cinema (11)

Hotel Marhala: carved into the earth in Tunisia

“This region of Tunisia is famous for the dwellings which were carved into the earth to escape from the heat of the desert. There are several “troglodyte” hotels in the area, one of which was the setting for the famous bar scene in the original Star Wars movie.

The Marhala is probably the better of the two that I have seen. It is clean, comfortable, and roomy. We stayed just one night, full board. The cost for our family of four with three meals was the equivalent of $40. Very cheap considering the food was quite good.…”

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Movies on Market Street, streetcar monkeys, San Francisco, in the '40s, Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco in the '90s

On Tuesday night, my friend Roger (also a native San Franciscan) gave me an old scrapbook he’d picked up at a garage sale. Someone had cut out articles from 1948-’49 newspapers and made a period scrapbook. It was perfect, and brought back memories of those years, Jeez, SF was even more breathtakingly beautiful and wonderful in the 40s and 50s, when it was still a real port. Ah, well, ain’t it true everywhere?

We lived on the last block of Ulloa Street (26 kids on one block), near the “L,” “M.” and “K” streetcar lines. This rare photo shows one of the old-style streetcars from the ’40s. The cowcatcher is being lowered here. When direction of the car was reversed at the end of the line, the cowcatcher would be tied up on the back end via a cable through that round fitting in the center.

Throughout the city us kids would creep up behind a slowly moving car (crouching so the conductor, who was in the back, wouldn’t see us), then run up and jump on the cowcatcher.* We rode all over the city. The 2-mile long tunnel from West Portal to Castro – –  whoa! Sparks flying overhead from the electric trolleys, lots of alcoves where someone on foot in the tunnel could jump when trains came by, 30 mph rocking through the darkness. To come out into the dazzling city at Market and Castro.

Every Saturday I’d go to the movies. I loved the movies. There was no TV. Market Street was, among other things, an arcade of film palaces, the Fox, the Warfield, the Paramount… I’d walk the 6 or so blocks, looking at marquees; sometimes I’d go to two movies. Actually, come to think of it, when I was maybe 10, my grandmother used to take me for what she called “a toot:” taking in two movies on Market Street. (Different eras, different “toots.”)

These days I don’t watch too many movies. But once in a while I get stunned. Donnie Brasco (1997), with Al Pacino and Johnny Depp is a great film. It snuck up on me; halfway through I realized that the dialogue was brilliant, the chemistry between Al and Johnny perfect. I think it’s Pacino’s finest role. And Johnny can actually act, as opposed to the weird roles he’s been playing in shitty movies lately). The dialogue is on the level of “The Wire” or “Deadwood,” by which I mean tight, funny, finely-crafted dialogue. Check out for dialogue from the film.

Music du jour: “Are you lonely for me baby?” by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. And a beautiful version of “Something is wrong with my baby;”stands right up there alongside Sam and Dave’s version. Both songs on CD King and Queen, 11 duets of Otis and Carla (including “Tramp”).

*Fred Van Dyke, who grew up closer to the beach, says that sometimes if a conductor spotted you, he’d roll open the rear window and slap your hands so you’d fall off (not at high speeds).

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Grammies vs Coal Miner's Daughter

Remember in Crocodile Dundee when a hoodlum pulls a knife on Mick in NYC, and Mick says “You call that a knife (noife)?” as be pulls out his much larger knife with practised ease. Well I thought of that when watching the Grammies the other night. You call that music? Most of it was overblown, garish, and grating on the nerves. Maybe it’s because I live in the country and don’t have the high-frequency contact of urban living, but some times I feel totally disconnected with mainstream culture. Beyonce,who’s certainly uber-talented, did the weirdest song, backed by 40 guys dressed like swat team goons — a la Madonna. The MUSIC sucked. Later in another bit of weirdness, Taylor Swift was painfully flat in some of her notes while doing a duet with Stevie Nicks. Poor Stevie. A few of the acts were OK, but most of it was bizarre and overlaid with techno-trash. Grrr!

The next night we happened to run across Coal Miner’s Daughter, which I somehow had never seen. From the opening scenes on, it was REAL. Sissy Spacek can really sing! What a relief after the smugness of the Grammies. In fact it’s a masterpiece of a movie. Here I am having to go back 30 years to find something genuine.

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Avatar: Wonder at Life

One thing I loved about the movie (intensified by the 3-D) was the feeling that I was moving through the woods with the tuned-in natives. And the flying was like a short time in my life when I dreamed of flying night after night. I tried explaining this to someone, but didn’t get the idea through. But in today’s NYTimes, biologist Carol Kaesuk Yoon writes a rave review (rare for the NYT) about “…the pure wonder of seeing life” in Avatar:

“Please excuse me if I seem a bit breathless, but the experience I had when I first saw the film (in 2-D, no less) shocked me. I felt as if someone had filmed my favorite dreams from those best nights of sleep where I wander and play through a landscape of familiar yet strange creatures, taking a swim and noticing dinosaurs paddling by, going out for a walk and spying several entirely new species of penguins, going sledding with giant tortoises. Less than the details of the movie, it was, I realized, the same feeling of elation, of wonder at life….”

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