Transcendence in the Cheap, a take on Blonde Crazy (1931)

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You might have money, yeah, and a big fine car
It don’t matter what you look like, no, no it don’t matter who you are
Son, don’t you know you can’t win all the time
Sometime you’re gonna have to lose
Just as long as you live, you got to take as well as give
‘Cause everybody’s got to pay some dues, now, now
Everybody’s got to pay some dues

-Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, ‘Everybody’s Gotta Pay Some Dues’ (Tamla 54048), 1961

 

Roy Del Ruth’s 1931 pre-code classic Blonde Crazy is forever known as the film that unleashed the wonderful James Cagney/Joan Blondell combination onto the world, and that’d be enough to ensure its place in the annuals of cinematic lore (regardless of Warner Brothers negligent attitude toward home video availability). Roy Del Ruth is little more than a director of a camera needing to be set in front of either of the stars for maximum affect; Jonathan Rosenbaum was correct when he said the films stars where actually the films auteurs. But lets not go too far (Andrew Sarris does when he says Del Ruth “seemed more a trend follower than a trend setter”, but then of course he’ll be overly dismissive as he doesn’t even indicate the clearly masterful Blonde Crazy in italics, i.e. his key for works in a directors career of “special interest”) there are nice touches here and there; subtle camera zooms and readjustments, a nice action set piece car chase with destructive climax, and pleasant pace and ordering of information. Yeomen work I suppose, but here is a film the sum of its star quality, and Del Ruth is competent enough to foster this.

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15. ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ (Season 6, episode 107)

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I mean, this move is no good, Jerry. It’s just taking up a lot of my time. And I…will not stand by and allow him to perform this move on me, when a perfectly good move is just sitting in the barn doing nothing!

Not wanting to turn today’s posting into a complete reprisal of the last one, but it would seem to me that in the ways I described ‘The Implant’ at number sixteen, I could begin to broach ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ at number fifteen. It too feels like a cultural sexual history, and if ‘The Implant’ seemed to be specifically about the history of sex with regards to people interacting within social groups, ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ would seem to be the slightly larger political subtext of such an examination. Outside psychoanalysis and/or the heads of those being examined, the history becomes one impacted by gender, class, and economics onto civilization at large. It seems ‘The Implant’s linking double feature partner; it the macro-history yin to the micro-history dynamics of ‘The Implant’s yang, or if you wanted to be accurate with the idea of the double bill sequence, you could see ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ as the evolution of ‘The Implant’ thematically. It’s my outlined evolution seen in ‘The Implant’ continued, akin, to how Malick’s The New World unfolds; ‘The Implant’ being the world of primitives (European settlers and Native Americans) rolling towards conflict from the baggage of misconceptions and incommunicable misunderstandings, while the ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ presents the next, final reel (as seen in The New World when the action returns to the manicured halls and gardens of Europe). We could continue further via technological advantage, but it’d be essentially the social era of advanced civilization where primitive urges and concepts start being impacted by institutionalized and politically motivated acts. ‘The Fusilli Jerry’ is great because it is all this, this post-history to ‘The Impant’s pretext history, but it also does manage touching the pretext too, in the past, so that it sits not in some post-modern world outside of everything but rather broaching a little of everything, seeing everything and having a hell of a laugh about it all. Continue reading

One for Allan

Eros + Massacre, 1969 (d. Yoshishige Yoshida)

Eros + Massacre, 1969 (d. Yoshishige Yoshida)

Reading David Thomson’s 2004 book The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood a few weeks ago, I was particularly intrigued by the implications he makes in a long passage about the initial developments of the moving image. Essentially, he argues that there were several inventors working to project a moving image, with Edison and the Lumière Brothers (Auguste and Louis) being the leaders in initial developments. Edison’s first working film concept was a small film viewer that an individual would put to the face and hold there as the image played in a small viewfinder inches from their nose. Meanwhile, the Lumière Brothers concept was more in line with what we know today; a projected image displayed on a screen for multiple people to collectively experience. Thomson’s point is essentially that Edison’s thoughts remained in an older age, an age of reading a book alone, while the Lumière Brothers let the technology dictate the presentation. Even if the Brothers didn’t think the concept had any commercial market potential (how wrong they were there!), the point is one that when Edison’s individual viewfinder did become the norm (what else is the television but this) is when the movies were forever changed. Continue reading

16. ‘The Implant’ (Season 4, episode 59)

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No! I’m lefty, can’t go right. What about women? Do they go left or right?
Nah, we just play defense.

When you look at virtually the entirety of conversation about Season 4’s ‘The Implant’ you see that it appears almost purely centered on the (supposed) outrageousness of mainstream TV dealing with the titular ‘implants’ of Teri Hatcher’s Sidra and her triumphantly, if arrogantly, delivered “…and they’re spectacular!” at the episodes close. This is a genuinely iconic Seinfeldian moment, as is the other oft-quoted moment; where George is seen, then involved in a physical altercation for, ‘double-dipping’ a tortilla chip (Doritos Cool Ranch it would appear to be) in a buffet style served dip at a wake for a family member of his girlfriend. But, as I’d say with virtually every Seinfeld moment with a real culture capturing iconic moment (‘No Soup for You!’, ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’, ‘Master of his Domain’, etc. are just a few off the top of my head) what is elsewhere in the episode is the real substance of the episode. Whether it be the important meat of the episode which builds all the dynamic theatrical forward thrust, or it be the more interesting stuff bubbling underneath—but everywhere and at all times—, or it’s the other multitude of jokes and conflicts that are infinitely more humorous, and in ‘The Implant’ we’re treated to each of these three, they’re the moments that actually make these episodes the brilliant ones that they are. In doing these essays for this countdown it was perhaps the idea that occurred to me most often, and the one I returned to in my spare thoughts when beginning to write.

In ‘The Implant’ it is hard to avoid Sidra, not necessarily because she’s a remarkably memorable character (no, Teri Hatcher isn’t asked to do that much more than any typical Jerry girlfriend) but because the 4 regular characters are split into two pairs and the Jerry and Elaine pairing—whose story has nothing else to do but talk and obsess over Sidra—has a little more screen time then the Kramer and George one (who, by the way, are embroiled in a scheme to score cheap airline tickets that is highly comical). Since it is the dominate plot line of the episode, you’d expect the most glaring piece of brilliance to be at its core. I’d argue it does, but it does it in such a sly way that it almost always sneaked by.
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Belated Labor Day thoughts

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I was recently prompted to check out the post-Labor Day episode of Sound Opinions, the weekly WBEZ Chicago radio program, which featured Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot playing a small collection of songs inspired by the work holiday. As I’ll exhibit for the entire history of this blog (and one particular post in the very near future) I think liberal perspectives in relation to work and popular music are forever linked, and perhaps it’s the subject I enjoy in pop music more than any other. With that being said, I thought I’d offer a belated Labor Day Mix of my own, and like Sound Opinions, I’ll (unfortunately) limit it to four selections. I’ll call the mix ‘The Honorary Billy Bragg List’ since I chose not to include one of his but think his output in this area is exemplary. Without further ado;
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17. ‘The Friar’s Club’ (Season 7, episode 128)

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Oh, I’m percolating, Jerry. I’m telling you, I have never felt so fertile. I’m mossy, Jerry. My brain is mossy. Listen to this idea…

Upon recently watching ‘The Friar’s Club’ I came to the conclusion that though Kramer is the series main punchline creator, a character able to turn any situation into a comedic one by mere body tick or spasm (or similarly given his eccentric nature able to frame an otherwise droll conversation uniquely, see “Fungi”) and thus fills virtually every episode with several hilarious moments, that Season 7’s ‘The Friar’s Club’ is my definitive Cosmo Kramer episode. If one needed to distill the essence of Michael Richards’ wonderful creation to a scant 22 minutes, this is the episode I’d reach for as it contains, at least once, each of Kramer’s common laugh inducing devices. (It’s extra important when one considers the episodes’ other plot lines too; Elaine is stuck in the tedium of a coworker who may or may not be deaf to skirt work responsibility while Jerry and George are attempting to become “the Gatsby’s” by successfully having their relationships sync up so they can double date the rest of their lives and thus maximize their time together as best friends. Without Kramer’s herculean comedic high jinks, the episode would be in the bottom forty or so of the show.)