Archive for December, 2008
In thinking about the year soon to pass, I can’t help think about some famous people who died that had some significance for me, such as Sir Edmund Hillary, who climbed Everest the year I was born, or Suzanne Pleshette, who appeared on a TV show ending screwed up b7y our local affiliate. An inordinate number of them were black musicians who passed in the latter part of the year. Isaac Hayes, who I wrote about in this piece last year; Miriam Makeba, Mother Africa; Odetta; the underappreciated Norman Whitfield, and of course, Levi Stubbs.
For Gordon and Tom the Mayor
Hey, if you have a chance, would you go to Dead or Alive and petition for the inclusion of Norman Whitfield and/or Odetta, please?
Then there were iconic characters such as Paul Newman and George Carlin, Tim Russert and Jim McKay. In an obit for McKay, it indicated that he made even the most “minor” of sports seem as important as the Olympics, and that’s why I appreciated him so.
A number of folks died this month I didn’t mention, such as Sammy Baugh, the first star quarterback of the NFL; Bettie Page, pin-up extraordinare; Mark Felt, who just didn’t look that much like Hal Holbrook who played Deep Throat in All the President’s Men; Majel Barrett, Gene Roddenberry’s widow, who played nurse Chapel in the original series as well as Deanna Troi’s mother in The Next Generation, and the voice of the Star Trek computer throughout the ST universe; Eartha Kitt, who sang rings around Madonna in her performance of Santa Baby, but who had a much more interesting bio than I had been aware of; possibly best known as a Catwoman in the old Batman series; and playwright Harold Pinter, whose death was sort of mentioned in the new movie Synecdoche, New York.
A few of folks died too young for my comfort: Hayes (65); Gene Upshaw (63), Hall of Fame football player for the NFL Oakland Raiders and later Executive Director of the NFL Players Association; Bobby Murcer (62), the Oklahoman stuck following Oklahoman Mickey Mantle as Yankee centerfielder; Russert (58); Bernie Mac (50); and, of course, Heath Ledger (28).
I also recall someone you don’t know. Tom Siblo was a Socialist Worker’s organizer
on the campus of the State University College at New Paltz (NY) during the Vietnam war. Unusually for men at the time, he’d taken his wife’s name (as Siblo-Landsman)
and was permanently disabled because of a diabetic-related coronary condition. He was around my age.
I will remember.
A couple things:
1. As this Wikipedia article suggests, the use of the X(or a variant) has long historical precedent, close to a millennium, long before the days of modern advertising. The word “Christ” and its compounds, including “Christmas”, have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern “Xmas” was commonly used.
“Christ” was often written as “XP” or “Xt”; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as AD 1021. This X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters χ and ρ, used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for “Christ”), and are still widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ. The labarum, an amalgamation of the two Greek letters rendered as ☧, is a symbol often used to represent Christ in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christian Churches.
In ancient Christian art, χ and χρ are abbreviations for Christ’s name. In many manuscripts of the New Testament and icons, X is an abbreviation for Christos, as is XC (the first and last letters in Greek, using the lunate sigma); compare IC for Jesus in Greek. The Oxford English Dictionary documents the use of this abbreviation back to 1551, 50 years before the first English colonists arrived in North America and 60 years before the King James Version of the Bible was completed. At the same time, Xian and Xianity were in frequent use as abbreviations of “Christian” and “Christianity”; and nowadays still are sometimes so used, but much less than “Xmas”.
So, no, this is not my assault on Christmas; it is my attempt to get to the historical roots.
2. At least in my church calendar, we are in the midst of Christmastide (or Xmastide, if you will), beginning on December 25 and going forward to Epiphany or Three Kings Day, or as my mother still calls it, Russian Christmas. In my hometown, there were lots of Russians and most of them attended the Russian Orthodox Church. THESE are the 12 days of Christmas, which is good because I’m still working on some presents. Before Christmas Eve, I’m not particularly interested in playing Christmas music, but NOW ever more so.
The pleasant surprise this Christmas was that I went out front to get the newspaper on Christmas morning. I discovered a doll for Lydia from an unexpected source – the three neighbor girls a few houses up. I don’t even know their names, and they don’t know Lydia’s (the card referred to her as the “little cutie”). I suspect that the girls, who appear to be between 10 and 14, saw a cute doll while they were shopping, and decided to give it to someone they saw waiting with her mom or dad at the bus stop in front of their house each morning.
December 26: I’m wearing a Santa hat (one I had left at work two days earlier). I had a red coat, and a beard. I’m waiting for a bus when this guy I didn’t even see said, “Hey, Santa.” I turn around. The guy continues, “Got some change? I don’t get any money until the first of the month. ” Roger might have turned him down, but Santa could not.
If you lived in the United States at Christmastime, you might remember the Folgers coffee commercial where “Peter” makes a surprise visit home for the holidays; it ran \for over a decade and a half. The story behind the commercial.
On Christmas Day, the wife and I left the daughter in the capable hands of the parents-in-law and traversed to the Spectrum Theatre in Albany to see Synecdoche, New York.
There were four basic reasons I wanted to see this film:
4) Roger Ebert gave it a four-star review.
3) I have liked some of the movies Charlie Kauffman has written, such as “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”; “Adaptation”, not so much. This was Kauffman’s directoral debut.
2) It has a stellar cast, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, and Hope Davis.
1) The movie’s first setting is in Schenectady, New York, where I lived for 20 months before moving to nearby Albany. (An interesting piece on Schenectady and the title word here.)
Early on, I’m loving this film. It’s a dark comedy that pegs Schenectady in the first song, in the architecture. I found a particular imagery of a house on fire hysterically funny. I laughed out loud more than once. It is wonderfully performed. Yet somewhere in the theatrical remaking of the life of Caden (Hoffman), it just unraveled for me, as too long, too unfocused.
Here’s a cheat: I’m going to quote from various Rotten Tomatoes reviews, both positive (63%) and negative, that reflect as well as anything how I was feeling.
Charlie Kaufman’s latest example of screenplay extrapolation begins with an obscure definitional allusion…and ends in some sort of self-referential apocalypse. – Bill Gibron
It is a portrait of disappointment and melancholy, tickled by bits of wit, that defies logic and resists description. – Duane Dudek
For about two-thirds of its length, this is an extremely funny if extraordinarily dark comedy… But we begin to measure out the time in teaspoons, and the movie becomes banal and morose. – John Beifuss
You could quite possibly be enthralled — or not. – Pete Hammond
This makes the film interesting in concept but disappointing in execution. And surreal touches added throughout that just do not add up to anything but a film more challenging than rewarding. – Mark R. Leeper
It’s all crazy enough to work for a while, but the 124 long minutes don’t pass soon enough. – Jeffrey M. Anderson
…a picture that is (a) brilliant, in scattered parts, but also (b) a reminder that virtually every writer needs an editor. – Kurt Loder
For a film that desperately wants us to empathize with its main character’s plight, Kaufman’s inability to reconcile his overambitious gimmickry with the story’s emotional demands is a fatal flaw. – Jurgen Fauth
Watching the film is also wearying, like assembling a puzzle from a box into which a sadist continually pours new pieces. – Lawrence Toppman
More than one critic compared it, unfavorably, to Fellini’s “8 1/2″.
Ultimately, the line that described it best for me is this technically positive review by Philip Martin: “An impossible, bewildering and brave failure of a movie …”
I would not say, “Don’t see it.” You may enjoy it, “get” it more than I did. Or not.
Uthaclena, who is one of the few people reading this blog I know personally:
Okay, it’s Sunday, and the header of your blog refers to “pondering… God.”
Do you believe in “God” as a supernatural Personality actively creating, shaping, judging, intervening, with whom one can have a “relationship?” And, as a follow-up question, do you believe in personal survival after bodily death? Some awareness that will recognize I am/was “Roger?”
OK, U., interesting questions. And I waited until Sunday to answer them.
I don’t think God made the world then went away. I believe that God is an active entity. I believe in the power of prayer. But I don’t believe that prayer is like some sort of cosmic Santa Claus where you get to pray for a pony and ZING!, a pony arrives. Intercessionary prayer I believe in. And sometimes the answer is no. Three examples immediately come to mind.
There was a woman I knew named Rus who had a rare, incurable disease. About 20 years ago, while she was dying in a Boston hospital, a bunch of her friends, including me, were in the chapel of Trinity United Methodist Church in Albany, praying for Rus. And she was cured. There is no other logical explanation for it.
People were praying for my father in 2000 and my brother-in-law John in 2002, too, but they both died. And in each case, someone who was praying probably the hardest for them got pretty damn angry with God.
God may talk to people through earthly tools, such as movies. I found this website that discusses the theological ramification of movies. Theological ramifications of “Natural Born Killers”? The site also has a thematic directory where topics from alienation to trust are referenced to specific movies.
I think that often God sends a sign. I am reminded of the joke here (Dumb Faith) that suggests that sometimes the message is given but we are just not hearing it.
As for the second question, I believe in an afterlife. Whether it’ll contain my Rogerness, I simply don’t know. People often talk about the deceased watching over them from heaven; I don’t know if it’s true or not, though I suspect it’s true for them, and that may be enough.
Meanwhile someone suggested that I become “friends” with Stan Lee on his Facebook page. So I did, and he accepted on Friday, as he did with Laurence Fishburne and doubtless thousands of others. Probably not worth mentioning, except that it’s Stan Lee’s 86th birthday today.
Oddly enough, recently I bought “This is the Moody Blues” on iTunes (to replace the vinyl copy I had), and this was one of the songs. I still love it.
A question? Well, by way of preface, there’s an Australian talk show host called Rove McManus (the show is called “Rove Live”) who ends every celebrity interview with the same question: “Who would you turn gay for?” The current Prime Minster of New Zealand answered Brad Pitt, though he as asked by some one not quite the stature of Rove.
So, in my best imitation Australian accent, I ask, who would Roger turn gay for?
When I was in high school, I had this conversation among some of my male friends. I suggested one of the guys from our high school swim team. Interestingly, at least three of that group of friends turned out to be gay, though they were in the closet at the time, at least to me.
I suppose if you had asked me 25 years ago, I might have said Tom Selleck. This in spite of the fact that I almost never actually watched Magnum, P.I. In fact, the only time I specifically remember watching the show is when it had a crossover with Murder, She Wrote, a show I’ll admit to watching fairly religiously. Cabot Cove, Maine: highest per capita murder rate in the WORLD. But Selleck’s politics, I’ve discovered are rather right-wing, so not him.
I suppose George Clooney. He’s rich, handsome, talented, and his politics don’t suck. Incidentally, it was never Brad Pitt for me, even in his Thelma and Louise days.
No one asked me, but I do have rooting interests on this last weekend of the regular season of the NFL:
The New York (New Jersey) Jets: I’d like them to beat Miami, which COULD go from being the #3 seed to out of the playoffs. So, I’m also rooting for Buffalo to get to 8-8 and beat New England. For good measure I think I want Jacksonville to beat Baltimore, but it ain’t gonna happen.
The Philadelphia Eagles: this for Greg. Not only must the Eagles beat the Cowboys (I ALWAYS root against the Cowboys), but Oakland should beat Tampa Bay AND Houston must beat Chicago. Yeesh.
The Carolina Panthers: my mom, one sister, one niece live in Charlotte. They’ll probably still be in the playoffs, but it’d do them well to beat the Saints.
The San Diego Chargers: the other sister and one niece live in the San Diego area. So if the Chargers beat the Broncos, they’ll be in the playoffs! At 8-8. Yuck.
Her parents have told her relatively little about the whole Christmas tradition compared what she’s picked up from her friends. She knows, for instance, a whole bunch of Christmas songs that she learned at day care, some of which the kids sang at a local hospital’s geriatric unit. (“Going to see the grandmas and grandpas” is how it’s put.)
One of the songs she knows is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” She may have known about it before from a “dancing snowman” one of my in-laws cursed us with a year or two ago. In any case, she’s taken the words to heart.
So much so that one day, the day after a night when Lydia was slow to get to bed, Lydia started crying uncontrollably for no obvious reason. After the paternal investigation, it came to light that she thought she wasn’t being very good the night before, that Santa could “see” that she was being “bad” and she would get no gifts for Christmas! I had to reassure her that she in fact was a good child and that Santa would not “stiff” her.
One of my pastors preached on his disdain for that particular song. It might have been based somewhat on that omniscient thing.
Still, a parent can be tempted, when a child is slow to wash her hands before supper or hasn’t picked up her toys to ask her, “Do you think Santa would think you are being good?” I’ve declined that option. This year.
Some Christmas limericks from The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form
Though merchants may tally its worth,
Our reflections should turn to His birth:
Christmas celebrates when
God appeared among men
With a message of peace for the earth.
If I missed out on Christmas, perhaps
It’s because I was one of those chaps
Who had chances to be
Perched upon Santa’s knee
But, unfortunately, let them lapse.
By a star, the three wise men were led.
But they found, as they stood at His bed,
That the one brightest light
On that first Christmas night
Was the glow from the Son of God’s head.
There’s a brightly lit tree in the hall,
Lots of cards, all displayed on the wall.
Gifts are wrapped, shopping’s done,
Now it’s time for the fun—
Happy Christmas, dear friends, one and all!
May your Christmas be filled with delight;
May your tinsel be sparkly and bright;
May your crackers go pop!
May you eat till you drop;
And may you and your in-laws not fight.
The Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, MANY Faces of Santa Claus! by Fred Hembeck
Kringus Offerings by Samurai Frog
The arithmetic of Christmas: This person’s been talking about Christmas only since April. While it’s been less than 2% of my lifetime since last Christmas, it’s been over 20% of hers.