Super Bowl XLIV

We watched the Super Bowl live from France, so the game ended at about 4:30 in the morning.  It was a very good game to watch.  I used to be a huge fan of the San Francisco 49ers and knew a lot about professional football.  Today, I watch very few games.  This year,  I saw only the two conference championship games and the Super Bowl.

The color commentator on ESPN America was Joe Theismann.  The Wikipedia article about Theismann identifies him as “the most hated announcer in National Football League history” and goes on to give examples of questionable things he has said in the course of a long announcing career.

Theismann was very vocal in opposing the decision of the Saints’ coach to go for the touchdown on fourth down at the Colts’ goal line towards the end of the first half.  It seemed obvious to me at the time that the coach had made the right decision.  At the time, the Saints were trailing 10-3.  Assume that the Saints successfully attempt a field goal.  The score is then 10-6, but they have to kick off to the Colts, who would have had about 1:45 left in the first half to score.  The likelihood that the Colts would get at least a field goal at that point was pretty high.  There was also a strong possibility that they would drive for a touchdown.  The worst-case scenario in attempting to score the touchdown was that the Colts would get the ball at their goal line.  The likelihood of driving for a score from that position is low.  As things turned out, of course, the Colts got the ball at their goal line, went three and out, punted, and the Saints drove for a field goal of their own.  They were much better off than they would have been had they kicked a field goal when Thiesmann wanted them to, because the Colts had their final possession and did not score.  The Saints had therefore netted three points at the end of the half when, if they had kicked a field goal, they might well have netted nothing (had the Colts driven for a field goal on their final possession of the half) or have been –4 at the end of the half, if the Colts had driven for a touchdown.  Theismann made no comment at any point in the game to indicate that his initial reaction to the Saints’ attempting to score on fourth down might have been overstated, or even a miscalculation.

Drew Brees was very impressive, obviously.  His completion percentage was off the charts.  The onsides kick to begin the second half was a stroke of genius.  Clearly, the coach of the Saints thought that his team deserved to be underdogs in the game and that he had to take risks in order to win.  That’s what he did, and it worked out well.

Les grandes bouches

We have just heard a wonderful concert by a jazz vocal group from Toulouse called “Les grandes bouches.”  They performed in our little nonprofit café spectacles called La Tannerie in Agen.  The concert was undersubscribed, but as is ususally the case with real professionals, the group seemed to take it in stride and to enjoy themselves.  It was a great privilege to hear them in such intimate surroundings.  The streets of downtown Agen were virtually deserted on this chilly and drizzling night in February.   You can hear the group on Myspace:

Perhaps the greatest group ever to sing in this genre of harmonized jazz was French, the great Double Six de Paris.  I don’t know how many similar French groups have intervened between les Double Six and Les grandes bouches.

Music is life; life is music.  Music is an international language.  I have always been moved by the popularity of jazz in France.  Quite by chance, the region of France in which we live, Gascony, became home to the biggest jazz festival in France, the Marciac Jazz Festival, which occurs in the small town of Marciac, in a very remote corner of our department of the Gers.  I sometimes think that we were drawn here by some magnetic force, because the availability of music that I love is quite disproportionate to the small population living here.  But this also attests to the greatness of jazz music.

“Human Desire,” starring Glenn Ford

Ask, and it shall be answered.  We recently watched “Human Desire” (1954) on Turner Movie Classics, starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, and Broderick Crawford and directed by Fritz Lang.  The film is based upon Zola’s “La bête humaine.”  Somehow watching an American film noir with French subtitles in the middle of the night in the French countryside adds an additional allure to the experience.  My wife and I saw “The Blue Dahlia” with Alan Ladd in a very crowded and hot small cinema in Paris in the early 1980’s – an unforgettable experience.

Ford plays a Korean war veteran, Jeff Warren, who returns home to his job as a railroad engineer.  He is tempted by the corrupt Vicki, played by Gloria Grahame, who is unhappily married to a railroad yard foreman played by Broderick Crawford, while a more wholesome young woman (Jean, played by Peggy Maley), who happens to be the daughter of Jeff’s affable older friend and brakeman, suffers from an unrequited love for Jeff.   It is interesting to see the apparently wholesome character played by Ford be tempted by the devil, as it were.  When Jeff realizes that Vicki has been manipulating him in order to induce him to murder her husband, he recoils from the brink of complete depravity.  Vicki had asked him, before his realization, if it was difficult to kill a man.  “No, it’s the easiest thing in the world,” he replies, speaking of his wartime experience.  But I have just been introduced elsewhere to research which claims that a very small percentage of soldiers actually are willing to kill the enemy and that most killing in war is performed by a small percentage of the soldiers.  In any event, it turns out that Jeff Warren has not been transformed by his wartime experience into a criminal, and the film’s ending indicates that he will opt for the wholesomeness of his friend’s daughter.

This is not a great movie, but it is a highly enjoyable entertainment.  The atmospherics of the railroad yard and of the small town dominated by the railroad are appealing.  It all takes me back to childhood, Glenn Ford, and the comforts of late-night movie watching.

I was disappointed to read that Ford became a Republican in later life.

Movies, an introductory post

I have always loved the movies, since I was five or six years old and attended double-feature matinees in the local theater in Columbus, Ohio.  And I loved watching movies on television as a child, especially late at night when my parents were out.  I associate this experience with Glenn Ford, for some reason.

More recently, I came to enjoy going to theaters less.  It’s just a lot of trouble, getting in the car and finding a parking place, and it became rather expensive.  Now we have a big-screen high definition television, and we primarily watch movies that I have recorded on DVR from our satellite television service in France, which means that we are about a year behind in our viewing of recent feature films.  In 2009, I think we went to the cinema perhaps three times.  We saw “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler” in English with French subtitles at local cinemas.

It was also becoming increasingly difficult to attend the cinema in the US without being disturbed by the talking of fellow customers.  That happens less often in France.

In any event, I am happy with the domestic viewing experience, and so we rarely attend the cinema anymore.  In addition, we are regaled with a fabulous selection of movies to watch on our French satellite television service, because we pay for two separate premium services, Canal+ and Canalsat.   We do this for two reasons.  One is to compensate for the fact that we are no longer going to the cinema very often, and there is no video rental service comparable to Netflix in France.  There are such services, but they do not have a comparably broad range of titles.  The second reason is that I can follow some American sports, particularly the NBA, to some extent by subscribing to these two services.  In addition, there are two excellent music channels, Mezzo and BravaHD, on CanalSat.

As regards the selection of movies, American movies are much in evidence, in English with French subtitles.  Turner Classics is available, with the addition of a small number of films that are not American and are shown in their original language.  CanalSat also has its own classic movie channel which is international in scope but with a French concentration, as might be expected.  Broadly speaking, the selection of films available is better than anything I could have imagined, including both art films and commercial films, from all over the world.

For anyone interested in the history of French film, having these two satellite services is a voyage to paradise.  It is a paradise I rarely enter, however, because my wife’s French is not good enough to watch unsubtitled French movies with any pleasure.  And, truth be told, my own success in being able to follow an unsubtitled French movie is hit or miss.  The older the film, the more difficult it is, because of the quality of soundtracks.  Crime films are particularly difficult, whether old or recent, due to the prevalence of slang and the slurred and clipped way in which people tend to speak.  A French actress of our acquaintance recently told me that she has been asked on film sets to speak in a less articulate way, in order to be “more natural.”  But, in fact, the way people speak in many movies is not really natural, it’s an invented hyper-naturalism in which people speak in a muffled and highly accelerated way.  It is as though there is a contest to distinguish the real French speakers in the audience from the pretenders, and the pretenders can include Frenchmen who are not attuned to the latest slang.  There is nothing peculiar to French cinema in this regard, of course.  We have watched episodes of “The Wire” on DVD with English subtitles, because we were unable to follow crucial parts of the dialogue without subtitles.

So I hope that this will be the first of many posts devoted to commentary on film and television.  My taste in film generally tends towards social realism.  I am not generally attracted to film that is primarily visual in its ambitions, nor am I attracted to surrealism in film or poetry.  And I generally like film narratives to be readily comprehensible.  If there is jumping back and forth in time and perspective, I don’t like to feel that I am taking an IQ test in order to be able to follow the narrative.  I will probably have a post about “Slumdog Millionaire,” which I recently recorded but also saw in a theater, and about which I had what might be a novel interpretation that might not survive a second viewing, that speaks to this.

The new language war in France

One of the most difficult aspects of moving to France for me has been the fact that French people want to practice their English-speaking skills with me.  When they speak English pretty well, conversations often become a linguistic turf battle between them and me.  I did not move to France in order to speak English with French people.  I could count on one hand, and perhaps on two fingers, the number of occasions on which the French person’s English is better than my French, although I suppose that this is a very difficult think to judge.  For instance, the French person might find my accent, which is a light anglophone accent and not an American one, difficult to bear.  In any event, French “hauteur” has been transformed over the past 10-20 years with regard to the question of speaking English.  Now, it can be difficult for the anglophone to speak French in France, even when he wants to.  If one betrays the slightest hint of linguistic difficulty with one’s French, certain French interlocutors will take that as a cue to switch to speaking English.

After 3.5 years of living here, I still do not have a good way of addressing this problem, and I have as yet never directly insisted to anyone that he or she not speak English to me.  I hope to find a polite way of saying this and to be able to introduce this gambit into conversation at appropriate times.