Monday, October 28, 2013

The Ugly And The Stupid

The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat.

Oscar Wilde

Thursday, October 24, 2013

1945: Dessau

546 British bombers destroyed the city of Dessau on March 7, 1945, two months before Germany’s capitulation.

Dessau, in Eastern Germany, had remained untouched by Allied bombers until the war’s final weeks.

The destruction of Dessau was purposeless, as the advancing Soviet Army was nearby—and quickly closing in on the city.

Official death tolls for Dessau were never determined—in part because Soviet troops were soon to swarm into the city and wreak additional havoc.

In the war’s final days, it became impossible for officials—all over Germany—to arrive at reasonably-accurate death tolls.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Another Seasonal Treat

Conductor Edo de Waart.

If de Waart is not already the inspiration for a frightening Halloween mask, he certainly should be.

The man looks like a candidate for imminent death.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is Riccardo Muti The Inspiration?

Is Riccardo Muti the inspiration for one of this season’s more popular Halloween masks, the rather frightening jowls mask?

Or does Muti wear one of the masks himself?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Barbra Streisand In “Funny Girl”

Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” from 1968.

Even though “Funny Girl” marked Streisand’s screen debut, the film captures Streisand’s finest screen performance, probably because William Wyler—a GREAT director of film actors—was at the helm of the picture.

Enormous care was devoted to dressing Streisand—the gowns are in muted colors flattering to Streisand, with patterns and shapes designed to conceal her figure—and enormous care was devoted to lighting Streisand. Similar efforts were involved in creating a special makeup plan intended to glamorize the new star.

All the work paid off. From Streisand’s first screen entrance—a long take from behind, with Streisand wearing a leopard fur coat and hat, exiting from a limousine and proceeding through a stage door into a darkened theater, after which the camera captures its first glimpse of Streisand’s face in a mirror, at which point Streisand says, “Hello, gorgeous!”—Streisand is given the full star treatment. MGM in the 1930s and 1940s was no better at providing deluxe glamour.

The rose was soon to lose its bloom. None of Streisand’s future performances lived up to the promise of “Funny Girl”, although Vincente Minnelli’s “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” from 1970 captures a few magical moments from Streisand.

Things took a sharp turn southward in 1975, when Pauline Kael proclaimed to the world that she had “fallen out of like” with Streisand after seeing “Funny Lady”, a sequel to “Funny Girl”. Streisand, argued Kael, had already become a caricature.

Streisand was never again to get a good screen role—and I shall tweak the nose of anyone who says “Nuts”—and Streisand took to directing herself, always producing wince-inducing performances.

I have excised Omar Sharif from the “Funny Girl” outtake—I did not want to have to share his bloodshot eyes. In “Funny Girl”, Sharif was the fly in the ointment: he looked hung-over for the duration of the film.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Where Or When

Last night, for the first time, I heard this album, from 1966.

I have never paid much attention to Barbra Streisand, but Streisand’s version of the Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart “Where Or When” appears on “Color Me Barbra” and Streisand’s is a performance on the level of high art, something akin to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, in that both singers were capable of displaying complete mastery of text, vocal line and mood. I had to listen to the track over and over; it helped me understand why Glenn Gould thought Streisand one of the greatest singers of the day, irrespective of category.

“Where Or When” was written for the 1937 musical, “Babes In Arms”. “Babes In Arms” has dropped by the wayside over the years, probably the victim of a bad book, but the show produced several standards in addition to “Where Or When”, including “The Lady Is A Tramp”, “My Funny Valentine” and “Johnny One Note” (the latter two, at one time or another, were also recorded by Streisand).

George Balanchine was the choreographer for “Babes In Arms”.


The serious filmgoer will know instantly from which film this outtake is borrowed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

“The Harbor At Lorient”

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
The Harbor At Lorient
National Gallery Of Art, Washington

Oil On Canvas
16 7/8 Inches By 28 5/16 Inches


I have never been particularly fond of Berthe Morisot artworks, but this small painting, which I have seen, is exquisite.

The painting was a special favorite of the Mellon family, which donated the canvas—as well as thirteen other Morisot artworks—to the National Gallery Of Art.

1942: Lorient

U-123 returning to the U-boat pens at Lorient in February 1942.

U-123, in service from 1940 until 1944, was one of few German U-Boats to survive the war. At war’s end, U-123 was turned over to The French Navy. The vessel remained in some form of service until 1959.

The submarine pens at Lorient were impervious to 1940s ammunition, what with the yards of concrete overhead.

The Allies, consequently, destroyed the town of Lorient—knowing that destroying the town would render the pens useless. And, by early 1943, the pens at Lorient indeed had become useless, there no longer being in place a support system that could re-supply the boats with fuel, weapons and provisions.

After Spring 1943, boats that harbored in Lorient could no longer be returned to service. The boats had to go elsewhere for re-provisioning or wait out the rest of the war.

German soldiers continued to occupy the fortress-like subway pens at Lorient for nine months after the Allies had freed France. It was only upon Germany’s unconditional surrender in May 1945 that German soldiers finally vacated the subway pens at Lorient.

The French Navy used the Lorient subway pens for two or three decades after the war.

Portions of the pens are now open for public tourism.

I would like to visit them one day.

1944: Detroit

Ford Motor Company’s giant Willow Run plant in 1944.

Willow Run produced the massive, four-engine B-24 Liberator bomber.

One B-24 rolled off the Willow Run assembly line, ready to fly, each hour for three years.

A similar plant in Fort Worth, Texas, also produced one B-24 Liberator per hour.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

1941: Oslo

Anti-Jewish graffiti on a shop in Oslo during the second year of The German Occupation.

Norway had a minute Jewish population at the time—there were fewer than 3,000 persons of Jewish faith in the entire country in 1941—and displays of anti-Jewish sentiment during a brutal occupation would seem incomprehensible.

The graffiti at the front reads, in English: “The Jew Parasite Got Us On April 9” (April 9 had been the date of the German invasion of Norway).

The graffiti at the side reads, in English: “Palestine calls for all Jews. We don’t stand them any more in Norway.”

1943: German Troops In Copenhagen

German troops in Copenhagen in 1943.

The German soldiers in the photograph are nothing more than a couple of kids, probably half-scared much of the time.

An intensive examination of the behavior of the Danish population during The German Occupation has yet to be written. Danes, on the whole, did not sheathe themselves with honor from 1940 to 1945—and the story should be told, in all its gruesome details, to provide an accurate assessment of a nation showing itself in want of moral fiber.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

1986: Olof Palme

Olof Palme in 1986, the year of his murder.

Palme’s murder has never been solved, although no one outside Sweden has ever exhibited much interest in the matter. Palme is the only democratically-elected European leader ever to have been murdered while in office.

The U.S. administration had difficulty stifling yawns upon receiving the news of Palme’s death—and sent Secretary Of State George Schultz to represent the U.S. at Palme’s funeral, a conspicuous nose-thumbing directed at Sweden’s government. Most European nations sent their heads of state to Palme’s funeral; at a minimum, the U.S. would have been expected, pursuant to protocol, to send Vice President Bush to the funeral.

To rub salt into the wound, the U.S. explained that Schultz was the perfect U.S. official to attend the funeral, since Schultz was to be in Europe on other business at the same time and might as well pop up to Stockholm for an hour as long as he was on the continent.

In diplomatic parlance, the U.S. sent what is called “a signal”.

Everyone else calls it an eye-jab.

Bonn: 5 September 1962

Charles de Gaulle, in the company of Konrad Adenauer, visits Bonn, a remarkable event in the long process of post-war reconciliation in Europe.

In the 1960s, both de Gaulle and Adenauer viewed American and British leadership with disdain.

Both men believed that Kennedy was a lightweight and an adventurer, and that Kennedy had grievously mishandled the Berlin crisis of 1961.

Both men believed that post-war Britain had embarked upon a misguided economic program doomed to render the nation irrelevant, and that Britain wanted to join the Common Market solely in order for France and Germany to become willing participants in the long-term absorption of Britain’s economic blunders. De Gaulle very publicly opposed Britain’s entry into the Common Market; Adenauer, whose government officially supported Britain’s entry, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep Britain out.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Men are basically smart or dumb, lazy or ambitious. The dumb and ambitious ones are dangerous and I get rid of them. The dumb and lazy ones I give mundane duties. The smart and ambitious ones I put on my staff. The smart and lazy ones I make my commanders.

Erwin Rommel