Opinions — let everybody have one

One of my favorite bloggers, Mark Evanier, has written a self-described “cranky” blog entry about how annoyed he gets when people question his tastes. In particular, Evanier reveres the 1963 comedy film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and there is an acquaintance of his who is forever trying to convince Evanier that his love of the movie is just wrong. (You can read Evanier’s blog here.)

I don’t care for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World myself. I think it’s too long and overblown, and its climax goes beyond slapstick to find out just how much pain it can inflict upon its characters and still keep them alive. At the same time, I don’t hold it against any moviegoers who choose to like the movie. To each his or her own.

I have been dealing with this kind of scorched-earth opinionating ever since I started enjoying movies. At this blog, I have beaten to death the topic of how much I adore Laurel & Hardy. I first began watching them on a local Saturday-morning kids’ show in 1971, when I was 10 years old. Back then, there was only one TV in our household, so I monopolized it for an hour on Saturday mornings. Rather than just leave the room, my older sister would sit with me every Saturday and harangue me about how stupid Laurel & Hardy were and how much she couldn’t stand them.

When I was 17, my father died, and I moved in with my brother and his family in Florida. I had recently decided that I adored Woody Allen based on his movie Annie Hall (and from watching some of his older movies on TV). I had an extremely bratty teenaged niece who decided that if I liked Woody Allen, she would do everything she could to denigrate him. If anyone so much mentioned Woody Allen in my presence, she made sure to get in a few shots about how unappealing and untalented Allen was.

What’s the point of acting that way? No human beings are ever going to agree on everything. How much energy does it take to keep silent for a while, or leave the room if there’s something on TV that others like and you don’t?

Getting back to Laurel & Hardy, my wife is the most anti-L&H movie watcher you could ask for. For a long time, she was as adamant about her dislike of them as my older sister was. Once during one of her harangues, I reminded her that I had to endure this kind of behavior from her any time I wanted to watch a Laurel & Hardy movie, and that if she didn’t like them, perhaps she could simply not watch them with me. She got the point and has left me to my own L&H viewing ever since.

My wife, our two kids, and my wife’s best friend are enthralled with the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” and they plan on getting together every Sunday night to watch this show’s currently-airing final season. I have never begun to understand the appeal of “Game of Thrones.” Would it enhance my family’s viewing of the show for me to sit with them every Sunday and remind them how the show’s appeal is lost on me? It’s easier on all of us for me to just go to bed early on Sunday night.

There are a lot of troubles in this world, and I feel that many of them stem from the belief that there is never any room for compromise or bi-partisanship — it’s either my way or the highway. Let’s consider giving everybody a little wiggle room for their opinions. Letting each person enjoy pop culture that makes them happy is a good place to start.

MY FAIR LADY (1964) – A “classical” movie musical

The following is my entry in Audrey at 90: The Audrey Hepburn Blogathon, being hosted by Janet at Sister Celluloid from May 4-7, 2019. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ takes on the career of this beloved actress!

My Fair Lady won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1964 — deservingly so, and I say that as a huge fan of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, which came out the same year and wasn’t even nominated. Film history tells us that the Beatles film was a beloved influence for generations of moviemakers to come, while the former film was one of the last gasps of the “classical” movie musical.

But My Fair Lady is certainly nothing to sneeze at. It too seems to have influenced some filmmakers. (Think of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall or Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, with male leads who condescendingly “educate” their women and then discover that the women have minds of their own.) And like the flowers that poor Cockney girl Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) tries to peddle for a meager living, My Fair Lady has subtle joys that spring forth from out of nowhere.

The story — musicalized from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion — is that of Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), a self-satisfied bachelor and phonics professor who bets his sidekick that he can take a nobody and turn her into a high-society woman. Enter the nobody: Eliza Doolittle, asking to take phonics lessons.

Of course, turning a low-life into a dandy isn’t precisely what the movie’s about, though it has a lot of fun with this plot point. The trouble — for Higgins, at least — begins after he succeeds at his quest and then belatedly discovers that Doolittle has more on her mind than just remaining Higgins’ trophy.

And small wonder — Doolittle’s own dad Alfred (the delightful Stanley Holloway) hasn’t exactly been a male role model for her. In fact, Alfred’s two great numbers — “With a Little Bit of Luck,” about his best efforts to escape work, and “Get Me to the Church on Time,” about his resignation to marriage — are a story of male ego run amok in themselves.

That’s probably why My Fair Lady is still so enjoyable — because everyone in it has a story. (Observe Higgins’ petulance in the brief scene where he’s humbled by his mother, who immediately takes Eliza’s side in the ongoing argument.)

In its own way, My Fair Lady is as radical as The Beatles. Rex Harrison wasn’t much of a singer, so he “talks” his way through the movie’s songs, creating a song style of his own. And Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice was dubbed by the famous Hollywood “alternate” Marni Nixon (who also sang uncredited in the movie version of The King and I).

But Harrison and Hepburn’s grin-inducing performances overcome all impersonalities. And with the movie’s 50th-anniversary restoration, it’s as much a delight to look at as to listen to. My Fair Lady is a prime example of the kind of movie “they don’t make like that anymore.”

GIRAFFES ON HORSEBACK SALAD – The Marx Brothers say, “Hello, Dali!”

A couple of years ago, I read and reviewed a book titled The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made, about some legendary movie projects that never found their way in front of a camera. I think I now have a nomination for # 51: Giraffes on Horseback Salad(Quirk Books, $24.99), a script written for The Marx Brothers by famed surrealist Salvador Dali.

The movie’s concept was presented by Dali and Harpo Marx to M-G-M head Louis B. Mayer in 1937, but not to my great surprise, Mayer dismissed the project out of hand. For decades, the script was considered lost. But thanks to detailed detective work by author Josh Frank, the script’s missing pieces were found and reassembled. Frank worked with Tim Heidecker and artist Manuela Pertega to assemble the “lost film” in graphic-novel format, and the result should fascinate and enthrall enthusiasts of the Marxes and Dali alike.

The story centers on a workaholic named Jimmy, who has patented countless brilliant ideas for time- and labor-saving devices. But he is paying the price personally, his only confidante in the world being his social-ladder-climbing fiancee Linda. One night, the couple attend a stuffy party where everyone is talking only about an enigmatic socialite known only as “The Surrealist Woman.” When Groucho and Chico (inexplicably, of course) show up to introduce The Surrealist Woman to the party crowd, Jimmy is smitten by her mysterious beauty and her dismissal of conformity, and he longs to get to know her better. This aggravates Linda to no end, but with Groucho and Chico on Jimmy’s side, which woman do you think will win out?

The attention to detail by Frank, et al. really pays off. Groucho and Chico’s wisecracking style is authentically represented here (we’ll leave the book’s readers to investigate Harpo’s whereabouts), and with a small stretch of the imagination, one can just about imagine this project as an honest-to-gosh movie. In addition to bringing the Dali script to life, the book contains images of Dali’s storyboard drawings for the movie, as well as “bookend” material to explain the script’s origins (including an essay by Harpo’s son Bill.)

Giraffes on Horseback Salad is a welcome and worthy addition to the Marx Brothers canon, even if it is the strangest movie idea you’ve ever heard.

Happy birthday to me!

Today is my 58th birthday. (Please skip the “old” jokes — I feel creaky enough as it is.)

For my birthday, I am asking for donations to the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s Laurel & Hardy Preservation Fund. Anyone who knows me know that I’m a feverish L&H fan, and UCLA’s work in preserving the negatives of these classic comedy films cannot be overstated. If you’re not a L&H fan, you can still donate to the Archive’s preservation efforts.

Click on the above image of Laurel & Hardy to find out more and to donate. Anything you can contribute will be greatly appreciated!

Get a job!

It always seems like a very distant possibility that’s way off in the horizon — until it happens to you. After more than seven years of service, my job is being outsourced as of May 16.

I will not make any disparaging remarks about my soon-to-be-ex-employer as I know that is, as Captain Hook used to say, bad form. Even my own family thinks I have a good shot at getting a decent job fairly soon, so I’ll forge ahead and skip that pity party.

What I would like to complain about are the Internet’s version of want ads. When the World Wide Web first hit it big, people predicted that the online format would make it much easier for workers to pursue and obtain jobs. Rather than having to type a ton of cover letters and endlessly fill out job applications, it could now be done online and get quicker responses.

I guess that is so. But the downside is that the Internet has lifted up a rock, and out from under it have come all sorts of con men who will do anything to get your personal information in lieu of offering you an actual job. Here are some examples of the online shysters I have encountered during my job search:

  • Phone text messages from callers who insist that they have “received your application” and are ready and able to give you that 50-grand-a-year job you’re waiting for; just call them! The message grabs your attention at first, until you realize that (a) they make no mention of the job you supposedly applied for, and (b) this message from “the president of the company” is riddled with the kind of spelling and grammatical errors that a real employer wouldn’t even tolerate from a job applicant. Guys, if you’re going to try and take advantage of an earnest applicant, could you at least make your plea look plausible?
  • Online employment services that seem to be legit, because they have plenty of good job offerings. The trouble starts when you put yourself on their email mailing list, and they send you basically the same job listings over and over and try to fob them off on you as their brand-new “daily job listings just for you.” I’ll admit that in the beginning, this ploy fooled me so much that several times, I wasted a lot of time arduously filling out applications for jobs for which I’d already applied.
  • Online job recruiters whose help you never requested. This actually happened to me last week. A job recruiter (again, she appears to be legit, at least as far as LinkedIn is concerned) emailed me out of the blue. She insisted that she had two jobs for which I might be qualified, and after she described the jobs, she wrote, “These jobs might not fit exactly what you have been looking for, but I think your job experience could bring a unique perspective to them.”

That sounded like fake flattery, so I replied to her and said thank you, but if these are actually sales jobs, I am not qualified for them and it would be a waste of your and my time to interview me. To my surprise, she wrote me back, continuing to insist that I was right for these jobs, and even scheduling an interview for me. So last Friday, I left my current job early, got to the interview site, and waited an hour to see the interviewer, only to find out that it was…a sales job.

Bottom line: If online job recruiters and fake text-messengers have to lie to convince you that a job you haven’t even interviewed for is a perfect fit for you, it must be one helluva bad job.

  • My all-time favorite is a variation on the fake-messenger ploy. The president of so-and-so company emails you that he has a job that is a perfect match for your skills, and it pays out the yin-yang. Except that the email message reads exactly like one of those letters that says if you help a Nigerian prince move his vast fortune to America, you’ll receive a piece of his fortune for your troubles. Yes, the job letter has the same bold type and voluminous misspellings as the messages you get from that poor, troubled Nigerian prince. Maybe that company president should send his letter to the Nigerian prince, and both of them could get what they’re looking for (or at least what they deserve).

Happily, I can afford to laugh at these fake job offerings because (at this point, at least) my future job prospects seem fairly positive. But just imagine the millions of unemployed people whose finances are hanging by a thread, who are looking for a ray of hope in their responses to job queries. Thanks to modern technology, another cross-section of the middle- and lower-classes is being handily and cruelly exploited.