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Monty Python

And now for something completely different

May 11, 2021

May 11, 1969 was one of the most important days in television, nay, world history. Why, you might ask? It was on that day when the British sketch comedy show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, was launched.

The name of the show alone is nonsensical. But then again, pretty much everything they did over the years bordered on the ridiculous.

That said, Monty Python forever changed the face of sketch comedy, stretching the boundaries of good taste and was, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, “an important moment in the evolution of television comedy.”

Python was the brainchild of six writers, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. The fact that they were writers – and not actors or stand up comedians – provided the environment needed for their unpolished, fly by the seat of their pants, style of comedy.

Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“…Jones remembered an animation Gilliam had created for Do Not Adjust Your Set called ‘Beware of the Elephants,’ which had intrigued him with its stream-of-consciousness style. Jones felt it would be a good concept to apply to the series: allowing sketches to blend into one another. Palin had been equally fascinated by another of Gilliam’s efforts, entitled ‘Christmas Cards,’ and agreed that it represented ‘a way of doing things differently.’ Since Cleese, Chapman, and Idle were less concerned with the overall flow of the programme, Jones, Palin, and Gilliam became largely responsible for the presentation style of the Flying Circus series, in which disparate sketches are linked to give each episode the appearance of a single stream-of-consciousness… (snip)

Writing started at 9 am and finished at 5 pm. Typically, Cleese and Chapman worked as one pair isolated from the others, as did Jones and Palin, while Idle wrote alone. After a few days, they would join together with Gilliam, critique their scripts, and exchange ideas. Their approach to writing was democratic. If the majority found an idea humorous, it was included in the show. The casting of roles for the sketches was a similarly unselfish process, since each member viewed himself primarily as a ‘writer,’ rather than an actor eager for screen time. When the themes for sketches were chosen, Gilliam had a free hand in bridging them with animations, using a camera, scissors, and airbrush.”

In the four years the comedy show aired in Britain it became a cultural phenomenon. It was exported to the United States after season two, airing on PBS. Americans loved the British humor and embraced not only the TV show, but the multiple movies produced by the group.

In the late 70’s I saw my first Python movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, at a drive in movie. I’m a terrible drive in movie goer because, for some reason, I always tend to fall asleep at some point. My date could not understand how I could do that since he was laughing through the whole thing. Eventually I saw the movie again in later years and appreciated the humor of Knights that say “Ni”, the encounter with the Black Knight who loses limb after limb, the killer bunny and, of course, the ridiculous question as to the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. The entire movie was irreverent and poked great fun at the Arthurian legend.

By the time my son was in junior high, I had introduced him to the comedy of Alan Sherman, and he also like Weird Al Yankovic. So for his birthday that year the hubby and I got him the complete Monty Python Flying Circus on DVD.

We had hit the Holy Grail of perfect gifts. Most days after school he would pop one of the DVD’s into the player and he and his sister would watch the shows. Soon laughter erupted from the family room and Python sayings were quoted at the dinner table. My kids learned how to walk silly, and imitate the voice and mannerism of a ‘Gumby’ who believes in peace and smashing bricks together. Randomly, someone might declare “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

The son invited his friends over to watch Monty Python, playing favorite sketches over and over. We felt responsible for introducing the irreverence to a new generation. The kids loved it and I never got complaints from other parents.

Like all things, his obsession eventually passed, but the enjoyment continues on. Occasionally, one of us will find ourselves quoting MP and it always brings out a smile.

This video covers 10 of the most memorable sketches. But, truly, you could spend all afternoon on YouTube going from one to the next and not run out of material.

The Infallible Wikipedia article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Python

The Sound of Music

I’ll Sing Once More

May 4, 2021

The 1965 promotional poster

When this film was released in the spring of 1965, I wonder if its creators ever dreamed of the incredible impact it would have on the world.

The Sound of Music was the number one film of that year and spent 29 of 52 weeks at the top of the box office lists; its popularity continued into 1966. In all, it was in the premier slot for a total of 40 weeks and became the highest grossing film of all time – a distinction it held for five years.

Frankly, one would have to have lived in a technology devoid place for their entire life to never have heard of the film.

It began life as a Broadway Musical in 1959 before it was adapted for the silver screen. The story was based on an autobiographical book by Maria Von Trapp who, along with her family, escaped Austria just as WWII was about to begin. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“Based on the 1949 memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp, the film is about a young Austrian postulant in Salzburg, Austria, in 1938 who is sent to the villa of a retired naval officer and widower to be governess to his seven children. After bringing love and music into the lives of the family, she marries the officer and, together with the children, finds a way to survive the loss of their homeland to the Nazis.”

The movie is first and foremost a love story

What sets the movie apart is a combination of elements. The story line has so many great themes: two different love stories. Maria and the Captain, of course, but also 16 year old Lisle and the confused Nazi youth, Rolf. There are gut-wrenching decisions to be made as the Von Trapp’s plot their escape from their beloved Austria, forced to give up everything rather than sacrifice their values. But most of all it’s the Rogers and Hammerstein score which has resonated through the years.

The opening scene alone, with the larger than life song Sound of Music being belted out by the heroine Maria on the Austrian mountaintop, pulls the audience in. From there, the music truly tells the story. Maria is a problem to be solved; one must ‘Climb Every Mountain,’ and face life’s difficulties in ‘I Have Confidence.’

The toe tapping tunes continue on: My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, and Sixteen Going on Seventeen.  And so many more.

The movie won multiple awards. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

The Sound of Music received five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, Wise’s second pair of both awards, the first being from the 1961 film West Side Story. The film also received two Golden Globe Awards, for Best Motion Picture and Best Actress, the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement, and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical. In 1998, the American Film Institute (AFI) listed The Sound of Music as the fifty-fifth greatest American movie of all time, and the fourth greatest movie musical. In 2001, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

For Americans in 1965, life was quite different than today. Most of the families I knew rarely went out to eat in a restaurant or to the movies. Going to see The Sound of Music at the Capitol Theatre in Yakima was such a treat and likely only the third film I’d ever seen in a theatre; the first two being Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady from the year before.

In the mid-sixties, women and girls still wore dresses everywhere. Such was the case for when I saw the Sound of Music. I have a distinct memory of wearing a pink dress and, likely my saddle shoes. I was hooked from the first moment.

Soon after seeing the movie, the album arrived in our house and was played over and over – to the point, no doubt, where it developed skips and that crackling sound that comes from a worn out record.

My sister and I acted out the Sound of Music in our bedroom or in the backyard with the neighbor kids. We took on the various roles. I always wanted to be Lisle but the character of Brigitta, her nose always in a book, was more accurate.

Brigitta,, played by Angela Cartwright, was always reading

The year I was 10 I learned that the local Warehouse theatre group was going to produce the stage version of the Sound of Music. I got a wild hair that I needed to try out and get the role of Brigitta. But when I asked my Mom, it was a resounding ‘you don’t want to do that.’ Which when translated meant that SHE didn’t want me to do that.

I was crushed that I wasn’t going to be able to live out my dream of being on stage in the Sound of Music. A girl I knew from school got the role of Brigitta. I don’t believe we ever went to the production.

But even that disappointment did not deter me from my love of the Sound of Music. When they first started broadcasting the film on commercial TV I made sure to watch it every year. This was followed with owning the VHS version and, ultimately, on DVD.

Sing Along Night poster for the Lincoln Theatre

Up until the Covid-19 Pandemic shut down large gatherings, the Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon would host an annual Sound of Music viewing and singalong, encouraging attendees to dress as characters from the movie.

I haven’t yet made that event, but it’s on my bucket list. For the record, I no longer identify with Brigitta or Lisle, but to join all the other wannabe Maria’s out there would be the best.

A couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sound_of_Music_(film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_1965_box_office_number-one_films_in_the_United_States

Daylight Savings Time

Spring Ahead

March 16, 2021

Early Daylight Savings Time was promoted as being Patriotic

Standardization of time really began to plague the world with the advent of the train. Prior to then, society was largely agrarian with people waking at sunrise and retiring at sunset.

But with transportation that could take travelers hundreds of miles over the course of a single day, problems with lack of a standard time arose. When they said the train would arrive at 3 p.m. was that 3 p.m. in New York City or 3 p.m. in Chicago?

The first such standardization was established in Great Britain in 1847 and spread from there. In the United States it was on November 18, 1883 when the first coordinated efforts were established. This system was in effect until March 1919 when someone got the bright idea for ‘Daylight Savings Time (DST).’

Of course the Infallible Wikipedia has articles in regards to this event:

“During World War I, in an effort to conserve fuel, Germany began observing DST on May 1, 1916. The rest of Europe soon followed. The plan was not adopted in the United States until the Standard Time Act of March 19, 1918, which confirmed the existing standard time zone system and set summer DST to begin on March 31, 1918 (reverting October 27). The idea was unpopular, especially with farmers. In fact, Daylight Saving Time meant they had less time in the morning to get their milk and harvested crops to market. Congress abolished DST after the war, overriding President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. DST became a local option. New York City continued to observe a metropolitan DST, while rural areas outside the city did not.”

Everyone went back to standard time but then another war came and on February 9, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted year round ‘war time.’ It was just a more patriotic name for year round DST. When the war ended a number of states liked DST and adopted summertime DST.

Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“From 1945 to 1966 there was no federal law on daylight saving time, so localities could choose when it began and ended or drop it entirely. What emerged was a complicated patchwork of daylight saving policies that varied in length and by city, state and municipality. As of 1954, only California and Nevada had statewide DST west of the Mississippi, and only a few cities between Nevada and St. Louis. In the 1964 Official Railway Guide, 21 of the 48 contiguous states had no DST anywhere. By 1965, there were 18 states that observed daylight saving for six months each year, 18 states that didn’t have formal policies but held cities or towns with their own daylight saving standards and another 12 states that didn’t implement daylight saving at all.”

The first Daylight Savings clock is set ahead one hour on March 31, 1918

It was a complete mess. Enter the US Congress and the Uniform Time Act of 1966. Basically the law established DST to run from the last Sunday of April to the last Sunday of October for all 50 states. There were rules regarding when and how states could opt out of the program, but for the most part the majority of the states went along with it.

Over the years, it has been the norm to move the clocks ahead in the spring and change them back in the fall. In recent years, more and more people have been clamoring for picking ‘one’ time and doing away with the sleep disrupting prospect of time change.

In the past six years, more than 30 states have officially advocated for the option of year round DST. And why not? The US is no longer a primarily agrarian society but, rather, a 24/7 civilization thanks to a stable power grid and technology that never sleeps. Morning daylight is not required to function.

In my home state, the lawmakers took it one step further. One more Wikipedia reference:

“In 2019, the Washington State Legislature passed Substitute House Bill 1196, which would establish year-round observation of daylight saving time contingent on the United States Congress amending federal law to authorize states to observe daylight saving time year-round.”

We here in Washington are still waiting for Congress to act on it.

Which is why, this fine Tuesday, the 16th of March, following the mad dash to reset millions of clocks, millions of people are struggling to adjust to that hour of lost sleep and working to reset their internal clocks to DST.

I guess the good thing about getting older has been that my sleeping habits are such that the switch to and from DST no longer upsets my schedule quite so badly. These days I seem to sleep for about 6 to 6 ½ hours a night no matter what. I don’t like it particularly and when I get a 7 hour stretch enjoy it for the gift it is.

This year the transition was the easiest ever. I went to sleep around eleven standard time on Saturday night and woke up at six (DST) on Sunday. The whole day ended up being a busy one without a nap and by the time bedtime rolled around, I was adjusted.

Of course I would prefer to not wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. with my brain fully engaged in trying to solve life’s challenges, but on Monday morning it did give me time to contemplate DST and what exactly I was going to write about for this week’s Tuesday Newsday.

Cartoon by Keefe Chamberlain @ http://www.nergon.com

For all you fellow geeks out there, here’s the link to Wikipedia and the history of time:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_time

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daylight_saving_time_in_the_United_States

Tuesday Newsday

Do you enjoy these stories? On September 29, 2020, I reached the halfway point of Tuesday Newsday articles with 182! Of course when I began I did not count on the issue of Leap Year… and the fact that there will be some dates which never fall on a Tuesday. I’ll probably tack those on to the end OR I might post for those dates on any ‘duplicate’ dates I encounter.

Click on any of the links at the top of the page to find items of interest to you. In each category you will discover a variety of musings on popular culture, biographical, historical, and other topics.

tuesday newsday cartoon

Cartoon by Cherdo of the Flipside. http://www.cherdoontheflipside.com/

Musings on being a writer

“I write not because I want to but because I am destined to.”― Jules Haigler

An interesting aspect of life is that in order to move forward one must be open to new experiences, expanded knowledge and change. I’ve always been a writer (not the greatest in the world, mind you, but that never deterred me) yet it was about a dozen or so years ago when I realized writing was the ONE thing to which I always returned.

I engaged in a little personal experiment. I went into the library and wandered through the non-fiction stacks. Which books, which topics drew me in? Not the ‘zeros’ or the ‘ones’, ‘twos’ or ‘threes’. It wasn’t until I came to the 808’s when I found my home. I’ve read the book “Self-editing for Fiction Writers” no less than a half dozen times. (808.3) Every time I read it I learn something new and discover ways to improve my writing. The subject matter is of endless interest to me. How does one construct an effective novel? What is an adverb and why are they considered lazy writing? How does one go about turning a gerund into an active verb? Why does any of this matter?

To a writer – an author – this MUST matter because it is at the heart of the craft. Yet, ultimately, it’s about being able to weave an interesting story which captures a reader and compels them to read it until the very end. For me, that will be enough.

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Barbara DeVore, March 2017