History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jackie Robinson in movie "42" goes beyond "Roy Hobbs"

Here we are on Biopic Avenue again. Thanks to our Morris Public Library for having "42" available on DVD when the movie still seems fresh. The subject is Jackie Robinson. He is a hero out of American history. We feel justifiable reverence.
Chadwick Boseman is a very believable Jackie Robinson in "42." We see baseball teams traveling by train like in "The Natural" with Robert Redford. "The Natural" gave us the fictional New York Knights. Redford's character played on an all-white team.
A movie asking us to feel nostalgic about such times should perhaps be criticized on that basis. "The Natural" is a period movie that seeks to exude charm. But blacks need not apply in baseball. The movie sought to make no points about race, of course. It's also protected by Redford's well-known reputation as a liberal or progressive.
The aim in "The Natural" was storytelling, in a fairy tale kind of way. Hobbs has almost supernatural baseball prowess, that is when he's behaving himself (and sticking with his childhood sweetheart). The movie "42" about Jackie Robinson easily reminds us of "The Natural." But it's about the real-life transition in baseball from its all-white world.
 
Cinema approaches history
Hollywood applies its well-honed biopic formula. Nothing really wrong with that, but anything formulaic from Hollywood deserves to be knocked down a notch or two. Fortunately this was already accomplished by the movie "Walk Hard" with John C. Reilly.
No one would ever satirize the movie "42." But the movie "Walk the Line" about Johnny Cash showed the biopic formula in its tired form. A certain element in Hollywood began to recognize a problem with such movies. It was too easy to hype them at the time of their release. That's because we were in awe of the person having inspired the movie. We loved being reminded of the person and of the trials and triumphs of that person.
But the movie should be viewed on separate, objective terms.
Johnny Cash was not nearly as sympathetic as Jackie Robinson. I can hardly think of a way to feel sympathetic about Cash at all, except to say the man had musical talent. Congratulations. Cash's story was really just one of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.
Biopics show the human failings of our heroes. But Cash's human failings were too much. Having a string of hit songs doesn't make an indelible contribution to the advancement of humanity. John C. Reilly played the Cash-like character in "Walk Hard," a movie that was an eviscerating satire.
We should always watch a new biopic with some thought to "Walk Hard." Ask: Is this really a good movie or are we just feeling reverence toward the subject matter? Up until "Walk Hard," it seemed that a biopic about a revered figure, like "Ray" (about Ray Charles), got Oscar buzz out of the starting gate. The lead actors were really glorified impersonators, weren't they? Impersonators don't occupy a high rung in the entertainment world.
Sorry if I'm belittling the efforts of such actors.
Biopics remind us of important stages in our history. The problem with "42," perhaps, is that this story is too well-known and celebrated. I'd appreciate more a movie about someone whose role until now may have been under-appreciated.
In the final analysis, "42" is a movie appealing to baseball fans. There is a train scene almost identical to a scene in "The Natural." We see some wide-eyed boys observing as a train bearing ballplayers is about to depart. The hero character tosses a ball to the boys. In "42," the boy who catches the ball is supposed to be Ed Charles. The boy is inspired and goes on to his own big league career, climaxed by the 1969 World Series. Ed Charles was with the New York Mets who beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 Series.
Boomer-age fans like me can only read about the 1947 season and Robinson's breakthrough. It happened too long ago. We can only read about the behavior of bigot types like Ben Chapman who would hurl verbal epithets across the field. Baseball was far more civilized by the time we started following the sport. The '47 season exists only in books and movies for us. The 1969 season with its "miracle Mets" and Ed Charles was reality for us. We watched mesmerized as those long-struggling Mets, who were born as a forlorn unit in 1962, climbed to the top.
 
Tip of the hat to '69 Mets
Maybe a movie should be made about the 1969 New York Mets. The team included Jerry Koosman whose background was in West Central Minnesota. The big lefthanded pitcher was a native of Appleton and graduated from the West Central School of Agriculture in Morris. We had a big parade out here after the '69 Series. I was in the high school band. Halsey Hall came out for the festivities. Hall was our counterpart to Red Barber.
Baseball period movies always show us those broadcasters. Barber was at the mike for the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. Actor John G. McGinley charms with his understated old-timer phrasings. Our Halsey Hall in Minnesota was the charming older man with lots of old stories. He had been associated with the old Minneapolis Millers.
Us Minnesotans waited patiently for big league ball. We might forget that Metropolitan Stadium stood out there on the Bloomington prairie for five years before the Twins were finally born. The Millers played there in the interim. We all knew Met Stadium wasn't built for the Millers.
The Twins came into being amidst euphoric fanfare. Halsey Hall entered the broadcast booth and carved out an identity just as firm as any of the early Twins players. Hall came out here to Morris for the Koosman festivities. I'll never forget how he remarked about Koosman's "key to the city." He wondered it if opened the establishment across the street which was of course the bar/liquor store. Those were the times when we liked humor based on excess alcohol consumption.
The Mets filled the void caused by the departure of the Dodgers from New York. The Dodgers were Robinson's team. They were also the team that beat our Twins in the 1965 World Series, by which time they were established in Los Angeles.
The number title of "42" gives it something in common with the movie about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The movie "61*, yes, with an asterisk, is primarily about Maris. This period baseball movie is about the early 1960s. The moral of this story is that it's terrific to grow up as an ordinary boy from the Midwest, marry your high school sweetheart and cuss about the predatory New York City media. Mantle was the contrasting character who sank into vice. In the end, though, all is right with the world. This is the feeling rendered by biopics. We reach for a tissue.
The movie "61*" shows us Elston Howard, catcher, who was the first African-American Yankee. Howard was derided by some as being too restrained, too willing to roll with the punches. Vic Power probably should have been the first African-American Yankee. The powers-that-be decided the time wasn't right just yet, especially for someone like Power who seemed to have too much "personality." 
Power did eventually break through. He was one of the most interesting Twins players, with his flashy style at first base, fielding grounders one-handed. Had Power been given his opportunity earlier, he might be in the Hall of Fame. It's too bad Power wasn't still with the Twins for the '65 Series. I'd love seeing him get a hit or two off Sandy Koufax.
Koufax became a great pitcher not because he learned to adjust his mechanics, rather because umpires started calling the high fastball a strike. David Halberstam informed us of this in his book "October 1964."
The early Twins seemed to have their share, I felt, of black players. Earl Battey was our outstanding catcher. "Mudcat" Grant was our pitching ace for the '65 pennant-winner.
 
Void grew in New York City
New York City was abandoned not only by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but also by the New York Giants. Strange. The West Coast beckoned. But it was hard imagining New York City losing two-thirds of its big league baseball assets. As kids we heard about those old and defunct Dodgers and Giants of New York. We heard about Bobby Thomson's famous home run. Years later we got the revelation that sign-stealing (cheating) corrupted that season. So much for "the good old days."
I remember talking to a service veteran in Morris, initials D.E., who had seen a game at the Dodgers' Ebbets Field when he was in the service. I asked him about that storied stadium. "It was a dump," he said. So much for those romanticized older teams.
I'm not sure about our impulse to romanticize that time when the racial barrier came down. It was ugly that the barrier existed in the first place. Today it seems African-Americans are more attracted to basketball and football anyway. Baseball should maybe be begging African-Americans.
I recently wrote a post about the famous Armistice Day blizzard in Minnesota. It's hard to realize that storm, which happened when my father was 24 years old, was a full seven years before blacks were allowed to play big league baseball. How could society accept that reality? This wasn't 1930s Mississippi.
I'm not sure I want young people to see "42" and to see all the backwardness and ignorance. My generation is fully aware. The boomers were pretty disgusted about racial obstacles.
So, should we enjoy "42?" I suppose we should, because it's a solidly-made movie albeit with the biopic formula. It's not a waste of time. We're reminded of our own aging when we see Harrison Ford playing a self-consciously old man (Branch Rickey). Halsey Hall was the "old man" when we were kids. Now we can relate to his place in life. We have wisdom from our years.
But we aren't inclined to want to visit the nearest bar/liquor store. The drinking age was lowered for us in 1973. But we ended up saying "thanks but no thanks."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Animated "Tom Sawyer" (2000) a diamond in the rough

Today we hear about how education is everything for kids. Kids love school or are hypnotized into thinking they should. We hear that education is the key, a sort of altar where we should worship, for people achieving success in our tech-fueled world.
It's refreshing to see a more honest view of things. Take "Tom Sawyer" and his companion "Huckleberry Finn" from 19th Century literature. Those were the days of one-room schools. Kids of varying ages would be in the same classroom. Mark Twain's heroic characters reacted to school like it was some bad-tasting medicine. Twain's novels brought out this attitude vividly.
Tom Sawyer attends school grudgingly in the animated "Tom Sawyer" that came out in 2000. Huck Finn doesn't attend school at all. You would think there's a "moral of the story" in this. You'd think the boys would be punished for dissing school. In today's framework of thinking, such consequences would be a must. George W. Bush told us about "no child left behind." The phrase would puzzle our 19th Century heroes out of Twain's imagination.
Sawyer and Finn lived a hardscrabble life in which education seemed a far-away ideal. The stories could have presented education as a desirable ideal. Look at those little urchins, how more civilized they could be. But there's no such message. Education is something that kids, especially girls, can accept with limited enthusiasm, in a manner of "doing your duty." But Tom and Huck with their adventures pay no mind to school with its structure and discipline. Their free-spiritedness is something to be celebrated. The shackles of formal education are unnecessary. They're a burden. So, let's live for the present.
Tom and Huck with such attitudes seem to reflect the attitudes behind the forming of America. Certainly the attitudes accompanied the expansion of civilization west. Self-reliance is a focus of the American credo. We needn't take marching orders in classrooms from autocratic teachers guided by detached and self-interested bureaucracies. Hooray for Tom and Huck! They'd rather be fishing.
They relished "playing hooky," a term that now seems archaic, like "wearing the dunce's cap" (and sitting in the corner). Discipline. Tom and Huck would have none of it. Their raisin d'etre was freedom. How about that for being a cornerstone of America?
Twain's view of life and America had lots of admirers. He was an iconic writer, projecting his views from America's big and burgeoning Midwest.
 
Opening door to Twain's world
The animated "Tom Sawyer" came to us from MGM Animation. It's a wonderful tool for getting children interested in Twain's work. I have it on VHS tape. I watched it again yesterday and found it wonderful.
The movie did not make a big splash, as it went direct to video. That's a shame. The movie is an adaptation of Mark Twain's classic book "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." The story line goes off in some of its own directions. No matter, many of the plot elements of the book are repeated or reflected here. The movie is a great jumping-off point for reading the book. The animation quality is terrific.
The characters are animals! There's a term for this: "anthropomorphic." Tom Sawyer is a cat, Huckleberry Finn a fox. Tom's love interest Becky Thatcher is a cat. The "bad guy" is "Injurin' Joe" (not "Injun Joe" as in the book), and he's a big menacing black bear! Hank Williams Jr. and Kevin Michael Richardson provide the voice of "Injurin' Joe."
Hank Williams Jr.! We haven't heard much about this rustic and rowdy guy since he got into trouble on Fox News' "Fox and Friends." He criticized Barack Obama using a Nazi analogy. Ol' Hank seemed a little incoherent in that whole interview. It's unfortunate he stumbled into such unacceptable wording, because he was a unique celebrity from a storied family. "Are you ready for some football?"
 
Country music weaved in
The animated "Tom Sawyer" is a showcase for country music. This vehicle works beautifully. The songs can almost make you misty at a couple points. It's like a country music version of "The Wizard of Oz," with characters involved in the same kind of adventure.
Lee Ann Womack sings as "Becky Thatcher." Rhett Akins is the heroic Tom Sawyer. Mark Wills is the sidekick "Huckleberry Finn."
A roster of big names was involved with this. Betty White is the voice of "Aunt Polly." Don Knotts is "Mutt Potter." Waylon Jennings is "Judge Thatcher." 
I guess the big names couldn't propel this movie past "direct to video" status. How unfortunate. Groping for explanations, I have to weigh the theory that maybe the movie was "politically incorrect" in how it presented its heroes, eschewing school and paying no penalty for this.
Can't we just accept this as fun fiction? I don't think there's anything wrong showing kids as triumphant despite scorning school. Kids can develop anxiety thinking that high achievement in school, i.e. showing deference to some boring windbag teacher, is a prerequisite for finding success.
My own theory is that tech advancement might be making formal education less important, not more! The captains of industry are going to organize their jobs in such a way that employee "skills" are going to be less vital, not more, thus they can pay a lower wage. Let the workers press buttons that have pictures on them, not numbers or words.
We might eventually sense a triumph of the ethos represented by good ol' Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Live for today! Go fishing if you'd like.
Mark Twain's book came out in 1876 and shows a boy growing up along the Mississippi River. Twain gives us the fictional town of St. Petersburg, inspired by Hannibal MO where Twain lived. Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher, the new girl in town.
The kids joke about how they're "engaged" to each other. Becky learns that Tom has been previously "engaged" to Amy Lawrence. Becky is based on the real-life Laura Hawkins, a friend of Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain). Twain wrote the "Huckleberry Finn" story in 1884.

The story. . .
The animated movie begins with Tom Sawyer (the cat) skipping school - hooray! - to join Huck the fox who is fishing. Tom spots Becky, whereupon his priorities change! So, he ends up at school where he can be by Becky, but this causes distress for Amy Lawrence, who is a more common type of girl - "tomboyish" in her charm. (I kind of liked "tomboys" when I was young.)
Tom's pet frog "Rebel" disrupts the class. Is the name "Rebel" an extension of Southern culture? I suspect so. So is country music. I can live with these trappings to an extent. Actually, the late 1990s were a time when I developed a strong interest in country music, even writing some of my own songs (e.g. "There Must be Snow in Heaven"). I experienced the humility that 99 per cent of songwriters experience.
The frog "Rebel" disrupts class, so there's early dismissal. Tom tries to sneak a kiss with Becky but her father, "Judge Thatcher," stops her. In Twain's literature, Judge Thatcher has a minor role in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" but a major one in "Huckleberry Finn."
The next day, Tom has to paint a house as punishment for what happened in school. "Aunt Polly" makes him do this. The clever Tom gets his friends to do the work for him. Tom and Huck go treasure hunting that night. They come upon "Injurin' Joe" and his friend "Mutt Potter" uncovering a chest of gold. "Deputy Bean" also comes upon this scene. Joe murders Bean, frames Mutt for the crime and captures Rebel (the frog).
The next day after school, Tom and Becky get "engaged." Then, Becky and Amy join in singing "One Dream" about their shared love of Tom. Alas, "Mutt" (Don Knotts) is on death row. (We know he won't be killed.) Injurin' Joe pursues the hero boys but is unsuccessful. The boys then celebrate by singing the wonderful "Friends for Life." It's a tearjerker, IMHO.
But Tom and Huck are feared dead and a funeral service is organized. Yes, Tom and Huck show up at their own funeral. They're able to testify against Joe at the last minute, and can thus save Mutt. This infuriates Injurin' Joe who again pursues the boys with his huge and aggressive presence. Joe gets pulled away by a raging river. Meanwhile Mutt is freed. The boys are hailed as heroes.
Tom talks Becky into exploring a cave. They get lost. Becky loses hope. Tom would never lose hope, except maybe in school! He sings the charming "Light at the End of the Tunnel."
They find the treasure, yes, but "Joe" re-emerges to threaten them. The townspeople (or animals) are out looking for the kids. having been tipped off by Amy. Tom with Huck's help subdues Joe. Everyone gets reunited. At the end, Amy is Huck's girlfriend. Becky gets Tom. Our heroes are the boys who "play hooky." How about that? There's a picnic at the end and Tom has visions of another treasure hunt.
The story is all about America, wouldn't you say?
My friend Brent Waddell says I should wear a white formal ensemble, just as Twain did, since I'm a writer. I'll consider it (after I lose some weight).
Before entering the cave, Tom says to Becky "It's too dangerous for girls." To which Becky says: "You've got a lot to learn about girls."
Twain named his "Tom Sawyer" character after a San Francisco fireman who he met in 1863. The two often drank and gambled together.

Those talking animals
Entertainment history is filled with anthropomorphic animals. When I was a kid, some friends nicknamed me "Chilly Willy" after the anthropomorphic penguin.
As a child I watched "Mighty Mouse" cartoons on Saturday morning TV. This was the superhero mouse created by the Terrytoons studio as a parody of Superman. The character first appeared in 1942 and was in 80 theatrical films.
"Mighty Mouse" was on TV from 1955 (my year of birth) through 1967 on CBS Saturday mornings. There were two later revivals. Comics and other media celebrated the character, based on an animal with no redeeming qualities.
We remember an opera type of backdrop with "Mighty Mouse," which reflected Mario Lanza's popularity. The mouse's typical foes were non-descript cats - remember them? The deceased comic Andy Kaufman used Mighty Mouse as a prop for one of his best-known routines. He'd lip-synch "Here I come to save the day," opera-style.
The animated "Tom Sawyer" presents the anthropomorphic model in the most charming way. It presents the American spirit of being totally unbridled in one's aspirations, not even being encumbered by school and its boredom and frequent irrelevance! School boundaries mean nothing to Tom and Huck, and they triumph totally. A bad example? Some of our leaders, and parents, might say as much today. I obviously don't.
I'd probably be better off if I had been excused from school after the eighth grade.
Today when school gets canceled because of weather, we feel that day absolutely must get "made up." Such total foolishness. The employers of tomorrow won't want employees who are "well educated." They will want employees who will work cheap. Let's be honest. Being honest is what this blog is all about.
Hats off to "Tom and Huck," and good luck fishing!
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

MACA boys sink at the hands of Goff, Ahrndt at Benson

Benson 58, Tigers 45
The MACA boys were dealt a heartbreaker Saturday (2/8) at Benson. Halfway through, the Tigers appeared to be in very good shape, leading 30-17. The second half was quite the different story. Led by Jacob Goff and Aaron Ahrndt, the Braves surged to get past the staggered Tigers.
Benson outscored the Tigers 41-15 in the second half, thus the Braves could celebrate victory in the 58-45 final.
The Braves were striving to claw their way to a .500 record. The Tigers don't have that luxury of being so close to .500. A win Saturday would have helped. Instead the Tigers entered this week with a 7-14 overall mark, 5-8 in conference.
Goff and Ahrndt represented a scoring machine for Benson in the second half. They scored all of their points in that half, and that total was substantial - 37 between them. Wow!
MACA cooled considerably in that second half.
Jacob Zosel made all three of the Tigers' three-pointers. MACA was a cool three of 15 in that department, and 17 of 45 in total field goals. In freethrows: eight of eleven.
Eric Staebler collected a team-best nine rebounds. Noah Grove and Bryce Jergenson each had two assists. Nathan Anderson had three steals.
On to scoring: Zosel's 3-pointers propelled him to 15 points. Jergenson followed with 13, then we have Staebler with seven points, Anderson with six and Grove with four.
Ahrndt made three 3-pointers for the Braves. Alex Forsberg and Zach Maurer each made one '3'. Zach Jensen led Benson in rebounds with seven. Forsberg was tops in assists with four, and Ahrndt had four steals.
The Braves made half their total field goal attempts: 22 of 44. Goff and Ahrndt were tops in scoring with their 21 and 16 points, respectively. Forsberg put in nine points followed by Ryan Hampton with five, Maurer with three, and Jensen and Logan Flegel each with two.
 
Boys hockey: hat trick by Olson in win
MBA won with a come-from-behind flourish on Saturday, 2/8. against Redwood Valley on the road.
MBA trailed 2-1 at the end of two periods. But MBA owned period No. 3. The Storm tucked the win away in the 4-2 final. The Storm could savor their win No. 7 of the season.
Redwood kicked off the scoring with a goal at 2:56 of the first period. Lane Stadther scored that goal, assisted by Alex Olson. Bo Olson of the Storm got the score tied at 12:08 of the first, with an assist from Corey Goff.
Redwood went up 2-1 in the second period as Jacob Prouty found the net, assisted by Bailey Sommers and Logan Sandgren, at 8:37.
The third period was the true highlight for MBA on this day. The Storm came on strong to outscore Redwood Valley 3-0. Bo Olson got things going with his goal at 7:59. Taner Gimberlin got the puck in the net assisted by Matt Hoffman at 15:50. Bo Olson applied finishing touches with his goal at 16:30, with assists from Tanner Mikkelson and Corey Storck.
Olson could celebrate a hat trick. Tony Bruns wore the goalie equipment for Morris Benson Area and he stopped 25 shots. His goalie rival was Tyler Domeier.
 
Girls hockey: season ends
The MBA girls team made the trip to Fergus Falls Saturday (2/8) for the start of Section 6A play. The Storm struggled in a 9-0 loss.
The loss ended the season for the Storm. They put up four wins in the winter of 2013-14. On Saturday the Fergus Falls skaters asserted themselves early and often. Fergus Falls ended up out-shooting the Storm 50-8.
Abby Hobbs was a nemesis for the Storm. Abby achieved the hat trick for the victorious Otters. Otter Lyndia Mann scored two unassisted goals.
The Otters' win was their ninth of the season overall, against 15 losses and two ties. They came at the Storm with two goals in the first period, an onslaught of five in the second, and two in the third. Hobbs and Mann got the "mo" started for Fergus Falls in the opening period, each with a goal.
Hollie Christians was the MBA goalie and she finished with 41 saves. Katie Shelstad was the Fergus Falls goalie.
 
Wresting: Tigers host big invite
MAHACA was the runner-up team in the annual invitational held here. Saturday was a busy day for Tiger and Storm sports overall. Wrestling was showcased in an exciting way at the MAHS varsity gym. Bursts of cheers came forth as various wrestlers took charge in their bouts.
MAHACA enjoyed a good share of that success. But it was the Saints of Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg who took the event crown. There were six champions in the KMS ranks. KMS put up 247 points on the day compared to 171 by the runner-up Tigers.
The tourney MVP was 160-pounder Zach Carlson of the Saints. Eight teams in all sent their grapplers onto the mats in this spectacle.
Matt Munsterman of the Tigers took third place at 106 pounds, winning two bouts and losing one. Ben Koehl was fifth at 113 pounds with his 2-1 record. Jared Rohloff had a 1-1 day at 120 pounds, placing fifth. Mitchell Ascheman vied at 126 pounds and went 2-1, placing fifth.
Travis Ostby posted a 2-1 record at 132 pounds, a performance good for second. Dillan Johnson at 138 pounds had a perfect 3-0 afternoon to take first. Myles Smith was the runner-up at 145 pounds, winning two bouts and dropping one. Jerid Berning had a 0-2 day at 152 pounds.
Danny Tracy was sixth at 160 pounds with his 1-2 record. Jordan Thooft swept past all three of his foes at 170 pounds, thus he was champion. Steven Koehl had a 0-2 afternoon. Aaron Nelson at 182 pounds went 2-1 for fifth place. The 195-pound slot was open. At 220 pounds it was Alex Gausman vying for the Tigers, and he went 2-1 to take third.
Jacob Sperr won one bout and dropped one, finishing second at 285 pounds. Taylor Zeltwanger went 1-1 to place fifth.
What a winter of sports excitement! It helps put aside some other unpleasant business connected to the school system.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, February 10, 2014

"The Homecoming" (1971) accents intangible blessings

Andy Griffith once said his TV show of the 1960s was all about "love." It's important to know what that show was all about, because it was so incredibly popular. We see unconditional love and an emphasis on the intangible rewards of life.
The father character in the movie "The Homecoming" says his lost paycheck can literally be replaced by love. The angel character in "It's a Wonderful Life" says "we don't have money in heaven," to which Jimmy Stewart says "it comes in pretty handy here."
In this day and age when we have curiosity about how the S&P Futures are doing at 6 a.m., it might be hard to relate to the Mayberry world, much as we might be charmed by it. Certainly we realized Don Knotts was a one-of-a-kind actor.
"The Homecoming" ought to be a favorite movie of mine. It shows "John-Boy" Walton fascinated by the pastime of writing. He writes longhand (cursive) on "tablets." The story is set in 1933. The Walton family has a vibrant and challenging life minus any electronic gadgets. Amazing, right?
I developed the same kind of interest in writing in my teens. I too wrote longhand, with typing to be done as a separate step if desired. I was a "stringer" for the Morris Sun Tribune newspaper in my junior and senior years of high school.
Today it's a given that young people develop keyboard skills. How else to tap into the social media world? When I was young, not so. In college I'd see notes tacked on bulletin boards: "Will do typing." It was considered a feminine skill. No one really enjoyed it.
Poor John-Boy Walton wasn't proud of his writing passion. He was defensive about it. I found this angle somewhat implausible in the movie "The Homecoming."
John-Boy locks himself in his bedroom. He tucks his tablet away to conceal it. I guess he felt writing was a pastime that wasn't productive in the manner of the "trades" his father would want him to consider. John-Boy was just a teen. Heavens, there were many other less productive pastimes he could have considered.
Today we place great value on communication skills. It seemed strange that John-Boy would do all his writing with no apparent intent to have anyone consume it. Nevertheless he's an admirable character.
I received "The Homecoming" on VHS tape as a Christmas gift once. The full name is "The Homecoming: a Christmas Story." It was a TV movie that led to the long-running "Waltons" TV series. The movie was first aired in 1971. The TV series went from September of 1972 to 1981. It kept us company through the disco '70s, alongside such vapid fare as "Laverne and Shirley" and "Three's Company." Don Knotts was in "Three's Company," riding the coattails of his irreplaceable "Barney" character.
Television was much different from today. The shows had to be tailored for as wide an audience as possible - no real "niche" audiences. No one tuned in to "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" to learn anything.
The name "John-Boy" hints at Southern culture. Indeed, "The Homecoming" and the series it spawned are about a Southern family living in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the Great Depression. The father in the movie says at the end that the economic times are getting better. He gives this as a reason for quitting his job which required him to commute. In fact he only came home on weekends. This weaves into the plot as he's late getting home for Christmas Eve.
  
Suspense as family awaits father
The family learns through the radio that there has been a bus accident. Was John Walton aboard? They learn of a death and several injuries. Patricia Neal plays John's wife Olivia who becomes gripped by fears of the worst. It was Neal who recited the famous line "Klaatu Barada Nikto" from the sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still." She appears 20 years later in "The Homecoming," now as the old matriarch rather than the "hot" female lead character.
Am I accurate in saying that women actors face a greater challenge with aging than men? If it's a special challenge, Neal certainly meets it with success. I'm also reminded of the actress Alice Faye who gave us her fascinating "mincemeat" in "State Fair" (the version with Pat Boone and Ann-Margret). Faye was a "hot" actress in "Weekend in Havana" and other earlier fare.
My parents gave me "The Homecoming" even though none of us had ever been especially attracted to the "Waltons" TV series. I imagine they noticed the Christmas theme and thought it would be a nice Christmas gift. I appreciated the thoughtfulness. I watched it with my mother, which was a problem.
An otherwise interesting movie was spoiled, I felt, by the scenes where Neal's character confronts John-Boy over his reclusiveness with writing. More than once she confronts her son in a suspicious way over how he locks his bedroom door. "What were you doing up there, behind locked doors?"
Didn't the moviemaker realize what kind of thoughts this would prompt? What would an adolescent boy be doing alone in his bedroom with the door locked? At least John-Boy would answer the door fully clothed. This might exonerate him. Because after all, the most shameful thing in the world he would be doing, at least in his mother's mind, would be "self-stimulation," otherwise known by the "m" word.
A man should not watch this movie with his mother. Of course, medical science today informs us that self-stimulation is harmless. I'm sure it just seems unseemly, but this is, after all, the way God created us. It was a dirty trick God played on boys, I might suggest.
At movie's end we get the teary-eyed moment where John Walton, having arrived home in triumph, gives a gift of writing tablets to his son John-Boy. The father has no reservations. All is right with the world. No need for the boy to feel reclusive, although I would hope John-Boy would eventually find a real audience. The year is 1933 and in reality, the Depression will persist much longer, contrary to John Walton's comments at the end.
  
The unforgettable Cleavon Little
"The Homecoming: A Christmas Story" is set in Virginia on Walton's Mountain. John-Boy sets out to search for his father on Christmas Eve. He stops at an African-American church and gets help from "Sheriff Bart," I mean "Hawthorne Dooley," played by Cleavon Little, who entered movie immortality as "Sheriff Bart" in the Mel Brooks comedy "Blazing Saddles."
"Hawthorne" presides at a church with minimal amenities. It's a reminder that the Christmas spirit easily overcomes any lack of amenities. John-Boy has run out of gas and needs help. Hawthorne joins in. The two visit the eccentric and charming "Baldwin Sisters" who are known for bootlegging. The sisters don't use terms associated with booze, rather they talk about "The Recipe." John-Boy's mom is offended by them. She's also proud to say she has never bought anything on credit. Boy, that's sure different from today.
"Hawthorne" feels he needs to humor the sisters for a while, before making his pitch for gasoline. Finally, and abruptly, he makes his pitch. What follows is the most touching scene of the movie. The sisters, apparently not in possession of gas to share, come to the rescue with a mode of transportation older than cars: a horse-drawn sleigh. Cars weren't all that reliable in winter anyway in the 1930s. So we see the simple quiet beauty of these people gliding over the snow on a sleigh, evoking the Christmas atmosphere in a most genuine, timeless way.
The group does have to turn back due to a road obstacle. John-Boy takes a gift home from the sisters: a jug that the mother assumes is booze, and she's revolted. John-Boy, exasperated, finally gets a chance to tell her that it's egg-nog! We end up charmed by the Baldwin sisters who use Christmas Eve as a time for reflections, including of lost loves.
The TV series "The Waltons" grew out of the movie, and even the movie had an antecedent. Remember the Henry Fonda movie "Spencer's Mountain?" My generation saw this movie on TV in the 1960s. We cried when the tree fell on the old man. We were charmed by "Clayboy." The movie was from a novel by Earl Hamner Jr.
"The Waltons" watered down many of the adult themes of the 1963 movie "'Spencer's Mountain" which actually wasn't even set in the South. "Spencer's Mountain" was set in the Wyoming Teton Range. The later incarnations of the story are in the Virginia Appalachians.
Maureen O'Hara played the mother in "Spencer's Mountain." I remember listening to a radio talk show that had someone call in and saying the tree falling on the old man is maybe the saddest thing to happen in movie plot history. Quite possibly true.
Cleavon Little's last movie was in 1991. He died way too young at age 53.
  
William Windom plays "Charlie Snead"
Another actor of note in the 1971 "The Homecoming" was William Windom, who today seems not well-remembered. That is a shame. Windom was a prolific actor who played "Charlie Snead" in "The Homecoming." If you look up a plot synopsis of the movie today, not much is said of Windom and his role. The Snead character is a Robin Hood type of thief, delivering a pilfered turkey to the struggling Walton family at Christmas in a manner remindful of Ebeneezer Scrooge visiting the Cratchets.
Windom's character is supposed to be sympathetic. He is eventually apprehended in the movie for such misbehavior. I think in the early '70s, when the egalitarian strain in politics seemed particularly strong, we might overlook a little thievery in the name of helping people. It might be viewed as innocuous even if not heroic. But today? We're in an era now when the traditional rules and conventions of our culture have returned, and theft is an absolute no-no. Not innocuous.
So, today's reviews of "The Homecoming" make little note of Windom and his "Snead" character.
But Windom was a significant actor in his time. He was in two episodes of "The Twilight Zone" in TV's (B&W) golden era. He played "Glen Morley," a Congressman from Minnesota, in the ABC sitcom "The Farmer's Daughter." He landed in prime time TV in the '60s - a sure ticket to immortality - as "John Monroe" in "My World and Welcome to it." I remember that show fondly. He won an Emmy for that. The writings of James Thurber inspired that show. After the series completed is run, Windom toured the country doing a "one-man show" on Thurber.
I saw this show at the Willmar school auditorium in the fall of 1973. I was amazed at how Windom could have memorized so much text.
James Thurber was a cartoonist, author, journalist and wit. Thurber's short stories appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. His writings celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people. He gave us "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." But I'm more intrigued seeing his story title: "If Grant had been Drinking at Appomattox."
William Windom passed away in 2012. A Greatest Generation member, he was a paratrooper in the European Theater of WWII. Oh, his acting career included playing "Commodore Matt Decker," commander of the USS Constellation, in a "Star Trek" episode.
William Windom, RIP. It's just fine that you acquired a turkey in an illicit way for the Walton family.
Cleavon Little, RIP. You gave us boomers a character we'll never forget, who befriended Count Basie in the middle of the desert (in "Blazing Saddles").
  
My overall assessment of "The Homecoming"
"The Homecoming" is a story worth preserving in our collective Christmas memory and sentiment. With its rustic character actors and maudlin sentiment, it goes along with Christmas quite fine. Its pacing is an issue by today's standards. Chalk that up as a plus for the movie.
Take away the cringeworthy scenes of the mother and son confronting on the closed-door business, and I'd give this movie a quite high rating. As it stands, I'm lukewarm.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

MACA boys upend quality BOLD team on the road

Tigers 67, BOLD 51
The Tigers visited Warrior country of BOLD on Friday, 1/31, and came away with their seventh win. MACA assumed a two-point advantage by halftime, 30-28, and outscored the foe 37-23 the rest of the way. MACA improved to 7-11 with this 67-51 win.
BOLD was a foe to be much respected, owner of a 9-5 record coming in. Fans of the orange and black can embrace considerable optimism.
Success came Friday despite some stumbling in three-pointers. MACA put up two of 13 stats here. Eric Staebler and Noah Grove had the two makes. Staebler spurred the MACA winning effort with his 29 total points scored. Grove was second-best on the list with 13 points. Bryce Jergenson put in nine points and Nathan Anderson eight. Then we have Ian Howden with four points, and Andrew Goulet and Jacob Zosel each with two.
Staebler topped the rebound list with his 13, followed by Grove and Zosel each with six. Zosel deftly produced six assists while Grove had five. Zosel and Jergenson each had two steals.
In total field goals the Tigers were 29 of 58. In freethrows the squad batted a thousand at seven-for-seven. BOLD connected on six of 19 three-point shot attempts. Nick Kubesh made four of the 3's, and Tyler Lothert had the other two. Kubesh had six rebounds. Trent Athmann had three assists for BOLD, and Brad Wolff stole the ball three times. Kubesh was the top BOLD scorer with 16 points, while Ethan Weis put in 11 points.
BOLD had just one freethrow attempt and made it. The Warriors were 22 of 53 in total field goals.
 
Wrestling: Big Ole Invitational
The Tigers of wrestling have a long tradition of visiting Alexandria this time of year for a tournament. It's an event that has the "Big Ole" name. The MAHACA Tigers visited Alexandria on Saturday, 2/1, for the 2014 edition.
Strangely, there were several weight classes not manned by Tigers in the event. It's my understanding that MAHACA is blessed by good numbers, so I'm not sure why some weight classes were left open. In the old days when I was "in the loop," I'd know. I don't now.
Christian Athey went 0-2 at the 106-pound class. Then we see "open" next to 113 pounds, 120 and 126. Phillip Messner went 2-2 for fifth place at 132 pounds. Dillan Johnson had a 2-2 afternoon at 138 pounds, good for fourth.
Myles Smith climbed to second place at 145 pounds with his 2-1 showing. Jerid Berning had a 1-2 day at 152 pounds. Danny Tracy, 160 pounds, won two bouts and lost two, a showing good for fourth. Jordan Thooft's 3-1 record at 170 put him in third. The 182-pound class was "open" as was 195. Alex Gausman went 1-2 at 220 pounds, placing fourth.
Jacob Sperr went 1-2 as the "big guy," 285 pounds.
 
Hockey: 7-1 triumph
The MBA Storm boys kicked off February in a classy way, downing Worthington in a 7-1 final.
MBA assumed a 1-0 lead in the first period as Corey Goff succeeded on the power play at 8:22. Worthington answered in the second period as Andy Johnson scored at :19. Bo Olson put the Storm up 2-1 with his power play goal at 5:53, a goal that had assists from Bo Gullickson and Cole Watzke. The score became 3-1 when Watzke put the puck in the net, at 10:32, assisted by Olson and Corey Storck.
MBA continued taking command as this puck contest continued into the third period. MBA outscored their foe from the south 4-0 in the third. Taner Gimberlin found the net at 3:00. Tanner Mikkelson scored at 8:32 with assists from Gimberlin and Lincoln Pahl. Pahl sent the puck into the net with an assist from Gimberlin at 9:12. Olson applied the finishing touch with his goal at 9:36.
Tony Bruns worked in goal for the Storm, out-dueling Alex Purdy.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com