Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the midnight movie and music club for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Glad to see you again this week. Bring your own beverage. Be sure to tip the waitstaff.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
The Cubs played a day game today and won 7-2 over the team with the best record in the National League coming into the game. (The Padres loss combined with the Giants win puts the Giants on top of the best-record chase.) They did it with a starting pitcher, Kohl Stewart, they rescued from the scrap heap and who was making his first major league start of the year in an emergency after Trevor Williams’ appendectomy. The Cardinals loss to the Dodgers moved the Cubs into first place in the NL Central. I think it may be time to start taking this team seriously.
Last time I asked you that if the Cubs continue to play like they are playing, what position do the Cubs need to add through a trade to make a deep run into the playoffs? Fully 82% of you said “a starting pitcher” and it’s hard not to think of how a starter and backup catcher combination like Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini is exactly what this team needs. But that’s water under the bridge at this point.
Here’s the part where I discuss jazz and movies. Those of you who want to skip to the poll question at the end are free to do so now. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Chet Baker was a trumpeter from the late-1950s of tremendous talent, singing ability and good looks (he was called “the James Dean of jazz”) who pretty much threw it all away in a drug habit. He was constantly in and out of jail on drug crimes and his tooth got knocked out in a fight with some drug dealers, which temporarily prevented him from playing, at least until he got a pair of dentures and re-learned to play the trumpet with them.
But by the late-seventies, Baker had gotten his life straightened out. He started playing again, mostly in Europe, and as it turned out, he hadn’t lost too much over the years. (Well, he lost his looks. By the 1980s he really looked like he’d spent the last few decades spinning around in an industrial dryer.) Rock musician Elvis Costello was a fan of his and asked him to play trumpet on the song “Shipbuilding” off the album Punch the Clock. Baker was forever grateful and for the rest of his life (which was only another five years) Baker would show his gratitude by playing Costello’s song “Almost Blue.” [VIDEO]
By the early 1960s, Hollywood was in trouble financially. The problems had started about 15 years earlier, when in 1948, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. that the movie studios could no longer own the movie theaters. It was, and still is, a major antitrust case. But that meant that the studios were no longer able to profit from their movies by both making them and showing them.
The problems continued through the 1950s as television became the primary form of entertainment in the United States. People no longer had to go out to a theater to see moving images and sound tell stories. Finally, the Hays Code was preventing Hollywood from making movies that directly addressed the issues that people were important to people. Young people saw most American movies as “square” and irrelevant to their lives. Foreign films started to come to the US and those films weren’t beholden to any code of conduct that limited what the could say or show.
The whole house of cards came crashing down around 1965. Producers were threatening to release films without approval of the Code, and the censors began to back down. (The Hays Office was officially shut down in 1968 and replaced with the “G/PG/R/X” system that we know today, with a few modifications over the years.) The “studio system,” where producers, directors and actors were employees of the studio rather than contract players, also collapsed in the early-1960s. What remained was an industry that asked itself “What now?”
What came next was the period that is now-called the “New Hollywood” of 1965 to 1980. In this era, directors were given a kind of freedom to make nearly whatever kind of movie they wanted. And they did. Many people at the time and since have called this period the zenith of American filmmaking, although in recent times it has come under a more critical re-evaluation. But in any case, in no other time in American filmmaking were directors given more money and more freedom to do with as they wanted. (This, of course, led to problems around 1980 and that’s a discussion for another time.)
Why am I telling this story? Because in my discussion of Westerns last time, I was shamed by reader MN Exile for not having seen Robert Altman’s 1971 Western “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.” (I want to make it clear it was not MN Exile’s intention to shame me. Nevertheless, I was embarrassed.) So over the weekend, I watched this classic western and it struck me about what an archetypical “New Hollywood” film it was, for good and for bad. Thankfully, it’s mostly for the good.
So how does “New Hollywood” make a Western, a genre that is strongly connected to the old Hollywood? Director Robert Altman was an unlikely “New Hollywood” director. Whereas most of the star directors of this time were young, hotshot film school graduates like Martine Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg, Altman was older and had worked his way up through the ranks as a screenwriter and then as a director of industrial films and television. His breakthrough was 1970’s M*A*S*H, which was a big hit but not nearly as big as the TV show that followed.
Altman does a lot of things to make a Western in the “New Hollywood” style in general and in his own style in particular. First, he eschews a orchestral or even country music soundtrack in favor the works of Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. If you were to tell me beforehand that here’s a movie without a traditional score and it just lets Leonard Cohen songs play through it, I would have rolled my eyes. But incredibly, Altman makes it work. The sad Cohen songs go perfectly with the rough beauty of the British Columbian wilderness, here standing in for rural Washington state in 1902.
Speaking of that British Columbian scenery, Altman actually builds a town over the course of the film. The set designers and builders are put in period clothes and filmed as they built the sets around the actors doing their scenes.
Next, like pretty much all Altman films, you treat the script as merely a suggestion rather than a road map. Altman’s later films would be even more improvisational, but here Altman just takes the story wherever he and the actors want to go. Sure, they have to get to the end at some point, but how they got there was up to them.
Altman gets two heavyweights of the “New Hollywood” era to star, Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. If you are going to give your actors that kind of freedom, you need stars who can handle it. Luckily, both Beatty and Christie had the acting chops.
This leads to a story that’s heavy on character development and light on plot. (Spoilers for a 50-year-old movie to follow.) John McCabe (Beatty) is a man of some reputation (although it’s unclear how earned that reputation is) that rides into a mining village and immediately acts like he owns it. His plan is to open a gambling saloon and a brothel and make a fortune. As soon as McCabe starts to see some minor success, Constance Miller (Christie) rides into town. Mrs. Miller is a prostitute with big dreams. She quickly convinces McCabe that he has no idea how to run a brothel and that he needs to make her the madam. She assures him that she’ll turn it into a high-class joint and that his current plans are small potatoes. She’ll make him a fortune.
The first half of the movie develops the relationship between McCabe and Mrs. Miller. They become emotionally involved with each other in a way that never stops being business. (McCabe still has to pay for her services, for example.) But business is good and the two of them thrive financially.
But their success attracts the attention of a robber baron corporation, who offers to buy McCabe out at a low price. McCabe, as full of himself as he was at the beginning of the movie, rejects the price and instead offers to sell at an absurdly high price. He thinks it’s a negotiating tactic, but Mrs. Miller knows it was a huge mistake. The company representatives quickly decide it would be easier to just get rid of McCabe than negotiate. (End spoilers)
So it’s not a real complex plot. But it makes up for that in the way it portrays the odd relationship between these two and their dreams of a better life. Additionally, the cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is excellent. One article I read called it “snow-globe cinematography” and when I read that I said to myself “exactly.” It almost looks like we are watching the entire movie take place inside a snow globe. It’s a bit grainy and gritty and there is snow flying everywhere.
The film isn’t perfect. Altman’s realism and improvisational style means that characters are talking over each other all the time. There are conversations going on in the background that make the conversations we are supposed to hear hard to understand. The entire sound mix is muddy. Roger Ebert tried to defend this by writing that “we understand it’s not important to hear every word; sometimes all that matters is the tone of a room,” but even Altman admitted that the sound mix was rushed and muddy. Some may not mind, but it is distracting.
And if you’re looking for a good plot-driven Western, this isn’t the place to look. But the final confrontation at the end of the movie is still pretty terrific and worthy of some of the best that Hollywood or the Spaghetti Westerns of previous years had to offer.
One thing I should mention. If you’re a fan of the TV show Deadwood, that show owes a huge debt to McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Deadwood is more plot-driven (it has to be as a TV show that stretched over 36 episodes and a movie) but stylistically I now see a lot of Deadwood in McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
Here’s the opening scene of the film [VIDEO] with the Leonard Cohen soundtrack. If you like this, then you should watch the movie because there’s two more hours of this in the film, except Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois and others get to talk in the rest of the film
Welcome back to those who skip the jazz and movies. This week I’m going to ask you who you think is the greatest Cubs player of the expansion era at a few different positions. I’m not going to ask you to go back through all of Cubs history because I don’t want to get into debates about Joe Tinker versus Shawon Dunston. And I’m not going to ask about every position because I don’t think there’s much debate about who the greatest Cubs second baseman since 1962 has been.
But today I’m going to ask you about who the greatest first baseman the Cubs have had since 1962. There are several candidates. The first is Ernie Banks, who was and still is “Mr. Cub” but his best days were behind him by the time he moved to first base. The next is Bill Buckner, who was often the best player on some mediocre and bad Cubs teams from 1977 to 1984. The next choice is Leon Durham, who came to the Cubs in 1981, took over first base from Buckner when he was traded in 1984 and stayed there with the Cubs until 1988.
Durham’s replacement, Mark Grace, is one of the longest-tenured Cubs of all-time, manning first base from 1988 to 2000. The final two are Derrek Lee, who was the Cubs first baseman from 2004 to 2010 and Anthony Rizzo, who arrived in Chicago in 2012 and is still here. I don’t think I need to say much about those two.
So who is it? Who do you think is the greatest Cubs first baseman of the expansion era?
Who is the greatest Cubs first baseman since 1962?
This poll is closed
Thanks for stopping in. We’ll see you tomorrow night.