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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Dario Fernandez-Morera. A Review.

Photo by Anna Hyatt Huntington. Source
This review appears at FrontPage Magazine here

To Sabotage the Future, Lie about the Past

Northwestern University Scholar Dario Fernandez-Morera Tilts at the Windmill of the Andalusian Myth – And the Myth Topples

I am in awe of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. Author Dario Fernandez-Morera, a Northwestern University Professor and Harvard PhD, argues that elite scholars are peddling a myth – that Islamic Spain, c. 711 AD -1492 AD, was a paradise. Fernandez-Morera's job is to expose historical realities. The main text is 240 pages. There are 95 pages of notes, a bibliography and an index. It was published in February, 2016 by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

This book is an intellectual boxing match. The author shreds not just one opponent, but a series of intellectual bigots, prostitutes and manipulators of the common man. Fernandez-Morera's biceps gleam as his lightning footwork and peerless preparedness dazzle. Our hero risks much, from hate mail to non-person status.

The reader is plunged into vast landscapes, international intrigue, arcane customs, and timeless heroism. One envisions veiled women and bejeweled slave girls, the smoking ruins of churches, enslaved, whipped Christians forced to carry their cathedral bells to be melted down to embellish mosques, heartbreaking suffering and eventual victory.

Fernandez-Morera allows the propagandists enough rope to hang themselves. All he has to do is quote them. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, The University of Chicago, Boston University, Sarah Lawrence, Rutgers, Indiana University, Cambridge, Oxford, The University of London, NYU, Norton, Penguin, Routledge, Houghton Mifflin, the Pulitzer Committee, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, Carly Fiorina, children's textbooks, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, PBS, The New York Review of Books, First Things all are in the dock, tripped up in their own false testimony. The inclusion of First Things might surprise; it is a Catholic publication. In it Christian C. Sahner praises Muslims who "exhibited a surprising degree of religious flexibility" because they waited a few decades before razing the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Damascus, rather than destroying it immediately upon arrival. Really.

What is the propagandists' motive?

Follow the pitchforks and torches. In 2008, Sylvain Gouguenheim, a French medievalist, published Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel, arguing that the West is not in debt to Islam for awareness of Ancient Greek texts; most of those texts were preserved, translated, passed on and used by Christians. For that rather modest claim, Gouguenheim was subjected to an "academic exorcism."

And follow the agenda. The Middle Ages matter to propagandists for one reason only: today's projects. Al-Andalus proves that "Islam can effectively navigate a pluralistic world." Al-Andalus proves that there are no "essential differences" between Islam and the West. Al-Andalus proves that Israel can be replaced with a "Palestinian model in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims can live again under [Islam's] protection." And of course the Ground Zero Mosque was dubbed "Cordoba House" after a caliphate in Muslim Spain.

What tactics do the propagandists use in their publications?

They smear Christians. In one Oxford University Press book, Christians are "a fanatical fringe" resistant to "benefitting" from the great good fortune of living in Muslim Spain. How do the propagandists deal with the forty-eight Christian Martyrs of Cordoba? They mock them, pathologize them, and blame them for their own deaths. These dead were "troublemakers," "self-immolators," guilty of "extremism" for preferring death as Christians to life as Muslims. They were masochists who really wanted to be tortured and killed.

Pelagius was a young Christian boy desired by Abd-al-Rahman III. Pelagius, aka Pelayo, resisted. Islam's scholarly apologists don't condemn the caliph's desire to rape a child. They waste no time respecting the boy's pain – a pain that is representational of countless other kuffar boys raped, castrated, and killed, all in line with the rules of jihad. Rather they condemn Christians for "demonizing Muslims" and having hang-ups about man-boy sodomy. In this academic deflection, one hears echoes of the blame-the-victim response to the mass sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year's, 2016, or the 2015 order to US soldiers to ignore "boy play" in Afghanistan – a "boy play" that in one instance involved a child sex slave chained to a bed. "We can hear them screaming," one Marine reported. Respect their culture, he was told.

Another scholarly method of obeying Saudi paymasters and distorting the past: leave out significant details. One book, published by an Ivy League University Press, "makes no mention of stoning, female circumcision, crucifixion, beheadings, or sexual slavery."

Muslims called Christians "pigs." The peddlers of the Andalusian Paradise myth omit mention of that telling tidbit. They mention "delightful Andalusian love poetry" without mentioning that it was written about non-Muslim sexual slave girls, not about love between free, adult, Muslim men and women. They leave out the market price of slaves; these numbers speak volumes. A male black slave commanded a much lower sum than a white girl – obviously a man can do more labor than a girl. If these slaves were bought primarily for labor the prices would be reversed. Muslim rulers stockpiled thousands of such slaves in their harems. "Kiz," a Turkish word used for a sexual slave girl, came to mean "Christian woman." "Sakaliba," in Arabic, is from the word for "Slav," commonly the ethnicity of enslaved persons. "All the Slav eunuchs that one finds on the face of the earth come from Spain," a Muslim wrote. Blacks were held in similar contempt. A Muslim in Toledo wrote, "They lack self-control and steadiness of mind and are overcome by fickleness, foolishness, and ignorance."

Islam's apologists leave out the ethnic cleansing of Christians, including, in one event, the mass deportation of twenty thousand families to Africa. They omit mention of how hierarchical and stratified Muslim Spain was, with Arab Muslim males at the top and their various victims occupying lower ranks. Non-Arabs who converted to Islam were not equal, nor were their children. Three hundred such Muslims with Christian ancestors were crucified. Five thousand were beheaded. After one such expression of "tolerance," an Andalusian poet celebrated the "massacre" of "sons of slaves. They had as relatives only slaves and sons of slaves." Remember – the dead were Muslim. But their ancestors were Christian non-Arabs – thus the epithet, "Sons of slaves."

Another method of airbrushing the past: simply ignore inconvenient material. Ignore material published by a military historian. Ignore material in any language but English. Especially ignore material written in Spanish. And ignore contemporaneous Christian accounts.

There's another support for the Andalusian Paradise myth that Fernandez-Morera does not dwell on. Audiences tend to apply to medieval Spain the context of the twenty-first century West. European Christians in 711 were not former imperialists whose languages, English and Spanish, dominated entire continents. Jews were not powerless, nor were Muslims. Europe in this era was still a place where Christians were murdered for being Christian, by Pagans as well as Muslims. In 614, during a Persian invasion, Jews massacred Christians in Jerusalem. Jews were among the most prominent slave traders. At times, Jews allied with Muslims against Christians in Spain. Propagators of the myth dub Muslim institutions dedicated to memorization and study of the Koran "universities." They weren't universities. They are more properly labeled "madrassas."

One might ask, if all the best universities in the world insist that the Andalusian Paradise is truth, not myth, isn't Fernandez-Morera the conspiracy theorist? In the same class as the guy who insists that the government is hiding alien bodies at Area 51?

Fernandez-Morera, with the command of an Olympian fencer, deploys the best weapons of scholarship. He rescues the scholarship that Political Correctness has reduced to the status of a streetwalker. He pulls her up, cleans her up, and reminds her of her better days. He uses research and objective facts to make his case. Nothing could be more transgressive in academia today. His facts carry the thunderous voices of long-silenced cathedral bells.

Reading this book, I felt as if I were running after a speeding freight train. It's an exhilarating experience. Fernandez-Morera's exhaustive notes reference material in at least eight languages. Fernandez-Morera cites ancient and modern works, scholars he agrees with and those he excoriates. He strikes sparks between ancient texts and up-to-the-minute news accounts – including the 2016 American presidential race. He uses primary texts, for example Muslim legal documents. He quotes scurrilous satire and epic sagas. Given his breadth of knowledge, all that's missing from the bibliography are citations to the personal emails he exchanged with Cervantes, Maimonides, Teresa of Avila and El Cid.

In the midst of his educating his reader about contemporary blatant lies and richly rewarded liars, past massacres and crucifixions, Fernandez-Morera remains, as true scholars do, utterly calm. Never does he resort to hate-mongering, or hyperbole. He acknowledges Catholics' discrimination against Arians and Jews. He does not indulge in a lazy, sloppy, relativism: "Everybody did it." He systematically and frankly compares Muslims, Christians, and Jews, including mainstreams and minorities in each group. There is nothing in Medieval Christian Europe to compare to Al-Andalus' slavery, harems, treatment of women, or huge number of beheadings, he insists. While Jews and Christians also discriminated against each other and against their own minorities, only in Islam does he find the thorough, universal, scripturally protected, implacable structure of dhimmitude.  

Fernandez-Morera divides the Andalusian myth into seven claims. Quoted material below is found in influential scholarly texts.

  • The movement of Muslims into Spain was a "migratory wave." Jihad "is not a motivating factor." Jihad is an "inner struggle" "to resist temptation and overcome evil."  
  • Christian Europe was "an arena of unceasing warfare in which superstition passed for religion and the flame of knowledge sputtered weakly." The Christian inhabitants of Europe were rednecks. "The men of the woods never strayed far from there." They lived in "gloom and depression," "dramatic decline," "decadence," and "decomposition." Charlemagne could not write his own name.   
  • The Muslim Conquest brought "flowering" Islam to Spain. Al-Andalus "was a beacon of enlightenment to the rest of Europe … among its finest achievements was its tolerance … in keeping with the principles of the Koran." The Koran is a "monument of tolerance." "Moorish leaders helped to build Christian houses of worship." Unburdened by priests, Muslims were "animated by equality … and respectful of all religious faiths." Their Islam was typified by a "pan-confessional humanism." Were it not for its "abortion" by the Spanish Inquisition, today's Islam would reflect Al-Andalus' fully "reformed" version. In short, Muslims were "full of wit and fire, always in love, writing verse, fond of music, arranging festivals, dances, and tournaments every day." 
  • The Umayyad Dynasty was "enlightened" and "tolerant." 
  • Muslim Spain was a feminist utopia. "Ninety-nine percent" of European Christians were illiterate but Muslim women "were doctors and lawyers and professors." Today it is Western polices that create "the harsh conditions in which distant others live," including Muslim women. "We [the West] are all implicated." 
  • "Jews lived happily and productively in Spain." 
  • Muslim Spain was a fairyland for Christians. "Neither churches nor monasteries were directly threatened." Muslim Spain was "a place of refuge." Christians "were treated well" and "allowed to worship freely." Muslim Spain "nourished" Christians. 
Fernandez-Morera corrects these claims.

The Muslim Conquest of Spain was a ruthless, religiously-sanctioned Blitzkrieg that was recorded, in the words of one jihadi war criminal, as his bringing "Judgment Day" to his victims. Invaders, not peaceful immigrants, burned all the churches in their path and pilfered the wreckage to build their mosques that were, as Muslim chroniclers attest, inferior in construction and design to the Christian monuments they replaced. Jihadis expressed their lust for sexual slaves as war booty and their "love of death." One "burned in his desire to hurt" Christians. Libraries were burned, as in Zoroastrian Persia and Christian Alexandria. Jihadis butchered Christian corpses and boiled the meat in cauldrons. Crosses were so abhorrent that looting Muslims had to shatter them before distributing their gold as booty.

No, indigenous Christians in Spain were not extras in the cast of Deliverance. Their culture was more advanced than that of the invaders; the invaders said as much in their histories, boasting of the eye-popping wealth and meticulous crafts they looted, and the great beauty and refinement of the women they carried off to be raped. Ibn Khaldun commented on the ignorance of Arabs and the low level of their culture, and how they needed Christians and Jews to handle their affairs.

In 981, Al-Mansur demolished Leon. He left one tower standing as testimony to the high quality of the city he was able to destroy. This anecdote tells the reader much about the resumes of jihadis, from Al-Andalus to the World Trade Center, the Bamiyan Buddhas, and Palmyra.  

Fernandez-Morera writes that the popular idea that Islam preserved classical knowledge and passed that knowledge on to Christian Europe "is baseless." He reports that Arabs were astounded by the knowledge of the ninth-century Saint Cyril. Cyril replied that the Muslim Arabs were like someone who carried around a container of ocean water and thought he was pretty special. Eventually he met a Greek who lived on the coast and who told him that to brag of such a container would be crazy; his homeland possessed an endless abundance of sea water.

In his chapter on the daily reality of life in Al-Andalus, Fernandez-Morera pays much attention to Muslim law. Any questioning of Islam or Mohammed could result in being tortured to death. Simple pleasures like wine, garlic, pork, silk and music were condemned. Muslim judges ordered that musical instruments in private possession be confiscated and destroyed. There was music – in spite of condemnation. Musicians were often non-Muslim slaves.

Christians and Jews were polluting and extra care was taken to avoid contact, even with utensils once used by a Christian or Jew. Christians must not even walk past Muslim graves; in doing so, they pollute the dead. Muslims must not accept Christmas invitations or greetings. Once a Jew took water from a well, Muslims refused to use that well.

Physical and cultural alienation of one group from another surpassed co-existence; this is reflected in language. Only six percent of Spanish words have Arabic roots; by comparison, thirty percent of the words in English, a Germanic language, have French roots, as a result of the Norman Conquest of 1066.

I often had to take a breather while reading the chapter on the tolerant Umayyads. "The celebrated Umayyads elevated religious and political persecutions, inquisitions, beheadings, impalings, and crucifixions to heights unequaled by any other set of rulers before or after in Spain," Fernandez-Morera writes. They even crucified the dead, disinterring corpses of alleged Christians in order to desecrate them. They crucified fellow Muslims – at one point, seventy-two Muslim scholars of religious law.

Crucifixions were stage-designed to be "spectacular" and cause onlookers to "faint with horror." Some victims were sliced to death slowly: first hands, then feet, then heads. One victim was crucified on the Cordoba palace door. The corpses of black children hung from a well's ropes as a counterweight.

Innovation is condemned in Islam and innovators were found out and eliminated. A Muslim historian praised this surveillance: spies "penetrate the most intimate secrets of the people, so that [Abd al-Rahman III] could know every action, every thought of good and bad people … the explicit and hidden vices of the … population … God showered gifts upon him … because of his … subjugation of men … to interrogate the accused and carry out an Inquisition against them … terrifying them and punishing them severely." That same Abd al-Rahman III, the "servant of the most merciful," declared that Muslims deviating from strict adherence "deserve extermination."

Al-Andalus was no paradise for women. Consider just this one law. A man who buys a non-Muslim sex slave must mutilate her genitals. Does that fact not tell you volumes about Muslim Spain? Muslim Spain ran on slaves; one of its main exports was slaves. Countless thousands were castrated.

Islamic law tells the rest of the story: the veiling, the stoning, the paralyzing, silencing, and erasing command that a woman requires a male relative to go out in public or to speak for her. "A Muslim wife" a legal manual instructs, is permitted "to have fun with other women with whom there are not men – but only during the day and only once a week." Many of the celebrated women of Muslim Spain were slaves. They were allowed skills and education it would be unseemly for a Muslim woman to exercise. Female "doctors" were probably the ones to perform FGM. Averroes put it succinctly, "Women are used only for procreation."

Life for Jews was also not a bed of roses. Islamic law and custom held Jews in contempt. Jews had to know their place. When they rose too high, they and their coreligionists were killed. Muslim Spain managed to extirpate Christian populations in the area under its control. "When Christians entered Granada in 1492, there were no Christian dhimmis in the city."

Those Christians and Jews who were allowed to live were not allowed to live out of any concept of "tolerance." Umar was Mohammed's father-in-law, companion, and successor. His title is "Farooq," he who separates right from wrong. Umar explicitly stated that Muslims must keep Christians and Jews alive in order to parasitize them. "The Muslims of our day will eat from these people as long as they live … our sons will eat their sons forever." How? Through jizya, the tax on Christians and Jews.

Future editions of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise would be enhanced by the following changes. Fernandez-Morera does not mention Edna Bonacich's pioneering work on middelman minorities. He should.  

Full-color illustrations would also enhance the book. What did the Basilica of San Vicente look like before it was destroyed by Muslims? Illuminated manuscripts, maps, construction styles: all could be depicted in images as well as words. A glossary of the many non-English terms, and a timeline, with dates, milestones, and personages, would also be helpful.

Fernandez-Morera's ninety-five pages of footnotes, in eye-straining tiny print, contain much that really should be in the main text of the book itself. Yes, the book is a streamlined, accessible read, and including the footnote material might make the main text longer and its route a bit more circuitous, but there is much in the footnotes that even a casual reader should not miss.

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete

Toilet Nazis. Let Everyone Use the Men's Room. And Reserve the Women's Room for Women.

Toilet solution.

There is an easy answer to the latest BS, made-up, smokescreen, nonsense spectacle from (some-not-all) "liberals" who really can't pay attention to serious matters, who never protest ISIS or San Bernardino or Cologne, or the failures of Obamacare, or black-on-black gun deaths in cities like Chicago, but who yell and scream about unfairness because I and other women don't want a man in the bathroom with us.

I and other women don't want a man in the bathroom with us because when we are in the bathroom, we remove our clothing. And we have been peeked at by hostile and invasive men when removing our clothing. It has happened to me. It has happened to my women friends. It's not been consensual. It has been scary and traumatizing.

Another reason. When you are peeing, you are vulnerable. It's not easy to spring from urination position to self-defense mode.

And, yes, as a woman I have had to physically defend myself against predatory men in public places.

Another reason. We women want a refuge our own. The place where we remove our clothing and indulge in the vulnerable act of peeing should be such a place.

If you don't understand this, you are a misogynist creep, and you have no right to talk about women.

Anyway, here's the solution.

EVERYBODY gets to use the MEN'S room.

Women who want men in the women's room get their wishes met. They can go on over to the men's room.

Men who have such contempt for women that they want to tell us what goes on in the women's room -- they get to use the men's room.

Men who are under the unfortunate delusion, often imposed on them by "therapists," that they are women in men's bodies, get to use the men's room.

Case closed.

But it isn't really closed, is it?

No, you don't want men who think they are women in the men's room.

Because you feel that the men's room would be an unsafe, uncomfortable place for men who think they are women.

You want to protect MEN (who think they are women) from the potential danger of undressing and urinating in front of other men, but you want to EXPOSE women to that same danger.

You jerk. 

Hunting. A Facebook Kill.

Cindy Press. Gossip. Source
As someone once said, "Some men kill you with a gun. Some kill you with a pen."
And some use a keyboard. 
Wyeth. Coot hunter
I was recently part of a Facebook ambush re: hunting.

Below are a couple of the posts in which I try to say what I want to say about this topic.



Every now and then someone posts a photograph of a safari hunt. A smiling hunter holds a gun in one hand and a dead wild animal in another hand.

I lived in Africa. Most Africans don't care about preserving wildlife and are not able to do so. Most Africans are very poor and are focused on survival.

To them, wild animals are food. They are bushmeat. Bushmeat is a horrible business. Animals suffer. There's nothing ethical about how animals are killed for bushmeat. And bushmeat also contributed to AIDS and to Ebola. Google it.

To Africans, if wild animals are not food, they are a menace. Lions, hippos, snakes, kill Africans. So Africans want to eliminate them, the same way you would want to eliminate wolves living in your suburb.

If wild animals are not food or a menace to your family, they are eating your crops. Monkeys, birds, buffalo, all want to eat your crops.

So, if you are an African, you do not want to preserve wild animals. You want to eradicate them.

Big game hunters pay -- literally -- hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to hunt one animal.

In Africa, hundreds of thousands of dollars is a lot of money. Africans see an incentive to save wildlife. And they do. Thanks to the big game hunters Facebook bullies demonize.

Big game hunters help preserve wildlife.

Spreading photos of big game hunters smiling with their kills on Facebook and urging your friends to post mean comments is a really anti-wildlife thing to do. It's ignorant and petty and while it may make you look superior or virtuous to your friends, that doesn't change that it is an anti-animal thing to do.

Just about all the men in my family, of my generation and older, hunted. My brothers all hunted, trapped, and fished. My uncles and cousins as well.

My relatives in Slovakia hunted and had themselves photographed with their kills.

That's because their kills fed their families. That's because hunting is exciting and it is pleasurable to succeed at it. That's because God and evolution made it that way, because if it were not that way, we would not be here.

Death is part of life. Mother Nature kills beautiful young animals every day.

Ethical, responsible hunting is part of that. On great stretches of the planet, no hunters = no wildlife.

Later, I posted the backstory.
There's a backstory to my post about hunting.

This post tells the backstory. It's messy and human and has nothing to do with hunting. It's about people. How people use hate. Why people get mad at you and unfriend you.

"Madge" posted a post demonizing hunters. She called hunters "disgusting" "selfish" "psychopaths" who lack "apathy" (She meant empathy.)

She said that humans "are not supposed to" hunt. She said that hunters "don't give a crap about animals or nature." She said "these people actually get satisfaction from murdering."

These are all quotes from her posts. I could quote more but you get the idea.

Madge's Facebook friends were joining in. Hunters suck! Hunters are disgusting! I hate hunters! We are so much better than hunters! That sort of thing.


I am pro-gun control.

I don't hunt.

I eat a mostly vegetarian diet.

I make very little money but I regularly donate to the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, the Humane Society of North America, and the ASPCA. I make provision for them in my will.

I spend every minute I have to spare outdoors, hiking, birdwatching, etc. I can identify almost all the trees, flowers, birds, and mammals I pass. I worked with animals – I was a zookeeper in the Bronx Zoo.

So I'm going to agree with Madge, right?

Or at least I'm going to scroll past her post and not say anything.


I said something.

And I said something not primarily because of hunters or hunting.

I said something because Madge's posts, and her friends' posts, were all about demonizing one group of people.


When I see that on Facebook I react.

I know it's not socially acceptable to react. I know it's just asking for trouble. I know I should just keep my mouth shut.

But Madge was mongering hatred. She was hating on one group of people and encouraging her friends to hate on one group of people.

It could be Mormons, as it was the other day. A friend posted a post using a *fake news article* to mock Mormons.

I'm not a Mormon. But it really bugs me when people monger hatred against another group of people.

Madge is, I think, at least from her posts, a white girl attending an Ivy League university.

And she was urging hatred for people who kill and eat their own dinner.

So, yeah, I spoke up. Rationally. Politely.

I pointed out that my relatives in Slovakia are all hunters, and that they do, indeed, take photographs of themselves with their kills, and that they are excellent human beings.

Madge called me "ignorant." She said that I "don't care about animals" but she does. She said that I "don't love animals" but she does. She said that I don't care if animals are killed but she does. She said she is helping animals. She said "I read a ton of articles about hunting."

Here's Madge's final post to me: "omg im not having this convo i never spoke with anyone who was this ignorant its very sad"

And then she unfriended and blocked me.


I could have kept scrolling and not said anything.

Yeah, no, I can't.

I posted that message because I reject hate and I reject hate mongering.

And if someone shoots a post through my Facebook feed saying, "Let's hate the Catholics today. Let's hate the Jews. Let's hate the Mormons. Let's hate the right-wingers. Let's hate the left-wingers. Let's hate the Cruz voters. Let's hate the gun owners. Let's hate the gun control folk. Let's hate. And let's talk about how superior we are."

I'm going to say something.

I'm going to say it courteously. I'm going to say it with facts.

And if you don't like that … unfriend me. Block me. And go live in your world where you are superior, and the rest of us are no good.

Madge was – what is the new term – virtue signaling. She was quite literally announcing to the world that she is superior and that this other group of people she had chosen to hate and demonize are inferior.

There's nothing wrong with virtue signaling. I do it. I want people to think I am an okay person. Oddly enough, sometimes I post about what a bitch I have been and yet people interpret the post to mean that I am a good person. I don't really understand that, but that's how communication works sometimes.

No. People don't get mad at you on Facebook or in real life because you disagree with them.

People get mad at you on Facebook or in real life because you have introduced a fact or facts that undermine their use of speech to announce their own virtue.

And I generally don't do that except when people use demonization of other people as a way to virtue signal.

That Madge wants to be thought Lady Bountiful Who Alone Loves Animals is not a problem for me.

That she demonized an entire class of people is something I spoke up against.

My cousin in Slovakia. A great guy. And a hunter. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Elvis and Nixon" 2016 So Slight It's Almost Not There

"Elvis and Nixon" is a movie so slight if it had one less word of dialogue or one less dollar for set design it might totally disappear. The concept is terrific – the backstory behind the famous photograph of Elvis Presley shaking hands with President Richard Nixon. Presley had written Nixon a six-page letter asking for the meeting, and offering himself as a "federal-agent-at-large."

A lot could be done with this premise. Why did the King want to be an agent? How might one of the stiffest and least charismatic men in history – Richard Nixon – be affected by such a close encounter with one of the sexiest, swerviest men in history? What did they say to each other behind closed doors? Why do people who have the world at their feet – like Elvis, like Nixon – crave things that they can't have – FBI agent status? To manipulate elections illegally? What does the meeting say about the dark side of celebrity and power?

The movie goes nowhere with any of these premises. The film is not offensive or exploitative or even especially inept at the technical level. It's just not there. The script is miniscule. You need a microscope to see it. Elvis says something mildly amusing, "I'd like to go undercover" and then the next ten lines are vapid comments about White House protocol or the autographing of photographs – void of any significant content.

Kevin Spacey has a twinkle in his eye that no amount of makeup could disguise. He also conveys a self-aware intelligence and amusement at the human carnival that was very different from Nixon's dark mien. Michael Shannon comes nowhere near capturing Elvis' animal magnetism, but then, who could?

Given how much money and prestige is risked in the making of any film, one has to wonder why this film was even made.


Read about the 1970 film "My Sweet Charlie" starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr in a previous blog post here:

"Miles Ahead" 2015. Jumbled and Alienating

"Miles Ahead" is chaotically put together, difficult to follow, and difficult to care about. Miles Davis (Don Cheadle), the main character, is depicted as a repugnant human being. The film plays shopworn musician biopic tricks in nasty ways to manipulate the audience. In interviews, Don Cheadle has said that he needed to get a big white star to appear in the film, and thus he built the film around the MacGuffin of Davis being interviewed by Ewan McGregor, allegedly the big white star. My guess is that Cheadle's funding didn't come through not because he is a black actor playing a black musician. My guess is that the funding was hard to find because the script was not a commercial script, no matter the color of the main character.

The film opens with a confusing mishmash of images. Miles Davis is being interviewed. We don't see the interviewer. There is film in the background of the Jack Johnson fight. This confused me. I know the fight took place over a hundred years ago and I did not know that anyone filmed it – meaning I was losing focus on the movie I was watching, and drawn into thinking about the movie in the movie. Not a good thing.

The scene is shot in extreme close-up. We see Don Cheadle's mouth and fingers as he smokes a cigarette; we also see an ashtray. This extreme close-up gives the film a claustrophobic feeling. As the film went on I began to wonder if the tight close-ups were used because there wasn't enough of a budget to create a set that reflected the time periods of the film: the 1970s and the 1950s.

The unseen interviewer asks Davis about jazz. Davis interrupts the interviewer and commands, "Don't call my music jazz." He insists that calling his music "jazz" stereotypes it. That's one of the dumbest and most petulant things I've ever heard a character say. Of course Miles Davis was a jazz musician. Ordering someone not to call jazz jazz is the demand of a petty dictator who wants control of language. The film was just beginning and I already hated the main character. And I was really sick of all that focus on his cigarette and his ashtray.

Ewan McGregor, the big white star meant to offer his magical powers to get purportedly rich whites to underwrite the movie and buy tickets to see it, shows up as Dave, a Rolling Stone reporter. He knocks on Miles Davis' door. Davis opens the door and immediately sucker punches Dave, a visitor he has never met. At this point, the film has offered me no reason to like Miles Davis, and lots of reasons to dislike him. There's more. He has a receding hairline and he wears his hair long – an older man's unsuccessful attempt to look young. And he dresses like a blind pimp. He's wearing a hip-length, turquoise and black jacket made of fabric best reserved for upholstery in houses of ill repute.

Davis has already proved he's cool by sucker punching a white man. He also proves he's cool in other cheap, manipulative ways. The film consists of a jumble of scenes shot in the 1970s and flashbacks to the 1950s. In the 1950s scene, Davis is in a car with a young white woman. The young white woman behaves foolishly. The young black woman in the front scene rolls her eyes at this white girl's buffoonery. So, Davis is cool because he can get a white girl.

The car pulls up to a house. A very beautiful young black woman is on the street. This is Frances Taylor, whom Davis will marry. He asks his white date for a twenty dollar bill. She gives him one. He writes his phone number on the bill and hands it to the black girl. Again, Davis is cool because he can mistreat white people, in this case a woman.

In more jumbled together, plot-less scenes, we see Frances dancing. She is exquisitely beautiful and the camera adores her. We see Frances and Davis making love. We don't see Miles Davis beating his wife. He did. He also made her quit her dancing career. What a guy.

More jumbled, plot-less scenes whose only point is to show what a boss Miles Davis really was, because he could mistreat white people. Miles Davis marches in to the offices of Columbia records. There is a man there who is obviously meant to be Jewish. He is smarmy and oily and condescending and power trips Davis. Davis pulls out a gun and shoots at him. He takes the man's money and uses that money, in a subsequent scene, to purchase cocaine, from yet another worshipful, star-struck white man he mistreats, while a white girl, partially undressed, sits on a bed. Davis, of course, must tell her to move over so he can sit next to her.

You get the idea.

What the movie does not show you is that Miles Davis grew up comfortable and privileged. Davis' father was a dentist who owned a couple of homes and a ranch. His mother was a musician. Davis received music lessons as a teenager, on daddy's dime. Davis was no gangster. He was a brat and a creep and an abuser of himself and others. I learned nothing about his appeal or his talent from this movie.


Read about the 1970 film "My Sweet Charlie" starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr in a previous blog post here:

"The Jungle Book" 2016 -- Delightful and Significantly Different from "Jungle Book" 1967

"The Jungle Book" 2016 is a delight. Go see it. Neel Sethi is utterly adorable. He's so good you want to dispatch a protective bubble or a team of social workers to his home to rescue him from the sad fate of other excellent child stars, like Judy Garland and Patty Duke.

Sethi plays Mowgli, a little Indian boy who cavorts around the forest with his animal friends: a pack of wolves, Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), and Bagheera, a black panther (Ben Kingsley). Shere Khan the Tiger (Idris Elba), Kaa the Python (Scarlett Johansson), and King Louie the Orangutan (Christopher Walken) provide menace. The ratio of mindless fun to genuinely scary and suspenseful scenes is perfect. The CGI is excellent. I'm a birdwatcher and it was fun seeing realistic looking hoopoes, bee-eaters, peacocks and hornbills.

I loved "The Jungle Book" 1967 and I love this movie, too. I wish this film had as many songs as the old version. One song is cut because of a change in the plot, and one song is cut because a change in the approach. In the older version the elephants were comical; in this version they are the gods who created the forest. Baghera teaches Mowgli to worship them. That idea of elephants-as-gods probably won't go over well with many religious viewers.

Kaa, the python, does sing "Trust in Me," but over the closing credits, not during the film. That's a shame. Scarlet Johansson's smoky-jazzy Chet-Baker style version knocks it out of the park. The track is on youtube and fans are insisting that Johansson sing the next James Bond movie theme song.

"The Jungle Book" 2016 is all about boys and men and all for boys and men. The only significant female character is Kaa, and she tries to kill and eat Mowgli.

Most of the voice actors are much more low key than they were in the original version. I wish they had had more fun, been more flamboyant and campy. Bill Murray and Christopher Walken are really the only ones who juice up their voices for their parts, recognizing that voice acting is different than being on camera. Idris Elba is much too low-key as Shere Khan. George Sanders was, of course, superb in the original. With that voice and that attitude, who could he not be?

Go see this movie for no other reason than to hear Christopher Walken voice King Louie the Orangutan who wants to be human. Walken is Just. So. Good. I mean, he's Christopher Walken. How could he not be?

"The Jungle Book" 2016 has a significantly different ending than "The Jungle Book" 1967. If you don't want to know how the film ends, stop reading now, as this review will reveal the ending.

The plot of "The Jungle Book," both 1967 and 2016, is that a young orphan boy has been raised by wolves. His mentors, Bagheera and Baloo, must escort him to the man village, where he belongs. In the 1967 version, Mowgli does go to live in the man village. He is lured by a cute girl, singing the significantly titled song "My Own Home." In the 2016 version, Mowgli stays in the jungle. What is the movie saying, then, about humanity's "own home"?

Mowgli, in fighting off Shere Khan, grabs a burning torch from the man village. He accidentally sets the forest on fire. He uses his engineering skill and the elephants' "divine" strength to create a dam and flood the burning forest, thus extinguishing the fire and saving his animal friends' lives. In the 2016 version, the ideal human is not one who leaves the forest to live in the man village. The ideal human is an environmentalist. He is in the forest, of the forest, and he manages the forest and protects it from mankind's depredations.


Read about the 1970 film "My Sweet Charlie" starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr in a previous blog post here:

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Sweet Charlie 1970. Patty Duke, Al Freeman Jr, Black / White, Male / Female, Rich / Poor, Insider / Outsider.

I recommend that you view this essay at TheScreamOnline -- there are more photos there. Follow this link here

My Sweet Charlie 1970. Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr.

A White Girl, a Black Man, White Guilt, Black Rage,

Transcendent Art

There's a certain kind of movie that some people never forget. Here's what they say about this particular type of movie.

"It's a film I saw years ago, when I was a kid. No one else was home. I just flipped on the TV, not really planning to watch anything. I never caught the beginning. I was too young to process all the film's implications; nevertheless, it moved me deeply. I never saw it again. It's not famous and I never heard anyone mention it. Every now and then, I'd think of the characters as if they were real people I had met at a party or on a long night bus ride. I'd wonder how their lives had worked out. Something would happen and I'd think, 'What would she think of this?' Though of course she was just a fictional character. My memory of the film faded, like an aged garment that had been washed too many times and had developed holes, but there was still a recognizable shape there. One day it occurred to me to use the internet to try to see if I could track down the movie. I didn't even remember the title. I just typed in a rough description of key plot points. That search brought me to this site, and now I see that there are others who remember this film. I wish they'd bring it out on DVD."

My Sweet Charlie is a 1970 movie about Marlene Chambers, a white girl, and Charlie Roberts, a black man. Each is hiding out at a remote lighthouse.  

Below are quotes taken from the International Movie Database, YouTube, and Amazon. Quote authors go by screen names like "Shasta," "Bron-Tay," "txbardtobe" and "Carl Brown from Ipswich, England."

  • "My Sweet Charlie is one of the finest films ever made. It is more than mere entertainment. This film is art. Patty Duke is letter perfect and Al Freeman, Jr. matches her from beginning to end."

  • "I saw this when I was young and loved it. It made a big impression on me. No one that I know has seen it, so no one to discuss it with."

  • "I've been waiting for it to air again for decades."

  • "I'm desperate to get hold of a copy. Please post a message if you are able to get hold of it on DVD. Fiona, Melbourne Australia."

  • "I had not seen this movie since I was a kid. I had forgotten so much of it. However something about the movie always reminded me that I wanted to view it again."

  • "I saw its initial premiere and was completely mesmerized. Duke won a well-deserved Emmy and Freeman was nominated. This movie was so successful when it premiered on NBC that it eventually earned theatrical release overseas."

  • "Last summer we went down the driveway and saw the family standing out there next to the huge iron lighthouse. They looked at us for a second and then just turned around. It was funny because I thought we would get in trouble but I guess a lot of people do that."

  • "I saw this on TV back when. I never forgot it. I miss these kinds of intimate, sensitive stories with no gimmicks or special effects. Story and acting."

  • "Imaginative storytelling, writing, directing, and acting without any gimmicks … The key ingredients were simply art and talent."

  • "Without political correctness. Just some from the gut and heart human turmoil and genuine connection."

  • "One of the finest two-character studies ever produced."

  • "After watching this the first time years ago as a child, I was never able to find it again, so thanks for downloading. This was a great movie and I love both characters and actors but I will say that I watch this up until the end and then turn it off and make my own ending in my head."

  • "I first saw it when I was younger. I remember being shocked hearing the N-word. But I was blown away with both actors' performances. This is a movie that should be in the top 250, and yet not many people have heard of it. I don't mind admitting it. I have searched for this film for over 30 years. And it was only yesterday a person who uses this website helped me find the film's title. That person is ladyboss1717. I wish to thank that person in helping me find a classic. Trust me! Please see it."