Pops’ Movie Club

Hobbies, Creative Pursuits and Worthwhile Causes: First Installment. (For some background, read the previous post, Exploring The Deeper Places.)

So the exploration has begun. The quest: to identify pursuits for us Men-Of-A-Certain-Age; things other than watching the 24-hour news channels and becoming even grumpier old men.

Let me go ahead and offer a few disclaimers: I admit some personal bias here. The first ideas that come to mind for me are those things I find interesting, so canning jelly and jam won’t be on the list unless you love it and want to write a guest post about, which would be awesome. Nothing against jelly, but canning it is not compelling for me.

Of course we need to keep our pursuits within the law, relatively speaking. Since About Pops doesn’t dwell in Colorado, marijuana-growing won’t be on the list. Also we need to have some limits set by reasonablenss and good judgement. So hang-gliding, cliff-diving, self-tattooing, and fire-eating probably won’t be on the list. And while it sounds so manly to include hobbies like cigar smoking or chicked-fried-steak eating, if my cardiologist found out I was experimenting in these realms, he would have a heart attack.

You know what your problem is, it’s that you haven’t seen enough movies - all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies. —Steve Martin

Pursuit #1: Start/Join A Movie Club

This idea is compelling and daunting for me. While I love movies and would welcome the opportunity to watch and discuss with a few close friends, I’m way too introverted to actually join a club. So maybe from time to time I could post a movie suggestion, or you could send me some ideas. Then could watch them individually in the privacy of our own homes.

Everybody has something that chews them up and, for me, that thing was always loneliness. The cinema has the power to make you not feel lonely, even when you are. —Tom Hanks

Selecting a movie or movies seems to be very important, but tricky. Tastes in movies varies wildly, and judgements are made. For example if I suggested our club start with the movies of Nora Ephron, you might suggest that what I need is a cigar and a chicken-fried-steak, or you might assume I had been smoking the favorite crop of Coloradians.

So how about the movies of John Hughes (the good ones)? Or Wes Anderson? Or Woody Allen. I know, let’s compromise and go with Alfred Hitchcock. We’ll start with Rear Window.

A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it. —Alfred Hitchcock

Maybe we could leave the movies up to a film expert like Robert Osborne. You know, the guy that picks the films for “The Esstentials” on TCM.

Read this from the TCM website:
“Watch the Essentials every Saturday at 7PM CT. Since its inception on TCM in 2001, The Essentials has become the ultimate series for movie lovers to expand their knowledge of must-see cinema and revisit landmark films that have had a lasting impact on audiences everywhere.  Each season a co-host joins Robert Osborne for a special introduction and post-movie discussion about the enduring qualities of a particular film.”

If tonight’s selection is any indication, I feel like we can trust Robert. So let’s start tonight:

1955 118 Mins TV- PG Drama

It’s a great film and released just as us Baby Boomers were toddling around the house. Here’s a description from the website:

James Dean starred in three films before his tragic death in an automobile accident on September 30, 1955 and the first of these, East of Eden (1955), was the only one released during his short lifetime. An adaptation of the 1952 novel by John Steinbeck, East of Eden was director Elia Kazan’s follow-up to On the Waterfront (1954) and marked his first use of both Technicolor and Cinemascope. The technological upgrade worked wonders for the story’s verdant Salinas Valley setting, where brothers Cal (Dean) and Aron (Richard Davalos) Trask compete for the affections of their taciturn farmer father (Raymond Massey) and the love of a local girl (Julie Harris) in the last innocent months before the start of the First World War. Adapted by playwright turned screenwriter Paul Osborn, East of Eden took as its inspiration the Biblical tale of Cain and Abel, a take torqued even further by Dean’s unorthodox performance (which made him a teen sensation and the industry’s hottest commodity). Dean plumbed deep within his psyche to play the troubled Cal Trask and his unconventional approach to his craft frustrated and angered costar Massey, resulting in a palpable onscreen tension that helped define the fractured relationship of their characters. Toploaded with talent, East of Eden scored its only Academy Award for sixth-billed Jo Van Fleet, in the small but unforgettable role of Cal Trask’s wayward mother. Dean skipped out on the film’s March 1955 New York City premiere and his subsequent Oscar nomination for Best Performance in a Leading Role was bestowed posthumously, an Academy first.

Start the popcorn, dim the lights…

O Brother

WHEN I THINK OF CALLING SOMEONE "CREATIVE", I think of someone who has artistic leanings: visual artists, musicians, quilters, storytellers, poets, etc. I know there are creative people in the business world as well. I’ve met many of them. I work with some. Obviously, creatives can be found in other fields: science, education, church, sports and more.

Here are some other things I know about “being creative”:

From The Daily Artifact project by Corey Lee Fuller

From The Daily Artifact project by Corey Lee Fuller

  1. There’s some of it in all of us. Believe what you will about the Creation narrative, but the fact is that we are created in the image of God, and the first thing we learn about God is that he/she is creative.
  2. If getting our education system further oriented toward math and science at the expense and even demise of meaningful programs and classes in music, art, drama, creative writing and the humanities, we are doing irreparable damage. Because,
  3. A product of “creativity” is beauty, and we need to be in awe and wonder sometimes.
  4. Creative people are often compelled to depths that are often dark and darker.
  5. Despite that fact, I long to do creative work; not to be labeled “creative” necessarily, but because I will not be satisfied otherwise.

One of the many on-going rhetorical questions in my own mind is, “Would I be willing to be at risk of some state of mental anguish or dis-ease in order to be optimally creative?”

Remember the Faust story; the whole “Selling your soul to the devil” storyline? One of my favorite versions of that theme is in the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou. In this movie, three prison escapees are on the run in a stolen car. They see a guy standing at a crossroads—literally and metaphorically. They pick him up and ask him his story. He explains that his name is Tommy Johnson, and that at midnight, he met the devil at that crossroads and bargained with him: his soul for the ability to play blues guitar.

If you know your Blues lore, you might think that that story belongs to Robert Johnson, who wrote the song “Crossroad Blues”, which was later wonderfully covered by Eric Clapton and Cream. 

The first line of the song goes:

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
Asked the lord above “Have mercy, save poor Bob, if you please”

But in the movie, the soul-seller/guitar player is named “Tommy Johnson”. I assumed that the writers didn’t want to directly attribute the story to Robert so used the name Tommy instead. It turns out though that in all likelihood the story is true for Tommy Johnson, but maybe not Robert.

If you’re interested in that whole saga, I highly recommend you listen to this episode of RadioLab (it’s pretty long so you might want to save it for later).
CLICK HERE for the story about Robert and Tommy Johnson on Radiolab: 

In the O Brother movie, two of the three convicts have just been saved and are still wet from baptism when they come across Tommy, the hitch-hiking guitar player. They discuss their respective Crossroads experiences with the third convict, played by George Clooney, claiming that he, having chosen neither God nor the devil, “remains unafiliated.”

But as Bob Dylan (who attributes Robert Johnson for inspiration) wrote:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Click on this movie poster image to see a clip from the movie.

So back to the conversation I have in my mind: “Would I be willing to be at risk of some state of mental anguish in order to be optimally creative?”

The question comes up in my discussion with myself because there are times when I wonder if maybe I AM a bit crazy. (I heard that.) I often find my perspective and thinking to be so different from the mainstream that I don’t feel normal.

It turns out that maybe the leap from creativity to craziness is a short one:

“Psychological theories propose that the schizophrenic spectrum is accompanied by a decrease in practical reasoning, as schizophrenia patients outperform controls in logical deduction that is in conflict with practical reasoning. Furthermore, it has been suggested that those less restrained by practical cognitive styles may have an advantage in artistic occupations,” study researcher Robert A. Power, MD, of deCODE Genetics and King’s College London, and colleagues wrote. “These results provide support for the notion that creativity and psychiatric disorders, particularly schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, share psychological attributes.”

CLICK HERE to read more about this research.

We just saw the new biopic Love & Mercy. It is the story of the song writing genius, Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys

The IMBD Database describes the movie this way:

“In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.”

CLICK the image to see the movie trailer

Now put on a really good pair of headphones, close your eyes and listen carefully to The Beach Boys sing “God Only Knows”. Listen again and hear the french horns, the jingle bells and that amazing bass line. Listen one more time and hear how Brian uses amazing chord progressions, unique rhythms, and those tight Beach Boys harmonies to create a masterpiece.

You can’t get stuff like that out of a normal brain any more than you can get The Starry Night out of Van Gogh’s.

If I could interview Brian Wilson, I would ask him, “Would you have traded your ability to write “Good Vibrations”, “Sloop John B”, and “I Get Around” for a more sane existence?

The Magic Of A Perfect Pair

Sometimes "writer's block" is real; and it sounds like this (cue video):

Sometimes, I have several ideas for a post and can't decide which one to develop. So, I try to weave the ideas together into one theme. This is an example. (If it seems like I'm straining to make the connection, you wouldn't be wrong.)

FIRTH: My favorite drumsticks are made by the Vic Firth Company. Vic's sticks have a great feel and are "tuned together". They market the sticks as "the perfect pair".

Over the weekend we saw Woody Allen's new film "Magic In The Moonlight" starring: Emma Stone and Colin Firth. They were a perfect pair in this film. If you like Woody's films, you should see this one.

THECOND: Speaking of drumsticks, drummers use one of two grips: traditional or matched. If you care about the details of these two, which I realize is highly unlikely, Wikipedia has great explanations.

I began playing drums in the 60s. I use a traditional grip. My two sons started playing many years later and both use matched grip. I might assume that as their father, I have not had as much influence on them as the rock drummers they watched play with matched grip. Then I could tremble, wondering what else they picked up from the "world" over the influence of the more traditional Significant Others.

Without a doubt, our cultures and the traditions of our tribes, run deep. And, as it goes with advancing years, I tend to think the old ways of doing and viewing things are the best. Whether it's how to hold your drumsticks, or how whether you prefer drumsticks over breasts (speaking of poultry of course), we tend to stand by our preferences.

THIRD: Colin Firth's character in Magic In The Moonlight is stubbornly set in his ways. Emma Stone's character works a bit of magic though, and his walls come tumbling down. Funny how that works. Perfect pairs morph through being tuned together--listening, paying attention, learning.

Emma Stone & Colin Firth

Emma Stone & Colin Firth

Recently I was at a meeting and a guy was doing a talk on "crucial communication". He gave an example of the importance of communication by reading an advertisement from CraigsList. It went something like this:

Motorcycle for sale. Like new. Only 500 miles. It is a great bike and I hate to have to sell it, but apparently I misunderstood when my wife said, "Do whatever the hell you want."

The Moral Of The Story

THREE TIMES BEFORE, I have written about my favorite movies in posts I call Pops' Flick Picks: The Graduate, Finding Forrester, and Pleasantville. Here's my fourth: Mr. Holland's Opus.

Mr. Holland composed an opus, but not the one he believed he was destined to write. That happens, you know.

Recently I was giving a talk to a group of business managers. I was trying to make a point using a book from The Little Golden Book series called "Scuffy The Tugboat." This little book was read to me many many times as a child. Still, to this day, I read that book and I am still not certain what the moral of the story is. I know it has a moral; children's books just do, but I can't figure it out. Or, maybe I really have figured it out and just don't want to accept its thesis.

If you're not familiar with the story it opens with Scuffy sitting on a shelf in a toy store. He is obsessed with the sense that he was made for bigger and grander things than sitting in a toy shop. So the shop owner takes the little boat home to his son who quickly sets Scuffy to sail in the bathtub. But this too is unsatisfying and unworthy of the calling Scuffy believes is his.

The little boy takes Scuffy to a stream. Scuffy quickly makes his way to wider and deeper waters and ultimately finds himself overwhelmed with rough seas and the heavy traffic of big ships and other things that go bump in the night.

[Spoiler Alert] Fortunately for Scuffy, The man and his little boy find him on the brink of destruction and rescue him. The story ends with Scuffy happily floating in the safe confines of the little boy's bathtub, content with the realization that this is his destiny after all.

So what is the moral of this story? I really want to know. Don't tell me it is: to be content with your circumstances, to quash any temptation to explore beyond the obvious boundaries. I find that very unsatisfying.

Scuffy The Tugboat was written by Gertrude Crampton, who, not surprisingly also wrote Tootle The Train, the painful story of a little train that learned the hard way that you should always stay on the tracks no matter what.

But maybe Mr. Holland's Opus is a Scuffy story. If it is, then maybe I do get it and can accept it as a valid and satisfying plot line for my life. Like, maybe I wasn't built to be in the big waters, but maybe I can have a significant and worthwhile life anyway.

Here's a line from the movie that will help you see why I think it may be a Scuffy story. This is from a character called Gertrude Lang, one of Mr. Holland's students.

I have a feeling that Mr. Holland considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor has it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn't rich and he isn't famous, at least not outside of our little town.

I hope I haven't already given too much away in case you haven't already seen Mr. Holland's Opus.

Maybe what Scuffy and Tootle and Mr. Holland teach us is that we can learn from others and our own experiences. We can also contemplate our future.

"Neuroscience has long recognized that emulation of the future is one of the main businesses intelligent brains invest in. By learning the rules of the world and simulating outcomes in the service of decision making, brains can play out events without the risk and expense of attempting them physically. As the philosopher Karl Popper wrote, simulation of the future allows 'our hypotheses to die in our stead.'" --David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine, writing in The New York Times. August 2012.

In other words, we humans can play what-if. Kids do it all the time when they are playing make-believe. What if this... What if that... They are imagining possibilities, creating story lines. If only Scuffy could have contemplated the "what-if" of being a little toy boat in the deep, storm-tossed seas among the big ships, he could have saved himself the horror of reality. Maybe if he had, he would have known: life in the bathtub isn't so bad--metaphorically.

But, with apologies to Gertrude Crampton, I still contend that occasionally we need leave the tracks, color outside the lines, do something that makes our palms sweaty. To use a Mr. Holland analogy, Ms. Crampton would be happy to just play the notes on the page, when really, I believe God intended for us to be musical: so dance, or sing, or play.

Playing music is supposed to be fun. It's about heart, it's about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it's not about notes on a page. I can teach you notes on a page, I can't teach you that other stuff. -- Mr. Holland