Tell me what you See’s

Sorry my posts are so random today, but I keep coming across fun minutia that I want to share while I’m still thinking about it.

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I spent my teenage years in Phoenix, AZ, doing like most kids my age did — ruining my teeth with the typical chocolates and candies you can find at any checkout counter. One day when I was 15 or 16, my dad came home with a box of something called See’s Candies. This brand is best-known in L.A. and greater California, but they had a store in Phoenix as well. I don’t know how my dad came across the brand, but after I ate one nugget of their candy, I realized that it was possible for me to lust over chocolates nearly as much as I lust over big breasts.

See’s is much better known now — even though they don’t have a permanent outlet in Jacksonville, FL (where I now live), See’s sets up a kiosk at a local mall every Christmastime. My sweet tooth has faded considerably over the years, but you can still win me over with a box of See’s Candies (particularly the bordeaux, which are to die for).

(TRIVIA: Remember the “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ethel get overwhelmed by the speed of the job at the chocolate factory? That was based on See’s assembly-line process.)

Here is a video of how they manufacture their candy. If this doesn’t whet your appetite for their product, nothing will.

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How to cut a watermelon

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This is apropos of nothing I ever write about, but thanks to YouTube, I learned a new skill today. My wife loves watermelon, but it does nothing for me. I only ever regarded it as a huge fruit (vegetable?) whose rewards seemed elaborately buried.

But this YouTube video makes the chore easier than I ever thought possible. If you ever wanted a convenient way to slice and save all of your watermelon at once, here it is.

THE OFFICIAL STORY – Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film of 1985

cthd_languageblogathon2The following is my entry in The Non-English Film Blogathon, being hosted by Catherine at the blog Thoughts All Sorts on July 27-28, 2018. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ takes on some of their favorite non-English-language movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The Argentine movie The Official Story is a heartbreaking, quietly powerful film. I hate to claim too much for the film because it’s relatively small-scale. But it doesn’t bludgeon you to death with its themes the way a similar Hollywood movie might. It sneaks up on you and takes up lodging in your head, just like the obsession Alicia tries to ignore because she’s afraid of what it might uncover.

Alicia (Norma Aleandro) is an Argentine history teacher, seemingly content with her comfy status as the wife of a rich businessman, Roberto (Hector Alterio), and the mother of Gaby, an almost infuriatingly normal five-year-old girl. Yet one can see the tensions inherent in Alicia’s life.

When she insists that “without discipline, there can be no learning,” her students quietly taunt her. And when a haughty woman pokes fun at Alicia’s lifestyle, her husband shrugs it off — not because the woman is wrong but because he couldn’t care less.

At a high school reunion, Alicia meets up with Ana (Chunchuna Villafane, in a tensely vibrant performance), an old chum who left Argentina in a hurry seven years before. When a former schoolmate tries to do a similar haughty number of Ana, Ana reduces the schoolmate to rubbish with a well-chosen four-letter word.

Later that evening, buzzed with eggnog, Ana tells Alicia what she has never told anyone: why she left Argentina so suddenly. She was abducted for being the lover of an alleged subversive, was tortured for 36 days, and was eventually raped. She fled, trying to escape what cannot be escaped because it has lodged in her subconscious.

As Ana spews out her pain at recalling how babies born under this siege were taken from their mothers and put up for adoption, her hysteria gives way to relief. It’s a seemingly simple scene, yet one with the power of the two women merging into one in Bergman’s Persona. But Ana’s obsession isn’t destroyed by this confession — it’s transferred to Alicia. For Alicia’s Gaby, adopted at birth, might be one of those missing babies.

Such a plot summary might make this sound like the Jack Lemmon movie Missing, or a Jane Fonda dawn-of-consciousness film, or even Ordinary People, where a middle-class family must “face the truth.” But The Official Story has it all over these Hollywood movies.

The difference is one of degree. Alicia isn’t out to get politicized or radicalized. She tells her husband, “I just want to know the truth,” because she knows how she’d feel if her daughter were taken from her.

Aleandro makes us see Alicia as someone who might not have had much faith in the system, but who was comfortable enough not to ask questions. And the look in Gaby’s face and her simple nursery song tell us why Alicia never asked.

This movie is filled with stunning moments that make you say, “My God, I know that person.” Ana’s confession scene, a bit where Alicia talks to a woman who slowly realizes she might be Gaby’s grandmother, a scene in which Alicia digs through Gaby’s mementos and delicately sniffs her baby clothing — all of these emotionally charged sequences add up to an unforgettable experience.

The performances are superlative. Villafane, as the tortured Ana, makes up for a lot of bad evenings at the movie theater. Alterio is excellent as the unsympathetic Roberto, particularly in the harrowing scene in which his rage at his wife’s demand for truth explodes and he throws her against a wall.

And through it all, the stoic image of Alicia lingers, as she discovers how wrong she was at the beginning. Her discipline, self-imposed by the best of intentions, hindered her learning process. It is Ana who brings her back to life.

A funny (and clean) comedian

I don’t watch many new comedians these days — and when I say “new,” I mean someone I’ve never seen before. But Brad Upton is funny and he’s really not new. I saw a clip of him on Facebook. Then I tracked down his entire special, laughed myself silly at it, and then made my wife watch it so she could do the same. It turns out that “new” Brad has been doing stand-up for 35 years, ever since he won a comedy contest.

Also, I don’t particularly seek out “clean” comedians, since it usually doesn’t reflect their real demeanor anyway. (Bill Cosby was considered “clean” for decades.) At the same time, an awful lot of comedians rely on profanity and bodily-function jokes to get their laughs. Upton is funny, and at most, his act would probably be rated PG. If you have 40 minutes to spare (or even just a few minutes to sample his comedy), check out the video I’ve embedded below. Upton’s observations about everyday life are terrific.

Monday morning comin’ down

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Does anyone else have a hangover every single Monday morning?

I don’t mean the kind of hangover that’s induced by overindulgence in alcohol (although I’ve had my fair share of those). I mean the kind that wakes you up too early and makes you think, “Oooo, it’s Monday again.”

The strange thing is, I have no burning issues in my life. My family is terrific. My job is the best I’ve ever had — I enjoy it, they like what I do, they pay me well, and they don’t micromanage me. And once I actually get to work and settle into my daily routine, I’m fine.

But there’s something about the start of a new week that always makes me mutter, “MONDAYS.”

My only guess is this feeling is a holdover from my teaching days, when I actually did dread another week of being put upon at work.

(I have the same problem in my dreams. I have recurring nightmares that I am at school — either as a student or as a teacher — and I’m caught short on some project that needed to be done. I suppose a Freudian would say I have some unresolved issue with regard to school. But there’s nothing unresolved there. I took my last college course 20 years ago, I quit teaching 15 years ago, and I’m happy to be done with both of those.)

I just can’t figure out why a negative behavior continues to haunt me long after the negativity has been removed from my life. Any thoughts, readers?

Silk stalkings

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Another sign that I’m growing old…

I just came back from picking up some things at the local supermarket, where the store’s speakers were playing their usual selection of musty pop-music classics. One of them was the 1970 hit “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando & Dawn.

When I was nine years old, this seemed like an innocent song about unrequited love. But let’s look at it a little more closely. (For those not familiar with this light-rock chestnut, I’ve embedded the video for the song below.)

The song’s premise is that the singer has a thing for the woman who lives in the apartment below his. Not just any old thing, mind you — he notes that he has “seen her” several times and that he “can feel her body swayin'” when she dances to music in her apartment.

How does the singer aim to catch his prey, er, win the woman over? He has written a note about his lust for her, attached the note to a string, and has dangled the string outside of his apartment window and in front of hers. The note instructs the woman that, if she would like to “meet me in the hallway” (Now there’s an invite for ya!), she should knock three times on her apartment’s ceiling (i.e., his floor); if she does not want to meet up with him, she should knock twice on the pipe. The singer never considers a third alternative, wherein the woman calls the police and files for a restraining order.

If anyone ever needs proof that males have dominated American society to a detrimental degree, it’s the stalker-song genre. Think “Knock Three Times” is the only example? My twenty-something daughter regularly refers to a particular 1983 hit as “the stalker song.” It’s “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. This song could not make any more explicit the singer’s obsession with a woman. “Every breath you take,” Sting sings, “every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take…I’ll be watching you.”

Sting further goes on to state, “Oh, can’t you see? You belong to me.” No doubt he had “Property Of…” tattooed on the woman at some point.

And the video is filmed like a modern day film-noir, in black-and-white and with sinewy shadows and harsh lighting. Not exactly the stuff that romance is made of.

Sadly, my favorite group of all time, The Beatles, is as guilty of this kind of misogyny as anyone. John Lennon made no secret of how overly macho he was in his youth, and that attitude is reflected in the very possessive lyrics of the Beatles songs “Run for Your Life” (from the otherwise philosophical album Rubber Soul) and “You Can’t Do That.” Even the singer in Sgt. Pepper‘s otherwise optimistic “Getting Better” nonchalantly confesses, “I used to be cruel to my woman/I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she lived.” Not exactly something to put on one’s resume.

And let’s not even getting started on The Rolling “Under My Thumb” Stones.

So what’s your favorite (if that’s the word) example of a stalker song — a song that looks innocent on the outside but riddled with terror on the inside?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BELOW ZERO (1930) – Laurel & Hardy in a cold, cold world

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The following is my entry in The Winter in July Blogathon, being hosted by Debbie at the blog Moon in Gemini from July 13-15, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on some of their favorite winter-themed movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Sometimes, the grim hostility in Laurel and Hardy’s movies seems to stem from nothing else than some scriptwriters eager to goose the film into action. At least the grimness of Below Zero makes some sense. It’s winter, it’s the start of The Great Depression, and Stan and Ollie are about penniless. L&H biographer Randy Skretvedt has said he prefers the L&H movies’ original black-and-white format to colorization because of the time and mood of the films. This movie definitely nails its period.

Laurel & Hardy’s early team efforts usually reflect a three-act structure (for example, their silent You’re Darn Tootin’ had scenes at a band concert, a boarding home, and outside a restaurant). Below Zero has sort of a two-and-a-half-act structure. It has a long, almost unrelenting setting in the frozen outdoors, then a scene in a restaurant, followed by a short attempt at redemption in the outdoors again, outside the restaurant. It’s as though even the movie was aware of its grimness and wanted to give L&H a break, miniscule as it was, at movie’s end.

Stan and Ollie’s roles as itinerant street musicians seem an extension of the same role from You’re Darn Tootin’. One can almost imagine them having played on the street for a year, to no good end, until the Depression and winter set in. After many fruitless attempts to collect money for their talent, Ollie urges them to move on and then discovers that Stan had parked their act in front of a home for the deaf. Ollie does the inevitable camera-look — but then, considering how eager he is to sing “In the Good Old Summertime” while his listeners get frostbitten, who is he to judge?

Stan and Ollie find a wallet in the street and then go to great lengths to evade a vagrant who noticed them perusing the wallet. A policeman comes to their rescue (for once), and magnanimous Ollie offers to take him out for a steak dinner as recompense. After eating in the restaurant and observing a patron who was violently ejected for lack of pay, Ollie decides to double-check his funds. Turns out that the cop was smiling down on them sooner than Ollie had thought — the cop’s photo is in the wallet. Eventually the cop figures out the situation and tells the restauranteur that he’ll pay for his own meal and leave Stan and Ollie to fend for themselves.

Stan and Ollie are rousted and dumped behind the restaurant. Ollie nearly gets run over by the omnipresent motorist before yelling, dramatically and quite convincingly, for his buddy. He finally finds Stan hidden in a water barrel. When Ollie sees that the barrel is empty and asks Stan where the water is, Stan replies, “I drank it!” and rolls out of the barrel looking eighteen months pregnant. (These days, such a premise would probably inspire an R-rated sequel.)

As implausible as the freak ending is, it’s almost a relief after what Stan and Ollie have been through. It’s comforting to know that their friendship can survive such unrelenting harassment, but this might be about as close to the edge as we’d ever want to see them.