ANNE OF GREEN GABLES AND THE DEATH OF ‘GILBERT BLYTHE’

statements_524456 Social media reaction to the unexpected death this month of Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie, who so memorably played Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables, came almost entirely from the distaff side. Not too many guys were fans of the movie, I guess. Well, I’m a fan. A big one.

Like many of my gender, it seems, I was originally pretty dismissive of the whole Anne of Green Gables thing. Who cares about the adventures of some spunky 11-year old orphan girl in turn-of-the-20th century Prince Edward Island? She hates her red hair. Boo hoo. Bring on Anna Karenina.

But my mind was changed when I went to what I had hoped would be a party at a friend’s house, only to discover all the women heading into the TV room to watch Anne of Green Gables. Thinking they couldn’t possibly be serious, I tried cracking a few jokes. They told me to be quiet. So I reluctantly sat down to watch, too. Of course, much to my surprise, once I parked my prejudices by the door, I was charmed. No violence, except for Anne smashing her slate over poor Gilbert’s head, no sex, no deafening sound effects. Just a tender, perfectly made movie, with a superb cast.

Could anyone have been better than Megan Follows as Anne Shirley, Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla and Richard Farnsworth as dear Matthew, the loveliest man on the face of the earth? Then, there was Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe, the sweet-natured soul tortured by his love for the spirited but flinty Anne. Opinion was divided. He didn’t fit everyone’s idea of Gilbert from the book, and at times, he did appear a bit awkward on screen, a tad too old for the part (18 when the movie was filmed). Others found him perfect. Over time, however, since this is a movie that effortlessly absorbs repeated viewings, even those of us who were at first reluctant have grown to cherish him, too, along with everything else about this fine Canadian film. Anne-07 There’s much to be said for a movie that tells a good story, that’s well-acted and gently escapist enough to let you forget about that increasingly bad old world outside. It’s also unapologetically Canadian, in the good sense of that fine word. So, if you’re like I used to be and still dismissive of Anne of Green Gables, now’s the time to give it a whirl, surrender to its charm, and mourn Jonathan Crombie. He was 48, but forever young as Gilbert Blythe.

Here is a full length obituary of Crombie from Saturday’s Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/dreamy-gilbert-blythe-actor-jonathan-crombie-loved-the-stage/article24124077/

And this is an excellent piece from the Guardian that praises the character Gilbert Blythe as superior to many other rejected mail suitors in literature : http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/24/jonathan-crombie-dead-gilbert-blythe-novel-anne-of-green-gables

P.S. A sequel, Anne of Avonlea, was pretty fair, as sequels go, but the less said about Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story the better. Anne and Gilbert don’t belong on the battlefields of World War One.

A further personal postscript. My aunt loved Anne of Green Gables and Canada’s most famous author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, her entire life. She read all the Anne and Avonlea books. Having grown up on a farm in the Fraser Valley, the bucolic splendor of Montgomery’s PEI gave her nothing but pleasure. As noted above, I kind of sniffed at this “defect” in my beloved Auntie Gret with that knowing smugness of someone pleased with himself for being into “serious” literature. Don’t need no stinkin’ girlie stuff! But was won over by the movie.

UnknownMy mother, a high school English teacher, was slow to warm to Anne of Green Gables, too. But my aunt’s view had prevailed  by the time she compiled her pioneering textbook in 1973 with the pulsating title, Canadian Literature, Two Centuries in Prose. Believe it or not, this was the first book designed to introduce high school and college students to our own country’s literature in one distinct volume. And she did not hesitate to include an excerpt from Anne of Green Gables, defending it as far more than a “children’s classic”, with its universal Cinderella theme (Jane Eyre, Pygmalion) and particularly Canadian motif of nostalgia for a world of peace and protection.

Later, we all shared the joys of the long-running, spin-off CBC series, Road to Avonlea, that introduced us to the remarkable Sarah Polley. The series also featured fine Canadian actors R.H. Thompson, Cedric Smith, Lally Cadeau, and of course, the late Jackie Burroughs as the indomitable Aunt Hetty. Sure, it wasn’t The Sopranos or The X-Files, or anything like that, but it was well-made, entertainment that everyone in our diverse family could enjoy. We were in China, my brother’s family was in Thunder Bay, Auntie Gret was in Burnaby, and my mom and sister were in good old Newmarket. Watching it made us all feel together, despite our vast separations. There’s a lot to be said for that. (My brother’s step-daughter loved Sarah Polley in the series. When she heard that young Sarah lived with her father in Aurora, just south of Newmarket, she and my sister ferretted out her address to say ‘hi’, but no one was home.)

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Yet the author who created all this enchantment, Lucy Maud Montgomery, had such a sad personal life, herself. She made an unfortunate, late marriage to a minister who suffered from deteriorating mental health. Despite the world-wide fame of Anne of Green Gables, such were the times that Montgomery loyally followed her husband to his modest church posting in Uxbridge, not that far from Newmarket. Their two children disappointed her. Acutely lonely and battling her own depression, she tried to escape by churning out more and more Anne-style books set in Prince Edward Island. They sold well, but there was only one Anne of Green Gables.

Years after she died in 1942, her personal journals were published. They sold well, attracting many new readers with her Unknownfrank, adult descriptions of her struggles with life and the hardships of being a woman, long before feminism. My mother and my aunt read every word. When Auntie Gret came east for a visit, she and her sister went prowling around the wilds of Kettleby and mighty Zephyr, looking for the manse where Lucy Maud lived with her difficult husband. Sort of like us younger folk searching out Dylan landmarks in Hibbing.

When my aunt was forced to move into an assisted-care facility, she took only one book with her. It was, of course, her life-long companion, Anne of Green Gables.

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GOD BLESS US, EVERYONE

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First of all, a big, blustery “Hum……bug!” to CBC, which is “celebrating” Christmas Eve by showing the washed-out, colourized version of A Christmas Carol, the one with Alastair Sim at his most brilliant as the definitive Ebenezer Scrooge. All the gloom, dark shadows and winter bleakness that are such a part of the classic 1951 British version of Dickens’ oft-filmed tale are gone, in return for vapid browns and greens. I could barely bring myself to watch the promos. When it comes to CBC management, I am forced to ask, as Scrooge did: “Are there no prisons.”

To make up for this travesty, I offer those of my blog followers who are as devoted to A Christmas Carol as I a pair of web stocking stuffers sure to delight them. But first, a few preambles.

“Waiter. More bread!….Ha’penny extra, sir…..No more bread!”

“Business???!! Mankind was my business!”

“Fetch down Master Scrooge’s box!”

“Isn’t that old Fezziwig?”

“It’s such a goose, Martha!”

“The one as big as me? It’s hanging there, still.”

“I don’t deserve to be so happy….Label, label, label, label, label.”

“Merry Christmas, Mister Scrooge. In keeping with the situation.”

“You’ve made Fred so very ‘appy.”

“I am behind my time, sir. I was making rather merry yesterday….I’m sure you were. Step this way, Mr. Cratchit. I’m not going to put up with this sort of thing, any longer. Which leaves me no alternative…but to raise your salary…. No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses, Bob. I’ve come to them.”

Yes, like millions, I watch it every year, as much a part of my Christmas tradition as the pudding singing in the copper. I know as many of the wonderful lines as those in Casablanca. (Come to think of it, both Scrooge and Rick turn from cynics into guys with a heart, however bruised…a similarity little remarked upon….until now.)

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And so it came to pass, long ago, in the little town of Newmarket, that I first became aware of Dickens’ classic tale. On a snowy morning just before Christmas, a time no one referred to as ”the festive season”, all the kids on our street were talking about what they had seen on television the night before. Something about ghosts and chains and a mean old guy named Scrooge and being scared out of their wits. It was, of course, Alastair Sim and A Christmas Carol. But, like the Cratchits without a turkey, we were a family without a television. So it was not until a year or two later, when a small “idiot box” finally made it into our house, that I finally got to see A Christmas Carol for myself.

My appetite for the movie, which is perfect in every way, was whetted by our Grade Seven teacher, who might have been our own version of Scrooge. She was the meanest, crabbiest, fiercest teacher you could imagine, with a well-used black strap she didn’t hesitate to use on whomever might be in her bad books on a particular day. But as Christmas approached, she miraculously turned into a big softie. We sang Christmas carols, put up decorations, and best of all, she read us Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It was if she, too, had been visited by the Three Spirits.

Before there were videos, my mother, who also loved the movie, would scour the TV listings every Christmas Eve to see which channel was playing Alastair Sims’ great tour-de-force, and when. Once, I seem to recall, the only showing was midnight on CKVR in Barrie. We watched late into the night, barely disturbing Saint Nick as he filled our stockings ng with such care. Like Christmas Day without Martha in the Cratchit household, it would not have been Christmas Eve without A Christmas Carol.

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But last week, I did something completely different. For the first time since Rocket Richard retired, I read good old Dickens’ original. Verrrrrrrry interesting, as they say. Many scenes in the movie were taken directly from Dickens, word for word. However, much to my surprise, some of the best bits were not even hinted at in the book. They were the creation of the movie’s perfectly-named screenwriter Noel Langley. He did the seemingly impossible. Yes, folks. In my opinion, believe it or not, the movie version is better!

The sheer, unbridled giddiness that courses through the movie Scrooge on Christmas Day, with Sim prancing around in his nightgown, standing on his head, scaring himself in the mirror, frightening Mrs. Dilber before giving her a guinea, hollering at the boy to buy the turkey, and on and on, far surpasses what’s in the book. And is any scene more wonderful than the 1951-xmas-maidheart melting moment when the reformed Scrooge hesitates nervously before going into his nephew’s drawing room? He receives a nod of encouragement from the sweetest maid in the history of filmdom. With the strains of Barbara Allen playing softly in the background, I choke up every time.

Okay, enough of me. Here are those promised treats. First is a definitive account of all the scenes from the 1951 movie that were not written by Dickens. That’s followed by the pièce de résistance, an interview with the young actress who played the maid all those years ago. It was her last appearance before the cameras.

http://www.sheeplaughs.com/scrooge/alastairsim.htm

http://dickensblog.typepad.com/dickensblog/2013/05/meet-the-maid-an-interview-with-theresa-derrington-cozens-hardy.html?cid=6a010536c2d604970c019101ddedd5970c

As Stompin’ Tom liked to say: Merry Christmas, everybody!

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LABOUR DAY MOVIE VIEWERS OF THE WORD UNITE!

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My mother hated Labour Day. For her, a high school English teacher, it was not only a day to pay tribute to workers and unions, but a signal that the lazy, hazy days of summer were over, and it was time to go back to work. Every year, the prospect of facing classroom after classroom of demanding new students caused a thick knot of apprehension in her stomach. And my mother was an excellent teacher. Long after she retired, she continued to feel those same old familiar twinges of Labour Day dread.

This year, of course, there will be no back to school on Tuesday. Instead, B.C. teachers will be on the picket line, while classrooms sit empty. One expects at least some of them, then, to reflect on the original purpose of Labour Day, a celebration of struggles to improve worker wages and working conditions. You know, Labour Day….that one day of the year when newspaper editorial writers and politicians pretend they really admire unions for what they do on behalf of their members.

So, teachers, on your last day of “free time” before re-donning those good old picket signs tomorrow, why not watch a Labour Day movie to get you all inspired? Good for non-teachers, too! (One doubts many will be following the example of the loony-right Freedom Foundation to the south of us, which is urging all Americans to work today, to protest “all the abuses of organized labour”.) As a Mickleblog public service, here’s my Top Ten List of Movies to Watch on Labour Day. Further suggestions welcomed!

(Thanks to Mark Leier, former director of the Centre for Labour Studies at Simon Fraser University, specializing in union and left-wing worker movements, for the idea. And a cautionary note: not all of these movies paint unions as 100 per cent good.)

10. On the Waterfront. Okay, this isn’t going to get anyone fired up to join a trade union, but it’s a vivid depiction of what happens when unions go bad, and ordinary workers are faced with tough choices. “I coulda bin a contender…,” Brando laments.

9. Roger and Me. I am not as big a fan of Michael Moore as others. The journalist in me doesn’t like the way he sometimes distorts chronology, stages stunts and edits interviews for his own purposes. But he’s often funny and, at his best, provides some badly-needed skewering of “things that are wrong” with U.S. society. Roger and Me, dealing with massive layoffs by General Motors in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, was his first documentary to hit it big. Lots of good moments.

8. North Country. Another movie that does not show a union in a particularly good light, but well worth watching for the courage of a female mine worker combatting on-the-job sexism in a northern Minnesota town. The union meeting is a classic. Stars Charlize Theron, along with the ever-excellent Frances McDormand. And, as a special bonus, there are many songs by Minnesota native Bob Dylan, including a killer version of Tell Ol’ Bill.

7. Silkwood. The harrowing, true life story of Karen Silkwood, who became a union activist when she discovered serious safety violations in the Oklahoma nuclear power plant where she worked. Screenplay by Nora Ephron. Directed by Mike Nichols. Starring Meryl Streep and Cher. All four received Oscar nominations. Very well done.

6. Blue Collar. It’s been a long time since I saw this little known film, starring Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor and Yaphet Kotto. But I remember finding it quite powerful in its presentation of “ordinary” blue collar workers, and, like On the Waterfront, what to do  when they discover their union is corrupt. It’s useful to remember that corruption used to be far more pervasive years ago in unions based in the United States.  Many were subsequently cleaned up by vigilant prosecutors and an aroused membership. While Canadian labour organizations, like the rest of us, make mistakes, union corruption has always been relatively rare up here. A movie that exposes union corruption and intimidation is not necessarily anti-union, unless it suggests such matters are endemic, which they are not. Note: this strong movie is not a comedy, despite the presence of Richard Pryor.

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5. Grapes of Wrath. This tremendous, moving adaptation of Steinbeck’s classic novel about downtrodden Okie sharecroppers during the Depression would have been at the top of my list, but it’s not strictly a union movie. However, it certainly touches on the fight for decent wages and the thuggish forces unleashed against those simply standing up for their rights. Henry Fonda’s famous speech that closes the movie is unforgettable.

4. Made in Dagenham. This excellent, under-appreciated film, staring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Rosamund Pike, deals with the tensions and ups-and-downs of a pivotal strike by a group of determined women at a Ford plant in England in 1968. They wanted equal pay with men. Imagine that. I found it quite uplifting.

3. Harlan Country, USA. I know there are other terrific documentaries about strikes and unions, but it’s hard to imagine any better than this riveting profile of a coal miners’ strike in deepest Kentucky. Directed by Barbara Kopple, the film won an Academy Award for best documentary in 1976. Powerful.

2. Matewan. Independent film-maker John Sayles is one of my favourite directors. I’ve seen most of his films and rarely have I been disappointed. Although there’s a lot of competition, this may be his best. It covers a violent, real miners’ strike in the coal fields of West Virginia in the early 1920’s. The marvellous David Strathairn is particularly wonderful as the town sheriff trying to keep law and order, when both sides have guns. James Earl Jones, as always, is great, too. Hazel Dickens dominates the soundtrack with several haunting songs straight out of the backwoods. Extremely satisfying movie on all counts.

1. Norma Rae. No surprise. The best movie ever made about union organizing in a tough environment. Yet Norma Rae succeeds so well because it is more than that. There’s also a great deal of human drama, too, as individuals caught up in the action struggle with their own lives, not merely against conditions in the textile mills. If you’ve already seen the movie, you’ll remember that one scene destined to live forever in union lore. I dare you to remain unmoved. Sally Field won a well-deserved Oscar for her strong performance, but her husband Beau Bridges does a good job as well, trying to cope with forces he never imagined when the two were married. Essential viewing.

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P.S. Also recommended are some movies I haven’t seen but are touted by others: Bread and Roses, Strike (Eisenstein’s silent move classic), Salt of the Earth, and Germinal, based on Zola’s epic novel of coal miner families and a strike in  northern France.

HAPPY REST OF LABOUR DAY!

And a final word to teachers, if you’d rather spend the day not thinking about the strike, or anything to do with unions, — an understandable sentiment — treat yourself to Mr. Holland’s Opus. Guaranteed to cheer you up.

IN WHICH I SEARCH FOR TRACES OF GEORGE CLOONEY IN PARADISE

I’m a big fan of The Descendants, the Alexander Payne, Hawaii-based movie with George Clooney in the pivotal role. While The Descendants received reasonable critical acclaim and won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, I still feel the movie is a bit under-rated. Even at the time, you didn’t hear much buzz about it. Maybe that’s because the film is more heartfelt than whiz-bang. Clooney plays Matt King, an affluent Hawaiian from a pioneer family who is suddenly faced with a domestic crisis that forces him to try and re-connect with two good-hearted  but troubled daughters.

Beyond the affecting characters and storyline, I also admired the fact that Hawaii, rather than serving as merely a scenic backdrop (hello there, Elvis), was itself a major player. The movie gave me a sense of what it’s like living in a seeming paradise, while still having to deal with the travails of life. Who can forget the scene when Matt frantically runs down the road in his flip-flops?

I was also captivated by the traditional Hawaiian music featured in The Descendants. None of that Don Ho “Tiny Bubbles” dreck. This was the real deal, full of lovely, haunting melodies, sung mostly in Hawaiian and featuring the slack key guitar that defines music authenticity on the Islands. After months of searching, I managed to find the soundtrack CD in a downtown Toronto record store, and have yet to tire of it.

So, on a recent, first-time visit to the enchanting island of Kauai, where a good chunk of The Descendants takes place, instead of surfing, snorkeling and sunbathing, I searched out key locations from the movie. (I must do the same for Blowup one of these days. Where was that ghostly, lusciously-green park, anyway?)

The best was having a happy hour pint at the legendary Tahiti Nui pub, the intimate local establishment in Hanalei, where George Clooney and Beau Bridges chat away, sitting on a couple of the dozen or so vinyl-covered, old rickety bar stools.

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The bar remains pretty much untouched by any fame from the movie, with only a small picture of George and Beau on the wall, amid many others from the bar’s 50-year history and its long-ago founder, “Auntie” Louise Marston. There was a slack key guitar guy on the bandstand and Julia Whitford, who’s in the movie, was trying out a new mai tai. “I’m bored,” she explained, “and you gotta keep trying new stuff to keep the customers coming back.”

Earlier, we had walked along majestic Hanalei Beach, looking for the vacation cottage that housed the family of the faithless Brian Speers, with whom Matt King’s wife was having an affair. There’s a funny scene involving George of the Jungle spying on the scoundrel by peeking over a hedge. We soon found the infamous abode, now peppered with signs reminding people like me that it was on private property.

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Location groupie-ism, however, has its limits. We didn’t bother checking out the pricey St. Regis Princeville Resort, where Matt King registers with his kids and asks the desk clerk if Brian Speers is staying there. Nor did we pay the bucks for a tour of the beautiful, privately-owned ranch that stands in for the vast acreage owned by the King family, most of whom want to develop into resorts and shopping centres.

We watched the movie one more time before heading out on our location quest, and it was all good fun. Most locals have stories about the movie shoot. “My mother had lunch with George Clooney,” says the guy showing us around the old Hanalei mission house. (You wanna get away from the tourists? Tour the mission house. P.S. It’s great.)

The whole island, of course, is terrific, with a lot of history still standing, apart from the stunning scenery and lustrous beaches. At the lookout by the Kilauea Point lighthouse , we saw a humpback whale rise out of the ocean and splash down six times, while frigate birds, albatrosses, tropicbirds and, yes, red-footed boobies soared above the surrounding cliffs on one unforgettable morning.

So far, huge waves of tourism have given Kauai a pass. It retains a laid-back character, particularly in the small towns along the shores which have resisted development. And we never had a bad meal. As an added bonus, you can drop in at the most western independent bookstore in the US of A. It has a wonderful selection of book (always helpful for a bookstore…hehe). Business, the owner says,  is good, and we were able to buy even more Hawaiian music, there.

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The Descendants, the movie’s marvellous soundtrack, and Kauai, itself – all highly recommended. Mahalo.

THE PRAYING MANTIS THAT ALMOST ATE OUR CAR

I felt we were trapped in a sequel of The Deadly Mantis, great rival to The Creature From the Black Lagoon and Them in terrifying movie goers with tales of creatures gone wild during the mild and crazy 1950’s.

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This gigantic praying mantis, with head intact, landed on our car on beautiful Kauai, and wouldn’t leave. I mean, look at the size of that sucker. Clearly, it wanted munchies, and there we were. Luckily, a good old member of the NRA arrived and blasted it to mantis heaven with his AK-47. I love this country, man.

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PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: THE NEEDLE AND THE DAMAGE DONE

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Philip Seymour Hoffman may not have been the best actor of his generation, but it’s hard to think of anyone who was better.

The news that he had died, and even worse, of a stupid, senseless, drug overdose, came to me via a brief cell phone check during a snack stop on a hike along North Vancouver’s Lynn River. Nothing seemed quite so exhilarating after that, and we talked about Hoffman much of the way back.

In any movie I saw that he was in, I can’t think of a scene when the superbly-gifted Hoffman wasn’t, well, basically perfect. He was a master of the acting chops.

Yet Hoffman made it with no matinee looks, no lithe, lean frame, granite jaw or great abs. Rather, he was a shuffling bear of a man with unruly hair and an often quizzical expression, who just seemed to melt into his parts. He was always in character.

I was lucky enough to have seen Hoffman on stage in New York City. He and the equally great John C. Reilly shared the main roles of 030900truewest3jmSam Shepard’s tough, riveting, often hilarious play, True West. They played two very different brothers – one hard, one soft, but both scarred victims of their dysfunctional family. Each performance, they switched brothers. Watching these gifted young actors take over the intimate theatre in such meaty roles was mesmerizing. And unforgettable.

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Now, we will never have Philip Seymour Hoffman to mesmerize us again. His loss is made even more tragic by the manner of his leaving. A needle sticking out of his arm. Heroin scattered about. A goddamned drug overdose.

Hoffman had been clean and sober for 23 good, long years, only to relapse last year for who knows what reason. The agony of the addict is a daily struggle, the sweet seduction of heroin so difficult to resist. One is left to speculate whether, with more progressive drug policies, Hoffman’s deadly overdose might never have occurred.

So we are left to mourn the passing of a brilliant artist. To weep, but also to rage against the dying of the light of Philip Seymour Hoffman, lost to drugs and medieval attitudes to harm reduction. What a bloody shame. What a bloody waste.

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/feb/03/philip-seymour-hoffman

http://www.nytimes.com/video/movies/100000002684821/philip-seymour-hoffmans-many-roles.html?emc=eta1

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2014/02/philip-seymour-hoffmans-genius.html

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DYLAN, DAVE VAN RONK AND INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

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You want stupid? I’ll give you stupid.

So it’s 1965, and I have been besotted by Bob Dylan for most of the past year. He’s to appear at Massey Hall, backed by a Yonge St. rock band known as Levon and the Hawks, who would later morph into some group called The Band. This is during Dylan’s historic tour after he’d “gone electric” at that July’s Newport Folk Festival, his bold, uncharted and incredibly controversial move that changed everything in music. The first half of the concert was to be acoustic, the second would include Levon Helm and the boys — all destined for the lovely, intimate concert space of Massey Hall. Click here for a remarkable interview with Dylan the next day.

But did I go? Ohhhhhh, no. Mr. High-and-Mighty Me was boycotting Dylan for “selling out”, for giving into crass commercialism by strapping on an electric guitar and abandoning his powerful protest songs. I still can’t believe what an idiot I was. Rarely a month goes by that I don’t think of and regret anew my stubborn, brain-dead decision.Adding to my idiocy was the fact I hadn’t even listened to the “new” Dylan.

That didn’t happen until 1966, when I had a summer job washing dishes at a UBC dining hall. A fellow dish-washer, tired of my ranting about Dylan, kindly offered to actually play Bringing It All Back Home for me. Off we went to his rented room. The evening was unforgettable. ImageFrom the first thrilling notes and words of crazy, raucous Subterranean Homesick Blues, to the last lingering tones of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, I was stunned. I had no idea. A year too late, but amid the company of so many others, the album totally transformed my musical life. I rushed out to buy it, then the even more ‘electric’ Highway 61 Revisited with, in Dylan’s memorable phrase, its “wild mercury sound”. I played them  over and over, analyzing the lyrics to death with fellow ‘Dylan freaks’. The Shakespeare of our age has been part of my life ever since.

Yet Bob had to start somewhere, and, as we all know, he boarded his rocket to fame as a young, scruffy folk singer. Which brings me to Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest in the ongoing, prodigious output of Joel and Ethan Coen.  The movie tackles the early 60’s folk scene in Greenwich Village. As with most films by the Coen brothers, it’s very well done, on the surface. They do a good job capturing the look and feel of that long lost but pivotal era, just before folk singers hit it big, particularly those who wrote their own songs. Even better if they penned protest ballads.  A few months after the movie seems to end, Dylan tossed off Blowin’ in the Wind, and the music business was never the same.

There are also some pretty fair depictions of those floating around the pre-Dylan folk scene at the time. The rumpled old manager “Mel” is modelled on Moe Asch of Folkway Records, and the caricature of Albert Grossman, who tells Llewyn Davis there’s “no money” in his music, is dead on. Grossman famously went on to manage both Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. The friendly “army guy” is based on Tom Paxton. He was in the army for a year or two, before emerging as one of the best of the new breed of folk singers. I must have played his album Ramblin’ Boy a hundred times. There are some beautiful songs, and  I have never tire of it.  There’s even a newspaper song. (“Daily News, daily blues. Pick up a copy any time you choose. Seven little pennies in the newsboy’s hand, and you ride right along to Never Never Land.”)

Sadly, however, like so many movies by the talented brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis lacks a heart. Davis, brilliantly played by Oscar Isaac, is mostly a jaded mediocrity with little star quality, who manages to disguise whatever love he may once have had for folk music. The Coens seem more intent on re-creating a time in America, only to mock it with sardonic detachment. Yet their movie is set on the cusp of one of the most fascinating times in American musical history. Why feature a guy on the fringes, with few redeeming features, other than concern for a wayward cat?

Plus, I hate the fact that reviewers persist in saying that Llewyn Davis is based on Village folk singer Dave Van Ronk. It’s not. There are a few tidbits taken from his entertaining autobiography, but Van Ronk was never a scuffling dead beat like Davis. He was big, at least in folk music circles. At one time, Dylan said his only ambition was to be as “big” as Dave Van Ronk. Here’s a fascinating take on the movie by Terri Thal, Van Ronk’s wife at the time.

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(I love this old photo of Dylan, girlfriend Suze Rotolo — on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan — and Dave Van Ronk.)

My view will be much in the minority, since the Coen brothers are such great film tacticians, seemingly incapable of making a bad movie. They, themselves, have expressed the hope that Inside Llewyn Davis will inspire others to discover the great folk music of the past. They have might have done better driving others to the sounds of those good old vinyl discs by making a movie that was less sour and more heartfelt.

Yet I do thank the brothers for returning this aging folkie, at least, back to the music he loved so much as a callow, know-it-all youth. The last few days have been full of mellow nostalgia.