Classic Books, Strange Times

1984

Four classic novels that should be read or re-read during these strange days. All of these books have seen an uptick in sales. George Orwell can thank Kellyanne Conway and her ”alternative facts” for a recent 9,500 percent increase in sales of his dystopia novel 1984 on Amazon.

Other books that have seen sales rise include Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale which looks at a totalitarian society that has women forced into secondary status as citizens.

handmaidThen there is Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. Published in 1936, the novel is a satirical look at what if? What if FDR lost a reelection bid to a charismatic and power hungry politician who ran on a campaign of fear and social reform. Promising great economic reform and running a platform of so called “traditional” values and good old fashion patriotism. Sound familiar?

itcanthappenhereAfter winning the election, the new President quickly turns toward a totalitarian rule backing it up with a guerrilla style military.

A few other books with similarly unsettling themes that are worth reading include Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, George Orwell’s Animal Farm  and Ray Bradbury’s  Fahrenheit 451.

Planet Earth II

After a ten  years wait, Planet Earth II begins this coming Saturday on BBC America. Once again, the stunning photographic wildlife adventure is narrated by Richard Attenborough. The recent advancements is technology (photographic, drones) will make this a breathtaking journey. Check out the trailer attached below.

 

Coming Soon to TCM

golddiggers-of-1933Two films featured in my book, Lessons in the Dark, will be coming soon to TCM. Tonight at 10:15PM (Eastern) the superb Great Depression era musical Gold Diggers on 1933. The film stars Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell along with an excellent supporting cast that includes Aline McMahon, Ned Sparks, Guy Kibbee and Billy Barty.

grapes-of-wrath-3On Friday (Feb. 10th) at 8PM (Eastern) don’t miss John Ford’s masterful production of John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Henry Fonda stars as Tom Joad. The cast includes Academy Award winner Jane Darwell and John Carradine. Look for a very young Darryl Hickman (Dobie Gillis) in a small role.

You can read more about both of these films plus others in Lessons in the Dark. Below I have reprinted the Introduction to the book.

Introduction – Lessons in the Dark

Why these films, why this book and why this collection you ask? It’s simple enough to answer. A few years ago I did a series of articles for Halo-17, a now defunct Australian music and arts website. One of the editors discovered my blog, I assume liked it, and asked if I would be interested in writing a column about classic films. The only caveat was that I had to make the films I wrote about connect to what was happening in today’s world. I needed to show readers how these old black and white films were still relevant. Illustrate how history repeats itself and there are lessons to be learned even from a film that is seventy years old.

   Well, the requirement set forth by the folks at Halo-17 turned out to be simpler than I thought. As I began to look at films from this perspective I realized many films whether twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years old or more remain relevant. They had something to say about us today as well as years ago. Life and art repeat themselves. As the poet, novelist and philosopher, George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” Classic films help us remember the past, both the good and the bad. Sometimes they even predict the future as it did in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) and Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), both which forecast the reality TV and political circus we are forced to endure today. A film like Black Legion (1937) teaches us about hating someone who’s different, how people get sucked into hatred or blaming immigrants for taking jobs from “real Americans.” Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of Will (1935) presented Adolph Hitler as Germany’s savior, a leader who would bring glory back to Germany by once again making it a great power! This Nazi rhetoric, the fear mongering, is awfully familiar to what we hear today from plastic gods with simplistic solutions promising to make America great again as they feed on the hate.

This collection of essays is divided into various sections focusing on specific themes. Each contains essays on films. Though “old” they speak about or reflect on the times we are living in today. Every one of these films remains pertinent to our current lives. Not all are great cinematically, yet there are lessons or messages to be learned. Some films are more direct in their ideas, others are more understated. There are even a few films that put forth a message or point of view for most of the film and then reverse course in the final moments. Why? Censorship sometimes exposes its ugly head or maybe the filmmakers or the studios got cold feet. Whatever the reason, it’s all part of what makes these films fascinating and worth watching and discussing.

    Part One looks at films from or about the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  As we continue to come out of our recent Great Recession that has been hanging over us since 2008, one can read into many of these films the similarities, the hard times and uncertainty we have all recently endured. In Part Two there are films exploring the absurdities of war and its effects on the men and women on the front line and back at home. Part Three contains a couple of films that reveal the influences of the news media on our lives. Part Four takes a look at social injustice. In Part Five we look at films about discrimination. In Part Six we see how the pre-code era gave us a look at tough, strong, independent and progressive women. Finally, in Part Seven, a section that is a catch all. It contains a variety of topics that we still deal with and affect our lives today.

   “Old” films are not just nostalgic. They entertain, or at least attempt to, however, they are also avenues for learning and a passageway to take a look at ourselves as we were then and are now. Movies hold up a mirror to both our past, our lives today and our future. We can see how far we have come; the mistakes that we made, the choices we made, both the good and the bad. Hopefully we are able to learn, realize the bad and not repeat them.

   The majority of these essays first appeared on my blog, Twenty Four Frames. I began the blog almost eight years ago, like many others, as a place to share my love of movies. The blog has evolved over time as I believe I have myself. During a lifetime of watching movies I have discovered new roads to travel and lessons learned. I hope you, the reader, will too.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dogs are generally found in Western States, Canada and Mexico. These fellows were photographed at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico about five years ago. On my most recent trip to Bosque del Apache we looked for them and they were gone. When I asked one of the officials, all they said was the just disappeared a few years ago.

standing-guard-cw-1-of-1

standing-guard2-cw-1-of-1

standing-guard1-cw-1-of-1

Love Locks in Maine

love-locks-1-of-1No one knows exactly where the “love lock” thing began but it has spread around to areas as diverse as Brooklyn, Tokyo and Paris as well as other cities and towns around the world. Lovers throughout declaring their love for one another by writing their names on a padlock and securing it on a waterfront fence then tossing the key into the water.

The photograph you see here I took last year in Portland, Maine where the “love lock” tradition began sometime in early 2013. It was on Commercial Street which runs along Portland’s waterfront. The area  is a big tourist spot and the locks have become a sight for visitors to look out for.

love-locks-close-up-1-of-1
Close up

Surprisingly, there have been few, if any, complaints from residents, shop owners and the local government. What is unknown is what will happen if and when the locks become rusted overtime or become so abundant they become an eyesore for many.