Sunday, February 19, 2017

Once Again- Who Killed John F. Kennedy?-Oliver Stone’s “JFK” (1991)-A Film Review…and more 

DVD Review

JFK, starring Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison, Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw, Sissy Spacek as Garrision's greatly put upon wife, Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald, directed by Oliver Stone, 1991     

By Political Commentator Frank Jackman

[Usually Sam Lowell writes the movie reviews for this site but Frank Jackman who is a little older than Sam and had not only been alive to witness the horrible events of November, 1963 but moreover as a teenager had scoured his North Adamsville neighborhood on behalf of one of his own, one of the Irish, felt a need to put his two cents worth in after viewing the film under review. Sam will probably once he actually looks at the film under the prodding of Frank, write his own take on the question. Peter Paul Markin]

At one time the question of who killed President John F. Kennedy on that bad November day in 1963 was something of a cottage industry among those who did not buy into the admittedly rushed conclusions of the Warren Commission that was ordered to come to some conclusions in the wake of many unanswered questions by his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, in order to assuage the shell-shocked American people. In some circles, circles like that around New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison whose investigation of the matter is the subject of Oliver Stone’s take on the subject in his award-winning JFK, that report only added fuel to the fire of those nagging unanswered questions. Especially by those who could not believe on the public facts of the case that a lone gunman, something of a loser and misbegotten, Lee Harvey Oswald could have done the deed alone. And while that cottage industry has faded somewhat as those who were avidly pursuing their theories have passed on or nothing has come up since then to finally allow them to find their “smoking gun” there will always been a place for such speculation as long as some people like to cling to conspiracy theories of history-or politics.   

Of course everybody in America in those days, like in earlier times Pearl Harbor and later times 9/11, knew exactly where they were when they heard the news of the assassination of JFK. I had been in a classroom at North Adamsville High when the headmaster came on the P.A. system to tell us the shocking news that one of our own, our poster boy Irishman even if he was chandelier, had been killed down in heathen redneck Dallas. I took it personally pretty hard for a while but I moved on between unattached girls, college, military service, more girls, women, who I wound marrying and having children with and trying to keep body and soul together for a while. Then one day some years after 1991 the year Stone’s film came out I was at a library and noticed a DVD on display with the title The Men Who Killed Kennedy from 1988. The title implying, as is usual in this case, more than one killer alone perked my latent interest since although I was aware of the various theories afloat, most notably Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgement which was the “godfather” of the genre I still figured that the nefarious Oswald did the deed on his own hook. I grabbed that DVD with both hands and subsequently read or viewed most of the material in English on the subject. That was the time when I initially looked at Stone’s film to see where he was going with his theory honing in especially on Garrison’s work which did actually bring somebody, Clay Shaw, if unsuccessfully, before a court.

I had written a short review of that original film The Men Who Killed Kennedy some of which I have reread after recently re-watching JFK, no mean task at three and a half hours, and can stand for my take on Stone’s take on the Garrison investigation. Below are some points the two films have in common notwithstanding that Stone, as on other occasions, has used a great deal of cinematic license to produce a commercial film.

“Those of us who are interested in history often come across situations where we have to defend the notion that there are conspiracies in history but not all history is a conspiracy. In modern times, with the earlier example of Pearl Harbor and the possible future exception of 9/11, the ‘mystery’ of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 has played into the hands of those who see history merely as a conspiracy. I have read more than my fair share of books on the subject, most recently the late Norman Mailer’s book on Oswald, and here I review a documentary, The Men Who Killed Kennedy from 1988 that, in essence, merely adds fuel to the fire of that controversy. At this remove however I think it is clear that the conspiracy- mongers have had their day on the subject and have come up short. Not through lack of trying, though. (Of course their rejoinder courtesy of the late newsman Daniel Schorr is that the conspiracy was so well planned that even fifty plus years later it still holds water-everybody kept quiet.)

 “Given my leftward political trajectory since the time of the assassination one would think that I would be amenable to some theory of high-level governmental, corporate or criminal conspiracy. As a teenager I campaigned for Kennedy in 1960. I was shocked and dismayed by his murder, throwing away a political notebook that I kept and swearing off politics forever. That resolve obviously did not last long. I am, moreover, more than willing to believe that governmental officials, corporate officers and criminal masterminds are willing to do anything to keep their positions of power. I could especially believe the theory that then Vice-President Johnson and his minions had a hand in the plot. Hell given Johnson’s nasty political sense in his rise to national prominence he could have done the whole deal. However, it just does not wash here. Part of the problem is there are just too many theories to fit the facts.

“The real problem with the various conspiracy theories is that they ask us to suspend disbelieve for their theories even greater than the botched up job that the Warren Commission provided. These theories inevitably work between the lines of that report. I think the classic example in this documentary, that can stand for my opinion in general, is when one of the conspiracy theorists very calmly states his propositions about how the Warren Report botched things and then, as calmly cites four possible groups of conspirators who could have done the deed, anti-Castro Cubans, disgruntled CIA rogue elements, disgruntled militarists and Mafia-types. Well that narrows the field considerably, doesn’t it? Stone’s film falls into that same crack since in the course of three and one half hours every theory that I am aware of even to the various characters the theories relied on got a airing.     

“But here is the kicker- I am convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was capable of doing the murder by himself, that he did it and that he stands before history as having done it. Grand conspiracy theories that deny the role of the individual in history do so in this case for no apparent reason. That ‘theory’ may not be sexy enough for some but Oswald should have his fifteen minutes of infamy. Unless someone produces the ‘smoking gun’ missing in all other theories-in short, a real named person (or persons) who did the deed let us leave it at that. Garrison tried and failed with the possible CIA connection through the trial of Clay Shaw who actually was, as the end notes point out was working for the CIA in 1963-although that does not mean he was a conspirator-post facto.  A very interesting and well-produced film though.    

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Not So Pretty Finish-With Etta James’ “Please, No More” in Mind

By Hank Jones

“No more, no more,” had become Shep Wilson’s new mantra once he go over his rage against his long-time companion, Sarah Long, after she had set him adrift, had as she said “moved on” to fine herself whatever that might have meant when she uttered the ugly words of separation one night and then the next day was gone, leaving no forwarding address and only the thin reed of a cellphone number and e-mail address to remember her by. It had not been like Shep had not known it was coming, or could see it come since Sarah had been making noises about leaving, and under what conditions for a couple of years prior to that sneaking out the next day door. It seemed that every few years she had to lay down the law, her law about what was good or bad about what was happening in their as she called it “relationship.”  The last two times had been shortened up though a couple years before it had been a week, only a week after they had arrived home from a great week of museums, good dining and mad walks along the Seine and the previous year a week, only a week after they had had a great and nostalgic time in Maine going to the old Saco Drive-In and a record hop like they were kids again.

Maybe she had been right to lay the law down (his expression but she never disagreed with that characterization, never either when he was joking or serious) had been right to make her anguish knew after those vacations which contrasted in her mind with what they had had in their early relationship. Maybe she had been right to make a clean break, to go out some forlorn unadorned door without a lonesome good-by which had been as hard to as if she had gone in the middle of the day bidding him a personal, upfront fond adieu. Hell, in his heart of hearts Shep knew he was only fooling himself, only acting out of his version of male alleged indifference to her, to his fate which had been part of the problem between the pair for the past several years. They had gone to couples counselling over that indifference a few years back when he really was indifferent under the throes of a small, unknown to her, cocaine, snow, cousin whatever you want to call it which he had been able to break without further destroying their relationship, although that was a close thing, was not as easy as it sounded. Especially when he thought about going back to the stuff lately to get rid of the never-ending depression he felt each day as he had trodden through his absent life.  

Shep kept trying to think through what he could have done differently, where he had fallen down bad enough to make her leave. And make him take up her chant of “no more” (not  really put that way by her since she would have used more gentile language that fit her persona but that was the way that it rang through this latest fire in his head and that was the way he was trying to think the matter through). He knew that he shared the blame, shared in the debacle of their love, had lost that magic that held them together for so many years, and that the little saying that she had in sunnier times about how they had been so much in love in those early years and though it would continue forever. (The actual way she put it was “when he had loved her so”)  And in the early days, hell, up until the last few years that love had been as genuine as any emotion that he had ever held dear. Then a whole series of events, a whole personal deluge of troubles laid him low, and had made him a grumpy old man. The last month or so, maybe two months he had tried to take stock of himself (and of her role in their decline after all as she admitted she could have signaled him more concretely about what was ailing her, what make her say her own “no more” however she might have actually put the matter). Had tried to put as he constantly told her to put his best foot forward. Unfortunately it had been too late.      

After Shep thought about those early days when they were so in love, were so sympathetic to each other, fed off each other’s needs, faced the wicked old world as a pair of waifs, soul-mate waifs was the way she put it one time early, sipping on a little light wine to numb himself a bit against the emptiness in his heart (and to keep the cocaine blues at bay-even singing the lines from the old song-“cocaine, cocaine running up and down my brain, cocaine’s for horses not for men they say its’ going to kill you but they don’t say when” to ward off the evil spirits gathering in his mind), he tried to retrace where he had fallen down (her shortcomings were her business now and so he looked at the lonely world through his future path and  how he could become the “new” Shep, get rid of that mantra of “no more” into a better place. 

Shep had never been much for reflection, never much to think how his actions, or better his omissions, would affect Sarah, would make her withdraw, make her close her heart to him. Had dismissed at least in his “put out the fire” head much of what she would speak of when she was seriously trying to signal him that things had dramatically drifted downhill. Would not take the signals about getting help, psychiatric help foremost, that she first gently and then more insistently tried to get him to undertake. He has seen that formula as her New Age Cambridge background thing that she was forever trying out (and to his mind without much success but he kept that to himself especially as she seemed more and more to withdraw into that world as she got more distraught about them and as well about her place in the sun, about who she was).

Funny in the end, or rather toward the end, in one of those previous downhill moments he had a few years back agreed to go with her to couples counselling (they had tried that route about twenty years before but both had been dissatisfied with the counsellor who seemed to be more interested in what she, the counsellor, had to say than what they had had to say). Funny as well that he, not she though, had gone into that counselling with some of that usual indifference, and if he had been wise enough to see what that meant he could have seen what was coming, he felt that the then current counselling, and the counsellor, was a worthwhile endeavor every week (Sarah, before they decided, or rather she decided, to discontinue the work, had told him that she thought the counsellor was “championing him” because, as a gregarious type in such situations he had the better of it against her more quiet and thoughtful responses which tended to be short, if to the point.)          

Shep’s troubles really had started with the advent of his medical troubles, with what he called “the poking and prodding” of the medicos, a few years before. Yeah, he knew growing older, getting to be an old grumpy man, meant that health issues would surface, would especially as he reached his seventh decade (he knew first-hand as well from his friends of similar ages that this was the “deal,” the real deal). Shep had prided himself on keeping a semblance of fitness, of keeping himself heathy as measured by very infrequent visits to the doctor’s office and of not feeling sick most of the time except for an occasional cold. Then the deluge, first trouble with breathing and eating necessitating an endoscopy which found some problems, and required medications. After that bladder problems associated with his smoking many years before according to the urologist, more medications, and then more recently the final nail in the coffin (his expression as stated to Sarah many times and a silly foolish thing to say), the early discovery of bladder cancer after a scope had shown unusual inflammations. More procedures and more medications.        

One day Shep just erupted, started yelling at Sarah, started to approach her for which she would later say she stood in fear of physical danger he seemed so out of control (not said anything at the time though as she thought that saying anything would only enflame him further). After a few minutes he settled down, because something of the old Shep, but then the line, some line in Sarah’s sand had been crossed. Shep swore he would stop taking the medications since they seemed to be making him more aggressive, more sullen, and angrier. As it turned out one of the medications was reacting poorly with another one and had aided in Shep’s angry responses to the world-and to Sarah.    

If the medications, if the health issues were all that there were bothering Sarah as pointed told Shep before she departed she could have worked around that. What she could not work around was what Shep called one night the “fire in his head” (not helping that inability to “work around” were long-time, long-held issues around Sarah’s own worth, around who she was, around what was she to do in the world now that she too was retired, issues about her place in the sun which had plagued her since childhood). In the end that “fire in his head,” that not being “at peace” with himself was the way she expressed her take on the situation was what made something snap in her psyche.

Shep, as he would admit to himself in a moment of candor several weeks after she had gone, had reacted to his health issues and graceless aging rather than getting more rest and taking it easier in life had in true Shep form driven himself even harder in order to leave what he told Sarah was his mark on the wicked old world. The snapping point for her was that he seemed indifferent to her needs, seemed to be in a world of his own, and had begun again to question every move that she made like he did not trust. In a final stab to his heart she had told him that her own increasing medical problems were being aggravated by his foul behavior(after being fearful of doing so since she still worried about his anger if she did tell him this hard truth).       

So this was Shep’s sad demise. Or could have been but one night a couple of months after Sarah left he woke up one night and said “no more.” No more acting like a crazed maniac, no more fruitless search for some netherworld place in the sun. He had read a book, a book on meditation that Sarah had left behind talking about the benefits of doing such a therapy, backed up by scientific evidence. (Shep was not sure that Sarah had not left the book behind on purpose since she, like in a lot of things around his well-being, had mentioned his doing meditation on numerous occasions in the past.) So Shep started practicing the art, had real trouble at the beginning in focusing away from his two million “pressing” forward that day issues and trying to live “in the moment.” But as with many things when he got “religion” Shep was still at it after a month. His mantra, his focus term, not surprisingly “no more.”    

[Shep would wind up meeting Sarah in a Whole Foods grocery store in Cambridge several months later and remarked after telling him she had spent the previous several months in California that he seemed calmer, seemed to have lost some of that fire in his head, and seemed more at peace with himself. Had said also that they should keep in touch now that  she was back in town and that he wasn’t such a maniac (her term for his previous late innings conduct). So who knows. All Shep knows is that he wanted “no more” to do with the old Shep). 
Mission Possible-Tom Cruises’ “Mission: Impossible 3” (2006)-A Film Review  

DVD Review

By Movie Critic Sam Lowell

Mission: Impossible 3, starring Tom Cruise, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, 2006

Recently in reviewing Harrison Ford’s cinematic version of the popular 1960s television series The Fugitive from 1989 I noted that there were several films that had been made from old time television series and that some were able to cross, to “pass” and others were not. (The action has gone the other way as well with a film like say American Graffiti spawning a number of television series and they in turn spawning others). The film (now part of a seemingly never-ending film series) under review, Mission: Impossible 3, is a similar example of the flipping process although the technological gizmos used in that long ago television series which seemed so exotic and improbable are today’s standard fare for, uh, eight-year olds delights. Although the missions were perhaps more interesting (and more politically attuned to then current Cold War realities) than now, or at least this film.

That said every once in a while I like to grab an action-packed adventure thriller and no question this one is a vehicle for the action every minute title. I have not seen the other films in this series and so this review makes no pretense to have an overview of the series or the place of this film in the eyes of other critics but this one had a reasonably interesting story-line along with that mile a minute action.
The play here centers around putting  a serious bad guy  out of action, a notorious arms dealer, Davian, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, which means in the post 9/11 era that he will sell to anybody with the price and further means he is not adverse to selling to terrorists and other baddies. He has to be taken out no question (although to beg the question a little the next arms dealer in the food chain will quickly take his place). This assignment if taken by lead good guy Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise who is asked to come out of field duty retirement (if he chose to take the assignment which old or new series was always done-what if they decided not to-that would be an interesting if not particularly action-packed film), is to find a missing female IMF agent who has a lead on Davian’s whereabouts and take him out.      

Needless to say once Ethan has a team selected by Musgrave the operations director, played by Billy Crudup, who asked him do the mission they ride the rails for the rest of the film. They track down the missing agent who dies on duty but who gives Ethan and crew enough information to trace what is up to the Vatican where Davian grabs his query (code name “Rabbits’ foot).Of course after half a dozen false leads and ruses they are able to grab the object from him. Grab Davian too although he doesn’t stay grabbed for long. Then Davian turns the tables. See when Ethan entered retirement he started having dreams of that nine to five job, a nice little house with white picket fence out in the suburbs and a wife. Yeah a fetching wife, his current fetching girlfriend Julie, played Michelle Monaghan. Davian grabs her and the action switches to China as Ethan will move might and main to get his honey back (whom during the earlier part of the film he marries to show the clueless about what his does Julie he is sincere in his devotion to her).

Yeah, no question that Davian went over the line grabbing Julie, went a little crazy even for somebody in his line of work and would pay for his life for putting Julie through the meat-grinder. And he does but guess what that Musgrave who gave Ethan the assignment had been “turned” and also had to be taken out. Guess by who? Yeah, Julie. This Ethan-Julie marriage latch-up was made in heaven. So don’t worry about the thinness of the story line inplaces and the various ruses and false leads and enjoy the bang, bang action for a couple of hours if you need an action thriller fix every once in a while just like me.                     

Friday, February 17, 2017

When Sun Records Blew The Lid Off Rock And Roll-With The Show “Million Dollar Quartet” In Mind  

By Sam Lowell

“You know they are right whoever said it sometimes a picture, a photograph, tells more than a thousand words, or you name the number of words,” Jack Callahan was telling his lady-friend, wife, and number one companion of forty-odd years, Chrissie (nee McNamara and so as Irish as her beau and husband), as they exited the side door of the Ogunquit Playhouse, the non-profit theater group up in the town of the same name up in Southern Maine which in the fall of 2016 had brought back by popular demand the hit show-The Million Dollar Quartet. (Although it is really a story for another day that forty-odd years started back in high school where Jack was the high-flying ace back for the Blue Devils and Chrissie, who had been smitten with him since junior high school, and he her, finally took matters into her own hands and planted herself smack dab in shy, socially backward Jack’s lap at Tonio’s Pizza Parlor one lonely Friday night and dared him to pull her off. They say in the town legend about that night it would have taken the whole football team to get Chrissie off his lap. Not to worry though the legend also goes on to state that it would have taken the whole football team and the water-boys thrown if somebody had tried to get her off Jack’s lap. Yeah, a story for another day though.)        

Jack’s photograph reference was to the now famous one of the key creators and interpreters of rock and roll, ouch, now called the classic age of rock and roll Elvis (no last name needed at least for anybody who knew anything at all about rock and roll and maybe just about music and maybe even know if you look at a recently issued United States postage stamp with the solo moniker on its face), Carl Perkins (who actually had first dibs of right on a song, Blue Suede Shoes, that Elvis blew everybody out of the water with but had been sidelined when the deal went down although he eventually made something of a hit of his own version when it was released), Johnny Cash (a name known as much for good old boy black-attired country and gospel-oriented music later but a serious rocker out of the blocks when he was starting out who travelled  with the previously mentioned artists as they wowed the young things in the backwaters of the South), and, Jerry Lee Lewis, in the end the most long-lived and perhaps if he could have as Jack’s grandfather put it, “kept his pecker in his pants” the most prolific of the lot. Certainly the way he was highlighted in the show, the way the actor who portrayed him did his bit, stole the damn show in fact there was much in that possibility. All four, had at various times been under contract to legendary Sun Records owner Sam Phillips and that photograph taken in the end of 1956 represented the only time all four were under one roof singing together. Beautiful.

Chrissie had had to laugh when she thought about how they had come to be in Ogunquit in the late fall, a time when she normally did not even want to think about north, north of their home in Hingham a town on the coast south of Boston. (And more frequently of late in winter not even that close to north as she kept hammering Jack, strictly a New England hearty type to get them a nice winter condo in Florida or California.) The hard fact was that Jack and Chrissie had had another of their periodic falling-outs and Jack had, in the interest of preserving the marriage, taken one of those periodic “sabbaticals” from Chrissie that had helped in the past to salvage their marriage. So Jack had taken a small off-season cottage in Ogunquit, a town he, they knew well for almost as long as they had been together having “summered” up there for many years.  (A standing joke between them making “summer” a verb since they had both grown up in Riverdale on the “wrong side of the tracks” in Irishtown and the only summering they had done was walking to Adamsville Beach some five or six miles away.) While he had been in “exile” he would frequently pass the Playhouse and notice the billboard how long the show was playing for. If Chrissie relented before the first week in November he was determined to take her to the show. As it turned out, as usual but nothing negative should be made of the idea, Chrissie had gotten lonely for her Jack and suggested that she would head north (a real sign that she was missing her guy) and stay with Jack before the end of October). Hence the conversation on Friday night as they exited that side door to reach their automobile for the short ride to Jack’s “exile” cottage.

Of course “luring” Chrissie to the show was a no-brainer since they both had grown up, had come of age during the second wave of the rise of rock and roll coming to smite down their parents Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee et al. music that they had been previously enslaved to without recourse. (Their respective older brothers and sisters were the first wave and they passed the torch on.) On any given Friday or Saturday night Jack Callahan, a legitimate high school football hero who would go on to be a good if not great college career, and his corner boys, everybody had corner boys in the old Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville, would hang around Tonio’s Pizza Parlor putting dimes and quarters into the jukebox to hear (and re-hear) the newest big rock hits.

(Although it is really a story for another day that forty-odd years started back in high school where Jack was the high-flying ace back for the Blue Devils and Chrissie, who had been smitten with him since junior high school, and he her, finally took matters into her own hands and planted herself smack dab in shy, socially backward Jack’s lap at Tonio’s Pizza Parlor one lonely Friday night and dared him to pull her off. They say in the town legend about that night it would have taken the whole football team to get Chrissie off his lap. Not to worry though the legend also goes on to state that it would have taken the whole football team and the water-boys thrown if somebody had tried to get her off Jack’s lap. Eventually, after Chrissie had gotten under Jack’s skin and had done something about it that one Friday night, a story in itself worthy of telling, she and Jack would spent those Friday and Saturday nights spinning tunes-and other stuff too. Yeah, a story for another day though. This is about rock and roll legends and not the hi-jinks of 1950s teenagers so we will move on.)

Back to the show though. They had had dinner at a local restaurant and then headed to the Playhouse a little early since neither in all the years they had collectively been going to Maine had set foot in the place. So they were thrilled when they saw the stage all festooned with the Sun Record label in bright lights and with the stage set up to be like Sam Phillips’ wreck of a low rent storefront recording studio. To top that off in the background rock and roll music was being played over the loudspeakers- Jack laughed (and sang along) when he heard Warren Smith doing his classic Rock and Roll Ruby followed by Jerry Lee’s Mona Lisa. Jack admitted and Chrissie would too at intermission that they were amped up, expected to be thrilled to hear a lot of the songs they had grown up with and hadn’t heard for a while. And they were not disappointed, no way.

Of course the core of the show was about the fabulous four (not to be confused with the other fabulous four the Beatles who had worshipped at the shrine of these older rockers over in Britain when the American teen audience was gravitating toward bubble-gum music). But there also was a sub-story line dealing with the hardships of a small record company promoting talent, promoting rock and roll talent, and in those days most of them were small and would be out of business without some kind of hit to keep them afloat. So the story line was as much about the trials and tribulations of Sam Phillips’ trying to keep his operation afloat-including the unfortunate selling of Elvis’ contract to big dog RCA for what in the end was chump change in order to keep above water-to keep his dream of creating rock legends alive.

The other tension was between the various performers and their desires to make the big time which at times did not coincide with what Sam was trying to. At the edge of the Phillips story though is what to do after Elvis got away, and Johnny and Carl wanted to sign with a bigger record company. And that is where grooming Jerry Lee came in, the next big thing that Phillips seemed to be able to draw to his little two-bit operation. Like Jack’s grandfather said if Jerry Lee could have just kept it in his pants once maybe he could have ruled the whole rock and roll universe. That was the way the story played here.  

Story-line or no story line (including an additional female singer, a girlfriend of Elvis’ who represented the seriously under told story of female singers in the early days of rock and roll) the show was about the songs that Jack and Chrissie came of age to from Elvis’ classics like Jailhouse Rock, that previously mentioned Blue Suede Shoes, and the amped up cover of black rhythm and blues guru Smiley Lewis’ One Night With You,  including those hips moving frantically to Carl’s great rockabilly guitar (he dubbed the “king of rockabilly” back then) to Johnny’s deep baritone. And the topping-the actor doing Jerry Lee’s role doing things with a piano (including blind-folded) that would seem impossible. Made the joint jump and made both of them wonder why they had been so enthralled and entranced by Elvis after the first couple of years when Jerry Lee had more energy in on fist than Elvis had in his whole body. (In preparation for a class reunion one time some classmate, Jack though it was probably Frank Jackman but they decided to let the instigator tab remain nameless, posted a comment, a provocative comment as it turned out on the class reunion website,  about who was the “max” daddy, that is the word the instigator used, Elvis or Jerry Lee. A cold civil war brewed up over that one with Jack taking Jerry Lee and Chrissie swooning over Elvis but after the show Chrissie said she probably had to rethink her position on that burning historical question.) What there was no question about, well let’s put it this way after that night Chrissie was seriously thinking about taking Jack back-again. Enough said.               


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Waiting Game….With Lost Loves In Mind 

By Bart Webber

Dan Hawkins was not the waiting kind. Not the kind of guy who suffered to hang around moping, pining away (or to suffer fools, his term, who did as any number of his companions and colleagues could attest to). Not the kind if anybody was taking a survey, or looking for a character point on a profile to suffer waiting for anything. It had not always been that way, quite the contrary, he had had a history of waiting until hell froze over for some damsel who no showed him, which in turn made him a no show guy later when he was chasing some dames at the same time and had agreed to meet them severally at the same time,       but over the past few years he had gotten better about being on time, about showing up. Had been better that is until that night Moira left him, left him one night packing her bags and fleeing in the night. (It wasn’t exactly that dramatic but in the six plus month since she had left Dan had made whole thing as was his wont when left alone with his imagination to make the departure some epic Greek tragedy, something Shakespeare or one of those guys would have made a big deal story about.) No Dan had not been the waiting kind, not even with Moira who drove him crazy when she said she would be ready say at ten and then finally came down all beautiful about a half hour later. He had tried an end around with her so when he said to be ready say by ten in his mind he was thinking ten thirty and had made the profound mistake of giving his thought pattern away to her. Thereafter she would say show herself, all beautiful, at eleven. What the hell.   

This whole waiting business had been triggered of late while Dan figured out what he wanted to do with his life, his love life, his search for another relationship. See Dan previously had not waited around for some young woman when they split up, half the time he had somebody already waiting in the wings, some honey he had eyed and moved in on as he knew that last flame had flickered out in whatever current relationship he was in. Until Moira. And until Moira left him high and dry with some very harsh words about his needing to get at peace with himself, needed to do as she was doing trying to find herself and what she was about in the world –without him. Needing as he finally came to call it one night when he was listening to a Patty Griffin song, You Are Not Alone, and he grabbed onto the phrase “put out the fore in your head.”

Yes, that exactly stated the case. So he had moped around, pined away for six months before he realized that not only was Moira not coming back (he had no idea where she was although she said she was heading West, probably to California and that she would call him, not him her once she settled some place), but that he was lonesome for a woman’s company. Lonesome after he had spent the better part of those six months really trying to figure out a way to put out that fire in his head, to get some freaking peace from the bubble that was in his head. Tried to figure out what had gone wrong so the next time out he might not make a lot of the same mistakes. So no more waiting around.        

Dan had just turned thirty when Moira left him (and she just behind him in turning to that age which he thought might have contributed to why she had left when she saw that what they had was turning into ashes and would blow away with the first breeze, which it had once she determined what her course had to be). That age turning for some reason made him think that he if he was looking for somebody to share his life with then he could no longer go the “meat market” bar-hopping route which is how he had met most of his women friends, had met Moira one barstool night after having just taken his bar examination and was “celebrating” surviving that ordeal (he was nevertheless confidant that he would pass as he did). Moreover the high stakes Boston law firm he had been recruited to (and which caused many problems between he and Moira when he got sucked into the whirling dervish pace of trying to get ahead in that very competitive atmosphere with its manic and long hours) did not have many women that he would be attracted to (or women in the profession in general that he had run into) so he had been kind of stuck with how to meet somebody new. Then a fellow lawyer at the firm told him about on-line dating (actually he had overheard the guy making a “meet-up” first date and the guy knowing that Dan was single suggested he try it). Which he did although he had had balked at first, at his first effort when he “no showed” for the first time in a long time and that busted try had contributed to the waiting game-that forlorn hope beyond all reason that Moira would come back-or at least call to let him know she was safe wherever she was- something she was constantly badgering him about when he was working-where was he and what time would he be home).

Dan had not been sure exactly how to approach the whole on-line dating situation once he decided one lonely night that he needed female companionship (sex too remember he is only thirty and still  a serious sexual being). All of his previous experience had worked the other way. First he had met the woman in person (as was mentioned before usually at a bar or a party the way a lot of the young meet), they would chat face to face and then if there was an attraction some kind of exchange of telephone or cellphone numbers. This on-line idea was the reverse. You “chatted” on-line in vast black-hole cyberspace then maybe agreed to meet face to face. But who knew what to expect, whether the person on the other end was perhaps a goof or a psycho, a stalker who knows (and in return what did they know about you, perhaps also had thought about meeting a mass murderer or something).            

In any case Dan had been perplexed by what he would and would not put on what the site he chose “profile page.” Other than the obvious “looking for a soulmate” kind of thing-and naturally a rare and delicate beauty with a mind to match. He knew almost instinctively that he had to put a photo up on his profile. That was no problem as he could see that the site advice to do so made sense otherwise why would a complete stranger respond solely to whatever bullshit was thrown on the page only limited by the profiler’s imagination. But what to say that was meaningful. How to tell a story that made sense that that beautiful gal with a mind to match would respond to.
Dan was good at writing legal briefs, his profession after all, but to bear his soul a bit was disconcerting-especially about the soul-searching, about trying to be at peace with himself and trying to put out the fire in his head. The likes and dislikes, what he liked to do-run for exercise, go to art museums (a big thing with Moira), watch old time movies, go to a nice dinner were easy but some questions like whether he was looking for marriage (he was not), kids (same as marriage), religion (“other” did not express his agnostic views very well), and politics (another stumbling block) caused him some anguish.

A master of non-information information when he wanted be Dan left the questions of marriage and kids open since some really beautiful-looking thirty-ish women maybe worried about their biological clocks or just far  enough along in their careers to breath  and take some social time to see what they wanted checked those items off. On religion he did a dipsy-doodle answering “spiritual but not religious” since he was leery of “born-agains” one of whom that fellow lawyer had mentioned he had had to confront on a date where he had to listen to—“Jesus Saves,” all fucking night, his colleague’s term, a very short date. Funny Dan thought as he cyber-clicked on his choice one of Moira’s big complains after she had turned to the Universalist-Unitarian Church and Buddha at the same time was that he was not on the same spiritual road that she was on-and didn’t appear to be heading that way. As for politics, despite that colleague’s advice to the contrary, he put down “middle of the road” when he once again saw that some very good-looking women who must have grown up in rural or suburban areas had put down “conservative”. He thought he could just click the delete button if they came on too strong about how Obama had sold out the country and how they wanted their country back which was what his co-worker had warned him about. The only item that he seemed to be able to write about without reverting to some fallen angel-go to confession sinner-and liar was that he liked to run for exercise, liked to keep as fit as work made possible, liked to run along the ocean or a river since the sounds of the water exhibiting their natures soothed him-was his spiritual side as he constantly tried to tell Moira (she didn’t buy that argument since they could not do it together like meditation or yoga).

So Dan patched together some stuff as best he could, paid his fee (here is the gimmick on these sites which his fellow lawyer had told him about. You can join for “free” but that didn’t mean anything because to “connect” with anybody, to get a personal site e-mail response you needed to be a paid-up member), checked out and “flirted” with several prospects and waited to see what would happen. He did not have to wait long on that score (that is not what “the waiting game” of the title is about) since several women responded that day-all from places far away from Boston. Places like Austin, Texas or Norman, Oklahoma. What the hell did the think he would go on a “blind” date that would require air travel? Jesus. He was shaken that he might have been being hustled but that was just a “come on” to show that there really were women out there. He tried several more profiles, local profiles, that night. And got to his relief a couple of good responses                
After a process of elimination or rather running the rack first Dan “met” a woman who seemed interesting. Maybe that “running the rack” should be explained first since then the process of elimination makes more sense. One of the features of the site is that you could limit your search to a certain radius from your own location and age range so Dan clicked on the “fifty mile” choice and an age range of twenty-five to thirty-five-relative contemporaries. He then put together a kind of generic reply that he would use for any “prospects” who looked interesting and then proceeded to scroll all of the possible choices in that fifty mile radius and age range. Eliminating out of hand anyone who did not have a photograph up. The idea there being that if he wound up with some mass murderess he would at least be able to give a detailed description to the cops when she tried anything funny. (He would find out later that even such a seemingly straight forward proposition like that got twisted around when some of the women put photographs that had been taken in, well let’s put it this way, sunnier days). Eliminate anybody who had five children or so because he did not want that entanglement. (He later found out that women would lie about that, not about the five children part since he did not pursue anybody in that category but about having not children at all when they did-strange). Eliminate only “graduated from high school”- types for obvious reasons. And certainly eliminate anyone who was shown in a photograph with some ex-husband or ex-flame since that told him they were not over that relationship. (Funny that he made that exception since he was torn up about Moira to be placed in that same category by any women looking over his profile with the same concern. Dan never always had a good reason for what he did, or did not, do). With those factors crossed out it turned out that he had a daunting thirty odd profiles to respond to, to see if there was any reason to go further. One night when he had some time (and was feeling particularly lonesome for female companionship) Dan “ran the rack” mentioned above, went down the whole list with his generic comment to see what was what.                

Maybe a dozen women, maybe a couple less, responded to the initial bullshit line that Dan had probably used since he was about six with women.  A few in their responses kind of fell by the wayside and so in the end Dan had about half a dozen to seriously pursue. Ultimately after a whole series of comments and replies he started chatting with some of them on-line and some by phone, a tricky proposition requiring a certain leap of faith that they were not the “stalkers” whom the site and office conversation had warned him against. He did meet a few of them in person but at that stage it was like in the old days you either clicked or didn’t and that was that. Well that was that except that is when he learned about the fake photographs (or rather “sunnier days” photographs) and the kids’ stuff. Nothing worked out in that batch, nothing at all but Dan sensed that this was going to be quite a lot more work that he expected to take away that phantom loneliness that was eating away at him.  

Then Sarah, Sarah who made a point saying she was on time something Dan valued highly (and which was not true or has not been true so far but she has other virtues) contacted him out of the blue. They exchanged site e-mails frantically especially after each confessed to a love of art museums and then proceeded to talk on the phone. Arranged to meet at the Museum of Fine Arts which Sarah had agreed to without hesitation when Dan suggested the idea. Dan suspected that here was a women he could deal with on a fair basis. (It turned out that Dan who prided himself on his knowledge about art who way behind her in that regard since she had been and art major at one point in her college career.) So far they are proceeding along cautiously, Sarah has been divorced for a while after a horrible two-timing husband marriage complete with physical abuse, but things look pretty good. Yeah, Dan said to himself after their first art museum date (and dinner downtown after) he was not the waiting kind…           

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Innocence Project… Harrison Ford And Tommy Lee Jones’ The Fugitive (1993)- A Film Review 

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, 1993

I have often noted in doing reviews of older movies that they can provide a glimpse in the mores, the ethos, the fads of their times. Usually that glimpse involves certain customs, or certain ways of life portrayed on the screen. As a rule though they generally, at least the films that I watch deal with the state of the art in crime detection, the detection of murder one, murder most foul, murder which as a capital crime in some states (and at the federal level) mean the death penalty. So I took the action thriller under review, The Fugitive, based on the long running television series starring David Jansen  which in turn was based on the murder conviction of Doctor Samuel Shepard back in the 1950s as such an example.

No way today, even give the liberal cinematic license allowed in action thrillers, or any film, that our protagonist, Doctor Richard Kimble played by the versatile action actor Harrison Ford find himself accused of the murder of his wife, played by Sela Ward. Or wrongly as it turned out convicted. No way either that with DNA sampling available and since the scenario of this film is set in Chicago with the Innocent Project started at nearby Northwestern University would Kimble be facing the big step-off, the sting of a lethal injection.

That is now though but we have to backtrack to the time of crime (or of the film) and realize that some pretty sloppy police work let our good Doctor through the cracks of the justice system. Let him face the big step-off just because the coppers would not believe his story about his wife Helen, played by Sela Ward, being brutally murdered by a one-armed intruder, a home invader with some dastardly purpose in mind. So Kimble was forced to take steps on his own, had to seek out the real killer and bring him to justice. That task was fortuitously aided by an attempted escape by a couple of prisoners going to the same place as Kimble and wouldn’t you know the an on-coming crashed into the bus and it flew over an embankment freeing our man to seek the righteous justice he deserves.

That search for the real killer might have been a somewhat interesting story but the action would have been minimal. The film then turned into an odd-ball “buddy” film as Marshal Earp, oops, Marshal Gerard, played by Tommy Lee Jones was determined to bring this hardened felon to justice or at least to the clink. The chase in on. And through the bulk of the film Kimble is one, maybe two, steps ahead of the vengeful marshal and his all-out massive posse of federal, state, local, and hell, county law enforcement agencies, leading him a merry chase down waterfalls, on the El, in and out of hospitals (which he worked to his advantage like a charm), hotels, rooming houses you name it. But our good doctor sought the murderer, that damn one-armed bandit, and what drove him to the heinous crime. You know in the end Kimble will be exonerated but it was a wild trip all the same. Still I am glad they have DNA testing at their fingertips today, very glad.                  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

***Poet’s Corner- Langston Hughes – On Lincoln’s Birthday Lincoln Memorial: Washington

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

February is Black History Month

Lincoln Memorial: Washington

Let's go see Old Abe
Sitting in the marble and the moonlight,
Sitting lonely in the marble and the moonlight,
Quiet for ten thousand centuries, old Abe.
Quiet for a million, million years.


And yet a voice forever
Against the
Timeless walls
Of time-
Old Abe.

…he, Father Abraham he, pug-ugly he that no midnight moonless night or early morning darkest hour before the dawn monument chiseled stone could render beautiful (damn, that age of tin-type sepia photography, that Mathew Brady and his merry band hunched inside those clothed lightless, airless boxes, that damn warts and all pre-digital photography, when a painterly touch, say rough-hewn campsite wise and bloody wounded battle weary Winslow Homer’s, might have made him, well, just plain). Yes, warts and all, sitting arched in lighted stone in judgment, eternity self-judgment (did he do this or that action right to further that furrowed brow first of all, overall, preliminary assessment right on union and slow on the inevitable abolition call that old Frederick Douglass and the ever-hovering ghost of Captain John Brown late of Kansas and Harper’s Ferry fight had urged upon a blood-stained land).

He, furrowed in youth and pug-ugly, in youth, thus no catch for gentile Kentucky bourbon belle daughters sitting astride Stephen Foster’s old black Joe, the old darkies are gay, or so it seemed, waiting for Mister Brett Butler to come a-calling, all Kentuck born and Illini-bred (where the best they could do was say nigra when talking about the slave problem. And later, much later the sons and grandsons of poor as dirt Kentuck hills and hollows mountain boys, Harlan County roughs, picked that up nigra expression too, and went to their graves with that on their lips, Jesus.). He meant to keep all the races split, let them, the blacks, (nigras, remember) go back to Canaan land, go back to Africa, go to some not American union place but keep them out of Chi town (sounds familiar) had a conversion, maybe not a conversion so much as a lining up of his beliefs with his “walk the walk” talk. Get this reasoning: if he could save the union by NOT freeing slave one he would do so, if he could save the union by freeing some rebel-held slaves he would do so, if he could save the union by freeing every goddam slave in every stinking corner of every stinking cotton plantation he would do. By 1862 the vagaries of war, the skimpy logic of his position, would lead him kicking and screaming to the latter. But despite being a man of his time on the “colored” question he did what he had to and hence that righteous small marble tribute at the river end of the National Mall.    

He ran for president, President of the United States, not as a son of William Lloyd Garrison, all Newburyport prissy and hell- bent on damning the Constitution for that third-fifth of a man error and for Taney’s Dred Scott decision, his Abe well-thumbed, well-read constitution, or some reformed wild boy Liberty man barely contained in the Fremont Republican dust but a busted out Whig when whiggery went to ground, (hell, no, he would not go down with the ship on that tack, otherwise he would still be stuck in Springfield or maybe practicing law in bell-weather Podunk Peoria, although he would note what that burg had to say and move slowly). Nor was he some righteous son, Thoreau or Emerson-etched son, of fiery-maned Calvinist sword-in-hand black avenging angel Captain John Brown, late of Kansas blood wars and Harper’s Ferry liberation fight (he had no desire to share the Captain’s blood-soaked fate, mocked his bloody efforts in fact, as if only immense bloods would render the national hurts harmless when later the hills, hollows and blue-green valleys reeked of blood and other stenches).

His goal, simple goal (in the abstract), was to hold the union together, and to curb that damn land hunger slavery, that national abyss. And since they ran politics differently in those days (no women, latinos, nigras to fuss over) and were able to touch up a picture or two even if inexpertly by digital standards (and stretch his biographic facts a bit when the “wide awakes” awoke) he won, barely won but won, was a minority president no question, his writ ran only so far and no further.  And then all hell broke loose, and from day one, from some stormy March day one, he had to bend that big long boney pug-ugly body to the winds, his winds.

And he did, not unequivocally, not John Brown prophet proud, fearlessly facing his gallows and his maker, to erase the dripping blood and canker sore from his homeland, but in a revolutionary way nevertheless, broke down slavery’s house divided, broke it down, no quarter given when the deal went down, when he found Grant to steel his troops and no quarter (and let hell and brimstone Billy Sherman and his “bummers” light up the Southern sky). So more like some latter day Oliver Cromwell (another warts and all man) pushing providence forward with a little kick. More like old Robespierre flaming the masses with the new dispensation, the new words slave freedom. Kept freeing slaves as he went along, kept pushing that freedom envelope, kept pushing his generals south and west and east and tightening , anaconda tightening, the noose on the old ways until Johnny Reb cried “uncle,” cried his fill when righteous Sherman and his cutthroat bummers got to work too. Yes, old Father Abraham, the last of the revolutionary democrats, the last of the serious ones, who couldn’t say black better that nigra, and never could, but knew the old enlightenment freedom word, knew it good.

…and now he belongs to the ages, and rightfully so, warts and all.