Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Charlie Chaplin, The Dignified ‘Little Tramp’

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“Friends have asked how I came to engender this American antagonism. My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non-conformist. Although I am not a Communist I refused to fall in line by hating them. Secondly, I was opposed to the Committee on Un-American Activities — a dishonest phrase to begin with, elastic enough to wrap around the throat and strangle the voice of any American citizen whose honest opinion is a minority of one.”
—Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964)


Charles Spencer Chaplin [born in 1889 in London, England–died in 1977 in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland] is shown here in this 1921 photo. Chaplin starred in 82 films; his first film appearance was Making A Living (February 2, 1914), which can be seen [here]; The Tramp character was first seen in his next film, Kid Auto Races at Venice (February 7, 1914), and can be seen [here]. Although he played many other roles, Chaplin is most famous for his role as “The Tramp,” a childlike goodhearted individual, who, despite being a vagrant, behaves with the manners and dignity of someone born into a higher social class. The Tramp is endearing, representing us, all downtrodden and resilient humanity. Without a doubt, Chaplin is a most wonderful actor, whose silent films I have enjoyed since I first laid eyes on them as a small child. These quickly come to mind: Easy Street (1916), where life in the slums is not easy, a life of hardship and incredible deprivation; The Kid (1921), which is again close to home, a reminder, a reflection of Chaplin’s life as a kid living in the slums of South London at the end of the 19th century; The Gold Rush (1925)—“the picture I want to be remembered by,” Chaplin said; and City Lights (1931), a tragicomedy that took 800,000 feet of film and over two years to complete. What they bring to the common man and woman is thoughtful and powerful commentaries of being poor, both before and during “The Great Depression” it is their story. Then there is Modern Times (1936), the last silent film, a masterpiece of satire of our modern industrialized age (The Tramp never talks but sings a gibberish song at the end.); The Great Dictator (1940), his first talkie, and so prescient on totalitarianism, notably Fascism; and A King in New York (1957), a satirical look at the paranoia and hysteria dominant in the U.S. during  the era of McCarthyism (roughly 1947 to 1956) Moreover, as an anti-Fascist, he will forever be in my mind a man of good conscience and good taste. He will forever be the dignified “Little Tramp.” For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons; National Portrait Gallery, London

Charlie Chaplin’s Easy Street (1917)


Charlie Chaplin and Easy Street (1917): The site, Charlie Chaplin, writes of this film: “The look and feel of Easy Street evoke the South London of his childhood (the name “Easy Street” suggests “East Street,” the street of Chaplin’s birthplace). Poverty, starvation, drug addiction, and urban violence—subjects that foreshadow the social concerns in his later films—are interwoven in ‘an exquisite short comedy’ wrote critic Walter Kerr, ‘humor encapsulated in the regular rhythms of light verse’ (23).” It is hard to imagine that people lived like this; and yet a good many still do in western civilization. Look at how civilized we have become! Chaplin was right; only satire can work in this case.
Courtesy: Youtube

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Arturo Toscanini, An Ardently Anti-Fascist Conductor

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Arturo Toscanini [born in 1867 in Parma, Italy–died in 1957 in New York City, New York], in shown here in this 1947 photo, seven years before he stepped down from what he did best. Starting out as cellist from Parma, Italy, he became one of the 20th century’s great conductors, doing so for almost seven decades (1886–1954), leading such notable institutions as La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which was created for him and which he led from 1937 to 1954. He was ardently anti-fascist, which places him in my good books as a hero. In  an article (“The Toscanini Wars”: July 10, 2017) for The New Yorker, David Denby writes what is already well-known but bears repeating: “After 1931, Toscanini refused to conduct in Italy, resisting Mussolini, who dangled honors and official posts; he was thereafter reviled in the Fascist press. Hitler pleaded with him to honor holy German art and preside over the Wagner rites at the Bayreuth Festival. When Toscanini turned him down, his recordings and broadcasts were banned in Nazi Germany. Instead of going to Bayreuth, he worked in 1936 and 1937 with the newly formed Palestine Orchestra (later the Israel Philharmonic), an ensemble largely composed of Jewish refugees. Toscanini did not make speeches; he stuck to business. But his sentiments were widely known, and he became a lodestar for anti-Fascists. After the war, Isaiah Berlin pronounced him ‘the most morally dignified and inspiring hero of our time—more than Einstein (to me), more than even the superhuman Winston.’ ” For more go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here]
Courtesy: The New York Times

Toscanini, The NBC Symphony Orchestra and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (1948)


Arturo Toscanini conducts The NBC Symphony Orchestra in Ludwig van Beethoven’s [1770–1827] Symphony No.9 in D minor, opus 125, at NBC Studio 8-H, New York City, in a concert that was broadcast on April 3, 1948. In this concert are Anne McKnight (soprano); Jane Hobson (contralto); Erwin Dillon (tenor); Norman Scott (bass); as well as Members of the Collegiate Chorale.The Ninth Symphony premiered on May 7, 1824 in the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna. The soprano and alto parts were sung by Henriette Sontag and Caroline Unger. The fourth movement contains the famous “Ode to Joy,” taken from Friedrich Schiller’s poem of 1785. Two hundred years later (around 1979–80), Leonard Bernstein provides an informative and humane discussion on this wonderful symphony, touching on the meaning of love, joy and peace, and on King David’s Psalm 133: Hine ma tov u’ma-nayim. Deep thoughts, to be sure, but ones that are easily accessible by all humans. And for all humans. This symphony binds us together.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr., and His American Dream

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“The assistant director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, Hyman Bookbinder, in a frank statement on December 29, 1966, declared that the long-range costs of adequately implementing programs to fight poverty, ignorance and slums will reach one trillion dollars. He was not awed or dismayed by this prospect but instead pointed out that the growth of the gross national product during the same period makes this expenditure comfortably possible. It is, he said, as simple as this: ‘The poor can stop being poor if the rich are willing to become even richer at a slower rate.’ Furthermore, he predicted that unless a “substantial sacrifice is made by the American people,” the nation can expect further deterioration of the cities, increased antagonisms between races and continued disorders in the streets. He asserted that people are not informed enough to give adequate support to antipoverty programs, and he leveled a share of the blame at the government because it ‘must do more to get people to understand the size of the problem.’ ”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)


Martin Luther King, Jr [born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia– died in 1968 in Memphis,Tennessee], was a Baptist minister and a social activist, a vocal leader of the civil right movement. In this photo, on March 25, 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses a crowd of civil rights marchers, about 25,000 individuals in Montgomery, Alabama. This is the culmination of the famous 54-mile Selma-Montgomery March, where marchers left Selma on March 21 and arrived in Montgomery on March 25. (One of the individuals taking part was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.) The King Institute at Stanford University writes: “During the final rally, held on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, King proclaimed: ‘The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man’ (King, “Address,” 130). ” That day has yet to arrive in America, which is hardly at peace with itself. It is a nation beset with violence and hatred and many kinds of social inequalities. As a stark reminder, on another day—April 4, 1968—Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr was murdered, assassinated actually, at The Lorraine Motel in front of Room 306. He was only 39. This is one of those days I will remember, a sad day for a 10-year-old Jewish boy, when hope took a downturn. If this man is to remembered for anything, it is as a man of conviction and hope, who wanted to turn chaos into community. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, one of the few who actually deserved the honour. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: TIME; Stephen F. Somerstein; Getty Images