So I have to go to my daughter’s Instagram account to see what she’s doing in Japan.
Got up at 5:20 AM Friday to get her to the airport; at 5:40 the security lines were already 40 miles long. Quick hug goodbye, off into the maw of the crowd (with Mom, of course) and then that was that. Off she goes.
Off she went.
But it's easier these days, easier than it was. Texts from the airplane before take-off; texts from Chicago, the goodbye before the transatlantic flight. Monitoring the plane as it arcs up over Alaska. The comforting alert from the travel app that says the plane has landed. I mean, when I went to Europe in high school, my Mom didn't have a thin electronic computer in her purse that made a tell-tale sound to indicate I had landed safely, let alone a message that popped up on the glass screen when I arrived at the Migny Hotel.
The time difference has everying inverted, but of couse there's an app for that, and trip locations plugged into map apps so I can see the places she's going.
The modern world is astonishing. But it has a price: sometimes the expectation of no communication is better than an expectation of communication that goes unfufilled.
Managed to get back to sleep after the airport, but it’s never the same. Dreamed I was in Eastern Europe somewhere during the Cold War in a neutral city, and was planning to defect to the Soviets as part of a double-cross. It struck me as a bad idea at the time and I was glad to wake.
Dead on my feet for most of the day, but I had company: we’re dog sitting a young and rather . . . headstrong beast who jumps and barks and regards commands as the most amusing suggestions. I have some sway with this dog, since I have put her in her place many times before; she knows I have her number. Of course we call her by her given name, although "Alarm Clock" would be accurate, too.
Ah, the glory of spring blared forth on Sunday; temps felt like the low 60s, and the snow piles sagged by a third. Took down some Christmas lights I’d neglected to remove, tested them for future use - 70% failure rate. Squirrels had chewed the cords; bulbs had popped. LED next year! Of course I won’t; too costly. Pound-foolish, penny-wise, or whatever. Then I went to Byerly’s to pick up some carry-out, or pick out some carry-off, or however you want to put it. The nice Minnesota grandma who staffs the register by the cafe - grey hair, kind face, always friendly - said it was just wonderful out there, wasn’t it? This is why we live here.
I thought of replying that the eventual surcease of pain doesn’t seem like a ringing endorsement, but I knew what she meant. You feel released and relieved when the first warm day settles in your bones.
“Prince, the musician, said this is why he lives here,” she said. “He said someone from California asked him why he lived her and he said if I lived where you did I wouldn’t get anything done.”
I said I knew what she meant, and kept to myself the delight and surprise that this sixty-year-old grandmother had just quoted “Prince the Musician,” but hey, she could have been a fan, back in the olden times.
Maybe I should have been insulted she felt it necessary to explain who Prince was.
Drove home past the hospital where daughter was born, feeling old. But then after dinner I called up an album on Spotify and went back to a place I visited last night, a place that felt like a dream I’d had all my life and never remembered until the movie camera nudged me in the small of my back and pushed me through the elegant doors. And so:
Listening to my new favorite soundtrack, “Grand Budapest Hotel,” which, like the movie, is sprawling piece of joyous melancholy. Or vice versa. Balaika galore, snare drums, tip-toe suspense, kind and weary melodies.
Who wouldn't want to visit this world this music describes - even if you know you're seeing a world at the end of its days?
Nevermind the movie; I’m not here to bore you with a review when I can bore you about the music. There’s a moment where the cable cars stop and form a big X on the screen (if you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean. Think about it: makes no sense. But like everything else in the movie it made sense at the time.) The soundtrack provides the squeal of the swaying cable cars in perfect sync with the rhythm of the music that accompanied the journey up the mountain. I’ve never heard the soundtrack do FX duty quite like that.
There’s also a moment in the alpine chase where the composer lays on some John Barry horns as a Bond callback. It’s the first time in years I’ve ever wanted to hear the soundtrack as soon as I got home, to keep the movie from fading like a dream.
A few notes on why you should, or should not, see it: if you see the word “whimsical” in a review and think it means “ridiculously implausible and somewhat amusing,” and you see the word “quirky” and think “full of mannerisms that take the place of a coherent style,” then this is the movie for you. No one is more suspicious of those words than me, especially when the reviewer throws in “campy.” This usually means sitting through something that tries so very, very hard. But this movie is effortless and self-assured, for the most parts; there are a few scenes that tip over into flat-out comedy, which are a bit jarring because you don’t really think of it as a comedy when you’re watching it. I didn't. Even though I was smiling all the time.
Note: the movie spirals down a rabbit hole right from the start, cutting from the present day to 1985 to 1968 for a moment, before it goes back to 1932. We first see the Hotel in its Soviet-era incarnation. It's a dour grave of a bygone era:
When you see it in its glory, you can't beleve it doesn't exist. It didn't. But it does; they shot it in an empty department store.
I think I will watch this movie a couple hundred times. Or more.
This week: another in the series of movies that tried to recapture that Casablanca magic and give it a twist. This one's co-written by Billy Wilder.
Let’s see. Michael, Peter, Robert . . . no, can’t think of more than there. The movie begins with a harrowing image: a dead gunner in a tank, hanging over the side of the turret as the tank plows the desert sand; the driver slumped dead over the controls, holding down the accelerator. One man wakes and escapes the fumes of the tank; doesn’t seem wise, but he’s dazed. And so we have the stereotypical desert image:
You think, well, surely he will see a mirage with shimmering water.
But it’s not a mirage. It’s the old British consulate in Tobruk, now abandoned; there’s only the proprietor of the hotel, a guy in a fez you hope will say Effendi some time, and an attractive French maid. After restoring our hero to his senses, they bade him to hide, for the German will soon be here! Which happens within six minutes. So we have our characters:
With his whitish blond crew-cut, slow, menacing drawl and Germanic manner, Van Eyck was destined to be typecast as stereotypically scowling, arrogant Nazi officers. This was ironic, because being an avowed anti-fascist, he had left Germany in 1931.
And played Nazis during the war. You've heard of "Cognitive Dissonance," perhaps. Tell him about it.
Mr. Fez was Akim Tamiroff, an Armenian actor born in Russia, and called by no less than Orson Welles “the greatest of all screen actors.” He cast him as Sancho Panza in his uncompleted version of “Don Quixote.”
The lass could be a collaborator, especially when you see how she looks at the officers:
It’s Anne Baxter, who had a deep enough reservoir of beauty to play Irene Adler in 1984. Fun fact: Frank Lloyd Wright's granddaughter. Two quotes from imdb:
[on All About Eve (1950)]" I patterned Eve [Harrington] after the understudy I had in a Broadway play when I was 13. She actually threatened to finish me off. She was the bitchiest person I ever saw."
She may have learned something:
"Tallulah Bankhead is a marvelous female impersonator."
Anyway. The guy from the tank masquerades as a waiter at the hotel, which allows him to eavesdrop on the secret plans of . . .
NORMA DESMOND’S BUTLER! Stronheim as Rommel. Now, think: this is 1943. I’ve no idea what the popular conception was regarding Rommel, but I think that the subsequent mild deNazification of “Desert Fox” wouldn’t have been possible without some pre-existing respect for him as a military man first and a Nazi distant second. Stronheim’s Rommel struts and barks and smokes imperiously, but it’s not a caricature; there’s intellect and a glint of humor in the character.
By the way, Franchot Tone is the hero, the guy who has to pretend he’s a waiter. He’s as good as he always is, smooth and elegant even when filthy and bestubbled. A big deal for some fans of the period. Never made me think anything one way or the other, so consequently the movie was less than enthralling. Except for Rommel.
It feels like a stage play; unlike Casablanca, the template for all those North Africa war-romance movies, it seems cramped and confined. A calm intelligence informs the entire production, but any suspense is minimal and scant. But there’s a marvelous scene in which captured British officers have a dinner with Rommel, and it’s all so damnably deucedly decent, with frank talk amongst men of war. There’s also a comic and sympathetic Italian, whose presence reminds the audience that when this is all over, let’s not hate them, okay?
it ends with reenacted battles that bring our hero (he escaped; it’s a long story) back to liberate the hotel where Anne Baxter worked. Impressively lit:
I’ll leave it at that in case you wish to see it. Students of the period would be advised to give it a look.
If nothing else: history, repeating itself, and so on.
Perhaps many in the audience knew the reference from a map in "Life." People were expected to keep up on these things.