Monday, November 5, 2012

Tony's Top Twenty Movies - #6

I have decided to join in the discussion of "the top movies of all time" with my own top twenty movie list. I've based my list on my love of specific movies, and  the role they've played  in my life's journey. The movies span over eight decades. I call them "signposts."

I have previously posted my #1 through #5 signposts, here is my #6 signpost.

#6 – Scarecrow – 1973

The practice of going by myself, to a matinee showing of a movie that I knew nothing about began in 1973 with the movie Scarecrow. While on the road as a musician, just to kill time, I entered  the old Union Theater around noon in downtown Union, New Jersey with no expectations of what I was about to see. Maybe there were three or four other people there for the matinee, nevertheless, I had the feeling that I was about to take this movie discovery journey absolutely all alone.

Scarecrow turned out to be magical experience.  It’s a road movie starring Al Pacino as Francis, and Gene Hackman as Max.  They play hard luck down and out drifters, that meet while hitchhiking on a country road and partner up to pursue getting their piece of the American dream. But first, Pacino wants to meet the child he has never seen that he fathered five years ago in Detroit, before he ran off to join the Navy.   Hackman, who has spent the last six years in the joint for assault and battery, has planned every detail down to the last penny on how to open up his “Maxi’s Car Wash” in Pittsburg. With Pacino as his new found partner, all that is left is to make the cross country trip from California, via Colorado to see Hackman’s sister, to Detroit, and finally to the pot of gold waiting in Pittsburg.

Pacino has an innocent light heartedness and uses humor to soften tough moments,  Hackman is an untrusting loner who claims not to love anything and wants to fight his way out of every situation. Pacino says he is like a scarecrow, the kind a farmer puts up to protect his crops by making the birds laugh. The idea is that the birds, out of gratitude to the farmer for making them laugh, decide not to bother his crops.  Pacino likes to make people laugh and tries to teach Hackman to be less angry and become more like him, a scarecrow. There is a turning point in their relationship, during one of the greatest strip scenes ever filmed in a real local bar, when their roles become reversed. Later in their journey, Pacino falls completely apart and Hackman gives up his dream of the car wash and uses all of his resources to try and care for his ailing friend.

I have learned that the road can be very cruel,  and Scarecrow is no exception to that rule. The dreams of the down trodden with their joys and sorrows, and the hardships of the painful moments of being human, play themselves out in Scarecrow.  Honest dialogue and moving performances with humor and pathos, make the transformation of the Pacino and Hackman characters not only believable but emotionally unforgettable. Scarecrow is an example of the realism, and the fall from innocence, that is portrayed in the independent films of the 1970’s.   What can I say, I found myself in that empty theater, truly becoming a child of the 70’s.

Coming next: #7 Kramer vs. Kramer - 1979

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tony's Top Twenty Movies

I have decided to join in the disscussion of "the top movies of all time" with my own top twenty movie list. I've based my list on my love of specific movies, and  the role they've played  in my life's journey. The movies span over eight decades. I call them "signposts." 

Here are my first five movie "signposts."

#1 - PINOCCHIO - 1940

It was around 1948, I was probably  four when my mother and father took me to the theater for the very first time to see the 1940 re-release of the Disney Classic, Pinocchio. Believe it or not, I still have vague memories of that experience, more  feelings than specific details.

Pinocchio was powerful. The major themes were "let your conscience be your guide" and  if you go sideways there are bad consequences.  As if my nose wasn't big enough as a kid, it was a little frightening that it could even get bigger when I messed up. I have watched Pinocchio a number of times since then, and I am still amazed at it's profound message. Pinocchio, being  made of perishable wood and drawn to the dark side, overcomes his moral weaknesses and finds real life.

One thing was for sure, my mother and father enjoyed movies and the  movie experience at those grand old regal theaters, and they unknowingly passed that love of movie going on to me, popcorn and all.

#2 - THE ROBE - 1953

I didn't realize it at the time, but when I was eight my parents took me to see a very religious movie.  The Robe, which was filmed in magnificent CinemaScope, was simply bigger than life, it was my first movie blockbuster. It starred  Richard Burton as Marcellus, a Roman tribune in charge of the men assigned to crucify Jesus Christ. After the crucifixion, he gambles and wins Jesus' robe but  latter is tormented by nightmares. Hoping to find a way to live with what he has done, and still not believing in Jesus, he returns to Palestine to try and learn what he can of the man he killed. Eventually, he becomes convinced that Jesus was no ordinary man. Little did I know then, that some 30 years latter, I would also come to that same conclusion.


I can vividly remember walking with my mom, Irene Brown,  through the theater lobby after seeing the movie The High and the Mighty, and with a crystal clear whistle, I whistled the theme song from the movie. It is one of the last memories I have of being together with my mom. She suffered from the birth defect of a rheumatic heart and died at the age of 48 of a major stroke when I was about nine years old. Mom, memories and  movies. Till this day I am still a good whistler.

The High and the Mighty stars John Wayne as Dan Roman, a washed up co-pilot on a trans Pacific flight. When the  commercial airliner develops engine problems and the pilot loses his nerve, it is up to Dan to bring the plane and it's passengers in safely. With one problem after another, The High and the Mighty is the original airplane disaster movie. The cabin is full of passengers with every type of personality defect imaginable and features an all-star cast of Clair Trevor, Laraine Day, Phil Harris, Jan Sterling and ironically, Robert Stack of future Airplane fame. I must admit, when I recently caught it again on cable, it was kinda slow, but that whistling theme song still tears my heart up.

#4 - THE HUSTLER - 1961

I traveled about an hour by bus from Irvington, where I lived with my aunt, to downtown Newark to meet my dad and go see the movie, The Hustler. At sixteen I loved to hang around pool halls and shoot pool. One of the many interesting talents my dad, Merle Jacob Brown, possessed, was that he was a really, really, good pool player. It was fun to share that movie with him. Afterwards, we hopped a bus and  he took me to Ames Pool Hall in New York City, where the Hustler was filmed. There we shot some pool and he showed me his trick masse pool shot. Even though I never beat my dad at pool,  I still fondly remember that time we had together.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, The Hustler  tells the story of a small-time pool hustler "Fast Eddie" Felson  (Paul Newman) and his desire to prove himself the best player in the country by beating legendary pool player "Minnesota Fats" (Jackie Gleason).

It's  a story about winning and losing and what it means to be human. Describing the film, director Robert Rossen said: "My protagonist, Fast Eddie, wants to become a great pool player, but the film is really about the obstacles he encounters in attempting to fulfill himself as a human being. He attains self-awareness only after a terrible personal tragedy which he has caused — and then he wins his pool game."

I love The Hustler because it reminds me of my dad.  He faced a lot of struggles, like many of us, some of his own making. Just before he died in 1965, we had a chance to see each other one last time. He was unusually up beat as he lay dying in the veterans hospital. I thought I was there to let him off the hook for being such a absent dad, but in reality, I now realize that I was at his bedside so he could show me mercy, even though I  had been such a shelfish brat of a son. His last words to me were, "It's OK, maybe we'll see each other again." My dad was a really, really, good pool player.

#5 - DELIVERANCE - 1972

The 70's were a time when I was a long haired, full time traveling musician. I went to see Deliverance with the members of my band "Trinity."  Deliverance is a thriller  produced and directed by John Boorman. The principal cast members are Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox, and Ned Beatty. They set off in two canoes down a mystery laden Georgia river and discover a wilderness of terror. The film is noted both for the memorable dueling banjos music scene near the beginning and for the deadly trip into unknown dangerous territory.

After seeing the movie, the band had a very passionate and heated discussion. Each one of us identified with a different character in the movie and felt that their character was the one who had it right. Karen, our bass player from New York City, a pacifist who wore glasses with no glass in them, and whose father was a Columbia professor that had committed suicide, saw the character played by Ronnie Cox as the most admirable. Cox essentially gives up after they are forced to kill a backwoods red neck, overwheled with guilt, he doesn't put on his life jacket while paddling the canoe and he ultimately drowns. Manny, our drummer from South Africa, a big, imposing, very confident, and physical guy, completely connected with the Burt Reynolds character. Reynolds was an "I'm an in control guy, that always pushes the limits." For Manny, there really was no other way to deal with life except to take it by the neck and beat the shit out of it. As for me, I related with the Jon Voight character.  Voight plays a  fearful schmuck, who trys to talk his way out of every conflict. But somehow, when Burt Reynolds is injured and out of commission and is unable to be the fearless leader, Voight is called upon to step up and take the shot. Despite himself, somehow he sheepishly pulls it off, and brings the group safely through.

Deliverance was culturally significant, especially with its true Georgia backwoods vibe, which I have personally experienced. Also significant  is how each of the band members choose to see themselves favorably in the characters they identified with in the film.  Eventually, Trinity broke up, as all bands do.  Nevertheless, this marked the beginning of seeing and then discussing movies, trying to experiance, learn, and understand what the movie was all about. 

Coming soon  #6 - Scarecrow - 1973

Friday, August 17, 2012

A few things I Learned from the Bible.

The Blog

A Few Things Learned from the Bible

I recently received the following reflections by my friend Tony Arlyn. They constitute a good and accurate summary of the Bible’s worldview, message, and doctrines. Because it is such a succinct and insightful summation of the Bible’s message, I pass it on to you.
A few things I learned from the Bible:
  • Every human being is created into a world that is evil, temporary, filled with rebellion, and doomed for destruction.
  • Every human being is also evil, temporary, filled with rebellion, and rightly doomed for destruction.
  • Every human being manifests this evil with an exceedingly wicked rebellion against his very own Creator by not acknowledging Him, honoring Him, or thanking Him for his very existence.
  • Every human being also demonstrates this deceitful rebellion by replacing his Creator with a “lesser version,” someone of his own creation; and in doing so, every human being denies the truth about his Creator’s transcendence, His absolute power over His creation, His authority, and His genuine goodness.
  • Every human being hates real truth and genuine goodness, and he defines truth and goodness for himself.
  • Every human being tries to create his own self-significance apart from his Creator in order to justify his own existence.
  • Every human being will never find his real significance in this present created world.
  • Every human being is destined to die in this state of rebellion, rightfully doomed to destruction, unless the Creator decides to be merciful towards him and chooses to act on his behalf by using His absolute power to begin to change him from being evil to being good.
  • Every human being who has been chosen by the Creator will love mercy, struggle for the rest of his life with his own evil and rebellion, and begin to try to see, understand, and pursue genuine goodness.
  • Every human being who has been chosen by the Creator will repeatedly face the truth about himself, begin to know the truth about his Creator, and begin to learn what is genuinely good, true, and valuable.
  • Every human being chosen by the Creator will try to overcome his evil desire for self-significance and find his ultimate significance in what the Creator is doing on his behalf.
  • The Creator of all reality promises that, after physical death, those who believe Him, trust Him, follow Him, and agree with His purposes will have a life in a good and glorious time and place in the future.
  • The Creator of all reality promises to finish the work He has started in the human beings he has chosen so that they will no longer be evil, temporary, and filled with rebellion, but they will be good and glorious; so that they will fit in and belong in the good and glorious time and place in the future.
  • The Creator of all reality places a mark on the lives of the human beings He has chosen and is changing, and He calls the mark faith and promises to deliver the marked ones from the coming final destruction.
  • The Creator of all reality chose to make known all this through the tiny nation of Israel, to whom He revealed Himself as the one true Creator and proclaimed: “Hear O Israel: the LORD is your God; the LORD is one, and there is no other one like Him.”
  • The Creator of all reality also chose to reveal Himself and proclaim His purposes in time and space through the Jewish man Jesus, whom He called His ‘son’, and He made Jesus both Lord and the promised Messiah of Israel, the one who will one day rule over the good and glorious time and place in the future as its King, representing the Creator Himself.
  • The Creator of all reality was pleased with the life of His son Jesus, and He revealed to the human beings He has chosen that they should follow Jesus in the same way they would follow Him so that they might live in the good and glorious time and place in the future.
  • The Creator of all reality was so pleased with the life of His son Jesus that, after Jesus was crucified and died, the Creator brought him back to life in a new and glorious way so that human beings could see for themselves what the Creator has planned for those whom He has chosen for Himself and given to His son Jesus.
  • Every human being chosen by the Creator will, after he dies, be brought back to life in a new and glorious way when the man Jesus returns to rule over the good and glorious time and place in the future.
  • The good and glorious time and place in the future will be the time and place when the genuine goodness and glory of the Creator is evident for all to see, and, because of the Creator’s mercy towards the human beings He has chosen, genuine goodness and glory will become a living reality in the lives of those who belong to Him and to His son Jesus.