Saturday, October 26, 2019

Dorothy Fields

Up until a few decades ago most music was written by men, but a few women blazed a trail that benefited all music lovers.  Dorothy Fields wrote the words of hundreds of tunes, many of which are still heard by many.

Dorothy Fields, born on July 15, 1905, in New Jersey, daughter of performers. Her father was Lew Fields, part of vaudeville duo, Weber & Fields.  He discouraged his daughter for show business and when he learned she was involved with acting he reportedly told her that it was unladylike.  She supposedly replied "I am no lady I am your daughter" paraphrasing a famous Weber and Fields joke, "That was no lady, that was my wife."

For awhile she was a teacher and a laboratory assistant, but finding time to be involved with writing for theatre and magazines.   A breakthrough occurred in 1928 when she wrote the lyrics for "Blackbirds of 1928."  This led her to meeting Jimmy McHugh a song plugger.  They worked together for a few years on Broadway, for the Cotton Club (for Duke Ellington) and in Hollywood.  Some of the songs Dorothy wrote the lyrics for included, "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Exactly Like You," "I'm In the Mood for Love," "Big Spender," and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love."

In the middle 1930's she wrote lyrics with Jerome Kern including for the classic film, "Swing Time."  The song, "The Way You Look Tonight," which won the pair an Oscar.  Another was "Pick Yourself Up" (see below).  A tricky song was for a romance that was not going anywhere and had to be staged carefully.  She came up with "A Fine Romance" song by Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire to depict the awkwardness of their relation (which did warm up).  She also wrote for "Roberta" with Jerome Kern.

Barrack Obama paraphrased a line from "Pick Yourself Up" at his 2009 inaugural address, "Starting today we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America."

She transitioned from writing song lyrics to being a librettist, the one who writes the book of the play.

She had the original idea for a musical based on Annie Oakley.  Originally Jerome Kern was to write the music, but he died and was replaced with Irving Berlin.  Dorothy was listed with her brother, Herbert Fields for writing the musical book.  "Annie Get Your Gun" was released in 1950.

She wrote with Cy Coleman including:  "Lets's Face It," "Something for the Boys," "Mexican Hayride" and "Sweet Charity."

In 1959 she shared a Tony award with three collaborators for the musical "Redhead."   Her collaborators were Herbert Fields, Sidney Sheldon and David Shaw

In 1971 she was inducted into the Song Writers Hall of Fame.  Altogether she wrote 400 songs many of which were included in 15 stage musicals and 26 movies.

She was introduced to her second husband, David Eli Lahm by Herbert Sondheim, father of Stephen Sondheim who called her Aunt Dorothy.  Dorothy and David had two children.

She was known to spend several weeks researching for a song.  "I'm writing a song to fit a spot in the show." She died in New York on March 28, 1974

Friday, October 25, 2019

Four Filipino movies

Netflix is a savvy marketer.  They have noticed that many immigrants to America love to watch movies from their homeland and at the same time are able to use their expertise to spread culture around the world.  What this means is that by targeting different ethnics with movies in their native language they also offer them for the rest of the population.  Out of curiosity or a desire to learn more many Americans (and Canadians) take advantage of the opportunity to see how the rest of the world likes to tell its stories.

The world is opening up to anyone willing to explore.  Always looking for something different stumbled on one Filipino movie  In a short period of time watched four Filipino movies.  The first was "You're my Boss" which I enjoyed, but admit not quite up to American standards.  But it inspired me to watch "Starting Over Again."  And in turn watched "Everything About Her" and finally "Barcelona"  Really just a glimpse of a different culture (with many Western overtones), but some interesting stories told well.

All movies are stories enhanced by technology and creativity.  It has to be believable at least to the point you can identify with what's happening.  Not that you feel they are telling your story, but that it is about something you can feel.   It helps if the actors look and behave naturally.  Of course some are set up in weird costumes, but there still must be something .  The camera is often taken for granted, but it can.   Music ads to your enjoyment, more so if it fits the story.

"You're My Boss" (2015) was a comedy where deception was a key factor.  One woman was substituting for her out of town boss, but soon as a Japanese company couldn't at first accept a woman boss, her male assistant pretended to be the boss.  Naturally the couple seemed misfitted.  The male had a rural family and a different way of looking at things.  The woman was status conscious.  Of course they sorted out their differences.  Basically the two main characters were likeable, the plot was comical in parts.  Some very interesting scenery, both in Manila and a rural coastal town.  Directed and co-written by Antonette Javana.  Emerzon Texon wrote the music.  Carmi Raymundo is listed as creative producer.  Hermann Caravail took the cinematography.  Starred Toni Gonzaga as the substitute executive (more on her later) and Coco Martin as her personal assistant.  Coco won an acting award for this film, but at one time was a janitor in Alberta, Canada.


Toni Gonzaga was listed for "Starting Over Again" (2014--pictured at the top).  I thought I could predict the outcome from the title.  The reviews were very favorable.  The story line had to do with the aftermath of a breakup and then evolved into a love triangle.  Humiliation and misunderstandings were untangled.  It did not end the way I thought it would, but poetic.  The acting was really good and the way the plot was laid out kept viewers engaged.  I learned Toni (who deservedly won an acting award for this role) was a singer and I ended buying one of her tunes.  Piolo Pascual also won acting awards for this film and sang a song, having won 2 song awards.  Iza Calzado played the newcomer to the love triangle and looked very sophisticated. One scene I remember with the two women discussing the difference between cooking and baking was informative and metaphorical. 

Again the cinematography was handled by Hermann Claravall.  Cesar Francois Concio composed the music.  Carmi Raymundo is listed as creative producer.

"Everything About Her" (2016) also had good reviews  The two female leads were very good with the male lead ok.  The story was about families that were dysfunctional.  It takes a problem to bring people together; in this case it was cancer.  The mother was highly successful, but very bossy who had driven her husband and son off to America was brought down to earth by a diagnosis.  The young woman who was hired to be a personal nurse also was strong willed, but was resentful of her mother having left the family.  The nurse meets the son; there is of course a little distrust, but ironically they each help the other to forgive.

Directed by Joyce Bernal who also did some editing.  Writing was shared by Mia Concio I enjoyed the background music by Carmen Cuya.  Cinematography by Shayne Sarte.  Carmi Raymundo was the creative producer.  Vilma Santos played the cantankerous matriarch and is the most prolific award winner starting back in 1964 as best child actress.  She has also been elected mayor of Lipa City and Governor of Batangas.  Angel Locsin played very capably the personal nurse.  Xian Lim who is part Chinese and sometimes has Chinese speaking roles played the son.  He had been born and raised in San Francisco before going back to the Philippines at age 18 with his family

"Barcelona" had a moderately high rating on IMDB, but also had three very negative reviews.  A common criticism was about the acting and casting.  Maybe somebody else could have done a better job, but the two leads more than interpreted the story to my enjoyment; they were a delight to watch.  The cinematography was beautiful, possibly noticed more because Barcelona is a gorgeous city.   Over laying the end credits were bloopers that showed the actors had some relief from the heavy emotions.  The film won several awards.

Olivia M Lamasan was the director and had been a script consultant for both "You're My Boss" and "Everything About Her."  Carmi Raymundo wrote the screenplay.  Hermann Claraval did the cinematography.  Daniel Padilla played the male lead and won an award for it.  Paired with Kathryn Bernardo they won movie love team of the year (for the second time). 

The last three were melodramatic with high emotional content.  In all three movies one is aware that Manila is modern looking city and many of its citizens are sophisticated.  It reminds me of Bollywood that ignores the poor and backward in most of its films.  What we identify with is the middle class and what we envy is the upper class.  Even more than in Bollywood much of the dialogue is in English--partly because it is seen as a mark of an educated person, but possibly also because they want to hit a wider audience.

As of 2018 "Manila in the Claws of Light" (1975) was only the second Filipino movie I have seen.  Filmed in 1974 under the direction of Lino Brocka during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.  It was introduced by Martin Scorsese who borrowed the ending for his movie, "Taxi."  There is a love story, but it also carries a political message.  Corruption is very evident.  Not comedic nor melodramatic, but let me know there is a long history of film in the Philippines.

Thanks to Netflix for expanding the world.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Character and policy; a confession

Listening to political pitches and trying to evaluate past history we all need to consider many factors to make a reasonable choice.  For those who think about policy a few character flaws might be acceptable if their policies are moved forward.  I confess getting what I really want helps me to overlook or forgive minor transgressions and believe most people are not much different.  On the other hand policy is difficult and is almost always in a context with other policies that requires prioritizing and bargaining.  So character can be a decisive factor in a vote decision.  Yet both these factors have to fit into whatever system is operating.

Successful politicians must somehow convince a wide range of people to get elected.  They will offer policies and promote their integrity.  Any policy they do offer is likely to offend some voters so they are careful to minimize.  A good blend of policies supported by a good image may gather enough voters to gain power even if a majority are displeased.

Policies I support include dealing with climate change, with injustice, with the danger of nuclear war, with the displacement of refugees and the quality of life.  There are a lot of powerful vested interests that oppose policies that effectively deal with these concerns.

The Republicans have a set of policies that represent the wants and needs of the wealthy.  In all cultures the rules are made by the powerful, but to some extent it is necessary to placate the masses.  This has been done by such things as offering "bread and circuses," and catering to prejudice.  Humans seek pleasure and avoid pain.

The conservatives feel they deserve to enjoy their wealth to the maximum and resent others who want to be treated fairly at their expense.  This is natural and if you don't believe me take a closer look.  This doesn't mean there are no benevolent wealthy and powerful people, but to get to the very top it is easier to discard or minimize weaknesses.

In order to win the co-operation, especially in a nominal democracy something must be offered to the masses.  There are many prejudices that can be sparked by pointing out how one group gets some "advantage"  Outsiders are always easy prey.

Some issues lay dormant until someone points them out.  We go about our daily pursuit of the good life with little thought to bigger issues.  Climate change, nuclear proliferation, pandemics, injustice, displacement of refugees and the international economic order do not dominate most of our daily thinking, but can upend everything.  Government policies affect not only our daily battles, but also these overarching concerns.  Nobody has exactly the same views on these issues, nor can anyone understand all the complexities so in one sense integrity over rides policy.

All this to say Donald Trump is a big mistake for character and policy.  Rich powerful people like some of his policies (and he has determined which ones attract their attention) and smart people have determined how to attract the attention of enough voters to force a package of policies onto the citizenry.

Two examples of what concerns the wealthy are taxes and regulations.  Taxes mean they have to share their wealth with others and regulations restrict their profits.  Both these concerns often work against those less powerful.

Examples of catering to prejudice include laws surrounding minority rights and immigrants.  Sex is a big area of righteousness.  Promiscuity is sinful.  Abortions and contraception (any promotion of sex) are evil as is homosexuality.   Guns make people feel safer against violence and others feel powerful against outsiders.  It is amazing that even here in my opinion people are voting against their own interests.  The rich and powerful can to some extent ignore laws.

Evangelicals who form an integral part of Trump's base are convinced Israel is a key to the resurrection of Christ and insist on supporting Israel regardless of the Palestinian occupation.  This feeling is so strong they are able to overlook major character flaws that are normally considered unforgivable.

If a politician is willing to cater to one issue voters they can enact their agenda no matter how it impacts the rest of the population (including those one issue voters).

Being a politician is an impossible job.  If you aren't elected there is nothing much you can do except protest and somehow hope that reason wins the future.  Perhaps the most practical thing is to develop and support particular policies and use both logic and marketing skills to make the policy improvement.   Working with others with compatible policy ideas strengthens both, but inevitably at some point compromises have to be made.  My bottom line is people need to be educated.

For voters it really is complex deciding who to support.  In many systems there are basically two choices that can get power.  There is a package of policies and characters to  decide.  In multi party systems  with a first past the post setup a voter can decide which package makes the most sense, but often it is complicated with the practical desire to prevent an undesirable outcome.  As usual I favor the proportional system where you can decide the best package (policies and character) and your voice will have a greater impact, although maybe not as strong as you wished.

The photo is of immigrants at a location near where I live.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The NON-INDICTABLE SINS OF TRUMP

He got in and there is very little that can be done before 2020.  There certainly were enablers, some of whom you can read about   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/trump-enablers.html

Any president should be allowed some mismanagement and to some degree all of them are guilty.  Too bad life threatening mistakes are legal, but at least some mismanagement can be amended with a new election.

Trump is admired by a significant portion of the population while others prefer to look elsewhere declaring that politics either bores them or is too much.  Unfortunately his mismanagement (much of which is deliberate) affects everyone and not just Americans.  Many people would add to my list, but in my mind he is guilty of GROSS mismanagement that needs to be punished.  Here are a few.

Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.  This is a global problem with global obstacles in the form of vested interests and ignorance.  United States despite a relatively small population contributes a major share of the problem.  They fancy themselves as global leaders and in this case I believe they should be.  While blaming China and others it is the U.S. that would make the most progress by setting an example.  Most other nations would follow their lead.  Obviously some of his supporters have a vested interest, but everyone, especially in the future will suffer.

Pulling out of the Iran agreement is inflammatory.  Not perfect, but the imperfections are more than tolerated when found elsewhere.  To build on what has already been agreed to not only by American negotiators, but also from Russia, Britain, China, France and Germany means other entities with their vested interests are  being ignored.  The purpose was to cut the proliferation of nuclear weapons that threaten us all.  Trump is catering to Saudi Arabia and Israel.  If Iran gets nuclear weapons Saudi Arabia will pressure to follow.  For Israel, temporary relief, but more importantly an opportunity to improve relations.

Spreading hatred against minorities especially immigrants.  Many Americans think their country should be white, but in truth diversity is strength and they need immigrants to keep growing.

Supposedly some people believe Trump is hurt that anyone would question his legitimacy and feels threatened by the suggestion that Russian helped him.  Maybe so, but nonetheless Russians seem to influence decisions.   They are the ones who want to break up international co-operation.

Vested interests are put in positions of power over finance, consumer protection and the environment.

The judicial system is being changed as something they are most proud of.  Many voters assume this will make abortion illegal and further assume it is the best way to minimize abortion.  At the same time they are tightening what Planned Parenthood can do.  I maintain the best way to reduce abortion is to increase sex education, accessibility to contraception, parental leave, financial assistance for young parents, health care for all, all things resisted by conservatives.

Obviously Trump wanted to please the anti abortion group that tends to be a one issue voter.  But the Supreme Court deals with many other issues and a conservative dominated court tends to favor big business and executive power.  It is galling that Mitch McConnell was able to stymie an Obama nomination.  Also that the Republicans rushed in Kavanagh despite some concerns that were not adequately addressed.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

China and the NBA

How would you believe a few words, "Stand for Hong Kong" could cause such a response?  There was the Chinese end of it and then there was the NBA response.  No question that money rules the world.

The Chinese public never knew of the brief Twitter as it was blocked.  Also they do not get an honest explanation for the Hong Kong riots.  When you are autocratic and with enough leverage you can force your will on anyone who wants to do business with you.

The morals of the story are obvious in that powerful bullies don't worry about morals.  Plenty of others have commented on the morals.  What can be done?

As long as we worship money (and it is pretty important to me) we are obligated to do things we would not otherwise do--including much of work or keeping your mouth shut.  Looking around the world many established companies (and those hoping to gain traction) see China with its huge population and growing middle class as the best available opportunity.

China has its own sensitivities.  They feel they are overcoming humiliation and resent any reminder vestiges.  Having colonials impose their will on the Chinese people who felt they had a glorious history can make you a bit touchy.  There are different languages, different cuisines, but they are united under an autocratic government. We hear of conflicts involving Tibet (the Dalai Lama is my hero), Taiwan and the Uighurs.  To "control" the population the authorities have imposed censorship not only within their nation but to outsiders hoping to make inroads.

On one side of the bargaining table are greedy entrepreneurs salivating over the huge numbers of potential customers.  On the other side is someone wanting to please their customers (their citizens wanting a higher standard of living).  It may seem uneven between our side and the Chinese, but we do have things they want--our markets, our technology and ideas, our resources and some of the razzle dazzle we take for granted.  On top of that there is a natural human craving for more freedom.

Can the tail wag the dog?  We do have leverage.  The Chinese like lots of western things including the NBA.  When Yao Ming  made it to the NBA that generated a lot of national pride as well as interest in basketball.  A few other Chinese have played lesser roles.  A few years back, Jeremy Lin (of Taiwanese heritage) created "Linsanity" where he won a number of games with the last shot.  Many Chinese people would be upset if they couldn't get their NBA "fix."  It is doubtful that Chinese would give up Olympic aspirations for basketball which ensures interest will continue.  Everyone wants to see the best and aspires to be a part of it.

Adam Silver did salvage a little dignity by declaring individuals have the right to express themselves.  On other issues he has been very commendable and one can hope he will get back to form.

Citizens of the world are better off when we share culture.  Westerners love cheap Asian goods and exotic culture.  It is a two way street which most of us enjoy when we are able to expand our interests.  The Chinese are no different.  They are just fascinated by different cultures as we are.  All efforts to boost cultural exchanges are to be encouraged.

What we have that Chinese people want as much as anyone is relative freedom.  We can pretty well say whatever we want, listen to whatever we want, seek pleasure in whatever direction.  They don't fully know this, but we can try to expand their awareness.  When they cut off coverage of the Houston Rockets (and NBA champion Toronto Raptors) and LeBron James there are bound to be disappointed people, including people with some measure of power.  While we are being seduced by potential riches they are being seduced by western culture.

Technology is being used to create another iron curtain or maybe one should say cyber curtain.  China can try to isolate itself, but that will create resentment among the people.   Hong Kong is unique, but they are perhaps on the front lines of freedom.  If they can hold out it will be harder and harder for authorities to keep the truth from the rest of China. 

Perhaps this issue got my attention as I love basketball and have been involved for over 60 years.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/06/my-60-year-love-affair-with-basketball.html

The Chinese are bringing more of the culture to the rest of the world with movies.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/08/chinese-cinema-is-peek-into-their_1.html

The photo is from a Chinese movie I thought was well worth watching with some insight into one child policy.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Douglas Sirk, a more appreiated director after his death

 When one explores older movies, history brings out things that are long forgotten or taken for granted.  The name Douglas Sirk repeated itself a few times and my first notion was he must be some sort of art movie favorite.  Lately my feeling is that he was a manipulator of making stories enjoyable, but to point out some of the foibles of American society.

After his retirement his reputation rested on a series of movies that are considered "melodramatic."  Some critics had a low opinion of such movies, but later, after he finished in Hollywood his style was more appreciated.  Jean-Luc Godard and Rainer Werner Fassbinder praised him from Europe and slowly he was recognized for his contributions.

Born in Germany in 1897 of Danish parents as Detlef Sierck, a name used for his early German films.  At age 14 he developed an interest in both theatre and cinema. He studied law at the University of Munich, but switched to University of Hamburg to study art and philosophy.  In 1922 he directed his first stage play.  His first  feature was shot in Dutch and then in German.  His films were admired by Dr Joseph Goebbels, but in 1937 left Germany.  His first wife was a Nazi sympathizer and denounced him for marrying Hilde Jary, a Jewish actress.

He left Germany as a well respected director and had learned much that carried forth to his American career.

In 1941 he and his wife reached Hollywood.   His first U.S. directed film in 1943 was "Hitler's Madman," an account of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by Czech resistance fighters.

"Summer Storm" was released in 1944 adapted from an Anton Chekhov novel.  Starring George Sanders who had a sarcastic wit, much used in this film.  In 1944 he did another film, "A Scandal in Paris" with Sanders.  George Sanders proved to be reliable and was later in at least two more films.

In 1947 Lucille Ball was the lead actress for "Lured," a serious movie, but a viewer can appreciate Lucille's timing. 

 Next come the films that Sirk is best remembered for.  In 1954  "Magnificent Obsession," with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, a couple that he brought together a year later for "All that Heaven Allows."

In 1956 Sirk was involved with "Never Say Goodbye," but not credited as he was called in for a re-shoot at the request of George Sanders and the studio.  He also was responsible for bringing in the leading actress Cornell Borchers from Germany.

"Written on the Wind" was also in 1956 again with Rock Hudson, this time with Robert Stack, Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone (who won the Oscar best supporting actress).

A year later he reunited  Rock Hudson, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone for "Tarnished Angels."  William Faulkner whose novel was the basis approved it has a good adaptation.  Noted for airplane sequences.  Rock Hudson endeared himself to Robert Stack by a surprise towing of a sign "IT'S A GIRL by stunt pilot to commemorate the birth of his first child.  Rock Hudson also insisted on including a young Troy Donahue in the cast.

In 1959 Sirk wrapped up his American career with "A Time to Live and a Time to Die" (from novel by Erich Maria Remarque) and "Imitation of Life."  Starring Lana Turner at a critical time in her personal life one critic called this the saddest movie--read more at: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/08/the-power-of-sad-movies.html

Uncomfortable with the Hollywood lifestyle (such as nude swimming parties) he  left with his wife for Lugano Switzerland in 1959.  He was a supervising director for 3 German shorts before his death in 1987 in Lugano.

His most remembered films were considered "women's pictures" what today we might call chick flicks.  They contained all the elements; romance, tragedy, melodramatic music and crying.  Dig a little deeper and some critics appreciated his technical skills.  He was a subtle social critic.  His films depicted strong intelligent women.  Other themes included upper middle class snobbery, hypocrisy, racial tensions and faulty masculine ideals.

Rather than rely on monologues he hired actors based on personality with emphasis on getting on with the other actors.  He used lighting and mirrors to help create moods.

No person succeeds in life without  a supporting team.  Altogether he directed 5 actors to Oscar nominated performances with one, Dorothy Malone winning.

Rock Hudson has a reputation of a glamour boy, but Sirk saw somebody he could work with.  His looks and his voice helped make him one of the most popular stars from Hollywood.  Aside from the movies cited, Rock appeared in several other Sirk directed movies.  He was nominated for an Oscar with "Giant."  He later starred in a successful tv series, "McMillan and Wife."  After he was diagnosed with AIDS he donated $250,000 to help launch the National Aids Research Foundation.  He had been quoted saying that Sirk was like a dad for him.

Music played a strong role and the key composer was Frank Skinner.  Frank had a very prolific and versatile list of  musical scores.  He was most famous for music for horror movies.  He wrote the scores for "Magnificent Obsession," "Written on the Wind," "All that Heaven Allows." "The Tarnished Angels," "Imitation of Life," and at least two others.

Sirk had at least three interesting cinematographers that supported his efforts.  Like Sirk, Eugen Schufmann had been born and trained in Germany.  He moved to France in 1933 and  in 1940 he moved to the U.S.  He had developed a process for optical special effects that was eventually replaced by newer techniques and materials.  He joined what amounted to the wrong union and found that due to regulations he was not credited for many of his movies.  For Sirk he handled "Hitler's Madman," "Summer Storm" and "Scandal in Paris."  He won an Oscar in 1962 for "The Hustler."

Russell Metty first got into the film business starting as a lab assistant and then became an assistant camera man and by 1935 RKO has hired him as lighting camera man.  He handled one of the highlight scenes from "Touch of Evil" and had gone onto get an Oscar nomination for "Flower Drum Song" and an Oscar win for "Spartacus."  For Sirk, he handled some of the more well known films, "Written in theWind," "All that Heaven Allows," and "Magnificent Obsession" plus 7 others.  He worked on many television series such "Columbo," ""the Waltons" and "Rich Man, Poor Man."

William H Daniels directed 4 films for him including "Lured."  His fame is established for the 21 films he directed with Greta Garbo and winning an Oscar for "The Naked City" in 1948.

When we watch movies it is very difficult to appreciate how the thinking and work that goes into creating a mood.   Douglas Sirk is now regarded as an excellent artist, but many fans already loved his films before the critics came on board.