Monday, April 30, 2007


Brando. The name alone evokes quotes, scenes, and images. Groundbreaking films come to mind like A Streetcar Named Desire, The Wild One, On the Waterfront, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and, even for my generation, Superman. Marlon Brando’s body of work was legendary, his talent was iconic, and his life was anything but ordinary. Many of his lines from his movies have gone beyond being popular, right into being part of our national pop culture lexicon (and often wrongly so). Stars and performances are often imitated or satirized by comedians and in television. How many times have you heard, “Hey, Stella!”, “I going to give him an offer he can’t refuse” or “I couldda been a contender” with absolutely no context whatsoever? There was a time where people instantly connected those lines to the actor or film, and in some ways, now they just stand on their own. Whatever you think of his acting style, his politics, or his personal life; his influence is undeniable.

My first real memory of him was watching Superman in the theaters when I was younger. Of course, I had never heard of Marlon Brando, but yet I had perhaps seen his voice, his mannerisms and his lines imitated on televisions and in popular culture. Perhaps I had been introduced to the image of Marlon Brando before I was introduced to his acting. Either way I was pretty impressed with Jor-El. Superman's space dad was all white and glowing and smart. I couldn't figure out why the other Kryptonite leaders wouldn't listen to him. Then when Clark Kent found the crystals that had recordings of wisdom and information from his parents, I knew Superman was going to be smart because his space dad was smart, and he was going to be great because his earth parents taught him great things. That's a lot of stuff going on in the brain of a 9 year old kid watching a movie. His small performance in that film was great, and even I knew it without knowing why.

May 1st and 2nd Turner Classic Movies will debut a new documentary on the career, life and influence of Marlon Brando, entitled, simply, brando. This is an excellent 2 part documentary encompassing roughly several hours of interviews with family, friends, costars, directors, and admirers including James Caan, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Quincy Jones, Angie Dickenson, Cloris Leachman, Martin Scorsese and many others. The documentary is indeed excellent and perhaps one of the more intimate looks at his life and career that we've had in a long time. I was able to view an advance copy of the film recently and I can say it's an important film, whether you like Brando or not. It is about a new era in films, and an actor who brought something different to the screen. For better or worse, many of our current actors descended in theory and style from a few actors from the 50s- especially Brando.

In intervening years I've come to watch other Brando films and really have come to respect his work as an actor. On the Waterfront is perhaps my favorite Brando movie, and those first films in the fifties really are still some of his best. Arguably his best work was with director Elia Kazan, and he was never able to find another director who could command the work out of him. His own directorial work, One-Eyed Jacks, was an unsatisfactory experience. He grew bored with it, and left in the middle of the editing process, leaving the final result to others.

In some ways there is almost a dividing line in his career that comes around the time of a Mutiny on the Bounty. At that point Brando begins to deliver "Brando moments." His earlier films were long ranging, character driven performances, that really set films and acting into a different level. In my opinion, not necessarily always better, but definitely different. Martin Scorsese underscores that point and his influence on film, “He is the marker. There is before Brando and after Brando. I think it’s time, especially for younger people, to go back and understand that, and to see those pictures in the order in which they were made. Mainly, because I think they’re too hip to feel these emotions that were exploding on the screen. It’s about being human. ”

After the 50s, because of the change of tastes of American audiences, the change in culture, and because of actors like Brando, films became more earthy, more emotional, and more explosive in the acting on the screen. And yet for some reason Brando went a different direction, more inward. Brando's own fame, his own quirky personality and personal life caught up with him and his work. He said, several times, that he didn't like acting. Acting had become a means to an end. His performances onscreen became more about moments, moments in which his power and energy fused with the material and when the director said cut, that was it- Brando was more concerned about other things. He famously lengthened out his time on set in on certain films in order to increase the amount of money he made. And yet, I doubt if many of those director's would argue that those scenes were not something altogether different because of Brando. After Mutiny on the Bounty, Brando's more important and best work, aside from a couple of films, would be in smaller roles like in The Godfather or Apocalypse Now. Still we still think of these films as Brando movies.

Quincy Jones said, “He changed the rules. I always loved that. So did Miles [Davis]. Miles was called the Picasso of Jazz. Break all the rules. Space, how to use space. The three of them had that in common, you know. Picasso, Miles and Brando.” He may have changed the rules, but how many actors have taken what he did and built on it? Perhaps actors like Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall built on that and took it further. In other ways some actors carried on trying to deliver more Brando moments than anything else. Other actors carried on Brando's passion for activism, but I daresay none, as of yet could be as true in heart to his causes as he was. I think many of today's actors seek for more moments for something else altogether. For whatever you may have disagreed or agreed with his politics or his views on life, he at least backed it up with his own actions. No carbon offsets for this guy. For some reason, I think he would've just walked instead.

I highly recommend watching this documentary. It's not only a great look at Brando, but also an incisive picture of films and film making from the 50s on. It really does a good job of going to explain the difference between the classics and modern classics. I don't necessarily agree that Brando was a single driving force in the changes in tone and style of films, but certainly his work and influence is a large contributing factor. And the influence on today's actors and film making is unmistakable. Today's Johnny Depp and John Turturro, would not be the actors they are without a DeNiro or Duvall; and they would not be the kind of actors they are without Brando. He's the grand-daddy. If only for that reason brando. is a must see film. I highly recommend it.

brando. part one premieres May 1st on Turner Classic Movies at 8 pm and repeats at 11 pm. (all times are est.) brando. part two premieres May 2nd on TCM at 8 pm and repeats at 11 pm. Several of Marlon Brando's films, including The Men, A Streetcar Named Desire, Guys and Dolls, The Wild One, and On the Waterfront, will also be shown as part of a TCM Brando movie festival. Check for more information. If you want to add more of Brando's films to your DVD library, last year's box set, The Marlon Brando Collection, is an excellent place to start. Those and other Brando films on DVD can be found at TCM, Barnes and Noble, or other online retailers. Now you gotta excuse me; after watching this documentary it's time to watch On the Waterfront again. That's all Shelfers, don't forget to check out brando. on TCM.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

one of the best and brightest

Yesterday, I learned the sad news of the death of author and journalist David Halberstam. According to news accounts he was killed in a three car accident while on his way to an interview about his next book.

Normally, I am very particular about journalists posing as historians writing history books. Often the books are fairly slanted, and they can filter the events of the past through a modern day outlook. When I find good authors, like Halbertsam, who do their research and their homework, I really give them a chance and read as much of their work as I can. While you may not agree with everyone's politics, that doesn't necessarily invalidate good, solid work. Halberstam was a good author, and I really enjoyed his book The Fifties. The modern day classic film Quiz Show was adapted from that book. Halberstam authored at least 20 books, of which his look at the Vietnam War, The Best and The Brightest, is perhaps best known. He also authored several books on Baseball, athletes, and coaches. A new book, The Coldest Winter, about the Korean War, is to be published in the fall.

News on the March has an excellent piece and list of links here.
Barnes and Noble has a page dedicated to him and his work.
His wikipedia entry canned be linked to here.
FOXNews has an excellent article about Halberstam here.
A news account of his death can be found here.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.


Friday, April 20, 2007

no words

I've been struggling a bit this week to try and say something on The Shelf. Several articles written and planned for this week have been put on the back burner because it just didn't seem appropriate, or even important. Like many of you, I've been watching the news (probably more than I usually do) and reading much of it as new developments occur. Our prayers and condolences goes out to the families and friends of the victims.

Suffice it to say, I really don't know what to say. I just felt that perhaps aside from this brief post, we would pass along our condolences this week and then next week return to address the things we've thought about and witnessed this week. I will share a brief aside- I have been to Virginia Tech several times and have a couple of friends who graduated from that fine school. One of them went on to teach there in the English Department. It's a beautiful campus, and Blacksburg is certainly a college town. There are things we need to consider and ask ourselves in the wake of all of this. Next week we'll discuss it. In the meantime, a couple of links to some interesting ongoing commentary by Hugh Hewitt , Michelle Malkin, Mark Steyn and some thoughts in several posts from our friend Laura over at Musings.

We'll discuss some of this next week, including some "Big Picture" thoughts; and of course we'll have some more of our usual Shelf antics. In the meantime, moms and dads- spend time with your kids this weekend. Do something together as a family. This is precious time and that is a precious commodity.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.


Friday, April 13, 2007

read a great book lately, supplemental

We haven't forgotten about our ongoing series Read a Great Book Lately? In fact, the next installment is just around the corner. The staff at The Shelf has been professionally and personally weighed down with things lately, so time has been it's usually fleeting self. We do not apologize for it, as those things involve livelihood, family, etc. and deserve our first priority. However, expect us to be more consistent with the usual Shelf antics very soon.

In the meantime, consider this post a supplement to our Book series. Recently Hugh Hewitt interviewed David Allen White, professor at the United States Naval Academy, and John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy at Biola University on his radio show. Hewitt asked discussed with them a sort of lifetime reading list of 30 books; a "top 30 you should read to understanding Western Civilization", if you will. Hewitt refers to it as "Hugh Hewitt's lifetime book reading list, or what you want every college freshman and sophomore to read".

I have mixed feelings about lists of this kind. I have been asked for my own list for burgeoning history students, and actually have been asked to post it here (I will in the future). On one hand, I am somewhat wary of them, as they tend to be slanted to the individual and their tastes. But I also find them fascinating for that very same reason; and I always come away with a new book to add to my ever growing "to read" pile. Therefore, I am always intrigued by them. This particular interview was very informative and I believe that everyone would benefit from reading most of the titles mentioned. I am afraid, as we have discussed here before, that too many students and even ex-students (you know, those people who have decided since they are no longer in school, they don't need to learn anymore) will be utterly unfamiliar with these books and so many more.

I am particularly intrigued by a comment (an echo of some of what we've written in the past) made by David Allen White towards the end of the conversation:
"...modern universities and colleges are the biggest fraud on the planet. And they continue to get away from it. They loathe Western civilization. They hate Western civilization, and they will do anything to destroy it, which means destroying the canon. If you don’t teach the young where they came from, and the greatness of the past, you can do away with the whole thing. And sadly, I think that’s what’s happening. Hugh, when I started teaching 37 years ago, I could count on my students having read certain books. We had a body of shared knowledge we could begin with. Now, no two students have ever read the same book, they barely read books at all. It is chaos in the classroom, and the price of these phony educations keep going up and up and up."


For the record, I have personally have read about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the titles mentioned. Pretty sad, but, with the exception of one book, I am at least familiar with them. Again, I disagree with a few of the titles on the list. These things are, to some degree, personal by nature. But it's fun to see what others think and perhaps broaden your own horizons. In regards to trying to read some of these books or others outside of the classroom setting, all I can say is that your own education should not be defined or confined by a classroom. My great grandmother rejoiced at finding new books to read and new subjects to learn until her very last year. It made her mentally agile, one of the smartest people I'd ever met, and wicked at crossword puzzles. She wasn't university educated, but she was educated (perhaps all the more to her favor). She also inspired me and other grands and great grands to educational pursuits. John Mark Reynolds states in the interview:
"Adults can do this as well, but you need to find a good guide, you need to find someone who can help you get through things, and you need to understand that being bored is not a sin. Some things are hard to learn, but they’re worth learning. You need to press on and trying to get what you can. Repetitive reading of books is a great idea. If a book’s worth reading once, it’s generally worth reading multiple times. "

Read the interview, then go try out a title or two. That's what library cards are for anyway.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

that's real scientific

I am a fan of Dave Foley. Kids in the Hall and Newsradio was great comedy. Been kinda missing that lately on the old tube. I caught some of the new show Thank God You're Here on which Dave appears as a "judge." At little underwhelming for now, but we'll see if it improves. In the meantime if you really enjoy Dave's work check out the short films he's writing and producing over at Comedy Central would be an excellent outlet for some of his stuff, in particular an ongoing series called Real Scientific. Check out this episode: Biosphere.

Here's a "sneak peak" at some other Real Scientific stories coming up (See if you can spot one of Dave's former costars):

Check out Dave's other stuff over at .

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

So I hear dad's dead. Hey, is that egg nog?

Monday, April 02, 2007

just ducky

Why, you are just in time for this week's Easter Cartoon! Sorry about the lack of posting the past few weeks as Wolf has been out of town, and I have been lacking much time to post. All will be well soon folks, Wolf is back, and things have been settling down. But enough of that - time to spin that 'toon.

Today's Easter Cartoon is from that famous Hanna-Barbara duo: Tom and Jerry. This cartoon features the Easter Bunny for a brief second, but the Easter Bunny's gift is what causes most of the mayhem. Also features the occasional character, Little Quacker; who's not fooling anyone, because we know he evolved into Yakky Doodle.
It's 1958's Happy Go Ducky:

Online Videos by
Here's the link if the player does not work.

Stay tuned for more Shelf hijinks.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Happy Easter! Oh, boy!


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