Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Movie Goer: The Tree of Life and Beginners

"Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship which struggles on in the Survivor's mind toward some resolution which it may never find." So says the main character in Robert Anderson's I Never Sang for My Father. The last two films I have seen in two days deal with that struggle of sons dealing with their father's (and their) failings. In fact, the main character in one of them says, “My father wrestles around inside of me.”

There are many great works which deal with the father-son issue. Anderson's
work, Steinbeck's East of Eden, Spiegleman's Maus, Genesis, Lee's To Kill a
Mockingbird, to name only a few. Unfortunately for me, The Tree of Life by Terence Malik is not one of them.

Malik’s film wants to lyrical, ponderous, mythic. Instead it becomes pretentious, overblown, humorless, and worse still rather boring. While there are some really excellent story-telling moments, the film fails to ignite for me. (One really powerful moment is when the mercurial father plays piano and his favorite son begins playing on the guitar along with him. The eldest son—are all eldest sons Cain?—watches the father and his brother bond in a way he will never be able to.)

I understand the father in the film way too well. My own mercurial father could often erupt in unchecked flares of temper, brought on—I know now—by issues that had nothing to do with his children. We were just the easier thing to focus on. Watching Brad Pitt’s unrelenting earthly Jehovah reminded me of many scenes I have experienced. But the catharsis of the film—summarized only by a hand on the shoulder—seems to unfulfilling after 2:19 minutes of abuse.

My friend had told me there was some great acting. Unfortunately, the most consistent thing I saw was actors staring into space, or out windows, or at the camera. I was reminded of an interview that Barbara BelGeddes once gave about working with Hitchcock on Vertigo. She had appeared on Broadway in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and expected to talk Method and Motivation with the director. Instead, “I sat perfectly still,” she related, “and then he told me to look up, look back down, look sideways…” Hitchcock believed that the audience would read into her actions, but she didn’t feel she was acting. In Tree my friend raved about Sean Penn’s acting range. All I saw was him looking out windows. Only in a couple of scenes does he even speak. “What am I missing here?” I kept asking myself.

One of the biggest flaws to the film for me were two sequences that take place beyond time—the creation of the world which culminates in a primal scene between an aggressive dinosaur prepares to kill a more docile dinosaur, but after staring at it for a lengthy moment, changes its mind. All the while ideas, such as “Mother” and “Father” are intoned as if this were some religious Greek drama. While the Creation images were visually stunning, my mind kept asking “What the …?” And at the end, when the family leaves 1950s Waco, when a climax and redemption are needed, we end up on a beach where all is forgiven and everyone is together. The scene was done more effectively for me before in the 1990 AIDS film, Longtime Companion.

The second film I saw this week, but one I found much more powerful in a simpler way, is Mike Mills’ Beginners starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. I consider the both two of our greatest film actors.

The plot deals with Oliver (McGregor) a cartoon artist who has trouble maintaining relationships and his father (Plummer) who comes out when Oliver’s mother dies after some 40 years of marriage. As the two learn to cope with their new beginnings, Oliver’s father takes a lover and eventually copes with lung cancer. It is his death and the ensuing guilt and grief that Oliver must deal with. Then he meets a kooky, loveable French actress with whom we know from the beginning can see that he belongs. Learning to deal with love and loss and the difficulty with relationships is what the film lovely, humorously, and ultimately very poignantly faces. The film has a joyful acceptance of being alive.

Both Tree of Life and Beginners use a non-linear story format—similar to 500 Days of Summer or Annie Hall. I find that form challenging and ultimately more satisfying than traditional storytelling.

In The Tree of Life the Mother says that “love is the most important thing in life.” Beginners shows just that. If you are looking for a film to see, pick the second.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Moviegoer: Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen created a love song to Manhattan in his movie of the same title, filling it with beautiful images of the city. Over thirty years later, he has created another love song, this time to Paris. The opening images before the credits are glorious images of the city from morning to evening. If you have never been to Paris, this opening may just convince you to go.
In his latest romantic comedy, Owen Wilson plays Gil, the Woody Allen persona, complete with all the introspective quirks and delivery we’ve come to expect from Allen on Allen, but I found myself charmed by the premise—the would-be novelist, currently Hollywood writer, yearns for the “moveable feast” that Hemingway described in the 1920s Paris, a world he sees as much less hectic than the present. One night, as he wanders alone, the clock strikes midnight and voilĂ , he finds himself in that same 1920s Paris, with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, young Hemingway, Cole Porter, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and many others.
An article from the New York Times explains that background that some viewers may not know, since part of the fun of the film is recognizing the cultural cast of characters who helped create the modern art world.  (Similar to identifying James Cameron’s Titanic characters before they speak.)
There is a salute to that wonderful moment from Annie Hall where Marshall McLuhan appears out of nowhere to put down a pompous Columbia TV media teacher. Here a pedantic friend of Gil’s girlfriend, also a teacher, is going on about a painting of Picasso’s that Gil had actually heard discussed by Picasso and Gertrude Stein. He is able to put the teacher/art critic in his place.
Wilson is engaged to Rachel McAdams, who we can quickly see is not for him. In his 1920s adventure he falls in love with one of Picasso’s mistresses, played by Marion Cotillard. When they discover they love each other, she reveals that she wants to leave the frantic world they live in and be in La Belle Epoque. And at the stroke of the clock, she gets her wish. She wants to stay in the past. Gil realizes as much as he likes the past, he wants to remain in the present.
Many of Allen’s themes are there: the struggle for fidelity to another, fear of death, the role of art and the artist, the tribute of a great city. One critic has stated, “Old men shouldn’t make movies.”  I think he’s wrong. I found the film charming, and I’m looking forward to going to Paris someday.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Lost Books of The Odyssey: A Novel

The Lost Books of The Odyssey: A NovelThe Lost Books of The Odyssey: A Novel by Zachary Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In The Lost Books of The Odyssey: A Novel, Zachary Mason tells and sometimes retells new versions of the familiar and unfamiliar from The Odyssey and The Iliad. As someone who enjoys Homer immensely, I loved this book.

Here, unfettered by Homer's version, Penelope marries Menelaus, Telemachus has a sister, Odysseus marries Nausicca and makes no attempt to return home until Athena appears to tell him it is time. Odysseus is more than once seen as a bard, willing to embellish any truth until the story takes hold with a life of its own.
My favorite story tells of a youthful Odysseus sent by Agamemnon to bring Achilles to join the Trojan War. Unfortunately Achilles has died from an illness and Odysseus is forced to create a crude Golum which will take Achilles' place. Produced from clay, with "Life" written on his forehead, the animated warrior spends much time in his tent working, making life comfortable for Achilles' friend Patrochlus, who had come along to assist in convincing the Acheans that this was indeed Achilles.

In the end, when the Golum realizes what death means, Odysseus obliterates the "Life" on its forehead, and the clay is given to the Trojans as a lifeless statue commemorating the "dead" hero. For me, reading the book is worth this one story.

The book reminds me of the inventiveness of Neil Gaimon's graphic novel series, The Sandman, where he has stories which re-imagine familiar stories--many incarnations of Morpheus, god of dreams or one whole graphic novel on Orpheus.

Mason's book is peopled with Odysseus, Penelope, Helen, Agamemnon, the Cyclopes, Scylla, Theseus, Eumaios, Telemachus and many others. In the last story, Odysseus, now an old man, returns to retrace the journey he took, only to find Troy has become a tourist trap filled with actors and souvenirs. It is a fitting and quite poignant close to the book.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Moviegoer: The Double Hour

In The Double Hour, an Italian film from 2009 but just released here, Sonia is a bored chambermaid. Guido, a former cop, is a bored widowed  security guard. They meet at a speed-dating club. He's drawn to her and they begin a romance. Gradually conventional story-telling is disrupted when we suddenly learn that Guido was killed in a robbery attempt where Sonia was also wounded. Dead Guido suddenly appears to her at night. Then again on a security camera at the hotel where she works.

Eventually a sinister character that Sonia and her girl friend have decided has murdered his wife, ends up at her friend's funeral where he drugs her and buries her alive. And then Sonia comes out of a coma. The rest of the film, with the living Guido, the guilty Sonia, and all of Sonia's secrets merge into a world that Hitchcock would have enjoyed playing in.

Don't assume that the trailer gives away spoilers. It's all there, but not what you think.

If you enjoyed Hitchock's Vertigo, I think you'll enjoy Giuseppe Capotondi's The Double Hour.

And in case you wondered, the double hour is that moment when the hour and the minutes line up: for example, 10:10.

The Sparrow

The SparrowThe Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A group of seven explorers, sponsored by the Jesuits, set off on a mission to the planet Rakhat. Think Avatar with priests, scientists, two Sigourney Weaver characters (one young, one old), and a complex main character priest who becomes the only survivor of the journey. We know from the beginning that things end badly, but the suspense of the book comes from learning not what happened, but why it happened. "You have the facts, but still don't understand," says one of the characters. I found myself at times having to put the book down because I didn't want to end the characters before I was ready. All the characters, including those inhabitants of the planet, were well drawn.

Russell has created a world of lush beauty and harsh realities, which remains compelling even after I've finished the book. It's taking a bit to shake off her world and return to reality.

How do we accept that God leads us in our choices when bad things happen to people that we care about? (It is not surprising that one of the women is of Jewish descent, for the previous question is infused with the horrors of the atrocities of the 20th century.)

The book is on my list of must-reads.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Moviegoer: Lars and the Real Girl

As my class discussed Frankenstein and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, we discussed the question posed earlier on in Speilberg’s film—Could you get a person to love a robot? I pointed out to them how subversive that question becomes in Speilberg’s film because he casts Haley Joel Osment as this advanced child robot who constantlypulls at the heart-strings of the audience. Most  agreed how difficult it was to watch the scene where his mother deserts him in the forest, and when he cries, the audience does also.

In our discussions, I talked about BBC America’s Love Me, Love My Doll, which some of the kids had seen. Guys and dolls also deals with the same subject.

That led to our consideration of Lars and the Real Girl, which I knew only by the trailer. Some of my students watched the film and were surprised at how touched they were.

Lars, played with understated pathos by Ryan Gosling, is so shy, yet so endearing, the people of his small town all seem to care for him. Lars has never coped with his parents’ deaths. He lives in the garage while his brother and pregnant sister-in-law live in the former family home.

One day a co-worker tells him about life-size sex-dolls which leads him to order his own built to order, Bianca. When Bianca arrives, Lars reaches out to others for the first time.

Dagmar, the local doctor, played with great sensitivity by Patricia Clarkson, suggests that the best way to help Lars is to accept Bianca. She “treats” Bianca. Others invite her to join them. She “reads” at the local school. A beauty operator fixes her hair. Several times a week she “volunteers” at the hospital. She is even accepted at church.

As people accept Lars and Bianca, he begins to relate more and more to the people around him, until finally he does find a real girl and finds he has to let Bianca go. That moment becomes surprisingly poignant and Lars moves into the adult world he has rejected for so long.

The film is well worth putting on your Netflix list… and then let me know when you see it.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Moviegoer: Thor

Marvel comic book movies have basic elements one expects: awe-inspiring confrontations, simple plots that even children can follow, two-dimensional characters, adult humor, and good looking male protagonists who fall in love with beautiful women in romantic side-stories which the women in the audience can enjoy. In those areas, Thor doesn't fail to deliver. Production values are high. The mise en scene ranges from high-tech runic Asgard and modern day New Mexico. I enjoyed the twists and nods toward Norse mythology. I haven't read the Marvel comic, but might after seeing this. And of course, you'll have time to see it because the sequel has to be on the way. This is obviously intended as the first in a series.

In case you caught the product placement in the above paragraph, you can also enjoy the funniest thing about the film: blatant product placement. When I finally started looking for them, I noted a Seven-Eleven, a specific bank ATM, Dr. Pepper-- and funniest of all-- at least two children's cereal boxes, one which Natalie Portman holds up for all to see. All I could think of were how people like Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen used to broke the fourth wall in their tv sit-coms to sell products. Perhaps next film they can sell placement on Thor's armor, like athletes and race car drivers have been known to do. I know movies like this cost a bundle and I hope they got a good chunk of change for each product used.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Anonymous Trailer.

What if Shakespeare never wrote a word of what he is credited with writing?

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Moviegoer: The Lathe of Heaven meets Source Code

The first five minutes of Source Code.

George Orr has effective dreams. They started the day the bomb was dropped on Portland, Oregon. He thought he had radiation poisoning and lay down and began dreaming. Thus begins The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuinn.

George’s dreams change reality but no one remembers the world before his dreams. He becomes suicidal and takes an overdose of pills to stop his dreams. He is then sent to a dream doctor, Dr. Haber, who is to help cure him of his dreams. Dr. Haber reveals that he daydreams of saving the girl or even the whole world. He eventually realizes what is happening with Orr’s dreams and decides he can change the world for the better, be it overpopulation or race relations or world strife.

The problem with George’s dreams is that while they attack a real problem, the solution can never be controlled. Overpopulation? Kill off 6 billion people with a plague. Race problems? Turn everyone gray. World strife? Bring aliens to the earth to unite earth’s inhabitants.

At one point (taking dialogue from the 1980 PBS film of the book) the two discuss their individual views of our place in the world:
George:    You can’t use my dreams to change things. …
Haber:      Isn’t that purpose of man on earth… to change things?
George:    Things don’t have purposes. I don’t know if life has a purpose. It is; we are. …You change one thing and everything changes.
Haber reveals later on that George’s dream cycle has a unique 12 second pattern. It completes and then starts again. But George is told in one of his dreams by an alien that “if help is wanted, seek within.” 

And by the end of the work [spoiler alert], George realizes that four years before when the bomb was dropped, in his last 12 seconds of living he had a dream that he was alive. And as long as he continues to dream, the world will exist.

For an ecopy of the book check out here
For the 1980 PBS version of The Lathe of Heaven, start here
Colter Stevens has a similar problem to George Orr. He’s a soldier whose mission is to return to a doomed train where everyone died and he has eight minutes to find the bomb and protect the world from the bomber who has an even bigger bomb ready. Over and over again, he returns to the train for his new eight minutes. Can he save the girl? Can he save the world? Can he change history? In a tightly constructed plot, this thoughtful thriller allows the viewer to care for Colter and Christina and the others on the train car while pondering existential questions of existence. Each return (like the various GroundHog Days of that famous movie) brings new insights.

The Source Code Trailer:

Feature on filming the train sequences

Ground Hog Day Trailer

George Orr at one point in the work where Haber thinks he's cured him from dreaming says:
Wouldn’t it be funny if I wasn’t  the only who can dream effectively.What if everybody could do it and  reality was being pulled out from under us all the time and we didn’t even know it?
It's a thought to ponder with each of these works.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Moviegoer: Certified Copy

Spoiler Alert

During my Spring Break movie marathon, I was intrigued by the trailer for the 2010 French film, Certified Copy, which was playing in Chicago. I found the film beautifully acted by Juliet Binoche and British opera singer William Shimell in his film debut. Like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the film concentrates on the dialogue of two characters as they flirt and get to know each other, talking of art and relationships.

According to the description, the film is about a British author who spends a day with a French woman in Tuscany. About a third into the film, the two stop for coffee and while the man takes a cellphone call outside, the woman and the barkeep discuss the French woman's husband. Coming from out of nowhere, the couple begin what appears to be role-playing a fantasy relationship. By the end of the film, many in the audience were shaking their heads, wondering whether the two were (1) crazy, (2) spontaneous role-players caught up in a fantasy, or (3) something else.

I think something else.

We are never told what the relationship between the two actually is. She first appears at a lecture he is giving. As he speaks, she leaves her son, who objects to being there, and moves to the  front where a reserved seat sits empty. The man beside her is the author's friend. He registers no surprise when she sits, nor does he seem confused when she leaves her phone number for the author. (I assumed he knew her.)

Later as the two go for a ride in Tuscany, they stop for the coffee. She allows the woman barkeep to assume they are married. He jokes about them being a couple. He tells a story about why he wrote his book about a copy by saying that he had watched a mother and her son sitting under a copy of David in Florence (where he says at one point he lived). She tears up and says that she was sick. He reacts but never says it was her.

Later the two of them come across newly weds and a public statue of a woman resting her head on a man (who is protecting her?) A man they meet tells the author what a woman really wants is for the man to put his hand on her shoulder and walk with her. The author does just that.

After an argument over cheap wine and poor service, the two end up at a hotel that the woman says had been the hotel they had stayed in 15 years earlier on their wedding night. She asks him if he remembers it. He says no, but at the end we are left to wonder.

If the couple is a couple, which part is the fantasy? I believe the vagueness of the first part is the fantasy. She complains during the film about him spending too much time concentrating on his work, and although she says he only speaks English, the two converse in French during the last part of the film. When talking about marriage with the barkeep, the barkeep says the author would be a perfect husband if he shaved. The French woman says that he only shaves every other day. Later she complains to him that he hasn't shaved and he says that one of his quirks is that he only shaves every other day. Since he had not heard her say that  earlier, is that a clue that their relationship is really more complex than just a fantasy game?

If you like a romantic mystery, you should enjoy the film. Have other  thoughts regarding the film? I'd welcome other perspectives.

The Moviegoer: Unknown

When Unknown came out, I wasn't really interested in seeing it. I had been intrigued by the trailer, but opening around the time that heavily panned Red Riding Hood and Battle: LA, it didn't draw me in. During my Spring Break marathon, however, I remembered the trailer, checked it out and decided to try  out the movie.

The movie appears to be a straight-forward story of Dr. Martin Harris who arrives in Berlin with his wife, suffers a head injury, and when he finally comes out of a comma discovers that his wife is with another man who claims to be Dr. Martin Harris. Soon he finds himself followed by people who want to do him harm and nothing is what it seems to be.

The film is filled with Hitchockian twists and turns and a surprise ending worthy of the suspense master (think the cymbals of The Man Who Knew Too Much climax, but with a bigger bang). I am still pleased that I hadn't figured it out, but it all makes sense and works.

The Moviegoer: Getting Paul Home

I was primed to see Paul as I rewatched Hot Fuzz on television. I have enjoyed the work of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost since their movie Shaun of the Dead. Their wacky sense of humor meshes with mine and after seeing them deal with murder mysteries (Fuzz) and zombies (Shaun), I was anxious to see them take on aliens and Roswell. (Am I just imaging Pegg and Frost the modern-day descendents of Abbot and Costello?)

The film didn't let me down. Well written, with strong characters and lots of inside jokes for the sci-fi and comic book geeks, the film does several homages to works such as Speilberg's E.T. and Close Encounters. The acting is fun and whether you understand all the inside jokes, you'll enjoy the ride.

We react to Paul with much the same empathy I remember for E.T. While the character is broad, we root for him to be able to get home. A fun exercise would be to see the two Speilberg films before you go and read up on the latest Comi-Con activities.

One of my friends on Facebook wrote, "I saw it with my mother and we laughed all the way through it."

The Moviegoer: Limitless

Within the last week, I have spent time doing what I love to do--going to movies. I talked in the last entry about Jane Eyre. Since then I have seen four more films, all of which were good entertainment and which I  can recommend highly.


I have been a fan of Bradley Cooper's for what seems a long time, actually since his work in Sex and the City. One my favorite moments in The Hangover was at the end where he carries his son around asleep on his shoulder--a moment so true to the character that it touched me deeply.  

In Limitless, Cooper's character is an unfocussed writer whose messy apartment is meant to be the externalization of his inability to do anything with his life. Through a series of events, he takes a drug which allows him to use 100 per cent of his brain. From the moment he takes it, we know he won't be able to stop. Abruptly the loser becomes a winner, able to see the squalor he lives in and able to organize it all. He no longer has writer's block. He suddenly can understand art and teaches himself to play the piano. He suddenly sees how to turn a small amount of money into millions.

All goes well until he notices that someone is following him--he  knows for the drug--and he begins a downward spiral as he stops taking the drug. What happens next is riveting, with exciting twists and turns. Robert DeNiro shows up and offers appropriate menace.

The film has several innovative techniques that I will not detail, but  expect to be dazzled in places.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Moviegoer: A New Jane

Talbot's The Fruit Sellers, ca 1845, from Wikipedia Commons.
 William Henry Fox Talbot [a contemporary of Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype] left a legacy of fascinating of English photographs called calotypes, a process he patented in 1841. The unique look of Talbot's work was obviously the inspiration for the 2011 BBC film version of Jane Eyre, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

I have to admit, I've fallen a bit in love with Miss Wasikowska, who is indeed an 1840s beauty. Thin and brooding, she conveys not only Jane's strength but also her passion. When Rochester asks her about her sad story, we know the depth of her refusal to share her secrets with him. Fassbender, the Romantic and mysterious Rochester makes a great match for Jane. It is great pleasure also to see Dame Judi Dench as the housekeeper.

I have seen countless film versions of the book, this version with its marvelous sense of period and look, totally enchanted me. I can't wait to see it again.

Articles on the film:

Monday, February 28, 2011

Swanson's Manhunt

By James L. Swanson: Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer Sixth (6th) EditionAttorney and Lincoln scholar James L. Swanson writes fascinating history in his book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. Swanson tells with cinematic detail the story of Lincoln, Booth, Stanton and the others.

Here are 25 interesting details regarding the Lincoln assassination:

    John Wilkes Booth
  1. Booth had originally planned to kidnap President Lincoln and convey him to the South. When that plan fell through, Booth changed his plans to murdering President Lincoln, Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward.
  2. When Booth fled the stage, only one person from the audience attempted to follow him, leaping over the chairs of the orchestra and running on backstage.
  3. Laura Keene, for whose benefit Our American Cousin was being performed, made her way up to the box where Lincoln was lying and asked that she could cradle his head in her lap. Her dress with Lincoln's blood became an icon she displayed for years.
    Laura Keene in Our American Cousin
  5. The first doctor who reached Lincoln continually had to remove blood clots from the small head wound to relieve pressure on Lincoln’s brain.
  6. Lincoln was in a coma from 10:30 when he was shot till 7:22 the next morning.
    Dr. Samuel Mudd
  8. I mistakenly believed that Dr. Samuel Mudd was picked at random and an innocent victim. This was a myth perpetuated by the Mudd family. Wrong. He knew Booth and had actually met with him not long before the assassination. Booth had tried to enlist him in helping move Lincoln south in his original plan to kidnap the president.
  9. Booth tattooed “j.w.b” onto his hand when a boy.
  10. When he left to commit the assassination, Booth took with him five cartes de visites of girls he knew.
  11. Tad Lincoln learned his father had been shot when they stopped the play he was attending (Aladdin! Or His Wonderful Lamp) to announce that President Lincoln had been shot.
  12. The actors at Ford’s Theatre put on a private performance of Our American Cousin for Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who wanted to see if there were any clues as to what happened. It was decided that Booth knew the play and knew exactly where only one person would be on stage and get the biggest laugh.
    Davey Herold
  14. Booth and Davey Herold hid out in Maryland and Virginia, not more than 40 miles from where Lincoln was killed, for 12 days before the army finally located them at the Garret farm between Port Royal and Bowling Green, Virginia.
  15. While hiding out, Booth and Herald shot their horses and sank them in quicksand so they did not have to feed them or have them give them away.
  16. Booth and Herald were caught partially because the Garrett sons had locked them in the tobacco barn they were sleeping in.
  17. Although Booth was wanted returned alive so he could stand trial, a soldier, Boston Corbett who claimed Providence had told him to do it, shot Booth while he was in the barn which they had set on fire.
  18. The autopsy stated that Booth had been shot in the neck, very similarly to Lincoln, and was paralyzed for the three hours he survived. The report stressed that he would have suffered during that time.
    Mary Surratt
  20. On July 6, 1865, Mrs. Mary Surratt, who ran the boardinghouse where the conspirators met, was the first woman hanged for the crime of treason in America. She died beside Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt. Mrs. Surratt's son was never convicted of the crime.
    Lewis Powell
  22. Lewis Powell, who had attacked and almost killed Secretary of State Seward and two of his sons, went to his death with such a sense of stoicism that the hangman whispered in his ear, “I want you to die quick.”
    Henry Rathbone
  24. Clara Harris and Henry Reed Rathbone, the young couple who attended the play with the Lincolns, were married and had children. In 1883, Rathbone began acting oddly and using a knife and gun killed Clara. Their story is told in Henry and Clara, 1994.
  25. Boston Corbett slunk into anonymity until as an assistant doorman for the Kansas House of Representatives, he drew a gun and held everyone hostage. He was put in a mental institution in Topeka, but escaped in 1888, never to be found.
  26. The Garrett farm no longer exists.
  27. The public was told that Booth’s body had been buried at sea. It hadn’t. Stanton had had it conveyed to the Old Arsenel (a fort) where he and eventually three other conspirators were initially buried.
  28. Powell’s head had been removed and was eventually found and reburied in Florida in 1994 with military honors since he had served in the Civil War.
  29. Booth’s body was exhumed during President Grant’s administration. The body was buried in an unmarked grave in the Booth family plot in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore.
  30. While Lincoln became a martyr for the Union cause, the author reports some South friends who have a family tradition of throwing a cotillion every 15 April to commemorate Lincoln’s assassination.
  31. The Ford’s Theatre was not allowed to remain a theatre. Eventually the government owned it and it became an office building. All that ended in 1893 when the second floor collapsed onto the office workers below killing 22 clerks and injuring many others. In the 1960s, the theatre was refurbished to look as it did in 1865 and became a national museum.

Ford's Theatre
 Note: While reading the book, I came across a National Geographic program which says that Lincoln may have had Mem2B Cancer syndrome and might well have died later from it.

The new movie, The Conspirator, deals with the story of Mrs. Surratt.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Moviegoer: Chris and Don: A Love Story

I waited to see my Netflix offering, Chris and Don: A Love Story, until I had finished reading Christopher Isherwood’s The Sixties: Diaries 1960-1969 (ed. Katherine Bucknell). The film documents the love story of Isherwood and his companion Don Bachardy, from their meeting on a beach in California to Isherwood’s death in 1986. Isherwood, best known as the author of The Berlin Stories (which became I am a Camera and then Cabaret) and A Single Man, was more than 30 years older than Bachardy. Having read of that period through Isherwood’s prose, it was fascinating to see the two men through their home movies, interacting with many leading authors and actors of the 50s and 60s, juxtaposed with the 76-year-old portrait artist Bachardy, living and working in the environment he shared with Isherwood for over three decades.

But one moment stands out, a moment which I found incredibly memorable. Artist Bachardy shows a series of drawings he did during the last few months of the writer’s life. Then he holds up a series of pictures he drew after Isherwood’s death. Mouth agape, eyes open staring into the void, Isherwood's body shows the ravages of age and illness, but watching Bachady gaze on his departed companion said much to me of the capturing and holding of love in its final moments.

I don't think I will forget the moment.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Moviegoer: Catfish

I had heard about "Catfish" when it came out, but it disappeared from the area before I got to see it. Well, I rented it on Netflix and want to make sure everyone on Facebook sees it.

The setup for the film (a documentary) is photographer Niv meets Megan and her family on Facebook. Gradually he becomes drawn deeper and deeper into a relationship while his friends decide to document their growing friendship. Eventually he decides to visit them and begins an incredible journey.

One critic says, "This is the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never directed."

I don't want to tell you more except that after seeing this film, I began to think differently about my Facebook experience and life in general.

SEE THIS FILM ... [and when you do, write and tell me about the experience].

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lexington (IL) History: A Merrill Carte de Visite & the 1860 Census

This is the first carte de visite in my collection that actually comes from Lexington (IL) during the Civil War period.

The young lady’s picture appears from ca1865. (It is possible that I am a couple years off, but the picture is not before 1864.) Her hair is parted in the middle and made into sausage curls. Over her bodice and long sleeves is a v-necked short-sleeved jacket of ruching or smocking. On her skirt are additional ruching designs. She wears a crinoline hoop under her skirt, as can be seen by the two stays. There appears to be a slight train to the dress which would be closer to 1865. It looks to be an expensive dress.

The young lady’s arm rests on a book, often used to suggest the educated student. Perhaps she is posing for her high school graduation picture. She appears to be about 17 which would mean that she was 11 or 12 in 1860, having been born about 1848.

Her carte de visite was taken by Stephen Merrill, photographer, in Lexington, Illinois, my hometown. Stephen Merrill, born 1830 in Maryland, who moved to Lexington in the fall of 1864, when he began his business. (Wm Le Baron, Jr & Co. 857)

Obviously the sitter in the picture could be from out of town, but the dress seems a very “in-town” upscale dress which leads me to believe it was someone who lived in town, not a farmer’s daughter who would be wearing something less tailored or fancy. Also, sausage roll curls take a lot of time and preparation. If one were helping with one’s family, would there be time to prepare such an elaborate hair style? A doting mother or servant would have been needed forming the curls.

Looking at the picture opens lots of questions. Did she know various members of my family. The Harnesses and Vandolahs lived on the south-west edge of town on the main road. Several of the Harness daughters were contemporaries of the girl in picture (who being about 17 would have been born ca1848). Was she a town girl and therefore considered more sophisticated? Did they attend the same school? Did she shop at Harness & Kennedy? Would she have known Caroline (Harness) Kennedy (then 23, with one child) if they had passed each other on the wooden sidewalks of town, avoiding the ducks and chickens? Did she go to dances and would she have danced with Ike’s younger son (then 21)? Would she have discussed out-going president James Buchanan’s rejection of the Southern states sucession and the claims that many of the farmers in the area were Copperheads? Would her parents have disapproved of slaves, although there were no blacks (free or otherwise) listed in the township? Might she have met President-elect Lincoln as a girl when he came to stay with the Spawrs while riding the circuit? If I knew her name, would I know her as someone I would recognize on the 1860 census?

The 1860 Census for Lexington Township (IL)

The Lexington Township 1860 census (taken 9-11 September 1860) counted 1,246 people living in 153 dwellings (401 men, 790 women), of whom 55 were foreign born. The census takers counted 2 apprentices, a baker, 2 barbers, 7 blacksmiths, a broom maker, 1 butcher, 7 cabinetmakers, 8 carpenters, a carriage maker, 2 clergymen (both Methodist Evangelical.), 7 clerks, a clothing merchant, 2 constables, a corn thrasher, a daguerian artist, 30 day laborers, a dentist, 3 domestic servants, a druggist, editor, 2 engineers, 7 farm laborers, 50 farmers, 1 grain buyers, 2 grain merchants, 5 grocers, a gunsmith, hardware merchant, 7 harness makers, a hotel keeper, a jeweler, 2 justice of the peace, 3 lawyers, 2 livery keepers, a lumber merchant, 7 master carpenters, 1 mechanic, 8 merchants, 2 millers, a milliner, a post office clerk, 2 painters, 4 physicians, 2 plasterers, a printer, a rail road foreman, 10 rail road laborers, a rail road watchman, 2 rail road station agents, a saddle maker, 4 school teachers, 4 shoemakers, a speculator, 2 tailors, a teacher of chirography, 3 teachers high school, 4 teamsters, a telegraph operator, 4 tinners, a town marshall, 2 wagon makers and a washerwoman.

Occupations in the town of Lexington, Illinois, 1860 [by name and age]

Occupation, Name Age
  1. Apprentice, Bisbee, James 15
  2. Apprentice, Tubs, James A. 18
  3. Baker, Baker, Jacob 38
  4. Barber, Cassida, Hugh 28
  5. Barber, Valentine, Frank 28
  6. Blacksmith, Blake, Louis C. 42
  7. Blacksmith, Davis, Hiram F. 31
  8. Blacksmith, Free, Nicholas 23
  9. Blacksmith, Gilsbins, William 37
  10. Blacksmith, Givler, Henry 43
  11. Blacksmith, Magill, Malcom 38
  12. Blacksmith, Woodard, Augustus G. 26
  13. Broom maker, Bode, William 27
  14. Butcher, Bosley, A. 35
  15. Cabinet maker, Bider, Anthony 27
  16. Cabinet maker, Deal, John 43
  17. Cabinet maker, Gray, Grafton E. 29
  18. Cabinet maker,  Hann, H.W. 35
  19. Cabinet maker, Sprague, J.G. 44
  20. Cabinet maker, Valentine, William 29
  21. Cabinet maker, Zinn, John 32
  22. Carpenter, Bush, Charles 22
  23. Carpenter, Curtis, Daniel ??
  24. Carpenter, Hardman, Samuel C. 28
  25. Carpenter, Hurst, Henry 48
  26. Carpenter, Kittsmiller, Theodore 26
  27. Carpenter, Ragan, John 16
  28. Carpenter, Shade, Samuel 27
  29. Carpenter, Skelly, William 26
  30. Carriage maker, Stevenson, Richard 31
  31. Clergyman Meth E., Christ, P.A. 25
  32. Clergyman Meth E., Kent, Lyman 30
  33. Clerk, Ambrose, Joseph B. 31
  34. Clerk, Dement, R.L. 16
  35. Clerk, Dunkle, George 23
  36. Clerk, Goddard, Edward M. 24
  37. Clerk, McGurdy, Horace 23
  38. Clerk, Okeson, J.B. 29
  39. Clerk Thomas, Isaac 35
  40. Clothing merchant, Kennedy, W.H. 28
  41. Constable, Best, Jacob 30
  42. Constable Hand, Jackson 33
  43. Corn Thrasher, Wassel, Peter 27
  44. Daguearian Artist, Beem, Reason 24
  45. Day laborer, Benjamin 40
  46. Day laborer, Bisbee, Almon 54
  47. Day laborer, Carlin, Bryan 27
  48. Day laborer, Elliot, Reuben 34
  49. Day laborer, Flanley, John 38
  50. Day laborer, Hemke, Charles 41
  51. Day laborer, Hiltbruneer, A.J. 26
  52. Day laborer, Kent, Elisha 52
  53. Day laborer, Kent, George W. 27
  54. Day laborer, Kent, Ransaleer E. 21
  55. Day laborer, Lee, Abram 39
  56. Day laborer, Lovel, Coleman 38
  57. Day laborer, Loving, James 20
  58. Day laborer, Marty, John 30
  59. Day laborer, Mason, Simon 48
  60. Day laborer, Myers, John 29
  61. Day laborer, Noel, Linsly 37
  62. Day laborer, Reple, Lenard 40
  63. Day laborer, Richards, Evan 37
  64. Day laborer, Rogers, John 45
  65. Day laborer, Schlepick, Henry 28
  66. Day laborer, Smith, Philip 52
  67. Day laborer, Smith, Philip 18
  68. Day laborer, Snyder, Anthony 30
  69. Day laborer, Stumpff, Peter 40
  70. Day laborer, Tucker, John 31
  71. Day laborer, Turpin, William 40
  72. Day laborer, Valentine, Andrew 30
  73. Dentist, Gray, Charles T. 38
  74. Domestic, Cobum, Sarah (f) 20
  75. Domestic, Fany, Margaret 32
  76. Domestic, Hemke, Mary (f) 16
  77. Druggist, Reynolds, William 41
  78. Editor, Craig, William 25
  79. Engineer, Cutler, William 37
  80. Engineer, Hanson, U.R. 37
  81. Farm laborer, Lovel, Richard 22
  82. Farm laborer, Hand, Wayne 22
  83. Farm laborer, Murphy, Nicholas 35
  84. Farm laborer, Wood, George 22
  85. Farm laborer, Wood, James 30
  86. Farm laborer, Wood, John 26
  87. Farm laborer, Wood, Absalem 20
  88. Farmer, Adams, Thomas 38
  89. Farmer, Brooks, Robert 34
  90. Farmer, Brothuton, Samuel 26
  91. Farmer, Brothuton, Robert 21
  92. Farmer, Crume, W.W. 30
  93. Farmer, Dawson, Crogan 35
  94. Farmer Dawson, Samuel 37
  95. Farmer, Dunkle, William A. 18
  96. Farmer, Fisk, James 45
  97. Farmer, Fitzgerald, David 77
  98. Farmer, Fulwiler, David 21
  99. Farmer, Gray, Joseph 25
  100. Farmer Hand, Paris 28
  101. Farmer, Harness, Isaac 51
  102. Farmer, Harness, Milton 16
  103. Farmer, King, J.W. 37
  104. Farmer, Jackson, John 50
  105. Farmer, Leanght, James 23
  106. Farmer, Long, C.W. 45
  107. Farmer, Lovel, George 24
  108. Farmer, Lovel, Samuel 19
  109. Farmer, Lovel, Thomas 28
  110. Farmer, Mahan, A.W. 23
  111. Farmer, Mahan, John 22
  112. Farmer, Mahan, W.J. 18
  113. Farmer, Peak, Henderson 38
  114. Farmer, Popejoy, Allen 21
  115. Farmer, Popejoy, Comadore 18
  116. Farmer, Popejoy, George 24
  117. Farmer, Popejoy, Harrison 22
  118. Farmer, Popejoy, William 67
  119. Farmer, Richmond, Braddock 81
  120. Farmer, Spawr, Jacob 57
  121. Farmer, Strawther, George 51
  122. Farmer, Strayer, Isaac 18
  123. Farmer, Strayer, John 20
  124. Farmer, Scrogin, Levin P. 37
  125. Farmer, Strode, John 27
  126. Farmer, Stumpff, Henry 44
  127. Farmer, Valentine, Joseph 35
  128. Farmer, Waters. George 35
  129. Farmer, Waybright, Miles 36
  130. Farmer, Wood, Amos 58
  131. Farmer, Weakley, Joseph M. 19
  132. Farmer, Weakley, John A. 26
  133. Farmer, Weakley, Thornton 64
  134. Farmer, Wood, Isaac 27
  135. Farmer, Wood, James 62
  136. Farmer, Wood, Robert 20
  137. Farmer, Wood, Noah 19
  138. Grain buyer, Brown, William 38
  139. Grain merchant, Heath, F.C. 41
  140. Grain merchant, Rogers, Milton 35
  141. Grocer, Heath, Alfred 44
  142. Grocer, Marshall, David 23
  143. Grocer, Preble, Charles H. 28
  144. Grocer, Smith, J.W. 59
  145. Grocer, Van Doren, Garrit 34
  146. Gunsmith, Snyder, W.H. 60
  147. Hardware merchant, Marshall, James 26
  148. Harness maker, Brotherton, James 22
  149. Harness maker, Denham, William 25
  150. Harness maker, Dingman, James 32
  151. Harness maker, Empie, Benjamin 36
  152. Harness maker, Fish, Edward 21
  153. Harness maker, Garrison, Benj. 25
  154. Harness maker, Stevens, Dorus 31
  155. Head of household (no occupation), Arbogast, Benjamin 31
  156. Head of household (no occupation), Benedict, Mary (f) 39
  157. Head of household (no occupation), Bowers, Nancy A. 34
  158. Head of household (no occupation), Champlin, Abigal 58
  159. Head of household (no occupation), Clagget, Frank 23
  160. Head of household (no occupation), Cobum, G.A. (m) 37
  161. Head of household (no occupation), Dawson, Elizabeth 60
  162. Head of household (no occupation), Fell, Matilda C. (f) 40
  163. Head of household (no occupation) Mahan, Mary C. 58
  164. Head of household (no occupation), Lovel, Elizabeth 63
  165. Head of household (no occupation), Strayer, Esther 46
  166. Head of household (no occupation), Tucker, Mary 50
  167. Hotel keeper Kerr, Hannah (f) 38
  168. Jeweler, Luccock, Thomas E. 27
  169. Justice of the Peace, Dunkle, C.B. 49
  170. Justice of the Peace, Mahan, J.S. 28
  171. Laborer, Gear, Allen 20
  172. Laborer, Millard, Ebineezer 18
  173. Lawyer, Barnd, A.F. 48
  174. Lawyer, Strayer, Marinus W. 25
  175. Lawyer, Tipton, Thomas F. 27
  176. Livery Keeper, Vandolah, D. 21
  177. Livery Keeper, Vandolah, George 30
  178. Lumber merchant, Hunt, D.H. 28
  179. Master carpenter, Bold, Hiram T. 27
  180. Master carpenter, Fell, Thomas 54
  181. Master carpenter, Kenedy, John H. 34
  182. Master carpenter, Lindsey, William 39
  183. Master carpenter, Ragan, Fielding 57
  184. Master carpenter, Ralston, Jonathan L. 33
  185. Master carpenter, Roberts, Timothy 34
  186. Mechanic, Mahon, John W 33
  187. Merchant, Claggett, S.R. 35
  188. Merchant, Dement, G.L. 45
  189. Merchant, Franklin, G.H. 27
  190. Merchant, Fulwiler, John 50
  191. Merchant, Hefner, Henry 33
  192. Merchant, Knotts, G.W. 46
  193. Merchant, Mahan, Jacob 34
  194. Merchant, Smith, William M. 34
  195. Miller, Goddard, Fletcher 45
  196. Miller, Kidd, Richard 25
  197. Milliner, Nixon, Mary (f) 54
  198. No occupation listed, Richmond, Samuel 35
  199. Post office clerk, Watkins, Emery 21
  200. Painter, Robinson, John 33
  201. Painter, Watkins, David 52
  202. Physician, Fell, Jonas 44
  203. Physician, Mahan, Alexander 51
  204. Physician, Martin, E. 64
  205. Physician, McAferty, Ethan 42
  206. Plasterer, Fitzgerald, William 36
  207. Plasterer, Guthire, Peter 30
  208. Printer, Goddard, E.M. 22
  209. R.R. foreman, Enos, J 30
  210. R.R. laborer, Cassady, John 30
  211. R.R. laborer, Dempsy, Mark 35
  212. R.R. laborer, Dublin, Edward 20
  213. R.R. laborer, Finton, John 29
  214. R.R. laborer, Lyons, John 30
  215. R.R. laborer, McCrackin, William 28
  216. R.R. laborer, McGuire, James 25
  217. R.R. laborer, Shine, Daniel 38
  218. R.R. laborer, Smith, Michael 19
  219. R.R. laborer, Sound, Peter 28
  220. R.R. station agent, Dexter, Smith H. 36
  221. R.R. watchman, Killian, William 28
  222. Saddle & harness maker, Stevens, L.A. 30
  223. School teacher, Dexter, Mary 20
  224. School teacher, Luce, Sarah 20
  225. School teacher, Mahan, Helena S.G. (f) 17
  226. School teacher, Sprague, Chloe A. 18
  227. Shoemaker, Beal, John M. 40
  228. Shoemaker, McCay, Richard 26
  229. Shoemaker, McKinney, B.L. 27
  230. Shoemaker, Roberts, Davis 35
  231. Speculator, Marshall, R.F. 32
  232. Station Agent, Edick, A.J. 28
  233. Student, Kitchen, Charles 21
  234. Student, Kitchen, Joseph 17
  235. Tailor, Barrett, Jonathan 36
  236. Tailor, Kitchen, John 51
  237. Teacher Chirography, Boler, John 36
  238. Teacher high school, Anderson, A.J. 27
  239. Teacher high school, Cook, E.M. (f) 35
  240. Teacher high school, Goodrich, Permelia C. (f) 27
  241. Teamster, Bartens, James 24
  242. Teamster, Champlin, Percival 32
  243. Teamster, Michell, Henry 50
  244. Teamster, Reynolds, Pinkney 24
  245. Telegraph operator, Lewis, William L. 16
  246. Tinner, Heller, Jacob 27
  247. Tinner, Powley, John W. 21
  248. Tinner, Powley, Joseph 25
  249. Tinner, Powley, William 45
  250. Town marshall, Kawouse, U. 51
  251. Wagon maker, Doughty, Daniel 28
  252. Wagon maker, Stevenson, William 28
  253. Washerwoman, Snyder, Mary (f) 28