Catch-22: A Life Changing Experience

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Ever asked what is your favorite book? Mine is Joseph Heller’s brilliant satire Catch-22. Published in 1961, Heller’s novel was prophetic portrayal of the rise of corporate power, greed, and war.  At the time of its publication many were offended, some were confused. (1) This superb anti-war novel changed my life and the way I thought. I wrote about the book and film a while back on another blog and decided to post it here.

”You mean there’s a catch?”

“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

“There was only one catch, and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.    (Joseph Heller, Catch-22)

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I first read Catch-22 when I was 19 years old. This was in the late ’60s just before being sent to Vietnam. It was the one book I took with me. Sometime during that deployment, I lost the book, but never its spirit.

Author Joseph Heller joined the U.S. Army Air Corp in 1942. He was 19 years old. In 1944 Heller found himself in Italy as a B-25 Bombardier. He flew 60 missions. For most of those flights, he encountered little or no enemy fighters or anti-aircraft artillery. He later categorized them as “milk runs.” His military experience and background would come to use later in his epic novel. His anti-hero Yossarian was a Bombardier just like him.

The illogical logic of Heller’s brilliant anti-war satire reveals the insanity of war. Yossarian (Alan Arkin) is an American Bombardier stationed in Italy. He’s convinced everyone wants him dead, not just the Germans, but his own officers. They keep sending him on dangerous missions! To stop flying these insane missions, his higher-ups inform him he needs to complete a certain number of missions. The only problem is when he or any other bombardier come near the magic number of missions required, his commanding officer raises the number of missions required to be rotated out. Yossarian insists the entire world is crazy including him. And if he is insane, he should not be flying these missions; however, the flight surgeon (Jack Gilford) declares that anyone who understands the insanity of the situation cannot be insane! Subsequently, Yossarian must continue to fly more missions. Like with many things in life, there is no escape.

Catch-22, the movie, and the book is a surrealistic trip that captures the absurdity of war, and a bureaucratic society in general, frame for frame, a mix of satire, comedy and tragedy. Though set during World War II the film, released in 1970, captured the spirit of the late 1960s: the Counterculture, the Vietnam War and the Rock Generation. Heller’s novel, published in 1962 was a progressive masterpiece that only gained in popularity, and cult status as the sixties moved on into the later years of the decade. When it was announced Mike Nichols would direct the film version, it was met with high expectations, so high that it almost guaranteed failure. Critics of the day were split. Roger Ebert called it “a disappointment.” He went on, “the movie is essentially a parasite, depending on the novel for its vitality…” On the other side of the coin, Vincent Canby writing in the New York Times said, Catch-22 “is quite simply, the best American film I’ve seen this year.” Either way, the film died at the box-office.

The film captures the anti-war message that was popular at the time and manages to convey the insanity of war, the hopelessness of the soldiers caught in the middle and the narrow-minded vision of the military mentality and its mindless gun-ho patriotic fever.

There was another anti-war film released that same year, Robert Altman’s M.A.S.H. a movie that was met with more of a universal reception and was a big hit. Though set during the Korean War, like Catch-22, it echoed Vietnam and its times.

Buck Henry who worked with Nichols on The Graduate was given the impossible task of adapting Heller’s novel to the screen, and many of the scenes are set-pieces. The cast of characters are colorful and portrayed for the most part with an absurdist bent. There’s Milo Minderbender (Jon Voight) who has set up his own business, selling valuable military gear. General Dreedle (Orson Welles) who spits out insane orders and expects them to be carried out exactly as ordered, Captain Nately (Art Garfunkel) who falls in love with a whore and Major Major (Bob Newhart) who will only meet with anyone when he is not there. Other cast members include Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Anthony Perkins, and Martin Sheen.

The film and the book are reminders that war is not glorious or heroic. Yes, men and women do incredibly heroic acts in dangerous situations and sacrifice a lot. Still, we should not glorify war. We should not make it attractive to our youth, to future generations. I know too many people who seem to relish war, in most cases as long as someone else is doing the fighting and sacrificing. They always managed not to go. But they are the first to raise the flag, hug it and yell sacrifice as long as it is not them.

(1) Read about genesis of Catch-22 here.

Depression Blues and the Dance Marathon

they-shoot-horsesDance marathons were phenomena that began in the 1920’s. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel is a dark tale of losers desperately attempting to hang on to impossible dreams. Just like in Nathaniel West better known novel, Day of the Locust the characters all have unreachable dreams of being in the movies. Continue reading “Depression Blues and the Dance Marathon”

Edward Hopper and the Movies

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Hopper’s The Balcony

Edward Hopper loved the movies and he reflected that love in many of his works. When Hopper was not in the mood to paint, he would frequently binge on going to the movies where he would sometimes find inspiration. However, unlike most people, for Hopper, movie going was not a communal experience. Instead, as his work bares out, he found isolation and solitude in theaters like he did in his most famous cinema theater painting, New York Movie (permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art), which shows an usherette standing alone under a light in a side hall just off the main auditorium.

hopper_1939_new_york_movieHopper’s New York Movie

Phillip French writes in his article, From Nighthawks to the Shadows of Film Noir how Hopper influenced film and the other way around. French writes how, “German expressionism impinged on Hopper early on, during his sojourn in Paris. His 1921 etching Night Shadows looks like a storyboard sketch for a high-angle shot in a Fritz Lang movie.” I myself see Lang’s silent classic, M.

2221_hopper-night-shadowsHopper’s expressionistic like Night Shadows

Many of Hopper’s works are voyeuristic; private moments in people’s lives (A Woman in the Sun, New York Interior, Office in a Small City).  Hopper’s influence on Alfred Hitchcock can be seen in Rear Widow (1953) where James Stewart’s photographer, stuck in a wheelchair with a broken leg, sits by his bay window looking out the courtyard watching all the lonely people going about their lives in their apartments. You can see Hopper’s influence again during the opening credits of Psycho (1960) as Hitchcock’s camera moves from a wide view of the city and slowly zooms in on one  window where we discover Janet Leigh and John Gavin in an afternoon tryst.

hopper-night-windows-october-art-room Hopper’s Night Windows

rear-window-_-miss-torsoHitchcock’s Rear Window

In his most famous work, Nighthawks, Hopper was inspired after reading Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Killers (1946), where two hitman comes to a small town diner looking to kill Burt Lancaster’s The Swede, a down and out boxer. When Universal Pictures and director Robert Siodmak turned the Hemingway story into a film, Siodmak certainly kept Hopper’s diner image in mind. Another sign of Hopper’s influence is seen in Force of Evil (1948). Screenwriter/director Abraham Polonsky, while on location in New York for his first film, took his cinematographer, George Barnes, to an exhibition of Hopper paintings and told him, that’s the way he wants the film to look.

nighthawksHopper’s Nighthawks

killers                                                       Robert Siodmak’s The Killers

Nighthawks would continue to influence filmmakers and other artists for years to come.  Director Herbert Ross used it as inspiration in his 1983 musical, Pennies from Heaven as did Todd Hayes in Far from Heaven (2002). Tom Waits third album, and his first live album, Nighthawks at the Diner, with a cover design by Cal Schenkel, was influenced by Hopper.  In 1984, artist Gottfried Helnwein did a pop version of Nighthawks called Boulevard of Broken Dreams replacing the everyday patrons in Hopper’s painting with pop icons James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart. The guy behind the counter is Elvis. Later Green Day used Helnwein’s title and created one of their best known songs.

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Edward Hopper was not a sociable man. He seems to have had little interest in communicating with or meeting people. Much of his art can be seen as the work of a man who lives within himself.

 

 

 

 

Review of Film Noir At Twenty Four Frames Per Second

book-cover_dsc_0583-003Ivan G. Shreve Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear gave a fabulous review of my e-book. You can read it here!

http://thrillingdaysofyesteryear.blogspot.com/2016/09/book-review-film-noir-at-twenty-four.html

…and you can buy it here!

https://www.amazon.com/FIlm-Noir-Twenty-Frames-Second-ebook/dp/B00JZCDPEW/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8#nav-subnav

Author Jacqueline T. Lynch Review’s My Book Lessons in the Dark

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Jacqueline Lynch, author Ann Blyth: Actress, Singer, Star and many other books, as well an ace blogger at Another Old Movie Blog reviewed my book, Lessons in the Dark. There is also a short interview. Check it out at the link below.

http://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.com/2016/06/lessons-in-dark-by-john-greco.html

Check out Jacqueline’s books at Amazon at the link belowblyth-ebook-cover

http://www.amazon.com/Jacqueline-T.-Lynch/e/B004583B4U

 

And you can read my interview with Jacqueline right below.

https://urframes.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/interview-with-author-jacqueline-t-lynch/

 

 

 

Words, Words, Words!

I am happy to announce I am one of eleven contributors to CMBA’s new e-book, Words, Words, Words: Essays on Writers and Writing in Classic Film. The book is only .99 cents with all proceeds going to the National Film Preservation Fund. The book has been published in conjunction with the CMBA’s Words, Words, Words! Blogathon which is currently running through April 15th. You can purchase the book at the link below.

http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Writers-Classic-Association-Presents-ebook/dp/B01E2RURK4/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Lessons in the Dark – New E-Book Now Available

My latest e-book, Lessons in the Dark, is now available exclusively at Amazon. com. Why Lessons? Simply because watching movies for me has always been more than just entertainment. It was art, history and it was education. I have found many classic (old) films to still be  relevant to our lives today.  For example, my father always talked about how tough it was growing up during  The Great Depression. However, it was not until I watched films like Wild Boys of the Road and The Grapes of Wrath  that I truly began to understand what it was like. I also came to see how today many of these old films have remained relevant to our society and can teach us not to repeat our mistakes.

In this book I  have compiled a series of essays on films that reflect one or more of these themes. I hope you enjoy.  Below is a link to Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Dark-John-Greco-ebook/dp/B01CC0TWLS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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