Pandemic Diary 21: Reasons to ‘Smile’

“Buck up—never say die—we’ll get along.”

* * * *
Charlie Chaplin never published lyrics for the piece of music with which he concluded his 1936 film, Modern Times. The Tramp’s last gesture to the Gamine (Paulette Goddard) before the two literally walk off toward the sunset is to point to his mouth and draw a line up along his cheek.

“What’s the use in trying,” she had asked a moment earlier. The two are on the side of a road with no cars to hitch a ride, with all they own in kerchiefs on sticks. “Buck up—never say die—we’ll get along,” the Tramp’s last title card reads. The two walk off down the road and instrumental music swells and the film ends:

Read More

A Memory of Cary Grant

Cary Grant was born 115 years ago today. My memory of seeing him in person:

* * * *
Starting in the mid-1980s, Cary Grant toured in a one-man question-and-answer show, A Conversation with Cary Grant, in which he spent ninety minutes or so answering questions from audience members. Several other movie stars and celebrities have since taken on similar productions in which they and their fans bask in an accepted and reflected adoration— Gregory Peck, for one—but Grant was the first. The show was an extended, and deserved, curtain call from beginning to end.

One cool feature to Grant’s tour was that it brought him to theaters in which he had performed during his vaudeville years in the 1920s. Thus it was that in April 1985 I found myself sitting in the balcony of the small (1500 seat) Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston, New York, a stage on which he had performed decades earlier. I was 16 and a movie nerd and Cary Grant was my idol.
Read More

On the Edge

I’m a damn sap.

Sometimes it’s the television ads. There are some that get me every time. “Aw, they’re getting a new kitten!” (Never mind what the ad is selling.) Or if a character in a movie—at any point in the movie—says something about wanting to “go home,” and at the end of the movie they walk through their front door and say they’re “home,” and the music swells and the credits start rolling, I’m a goner.
Read More

Brushes with Greatness: John Waters’ Moustache

Memory—well, my memory—will sometimes persuade me to remember my memories with a specificity of a snapshot stared at and studied for the pop quiz that I assume life will throw at me on any given school day.

John Waters’ moustache did not knock me out of the way on a Provincetown street one summer afternoon. But that is how I recall my memory of our split-second encounter. He didn’t say or do anything, my memory tells me; his pencil moustache did.
Read More

On That Edge

I’m a damn sap.

Sometimes it’s the television ads. There are some that get me every time. “Aw, they’re getting a new kitten!” (Never mind what the ad is selling.) Or if a character in a movie—at any point in the movie—says something about wanting to “go home,” and at the end of the movie they walk through their front door and say they’re “home,” and the music swells and the credits start rolling, I’m a goner.
Read More

What Dreams Are Made Of

Alfred Hitchcock is credited with coining the term “MacGuffin,” but not the thing itself, which has been around since people started telling stories to each other. In spy movies and thrillers, a MacGuffin is the object that sets the plot of the movie in motion; it’s usually a something people desire that the hero and his nemeses pursue, and that pursuit provides the film’s plot. The specific nature and form of the MacGuffin is usually unimportant to the overall plot. In plot terms, but not theological ones, the apple in Genesis is a MacGuffin.

Neither of the two most famous examples of a MacGuffin in film history appear in a Hitchcock film however, even though he used the device quite frequently in his many movies (he directed more than 50 films from the 1920s through the ’70s).
Read More

Waiting for MacGuffin

Alfred Hitchcock is credited with coining the term “MacGuffin,” but not the thing itself, which has been around since people started telling stories to each other. In spy movies and thrillers, a MacGuffin is the object that sets the plot of the movie in motion; it’s usually a something people desire that the hero and his nemeses pursue, and that pursuit provides the film’s plot. The specific nature and form of the MacGuffin is usually unimportant to the overall plot. In plot terms, but not theological ones, the apple in Genesis is a MacGuffin.

Neither of the two most famous examples of a MacGuffin in film history appear in a Hitchcock film however, even though he used the device quite frequently in his many movies (he directed more than 50 films from the 1920s through the ’70s).
Read More