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- 11/04/17--19:27: Is That a Susquehanna Hat?
- 11/05/17--11:20: It's Not Your Father's Fairytales
- 11/05/17--13:14: Max Linder and André Deed: The First Comedy Team of the Cinema
- 12/13/17--07:30: Richard Pryor in Hollywood
- 12/13/17--07:36: The Best Film I Saw Recently/ The Worst Film I Saw Recently
- 12/13/17--08:17: Tidbits of December, 2017
- 12/13/17--10:46: The Shape of Guillermo del Toro
- 04/28/18--17:15: The Spencer Bell Misidentification Syndrome
- 04/28/18--17:46: Slap Happy
- 04/28/18--18:13: Silent Comedian Portraits
- 04/28/18--18:30: The Mirror Routine at The Circus
- 04/28/18--20:20: Tidbits for April 2018
- 04/28/18--20:41: Hollywood Loves Guns
- 04/28/18--22:47: The Worst Year in Oscar History
- 06/26/18--11:00: Lloyd Hamilton: Remastered and Remarkable
- 06/26/18--13:07: Tidbits for June, 2018
Billy West is a legend among silent comedy fans for his astonishingly accurate impersonation of Charlie Chaplin, which he performed in dozens of clever and fast-paced short comedies from 1916 to 1920. Exhibitors who were unable to pay the high rental rates for the latest Chaplin comedy were content to book the latest West comedy. It was reported by The Film Daily (April 4, 1920): "There are numerous fans, particularly among those who patronize the moderate-sized and smaller houses, who are willing to accept the West productions and find them laughable." Some patrons may have preferred West's simple, good-natured comedies to the increasingly sophisticated comedies that Chaplin was producing. It is comparable to Beatles fans flocking to the Bee Gees after the Beatles got fancy with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Still, it must be noted that West's comedies also received bookings in large metropolitan theatres. For instance, The Orderly played in major Loew's theaters throughout New York City. The exhibitors in major cities were big promoters of West. Harry C. Miller, the manager of the Boston Theatre, offered positive words about The Orderly to Motography (April 20, 1918). He wrote: "It has come to pass that you can hardly tell Billy from Charlie, and he seems to go over practically as strong, considering that he is not so well known. He is gaining popularity and with a few original pictures, I believe he is made." Similar praise of the film came from Charles H. Ryan, manager of Chicago's Garfield Theatre. Ryan wrote, "Our patrons like Billy West and we are not missing the Chaplin comedies since we have started these. This one gets many laughs."
Kalton C. Lahue and Sam Gill considered the appeal of West in their classic silent comedy study "Clown Princes and Court Jesters." They wrote:
Billy's tramp was another dimension of Charlie's. Where Chaplin's little fellow exhibited a tendency towards cynicism, tempered with a degree of hopeful optimism (which was always badly bent by the fade out), Billy's tramp was the cheerful optimism who is treated pretty decently by faith. Most of his problems came about as a result of his own carefree ineptitude.
In my last "Tidbits" article, I posted a screen capture from an unidentified West comedy. It was my guess that the film was The Villain or The Millionaire. It was a process of elimination. I had never come across this scene in the West comedies that I had seen, so I was able immediately eliminate those films from consideration. I turned up plot summaries for other films in trade magazines. This allowed me to eliminate many more films. For instance, I found this plot summary for The Slave in Motography.
The plot summary begins, "Billy is a slave in the palace of the Sultan of Bacteria." The frame captures present no evidence of a sultan, a palace, slaves, or harem girls. This obviously was not the right film.
Still, my guess was not a good one. Steve Massa informed me that he has seen both The Villain and The Millionaire and neither film contains the scene depicted in the screen captures.
The problem was that I focused my attention on the films that West made for King-Bee and Bull's Eye. It seemed at the time to be a reasonable strategy. The most obvious clue to take from the screen captures is that West is made up to look like Chaplin. It was in the King-Bee and Bull's Eye series that the comedian made a habit of dressing in Chaplin's habit. As noted earlier, West is generally known to have functioned as a Chaplin imitator from 1916 to 1920, at which time he abandoned the Chaplin outfit, make-up and eccentricities for an entirely new look and personality. But could West have ever reverted to his Chaplin impersonation in one of his later series? This is what Mr. Massa suggests in his own speculation on the matter. He pointed out that, from the screen captures, it looks as if West is attempting to copy Chaplin's The Idle Class. It isn't hard to see a resemblance. The Idle Class features Chaplin in dual roles - the tramp character and a wealthy man. The climax of The Idle Class is set at a masquerade ball, which is also the setting of the West scene in question. The costumes that West wore for the scene are even similar to the costumes that Chaplin wore for The Idle Class. But The Idle Class wasn't released until September 25, 1921. West doing his own take on The Idle Class would mean that the comedian departed from his 1920's character and, for at least this one time, made a forthright comeback as the world's greatest Chaplin impersonator. It's a shame no one in the press took notice.
I worked hard to identify this film from the screen captures. I went as far as assembling my own Billy West filmography. But associating these images to a specific film is made difficult by the fact that few of West's post-1920 films survive. It is usually possible when investigating a lost film to look to old trade magazines for production information, plot details and critical assessment. But the films that West made during this period generally received little coverage in trade magazines.
What about identifying the film from other cast members? The only other actor in the frames that I could identify was the leading lady, Ethelyn Gibson. Gibson, who was married to West, was the comedian's leading lady from 1917 to 1926. The actress managed during that time to appear in most of the comedian's films. This didn't help me to narrow my search at all.
|Billy West and Ethelyn Gibson|
I will at least share my West filmography. This should not be taken as an authoritative work. It was something that I put together in a few days.
West started out performing his Chaplin act in vaudeville. The act, billed as "Is He Chaplin?", played at major vaudeville houses throughout the country.
Thomas Saxe was a co-owner of Saxe Amusement Enterprises, a palatial theatre chain in Wisconsin. In 1915, Saxe booked West at his Crystal Theater in Milwaukee.
A news item from The Moving Picture World (July 3, 1915, p. 92) indicates that Saxe was so impressed with the comedian that he ventured into film production to bring the "Is He Chaplin?" act to motion pictures.
Saxe was later a co-founder of First National Pictures, but I could find no evidence that the theatre chain owner became involved in film production as early as 1915. More important, I could find no evidence of the films that West was reported to have made in Milwaukee.
The first West films on record were produced by Unicorn Film Service.
Unicorn Film Service (1916)
His Married Life (December 1, 1916)
Bombs and Boarders (1916)
His Waiting Career (1916)
King-Bee Film Corporation (1917 to 1918)
Unicorn Film Service sold West's contract to King-Bee Film Corporation during a bankruptcy liquidation.
Back Stage (May 15, 1917) (A print is held at Nederlands Filmmuseum)
The Hero (June 1, 1917)
Dough Nuts (June 15, 1916)
Cupid's Rival (July 1, 1917)
The Villain (July 15, 1917)
The Millionaire (August 1, 1917) (Nederlands Filmmuseum)
The Goat (August 15, 1917)
The Fly Cop (September 15, 1917)
The Chief Cook (October 1, 1917)
The Candy Kid (October 15, 1917)
The Hobo (November 1, 1917)
The Freeloader (working title: The Pest) (November 15, 1917)
The Band Master (December 1, 1917)
The Slave (December 15, 1917)
The Stranger (working title: The Prospector) (January 1, 1918)
His Day Out (working title: The Barber) (January 15, 1918)
The Rogue (February 15, 1918)
The Orderly (March 1, 1918)
The Scholar (March 15, 1918)
The Messenger (April 1, 1918)
The Handy Man (May 1, 1918)
Bright and Early (May 15, 1918)
The Straight and Narrow (June 1, 1918)
Playmates (July 1, 1918)
Beauties in Distress (working title: The King of the Volcano) (July 15, 1918)
West's King-Bee films were often gag-driven. Let us take, for instance, The Orderly, in which West plays an orderly at the Peace and Quiet Sanitarium. Here is a description of the plot provided by Moving Picture World:
In The Orderly the action takes place in a sanitarium, and Billy is cast as a disorderly orderly. He indulges in such pranks as putting a bulldog in a patient's bed in place of a hot water bottle; scrubbing the floor by attaching brushes to his feet; placing ice in another patient's bed to reduce his temperature, and giving still another patient a foot bath under somewhat embarrassing circumstances.The Scholar, which features West as a student, has a schoolroom setting. The Chicago Board of Censors required the removal of a scenes that show the following: a man pulling a pincushion from his posterior, the silhouette of girl undressing, West striking a boy with slingshot in posterior as the boy bends over, a man's underwear exposed through his torn trousers, and a fat man exposing underwear as he falls to the ground. This does not suggest subtle humor.
West eventually followed Chaplin's lead in making room in his films for pathos. He is sympathetic in The Straight and Narrow, which involves an ex-convict pressured by an old cellmate to participate in a safecracking scheme.
Here is a detailed synopsis for The Stranger provided by Moving Picture World:
After a luckless prospecting trip, Billy starts homeward across the desert, mounted on his little burro with his pick, shovel and pack strapped up behind him. Finally he comes in sight of Red Dog Gulch and, hungry and thirsty, he pushes on toward the city. Susie is the daughter of the town drunkard. She starts out on her horse for a little ride, and a little way from town is attacked by Pedro and Little Casino, two Mexicans, who try to steal her horse. Billy happens along, runs the Mexicans off and takes Susie back to town.It is obvious that West modeled this film on Chaplin's The Tramp (1915), which contains many of the same plot elements. Still, it is an unusually complex and well-developed story for a two-reel slapstick comedy. West breaking into the pawnshop to feed his burro likely left a lump in the throat of many viewers.
Arriving in town, Billy's first thought is for food. Being without a cent, he hocks the burro in the local pawnshop and goes at once to the restaurant, where he orders a large feed. In the midst of his dinner, he remembers the burro, and knowing that he must be hungry, too, Billy gathers the rest of his dinner and goes to feed his little pal. The pawnshop is closed for the night, and Billy breaks in a window and feeds the burro. He is discovered by the pawnbroker and arrested for burglary, though with Susie to vouch for him, the court soon releases him.
Billy then wanders into the main saloon, gambling room, dance hall, where he has many exciting adventures with the roulette wheels with a dance-hall vampire and with the local bad man. He finally gets into such a mess that he is forced to run for his life. He breaks into the pawnshop again and steals his burro out to escape on. Then with most of the town in pursuit, he starts out across the desert.
Meanwhile, Oliver, who is the owner of the saloon, has been making love to Susie, who resents it and will have nothing to do with him. Oliver then engages Pedro and Little Casino to kidnap the girl. They do, and are just taking her to their den in the mountains when Billy, in trying to escape from the posse, blunders into them and makes the capture. The posse arrives, bent on hanging Billy, but when they find that he has rescued the pet of the town, they give him three cheers and hang the Mexicans instead. Billy then beats up Oliver for his share in the proceedings, and Susie rewards him in the best approved style.
Apart from the episodes of pathos, West was able at times to depart from pincushion-in-the-posterior humor for more clever and imaginative comic business. His Day Out contains one of my favorite West routines. West, who is posing as a barber, warmly welcomes a bearded man to sit in his chair. Like Chaplin, West is dedicated as an imposter. If he's going to be a fake barber, he's going to be the best fake barber he can be. He uses an electric razor to meticulously remove the man's unruly beard. After the man is clean shaven, West generously applies powder to the man's face and vigorously rubs tonic into his hair. To make sure the man leaves the shop looking his best, he pulls out a comb and neatly combs his hair. But the man is appallingly ungrateful, attempting to leave the shop without paying. He snidely tells West, "You can keep the hair." West, abandoning his efforts at courtesy, shoves the man back into the chair and switches the electric razor to reverse, which allows him to miraculously reapply the shorn whiskers to the man's face.
|Oliver Hardy chokes West in The Rogue (1918).|
Motion Picture News (September 22, 1917)The feature was never produced.
The King-Bee Film Corporation announces that it is considering the production of a five-reel comedy with Billy West as the star in a modern version of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," with Billy West playing the great lover.
Moving Picture World (November 10, 1917)
About January 1, Billy West will be seen in the first five-reeler made by the King-Bee company entitled King Solomon.
Motion Picture News (December 1, 1917)
King Solomon, the title of the King-Bee Comedy, featuring Billy West, now under production, has been changed to Old King Sol. This change was made by Nat I. Spitzer, sales manager of King-Bee after receipt of a letter from a London company, stating that it had the world rights to a picture under the title King Solomon. Old King Sol will be the first five-reel production made by King- Bee with Billy West featured.
Higrade Film Enterprises (1918)
In 1918, West left King-Bee for Higrade Film Enterprises. He is known to have produced three films for Higrade. The films were distributed by General Film Company.
Bunco Billy Billy (1918)
Bombs and Bull (1918)
Billy in Harness (1918)
West needed to take time off from work to recuperate from influenza. He remained bedridden from October to December.
|Mack Swain played a heavy in West's Bull's Eye series.|
|West is being arrested by Leo White in a scene from The Chauffeur (1919). It was during the making of the King-Bee series (possibly during the making of The Chauffeur) that a trick automobile collapsed on White, knocking out two of the actor's teeth.|
I am aware of three alleged West films that actually starred Mann - Flirts, Her Tender Feet and Don't Park Here. They were omitted from this list. Bull's Eye released later films under the "Billy West Comedies" banner even though West was still absent. One such film was A Scented Romance, which starred Sid Smith.
Bull's Eye Film Corporation (1919)
He's in Again (working title: A Good Day) (December 15, 1918)
Rolling Stone (January 20, 1919) (LOC)
Ship Ahoy! (February, 1919) (extant)
Her First False Hare (May 19, 1919)
Her Nitro Night (December 1, 1919)
Haunted Hearts (December 15, 1919)
The Chauffeur (1919)
Coppers and Scents (1919)
Out of Tune (1919)
The Wrong Flat (newspaper ads: January 28, 1919 and July 19, 1919)
It is not clear to me what West was doing in 1919 while his backlog of films were being rolled out to theaters. It was announced on March 30, 1920, that Reelcraft had absorbed the assets of Bull's Eye and Emerald, which included West's contract. West is not shown to be working again until he joined Reelcraft in 1920. Reelcraft promoted West's new series in an ad published in Moving Picture World on April 24, 1920. The company announced that West's new comedies were to show the comedian "as himself on his merits alone discarding the derby hat, baggy trousers, shoes and cane." In 2015, Will Sloan of Partisan Magazine wrote, "West starred in these comedies as a dapper city slicker – trimmer moustache, more stylish clothes. . . [N]o longer a Tramp clone. . ."
West's mimicry of Chaplin has never failed to enchant me. But my interest in the comedian quickly wanes whenever I watch him perform as this new character. His timing is still impeccable. His pantomime skills are still admirable. But the dapper city slicker is uninteresting.
The Strike Breaker (March, 1920)
The Masquerader (April, 1920)
Brass Buttons (April, 1920)
The Dreamer (May, 1920)
The Beauty Shop (May, 1920) (Nederlands Filmmuseum)
The Artist (June, 1920)
Hard Luck (June, 1920)
What Next? (July, 1920)
Italian Love (July, 1920) (extant)
Hands Up (August, 1920) (MoMA)
Going Straight (August, 1920) (MoMA)
Cleaning Up (LOC)
Blue Blood and Bevo
Joan Comedies (1920 to 1921)
A new West series was announced on September 25, 1920. Joan Film Sales was scheduled to release 12 comedies on a one-per-month basis starting in November. The following was reported in Moving Picture World on December 18, 1920: "In this series, Joan announces that Billy West will be seen in a different kind of role from any he has previously portrayed and that his work will also be distinctly different from that of other screen comedians. . ." I was only able to find eleven titles. The first film, Sweethearts, featured West's misadventures in a Chinese den, which was far from an original premise.
Sweethearts (November, 1920)
Service Stripes (December, 1921)
He's In Again (January, 1921) (Nederlands Filmmuseum)
The Conquering Hero (February, 1921)
Best Man Wins (March, 1921)
He Loves Her Still (April, 1921)
Why Marry? (May 1921)
Happy Days (June, 1921)
Italian Love (August, 1921?)
The Darn Fool (October, 1921?)
The Sap (1921)
Sunrise Comedies (1922)
On March 15, 1922, C. B. C. Film Sales announced yet another new series of West comedies. The company was scheduled to release 26 comedies on a biweekly basis. The series was originally set to be called Sunbeam Comedies, but the name was later changed to Sunrise Comedies. The series was produced by Harry Cohn and directed by Malcolm St. Clair. I could only locate four titles in the series. It is possible that there are more titles, but it is certain that the series ended far earlier than planned.
Don't Be Foolish (1922)
You'd Be Surprised (1922)
Wedding Dumbbells (1922)
I'm Here (1922)
Don't Be Foolish is a minor classic of carefully thought-out sequences and sight gags, smoothly blended together and moving to a climax at a rapid pace. Billy West was one of those few screen comics who believed that standing around doing nothing was just padding and Don't Be Foolish is certainly example of moving screen comedy.
Smart Films (1922)
West entered into an agreement to make a series of films for Smart Films. Arvid E. Gillstrom supervised production, which began in the fall of 1922. The first film completed production in November and a second film went into production but may not have been completed.
Why Worry? (1922)
It's Going to Be a Coal Winter (1922)
Why Worry? involves West visiting a garage and falling in love with the owner's daughter. This makes him an enemy of the chief mechanic, who is also is interested in the young lady. Lillian Gale of Motion Picture News wrote: "The comedian is the usual low comedy type, wearing ill fitting clothes and always getting in 'bad.'" Film Daily wrote:
Billy West without his mustache and shuffling feet is starred in this two-reeler, the first of a new series. Those who like him may be satisfied with his latest offering, but the comedy is neither particularly funny or high class. The sequence in which West takes a mouthful of supposed nitroglycerin and pursues the villain by being literally a spit-fire in action, while a new idea, may be disliked by some audiences.The plot is neither sophisticated nor novel.
Broadway Comedies (1923 to 1925)
Broadway Comedies were produced by Cumberland Productions and distributed by Arrow Film Corporation.
One Exciting Evening (October 1, 1923)
Be Yourself (November 1, 1923)
Hello Bill (December 1, 1923) (Looser than Loose)
Pay Up (January 1, 1924)
Hello, Stranger (February 1, 1924)
The Nervous Reporter (March 1, 1924) (LOC)
Not Wanted (April 1, 1924) (extant)
Oh, Billy! (May 1, 1924)
Dyin' for Love (May 15, 1924) (LOC)
Two After One (June 1, 1924)
That's That (July 1, 1924)
Don't Slip (September 1, 1924)
Line's Busy (September 15, 1924) (extant)
Love (October 15, 1924) (extant)
Meet Father (November 15, 1924)
Watch Out! (December 15, 1924)
Phone Troubles (newspaper ad: July 5, 1924) This could be an alternate title for Line's Busy.
Midnight Watch (newspaper ad: August 29, 1924)
So Long, Dad (newspaper ad: September 10, 1924)
Believe Me (working title: Start Here) (January 15, 1925) (LOC)
Hard-Hearted Husbands (February 15, 1925)
Rivals (March 15, 1925) (LOC)
Copper Butt-Ins (April 15, 1925)
West Is West (May 15, 1925) (extant)
Fiddlin' Around (June 15, 1925) (Looser than Loose)
The Joke's On You (working title: A Day's Vacation) (July 15, 1925) (extant)
So Long, Bill (August 15, 1925) (extant)
Hard Boiled Yeggs (1926) (extant)
The Features (1926 to 1927)
West's feature films were produced by Billy West Productions and distributed by Rayart Pictures.
It surprised me to learn that West starred in four feature films. The films were marketed as comedy dramas. It was promised in promotional material that the films would emphasize tender and romantic stories rather than swift and rowdy slapstick. West was willing to set aside his gag-driven ways of the past. It was his priority to make himself a sympathetic protagonist and develop an appealing romantic plot around himself and his leading lady. Lucky Fool was the first of the films to be produced, but it was the last one to be released. A reasonable assumption is that West did not trust the film to allow him a strong debut in the feature market.
Thrilling Youth (August 3, 1926) (MoMA)
Motion Picture News provided the following synopsis:
Billy Davis leaves college, find dad in financial trouble, works to make the bakery business a success. He is in love with Mary Bryson, whose father is a big competitor in the bread business. Bryson's secretary bribes Davis foreman to put cement in the bread. Billy, warned by Mary, tells customers of the trick by airplane sky-written message. Bryson denounces his secretary for underhand plotting and latter is severely beaten by Billy, whose romance with Mary is happily concluded.Here is what they thought of the film:
There's more of the human interest touch to this picture than you usually find in a comedy, as a good deal of its plot centers on the attempt of an ex-collegian hero to make good in business after having had quite a hectic career in the pleasure-pursuing line. At first sight it would seem difficult to associate romance with bread-making, but both romance and merriment enter largely into the dough-kneading stunts flashed in this film. Dapper Billy West, always a smilingly pleasing personality, puts a lot of pep into his character sketch of the Davis lad and keeps his audience continually on the broad grin with amusing antics.The idea of cement being mixed into bread was a stock gimmick used in short comedies for years. It is not promising that this was a major plot point of West's feature debut.
Oh, Billy, Behave (October 27, 1926)
The Trouble Chaser (March 9, 1927) (MoMA)
Lucky Fool (working title: Help! Police!) (April 18, 1927) (MoMA)
West's company was bankrupt by the time that he finished the four features.
One last short comedy from West was released in 1927. The film, One Hour to Play, was possibly footage cut from one of West's features.
West spent the rest of his film career playing bit parts in feature films. The actor can be seen as a clown in this scene from The Shadow of the Eagle (1932).
|David Grant with his sister Dorothy|
Sometime later, a delivery man heard the two men arguing at a table. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel described the argument "spill[ing] over to the patio." Two witnesses said the sudden altercation turned physical after the white tutor called the black student a racial slur. Donley went berserk and beat Grant to death.
How did a tutoring session come to a fatal end?
Donley and Grant had developed a tense relationship while working together in lengthy tutoring sessions for months. Insight into the relationship was provided to police by a mutual acquaintance, Tameika Osbourne. Detective Paul Williams, who questioned Osbourne, wrote:
Osbourne stated she has known Donley for the past few months since they attend the same classes together at Broward College. Osbourne and Donley are in the same Calculus 2 class which began in mid-May 2012. Osbourne stated she was having some difficulty with the class and Donley provided her with the phone number of a math tutor, David Grant.Osbourne, whose minor was psychology, was intrigued by Donley’s body language. She said:
[T]his is crazy but when I first met Jon, I says. . . "You have a very aggressive aura about you." And he was like "What do you mean?" And I said,. . . "You're not an ex-con, are you?" That was a joke that we said and I did not know this was going to happen. He said, "I look like an ex-con?" I said, "No, you have this, like, aggressive kind of. . . kind of like strong, powerful, like you know like you don't put up with a lot." And he was like, "Well, you could probably say I'm very strong and I'm very like. . . not really strong-willed but kind of [aggressive]" - well I don't know how to explain it. . . [H]e seemed like a strong, dominant type of person and that's what he is.Williams wrote:
Osbourne began tutoring sessions with Grant and Donley and would meet in Dunkin' Donuts, Denny's, Starbucks, and the Nova University Law Library. All of the meeting places were located in Davie along University Drive because Grant rode a bicycle. Osbourne stated that Grant charged $20 per 2.5 hour tutoring session.Osbourne explained that Donley is "a very intelligent guy," but he was a biology major and he wasn't cut out for math. She said that she, as a math major, found Calculus II difficult and it was understandable for a biology major to be struggling with the material.
Osbourne could see there was tension between the two men. Williams wrote, "Osbourne stated that several times she observed Grant get frustrated because Donley would not understand things as easily as she did. Osbourne also stated that Grant had to explain things several times to Donley, which led to mutual frustration."
Osbourne said, "David would say something slick. . . [Jon] wouldn't respond. He would just say, 'All right, just go ahead. All right, just start with the tutoring; just start, just start.'"
She remembered a time that Donley and Grant were egging each other on. Grant went out of his way to resolve the conflict. He explained to Donley that he had to cooperate if he wanted him to help him. "You know," said Grant, "you got to give me some slack." She said that Donley calmed down and agreed to cooperate. He said, "Okay, you know what, I'll do what I have to do."
Both men were distressed about the conflict and confided in Osbourne about their feelings. Osbourne said, "[Jon] used to always tell me, 'He always be getting mad, man; he always be getting mad. I don't know what's wrong.' He used to always say,. . . 'Why is he doing that? He be tripping, man. David tripping, man. David trip.'" Osbourne added, "Jon has to hold his temper and I can tell that." She thought that it especially bothered Donley that Grant yelled at him in front of a girl.
Grant told Osbourne outright that he sensed conflict from Jon during their lessons. Osbourne said:
I know there was a time when me and David were meeting up and he said that he knew that there is a type of racial kind of um. . . kind of tension between them because he. . . he acknowledged the fact that he was a white redneck male and he. . . you know, and that Jon was a black prideful man and that sometimes he feels like. . . he felt like that would kind of. . . conflict with the lesson because it's almost as if Jon didn't really want to ask "Okay, well can you explain that further?" because you know David probably even would get mad and then that would make Jon upset because, you know, of the racial situation and it's almost as if he was begging him for service. . .Without a doubt, it is the duty of the tutor to have patience with a student in need of instruction. But this student may have presented too much shame, anger and resentment for a tutor to take on. It's hard enough to teach the formulas and theorems of calculus without having to take on board a student's cumbersome emotional baggage. Grant found himself losing patience with Donley. Osbourne said:
[David] would tell me that he has to yell at Jon sometimes, "Because I have to yell at him because it's like he just doesn't get it, he just doesn't get it. And I know [Jon] is pissed at me, he's upset with me, he hates me because sometimes I just have to yell at him. You know, he just doesn't get it."Osbourne said that, one time, there was confusion over the schedule. Grant was waiting for Donley at Starbucks and Donley didn't show up. Grant called him and said, "Where are you, buddy?" Donley insisted that they had agreed to get together on the next night. But, Osbourne said, this was something that Grant held over him. She said, "I felt like they were slowly but surely biting at each other. . ."
Williams reported, "Osborne stated that she knew Donley did not pay Grant in advance and sometimes would owe him money after the sessions were completed. Osbourne stated the Donley told her he didn't feel they should have to pay full price for the session because they are tutoring in a group."
Osbourne disagreed with Donley on this point. She explained to Williams:
I said, "Well, you know, it's only $20.00. That's cheap. So why not just keep it at that? I'll pay him 20, you pay him 20. He's actually teaching two people. He's pulling from both sides of, you know, of the difficulty levels and, you know, for that he should get paid $20." But Jon didn't want that. Jon always wanted to, like, say "Okay, you know what,. . . you should charge $15 instead." And actually one of the meet-ups was discounted because of Jon saying, "Okay, well so and so and so."According to Osbourne, the disagreements between the men only simmered below the surface. Their conflict never went beyond the needling that she described. Williams wrote:
Osbourne stated that she never observed any verbal arguments between the two of them. Osbourne also indicated that she never heard Grant ever use any derogatory racial slurs towards Donley or anyone else.Osbourne didn't show up for the tutoring session on the night that Grant was murdered. Her car had broken down earlier in the day. Donley was available to drive her, but Osbourne thought that her husband wouldn't approve of her riding in a car with another man.
Donley arrived at Dunkin' Donuts first. The time was 8:54pm. He bought a coffee and a donut. Grant arrived later. An employee, Taha Sorour, said that Grant appeared at 11pm. Sorour said, "[E]verything was normal. . . Both were sitting inside as a friend."
The mood of the two men was different by 1:15am. Tarek, a delivery man, told police that, while delivering a rack of donuts to the store, he observed Grant and Donley arguing inside the store. He did not hear what they were arguing about. He left shortly after.
Elliot Jacobs, an employee, told police that he had also heard Donley and Grant raise their voices at one point. He said, "It lasted no more than like three seconds. It was just like firm words that they said to each other. I didn't hear what they said. . ."
Ahmad Alsuvae, another employee, also reported seeing the two men arguing inside the store.
Donley got up from the table and went outside by himself. Then, he went back inside the store. Then, he came outside again. Alsuvae and Sorour, who were sitting at a patio table, took notice of Donley's erratic behavior. Grant followed Donley outside the second time. He sat down at a table. Donley was pacing back and forth in the parking lot. He approached the table at one point. He was angry. He kept challenging Grant to come towards him. Alsuvae and Sorour differ in what they remember Donley saying. Sorour told Officer Chad Burgs that Donley said, "Come on. . . you called me a nigger. . . come on." He later told Williams that Donley said, "Did you call me nigger?" Alsuvae told Williams that, at first, he only heard Donley demand Grant to "Come here."
Eventually, Grant walked up to Donley and the two of them talked for awhile. It sounded to Alsuvae like a normal conversation. Sorour agreed with Alsuvae about this. Williams wrote:
[Sorour] stated that other words were exchanged between the white and black male for "three to four minutes." He stated that the words stopped and the black male went to his car.But then, according to Alsuvae, Grant suddenly raised his voice. Sorour heard him say, "You know what, you are a nigger." Alsuvae told Williams that Grant said, "Nigger, nigger." It could be that Alsuvae meant this as an actual quote or it could be that he simply meant that he heard Grant say word "nigger" twice. Donley replied, "Don't say that again!""But," said Alsuvae, "he say it again. Then the fighting started."
Donley kicked Grant in the ribs. He then punched Grant in the face several times. Sorour said he punched him "three or four times." He was moving so fast that Grant had no opportunity to fight back. Williams wrote:
[Sorour] observed the black male kick the white male in the neck and the white male fell to the ground face first. He stated that the black male began punching the white man in the area of his kidneys.Sorour ran inside the store to call 911. The 911 call was logged at 1:22am.
911 Dispatcher:"What’s the emergency?"Alsuvae saw the attack continue while Sorour was in the store. Grant was lying motionless on the ground as Donley kicked him several more times. Burgs wrote:
Caller:"This black guy fight with white guy. The white guy is actually down now."
911 Dispatcher:"Is he moving?"
Caller: "No, ma’am."
Witness advised that as the victim lay face down motionless, the black male approached the victim from the front and grabbed him in a chokehold and choked the victim for nearly 15 seconds. . ."Alsuvae maintained his story when he spoke to Williams hours later. Williams wrote:
[Alsuvae] stated the black male put his hands around the white male's neck and held him for "fifteen seconds." He stated at first the white male tried to move but after the black male began choking him, the white male stopped moving.went to check on Grant and found he wasn’t breathing and his face was turning blue.
Williams made a point to clarify, "Did you ever see the white guy punch the black guy or kick the black guy?" Alsuvae's answer was simple: "No." Alsuvae added that, as Grant tried to tear Donley off of him, he grabbed Donley's shirt and tore it. He stressed in describing Grant's response to Donley's punches: "He tries - he tries to run. . ."
Sorour returned outside in time to see Donley fleeing in a beige four-door Nissan. He quickly wrote down the tag number. Williams wrote:
[Sorour]. . . observed the white male on the ground and he was not moving or breathing. He advised he saw the white man's color and knew something was wrong.Officer Burgs arrived on the scene at 1:27am. Grant's body was already cold. The officer could see that Grant had been beaten. He noticed bruises and abrasions on Grant's knees, left elbow, and head.
Dr. Sanchez pronounced Grant dead at 2:07am.
Sorour sat down with Williams in an interview room at the police department to provide a sworn statement on July 18 at 6:05am. He identified Donley as the aggressor. He said, "I feel like the black guy want to fight with the white guy."
Williams wrote, "Both witnesses provided sworn taped statements and were able to identify Donley, in a photograph of photographic lineup, as the person involved in this altercation."
The license plate number led the police directly to Donley's home. No one was home on their arrival. Officers conducted surveillance of the home until Donley turned up in his Nissan. The police approached the car. Before the police spoke to him, he said, "Okay, let me just let my mom know that I'm going with you."
Detective Matthew Drake noted, "From outside the vehicle I observed a white shirt on the center console. I noticed a discolored area on the shirt that appeared to be blood. I did not enter the vehicle. I secured the vehicle with crime scene tape and requested for a tow truck to tow the vehicle to Davie Police for further investigation."
The collar on the shirt was torn, which is something that happened as Grant tried to get Donley off him.
At the police station, Donley was led to an interview room. Williams noted on application for a search warrant, "I began reading Donley his Miranda Rights from a prepared text. During the reading of his rights, Donley asked if Grant was okay." He didn't know that Grant was dead, though he may have suspected it.
I asked Donley if he was willing to answer my questions without an attorney present. Donley stated that he was worried about going to jail. I explained to Donley that I was affording him the opportunity to speak with me at this point and tell his side of the story.He said that Grant provoked him by calling him "nigger," which Williams said took him "over the edge."
Donley then asked to speak to his mother, Latricia Donley, who he stated is a lawyer. I contacted his mother, via telephone, and informed her that her son was involved in an incident being investigated by the Davie Police Department. I placed her on hold, escorted Donley out of the room, and allowed him to speak to his mother on the telephone. After speaking with her he advised that he did not want to make any statements.This put an end to their conversation. Williams wrote:
I advised Donley that he was under arrest and was being charged with murder. Donley began crawling on the floor stating, "No sir. I cannot do this, I cannot have that on my conscience." I told Donley to have a seat in the chair and I would contact his mother for him and let her know. Donley then stated, "My life is over. Everything that I worked for is over. I exited the interview room and Donley stated to himself, out loud, "You killed somebody, John [sic]. How could you? How could you have done that? Oh, my God, I took a life. John, it doesn't matter who. You took a life, John. You took a life. You took a life. Goes against your morals. I'm not that guy. I'm not that guy. What did he die from? What did he die from? A punch to the face? What the fuck. Oh, my goodness. This can't be. This can't be. This must be a dream. This guy's dead for nothing, for nothing, John. This guy's dead for nothing. What the hell. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. This can't be happening. Lord, please. Oh, man. Oh, my God. Oh, man. Lord, no. Lord, no. Oh, my God, what have I done? I'm not that person. I'm not that person. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, Lord. No. What have I done, Lord? How we going to get through this? How's my mama going to get through this? My mom needs me. No, I can't – no, man, no. My mom, my mom, my mom. Tired. Oh, fuck."The call log for Donley's phone showed that, shortly after Donley drove away from the Dunkin' Donuts, he called a number in Atlanta, Georgia. The number, as was later discovered, belonged to Tiona Byrd. The call went through but only lasted for four seconds, which suggests Donley reached voice mail and hung up. He then tried to call Judi Medina in Miramar, Florida. This call lasted only five seconds. He immediately tried both numbers a second time and the calls lasted even less time. Williams tried to phone Byrd and Medina. He left Byrd several messages, but she never returned his calls. He wrote of Medina:
Medina stated that she knows Donley but does not know why he called her and does not remember speaking to him. Medina denied any knowledge about this incident. Medina further stated that she does not know the victim in this case. Medina then disconnected the phone conversation with me. I attempted to call her back and the call rang to voicemail.Osbourne commented in her statement that Donley had phoned her the morning after the incident. She said:
Jon. . . said he got into a bad fight with David, "He kept calling me a nigger, man. He kept calling me a nigger." And I said – I said, "Why didn't you – I mean why did you guys fight? What is the whole hands on about?" And he said, 'Man, he kept trying me. Man, he kept trying me. He walked outside and he was trying me.' And I was like – I said, "No," I was like, "Why did you do that? You should've just walked away." And then he was like, 'Man, I don't know, man, I had to; he was trying me.'"Osbourne said that Donley knows he has an aggressive personality and he knows to walk away from situations before he loses his temper. She thought that, in this instance, he reached "a breaking point." Donley told her that David had been drunk. She believed that it was because David was drunk that he followed Jon and provoked him.
As the interview went on, Osbourne became protective of Jon, a friend that she knew might have to go to prison. She said, "I'm not going to even say that David didn't provoke [the attack] because I feel like in a way that he did, because especially if, you know, whenever he got drunk, he was a completely different person, that I even had to walk away from him before because it's just the way he was. . ."
Osbourne was emphatic about Grant drinking during tutoring sessions. She said:
I'm going to say I only seen him drinking one time but I knew, because he kept taking his bag and he had alcohol in his bag and he would take his bag and go to the bathroom and come back, and when he came back, you know, his breath smelled like it and I was like, 'What are you doing?' And he was like, 'Come on, you know, I got to - I got to' - you know, he was explaining his sister had passed and, you know, it's towards nighttime, he doesn't usually tutor at nighttime so he would want to drink to compensate for that.Grant's sister, Suzanne O'Neill, had died less than six weeks earlier on June 7, 2012.
Williams wrote, "Crime Scene Tech Cortotillo said that he detected the strong odor of alcohol emanating from Grant's body." Williams recovered four beer cans from a garbage can in a bathroom inside the Dunkin' Donuts.
The Medical Examination
Khalil Wardak, the Associate Medical Examiner, concluded an autopsy on July 18. He found evidence of strangulation. He wrote, "The anterior neck dissection revealed hemorrhages of the sternocleidomastoid muscle."
Wardak discovered other issues in his analysis. Most notably, Grant had an enlarged heart caused by plaque build-up in the artery wall. The medical examiner wrote, "The coronary arteries arose normally and follow the usual distribution with evidence of atherosclerosis of the left anterior descending artery." He noted that the artery was 90 percent blocked.
Wardak found that Grant's overall physical condition was poor. He later clarified in a deposition, "[Grant] had liver problems. He had spleen problems. He had kidney problems."
Grant's blood alcohol content was recorded as .19 g%. An excessive amount of alcohol can significantly affect a person's behavior, bringing about boisterousness and overexpression. Was this the case with Grant? Wardak was directly asked by Donley's attorney, Fred Haddad, if Grant's blood alcohol level indicates the man was inebriated. The doctor replied, "I cannot tell you, because it depends on everyone's body and how they react to the amount of alcohol. Some have tolerance; some cannot have tolerance."
Wardak reached the following conclusion:
This 45-year-old, white male, David Grant, died as a result of strangulation. By report another individual, the suspect had his hands around the decedent's neck just before he lost consciousness and was subsequently pronounced dead. Hypertensive arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease was a contributory cause. The matter of death is determined to be homicide.
Charges are Dropped
The case was assigned to Assistant State Attorney Alberto Ribas Jr., who made an immediate decision to pursue manslaughter charges against Donley. It may have been his only quick and reasonable decision on the matter. Ribas procrastinated on the case for five years, failed to maintain contact with the key witness, failed to attend a deposition of the key witness, failed to preserve evidence, and failed to read pivotal, time-sensitive discovery documents submitted to him by the defense attorney. Ribas' gross neglect in his handling of the case jeopardized his ability to prosecute the case in court. Yet, he assured Grant's family that he would bring the case to trial. But, then, Ribas was appointed by Governor Rick Scott to a circuit court judge vacancy in February, 2016.
Ribas' biggest blunder is obvious. Haddad arranged a deposition of Alsuvae on September 11, 2014. Haddad sent Ribas notice of the deposition, but Ribas failed to appear. Alsuvae said at the start of the deposition that he was going to leave the United States after he completed his studies in the next year. Ribas would have known about Alsuvae's imminent departure if he had at least read the deposition. Ribas was contacted by the author to address his handling of this case, but he turned down the opportunity to respond.
The deposition is interesting reading material. Haddad and a colleague, Tarlika Nunez-Navarro, interviewed Alsuvae for eighteen minutes, during which time the witness was made to describe at length the fatal confrontation.
Alsuvae said, "[T]he suspect start talking, like, angry language, not happy. I didn't know what he said, because I couldn't understand, but it was not okay."
Haddad asked Alsuvae what Grant was doing at this time. Alsuvae said:
[He] didn't answer to him. He just sitting like this and looking at him. Then he stand up and went to him and they start talking together. . . They start talking, screaming, loud - they were not okay. There was something wrong with them. And they talking, screaming, I couldn't understand what the problem with them.Haddad asked if Grant called Donley "a nigger." Alsuvae said:
No. They start – the black, now left to his car. . . [H]e told to the victim, if you say nigger again, I will come back or something. And he was going to open his door and the victim said, "Do you know what, you are a nigger." And then he came back and started fighting. The victim was not easy to move because he was fat. . . and the suspect was pretty fast giving him any shots in his – in this way and in this way (Indicating).He said that Grant stopped Donley by grabbing hold of him ("[T]he victim catch the black guy"). The two men toppled to the ground and Donley ended up with his leg beneath Grant. Haddad asked Alsuvaee if Donley was trapped and unable to stand up, but Alsuvaee made it clear that this was not the case. He said that Donley was able to stand "[p]retty fast." He specified later in the deposition that Donley stood back up in "two or three seconds." This detail of the incident was so insignificant to Alsuvae that he hadn't bothered to mention it in his previous accounts. Donely was back on his feet in no time and, according to Alsuvae, he immediately got back to kicking and punching Grant.
It is improper for an attorney to put words into the mouth of a witness or suggest an answer. This is what is commonly known in the legal field as "leading the witness." But this is exactly what Haddad and Nunez-Navarro did while questioning Alsuvae. Haddad said, "So what you said is. . . the victim was sitting on top of the suspect holding him down. . ." But Alsuvaee had not said that and he clarified that he had not said that. But Haddad and Nunez-Navarro stuck with this strategy. The attorneys repeatedly told Haddad, "So what you mean to say is [Fill in the blank]." Haddad would tell them "no." They wouldn't accept this. They would persist on circling back to the witness' remarks. It was just a matter of time before they wore down Alsuvae and got him to concede that his words were wrong and their words were right. Alsuvae did not speak English well and it made it easy for them to manipulate what he was saying. Of course, this never could have happened if Ribas had done his job and come to the deposition.
The times that Alsuvae says "Yeah" in the following exchange are the times that the lawyers got Alsuvae to acquiesce to their narrative.
Nunez-Navarro: Did the fat white guy, like, tackle the kid? Like, put his arms around him and tackle him to the ground? How did that happen? How did he get them to the ground?Manipulating language is a common strategy of criminal defense attorneys. Police arrest five men for beating and robbing a man. It was mob violence on an innocent victim. But the defense attorney insists again and again on referring to the beating as a "fight" until he has others referring to the incident as a fight. But a beating and a fight are two entirely different things.
Alsuvaee: When he catch him from here, hugged him, hug him like this in the (indicating) and the suspect – the suspect trying to move, they go on the floor.
Haddad: So the big guy was fighting and the little guy was fighting?
Haddad: And then –
Alsuvaee: The victim was trying to catch the guy, because he was fat, not easy to move.
Haddad: Okay. But then he did catch him, put him on the ground and sat down on him?
Haddad: Was he hitting him when he was sitting on him? Was the fat guy hitting the guy but he was sitting on him?
Alsuvaee: No, he couldn't, but just hold -
Haddad: Hold him?
Haddad: Okay. Where was he holding him?
Alsuvaee: On the side. On his leg –
Haddad: Was he still calling him a nigger while he was holding him down?
Alsuvaee: No. No. No.
Haddad challenged Wardak's determination of strangulation. He pointed out that the autopsy did not reveal trauma to the larynx, which he thought should be present in cases of strangulation. The doctor did not agree that trauma to the larynx was necessary to make a determination of strangulation.
Haddah hired John Marraccini, a former Palm Beach County medical examiner, as a medical expert. Marraccini sat for a deposition on July 24, 2015. In the ensuing conversation, he disputed Wardak's conclusion that Grant had died from strangulation. He believed that the exertion and stress experienced by Grant caused him to suffer a heart attack. He said, "Now there is physical contact going both ways. You know, the soon to be dead man Mr. Grant is putting a bear hug on the defendant and then that's broken up and then the defendant throws punches and kicks. . . [T]he stress in combat set in motion the lethal train of events."
The deposition came across as scripted. Haddad's paid expert worked dutifully to promote Haddad's narrative that Grant died in a fight ("physical contact going both ways") as opposed to Grant having been beaten to death. Marraccini went beyond the scope of his expertise to put across this point. He used the word "combat" four times in the course of his brief remarks. This was not combat. Combat suggests two opposing forces that fight together willingly and on equal terms. This interaction between Donley and Grant was, clearly, a beating. Donley viciously attacked Grant, who struggled feebly and futilely to get away.
It was the one and only goal of Haddad and Nunez-Navarro to reshape the narrative in a way that was favorable to their client. Donley was described by the two attorneys as a "kid" and a "little guy," though neither of those descriptors apply. Grant was described as a "big guy" and "a bear" (as in "bear hug"). Alsuvae never said that Grant threw Donley to the ground or tackled him to the ground. He never said that Grant sat on Donely. But this is what they wanted him to say.
Let us look closely at the phrase "bear hug," which came to be used by Marraccini and (incredibly) the prosecutor's office. It wasn't a phrase that the witness used. At the deposition, Alsuvae initially said, "The victim was trying to catch the guy." The word "catch" means "to intercept or hold." It doesn't in any way suggest that Grant initiated a bear hug on Donley. A bear hug is a highly aggressive act used in offense maneuvers in the wrestling ring. Grant was no wrestling superstar. He was not Ox Baker or Abdullah the Butcher. He was a man desperately trying to fend off the punches and kicks of a wildly violent man. It crosses ethical lines for an attorney to listen to the witness say one thing and insist that he really meant to say something else.
After Ribas left the prosecutor's office, the case was reassigned to Gina Hawkins, who decided to drop the charges against Donley. Tony Doris of The Palm Beach Post wrote:
Assistant State Attorney Gina Hawkins and the office's supervisor in charge of homicide cases, Shari Tate, met with [Carol] Field [Grant's sister] and her husband and Field’s sister, "face-to-face," Field said. "They point-blank admitted the reason why they’re dropping the case is because they lost the key witness and did not preserve the testimony.""We’re absolutely devastated," Carol Field said. "David was such an incredible, wonderful man and so loved by his family, and for five years we have been patiently waiting for the State Attorney’s Office to get justice for David. And after five years of waiting and hoping and thinking about David every day and missing him every day, to get that kind of news, it’s devastating and confusing."
"We were told to let the State Attorney handle it," Paul Field said. "We did that, and the result was a killer walked away. The state attorney's office didn't fulfill their promise to our family or to David. The killer walked away free to live his life, after he denied David his. That's not justice."
|Assistant State Attorney Gina Hawkins and victim's sister, Carol Field|
The Broward County State Attorney released a statement to the press. The statement read in part:
The State has no competent evidence to rebut the argument that when Donley is called a "n-word," he was suddenly provoked to turn and strike Mr. Grant. The witnesses all stated that Donley was walking away, and suddenly the combat ensues, with Grant attempting to place Donley in a bear-hug. By all accounts, no weapon was used, and the fact that Donley held Grant for approximately 15 seconds, does not rise to the level of a cruel and unusual manner.Haddad suggested the move was inevitable. He said: "We've had several medical experts look at it, various depositions. I had one of the top forensic pathologists in the country as well as another doctor review it. The cause of death determined by the medical examiner was probably in error. It was a heart attack, more than likely." Also, he claimed that the witnesses offered conflicting testimony. He concluded, "The state attorney's office did what they had to do. Under the facts of the case, there was no case that they could prosecute in good faith. There were issues of whether my client acted in self-defense and whether the decedent perpetrated what caused his own death. . . All of the facts added up to my client not committing a crime."
While the cause and manner of death was deemed homicide by strangulation, the doctor's report also opined that cardiovascular disease was a "contributory cause of death."
In addition to the State's lack of competent evidence to proceed and prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, there is also a question of whether the State could overcome a claim of Excusable Homicide Pursuant to Florida Statue 782.03.
Haddad's claim that the witnesses offered conflicting testimony is not bore out by the case records. Neither is the fact that Haddad took depositions of several medical experts. The records show that the attorney only brought in Marraccini as a medical expert. Marraccini is not one of the top pathologists in the country.
This was certainly not a zealous prosecution. Hawkins upheld the case for the defense in her comments to the press. She wholeheartedly accepted Haddad's arguments, the strength of which is debatable. She accepted the opinion of the defendant's medical expert over the opinion of her own medical expert. She showed no interest in prosecuting this case. If the word "nigger" could instigate a black man to regard Grant in a cold-hearted manner, as Hawkins suggests, it follows that the word can instigate a black woman to regard Grant in a cold-hearted manner. Hawkins is condemned by her own argument.
Recent news stories suggest that black defendants are treated more favorably in the justice system whenever the prosecutor is a black woman. In the last couple of years, several black female prosecutors rose to the level of State's Attorney after promising to arrest and prosecute less black people. The best known prosecutors in this category are Kimberly Gardner (St. Louis), Kelley B. Hodge (Philadelphia), Kimberly Foxx (Chicago) and Aramis Ayala (Orlando). Across the country, black female lawyers have closed ranks to fulfill Black Lives Matter objectives. Their comments do not suggest that these prosecutors care about guilt or innocence. Their only concern is imprisoning less black people.
Donley's mother, Latricia Donley, created a network of black female lawyers as a founder and past president of The Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association. In 2015, the association sponsored the symposium "Shutting Down the School to Prison Pipeline," which advocated for new programs and policies to lower the incarceration rates of black juveniles. The proposed outreach programs, which outlined lenient law enforcement policies, aimed to lower incarceration without lowering crime. Anti-social individuals still got to commit crime, but they were less likely to face imprisonment for their actions.
Hawkins may not be a zealous prosecutor in general. In March, she dropped charges against Lorenz Sanchez, who murdered the owner of a convenience store during an armed robbery. She again sat down with the victim's family to explain her decision and watched as family members broke down crying.
Of course, Ribas did not provide a zealous prosecution either. It is hard to believe that a lawyer could be as hopelessly incompetent as Ribas was with this case. When all of the facts are considered, it seems far more likely that Ribas wanted to sabotage the controversial case so that it never made it to court.
|State Attorney Michael Satz|
Black Lives Matter, upset by Satz’s reelection, staged a demonstration outside of the Broward County courthouse. Antonia Farzan of the Broward Palm Beach New Times reported:
Tifanny Burks and Jasmen Rogers, community organizers with the Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward, say the protest is designed to express outrage at the fact that Satz was re-elected and let him know that since Broward County is stuck with him, he’s stuck with them as well. "Satz will now have to answer directly to us, the community, on the oppressive practices that have been going on for decades," Burks explains. "All eyes are on him for the next four years."So, the eyes of black activists were on Satz. It is impossible to believe that this fact did not influence the decision of Satz's office to drop the racially charged Donley case.
Rogers adds: "We were hoping this election would be the end of the current reign of Mike Satz. A 40-year grip on Broward's criminal justice system is far too long, especially when we have witnessed injustice being handed down from his office on a regular basis."
The Lost Witness
The rules of evidence place discretion on the trial judge to accept evidentiary offers and in the jury to evaluate them. Hawkins went before the press and played out an imaginary trial in which she acted out the various roles. She described the argument that she would present and the argument that the defense would present. She described presumed rulings of the judge and the presumed responses of the jury. It is nice for her to play out the trial in her head, but Grant deserved an actual trial rather than Hawkins' imaginary trial.
Hawkins had three obstacles to overcome in prosecuting this case. First, she had to find a way to prove Donley beat Grant to death without the testimony of her key witness. Second, she had to rebut Haddad's argument that Grant's murder met the standards for an excusable homicide. Third, she had to prove that Grant died from the beating. Let's look at these issues one by one.
Alsuvae made a number of statements to officials in which he explained in explicit terms that he saw Donley kill Grant. He provided his eyewitness account to Officer Burgs, to Detective Williams and to defense attorney Fred Haddad. Yet, Alsuvae's out of court testimony could be challenged as hearsay under the Sixth Amendment. This issue was plainly discussed in Ronald C. Howard, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 853 N.E.2d 461 Supreme Court of Indiana (September 6, 2006):
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him . . . .". . . The essential purpose of the Sixth Amendment right of confrontation is to ensure that the defendant has the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against him. State v. Owings, 622 N.E.2d 948, 950 (Ind. 1993). As this Court has recognized, the right to adequate and effective cross-examination is fundamental and essential to a fair trial. Id. It includes the right to ask pointed and relevant questions in an attempt to undermine the opposition's case, as well as the opportunity to test a witness' memory, perception, and truthfulness. Id.However, judges were allowed to make exceptions. The matter was controlled for years by the Supreme Court's holding in Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 100 S. Ct. 2531, 65 L.Ed.2d 597 (1980). The Howard opinion aptly defines the Roberts holding as follows:
Under Roberts, a hearsay statement of an absent witness could be admitted in a criminal trial without violating the right of confrontation if (1) it was shown that the declarant was unavailable and (2) the out-of-court statement bore adequate indicia of reliability. This test focused upon the reliability of the statement. As the Roberts Court explained, a statement had adequate indicia of reliability if it either fell within a firmly rooted hearsay exception or if it bore "particularized guarantees of trustworthiness." Id. at 65-66, 100 S. Ct. 2531.The Roberts case was discussed at greater length in Richard Sylvester James v. State of Florida, 400 So.2d 571, No. 79-11/T4-352, District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District (1980):
In Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 100 S.Ct. 2531, 65 L.Ed.2d 597 (1980), the U.S. Supreme Court was again faced with a confrontation question as it pertained to the admissibility of out of court testimony. Defendant had been charged with possession of stolen credit cards and forgery of a check belonging to Bernard Isaacs. At a preliminary hearing held in Municipal Court, after the prosecution called several witnesses, defendant's attorney called Isaacs' daughter, Anita, and questioned her at some length, attempting to elicit from her an admission that she had given the checks and credit cards to the defendant. Anita denied this. Defendant's attorney did not ask to have Anita declared hostile and did not request permission to place her on cross-examination. The prosecutor did not question Anita.The standard for determining whether the admission of a hearsay statement against a criminal defendant violates the right of confrontation was modified by the Supreme Court in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004). Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, stated:
At the trial, Anita was unavailable to testify, and after defendant testified that Anita had given him the checks and the credit cards, the prosecution offered in evidence the transcript of Anita's preliminary hearing testimony. Asserting a violation of the confrontation clause, the defense objected to the use of the transcript. The trial court admitted the transcript and defendant was convicted. The Ohio Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that there was little incentive to cross-examine a witness at a preliminary hearing, that the mere opportunity to cross-examine a witness at a preliminary hearing did not afford constitutional confrontation for purposes of trial, and since Anita had not been cross-examined, the use of her testimony violated the accused's right of confrontation.
The Supreme Court granted certiorari and held the testimony admissible, recalling that: The Court, however, has recognized that competing interests, if "closely examined,"Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S., (284) at 295, 93 S.Ct., (1038) at 1045, (35 L.Ed.2d 297) may warrant dispensing with confrontation at trial. See Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S., at 243, 15 S.Ct., at 340 ("general rules of law of this kind, however beneficent in their operation and valuable to the accused, must occasionally give way to considerations of public policy and the necessities of the case"). Significantly, every jurisdiction has a strong interest in effective law enforcement, and in the development and precise formulation of the rules of evidence applicable in criminal proceedings. See Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 107, 54 S.Ct. 330, 333, 78 L.Ed. 674 (1934); California v. Green, 399 U.S., at 171-172, 90 S. Ct., at 1941-1942 (concurring opinion). Roberts, 100 S.Ct. at 2538.
The court then held that so long as the opportunity to cross-examine is present and counsel is not significantly limited in any way in the scope or nature of his cross-examination, there is substantial compliance with the purposes behind the confrontation requirement.
[T]he Framers would not have allowed admission of testimonial statements of a witness who did not appear at trial unless he was unavailable to testify, and the defendant had had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. . . Dispensing with confrontation because testimony is obviously reliable is akin to dispensing with jury trial because a defendant is obviously guilty. . . Where testimonial evidence is at issue, however, the Sixth Amendment demands what the common law required: unavailability and a prior opportunity for cross-examination... . [T]he only indicium of reliability sufficient to satisfy constitutional demands is the one the Constitution actually prescribes: confrontation.The District Court of Appeal of Florida took an unusually strict stand against the admission of discovery depositions as substantive evidence in a criminal trial in three cases: State v. James, 402 So.2d 1169, 1171 (1981), Larry Clark v. State, 572 So.2d 929, Nos. 89-1503, 89-1748, District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District (1990) and Rodriguez v. State, 609 So.2d 493 (1992). In the James case, which began this trend, the defendant was on trial for burglary, attempted sexual battery, and robbery. His victim died before trial, but the trial court allowed the prosecution to introduce the victim's discovery deposition at trial. The Supreme Court ruled, "[T]he deposition was used for an improper purpose."
If Ribas had been present for the deposition, he and Haddad could have abandoned the discovery deposition in favor of a more suitable preservation deposition (also known as a testimonial deposition or an evidence deposition). A discovery deposition involves a single attorney, either defense or prosecution, questioning a witness to discover evidence. The fact that a discovery deposition involves no more than direct examination of the witness generally makes it inadmissible into evidence at trial under the heresay rule. A preservation deposition is different. It is a joint effort between opposing counsels to question a witness on record to preserve their testimony for trial. This deposition holds weight in court because the presence of opposing counsels allows the witness to be subject to cross-examination and redirect examination.
Let us look at a few rulings that further define the distinction between a discovery deposition and a preservation deposition. We can start with Jean Longstreet v. Cottrell, Inc., Lisa Shashek, Cassens & Sons, Inc., Cassens Corporation, General Motors Corporation, 871 N.E.2d 72, No. 5-06-0316, Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District (2007).
With various amendments over the past 50 years, the supreme court has kept the difference between discovery and evidence depositions intact. . . The distinction is meaningful to practicing attorneys, because the discovery format provides a great deal of exploratory freedom. The trade-off for that freedom is the supreme court's limitations on the use of discovery depositions at a trial. M. [871 N.E.2d 78] McNabola, It's Time to Move Beyond Separate Discovery and Evidence Depositions in Illinois, 92 Ill. B.J. 344, 345 (1966) (citing J. Kinsler, J. Grenig, & L. Nale, 10 Ill. Prac., Civil Discovery§ 2.11 (2000)).Then, we have State of Florida v. Moroni Lopez, 974 So.2d 340, No. SC05-88, Supreme Court of Florida (2008):
Cross-examination is the principal means by which the believability of a witness and the truth of his testimony are tested. Subject always to the broad discretion of a trial judge to preclude repetitive and unduly harassing interrogation, the cross-examiner is not only permitted to delve into the witness' story to test the witness' perceptions and memory, but the cross-examiner has traditionally been allowed to impeach, i.e., discredit, the witness. . . [T]he exposure of a witness' motivation in testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination. Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 316-17, 94 S. Ct. 1105, 39 L. Ed. 2d 347 (1974). Thus, it stands to reason that the prior opportunity to cross-examine required by Crawford must serve the same functions. In Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 70, 100 S.Ct. 2531, 65 L.Ed.2d 597 (1980), the Supreme Court addressed the adequacy of the defendant's examination of a declarant at an adversary preliminary hearing.A defense attorney has reason to cross-examine a witness to assure that witness has no doubts and couldn't have in any way misperceived the event. But Alsuvae's account of Donley’s attack is straightforward. Arguments against admitting the testimony are less substantial than the testimony itself. A lesser point has been made that the transcript deprives the jury of fully assessing the witness' demeanor. This hardly justifies suppressing the vital testimony of an unbiased witness.
How a lawyer prepares for and asks questions of a deposition witness whose testimony may be admissible at trial as substantive evidence under rule 3.190 is entirely different from how a lawyer prepares for and asks questions of a witness being deposed for discovery purposes under rule 3.220. In effect, the knowledge that a deposition witness's testimony can be used substantively at trial may have a chilling effect on a lawyer's questioning of such a witness. State v. Green, 667 So.2d 756, 759 (Fla. 1995).
A defendant cannot be "expected to conduct an adequate cross-examination as to matters of which he first gained knowledge at the taking of the deposition."State v. Basiliere, 353 So.2d 820, 824-25 (Fla.1977). This is especially true if the defendant is "unaware that this deposition would be the only opportunity he would have to examine and challenge the accuracy of the deponent's statements." Id. at 824.
In the past, the courts have ruled that a deposition can qualify as a "prior opportunity for cross-examination." A reasonable conclusion was drawn in the aforementioned Howard v. State of Indiana (2006):
We acknowledge that trial counsel's motivation for taking a deposition solely for the purpose of discovery may differ from that of a deposition to perpetuate testimony. As one commentator has noted, "[m]ost litigators think of two kinds of depositions: discovery depositions and testimonial depositions." Henry H. Perritt, Jr., Trade Secrets: A Practitioners Guide, P.L.I. § 10:10.1 (2005). During testimonial depositions, more attention is paid "to the form of questions . . . [and] to cross-examination . . . . It is not uncommon for key witnesses to be deposed twice by the same party, once for discovery purposes and again for testimonial purposes."Id. But we make two observations. First, although Howard contends that the purpose of the deposition in this case was "for discovery" only, counsel for Howard nonetheless conducted a vigorous and lengthy examination. The deposition lasted approximately two hours and resulted in ninety-two typewritten pages, nearly all of which constitute counsel's examination of C.C. Appellant's App. Vol. II. We thus disagree with Howard's claim that he was denied his right of confrontation. See Abner v. State, 479 N.E.2d 1254, 1262 (Ind. 1985) (rejecting claim that defendant was denied right of confrontation by admission of discovery deposition into evidence where forty pages of a 124-page deposition were devoted to defense counsel's examination of witness).
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Crawford speaks only in terms of the "opportunity" for adequate cross-examination. The right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment is honored where "the defense is given a full and fair opportunity to probe and expose [testimonial] infirmities [such as forgetfulness, confusion, or evasion] through cross-examination, thereby calling to the attention of the factfinder the reasons for giving scant weight to the witness' testimony."Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836, 847, 110 S.Ct. 3157, 111 L.Ed.2d 666 (1990) (quoting Delaware v. Fensterer, 474 U.S. 15, 22, 106 S.Ct. 292, 88 L.Ed.2d 15 (1985) (per curiam)). Whether, how, and to what extent the opportunity for cross-examination is used is within the control of the defendant.
Only where a defendant has never had the opportunity to confront and cross-examine a witness does the admission of prior testimony at a subsequent proceeding violate the constitutional right of confrontation. See, e.g., Brady, 575 N.E.2d at 989 (videotaped testimony taken outside the presence of defendant and used at trial); Miller, 517 N.E.2d at 74 (videotaped statement of child where defendant received no notice); Driver v. State, 594 N.E.2d 488, 489-90 (Ind.Ct.App. 1992) (testimony from prior trial at which defendant did not have the opportunity for a face-to-face confrontation).The matter of discovery depositions was further addressed in Coy v. Iowa, 487 U. S. at 1023, 108 S. Ct. at 2803 (1988). According to the ruling in this case, the admission of a discovery deposition "does not raise a substantial confrontation clause problem since it involves testimony in the presence of the defendant."
We conclude. . . that Howard had a full, fair, and adequate opportunity to confront and cross-examine C.C., within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment, when her pretrial deposition was taken. Accordingly, subject to a trial court finding of unavailability consistent with the protected person statute, C.C.'s deposition may be introduced into evidence at any subsequent retrial.
The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal noted in Richard Sylvester James v. State of Florida, 400 So.2d 571 (1980):
The death or unavailability of a witness is often not foreseeable, so the need to perpetuate testimony cannot always be anticipated. It would seem that the rules of procedure should "give way to considerations of public policy and the necessities of the case" where, as here, defense counsel has an adequate opportunity to cross examine the witness and avails himself of that opportunity.It is deplorable that, as previously noted, the Supreme Court of Florida did not share the wisdom of the lower court. See State v. James, 402 So.2d 1169, 1171 (1981).
To say that Haddad had no opportunity to confront the witness is false. Haddad was made aware during the deposition that this would be his one opportunity to confront the witness. He challenged the witness' testimony as much as he could. He had an adequate opportunity to confront the witness and he availed himself of this opportunity. As much as he insisted that he had a strong case, he was likely counting on the witness leaving the country and being able to win the case on prosecutor negligence.
I briefly spoke to Haddad. He was out of town at the time and was too busy to talk. He promised to call me when he was back in his office, but I never heard from him again.
The hearsay rule has been qualified to prevent the rule from "jeopardizing accurate fact-finding." Hub v. Sun Valley Co., 682 F.2d 776, 778 (9th Cir. 1982). Judge Richard Posner, a United States Circuit Judge, wrote, "[H]earsay evidence should be admissible when it is reliable, when the jury can understand its strengths and limitations, and when it will materially enhance the likelihood of a correct outcome." United States v. Boyce, 742 F.3d 802 (7th Cir. 2014). The statements must be supported by corroborating circumstances that clearly indicate its trustworthiness. Since 1975, the Federal Rules of Evidence have permitted the statement of a witness describing an event while perceiving it or immediately thereafter to be admissible into evidence over a hearsay objection. Throwing out Alsuvae's testimony jeopardized accurate fact-finding and let a murderer go free, which is not a correct outcome.
Two hearsay exemptions are present sense impression and excited or contemporaneous utterances. A witness making a statement to police while in still in a state of shock of having witnessed a murder minutes earlier qualifies either as a present sense impression or excited utterances. As the authors of these rules saw it, the fact that the statement is uttered spontaneously guarantees its trustworthiness.
Hawkins might have been able to introduce Alsuvae's statements to police under these hearsay exceptions. It was noted in the Howard vs. Indiana decision that this type of exception was once permitted in a 2005 Indiana case, Fowler v. State (829 N.E.2d 459, 465):
In Fowler, the defendant's wife was the State's key witness in a prosecution for domestic battery. Called to the stand, the wife answered some preliminary questions asked by the State. But after being shown pictures of herself taken at the scene and asked how that happened, she responded, "I don't want to testify. I can't do this . . . . I don't want to testify no more!" Id. at 462. After a recess defense counsel attempted to cross-examine the wife. She responded in much the same fashion as she had responded to the State. On grounds of the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule, and over the defendant's hearsay objection, the trial court admitted into evidence the wife's statements given to a police officer the day the alleged offense occurred. The defendant was convicted, and his conviction was affirmed on appeal.Then, we have the following statement from Florida vs. Lopez:
The trial court admitted Ruiz's statement under the excited utterance hearsay exception in section 90.803(2), Florida Statutes (2006). Section 90.803(2) authorizes the admission of "[a] statement or excited utterance relating to a startling event or, condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement [974 So.2d 345] caused by the event or condition," notwithstanding the general prohibition against the admission of hearsay. The rationale for this exception is that a statement made during a period of excitement is likely to be more reliable than a statement made after a period of reflection. See Evans v. State, 838 So.2d 1090 (Fla.2002). A person who is startled and excited does not have the capacity to analyze the facts or to make a conscious misrepresentation of the event. A statement made during a period of excitement is therefore less likely to be contrived.Witnesses forget quickly. Studies have shown that, over time, memory loss diminishes the reliability of a witness. It only follows that the statements that a witness makes to a police officer five minutes after an event are far more trustworthy than statements the same witness makes before a jury five years after the event. Delays will impair the witness' ability to recall and relate the facts of an alleged offense.
Douglas D. MacFarland, a professor emeritus at Hamline University School of Law, made the point that a witness suddenly confronted with an event is likely to "blurt out a truthful sense impression about that event." Only part of the matter is that the witness lacks time to fabricate a lie. MacFarland wrote, "[O]ther psychological effects contribute to faulty memory when time passes between an event and the report. The witness may confabulate. Confabulation is an effort by the subconscious mind to fill memory gaps to complete a consistent story. . ." Stale statements become less reliable because reflective thought has had time to intervene. MacFarland added, "The present sense impression is thought to pose no hearsay dangers of memory loss or insincerity and so [is] reliable enough to pass the hearsay bar. . ."
Alsuvae said that he saw Donley strangle Grant. His statement is corroborated by the medical examiner, who reported evidence of strangulation. It is, when all is said and done, a trustworthy statement.
Stripped of his ability to lead the witness, the defense attorney had nowhere to go in his cross-examination. He had no astonishing cross-examination question up his sleeve to break the witness. That's only something that happens in the movies. How exactly would his cross-examination have gone?
Defense attorney: Are you sure it was my client you saw strangle the deceased?Of course, we cannot overlook the other witnesses. Sorour witnessed Donley knocking Grant unconscious with multiple kicks and punches. This includes a high kick to Grant's neck. Sorour was too busy calling the police to see Grant jumping on top of his unconscious victim and strangling him, but Sorour came back outside in time to see Donley fleeing in his car as Grant lie dead. By itself, Donley's flight showed a consciousness of guilt. Sorour's testimony would be significant to any reasonable juror.
Defense attorney: No further questions, your honor.
Let's consider a similar scenario. You look across the street from your home and see your neighbor Mary letting a man into her front door. You see the man leave. The man appears to be in an agitated state. You immediately go to check on Mary and find that Mary has been beaten to death. It's much like the scenario in which you wake up one morning and see snow on the ground that wasn't there the night before. You can safely assume that it snowed while you were asleep even though you didn't actually see it snowing. Your neighbor Mary was alive when she let this man into her home and she was dead immediately after the man has left her home. You can safely assume that the man killed her. Your testimony at trial would have great weight. Sorour saw more than Mary's neighbor. He saw enough to confidently identify Donley as Grant's killer.
Of course, it should also be noted that Alsuvae has not disappeared in thin air. Federal Evidence Rules allow attorneys to take depositions outside the United States if the witness' testimony could provide substantial proof of a material fact in a felony prosecution.
Hawkins wrote, "While the cause and manner of death was deemed homicide by strangulation, the doctor's report also opined that cardiovascular disease was a 'contributory cause of death.'" Let's see if this "contributory cause of death" is really relevant.
Donley committed a direct affirmative act that caused Grant's death to occur. The man would still be alive if Donley hadn't attacked him. This causation establishes criminal liability. It's just a matter of applying the "but for" test. But for Donley beating and choking Grant, Grant would have left the Dunkin' Donuts alive. His clogged artery would not have stopped him from getting on his bicycle and safely pedaling home.
Let us look at another scenario.
Ron chases Joe into traffic. Joe is struck by a car and dies. But for Ron chasing Joe into the traffic, Joe would still be alive. The car contributed to the man's death, but the man who drove the car will go free while the man who chased the victim in front of the car will be arrested.The unexpected frailty of the injured person is not a valid defense. The criminal takes his victim as he finds him. He remains responsible for the full extent of the injuries he causes even if the injuries turn out to be more serious than he had reason to expect. A well-established legal doctrine on the subject is the eggshell skull rule. This relates to a murder scenario involving a mugger who batters a man on the head without being aware that the man has a fragile skull. The man's skull cracks, causing the man to suffer a fatal brain injury. The mugger cannot argue that he is innocent because he couldn't have anticipated his blow would kill the man.
A recent highly publicized murder in England involved a scrap dealer, David Brickwood, who died from blood loss caused by wounds to his hands and leg. An underlying heart condition had been a contributory factor, but his death was still categorized as an "unlawful killing."
Let us see what the Supreme Court of North Carolina had to say about a similar case in 1974. The case is State of North Carolina v. James Ellis Luther, 206 S.E.2d 238, 285 N.C. 570. The court made the following conclusion:
The fact that the autopsy revealed hardening of the arteries of the heart and no traumatic injury sufficient to cause death does not exonerate defendant. In his final autopsy report defendant's witness, Dr. Steffee, stated that "the increased cardiac demand occasioned by an altercation might have precipitated death." The law declares 'that one who inflicts an injury on another and thereby accelerates his death shall be held criminally responsible therefor.'40 Am. Jur. 2d Homicide § 16 (1968). See also, 4 Strong, N.C. Index 2d, Homicide § 1 (1968). Thus, if McKenzie's death came about as a result of the conjunction of his heart disease with either the violence or the excitement and shock of defendant's assault it was still brought about by defendant's unlawful act, for the consequences of which he would be answerable. Annot., 47 A.L.R.2d 1072, 1077 (1956). The rule is well settled that the consequences of an assault which is the efficient cause of the death of another are not excused, nor is the criminal responsibility for causing death lessened, by the preexisting physical condition which made the person killed unable to withstand the shock of the assault and without which predisposed condition the blow would not have been fatal. 40 Am. Jur. 2d, Homicide § 20 (1968). See State v. Knight, Supra.Criminal Code 1868, p. 352, McClellan's Digest [compilation of Florida Statutes] reads:
From the evidence in this case it was permissible and reasonable for the jury to draw the inference that McKenzie would not have died but for defendant's unlawful assault and battery upon him.
If one assaults another, but not in a way to naturally cause death or great bodily harm, he is guilty of a criminal act, and if death ensues, though contrary to his intention and wish, the homicide is manslaughter;" and accepting the causal connection between the "pushing" and a fatal heart attack, there was in this case an unlawful act which caused the death of a human being ergo: the act was manslaughter.The court opined in Williamson v. State, 1926, 92 Fla. 1094, 111 So. 245, 247:
[I]n further finding that it was perpetrated by an act imminently dangerous to the person assaulted and that that act, to wit, the striking of an old man over the head with a walking stick and kicking him in the stomach, when perpetrated by a man in the bloom of youth and strength, evinced a depraved mind regardless of human life and even if there was not a premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual.Donley could actually anticipate that he would hurt Grant badly. One witness described Donley as "a fit guy." The witnesses consistently emphasized the physical differences between the men. The tutor, they noted, was short, white-haired, morbidly obese. They knew the truth. Grant could not possibly stand up to the fit young man in a fight. Also, Donley had to have been aware that Grant was not perfectly sober. He knew that Grant was sneaking into the bathroom to drink beer, he had to have smelled the beer on Grant's breath, and it is reasonable to assume that he could detect signs of intoxication in his tutor's speech, his demeanor and his movements. A variety of evidence made it clear that Grant was incapable of defending himself in a sufficient manner. Donley's attack was angry and excited, it presented an unfair advantage to Grant, and it was calculated to harm the Grant.
Sorour indicated that Donley kicked Grant in the neck and punched him in the kidneys. Donley kicked and punched Grant in sensitive places where the force from a blow could do the most damage. Alsuvaee referred to Donley's punches as "boxing shots." Haddad, Donley's own lawyer, spoke of Donley administering "karate kicks." The defendant's combat style, including the high kicks and the kidney punches, suggests fight training, which is a matter that could have been explored in court.
The following point was made in the opinion for State of Connecticut v. Nina C. Baccala, SC 19717, Supreme Court of Connecticut (2017):
[C]ommon sense would seem to suggest that social conventions, as well as special legal protections, could temper the likelihood of a violent response when the words are uttered by someone less capable of protecting themselves, such as a child, a frail elderly person, or a seriously disabled person.Let's replace Grant in this scenario with an 83-year-old woman with a walker. Haddad comes forward with testimony from a medical expert that the old woman died of a heart attack while Donley was beating her. Would you now believe that Donley didn't murder the old woman? He beat the old woman to death and her heart condition doesn't in any way alter that fact.
Heather Heyer, the woman who died during the Charlotteville riots, was morbidly obese. It is being questioned if she was hit by James Fields' car as journalists have reported or if she suffered stress and exertion amid the panicked crowd and died from a heart attack. Should Fields have no responsibility for her death if she did in fact die from a heart attack?
We have many crime victims who are not in the best of health. Their lives still matter.
The Excusable Homicide statute states, in part: "Homicide is excusable. . . by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation. . . without any dangerous weapon being used and not done in a cruel or unusual manner."
It is cruel and unusual to beat and strangle your calculus tutor because you're having trouble understanding the material for an upcoming test. Donley punched Grant repeatedly, he kicked him in the neck, and he choked him unconscious. He fled the scene with Grant's blood splattered on his shirt. Yes, for sure, this is cruel and unusual.
Let us now address the provocation element of the case. The standard definition for provocation is as follows: "A person acts in the heat of passion when he or she is provoked into doing a rash act under the influence of intense emotion that obscures his or her reasoning or judgment. The provocation must be sufficient to have caused a person of average disposition to act rashly and without due deliberation, that is, from passion rather than from judgment."
The following was noted in the decision for Brown vs. Commonwealth of Virginia, 86 Va. 466, 473, 10 S.E. 745:
Malice aforethought implies a mind under the sway of reason, whereas "passion" whilst is does not imply a dethronement of reason, yet it is the furor brevis, which renders a man deaf to the voice of reason so that, although the act was intentional to death, it was not the result of malignity of heart, but imputable to human infirmity.It was the opinion of the court in a 1949 British case, Regina v. Duffy: "Provocation is some act, or series of acts, done by the dead man to the accused, which would cause in any reasonable person, and actually causes in the accused, a sudden and temporary loss of self-control, rendering the accused so subject to passion as to make him or her for the moment not master of his mind."
The Excusable Homicide statute is designed to excuse a killing done in the heat of passion so long as there is "sufficient provocation." For a long time, the statue was mostly used to forgive a man who had went berserk when he caught his wife in bed with another man. This matter was addressed in The State of Ohio v. Shane, 590 N.E.2d 272, 63 Ohio St.3d 630, Supreme Court of Ohio (1992):
See Regina v. Mawgridge (1707), Kelyng, J. 119, 137, 84 Eng.Rep. 1107, 1115: "[W]hen a man is taken in adultery with another man's wife, if the husband shall stab the adulterer, or knock out his brains, that is bare manslaughter: for jealousy is the rage of a man, and adultery is the highest invasion of property." (Citations omitted.) This archaic rule has no place in modern society. Words informing another of infidelity should not be given special treatment by courts trying to determine what provocation is reasonably sufficient provocation. The killing of a spouse (usually a wife) by a spouse (usually a husband) who has just been made aware of the victim spouse's adultery simply is not an acceptable response to the confession of infidelity. See Comment, Provoked Reason in Men and Women: Heat-of-Passion Manslaughter and Imperfect Self-Defense (1986), 33 U.C.L.A. L.Rev. 1679, 1696-1697.The truth is that, in modern times, there are few outright acquittals on a heat of passion defense despite evidence of provocation.
The question that is raised in this case is whether or not a word is sufficient provocation. This is what the Supreme Court of Connecticut had to say about this in Connecticut v. Baccala:
To begin with, abusive language and epithets are not entirely harmless expression. Indeed, there is certain speech that does more than just offend sensibilities or merely cause someone to bristle. One commentator has observed the following about abusive language: "Often a speaker consciously sets out to wound and humiliate a listener. He claims to make the other feel degraded and hated, and chooses words to achieve that effect. In what they accomplish, insults of this sort are a form of psychic assault; they do not differ much from physical assaults, like slaps or pinches, that cause no real physical hurt. Usually, the speaker believes the listener possesses the characteristics that are indicated by his humiliating and wounding remarks, but the speaker selects the most abusive form of expression to impose the maximum hurt. His aim diminishes the expressive importance of the words." (Footnotes omitted.) K. Greenawalt, "Insults and Epithets: Are They Protected Speech?" 42 Rutgers L. Rev. 287, 293 (1990); see also Taylor v. Metzger, 152 N.J. 490, 503, 706 A.2d 685 (1998) ("The experience of being called 'nigger,''spic,''Jap,' or 'kike' is like receiving a slap in the face. The injury is instantaneous."). It is precisely because fighting words inflict injury that they tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.But it must be noted that a "fighting words" defense is generally used in disorderly conduct and assault cases. Let's take, for example, Talmadge v. Georgia 287 Ga. App. 332, 651 S.E.2d 469, Court of Appeals of Georgia (August 22, 2007). Talmadge was charged with disorderly conduct for intentionally provoking a man by telling him, "Your mother is a no good bitch." A murder case is something else entirely. Talmadge's death would not have been justified just because Talmadge had insulted someone's mother.
The defendant claims that the law should not embrace an assumption that reasonable people will respond to abusive language with violence and claims that the people of Connecticut are peaceable, citing a low incidence of assault. . . [But] the fighting words doctrine, by requiring the jury to determine whether an ordinary person would respond to the abusive language with immediate violence, already contemplates a fluid community standard for fighting words that naturally includes the extent to which the people of this state are peaceable.
At best, the defense has used this argument to reduce a murder charge to manslaughter charge, not to excuse a murder. Lawmakers are willing to make a distinction if the defendant was aroused to passion as opposed to coldly planning out a murder beforehand. Their actions are seen as less odious and therefore qualify as a lesser offense. Space is reserved on death row for those people who engage in murders that are deliberate or premeditated.
The heat of passion defense wasn't allowed before the Twentieth Century. The judge wrote in People v. Bruggy, 93 Cal. 476, 481 (1892), "Nothing is more surely calculated to arouse the blood of some men to a heat of passion than grievous words of reproach, yet no words are sufficient provocation to reduce an offense from murder to manslaughter; and this principle is so well established in this state that discussion would be out of place."
Let us take a look at a 1946 case, People v. Valentine, 28 Cal.2d 121. One morning, before daylight, Raymon Boyd heard someone outside his house. He had previously seen a man peeking through his windows and thought that the man had come back. He encountered an unfamiliar man, John Valentine, in his front yard. Valentine said that he was neighbor who lived nearby. Boyd reportedly replied, "You are a God damned liar." The judge wrote in his opinion:
Mrs. Valentine, Mrs. Higgins, and Mr. Edmond, also a member of defendant's household, came out of their house when they heard the altercation. They testified that Boyd repeatedly accused defendant of peeking in his window, cursed him and stated that "That is not the first time that has happened. I knew I was going to catch him and break his God damned neck." When defendant attempted to pass Boyd, saying, "Mister, get out of the way and let me go to work," Boyd said, "Don't be in such a God damned hurry," shoved defendant, and put his right hand in his pocket. Boyd thereafter started toward defendant as if he were going to shove him again and defendant said, "Don't come another step, else I will shoot." Boyd replied, "You can't scare me with your God damned gun," came on, and defendant fired.Valentine admitted that he hadn't felt threatened. "No," he said, "the only thing, when he talked to me, he acted like he was riding over me and it made me hot." He was asked, "You could have gone on to work and not stopped if you hadn't wanted to?" He answered, "Well, it was more on account of him making me hot than because of what he said that I stopped."
Valentine was convicted of a lesser offense because something the other man said had gotten him "hot." Valentine was not excused for killing Boyd. The longstanding legacy of the case could be observed in the decision for People v. Le, 158 Cal. App.4th 516 (2007):
People v. Valentine (28 Cal.2d 121, 1946) established the rule that words of abuse, insult or reproach may incite the heat of passion specified in the Penal Code section 192 definition of manslaughter, and hence may constitute sufficient provocation to reduce the offense of intentional homicide from murder to manslaughter. Valentine dealt with the question of whether provocative words "are of themselves sufficient to reduce the offense of an intentional homicide with a deadly weapon from murder to manslaughter" as a matter of law. (Id. at p. 140.) The Valentine court resolved a split of earlier authority and said that it was a question for the jury to decide whether the facts were sufficient to show that the defendant acted under the heat of such passion as would naturally be aroused in an ordinarily reasonable person.The jury, not Hawkins or Haddad, must find if the provocative conduct was sufficient to render a reasonable person temporarily incapable of rational judgment. It is also the job of the jury to Donley acted in a "cruel and unusual manner."
It doesn't matter to me what Grant generally thought of black people. But I am unwilling to assume from the facts at hand that he was a racist. He was a man who became so angry that he was willing to say something hurtful. The word that he used was reasonably calculated to hurt, though not necessarily provoke, Donley. But the word is a distraction from the real issues.
A man might normally feel no hostility towards an overweight person. But, in the heat of an argument, he will impulsively grapple around for any available word that can be used as a weapon. So, in confronting an overweight man who is sensitive about his weight, he will call him "fatso." It is a barb that is guaranteed to strike at the ego of the other man. Grant used a word to demean and hurt Donley, who he knew was sensitive about his race. But is that sufficient provocation? Let's look at The State of Vermont v. Robert William Blish, 776 A. 2d 380 (2001):
In the early morning on the date in question, defendant [Robert William Blish], [Plinio Raphael] Diaz, and Debra Secord were traveling together in Diaz's car, en route from Claremont, New Hampshire to Ascutney, Vermont. The car was driven by Secord, with defendant riding in the front seat and Diaz alone in the left rear seat. While driving along State Route 131 in Ascutney, defendant and Diaz exchanged insults. Defendant referred to Diaz as "nigger," and Diaz responded by calling defendant "fat boy." When Diaz called defendant "fat boy," defendant pulled out a handgun, turned around to face Diaz, and shot him in the face, killing him. Defendant stated immediately thereafter "There, call me fat boy again."Was Bliss sufficiently provoked to shoot Diaz?
In re Spivey, 345 N.C. 404, 414-15, 480 S.E.2d 693 (1997) held that racial slur directed at African-American man by white man will cause "hurt and anger" and "often provoke him to confront the white man and retaliate." The judge consulted Webster's New World Dictionary for a definition of "nigger." It was noted in dictionary that the word is "generally regarded as virtually taboo because of the legacy of racial hatred that underlies the history of its use among whites, and its continuing use among a minority as a viciously hostile epithet." Spivey's lawyer complained on appeal that the prosecution brought forward a stream of witnesses to provide their personal anecdotes and opinions on the history of the mistreatment of African-Americans.
In re John M., 201 Ariz. 424, 428, 36 P.3d 772 (App. 2001) similarly held that that racial slurs were "likely to provoke a violent reaction when addressed to an ordinary citizen of African-American descent."
But these were not murder cases. The Spivey case involved an impeachment procedure. The John M. case involved a disorderly conduct incident.
Haddad's defense is in itself racist, relying on the premise that black people have so little self-control that a single word can make them homicidal. Too many people have elevated this word so that it now has supreme powers. But it is merely a word and to give it the power to justify murder is irrational and immoral. This word should not be given special treatment by the court.
Many years ago, I got into an argument with a man who was wearing a bow tie. At that moment, I hated everything about that man, including his bow tie. That harmless piece of apparel, as an identifying feature, took on an irrational significance as I glared at the man. "You and your stupid bow tie," I thought to myself. I have no animosity to people who wear bow ties. I, myself, have sometimes worn a bow tie. But this is something that I came into my head in the heat of the conflict. It was a foolish thought that had no value or meaning.
Lawrence Storer, upset about being robbed at gunpoint, jumped into his Ford Explorer and ran the car fast and hard into the fleeing robber, which resulted in the robber's death. Storer went on trial for manslaughter. His attorney argued that his client "was confronted with a sudden, horrific situation and acted out of character." The jury agreed and Storer was allowed to go free. A gun, which presents an immediate deadly threat, creates a horrific situation. A racial slur, which does not create an immediate deadly threat, does not create a horrific situation.
California Criminal Law Jury Instructions outlines seven criteria that the defendant must meet to qualify for a Heat of Passion defense.
1. The defendant acted in the heat of passion;Donley’s youth, fitness and sober state gave him an undue advantage. He demonstrated a conscious disregard of danger to human life. He killed his victim in a cruel and unusual way. He showed criminal negligence. In consideration of the factors in this case, Donley should not have been able to rely on the Heat of Passion defense.
2. The defendant was suddenly provoked by decedent or suddenly drawn into combat by decedent;
3. The defendant did not take undue advantage of the decedent;
4. The defendant did not use a dangerous weapon;
5. The defendant did not kill the decedent in a cruel or unusual way;
6. The defendant did not intend to kill the decedent and did not act with conscious disregard of the danger to human life;
7. The defendant did not act with criminal negligence.
California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) No. 917 state, "Words, no matter how offensive, and acts that are not threatening, are not enough to justify an assault or battery." This matter was more extensively addressed in an opinion for Francois Boyd v. United States, No. 97-CM-1803 (District of Columbia Court of Appeals, 1999):
[T]he general view of other jurisdictions is "that in the absence of statute, mere words, no matter how abusive, insulting, vexatious, or threatening . . . will not justify an assault."Eagleston v. United States, 172 F.2d 194, 199 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 336 U.S. 952 (1949). See also 6 AM. JUR. 2D Assault and Battery § 61 (1963); 6A C.J.S. Assault and Battery § 18 (1975) ("Generally, provocative words or acts unaccompanied by acts of hostility do not justify an assault although they may go in mitigation of damages."). This is consistent with our case law. In the civil context, we recognized that "[a]t common law, in the absence of a special statute, no provocative acts or words - unless accompanied by an overt act of hostility - would justify an assault, no matter how offensive or exasperating the acts or words were." Williams v. District Unemployment Compensation Bd., 383 A.2d 345, 350 (D.C. 1978) (citations omitted). Similarly, words cannot form sufficient provocation to negate the element of malice in a homicide case. See West v. United States, 499 A.2d 860, 865 (D.C. 1985); Nicholson v. United States, 368A.2d 561, 565 (D.C. 1977). In accordance with other jurisdictions, we hold that mere words unaccompanied by overt acts of hostility, cannot act as a defense to the criminal charge of assault. See, e.g., State v. Blank, 352 N.W.2d 91, 92 (Minn. Ct. App. 1984); State v. Tibbetts, 379 A.2d 735, 737(Me. 1977); People v. Martinez, 3 Cal. App. 3d 886, 889 (Ct. App. 1970); State v. Bogie, 217 A.2d51, 55 (Vt. 1966); State v. Jones, 173 P.2d 960, 961 (Or. 1946).An intriguing narrative emerges from Osbourne's statements. She identified that at the core of the tension between the men was Donley's pride as a black man. A black man who embraces the principles of black pride is obligated to hold a high opinion of himself. But it is not only what he thinks of himself that is important. He must demand that others show him respect, too. It is a militant form of narcissism, which is the reason that black pride is represented by a fist. It is a corrupting force that can breed sensitivity, rage and death. In the case of Donley, he believed that the color of his skin put him in a special class and he believed that his personal dignity was more important than another man's life.
Donley was frustrated with his inability to understand calculus. He was too proud to face up to his inadequacy and he chose, instead, to project his frustration onto his tutor. Donley was justified to be angry at calculus. He was justified to tear up his calculus textbook and slam it against a wall. But he was not justified to murder Grant.
Let us look at Cantwell et al. v. State of Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed. 1213 (1940), a case that involves a group of Jehovah's Witnesses whose aggressive efforts to convert Roman Catholics to the Jehovah's Witness faith proved to be offensive. The court opinion reads,
On the day of their arrest the appellants were engaged in going singly from house to house on Cassius Street in New Haven. They were individually equipped with a bag containing books and pamphlets on religious subjects, a portable phonograph and a set of records, each of which, when played, introduced, and was a description of, one of the books. Each appellant asked the person who responded to his call for permission to play one of the records.The record that the group played for residents denounced Roman Catholics as, according to the court, "instruments of Satan and injurious to man." The court recognized that the record was bound to offend those Roman Catholics who "honestly held [their] religious faith." The court noted:
Cassius Street is in a thickly populated neighborhood, where about ninety percent of the residents are Roman Catholics. A phonograph record, describing a book entitled "Enemies," included an attack on the Catholic religion.
The hearers were in fact highly offended. One of them said he felt like hitting Cantwell and the other that he was tempted to throw Cantwell off the street. The one who testified he felt like hitting Cantwell said, in answer to the question "Did you do anything else or have any other reaction?" "No, sir, because he said he would take the victrola and he went." The other witness testified that he told Cantwell he had better get off the street before something happened to him and that was the end of the matter as Cantwell picked up his books and walked up the street.The man "felt like hitting Cantwell," but he didn't hit Cantwell. We don't hit someone because we feel like hitting someone. It is more reasonable to apply a heat of passion defense for Grant using a racial slur than to apply a heat of passion defense for Donley becoming physically violent.
Grant thought he would have the last word as Donley walked away. He couldn't have anticipated that Donley would turn around and beat him to death. Why should he assume the student that he had been tutoring for months would engage in such a violent retaliation?
We do not know the totality of the circumstances. We have no context for the slur. We do not have Donley's testimony on the matter as Donley refuses to talk. We do not have Grant's testimony on the matter because Grant is dead. So, we cannot fully understand the relationship of the parties, the state of feeling that existed between them, and the facts and circumstances contemporaneous with the use of the word. It remains nothing more than a word that floated out into the air. Grant may have been provoked to utter the word by a scornful epithet applied to him by Donley. We don't know.
Carol and David Field staged a protest outside of the Broward courthouse. Carol Field described her brother as "one of the most big-hearted, open-minded, wonderful persons you could know." She said, "He was patient, kind, he was gentle. Most of his students were from a diverse background." She concluded, "I can’t say why Joni did what Joni did but I can say what he did was immoral and awful and he ought to pay for it."
David Field said, "That’s quite frankly what is just so incredibly difficult to understand because there’s a free man out there who killed another human being with his bare hands, left him on the pavement, went on living his life and now we’re being told will never be held accountable for his actions. We just can’t understand that. We want justice for David."
The criminal court fails to do its job if it condones angry, uncontrolled violence, which is the ultimate form of lawlessness. A person shouldn't have a right to beat another person to death because that person called them a name.
Damian Sebo claimed that he beat his girlfriend to death because she taunted him with insults about his sexual performance. At one time, a so-called "gay panic defense" allowed for a man accused of murder to have the charge downgraded if the victim made a "homosexual advance." Should a man be able to kill a woman for calling him "peewee"? Should a man be able to kill another man for calling him "sweetie"?
The court is left to conclude which insults are "akin to dropping a match into a pool of gasoline." State v. Tracy, supra, 200 Vt. 237 (2015). It was their determination in People in the Interest of R.C. (supra, 2016 WL 6803065) that mere utterance of "'cocksucker,'" although vulgar and profane, did not constitute fighting words. It is a foolish endeavor for judges to sort and weigh offensive words like this. No word justifies murder.
The public has reason to be concerned that Donley is walking free. Let us consider one last scenario. Donley cuts ahead of other people on a checkout line at a supermarket. One of the other people gets angry and calls him an "asshole." Is it possible that he will beat that person to death? Is it possible that the person will be you?
The behavior that Joni Donley demonstrated on the night that he murdered David Grant indicates impulse control issues and other severe behavioral problems. He will likely spend the rest of his life under his mother's care. No company will hire a hot-tempered young man who is capable of killing his supervisor for an unfavorable employee review. No woman will date a man who has a potential of murdering her during their first spat. This sort of behavior is not acceptable behavior in a civilized society.
Selected Reference Source
Douglas D. MacFarland, "Present Sense Impressions Cannot Live in the Past," Florida State University Law Review, Volume 28, Issue 4, Article 2, 2001.
|Charlie Chaplin as a flea circus owner in The Professor (1922)|
|The troublesome flea (1906)|
At an evening reception one of the guests is attacked by this unpleasant little insect, and out of sheer annoyance removes his nether garments in an adjoining room. Unfortunately they fall out of the window. The other guests, bursting into the room, finding him in this dilemma, chase him into the street. He runs full tilt into a policeman, who likewise gives chase - into the country - up a tree - when the guest removes the policeman's trousers and tries to don them instead - finally coming a cropper in an outhouse. Exceptionally clear, fine detail, and very amusing.A flea circus manager uses a magnifying glass to search for an escaped flea in The Showman's Treasure (1907).
Linder is credited by Jornal do Brasil as the star of the 1908 comedy Travels of a Flea (released in France as Les pérégrinations d’une puce). A critic with Moving Picture World described the plot as follows:
In a glass case a woman is exhibiting a few trained fleas for a livelihood, and the spectators get the benefit of the whole performance for two cents. After the fleas have performed their stunts the public depart, when all at once the last spectator starts to scratch himself frantically. He rushes out and stops to tell a policeman what his trouble is. He has scarcely finished his tale when the officer also gets the itch. At the same moment the flea trainer comes running out of her menagerie, screaming that one of her artists has been stolen. Seeing the policeman going his way, scratching, she pursues him. He, however, stops to talk to a nurse, the flea jumps on her; she goes her way, and stopping to have a drink, the troublesome animal jumps on the waiter. From waiter to officer, from officer to a row of soldiers, from soldiers to a college boy, does the flea jump and bite, until the trainer, who has followed all the peregrinations of her beloved pet, and has vainly endeavored to catch up with the last but always changing, flea-troubled citizen, catches hold of the young student, and after having secured her beloved scholar, goes home, taking the youth along with her.Sime Silverman of Variety found limited appeal in the "twisting and squirming." He thought that this gag was "totally exhausted" by the time "the gyrations of the first person ceased."
Yet, much more flea-induced twisting and squirming went on for the next several decades.
In 1911, fleas were again a problem for Linder in Max's Divorce (released in France as Max se marie). The film is a remake of The troublesome flea. At his wedding, Max realizes that a hyperactive flea has taken refuge in his pants. He sneaks out to a balcony to remove his pants and shake them out. But he loses hold of his pants, which fall into the street. He wraps a curtain around himself to cross a large hall, but the curtain becomes entangled with an ornament and is yanked off his body. The wedding party is appalled to see Max without his pants. His bride is so humiliated that she files for divorce. Max pleads his case before a panel of judges. Film critic Pablo C. Ducros Hicken wrote, "Max throws his judges a large number of those parasites, whose virulent action stir judges into a chaotic pandemonium and forces them to spontaneously strip their robes from other clothes."
Fleas cause more marital strife for Linder in a 1912 comedy, A Flea in Her Bridal Bed (released in France as Une nuit agitée). Max is constantly interrupted on his wedding night by an annoying flea crawling around his bed. No matter how hard he tries, he can't get rid of the pest.
The Motion Picture News outlined the plot of The Flea Circus (1913) in unique detail:
The professor, after many years of hard work, has succeeded in training a number of fleas, and some of them have become very intelligent, one in particular. One day, when taking this flea out for an airing, it escapes, and the professor is much disturbed. He follows it on hands and knees to his apartment, but is not quite as nimble as his pet, which gets into the next apartment and proceeds to make enemies with an old gentleman with a bald head. This old gentleman, by a dexterous movement of his hand and fingers, catches the pet, and is about to throw it into the fire, when the professor appears and explains to him what a terrible crime he is about to commit. He saves his pet and takes the old gentleman and says that he will show him a few things he did not know about fleas. We next see the professor in his laboratory with his wonderful microscope, and then we see through the microscope the marvelous performances of the flea in question and his brothers. They walk a tight rope, they pull guns and round-abouts, they work a treadmill, they jump through hoops, and do many other novel things. The method of feeding them is shown, and the method of placing the chain around their necks. It is by means of this chain composed of a wire one two-thousandth of an inch in diameter that the flea is trained. This subject is a remarkable offering from a scientific point of view, and further, is full of fun.Charlie Chaplin is the owner of a flea circus in his unfinished film The Professor (1922). The comedian uses his mime skills to "coax" his pretend fleas through an acrobatic routine. Chaplin was fond of this comic business and always intended to include it in a film. He nearly featured his flea acrobats in The Circus (1928), but he could never find a place in the story for his tiny friends. He eventually showcased the routine in Limelight (1952).
Flea comedy reached its zenith with Our Gang's Thundering Fleas (1926). Variety described the plot as follows:
The star performer of the circus escapes and the owner of the show commissions the kids to go out and catch all the fleas that they can, promising the one that will return his bike-riding flea a reward. The kids bottle thousands of fleas, and finally set them loose at the home of little Mary at the time that her sister is being wed, the result being that the minister, the bride and groom and all the guests are all twitching and scratching. . .
In Hot Luck (1928), Big Boy (Malcolm Sebastian) brings his dog into a firehouse without realizing that the dog has fleas. Raymond Ganly of Motion Picture News reported: "Situations embarrassing for the firemen and their chief develop with the visit of the fire commissioner and his wife to the flea-ridden station house."
In Hop Off (1928), Charley Bowers makes his living as the proprietor of a flea circus. The stop-motion fleas that appear in the film don roller skates and use a bald man's head as a skating rink.
A flea circus gets loose in Laurel and Hardy's bed in The Chimp (1932).
The Three Stooges had encounters with fleas. Larry inspects a dog for fleas in Mutts to You (1938). He disposes of an uninvited flea by smashing it between an anvil and a flat iron.
The Stooges pick up fleas in the back of a dog catcher's truck in From Nurse to Worse (1940).
Fred Allen is the custodian of a flea circus in It's in the Bag (1945).
Mischa Auer plays a flea circus owner in Mr. Arkadin (1955).
Red Skelton did a couple of routines about fleas. A 1962 episode of The Red Skelton Hour, titled "Once Upon a Flea," involves Clem Kadiddlehopper (Skelton) selling a talking flea to television show host Ed Shewllivan (Will Jordan). In 1971, The Red Skelton Show featured a sketch in which Skelton's trained flea act is undermined by a passing dog.
In the 1970s, a couple of popular British sitcoms found humor in fleas.
First, there was an episode of Steptoe and Son ("Loathe Story," 1972). Harold (Harry H. Corbett) invites his new posh girlfriend (Joanna Lumley) and her snooty mother (Georgina Cookson) for an afternoon tea at his home, but he fails to make a good impression when the tea party is invaded by fleas.
Fleas again disassembled snootiness in a 1976 episode of Good Neighbors called "Whose Fleas Are These?" Tom (Richard Briers) and Barbara (Felicity Kendal) believe that their livestock is responsible for an infestation of fleas. Their neighbor, Margo, is repulsed to learn of this development. But the situation takes an interesting turn when a pest control expert visits. It turns out the fleas come from a dog belonging to Mrs. Domes-Patterson, a snooty society woman that Margo has been supporting in a local election.
The City of Lost Children (1995) features an assassin who uses trained fleas to inject poison into his victims.
Flea circus performers play a role in A Bug's Life (1998).
Hicken, Pablo C. Ducros. "Max Linder, The King of Laughter." La Nación, June 16, 1940. http://pabloducroshicken-pintor.blogspot.de/2015/06/articulo-de-la-nacion-max-linder-le-roi.html.
Motion Picture News (July 5, 1913)
Motion Picture News (September 29, 1928)
Moving Picture World (April 11, 1908)
Variety (March 14, 1908).
Variety (September 8, 1926)
Plot information for The troublesome flea and Travels of a Flea was found on Georg Renken's Max Linder website at http://www.maxlinder.de/.
I was recently on YouTube watching a video of a Morecambe and Wise sketch. I browsed the comments section to find what people had to say about the video and I came across a curious statement. A YouTube user named All Our Yesterdays complained that Morecambe and Wise's two best known routines were stolen from other comedians. He referred to the comedy duo as "rip-off merchants." I was intrigued enough to learn if All Our Yesterdays had a valid complaint.
The first routine in question introduces Morecambe as an orchestra drummer. A surprise comes when Morecambe brings down his stick on the drumhead and is met by a big splash of milk. It is a great visual gag. Comedians often engage in wordplay – puns and double entendres. This is visual play – a comedian taking advantage of the fact that a smooth white drumhead looks like a pool of milk.
The gag was later used by other comedians. Chuck McCann strikes a snare drum that turns out to be filled with milk.
The gag was also featured in a video for J. Geils Band's "Centerfold."
Keith Moon of The Who poured water onto his drumhead to create splashes as he drummed in Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus (1968).
Next, we have this musical breakfast scene, which is possibly Morecambe and Wise's most popular routine.
This brings us back to Kovacs. Kovacs created a musical kitchen routine called "Kitchen Symphony" for an ABC half-hour special broadcast in 1961.
The same year, Kovacs elaborated on this idea with his full cast performing "Dinner Symphony."
Kovacs also created an "Office Symphony" in 1961.
This routine turned up again on a 1965 episode of The Benny Hill Show.
Hill remade the scene in the 1970s.
Armstrong & Miller performed the Morecambe and Wise Breakfast Sketch.
Gag-sharing is a form of knowledge-sharing. A comedian determines that an audience will laugh at something he does and he will directly or indirectly pass this knowledge to other comedians. It doesn't make Morecambe and Wise "rip-off merchants" to recycle old Ernie Kovacs gags, especially when they were able to vastly improve the original material. There are boundaries that a comedian can cross in copying another comedian's material, which is another subject altogether, but Morecambe and Wise did not cross any of those boundaries.
Abbott and Costello's famous "Susquehanna Hat" routine, in which people react hysterically to the sight of a straw hat and cannot find relief until they mangle the hat with their trembling hands and crush it beneath their feet. I learned from Peter Reitan, author of the Early Sports and Pop Culture History Blog, that a similar form of hat madness had once run rampant in the real world. It started on September 21, 1870, when the New York Stock Exchange issued the following notice:
Notice. – All white hats found in the Board Room after the 25th of September will be considered contraband of war, and will be treated accordingly.Principal among light-colored headgear banned by this order was the straw hat. Straw hats, which were lightweight and reflected sunlight, were regarded as appropriate headwear for the bright days of summer. But, once summer ended, men were generally expected to put their straw hats into storage.
Signed by the Sub-Committee
Sept. 21, 1870.
It wasn't enough for the enforcers of the hat ban to civilly confiscate hats from the rule breakers. A man who refused to abandon his straw hat for the cooler autumn weather was regarded by fashion adherents as a social misfit who must be forcibly brought into line with everyone else. The enforcers were, as the notice clearly warned, prepared to go to war. They would either swing a cane to knock the improper hat off a man's head or they would dislodge the headgear with a strongly pitched apple or pear. Once the hat hit the floor, they would stomp on it, making sure it was crushed beyond repair.
Author and historian James D. McCabe wrote in 1881:
The life of a stock broker is one of constant excitement. Stocks go up and down so rapidly, so many changes occur, that he must be continually on the alert, watching the market eagerly, to take advantage of a lucky rise, or to guard against the mishaps of an unexpected decline. It is a wearying, wearing existence, and it is no wonder that in their amusements the brokers should be rather boisterous, or that they should seek to enliven the sometimes dull proceedings of the Boards with a bit of fun. The 15th of September is known as "White Hat Day," and is rigidly observed at the Exchange. Woe to the unfortunate broker who ventures to put in an appearance on that day with a straw or summer hat. It is ruthlessly knocked from his head, and the next moment the members are busy playing football with it.The New York Herald reported in 1870:
Resistance to the flanking movements were found to be useless, and when the battle closed late in the day not a white hat was to be seen on all the field, and high above the plaints of the wounded who had parted with their summer head tops against their will, rose the shouts of victory. . .Buffalo Daily Dispatch and Evening Post noted in 1877:
Some Tall Fun on the New York Stock Exchange.
Late in the afternoon at least one-third of the brokers doing business on the floor were bareheaded, and dozens of crushed white hats were whirling in the air or ornamenting the gas brackets. Straw hats were treated even in a worse manner. They were torn apart in many instances, and the floor was strewn with the fragments. A favorite trick was to approach an unconscious, bareheaded broker from behind and pull a dilapidated white tile down over his face and ears.A New Zealand newspaper, The Ashburton Guardian, published an informative account of White Hat Day on November 20, 1882.
This became an annual tradition that spread to other jurisdictions. Reitan wrote:
Within a decade and a half of the first "White Hat Day," its widespread notoriety spawned nearly universal adoption of the practice across the United States. Hat dealers, who had long understood seasonal advertising, latched onto the new trend to boost sales. Newspaper editors looking to profit from that advertising encouraged the practice, firmly entrenching the practice in American pop-culture.In Pittsburgh, young vandals took to the streets to enforce the policy. The following newspaper excerpts were provided in Reitan's account.
The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware), September 16, 1909, page 1:
That policemen did not make proper efforts to quell the riot and in some instances refused to interfere to protect straw hats and their owners was the assertion made to the mayor by the committee.
The Pittsburgh Press, September 22, 1910, page 1:
Magistrates Coward and Briggs failed to see the humor of smashing straw hats, when thirty-five boys and young men were brought before them yesterday morning on charges of destroying summer headgear of pedestrians along Broad street between Snyder and Washington avenues on the previous evening.
"A man is entitled to wear a straw hat up until Christmas if he feels so inclined," declared Magistrate Briggs. "I tried to find out who originated the straw hat smashing idea, but there is nothing in the encyclopedia about it."
Filmmakers know they can guarantee suspense by showing a child in peril. Children are vulnerable members of our society and we, as adults, feel an urgent need to protect them. A filmmaker who uses our love and devotion of children to create easy scares is lazy, exploitative and immoral.
For nearly thirty years, Hollywood has regularly been criticized for putting fictional children in peril on the big screen. But at least the children once stood a fair chance of escaping harm. No more. Gruesome violence has been freely inflicted on children in a number of recent films, including It, mother! and Annabelle: Creation. This sort of violence has become inevitable in the exceedingly dark world crafted in methodical fashion by Hollywood artists.
Let us take a look at the plot of Annabelle: Creation. An elderly couple, Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto), open their home as a shelter to a group of orphan girls. One of the girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman), comes across a locked bedroom. Mr. Mullins tells Janice that she must never enter this room. But a demon who is being held captive in the room is able to deviously lure Janice to the dark and foreboding space. The creature has the door spring open to make it easy for the girl to enter. Certainly, we can recognize that a small girl is vulnerable to harm being trapped in a room with a demon. Certainly, we can feel frightened for her. But that is not enough for the filmmakers, who have conceived the young girl as a polio victim and have her stumbling around the creaky room on crutches.
Janice unwittingly frees the demon from a closet before fleeing the room. Her misjudgment results in the girl being relentlessly tormented by the demon in a series of set-pieces. Finally, midway into the film, the demon throws the girl off a second floor landing.
The film leaves out the section of the story in which emergency services arrive on the scene. The film leaves out the section of the story in which hospital personnel treat the child for her injuries. Instead, the story skips ahead to Janice arriving back home in a wheelchair. No bruises are evident, although a fall of this nature would have no doubt left bruises. It seems as if only hours have passed, although no one could recover from such a violent fall without spending days in the hospital. It is revealed in the scene that the injuries Janice sustained in the fall have left the girl permanently crippled. Janice despairs that no one will be willing to adopt her now.
The demon's savage attack on Janice is a major dramatic event in the story. It should in some way change the course of the story or change the protagonist. But it does neither. The demon is lurking around the home to steal souls before the scene and the demon is lurking around the home to steal souls after the scene. The girl is terrified before the scene and the girl is terrified after the scene. Nothing has changed. The screenwriter could have had Janice become enraged by her injury and feel compelled to overcome her disability to outwit and defeat the demon. But, no, the next scene has the demon finishing off what he started - he batters the girl around some more and ravenously devours her soul. The girl has gone from sad (orphan with polio) to sadder (orphan with polio who can't walk) to saddest (orphan with polio who can't walk and has had her soul devoured by a demon). It is more sadism than character development. We are fleetingly introduced to the girl in a wheelchair for no reason other than to make us feel bad to see the girl in a wheelchair. Fear and pity intermingle to create tragedy.
Where does the story go from here? Janice was the film's protagonist. Now, after being tormented, shoved to a great fall, beaten and possessed by the demon, she no longer has a role to play in the plot. It is unclear if we are supposed to now identify with one of the other characters. The film has lost its protagonist and remaining characters scatter to various places to escape the demon.
I could never trust a person who makes a film like this. A filmmaker who imagines inflicting gratuitous, sadistic, unrelenting violence on small children is no less fiendish than a demon. "Syndrome," a graphic novel by Blake Leibel, depicts in explicit detail the gruesome acts of a serial killer. It can't have been a complete surprise when Leibel was arrested for torturing, mutilating and murdering his girlfriend, Iana Kasian. Kasian's body was found to have been drained of blood, which is similar to what happens to the murder victims in the graphic novel. It takes a sick bastard to come up with this sort of stuff. Violent and perverted ideas can manifest into violent and perverted actions.
|A panel from Blake Leibel's "Syndrome."|
Craig of Bloody Good Horror wrote: "Here, director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), and Annabelle scribe, Gary Dauberman. . . tak[e] glee in a level of tasteless sadism. . ."
Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Instead of artfully engineered frights, Sandberg goes for cackling sadism. In addition to the death of the couple's young daughter at the beginning, the evil forces in the film focus their supernatural crosshairs on the one girl with a Polio leg brace (Talitha Bateman)."
Logan Bushey of Log's Line wrote:
Janice (Talitha Bateman), a young Polio victim who limps along the hallways with a cane and her leg brace, is too visibly a soon-to-be victim. She is the prey. Nighttime entices her towards that off-boundaries door, now unlocked by the evil lurking inside, and she stumbles inwards, looking around so curiously that we know she’ll be the target. The terrorizing of this girl builds sadistically, maturing from jump-scares to straight-up horror.Hollywood is not a child-friendly community. The industry treats children like miniature adults. Bateman was made up and dressed much like her adult co-star Stephanie Sigman while on tour to promote Annabelle: Creation.
Again, these complaints are nothing new. The New York Times' Caryn James wrote in a 1993 article "Terrorize A Child, Pull a Crowd":
That danger-free zone doesn't exist for. . . fictional children, who have lately been terrorized by dinosaurs, stalked by the Mafia and an evil Terminator and left in the hands of deranged baby sitters. Children in peril are the new toys for makers of thrillers.John Horn and Chris Lee wrote about filmmakers "putting children into jeopardy [to] give their dramas more of an emotional wallop" in a 2006 Los Angeles Times article, "The new fascination: Kids in peril." The journalists wrote:
It's kiddie season at the movies, and children are everywhere you look: brandishing machine guns in Blood Diamond, fighting for their lives in the desert in Babel, suffering from mortal wounds in Pan's Labyrinth, being blown to bits in Deja Vu, sleeping in public toilets in The Pursuit of Happyness and getting massacred in The Nativity Story.The writers pointed out that the opening shot of Pan's Labyrinth features an 11-year-old girl with a gunshot wound. The film's director, Guillermo del Toro, recognized a unique benefit to having a child as a protagonist in a horror film. He said plainly, "I think children react very naturally to horror. . ." He continued, "Horror is an extension of the fairytale and in fairytales ogres and wolves ate children and I think that it goes to the roots of storytelling to have children as vulnerable." But, still, del Toto cautioned the public that his films were "not your father's fairy tales."
Hollywood historically has steered away from depicting children in peril, typically limiting any life-or-death struggles to cartoonishly violent genre films such as The Shining, Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But as this new batch of movies underscores, the old rules of childhood engagement are rapidly evolving. Instead of consigning children to the periphery of horrific realities, these films are dragging kids - preteens to toddlers - right into the middle of the mayhem.
Rotten Tomatoes summarizes the critical consensus of Pan's Labyrinth as follows: "Pan's Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups, with the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended together into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable." Amy Nicholson was a rare critic who expressed revulsion of the film. The story, as Nicholson saw it, involves a girl named Ofelia who is "lure[d]. . . away to do the icky bidding of the faun of the underworld." Nicholson further elaborated:
. . . [Ofelia] pluckily sets about crawling into roach-infested trees and running from child-eating ghouls. Though Ofelia's smock is swiped from Alice, her faun from Narnia, her magic book from Harry Potter, and her family tree from the Brothers Grimm, Del Toro sets her fairytale apart with its unrelenting gore and misery. . . What lingers isn’t fantasy, but Del Toro’s gorgeous despair that leaves you rushing home to stick your head not in the magic closet, but in the oven.Before setting out to make his first American film, Mimic (1997), del Toro was advised by a marketing executive to be careful not to have the film's monster slaughter children or dogs, which was something that would incite disapproval from American audiences. The director immediately added a scene in which two children and a dog are slaughtered by the monster.
|James Costa in Mimic (1997)|
Del Toro's belief, as he has stated multiple times, is that that childhood is brutal and frightening and children should be taught to act with caution if they ever encounter danger. As a child, del Toro imagined that monsters were all around him. Mark Mann of the Globe and Mail wrote:
When Guillermo del Toro was a child in Mexico, he made a pact with the monsters that crowded into his room at night: If they let him go to the washroom, he'd be their friend for life. The deal worked. The monsters disappeared, and the now-acclaimed filmmaker has devoted his career to bringing those beasts back to life for everyone else.It would be different if del Toro showed a child running into a street after a ball and getting hit by a car. A child could see that and know to be careful going into the street. But Mimic is hardly helpful to children in suggesting the way they should behave around a bug monster, which is so far off in its invention that it relates to nothing a child might encounter in the real world. A fairytale witch can possess the guile and deceptively benign countenance of a real-life child molester, which is something that children have reason to beware. But a creepy child molester has no relationship to an outrageously fantastic bug monster.
|A creepy villain (Daniel Emilfork) kidnaps children to steal their dreams in The City of Lost Children (1995).|
. . . [S]hockingly, much of the violence in "Grimm’s Fairy Tales" is directed at children. Snow White is just 7 years old when the huntsman takes her into the forest with orders to bring back her liver and lungs. In "The Juniper Tree" a woman decapitates her stepson as he bends down to get an apple. She then chops up his body, cooks him in a stew and serves it to her husband, who enjoys the meal so much he asks for seconds. Snow White eventually wins the day, as does the boy in "The Juniper Tree," who is brought back to life. But not every child in the Grimms’ book is so lucky. The title character in "Frau Trude" turns a disobedient girl into a block of wood and tosses her into a fire. And in "The Stubborn Child" a youngster dies after God lets him become sick.Let us examine the stories referenced by Greenspan.
Then it seemed to her as if she had to persuade him. "Come with me," she said, opening the lid of the chest. "Take out an apple for yourself." And while the little boy was leaning over, the Evil One prompted him, and crash! she slammed down the lid, and his head flew off, falling among the red apples.But the wicked stepmother gets her comeuppance. Here is the way that the story ends:
And as she went out the door, crash! the bird threw the millstone on her head, and it crushed her to death.This is "The Stubborn Child" in its entirety:
The father and Marlene heard it and went out. Smoke, flames, and fire were rising from the place, and when that was over, the little brother was standing there, and he took his father and Marlene by the hand, and all three were very happy, and they went into the house, sat down at the table, and ate.
Once upon a time there was a child who was willful and did not do what his mother wanted. For this reason God was displeased with him and caused him to become ill, and no doctor could help him, and in a short time he lay on his deathbed. He was lowered into a grave and covered with earth, but his little arm suddenly came forth and reached up, and it didn't help when they put it back in and put fresh earth over it, for the little arm always came out again. So the mother herself had to go to the grave and beat the little arm with a switch, and as soon as she had done that, it withdrew, and the child finally came to rest beneath the earth.Next we have "Frau Trude." A willful little girl resists her parents' warnings to stay away from a woman believed to be a witch. She tells her parents, "I have heard so much about Frau Trude. Someday I want to go to her place. People say such amazing things are seen there, and such strange things happen there, that I have become very curious." Her parents are appalled. One of them responds, "Frau Trude is a wicked woman who commits godless acts. If you go there, you will no longer be our child." But the girl goes to the home anyway. The story ends:
"Oh, Frau Trude, it frightened me when I looked through your window and could not see you, but instead saw the devil with a head of fire.""Aha!" she said. "So you saw the witch properly outfitted. I have been waiting for you and wanting you for a long time. Light the way for me now!"
With that she turned to girl into a block of wood and threw it into the fire. When it was thoroughly aglow she sat down next to it, and warmed herself by it, saying: "It gives such a bright light!"
The moral of the story is that a child who disobeys their parents will be punished.
Let us now get back to del Toro staging the gory murder of two children for Mimic. What is the moral lesson the director provides in the scene? In the film, a pair of curious boys poke around in an unauthorized area of a subway station in search of exotic bugs they can sell to entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (Mia Sorvino). They come across an egg sac that belongs to a genetically-engineered, six-foot-tall cockroach. It is while the boys are cutting open the egg sac that the giant cockroach attacks and kills the dauntless bug hunters. The boys were not bad. Unlike the bad children in fairytales, they did not openly and willfully lie to an adult or disobey an adult. Their one misdeed was going someplace that was off limits to them. The girl in Annabelle: Creation went off limits as well, although she was more culpable in that she ignored a specific demand by an adult to stay out of the bad place. In either case, curiosity led the children astray. It still doesn't make the children bad. Putting a child to death for natural curiosity is like putting a child to death for enjoying birthday cake.
Kristin of the "Tales of Faerie" blog analyzed the treatment of curious children in fairytales. She wrote:
[I]f fairy tales truly wanted to condemn the curious, the characters who went where they weren't supposed to and opened locked doors would ultimately end up dying and/or unhappy - many fairy tales really do end tragically! The Grimms weren't afraid to punish disobedient children in their stories, or to make their villains suffer horribly. Yet the endings reveal that those who pursue knowledge really are the heroes and heroines, not the villains. Sometimes that forbidden discovery really enables the happy ending to happen. We, the readers, always want to know what lies on the other side of the door just as much as the characters - by listening we are complicit in the discovering alongside the protagonists! It would be too ironic if stories themselves (which impart ideas and knowledge) were to truly condemn discovery of other ideas and knowledge!
Kristin cites a number of stories, including "Jack and the Beanstalk,""Bluebeard" and "Sleeping Beauty." It is curiosity that hastens Jack up the beanstalk. It is only by entering a forbidden room that Bluebeard's new wife learns that her husband has the bodies of his murdered ex-wives hanging from a wall. Kristin wrote of "Sleeping Beauty:
[T]he Princess is exploring the castle one day and finds a spindle, and touches it, having never seen one before. She falls into deathlike sleep, as was predicted by the fairy (and really caused by her father's attempts to prevent the spell from happening). But after her sleep is over, she ends up with a royal husband and is none the worse for her long nap.The more popular fairytales were generally kinder to children. Hansel and Gretel are certainly susceptible to harm as captives of a child-eating witch, but the siblings never actually come to harm during the course of their tale. Gretel pushes the witch into an oven, which allows her and her brother to escape. It is controversial for a storyteller to invent a situation in which a child is put in harm's way, but it is far worse for a storyteller to inanely and graphically depict the ultimate harm of a child.
Del Toro was right that Spielberg spared the lives of the children running around a dinosaur theme park in Jurassic Park (1993).
But Spielberg was not always so kindly to the children in his films. A boy was murdered by a monstrous shark in one of the director's most popular films, Jaws (1975). But the scene is not sadistic. The fatal attack is not graphic or belabored. We see the death from the perspective of Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider), who is a good distance away. The shark attack occurs so suddenly and quickly that Brody isn't sure at first what he saw. Next, the boy's death is not a scriptwriter's contrivance. Jaws was partly inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, in which an 11-year-old boy was killed by a shark. Most important, the boy's death is not gratuitous. It deeply impacts Brody, among others, and it alters the direction of the story.
|A shark attacks a boy in Jaws (1975).|
The director said, "We seem to be trapped in a lot of middle-aged people's idea of what a child is. That usually means some delicate little creature who's a victim and who needs care constantly. I think that's nonsense." Children do not require constant, obsessive care, but they do require sufficient care from parents actual or literary to prevent a demon from torturing and murdering them.
The Conjuring series was partly inspired by Poltergeist. Poltergeist managed in its day to provide audiences with a good many scares. The film depicts malevolent spirits tormenting a loving all-American family, the Freelings.
The parents, though unwavering in their efforts to protect their children, are unable to prevent the powerful spirits from abducting the youngest Freeling, toddler Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke).
Undeterred, the family works tirelessly with a group of parapsychologists to assure the girl's eventual rescue.
The spirits never threw Carol Anne down stairs, or beat her, or crippled her, or murdered her. Such depraved storytelling would not have been acceptable at the time. We were a more civilized people back then. It is ugly films like Annabelle: Creation that have made us an ugly society. Modern filmmakers insist on denying audiences relief or resolution. They want viewers to leave theatres anxious and angry. It is a form of abuse that leaves a lasting impression on its victims. Hollywood kicks man, who goes home and kicks dog.
A movie theatre is one of the rare places where we can indulge in strong emotions. Aristole believed that a tragic story arouses fear and pity so that people can experience these emotions, come to terms with them, and purge them from their psyche. It's like sitting in a hot sauna to sweat out toxins. But the power of the emotion comes from context. A random photo of a man crying is not nearly evocative as James Dean crying during the climax of East of Eden (1954). We know what the tears mean to the character and this gives his crying great weight.
This issue has been addressed by many scholars. Let's start with a quote from the website Literary Devices:
In "Romeo and Juliet", Romeo commits suicide by drinking the poison that he erroneously thinks Juliet had tasted too. The audience usually finds themselves crying at this particular moment for several reasons. Primarily because losing a loved one is a feeling that all of us share. Watching or reading such a scene triggers the memories of someone we have lost (either by death or by mere separation) and because we are able to relate to it, we suddenly release the emotions that we have been repressing.Joe Sachs of St. John's College wrote:
Fear can obviously be an insidious thing that undermines life and poisons it with anxiety. It would be good to flush this feeling from our systems, bring it into the open, and clear the air. This may explain the appeal of horror movies, that they redirect our fears toward something external, grotesque, and finally ridiculous, in order to puncture them. . . The horror movie also provides a safe way to indulge and satisfy the longing to feel afraid, and go home afterward satisfied; the desire is purged, temporarily, by being fed. . . [In the] sense of purgation, the horror movie is a kind of medicine that does its work and leaves the soul healthier. . .Evan Puschak of Nerdwriter wrote:
The point of tragedy according to [Aristole] was to arouse the emotions of pity and fear in a safe environment so that we could purge or cleanse them and avoid letting them fester and affect our behavior in negative ways. It's a process that he called catharsis. Even today there's argument about what exactly Aristotle meant by the term, whether it means actually discharging pent-up emotions, bringing those negative emotions into balance with others, or a kind of intellectual clarification and insight into human frailty and misery that helps us to cope with those universal feelings in our own lives.Fear in a make-believe external form, thoroughly enhanced by make-up, costumes and computer graphics, must be defeated within the dramatic context for catharsis to occur. Otherwise, we must shrink from shadows and have nightmares knowing a monster wrought vividly in our imagination remains forever a looming threat. Catharsis never occurred those times that Psycho made a person fearful of taking a shower or Jaws made a person fearful of going to the beach. A film that leaves us disturbed has not provided us with release, insight, balance, or coping skills.
|The conflict resolution in a monster movie occurs with the slaying of the monster. After being shot, the monstrous Gill-Man resigns himself to watery grave in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).|
Black Mirror is not so much interested in morals or catharsis and I think that's actually why we like to watch it. There's something honest about the lack of those things. The coming world of omnipresent invasive technology will be a chaotic world, a world of power we might not be able to control. Black Mirror is deeply uneasy about that future to say the least and it's not interested in helping you to purify that unease or purge it or clarify it. You just have to learn to live with it.It is odd to propose that artists should aid their patrons in accepting the chaos and unease of the world. If we carry this notion to Annabelle: Creation, we must laud the film for helping us to live with the fact that monsters are lurking in the shadows and those monsters will eventually eat us. But art is pointless in a hopeless world. Art is uplifting or it isn't art at all. It could easily be argued that Black Mirror is warning us that technology has made the world a worse place and it will become much more painful and gloomy if we don't do something about it. The Black Mirror stories can be interpreted as cautionary tales that urge us to take control of amok technology and become better in our one-on-one relationships with other people.
Having people accept (and, worse, enjoy) seeing a monster kill a child is not healthy and should not be the objective of a filmmaker. Sachs wrote:
[T]he unrestrained shock-drama obviously has the effect of coarsening feeling. Genuine human pity could not co-exist with the so-called graphic effects these films use to keep scaring us.The people who made Annabelle: Creation were unconcerned with storytelling or morality. Their only concern was to create ruthless and shocking imagery that could provoke strong feelings. The malignant thrills that the filmmakers generated are sure to have an ill effect on the viewer. Like the film's demon, the filmmakers lure us into a dark and foreboding space for the purpose of devouring our souls.
|Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) makes sure to protect young Newt (Carrie Henn) in Aliens (1986).|
Jesse Greenspan, "The Dark Side of the Grimm Fairy Tales," The History Channel, September 17, 2013. http://www.history.com/news/the-dark-side-of-the-grimm-fairy-tales
Mark Mann, "Monster king Guillermo del Toro: The new face of Canadian film," Globe and Mail, August 28, 2014. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/monster-king-guillermo-del-toro-is-remaking-canadas-film-scene/article20193593/.
Jason Wood, "Talking Movies: Contemporary World Filmmakers in Interview," London: Wallflower Press, 2006.
|Max Linder finds a way to look taller in Max Joins the Giants (1912)|
Linder and Deed are equally prominent in Unwilling chiropodist. Deed is the first to appear. He is a chiropodist who has been summoned to an affluent home to treat the madam's aching feet. Deed, festooned with an extravagant wig and pointy Van Dyke beard, expresses courtesy and deference to his wealthy benefactor with a never-ending series of showy bows and sprawling hand gestures. The next guest to arrive at the home is Linder, who is having an affair with the woman. The woman sends Deed to the dining room once her maid announces her lover's arrival. Linder provides a much more subtle performance than Deed. But then, when he comes before the woman, he articulates virile passion as only Linder could. In many of his films, the comedian burst into excitement at the sight of a pretty young woman. He often smiled, cavorted, and threw kisses. This time, he gets down on one knee to profess his undying love. Meanwhile, in the dining room, Deed gets down on one knee to profess his undying love for a hefty cook. Linder is parodying the ardent suitor of melodramas and Deed is in turn parodying Linder's parody. When the husband arrives home suddenly, Linder must pretend to be the wife's chiropodist. The narrative switches back and forth between the two men, who remain in different rooms. The actors do not appear together until the final moments of the film, at which time Deed is tossed out of a window and falls on top of Linder. The film fades as the two men happily shake hands.
|Max Linder and André Deed in Unwilling chiropodist (1908).|
Linder remade the film in 1914 as Max pédicure.
In 1940, film critic Pablo C. Ducros Hicken wrote about Deed in the article "Historia Argentia de Toribio Sanchez" (Deed's character Boireau was named Toribio Sanchez in Spanish releases). Hicken discussed Linder and Deed collaborating on a film entitled Max steals cleverly. The article includes a photo of the comedians together in a scene. Deed, dressed up as an Apache gangster, is being arrested by a police officer while Linder, eager to lend his assistance, holds a gun on Deed.
No film among Linder or Deed's credits is named Max steals cleverly. Most of the films that Hicken talks about in the article are known by names different than the ones Hicken provides. Georg Renken, the foremost authority on Linder, has addressed the specific matter of Max steals cleverly. He has found that the action depicted in the photo exactly matches the action described by the Pathé Catalog for a 1907 comedy, Idée d’apache. The film involves two burglars who compete to rob a luxurious home. The one burglar, described in the literature as a "vicious and stupid cretin," applies brute force and brute intimidation in breaking into the home and getting the residents to cooperate. The housemaid runs for help and runs into the other burglar. This burglar, who is stylishly dressed and well-mannered, is able to convince the housemaid that he is a police officer. He facilitates the arrest of the first burglar and then discreetly gets away with the homeowner's valuables. This is a perfect vehicle for Deed, the cloddish cretin, and Linder, the wily gentleman. It is a classic opposition familiar to comedy fans. Think, for instance, of Hope and Crosby. Or, maybe, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
Linder and Deed had come a long way in the two years that preceded Unwilling chiropodist. The best information that is available at this time indicates that Linder's first film with Pathé was First Night Out, which was released in August of 1905, and Deed's first film with Pathé was The Wig Chase, which was released in May of 1906. Hicken, who knew Deed, reported that Deed preceded Linder at Pathé. He said that Deed made his debut at Pathé playing a clumsy waiter in a film produced in 1905. But, for now, Deed's first known Pathé film is The Wig Chase, which is regarded to be one of the most imaginative of the early chase comedies.
|Illustration for The Wig Chase (1906)|
While Max Linder brought scenes of vaudeville, of finer grace, in situations usually gallant, Deed was debating in very simple arguments. Ashes of Buddha presented a colonel who commissioned his assistant (Deed) to remove an urn from the mail with the ashes of Buddha, sent from India. The return journey was very complicated, and between bumps, rollovers and various accidents, the sacred content was, in unprecedented volume, scattered over coffee tables, hats and preoccupied readers. Cretinetti stole a carpet  showed the actor dragging a long carpet through endless and uncluttered streets and walks, sowing confusion and disaster. In Sanchez has guests (Pathé Frères, 1912), the actor receives a bouquet of flowers. Not having at hand a coin with which to give to the delivery man, and before the man's significant glance, he removes a flower from the bouquet and gives it to him. Then, to the strange regard of the man, he trims a few twigs [off the flower] to complement his gift. . ."Deed was quicker to establish his screen character, the disaster-prone simpleton Boireau. Boireau took form in the comedian's earliest films, including The Wig Chase, Boireu Moves (1906), Three Cent Leeks (1906). The Son of the Devil Spends the Night in Paris (1906) and The Inexperienced Chauffeur (1906).
Hicken recognized the importance of Deed in film history. He wrote:
He was always airy, to the delight of his audience. To fight against brigades of guards, to elude creditors, to dominate the angry mother-in-law, to outdo a hypnotist, was all a task at hand. With his car he bored through walls and, in a crazy succession of incidents, he ended up in a trash can, battered, but proud of having achieved some naive purpose. This Pinocchio species of impossible adventures, supernatural, playful until the end, had conquered for the first time the chuckle of the fans, and all this four or five years before Chaplin debuted in Keystone. . .Deed's films were filled with exuberant antics and fantastic effects. In The Inexperienced Chauffeur, Deed's inexperience as a driver causes him to weave wildly down the street and hit lampposts and market stalls. An even better example of Deed's exaggerated style of comedy could be found in The Son of the Devil Spends the Night in Paris, which introduces Deed as a junior Devil speeding through the streets of Paris in a flaming automobile.
By comparison, Linder's comedy was subtle, expressive and personal. The only thing that produced a flame in a Linder film was a lighter extended to the tip of a gentleman's cigarette. But it took Linder slightly longer to develop his character, the dandy boulevardier that fans would come to know as "Gentleman Max." Film historian Richard Abel, author of "The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914," traced the character's evolution in an eloquent study of Linder's early films. He wrote:
[Linder] alternated between performing as the lead and simply walking on as an extra. Even when he played a leading roles, however, as in the comedies apparently directed by [Louis] Gasnier, his character fluctuated – from a schoolboy in La Premiere Sortie to the young dandy in Les Debuts d'un patineur. Yet one crucial character trait remained relatively constant: Linder often acted like what Eugen Weber has called the leisured French bourgeois rentier or, at least, a lower-class bourgeois figure with pretensions to that status, and occasionally – as in The Would-Be Juggler– showed signs of the subtly affected elegance that would later become his trademark.
|Linder in one of his earliest films, Rencontre imprévue (1905).|
A lady and maid are seen in a post office, where the lady is posting some letters, using the maid's tongue for moistening the stamps. With each successive application the stickiness becomes more pronounced. Meanwhile a young man, evidently the beau of the maid, is waiting for a chance to greet his sweetheart. While the lady posts her letters the two lovers are seen affectionately embracing each other. As the lover imprints a kiss upon his sweetheart's lips, the gum from the stamps adheres to his mustache and sticks. All efforts to separate them prove futile, and in final desperation a pair of scissors is brought and they are cut apart. Part of the man's mustache clings fondly to the girl's lips and the final picture, a close range view, shows the happy but parted lovers.Linder remained in the background as a postal customer. Notice in these screen captures from the film that Linder appeared on screen as a dapper gentleman well before he starred in Les Debuts d'un patineur.
An example of a walk-on role by Linder can be found in Madam's Tantrums (1907). The Kalgoorlie Miner, an Australian newspaper, described the film's plot as follows:
Madam Tantrum's show what a wrathful woman can accomplish in a house with a large staff of servants and hangers-on, who are kicked from here to Hackney by madame when her anger has been set fairly boiling.A print of the film is housed at the EYE Film Institute Nederlands. Catherine Cormon, a manager at the facility, reported that Linder appears in the film as the Madame's lover. She wrote, "His appearance is very short: he walks in and gets chased away by Madame. Linder has been conclusively identified as an actor in 37 films made from 1905 to 1908. He has been tentatively linked to 15 other films made during this period. Renken has compiled a comprehensive list of these films on his website http://www.maxlinder.de/. Renken wrote, "The number or titles of the films [Linder] shot in the first 1 ½ years are largely unknown. While in an interview (Caras y caretas, 12.4.1913) he spoke of 'rare films,' which he made between his stage performances. He remembered eight years later to have 'turned a drama or a comedy every day' (Cinémagazine, 25.11.1921)."
Abel was correct to call Max "a lower-class bourgeois figure with pretensions to that status." The character is often struggling to fit into bourgeois society. The easiest way to pretend to be high-class is to dress high-class. But his clothing have a tendency to betray him, as I have written about in my previous essays on the comedian. He splits the seat of his pants at a party in In a Difficult Position (1908). He covers up the open tear with various objects - a platter, a seat cushion, a chair, a handkerchief and a lady's fan. Moving Picture World reported:
His downfall comes only when the lady asks him to tie her shoe lace. He is stunned by the request, but pulls himself together and makes a daring attempt to oblige one-handed. But this feat being impossible he gives up, and the guests discover the tear. The beau sits on the floor in despair, but too late, for all are already gathered round him, and 'mid much laughter and ridicule he succeeds in dashing out of the room without turning his back toward the company.The film was remade in 1910 as Shame on Max (released in France as Max manque un riche mariage). It is a routine that would be performed years later by Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, Jerry Lewis and Mike Myers. In Max Sets the Style (1914), Max is getting ready for a party when he rests his feet too close to a fireplace and sets his shoes ablaze. The best replacement footwear that he can obtain on short notice are crude work boots. In Max's Hat (1908), Max has a series of hats destroyed in various accidents on his way to have dinner with his prospective in-laws. My research only recently turned up a 1910 comedy called Max's Feet Are Pinched (released in France as Le soulier trop petit). Max's new shoes are too tight. While having dinner with his fiancé's family, Max slips off his shoes to give his feet some relief. At first, his foot odor becomes a disturbance to everyone around the table. Then, his fiancé's dog runs off with the shoes. This becomes a problem when Max is asked to dance.
|Max is appalled to be wearing work boots in Max Sets the Style (1914).|
[The young dandy] character was the exclusive property of the actor [René] Gréhan, who was, with Andre Deed, one of [Pathe's] most successful series comics. In 1907 Gréhan got a better offer at a new competing studio, and his departure left a big gap in the company's production schedule. Linder was chosen to fill Gréhan’s shoes, as well as his evening coat, dress shirt, and tie. Assuming the costume and much of the manner of Gréhan’s character 'Gontran,' Linder made, under Gasnier’s direction, Les Debuts d’un patineur/Max Learns to Skate (1907), the first work in which he becomes, recognizably, 'Max.' The film was not a hit either with audiences or with Pathé executives, however. For two years it remained without a sequel, while Linder continued to perform as a lead or secondary character in various other projects for the studio.
[O]ne can speculate that the Pathé company may have considered constructing a series around Linder that would complement the Boireau films. For some reason, however, these films did not establish Linder as a major comic, and Pathé seems to have turned to Gréhan, whose elegant, swaggering Parisian dandy, Gontran, might supplement Deed's work for the company.Here are screen captures of Gréhan from Gontran et la voisine inconnue (1913).
Abel added, "As played by Gréhan, by contrast, Gontran is an anxious, overconfident bourgeois type not unlike Max — and his polished style of performance and facial appearance (large eyes, hair parted in the middle, and thin mustache) do remind one of Linder."
Much new material about Linder, including articles, films and studio literature, have become available in the last twenty-five years. In light of this material, let us examine the claims of Williams and Abel.
To start, Abel claimed that Linder did not achieve major success until 1910. To prove this is untrue, Renken provided an article that was published in Comœdia in March, 1908. The article makes it clear that Linder was a great success at the time. It is predicted in the article that the comedian is headed for worldwide fame. Four months later, Linder was the star attraction at the grand opening of the Cirque d'Hiver, an historical theatre that had been converted to a picture house. Linder was well-received at the high-profile event. It was reported in the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly:
An interesting feature of a long programme was the presentation of a film in which one of the artistes performing at the Pathé theatre was seen receiving a telephone message and leaving his house hurriedly for the theatre. Colliding with numerous passers-by a chase is set up and the artist is seen entering the theatre in rags. At this stage the artist himself appeared on the stage and took up the tale of adventures, the novelty being a great hit.This was a gimmick that Linder used at live shows for years. The audiences always responded enthusiastically. Linder continued to gather fans from his stage and film appearances. In the fall of 1909, Pathé launched a major advertising campaign designed to promote Linder as "the first truly international star."
Next, Abel suggested that Deed was much bigger star than Linder. Renken found nothing to indicate that Deed was a bigger star than Linder in 1907 and 1908. Renken wrote, "It seems both were quite successful. . ."
Williams claimed that Les Debuts d’un patineur, in which Linder officially introduced his world-famous character, was "not a hit" and it diminished the studio's faith in the comedian. Renken wrote, "I have not seen any evidence, that Debut d'un patineur (The Skater's Debut) was NOT a success. I have seen however press reports that it was greeted with 'gales of laughter' (Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, Jun. 20, 1907)."
Williams claimed that Gréhan was one of Pathé's early comedy stars and he created a dapper character that Linder later imitated. He doesn't specify when Gréhan started at the company, but he is clear that the comedian left in 1907. That story doesn't appear to be true. Gréhan made five or six films for Pathé in 1910, after which he moved to the Éclair Film Company. Renken's exhaustive research did not turn up any evidence that Gréhan worked at Pathé before 1910. By 1910, Linder had been appearing on screen in his popular role for three years.
Abel's account is closer to the truth than Williams' account. Abel claimed that Pathé had become disillusioned with Linder, who had failed to catch on with audiences, and brought in Gréhan as a potential replacement. Gréhan may have, in fact, been a potential replacement. Linder had a history of bad health. He had been unable to work due to illness from October, 1908, to March, 1909. He was sidelined again in December, 1910, due to appendicitis. It could be that Pathé brought in Gréhan to satisfy exhibitors in case their fragile star became sick again and was unable to stay on schedule.
Linder remained an active force at Pathé from 1905 to 1917. He turned out a wide variety of delightful films during this period. A film that remains a favorite of Linder fans today is Max toréador (1913), in which Max trains to become a bullfighter.
Linder occasionally tried to be as fantastic as Deed. He could be found at his most far-fetched in Max asthmatique (1915). Max, who has come to the Alps to improve his breathing, dreams that his breathing has become astoundingly powerful. At first, he manages with a casual exhale to knock over skaters at an ice rink. Then, he uses the force of his breath to overtake his competitors in a ski race. Unable to stop, he flies over the mountains, crosses the sea, passes over a city, and finally crashes through a roof.
While researching this article, I learned about a Linder comedy called Max virtuose (1913). The plot involves Max using a mechanical piano to trick his girlfriend's father into thinking that he is a piano virtuoso. This was a stock plot used by many comedians. I wrote about this before in article titled "Sing, Clown, Sing!".
I also learned about a Pathé comedy called L'Electrocuté (1908). To my knowledge, neither Linder nor Deed appear in this film. But the film got my attention due to its imaginative plot. A cook falls asleep in a chair while peeling vegetables. Later, she gets sleepy while serving dinner and spills soup on her employer. The employer is furious and throws her out into the street. The cooks sees a store that sells electrical devices. She has herself covered with electrical wires and keeps an electrical current flowing through her body. Now that she is electrified, she no longer wants to sleep and moves at a rapid speed. Her employer gives her back her job, but he is unsettled when she serves his dinner at full speed. She trips coming down the stairs and falls into a water basin, which causes her to short-circuit. Her employer is disgusted by her performance and fires her again.
I would not have been able to write this article without the help of Georg Renken. The website that Mr. Renken has devoted to Max Linder is a vast resource, which likely includes every contemporary article ever written on Gentleman Max.
Other Reference Sources
Abel, Richard. The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914, Updated and Expanded Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press (1994).
Hicken, Pablo C. Ducros. "Argentine History of Toribio Sanchez." The Nation (January 14, 1940).
Williams, Alan. Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (March, 1992). p. 60.
I was taken by surprise by Wonder Woman. I expected a film devoted to the crass and angry promotion of Girl Power. I expected a big-budget spectacle bloated with CGI effects. But Wonder Woman is different. It is an imaginatively conceived, lovingly crafted film. It is not a hateful, contrived or politically correct. It is not a cynical cash grab. It is a truly artistic effort on the part of its director, Patty Jenkins.
The Big Sick, a comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, is based on a real-life crisis in which Nanjiani coped with a girlfriend contracting a rare life-threatening disease and then stood by desperately while the girlfriend was put into a medically induced coma to facilitate treatment. The film could have been a profound personal story that examined real relationships and real situations. Instead, it devolves into the standard shtick of producer Judd Apatow. The story can only be effective if the audience empathizes with Nanjiani, but the filmmakers cannot resist turning Nanjiani into an off-putting boob to push forward Apatow's usual cringe comedy agenda. Unnecessary plot contrivances abound. Frequent efforts are made to let the audience know that Nanjiani, a Shia Muslim, is a good Muslim and he had nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Is that really relevant to the film? Nothing is really relevant to the film, which is as unfocused and shallow as many of Apatow's other recent films. Shallowness masquerading as profundity is the film's biggest joke.
|Ossi Oswalda in I Don't Want to Be a Man (1918)|
I have a few choice tidbits for the month.
Here is a rare image from Lloyd Hamilton's popular shipwreck comedy Robinson Crusoe Ltd. (1921).
I've heard that work on the new Hamilton DVD is progressing nicely.
Vitagraph comedy team Montgomery and Rock have a laugh with an Idaho exhibitor in a 1919 photo.
I have talked about Ernst Lubitsch's early features in a number of articles. I have recently obtained new DVD's of these features. Let me share a few screen captures.
I Don't Want to Be a Man (1918)
Ossi Oswalda practices how to bathe a baby using a doll in place of a baby.
A similar scene later turned up in the I Love Lucy episode "Pregnant Women Are Unpredictable" (1952).
In Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls (1995), pet detective Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) is able to eavesdrop on a suspect by camouflaging himself inside of a fake rhino.
One hundred years earlier, British brothers Richard and Cherry Kearton obtained unique wildlife photography by camouflaging themselves inside of a fake ox.
This is Lano and Woodley's "Deaf Interpreter" routine from 2007.
I once wrote about a "no smoking" routine (Click here). I found another example of the routine performed by Snub Pollard and Marie Mosquini in a 1921 comedy Blue Sunday.
Which is the better monster theme song - the jazzy, hand-clapping song for The Blob (1958) or the swinging, groovy song for The Green Slime (1968)?
The Australian sketch comedy series Thank God You're Here plunged guest stars into absurd scenes without a script. The other actors in the scene fed scripted lines to the guest star, who had to improvise his responses. The guest star didn't see the set until he walked through a door and was greeted with the line, "Thank, God, you're here." Here is Frank Woodley winding his way through a scene from the pilot episode.
This is Hamish Blake suddenly finding himself in a spoof of The Bachelor.
Blake was a favorite on the series. Here he participates in a dubious science program for kids.
Every episode ended with a group challenge.
Efforts to recreate the show in the United States and England were unsuccessful.
I no longer find laughs in the crass and forced comedy features produced by the Hollywood studios. I prefer to keep an eye on foreign comedies. Currently in release in France is Jalouse, which stars acclaimed actress Karin Viard as divorced teacher who suddenly becomes dissatisfied with her life and lets herself be overcome with jealousy.
|Alain Chabat in Santa et Cie (2017)|
I enjoyed a new French Canadian comedy called De père en flic 2 (the English title of which is Father and Guns 2). The plot is original. A police task force infiltrates a couples boot camp to investigate a Mafia lieutenant attending the boot camp with his girlfriend. It turns out that bickering police officers, which include an aging renegade cop, his straitlaced work-obsessed son and the son's neglected girlfriend, are more in need of relationship counseling than the actual patients.
|Michel Côté and Louis-José Houde in De père en flic 2 (2017)|
Guillermo del Toro has made it clear in interviews that The Shape of Water, his offbeat retelling of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, is his "Fuck you" to white Christian Americans. Imagine that, the Creature from the Black Lagoon Takes a Knee. But the soggy fish tale does more than promote the hatred of white people. The film, which depicts a sexual affair between a woman and a scaly green fish man, also serves as an endorsement of bestiality. Sound like an unfair assessment? Sound far-fetched? Read on.
The film is never outright in its endorsements of racial hostility and bestiality, which the director charmingly disguises in fantasy tropes. We need to peel away the fantasy tropes to find the weirdness and rancor beneath.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) is a film that touches upon "Beauty and the Beast" folklore. But "Beauty and the Beast," itself, borrowed liberally from earlier stories.
An early woman-loves-animal story is the Greek mythology tale of the Minotaur.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 8 - 11 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.):Let us look at a different sort of mixed coupling in "Cupid and Psyche," which was written by 2nd century Roman author Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis. A god, Cupid, finds himself smitten by a beautiful mortal woman, Psyche. Cupid manipulates the wind to sweep Psyche to a secluded valley, where the young woman finds a magnificent palace. The palace is so beautiful that Psyche feels drawn to enter it. Cupid remains unseen. His voice echoes through the halls as the god invites Psyche to take up residence in the palace. Psyche agrees.
Minos aspired to the throne [of Crete], but was rebuffed. He claimed, however, that he had received the sovereignty from the gods, and to prove it he said that whatever he prayed for would come about. So while sacrificing to Poseidon, he prayed for a bull to appear from the depths of the sea, and promised to sacrifice it upon its appearance. And Poseidon did send up to him a splendid bull. Thus Minos received the rule, but he sent the bull to his herds and sacrificed another. . . Poseidon was angry that the bull was not sacrificed, and turned it wild. He also devised that Pasiphae [Minos' wife] should develop a lust for it. In her passion for the bull she took on as her accomplice an architect named Daedalus. . . He built a wooden cow on wheels, . . skinned a real cow, and sewed the contraption into the skin, and then, after placing Pasiphae inside, set it in a meadow where the bull normally grazed. The bull came up and had intercourse with it, as if with a real cow. Pasiphae gave birth to Asterius, who was called Minotaur. He had the face of a bull, but was otherwise human. Minos, following certain oracular instructions, kept him confined and under guard in the labyrinth. This labyrinth, which Daedalus built, was a "cage with convoluted flextions that disorders debouchment."
Cupid continues to hide his identity. Madaurensis wrote:
He came only in the hours of darkness and fled before the dawn of morning, but his accents were full of love, and inspired a like passion in her. She often begged him to stay and let her behold him, but he would not consent. On the contrary he charged her to make no attempt to see him, for it was his pleasure, for the best of reasons, to keep concealed.Riley Winters of Ancient Origins wrote, "When allowing her two sisters to visit, they are jealous of her beautiful home and insist that Psyche's husband really is a monster and she owes it to herself to find out." Psyche gazes upon Cupid as he sleeps. He is awoken suddenly when wax from her candle drips onto his face.
"Why should you wish to behold me?" he said. "Have you any doubt of my love? Have you any wish ungratified? If you saw me, perhaps you would fear me, perhaps adore me, but all I ask of you is to love me. I would rather you would love me as an equal than adore me as a god."
Psyche must endure a series of trials to win back Cupid. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.
[Jupiter] pleaded the cause of the lovers so earnestly with [Cupid's mother] Venus that he won her consent. On this he sent Mercury to bring Psyche up to the heavenly assembly, and when she arrived, handing her a cup of ambrosia, he said, "Drink this, Psyche, and be immortal; nor shall Cupid ever break away from the knot in which he is tied, but these nuptials shall be perpetual."We are familiar with Disney's animated and live-action versions of "Beauty and the Beast." Elizabeth Logan of Glamour Magazine wrote:
[A]s much as the new version of BATB [Beauty and the Beast] rewrites Belle to have personal agency, the original story was very much about young women — girls, really — being married off to old(er) men, who kept them in their castles and dressed them up and made them come down to dinner and. . . well, you know the rest. . . So much about the tale makes sense now, right? To a girl of, say, 13, a man who has gone through puberty is basically a huge, scary, smelly beast. . . [Maria Tatar, professor of folklore and mythology at Harvard and editor of "Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animals, Brides, and Grooms From Around The World," explained,] "[T]he monster is a projection of our own anxieties. We create these monsters, and then make peace with those monsters."We often see this in horror movies. An argument can be made that the shark in Jaws was a projection of Sheriff Brody's anxieties about the ocean.
A crisis develops in Beauty and the Beast's relationship. Jealous sisters are again the source of the problem. Wikipedia reports:
Her sisters are envious when they hear of her happy life at the castle, and, hearing that she must return to the Beast on a certain day, beg her to stay another day, even putting onion in their eyes to make it appear as though they are weeping. They hope that the Beast will be angry with Beauty for breaking her promise and eat her alive. Beauty's heart is moved by her sisters' false show of love, and she agrees to stay.The Beast is devastated when Beauty abandons him. Beauty returns to Beast when she learns he has fallen ill due to his broken heart. Wikipedia reports:
Beauty weeps over the Beast, saying that she loves him. When her tears strike him, the Beast is transformed into the handsome prince from Beauty's dreams. The Prince informs her that long ago a fairy turned him into a hideous beast after he refused to let her in from the rain and that only by finding true love, despite his ugliness, could the curse be broken. He and Beauty are married and they live happily ever after together.
Fake tears divided the couple and real tears brought them back together. The love of beautiful young woman proves in the end to be the beast's salvation. The strange coupling was tied to a curse meant to deceive, punish and degrade much as had happened (albeit more vulgarly) in the tale of the queen and bull.
Horror films adopted the "beauty and beast" theme with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). But, unlike "Beauty and the Beast," a beastly man's love of a beautiful young woman does not inspire the love of the woman or lead to a happy ending.
The beauty in The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a gypsy girl, Esmeralda, and the beast is a bell ringer at the Notre Dame Cathedral, Quasimodo. Wikipedia reports in its notes on the novel:
The deformed Quasimodo is described as "hideous" and a "creation of the devil." He was born with a severe hunchback, and a giant wart that covers his left eye. . . Quasimodo is never loved by Esmeralda; although she recognizes his kindness toward her, she is nonetheless repulsed by his ugliness and terrified of him. (In the 1982 television film version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she kisses him goodbye at the end; something that does not occur in either the book, nor any other film version of the novel.) He continues to watch over her and protect her regardless. . .An important message of the book is that a person's true value is to be found in his character. Wikipedia reports:
In the novel, [Quasimodo] symbolically shows Esmeralda the difference between himself and the shallow, superficial, self-centered, yet handsome Captain Phoebus with whom the girl has become infatuated. He places two vases in her room: one is a beautiful crystal vase, yet broken and filled with dry, withered flowers; the other a humble pot, yet filled with beautiful, fragrant flowers. Esmeralda takes the withered flowers from the crystal vase and presses them passionately on her heart.Quasimodo is so in love with Esmeralda that he dedicates himself to protecting her against a lustful archdeacon and a murderous mob. In the 1923 film, he is stabbed while saving Esmeralda's life. Esmeralda does not dispense magical tears that heal Quasimodo's knife wound or cure his hunchback. Quasimodo dies.
The Phantom of the Opera's hideously deformed madman Erik abducts opera star Christine, imprisons her in his underground lair, and demands that she marry him. Erik wears a mask in Christine's presence. He informs Christine that she is free to come and go as she pleases, but that she must never look behind his mask. He, like Cupid, does not want the young woman to see his face knowing his appearance is likely to shock her. Cupid is concerned that Psyche might fear him for his divine beauty. Erik is concerned that Christine might fear him for his ghastly ugliness.
In the novel, Erik is subdued by Christine's tears. Wikipedia reports:
When Erik is alone with Christine, he lifts his mask to kiss her on her forehead, and is given a kiss back. Erik reveals that he has never received a kiss (not even from his own mother) nor has been allowed to give one and is overcome with emotion. He and Christine then cry together and their tears "mingle." Erik later says that he has never felt so close to another human being.
He frees Christine from his lair, but he misses her terribly and dies of heartbreak. So, the novel does not end well for Erik, who dies as ugly and unwanted as ever. The original preview cut of the film revealed Erik dying of heartbreak at his organ, but the audience found the ending to be less than rousing. The studio filmed a new scene in which an angry mob chases Erik, beats him brutally, and drowns him in the River Seine. A good mob beating is rousing if nothing else. So, the love of a beautiful woman can leave a man fatally heartbroken, fatally stabbed, or fatally floating face-first down the River Seine.
King Kong (1933) opens with a title card offering an Old Arabian Proverb:
And the Prophet said, "And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead."No such proverb exists outside the film. It is, as one commentator stated, "a bit of hokum."
The idea for the film came from the film's director Merian C. Cooper. Cooper became interested in gorillas as a child when he read a book by Paul Du Chaillu called "Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa." Wikipedia reports:
Cooper became fascinated with the stories involving the gorilla, in particular Du Chaillu's depiction of a particular gorilla known for its "extraordinary size" that the natives described as "invincible" and the "King of the African Forest." When Du Chaillu and some natives encountered a gorilla later in the book he described it as a "hellish dream creature" that was "half man, half beast."
The title for the first draft of his giant gorilla script was "The Beast." Ann Darrow, played by Fay Wray, is the beauty to Kong's beast. Caroline Madden of Screen Queens wrote:
Ann is captured by the natives and offered up as a delectable sacrifice for Kong, but instead of eating her he is enamored with her beauty.Some viewers have identified a racist allegory that was never intended by the filmmakers. Robert Malesky of NPR wrote, "Cooper and Schoedsack rejected any allegorical interpretations, insisting in interviews that the film's story contained no hidden meanings."
There is no emotional reciprocity in Kong and Ann’s relationship. Ann remains a damsel in distress by screaming her head off while being held by Kong like a rag doll, the prize that he has won. She does not feel anything for him but terror, even as he protects her from T-Rexes and other creepy-crawly creatures. . . When Jack Driscoll shows up and rescues her, she doesn’t bat an eye leaving him.
Zeba Blay of the Huffington Post wrote, "Critics have drawn connections between the capture of Kong and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. . ."
Cynthia Erb, the author of "Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture," wrote, "There is certainly an interpretation of King Kong himself as an extension of the Skull Islanders. . ." She added, "In my opinion, it always has this other dimension that focuses on King Kong as a victim and on the Carl Denham character as a real intruder, as a certain type who really intrudes and is very clueless about the space he is conquering."
Nathan Rabin wrote in Vanity Fair, "[T]he story of a giant ape from Somewhere Else — a creature worshiped as a god in his own world, who is kidnapped and taken to the United States in shackles to serve as a plaything for a wealthy white elite — has proven especially metaphorically rich." Rabin believes that it is reasonable to read the film as "an anti-colonialist allegory." He adds, "No wonder he rebels so righteously."
As much as Kong stirs up discussions of race, it stirs up even more discussion about sex. Malesky wrote, "King Kong hums with an undercurrent of eroticism. There is bondage imagery and a very famous disrobing scene, where Kong slowly peels away Darrow's dress, then holds it up to his nose and sniffs."
Erb said, "I've read fans who quote Cooper as saying that moment is supposed to be about peeling petals from a rose. I think Cooper did not want people to look at the film [in a sexual way]. But. . . I feel that there's a definite eroticism there. I think he stands for a strange kind of animal love."
The unasked question in the movie is about. . . well. . . sex. What exactly does Kong intend to do with his captive girl? It's a question Cooper biographer Mark Cotta Vaz thinks the filmmaker never even contemplated. He said, "Merian Cooper and Dorothy Jordan were a great couple, and they were worldly people, but they were pretty conservative, and, you know, he was a good Southern gentleman."In the film, moviemaker and expedition leader Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) says, "If it hadn't been for [Miss Darrow] we couldn't have gotten near Kong. He followed her back to the village. . . Beauty and the beast. Kong could have stayed safe where he was, but he couldn't stay away from beauty." Earlier in the film, Denham made comments that foreshadowed Kong's infatuation for Ann. He insisted, "I never knew it to fail. Some big hard-boiled egg gets a look at a pretty face, bang. . . he cracks up, gets sappy." He talks about his latest script, which is focused on a "tough guy" who could "lick the world." "But," he said, "when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went soft. He forgot his wisdom and the little fellas licked him." The filmmakers lay out this theme as plainly as possible.
In the end, Kong climbs the Empire State Building with Ann firmly in his paw and is quickly knocked off his perch by a hail of gunfire from biplanes. As Kong lies dead in the street, a policeman remarks that the planes got him. Denham tells him, "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."
The message is that love can paralyze the beast, cause it to drop its defenses, and allow it to acquiesce to its own destruction.
Then, we have the 1976 remake of Kong, in which the beauty is Jessica Lange. Rabin wrote, "Lange radiates incandescent sensuality as the unfortunate object of King Kong’s carnal desire — as well as everyone else's."
Inexplicably, scriptwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. renamed the Ann Darrow character Dwan. Just Dwan, no other name. But the young lady's role in the film remained essentially the same. Rabin wrote:
[Kong's] monomaniacally focused on trying to make sweet jungle love with the tiny little human woman of his dreams. Dwan’s villager-engineered meet-ominous with King Kong after being drugged by Kong worshipers has the groggy, disorienting quality of a date rape, while her initial interactions with the ape are like a more innocent but still awkward and very 1970s setup — complete with Dwan accusing her suitor of being a "male chauvinist."Peter Jackson's 2005 remake presented Ann differently. Madden described the new Ann as "a woman who feels compassion and empathy the giant gorilla once her initial terror subsides." He continued:
This is not the monster movie villain of the original. Instead, he is a Quasimodo type and lonely figure who feels affection for the first time. . . What is most unique about this interpretation is that it completely rejects any subtext of sexuality, making an intricate relationship for Ann and Kong. Kong is still offered Ann as a sacrifice, but it is more for eating. Kong still desires and protects Ann, but it is because he wants a friend."Kong is childlike and playful as he watches Ann, a vaudeville entertainer, dance and perform tricks. Madden wrote, "Ann starts to understand and identify with him in that moment, seeing him as an isolated creature. Ann stops becoming a victim in that moment and becomes something he empathizes with. He is curious about her, he wants to protect her because he cares about her and she has touched his soul."
Rabin wrote, "Jackson's King Kong is neither the horndog of 1976 nor the savage brute of 1933: he’s a furry dreamer who pines hopelessly in ways that are all too human for a gorgeous, sad-eyed vaudevillian played by Naomi Watts."
Watts does not shriek in terror as Wray once did. She is fully accepting of a creature much different than herself. Mankind was once a tough guy who could lick the world. Mankind battled the toothy beasts of the earth for primacy. But now mankind has gone soft, which brings us this soft retelling of the Kong saga. It is more than acceptance that Ann offers Kong. Ann now offers him love. It is not necessary for a magic spell to cause Kong to shed his fur or shrink him to the size and form of a man.
Meghan O'Rourke of Slate wrote, "Darrow, played by Naomi Watts, actually falls for Kong; she's been handled roughly in the past, and something about Kong's protection of her makes her feel that, at last, she's met a guy who can commit."
Kong saves and rescues Ann from dinosaurs, as in the original. After saving her life, they sit by a cliff and see a beautiful jungle sunset. Ann puts her hand to her heart, showing that sharing this tender moment with him moves her. Kong offers his hand to Ann, and she lovingly sits in it as they stare at the sunset.But the beast still has to die.
Ann is incredibly upset when Kong is captured and unjustly taken from his home. Back in New York Kong and Ann share another tender moment after he escapes the theatre by dancing with her on an ice-skating rink. This isn’t the Kong of the original that snatched Ann from her bedroom. Kong sought her out, and Ann willingly returned.
The famous finale on top of the Empire State Building shows Ann pleading and heartbroken that Kong is being attacked (similar to the 70s version.) Kong and Ann share an extremely loving final look as Kong holds his final gaze on her. He gives one last look at not just a beautiful girl, but the one person in the world that he cared about, and who cared about him.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a lovely piece of Americana. The film, as described by Dave Trumbore of Collider, involves "a prehistoric humanoid. . . [who] rises from his watery abode to terrorize terrestrials." The story has to do with scientists who discover the prehistoric Gill Man while searching for fossils along the Amazon River. The scientists subdue the creature with a toxic chemical and lock him in a cage. The creature breaks free and kidnaps a scientist's fiancée, with whom it has fallen in love.
Producer William Alland got the idea for The Creature from the Black Lagoon during a dinner party chat with Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. Figueroa insisted that a half-man and half-fish creature lived in the Amazon River and it rose from the river's depths once a year to claim a maiden. Based on this conversation, Alland drafted a summary for a film, which he intended to call "The Sea Monster." The beast was matched with a beauty, which Alland simply called the "blonde." Tom Weaver discussed the summary at length in his book "The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy." He wrote:
The scientist of the expedition turns heavy, sends the blonde’s boyfriend off on a wild goose chase, then "overpowers the girl, chloroforms her, ties her, semi-nude, onto a raft, [and] sets a snare-trap around the raft… ." As he watches, the webbed hand of the monster reaches up and drags the unconscious girl into the water. From here, Alland suggested two possible story directions: (1) The boyfriend succeeds in rescuing her, and the monster is killed, or (2) the monster is captured and brought to a small South American seaport, but it escapes and terrorizes the area. "Needless to say," Alland concludes, "the monster's end is brought about by his desire for the blonde-haired girl of the expedition."Steve Kronenberg, a contributor to "The Creature Chronicles," wrote:
The second proposed ending instantly calls to mind King Kong (1933), and in fact makes any worth-his-salt Monster Kid realize that "The Sea Monster"'s whole plot is lifted from Kong. When I asked the always forthright Alland about the similarities, he made no effort to deny it: "Absolutely! As a matter of fact, [reusing Kong’s basic plot] was the whole idea. Oh, sure, that was my idea!" he laughed.
Like Kong, the Creature is not a product of mad science or myth, but a biological aberration and prehistoric holdover. The Creature rules his dark underwater domain in the Amazon the way Kong was master of the misty Skull Island — and neither of them takes kindly to strangers invading their space. Most of all, the Creature 'apes' Kong’s humanoid characteristics: Both are captivated and victimized by the desire for a beautiful woman, and both die amidst great audience sympathy.Maurice Zimm wrote a treatment based on Alland's summary. Zim's beauty was named Kay. Weaver describes Kay's capture by the sea monster (alternately called the Gill Man and the Pisces Man) and her confinement in his grotto. The Gill Man's grotto is a refuge that is meant to isolate the beauty and the beast from the rest of the world. It serves in the same capacity as the Beast's castle, Kong's cave, Quasimodo's bell tower, and the Phantom's subterranean lair.
The Gill Man places Kay on the "floral carpet" and then backs into the shadows, his gaze still fixed on her. When she wakes and is startled by the sight of the Gill Man, he approaches slowly, making a crooning sound that is almost human, a look of pleading in his eyes.Later, the Gill Man is imprisoned in a tank. Weaver wrote:
Kay is drawn to the prison-tank and looks in at the Pisces Man, whose eyes are "so human, so tortured, so pleading. . . Why should they affect her so? What had come over her that day in the grotto beneath the Black Lagoon?" Reed ignores her suggestion that they allow the Pisces Man to return to his grotto and the graves of his ancestors.Arthur Ross succeeded Zimm as scriptwriter on the project. Weaver wrote:
Crowds swarm on the Leticia docks trying to get a look at the creature; to Kay, it’s all as "tawdry and revolting” as a freak sideshow. That night, in the airfield hangar where a cargo carrier (with the tank aboard) are stored, she again looks in at the Pisces Man, whose eyes seem to say, “It’s now or never. . . now or never." Making up her mind, she unbolts the tank door and stands unafraid as the grateful creature gently touches her as he leaves the plane.. . .
Although violent when provoked, Zimm’s Pisces Man is in his own way civilized and, with Kay, almost courtly. Zimm mentions his scalloped gills which at a distance “resemble the bobbed hair of a knight of old"; if he’d looked like that in the movie, it might have added to the subliminal impression that this horror hails from the royal family of movie monsters. In short, Zimm’s descriptions and depiction of the Pisces Man make him seem more human than monster.
Discussing the movie with me, Ross said that Alland wanted to put in more of the woman. Here comes this big Creature with his cock four feet long, he’s going to fuck her, and she gets away just in time — but she does think about him [laughs]! … I had done as much [Beauty and the Beast] as I thought it was correct to do, because essentially that wasn’t the story. The fact that the Creature was attracted to the woman was not the reason he fought back. . . But Bill wanted more of the King Kong element in Creature, so [Harry Essex came in]. Really, all he did was add more of the girl. Underwater shots, the Creature sees her, the Creature gets an erection [laughs]. . . I rather felt that the nature of the Creature’s relationship to the woman in the picture was quite simplistic.
The Gill Man is as much a horndog as the 1976 Kong. The script was a concern to the MPAA's Joseph Breen, who insisted that the filmmakers "avoid any sexual emphasis that might suggest bestiality." His demands were not met exactly. A sexual union between beauty and beast is suggested by, according to Weaver, "[t]he justly famous scene in which the Gill Man swims in parallel below Kay in a kind of synchronized sexual ballet." But Kay never becomes aware of the Gill Man's presence during her swim. The dreamy coupling displayed in the scene is nothing more than an illusion.
The Gill Man did not turn out looking as human as Alland wanted. But there is still an unusual beauty to the monster, which was given a feminine touch by designer Millicent Patrick. The makeup competition series Face Off has often shown that men and women have a different approach when it comes to designing a monster. The monsters that women create do not lumber or ooze slime. While men tend to make their monsters as repulsive and frightening as possible, women tend to work hard to draw out beauty, dignity and grace in their monsters. That is what happened here.
No one who saw The Time Machine (1960) wanted to see Yvette Mimieux end up with a Morlock.
This fellow from The Mole People (1956) certainly could never muster up enough charm to win over Cynthia Patrick.
But the Gill Man is different. His beauty is especially evident when the Gill Man is compared with the half-man/half-fish sea creatures in Humanoids from Deep (1980).
Robert Skotakm, an author and visual effects supervisor, told Weaver, "I think Alland was always wanting more of a Cocteau Beauty and the Beast feeling to the film — sad creature, enchanting undersea realm, an unattainable love, etc., but with scares."
|Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946)|
So, yet again, the beast is a projection of the beast that resides in us all.
In The Seven Year Itch (1955), homely Tom Ewell is tormented by beastly urges that make him think about sexually ravaging the beautiful Marilyn Monroe. At one point, Ewell and Monroe come out of a theater showing The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Here is their dialogue:
MONROE: Didn’t you just love the picture? I did. But I just felt so sorry for the Creature. At the end.
EWELL: Sorry for the Creature? [shrug] What did you want, him to marry the girl?
MONROE [stopping in her tracks]: He was kind of scary-looking. But he wasn’t really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection. You know? A sense of being loved and needed and wanted.
EWELL [nods]: That’s a very interesting point of view! [Laughs.]
This is essentially the view of del Toro, who told GQ Magazine, "I fell in love with Julie Adams, I fell in love with the creature equally, and I fell in love with them in love." But it must be noted that, in the finished film, Kay shows only fleeting sympathy for the Gill Man. Viewers like del Toro projected a mutual love that wasn't actually depicted on screen.
British screenwriter Nigel Kneale turned out a script for a proposed Creature remake in 1981. The Gill Man is held captive at a naval base presided over by a sadist military officer, Captain Paul Shriver. Shriver sees the Gill Man as an abomination. He says, "They’re Men of the Wrong Day. Mankind was created on the Sixth Day. These must have come too soon, the day of the creatures of the sea, and the great whales. . ."
A remake went into development under Ivan Reitman in 1996. Reitman hired Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod to write the script. Their script had the Gill Man stalking beautiful women for the specific purpose of reproducing. Weaver wrote, "A Sports Illustrated swimsuit model named Tanya is impregnated to death on page 43, and Alex discovers the Creature’s 'male sperm' inside her corpse." A woman named Laura becomes the focus of his amorous attentions. Weaver wrote:
"[T]he Creature nabs Laura and takes her to the Lagoon to mate. Laura calms the Creature down by blowing air bubbles into his face and stroking it; it’s all a trick so she can spear him in the heart.
Del Toro was briefly attached to a remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 2002. Del Toro planned to show the natives of the Amazon jungle worshiping the Gill Man as a god. But the project never came together. Two years later, the filmmaker brought an amphibious man to the big screen in Hellboy (2004).
|Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) from Hellboy (2004).|
Our friends are also our peers, associates with whom we are compelled to maintain an equal standing. It undoubtedly puts del Toro in a bind being close friends with fellow Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu. The trio, which has been celebrated in Hollywood, has become known collectively as "The Three Amigos of Cinema." Cuarón won Best Director Oscars for Birdman (2014) and Revenant (2015). González won a Best Director Oscar for Gravity (2013). Del Toro can't be happy to be the one filmmaker in his inner circle who doesn't have a Best Director Oscar.
Del Toro's career has been in decline in the last few years. His last unqualified success was Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which came out nine years ago. His subsequent projects - Pacific Rim (2013) and Crimson Peak (2015) – have not done as well. Pacific Rim, a homage to the old Godzilla movies, underperformed in the United States (although it did do better in Asia). Crimson Peak did not fare well critically or financially in the United States or elsewhere.
The critics who liked Crimson Peak liked it because of the beautiful visuals, not because of the story or characters. Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post wrote, "The film by the stylish fantasist Guillermo del Toro looks marvelous, but has a vein of narrative muck at its core." Sara Stewart of the New York Post wrote, "Watching the [actors] square off within del Toro’s eye-popping, painterly palette is a feast for the eyes, if not particularly substantial fare for the mind." Dan Jolin of Empire spoke of the film being "a little overwrought for some tastes" and presenting "borderline camp at points," but the critic found the romantic Victorian atmosphere to be an "uncommon treat." Tom Huddleston of Time Out London wrote, "All three actors work hard. . . and when the melodrama hits fever pitch, Crimson Peak lurches into life. But overall this lacks weight and intensity: a Brontë-esque bauble smeared in twenty-first-century slickness." Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, "Aflame with color and awash in symbolism, this undeniably ravishing yet ultimately disappointing haunted-house meller is all surface and no substance, sinking under the weight of its own self-importance into the sanguine muck below." Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Crimson Peak is a cobwebs-and-candelabras chamber piece that’s so preoccupied with being visually stunning it forgets to be scary." This is a director who struggles to win over audiences with style rather than substance.
Del Toro's 2014-2017 television series, The Strain, steadily declined in viewers throughout its 46-episode run. Only a third of the viewers of the premiere were still around for the series finale. The series never aroused the enthusiasm of genre fans and often annoyed fans with ill-conceived plot developments and poorly-drawn characters.
From the start, Del Toro's monster films were not the sort of films that win Oscars. Take, for example, Mimic (1997). Under normal circumstances, you are not going to get an Oscar for making a movie about a giant cockroach. The director was once asked, "Is there part of you that feels like, as soon as there's a monster or any fantasy or genre element in a movie, it automatically gets put in a box and isn’t taken seriously?" He replied, "Oh, for sure. But that would be important if I cared — but I don't." Don't believe him. He cares very much. The good news is that the matter has a simple fix. Just say that the cockroach represents an illegal alien and you now stand a chance of winning an Oscar.
So, now comes del Toro with The Shape of Water, which the director describes as "a fairy tale for troubled times." The film stars Sally Hawkins as a mute cleaning woman who falls in love with a mysterious sea creature held captive at a government research facility. The inspiration for the film was clearly The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The success of The Creature from the Black Lagoon had much to do with the shape that Julie Adams displayed in her well-padded bathing suit (Adams: "I had never seen a suit before where the breasts were built into the suit."). Del Toro, himself, would agree. He told Vanity Fair:
A seminal moment for me was the moment in Creature from the Black Lagoon where the creature swims under Julie Adams in a white swimming suit. Three things awakened in me - one, Julie Adams. At six I was a horny little bastard. The second [thing] that awakened was a Stendhal syndrome. There was something unassailable in that movie that I could not express. And the third thing is, I felt a longing in my heart that I could not name. I kept thinking I hope they end up together and they didn't.
He admits that most six-year-oldboys didn't watch the film and hope that Adams and Gill Man ended up as a couple ("No, I'm a weird one," he said). But this remained a fantasy of his throughout his life and he made The Shape of Water for the explicit purpose of "correcting the cinematic mistake."
Del Toro later decided to make filmgoers believe he has, in fact, designed a film to correct many of the world's mistakes. We are meant to believe that, as the film is exhibited across the country, it will wash away all of our sins.
Let us examine how the plot develops. Hawkins' character, Elisa Esposito, elicits her friends help to free the creature. Her friends are a gay artist (Richard Jenkins) and a black co-worker (Octavia Spencer). Del Toro said, "They are invisible people. Everybody that rescues the creature is invisible to the eyes of the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant guy. Everybody." Michael Shannon, as Esposito's intimidating boss Colonel Strickland, is the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant guy. He is a vicious, power-mad sociopath meant to represent every white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant guy.
Don't be quick to buy this malarkey. This is just, as suggested earlier, a director's Oscar bid. Del Toro believes the perfect way to court Academy voters is to claim that his film is an anti-white, anti-Trump diatribe. Only in Hollywood could a man find success by bashing America and expressing unmitigated hatred of white people.
|Two white, square-jawed 1950s good guys, Richard Denning and Richard Carlson|
Strickland, who certainly has a square jaw to flaunt, sees the creature as "a dark, slimy thing that came from South America." His blind prejudice against this dark-skinned (green) creature fits him snugly into the mold of a racist, or speciest, or something. Strickland is reminiscent of Captain Paul Shriver, the sadistic military officer who presided over a research facility in Kneale's unproduced Creature screenplay. Del Toro said, "[Strickland] doesn't see [the creature] for the divine and beautiful thing that it is." The character is condemned by the filmmaker for believing that he, as a man, has a unique connection to God. He tells the cleaning woman, "You may think that thing looks human. Stands on two legs, right? But we're created in the Lord's image. You don't think that's what the Lord looks like, do you?" He lives under the pressure of the American work ethic, which demands that he work hard and effectively to accomplish his duties. This makes him feel like a failure when he finds that the amphibious man has escaped from the facility. He expresses agony as he stares at himself in the mirror, offers himself desperate encouragement, and calls upon himself to fix the situation. He bellows, "You deliver, that's what you do, right?" Of course, del Toro want us to see the devout American work ethic as something insane and diabolical.
The Washington Times published the following headline:
Director Guillermo del Toro: Trump's America like a "tumor"Del Toro told IndieWire, "I set [The Shape of Water] in 1962 specifically, because when people say, 'Let's Make America Great Again,' they're dreaming of that era. It’s an era where the cars had jet fins, the kitchens were automatic. Everything was super-great if you were white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, but it you were anything else, you were fucked. It hasn't changed that much." He told the Hollywood Reporter, "I've seen, for most people, this [opposition to illegal immigrants] thing started two years ago. But if you're Mexican, and you crossed the border, they never really went away. They've been latent all this time."
Del Toro said that his film addressed "[t]he idea of otherness being seen as the enemy." He insisted that this is something he felt as an immigrant. He said, "What I feel is an ugly undercurrent not in the past — not in the origins of fascism — but now." The director made it clear that the creature was meant to represent the Other. This relates to a theory that imperialistic Europeans saw the people of non-white countries as the Other and felt these people didn't matter in their expansion across the globe.
Del Toro said, "I experienced [racial prejudice] in the 90s for sure, when I was starting to go to Hollywood." He has talked about this often in his recent interviews. He said, "For the world, this has been going on politically for a year and a half, but for me as a Mexican it’s been going on for decades. Each time I would cross customs and immigration for me it’s like Midnight Express. . . As a recently as a year and a half ago I was very thoroughly interrogated crossing the border in Texas." He said in another interview, "I’ve been stopped for traffic violations by cops and they get much more curious about me than the regular guy. The moment they hear my accent, things get a little deeper."
Midnight Express, really? The 1978 drama Midnight Express involves an American tourist being sent to prison in Turkey for drug smuggling. While in prison, the man is physically brutalized by guards and inmates. Is that really comparable to del Toro's experience with American police?
It is important to note the reason that del Toro abandoned Mexico for the United States. He was frightened away after his father was kidnapped in 1998. He said, "[N]ot everyone who participated got captured. Coming back to México would make me vulnerable because I have a routine that is the same every day, an everything I do gets published, those people will know what time and when I’m getting picked up and where I'm going throughout the day. At the end of the kidnap [his father’s kidnap] we didn’t say goodbye with a kiss. There were threats from them that stop me from coming back." But that was not the only kidnapping incident in his family. He added, "My wife's cousin has been missing for a month. He just disappeared, there's no information, we don't know anything."
In this country, del Toro's most terrible experience has been enduring a cop eyeing him curiously during a traffic stop. Meanwhile, in his home country, his family has had to cope with kidnappings and disappearances. Why doesn't he make a movie about that? I have the perfect plot for him. A Mexican drug cartel kidnaps a lizard man. But it wouldn't work, would it? The problems in Mexico are real and to address those problems in such a silly and trivial way would be offensive. It makes more sense to address the overblown imaginary problems that he says exists in the United States ("they get much more curious about me than a regular guy") with an overblown imaginary story.
Americans do not automatically see people who are different from them as the enemy. Americans are not ignorant and hateful as del Toro claims. Americans regard as their enemy those people who disrespect their values, people who disobey their laws and, most of all, people who do them harm. There's nothing romantic, mysterious or poignant about Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an illegal immigrant who murdered a young woman.
|Reality versus Fantasy.|
Del Toro's Mimic featured a six-foot-tall cockroach that ate dogs and children. Should we love that mysterious creature rather than fear him?
Del Toro told the Los Angeles Times, "I think the movie says that there are so many more reasons to love than to hate. I know you sound a lot smarter when you're skeptical and a cynic, but I don’t care." He said, "I think when we wake up in the morning, we can choose between fear and love. Every morning. . . It’s important that we choose love over fear, because love is the answer. Silly as it may sound, it is the fucking answer to everything."
The filmmaker got more poetic on the matter with Vanity Fair. He said, "It’s falling in love with the other, with the thing you're not supposed to be in love with. What the movie says is, love knows no shape. Wherever it lands, you fall in love with. It doesn't matter if it’s religiously wrong, politically wrong, the gender as you. It doesn't matter. Love is love. And it’s much better than hatred and fear. I think it's an antidote to what we’re living through today."
Josh Rottenberg of The Los Angeles Times called The Shape of Water"a fable of improbable love in the face of fear and intolerance." Del Toro speaks a great deal of love in discussing the film, but his references to love are really references to sexual attraction. The cleaning woman does not feel love for the creature as she might feel for her grandmother or a friend. She has an intense feeling of physical attraction that makes her want the creature to put its fishy penis inside of her. She befriends the creature by offering him eggs, which comes across as an obvious metaphor under the circumstances. Doug Jones, who plays the Creature, said, "There was always a romantic side to these characters and relationships [in monster films] that never got actualized all the way. Guillermo said this time, the monster's going to actually fuck the girl. A gentler way to say it is that this is the creature from the wet, black lagoon who actually gets the girl this time."
Call it Monster Love. Call it Beast Love. It is not Other Love. Forget about del Toro's speeches about the Other. That talk was just a way to market the film to open border millennials. It is difficult to imagine del Toro really likes illegal aliens when the director's previous films are taken into consideration. In Pacific Rim, alien monsters emerge from an interdimensional portal called the Breach at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The heroine of Crimson Peak is plagued by an influx of gruesome ghosts who cross through a mystical veil to our earthly domain. We need to be careful about who we let into our personal space.
Comments on social media show that the public knows the film is specifically about bestiality. One person asked, "Is he hung like a whale or a grouper?" Sam Adams and Dana Stevens debated in their Slate podcast, "Is this Del Toro’s best film since Pan’s Labyrinth? What should we make of its mysterious ending? And how hot is that fish-monster sex?" A bull fornicating with a queen, which was once presented as the repulsive outcome of a wicked curse, is now presented by del Toro as a beautiful and arousing thing. It is, for the filmmaker, a "reversal." It is to many others a perversion. Of course, Del Toro has tried hard to deny the obvious. He said, "Well, to me, there is no perversion in sex if you're not perverse. You can do whatever you want and as long as you do it in the most beautiful way, it doesn’t matter." Pedophiles, rejoice, you are not perverse if you molest children in the most beautiful way.
It was the main objective in designing the creature to make him a hottie. Shape does matter in the romance department. Del Toro said, "We sculpted the shoulder ratio with the butt ratio. We sculpted the lips. We wanted it to slowly be seen. . . as a beautiful thing." Del Toro stressed, "The creation of the creature demanded a lot because we were not creating a monster; we were creating a leading man. That required a little more sophistication in the execution of the suit, the makeup, and the performance."
The director's marketing strategy has not been universally embraced. Just take a look at the comments on movie site forums.
FistInMouth: "His movies suck horribly. Which, I imagine, is why he decided to garner publicity by yapping about our politics. I wonder how he feels about politics as usual in his homeland. If Mexicans spent as much time trying to fix their own country as they do complaining about their right to break our laws they might have a decent country. But they don't."This is hostility breeding hostility. Forget about del Toro's hollow claims that he is spreading a message of love.
Biker Guy: "Actually, he's an excellent filmmaker. Far better than most of what is made in America. His inflammatory comments aren't helpful though. . ."
Del Toro said, "The first thing is, I thought it was an ideal time to talk about love. . . We’re living in a time where the one percent has created a narrative in which they are not to blame. Who is to blame is them, quote unquote, the others, Mexicans, the minorities. What the creation of that other does, it exonerates from responsibility. It directs hatred in a super streamlined way."
He spoke further on this subject to the Los Angeles Times. He said, "The thing that is inherent in social control is fear. The way they control a population is by pointing at somebody else — whether they’re gay, Mexican, Jewish, black — and saying, 'They are different than you. They're the reason you're in the shape you're in. You're not responsible.' And when they exonerate you through vilifying and demonizing someone else, they control you."
Del Toro is able to produce beautiful visuals, but a film is about much more than visuals. Beautiful visuals can be misused, becoming a way to seduce a viewer into absorbing vile or misguided notions. One should not be fooled. The Shape of Water looks to be a mixture of fantasy, love story and monster movie. But it is, if the director's statements are to be believed, an angry political statement that condemns white Americans for opposing illegal immigration. Or alternately, if the director's other statements are to be believed, it is about bestiality.
Del Toro is part of the "one percent" that he so gleefully condemns. He always has been. His father, automotive entrepreneur Federico del Toro, provided well for his son while he was growing up. He got every plaything he ever asked for. Yet, del Toro loathes rich people, who he accuses of creating a narrative to blame innocent people for the problems that they themselves have created. But what of his own narrative? The Shape of Water is, in its candy-colored influence-peddling, more harmful than the unimaginative speech of a politician. The film vilifies and demonizes white people. Its message is that white people are the problem. This is a staggering example of hypocrisy.
In the end, Del Toro wants Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" to be replaced with his own slogan "Love is the Fucking Answer." It is not surprising that del Toro is unable to speak of love without dispensing his usual vituperation. Del Toro is not a loving man. You can tell this from watching his films or reading his interviews. He is a curmudgeon, often grousing about the American studio executives with whom he has had to work. He said, "Our curse is that the film industry is 80 per cent run by the half-informed. You have people who have read Joseph Campbell and Robert McKee, and now they’re talking to you about the hero’s journey, and you want to fucking cut off their dick and stuff it in their mouth." Feel the love.
Del Toro rejected Catholicism because he found as a boy that the religion was "unforgiving." It did not allow for imperfection. He said, "There was no leeway."
He said to Vanity Fair, "Listen, it's an imperfect world. The only thing I'm trying to say with the movie is the most desirable thing is imperfection and tolerance. The ideologists enthrone purity and perfection. They are values that are unattainable. If I tell you, you’ve got to be perfect, you can't. If I tell you, you’ve gotta be imperfect. . . The greatest act of love you can give to anyone is to see them exactly as they are. That's the greatest act of love, because you wash away imperfections. What the ideology does, it blinds you to that person. He's an immigrant. He's illegal. He's black. Gay. Whatever it is that can allow you to make that person invisible and part of a group or a thing, that’s what it erases the act of seeing. And what is cinema? It is the act of seeing."
First, the illegal immigrant is not invisible and people can see the illegal immigrant as a problem. Second, a country is nothing without an ideology. The alternative is immorality and anarchy.
Our bad angels appeal to us through our weaknesses. They tell us that it's alright to be weak or to be bad. It is our acts of weakness and acts of vice that religion asks us to rise above. A person who aspires to standards of perfection cannot reasonably expect to be perfect, but it is sure that this person will turn out to the best person they can be. It is a person's noble aspirations and striving towards those aspirations that give a person value. It is repulsive for a person to wallow around defiantly in their imperfections. It is not helpful for a filmmaker to embolden imperfection.
Although Del Toro speaks more of imperfect values than physical imperfections, he does present a heroine who lacks the physical perfection of Julie Adams in her white swimsuit. Del Toro said, "The idea was to create, through fantasy and science fiction forms, a new type of 'Beauty and the Beast’ in which the beauty is someone you can relate to — not a perfect princess. And the beast doesn’t need to transform to find love."
Del Toro has made it clear in countless interviews that he sees monsters as gods. He told Vanity Fair, "Monsters are evangelical creatures for me. When I was a kid, monsters made me feel that I could fit somewhere, even if it was an imaginary place where the grotesque and the abnormal were celebrated and accepted." He told the Los Angeles Times, "I know that what I saw when I was a kid had redemptive powers. Some people find Jesus. I found Frankenstein. And the reason I’m alive and articulate and semi-sane is monsters. It’s not an affectation. It’s completely, spiritually real to me." He told Q Radio, "There is a sense of fragility and loss with monsters. There is a sense of acceptance. They are not aspirational figures. They are sort of martyr-like figures. They represent suffering and a sense of being an outcast. That I can identify with since I was a very young kid. I was the quiet kid that looked but didn't participate. . . It was not an easy childhood, but I eventually found companionship with these creatures."
The Gospel of John teaches Christians that God is the light. A man who walks with God walks in the light. But what of del Toro and his worship of monsters? The Frankenstein monster, a composite of body parts grafted together from soulless cadavers, is a dark and empty creature emblematic of the graveyard. A man who walks with the Frankenstein monster is surely a man who walks outside the light. Del Toro has openly acknowledged this. He said, "The love of the dark is for me a vocation."
It was noted earlier that, as a child, del Toro received every plaything he ever desired. That may not be entirely true. One Christmas, when he was five years old, he asked his parents for mandrake root, which he needed to cast a black magic spell. Del Toro didn't say if he found the mandrake root gift-wrapped under his Christmas tree. But it doesn't matter if the boy got to cast his spell or not. A five-year child obsessed with black magic is even weirder than a child who fantasizes about the Gill Man having sex with Julie Adams.
This is del Toro's church. It is a building that he created to house his macabre collection of paintings, drawings, maquettes, artifacts, and concept film art. It is his second home. He comes here to work on scripts. He calls it Bleak House. It is bleak indeed.
The Shape of Water advances del Toro's Gospel of the Monster. The director said, "The creature is something to everyone. . . Giles [Richard Jenkins’ character] is the first one who knows the creature is a god. This is like [Pier Paolo] Pasolini's Theorum  with a fish."
Theorum involves a charismatic, otherworldly man (Terence Stamp) who mysteriously shows up at a bourgeois household and seduces the members of the household one by one. The household members are so affected by their sexual experience with the man that they become liberated from their oppressive lives and quickly go mad. During his sexual escapades, the man steals the childish innocence of the young daughter, who subsequently falls into a catatonic state.
Del Toro insisted about The Shape of Water creature, "He's not an animal. He's an elemental god." The creature is greater than Kong, who the occasional film critic has identified as a black king. It is, by explicit design, a South American god. The fact that the creature is a god makes him comparable to Cupid. (SPOILER ALERT! The ending of The Shape of Water mirrors the rapturous ending of "Cupid and Psyche.")
In Theorum, Pasolina's camera shots focus at times on the mysterious stranger's divinely potent penis.
In The Shape of Water, del Toro is similarly fixated on his creature's retractable penis, which the mute woman describes to her friend with a gleeful pantomime after the first time the couple have sex.
A skillful filmmaker can be persuasive and seductive regardless of his message. In filmmaking, you can polish a turd.
Germain Lussier of io9 wrote:
In Guillermo del Toro's latest film The Shape of Water, a mute cleaning lady falls in love with a mysterious fishman. It's a weird premise, to be sure, but nothing about how it’s handled feels weird. Instead, del Toro’s film is poetic, sumptuous, emotionally complex, and yet almost strikingly simple in its narrative. . . From there, del Toro’s film kind of goes exactly where you’d expect a love story between a mute woman and a fish creature to go. No, it’s not a typical story, but when viewed through the eyes of those characters, it feels right. It’s engaging, exciting, and romantic, but rarely shocking. And along the way, del Toro paces the story briskly and efficiently, because the story isn’t really the point.Del Toro made a woman fucking a fish man feel right.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "Even as the film plunges into torment and tragedy, the core relationship between these two unlikely lovers holds us in thrall. Del Toro is a world-class film artist. There's no sense trying to analyze how he does it."
It's called weaving movie magic, manipulating audiences to believe in the make-believe.
Brian Truitt of USA Today examined the film in an article titled "Guillermo del Toro romanticizes interspecies love in superb Shape of Water." Yes, that's a real title. He wrote:
Woman meets cute with a creature from a South American lagoon and sparks fly. It's a noir fairy tale that touches on the cruelty of man, as well as the heart wanting what (and who) it wants. . . Elisa sneaks in and their eyes lock, creating an instant connection. She can’t speak, he only makes noises, yet they bond when she shares her hard-boiled eggs.
|This is NOT Spencer Bell|
Bell and Conley functioned as a virtual comedy team. This became evident to me when I enjoyed the team in a double feature, Wild Game (1924) and Below Zero (1925), at the Museum of Modern Art. According to film history researcher Carlos Devanti, the team was billed in Italy as Pick and Puck.
The man hanging from the plane in this ad for Air Pockets is Bell.
Here are news articles that specifically identify Bell in this role.
Here is a screen capture of Bell hanging off the plane.
A second black actor, Henry Trask, also hangs off the bottom of a plane in this film.
Trask is mentioned in yet another news item.
Today, no reliable credit listing exists for Bell. The Internet Movie Database lines up 78 actor credits for the funnyman, but the list is not entirely an accurate record. To start, it is reasonable to assume that not all of Bell's screen appearances are identified on the list. This is a common problem when it comes to credits for the supporting players of the period. At this time, acting credits were limited to the lead actors and the lead support. But a less common problem also mars the data. A question has recently been raised among film historians if it is possible that many of the roles attributed to Bell belong to other actors. Useful information has come from several sources, including Tommie Hicks, Richard Roberts, Robert Moulton, Lord David Heath and Steve Rydzewski.
In 1925, Chadwick Pictures Corporation circulated press releases for a black contract player billed under the gag name "G. Howe Black."
It has long been believed that G. Howe Black was actually Bell. But comparing screen captures of Bell and screen captures of Howe show distinct physical differences between the men.
Bell is credited by IMDb with appearing in eight Larry Semon comedies from 1922 to 1924. But screen credits do not verify this claim outright and a careful examination of the films has raised doubt in my mind that the black actor in the Semon films is Black. From what I can see, the actor bears a strong resemblance to Curtis McHenry, a high-spirited comic actor who often played servant roles in Christie comedies. McHenry did receive credit in one Semon comedy, Stop, Look and Listen (1926).
Let's talk a bit about McHenry. McHenry transitioned from the circus to films in 1920. He started with the L. K. O. series and soon moved to the Century Comedies, where he was known as "Snowball." This is a 1922 news item in which "Snowball" is praised for performing "death defying stunts" with lions.
The comedian's affinity to animals is demonstrated by this news item found by Moulton.
McHenry is mostly recognized today for his work in the Christie comedies, but the comedian often remained nameless despite his stand-out work for the studio. A review for the 1925 Christie comedy Call a Cop reports: "A colored comedian does some excellent work in a 'scared to death' scene with a skeleton."
McHenry is identified in an on-screen title for Christie's Goofy Ghost (1928).
An exhibitor, who no doubt took notice of the credit title, went on to praise McHenry's work in the film.
McHenry is also known for having played Friday in Bryan Foy's 1924 satire of the classic "Robinson Crusoe" novel.
Other black comedians received better press attention in the Hollywood press during this period.
So, let me provide screen captures from the various (mostly fuzzy) prints and you can decide for yourself if Bell deserves all of his IMDb credits or if many of these credits in fact belong to McHenry.
We know for sure that Bell appeared in the following films:
We know for sure that McHenry appeared in the following films:
Hold 'Er Cowboy (1928)
The Counter Jumper (1922)
Lightning Love (1923)
No Wedding Bells (1923)
The Gown Shop (1923)
Kid Speed (1924)
Her Boyfriend (1924)
Dome Doctor (1925)
The Cloudhopper (1925)
Here is the actor billed as G. Howe Black:
Keep in mind is that the character is called "Snowball," which was McHenry's usual name on screen.
What do you think?
This article, which is dated December 4, 1920, was uncovered by Robert Moulton.
The article is important as it may identify two black comedians that have remained unknown for decades. Film historians have questioned who played Buster Keaton's caddy in Convict 13 (1920).
This just might be Thurston Brooks, who we now know from the article was working with Keaton at the time. Convict 13's caddy bears a distinct resemblance to an uncredited comedian who acted as Larry Semon's sidekick in The Sportsman, which was filmed the same month that this article was published.
It is noted in the article that a black comedian working with Semon at the time was Huel Brooks. Could the actor in The Sportsman be Huel Brooks? I also cannot help but wonder if Huel Brooks and Thurston Brooks be the same man.
At the time, audiences couldn't always tell the difference between a white actor in blackface and an actor with a natural black coloring.
Tom Wilson, best know as the cop who tormented Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921), adopted blackface for several film roles.
Wilson appeared in blackface in Fox's Goodbye Girls (1923). An exhibitor in Baltimore reported, "Tom Wilson, negro comedian, keeps 'em laughing from start to finish."
Charles "Heinie" Conklin appeared in blackface in George Washington Jr. (1924). A Detroit exhibitor wrote, "[T]he colored comedian carries off the bacon." An Akron exhibitor noted, "The colored comedian is the whole show." An exhibitor from Conway, New Hampshire, declared, "Colored comedian kept audience in a roar."
|Glenn Ford and Rita Hayward in Affair in Trinidad (1952)|
The idea of slapping a hysterical person to compose them had been circulating in films and literature for years.
Here is a passage from the 1939 novel "Ten Little Indians":
She began laughing wildly again. Dr. Armstrong strode forward. He raised his hand and struck her a flat blow across the cheek. She gasped, hiccupped – and swallowed. She stood motionless a minute, then she said, "Thank you. . . I’m all right now." Her voice was once more calm and controlled - the voice of the efficient games mistress.
|Martino and Alexander (2015)|
Illi and Olli at Circus Roncalli
The Shepperd Clowns
The Capital Circus of Budapest
|Stuart Robson and William Crane in William Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" (1888)|
|Leon Errol in We're Not Dressing (1934)|
One of my favorite Max Linder comedies is Max, professeur de tango (1912). The main scene involves Max's awkward efforts to give a dance lesson while inebriated.
This routine is marvelously expanded by Leon Errol in The Jitters (1938).
The longest-running thread on the Nitrateville classic film forum addresses the topic of the Murphy bed in films. The thread has garnered 109,953 views and 271 comments in the last ten years.
Here are a few Murphy bed scenes that I learned about from this thread.
A piano converts into a Murphy bed in Saturday Night (1922).
Patsy Kelly gets trapped beneath a Murphy bed in Sing, Sister, Sing (1935).
Danny Kaye gets closed inside a Murphy bed in Money on Your Life (1938).
Joan Blondell has difficulty pulling down a Murphy bed in The Amazing Mr. Williams (1939).
Nicholas Smith and Frank Thornton get shut up in a Murphy bed in 1973 episode of Are You Being Served? called "Camping In."
The film includes a popular English music hall routine in which a drunk man gets his coat entangled around a lamppost.
From the drunk man's perspective, the sidewalk appears to be tilting one way and the other like a ship deck listing from bow to stern during a storm. This routine, which has been discussed in a previous post, was used in many early films.
The film's most interesting gag involves Evans fretting over a brazen woman showing off her ankle. He suddenly comes up with the idea of painting over the lens to obscure our view.
The same basic gag was later used by other comedians, including Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton.
Lupino Lane performs a variation of the classic Commedia dell'arte routine "Lazzi of Fear" in The Dummy (1916). I have written about this routine in "The Funny Parts" and past blog posts (Check out one blog post here).
The I Love Lucy writers had a knack for coming up with a funny scene to highlight an episode. In the 1951 episode "Drafted," Lucy and Ethel invite guests to the Ricardos' apartment for a surprise party for Ricky and Fred, who they mistakenly believe have been drafted into the Army. Ricky and Fred see their teary-eyed wives knitting blankets (which they intend to give to their husbands as a going-away present) and assume that the wives must be crying and knitting blankets because they are pregnant. Ricky and Fred invite guests to a surprise baby shower on the same night as their wives' surprise going-away party. Lucy and Ethel's strategy for hiding their guests is to hurriedly shove them, one by one, into a hallway closet. Ricky and Fred have the same idea, shoving their guests into the same closet. In the end, the party guests get tangled up together within this terribly cramped space.
A similar scene turned up more than twenty years later in a Here's Lucy episode.
Danny Kaye, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier dressed up as children for a benefit.
Here is a full-page trade magazine ad for Universal's popular comedy team Lyons and Moran.
The Orgamatron in Woody Allen's Sleeper (1973) was based on real-life device, Wilhelm Reich's Orgone Accumulator.
I thank Jorge Finkielman for these images from Skirts (1921).
Footage deleted from Skirts ended up in a two-reel comedy called The Singer Midget's Scandal (1921).
A screen capture of Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe in Under Pressure (1935).
Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, a comedy duo brought together by Alfred Hitchcock for The Lady Vanishes (1938), were still a feature attraction more than a decade later in It's Not Cricket (1949). The blonde bombshell applying for a job with the men is Diana Dors.
Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca perform a unique version of "Slowly I Turned" for Your Show of Shows.
The following clip features André Deed as a reporter trying to sneak into a news-worthy wedding.
Inflatables humor is back in Johnny English Strikes Again (2018).
Veronica, a 2017 horror film that has been gaining many fans on Netflix, features a Ouija scene.
"The Old Bazaar in Cairo" was a popular song in England. Here are four renditions of the song.
Joan Savage and Ken Morris
Cilla Black and Roy Hudd
The other day, a self-styled hipster on Facebook told me that a person who keeps a gun in their home for protection is paranoid. When I explained to him that crime statistics show that home break-ins are a realistic threat (a family member of mine was in fact a victim of a home invasion), this young man responded that he is not the type of person who lives his life in fear. He clarified, in case I didn't understand his previous comment, that people who worry about home break-ins are mentally ill. School shootings are far rarer than home break-ins, but his entire anti-gun position is based on his fear of school shootings. Isn't he living his life in fear? It doesn't make a person paranoid to buy a fire insurance policy for their home. And a person who has a fire insurance policy isn't a person who lives in fear. The policy is something that makes a person sleep better at night.
Meanwhile, the same people who are upset with gun owners find great pleasure in watching people get shot up in movies and television shows. Guns represent empowerment in Hollywood entertainment. I asked Spotify to play the Fifth Dimension. You know the Fifth Dimension, right? Aquarius. Up, Up and Away. Spotify played a rap group called Fifth Dimension. This what I got to hear.
Good Girls, a new television series, takes a fond look at a group of women who take up guns to rob a bank.
See, guns are female empowerment.
Hollywood filmmakers insist that the constant gun violence in their films has no influence on the gun violence that we see so often in the real world. Our culture is very much shaped by movies, television shows and music, which hold up role models, define our moral behavior and, most of all, manipulate our emotions. We are fooling ourselves if we deny this obvious fact.
Fictional narratives, which arouse deep emotions in people, have a strong persuasive effect. Fictional narratives change beliefs, alter culture and affect human behavior. Markus Appel and Tobias Richter, psychology professors at the University of Cologne, have conducted extensive research on this subject. They came to the following conclusion with their study "Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives Increase Over Time":
Fictional narratives conveyed by books, movies, and — perhaps most importantly — television programs play an important part in everyday life and, therefore, in the socialization of children, adolescents, and adults. This study suggests that fictional narratives can have a persistent implicit influence on the way we view the world, and that these effects may last longer than the effects of typical explicit attempts to change beliefs by presenting claims and arguments. Apart from the unintended consequences this instance might have, fictional narratives are a powerful educational tool that on the one hand may be used in a planned and reasonable way to change beliefs and behavior concerning existential topics such as HIV or school education (Singhal et al., 2004). On the other hand, applied fictional persuasion also includes the marketing of political ideas and products in television soap operas without viewers’ awareness (e.g., Lilienthal, 2005) and similar phenomena.People were convinced from watching The Shape of Water that having sex with a fish was a good idea. We know this because, according to the sex toy company XenoCat Artifacts, a number of people rushed to purchase the company's fish dildo to recreate in the real world the fishy sex that occurs in the film's fantasy world. If a film can stimulate a man or woman to have a sexual desire for a fish, then a film can convince people of anything. People who saw The Blank Panther have attempted to purchase airline tickets to the nonexistent Wakanda.
I have become convinced after writing a number of articles on the violence in mass media that a steady diet of violent films can bring about emotional and behavioral problems. The shooters tread a fine line between fantasy and reality. To them, their name in headlines is like star billing in a blockbuster action film.
I am barely interested in the Oscars anymore. I am just curious enough to find out who was nominated for the major awards, but I don't care who wins and I will not bother to watch the tedious three-hour awards show.
Hollywood has made it painfully obvious in recent years that it no longer has the ability to turn out a quality film. Not one of the films that the Oscars had in its Best Picture category this year deserved to be there. Not one. This stands as the worst Best Picture lineup in Oscar history.
Call Me by Your NameHollywood doesn't know how to make films about normal people anymore. The major American studios only know how to make films about impossibly powerful crusaders, mentally unbalanced weirdos and disturbingly immoral creeps. We are in the Superheroes and Superfreaks Era.
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
At one time, the Academy of Arts and Sciences was committed to acknowledging and rewarding the high artistic achievement of popular entertainment. The films honored by the Academy were grand in scope and ideas. The films stood out for their universality and grandeur.
Hollywood has become an island unto itself and its residents look upon anyone who doesn't live on its island with wariness and disdain. It has become a weird, dark place where weird, dark people live. The people who control film production find it difficult if not impossible to understand normal people. This is clearly reflected in the ugly and petty films that they produce.
Hollywood films turn people away from the joy and beauty of the world with their dark stories. They turn the public to ugliness and tell them they must submit to it. The Hollywood filmmaker hypnotizes their prey like an old cobra, luring them to their own spiritual doom. What's left is chaos. What's left is angry, confused, frightened people. What's left is a howling, empty mob. This week, the mob moved to push The Simpsons and The Breakfast Club into the dustbin. They accused The Simpsons of racism and The Breakfast Club of sexism. We now have masterpieces of art being subject to condemnation and censorship while works of degeneracy and vulgarity are celebrated.
|Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club (1985)|
Let's look at the films that the Academy of Arts and Sciences recently nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, a historical war film, had a trailer with the conventional images of battleships, dogfights, a plane dropping a bomb on soldiers amassed on a beach. A key moment of the trailer featured a shot of a steely British commander played by movie star Kenneth Branagh. But the film was far from conventional and its unusual storytelling techniques made it difficult to connect to the film.
I appreciate Nolan's objective of making the film authentic. The film was to be the antithesis of the memorably and nauseatingly corny Pearl Harbor (2001). Nolan refused to take the focus away from the real-life story to show a pretty leading man and pretty leading lady embroiled in a torrid romance. Not one bodice was ripped in the making of this film. Do you remember the bad reviews that Pearl Harbor got? Joe Morgenstern of Wall Street Journal wrote, "Pearl Harbor is a blockheaded, hollow-hearted industrial enterprise." Leah Rozen of People Magazine wrote, "Bloated and boring, Pearl Harbor is a collection of war-movie clichés." David Germain of Associated Press wrote, "[T]he movie offers almost no sense of authentic humanity. The faces the filmmakers plaster on their characters are as flat and stereotyped as those on war-recruitment posters." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said it best when he wrote, "Pearl Harbor is. . . about how, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle. Its centerpiece is 40 minutes of redundant special effects, surrounded by a love story of stunning banality."
Dunkirk has little dialogue, doesn't bother with backstory, and avoids big moments. Nolan said, "I wanted to tell story in as objective way as possible and trust that the facts of it would inspire an emotional response. We tried not to be overtly emotionally manipulative." Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of Phantom Thread, told Variety, "[The film is] stripped down to bare essentials." This approach was successful to the many fans of the film. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter praised the film as "an impressionist masterpiece" that was "deeply moving" without "manufactured sentimentality or false heroics." Brent Lang of Variety wrote, "The focus throughout is on the tactile experience of war, which Nolan achieves by concentrating on banal details."
Of course, the critics were not unanimous in their praise. Kevin Maher of The Times wrote, "[Dunkirk] is 106 clamorous minutes of big-screen bombast that's so concerned with its own spectacle and scale that it neglects to deliver the most crucial element — drama." He indicated that the film has as much drama as a "Call of Duty" video game.
Nolan could have made a film authentic, respectful, unique and profound without stripping it of every dramatic device known to man. Someday, I may revisit the film and think more of it than I do now. But I doubt that I will ever see it as a Best Picture contender.
Call Me by Your Name, which was widely criticized for promoting pedophilia, is not a mainstream film. Jeffrey Bloomer of Slate discussed at length "the understandable squeamishness that surrounds the film." He wrote:
Call Me by Your Name is, for all its subtlety and specificity, fundamentally about an erotic relationship between a 17-year-old teenager and a 24-year-old man. It will also be released in a moment of heightened scrutiny around sexual abuse in Hollywood, including the revelations about Kevin Spacey, which, thanks in part to his joint apology/coming-out statement, seemed to renew old and damaging associations of gayness with molestation. It isn't hard to find more tweets accusing the movie and even [leading man Armie] Hammer himself of promoting pedophilia, and as more people see the film, these accusations will undoubtedly intensify.Bloomer found that the film erred in emphasizing the teenager's fragility and youth. This came across in the teenager's sensitive emotional reactions and slight physical appearance. The critic wrote, "There is also the simple fact that Hammer, at 31, looks much older than 24, and Chalamet, at 21, barely looks 17. In the book, one has the sense that while Oliver carries a sort of broad-shouldered 'American' manliness compared with Elio, the two are not in such wildly different zip codes physically. The film exaggerates that difference."
For fans of the book and the film, it may feel self-evident that Call Me by Your Name is not a story of predation: It's a story of first love and lust told from the perspective of a particularly mature teenager on the cusp of adulthood; the relationship is consensual; even [the teenagers'] parents seem to approve; and, in any case, this is a fictional depiction, not an ethical endorsement. But the age gap will give pause to more people than right-wing trolls — it did to my progressive companion at an early screening — and it does the film no favors to pretend it’s not a question worth exploring.
|Fan art further emphasized the age difference.|
He noted that he viewed the film as "an urgent and beautiful story of discovery." He wrote, "He’s an older teenager messily discovering his sexuality. It’s misguided to deny that such a basically human process should be represented in a work of art, even if the outcomes of that process make us uncomfortable." But he accepted that his view of the film might not be true for others. "That's fine," he wrote. "Even if the relationship is legal or consensual or meets any other criteria, some viewers will find it inappropriate or worse, and that’s a subjective reality that the movie's fans — and Hammer and the filmmakers — have to accept." He concluded, "In my view, it’s reasonable to be disturbed by the unconventional relationship in Call Me by Your Name, but it’s not reasonable to say the movie endorses pedophilia, or really any kind of power-based abuse, just because it depicts that relationship. If we go down that censorious and unnuanced path with our art, very little will survive the trip."
The director, Luca Guadagnino, described Call Me by Your Name as a "film for families." He said, "I like to think it’s a film for the transmission of knowledge and hope that people of different generations come to see the film together." The film includes a scene in which the teen masturbates into a peach and the man eats it. This is not a film for families.
It was obvious in the early images released for Call Me by Your Name that the filmmakers were more interested in being sensational and controversial than telling a coming-of-age story that was subtle and nuanced. The images were bound to dissuade a mainstream audience from seeing the film.
And what can I say about The Shape of Water that I haven't said before? Anne Cohen of Refinery29 wrote, "[Shape of Water] has fish sex and Russian spies. (And did I say fish sex? Because seriously, this woman fucks a fish! And it's romantic!)." Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire called the film "Grinding Nemo." But Cohen advised viewers to "delve a little deeper" to root out "themes of otherness, sexism, and race." She wrote, "We, like Elisa, can do better. Why settle for bad men when we can have fish sex?" Yes, why fuck one of those evil things we call a man when you can fuck an animal? The Shape of Water unashamedly promotes bestiality. Kate Knibbs of The Ringer wrote:
I realize that this is a film, not reality. . . And I realize that this is an allegory about two outsiders finding comfort and kinship in one another’s arms, and that it’s magical realism, and that Guillermo del Toro loves his monsters, and that maybe I should lighten up. But it’s still a monumentally gross allegory — one which involves a human woman allowing a creature with a scaly, slimy body; sharp claws; and a bizarre collapsible penis to enter her — and that deep, abiding ickiness must too be examined.
The director, Guillermo del Toro, hasn't even bothered to call the film's creature "a fish man." He has in his many interviews referred to the creature simply as "a fish." I must admire him for being plain about his message. But I must, in the end, reject del Toro's message that perverse (fish/woman) sex is better than normal (man/woman) sex.
Paul Bois of The Daily Wire found The Shape of Water to be "emotionally false, manipulative, hackneyed, and worse, Machiavellian." He wrote:
The values governing The Shape of Water are best summed up as follows: have sex with anything you want, even if that "thing" is not of your species, and kill innocent people to do it . . . Fin! That the film presents this in the guise of a tale about how love conquers all in the face of white male patriarchal oppression makes it all the more insidious.White male patriarchal oppression is represented by a hateful American colonel, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who uses Bible quotes to justify his anti-social behavior. Of course, the film wants us to believe that Christians are evil. In the end, the creature slits open Shannon's throat because evil Christians must die. Also, an innocent security guard is killed during the creature's escape from a government research facility. Bois wrote:
The innocent guard remains nameless, as Del Toro expects us to accept his murder for the sake of saving an anthropomorphized beast as necessary justice. For this is not a world of unconditional love that imposes itself through grace and mercy, but rather the Alinskyite kind of love that divides people by violence and cruelty and then has the nerve to boast of unity.The creature proves to have godlike powers, including the miraculous ability to heal his dying lover. Bois wrote:. . .
Make no mistake: Elisa crosses a line that warrants examination and insight. It asks no questions. Can someone really have an interspecies sexual relationship without sacrificing their own humanity? Can those bonds truly be everlasting? Is there no danger in crossing such a line? No tragedy? No pathos? Nothing?
And what does this godlike creature with invincible powers do? Does he transform Strickland's hateful heart by showing grace? Does he heal Strickland of his wounds? Does he use his power to bring the man into redemption? No, he slits Strickland's throat.
Take another heroic figure who faced a similar situation: Jesus Christ. Facing certain death and capture in the garden of Gethsemane, Christ tells St. Peter to lay down his sword when he slices a soldier's ear off. Choosing mercy over vengeance, Christ then uses His power to heal the soldier's wound – for no man should have to die when triumph will prevail no matter what. In Del Toro's worldview, Christ should have used his powers to kill everyone who betrayed him.
What exactly is the film about? NPR reported, "The movie centers on a complex mother-daughter relationship, a relationship that becomes particularly fraught when the teenage daughter is trying to assert her identity as a soon-to-be adult. This will be recognizable territory for a lot of mothers and daughters." Gerwig said, "Well, I feel that it's such a rich relationship. It has a tremendous amount of love and a tremendous amount of angst. And I don't know any woman who has a simple relationship with their mother or with their daughter. . . I had a hunch that the mother-daughter dynamic was something that would be infinitely interesting. . ." This is recognizable territory for sure. What could get weird about this story?
Micah Mertes of the Omaha World-Herald wrote:
[Gerwig] has made a perfect film about a deeply, hilariously, movingly imperfect young woman. That young woman is Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), a pink-haired misfit finishing up her 2002-'03 senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California.Wait, hold on, the pink-haired misfit jumps out of a moving vehicle? That's right, Lady Bird gets upset and leaps out of a car speeding down the road. A contentious relationship between a parent and child is universal, but a child jumping out of a moving car is weird. In real life, the girl would likely have been killed. But Lady Bird comes out of the incident with a broken arm. . . or, um, broken wing. Lady Bird is not Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles.. . .
Like many young people (or just people in general), Lady Bird is a bundle of contradictions: She’s an underachieving student who dreams of prestigious universities and a successful career. She’s an iconoclast who wants to fit in with her popular classmates. She has a loving knowledge of her hometown but can’t wait to escape it.
Lady Bird is partly defined by her bruisingly contentious relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Their dynamic is so heated that in the film’s opening scene, Lady Bird jumps out of a moving vehicle just so she doesn’t have to keep talking to her mother.
Terry Gross of NPR talked about the car scene with the woman who wrote and directed the film, Greta Gerwig.
GROSS: So this is the daughter - the daughter's just, like - she's so angry with her mother, she just jumps out of the car.Jazz Tangcay of Awards Daily wrote:
GERWIG: That's right.
GROSS: And it's the only, like, totally crazy, unhinged thing that she does during the movie. Why did you want her character to start by doing something so extreme?
GERWIG: Well, I think everybody knows what it feels like to be in a car, particularly with your mother and - or with your daughter, and either you want to shove them out of the car or you want to jump out of the car. There's a quality to fighting in cars where you're trapped. And it felt like it kind of gave the right tone for the movie, and it's going for something that's emotionally real. And then the entire scene to me - it starts off with them listening to John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" on Books on Tape that they checked out from the public library. And they're having this moment where they're both crying at the end of the book, and they're really connecting. And then within two minutes, it's completely off the rails.
For anyone who’s been in a car arguing with a parent, there’s a feeling of being trapped and you may want to throw yourself out of the car and that's exactly what Lady Bird does. Gerwig explains she looked at two films that influenced the way she shot the scene. "There's a particular fight in Paper Moon, it's extraordinary and it’s one shot, Tatum O'Neil and Ryan O'Neil fighting and it's this astonishing shot. We looked at that and there’s a lot of driving in Cléo From Five To Seven, but something we realized about both of those films, both of those cars don't have tops."Here is the Paper Moonscene.
There are multiple car scenes in Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962). The title character, pop singer Cléo Victoire (Corinne Marchand), is as selfish and temperamental as Lady Bird. Cléo gets antsy in a closed car and becomes more relaxed in an open car.
A woman on Facebook said that, in her view, the opening scene of Lady Bird was the best scene of the year. I imagine this woman has been in a similar situation and wanted to jump out of the car. Some people like it when a film depicts their worst fantasies. It's like imagining punching out your boss and then you see a person punch out their boss in a film. It's a relief to know that others have had the same bad thoughts that you have had. But this sort of extreme behavior in everyday relationships with bosses or parents is never useful in our real life or a fictional narrative.
Gerwig was concerned that her leading lady, Saoirse Ronan, wasn't injured filming the scene. She understood how dangerous it was to throw yourself out of a car even if Lady Bird didn't. Gerwig said, "Technically, figuring out how we were going to get Saoirse falling out of that car was a bit of a beast. . . [W]e looked at different ways of doing that. [Saoirse] was in a harness and she worked with a stunt coordinator who helped her figure out how to do it safely and it really came together."
Of course, the fact that the teen girl whose legal name is Christine insists on being called "Lady Bird" is pretty weird. Brody wrote:
Lady Bird explains [about the name], "It was given by myself to myself." Her fierce struggle to be called by this name is the struggle over what she got from, or is given by, her parents.Gross talked about this with Gerwig.
GROSS: She wants her school to call her Lady Bird. She wants her mother to call her Lady Bird. And it seems like there's something so passive-aggressive of insisting that your mother, who named you Christine, should now have to call you by a totally different name, Lady Bird (laughter).The arrogant Lady Bird has great ambitions. She sees herself as an extraordinary person and she will not be satisfied unless she has an extraordinary life. Tim Lewis of the Guardian wrote:
GERWIG: Yeah, it's a rejection of everything her mother gave her, including her hair color. It was just totally, like, I'm not yours.
In Lady Bird and before, Gerwig is drawn to dreamers: young women who believe they are destined for greatness, even when the audience finds plenty of cause to doubt that.Gerwig said that, in writing the script, she was influenced by Saint Ignatius, who founded the Jesuits. She said:
[He] was a soldier. And he wanted to be a great soldier and a hero. And he was very ambitious. . . [B]ut he hurt his leg. And while he was recuperating, he was reading the lives of the saints. And he had this kind of teenage ambition moment of - he basically looked at it and said, I could do that. I can do that better than those saints. I could be the best saint there ever was.The film ends with Lady Bird going off to college in New York. Anne Cohen of Refinery29 summed up the final incident of the film as follows: "[A] night of freshman drinking lands [Lady Bird] in the hospital. . ." Lady Bird is standing outside a church as she calls her mother. Her mother doesn't answer, so she leaves a message. Here is the message:
And he set out, in almost this childish way, to do it. . . [T]he moral of it, in a way, is that God can use whatever you have, even if it looks unpromising. Even if you're just kind of an arrogant teenager, that can be something that's transformed into something holy.
Hi Mom and Dad, it's me, Christine. It's the name you gave me. It's a good one. Dad, this is more for Mom. Hey, Mom, did you feel emotional the first time that you drove in Sacramento? I did and I wanted to tell you, but we weren't really talking when it happened. All those bends I've known my whole life, and stores, and the whole thing. But I wanted to tell you I love you. Thank you, I'm. . . thank you.The character spends the whole film acting irrational, making impulsive decisions that cause problems for herself and others. Suddenly, she is mature and wise and sees the errors of her ways. This transformation is too abrupt to be believed.
Lady Bird takes its protagonist through adolescent solipsism to recognition and gratitude, through the hazards of friendship complicated by matters of self-image and self-imagination, through openhearted but uncertain fumblings of romance, through the unresolved and ever-mounting tensions of family life and the acknowledgment of its hard material practicalities, to a radiant reconciliation with her family, her home town, and herself.Lady Bird, as Brody describes it, is a great film, but that is not the film that made it to the screen. Lady Bird fails reach the lofty heights to which Gerwig so admirably aspired. It can be a messy business when a person makes the crucial transition from child to adult. The person must assert their independence, which requires them to redefine the most important and long-lasting relationships of their lives. But Lady Bird provides much of the mess without providing any of the business.
Certainly, the ending is not radiant. Lady Bird is not a holy figure standing outside the church. She might still have specks of vomit on a shirt from the drunken spree she had only hours earlier. The film begins with Lady Bird nearly killing herself and ends with her nearly killing herself. A self-destructive heroine is not charming, not admirable, and not poignant. As hard as I try, I cannot find anything that I can learn from this person. Saint Ignatius acted for the greater glory of God by creating schools, colleges, and seminaries. Lady Bird finally sees the stupidity of the name that she created for herself and realizes that she should be grateful to her mother for everything the woman did for her. Most children accept their given name and feel gratitude to a loving mother. This is basic human decency stuff.
Ronan was miscast in the role of Lady Bird. The actress, who was 22 or 23 when the film was made, looks too old to be in high school. Then we have her deadpan acting style. Richard Brody of the New Yorker wrote, "The character of Lady Bird is impulsive, ardent, spontaneous." But how well does Ronan adapt her usual style to this sort of character? Not very well. Brody noted, "Lady Bird's volatile temperament comes through more in the writing and the drama than in the performance; Ronan doesn’t quite display the text's sudden and mercurial energy." The best that Ronan can muster is a seething defiance.
Lady Bird's mother Marion, played wonderfully by Metcalf, is a sympathetic character who did hold my interest throughout the film. Let me unhesitantly express my gratitude to Marion and all the neglected parents of the world.
Winston Churchill accomplished a great deal in his life, but Hollywood has now reduced this great historical figure to someone as childish and emotionally disordered as Lady Bird. The writers of Darkest Hour put forth a distorted version of Churchill, emphasizing to gross exaggeration the man's most notorious flaws and peculiarities. The scene in which Churchill is introduced makes the British leader look like an unhinged lunatic.
The scriptwriter invented the following line for Churchill: "My emotions are unbridled. A wildness. In the blood. I share with my father. And my mother also. We lack the gift of temperance."
Elizabeth Layton, Churchill's longtime secretary, suggested in her memoir that the man was mercurial and sometimes mean. Here is an excerpt from her memoir, "Mr. Churchill's Secretary":
[T]hat great man – who could at any time be impatient, kind, irritable, crushing, generous, inspiring, difficult, alarming, amusing, unpredictable, considerate, seemingly impossible to please, charming, demanding, inconsiderate, quick to anger and quick to forgive – was unforgettable. One loved him with a deep devotion. Difficult to work for – yes, mostly; loveable – always; amusing – without fail.Did God use whatever Churchill had in his messy character and make him something holy?
Layton's memoir was clearly the inspiration for the dictation scene. His hostile reaction to meeting a new typist is justified by the following remark:
Mr. Churchill greatly disliked any change of staff. Specifically he disliked the new typist – or shorthand-writer, which was the official term – in fact, at times it would put him off his work to see a strange face opposite him.The rest of the scene is supported by the following excerpt:
But, they told me, it's not easy to hear what he says. He has a very slight impediment in his speech connected with the letter S, and that, combined with the clicking of the typewriter, makes for difficulty. Until you get used to his voice it's almost impossible to catch everything. There's always that cigar, and usually he paces up and down the room as he dictates, so that sometimes he's behind your chair and sometimes far across the room. You must be prepared to go fast in short bursts, to finish one sentence before he starts another – and for Heaven's sake don't make any typing errors. When you don't hear you may ask him what he said, if you're brave and prepared for a squash; or you may put what you thought he said, if you don't mind having your head snapped off; or you may leave a space in the hope that from the sense you'll later realize what it was you missed, in which case you can creep back quietly on the typewriter and put it in – and hope he doesn't roar at you for fidgeting.The typist confusing the word "ripe" for "right" comes directly out of the book:
Sometimes that cigar would seem to get in the way of some of the words: one might perhaps feel what one handed over was correct, but back it would come with the information, impatiently given, that the time was "ripe" rather than "right," or that he dictated "fretful" and why did they put "dreadful"?An exhausting six weeks went past before the Prime Minister and the typist settled into a comfortable relationship.
So, we had a secretary who said that Churchill was quick to anger and might snap off a secretary's head for a dictation error. Does that mean he would rip a page out of the typewriter, imitate the typist's nervous stutter in a cruel way, scream angrily at the top of his lungs, and chase the young woman out of the room? And, keep in mind, this occurs only seconds after he first meets the woman. This introductory scene was overdone to make Churchill look wildly neurotic and strange as opposed to making him look like the extraordinary leader whose great discipline, vision and courage contributed significantly to the defeat of Hitler. The filmmakers preferred to treat Churchill as if he was a tantrum-prone teen. The reverence for our leaders is a thing of the past. At one point in the film, Churchill takes a ride in an underground carriage. I was waiting for the wild man to throw open the doors and hurl himself onto the tracks.
[W]e were utterly devoted to him, not because he was Prime Minister but because he was himself. Mr. Churchill – as I shall now continue to call him, for so it was that I knew him – was a hero to his staff, and particularly to his female staff. He was a person it was safe to hero-worship, for if one had that done so one could hardly have born the effort involved in giving him satisfactory service. Certainly to me he shone with a very, very bright light. Perhaps, after all, it was the unheroic in him that endeared him to us – his twinkling of an eye and occasional jest at the expense of ourselves or the Private Secretaries, his own self-consciousness, his extravagant love for the cat, for instance – the emotion he would feel on hearing of the exploits of Royal Navy ships, his beaming smile of thanks when he was aware that one had stayed up all night fair-copying a speech.
Churchill was a vigorous 65-year-old man at the time of the events depicted in the film. Oldman, at 59 years of age, was not much younger than Churchill was at the time. So, the wrinkles and sagging jowls of old age makeup shouldn't have been necessary. Of course, Oldman did have to carry pounds of prosthetics to achieve Churchill's roundish physique. The makeup artist, Kazuhiro Tsuji, said, "I knew the limitations of this makeup. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t create an exact likeness of Churchill on Gary because their proportions are so different." Yet he tried. He said, "We had probably over 60 sets of facial appliances to apply on Gary." Oldman had to be fitted with an elaborate makeup piece designed to simulate Churchill's heavy jowls.
Unfortunately, Oldman's makeup was laid on too thickly. In most scenes, a soft white light pours into windows, bleaching out the features of the actors and diluting the colors and textures of their environment. The bright light brings out the flaws of the makeup and, at times, makes Oldman's face look waxen. At times, he looks as realistic as Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers comedy Goldmember (2002). Worst of all, Darkest Hour's Churchill looks much older than he is supposed to be. He comes across, with Oldman's various affectations and Tsuji's various prosthetics, as a doddering 85-year-old man.
Many great actors portrayed Churchill. I am reminded of Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm (2002). . .
. . . and Brendon Gleason in Into the Storm (2009). . .
. . . and Brian Cox in Churchill (2017)?
Does Oldman's performance really stand out from any of those prosthetics-free performances?
No film had less universality than Phantom Thread, which loss a significant amount of money at the box office. To my knowledge, the only Best Picture nominee to lose more money was Munich (2005).
Cole Smithey describes Reynolds Woodcock, the central character of Phantom Thread, as "a mercurial fashion designer who runs his own dressmaking shop." David Ehrenstein wrote in Gay City News:
[The director, Paul Thomas Anderson,] asserted his film's anti-hero Reynolds Woodcock was drawn from the lives of Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Michael Sherard, Digby Morton, Edward Molyneux, Victor Stiebel, and John Cavanagh. The things is each and every one of these designers was gay. Reynolds Woodcock, while acting like a younger and ever-so-slightly less imperious version of Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker in Laura (one of the greatest "coded gay" characters of the pre-Stonewall era), is seen (in long shot) taking the hand of the film’s heroine Alma (Vicky Krieps), a café waitress Woodcock makes his model and muse, and pulling her into his bedroom. What goes on inside that bedroom Anderson doesn't show. And that’s because he has no idea what gay men think of straight women or how we interact with those whose beauty inspires us despite a complete lack of sexual desire.A film about a gay artist with a woman as his muse may have been a more interesting film than the one that Anderson made.
Reynolds holds so many fussy affectations that he could easily pass as gay if not altogether asexual. However, Reynolds reveals himself to be that special queer bird who exploits women for their seamstress skills and for the precise measurements of their bodies.Owen Gleiberman of Variety saw Woodcock as an "elegant tyrant" at odds with his new wife. He wrote:
Reynolds makes a dire mistake when he courts Alma (Vicky Krieps), a dining room waitress of Central European descent. What appears to be a charming meet-cute devolves into a seething hatred fueled by Alma’s incessant neediness and Reynolds’s prickly nature that he uses to protect his demanding working methods. Alma wants to be Reynolds' center of attention, he wants to work.
The movie is constructed as a kind of suspenseful showdown: Will Reynolds. . . break her down? Or will she turn the tables?Aleksandar Hemon of The New Yorker wrote:
Reynolds Woodcock, the controlling dressmaker played by Daniel Day-Lewis, governs a domain peopled exclusively by obedient and loyal women. Among them, Alma distinguishes herself by refusing to be used and discarded by the couturier. But, for all her relative agency, she exists only within the world of Woodcock. We have no idea who she was before entering it, where she might have come from, or what she might have wanted from her life. Soon after she meets Woodcock, he measures her for a dress. When, in a fit of internalized misogyny, she apologizes for having small breasts, he says, "Oh, no, you’re perfect. It’s my job to give you some — if I choose to.". . .
[Alma] remains desperate to remain in the House of Woodcock, where she can be the well-dressed mannequin muse, replenishing with her emptiness the great man’s inner life and creativity.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s prestige period piece is a toxic vision of a dysfunctional marriage. It is a film that self-destructs. What starts out as a ‘50s era English love story gradually tears into a tattered tale of two incompatible people whose only connection lies in the alternating currents of sadism and masochism the two can withstand. For so much ornate beauty, Phantom Thread is a truly ugly movie that reneges on its promise of romantic sincerity. There is nothing heartfelt here for any audience member to sew a button on. . . Considering that Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed this overwrought feel-bad-for-no-good-reason filmic atrocity, there is no one else to blame.Reviewers have speculated that Woodcock suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. A contributor on the website TV Tropes noted:
He is obsessively committed to his work and relies on a carefully constructed routine to get through each day, becoming irritated whenever it is interrupted. He has No Social Skills and is averse to being in large crowds. He is also hypersensitive to sound and small details. . . Some have also speculated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as he exhibits an anxiety caused by his routine needs not being met. . .It might have been an interesting film if it was a film about a man struggling with a mental disorder, but a weird twist turns the film into a Gothic horror story.
A film about a dysfunctional marriage might show the husband and wife examining themselves and examining their relationship and finding a way to make their marriage work. Or, the couple might find a way to end the relationship and move to a new place in their lives where they can be happy and prosperous. But Phantom Thread is a film about a marriage that is dysfunctional at the start and far more dysfunctional at the end. It is, for sure, a dark and ugly film.
I recognize Woodcock for what he is. I had a family member like the madly controlling fashion designer. No one, in my eyes, was more fixated and fussy than my granddad. I believe that he had an intense form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He was fixated on three areas of life - food, finances and fucking. Nothing else drew the slightest interest from him. Not art. Not sports. Not politics. He pursued his limited interests with neurotic excess. He had to always be in control to satisfy his compulsions. He was a wretched miser, an insatiable sex addict, and a ruthlessly demanding food connoisseur.
He had a particular obsession about electricity costs, going on regular tours of his house to see what lights were on. I sometimes stayed with my grandparents during the summer and I became well accustomed to this quirk. One afternoon, I was reading a book in my room and he instructed me to close my lamp and move near the window for light. Even worse, he didn’t understand the reason I needed to have a light on while I watched television and always made me watch television in the dark. It was like living in a cave. The old man nearly had a heart attack the one time I forgot to close the light in the bathroom. I may, on some unconscious level, have done this just to see how he would react. Understand, this was not an issue of money. My grandfather had the money to pay his light bill at the end of the month. It was, undoubtedly, an irrational compulsion.
The only thing that made my grandfather more neurotic than electricity was food. My grandfather was extremely careful about the food he put into his body. This was a man who never ate a bite of junk food. He strictly consumed meat, vegetables and fruit. He spent time inspecting the vein pattern in his meat, the texture of his vegetables, and the color and consistency of his fruit. He raised fruit and vegetables on his family farm as a child and he owned a fruit and vegetable business as an adult. He was a difficult buyer at the farmers' market. He would refuse to buy produce unless it met his high standards. He knew a good plum from a bad plum and he refused to ever accept a bad plum.
My grandfather had a problem in that he also refused to foist a bad plum on a customer, which had a severe effect on his bottom line. My grandparents each operated a produce stand. My grandfather, who was quick to mark down prices to move out aging inventory, did not earn nearly as much money as my grandmother did. It unsettled the man to be surrounded by ticking time bombs of apples, peaches and plums. Harvested produce - uprooted, de-vined and crated - was inevitably racing to a sickeningly black and squishy state. Oranges, which had a thick skin, were more durable than most fruit. But others, such as strawberries and raspberries, were never to be trusted. A fuzzy gray mold could spread over berries in no time.
My grandmother had to prepare my grandfather's meals in the exact way he demanded or else he would fly into a rage. She held her breath whenever he took the first bite of one of her meals. He usually approved. But not always. One time, he became so angry with something my grandmother had cooked that he slammed my grandmother in the head with a frying pan. My grandmother was knocked unconscious by the blow and she awoke not remembering who she was. My mother remembers it taking a week for my grandmother to regain her memory. Years later, my grandmother suffered a sudden and severe decline in cognitive abilities. My grandmother, a dear and sweet woman, became catatonic in a matter of weeks. She was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease, which I believe was a result of her earlier head injury.
All my grandfather’s children, including my mother, turned out to be obsessive-compulsive. I don’t know if the man passed on irrepressibly dominant genes or he set such a powerful example that his children could not resist following it. My mother had the same problem with electricity. She would never leave appliances plugged in for fear that the plugs would still draw electricity even though the appliances were turned off. The fact that the microwave’s LCD lights were aglow was proof to her that the microwave remained active and was ruthlessly sucking power. It was highly inconvenient to have to squeeze behind a counter to plug in her microwave every time I had to use it.
Hollywood has turned OCD into light comedy fare. Take a look at Monk or As Good as It Gets. But there is a very dark side to this disorder. Phantom Thread could have shed a light on the tragic intricacies of the disorder. It didn't.
Phantom Thread is seductive and absorbing, but it’s also emotionally remote. The film is framed as a love story, but it never swoons, and it’s enough to make you wonder: Why does Anderson, whose work back in the late ’90s (the transcendent Boogie Nights, the enraptured Magnolia) pulsated with off-kilter humanity, now make dramas that are essentially didactic studies of fantastically cold brutes? He remains a filmmaking wizard, and Phantom Thread sweeps you up and carries you along, much more, to my mind, than The Master did. Yet it’s a thesis movie: the story of a bullying narcissist who lacks the ability to have a relationship, and the outrageous way he’s schooled into becoming a human being. It’s the story of a control freak made by a control freak.Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has an unusual plot. A woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), is furious with the police for failing to solve her daughter's murder and apprehend the perpetrator. She rents three billboards and posts the following messages: "Raped While Dying,""Still No Arrests?" and "How Come, Chief Willoughby?"
Three Billboards is pointless and sensationalistic. I watched the first fifteen minutes. I was disturbed by a scene in which Mildred jammed a drill into her dentist's hand because the dentist offered her advice she didn't want to hear. I skipped ahead and watched another ten minutes. Nothing that I saw at this point of the story caught my interest. Then, I skipped ahead and watched an overwrought scene in which the unhinged protagonist sets a police station on fire. Alison Willmore of BuzzFeed described Mildred "kick[ing] sniggering high schoolers in the crotch." I missed that scene. How is this serving the woman's objectives? How is a drilling a hole into a dentist's hand, blowing up a police station or kicking high schoolers in the (collective?) crotch resolving her grief or solving her daughter's murder? It is gratuitous violence that exists for no reason other than to shock an audience. Don't look for a meaningful statement to come out of rage and violence. Don't look for a meaningful statement to come out of shock entertainment.
There are better movies in 2017 than Martin McDonagh's dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but no performance this year has felt more rawly resonant than Frances McDormand's turn as its caustic heroine, Mildred Hayes.What can we say about Mildred? She's a small-town terrorist comparable to The Andy Griffith Show's Ernest T. Bass, who ran around Mayberry breaking windows with rocks. The following dialogue about Bass can be applied to Mildred:. . .
Mildred, whom McDormand plays with a resplendent wrath and heartsick grief, is perfectly positioned to be the fictional patron saint of our current cultural moment. She is a woman who refuses to let the act of brutal sexual violence that tore her family apart be forgotten, to let it slide into the realm of regrettable but normalized tragedy. . . Her singularly feminine rage glows so brightly that you could hold your hands up to the screen and warm yourself by its furious glow. Anger is destroying her life, but it's also liberated her in a way that. . . is incredibly cathartic.
McDonagh. . . has stumbled into something that reverberates deeply with 2017’s discourse about sexism — a tale of a small-town crime and cops that gets at what happens when a society runs out of patience for female pain. But while Three Billboards gets at something bitterly real in showing the turn that takes place when a woman's outrage becomes genuinely inconvenient for the powers that be, there's a less laudable way in which it also feels timely.
Sheriff Andy Taylor: "If you ask me, this Ernest T. Bass is a strange and weird character."Wrath is resplendent? Wrath is liberating? I don't think so. A school shooter finds wrath liberating. He finds killing classmates to be a spectacular and splendid experience. He is no patron saint. He's a nut.
Briscoe Darling: "Just plain ornery's what he is."
Deputy Barney Fife: "I think he's a nut."
What is "singularly feminine" about rage or grief? When a young woman is murdered, it is not only the mother who is consumed with emotion. Grief is felt by many men in the woman's life. Her father cries, her brother cries, her grandfather cries, her uncle cries.
We need only look at the way that Mildred dresses to know she is not normal. Aaron Haughton of Viddy Well wrote:
Early in preparation for the production, McDormand hit on an idea that soon became a part of her performance: to have Mildred wear a singular outfit all through the film — a kind of unadorned, blue-collar regalia she dutifully puts on each day. "Frances came up with Mildred wearing the same jumpsuit every day as a kind of 'war uniform,' and I thought it was a great cinematic idea," recalls McDonagh. "I liked the idea that Mildred doesn't have time to think about what she's wearing; she's at war."McDormand wanted the jumpsuit uniform to make her character into Superman. But she was more like Freddy Krueger, the vengeance-crazed maniac in a red-and-green striped sweater and brown fedora.
Costume Designer Melissa Toth added: "Mildred is such a radical character the way Frances plays her and to her it was important to show that Mildred is on a daily quest that drives here from the moment she gets dressed in the morning. Sometimes she's wearing a bandana, sometimes not, and at one point, she even wears a gift shop smock over the jumpsuit — but the jumpsuit really was the part of the performance for Frances."
Mildred is weird beyond reality. Other mothers have lost daughters to murderers. How many run around in a jumpsuit tossing Molotov cocktails at the local police station? Forget about reality, she is even weird in comparison to fantasy characters. We have seen many action film vigilantes. These men direct their activities at uncovering and destroying criminals.
The only person responsible for a murder is the murderer. Taking out your anger on everyone else around you is unreasonable, mean and hurtful. Yet, Mildred's rage glows brightly throughout the film. Willmore wrote, "You could put Mildred on a T-shirt, layering her scowling face over selected quotes from the ever-growing mountain of inadequate apologies from disgraced men."
Plainly, Three Billboards is anti-religion, anti-police, anti-white men. A person on YouTube said that McDormand deserved an Oscar for just the following scene:
False equivalence alert!
Does this mean that McDormand is complicit in Hollywood's growing list of pedophilia scandals?
The scene is a copy of a scene from The Queen (2006).
Still, I couldn't trust Mildred as she spoke to the deer. I thought that, as she smiled slyly, she was about to extend her jaw and pop out fangs so that she could devour the sweet creature.
If Guillermo del Toro had directed the film, she would have let the deer fuck her. But, understand, this is not a film about a person who expresses heartsick grief. The script called for McDormand to mostly scowl. Scowling gets you an Oscar these days.
A friend explained to me that the film is a "black comedy." I did not, at any point, get the sense that the film was trying to make me laugh. This is the director, Martin McDonagh.
I cannot imagine McDonagh being a fun guy to have at a party.
I have also heard the film called a "black satire." It is fair question to ask what an alleged satire is satirizing. Is it satirizing grief? Rape? Murder?
Mildred is not a believable character. A character that is believable is a character that can convince you they could exist and function in the real world. An audience must be persuaded that the character is acting in a way a real person might react if he found himself in the same or similar situation. I didn't accept Mildred's motives or actions. The best protagonists are people we are or people we want to be. I am not Mildred and I do not want to be Mildred.
How much different is a man from a baby? He is not at all that different emotionally. A man cries and laughs no differently than a baby. He can be reassured by a soft hand. He can be hurt by a slap. Look at this baby react to the beauty of a song and the playful silliness of a Muppet.
How would he react to seeing Mildred attack her dentist? How much differently would he react twenty years from now? The baby has a soul and he will still have that same soul twenty years from now. Why let any gratuitous foulness into our hearts and minds to needlessly darken our soul?
Let's look at another of McDormand's small town characters, Fargo's Marge Gunderson. The 1996 film Fargo is filled with insane, selfish, homicidal, dysfunctional characters who create chaos, misery and death. Gunderson, a pregnant Minnesota police chief, brings a reasonableness, morality, and quiet closure to the story. The film wouldn't work without Gunderson as the film's moral center. Marge Gunderson is a character that has stayed with us for the last twenty-two years. Think about her and chances are you will smile. Mildred Hayes will burn to grim ashes in our memories faster than the police station burned up in the film.
It is interesting that film critics have referred to Lady Bird as mercurial, Churchill as mercurial, and Woodcock as mercurial. The scowling Mildred, who steadily retains the same angry mood throughout her story, is not mercurial, but she is still just as wild, angry, anti-social and weird as those other characters. I miss the days of the calm, steady and noble hero.
The satirical thriller Get Out is certainly a clever and entertaining film, but it far less meaningful than its advocates claim it is. Seeing the film get a Best Picture nomination was a big surprise. Times have certainly changed. It would have been like The Stepford Wives getting a Best Picture nomination in 1975 alongside One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Nashville. People would have been flabbergasted.
The Post is a film that I find so uninteresting that I can barely write an entire sentence about it.
The one film of 2017 that has believable and sympathetic characters is The Florida Project. The people in The Florida Project are a lot like people I have known. But the film, though highly acclaimed, got shut out of the Oscars. Strangely, some critics have more sympathy for a homicidal fish man or a crotch-kicking lunatic than poor people. The director of The Florida Project, Sean Baker, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the film's negative reviews. He said:
Watching audiences respond to Halley becomes a sociological experiment, to tell you the truth. You see people's sensitivity levels. You read the negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, you see there's no empathy at all. "Why are we watching this white trash girl who obviously doesn't know how to raise a kid?""Take that kid away from her right now!""Why do I need to watch a movie about this?" It's actually pretty offensive in many ways.I have my own questions about the films that were nominated. Why am I watching a woman fuck a fish? Why am I watching a teen boy jerk off into a peach? Why am I watching a film about billboards?
Ron Howard and Natalie Portman had a dumb exchange while presenting the Oscar for Best Director.
Howard: "We are honored. . . to be here to present the award for best director."Portman saw herself as being brave to point out the lack of female directors among the nominees. But what does she really think about the competency of women as directors? Portman's production company, Handsomecharlie Films, has produced seven feature films since 2009. Portman directed one of the films, A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015). The remaining six films were directed by an all-male lineup.
Portman: "And here are the all-male nominees."
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (2009) director: Don RoosThis sort of shameless stupidity and hypocrisy keeps me away from the Oscars. Look at the way that Three Billboards' politically correct director reacts to Portland's remark.
Hesher (2010) director: Spencer Susser
No Strings Attached (2011) director: Ivan Reitman
Jane Got a Gun (2015) director: Gavin O'Connor
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) director: Burr Steers
Eating Animals (2017) director: Christopher Dillon Quinn
He doesn't look happy to be a victim of feminine rage and have a woman throw a Molotov cocktail into the middle of his big party.
Markus Appel and Tobias Richter, "Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives Increase Over Time,"Media Psychology, 10:113–134, 2007.
Jeffrey Bloomer, "What Should We Make of Call Me by Your Name's Age-Gap Relationship?,"Slate, November 8, 2017. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2017/11/08/the_ethics_of_call_me_by_your_name_s_age_gap_sexual_relationship_explored.html.
Paul Bois, "The Shape Of Water Review: An Adult Disney Movie With A Wickedly Perverse Heart,"The Daily Wire, January 19, 2018. https://www.dailywire.com/news/26098/shape-water-review-adult-disney-movie-wickedly-paul-bois.
Richard Brody, "Greta Gerwig's Exquisite, Flawed Lady Bird," The New Yorker, November 2, 2017.
Anne Cohen "Sex With A Fish Man Is More Woke Than Any Amount Of Billboards,"Refinery29, January 23, 2018. https://www.refinery29.com/2018/01/188714/shape-of-water-win-best-picture-oscar-2018.
David Ehrenstein, "Heterosexuality’s Phantom Stalking,"Gay City News, December 21, 2018. http://gaycitynews.nyc/heterosexualitys-phantom-stalking/.
Owen Gleiberman, "Film Review: Phantom Thread,"Variety, December 7, 2017. http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/phantom-thread-review-daniel-day-lewis-1202632204/.
Aaron Haughton, "5 Fun Facts: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,"Viddy Well, November 10, 2017. https://www.viddy-well.com/top-5/5-fun-facts-about-three-billboards
Aleksandar Hemon, "Why Phantom Thread Is Propaganda for Toxic Masculinity,"The New Yorker, April 8, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/why-phantom-thread-is-propaganda-for-toxic-masculinity.
Kate Knibbs, "We Need to Talk About the Award-Winning Fish Sex,"The Ringer, January 11, 2018. https://www.theringer.com/movies/2018/1/11/16876130/shape-of-water-fish-sex.
Brent Lang, "Christopher Nolan Gets Candid on the State of Movies, Rise of TV and Spielberg’s Influence,"Variety, November 7, 2017. http://variety.com/2017/film/news/christopher-nolan-dunkirk-oscars-movies-tv-spielberg-1202607836/
Tim Lewis "Greta Gerwig: 'I'm at peak shock and happiness'"The Guardian, February 4, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/04/greta-gerwig-lady-bird-interview-metoo-oscars
Micah Mertes "Coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird is a perfect film about an imperfect heroine,"World-Herald, November 17, 2017. http://www.omaha.com/go/movies/reviews/review-coming-of-age-comedy-lady-bird-is-a-perfect/article_59331f13-68f7-58c2-8e8b-a3a9b9ea8442.html
Cole Smithey, "Phantom Thread,"Cole Smithey, January 16, 2018. http://www.colesmithey.com/reviews/2018/01/phantom-thread.html.
Jazz Tangcay, "The Art of the Scene: Greta Gerwig Discusses The Opening of Lady Bird,"Awards Daily, January 6, 2018. https://www.awardsdaily.com/2018/01/06/art-scene-greta-gerwig-discusses-opening-lady-bird/.
Dave Glass and Dave Wyatt did excellent work on their recent Lloyd Hamilton DVD, which features comedies that the funnyman made for his fledgling production comedy in 1920. This is Hamilton's man-child character before the comedian distinguished the character with absurd embellishments (a shabby gentleman's frock coat, a checkered cap with matching Victorian-era tie, and an extreme exaggeration of his funny walk). There is a purity to this version of Hamilton that I greatly enjoy.
One of my favorite routines on the DVD involves a thief knocking Hamilton unconscious and making his arms look like Hamilton's arms as he steals a church's collection box.
This is a commedia dell'arte routine that Hamilton plays so well.
I watched Dr. Strangelove (1964) many times before I realized that the centerfold model that Slim Pickens peruses in his Playboy magazine is Tracy Reed, who later appears in the film as the girlfriend of General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott).
Don't ask me how I missed that. I suppose that I am just get a shy guy who averts his eyes at the sight of a beautiful naked woman. It's just something a virtuous guy like me does.
The lovely Ms. Reed would not be able to show off her feminine beauty in today's films. An online protest of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2018) raged after the following publicity still was released.
Feminists were appalled to see actress Karen Gillan in this sexy outfit. Excuse me, I must avert my eyes again.
Welcome to the Jungle is about a magical video game that transports players into an imaginary jungle as various game avatars. Jess Denham of The Independent wrote: "[W]hile her male co-stars are well-covered up, Gillan is wearing a tight-fitting crop top, tiny hotpants and boots that look far more sexy than they do durable [for the jungle]."
Gillan told Vanity Fair, "I don't know if I was fully expecting that much sort of controversy around it. However, I have to say, I think everybody had a point. To look at the picture out of context, it is ridiculous, and that is exactly the point that we're making with it."
Producer Matt Tolmach said, "[T]here's a very real consciousness and idea there. When all the noise came out it was like, this is exactly what we anticipated, and is very definitely spoken to in the movie… Super aware of what we were doing there, and it’s addressed in the movie."
|Run, Bad Ass Girl, Run!!!|
Martha pre-emptively pushes people away because she doesn't like herself, as Bethany diagnoses in one scene. So apparently the cure for what ails her is to assume the identity of generic lady badass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and "dance-fight" her way out of situations. Again, this is a cop-out solution, since the idea here is that, at film's end, Martha feels empowered by abilities that she does not naturally possess. Which self is Martha supposed to believe in: the scantily-clad, karate-chopping stereotype that reeks of unexamined sexist values or the sassy teen girl whose character flaws are magically fixed as soon as she accepts milquetoast Spencer's generous offer to date him?Abrams is probably one of those white knight idiots that averts his eyes at the sight of a beautiful naked woman. Okay, fine, you got me - I lied. I cannot get through a day without ogling a naked woman.
I don't know what to say about the Welcome to the Jungle controversy. I get my philosophy of life from the 1971 film Cold Turkey. The booze bone is connected to the smoke bone and the smoke bone is connected to the head bone and that's the word of the Lord!
Abrams is right that woman are being unduly influenced by films. Women are expressing a fascination with fish sex after seeing The Shape of Water.
A woman who has seen an endless stream of empowered women shoot guns in films decided that it was time for a woman to engage in a mass shooting.
Let me get to lighter subjects now.
Kenneth Connor and Sid James find themselves avoiding a serial killer while spending a night in a gloomy mansion in What a Carve Up! (1961).
Bob Hope must explain to Helen Vinson the reason he is in her room dressed in her gown in Nothing But the Truth (1941).
A final observation: a fish many not share in your sexual fantasies.
Simon Abrams, "'Jumanji' Has a Confusing Message for Teenagers," The Hollywood Reporter (December 23, 2017). https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/jumanji-welcome-jungle-has-a-confusing-message-teenagers-1070207.
Jess Denham, "Jumanji 2: Dwayne Johnson tries and fails to calm sexism outcry over Karen Gillan's skimpy outfit," The Independent (September 21, 2016). https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/jumanji-2-dwayne-johnson-tries-and-fails-to-calm-sexism-outcry-over-karen-gillans-skimpy-outfit-a7320456.html.
Yohana Desta, "Karen Gillan Agrees with You About Her 'Ridiculous' Jumanji Costume,: Vanity Fair (Decembe 18, 2017). https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/12/karen-gillan-jumanji-welcome-to-the-jungle.