Altmanesque

DATELINE: Great Director Documentary

A biographical film on the life and work of Robert Altman uses a touchstone word, “Altmanesque,” as the word asked of all his most famous stars. Their inarticulate explanations may reveal more about the paucity of their vocabulary than about the notable filmmaker in the simply titled Altman.

He began TV work on schlock like the Whirlybirds,but learned the craft.

A man who never caved in on his principles, he was fired from movies and TV shows regularly for extending the bounds: he was thrown off Combat and Bus Stop.Those episodes look tame today, but were shockers of moral depravity back in the early 1960s.

When he confounded Jack Warner by having overlapping dialogue during an argument between two actors, he was banned from the studio. He did not play by silly rules, and today those rules look so silly that we laugh about it.

Altman had tremendous loyalty too, and often worked with the same actors. He was an actors’ director more than anything else: putting their ease of delivery at the top of movie success.

His most famous movies were twists on the usual genre, like Western film, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, or fantastic Brewster McCloud. MASH put him on the box-office straight and narrow. He went up and down, always interesting, but not until 1990 and The Player did he wake up the movie world.

His Oscar was honorary for a lifetime of achievements, but his films were variable, so different that each became the favorite of different people.

 

 

 

 

 

Jack the Tailor of Beverly Hills

 DATELINE: You Are What You Call Yourself!

 Clothes Make the Man!

Upon first coming across a one-hour documentary on a fashion store in Beverly Hills, we thought it was one of those vanity documentaries, produced by its subject. Jack Taylor was a 90-year old high fashion artist from old Hollywood days.

The film is a tad old, with Taylor gone in 2016 and his main supporter, Mike Douglas, a decade before that. Yet, we are always eager to catch up on our past misgivings.

Jack Taylor hardly needs publicity, and business is dying out as his A-list celebrity patrons pass away. He would soon follow and take an era with him. He was the man who tailored all those magnificent suits worn by Cary Grant from the 1930s till his death. Grant would order a dozen suits at time.

We wondered if there were any celebs who’d go on camera for a commercial appearance—and there were plenty of men: Mike Douglas, Hal Linden, swore by Jack Taylor. Monty Hall wore a different outfit every show on Let’s Make a Deal, all created by Taylor.

He made clothes for Elvis, Sinatra, Charles Bronson, and so many men. He was not easy either. He would tell them not to eat or put on weight. His suits were meant to show them off at their best shape. His most obstreperous client was Jackie Gleason who needed 3 sizes, because of his weight changes over weeks and months.

Taylor would tell them to eat only half the plate at the restaurant. He did not do alterations, or sew the suits. He has a 60-year tailor for that: he has worked for Taylor for sixty years. He’s in his 80s. But both lament there are no tailors any longer.

We are looking at the extinction of men’s fashion. There was no endangered species list: men’s suits and ties were dinosaurs when the political landscape changed its pants.

Clothes for men nowadays are off the rack at best, and China imports at worst. Jack Taylor knows his world of well-dressed men is fading away. He thinks the 1940s were the last gasp, but the war killed it at that point. And, the 1970s turned into a fashion death knell for men’s clothing with jeans and t-shirts as the extent of wardrobe.

We never expected to be fascinated at expensive clothes, being a recluse who never makes public appearances. However, celebrities still know a good suit is essential, but they are going to have a hard time finding anyone to replace jack Taylor.

Caricature King

DATELINE:  The Line King

Hitch by Hirsch: we couldn’t find Nina.

 Al Hirschfeld likely hated being considered an artist who was a cartoon caricaturist. He was much more, and only in recent years after a 70-year career is he receiving his due.

Hirschfeld is the titled The Line King  in this fascinating and surprising documentary. It divides his life and career into decades from the start of the 20thcentury. He lived well past 90 and was active until the end.

Hia works are notable for the gimmick “Nina” name of his daughter that need to be located—and in multitudes, counted. It was another device that seemed to lessen his artistic reputation, though it is a clever indication of how bright his mind always was.

He started out sculpting and doing watercolors, but those did not sell. He worked in early movie studios, under Selznick and Mayer, sketching all the great comedians. He knew them all, too, including Chaplin who rescued him from poverty when he was in Bali without funds.

The Line King learned about people daily, and his wisdom emanates in every segment that relies on interviews he gave.

What a brilliant man—and many stars, like Katharine Hepburn, bought his works and offer glowing testimonials to his insight.

He never tried to be cruel. When he did his most nasty version of David Merrick, the Broadway producer bought the original and put it on his annual Christmas card.

Hirschfeld did all his work in his little office sitting in a barber’s chair, his idea of comfort, and worked seven days a week. He never had a contract with the New York Times until his last years—and he was more important to Broadway and film than the critics.

If you wanted a seminal insight into every great performer and his work, you need only consult a Hirschfeld sketch. Absolutely brilliant and the film is too.

 

Social Skills Bite the Dust

DATELINE: Curmudgeon’s Perspective

Role Model: Heidi’s Grandfather

Leave it to the New York Times to write up a report that one hideous side-effect of the coronavirus is that social skills are biting the dust.

Yes, apparently people are not using their social skills and are losing the edge in dealing with other people in a variety of ways. They are cranky, depressed, short-tempered, and in fact are becoming Heidi’s grandfather, that old isolated reprobate who hated kids. The new paranoia mistrusts everyone.

As an old curmudgeon who has been bilious for years, this is amusing to no end.

Meeting new people has never been high on this writer’s list, but apparently many in society thrive on socializing. We can offer a few tidbits of advice to those who are snappy at stay-at-home children and grandparents: try to use good manners.

It’s a concept in short supply in the new century and has been endangered for decades. Intolerant, impatient, people have shrugged off etiquette in the 21stcentury like toilet paper they cannot find in proper quantities.

Your good manners may be more important than toilet paper or hand sanitizer.

According to expert psychologists, this is a biological problem because the species is a social animal. We think that rats trapped on Antarctica might also turn on each other. Psychologists have learned these lessons from studying hermits, like this author, and from isolated people in various self-imposed quarantine.

The world had better learn how to deal with fewer social skills if you plan to fly to Mars and live in an enclosed environment with a few colleagues for years on end.

We may, in fact, be preparing for the next stage of anti-civilization: when we are schizoid, alone with our thoughts, and must come to grips with philosophy concepts you avoided in college classes and Phil 101.

 

 

 

Humming a Tune

DATELINE: Tiny Speedster

 

The littlest birdie in the world is the hummingbird, and you have David Attenborough ready to spill the beans in the heartbeat in this documentary from 2012 called, Hummingbirds.

When in flight, their hearts beat around 1200 beats per minute. When they sleep at night, they go into a suspended animation that leaves their hearts beating 40 times per minute. It takes them half an hour in morning to wake up—and they are prime choice for predators in this condition.

They must eat every fifteen minutes to keep their prodigious lifestyle. Besides flower nectar, they go after little bugs. They avoid bees whose sting could kill them.

These remarkable mammals are the fastest, smallest, and most amazing of creatures: they came about ten million years after flowers and adapted to become the cold morning pollinator. Insects could not do the job.

The hummingbird also is the most acrobatic flier in the world: he can fly backwards and upside down, unlike any other bird. Though they seemed to be most closely tied to South America and Brazil, they moved into the Andes Mountains soon thereafter—and a micro-version went to North America.

They must eat every 15 minutes to keep up their energy, but there are so many mysteries about how they live, no scientist can say for sure.

They migrate thousands of miles to Texas each year—and then must fatten up to make a flight across the Gulf of Mexico where there is no rest, no food, and no information on how they do it.

But this film is stunning for the beauty of the birds that have iridescent feathers that explode in color when they are combative. Slow motion photography grants an opportunity to see what is too fast for the human eye normally.

 

 

 

 

 

Kennedy Dynasty Undone

DATELINE: Last of the Kennedys in Mass.

As a long-suffering liberal Republican in Massachusetts, it is with shock that we have observed the end of the Kennedy dynasty. When a Kennedy cannot win a senate seat in this state, then the entire political family is on the endangered list.

Oh, we trace our ties to the Kennedys back to when my father was asked in 1945 to join the Kennedy congressional campaign. Young JFK wanted all the young military officers of his district to come on board. My father met him at the local church hall and told him he never stood a chance of winning.

So much for one family predicting the fate of another.

 

When I was a kid, my father took me to a parade near Bunker Hill when Senator JFK was riding in an open car. My father called to him as he went past: Kennedy recognized him, pointed a finger and laughed. I was quite impressed as a kid that JFK knew my father and snickered at him.

Now I am pointing finger at the grandson of RFK, the red-headed twinster, Joe III, who appears to have chewed more than he bit off.

Joe Kennedy may be out of politics after today. Or perhaps, like Abe Lincoln, a defeat for Congress will make him more attractive as a presidential candidate.

The pundits claimed young Joe was too eager and made a mistake in challenging Ed Markey, an absentee powerbroker in the old -ashioned pol sense.

We had hoped to make up for a family omission by voting for Joe in the general election (as we are not part of the Democratic primary voting list.

Now that apology to the Kennedy family from my progenitors will be put on hold, perhaps for another time, but my vote may not be there in the next campaign.

Yep, it’s the end of another era.

 

 

UFOs: The Secret History

DATELINE: (well, not so secret)

Be Still, My Earth.

Though it is billed as having new information, it really has only a new and amusing perspective.  The film is irreverent in many ways, through use of movie clips and the laconic narration of its clever director.

We are happy to report that, unlike many cheapskate directors who save money by doing their own voice-overs, this director is actually a fairly good voice and speaks with intelligence and drama. David Cherniak directs with aplomb. He also led the film for the recent look at Bob Lazar in late middle age, revisited. Don’t hold it against him.

UFOs: The Secret History  is indeed a history, but with few secrets. It does have a plethora of marvelous clips from classic sci-fi films as part of its narrative.

His hilarious insights that are new include the notorious “pelican” theory that Kenneth Arnold in 1947 actually saw pelicans flying in formation at 1700 mph and called them saucers.

Yes, a scientist tells us this with a straight face.

When it comes to more serious matters, director David Cherniak still chooses photos that are unusual, not ones you’d see on Ancient Aliens. He does give us a a fresh take on Orson Welles, Roswell, Project Grudge, and the usual litany of UFO incidents that brought us to a wholesale government coverup.

He also plays on the notion that seeing UFOs was psychological, part of the J. Allen Hynek approach, which was code for saying the viewer of such events had a psychological problem. Even Hynek was turned into a buffoon over “swamp gas.” Well, yes, being called a nutcase is distressing.

One turning point is hardly secret: abductions of Betty and Barney Hill of New Hampshire, the template for lost time and sexual abuse by space creatures.  There is no secret about the Travis Walton case, but it grabbed worldwide attention, as did the appearance of elderly Jesse Marcel who was at the Roswell crash in 1947, blowing the whistle.

If there is a secret here, that may be the hybridization plan of aliens to take over the Earth in subtle fashion by genetics. Oh, that secret…

 

 

 

 

 

Unidentified Finale, Part 2

DATELINE: Biting Audience Hand

 Elizondo

The series may smell its own doom and climbs out of the box in which it has placed itself for two seasons:  instead of video footage of UFOs, the show switched to alien abduction stories.

Lou Elizondo calls abduction of Americans an “act of war,” and an attempt to regain audience support. Like John Casey on World War 2 Gold, Lou Elizondo may be pushing out his costars. He takes the reins completely in the final two shows of the season.

The victims of close encounters are all, of course, former military non-coms who have retired and now are willing to speak their stories. Nearly all are serving at nuclear facilities when they had their bad meetings and missing time.

At least one witness adds a new wrinkle: that the UFO was gaseous with no sharp edges and had changing colors. The witness was left with odd burns from the encounter, but military tests are never shared with him.

These vets often mention black-outs and sleep paralysis.

Host Elizondo talks to one expert, Dr. Susan Clancy, who completely shreds and debunks all these witness experiences as “false memory.” Elizondo readily accepts this.

She insists that the belief of these memories is important for validation for an individual whose life is devoid of meaning. She also takes a shot at Dr. John Mack of Harvard who came to accept abduction as real.

In a last-ditch effort to throw a sop to the fans who usually are faithful to these kind of shows, Elizondo claims there are real physical effects to these witnesses. It may be too little too late.

Elizondo notes that there are six billion earth-like planets in the galaxy and may have “brothers and sisters” of the human race. The final few minutes become a desperate plea to continue the investigations, but History channel may more than likely pull the plug on this series.

Earthquakes on Apocalypse Earth

DATELINE: Movers & Shakers

 1994, California.

The apocalyptic hits just keep coming. This week we find ourselves horrified and terrified by the notion that if volcanoes and tornadoes don’t get us, we will sink into the Earth during a quake on the doomsday series from History called Apocalypse Earth.

In fact, this is the best episode so far of the series, featuring only earthquakes in the United States. It is a catalogue of rare photos and film, going back to the earliest recorded damages. California is the main hotspot, with documented deaths and damage from the 1850s. The more famous events in San Francisco, are actually secondary to the continuing quakes in Los Angeles.

The 1933 event and 1971 event are compared to the 1994 Northridge shaker that brought down famously overpasses, crushing occupants in their basement garages or highways.

With about 100 quakes every day, most unfelt, the dangers of living along the California coast may be a warning from this program. However, like those millions living in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, the Los Angelenos are impervious and likely believe it will hold off for another generation.

Scientists intersperse the scenes with basic explanations of why buildings collapse and the underground topography.

We expected to see massive destruction at the old ball game in 1989, but when the reports came to New York and Boston, we took personal notice. In 1757 even Boston had a major earthquake.

After leading viewers to believe the special was about the US, you had scenes (horrific) of Haiti in 2010 and Mexico where primitive building codes never considered plate tectonics.

The climax is the New Madrid earthquake of 1811, the longest running, largest quake ever in the United States, lasting over a month with at least three major shocks and a thousand minor ones. With no cameras, only a few handwritten accounts survived. However, Memphis and St. Louis may be the heirs to a future bleak shock.

Staggering stuff, but there was no discussion of Alaskan quakes, and that was a great omission.

Planetary Threat in South America?

DATELINE: Unidentified Breaks Mold!

 Chinese Base in S.A.

What the hell is going on? China has a paramilitary spy network in Argentina?

The next episode of  Identified. called itself “Planetary Threat,” and it was a tad different than the previous season and earlier in the second season..

The series put its focus outside the United States military, or so it appeared at first. The show sent host and former Pentagon AATIP point-man, Luis Elizondo, to Peru and Argentina.

More experts insist that the US has secret technology hiding under the guise of UFOs. They even claim groups like MUFON are government covers for spying.

He remained in contact with military people, but this seemed a great departure of the routine of the early episodes that tended to repeat itself with different pilots in different places being in contact with tick-tack UFOs.

Elizondo finds the military in South American countries are far more open—and they see global problems. From top to bottom, military regimes in Peru and Argentina and Uruguay will talk quite bluntly. Yet, Elizondo also goes out to Patagonia to talk to simple residents about their experiences.

You might ask what gives? Yet, it soon becomes apparent when Elizondo discovers China has a secret surveillance system built in the most remote area of Argentina, allegedly for their Moon mission. Elizondo is suspicious. This could be a means to survey the United States.

Then, the bombshells fall:  it seems the US encouraged and supported UFO programs in South America, where information can be kept quiet and away from media. It also means that data is shared with American Pentagon people. It is a clever move to hide information.

Most interesting too, Elizondo is asked point-blank if he believed in the reality of UFOs, and to a bit of a surprise, he hemmed and hawed, refusing to give an answer. Finally, he claimed he wanted to maintain objectivity.

Curiouser and curiouser.

UFOs VERSUS Nukes on Unidentified

DATELINE: Nuclear Clearance

 Nowhere in particular.

 Malmstrom AFB in Nowehresville.

The series that consults only military sources, retired witnesses to UFOs, has a remarkable credibility. As hosted by two former government officials, you have a rudimentary sign of “official” interest.

Trying to engage senators and other elected people still seems almost impossible. They go to Washington, D.C., and suggest that high ups are not interested (Trump dismisses UFOs in one short comment).

They also consult with former Sen. Harry Reid, now ill with cancer, but a spearhead of investigation with AATIP a decade ago.

What we have here is” UFOs and Nukes”. But, the show is alarmist by saying it is UFOs versus Nukes. Is there a spy operation? A monitoring by some unknown force? The notion of UFOs seems fairly certain: ridicule aside, they are unknown flying objects. That does not mean little green men.

However, as one military expert said: they don’t obey the laws of physics, so you cannot expect them to follow the laws of politics.

There seems to be more danger from their ability to observe secret missile bases like Malmstrom in Montana. There, UFOs apparently shut down missile silos. If they can shut down your nuclear missile system, there is a problem, Houston.

And, they are also seen often around nuclear power plants on the Canadian border near Maine.

The show worries about all this, fearing something ominous. And, they ask, rather frightfully, who will be held accountable for botching this?

With more and more former military men willing to go public, this series becomes more important in the quest to determine what is going on in the universe, or right here in the U.S.

Dubious Tribute to Olivia De Havilland

DATELINE: Worst Movie of Her Career

Caged Lady!

Leave it to Amazon Prime to honor the memory and career of Olivia De Havilland with the worst movie she ever made.  Long forgotten, Lady in a Cage,  is one of those 1960s hag horror movies made after Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

This features Miss De Havilland who recently passed as age 104 in her attractive, dignified middle-age as a poet trapped in her million-dollar mansion in a private elevator. She is beset upon by a gaggle of horror creatures called in the trailer: the psycho, the wino, the hustler, the weirdo and the wildo.  No kidding. These low-lifes do not rescue Miss DeHavilland, but torment, torture, and drive her to the edge of insanity.

This passed for entertainment.

The following year De Havilland replaced Joan Crawford in the Bette Davis murder horror called Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,a truly dignified and marvelous murder horror. This warm-up is a cold turkey.

In Ryan Murphy’s miniseries, Feud,about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, there is a scene where Miss De Havilland tosses the script for Lady in a Cage into her trash. Apparently, she changed her mind and agreed to contractual terms. Did she need the money? Was the limelight as star so great that she tossed away all semblance of taste?

All we know is that she chose to make this horror, which horrified us.

The supporting cast is equally shocking: there is Ann Sothern, who had just come off ten years as a TV comedy sit-com star. She apparently had no scruples and appears as a fat, middle-aged prostitute. Another wasted actor was Rafael Campos whose career was playing Puerto Rican slimeballs in movie after movie. His talent was never treated properly, and in his movie debut, there is James Caan as the head monster, looking and acting like Marlon Brando. He is a young lookalike here, and ten years later ended up playing Brando’s son in The Godfather.

We do not recommend this travesty of movie shocks. If you are curious, watch the preview in which demure, attractive De Havilland as herself, talks about the message of the movie: apparently under the surface we are all animals.

Yikes.

Trump’s Sports Liaison

DATELINE: Last of the Ninth?

 Golf Duffer & Liaison.

Trump just canceled throwing out the first pitch next week at the Red Sox-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium. Is it going to be too hot? Or did Secret Service say that they couldn’t protect him? Trump joked last year that he needed a suit of armor for such an appearance.

Who is setting up these faux sports events for Trump?

You may be surprised or not: according to Abigail Hess, intrepid CNBC reporter, it is none other than Rudy Giuliani’s 32-year old son.

Yes, if you are puzzled  why Trump has had more sports involvement lately, you could look no deeper than Andrew Giuliani whose job, as special sports liaison, is to ferret out aging, dumb jocks who support Trump without question.

So, Bob Cousy of the Celtics receives a Medal of Freedom. Some teams are invited to the White House, and others are disparaged. Blame it on a Giuliani advisor.

Daddy Rudy claims there is no pay-off or pay-back to hire the son of the President’s personal lawyer at $100,000 grand per year. Rudy notes it is a “nice” job  to locate aged in the wood sports figures for Trump to play golf with (Brett Favre only this week), and sound them out for public statements of support.

NASCAR is no accident for Trump. He knows all about the Confederate flags on race cars because of Andrew Giuliani, and there is a safe spot and sport for Trump to canoodle with unquestioned stars of the past.

Next time there is a loser in the White House, you know he will look for victory in former sports winners.

 

Ozzie Nelson & Family

DATELINE: Minor Director

 Ozzie Directed His Troupe.

While on a TV bender, we saw that an old series from the early 1950s was showing on the classic sit-com channel: it was called Here Come the Nelsons, or The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  We could not recall if we saw it originally (doubtful) or in some rerun return years later.

What a curio it was back then. It featured a rich Hollywood family (the Nelsons) as themselves, imitating a middle-class suburban TV version of themselves in some kind of antiseptic style.

They were pleasant and dealt only with blemish-less problems. They seemed so real that people thought the set was actually their home. What an innocent age that was!

Ozzie Nelson wrote, directed, produced and starred in these shows. He was no Orson Welles, but he gave America a kind of template of sit-com heaven. He wrote the shows with his brother Don, and Ozzie himself played some kind of retired gentleman. He had no job, but lived well and was always home to chat with his two sons. We presumed he was himself, a retired band-leader living off his royalties.

We were struck at how small he was: truly! He was short and small-boned, almost like a child. It was something we had never noticed over the years.

It was the forerunner of Leave It to Beaver,  but far more successful and lasted many more years. The episode we saw was about the two young brothers wanting separate rooms in their tiny little suburban home. Their parents seemed to eschew that in real life their palace likely had a dozen bedrooms.

Harriet, the mother, is ubiquitous in an apron, but she never does housework—and we kept wondering where her black maid was (Louise Beavers anyone?). Every show seemed to be the servants’ day off. Only the nosy neighbor, Don DeFore, showed up not playing himself.

The sons were charming and pleasant too, and Ricky would grow up to be rival of Elvis on a weekly TV show! For a season or two they did a radio version each week, live, separate from the filmed series. David tried his hand at playing movie villains in subsequent years, but ended up being an executive producer.

This was either delusion or illusion at its worst or best. They came across as so real that it defied all Hollywood backdrops.

Ozzie Nelson directed, created, and oversaw, this production for decades: he was the master of a disrespected art form, the family sit-com, but he turned out his miniature artwork faithfully and tirelessly. We should give him some credit.

 

 

 

Unidentified: UFO Investigations

DATELINE: Second Season UFO Investigations

 Elizondo.

You could surely knock us over with the return of this series. Now in a second season, Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigations was certainly one of the interesting miniseries History provided last year. It featured two prominent former government officials: Chris Mellen, a defense minister and Luis Elizondo who ran the Pentagon UFO program that released actual UFO footage to great excitement.

We did not expect to see it again.

Luis Elizondo was in charge of the notorious AATIP program at the Pentagon.

The first show of the new season entails “UFOs in Combat,” though it only tackles living witnesses of the past fifty years, we know that orbs in World War II were inexplicable and thought to be Nazi weapons.

Now both men who are key hosts of this series have left the government to seek fame and fortune as informants of the UFO phenomenon. They are likely the most interesting, if not trustworthy, of experts these kind of shows present.

Elizondo interviews decorated American soldiers from wars of the past 50 years, going back to 1966 Vietnam. Here, in case after case, they witness these “tick-tacks” an allusion to the shape of the object. They are elongated or circular like an orb.

One expert calls them part of the 21stcentury technology or “angels” that are decoy devices around aircraft to deflect missile attacks. But this technology does not extend back 20 years, where it has been witnessed.

Another expert essentially questioned the mental stress of these patriots and claimed they were suffering from lack of sleep, fear, and other factors. The show’s hosts reject this out of hand.

The series seems to be covering the same ground as in the first season, but it is cracking open new testimony and information.