[Note: I posted the promised CineFest Part 2 last night, so if you're just checking in this morning, be sure to check out the 'next' post, which was actually last night's post. It's a lead-in of sorts to the following's opening paragraphs. So, "two, two, two blog posts in one!"]
Among the delights of the CineFest weekend was an unusual curio from 1937 that sported a couple of one-liners that prompted nervous laughs in 2006, given their new political context.
In its day, Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937) was notable as musical comedian Eddie Cantor's first effort at a new studio (Cantor had just bolted from MGM to 20th Century Fox). It was also ballyhooed as the first studio feature to satirize the FDR Administration, and sure enough, the New Deal came under pointed fire in a number of still-amusing routines and gags. Surprisingly, though, the premise -- an over-medicated Eddie Cantor (having taken "12 pills at 2" instead of the prescribed "2 pills at 12" noon) dreams of bringing democracy to Bagdad! -- resonated directly with the present US foreign policy, lending it fresh topicality undreamed of by the filmmakers.
A couple of Cantor's one-liners about democratizing Bagdad were eerily spot-on today, the central parody premise absolutely relevent (Cantor's mounting of "the first democratic election" in Bagdad, which he has rigged to ensure the reigning patriarch wins, backfires when the populace spontaneously elects a very different candidate), and one toss-off sparked a hearty round of applause (in 'race-track' announcer-style coverage of the election, deviant election results from the outlaying districts with nameplays on Vermont and Maine are dismissed as expected aberrations). These political touchstones made this one of the festival's highlights, and a film worthy of wider exposure (highly unlikely, I know) while it's inadvertant timeliness still has teeth.
As a movie, Ali Baba Goes to Town was great fun unless you're completely allergic to Cantor's energetic schtick. As might be obvious from the brief synopsis above, this was essentially an Arabian spin on Cantor's previous hit Roman Scandals, which likewise spun off the premise of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain's classic (and already in '37 oft-adapted to film) A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Cantor excelled herein, and the film was spiced with an amazing on-camera (and in-costume) number performance by Raymond Scott & His Quintet (the highlight of the flick for me, and a typically inventive Scott number; what a treat!) and a blatantly racist blackface Cantor tune (backed by top-notch black performers, including The Peters Sisters and Jeni LeGon and the Pearl Twins) entitled "Swing is Here to Sway." Of course, the entire enterprise is racist, playing off venerable stereotypes of Islamic culture that have only further degenerated as we limp, raging like a country of madmen, into the 21st Century; at least the presence of the 1924 The Sea Hawk in the CineFest lineup offered a contrasting Western fantasy of Islamic culture (in which Muslim culture is embraced as a healthy alternative to the hypocrisies of British Christian aristocracy).
Typical of CineFest, the print was stunningly crisp and sharp, and completely uncut, sporting two sequences reportedly trimmed from most re-release and TV prints (according to the program notes by Gerry Orlando): one a romantic musical number typical of the genre sung by hunky Tony Martin to lovely June Lang, the other an odd 'domestic abuse' routine in which Cantor disciplines an Arabian husband accused of beating his wives. Like other moments in the film, nervous laughter ensued -- sad, really, all this is still so relevent and timely seven decades later.
All this comes to mind as a means of feebly addressing our ongoing horrific national reality -- because I simply haven't had the heart to write about President Bush's ridiculous press conference last week, which sickened me to the core: the reality is too grim to coherently address in an impoverished forum like this.
I listened masochistically to the entire thing, and attempted to compose a post about it the day after, but gave up -- it's no longer sustainable. How anyone can swallow his blatant self-contradictory blather (touting the purposeful "spreading of democracy" into the Middle East as policy as justified because "democracies don't wage war" with one breath, and stumping for his damned "pre-emptive war" policy as justified with his next) any longer eludes me completely. Only an idiot could believe anything this President says, if ever it was possible. The only truth he speaks is in his caricature of "the forces of evil" against us: at one point, his description of "the enemy" and their tactics perfectly summarized current US policies to a 't'! You can hear the light spark in his voice when he curls a phrase like "tentacles -- of propaganda" (the William Shatner-like pause increasingly essential to Bush blather), completely dim to how succinctly such phrasing characterizes ongoing Rove-ian politics in our contemporary American theocracy/plutocracy. Bush abhors true democracy, as his record increasingly demonstrates.
Though the nation seems increasingly awake to the utter moral bankruptcy of this Administration, we still are caught like paralyzed flies in the web of deceit, corruption, and utterly destructive life-and-money draining "pre-emptive" lunacy too far along to redress in any rational manner. A new poll announced this morning reports that 3/4 of Americans doubt "we" can "export democracy" (and, furthermore, that the Iraq War is spreading terrorism) -- which shows how great the growing gulf is between our waking American conscience and this President's continuing attempts to profer the same failed justifications and rationalizations expecting, somehow, different results: the definition of insanity.
I'm glad I lucked into hearing Elliott Spitzer's press conference in NY yesterday when it was broadcast live via radio; Spitzer called Bush "hands down, the worst President ever" on environmental and health issues. Spitzer noted having "sued the Bush Administration no less than 17 times" for their attempts to block or subvert state environmental laws. It seems at last that some political will is mobilizing against the powers-that-be in this country -- but so much damage has been done, on so many levels. We will be decades, generations, correcting and/or rectifying the damage done by Bush and his mad neo-con cabinet -- we and our children and grandchildren and their children will certainly be paying the piper for the massive debt and global havoc already racked up.
Ah, more later --