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).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Movie "Eddie and the Cruisers" (1983) boffo, endearing

Our family got HBO free for a time in the mid-1980s. So I remember "Not Necessarily the News" with the character "Bob Charles" who was the TV anchorman, presenting that parody of TV news. I began noticing some promos for an interesting movie that I had not heard of. What happened to Eddie? The movie asked this question about Eddie Wilson, the leader of a fictional rock 'n' roll band.
Remember when we wondered if Paul McCartney died?
Pop music stars had true idol status in the mid-20th Century. Radio gave us a background of sound. We flipped through vinyl record jackets at the music store. Our stereo record players had "woofers" and "tweeters," remember? They were expensive.
We would have loved "Eddie and the Cruisers" in the early 1960s. The fictional band had its rise and fall just before the Beatles. Pop music was restless and looking for new frontiers. Eddie Wilson could feel what was afoot. Michael Pare was the actor giving us this endearing character.
The movie's quality is underscored by how people my age are thrilled to remember it. The soundtrack is one reason. I rate the movie highly according to any and all criteria. It's probably my second favorite movie, with No. 1 going to "My Favorite Year."
I dusted off my DVD copy recently and played it again. It stands the test of time. Yes, you feel like choking on cigarette smoke halfway through. We hear the ring of rotary telephones. The movie is set in the early '80s with flashbacks to the early '60s. That earlier time gave us the restless, brooding rock 'n' roll emergence. A couple decades later, Eddie's old bandmates are having their past thrust at them. There is a revival in "Eddie and the Cruisers" music. There is also knowledge that the group's last recording, known to be edgy and a precursor, is missing.
A window into music industry
"Eddie and the Cruisers" is very instructive in how the music business works. I smiled as I heard the very raw language of a music business person as he rejected the final recording at the time it was made. These people are so brass tacks and artistically clueless at times. He says "a bunch of jerk-offs making weird sounds." I could have applauded, just knowing how realistic this behavior was.
I also applaud the movie for showing so realistically the germination of a song. We see the poet/keyboardist "Frank Ridgeway" pitching his song "On the Dark Side," which becomes the signature song of the group's first and only album. Actor Tom Berenger has only his feeble singing voice to share this material with Eddie. Berenger sings in a halting sort of way, no sense of beat, making this ditty sound rather pathetic. I could have applauded the authenticity of the moment: I myself dabble in songwriting and realize that my limited talents fail to share any real potential of a song. The pros take over for that. They must be astute enough to judge the raw material with its rough edges.
While Eddie's bandmates literally laugh at Ridgeway's modest presentation, Eddie unhesitatingly sees the potential. The session continues as Eddie teaches Frank the rock 'n' roll beat with its continual accented beats. Frank struggles to internalize this. He is a gifted keyboardist. Rock 'n' roll was highly controversial in the late 1950s if you can believe that. Eddie dresses up "On the Dark Side" with the proper beat and a sharp vocal. Now it sounds like a terrific song.
Eddie's discovery of Frank Ridgeway is a turning point for him. He has found the artist to help bring out latent artistic development. But would the world be ready for it? "No," according to the record company executives, those soulless fools. Eddie is unable to recover from this roadblock at the end. He wants to be "great," not just a well-known pop singer. He reasons that if he cannot be great, there's no point in making music anymore.
The movie climbs beyond its script to give us a sense of real people experiencing real drama.
Criteria for judging a movie
You remember movies like "Gandhi" and "Tootsie," right? But you don't want to remember them. You don't go out of your way to remember them. They are like trivia, whereas any reference to "Eddie" brings a smile and emotions for people my age. I'm 61!
"Eddie" has the bursting world of cable TV to thank for its emergence from obscurity. How could it be obscure? For one thing, this youth-oriented movie had its big screen release in September. Kids were back in school. The movie never found its legs on the big screen. Upon its first release, it was a box office flop. It also got many negative to mixed reviews. I can't believe it. Entertainment has its vagaries. The film was released into theaters on September 23, 1983, and grossed $1.4 million on its opening weekend. It went on to make a paltry $4.7 million in North America. The film was pulled from theaters after three weeks. All the promo ads were pulled after one week.
Bring on the fall of 1984. "Eddie and the Cruisers" pulled a trick that was not unprecedented, finding a new life thanks to changes in how entertainment is delivered. HBO discovered this very shining diamond in the rough. I was intrigued as soon as I saw the promos for the movie. It sounded like a can't-miss mystery story, adorned with rock 'n' roll music to boot. I watched it with great interest and was impressed.
All of a sudden, we learned that the single "On the Dark Side" from the soundtrack album was climbing the charts. Home video added to the new life this movie found.
I have heard it described as a cult movie. This doesn't do it justice. My generation got very attached. Michael Pare nails the role of Eddie Wilson. Interestingly it was Berenger and not Pare getting top-billing for the movie. The only defense of this is that the story seems told from "Frank Ridgeway's" perspective. We can see what Berenger really looks like, in case your only familiarity with him is from the movie "Gettysburg" where he plays General James Longstreet. Longstreet's face was covered by a beard.
Grumpy critics: what's up?
It appears some critics simply got out on the wrong side of the bed when reviewing the movie. Roger Ebert was a disappointment. Should I assume these reviews were written before the movie's Lazarus-like resurgence? Thumbs-down on Ebert for writing "the ending is so frustrating, so dumb, so unsatisfactory, that it gives a bad reputation to the whole movie." Good grief. I think the movie was wonderfully crafted and has an unforgettable storyline.
My only criticisms would be nit-picking. If the movie was a box office failure, there must be reasons that involved more than timing of release. So. . . The movie has an innocence, a Disney-esque innocence, that seems a little misplaced. This is a movie about some hard rockers and their raucous audience. The nightclub patrons drank alcohol. There aren't even any scenes where a parent might not want their kid to watch.
Nit-picking point No. 2: The band members begin re-uniting due to the retro popularity of the band. They act so emotionally close to each other. And yet they seem to have had no contact through the years. I suppose their reunion was supposed to come across as real dramatic.
There are times when maybe the actors are a little too dramatic. But maybe this is deliberate in order to accent the nostalgic quality of the movie. A quality that can make us misty. Fascinating: the movie originally made us nostalgic about the early '60s. Now, it makes us more nostalgic about the early '80s!
All hail "Eddie and the Cruisers"
In the end I was moved by the whole thing. "Gandhi" and "Tootsie?" Those were famous movies but I consider them in the dustbin of cinema history now. (I also remember "Gandhi Loves Tootsie," which was a spoof given us by the old "SCTV," remember?)
I would have zero interest in re-watching many of the most well-known movies of the 1980s. But "Eddie?" People my age pay more than passing attention to the "Eddie" movie and music. The music was incredibly sharp.
"Eddie and the Cruisers" had a second chance on the big screen. Embassy Pictures re-released the film for one week based on successful summer cable screenings and the popular radio single. But inexplicably, it failed again to perform at the box office. The principals in the movie shook their head over this.
Bass player Sal Amato, played by Matthew Laurance, gives the most famous line from the movie. Pleading with Eddie at the end, Sal says "We ain't great, we're just some guys from Jersey." Eddie will accept no substitute for greatness. The studio rejects the album "A Season in Hell."
Here we have another fascinating wrinkle in the story: This edgy music is inspired by the fatalistic poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud committed "artistic suicide" at age 19, putting aside poetry and living in obscurity for the next 20 years.
I'm in league with Brad Furman who directed "the Lincoln Lawyer" and "Runner Runner." Furman says "Eddie" literally changed his life as a kid. "One of the greatest movies ever," he said.
I know exactly what he means. Adding to the mystery of what happened to Eddie, we have the mystery of why the movie couldn't cut it on the big screen. I would like to know Furman's thoughts on that. As a songwriter I definitely understand rejection and humility in the arts! But I stick with it.
Art can rise unexpectedly
"Eddie and the Cruisers" is certainly a reminder of how certain artistic works, e.g. "It's a Wonderful Life," can catch an unexpected break. "It's a Wonderful Life" is not a classic movie and wasn't received particularly well when it was current. I can see why: the storyline is dreary and breaks down where the bad guy just gets too bad: "Potter" doesn't even return someone's money when he knows it got accidentally misplaced. We have all misplaced something valuable in our lives. We needn't be reminded of it. But "It's a Wonderful Life" absolutely catapulted back to the forefront due to being in the "public domain." This was at a time when the number of TV channels was rapidly expanding, and some networks were reaching to simply fill time. We were misled into thinking this movie was a certifiable classic. It was not.
We can also be reminded of the Three Stooges and how they had a whole new chapter of fame due to 1950s "kiddy TV." "Eddie and the Cruisers" found new life as a movie that just didn't catch on via the initial format, but exploded with the right nurturing on cable TV. Wow!
To heck with "the Golden Age of Hollywood." That's a myth, that the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney era was never to be repeated in terms of film vitality. Look at your typical DVD dispenser at the local grocery store or McDonald's: We're in the Golden Age of film right now!
Berenger gushes when asked about "Eddie and the Cruisers." He says the script was "superb." He continued: "It was haunting and it was about two things: New Jersey and music and rock 'n' roll and bands and that life. Very haunting and super nostalgic." (I guess that's two things.) Laurance says "I've now had these amazing experiences of people talking about that movie even now."
And that speaks volumes. It's more than you can say for "Gandhi" and "Tootsie."
Director Martin Davidson was very nervous about whether Pare would come across as authentic and moving as "Eddie." Quite logically the movie hinged on this. Pare was reportedly discovered as a chef at a New York City restaurant. I have to believe there was more to his discovery than this. Anyway, Davidson did not coddle Pare. A rumor grew that Pare might be jettisoned. Here, David Wilson, the actor playing the drummer, came through a la "Jimmy Chitwood," the basketball star character from "Hoosiers." Wilson went to Davidson and said "if you bag Pare, we're all going."
Davidson admitted he put Pare through hell. Pare's lip-syncing was judged perfect. If the movie was like boot camp to Pare, he emerged with flying colors.
Ebert did not like the ending of the movie. Maybe he's referring to how Ridgeway and "Joann Carlino" seem to easily give up the most-sought old tapes to "Doc," the band's seedy manager. My goodness, these tapes were worth a fortune. However, the very end of the movie was spectacular in how it moved us. We see townspeople in a main street type of scene, in the cliché pose of watching TVs from demos in a store window. A news piece on the group "Eddie and the Cruisers" is wrapping up. We see close-ups on the screens of an intense "Eddie" from his heyday of stardom. Then suddenly: the climax. We see the bearded Eddie of the present time, alone and shrouded in the blackness of night. I consider this one of the most moving scenes of all-time cinema.
They say that art should be judged based on the emotional reaction of the viewer. Based on that criterion, the movie "Eddie and the Cruisers" is a total classic. I got goose bumps when "Sal" was in his dressing room (early '80s scene), talking with Frank, getting emotional and seeming to suggest there was no real closure about Eddie's death. Few movies put me through feelings like this. I'm sure my baby boomer brethren shared my reaction.
The actors made us care about the characters.
Movies come and go but "Eddie" stays lodged in our mind.
Another angle not to be overlooked: There is within us all a longing or a curiosity about what it would be like to just withdraw, to assume a new identity around different people and "start over," unencumbered by any past baggage. This movie touches that part of us.
This is the longest blog post I have ever written. That says something. Let's raise a toast to "Eddie and the Cruisers."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, August 22, 2016

Movie "Capricorn One" (1977) bathes in conspiracy

Boomers grew up thinking space was "the final frontier." William Shatner intoned that theme of course. "Star Trek" was just a TV show. Such stories spring from our imagination. The real exploration of space is pretty halting and limited. All those Apollo flights with Walter Cronkite's dramatic voice got us thinking that space exploration was going to be this far-reaching future endeavor. It seems remote in a time capsule now.
Speaking of time capsules, remember Watergate? I have suggested in the past that young people be spared a study of Watergate. It's too embarrassing. We have an impulse to laugh about it: that incredibly complex web of deceit, misdirection, mendacity etc.
There are dots to be connected between the U.S. space program and the dysfunction of government. If we can't trust government, can we trust what we're told about our space efforts?
Remember the Apollo 11 moon landing? It was an event of spectacular importance. There were almost no witnesses. The only verification of it all was from a TV camera. TV is an extension of Hollywood in the sense it's a dream factory. TV can create a world we want to believe. It's an elixir taking us away from our mundane concerns/worries.
We watched as television news never really conveyed the horrors and folly of the Viet Nam war in its early, escalating stages. The media did the bidding of government. Up to a point. We came to our senses belatedly.
TV gave us lots of simulations about what was happening with a particular space mission. Peter Hyams watched these stories and began to wonder: what would happen if someone faked a whole story? Hyams began developing the script for the movie "Capricorn One" in the mid-1970s.
It was 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. We had been dragged through endless headlines about the unraveling Nixon administration. Why couldn't someone "in the know" have just come forward and disclosed everything? Democracy has its weaknesses. Nixon was not commander in chief at the end. Had he tried to issue some sort of military directives, such directives would have to go through other parties. And yet we put such effort into electing a "commander in chief."
We wonder if Donald Trump would be allowed to issue military directives directly. Nixon could not have deployed nuclear weapons on his own - he would have had to go to Henry Kissinger. We wonder if any president really has his/her finger on the proverbial nuclear button. And if not, are the most significant military decisions really in the hands of unelected people? Government stooges? People who engage in turf protection as a primary aim?
We learn that the Challenger disaster (which happened on my birthday, incidentally) happened because NASA was nervous and impatient due to competition with the Defense Department for future contracts.
Maybe in light of all this, an elaborate, notorious conspiracy is really not such a reach. So here is how I introduce Peter Hyams' movie "Capricorn One." This movie sprang right from the loins of Watergate. We have to shrug helplessly as government pursues all its shady machinations.
"Capricorn One" is the first manned mission to Mars, in this cinematic story. The three-man crew includes a guy played by O.J. Simpson. Simpson does his job fine despite our impulse to diss his acting. Simpson plays "Walker." James Brolin plays "Brubaker" and Sam Waterston plays "Willis."
"Capricorn One" is on the launch pad. The bewildered crew gets removed and whisked to an abandoned desert base. NASA has determined that a faulty life-support system would have killed the astronauts. The crew is now asked to help counterfeit the television footage. They balk. But they are threatened that their families would be harmed, make that killed! The three guys fake the Mars landing from a studio at the base. A mere handful of government officials are pulling the strings in this quintessential conspiracy.
A technician gets suspicious. He disappears. In the meantime, he has shared shreds of evidence with - you guessed it - a newspaper reporter in the mold of Woodward and Bernstein. The two famous Watergate expose reporters were really just stenographers for "Deep Throat" Mark Felt, the FBI guy who was motivated by turf battles and jealousy in government. The heroic reporter in "Capricorn One" is played by the ubiquitous (at that time) Elliott Gould.
I didn't find Gould's character really credible. "He protests too much," or something like that. As motivated as Woodward and Bernstein were, they were consummate professionals throughout, never getting invested on a purely personal level. The Gould character gets earnest in a purely personal way. Reporters realize that facts are the only impressive weapons, certainly not one's emotions. Gould's character is named "Robert Caulfield." He starts getting attacked.
Our story continues with the three astronauts getting put on a plane, apparently to be taken to a spacecraft, but the plane turns around. They get a whiff of what is about to happen: they'll be killed. Any evidence of their survival would reveal the hoax. They're able to escape in a plane which soon runs out of fuel, so our heroes are out in the desert, where their adversary now is two government helicopters pursuing them. They walk in three directions.
Only "Brubaker" survives. The reporter's investigation leads him to the desert. He finds evidence of the astronauts' presence. He comes upon a crop-dusting pilot - a precursor to "Independence Day" LOL - and a search of the desert is undertaken. Brubaker is rescued from those sinister guys in the helicopter. I increasingly got irritated by those faceless, anonymous, automaton-type government people who so relentlessly did devious things. Did Watergate really depress our standards so far, in terms of what we can expect of government behavior?
Our standards in music had been taken over by disco in the year of this movie: 1977.
Speaking of ubiquitous, there was Telly Savalas as the crop-dusting pilot. Those government helicopters chase Savalas' plane but. . .they're blinded by crop spray! Randy Quaid couldn't have done any better.
Triumph at the end: Caulfield and Brubaker arrive at the astronauts' memorial service, a la Tom Sawyer. The conspiracy is revealed! Government fails to pull the blinders over us! But it's depressing to realize the depths to which government people will go, and I'm talking about Watergate.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, August 15, 2016

NDSU's short-lived media rights rules: crass

Dean Bresciani, NDSU president
Historical background for NDSU mess
Chris Matthews bemoans the time when so many young people started feeling they had to major in "business." I think that was about when I was in college. Previous to that, students were attracted to fields where they did truly deep thinking. They might probe theology or history. My generation was the altruistic one, the one that felt it essential to crusade on matters related to our general well-being, i.e. stomp out war, poverty and racism.
And yet the seeds were being planted for the ethos of today. The ethos of today is one of greed and self-centerdness. Now that I've said this, fingers get pointed: I'm naive and unrealistic about life. If we don't get paid a certain amount for every bit of labor we expend on something, we're foolish and unrealistic.
Bernie Sanders challenges on this. Why can't the broad public make sure that young people attend college without picking up an unreasonable debt burden? Why not eliminate the college debt completely? Oh, but we're not expected to get something for nothing. It is immature to suggest that the contrary could be true, it is said.
"Business majors" started taking over the world. These are young people who have wrapped their arms around systems that maximize profit. Of course, maximizing profit can mean learning how to take advantage of people (i.e. screw people). We have the exhibit of the 2008 financial crisis. We seem to have learned little from that.
My generation seems to have largely taken credit for the "tea party." I knew that term would be discarded in due time. It was. Our self-centered and materialistic ethos caused our impulses to degenerate so far, we now have Donald Trump as the candidate of one of our two major parties. It used to be that Republicans were conservative but also believed in governing. Governing means reaching compromise and consensus with your fellow lawmakers sometimes. Those who fashion themselves as conservatives just want to throw bricks around now. Thomas Frank calls this "the wrecking crew," the name of a book he wrote about what happens when conservatives get enough power to really hold forth.
North Dakota State gives us case study
There's a nice current case study of what happens when business majors are allowed to assert themselves. It comes to us from North Dakota State University, that bastion of academia in the vast barren reaches of North Dakota. Actually it has a football program that can beat our U of M Gophers. So does University of South Dakota in Madison. I couldn't have imagined this when I was a kid. NDSU feels its oats by being able to come to the Twin Cities in Minnesota and vanquish our "beloved rodents," as Patrick Reusse refers to our Gophers.
NDSU has developed a sense of really needing to market its product or its "brand." Beware of these whipper-snappers who come into an organization talking about "brand" and "branding." It's another buzzword like "tea party."
Remember when our U of M-Morris had a football program that really impressed people with its "brand?" That was before we would have used the word "brand." UMM reached the heights at one time. Then things unraveled. We remedied that by joining a bottom-tier conference. Seriously, I think everyone is happy with UMM athletics now. But it's not a product with marketing potential. NDSU indeed feels its oats and it protects a product that presents real value. It's just that those business major types have gotten carried away.
A recent episode in Bison country can be viewed as Exhibit 'A' of our excessively materialistic contemporary ethos. Everything has a price. A news article dated July 29 announced that NDSU was putting new restrictions on media access for Bison athletics. The official spokesman for this was a guy whose title is director of sales and broadcasting. "Brrrr, scary," Count Floyd of the old SCTV would say.
We've got a sales specialist calling the shots. This guy, Jeremy Jorgenson, has the proper jargon down on what he was attempting to foist on North Dakotans: "We're just trying to protect our rights holders and protect ourselves," he continued, dropping the 'B' word: "We've grown so much that we need to protect our brand."
The news report went on to list a whole bunch of dispiriting restrictions imposed on media outlets that do not have NDSU broadcast rights agreements (i.e. outlets that didn't fork over the money to the school). My, those deprived outlets wouldn't even be allowed to do one-on-one interviews with the head football or basketball coaches on radio, TV or Internet in season without the written consent of NDSU! Media outlets must request all interviews with these coaches and all players 24 hours in advance, the guidelines stated.
Hold up a mirror, maybe?
Maybe we, the public, are at fault, going to the trough to relish the sport of football so much. We are waiting for our attitudes to change about this, just as we waited patiently for the day when smoking would be disallowed in all public places.
It is amazing that NDSU has risen to the level where it could show such chutzpah. My generation when young paid attention to the U of M Gophers. We could not have cared less about what happened in places like Fargo and Grand Forks. If we were to even play those schools, it would be as faux scrimmages in pre-season. Now we can lose to them, while at the same time our U falls into scandal after scandal and fritters away what appears to be huge amounts of money. What's wrong? Doesn't the U of M have "business majors" watching over things?
Well, our financial crisis of 2008 happened in spite of more than one generation of "business majors" having crept into the world. These are guys who master "the deal." They are also forced in many cases to take "ethics classes." Why are formal studies in ethics needed? You should just grow up with a proper grasp of right versus wrong. You should just go to church. Go to church potlucks and have red Jello.
The July 29 news report from Fargo shared that "limiting some media opportunities to their media rights holders allows NDSU the opportunity to earn more money in return."
A very prompt reversal
On August 2 there was another news report. Hoo boy, I would have loved to be a fly on the wall as all this transpired. We can be relieved that good triumphed over evil (or stupidity). In other words, those "business majors" got put in their place. Let's hear it for theology and history majors. Let's hear it for non-smokers.
NDSU cut to the chase in the first sentence: "North Dakota State University athletics' controversial rules that would have limited access for media outlets that didn't have a deal with the university will be rescinded." Those "deals" will be buried and light will be let in.
NDSU President Dean Bresciani directed the athletics department to ditch the guidelines it issued days earlier. He wasn't informed in advance of the guidelines, the university said. Holy mackerel. We have a little institutional dysfunction here. Certain people aren't going to be on speaking terms for a while. The head of the university with his basic sense of wisdom, outside of business classes on the campus, hesitated not a bit asserting his judgment.
Bresciani said "I was profoundly disappointed when I learned the facts about this issue. This is not the way NDSU treats local journalists and our many loyal fans who value the breadth of news coverage NDSU enjoys. As the state's land grant university, out commitment is to access and inclusion in all endeavors."
The athletic director apologized. Matt Larsen said he "regretted the damage this has caused to the administration, institution and university community."
The broader question
Maybe the day will come when the public turns away from football, realizing we cannot sacrifice the health of so many young men just for our entertainment. We'll turn our backs, hopefully, the way we finally came down on smoking. As I have written before, maybe a sport that is too dangerous for girls is too dangerous for everyone.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if so few students came out for football this fall, our University of Minnesota-Morris could just eliminate the program? We may not be quite there yet.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, August 5, 2016

Cable TV coverage of campaign simply drones on

The amazing Donald Trump, "performer as politician."
I remember a syndicated cartoon from when the baseball players had their extended strike (or work stoppage) in 1994. One man says to the other: "Think of all the time we've wasted when we could have been watching baseball." You get the point.
Similarly, I have spent many hours consuming cable TV news over the last few months - an outlet that ought to be enriching compared to the alternatives - and am starting to bemoan it all. We get up in the morning and begin consuming more talk about Donald Trump.
It all started as a weird novelty. Jeb Bush proclaimed there was no way Trump would be the Republicans' nominee. Therefore he wouldn't even answer hypothetical questions about it.
We watched perplexed as day after day, this curious carnival barker type named Trump stayed at the forefront of the news. We all became amateur psychologists. We heard talk about "the two Americas."
The tea party was a disturbing novelty. Mitt Romney got taken down by that phenomenon called "the conservative entertainment complex" - term coined by David Frum. Frum wrote a whole E-book about this. If I could find it online and read it for free, I would. That complex appeals to impulses in many older Americans who are having trouble keeping up with changes in our society and world.
Now Trump comes along like a snake oil salesman articulating many of the same fears.
Balance or expediency?
Day after day we are inundated by Donald Trump coverage. We see panelists on TV who we sense are going out of their way to be polite to the Trump element in our society. They do this to ensure that they project "balance." After all, so many people voted for Trump in the primaries. His absurd statements and contradictions have not caused his balloon to deflate, at least not much. It hasn't deflated to where we could anticipate his exit from the race soon. If a big enough insurgency develops in his own party, such an exit might be possible, but would the candidate do it willingly? If his poll numbers collapse?
Will it be worse than Goldwater? Barry Goldwater was a reasonably sound politician with a decent mind. Trump seems to have sprung from the vacuous entertainment world. The objectives of entertainment and politics are at different poles.
Part of the problem with the "conservative entertainment complex" is that it is indeed entertainment. It's not constructive journalism. A responsible politician "sells" sound government, putting together a coalition that will keep constituents reasonably satisfied. So what if it's a sausage-making process sometimes? Trump sells his own charisma with a style that is bombastic and appealing to those people who always grumble "throw the bums out." It's a nice little cliche but not helpful.
Trump is a performer as politician. He's quite comparable to George Wallace but without the pure Jim Crow baggage. A former wife of Wallace said "he doesn't want a marriage, he wants an audience." Trump actually isn't given enough credit for his sheer performance abilities. I wonder if this comes naturally to him or if he has worked and been coached in it. Imagine being able to stand up and have an arena audience in the palm of your hand. Jeb Bush would be boring. Jeb is certainly not inferior in terms of intelligence - the opposite is probably true. But he doesn't have the gift of sensational oratory like Trump.
Some say we need a true businessman as president. Nice try, but government has little in common with business. In government you provide services without regard to making a profit. The American people need another Democrat in the White House, a person who believes in the possibilities of government to help people. The Republican Party has enough power across the various states. Republicans have enough power to put the skids on lots of things. Jeb Bush has in fact proclaimed that we need to "abolish Medicare."
OK, show your hand. . .
If Republicans get enough power, would they really be willing to see abortion outlawed across the USA? Would they really be willing to follow through on this, or have they just been using anti-abortion rhetoric to keep a certain portion of their base loyal, eating out of their hand? Republicans like to say things that appeal to the so-called evangelicals. I would suggest it's mere posturing, that on most of these issues, the Republicans are really pretty indifferent about whether anything gets done or not.
The only true aims of Republicans are these: lower taxes and fewer regulations. I would suggest that neither of these goals are to be understood at face value. Republicans are expected to brag about lower taxes but they realize that government coffers need money. So they allow fees and fines to shoot up. Governor Tim Pawlenty did this in Minnesota. So we see more and more traffic tickets issued by law enforcement with steadily higher fines, to the point where it's truly onerous and has little to do with public safety anymore.
We have certainly seen this in Morris MN. One might well be tempted to sell your car and walk, but police would then probably find excuses to accost you when you're walking. When I was a kid, police just ensured "order." They used more discretion. They knew who the bad actors were in any community. If you weren't a bad actor, the police were not likely to get unpleasant with you. I remember the cop in the Steve McQueen movie "The Blob." He comes upon some kids out for a lark and instantly he knows who all their parents are. Cops don't think like that anymore. They issue citations. They generate revenue for the state.
Michael Moore has described the Donald Trump candidacy as "the last stand of the angry white man." He says "our male-dominated, 240-year run of the USA is coming to an end." We're likely to see a woman become president, on the heels of a non-white man. Non-white? Obama is half-white. Why do we describe him in terms of his non-white element?
Was Richard Nixon conservative? He campaigned as such. Nixon was really just interested in power. He helped make Title IX reality. That's what opened the door for girls playing sports on equal terms with boys. The Republicans of today who appeal to that "conservative entertainment complex" would never go along with this.
Today we see Beyonce featured at the Super Bowl with her cadre of black women with fists raised. And we're on the cusp of seeing a woman become president. White men have been looking up to a non-white president for eight years - of course he's half-white - and now we're on the doorstep of having a woman president. Trump speaks for the rage of a certain element of older people, male especially, who feel overwhelmed by all the change, e.g. the idea that transgender people should use their bathroom of choice. What would Norman Rockwell think of this?
Day after day I tune in to the same cable TV news programs and the beat goes on, increasingly redundant, increasingly making me feel as though I'm just wasting my time.
Watch the financial markets
I would suggest there's one big reason why the Trump balloon keeps sailing: the financial markets have not yet been affected. This is a big wild card in the whole scenario. So is the impulse of many people to just do something illogical or disruptive in the privacy of the voting booth, like us Minnesotans did in electing Jesse Ventura. Trump is walking volatility in terms of his potential effect on the financial markets. We have been yawning and inattentive about how fragile the markets can actually be. Take care.
I'll have to try to withdraw from all the redundant cable TV news coverage of the campaign. I might get more fulfilled watching "Everybody Loves Raymond" re-runs.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, August 1, 2016

Movie "Angels in the Outfield" (1951) a wonderful story

Maybe Earl Weaver should have heard from some angels. Weaver was a rival of our Twins when we were in the Harmon Killebrew era. He could put up such a fuss. Had he not been a rival, I probably would have liked him. He had one of the greatest all-time pitching staffs to work with. Multiple 20-game winners. It was the days before "setup men" and "closers" stepped into their roles, helping ensure that all those guys could preserve their pitching arms.
Did the Orioles have angels helping them for the 1969 and 1970 divisional playoff series? Those were the first two years of the divisional format in baseball. Just look at the kind of roster our Twins had. We were awe-inspiring in the regular season. Rod Carew sprayed hits all over the place. So how come we collapsed so hopelessly in the divisional playoffs? We were swept by the Orioles and Weaver both seasons. There seemed to be utter despair in the air as our Twins attempted to be competitive vs. the Orioles.
Perhaps the Orioles had "angels in the outfield." Weaver was the kind of blustery manager that celestial forces might try to straighten out. Yes, he was temperamental.
It was Ike's favorite movie.
"Angels in the Outfield" is the name of a 1951 movie that I have always considered a favorite. It has a light, upbeat and innocently reverent air that characterized many movies in the immediate post-World War II years. A similar movie is "It Happens Every Spring," made two years previous to "Angels."
The movies both had Paul Douglas in a primary role. He played catcher in "It Happens Every Spring," a movie in which a professor uses a special substance to doctor the baseball and make it unhittable. Major league baseball did not cooperate with this movie - after all, it had to do with cheating. If only baseball's problems could stay this minor. I'll assert: "It Happens Every Spring" is a light escapist fantasy, period.
A constructive brand of Christianity
Along came the movie "Angels in the Outfield" which had no problem presenting Christian faith and prayer as an antidote to many of our kills. The original "War of the Worlds" movie came out in 1953 and was similarly unabashed. We ought to turn to Christian faith. After all the tragedy of WWII - death on an unspeakable scale - it seemed benign and appropriate to put forth the best of our Christian faith.
We live in a more diverse world today. Hollywood finds it untenable, generally speaking, to put out movies with such a theme today. Christianity on a broad scale seemed more innocent and innocuous in the 1950s. Today we have the so-called "evangelicals" who can seem insulated and bigoted. I'm not sure, frankly, who these "evangelicals" are. Is it just a convenient term for the media? I go to a church with "The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America" (ELCA). But we certainly don't fit the current perception of evangelicals.
1951's "Angels in the Outfield" stars Janet Leigh along with Paul Douglas. It's based on a story by Richard Conlin. A young female reporter blames the Pittsburgh Pirates' struggling on their Earl Weaver-like manager, "Guffy" McGovern. McGovern begins hearing the voice of an angel who promises to help the team if he changes his ways. I'm touched by the fact that this movie was "Ike" Eisenhower's favorite movie. No one saw more WWII tragedy than "Ike." I'm sure the movie's faith-based optimism was uplifting for him.
The voice of the angel belongs to James Whitmore. (Whitmore always promoted himself as doing the same job as Spencer Tracy only for a cheaper price!)
The angel speaks for the Heavenly Choir Nine, a celestial team of deceased ballplayers. Our Halsey Hall in Minnesota, the iconic voice through the '60s and '70s, would cite the "Celestial All-Stars" when noting the death of a beloved ballplayer.
The Pirates are rescued from their losing ways by the angel and his celestial mates. It's a "miracle." McGovern has his own obligation to meet, if he wishes such good fortune to continue: he must back off from his abrasive and foul-mouthed ways. Hollywood never presented profanities at that time, so the "swearing" comes across as gibberish. Don't we all miss the taboo on swearing sometimes?
Through the eyes of an orphan child
The Pirates climb into the pennant race! A charming young female orphan enters the picture. This eight-year-old claims she can see the angels helping out the Pirates. Bridget White is wholly emotionally invested in the Pirates. It was her prayer to the Archangel Gabriel that prompted the angel to visit "Guffy."
Oh, and now we have a newspaper writer enter the picture. This is Jennifer Paige, a "household hints" expert. Paige brings the little girl's claims to the whole public's attention, nationwide! A bad guy broadcaster named Fred Bayles gets woven into the plot. He's played by Keenan Wynn.
The climactic portion of the movie is where the Pirates take the field with the pennant at stake. I was so touched by how McGovern decided to put faith in an old, somewhat washed-up pitcher named Saul Hellman. McGovern has learned from the chief angel that Saul will be signed up soon for the celestial team (i.e. he'd die, of course). As all this develops we see the heroic threesome of McGovern, White and Paige develop a feeling of family. Surely they will live happily ever after.
Hellman hangs on to pitch a complete game and is carried off the field ceremoniously. McGovern looks up, addressing the chief angel, and says "You're gettin' a good man." 
I was amused when the angel finally gets frustrated by the Keenan Wynn character and finally addresses him, pulling Wynn's cap down over his eyes in the process. "Why don't you just shut up." I can just see President Eisenhower smiling.
We see Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio interviewed about the angels during the movie. We see Bing Crosby who actually was part-owner of the Pirates (15 percent). We see Barbara Billingsly in her pre-TV fame days. The future June Cleaver plays a hat check girl at a steak house. Billingsly might have gained even greater fame in the movie "Airplane" as the woman who could translate "jive." ("Shit" meant "golly," remember?)
The baseball action shots in "Angels In the Outfield" are quite authentic, most filmed at the real Forbes Field. Baseball had no problem cooperating with this movie. We see the "Kiner's Korner" inner fence in left field. We see the very prominent Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning in the background.
Bruce Bennett plays Hellman. He never played baseball but he was in the 1926 Rose Bowl and won a silver medal in the shot put in the 1928 Summer Olympics.
Put faith in children, indeed
"Angels in the Outfield" is a wonderful story of love and forgiveness in the same vein as "Miracle on 34th Street." We are reminded that young children have more understanding of the spiritual side of life than adults. We have much to gain from listening to children. The characters grow from opening their minds and hearts to the insights of a young girl. Far better than contemplating more war.
McGovern wonders who the angels were in real life. He recites some names of old-timers as of 1951, who by today's standards are super old-timers, those curious guys wearing the baggy uniforms and using the skimpy gloves. We wonder how good those very old-timers were, if they could take the field with players of today. There's no way to know. They didn't have to compete with African-Americans.
Hall of Famer "Pie" Traynor appears in a cameo toward the end of the movie. We see a player wearing No. 4 hitting a home run, and this is none other than Ralph Kiner himself.
McGovern lives in an apartment with the number "316," probably no coincidence since John 3:16 is the most quoted Bible scripture.
Earl Weaver, RIP
Earl Weaver has gone to his reward. He's kin with the fictional "Guffy" McGovern. Earl earned his praise. We just wish the Twins could have humbled his Orioles a little. We needed those "angels."
In the '90s we saw a remake of "Angels in the Outfield" but it bore no resemblance to the original, to my disappointment. I won't say it was a bad movie. It had a political correctness angle that chafed at me a little. We see the heroic African-American character who takes kids under his wing, while a deadbeat motorcycle-riding Caucasian dad doesn't give a rip. Anyway, I cherish the original "Angels in the Outfield" as I'm sure many others do.
"Ike," you had good taste.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com