Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Plot: It’s 1939 and life is grand for the upper class Miniver family, who live in a village called Belham, in England. Except they hear rumblings that the German army is marching on Poland, and suspect it’s not too long before war visits their shores. The film covers, from what I can surmise, the first year or two of the war, including the dramatic rescue at Dunkirk (though we don’t see any of it). This is a war film told through the eyes of a woman, and how everyday life continued in spite of daily tragedy.

Best Moment: The best moment is, well, a bit of a spoiler so I’m not going to give specifics, except to say that it happens at the flower show. I will share related moment, though. Local church bell-ringer James Ballard is so excited to enter his rose in the flower show. When a fellow bell-ringer suggests Ballard shouldn’t trifle with such frivolous contests in times of war, Ballard responds, “There will always be roses.” And if that line wasn’t on the nose for how I should handle my life as of late, then I don’t know what is.

Worst Moment: You know, I’m not sure there was one. This film was compelling from start to finish.

Fun facts: The film was in pre-production prior to Pearl Harbor, but some scenes were reshot after the U.S. entered World War II, to reflect a tougher line against the Axis powers. The film is definitely an effective propaganda piece, especially the scene where Mrs. Miniver encounters a downed German pilot–he tells her “We will come, we will bomb your cities,” and describes the carnage he hopes the German army will create. And the final title screen reminds the viewer “America needs your money. Buy defense bonds and stamps every pay day.”

Greer Garson won the Oscar for Best Actress, and her acceptance speech was over 5 minutes (here’s 53 seconds of it). After her, the Academy started to impose time limits on acceptance speeches. On the DVD, MGM includes a piece of accompanying propaganda–a 19-minute short called “Mr. Blabbermouth,” reminding Americans to not spread rumors about the war effort.

Epiphany: The juxtaposition of the war against the daily life at home was a nice reminder that no matter how bleak things might be (or seem), life goes on. And not only does life go on, but there’s still joy to be found. As Carol, the Miniver’s daughter-in-law says, “We mustn’t waste time in fear.”

Recommendation: See it. It’s another film on the National Film Registry, and Garson’s performance really is impressive.

Reassessment.

I get nostalgic for 2006 often, when Google Reader was my curated news source. When Google killed Reader, how I used the Internet changed.

I moved to Twitter, and around that same time Facebook was becoming more of a publisher and less of a way to stay current with friends who no longer lived near me.

And that’s where I’ve gotten my news mostly—friends on Facebook post links of what they’ve read, and the people I follow on Twitter (which I try to keep eclectic) keep me informed of stories I might otherwise miss. And in the name of “staying informed,” too often I get lost in the Sea of Endless Scrolling, and I’m not being my best self. Not by a long shot.

As Kevin Roose wrote in today’s New York Times, I’ve developed some routines that have broken my brain just a little bit. But those routines developed, in part, because I teach journalism and popular culture and feel a responsibility to be informed.

I tell my students “If the product is free, then the product is you.” My friend Julie Smith taught me that. All the products I’ve been using to “stay informed” are free, and I am definitely feeling like a bit of a product.

I want to go back to the halcyon days of Google Reader, when I woke up every morning and read blogs and news stories I picked myself. While Feedly has been a decent substitute, I got out of the habit of using it. I subscribe to the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Omaha World-Herald, but I’m not in the habit of going those places first.

While I recognize the value in virtual spaces, the way I’ve been using them hasn’t been valuable. And when I get close to shutting down all social media forever (for reasons like the ones in this Wall Street Journal story), I panic a little bit (for reasons closely related to what Courtney Kendrick realized: it’s about power).

So what to do? Kevin Roose’s article resonated with me, as being practical without being Draconian. So if you are feeling a similar “environmental shock” by how tied you are to your phone, maybe take a small step. Here’s some lock screens from the tech coach Roose consulted. There’s no shortage of TED talks about the insidious effects of too much phone use–Tristan Harris and Sherry Turkle are my favorites. I turned off all notifications three months ago, and I’ve noticed a small difference in how I feel when I pick up my phone–much less stressed, since I’m not bombarded with tiny red numbers all over the place.

I’ll still check my social media accounts–I connect with too many people not to–but I’ve just been too bombarded with cautionary tales in recent months to not make even more changes when it comes to my phone.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Plot: George M. Cohan (James Cagney) has been summoned to FDR’s office. He is concerned, as he’s currently playing the president in a show, but he goes to the office anyway and recounts his life in show business. At the end, FDR hands Cohan the Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to the arts.

Best Moment: I watched this movie years ago, so I knew it was coming, but dangit if I didn’t tear up at the end when Cohan shakes FDR’s hand and says, “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.” And then Cagney tap dances down the stairs. So sweet and genuine that it’s hard to be cynical.

Worst Moment: I know that Cagney had to be cast for a reason, but it really is a shame they didn’t get someone who could sing the part of Cohan.

Fun Facts: Courtesy of Wikipedia…Cagney was named as a Communist in the first round of HUAC hearings. Rumor has it the hyper-patriotism in the film is a result of the allegation. Also, Cagney didn’t like Cohan, as in an actor’s strike, Cohan sided with the producers and not the actors. Cagney won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Epiphany: I watched this with a similar lens that I watch Casablanca with–the film was clearly set up to help with the war effort. I missed that connection the first time I watched it. Fun reading for you, if you’re interested–here’s the manual for the Motion Picture Industry from the Office of War Information.

Recommendation: See it. It’s on the National Film Registry, and that alone makes it worthwhile. My only quibble–and this was common of many musicals of that time–the songs aren’t plot points. I much prefer the musicals where the songs help tell the story. Here, the songs are simply taken from a smattering of shows Cohan wrote. I understand why that is, but I’m still not a fan of that mode of storytelling in something billed as a musical.

I Love Public Schools Day: Music Edition

I planned to hang this in my classroom for I Love Public Schools Day.

I’ve written here before about my high school English teacher and my high school choir teacher. These women were foundational to my career in education. But I’ve never written how public schools helped me become a musician.

The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I got a phone call from the choir teacher, Mr. Reimer. He was looking for an accompanist for the show choir.

Accompanying wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’d been down this road at church, and once I showed moderate proficiency with playing the piano, I never got to sing. But in my lapsed-logic-15-year-old brain, I thought if I played the piano for the show choir and sang in the sophomore choir, I’d have a better chance making the show choir as a singer my junior year.

Show choir music is sometimes challenging to play, and as a 15 year-old, I was often out of my element. But Mr. Reimer was encouraging and not critical when I’d miss notes. Which happened often.

We moved to Montana after my sophomore year, and though I delayed telling my new choir teacher that I could play the piano, she still made sure I accompanied the choir at least once a year. And sure, I resented it then, but what I didn’t realize at the time is that both of my high school choir teachers developed my accompanying skills, which have allowed me to earn a little extra money and continue to be a musician.

Fast forward several years: I was teaching at the high school I attended as a sophomore, and Mr. Reimer asked me to play piano for the school musical–nothing fancy, just the violin part on a synthesizer. And then he asked me to play more challenging four-hand accompaniments for his varsity choir.

When I came back from grad school, that choir teacher’s son AJ was teaching choir, and he carried on the tradition of asking me to play for the musicals and varsity choir.

Both Reimers taught me musicianship, the value that each person in a choir or an orchestra brings to every piece of music, and that participating in musical groups is fun, not stressful.

Last year I took over as principal pianist for the school musical. I constantly feel inadequate. But AJ, always the music educator, is nothing but encouraging. He never makes me feel stupid when I can’t figure out a rhythm or when a song pops up in G flat major and I keep forgetting the C flat. Instead, he teaches.

Without these opportunities to grow as an accompanist and musician, I’m not sure I would not still be playing the piano. I’m positive I wouldn’t be as good of a musician as I am. I definitely wouldn’t even consider myself a musician at all.

I’m a musician because of public schools.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

humphrey_bogart_1940

Published by The Minneapolis Tribune-photo from Warner Bros. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Maltese Falcon,

I tried.

I tried twice.

The first time, I fell asleep and missed 45 minutes of you, but woke up to see the “who” in this whodunit. And I wanted to give you the respect I’d heard you might deserve, so I tried again.

This time, I had a Diet Coke and planned to type notes constantly; record my stream of thought in an attempt to stay awake.

And yet.

Twenty minutes in, my eyelids grew heavy and I couldn’t stay awake. Again.

Here’s what I loved about you: Humphrey Bogart. Oh, how I love him. His smarmy smile and nasally voice and the way he puts on a hat…I love all of it. And it was fun to see Bogart with Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet: harbingers of the magic that would happen one year later on the Warner Brothers lot.

I think we might be too different, you and I, and despite Arthur Edeson’s brilliant cinematography, you simply weren’t enough to keep me with you. I appreciate you for the movie you are, and I trust that cinephiles will take plenty good care of you.

I just won’t be one of them.

With affection,

Julie