Josephine Baker – Beyond “Bronze Venus”

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Josephine Baker 1920’s

Josephine Baker is most celebrated as the “Bronze Venus” and her infamous “Banana Dance” in Paris c. 1927. However, the sum of her life is so much more! I was blown away by her boldness and sexual freedom, but it wasn’t until I saw the 1991 HBO movie starring Lynn Whitfield as Josephine Baker that I started doing research on her life. Whitfield won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special—becoming the first Black actress to win the award in this category which seems apropos since Josephine Baker was The Lady of firsts.

 

Lynn Whitfield - Josephine Baker Story 1991

I’ve always been intrigued by Baker’s provocative reputation but had no idea of her involvement in the fight for justice, racial equality, and the civil-rights movement.

Born  Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, (June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975) she was an American-born French dancer, singer, and actress who came to be known in various circles as the “Black Pearl,” “Bronze Venus” and even the “Creole Goddess”. Her parents were Carrie McDonald and Vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson. Growing up poor she started working early cleaning homes and babysitting for wealthy white families.

josephine baker baby

Baker dropped out of school at the age of 13 and lived as a street child in the slums of St. Louis. Her street-corner dancing attracted attention from the Dixie Steppers which lead to her opportunity to appear in the groundbreaking and hugely successful Broadway revue Shuffle Along (1921). She performed as the last dancer in the chorus line, a position where, traditionally, the dancer performed in a comic manner, as if she were unable to remember the dance, until the encore, at which point she would perform it not only correctly but with additional complexity. Baker’s act set in motion the career which would make her an international star.

 

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Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston, 1926

 

Josephine traveled to Paris, France, for a new venture, and opened in “La Revue Nègre” on October 2, 1925, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Her erotic dancing and performing in next to nothing made her a sensation in Paris. The bohemian culture of interwar Paris embraced Baker’s skin color, allowing her to catapult to stardom. At the Folies Bergère, she performed the Danse Sauvage, wearing a costume consisting of a skirt made of a string of artificial bananas – voila! – a star is born.

 

 

Josephine Baker became the most successful and highest paid American entertainer working in France and the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture. Baker starred in three films which found success only in Europe: the silent film Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princesse Tam Tam (1935). She also starred in Fausse Alerte in 1940.

However, despite her acclaim in Europe, upon returning to New York in 1936  to star in the Ziegfeld Follies, she walked right back into good ole American racism. Audiences rejected the idea that a black woman could be so sophisticated and she was replaced by stripper Gypsy Rose Lee later in the run. Time magazine referred to her as a “Negro wench”. She returned to Europe heartbroken.

 

Josephine Baker and the French Resistance of World War II

Josephine returned to Paris in 1937, married a Jewish Frenchman, Jean Lion, and became a French citizen. In September 1939, when France declared war on Germany she was recruited by Deuxième Bureau, French military intelligence, as an “honorable correspondent”. Baker collected what information she could about German troop locations from officials she met at parties. She was awarded the Legion of Honor and given a Medal of Resistance for her work during World War II. She was also the first American woman to receive the Croix du Guerre, a notable French military honor.

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Josephine Baker Legion of Honor

 

 Josephine Baker and the Civil Rights Movement

Though based in France, Baker fought for American civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. When she arrived in New York with her fourth husband French composer and conductor Jo Bouillon, they were refused reservations at 36 hotels because she was black. In 1951 when the famous New York Stork Club refused to serve Baker because she was black, she wrote letters to President Truman and enlisted the aid of the NAACP which focused a spotlight on the issues of inequality and racism in popular establishments.

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(Stork Club Controversy)

Josephine Baker was one of the few female speakers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, introducing “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom”, including Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Congressman John Lewis. The NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, named May 20th Josephine Baker Day in her honor.

 

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Josephine Baker in French uniform March on Washington 1963

 

“The Rainbow Tribe”

Long before Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s multicultural family, there was Josephine Baker and her “Rainbow Tribe”. Josephine wanted to prove that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.” Baker raised two daughters, French-born Marianne and Moroccan-born Stellina, and ten sons; Korean-born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese-born Akio, Colombian-born Luis, Finnish-born Jari (now Jarry), French-born Jean-Claude and Noël, Israeli-born Moïse, Algerian-born Brahim, Ivorian-born Koffi, and Venezuelan-born Mara.

 

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Josephine Baker and “The Rainbow Tribe”

 

On April 12, 1975, we lost Josephine after she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, she was 68 years old. She performed right up to her death, starring in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, Joséphine à Bobino 1975, celebrating her 50 years in show business. The opening night audience included Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, (best known for recording the theme song to the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964), Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli.

20,000 people lined the streets of Paris to watch her funeral procession. She received a 21 gun salute, making her the first Black American female to be buried with military honors in France. Josephine Baker leaves behind a legacy of accomplishments including breaking color barriers and fighting for justice and equality around the world. I thank her for channeling her celebrity into championing the rights of all.

 

A celebration of Josephine’s Life and Legacy

The City in the Sky 🎆 Metropolis (1927)

 

Metropolis

 

As a film student at The University of Michigan, I was exposed to the masters of cinema – Chaplin, Murnau, Kubrick, Lang, etc. There, we were challenged to critique and look beyond the surface to the underlying themes. “Metropolis” is supreme in incorporating intriguing layers of sub-texture and sub-plots.

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Moloch Machine

Austrian director Fritz Lang’s German Expressionistic masterpiece helped to develop the science-fiction genre, with innovative imagery from cinematographer Karl Freund, art design by Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, and Karl Vollbrecht and set design by Edgar Ulmer.(set designer for The Phantom of the Opera) It was the last of Lang’s silent films. (Filmsite Movie Review)

 

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Friedrich Christian AntonFritzLang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976)

“Metropolis” was not just some sci-fi flick from the silent era, it’s a visually-compelling allegory set in the dystopic, 21st-century city of Metropolis and represents a brilliant critique of the repercussions of man vs. machine and the brutality of the never-ending class struggle.

Establishing the tone of the film, this statement is presented following the opening credits.

THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN HEAD AND HANDS MUST BE THE HEART!

 

“Metropolis” took over 2 years to complete at ten times the budget for the usual Hollywood production of the time and influenced visuals associated with classic films such as; Chaplin’s war against the machines in Modern Times (1936), the mechanical hand of Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, (1964), or the resemblance between the Maria robot and the droid C-3PO in George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) trilogy of films, and scenes of Los Angeles in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) to name just a few.

This symbolic tale was written by Lang’s wife Thea Von Harbou (from her own novel). Her vision detailed a self-indulgent, futuristic, industrial world built of skyscrapers and bridges incorporating the Art Deco style of the 20s for the 2026 city of Metropolis.

An ultra elite, 1% privileged class of powerful industrialists is juxtaposed with a subterranean environment of the nameless, oppressed and exploited drone-like slave labor class.

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City of Metropolis

Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and follows the attempts of Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the wealthy son of the city’s ruler, and Maria (Brigitte Helm), a poor worker, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes of their city.

Filming took place in 1925 at a cost of approximately five million Reichsmarks. The art direction draws influence from Bauhaus, Cubist, and Futurist design. (Wikipedia)

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Fritz Lang directing the workers

As with all great films, “Metropolis” was influenced by the historical events occurring during its time. Centered around the developing Industrial Revolution and depressed economic times, the film also incorporates the rise of fascism in a pre-Hitler Weimar Republic Germany following World War I.

Another influence of the movie’s themes was the rise of the American labor movement and unions during the 1920s due to oppressive working conditions. “Metropolis”, like the Progressive, investigative journalists of the day, took on corrupt politicians and the establishment in an effort to make people aware of the contrast of poverty with the upper-crust classes of the opulent Roaring 20s.

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I’m a steadfast believer that understanding history is empowering. “Metropolis” tackles the rise of immigration into the US and exploitation of workers at the beginning of the 20th century along with Capitalists exploiting labor. It deals with the conversation of doing what’s right versus greed and the power of modern science.

The creation of the evil android Maria (Bridgitte Helm) was an abuse of science but that same knowledge powered the city in the sky and could have been used to enrich the lives of the subterranean slaves.

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Describing these themes and comparisons in “Metropolis” is like writing a piece for The Nation magazine today. The similarities are frightening like George Orwell’s “1984” or H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine”. It’s dismaying to revisit a film I critiqued back in the ’70s, that was made in the ’20s continues to unfold in the year 2019; only 7 years away from the time of the 2026 Art Deco Metropolis city in the sky.

 

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Does art imitate life or life imitate art? I’m not sure, but in our “reality” tv driven news programming, a low information population, and the “I don’t believe in science” facts, kinda feels like we’re living in the dystopian world of “Metropolis”.

Lest we forget.

THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN HEAD AND HANDS MUST BE THE HEART!

This is a restored version of “Metropolis”

If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend this viewing experience. But, lasting 2 1/2 hours, prepare to settle in with an extra large bag of popcorn.

 

Forrest Gump Gratitude 🏃

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“Forrest Gump” (1994)

“Run Forrest, Run!”

Every time I think of the movie “Forrest Gump”, that’s the first quote I hear. Then, “Life’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

 

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Quotes galore plus Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) and Bubba (Mykelti Williamson). Love this movie!

Forrest Gump’s (Tom Hanks) life is a testimony to gratitude. He understands his challenges but is not hesitant to live his life to the fullest, including telling his childhood love, Jenny (Robin Wright) how he feels about her.

He gets it. Life gives you what you get, so don’t whine, go for it and make the most of your journey. Thank God for his mother, (Sally Field), she didn’t listen to what the”experts” had to say. She did whatever she had to do to provide Forrest with the foundation that he could do anything. With his braces, he had “magic” legs. Turn every so-called obstacle into an advantage. Once again, attitude is everything!

 

 

Forrest is a true inspiration and proof that with support and love we can overcome adversity. Love and compassion make the difference.

Mama, Jenny, Bubba, and Lieutenant Dan. Forrest loved and was deeply loved by those whose lives he touched.

forrestgumpallihavetosay

“Hail, Hail Freedonia” – Try the Duck Soup!

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Duck Soup (1933)

I was first introduced to the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo) in one of my favorite classes at The University of Michigan – Cinema. It was more like an afternoon of fun at the movies since in our lecture all we did was analyze and critique classic films.

(top to bottom) Chico, Harpo, Groucho, and Zeppo 1931

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The Marx Brothers laugh riot film, “Duck Soup”, has to go down as one of the best and most hilarious political films of the century! Pure anarchy reigned as the idiocy of war was laid bare and Rufus T. Firefly’s (Groucho Marx) rapid-fire one-liners were pure genius.

Enter Rufus T.

On days we screened The Marx Brothers films, the lecture hall seemed a little bit fuller. I was also guilty of padding the room since I would tell my boyfriend what movie we were reviewing and the Marx Brothers quickly became his and my favorites. “Whatever it is, I’m against it.” Groucho in (“Horse Feathers”1932)

Directed by Leo McCarey and written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, the film was first released theatrically by Paramount Pictures on November 17, 1933. The storyline of “Duck Soup” involves the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) insisting that Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) be appointed the leader of the small, bankrupt country of Freedonia before she will continue to provide their much-needed financial aid. (Wikipedia)

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Groucho, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, and Raquel Torres

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Meanwhile, neighboring country Sylvania is attempting to annex Freedonia. Sylvanian ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) tries to instigate a revolution while attempting to woo Mrs. Teasdale. To further tip the scale in his favor, he also tries to dig up dirt on Firefly by sending in bumbling spies Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo).

I adore Harpo (Arthur Duer Marx born Adolph Marx; November 23, 1888 – September 28, 1964), he is totally off the wall with his facial expressions and his manic pantomime sight gags! Harpo actually played the harp (hence his nickname) and there was usually a scene in the Marx Brothers movies that featured Harpo playing a beautiful piece on the harp.

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Harpo playing the harp.

Margaret Dumont is often described as not getting the Brothers humor. In fact, she did. In a 1940 interview, Dumont said, “Scriptwriters build up to a laugh, but they don’t allow any pause for it. That’s where I come in. I ad lib—it doesn’t matter what I say—just to kill a few seconds so you can enjoy the gag”.

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Personally, I don’t know how she could keep a straight face working with Groucho.

Margaret Dumont would typically portray the rich widow that Groucho was always trying to dupe. He could simultaneously insult and make advances towards her. It was fabulous to watch since his wit and timing were impeccable.

Julius Henry Marx (October 2, 1890 – August 19, 1977)

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Premiering during The Depression, “Duck Soup” was not initially received as well as their previous films. However, critical opinion has evolved and the film has since achieved the status of a classic. “Duck Soup is now widely considered by critics to be a masterpiece of comedy and the Marx Brothers’ finest film. (Wikipedia)

In 1990 the United States Library of Congress deemed Duck Soup “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Chico and Zeppo round out the troupe. Chico was known for being the crafty con artist (who was usually teamed with Harpo) and for his broken Italian accent (although the Brothers were Jewish) and Zeppo, who always played the straight man. (This was also Zeppo’s last film with his brothers)

In the famous “mirror scene,” Pinky, dressed as Firefly, pretends to be Firefly’s reflection in a missing mirror, matching his every move—including absurd ones that begin out of sight—to near perfection. In one particularly surreal moment, the two men swap positions, and thus the idea of which is a reflection of the other. Eventually, and to their misfortune, Chicolini, also disguised as Firefly, enters the frame and collides with both of them.

Although its appearance in Duck Soup is the best-known instance, the concept of the mirror scene did not originate in this film. Max Linder included it in Seven Years Bad Luck (1921), where a man’s servants have accidentally broken a mirror and attempt to hide the fact by imitating his actions in the mirror’s frame. Charlie Chaplin used a similar joke in The Floorwalker (1916), though it did not involve a mirror. (Wikipedia)

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“Just Wait ‘Til I Get Through With It” parodies the ridiculous state of politics and sounds all too familiar.

I admit to being a political junkie and the Marx Brothers humor and point of view ring true in how ludicrous and corrupt the political system is. We know it’s a racket, the Brothers know it’s a racket and they have no compunction with sticking that fact right in your face.

Bravo!

If you’re interested in binge-watching The Marx Brothers, Universal Home Video has released Duck Soup on DVD, unrestored but uncut, as part of a six-disc box set The Marx Brothers: Silver Screen Collection, which includes the Brothers’ other Paramount films, The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, and Horse Feathers. Definitely worthy of the buy.

 

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Happy Viewing!

 

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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I love this film because of its unequivocal message to man. Earth, get your act together or you will be destroyed! If your inability to understand the gravity of your nuclear capability bleeds over into the galaxy, we will end this planet’s existence. Boom – Drop the mike!

The fact that humans continue to measure power by how many times over we can destroy the earth as if there’s a planet B never ceases to floor me!

Obviously, the need continues to heed Klaatu’s warning. “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration”

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” was released in 1951 during the Cold War period. (It could be argued that it never ended.) It stands as a classic sci-fi cautionary tale as relevant today as it was then, as we continue to deal with the tensions that arise daily by the ongoing threat of a nuclear war.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (a.k.a. Farewell to the Master and Journey to the World) is an American black-and-white science fiction film from 20th Century Fox, produced by Julian Blaustein, directed by Robert Wise, that stars Michael Rennie,(Klaatu) Patricia NealBilly GrayHugh Marlowe, and Sam Jaffe.

 

The screenplay was written by Edmund H. North, based on the 1940 science fiction short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates. The score was composed by Bernard Herrmann.

The plot involves a humanoid alien visitor named Klaatu who comes to Earth accompanied by a powerful eight-foot-tall robot, Gort, to deliver an important message that will affect the entire human race.

But, when Klaatu’s flying saucer lands, a nervous soldier mistakes a gift for the President as a weapon and fires, injuring Klaatu. Gort has his back and immediately begins to disintegrate the tanks and weapons. Cue the pandemonium!

Klaatu is taken to Walter Reed Hospital but escapes and lodges at a boarding house as “Mr. Carpenter”, the name on the dry cleaner’s tag on a suit he took. Among the residents include young widow Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). The next morning, Klaatu overhears the boarders speculate about the alien’s motivations.

Not unexpectantly the talk turns to Communism and the “Red Scare”. And, of course, it’s a conspiracy because you can’t trust the government.

Producer Julian Blaustein set out to make a film under the working titles of Farewell to the Master and Journey to the World that illustrated the fear and suspicion that characterized the early Cold War and Atomic Age. He reviewed more than 200 science fiction short stories and novels in search of a storyline that could be used since this film genre was well suited for a metaphorical discussion of such grave issues.

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Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck gave the go-ahead for this project, and Blaustein hired Edmund North to write the screenplay based on elements from Harry Bates’s 1940 short story “Farewell to the Master“. The revised final screenplay was completed on February 21, 1951. Science fiction writer Raymond F. Jones worked as an uncredited adviser. (Wikipedia)

Trivia:

The robot Gort, who serves Klaatu, was played by Lock Martin, who worked as an usher at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and stood seven feet, seven inches tall. Not used to being in such a confining, heat-inducing costume, he worked carefully when wearing the two oversize, laced-up-the-front or back, foamed neoprene suits needed for creating the illusion on the screen of a seamless metallic Gort.

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Wise decided that Martin’s on-screen shooting time would be limited to half-hour intervals so Martin would face no more than minor discomfort. These segments, in turn, were then edited together into film’s final print. (Wikipedia)

In a commentary track on DVD, interviewed by fellow director Nicholas Meyer, Wise stated that he wanted the film to appear as realistic and believable as possible, in order to drive home the motion picture’s core message against armed conflict in the real world.

Also mentioned in the DVD’s documentary interview was the original title for the film, “The Day the World Stops”. Blaustein said his aim with the film was to promote a “strong United Nations“.

 

The Music:

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The music score was composed by Bernard Herrmann in August 1951 and was his first score after he moved from New York to Hollywood. Herrmann chose unusual instrumentation for the film: violin, cello, and bass (all three electric), two theremin electronic instruments (played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman and Paul Shure).

By using the theremin, Herrmann made one of music’s first forays into electronic music.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1951. The film is ranked seventh in Arthur C. Clarke‘s list of the best science fiction films of all time, just above Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Clarke himself co-wrote.

The Day the Earth Stood Still holds a 94% “Certified Fresh” rating at the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.

In 1995, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

 

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Klaatu made an excellent case for using Gort as the “interplanetary police” – accountability. Governments need to be held accountable for the death and destruction they are capable of wielding.

No individual has the right to take another’s life and no country or planet has the right to end our existence! I think we could use some Gort right about now!

 

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What Fourth Estate? – “Network” 1976✍️️

The Fourth Estate

The fourth estate is a term that positions the press as the fourth branch of government and one that is important to a functioning democracy.

The First Amendment to the Constitution “frees” the press but carries with it a responsibility to be the people’s watchdog.

 

Network film

Network 1976

Originally this film was going to be part of a favorite monologues piece. However, after watching Howard Beale’s (Peter Finch) speech on the state of the world, I felt the need to turn it into a full-blown post on its own.

 

This prophetic monologue is incredible! It could very well have been given today. His truth and passion still hit hard. Politically, I feel this way most days.

 

Network film

“Network” is a 1976 American satirical black comedy-drama written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, about a fictional television network, UBS, and its struggle with poor ratings. The film stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, and Robert Duvall.

 

When I saw this movie at its premiere I thought it was pinpoint accurate as a representation of the industry and the direction it was going. Today’s corporate media has even surpassed the foretold death of true journalism that “Network” showcased.

Entertainment television was the news style of the film and parrots the absurdity of what passes for the Fourth Estate today.

 

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As a journalism student in the ’70s, I’ve been outraged over time witnessing the demise and bastardization of the reason for journalism, to begin with. The news is supposed to inform the public of what is going on in Washington and globally. It’s supposed to be impartial, probing and take seriously the consequences of misleading and misinforming the American people of information needed to make informed decisions on our public servants and events.

 

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I often think of the Watergate scandal and how very different it would have emerged in today’s news environment. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein from the Washington Post represented the best of journalism and the importance of separating news from entertainment; digging deep and not letting up until all the facts had been revealed.

 

Chilling commentary and viewpoint from the Corporate Chairman (Ned Beatty)

Allegedly, part of the inspiration for Chayefsky’s script came from the on-air suicide of television news reporter Christine Chubbuck in Sarasota, Florida two years earlier. The anchorwoman was suffering from depression and battles with her editors, and unable to keep going, she shot herself on camera as stunned viewers watched on July 15, 1974. Chayefsky used the incident to set up his film’s focal point. As he would say later in an interview, “Television will do anything for a rating… anything!”

 

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However, Dave Itzkoff’s book Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies disputes this, asserting that Chayefsky actually began writing “Network” months before Chubbuck’s death and already planned for Howard Beale to vow to kill himself on air; Chubbuck’s suicide was an eerie parallel. (Wikipedia)

Whatever the order of events, Paddy Chayefsky’s intuition and writing are inspired! Words we should never take lightly and always remember.

 

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In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In 2002, it was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame as a film that has “set an enduring standard for U.S. American entertainment”. (Wikipedia)

 

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In 2006, the two Writers Guilds of America voted Chayefsky’s script one of the 10 greatest screenplays in the history of cinema. In 2007, the film was 64th among the 100 greatest American films as chosen by the American Film Institute, a ranking slightly higher than the one AFI had given it ten years earlier.

 

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Frederick George Peter Ingle Finch

( September 28,  1916 – January 14, 1977)

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The role of Howard Beale earned him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Actor, his fifth Best Actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and a Best Actor award from the Golden Globes. He was the first person to win a posthumous Academy Award in an acting category.

Although Finch didn’t live to receive the Academy Award for Best Actor, his performance as Howard Beale will never leave the memories of those who witnessed it.

 

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So, in honor of Howard Beale let’s all get up off our chairs, go to the window and yell – “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

 

And, after you’re done, make sure to stay woke, get involved and VOTE!

 

 

 

 

 

The City in the Sky 🎆 Metropolis (1927)

 

Metropolis

 

As a film student at The University of Michigan, I was exposed to the masters of cinema – Chaplin, Murnau, Kubrick, Lang, etc. There, we were challenged to critique and look beyond the surface to the underlying themes. “Metropolis” is supreme in incorporating intriguing layers of sub-texture and sub-plots.

Moloch Machine

Austrian director Fritz Lang’s German Expressionistic masterpiece helped to develop the science-fiction genre, with innovative imagery from cinematographer Karl Freund, art design by Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, and Karl Vollbrecht and set design by Edgar Ulmer.(set designer for The Phantom of the Opera) It was the last of Lang’s silent films. (Filmsite Movie Review)

 

fritz lang

Friedrich Christian AntonFritzLang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976)

 

“Metropolis” was not just some sci-fi flick from the silent era, it’s a visually-compelling allegory set in the dystopic, 21st-century city of Metropolis and represents a brilliant critique of the repercussions of man vs. machine and the brutality of the never-ending class struggle.

Establishing the tone of the film, this statement is presented following the opening credits.

 

THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN HEAD AND HANDS MUST BE THE HEART!

 

“Metropolis” took over 2 years to complete at ten times the budget for the usual Hollywood production of the time and influenced visuals associated with classic films such as; Chaplin’s war against the machines in Modern Times (1936), the mechanical hand of Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Or: (1964), the resemblance between the Maria robot and the droid C-3PO in George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) trilogy of films, and scenes of Los Angeles in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) to name just a few.

This symbolic tale was written by Lang’s wife Thea Von Harbou (from her own novel). Her vision detailed a self-indulgent, futuristic, industrial world built of skyscrapers and bridges incorporating the Art Deco style of the 20s for the 2026 city of Metropolis.

An ultra elite, 1% privileged class of powerful industrialists is juxtaposed with a subterranean environment of the nameless, oppressed and exploited drone-like slave labor class.

Image result for metropolis (1927)

Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and follows the attempts of Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the wealthy son of the city’s ruler, and Maria (Brigitte Helm), a poor worker, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes of their city.

Filming took place in 1925 at a cost of approximately five million Reichsmarks. The art direction draws influence from Bauhaus, Cubist, and Futurist design. (Wikipedia)

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As with all great films, “Metropolis” was influenced by the historical events occurring during its time. Centered around the developing Industrial Revolution and depressed economic times, the film also incorporates the rise of fascism in a pre-Hitler Weimar Republic Germany following World War I.

Another influence of the movie’s themes was the rise of the American labor movement and unions during the 1920s due to oppressive working conditions. “Metropolis”, like the Progressive, investigative journalists of the day, took on corrupt politicians and the establishment in an effort to make people aware of the contrast of poverty with the upper-crust classes of the opulent Roaring 20s.

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I’m a steadfast believer that understanding history is empowering. “Metropolis” tackles the rise of immigration into the US and exploitation of workers at the beginning of the 20th century along with Capitalists exploiting labor. It deals with the conversation of doing what’s right versus greed and the power of modern science.

The creation of the evil android Maria (Bridgitte Helm) was an abuse of science but that same knowledge powered the city in the sky and could have been used to enrich the lives of the subterranean slaves.

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Describing these themes and comparisons in “Metropolis” is like writing a piece for The Nation magazine today. The similarities are frightening like George Orwell’s “1984” or H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine”. It’s incredible to think that a film I critiqued back in the 70’s which was made in the 20’s is actually unfolding in the year 2018; only 8 years away from the 2026 Art Deco Metropolis city in the sky.

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Does art imitate life or life imitate art? I’m not sure, but in our “reality” tv driven news programming, a low information population and the “I don’t believe in science” faction, we might as well be living in the dystopian world of “Metropolis”.

Lest we forget.

THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN HEAD AND HANDS MUST BE THE HEART!

This is a restored version of “Metropolis”

If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend this viewing experience. But, lasting 2 1/2 hours, prepare to settle in with an extra large bag of popcorn.