June 11, 2024

Why I read something this blurry.

I'd just watched "What a Way to Go" — the Criterion Channel is featuring Shirley MacLaine movies — and checking Rotten Tomatoes, I saw that Joan Didion wrote a review in the May 1964 issue of Vogue. I could subscribe to Vogue just to read that paragraph, but I found that by calming down and believing in myself, I could read it. It's not much different from reading without one's reading glasses. It's an apt and pithy review. "What a Way to Go" was a big movie in its day, so it deserves the bad reviews it got, but 60 years later, it's fun to look at the stars and the costumes and the sets. The Hollywood that produced it no longer exists. Nothing to get mad at now. Here's a sentence from the contemporaneous NYT review by Bosley Crowther:
Inspired by a Gwen Davis story, which has not swum into my ken, so I cannot tell you how fairly or fouly it has been used, the team of musical-comedy writers is making kookie jokes about a girl whose sad fate it is to marry a succession of burgeoning millionaires.

The "girl" hates money, loves Henry David Thoreau, and only wants to live the simple life, but the movie seems to have been made on the theory that the way to make good art is by spending as much money as possible.

Also, the girl's idea of what to do with fabulous wealth that hasn't brought happiness is to donate it all to the IRS... even though Thoreau refused to pay even a tax that he owed.

From "It’s Tax Day. Don’t Forget to Read Thoreau" by Sarah Vowell:
Henry David Thoreau delivered a lecture on “resistance to civil government” that would acquire the post-mortem title “Civil Disobedience.” He wonders: “How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”

Thoreau, a committed abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad, denounced the American government’s tolerance of the institution of slavery, as well as “the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool.”
For abolitionists, slavery and the Mexican-American War were not unrelated; they worried the mammoth new territory acquired from Mexico at gunpoint — the current states of Texas, New Mexico, Utah, California and Nevada and parts of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming — would spread slavery to the Pacific....

To protest, for six years Thoreau did not pay his taxes. He asks, “When I meet a government which says to me, ‘Your money or your life,’ why should I be in haste to give it my money?” And so he went to jail — for a single night. “For some one” — probably his aunt — “interfered, and paid that tax.”

ADDED: "What a Way to Go" is a big Cinemascope film, but you can get a look at the whole thing on YouTube, here. You need a big theater to really see it. But this post is about not seeing clearly. And the picture originally envisioned was never to be seen: The Shirley MacLaine role was intended for Marilyn Monroe. Ironically, it's a movie about abrupt, untimely death. It was also intended to be hilarious. It wasn't. 


Money Manger said...

The Hollywood that produced it no longer exists.

The Vogue and NYT that produced the reviews no longer exists either.

Tina Trent said...

And Thoreau never existed either. He, as with most of his ilk, such as daddy Alcott, was a fraud and social parasite. They abandoned their families at a time when doing so could mean starvation or prostitution, and they only pretended to be self-sufficient. Louisa May Alcott was forced to write porn to put food on the family table while her father cosplayed at being nature man. Such are all "utopians."

Today they would run sex cults or be eternal college students protesting for more stuff and demanding that someone send them free pizzas on the ramparts.

BudBrown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rusty said...

Thureau, like Marx, leached off of everybody they could con while stiffing everybody else. Mostly their families and friends.
He wasn't wrong about taxation though.

Iman said...

She can’t help it. The girl can’t help it

EAB said...

Melrose! Forgive me!

imTay said...

Thoreau was a great writer. I really don’t care about the stuff great writers do to ply their trade.

Jamie said...

"Swum into my ken," hmm?

wendybar said...

I just read about Joan Didion in an article about Griffin Dunne's new book. She was his Aunt.

I was shocked to see that Griffin played the grandfather of the three kids on This Is Us. I would have NEVER recognized him now.


Ann Althouse said...

"Joan Didion, in her review for Vogue, quipped that the film’s reported six-million-dollar budget averaged out to “about a million and a half a laugh” How'd it get that quote?"

"It"? You mean Didion... or the headline writer? I'd say the headline writer is quoting Didion. No quote marks in the text of the paragraph.

Ann Althouse said...

""Swum into my ken," hmm?"

I know. I thought that was really weird.

Quaestor said...

I have nebulous memories of seeing this movie on television; can't say when but I must have been old enough to potentially appreciate ironic comedy (assuming there was any) and young enough to confuse What a Way to Go and The Art of Love. Both use death as a plot point, and both contain Dick Van Dyke doing his Harold Lloydian schtick.

A few minutes ago I read the Wikipedia plot summary, and nothing except the paint-slopping machine evoked a single memory of "What a Way to Go". What a way to waste money and talent.

Eva Marie said...

Gwen Davis appears to be alive on Wikipedia but otherwise she seems to be dead. Here’s her obit:
She’s also alive on her IMDb page through which you can still access her blog: Report From the Front
Her bio on her blog contains this gem:
“She is now living mostly in Beverly Hills, though she still has a little apartment in New York, up the street from Donald Trump whom she considers(knows, really) to be nuts.”
All the internet leads to Trump.

RCOCEAN II said...

I found the Gene Kelly segment funny.

If you gave me a choice between "what a way to go" and Wilder's Irma La Douce (a big hit) - I'd pick "what a way to go". So my taste is not mainstream.

Btw, I dunno what happened in the 1960s with Hollywood. Its like all the writers/Directors had gotten senile or lazy. Having a big screen and lots of great production values was a substitute for wit. I'm shocked at how unfunny most of the so-called comedies were.

"A Mad, mad, mad world" is mostly saved by the Comedic talent, but even that movie has big dull spots.

RCOCEAN II said...

I used to like Thoreau, but now regard him as a tiresome bore. A New England Liberal. No doubt if he'd live long enough he'd have supported the Draft during the Civil War and the suspension of habeous corpous (sic) and jailing "Cooperheads".

People forget he supported that terrorist John Brown and his plan to butcher the white people of the South in the name of "Freeing the slaves".

Looking back, its too bad New England didn't revolt over the Mexican war and leave the union. Think of how better off the rest of the country would be if New England would go and join Canada! Right now, they're 110 percent in favor of illegal/legal immigration while making sure very few of the land in New England.

mezzrow said...

I don't know. I was the right age for this to make an impression on me.

Every time I think of Thoreau, I hear Dick Van Dyke saying "simplify, simplify, our lives are frittered away with detail." This was, of course, sometime before he dropped dead from overwork. That and the giant champagne glass bed. IIRC, that thing cost some impossible amount of $ to make.

I remember an older male relative (who was in a position to know) saying "dead men don't pay monthly alimony" after watching the movie.

Those days are gone. So gone.

Narr said...

Shirley MacLaine?

Hard pass.

Deep State Reformer said...

As a adolescent science fiction fan in the 1960s stories featuring the entire written works of every civilization from the beginning of time onward being easily available by a computer or some such device seemed like heaven to me and entirely possible too given the trajectory of technological innovation in information systems then underway. However now I agree with the professor that it's very disappointing that you have to jump through all these hoops to read older stuff like if you were studying an ancient manuscript dug out of the desert in the Middle East somewhere just to read something that ought to be easily available for free. And so it goes.

Foose said...

Bosley was eddicated!

"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer, John Keats

n.n said...

It's a question of rubber tires or roads. The engineers selected the former.

Joe Smith said...

"Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men"

Any mention of Cortez always makes me think of this:

POSTSCRIPT.—In the second chapter I allude to Stout Cortez staring at the Pacific. Shortly after the appearance of this narrative in serial form in America, I received an anonymous letter containing the words, "You big stiff, it wasn't Cortez, it was Balboa." This, I believe, is historically accurate. On the other hand, if Cortez was good enough for Keats, he is good enough for me. Besides, even if it was Balboa, the Pacific was open for being stared at about that time, and I see no reason why Cortez should not have had a look at it as well.




Hassayamper said...

I used to like Thoreau, but now regard him as a tiresome bore. A New England Liberal.

I always did. I've tried to get through two or three of his works but the juice isn't worth the squeeze. Maybe I was put off by learning that for all his desire to live a deliberate Spartan-like existence, he took his laundry home to his mother every week or two. Typical leftist.

I have family roots up that way and still have a few shirttail relatives in the area, all of them tiresome, boring New England liberals of the same sort. Smug, purse-mouthed, prune-faced, judgmentally moralistic, ostentatiously performative do-gooders to do a Puritan proud.

There's an intact thread that runs from Cotton Mather to Thoreau to Susan B Anthony to Carrie Nation to Margaret Sanger to Eleanor Roosevelt to John Kerry to the pussy-hatted, purple-haired AWFLs screaming at the sky at Trump's inauguration.

Brad Preston said...

Dick Van Dyke is still alive. And if you read a recent interview with him in the Daily Mail, he claims he didn't work much because he was lazy.

John said...

I would not be so hard on Shirley McClain. First, having a brother like Warren Beatty must have been a wild way to grow up. Second, she is, along with Audrey Hepburn, an idealistic, perhaps lesbian, schoolteacher who gets caught up in a nasty rumor by a very nasty child (a warning about how children without constraints behave nearly as direct as "Lord of the Flies"). Add to that her role in the Sinatra/Martin film about Sinatra the writer returning to a small hometown after the war, and she was pretty good. I even liked her as Jack Nicolson's (the ex-astronaut) girlfriend in that 80's tearjerker with Jeff Daniels cheating on his dying wife.