Friday, January 30, 2009

“When the Red, Red Robin comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along,” Once and Again, and thirtysomething
By Nicholas Stix

I don’t understand how youtube turns a profit, but I’m sure glad it’s around. I just came across a performance of the song, “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along,” from an episode of the brilliant show, Once and Again which, I believe, had a grand total of two viewers – me and my wife.

Once and Again was produced by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, who had previously produced thirtysomething, both of which number among my favorite TV series.

Both shows were domestic dramas about extended families. thirtysomething centers on two families with small children in the eponymous age group, the Steadmans and the Westins, whose husbands are longtime best friends and business partners, Michael Steadman (Ken Olin) and Elliott Westin (Timothy Busfield).

Once and Again centered on Rick Sammler and Lily Manning, each of whom is hitting 40, has recently divorced, has two not-so-young children, and who meet and fall in love. On Once and Again, the "extended family" aspect concerns the protagonists' exes.

“When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along” is performed in the episode at the end of the second season in which Lily and Rick finally get married, one of my three favorite episodes from the series. The others were when Rick, an architect, has to give the performance of his life, in making a presentation to some shopping mall developers, in order to win a contract; and when Lily and her family visit her schizophrenic kid brother (played by Patrick Dempsey), who is living with his schizophrenic girlfriend, the two of whom hopelessly in love.

And that was the theme of the series: All you need is love—domestic love, fraternal love, mad love.

The lyrical “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along” is, for my money, one of the greatest songs ever written, and Evan Rachel Wood’s performance of it on the show is the best I’ve ever heard. Harry M. Woods’ 1926 standard, as traditionally performed—whether at a medium tempo by Al Jolson, or by Doris Day on speed—is thoroughly upbeat.

And yet, when Wood slows it down, the upbeat lyrics collide with a heartbreaking melancholy that comes out of the melody, and the melancholy wins. On top of that melancholy, however, comes a second collision, with the happiness of the occasion: After surmounting many obstacles, protagonists Rick (Bill Campbell) and Lily (Sela Ward) have finally married, and Rick’s daughter, Jessie (Wood), is singing at their wedding. And so, there are tears of happiness, as befits the occasion.

Herskovits and Zwick had used a wedding episode in a similar fashion on thirtysomething.

In one of the series’ last episodes, “A Wedding,” when characters “Billy Sidel” (Erich Anderson) and “Ellyn Warren” (Polly Draper) get hitched, director Scott Winant uses a montage of wedding revelers dancing, to the soundtrack of Ray Charles singing Arlen and Mercer’s, “Come Rain or Come Shine.”

I’m gonna love you,
Like no one’s loved you,
Come rain or come shine.

High as a mountain,
Deep as a river,
Come rain or come shine.

I guess when you met me,
It was just … one of those things,
But don’t ever bet me,
‘Cause I’m gonna be true,
If you let me.

You’re gonna love me,
Like no one’s loved me,
Come rain or come shine.

Happy together,
Unhappy together,
And won’t it be fine.

Days may be cloudy or sunny,
We’re in, or we’re out of the money,
But I’ll love you always,
I’ll love you rain … or shine.

In the episode “The Second Time Around” on Once and Again, the wedding scene directed by Dan Lerner is more powerful, because the couple has lost their original wedding reservation, and been forced to hold the wedding in a circus tent; because the vocal performance is by one of the characters, and thus organic to the scene, rather than being externally imposed on the soundtrack; and most of all, because while on thirtysomething, Billy and Ellyn are secondary characters, on Once and Again, Rick and Lily are the show.

Yet another pleasure that Once and Again affords fans who have seen thirtysomething, is in the way the former is a reincarnation of the spirit of the latter, and episodes like the wedding allude to their predecessors. And while the character of sinister businessman Miles Drentell (David Clennon) is the explicit tie that binds the two series, the theme of the trials and tribulations of the struggling small businessman is an implicit yet much stronger tie. thirtysomething drew much pathos from Michael and Elliott's losing battle to maintain their two-man advertising agency, and after its failure, to survive on "Madison Avenue." Once and Again, for its part, features not one but three struggling small businesses: Rick and his best friend, David Casilli's (Todd Field), architecture agency; Lily and her sister, Judy's (the winsome yet alluring Marin Hinkle) bookstore/cafe; and the resturant founded by the sisters' father, Phil, and presently owned by Lily's ex, the tragically boyish Jake (Jeffrey Nordling).

Already during thirtysomething's run I became convinced that Herskovitz and/or Zwick had been raised by a struggling small businessman. They were hardly the first producers to depict a small business, but they had achieved a standard of dramatic excellence in portraying a small business that would only be met when they produced Once and Again.

The decision to transform a famously upbeat standard into a slow weepie was surely inspired by the young Barbra Streisand’s brilliant decision, almost 40 years earlier, to work a similar magic on “Happy Days are Here Again.”

When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along
Words and music by Harry M. Woods (1926)

When the red, red robin
Comes bob, bob, bobbin' along, along,
There'll be no more sobbin’
When he comes throbbin’ his ol' sweet song.

Wake up! Wake up, you sleepy head,
Get up! Get up, get out of bed,
Cheer up! Cheer up, the sun is red,
Live, love, laugh and be happy!

What if I’ve been blue,
Now I’m walking through fields of flowers,
Rain may glisten,
But still I listen for hours and hours.

I’m just a kid again,
Doin’ what I did again,
Singin’ a song,
When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along.

Many thanks to cafevideos and MisterCanning for posting the above videos.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Got Milk? Sean Penn Does
By Nicholas Stix

On February 22, expect Sean Penn to win the Oscar for his biopic vehicle, Milk, about San Francisco homosexual activist-politician, Harvey Milk, who was slain while in office. (The nominees will be announced on Thursday.)

In 1977 Milk, who initially financed his activism through the photography shop he owned, was elected, on his third try, to the Board of Supervisors in the city by the bay. On November 27, 1978, he was assassinated by Dan White, a 32-year-old former policeman and fireman who had been elected to the Board together with Milk, and who opposed Milk’s radical politics.

As one reporter recounted in 1985, the policemen’s union, which backed White, saw the city becoming increasingly tolerant of crime, prostitution, and public, homosexual sex (the reporter used the euphemism, “open homosexuality”). In what I suppose made him a pervert and reactionary by today’s enlightened standards, Dan White opposed such depravity. At the time, however, most people did not consider his positions particularly “conservative.” Conversely, Milk was voted into office by the city’s aggressive, homosexual minority.

* * *
White (Josh Brolin): Society can’t exist without the family.
Milk (Sean Penn): We’re not against that.
White: Can two men reproduce?
Milk: No, but God knows we keep trying.
* * *

White quickly confessed to his crimes. The prosecution charged him with first-degree (premeditated) murder with special circumstances, and sought the death penalty.

In one of the unintentionally comical moments of American legal history, White’s defense attorney, Douglas R. Schmidt, crafted what has come to be known as the “Twinky Defense.” Schmidt argued that, due to elevated blood sugar levels, caused by having ingested too much of the eponymous, sugary junk food, White had suffered from “diminished capacity,” and thus was not capable of premeditation. Combined with White’s own tearful testimony at trial, the Twinky Defense got him a conviction for mere voluntary manslaughter. The trial judge sentenced White to seven years and eight months in prison, the maximum for that crime; White served slightly more than five years, and then was on parole for one year.

San Francisco’s homosexual activists and their allies responded to the verdict by rioting, 5,000 strong, during which over 100 people, including 80 policemen, were wounded.

* * *

Sean Penn will be given the Oscar for Best Actor, not because of his performance, although I’ll bet he’s wonderful (I have yet to see the picture), but because of his politics.

That’s the way Hollywood works these days, and Penn understands that. He has spent years developing a resume of leftwing mala fides to prove his hatred for America—whether real or feigned, only he knows—because he understands that that weighs more heavily with Academy voters than artistic merit. He will also benefit from the politics surrounding Milk, which was released just after California voters had passed Prop. 8, which bans gay marriage. Prop. 8 was the people's response to the California Supreme Court’s attempt to force the practice on voters, in violation of the California State Constitution. It passed, in spite of massive homosexual resistance, largely thanks to black voters. The film was released in the midst of a gay hate offensive directed against donors to the Prop. 8 campaign.

In 1996, Susan Sarandon won the Best Actress Oscar, ostensibly for her performance as Sister Helen Prejean, in Dead Man Walking, which was based on Prejean’s anti-death penalty book, and scripted and directed by Sarandon’s longtime, live-in comrade, Tim Robbins.

Penn was nominated for Best Actor as Dead Man’s protagonist, rapist-murderer “Matthew Poncelet,” a composite character drawn from two guilty-as-hell killers, whom Prejean had counseled on Death Row. The movie was apparently supposed to change people’s minds about the death penalty, but since even the picture depicted the Poncelet character as being guilty as hell, if anything, it served as an advertisement for capital punishment.

While Penn gave a bravura performance, not only did Sarandon not deserve the statuette, she hadn’t even deserved the nomination. The highlight of her performance as Sister Helen was to sit and listen to death row convict Poncelet, while wearing a concerned look.

Sarandon, a likeable if often shallow actress, got her fifth Best Actress nomination, and finally her Oscar, because she was America’s sexiest, comeliest communist.

To fully appreciate the obscenity of Sarandon’s Oscar, one must see who was cheated on her behalf. That same year, in The Bridges of Madison County, Meryl Streep had given what endures, for my money, as the greatest movie performance ever by a lead actress.

(Prior to Bridges, I had considered two female lead performances to be tied for the greatest: Vivien Leigh, in Gone with the Wind (1939) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).)

To give you a notion of just how weak Sarandon’s performance was, let’s compare it to a similar sort of scene from a different work.

During “Mr. Roberts,” a 1999 episode of the then great TV series, NYPD Blue (the last year that writer-producer David Milch, who worked on the episode, was on board), doomed former detective squad member, Mike Roberts (Michael Harney), visits with Det. Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) in the squad room bathroom. Roberts, who had been bounced off the force for having an affair with a junky-prostitute-informant who ended up dead, now works as the seediest of private detectives. The scene consists of the desperate Roberts, in mortal peril from his present employer, pouring his heart out to Sipowicz.

Michael Harney’s Roberts will break your heart. And yet, in contrast to Dead Man Walking, where Sean Penn dominates the scene in question, the largely silent Dennis Franz dominates the scene in NYPD Blue. Now, that’s acting!

As the old actor’s saw goes, “Don’t just do something, stand around!”

* * *

In the matter of November 27, 1978, there is a largely forgotten man whom I must recall. Dan White assassinated two men that day, of whom Harvey Milk was the second. White’s primary target was leftist San Francisco mayor, George Moscone.

The buildup started with White’s resignation from the Board, stating that the $9,600 salary was inadequate for him to support his wife and baby boy, and that he didn’t like the seamy realities of politics that he’d experienced. White’s police union backers then pressured him into rescinding his resignation, but Moscone refused to re-seat him, and had already decided, with Milk’s support, to replace White with another leftist. That’s when White formulated his plan to kill both men. Indeed, the day White murdered them, Moscone was set to name his replacement.

Dan White was released from California’s notorious Soledad State Prison on January 6, 1984. On October 22, 1985, he took his own life, via carbon monoxide asphyxiation. He was 39 years old, and left behind his wife and three young children. He left a note, apologizing for the grief his suicide would cause, but never expressed remorse for the murders he had committed.

Douglas R. Schmidt responded to his client’s suicide, “We've said all along there were three victims in this. Today Dan White became the third victim.”

But there were only two victims: George Moscone and Harvey Milk. Dan White was no victim; he was the perpetrator.

When White committed suicide, the New York Times headline didn’t even mention Milk: “DAN WHITE, KILLER OF SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR, A SUICIDE.”

How, in the intervening 23 years, did the murder of a city supervisor become of world-historical significance, while the murder of the mayor became a mere footnote, considered so insignificant by some of the politically correct, that they don’t even bother spelling his name right? For the answer, go ask Hollywood, or your local gay activist.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How Not to Write about a Football Game
By Nicholas Stix

AP sports reporter John Nadel’s story on USC’s Rose Bowl victory over Penn State, “Rose Bowl: Mark Sanchez passes USC to 38-24 victory,” is marred by several basic flaws: One regarding identification of a central figure in the story; one of style; one of grammar; and two involving the writer’s repeated mentioning of an important piece of information regarding one of the teams, while neglecting to provide the same information regarding the other team.

Following a strong, pithy lead (“Southern California made a strong case of its own to be No. 1.”), the reporter opens his second paragraph, “JoePa certainly recognized what a talented team the Trojans were — and that was before they beat up Penn State in the Rose Bowl.”

JoePwho? The first identification of a figure in a news story should be crystal clear.

Nadel’s second mention of the same figure, two paragraphs later, has the clarity the first mention should have had: “Penn State coach Joe Paterno watched from the press box, where he's been for most of the season following hip replacement surgery.”

Nadel should have reversed the identifications, and to make it clear that “JoePa” and “Joe Paterno” are the same man, made the two sentences consecutive, as in:

Mark Sanchez passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns, USC dominated on defense and the fifth-ranked Trojans defeated the No. 6 Nittany Lions 38-24 Thursday.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno certainly recognized what a talented team the Trojans were — and that was before they beat up Penn State in the Rose Bowl. JoePa watched from the press box, where he's been for most of the season following hip replacement surgery. He couldn't have liked what he saw — at one point in the first half, the TV camera caught him shaking his head as USC (12-1) rolled to a 31-7 lead.

(Should someone claim that the nickname “JoePa” is universally known, in a story on Paterno that Nadel had published the previous day, he never used Paterno’s nickname.)

Style: “With a No. 1 defense in the nation, there was no way the Trojans would blow that kind of lead.”

Prior to something that is unique or a superlative, one must use the definite article, e.g., “With the No. 1 defense in the nation…”

Grammar, in paragraph 12: “Paterno, whose won 383 games, including 23 bowls — both records — said several times in the days leading up to the Rose Bowl that he thought USC was at least as good as any team in the country, perhaps better.”

“Whose” is the possessive, but the sentence does not use the possessive. I’m guessing that either Nadel or one of his editors had written, “Paterno, whose Nittany Lion [or “Penn State”] teams have won 383 games, including 23 bowls…,” and someone then cut “Nittany Lion [or “Penn State”] teams have…,” without also changing “whose” to “who has.” The alternative, that someone with responsibility for the story didn’t know English grammar, is a possibility I’d rather not contemplate.

Information 1: In writing about a college football game, a reporter is expected, early on, to note each team’s record, either going into, or following the game. And in writing about a bowl game, a writer must note each team’s respective national rank. Nadel took care of the rankings, noting “Mark Sanchez passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns, USC dominated on defense and the fifth-ranked Trojans defeated the No. 6 Nittany Lions 38-24 Thursday,” which one of his editors pulled to also use as the story’s teaser.

However, Nadel did not mention both teams’ respective records. Four times, including at one point in consecutive sentences, and in an accompanying reader participation poll, Nadel tells us that USC was 12-1, following its victory over Penn State, but nowhere in the story does he tell us the latter’s record. I had to hunt around outside of the story, in order to find out that Penn State’s final record was 11-2, meaning that both teams had entered the Rose Bowl with identical 11-1 records.

Information 2: Nadel mentioned Penn State coach Joe Paterno twice, but never mentioned USC coach Pete Carroll.

I recognize that Nadel was under deadline pressure, but he wasn’t the only person responsible for the final copy. He has editors at his employer, the Associated Press, and at the AP’s customers, in this case the Seattle Times. What were those guys doing?

Since I have a history of criticizing the AP, I want to emphasize that I was unaware that this was an AP story, until after I had read it and formed an opinion about it, and that prior to reading it, I hadn’t known Nadel from Adam.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Whatever Happened to Honest Graft?
By Nicholas Stix

Bill Richardson’s reign at Commerce proved shorter than anyone expected. We can only hope that it is a harbinger for the entire Chicago, er, “Barack Hussein Obama” Administration. See my VDARE blog article, “Richardson, Under Investigation for Possible Extortion, Bows Out as Commerce Secretary-Designate.”

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Alien Nation

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