Friday, January 31, 2014

Beware of Literacy, My Young Ones

In the spring of 1969, wrapping up the first year of the Drama Division at the Julliard School (a program he had founded), John Houseman wrote, “Glancing over our tests in theatre history, I am appalled by their incredible illiteracy.”
“Under the guise of ‘doing one’s thing,’ many students had virtually given up reading during those troubled years. I asked one bright girl, who had read a lot in high school, why she had stopped. ‘It might affect my thinking,’ she said.
Source: “Final Dress” by John Houseman

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Necessary Counterbalance to the Digital Age

"In the mid-1970s, the cognitive psychologist Ellen Langer noticed that elderly people who envisioned themselves as younger versions of themselves often began to feel, and even think, like they had actually become younger. Men with trouble walking quickly were playing touch football. Memories were improving and blood pressure was dropping. The mind, Langer realized, could have a strong effect on the body. That realization led her to study the Buddhist principle of mindfulness, or awareness, which she characterizes as 'a heightened state of involvement and wakefulness.'” — MARIA KONNIKOVA writes about mindfulness in the New Yorker

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

That Socrates, What a Pinhead

"Bill O’Reilly, it should be noted, is a man whose mind is entirely undarkened by doubt. I have seen him refuse even to consider the arguments of a Notre Dame theology professor who took exception to his interpretation of the life and message of Jesus. When Juan Williams told him that Jonathan Gruber from MIT had calculated that 80 percent of American citizens would find their health insurance unchanged under Obamacare, O’Reilly responded, 'I don’t believe that for a second…That’s what some pinhead says. That’s not a fact.'
"Doubt, as well as its cousins ambiguity, complexity, subtlety, and nuance, are simply not welcome on O’Reilly’s show. Socrates said 'To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous.' Bill O’Reilly, I imagine, would think that Socrates was a pinhead."

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Light from the Dark Ages

The rose window on the north side of Chartres Cathedral
Living in the U.S. and France during the mid-1960s provided a numinous cultural contrast for producer, director, actor and author John Houseman.
On the Eure River in the Loire Valley, this utterly secular world traveler discovered genius loci.
Chartres Cathedral by night
“Driving to the office through Westwood in my rented Chevy, between the pretentious new office buildings that were rising above the movie theatres, gas stations and short-order restaurants, I found myself comparing my sensations with those I had experienced only a few days earlier, during a final, long-promised family excursion we had made in the Thunderbird to the Cathedral of Chartres,” Houseman wrote.
“My own reaction (that of an aging man with an underdeveloped visual sense and no religious feelings whatsoever) was one of utter amazement and wonder at this incredible achievement of the human spirit: the miracle that men, living more than eight centuries ago in a dark age of violence, deprivation and sudden death, inspired by beliefs that I considered puerile and myths that I found incredible, should have created monuments of such soaring and sublime audacity and magnificence that they made our most ambitious structures look like the work of desperate earthbound megalomaniacs!”
Source: “Final Dress” by John Houseman

But If It Were Terrorism...

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer weighs in: “Fascinating! And would you say water is essential to life as we know it?”
Science Guy: “No question! Water is very, very important!”
Blitzer: “There you have it — the SCIENTIFIC perspective!”

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Banality of Good: Captain Nice

Ann Prentiss and Williams Daniels in NBC's 1967 series "Captain Nice"
Buck Henry, in creating his clever and largely unappreciated 1960s superhero sitcom “Captain Nice,” anticipated with comic effect something that would probably happen in real life if some masked, super-strong fellow were to fly around doing good deeds.
We imagine helpless, grateful citizens being overawed, and look-up-in-the-sky-ing, but very, very quickly we’d get used to him, just as we get used to every impossible thing that happens — men landing on the moon, Japanese nuclear reactors poisoning the Pacific, walking around with Star Trek communicators in our hands, and so forth.
I remember an episode in which a highway bridge, ruined by corrupt contractors, collapses during its dedication ceremony. Luckily Carter Nash (William Daniels) is on hand as Captain Nice to catch the bridge. The mayor wonders if he wouldn’t mind just standing there to support the bridge permanently.

All Fall Up

Warren Beatty in 'All Fall Down:' Angelic arrogance and Angela Lansbury
John Houseman
Back into film producing at MGM in 1960 after an appropriately dramatic departure from being artistic director at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut, John Houseman decided to turn a novel called “All Fall Down” into a film.
“Shooting started in late spring, and within 48 hours John Frankenheimer and I were locked in a fearful dispute. He rushed into my office from the set after the second day’s shooting and announced that my friend Angela Lansbury was ‘impossible,’ that he could not direct her and that the part must be recast immediately,” Houseman wrote.
Houseman had wooed Lansbury “desultorily” in the early 1940s after her notable film debut in “Dorian Gray” and “Gaslight.”
“I disagreed,” Houseman recalled. “It got to the point where he announced that if she didn’t leave the picture, he would. I stood firm. Forty-eight hours later they had become inseparable, and he refused to make his next film, ‘Manchurian Candidate,’ without her.
“From the start, our most serious problem was young Mr. (Warren) Beatty,” Houseman said. “With his angelic arrogance, his determination to emulate Marlon Brando and Jimmy Dean, and his half-baked, overzealous notions of ‘Method’ acting, he succeeded in perplexing and antagonizing not only his fellow actors but our entire crew.
“While the company was on location in Key West, our veteran cameraman, Curly Lindon, became so exasperated with him that a flew a camera-bearing helicopter within a few inches of his head. And on the last day of shooting, in a secret agreement with the local police, Warren Beatty was left to languish overnight in a bare cell of the Key West jail while the company flew back to California.”
Despite all that, Houseman noted that “All Fall Down” was the most satisfying of the films he made during the second phase of his MGM career, and that all Beatty’s obnoxious self-promotion turned out to be justified by “his subsequent brilliant career in a series of highly successful films as actor, director and producer.”
Source: “Final Dress” by John Houseman

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fox Confounded by Strange Things Called "Facts"

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Ricks claimed that Fox "hyped" the story. But the host fired back, asking how four people dead constituted a "hype." 
"How many security contractors died in Iraq. Do you know?" Ricks asked. 
The host didn't. 
"Nobody does because nobody cared. We know that several hundred died, but there was never an official count done ... I think the emphasis on Benghazi has been extremely political partly because Fox was acting as a wing of the Republican party," Ricks concluded.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Look at A-literate America

“The current American relationship to reading and writing … is best described not as illiterate but as a-literate,” Susan Jacoby wrote in “Age of American Unreason.”
“That Americans inhabit a less contemplative and judicious society than they did just four decades ago is arguable only to the ever-expanding group of infotainment marketers who stand to profit from the videoization of everything. The greater accessibility of information through computers and the internet serves to foster the illusion that the ability to retrieve words and numbers with the click of a mouse also confers the capacity to judge whether those words and numbers represent truth, lies or something in between.
“The illusion is not of course confined to America, but its effects are especially deleterious in a culture (unlike, say, that of France or Japan) with an endemic predilection for technological answers to non-technological problems and an endemic suspicion of anything that smacks of intellectual elitism.”