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YOU ARE WHAT YOU DO.

by Sheila O’Malley

"When I first started in pictures, an actor didn’t have the freedom to interrupt the dialogue. But in His Girl Friday, Rosalind Russell and I were constantly interrupting each other. The sound men would say, ‘We can’t hear you.’ And we’d say, ‘Well, you’re not supposed to hear us. People do interrupt each other, you know.’"

—Cary Grant

His Girl Friday is known for its faster-than-fast overlapping dialogue, every line rat-a-tat-tatting like automatic weapon fire. There are times—in the crowded press room, for example—when no less than five or six people are all talking at the same time, and yet clarity is never sacrificed. The overlapping required specific timing on the part of the ensemble. Director Howard Hawks said in an interview with critic Richard Schickel, decades later, “Naturally, we used [overlapping dialogue] because that’s the way we all talk… Our little trick of adding a few words in front and adding a few at the end of a line makes it come out as clear as it can be. To me it sounds more like reality.” Reality hyped up on caffeine and cigarettes and sleep deprivation.  The end result is something almost symphonic or orchestral, and is still the high watermark for fast-talking ensemble pictures. 

But the thing about the fast dialogue that is so extraordinary here—and why imitators often fall short—is that the dialogue is not an empty gimmick. Every line is supported by characterization, motivation, action and re-action. Hawks immerses us in the cynical, hard-bitten world of crime reporters and the newspaper business, where everyone races to get the scoop regardless of who may be trampled along the way. One just assumes (because it is set up so powerfully) that this is how they all talk, this is the world they inhabit. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, heading up the cast, speak as quickly as the rest of them, lobbing linguistic explosives at one another like grenades, laughing when they detonate. 

Hawks (and cinematographer Joseph Walker) filmed the action with an unfussy straightforwardness that not only eradicates distraction from the fastest dialogue ever captured onscreen but highlights the irresistible chemistry between Grant and Russell. Except for one or two scenes, the entire action takes place in the cramped unglamorous press room at City Hall. A lot of His Girl Friday is filmed in medium shot, with all of the actors crowded into one frame. What we are seeing plays out in real time. Hawks doesn’t “zoom in” for you; you have to decide where to put your focus in any given scene. *His Girl Friday* is one of those rare films that gets more dazzling with repeat viewings.

A remake of the wildly popular 1928 stage play and 1931 filmThe Front Page (considered by Pauline Kael to be “the greatest newspaper comedy of them all”), written by former reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, His Girl Friday is so cynical that at times you wonder if eventually it will lose its nerve. *His Girl Friday* does not lose its nerve. As Walter (Grant) and Hildy (Russell) hurry out of the press room in the final frame—reconciled as man and wife and racing on to the next big scoop—she struggles, carrying a purse, her coat, and a suitcase. Instead of helping her out with any of it, he gives her an impatient look and says, “Don’t you want to carry that with your other hand?” In an earlier scene, he doesn’t hold the door open for her, and charges across a room without waiting for her, something she gibes him for. And so nothing has changed. Roll credits. The world portrayed in His Girl Friday is insular, brutal, and heartless. Comedy, and the enormous appeal of Grant and Russell, helps you swallow the pill. But it is still a pill. 

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Howard Hawks had the bright idea to re-make the film but to change the star reporter “Hildy” (originally a man) into a woman. Hawks was interested in the world of men—the world of work and shared endeavor that bonded men together—but he was also interested in feisty, insolent women who could go toe to toe with men (without sacrificing their femininity). You rarely see portrayals of marriage or domestic life in Hawks’ films. He was interested in the interplay of wit and bravado between a man and a woman who, more often than not, cannot admit to each other (or to themselves) their true feelings. Howard Hawks’ people have a lot of pride. Part of the fun of his films (and they are tremendous fun) lies in watching prideful people ignore their own softness, their own needs and wants, in order to maintain the façade that they are individuals.

While there are conflicts between men and women in a Hawks picture, he often makes the conflicts look like the best fun in the world. David Huxley (Cary Grant), the workaholic paleontologist in Bringing Up Baby, has a moment at the end of the film when he stands on his brontosaurus-scaffold, looking down at the dizzy dame (Katharine Hepburn) who has upended his entire life in a matter of 24 hours, and shouts at her, “I’ve never had a better time!” Huxley’s emotional outburst in that final moment is key to understanding Hawks’ unique take on the battle of the sexes. Yes, in Hawks’ male characters’ view, women can be annoying and too emotional, and muck up the serious work of men … but in the end, hanging out with them provides you “a better time” than you’ve ever had in your life.

It was well known about town that Rosalind Russell was not Howard Hawks’ first choice (or the studio’s first choice) for the female lead in His Girl Friday. She wasn’t even the second or third choice. Many years later, Russell titled the His Girl Friday chapter in her memoir “Back Door to The Front Page, or How I Was Everybody’s Fifteenth Choice.” She was so pissed off about it that she showed up to her initial meeting with Howard Hawks with wet hair, having just come out of the pool. It is not difficult to picture Hawks’ reaction to this ostentatious display of indifference: she had spirit, she was feisty, she was not intimidated or eager to please. In other words, the perfect “Howard Hawks Woman,” a trope all his own, fine-tuned through picture after picture, showing up in different guises from the beginning until the end of his long and illustrious career. Howard Hawks’ world was a macho one; he made films about pilots and gangsters and cowboys, stereotypically male pursuits. Women in such films normally inhabited a very clear female space, narrow and limited (although no less important as love interests or damsels in distress). Howard Hawks had no interest in those clichés. He presents us with sassy dames who barrel right into the center of the action, disturbing the all-male equilibrium to often sexy results. Lauren Bacall, making her film debut in To Have and Have Not, with Humphrey Bogart, was perhaps the pinnacle of this type of female character. In his direction to her, Hawks kept stressing that he wanted her to be as “insolent” as Bogart. No tears or feminine wiles were allowed—she was a tough gal in a tough world, and, in Hawks’ fantasy, only that type of woman could make a certain type of man happy. In Only Angels Have Wings, poor Jean Arthur is driven out of her mind trying to get close to Cary Grant’s tough-guy pilot.

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Howard Hawks had a dream of equality between the sexes, where women were as cool and self-possessed as men, where they didn’t muck up the business of men with dreams of domestication and safety. But he was not interested in women who tried to be like men. He liked women in his films to maintain their femininity, their sex appeal—minus the stereotypical tears and sentimentality. His women are emotional daredevils. Watching Angie Dickinson banter with John Wayne in Rio Bravo is an object lesson of the perfect “Howard Hawks woman,” as is Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.

After chatting with Russell for a bit, Hawks sent her straight to wardrobe to get fitted for some pinstripe suits. And that, as they say, was that. Rosalind Russell was Hildy from that day forth. Cary Grant, fresh off Only Angels Have Wings, was already signed on as Walter Burns, the unscrupulous editor and Hildy’s ex-husband.

The first scene in His Girl Friday is rightly famous, and should be studied by young directors who want to know how to present necessary information efficiently and naturally. Hildy, decked out in geometric pinstripes (coat and jauntily cocked hat) that make her look like some sort of manic playing card, swoops through the busy newsroom on her way to inform her boss/ex-husband that she is about to be married to a sweet, conventional guy named Bruce (played by Ralph Bellamy). As she makes her way across the room she is greeted affectionately and happily by everyone who sees her. You understand immediately that Hildy is not in any way, shape, or form a “his girl Friday”—rather, she is a star reporter at the newspaper, the best writer they’ve got. But like most Howard Hawks women, she wants to be a “woman,” too; she wants to have a normal life where her husband won’t cancel the honeymoon because of a coal mine disaster or a union strike. 

Hildy bursts into Walter’s office, Walter rises to greet her, and so begins one of the best scenes in American cinema. Critic Molly Haskell remarks in an interview included in the special features of the DVD, that it’s like watching a boxing match between two fighters “in the same weight class.”

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What you understand immediately is that the two are perfect for one another not just because nobody else on earth could keep up with them, but also because nobody else would put up with either of them. It’s a match made in screwball heaven. Pauline Kael, in her famous essay on Cary Grant, "The Man From Dream City", observed that the 1930s screwball comedies “turned love and marriage into vaudeville acts and changed the movie heroine from sweet clinging vine into vaudeville partner.” Direct descendants of the dazzlingly witty Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Walter and Hildy are obsessed with one another, competitive with one another, and, finally, helpless in the face of the blatant chemistry binding them together. As Barbra Streisand’s Judy says in Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? (a 1972 homage to 1930s screwballs), “Listen, kiddo, ya can’t fight a tidal wave.” 

The strength of His Girl Friday lies in the fact that we can see all of that from the get-go. When Cary Grant’s Walter Burns behaves in often-reprehensible ways, repeatedly jailing poor Bruce throughout the film on trumped-up charges, you understand that it’s only because he can’t bear to lose Hildy. Of course, the question remains: is it just her writing he will miss, or is it her? The beauty of His Girl Friday is that it does not distinguish between the two. 

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Hildy, throughout the course of the film, begins to re-discover who she really is: a “newspaperman.” All you need to do is watch Hildy dash like a lunatic between two different telephones in the press room, barking out instructions into both mouthpieces, speaking so quickly it is unbelievable that you still understand every word, to know that this woman is doing exactly what she needs to be doing during her short time on this planet. Her desire to have a quiet life with a nice husband is sincere, but there are more primal drives on this earth, and those who define themselves by what they do will understand. 

Hawks is radical in that he makes the woman central to this ultimate journey, when so often the woman is forced to compromise in other films of that era (and ours). You must choose, if you are a woman: domestic bliss or a career. Here, Hildy gets both, although “bliss” is probably a wild misrepresentation. She and Walter Burns will live together, work together, and fight like cats and dogs until the end of their days. Life will be fun, messy, exciting, infuriating, busy, and focused. To Hawks, that’s what “having it all” looks like. And Walter Burns, ruthless as he is, understands that. He finds Hildy hilarious. He “gets” her. She will be safer with him, ironically, than with the more staid Bruce Baldwin.

Pauline Kael, in that same essay, observed, “Clark Gable is an intensely realistic sexual presence; you don’t fool around with Gable. But with Grant there are no pressures, no demands; he’s the sky that women aspire to. When he and a woman are together, they can laugh at each other and at themselves. He’s a slapstick Prince Charming.” When poor tragic Molly Malloy (played beautifully by Helen Mack) leaps out the window of the press room to hit the sidewalk a couple stories below, Walter is not only unmoved, but clearly conniving how he can work it to his advantage. In any other actor, such a reaction would be unforgivable. But in Grant’s hands, it’s deeply funny, and further evidence that Walter and Hildy are cut from the same cloth. 

Stella Adler—The great American acting teacher and founding member of the Group Theatre—once said, “It is not that important to know who you are. It is important to know what you DO, and then do it like Hercules.” Her words could represent the Howard Hawks mantra, explored and examined in film after film after film, but His Girl Friday is the zany zenith. Despite all of the hilarity and slapstick, His Girl Friday has a serious, dark heart, and those who persist in believing that the ultimate in life is discovering “who you are” will wonder what all of those people are doing, racing around shouting into telephones at one o’clock in the morning. But Hildy and Walter know the real secret to life: What they DO is who they ARE.

And so they proceed to do it like Hercules. 

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Sheila O’Malley writes film reviews and essays for RogerEbert.com, Capital New York, Fandor, Press Play, Noir of the Week, and the House Next Door. Her first play, July and Half of August, recently had public readings at Theatre Wit in Chicago, and The Vineyard Theatre in New York. She is currently working on her second play, as well as a book about Elvis Presley in Hollywood. 

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10 hours ago
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Career Opportunities (1991)

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A DESERT ISLAND SITUATION

by Chad Perman

(editor’s note: this article was originally posted on August 4th, 2009)

I can’t remember the exact conflux of events that led to me seeing Career Opportunities in a proper movie theater without my parents’ knowledge - though it might well have been something I snuck into after buying tickets for something else (I once bought tickets for Ladybugs and snuck into The Lawnmower Man instead, so I wouldn’t exactly put it past me) - but I do remember, quite vividly in fact, the experience of watching the film itself. Somewhere along the way, as memories do, this one, attached securely to Jennifer Connelly’s impossibly tight white tank-top (the only thing any one ever remembers about this film, if they remember it at all), took up residency in a part of my brain that is forever linked to being thirteen years old and on the verge of something I didn’t quite understand but desperately wanted to know a whole lot more about.

Life, it seemed, was changing quickly all around me, new doors opening up every day, each with their own new, exciting opportunities and a sense that there was this whole huge bucketful of experiences just waiting to be lived, right around the corner.  At its best, it feels limitless.  It’s a feeling that words have no real chance of capturing, but it’s certainly something that we all experience at one time or another in our respective journies through adolescence.  And that’s what John Hughes got, so much moreso than most screenwriters, that feeling of endless possibility that you only really begin to tap into as a teenager - right at the very time when the world is also revealing itself to be a much scarier, lonely place than you had imagined, and your hormones are feverishly busy throwing you every which way. It’s a confusing time, a figuring out time, and Hughes continually explored this territory in many of his best-loved films (Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club).  However, Career Opportunities wasn’t really in the same ballpark as those other films, not even in the same league really; Hughes wasn’t taking on any big, important issues when he penned this one. In fact, if memory serves (and some version of it, certainly, does), my biggest question plot-wise throughout the film was “Are they gonna do it?”.

(Answer: Yes.)

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Thus, freed from the constraints of tackling Big Life Questions, Hughes instead used Career Opportunties to indulge in a typical male fantasy: being trapped somewhere for a significant period of time with a very attractive woman. It doesn’t matter how our hero (Frank Whaley) finds himself in such a situation - I vaguely recall something about John Candy, an evil night manager, Target doors that locked from the inside, and a rich girl (Connelly) who has run away - but rather what he does once the situation is thrust upon him.

And Jim Dodge (Whaley, the poor man’s Jon Cryer) does what nerdy John Hughes characters always find a way to do in John Hughes movies: he makes the most of a desert island type situation, wherein fate - whether in the form of mutual detention (The Breakfast Club), a drunken pact (Sixteen Candles), parental neglect (Home Alone), or doors-locking-from-the-inside-at-night-after-a-girl-you-had-a-crush-on-for-over-a-decade-but-never-really-knew-you-existed-fell-asleep-in-the-store-until-after-it-was-closed (Career Opportunities) - places you in a situation where all the rules, social and otherwise, are briefly suspended. Empowering wimpy or delusional male characters seemed a constant motif throughout Hughes’ films, a kind of wish-fulfillment for dummies (and, one has to wonder, how much of this was simple projection on Hughes’ part?). If you try hard enough for long enough, he seemed to say, you will eventually get a chance with The Girl of Your Dreams. You might mess that chance up, or misunderstand it, but it will present itself.

I think it’s safe to say that his notion has ruined many a dweebish man.

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However, in Career Opportunities, for whatever reasons - laziness? frustration? the end of an era? - the dork actually does get the girl. He overcomes his own faults (or rather, uses these previously limiting character attributes in service of something brave or noble, for once), and is rewarded by an almost literal ride off into the sunset. He doesn’t even have to change his personality or un-dorkify himself in any way - if anything, he’s even more dweebish by film’s end, empowered by the newfound love of a Troubled Pretty Girl. It’s enough to make poor Brian or Duckie puke.

Career Opportunities is not a big film, nor an important one. There are no particularly memorable lines in its 83 minutes, no huge plot twists or unexpected developments. If anything, it’s a a giant tease for perpetually hormonal males and a giant commercial for Target.  Nothing groundbreaking or worth writing home about - except, perhaps, that it was the very last time Hughes would ever really set foot in “teenage movie” waters, waters he had ruled for several years (and which, ultimately, he would be best remembered for).  Sadly, after Career Opportunities, Hughes would switch tracks to far more family-oriented fare - often to disappointing results - for the remainder of his career.   Still, the film is not without its charms - a meet cute, some dancing, some Home Alone-ish big empty house/store indulgences, some couples’ roller-skating, the best white tank top in the history of cinema - and if Hughes left the teenage bandwagon on a minor note, at least he had such a successful run in the first place. After all, here we are writing about his films - for an entire week - nearly twenty years after most of them were made.  That has to mean something, right?

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Chad Perman is a writer living in Seattle, and the editor-in-chief of Bright Wall/Dark Room.

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Star Wars (1977)

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STAR WARS IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE 1984 MERCURY TOPAZ

by Christopher Cantwell

There is a VHS tape somewhere (probably in a landfill in Texas, though it breaks my heart to write that) that is a recording of the first ever network airing of Star Wars from February 26th,1984.

It’s something that my mom and dad—skirting ambiently along the banal zeitgeist of suburban America at the time—decided to be an event of enough renown that they should record it using the family VCR. Recording a television signal with a VCR was no easy task at the time, and so I’m forever indebted to my parents for doing it. The reason this recording is so important to me is that it was my very first exposure to Star Wars

I was born in November of 1981. I missed Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back completely, and was only one and a half when Return of the Jedi came out. So this TV recording was, in many ways, a door. From here, my mom bought me a Stormtrooper action figure from the Skaggs Alpha Beta grocery store (back when I still sat in the front seat of the cart). From here, my babysitter Gary who lived next door gave me an entire case of some of his Star Wars toys the day before he moved away. From here, I begged my mom to see Return of the Jedi at the dollar theater in either ’84  or ’85; the dollar theater that was in the vast and empty parking lot of Collin Creek Mall off US-75, where I remember walking into the theater too early and seeing the very end of the movie first. From here, I bought more toys, rented the THX-remastered versions when they came out (“The Original One Last Time”), saw the Special Editions in the theater, whiled away summer days in rural Texas by playing video games like X-Wing (“You MUST register!”) and TIE Fighter (“Mission-critical craft under attack!”), read novels and comic books on my bed and in the backseat of the car, and eventually experienced the mass-suicide of the prequel trilogy in which Childhood as we know it was silenced by a clinical guillotine blade.

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Why did I do all this? Sure, Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon, and has probably implanted itself on every boy in some way for the last 37 years. It’s got the mythology, and the universal themes, and the blah, blah, blah. Anyone could write pages upon pages about how Star Wars is a powerful film. I could write about how Star Wars might be one reason I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the last ten years, because it helped inspire me to tell stories of my own.

But that’s really boring, isn’t  it? Truthfully, every subsequent Star Wars experience I’ve had (and that includes meeting George Lucas himself) has never lived up to that VHS TV recording. I love the first movie. I love MY videotape recording of it.

Here’s what I remember: the tape goes in, the first thing I see is a TV bumper version of the Star Wars title zooming up the screen as mock spotlights shine over it.  The movie starts like everyone remembers it. I’m probably laying on the floor in a blue and gray afghan my grandmother knitted me (the blue and gray schema is for the Cowboys, but to this day, I barely know anything about that team, or really the sport in general). A particularly magical part of this tape occurs when the commercials begin. This is when a black cube with yellow borders spins out of a star field background, and a famous person inside the cube tells me what they love about Star Wars. Debbie Reynolds talks about being Carrie Fisher’s mom. The Flintstones say they loved the movie. Magic Johnson tells me he “dug R2.”

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In my head, Star Wars is supposed to have commercials—the film and its commercials have been wedded as one story. There is a part in Star Wars where a guy eats a Kit-Kat and roars like a monster. Then there’s the part in Star Wars where a football player tells me he is a “coffee  achiever.” At one point in the movie, kids sing the jingle for Nature  Valley Chewy Granola Bars (which I can still sing in its entirety). There’s also another droid that nobody else remembers: the Leggs pantyhose  droid that makes beeping sounds and just looks like a large pantyhose  egg container with flashing lights. I love that character.

For me, Star Wars will always be brought to you by the 1984 Mercury Topaz. There will always be ads for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan and a sitcom starring Suzanne Pleshette. Star Wars will always have two title treatments: the famous one, and the way my mom wrote it in blue pen on the tape label.

Sadly, that tape is most likely gone, a probable victim of two house moves by my parents over the years. But God bless the Internet. Up until I wrote this article, I only knew that I had a VHS recording of Star Wars that was somehow important because famous people talked about it during the commercial breaks. With a few cursory searches, I figured out that I once had the February  26th, 1984 first-time network TV airing from CBS.

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Apparently, Mark Hamill did some sort of prologue about the Star Wars phenomenon before the movie started, and also wrapped up the movie at the end. CBS seemingly did this to fill out the three hours of air time they’d blocked out. I just learned about this now, as it wasn’t on my tape—I suppose my folks thought it was bullshit and didn’t hit record until the actual movie started. However, this “wrap-around”  is on YouTube as well, and gives the airing some notoriety among extremist fans. This is good, because some guy sells cheap DVD-R’s of the original airing from his Paypal account.

I just bought one.

Christopher Cantwell is a filmmaker and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He is the co-creator, co-executive producer and co-writer of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, set in the early 1980s in Dallas. The show’s season finale airs on Sunday.

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Mason,
I wanted to give you something for your birthday that money couldn’t buy, something that only a father could give a son, like a family heirloom. This is the best I could do. Apologies in advance.I present to you: THE BEATLES’ BLACK ALBUM.
The only work I’ve ever been a part of that I feel any sense of pride for involves something born in a spirit of collaboration — not my idea or his or her idea, but some unforeseeable magic that happens in creativity when energies collide.
This is the best of John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s solo work, post-BEATLES. Basically I’ve put the band back together for you. There’s this thing that happens when you listen to too much of the solo stuff separately — too much Lennon: suddenly there’s a little too much self-involvement in the room; too much Paul and it can become sentimental — let’s face it, borderline goofy; too much George: I mean, we all have our spiritual side but it’s only interesting for about six minutes, ya know? Ringo: He’s funny, irreverent, and cool, but he can’t sing — he had a bunch of hits in the ’70s (even more than Lennon) but you aren’t gonna go home and crank up a Ringo Starr album start to finish, you’re just not gonna do that. When you mix up their work, though, when you put them side by side and let them flow — they elevate each other, and you start to hear it: T H E B E A T L E S.
Just listen to the whole CD, OK?
I guess it was the fact that Lennon was shot and killed at 40 (one of Lennon’s last fully composed songs was “Life Begins at 40,” which he wrote for Ringo — I couldn’t bring myself to include it on the mix as the irony still does not make me laugh) and that I just turned 40 myself that conjured this BLACK ALBUM. I listen to this music and for some reason (maybe the ongoing, metamorphosing pain of my divorce from your mother) I am filled with sadness that John & Paul’s friendship turned so bitter. I know, I know, I know, it has nothing to do with me, but damn it, tell me again why love can’t last. Why do we give in to pettiness? Why did they? Why do we so often see gifts as threats? Differences as shortcomings? Why can we not see that our friction could be used to polish one another?
I read a little anecdote about when John’s mother died:
He was an angry teenager — a switchblade in his pocket, a cigarette in his lips, sex on his mind. At a memorial service for his “unstable” and suddenly dead mom (whom he’d just recently been getting close to), he — pissed off and drunk — punched a bandmate in the face and stormed out of the memorial reception. Paul, several years his junior — a young boy, really, who didn’t yet care about girls, who was clearly UNCOOL, and who was let into the band despite his lack of badass-ness and sexual prowess due to the fact that even at 14 he could play the shit out of the guitar — chased John out onto the street saying, “John, why are you being such a jerk?”
John said, “My mum’s fuckin’ dead!”
Paul said, “You never even once asked me about my mum.”
“What about her?”
“…My mum’s dead too.”
They hugged in the middle of the suburban street. John apparently said, “Can we please start a fucking rock ‘n’ roll band?”
This story answered a question that had lingered in my brain my whole music-listening life: If The Beatles were only together 10 years and the members of the band were so young that entire time, how did they manage to write “Help,” “Fool on the Hill,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday,” “A Day in the Life”? They were just 25-year-old boys with a gaggle of babes outside their hotel room door and as much champagne as a young lad could stand. How did they set their minds to such substantive artistic goals?
They did it because they were in pain. They knew that love does not last. They knew it as extremely young men.
With the BLACK ALBUM, we get to hear the boys write on adult life: marriage, fatherhood, sobriety, spiritual yearning, the emptiness of material success — “Starting Over,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Beautiful Boy,” “The No No Song,” “God” — and still they are keenly aware of this fact: Love does not last.
I don’t want it to be true. I want Lennon/McCartney to write beautifully together forever, but is that really the point? I mean if the point of a rose was to last forever, it would be made of stone, right? So how do we handle this idea with grace and maturity? If you’re a romantic like me, it’s hard not to long for some indication of healing between the two of them. All signs point that way.
When Paul went on SNL recently, he played almost all LENNON. And he did it with obvious joy.
Listen to McCartney’s “Here Today.”
Can you listen to “Two of Us” (the last song they wrote side by side) and not hurt a little? What were those two motherless boys who hugged in the middle of the road so long ago thinking as they wrote “The two of us have memories longer then the road that stretches out ahead”?
The dynamic of their breakup, like any divorce, is mysterious. Some say that Paul, the pupil, had surpassed John, the mentor, and they couldn’t reach a new balance. Some say Paul was a little snot who bought the publishing rights out from underneath the other three. Others say without Brian Epstein there was no mediator between their egos. Who knows.
I played Samantha “Hey Jude” the other day, and of course she listened to it over and over. I told her the song had been written by McCartney for Lennon’s son after Lennon’s divorce and she listened even more intently. George once said that “Hey Jude” was the beginning of the end for the Beatles. Brian Epstein had just died and John & Paul were left alone to run the brand-new Apple label. They recorded “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” as a single. Normally, Brian would decide which song was the A-side and which was the B-side, but now it was up to the boys. John thought “Revolution” was an important political rock song and that they needed to establish themselves as an adult band. Paul thought “Revolution” was brilliant but that The Beatles were primarily a pop band and so they should lead with “Hey Jude.” He knew it would be a monster hit and that the politics should come on a subversive B-side. They had a vote. “Hey Jude” won 3-1. George said that John felt Paul had pulled off a kind of coup d’etat. He wasn’t visibly upset but he began to withdraw. It was no longer his band.
The irony/punch line of this story is another story I once heard: When the “Hey Jude”/”Revolution” single was hot off the press, the boys had the mischievous idea of bringing their own new single to a Rolling Stones record-release listening party. Mick Jagger says that once the Fab Four arrived and let word of their new single slip — just as Side 1 of the Stones’ big new album was finishing — everyone clamored to hear it. Once The Beatles were on, they just kept flipping the single over and over. Side 2 of BEGGARS BANQUET never even found the needle.So no matter how mad John was, he wasn’t that mad… Once when John was asked whether he would ever play with Paul again, he answered: “It would always be about, ‘Play what?’ It’s about the music. We play well together — if he had an idea and needed me, I’d be interested.” I love that.Maybe the lesson is: Love doesn’t last, but the music love creates just might.Your mom and I couldn’t make love last, but you are the music, my man.“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love…”I love you. Happy birthday.Your Dad
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The Black Album referenced in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood actually began life as a real gift from actor Ethan Hawke to his oldest daughter, Maya. 
Hawke originally wrote these liner notes for her as a letter, and then reworked them just a bit to fit Boyhood and his onscreen son, Mason. 
To see the full Hawke-curated Black Album tracklist, click here.
(photo and liner notes text via Buzzfeed)

Mason,

I wanted to give you something for your birthday that money couldn’t buy, something that only a father could give a son, like a family heirloom. This is the best I could do. Apologies in advance.

I present to you: THE BEATLES’ BLACK ALBUM.

The only work I’ve ever been a part of that I feel any sense of pride for involves something born in a spirit of collaboration — not my idea or his or her idea, but some unforeseeable magic that happens in creativity when energies collide.

This is the best of John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s solo work, post-BEATLES. Basically I’ve put the band back together for you. There’s this thing that happens when you listen to too much of the solo stuff separately — too much Lennon: suddenly there’s a little too much self-involvement in the room; too much Paul and it can become sentimental — let’s face it, borderline goofy; too much George: I mean, we all have our spiritual side but it’s only interesting for about six minutes, ya know? Ringo: He’s funny, irreverent, and cool, but he can’t sing — he had a bunch of hits in the ’70s (even more than Lennon) but you aren’t gonna go home and crank up a Ringo Starr album start to finish, you’re just not gonna do that. When you mix up their work, though, when you put them side by side and let them flow — they elevate each other, and you start to hear it: T H E B E A T L E S.

Just listen to the whole CD, OK?

I guess it was the fact that Lennon was shot and killed at 40 (one of Lennon’s last fully composed songs was “Life Begins at 40,” which he wrote for Ringo — I couldn’t bring myself to include it on the mix as the irony still does not make me laugh) and that I just turned 40 myself that conjured this BLACK ALBUM. I listen to this music and for some reason (maybe the ongoing, metamorphosing pain of my divorce from your mother) I am filled with sadness that John & Paul’s friendship turned so bitter. I know, I know, I know, it has nothing to do with me, but damn it, tell me again why love can’t last. Why do we give in to pettiness? Why did they? Why do we so often see gifts as threats? Differences as shortcomings? Why can we not see that our friction could be used to polish one another?

I read a little anecdote about when John’s mother died:

He was an angry teenager — a switchblade in his pocket, a cigarette in his lips, sex on his mind. At a memorial service for his “unstable” and suddenly dead mom (whom he’d just recently been getting close to), he — pissed off and drunk — punched a bandmate in the face and stormed out of the memorial reception. Paul, several years his junior — a young boy, really, who didn’t yet care about girls, who was clearly UNCOOL, and who was let into the band despite his lack of badass-ness and sexual prowess due to the fact that even at 14 he could play the shit out of the guitar — chased John out onto the street saying, “John, why are you being such a jerk?”

John said, “My mum’s fuckin’ dead!”

Paul said, “You never even once asked me about my mum.”

“What about her?”

“…My mum’s dead too.”

They hugged in the middle of the suburban street. John apparently said, “Can we please start a fucking rock ‘n’ roll band?”

This story answered a question that had lingered in my brain my whole music-listening life: If The Beatles were only together 10 years and the members of the band were so young that entire time, how did they manage to write “Help,” “Fool on the Hill,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday,” “A Day in the Life”? They were just 25-year-old boys with a gaggle of babes outside their hotel room door and as much champagne as a young lad could stand. How did they set their minds to such substantive artistic goals?

They did it because they were in pain. They knew that love does not last. They knew it as extremely young men.

With the BLACK ALBUM, we get to hear the boys write on adult life: marriage, fatherhood, sobriety, spiritual yearning, the emptiness of material success — “Starting Over,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Beautiful Boy,” “The No No Song,” “God” — and still they are keenly aware of this fact: Love does not last.

I don’t want it to be true. I want Lennon/McCartney to write beautifully together forever, but is that really the point? I mean if the point of a rose was to last forever, it would be made of stone, right? So how do we handle this idea with grace and maturity? If you’re a romantic like me, it’s hard not to long for some indication of healing between the two of them. All signs point that way.

When Paul went on SNL recently, he played almost all LENNON. And he did it with obvious joy.

Listen to McCartney’s “Here Today.”

Can you listen to “Two of Us” (the last song they wrote side by side) and not hurt a little? What were those two motherless boys who hugged in the middle of the road so long ago thinking as they wrote “The two of us have memories longer then the road that stretches out ahead”?

The dynamic of their breakup, like any divorce, is mysterious. Some say that Paul, the pupil, had surpassed John, the mentor, and they couldn’t reach a new balance. Some say Paul was a little snot who bought the publishing rights out from underneath the other three. Others say without Brian Epstein there was no mediator between their egos. Who knows.

I played Samantha “Hey Jude” the other day, and of course she listened to it over and over. I told her the song had been written by McCartney for Lennon’s son after Lennon’s divorce and she listened even more intently. George once said that “Hey Jude” was the beginning of the end for the Beatles. Brian Epstein had just died and John & Paul were left alone to run the brand-new Apple label. They recorded “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” as a single. Normally, Brian would decide which song was the A-side and which was the B-side, but now it was up to the boys. John thought “Revolution” was an important political rock song and that they needed to establish themselves as an adult band. Paul thought “Revolution” was brilliant but that The Beatles were primarily a pop band and so they should lead with “Hey Jude.” He knew it would be a monster hit and that the politics should come on a subversive B-side. They had a vote. “Hey Jude” won 3-1. George said that John felt Paul had pulled off a kind of coup d’etat. He wasn’t visibly upset but he began to withdraw. It was no longer his band.

The irony/punch line of this story is another story I once heard: When the “Hey Jude”/”Revolution” single was hot off the press, the boys had the mischievous idea of bringing their own new single to a Rolling Stones record-release listening party. Mick Jagger says that once the Fab Four arrived and let word of their new single slip — just as Side 1 of the Stones’ big new album was finishing — everyone clamored to hear it. Once The Beatles were on, they just kept flipping the single over and over. Side 2 of BEGGARS BANQUET never even found the needle.

So no matter how mad John was, he wasn’t that mad… 

Once when John was asked whether he would ever play with Paul again, he answered: “It would always be about, ‘Play what?’ It’s about the music. We play well together — if he had an idea and needed me, I’d be interested.” 

I love that.

Maybe the lesson is: Love doesn’t last, but the music love creates just might.

Your mom and I couldn’t make love last, but you are the music, my man.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love…”

I love you. Happy birthday.

Your Dad

The Black Album referenced in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood actually began life as a real gift from actor Ethan Hawke to his oldest daughter, Maya.

Hawke originally wrote these liner notes for her as a letter, and then reworked them just a bit to fit Boyhood and his onscreen son, Mason.

To see the full Hawke-curated Black Album tracklist, click here.

(photo and liner notes text via Buzzfeed)

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“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
—Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

—Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

Cite Arrow via pulpfictions
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1 day ago
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BRIGHT WALL/DARK ROOM TURNS 5!
(and a whole lot is about to change…)
Last week marked our fifth anniversary, five amazing years since we first came up with a little idea for a different kind of film site, gathered some friends together, and opened up our doors. When BW/DR started, our focus was—and remains—on publishing unique and personal responses to films, about the ways that movies interact with our lives, inform them or are informed by them. For the better part of 4 years, we published an essay or two every week, right here on tumblr, convinced that it was the best place to build and grow a community of like-minded readers. And it worked, far better than we ever imagined. As of today, this site has nearly 220,000 followers and has grown beyond our wildest dreams.
About a year and a half ago, we decided to start a magazine. We found a publisher, held a fundraiser, brought in over $2000, and launched Bright Wall/Dark Room magazine in June 2013. The past year we’ve been mostly focused on making the very best magazine possible, though we kept up a presence here as well, running essays that, for one reason or another, didn’t quite fit into the magazine. We realize that led to some confusion, because, as our soon-to-be brand new publisher (we’ll get to that) told us a few months ago, “you guys have like 5 different places to go online and it’s really hard to figure out what you are or where to go to get things”. We agree, and apologize. Which is why we’re simplifying things a whole lot, beginning today.    
So basically, some really big changes are afoot here at Bright Wall/Dark Room, and we wanted to tell you all about them.
Going forward, we have officially decided to focus all of our energies on Bright Wall/Dark Room magazine, which, in the past year, has taken off in all kinds ofnew and interesting directions, and started opening up a lot of doors for us. Beginning with our August issue, we’ll be moving to 29th Street Publishing(home to Harper’s, Poetry, n+1, The Weekly Rumpus, The Awl: Weekend Companion, Maura, Scratch, and a whole lot more). They’ve slightly modified the magazine app (though not much), and completely revamped the online web-based version of the magazine (which we can’t wait to show you!). In addition, you’ll finally be able to access the magazine on any tablet or device (Android, Windows Phone, Kindle, etc).
Once that transition happens, we’ll be putting all of our energy entirely into the magazine, and this site—which we’ve built from the ground up and loved so dearly—will no longer be running any full-length essays. The only way to read any BW/DR essays or writing, beginning August 1st, will be to subscribe to the magazine. The magazine will be centralized at this address (http://brightwalldarkroom.com) and the current version of the site, the one you’re reading right now, will revert back to its original tumblr address (http://brightwalldarkroom.tumblr.com). We will continue to post to this tumblr, but those posts will be limited to excerpts from the magazine, as well as other film and television flotsam and jetsam. You know, how the rest of the world uses tumblr. 
We’ll be spending this final week of July posting some of our very favorite essays from the past five years of the Bright Wall/Dark Room website—an anniversary celebration and a going away party of sorts.
It’s been a fantastic ride, tumblr, and we sincerely thank each and every one of you who’ve helped us get this far. We hope you’ll choose to join us as we continue growing our magazine. Remember, for just $2 a month(or $20 per year), you can subscribe and receive each new issue (with 8-10 essays a month) and continue to receive instant access to everything we do.
Thanks,
Chad

BRIGHT WALL/DARK ROOM TURNS 5!

(and a whole lot is about to change…)

Last week marked our fifth anniversary, five amazing years since we first came up with a little idea for a different kind of film site, gathered some friends together, and opened up our doors. When BW/DR started, our focus was—and remains—on publishing unique and personal responses to films, about the ways that movies interact with our lives, inform them or are informed by them. For the better part of 4 years, we published an essay or two every week, right here on tumblr, convinced that it was the best place to build and grow a community of like-minded readers. And it worked, far better than we ever imagined. As of today, this site has nearly 220,000 followers and has grown beyond our wildest dreams.

About a year and a half ago, we decided to start a magazine. We found a publisher, held a fundraiser, brought in over $2000, and launched Bright Wall/Dark Room magazine in June 2013. The past year we’ve been mostly focused on making the very best magazine possible, though we kept up a presence here as well, running essays that, for one reason or another, didn’t quite fit into the magazine. We realize that led to some confusion, because, as our soon-to-be brand new publisher (we’ll get to that) told us a few months ago, “you guys have like 5 different places to go online and it’s really hard to figure out what you are or where to go to get things”. We agree, and apologize. Which is why we’re simplifying things a whole lot, beginning today.    

So basically, some really big changes are afoot here at Bright Wall/Dark Room, and we wanted to tell you all about them.

Going forward, we have officially decided to focus all of our energies on Bright Wall/Dark Room magazine, which, in the past year, has taken off in all kinds ofnew and interesting directions, and started opening up a lot of doors for us. Beginning with our August issue, we’ll be moving to 29th Street Publishing(home to Harper’s, Poetryn+1, The Weekly Rumpus, The Awl: Weekend Companion, Maura, Scratch, and a whole lot more). They’ve slightly modified the magazine app (though not much), and completely revamped the online web-based version of the magazine (which we can’t wait to show you!). In addition, you’ll finally be able to access the magazine on any tablet or device (Android, Windows Phone, Kindle, etc).

Once that transition happens, we’ll be putting all of our energy entirely into the magazine, and this site—which we’ve built from the ground up and loved so dearly—will no longer be running any full-length essays. The only way to read any BW/DR essays or writing, beginning August 1st, will be to subscribe to the magazine. The magazine will be centralized at this address (http://brightwalldarkroom.com) and the current version of the site, the one you’re reading right now, will revert back to its original tumblr address (http://brightwalldarkroom.tumblr.com). We will continue to post to this tumblr, but those posts will be limited to excerpts from the magazine, as well as other film and television flotsam and jetsam. You know, how the rest of the world uses tumblr. 

We’ll be spending this final week of July posting some of our very favorite essays from the past five years of the Bright Wall/Dark Room website—an anniversary celebration and a going away party of sorts.

It’s been a fantastic ride, tumblr, and we sincerely thank each and every one of you who’ve helped us get this far. We hope you’ll choose to join us as we continue growing our magazine. Remember, for just $2 a month(or $20 per year), you can subscribe and receive each new issue (with 8-10 essays a month) and continue to receive instant access to everything we do.


Thanks,

Chad

Cite Arrow via brightwalldarkroom
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3 days ago
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Happy Birthday to Mr. Stanley Kubrick (legendary director/selfie pioneer).

"Stan Kubrick", as he was originally known in the earliest days of his career, would have been 86 years old today. 

Here are all the Kubrick-related essays we’ve run on the site over the past five years, for your birthday reading enjoyment…

Katherine Spada on The Killing (1956)

Andrew Root on Spartacus (1960)

Bebe Ballroom on Lolita (1962)

Michelle Said on Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Ben Mauk on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969)

Karina Wolf on A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Patrick Vickers on Barry Lyndon (1975)

Evan Bryson on The Shining

Letitia Trent on Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Andrew Root on Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Chris Cantoni on A.I.: Aritificial Intelligence (2001)

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4 days ago
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Excerpt from the new issue: Karina Wolf on Lost in America (1985):

"Only people who haven’t experienced crippling need could throw away advantages so blithely. Dropping out suggests assurance in your own resources. It connotes not just sufficiency, but overabundance. Other generations had no choice about their compromises. 
Anxiety, David’s hallmark, is the product of uncertainty but also of hope. His is a conflict of the 1980s, when after a long recession, there was an itch to think about ‘happiness’ and ‘fulfillment’ along with an urge for middle-class stability. The Americans that David and Linda meet on the road don’t suffer the same doubts, because they aren’t gifted with the same opportunities. Does being poor make you honest? No, it just means you have fewer comforts and fewer options. 
And maybe this is all to say that Lost In America, with its very different and tempered resolution (in which David and Linda long to reclaim their much-interrogated status quo), teaches the same lessons that Easy Rider does more darkly: freedom and itinerancy demand a heavy price, and maybe that’s too terrible to bear.”

To read the rest of this essay, download the Bright Wall/Dark Room app to your iPhone or iPad for free, or subscribe online for $2 to receive immediate access to the entire issue on your computer.

Excerpt from the new issue: Karina Wolf on Lost in America (1985):

"Only people who haven’t experienced crippling need could throw away advantages so blithely. Dropping out suggests assurance in your own resources. It connotes not just sufficiency, but overabundance. Other generations had no choice about their compromises. 

Anxiety, David’s hallmark, is the product of uncertainty but also of hope. His is a conflict of the 1980s, when after a long recession, there was an itch to think about ‘happiness’ and ‘fulfillment’ along with an urge for middle-class stability. The Americans that David and Linda meet on the road don’t suffer the same doubts, because they aren’t gifted with the same opportunities. Does being poor make you honest? No, it just means you have fewer comforts and fewer options. 

And maybe this is all to say that Lost In America, with its very different and tempered resolution (in which David and Linda long to reclaim their much-interrogated status quo), teaches the same lessons that Easy Rider does more darkly: freedom and itinerancy demand a heavy price, and maybe that’s too terrible to bear.”

To read the rest of this essay, download the Bright Wall/Dark Room app to your iPhone or iPad for free, or subscribe online for $2 to receive immediate access to the entire issue on your computer.

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4 days ago
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"There are seconds, they only come five or six at a time, and you suddenly feel the presence of eternal harmony, fully achieved. It is nothing earthly; not that it’s heavenly, but man cannot endure it in his earthly state. One must change physically or die. The feeling is clear and indisputable. As if you suddenly sense the whole of nature and suddenly say: yes, this is true. This is not tenderheartedness, but simply joy."
— Fyodor Dostoevsky

"There are seconds, they only come five or six at a time, and you suddenly feel the presence of eternal harmony, fully achieved. It is nothing earthly; not that it’s heavenly, but man cannot endure it in his earthly state. One must change physically or die. The feeling is clear and indisputable. As if you suddenly sense the whole of nature and suddenly say: yes, this is true. This is not tenderheartedness, but simply joy."

— Fyodor Dostoevsky
Cite Arrow via pulpfictions
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Excerpt from the new issue: Sarah Malone on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:

Smith isn’t a reformer per se—he is chosen, not chooses, to go to Washington—but he partakes in an American vernacular of not-yet elected candidates for Congress and the Presidency. The nation didn’t originate in the capital; the capital was created solely for the nation, and must be refreshed with newcomers if it is to remain in touch with the people. A lack of experience becomes a qualification. Outsiders go to Washington avowedly uninitiated in its customs, with the conviction of untried solutions only they possess or perceive the necessity of. If only the nation could remember its founding principles, as the reformer does! Smith’s is not the reform of Depression-era recovery programs—oblique criticisms of the New Deal pepper the film—or of social programs and public expenditure. “The government has too much on its hands already,” he says. Smith’s reform is intangible.

Excerpt from the new issue: Sarah Malone on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:

Smith isn’t a reformer per se—he is chosen, not chooses, to go to Washington—but he partakes in an American vernacular of not-yet elected candidates for Congress and the Presidency. The nation didn’t originate in the capital; the capital was created solely for the nation, and must be refreshed with newcomers if it is to remain in touch with the people. A lack of experience becomes a qualification. Outsiders go to Washington avowedly uninitiated in its customs, with the conviction of untried solutions only they possess or perceive the necessity of. If only the nation could remember its founding principles, as the reformer does! Smith’s is not the reform of Depression-era recovery programs—oblique criticisms of the New Deal pepper the film—or of social programs and public expenditure. “The government has too much on its hands already,” he says. Smith’s reform is intangible.

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