Thoughts on Movie Going in the Age of Covid-19

Will movie going ever be the same? It’s not like I want to add more doom and gloom to what we have been experiencing, however after reading a few articles recently, I have wondered about its future. Theaters are in crisis. Regal theatres have kept its doors closed up to now. AMC is open with limited capacity and struggling.  Like many, I have not been inside a movie theater since the pandemic hit us early this year, turning our lives inside out. True, I have been watching plenty of movies, thanks to DVD’s, Netflix, Amazon, and other outlets that we fortunately have today, but theater going is still a unique experience. I mean, I don’t care how big your TV screen is, it’s not as big as a theater’s. And though I no longer indulge, I love the smell of movie theatre popcorn, and just having other people around to share the experience. All of which is all gone… at least for now. 

One article I read mentioned how many of the studios have been postponing the release of their major films until next year. Steven Spielberg’s new version of “West Side Story,” scheduled for release this Christmas season now pushed back to a December 2021 debut. Also, there is “Respect,” the bio about Aretha Franklin, starring Jennifer Hudson, that should have been out by now. Instead, it now has a new release date of August 2021. This is all in hopes a vaccine would be out and the pandemic gone, or at least under control by then, and audiences will feel safe enough to come back and sit next to hundreds of other people in an enclosed space. What are the odds?

Despite people, including myself, and businesses wanting to get back to normal, what we are facing is a new normal where life has changed. It won’t be forever, but until COVID-19’s eradicated like Polio, you have to ask yourself how safe is it to go back to the old normal, and what is your tolerance for risk? For me, my risk tolerance of going to a movie theater filled with people who don’t want to wear a simple thing like a mask or don’t believe the science or just don’t care is more than I can deal with in my life.

Be open and willing to adjust to changes in life.  

I hate not going to a movie theater or seeing a live concert or theater performance. I also hate the idea of getting sick from a disease that we still know little about and seems in many people to have long-lasting effects.

But I also think how much worse this all could be if it was 1970 and there were no PC’s or I-Pads, I-Phones, cable TV and streaming services to connect us with the outside world like we have today. Think about it, how fortunate we are in that respect.  

No, I won’t be going back to a movie theater for a while, a long while. I miss it, but I’d also miss too many other things in life if I get sick or die. I’m not living in fear as some may say or think I am. I’m adjusting to a new normal that may be around for a while and making the best of it. I just need to decide what movie I want to watch tomorrow.

Thoughts On Social Media

Social Media is both a curse and a gift. I refuse to argue on Facebook or on any other social media platform. If I disagree with someone’s opinion on any topic, especially if it’s political, I don’t comment.  If I agree, I give it a LIKE and may comment, but once the aggressive, nasty commenters emerge, and they do, I’m out of there. I won’t and don’t respond. It isn’t worth the time and effort. I don’t want to make the world worse than it already is.

Polite conversation, even when you disagree, is possible, at least it used to be, but tolerance seems to be in short supply these days. Many people think the ability to be anonymous in the world of social media gives them a free ticket to insult, condemn, criticize, and spit out nasty name calling without consequence. But there are consequences, maybe not easily apparent, but with so many people feeling free to go down a nasty road they are making the world a less hospitable place than it already is. Maybe they don’t care, but I do, and I sure others care too. Life is too short. I rather use my time doing more constructive and creative endeavors than arguing over every little thing.

What I like about Facebook and other social media is how I have connected with many new online friends and reconnected with older friends and relatives. I think that’s important. It’s important to connect with people, especially in this time of the COVID virus where many of us, including me, can feel isolated. Over the past few weeks, I have connected with a couple of cousins I have not spoken to in years, first through Facebook and soon after with telephone conversations. We live far apart and our lives have taken different paths, but we’re still the same and we are still connected. It pays to be nice in many ways.

COVID-19 Days

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My wife and I are homebodies, but even for folks like us who don’t mind being at home, it gets challenging. We do like to go out shopping, for lunch or dinner at a restaurant, we like to go out and photograph birds, and the landscape and more. We like going to the movies, and we like seeing relatives and friends. These days all that has come to a screeching halt.
As a photographer, it sucks. These days I do a lot of cat photography. We have two cats. As a writer, staying home is what you do. You sit in front of your computer and hopefully put something down that will lead to a new story. At times, it’s been not easy to concentrate on writing. I didn’t think it would be, but as the virus continues to run amok, it’s tougher and tougher.,
One of the things I do on most days is watch a movie. It’s relaxing, and I have always loved movies. If you are a regular reader, you have seen my post on some of the films I’ve watched while we quarantine.
We have a long road ahead of us with this virus, and anyone who thinks otherwise is foolish. A vaccine will help, but it will not end the spread unless it’s 100%, and everyone gets it. We need to try and stay positive and adjust to the life changes the virus has forced on us.

Please stay safe.

My Vietnam Soundtrack

doorsMore than any other war, Vietnam had a soundtrack. It didn’t start with Apocalypse Now or any other Hollywood production. It began with the soldiers who brought the music with them. For the men and women like me (1) who served in Vietnam, music was a link to home. It was part of our hopes and dreams to make it “back to the world” (as we called the United States). The music became inseparable from the war. I still can’t listen to The Doors’ first album without thinking of ‘Nam. The music connected us to hopes of getting us back to “the world.” Some songs even spoke directly to us, like The Animals We Gotta Get Out of This Place, which became every soldier’s personal anthem.  There were others like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son and Country Joe and the Fish’s I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag. Jimi Hendrix’s People Haze and Hey Joe, The Turtles’ It Ain’t Me Babe, Martha and the Vandellas’ Nowhere to Run, and Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’. All mainstays and had connections to the war experience. The music and the war united us. I listened to some soul music before the war, but I met many black soldiers in ‘Nam and thru them, I was exposed to many great Soul songs that did not make the top of the pops. For the first time, I also heard Country music. While I never became a fan of Country, it exposed me to artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and others.

animWhile the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) played the Top 40 of the day, the soldiers had cassettes or reel-to-reel tapes, purchased at the PX, to share. It opened up another world. We were separated from the world, but the music united us. It was a way for us to cope and for a few moments an escape from the insanity. There were also small clubs where Filipino bands played the hits all wanted to hear, Ring of Fire, Proud Mary and the inevitable finale of We Gotta Get Out of This Place which by the end of the night every soldier was on his feet singing along with.

Collectively, the music united the Vietnam soldiers who bore the burden of an unpopular war. The music of The Doors, Aretha Franklin, CCR, Johnny Cash, The Temptations, and many others mattered more to the Vietnam soldiers, maybe more than to any generation since. Even after returning home, the music stayed with us.

Footnote:

(1) I was not an infantryman. I spent my time in a base camp as an armorer, small weapons, assigned to the 124th Signal Unit, part of the 4th Infantry Division. The base camp, Camp Enari, in Pleiku, located in the Central Highlands. It was relatively secure compared to being out in the boonies.

 

Basic Training: A Film by Frederick Wiseman

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It’s 1970 in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has been given access to film a new group of Army recruits, draftees and enlisted, as they go through eight weeks of basic training. One thing these young men have in common, they all look haunted by what is ahead… Vietnam.

The eight weeks of training is a dehumanizing experience filled with the young boys taught to act robotically the same for the greater good. Those who do not fit in are harassed or even worse. One young soldier, his name is Hickman, cannot march to the cadence of “Left, Left, left, right, left…” He is continually called out to get in step. Eventually, he is pulled out of the squad and “trained” by a Drill Sgt. The kid still can’t get the rhythm. Later, he tells a Pastor that he just doesn’t fit in with the others, never did. He can’t seem to do anything right and has even been threatened with a “blanket party” by his fellow soldiers. Another trainee, a young black accused of not following orders explains to a superior, “Let’s be frank with each other, now you know this is not my country.” He would rather get a dishonorable discharge than follow orders. The officer explains how a dishonorable discharge will follow him through life. He doesn’t care. Most of the boys fall in line. The gun-ho guys who are ready to fight, others to get through it all and come back home alive.

IMG_09771While it seems filmmaker, Frederick Wiseman was given free access, I tend to doubt it. The Drill Sgt.’s are tough, but they seem a little too nice. With the prospect of Vietnam ahead of them, the trainees are told by the D.I.’s and higher-ups is just do what we teach you and everything will be fine. How comforting.

My skepticism comes from my own experience. I was drafted a year earlier and went through basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The Drill Sgt.’s were not as kind. Kind was not in their vocabulary. You had to have a good pair of lungs to be a D.I. because they screamed a lot, ridiculed, and trashed you. And as far as the “do what we teach you and everything will be fine,” well, it was more like “boy, your ass is going to ‘Nam, Charlie is waiting and you are going to die, and while you’re there, Jody and me will be making nice with your mama, your sister, and your wife.”

You watch these young soldiers, really boys, going through their training: how to crawl in the mud under barbed wire, hand to hand combat, bayonet training, weapon (M-16) training. You cannot help but wonder how many of these boys never made it back home. The strangest training segment in the film and this is something I did not experience, is a training class on how to correctly brush your teeth! Brush your teeth and win the war. We lost in Vietnam, many boys lost their lives, and many more came home disabled mentally and/or physically.

When I came home, I didn’t talk about Vietnam. Not because of any trauma or horrific experiences from the war, it had more to do with the people back home. There were two camps, those who favored the war and wanted America to bomb all of Southeast Asia out of existence and those who were part of the anti-war movement and saw you as a baby killer. I belonged to neither camp. Like the trainee, Hickman who I mentioned earlier, I just didn’t fit in anywhere, and so I didn’t talk about it. It took many years before I told people I was a Viet Vet and to this day I still don’t know where I belong.

Agatha Christie’s Biggest Mystery

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Agatha Christie’s greatest mystery remains a mystery over ninety-years later. On December 3rd, 1926, Agatha Christie kissed her daughter goodnight, packed a small bag, and left a note for her secretary that she would not be returning that night. She got into her two-seater Morris Cowley automobile and drove off.

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The next day, the automobile was found hanging over a ditch, held back from falling by bushes. An attaché case was found in the car as well as some clothing. There was no sign of the author. Christie was a well-known author by then, her most recent novel at the time was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which made her disappearance international news. Her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie, who had recently demanded a divorce, claimed she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A massive search by a thousand police and thousands of volunteers looked for three days before the hunt was called it off. Christie’s bother-in-law claimed to have received a note that read she’s going to a Yorkshire spa for rest and treatment. Not convinced or reassured, the police continued their search.

As the manhunt continued, rumors spread that the disappearance is a publicity stunt, a rumor her secretary vehemently denied. Other rumors claimed the future Dame Agatha was in London dressed in men’s clothing. A spiritualist was consulted, determining Christie met with foul play.

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Eleven days later, the author was found at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate registered under the name of Mrs. Tressa Neele. The Colonel claimed the entire incident was due to a nervous breakdown, and he had no idea about the significance of her alias. That second point was a complete lie. The name belonged to her husband’s lover. Christie knew of the affair and had been distraught.

When the Colonel came to pick up his wife, it’s been said Christie met him with an icy stare.

Fifteen months later, Agatha Christie sued and divorced her husband. In 1930, she remarried. Archibald Christie also married. His new wife, none other than Tressa Neele.

Over the years, many biographers have tried to find out exactly what, why, and where Agatha Christie disappeared. Was it revenge for her husband’s affair, manic depression, amnesia or something else? No one knows for sure. Throughout her life, Christie refused to talk about that period, except once to a British newspaper, and her story revealed few details.

Agatha 1When one of the greatest mystery writers has an unsolved mystery in her own life, you can bet there would be much interest. In 1977, author Kathleen Tynan wrote the novel, Agatha, featuring her own interpretation of what happened during those eleven days. Hollywood released a big-screen adaptation of Agatha in 1979 starring Vanessa Redgrave at the shy author, Dustin Hoffman as a fictitious American journalist, and Timothy Dalton as Archibald Christie. More recently, two British Made for Television films, Agatha and the Truth of Murder (2018), and Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar (2019) turn Ms. Christie in Jessica Fletcher. A third film in the series is scheduled for this year.

Hard-Boiled Hammett

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Considered one of the founding fathers of hard-boiled fiction, if not the founding father, Dashiell Hammett is must reading for anyone interested in tough guy crime fiction. Detective fiction before Hammett came along the likes of Agatha Christie: conventional, polite detectives where few got their hands down and dirty were standard. Hammett changed all that. His Sam Spade was a cynical outsider who lived by his own personal code. The streets of crime were tough and Spade and other Hammett characters walked them with a new literary style. They called it “hard-boiled” and as The New York Times in their obituary, christened Hammett he was the dean of the “so called” hard-boiled school of detective fiction.

Hammett served in World War I, where he was rewarded by contracting tuberculosis. During his recovery, he met a nurse, Josephine Dolan, who became his wife. For a few years, Hammett became a Pinkerton detective.  It was his work during these years that gave birth to his aspirations of becoming a writer. Reading stories in the pulp fiction magazines like Black Mask, he realized he could do better than those guys.

Drawing on his experience as a real-life detective, The Smart Set published his first story (The Road Home) in 1922. Many of the stories he wrote at the time featured The Continental Op, a nameless P.I. who worked for the Continental Detective Agency located in San Francisco. The Op led to Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and other tough guy P.I.’s.

Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, Hammett was most productive: Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1930), The Maltese Falcon (1930), The Glass Key (1931) and The Thin Man (1934). It was during this short twelve-year period that Hammett produced most of his work. Alcoholism, politics, the blacklist, imprisonment, illness, and writer’s block all became barriers. A bright spot happened in 1931 when he met Lillian Hellman. They began a long term, though turbulent, relationship that lasted until his death from lung cancer in 1961. He was 66 years old.

This brings us to Wim Wenders 1982 film Hammett. Based on Joe Gores semi-fictional novel, the film is an homage not only to the great author but a stunning visual homage to those dark mean streets of film noir.

HammettSet in San Francisco. Hammett (Frederic Forrest) is already pumping out short stories to Black Mask but is not making much money. His old boss Jimmy Ryan (Peter Boyle) from his days as a Pinkerton detective, and the model for Hammett’s Continental Op, shows up at his front door. He’s not there to reminisce about the good old days, he’s on a case and wants Hammett’s help. Toss in Chinatown, crooked cops, dangerous dames and an eerie mood of disillusionment and you have a classic tribute to the noirs of yesteryear.

This was German director Wenders, first English speaking film, and not a good experience. Over the years rumors have spread the Wenders was fired and that Francis Ford Coppola took over. In an interview with IndieWire, Wenders reveals his version of what happened, why the film was literally shot twice. Read about it here.

A big part of the film’s moody ambiance is thanks to master cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc whose films included, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Killer Who Stalked New York, Dry Danger, Attack, Forty Guns, China Gate, The Garment Jungle, Tony Rome, and many other films and television shows.

The film stars Frederic Forrest, in an excellent performance, as Hammett, Peter Boyle, and Marilu Henner. Look for Sylvia Sydney, Elisha Cook Jr. (Wilber in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon), Royal Dano, and maverick B film director, Sam Fuller.