Movie Review: Birth of a Movement (2017)


TitleBirth of a Movement
Release Date: February 6, 2017
Director: Susan Gray and Bestor Cram
Production Company: Northern Light Productions
Summary/Review:

This documentary is about William Monroe Trotter, a civil rights leader and newspaper editor in Boston in the early 20th century.  Raised in a well-to-do family and Harvard educated, Trotter advocated for more radical civil rights activism than his peers such as Booker T. Washington.  He participated in founding the NAACP, but ultimately did not find it radical enough.

The documentary is also about D.W. Griffith, the groundbreaking filmmaker, who made the first Hollywood blockbuster in 1915.  Released 50 years after the end of the Civil War and based on a novel  called The Clansman, the film was eventually re-titled Birth of Nation. The movie depicts the Civil War through a sympathetic portrayal of the insurgent Southerners.  The post-war Reconstruction is depicted as a time when bestial, sexually-aggressive Black men (portrayed by white actors in blackface) ran rampant until the Ku Klux Klan restores order.

The movie gained widespread acclaim and opposition as Griffith opened it in cities across the country, and even held the first ever film screening in the White House for President Woodrow Wilson.  Knowing that Boston had a history of supporting abolition and Black civil rights, Griffith targeted the city for an opening knowing that success there would lead to widespread distribution of the film.  Trotter organized massive protests against the film’s opening at Tremont Theatre across from Boston Common.  While the protests failed to stop the screening, Trotter’s protests did invigorate a new direction for Black civil rights activism.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Unlovely by The Ballroom Thieves


Album: Unlovely
Artist: The Ballroom Thieves 
Release Date: February 12, 2020
Label: Nettwerk Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • Unlovely
  • Tenebrist
  • Homme Run
  • Begin Again
  • Pendulum

Thoughts:

I first learned of Boston-based trio The Ballroom Thieves a few years ago when they were the standout performers at a festival I attended.  Their new album speaks to our times with lyrics that address personal relationship and social movements, and often both at the same time.  The band is described as folk rock and Americana, but I don’t think those genres quite capture the infectious pop sound of the songs that also draw upon classic rock, soul, and even a touch of metal.

Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello, bass), Martin Earley (vocals, guitar), and Devin Mauch (vocals, percussion) are all excellent instrumentalists and the recording captures their performances as well as their tight harmonies.  I tend to get lost in music at the expense of the lyrics, but I was drawn into the chorus of my favorite track “Tenebrist” which is both inspirational and sarcastic:

We all muddy the water
To make it seem less shallow
And if our grief grows like a shadow
In the morning that’s alright
We need the dark to know the light

The music hides anger, frustration, and exhaustion with our political present in the lyrics, so it’s worth a deep listen.

Rating: ****

This performance from WGBH leads off with “Tenebrist” and some older tracks.

The Paste Studio performance includes “Homme Run,” “Love is Easy,” and “Pendulum.”

 

Classic Movie Review: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)


Title: The Friends of Eddie Coyle
Release Date: June 26, 1973
Director: Peter Yates
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

Long before The Departed and several adaptations of Denis Lehane novels made the Boston Crime Movie a cliche, there was The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Unlike most of the movies that I watched for this classic movie project this is not one that’s considered one of the great movies of all time, but I put it on my list because it’s considered one of the great Boston movies of all time.  Having watched it, I think it deserves much wider recognition because it is a powerful, well-acted, well-paced, and well-scripted film.

Unlike more recent Boston Crime Movies, The Friends of Eddie Coyle emphasizes the mundanity of life in the mob.  Doing mob work is work and for Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) it is  – literally and figuratively – a dead end job.  Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s clear from the beginning that Eddie is not much longer for this world, although you do pull for him to some how get out his situation.

Eddie’s job is to get guns for a gang of bank robbers who need fresh weapons for each heist.  He buys them from gun runner Jackie Brown (Steven Keats).  Coyle is also facing a prison sentence for getting caught in New Hampshire with a truck full of stolen liquor and refusing to squeal on who he was working for, the bartender/mob boss Dillon (Peter Boyle).  He asks ATF agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) for help with a recommendation to the judge, but Foley expects him to turn informer in return.

At first the movie seems disjointed, with scenes of Eddie, Jackie, Dillon, and Dave going about their business intercut with bank robberies.  But it all comes together brilliantly in the end. As I noted above, this movie emphasizes the mundane, everyday aspects of organized crime.  There’s no glamour here, and there’s actually only a handful of scenes of violence.  But the movie does offer terrific acting, especially Mitchum, who pretty much lives in his role as Eddie.

For Boston lovers, there are a lot of great location shots including familiar spots like City Hall Plaza and the old Boston Garden, where Eddie waxes poetically over Bobby Orr in the most Boston scene ever caught on film.  There are also scenes shot in a no longer extant Back Bay bar that is a platonic ideal of the men’s bars that no longer exist.  And although I can’t confirm, I’m almost certain there’s a scene in the late, lamented Doyle’s Cafe.  Much of the film is set in the suburbs at places like Houghton’s Pond and shopping centers with parking lots filled with big cars and flashy signs.

Bostonian or not, this is a film worth watching.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)


Title: The Thomas Crown Affair
Release Date: June 19, 1968
Director: Norman Jewison
Production Company: The Mirisch Corporation | Simkoe | Solar Productions
Summary/Review:

The Thomas Crown Affair is probably less regarded as a classic film than as a classic Boston film, and is discussed in Ryan Walsh’s book on Boston in 1968, Astral Weeks.  And like at least 90% of movies set in Boston, it is a crime movie, but instead of mobbed-up guys from Southie, the criminal is a bored millionaire from Beacon Hill.  The movie starts out great with Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) organizing a bank heist of five men who don’t meet until the robbery begins and who never see his face.  The film uses extensive split screens to depict the action, which reminds me of a 1970s historic site visitors center introductory movie, but it does add a flair to the action occurring simultaneously.

After the successful heist, the bank brings in the Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway). Initially, Anderson and Crown play a flirty game of cat and mouse.  But the movie fizzles out about halfway through.  We’re supposed to believe that they actually fall in love, on their many trips to ride a dune buggy around Crane Beach, but the romance is not convincing at all. Anderson’s belief that their love will make Crown confess seems especially pathetic.

I’ve never liked Dunaway as an actor, but in this case, I think both leads were miscast.  They needed something like a Cary Grant/Grace Kelly level of talent, but they weren’t up to the task.  I did like seeing all of the on-location scenery shot in 1968 Boston (and the one scene where Dulles Airport is made to appear as if it’s in Boston).  Mt. Vernon Street on Beacon Hill, seen in a scene where Crown douchely crashes a detectives car into a tree, looks virtually the same 50 years ago as it does today.

Rating: **

Massachusetts Primary Elections – VOTE EARLY! VOTE NOW! JUST VOTE!


Hey there fellow Bay Staters!  It’s Primary Election time in Massachusetts.  You can vote early NOW and every day until Friday, February 28.  Details for the City of Boston are below and or you can check on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website for Early Voting opportunities in your community: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/EarlyVotingWeb/EarlyVotingSearch.aspx.

Keep in mind that Early Voting is available for all voters at specified locations  in your community that will not necessarily be your designated polling location.

If you’re not able to participate in Early Voting, or you’re a traditionalist, make your way to your local polling location to vote on Super Tuesday: March 3, 2020!

This excellent tool on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ website will help you 1) Find out where you can vote on the Primary Election Day on March 3, 2020 and 2) Show you who is on the ballots for your district.  Registered voters may chose to vote on ONE of the four party ballots: Democratic Party, Republican Party, Green-Rainbow Party, or Libertarian Party.

https://www.sec.state.ma.us/wheredoivotema/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx

Make a plan to vote! Bring your family, friends, and co-workers! Let’s make this election reflect the will of the people!

Learn to Curl 🥌


Last night I attended a Learn to Curl event sponsored by the North End Curling Club at Steriti Memorial Rink in Boston. I’ve long been curious about trying curling but until this year I was only aware of curling clubs in the distant Boston suburbs that seemed to much a hassle to get to, so I was pleased to find an opportunity accessible by the MBTA.

Curling is a sport that originated five centuries ago in Scotland but is most popular as a pastime and a competitive sport in Canada.  Americans like myself are most familiar with curling from the Winter Olympics, especially after the USA Men’s team took the gold medal in 2018.

The North End Curling Club volunteers were friendly and split us into groups of 4 to learn the basics.  The most important rules we learned off the bat are 1) do not run on the ice (even if you’re sweeping, because if you need to run the stone is going fast enough), and 2) do not walk backward.  Being very protective of my noggin, I took these rules to heart.

The joke about curling is that it is not a very athletic pursuit, but it is more strenuous than it looks, or so my leg muscles are telling me today.  Basically, the process of throwing a stone is not unlike doing a bunch of lunges.  On ice.  While pushing a ~40 pound weight.

I found throwing challenging because each part of the body is doing something different all at the same time and I struggled to make sure I could remember all of them!

  • the dominant foot (in my case, the right foot)is seated in the hack which is used to give something solid to push of from.  Once you push off you drag that leg behind while trying to avoid letting your knee hit the ice which causes you to slow down and (ouch!) hurts
  • the other leg (my left) is bent at a 90 degree angle with the foot placed on top of a slider.  You have to be careful not to step on the slider while fully upright lest you slip and crack your skull. Competitive curlers actually have the slider built into the sole of their shoe.
  • the dominant hand holds the handle of the stone and the skip will instruct you whether to turn it toward 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock position depending on which direction they want the stone to curl.  Right before your release the stone you turn the handle to 12 o’clock to initiate the curl.
  • the other hand holds a stabilizer.  Competitive curlers hold their broom sticks but at our lesson we had a device made of pvc pipes.
  • your body is positioned to align itself directly toward the skip at the other end of the sheet.
  • your head is up and looking toward the skip and where you are aiming the stone even if you want to look at all your other body parts because you want to make sure they’re in the right place.

Throwing the stone was the most challenging part for me as I never got to a point where I threw with very good weight, or velocity.  To be in play, the stone must cross the hog line at the far end of the sheet which seems a long way away! I did get better over time although I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my group who fell over while doing it.

Luckily, everyone on the team rotates through responsibilities so I only had to throw two stones each end (an end is when each team takes turns throwing all 8 of their stones akin to an inning in baseball).  If you’re not throwing, you are likely to be sweeping and sweeping is as simple and obvious as it looks.  The purpose of sweeping is to heat the ice in front of the stone to reduce friction and allow it to travel further.  The skip calls out instructions such as “sweep!,” “hard!” (to make you sweep more vigorously), and “off” (to stop sweeping).

The part I enjoyed most was taking a turn as the skip.  The skip stands by the house, the bullseye target the thrower is aiming towards, and gives instruction to their teammates. As skip I set a target for the thrower, marking it with my broom, and raise my right or left hand to indicate which direction to curl the stone. I also tell them whether the thrower should try to set up a guard stone that will block the opponent on their next turn, or a take-out stone to knock away the opponents stone already in the house.  The skip gives instructions to the sweepers and can join in sweeping once the stone crosses the hog line closest to the house.  I could also sweep to try to make the opponent’s stone go past the house once it passed the center line of the house which was deviously fun. The skip also has the responsibility of throwing the last two stones which are generally expected to be knock-out throws, which as I’ve noted was a challenge for me since I had trouble getting my stones to even cross the entire sheet, but I think my best two throws of the night were when I was the skip.

After learning the basics, we played 4 ends.  The other team won the first two ends narrowly by scores of 1-0 and 2-0.  We finally won on the 3rd end rather dramatically when one of my teammates threw the last stone (known as the hammer) and knocked several of the opponent’s stones out of the house leaving only one of our own.  We also won the final end 1-0, and thus the final score for the entire game was 3-2 to our opponents.

Curling is a lot of fun and I would like to do it again.  The big challenge is that membership in the North End Curling Club is cost prohibitive.  It makes sense since it’s expensive to rent ice time and rent the curling stones.  I think I will have to try to save up and see if I can do it next year.

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 26


Best of the Left :: Why Prison Abolition is not Nearly as Scary as it Sounds

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Virtual Choir

Radiolab :: Birdie in the Cage

WBUR :: Anthony Martignetti And That Famous Prince Spaghetti Ad, 50 Years Later

Dolly Parton’s America :: I Will Always Leave You

You Must Remember This :: Disney’s Most Controversial Film

The Memory Palace :: Late One Night


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 19


Dolly Parton’s America :: Sad Ass Songs

This is a new podcast about possibly America’s most beloved living person, Dolly Parton. The debut podcast focuses on issues ranging from murder ballads to feminism.

99% Invisible :: Unsure Footing

The story of how soccer changed the backpass rule leading immediately to an embarrassing period for goalkeepers, but ultimately to a more exciting game.

Hub History :: Race Over Party

The history of African American politics in Boston in the late 19th century.

This American Life :: We Come From Small Places

The immigrant experience explored through stories from the Labor Day Carnival and the West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: Blood & Ivy by Paul Collins


Author: Paul Collins
Title: Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard
Narrator:  Kevin Kenerly
Publication Info: Blackstone Pub (2018)
Summary/Review:

This historical, true crime narrative relates the story of the murder of Dr. George Parkman, a Harvard-educated physician and philanthropist, and from a prominent Boston Brahmin family.  The murderer is revealed to also be a well-born man, John White Webster, a chemistry professor at Harvard Medical College.  I’m familiar with the story since it is central story of Boston By Foot’s Dark Sie of Boston tour, but it’s not a well-known historical incident these days.  At the time though, the social class of both murderer and victim, and their connections with Harvard University made it an international scandal. Even 18 years later, English author Charles Dickens asked to visit the murder site on his visit to Boston.

Collins details the murder, investigation, trial, and conviction of Webster, but also focuses on the case’s place within the chasms among Boston’s social classes.  Initial blame for Dr. Parkman’s disappearance was directed at the Boston’s Irish immigrant population, then swelling due to the famine in Ireland.  Even after Webster is brought to trial, the defense’s main strategy is to deflect attention to Ephraim Littlefield, the Harvard Medical College janitor who is the main witness.  The class mores of the time saw the working man Littlefield as someone who better fit the mold of murderer.

Collins also explores the innovations that emerged from the case.  These include dental forensics as Parkman’s dentist was able to use dental molds to identify Parkman’s remains. The judge, Justice Lemuel Shaw, also gave instructions to the jury regarding the definition of “reasonable doubt” that became widespread in American jurisprudence, and weren’t updated in Massachusetts until 2015!

This book is a good introduction to this remarkable case for those unfamiliar with the story.  As someone who has read quite a bit about the Parkman murder, I also picked up quite a few new tidbits.

Recommended books: Dead Certainties : Unwarranted Speculations by Simon Schama
Rating: ***

TOMORROW 9/24: Boston Preliminary Election #BosPoli #GOTV


All my readers who live in the city of Boston, please set aside the time to vote in the Boston Preliminary Election at your local polling place between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Candidates are running for Boston City Council for At Large offices and in Districts Five, Seven, Eight, and Nine.  The other districts are sadly uncontested.  Your vote tomorrow will help decide which candidates advance to the General Election on Tuesday, November 5, 2019.  If you need help determining were to vote use this handy online tool.

Municipal elections are often overlooked in Boston allowing candidates who don’t represent the best interests of Boston’s people to gain off.  Please take the time to participate and make sure our city gets the best representation possible.  If you’re not sure who to vote for – and lord knows the local news media doesn’t help – here are some resources I’ve found with the candidates’ statements on various issues (note: I’m sharing these for informational purposes and not as an endorsement for any candidates).

If you find this post useful, please share it on social media, and encourage everyone you know to Get Out The Vote!