Monday, October 7, 2019

Thoughts of the Week (1)

My original purpose for this website was to just write down random thoughts about things I was interested in writing about. One way I wanted to do this was to offer a brief overview of my activities and thoughts every Monday from the previous week. This will be my first attempt at doing this, but as I pondered over my thoughts and activities from the previous week, I was a bit overwhelmed by how much I could possibly write about, so I will just go over a few of the events I have attended since last Thursday, and offer some thoughts about each.

While box office numbers showed that most of the country if not the world went out to see the movie Joker this past weekend, and while I usually watch movies like this the first weekend they come out, I was busy with other things, so I haven't seen it yet, but hope to talk about it next week. The reason I didn't see it is because October in New England is a time to attend unique events that I preferred to attend. Among some of these, I will highlight the following:

Last Thursday, October 3rd, I attended a live one-man re-enactment of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow in a Protestant church in Salem, Massachusetts directly across from the building where one of the courthouses was located during the witch trials. It was done by a professional storyteller, and was very entertaining, as it is one of my favorite short stories in the history of American literature. I've probably read Washington Irving's original at least fifteen times. In fact, the storyteller I saw does this same show every October in the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York, where the story was inspired. He brings his show once or twice a year to Salem, because it also has a feature in the story: we read that Ichabod Crane was obsessed with Cotton Mather's writings on witchcraft and he would spend every late afternoon reading them; these writings are believed responsible for laying the groundwork for the Salem witch trials. This was my second time seeing this show, and I find it delightful to make it an annual Halloween tradition if I can. It is not often you hear live professional storytellers tell one of your favorite stories. It seems to be a dying art form. Thankfully, historical sites often preserve this art, and I hope they continue to do so.

On Friday, October 4th, I returned to Salem to attend a viewing of the 1926 film version of The Scarlet Letter, based on one of my favorite books in the history of American literature by Salem native Nathaniel Hawthorne. The viewing actually took place next to the House of Seven Gables, which was next to where Hawthorne lived for a time, on a beautiful autumn evening. Because it is a silent movie, it was shown with live musical accompaniment, which is always the best way to see a silent movie. It was my first viewing of this film, and I thought it was quite moving and powerful, and more accurate to the book than I thought it would be. It was directed by a Swedish director named Victor Sjöström, who directed some of my favorite silent horror films in the 1920's. What stands out in this movie however is the performance by Lillian Gish who plays Hester Prynne. Gish is considered the first great American film actress, and by her performance in this film it shows why she was considered so great. It has inspired me to watch many more of her movies, though I have seen some. One of these is The Birth of a Nation. This past summer Gish's name was removed from a Bowling Green State University theater because she made an appearance in D.W. Griffith's racist film The Birth of a Nation in 1915. She does nothing racist in the film, but liberal witch hunters at Bowling Green have judged her posthumously guilty by association. Many in Hollywood have decried this extremist stance against such a legendary and beloved actress, but these days it seems puritan liberals have placed their own scarlet letter on her. In her honor, therefore, I will place her image at the top of this post, from a scene in the film that brought tears to my eyes. I consider it one of the best and most tragic scenes in Hollywood history, where Hester Prynne is brought before the people of Salem and made to stand on a scaffold for three hours while being mocked and ridiculed and branded with the letter "A", as she stands there brave and strong holding her bastard child. It's a story that very much resembles Saint Theodora of Alexandria, but I will write about this elsewhere another time.

Saturday afternoon I attended a live musical of Sunset Boulevard, based on one of my all-time favorite films of the same name. I was skeptical how this great film would be translated as a musical, which was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and the acting was superb, especially by the actress who played Norma Desmond, whose resemblance to Gloria Swanson was uncanny. They did a very good job bringing this superb film to life. Later that evening, I went to see a documentary called Where's My Roy Cohn? about the infamous lawyer from New York, Roy Cohn. A lot of it was interesting, but the documentary kept on trying to brand him as an evil man who taught Donald Trump everything he knew so he can be just as evil if not more so than he was. This extreme bias that came off as very unsubstantiated and desperate to make him into someone more important than he was for our contemporary news stories made this documentary about an interesting historical figure difficult to watch by a critical observer. Sure, he did some disagreeable things, but to make him out as the evil genius behind Donald Trump was ridiculous to say the least. I highly do not recommend the film, merely for its stupidity. Later that night, at midnight, I attended a double feature of the 1941 version of The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr. paired with a 3-D showing of the original Creature from the Black Lagoon. Both were excellent and I've seen them many times, but never on the big screen, which was a totally different experience. I was especially interested in seeing the Creature from the Black Lagoon because I had not seen it since I was a child, when I had probably seen it at least twenty times on television, and I had never seen an old horror movie in 3-D before, as this is how this particular film was meant to be seen originally; it had surprisingly good effects.

Yesterday, on Sunday evening, I attended a double feature at Salem Horror Fest, both films from 1994. The first was Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp. This film is also one of my favorites and have seen it many times, but never on the big screen with an audience of fellow fans. The performances by Johnny Depp and Martin Landau are two of the best I have ever seen, and the movie is just all around perfect. It is basically a 1990's version of The Disaster Artist (which I saw on the big screen again the previous weekend and met Greg Sestero for the sixth time, who wrote the book the movie is based on and whose audio book I consider to be the best I have ever heard). This was followed by a film I had never seen before, but was eager to see, called Serial Mom starring Kathleen Turner and directed by John Waters. John Waters is a gross but interesting director, so its no wonder he would take a Barbara Billingsley-type character and make her into an enraged serial killer, but I found it to be funny and entertaining, even though many would probably not appreciate the humor of the film, as with probably all of the films by John Waters.

There is a lot more I can say, and I can ramble on and on, but I tried to make this as short as I could. My days aren't always as full of events like this, so hopefully in the future I can spend more time touching on other topics of interest. But in October, days like this are typical for me.