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Monthly Archives: August 2017

Movie Crash Course: Battleship Potemkin

At the end of the day, I am an amateur filmgoer; Battleship Potemkin made me realize some of the problems with that.  I have a few more things to say about that, but we’ll table them to the end of this review.

Battleship Potemkin, from Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein (he also did Strike), was one of cinema’s first “historical dramatization” films and is regarded as a cinematic masterpiece.  Eisenstein staged the account of the mutiny of a Russian battleship twenty years prior and further turned it into a rallying cry for the then-new Bolshevik cause.

The events of the mutiny are pretty faithfully captured here. In 1905, Russia was deep in a lengthy war with Japan, and the morale of the Russian navy was at an ebb.  Most of the experienced sailors and officers were being rushed to battle, leaving the home front to be maintained by raw recruits and more problematic officers. Resources were also short; and on the Potemkin, this lead to the ship’s cooks having to try to serve meat that was well past the point of spoiling.  One night, when the chef served a borscht made with meat the crew had already seen was maggot-ridden, they all boycotted dinner, resorting to tinned sardines from the ship’s store and bread they’d saved from breakfast. At wit’s end, the ship’s captain made a great show of singling out a group of the men who’d skipped the borscht and preparing to “shoot them for insubordination”. Crewman Grigory Vakulinchuk spoke up, rallying the others to revolt, and the men took over, killing seven of the superior officers in the process (sadly, Vakulinchuk died in the scuffle as well).

The Potemkin went on to Odessa, then gripped by a general strike, in an effort to drum up solidarity.  The Cossack army urged the crew of the Potemkin to help them break up the strike; but the crew’s sentiments ran the other way, and they actually ended up escalating the tension, when their funeral for Vakulinchuk started a political protest instead. The Cossack army tried to capture the sailors; the Potemkin retaliated by trying (and failing) to shell a theater where the military was holding an emergency strategy meeting. Two other ships were called in to rein in the Potemkin, but their crews ended up siding with the mutineers.  Ultimately, the Potemkin sailed on to Romania, where the men defected and the ship was sunk.

The film covers the events of the mutiny up to the point where the other ships refuse to stop the Potemkin. It’s surprisingly short – just an hour and fifteen minutes – but packs a lot in, with a detailed staging of the on-deck revolt and the demonstrations in Odessa following Vakulinchuk’s funeral. The Odessa scenes are famous to the point of notoriety among film scholars; in a lengthy montage, a merciless line of Cossack soldiers marches down a staircase, relentlessly shooting at the fleeing rioters. And Eisenstein takes pains to show us the effects – a child is trampled to death.  A woman is clubbed in the face, breaking her glasses. A mother pushing a baby carriage is shot, and the carriage rolls uncontrollably down the steps.  There was no such massacre, however; this is one instance where Eisenstein tweaks the truth a bit.  He also has the Potemkin succeed in destroying the Odessa Opera House.  But this too becomes an eye-catching, if brief, montage; just before each shell hits, Eisenstein shows quick clips of some of the statuary surrounding it; heroically-posed men, and snarling lions. In this staging, however, it looks like the statues are recoiling in fear before being blown up.  In fact, these two scenes are considered by several critics to be the birth of the “montage” film technique.

….And this is why I’ve started to re-think a bit about my approach to these films.  I had been hearing all my life about Battleship Potemkin, about what a pinnacle of achievement it is, how highly it’s been acclaimed; I’d heard that the Odessa steps sequence has been copied and parodied in everything from The Godfather to Revenge of The Sith to Brazil, and even one of the Naked Gun movies spoofed it.

And all that hype had built the film up in my head to the point that after watching it, my overwhelming reaction was “that’s it?”   I knew intellectually that the cinematography was supposed to be groundbreaking, but aside from a couple of standout scenes – the lion statues, a woman on the Odessa steps surrounded by the shadows of the Cossacks – I didn’t really notice things.  And I feel like I should have done.  I had the chance to catch details, but I hadn’t been schooled in what to look for, and I missed them.

Mind you, I believe equally as strongly that we don’t all need to go to film school to appreciate film.  The bulk of Eisenstein’s original audience hadn’t (hell, film school probably didn’t even exist), nor did the bulk of D. W. Griffith’s audiences or Cecil B. DeMille’s, and neither have the bulk of Stanley Kubrick’s or Martin Scorcese’s or Steven Spielberg’s or Terry Gilliam’s.  The average person hasn’t gone to film school.  Ultimately, the point of film is to entertain people.  It is not made exclusively for scholars, it is made for regular yutzes like me.

I just as strongly believe that it is okay to not like a film that the critics have lauded.  I’ve seen people fall into this trap in the theater world; there are shows and directors and artists who are critical darlings, and I’ve seen entire scenes crop up around them with fans flocking to their shows because of the cool factor.  But when you press the fans for details about why they like the shows, they can only breathlessly tell you that it’s because of the artist.  They have nothing to say about the show itself.  Liking a thing just because of its reputation smacks a little too much of the cargo cult to me; if you don’t like something, that’s an entirely valid reaction, even if Roger Ebert loved it.  Not everyone likes everything, and that is okay.  (Hell, Roger Ebert apparently didn’t like The Usual Suspects, which baffles me.)

So up to this point I’ve had no problem saying if I didn’t like something, and I’ve had no problem speaking from the regular-yutz perspective. I started this project to learn about film, after all – I admit up front I didn’t know anything.  But this has made me realize I need to maybe up the “learning” angle just a bit.

As luck would have it, I know a literature professor who’s just now starting his school year. He just made a Facebook post about the first day of a new class he has, “Intro to Cinema”; he said the first class was about getting students to be aware of and “read” this exact kind of detail; “to move what we all perceive subconsciously to a conscious level.”  I’m a little too broke for a college course, and his campus is a bit too far away; but like I said, I don’t need a full course anyway, necessarily.  But he has agreed to shoot me a copy of the syllabus, so I can take a couple steps closer and open my eyes a bit wider.

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Movie Crash Course: Greed

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Oh, I didn’t want to watch this…Greed was a 1924 Erich Von Stroheim epic, which was cut down from its original nine-hour running time to being just shy of two hours after the studio intervened. The missing seven hours of footage had been assumed lost, but film historians have found enough still photos and shooting scripts that they have edited together a sort-of thing that gives a flavor of Von Stroheim’s vision, and clocks in at four hours.  Classic masterwork or not, four hours is a long time to dedicate to a movie without a break.

But this turned out to be…not bad.  Dammit.

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Based on an 1899 novel, Greed is the story of MacTeague (the film never reveals his first name), a big galoot of a guy working in a California gold mine. His parents are also in the same mining town – his mother is a cook in the mine’s kitchen, and his father is a lush. Mom MacTeague fears her son is destined for the same path as her father, so when a traveling frontier dentist comes to town, she begs the dentist to take her son on as an apprentice. MacTeague stays with the dentist for five years, until his mother finally dies, leaving him a modest inheritance of $250; he uses it to settle down in San Francisco, buy his own storefront and start his own practice.  For the next few years, business is modest, but steady, with MacTeague mostly serving the people in the boarding house where he lives and on his street, including a guy named Marcus, who becomes one of his good buddies.

Then one day, Marcus brings his girlfriend Trina by; it seems they’d been on a merry-go-round at a carnival and Trina broke her tooth, so Marcus brought her to his buddy MacTeague to fix it.  MacTeague agrees, but is also instantly smitten with Trina.

Trina, however, just wants her tooth fixed at that point. She’s nervous about being “permanently disfigured”, and to calm her nerves while she waits for him to work on her, she buys a lottery ticket from the odd-job woman working at the boarding house.

But MacTeague devotes himself to helping her, seeing her daily for a solid two weeks in an effort to design the perfect replacement crown for her; he also falls even more in love with her, and finally confesses his feelings to Marcus.  Marcus is initially jealous when MacTeague tells him, of course, but after a couple minutes admits that he’s not the best for Trina and gives MacTeague his blessing to go after her, even offering to introduce MacTeague to Trina’s family.

Trina and her family welcome MacTeague; she’s happy with her tooth, first, but she soon warms to MacTeague the man as well.  But after several months, she is still reluctant to marry him.

But then – the long-forgotten lottery ticket pays off. Trina discovers – she has won five thousand dollars!  As she shares the news with MacTeague, Marcus, and the rest of the gang, she wonders aloud what she will do with the money.  “Why don’t you and MacTeague get married with it?” someone proposes.

And so they do.

Initially all is rosy – Trina buys MacTeague a big gold-plated tooth to hang in his storefront as an eye-catching ad, and MacTeague in turn presents her with a loveable pair of pet canaries.

Marcus does grumble a bit about the couple – Trina’s new fortune has been giving him seller’s remorse for giving her up – but he keeps his peace for a while, finally moving out to the country to start a ranch, he says.

But that’s not the only hiccup in the new marriage. For all her wealth, Trina seems strangely miserly. She invests the full five thousand in her uncle’s storefront for safekeeping, and hoards any other money the couple gets, stowing it away in her hope chest and taking it out only to admire and polish it.

But then the California state dentist’s board – tipped off by a jealous Marcus – sends MacTeague a cease-and-desist letter. He’s not an accredited dentist, they decree, and so he must stop his practice immediately.

Times get hard for the couple. They sell off almost all they own and move into a cheap flophouse, MacTeague doing odd jobs to make ends meet. Trina becomes even more fanatic about saving money.  MacTeague, suspicious she’s keeping money from him, harrangues her for it, and once gets into such a fit of rage that he tortures her by biting her fingers until she gives him some of her hoard.

Finally, Trina comes home from grocery shopping one day to find that MacTeague has broken into her hope chest and stolen her savings, totalling $450 by then.  She searches his usual haunts, but he’s nowhere to be found. And then the bitten fingers – which Trina has been trying to nurse – turn so infected they need to be amputated. Abandoned, robbed, and an amputee, Trina gives up on MacTeague and strikes out on her own.  She gets a job as the cleaning lady at a local elementary school, sleeping in the back room. Once she’s settled there, she visits her uncle and takes back her five thousand-dollar investment; although she doesn’t want it to spend. Instead, she literally sleeps with it.

MacTeague, who’s finally spent through her $450, tracks her down and begs her to take him back. She refuses. She also refuses his request for some money for a meal. Then a desperate MacTeague breaks in, beats her to death and steals the five thousand, leaving San Francisco for good.

At first he takes up his old job in the mine again, but fear of the law sends him further afield, to give prospecting a try. As luck would have it, he end up near the same town where Marcus now runs a ranch; Marcus sees the “Man Wanted” posters going up in town and eagerly joins the posse heading off in search of MacTeague, eager for revenge.

The posse follows his trail to Death Valley, realizing that he’s set off into the valley alone. The others prepare to ride around and meet him on the other side, but a crazed Marcus heads into the valley to confront him. In their ensuing struggle, they manage to kill both their horses and spill all their water; but Marcus still demands MacTeague give him the five thousand dollars. MacTeague finally clubs him to death.

However – with his last breath, Marcus manages to slip a pair of handcuffs he’s carrying onto MacTeague’s other arm, cuffing the two men together.  MacTeague realizes he’s now stuck there in the desert with him, with no water and no hope of rescue. The spilled money lies out of reach, as does the canteen.  The only thing he can reach is the cage with Trina’s canaries, which he has tenderly kept with him; he opens the cage and sets free the canaries, but they succumb to the heat and fall to the ground right away, dying just as MacTeague soon will.

The end.

So, it was okay.  Von Stroheim stays behind the camera this time; I wasn’t as impressed with his performace in the last thing he directed, so him staying away was a welcome development.  But his attention to detail and his commitment to vermissilitude were still there, and probably did him in; for the Death Valley scenes, Von Stroheim insisted on shooting in Death Valley, at great risk to the health of his actors and the functionality of the equipment (he had to wrap iced towels around the camera during shooting to offset the extreme heat).  So Von Stroheim was already on thin ice when he brought his original cut to the studio heads.

The nine-hour version he showed them was only ever screened for those men, that one time. Von Stroheim reportedly sat in the front row, staring straight ahead at the camera, subtly shaming them into watching the whole thing uninterrupted along with him; he didn’t include any breaks for bathroom runs, meals, or anything. It was too much – the studio insisted that they would be making cuts, and that was that.  Von Stroheim objected strenuously, and the studio insisted just as strenuously; at one point Von Stroheim got into a fist fight with Louis Mayer, the head of MGM, over the cuts.

But cut things they did.  And, based on what I saw restored, I would be inclined to agree with half of it.  …I actually should speak to how the restoration I saw worked first: the actual cut footage had long since been destroyed, but historians found some of Von Stroheim’s notes about what some of the missing title cards would have been, as well as some corresponding still photos.  Those both have been edited back into the four-hour version of the film – lengthy takes of the still shots interspersed with the title cards, sometimes with a close-up on key details from the image.  It’s a bit jarring at first, but I got used to it quickly.

The biggest cuts were made in two sub-plots Von Stroheim intended to show as parallel stories of how other couples handled money; first, with the odd-job woman who sells Trina the lottery ticket. For the first part of the film she’s a poor dreamer, making up stories about how her family once owned a solid gold dinner service just to cheer herself up. Another fellow in the boarding house marries her, then asks whether she knows where the set is.  He keeps after her about how she should track the set down so they can have it; but when she keeps refusing, he finally kills her.  The other subplot concerns a pair of elderly boarders in the boarding house – the veterinarian Dr. Gilpin, and the elderly Miss Baker, who have been living in rooms next door to each other and admiring each other from afar. Near the film’s end, Dr. Gilpin comes into his own five thousand dollar windfall, and proposes to Miss Baker; she’s unconcerned about the money, though, and just wants him. They use the money to install a door in the wall between their rooms, and then marry. The story of Dr. Gilpin and Miss Baker is sweet, but honestly I wouldn’t have missed it.

The performances in the main story are compelling enough, though, that I do regret some of the cuts to that story; Trina’s family is an especially quirky lot, a family of German immigrants with three lively little kids and a papa who likes to lead them on mock “parades” to get them into line.  It may be a little unnecessary – but in one of the early scenes, when MacTeague is first meeting her family, it’s a charming lot of detail, winning the hard-luck MacTeague over into a whole new idea for how his life could be.  It’s part of what makes him fall for her – and adds to the poignancy when their rmoance, which did start out so well, gets corrupted by greed.

Movie Crash Course: Phantom Of The Opera

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Y’know, I really don’t have a lot to say about this one.

That is not a reflection of the quality of the film, mind you. Lon Chaney is suitably creepy as the Phantom – and not entirely because he looks creepy, either. However, while watching it, I struggled throughout to avoud thinking of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.  I’ve never even seen the Webber show – but if you spend three years in drama school surrounded by musical theater buffs, “Music Of The Night” becomes a permanent part of your inner monologue.

One way the film distinguishes itself is in tone; Webber’s musical was more of a tragic swooning romance, while the film places it firmly in the gothic-horror camp.  (Compare and contrast – above his how the 1925 film looks, and below is how Webber’s unmasked Phantom looks.)

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The basic plot is the same in both cases, though. Christine, an up-and-coming singer, is the understudy for the prima donna at Paris’ opera. She gets a chance to go on one night – unbeknownst to her, it is because the managers have received an anonymous note threatening the lead. She aces the performance and wins the additional admiration of Raoul, a former childhood friend now seeing her in a more romantic light. Christine turns him down, though, claiming that she has pledged herself to her career and to the “Spirit of Music”, the mysterious disembodied voice who has been tutoring her at the opera.

Christine makes a second appearance, after which the “Spirit of Music” promises to reveal himself to her – all she has to do is step through a secret door that has been secretly hiding in her dressing room all this time….when Christine does so, she finds not the angelic sprite she has been imagining, but a masked dude who has been living inside the walls.

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He claims that the whole plan – posing as the Angel of Music, tutoring her, getting her on the stage – was because he was in love with her.  He brings her to his home – a nook of Paris’ cavernous sewers, which he has lavishly decorated – and promises her continued riches and fame along with his devotion if she’ll only be his.

Oh, there’s just one other condition – she must never see him unmasked. However, after only a day, Christine sneaks up behind him while he plays the organ – and tugs off the mask.

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The livid Phantom insists that now instead of persuading her to marry him, he’s now going to force her.  Christine begs for one last appearance on the opera stage, though, and the Phantom relents, warning her that she can’t talk to anyone else outside of the show.  And he’ll be watching!….

And he is watching, when Christine sets up a meeting with Raoul, telling him everything and begging him to come to her rescue.  She returns to the Phantom’s Lair, and Raoul teams up with the police to fight their way past a series of bizarre booby traps the Phantom has set for his guests. Finally they come to Christine’s rescue, and an angry mob throws the Phantom to his death in the Seine.

Interestingly, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Phantom adaptation wasn’t the only thing I thought of while watching this. In the sequence when Christine is first exploring the Phantom’s lair, I found myself thinking of the film V for Vendettawhen the masked man “V” first brings young Evie to his underground “Shadow Gallery”.

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There are actually some similarities, if you think about it – both the Phantom and V have taken young women under their protection, both have lavish underground lairs, both have an appreciation for fine art, and both are disfigured men hiding behind masks. However, V’s goal is more of a sort of boot camp – he’s recognized a bit of a kindred spirit in Evie, and is hoping to train her; he also promises her that she can leave after a year. The Phantom is hoping for a longer-term arrangement – a wife.

And somehow that bit feels creepiest of all.  It’s an element that’s softened a bit in Webber’s musical, and his version shows Christine relenting a bit; but still, the Phantom’s whole argument is, “I’ve done all of these things for you because I’m obsessed with you, so that means you have to love me back.” Forget the makeup, forget the booby traps – that argument was the scariest thing the Phantom did in this film.

 

Everything Under The Sun Is In Tune

I showed up at work today armed with a pair of eclipse glasses I scored at the last minute (Niki had a spare – thank you!).  About mid-morning, I found out that Pink Floyd’s song “Eclipse” was exactly the right length as the peak was supposed to be, so I downloaded it, thinking I would play it precisely when the peak hit us here in New York.

I was getting nervous about an hour before, when a bank of clouds started to roll in – right where the sun was going to be.  But then at 2:30, fifteen minutes to peak, i head down to the street with glasses in hand.

Now, if you’ve never seen a pair of eclipse glasses, you don’t expect much.  They’re flimsy cardboard with plastic film lenses; and if you look through them ordinarily, you can see nothing at all.  I’d been playing around with them at home this morning, and it was as if I were blinkered.  So I wasn’t sure what I would see when I got down to the street and put them on.  There was a small cluster of people from a couple of the surrounding office buildings, trying to simultaneously shield their eyes and peer through their fingers; the residual light from the sun was just too overpowering.  I put on the glasses and had a look up.

And I saw a crescent sun.

“Oh WOW.” I blurted out, making a couple people’s heads turn.  A cloud obscured it almost right away, so I snuck out of the direct path of pedestrians, waiting for the cloud to pass.  Knots of people were standing around me, discussing the eclipse; the group right next to me was a four-man team of young men in the starched-shirt and khakis uniform of bankers.  “Where is it?” one asked, looking up.

“It would be that way,” I cut in, pointing.  “Except that there’s a cloud now, so you can’t see anything.”

“And how long is it? Will it get all the way dark?”

“Nah, we’re only going to get like 70% of it.  It started at like 1:30 here, and then it’s at its peak in about 15 minutes; and then after that it’ll start moving away and it’ll be all done by 4.”

“If only it wasn’t for that cloud!” another one grumbled.

“Yeah…but we got like 15 minutes until its peak.” The cloud started to pass a bit, so I took another look through the glasses again, as they talked on, unclear what they were looking for.  Then turned to them.  “Anyone want a look?”

“Sure, I’ll try,” one said, dubious. He put them on.  “And where would I look, right up th-WHOOOOOOOOOOOA!” he gasped when he finally saw it.

“Ooh lemme try!” one of his friends excitedly asked, reaching for the glasses.  “So you can really see it?…..OMIGOD!”

A pair of women behind us saw them react, and heard me laughing.  “Wanna try?” I asked them.

“Uh, sure….” one reached for the glasses, and stepped over towards us, putting them on.  “WHOA FUCK!” she gasped.  Her friend had another similar reaction.  And so did the family of Japanese tourists that was passing by at that moment when I let each of them look in turn as well.

One of the bankers asked to borrow them again, trying to figure out how to hold them in front of his camera and get a picture.  “Here, I’ll hold them for you,” he offered, gesturing to my iPad, and we clumsily tried to get a picture, me fiddling with the camera on my ipad and him balancing the glasses in front of the lens.  The clouds covered the sun again, and I told them to also take a look at the shadow of a tree near where we stood.  “If you look at those shadows,” I said, “they’ll be all crescent-shaped too.”

“What about a pinhole like those guys over there?” someone near me was pointing at another cluster of people nearby, fiddling with a couple pieces of paper.

“Yeah, that’ll work too; it works for the same reason that the shadows look different – there, look!” and I pointed at the ground, at the dappled shadow of the tree near us.  Someone else had my glasses while I got a picture of the filtered-leaved shadow, chuckling as I heard yet another person blurt out their awe.  They handed the glasses back to me when I was done, and as soon as they did, another person asked for a look.  And then another.

I was down on the sidewalk for about a half hour, but spent most of that time loaning my glasses out to strangers.  At one point I was informally assigning numbered turns to people (“Okay, ma’am, you’re next, and then you here on my left – they asked just a couple seconds before you on my right did, guys”).  But everyone thanked me profusely after a look. I even went back up to my office and grabbed one of my colleagues and dragged him down, telling him it would just be five minutes (his reaction when he put on the glasses and looked up – “whoashit, yeah“).

I came out to look at an eclipse. But I ended up being more charmed at the sight of everyone around me all being struck with awe and excitement, and all of us turning into children for a while.

 

 

 

Hey, Wait……

I had a bit of an epiphany this morning.

A lot of the white supremacist groups claim that they are simply “expressing pride in being white”.  However – have you ever noticed that they can’t seem to do that without insulting others in the process?

Speech After Long Silence

It’s hard to blog when you think the world is going to end, and you are watching your country turn into a fascist state.

Like many, I was thrown by the escalating tension between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un, and the threat of nuclear weapons.  I think I’ve mentioned in here before that I was very young when I learned about the existance of nukes, and because of that, nuclear weapons basically became my biggest fear.  You know how when you’re a kid, you know exactly what the Monster Under Your Bed or The Thing In The Closet looks like? How you’re afraid to go into a dark room because you just know that when you turn on the light, it will be standing there, and you know in perfect detail what it is going to look like?  Starting at about age eight, my Thing In The Closet was a mushroom cloud.

And it’s hard to write when your inner child is cowering in fear that the Thing In The Closet that you thought went away has suddenly come back.

And then fear gave way to sorrow at the events in Charlottesville.  …Although, to be honest, first there was anger – which I turned into jumping on Twitter and ripping off snarky comebacks against any supporters of the Unite The Right march, and to writing to employers and teachers for any of the men who had been confirmed and identified.  But there were just so many of them, and the breadth of the ignorance they had about history, the First Amendment, and racial equality was making me feel like it was all futile and adding to the problem.

I’ve also just been low-energy in general for the past couple weeks (taking steps to fix it, I think I know what’s going on), but that plus fear and anger and sorrow has left me without much energy to do anything except for fart around on Youtube watching kitten videos.

But you know, that’s okay.  I believe that you don’t have to have to turn yourself into a total ascetic when you are trying to work towards improving the world; you can speak out against apocalypse and at the same time notice and appreciate fun and joyful things. I’m sure even the most militant of activists, one whose Facebook feeds are nothing but reposts of notices about rallies and one who spends all of their spare time making things for the next action, feels comforted and gladdened by the feeling of companionship they get from their fellows. There is always a way to step back and notice what’s good.  You can do both.  In fact, you should do both; it’s how you keep your spirit together and give your soul a chance to rest, catch its breath and get ready for the next round.

I think I’m going to start to take more notice of things each week that have pleased me like this.  Big, small, ridiculous, corny, inconsequential – it doesn’t matter.  I’ll post them at the end of the day Saturday, or on Sunday morning; I suspect that the more good I take note of and write down, the more I’m going to see.  Things like:

  • As I was running errands on Saturday, a man on a bike rode past me – and he had his two children on the oversized seat behind him, giving them a ride.  One of the kids was holding on – but the other had arms flung out wide, pretending that they were flying.

August Break Day 2 – Come Out to Play-ay…

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So I was a little worried about August 2nd’s prompt for the photo challenge (“gold”) because yesterday was a bit busy.  I was going to be going direct from work to a movie, and that didn’t afford much time for photo hunting (we will politely ignore the fact that I work in the bloody Diamond District and could have just snapped a shop window on my way to the subway, a fact which I didn’t remember until about 8:43 last night). But when I learned that the venue I was heading to had a fried chicken dinerette kind of setup in the lobby, it seemed like fate.

Because the movie I was seeing is a longtime favorite and I would not be stopped. It’s also something that will almost certainly not be showing up on my list for the Movie Crash Course – it’s the 1979 cult film The Warriors.

I hadn’t even heard of it until a few years back, when I was browsing through a breezy book about “movies inspired by real historic events”.  They went through some of the obvious ones – Silkwood, JFK, and the like – and included a couple of not-so-obvious choices (apparently The Hills Have Eyes was in part inspired by the account of a group of medieval Scottish cannibals). And apparently, this film – or, more accurately, the novel on which was based – was inspired by the ancient Greek text the Anabasis, a non-fiction account of how a team of mercenaries who had been part of a civil war in Persia ended up trapped there on the losing side, and had to fight their way back to Greece.  The Warriors, I read, moved the action to New York City, and involved a Brooklyn-based street gang getting framed for murder in the Bronx and having to make their way home.  It seemed unusually highbrow for a 70’s movie about street gangs, so I curiously looked it up.

And then during the opening scene, I saw how the movie dressed up some of these gangs.

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It was fantastically ridiculous and I was all in.

It’s a basic plot, that’s close to The Anabasis – an enigmatic gang leader named Cyrus, head of one of the most powerful groups, has invited all the gangs up to a neutral spot in the Bronx where he advocates the city’s gangs all uniting to overpower the NYPD and take the city over.  The Warriors are based in Coney Island but still travel the whole length of the city to see him.

But right when he’s won everyone over, a member of the Rogues – a chaos-loving group – shoots him and then frames The Warriors for it.

The rest of the movie follows The Warriors as they fight their way back to Coney Island, with all of the city’s other gangs and the police on their tail.

Okay, yes, this isn’t high art. But there are details I just love, like those outrageous costumes or some overwrought catchphrases. And there are even quiet and surprisigly human moments, like when the character Mercy – who starts out as a Token Woman who tags along with The Warriors out of curiosity – gives a surprisingly poignant defense when the lead Warrior, Swan, asks her why she has played her life so fast and loose.  There’s another wordless scene towards the end, when The Warriors are on a subway on the home stretch back to Coney Island; at one stop, two other teenage couples, clearly just come from their high school prom, get on and sit across from Swan and Mercy, all cuddles and giggles and hijinks.  They catch each other’s eye, and study each other; Mercy looking at the girls’ satins and silks and coiffed hair, the girls looking at Mercy’s dirty feet and torn skirt, and at Swan’s gang colors and cut cheek.  At the next stop, the couples quietly get up and move to a different car.  It’s only a couple minutes long, and there are no words spoken in it, but there are a surprising number of things said anyway.

The venue I went to knew the cult appeal of the film, and gave a local artist a chance to sell some of his original works inspired by the film; all cartoonish movie-poster-inspired things.  I also saw a guy dressed up like one of the Baseball Furies (the gangs with the ball uniforms and the Kiss makeup) posing for pictures.  But the audience watching with me was best of all.  Everyone was being quiet and respectful, if giddy, through most of the opening, maybe laughing at some of the ridiculous gang costumes.

But then we hit Cyrus’ rally speech.  About midway through, Cyrus tries to engage the crowd by shouting “Can you dig it!” at them three times.  The first time through, someone in the audience chimed in, then more people the second time – which gave license to all of us to round things off with the final Caaaaaaan yoooooooooooou DIG IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!  And that set us all off on quoting favorite lines along with the film, all the way through, cheering favorite moments, finishing with an estatic chorus at the end, chiming along with the head of the Rogues goding the Warriors into a fight – “Warriorrrrrrrrrrrrrs, come out to play-ayyyyyyyyyyyyyy…..”