‘Tis The Season for Warm Fuzzies! …and a couple of Capra Classics.

Tis the season for family, friends, and lots of warm fuzzies. But like almost everyone else I know, I haven’t been feeling very warm or fuzzy lately. So, when the warm glow of the season starts to sputter and dim, I do what any self respecting sentimental cinephile does. I turn to classic Hollywood.

When it comes to classic Hollywood, no one did warm and fuzzy quite like Frank Capra.

Ask anyone for a list of their favorite holiday movies and somewhere on the list you’ll probably find Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for most of your life, It’s a Wonderful Life is the 1946 Frank Capra classic, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore, and a cast of Hollywood mainstays. It’s explained by IMDB as “An angel (Clarence, played by Henry Travers) helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman, George Bailey (Stewart), by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.

While watching ‘Wonderful Life’ for the umteen-hundredth time the other night, I couldn’t help a despairing feeling that bank CEOs apparently haven’t changed since 1946. Lionel Barrymore’s Mr Potter could very well be the CEO of Citi Group or Goldman Sachs.

‘Wonderful Life’ is an excellent movie with a superb cast but I always feel a little sad for George Bailey. He dreams of someday seeing the world but spends his entire life being the responsible citizen, putting the needs and wants of others ahead of himself. Indeed, if uncle Billy hadn’t been so careless George might not have considered such desperate measures. The extreme nature of George’s crisis is probably what makes the ending so effective. It’s why we root for George Bailey. He’s our ‘everyman’ who fights the system and wins.

george-bailey


Trivia: Thomas Mitchell (Wonderful Life’s Uncle Billy) plays Judge Henry Blake in Pocketful of Miracles


On the other end of the spectrum is Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961) which, in my humble opinion, because of it’s bright view of the world and almost absurd optimism, is a better representation of the spirit of the season.

In Miracles, gangster Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) and his girlfriend Queenie (Hope Lange) try to turn pan handler Apple Annie (Bette Davis) into a society dame when they learn that Annie’s daughter (Ann-Margret) is coming to visit from Spain with her fiance, a royal. The storyline is convoluted and far-fetched but it hits all the right bells and whistles.

What appeals to me about Pocketful of Miracles is it’s charm. Unlike the seriousness of It’s a Wonderful Life, Pocketful of Miracles is utter nonsense. It’s how we wish the real world worked. It’s a sickeningly sweet saccharine saga full of hope and improbable expectations and I love every single minute of it!

large_pocketful_of_miracles_02_blu-ray_So, whether you’re a George Bailey or an Apple Annie, I want to wish everyone a Happy and Joyous Holiday!

May 2015 bring Peace, Love, Happiness, and Good Health to all.

The Wanamaker…er…Macy’s Christmas Light Show

Macy_'s AdIt’s that time of year again…

Walk into Macy’s at 13th and Market Streets (formerly John Wanamaker’s department store) from November 28 through December 31 and you’ll see crowds of people standing in the grand court staring upward at the now famous Christmas Light Show.

Yes, that’s Julie Andrews you hear.

I remember seeing the original show for the first time as a child. I could not have been more than 3 or 4 years old. The happy music, blinking lights and dancing water fountain seemed like magic to me. My grandmother then took me a few blocks east to Gimbel’s department store for a walk through the Christmas village and ultimately, a visit with Santa Claus.

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Christmas 1967 (I was two)

I thought it would be interesting to compare the Wanamaker’s and Macy’s productions. While I like the updated version, I do miss the dancing water fountains.

The original John Wanamaker’s Christmas Light Show (archival recording 1983)

The Philadelphia John Wanamaker’s department store premiered their iconic Christmas Light Show in 1955. The show, a large music and light display several stories high, is viewable from several levels of the Philadelphia landmark. Its popularity as a holiday destination for tourists and locals alike ensured a continuous run, even after the building changed ownership from Wanamaker’s to Lord & Taylor, and now Macy’s. The show was narrated for decades by Philadelphia’s own John Facenda, locally known for reporting the news on radio and television, as well as nationally as the voice of NFL Films. Various announcers narrated the show between 1995 and 2005. Beginning in 2006, under Macy’s, Julie Andrews became the show’s narrator.

In 2007, the entire Christmas Light Show was completely modernized and rebuilt by Macy’s Parade Studio on new trusses with lighter materials and LED lighting. In 2008, a new and bigger Magic Christmas Tree with LED lights debuted. However, due to safety concerns and logistical issues, the dancing water fountains were retired and will not return.


 

John Wanamaker Christmas Show from the 1980’s.



 

The Updated Macy’s Christmas Light Show (2013)

“The updated holiday show, titled “Christmas Pageant of Lights,” features narration by the actress Julie Andrews” –  via hdampf007

According to Friends of the Wanamaker Organ at Macy’s website, the light show program is as follows…

Greg Sonsini has compiled a list below of music used in the Light Show. Help is requested in finding the artists of those works not yet identified. Please e-mail us at execdirec@wanamakerorgan.com if you can add details.

  1. Opening fanfare during John Facenda’s/Julie Andrews’ introduction: Provenance unknown.
  2. Selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite-specifically “Overture,” “Waltz of the Flowers,” and “Closing Waltz,” played during the Nutcracker storyline. Album unknown.
  3. “In The Clock Store” by Charles Orth (1893), which is played during the Clock segment.  The version used in the Light Show comes from an album titled “The Sound Of Musical Pictures” (1960).  It was arranged by Ralph Hermann and played by the Medallion Concert Band. Walt Disney adapted the piece for one of his Silly Symphonies in 1931. You may here it on YouTube here.
  4. “Alpine Sleigh Ride” by Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra, played during the Snowflake sequence.
  5. “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” by the Ray Conniff Singers.
  6. “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms, later replaced by “The Rudi Bear Song” (part of a Teddy Bear promotion), played during the candy cane, toy soldier and toy drum segment.
  7. “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” by an unknown artist played during the Santa Express Train segment.
  8. “Frosty the Snowman,” by the Ray Conniff Singers.
  9. A snippet of “So Long, Farewell” from “The Sound of Music” movie soundtrack, played during the fading of the snowmen.
  10. “O Tannenbaum” by the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra played during the final lighting of the entire board. This was replaced in 1988 by “Deck the Halls” by an artist that I have not been able to identify. The arrangement is by Carmen Dragon and has been adopted for the Wanamaker Organ (with grateful assistance from Mr. Dragon’s daughter) by Peter Richard Conte.

 

Christmas ButtFor more information, see the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ website.

You can find some interesting archival photos from Temple University

Also visit U Wish U NU

 

 

Isn’t it sad how Americans forget our own history?

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Most American over twenty years old were old enough to understand the fear and anxiety that followed the terror attacks on that Tuesday morning in September of 2011. I remember a feeling of unreal disconnect. I’ve written about the eerie silence of that day. The lack of air traffic overhead. People walking in stunned silence. The entire country in uncertain fear. Most reasonable Americans, though reeling with disbelief and shock, wanted justice not revenge. President Bush’s response wasn’t perfect, but it was strong and reassuring. When Mr Bush sent troops to Afghanistan, I was behind him. Our nation was behind him. Then, under suspicion of weapons of mass destruction, we invaded Iraq. It was a diversion from our original directive. Our leaders took advantage of the confusion and anger of the American people. We were duped.

This was the moment in American history when things changed. This was when the NSA was given carte blanche. This was when we traded our constitutional freedoms for the illusion of security. This was the shameful moment, the first time in American history, when the barbaric act of torture and revenge was seen as just another unfortunate fact of life, like the a sudden rainstorm catching you without an umbrella or getting mud on your new shoes. Sure, it’s unpleasant to think about but I’ve got troubles of my own. I forgot to set my TIVO to record Will and Grace! Stan died having sex with his mistress. Will Karen be left penniless?

To be fair, we lied to ourselves. We didn’t call it torture. We called it EIT, or Enhances Interrogation Techniques. Doesn’t sound so bad. If water boarding is simply an enhanced interrogation technique, why did we execute the Japanese for war crimes after WWII for doing it?

Don’t lie that the US is a country based on Judeo Christian ideals when evidence proves otherwise.

I’m not a very religious person but I still believe in treating others with the respect and care that I wish to be treated.

Mark 12:31 “…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”

Leviticus 19:18 “…but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…”

Exodus 20:16 “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”

Ephesians 4:25 “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.”

John 15:34-35 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

Mathew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Luke 6:31 “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

Proverbs 10:9 “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.”

Leviticus 19:9-10 ““When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner…”

I included that last one from Leviticus because I wanted to show that people who use Leviticus as an argument against homosexuals haven’t read Leviticus, or the Bible, fully. If they had they would know that Leviticus is a rule book for the priests who were in charge of caring for the ark of the covenant. This passage from Leviticus is about not being so selfish that you forget the less fortunate around you.

As stated at the beginning of this post, I’m not a very religious person. I don’t believe legislation should be based on any particular religious doctrine. I do believe in common decency. But when people claim the United States is founded on a Judeo Christian ideal, they are more interested in pushing an agenda than helping their fellow man. If the US was truly based on those ideals, racism wouldn’t be an issue, cops wouldn’t kill unarmed young men, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Supporting the Ferguson Protesters Does Not Mean You Are Against Police.

There’s a ridiculous notion that because you support protesters and stand up for justice that somehow you can’t also support police and law enforcement.

I’m referring, of course, to the ridiculous controversy over the St. Louis Rams showing solidarity with the Ferguson community.

tumblr_nfy4h8xcyu1s9kglto1_1280Personally, I think an apology from the Rams is unnecessary. The fact that their act is so controversial shows there is still a race problem in the United States. I find it absurd. The team’s “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” protest didn’t take anything away from anyone. It caused no harm. If anything, it shows awareness of, and support for, fans.

Just because I believe police officers must be held accountable for misdeeds doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that most cops are basically good. Law enforcement is a difficult and thankless job. We demand a lot from cops. We expect them to arrive the minute we call, but then jump on the entire force when one goes rogue. It doesn’t help that the bad cops get all the press. I’ve encountered good and bad cops on both sides of the law. Yes. I was arrested once, during an ACT-UP protest against Bush Sr. One of my arresting officers was unnecessarily violent. — but I digress. I can support law enforcement’s efforts to keep crime at bay and still stand in solidarity with Ferguson protesters. It’s not an either/or scenario. Which brings me to another issue.

There is a difference between protesters and looters. I fully support the Ferguson protesters. Though I completely understand the anger that led to vandalizing and looting, I don’t condone it. Neither do the residents and protesters of Ferguson. So let’s not lump protesters and vandals together.

#WAD2014 – #Reagan, #AIDS, and ACT-UP

For those of you who don’t understand why I dislike Reagan so much, here’s a poster from 1987 protesting our president’s silence on the deadliest virus that America had seen.

AIDSGATE, 1987, posterThink about that for a minute. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were sick and dying, and the American president was silent!

Ronald Reagan’s silence led to the organizing of LGBT protest/action group, The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or “ACT-UP”. Their slogan, “Silence = Death” is based on Reagan’s silence.

AIDSIntroPicSilenceDeathSo the next time a conservative talks about how great a president Reagan was, ask them if they think it’s okay for an American president to ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Ask them if they ever wonder how much closer we might be to finding a cure for HIV had Reagan actually done something.

If it sounds like I’m angry it’s because I AM angry. A whole generation of gay men from artists, writers, athletes, and teachers to doctors, lawyers, friends, lovers, and family, an entire generation was lost because of the callous attitude of Ronald Reagan and his successor, George HW Bush. Those of us who survived watched the ones we loved die all around us.

Gran Fury, The Government Has Blood On Its Hands, 1988, posterBoth Ronnie and Georgie Sr have blood on their hands.

I am dedicating World Aids Day 2014 to the fighters, the people who stand up for justice. From ACT-UP to protesters in Ferguson, we are all fighting for our lives. Never stop fighting. Sometimes shouting is the only way we’re heard.