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From The Projectionist’s Booth: A Policy Statement From the Movie Crash Course

The day I write this is about one month after we all first heard about the movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long habit of sexually harassing women. Over the course of that month, since the first allegations, over 75 women have come forward to say they faced inappropriate attention from Weinstein; another dozen have made the further claim that he went all the way into rape.  It is also two weeks since we heard similar allegations against the actor Kevin Spacey, with 13 people coming forward so far.  And just today, a friend of the late actor Corey Haim accused Charlie Sheen of sodomizing Haim on the set of his very first movie, when Haim was only 13.

Everyone has been horrified at these allegations – understandably so. The stories about Harvey Weinstein have sparked particular shock – the sheer number of cases prompted men to ask if the problem of sexual harassment has really been as rampant as all that, causing women to revive the existing “#metoo” hashtag and revive discussion on this issue yet again. Amongst my friends – many of which are theater professionals – the discussions have been especially harrowing, since some of us know others of us who have gone on to work in film – and have had their own stories to tell, or know people who’ve had stories. Spacey’s actions renewed the conversation yet further, and brought in a swath of other theater folk with yet more stories.  …For the record: I’m relieved to say that I never encountered any sexual harassment when I worked in theater (other kinds of gendered attacks are something else again, albeit on a minor scale). However, I’ve heard a story or two of people I’ve personally worked with later having sad stories of their own.

It’s making us all want to do something. Talking hasn’t worked in the past, and just ignoring it isn’t good – it’s just too big and shocking. We want to act somehow; maybe we can put Harvey Weinstein in a stockade and throw rotten eggplants at him or something.  But the only power this time is in the hands of the courts and all we can do is watch and wait for them to act.  Which somehow doesn’t feel like enough, so people are flailing a little and thinking of ways to act.  Donating to a charity, perhaps, or taking people on over on Twitter.

One really popular step has been the Public Boycott – a declaration that “that’s it, I’m never watching any of their movies again!”  Some people have been so shaken by the allegations that they realize they will never be able to see Kevin Spacey or Charlie Sheen, or watch anything with the Weinstein name on it, without remembering the allegations.  Those movies are forever tainted for them.  Others are more pragmatic – they don’t want to give Kevin Spacey money, and watching his movies gives him money.  Therefore, no more watching his movies. QED.  I also considered this step for a couple seconds, to be honest – but then realized that three of Kevin Spacey’s movies – The Usual Suspects, American Beauty and Se7en – are all on the master list of the Movies To See Before You Die.  And so is Platoon, featuring Charlie Sheen.

Hmm.

I’ve got a while to go before I get to these films; easily a few years. By the time I get there, no doubt whatever trial Kevin Spacey is facing will have run its course and whatever punishment he is charged with will be underway.  Same with Charlie Sheen, and almost certainly the case for Harvey Weinstein. I doubt I’ll be able to forget that these incidents happened, but the story will be further along – the wound will not be as fresh.  It may be okay.

However, the problem is that this is not a unique scandal for Hollywood.

  • The silent film star Errol Flynn was accused of statutory rape in 1943. He was acquitted, largely thanks to the assistance of public donations enabling him to hire really good lawyers.
  • Actress Tippi Hederen has stated that director Alfred Hitchcock sexually assaulted her during the filming of The Birds.
  • 1930s star Loretta Young’s career was tainted by scandal when she conceived a child out of wedlock. It wasn’t until 1998 that she finally revealed that the father had been Clark Gable – and it had been an instance of date rape.
  • European director Roman Polanski had sex with a 13-year-old at Jack Nicholson’s house at a party in the 1970s, was found guilty of statutory rape and fled the country – and has been a fugitive from justice to this day.
  • Shirley Temple even once had a producer expose himself to her when she was only twelve. Fortunately he didn’t touch her – by all reports her nervous giggles brought him to his senses and he buttoned back up.
  • Producer Louis B. Mayer was the Harvey Weinstein of his day, regularly propositioning actresses and pressuring them into sex – he once literally chased Jean Harlow around his office in an effort to seduce her. Mayer also would sit Judy Garland on his lap and had her sing so he could “study her technique” by placing his hands on her chest.
  • ….And then there’s whatever the hell is going on with Woody Allen.

If I wanted to boycott Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein’s work, I’d have to also consider boycotting Errol Flynn’s, Alfred Hitchcock’s, Clark Gable’s, Roman Polanski’s, and Woody Allen’s as well.  And if I did – well, to be honest, that would knock out a huge swath of my list, and the Movie Crash Course would essentially be over.  So from a practical perspective alone it doesn’t really make sense to boycott these works.

But there’s an even better reason to keep watching them despite their creator’s foibles – and that is that none of their films were solely their work.  Scores of other artists were also involved in each of their films, most of them wholly innocent – some even their victims.  And they shouldn’t be punished.

Way back when I reviewed Birth of a Nation, I spoke of having wanted to see the 2016 film with the same name; director Nate Parker used the title for his story about the rebellion of the slave Nat Turner. I’d actually been looking forward to it prior to its release – not because I knew anything about Parker, but rather because of the actor Colman Domingo, who was also cast in the work.  Colman is one of my “I knew him before” stories; we worked on a play together in 2003, and I’ve been watching the growth of his career from the Facebook-friends-feed sidelines ever since. And during the building to the film’s release, Colman spoke with great pride and excitement about the film and his colleague’s work, and mentioned how eager he was for everyone to see it and give their feedback. But right before its release, a story re-surfaced from director Nate Parker’s past, concerning an allegation of a rape when he was in college.  The scandal irretrievably tarnished the film, and it died a quick death in theaters.

There is actually some debate about whether Nate Parker did or did not commit the crime of which he is accused. But one thing is certain – Colman did not do it. And yet it feels like Colman – as well as the rest of the cast and crew of that film – was being punished for Nate Parker’s actions. And it doesn’t seem like that helps – especially if any of the actresses in the film were themselves harassed by someone somewhere along the line.

So. I will not be boycotting any of Kevin Spacey’s films – because they’re not just Kevin Spacey’s films.  Instead, when I see The Usual Suspects, I’ll watch it for Gabriel Byrne and Benicio Del Toro.  I’ll be watching Thora Birch in American Beauty, and Brad Pitt in Se7en.  When I watch Platoon, I’ll be watching for Willem DaFoe instead of Charlie Sheen.  When I watch The Birds, I’ll be watching for Tippi Hederen instead of Hitchcock.  I’ll watch Gone With the Wind for Vivian Leigh’s sake instead of Clark Gable’s.  I’ll watch Annie Hall for Diane Keaton.  I’ll watch Rosemary’s Baby for Mia Farrow’s acting instead of Roman Polanski’s direction.

The biggest argument in favor of boycotting these films is that “you shouldn’t separate the art from the artist”. However, each film has more than one artist in it. I’ll simply watch for one of the others.

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Movie Crash Coures: Seven Chances

So last night I had three options for films-to-watch – one on DVD, and two online.  While trying to decide which one to watch, I realized one was a Buster Keaton film and then it was no contest.

Here, Keaton plays junior broker Jimmy Shannon – a partner in a brokerage firm that’s about to go bankrupt.  But – what luck! – a lawyer arrives with the news that an aging relative has just died and left Jimmy several million dollars in his will, on one condition: he must be married by 7 pm on the evening of his 27th birthday.  And it just so happens that Jimmy’s 27th birthday is that same day.  Fortunately, he’s been summoning the courage to pop the question to his sweetheart Mary anyway, and he rushes over to propose to her.  But when she finds out the mercenary motivation, an offended Mary dumps him.

Jimmy is left reeling, but his partner Billy Meekin is by now rallied to the cause, going to greater and greater lengths to get his partner hitched – first dragging him off to their country club to try his luck with the seven ladies visiting that afternoon, and ultimately placing a “Calling All Brides!” ad in the paper.  But meanwhile, a repentant Mary sends a message to Jimmy giving him another chance and asking him to show up at her house that evening, preacher in tow.  Will Jimmy get that message in time? Will he end up with one of the seven women at the club?  Or, perhaps, with one of the 100-plus women at the church?….

Actually, the bulk of the film doesn’t deal with any of that – it’s an extended chase scene, with Keaton going to greater and greater lengths to escape a stampede of angry women in white dresses, tangling along the way with turtles, bees, streetcars, boats, cranes, canyons, bricks, and such, in a scene that comes across like a merry fever-dream combination of the Pamplona bulls, the boulder scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a sale at a David’s Bridal outlet.

Keaton actually didn’t want to make the film at first. It was based on a stage play from 1916, and one of Keaton’s frequent producers, Joseph Schenck, was convinced it would make a good film adaptation. Keaton hadn’t liked the play, though, and kept putting him off – until he got into debt with Schenck and agreed to the film to help settle the debt.  He even tried to convince Schenck to change the ending, suggesting they fade out in the middle of the chase scene.  (Schenck said no.)

The one thing that finally cheered Keaton up was when an audience at a test screening unexpectedly burst out laughing when Keaton’s character, fleeing down the side of a mountain, dislodged a couple of rocks and then had to dodge them as they rolled after him.  It had been a happy accident at the time of filming – but Keaton had to admit it was funny.  So he expanded the sequence with several more minutes of himself fleeing from ever-bigger rocks (fake ones, of course) cut into the action.  Keaton still wasn’t crazy about the film, but the rock sequence, he liked.

Keaton does find space for other bits of schtick throughout the paper-thin plot – from the exact nature of his proposals to the various women at the country club, to a war of wills with a hat-check girl.

Disappointingly, some of the gags come at the expense of the women themselves – there are a few instances where Keaton recoils in horror from a woman who is either too old or too fat, and in one uneasy moment, he is on a street and about to tap the shoulder of a passing woman and make his offer, but at the last minute he sees that she is African-American and he flees in panic.  That kind of thing was par for the course in 1926, unfortunately.

Surprisingly, I also learned that this film has had a modern remake – Seven Chances was actually the basis for 1999’s The Bachelor, with Chris O’Donnell and Renee Zellweger.  From the looks of the trailer, they kept things like the basic plot and the bride chase, but forgot to put in Keaton’s charisma.

….You may notice a change in my habit of relaying the entire plot of a film – I’ve had it pointed out that that may not be exactly fair to y’all wanting to watch things yourselves.  It’s actually an old habit from some of my theater review writing days, and I’m going to try to get rid of that crutch now.

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.

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…..”

August Break Day 1 – Morning

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I think I started last August with a version of this picture as well – the lemon verbena on my bedroom windowsill, which is one of the first things I see when I wake up.

A year ago I had just gotten back from my second trip to Paris, and had romantic notions of using more herbs in cooking.  The French cookbooks I already had spoke of using lemon verbena in baking a lot, and I already knew I liked the scent; a sort of fresh, herbaceous lemon.  I picked this plant up last June while on a camping trip with a friend, when we’d stopped at a roadside stand for grillable vegetables. I saw it in a little cluster of 4-inch herb pots they were selling, and snapped it up.

Actually, let’s look back at how it looked a year ago today:

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Yeah.  It grows fast.  And what I didn’t know at the time is that all those baking recipes only use a couple leaves at a time, so I would be stuck making regular pruning and harvesting forays and trying to cope with the excess.  I’ve made sugar syrup, I’m going to try pesto and jelly this season; I tried candying the leaves once, but that really, really didn’t go well.

….Know any recipes with lemon verbena, actually?

Movie Crash Course: A Note From The Projectionist’s Booth

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Time and technology are funny things.

I have been trying to watch everything in chronological order, as has more or less been captured by the 1001 Movies To See Before You Die books (and more or less compiled here).  I’ve been finding most things via Netflix, but many of the older films, most of which are in the public domain, I’ve been finding on Youtube.  Which is a boon – instead of random cat videos and clips of the kids from Stranger Things designing Pop-tart flavors or whatever, you can delve into cinema history for totally free.  There is a little of “you get what you pay for”, to be sure – the print quality isn’t always ideal, and sometimes the person who uploaded it has chosen their own music (the upload I found of Les Vampires had this super-monotonous electronic “creepy” music in a continuous loop that got occasionally annoying).

However, because some of these films are classics and are critically revered, sometimes they get a serious film-historian makeover, either because someone’s found some extra footage they thought they’d lost or someone’s restored the print or something like that.  And when that happens…it goes out of the public domain, and comes down from Youtube.  But that is also no guarantee that Netflix has it.  And after 20 movies, I’ve just run into that problem (which explains the delay in here).

I really was looking forward to the next film after Sherlock Jr. – it’s The Great White Silence, a sort of found-footage documentary from the tragic British Terra Nova expedition of 1913, when Robert Scott made an attempt to reach the South Pole first; only to be narrowly beaten by Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Scott’s team all perished during the return to base camp.  However, filmmaker Herbert Ponting was on hand to record the team embarking upon their trip, but Scott had him stay behind – and so he and his footage survived. The footage became Great White Silence in 1924, ten years after the tragedy, but the wound was still a little too fresh, and the public avoided the film and it sort of lapsed into obscurity until 2011, when it got restored and presented as a historic document.  Netflix doesn’t seem to have a copy, and all the Youtube links I see refer me to questionable web sites in obscure Baltic langauges where I can “downlode free streaming 100% free okay”.  No thanks.

I’m running into a similar problem with the next film after that – and to add insult to injury, the next film is Greed, an Erich Von Stroeheim four-hour epic.  Youtube does have a paid-viewing option for only a couple bucks, but…again, it’s an Erich Von Stroeheim four-hour epic.

The weather is supposed to be a little bleak this weekend, so I may just suck it up and watch Greed, and see if I can find a similar pay-per-view approach to Great White Silence.  But I may have to skip these and come back to them later; there’s too many other films waiting.

I’m In The Money

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So I grew up in New England, and we tend not to talk about money all that much.  Especially if we’re having money difficulty; we go all stoic and stiff-upper-lip and try to “make do and mend”, resorting to repairing things that break instead of buying new or waiting for sales or reverse-engineering our own solutions.  Or just going without.  This is the kind of approach that can be carried too far, of course – there have been times that I have been almost pathologically afraid to spend money on myself.  Also, all the frugality in the world isn’t going to help you if you’re just plain not making enough money to begin with.

That latter state was my lot for the past couple years.  But – the new job has fixed that, and then some.  And it’s taken a couple weeks to sink in, but….I’m starting to get into it.

Now, I’m not going totally bugnuts, buying up entire racks of shoes or renting a yacht to go to Martha’s Vineyard just for lunch or anything like that. I’ve maybe spent more than I should on books, but the bulk of the money I got from my first paycheck went either to paying down some debt, starting a nest egg, or finally getting some long-needed house stuff. (Hellooooooooo, replacement window blinds! Welcome, stash of bulbs! Hi there, no-longer-threadbare pillowcases!)

When it comes to things I’ve been buying sheerly for pleasure, they’ve actually been comparatively modest: a couple yards of fabric to go towards a quilt I’ve been working on (yes, I’m making an actual quilt), a couple pounds of candle wax to round out the candlemaking stash Niki gave me (rather than buying the actual pre-made candles, which was getting costly), or a couple of utterly gorgeous French cookbooks (I make no excuse because I don’t need one dammit).  Or going to the occasional movie.  Or just going out for ice cream or dinner or lunch.

Or actually paying people back.  The thing that saddened me most about being so cash-poor for so long is that my friends have had to cover me more times than not – never anything big, just a couple extra bucks here, an extra five there, whenever we went out.  Or even the convenience move – if a group of us were gathering for a movie run, it would always be someone else who’d say “I’ll pick up the tickets and y’all can just owe me.”  It would always be someone else saying “what the hell, I can put dinner on my card and y’all can just owe me the cash.”  We usually settled up, I told myself, but it would always be someone else making that initial convenience step.

Tonight I am seeing a movie with a few friends; we were planning our attack this morning, and in the middle of the discussion I popped over to the movie theater site and just got our three tickets without even thinking.  “I got our tickets,” I emailed back, “so we can all just meet there.”

“Oh, great! Thanks!”

And the feeling I get simply because I am able to do that – and may even be able to cover them for a car to get them home after – is a feeling that I have been missing for a long time.