Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Favorite Movies: White Christmas

Some people have told me recently that they have never watched the movie "White Christmas" starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney.  To me this is really outrageous, especially if you are a music fan.

The Binger in full effect.  Check out the tie.
 The song "White Christmas" is the best selling single of all time, according to Guinness Book of World Records.  It has sold over 50 million copies as a single.  If you factor in album sales the total is 100 million.  It was the only song to ever hit Number 1 on Billboard three separate years - 1942, 1945, and 1946 (at Christmas time, of course).  It won the Oscar for best song in a movie in 1942 (it was first in a movie called Holiday Inn).  It also was the only Bing Crosby song to ever reach Number 1 on the Harlem Hit Parade - a black music chart of the time (before it was called the R&B chart). 

Now why would this song sell so much?  It touches a place in the heart that few other works of art ever have on a massive scale.  You just have to listen to it to understand. 

Bing and Danny Kaye putting on a show for the troops.
To me, the best way to understand the song's appeal is to watch the first scenes of the movie "White Christmas".  Picture the place, picture the winter of 1944... you're a soldier in France, at the front.  The Nazis are about to launch their counter-attack (a.k.a. the Battle of the Bulge) and the War's conclusion is still in question.  You are not sure if you'll live to see another Christmas.  Bing steps up in the war zone to put on a little Christmas show for the men, to raise their spirits - and to gently remind them what they're really fighting for. 

Hearts are full, grown men are laying their lives on the line to breathe free.  Many of their brothers in arms have already died, and their echoes will carry on in those who survive.  That to me is the setup for this song.  You're in hell, and you want to find a way to get back home, where things make sense.  At least in the solitude of your heart. 

Where tree tops glisten, where children listen... to hear sleigh bells in the snow. 

Therefore you can't understand this song without putting it into the context of the World War Two experience of the Greatest Generation.  It is really hard to contextualize the level of sacrifice and service that this generation of Americans gave to their country.  They all put aside their own personal ambitions time and again to give to others - family, neighbors, friends, nation.  Thank God they did - we are living in the aftermath of their sacrifice.  They paid with their lives for this sacrifice.  Over 400,000 American men lost their lives in World War Two.  By comparison, in Vietnam 58,000 Americans were killed.  In Iraq, under 5,000 Americans. 

I often wonder if J.R.R. Tolkein, in pondering the metaphorical allegory that was the Lord of the Rings, envisioned the Hobbits as these very Americans who came over to France and sacrificed everything to save the world from evil tyranny.  Perhaps the Hobbits - people like Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry - are those American GI's, at least in Tolkein's mind's eye.  They were so innocent, so fresh, so unjaded by life.  Despite all that was against them, they were ever faithful, ever hopeful. 

The Fellowship of the Hobbits.
Americans today should reflect on that generation's sense of mission, community, and sacrifice - especially in light of our current state of affairs politically, socially, and culturally.  We need to take the best of the spirit of that time and bring it forward to the present day. 

There is a lot wrong with our society right now.  A lot of it could be cured if people of all ages and income levels started thinking more about "doing the right thing" and "serving others" with their behavior, their attitude, and their decisions.  If everyone only thinks of themselves to the detriment of all others, our society can not survive.  Every time I get down reading about all the bad things that have happened in my country, I take a moment to reflect on all the good things that have happened, and all the good people who sacrifice every day so that we can all have a better life.  In the end of it all, it will be those good people - the Hobbits among us - who will save us from ourselves. 

We should start thinking about why those Hobbits were so good.  What made them so humble and strong.  What - or Who - gave them the power to handle the struggles of their time.  This particular time of year is a very good time to rediscover that power - the omnipotent power that entered the human world in the body of a helpless child. 

Hark! The herald angels sing.  Glory to the new-born King.
Remember that when you watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this year.  The one time of year you hear the Gospel of Luke read on a TV network - by Linus of course.

God bless you, and Merry Christmas. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Favorite Movies: The Big Lebowski

THE DUDE.  From Los An-guh-LEEES... now that's not a name I'd self-apply where I come from. 

Thinking about how that smell will taste with Smirnoff & Kahlua.
Has there ever been a greater beginning to a movie than the unfolding canvas of glory that is The Big Lebowski?  The husky-voiced narrator, the "tumbling tumbleweeds", the Dylan song, the bowling tableau, all flowing seamlessly into the first scene.  Breathtaking.  Watching it is like being high, even if you're not.
I find it particularly interesting that when this movie was released in Italy, it was called "Mr. Marijuana" in their native tongue. 

What is it about this strange, silly, plodding film that so captivates?  I guess a story so STOO-peh-FYEN can not be explained away easily.  But I reckon I'll take a gander.

Much obliged.
The Dude is out there, taking 'er easy for all of us folks who have normal lives.  He has basically perpetuated a lifestyle that many men of Generation X found a way to lead in their college days.  We perfected the art of slacking off, hanging out, eating pizza and drinking beer, and enjoying the fact that we were hours away from our parents and living off of their substantial benevolence.  It was really sweet.  We even attempted to extend that existence well into our mid- to late-20s.  Some were successful, some were less so...

Yeah, like that's just your opinion man.
Those days are gone though.  College life as we know it is coming to an end.  Tuition prices, unemployment... But -- whoa, lost my train of thought there.  What we're here for is the DUDE. He IS the Big Lebowski... the Dude abides.  And that's why we love this movie. 

It's just so cool watching Jeff Bridges as the Dude, bumbling his way through these crazy events, handling these complex, childish, very rich and very immature people.  He views them as children, really.  Even though they have massive wealth, power, and privilege, they really are childish fools.  Sort of a comment on America, and our obsession with youth, superficial beauty, sex... whoa, losing my train of thought again.

Lots of strings in the ol' Duder's head.

The idea here is that the Dude has found a way to navigate the vicissitudes of life by just being mellow, drinking White Russians, and bowling. 

Man, I am going to need at least 3 more posts to cover the Zen of the Dude. 

Consider this the beginning of a conversation.