MOVIES, TV and BOOK Reviews (8 April – 10 May 2021)

“Sarah’s Key” (2011) is a superb, affecting movie. The start of its story thread is in July 1942, when the French round up the Jews living in Paris, for deportation into the Holocaust; and this multi-thread story ends in New York City in 2011, with multiple generations of several families critically affected and inspired by “Sarah,” even if they didn’t know her. While plot is certainly important to this movie, it is not the most essential element: the reverberations of tragic history through human hearts is the essence. Kirstin Scott-Thomas leads a first-rate cast. The grinding of the massive impersonal wheels of political power are lubricated in the human blood of countless nameless and forgotten individuals. “Sarah’s Key” is about one such individual recovered appreciatively to human memory.

Sarah’s Key (2011) – Movie Trailer
https://youtu.be/0AmxnNxiNWA

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“The Disciple” is about the displacement in these times, of Classical Indian vocal music, which aims to absorb the conscious meditative mind into the drone of eternity; a traditional form of sound-production stretching back over 1,000 years or more.

It is entirely outmoded for today’s youth-oriented minds that strive to remain at the bubbly sparkly superficial inconsequential level of rapid-fire bursts-of-entertainment threaded by indecipherable torrents of rhymed attitudinally hip couplets riding on bouncy jingles: mega-hits.

I listened to a tribute concert to Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, on the occasion of their being given honorary doctorates in music — which are clearly deserved (craftsmen in any field always recognize who are their best practitioners, and as they would want to be) — and which I give a web-link to.

The polar opposite of this music and video, in: pacing, sound, intent, and concept of temporality, is shown in the film “The Disciple” (the trailer is web-linked). For the devotees of American pop mega-hits, this movie is b*o*r*i*n*g — “a snore” — but if you awaken to the undercurrent of that snore: it is about the dissipation of the drone of eternity by the evaporation of modern consciousness into mega-hit amnesia.

But I never condemn any music, because it all serves a fundamentally important purpose, each such piece being tailored to the needs of the listener and the stratum of consciousness that listener is operating on. Human variety is vast, and so must be the music that instills it with spirit. Any music of quality in its type is of value, because any human life of quality in its expression is of value.

The Disciple
https://youtu.be/uIqAOGM_zZ0

Berklee Virtual Commencement Concert 2021
Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams
[1:23, about Chad and Pharrell; 6:13, begin tribute medley by graduating music students; 18:20, end]
https://youtu.be/_ePTkzYHPxA

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INCREDIBLE! A masterful exposition (by Errol Morris) on one of America’s still-living apex war criminals. The fundamental tragedy in American government is that its most successful careerists all aspire to match Donald Rumsfeld’s achievement in this regard. His close “friends”: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, all did. Americans waking up to, and taking responsibility for, that fact could very well equal the outbreak of world peace.

The Unknown Known
https://youtu.be/J-NSyMTpkYI

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“The Year The Earth Changed” is an excellent new documentary about how Nature — animals, air waters — quickly expanded their ranges and health when we humans retreated into our pandemic lockdown “caves.” Basically: people are mostly bad for all the rest of Nature.

The story is told with spectacular photography of quite amazing animal behavior: when we went into lockdown they came out! It is abundantly clear from start to finish of this hour that the way of reversing biodiversity losses, and slowing the degradation of global climate, is entirely a matter of humanity disengaging from its obsessive hard-hearted and polluting behavior, and instead both relaxing and living in solidarity with all other Life On Earth (including human): Peaceable Kingdom, with deer calmly walking city streets in daylight, and people raising fields of crops for elephants to graze contentedly in the suburbs, and whales sing to each other across wide expanses of ocean untrammeled by mechanical noises.

David Attenborough narrates with his usual charm and elegance. The film literally shows a better version of our world that is beyond the merely possible because it actually happened. We could make that change permanent.

The Year The Earth Changed
https://youtu.be/XswV_yqPq28

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DOGS (Netflix): I have seen the first three episodes of this series so far.

The stories here are really about the improvement of the “man-pack” (as Mowgli called it) by the presence in it of dogs of good character.

1, on medical service dogs for children, explains what a “medical service dog” actually is (a loyal pack-animal friend) and does (lives out his/her pack-bond by watching and protecting you; when the same is done well by humans they call it “love”).

2, transmits the true and horrible reality of the Syrian Civil War, one of the direst humanitarian catastrophes of the 21st century, through the simple story of a good sweet dog relayed by the humans he has touched (on them note: “pack bond,” and “love”), out of perilous Syria and back to his boyhood human companion, now a refugee in Germany.

3, shows an aging Golden Labrador Retriever (my family had a black one when I was as a boy), the stalwart who anchors the affections of an Italian fisherman family facing an uncertain future because of the environmental degradation of Lake Como.

Dogs
https://www.netflix.com/Title/80191036

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“The Day After” is an excellent, intelligent, realistic, and frightening movie about the human consequences of nuclear war. It was made in 1983 and broadcast by ABC Television, during the height of Reaganism and the nuclear tensions provoked by the Reagan Administration.

This film ranks with “On The Beach” (1959) and “Dr. Strangelove…” (1964) as superb cautionary believable tales about nuclear apocalypse. None of these movies has really gone out of date: can you guess why?

Of the three films mentioned here only “The Day After” despite offering the grimmest scenes and lingering over them, leaves a hint for the continuation of humanity and even slivers of civilization; “On The Beach” (my favorite of the three, a film of great humanity) is definitive about the finality of life on Earth; “Dr. Strangelove” (the funniest of the three, if you don’t think too much) leaves with a small and select group of the top U.S. leadership class headed for long term sequestration deep underground. Will they survive to emerge decades later to reconquer the Earth (unless the Ruskies beat them to it!), or will they go mad down in their hole and kill each other by and by?

It won’t matter to the rest of us, all left topside in the fallout. Nuclear War, and now Global Warming could end our beautiful Blue Planet, but they don’t have to if enough people focus their attention on what really matters, and stick with it.

The Day After
https://youtu.be/Iyy9n8r16hs

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“Community” is a TV situation comedy that is basically: gamma-level college as Gilligan’s Island. it is simple mindless American fun, similar though more sophomoric than “A Good Place.” For me, the most hilarious characters are Annie (the Mary Ann equivalent) and Abed (the Professor equivalent). Other humorists here are: Britta (the Ginger equivalent), Jeff (the Captain equivalent), and Shirley (the Lovey Howell equivalent). Chevy Chase, embalmed in the character of Pierce Hawthorne (the Thurston Howell not-at-all equivelent) seems not to be actually acting, in my view; and the Dean and Chang are too hopelessly stupid for my tastes (though I’m sure the actors portraying these caricatures must be highly skilled to be able embody these ridiculosities; too bad bad work pays so well). i watched the whole series, and shamelessly enjoyed it (“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.”)

Community
https://www.netflix.com/title/70155589

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“The Silence of Others” is an intense (especially for me) documentary about the efforts of the survivors of torture and persecution by Franco’s fascistic dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975), to gain justice.

The Spanish state, with many Francoists still ensconced in positions of authority and power, and shielded by the Amnesty law of 1977, resist tooth and nail all judicial efforts to provide such justice for the victims of these crimes, via the internationally recognized (and very little adhered to) judicial principle of universal jurisdiction for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and there being no statute of limitations for prosecuting them.

My father (a Spaniard born in Cuba) had an uncle, a violinist in a symphony, jailed by the Franco regime after the Civil War (he had regained his liberty by the late 1960s).

The Spanish Civil War continues to cast a long, long shadow on the character of Spaniards, and on the character of humanity. And there are too many new reflections of that cancerous fascism flickering on today around the world.

The phrase “never again” should have been blazed on human memory many times in the past, for example searingly in Guernica in 1937, but tragically it never seems to fully catch hold as a guiding principle for human beings.

To my mind, one significant impetus to the eruption of World War II in Europe in 1939 was the failure of the Democracies including the United States to defend the Spanish Republic and stamp out fascism in Spain during 1936-1939. The retreat into nationalist comfort (as today with vaccine nationalism) and their not-so-covert anti-socialist collaboration with the fascists in Spain, Italy and Germany, doomed them to be sucked into the genocidal maelström of 1939-1945. And we are yet not free of that poison.

The Silence of Others
https://thesilenceofothers.com/

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ALSO:

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On “Tales By Light” (season 3), which is superb.

[links in the article]

Human Solidarity and Nature Conservation
11 April 2021
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2021/04/11/human-solidarity-and-nature-conservation/

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Don’t leave the planet without seeing these masterpieces by Jean Renoir, “the Mozart of cinema”:

“Greatest film ever made. Orson Welles said if he could save only one film, this would have been it.”

Grand Illusion | Critics’ Picks | The New York Times
https://youtu.be/rZkrioz5Zc0

The truth about society: everywhere and always.

Rules of the Game, Trailer (Jean Renoir, 1939)
https://youtu.be/qxs4P6u1EiI

See them twice, or more… many times more.

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A seminal song by Lhasa de Sela, a very talented and all-too-short-lived (like Eva Cassidy) singer-songwirter, and world-musc performer. I find this song a bit flamenco-ish (which is good).

Lhasa de sela — El Pajaro
https://youtu.be/3_WcygKJP1k

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Spy Hummingbird Films Half a Billion Butterflies
https://youtu.be/Hq3X60H7aBo

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Interesting blog on modern art:

Art & Crit by Eric Wayne
https://artofericwayne.com/

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BOOKS
“The greatest book ever written on…”

The greatest book ever, period:
History of the Peloponnesian War,
by Thucydides

The most important religious work:
The Upanishads

The most important book on ethics:
Bhagavad Gita

The closest American equivalent to Thucydides
(if that were possible):
Cadillac Desert,
by Marc Reisner

The greatest book on Buddhism:
The Way of Zen,
by Alan W. Watts

The greatest book on Anglo-American morality:
Huckleberry Finn,
by Mark Twain

The greatest book on the American Dream:
The Great Gatsby,
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The greatest book on Man Against Nature:
Moby-Dick,
by Herman Melville

Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby and Moby-Dick tie for the greatest American novel ever.

Moby-Dick is for the Anima, The Great Gatsby is for the Animus, Huckleberry Finn is for the Psyche.

The most unique book that exhausted the possibilities of its style:
Thus Spoke Zarathustra,
by Friedrich Nietzsche

[excerpts: https://manuelgarciajr.com/2021/05/04/from-thus-spoke-zarathustra/%5D

The greatest novel ever:
The Three Musketeers,
by Alexandre Dumas, père

The greatest book on Western Philosophy
by Plato

The greatest work of scientific writing:
[a tie]:

The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein
[physical science],

On The Origin of Species,
by Charles Darwin

[biological science, and as supplemented by the works of Alfred Russel Wallace, in particular “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type,” 1858]

The greatest volume of poetry:
There are far too many poetry books worthy of that title to select just one; and we are very grateful for this.

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Remember:

Great artists funnel a wide range of culture (art, literature, music) through their own personal experiences to produce superior works of art by the use of their skill.

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Movie Reviews by MG,Jr. (14 November 2020 – 8 April 2021)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2021/04/08/movie-reviews-by-mgjr-14-november-2020-8-april-2021/

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The Smoke Rings of My Mind

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The Smoke Rings of My Mind

I landed in college as a green wide-eyed freshman, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (NOT Penn State!), in September 1968. This was an explosive year, to my mind the most pivotal one in the United States since 1945. My dorm room was in a short cul-de-sac second floor hallway of the large antique pseudo Oxford-Cambridge style ivy-festooned stone masonry men’s dorm quadrangle building off Spruce Street.

I felt really good to finally have gotten out of the prison day-camp Catholic boys high school I’d been in for 4 years, and out of the nice suburban North Shore Long Island town my family lived in during my adolescence (before that being in New York City); and I had a brand spanking new draft deferment that I thought would insulate me from the carnage of the Vietnam War, which was at its peak at that time with the Tet Offensive.

In fact, Lyndon Johnson’s televised speech with the surprise announcement that he would not seek reelection in November 1968 happened two days after my 18th birthday, after which I had to troop down to the post office and register for the draft. That didn’t feel too good believe me, because I’d watched the news and read the papers daily all through high school. Those were my “Greta Thunberg” years, 1964-1968: from the Bay of Tonkin con-job and 1965’s Marine invasion of South Vietnam — “escalatio” as Tom Lehrer called it — to Tet, erupting on January 31, 1968, and pulsing through three bloody phases that year; when I was dreading the fucked-up situation the adults were shoving my way (you know: die for us, it’s good for “the country”).

My own priorities were: #1, study engineering so I could become the next Enzo Ferrari and build my own sports cars; #2, find receptive female companionship to find an outlet for my raging testosterone levels; and #3, stay out of Vietnam. I was not wise as an 18-year-old, I was NORMAL, having been instructed about women (“girls” was the pre-feminist term used then) by Beach Boys songs (those cherub troubadours of the white colonial culture of the Occupied Territories of Mexico’s northern part of Baja California) and Sophia Loren movies.

In the decades since then I’ve come to realize how difficult it is for women everywhere, and most certainly in the United States with its huge proportion of knucklehead males, to accept becoming the “second mothers” to so many needy fake-macho lunkheads: pickings for good husbands, mates and sperm donors (drones in the Bee World) can be slim for so many alert and intelligent women.

But, in the fall of 1968 I was feeling good and with high hopes. I burrowed enthusiastically into my school work and got on the Dean’s List. Three of us in our hallway were socially awkward and stayed in at night from lack of alternatives and fear blunting initiative. Besides, all the coeds had lots of upperclassmen to pick from and who owned cars and had money to spend. So, Joe Williams invited two or three of us to listen to his Bob Dylan records (note: using a plug-in electric machine that played vinyl discs to produce recorded music sounds).

Now, I had heard all the pop music of the day every day before that, because I had gone to my somewhat distant high school in a carpool driven by a neighbor boy’s father (a NYC fireman with rank, so lots of time to call his own), in a Ford Econoline van (a very cute unsafe-as-hell design), and Robert (the son) would put on the radio for every trip. Beside hearing it all in this way (the grating falsetto Sherry Baby too, too many times, but the Rascals on “Good Lovin’” was the best), and outside school it was so easy to hear spillover sounds from radios playing everywhere. At home I listened to the classical music and Spanish Zarzuelas (operettas) so close to my heart. So, by September 1968 I knew about Dylan’s hit songs up to that point.

But, Joe Williams said we had to hear Dylan the right way. Joe turned us on to grass: marijuana. We would sit up through the night listening to Dylan’s 1965 and 1966 albums: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde on Blonde.” We laughed our asses off totally stoned listening to “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” — “everybody must get stoned!” — yeah. It was so hilarious to read the “adult” press on this, where the experts saw in this song a deep poetic cry of alienation. Man, the adult world is just one big blivet of puffery.

I had heard all the popular folk music during its period of prominence, which coincided with the Civil Rights movement from about 1961 to its crescendo in August 1963 when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed his dream to the nation and world from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (which is my favorite single building in Washington D.C.), until its triumphs with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At that point Bob Dylan checked out of the topical political protest folk singer-songwriter role he’d mastered, and moved on artistically. No creative person can stand typecasting. Dylan’s early career in pure folk music was masterful, but I wasn’t into folk music. I turned onto Dylan when he went electric. For me a good song has both good words (even poetry) plus lots of really good instrumental music. And this essay is, believe it or not, about that.

Bob Dylan went on tour in 1966, backed by a 5 piece rock band, 4 of whose musicians (except the drummer) were a longtime group that would emerge on their own in 1968 as “The Band.” Dylan was booed at all his concerts in Europe and at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, as a “traitor” to the pure folk music style his earlier audiences had typecast him into. Even his pals Pete Seeger and Joan Baez were put off. Why?

In the late 1930s, Frank Sinatra exploded into popularity because he revolutionized how pop music was delivered to the fans. Earlier singing phenomena, like Bing Crosby, knew how to croon with projection to make up for the deficiencies of the crude electrified public address systems of the times, if one even existed in the halls they sang in. By Frank’s high school years (which he bailed out on) microphones and amplifiers were improving significantly (“modern” hi-fi equipment was finally introduced by RCA in 1941).

Tony Bennett has perceptively pointed out that with this new equipment Frank Sinatra did not need to project, so he “made love to the microphone” and sang in a very intimate style, and which every listener in the dance halls and over the radio broadcasts felt was delivered just to them, person-to-person. The Bobby-Soxers went ape-shit over this, a mega-scale precursor to the Beatlemania of 20 years later.

This is where Frank Sinatra was a pivotal figure in the evolution of broadcast popular music: he had that smooth melting crooner’s voice (and had even taken voice lessons from an ex-Metropolitan Opera vocal coach), he had lovely breath control (much learned from Jo Stafford, listen to her meltingly wonderful “The Nearness of You”) with which to fashion long lingering phrases, and he had that intimate emotional and yet cool even vulnerable at times feeling, which he conveyed so convincingly.

Bob Dylan’s folk music was conveyed to his initially small audiences in just this intimate way. Even without a P.A. system, a non-projective (non-operatic, non-Irish tenor) style of singing was just fine in the always small coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village in the 1950s and early 1960s. And of course, Dylan’s albums from 1961 to 1964 carried his recorded intimate-delivery folk music far and wide.

Now, the American folk music of the early ’60s was nothing like the polished hip big band standards that Frank Sinatra put out, but even at its most angry, and ‘protesty’ and ‘shouty’, the folk music of those years was essentially intimate (think Phil Ochs): it spoke to the personal feelings for and dreams of social transformation in each of the audience members, and with minimal acoustic instrumentation. Those songs were usually not stadium-sized sing-along sonic-boom anthems like Freddy Mercury’s “We Will Rock You,” even though Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changin’,” and “Blowing In The Wind” sort of became ones.

So by 1965, Bob Dylan was typecast by his folk fan base as “their” intimate public voice. But by then Dylan had gotten stoned and was now deep into making group electric music for being stoned. That was the first pop music that could burrow into your stone-cave and light up the panorama movie screen of your stone-mind with its soundtrack — for so many of us lunkhead males, and also for plenty of girls (sorry: women) as I soon learned from direct experience —: the blazing folk-rock of Dylan in 1965 and 1966: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”

The poor folkies who wanted to be aurally cuddled by their post-Beatnik second daddy folksong troubadour wailed about their Big Brother’s abandonment of them. This is where Bob Dylan is a pivotal figure in American (U.S.) broadcast popular music: his was the folk-blues phantasmagoria of proto-rap lyrical torrents cascading out on streams of blazing hot blues-rock electric music that engulfed the newly stoned minds of the emerging adolescent and young adult nymphs, and the innocent drones and satyrs scheduled as cannon fodder for the Vietnam meat-grinder. That was me.

In 1969, I lost my deferment (2S) and was classified as ready for war right then (1A), because of some screw-up where it was reported to the draft board that “my” grades were failures. For those people any boy Garcia was the same person, so I get pegged with someone else’s failure. When I called the draft board to complain about this clerical error, telling them I could send them a copy of my dean’s list letter from the school, the old lady scarecrow on the phone just said to me “once we start the process we just keep going.” Up to 1968, 50% of the Vietnam War casualties among U.S. soldiers were Blacks and Latinos, always sent out “on point” by their white-boy lieutenant platoon commanders ‘leading’ their men, from the rear, into jungle ambuscades (I heard about such things from first hand recollections by Puerto Rican veterans who survived their 1960s in Vietnam).

So I basically lost my mind, desperate to achieve my goal #2 before being done in by a failure to meet goal #3; and I kept up my studies in the hopes of being ultimately able to proceed with my career ambitions to do engineering and science in a creative way, should I survive. I eventually lucked out by getting a very high number in the draft lottery of December 1969, and so I was passed over for being inducted into the U.S. military.

And during those years of 1968 and 1969, I listened to much music designed to accompany being stoned: Dylan, Doors, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and even Crosby Stills and Nash. Janis and CSN were favorites in the girls’ dorms (dorms were segregated by sex in those days, so making an overnight stay involved careful planning and inside help to pull off, like a bank heist caper). I learned much about all this music from the young ladies — all of them far more socially aware than me, keenly informed about pop music, and all very bright — who accepted me into their group company to listen to records at night.

After 1969 I started becoming an adult, but that is another story. Last tip: put Crème de menthe into your bong instead of water, especially helpful with hashish.

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