One month ago I was sitting in the gazebo at night, typing away, feeling the warmth of the laptop on my legs wishing Apple had molded logos into the bottom of the machine so it would burn the imprint of the most holy symbol into my flesh. Well, part of that was true. Now I’m in the gazebo in a jacket; the waterfall ploshes along as always; the laptop is cold. Summer, at a certain point, seems irrevocable. After so many perfect days it’s impossible not to take them for granted, take them as your natural right. Fall is different – it’s all about diminution. Each day might be perfect in its own right, but tomorrow will be perfect in a different way. Less light, less green, less warmth. If there's anything added, it's up to you to find it. Look hard.
It seemed right away like it would be a big war, three to four years – Afghanistan first, of course, then Iraq, then Iran. The idea that it would have stalled and ended up in diffuse oblique arguments about political timetables would have been immensely depressing. There was a model for this sort of thing, a template. Advance. But that requires cultural confidence, a loose agreement on the goals, the rationale, the nature of the enemy and the endgame. We don’t have those things. Imagine telling someone six years ago Iran would be allowed, by default, to make nuclear weapons. They would wonder what the hell we’d done with half a decade, plus change. What part of 25 years of Death to America didn’t we get, exactly?
More on that in a bit. First, it’s the obligatory Tuesday Noir – not because I saw a cool movie you have to hear about in endless detail! But because these old B-pictures are inadvertent documentaries. The flotsam and jetsam of a culture say more than a hundred doctoral theses. They’re a wealth of haphazard revelations. I watched two from the Vol. 4 Noir series; one was “The Big Steal,” an endless un-noir drive along a Mexican highway with Robert Michum. Didn’t grab me. The other was “Illegal,” also low on the noir scale, but it had Edward G. Robinson, and that’s enough. He played a cocksure DA who sent a man to the chair, and that man was:
He died, Jim. Unfortunately, he was innocent, and that sent Eddie G. into a spiral of booze, doubt, and ethical contortions. But nevermind that – here’s Los Angeles in the 50s.
Nibbler’s restaurant. The sign appears to have been done in the Parkway font.
This shot fixed the scene in LA – the Daily Journal is still around. Not too many background details in these old movies have websites today.
Night shot, chase scene.
Details: Army Navy store, 522 club, shades of men who make their sole appearance in history for three, four seconds:
It’s Main Street, as evidenced by the marquee in the corner:
The Hotel Cecil. It’s still around, but satellite photos show most of the old block has been replaced by parking lots. The movie had a starlet who seemed quite out of place, being so peroxided and gleaming and va-va-voom:
Jayne Mansfield. I always preferred her to Monroe, because frankly Marilyn seemed a rather dim bulb. Mansfield had more forthright sunny cheer; she seemed to enjoy herself, and life, much more than MM. Which made her suspect in the eyes of tortured English Lit grad students, I suppose. Too American.
Reminds me of a picture I saw in a poker store at the Mall: one of those Iconic Film Star mash-ups. The most famous, I suppose, has Elvis and Marilyn and James Dean at Hopper’s “Nighthawks” diner. This one had all of the above, in a room around a pool table, with Bogart. Ack. Movie Bogie would have slapped James Dean around until he gave up the whereabouts of the Fat Man. He might have enjoyed pitching a line or two at Monroe, but Elvis would have struck him as a dullard who toppled off the turnip truck. We think they all belong together because they’re dead and they’re cool. But cool has a hierarchy. James Dean is cool because he was twitchy and TROUBLED, MAN, then dead. Bogart is cool because he sent Mary Astor up the river and did what he did because that’s what you’re supposed to do when your partner gets killed, and he married Bacall and drove fast and smoked himself into a grave. He knew who he was and he had a good laugh and he had a good ride.
James Dean shoots a Nazi in a movie, he can sit at the same table. But he’s more relevant to our time than Bogart. James Dean would be a star in movie about Iraq war atrocities. I’d say Bogart would have turned the role down, but the idea of making that movie in the middle of the Duration – well, different times. Different culture. Different people.
If you want to draw from this an assertion that we would have successfully produced anti-cleric revolution in Iran if Bogey was president, oh, go right ahead. Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.
Here’s the 9/11 film I put up last year. And here’s a bigger version in mp4 format. (110MB.) It was done the week of the attack, so if nothing else it's an artifact of the impressions and emotions of the time.
Not that they've changed. A 9/11 discussion is going on at buzz.mn., or so I hope; see you there.