When Movies Didn’t Need Color

Personal B&W pix-picks by L. E. Taylor

Last month, I passed along a boyhood remembrance from decades ago. The narrative came to rest upon an old movie, The Enchanted Cottage.

Some readers have responded, both to the poignancy of the World War II phantasy, but also to the fact that it was in black and white. I’d already intended to set aside time soon to write about black-and-white movies, which comprised the majority of films enjoyed by people of an earlier generation.

As a painter in my youth, I was branded a “colorist” by my grad school critic. True enough, but the stark poetry of graphite on velum also conveys a color of another kind. Sketches in pencil or ink can jolt the sensibilities as in a dream. (We are told most of us dream in black and white. Maybe.)  Tones of black and gray strip our nature of obvious emotional triggers, and insist upon more form. And fewer flowers.

Without the flowers, here’s my tip: Do yourself a favor and start watching black-and-white movies – some are great classic cinema, some are merely good entertainment. Many are clumsy and banal (just like everything else.) But this list, though admittedly biased to my own Middle American sensibilities, is pretty safe if you want to sample the really good stuff of a younger Hollywood, in glorious black-and-white.

  • Casablanca (Bogey, Bergman, and Nazis, 1942)
  • Brief Encounter (As sensual as platonic love gets, 1945)
  • Roman Holiday (Greg Peck & magical Audrey Hepburn, 1953)
  • It Happened One Night (Clark Gable with no undershirt, 1934)
  • Stagecoach (Debut of “The Duke”, 1939)
  • How Green Was My Valley (Manly sentiments; literary, 1941)
  • The Maltese Falcon (Classic Bogart thriller, 1941)
  • DOA (Riveting cinema noir mystery, 1950)
  • All About Eve (Smart, classy show-biz drama, 1950)
  • They Died With Their Boots On (U.S. history on-the-hoof, 1941)
  • On the Waterfront (Best Brando until The Godfather, 1954)
  • Double Indemnity (Sexy cinema noir murder thriller, 1944)
  • The Third Man (Cold War thriller,1949)
  • Some Like It Hot (Best comedy for grownups, 1959)
  • Key Largo (Bogey & Bacall, gangsters in the Keys, 1948)
  • Twelve O’ Clock High (Great psychological war drama, 1949)
  • Mrs. Miniver (English family braves WWII Blitz, 1942)
  • The Sea Hawk (Best swashbuckler flick, 1940)
  • They Were Expendable (PT boats, lots of stars, 1945)
  • The Sea Wolf (Grim film of a great Jack London novel,1941)
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Supernatural, romantic, 1947)
  • Blithe Spirit (Witty, elegant, literary Noel Coward classic, 1945)
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (Tense tragedy. Classic symbolism, 1943)
  • Sergeant York (WWI heroism, Gary Cooper, 1941)
  •  Citizen Kane (Tops on all the “greatest” lists, 1941)
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (American family drama, 1942)
  • The Bank Dick (W.C. Fields’ best, 1940)
  • Top Hat (Fred & Ginger invent movie dancing, 1935)
  • The Apartment (Smarmy-sweet story; ‘60s irony, 1960)
  • Red River (Classic western, good character development, 1948)
  • Going My Way (Bing Crosby, the singing priest – Oscar, 1944)
  • The Bishop’s Wife (Great supernatural romantic comedy, 1947)
  • The Big Sleep (Classic cinema noir; Bogey & Bacall, sizzle, 1948)
  • The Keys of the Kingdom (Powerful challenges to faith, 1944)
  • Requiem for a Heavyweight (Tough neo-realism, 1959)
  • Bad and the Beautiful (‘Inside Hollywood’ drama; big stars, 1952)
  • To Have and Have Not (Bogey meets Bacall, Hemingway, 1944)
  • From Here to Eternity (Five-Star military drama with five real “stars”, 1954)

Once you’ve acquired a taste for the better B&W vintages, you might be liberated for good from twenty-first century vulgarity.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome, of course. Leave them at the candy counter, and bring me a tub of popcorn, will you? Salt, extra butter.

Onward.

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Surveyor General: The young G.Washington, Esq.

First steps toward greatness - Reflections by L.E. Taylor

The peatmoss river bank was dusted with snow, but felt spongy underfoot. The tall white man was first to leap ashore from the flatboat that had brought him to this stop on his way to Destiny. It had been twenty days since debarking from his farmland in Fairfax County, and now he was in the Ohio River Valley.

In 1750, on British maps, Virginia denoted more than the commonwealth that bears its name today. It was a blank swath of uncharted forests, swamps, mountains, and mystery that extended, unimpeded, from the Eastern Seaboard to the fabled Pacific shore. The western wilds of this other “Virginia” were known best to the Spanish, the French, and the indigenous tribes.

The eighteen year old surveyor owned a mere 10,000 acres of it – well behind him now, receding from the Allegheny Mountains back to the Tidewaters of the colony where his people lived. He’d been contracted by the King’s governor to measure the distant Interior, to map it, and to document what he saw. He was also to meet congenially with any French along the way, as well as with the Indians, to learn what he could, and then to report back.

There was a purpose: To take it all from the European powers peacefully and over time to secure it into the realm of English speaking peoples.

From childhood, George Washington had mastered surveying skills as his part of the family business. He was a farmer. At his father’s death, eleven year old George, and his elder brother Lawrence inherited several thousand acres. They managed it all out of their modest family home, Mount Vernon. When Lawrence died of tuberculosis, young George was left with full responsibility for husbanding the lands, for the planting and reaping of crops, for the livestock, the stables, the smithy, a foundry, structural expansion of the facilities, and the accounting of revenues and expenditures. There was also a brewery.

In the eighteenth century, indentured servants and laborers had become a common means of working a large plantation in the English colonies. George considered slavery to be a costly and inefficient cog of the system, but one that could not be scotched without damage all round, only phased out. In the meantime, he had the burden of providing for the slave families he had “inherited”.

Land survey was a vital aspect of the plantation. Surveying was both art and science. It was one of two components that he could not delegate to others. The other was military defense.

So it was, that even before the boy became the man, that his skills were known around his home colony. Now, at eighteen, he found himself at the Ohio River with winter coming on and serious tasks still to be done. Such unsought responsibility would hound George Washington for another half century.

As he faced the perils of the Kentucky wilderness on this damp, murky day’s end, his mind observed and he reflected. Fatherless, he’d become his own mentor. He knew patience. His surveying calculus taught him to see clues and “think in the long term.” He’d begun to comprehend the potential of this endlessly broad continent. Bit by bit, imperceptibly, the young Washington learned by observing what was before him in this hinterland, and contrasting it with the narrow culture of that settled strip along the seaboard, the fledgling world of new settlers who would be called Americans.

George Washington would come to know beyond doubt that free men would be motivated by one thing above all others: self-interest. He recognized that this land would be hospitable to individual settlements – towns, villages, river ports deep into the untamed frontier, and that the freshwater rivers and lakes could transport the goods of this fecund soil to American seaports for profitable commerce with the world.

He knew that wealth in a free land, unhampered by kings and potentates and ruling despots could be available to all. He saw it through his sextant, he knew it in his mind.

The reasons we honor George Washington each February are many and just. Because he led a ragtag army of rabble to defeat the most powerful military in the world. Because he declined lifetime sovereignty over his country. Because he simply persevered when lesser men would have folded. Because he was the very epitome of manly honor and grace.

But we must understand that it all began before a shot was fired in any of the wars of his lifetime. It began with this one man venturing into a raw continent before its time and returning, not with a dream, but with a logical vision.

Onward.

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References:

  1. Johnson, Paul; George Washington, the Founding Father; HarperCollins, Publishers: NYC, NY; 2005.
  2. Bennett, William; Our Sacred Honor; Simon & Schuster; NYC, NY; 1997.
  3. Ellis, Joseph P.:Founding Brothers – The Revolutionary Generation; Vintage Books, Random House; NYC; 2000.
  4. Taylor, L.E.; LETsBlog: http://blog.letaylortheauthor.com; Good Words Ruined – Part One; February 12, 2014.

 

Nothin’s Gonna Be All Right.

Reflections on A bad habit by L. E. Taylor, author of Elgan and Grace

“Worrying is a sin.”

Where I first heard that, I don’t remember. But I think it was a credible source, probably Scriptural. Obsessive stewing as a natural reaction to stress suggests a lack of faith. That we can control what we dread just by thinking hard about them is mildly blasphemous.

That’s God’s job.

The televangelist Joyce Meyer says, ‘You have a job description, and God has a job description. When we get those two mixed up, that’s where we always get into trouble.’

But for many of us who actually care about things, worrying is a habit. Maybe even a hobby. I heard a neologism, “disasterize,” applied to the habit some people, awash in a perpetual state of anxiety, have of stewing about imaginary problems. Often these are leaders, managers of all stripes, first-born in a family, and others who reflexively shoulder responsibilities as part of their worldview.

My Dad (Elgan, of Elgan and Grace) advised me in my early years as a self-employed commercial artist, always fretful about money or business decisions or a snowstorm of what-ifs, “Ninety-eight percent of the things we worry about never happen.”

My Mom (Grace of… well, you know, etc.) had a favorite on the same subject: “Don’t worry, nothing’s gonna be all right.” For a long time I took that to be a cynical witticism from her early years of disappointment and loss. Later, as an adult, after years of observing Grace’s indomitable optimism as a defining life force, I discovered a better translation.

As her name implies, Grace placed her emphasis on the term all right, meaning “perfect,” not the word nothing, denoting hopelessness.

In retrospect, it seems I got a lot of advice about worrying. Must have been the pained look on my angelic puss. The term “worry wart” got plenty of play in the reality-based world of Grace Ludwig Taylor. I didn’t think I was worrying, though; just chewing through obstacles, mysteries, and terrors.

Heck, I was just thinking.

Creative people are introspective.  We think; take things apart in our minds and try to put them back together without forgetting what we set out to accomplish. Graphic artists do this visually, drawing and revising, either on paper (in the olden days) or digitally on the computer screen. Mathematicians make notes on white boards (blackboards with chalk in ancient times, right after the glacier retreated), but these reflect theoretical calisthenics, first performed mentally.

Kind of like worrying a problem through to its conclusion.

But the scientist is searching for an ultimate truth: perfection. That’s the mathematician’s job. The chemist’s job. The physician’s job.

For a writer or a poet – or a parent! – perfection is an impossible dream. Best to aim a bit lower. Like excellence. This embraces humility as part of the process.  And, because excellence is a subjective word, it leaves room, always, for improvement.

In the final analysis, the best you can do is to do your best, and trust your Creator to handle the details. That is all that’s worth worrying about.

But it’s still enough to keep you awake nights.

Onward.

 

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Living the Mulligan

A True Story – Reflection by L.E. Taylor
Don and I were late for our tee-time because we had to stop at his buddy’s house so I could borrow the fellow’s clubs and spikes.

I was only visiting my brother in Florida for a few days and he wanted to play some golf as we used to on the public links in Detroit, when we were kids. Don was a Delta pilot, working only three or four days a week by law, so when he wasn’t sailing or fishing he’d spend an afternoon at his club sharpening his game.

I hadn’t been on a golf course in fifteen years.

As I jammed my normal-sized tootsies into the size eight-and-a-half shoes, my kid brother, confident that this would be my only chance, said, “Your honors.” So I grabbed a driver.

It was a par-four with a slight dogleg-right and a wooded rough along the left. The flag was a wee dot, far, far away. With no time for a warm up at the range, I teed up, addressed the ball, shoulders square, overlapped grip, knees slightly bent, slow, deliberate backswing. The breeze from my whiff disturbed snoozing seagulls on the next fairway.

Don glanced at the pristine Acushnet still smartly on its yellow tee and chuckled. “That’s okay,” he said. “We didn’t have time at the range; let’s call it a Mulligan.”

Embarrassed and a little pissed off, I focused and went through the ritual again. The click was like music. The trajectory was straight and elevated before the ball came to rest on the left apron about two-hundred-twenty or so yards away.

“Nice shot,” Don said, and teed up. His drive was long but hooked into the rough at about a hundred-sixty yards. He drove the cart, stopping in the fairway near his lie. He waded well into the tangled rough, past a stand of big trees, found his ball and hacked impressively. The shot advanced the ball nicely past the trees and beyond my lie, but it remained in the rough. He grumbled, got in, and the cart hummed silently to a halt near my ball.

(The rest of this mundane tale holds the point of our conversation. So stop fidgeting.)

I went round to the borrowed old canvas bag of clubs and withdrew an iron. A five-, maybe a three-iron. My ball was slightly raised on the deep apron. It had been so long since my golfing days, I was very deliberate and I remember telling myself the drill: Line up the ball off your left heel… align thumbs… square shoulders… head down… fix eyes on the ball… bend knees… touch the club-head to grass one inch behind the lie. I turned my head just enough to see the flag, but it was gone, replaced by a foursome of Lilliputians who’d got to the green and were busy putting out. Good enough – I lined up my shoulders with the green. Slow backswing, swivel at waist. Keep left elbow stiff, cock the wrist. Fire!

Because dad taught me to keep my head down through the swing, I stared at my divot for a second or so before craning to search the fairway for my shot. The foursome was leaving the green. Suddenly they were animated, shouting nonsense in our direction and waving putters overhead.

In the cart, Don’s back stiffened. His eyebrows rose, his jaw dropped. “It went in the cup,” he said. “The ball went in the cup! You made an eagle!” I was stunned but don’t remember what I might have said. The four guys nearly two hundred yards away were yelling – I did make out, ‘great golf shot,’ but I just stood there. Don scowled at me. “Get in the cart!” As he pressed the pedal to take us to his ball (still in the rough), my wonderfully funny, albeit very competitive, young bub muttered, “I’ve never even seen an eagle.”

Question: Did I really make an eagle? Well, in a friendly round of golf, I guess so. But, these three decades later, it makes me think. (I told you to be patient.)

Now that I’m committed to the writer’s life, 24/7, I’m finding that my mind races from topic to topic faster than I can write it all down. And all this reading makes it even worse. Last week, deep into the night (my most fertile thinking time – a curse!) I mused, ‘If only I could just keep going hard, learn all that I can, write well, and teach and help others on their own journeys, and then, exhausted, follow in the way of all flesh to Heaven for a rest and some soul-work, and then come back, wiser and ready to go at it again.’  If only.

Then I asked in so many words, “I wonder if I could have a Mulligan.”

And without missing a beat, the Lord replied: “You’ve got one,” He said. “This is it.”

Onward.

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