I THINK I've lived a little too long/ On the outskirts of town…. There are few moments as personally satisfying as this, which, of course, I find more than a little disturbing, in that it means a lifetime's worth of helping the Universe in its ongoing efforts to beat every last jot of irrational hope (if that's not oxymoronic) out of me has failed, or missed a spot; it really must be harder than it looks to be a Buddhist. Anyway, Nelson not only praises Bing & Bob here, but later throws Artie Shaw into the bargain.
[The Road pictures] were defining moments of the 1940s, an era that seems impossibly remote today. The Greatest Generation is remembered for storming Omaha Beach, not laughing at jesters of the republic like Abbott and Costello or Fred Allen. It seems Preston Sturges is the only comedic film artist of that era who has made the jump to those fly-in-amber Criterion box sets.
It's not exactly Nick Drake returning from the grave to chart, after I'd spent twenty years pressing his stuff into the hands of intelligent listeners who'd been too young to join the throngs which ignored him when he was alive, but for some reason it perks me up, despite the fact that the world never learned anything from that Volkswagen commercial.
So here's what I don't get:
If it's a culture crime that a decade of comedy has simply vanished from memory, a simultaneous witness for both the defense and the prosecution is Bob Hope. Here's an American comedic legend who quite simply was not funny -- at least publicly -- for 50 long years, a creative desert entered the day that principal photography was completed on Frank Tashlin's "Son of Paleface" in 1952, and left by Hope's death in 2003. This very public lack of discernible humor not only doomed Hope to critical oblivion, but may have impacted the reputations of many of his contemporaries as well.
Because, as someone who thinks 92.6% of the films which can truly be called Great are in black-and-white, I'd like to know who's watching any of 'em. Who's talking about The Thin Man? His Girl Friday? Ball of Fire? The Devil and Miss Jones? Okay, Ivan (who ain't trading no samizdat, Mr. Nelson, and in fact may be the only honest man on the internets).
I grew up with the worst of Hope--not just those phone-it-in-from-waaay-long distance teevee specials, but his vocal support of a jungle war that kept his name in Variety for something other than Call Me Bwana. But I knew at the same time that Hope had an unmatched sense of timing, at least in talkies, at least until he grew fat and comfortable and chummy with Presidents. Yeah, he coasted for thirty years or so; you get that option when the audience allows, which doesn't mean you have to take it. I just find it a little difficult to accept that today's audiences are still turned off by his middle-to-old-age reputation, which resides in that same musty corner as everything else that occurred before the vast majority of them was born. I can't think of anyone under 30 in my extended family, or my neighborhood, who could be made to sit still for a Road picture, or a screwball comedy, or an episode of The Honeymooners or The Dick Van Dyke Show, for that matter. Although if someone turned them into cartoons…
And I don't know why this is, exactly. Not lack of wit, or intellect; more like a proprietary sense about CGI, and a consumerist streak that borders on Stockholm Syndrome. Yeah, time marches on. Yeah, yeah, Ted Turner cornered the market. That doesn't explain why every other channel shows an endless Roadhouse loop. Y'know, the Silents don't speak to me much, either, but I made the effort to see The Passion of Joan of Arc, Metropolis, Greed, and Napoleon, and I'd count it as a personal failure, not excuse it as a cultural artifact, if I were anything less than a huge fan of Buster and Charlie. This is the cultural equivalent of the old Red Barn question: farmers say they paint barns red because that was the color the Merchantile stocked; the retailer said he stocked it because that was the color farmers asked for. You're excused if you don't really like this stuff. You're not excused for thinking Judd Apatow is the greatest comic genius ever if you didn't look first. Or thereafter, but that's another story.
Obligatory clumsy segue to Indiana politics: So "Dan Coats to challenge Evan Bayh" becomes the latest headline-borne example of how careless political writers are with minor details (Coats has essentially said he wouldn't resist having his name placed in nomination, which may be as good as a wink to a blind camel, but it's not the fucking same, is it?). So in the space of a couple weeks we've gone from the Massachusetts election, to the Indiana Republican party deciding that made Fidel Bayh vulnerable, to them "proving" it with a Mike Pence poll, to every legitimate Indiana Republican contender immediately declining to run or talking his wife into getting temporary cancer--unless you count John "Concealed Weapon" Hostettler as legitimate--to the party somehow dredging up the only Indiana Senator since sleeve garters with an emptier legislative resume than Bayh himself. Sometimes you can get the vague impression that none of these people really means what he says. And despite the potential contest of Chamber of Commerce Hairdo vs. Mr. Beige-on-Beige Interior, it's actually started off pretty well, from an entertainment point of view, with state Democrats officially welcoming Coats back to Indiana (he's been living in Virginia), and the GOP making noises about running against "Mr. and Mrs. Bayh," which I hope they will, as it'll be a little hard for ol' Ev to blame that one on Leftists.