Category Archives: Film / Tv / Theater Review

May the 4th Be With You

Okay, okay, I too have succumbed. 🙂 [and it’s also my 4th post of the day lol]

Film: “We the Living” 80th Anniversary Preview

My friend Duncan Scott sent me this link to a preview of a newly restored 80th anniversary edition of the 1942 Italian film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s tragic novel, “We the Living”. This is, in my view, the finest film adaptation of any work by Rand.

The description tells us:

“We the Living” – 80th Anniversary Edition – Preview

This is a preview reel of the newly restored, high definition 2022 version of “We the Living”, the film classic based on the novel by Ayn Rand (“Atlas Shrugged”, “The Fountainhead”) Set in the chaotic aftermath of the Russian revolution, “We the Living” is the story of a young woman who courageously defies a brutal regime. It is an extraordinary tale of romance and betrayal and, at its core, a fierce and impassioned outcry for the right of each human being to live free.

“We the Living” stars three film legends: Alida Valli (“The Third Man”), Rossano Brazzi (“South Pacific”) and Fosco Giachetti (The Life of G. Verdi). It was directed by Goffredo Alessandrini. The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Ayn Rand. It was originally released in Italy as two films, “Noi Vivi” and “Addio Kira” (1942). The films were later combined and released as “We the Living”.

“We the Living” – 80th Anniversary Edition, is a new edition of the film that is newly restored and rejuvenated—and in high-definition for the first time. Using state-of-the-art digital software technology, the film was cleaned up and repaired, frame by frame, removing scratches, dirt, and other flaws that are common in old movies. Improvements to exposure and contrast were also made, scene by scene. The soundtrack was de-noised and its fidelity improved.

“We the Living” – 80th Anniversary Edition is set for release in the fall of 2022, exactly 80 years after the film’s premiere in 1942 at the Venice Film Festival. For more about the film and a behind-the-scenes documentary go here.

Check out the nice Facebook conversation on this post. (Information on a July 2022 screening of the film can be found here.)

Song of the Day #1936

Song of the Day: I May Be Wrong (But I Think You’re Wonderful), music by Henry Sullivan, lyrics by Harry Ruskin, was first heard in the 1929 Broadway revue, “Murray Anderson’s Almanac“. It was sung by Doris Day in the 1950 film “Young Man with a Horn“, directed by Michael Curtiz, and starring Kirk Douglas. Loosely based on the life of jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, the film has a wonderful soundtrack. Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Doris Day, who had a terrific run as a star of film, TV, and song. Check out the track that features the great trumpeter Harry James on YouTube.

Coronavirus (37): An Indexical Reflection

This is the thirty-seventh and final installment to my Coronavirus series, which began two years ago on this date. This installment serves as an index to the entire series.

I use the word “indexical” not only to suggest the index herein, but as a reflection of the word’s actual meaning: a linguistic expression whose reference can shift from context to context. That is what this series has done over time; as the context has continued to evolve, not a single installment has ever been written in stone, and all of them should be subject to evaluation based on the contexts in which they were first composed. What could be more dialectical than that?

As a kind of personal “journal,” this series has been as much a therapeutic exercise in dealing with an unfathomable number of deaths in my beloved city of New York as it was an attempt to come to grips with the many issues raised by COVID-19 and the policies adopted in response to it. Ultimately, it asked more questions than it answered.

As dates go, this one has an additional degree of irony. Fifty years ago today, “The Godfather” premiered at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York City to much fanfare. The film, and its later re-edited incarnation (with its two sequels) as a chronological epic, remains one of my all-time favorites. Not for its famous tropes or its classic quotes, but for its illustration, in painstaking detail, of how the inversion of values destroys the human soul. The characters therein ostensibly try to preserve that which they value through nefarious means that lead to the loss of those values—and of life itself.

While that 1972 film drives home this point in the context of warfare among mob ‘families’, their legions of hitmen pale in comparison to the warfare perpetuated by states across the world, which have perfected the art of mass murder in a way that would make even the most ruthless of Mafia Dons blush.

In war, even in those wars fought against horrific forces of oppression, there are always consequences, both intended and unintended, that forever become a part of the political landscape. For example, the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II left in its wake the consolidation of a U.S. military-industrial complex and a national security state and ongoing policies of “perpetual war for perpetual peace”—whether it was called the Cold War, the War on Terror, or the War on Drugs. But states and their ruling classes, ever responsible for wars, have also exploited disasters—natural or man-made—to expand their powers, suppress civil liberties, and destroy the fabric of social and economic life.

That is why libertarians have been gallant opponents of state expansion, knowing full well that state actors rarely act in good faith and that governmental overreach especially during emergencies is not easily rolled back. Such emergencies have been exploited throughout history in ways that tap into people’s anxieties and fears while augmenting their obedience to a class of politically connected “experts.”

I am a libertarian—a dialectical one at that. Which means that while I retain my libertarian distrust of political and economic elites, I fully understand that we live under a certain set of institutional constraints and that the real conditions that exist give human beings highly limited and imperfect tools to deal with emergencies as they arise.

I am also a native New Yorker. I have experienced much heartache in this city, from 9/11 to Superstorm Sandy. And I have witnessed, with my own eyes, the deaths of countless fellow New Yorkers at the height of the COVID pandemic. I was utterly aghast when many of my libertarian friends were branding the pandemic an “exaggeration” or worse, a “hoax”. There has always been room to debate the effectiveness of this or that policy in response to COVID. But the epidemic of denialism that swept across libertarian circles—while neighbors to the right of me and neighbors to the left of me were literally dropping dead—only compounded my sadness. Denialism is not a strategy. It is an admission of defeat—that one has no proposals to deal with an externality, whatever its scope or fatality rate.

***

I was recently asked a very interesting and relevant question by my friend, Alexander Wade Craig: “What context have we lost in the changes COVID brought to our social lives that you think we are 1) better off for having lost, and 2) worse off for having lost?”

I acknowledged that this was a very difficult question to answer. Even though I’ve written 36 previous installments covering the pandemic and its implications, it is going to take many years to truly understand COVID-19 and the response to it—and the costs that each brought to both life and liberty. Still, this event helped to illuminate notions that we are better off for having lost, as well as notions that we are worse off for having lost—and these notions are essentially two sides of the same coin:

1) The spread of COVID-19 made it clearer than ever that the world is a global community, interconnected in ways that cannot be altered by artificially created borders. Given the ebb and flow of peoples across artificial boundaries imposed by nation-states, we learned swiftly that a virus, like the people it infects, knows no borders. What first shows up in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, in China, spreads to the Korean peninsula, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, the United States, Russia, Africa, and throughout the world. This is not a call to close borders; it is simply an acknowledgment of the unavoidable interconnections between peoples across the Earth. So, we’re better off for having lost the idea that somehow people can be isolated from one another—a rather sobering lesson, considering that the response to an infectious disease has typically been lockdowns, quarantines, and other policies of separation.

2) So, the other side of that coin introduces us to a whole litany of ‘separateness’: distancing, mask-wearing, quarantining, and so forth. Hence, just as a global pandemic illustrates that people cannot be hermetically sealed from one another (a good thing), it simultaneously leads to efforts to do precisely that: hermetically seal ourselves off from others. The effect of isolation (whether it was chosen or coercively imposed) has been increased social alienation, a rise in mental health problems, substance abuse, and overdose deaths. People of all ages, from the very young to the very old, were deleteriously affected by this isolation. I suspect that these effects will lessen over time, as the COVID ‘crisis phase’ dissipates, but we are still worse off for having lost that social connectedness for such a long period of time, no matter how necessary it may have been for various people in various contexts.

Nathaniel Branden once wrote: “We stand within an endless network of relationships. Separation and connectedness are polarities, with each entailing the other.” It’s very sad that so many people have learned the truth of this principle in such a tragic way.

Here is a chronological index to all the installments in my Coronavirus series; unless there is some huge issue that needs to be addressed in some dramatically different way, I suspect that this installment, like the last one I wrote on 9/11 (for the twentieth anniversary of that day), will be the final installment in this series. And it’s fully in keeping with my friend Tom Knapp‘s “Prime Number Obsession”—that “all sets should consist of a prime number of items.” 37 is a Prime Number! (Tom also reminds me that it’s Pi Day too!)

Coronavirus (1): School Closures (March 14, 2020)

Coronavirus (2): Disease and Dictatorship (March 18, 2020)

Coronavirus (3): Love, Pets, and Booze to the Rescue! (March 22, 2020)

Coronavirus (4): In New York State … and Beyond (March 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (5): C’mon Ol’ Folks – Do Your Part for the Sake of the Country and Die! (March 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (6): Corona-Comedy – A Little Gallows Humor To Get Us Through (March 27, 2020)

Coronavirus (7): Corona-Chaos – A Pandemic from the Political to the Personal (March 28, 2020)

Coronavirus (8): A Message from Italy (March 29, 2020)

Coronavirus (9): A Message from New York City (March 29, 2020)

Coronavirus (10): “Standing Man” as Metaphor … or Blessed are the Healers! (March 30, 2020)

Coronavirus (11): “Opening Day” and Pitching In … (March 31, 2020)

Coronavirus (12): The Trials and Tribulations of Grocery Shopping … and Living in New York City (April 3, 2020)

Coronavirus (13): New York State of Mind (April 6, 2020)

Coronavirus (14): Numbers and Narratives (April 8, 2020)

Coronavirus (15): What’s in a Number? (April 13, 2020)

Coronavirus (16): Pearls Before Swine – Comic Gems In These Times (April 16, 2020)

Coronavirus (17): Ilana Mercer on Covidiots! (April 17, 2020)

Coronavirus (18): Gallows Comics (April 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (19): Reality Check (April 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (20): A Light-Hearted Moment in the Post Office (April 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (21): Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation (May 5, 2020)

Coronavirus (22): Spring Cleaning (Or Three Cheers for Sanitation Workers!) (May 8, 2020)

Coronavirus (23): Mutual Aid During a Pandemic (or Three Cheers for the Volunteers!) (May 11, 2020)

Coronavirus (24): Three Cheers for the Ol’ Folks (May 12, 2020)

Coronavirus (25): Joseph “Joe Pisa” Sanfratello, RIP (May 15, 2020)

Coronavirus (26): Gallows Humor In These Times (May 28, 2020)

Coronavirus (27): Majority Rules NY (June 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (28): Sweden is Not New York (July 16, 2020)

Coronavirus (29): Medical Procedures in the Age of COVID … And I’m Still Alive! (October 6, 2020)

Coronavirus (30): “Cuomogate” and Systemic Crisis (February 19, 2021)

Coronavirus (31): Dose #1 for a “Fake” Virus (March 18, 2021)

Coronavirus (32): Junior’s Cheesecake (or Bring On Dose #2!) (March 27, 2021)

Coronavirus (33): Dose #2 and Done—Or Not! (April 15, 2021)

Coronavirus (34): “Virtue Signaling” vs. Doing the Right Thing (August 21, 2021)

Coronavirus (35): The ABCs – Authority, Boosters, and Caregiving (November 10, 2021)

Coronavirus (36): Denialism = Death (January 5, 2022)

Coronavirus (37): An Indexical Reflection (March 14, 2022)

I will end this series with one final dose of gallows humor, something that has marked many of the installments I posted over the past two years. And let’s face it, we have needed some laughter to get us through [YouTube link].

In one of my favorite comic strips, “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephan Pastis, “The Game of COVID Life” reminds us of how crazy our lives have been upended since the beginnings of this pandemic. Here’s hoping that the Finish Line is not one of closeted isolation, but a new commitment to social life, human freedom, and personal flourishing.

Paul Cantor, RIP

I was shocked to learn today (H/T to FB friend Shal Marriott) of the death (on February 26, 2022) of Paul Cantor, the American literary critic who was the Clifton Waller Barrett Professor in the English Department at the University of Virginia. Paul was 76.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1945, he would go on to write extensively on a wide range of topics, from Shakespeare and English Romanticism to pop culture. I was introduced to his work through our mutual friend Stephen Cox, with whom he edited a fine 2010 anthology, Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture.

I contacted Paul for the first time in December 2021 to invite him to submit a review essay to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, an invitation which he enthusiastically accepted. I found him to be an amicable and hilarious guy. He admitted to being a “frustrated stand-up comedian,” who was looking into “booking a lounge in Vegas.” His sense of humor was clearly fueled by his Brooklyn roots. As a native of the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, he would have had plenty of material to work with. He attended P.S. 208, Meyer Levin Junior High School, and Samuel J. Tilden High School, where he became co-captain of the Math Team before going on to earn an A.B. and Ph.D. at Harvard University in English literature.

He took long subway rides to see Ayn Rand lecture at Hunter College in the 1950s. He said that it “was very exciting to see Rand speak. She had a real flare for the dramatic.” He also attended the NYC seminars of Ludwig von Mises.

In his work on pop culture, Paul had examined TV series as varied as “Gilligan’s Island” and “The X-Files.” He told me that he was already working on essays dealing with “Shark Tank”, “Pawn Stars”, and “The Profit”. I would have been honored to have had his work appear in JARS.

My very deepest condolences to his family and friends.

Paul Cantor (1945-2022)

Song of the Day #1931

Song of the Day: In the Line of Fire (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link], composed by Ennio Morricone, provides a musical landscape of tension that undergirds this 1993 political action thriller starring Clint Eastwood, Rene Russo, and the maniacal Oscar-nominated John Malkovich. This is the first of two back-to-back suites from Morricone the Magnificent, which will conclude this year’s Film Music February Festival.

Classic Insult Humor

After a recent discussion on Notablog that examined cancel culture and comedy, I was watching the film “Touch of Evil” (1958), starring Orson Welles, and I got a kick out of the fact that Welles—who also directed and wrote the screenplay for the film—incorporated a jab at his own weight gain, by way of dialogue with Marlene Dietrich:

Hank Quinlan (Welles): “I’m Hank Quinlan.”

Tanya (Dietrich): “I didn’t recognize you. You should lay off those candy bars.”

Check out this exchange here [YouTube link].

Twenty years later, in 1978, “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Frank Sinatra“, “Mr. Warmth” himself, Don Rickles, took it one step further [YouTube link].

Looking at Welles on the dais, Rickles says:

“And Orson Welles, thirty years ago you were handsome and now we’re gonna put Goodyear on your face and fly you over the beach for a half hour.”

Welles laughed out loud … but Welles clearly had had the first laugh, and the last laugh. For Welles, as for another star in another film: “It was my joke, you see? They were laughing with me, not at me.”

At a time when laughs are hard to come by, this gave me a much-needed chuckle today.

Song of the Day #1930

Song of the Day: The Adventures of Robin Hood (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link], composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, features grand themes from the Oscar-winning score to this rousing 1938 swashbuckling adventure, directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. It stars Errol Flynn in the title role, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, and Olivia de Havilland. Korngold, along with Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, was considered one of the founders of film music, and no soundtrack suite tribute would be complete without a nod to at least one of his 16 Hollywood film scores.

Song of the Day #1929

Song of the Day: King Kong (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link], composed by Max Steiner, is credited as the first score written in a way to parallel, enhance, and support the narrative to a film—and “movie music” has never been the same since. So singular was Steiner’s achievement for this 1933 fantasy, monster film that it was not recognized for Oscar consideration because it was not until 1934 that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences established a category for Best Original Score. The film starred Robert Armstrong, Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, and New York’s relatively young Empire State Building (which would be featured in 250+ films after its use in the Kong finale). Ironically, its trailblazing stop-animation special effects by Willis O’Brien were also not eligible for Oscar consideration because that category wasn’t fully established by the Academy until 1938. But the score and the effects remain among its most spectacular contributions to cinema. Tomorrow, I’ll feature another great soundtrack suite from the 1930s.

In the Facebook discussion that followed, I told this little story:

When I was a 6-year old kid, they were showing “King Kong” on the big screen at our neighborhood theater, in a double-bill with “The Thing from Another World.” I got through the latter film with no problem, and then the screen went dark, and the kids in the audience were screaming louder and louder and louder: “KONG! KONG! KONG!”… and I think my sister and my Uncle saw that I was becoming a bit unhinged, not having a clue what was going to come on the screen.”Are you okay?,” they both asked. And I said that I thought it was a little “loud” (a euphemism for “I’m scared to death”) … and they gently said, “Well, maybe we will come back another day…”So, I was spared Kong-related post-traumatic stress. Though I did eventually see the film on the big screen, I first saw it in repeated rotation on “Million Dollar Movie” (WOR-TV, in NY). “King Kong” was actually the debut film on MDM back in 1956 …