Friday, March 23, 2018

Three Ways to Ignore Snow

Thumbing its nose at the equinox, yet another nor’easter dumped snow on NJ and much of the rest of Northeast on the first day of spring. Once again, home was the best place to be for a couple of days. Remarkably, my home didn’t lose power this time, so there were diversions of page, screen, and stereo available. Three are worth a mention:

The Golden Age of Wonder Woman, Volume 1 (2017 reprint of 1941-42 originals)
The success of the Wonder Woman movie last year starring Gal Gadot and the prominence of the character in other DC movies prompted me to return to the original comics from December 1941 through December 1942. Reprints of these are collected and available in a single affordable softcover from DC.

The creator of Wonder Woman was psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston who previously had written about the cultural propaganda potential (using “propaganda” in its literal noncensorious sense) of comic books. Recently there has been some interest in the entertainment media about Marston’s private life, but in the 1940s vice laws restricting the behavior of consenting adults were on the books and sporadically enforced, so Marston maintained a low profile at the time in all but his professional career. A self-styled feminist, he was fond enough of women to live polyamorously with two. He invented the polygraph lie detector, which puts the “lasso of truth” in perspective; he was into S&M and bondage which also puts the lasso of truth in perspective. Marston was very much in favor of shifting society toward the political dominance of women: “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”

The comics hold up remarkably well, making allowances for hefty doses of wartime propaganda and a far less PC culture. The plot of the 1975 TV-movie with Lynda Carter that served as a pilot for the Wonder Woman TV series is pretty close to that of the first few comic books including the side plots with the crooked theater agent (played by Red Buttons in ’75) and the Nazi spy (played by Stella Stevens in ’75); the TV-movie’s plot holes, such as how Wonder Woman becomes Diana Prince in military intelligence, are filled in the comics. The 2017 movie, though reset to World War One, also heavily borrows elements from the first year of Wonder Woman comics including the underlying conflict with Ares, usually called by the Roman name Mars in the comics. Steve Trevor, for whom Diana has a soft spot, is brave but a bit stupid in the comics; he is forever foolishly blundering into danger, getting knocked out, getting captured, and having to be rescued. The 1975 and 2017 movies both omit important recurring characters in the comics: Etta Candy and her sorority sisters at Holliday College who give Wonder Woman back-up when she needs more numbers for some undertaking. Not wanting to fall into a simplistic battle of the sexes, Marston made roughly half of the villains women, such as the brilliant but evil Baroness von Gunther and the monopolist Gloria Bullfinch.

All in all, it’s a lot of fun. Once again, make some allowances for its time, but Thumbs Up.

Wonder Wheel (2017)
Woody Allen’s 2017 drama set in the 1950s at Coney Island and starring Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, and Jim Belushi is now available on DVD. Justin Timberlake plays Mickey, a lifeguard with ambitions to be a playwright; he narrates the movie with a cadence much like Woody Allen’s own. Ginny (Kate Winslet) is a former actress and current clam-bar waitress married to the crude and flawed (but not evil) mechanic Humpty (Jim Belushi); each has a child from a previous relationship. Ginny’s young son loves setting fires and she is terrified he will hurt someone doing it. Humpty’s estranged adult daughter Caroline (Juno Temple) is in danger because she gave evidence against her gangster husband, someone she foolishly married at 20 because “I wanted more.”

The Triangle
All of the characters want more, as we all do, but for various reasons they know they are unlikely to get it. All that seems within their grasp is just getting by, if that. Ginny, acutely aware of her upcoming 40th birthday, especially feels her opportunities slipping away and begins an affair with Mickey, who takes it less seriously than she does. Trouble intensifies when Caroline returns home in order to hide from the mob and reconciles after a fashion with her father. To Ginny’s distress, Caroline catches the eye of Mickey. Ginny is then faced with a moral challenge when mobsters come looking for Caroline. What are the consequences if she simply neglects to warn her?

Setting the film in the 1950s was a good choice for this type of drama. In all times people posture as they present themselves to others, but in that decade most folks postured differently than today; they hid some things that we do and say openly while openly doing and saying some things that we hide. Ginny, for example, has no reticence at all about saying such things as “I’ve become consumed with jealousy!” The characters are aware of the tawdry melodrama of their lives. Humpty even complains about the “bad drama,” but much of human life really is bad drama.

A quick look at Rotten Tomatoes shows that I am in the minority in liking this film – not a fringe minority by any means, but a minority. I think the problem many viewers and critics have with this movie is that there are no transformations of character, no changes of fortune for the better, and no moral messages – except perhaps for the message that you can’t count on karma one way or the other. It all ends on a bleak note. Yet, that is Woody Allen’s vision of the world, and it’s arguably a sound one. The film might not be cheery, but the characters are very human and very relatable.

Thumbs Up, but be aware that most viewers find it too bleak.

Dorothy – 28 Days in the Valley (2018)
More than 20 years have passed since rock and roll was king but there are still plenty of loyalists both among fans and musicians. Nor is the genre solely the domain of aging rockers from the classic to grunge eras. New bands continue to form and win over young fans – as well as old ones like me. One top-notch newcomer is Dorothy, whose debut LP Rock is Dead was my favorite rock album of 2016. Their second LP 28 Days in the Valley is available this month on CD and for download.

The band is fronted by and named for Budapest-born Dorothy Martin whose raw strong vocals give the band its edge. Like the first album, this one is mostly blues-based power rock, though there is more variety in style this time from one song to the next with nods to psychedelia and to country. The closest number to pop is Flawless, and it isn’t very close; the eponymous 28 Days in the Valley is a soulful tune with a Western flavor; and We are Staars is garage band rock. Some tracks are more memorable than others, of course, but every one has at least something to recommend it.

Thumbs Up.

Dorothy – Flawless


  1. I didn't know about any of these. Well, I knew about WW but haven't read any of the early stuff. I was never really drawn to her as a character, however, I have a friend was a big fan. It wasn't that long ago where I'd watch the TV series. It's cheesy fun, but basically done pretty well. I just queued the Woody Allen.

    1. I haven’t perused any recent Wonder Woman comics, but the character’s origin piqued my inner historian (which is what my degree, at least, says I am). The 1940s were an interesting time culturally in the US. Gore Vidal insisted that the cultural changes in sex and other matters usually attributed to the 60s really took place in the 40s but then were temporarily swamped by a postwar backwash of conventionality. You can see evidence for that comparing the comics of the 40s with the late 50s.

      Woody’s pessimism doesn’t sit well with everyone even though he sometimes (not this time) turns it to comic effect. I think it works in this movie.

      Dorothy is just a good solid rock band. Of the two albums “Rock Is Dead” is better and definitely is the one to get if you’re getting only one, but the new one is pretty good, too.