LETTERS FROM THE GLOBAL PROVINCE
GP 4 January 2006: Domestic Bliss
Auld Lang Syne. 2006 was but a small interruption in a day filled with domestic pleasures. There was an outing for Hakka cuisine in the mid-afternoon, but all then hung close to the house. Repartee, crackling logs in the fireplace, some newfound Cajun music of Hadley Castille and the Sharecroppers, and movies at home carried the day.
Just minutes before midnight we fired up the TV and got ourselves to Times Square. No matter what else happens, the descent of the ball every year and the flush of cheer thereafter lightens every heart that takes it in:
The current version of the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball, designed by Waterford Crystal, made its first descent during the last minute of the 20th century, at the Times Square 2000 Celebration. The Ball is a geodesic sphere, six feet in diameter, and weighs approximately 1,070 pounds. It is covered with a total of 504 Waterford crystal triangles that vary in size and range in length from 4 inches to 5 inches per side.
After the ball has fallen, and the New Year begun, the torrent of confetti looks much like a snowstorm, leading to such a kinetic display that one is entirely sure something new and wonderful has begun.
Then, the trick is to quickly extinguish the TV, since none of the network chatterboxes are not up to their appointed tasks as New Year sentinels, their words trivializing the occasion. One must then complete the party with solitary flights of imagination. The mind summons up Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, who once was synonymous with New Year’s Eve. For years CBS piped his “Auld Lang Syne” from the Roosevelt Grill out to all the world, so that our New Year could be filled with a stream of memories from years gone by.
As well, one can mentally revert to the marvelous round-the-world-New-Year that PBS and ABC provided in 2000. They took us to celebrations in capital cities all about the globe, an exceptionally warm and colorful way of greeting the new millennium. That New Year was a stay-up-late occasion as one watched midnight arrive in metropolises located in distance time zones.
Back to The Thin Man. But just few minutes into 2006, we were back with The Thin Man. Warner Brothers, along with Turner, now has The Complete Thin Man Collection of six movies out on DVD. As well, there is an Alias Nick and Nora DVD that takes one through the careers of William Powell and Myrna Loy, the immortal stars of this series. Fortunately, Dennis Abboud’s Critic’s Choice Video, the Midwest firm that is the blockbuster in the home video business, rushed them to our doorstep in time for us to take in a little murder and the other comical antics that surround Nick and Nora Charles.
William Powell and Myrna Loy were the perfect screen couple—witty, in love, fun-loving, and, above all, debonair. Offscreen, they were simply good friends, not married like that other renowned theatrical couple, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. In fact, in their own lives, each had domestic troubles, as did Dashiell Hammett, the creator of The Thin Man and long-time consort of Lillian Hellmann. But we would be hardpressed to think of another onstage couple who communicated with such warmth, drank martinis with total élan, and danced the way one should at every New Year’s Eve. As Cole Porter would say, they were the tops. They brought the kind of gaiety and domestic gallantry to the New Year television never has discovered.
Home Entertainment. Once upon a time, back when cars had stick shifts, we ventured out for the New Year. But now, like everyone else, we have some version of a home entertainment center. Going out is too much work.
In this regard, one should read Edward Jay Epstein’s “Hollywood, the Remake,” Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2005, p.A10. Moviedom is disappearing behind closed doors. “By the late 1980s, even though the population had nearly doubled, annual ticket sales had fallen from 4.6 billion in 1948 to just over one billion.” “In 2005, the ticket sales from theaters will provide less than 15% of the studios’ revenues while home entertainment, in the form of free TV, Pay-TV, DVDs and videos provided more than 85%.” The biggest problem in all this, however, is that this has meant increased marketshare for the 6 major studios, and a precipitous decline of the independents where better, more adventurous, and more mature movies used to be created. Increasingly moviefare is a little dumb and targeted largely at adolescent minds.
The decline of mass audiences embracing all the variety and all the age groups that make up America and the rise of private homefare for many entertainments is an earthshaking economic event for the media-entertainment-cultural-institution industry. There’s erosion of museum audiences, just as many have gone badly into debt with extravagant building programs based on a hazy understanding of consumer entertainment markets. Many entertainment destinations have also raised their prices to unconscionable levels that are not supportable for the long term, especially since the promoters have not enhanced their products.
Back in the 1960s one could rattle off to Bill Graham’s Fillmore, and other such venues in San Francisco, easily find a place to park, buy an affordable ticket, and perhaps take in the Sopwith Camel or some other zany musical ensemble along side a few hundred people, a score of whom might be friends. It was all very easy, and it had about it a sense of community. Today, any performer of note feels obliged to perform for an audience numbering in the thousands, staging sturm und drang, apocalyptic happenings, where the attendees have no kinship with one another, just a hypnotic relationship with the frenetic performer on stage. It’s easy to stay at home. There are lots of mass occasions to be had out there, but very few classy affairs. On one’s own doorstep, it’s custom fare all the way. In one’s own capsule, entertainment is transformed into an intensely personal experience, not as gratifying as a community entertainment, but far more satisfying than the commodity repast dealt you through sound systems and light shows at giant coliseums.
A Woman for All Seasons. Nonetheless, there are still reasons to go to the movies. The incredibly prolific Judi Dench is out with Mrs. Henderson Presents, which is said to be a winner. This is an actress that can do about anything and does, from movies, to TV, to audiotapes; from Shakespeare to James Bond; from high adventuress to educated bourgeoisie.
When we want to reminded that TV was meant to be an agent of civilized progress, and not an addiction to numb the mind, we take in As Time Goes By, a long-running BBC comedy now in perpetual rerun. Here, like Myrna Loy and William Powell, we are given another perfect stage couple. Judi Dench is linked up with Geoffrey Palmer, the two playing Jean and Lionel. Once intended lovers, they restoke their romance, even though they had been apart some 38 years. In the United States, incidentally, Dench is best known for her part in this series, not for all her wonderful films.
The lessons here are many. Happy domestic comedies, of the past or the present, have a powerful hold on us, because that’s where our lives are centered. We are not creatures who find our real sustenance in amphitheaters watching spectacles. Dench herself apparently does not play for the masses, but for “a family” which has always been her real audience. Probably this is fundamental to her performance. John Lahr hints as much in “The Player Queen: The Reign of Judi Dench: Why Judi Dench Rules the Stage and Screen,” The New Yorker, January 21, 2002:
Whereas most stars seek a public to provide the attention they failed to get in childhood, Dench’s committment to the theatrical community is, she admits, an attempt to reproduce the endorsement and excitement of her first audience—her family. She claims not to be “good at my own company.” Rather, to understand her own identity she needs to be in the attentive gaze of others—when the psychologist D. W. Winnicott put it, “When I look I am seen, so I exist.” Dench is clear on this point. “I need somebody to reflect me back, or to give me their reflection,” she says. Ned Sherrin, who directed Dench and Williams in “Mr. and Mrs. Nobody” in 1986, says he was so aware of Dench’s need “to create a family with each show” that he added a couple of walk-ons to what was otherwise a two-person play.And if Dench is a model, or Shakespeare for that matter, media and entertainment companies that survive will be able to bridge across several media and encompass high culture and popular fare, never excluding one for the other. Shakespeare, after all, put on histories, comedies, tragedies, and tragicomedies. Dench is Queen and then just a housewife. The TV networks, and the movies, have been losing their audiences because they have lost the ability to speak to everyman and to find ways to make entertainment an easy experience.
Copyright 2005 GlobalProvince.com