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On TCM Oct 12-18: David Niven, Powell & Pressburger, Droogs, Punks, and Silents

TCM continues its look at the Star of the Month: David Niven with a couple of my very favorite movies.

A_Matter_of_Life_and_Death_Cinema_PosterOn Monday at 5pm (PT), they’re showing one of the greatest films to be made by the British film-making team of Powell and Pressburger, A Matter of Life and Death (1946; released in the USA under the unfortunate title, Stairway to Heaven).

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More Star Specials on TCM – Grand Illusion, Red River, Cary Grant… and Dobie Gillis

After today’s Bogart marathon—all day today, 13 films and 1 documentary—TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” with Jean Gabin on Thursday, Debbie Reynolds on Friday, Montgomery Clift on Saturday and then Cary Grant on Sunday. The program then continues for the remainder of the month (full schedule here).

With stars like that, and more than a dozen of their films each day, there’s no shortage of highlights. Here, though, are some of the highlights of the highlights:

Grand Illusion (1937) – directed by Jean Renoir, with Jean Gabin as a French prisoner in a WWI German camp, commanded by Erich von Stroheim – showing Thursday, Aug 18 at 7pm. One of the great classics of world cinema, Roger Ebert called it “a meditation on the collapse of the old order of European civilization.” It’s followed by another film by Jean Renoir and starring Jean Gabim, La Bete Humaine (1938), based on the novel by Emile Zola.

Singin’ In The Rain (1952) – directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, and starring Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds – showing Friday, Aug 19 at 11:15pm.  Kelly and O’Connor play a couple of song and dance men who are trying to make the transition from silent movies to sound. Reynolds is a club dancer and movie fan. A sparkling script by Betty Comdon and Adolph Green. Roger Ebert says Singin’ “is a transcendent experience, and no one who loves movies can afford to miss it.” Leonard Maltin called it “the greatest movie musical of all time.” Selected as one of top ten films of all times in the Sight & Sound critics’ poll.

And yet… And yet… You’ve probably already seen it, so maybe you should check out The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953) with Debbie Reynolds and Bobby Van, Hans Conreid (The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T) and Bob Fosse – showing first in the Debbie Reynolds marathon, at 3am. The film on which the TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, featuring pop culture’s first beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs, was based.

Red River (1948) – directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in one of the greatest Westerns of all time – showing Saturday, Aug 20 at 10am.

Saturday, August 21, features 13 movies starring the incomparable Cary Grant, including many of his greatest. The top picks:

4:30am: I’m No Angel (1933) – with Mae West

6 am: My Favorite Wife (1940) – with Irene Dunne

12:30pm: The Philadelphia Story (1940) – directed by George Cukor, with Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart

2:30pm: North By Northwest (1959) – Alfred Hitchcock once said that Cary Grant was the only actor he ever loved. The two made four films together, and this is the last.  It might also be the least. It’s spectacular, with some amazing cinematography—including the wonderful shots at UN Plaza and the scene with the crop duster. But it also has Hitchcock’s weakest blonde, Eva Marie Saint—though perhaps she only seems weak in comparison to Grace Kelly, who’d been in Grant and Hitchcock’s previous outing together, the sparkling To Catch a Thief. Still, immensely satisfying.

7:15pm: Only Angels Have Wings (1939) – another one directed by Howard Hawks, and a personal favorite of mine – with Jean Arthur.

1:15am: Bringing Up Baby (1938) – an another by Howard Hawks, probably a personal favorite of just about everyone. The classic screwball comedy starring Grant as a mousy professor and Katharine Hepburn as a scatterbrain heiress. Clearly TCM wanted to finish their day of Cary Grant on a very high note.

For more…

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We still love… Animal, from the Muppets

Animal—from The Muppets—driving a British Audi while speeding through a German road.
(via The Muppets’ Animal Caught Speeding, Driving Police Crazy.)

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Filed under: Feel Good, ,

Songs of the Season: A Holly Jolly Christmas

Burl Ives provides the voice of the narrator, Sam the Snowman, on the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special, and also sings both the title song and another tune written by Johnny Marks just for the show, “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” which has became a Christmas standard in its own right:

And here’s another version by Ives: “A Holly Jolly Christmas”

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Filed under: Song of the Day, , , ,

Songs of the Season: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

This must be just about the most popular Christmas song in the United States – certainly the one that pretty much everyone knows all the words to. And pretty much everyone has done a version of it:

Gene Autry, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (Gene Autry was the “Singing Cowboy”)

Jack Johnson, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

Chris Isaak, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

The Temptations, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” – from A Motown Christmas

Ella Fitzgerald, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

Ray Charles, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

Dean Martin, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

More recently, Destiny’s Child did a funked up version of this Christmas classic, with an accompanying video that integrates them into the 1964 TV special:

But here’s the thing – this song epitomizes the commercialization of Christmas:

Robert L. May created Rudolph in 1939 as an assignment for Montgomery Ward. The retailer had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money. In its first year of publication, 2.4 million copies of Rudolph’s story were distributed by Montgomery Ward. The story is written as a poem in the meter of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. (via Wikipedia.)

Created by a department store/catalog company as a way to make more money during Christmas, and visually best known through a TV special. It’s a manufactured tradition – made to order, literally. And yet it does seem to have become part of our Christmas thing, at least here in the United States. And the song has become one of those pieces of general knowledge – every kid seems to know it, even if they’ve never seen that special. Still, I love it less for knowing its department store origins.

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , ,

Christmas Shows on TV – When to Watch (2010)

[For 2012 showtimes, see my page here.]

The more popular Christmas films and TV specials – with info on screening times and/or links to info on screening…

You can also look up times for these and other shows on the TV Guide website. (And you can read about, and possibly find times for, the cartoon/animated Christmas movies and specials at A Cartoon Christmas.)

I’ll update this if I find more times or remember movies I left out…

A Charlie Brown ChristmasABC TV – Tuesday December 7 and Thursday December 16 from 8-9pm.

A Christmas Carol (1938) – TCM. Earliest sound version of the Dickens story, and still my favorite film version.

A Christmas Carol (2009). Animated version with Jim Carrey. Haven’t seen it.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) – TCM. One of my favorite Christmas movies.

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Filed under: Movies, TV, , , ,

Scenes of the Season: The dance from A Charlie Brown Christmas

It needs no introduction…

I always think of this as the “Snoopy dances” music, but really the main bit of music is apparently

Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Linus and Lucy” – from A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special

As with White Christmas, the Charlie Brown Christmas special is required viewing for me—as for so many people—during the holiday season. Originally broadcast in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been shown every Christmas since then.  I don’t know if it feels as much a part of Christmas for people in their 20s as it does for those those of us who are somewhat older, but I hope so… For people of my ilk, the sounds of it—the voices, the music, and for me especially that dance—are just about as much a part of Christmas as “Jingle Bells” and the visuals are almost as iconic as a Christmas tree.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first prime-time animated TV special based upon the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. It was produced and directed by former Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Meléndez, who also supplied the voice for the character of Snoopy. Initially sponsored by Coca-Cola, the special aired on CBS from its debut in 1965 through 2000, and has aired on ABC since 2001. For many years it aired only annually, but is now telecast at least twice during the Christmas season. The special has been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award…. (via Wikipedia.)

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Filed under: Song of the Day, , , , ,

Soul for Sunday: Dobie Gray, Drift Away

Not to be mistaken for Dobie Gillis…

Dobie Gray, “Drift Away” – from the album of the same name (1973)

Sort of a one-hit wonder, and pretty pop (and a bit country) for a soul tune, but if you’re in your mid forties to mid fifties, I bet you remember this song. It is very memorable. And it still gets a fair amount of radio airplay.

And if you’re a bit older, or a TV junkie like me, you probably also remember “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” with TV’s first beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs – played by Bob Denver, better known as Gilligan from “Gilligan’s Island.”  But like I said, that’s a different Dobie.

Have you ever actually met someone named Dobie?

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

The Jedi Path, and the Force of Fandom

The Jedi PathThe Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force [Vault Edition]

“This ancient training manual, crafted by early Jedi Masters, has educated and enlightened generations of Jedi. It explains the history and hierarchy of the Jedi Order, and what Jedi must know to take their place as defenders of the peace in the galaxy—from mastery of the Force to the nuances of lightsaber combat…” (via

I was going to make fun of this, when it first appeared on the home page. Possibly because at the time I was listening to the film critic Mark Kermode defend Lucas’ decision to release Star Wars in 3D as justified since he hadn’t made all that much money from the films yet and obviously deserved to milk them for more, whatever fans and critics might think.  Needless to say, Kermode was being more than a bit sarcastic. The comparison of “dimensionalizing” Star Wars to the earlier (now happily over) fad for colorizing classic b&w movies was a more seriously meant point, and I hope Lucas was listening.

But criticisms of Lucas aside, I have absolutely no right to make fun of The Jedi Path and I’m even surprised at that momentary impulse, whatever the cause. After all, am I not the once upon a time proud owner not only of the Star Trek Technical Manual but also the Space:1999 Moonbase Alpha Technical Notebook? I even owned a 3D chess set, as seen in a couple of Star Trek episodes – and tried to teach my friends to play. And I used to dress up as a Klingon.  So, you know, throwing stones – glass houses – without sin, all of that.

It’s not just buying stuff of course, nor is this kind of fannishness limited to science fiction. A lot of the participants in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and Renaissance Faires come to it out of a love for fantasy literature, most obviously The Lord of the Rings. And the whole genre of role-playing games, beginning with Dungeons & Dragons, comes in part from the same sorts of engagements and interests.

I have done all of these things. I used to don homemade armor and get bashed around the head with a practice sword during SCA training sessions in the parking lot of a BART station. I worked a couple of Ren Faires, and went to many more – in costume – and spent far too much of my high school years playing D&D and other similar games – including one my friends and I designed ourselves.

I also used to hanker for hobbit food, a fact I was reminded of recently. I can recall convincing my mother to make a mushroom pie, after a meal from The Lord of the Rings, and wrapping shortbread in grape leaves to simulate the waybread of the elves, lembas. I still order mead when it appears, and when I do it is always with The Lord of the Rings in mind.

But it’s not only science fiction and fantasy that creates these kind of impulses in people. A friend to whom I confessed my hobbit food cravings recently owned up to her own similar fannish food moment – making herself, when she was young, a bowl of milk and a toasted cheese sandwich because that was what Heidi ate. And I know people who spend time preparing dishes and meals that appear in the “Commissario Guido Brunetti” mystery novels, set in Venice – and did so even before Brunetti’s Cookbook came out, earlier this year. Back in TV land, there is the phenomenon of spaghetti tacos from the hit Nickelodeon series “iCarly” becoming a fad with younger kids, as reported in The New York Times recently.

But while these sort of fannish efforts to live out or engage (or eat) with favorite texts – TV shows, films, books – in daily life are not limited to science fiction and fantasy, they are certainly most common with fans from those genres – clichéd in fact. Like Star Trek fans dressing up and speaking in Klingon.

Why? I’m not sure. It seems mostly to occur with genre texts – so not just sci fi and fantasy, even if mostly them, but also mysteries and so on, and with cult texts – think of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or the relationship so many people have to The Catcher in the Rye. There may be people out there who dress up like their favorite character from a Jonathan Franzen novel or seek out food or music they’ve read about in Ian McEwan. But not many. Certainly nowhere near as many as go around speaking Klingon or who devote a large portion of their lives to their love for The Lord of the Rings.

This kind of fan behavior around science fiction and fantasy has been a part of my life since I was a small child, since I first read The Lord of the Rings in fact, though my engagements expanded out from there obviously – even to being one of those who follow Commissario Brunetti’s eating preferences.  (Since Brunetti’s a bit of gourmet, and in a city of wonderful food, this last is pretty painless, and an interest in fine Italian food is easier to get away with in normal society than pointy ears or an elven cloak.)

Connection or hero worship, perhaps.  The pleasure of living a life that is more vivid and coherent – living the life of a hobbit or elf, a Star Fleet officer or Venetian detective, rather than that of an over-educated and under-employed nobody in a alienating and deracinated big city. Wishing the magic were real. It’s not hard to find reasons for these fannish attempts to bring the world of our books and shows into our “real” lives – so often dull and hard and confused in comparison.

The World Series is underway, and it occurs to me that the passionate engagement of the sports fan – the wearing of the jerseys, memorizing the stats, all of that – is not really all that different from the Star Trek fan greeting his friends with a Vulcan salute, saying “Live Long, and Prosper.”

We hanker after meaning, connection, a sense of purpose, magic.  Modern life seems increasingly poor at producing happiness for many people, but fortunately we have our books and movies, our teams, our loves and passions – to transport us out of daily lives, full of unemployment, health care problems, war, and provide us with some of the values and sodalities that it lacks, meaning and magic.  The surprise, really, isn’t that some people take the time to learn Klingon or dress up like elves.  It’s that everyone doesn’t.

For more…

Filed under: Pop Culture, , , , ,

“Black Coffee” – 3-part Series on KQED starting Friday (Sep 10)

Black Coffee: “From its discovery on an ancient Ethiopian hillside to its role as a contemporary elixir, coffee has dominated and molded the economies, politics and social structures of entire countries. This 3-part series traces the unique and volatile history of this ubiquitous beverage….” (Via KQED Public Media for Northern CA.)

And because you can never have too much black coffee, check out my previous post, on the song of that name…

Filed under: Coffee,

We love.. Animal


Animal & The Muppets, “Mahna Mahna”

The best drummers are so often hairy, inarticulate beasts.

Filed under: Pop Culture, ,

Guilty Pleasures: Beavis and Butthead

I will defend the televisual merits and sociological insight of King of the Hill to anyone. I may even write a serious, academically-informed study of the show someday (I’m open to advances and expressions of interest from publishers).

However, I’m more reluctant – particularly in polite company – to try justifying my pleasure in King of the Hill creator Mike Judge‘s first foray into TV animation, Beavis and Butthead. But despite my embarrassment at the pleasure Beavis and Butthead still give me, I frequently forget myself and follow their lead, reworking the chorus of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” to suit some task I happen to be engaged in – such as washing the dog:

This works even better for “walking the dog, walking the dog” – and that, with sung guitar riffs, rather than some high pitched “walkies,” is how my dog knows it’s time for a constitutional.

Of course, like Messieurs B and B, I sometimes find occasion to use the original lyrics unmodified:

Now that I come to think of it, I suppose I would have to include the original Judas Priest song as another guilty pleasure. You can listen and watch along with Beavis and Butthead on YouTube.

Filed under: Guilty Pleasures, , ,



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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

tweeting my mind



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