Friday, August 26, 2016

‘TEACHER’S PET’ REVISITED


When I went to see the 1958 movie “Teacher’s Pet” with my high school buddy Paul I had no idea that I would pursue a career in news writing.  Paul and I were drawn to Spokane’s Fox Theater by the promise of Mamie Van Doren, “the girl who invented rock and roll.”  We had recently seen her in “High School Confidential” where she was Russ Tamblyn’s almost incestuous loving aunt.
Upon revisiting this comedy last night, I think it has a lot of merit as a whimsical look at newspaper reporting.  (Apparently TV news was not taken seriously in 1958.)
Doris Day promotes the five W’s in the college classroom and Clark Gable plays the cynical city editor who is convinced that academia has no business in journalism.  By the last reel, he comes to appreciate the benefits of a liberal arts education.
Ms. Van Doren plays the platinum bombshell girl friend of Gable and Gig Young is an inebriated  psychology professor.  Both higher education and news reporting are lampooned in “Teacher’s Pet.” 

Mamie matriculated to a PhD in Allied Artists’ “Sex Kittens Go to College” wherein she lectured on math and psychology.  This begs the question:  why not a grand reunion of Ms. Van Doren and Ms. Day in “Teacher’s Pet on the Internet.”  They both are alive and kicking!

MEMORY LANE STROLL Woolworth



We lost a legacy name when  F.W. Woolworth closed in the 90s but it reopened for a day Wednesday so we could relive the moment.  It’s neighbors with the Golden Rule/Donaldsons and the Emporium, long gone and now office space in downtown St. Paul.

A St. Paul firm will convert the Woolworth building into office space.  It’s not known if the escalator will be retained.  Rubber-neckers got a last view of the two-story building this week.


I bought VHS movies, Charlie Chan and Flash Gordon, at Woolworth’s on my lunch break from a grim job across the street with Disability Determination Services as an examiner.  I took the training but never worked at the job.  The movies were not top quality.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

RACE, SAVING THE THEATER aug. 2016

MINNESOTA NICE REVISITED
I learned about writing this past week by reading the incredible collection of memoirs in “A Good Time For The Truth: Race in Minnesota,” edited by Sun Yung Shin.
In “People Like Us,” David Lawrence Grant writes about Minnesota Nice (p.197) that makes so much sense I wonder why we’ve never had this conversation before.  
Sherry Quan Lee, in “Discomfort Zone,” ends her memoir on a hopeful note.  These 16 essays made me glad that Garrison Keillor’s reign at “Prairie Home Companion” has come to an end.  His Lake Woebegone was never anyone’s Minnesota; not even his.  (He was the son of a postal worker in the undistinguished suburb of Anoka.)  People in Seattle may think the PHC is Minnesota but it isn’t.
I lived in Idaho four years and never heard an anti-semitic remark, but my first week as a graduate research assistant on the University of Minnesota Farm Campus I was shocked by a comment from a coworker that was the standard assumption about “Jews.”  I suffered in silence.
Now I live in an apartment community with immigrants from many developing countries who speak several languages while I am lucky to manage one.
Scandinavian culture is giving way to more exotic ways of life here and not too soon.  You still can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Lutheran church here.

This collection of short stories was referenced in an article in the “Korean Times” that I picked up at the library in my neighborhood.  All the contributors to the book are accomplished writers with different styles including poetry. http://www.mnhs.org/mnhspress/books/good-time-truth
ST. PAUL FIRM COULD GET BID FOR DEMOLITION, SOON
A St. Paul demolition company that moved the Academy Theater in 1999 to it’s present downtown Minneapolis location could get the bid to demolish the Terrace Theatre it was learned today.
A representative of the firm Thursday afternoon was quite vague and hesitated to answer when asked when a bid might be let but he thought that Inland Development (not Hy-Vee) would contract for the work.  He also hedged on whether his company is or will be the successful bidder.
His involvement in the project seems fairly significant; in fact he inspected the inside of the theater a few months ago and said it’s “bad and I don’t see what there is to save.” He also has been inside the building several other times and noted mold and a leaking roof.
So has he inspected the theater on behalf of Inland or the city or both and has an agreement been reached formally or informally for demolition? 
He added that he never understood why the Academy Theater was moved and said it too was bad.  He was unaware of the transformation of the Academy to the successful Cowles Center which opened in 2011.  The Academy/Cowles stood vacant for about 30 years, 
He said he couldn’t understand why anyone is interested in saving the Terrace.
His company has been involved in demolition related work to the Ordway Theater expansion and the long vacant flour mill in downtown Minneapolis that is now the Mill City Museum.  
IT’S THE CORPORATIONS, STUPID
Donald Trump is in town to raise money and I am clipping my toenails or I would be at the Minneapolis Convention Center now.
The big news in Minnesota is not Donald or Hillary but how corporations are screwing over homeowners and other residents with the blessings or city councils and mayors.  If we don’t stand up for our communities, who will?  
In Robbinsdale, we jumped from the frying pan into the fire today when the Iowa grocery store chain dropped plans to build a mega strip mall on property that houses our historic mid century modern theater.  A few minutes later we recoiled in horror when the New York real estate trust that owns the property filed a request with the city to demolish the theater now because it’s a “blight.”  (A demolition expert told the owners that it’s “bad, nasty.”)  A hearing will be held Tuesday and we will have an appropriate response. Stay tuned.
In the spirit of mock democracy, the mayor has given residents a Hobson’s choice of pitting the theater against a grocery store in an online “survey.”  It’s either the theater or the grocery store because that’s what the corporate suits want.  But we had both the theater and the grocery store on that site for many years before both went out of business.  
So is this property a white elephant and blowing up the historic theater will solve nothing?  All of Minnesota needs to be involved in the conversation; not just the local yokels.  Who’s going to build another mid century modern design theater for us now?  No one.  Let’s worship at that historic cinema temple and find our way out of the wilderness.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

SOUR SISTER OF SONG


Florence Foster Jenkins was to singing as Donald Trump is to presidential politics:  Both are rancid fish out of water.  But in the biopic “Florence Foster Jenkins,” director Stephen Frears turns the society matron Jenkins as played by Meryl Streep into a sympathetic character.  
By the end of the film, we want her to succeed even though she sounds like a bull moose in heat.
FFJ borrows much from actors of the 1940s with Streep a dead ringer for Margaret Dumont of Marx Brothers fame and Nina Ariana stealing scenes reminiscent of the tough blonde Iris Adrian  in several Monogram and PRC films of yore.
Big Bang star TV actor Simon Helberg plays off the Streep’s over the top matron with ease and is a revelation.

The danger in making a Jenkins film is that her life was a one-line joke:  she couldn’t sing.  But Frears and writer Nicholas Desplat have turned the focus on a universal desire to realize life long desires and aspirations.  She is the Rocky Balboa of bad music.

Monday, July 18, 2016

WRIGHT’S 1940 NOVEL TOO IMPORTANT

 Richard Wright’s 1940 provocative novel, “Native Son,” could be the narrative for current events as racial strife continues unabated.  Here are the thoughts of the central character, pursued by the law, in Wright’s novel:
“Why should not this cold white world rise up as a beautiful dream in which he could walk and be at home, in which it would be easy to tell what to do and what not to do?  If only someone had gone before and lived or suffered or died—made it so that it could be understood!

(Thank you Janet in the UM OLLI class on civil rights where you provided a bibliography that led to the Wright novel. dz)          

Thursday, July 14, 2016

RACIAL DIVESITY CHALLENGES HERE

BLOOMINGTON — Racial diversity is coming to this 150 year old suburb and the city is attempting to update it’s 20-year plan to integrate non-white residents into the community.  Presently almost half of local kindergarten students are non-whites.
At a meeting Wednesday night in the cafeteria of Kennedy High School, city staffers attempted to get feedback from a few residents in a room with tiny backless stools (hard on the back), no air conditioning and no microphone.  Only one person of color attended this meeting.  (I left after 45 back wrenching minutes, straining to hear the presentation.)
From what I gathered they were looking for suggestions that might promote integration.  I suggested the annual Labor Day carnival and classic car show at Bonaventure Catholic Church as the kind of event that would attract a diverse audience.  (I go every year.)
Besides racial diversity assimilation, the outlook is poor for infrastructure with 74 percent of the sewer pipes and almost as many water mains at least 45 years old.  More than half the park buildings need repairs or replacements.

The city sends out a newsletter periodically that non-English readers would find useless.  The city’s cable TV channel might be of interest.  

“THE MASTER” RESONATES WITH TODAY’S NEWS
The main character in the 2012 film “The Master” is reminiscent of today’s headlines where a mentally disturbed man is released from the military and can’t or won’t fit into mainstream society.  It’s about a man lost, lonely and looking for a family, any family.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Joaquin Phoenix plays the obsessed sailor post World War II who drifts into a religious cult where its messiah is portrayed by Philip Seymour Kaufman.  The cult leader is amused by the deranged man whom he calls an animal but other cult members, including his wife played by Amy Adams, see the man as “insane” and a danger.  
The sailor is a poor candidate for cult membership because he refuses to follow the messiah and in the end is rejected.  The story is thin but the character development and acting are great.  If the movie had been made 40 years ago Orson Welles would be the messiah and Richard Widmark would be the crazy guy.

“BLACK CALHOUNS” POST CIVIL WAR SUCCESS STORY
Parts of this book are interesting, but author Gail Lumet Buckley lacks focus and it’s not an easy read.  Buckley is the daughter of African American singer Lena Horne.  The book traces the history of a successful African American family post-slavery with emphasis on Horne’s story and civil rights.  Less would have been more.

Monday, July 11, 2016

ALL’S NOT WELL IN LAKE WOEBEGONE

After the latest in a series of cop vs. African American shooting this past week, it’s apparent that status quo politics won’t reform police departments or get guns off the street.  While people demonstrated in frustration in front of the Governor’s Mansion, they were preaching to the choir since Gov. Dayton has identified the shooting as being related to racial profiling.  
The demonstrators need to take their act to Isanti County and plea at the home of Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt to pass police reform legislation.  We need to elect people to the Legislature and Congress who support gun control and police reform.
Meanwhile, county and city governments are silent.  The county attorney probably will call a grand jury which never indicts police in these Twin Cities police shootings.  More anger will ensue.
(From Pioneer Press:)  DFL Party African American Caucus board secretary Kelis Houston said “she wants to see a stop to the endless circle of protection for police…The mayor has the power to address the union contract which protects them, and if the mayor doesn’t have the power, the governor does.”  (But the governor needs enabling legislation.)
Although the governor got some money from the legislature this session to address African American poverty issues, more needs to be done to level the playing field.

It’s been almost 50 years since the 1967 violent Plymouth Avenue riot in North Minneapolis, and the road ahead does not look promising unless we get some new voices in positions of power here. 
REQUIRED SUMMER VIEWING
Stupid whites can be presidential advisors or anything they want to be, an African American woman observes in the 1979 black comedy “Being There” wherein a witless gardener becomes either the new Messiah or the next president.  The mindless utterings of Chauncey Gardiner will resonate with some who are following the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
Besides this Hal Ashby masterpiece, have a look at Tim Robbins mockumentary on U.S. politics, “Bob Roberts.”
It’s a long hot summer so have a few yuks.

MEET THE 16MM GUY
OLLI member Don Wilkie, a 16mm movie collector, is showing part of his collection of westerns this summer at a local senior apartment complex.  Wilkie has been active in the western movie collectors’ association and is conversant on the history of poverty row studios.  His summer showings are from the LIppert Studio and included “Marshal of Heldorado” (1950) with the handsome James Ellison who was the romantic lead in the 40s Fox musical “The Gang’s All Here.”  
Wilkie has been featured in the Austin and suburban Sun newspapers here.  I thought I was quaint collecting VHS movies, but Wilkie reaches back to a time when you could get 16mm movies from local rental libraries, much like the Blockbusters that went bust.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Eyes Shut Movie Is A Mess

A bored doctor freaks out at a kinky Halloween party and it’s not even Halloween while his wife has a nightmare in "Eyes Wide Shut" 1999.  Almost three hours are consumed until we reach this happy conclusion.  Kubrick should have quit while he was ahead with “Clockwork Orange.”  Thumbs down on this Cruise-Kidman mess.  Britain's Pinewood Studio is where it was filmed, not Manhattan.  Kubrick quit making films in the USA many years ago.