Wednesday, October 19, 2016

An Astonishing Gift

A Wonderful Surprise

A long-time reader has gifted the Bear with an astonishing example of generosity that he would like to share. It is a First Class Relic of St. Maurus, with the accompanying 1959 (if the Bear remembers his Roman numerals) bull attesting to its authenticity, and suitability for both private and public veneration. The Bear knows this must have been terribly hard to part with.

St. Maurus was born in 510, and died in 584. He was educated by St. Benedict, and was the very first Benedictine Oblate. (The Bear and his wife are oblates, which makes the gift extra special.) He was sent to France in 543 to found the order, and served as abbot. He was known as a miracle worker.

The gift will be treasured and honored. It has already been introduced to our boys, and installed on our home shrine. We say we believe in the communion of the saints, but like most things we say, it is sometimes good to actually think about them.

Communion of the Saints

Certainly, St. Maurus is before God, interceding for us. His relic is like the terminus of a wire into Heaven, where he is. All the saints are. But it is also true that Catholics are linked in a common body. Sometimes my wife, or my daughter, and I, will make a phone call to the other at the very same time. We always say "communion of the saints!" when these "coincidences" occur. Sometimes, more seriously, we feel pain in another member. Sometimes we help a brother or sister, and even seem to know just what to do.

The Bear knows how deeply wounded so many of you are by the patent errors of this pontificate. He knows he certainly is. It can be very discouraging to dwell on the crisis in the Church. Sometimes even a Bear needs to take a little break. After 1200 articles in three years, you know it will not be for long. Soon he will be back on his unicycle, juggling copies of Amorous Laetitia while catching salmon in his teeth. He can't do a blessed thing about our mutual misery, except shed a little light, and  maybe make you smile.

There are worse things.

You know, none of us - us ephemerists - asked for this job. None of us enjoys it. (Although the Bear certainly hopes you enjoy most of his writing.) None of us wanted to dislike Francis, and none of us are comfortable in the prophetic role.

And yet here we are. We run real spiritual risks. We are driven - or at least the Bear is - by a belief that it is a good in itself to speak the truth, and no one, least of all the Catholic Church, should fear the truth. There is no doubt about the truth, right? Any institution that need fear the truth is in big trouble.

Sometimes the Bear suffers from spiritual shell shock and retreats into 30s Warner Brothers films. A little USO.

"Thank You" is Inadequate

The following is not (this time) asking for salmon. Every time the Bear gets a donation, maybe $10; maybe more, the value of the encouragement is greater than the money. Every time a new person comments, the Bear feels he has connected with another friend. It sounds corny to say these connections are what keeps him going, but it's true.

The Bear's readers are unusually generous. (They are also the best commenters in Catholic Blogdom. The Bear is very proud of that. If you want to know what kind of ephemeris you are looking at, check out the comments.)

An astonishing gift like this tells this disreputable old show Bear that something else is going on. A First Class Relic does not come into one's care without reason. "Thank you," seems not only inadequate, but does not completely recognize the very real, gritty, connection between Catholics who are having a conversation that goes: "Here, you need this;" and "Yes, I do, very much." When you're out of ammo and your buddy hands you fresh magazines, you don't say "thank you," as if it were a present.

I am probably not saying what I mean to say. For once I am at a loss in putting words to my meaning. I am certainly grateful, and suppose I should just say "thank you."  At the risk of complicating things, however, maybe something of what I'm trying to say that is more will come through.

The Bear needed a spiritual kidney. He found a donor without even looking.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Ginger in steampunk mail armor from a game
5 out of 5 Fresh Salmon for Gold Diggers of 1933. A conventional plot is enriched by surprising social commentary about the depression's forgotten men. Busby Berkeley numbers that range from the demented to a surprising finale that is gritty, full of heart, and genuinely moving.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Very soon, articles like this, as well as my official author blog for Judging Angels and other fiction (?!) will have a different home. SCB will be about Church matters, and a new blog will be for everything else the Bear writes about.

Gold Diggers of 1933 was made at the very same time (or immediately after, according to Ruby Keeler) as 42nd Street. In fact 1933 was a busy year for the dog we last saw being held by Monocle Ginger, a.k.a. "Anytime Annie." Guy Kibbe plays the same portly, comic rich guy whose head can still be turned by a pretty girl, and Dick Powell the same boyishly good-looking juvenile crooner. Both films star Ruby Keeler. Here, Warren William is Powell's controlling older brother.

A lot was going on in 1933. It is remarkable to recall that the Warner Brothers had only ushered in the talkie in 1927. The technology had to be refined and theaters wired for sound. Clearly films like 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 were already making full use of sound a mere six years after its introduction. Risk-taking studio heads like Harry and Jack Warner were overcoming a skeptical public, and industry experts who predicted talkies would never catch on.

1933 was the year of RKO's King Kong. (Ginger Rogers was considered for Faye Wray's role. Fred Astaire was probably the better partner.) The 30's was a decade of explosive creativity, and bigger-than-life personalities: both in front of and behind the camera.

The film opens with the well-known song, "We're in the Money," sung by Ginger Rogers wearing what is less a costume than a contraption, literally made of money. Then, as the camera dollies in until her face mercilessly fills the screen, she doesn't so much as blink as she delivers the same lines in pig Latin!

Ironically, the rehearsal ends with the show being closed down because the producer doesn't have any money. New Deal optimism is not putting money in people's pockets. Ginger is seldom seen after that, even though she remains one of the gold diggers. They are four now-unemployed actresses. Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, and Ginger.

Howard Hughes and Ginger Rogers

In a life-imitates-art coincidence, Ginger is seen as Howard
Ginger & Howard 1933
Hughes' date on the red carpet of 42nd Street's opening. Despite Hughes' notoriety for sleeping with actresses, 1940 would find the pair engaged. Hughes employed elaborate methods to keep his affairs secret from the other women, but Ginger was informed about 16-year-old Faith Domergue.

Ginger angrily threw all the jewelry Hughes had given her into a sack. Then she drove to the hospital where Hughes was recovering from a head injury sustained in an auto crash, and shoved it all into the pit of his stomach.

Ginger also had reservations about Hughes' mental illness, and believed he would try to control her life. Perhaps the weirdness was enhanced by his purchase of property next to the "H" in the Hollywood sign, on which he intended to build a castle for his bride. (It's still for sale, by the way, if you have an extra $300 million or so.)

The Gold Diggers of 1933

A young man across from the four girls' apartment - Dick Powell - is playing a song he composed. It is heard by the producer, who loves the music. The producer (Ned Sparks) wants to make a tribute to the "forgotten man" of the depression, and believes the kid has the talent. In exchange for a leading role for Ruby Keeler, Powell makes the improbable promise to finance the production.

In a familiar trope, the lead is incapacitated, and Dick Powell has to step in at the last minute. Of course, the show is a hit. It blows his cover, however, and brings in his older brother (Warner William) and family lawyer (Guy Kibbe) to save the family from scandal. Particularly from marrying a showgirl.

Taking advantage of mistaken identities, the three girls - minus Ginger, who remains a mostly unseen, circling menace, like a shark - play an elaborate scheme with older brother and the family lawyer. By the end, Aline MacMahon has wound up with Guy Kibbe's family lawyer (The Monopoly Banker from 42nd Street). Joan Blondell gets the older brother. And, of course, Ruby Keeler weds Dick Powell. 

Depression Era audiences must have enjoyed watching the jobless, but plucky gals put one over on the rich stiffs. The Busby Berkeley numbers are technically impressive, one involving electrically-lit violins carrying the added thrill of potential immolation. However, it is really the bookend numbers of the film that you'll remember. Ginger gives a fearless performance of "We're In the Money," and Joan Blondell sings over the massive production number, "Remember My Forgotten Man," at the end. 

Remember My Forgotten Man

The final number does indeed embody Sparks' producer character's vision of the forgotten men of the Depression, "marching, marching!" The Busby Berkeley number is not in the least hokey, but surprisingly affecting. WWI soldiers are remembered, too, despite the end of the Great War being well over a decade in the past. It is a surprise to see a choreographer known for fluff and titillation to create real social commentary. It is far removed from the bizarre number "Pettin' the the Park," which includes a mischievous dwarf (Billy Barty) dressed as a baby.

150 extras were used in Busby Berkeley's unusual and powerful finishing number,
"Remember My Forgotten Man."

Of course, Berkeley's numbers are impossible fantasies as theater productions. One has only to see one of his trademark overhead camera numbers with a kaleidoscope of legs. They are cinematic visualizations of stage productions. But here we get a glimpse behind the scenes as the soldiers are marching with the aid of a treadmill. It plays with our perception by flipping us back into theater mode. It is suddenly more real, and grittier. At another place, a cop is telling a bum to move along, and a woman grabs the "bum's" lapel to thrust a medal in the cop's face. 

The previous year, there had been a march by veterans, known as "The Bonus March." Tens of thousands of veterans and supporters gathered in Washington D.C. to demand payment of "bonus certificates" that were not due until 1945. (Ironically, the year the Second World War would end.) There was gunfire from police, and one of the marchers was killed. In "Remember My Forgotten Man" Blondell transcends herself, and Berkeley unexpectedly demonstrates the subversive potential for elaborate musical productions in popular film. These are sore issues he is giving expression to.

"We're in the Money," as the very beginning of the show no doubt generated some hoots and sardonic chuckles from depression era audiences. They were not in the money. The "Forgotten Man" number at the end no doubt left few dry eyes. The film is not escapism at all, but a conventional musical comedy that socks the audience at the end with gritty realism in the service of social issues by none other than Busby Berkeley. The film recognizes the reality the audience has stepped out of for a short time, and to which they will still be returning. It is brilliant.

Pettin' in the Park & Shadow Waltz

Billy Barty, Founded "Little
People of America" 1957
"Pettin' the Park," on the other hand, is pure fluff. Aside from the naughty baby scampering about like a monkey,  a sudden shower has its predictable pre-Code effect in the chorus girls' wardrobe. The the audience is treated to a silhouette strip tease. When the girls come out, they are wearing ridiculous metal outfits that stymie the boys. Enter the baby with a can opener, which is immediately put to use. Make of that what you will.

"The Shadow Waltz" features chorus girls pretending to play violins with neon-lit instruments and bows. The number includes the trademark Berkeley overhead camera. The Long Beach Earthquake struck during filming, playing havoc with some of the neon props, and blacking out the lights. Berkeley was nearly thrown from a camera boom, and some of the actresses were caught 30 feet up on a totally dark set. 130 people died in the earthquake, but none on the set.

Pre-Code Silhouette strip tease from "Pettin' in the Park"


Perhaps in no other film is - what shall we say... Busby Berkeley's excess creativity? - more on display than in Gold Diggers of 1933. "We're In the Money" is almost a self-parody, if Berkeley could be parodied. He turns a conventional story into social commentary. Powell is always likable as the juvenile. All of the "gold diggers" pull their weight. Aline MacMahon is funny as "Trixie,;" Joan Blondell is great as "Carol," the singer (and puts her soul into "Remember My Forgotten Man"); and Ruby Keeler is likable as the young actress vaulted into the lead. For whatever reason, Ginger is not much used after the memorable beginning, but singing "We're In the Money" in skimpy chainmail armor made of coins - in pig Latin, no less - should be enough for any actress.

This was another hit for Warner Brothers and its relatively new asset of Busby Berkeley. It remains as entertaining, and moving today as it did on opening night in 1933. Funny, though. Might not one fairly call the girls "gold diggers" after all? It started as a game of mistaken identities, but ended in three actresses getting married to three rich men, one of whom - Guy Kibbe's portly, comic lawyer - seems to have little to offer other than his money.

Gold Diggers of 1933 indeed.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Red Death's Own Blog

Go here to watch the Bear's driver, bodyguard and factotum, Red Death, dish the dirt on the doings outside the window of the Bear's room, in the terrifying, ceilingless place called "the farm." Be sure to leave a comment - that's one less beating the Bear will get. "Beatware." Is that a thing?

You Knew it was Coming (Sponsored by "Venom")

Sponsored by Venom: a New Scent by Francis

Venom: "Smell like the sheep..."
There comes a moment in the life of every television show, and, apparently, ephemeris, where it jumps the shark. This is not a proud moment, but let's get it over with shall we? It is time for a head-to-head comparison between Pope Francis and Ginger Rogers.

If the Bear may offer the slimmest of apologies, the only thing the he can think to write about in current events is likely to be faith-threatening, or at least a near occasion of sin. For instance, your Pope, Francis, departed from prepared remarks to go off on his favorite hobbyhorse of proselytizing. He called it "venom" to "Tru-Fayth by Francis (TM)," which is the pan-Christian belief system championed by Jorge Bergoglio, and to which all of you belong now.

Pope Francis: does not really dance
Ginger Rogers: danced backwards and in high heels
Winner is GINGER

Pope Francis: likes Martin Luther
Ginger Rogers: liked Mary Baker Eddy
Winner is GINGER because Mary Baker Eddy did not cause nearly as much trouble

Pope Francis: no evidence he ever slept with Howard Hughes
Ginger Rogers: slept with Howard Hughes
Winner is POPE FRANCIS (if you believe Ginger wins this one, just keep it to yourself, please)

Pope Francis: partnered with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in some match that gets weirder every time the Bear thinks about it
Ginger Rogers: partnered with Fred Astaire (who whined that "I suppose Ginger will have to be there, too," about his lifetime achievement award ceremony, much like Pope Francis treats Pope "Emeritus" Benedict)
Winner is: GINGER

Pope Francis: is a communist
Ginger Rogers: teamed up with her mom to drive communists out of Hollywood
Winner: GINGER

Pope Francis: did not win an Oscar
Ginger Rogers: won Best Actress for Kitty Foyle (1940)
Winner: GINGER

Pope Francis: never starred with Ronald Reagan, probably didn't like him
Ginger Rogers: starred with Ronald Reagan (1951 Storm Warning)
Winner: GINGER

Pope Francis: visceral hatred of guns
Ginger Rogers: crack shot
Winner: GINGER

Pope Francis: does not play tennis
Ginger Rogers: near-olympic level tennis player
Winner: GINGER

Pope Francis: Inspirational Quote: “Those closed in the formality of a prayer that is cold, stingy [who] might end up as Michal, in the sterility of her formality.”
Ginger Rogers: Inspirational Quote: "I believe in living each day as it comes, to the best of my ability. When it's done, I put it away, remembering that there will be a tomorrow to take it's place. If I have any philosophy, that's it. To me it's not a fatalistic attitude."
Winner: GINGER

Pope Francis: became pope
Ginger Rogers: did not become pope
Winner: GINGER

There you have it. Need the Bear point out that Ginger just clobbers Francis.