May 27, 2011 - May 20, 2011
. I had no idea -- no
idea! -- there would be so much to say about the Vancouver
Olympics. So this post is just getting started. Call it the Opening
Ceremonies. Speaking of which, I actually watched a lot of them with
Mrs. CP, and after a lot of thought I've determined that the best way
to limit my scorn is to fisk one of the more succinct reviews.
We'll get to the sports part later. And the NBC part. Count on it.
. Freezing rain has just turned to snow
and we're battened down
for our second great blizzard within the week. As usual, serendicity
has just played another card from its enormous deck, reminding me that
I've always had a silly crush on Esther Williams, who (as my mother
used to say) couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. But at this very
moment TCM is showing a celluloid souffle called "Neptune's Daughter,"
Esther in some of the most gorgeous duds any woman ever had the
privilege of wearing. (Mrs. CP is exclaiming over her wardrobe in each
unfolding scene as I write this. Edith Head, she muses? Has to be.)
Interestingly, her love interest in the pic is
Ricardo Montalban, a man whom most people still confuse with her real
husband, Fernando Lamas. Sigh. I guess that means she'd never have
fallen for a charmless Scot who's about as far from "tall, dark, and
handsome" as it's possible to get without being formally listed as an
exemplary antonym in Roget's Thesaurus.
It's easy and acceptable to have a crush on Rita Hayworth (which I do). So why is it faintly ridiculous to have a crush on Esther Williams? Don't know. But it is. And I don't care. Which reminds me of two other female movie stars I'm embarrassed to love. One is virtually forgotten, and the other is, well, I'll get to that in good time...
You know. Jimmy Stewart's on-screen wife. No neck, awful hair-sprayed-to-death hair, and a collection of shirtdresses that would have made June Lockhart expire of envy in Lassie's paws. This woman:
What about her then? Her voice. That husky murmur. Her voice and her
eyes. Demure but absolutely resolute. She's the "good woman" of the
adage about what a great man always has behind him. For many years I
wondered, "Why was this plain Jane a movie star?" As I've grown older
I've learned why. The world has grown full to bursting with Megan
Foxes. But the June Allysons are a vanishing breed. Faithful, loving,
invincible, and beautiful from the soul out. And how about this
completely accidental YouTube find?
Yup. I'm also carrying a torch for Judy Garland. And, no, I'm not even
gay. As with June Allyson, it took me a long long time to appreciate Judy
Garland -- at least the Judy who matured away from the adolescent
prodigy who sang so heartbreakingly in the Wizard of Oz. A lot like June.
No neck, perpetually bad hair, and weirdly frumpy clothes the whole
time. I always thought her adult voice was harsh. And whatever anyone
says, she was never a good-looking woman. But looks matter less and
less as you get older. I began to understand that she wasn't really the
victim her biographers seek to make her. She had a gift and she knew
it. She kept on going, no matter how, to keep sharing that gift. A
different kind of love but one I admire without even the slightest
trace of pity. Like June. Vulnerability as strength. Who do we have today?
I rest my case.
Another writer I've repeatedly slammed. Because he so completely disdained meaning. But lawdy lawdy, what a writer. One of the very few I can always enjoy reading out loud (along with Cynewulf, Swinburne, Verlaine, and some of Poe's poetry). Every single piece in City Life I've declaimed to my private ceiling, just wishing I had that touch with words. He systematically, immorally even, uncouples words from their meanings and finds new meanings inside the empty space he creates thereby. At his best he's just plain gorgeous under a mask of plain. My objections are all philosophical, which can and probably should be translated as "second rate." On the other hand, like Eliot, Joyce, and Hemingway before him, he's flung the door wide open for talentless imitators. I'm content to be the stolid sentinel at the door, saying, "No. You haven't earned the right to rewrite the scripture of genius."
From the sublime to the ridiculous? Yes. That's what self-revelation consists of. There's no excuse whatever for liking Tijuana Brass. But hearing their songs make me happy. I don't care that Herb Alpert had no more talent as a trumpet player than the average high school band member. I. Just. Don't. Care.
You got a problem with that?
You're flying over the world in all your omniscient super-sophistication. Then you spy an Aborigine village where the natives, or their shaman, seem to know as much somehow about the universe as you do. But without your hubris. That's Patsy Kline. Even Johnny Cash put on some airs from time to time. Patsy never did. She lived in the dreamtime for sure, but she did the earthbound thing better than all her dimwit contemporaries. Why she had to die young.
Some people know everything.
I do. That's how I can recognize the others.
Don Johnson couldn't act and the fellow who played Tubbs was even worse. But the best series television episode in history was the pilot of Miami Vice. I'll listen politely to your rebuttals, but you're wrong. This was the absolute apogee of dramatic TV in America.
Jeez. Still not done with this confessional torrent. uh, did somebody
mention Glenn Miller?
I'll end with the self-immolating admission that I loved the big band my own father dismissed as the closest thing to Lawrence Welk his generation ever produced (apart from Kay Kyser, that is). But I can't help it. I like Glenn Miller. I like the sound. Despite the extensive training I've received in jazz from people who know, I still feel a bump of optimism when I hear the unmistakeable timbre of the band whose leader perished without a trace in the second war to end all wars. And isn't that an irony even Alanis Morissette could recognize?
Worse, it looks like there'll be a Part 3 before this blizzard concludes. My most obsequious apologies. How much confession can any audience be expected to endure?
UPDATE. By popular demand -- who'd a thunk it? -- Instapunk commenters love ABBA. A movie I'd never have put on my list without this nudge is Muriel's Wedding. A chick flick even a guy could like. Anyway, here you go:
Hey! Here we all are. Naked as jaybirds, just like that ABBA album cover. Is it great? Not here it isn't. The blizzard is
ubiquitous and cold. Brrrrr.
UPDATE 2. Just for those who haven't heard of him, here is Roger Whittaker:
And one of his gigantic hits you could
get on one of his reasonably priced CDs.
There. Duty done. He has many fans. You could be one too.
Things have reached a fairly apocalyptic pitch here in South
Jersey. There's been flu, a blizzard, a lengthy power outage that may
have cost me all first drafts and image files of my entire contribution
to InstaPunk (plus my antique versions of PhotoShop and AnimationShop),
and another blizzard on the way tonight. Perhaps that's why I was moved
by the act of courage represented by BigHollywood's John Nolte and his piece
today revealing his "Uncool" favorites. He lists a bunch of movies
he loves and watches that conventional wisdom would laugh at him for
loving and watching.
It amounts to a kind of defiant confession. Well, confession goes with apocalypse, does it not? And by serendicity, Mrs. CP and I had also had a confessional moment just a couple of days ago, when in response to a TV promo for The Bodyguard we both admitted -- me more reluctantly than she -- that we secretly loved Whitney Houston's recording of "I Will Always Love You."
A saccharine, sentimental, monotonal mess of a song written and first performed by Dolly Parton, who also happens to be one of my other Guilty Pleasures, a sweet and beguiling woman who cheerfully compares her own singing to the vocalizations of a nanny goat. She's right but I admire her anyway. She's an incorporated powerhouse with her own theme park, but she's still sweet. That buys her a pass on her ridiculous hair and chest balloons in my book. And I will "always" listen to the Whitney Houston version of Dolly's song when it plays on the radio or in the movie because there is something pure and wistful and stirring about it. It's an anthem of women's capacity for love that if you've ever been on the receiving end of it can bring you to your knees.
So. Without image-editing capability and staring into the teeth of another two feet of snow, I'm determined to confess my own bunch of Guilty Pleasures. They're not all critically scorned things, though most are. They're songs and movies and TV shows and books and authors and performers I've either jeered at in the past or never admitted liking because it was, yes, not cool to like them. In other words, they're things I like but find embarrassing to admit I like. Some of them are very embarrassing, fuel for future commenter cheap shots for, well, ever. You're all welcome to share your own Guilty Pleasures, as well as heap scorn upon me for mine.
My only defense here is that I'm not going to organize the entries. You'll have to do some work of your own to synthesize and summarize the weaknesses of my poorest taste in various media. Other than that, have at it and do your worst.
As a writer, I think first of my guiltiest pleasure of all, two works by Paul Gallico, the most gushingly sentimental writer in all my reading who, for me at least, gets away with it by the brazen nakedness of his technique. Tops on the list is a story called "Thicker than Water," which when I still owned the book it appeared in (can't find it for you) I couldn't stop rereading. An awful story. Execrable in every critical regard, except that I just loved reading it. Got me every time. More like a song than a story. Now I find that it's included in a book of the 36 greatest boxing stories ever written. I'll never buy that book. I don't want to find out just how diseased my powers of discrimination are when the subject is boxing.
To prove how bad it is I can tell you the gist in about a hundred words. In World War II, Joey, the younger brother of a champion boxer who died in the war is prizefighting to keep his family afloat, but despite great technique, he consistently loses because he's yellow. The first time he gets hit a real shot, he folds and gets knocked out. Because of this he finds it harder and harder to get fights until he gets a chance to be a stepping stone (designated victim) in the surging career of a slugger who's working his way to a title shot. Oh. The thing that we, and Joey, never knew before the climactic round of the fight? Joey once got a blood transfusion from his now departed brother.
You see? I cringe just telling you about it. Maybe Paul Gallico could write. That's all I can hope for. People who remember such things still remember his novella, The Snow Goose. Which I can also reread at a moment's notice. I'm pretty sure it's a character defect of mine.
Yeah. The yodeller.
I could make excuses. He essentially began the country music industry
by recording his songs at Victor records in Camden, NJ. He also had a compelling
life story, a railroad man who became a singing star only to die
young of tuberculosis, about which he sang honestly and humorously.
Thing is, I actually like his music. Something simple and vital and
affecting about it. Sorry.
Independence Day, the Fourth of July
I could write a whole essay about everything that's wrong with this movie. The fighter pilot president who refuses to use nukes even against alien invaders. The mysterious compatibility between Apple computers and alien technology. The increasingly annoying Yiddish affect of Judd Hirsch in his post-Taxi roles. And the inclusion of every possible clichee of both soap opera and Irwin Allen disaster movies in a single monstrously absurd blockbuster. The first time I saw it was in the company of wits who would make the Mystery Science Theater crowd look lame, and we laughed ourselves sick late into the night. It was a veritable tsunami of scorn.
Only problem -- I like
watching this movie. It's fun. The clichees are well played. The climax
and the denouement are satisfying. It's Hollywood doing what Hollywood
does best when it's not posturing but entertaining.
I've tired people out making a case for Eminem. Along the way I've dissed most hip hop recording artists. And I particularly dislike Kanye West for his loony-toon narcissism and his politics. But I like this cut.
I've written a bunch about this guy over the years. I've called him the
end of fiction, the ego-bloated pied piper who led even his fiercest
critics off the cliff of transforming imagination into personal
reportage. I've ridiculed his concepts of "the one true sentence" and
the "one thing" that lies at the heart of any true experience.
What I keep leaving out is that despite the fact that he was a poseur and a prick, he was also a spectacularly gifted writer. "The Sun Also Rises," amputated of its initial anti-semitic chapters, is still one of the ten best novels of the twentieth century.
And, worse for me personally, this isn't simply an intellectual assessment. The Truth: my pick for a book to read on an airplane, when you're above the clouds in the clear blue miles above the earth, is Hemingway. Anything Hemingway. That's his domain. That's where it all clicks. Clean and clear and blue. The meaning streams.
I just wish he'd kept his mouth shut about what writing "is." Like Picasso learned to keep quiet about what painting "is." I love them both for what they did. Hate them both for what they said.
Love it. No apologies. Iconic. Fun, funny, and sexy. If you can survive parody, you're the real thing. Everybody starts dancing when this starts playing. That's the real joke behind the parodies. It's so good it can't be reduced even by ridicule.
So he cut 30 or 40 percent of the play out of his script. And junked it
all up with syrupy music. I was an
English major. These things matter. But I'm still in love with Olivia
Hussey in this movie. All these years later. Embarrassingly.
I wouldn't tell this to most English majors, but I'm thinking
Shakespeare would have regarded this as the best of a very long line of
pretentious movies made of his plays. That's just me, though. Most
other Shakespeare critics wouldn't put much credence in a movie's power
to give an adolescent a hard-on. Much better to wax lyrical about
Olivier's Hamlet. (Yawn.)
This is one I'd never have admitted without Mrs. CP, who is always unabashed about what she likes and doesn't. She makes total strangers watch "M" and "Alexander Nevsky" because it's good for them, and she's equally forthright about wanting, when she discovered I had a zillion inherited LPs and a turntable, to hear this guy. She likes him. So do I. Only I have to peel away all my dismissive knowledge first -- his virtual illiteracy, his mountainous hair, his lack of genre identity (country? pop? Vegas pimp?) Sometimes you just have to let go and respond. He's dramatic, sincere, unique, lyrical, and operatic without knowing what opera even is. I'm persuadedconverted. Shut up.
uuuh. Have to break off here. Deals to be made about plowing in
anticipation of future plowing. So let me know if you like this post
and want more humiliating confessions. Of which there are many to come.
UPDATE. Another checks in. A critically hated film someone likes. I dimly remember it. But it's someone's Guilty Pleasure. Admire his passion:
Maybe it's better than I thought. Read his comment. I'm impressed.
[You, too, can be enshrined here, for your courage and vision.]