“It’s a Wonderful Life,” Republican edit

December 17, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life

Movie house poster for “It’s a Wonderful Life” (from Wikipedia)

Jimmy Kimmel’s crew put together the trailer for the new, GOP-edition of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Tip of the old scrub brush to Frank Milewski, and the “real communists of Bedford Falls.”

It’s a wonderful life, Christmas, Capitalism, Communism in America Politics.

More:


Remembering Leonidas and the 300 Spartans: died August 11, 480 B.C.

August 11, 2013

300 popped up on some movie channel back in 2008 as I was preparing to teach world history again.  I did not major in history, and my high school history instruction featured no AP courses (Pleasant Grove High, in Utah, didn’t offer such things then; I assume they do now, but I don’t know).

What I knew about Sparta and the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae came from my reading encyclopedias as a child, and culture.  Never had an occasion to write a speech about the events, though had I known the history better, I might have found some opportunity.  Sen. Orrin Hatch would have loved a compare and contrast speech between the stand of the Spartans and his work against the labor law reform bill in 1977 and 1978; more likely, we could have used the simple historical facts that the stand of the 300 at the same place today would be impossible due to poor soil conservation practices of the local farmers, which has created a plain broad enough for a Persian Army to march through with impunity, never fearing drowning in the sea that no longer exists there.  Thermopylae is a grand historical metaphor for a good orator.  The simple facts of history are important, too — Churchill knew Herodotus’s stories well, and considered them when planning military actions in the area in two world wars.

The movie came up from students in the previous year; it offered, perhaps, a hook for an introduction to world history, explaining why we bother to study it at all.

I got a time delay recording to watch it, which I did, mostly.  Interesting stylization.  Cartoonish characterizations, which one should expect from a movie intended as homage to the graphic novel that directly spawned it, more than an instruction about history.  We might doubt that the Persians had trained and armored rhinoceroses in their armament.  Dialogue — well, this is Hollywood.  It would have been in some dialect of Greek, and no Hollywood scriptwriter would have been able to reproduce it.

What about the battle itself.  World history courses in U.S. high schools should pay attention to this battle, I think.

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, Molon Lave, which roughly translates to Come and get it!

A monument to Leonidas I – Inscription, “Molon Lave,” which roughly translates to “Come and get it!”

Several sources dated the climax of the battle as August 11, 480 B.C. — 2,493 years ago. (The battle is said to have occurred during the Olympics that year, too.)

World history classes dig through that period of history in the first semester.  Teachers, it’s time to think about how we’re going to facilitate this history this year.  As always, some bright student will wave a hand in the air and ask, “Mr. Darrell!  How do they know what happened if no one survived, and nobody had their Sony videocorder?”

At least one other student in the course of the day will be surprised to discover the movie wasn’t a filmed-on-the-spot documentary.  But apart from that, how do we know the events well enough to pin it down to one day?  And, since the Greeks surely didn’t use the Gregorian calendar, since it wasn’t invented until the 18th century — how do we know the date?

The short answer is “Herodotus.”  The longer answer may resonate better:  This is one dramatic battle in a year-long fight for the history of the world.  The Greeks were understandably and justifiably proud that they had turned back Xerxes’s armies and navy (The Battle of Salamis, a bit after Thermopylae).  So, these events were preserved in poetry, in the chronicles, in song, in sculpture, and in every other medium available to the Greeks.  Your AP English students will probably tell you the movie reminds them of The IliadThere’s an entré for discussion.

Turning points in history:  Had Xerxes succeeded in avenging his father’s, Darius’s, defeats, and subjugated the Greeks, history would be much different.  The culture the Romans built on, the trading patterns from east to west and around the Mediterranean, the technologies, the myths, and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern Olympics.)

How do we know?  How do we know?

How do you handle that question?  (Tell us in comments, please.)

I like this battle for the way it ties together many of the loose threads that vex high school sophomores.  Is history exciting?  It can be, as the Frank Miller graphic novel and and the Zack Snyder movie demonstrate.  How important is accuracy in making the story exciting?  (Do the rhinoceroses improve the story of the courage of the Spartans, or merely offer a good graphical metaphor for the overwhelming forces of the Persians?)  What happens when one nation invades another — who has the advantage?  Is knowledge of geography important — in battle, for example?  The philosopher Santayana notes that those who do not remember history are “condemned” to repeat it.  Xerxes tried to apply the lessons of the history of his father’s failed invasion; was he successful?  Remember this point:  Napoleon failed in his invasion of Russia in 1812; Adolf Hitler assigned his generals to study Napoleon’s failure, for Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941; so convinced were the Germans that they knew the lessons, they invade Russia on the anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion.  Did it go any better?  George Washington consciously patterned his life on the great Roman warrior and leader, Cincinnatus — especially in turning over rule once the task was done, as Washington did twice.  What if Washington had, instead, patterned his life after Leonidas?  How might the American Revolution have turned out, and how might the United States have developed, had Washington sacrificed himself as Leonidas did?

The story of the Battle of Thermopylea, the bravery and cunning tactics of Leonidas and the 300, the wars between Persia and the Greek City States, form a good foundation for a study of history at any point after.  It is the stuff of great history, and the stuff of great rhetoric.  It could be the stuff of great AP essays and good writing exercises in general.   Damn the Common Core State Standards*, and damn the misguided Texas critics of CSCOPE, this is a topic I wish more world history teachers would spend some good, profitable time on

Resources and commentary on Thermopylae, Leonidas, and the 300:

More:

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought. Note that, in purple, the map shows where a plain now exists, which was an ocean the Spartans could use to squeeze the Persian Army, about 25 centuries ago. What a difference 25 centuries can make.

_____________

*  Common Core State Standards in social studies actually would support what I’m asking here, if only they weren’t filtered through state school boards who do not value scholarship, but instead wish history to be a checklist of faux-patriotic bullet points to regurgitate.  Here in Texas, we are not affected by Common Core — but we are affected by meddling in history standards by people whose agenda does not include making history exciting and good.  Common Core standards — technically — do not mention Thermopylae.  However, this is the sort of material, including the original texts of Herodotus, whose study the Common Core standards encourage, especially for analysis of the sort I think Thermopylae invites.  Texas TEKS allow mention of the battle, though the Battle of Thermopylae has been purged from the actual standards; Texas lesson plans frequently suggest “watching a film on the Battle of Thermopylae,” and “Answer questions on the battle; trade and grade.”  Teachers infuse those dull words with life — we hope.  Teachers’ actual practice in the classroom is the saving grace for this important history, in Texas; Texas world history teachers face their own Xerxes.  The Texas Lege recently removed the requirement that students study world history, instead giving them a choice of either world history or world geography.  And so the dumbing down of history by (probably well-meaning, but not well-thinking) legislators continues.


Typewriter of the moment: Comedian Stan Laurel

January 16, 2012

Stan Laurel at his typewriter, via Mike Lynch Cartoons

Stan Laurel at his typewriter, where he composed notes to fans. Image via Mike Lynch Cartoons

That is Stan Laurel, half of the comedic team of Laurel and Hardy, famous from the movies of the black & white era, famous from the caricatures in the cartoons our children, perhaps, have seen.  The photo is circa 1958.

Oliver Hardy died in 1957 from a series of strokes, and Laurel suffered a stroke himself.  He was unable to make movies any more, he said.  But he did bother to personally answer all his correspondence from fans.  On the typewriter pictured, he typed out short notes in response the fan mail, like this one, from 1958:

Note from comedian Stan Laurel to a fan - via Mike Lynch Cartoons, via Letters of Note

Note from comedian Stan Laurel to a fan - via Mike Lynch Cartoons, via Letters of Note

Laurel died in 1965.  It’s a bygone era.

No, I haven’t identified the typewriter.

The text of the note can be found at Mike Lynch Cartoons.  I gather Lynch got the images from Letters of Note, a blog devoted to written correspondence of some historic value (it’s very interesting).

  • Laurel and Hardy in “Nothing But Trouble,” 1944

Even more: 


Documentary film worth seeing: “The Other ‘F’ Word” at the Texas Theatre

November 20, 2011

Here’s the trailer:

Kathryn and I caught it last night at the renovated, historic Texas Theatre on Jefferson Avenue in Oak Cliff (formerly an independent town, now a sprawling neighborhood of Dallas).  The audience enthusiasm didn’t overpower the movie — the audience was much smaller than the film deserves.

It’s showing again this afternoon and Wednesday night at the Texas.

Advantages of seeing this at the Texas:

  1. Parking is easy and free after 4:00 p.m. on Jefferson Avenue.
  2. The bar has Mothership beer on tap (and a variety of other good libations).
  3. Popcorn is cheaper than at most megaplexes, plus it doesn’t taste as if made from petroleum by-product (which is not to say it is healthy, but that it may be less unhealthy).
  4. History point 1:  This is a near-Art Deco theatre built originally by Howard Hughes.
  5. History point 2:  This is the theatre in which Lee Harvey Oswald was captured in his flight from the scene of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  6. It’s a great film.
  7. It’s a great theatre to view great films in.

Punk never made a great impression on me.  But at length, years later, I think I understand part of the angst and noise of the punkers, thanks to this film.  The description at the YouTube trailer:

THE OTHER F WORD
directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins
produced by Cristan Reilly and Andrea Blaugrund Nevins

IN THEATERS NOVEMBER 2ND, 2011
http://www.theotherfwordmovie.com/

This revealing and touching film asks what happens when a generation’s ultimate anti-authoritarians — punk rockers — become society’s ultimate authorities — dads. With a large chorus of punk rock’s leading men – Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath – THE OTHER F WORD follows Jim Lindberg, a 20-year veteran of the skate punk band Pennywise, on his hysterical and moving journey from belting his band’s anthem “F–k Authority,” to embracing his ultimately authoritarian role in mid-life: fatherhood.

Other dads featured in the film include skater Tony Hawk, Art Alexakis (Everclear), Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), Tony Adolescent (The Adolescents), Fat Mike (NOFX), Lars Frederiksen (Rancid), and many others.

These are Tea Partiers with a cause and a brain, and a sense of social responsibility.  Lindberg said, near the end of the movie:

That’s what I want to hold on to, is that feeling that we can make a change out there.  Maybe the way we change the world is by raising better kids.

Readers of this blog may note the great irony in one of the chief profiles of the film being of Ron Reyes, a member of early West Coast punk band Black Flag, who quit the band in the middle of a set to protest the violence that afflicted the Los Angeles punk scene, and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to raise his kids well.

Heck, it’s probably a great film to see even if you can’t see it at the Texas.

(You know, I’ve got some shots of our tour of the Texas Theatre in August . . . hmm . . . where are those pictures?  Other computer?)


Chess games of the rich and Famous: Marlon Brando and “The Wild One”

May 5, 2011

Image found at the Internet Movie Database:  Marlon Brando playing chess between shots, on the set of the movie, “The Wild One”:

Marlon Brando playing chess on set of "The Wild One"

Image found at IMDB: Marlon Brando playing chess on the set of "The Wild One"


Mandy Moore Talks Mosquito Nets – ABC News

December 13, 2010

Don’t ask me what work she’s done, because I couldn’t tell you.  I can tell — based on the headlines of the clipping services — that Mandy Moore is popular.

Ironically, in her brief tour of Africa and — shall we label it? — probably-shallow understanding of the issues, Ms. Moore has a deeper understanding of malaria and how to fight it than the most erudite of the DDT denialists, like Michael Crichton, or Rutledge Taylor.  Innocence wins.

For ABC News, the actress talked about charity work in Africa:

Mandy Moore Talks Mosquito Nets – ABC News, posted with vodpod

It’s a case of a celebrity doing “Do a Good Deed” duty, most likely.  In the video, Mandy Moore puts DDT denialists to shame.  In writing?  Moore doesn’t come off as well.  (Did she write that piece herself?  Maybe she should write what she talks.)


Gilbert and Sullivan meet George Lucas: A Grievous “Modern Major General”

November 15, 2009

A friend wrote about enjoying a production of “Pirates of Penzance” at Oregon State.  I looked for YouTube versions . . .

Oh, my!

(Better:  Rent one of the movies, either of D’Oyly Carte, or the Linda Ronstadt/Rex Smith/Kevin Kline version.)


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