David Crosby: Remember My Name (B). I caught this new documentary and learned a few things about music legend David Crosby, who is somehow still alive and making music at 76 despite doing an astonishing amount of drugs up into at least the 1980s. For example, his father was Floyd Crosby, a photographer who won a Golden Globe for cinematography for High Noon. He was a founding member of The Byrds, which I should have known but don’t think I did. He didn’t like The Doors because Jim Morrison was rude to him once. And none of the other members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are on speaking terms with him. The film does a good job of conveying the trippy music scene of the 60s and 70s. But it left me wanting to know more about Crosby’s personal life. Like, what happened to his brother, who is mentioned as also being into music when they were kids? And I think he mentioned in passing that he’s not on speaking terms with his daughter. What’s the story there? But it wasn’t bad, and I appreciated the efficient 95-minute run time.
The Muppet Movie (C). I’m continuing my romp through the classics with this recent offering from fathomevents.com. Although I enjoyed the muppets TV show in my youth, I never saw this, their first theatrical release, which came out in 1979. Turns out I didn’t miss all that much. It’s the story of how Kermit the Frog (voice of Jim Henson) decided to follow his dream of being an entertainer, left his swamp, and hit the road for Hollywood. It’s a road-trip movie, with Kermit picking up a band of oddballs (Fozzie Bear (voice of Frank Oz), Miss Piggy (Oz), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), etc.) along the way while simultaneously being pursued by a fast-food-frog-legs entrepreneur (Charles Durning, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) who wants Kermit to be his front man, er, frog. The jokes and sight gags really aren’t all that funny, but the frequent musical numbers tend to be better (especially Kermit’s wistful “The Rainbow Connection”). There are loads of celebrity cameos, including Edgar Bergin, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Big Bird, and even Orson Welles, but only Steve Martin’s rude waiter is very funny. I’m glad I saw it, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. (I might look for “The Rainbow Connection” on iTunes, though.)
Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher (2014). I had a heck of a time getting a copy of this comic novel after reading a good review of it long, long ago. First I prowled the used bookstores for months and never found it. Eventually I gave up and ordered it on Amazon. Doh! The package never arrived. More months passed. I discovered the Amazon locker service and ordered it again. Finally, I had it! Amazingly enough, it was worth the wait. The entire book consists of letters, emails, and the like written by a fellow named Jason Fitger over the course of a year. He’s an English professor at a second-tier liberal-arts college, and after publishing one very successful novel many years ago he pretty much fizzled out as an author. He vents his frustration (both professional and personal) in his letters, many of which are letters of recommendation for students. I laughed out loud more than once at his splenetic utterances. And I gave it to my sister and then my best friend from college, who are both college professors, and they both liked it. Highly recommended.
Funny Girl (B). I was back at the Magnolia Theater this past Tuesday night for The Big Movie — the 1968 musical that was Barbra Streisand’s first movie role. In fact, I think this is only the second Streisand movie I have ever seen, the first being What’s Up, Doc?, which I saw on network TV a couple of times when I was a kid. Anyhoo, Funny Girl is a biopic about real life entertainer Fanny Brice, who performed in Ziegfeld’s Follies in the early 20th century. Streisand turns in a rip-roaring performance as Brice and tied with Katharine Hepburn for the best-actress Oscar™. Omar Sharif (Dr. Zhivago) co-stars as the suave gambler who sweeps her off her feet. It was an entertaining movie, but not quite top tier in my book. It’s two and a half hours long, which is kind of long but not long enough to justify the 15-minute intermission we were forced to sit through! Anyway, I say it’s worth seeing if you like musicals.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (B). Well, I’m trying to get back into the swing of regular moviegoing, so I decided to see if the Magnolia Theater is still running its classic-movie series on Tuesday nights. Lo, it is, and I caught this 1969 Western this past Tuesday. I had never seen it before and still don’t quite know what to make of it. It stars Paul Newman (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as the outlaws of the film’s title, and as best I can tell from extensive Wikipedia research the movie is actually fairly true to history. It’s the late 1890s, and Butch, the Kid, and their Hole in the Wall gang are making a living robbing banks and trains—until they irritate some big plutocrat and he hires a very dangerous posse to bring them to justice. So, in the interest of self-preservation, they make some unusual career choices after that. Although IMDB.com categorizes the film as “Biography, Crime, Drama,” it has a strong comedic element, with Newman providing lots of amusing dialogue, Redford being amusingly laconic, and an oddly jaunty soundtrack playing in the background. (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” won an Oscar.) And yet, there is quite a bit of shooting and killing, albeit with very little blood visible. Katharine Ross of The Graduate fame drops in for a while as the Kid’s love interest, but Butch shows more interest in her than the Kid ever does, and really this movie is a bromance between Butch and the Kid from start to finish.
Anyway, the film held my interest, but I still think it’s kind of an odd bird. It’s #73 on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American movies, so I guess it’s a classic.
The Rise and Decline of American Religious Liberty, by Steven D. Smith (2014). In this slim volume (171 pages, excluding endnotes), Smith sets out to correct what he views as the misleading conventional wisdom about the meaning of the Religion Clause of the First Amendment. (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .”) He argues that the Framers did not intend the Clause to usher in a strictly secular state but rather to establish that the national government had no jurisdiction to mess with state establishments of religion or to infringe on people’s rights to worship as they chose. And he argues that the Supreme Court’s current incoherent religion jurisprudence is a result of straying from those original (limited) purposes. I thought it was an interesting, if dense, book, but it seems to underplay the importance of the Fourteenth Amendment and especially the Equal Protection Clause. Before the Civil War, yes, the states could have an established church or show favoritism to a religion (or religion in general). But once states had to give everyone the “equal protection of laws,” what did that mean for religious favoritism?