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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I can’t link it here because I’m on my phone, but I see via Drudge that the Grammies are tonight and that some of the “stars” plan to “get political”.

Bless their hearts.

Friends of the decanter will already know that Ol’ Robbo has never had any truck with celebrity worship, nor given a wet slap about what some entertainer may think about things. But it seems to me that more and more people are beginning to come round to this same way of thinking, especially now that the totalitarian left has abandoned any pretense that it isn’t fighting a flat-out civil war against Middle America.

I could be mistaken, of course, but if my income depended on ticket or CD sales, I’d probably want to think carefully about who I’m alienating with my virtue-signaling.

BTW, watched “Hail, Caesar” last evening. Meh. The Coen Brothers have definitely done some good films, but they’ve served up some stinkers, too.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

 

The other evening Ol’ Robbo ran off the 1955 Howard Hawks moovie, “Land of the Pharaohs“.  I had watched it once before about four or five years ago (indeed, I might have posted about it but am too lazy to check) and wanted to come back for a second look.

It’s an odd duck of a film. Hawks, of course, was a legendary director – working with such heavyweights as The Dook, Cary Grant, Bogart, Bacall, and Kate Hepburn, among others.  But so far as I can see, he mostly did westerns, war pictures, thrillers, and screwball comedies: A cast-of-thousands ancient epic like this one seems to be a definite outlier for him.   Also, I couldn’t help noticing that one of the writers for the film was William Faulkner.  (Yes, that William Faulkner.)

In the picture, Pharaoh Khufu, fabulously wealthy and successful, becomes obsessed with constructing a pyramid tomb for himself that will be completely bandit-proof, allowing him to enjoy his riches in the “next life” undisturbed.  To this end, he engages the services of a master-architect, a prisoner from one of his recent conquests.  Meanwhile, Khufu meets and marries (as his second wife) a feisty princess (Nellifer by name) from a tributary kingdom.  She gets greedy (well, she is anyway) and hatches a plot to kybosh him and set herself up as Queen in his place.  I’ll let it go at that without any spoilers just in case any of you actually wants to watch the film yourselves.

For all that, it’s really not too bad a film, if you’re just looking for simple entertainment.  I believe it was actually shot in Egypt, and some of the landscapes are quite striking.  Also, the big crowd/army scenes work very well.  The dialogue is nothing special, but the climax is pretty satisfying.

Khufu is played by Jack Hawkins, one of those solid Brit actors who seems to turn up in just about everything in the 50’s and 60’s.  The last time I saw him, he was playing the demolition-wallah who slogged through the Burma jungle with William Holden on the way to blow up Alec Guinness’s “Bridge Over The River Kwai”.

The master architect is played by James Robertson Justice, who I know from no other film whatever.  The man was a dead-ringer for Peter Ustinov, if Ustie had ever spent any time in the gym.

Then there’s Princess Nellifer.  She’s played by a young Joan Collins.   She is, quite bluntly, a nasty bitch.  But she’s a nasty bitch in a skimpy desert-princess costume.  And in one scene, she’s a nasty bitch in a skimpy desert-princess costume getting flogged.  So there’s that.  If you’re into that sort of thing.  Just saying.

Anyhoo, high-quality escapist entertainment of a sort rarely seen in the present day and age.

 

 

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The other day, Ol’ Robbo mentioned that he was working his way through the Beeb’s recent production of “The Hollow Crown“, Shakespeare’s quartet of historickal plays including Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, and Henry V.  At the time, having watched Richard II and Henry IV part 1, I said I thought I liked the series.  My opinion remained more or less the same after watching Henry IV part 2.  However, last evening I finally ran off Henry V and I’m afraid I must report that I’ve downgraded my overall impression.  Or rayther, that I think the last installment of the quartet just didn’t come up to scratch.

Probably this is in part because I happen to know this play an awful lot better than the other three, but also, I think, it’s because the scope of this one is so much grander than the others and the production (and cast) simply didn’t have the means to match this change of scale.

First, I was amazed at some of the cuts made.  Off the top of my head:

  •  Canterbury’s somewhat twisted discourse on Salic Law and why “as clear as is the summer’s sun” it did not disbar Henry’s claim to the French throne.
  •  The entire scene at Southhampton wherein the plot by Lord Scroop and friends against Henry is uncovered.  This is a critical piece of continuity because rebellion against the lawful king is a theme that pervades the whole damn quartet.
  • Of the Four Captains (Gower, McMorris, Jamy, and Fluellen), only the Welshman Fluellen makes the film, and most of his lines are slashed away.
  • A lot of Ancient Pistol’s lines are cut, including much of his run-in with Harry and his determination to turn to a life of crime after learning of Mistress Quickly’s death.
  • The vast majority of the “Would it were day!” scene in which the French nobles sit about fidgeting on the eve of battle and wishing the Dauphin would shut the hell up is missing.
  • The entire biznay about the French killing “the poys and the luggage” also is gone.  This really surprised me because the film contained a lot of shots of the kid who hung around with Falstaff and his friends and eventually followed Bardolph and company to France.  If ever there was a Star Trek Redshirt in this film, I thought he’d be it.

Second, I’m sorry, but Tom Hiddleston was a disappointment.  I thought he’d done very well as Prince Hal in the previous movies, but his King Harry left me cold.  Yes, the tennis balls scene was not bad, but his big “Once more unto the breach” and “St. Crispin’s Day” speeches? Meh.  There was nothing really commanding or regal or inspirational in either speech.  And it didn’t help that all the soldiers around him at Harfleur in the former seemed….apathetic, while somebody got the idea that the latter should be made in conversational tone only to his inner circle of nobles.

I also thought Anton Lesser’s Exeter was pretty weak.  This was King Harry’s heavy?

Third, and I suppose this was a matter of Beeb budget, but the fight at Agincourt was distinctly lame:  the play speaks of 10,000 French casualties, but it never looks like there are more than about 100 extras on the set at any one time.   The English longbowmen look as if they hadn’t got a few dozen arrows among them all.  The Duke of York buys it by being stabbed in the back while he’s creeping around in the forest all by himself.  [Note: I know that the play itself calls for a few discreet tableaux to illustrate the fighting.  Fair enough.  But if you’re going to do a “realistic” production, then you need to either go big or go home.]

Finally, I’m really not sure about John Hurt’s “Chorus”.   Olivier and Branagh got around this innovation (the only one that I’m aware of in all of Shakespeare) by staging a “play within a play”, gradually pulling back from, respectively, an Elizabethan stage and a modern moovie production and gradually becoming immersed in the story.  Here, it’s a simple voice-over to what is supposed to be “real” action.  Frankly, I don’t think this works.  Would it be heretical to suggest that maybe the Chorus should have been taken out altogether in this format?

On the good side,  I thought the scenes with Pistol, Bardolph and Nym were very good, especially the one where they said goodbye to Mistress Quickly.  I also liked all the scenes with Princess Katherine, including her “English lesson” with her maid and her broken-tongue courtship by Harry.  I also liked Lambert Wilson’s King Charles, especially when he realized that his idiot son had been needlessly taunting Harry with his stupid tennis ball gift.

Now I’m going to have to go back and watch Kenneth Branagh’s movie version of the play.  Yes, it omits things, too.  Yes, much goes waaaaay over the top.  Yes, Branagh was an enfant terrible.  Indeed,  I wish there had been a strong director on the project with the ability to say, “Ken? NO!”  But I have to confess: the man knows how to play a King.

"The Nativity" - Botticelli

“The Nativity” – Botticelli

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, what with commitments too complicated to get into here, it looks as if Ol’ Robbo will not be able to find the time to get at the Port Swiller keyboard again soon.  So let me go ahead and wish you all here and now a very, very Merry Christmas!  (And yes, I’ve been saying that instead of “Happy Holidays” all over the place the past couple days.  Snooks to them!)

Through prayer and concentration over the last few years, I am happy to say that I believe I have just about battle-proofed myself against the pernicious effects of the modern, secular X-mas spirit, and can instead focus on the True Meaning relatively (albeit not completely) free of such distractions.

And in that vein, let us again savor Luke’s description (and yes, even though I’m now a Catholic, I can’t let go of the beauty of the King James Version):

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

– Luke 2: 1-20

I don’t know why it is, but every time I read or hear this passage – particular verses 13 and 14 – I get the chills.  (Well, I guess I do know why, actually.  Alas, I’d love to be able to convey the feeling – in word, paint, or note – but unfortunately haven’t anything like the skill to do so.)

Anyhoo, as I say, have a merry, joyous Christmas for all the right reasons!  (And try to behave yourselves.)  I’ll see you all on the other side and, having topped off my glass of port and heaved an enormous sigh, may perhaps give you some highlights of my own.  (As I say, it’s all going to be very complicated.)

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, here we are in Thanksgiving Week.  What with all the to-do coming over the next few days, Ol’ Robbo probably won’t get back to the blog much before Saturday.  I know this is hardly crushing nooz to the three or four of you who actually read this thing, but I thought I at least ought to let you know.

So, exit question:  Which was really the “First” Thanksgiving?

Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, Fall, 1621, which some argue was arbitrarily imposed on the Country because the Yankees won the Civil War and got to re-write the history books;

Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, December 4, 1619, which doesn’t look so good a) because of the above-referenced Yankee bias, and b) because the colony got wiped out three years later by the Powhatans;

St. Augustine, Florida, September 8, 1565, which..I mean….Spanish and Catholic?  Can’t have that as the standard; or

Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate and his expedition, Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, April 30, 1598.  (See immediately above.)

(And, of course, there may be other claimants.)

Have at it, if you like.  But I also will leave you with something on which I’m sure we all can agree:

Courtesy of the Roman Catholic Boys for Art.

Courtesy of the Roman Catholic Boys for Art.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends of the decanter, and I’ll see you on the other side!

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Sad news:  Middle Gel tipped me off this evening to the the death of Annie Schmidt.

Who, you might ask?

Well, she was the daughter of Jon Schmidt, one of the founders of the Piano Guys.  She’d been out on a solo hike in the Oregon wilderness and had gone missing about a month ago.  According to the story, her remains were found at the bottom of a cliff and her death attributed to blunt force head injuries.  Bottom line: she fell.

I had originally been inclined to say something here about the foolishness of solo hiking, but pace.  There is nothing, from what I know, worse than surviving your own child and I’ve no reason to add to that burden.

I bring this up because, again, Who, you might ask?  Well, the Piano Guys are the Gel’s favorite musickal group.  She’s got several signed CD’s from them and has seen them at least three times in concert the past few years.  (I went with her to the last one at Wolf Trap last summah.)  The PG’s really aren’t my thing, but on the other hand they’re a heck of a lot better than Miley Cyrus’s “twerking” or your average Boy Band or Gansta Rappa that most of teh kids seem to follow these days.

A sample of their mishmash of classickal and modernsky:

Also, in their stage show, they are unabashedly religious (Mormon, I’ll grant you, but still….).  In this day and age, it is quite refreshing.

Anyhoo, as teh Gel herself admits, as sad as the nooz is, at least the family now has closure, which I suppose is something.  (As I say, I hope never, ever, to have to go through such a process myself.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I mentioned in a post below the Middle Gel’s upcoming fall concert.  Well, that concert was this evening.

The Gel, who is now a HS junior, made it into Madrigals this year – what amounts to Varsity Choir at her school – which, if I may say so, has a reputation for one of the best musick programs in the Great Commonwealth of Virginny.

At any event, their portion of the evening’s offerings was as follows:

  • A Cantate Domino by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
  • Je ne L’ose Dire” by Pierre Certon (d. 1572)
  • “I Love, Alas, I Love Thee” by Thomas Morley (1557-1603)
  • “Jungfrau, dein schöne Gestalt  by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612)
  • “Fair Phyllis I Saw” by John Farmer (1570-1601)

I mean to say, what?  Ol’ Robbo does love him some closely-reasoned Renaissance polyphony, especially if it is well done, as was this evening’s selection.

After the Madrigals did their stuff, they were joined on stage for the finale by the rest of the Concert Choir, of which they are the hub.  The final three selections were:

  • The beginning and concluding sections of the Gloria from a Mass setting by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
  • “My Flight For Heaven” by some contemporary fellah named Blake Henson and based on a poem to Musick by the great Cavalier poet Robert Herrick
  • “Let Everything That Hath Breath”, a modern setting of Psalm 150:6 by some fellah named Jeffrey Ames.

You will notice in these lists a healthy amount of religious musick.  The same was generally true of the selections served up by the junior choirs as well.  I swear that I heard an older man sitting behind me exclaim to his wife, “So many Christian pieces? By Allah!”

A close friend of the Port Swiller Family (ex-Catholic, but I’m hoping to turn her back) came to see the Gel sing, and also remarked to me her surprise at the distinctly Christian flavor of the program, given that this is a public school.

Shh!” I said, “Don’t give anyone any ideas……”

Heh.

Oh, and here for your enjoyment is a YooToob of the Morley, a distinctly secular piece – apparently with all five parts sung by the same fellah:

 

 

Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? from the Symphoniae sacrae III by Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672).

(“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?
It will become hard for you
to kick against the thorns.” – Acts 9:4-5)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A cool and rainy Saturday here at Port Swiller Manor means ol’ Robbo really can’t hide in the yard as usual, but instead has been dragooned into getting the house cleaned up for a stay by the Former Llama Military Correspondent, who will be in town this weekend for the Army Ten-Miler.  (At the moment, I’m waiting on the sheets in the washing machine.)

Anyhoo, I first heard this piece thirty-mumble years ago in a college musick class and was deeply impressed by it.  Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t take in the compositional facts of the piece and somehow got it into my head that it was something out of Handel.  After that, I lost touch with it completely.

However, I am currently reading Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner and came across a discussion of Schutz’s influence on Bach that contained a detailed description of this piece.  I immediately recognized it and happily scurried off to yootoobz to indulge myself.  It’s far more moving  – and indeed, awe-inspiring – than I remember even from back in the day.  (Well, it ought to be, oughten it?  Something wrong with me otherwise.)

I haven’t made up my mind about whether or not I like Gardiner’s book yet, by the bye.  It is very informative about Bach’s life and influences, but so far the narrative has a somewhat uneven quality about it, with a tendency to go back and forth between dense analysis and flighty by-the-ways.  Also, Gardiner’s ego keeps bubbling up – we don’t refer to him ’round here as “John Eliot Full-Of-Himself” for nothing, you know.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A day late, I know, but R.I.P. Gene Wilder, dead at 83.  Wilder was a superb comic actor and, from every account I’ve ever read, a thoroughly good man.

“Young Frankenstein” is one of my very favorite movies and certainly my most favorite Mel Brooks movie.  This is primarily due to the writing, in which I believe Wilder had a significant hand.  (Well, okay, the outstanding cast, too.)  The trouble with most Brooks comedies is that they tend to start wandering, devolving into sledge-hammer slapstick or getting too cutesy.  (The latter is my main problem with “Blazing Saddles”.  Of course, it has a lot of good material in it, but it can’t stay in character, and by the end has gone completely haywire.)  Not so with Y.F. – even with all the silly little asides, it holds true to the genre it parodies right the way through.  As I say, I believe Wilder should be given credit for this.

It also occurred to me that I haven’t seen “Willie Wonka” in quite a long time, so I tossed that into the ol’ Netflix queue just now.  I’ve often wondered how that film compares to the Roald Dahl book.  (On principle, I’ve never seen the Johnny Depp remake bye the by.)  Certainly it is old-fashioned in its rayther strict morality and quite out of date.  The kidz are all Mike TeeVees and Veruca Salts now, and any suggestion that parents are responsible for such spoiled rotten brats would probably get one sent to the Camps.

(Mention of Wonka reminds me of a little throwaway bit in the movie of interest to musick-lovers.  At one point, Wonka plays a little tune on a “musical lock” in order to open a door (into the fizzy-lifting water room, I believe).  Mrs. TeeVee leans over to Grampa Joe and smugly mutters “Rachmaninoff”.   Of course, the tune is nothing of the sort but is instead the opening couple of bars from the overture to Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”.  Wonka gives Mrs. TeeVee the smallest part of a condescending glance before moving on.   I’ve often wondered what percentage of the audience the writers expected to get that bit.  Significantly higher back when the movie came out than now, I’d bet.)

 

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

This post is sort of a follow-on to the one below because it’s about another thing I often ponder while going walkies in Your Nation’s Capital.

Despite the fact that I studied him in school back in the day, I can only quote one small snippet of Alexander Pope off the top of my head:

Vice is a monster of such frightful mien, that to be hated needs but to be seen.  But seen too oft, familiar with her face, first we endure, then pity, then embrace.

As it happens, this is apropos to any number of topics these days, but I find myself remembering it mostly when my walk takes me by the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I’ve said here somewhere before that I thought the thing was hideous and I still do.  Further, I think its placement right next door to and in plain sight of the Washington Monument is an exercise in aesthetic bird-flipping akin to the decision of that rat-bastard Francois Mitterrand (another raging narcissist, btw) to let I.M. Pei drop his beastly pyramid right on the doorstep of the Louvre.

However, more and more lately I’ve found myself thinking that if one scores the thing not in absolute terms but on the scale of Smithsonian architecture, it’s not quite as bad as all that.  Still bad, as I say, but not as bad.

I mean, consider some of the other offerings.  Air & Space and American History are both blocks and slabs of 60’s Soviet Modernski.  American Indian looks like Jabba the Hutt’s lair on Tatooine.  The Hirshhorn is a giant hat box.  And the Castle itself is that kind of twee red-brick Neo-Gothic that gets mocked by writers like Waugh and Wodehouse and for some reason makes me think of Queen Victoria pretending to be a Highland shepherdess.

Indeed, the only two museums on the Mall I actually like are the West Building of the National Gallery and Natural History, both of which feature clean, elegant, Neo-Classical designs.  If I wielded the great Pen and Phone of Executive Overreach, I’d raze all the others and rebuild them along these lines.

Of course, that’s not going to happen.  (Well, the razing part might, given the current world situation, but that’s not exactly the same thing.)

As for the new AA Museum, they’ve planted a bunch of young trees around it.  All I can hope is that as the shrubbery grows and fills in, it’ll mellow the thing’s starkness somewhat.

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