Monday, January 28, 2008

Nature's Mirror: Tidepool on the beach pictured below.

January on the Pacific coast, north of Malibu.

Photos: by/COPYRIGHT Ross Care

Outside of Palm Springs

Winter storms during the week of January 21 leave the mountains around the Coachella Valley dusted with snow. Note the windmills below the mountain range.

Photo by/COPYRIGHT Ross Care

Friday, January 18, 2008

Reliving the Vintage Movie Experience at LACMA

Wilshire Blvd. Entrance, Los Angeles County Musuem of Art.
Photo: By/COPYRIGHT Ross Care

This week (January 15, 2008) I saw FORT APACHE at the Tuesday Matinee series at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). It’s a great chance to see classic films on the big screen and with a very appreciative though not necessarily academic or hardcore buff audiences. It’s mostly older people from the Wilshire/6th St. area who remember and love these films (as I do).

Seeing a John Ford film (or any classic film) under such circumstances is a wonderful experience because the audience responds so well to the many nuances and Ford, particularly the characterizations/performances and comic touches. You can really see how effectively he produced these films for general audiences (and, at these screenings, how effectively and enduringly he still reaches them).

I am currently reading Kathryn Kalinak book, How the West Was Sung, (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2007), a detailed study of music in the films of John Ford. It’s an excellent a much needed definitive statement on the subject. APACHE seemed almost fully underscored and I did love what seemed to be composer Richard Hageman’s original cues and intersperced with the familiar (and not so familiar) American folk and popular ltunes Ford loved..

Somehow I always feel reduced (elevated?) to tears when those simple, familiar melodies resound in the Main Title.

I especially love the none-commissioned officer’s dance sequence later in this film, to me the sustaining of such civilized formality and grace in such a hostile, primitive setting seems ineffably touching for some reason.

(Martin Scorsese pays homage to this dance sequence in the ballroom scene in his AGE OF INNOCENCE).

I feel the same way about the more spontaneous and joyous dance sequence in WAGON MASTER, which has also been screened several times on the Tuesday series.

And in the face of so much published trivia, as I remarked to a friend, Kalinac’s film music writing is so reasoned and detailed it’s almost therapeutic. (The friend was Charles Leayman, himself an inspired writer on film when so motivated). Some years ago Chuck and I attended the Virginia Film Festival where Kalinak was one of the guest speakers, and we have been fans of her work ever since. One of her other books is the equally excellent Settling the Score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Score.


Posters, Plaza, Los Angeles County Musuem of Art, Wilshire Blvd.

Photo: By/COPYRIGHT Ross Care

If you’re a fan of the music of Franz Waxman, and particularly of CIMARRON, one of the composer’s most impressive, if lesser-known scores, those of you in the LA area might be interested to know that LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) is showing this rarely seen film as part of their Tuesday Matinee film programs.
I first discovered this score by finding a copy of the title song in the music collections of the Library of Congress, and was curious about it ever since.
Eventually there was a suite of rerecorded excerpts on an AEI LP, but recently Film Score Monthly’s recent restoration of the original soundtrack was a thrilling revelation for both fans of Waxman and of classic and unique western scores. Christopher Husted’s definitive liner notes present both a detailed discussion of Waxman and his score, and an equally exhaustive history of this troubled production that was one of the last big blockbuster epics produced by MGM and the studio system in general.
This 1960 version has been overshadowed by the original 1931 version (which won Oscars for “Best Picture” and Best Screenplay”). Indeed some members of the audience at LACMA’s recent screening of FORT APACHE just assumed the February screening was to be the ‘30s version. Due to the prestige of this original (featuring one of Max Steiner’s early scores) and the fact that the remake tanked at the box office the 1960 CIMARRON has rarely been seen since its original release and is not on DVD.
The film itself has been much maligned so I’m doubly curious to see what it’s really like, but with stars Glenn Ford and German actress Maria Schell, direction by Anthony Mann, and produced with all the remaining resources of the late studio era MGM, so how bad can it be? (We’ll see!)
However, this is definitely one of Waxman’s finest, most original western scores and the LAMCA screening is a chance to hear it and of course experience the film in its full CinemaScope big screen glory. Screening is at 1.00 pm, Tuesday, February 5 at LACMA’s Bing Theater. The epic film runs 147 minutes.
January 22 the same series will screen THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL in which Miklos Rozsa adapts his epic MGM symphonic style to a contemporary science fiction mode. On February 19 Nicholas Ray’s PARTY GIRL with dancer Cyd Charisse in one of her key dramatic roles, will be seen. Both films are also in CinemaScope, and both are not available on DVD. For fans of the MGM musical the gloriously Technicolored Esther Williams opus, NEPTUNE”S DAUGHTER (with the great Frank Loesser tune, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,”) will be seen on January 29.
And climaxing with Joan Crawford and John Garfield in HUMORESQUE on February 26, and also with music by Waxman.
I must say this always-excellent LACMA classic series has outdone itself for January and February!

California Spring - Part I

The Pacific from Pacific Coast Highway a little north of Malibu -

With two much-needed downpours, one of which ironically happened while my friend, Barbara from Pennsylvania, was visiting sunny Cal in early December, southern California has again undergone one of its regular and occasionally traumatic transformations.

But this time it’s a benign one. Suddenly the land is green again, from LA’s Laurel Canyon with its verdant, almost lush greenery climbing the claustrophobic canyon walls, to the open oceanside burn area near Gaviota north of Santa Barbara that I frequently mention in this blog.

On New Year’s Day we took a drive down to the upper Malibu coast that is really just a short jaunt from Ventura and Oxnard (if you know how to avoid Oxnard). New Year’s Day was characterized by high, almost hurricane velocity winds that nearly blew you off the bluffs over looking the Pacific. They even transformed the ocean itself, driving whitecaps out to sea and creating huge undulant swells which moved out to the distant horizon instead of towards the shore. Blasting out of La Jolla canyon the winds were so strong that they created bursts of spray that also swirled out to sea like rushes of snow flurries, reminding me of the beneficent unity of earth, air, and water.

The brilliant clarity of the day emphasized the colors of the ocean that somehow have a different hue here than other stretches of the coast in this area. The Malibu ocean often reminds me of the vivid, shifting bluegreen tones of the Pacific around Big Sur, or even of the searing unreal blue of the Mediterranean itself.

On January 1st signs of spring were also already in evidence, in spite of the chill winds. The giant coreopsis, a hardy plant which looks like a frazzled dead tree stump most of the year, are already stirring to life with incredibly delicate fronds of fern-like green. Soon they will bear the sunny yellow clusters of flowers that will uniquely grace the craggy cliffs and bluffs of this section of the coast and complement the smaller vivid off-reds of the Indian paint brush flowers, both here and on the beautiful Channel Islands, an archipelago that stretches from the Ventura coast to the Santa Barbara channel.
Then the coreopsis will dry out again in the dry summer heat and stand dormant, patiently and unobtrusively awaiting another hopefully wet and reviving winter, the likes of which we, after a frightening dry spell, are fortunate enough to be experiencing again this January.
To be continued……

Saturday, January 5, 2008

White Alders

White Alders along the stream that crosses the Potrero trail.
Photo by/copyright Ross Care
Having been raised on the East Coast I'm still learning the various species Out Here.
A friend just mentioned that what I describe as beech trees in my previous post are, given the area, climate, and elevation, probably polars.
PS: They have just been identied as white alders.

Friday, January 4, 2008

SWEENEY TODD - Another View

In the interest of objectivity, another opinion from an old friend back in Lancaster, PA.

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From John Malone, Sat., 22 December 2007

I went to Sweeney Todd yesterday afternoon. I hadn't seen a movie on the first day since Forrest Gump.

I thought it was thrilling and magnificent, quite possibly a great movie - which for me means that a film has to seem just as remarkable with multiple viewings. I'd see this one again today.

The singing is not Broadway style, but I had no problems with it at all. Both of Sweeney's most important songs, "My Friends" and "Epiphany" gave me chills. The conclusion to "My Friends" is also a stunning cinematic moment that almost brought tears to me eyes it was so perfect and, in its way, transcendent, one of those rare shots that seem to sum up an entire film.

The acting is brilliant, as are the set and costume design, and the cinematography. However, given your feelings about gore, it might be a trial for you. It is very bloody, and the disposal of the bodies two stories down the chute is bone-crunchingly specific. I winced a couple of times, but I think one should, even though on the whole the bloodiness is stylized to a considerable degree. One touch that helps put the gore in context is that Sweeney is shown building the chair and the chute in a way that, as one critic put it, is a succinct visual summation of the industrial revolution.

On the musical front, the full symphony orchestra treatment of the music makes it seem more remarkable than ever - the orchestration and conducting were in the hands of Sondheim's original partners, Tunick and Gemignani. It has now come out that Sondheim was deeply involved all the way through, so the few purists who complained about missing songs or verses need to take it up with Stephen himself. The movie flies by - there is no point where one feels that one is watching a "number."

As you may know, with more than 130 reviews available at Rotten Tomatoes, the score is 87% positive, with many flat-out raves; almost all the naysayers don't like Sondheim to start with. The medium-sized audience I saw it with was mostly late teens and early 20s. They responded to the funny moments (of which there are still quite a number), seemed mesmerized start to finish and applauded at the end. I have a feeling word of mouth is going to help a lot in terms of box-office and that the take will go up next weekend.

So what it comes down to is that if you can steel yourself for the bloodletting, it is an extraordinary film - but you will have to steel yourself for that.

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John Malone has written more than 50 books on subjects ranging from the Civil War and the history of science to show business. His articles on the movies have appeared in several publications, including the New York Times Sunday "Arts and Leisure" section. With Paul Dennis Baldwin (who starred in the first summer theater production of Sweeney Todd in 1982), John co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Acting.

Tis the Season(s)

Along the John Potrero trail PHOTO by/copyright Ross Care

They say there are no seasons in California. Well, they’re wrong. We’ve got all the seasons and then some. They often just happen mostly at the same time. To what degree depends on the area, the elevation, and whatever microclimate you happen to be passing through at the time.
This Christmas day a friend and I drove into the Sespe wilderness behind Ojai, California. Ojai was briefly used as the long shot, first glimpse of Shangri La in Frank Capra’s classic film of LOST HORIZON. But the real Shangri La is on the other side of town, stretching many miles along route 33 as it makes it tortuous way through a variety of landscapes and microclimates.

As 33 leaves Ojai there is a spectacular gorge, and this gateway area is almost like eastern deciduous woods, and is particularly ravishing and aromatic in spring when the profuse California lilac blooms on all sides. On Christmas day these lower elevations were still lit with the blazing yellow torches of the streamside cottonwoods.

33 quickly climbs to higher, more wintrier elevations. (On Christmas day a few years ago there was snow in the pine summit forests and people were shoveling it into pickup trucks to take back home for a probably sloppy white Christmas).

Along another gorge is the John Potrero trail. It follows a smaller stream to one of the most beautiful microspots along the way. By this elevation autumn and winter mingle but on close examination the alders in the sheltered grove along the stream are covered with spring-like catkins and the tiny dark arrowheads of buds. A huge pine, an incense cedar, towers over the grove from a throne of mossy rock, its lacy green tipped in what look like tiny pinecones. In the limpid morning light I was reminded of a early spring day back, when, after a long winter, everything seems breathless with anticipation.

Further along 33 is a kind of high plateau that leads to the pine forests of the summit. This time of year this is one of most subtly dazzlingly stretches of the highway. It is bordered by meadows and hillsides of varied undergrowth the colors of which range from soft pinks and purples to fiery oranges. A huge ridge forms a spectacular backdrop, a kind of running backbone that has dropped fantastic boulders of every size and shape almost down to the highway.

On the way back we stopped to picnic at another one of the small streamside spots. At this elevation the cottonwoods that once blazed yellow against the cloudless blue skies were nearly bare now, but there were touches of bright, spring like green in the beeches and other trees.

These were a kind of mistletoe that hung in green globes in the upper branches and were sprouting in small new clusters directly out of the lower trunks. Some had fallen, probably due to the welcome rains of about a week ago, and I brought some sprigs home, an appropriate seasonal souvenir of a quietly fresh Christmas day in one of Ventura county’s most varied and quietly spectacular backyards.

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PS: At the moment three major winter storms are allegedly on the way to southern California! We need the rain!