Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

We just watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tonight. It was a lot of fun and the kids enjoyed it. We've been kind of obsessed with it in our house for a while because it was one of the free offered DVDs from Kellogg's cereal. We had to collect five proofs of purchase and every time we finished a box, we would talk about getting Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

In the midst of this cereal box collecting, I got the original book from the libary. The book is by Ian Fleming, of James Bond fame, and like the Bond books, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is filled with marvelous inventions, groan inducing punning names and, well, not so hot writing. It's fine, but it's kind of dry and not really very compelling except for exciting plot points (a car that flies! a cave that opens up into a hideout!).

The book was a bit of a shock to me, because I remember the movie as being full of weird castles and scary child-catchers, geek dads and missing mothers-- in short, being more like a Roald Dahl book than an Ian Fleming book. Well, as it turns out, the movie's screenplay was written by Dahl (and the director, Ken Hughes).

What was also suprising is that most of what I remember of the movie is just the last 40 minutes -- the car becomes a boat, flies, they go to a weird country where children are outlawed and the adults have to pretend to be toys to be let into the castle.

The first hour and a half of the movie concerns the whistling candies, a failed contraption at a fair, meeting the love interest, Truly Scrumptious, and "grandpa" making his daily trip to the outhouse ("I'm off to India!"). There are also lots and lots of songs. I remembered title song and "You are my oochy coochy little teddy bear" but not much else.

A note on Truly Scrumptious: the actress was Sally Ann Howes. According to the IMDB, she replaced Julie Andrews in "My Fair Lady" on Broadway and even earned a higher salary than Andrews!

The songs in the movie were written by the Sherman Brothers, Richard and Robert. They wrote lots of songs for Disney, including the songs from The Jungle Book, Mary Poppins and "It's a Small World." Apparently there is a documentary out now about the Sherman Brothers, called "The Boys."

Well, the kids liked the movie (they've yet to dislike a movie) although Mari closed her eyes when Dick van Dyke and Sally Howes kissed and Austin thought it was boring when she was singing about love. We strongly reminded them that this was all made up and that there is no country where children are outlawed. Hopefully, they won't be scarred the way we were (Julie mentioned afterwards that she remembered the child-catcher scene lasting forever and being much scarier than it did tonight. I remembered it the same way she did).

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came out in 1968 and watching it, I felt like I was watching a pre-cursor to Wallace and Gromit (similar breakfast making machine) as well as a proto-version of the robot when Truly Scrumptious pretends to be a doll.

Here's Richard Sherman playing his title song from the movie for an audience of toddlers:

And, just because Mark Evanier posted it recently on his awesome website, here's some random Japanese celebrities singing the song (the Sherman link was from Evanier, too) [just the latest in my constant reminders that I will never understand Japanese culture]:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Form letter post-mortem

After sending out a form letter about our move and our past year, I noticed a few things.

One is, a bunch of people looked up our address on Google Maps and commented on the neighborhood and the lot. Also, all the people who did this live in the SF Bay Area.

Second, even though I don't feel that old, in going through my address book, I saw quite a few names of friends who are deceased. This is not counting people who were in their 60s or 70s when I met them. At least three or four people died at my current age or younger.

Third, quite a few people asked about pictures of the new place. I didn't want to include attachments to the form letter, so I'll post some here. I just took these this week of the backyard. Give us some time to fix up the house and paint and we'll post pictures of the house then. But meanwhile, some pictures of the yard (we added no plantings; these are all perennials):

The raspberry patch with the neighbor's cherry tree petals all over it.

Luscious ferns along the path.

Our roomy lawn. Kids are by a little water feature and fountain in the middle there.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Personal vs. Political

Yesterday, Ross Douthat, the new conservative voice on the Times Op-ed page wrote an article about Obama's positions on gay marriage and abortion. Part of his thesis is that demographic trends favor gay marriage so if Obama waits long enough, it won't be hard to legalize gay marriage and he contrasts this with polling trends that suggest that more young Americans (under 35) call themselves pro-life rather than pro-choice.

The trouble, I think, is that young Americans (under 35) are dumb. Or rather, they don't seem to know the difference between policy and personal choice. Case in point: Meghan McCain. Here's a recent article she wrote about GOP platforms. In it, she claims to be pro-life (presumably because she would never choose to have an abortion) but insistst that if she became pregnant she and her family should be allowed to make that choice. I have a feeling that many people feel the same way: I should have the choice to be "pro-life;" this is a pro-choice position.

(And ultimately what they mean is, "I can't imagine, right now, a situation in which I would have an abortion." However, imaginations are limited.)

If polling matters (and it does for politicians), the pro-choice groups should create advertising that clarifies this position.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chile photos

I'm finally posting some photos from Chile. They are more or less randomly selected.

Amy and Julie at a cafe in Vina del Mar. Turns out the chef worked on Martha's Vineyard for years.

John and I got Chilean hats.

The cousins. This is at a little fishing village on Chiloe Island.

Mari flying. There was a trampoline at the cabanas where we spent Christmas.


Christmas day with a volcano in the background. We were on our way to go swimming.

Austin in front of the world's largest pool.

View from the volcano.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

What Julie Always Says

She says that the most realistic medical show on television is Scrubs. A Slate piece explains.

(If I had known this was of interest to the world, I would have pitched the idea to Slate long ago!)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Guitar humor

As I bludgeon my way through guitar books, I find the dots very helpful. Therefore, I find this video very funny:

If you're not amused after the first surprise guest (2:35 or so) don't bother with the rest.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Papa Married a Mormon

Papa Married a Mormon Papa Married a Mormon by John Dennis Fitzgerald

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have been obsessed with John D. Fitzgerald lately, but I think I may have found some closure after reading Papa Married a Mormon, his book about life in the Utah territories before and after statehood. It’s both the adult version and an antidote to the Great Brain books.

Fitzgerald was, of course, the author of several Great Brain books for children and the eponymous narrator of the books, J.D. Papa Married a Mormon is presented as fiction, but based on life. The Foreward describes the author’s promise to his mother that he will write the true story of the west, through tales of his family. There are even photographs of the family in the book.

A book like this published today could be a post-modern pastiche, like Kinky Friedman’s detective novels or J.G. Ballard’s Crash, both of which use the author’s name for the protagonist. This would be pretty unlikely in 1955 when the book was published, however. The novel is romantic and sentimental, seeing the goodness is nearly every character, but it is never boring. It also serves as the template for the Great Brain books that would come a decade later.

The same characters are there. Mama and Papa, of course, and older brothers Sweyn and Tom. Aunt Bertha, who wasn’t really their aunt, and Uncle Mark and Aunt Cathie also figure prominently. Even J.D.’s dog Brownie has a chapter devoted to him, although in this book he’s involved in a vicious dogfight. Older sister Katie is never mentioned in the Great Brain books, however.

Also missing in the Great Brain books is the looming presence of Will D. Fitzgerald. It’s clear why he isn’t in a children’s book. He’s Al Swearengen as embodied by Ian McShane on Deadwood – a nasty man who wins a saloon on a poker hand well aware that to make the deal conclusive, he’ll have to kill the previous owner. He takes a dancing girl named Queenie for a mistress and his personality has such gravity that the mining town of Silverlode seems to revolve around his Whitehorse Saloon.

Will also happens to be the explanation to a question I’ve had with every Great Brain book? Why did Tom Fitzgerald, patriarch of the family, come west? According to Papa, he came to fulfill a deathbed promise to his mother to watch over Will, the black sheep of the family.

The Great Brain books always include a paragraph within the first chapter that breaks down the religious demographics of the town of Adenville. Papa goes further and describes all the conflicts and intolerance that goes with religion, although, true to form, everyone learns that God is love and why would He be opposed to interfaith marriage or learning from one another?

Another question I have about the Great Brain is, who is Mark Trainor? J.D. calls him Uncle, but how were they related? In Papa, Trainor is the son of a Mormon bishop who loves his childhood friend, Tena Neilsen. When he realizes that she loves a Catholic, Tom Fitzgerald, Trainor is honorable enough to help them elope. His only admonition to Fitzgerald: “I’ll kill you if you ever hurt Tena or bring her any unhappiness.” The response: “I’d want it that way, Mark.” Later in the book, Mark marries Tom’s sister Cathie, another interfaith marriage.

The kids don’t really come into the story until more than half way, but then we find characters like “Dirty” Dawson. He seems to be the basis for “Britches” Dottie, the girl the Great Brain encourages to go to school, as well as Frankie Pennyworth, the orphaned boy the Fitzgeralds take in. In Papa, Dawson is being raised by his father, who drinks himself to death to forget the death of his wife.

And of course, there’s Tom. Even in this first novel, he refers to his Great Brain, although the schemes described tend to end with Tom’s punishment (although his father, Uncle Will and Mark often get a good laugh out of the mischief). I was surprised that Tom decides to reject Catholicism and become a Mormon. He goes on a mission to China and eventually marries Bishop Aden’s daughter. Not the ending I had imagined for the Great Brain!

Papa Married a Mormon is not a novel of ideas, but it is an entertaining yarn. And as an adjunct to the Great Brain books, it serves to fill out a picture of life in the old West.

View all my reviews.