The Blues Brothers [1980)

This one just barely makes the cut as “’80s comedy”.

Narrowly avoids “Big Bush”.

But certainly “Notre Musique”.

The Blues Brothers is one of my childhood favorites.

And I was craving this film.

I tried to locate it on DVD (to no avail).

And so tonight I broke down and splurged on iTunes’ exorbitant à-la-carte business model.

I was willing to pay the premium.

Because I’m sick.

No way around it.

But let me update you as to my progress.

HUGE progress.

Weeks ago (a month?) I cut my sleeping medicine in half (the dosage).

It was hard.

Really hard.

I was disoriented.

Headaches.

But largely just slow as fuck.

I felt like I had a crayon lodged in my brain 🙂

Yes, my body and brain had gotten used to a certain dosage over the past 2 years.

Eventually I returned to some normalcy.

I got used to the new dose.

Half-as-much as previous.

It was time.

My graduate studies had long been over.

And my wonderful psychologist (whom I am so lucky to have) challenged me to break my addictions.

Understand, I didn’t conceive of my dependencies upon prescription drugs as “addictions”.

But I think it is helpful that my paradigm has shifted.

Yes, I was addicted to a sleeping medicine.

Because I took it every fucking night.

And eventually it called to me…to take it earlier than bedtime.

Ugh…horrible.

A few short weeks ago (two?) I made a psychologist-approved adjustment to the dosage of another of my medicines.

This one is for anxiety.

I reduced my dependence from three pills to two.

This was an achievement.

And a tribulation.

VERY FUCKING DIFFICULT.

Again I had that same confusion.

That same disoriented stupor.

Strangely, this detox was a little different.

The whiplash effect (“rebound anxiety”) hit me a full two weeks later.

There was a delayed effect.

The first days were headaches and stuff.

No prob.

I thought I had it beat.

Like nicotine.

Rough, but possible.

So when the delayed effect hit, it really sucked.

But I got through it.

I trudged on.

I got back on the horse.

And now these past few days have brought a return to the sleeping medicine.

But not, you understand, a regression.

No.

Rather, a full stop.

It’s been three days.

And now I am totally off my sleeping meds.

The first night was really rough.

It sucked.

Anxious “sleep”.

Inability GOING to sleep.

But I stuck it out.

Each night has gotten better.

But the DAYS…

Ugh…

Aches, pains, headaches, stomach…trips to the restroom.

Bad stuff.

And that same disorientation.

It is a really strange feeling.

Very unsettling.

But it is an accomplishment.

And so tonight I made it through a movie.

I didn’t have the brain-power to review a film with subtitles.

No art films this time around.

But The Blues Brothers was just what I needed.

Something comforting.

This really is a masterpiece of sorts.

John Landis turned in an excellent effort here.

The costars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were magnificent.

And the cameos just keep on coming 🙂

The blues.

Yeah.

I’ve had the blues.

Not depression, so much, but another kind of blues (lately).

Like climbing up a hill.

Like Sisyphus.

When I get to the top (and get used to a new, lower dosage of medicines), my feet are pulled from under me again (as I start on a new challenge).

I am learning (slowly) to deal with my anxiety in natural ways (rather than with drugs).

Suffice it to say that this is VERY FUCKING HARD (for me).

In some respects, I am already back to an engagement with the world which I haven’t had in seven years.

Indeed, I have rolled my medicines back (under psychological supervision) to a level I last “mastered” seven years ago.

That is SOME FUCKING ACCOMPLISHMENT! 🙂

Just a few short months ago (this dog-day summer), I was in the pits of debilitating anxiety.

My cousin died of a heart attack on July 5th.

That sent me into a tailspin.

Not too long afterwards, I myself was on heart medicine.

My dear cousin perished at age 43.

I’m 40.

It scared the fucking shit out of me.

So here we are 🙂

I hope to start a new job soon. (Yay!)

I am scared to death.

Scared I can’t handle it.

But I WANT to do it.

I WANT to handle it.

I WANT the challenge.

I had a great job interview the other day.

First time any company had bothered to listen to me in forever.

AND I WAS OFFERED A JOB! 🙂

I am just waiting on my background check to be completed.

As I have no criminal record (and no credit…neither good nor bad), I don’t see how a fair company could preclude my employment.

But life offers no promises.

I speak my mind.

A bit too freely, perhaps.

And I am not anonymous.

Sometimes I wish I were.

But I am flying out in the fucking wind.

I am not a secret.

My pen name is strictly that.

I am not hiding behind it.

It was my stage name.

I earned it.

I toured the world as Pauly Deathwish.

And so it seemed only natural that my film critic persona take the baton from my musician self.

Indeed.

Music.

I have been making it again.

Playing open mics.

Trying to get my drug-addled brain to MEMORIZE songs.

[ugh…]

Was never my strong suit.

But I’ve gotten (more or less) a couple of tunes under my belt.

And being a middle-aged geezer, I don’t feel too bad showing up with a music stand and some extra lyrics for songs which I haven’t quite set to memory yet.

Music.

Music is what’s at issue here.

The Blues Brothers.

A beautiful film.

I have lived this film.

I have fucking lived these roads.

I’ve played just about every possible analogous shithole to Bob’s Country Bunker.

Believe me.

I have been in the disgruntled band 🙂

As close to chicken wire as imaginable…

Which drags me back to topic.

This is a really fucking good film.

And I am cursing like a sailor.

For my conservative, proper readers, I do apologize.

It is a defect in my personality.

I feel it necessary that I curse.

Otherwise, I don’t feel I am getting my point across.

Because what I am expressing is a very pithy matter.

Life.

The grunge and grit of life.

Every word is in lieu of weeping.

Experiences so pungent as to suck all fight out of a person.

That is what I have lived.

And it is that to which I bear witness.

I am not thinking real clearly, but I am thinking (and writing) a lot clearer than I was a month ago.

I am on the good drugs now 🙂

Tylenol, Advil…

I have been fighting through multiple addictions.

Things which I didn’t see as addictions.

And life is coming back into focus.

And THAT IS TERRIFYING…

But also EXHILARATING!!!

But mostly terrifying 🙂

So here we are.

A movie.

On a mission from God.

Sinners.

Redeemed.

Walking with the Lord.

I ask, here, that God grant me mercy.

I’m just as fucked up as anyone.

But I ask for the grace of Jesus.

And I ask for strength to do the right things.

To help people.

To not be afraid.

I am living through the spiritual battle.

May God protect me.

Yes.

I have seen the light.

And I weep.  Jesus wept.

Too.

I’ve been through so much shit.

And I feel like maybe I am finally emerging from the “dead mall” of limbo.

Like Jake and Elwood crashing out of the JCPenney in 1980 🙂

I want to exist in that flophouse minute.

Buttered toast on a coat-hanger over a hotplate.

And a 78 rpm Decca blues record spins and the elevated lines churn by endlessly.

I want to live in that moment.

Brings us back to the Danish concept of hygge [coziness].

John Landis nails it in the scene where Jake is drinking Night Train wine and Elwood is making toast.

Very close to what Roberto Benigni would do 17 years later in the Schopenhauer scene of La vita è bella.

Those scenes from films…

Those scenes in which we want to live.

They never get old.

They never cease to comfort.

That somewhere in this fucked-up world is a little closet we can call home.

Barely big enough to open the door.

Just a bed.

Basically.

But it’s our little space.

Carrie Fisher tries all manner of destruction in this film 🙂

Even a flame thrower!

But Jake and Elwood keep getting up.

Just some rubble.

Just keep dusting off those black suits.

“Maybe CIA”, says Aretha Franklin (like the key to Dylan’s Tarantula).

Keep climbing from ‘neath those bricks.

Gotta make it seem real.

Maybe use real bricks.

Better to be the first man up.

Let’s get this in one take.

Hit on the head too many times with a brick…

Because there are private pressings on vinyl of American acts that went no further than their local Holiday Inn.

It is almost a fabled purgatory.

Red-shag.

Very Charlottesville with the car and the cartoonish Nazis.

But I just wanna hear me some more John Lee Hooker.

Electrify.

My evenings.

I got the blues.

Days of Delta slide…feathery as an aeolian harp.

And nights of thin, wild mercury.

Just like in the movies…

Get a record contract backstage.

You could wait your whole life.

Carrie Fisher goes full-automatic.

And most of this film takes place in the hellhole of Chicago (but nearly 40 years ago).

Hey…I’m not much for car chases, but this film does something real special with the device.

Exhilarating.  x2

That’s where they have that Picasso, right?

And perhaps it will be notable that Spielberg is the Cook County Tax Assessor clerk?

We shall see.

 

-PD

National Lampoon’s Animal House [1978)

As far as I can tell, I have finished my MBA in management.

Two years of extreme work ended yesterday.

And now I am left to ponder just what the hell I did.

Unlike Mr. Blutarsky (0.0 grade point average), I maintained a 4.00 GPA for my entire graduate studies program.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a film like this.

This is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

If you’re not in the right mood, it might turn you off.

But there are plenty of laughs to be had in this classic.

Tom Hulce has a decent shot to join a top-flight fraternity.

His roomie, Stephen Furst is a bit portly and socially daft.

But as in the best college movies, we discover a place for outcasts.

That particular place in this film is the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house.

The 1970s were different.

It was still a joke that the ethnic minorities were segregated into a room at rush parties…along with the blind…and honky dweebs like Hulce (and especially Furst).

It was not a politically correct atmosphere.

It was irreverent.

But the real star in the early going (and throughout much of the film) is Karen Allen.

What a beauty!

James Daughton was briefly in another film we reviewed recently:  Spies Like Us.

Yes, dear friends…this is another John Landis success.

And so Landis seemed to have a sort of pool (including Daughton) from which he was pulling.

Mark Metcalf is appropriately hatable as the Army ROTC officer who makes life miserable for Furst.

But the real inspiration…the spark of genius…is John Belushi as Bluto.

“…when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor”

Exactly.

Also integral is an actor born right here in my hometown:  Bruce McGill (as D-Day).

Plenty of togas.

Lots of beer.  “It don’t cost nuthin’.”

These guys know how to have fun.

And Sarah Holcomb is great.

[Oops…she’s 13?!?]

The film enters “on the road” territory when some of the Deltas visit Emily Dickinson College.

It really is a pretty hilarious bit!

Tim Matheson is the master of strategy for this scraggly band of losers.

I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen this, but Donald Sutherland is really excellent as the professor attempting to interest nonplussed undergrads in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

And so, with that…I’m back!

I hope to get back to reading all of your excellent blogs.

And thank you so much for supporting me even when I was swamped with schoolwork.

🙂

-PD

Spies Like Us [1985)

Hulu lost me.

Hello Netflix.

Hulu is like an inept intelligence agency.

They had the goods.

The Criterion Collection.

But as that oeuvre was surreptitiously phased out, Hulu was unable to offer any value whatsoever to the thinking person.

And so perhaps it is ironic that my Netflix relationship (no chilling here) starts with a spy spoof of sorts, but make no mistake (as the woeful Barack Obama is wont to say):  this is a very intelligent film.

It was a childhood favorite of mine.

Perhaps I was a strange child.

[no doubt]

But we all want to be James Bond to a certain extent, right?

Details disappear.

Even Putin had his cinema heroes.

Consider the film Щит и меч from 1968.

iMDB seems to fill in where Wikipedia fails.

Because these details tell so much.

To know one’s opponent.

But Vladimir Putin is not our opponent.

As long as our election stands.

Perhaps the answer is Stanislav Lyubshin.

Or was it Oleg Yankovsky?

The real answer is comedy.

Even spies need a laugh.

Spies are humans too.

Spy lives matter.

And so we get the provenance of the Pentagon basement meme.

A favorite of mine.

And this film.

Integral to who I am.

I had a cousin who worked in the Pentagon.

I don’t think she worked in the basement 🙂

But God rest her soul.

She is no longer with us.

And she was the most kind lady perhaps I ever knew.

She served her country.

I believe she did something in the health care field for veterans.

But yes…I identify extensively with Austin Millbarge.

In my own way.

Dan Aykroyd is stellar here as Mr. Millbarge.

And then there’s Emmett Fitz-Hume.

Chevy Chase is at his best in this film as Mr. Fitz-Hume.

Frank Oz is classic in his role as a test monitor.

Yes, Yoda and Miss Piggy were the same person.

How’s that for a mind fuck?

For young know-nothings like myself, this was a likely first exposure to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

And it speaks volumes that the DIA “recently” fielded its own band of covert operatives (in direct competition with the CIA).

There is, it seems, a palpable mistrust between the CIA and the U.S. military.

Different cultures.  Actually, a class difference.

[Not to get all Marx here…]

But it’s real.

I can’t define the parameters other than those intuitive, nebulous sentiments just expressed.

It is (very) interesting to note that Dan Aykroyd’s wife Donna Dixon, who stars in this film, was born in Alexandria, Virginia…

Hmmm…

NoVA.

We get Pamir Mountains.

We get Tajikistan.

But before that, we get Pakistan…and Budweiser…and Old El Paso tortilla chips.

And the intel cutout Ace Tomato Co.

And while we’re on the subject of failed businesses (Hulu), we should note that we definitely shan’t be accepting Indra Nooyi’s invitation (“Why don’t you gentlemen have a Pepsi?”) any time soon.

No…we’d much prefer to look at B.B. King’s Jheri curl blowing in the Nevada breeze…or watch Bob Hope “play through” on the Road to Bali.

But let us get back to that old enigmatic chestnut of our youth:  the road to Dushanbe.

“It’s…’Soul Finger’…by…The Bar-Kays.”

“They must be having trouble getting gigs.”

God damn…best line ever!

“Doctor.  Doctor.  Doctor.  Doctor.  Aaaaand Doctor.  Did we miss anyone?”

So many lines in this film which hit just the right mark.

Rarely do I write about screenwriters (it’s the auteur theorist in me), but Dan Aykroyd and his cowriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo (!) Mandel deserve major credit for the quality of Spies Like Us.

And yet, the direction of John Landis is fabulous as well!

Landis is no slouch.

I’ve previously written about the timelessness of Trading Places.

And I am sticking with that assessment.

But let’s take a break here…

Is there anything more lovely than seeing Vanessa Angel emerge from that tent?

Well, at least we get the cultural edification of some Lithuanian dancing to a boombox blasting Stax/Volt goodness around a Stolichnaya campfire 🙂

Back to the essential stand-down aspect of the false flag/stand down.

And for this we will always be indebted to Dr. Steve Pieczenik (and to a far lesser extent Roberta Wohlstetter).

We again refer to the FBI’s 1989 raid of Rocky Flats and the heavily-armed DoE agents guarding that facility.

Perhaps some U.S. Army Rangers are in Michael Chertoff’s not-too-distant future (to name but one grand conspirator).

“Ohh…I’m sorry Paul Wolfowitz!  The correct answer is ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’!!!”

 

-PD

 

 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles [1987)

When I was a kid, this was a big family favorite.

It was one of those rare times when profanity got a pass.

That second time Steve Martin goes off…on Edie McClurg (the rental car lady).

But even funnier is the first time Martin pops off…in the Braidwood Motel in Wichita, Kansas…and John Candy just takes it.

Yes, there are some priceless moments in this film.

In some ways, this film defined an era.

Trading Places was an early-decade success (1983) for John Landis.

And then Walter Hill succeeded with a similar type of story, treated in his inimitable way, in 1985 (Brewster’s Millions).

But by 1987 the decade needed summation…and this particular genre which transcended classification needed a testament.

This is that film.

Funny enough, this was the same year the Coen brothers really started hitting ’em out of the park (Raising Arizona).  That film also is a veritable classic, but it is forward-looking.  It is almost like comedy in the hands of a David Lynch.

John Hughes was seemingly retrospective with Planes, Trains and Automobiles…like the J.S. Bach of the 1980s…summing up a decade of dirigist American comedy.

Hughes had a lot of career left to go in 1987, but this was a sort of highpoint…especially if considering only his directorial efforts.

Sure…Hughes was more counterculture earlier in the decade, but he wasn’t above putting his heart into a morality play like this one.

But to paint this film as a vanilla affair is not really accurate.

Consider Steve Martin’s yuppie character…a “marketing” professional on a business trip to New York from Chicago.

Martin’s character represents everything that was wrong with America in the 1980s.

Sadly, Neal Page (Martin) represents the problem which persists in America today.

Perhaps Isidore Isou’s famous class distinction fits here.

Neal Page, marketing professional, is an intern (as opposed to externe)…a cog in the wheel of production.

The Neal Pages of today would learn their marketing from an abomination such as Marian Burk Wood’s The Marketing Plan Handbook.

The Neal Pages of corporate America read a Wood phrase such as, “For the purposes of developing a marketing plan, advertising’s two basic decisions concern the message (what content will be communicated) and the media…,” without ever thinking Marshall McLuhan.

A savvy seller of used books might file The World is Flat in “Sociology” (in addition to the more strictly-applicable “Business”) in an effort to unload what must surely be one of the most overprinted books of recent memory.

But what bookseller ever thinks to place Understanding Media:  The Extensions of Man (1964) in the “Business” section…or in the Marketing/Advertising “disciplines”?

Marketers, no doubt, would have a glib answer.

But marketers rarely know more than their insular, myopic areas of pseudo-specialty.

The “right” answer…the culturally literate answer…the answer Marian Burk Wood was either too dumb to include…or too convinced that her dumbed-down readers would not get…is McLuhan’s:

“…the medium is the message.”

The first sentence of the fucking book!

Chapter 1 (also, conveniently titled, The Medium Is The Message):

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.”

But the character Neal Page wouldn’t have known that…and that’s why he gets “schooled” in business by the portly, genuine Del Griffith (John Candy).

Of course, Candy’s character wouldn’t have known this either…but at least he wouldn’t have been a venal, meretricious, entitled prick like Neal Page.

And so Neal Page didn’t really go the extra mile in business school…  He just took all the bullshit shoveled down his throat as gospel truth.

Therefore, Page wouldn’t have known this gem either…a parallel to McCluhan from just three years later (1967).

Again, the first fucking sentence of the book:

“The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.  All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

Ok, so I gave him two sentences.  Those are the words of Guy Debord from his masterpiece La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) [translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith].

Notice the similarities to McCluhan.

But, of course, Debord was referencing the big daddy of them all:

“The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’…”

Karl Marx.  Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1867).  Translated by Ben Fowkes.

And so today’s marketing professionals are either brain-dead (thanks to authors like Wood) or craven cynics thanks to equally worthless authors such as Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller.

These last two have contributed a tome to the pseudo-discipline of “marketing” entitled A Framework for Marketing Management.

If anything has ever called for the revocation of tenure, it is the appalling lack of intellectual curiosity these two professors (from Northwestern and Dartmouth, respectively) show over the course of their overpriced bible for aspiring C-level automata.

Consider their statement, “…make low-profit customers more profitable or terminate them.”  Now do you see why America has problems?

And again, “Spend proportionately more effort on the most valuable customers.”

Thank God for the Del Griffiths of this world.

People are not statistics to be terminated.

God bless John Candy and John Hughes for poignantly reminding us of the only true value in life.

Relationships.

Not to be “leveraged”.

Just people.

Plain and simple.

As Del Griffith says, “What you see is what you get.”

Genuine.

THAT’S the marketing of the future!

And it can’t be contrived…

 

-PD

 

 

Trading Places [1983)

At one point in my life I could honestly say that everything I knew about business I had learned from the movie Trading Places.

This film came on TV all the time when I was a kid.

And it never failed to pull me in.

But back to business…it’s that one scene:

coffee, wheat, pork bellies, gold, and (of course) orange juice.

Ok, so I mixed up the order a little bit.

But that’s the “breakfast” of commodities which sits before Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) as he is given a crash course in commodities trading by the Duke brothers (Randolph and Mortimer).

It always made a big impression on me…pork bellies.

And now as I descend from the halfway point of my MBA studies this film carries a richer meaning for me.

The gorilla comes with a bill of lading.

That’s not the type of stuff you catch as a six-year-old.

And I must admit that this film is all the funnier when the expletives are put back in.

And the nudity.

Yes, it was usually the sanitized version we saw on TV.

But maybe sometimes…on a special channel…the real version.

At any rate, this is truly an American classic.

Not least because it was produced by a true American hero like Aaron Russo.

Why do I call him a hero?

Because he stood up for something worth standing up for.

It’s no wonder.

Watching this film.

The agog camera views of the World Trade Center.

But let’s stick to the teaching tool at hand.

Trading Places was just that:  a beautiful teaching tool.

In some ways, therefore, it is aiming at the same thing as Le Gai Savoir.

The particular argument at issue is the famous “nature vs. nurture” debate.

Perhaps my attempt to connect John Landis’ wonderful film to Godard is a bit of a reach, but there is real, American beauty at work here.

Consider, for instance, the opening montage of Philadelphia streets set to W.A. Mozart’s overture from the opera Le Nozze di Figaro.

Notice, if you will, the African-Americans playing basketball with a plastic milk crate attached to a piece of plywood…on a telephone pole.

There are some loving politics at work here.

What we have is a film about unity.  Dan Aykroyd.  Eddie Murphy.  Black and white.

There was a positivity to many American comedies of the 1980s.

I remember hearing “feel-good” used as a descriptor for movies (particularly summertime offerings) more than I care to remember.

But they were “feel-good”.

Trading Places, however, is more than just a feel-good film.

It is a film with a conscience.

That’s what makes it timeless.

I’d like to imagine that Aaron Russo’s conscience was already ticking…ticking.

It wasn’t until later that he made truly political films.

I don’t want to attempt a more profound framing than this thing deserves [too late].

Suffice it to say that Trading Places is as applicable today as it was in 1983.

We may no longer bandy-about the word “yuppies”, but we still have Wall Street.

Perhaps the trading pits and quote boards look hopelessly antiquated now.

But so much transfers.

Exeter.  Harvard.  Winthorpe.

And, of course, kindness transfers.  Jamie Lee Curtis.

So there you have it.

Trading Places is acerbic criticism on race in America.  Racism.  Opportunity.

Eddie Murphy will have you laughing your ass off.

This is truly an indispensable bit of 80s comedy…and so much more.

 

-PD