Monday, October 22, 2007

I Dumbledore dare you!

There's no way that Professor Dumbledore is gay, and I'll tell you why: Jerry Falwell would have told us before Jesus occluded his coronary art -- before Jesus called him home. The reverend's gaydar was always impeccable. Long before he had the ear of the nation, he alerted the people of Lynchburg, Virginia, that Liberace was not the he-man he projected on his television show. (My grandmother was a huge fan, and even bought a candelabra for my piano. It was a spinet, and the thing kept getting knocked off, but she meant well.) More famously, he blew the whistle on Tinky-Wink the Teletubby and his (its) insidious attempt to give gay to toddlers. It's simply not possible that the producers of the films could have fooled Rev. Falwell just by casting hard-drinking brawler (in his youth) Richard Harris instead of, say, Ian McKellen.

I don't know what twisted game J.K. Rowling is playing in this blatant attempt to sell a few more books. If she needs money, she should try a thriller for adults. Here's an idea to get you started, Jakes: An amiable American saves the world by cracking the coded message that Michelangelo painted into The Last Judgment. I was going to use it myself, but I'm still too depressed by the collapse of the Mets.

Speaking of baseball, does Rudolph Giuliani not have a single friend? There he sat, all alone, at the final Indians-Yankees game. I know his children don't speak to him, and he can't afford to be seen with Bernie Kerik, but is there no one who can endure his company long enough to take in a playoff game at soon-to-be-demolished Yankee Stadium? Great seats, too. It was almost sad.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What's in a name?

Putting a crimp in the holiday -- I mean Christmas -- shopping plans of millions, Doubleday has again postponed until January the publication of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: Why Hillary Clinton Is Worse Than Hitler, the long-awaited book that reveals the hidden connections between Nazis and Democrats. Or something. I read the publisher's description over at that online bookseller -- it starts with an "A" -- and I can't decide whether this man Goldberg is a complete moron or just likes to say outrageous things to annoy people. The nut right has pretty much erased the line between true believers like Bush and cunning propagandists like Rove, and all I know about Jonah is that he sprang from the loins of professional Clinton-hater Lucianne Goldberg. Which isn't his fault.

The Goldberg premise is that the Nazis were really socialists because their full name was the National Socialist (German Workers) Party. And since socialists are liberals, then liberals are Nazis, a couple of leaps that Evel Knievel would hesitate to make. Go read it, you'll laugh. I did, and then I concluded that all this squid-inkery is intended to distract people who know nothing of history (and isn't that most Americans?) from the sordid truth: the Nazis were a more successful version of the Republicans.

As Jonah surely knows, what you call yourself often bears no relation to reality. All those unlamented people's democratic republics of Eastern Europe were nothing of the kind. The die-hard reactionaries who formed the Nazi party incorporated "socialist" and "worker" into the name to appeal to workers and socialists, although they had only contempt for the former and regularly engaged in street-brawls with the latter. Apparently you can fool some of the German people all of the time. When he became chancellor in January 1933, Hitler immediately did to all German unions what Ronald Reagan could only do to the air traffic controllers. The union leadership was marched off to the first concentration camp (built not for Jews but for political foes of the new regime), and the unions were replaced by toothless government-run organizations. This was Hitler's gift to the industrialists who had helped him to power.

Soon, most women in the workforce lost their jobs, not only to create jobs for out-of-work men but because -- Coulter and Schlafly will agree -- Nazi ideology proclaimed that woman's sphere was praying, cooking and breeding. They were especially emphatic about the last. Forget overturning Roe v. Wade -- abortion was a capital crime in the Third Reich. I know the very idea makes Pat Robertson and Antonin Scalia cream their shorts, but they aren't even close yet.
July 1934 brought the "Night of the Long Knives." No doubt many in the GOP leadership would love to dispose of Mark Foley and Larry Craig as Hitler dealt with Ernst Rohm, the flamboyantly homosexual leader of the Storm-Troopers (S.A., Jonah, not S.S.), but they think they might not get away with it. And forget about denying health insurance to a few million children: the Nazis systematically murdered all mentally and physically disabled Germans, usually by starvation. It was the first and only time they ran into public opposition from the Catholic Church. Unpleasant but true: put Hitler's enemies list beside that of the church he grew up in, and they'll match almost exactly. Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, socialists, Communists, trade unionists, intellectuals and feminists (or as the Church calls them, heretics and witches) -- give us a boy before he is seven, and he is ours forever. Isn't that what the Jesuits say? Where do you think they got the idea for the book-burnings?

No, the National Socialists were no more socialists than the Republicans are devoted to the republic established in our Constitution. They work daily to replace it with a world empire and an autocratic presidency answerable to no mere legislature or judiciary. From the Big Lies of the Swift Boaters to the unprovoked invasion of a harmless country, from the warrantless wiretaps to the shameless use of torture, it would be hard to convince anyone who had been comatose since 1944 that fascism was ever defeated. I fully understand the discomfort felt by people like Jonah Goldberg, Norman Podhoretz and William Kristol when in the privacy of their thoughts they realize who they're in bed with, but that's their problem, and they can't solve it by turning history inside-out and upside-down. The rest of us must take what comfort we can from the words of Margaret Cho: "Bush is no Hitler. He would be if he applied himself."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

God bless you, Mr. Foxx

Over at Alex Ross's invaluable The Rest Is Noise, I just read that Jamie Foxx is preparing for his next film by taking violin and cello lessons. Foxx studied piano as a boy in Texas and then worked with The Genius himself, which is at least part of the reason he won an Academy Award for Ray. Now he joins my remarkably short list of culture heroes.

For years, movies have been ruined for me by actors pretending to play musical instruments (and I have ruined movies for others by pointing out their deficiencies, I'm afraid). When the real thing comes along, I'm almost prepared to overlook the most awful shortcomings. Steve Allen was no actor, but when he portrayed Benny Goodman he took the time to learn how to hold and finger a clarinet. Dudley Moore was no Rex Harrison, but in the otherwise pointless remake of Unfaithfully Yours he displayed real conducting skills. I'm eternally grateful to Hollywood for reaching out to Hoagy Carmichael and Oscar Levant, who basically played themselves when they weren't playing the piano. There ought to be more of this. Just don't give musicians too many lines, like poor Stephen Sondheim in the TV production of June Moon.

When I watch Casablanca I have to look away at certain moments because, while Dooley Wilson began his career as a singer and drummer, he clearly didn't play piano. I must have seen a dozen different actors play Sherlock Holmes, and not one of them even knew how to hold a violin. Why isn't this taught in the English acting schools, like fencing? It's probably easier and less dangerous. And you "trumpet players" -- go and watch a real player for a couple of hours. See how he breathes, how he generally leaves that third valve alone. It's called preparation.

One movie I never miss on TCM is Deception, a classic Warner Brothers lollapalooza. Florid plot, overripe dialogue, and the scene where Claude Rains orders dinner rivals Groucho's lunch order in A Night At the Opera. ("And two hard-boiled eggs!") But you can just tell that Bette Davis and Paul Henreid knew their way around the piano and the cello respectively. Whether they learned for the movie or they were "kids who took," as Woody Allen once put it, their musical deportment more than makes up for Rains's conducting (after all, he is primarily a composer).

Once Hollywood, or at least the brothers Warner, took a lot of care with this kind of thing. When John Garfield played a violinist in Humoresque, the close-ups involved a real violinist alternatively fingering and bowing for him, while the music on the soundtrack was recorded by Isaac Stern. (Levant suggested that the four of them embark on a concert tour when the picture was finished.) Now the assumption seems to be that nobody will notice. Actors will spend months picking up a few kung fu moves, memorizing dialogue in Russian, gaining and losing weight, learning to drive a tank or fire a bazooka. A few music lessons, or even "music lessons," wouldn't kill them. Maybe if Jamie Foxx wins another Oscar....