1940’s meet the 1960’s: “Go Man Go!”

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A charming time-capsule starring another charismatic but forgotten actor, Dane Clark (not the execrable Dane Cook), alongside a young Sidney Poitier, “Go Man Go!” features a bebop score by Slim Galliard, who was a favorite of Jack Kerouac. I wonder what the connection with “On the Road” is — I remember the phrase “Go Man Go” as an exhortation Sal Paradise shouted out to improvising jazz musicians.

Slim Galliard makes an appearance, playing a piano with his fingers upside down for a small gathering of Globetrotters. I love Kerouac’s description of a Galliard concert:

‘… we went to see Slim Gaillard in a little Frisco nightclub. Slim Gaillard is a tall, thin Negro with big sad eyes who’s always saying ‘Right-orooni’ and ‘How ’bout a little bourbon-arooni.’ In Frisco great eager crowds of young semi-intellectuals sat at his feet and listened to him on the piano, guitar and bongo drums.”

“…Then he slowly gets up and takes the mike and says, very slowly, ‘Great-orooni … fine-ovauti … hello-orooni … bourbon-orooni … all-orooni … how are the boys in the front row making out with their girls-orooni … orooni … vauti … oroonirooni …” He keeps this up for fifteen minutes, his voice getting softer and softer till you can’t hear. His great sad eyes scan the audience.”

What kills me is “ovauti“, it makes sense next to “o-rooni” but it’s so weird, where is it coming from? It’s perfect though.

That’s the 1950’s part of this movie, the 1940’s part consists of stereotypical interactions between Clark as Abe Saperstein, Bill Stern (as himself) a hard-bitten but honest sportswriter, and the evil Potter-like sports magnate Mr. Willoughby. The Bowery-Boys-style slang they use — “Hey ya mug! Ya gonna be a chump all your life? Of course you’re invited!” — is the direct precursor of today’s crushingly unimaginative board-room Ebonics appropriation: “Quarterly earnings doubled? Girl, go on with your bad self!”. It was probably just as hard to listen to back then.

The 1960’s part of the movie is best shown in the final scene, Abe Saperstein, arm-in-arm with the Globetrotters, walking triumphantly towards the camera, in a hopeful message of racial healing. Shades of Blackboard Jungle. I can’t recall another movie from the 1950’s that was this hopeful and unabashed about race. Today’s derivative ironic culture cannibalizes sentiment like this.

“Go Man Go” also has something to say about acting. In an early scene real-life Globetrotter “Sweetwater Clifton” speaks some lines about how he likes soda pop (the origin of his nickname). He delivers them woodenly, although with charm. This is the low end of the acting scale.

Raising the bar, Dane Clark as Abe Saperstein, shows real conviction, but he’s always hitting something when he acts. “I’m going to get us into big arenas if it’s the last thing I do!’ (SMACK). It’s as if the director fired him up before every scene (“Now this time really mean it!”) without thinking what the cumulative effect would be. Clark’s “average Joe” always seems to be in a harangue.

The best actor in the movie is Sidney Poitier, in a relatively minor role, who pops up from time-to-time to speak a few impassioned lines. He does so with quiet conviction, and having seen the other actors telegraph and flail, one gets a sense of the star quality of Sidney Poitier.

A couple of minor points about this movie: it is exemplary in showing what I like to call “old-time small basketball court syndrome”, action shot in a remarkably cramped gym. Another film that features this is “Angels with Dirty Faces” where the players are dodging trapezes and other non-basketball equipment as they play on a tiny court.

“Go Man Go” made me think of why, although everyone knows Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, no one knows who did it in the NBA. It turns out that Charles Cooper was the first drafted, Nat Clifton was the first signed, and Earl Lloyd the first to play in a game, all in 1950. Even though it’s complicated, I would think this deserves a little more recognition. Is it because basketball is not “America’s Game”?

Sontag vs. Kael: Opposites Attract Me

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Craig Seligman begins by saying “I didn’t want to write a book with a hero and a villain, but Sontag kept making it hard for me.”, a statement which reflects my primary objection to this book: too much Craig Seligman.

“She [Sontag] is not a likeable writer — but then she doesn’t intend to be. She’s elitist and condescending towards those less-informed than she is (i.e., everbody) and gratingly unapologetic about it.” By using this “shoot from the hip” style, Seligman is simply emulating his heroine Kael.

Pauline Kael is my favorite film critic, not because of her approach to criticism which is undisciplined and ideosyncratic, but because she is right almost all the time. I love Kael’s line about Richard Chamberlain: “He keeps us conscious that he’s acting all the time. His toes act in his shoes”.

This approach to writing falls apart quickly though when the instant conclusions don’t resonate.   In contrast I was struck by the principled approach Sontag took to larger issues, such as her early comment about the complexity of the issues surrounding the 9/11 attacks:

“Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a “cowardly” attack on “civilization” or “liberty” or “humanity” or “the free world” but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?”

This statement prompted the misguided Andrew Sullivan to create the “Sontag Award” for those who oppose the war on terrorism. Is this the signal example of the old vs. new public intellectual? The real scandal is the death of half a million Iraqi children, prior to 9/11, due to U.S.-sponsored sanctions:

from a 60 Minutes interview (5/12/96)

“Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

Sontag and Kael weren’t opposites, Kael was a brilliant pop writer for whom judgments about personal style were paramount (her own style excepted). She wrote about popular culture within the bubble of popular culture. Sontag’s imperious personal style may have been an important defense mechanism against the oppressive male high culture crypt-keepers of the day. If you remove the personality factor, and look into the substance of Sontag’s writings, to me she comes across as brave and warm-hearted.

“Opposites Attract” is, in fact, inapposite: Kael and are not opposite personalities — for Sontag personality was oblique, an accoutrement, her inner thoughts revealed only in the context of her writings, and in the times in which those writings were created (e.g. 9/11). Analyzing ideas in within these layers is a challenging task, and just as Edmond Morris did in his Reagan biography “Dutch”, I think Seligman may have taken the easy way out.

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The Charles Nelson Reilly Conundrum

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I’ve recently run into several mid-30’s, culturally hyperliterate NYC women who, when asked if they know who Charles Nelson Reilly is, respond with a blank stare. Although the Krapmeister is no spring chicken, this is making me feel Really Old, it’s putting me into Ian McKellan in “Gods and Monsters” territory.

CNR was a gem, one of the first openly gay comedians on network t.v. I don’t think Paul Lynde was “out” to the same degree.

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Charles Nelson Reilly started out taking acting lessons with Steve McQueen, once married to the lovely Ali McGraw, (see previous post, ed.) He appeared on Broadway and won several Tonys and later became a “game-show fixture”. His spluttering, sailor-hatted, giant-glasses-wearing, ascot-sporting persona was funny and refreshing to me, and I always imagined him as a calm, honorable mensch underneath.

This would distinguish him from Paul Lynde who was also very funny but with an air of menace that hinted at the mean-ass alcoholic he was in real life. There is an apocryphal story of how, as a confirmed kid-hater, he was driven crazy by a squalling baby on a long plane flight. He is said to have left his seat and confronted the baby’s mother, saying “Madam, if you don’t quiet that baby I’m going to fuck it!” It’s bad enough he says “fuck” in regard to the kid but he also calls it an “it”. Drugs, rough trade, booze, early death… standard Hollywood story arc.

But back to me. Why is it that it’s so difficult in the ostensible cultural capital of the world to find a woman who knows who Charles Nelson Reilly is? I’m not big on cultural litmus tests but I’m feeling a little isolated here. Now if I could only find someone who knows who this man is:

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Love Story

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Ali McGraw is so appealing in Love Story. Ryan O’Neal too. The movie is overwrought but it’s truly character-driven. Ali McGraw looks like an ex of mine, and the deathbed scenes reminded me of my mom’s recent passing so I suppose the experience was preloaded. I found myself feeling that slightly painful feeling of falling in love. I suppose that’s the motivation for the teenage girls who would see the movie multiple times during its first run.

Ryan O’Neal was great at one time, fantastic in “Paper Moon”, funny in “What’s Up Doc?” How did he turn into a bloated angry mess? Ali McGraw wrote a book called “Moving Pictures” where she describes her battles with alcohol and her relationship problems – like Jane Fonda she was only attracted to cold, witholding men. Who could have predicted that watching her be so fresh-faced, funny and cynical back in 1970?

9/11 Comedy

I admire Sarah Silverman for being a comic who isn’t afraid to joke about 9/11. I remember a few days after 9/11, seeing a comedy show in a basement space in Manhattan (“Two Boots”), featuring a Muslim comic, who was making jokes about being a Muslim, I don’t even remember what the jokes were but they were tremendously funny, owing probably to how nervous everyone was. It’s true, risky stuff is funnier.

Sarah Silverman’s schtick depends on her being an attractive woman. Will she be funny when she’s old and not as attractive? Maybe she’ll be a modern Phyllis Diller, making fun of her body. That might even be funnier because it would be edgier – aging is an uncomfortable topic in America.

Forgotten actors you must love

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I just saw William Wellman’s “Lost Boys of the Road”[correction:”Wild Boys of the Road”, ed.], a 1933 film about Depression era kids leaving home and jumping freight trains. Frankie Darro stars and is GREAT. What a natural, I don’t know why he didn’t become a big star. He has an ability to convey honesty and decency in a way that isn’t as self-aware as Jimmy Stewart, and not as acidic as Henry Fonda. Interesting facts about Frankie: according to Wikipedia he played jockeys a lot because of his small stature, and played the voice of “Lampwick” the in one of my favorite animated films, 1940’s “Pinnochio”. Lampwick is the bad boy who is turned into a donkey.

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Darro opened a bar in Hollywood called the “Try Again” [correction: “Try Later” ed.] (because that’s what he heard every time he would call Central Casting). He became an alcoholic and died of a heart attack at age 59, on Christmas Day in 1976.

Actors you must hate now.

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There is a whole crop of self-satisfied sell-out former genius baby-boomer actors, comedians and musicians who you must forcefully hate now because soon they will be too old to hate, it will be unseemly. Many are former comedians, which I attribute to the greater fall from grace by the “truth-teller”. The list includes:

  • Steve Martin – “Shittier by the Dozen”
  • Eddie Murphy – Fat suit fetish
  • Robin Williams – More interesting when on drugs
  • Robert DeNiro – The positive still outweighs the negative
  • Peter Coyote – A former guerilla street mime, now shilling SUV’s
  • Dennis Hopper – “It’s not where your dreams take you, it’s where you take your dreams” WTF does that even MEAN?
  • Iggy Pop – Fresh Air interview: “What does Iggy Pop mean to Jimmy Osterberg?” (his real name)   …”It means getting the best table at a restauarant, ahahaa”
  • Tim Allen – always a sellout, former cocaine dealer turned traditional values fascist
  • Dennis Miller – now appearing on the “Vs.” network with sports commentary

Many many others, too numerous to name. Soon they will be ancient, like Bette Davis in white pancake make-up on the Tonight show, and you will be lucky they can evoke a time when you were younger so you must leave them alone. In the meantime, as was said in “Ben” (or was it “Willard”) “Tear Him Apart!!!!”

Once upon a time in your living room.


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If I walk around with a t-shirt that says “main character” will I be protected from harm?

Clint Eastwood, as Pauline Kael said, only has one expression, but he does that expression really well.

Does no one else notice the similarity between Clint Eastwood and Hugh Jackman? Both gracile action stars who bulk up to keep their bodies from giving away the message of vulnerability.

70’s-era Westerns can be damn funny. There is always a dwarf named Mordecai, and a balding Franklin Pangborn meets Crispin Glover terrified shopkeeper.

These Westerns also function as horror movies, with eerie soundtracks and weird views of Mono lake desert moonscapes. Now I know where the sounds effects from Planet of the Apes orginated.

I’m trying to experience Nietszche’s idea of sickness being cleansing, energizing and necessary. It only works when I have a minor cold-induced hysteria, which is quickly over and I’m even less energetic for having had it.

Futureman

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Super-hero who subdues criminals by use of a tremendous cough.

Funerals in the future, the eulogy is simply a recitation of the deceased’s Google search term history.

New anti-depressant trade-named “Ethelmerman”.

Baby-showers attended by single women.

If I am at a bar or other singles-oriented gathering and people bring their baby, I suddenly I feel peer pressure to act charmed and avuncular. By that logic shouldn’t I be able to go to their house and they should have peer pressure to fuck me?

If you are glad when “Speaking of Faith” is over so that “The Joe Frank Show” will be on soon, that’s a good sign.

“Speaking of Faith” is the most irresponsible show on public radio: Krista Tippett talks about the “conversation” between faith and baseball, when she should be talking about how we are all going to die in possible agony.

How could Paleolithic man ever find enough food to eat? I’m not fat and I need to eat constantly, I need a conveyor belt. On the Discovery Channel survival shows those guys are lucky to get a moldy snail and some dandelion greens, which they have to boil twice. What if you were incredibly lucky caught a deer (ever see a deer run away)? Could you even eat a raw deer? And what if you broke your ankle or got a rotten tooth or got cancer? Hi, you’re fucked. That’s how it’s been for 100,000 years.

But what about the future? Futureman will recoil in horror that we had to endure having the roofs of our mouths scraped by Captain Crunch. Or that we had to go pee really bad.