Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Intersections and Connections

Am currently watching Last Call, starring Jeremy Irons and Sissy Spacek, about the last days of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Last Tycoon was Fitzgerald’s last novel, incomplete but still made into a film. The Great Gatsby is probably his most famous story that years later resulted in a film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow as Jay Gatsby and Daisy, told from the point of view of Nick Carraway played by Sam Waterston. Sam Waterston, as it turns out, played the journalist Sydney Schanberg in The Killing Fields which I just finished watching this past week. The Killing Fields is the tragic story about the Khmer Rouge regime that rose to power in Cambodia during the Viet Name War. My daughter bought the book for me as a gift after having spent three weeks in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos last year.

Another film about the Viet Nam War that I’ve found profoundly moving is The Quiet American, based a novel by Graham Greene. Michael Caine plays the role of a journalist in this compelling film. Caine is also a central character in the hilarious comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels along with Steve Martin, author of the autobiography Born Standing Up. Born Standing Up shows how Martin’s early life experiences, including doing magic tricks to sell them at Disneyland and playing banjo, later re-appeared later in his career as an entertainer. Now, Martin is performing his own music as a banjo picker and last summer we had the opportunity to see him live, playing tunes from his CD Rare Bird Alert with the Steep Canyon Ranger here in Duluth; it was fantastic.

Doc Watson is another banjo picker whom I once had a chance to see when I was a student at Ohio University. The occasion was a two-day folk festival that included the likes of Mary Travers and the Youngbloods. Peter, Paul and Mary were instrumental in bringing Bob Dylan’s music into the wider culture by performing and recording songs like "Blowing in the Wind." Dylan’s music permeates our culture today, endlessly covered by other groups and used in soundtracks for dozens of films like Henry Poole Was Here which was carried along by the somber "Not Dark Yet."

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Dylan’s "Shelter From The Storm" was picked up in the Tom Cruise film Jerry Maguire. Yesterday I brought home from the library the film Days of Thunder, which stars Cruise as a race car driver. Not sure which film first put Cruise on the map but Rain Man is one of the most memorable. Mrs. Robinson is probably the film that put Dustin Hoffman on the map. Hoffman once considered his Ratso Rizzo role in Midnight Cowboy as one of his two greatest.

Jon Voigt, the other central character in Midnight Cowboy, opened the film Runaway Train with the statement, “What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.” Trains are a central feature of countless Hollywood films including Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Murder on the Orient Express based on a mystery by Agatha Christie. Graham Greene, who wrote numerous novels that later became films, also wrote a novel called Orient Express.

Greene’s The Third Man is another of my favorite novels that has been translated into film, Orson Welles being the central character in that phenomenal story. Welles found his way to Hollywood by means of radio theater, capturing the imagination of a nation through his dramatic and terrifying presentation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Among other things Wells also wrote a story called The Time Machine. Time travel is another recurring theme in Hollywood, one of my personal favorites being Twelve Monkeys starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Pitt gives the appearance of enjoying himself as a film star, playing roles as varied as a Major League Baseball manager, a goofy health club worker and a suave high-class criminal. Yes, crime does pay in Filmland where mucho bucks have been taken in through box office receipts from stories about gangsters like Al Capone. Sean Connery, who was shot down by Capone’s henchmen in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, established his fame as the original Bond, James Bond.

The Bond franchise has featured more than a half dozen actors if you include Barry Nelson and David Niven. In recent year Daniel Craig has proven himself exceedingly worthy of the Bond name and is a favorite of many. Craig was also the hero of Cowboys & Aliens, a surprisingly entertaining sci-fi Western. Cowboys have always been a staple of Hollywood, even before the days of Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger.

On my first visit to Hollywood two wheels were stolen off my rental car and I spent three hours in the Hollywood police station waiting for a replacement car from the rental company. The car was parked about a half block from Kinko’s right where Shirley Temple’s star is cemented. Shirley Temple was a talented little girl who no doubt raked in boatloads of money for the studios by dancing, singing and being cute. Shirley Temple’s middle name was Jane. The love of Tarzan’s life was also named Jane. My favorite Tarzan actor was Johnny Weismueller. When I was a kid we used to play baseball after school, but we always came home early when Tarzan movies were on.

Those were the days.

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