Monday, March 30, 2015

When Things Fall Apart

Leo (John Spencer): You can't take it personally.

President Bartlet (Martin Sheen): That's what I keep telling myself. Problem is, once you're telling yourself that, it's too damned late. You're already taking it personally.

On this night in 2005, the West Wing gave its viewers a taste of what they could expect in a few years — the nomination by a major party of a presidential candidate from a minority demographic. They weren't on the verge of nominating a black candidate, but they were on the verge of nominating a Latino candidate (Jimmy Smits).

(Apparently, even in 2005, a year after Barack Obama's keynote address to the 2004 Democratic convention and three years before Obama emerged from virtual obscurity to win the nomination, the writers for West Wing, as liberal as they were, simply couldn't imagine a plausible scenario in which a black candidate won the nomination.)

Clearly, it wasn't entirely prophetic. In the West Wing universe, the nomination wasn't a slam dunk. In fact, the battle for the nomination between the vice president (Gary Cole), who was the front–runner, and the Latino congressman from Texas (Jimmy Smits) was a virtual stalemate, and the episode began with a deal offer. The vice president was willing to name the congressman as his choice for the vice–presidential nomination in exchange for releasing his delegates from their commitments to support him.

I always felt it was a realistic depiction of the kind of political convention wheeling and dealing that was normal in American political parties until about midway through the 20th century. It has almost never been that close by the time that a real convention was about to begin, though. Something always seems to happen, and someone always surges at the last minute — and, in spite of occasions when observers have speculated about the chances for another "brokered" convention to occur, it really hasn't come close to happening in nearly 40 years.

So, in that sense, I suppose the episode was neither realistic nor prophetic. Just dramatic.

Adding to the drama were two facts — the Republicans were holding their own nominating convention (just as in real life, the out–of–power party was holding its convention first), and the crew of the space station was dealing with a life–threatening oxygen leak. The president (Martin Sheen) was trying to resolve the latter while ignoring the former.

That was hardly a new position in which he found himself. The unpredictability of the world often forces a president to deal with matters that stray far from his comfort zone, and the West Wing certainly was faithful in presenting that aspect of the job. The character of Jed Bartlet had expertise in economics, but he had to deal with all kinds of crises in the seven seasons the series was on the air.

And, with all that on the president's mind, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee was imploring him to intervene in the party squabbles between the leading candidates in the race to succeed Bartlet as the party's standard bearer.

The president wasn't too keen on that so he turned it over to Leo (John Spencer), his chief of staff, who really wasn't able to make much headway.

Then the congressman decided to meet with the vice president to discuss his proposal — but, when it came down to it, he just couldn't agree to be the running mate.

Meanwhile, the Republican nominee (Alan Alda) was seen giving his acceptance speech — and the president and Leo were seen watching the speech on TV. He made some complimentary remarks about the president, prompting Leo to look at the president and observe, "Nice what he said about you."

"Yeah. Bastard," the president replied. "He just picked up five million Democratic votes."

OK, it was fiction. Few observers of the real political atmosphere in America expect next year's Republican nominee to say much, if anything, nice about Barack Obama — any more than Obama had anything nice to say about George W. Bush in 2008 or than Bush had to say about Bill Clinton in 2000. In fact, I can't recall a time in my life when the nominee of the opposing party had anything nice to say about the incumbent. (That has probably been influenced by the fact that most of the time the nominee of the opposing party has been running against the incumbent, not his successor as party standard bearer.)

But the Republican nominee in this case was much more centrist than anyone who is likely to be nominated by the Republicans next year. He also hailed from California, even though California hasn't had a potential national nominee in more than a quarter of a century and hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate in nearly as long — but, in this scenario, he was a beloved senator from California, and that turned the Electoral College math inside out — as did the fact that one of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination was from Texas.

Things were set for a dramatic season finale a week later.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Riefenstahl Really Delivered for Hitler in 'Triumph of the Will'

In the annals of filmmaking, the influence of German director Leni Riefenstahl is unique.

For one thing, she was a woman doing essentially what had long been (and, for that matter, remained almost exclusively) a man's job, directing films. She started out as an actress and dancer, but she gravitated to work behind the camera when she reached her 30s and was no longer suitable for the roles she was typecast to play — adventurous, athletic. Sometimes she played a pretty peasant or a dancing girl.

(Eventually, of course, anyone in an athletic profession must concede that time conquers those athletic attributes. It is a big reason why so many professional athletes retire from their chosen sports in their 30s.)

For another, she was a trailblazer in the field of propaganda. There is a pretty good case to be made that, without her, Hitler might not have become as powerful as he did — because it was thanks to "Triumph of the Will," the filmed record of the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg that premiered on this day in 1935, that he was able to consolidate his support from many groups.

I suppose "filmed record" is being generous. Much of what was shown in Riefenstahl's film was staged. It was not a record of a spontaneous response to what took place in Nuremberg that year, but it was Riefenstahl's masterful manipulation of what she did see — and her creation of staged events — that made it so effective as propaganda.

It is so easy, after all, to become blinded to unpleasant facts by appealing imagery. It must have been even easier 80 years ago. There was no internet, no cable, no satellite TV. How many alternative accounts of events could have been available? Not many, I'm sure.

Besides, the real objective of the movie was not to present a faithful "filmed record" of what really happened but to produce a celebration of Hitler and national socialism.

It was in "Triumph of the Will" that Riefenstahl pioneered techniques that are still used by filmmakers today.

She very skillfully established Hitler as a Messianic figure from the start, opening with shots of clouds above Nuremberg, then rising above the clouds and appearing to float over the crowds below. The shadow of Adolf Hitler's plane could be seen as it passed over; on the screen, the image was accompanied by an orchestral arrangement of the Nazis' anthem — which had been the party's anthem since 1930 and had been the co–national anthem since Hitler seized power in 1933.

That was truly a Valhalla–esque scene.

(Had it been up to me, I would have preferred to play "Ride of the Valkyries" — a la "Apocalypse Now" — as the soundtrack for Hitler's descent from the clouds.)

It should be noted that, during the opening sequence, there was a prologue on the screen — the only commentary in the entire movie, which was nearly two hours long. That prologue said, in German:
"On 5 September 1934
20 years after the outbreak of the World War
16 years after the beginning of German suffering
19 months after the beginning of the German rebirth
Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review the columns of his faithful followers"
Any other words that were spoken were clips from the speeches given by Hitler and the other Nazi leaders during the rally.

Riefenstahl was reluctant to take on the assignment, telling Hitler that she knew little about the Nazi Party and its organization — on top of the fact that she had never made a full–length documentary. Hitler told her that was why he wanted her to do it. Someone who was more knowledgeable might tend to pander whereas Riefenstahl's lack of knowledge left her free to explore things that interested her. If they interested her, they would interest ordinary Germans. The Nazis had taken power during a period of instability in German government, and they were still largely unknown to many Germans, let alone the rest of the world. Hitler wanted to make a good impression on his people and the world.

It wasn't Riefenstahl's first film for Hitler and the Nazis. After her first meeting with Hitler, she was asked to direct an hour–long documentary on the 1933 Nuremberg rally. Riefenstahl, incidentally, had asked to meet with Hitler, beginning her close association with the Nazis that would haunt her later in her career. She read Mein Kampf when Hitler was a candidate for office in 1932 and, by her own admission, was strongly influenced by it. She accepted his request, and it was Hitler's turn to be impressed. He was so impressed, in fact, that he asked Riefenstahl to film the 1934 rally.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote of his admiration for the success of England's propaganda during World War I. He believed it was the difference between victory and defeat for Britain, and he wanted a film that would be "artistically satisfying" for German audiences. In short, he wanted something that would win over those Germans who still had doubts whether he could revive Germany from the economic burden it had carried since World War I.

Riefenstahl accepted the challenge.

And she delivered what Hitler wanted, I think — or, at least, what he said he wanted (given his actions for the next decade, I believe he was already making plans to conquer Europe and the world and to purge it of its Jewish population, plans he kept mostly to himself — except for what he wrote in Mein Kampf — until later in the 1930s. But that is another story for another time). In fact, it was probably more than he expected.

Riefenstahl, as I said, pioneered many techniques that are still in use today — camera angles, the use of panoramic shots — but that is negated in some people's minds by the knowledge that she manufactured some of the things she filmed.

As a student of history, does it bother me that much of the footage that was used was apparently staged? Yes, but not as much as — and probably not for the reasons — you think.

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that, as someone who holds two degrees in journalism, I have studied propaganda, and I know that it is always produced with an ulterior motive. Documentary makers often have agendas, too, but the best documentaries I have seen were done by people who had no agenda, really, except to share with others something that they found interesting for one reason or another.

When there is good reason to believe that something that is being promoted as documentary is really propaganda, that changes the rules and the expectations. If I know something is propaganda, I don't expect it to be a faithful record of an event. I have worked for newspapers as both a reporter and an editor, and I know the difference between reporting and editorial writing. While it almost certainly contains some facts, the knowledge that the one who is producing it has more than a commercial interest in how it is perceived or a dedication to the truth tends to lower the expectations bar.

By the time I was old enough to know anything about "Triumph of the Will," I knew it was propaganda, which I have always considered to be a special kind of fiction. It always has some truth in it — but you don't order a cheeseburger and expect to get filet mignon.

I believe "Triumph of the Will" really must have been more than Hitler expected because it broke so much new ground, going beyond what Hitler hoped to duplicate.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Plugged-In Dylan

"Look out, kid,
It's somethin' you did
God knows when
But you're doin' it again"

Bob Dylan
"Subterranean Homesick Blues"

It's hard to comprehend now just how phenomenally productive the early 1960s were for Bob Dylan.

Obviously, Dylan has had a remarkable career, and the quality of his work has seldom dropped to a level that other singer/songwriters could only hope to equal — some day.

He put out seven albums between 1962 and 1966, and the weakest probably was the first, his debut album (which's Bruce Eder compared to the Beatles' and Rolling Stones' debut albums — "a sterling effort, outclassing most, if not all, of what came before it in the genre, but similarly eclipsed by the artist's own subsequent efforts").

Those early years weren't more productive than other periods in Dylan's life — they were probably as productive as any, though, and they yielded songs that will probably stand as his primary contributions to the history and traditions of American social activism — songs like "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A–Changin'."

But, while one could detect a routine sameness to Dylan's work, that was more a matter of style than substance, and each of the albums Dylan released in that mid–decade period had something that made it unique in Dylan's library.

And the thing that made "Bringing It All Back Home" — the album Dylan released 50 years ago today — unique was that Dylan divided it into equal parts acoustic and electric. In the days of vinyl records, that meant that one side was acoustic and the other was electric, but in the era of CDs, of course, it is all on one side so I guess, if you don't know where one ends and the other begins, you'll have to, uh, play it by ear. The sequence of the tracks is the same on the CD as it was on the original album.

My favorite track on the album has always been "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and that, in turn, always reminds me of a moment from one of the journalism classes I taught at Richland College here in Dallas. I was in the classroom about 10 or 15 minutes before class began on this particular day, and some of my students were there as well. One of my students asked me, "Professor Goodloe, what is your favorite rap song?"

Now, I have nothing particular against rap — other than the fact that I don't consider it music — but, to a great extent, I suppose it's this era's musical generational marker ... in the same way, I guess, that my parents and others of their generation preferred Glenn Miller and others who recorded the songs of their youths, and the people of my generation listened to our own music, and neither side really seemed to understand the other. There are always exceptions, of course — and I do appreciate other types of music more as I get older — but music really does have a strange power to transport you to another time and place in your life. They are so strong, these generational markers, that you can find yourself believing that you can merely walk through a door and be back in that time and place.

For people of a certain age, rap (or hip hop) is their generational marker. (Some people will tell you that not caring for rap is racist, but I can assure you it is not. It is more of that eternal age thing. I have known black people of my generation — some have been students in my classes — who felt the same way so it is clearly not a byproduct of race.

(Sometimes I feel like Jay Leno, who told Seth Myers the other night that he was called racist by a college–age person because he admitted to not liking Mexican food. "Being anti–guacamole is not racist!" he said.)

Anyway, I told my student, "The closest thing to rap in my collection is Bob Dylan singing 'Subterranean Homesick Blues.'"

Another student spoke up. "That's the original rap song!" That really impressed me because it must have been recorded 30 years before she was born, and I told her, "You just got an A!" (And she did get an A — but she earned it with exceptional work in class. Later, when she asked me to write letters of recommendation for her, I was proud to do so.)

Another song on the album that I have always liked is "Maggie's Farm." As a youngster, I just liked the song, the melody, and I paid little attention to the lyrics. In hindsight, I can see it was a declaration of independence of some sort.

But from whom was Dylan declaring his independence? Perhaps the folk genre — or the protest movement genre. It doesn't matter. Anyone who feels oppressed by someone or something and breaks away from whatever it is — an unsatisfying job, an unsatisfying relationship, whatever — may feel inspired to sing some of "Maggie's Farm."

I guess the song on the album that had the most Dylanesque folk sound was "Mr. Tambourine Man." I always think of it as a Dylan song — cut from the same cloth as "Blowin' in the Wind" or "The Times They Are A–Changin'" And, of course, it was a Dylan song, and his version does favor those songs, even half a century later (perhaps even moreso).

But I was reminded, not long ago, that an electric version of the song became the breakthrough hit for the Byrds.

Dylan has long been one of the musicians who was admired and appreciated by the people of my generation. "Bringing It All Back Home" was before my time when it was released, but I remember listening to it as a teenager. In many ways, it seems to me that it has always been a part of my life.

Little Reporters Have Big Ears

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the episode of the Andy Griffith Show that first aired 50 years ago tonight, "Opie's Newspaper."

I'm sure that the fact that journalism has played such a significant role in my life has a lot to do with it. But there is more to it than that. It was a matter of — for me, at least — art imitating life. Or maybe, since the episode aired long before I was first hired by a newspaper, it was a case of art foretelling life.

Anyway ...

Opie did something that I did for awhile when I was a boy. He tried to put out his own newspaper. Some kids have lemonade stands to make pocket change; Opie and I put out our own newspapers, and he learned the same lesson I did. It isn't easy to put out a newspaper — even for adults who have all sorts of advantages that children do not have.

Of course, Barney (Don Knotts) always had the answers — or thought he did. Opie (Ron Howard) was having trouble selling his newspaper, which was almost exclusively dedicated to the goings on in his grade school. Barney thought he wasn't getting the right copy ("Copy — that's newspaper talk," he told Opie), and he advised Opie to widen his scope.

But, while Barney and Andy were trying to be helpful, the message that Opie got was that their paper had to be more like the local newspaper so he and his pal Howie went through the latest copy of the Mayberry newspaper looking for inspiration, and they found it in a gossip column, "Mayberry After Midnight."

And they agreed that they needed to do the same thing that was done in "Mayberry After Midnight" so they went about eavesdropping on conversations around town.

They overheard Barney saying that the young wife of an older man was a "blonde out of a bottle."

They overheard Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) criticizing the food that was served at a luncheon and describing it as "wallpaper paste."

And they overheard Andy describing the local minister's sermons as "dry as dust."

And they put it in the paper, which Andy and Barney and Aunt Bee discovered to their chagrin. See, Opie and Howie were giving away the first edition of their new newspaper as a get–acquainted special, and they had distributed copies all over town. They had put them in mailboxes and under windshield wipers. In some cases, they hand–delivered them to people.

Andy, Barney and Aunt Bee fanned out over Mayberry seeking to retrieve the copies of the paper — and each one ran into the person of whom he/she had spoken so poorly, which was a bit of a lesson in itself. Be careful what you say. You never know who might be listening.

Of course, as Andy pointed out, just because somebody said something does not mean it should be printed up and circulated. It isn't surprising that Opie and Howie failed to grasp the concept. Sadly, there are a lot of adults who struggle with the same issue.

Andy was trying to explain to Opie and Howie why they shouldn't print stories like that. "You don't circulate stories that are mean and unkind about people," he said. "There are too many other stories to put in. Nice stories."

"But, Pa," Opie protested. "When we put in the nice kind of stories, nobody wanted to buy the paper." There is the conundrum.

It's been many years since I worked for a newspaper, but I have had that discussion so many times that I know every angle by heart. People who aren't in the news business always criticize newspapers and news broadcasts for focusing on the negative. But that's what readers want. Nobody wants to read about who sold the most Girl Scout cookies — except maybe the Girl Scout and her family.

The truth is, newspapers can't afford to be crusaders all the time. They have to give the readers what they want part of the time — or else they would go out of business. Quite often, that means providing the tawdry and sensational at the expense of things that may be more uplifting.

It's a complex thing, really. The nature of news is to be negative — wars, natural disasters, economic collapses — and human nature often veers to the negative. Many people — not all but many — are greedy and selfish. It isn't news when people are civilized with each other because that is what is expected. It is news when they are uncivilized with each other.

Or, as we are frequently told in journalism school, it isn't news if a dog bites a man. But it is news if a man bites a dog.

There was a valuable lesson in the episode, which was articulated best by Aunt Bee. When she, Andy and Barney concluded they had retrieved all the copies of the paper, and Andy said he hoped Opie and Howie had learned from the experience, she observed that perhaps the adults could learn something from it, too.

"We're responsible for all this loose talk going around town," she said. "If we want the boys to behave better, we'd better set them a better example."

That's good advice, and it would have been quite effective — if Opie hadn't mentioned that he and Howie had had so much material that they had printed up the next week's edition in advance. He assured them that all those copies had been taken to the dump so no one would ever read them.

Except for Aunt Bee, Andy and Barney who went to the dump on a late–night expedition to find the papers and read what other gossip the boys had picked up.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Brotherly Love

"All my life, I have dreamed of belonging to an exclusive club like the Empire. Even as a child, when I formed clubs with my teddy bears, there were always two or three who didn't make the cut."

Niles (David Hyde Pierce)

The Frasier series established in its first season (1993–1994) certain recurring themes that were always proving to be fertile territory for great comedy.

A good example was the sibling rivalry that the Crane brothers apparently never outgrew. In the first season, they tried to write a book together and failed miserably because of repressed sibling issues. On this night in 1995, they were in direct competition with each other for an available membership in an exclusive club called the Empire Club.

It all began when Niles was invited to a meet–and–greet at the club — where he and the other prospective members were to be sized up by the membership — and came by the radio station to invite Frasier to come along — and to boast a bit. Frasier was green with envy.

"It's eating you up inside, isn't it?" asked Roz (Peri Gilpin).

"Like a carnivorous bacteria," Frasier replied.

Roz remembered some strings she could pull to get Frasier invited to the party as well — and then the brothers began working together when it was revealed that another membership was open because of legal proceedings against a long–time member. That meant it was possible for both to be accepted. So with Daphne (Jane Leeves) on his arm posing as a trophy girlfriend, Frasier went to the party.

When they walked in, Daphne asked Frasier, "What's that smell?"

In hushed tones, Frasier replied, "That's power." At that point, Frasier and Niles both believed there were two openings in the club.

But at the party they learned that the member with the legal problems had been reinstated because he had been acquitted. Only one membership was available.

Sibling rivalry kicked in, and the brothers began bashing each other. Niles mentioned his brother's threatened suicide when Lilith left him in the waning weeks of the Cheers series, and Frasier spoke of Niles' run–in with the police during his college years when he mooned President Nixon.

When the evening was over, they both felt they had been sabotaged by the other.

After an awkward encounter at the cafe, the brothers apologized to each other. As they were doing so, Niles' cell phone rang. It was the club with the news that he had not been selected. He replied that Frasier was with him and inquired if the person at the other end wished to speak to him as well. The person on the other end did want to speak to Frasier so Nilee handed the phone to Frasier, and it turned out that Frasier had been selected.

Frasier was elated. He had long been rehearsing a special line for just such a time in his life — "If anyone wants me, I'll be at my club" — and he planned to use it frequently now that he was a member of the Empire Club, but he wasn't going to celebrate until Niles left the cafe. When Niles left, Frasier celebrated and called for a round of coffees for everyone — just when Niles returned to retrieve the overcoat he had left behind.

Frasier tried to cover by telling Niles that his victory had been robbed of its sweetness by Niles' setback — but Niles wasn't buying it.

Anyway, after some soul searching, Frasier decided to go to the club and withdraw his membership in favor of his brother. It was quite a gesture — but, before he made it, Frasier had to use the line he had been practicing all his life. He figured he had to use it while he could.

It was a gesture for naught, though.

When he arrived at the club, Frasier learned that there had been a mistake. The members actually had wanted Niles, not Frasier. Whoever called with the news had gotten their names confused.

In the meantime, though, Martin (John Mahoney) had told Niles what Frasier was doing, and Niles was incensed. He resented having his older brother fight his battles for him, and Martin was perplexed. He thought Niles would be pleased. His sons never seemed to be what he thought they should be.

Niles stormed out of the apartment and went straight to the club, where he was spoiling for a fight and told off the startled members. Then, when there was a pause, Frasier told Niles there had been a mistake. Niles was the one they had wanted all along.

Niles changed his tune, but it was too late. The members were offended and wouldn't have Niles as a member under any conditions. As a burly bouncer threw Niles over his shoulder and carried him into the hallway that led to the door, he pleaded to be allowed to remain in the club. The last the audience saw of him was his fingers wrapped around the door frame and his voice from behind the wall wailing, "I belong here!" No doubt he saw himself that way.

Sibling rivalry is a real problem that some folks, like Frasier and Niles, never outgrow. Most people who have siblings have a certain amount of sibling rivalry when they are young. That is normal. Some leave it behind in childhood. Some don't.

Those who don't are rarely the elitist snobs the Crane brothers were. That was what made it funny, I suppose. It gave it the exaggeration that was needed to turn a sad situation into an amusing one.

Frankly, it's a tragedy when any siblings carry childhood issues into their adult years. Inevitably, it seems to me it is a symptom of much more complex issues at work, but, with the Crane brothers, you almost had to expect from the beginning that there were issues there, simmering beneath the surface.

And it made for many of the funniest Frasier episodes. But few were as funny as the one that first aired 20 years ago tonight.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nosey Business

Andy: Oh, I wouldn't worry about Barney, Floyd. He gets a little excited about things sometimes, you know.

Floyd (Howard McNear): I think his trouble is he's not married. Now, if he was married, these little things wouldn't bother him.

The episode of the Andy Griffith Show that first aired on this night in 1965 was a great lesson in friendship.

Andy (Andy Griffith) and Barney (Don Knotts) were going through some old office files when they came across a file concerning a 19–year–old assault case involving Floyd the barber (Howard McNear) and the grocer, Old Man Foley (Frank Ferguson). According to the report, Floyd had punched Foley in the nose in the barber shop.

The case had never been properly disposed of, and that set off Barney, who promptly stirred up a hornet's nest. It was really a classic example of Barney being Barney, obsessing about something to the point of driving everyone around him nuts.

Having taken the position that the case was never properly disposed of and that it was the responsibility of the sheriff's office to close the case if possible, Barney interrogated the two people who were involved — and, not surprisingly, he got two versions of what had happened.

So Barney wanted to re–enact the event, bring Foley and Goober (George Lindsey) in and see if they could arrive at the truth. Goober had been a little boy at the time of the incident, but he had been the only witness.

Barney said the first thing to do was put everyone where they had been 19 years earlier. He speculated that Goober had been sitting in one of the chairs lining the wall, waiting for his turn in the barber chair, and Goober agreed that was probably the case so Barney led him to a chair. Goober said he was probably reading a comic book because he always read a comic book while waiting his turn so Barney grabbed a comic book from the stack of magazines on a table.

Goober asked for another one. "I've read this one," he told Barney.

Barney said it didn't matter if he had read it before. It was really just a prop for the re–enactment.

"But I've read it twice," Goober protested.

So Barney gave him a different comic book.

Andy, who had been getting a haircut before Barney came in with Goober and Foley, had had enough. He leaped out of the chair, grabbed Barney and pulled him over to a doorway where he apparently hoped they could speak in private. He told Barney that he wanted him to drop the whole thing, that nobody cared about a 19–year–old assault case.

Barney said he cared and he hoped Andy would, too.

Andy said he didn't care, and the two began to argue, apparently unaware that another fight was breaking out back in the barber shop. Barney had stirred up some long–forgotten feelings, and Floyd punched Foley again.

Andy and Barney ran back into the barber shop, and Barney asked Goober — once again, the only witness — what had happened, but Goober had been reading the comic book, just as he probably was doing 19 years earlier.

Things really snowballed from there.

Mayberry, of course, was a small town, and it seemed that just about everyone was related to either Foley or Floyd. Before you knew it, the town was dividing into two camps, and people were getting hit on the nose at an astonishing rate. Some of the people who were getting into fights didn't even know each other.

In a last–ditch effort to bring peace back to Mayberry, Andy brought Foley and Floyd into the courthouse for a little discussion — and sent Barney out to get Goober. With Barney out of the way, he tried to reason with the two of them.

"You've been friends for 20 years," he told them. "More than friends, you've been neighbors. You must have seen one another through a lot of trouble in that time. Now, you're not kids, either one of you, and you both know the value of old friends. And the first law of friendship is to be ready to forgive. I know you're both sore about what happened yesterday, but I don't believe anything that's happened couldn't be made right by a warm, forgiving handshake. Do you?"

Floyd said that was what Sheriff Poindexter said to them 19 years earlier.

What happened then, Andy wanted to know.

They had shaken hands, Floyd said, and then he had invited Foley over for a free shave. Foley agreed; that is what had happened.

"Well, if it worked then," Andy said, "I don't see why it wouldn't work now."

So they shook hands, and it seemed everything was resolved — until Barney returned from the gas station with Goober and found that Foley and Floyd were no longer in the courthouse. Andy told him they had settled everything like friends, but that wasn't good enough for Barney. He found out that no official paper had been signed closing the case.

"Well, then, the case isn't closed," Barney said. "It's as open as it ever was!"

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Best Steely Dan Album

Steely Dan always played to the beat of a different drummer.

In a musical era that was dominated by hard rock, soft rock and disco, Steely Dan stood out as one of the few truly unique bands of the 1970s, which was kind of ironic given that it wasn't until "Katy Lied," the album that was released in March of 1975, that Steely Dan began working primarily with studio musicians.

"Usually, such a studied recording method would drain the life out of each song," wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine for, "but that's not the case with Katy Lied, which actually benefits from the duo's perfectionist tendencies."

That is true.

Erlewine wrote that "Katy Lied" was a "smoother version" of the album that preceded it, "Pretzel Logic," which contained what was arguably Steely Dan's signature hit, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number."

There weren't any songs on "Katy Lied" that had that kind of commercial stature. Oh, there were hits. There were always hits on Steely Dan albums. "Black Friday" was the biggest, rising to #37, and "Bad Sneakers" was released as a single but didn't sell nearly as well. (Personally, I thought it had more of Steely Dan's sound, kind of a jazz–blues–rock fusion, than "Black Friday" did.)

I would never call myself an expert on Steely Dan — although I had some of their albums on vinyl and have several on CD today — but I would be inclined to name "Katy Lied" as the band's best album.

It doesn't have my favorite Steely Dan song, and I'm sure most people would agree with me. But judge it as an album. The music and the lyrics by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are consistently good, and the album is designed so that no mood is allowed to linger past the end of that recording.

The album had a lot to live up to, but it made changes that worked for Steely Dan, especially the dependence on studio musicians. It gave the music a tight, sophisticated sound. The album followed "Pretzel Logic," a complex album by anyone's standards; "Katy Lied" was, indeed, like a smoother version of "Pretzel Logic," more palatable to the more casual listener.

My personal favorite from the album was "Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More." I don't think it ever got much airplay, but it was my favorite.

There was always a cerebral quality to Steely Dan that I appreciated. In this case, it could be seen in the name of the album. Unlike many albums by other artists, the title wasn't taken from a song that was on it. It was, rather a play on the name of a particular kind of cricket — katydid. (Did you happen to notice that the cover art is a picture of a katydid?)

There is no song on "Katy Lied" that is called "Katy Lied," but in the song "Doctor Wu," you can hear lyrics that say things like "Katy tried; I was halfway crucified" and "Katy lies; you can see it in her eyes."

"Katy Lied" was also the first appearance of Michael McDonald on a Steely Dan album. McDonald, of course, became known for his work with the Doobie Brothers, but he continued to record with Steely Dan, appearing on "The Royal Scam," "Aja" and "Gaucho."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

'Outbreak' Should Have Been Better

Sam (Dustin Hoffman): Once in your life, take a chance!

Robby (Rene Russo): You know what, Sam? I did. I married you.

It occurred to me that last fall, when the Ebola virus was making news in the United States, would have been an appropriate time for a TV network to show "Outbreak," a movie that premiered 20 years ago today about a similar but fictional disease and the effort to prevent its spread in a fictional California town.

But Ebola's progression is positively pedestrian by comparison. This virus was some kind of supervirus, turning a human to jelly within 24 hours of exposure.

Of course, the story fueled the fire of conspiracy theories, too, since it turned out that the federal government had been aware of the disease, which had first surfaced nearly 30 years earlier, had destroyed the village where it appeared to contain it and had kept samples of the virus in storage, all in an attempt to control access to the virus, making it a valuable biological weapon, especially since the government intended to develop a serum.

It was effective, too. When I saw the movie, I know I left the theater wondering how well equipped the government really was to respond to an unexpected outbreak of a deadly disease. Others must have felt the same way — and whether there might be some rogue element in the government that was capable of causing a widespread epidemic.

(Come to think of it, I thought of this movie a few years later when people were dying of anthrax exposure.)

The movie had a talented cast. It starred Dustin Hoffman as a virologist who was sent to investigate when this fictional disease resurfaced. His crew was played by Kevin Spacey (a few years before winning Best Actor for "American Beauty") and Cuba Gooding Jr. (a year before winning Best Supporting Actor for "Jerry Maguire"). The Army officers who had gathered the virus samples and destroyed the village nearly three decades earlier were played by Donald Sutherland and Morgan Freeman. Hoffman's ex–wife, also an expert in battling deadly diseases, was played by Rene Russo.

The story of the outbreak of the disease and the frantic effort to prevent its spread was "one of the great scare stories of our time," Ebert wrote.

I think the scare story was helped considerably by the way the movie followed the spread of the disease. It's like what Alfred Hitchcock said about the difference between a horror movie and a suspense movie. In a horror movie, you see a bomb explode. You see a lot of carnage. You may even see bodies strewn about, some in bloody messes. In a suspense movie, you see the bomb that no one else sees. Perhaps it has a timing device, and you see it. It tells you there isn't much time. Everyone else goes about his or her daily routine, unaware of what is about to happen.

In "Outbreak," an infected smuggler, sweating and clearly ill, gets off an airplane and is greeted by his girlfriend. They share a deep kiss, and she becomes infected. In a dark theater, an infected person coughs, and the camera follows the germs as they swirl unseen among the unsuspecting patrons.

It was a reminder of how vulnerable we all are — wherever we are.

I believe it was that same feeling of vulnerability that prompted such strong reactions from the people around here to the thought of Ebola on the loose in their midst.

Ebert observed that he got hooked by the various stories — even though he knew he was being manipulated. I guess the thing that separated us was that he didn't mind being manipulated, and I kinda did.

Maybe that seems strange, given the fact that we have all come to an understanding that we are manipulated by images and sounds on TV as well as the movie screen. Believe me, I have been aware of that for a long time.

And I suppose Ebert makes a valid point that it's something of a guilty pleasure to allow yourself to be manipulated, all the while knowing precisely what was happening. That probably explains things like the popularity of romance novels — or horror/suspense stories, like the ones Stephen King has made a fortune writing.

"Outbreak" followed a tried–and–true movie formula. It was straight out of the old Westerns, complete with a showdown in the sky at the end. It was a faceoff between Hoffman and Gooding in a helicopter trying to prevent a bomber from incinerating the small, defenseless town. (Sounds positively "Dr. Strangelove," huh?)

"By then," Ebert wrote, "I was hooked."

Yeah, OK, I guess I was, too. But really I expected more from a movie with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in it — and Wolfgang Petersen in the director's chair — than shameless manipulation.

Well, I guess if you're going to see a movie about the outbreak of a deadly disease, you should know you'll be manipulated.

But the stakes were so high in the story that I think I wanted more of an acknowledgement of that at the end of the movie — and I was disappointed that it was not forthcoming.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

'Coal Miner's Daughter' Was Two Stories in One

Doolittle (Tommy Lee Jones): [after Loretta's first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry] What we got to do next is figure out what to do next.

"Coal Miner's Daughter," which premiered 35 years ago today, was really two stories in one.

The first story was about a rural Kentucky girl named Loretta Webb, raised in poverty in a bump in the road called Butcher Hollow ("Holler" in Kentuckyspeak). For the first half of the movie, the focus was on Loretta (Sissy Spacek) and a young man, Doolittle Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones), who wanted to marry her.

Doolittle was kind of wild, and Loretta's father (played by my fellow Arkansan, Levon Helm) disapproved of the relationship. But when the two decided to get married, he didn't stand in the way. In fact, he showed up at the little country church where vows were being exchanged — at least long enough to answer in the affirmative when the preacher asked, "Who gives this woman's hand in marriage?"

So the two embarked on their life together, but life was hard for the newlyweds — until Doo discovered Loretta's musical talent, which led to her well–received performance before an audience.

That was the transitional moment. The audience loved Loretta, and she and Doo used it to launch her musical career. They succeeded — and found that fame and fortune didn't solve all problems. They merely created new ones.

But that scene in which she sings in public for the first time is an empowering moment. You could see her gaining confidence with each note.

It was the transition to that second story in the movie — about the problems that fame and fortune brought to their lives. Such is the nature of biographical movies, I guess. Of course, the fact that such a movie is being made at all is evidence that the subject of the movie succeeded — to an extent, at least — in overcoming his/her demons.

Loretta Lynn often used those problems as inspirations for her most successful songs.

Spacek also re–created the relationship Lynn had with country music legend Patsy Cline, a relationship that ended tragically when Cline was killed in an airplane crash. As big a star as Cline was, Lynn was probably country music's first female superstar, and their scenes together represented more than a friendship. They represented a transitional period in country music.

There was kind of an odd dichotomy, though, in the film's treatment of that relationship. On the one hand, the stars — Spacek and Beverly D'Angelo in the role of Cline — didn't lip synch while someone else did the singing for them — even though lip synching was usually done in that kind of movie at that time. The refusal of the film to yield on that point suggests (to me, anyway) a commitment to an honest approach by the actors — rather like not having a stunt double do the rough stuff in one's scenes.

On the other hand, though, the film did take certain liberties with the truth. For example ...

Lynn and Cline never toured together. In the movie, they tour together and confide in each other. They were confidants in real life, but they never toured together. I don't know whether touring together was the custom of the time for popular stars, country or otherwise, but I know Cline and Lynn never toured together.

They might have talked about it, though. I have heard that Cline may have been thinking about buying a touring bus shortly before her death. If so, then there are scenes in "Coal Miner's Daughter" that offer a tantalizing glimpse into what the future might have been like if Cline had not died.

But they do not re–create actual events.

Now, I'm a history buff, and I always enjoy good historical movies. And I know that, the movie business being what it is, even the best stories are going to get embellished in some way before they make it to the silver screen — whether I think the stories need embellishment or not. Sometimes I can live with those embellishments. Sometimes I can't.

In "Coal Miner's Daughter," I have decided I can live with the ones I know about. I can't say how I will feel if I learn about embellishments of which I had no knowledge. Depends on what they are, I guess, and how crucial they are to the story.

The scenes from the tours were kind of used to tie together loose ends and establish the closeness of Lynn's relationship with Cline. It was during such a Hollywood–created tour, for example, that Lynn caught Doo cheating on her, and she confided in Cline. Now, that didn't fundamentally alter the facts. Doo still cheated on her, and that still led to her authorship of one of her biggest hits.

That's the kind of Hollywood lie that I can live with, though. In the movie, Cline was the sympathetic friend, an innocent bystander. She wasn't the one with whom Doo was cheating nor was she the one who broke the news to Lynn. If the script had altered either of those conditions, it would have fundamentally changed the story and almost certainly changed the nature of Cline's relationship with Doo.

Speaking of Doo, I think this may have been the first time I ever saw Tommy Lee Jones in a movie. He had been in movies for about 10 years prior to that, and I saw some of the movies he made in the '70s, but I believe I saw them on TV long after they made the rounds of the theaters. If I saw one or more of them before I saw "Coal Miner's Daughter," his appearance(s) made no impression on me.

I saw "Coal Miner's Daughter" on the big screen when I saw it the first time, and I was impressed with the work done by all the participants, not just Spacek, who took home the Oscar for Best Actress. Jones really did make an impression on me with his performance. I'm tempted to describe it as sensitive — but that almost seems to deny a steely resolve that Jones brought to the role of Doo. If Doo really was that persistent, it's no wonder Lynn became a country superstar.

Whether it was the first time I saw him or not, I have seen him in quite a few movies since — and I honestly think this was his best performance. Or, at least, I believe it is the best performance I have seen him give. He wasn't nominated for an Oscar for his work — that kind of recognition came later, perhaps belatedly, although it would have been hard to wedge him in as a nominee for either Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor that year.

Without him, though, it is hard for me to imagine Spacek winning Best Actress — so maybe that was as much his award as it was hers.

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Castaways' Commitment

The nature of television has changed in unpredictable ways over the years — and I am not talking about the rise of pay–TV services like cable and satellite. That is a separate issue.

I'm talking about the kinds of stories that were written, especially for the sitcoms. In the 1970s, Norman Lear was behind the emergence of socially/politically conscious programs like All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons and Good Times that contributed to increased awareness of things that are considered outrageous today. In hindsight, that was an important step in TV's maturation process — not to mention the country's. By comparison, the story lines that had been used in sitcoms prior to that time seem preposterous, childish and immature. They made audiences laugh, but they didn't make them think.

To be fair, there was a certain amount of truth to the stereotypes. The sitcoms of the '50s were unrealistic in their depictions of individuals and families, then or now, and, frankly, the premises of many of the sitcoms of the '60s (in fact much of the programming of that decade, sitcom and otherwise) were just plain silly — talking horses, Martians and witches and genies living among us and passing themselves off as one of us, hillbillies who strike it rich and move to California to live among the other millionaires, a high–society couple who throw away their city life to live on a farm in the country.

But there was also a genuine commitment to certain principles on those shows that are still worth celebrating, even though their importance was de–emphasized by the issues that were squarely in the spotlight of the more socially aware sitcoms.

In the Gilligan's Island episode that aired on this night in 1965, Gilligan (Bob Denver) was suffering from an inferiority complex. The Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) had rescued Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) when she had a cramp while swimming. Actually, Gilligan had tried to rescue Mary Ann, but, as usual, he fouled it up, and the Skipper wound up saving both of them. Everyone made a fuss over the Skipper, and Gilligan was jealous.

(At least, that was Mrs. Howell's diagnosis. As I recall, she had taken a college class or two in psychology. She wasn't a psychoanalyst. She didn't have a degree. As nearly as I could tell, none of the castaways had college degrees in anything — except the Professor, who had several and could make all kinds of things with just the raw material on the island, like coconuts and vines, but he couldn't figure out how to patch a hole in a boat.

(In spite of the absence of a degree, though, Mrs. Howell's diagnosis was accepted without question by her fellow castaways. I'd be tempted to say she and Mr. Howell stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before the three–hour tour, but such things didn't exist in the 1960s.)

So the castaways decided to concoct a scenario in which Gilligan could rescue someone and be a hero, too.

Some people think it was corny for the castaways to be so worried about Gilligan's mental and emotional well being. After all, there were so many more critical things to occupy their attention, like trying to be rescued or avoiding headhunters from nearby islands.

Personally, I thought their concern for Gilligan was admirable. It is the kind of quality you don't see much from TV characters anymore.

And their plan might have worked, too, if, in their attempt to avoid being overheard by Gilligan, they had not chosen to go to a spot in the jungle where Gilligan happened to be, and he overheard everything.

In their scenario, the Skipper would be positioned with his legs trapped beneath a fallen tree — as if that tree had just fallen on him. It would be up to Gilligan to free him.

In hindsight, this was just plain silly. After all, it was a small island. The tree had been laying there for a long time; surely even Gilligan would have noticed it and known that it hadn't just fallen on the Skipper, that it had been in that position for weeks, maybe months. In their zeal to help him, though, Gilligan's friends must not have realized that.

Anyway, Gilligan was hip to what was going on, and he played along with it — until he managed to get both himself and the Skipper caught — for real — beneath the log. Ginger and Mary Ann ran off to find the Professor to get him to help them with the log.

While they were gone, an honest–to–goodness headhunter started to zero in on the prone pair — but he had to retreat into the jungle when he heard the girls returning with the Professor.

Gilligan got a chance to be a hero for real when the headhunter captured all the other castaways and bound them to poles.

Gilligan found them all while the headhunter was searching somewhere else on the island, but Gilligan still believed that it was a con job. I wonder how he rationalized the fact that all six of his fellow castaways were bound to poles. Who did he think tied them up?

Well, anyway, he rescued his friends, and, in what can only be regarded as a slapstick moment, the headhunter wound up sitting in a campfire and running into the lagoon to put out the blaze — which really wasn't a blaze at all, just a lot of smoke.

All in all, it was a better–than–average sitcom for the '60s.

Monday, March 02, 2015

A Milestone for 'The Sound of Music'

"After all, the wool from the black sheep is just as warm."

Sister Margaretta (Anna Lee)

"The Sound of Music," which premiered on this day in 1965, is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood.

Unless you are at least 40, you probably have no memory of a time when movies — even the blockbusters — spent more than a few weeks in theaters — and, for that matter, could not be seen at many locations in the same city. Those were the days when multiple–screen theaters were rare, and the so–called "big screen" really was a big screen. Theaters made exclusive — or almost exclusive — deals for movies. That was how you scooped the competition in those days.

Those were the days when it was a real coup for a theater to strike a deal to get the hottest movie, and, in those pre–home video days, that movie might stay at that theater for months as the theater owner tried to squeeze as much from that engagement as possible. If the movie was really hot, it could stay indefinitely.

And "The Sound of Music" was a moneymaker, that was for sure. It cost a little over $8 million to make, and, ultimately, it earned nearly $300 million. For awhile, it was the highest–grossing movie of all time.

It also won the Academy Award for Best Picture. That always helps at the box office.

Anyway, I tell you all this to set the stage. See, there was a theater a few blocks from my grandparents' home in Dallas, the place where my family stayed whenever we came to visit. And that theater had struck a deal for "The Sound of Music."

I don't know how old I was at the time — not very old, I'm sure — and I don't really know how long "The Sound of Music" was showing at that theater, but it was long enough that even I realized, whenever we were visiting my grandparents and my grandmother suggested that we all go see a movie, she was talking about "The Sound of Music." She really loved that movie, and, after all, it was just a few blocks away.

I must have seen that movie half a dozen times when I was little. And that was at a time when it wasn't nearly as easy to drive between Little Rock and Dallas as it is today.

And it was a good movie. But I remember that it was a nice — and unexpected — change when we all went to see something else. I don't remember what it was, only that it was a relief to be seeing something other than "The Sound of Music."

I recall that, while doing some research during my graduate school days, I read some of the reviews of "The Sound of Music" that I came across on microfilm. Many of the critics of the day seemed to dismiss it as corny and too saccharine, which it may have been, but the box office receipts indicate that the public didn't care. Maybe audiences of the mid–1960s craved something that was corny and saccharine. (I guess that describes my grandmother's taste in movies — she always was a sucker for musicals.)

My grandmother and my mother were fans of Julie Andrews, who made her big–screen debut the year before in "Mary Poppins." She won Best Actress for it, too, and got a nomination for Best Actress for "The Sound of Music" the year after that. In the mid–'60s, there were few actresses who were as popular as Andrews.

No doubt she was a big part of the popular appeal of the movie. But that doesn't account for all of it, nor does it account for the movie's enduring appeal. Half a century later, the anniversary has become something of a cottage industry. Books are being published about it. And USA Today reports that a special video package is being released as well as reissued recordings of the music; Turner Classic Movies will start its annual film festival later this month with a showing of a restored copy of the movie; presumably, the same restored version will be the one that will be shown at roughly 500 theaters across the country on two dates in April.

Part of the movie's appeal has to be the art direction, the cinematography, the costumes — all of which were recognized with Oscar nominations. And part of its appeal was the Rodgers and Hammerstein score.

But I think a lot of it has to do with a very simple formula that has served filmmakers for generations.

In "The Sound of Music," you knew who the good guys were, and you knew who the bad guys were. Instead of black hats, the bad guys were dressed in Nazi uniforms. Instead of white hats, the good guys wore matching outfits from their latest performance.

Most important, audiences really cared about the good guys. It's hard for an audience to become involved in a story if that audience doesn't care about the good guys.

But you couldn't help caring about Julie Andrews and the seven children who were her charges — even if there were parts of the story that really were ridiculous. I mean, the big problem that the nuns at the Austrian convent had with Andrews was that she missed morning prayers pretty regularly because she was dancing and singing about the hills being alive with the sound of music. So she was hired by Christopher Plummer to be the governess for his seven children, who had already run off several governesses. Winning them over was no small accomplishment.

The plot was so silly, though, that, as I understand, several prominent people in Hollywood were approached about either appearing in it or directing it and refused. Robert Wise directed it and won an Oscar for his work.

Not bad for a corny and saccharine project.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Fantasy Does Have Its Problems

"I just met a wonderful new man. He's fictional but you can't have everything."

Cecilia (Mia Farrow)

I guess nothing epitomizes the concept of movie escapism like the 1930s — when unemployment was high and nearly everyone was struggling. No wonder the people of that time wanted to escape.

Fantasy can be a blessing and a curse, I suppose. Perhaps it is nature's way of protecting us — mentally and emotionally — from things that could overwhelm us, and that makes it a force for good. But if fantasy is allowed too much freedom in our lives, it can be a destructive force. It's a fine line.

Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo" premiered 30 years ago today, and I have concluded — after watching the movie several times since that day in 1985 — that it explored both of those concepts within the same character, Cecilia (Mia Farrow).

Apparently, film critic Roger Ebert and I agreed. "The movie is so cheerful and open that it took me a day or two, after I'd seen it, to realize how deeply Allen has reached this time," Ebert wrote. "If it is true, and I think it is, that most of the time we go to the movies in order to experience brief lives that are not our own, then Allen is demonstrating what a tricky self–deception we practice."

The audience learned early Cecilia's reasons for such self–deception. She was a waitress (which must have been a pretty grim existence in the Depression) and she was trapped in an apparently loveless and abusive marriage. She often went to the movies and sometimes saw the same movie several times. "She is a good candidate for the magic of the movies," Ebert wrote. "Up on the screen, sophisticated people have cocktails and plan trips down the Nile and are recognized by the doormen in nightclubs."

As our story began, she was watching a fictitious movie of the same name about an archaeologist in Egypt who meets a Manhattan playwright and his companions, and they all return to the U.S. for a "madcap Manhattan weekend."

She went to the theater to see the movie several times. Finally, the archaeologist (Jeff Daniels) turned to look at the movie audience (but his eyes were focused on Cecilia) and said, "You must really love this picture" — and stepped off the screen into Cecilia's life. It was a fantasy come true. Well ...

"He is a genial, open–faced smoothie with all the right moves," Ebert wrote, "but he has a problem: He only knows what his character knows in the movie, and his experience is literally limited to what happens to his character in the plot. This can cause problems. He's great at talking sweetly to a woman and holding hands and kissing — but just when the crucial moment arrives, the movie fades out, and therefore, alas, so does he."

That could be endearingly naive — and infuriating at the same time. I suppose that is evidence of how well Daniels played the role. "The Purple Rose of Cairo" wasn't his first film — he had been in three others prior to that, and his breakthrough role, I guess, was in "Terms of Endearment," which led to his starring role in "The Purple Rose of Cairo."

So it wasn't the first time I had seen him. But his modest appearance in "Ragtime" escaped me at the time, although I did notice it on additional viewings — and, when I saw "The Purple Rose of Cairo," I only remembered his supporting role in "Terms of Endearment," but I can't say I paid much attention to him in that one. His role in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" was the one that put him on my movie radar.

Anyway, Tom the archaeologist did have his problems, being a fictional character, but Tom was the problem for Gil, the actor who portrayed him in the movie. Emboldened by the first Tom's departure from his celluloid cell, the Toms in copies of the movie all across the country were trying to liberate themselves as well, causing chaos in movie theaters from sea to shining sea.

So Gil embarked on a mission — he was going to New Jersey to look for that first Tom, who by that time was off on a night on the town with Cecilia.

Gil wanted Tom to return to the movie — he was wrecking Gil's acting career — and he was willing to go to great lengths to achieve that objective, including convincing Cecilia that he was in love with her — and forcing her to choose between the fictional and seemingly perfect but limited Tom and the real and flawed but virtually unlimited Gil. And, as infatuated as Cecilia was with the make–believe world of the movies — and as abused as she had been by her husband (Danny Aiello) — she chose the real. She committed herself to it by breaking up with her husband.

But Gil hadn't committed himself to Cecilia — only to his career — and he had used her to get Tom to return to the movie. When that was accomplished, he hopped a plane for Hollywood, leaving Cecilia homeless, loveless and jobless. And, once more, she retreated to the fantasy world of the darkened movie theater.

That led to what may have been Ebert's most salient observation.

"[Allen] is interested in the conflicts involving who you want to be, and who other people want you to be," Ebert wrote. "'Stardust [Memories]' was about a celebrity whose fame prevented people from relating to anything but his image. 'Zelig,' the other side of the coin, was about a man whose anonymity was so profound that he could gain an identity only by absorbing one from the people around him. In 'Purple Rose,' the movie hero has the first problem, and the woman in the audience has the second, and when they get together, they still don't make one whole person, just two sad halves."

Many words leaped to mind when I saw that movie the first time — poignant, ironic, touching. They are still appropriate because "Purple Rose of Cairo," as creative as it was, was still an Everyman tale at its core, that tug–of–war within every human heart between what is and what we think should be. As such, the story is timeless. It remains relevant for succeeding generations.

Allen was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay but lost to Earl Wallace for "Witness."