Of Cell Phones, Lap Tops, and Books

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Young Parisian couple, about a generation apart, one reading a book the other a cell phone.

Before there were cell phones there were laptops. Before there were laptops there were TV screens.  Before there were TV screens there were books.  I’m reading a book right now, which is what I am usually doing. You would be surprised  how much trouble I used to get into just for reading books. I have been called anti-social. Bosses didn’t like it.  One of my wives tossed my books out into the backyard into a mud puddle. And my own mother come into my room one day, and tipped my bookcase over, spilling my books out onto the floor. What was a poor boy to do?

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Most of the time nowadays people don’t seem to care much if I am reading a book. They are too busy with their own noses stuck into their cell phones.

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Next time you get a chance, try reading a book. Remember, Mark Twain once said, those who do not read have no advantage over those who can’t read.

 

Julius Caesar

Shakespeare in the Park

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An excellent production last night of Julius Caesar. It comes at a most propitious moment in time. Lots of parallels to what is going on in our own political landscape. Director Matt Wallace continues to produce some of the most exciting Shakespeare that you are ever likely to see. I have been going to see Shakespeare in the Park since the 1970’s and I can say without reservation that it just keeps getting better and better. The acting is first rate, the direction and staging are superb and the technical aspects such as lighting and sound are first class. Kudos to the costume designer! Kentucky Shakespeare continues to break records for audience attendance. Do yourself a favor and catch one or more of the shows this season. Keep Will Free!

Bridge

Benjamin Franklin Bridge, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I have always loved bridges….I have been photographing them my whole life. This in one of my all time favorite bridges in the world which spans the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden. Informally it is known as the Ben Franklin Bridge.   Work began on January 6, 1922. At the peak of construction, 1,300 people worked on the bridge, and 15 died during its construction. The bridge opened to traffic on July 1, 1926, three days ahead of its scheduled opening on the nation’s 150th anniversary. At completion, its 1,750-foot span was the world’s longest suspension bridge.

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The Gambler (2014)

Movie Review

Gambler 2014

The Gambler (2014) is a remake of the classic 1974 film of the same name. That film, directed by Karel Reisz, was loosely based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella, The Gambler. It is interesting how life imitates art and how art imitates life. The 1974 version was written by James Toback, who had a gambling addiction at the time, came from a wealthy family, and taught creative writing at New York City College. It was his first screenplay and he based it on his own true life experiences with more than just a nod to Dostoevsky.   Dostoevsky was addicted to gambling as well and wrote the novella, based on his own experiences, in 26 days to pay off a gambling debt.

The 2014 version stars Mark Wahlberg as the college professor who teaches literature by day and gambles by night. Wahlberg gives a creditable performance as the gambling addicted professor Jim Bennett. Jim gets in trouble with not one but three different mob figures as he courts danger by getting deeper in debt with each one and staying only one step ahead of complete annihilation. At one point he is $240,000 in debt. One of these mob figures is Frank, played to near perfection by John Goodman, who takes a fatherly interest in Jim and drops philosophical axioms on him in every scene they play together. Still, you wouldn’t want to cross him or any of the others.

John Goodman as Frank

Jessica Lange plays the wealthy mother who bails him out one last time. Her performance is out sized, over the top, and a total delight to watch. We see where Jim may have gotten some of his issues. Brie Larson plays the girl. She is gorgeous to look at but doesn’t have much to do.

The 2014 film is directed by Rupert Wyatt who brought you Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).  The screenplay was written by William Monahan whose previous efforts include The Departed which was known for its crackling dialogue and starred once again, Mark Wahlberg. Not quite as successful here, but not bad. As already mentioned, this movie is a remake of the 1974 movie written by James Toback and starring James Caan.

The locations are different and the cinematic style is very different. The 2014 version takes place in the Los Angeles underworld and filmed in a very slick fashion in colors of cold dark blues and reds. The 1974 version was much grittier and took place in New York City.

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It is axiomatic to say that every film made in the 1970’s is better than any film made in the decades that followed. That is certainly true in this case. In my view the 1974 version was much better. James Caan sizzled as the main character, Axel, who strutted around with his shirt half unbuttoned and his hairy chest exposed as cocky as a bantam rooster, or more to the point like an actual erect cock throbbing with energy and enthusiasm. He exudes sexuality and cockiness. Lauren Hutton plays the girl and Paul Sorvino plays the mob guy, Hips.

Axel is into self-destruction and self-loathing.

“What do all gamblers have in common?”

“They’re in it to lose.”

I liked the ending in the 1974 version better as well. In the 2014 version, after Jim just barley pulls out a win at the last minute and squares all deals and saves his ass, he is seen running to meet up with Amy. This is a hopeful ending that, let’s face it, doesn’t make much sense. It is more of a Hollywood ending one might say. In the 1974 version, after Axel pulls off a last minute win and saves himself from certain disaster, we see him heading down into a dangerous section of New York.

“Don’t go down there Axel,” Hips warns, “they’re cannibals down there (which I guess is code for black people). They will eat you alive!”

Axel, following what must be a death wish, goes into a black whorehouse and picks up a girl and takes her to her room. He is followed by her pimp. Axel then tries to rip her off by not paying her. The whore screams for her pimp who crashes into the room brandishing a knife. A fight ensues and it looks like Axel is winning. He knocks the knife out of the pimp’s hand, the black whore picks up the knife and slashes Alex across the cheek with it. Alex flees the room clutching a rag to his bleeding face.

As he is leaving the flop house he catches a look at himself in a mirror and sees the bloody slash on his face that will no doubt be like a Heidelberg scar that he will carry around with him like a red badge of courage for the rest of his life. Roll credits.

In the novella, at the  end, the protagonist, Alexey, is down and out having lost most of his money on roulette. He meets an old friend who gives him news of his love interest, Polina. This gives Alexey hope as he learns from his friend that Polina is in Switzerland and that she does love him after all. But alas, it is a false hope because in the final analysis, Alexey is still a gambler at heart and cannot escape his fate.

 

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Fyodor Dostoevsky

What all three characters have in common is a gambling addiction. In a letter to a friend Dostoevsky says the thing about his gambler, “… is that all his vitality, his strength, his impetus, his courage, have gone into roulette.” Gambling is not just an addiction, but an overwhelming compulsion that seizes its victims by the mind, body and spirit.

This magnificent obsession is on  fine display in both movies and the novella. For my money the 1974 version of the Gambler is the best. Do I get any bets?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paterson (2016)

A Movie Review

 

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One of the better movies to emerge out of  the 2016 crop of movies is the small slice of life film, Paterson, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Had I had a chance to see it earlier it would have appeared on my Top 10 List for best films of 2016. I happily add it now.

Paterson is a movie about the daily life of a bus driver named Paterson driving a bus in a town named Paterson, played by an actor named Driver. Oh, the irony abounds.

This is a small, quiet, little movie about the daily routine of the main character, Paterson as he goes through this daily rituals of getting up the same time every day, eating a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast and then walking to work. He is a city bus driver for New Jersey Transit. He stops for lunch everyday at the Great Falls located on the Passaic River in Paterson. Paterson eats from a lunch box prepared lovingly by his eccentric wife, Laura, and writes his poetry in a secret notebook that he has been composing in his head as he makes his rounds in the bus. The words flow like the waters from the falls. Paterson writes about the small, little, mundane things in life, but as the imagery picks up speed it sometimes explodes into a passionate torrent of love for Laura, his wife and muse.

Paterson comes home everyday after work and is greeted by his wife, a stay at home creative type who is into making strong and bold visual statements of black and white patterns, swirls, and circles as she designs and paints curtains and clothing and paints every available surface in their modest home with her bold designs. It is obvious that they love each other and accept each other for who they are. Laura encourages Paterson in his poetry and begs him to make copies so he can share them with the world.

After dinner Paterson walks Laura’s dog, Marvin, an English Bull Dog with a lot of personality. But Paterson and Marvin are not exactly best friends. Paterson stops each night on his walk at a neighborhood bar called, The Bar. He ties Marvin out front and goes in for exactly one beer. Here we meet more interesting characters from the city and learn more about Paterson. Posted on the wall behind the bar are pictures of famous people who are from Paterson or who are associated with Paterson in some way.

On the bus we and Paterson overhear snatches of conversations as the passengers talk about everything from historical events to famous people who hail from Paterson. There is an animated discussion about the boxer Hurricane Carter who was arrested for a triple homicide that took place in a bar in Paterson. Turns out the Hurricane was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was wrongfully convicted of the crime. Bod Dylan wrote a song about it and Denzel Washington played him in the movie.

This is a deceptively simple movie that actually has lots going on. Paying close attention to the background details will pay off in dividends. On Paterson’s night stand is an copy of Moby Dick with the name Melville splayed across the cover. In the basement we see the Earlier Collected Works of William Carlos Williams and many other books by other poets and writers.

Paterson, played to perfection by Adam Driver, is a basement poet who loves literature and observing the small details of everyday life and interacting with the interesting characters that inhabit Paterson, New Jersey. His favorite poet is William Carlos Williams, also from Paterson.

In the end, this movie is really a poem. A poem about the city of Paterson and the people who inhabit it as seen through the eyes of a bus drier. Brilliant!

 

 

ORANGE BLOSSOM SPECIAL

The day I met Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash At Newport

One evening in the bleak December back in the 1970’s I was sitting in one Louisville’s famed dens of iniquities, Rhiney’s Go Go Bar and Lounge. The Rick Hipple Duo was playing for our listening enjoyment. Rick Hipple was on the the organ and sang vocals while his partner Lou Stanfield played the drums. I was there with my girlfriend, Lynn of the pretty green panties.

The band had just finished playing a rousing version of Dixie, Of course back in those days whenever a band played Dixie everyone stood up took off they hats and put their hands over their hearts.

Lynn and I had just re-seated ourselves and I was trying to get the waitress’s attention for another round of drinks when the door of the establishment flew open and out of the cold night a man dressed in black and a whole entourage of people trailing behind him filed into the bar.

The man in black approached the bandstand and wrestled the microphone away from ole Rick Hipple and said into the mic with a bit of a slur, “Hi, I’m Johnny Cash, how do you do!”

He looked back at the astonished face of Rick Hipple and said, “Orange Blossom Special,” which Rick commenced to playing.

Now these were the days before Johnny was acquainted with June Carter which is to say he was still a pretty wild character. And that character was on full display that night. He was all liquored up on that roadhouse corn and he stood there swaying in the spotlight slurring his words and trying his best to get through that song.

“Well, I’m going down to Florida and get some sand in my shoes…”

Well, that was the night I met Johnny Cash. A night I will never forget.

 

 

 

 

CLOWNS TO THE RIGHT OF ME

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So my boss comes into my office one day and sits in my chair behind my desk. It used to be his office so I guess he must have felt it was OK. We had switched offices sometime earlier. He liked my southern exposure I suppose.

I sat opposite him in one of the visitor chairs on the  other side of my desk. Larry folded his hands together like circus tents and beat his fingers together the way butterflies beat their wings.

“What clown came up with this bright idea? He demanded to know.

“What idea and who are you calling a clown?” I asked.

Then he stood up and proceeded to peer over the desk at my shoes.

“What are you looking at?”

“I just wanted to now if you were wearing those clown shoes I got you, is all.”

Stuck in the middle again….