My Darling Clementine – 1946 – John Ford

My Darling Clementine – the title sounds like “let’s use a familiar folk tune as a hook for a crappy movie”. The scenery is absurd – it is Standard Cowboy Movie scenery: Monument Valley and a desert wherein there are a bunch of cowpokes (cows and the Arizona desert just do not co-abide, sorry). Everyone is dressed in big ploofy dresses or hats and jackets with vests. Hello, it is Arizona and it is the desert – it is hot enough to melt paint off a steam locomotive in the desert in Arizona.

But a brilliant director shugs off all the cliches and makes a great movie – and that is the skill and artistic talent of John Ford in this one.

Movies are at heart a visual medium, and there are plenty of interesting visuals. This one is one of my favorites: Victor Mature’s beautiful Italian profile which we get to admire in a scene where he turns away from the almost as beautiful Clementine (the first and last decent role for Cathy Downs).

Victor Mature and Cathy Downs

Victor Mature and Cathy Downs

It’s good, actually, that the movie isn’t called “The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” because it is a bit of a surprise when we realize that is what we are leading up to. And yes, the movie builds to that point and there is gunfire. But, the movie does not dwell on this lead-up. There is interesting character development, good fight scenes, and well-done sets that give the movie a sense of gritty reality that bring it alive.

John Ford ain’t Fellini, but we’ll drink deep from his hoss trough any time o’ the gol durn day.

Posted in great movies journey, movies | Tagged | Comments Off on My Darling Clementine – 1946 – John Ford

Replacing a Kohler toilet’s fill valve and etc

My Kohler toilet is installed under a “banjo” counter top such that when the fill valve needs to be replaced, the toilet has to be removed. Sigh. I like the extra counter space, but this is the price.

Some notes for the next time I have to do this:

  • Flushmaster valves suck. The last one lasted less than two years before starting to leak – and forcing me to remove the toilet…again. I’m hoping to have better luck with HydroClean, but I don’t like the looks of any of the fill valves at Home Depot. Next time, maybe I’ll see what they have at the plumbing supply place.
  • HD has a “korky” brand float flapper for my Kohler. (Why did Kohler have to re-invent the flushing mechanics inside the tank? They don’t work any better than the old ones.)
  • HD does not have the big squishy gasket that holds the outlettube. Check out the plumbing supply place.
  • A number one wax gasket works OK, but a thicker one might work better. Get the bolts, you’ll need them.
  • Get a cloth dropcloth, sponge, small bucket, something to bail water with, paper towels and rags. You’ll need a needle-nose pliers, regular pliers, flathead screwdriver, and the socket wrench set may come in handy.
  • First, shut off the inlet water valve. If it doesn’t stop the water from running, HD has a repair kit for those Brasscraft cut-offs – probably the gaskets have gone bad.
  • Flush the toilet.
  • Push down on the exit “tube” – rectangular on my Kohler – turn it slightly either way and pull it out. This will drain a lot of water out of the tank into the bowl.
  • Bail and sponge out the remaining water. Anything left in the tank will end up on the floor during the next step.
  • Under the tank, remove the braided water hose from the tank. You remembered to put a rag under the thing right? OK, mop it up
  • Unscrew the old, piece of junk that was the fill valve. The manufacturer should rot in Hell for eternity, for making a piece of junk that only lasted X years. Yes. Yes, they should.
  • Remove the fill valve from the tank. Yes. Now. Can you do it? You might have to bust it – go ahead. If you can get it out and get the new one in without removing the toilet, you are Golden. Take the gasket out of the bottom of the inlet valve! You need that! Put in back into the end of the braided water feed pipe.
  • Not golden. Pry off nut covers on the base of the tank (careful!) and expose the nuts. Remove them with no mercy. They will spin. You will curse. Cut them off if need be. You might be able to stick a screwdriver down under the nut or grab the bolt with a needle-nose pliers and turn the nut. Don’t be gentle, you will be replacing the bolts. You will be double-fastening the bolts next time. First you will use a washer and nut to fasten the bolt to the flange and THEN you will put the toilet over the bolts and fastening the toilet with another nut. Doh.
  • Pick the toilet straight up a few inches and place it on the cloth dropcloth. What? That’s virtually impossible? Yes, it is. It is very heavy, there’s the counter in the way, no room for your feet. You destroyed the wax gasket didn’t you? A #1 wax gasket from HD works. Scrape off most of the old wax gasket with some paper towels. Now that stuff will be coating everything if you are not careful.
  • Maybe you are Golden. Attempt to put the new fill valve into the tank without ever moving the toilet. Careful. Careful. Did it? Do a dance and sing a little song of joy.
  • Put the new fill valve in and adjust it using the bleeping instructions some dumb bleeping bleeper wrote.
  • If not golden, do the bolts right. Measure, then cut them off to the right length. Bolt them to the flange in exactly the right spots. Put the wax gasket down. Lift the toilet over the exact right spot without messing up the gasket, the bolts, or anything else. Using your super-powers, place the toilet in exactly the right spot. Put the washer, nut, and bolt covers back on.
  • Water on. Flush. Check for leaks. Clean up a bit. Check for leaks again. Clean up more, and check for leaks one last time.
  • Have a tall strong glass of clear liquid of some kind, your choice.
Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Replacing a Kohler toilet’s fill valve and etc

Kiss Me Deadly

Robert Aldrich was a contemporary of Orson Welles – whose Touch of Evil I watched very recently – and the two directors are quite a contrast. Aldrich churned out stuff that was fairly pedestrian compared to Welles, but he touched artistic genius more than once, perhaps the first time with Kiss Me Deadly. The film has two unforgettable moments: the opening shot, and The Box – the best low-tech sci-fi effect I ever hope to see. First, the opening of the film: it starts with unshod feet, running down the middle of a highway – before the credits before anything else – just feet and naked legs and a road in the dark. Wonderful stuff!

The opening shot of Kiss Me Deadly

The film then devolves into a solidly made Mike Hammer noir – not bad, but nothing to write home about. Until, very late in the movie, Hammer finally finds the mysterious object everyone is looking for – and killing to get: The Box. What is in it? Mike touches it…it’s hot!…he opens it…whatever is in it glows! and the slightest exposure to the light blisters his wrist! The movie seems to jettison the hard-boiled-detective genre and launches into The Twilight Zone, orbiting around The Box. The last few minutes of the film are stunning.

I’ll bet the glowing box in Pulp Fiction was inspired by The Box, but it can’t hold a candle to this one.

Posted in great movies journey | Comments Off on Kiss Me Deadly

Touch of Evil

I’d never heard of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil – a good reason for working my way through a “great movies” list. I knew that Welles had done a movie or two after Citizen Kane and that he spent virtually his whole adult life black-balled by Hollywood, overweight and bitter. What I “knew” was not entirely true. Welles continued to act and make movies, including this one ten years after Kane. It is praised for its innovative camera work and for its direction, and not its plot, but I found the plot engaging and suspenseful – quite Hitchcockian. It is hard to understand why the Hollywood producers wanted to hack away at its complexities – but those were different times. Seeing the restored version now, the plot doesn’t seem overly complicated at all – the twists and turns around the tight corners of the plot are brilliant and the movie builds to a climax in an expert fashion.

There’s a great supporting performance by Dennis Weaver (McCloud) as a jumpy motel clerk – Anthony Perkins’ performance in Psycho several years later comes to mind.

Dennis Weaver

Posted in great movies journey, movies | Comments Off on Touch of Evil

Summer Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I posted. I have a backlog of movies to write up as part of my great movies journey, so I haven’t been idle in terms of pursuing that goal – just doing the write-ups.

I coordinated and sang in a Longwood Opera Summer Series concert a few weeks ago – very enjoyable. I wrote up brief blurbs about each piece in the concert for the program, and that was very educational. For example, I didn’t know that “Carousel” is an adaptation of a play (“Lilom”) that Puccini wanted to use as the basis of an Opera, but the author turned him down. Interesting. I enjoyed singing a tune from Loesser’s “One Happy Fella” and enjoyed listening to all the other performers in the show. Nice evening.

Work has chewed up a lot of my time this summer. I’m putting in many hours every day and working some on weekends as well. Hopefully things will settle down there a bit soon so I can enjoy the summer a bit more.

My thought for the day is about characterization and plot in Opera. It occurred to me that one big difference between Opera and other similar art forms is this: an Opera can have a libretto that barely sketches out the plot and the cardboard cut-out stock character types, but the Opera can still be a great success because the music adds depth and “three-dimensionality” to the overall work. We feel we understand what is going on and understand the characters through the music. This seems obvious in hind-sight, but as I was thinking about some of my favorite Operas, it occurred to me that the librettos, although cleverly written, were remarkably silly and puzzling if I turned off the music in my head.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Summer Thoughts

Woodstock – 3 Days of Peace and Music (Director’s Cut)

Looking back at the 60’s from the 10’s all anyone can say is: “what the hell was that?”. It came, seemingly out of nowhere, and vanished just as quickly: peace, love, and dope. Long hair, beards. Tie dye and peace signs. Here. Gone. It was only a tiny slice of the world that actually participated in that culture, but – for a certain set of young people, it was incredibly cool – for what seems like 5 minutes. The legacy of those times seems largely negative. In politics, anyone to the left of Barry Goldwater is ridiculed as a “long haired hippie”. No one openly professes a belief in peace or love out of embarrassment.

Watching Woodstock – 3 Days of Peace and Music left me feeling sympathetic for those times. People were searching – they knew the values of the conservative older generation were – somehow – wrong. But exactly how? And what should replace it? Hedonism? They tried that. Eastern mysticism? Tried that too. Rock and Roll? They looked for the answer there. Psychedelic drugs? Tried it. The answer never emerged. Some people found bits of meaning in all or parts of those, but a wide consensus never emerged. And as that generation aged and the novelty of the ideas wore off, the urgency of the search faded. They melted into the mainstream culture which, to a small extent, accommodated itself to them: we are left with granola bars and pricey organic grocery stores. Only small bits of the 60’s are left adrift in our mainstream culture.

Humans are odd – and human culture is a collective oddity. I enjoyed the music in this very well-made film, and it was interesting seeing all those very young musicians who are now past retirement age – if they survived. But the value of the film for me was making me think about how odd humans are. Not just then. Now.

Posted in great movies journey | Comments Off on Woodstock – 3 Days of Peace and Music (Director’s Cut)

Quickie Game Reviews – Duke Nukem Forever

Feels like 12 months should have been plenty of time to whip this up – not 12 years. Duke Nukem’s humor doesn’t seem as funny now – maybe it’s me. Some mindless alien-blasting fun to be had: 3.5 of 5.

Posted in games | Comments Off on Quickie Game Reviews – Duke Nukem Forever

Quickie Game Reviews: Fable 3, The Witcher 2

Fable 3: Simple, fun action/adventure game that would be perfect for a 12-15 year old if it weren’t for the language and sex. 4.5 of 5.
The Witcher 2: Might be the rich, deep RPG it claims to be, but I found it to be a click-fest with a poor UI and irritatingly bad writing. Take a pass. 2.5 of 5.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Quickie Game Reviews: Fable 3, The Witcher 2

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Brody/Saslow

Last weekend I appeared in The Picture of Dorian Gray, a world-premiere opera with music by Jeffrey Brody and libretto by James Saslow; directed by J Scott Brumit and produced by the Longwood Opera in Needham, MA. I played several minor roles and worked on the backstage end of things.

The opera was very well received, and attracted the biggest audience that I remember seeing for a Longwood Opera production. Lots of long hours and hard work went into what I’m told was one of the most elaborate productions Longwood Opera has ever done.

Being on the inside of the production and being friends with the director and the maestro makes it is impossible to be completely objective about the opera. But, it was awesome – and I hope it gets another production so more people can see it.

Posted in opera | Tagged | Comments Off on The Picture of Dorian Gray – Brody/Saslow

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

The title of this movie scared me a little, which set me up nicely for the bizarre, psychologically terrifying, and brilliant Aguirre, the Wrath of God by Werner Herzog. Cast in the lead role as the Spanish Conquistador: the actor who most resembles a Nordic God, Klaus Kinski. Yes, a Nordic God is a Spanish Conquistador – believe me, it fits seamlessly.

In this movie Herzog takes the concept of Italian Realism out to the bleeding edge: cast non-professional actors as themselves and put them into realistic situations. Except in this case, take regular everyday people and put them into life-threatening situations that are actually and literally life-threatening. You both fear for the characters in the movie, and for the real people being filmed. The actors must have been praying that Herzog would end their character’s life sooner rather than later so they could go home. But, no. For the most part he didn’t. And since Herzog was working out the details of the film during the filming, the process of making the film was as much fun as taking an endless trip down the Amazon – while being pursued by unfriendly natives.

The end result is a great movie. The photography, the way the plot unwinds, the characters – absolutely excellent in every respect. Should you see it? It is similar in a general way to Apocalypse Now, but it is more terrifying because it seems more realistic – even though it is more bizarre. If that makes you want to rent a copy of this: this is your film.

Posted in great movies journey | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Aguirre, the Wrath of God