Two Old Friends

French Film Critic André Bazin

On Sunday, I was driving to San Pedro to see a friend; and I stopped at Michael R. Weinstein’s Collectible Books at Alpine Village. Sitting in the film section was a two-volume set of film criticism by André Bazin, the founder of Cahiers du Cinéma in 1951. I had owned hardbound copies of the set when I was a graduate student in the film department at UCLA. In fact, the two volumes of Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? (What Is Cinema?) had been translated into English by my favorite professor in the department, Hugh Gray.

Without any particular knowledge of the United States, Bazin was a marvelously intuitive critic who understood American film genres such as the Western almost as well as he did the French theatrical antecedents of his own country’s cinema. Re-reading his essays “The Western: Or the American Film Par Excellence” and “The Evolution of the Western,” I was taken back to my days as a film freak in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was a devotee of Cahiers du Cinéma and of the politique des auteurs it espoused. And from there came my knowledge of and love for the American film, by way of France.

My classes with Hugh Gray were among the best I took at UCLA. The film department at UCLA had on its faculty both angels and demons, and Hugh was numbered among the angels.

Hugh Gray as a Technical Specialist for Ancient Greek and Roman Film Subjects

Hugh had been an ordained Dominican priest earlier in life, but then left the order and got married. In Hollywood, he was the go-to man for films set in ancient Greece or Rome because of his wide knowledge of the subject. That wide knowledge, combined with his friendliness to his students, made him a superb professor.

I plan to re-read the Bazin essays in the months to come, thinking of the good times I had studying film at UCLA.

The Face of L.A.

By Now, he Majority of L.A.’s Population is Hispanic

Probably one of the reasons our Presidente hates California (other than the fact that we all pretty much despise him) is that there are so many Hispanics here. And I mean Hispanics of every variety, from Mexicans and Central and South Americans to Cubans and Puerto Ricans and even a few real live Spaniards. And here in Los Angeles, we pretty much get along with one another. I mean, after all, the city was founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciúncula, long before there were any gringos in evidence. It was then part of Spain, then part of Mexico, and eventually part of the United States of America, who stole it fair and square from Mexico. We even got the papers to prove it.

I remember vividly when my brother and I had our first tacos. It was in New York City, of all places, where we were attending the World’s Fair of 1964-65. We bought it at the Mexico Pavilion. The real reason I was in the Big Apple was to check out New York University’s graduate school in film. Well, I wound up not going there because I didn’t like Haig P. Manoogian, who was top man there. I don’t think he liked me very much either. (Michael Scorsese, who attended NYU, thought Manoogian was hot stuff; but then he was a filmmaker, and I wasn’t interested in making films.)

When I finally picked UCLA as the place to go, I thought I would prepare myself by buying frozen food that purported to be Mexican cuisine. It really wasn’t. In fact, it was about as bland as any other frozen food available in Cleveland. It was not until I took the train to L.A. that I encountered the real thing. And I liked it, and I still do.

I’ve lived here now for more than fifty years and haven’t been raped once. Will someone please mention that to the Tweeter-in-Chief?

 

 

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: UCLA

Royce Hall on the Campus of the University of California at Los Angeles

Royce Hall on the Campus of the University of California at Los Angeles

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland and Dartmouth College), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the weeks to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. The fact that I made it as far as the letter  “U” is a major surprise to me.

I came out to California at the tail end of December 1966 to attend graduate school at UCLA. My original intention was to become a Professor of Film History and Criticism. Well, I didn’t. Instead I ran into dirty politics as personified by one Professor Howard Suber who waged a kind of dirty war on those of his students who loved film. Out of an inborn cussedness, he made it difficult to sign up for classes; and he appointed himself chairman of my thesis committee over my personal choice of the late Bob Epstein. I knew at once that my chances of a Masters degree based on a study of the Westerns of John Ford was a goner.

It was around this time that Governor Ronald Reagan began making deep cuts in the budget of California’s universities. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, I made a sidestep into computer programming at System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, which led, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, into my present profession in accounting.

My quandary was that I loved film, but was not willing to immolate myself for he sake of principle. I kept my hand in film, writing articles and chapters of books even after I was out of the program. I even wrote a humorous article for the UCLA Daily Bruin entitled “Confessions of an Ex-Filmfreak: Or, Slow Death 24 Times a Second.”

My apartment is a scant three miles from the UCLA campus, which I still visit from time to time for various cultural events. It’s always interesting to look back at the decisions that led me to where I am today.

Do I have any regrets? Not really.