Wither Hillary?

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By Scott Ross

Christ, but there are so many things I would rather write about this morning than that alcoholic gasbag Hillary Clinton! Her latest caper, however, is, in a long life of ugliness, one of the vilest stunts she, or anyone else since Joseph McCarthy, has pulled in public. While we await in vain the arrival of a modern-day Joseph Welch to say to her, “Have you no sense of decency, ma’am? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” (Senator Sanders? This is your moment to show a little backbone. Ah, but then why would you buck your own longstanding trend?) let us review for those enviable few who don’t know what I’m on about.

Hillary - Nuerology image-1

The soon-to-be failed candidate reacts with gape-mouthed dysphasic wonder at the standard convention balloons falling onto the stage in 2016.

Last Thursday, on a previously obscure Apple podcast called Campaign HQ with David Plouffe, She Who Must Be Elected said, in words that may not live in infamy but will, I suspect, be recalled for quite some little time, the following to her host:

“I’m not making any predictions, but I think [the Russians have] got their eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and they’re grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far and that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up because she’s also a Russian asset.”

Setting aside the fact, which Clinton knows perfectly well, that Tulsi Gabbard has said repeatedly she would not run as a third-party candidate — more’s the pity — and that Stein is not (unlike, perhaps, Mrs. Clinton herself?) in any 2020 race, look at the tone of those remarks: Even without hearing Clinton utter them through her own Chardonnay-benumbed lips one can feel, to mix my genera, the bitchiness and the cattiness (and yes, those are precisely the words I mean) of her words, but more, the patented McCarthyite sneer inherent in that baseless and unsupported (indeed, insupportable) accusation. It is perhaps the clearest signal yet of Hillary Clinton’s essential anti-democratic code, although she has certainly given strong indications for years, in particular the last three in which she has, in craven and irresponsible fashion, attempted to fob (and in some quarters, succeeded in fobbing) all blame for her own, well-predicted, loss against Donald Trump for the Presidency onto another nation. Now, not content with fomenting a new Cold War and turning her mindless acolytes into the veriest pod-people of the mid-1950s, she has finally alit where we always knew she would: The top of the fetid dung-heap on which perch those who, from selfish and cynical motive and without evidence, compunction or conscience, accuse their fellow countrymen and women with, not merely sedition, but active treason. This is the logical end-point, aside from a war between two nuclear-armed nations, to which Clinton’s unfounded, dangerous and anachronistic Red-baiting has been aimed all along: Tarring American citizens with disloyalty.

Putin-hrc-apec-mbe

Putin: “Ve appreciate sale of Uranium Vone. Vhere ve should send check of Bill?”  Hillary: “To our Foundation, silly – where else?”

Hillary Clinton has long known that the first rule of Machiavellian politics is deflection. Aware that she was uniquely vulnerable for the sale, while she was Secretary of State, of the Uranium One company to a Russian state corporation known as Rosatom, resulting in an $145 million windfall for the phony Clinton Foundation, and a cool half-million to Bill personally for a single speech in Moscow. This, Wikipedia now rushes to tell its users, is a conspiracy theory “promoted by right-wing media, politicians, and commentators.” Which might come as some news to the neoliberal New York Times, which ran a story on the controversy in 2015.

Thus, and with perhaps some assistance and prodding from a CIA terrified that Trump might actually win, Clinton immediately began insinuating that it was Trump, not she, who was in Russia’s pocket. This strategy reached its (previous) apotheosis immediately following the November 2016 Presidential election, when Team Clinton put out the ludicrous, and easily disproven, claim that Russia generally, and Vladimir Putin specifically, caused her well-predicted defeat, thus igniting an at-first only figurative new Cold War which has, frighteningly, mutated into the possibility of a hot war should the mercurial Trump be pushed far enough by the Clintons of this country on the one side and the permanent deep-state shadow-warriors on the other.

It was perhaps Plouffe himself, as the former manager of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign most credited with besting Clinton, who should be her natural enemy. But no, it is the most interesting of the current Democratic contenders who has engendered Hillary’s wrath, and for a fresher reason: Gabbard’s abandoning of her post as vice-chair of the DNC in protest at the Clinton-controlled organization’s cheating of Sanders, and Sanders’ supporters… which is more than the Senator himself ever did… and her subsequent endorsement of him. These are offenses which, for a Clinton, cannot be brooked. Thus in addition to keeping the flame of her self-generated “There’s a Russian under your bed!” hysteria aflame, and smearing once again a third-party candidate who, if “official” election figures are to be believed garnered less than 1% of the vote, Hillary also gets to hit back at someone else she presumably blames for her loss to a television game-show host. (There is, after all, a new source of blame at least once a week, and has been for the last three years. Everyone on earth, it seems, except the one person most to blame for it.)

Although the Clinton Camp, surprised by the unaccustomed push-back her Red-baiting if not technically slanderous remarks have generated, attempted to back-peddle Hillary’s statement, that was a horse that wouldn’t run, especially after her spokesman Nick Merrill confirmed the obvious: That Madame Secretary was indeed referring to Gabbard. (Who else could she have meant?) He also managed to double-down on the completely fabricated notion that the dread Russians are controlling American elections. Relates Colby Itkowitz in the Washington Post, “Merrill, in an interview Saturday, said Clinton was ‘not saying Americans are Russian spies but that Russia has found ways to take advantage and is not being held responsible by anyone in government.’”

Oh. Well. Thanks for the clarification, Nick. Clear as mud.

And as if Hillary’s own ugliness was not enough, Merrill then compounded it by the elliptical comment, “If the nesting doll fits…”

russia-nesting-dolls-hillary

Which nesting-doll did you have in mind, Merrill?

Thankfully, and unlike the gelatinous Sanders, Gabbard does not absorb such personal attacks without a response:

Great!” [she Tweeted] “Thank you @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain. From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose. It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.”

I wish Gabbard had eschewed that rather bizarre locution “cowardly hide,” but I otherwise applaud her not allowing Clinton to slander her sans a whimper of protest. Had Sanders himself not let her, and her thoroughly corrupt party’s Committee, get away with it in 2016 — had he done what hundreds of thousands of his supporters begged and petitioned him, and his own team of lawyers advised him, to and nailed them all for rigging the election in Clinton’s favor, they might have been chastened, if not actually charged, tried and convicted. As it is, he didn’t, and they are already doing it again. Had it been Gabbard whose victories in the primaries were turned into defeats by a DNC wholly owned and operated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, I think we can imagine the result.

Wither

Note how the arrow points to the right. She knew what message she was conveying.

What we are being shown, in broad relief, is why Hillary Clinton is the avatar of a narcissism so total it ignores the fate of millions. My friend Eliot M. Camarena may not have been the first to identify Clinton’s supporters, wittily, and based upon her own self-regarding logo, as “Withers,” but he nailed them early, and often, and continues to do so.* What does it say of a candidate for President when her campaign slogan indicates not that she supports and will work for Americans, but that they must be “With Her“? And what does it say of her supporters that they not only accept this symbolic slavery, but embrace it, weep over it, fight for it? (I don’t know of one who has actually killed or died for it, but give them time.) Hillary’s sickness — that is, her emotional and psychic as opposed to her physical illness, which God only knows what it is — spreads to her mindless idolaters. She at least has the excuse of an abusive mother. What’s theirs?

Itkowitz, in her Post story, makes sure to get in her own licks, defining Gabbard as “an unconventional Democrat, whose message of an isolationist foreign policy [emphasis mine]… has gained her fans among the far right… She has also gained a following with some white nationalists. A neo-Nazi website called Daily Stormer said it deserved credit for getting her the support necessary to qualify for the first two debates. But the main reason many Democrats, including Clinton, are wary of her is because she’s a favorite topic on Russian websites and social media [emphasis again, emphatically, mine.]” It is worth noting that David Weigel, the insignificant little pissant who a couple of years ago attempted to smear Jimmy Dore in the pages of what Eliot calls The Washington Bezos, “contributed to this story.”

To his credit, Andrew Yang immediately defended Gabbard. Madeline Albright, meanwhile, who when she isn’t opining that a half-million dead children is “worth it” is declaring there ought to be a “special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other” when what she of course really means is, “Any woman who doesn’t vote for Hillary is a traitor to the sex!,” has been conspicuously silent. Marianne Williamson, however, accused the Democrat establishment of, in a line aimed squarely at Albright, “smearing women it finds inconvenient.”

hillary-clinton-pantsuits-lead_0

Pantsuit, Pantsuit, who’s got the (ugly, bland, unflattering) Pantsuit?: The relative age of the candidate can best be determined by the width of the cloth required to encase her increasingly Marie Dressleresque hips.

As anyone who knows me well can attest, I believe in Smedley Butler’s adage that war is a racket, that the various branches of the American military are its racketeers’ hired goons, and knows as well that I have never been one of those blubbering creeps who with tears in their eyes whimper, “Thank you for your service!” to every paid thug in a uniform. Further, while I agree with Gabbard on more than I disagree, I am cool to her precisely to the degree she carried on (in the 21st century, mind you) about “homosexual extremists” agitating for marriage equality. Nevertheless: Two fellow Americans, one  a candidate I voted for and the other a major in the Hawaiian National Guard who served as medical personnel in one of our endless Middle Eastern wars, are being accused by one of the nation’s most prominent politicians of disloyalty to their country. I should like very much to see Clinton and Merill forced to prove their assertions in a court of law. I strongly suspect Gabbard and Stein would walk away the clear victors in that event.

If such a lawsuit will shut this increasingly dangerous harpy up, it cannot be filed soon enough to suit me.


* Having done this so often of late, I am slightly embarrassed to cite Eliot yet again in one of my blog essays, but there is no one with whom I enjoy discussing these matters more than he, and no one I know who is more perceptive, or funnier, about them.

Text copyright 2019 by Scott Ross

Related
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/crucible/
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2019/05/21/the-politics-of-pique/
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2019/04/11/why-i-am-not-a-liberal/
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2019/04/07/keep-gloating/
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2019/10/16/delirus-liberalis-or-how-they-learned-to-stop-thinking-and-love-the-state/

Delirus liberalis, or: How They Learned to Stop Thinking and Love the State

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By Scott Ross

“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” — CIA Director William Casey to Ronald Reagan, February 1981

The late Mr. Casey may rest in peace. His dream has, at long last, become reality. And if the entire American public is not fooled all of the time, yet there is a substratum which, as Jacques Abbadie (not Abraham Lincoln) noted, can always be counted upon to be deceived. They adhere to no particular party or system of belief, but for the moment let us examine their allegedly “left” polity, otherwise known as the American liberal, who is in no way left and, in the things that matter most, is in most ways wrong. And for any conservative who might be snickering at that statement, may I say that I am not addressing your all too similar follies because you habitually make them so large, and so obvious; liberals get away with the same and worse because they’re more hidden, and better protected.

The state of American liberal delirium is circumscribed at the present time, as it has been for the past three years, largely by its unifying causus belli: A hatred of and for the current President of the United States so overmastering that not even similar loathings for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and his dark spawn can compare. Indeed, those particular lords of the flies are now looked upon with giddy nostalgia by the (seemingly) permanently deranged liberal class, as witness the recent fawning over the fag-bashing George W. Bush by Celebrity Lesbians Ellen DeGeneris and Rosie “Queen of Nice” O’Donnell, both of whom in their unhinged hatred for Donald Trump conveniently overlook that previous President’s desire for a Constitutional amendment permanently enshrining into law the inability of same-sex couples in America to marry. “If only we had him in the White House again!” goes the cry of Delirus liberalis. So he can cobble up and get enacted something even worse than the USA-PATRIOT Act, presumably.

bush-degeneres-2-2000

So Fun Time for narcissist sociopaths.

Just as all too many panicked Americans in 2001 willingly and against the advice of Dr. Franklin surrendered what few tatters of America’s once-valued demi-democracy still existed for a promise of “security” for the sinisterly-named “Homeland” — when outside one of Dick Chaney’s fever dreams did Americans ever refer to the United States as their “homeland”? — so too now do many of them on the (again, supposed) “left” sing the praises of the very people who insisted we give those liberties up, in the name of something they call National Security but which increasing numbers of my fellow countrymen and women are belatedly realizing is a well-entrenched (since 1947) and all too permanent National Security State. As such, it does not care who the President is, or from which party he (or, eventually, she) hails; it knows it is the enduring actual government, each succeeding President a temporary employee only. As someone once said of the 35th occupant of the Oval Office, Jack Kennedy was the last man who thought he was actually President… right up to the moment someone’s bullet — Lucien Sarti’s, possibly — blew his brains out the back of his head.

The question Delirus liberalis never asks him-or-herself, of course, is how the hated Trump got into office to begin with. As with their putative leader, the equally deranged, Chardonnay-besotted, Hillary Clinton, they know there is blame to be apportioned: To Jill Stein, or Bernie Sanders, or Julian Assange, or Susan Sarandon, or Jimmy Dore, or Vladimir Putin, or those twelve (or was it 16?) rather pathetic Russian ‘bots trolling for social media cash after the election. The new target for opprobrium changes monthly, sometimes weekly; only Clinton herself is, like a Pope, entirely without blame. Or should I say, “the Clintons themselves”? For Delirus liberalis, the infallibility of one embraces that of the other, as it does of any Democrat, however reactionary, pathologically prevaricating, demonstrably bigoted or terminally corrupt. Thus, it was not disgust with a quarter-century of the neoliberal policies embraced first by the Clintons, then successively by Gore, Kerry, Pelosi, Schumer, Biden and Obama that led many to consider, on the left, Sanders and, on the right, Trump; rather, it was some flaw within those voters themselves (the sexists.) There was at least one 2016 candidate whom polls consistently showed would most likely have beaten Trump in the general election, but as Jimmy Dore often notes, “Democrats would rather lose to a Republican than win with a progressive.” Or, as say, Democrats could fuck up a wet-dream.

Thus, too, when a Democrat — Schumer — is interviewed on national television by the increasingly demented Rachel Maddow (nice to see so many of my Lesbian sisters shilling at $30,000-a day for the war machine and the shadow government) and says of Trump’s problems with the permanent deep-state, “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” and says this, moreover, not in disgust or anger but smugly and with favor… and scores of liberal Democrats nod their heads and mutter the new millennial equivalent of, “Yes, Lord!”… we are being given a message, and not a subliminal one: “We approve.” It does not upset, or anger, or disgust them, that the (un)natural order of things in America now is that if any President attempts actually to govern the nation as he sees fit he will be met with instant opposition by CIA and NSA, not to mention their dirty little brother, the FBI. Yet I will state without fear of contradiction that this seeming complacency is wholly partisan; if a Republican Senator had made the same observation Schumer did of a Democrat president, Delirus liberalis would be screaming its coiffured little head off. But then, as is widely if not universally known…

Bad stuff is only bad when Republicans do it

Do you think for a moment that, if the President of the United States is not permitted to act as he sees fit, any of the rest of us will be?


The complete derangement of Delirus liberalis, however, the frighteningly debilitating sickness that has so completely eaten away their cognitive abilities, demands the worst, as long as Trump is perceived as its victim. Thus: A CIA-based operation, willingly (and I daresay more than eagerly) entered into by the Hillary-dominated DNC, which began during the 2016 elections, and with the active collusion of the Obama Justice Department, MI-5 and the Ukraine — a breakaway Russian “republic” set up by American intelligence fiat and governed by corrupt neo-Nazis — arrayed against the putative Republican candidate for President transforms, more or less instantaneously following the November election, from a plot against Trump, centered in Ukraine, to a campaign against Clinton, emanating from Moscow. But then, Madame C. knew her apples; the first law of Machiavellian politics being to deflect from your own peccadilloes (one’s Foundation benefiting from the uranium deal with Russia you orchestrated as Secretary of State) and to then tar your opponent with them (Putin was helping Trump!) It helps, of course, to have the entire shadow government’s numerous intelligence networks (CIA, FBI, NSA, Justice) to create the fantasy and the corporate press, which owes its very octopus-like existence to an Act cunningly devised by your husband in 1996, to promote it.

Cruise meets with Ukrianian president via Eliot

Ukraine president and all-around good guy Volodymyr Zelensky meets Impeachment Emissary Tom Cruise. (Does Cruise know Zelensky is a neo-Nazi? Does Volody know Tommy is a… whatever the hell it is he is?)

But where, the fiction having grown, as they say in the Show Business, legs, do you go from there? To a succession of shady investigations and specious hearings conducted by a cast of vaguely sentient ghouls left over from the Reagan and Bush era. And here is where the true worth, and cost, of Delirus liberalis is accounted, as a phalanx of former hippies and assorted agitators now embrace the Establishment as embodied by salivating would-be mass-killers (“We came… we saw… he died! Hahahahahahahaha!“) whose sole virtue, to the alleged liberal “feminist,” whose actual viewpoint as expressed in 2016 is in fact the very essence of sexism, is that she comes equipped with a vagina; and Law ‘n’ Order in the form of the various former and current CIA and FBI directors and general prevaricators who almost giddily lied us into a war whose age will soon permit it legal access to alcohol: John Brennan, Michael Hayden, James Comey, Robert Mueller… The very embodiment of the forces that wiretapped law-abiding Americans seeking only legal redress of grievance and the exercise of their rights to free speech; infiltrated peaceful protest groups and encouraged rioting and other forms of violence; broke the heads of said groups; murdered in their turn JFK, MLK, RFK, Fred Hampton and, in all likelihood, Malcolm X; overthrew elected governments across the globe and engineered the murders of their leaders; killed untold millions of men, women and children throughout the Middle East (and made refugees of millions more); who have in short exhibited for over a century a snarling hatred of, and intolerance for, all forms of democracy. Behold! These… these… are the heroes of the new liberal “Resistance.”

Or, to put it in terms Delirus liberalis can understand: It is as if someone re-wrote the climax of Return of the Jedi so that in the end Luke Skywalker decided to go ahead and team up with Darth Vader because he hated the Emperor too.

There have been times over the past three or four years when reading, listening to, or just hearing accounts of deranged Baby Boomers and other alleged liberals cheering FBI/CIA liars and psychopaths as heroes, gnashing their teeth at the President’s stated intention of pulling U.S. troops out of manufactured Hell-holes like Syria, all but demanding America go on promoting and engaging in the continuance of war and mass killings abroad, and praying for an economic collapse that can be blamed on Trump has made me feel as if I have changed places with Alice. They want suffering. They want killings. The more of you (not them) who suffer, the happier it will make them.

A Stanton collapse

That isn’t a statement of political ideology; it’s sadism on a world scale.

Well, as I’ve also often said: Scratch a liberal, find a fascist.

In the universe of the Boomer, ca. 2019, whatever opposes Donald Trump is an absolute good. He could issue a Universal Declaration of Love tomorrow, and they would demand a corresponding document upholding the right to hatred; he rules them more completely than if he really was the dictator they believe him to be. And he knows it. However idiotic they think him, he is a past master at manipulation: One early-A.M. Tweet and they’re set for the day, or the week; they can then be counted upon instantly to gibber and screech like a pack of howler monkeys in a rain forest, led by Her Royal Derangement, the mad cow known as Rachel. Their obsession with Trump is so perfect, so total, that he knows he can distract them anytime, anyplace, with just a few jumbled sentences. A single, bloated Trump Tweet and “The Resistance” will, as it has for the last three years, continue to ignore his overseeing the largest upward redistribution of wealth in American history, his presiding over record Defense Department budgets (which the Democrats cravenly and greedily voted for) and arms-sales abroad, his tacit permitting of economic warfare waged, and coups attempted, against sovereign nations and legitimately elected officials; they will instead gnash their collective teeth over some triviality, or playground insult, which they will return in kind. Trump is the charmless Harold Hill of American politics, and they are all — all — his willing chumps.

Larson E. Whipsnade would be proud.

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man poster

In which the voluble Mr. Dukenfield portrayed the carny con-man Larsen E. Whipsnade: “Never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump.”

Somehow, in a 21 September piece on Salon.com, David Masciotra managed to get this past the DNC- (if not indeed CIA-) sponsored shills who run the website for which he writes: “In a nonfiction adaptation of American Horror Story, Bill Maher, nominally a member of the liberal ‘Resistance,’ [emphasis mine] led his audience and guests in applauding and paying tribute to the FBI and CIA. To her credit, panelist (and rival talk-show host) Krystal Ball remained stoic, refusing to bring her hands together or smile. But even she allowed the moment to pass without noting the obvious: The CIA and the FBI are two of the most anti-democratic and violent forces in the history of our country.”

With Masciotra’s description of Maher as his show’s “admittedly clever host, who can often amuse, enlighten and nauseate in the same string of sentences,” I would strongly demur. I can’t recall having laughed at anything Maher has ever said, only at something said of and to him (by Martin Short, as Jiminy Glick.) Much less has he ever enlightened me. But he has certainly caused me nausea, often. And I should hope by now that the many neoliberal pronouncements by the “comedian” in question would convince anyone of even modest intelligence of — his atheism notwithstanding — Maher’s deep and abiding conservatism. More to the point, however, is that Maher learned something from having his network show canceled after a perfectly reasonable remark by him concerning September 11, 2001 was called “treasonous” by people who have no more notion of what the word means than they possess any real love for free speech. (Except, of course, their own…) He learned to stroke his audience’s prejudices. He learned to milk it for easy applause. He learned how to seem controversial while promoting the Establishment’s points of view on any given issue. He has learned, as Quentin Crisp used to say of Existentialists, to swim with the tide, but faster.

The “Make Love, Not War” crowd of 1969 has become, with rather predictable alacrity, a group un-fazed in the main by the indecency of America’s seemingly perpetual need to shed blood abroad. Peace is a movement for which they toil not, neither do they spin. That was, like, so yesterday, man. In the span of my lifetime my nation, which values peace above all virtues and conditions, has involved itself in no fewer than 37 overt wars (as opposed to Christ only knows how many covert), nearly a third of them just since the beginning of the new century. For older Boomers, the figure is still higher. Yet where, amidst the incessant babble of the chattering classes, is the voice opposing war? Alas, the Medea Benjamins and Brian Beckers of America are few, and we have become a culture in which all and sundry — very much including old 1960s anti-Vietnam War Boomers — must now reflexively whine, “Thank you for your service” to any vet we come across or risk the sort of freezing contempt that met me when I refused to stand for the National Anthem — at a goddamn college glee club concert — in 1990.

While the “Resistance” carries placards supporting the likes of the un-indicted serial criminals James Clapper and James Comey — imagine  American liberals in 1973 so deranged by their hatred of Nixon that they began marching in support of H.R. Haldeman — the Trump Administration meanwhile quietly continues giving obscene amounts of our treasure to arms manufacturers to support the seven wars Barack Obama managed to carve out of the two he inherited and to bomb civilians in Syria and elsewhere at the behest of Our Friends, the Saudis. That the “Resistance” says nothing about. (Indeed, the Democrats have voted for all of Trump’s obscene military expenditures.) Why? One can only posit two related explanations: 1) That their loathing for Donald J. Trump swamps all other interests, passions or human concerns; or 2) that they secretly approve of protracted war and mass-killing.

I am not fully persuaded that both are not equally true.

Senile Aggitation Boomers

Thanks to Eliot M. Camarena for this.

Certainly ABC News approves of endless conflict. Having repeatedly aired footage the network claimed was of civilians being slaughtered in Syria because Donald Trump ordered a troop withdrawal but which was subsequently proven to be of a gun demonstration in Kentucky, are there demands from the “Resistance” that such naked  and appalling manipulation of the airways be investigated? That the news executives and reporters who perpetrated this arrant hoax be removed from their jobs, charged, and tried or at the very least black-balled from their industry? Assertions that such craven and partisan assaults on the very notion of a free press are more damaging to American journalism, and to America itself, than anything Trump did by withdrawing combat troops? Outside of progressive YouTube channels such as Ben Swann’s and media outlets like that scourge of Delirus liberalis, RT America, not a peep.  Or a Tweet.


The latest hobbyhorse for Delirus liberalis is the whistle-blower… but only so long as the whistle being blown is on Trump. While a (so far) anonymous CIA hack is celebrated by liberals, his protection from the big bad President their gravest concern, a genuinely heroic whistle-blower, one who has both served her time and been pardoned, sits in a Virginia prison cell being fined $1,000 a day, not for any crime she has committed but for refusing to testify against a publisher, one with whom she had no direct involvement. Even if the charges on which she is being held were not so flagrantly anti-democratic,  indeed fascistic… even were she in better physical health than she currently is… Chelsea Manning would be worthy of our veneration and our support, yet the “liberal” media is, and liberals in general are, when not actively pillorying her, utterly silent.

Ah, but… Manning, you see, assisted WikiLeaks and, by extension, Julian Assange, the most hated figure in the rogue’s gallery of Delirus liberalis, despised in a way even the bile engendered by Vladimir Putin cannot match, for in the eyes of liberal Democrats, Assange’s revelations about their uncrowned queen cost her the election. It did not occur to them, of course, to be outraged that she was proved so base, corrupt, heartless and cruel; that she had two faces, only one of which she was going to show to the likes of them; that she controlled the DNC, and thus the 2016 Democratic Party elections; that it was she and her husband, her daughter and their phony foundation that gained most from the sale to Russia of Uranium One. No, they were, and are, engaged in a collective conniption, a massive, volcanic overflow of pique, because Assange exposed her.

And what of Julian Assange himself, speaking of whistle-blowers? Where the cheers of support for his exposing deliberate murder of civilians by the American armed forces? Where the cries of outrage at his patently illegal arrest and incarceration, in solitary confinement, in one of the worst prisons in Britain, or at his almost certain extradition, trial and imprisonment in America? Or the howls of anguish for young Seth Rich, who may or may not have been Assange’s DNC connection and who was, whatever the case, murdered for no other discernible reason? What of a true American hero, Edward Snowden, forced to leave his home and country because he cared more about Americans, and privacy, and democracy, than he did about the pleasurable trappings of his employment? For these whistle-blowers, and others, who have acted out of a love of truth and liberty, a commitment beyond themselves, no word spoken except to condemn, no passion offered but vilest opprobrium. For CIA agents who rush to tell, not their superiors, as John Kiriakou did when he adhered to Agency rules (and ended up in jail anyway) but the corporate media, anguished cries of, “We must protect the whistle-blower!”

Unlike Manning, Snowden, Rich, Kiriakou or Bill Binney, however, Assange is a journalist — or at the very least, a publisher. And unlike ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and MS-NBC, The New York Times and the Washington Post, not a single one of Assange’s claims has later been proven to be false.

Naturally, Delirus liberalis cannot suffer him to live.

wikileaks-julian-assange-cover-2010

What a difference a decade makes. Note Zakaria’s headline. Who in the corporate media believes this now, or will say so?

Finally, while I am on the subject of journalism, or what passes for it, this, concerning Senator Richard Blumenthal‘s terrifying new bill proposing to define who may call him-or-herself a journalist: “Blumenthal cited a fake video depicting President Trump carrying out a violent attack on members of the news media as he again called on Congress to make it a federal crime for anyone to attack or threaten a member of the news media doing their job.” Nowhere in this shoddily-written piece by Forbes is there any illumination for its readers of what is in Blumenthal’s bill. Yet liberals are now cheering the Democrat Senator’s proto-fascist proposal, which would permit the government to decide who qualifies as a journalist, and who does not. Who, in other words, deserves the protection of the First fucking Amendment to the goddamned Constitution.

For those who require a refresher course, the Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

As my friend Eliot M. Camarena rightly notes in his most recent blog essay: “The First Amendment is all the protection journalists need AND NEOFASCISTS LIKE SENATOR BLUMENTHAL KNOW THIS or he would not promulgate a law giving government the UNCONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY to decide who the First Amendment applies to […] Hey, you infantile, certifiable twits who satisfy your Cosplay egos by branding yourself ‘The Resistance’: Face the fact that you refuse to accept that a corrupt, obese, alcoholic, belligerent, old lady who long ago earned the sobriquet ‘Congenital Liar’, lost the 2016 election. This rage, and your continuous tantrum, blinds you to EVERYTHING else. Now you want to further gut the Bill of Rights because you don’t like the way Trump mocks journalists. Well done, you sap-heads! You have now truly become what Stalin called USEFUL IDIOTS – doing the work of the very fascists you so loudly CLAIM TO OPPOSE.”

Meanwhile, ABC News — a hive of the very sorts of journalists from whom the United States government need have no fear whatever — tells you civilians are being slaughtered in Syria, and has the film to prove it.

Somewhere in the ether, William Casey is smiling.

Text copyright 2019 by Scott Ross

Related
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/crucible/
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2019/05/21/the-politics-of-pique/
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2019/04/11/why-i-am-not-a-liberal/
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2019/04/07/keep-gloating/

Quarterly Report: July — September 2019

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By Scott Ross

Home-viewing from The Armchair Theatre over the last three months; because there isn’t a single bloody thing in the cinemas worth the time, petrol, cash or personal energy it would take to go out. Although I will admit I was convinced by a friend to attend a special screening of Daughters of the Dust… thereby proving the point.

Tootsie Jessica Lang and Dustin Hoffman
Tootsie (1982) Take one vanity project for a notoriously self-involved actor (Murray Schisgal writing a screenplay about acting for Dustin Hoffman); mix with a separate script by Don McGuire concerning an out-of-work performer donning drag for a soap-opera role that borrows a bit too liberally from Some Like it Hot, even unto its blond object of affection and unwanted middle-aged suitors; add in re-writes by a small army of scenarists headed by the great Larry Gelbart and including, un-credited, Barry Levinson, Robert Garland and Elaine May; bake by a director widely known as one of Hollywood’s most notorious writer fuckers (Gelbart claimed the movie was stitched together from any number of scenarists’ drafts), and the result should have been a disaster. Instead, through some weird alchemy it not only wasn’t but somehow those ingredients contrived to blend so well the picture became a small classic of its kind. Revisiting Tootsie from a 35-year remove, it seems almost miraculous: A popular comedy that tickles the mind as often as it does the ribs. And the direction, by Sydney Pollack, never a favorite filmmaker of this writer, looks as good now as it did in 1982; whatever its internal flaws (including a series of consecutive events supposedly encompassing a single evening that Gelbart later wrote was “a night that would have to last a hundred hours”) the picture is strikingly lovely, with Owen Roizman’s sumptuous lighting and the crisp, witty editing by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp giving it a patina of warmth and sophistication, a rare combination for any movie comedy. Hoffman’s “Dorothy Michaels” ranks as one of the great comic creations in American movies, yet the actor also locates the loneliness of the character — or, rather characters, since everything Dorothy says and does is filtered through Michael Dorsey’s brain and emotions — and an essential sweetness and decency Michael himself lacks when he’s wearing pants.* As the unwitting object of Michael’s interests, Jessica Lange was a revelation in 1982, lightness and gravity in balance, and what she does is still astonishing in the sheer rightness of her every glance, inflection and wistful hesitation. Terri Garr is no less entrancing, in what is surely her best screen performance, and Bill Murray gets the picture’s best lines as Michael’s playwright roommate. (May created the character, and wrote his speeches.) Against his own wishes, Pollack took on the role of Hoffman’s agent, and their scenes together, reflecting some of the very real anger and frustration each felt toward the other, are among the movie’s comic highlights. The great supporting cast includes Dabney Coleman as the sexist television director, Charles Durning and George Gaynes in the Joe E. Brown role(s), Doris Belack as the savvy “daytime drama” producer, Geena Davis as a nurse in the soap-within-a-film’s fictional hospital, and the late Lynne Thigpen as the show’s floor manager. Dave Grusin, who often floundered when composing for dramatic pictures, wrote for Tootsie one of his most felicitous comedy scores. It isn’t funny in itself, nor does it try to be; its alternate moods of peppy urbanity and plangent emotionalism make for a perfect juxtaposition that reflects the plot’s development and moods without attempting either to compete with them, or to ape the action.

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* Hoffman based Dorothy’s soft Southern vocal mannerisms on those of his friend Polly Holiday.


They Might Be Giants - finale

George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward in the movie’s radiant, moving final moments.They Might Be Giants (1971)

They Might Be Giants (1971) James Goldman has long been one of my favorite writers. While nowhere near as prolific (nor as well known) as his brother William, his smaller output includes the 1965 play and subsequent movie 1968 The Lion in Winter (for which he won an Academy Award); the beautifully compressed book for the landmark Stephen Sondheim/Harold Prince Follies, arguably the single greatest theatrical musical of the 20th century; the wonderfully conceived and unexpectedly moving Robin and Marian (1976); a superb novel about King John, Myself as Witness, in which Goldman re-examined an historical figure he felt he had maligned in his previous writing; and the play on which this lovely picture was based and for which he wrote the beautifully structured adaptation. Hal Prince produced the play’s only major production in London, later castigating himself for hiring the wrong director (Joan Littlewood) for the piece, although Goldman himself said he was unhappy with the script, which he subsequently withdrew from further production. The movie, while disappointing financially — presumably those involved expected another Lion in Winter — is a blissful variation on Arthur Conan Doyle, in which a mad retired jurist (George C. Scott) called Justin Playfair, who believes he is Sherlock Holmes, is examined by a psychiatrist (Joanne Woodward) named Mildred Watson. They meet as antagonists, form an uneasy alliance and drift toward romance, while Playfair seeks a rendezvous with the elusive Professor Moriarty. It may sound twee, and there are many on whom its gentle charms are no doubt lost, but it’s a funny, and surprisingly emotional, rumination on the relative insanity of a brilliant, harmless paranoid and of the increasingly mad society to which he is expected to conform. That last notion no doubt seems trite, but it has seldom been handled with such deftness and wit. Anthony Harvey, who also directed The Lion in Winter, shot the picture with a nervy energy that captures the New York City of the early 1970s, not as if under glass but as a living stage for Playfair’s intrigues. Scott and Woodward tear into their roles with the relish of great actors who know in their bones they’ve got their hands on some of the choicest dialogue around, and the rich supporting cast includes Jack Gilford, Al Lewis, Rue McClanahan, Theresa Merritt, Eugene Roche, James Tolkan, Kitty Winn, Sudie Bond, Staats Cotsworth, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Benedict, M. Emmet Walsh and Louis Zorich. There’s also a brief but extremely effective chamber score by John Barry, arranged and augmented by Ken Thorne. Two home-video versions exist: One (a Universal Vault DVD) running under 90 minutes, reflects the theatrical release while the other, the television edit (on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber) is longer, and includes the wry, delightful extended sequence in an immense Manhattan grocery store. It could, I suppose, be argued that the story doesn’t need the grocery sequence, and the climax plays well without it. But it also seems to me that the movie is enriched by its inclusion, and diminished by its excision. So, caveat emptor.

Dr. Mildred Watson: You’re just like Don Quixote. You think that everything is always something else.

Justin Playfair: Well, he had a point. ‘Course, he carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That’s insane. But, thinking that they might be, well… All the best minds used to think the world was flat. But what if it isn’t? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what might be, why we’d all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.


Daughters of the Dust_Trailer

Cora Lee Day as Nana Peazant

Daughters of the Dust (1991) Julie Dash’s dreamlike evocation of Gulla society on a small South Carolina island in the early years of the 20th century was well-received critically but not a box-office success. 20/20 hindsight by knee-jerk commentators now has it that the picture was badly handled by its distributor because its writer-director was not only a woman, but a black woman. Yet I don’t see how this luminously photographed exercise in non-linear rumination could have been a popular success in any era: It’s so diffuse it seems less Impressionistic than merely undefined; we can scarcely tell what the various narrative threads are, much less what they mean. What’s best about the picture, aside from Arthur Jafa’s exquisite cinematography, are the wonderful faces of the expressive actors, especially those of Cora Lee Day as the family matriarch clinging to her African roots and religion, Cheryl Lynn Bruce as her overly-devout Christian granddaughter, and Barbara-O as her mirror opposite, a wayward young woman who left the island for a man but who now is involved with a younger woman. But 60 minutes into this hour-and-52-minute glorified student film my eyes had long since begun to glaze over and even those interesting faces weren’t enough to clear them.


The Last Hard Men - Heston and Coburn

The Last Hard Men (1976) A tough, bloody Western from an unsparing Brian Garfield novel, starring Charlton Heston and James Coburn as old antagonists on a collision course. Although (unlike in the book’s ending) the movie’s climax seemingly leaves his character’s survival in doubt, and while the actor was too young for the role — as Garfield wrote it, the former lawman is in his 60s, and becoming increasingly frail — Heston is quite a good match for the ruthless Coburn, and the filmmakers (Andrew V. McLaglen was the director, and Guerdon Trueblood wrote the script) don’t flinch from the story’s most horrific moment, when the Heston figure’s daughter (Barbara Hershey) is gang-raped by Coburn’s team of escaped prisoners. The role of Hershey’s earnest suitor is the sort of part the young Jeff Bridges could have turned into a third lead by doing almost nothing, and while Chris Mitchum is attractive, he’s completely out of his depth; as an actor he was never much more than the pretty son of a movie star. While the performance of Michael Parks, as the sheriff who accompanies Heston on part of the quest to retrieve his daughter, suffers from his role being less interesting than in the Garfield book, the actors playing Coburn’s gang (Jorge Rivero, Thalmus Rasulala, Morgan Paull, Robert Donner, Riley Hill and especially Larry Wilcox and John Quade) are an impressively frightening bunch and Duke Callaghan’s widescreen cinematography is lustrous. Leonard Rosenman composed a terse, uncompromising score (it was later made available on CD) which was then replaced by a collection of newly-recorded cues from several of Jerry Goldsmith’s  previous 20th Century-Fox titles 100 Rifles (1969), Rio Conchos (1964), Morituri (1965) and the 1966 Stagecoach. I assume this was due to their being more traditional action cues and Western pieces than Rosenman’s dark, brooding compositions. But while they are splendid in themselves, if you’re already familiar with them from their sources they’re a needless distraction.


Invisible Monster titcd

The great title card for one of Jonny Quest‘s creepiest episodes. If only the animation for the show had been this good!

Johnny Quest: The Complete Original Series (1964 – 1965) When I was a child the Saturday morning re-airings of this 1964 one-shot, an impressive attempt by Joseph Barbera and William Hanna to create and direct a weekly prime-time animated adventure series,‡ made an enormous impression. It was the first “serious” animation I’d ever seen, its often eerie plot-lines were, for a 5-year old, fascinatingly scary… and in the titular figure, the irrepressible blond-topped All-American Jonny, lay my first big crush.† The gifted comics artist Doug Wildey designed the show and its central cast: Plucky Jonny, his slightly mystical adopted Indian brother Hadji, father Benton Quest and bodyguard Race Bannon (who, white hair aside, was, somewhat confusingly for me, almost a dead-ringer for my own father). Produced in the so-called “limited” format pioneered by Hanna-Barbera, and which Chuck Jones astutely referred to as “illustrated radio,” the series, re-viewed from an adult perspective, contains highly variable animation; there are times when the characters are beautifully drawn, while at others they are remarkably poorly drafted, and this older viewer could certainly do with less of Jonny’s annoying little dog Bandit. But the stories are nearly always, despite a 26-minute limitation, well-plotted and exciting, often with an agreeable avoidance of earthly explanation for seemingly supernatural phenomenon. Children, like many of their adult counterparts, love to be frightened, and they especially love ghost stories and impossible monsters; it was a consistent reliance on rationality than killed my initial enthusiasm for the later H-B Scooby Doo, Where Are You? Among the pleasures of the series were, and are, the voices, especially the appealing Tim Matheson as Jonny, the undemonstrably masculine Mike Road as Race, the charming Danny Bravo — who seems to have based his vocal characterization on Sabu — as Hadji, Vic Perrin as the show’s recurring villain Dr. Zinn and occasional guest artists such as Keye Luke, Jesse White, J. Pat O’Malley and even, astonishingly, Everett Sloan as an unrepentant old Nazi. Hoyt Curtin’s superb main title theme, with its bracing mix of big band and James Bond, is another asset; most of the incidental music is his, with additional and uncredited compositions by Ted Nichols. Many of the series’ best (and creepiest) episodes were written by William Hamilton: “The Robot Spy,” “Dragons of Ashida,” “Turu the Terrible,” “Werewolf of the Timberland” and “The Invisible Monster.” Among the others of especial note are “The Curse of Anubis” (Walter Black), “Calcutta Adventure” (Joanna Lee), and “Shadow of the Condor” and “The House of Seven Gargoyles” (both by Charles Hoffman). The recent Warner Archives Blu-Ray collection, while it contains few extras, looks terrific.

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† Like Top Cat and The JestsonsJonny Quest lasted only a single prime-time season. But when you’re a child, you’re not counting episodes, and due to repeated Saturday morning re-airings all three shows seemed to run forever.

‡How typical of me that my first big crush would be not another boy but a cartoon character… Still, I don’t know whether it was so much that I was attracted to Jonny as that I longed to be him. And isn’t hero-worship often what early same-sex crushes amount to?


Klute - Fonda and Sutherland (Klute comforts Bree)

Klute (1971)
The truly chilling paranoia thriller starring Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda, who as the call-girl Bree Daniels gives what I consider the finest performance by an American movie actor of the last 50 years.


In the Heat of the Night - Sidney Poitier, Jester Hairston and Rod Steiger

Rod Steiger, Jester Hairston and Sidney Poitier

In the Heat of the Night (1967) This tense, unblinking police procedural coated in a patina of social critique was one of the great successes of its year, which also saw the premier of Bonnie and Clyde. And while the picture is very much of its time in its examination of racist bigotry in the then-current American Deep South, it’s also a brisk, exciting detective thriller that holds up remarkably well, not least due to the crisp direction by Norman Jewison and to the picture’s precise Stirling Silliphant screenplay. Indeed, I prefer Silliphant’s creative adaptation to John Ball’s original novel, in which race is an important component, yet is less central to the narrative’s tensions than in the much bolder, angrier, movie, especially via the incendiary central relationship between Sidney Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs and Rod Steiger’s Chief Gilliespie. It should be remembered that the picture was in release only three years after the murders of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, and the sense of dangerous rot and slowly simmering violence Jewison captures onscreen is as palpable as the oppressive, humid heat of its Mississippi setting. (Although most of it was  shot in the southern Illinois town of Sparta.) Poitier gives a performance of wit, implacable inner strength and fierce integrity. There are a number of moments in the picture where what we see in a character’s face is more revealing, and quietly powerful, than what is said. Poitier has one such scene, when Steiger dismisses him, and his assistance in the murder investigation. Perhaps the most difficult thing an actor can do is to allow us to see him thinking. Too many actors project thought in those moments, and it’s nearly always phony. With Poitier, the impact registers itself in, first, his disbelief, followed by his fury, and, finally, a soft, subtle smile. He gets it; he’s been here before. Yet none of what we see is obvious, or overdone. Lee Grant, as the widow of the murder victim, has a similar scene where, shocked into silence by the news of her husband’s death, she reacts against Poitier’s gentle attempt to seat her with an anguished, rigid gesture that slowly turns to acceptance and, more potently, the need to be comforted. It’s devastating to watch. As the racist sheriff, Steiger, at the height of his screen prowess, meets his co-star blow-for-blow. Gillespie is as much an outsider in the town as Virgil, and as distrusted by the locals. His tension is coiled deep, and he expresses that inner explosiveness in the way he compulsively chews gum, stopping only when he has something to say, or when comprehension breaks through his consciousness. The supporting roles are so perfectly cast they seem inevitable — absolutely real: Warren Oates as a patrolman with a secret; Larry Gates as  a smooth and powerful old racist; the usually genial William Schallert as the bigoted mayor; Beah Richards as the local abortionist; Quentin Dean as a white-trash slut; Anthony James as a smirking creep; Scott Wilson as a prime suspect in the killing, whose changing relationship to Virgil is far warmer than what transpires between Tibbs and Gillespie; and Jester Hairston as an Uncle Tom butler outraged by Tibbs slapping his employer. (If you look sharp, you’ll also see Harry Dean Stanton as a cop.) That slap was a blow for liberty, and must have resounded sharply in many places across the globe, not merely the Southern United States. The dark, expressive cinematography is by Haskell Wexler — cheated by the constricted budget of a crane, he and Jewison make frequent, and often very effective, use of zoom lenses. Hal Ashby provided the fluid editing, and Quincy Jones’ score, mixing jazz and blues, has a nervous, funky energy perfectly in keeping with the movie’s sense of dark foreboding, and he composed a terrific main title song (with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman) that’s sung with passionate soul by Ray Charles. Jones’ cue for Wilson’s attempted escape (and suggested by Jewison) is a highlight, puttering out expressively as the murder suspect realizes he’s licked — the musical equivalent of a runner who’s out of breath.


Ghostbusters1984_45

Ghostbusters (1984) Horror comedy was far from a new concept when Ghostbusters was made — Harold Lloyd starred in something rather redundantly called Haunted Spooks in 1920 — but until 1981 and An American Werewolf in London there had never been one with elaborate special-effects, and even that was modestly budgeted; Ghostbusters cost six times as much (its budget was between $25 and 30 million.) Most of its predecessors tend to be either comedies with a few ghostly appurtenances (cf., Bob Hope’s The Ghost Breakers, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein and Don Knotts’ The Ghost and Mr. Chicken) or genuine horror with black comedy overtones (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Theatre of Blood, Phantom of the Paradise and, indeed, American Werewolf in London) but Ghostbusters takes nothing seriously. Its writer/stars, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, see everything as funny, and since The Ghostbusters themselves seldom panic, we spend the entire movie in a state of amused relaxation right along with them; the audience takes its cue from laid-back smart-ass Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman, for whom the entire natural world is a sardonic joke, so why should the supernatural world be any different? Murray’s comic persona is so relaxed he’s like a more sarcastic version of Bing Crosby. The picture is inconsequential — you smile through most of it, even if you seldom laugh out loud — yet at the same time memorable; several of its set-pieces, phrases and gags became instant cultural touchstones, and after seeing the movie you’ll likely never look at a bag of marshmallows the same way. Sigourney Weaver has a good, serio-comic role as the woman whose apartment is being taken over by an ancient deity, Rick Moranis is sweetly oblivious as a dweeby neighbor, Annie Potts is the Ghostbusters’ preternaturally un-fazable secretary, William Atherton is an officious prick from the EPA (why do so many satires go after EPA rather than corporate polluters?) and Ernie Hudson gets a largely thankless role as the token black member of the team. László Kovács shot the movie beautifully, and the veteran Elmer Bernstein composed a score that, anchored to a loping main theme, was almost too effective: Despite his having composed in his long career everything from epics (The Ten Commandments) and Westerns (The Magnificent Seven) to thrillers (The Great Escape) and intimate dramas (To Kill a Mockingbird) and in every conceivable format from symphonic to jazz, the success of Airplane!, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf, Trading Places and Ghostbusters got him typecast for years as purely a comedy composer.


Touch-of-Evil-7-e1382097512115-940x460

Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles‘ minor masterpiece, and the last time he was permitted the luxury of the studio system’s largess.


the_pink_panther_blake_edwards_and_peter_sellers_on_the_set_of_the_return_of_the_pink_panther

The Pink Panther (1963)
A Shot in the Dark (1964)
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)
The Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)

How Blake Edwards took his love for silent comedy routines deep into the post-War pop consciousness.


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Chinatown (1974) The modern classic by Robert Towne and Roman Polanski.


Beetlejuice

Beetlejuice (1988) I misunderstood Beetlejuice when it was new; my contemporary review (fortunately now lost to the landfills) betrayed a certain — and to me, now, inexplicable — inability to keep pace with Tim Burton’s patented blend of amiability and dark comic outrage. It wasn’t that I couldn’t appreciate his often exhilarating blend of comedy and horror; the Large Marge sequence in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of my seat. But I somehow wasn’t ready for an entire feature with that sensibility, unfettered. Revisiting Beetlejuice now, as I feel compelled to do every few years, I can’t help wondering why my younger self couldn’t relax enough to embrace such a cheerfully anarchic comedy as this one. Written by Michael McDowell (sadly, one of all too many creative men who succumbed to AIDS) and Warren Skaaren (also now prematurely dead, of bone cancer) from a story by McDowell and Larry Wilson, it’s a spook-fest for jaded children, a supernatural comedy that stints neither on the humor nor the paranormal. As the nice young Connecticut couple who discover they’re dead and doomed to live with the wacko modern artist and her bourgeois real-estate developer husband they can’t scare away, Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis embody the spirit of the whole enterprise; they’re too sweetly gentle to make decent ghosts. As the titular “bio-exorcist,” Michael Keaton was a revelation, and his performance still amazes; nothing he’d done in movies up to that point had prepared us for the primal forces he unleashed in himself as Beetlejuice. His non-stop patter, loopy asides, gross-out wit and sheer brazen crudity were like nothing we’d seen in a movie comedy before. I think you’d have to imagine how movie audiences reacted the first time they saw the Marx Brothers to understand the impact that performance had on us in 1988. The strong supporting cast includes a very young Winona Ryder as the developer’s slightly off, death-obsessed teenage daughter; the peerlessly self-satisfied Jeffrey Jones as her father; the ever-treasurable Catherine O’Hara as his nasty, pretentious wife; Sylvia Sidney, in her of her final performances, as Baldwin and Davis’ case-worker, making the most of a role that is really little more than a delicious sick joke; Glenn Shadix as an obnoxious interior designer§; and Dick Cavett as a blasé society snob. Danny Elfman composed one of his brightest early scores, which deftly incorporates some of Harry Belafonte’s calypso hits. The first time I saw Beetlejuice, the use of “Day-O” offended me; now that sequence strikes me as one of the happiest in the picture. That’s one of the perks of revisiting old movies: Realizing that it wasn’t the original, uncategorizable, picture that was to blame for your dismissal of it, and being happy that you’ve lived to become a person who can surrender himself to it.
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§ Although Shadix’s performance struck me at the time as an exercise in extreme stereotype, the actor was himself gay.


The Seven-Per-Cent Solution - Duvall, Arkin, Williamson watch

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) Nicholas Meyer’s ingenious Sherlock Holmes pastiche.


Blackbeard's Ghost - Ustinov and Jones

Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968) I don’t know how I missed this one when it was released, as I habitually saw every new (or newly reissued) Disney movie, animated or live-action. It’s just possible it didn’t make it to the small Ohio town we were living in then, although every other children’s movie of the time did. In any case, I only discovered it when I came across the Disneyland soundtrack album — receiving the record for Christmas of 1970, I nearly wore it out through re-playing. It was my introduction to Peter Ustinov, who narrated it, and who starred as Blackbeard; the LP featured dialogue, mostly between him and Dean Jones, with a little Suzanne Pleshette shoehorned in, and I was entranced by Ustinov’s idiosyncratic way with a funny line, his ineffable charm, and (to borrow a phrase from Harlan Ellison in a different context) the “ineluctable rodomontade” of his florid verbiage. As I grew older and became more familiar with Ustinov, and with his performances and his work as a playwright and screenwriter, I began to suspect that he had re-written the Blackbeard script (or at least, his lines) as he had on Spartacus. And if you love Ustinov as I do, Blackbeard’s Ghost, while silly, generates a lot of laughter. Although basing their screenplay on a very good children’s novel by Ben Stahl, in which two boys accidentally conjure up the shade of the pirate, still very much the bloodthirsty ghoul of legend, the movie’s writers (Don Da Gradi and Bill Walsh) ditched that premise in favor of pure comedy, making this far tamer Blackbeard’s more-than-reluctant compatriot the new coach of a hopeless college track team. That the coach is played by Jones is a help; whatever criticisms might be levied at the Disney pictures in which he starred, the actor (on whom I had a slight childish crush) always brought enormous conviction to them, and his outbursts of incredulous anger are as ingratiating as the engaging grin that occasionally splits his handsome face. The slapstick in the picture, directed with no special distinction by Robert Stevenson, is sometimes dopey and occasionally better than that, and the invisibility effects by Eustace Lycett and Robert A. Mattey are, as usual with Disney, well done, as are the lovely background matte paintings by Peter Ellenshaw. The screenplay has a pleasing lightness, enriched by what I again assume were Ustinov’s additions. The laughter the Disney Blu-Ray drew from me was considerable, even if nearly all of it was generated by Ustinov, who still makes me roar at lines I memorized off that record album when I was nine. Although Elliott Reid overdoes his bit as a television sportscaster, Pleshette is, as always, simultaneously biting and adorable as Jones’ inamorata; Joby Baker makes a good showing in the unaccustomed role of the villain; Elsa Lanchester gets a good scene or two as Jones’ dotty landlady; Richard Deacon is amusingly dry as the college dean; and Herbie Faye, Ned Glass, Alan Carney and Gil Lamb all have good bits in Baker’s restaurant-cum-gambling den. The plot revolves in large part around Blackbeard’s old home, maintained as an hotel by his descendants, little old ladies with nothing else to cling to. I mention this because one of them — and I have no idea which — is identified on the imdb as Betty Bronson. That’s a name more forgotten now than it was 50 years ago, but 45 years before, that Bronson was enchanting youngsters as the screen’s first Peter Pan. I would like to think that Walt Disney, one of whose final productions Blackbeard’s Ghost was, knew that, and gave the old trouper a job. Anyway, it would be pretty to think so.


INTO THE WOODS

Anna Kendric sings “On the Steps of the Palace,” my favorite number in Stephen Sondheim’s dark/light score. “He’s a very smart Prince / He’s a Prince who prepares / Knowing this time I’d run from him / He spread pitch on the stairs…”

Into the Woods (2014) Although I have been a Sondheim fanatic since discovering the Company cast album in 1976, and while the original production of Into the Woods was the first Broadway musical I saw before its cast recording had been released, I deliberately avoided the movie of it when it was new, on the basis of three proper names with which it was associated: “Disney,” “Rob” and “Marshall.” Perhaps only in Hollywood could a minimally talented hack like Rob Marshall reap such rewards (and a-wards) by removing the guts from ballsy musical plays like Chicago and Nine. After countless producers and screenwriters, including Larry Gelbart, had worked at it, what was Marshall’s great “break-through” on Chicago? Turning all the musical numbers into dream-fantasies Renee Zellweger imagines. If you have to justify why people are singing and dancing in a musical, why the fuck are you making a musical? Still, with a screenplay by James Lapine, the original book writer and director of Into the Woods, perhaps there was only so much damage Marshall could do to it. Well, it was someone’s brilliant idea to cast the magnificent Simon Russell Beale as the Baker’s Father and then butcher his role so completely he’s left with no songs and only a couple of lines, confusingly delivered, since we can’t tell who he is, whether he’s real or a phantom, and haven’t any idea whether his son (James Corden) knows either; and to let Chris Pine as an 18th century prince sport a trendy two-day growth of beard on his chin.‖ The picture looks splendid, which I attribute largely to its cinematographer Dion Beebe, its set decorator Anna Pinnock, its costumer Colleen Atwood and its production designer Dennis Gassner. And it’s largely well cast, with actors who can sing: Corden; Meryl Streep, sardonic but subdued as The Witch; lovely Emily Blunt as The Baker’s Wife; cute Daniel Huttlestone as a full-throated Jack; Lilla Crawford as a foghorn-voiced Little Red Riding Hood; Johnny Depp as her Wolf; Tracey Ullman as Jack’s Mother; and Anna Kendrick who, although attractive only from a single angle… and that one her director seldom favors… is an otherwise charming and effective Cinderella. Into the Woods was significantly better than I’d expected. Yet I still tremble whenever I hear another name yoked with this director’s: “Rob,” “Marshall”… and Follies. Hasn’t that poor show suffered enough?

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‖As my friend Eliot M. Camarena once asked, do people like that when they’re children announce, “When I grow up, I wanna look like Fred C. Dobbs!”?


the-art-of-love-lg

The Art of Love (1965) A surprisingly brainless affair to have come from the typewriter of the witty Carl Reiner, riding high in 1965 with the deserved success of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which he created and oversaw, and for which he wrote many of the most memorable early episodes. The best thing about this moderately black farce concerning a failed American artist in Paris whose supposed suicide instantly drives up the prices fetched for his work by his duplicitous best friend (James Garner) is Van Dyke as the artist. His comedic timing, seemingly boneless body and inimitable way with a line or a situation are the equal of the great comedians he worshiped, and it’s one of the great ironies of modern history that he came along at a time when movie and television comedies were so often loud, witless and inane. Had Blake Edwards not already collared Peter Sellers and Jack Lemmon, what a find Van Dyke would have been for that fellow student of slapstick! Reiner can’t really be blamed for the general dopiness of the movie, since he was working from an existing story by two other writers (Alan Simmons and William Sackheim) and the movie’s young director, Norman Jewison, doesn’t appear to have been a great deal of help to him. The Art of Love is attractive to look at — it was shot by Russell Metty — but inert, marking time with things like Angie Dickinson’s fainting shtick (it’s funny the first time), Elke Sommers’ perpetual innocent act and the braying of Ethel Merman, apparently cast as a madam just so she could belt out an instantly forgettable nightclub number. The usually ingratiating Garner has little to play here but his character’s cheesy self-centeredness, and Reiner stoops to such things as plunking a cartoon Brooklynite Yiddishe couple (Irving Jacobson and Naomi Stevens) in the middle of Paris. Still, Jay Novello has a couple of funny bits as a nervous janitor and little Pierre Olaf does miracle work as an umbrella-toting police detective, Cy Coleman provided a perky score (with additional music by Frank Skinner), and DePatie-Freleng came up with some modestly amusing main title animation. There’s little excuse, however, for a comedy — especially one with Dick Van Dyke — whose only big laugh comes at the very end, and absolutely none for its indulging in such feeble wheezes as the periodic introduction of a Madame Defarge-like hag, complete with knitting needles, who shows up every now and then to screech her delight at Garner’s impending execution. But at least I now understand what my mother meant when she once told me that after seeing this one on television when I was a boy I walked around the house for a week saying, “Guillotine! Guillotine!”


Murder by Decree

Murder by Decree (1978) That Sherlock Holmes occupied a revered, albeit fictional, place in the same late Victorian Britain that saw the appalling murders in Whitechapel has intrigued Sherlockians for decades. What more natural meeting could there be than between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant consulting detective and “Saucy Jacky,” as that figure of horror known popularly as Jack the Ripper styled himself in a letter to the papers? Derek Ford and Donald Ford (the former known primarily for his snickering sex comedies) imagined Holmes investigating the murders in the 1965 A Study in Terror, and the same year in which this more recent attempt was released saw the publication of Michael Didbin’s dark little novel The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, very much concerned with Jack. The elements are there even in the mind’s eye: The dimly gaslit cobblestone streets, the hansom cabs and private cabriolets, the enveloping fog that swallows up forms, faces and screams of terror and pain. That Bob Clark, the onlie begettor of Porky’s should, of all people, have directed as beautiful a fiction as Murder by Decree is as puzzling as his making that perfect adaptation of Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story. But then, as Orson Welles once told Peter Bogdanovich, “Peter, you only need one.” The literate screenplay by the playwright John Hopkins emphasizes a more riant, and more passionate, Holmes than is the norm, and Christopher Plummer could scarcely be bettered in the role as the filmmakers, if not Conan Doyle, conceived it. His performance reaches two peaks, one infinitely quiet (his reaction to Geneviève Bujold’s heartbreaking madwoman), the other bristling with outrage at what his betters (including John Gielgud as the Prime Minister, unidentified in the picture but clearly made up to resemble Robert Gascoyne-Cecil) have been up to. Hopkins also, blessedly, gives us a Watson who is as far from the Nigel Bruce model as can be imagined. And while the irreplaceable James Mason is a bit hoary for the role, his aplomb is undeniable; a moment of especial charm is the way he expresses dismay at Holmes, and with a look of genuine hurt, when the former squashes the lone pea on the doctor’s plate. And if he is occasionally the voice of hidebound Empire, Mason’s (and Hopkins’) Watson is also equally as capable of wit as Holmes as, for example, when Sherlock asks his compatriot why his friend deems him only “the prince of detectives” and wishes to know who is king. I won’t spoil the joke here, nor the conclusion of this intricately plotted exercise, based on some theories by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd in their contemporaneous book The Ripper File. The exceptional cast includes a starchily smug and imperious Gielgud; the wrenching Bujold; Frank Finlay as an uncharacteristically deferential Inspector Lestrade; David Hemmings as the police inspector in charge of the case (and who bears absolutely no relationship to the very real Frederick Abberline); Susan Clark as a heartrending Mary Kelly; Anthony Quayle as the dangerously reactionary Sir Charles Warren; Peter Jonfield as a chillingly psychotic chief villain; and Donald Sutherland as the shaken spiritualist Robert Lees, who believes he’s seen the Ripper. Despite a few unnecessary visual flourishes, Clark’s eye is nearly unerring, abetted to an exceptional degree by the rich and expressive cinematography by Reginald H. Morris and the astonishing production design of Harry Pottle; I don’t know whether Pottle is responsible for the staggeringly effective matte paintings of London used in the picture, but whoever painted them, they put you absolutely there. The only real miscalculation in the movie is the highly derivative musical score by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer from which I heard distinct liftings from John Williams (the scene in Jaws of Richard Dreyfus investigating Ben Gardner’s boat), Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann (those eerie strings) and Richard Rodney Bennett (the opening sequence of Murder on the Orient Express) and in which — aside from the plaintive traditional Irish tune for Mary Kelly — there is little that is either original, interesting, useful or pleasing to the ear.


Text copyright 2019 by Scott Ross