Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction

How should world society respond to the approach of human extinction compelled by implacable external forces, such as: radioactive fallout after a global nuclear war (as in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach), or an alien invasion by a species of technologically superior beings from outer space, or an impending collision between Earth and a massive planetoid, or (as seems most likely today) by runaway and irreversible Climate Change?

The general question has long been the seed for spinning out entertaining speculations in fantasy novels and science-fiction movies, but now it has become a serious matter of immediate concern for an increasing number of geo- and social- scientists and social planners. Mayer Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, says (in an article published by The Guardian on 26 April 2018, https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention):

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so. — I’m not going to write anymore [about the projected consequences of runaway Climate Change] because there’s nothing more that can be said. — With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport [instead of automobiles] is almost irrelevant. — We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on. [Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100 when discussing scientific predictions on the increase of average global temperature.] This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What?, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to Climate Change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical. — Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return. [Action by individuals to limit their ‘carbon footprint’ – their direct and indirect production of greenhouse gases is] as good as futile. [National action by the UK along the same lines is also irrelevant] because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero-carbon it would make almost no difference. — [The world as a whole would have to go zero-carbon, but can that be done without the collapse of civilization?] I don’t think so. Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families? — Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown. — [Few scientific, political; and religious leaders have been honest with the public on all this, in order to protect their own positions] I don’t think they can [be forthright] because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels. — [Can the now obvious signs of advancing Climate Change spark an epiphany in humanity’s collective mind, and cause it to relinquish its ultimately self-destructive fossil fueled binge?] It depends on what we are prepared to do. Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Now, let us consider the 2017 American movie Downsizing, given this context.

Downsizing is an intelligent and, by American standards, subtle cinematic science-fiction social satire about the individual’s problem of securing sufficient wealth to comfortably sustain their lives in a secure cosmopolitan community for the duration of their lifespan. This movie was conceived by Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor, and directed by Payne who has numerous successful movies to his credit: Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013). Downsizing was not well-received by the majority of the viewing public because it is a film about ideas, thus requiring thinking for its enjoyment, as opposed to being a cinematic delivery vehicle for emotive sensations and jolting stimuli to provide passive unthinking viewers with 135 minutes of thrilling distraction.

The central pit in Downsizing, around which the screenplay and the screenwriters’ implied social commentaries have been grown like the flesh of a stone-fruit, is that science has discovered a process for harmlessly shrinking living cells and organisms, enabling humans to be reduced to Lilliputian size so that their existing savings and equity in the “big world” can economically sustain them in lifetimes of luxury in the “small world,” because their “ecological footprints” – both for consumption and waste production – have been miniaturized. The attraction for “getting small” is basically a get-rich-quick scheme leading to an endlessly sustainable high-life coupled with the pleasurable sense of eliminating one’s big-world guilt over contributing to Climate Change and the environmental degradation of the planet, which is caused by its “overpopulation” with “big” capitalist-minded, wasteful and exploitative people. In brief: having it all.

The problem with making an expensive ($68M) artful cinematic work whose purpose is to stimulate thoughtful societal awareness – if you want to recoup your investment – is that you have to market it successfully to the masses of cinema-viewing yahoos. Downsizing was released on 22 December 2017, and as of 1 February 2018 (its theatrical closing) had only grossed $55M. It just didn’t hit the yahoo g-spot, and they hated it for boring them.

The “lesson” in the screenplay of Downsizing, which was delivered in a clear sedately-paced and understated way (which I like), is that the solution for achieving fulfilling individual lives in peaceful and comforting societies is for the people of such would-be societies to take care of one another: popular humanitarian socialism. Regardless of whether a society enjoys being situated in a natural or artificial paradise and is economically secure, or whether it is environmentally and economically stressed and doomed to extinction, the best that it can ever be for all of its inhabitants during its duration is entirely the result of its peoples’ commitment to construct mutually fulfilling lives of cooperation and compassion, instead of seeking to escape – from the masses of the less fortunate – into exclusive refuges and redoubts of enclosed privilege to continue with lives of egotistical self-centeredness and selfish indifference.

This message is ancient. It was part of the Buddha’s “Triple Jewel” teaching to his disciples and fellow monks and nuns (the Sangha), to ‘take care of one another’:

I will go to the Buddha for refuge.
I will go to the Dharma [the teachings of Buddha; the Buddhist way of life] for refuge.
I will go to the Sangha [harmonious community] for refuge.

The Buddhist sense of ‘taking refuge’ expressed here is not a running away from the rest of the world, but a commitment for living a truer life within it, based on Buddhist precepts.

There have been many book and movie stories centered on the idea of: individual fulfillment found through mutual help for securing group survival if possible, versus seeking individual escape from group peril, and from guilt over abandoning responsibility. Three such stories that came to my mind while pondering the movie Downsizing were the films: Lost Horizon (1937), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Zardoz (1974).

Lost Horizon is Frank Capra’s film of the James Hilton fantasy novel about Shangri-La: a fabulous and peaceful Buddhist-style refuge from modern society and its torments, situated in a life-extending green valley that is hidden within the otherwise frigid and snowy expanse of the high Himalayas. But, can Shangri-La truly be an escape?

The Day the Earth Stood Still is Robert Wise’s movie of Edmund H. North’s screenplay of Harry Bates’s story of an alien ambassador, Klaatu, and his all-powerful robot, Gort (with a heat-ray beam-weapon dematerializer), who arrive in a Flying Saucer to deliver a message to humanity from an alien Federation of Planets: live peacefully on Earth and join our Federation as an independent planet, but do not militarize space with your rockets and nuclear bombs, because we would take that as a mortal threat and then our space-patrolling robot police, like Gort, would “reduce your Earth to a burned-out cinder.” Humanity’s escape to the good life, which is offered in this movie fantasy, would be achieved by forsaking war-making in all its forms to instead gain the advanced knowledge and technology of Klaatu’s interplanetary civilization, and that technology would vastly enhance the quality-of-life of the popular humanistic socialism that humanity would have to adopt as its new social paradigm.

Zardoz is John Boorman’s film about a far future post-apocalyptic immiscibly stratified static society that is suddenly ruptured by violence against its tiny elite, which results in a complete blending of humanity and a rebirth of human evolution. The Eternals are non-aging humans who live in a paradisal community, the Vortex, bubbled from the external misery by invisible force fields, and containing advanced endlessly-fueled hidden technology that automatically maintains the Eternals’ unending and idyllic existences. All the fruits of humanity’s previous achievements are now maintained in the Vortex, but the Eternals are all bored with their immortal lives of effortless omniscience and leisure. The vast expanse of the Outlands beyond the Vortex is a wasteland inhabited by the Brutals, people reduced to being isolated dumb animals without any civilization or social cohesion, scrounging through the wreckage of the previous world for each individual’s survival. Among the Brutals is a horse-riding semi-organized militia of enforcers, the Exterminators, who receive guns from Zardoz, a god in the form of a huge flying stone head that orders the Exterminators to enslave defenseless Brutals into chain-gangs to perform rudimentary agricultural labor, or other such work as mining, as might be required to supply the Vortex with what its denizens desire. The Exterminators punish any infraction and every failure by a Brutal – however trivial – with instant death by gunfire. The Exterminators, all men, also exult in their power and preference by their god, Zardoz, by freely raping and pillaging among the Brutals. Zardoz tells them: “The gun is good.” It is the hobby and amusement of Arthur Frayn, one of the Eternals, to carry on the charade of being Zardoz (piloting the stone head, and supplying the Exterminators with commands and cascades of firearms). It happens that through an instance of Arthur Frayn’s carelessness one of the Exterminators, Zed, manages to get into the Vortex and once there evolves despite an oppressive captivity, from Brutal ignorance to Eternal knowledge, and this leads to the complete and violent death of Vortex society, and transfiguration of humanity. The movie Zardoz is a dark – black – analog to the much gentler if still subtly sharp Downsizing.

The essential lesson of responding to the approach of a destructive inevitability beyond your society’s power is to engage in compassionate cooperation to make your society as good as it can be for as long as you and it can be made to last, and to find your life’s fulfillment in doing so.

This idea is captured visually so simply in the last moments of Downsizing that it remains invisible to the majority of the viewing public. And so our fractious collectivity cruises onward, untrammeled, towards its willfully unexpected collision with fate.

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Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction
30 April 2017
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/30/societal-death-or-transfiguration-cinema-visions-of-humanity-facing-extinction/

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Of related interest:

The Righteous And The Heathens of Climate And Capitalism
12 March 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci43.html

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Superheroes Require Mega-Victims

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Superheroes Require Mega-Victims

During the Roman Empire
crowds flocked to the Colosseum to see
their favorite gladiators kill many disposable victims,
so these fervent fans could experience
an ecstasy of entertainment
and fantasize about being would-be heroes
of glorious combat followed by popular acclaim.

In the American Empire
crowds flock to the big-screen Colosseums to see
their comic-book superheroes kill mega-evil super-villains
who kill many disposable victims,
so these fervent fans can experience
an ecstasy of entertainment
and fantasize about being would-be heroes
of glorious combat followed by popular acclaim.

Our bipolar dualities of superheroes and super-villains
require the mega-deaths of innocent mega-victims
– both real and imagined –
so our patriotic gunmen,
whether in police, the NRA, militias, or just lone sociopaths
– all in their closeted secret fears –
can fantasize about being would-be heroes
who will one day kill a bad guy and blaze to glory
to the ecstatic popular acclaim
of the telescreen-mesmerized masses
jammed into our handheld and big-screen Colosseums.

The reason we have so many guns in America
is because we have so many frustrated ignorant people.

21 February 2018

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Anti-War and Socialist Psychology Books and Movies

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Anti-War and Socialist Psychology Books and Movies

On 24 November 2017, Amanda Almanac McIllmurry posted a request for: “Any suggestions for ‘socialist’ psychology books that are easily digestible [for a young student interested in becoming a psychology major]? Also, any suggestions for books with a leftist analysis of the military, which a teenage boy that’s super into the idea of joining the Army could read” [and reconsider such a choice.]?

Here, I have pasted together my various answers (from 27 November 2017 and 22 January 2018) to Amanda’s query (which I think is very important).

ANTI-WAR:

“Dispatches” (1977) by Michael Herr. This book was called the best “to have been written about the Vietnam War” by The New York Times Book Review; novelist John le Carré called it “the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time.” Michael Herr co-wrote the screenplay to the movie “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) by Stanley Kubrick. (See the wikipedia article on “Michael Herr”). I would also recommend the movie “Sir, No Sir!” (2005) about the anti-war movement (resistance!) within the armed forces during Vietnam War. You can find it on-line. The ultimate anti-war movie of my lifetime is “Hearts and Minds,” (1974), which is a masterpiece by Peter Davis (and won an Academy Award in 1975!). You could ramble through my huge web-page called “Haunted by the Vietnam War,” which is on my blog (manuelgarciajr.com), and which lists many links to books and videos (and probably gives links to the movies mentioned here).

“All Quiet On The Western Front,” a classic of 20th century world literature, and also made into a great movie, starring Lew Ayres (a pacifist). Another world-treasure movie to put you off war is Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion.” Both these movies are from the 1930s, when the bitter memories of WWI were still very fresh. Since both are masterpieces, they have been restored in recent times, and look and sound good (and on DVD). Modern movies that could put you off war are MASH (1970), but it has so much humor that some might miss the anti-war basis of the film (I sure didn’t in 1970!); and “Full Metal Jacket” by Stanley Kubrick (about the Vietnam War), but the violence in it might be a bit too much for the young. For Americans today, I think the all-time best anti-war film is the documentary “Hearts and Minds.” It is THE BEST film about the Vietnam War, and was released in 1974, while the war was still in progress. I just saw it again a few weeks ago; incredible. What is so compelling about it is that almost all of it is the telling of first hand experiences of soldiers who survived (not always intact). It just so happens I took a Vietnam Vet friend of mine to the V.A. hospital today, for a pre-op medical visit. There were numerous patched-up survivors of military “service” (use) in the hallways. For a combination of humanizing psychology and overt anti-war basis, see the movie “Captain Newman, M.D.,” (1962) which stars Gregory Peck, Angie Dickinson, Eddie Albert, Tony Curtis, and Bobby Darin (in an amazing performance). Capt. Newman tries to heal soldiers from PTSD, and he hears about what gave them PTSD. Once “cured,” they’re shipped back out into action. This is a great film, a total anti-Rambo.

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SOCIALIST-PSYCHOLOGY (E-Z):

This is harder for me to find. Reading numerous titles by Chomsky, Balzac, Alan Watts, Hannah Arendt and C. G. Jung would be a bit much for a teenager or young college student. I would suggest “Man’s Search For Meaning” (1946) by Viktor E. Frankl, one of the supremely inspiring books of the 20th century – easy to read, yet causes much thinking; written by a psychiatrist based on his personal experiences in survival. I wrote an essay on this idea of “socialist psychology” and survival, called “Epiphany On The Glacier,” which is also posted on my blog. I give references to a number of books (including Frankl’s) that helped me present the main concept. My essay is presented as an adventure story of survival in the snowy wild.

The psychology book I enjoyed most is more of a philosophy-autobiography book, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” by Carl Gustav Jung. It’s not hard to read, nor too long, nor preachy nor text-booky, and it has the virtue of being quite different than the usual orthodox psychology books. But I can’t say it’s overtly leftist, though it is intended to be very humanizing. I, personally, found it fascinating and have read it several times. With Jung, it helps a lot if you also have a very strong interest in Taoism and Buddhism (and Asian philosophies, generally).

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The photo is of John F. Kennedy’s grave in 1964. I took this photo while on a class (school) trip.

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ADDENDUM (17 June 2018):

ANTI-WAR FILMS:

What are your favorite anti-war films? Such movies are focused on showing the harm, damage (physical and psychological) and stupidity of war, and are intent to deglorify war, and turn the audience against blind patriotism and war-making as “solutions” to political and international conflicts.

Anti-war movies are NOT movies that use war situations JUST TO:

(1) present stories of adventure and heroic personal actions (almost exclusively of violence) by attractive, sympathetic and “patriotic” characters;

(2) show dramatic and exciting stories of admirable personal endurance, survival and self-sacrifice by individuals trapped in situations of overwhelming danger (though this particular variety of war movie can approach being fully and openly anti-war);

(3) be patriotic morale-boosters for “your side” during a war (or before an anticipated war);

(4) entirely be comedies that use war situations as the settings and backdrop.

Anti-war movies CAN have elements of: adventure, heroism, “exciting’ violence, stories of personal endurance and self-sacrifice, and comedy, but they cannot be conventionally patriotic, and the center-of-gravity of these films must be fully and overtly the anti-war intent. All war films use war in an effort to make commercially successful mass entertainment, but true anti-war films are intentionally using film-making art to motivate a mass audience to be deeply anti-war, anti-violence, pro-peace, pro-diplomacy, and to divorce patriotism from unthinking jingoism, belligerence, violence and obedience to militarism.

The following is a list of movies I see as anti-war (18+, listed chronologically). They vary, some being very grim while others are very comedic, yet all are full-fledged anti-war films (to my way of thinking). I recommend them all and would be interested in your comments about them, and also about other films you would nominate as committed anti-war movies.

All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)

La Grande Illusion (1937)

Lost Horizon (1937)

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Paths Of Glory (1957)

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

On The Beach (1959)

Captain Newman, M.D. (1962)

The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966)

Catch-22 (1970)

MASH (1970)

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)

Hearts And Minds (1974)

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
[“Redux” is an expanded version, and I prefer it.]

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Sir, No Sir! (2005)

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“On The Beach” is a post-apocalyptic (nuclear war), end-of-the-world novel written by British-Australian author Nevil Shute after he emigrated to Australia. It was published in 1957. The novel was adapted for the screenplay of this 1959 film featuring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire.

The “answer” for the best way to face certain doom is the same answer for how to gain a fulfilling life and create a good society: helping and comforting one another, and having compassion for all. Because this movie shows this clearly, it has not aged even by 1 second – we could learn from it now. SEE IT!!

https: // www. youtube. com / watch? v= EMzEWpKKOZs
[close the spaces to spell out the functional web-link]

 

 

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My Favorite Classics

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This article originally appeared as:

My Favorite Classics
30 July 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci51.html

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Books

•   History Of The Peloponnesian War (~411 BC), by Thucydides (English translation by Rex Warner, Penguin Books)

A coolly analytical and psychologically probing account of the 5th century BC war between Athens and Sparta. War is the continuation of politics by violent means. Thucydides’s insights on the hows and whys of war and rebellion: democracy devolving to demagoguery, subversion, mutiny, revolt, atrocities, revolution, conquest, dictatorship, alliances, balance of power, foreign intervention, hegemony, and overreach, are timeless. This is a book for the ages.

•   The Three Musketeers (1844), by Alexandre Dumas (English translation)

This sparkling novel is the combination of a hero tale of a young man vanquishing opposition to gain an honored place in society, with a friendship tale of men bonded by “one for all and all for one” while maneuvering around the political intrigues of their nation’s first minister and shadow ruler, to maintain their personal honor and rescue that of their spoiled and indolent royal patrons, by relying on their valor and swordsmanship. Glorious.

•   The Brothers Karamazov (1880), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (English translation)

This is a passionate philosophical novel about the moral struggles and ethical conflicts erupting through the love affairs, hunt for wealth, spiritual quests, cognitive dissonances, and crimes of the three (or four) Karamazov brothers and their dissolute father; and an expansive intricate meditation on the fracturing of the medieval Christian mysticism of the Russian psyche impacted by 19th century industrialization, and the seepage of rationalism and nihilism in through the fissures. Epic and probing.

•   Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn (1884), by Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Mark Twain wrote that “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience,” and Huckleberry Finn is “a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.” Because of his innate good character and his beneficial friendship with Jim, an escaped slave, the adolescent Huckleberry Finn comes to see black slavery and its enabling racism as morally wrong despite their being treated as upright and legally essential to American society, by the white adults of his time. This is the quintessential American novel, scintillating and funny, still fresh, still relevant, still controversial.

•   The Rebel (1951), by Albert Camus (English translation of L’Homme révolté by Anthony Bower, Vintage, 1991)

This book is a philosophy of politics exploring the idea and attitude of rebellion throughout European history. Once you rebel at allowing a particular injustice to continue, you become increasingly open to rebelling against the continuation of other injustices. This expansion of rebelliousness as a consequence of increasing awareness of injustices distinguishes the archetypal socialist from his opposite, the archetypal Tory, whose mind shuts out sympathy to remain focused on the personal association with privileging power. Allowing increased awareness of injustices to expand your rebelliousness against the powers that are indifferent to them, or cause them, brings you into community with the bulk of humanity: “I rebel, therefore we exist.”

•   The Way Of Zen (1957), by Alan Watts

A book of organic completeness, elegant clarity, and absorbing calmness on the historical development of Zen Buddhism, and the expression of its practice through the arts and as a personal attitude. Buddhist insight about the human condition emerged from Hinduism, unfolded with breathtaking expansiveness as the Mahayana school, spread from the Indian subcontinent throughout southeast Asia and north past the Himalayas to Tibet and China, where it combined with Taoism to produce the Chan Buddhism of the Tang Dynasty, and spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Japan as Zen Buddhism, the thoughtless direct experience of enlightenment. Refreshing.

Music

•   Le Nozze Di Figaro (1786), music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte

The Marriage of Figaro is an effervescent comic opera on the wiles of the servants Figaro and his fiancé Susanna to thwart the philandering intent of their master, Count Almaviva, which threatens their wedding and their prospects for continued employment, as well as grieving Countess Almaviva. After a day of madness, all ends well. Da Ponte’s witty and politically clever adaptation of Pierre Beaumarchais’s play is spirited along by Mozart’s gloriously frothy and tuneful music, a masterpiece of art.

•   Variations And Fugue On A Theme By Handel, Opus 24 (1861), solo piano music by Johannes Brahms

Brahms invented a little Baroque theme for the piano, attributing it to George Frideric Handel, and then spun a glorious series of variations on it. Every tempo and musical mood is encountered here, from sparkling songbird-like warbling one could imagine in a Rococo landscape as painted by Watteau, to the ponderous pulsations of the dark lower depths of the collective unconscious of late 19th century Europe, when God died giving birth to psychology, Marxism, evolution, and quantum physics.

•   La Bohème (1896), music by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacoso

The second half of Act 1, when Mimi and Rodolfo meet and fall in love, carried along by waves of the lushest romantic music ever composed, which swirls and swells through arias (Che gelida manina, and Sì, mi chiamano Mimì) and duets (O soave fanciulla) of wondrous melodic lyricism, can lift an appreciative listener out of the deadening banality of the routine, gladdening the heart and flooding the mind with the intrinsic beauty of life. The entire opera is a cascade of music as effulgent as the splendor and heartache of love itself.

•   Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (1956), vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, orchestra conducted and arranged by Buddy Bregman, songs composed by Cole Porter

Cole Porter’s tunefully witty songs seem to say all that can be said about living and loving in the modern America that burst out of the 1920s and raced through a turbulent 20th century. Ella Fitzgerald was the unparalleled jazz and American popular song vocalist of that century. With Ella, the words are always so clear, the emotion so simple and direct, the voice so pure, warm, radiant and natural, and the song is always perfect.

•   West Side Story (1957), musical conceived and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, film version (1961) produced and directed by Robert Wise

Romeo and Juliet replayed in 1950s Upper West Side Manhattan, a musical theatre production with high-energy singer-dancers giving life to lyrics, music, and dance that are too cool to be classical, too classical to be pop, and too with-it to ever get old. In this retelling of the tale, Romeo Montague is a Polish-American boy, Tony, whose family-of-the-streets is the white boy gang, The Jets. The Juliet Capulet here is Maria, a Puerto Rican girl who, along with many thousands of her people, has migrated from the Island, and whose older brother leads a gang of Puerto Rican turf defenders, The Sharks. It is vivid, taut, rhythmic, and moving.

•   Morrison Hotel (1970), words and music by The Doors (Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore)

The flowering of the Baby Boom generation out of its 1960s adolescence and into its first golden years of adulthood was, for many American boy-men of the time, hammered back into itself by the oppressive demands for conscript warriors and national treasure by America’s Vietnam War. I was one the war was reaching to pull in. For me, the intensity of the cognitive dissonance between experiencing the expanding consciousness of maturing youth, awakening to the many possibilities of a long and fruitful life, yet simultaneously confronting the implacable colossus of Death intent to absorb me immediately by war, is captured by the rock and roll and blues music of this unrelenting album by The Doors. Spellbinding.

Films

•   The Maltese Falcon (1941), by John Huston, with: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr.

Unraveling a good yarn based on Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel of the same name, The Maltese Falcon has a taut screenplay unreeled at a fast pace, memorable characters, wit, mystery, suspense, action, and a hero possessing an admirable toughness of character. An unequalled American film classic that is impossible to duplicate.

•   Casablanca (1942), by Michael Curtiz, with: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson

The greatest Hollywood movie ever. Why? Because it is about the triumph of character despite the selfish desire for love, and despite the onset of dark times with corrupting ideologies. In this story, a very regular and emotionally-damaged guy comes to realize that maintaining an incorruptible character is his greatest asset. From this, he can redirect his life into a principled fight against the evils of his time, and find fulfillment in that choice even with no guarantee that he and the other defenders of decency, freedom, and human dignity will be successful, or that he will survive. But, we know he will.

•   The Big Sleep (1946), by Howard Hawks, with: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Sonia Darrin, Charles Waldron, Elisha Cook, Jr., Bob Steele, Louis Jean Heydt

A tangled detective story based on Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name, unraveled in a most fascinating way, with lingering ambiguities, and accompanied by many witticisms, spasms of action, and numerous instances of exquisitely-sexual repartee. Perhaps having a future Nobel laureate as one of the screenwriters (William Faulkner) helped produce a film that rewards endless viewing. This is the ultimate hard-boiled detective story, “it has all that the Falcon had, and more.”

•   Seven Samurai (1954), by Akira Kurosawa, with: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Yukiko Shimazaki

This cinema masterpiece appeared nine years after Japan’s devastating defeat in the Pacific War and at the start of its four decades of amazing economic growth. In this film, Kurosawa and his collaborators looked to Japan’s past with new postwar eyes and hopes focused on the future. This film’s vitality reflected the resurgence of Japanese society, remembering its cultural wisdom and capacity for endurance as embodied in Zen and samurai traditions, while reinventing itself into a late 20th century Asian Tiger economy. The film itself has a wonderful screenplay, visually stunning photography (Kurosawa shone lights into mirrors and onto faces to make them glow, and dyed the rain black sprayed by fire trucks); and the pacing never falters whether in quiet and intimate scenes, comedy, expansive and majestic scenes, or during the fury and chaos of battle. “This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourself.”

•   Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), by David Lean, with: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, José Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit, I. S. Johar

This is an epic about an Englishman’s romance for adventure ripening into bitter wisdom, by being subjected to the furious heat of desert warfare waged against Turkish artillery and mechanized forces during World War I by Bedouins with handguns on camelback. It is also an epic about “the great game,” the unprincipled schemes of European imperialists to gain control of the sources of the world’s petroleum, and of the related struggles by “the natives,” the many poor, dark-skinned populations living atop subterranean deposits of fossil wealth, to gain their independence. Finally, it is a story about love through companionship, and of the psychological scarring caused by rejection. This film is a glorious widescreen color epic with lush and rapturous music, and a stupendous cast with each member playing his part perfectly. Magnificent.

•   The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), by Richard Lester, with: Oliver Reed, Faye Dunaway, Christopher Lee, Michael York, Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay, Simon Ward, Geraldine Chaplin, Jean-Pierre Cassel

These two scintillating films are the two halves of the perfect “Three Musketeers” movie. Originally intended to be shown together as a two-part epic, they were released as two separate movies a year apart because of a clash between contractual obligations to exhibitors, and the difficulties of completing the editing of the final product. These films follow Dumas’s novel reasonably closely, for which we are thankful, and the wonderfully written screenplay includes some inventive flourishes that help move the action along briskly and give the films their verve and kick. Oliver Reed at his peak embodies the character of Athos (an unmatched portrayal in my opinion), Faye Dunaway plays the malevolent Milady de Winter with delicious guile and enchantment, Christopher Lee is a superbly menacing Comte de Rochefort, Richard Chamberlain has finally given us a cinema Aramis with the wit of Dumas’s original, and the rest of the cast all play their parts delightfully. For those who love The Three Musketeers, this film is a joy for the ages.

Enjoy!

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