Seattle Light - Winter - "Little Boxes"
Whenever I fly into San Francisco airport and drive north through the hillsides of tract homes towards the city, I start singing the 1960’s folk song, “Little Boxes,” and inform anyone within earshot that Malvina Reynolds’ ode to conformity was written while driving through that particular bit of California development. Imparting trivia is one of life’s simple pleasures. The story is that the song came on suddenly, like a heart attack or the 24-hour flu. She had her husband take over the wheel, grabbed pen and paper and proceeded to immortalize Daly City as the poster child for homogeneity. The song is catchy in the way that the ocean is wet - three days later I have to listen to Led Zeppelin to get the tune out of my head......
Click on New Column (above) to continue reading Julia Quiring's essay, Little Boxes .
Coming Soon - NLR's List of the best movies of all time!
Winter Review :
The Stories That Change Our Lives
One man's life touches so many others, when he's not there it leaves an awfully big hole.
About seventy years ago, Phillip Van Doren Stern had a dream which ended up transforming our lives. All of us dream, but Stern decided to do something with the images that danced through his head on that morning in the 1930s after he awoke. He began to pen a short story. He put it aside for awhile, then finished the story at the height of World War II in 1943. He called his 4000-word effort "The Greatest Gift."
It's very unlikely that you've ever heard of this author that enhanced the quality of your Christmas experience, because Frank Capra gets most of the credit for the way he took Stern's story and transformed it into one of the finest films in history - "It's A Wonderful Life." Indeed, you're probably a lot more familiar with the film's star, JImmy Stewart, then you are with the people who thought up the story and wrote Stewart's lines. Yet the story itself is what has spoken to caregivers through the film made sixty years ago.
More Gifts from "It's A Wonderful Life"
Jimmy Stewart (George): What do you want, Mary? Do you want the moon? If you want it, I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down for you. Hey! That's a pretty good idea! I'll give you the moon, Mary.
The Underrating of Groundhog Day
By Erie Chapman
There is no way this winter is ever going to end as long as that groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. Phil (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Story & Screenplay: Danny Rubin
Director: Harold Ramis
Starring Bill Murray as Phil & Andie MacDowell as Rita
I'm not saying it's the greatest film of all time. I'm just saying that this brilliant comedy should be taken more seriously than it is. I'm also saying that this is as joyful and renewing a movie as that other more highly ranked favorite, It's a Wonderful Life.
Including television, I've seen thousands of movies. Maybe you have too. One of the questions we can all ask ourselves is: Which movies become a part of our lives? The folks from this film, and their story, have become a part of mine.
Beneath the laughs (and there are waves of them) this is, of course, a story of resurrection, a story that tells us that we don't get to heaven until we live our lives the right way - and we don't find joy on earth until we live with loving intention. AnyHindu or Buddhist focused on incarnation could resonate with this message, not to mention Christians, Moslems, or people of almost any faith.
But religious dogma is way too heavy and tiresome a message to lay on a moviegoer. After all, we bought a ticket to entertainment, not to a sermon. And that's a big reason why this film is one of the most enjoyable ever.
What's unfortunate is that so many walk away from a first viewing of this film with the idea that it's only about a guy that gets stuck living the same day over and over again until he finally gets the girl. This is like saying that the Simpsons is about a fat guy that eats too much or that Seinfeld is about four friends that make lots of jokes.
In classical allegorical fashion, Groundhog Day engages the mythology of Dante's descent as Bill Murray, in an effort to escape the hell of being caught in the same day, commits the whole list of deadly sins. And as long as he "sins" he is stuck, like the groundhog, seeing his shadow and living the same day over and over.
By my calculation, he lives through hundreds and hundreds of days of doing the wrong thing - including repeatedly trying to kill himself..
Phil: I've been stabbed, shocked, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.
Rita: Oh, really?
Here, of course, is the original sin of pride. On top of this, the movie suggests that Phil indulges in every physical joy he can think of. With the discreteness of good filmmaking we pick up (without seeing all the details) that Bill eats what he wants, sleeps with whoever he wants, steals money and, in essence, tries to play God (except that he forgets the main ideat: the love part.)
During his period of "immortality" Murray learns a few useful things including how to play the piano, some 18th century French poety (his girlfiend's favorite), what he needs to do to save a homeless man's life and when to catch a boy falling from a tree.
But the only thing he learns that truly matters is that the pathway out of hell is paved not with good intentions but with good and loving acts. If you seen the movie, ask yourself this question: how does Murray escape into the next day and the rest of his life?
The answer is that he fills an entire day doing loving things for other people. Does he have a personal agenda? Like any human being, he does. Yes, he wants to win the heart of the beautiful Rita (Andie MacDowell). And that becomes his earthly reward. By giving love, he wins the love of his life during his earthly life. Yet beyond romantic love, we can see that deeper redemption comes through actions grounded in loving intention.
At the end of the film, Rita and Phil gaze out at the snowy world:
Rita: It's beautiful. I don't know what to say.
Now what could be a happier ending then that?