I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken
Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell
December 25, 2014 - 11:09 a.m.
Yesterday I went up to my PO Box. What did I find? The post office closes early on Christmas eve. It was a total waste. If I got a card from you I won't see it till after Christmas
I came home and made Hasselback potatoes again. They still count as a special treat. It helps that I make them better each time. Of course liking the same thing over and over again is one of my character traits. I never get tired of peanut butter either. And hey I've been blogging every day for over 14 years and I'm still going strong.
I wanted to watch It's a Wonderful Life but they don't have it on Amazon Prime so I watched that other Frank Capra Christmas Film, Meet John Doe. It does not get its due. It's one of those films I discovered when I was a kid purely by accident. It was New Year's Eve, I think my parents were out, and I found it on TV. It's a heavy film for a kid and was disturbed by it but loved it. I guess I'm still disturbed by it and I still love it.
I'll give a brief synopsis. for those who haven't seen it. The time is the depression. A newspaper has been sold and a new managing editor put in to turn it around financially. People are being fired right and left. Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) is told to write one more column before she picks up her last paycheck. She's told that the paper is looking for fireworks and she doesn't provide it so she makes up a letter. It's from a man out of work and out of hope. To protest the injustice in the world he says he's going to jump off of City Hall on Christmas Eve. The paper doesn't know it's a fake and publishes it and it causes a sensation. Other papers accuse them of faking it. When they ask Ann for the letter she admits what she did and comes up with a plan on how to deal with it. People offered jobs to John Doe so all these men came in saying they wrote the letter. The paper hires one of them to make believe he did, Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper). He was a baseball prospect that hurt his arm and needed an operation to fix it he agrees to take part in the charade in return for getting his arm fixed.
But then the whole thing takes off. The paper has a daily column ostensibly written by John Doe but actually by Mitchell. They are huge success. They put him on national radio and he becomes a sensation. His speech was about how everyone should forget the government and just get to know and help his neighbor. The idea catches fire and John Doe clubs spring up around the country.
Then we find that the owner the the paper, the person bankrolling all this D.B. Norton wants to use the John Doe movement to become president then turn the US into a dictatorship. John won't go along with this and tries to denounce Norton at the John Doe convention. Instead Norton denounces him as a fake. The movement falls apart. John disappears. Mitchell, the paper's editor, Henry Connell, John's Best friend "the Colonel", members of the John Doe Clubs, and even Norton are convinced he'll try to jump off City Hall come Christmas even and go to stop him. Norton tells him that the police will cover the whole thing up. But Mitchell convinces him to live and to sounds of "Ode to Joy" he goes back inside carrying Mitchell who passed out.
As you can see this isn't your average Christmas film. Set in the depression there is very little of it that could not take place today. Sure now Norton would spread his denunciation of John via social media not newsboys but the story still holds. The speeches about society ring just as true today. And that's the point the film makes, that this has always been going on. It's hero is not just John but all the John Does the common men. Ok now there would be more mention of women. But even then the true driving force of all this is a woman, Ann Mitchell. These ideas are her ideas. The words are her words.
One things that makes the film work is that it isn't heavy-handed. It's a Frank Capra film so it's funny. There's this one brilliant scene where John and The Colonel mime and entire baseball game while the bodyguard look on, with one of them being the umpire. The physical humor is brilliant. You see the baseball even though it isn't there. And the whole time a serious discussion is going on. It's genius.
Let me see if I can remember the music that's used. It's all songs we know strung together in surprising ways, for the most part not sung, just heard as incidental music. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," "Hard Times Come Again no More," "Oh Susannah," "America", "Silent Night," and the aforementioned "Ode to Joy."
It's pretty hard to not fall in love with Ann Mitchell. She supports her family and is desperate for money and willing to do most anything to get it. But it's most anything, not anything. She has a core of goodness and love of humanity. Everything else is due to circumstance.
Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda's careers started at about the same time. Stewart and Fonda were lifelong friends. There has never been another actor that could instantly radiant decency like those three. This isn't me being an old Foggie either. They were past their primes when I was a kid, the films I love are for the most part from before my time. There was just something in the air then. They could be good without being at all treacle. There's strength in their virtue.
He's part of John's radio speech that Ann wrote.
Isn't that what Occupy Wall Street is about? Now we call it the 99% but it's just John Doe by another name.
Merry Christmas and Whee Festivus everyone. Remember that you don't have to believe in god to believe in Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards all men. That's what I'm celebrating.
Bach's Christmas Oratorio just came on WQXR. My life is not good but Life is good.
Brother Brothers in Arms - October 01, 2017
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