Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the hep nightspot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We glad you made it through another weekend and could join us again. There’s no cover charge tonight. Bring your own beverage. Dress code is optional. Bring a friend. Come in and get warm.
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.
Last week I asked you whom you thought would be the Cubs’ leader in saves in 2022. The winner, with 41 percent of the vote, was Codi Heuer. Coming in second was the guy who finished out the 2021 season in the closer position, Rowan Wick, with 31 percent. Another 15 percent thought it would be someone completely off-the-board, presumably a free agent or trade acquisition.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. Feel free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
I spent this weekend re-familiarizing myself with the most-legendary jazz concert of all-time. It was a group simply called “The Quintet” at Massey Hall in Toronto on May 15, 1953. “The Quintet” were a group put together specifically for this show: Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet; Charlie Parker on alto sax; Charles Mingus on bass; Bud Powell on piano and Max Roach on drums. It was the only time those five legends all played together at the same time.
The show was legendary for some incredible performances under some odd circumstances. The show was taking place at the same time as the Rocky Marciano/”Jersey Joe” Walcott Heavyweight Championship fight, so the hall was only half-full. Powell got roaring drunk before the show. Parker forgot to bring his sax and had to borrow a plastic one. Gillespie would walk off the stage during the performance to check on the status of fight and then would take his time coming back. The show actually paused in the middle so the patrons could watch the fight and because of that, they only played six numbers together. (Roach, Mingus and Powell stuck around to play six more, so the fans did get their money’s worth.)
But thank god Mingus decided to record the thing. Because these five legends pushed each other like no one else could. It was a masterful performance. I’d recommend that you especially pay attention to Mingus’s bass lines in the back. While the duel between Parker and Gillespie’s horns are what stick out the most, Mingus does some amazing work setting the tone with that bass. Roach, the youngest of the group, feeds off the lines Mingus is putting down. And it boggles the mind how well Powell played the piano considering how drunk he was from all accounts.
Mingus took the recording back to the studio for release. He did have to add a few overdubs here and there as he wasn’t working with the most advanced recoding equipment, but Mingus tried to get them to sound exactly like they did live. Parker had to be credited as “Charlie Chan” for contractual reasons. (Chan was Parker’s wife’s name. Plus, there’s the whole Charlie Chan thing.)
So here is my treat to you. The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall.
With the Cubs’ prospect list behind me, I finally had the opportunity to watch Guillermo del Toro’s 2021 version of Nightmare Alley. We’ve already discussed the 1947 version, directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Tyrone Power in previous editions. You can read them here and here. (Unfortunately, all the comments are gone.) I’d recommend going back and checking those out if you get lost here.
I’m not going to try to recommend on version over the other, mostly because both films are quite good and quite successful at what they set out to do. The new Nightmare Alley takes the same plot as the first one and just puts somewhat different twist on it. I’d definitely recommend that you watch both versions and appreciate them both for what they accomplish.
It should be noted that del Toro has consistently called his version of Nightmare Alley a new version based on the William Lindsey Gresham original novel and not a re-make of the 1947 film. The new film is supposedly much more true to the novel, although since I haven’t read the novel, I really can’t say one way or the other. I should also note that the publicity from the studio has not been as consistent on that point. The blurb on HBO Max directly calls it a re-make of the 1947 classic. Hulu’s blurb does not. But in any case, there is very little difference in the general plot of the two films.
Some thoughts on Nightmare Alley (2021) and how it differs from Nightmare Alley (1947).
- The plots of the two films are almost identical. All the big beats are there in both films. But there are two big differences. The de Toro version adds in some backstory on Stanton Carlisle and his father. In the 1947 version, Stan just says he grew up in an orphanage and that he’d done time in prison. The other big difference is the scene that 20th Century Fox insisted be added on to the end of the 1947 film in order to make the story not quite so bleak. It’s still bleak, but it’s not nearly as bleak as the 2021 version.
- Having said that, the del Toro version adds a lot more details along the way. There are a lot of scenes that are what I call “connecting” scenes that explain how Stan got from one point in the story to another. There are other scenes that explain carny culture in much more detail than the first film did. In the Goulding version, the plot moves along much faster and explanations either get filled in with dialog or just an expectation that the audience will pick up what happened. These details adds about 40 minutes on to the running time of the film. The 1947 version certainly moves along more sharply than the new one.
Whether the longer running time is worth it is a matter of opinion. There is at least one of these “connecting” scenes in the del Toro version that foreshadows the end of the film better and allows it to land with a bigger punch. (There is an attempt at foreshadowing in the Goulding version, but it’s not as effectively presented.) Other scenes in the del Toro version are just about explaining how the psychic code works and other aspects of carny culture that are interesting but not really necessary. I believe this is more true to the novel, since Gresham was fascinated with that kind of stuff.
- One reason that you may not mind the longer running time of the del Toro version is that this film is absolutely gorgeous. Guillermo del Toro is well-known for his striking visual presentations, but he absolutely outdoes himself in this movie. The carnival as presented is certainly grotesque, but with a beauty and color all its own. There is a strong whiff of German expressionism in the angular sets and the odd camera angles of the carnival, but del Toro is not simply aping an older style. He certainly makes the world his own and it is stunning.
No less breathtaking is the look of the city. (In the 1947 version, the city is clearly labeled as Chicago, but if the city was identified in the 2021 version, I missed it.) Art Deco design is everywhere. It’s what the people of 1941 thought the future was going to look like. If there’s one big benefit of the longer running time, it’s that we, the audience, get to spend more time admiring the scenery.
To be clear, these scenes add an “unreal” look to the film. It’s like del Toro took what 1939 to 1941 looked like and jacked it up to 11. It probably makes the horror quotient higher, although this is a a “psychological” horror film that a hack-and-slash type.
The 1947 film was a big budget film and Goulding did a great job of making things look elegant. But he was hemmed in by the limitations of the time and the black-and-white photography. It just can’t compete on that front.
- The 2021 version is obviously more graphic. Whereas the “geek” in the 1947 version is mostly off-screen and otherwise only seen in the distance and in the shadows, del Toro “treats” us to a full geek show. That involves biting the head off of a live chicken, in case you are unfamiliar with geek shows. There’s also nudity in the new version that would have been verboten in under the Hays Office.
- There’s a different philosophical underpinning to the 2021 version of Nightmare Alley. By adding the stuff about Stanton’s father, del Toro makes this a kind of Freudian fable. Psychologist Dr. Ritter (Cate Blanchett) is clearly a Freudian and she even asks Stan if he thinks she has an Electra complex. Stanton is clearly a character motivated by Freudian feelings about his father.
The theories of Sigmund Freud were only beginning to gain awareness among the American public in 1947, so the original version replaces that backbone with one more familiar: Christian morality. When Bradley Cooper’s Stanton is warned to not do a “spook show,” the implied reason is that things will end up badly for Stan because of the psychological forces he’s going to unleash. (This is later proven true.) But in 1947, Coleen Gray’s Molly comes right out and says that what Stan is doing is “going against God.”
- Speaking of Molly, the del Toro version tells her story backwards from the Goulding version. In 1947, Stan and Molly are forced into a shotgun wedding after the two of them are caught in a tryst. (There’s that Christian morality again.) It’s only after they marry that the two of them fall in love and that love carries through the course of the film.
The del Toro version adds a real romance between Molly (Rooney Mara) and Stan before they run away from the carnival together. Among the other casualties of Stan’s actions are Molly’s love for him.
- The del Toro version goes much deeper into the consequences of Stan’s con game on the people around him. In the 1947 version, Tyrone Power is just ripping off a bunch of extremely wealthy men of money they probably won’t ever miss. For Bradley Cooper’s Stan, his actions have much more serious consequences on those around him.
- Tyrone Power played Stan as much more psychopathic than Bradley Cooper did, at least until Power’s Stan starts to develop a conscience when things fall apart. Power’s Stan is a character type who is always on the make and is always looking for an angle. He even says at one point that he doesn’t know why he doesn’t care about anyone but himself.
Bradley Cooper plays Stan as a much more desperate and cynical character. He’s conning people not so much to prove his superiority to them (as I see Power doing) but because he always needs the money and he needs the thrill. He takes unnecessary risks not because he doesn’t think he can fail (like Power), but because he’s going to get a high off it no matter what happens. I almost see him as an addict to the con—he’s always kidding himself that he needs to do just this one more con and then he’ll quit.
- Surprisingly for the longer running time of the 2021 version, the part of Zeena seems de-emphasized. I don’t know if that’s more true to the book or not. It may just be because of the relative star power of Joan Blondell and Toni Collette. The Goulding version may have had to up the importance of Zeena just to get Blondell to play it.
- Cate Blanchett plays Dr. Lilith Ritter differently from Helen Walker, but that’s more to match Cooper’s different portrayal of Stan. Both films emphasize that Stan and Lilith are basically the same dark souls. However, in Blanchett’s version, there is no doubt that Lilith is simply gaslighting Stan when the con goes sideways. Helen Walker was allowed to add just that shred of doubt that maybe Stan really had gone crazy and was starting to imagine things about her.
Again, you should definitely watch both films. The performances are very good in both versions, but the del Toro version has the advantage of being just so much more visually stunning.
Nightmare Alley (2021) is currently available for streaming on both HBO Max and Hulu.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
Earlier on Monday, Al wrote a story on a report that it was possible that Anthony Rizzo might return to the Cubs on a short-term deal when the lockout ends. There was also a report that that wasn’t going to happen.
Honestly, I don’t know what to believe. If you asked me to choose, I’d say there’s no way that Rizzo is coming back, at least not in 2022.
But that’s not what I’m asking tonight. Instead, I’m asking you how you would feel about Rizzo playing for the Cubs in 2022? We all know what Rizzo brings to the table: left-handed power, on-base percentage and good defense. On top of that, he’s a leader in the clubhouse.
We’re also aware of the downsides of Rizzo. He’s aging and isn’t the same player he was three years ago. Rizzo might not outhit Frank Schwindel, although there is likely to be a DH in 2022. He’s also been battling back problems and those rarely get better.
Forget about the contract—let’s assume that Rizzo signs for something that the Cubs’ front office finds acceptable. Tonight’s question is simply “Do you want Anthony Rizzo on the Cubs in 2022?”
Would you like to see Anthony Rizzo on the Cubs in 2022?
This poll is closed
Yay! The man is a legend and can still contribute
Nay! I love the man, but it’s time to move on.
Thank you again so much for stopping by. Please tip your waitstaff generously. I’ll have someone bring you your hat and coat. Drive home safely. Stay warm. And stop by again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.