Friday, April 27, 2007

All the King's Men

There have been 3 films of the Robert Penn Warren novel, "All the King's Men."

The story is about the rise and fall of the fictional and fascinating Willie Stark, a character based on the real life Huey Long, Governor of Louisiana.

There was a 1958 version of the story made for television. Most of us missed that.

There was last year's version, starring one of the greatest actors of our time, Sean Penn and a huge all-star cast. Now, I think I will rent that one and take a look.

And, most famously, there was the Robert Rossen version, filmed in 1949. I saw that movie, but, as I was 6 or 7 at the time and most likely half asleep in my chair, I have never remembered much about it.

Mr. Rossen made "The Hustler," a few years later, easily one of the greatest movies of all time with startling performances by Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott and Jackie Gleason. This is an iconic movie, with lines so famous they are quoted by any film buff who has had 2 beers in a row.

In the Rossen version of "All the King's Men," we also have an all-star cast: Broderick Crawford, who won the Oscar that year for Best Actor, John Ireland (nominated for Best Supporting Actor) and his actual wife, Joanne Dru, Mercedes McCambridge, whose major fame was the voice behind the spinning, puking head of Linda Blair in "The Exorcist," but who was magnificent as Luz Benedict in "Giant," and a very young and outrageously handsome, John Derek.

Mr. Ireland, who was born right here in Vancouver, had a career that included 197 credits!

The movie won the Oscar for best Picture, and I am writing about it, because I watched it Friday afternoon and found it fascinating for many reasons.

In some ways, the picture is superficial and obvious. And yet...and yet, the subtleties and shadings of character are quite wonderful to watch. There are no good guys, no bad guys. Everyone is in some way, large or small, compromised and corrupted, and at the same time admirable.

And because it was made in 1949, there are very different approaches to common problems in story telling.

For example, there is a dreadful set piece that lasts less than a minute showing small children leaving a school on a routine fire drill. Some of the children must leave by an outside metal staircase.

The camera shows us the children dashing down the stairs in an orderly and playful fashion. They've done this drill before, they are confident in what they are doing, and it's a clear relief from the monotony of the classroom.

Suddenly, we see a close-up of the structural support that is holding the staircase to the old, brick wall of the school.

The camera cuts back and forth between the children and support. The support breaks a little more loose each time we see it. After 3 of these builds, the support rips away from the wall. We hear some screams and that is the end of the scene.

Today, we would have to see broken limbs, blood spurting, the whole Scorsese/Tarantino craziness.

Yet, told in this old-fashioned, "indirect" way the scene is completely horrifying, completely effective. I hollered our loud, alone in my living room, "Oh No!"

Broderick Crawford had only one other role of equal stature and that was the comedy gangster in "Born Yesterday," with Judy Holliday and William Holden.

He became best known for a schlocky TV series called "Highway Patrol."

But as Willie Stark, he gave us a fully rounded, completely human portrait of a deeply flawed and wildly charismatic personality.

A Beautiful Contribution From Victor

I watched the Japanese-Einstein-Robot thingy and had an epiphany. No, really.

The Japanese are obsessed with robots because they are not making little Japanese. Their birthrate is far below replacement math. So we have this wonderful culture dying because they don't want to have kids. How ironic that they made an Einstein robot, a man who escaped, ....well you know.

This weary world has lost touch with fundamentals. Asians are aborting girl fetuses. Westerners are not reproducing. Africans are being devastated by AIDS.

As an aging man, who has been diagnosed with "an unpleasantness" ( forgive me, but as a boulevardier I do not discuss loathsome details) here is my advice to a world wrestling with the population question.

1. Find somebody to love.

2. No matter your sexual orientation, (S.O),there is somebody there for you.

3. If it works for your relationship, add a child to your love. Through birth or adoption. S.O. is irrelevant.

4. Most important. Be true. Subordinate the self to the family.

5. If you and yours fail in all this, you are still a family.

Even if there are just two of you who tried to have kids and failed.

Two old lovers in the same bed, warming each others' toes, please God as much as those who have been blessed with great grandchildren sitting on their knees.

HE doesn't judge us by our fertility. HE judges us by our morality.

Creepy Einstein Robot

One Japanese scientist has made a robot who looks exactly like him. He discovered much too late that now nobody knows who to put in the box at night.

That's What We Need - Another Department

Former attorney genera; Geoff Plant has released a massive new document called "Campus 2020 - Thinking Ahead." It is a detailed study, with recommendations, of colleges, university colleges and universities in B.C.

I received the document several days ago and I haven't had the time to read through it all as yet. So, this is not to denigrate or condemn the effort.

Nevertheless, two recommendations are ill-advised.

The first suggests that colleges should stop granting full degrees.

That would be fine if it weren't for the fact that several colleges, including LANGARA, all already granting degrees and spending small fortunes building programs of study and teaching staff to do exactly that. And they are doing first rate jobs in those programs. And they are successfully placing qualified and job-ready employees in the workplace.

To dismantle all of that would be retrogressive to say the least.

The second recommendation from Mr. Plant is that the Province create 5 "regional learning councils.

Good grief, doesn't anybody ever learn?

This is exactly the same mistake we have already made with Health Care and Public Schools.

In both instances, we have created terribly expensive, new, and unnecessary levels of bureaucracy that clearly hinder the smooth and timely delivery of service.

Hospitals and schools are not longer responsible for their own performance levels. CEO's of regional boards are paid in excess of $300,000 and leave on a regular basis with glamorous pensions and severance packages.

To add another costly, obstructionist set of regional authorities for post-secondary education is to yield to ineptitude and monies spent that should go to students and teachers.

If these are examples of what Mr. Plant has come up with, I'm afraid to finish reading his report.

Couldn't Have Said it Better Meeself

Guest blogger boulavardier, Victor, comments:

Today, the media reported two stories that are riotously funny in their juxtaposition. The bingo caller at our biggest radio station ( The Top Dog, actually the First Flea) read the stories in sequence without grasping the irony.

Story #1. Vancouver opened its first hi-tek public washroom where the poor folks on the Downtown East Side could pee in comfort.

Story#2. The poor folks from the DTES peed in bottles last night which they intended to throw at the police working the NPA nomination meeting.

So why are we peeing away money?