Tuesday, January 29, 2019

So A Guy Asked Me What I Thought Of Green Book

So I just saw Green Book.

It snowed so heavily here that I thought getting to the movie might be a problem. But it all ended well.

Including the movie. How good is it? So good. I loved it. I give it 4/5, 8/10, 80/100.

I had that score firmly in my head before I started skimming through a few reviews from Richard Brody’s 30/100 to others’ 100/100.

The criticisms include it being too formulaic, too sappy about race relations, too trading in cliches, too contrived, too stereotypical, too echoing of previous films arcs, too simplistic about the complexity of race, and maybe class, in America. 

My general answer to some of these concerns is that in them we’re back to imposing how we see our own moment on the way things were racially in the late 50s early 60s in America. That was a time that in some senses things were, you should pardon the expression, black and white as between black and white, and no more so than in the South and even more so in the Deep South, for all the racial hypocrisy and racism extant in the North. 

Black and white means things are simpler and cruder and the movie presents that. But Ali’s performance is so subtle and shaded, so complex and nuanced, for who his character is, for what he understands, for his suppressed rage, for his higher sensibility, for his personal limitations, for his virtues and strengths, for his artistic genius, that no one ought say this movie oversimplifies race as it was then. His nuanced complexity fills in infinite shades of grey between the black and white. 

Mortensen too, for all his swaggering Ed Bundy, deze, demz and doze, Bronx Italian street guy, has shades of grey in him. Ali is a self imploding, tightly wound and constrained, stick up his ass type consistent with a sensibility so refined and rarified it seems like it might at different times either float off into the ether or fall on the floor and shatter into a thousand pieces or snap in half out of sheer brittleness. 

Mortensen is the opposite of course but is marked by a personal solidity and code of honour, even as it coexists with a slice of playful, flexible, forgivable, pragmatic larceny in him. He has integrity and is totally open and appetitive, all as aspects of his Bronx Italian, his street, his hustler’s, sensibility. In all of that he has an iron grip on what is importantly right and wrong and he lives according to the code clutched in that grip. In fact, they both embody contrasting and complementing codes of honour, integrity and strength. 

Their contrasts drive the movie, but each character is rounded and subtle in his own way, each so much more than what is apparent about him, that it’s nonsense, imo, to dismiss the movie as but another iteration of Oscar and Felix or simply the inversion of Driving Miss Daisy. The latter are middlebrow entertainment, nothing wrong with that, but Shirley and Tony are wrought in art. 

There is no reason to pooh pooh what the movie makes as its theme: how Ali and Viggo affect and change each other. It’s no point that this kind of arc occurs often in movies. The point is how it happens in this movie that counts. And for my money,  that affecting and changing arise organically over the course of the two hours and change. I believed it all and it all moved me.

Btw, in all my review skimming, I didn’t notice anyone commenting on the kind of music Shirley plays: to my ears, it’s third stream jazz or chamber jazz, a blend of jazz and classical music. That music complements Shirley with his one artistic leg in each stream, classical and jazz, finally flowing into the one musical river. 

Btw, did you notice that when Ali near the end lets loose in the juke joint, one of the members of the backing band is white? So many little touches like that.

And I didn’t see any note on how percussive is Ali’s piano playing, an outlet for his inner rage, comprising an  implicit attack on his Southern audiences, a kind of fuck you to them, who get off on thinking they have some association with his genius, perhaps salving some sense of their own guilt, or just making themselves feel good, while the minute before and the minute after his performance, he’s back to being the Other, the N....r.  

A closer look at the movie will reveal, I believe, some blue notes and blusiness in one of Shirley’s performances after one of his harrowing southern experiences. There are all kinds of subtleties in the way the movie deals with music that are worthy of more extended and precise comment.

I’ll just say one more thing: some find the ending treacly. Not me. I loved it and I welled up. It’s the perfect culmination of what the movie develops between its protagonists over its course. 

I’m reading A Farewell To Arms and I commented to a friend on the well known simplicity of much of Hemingway’s expository prose and his dialogue, with, say, descriptions like “she was very beautiful,” or “the town was very nice,” descriptions a creative writing teacher would warn sternly against. But in Hemingway they work because as we get into his worlds, we internalize his mistrust of complicated talk, of a lot of interiority, introspection and complexity. Things in his worlds are very much as they appear; people are what they seem; and they like or love things—people, situations, food, wine, beauty or ugliness—or they don’t. 

That kind of straightforward reaction to straightforward things works in his worlds. Which is all a lot of roundabout words to say the ending in Green Book to my mind works in a comparable way. In a moment of virtually pure relationship black and white embrace each other as equals, as friends, as who each is. The moment is one of almost pure fellowship, just that. It’s straightforward, believable and fine. 

Those who find it sappy, simplistic, undercutting complexity, an impossible proxy for racial harmony in America are missing what it is by seeing it as something larger than what it is—two utterly different guys who over the course of events come to appreciate and love each other. They stand for nothing but who they are in relation to each other. 

Why not 100/100? 

Well, I like it too much to bother carping and niggling about this and that. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Mordecai Richler And Social Justice Publishing

First there’s THIS 


Good piece, clearly written and laying out a sad case for the proposition that an identitarian sensibility is smothering creativity.

Mordecai Richler, maybe Canada’s greatest novelist, and if not that, then at least right up there, is—I say “is” because his work lives on—is an unPC writer and was this as a person, sardonic, satiric, biting, who calls out nonsense when he sees it and calls it as he sees it. He’s an equal opportunity putter-downer. I wonder how he’d fare today.

Here’s a non untypical bit, I think from Duddy Kravitz or maybe Son Of A Smaller Hero, which is also about lower middle class Jews in Montreal in the fifties:


two Jewish regular guys are cracking wise:

“Berkowitz: ‘Hey, Feldman, what do you call a pint sized Eskimo with a hard on?’

Feldman: ‘I dunno, why don’t you tell me Berkowitz.’

Berkowitz: ‘A frigid midget, with a rigid digit.’”

Now, this obviously isn’t a put down of Inuit. It’s a rendering of how certain regular street guys authentically joked around in the late fifties. It helps give the novel texture as it helps fill in the living, pulsing setting. If it is from Son Of A Smaller Hero, then it’s from a good book written on the way to a really good novelist finding himself. If it’s from Duddy Kravitz—The Apprenticeship Of—then it’s from a novelist who hit his stride and wrote one of the best novels ever written by a Canadian writer.

Could Richler get such stuff published today? Could he write his books filled with the smashing of mad progressivism—Cocksure, with the use of an Eskimo anti hero to lacerate gone mad consumer culture and flagellate self important Canadian mediocrities who took themselves entirely too seriously—The Incomaprable Atuk, with the lampooning of all manner of absurd politically correct ills in the world—St.Urbain’s Horseman? In fact in what he bit into and chewed up, Richler is prescient, his antennae foreshadowing today’s social justice world gone mad.

If Tara Nykforiak’s indictment is far going enough such that Richler today couldn get such stuff published in Canada, then that measures how crippling and cloistered is today’s identitarian sensibility. And that holds true as well even his work could get published today, but only after much difficulty.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

No Systemic Racism, Questions/@Criticisms/ And Answers

There’s this: https://quillette.com/2019/01/25/how-real-is-systemic-racism-today/


Sounds right to me. I wish I understood or had the patience to learn about statistics, but I get the idea.  I doubt that getting rid of false claims of discrimination will help much politically, but are good intellectually.  Two quotes seems wrong to me.

"The point is that these practices [gerrymandering is one] are not aimed at black people because they are black, but because of the way they vote."  

The GOP southern strategy was aimed at getting white votes not denying blacks.  Those who designed it need not be racist.  Just as the Dems supported racism in order to have the Southern vote.  The designers were not racist but just wanted votes.

"We don’t know the hirer’s previous experience. Perhaps she is racist; but in any case, this is individual not systemic racism."  The hirer picked white names over black.  Lots of individual racism can make a difference, and I think people confuse IR with SR.  In an awarding grants experiment, gender was indicated but erroneous.  Certain facts (I recall one, taking time out from career to travel) were ranked high when male (adventurous) low for women (not dedicated to the job).   These are individual, not systemic, but have a bad effect on the grant candidates.  

Not sure why this doesn't add up to systemic. 


On the first quote, why is it wrong? 

Aren’t you saying, in correcting his error, what he’s saying? 

His point is that gerrymandering, which everyone in power tries if they can, isn’t about racism, or isn’t aimed at groups of people qua their perceived essence, but is aimed at getting their, or any group’s, votes based on an expectation of how they vote. If the group’s pattern of voting changes, the instances of gerrymandering will change. Short of missing something, I don’t see you saying anything *in principle* different. 

On the second point, here are three arguments:

1. Why would his example show systemic racism? It’s an institutional thing, a de jure thing, not a de facto thing—hence the adjective “systemic.” Wikipedia: ....Institutional racism (also known as systemic racism) is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions....

So If the state’s law and the state’s institutions are colour blind—save ironically for affirmative action policies and equality of outcome and disparate impact theory—then how do we speak of systemic racism? 

2. Besides that point, one of Staddon’s central arguments is that we can’t discredit behaviour to racism until we have eliminated all other possibilities: and we have to have done that before we can make any conclusions about racism.

....Systemic racism is a poor concept. First, it is almost impossible to prove, because racism is discrimination without any reason other than race. To prove discrimination, all other possible reasons—reasons like differential ability, interests, criminality, etc., as in the examples I gave earlier—must be eliminated. Does the tech industry discriminate against women? 

Does the nursing profession discriminate against men? To show racism, which is differential treatment for no reason other than race, alternative explanations for disparities must be eliminated. But in practice not only are they not eliminated, efforts to explore these other causes are actively suppressed.

So, the second, and perhaps most important, problem with the charge of systemic discrimination is that it deflects attention from the proximal causes, endogenous as well as exogenous, of the racial disparities that led to its invention. 

Disparities—racial, ethnic, or gender-based—are not proof of anything. Disparities raise questions about their cause. Absent further information, a racial disparity does not favor one answer over others. To say, as some academic critics have, that “When I See Racial Disparities, I See Racism” is simply wrong. If only things were that simple!

The beauty of “systemic racism” is its air of permanence. It is here forever, and its victims must be compensated in perpetuity. It has become the elusive and inexpugnable cause of all the ills of people of color. And it provides an endless supply of ammunition for those whose careers depend on the persistence of racism. It has become a cause of racial division rather than part of the cure. It should be abandoned....

3. And even if we can say a hirer, or some hirers, will choose white sounding names over black sounding ones on the belief that blacks are inferior, then that’s an instance, or instances, as the case may be, of individual racism too often conflated with systemic racism. See above quote.

On Records, Sound Systems, And The Habits Of Music Addicts


I had a guy come over to rectify my stereo system, which increasingly has been having things go south. 

He got some of it done but I can only get my CDs to come through on one speaker. He’ll come back, maybe this weekend. 

But my record player is good through both speakers. So I’m listening to my old vinyl. Right now the beautiful sounds of Art Pepper. But it’s interesting: the repair guy is a venerable collector and glancing through my LPs, he tells me they make for a good collection, are worth more than I ever imagined and I should get a special insurance rider for them. I have no real interest in my records’ commercial value. I can’t imagine ever selling them. But it’s nice to know and I will arrange the insurance.


I've still got every LP I ever bought.  They rest in liberated imperial measure Clarke Dairy milk crates (themselves collectors items, I understand) where most have them haven't been played since the Carter Administration.

I rustled through a few of the titles to see what they were worth - I used to only play them once to record them to tape - I am an audionerd from wayback.  Come to think of it, I've had a pc since the time Bill Gates was credibly boyish looking.  I think I may be a nerd.  

I digress.  Every half decade or so, I pull out my Thorens turntable (also collectors items, I understand) find all the goop (I have record cleaning fluid from 1979), try and remember how to connect everything up without blowing apart my speakers and remind myself why I really really really like digital. Too much futzing for something that for me at its very best only sounds as good as its CD counterpart (i.e. "flat" mastering from analogue to digital like they did when they first reissued LPs as CDs in the 1980s and early 1990s).  They're probably worth insuring, but like you, I don't really have any interest in their commercial value.   I just wanna listen to the music.

I love Art Pepper. I remember schlepping his complete Galaxy set back to Regina that I'd picked up at Sam The Record Man on Yonge Street around the mid-1990s on a business trip.  Nice Jewish boy, wonderful sax player, probably invented West Coast Jazz, great dreamy listening.  And I give him full credit for the wonderful tongue in cheek self-deprecating album title - "Smack Up", which is also a great album.


Terrific note, thanks.

Talk about meta: even your milk crates are collectibles. My own view is that it’s a supreme pleasure digging out old vinyl and playing it, every scratch, pop, hiss and even skip, when it’s tuchess-getting- up-from literally to move the needle is a kind of odd pleasure. 

I’m a decided non nerd, not in the opposite of nerd being cool, but just not in the extreme pursuit of anything technical. If I have anything in my hoarding—books and records—that’s worth anything, its accidental and incidental. And my non nerd collecting has been exactly that, eclectic, undisciplined and totally unsystematic. I hear something I like, I want to get it. I read about something that looks like I’d like it, I want to get it. Someone suggests something that I might like, I want to get it. I like going to second hand record stores maybe once every few weeks and browse and pick up what my mood leans toward. I don’t know the indicia of what’s valuable. I don’t buy the recordings of artists I like in any comprehensive way, for example concentrating on different phases of their careers, with a few exceptions like the early BB King when he actually could sing, the later and early Billie Holiday, drug addled deep against fresh voices and bouncy, innocent one might say, Lester Young pre and post army, gospel Sam Cooke to blues, r&b and pop Sam Cooke, the incarnations of Elvis and Miles Davis from bebop all the way over to one lung one note bursts of pop. Others too actually but they’re all exceptions that prove the rule my laxity in this respect.

I don’t know the first technical things about what I laughingly call my 35 year old, give or take, equipment. Most I’ve ever done is blow off some dust, reconnect a loose wire, wipe off the surface of a record or CD and maybe once I changed a needle.

I don’t say any of this with any anti heroic pride; and I envy, not a bitter, dark green envy but rather a delightfully benign sea foam green envy, your technical passion and aptitude and your rigorous collecting. 

Btw, I didn’t know Art Pepper was Jewish: his musicianship is amazing considering his junkie travails. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

One Thumb Up, One Thumb Down, For The Sopranos

In response to this :

It’s a nice philosophic question whether it’s a fact that, say, Macbeth is excellent. But however much a conundrum that question might be, I get what you’re saying. And to support that “fact,” its excellence may be “proved” in one way by its high estimation over time by what at least convention would consider the best minds. 

Where I fall off though is with your saying The Sopranos is excellent the way Macbeth is, that that’s a fact, (regardless of whether that fact is ontological or metaphoric.) I fall off because great art, and you consider The Sopranos that, (maybe, respectfully, a little too rhapsodically), must have a moral dimension. Macbeth certainly has that. But I argue The Sopranos does not. 

I don’t mean to be a scold: I loved it: it was for me destination television. As entertainment it’s great. It, in one set of terms, delights us, but, in the deepest sense of those terms, it doesn’t instruct us.  Not the way Macbeth does, and not the way The Wire or Deadwood do. And the reason for that, in my view, is that despite the scenes of homicidal and less than homicidal brutality, greed and thinly transient loyalties, it at bottom gives the utter grimness and the brutal exploitation of mob criminality a pass. That comes from in part the comedy in it, which you note, in part from the focus on domestic strife and Tony’s anxieties, seeing his shrink and all that, and generally, from all the lightness running through it. I say, that in giving that criminality a pass, in presenting much of mob life in a such a fun, diverting, entertaining way, the series deprives itself of moral dimension. 

That same split, by the way, is the reason why Godfather 1 is a compelling gangster fairy tale and why Godfather 2 is among the greatest of movies. It’s the reason why Goodfellas, a juicy, rollicking movie, totally entertaining, is finally a kind of moral idiocy, say in Scorsese’s images of a paranoid Jimmy Conway’s murder victims winding up in comical poses, in glamorizing thug life seen from the thugs’ perspective and having  Henry’s final wish to be back in thug life as something devoutly to be wished for. 

Donnie Brasco’s grimly real representation of the lowness of thug life—was Al Pacino ever better?—makes mincemeat of what Goodfellas glamorizes as Scorsese euthanizes its violence by making it comical and fun, like say when Tommy stabs the shit out of the guy trapped in the car trunk, stabs him over and over after a cozy funny scene at his mother’s house. Totally entertaining movie which for sure bears repeated watching but morally askew.

So that’s my argument against your claim for The Sopranos’ transcendent greatness, its perfection as excellence as a fact, the way Macbeth’s excellence is a fact.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Word Or Three On Hemingway’s Prose In A Farewell To Arms

Me to R:

In all seriousness, I *am* now reading A Farewell To Arms. I don’t think I ever read it before. I just started in and have read in my slow way about six chapters.

I know all the cliches about H’s prose but a few things among others strike me in what I’ve so far read.

No one in a creative writing class would instruct anyone to write, “The town was very nice” or “The nurse was very beautiful” or “The evening was very pleasant.” You’d be urged to avoid vague generalizations and give particulars to make your writing concrete and specific. But in Hemingway it absolutely works. 

I think it works because in reading him we get converted into his way of seeing things: he doesn’t trust intellectualizing or interiority or complexity of thought generally; he in effect says people operate in basic ways; they like things or they don’t; things are beautiful or pretty or nice or they’re not; food and wine tastes good or it doesn’t: and so on like that. And that’s how they talk to each other. If someone says a woman is very beautiful and maybe provides a detail like she is tall and thin and long blonde hair, we actually do get and can see pretty fully what we’re told. So the simplicity of his language conveys that, reflects it.

Still there’s (at least to me) a strange paragraph in which Henry all of a sudden describing the way his ambulance unit is set up starts using a lot of three and more syllable words like “functionality” and “operationally” and others too. I found that kind of language use all of a sudden striking and maybe meant to reflect a little the technical, mechanical, functioning  side of what Henry and his colleagues do. But in the extensive and repeated descriptions of the settings or in the way he has most of the people conversing, there are only simple, primarily one, occasionally two, syllable words.

I love Hemingway’s writing by the way. 

Sent from my iPad

Friday, January 18, 2019

A Note On Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited


Reading BR was like watching something big and awful happen but from a considerable distance: historical (WW I), cultural (decline of English upper class country life and religion), and sensibility.  The British inexpressiveness leaves me lukewarm.  The falling in love of Charles and Julia and the subsequent messing up of families seemed absurdly bland to me.  My most intense reaction was hysterical laughter at two comic set pieces, which have already fled my mind.  The book made me realize what a pure product of my time I am, and was happy to be so, until recently (and the shock was pre-Trump). Philip Roth remains my bard.  


I have quite different reactions. Nothing cracked me up though some parts were amusing. I didn’t really note inexpressiveness as much for some characters, most evidently Charles and Julia too, a certain stiff-upper-lippedness a kind of stoicism as reflected in their way of speaking that btw contrasts with Anthony Blanche’s talk, talk, talk, lisps and all, the unhinged yak yak yak too of the gang of student aesthetes, with Mottram and his ilk’s absurd talking, oddly enough, with Cordelia’s long narrative about finding Simon and with the chatter of others too including even Nanny Hawkins and the vast assortment of minor characters whose verbal tics are the windows of their souls or often enough their soullessness. 

I was swept up in Julia and Charles love affair and became emotionally invested in it, dreading the inevitability of their break up and feeling the depths of Julia’s recovery of her Catholicism. 

So moving did I find that for me it put the whole novel into a frame of reference in the broad movement from the “gay” sensibility of the Oxford student aesthetes to the reverence Julia comes to and in which she joins Cordelia.  With respect to that reverence, Charles becomes the stoical outsider looking in even as he too is moved to pray. 

All this is set within what leads up to WW11, as lightly sketched in save of course for the novel’s bookends prologue and epilogue, and the war as such, which the two logues bring home to us. 

In looking back on the sweep of the novel from the final standpoint of that most deep reverence and the war itself, the vast and abundant fictional world Waugh creates is, as I had said, magnificent.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Anti Trump Or Anti Anti Trump

Of late, past few months, I’ve shut out US politics. Don’t read much about it, don’t follow it, though I know the headlines and read the occasional piece. I also know a few people with whom I steer clear of any discussion of Trump.

So I had lunch today with a guy I know, an intelligent guy, who I hadn’t before put on that “list.”

Me: I’m not so much pro Trump as anti anti Trump. I sometimes react to the insane obsession with hating him some have.

Him: Why what’s wrong with hating him like that?

Me: What’s wrong with an insane obsession with him, is that what you’re asking me?

Him: He’s an agent for Putin. He’s shut down the government. Look at what he’s done to immigrants. Look at the useless wall he wants to build. No one has an insane obsession with him.

Me: Don’t you think there’s (at least) two sides to each of these issues and a lack of clear evidence of his being under Putin’s thumb?

Him: Well, why did he go into meetings with Putin without his aides or without his translator? He’s leaving Syria to Russia. He’s pulling out of NATO.

Me: I don’t know, but I wouldn’t leap from that to the conclusion he’s a Russian agent. I’ll wait for clear and convincing evidence of that. The meeting thing you cite by itself proves 0. Plus he’s taken anti Russian measures. 

Me: The Syria withdrawal has many in the foreign policy realm favouring it. He campaigned on getting US out of these kinds of long arguably senseless engagements. 

Me: And he’s not pulling out of NATO so fast. 

Me: How do you know the wall is useless? Have you informed yourself as to its utility or lack of it? 

Me: And why do you say *he’s* shut down the government? Isn’t the government still functioning so it’s just a partial shutdown? And why aren’t the Ds to blame? They took back their offer of 1.5 billion sensing they have a political winner. Plus he campaigned on the wall and he was elected.

Him: He wasn’t elected on his own steam. He only won because he ran against Hillary Clinton.

Me: Listen to yourself. Plus, immigration: really? Do you for starters want to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration?

Him: I don’t want to talk about this anymore. (He puts his hands over his ears to emphasize the end of this line of conversation.)

Him: Sometimes you argue just for the sake of arguing. You go into debate mode.

Me: (Shrugging) What can I tell you.

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Few More Notes On Roma


I agree with most of what you say about Cleo being fixed in her social place, but I would put a more positive spin on it. I think the movie shows Cleo as having tremendous strength and importance in the family despite her low social status. She is the anchor that holds the entire family together during turbulent times.

Also, it's interesting that Cleo's apparent acceptance of her social role is contrasted with her boyfriend Fermin's strong desire to rise above his social position and become a person of importance. And the irony is that Fermin is ultimately more controlled by outside forces than Cleo. Fermin becomes a pawn in a CIA plan (if you remember, Fermin's martial arts trainer is American and there's someone wearing a CIA cap in that scene) to attack left-wing student protesters who are trying to empower the marginalized class to which Fermin and Cleo belong.


I didn’t meant to undervalue or under-appreciate Cleo. I think she’s shown in a most positive light for who she is, a poor village girl with no real prospects, as the movie has it, of rising above the place she’s fixed in. She’s shown to be virtually saintly, virtually because she’s not a saint but a flesh and blood person. In her element, with the kids or her fellow maids, she’s comfortable, engaged and happy. When she has to step out of her class, she becomes tongue tied and apprehensive as when she first meets with the doctor to see if she’s pregnant. She can’t answer the simplest questions with anything but a minimal gesture of her head or a short word in response. 

I had emphasized that she’s bound socially in part to illustrate how the movie treats class. Richard Brody a New Yorker film critic argues the movie condescends to her and needed to a firmer political stance opposed to the poverty the movie limns. In opposition to that criticism, another of its film critics, Anthony Lane, notes he can understand the desire of some for a firmer political position, more oppositional outrage, in the film, but that it’s simply not that kind of a movie; rather it’s a movie that shows things as they are and its focus are the ongoing lives within that, principally of course Cleo’s. I’m firmly in the Anthony Lane camp on this.

You have a nice insight into Cleo’s accepting stoicism as against what drives Fermin. 

I’m not sure though about the idea of him being subject to forces beyond him more than she is. I detect a category error, a comparing of apples and bananas. He has the choice of whether to involve himself as he does and pursues it with a grim determination. He is of course an entirely repellent person and unlike Cleo is heedless of the responsibilities and consequences of his actions. He’s a pig and a heel.

So, in her passivity, in things abstract and beyond her affecting her, she seems to me like maybe a piece of drift wood floating as it will on the surface of waters till they’re roiled by nature—the earthquake or even her getting pregnant—or social upheaval—the student protests. She’s less affected or by social forces because she’s “buried alive” beneath them, is oblivious of them save as they impinge on her simply by her being in their midst and is for the most part, it seems, not understanding of them. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Once More On Baby It’s ....

I wasn’t aware of the line “Say what's in this drink?” So at least I can now understand the argument that the song is objectionable for it, for the guy’s doping or stoning or inebriating the woman into submission. But, textually that argument falls flat. Throughout the course of the lyrics, she doesn’t lose any coherence and keeps up the same objections all the way through: see the last verse:

....I really can't stay (get over that old out)
Baby, it's cold
Baby, it's cold outside...

We don’t even know if she stays. Clearly the guy’s working hard on getting her to stay. 

1/2 of her wants to stay: “You've really been grand.”

The other 1/2 wants to go but she’s reluctant: 

“But maybe just a cigarette more (never such a blizzard before)
I've gotta get home” 

The main rationale for her staying remains the same, “Baby it’s cold outside.”

So now that I know the damning line, I can say it’s a fair question whether knowing it changes my mind about the song not being objectionable. I couldn’t answer that without seeing the whole song in front of me. But now having seen it and reviewed it, my mind stays the same. 

The argument for it being objectionable doesn’t stand up to textual scrutiny, I argue. It’s strained and wants to impose a #metoo sensibility on the song that its lyrics don’t bear out. Just the opposite, the song’s a delight and sits on the right side of the line of men non-objectionably pursuing women.  

That the guy by the end of the song seems to be not much further ahead, regardless of “what’s in this drink,” suggests his quest his endless, and that this general quest of men pursuing women is endless, sometimes working out, sometimes not. 

Here we don’t know how it’ll work out. 

I really can't stay (but baby, it's cold outside)
I've got to go away (but baby, it's cold outside)
This evening has been (been hoping that you'd drop in)
So very nice (i'll hold your hands, they're just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (beautiful what's your hurry?)
My father will be pacing the floor (listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I'd better scurry (beautiful please don't hurry)
But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think (baby, it's bad out there)
Say what's in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (i'll take your hat, your hair looks swell)
I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?)
At least I'm gonna say that I tried (what's the sense in hurtin' my pride?)
I really can't stay (oh baby don't hold out)
But baby, it's cold outside
I simply must go (but baby, it's cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it's cold outside)
Your welcome has been(how lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (look out the window at this dawn)
My sister will be suspicious (gosh your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door (waves upon the tropical shore)
My maiden aunts mind is vicious (gosh your lips are delicious)
But maybe just a cigarette more (never such a blizzard before)
I've gotta get home(but baby, you'd freeze out there)
Say lend me a coat(it's up to your knees out there)
You've really been grand (i thrill when you touch my hand)
But don't you see? (how can you do this thing to me?)
There's bound to be talk tomorrow (think of my lifelong sorrow)
At least there will be plenty implied (if you got pnuemonia and died)
I really can't stay (get over that old out)
Baby, it's cold
Baby, it's cold outside
Songwriters: Frank Loesser

Baby, It's Cold Outside lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Few Notes On Roma

I watched Roma through from the point I gave up on it a couple of weeks ago. I wanted not to like it simply to confirm my initial sense of it from the first 20’ or so. But it grew on me and came across as quite affecting. 

I’m in the Anthony Lane camp rather than the Richard Brody camp on this movie. 

There’s a lot of commentary on how technically brilliant it is—wide shots, tracking shots, monochrome, lens choice—with someone even saying the virtuosity at times is a distraction. I don’t know much about film technique so I look to what in the film’s story draws me into it, my sense of  its substance, if any. 

Roma drew me in. 

I could go on for a while about things I noted in it like, for one example, how Cleo, pregnant, was the only one of everybody who could close her eyes, stand on one leg and bend her elevated leg into her other leg in the shape of a triangle, a great act of mind and will according to the famous grandiloquent professor leading the exercises.

I think the idea of class is very strong in the movie but it’s not editorialized about: it just is what it is as far as the family and the servants are concerned. The film presents life as it is as seen by Cleo and how it impinges on her.

She is passive in the face what she can’t control, from the massive eruptions and upheavals around her, to the smaller things like the rejection of her by Fermin, who says to her with scornful dismissal, “Damn servant.” 

For it’s not good or bad, it just is, that she is and always will be servant, a maid: the grandmother doesn’t know the first thing about Cleo when she’s asked details by the hospital administration in order to complete necessary forms; Cleo is just someone who she and her family employ for as much as she is loved and appreciated by it and for as much as she loves the family. I of course see the togetherness with Cleo in that near-to-end-of-movie, now iconic shot of them all clinging to each other on the beach after the rescue. But I never lose the sense that even in that clinging togetherness the family is one thing and she is another thing. There is no transcending that.

The final shot is of Cleo ascending the outside stairs while a plane flies overhead through, so to say, the wild blue yonder. My sense of that scene is that Cleo is as earthbound and fixed into the spot of her small world as a maid to this family doing her routine of domestic chores just as surely as the plane is off somewhere taking its passengers to far way places beyond Cleo’s possibilities . And that’s just the way it is, is the film’s attitude towards that. The mother, Mrs. Sofi, changes over her arc in the movie, from a wreck after her husband leaves her to emerging finally as a together woman with a new job—leaving teaching biochemistry to work in publishing—firmly in charge of the well being of her brood. Cleo moves through no such arc or any similar arc, and, by the movie’s intimation, is unlikely to.