This 'n' That

A whole bunch of mildly interesting insights and thoughts -- well, they were interesting to me when I was thinking them, so if you don't find them interesting, write your own damned blog -- that don't add up to much of a substitute for actually reviewing new movies, but most of what I've seen lately is Jewish-themed, so my paying clients have first dibs. Anyway, you can go to Jewish Week if you want to know what I've been seeing lately.

An unintentionally funny article in yesterday's USA Today, notes that the Regal Theater chain is installing little hand communicators that will allow patrons to signal the theater manager to offer an anonymous complaint about projection or unruly audience members. Not an entirely bad idea, although it wouldn't be hard to see it degenerating into open warfare. (I can remember not that long ago when a theater near where I grew up on Long Island became a site for gang war when they played some crime film. Ah, life imitating bad art imitating low-life.) Somehow, though, I found myself thinking of William Castle when I read this story.

Of course, in the good old days before 42nd Street became Disneyfied (okay, also before the crack epidemic), you could count on a grindhouse crowd for self-policing. I can vividly recall going to some double-bill of Italian gangster and western fodder -- I don't remember the films but it was probably a Lee Van Cleef pairing -- with Wallace Gray, who was my senior advisor in the Columbia English department. Some of the denizens of the Spectator film crew -- you know who you are -- were trying to turn Wallace on to the joys of action cinema and he, as a teacher of Homer and Shakespeare, had no trouble assimilating the joys of Fuller and Aldrich.

So we're sitting there in the half-darkened theater, me on the aisle, Wallace one seat in, and some guy starts whistling along with the musical score of the film. Well, sort of along. I turned and glared at him -- he was a lanky black guy in his 30s, seated a few rows back on the other side of the aisle. He looked at me quizzically, then grinned sheepishly and gave me a slight wave of the hand. He stopped whistling (I suspect he hadn't even realized he was doing it), and that was the end of that. Wallace turned to me and whispered, "I have to stop coming here with you. You're going to get us both killed." And with impeccable logic I replied, "Hey, he was distracting me from the movie."

So if the Regal folks are looking for an enforcer, I'm your man. (Remind me to tell you about the time I threatened some leather-jacketed moron at the Thalia during a screening of an obscure film by the Hungarian director Geza von Radvanyi.)


I can't recall what got me thinking about the designation of some film noirs (or should that be films noirs? French grammar police, please advise) as "B" films. I was thinking about the beauteous Margo's observation that the really good B westerns didn't need all that damned comedy relief (she has conceived a deep hatred for Gabby Hayes, made all the deeper when I noted to her that he actually had his own TV series at one point), and it dawned on me that not only are the noir Bs devoid of such folderol, but some of the noirs we think of automatically as B films -- the Anthony Mann gems of the late 1940s, for example -- are significantly longer than the series westerns. For example, Desperate is 73 minutes long, Railroaded! 72, T-Men 92, Raw Deal 79, Reign of Terror 89 and so on.

What makes these B films? Okay, by 1947 when the first of these is released, the average running time of a studio A-budget picture is probably significantly over 90 minutes (like the budgets of the past 35 or so years, it rises steadily after WWII, if memory serves). And the stars of these films, such as they are, hardly are names to conjure with: Dennis O'Keefe, Steve Brodie, Bob Cummings (hey, he starred in a Hitchcock film) and Arlene Dahl. But they don't look especially cheap, thanks to John Alton's magic, and they certainly don't look or feel like the series Bs. (Okay, very little on this earth looks like the Monogram Charlie Chans, other than a very small but lethal train wreck.) No comedy relief, no interpolated musical numbers designed to give the film a very, very faint patina of class. In literal terms, they probably all carried B budgets, but what separates them from other semi-documentary style noirs with bigger budgets and star names? Oh, yes. Longer running times: Mankiewicz's Somewhere in the Night is 110 minutes, long and Call Northside 777 is 111, to name two favorites of mine from the same period.

Finally, a brief but heartfelt tribute to Stella, one of our two cats, who departed this life sometime last evening. Margo and I buried her with one of her favorite pillows and our deepest regrets. I will miss her almost as much as many of my departed human friends.


Anonymous said…
Much has been written about how the man loves India, how he is deeply connected to the spirituality that pervades this country about how he has managed to transcend his lineage and made a name for himself as a painter. Still there are facets to the man that emerges after one meets him. Apart from his geniality and enthusiasm, his demeanor is that of someone truly interested in what you ask and proceeds to answer them to the best of his ability.

Olaf Van Cleef,Paris - France , descendant of the Van Cleef dynasty, son of Jack Van Cleef, counsellor on high range jewellery at Cartier, is hoping to make the transition from being a scion of a business empire to that of a painter who works with his heart. His work is a colourful mosaic of shapes and sizes — pretty much like his own life and the different facets that he hopes will show from his impressions.

“My name means a lot to many people,’’ he explains plaintively. “I have the family background, its history is rich and classy, no doubt. And there is a lot of appreciation because of that. But when I do something like this, I find my own place. This is when I would prefer to be disconnected with my background and family. Painting is a new life with no connections to the family name. I prefer to be just Olaf.”

He says, “In my other world, my job is to do the maximum for beautiful ladies who want unique designs and jewellery. In such situations you don’t do what you want, but what others want. You have to adapt your designs to suit people’s taste. But when I paint, I am relaxed. There are no expectations. It allows me to be myself — I am in my place! I am not Mr Van Cleef here.”

When you see his work, the geometric shapes are interspersed with winding snakes and plump objects. The colours are brilliant like stones on a neckpiece. Yet they are crude in a childlike way to show the meandering of the spirit behind. When you ask him about the mosaic effect in his work he says with great flourish, “Mosaic is me, it’s the personality of India, its different parts and the different parts of me. It’s the variety of languages and traditions of India just as the 25 stones that are put strung together.’’

Would people have noticed his paintings had he not been a Van Cleef? He laughs and says, “I think they will. My paintings are very special and interesting. I started out with my exhibitions without using the family name. For I know that if I did, people would come and say nice things to me but could poke fun behind my back. I know a lot of people in Mumbai, in Kolkata — but in the South I don’t. But I’m sure my paintings will be appreciated wherever I display them for what they are.”

His grandfather, for being a Jew had taken refuge in the Taj of Mumbai between 1939 and ’44, but went back too early — early enough to be arrested and sent to the infamous Auschwitz. Olaf, who is not a stranger to India, has been visiting Mumbai from age of 14 with his grandmother.

His relationship with India he says is a big story. “I am a lover – of the people, the beauty, its history, everything. I feel like I am Pygmalion. Every time a visitor tells me something is not nice here, I get very arrogant with them. Every time someone says something negative, I feel angry.

Or if they keep saying India is poor, I say India is not like Bangladesh. It exports rice to Russia. But yes, life is hard but you will see that in 25 years it is going to be one of the most powerful countries in the world,” and he laughs heartily at his own sense of loyalty to India. “But yes,” he adds soberly, “Indians must have a sense of pride in their country and must monitor how the image is projected outside in the world. Don’t keep taking pictures of women carrying pots on their heads and showing it to the rest of the world for them to say that there is no water in India. It may be very nice for a book but it not very nice you know.’’
“I know I was here in my first life,’’ he says gravely. “Otherwise how can I love this country so much? I seem to know everything about it. It is so special. I know when it is necessary to stay in my place. I am not an Ambassador of Cartier — I am an Ambassador of India. I prefer this, as this is what is important to me.”