Best American Films By Year, Part Two

John Wayne in The Searchers

In this posting, I continue my list of “The Best American Films By Year” covering the period 1915 to 1977. What I am going from is a list produced by my friend Lee Sanders, with whom I am in substantial agreement. When there are two films for a particular year and the second one is in red, the second one is because I disagree with Lee’s choice (which you will find is not too often). Below is the continuation of the list from 1941 to 1960:

1941 – How Green Was My Valley (John Ford)
1942 – The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles); Casablanca (Michael Curtiz) – Lee actually had both films tied; I prefer the second
1943 – Air Force (Howard Hawks)
1944 – Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli)
1945 – They Were Expendable (John Ford)
1946 – My Darling Clementine (John Ford); The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks) – Lee had both films tied, a decision with which I agree.
1947 – Pursued (Raoul Walsh); Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur)
1948 – Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls)
1949 – Caught (Max Ophuls); She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford)
1950 – Rio Grande (John Ford)

1951 – On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray); Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock)
1952 – The Quiet Man (John Ford)
1953 – The Bandwagon (Vincente Minnelli)
1954 – The Sun Shines Bright (John Ford)
1955 – Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray)
1956 – The Searchers (John Ford)
1957 – Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk)
1958 – Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock)
1959 – Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks)
1960 – Home from the Hill (Vincente Minnelli); Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)

When I conclude this list, we will look at American films of the 1960s and 1970s (up to 1977, and I will bring the list up to 1980 with my own choices).



Zeus Goes A-Wooing

Leda and the Swan

Whenever the Greek God Zeus was felt attracted toward mortal women, he disguised himself as someone or something else and just raped them. That happened in the case of Europa (either as a bull according to Ovid or as an eagle according to Robert Graves); Danae (as a golden shower—hey, I don’t make this stuff up); Callisto (as the Goddess Artemis); and Alcmene (as her husband who was away at war at the time).

Probably the most famous coupling was with Leda, for which Zeus became a swan. The result was Helen of Troy and Polydeuces. Leda’s legitimate children by King Tyndareus of Sparta were Castor and Clytemnestra. You may recall that Clytemnestra married Agamemnon and later murdered him in his bath when he returned from the Trojan War.

The above photo was taken earlier today by me at the Getty Villa in Malibu, one of the best collections of ancient Greek and Roman antiquities in the New World.

All this comes out in this magnificent poem by William Butler Yeats:

Leda and the Swan by W. B. Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                    Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Run Like Hell: The Holidays Are Here!

Thanksgiving: Gobble Until You Wobble

The end of the year tends to be something of a blur for me. The holidays come one right after the other, starting with Halloween and continuing with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. I am of two minds about these holidays. On one hand, I feel I am required to be in a festive mood and follow certain “family” traditions that were, in fact, never a part of my own family. On the other hand, while I appreciate the time off from work, I would rather pick my own holidays and spend the time going someplace interesting, such as Peru, Siberia, American National Parks, or Australia.

Still, for those of you who feel they have to be uplifted by celebrating our holidays in a traditional manner, my heart goes out to you. Just remember that your holidays do not define or delimit you in any way. You are a unique person with needs which other people might at times find off-putting. Never you mind! Just put on a happy face and grit your teeth. But whatever you do, remember to pay homage to your own daemons, once the needs of your loved ones have been taken care of.

I recognize that I am a little strange at times. But so are we all! There is a certain safety in being conventional, but that safety is an illusion. Any day of the year, I would rather read a good book than watch a football game; eat a pork tamale with a fiery salsa picante rather than turkey; give gifts because I want to, not because it is a social obligation.

Tomorrow, Martine and I will go to the Getty Villa to look at ancient Greek and Roman art. We will pointedly not join the throngs at the malls looking for Black Friday bargains. We would rather have a restful Friday looking at works of art which have survived for two or more milllennia that were created by people who were much like us.


The Law of Diminishing Returns

Are We Reaching the Limits of E-Mail?

Every time a new technology comes into being, it gets vitiated by overuse as an advertising medium. I remember back to the early days of junk mail, when it was still a novelty, and I was more willing to consider it as having some value. That included those little voting guides put out by Citizens For … or Taxpayers Against ….The last Presidential election turned me into a person who wound up tossing most of his junk mail without so much as a glance. The same thing is now happening with all those mail order catalogs from various Indian Missions and yuppie techno-device vendors. It’s relatively rare for me now to salvage more tha n one tenth of what ends up choking my mailbox.

That goes double for e-mail. I have learned to distrust e-mail—even from friends—unless it shows some sign of knowing who I am. Several of my good friends have had their computers taken over by Malware that sends me e-mails that contain nothing but a URL. No thanks: That’s like inviting a vampire into your house.

Then, too, there are companies in my industry that think it’s a great idea to send me half a dozen e-mails a day. Unless they are announcing a new release of their software that has to be downloaded, it all goes into the Delete folder toute suite. I get invited to more webinars every day than any human being can reasonably be expected to take, so into the Biz Bag with them as well.

I suspect that smart phones will soon become the next garbage overload medium. Although my cell phone is a very dumb phone, it’s gotten to the point that I do not even try to answer it any more. I figure that if it’s important, people will leave a Voice Mail message—and those I eventually check.

Such a pity that the hucksters wind up killing all the new technologies.


Infamy as a Way of Life

Israel’s Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu

Israel has a right to exist. The Palestinians have a right to exist—though no one but a few die-hard Arabs say that Palestine as a nation has a right to exist. I am not sure now that Bibi Netanyahu and his Likud Party, however, have a right to exist.

The path taken by Netanyahu’s Israel is a dangerous one. You could be hyper-aggressive and murderous to the maximum extent, but only insofar as the people are backing your every play. Eventually, you could cross a line where not only the world at large but your own people are tired of infamy as a way of life. What happens then? Can you continue to do the same sort of thing and continue to get away with it? Probably not.

Crusader States

The Arabs see Israel as just another “crusader state.” After the wildly successful First Crusade (1096-1099), much of the Holy Land was divided into a series of feudal states run by the Crusaders. These included the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Edessa. Some of them lasted a surprisingly long time. And they might still be around today if the Arabs were not united under a powerful new leader like Saladin (from Kurdistan of all places), and the Crusaders became ever more disunited and fragmented over the next couple hundred years.

Who is to say that Israel’s continued aggression against the Palestinians and other Arabs will not result in a unified alliance to wipe it off the map? What will our attitude be in such a case? Will we have to send in our army to protect Israel’s right to exist? That would be good for another five hundred years of hatred in the Middle East.

I think the Western World had to keep a tight leash on Israel and do everything it can to stymie the right wing politicians who have been in the ascendant there since the days of Menachem Begin. (At the same, our own right wing will continue to support Israeli aggression and confuse the issue.)




Making Assumptions

Lemony Snicket

Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make — bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake — if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble. For instance, one morning you might wake up and make the assumption that your bed was in the same place that it always was, even though you would have no real evidence that this was so. But when you got out of your bed, you might discover that it had floated out to sea, and now you would be in terrible trouble all because of the incorrect assumption that you’d made. You can see that it is better not to make too many assumptions, particularly in the morning.—Lemony Snicket, The Austere Academy

About That Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

I have been asked by friends about that glacier shown atop my blog page. It is the Perito Moreno Glacier in the State of Santa Cruz in Argentina. Last year at this time, Martine and I were there on our vacation. In a country full of natural beauty, Perito Moreno is one of the top attractions. It is near the city of El Calafate, from where one can take bus tours that allow one to view the glacier from a number of viewpoints, including from a boat that travels close to its edge.

The man after whom the glacier is named was a 19th century Argentinean naturalist who was the South American equivalent of John Muir. Francisco Pascasio Moreno (nicknamed Perito, or “expert”) was born in Buenos Aires in 1852 and died in 1919. He was largely responsible for the creation of several Patagonian national parks and is memorialized in the La Plata Museum of Natural History.

One of the interesting facts about the Perito Moreno Glacier, other than its massive size, is that it is one of three Andean glaciers that are still growing in size—at a time when glaciers all over the world are retreating or even disappearing. The lake that the glacier melt drains into is Lago Argentino, which is flanked on its western boundary by a number of glaciers, including the massive Upsala and the Spegazzini glaciers.

I will change the image up top eventually, but Martine and I have happy memories of our Argentina trip, and I wanted to be reminded of it every time I looked at Tarnmoor.Com.