and from the right perspective.  What makes this a perfect skit for Stan and Ollie is the contrast between the elegant flourishes which Ollie regards as indispensable to effect the most humdrum and menial touches and the sheer slowness with which Stan works through every conceivable permutation of getting things wrong.  The fact the final inky mess is sealed with a bare cross in the book is delicious.

This is twenty minutes full of Stan and Ollie.  And hard-core completists, the sort of people who’ve read this far,  are unlikely to complain that the routines have no overarching structure or logic to them.

I’ve written a bit on some other Laurel and Hardy films.

Such as…

Helpmates:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/ollies-worst-and-finest-twenty-minutes-laurel-and-hardy-in-helpmates-1932/

“On the Loose”:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/on-the-loose-41-seconds-of-laurel-and-hardy-2/

Beau Hunks:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/29/no-time-for-levity-its-laurel-and-hardy-in-beau-hunks-1931/

One Good Turn:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/we-havent-eaten-for-three-whole-days-yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-laurel-and-hardy-in-one-good-turn-1931/

Come Clean:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/well-tell-the-truth-about-this-woman-well-come-clean-now-you-go-in-and-tell-em-laurel-and-hardy-in-come-clean-1931/

Pardon Us:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/they-fought-the-law-and-the-law-won-laurel-and-hardy-in-pardon-us-1931/

Laughing Gravy:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/and-now-a-choice-of-endings-laurel-and-hardy-in-laughing-gravy-1931/

The Stolen Jools:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/the-stolen-jools-all-of-1931-hollywood-in-2-reels-part-of-why-laurel-and-hardy-is-great-2/

Chickens Come Home:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/everybody-has-a-past-laurel-and-hardy-in-chickens-come-home-1931/

Be Big:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/these-boots-arent-made-for-walking-laurel-and-hardy-in-be-big-1931/

Another Fine Mess:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-most-famous-misquoted-catchphrase-of-them-all-laurel-and-hardy-in-another-fine-mess-1930/

The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/oh-the-grimacing-butler-the-laurel-and-hardy-murder-case-1930/

Hog Wild

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/what-price-decent-reception-laurel-and-hardy-in-hog-wild-1930/

Below Zero:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/what-have-they-done-to-deserve-this-laurel-and-hardy-in-below-zero-1930/

Brats:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/child-is-the-father-to-the-man-laurel-and-hardy-in-brats-1930/

Blotto:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/they-should-never-have-ended-prohibition-laurel-and-hardy-in-blotto-1930/

Here is Night Owls:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpres

Angora Love:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/angora-love-laurel-and-hardys-last-silent-comedy-the-one-with-the-goat/

The Hoose Gow:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/a-hard-time-had-by-all-laurel-and-hardy-in-the-hoose-gow-1929-reviewed/

They Go Boom:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/they-go-boom-1929-they-really-do-this-laurel-and-hardy-title-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin/

Perfect Day:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/perfect-day-laurel-and-hardys-not-lou-reeds/

Men O’ War:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/05/men-owar-and-the-dawn-of-doh-laurel-and-hardy-in-1929/

Berthmarks:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/berth-marks-1929-laurel-and-hardy-and-the-comedy-of-confined-spaces/

Unaccustomed as We are Are:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/unaccustomed-as-we-are-laurel-and-hardys-first-sound-film-in-1929/

Bacon Grabbers:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/12/repo-men-original-and-best-laurel-and-hardy-in-bacon-grabbers-1929/

Double Whoopee:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/double-whoopee-the-laurel-and-hardy-film-set-entirely-in-a-hotel-lobby-and-in-the-street-just-outside-it/

Big Business:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/retributive-perfection-laurel-and-hardy-in-big-business-1929/

That’s My Wife:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/25/the-marriage-of-true-minds-laurel-and-hardys-thats-my-wife-1929/

Wrong Again:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/rich-people-are-different-laurel-and-hardy-in-wrong-again/

Liberty:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/laurel-and-hardy-nearly-plummeting-to-their-deaths-over-and-over-again-liberty-1929/

We Faw Down:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/secrets-and-lies-laurel-and-hardy-in-we-faw-down-1928/

Habeas Corpus:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/knowing-where-the-bodies-are-buried-laurel-and-hardy-in-habeas-corpus-1928/

Two Tars:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/21/appetite-for-autodestruction-two-tars-1928-reviewed/

Early to Bed:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/will-success-spoil-oliver-hardy-oh-you-betcha-early-to-bed-1928/

Should Married Men Go Home?:
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/the-golfing-one-laurel-and-hardy-in-should-married-men-go-home-1928/

Their Purple Moment:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/24/their-purple-moment-1928-dont-you-just-love-it-when-stan-and-ollie-are-all-shy-and-flirty/

You’re Darn Tootin’:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/the-descent-to-trouser-fighting-youre-darn-tootin-1928/

From Soup to Nuts:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/laurel-and-hardy-embarrassing-rich-folk-satisfaction-guaranteed-from-soup-to-nuts-1928/

Leave em Laughing:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/leave-em-laughing-1928-gas-attack-in-culver-city/

Battle of the Century:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/battle-of-the-century-1927-the-pie-fight-is-sublimely-vindicated/

Putting Pants on Philip:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/putting-pants-on-philip-laurel-and-hardy-and-coming-to-america/

Hats Off:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/indiana-jones-why-dont-you-try-to-find-hats-off-the-lost-laurel-and-hardy-film/

Call of the Cuckoo:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/call-of-the-cuckoo-1927-laurel-and-hardy-are-bit-players-again-and-their-hair-hasnt-grown-back-yet/

The Second Hundred Years:
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/laurel-and-hardy-in-the-second-hundred-years-1927-it-begins/

Flying Elephants:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/flying-elephants-laurel-and-hardy-were-never-faster-or-crazier/

Sugar Daddies:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/sugar-daddies-1927-laurel-and-hardy-and-finlayson-go-to-venice-beach/

Do Detectives Think?

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/watching-the-detectives-laurel-and-hardy-do-detectives-think-1927-this-one-is-the-real-thing/

Sailors Beware!:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/laurel-and-hardy-in-sailors-beware-1927-the-worlds-first-eisenstein-parody/

With Love and Hisses:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/with-love-and-hisses-1927-laurel-hardy-and-the-archaeology-of-kickdownism/

Love ‘Em and Weep:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/love-em-and-weep-still-not-a-laurel-and-hardy-film-but-say-hello-to-james-finlayson-and-mae-busch/

Slipping Wives:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/slipping-wives-1927-and-yes-i-am-going-to-blog-a-review-of-every-single-laurel-and-hardy-movie-i-genuinely-think-its-a-good-use-of-my-time/

45 Minutes from Hollywood:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/45-minutes-from-hollywood-some-context-for-laurel-and-hardy/

Duck Soup:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/duck-soup-the-laurel-and-hardy-film-the-first-laurel-and-hardy-film-arguably/

The Lucky Dog:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/the-lucky-dog-laurel-and-hardy-first-meet-on-film/

Where now for Handmaid’s Tale?

handmaid's tale

Bedecked with Golden Globes, The Handmaid’s Tale enters a new phase of confident and prolonged existence.

The evolution from literary adaptation to full-blown franchise is afoot.  No longer is The Handmaid’s Tale an interpretation of a novel.  It has now set sail to navigate the wider more uncertain waters inhabited by the giants of twenty-first century television drama – The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones.  Such at least, is the course it is rigged for.

With the exception of Game of Thrones, these grand narratives –  each of which lasts for several seasons and entails dozens of episodes – was first intended for television.  Game of Thrones itself has long since cracked, escaped and discarded the novelistic shell that incubated it and has to be regarded as incomparably better than its own source material.  The Handmaid’s Tale is something rather different.  It is based on Margaret Atwood best known, most read (and – critically – most taught) novel.   The Handmaid’s Tale is the most well known Canadian novel ever written.  The show is unlikely, therefore, to overwhelm its own source.

The TV series starts and ends with Atwood’s beginning and ending.  It is adds stuff but doesn’t subtract.   Most crucially, it gives Offred a real name – “June” – which Atwood never provides.

One thing missing of course, is the epilogue set in a far distant future at an academic conference where the events of the novel are discussed coolly and dispassionately in terms of ancient history.   This epilogue is reassuring and disturbing in equal measure.  It is obviously pleasant to shut the book feeling that the theocratic tyrannies of Gilead cannot last.  On the other hand, the consensual professional climate of critical distance, on “not judging”, of cultural and moral relativism as evidenced by the implied mood of the conference delegates – has a kind of horror all of its own. Have these people not read what we’ve just read?  How can they remain unshocked and unmoved?

This vision of far futurity cannot of course be inserted at the end of something that is intended only as Season One of an ongoing drama.  We can only expect to see this epilogue after the production company decides to pull the plug on the franchise. For this kind of narrative is a baggy and a shapeless thing.  No one person can control its scope in advance.  Like a long Victorian periodical novel, it shifts direction in response to consumer reaction and takes its own path as the world around it evolves.  Margaret Atwood will remain an important influence on the show, but not sole or decisive one.  Such narratives may last far longer than anticipated or far shorter.  Nearly two decades after The Sopranos first aired – there is still no real critical consensus as to the predictive size and shape of these stories.

I’m just guessing here – but there would be a logic – in the uncharted waters of Season 2 – to the idea of leaving June/Offred’s fate unclear for a while and instead following the path of another handmaid.  The essence of this story is the experience of not knowing.  Like the blinkering wings that restrict the handmaid’s field of vision, the reader (and viewer) is invited to inhabit a world in which it is impossible to associate with more than two or three people at a time – in which the scope of empathy is deliberately controlled and limited.  Not knowing what has happened to June/Offred will be (I think) integral to the fresh imagining of the Gileadic condition.

And how long will the story last?  My suspicion is that this show will run for as long as this pervasive sense of male backlash lasts.  As long as the world appears to be devoted to appeasing the retributive rage of angry white men for whom loss of privilege is equated with loss of identity – The Handmaid’s Tale will run.  The only thing that could make this show feel tired or less than urgent, would be the restoration of a culture in which forms of inclusion and generosity and empathy looked like they stood a chance of framing the dominant political narrative.

For this reason, I’m not sure that I’m looking forward to season after season of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Rahul Dravid is Wise and Good

Reblogging this because Rahul Dravid is 45 years old today.

conradbrunstrom

rahul-dravid1-1981907

Rahul Dravid had the best temperament of any test batsman this century.  Nobody had greater patience and concentration when crafting an innings.  Now there have been a number of batsmen in his mould over the decades, but unlike the notorious ‘patience’ of Geoff Boycott, Dravid’s patience was always directed towards building not only his own innings, but the kind of innings that was in the best interests of his team at any given time.

“The Wall” was therefore built of very flexible materials.  He would frustrate and wear down bowling attacks, but know exactly when to pick up the pace when the team needed it.  This ability to concentrate so completely on his own batting while retaining an awareness of the shifting dynamics of the match situation is what made (or makes) Dravid so unique.

And then there’s this speech he gave to the ICC.  Not only does Dravid illustrate…

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