Whose side are you on?


Here’s what I wrote about Napoleon:

Yes, the Napoleonic Code was a remarkable and laudable document, but it was brought to other nations by the sword. Napoleon had no qualms about summary executions and he liked to play pranks such as shooting the nose off the Sphinx. And by the way, what was he doing in Egypt? And speaking of “doing,” what the hell was he doing in Russia?

There have been so many so spectacular films about Napoleon with battle scenes galore.

Now, here’s my question:

Why do I invariably want him to win?



The Big Night and Art in General


The Big Night, directed by Stanley Tucci is about the art of cooking and art in general.

Time is the Fifties. Primo and Secundo have left Italy for New Jersey and have established the Paradise Restaurant.

Primo is a culinary master who makes no compromises and Secundo, played by Tucci, is the front-man who takes care of the PR.

The Paradise provides culinary Paradise, but the brothers have established Paradise
in the wrong Jersey neighborhood. And unfortunately, they are on their last financial legs.

Okay, everyone likes spaghetti Napolitano, but apparently these Jerseyites, or Jerseyans if you will, wouldn’t recognize a gourmet meal, even if it floated from their plate to their palate. No slur to Jersey! I’m a Jersey boy myself. There are gourmet restaurants galore in the Garden State, but they have to be in the right Jersey location. Actually, I don’t know of a wrong Jersey location for Italian food. But there must be one. And Primo and Secundo seem to have found one. Let me say this, as far as Jersey is concerned, they have the best pizza parlors in the world – not the most elaborately designed, but the best.

Pascal’s Restaurant is fancy pasta eatery that offers run-of the mill fare. Let me interject that you have to look hard to fund a mediocre Italian restaurant in Jersey, but that there must indeed be such places.

Pascal wants Primo as his chef, but he wants him as a prize, rather than as the chef that he is. He would of course raise the Pascal standard, but that would be all. No celestial morsels for the palate.

Pascal concocts a plan to bring the Paradise down. He tells Secundo that he has arranged for Louis Prima, the great entertainer to come to the Paradise for a meal and Secundo tales the bait, hook, line and sinker. When Louis show up and enjoys the elaborate meal that Primo has prepared for him, the customers will come a-running and Paradise Lost will be Paradise Saved.

Primo is a savvy guy, but who isn’t blinded by false hope?

Now let me say this: if Louis had known what Primo had prepared for him, he would have come a-runnin’. But of course he didn’t know.

To make a long story short, and to put the tragic finishing touch on a fine film, Primo makes a splendid gourmet meal for those in the Paradise minus Louis – and that’s the end of the Paradise!

Primo reproaches Secundo and there is a tussle, but the brothers do not come to blows. They push and shove, and they roll on the floor, but they cannot strike each other. They are not Cain and Able – they love each other.

The film closes with Secundo making scrambled eggs for Primo and himself the next morning.

That’s it!

Isn’t Paradise a valid statement about art and artists? What more could you want?



Ironweed and Suspenders


In Ironweed based on the book by William Kennedy and directed by Hector Babenco in 1983 is set in Depression-time Albany. Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep are two bums on the road. Jack went on the road after accidently dropping his baby son while drunk, He attempts drown his guilt for the baby’s death in drink.


The scene when Jack returns to his home with a Thanksgiving turkey for his wife played by Carrol Baker is heartbreaking. Jack joins her and his family for dinner. He wants to stay but has to move on.

Tom Waits, who’s on the road with Jack, wears a suit with suspenders permanently hanging out the back. That’s a terrific touch. I’m sure that it was a Waits idea.

Incidentally, can someone explain to me why downbeat songs by Waits and sung in his gravelly voice are so good?

The Ironweed did not do all that well, but strangely enough, hanging suspenders became a fashion for both sexes due to the film.


to be continued . . .

– Herbert Kuhner