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The Tramp at 100

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For those who read my blog, you would know that I feel as if I should have been born about 100 years ago.  It is like a living nightmare at times where my mind and heart belong to this time period, yet my physical existence was misplaced.  Scottie, beam me up!

While the rest of the world indulges in Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Kim K., I have looked at clips of Charlie Chaplin and pictures of Greta Garbo.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp turned 100 this year.  From “Easy Street” (1917) to “Modern Times” (1936), he made many of the funniest and most popular films of his time. He was best known for his character, the naive and lovable Little Tramp. The Little Tramp, a well meaning man in a raggedy suit with cane, always found himself wobbling into awkward situations and miraculously wobbling away. More than any other figure, it is this kind-hearted character that we associate with the time before the talkies.  The individual clothing items themselves are nothing extraordinary.  But when combined and a real human being living in it, this human cartoon comes to life in a way that only Charlie Chaplin could make it work.

Born in London in 1889, Chaplin first visited America with a theater company in 1907. Appearing as “Billy” in the play “Sherlock Holmes”, the young Chaplin toured the country twice. On his second tour, he met Mack Sennett and was signed to Keystone Studios to act in films. In 1914 Chaplin made his first one-reeler, “Making a Living”. That same year he made thirty-four more short films, including “Caught in a Cabaret”, “Caught in the Rain”, “The Face on the Bar-Room Floor”, and “His Trysting Place”. These early silent shorts allowed very little time for anything but physical comedy, and Chaplin was a master at it.

Chaplin’s slapstick acrobatics made him famous, but the subtleties of his acting made him great. While Harold Lloyd played the daredevil, hanging from clocks, and Buster Keaton maneuvered through situations using risky stunts, Chaplin concerned himself with improvisation. For Chaplin, the best way to locate the humor or pathos of a situation was to create an environment and walk around it until something natural happened. The concern of early theater and film was to simply keep the audience’s attention through overdramatic acting that exaggerated emotions, but Chaplin saw in film an opportunity to control the environment enough to allow subtlety to come through.  In Jeffrey Vance’s excellent book Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema: “The ‘thrill’ comedy of the Tramp skating perilously close to the edge of a balcony without a balustrade was achieved with a glass shot to create the illusion of height.

(A glass shot involves a painted scene on a pane of glass that is placed in front of the camera and precisely aligned with the existing set to achieve the desired effect.) However, no illusion is involved with Chaplin’s considerable skating skills, first demonstrated in The Rink nearly twenty years earlier. He devoted eight days to filming the roller-skating routine.”

Chaplin was known as one of the most demanding men in Hollywood. Regardless of the size the part, Chaplin walked each actor through every scene. Chaplin knew that a successful scene was not simply about the star, but about everyone on the screen. He demanded that the entire cast work together in every performance. Without this unity he could not express the subtlety of character that was so important to him. The only way to achieve that unity was to maintain complete control over every scene. This constant attention to detail ran many features over-time and over-budget, but the public reaction assured him and the studios that what he was doing worked. As his popularity increased he took more liberties with filming. Movies such as his 1925 hit, “The Gold Rush”, demanded unending reworking of scenes and rebuilding of sets.

Chaplin typically improvised his story in front of the camera with only a basic framework of a script. He shot and printed hundreds of takes when making a movie, each one a little experimental variation. While this method was unorthodox, because of the expense and inefficiency, it provided lively and spontaneous footage. Taking what he learned from the footage, Chaplin would often completely reorganize a scene. It was not uncommon for him to decide half-way through a film that an actor wasn’t working and start over with someone new. Many actors found the constant takes and uncertainty grueling, but always went along because they knew they were working for a master.

Though Chaplin is of the silent movie era, we see his achievements carried through in the films of today. With the advent of the feature-length talkies, the need for more subtle acting became apparent. To maintain the audience’s attention throughout a six-reel film, an actor needed to move beyond constant slapstick. Chaplin had demanded this depth long before anyone else. His rigor and concern for the processes of acting and directing made his films great and led the way to a new, more sophisticated, cinema.

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Written by chrisforliberty

March 11, 2014 at 12:32 am

Posted in Movies

The Music of Misunderstanding

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Sir, do you not see?
What?
Don Quixote battles six merchants from Toledo and saves Dulcinea’s virtue!
Who the devil is Dulcinea?

Mozart

All my life, I’ve taken an interest in certain things: the classics, movies, music and anything historical.  In a major way, I’m a 19th-20th century man.  In learning about the greats of the past, I’ve come to realize that I have some common traits with a number of people.  The ones that connect to me most on a personal level whether in terms of my physical stature, mode of thinking, outlook on life would be James Madison, Stonewell Jackson, Annie Oakley, Nikola Tesla, George Patton and Pappy Boyington. There would be others, but in my current frame of mind, these hit home the most.

Because my mindset and the current times are not in sync, my physical existence therefore is not in sync with the times.  So Kayne West is going to have a baby. This is big news today, yet I’m sitting here studying Patton and all the more thankful for it.  I love movies from just about any decade.  My musical tastes are all over the map: Mozart, 1920’s Jazz, MTV, etc… We live in a world where we are just to be interested in one thing.  We can’t figure out why an attorney would ride a Harley Davidson or why a farmer would read Shakespeare. We can’t figure out why a good Christian girl would work at Hooters’ or why a guy works the graveyard shift.

30 years ago, I was ahead of everyone else in terms of technology.  I knew what a modem was before the word was even in existence.  I thought about technologies that would enable people to speak from distant locations, sending each other a written message via computer which would have made it easier in my case since I have hearing loss and doing school news via a linkup that goes out to the whole school as opposed to listening to it on the intercom all the time.  Nowadays, I am glad the technology exists. But my major concern these days is it is technology for the sake of technology.  The Frankenstein effect.

My childhood consisted of fighting the Soviets (in my mind), running all over the neighborhood, hanging out in arcades, my aunt’s barn in Tennessee, my aunt’s bar in Florida, etc… I would prefer that any time over these modern times that kids are living in. But because they have come into a world that didn’t exactly have my experiences, they can’t relate. Long-term, this can have serious consequences.  I have already decided that if I have children of my own, they will not be getting a cell phone at age 3.

Reflecting back on it, given that my grandparents are of the Great Depression/World War II generation, I can kind of see why my grandmother would have been concerned about men having long hair and listening to rock n’ roll. To go from John Wayne to Jon Bon Jovi was a trend towards the decline of Western Civilization.  🙂 I personally have concerns about the constant rush and over-reliance on technology.  What are you going to do when you can’t just go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread for $50? It happened before.  See my point. I study history for a reason.  It is so we can relate and interconnect and perhaps learn from each other no matter the time period.

And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

Written by chrisforliberty

January 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Media, Movies, U.S. History

War (Or Why We Should Either Love It or Hate It)

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“All glory is fleeting”

I’m a student of history. Always have been. Some of my earliest memories are rooted in history, specifically war. I remember The Black Sheep Squadron coming on the air when I was just a few months old. My grandparents are children of the Great Depression and entered their adulthood on the brink of World War II. So I had a living breathing example of that conflict during a time when I was learning about figures like “Pappy” Boyington, “Old Blood and Guts” Patton, George Washington, etc… Basically it was stories of being a medic in Burma, malaria, being bedridden for a month, how Japanese people were (or thought to be at the time) yellow bastards or maybe a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Sound familar? Yet people think I’m crazy because I point these things out.

Yet I’ve eaten dinner with Japanese people while discussing baseball or Madonna. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that I have a certain fondness for Japanese culture and women. No different than my great-uncle (who is a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge) having an a certain fondness for English and French women. Basically it was stories of being in a cafe while on leave, the smell of dead horses and the sight of corpses in concentration camps. Yet people say to this day, “It can’t happen here.” To wit: at that time, Germany was the most advanced nation in the world. They had the finest doctors, engineers, scientists, and were ahead in terms of military doctrine. Yet it happened.

“Fights between individuals, as well as governments and nations, invariably result from misunderstandings in the broadest interpretation of this term. Misunderstandings are always caused by the inability of appreciating one another’s point of view. This again is due to the ignorance of those concerned, not so much in their own, as in their mutual fields. The peril of a clash is aggravated by a more or less predominant sense of combativeness, posed by every human being. To resist this inherent fighting tendency the best was is to dispel ignorance of the doings of others by a systematic spread of general knowledge. With this object in view, it is most important to aid exchange of thought and intercourse.” Nikola Tesla, “The Transmission of Electrical Energy without wires as a means for furthering Peace”, Electrical World and Engineer (7 January 1905)

In our times, we are constantly innudated with stories of global Muslim conspiracies of world conquest or that we are over there to liberate the oppressed. How does it happen? It is actually pretty simple. Just tell the people we have been attacked and accuse those who are opposed to going to war of treason.

Perhaps it would be more enlightening to understand the interesting connections between the Bush family, bin Laden family and the House of Saud. So why aren’t U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia? I will even mention the Project for the New American Century. But it is not my job to do your homework for you. So if you choose willful ignorance even after I pointed out certain details, you have only yourself to blame.

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Written by chrisforliberty

January 6, 2013 at 4:17 pm

How The West Was Won

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The Great Train Robbery, directed by Edwin S. Porter in 1903, captured the attention of the moviegoing audience because for the first time it told a story, the tale of how robbers came and tied up the station agent, robbed the train, murdered two railroad employees and a passenger, and were captured or shot by a posse of Westerners, who left a jolly square dance to track them down. It was filmed in the woods of New Jersey. No actors were listed in the credits, but film scholars have discovered that Broncho Billy Anderson (later a famous Western movie cowboy) played three separate parts: one of the robbers, the murdered passenger, and a tenderfoot who wanders into the hoedown and is forced to dance by cowboys who shoot at his feet. As there were no close-up shots of actors’ faces, an actor could play many parts without being recognized. To show an actor’s face without showing his hands and feet was felt to be cheating the audience, who after all had paid good money to see the whole actor.

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The first train robbery on record occurred not in the Wild West, but in John Mellancamp’s hometown.

Here is an account of the first train robbery in the West.

D. W. Griffith brought a greater sophistication to the motion picture process. He and his colleagues were inventing the vocabulary of moving picture images in the same way that the Elizabethans invented English as we know it. In The Musketeers of Pig Alley, filmed in New York City in 1912, the shots are elegant, the crowd scenes varied and focused, the acting restrained yet convincing, the gang war tense and thrilling. Lillian Gish stars; Elmer Booth is charming as the boss of the gangsters; young Lionel Barrymore has a bit part. No credits are listed for the actors, once again, for the longer the movie industry could put off crediting the actors the less they would have to be paid.

Specifically, I would like to address the look and mood of the Hollywood Western in comparison and contrast to the Spaghetti Western and the “Wild West” in general.

Let’s begin with the High Noon Showdown

The Year: The Wild West.
The Place: In the middle of an empty, dusty road outside a saloon.
The Time: The instant the clock strikes high noon.

Some guys enter a bar.  A argument ensues.  Basically they take it outside.

You get the picture.

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Its familiarity, of course, makes it a favorite plot device in Westerns along with the train robber galloping on a horse and springing onto the train. In said parody, one character is required to say, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.” Quite rarely will it occur to them that some urban expansion could solve all their problems.

There was an authenic showdown that involved Will Bill Hickock in Springfield, Missouri. There is also this account: “I was standing near Wild Bill on Main Street, when someone ‘began shooting up the town’ at the eastern end of the street. It was Bill Mulvey, a notorious murderer from Missouri, known as a handy man with a gun… Mulvey appeared on the scene, tearing toward us on his iron grey horse, rifle in hand, full cocked. When Wild Bill saw Mulvey, he walked out to meet him, apparently waving his hand to some fellows behind Mulvey and calling to them: ‘Don’t shoot him in the back; he is drunk’. Mulvey stopped his horse and, wheeling the animal about, drew a bead on his rifle in the direction of the imaginary man he thought Wild Bill was addressing. But before he realized the ruse that had been played upon him, Wild Bill had aimed his six-shooter and fired – just once. Mulvey dropped from his horse – dead, the bullet having penetrated his temple and then passed through his head.”
Eyewitness account of Miguel Otero from his book, My Life on the Frontier, 1864–1882 (1936)

Westerns leave the impression that there was one occurring every week somewhere. In reality, the actual number of authentic showdowns probably never exceeded more than a dozen. If a person was shot, it was during the course of a bank robbery or a shot in the back. Yet even those were rare compared to how they are portrayed on-screen. Train robberies were mostly the robbers deciding ahead of time to rob a train, checking out the scene and entering as paying customers before springing into action as opposed to them leaping off a horse onto the back and working their way over the top.  The Wild West was not nearly as violent as portrayed in cinema.  Most violence that occurred was between the Indian tribes and the federal government.

Then there is the look of the Western. Golden Age Hollywood Westerns portrayed the classic “good guy”: clean shaven, spotless, wearing white; the “bad guy”: menacing look or facial expressions, some dirt on him whether literally or in terms of his character, and wearing black. In reality, good guys never were all good and bad guys never were all bad. The look as portrayed in the Spaghetti Westerns would have been more accurate.

The same goes for the women. Some of them were prostitutes, but not all of them had teeth. Small towns mostly grew up around the mines and railroads and since employment opportunities for women weren’t exactly plentiful, you have to earn a living somehow.

So in a nutshell, the “Wild West” is more hype than reality, people were complicated and people didn’t exactly take showers every single day.

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Written by chrisforliberty

December 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Movies, U.S. History

George S. Patton: The Man

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Patton

You know General, sometimes the men don’t know when you’re acting. 

It’s not important for them to know. It’s only important for me to know.

I’ve often imagined what would it be like if Jesus looked like Andre The Giant or had red hair much like Alexander the Great and Thomas Jefferson. He would have stood out. But I’m inclined to believe he looked average, probably around 5’5″ or so and didn’t have the Force. Maybe he could hit a curve ball.  Then again, they didn’t exactly have baseball back then.  But yet even today, if he was a redhead and could hit a curve ball, he would get some of this treatment. Why? Probably because he would be a catcher who has bad knees instead of playing first base. You are supposed to stand out, but if you do, they will beat you up for standing out. Damn if you do.

This is what George Patton himself has said about another historical figure, “Blackjack” Pershing: “To those who have known General Pershing, only by his pictures or by an occasional distant view, he appears as a grave, austere man of fine presence, but cold and almost frigid in his loneliness. Just so it is with Mount Washington. Viewed from afar, it rises in cold and isolated majesty; in, but not of, our universe. It takes the more intimate personal knowledge of a ramble on it’s craggy sides to discover the warmth, beauty, and latent grandeur of it’s very self. All great men suffer from this fact. Of American generals, none has suffered more than General Pershing, because none have commanded such hosts or risen so high.”

Most people only know Patton from the movie Patton which portrayed him as vainglorious, bombastic, acting without thinking. But he was more than just a tank general.  I first heard of Patton around 30 years ago from reading about him in a WWII book. All my life, I’ve been interested in history.  From studying the man aside from the portrayals in the media, I’ve come to realize that while he could be colorful, he didn’t use profanity as part of daily discourse.   He only used it for dramatic effect. You can’t run a military especially at the lower level of the hierarchy using formal speak all the time. But the military itself is based on rank and file just like the world at large.  Enlisted men do not eat with officers.

He was a human being.  He understood the nature of war and that is the best way to prevent war is to not start one in the first place. If it does start, the best way to end it is to put the leaders out of power even if you have to personally shoot the paper hanging son of a bitch yourself. If the people had not followed Hitler, Stalin, the Japanese military elites, etc…, it could have been averted.  This is why it is important that even if you attend a public speech or watch TV, that you think critically.

This was the last straw for Beatrice, and her temper flared. She unsheathed one of the swords and chased “Saber George” around the room, cursing with expletives that should have made her warrior husband proud. After she had “treed” him on top of the crates, stabbing at his legs, and making him dance quite a jig, he pleaded, “G– D— it, Bea, I’m sorry! I’ll pack them myself!” And he did.

Written by chrisforliberty

November 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm

The “Noise” of Modern Life

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insanity

“Future shock [is] the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”Alvin Toffler, ‘Future Shock’

I first read Future Shock (published in 1970) as an elementary school student in the mid 1980’s.  In a nutshell, my adult life (or at least my aspirations) was that kind of life that we hear so much about: The American Dream. You could make it in America based on hard work and to a large extent on super human willpower.  Simply by wishing for something to happen, then it will happen. The ethos of the blue collar worker, business man and woman, farmer, rags to riches stories that have been used by the past several generations as a motto for themselves and future generations.

There is a part of me however while still acknowledging that working hard is important, it should not be treated as absolute gospel or that the math always equals out.  I had career aspirations to become a movie or TV producer.  But no matter how many resumes I sent out over the years (I have loss count), or how much education a person gets (how many people today have college degrees and yet can’t get find a job parking cars?)  Yet the result did not equal the effort and it was mostly due to factors beyond my control such as the miserable economic conditions and an industry that is on life support.  Or maybe my resume wasn’t sexy enough.  Quite frankly, I wouldn’t care to be associated with the stuff coming out today.  They don’t hold a candle to the movies, TV shows and music that was experienced in the 20th century.  It is mostly “noise”.  The creative arts should be about individualistic expression that also reaches its audience on an internal level and do something that leaves some kind of impression.  But it mostly has that empty feeling as if someone had taken olestra or laxatives.  It is as of I was chronologically misplaced to a large extent. Even in childhood there was a part of me that connected with the 18th, 19th and most of the 20th century.

Taking this “noise” and applying it to American life today, the principle still holds.  We live in a society that in many ways has already exceeded the frontiers in terms of the arts, lifestyle, technology and many other areas.  This same society has the expectation that each future generation is supposed to exceed the accomplishments of the previous generations.  That logic rang true for people of the 18th, 19th and 20th century.  But the 21st century so far has this sense of either going too fast in terms of technology leading to information overload and downhill in many other areas.

This overload has lead to stress and disorientation that is toxic.  To apply the analogy to sports: It used to be you just read the sports pages and looked forward to the upcoming game.  Now it is too easy to just spend all day around the radio or TV 24/7, nitpicking over every little detail about people (people take an interest in another person eating a sandwich? Really!) Or consider people scream for football coaches to be fired because of one missed play that potentially could have won the game (never mind that a team could run 60-70 plays per game) and it is constantly analyzed on radio and TV.  The funny thing is that Tom Landry, Don Shula and Chuck Noll wouldn’t have lasted very long either. Not when your first year is o-14 or 1-13.  Yet any person in any area is constantly compared to the greats and if you don’t hit at least 714 home runs, you are considered a failure.  Or consider the daily press conference.  In the 1980’s and 90’s, I don’t recall having to turn on TV and watching Shula having to explain why the Dolphins are having practice at 7 a.m. as opposed to 2 p.m. Oh maybe because in South Florida in August, there is this thing call heat and humidity.

Politics is another example.  The theory goes that Democrats watch CNN and MSNBC, Republicans watch Fox News and all of them swear that their source is fair and balanced or always truthful or whatever.  As an independent, I guess that puts me at odds with both news sources a good bit of the time.  At least by watching the nightly news at 6:30 back in the day, the banter was limited to around 22 minutes as opposed to 22 hours (factoring in commercials).  Go to work doing what you love using your degree that you went to college for (and tuition could be paid mostly by having a part-time job and working during the summer), come home at 5, settle down for a nice dinner, and look forward to watching the Dukes of Hazzard, Miami Vice or countless other shows from the time.  Nowadays, I can’t find a single network show that interests me.  So it is mostly RTV or TV Land.  I would have even loved being a child watching I Love Lucy or Gunsmoke.

We are too wired for our own good.  Ever have that experience of calling people, leave a message like they ask so they will call you back. Instead, you get put on hold for an hour listening to elevator music and if you do leave a message, you may hear back from them.  Maybe.  What’s the point of asking people to leave a message (with you specifically asking for them to call you back) if they aren’t going to return phone calls? It only takes two minutes.  How did people ever get things done in the day before phones, email, even telegraph?  The biggest problem is in their haste to always be busy in order to keep up with society’s expectations of you or your own expectations, people don’t appreciate the simpler things in life.

People today and especially the younger people, we will have to reduce our expectations.  So focus on taking life one day at a time and not being too fixated on having it all by age 30 (who can afford a $250,000 house on $8 an hour and dealing with the miserable economy of the past ten years?) That same house cost around $25,000 just 30 years ago.  Certainly affordable.  Making a career change could work, but how does one pay off student loans that these days go around close to $100,000 and IF you find employment doing anything using the method that you were told to use (network, resumes, keep learning, etc…), it doesn’t yield the results. It usually takes a good 5-10 years to really get going with a new career.  Easier to do at age 22 than being 40, 50 or what have you.

Life back then had its challenges and problems.  That is life.  But one thing is clear to me: just as the methods of the 19th century didn’t work in the 20th century, the 20th century way won’t work today.  In a culture of high expectations and high achievements yet dealing with human limitations and aspects of life that we have no direct control over, the best thing to do is to reduce our expectations in certain ways and appreciate the smaller things in life.  Besides, having it all is still temporary.

Written by chrisforliberty

September 13, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Posted in General, Movies

Happy Birthday Alvin York

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I took a three hour round trip (over Memorial Day weekend) to Pall Mall (pronounced /ˈpæl ˈmæl/ pal mal by residents) in order to a pay visit to the Sgt. York Historic Park. It was long overdue.

Most people are already generally familiar with York’s exploits during World War I in large part due to the movie plus some general readings here and there. To get more in-depth about his life, I suggest checking out “Sgt York: His Life, Legend & Legacy“.

Much of his later life was spent seeking to improve the welfare of his fellow beings through improved education, economic opportunities and sharing the gospel of Christ. He stated once “When I die, I had rather it be said about me that I gave my life toward aiding my fellow man than for to be said that I became a millionaire, through capitalizing on my fame as a fighter. I do not care to be remembered as a warrior, but one who helped others to Christ”.

Written by chrisforliberty

December 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Movies, U.S. History