Time Traveling with TCM

As the 2020 presidential election looms like a giant sword swinging over our collective heads, it’s difficult to know what to do.

Turn off and there’s the guilt, or eventual guilt, over whistling past the graveyard of American democracy.

Turn on and there’s the endless anger and non-stop memes (or worse) that pits US against THEM and saps whatever energy is left for I.

I’m with you Steph

What that leaves each of us with right now is individual choice, a sure sign that American democracy is not dead…yet.

That was reassuring for half the weekend because I, for one, scheduled a relaxing few days at home lying around, reading and catching up on the 75% of programming saved on the DVR that needs to be erased…at some point.

But then I turned on Turner Classic Movies

That seemed like a good idea because this month TCM is featuring 31 Days of Oscar.  What this means is that until March 2 every film scheduled on the network is a nominee or winner of Hollywood’s top prize.

Also featured: Ben Mankiewicz and his lush, thick hair #notjealous #veryjealous

For those of us worn out from the politics of it all popping up on the news, in social media and as a part of even the most generalized pop culture memes everywhere, that provides a virtual luxury vacation of escape.

You can ostensibly tune in at any time and be pretty sure you’ll have an all expenses paid trip of at least two hours into an alternate story reality much more preferable and a lot less toxic than the one we all currently reside in.

Ok Rhett… let’s say sometimes  just AS toxic

And I’m not just writing this because my dear friend, Pola Changnon, a fellow movie lover, was recently and very deservedly named general manager of the whole damned network several weeks ago.

Though partly I am.

Damn right!

At our celebratory dinner I couldn’t help but gush a little to her at how, in these trying times, it was such a relief to tune in TCM and, suddenly, get lured into a non-2020 narrative where there is no Twitter and usually not much in the way of anything Orange employed onscreen.

Even though any number of the films on TCM might be available to rent and/or purchase, somehow, when you think of doing that, you instantly say to yourself, I don’t have time to watch this!

But when they suddenly appear on Channel 256 (in LA of course) on your TV or screen of choice and you get hooked, hey, no one can blame you!

Margo’s got the right idea

To do so would be like getting down on someone for eating a slice of that already half eaten chocolate cake left out on the counter or helping yourself to a single drink at an open bar at anyone’s yearly holiday party and being met with a nasty stare by the “Church Lady.”

You’re entitled.  We’re all entitled.

But here’s the thing about escape.  Wherever you are, there you are.

At least that’s how it felt to me watching the classic, Oscar nominated movie, The Third Man on TCM this past Saturday afternoon.

* not directed by Welles

Foolishly thinking a 1949 film noir with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles that I somehow had managed not to have ever seen all the way through could free me from the T***P era what I discovered was… um… NOanything but.

Based on a Graham Greene novella The Third Man is brilliantly photographed and edited, has a great twist and turn story, terrific acting and innovative directing, AND an unforgettable score.

It is also a perfect evocation of the moral dilemma we all face in the, okay let’s say it now, Trump Era.

AH!! DON’T SAY IT!!

Rather than transport us away into post World War II Vienna (Note: Though it literally does) it more effectively brings us right back to the question of 21st century individual choice.

That is to say, how to confront moral decay and, yeah, pure evil when we see it.

– The Third Man doesn’t have children in cages as a result of the whims of a powerful man but instead shows us kids locked in a hospital, dying of (Note: Okay, no spoilers here) because of the actions of a brilliantly clever (Note: Evil?) genius with no moral compass.

– The Third Man isn’t about an election and the loss of the rule of law but instead is about one writer/investigator challenged to make a defining moral choice in a sea of contradictory and sometimes but not ultimately confusing facts.

Figuring out the light from dark (bonus cool lighting)

 – The Third Man doesn’t have raging arguments between longtime neighbors and family members about right vs. wrong but it does ask us to consider whether our most loyal bestie from childhood can be good and evil at the same time and calmly consider how every one of OUR actions – past, present and future — has and will affect not just ourselves but the rest of the world as we know it.

Not bad for a half century plus old black and white feature where everyone but the American writer played by Joseph Cotten speaks with an accent, the Twitter-sphere didn’t exist and no mention at all is made of democracy, elections or the rise of the socialist left and/or the dictatorial repressive right.

But it does have Ferris Wheels!

A great classic movie is a little like a vintage piece of clothing you hold on to over the years.   As norms change you know that in a pinch it will perfectly fit some occasion, event of even era you are suddenly faced with.

It’s comforting, it’s clarifying but at the same time it also makes you think, sometimes of all sorts of things you might want to forget.

Or should remember.

That’s saying a lot for the days we’ve been living through and have yet to go through.

Anton Karas – Theme from The Third Man

Oscars So RIGHT

How is it that after 92 years the Oscars finally came up with both a telecast and a list of winners to be proud of?

Hitting the right notes, literally, for just about everything, the 2020 Oscars will probably be best remembered as the first time in history a foreign… ahem… INTERNATIONAL film won best picture.

Show tagline: PARASITE, NO HOST

Not only that, Parasite writer-director Bong Joon-ho took home THREE more Oscars for best director, best screenplay and best international (formerly foreign) film.

The hottest name in Hollywood!

And it was only a mere five decades ago when another Oscar winning writer-director, Billy Wilder, famously quipped to his cameraman:

Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.

That Parasite managed to touch the hearts and souls of a majority of Oscar voters is not in doubt. But what also seems clear is that the choice of a non-American film about economic inequality as the Motion Picture Academy members’ big winner was a very clear and very present way for voters to send out another message to the world. And that message is:

2020 America, and Americans, are NOT living in a bubble or behind a WALL. We are not isolationists who want to disengage with you. We, in fact, do get IT, even if it doesn’t always seem that way these days So don’t give up on us…yet.

I’m paraphrasing, of course.

In fact, I might be reaching or making this up out of whole cloth. Though truly, I don’t think so.

How I will try to think of 2019 in America

Hollywood might not literally speak for all 327 million people living in the U.S. but as an industry it is one of its chief representatives to the rest of the world. American movies reflect America to international audiences and what the Oscars choose to represent as the best of the best carries that weight.

Taken in that light the major category victories for Parasite were no small thing. No, they certainly don’t change the state of the world but, at the same time, they proclaim that things aren’t staying stagnant. If the same staid Academy that made the safe choice of Green Book as last year’s best picture is now doing a full 360 and saying a South Korean film dealing with class warfare is the gold standard, well, who knows what else is in store from any number of American industries looking to project some message to the outside of who we really are.

Don’t ever look back!

Oh yes, hope springs eternal. But then again, why not?

This message of change, or perhaps inclusion was reflected all throughout the Oscar telecast on Sunday night.

Singer-songwriter-performer extraordinaire Janelle Monae had Oscar’s best musical opening in history as she went from mock Mister Rogers garb to full blown, self-proclaimed, queer Black artist singing revamped lyrics to her 2010 tune Come Alive. Sashaying her way through a panoply of back up dancers and celebrities, she actually managed to make the Academy Awards seem hip and happening for the first time in…..well….EVER.

At one point THIS happened

But that was only one of a string of ingenious, nostalgic and just plain awe inspiring musical moments.

We had Idina Menzel belting a Disney song along with belters from more than a dozen countries in THEIR native languages.

Then there was Eminem appearing seemingly out of nowhere to rap his 2003 Oscar winning song Lose Yourself with some updated lyrics evoking the era of Trump.

OK so the song is as old as Billie Eilish, so what?

Soon Elton John was pounding on his red piano and singing the soon-to-be Oscar winning song he co-wrote with longtime lyricist partner Bernie Taupin for their autobiographical film Rocketman.

That followed twice nominated Cynthia Erivo also bringing the house down with her inspirational ballad Stand Up from her film about abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Harriet. 

And her dress was PERFECTION #QueenCynthia #EGOTiscoming

Then, as a capper, we got a haunting version of the Beatles’ Yesterday sung by this year’s multi-Grammy winner, 18-year-old Billie Eilish, in memory of the many film artists we lost this past year.

And amid all of that was this quite subversive high comic moment of the evening:

Rebel Wilson and James Corden entering in the crazy train makeup and costumes from their 2019 film disaster, Cats, to give this simple introduction to the award they were tasked to present:

As cast members of the motion picture CATS nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects.

Proving it’s never to soon…

Certainly one could gripe about a few misfired jokes from various presenters or any number of times when any one of us knew the wrong person, or people, were standing center stage with an Oscar in their hands that we felt belonged to someone else.

Still, it is difficult to argue with what most of those who did win were trying to say in their acceptance speeches.

They rambled, but we stuck with them

Aside from thanking their immediate families, or their teams, or their friends or cast mates, almost every major speech felt like a sincere outreach to an international audience for us all to find some way come together rather than to continue to be pulled apart by the circumstances of our times.

While the ceremony theoretically honors the art and craft of film, this year’s Oscars somehow felt more like a hand extending far beyond Hollywood and the borders of the U.S. towards the rest of the world in solidarity.

PLUS This is now Oscar-winning, so really, all is right with the world

Though on second thought, perhaps it’s more like a cry from those of us within to everyone watching on the outside for…help?

Janelle Monae – Oscars 2020 Opening