Archive for February, 2021

Alfred Hitchcock in 1232 Words and my Favorite 15 Hitchcock Movies

February 25, 2021

Alfred Hitchcock is my all-time favorite movie director, and I have seen at least 30 of his movies–some multiple times.  I recently read an 800 page biography of Alfred Hitchcock.  For those interested in him but not interested enough to spend 6 weeks reading his biography, I put forth a synopsis of his life, then list my 15 favorite Hitchcock movies.

NPG x194278; Alma Reville; Patricia Hitchcock; Alfred Hitchcock - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery

Alfred Hitchcock with his wife, Alma, and his daughter, Pat.  Today, Pat is 92 years old.

Alfred Hitchcock was born during 1899 in London, England, a child of Catholic parents in a mostly Protestant country.  He was the youngest of 3 children, and his brother and sister were nearly a decade older than him.  His father owned a produce stand, but later took over a fish and chips shop, and the family lived on the 2nd story over the store.  Hitchcock didn’t have friends when he was a child, but instead would watch and observe other children playing.  He frequently attended plays and early silent movies, and by the time he was a teenager he was already reading movie trade publications.  He expressed the desire to become a nautical engineer and attended a technical school for a year.  Hitchcock was 15 years old when his father died of alcoholism.  Hitchcock’s brother took over the fish and chips shop, and Hitchcock got a job working for Henley’s Telegraph and Cable company as a sales clerk.  He was later promoted to the advertising department where he honed his design skills.  He also wrote for the company literary magazine, producing flash fiction notably Hitchcockian–suspenseful with humorous twist endings.  At the age of 21 Hitchcock took a job with Gainsborough Movie Productions writing the title cards for silent movies.  He was then promoted to art director.  Unfortunately, most of these early movies he worked on have been lost.

Hitchcock met his wife, Alma, while working for Gainsborough.  She was already working there when he was first hired.  He hired her when he became director of his first movie, a German film entitled Pleasure Garden. Alma was the love of his life and an important contributor for all of his movies.  She worked on screenplays, edited, and critiqued.  Hitchcock never had any long lasting affairs outside his marriage, but may or may not have gotten occasional blow jobs from actresses (perhaps even Ingrid Bergman).  It’s unclear whether these incidents ever happened.  Hitchcock often told dirty jokes just before filming an actress to put her at ease or to make her feel uncomfortable (whichever response he was trying to elicit for the role).  Most actresses thought this habit was funny, but a few didn’t like it.  Hitchcock likely would have gotten in trouble with the modern #metoo movement today, despite admittedly being incapable of sexual intercourse since the early 1940s due to his weight.  (Oral sex may have been the only sex act he could enjoy.)  Alma also had an unfulfilled love affair with a gay screenwriter.  But Hitchcock and his wife stayed together until the end and deeply cared about each other.

Hitchcock directed 5 movies for Gainsborough Pictures, then 11 for British International Pictures.  His first talking movie was Blackmail made in 1929.  Some British movie producers thought talking movies were just a fad, and one can see the influence making silent movies had on Hitchcock.  His most memorable scenes are visual and need no sound.  Examples include the shower scene from Psycho, the crop duster attack in North by Northwest, and the villain falling off the Statue of Liberty in The Saboteur. 

British International Pictures fired Hitchcock during 1932, and he freelanced Waltzes from Vienna in 1934 before being hired by Gaumont Pictures where he made 8 movies including some pretty good ones such as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes.  His final British movie was Jamaica Inn for Mayflower Pictures with Charles Loughton.

Hitchcock wanted to make movies in America.  In England the weather was bad, often delaying shooting, and British film companies were always in financial difficulty, verging on bankruptcy.  So he signed an insultingly low paying contract with David Selznick Productions, making $50,000 to make 2 movies per year–less than half of what mediocre American directors averaged at the time.  The Hitchcock family moved to California and became American citizens, and soon Hitchcock started making really good movies with fat American budgets and big name stars.

Five Things to Watch for in Vertigo – Facets Blog

Scene from Vertigo, my favorite Hitchcock movie.  He began his career during the era of silent movies, and his work always reflected that.  His most famous scenes are all visual.

SABOTEUR Deconstruction of a scene: The Statue of Liberty finale – Alfred Hitch-blog

Scene from The Saboteur of a man falling off the statue of liberty.

Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest and the art of the chase

Famous scene from North by Northwest of Cary Grant being chased by a crop duster.  Hitchcock’s movies didn’t always make logical sense.  Why didn’t the bad guys just have a man with a high powered rifle assassinate him?  I suppose that wouldn’t have been as interesting to watch.

The first American movie Hitchcock directed, Rebecca, won a best producer Oscar for David Selznick.  Selznick loaned Hitchcock out to RKO, Universal Productions, Skirball Productions, and 20th Century Fox; and Hitchcock made a string of critical and commercially successful movies.  He also returned to England for a while and made propaganda films for the British Ministry of Information during World War II. After the war he completed his contract with Selznick Productions by directing Spellbound and The Paradine Case.  The latter and his next 2 movies–Rope and Under Capricorn–were box office flops.  Hitchcock signed his next contract with Warner Brothers and made critical and commercially successful movies including Stage Fright, Strangers on a Train, and Dial M for Murder.  Hitchcock reached his creative zenith during the mid-1950’s through the early 1960’s, making his most famous films.  Rear Window was the 3rd best selling movie of 1954.  He followed this with some of the best movies he ever made–Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho.  

Hitchcock’s television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents made him a huge celebrity, and by now he was finally making big money.  He produced and hosted the show for a decade from 1955-1965.  During the early seasons he also directed 3-4 episodes a season, though by later years he was directing just 1-2 episodes per season.  But he chose the scripting, screenwriters, and actors for each episode.  The show, an anthology series focusing on unusual murders, was both humorous and suspenseful, and it was an instant hit with critics.  It remained popular and highly rated during its entire run, and the only reason the show ended was because Hitchcock’s health declined, and he no longer had the energy to make movies and produce a television show.

Later Hitchcock movies seem bloated, old-fashioned, and mediocre.  Marnie, Topaz, and Torn Curtain are nothing to get excited about.  But Hitchcock did make 1 really good movie in his later years–Frenzy (filmed in England for Universal Pictures).  Hitchcock’s last movie, The Family Plot, was released in 1976.  By this time Hitchcock was a wealthy man, the third largest stockholder of Universal Pictures.  However, he suffered from obesity and heavy drinking, and 1 day, despite no apparent illness, he went to bed and refused to get up or eat (unusual for a man who enjoyed 4 hour feasts).  He stayed in bed for weeks and died at the age of 80 during 1980–almost as if he willed himself to die.

The American Film Institute periodically ranks the top 100 movies of all time.  One year 4 Hitchcock movies made the top 10 with Psycho as number 1.  Here are my 15 favorite Hitchcock movies.

One: Vertigo–The plot is improbable.  A man afraid of heights fails to save the woman he loves when she falls from a great height.  But she’s not dead.  The man (played by Jimmy Stewart) finds a lookalike (or is it really her?  What?) and tries to dress her to look like his lost love.  I can’t really explain why I love this movie so much.  Perhaps, I admire the weirdness of it all.

Two: North by Northwest–Cary Grant escapes the bad guys by running into an auction where he starts making stupid bids, attracting a police escort to kick him out.  I crack up laughing every time I see this scene.  The movie has suspense, romance, and humor…like most Hitchcock movies.

Three: Rear Window–Jimmy Stewart, laid up with a broken leg, gets to play voyeur when he looks at the apartment building on the other side of the street.  He suspects a man has murdered his wife.  He has.

Four: Spellbound–Hitchcock didn’t think much of this movie, but I enjoy the psuedo-Psychiatry.

Five: Dial M for Murder–A tight screenplay with the twist of a murder plot gone wrong.

Six: Psycho–Hitchcock’s most famous movie.  A cultural icon.

Seven: The Saboteur–Unforgettable scene of the bad guy falling off the Statue of Liberty.

Eight: Foreign Correspondent–Trouble in a wind mill.

Nine: The Birds–Another cultural icon.  A many layered story, though Hitchcock denied there was any deeper meaning than birds going amok.

Ten: Frenzy–The usual blend of Hitchcock humor and suspense.

Eleven: Rebecca–A masterpiece.

Twelve: Shadow of a Doubt–This is Hitchcock’s personal favorite.  What do you do when you discover your favorite uncle is a serial killer?

Thirteen: Rope–2 gay dudes murder their friend for kicks.  Just to see if they can get away with it.  The movie was ahead of its time.

Fourteen: Lifeboat–Survivors of a sunk ship are trapped on a lifeboat with the Nazi submarine commander who just sunk the ship.  What could go wrong?

Fifteen: Notorious–The movie studio executives thought the concept of an atomic bomb was ridiculous and wanted to change the screenplay. A few months after the movie was released, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan.

Reference:

McGilligan, Patrick

Alfred Hitchcock: A life in darkness and light

Regan Books 2003

 

The Daytona Beach Bone Beds Fossil site

February 18, 2021

Most people vacationing in Daytona Beach want to see car racing, but if I went there, I’d rather go to the Museum of Arts and Sciences.  Specimens of a giant ground sloth (Eremotherium laurillardi) and a mastodon, both excavated from a nearby fossil site, are mounted there.  The fossiliferous layer where they originated exists 12 feet below ground near Reed Canal Park, and most of the fossils there are discovered by accident when construction crews bulldoze into the earth.  The almost complete skeleton of the giant ground sloth was discovered during 1975, and the mastodon was discovered more recently by James Zacharias, the former curator of the Museum of Arts and Sciences.

View from inside the Museum of Arts and Sciences at Daytona Beach, Florida.

This is the only mention I can find of the Daytona Beach Bone Beds in the scientific literature.  It’s about gompothere specimens found in Florida.  Gompotheres were a tropical elephant relative that expanded its range into Florida during the warmest of interglacial climate phases.  Page from the below referenced article.

Curiously, no scientific papers describe the site (as far as I can find), and there isn’t much about it in the scientific literature.  There are hundreds of fossil sites in Florida, and I suppose scientists think this is just another routine site in the state.  Perhaps, there just aren’t enough professional paleontologists to study all the sites in that state.  I found just 1 scientific paper that even mentions the Daytona Beach Bone Beds.  It’s an article in the middle of a really obscure journal.  The article describes the gompothere fossils found in Florida, and some of the specimens are from the Daytona Beach Bone Beds.  Gompotheres were a relative of elephants and had a similar appearance.  Unlike mastodons and mammoths, gompotheres did not have fur and were adapted to live in tropical climates.  They looked more like African and Asian elephants than mammoths and mastodons did, though mammoths were more closely related to present day elephants than either gompotheres or mastodons were.  Gompotheres expanded their range north during warm interglacials.  The presence of Eremotherium and gompothere, both tropical species, suggests the fossils were deposited at this site about 130,000 years ago during the Sangamonian Interglacial.  3 different kinds of elephant-like animals plus giant ground sloths inhabited the region during the same time.  How remarkable.  The site is thought to have formerly been a large river mouth similar to the present day St. John’s River.  One newspaper reports over 50 species of mammals have been excavated from the site.  From piecing together newspaper reports and information from the University of Florida Museum of Natural History database, I count 2 species of fish and 34 species of mammals.  Here is the list.  * denotes extinct species

Atlantic croaker

spotted seatrout

least shrew

Carolina shrew

eastern mole

red bat

*giant ground sloth (Eremotherium)

*Harlan’s ground sloth

*beautiful armadillo

*pampathere (a giant armadillo)

*glyptodont

*woodland vole (Microtus hibbardi)

Florida muskrat

cotton mouse

cotton rat

rice rat

woodrat

gopher

gray squirrel

southern flying squirrel

bog lemming

*capybara

cottontail rabbit

raccoon

bobcat

black bear

*Florida spectacled bear

bottlenose dolphin

*tapir

horse

*long-horned bison

*llama

white tailed deer

*gompothere

*mastodon

*mammoth

Reference:

Luoges, S; G. Morgan, J. Spielman, and D. Prothero

Neogene Mammals

New Mexico Museum of Natural History 44 2006

“Cuveronious (Mammalia: Proboscidea) from the Neogene of Florida”

 

Some Pleistocene caribou (Rangifer tarandus) Gorged on Seaweed

February 11, 2021

Seaweed is an healthy dietary supplement for ruminants (animals that chew their cud).  Sheep in Scotland, reindeer in Norway, and caribou living along the coast of Alaska eat seaweed that washes up on the shore.  However, seaweed is seldom more than 5% of their diet.  If a caribou or sheep eats too much seaweed, they ingest too much salt and suffer diarrhea. A diet of mostly seaweed is not optimal.

Scientists recently analyzed a 45,000 year old caribou antler found on Haida Gwaii Island located off the coast of British Columbia.  They determined through an analysis of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the amino acids that seaweed made up between 23%-41% of this individual’s diet.  The authors of this study think weather conditions forced this caribou into a suboptimal diet.  Normally, caribou feed upon birch and willow twigs and leaves, sedges, and mushrooms during summer; and lichen and dried sedges during winter.  They are capable of removing snow cover with their hooves, but they have difficulty breaking through icy snow when it covers their feeding grounds.  Apparently, icy snow covered this caribou’s prime feeding grounds, and it had to subsist on kelp washed on shore.  This caribou did live during a cold stage of the Wisconsinian Ice Age.

Image result for Haida Gwaii map

Map of Haida Gwaii Island, location of the 45,000 year old caribou specimen analyzed by scientists.  During the Ice Age the island was larger.  The coast of British Columbia and Alaska served as a glacial refuge for western caribou because most of their present day range was under glacial ice.  Caribou also roamed as far south as South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama during the Ice Age.

Image result for caribou eating seaweed

Svalbard reindeer feeding upon washed up kelp.  Reindeer are the same species as caribou.

Image result for caribou

North American caribou

Image result for kelp washed ashore

Kelp washing up on shore was an important item in the diet of at least 1 caribou 45,000 years ago.

Image result for Cladonia rangerfina

Cladonia rangerfina–a lichen.  This is a common winter food for caribou over much of their range.  Lichen are a symbiotic organism–a fungus with algae and/or cyannobacteria living in it.

Caribou roamed far down the eastern seaboard during the Ice Age.  Caribou fossils have been found as far south as Charleston, South Carolina, and their bones are often dredged up in fishing nets off the coast of North Carolina.  Caribou bones have also been excavated from caves in north Alabama and north Georgia.  Caribou probably migrated seasonally in eastern North America, and the route of some herds likely included an area along the Atlantic Coast that is now ocean but was dry land during the Ice Age.  I wonder if eastern caribou some times ate seaweed as well.  There are specimens that scientists could study to answer this question.

I also wonder what else caribou ate when they lived farther south during the Ice Age.  Lichen is a present day favorite food, and there are 17,000 different species of lichen worldwide.  Lichens are symbiotic organisms consisting of a fungus with algae and/or cyannobacteria.  The fungus gets nutrients from the woody or rocky substrate but also gets nutrients from the photosynthesis of the algae or cyannobacteria.  Nevertheless, I don’t think lichen was an important food source for eastern Ice Age caribou.  There were probably better quality foods available in the richer woodlands and grasslands of the east.

Reference:

Kubiak, C; R. Mathewes, J. Grimes, G. Biesen, and M. Rochester

“Evidence of a Significant Marine Plant Diet in a Pleistocene Caribou from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia”

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, and Palaeoecology 564 Feb 2021

We Live in a World of Whining Woke and Unwoke wimps

February 4, 2021

Stacey Abrams among 2021 Nobel Peace Prize nominees

Stacy Abrams.  She is my hero.  Her voter registration drive delivered Georgia’s electoral votes to Joe Biden.  Sensible African-American women saved democracy in the U.S. for now.

African-American women saved democracy in the United States this past election, and at least delayed the Republican attempts to end the democratic vote for President by 4 years.  If it was up to white voters, an Adolf Hitler wannabe would still be President.  The majority of white voters still supported a corrupt racist rapist who after losing the election attempted the violent takeover of the U.S. government.  It was the overwhelming vote of sensible African-American women who put Joe Biden over the top, not the whining woke wimps who declined to support him because he voted for tough-on-crime legislation 30 years ago.  Woke wimps whine about how mass incarceration is racist, but this is ridiculous revisionist history.  I lived during the time period when this legislation was passed, and I worked in low income neighborhoods where the violent crime rate was high.  I was a route manager for a newspaper circulation department, and I had to deliver newspapers in neighborhoods the carriers were afraid to go into.  Gangbangers carrying Uzi machine guns hung around the corners, and they wanted to sell me crack when I delivered the papers.  Pregnant drug addicted prostitutes offered sex.  I often heard gunshots.  People who lived in these neighborhoods were scared.  So when gangbangers started serving long prison sentences, the violent crime rate went way down, and the people who lived in these neighborhoods were glad.  Now, on Twitter, the drug laws are considered racist.  No, they were not.  Suburban white cokeheads weren’t the ones firing machine guns into people’s homes during stupid turf wars.  Most people in those neighborhoods remember what it was really like, and they voted for Biden almost unanimously.

Woke wimps whining about “white privilege” didn’t win the 2020 election either.  There is nothing lamer than a white liberal (and I am a white liberal) whining about the evils of “white privilege.”  I acknowledge discrimination against black people and their unequal treatment under the law is still a serious problem, and of course alleged discrimination against white people is not even remotely comparable.  But use of the term “white privilege” is in itself offensively racist.  The term stokes resentment against a group of people because of their race.  This is the very definition of racism.  At best the term is unhelpful.  Try telling a poor white person in West Virginia they are privileged, and they will laugh you out of their house.

Woke wimps often whine about “toxic masculinity.”  Men are now considered poison.  Associating the word toxic with masculinity suggests there is something inherently wrong with being a man.  I took issue with the use of this term on Twitter, and a scientist insulted my intelligence by referring me to an online definition that stated “toxic masculinity” applied to men who abuse woman, not all men (like I didn’t know what woke wimps mean when they spout the stupid phrase).  She is wrong and the definition is nonsense.  There is nothing masculine about a man who abuses women.  Linking the word toxic to masculinity is an insult to all men because it implies there is something abusive in our nature.

She must have suffered a “microaggression” when I disagreed with the use of the phrase “toxic masculinity” because she blocked me on Twitter and stopped following my blog.  “Microaggression” is a word woke wimps use, if they experience a perceived slight and get their feelings hurt.  Woke wimps don’t like “boomers” (people born between 1946-1973) because we don’t buy their politically correct Twitter vernacular (in other words horse shit).  A “boomer” telling the truth to a “woke wimp” is guilty of a “microaggression.”  Hey, if the word micro is attached to a word, it means it is minor and not important.  Quit acting butthurt and get over it.

There are plenty of unwoke wimps who can’t endure “microaggressions” either.  Trumpanzees unfriend my wife and I on Facebook, if we dare criticize their demi-God.  Trumpanzees are so brainwashed they worship Trump and act like he is some kind of deity.  This cult of the brainwashed reminds me of the German people before and during World War II when “Heil Hitler” replaced the words “Hello” and “Goodbye.”  Now instead of free thought, all they can do is shout out “Fake News” and “Make America Great Again” and “Build that Wall.”  Trying to engage them in a rational conversation is like talking to a mud puddle.

Another group of whining unwoke wimps call themselves “incel,” meaning involuntary celibate.  Good grief!  These sexist assholes whine about how they can’t get laid, and they blame women.  I want to tell them they should try and improve their social skills.  When I was in my 20s I had a hard time getting laid–maybe because I was a short nerdy dude with low self-esteem–but I never joined a woman-hating club of losers.  I blamed myself and worked on my social skills and eventually did get laid.  Today, there is no reason to be a bitter woman-hating loser.  A man can have virtual sex with the most beautiful women in the world to their liking for $1 a minute.  (See http://www.manyvids.com ) It may not be as good as the real thing, but it is a nice substitute.  If virtual internet sex had existed when I was their age, I would have never gotten off the computer.  Some of these nice enterprising ladies even offer the girlfriend experience.  I’ve been married for 27 years, and I don’t need this–if I want the girlfriend experience I can get off the computer, go in the other room, and get in an argument with my wife–but some of these “incel” losers could use it.  Their social skills might improve, and they might really get laid.

Last week, I wrote about our evolutionary ancestor–Heidelberg man.  It’s hard not to see the contrast between Heidelberg man and modern day woke and unwoke wimps.  Heidelberg man was probably satisfied with a full belly of whatever roots or dead meat they could find, a little stone or wood shelter, and raggedy furs to wrap around themselves and keep warm.  Modern day wimps can have just about anything they want at the tips of their fingers when they go on the internet.  Instead of being happy, they go ape shit when a 20 year old video of a celebrity making a politically incorrect comment is discovered.  Brainwashed idiots, incapable of critical thinking, storm the capitol because the sore loser they voted for conned them into an insurrection.  Don’t let anybody tell you economics had anything to do with the insurrection.  These unpatriotic fascists were able to afford to take time off work and travel across the country and participate in an hysterical temper tantrum that will end up forcing many to serve long prison sentences.  They could have stayed at home, got drunk on wine ordered from the finest vineyards, consumed edible THC, ordered home-delivered pizza on a phone app, and had virtual sex with a woman who measured 40-30-40.  What would Heidelberg man do?