Sunday, November 29, 2015

...a complicated uncut Christmas...

This morning I went to Bowtie Movieland to see Holiday Inn (1942) for their Movies & Mimosas classic film. How can you beat being able to swoon over Bing Crosby and $2 mimosas!?!

Holiday Inn is one of my favorite movies because it includes Christmas and Bing Crosby! I’m not too picky about holiday movies. I fill my DVR with nearly every Christmas movie that I can find because I love-love-love Christmas movies… from the classics to the modern Hallmark channel movies (and the more ridiculous, the better!)
Holiday Inn isn’t often considered a “classic” Christmas movie partly because it really isn’t a “Christmas” movie although it does feature Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” twice; but, more importantly than that, it isn’t often a classic because of the now controversial “Abraham” scene.

A quick synopsis of the movie is that Bing Crosby’s character and a girl are in love and off to get married and live on a farm leaving showbiz behind. Fred Astaire’s character pretty much steals the girl and Crosby is left to head to the farm alone. Farm life isn’t what he thought it would be so Crosby has the idea to open up an inn but only on the holidays…hence Holiday Inn! And if you’ve ever stayed at one of the Holiday Inn motels, they got their name from this film… but they don’t look anything like the quaint farm house that doesn’t seem like it would have any bedrooms for anyone to actually stay. That isn’t the point; Crosby puts on big performances during the holidays.  When the girl who left Crosby for Astaire also leaves Astaire for a rich millionaire, a drunken Astaire arrives at the inn hoping Crosby will be able to lift his spirits. You know where this is going… Crosby has a new girl and well, Astaire pretty much steals her too. But before that happens, Crosby tries to hide his new girl… by using blackface.

This was 1942 and mid-WWII. This was pre-Civil Rights movement in the US and white Americans were racist then as some are racist now. Using blackface was actually a plot point to hide characters but the racist undertones (and overtones?) are pretty clear. It wasn’t until the 1980s that broadcasts of the film omitted the entire scene which if you can imagine caused a great deal of confusion for movie watchers since a major plot point was omitted. AMC even cut the “Abraham” musical number because it became so controversial. So if you’ve never seen the film via DVD, in the theater, or on Turner Classic Movies which doesn’t cut or edit any films, you might be a bit startled as the two ladies who sat behind me in the movies today were when the entire sequence includes nearly every white character in black face and the black characters who are off in the kitchen singing but not performing with the white characters because it was the time of segregation. Is it uncomfortable for movie-goers in 2015? I think so. Aside from blackface being used, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred halfway through filming. Because of this, the Independence Day musical was expanded beyond Fred Astaire's firecracker dance to include the patriotic number that highlights the U.S. military. Many have seen this as a WWII propaganda film, which includes only white men even though black men fought in the war.

I don’t think the film is for everyone and I’m certainly not pushing anyone to watch it. It’s another part of our nation that is complicated and complex. Unlike the women who sat behind me, I wasn’t appalled that the theater decided to include this portion of the film. Even if they had cut the scenes, the film is still pretty much laced with the sentiments of that time.

I did a little research and discovered that Louise Beavers, the actress who played Crosby’s maid, performed in dozens of films from the 1920s to1960. If you look at her wikipedia page you will see from the mere list alone that she was a *working* actress although she was most commonly cast in the role of a maid, servant, or slave. 

As Beavers became more well-known as an actress, she spoke out against Hollywood's portrayal and treatment of Black Americans. She became active and outspoken in her support of the Civil Rights movement. It seems that sometimes one must be in the system to fight the injustice. 

Beavers was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame two years after it was founded.

Cut or uncut, viewing older films and even reading books or listening to music from various times makes for a complicated history lesson. I try to respect that when engaging with such things.  

And while I'm certainly not trying to make light of the film's controversy or America's past (and sometimes present) struggles with racial difference, for me this film was the first holiday film released by the theater where I kick off my Christmasing movie-going. 

Next up, White Christmas with Bing Crosby and later It's a Wonderful Life.  And well, Krampus comes out next week so there's that too. 

Speaking of, I pretty much have my outfit put together for Krampusnacht and here is my holiday sweater (it's really a t-shirt.. Thanks Disney!) for the office party. 

Merry Everything Y'all!


Friday, November 27, 2015

...Coffin up the cash on BLACK FRIDAY...

When you read “Black Friday” you most likely think of shopping. If you do, you can thank the retailer in the 1980s who successfully transformed a very negative phrase into the positive discount shopping day. You may have heard that Black Friday references the “in the black” that retailers used in their old ledgers… in the black meaning that they were making a profit and in the red meant that they were losing money. I even remember learning about checking in middle school and being told to use red ink if you ever overdraft your checking account. I remember my parents correcting my teacher by instructing to never ever do this. If you don’t have the cash, don’t write the check… but I digress.

The first recorded “Black Friday” comes from 1869 after the American Civil war during the Reconstruction era. The U.S. gold market crashed. James Fisk and Jay Gould planned to profit from buying up all of the U.S. gold and basically hoarding it to drive up the prices. It worked for a while until President Ulysses S. Grant released the reserves flooding the market with gold. Prices dropped within minutes with thousands left financially ruined, and one even committing suicide. Come on! We’re seen It’s a Wonderful Life; we know that financial ruin can be awesome if Clarence isn’t around. Wheat and corn harvests also decreased in value by 50%, and the entire U.S. economy for years.

Nearly a century later, “Black Friday” was a term that related to the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, PA. “Black Friday” was used by police officers to describe the chaos from tourists visiting the city before the big game.
It took decades after this to spin a chaotic event into an in the profit/ in the black kind of day.

I normally don’t go out shopping on Black Friday anymore. Without little children who require big ticket items or designer toys, I don't worry much about major savings. I do go to the mall, just as I often do right before Christmas, because I love watching the madness especially when I do not need a thing. Two years ago, I spontaneously got engaged by looking at jewelry on Black Friday with my fella *giggles*. So, Black Friday is another one of our anniversaries :D

This morning with my fella as his mom's nursing her back to health for the last few days, I have been on my own. I miss him but it's been a full semester since I've actually been alone in my house... or alone for a few days! I've had a great day. I went to get a haircut and then headed to my folks’ to have my car oil changed. While this might sound weird, oil changing days are major father-daughter bonding times for me. It's where we share stories and come up with car problem-solving solutions. I wouldn't change these times for anything.  After that, I went to two graveyards from my youth that I’ll post about later this week, and then I went to the ABC store (Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control… e.g. you can’t buy alcohol anywhere else in this state) which does have a Black Friday sale. So now I’m having a peppermint chocolate martini (apparently the drink of the season for me!) while I write this. Umm, excuse any tipsy typos :D

Did you go out shopping on Black Friday?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

...Van Gogh's The Christmas Prayer and Christmas stories...

The Art Institute of Chicago was fortunate enough to have Van Gogh’s The Christmas Prayer, 1882 on loan to the museum starting in 2013, and I was fortunate to be able to see it in person. Again, this was another lucky fine that included a great deal of good timing! It seems that my Chicago trip really set the mood for Christmas this year. I'm terrible at Advent. The art of patience and waiting? Yeah, that's not really me.

I think this works well during this week of Thanksgiving. In many ways, being grateful for what one has is a prayer in itself. 

The piece also reminds me of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I can't help but think of reading Christmas stories this time of year and I love a good Christmas ghost story! I have a tradition of reading Christmas books this time of year. Last year I picked up The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. One section includes "A Scary Little Christmas". Because it is filled with stories and it's 650 pages, I didn't finish reading it last year. I can't binge read short stories or they all start to become one odd story.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

...Thanksgiving reimagined...

Here is another piece from the Art Institute of Chicago that moved me. The artist is Doris Lee and the piece is called Thanksgiving, c. 1935. Lee is known as one of the most successful female artists of the Depression era in the United States.

Thanksgiving was exhibited in 1933 at the Art Institute of Chicago and won the Logan Medal. Interestingly enough, the painting was not approved by one of the trustees, Josephine Hancock Logan who referred to the piece as “atrocious” and “trash”.
It wasn’t the theme that was included but how it was depicted as something common and ordinary. I didn't find it ordinary at all; I was drawn to the painting. I think something about it reminds me of my grandmother, and of course that then makes me think of my family altogether.

Thanksgiving is complicated. I know what we mean to celebrate but with it comes this unpleasant, well that’s an understatement, history that is as complex and complicated as our country. To me, thanksgiving has always been about family and eating.  In fact, sitting around the dinner table is one of my images of family. Growing up we always had a family meal, a supper. The television was turned off, books put away, and if the phone rang we ignored it. Dinner time was about family, the four of us- my mom and dad, my brother and me.

My brother loves Thanksgiving. It’s his favorite holiday. He isn’t religious or spiritual but he keeps the holiday and its food sacred. He wants his stuffing to be a little dry; he prefers corn pudding to regular corn; and, in no way does he like change. Yet, he changed everything about five years ago when he moved to Florida. He has never looked back; he absolutely loves living there. And, because of his work schedule, he has only been home a half dozen times and never on the holidays. Most people think of a lack of mother or father as that which upsets the celebration of Thanksgiving. I think of my brother who now, happily, orders a Boston’s Market dinner and eats alone. I’m appalled, shocked! Thanksgiving is about family. Nope, he responds; Thanksgiving is about the food.

This will be my second Thanksgiving with my fella as my husband. It took me a long time to get things right when it comes to relationships so holidays seem extra special now. 

When my fella asked if it would be okay to relieve his sister who has been the constant caregiver to their mother since she came home from the hospital,  what in the world was I supposed to say?!? Of course! 

Then I remembered how my brother doesn’t like change and how I actually don’t like change either. I want my family to be together but that isn’t possible this year; so tomorrow I’m going to surprise my fella with Thanksgiving! When he comes home from work, he’ll be greeted with a full Thanksgiving spread. 

Instead of simply placing his Thanksgiving meal in a Tupperware container for him to tote off to his mother’s house, I will spent Thanksgiving with him today… because Thanksgiving to me is about family. The dates are insignificant.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

...the ultimate Christmas nativity...

I’m quite drawn to art that is layered and that is three dimensional. I love collage and texture. I’m always drawn to items in boxes. I’m drawn to details.

A crèche is a model or tableau representing the scene of Christ's birth. It's a common display this time of year. Since I'm Catholic, I think it's also a common display to have in homes. Over a decade ago, I gave my mom an elaborate Nativity that was displayed like a candelabra. I thought that was fancy... I had no idea. It completely makes sense that I would gasp when I walked in to see this crèche. I don't think you can tell exactly how large it is from the pictures. An entire gallery was dedicated to this and it completely took up most of the room. At the bottom of the first picture, you can see a shadow. That's a boy's head.

The Nativity displays have roots in fourth-century and by the 13th and 14th centuries they were a feature of Neapolitan churches. In 18th century, they underwent a transformation from relatively simple scenes to dramatic creations. At this point, the traditional parts of the Nativity began to include the everyday aspects of live from shop activities to even tavern scenes.

Churches weren’t the only places where one could see these types of crèches. Many wealthy citizens commissioned this type of work to display in their own homes.

Last year The Art Institute of Chicago unveiled a mid-18th-century Neapolitan crèche just in time for the holiday season.  Because of the fragility of the original silk costumes and embroidery, the Neapolitan crèche is only on view for a few weeks every year. We were fortunate enough to see it this year completely by accident.

The crèche is an intricate nativity which features over 200 figures all presented in a Baroque cabinet with a painted backdrop. Considered one of the finest examples of its kind outside of Naples, this piece is a beautiful addition to the museum especially during the holidays.  

Here is a somewhat blurry picture of my own recycled bottle nativity. My fella tucked Dracula in there a few years ago to be funny. I especially loved this because hiding an odd out-of-place figurine in the Nativity was always something that my dad did.