Monkey Business

Monkey Business

(Everyone knows about the alt-f2 imdb shortcut in the minicli, right?)

I’ve just seen one of the less famous Marx Brothers movies Monkey Business, and the last one I had never seen before. And it’s a great one. I was in the mood for a good laugh, having had a horrible cold on top of a bronchitis on top of all kinds of worries, and this was the perfect specific.

What most impressed me in this movie, though, was the role of Thelma Todd. Poor woman — born 1905, died 1935, played in more than ten dozen movies. In Monkey Business, she played a woman as goofy as Groucho Marx himself, which is impressive. I’ve for a long time wondered whether it would be possible for a pretty young woman to play her part in a screwball comedy, but it is. It’s just rare.

I wonder why… Somehow my treacherous mind connects this with the standard stuff Dutch children read. Annie M.G. Schmidt and so on. Curiously enough, the adult male protagonists are always goofs, the females intelligent. I’m not talking about the antagonists: evil can be male or female, but somehow, female evil is portrayed as worse. Anyway, toddlers are raised on a diet of “clumsy king, wise queen, intelligent, clever-clever princess” books; slightly older kids get the “lousy/down-to-earth-practical/artistic mother” and the “clumsy/abusive/absent” father in their books, and it only goes downhill from there. It seems quite hard for a boy, nowadays, to find a book with a positive male role model. No doubt that’s why girls read more. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Anyway, to my mind, there’s nothing more glorious than the early dance scene with Groucho and Lucille in Monkey Business — both parties goofy to their tonsils. Of course, talking about funny, the poor frog in Harpo’s hat… Nowadays, you’d get a note at the credits: “No Actual Frog Harmed in the Making of This Movie”.

That’s another thing: sensibilities have changed. That sensibilities do change is no news, of course. We no longer enjoy hanging a goose by the neck and then encouraging the young folks of the village to pull their (the goose’s) feet as hard as they can, and biting the heads off live chickens (origin of the word “geek”) at fairs is Not Done. But that the current generation doesn’t laugh as hard at Tom and Jerry as I remember I did twenty-five years ago is a surprise. I bought a dvd box with the collected Tom and Jerry cartoons — and the general reaction is “poor Tom! nasty Jerry!”  And even more shockingly, I agree, mostly. It appears I’m no longer my eleven-year old self. And worse, my daughters aren’t as callous as my
eleven-year-old self either. I mean – there’s a mouseketeers cartoon where the guillotine actually falls

And while I’m writing anyway — it’s been too long, but life has been busy! Gradients ten times as fast, and filters gallery from 8500 ms to 500 ms to show up — Tim Bray, inventor of XML and bona-fide geek, isn’t taking his son to church because some power-playing middle-east dictators are urging their populace to lay off the Danish Blue because of some silly cartoons, and because of certified idiots Pat Robertson, Baruch Goldstein and other lunatic fringists. This is silly: it’s as if one would abstain from using free software because Eric Raymond is a gun-nut.

The thing is: lunatic fringes are not something the responsible center can do anything about. Much less politic powerplay. In that, there’s no difference between Free Software, Science and Religion. From Eric Raymond to the guy who explained how the Chinese colonized America in 600BC at a congress for Sino-Tibetanists to Ireneos, ex-(or not…) Patriarch of Jerusalem , all of them have stepped beyond the pale, and there’s nothing I (Krita maintainer), I (certified linguist), I ( Orthodox Christian) can do about it. And they are not who count, in the grand scheme of things.

What counts in a Church (temple, mosque, synagogue or witches’ sabbat, project) is the community. That means, the local group of people who come together to become more than just tokens: individuals who commune together. Personally, I prefer the Christian way of communication (and email and irc, of course) — but that is not germane to the issue. And equally personally, I’m quite happy that our Patriarch is far away and kept short and out of any real power. Power corrupts, after all. I’d hate to have the Patriach of Moscow ultimately in charge, or the Patriarch of Rome. But that’s not the issue either: what counts is what happens locally. Here, today, tomorrow, together, with the local people. That’s the message Yannaras and Zizioulas have been trying to get through. Get to know the people involved — in your local church (chapel, temple, mosque, synagogue, project etc.) personally; don’t do group-think (the X are evil); even if the going gets hard, keep on thinking about individual people, not groups, categories, broad, sweeping, proud, daring generalizing statements, but people. My friend A, B, who I’ve seen around before, C — why haven’t I seen her for some time?, D — why’s he looking sad today? — E, he’s an obnoxious bastard, but well, he’s E, isn’t he?

Everbody can be anything, and more than one thing at a time. Women
can be funny goofs, too. As can men. And wise, and human. All of us,

To the movies

We indulged in an absolute orgy of movie-going last week. Achieving more than the yearly average of cinema visits in a single week. Saturday, we went to Zwolle to see the last performance of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And Wednesday, we went to the Uitkijk in Amsterdam to see one of the last performances of Girl with a Pearl Earring. I’m sure I’ve seen enough talkies for a long time now.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the first Harry Potter movie that was actually a movie, and not a photographic diary (look, here’s me in the garden, and here’s me with my bud Ron, and look! this is a nice one, here is Dumbly’s study. Cool guy, isn’t he? And this is me and my old enemy, Draco, of course, I was only eleven at the time). That said, and granted that the grand final banquet was mercifully not shown in all its gut-wrenching gluttony, there were still the obligato moments, like Harry facing Draco.

Some visual conceits, like the seasons shown happening by the Whomping Willow, were a bit too artificial to my taste; in particular the Wh. W. was really too Monty Python.

As an irrelevant quibble aside: we went to the Dutch-spoken version, and most of the voices were quite right, in particular the boys had exactly the right voices, with Harry sounding like my cousin when he was fourteen years old, but professor Remus Lupin had the most tedious voice imaginable. Like a primary school child reciting his lesson. His part wasn’t helped, of course, by the exceedingly cheap little bits of fortune-cookie wisdom he had to propound.

But many of the pictures were really beautiful, there was an actual glimmer of a connected story, and the way the children are growing up was shown convincingly. And the special effects were very nice, especially the Map. I think it’s the most one could make of the the book. Rebecca’ll probably want to buy the dvd, as she did with the previous HP flick. Shockingly, arresting good use of music, by the way, in this movie.

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a very different movie. Beautiful, yes. A nice party game with this picture is counting the paintings referenced by actual scenes in the movie. Griet has gorgeous, gorgeous hair. No wonder she hides it,
keeps it to herself. Some roles are very convincing. Van Ruijven is completely believable as the kind of man who revels in the power his money gives him to embarrass, denigrate and humiliate everyone around him, from his wife to his painter. Vermeer’s wife is a really great role, as is his mother-in-law. Vermeer himself is acted by an Aragorn-clone — the type is quite fashionable nowadays.

But all the meaningful sighing! The little frightened looks that dart about. The brooding. The layers and layers of tired symbolism… Within half an hour, I was mentally shouting at Griet to keep that dashed trap of her shut. Not that it isn’t remarkable how close Griet comes to looking like the painting. Pieter, her boyfriend is much nicer in the movie than in the book (funny: I have read it, must’ve forgotten to review it); a really handsome boy who really cares for Griet.

This is also one of those rare occasions where the bits excised by the script writer from the book show that the book, short as it is, was padded horribly. The story as shown in the movie is quite complete and sufficient: the embellishments in the book are merely that — ornament without substance.

I’m ambivalent about the movie: the sighing and the brooding makes me want to hate it. The gorgeous pictures, Griet’s hair, Pieter’s pleasure and Tanneke’s reality makes me want to see it again. I’ll probably get the dvd. Horrible, kitschy, inappropriate music, by the way.

The Three Musketeers

Douglas Fairbanks

It turns out that I really, really like silent moving pictures. I much prefer them to the talkies. Not only don’t I have to strain to understand the faded sound-tracks of movies like Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, but I can sit down and enjoy the acting, the facial expressions, the music, and the pacing.

Because, despite the fact that silent moving pictures (and who knows — maybe even the talkies) are shown just a tad, or perhaps even a lot, too fast on DVD, the pacing of these pictures is a lot more to my taste. There’s time to grasp the nuance, to see what’s happening. And the acting is so very explicit, the plot devices so very overt, that one can just enjoy the movie and the story.

And the girls are prettier than they are nowadays — filled where a girl needs to be rounded out, and with faces that look like the picture postcards my grandfather had pinned over his desk (which may not be a coincidence, but many’s the dream I’ve had when I stayed with my grandparents in Amsterdam over those girls). And they have distinctive faces, instead of all those samey-samey-toothpaste advertorial maps the movie girls nowadays
have their surgeon create for them.

So, this night, we all saw Douglas Fairbanks’ ‘The Three Musketeers’. And we were duly impressed by the fencing. We were extraordinarily impressed by his fencing, of course, and the girls think Douglas Fairbanks is not only a great athlete, and a very funny man (which is a compliment), but also handsome in a pleasing way: not pretty-pretty-big-hunk handsome like Brad Pitt — but he looks like a man they would like to know better. Pity this picture is from 1921… And, that man can move!

The girls were also much impressed by the inn scene where D’Artagnan nicks a roast suckling pig — just like a painting, was Menna’s remark.

We bought The Douglas Fairbanks Collection at Amazon US, and it plays without a hitch on our European Dell laptops.