ESSENTIAL

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This is one of the greatest of all Hollywood musicals and one of the greatest of all Hollywood movies.  It represents a confluence of virtuosity in a number of different disciplines, principally songwriting, screenwriting, cinematography and directing.

It is not perfect by any means.  The choreography is often merely serviceable, some of the numbers are indifferently staged, some of the acting and singing is acceptable at best.  The brilliance of the other contributions, however, far outweighs the film’s flaws.

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Forget your prejudices, if you have them, against musicals, against Rodgers and Hammerstein, against Julie Andrews, and surrender to their collective genius.  Forget your prejudices, if you have them, against simplicity and implausible redemption, and surrender, at least for a few hours, to hearts that are lighter and brighter than yours is.

The Blu-ray of The Sound Of Music belongs in every civilized home.

THE ELEVEN MILLION

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Republican arguments against Obama’s recent executive orders on immigration are silly and getting sillier.

There are about eleven million people living in America illegally.  We have three choices about how to deal with them.

1) Deport them all immediately.  This could probably be done by mobilizing the armed forces and all state National Guard units and sending them door to door with broad NSA-type search warrants and authority to arrest those who can’t produce proof of citizenship.  They could then be detained in massive camps while we arranged transportation for them out of the country.

2) Deport them on a more relaxed schedule but still indiscriminately, devoting the same resources to expelling working mothers with American children that we devote to expelling illegals with felony arrest records or gang connections.

3) Deport them according to rational and humane priorities, allowing the un-deported to work while waiting for the final disposition of their cases so they don’t place unnecessary burdens on the state.

That’s it, folks.  Any President charged under The Constitution with enforcing the immigration laws must choose one of the above.  If you don’t like choice 3, please state which of the first two you prefer, and why.

Choosing to wait for Congress to express a preference is not a viable alternative — the laws already on the books have to be enforced somehow in the meantime.

GRACIAS

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. . . señor Presidente — on behalf of myself and all my countrymen and countrywomen, documented and undocumented

My forebears arrived in this country, at the James River in the Virginia Colony, in 1690, without papers or permission.  In the intervening years we’ve done all right for ourselves.

May this uniquely American story go on, as long as rivers roll.

Look at the picture of the Rio Bravo above and tell me which side is the “American” and which side is the “Mexican”. The lord of creation didn’t really have the time or the inclination to make it clear.

Click on the image to enlarge.

LA BAIE DES ANGES

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When I first moved to Las Vegas I lived for a few weeks in one of the cheap rooms over the gaming floor of the El Cortez downtown.  I loved it — never wanted to leave.  I played a lot of roulette there — the stakes were so low that you could spin out $20 over a whole evening, getting free drinks in the bargain.

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It was great for people watching, and the people were often sad, many really thinking they were going to win serious money spreading their 25-cent chips over the board, some keeping meticulous records of the numbers that came up, hoping to detect patterns.

Desperate guys who’d busted out would follow me to the men’s room and ask to borrow ten bucks to stay in the game.  A black guy who kept losing, like almost everybody else, told me he thought the odds were stacked against black players in Las Vegas — that blacks simply weren’t allowed to win.

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Jacques Demy’s La Baie des Anges captures the mood of desperate, addicted roulette players better than any story I know — the self-deception, the occasional exhilaration, the creeping sense of doom, the feeling of becoming unmoored in time.  The film is almost clinical in its depiction of the phenomenon.

One dreams of meeting a stunning dame like Jeanne Moreau at a roulette table, but only if she brings you luck.  If not, she’s just another distraction, just another ironic signpost on the road to disaster.  It’s all very depressing.

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Demy being Demy, of course, there is always redemption of one sort or another waiting in the wings — a moment of grace that may not be plausible or expected according to the cynical standards of this world.  In the case of La Baie des Anges it’s like the moments of grace we find at the climax of many John Ford films — The Informer or Stagecoach or The Searchers.  Grace doesn’t operate by the cynical standards of this world — so Ford and Demy simply say, “Fuck ‘em” . . . and just like that those standards are fucked, and you’re in tears.

Click on the images to enlarge.

MAN OF THE WEST

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Kino Lorber has just released a terrific Blu-ray of Anthony Mann’s terrific Man Of the West, starring Gary Cooper.

Mann started out making low-budget films noirs in the 1940s then became a master filmmaker in the Western genre with the five Westerns he made with Jimmy Stewart in the 1950s.  After he and Stewart had a falling out and parted ways, Mann made a few more Westerns with other stars, including Man Of the West.

Like all of Mann’s Westerns it has a noirish edge to it.  Cooper is a reformed outlaw drawn by chance back into the company of his former gang, led by the psychotic Dock Tobin, played with scenery-chewing gusto by Lee J. Cobb.

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Forced to face up to the crud he used to be and struggling to escape the clutches of the gang once again, he endures a dark night of the soul, of humiliation and shame, before performing the heroic deeds that will set things right again.

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Mann had a terrific eye for composition, for landscapes and for movement within them.  When he started working in CinemaScope, as here, he began to develop the epic style he would one day bring to late-career films like El Cid, one of the greatest of all Hollywood epics, and The Fall Of the Roman Empire, less great but still breathtaking in parts.

The Blu-ray format does justice to Mann’s visual genius and makes this new Kino Lorber edition a must-have for fans of the director’s work and of Westerns.

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962)

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This is one of those unfortunate films that’s wonderful without being very good, enjoyable without being memorable, filled with admirable things that don’t add up to much.

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Marlon Brando gives one of his quirkiest performances as Fletcher Christian, a supercilious twit who’s called to heroism, but too late in the tale to make us admire him.  When he’s on screen you can’t take your eyes off of him, even though you often wish you could.

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Everything about the film is a mixed blessing.  Splendid shots on the open seas and on location in Tahiti alternate with mediocre back-screen shots.  The score by Bronislau Kaper has the feel of a grand epic symphony without any melodic, stirring passages.

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The movie is always one step away from becoming a grand entertainment, and never quite manages to take that step.  It’s big enough and ambitious enough to keep you engaged for over three hours, but not magical or dynamic enough to inspire you for more than a few shots or scenes at a time.

It’s both entertaining and dispiriting in equal measures.

WHAT I’M SPINNING NOW

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In contrast to Revolver, the mono mix of this landmark album is stupendous, clean and bright, showing off all the studio experimentation The Beatles were starting to conduct without drawing attention to the individual elements layered into the mixes.

I think it might be better than the stereo mix, packing more of a punch track for track.

WHAT I’M SPINNING NOW

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This 4-LP set was part of a Time-Life series called The Story Of Great Music.  My friend Hugh McCarten brought it to prep school in our junior year, when we were roommates, and we played it to death.

The longer pieces are abridged, and the performances are not always superlative, but it’s a fine selection of music and served for me as an excellent introduction to the Baroque era.

A highlight is one of the only performances of Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses on harpsichord (by Ingrid Heiler) which doesn’t sound showy or rushed.  I’ve had a special feeling for the piece ever since I heard it on this collection.

I was recently gripped by a longing to hear the collection again, after 44 years.  It’s not available on CD but I found an excellent vinyl set online, cheap.  It’s a source of joy to me once again.

Click on the image to enlarge.