Saturday, June 26, 2021

When The Winds Of War Do Get Stirred Up- Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent” (1940)-A Film Review

When The Winds Of War Do Get Stirred Up- Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent” (1940)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sandy Salmon

Foreign Correspondent, starry Lorraine Day, Joel McCrea, Herbert Marshall, directed by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, 1940

Seth Garth and Alden Riley have already gone over in some detail the Sir Alfred Hitchcock problem, no, the problem of heavyweight male movers and shakers in all walks of upscale life, here cinema, and their sexually predatory and in some cases criminal practices toward the women, the professional women, they work with. The problem of placing in some cinematic perspective the relationship between the cultural importance of their work and their gutter-worthy personal lives as they affect other members of the human race. What I want to address is a different Sir Alfred Hitchcock problem, the problem of using his films in the immediate pre-World War II period and beyond, a problem that also affected the extreme bachelor coupling of Sir Sherlock Holmes and Sir John Watson in the same period, of mixing cinematic values with low-rent propaganda for the Allied, no, the British side in that epic war. The film under review could stand alone as a good piece of cinema but is marred toward the end with some “speeches” that could have been written by Sir Winston Churchill’s speech writers in Britannia’s darkest hours.

That is all I have to say about that aspect of the film, Foreign Correspondent, except that looking backward on the plotline the whole thing reeked more than a little as a rebuff to the American Firsters like Charles Lindberg and Homer Martin in order to get America on board the European fiasco. The start is pretty straight forward in a time when commercial newspapers were a major source of news about the greater world and not fighting the culture wars over “fake news,” social media and Everyman’s opinion disguised as reportage. The editor and owner of the New York World     
wanted to know more about the impeding war clouds in Europe than the hand-outs from the various embassies which his current crew of so-called correspondents were spewing forth between cocktails at five. Enter Johnny Reporter, it could be any name, played by winsome Joel McCrea, hungry, raw and ignorant of any of the play in Europe except he had a nose for grabbing some serious news and riding it out like with a storm.    

Assignment one, which our boy Johnny never got past since this turned out to be his Pulitzer moment, find out what some old- time peacenik diplomat thinks is going to happen and what the terms of a peace alliance were all about. No problem as he runs into the guy he needed to see minute one. Except that meeting started a whole series of turns and twists which will lead him on a merry, merry goose chase. See the dippy diplomat got himself “killed” while attending, or going to a attend a world peace conference sponsored by a British national who is running a peace party operation, or so the general naïve public think since there is plenty going on which looks very suspicious after Johnny and another holy goof reporter working his own angel angles and a naïve if attractive daughter of said peace operative trace things to a windmill in the boondocks of Holland, in the outback of the country where the whole fight for peace is taking place.

That dippy diplomat was not killed but had been taken hostage to get a phrase from the secret peace agreement which might just have averted the war. (Ho hum, we have been down that road before when nations are hell-bent on war.) Taken hostage by forces unknown except they all seen to speak German when given a chance and so the chase in on. The twists and turns going running round like some second generation running kind until it becomes inescapable that the peace operative (with that naive but attractive daughter) is pulling all the strings-is an agent of the unnamed fascists like a good many other well-bred and snobbish English gentry who saw Hitler and Mussolini as the saviors against those troublesome workers who were always asking for something or other. Kept order and trains on time not necessarily in that order.   

Here’s the beauty of the whole charade, and the political baloney part as well. Once exposed as a treacherous agent of the night-takers swarming over Europe like vultures our good English gentleman with the nice manners flees London and with naïve if attractive daughter in tow heads to, where else, neutral America, once war is declared on a great looking airplane which seemed like the lap of luxury. Also on board are the dogged Johnny R, and his buddy intrepid reporter. Out in neutral waters the airplane is fired upon by a German destroyer and goes down in the briny drink, the Atlantic. Among the survivors Johnny, Intrepid, Attractive Daughter and Traitor Blue Dad. As a gesture of his suddenly found “patriotism” Traitor Blue Dad slips himself into that briny deep, the Atlantic when the wing of the plane they were floating on couldn’t handle the weight. So that gesture, fake unlike all the stuff he did for the Nazis and their ilk, gets him a pass on the traitor list. Baloney, double baloney.            

When The Blues Was Dues-Howling At The Moon-When Howlin’ Wolf Held Forth

When The Blues Was Dues-Howling At The Moon-When Howlin’ Wolf Held Forth  

 From The Pen Of Bart Webber
One night when Sam Eaton and Ralph Morris were sitting in the now long gone  Johnny D’s over in Somerville, over near the Davis Square monster Redline MBTA stop sipping a couple of Anchor Steam beers, a taste acquired by Sam out in Frisco town in the old days on hot nights like that one waiting for the show to begin Ralph mentioned that some music you acquired naturally, you know like kids’ songs learned in school. (The Farmer in the Dell, which forced you a city kid although you might not have designated yourself as such at that age to learn a little about the dying profession of family farmer and about farm machinery, Old MacDonald, ditto on the family farmer stuff and as a bonus the animals of the farm kingdom, Humpty Dumpty, a silly overweight goof who couldn’t maintain his balance come hell or high water although you might not have thought of that expression or used it in the high Roman Catholic Morris household out in Troy, New York where Ralph grew up and still lives, Jack and Jill and their ill-fated hill adventure looking for water like they couldn’t have gone to the family kitchen sink tap for their needs showing indeed whether you designated yourself as a city kid or not you were one of the brethren, etc. in case you have forgotten.)
Music embedded in the back of your mind, coming forth sometimes out of the blue even fifty years later (and maybe relating to other memory difficulties among the AARP-worthy but we shall skip over that since this is about the blues, the musical blues and not the day to day getting old blues).
Or as in the case of music in junior high school as Sam chimed in with his opinion as he thought about switching over to a high-shelf whiskey, his natural drink of late, despite the hot night and hot room beginning to fill up with blues aficionados who have come to listen to the “second coming,” the blues of James Montgomery and his back-up blues band. That “second coming” referring to guys like Montgomery and Eric Clapton, now greying guys, who picked up the blues, especially the citified electric blues after discovering the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Slim and James Cotton back in their 1960s youth, made a decent living out of it and were still playing small clubs and other venues to keep the tradition alive and to pass it on to the kids who were not even born when the first wave guys came out of the hell-hole Delta south of Mister James Crow sometime around or after World War II and plugged  their guitars into the next gin mill electric outlet in places off of Maxwell Street in Chicago, nursing their acts, honing their skills.  
Yeah, that hormonal bust out junior high weekly music class with Mr. Dasher which made Sam chuckle a bit, maybe that third bottle of beer sipping getting him tipsy a little, as he thought about the old refrain, “Don’t be a masher, Mister Dasher” which all the kids hung on him that time when the rhyming simon craze was going through the nation’s schools. Thinking just then that today if some teacher or school administrator was astute enough to bother to listen to what teenage kids say amongst themselves, an admittedly hard task for an adult, in an excess of caution old Mister Dasher might be in a peck of trouble if anyone wanted to be nasty about the implication of that innocent rhyme.  Yeah, Mr. Dasher, the mad monk music teacher, who wanted his charges to have a well-versed knowledge of the American and world songbooks so you were forced to remember such songs as The Mexican Hat Dance and Home On The Range under penalty of being sent up to the front of the room songbook in hand and sing the damn things. Yes, you will remember such songs unto death. (Sam and his corner boys at Doc’s Drugstore found out later that Dasher  was motivated by a desperate rear-guard action to wean his charges away from rock and roll, away from the devil’s music although he would not have called it that because he was too cool to say stuff like that, a struggle in which he was both woefully overmatched by Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck, Bo, and the crowd and wasting his breathe as they all lived for rock and roll at Doc’s Drugstore after school where he had a jukebox at his soda fountain.)  
Ralph agreed running through his own junior high school litany with Miss Hunt (although a few years older than Sam he had not run through the rhyming simon craze so had no moniker for the old witch although now he wished he had and it would not be nice either). He added that some of the remembered music  reflected the time period when you were growing up but were too young to call the music your own like the music that ran around in the background of your growing up house on the mother housewife radio or evening record player which in Ralph’s case was the music that got his parents through his father’s soldierly slogging on unpronounceable Pacific islands kicking ass and mother anxiously waiting at home for the other shoe to fall or the dreaded military officer coming up to her door telling her the bad news World War II. You know, Frank (Sinatra, the chairman of the board, that all the bobbysoxer girls, the future mothers of Sam and Ralph’s generation swooned over), The Andrew Sisters and their rums and coca colas, Peggy Lee fronting for Benny Goodman and looking, looking hard for some Johnny to do right, finally do right by her, etc. Other music, the music of their own generation, classic rock and rock came more naturally since that is what they wanted to hear when they had their transistor radios to their ear up in their bedrooms.
That mention of transistor radios got them yakking about that old instrument which got them through many a hard teenage angst and alienation night. That yakking reflecting their both getting mellow on the sweet beer and Ralph thinking that they had best switch to Tennessee sipping whisky when the wait person came by again if they were to make it through both sets that night. This transistor thing by the way for the young was small enough to put in your pocket and put up to your ear like an iPod or MP3 except you couldn’t download or anything like that. Primitive technology okay but life-saving nevertheless. Just flip the dial although the only station that mattered was WJDA, the local rock station (which had previously strictly only played the music that got all of our parents through their war before the rock break-out made somebody at the station realize that you could made more advertising revenue selling ads for stuff like records, drive-in movies, drive-in restaurants, and cool clothes and accessories than refrigerators and stoves to adults).
Oh yeah, and the beauty of the transistor you could take it up to your bedroom and shut out that aforementioned parents’ music without hassles. Nice, right. So yeah, they could hear Elvis sounding all sexy according to one girl Sam knew even over the radio and who drove all the girls crazy once they got a look at him on television, Chuck telling our parents’ world that Mr. Beethoven and his crowd, Frank’s too, that they all had to move over, Bo asking a very candid question about who put the rock in rock and roll and offering himself up as a candidate, Buddy crooning against all hope for his Peggy Sue (or was it Betty Lou), Jerry Lee inflaming all with his raucous High School Confidential  from the back of a flatbed truck, etc. again.
The blues though, the rarified country and electric urban blues of the likes of Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, and Howlin’ Wolf was an acquired taste. Acquired by Sam through listening to folk music programs on that very same transistor radio in the early 1960s after flipping the dial one Sunday night once he got tired of what they claimed was rock music on WJDA and caught a Boston station. The main focus was on other types of roots music but when the show would take a break from down home mountain music, western swing ballads, and urban protest music the DJ would play some cuts of country or electric blues. See all the big folkies, Dylan, Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, people like that were wild to cover the blues in the search for serious roots music from the American songbook. So somebody, Sam didn’t know who, figured if everybody who was anybody was covering the blues in that folk minute then it made sense to play the real stuff.  (Sam later carried Ralph along on the genre after they had met down in Washington, D.C. in 1971, had been arrested and held in detention at RFK Stadium for trying to shut down the government if it did not shut the Vietnam War, had become life-long friends and Ralph began to dig the blues when he came to Cambridge to visit).
The real stuff having been around for a while, having been produced by the likes of Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf going back to the 1940s big time black migration to the industrial plants of the Midwest during World War II when there were plenty of jobs just waiting. But also having been pushed to the background, way to the background with the rise of rock and roll (although parts of rock make no sense, don’t work at all without kudos to blues chords, check it out). So it took that combination of folk minute and that well-hidden from view electric blues some time to filter through Sam’s brain.
What did not take a long time to do once Sam got “religion” was going crazy over Howlin’ Wolf when he saw him perform. Once Sam had seen him practically eat that harmonica when he was playing that instrument on How Many More Years. There the Wolf was all sweating, running to high form and serious professionalism (just ask the Stones about that polished professionalism when he showed them how to really play Little Red Rooster which they had covered early on in their career as they had covered many other Chess Records blues numbers, as had in an ironic twist a whole generation English rockers in the 1960s) and moving that big body to and fro to beat the band and playing like god’s own avenging angel, if those angels played the harmonica, and if they could play as well as he did. They both hoped that greying James Montgomery, master harmonica player in his own right, blew the roof off of the house as they spied the wait person coming their way and James moving onto the stage getting ready to burn up the microphone. Yes, that blues calling is an acquired taste and a lasting one.    

Friday, June 25, 2021

When Women And Men Sang The Blues For Keeps-The Hook Is In Play- With John Lee Hooker In Mind

When Women And Men Sang The Blues For Keeps-The Hook Is In Play- With John Lee Hooker In Mind  

By Lance Lawrence

“Hey guys, do you want to go to the PX and have a couple of beers, near beers I guess you would call them but having a few drinks beats sitting here in this dumbass barracks waiting for some trusty corporal to look for volunteers to clean the latrine or make up beds or the ten thousand other stupid things they make you do here in fucking Basic,” chortled Ralph Morris as he asked Billy Raymond from Toledo and Bart Simmons from Scranton that most important question. Ralph from Troy in upstate New York was having a very hard time adjusting to the Army way, the military way the drill sergeants called it, usually called it at about four in the morning when they pulled a sneak inspection or had you carry your footlocker, Christ your footlocker, out into the company formation for no rational reason. Had a hard time adjusting there at Fort Gordon in godforsaken red clay Georgia, that red clay no joke as he had almost eaten some one afternoon when the company was doing bayonet practice drills out in the boonies and Drill Sergeant Mackey suddenly called out for the company to hit the ground and he crashed into the soft mucky soil. So every time the company was through for the day after supper (supper at five o’clock, Jesus, that was almost lunch time back home) he would head, alone or with his new found friends Basic friends this night Billy and Bart who were also having their own adjustment problems, Billy had been threatened with an Article 15 already, to the PX to drink the 3.2 authorized standard Army beer that wouldn’t get anybody’s mother drunk and listen to the jukebox to some tunes to make him forget.
Forget that he had actually joined the Army unlike the hippies and college guys who were burning their draft cards left and right up North. He hadn’t volunteered, signed up, no way, not at first, but when his number was called he went just like his father, grandfather and younger brother, Kenny, who actually had volunteered from the get-go back in 1965 when the whole shooting match in Vietnam was just heating up and was now safely home and trying to adjust as he said to the “real” world. That duty to country when called was the way the Morris family viewed the world, viewed it through patriotic eyes like most of the families in Troy who had sent their sons off to wars, and Vietnam whatever was happening in Harvard Square, New York City, Ann Arbor, New Haven, Old Town in Chicago or out on the whole freaking West Coast was no exception, not even as he thought about heading to the PX in 1969. Then he had made the stupid mistake of listening to Kenny who told him that Vietnam was a very dangerous place for draftees since all a draftee was good for was to be a “grunt,” an 11 Bravo, an infantryman, which is all the Army wanted in late 1968 to fill in the depleted ranks after a hard year of fighting when he was drafted (cannon-fodder Ralph would call it later but that was much later after he had taken the fall) and so he had signed up for a three year commitment, became Regular Army, an RA in front of his numbers and had decided on to sign up for communications school as his job.
But that was before he took the oath, before he was hustled out of the Army Recruiting Station in Albany and sent to Fort Dix first for Basic Training which turned out to be full when he arrived and so he had wound up at Fort Gordon just outside Augusta for Basic and this awful feeling that he had made a terrible mistake, that while he had no serious objection to going to Vietnam this mickey mouse crap was not for him. He had found kindred in Billy and Bart and a couple of other guys from Newton up in Massachusetts who would go to the section of the PX that was closed off from the main body where you bought clothes, smokes, and toiletries and sit at the small tables and drink a few beers, pop quarters in the jukebox and forget about what a hellish day it had been until the place closed at 10 PM. Jesus, 10 PM back home he and his corner boys would just be going out the door going over to Ready Teddy’s Bar to listen to live music, live blues music by Buddy and the Nighthawks who covered Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Slim, and even John Lee Hooker on occasion.
That last performer, the Hook, was why Ralph wanted to go to the PX, wanted company too. See Ralph thought the Hook was dead, he had not heard otherwise, had not  heard any recent stuff on The Blues Is The Dues radio show he listened to on WSKI out of Saratoga Springs, out of Skidmore College about twenty-five miles up the road from Troy where they played the Hook and the others. Ralph had gotten all heated up when a week before he heard a group called Canned Heat on the juke playing a song called On The Road Again with a beat that sounded very much like the boom boom boom guitar stuff that the Hook had perfected along with that deep bass voice that would put the fear into anybody who crossed that brother if he had his whiskey and cocaine habits on. So he had made a call home to Ronny Black who would know and sure enough who was doing the boom guitar work on the song but one John Lee Hooker. The Army stuff was still chicken shit, probably always would be but at least for a couple of hours he could cool his fragile head listening to the real deal when they call off the names in the blues pantheon.           

Searching 10,000 Years For A Hopi Warrior Dream-Once Again With The Late Native American Artist And Poet T.C Cannon In Mind

Searching 10,000 Years For A Hopi Warrior Dream-Once Again With The Late Native American Artist And Poet T.C
Cannon In Mind 

By Ronan Saint John

Gerald Scott was beset by ancient dreams of late, maybe not going back 10,000 warrior years like he liked to pretend, but maybe twenty years back (still you will know that he had ancient dreams, 10,000 year dreams when you bring a word like beset, his word, into the equation this early on). For back then, back in his youth he had dreamed the dream of 10,000 year warriors, along with his friends, Jack Lennon and James Lawson (not Jim or Jimmy not since childhood and mother’s call) when he first went west, went via some covered wagon dream as he and they, along with Sarah Mays (now Sarah Scott although she will when mad at Gerald revert to Mays but that is another story which she can tell at her leisure) landed in Joshua Tree out in the California high desert. The pack of them had just graduated from their respective colleges and as youth might do back then, now too, they decided to travel before settling down to whatever they would settle down to although college debt-bound these days probably not likely and rather work, work as a damn Starbuck’s barista if necessary to get the damn thing down before Social Security benefits come into play.

I won’t name the colleges, all four, since that too does not matter to our story and they can tell one and all about their four years at their leisure as well except that Gerald had taken a course in Native American history at his school. Had done so to fulfill an elective requirement at first but got so into what the real history of those many tribes were compared to the baloney he had been force-fed when he was a kid in school, on television and in the cinema when those benighted indigenous peoples were called Indians buying into the standard lie that these were the lost tribes of the Northwest Passage and Christopher Columbus’ misdirected signals to lay claim to the Americas (a name also reeking of illegitimacy but I will stop on this road for guys like Seth Garth and Frank Jackman of American Left History blog can run the rack on those injustices far better than I can). And so the trip with a few dollars, a few knapsacks, a few sleeping bags and a beat up but serviceable Toyota Camry purchased on the cheap from Sarah’s brother who was heading into the Army.      

I could probably spend a good portion of what I have to say running circles around how this quartet finally got to the high desert out in Joshua Tree but guys like Jack Kerouac, who influenced my father in his time to head out to California in the 1960s when he was young himself, Benny Gold, Lester Lawrence and a million other literary travelers have beaten the paths out to the west already. Like I say this is about a 10,000 year vision not some ill-begotten travelogue with AAA ratings. I do have to mention the last leg, the last leg before sunny and hot California desert because the route they travelled was through the states that are square, as the writer Thomas Wolfe put when he was noting something very different about the folk out there, the usurpers, those who stand on somebody else’s land and memory. They had done a circuitous route around the four states where Native Americans still had some existence, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona. At Gerald’s urging they stopped along the way at every reservation area they came across, especially the Hopi reservation which joins those four states together.

Gerald had told the other three that he had had a strange dream one night when they were outside Grand Island, Nebraska about a dance in which they, the three men, were participating in someplace in the West in some canyon where the night fire was flicking off the canyon walls and that flickering was driving the men to more fervent dancing. Beyond that Gerald did not, could not, find meaning in what that dream portended. Except he thought it had meant something about his growing affinity for those long-lost warrior kings who were crucified by the trail of tears the white man, he and his people, had brought upon some other people’s land. And so the search for what that all meant. Since nobody was in a hurry to get home or get to ocean California which meant at some point turning back East and whatever they were going to do lives, everybody consented to the route.             

That route would indeed portend something because along the way they wound up in Gallup, New Mexico during August and were just in time for the annual Intertribal gatherings at Red River Junction. They camped just outside the state park there on Friday and the next day spend the day learning about Native American tribal lore from the various tribes gathered at the site. One of the things that caught Gerald’s attention, as it did the others including Sarah, was the mesmerizing effect of the tribal dancing. Dancing that when it counted back in the day prepared the warriors to confront whatever enemy of the day was to be fought-other tribes or the encroaching white man with his womenfolk and youngsters. The rhythm, the warrior beat filled their heads, although this was not spoken of until later, until after they reached Joshua Tree, with their own warrior dreams, maybe pipe dreams is a better way to put the situation.      

Back at the campsite that night as the sun was setting and the heat of the dusty day was settling down when they came to their site they, Gerald first from the way I heard the story, noticed a medium-sized camper with many logos, or what looked like logos on it, a fire going and a few what looked like older men sitting around a big drum with sticks playing to a methodical beat and chanting something that he could not understand (and never did, then or later). They decided to get closer which none of the men around the drum objected to. When the men took a break one of the younger men waved the four devotees over and asked how they liked it, asked if they had gone to the Intertribal. Yes, on both counts. He introduced himself as Jack Two Feathers and asked their names, where they were from, and why they were there. Gerald explained the Native American interest part.

Then Jack Two Feathers mentioned that it was the tradition of his tribe, the Hopi, to enhance their drumming, enhance their connection with their ancestors, and, laughingly, just to get high to use peyote buttons. The Hopis had had trouble with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other law enforcement agencies over the use of the substance which they, the Hopis, claimed was part of their religious experience and thus protected under the white man’s United States Constitution. They would lose that argument in the United States Supreme Court but among the young, and some of the older fearless men they still carried out the peyote tradition.

Jack Two Feathers asked them if they had ever tried peyote and Gerald mentioned that his father had told him that he had as a proper 1960s young hippie type, but he had not. None of the others had either. They all agreed, once Jack Two Feathers calmed them down about the effects of the substance, to try some once he told them that it would increase their spiritual well-being to see what it was all about. Jack Two Feathers passed out some stuff that looked like mushrooms or something and told them to chew the stuff well. After about an hour, and after Jack Two Feathers had rejoined the older men around the drum who were ready to continue their drumming ceremony, the buttons began to kick in.

Nothing particularly dramatic happened that night except they were mesmerized by the beat of the drum, mesmerized by some younger Hopis who started to dance to the beat of the drums and would go into a fever pitch, and they did not come down from their highs to finally go to sleep until almost dawn. Packing up the next afternoon to head toward Joshua Tree via the Arizona desert and the Grand Canyon Jack Two Feathers came by their laden car and passed a small packet of peyote buttons to Gerald saying that maybe some time they too would see the face of sorrow, the faces of warrior-kings who had roamed at will in these their lands before the white man’s greed took it all away and left nothing good behind. Maybe even have a spiritual journey out of the experiences as well.               

Fast forward to Joshua Tree a couple of weeks later and a couple of late night until dawn peyote button rounds flames flickering against the grey, beige, red clay canyon walls, the three men bare-chested while some others met drummed and Gerald and the others finally found out what Jack Two-Feathers meant, felt that 10,000 year ancient warrior dream and would be forever changed by the experience. Gerald laughed as they started heading home about whether he should tell his father what happened. Nah, he would never believe the tale.