I knew I needed a break from thinking about this election when I went onto one of my favorite left-leaning blog sites this afternoon and found myself reading a furious discussion of the fact that the MSM (that's "mainstream media," the bane of political bloggers) has been reporting Clinton's Pennsylvania victory margin as 10% when in mathematical fact it was only 9.2%! The argument centered mainly on whether this was more evidence of an anti-Obama media conspiracy or just of the criminal sloppiness of modern reporting, followed by many suggestions on how to get the word out to the public that Clinton didn't really win by "double digits" after all.
Personally, I'm going to get the word out that I'd rather watch old movies for a week or two. Barack Obama's train ride to victory is clearly going to be a local, not an express, stopping everywhere from Kokomo to Raleigh to San Juan...or maybe the problem is that Hillary keeps tying herself to the tracks whenever it starts to pick up speed...pick your own metaphor...and we have plenty of time to think about other things.
(But no, I'm not just going to "sit there and let Clinton steal Barack's momentum," to quote another blog thread. I'll be making calls to Indiana. I refuse to read any op-eds telling me that Indiana is now a must-win state for Obama, but I'll be making calls.)
First of all, anyone who is or can soon be anywhere near the San Francisco Bay Area should check out a couple of local film festivals. The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto—a graceful, perfectly restored, Moorish Deco movie house from 1925, complete with live organ music between shows (with Richard Rodgers's heartrending Isn't It Romantic? for a theme song)—is running an unprecedented tribute to Bette Davis on her 100th birthday, showing every one of her first 36 movies, from her first supporting appearance in The Bad Sister in 1931 (in which she was cast as the good sister—talk about not knowing what they had!) to Jezebel from 1938. Unfortunately, now that I look at the schedule, I see that Jezebel is already past, as is the gloriously twisted Of Human Bondage, but there's some fascinating stuff still to come, many views of Davis as a skinny blonde playing a wide range of good girls and bad. So Big, tonight and tomorrow, is a Wild Bill Wellman movie from 1934 that has her backing up Barbara Stanwyck. Bette is out-acted—no one could touch Stanwyck in the crackling, rackety days of early-'30s shoestring soundies—which is a fascinating thing to watch by itself.
Coming up are The Rich Are Always with Us (with Ruth Chatterton, always fun to watch do her self-conscious theatrical razzle-dazzle), Jimmy the Gent (Cagney being Cagney), Three on a Match (much of the great Warners' stock company—Joan Blondell, Warren William, Bogart, Lyle Talbot, Ann Dvorak—playing off each other), Fashions of 1934 (a Busby Berkeley musical starring William Powell, with Bette appearing weirdly where you'd expect Ruby Keeler), Dangerous (Davis's truly unsettling embodiment of an alcoholic), Satan Met a Lady (a pre-Bogart, pre-Huston adaptation of The Maltese Falcon), and a bunch more. Then in June, running through the summer, the Stanford is going to show "many but not all" of her movies from 1939 on.
Oh, and I just looked it up: Jezebel and Of Human Bondage are both on DVD. I'll watch them both soon (and try not to think about the Kentucky primary as I listen to Bette's Southern accent in Jezebel).
Meanwhile, at the Castro Theatre, right over the hill from my house, the San Francisco International Film Festival is opening tonight with Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress. The program describes the star as "the alluringly vulpine Asia Argento," which is probably exactly how Vin Diesel thought of her in XXX. A lot of very intriguing sounding new movies will follow, but there'll also be some great old stuff mixed in during the two weeks of the festival: tomorrow The Golem from 1920, with funky new music by a guy from the Pixies; later The Sweet Smell of Success, Some Like It Hot, and others; and this Saturday a new 35-millimeter print of Leave Her to Heaven, a most idiosyncratic psychological suspense movie scripted by Jo Swerling (one of my heroes) and also one of the most gorgeous movies you'll ever see, partly because of the throbbing Technicolor and Southwestern locales but mostly because of Gene Tierney.
Tierney is not an actress I've taken very seriously until quite recently. I knew she was ethereally, almost mystically beautiful, at least when 20th Century Fox wanted her to be. I've loved Laura for decades and couldn't imagine any other actress bringing to life that ghost of everything men imagine women to be. But in Night and the City I thought she was just fine, and in The Shanghai Gesture almost dorky. I lumped her in with Linda Darnell and Hedy Lamarr as just one of those faces that clever cinematographers and erotically complicated directors could play wonderful tricks with. Then a friend of mine told me she was his favorite "screen goddess of yore," and coincidentally I had a chance to catch one of her early comedies, Rings on her Fingers (and she was pretty funny, too), and that got me to rent Leave Her to Heaven, and all of a sudden I saw something opening up behind her otherworldly gaze: she plays a cruel, dissociated bitch posing as a sweet girl next door, and she brings up something truly spooky from her depths in doing so. (And she is indeed fascinating to look at.)
A lot of awful things happened to Gene in her life, including a first child born severely retarded and a decades-long journey through major depression, probably bipolar disorder. She came of age when the mental health establishment was determined to "conquer" depression, but the drugs that might have helped hadn't been found yet. So she spent years in and out of institutions, getting her brains scrambled by electroshock. But she did her best to get through, and to take care of the people in her life as well as she could. Late in her life she wrote a book about it all, Self-Portrait, that I've seen praised for its candor and humanity. I'll be at the Castro on Saturday the 26th to see her on the big screen.
Meanwhile, Turner Classic Movies, my favorite place to hide when I just can't handle the real world, is showing some fun stuff as usual. Some Hedy Lamarr movies tonight—and after the wonderful essay about Hedy and John Garfield on Self-Styled Siren's blog, I realize I've been probably been too quick to dismiss her, too. And Saturday morning Detour, one of the great, weird, punch-drunk, low-budget noir quickies, starring yet another inconsistent but fascinating actress of the '40s, Ann Savage (whom my pal Will Jacobs and I find so compelling that we're going to be using her in our new novel, Million Dollar Ideas.)
So there you go. Lots of ways not only to avoid worrying about the election, but to avoid engaging with the present altogether.