That’s what it looked like this weekend: like spring. That’s what it felt like, too: record highs. Which meant yard chores, in February, of all things. Gah. Took down the lights, whcih required the assistance of the Giant Swede to get some stuff my wife had put up.

"I used a ladder," she said, which was a relief; for a minute I thought I was married to Ms. Incredible. Although I suppose I am, given that she has to put up with me.

I didn't step in too much dog poop while getting the lights off the tree, but stepped in enough so the shoes were instantly demoted to Outdoor Chore Shoes. They'd been trending that way for a while, but this sealed it.

Then I went to the hardware store with the Giant Swede, because he was looking to buy a self-closing toilet seat lid. I didn't know such a thing existed but now I wanted one, because aren't you tired of closing it yourself? Touching the thing? Or kicking it with your foot and hearing that sharp report?

While we looked at the feature and benefits of various toilet seats the pianist on the second level of the hardware store - reread that sentence because that is America, right there - dug into a version of "American in Paris" that wasn't exactly Oscar Levant, but it was nice to hear anyway.

He bought two seats.

I bought some peanuts. The main reason I go to this big-box store is for the peanuts. They're $1.25 cheaper than the grocery store. They price them like that in the hopes I will buy something else.

I didn't. But I will.

So I was watching TV late and Netflix decided, based on who knows what, that I would like to watch the “Transformers” cartoon. I did not. It also thought I might want to watch Victor Borge. I did.

We’ll talk more about this later this week. It’s pertinent. But why did I want to watch Victor Borge? I came across him in high school, and was delighted by a non-musical routine that consisted of assigning various sounds to punctuation marks. Then I found book he wrote, “My favorite Intermissions,” which told humorous stories about composers. It wasn’t low-brow / high-brow, or even middle-brow; it was cultured but unpretentious, a way of having fun with high culture without diminishing it.

Perhaps I wanted to see it because I’d also watched a documentary on the National Lampoon, Brilliant Drunk Stoned Dead or something like that. It brought back the adolescent glee the magazine produced when one was, well, adolescent - but aside from the illustrations and the High School Yearbook (a brilliant thing, and still damned funny) the documentary made the creators of the magazine seem empty and dank.

Compare it to another ensemble that skewered its culture: Monty Python. Python was collegiate; National Lampoon, for all its higher-education pedigree, was adolescent. Python’s comedic instincts were intellectual; NatLam’s hormonal id was emotional. Python used absurdity to question ossified social structures; NatLam used obscenity to destroy them, or at least destroy their legitimacy. Python skewered the upper classes not because it wanted to abolish them, but perhaps because it wanted a better twits; NatLam wanted you to think of every sober, non-ironic, genuine expression of society in terms of its corrupted version, because they believed in nothing and thus distrusted and hated anyone who was foolish enough to insist there were things to believe in.

Victor Borge had a twinkle in his eye that believed in laughter and music, and he seemed wonderfully decent

Trying to watch a movie on an Xbox is like -

No, let’s take that a step beyond. Trying to thread a needle on a rollercoaster is like trying to watch a movie on an Xbox. It should be its own standard of difficulty to which other things are compared. The controls are utterly useless, and you don't know what does what. The remote was $25 extra, so I didn’t bother - and as it happens I can use an app on my phone, although I live in fear that it will update and forget my password, and then I’ll have to remember what that was.

We’re always one or two steps away from not being able to do anything, because we forgot something.

I have a password manager, but it’s on my laptop; it has the information that allows me to access the account I have only to perform interactions with Microsoft products. Whenever I go to MY PAGE in the Microsoft universe I feel like someone who has a different family in another country, one I visit once or twice a year. My name is different there because the Xbox assigned me an identity, like I’m a secret agent under deep cover.

Anyway, the movie was “Arrival,” which I’m halfway through and about to start watching on the second night of the Blu-Ray Redbox rental. I watched last night until the Xbox suddenly stopped and started downloading an update, or something. It had serious Xbox business to do and movie watching was OVER, pal. Earlier I had mashed the wrong button and called up a screen of technical information about frame rate and Dolby options, and couldn’t get rid of it. When I pushed another button it quit the entire playback and I got to see trailers, again.

Anyway, the movie was “Arrival,” which had a fascinating premise and an intelligent play-out of its main idea: how to communicate with aliens who have a completely different means of communication? BECAUSE APPARENTLY IT’S UP TO US. These guys show up in big ships and might be inviting us to something larger than our small petty selves, but they can’t be bothered to figure out how we talk. They’re like tourists who go to a foreign country without even troubling themselves to learn how the locals say please. Look, pal, you’re the one who’s come from outer space in miraculous ships, and you can’t listen to the radio and watch some TV and get a feel for the lingo?

I have enjoyed it, though, partly because it’s always a pleasure to see Forrest Whittaker looking like a man who’s basically patient but his patience is almost exhausted and he has hemorrhoids which really doesn’t help his mood. Hawkeye is along to be the Cheerful Scientist Who is Amazed and Decent, and the main character - a mousy Community College language professor who understands that the alien language is based on coffee rings made on a nice white tablecloth - is much different from the Jodie Foster character from “Contact,” who was enthusiastic and idealistic and full of steely Sciencey dedication.

Every era has its own first-contact story. “Close Encounters” was hopeful in the Spielberg sense: they will come, there will be open-mouthed wonder, tubas will play notes they understand, and little grey dude will return our WW2 pilots in exchange for Richard Dreyfuss and we’ll all get along. A new era has begun.

Contact: aliens will reach out to us, if only to say “you’re not ready for this, but just so you know, it’s all pretty awesome, even though you’ll have to explain this to Senator James Woods (R-Snarling).”

Arrival: we have no idea what you’re saying.

It beats the previous eras, where the aliens were either here to enslave us, or wipe us all out because we had nuclear bombs and thus threatened the galaxy. Which is like the United States sending SEALs to a remote island because they came up with gunpowder.

ADDENDUM: having finished the movie, I am perplexed by a co-worker’s estimation that it falls apart in the second half. I thought it became something astonishing.



More of the work of C. H. Wellington, cartoonist mislaid by history.

Leisure time looks like a lot of work.

The effort involved in dancing seems to preclude the taking of pleasure; no one's happy doing it. They are rushing and sweating and it's a grim marital duty, just like - well, never mind.

It's the waiter's responsibility not to let this happen, by the way. You don't go out on the dance floor jositing a tureen of hot soup. It's, like, the first thing they teach you in waiter school.



I am working through a trove of noir. Middling quality. Wonder what this one’s about?

A man dies in a small town. Is everything as obvious as it seems, or was there a . . .

Probably. Let’s listen to the theme. Wait until it finishes all the intro fooforah around :18

  Cover, up, let's cover cover and cover / Cover, cover cover up

Our couple, thrown together by circumstances: she’s coming home for Christmas, he’s an insurance investigator.

She's a Good Girl who's drawn to him at first sight. Since they're both good, the possibility for Noir-style corruption seems scant, and as it goes on you realize quite quickly it's "noir" in the sense of "the French word for 'black,' which is one of the hues in the monochrome palette."

Not a big budget. The small town is the backlot, according to imdb. But this looks real:

It has a short running time, so exposition is necessary, right away. Cue the garrulous bus driver:

Thanks for setting the plot in motion, unnervingly cheerful bus driver!

The town cop:

Bendix is great. It’s ridiculous that he died at the age of 55: "Bendix died in Los Angeles in 1964, the result of a chronic stomach ailment that brought on malnutrition and ultimately lobar pneumonia."

Nowadays they’d put him on something or other and keep him on the north side of the dirt. BTW, imagine this sort of thing nowadays:

Bendix was a Republican. In 1944, for instance, he attended the massive rally organized by David O. Selznick in the Los Angeles Coliseum in support of the Dewey-Bricker ticket as well as Governor Earl Warren of California, who would become Dewey's running mate in 1948 and later the Chief Justice of the United States. The gathering drew 93,000, with Cecil B. DeMille as the master of ceremonies and with short speeches by Hedda Hopper and Walt Disney. Among the others in attendance were Ann Sothern, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Adolphe Menjou, Gary Cooper, Edward Arnold, Lionel Barrymore, Leo Carrillo, and Walter Pidgeon.

I’m sure there were people who weren’t happy that their movie pals were Republicans, but a public event like this seems unimaginable today.

Anyway. Like so many movies of the era, the small-town 40s look like an old beat-up 20s. Small-town streets -


Small town waiting rooms . . .

A reminder that most everything in the 40s looked like the 20s.

Who else is in the movie? Well, there's the Irritatingly Frank Younger Sister, a staple of the ages:

Ann Todd. She had a brief run. Her bio said she was raised by her grandparents, due to "privations caused by the Great Depression." Her father was a composer, Burrill Phillips. That modern long-hair stuff.

Here’s the woman who might be a Femme Fatale.

Do you recognize her?

How about now?

Lasting fame from commercials: it’s the richest kind.

Anyway. It's okay; it's what you'd call a Rainy Saturday Afternoon movie if it was 1972. Bendix makes it worth your while, because no one else is particularly memorable. The whodunnit revelation is nicely done and has a triple-reverse. It was interesting to me as a period piece, to show what interiors were like in the late 40s. Busy and stuffed.

It's Christmas, so you see what home decorations looked like. Fussier trees; lots of tinsel. There's a lot to like about 40s style - it's nothing I would want to bring back; so many patterns - but it has a comforting domesticity that might possibly be explained by external events.

So that's that. Was there a cover-up? Yes. Was it a hard-edged piece about corruption in a small town? In a way. Did it have snarling bad guys and barking gats? No. And that's fine.

Don't miss my MONDAY newspaper column! Just click on the Star. You know: The big green Startribune Star.

It's about Presidents Day! It's almost completely nonsensical.

That'll do; see you around hither / yon.


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