Monday, May 30, 2011

Unlucky weekend

I can be passionate about many things. Winning is one, since I never broke my maiden playing sports (and the attitude of losing, especially to a hated rival, has led to some depressing moments, including forced starvation on Thanksgiving). Not being late to concerts is one of those since it's akin to buying a $26 ticket and wanting to see a whole show, not half a show since you're paying $26 for $13 value.

There's an inside joke among friends about numerology with my recent luck at arts events. After the Messiah one-off in 2009, I noticed my choir folder with Suzanne Ringer's group had been #48, a number that meant exxxxcellence (there were four at the time, now five x's). With the recent spat of bad luck, apologies to Mike Joy that I've made too many withdrawals at the Luck Bank that I have overdrawn. And that means the number I have drawn is #13 too many times. After an attempt to attend Shakespeare Alive! at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival (a plethora of arias from Shakespeare-based operas; Christian Elser from Greenville Light Opera Works and Mary-Therese Heintzkill of Lake Michigan College (I've mentioned her a few times in the past) were singing) ended with excessive tardiness that I plead my case and was denied, and my anger showed (I can be hot under the collar of my suit) with a bit of humour based on Menotti lore (my voice teacher created the lore!). I told Miss Heintzkill I would try again the next day, another long drive.

So Sunday came and the day started badly, with someone trying to run me off the road on the way to church, forcing me to jump a high kerb. Later that afternoon, police came and would not allow me to even buy a ticket to Shakespeare Alive, this time way early for the concert, long after I calmed down after being forced into pleading for entry last night! People seem to disrespect forgiveness, what was needed to calm down a heated incident, and it seemed that the Unitarians that owned the concert venue decided I was Public Enemy #1 for speaking out against their evils (there was a "wedding" at their sanctuary next door and I noted Secretary of State Mark Hammond should reject this false "wedding" that violates state law) and refused to respect anything. So two attempts at tickets failed, a friendship was denied a third helping, and I ended up grumbling . . . with a ticket and unable to attend. Go figure. I was left frustrated, banging on my steering wheel, and crying all the way back to the trusty Mouse powered truck twice.

How much unluckier can you be?

Maybe the National Guard. J. R. Hildebrand goes into the wall with just 1,800 feet from the 500-mile point at Indianapolis, and Dale Earnhardt Jnr runs out of E15 just 1,000 feet from the 603-mile point at Charlotte.

That's it. Maybe my truck had a National Guard sticker!

Memorial Day, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Weekend Digest

Great to get back to the Digests for us to read! Here is a load of releases.

Jim Daly: Why false marriage will fail.

Victor Davis Hansen: Back to the pre-American world.

Conrad Black: Living in Appeasement World.

Dennis Prager: That Rapture That Wasn't.

Ingrid Schlueter: The Colour of Fear.

Albert Mohler: Screen Test: The Danger of Digital Fixation.

Retro TV Friday

Until about a decade ago, every ABC broadcast from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway carried the same background music in the cold open for the broadcast (500, 1988-2001; 400, 1994-2000), the background being the theme to the TWA Flight 847-inspired movie The Delta Force.

Note this is from the 1998 Brickyard 400, but note the voice narrating this introduction is current Versus INDYCAR lead broadcaster Bob Jenkins (compared to current ESPN NHRA broadcaster Paul Page). Jenkins called last week's qualifying, henceforth the decision to use a Jenkins call and not a Page call for the signature theme of Indianapolis.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Opera Wednesday

We haven't had one for awhile, so I'm filling in for Drew this week with this clip from the bittersweet conclusion to Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. I've been on something of a Strauss kick this year, aided by several of his operas being done at the Met lately.

My two favorite Strauss operas are the dark sinister pieces - Salome and Elektra, and his Four Last Songs - but even in his lighter moments, such as the comedy Rosenkavalier, there's always something a little unsettling in the music, something that touches you in just that way. And music ought to be like that.

This vintage clip is from the 1960 movie, with Sena Jurinac, Anneliese Rothernberger, and the magnificent Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Herbert von Karajan conducts the Vienna Philharmonic.

Friday, May 20, 2011

More Betraying of America: Leninism in Schools, MTV, and Anti-Arizona Tactics by Rock Stars

MTV has betrayed America for its 30 years that we have learned Margaret Sanger’s organisation will be allowed to advertise in order to promote the murder of children that liberals want taxpayers to fund, but commercials for pro-life organisations such as Mercy Ministries, the National Right to Life, and religious organistions are now prohibited on the channels. Consider MTV has dominated our youth where we had a President elected by MTV, which has more influence than Fox News today in the White House and youth, what messages are they teaching to youth when baby murder ads air, but not pro-life organisations?

How many more waivers for ObamaCare will be awarded, with most of them awarded to leftist organisations to the enemy must be punished? Once again, this Administration says reward our friends, punish our enemies. Michelle Malkin reports.

A third of students in government schools drop out, with three out of every five knocked-up teenagers never walking the aisle for a diploma. The reading level of students is less than eighth grade for a majority of adults, while functional illiteracy is a reality of life for over 20%, when they cannot read at fifth grade levels. But, the Obama Administration has decided to reward schools that promote Leninism, the anti-industry agenda of the fringe environmentalists with a big award to be announced next Lenin’s Birthday.

Rock music has always been the place for extreme leftist views. When Georgia passed an Arizona-style immigration law, Carlos Santana used his performance at a concert in Atlanta before a baseball game to attack the law that people support. It’s clear illegals have caused criminal incidents As the Left goes, common sense and laws should be replaced by dictatorial requests of the Far Left.

Retro TV Friday

Bishop Fulton Sheen, from the 60s syndicated version of his famous series Life Is Worth Living, speaks on "False Compassion." I'll have more to say in the near future about false compassion and the nature of social engineering.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

On Saturday the time trials begin for the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500. This is also the 50th anniversary of the first 500 win of the legendary A.J. Foyt. Foyt's going to drive the pace car for this year's race, replacing the will-he-or-won't-he (he didn't) Donald Trump. My question: why weren't they commemorating Foyt's golden anniversary by having him drive the pace car in the first place?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Harmon Killebrew, R.I.P.

First, a story. I know I've told it before, but bear with me one last time.

I was nine years old, and my aunt had taken me to see Harmon Killebrew at the Northwestern National Bank Building in downtown Minneapolis. He was making a public appearance signing autographs, there was an ad in the paper, my aunt worked downtown, and so there we were.

You will read, or have read already, many things about Harmon Killebrew, and one of the things is about how gracious he was. This is a true fact, as they say. He was gracious and friendly and must have asked my name, because the autograph he signed read "To Mitchell, Best Wishes, Harmon Killebrew." The name was perfectly legible - as Steve Rushin writes today, Killebrew believed the fan who waits for a player's autograph should be able to read it. I had him sign a picture that I'd taken earlier that year, at a Twins game against the Seattle Pilots. He was concerned that it wouldn't show up well enough on the glossy photo paper, but enough of the ink made it, and he wrote it hard enough that it left the imprint on the picture. More than easy enough to read.

I still have that autograph, along with the ad for the event. It's packed away in a box, or I'd show it to you right now. I'm sorry I can't get to it at the moment, but when you're a child you never expect your heroes to die, and even when you grow up that part of you doesn't change.

Anyway. After the session, my aunt and I had gone about our business, the big day downtown. We had probably gone to lunch, perhaps at the Sky Room in Dayton's which at the time offered one of the best views there was of downtown. We'd then gone to Woolworth's, where I'd gotten a poster of Harmon to put up on my bedroom wall. As we were headed back, walking through the skyways that were still very new in downtown Minneapolis, there he was - all by himself. No handlers, no posse, just Harmon Killebrew. He was lost in the skyways, which happens to people in downtown Minneapolis even to this day. He couldn't remember how to get back to where he'd parked his car. My aunt, who knew downtown like the back of her hand, was easily able to tell him which way to go.

The point of the story. He rememberd me. By name. "You're Mitch, aren't you?" he said. Even though he'd met probably hundreds of kids that day, and had only seen me that one time. Talk about making an impression on a nine-year-old. Forget being a role model: hero worship after that is inevitable.

So that happened in 1969, during his last great season. It was 42 years ago, and if you're using your fingers you can figure out how old that makes me. I never saw Harmon to speak with him again, although he was no stranger to the area and often appeared at Twins functions even after he retired in the 70s. I saw him play ball a few more times, including a home-run hitting contest he had with Willie Mays out at old Metropolitan Stadium. But I never forgot that day, and even after all these years I can remember what happened as clearly as I'm writing them right now.

There are those who say we ask a lot of our professional athletes and singers and actors, expecting them to be stars when they're at work and role models when they aren't. Never mind the idea that all of us, you and me both, are called to be role models every minute of our lives (c.f. John 13:35), it's a tough thing to be "on" 24 hours a day.

Besides Rushin's piece today, Joe Posnanski (as always) writes a wonderful article here. Again, you'll read others, most of them from people who knew Killebrew or had met him many more times than I had. But in the end it doesn't matter, because the Harmon Killebrew they're talking about is the Harmon Killebrew I knew.

And that, I think, is the moral of the story. Harmon Killebrew wasn't "on" 24 hours a day. He was just being himself.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

There Be Dragons

A film ostensibly about the early life up until his 30s of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, who was canonized in 2002 by Blessed John Paul II. There are only tangential references in the film to the lay apostolate founded by the saint in 1928, designed for Catholics to learn to sanctify themselves through their secular work. And not much about St. Josemaria’s early life and education. Today, Opus Dei has 90,000 members around the world with 2,000 priests, most of them deemed to be quite well educated and very influential in the Catholic Church.

The film tells the complex story of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) when hundreds of thousands of people in Spain were killed in a fraternal war between the conservative Nationalists backed by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and the socialist and communist Republicans, backed by the Soviet Union (and lots of intellectuals and kindred souls from the U.S. and other European countries, motivated by the ravages of the Great Depression and the ensuing enthusiasm for revolution). During that war, when thousands of priests, nuns and other religious were singled out and killed, St. Josemaria’s role seemed to be somewhat fictionalized to help tell the complex story. But it’s an interesting story if you’re a history geek like me.

It’s a hard story to tell, but I thought that the Director, Roland Joffé, well know for his films, “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields”, did a great job on this complex film featuring love, faith, jealousy, revenge, civil war, family relationships, reconciliation and death. The cinematography and especially the combat scenes I thought were particularly good.

I’ve never known much about the Spanish Civil War, the practice event for World War II. The Germans tested their flying and bombing skills there to great effect. Picasso’s “Guernica” painting is world famous for depicting an early aerial bombing raid of an undefended city. The Russians tried to do that but at the same time, Stalin was purging most of the General Staff of the Soviet armed forces on manufactured grounds of treason. So it didn’t do them much good. Thus, the Spanish nationalists, under General Francisco Franco, ultimately defeated the Republicans supported by Stalin.

When I enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1964, one of the last things I had to do before I took an oath of loyalty to the United States and its Army, was to sign a disclosure sheet stating that I was not then nor ever had been a member of a list of a 100 or so organizations that I had never heard of. Anxious to avoid the draft and combat duty, I diligently plodded my way through the list, pondering each name and checking “no” and then moving on to the next. About halfway through the list, the officer in charge just said to us all, “You haven’t been in those groups, just check ‘no’ and give me the sheets!”. The only two names that I do recall from the list were, the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade”, later that I found out was the most significant American unit in the Spanish Civil War, and the “Chopin Cultural Society.” I never did find out what that was all about. But they both dated to the time of the Spanish Civil War. I passed, and did my four years.

Go see it. It’s good! The film probably won’t be around for long. I attended the 4:45 showing this afternoon and as I left, the cleanup crew seemed to be larger than the number of us who paid to see it. (I missed out on the free tickets that were floating around).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Retro TV Friday

Over at It's About TV, a new piece on the short life and strange history of the 1966 NBC variety show starring Sammy Davis Jr. One thing which may have gotten lost in the longer article is my reason for the interest in the show in the first place: Prior to the debut of the Davis show in January 1966, Sammy had done a variety special which was to be broadcast on ABC in February of that year. Due to the terms of Davis' contract with ABC, he was not allowed to appear on a competing network program for three weeks prior to the airing of the special.

Because of this, Davis hosted the premiere episode of The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, then disappeared for three weeks, replaced by guest hosts. Can you imagine something like this happening today? Sure, Letterman had guest hosts while he was ill, and Johnny Carson often seemed to be off more than he was on, but think of a star appearing in the first episode of his new show, then not being seen again for a month? By the time that month was over, Davis had only appeared in 25% of the episodes of his own show! Way to build an audience, huh? It's no wonder the show only lasted a little over three months. 

Classic Sports Thursday

In honour of the English FA Cup soccer final on Saturday between Manchester City and Stoke City, here are highlights from one of the greatest FA Cup finals ever: the epic 1970 final replay between Chelsea and Leeds, won in extra time by Chelsea 2-1.

The FA Cup, sponsored by the Football Association, the governing body for the sport in England, is the major soccer tournament in Europe, and the premier event in English football, with over 700 teams from all levels taking part. Although it's been somewhat eclipsed in recent years by the growth of the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, it remains dear to the hearts of football fans everywhere.

Back in the day we're dealing with today, if an FA Cup match, including the final, ended in a tie, 30 minutes of extra time followed. It wasn't sudden death, so whoever scored ththe most goals in extra time won. If the game was still tied, it would be replayed in its entirety about 10 days later. This rule has since been done away with in the case of the FA Cup final; if Saturday's game is still tied after extra time, it will be decided by a noxious penalty kick shootout.  (Drawn matches in earlier rounds of the tournament are still replayed, with shootouts if the replay also ends in a tie.)

The 1970 FA Cup final was the first time in the history of the competition (which began in 1872) tha the final match had to be replayed, the first contest having ended in a 2-2 draw. Late in extra time of the replay, Chelsea scores, winning the Cup and preventing a second replay.

When the high road isn't necessarily the right road to take

Having finally finished off Ed Sullivan, I've now moved on to Steven F. Hayward's massive and brilliant two-volume The Age of Reagan. Hayward's contention, with which I agree, is that to understand Reagan (or anything, really), one has to understand the times in which Reagan came to political prominence. Therefore, the entire first volume covers the years 1964-1980, much of it dealing not with Reagan at all, but with the social and political environment - the self-destruction of liberalism, the failure of Nixon, and, finally, the rising of Reagan.

At this stage in the book we're looking at the nascent Vietnam War, in particular the Gulf of Tonkin affair, which was the catalyst for deepening American involvement in the war. Without getting too deeply into the intricacies of what happened in the Gulf, Hayward's point is that for LBJ, less than a year into his presidency but with less than four months until the 1964 election, it was imperative to be seen as tough on Vietnam in order to avoid Goldwater's charges of being soft on Communism.  With apologies for the length of this excerpt, here is what I want to center on:
Although critical historians have emphasized the role of political opportunism in Johnson's decision to exploit the Gulf of Tonkin affair to defend against the potential Goldwater charge of weakness, it was in fact unnecessary. In Goldwater's aforementioned Oval Office meeting with Johnson before the Gulf of Tonkin affair [Tonkin occurred in August 1964], Goldwater told Johnson that "there was already too much division in the nation over teh wear" and that neither of them should make things worse "by making Vietnam an issue in the campaign." Johnson sighed in relief, Goldwater wrote in his autobiography. "I interpreted that to mean he agreed." This was one of the great missed opportunitites of the 1964 campaign, not so much for Goldwater as for the nation. A vigorous debate about Vietnam during the campaign might have forced Johnson to give clear commitments to the nation about what would and would not happen in Vietnam. Between Johnson's craftiness and opportuinism, and Goldwater's fastidious patriotism, the nation was denied that debate.
You often hear a lot of discussion from people lamenting the divisiveness in politics today, the polarization between the two parties. There's much to this, in that the arguments that follow are often constructed in a soundbite manner, with no real substance and no effort to educate or illuminate the public.

Nonetheless, it is a profound mistake for candidates to simply paper over issues for the sake of civility, or in order to avoid conflict. Conflict is what makes democracy work, just as expression is what makes freedom work. The manner in which conflict is voiced often makes the difference, but the "can't we all just get along?" mentality, applied to the critical issues of politics, can't be anything but a disaster. Yes, let's be civil about it - I've harped on this point as much as anyone. But let's not deny conflict when it exists, and is meaningful.

You might ask how one applies this to someone like Mitch Daniels and his infamous plea for a "truce" when it comes to social issues, or the larger issue of the Tea Party and its emphasis on economic issues over social ones. And that's a good question. Does Daniels say that social issues don't matter, or that it is essential to concentrate on first things first - save the economy, then take care of the rest?

I've long thought that there was a holistic nature to politics that requred consideration of economic and social issues simultaneously, because of how they're intrinsically intertwined. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between deferring an issue and denying it. Even the Founders realized that slavery, as important an issue as it was, could not be allowed to prevent the formation of the new republic. First things first - let's found the nation, then deal with the rest. Hayward himself, earlier in the book, points out that conservative trends in economics often precede a similar conservative trend in social issues by about twenty years. The Reagan Revolution was mainly economic, but it took until the late 90s for his socially conservative wave to catch up with the rest of the nation.

That's just a side issue, though. My point here, and I do have one, is that Goldwater was dead wrong to refuse to make Vietnam an issue. Whether or not it would have helped him in the election was beside the point. In a misguided effort to maintain national unity during a dangerous time of war, Goldwater's decision denied to the nation a debate on war policies that may have prevented a great deal of misery down the road.

Remember that the next time you hear someone complain about divisiveness in politics, and echoes that plaintive desire that we all "just get along." Is that really the best road to take?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Opera Wednesday: the odd story of American opera (and the next story to be an opera?)

This Memorial Day marks ten years since I attended a Spoleto performance of Manon Lescault at Gailliard Municipal Auditorium with Susan Patterson in the titular role, the first time I had attended an opera for pleasure (not for class), beginning what has been an annual occurrence of attending opera, whether it is at Spoleto, or the college companies, or even the Upstate's operetta company (which is where I'm attending Die Fledermaus this upcoming weekend with the Mississippi Squirrel). This story leads to Laurence Toppman's discussion of American Opera in The Charlotte Observer noting the snobbery of the past forty years of our wonderful genre we admire here. Whereas we have mentioned here about The Voice of Firestone, the appearance of opera singers on various television programmes in the glory days of television, and as Renée Fleming noted in The Inner Voice, operas were sung in the language of the country where it was performed, today's snobbery (and I'm not referencing to Slightly North of Broad, a Charleston restaurant on East Bay!) caused by MTV, the influence of commercial popular music further than before, and the relegation of masterful music caused by the development of public television and radio to the least common multiple has hurt the exposure of serious material .

Oh to remember Dr. Ann Benson's appearance at the Rebel (Craven got him! Have you ever?) and to wonder why don't we see opera singers in public much anymore. Yes, we may see opera singers when promoting productions, but why not in mainstream America? Has the influence of pop music everywhere destroyed serious music? Even our churches are full of secular and secularised “sacred” music that's nothing short of junk heretic drivel where clergy have denounced sacred song and those who listen to it. When a vocal resumé includes Beethoven's Mass in C Major, Händel's Messiah, and plans are to add a Requiem (to be determined at the end of the month), all after 30, how can you tolerate bad rock music in churches that require earplugs?

Just for reference, the Greenville Light Opera Works performs their pieces in English, so Die Fledermaus will be performed in English! A $20 ticket for opera, and a $16 ticket for the orchestra are far better than the $35 (for upper level seats) for major pop/rock stars.

Oh, By The Way . . .

Speaking of the Rebel, was there anger after an old-fashioned Florentine squabble between Happy and Wild Thing? Twenty-five thousand dollars per side for the Battle of Florence near Mr. Ramsey's Minnow Pond. Now that squabble could be dramatised as a battle on the pond between the two combatants along with Mrs. Happy and Mrs. Wild Thing fishing on that pond. How would that to as an opera?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Betraying America, Derby Week, and more

Another Mandate of the Social Engineers. The Department of Social Engineering, Special Rights Division has ordered a hit on “military” chaplains as the conversion of the military from a fighting force to the advancer of the Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and Germanotta agenda of sexual deviants continues. DSE-SRD bases will now be an enabler of false “marriages” that churches will not accept. Court-martials and dishonourable discharges (which include prison potentially) can now be imposed on chaplains and even soldiers with the Bible in non-”protected zones” (chapel services) because of the agenda of sexual deviants, all of which were imposed in Public Law 111-321, which converts the “military” to its new purpose of advancing the Gill Agenda. That, and NASA's change from space exploration to Muslim outreach, are two of the most radical changes to agencies under this Administration.

Speaking of Germanotta. I'm reading the wires before a spin class and cannot believe how her Catholic-bashing ditty, named for the man who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, is being unveiled on a popular television programme. She has created severe damage by betraying our military. Now she is betraying people of faith on the National Day of Prayer. What's next?

Trouble on the Anglicans? Considering how many attend church in England, especially in the Anglican side, and the troubles in the Anglican Communion (including a well-known schism currently ongoing with the Anglicans in South Carolina), and in light of the Royal Wedding, some Britons believe the Church of England is on its way to dying out. Albert Mohler has commentary.

Tax Stupidity. With the price of fuel at over $4.40 per gallon of gasoline (remember, “one gallon” of fuel at most places is 115.2 ounces of gasoline, and 12.8 ounces of filler), the President, USDA, and others are wanting more filler and less gasoline in a gallon of fuel. Seriously, what does this tell us about the government's hatred of oil? They stole car companies to reward those that made tiny cars and Chinese cars in Chicago, and now they're trying to ensure gasoline is banned.

From Swaps to Ferdinand. ESPN Classic recently aired a celebration of the late Bill Shoemaker's final Kentucky Derby win, on Ferdinand, 25 years ago. But his first victory was immortalised in William Faulkner's essay that was published by a young publication from Time that has been immortalised over 50 years later as an authority in sport. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

History stutters, destiny triumphs

To what shall I compare thee, The King’s Speech? Art thou a moving testimonial to the resilience of the human will, a gripping historical narrative, a story of a wife’s devotion to her husband – or a highbrow version of a movie genre best known as the Disease of the Week?

There’s probably been enough discussion on the web regarding the historical inaccuracies of The King’s Speech – everything from the timeline of events to the nature of the relationship within the royal family to the true story of Churchill’s involvement in the abdication crisis. We needn’t review them here; links exist if you want to peruse them (Here, here and here for starters).

No, the point of this is not that the movie wasn’t 100% gospel, although there’s a lot to be said for historical accuracy, and much to be inferred from movies that play fast and loose with it. The point is that all lying, or fudging of the truth, is an attempt at manipulation. Storytelling itself, even when the story is completely and absolutely true, is manipulation as well, in that the purpose of the storyteller is to elicit a certain response from the audience. The reason we don’t think about this more often is that the best storytelling is done subtly, with a sure and confident hand, and if the story moves at a rapid enough pace we don’t even realize we’ve been had until much later, if ever. The best storytellers can have you eating out of their hand when you didn’t know you were even hungry.

What this leads to is a moment in Westminster Abbey during the preparations for the king’s coronation when the thought occurred to me: I am being manipulated. And as soon as I realized that, the enjoyment of the movie vanished. It was a moment that was telegraphed, for anyone to see if they had been looking for it. It was the precise point in time when the king confronts the doctor with the revelation that he has found out the truth, that the doctor is not and never was a doctor, and that his entire reputation has been built on a series of falsehoods and fabrications. It is The Crisis Moment, the pivotal moment when a conflict is introduced that threatens to tear apart the fabric of what up to that point had promised to be a Feel-Good Story. It’s the football star who’s ruled ineligible on the eve of the Big Game, the woman who walks out on her boyfriend just before the wedding due to a tragic misunderstanding – most movies have one, and usually one look at your watch will reassure you that everything will be cleared up in the end, because it’s not time for the movie to be over yet.

So this was The Crisis Moment of The King’s Speech, and it even had a Bad Guy to make the Crisis more appealing – the Vicar, who clearly resented the doctor’s involvement in the whole process, primarily because the Vicar hadn’t been responsible for introducing him to the king. We know that the Vicar will eventually lose this battle, for after all the moment of the King’s Speech hasn’t come yet and the doctor still has plenty of work to do. Sure enough, the doctor is able to explain himself, the king succeeds with his small speaking role in the ceremony, and we can get on to the major work of the movie – preparing for the King’s Speech.

As for the Speech itself – well, vis the title, this is what the whole movie works up to. George was, in a sense, born for this cinematic moment. Will he pull it off? Is the Pope Catholic? You might have figured the filmmakers weren’t about to make a movie about a king who absolutely blew it on a live microphone in a moment of grave crisis for his people. But one of the challenges to portraying historical events in a movie (or book, for that matter) is the eternal question of how to keep the suspense alive. One of the great compliments anyone can give such a story is the comment Judie had following the movie Apollo 13, when she said “I knew how it was going to end, and I still found myself wondering if they were going to make it.” Now that’s suspense – and I didn’t get that from The King’s Speech. Not for one minute.

Having passed through The Crisis Moment, we now arrive at the Climax – the speech itself – and this director isn’t about to let you forget it. As the king steps to the microphone, the fortunes of the entire Empire riding on his tied tongue, the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony starts up. Let me say here that my admiration for this piece of music is second to no one’s. If you only heard one of Beethoven’s compositions in your life, this is the one that would convince you he was a genius. It is atmospheric beyond imagination, running the gamut between sorrow and triumph. But its use as backdrop to the speech was beyond manipulation. It was as if the director didn’t trust the actual words of George’s speechwriter, which were stirring enough, to make the point. But then, in an era where we even have background music in public restrooms, I suppose a speech without a soundtrack is unimaginable. Sure enough, the king pulls it off (and, it must be said, the actor does a remarkable job of mimicking the real-life speech), and as sure as if Clark Kent just stepped out of a phonebooth, he leaves the broadcasting booth transformed: a new, and changed, man.

I don’t want to make it sound as if there was nothing good about this movie – the look of it was fantastic. The historical detail (other than in the script) was impressive, especially the reproduction of old Wembley Stadium at the movie’s outset. Geoffrey Rush was, as usual, solid; for my money it should have been him, and not Colin Firth, in the Best Actor category. Helena Bonham Carter, as Queen Elizabeth (aka the Queen Mum to you and me) was passable (if mannered; she never let you forget for a moment that she was acting), with just enough of a hint of the shrew about her to suggest that she was a woman most men would not have wanted for a mother-in-law. Maybe it was something about the eyes. On the other hand, if that was not the effect she was trying for, then the performance was no credit to her.

Firth won an Oscar for Best Actor, but then so have Richard Dreyfuss and Roberto Benigni, so that’s no point in his favor. I was underwhelmed by this performance – with the exception of an early scene with daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, his George struck me as a cold, and not particularly likeable, fish, part snob and part dolt. One of the key essentials to Crisis Moment movies is that you have a rooting interest in the hero, and I just couldn’t do that with Firth. The only reason I wanted him to get over the stutter is because of Rush – otherwise, I couldn’t give a damn. If he hadn’t been part of the royal family, I’m sure he would have fit right in alongside Bertie Wooster at the Drones Club. The rest of the royal family, particularly George and Edward, were unlikeable, as the filmmakers intended them to be. Whether or not they were portrayed accurately is a matter of taste, I suppose. And this whole review has, in one way or another, reflected back on the director, which means we’ve said enough about him.

All in all, The King’s Speech was, for me, a movie that left a sour taste in the mouth, a movie that diminishes in statue the farther one gets from it, although apparently this opinion puts me in a very small minority. Oh well. It’s a movie that won awards and sold tickets, and since that’s what it was bred for, you’d have to consider it a success by any measure, regardless of what you might think of it.

Finally, I have to admit, and I take no pride in it, that while I consider myself a fairly learned individual, I had no idea George had made such an important speech to the British people. Like many of you, I suspect, the only wartime speeches with which I was familiar were the ones that came from Churchill. And since I was able to find recordings of the speech on YouTube, recordings that were posted long before this movie came out, I’m forced to concede that this was indeed an important speech. I also can’t really say that I was aware of George’s stutter, although upon further reflection I do recall my mother (who was decidedly not an Anglophile) once remarking that she’d always thought George was a little bit, shall we say, slow in the thinker, and I suppose his speech impediment caused a lot of people to think that way.*

*See I, Claudius, who was, of course, played by Derek Jacobi – who also played the Vicar in this movie.

So, to the extent that this movie introduced me to a piece of history that I wasn’t familiar with, I suppose it did some good. At least it encouraged me to read more about it, where I was able to find out what the true story really was.

But I left the theater feeling as if I’d been played, and I don’t like to feel that way.


The opening minutes of Winston Churchill: Walking With Destiny present, in some remarkable color footage of Churchill’s funeral, the image of a woman weeping as the funeral cortege passes by. Even though Churchill was 90 and had been in poor health for some time, his death, as narrator Ben Kingsley comments, still came as a shock to a people that revered Churchill as a link to Britain’s Finest Hour. And I wondered, as I saw the woman gently wiping away her tears, and later watched the scenes of teeming crowds pass by Churchill’s bier, whether or not there had been the same honest emotion at the time of George’s death. Admiration, yes. An affection for the monarchy, certainly. But grief? Not having been there, I can’t say for sure.

But I can say that I came away from this documentary with even more respect for Churchill than I’d had previously, which was already considerable. While George found himself forced into a role that he didn’t want (and did it well; the decision of George and Elizabeth to remain in London rather than flee to Canada for their own protection provided immense moral encouragement to the people), Churchill was forced into a role that he himself wound up creating – a kind of latter-day Lord Protector of the Realm. The movie focuses on the years 1940-41, beginning after a brief prologue with Churchill’s ascent to Prime Minister, and concluding with his Christmastime trip to the United States following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For most of that time Britain was forced to stand alone against what appeared to be an unstoppable Nazi powerhouse, and Churchill had been one of the first to sense the threat Hitler posed, going back as when he was merely Chancellor in the Hindenberg administration. With the fall of France, it was left to Churchill to cajole and convince America of the need to enter the war on the side of the Allies.

There’s something stirring about watching Churchill defiantly challenging the Germans, while encouraging the British people to rediscover the strong stuff of which they were made. Since we’re bound to do it, we’re also forced to contrast the stammering George with the smooth Churchill, especially in the later’s speech to a joint session of Congress in which he remarks, to a roar of laughter and cheers, that had his father been American and his mother British instead of the other way around, he might have come to speak before Congress more honestly. (President Churchill, anyone?)

Naturally, any documentary about Churchill is going to have Churchill as the focal point. As such, we get less about FDR’s initiative in convincing the American public, as well as Congress, to take sides in the war. As well, while the king isn’t ignored, it’s apparent the filmmakers consider Churchill the true hero of the war, particularly in an instance when Churchill and George, while dining together, are interrupted by a German air raid. George was content to head to the safety of the shelter, but Churchill insisted on going to the roof to watch the action first hand. (No record as to whether or not George joined him.) And since the movie was produced by the Wiesenthal Foundation, there are several examples given of Churchill’s fairness to Jews and defense of the right to a Jewish homeland, which might have otherwise seemed out of the narrative stream.* And the soundtrack, which is filled with lovely and stirring music, nonetheless suffers from the occasional bombastic orchestral arrangement that seems just a little wrong for the moment.

* Particularly in pointing out Churchill’s concern that the Atlantic Treaty, which encouraged self-determination in government, could result in Arabs blocking the creation of a Jewish state following the war. While this was undoubtedly one of Churchill’s concerns, I think it likely that he was more concerned about the effects the Treaty would have on Britain’s colonial holdings, especially India.

These minor quibbles aside (and even the word quibble might be strong), this movie, in a little under two hours, reminds us all of the power of heroic virtue, and the influence that can have not only on individuals, but on an entire nation. And while there are different paths to, and different kinds of, heroism, there will always be a need for heroes, and it’s good to have that demonstrated from time to time.

Walking With Destiny is an antidote, a cleansing of the pallet from the bad taste left by The King’s Speech – one which I, at least, needed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

We Got Him!

Monday has never been my favorite day of the week, but this is about the best Monday I can remember in a long time...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...