Friday, October 23, 2020

American Rights


Here are parody song lyrics I wrote for the times we are alivin'. I would love for someone who can sing and play guitar (or piano) to record this, even if just on your phone, that would be great!  Please send me a copy. Click here for an instrumental version of American Pie

American Rights (to the tune of American Pie by Don McLean)
Written by RA Burlingham

A short, short time ago
I can still remember how
The country used to make me smile
And I knew that if I had my chance
That I could make my family dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while

But January made me shiver
With every Fox News story delivered
Bad news on the TV screen
I would just look and scream

I can’t remember if I tried
To find a place where I could hide
And something ached all inside
The day democracy died

Bye, bye Miss American Rights
Drove with Sally to the rally but the rally was hype
And them good ole boys were tweeting racist bytes
Typing this’ll be the way that I lie
This’ll be the way that I lie

Did you write the book of laws
All so perfect, and without flaws
If the White man tells you so?
Do you believe in equality?
Can honest acts save humanity?
Without ever, losing your mind?

Well, I knew you wanted out of this
‘Cause I could feel your angst and fading bliss
We broke those sacred rules
Man, you made me get the blues
I became an aging office schmuck
With a broken marriage and a bad prenup
And I knew the country was out of luck
The day democracy died
I started singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Rights
Drove with Sally to the rally but the rally was hype
And them good ole boys were tweeting racist bytes
Typing this’ll be the way that I lie
This’ll be the way that I lie

For three years now, it’s the same old tone
While people flounder, foreign countries moan
But, that’s not how it used to be

When a woman pledged to you and me
With hope she borrowed from a Kennedy
And a voice that said that all of us are free

And when our heads were looking down
A businessman stole the woman’s crown
The courtroom was adjourned
A no-guilty verdict returned
And while Putin sat in his hallowed halls
He smiled and thought, I have his balls
And we all wondered why the gall 
The day democracy died
We were singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Rights
Drove with Sally to the rally but the rally was hype
And them good ole boys were tweeting racist bytes
Typing this’ll be the way that I lie
This’ll be the way that I lie

Helter skelter in a Covid swelter
Staying home in our fallout shelters
Cases rising and deaths grow fast

It doesn’t really matter who it grasps
Health officials warn the plague will last
But the businessman says, the virus will soon pass

Then a Black man lost his voice too soon
And the people marched to a frightful tune
We all got up to rant
Black lives need a chance

And when the players made the open field
They refused to sing while on one knee
Do you recall what it revealed?
The day democracy died
We started singn’

Bye, bye Miss American Rights
Drove with Sally to the rally but the rally was hype
And them good ole boys were tweeting racist bytes
Typing this’ll be the way that I lie
This’ll be the way that I lie

And here we are sheltered in one place
Generations lost in space
With little time to start again

Come on Don be nimble, Don be quick
Donny boy sat on a candle stick
‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend

And as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
All the top men who fell
Couldn’t keep us from his hell

As the protests chimed into the night
Asking for our equal rights
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day democracy died
He was singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Rights
Drove with Sally to the rally but the rally was hype
And them good ole boys were tweeting racist bytes
Typing this’ll be the way that I lie
This’ll be the way that I lie

I went online to fight the blues
I hoped to see some happy news
But I just had to turn away

I keep my distance, mask on face
And try to drown out the rants of race
But the noise there just continues to play

And in the streets, the people screamed
The mothers cried and the children dreamed
But no good words were spoken
The church bells all were broken

The founding fathers I admire most
George W, Tom and Johnny’s ghost 
They caught the last train to the coast
The day democracy died
And they were singing

Bye, bye Miss American Rights
Drove with Sally to the rally but the rally was hype
And them good ole boys were tweeting racist bytes
Typing this’ll be the way that I lie
This’ll be the way that I lie
And they were singing
Bye, bye Miss American Rights
Drove with Sally to the rally but the rally was hype
And them good ole boys were tweeting racist bytes
Typing this’ll be the way that I die.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

25 of the Best Movie Ending Scenes of All Time - Part II


Here is part II of the 25 best movie ending scenes. Now, I realize that any kind of “best” list is very subjective, but I do have some gauges that I use to determine what I believe is a great ending scene. I’ve alluded to these within my remarks on individual movie endings, but I thought I’d mention some of these before finishing the list.

  1. Are the images captivating, artistic, unique and elicit an emotional response beyond what most films do?
  2. Are the performances compelling, rise above the normal and layered?
  3. Does the scene sum up or put a big exclamation point on the entire film?
  4. Does the scene linger in the mind after the credits have finished and either moves you emotionally or makes you think or both?
  5. Is the dialogue such that it is not only memorable but contains lines that have entered into the national consciousness and repeated often. 
  6. Is the scene one that is mentioned often by critics, fans and others when talking about the film and cannot be left out of discussions about the film.
  7. Does the music not only complement but becomes as memorable as the rest of the elements in the scene?
  8. Does the scene provide a message or commentary about social, political, philosophical, or other issues that continue to resonate or be examined years after the release of the film?

I do not mean a scene has to include all of these to be great, but several of them for sure. Without further ado, here are the next 11 great endings to complete this list.   

The Godfather (1972) is another film on many top 10 lists, as well as its sequel, The Godfather Part II, almost in tandem. Not only does it have outstanding performances (Brando, Pacino, Caan, Duvall, Keaton, Cazale, Vigoda), but dialogue that is still quoted today and that has entered into the world’s lexicon, thanks to Mario Puzo, such as: “I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse.”; “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”; “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”; and “Sleeps with the fishes”. Simply hearing Nina Rota’s score also conjures up images of all things mobster and phenomenal direction by the great Francis Ford Coppola, the “Don” of this classic series. Even the poster is memorable. And, of course, it has a great ending. It is a combination of performance, writing and visuals that together act as a revelation of the completed transformation of the main character. Michael Corelone (Al Pacino) begins as a youthful, innocent youngest son of an Italian-American crime boss, Don Vitto Corelone (Marlon Brando), who marries outside his ethnicity as the story begins. As the tale progresses Michael goes through an emotional osmosis and like a piece of metal to a magnet is pulled into the family business by necessity, becoming the antithesis of what he was at the beginning of the film – the ostensible heir to the family business. The ending is simple, solidifying Michael as the new Don, meeting with a consigliere, his hand being kissed to show respect and status, all shown from his wife’s perspective - down the hall and through a doorway. It is the coda on his metamorphosis. The door then closes, shutting his wife out of the conversation, which he would not have done at the start of the story. But it also means that he has also shut out all his morals and ethics and has now committed to become a crime boss, shedding any sense of his incorruptibility or virtuousness that he may have had in his past. Cue music. See ending here.

Chinatown (1974) is a mystery film noir directed by the infamous Roman Polansky and written by academy award-winning screenwriter Robert Towne about the water wars in Los Angeles during the early 20th century. More than any other film, Chinatown has been studied by film students since its release and the ending is considered its most innovative scene, checking most of my criteria boxes for great endings.  The imagery and setting create more than it seems. Noir films, as the word implies, take place mainly at night (and mostly shot in black and white, yet not this one), symbolizing the corruption that infests a city and this final scene unfolds in the title’s location. The protagonists and villains square off. Polanski keeps the camera at eye level, with little cutting and no extreme closeups to allow the audience to emulate one of the onlookers watching the confrontation. Like Sunset Boulevard, there are no winners, just death and despair among the main characters. The performances from Jack Nicholson (Jake), Fay Dunaway (Evelyn), and John Huston (Noah) shine, with all embodying their characters to a tee.  Finally, it has a final line that sums up the entire film’s theme that also ties into the title. “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” Like the Trump equivalent, “It is what it is.” or “You can’t beat City Hall,” Jake is basically told you can’t change it so why try. Though guys like Jake don’t listen to that kind of advice. The perfect noir ending. See ending here

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is the only sci fi monster horror noir film on the list and this version is actually a remake of a 1950’s film of the same title. The update includes not only an upgraded cast and improved script, but also a move from a small-town setting to a big city (San Francisco); add to that superb direction from Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) and you have top notch eeriness. If you haven’t seen it or even its predecessor the story revolves around an alien invasion who are replacing humans with alien duplicates; each a perfect copy of the person replaced, only devoid of human emotion. After the film was released the term “pod people” entered the populist glossary signifying conformists who act mechanically. The gelatinous aliens manifest themselves as pods and take over humans while they sleep. Mathew (Donald Sutherland), a San Francisco Health Inspector, is attempting to keep himself from being transformed. The end scene shows Mathew inspecting a field of pod plants growing in the middle of the city. One of his colleagues who has been helping try to find a way to fight off the aliens sees him from afar, calls after him and approaches him in a hush voice, but then Mathew suddenly demonstrates the characteristic pose by which the "pod people" identify unconverted humans and points at the woman with a high pitched, ear-piercing scream signifying that he has been converted. The ending still makes you shimmer as if you were yourself discovering that the end of humanity was inevitable. Just writing this makes me uncomfortable. See ending here.

The Shining (1980) is yet another Kubrick film, this time based on superstar horror writer Stephen King’s book of the same name about a possessed hotel. It stars Jack Nicholson as an inspiring alcoholic writer who takes on the winter care-taking job at a Colorado resort and brings his wife and son along with him. The son, Danny, has psychic abilities along with the hotel’s cook and is a threat to the hotel’s possessed entities: the previous caretaker it seems murdered his family and killed himself. Jack (also the name of the character) slowly descends into madness as he is being manipulated by the evil hotel and attempts to murder his son, nothing getting in his way. Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and Danny (Danny Torrence) get away by trapping Jack in a garden maze where he freezes to death. But the story doesn’t end there. The last scene is a slow truck into a black and white photo on a wall in the hotel ballroom. As Kubrick continues to cut closer and closer the photo reveals an early 20th century party with a man looking exactly like Jack, with a devilish smile at the front and center of the revelry, then the camera tilts down to reveal an inscription that reads: Overlook Hotel July 4th Ball 1921. Huh? One can surmise that Jack has been indoctrinated into the supernatural entities that haunt the hotel and will contribute whenever the hotel feels threatened again. The film got mixed reviews when it came out. King had been one of the harshest critics since it deviates from his novel. But as the years have gone by it has gained cult status and even King has come around, somewhat. It is now considered one of the best horror films of all time. See ending here.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). It’s surprising that there aren’t more Stephen Spielberg films on this list and many have pretty good endings, such as Jaws, but none more so than the first of the Indiana Jones films. Written by Lawrence Kasdan, who also wrote The Empire Strikes Back from a story by George Lucas and Phillip Kaufman (sound familiar). It’s the well-known story about Indiana Jones and his trek in finding the mysterious and powerful Ark of the Covenant. It’s full of iconic scenes and familiar archetypes: The Nazis, the hated snakes, “throw me the idol”, the giant boulder, the poison dates, shooting the guy instead of getting in a sword fight, the guy getting chopped to death by a plane propeller – you know, adventure of a high order. After the climax, where the ark is opened and its supernatural power melts the villains, comes the true ending, one of those that kind of sums up our society in one slow crane shot out. It’s a coda to the story and one that reappears in the opening of the fourth installment. Previous to this last scene Indy and his university cohort question a government man about the whereabouts of the ark, Dr. Brody saying it “is a source of unspeakable power and must be researched.” The man promises that they have “top men” working on it.  After a scene of Indy lamenting to Marion about how they’re all “bureaucratic fools”, Spielberg cuts to a series of close ups of a large crate being nailed shut, locked up and dollied off somewhere. Cut to the slow crane shot revealing an extremely large warehouse full of thousands of like crates, representing the great government bureaucracy that stymies any productive work. If only Indian Jones could run for president. He could whip things into shape, (sorry for the pun). See ending here.

Cinema Paradiso (1998). I didn’t originally have this film on my list, but I was reminded about it, and such, took another look at the ending. This film is very sentimental to me, reminding me of the time spent in my father’s small Southern Mexican hometown where my grandfather ran the local open-air movie theater adjacent to the hotel my grandmother operated. As a kid I would sneak to the roof of the hotel where you could see the movie screen - the second feature often an R-rated flick (the modern equivalent being unsupervised HBO or Netflix). The protagonist of the film, Salvatore, lives in a small worn-torn Italian town with a similar (though with a roof) movie house. He befriends the projectionist, Alfredo, and hangs out in the projection booth with him (as I did sometimes), witnessing him cutting out all the kissing scenes and steamy shots per orders from the town’s priest. The two share a dislike of the censorship. As he grows up, Salvatore falls for a girl and takes over as the projectionist, but Alfredo keeps telling him he needs to leave the small town and seek his passion for filmmaking. The film ends with the now middle-aged Salvatore, a celebrated, though pompous, film director who one day finds out Alfredo has died and realizes he had not seen him in years. After the funeral he is given a reel of film that was a gift left to him by his mentor.  He watches the film in a screening room and discovers that it is a compilation of all those clips that had been cut out of the movies of his youth – the kiss reel - as it is referred to. Salvatore sheds tears as the amazing Ennio Morricone’s lush score crescendos. The message: What is important in life are those human connections we’ve made during our lives. I cry each time I watch the end and sometimes in other parts because of memories in my mind, much like Salvatore. A note. When first released on international screens 51 minutes were cut from that which was first shown in Italy. It seems it didn’t do very well on its initial run, but after winning Cannes, things turned around. In 2002, they released the “director’s cut” in the U.S. with 171 minutes restored. Make sure you watch this version because it really is better, and surprisingly doesn’t feel longer. BTW - This is the only foreign-language film on the list. See ending here.

Thelma & Louise (1991). The ending of this female buddy film is similar to another film on this list by using a certain effect to great effect. Before we get to that let’s recap Ridley Scott’s antihero movie. A timid housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) joins her friend Louise (Susan Sarandon), a single waitress, on a short fishing trip. Things go sideways when Louise shoots and kills a man at a bar who tries to rape Thelma. Louise decides to flee to Mexico, with Thelma joining her. On the way, Thelma falls for sexy young thief J.D. (Brad Pitt) and a sympathetic Detective Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) tries to convince the two women to surrender before their fates are sealed. The authorities catch up to them as they hide out on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Resolute in not getting caught they make a pact, kiss, rev their car, hold hands and drive straight for the cliff. The car is seen flying over the canyon but as it begins to descend the frame freezes and then fades to white, much like Butch and Sundance. You can debate the psychology behind their fatal decision or their relationship if you want, but it’s a simple reflection on how women are treated in our society. A bevy of men (loads of police cars and a helicopter) try to suppress them. Slocumb, who continued to fight for them until the end, represents the enlightened male trying to make things right. This film should have been the beginning of the MeToo movement, but it took another twenty years and Harvey Weinstein to turn the tides towards true gender equality (which still has a long way to go). Thelma and Louise are celluloid symbols for all those women who have fought the good fight for freedom and parity throughout history. See the ending here.

The Usual Suspects (1995) may be in the dictionary as the quintessential  example of a twist ending, much like the last film on this list, the Planet of the Apes from earlier and others that have big reveals such as Vertigo, Boogie Nights, Get Out, Fight Club, Arrival and The Crying Game, but I think this film’s twist is the least expected of all those. Most of the film is told in flashbacks from the point of view of Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) a con man with cerebral palsy. He tells the story about a bunch of inconsequential criminals who come under the control of an unseen crime lord by the name of Keyser Soze, who they had stolen from unknowingly. Soze subsequently blackmails them into stealing drugs from a ship from one of his rivals. Everyone on the ship is killed except two, Verbal, who claims he hid on the docks while Soze killed his co-conspirators and burned the ship, and Arkosh Kovash (Ákos Kovács), one of a rival gang of Hungarian mobsters who ends up badly burned in the hospital. Verbal is taken into custody and interrogated by US Customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri). Verbal tells this elaborate story that pins one of the criminals, Keaton, as the real Soze. Verbal makes bail and leaves the police station. Soon after Kujan notices all the names and other information Verbal confessed to all came from things that appear on a bulletin board or from other items in the office – thus it was all made up. Kujan runs out of the building to try to find Verbal but misses him. Meanwhile, Kovash had gained consciousness at the hospital and gave officials a facial composite picture of Soze, which appears on the station’s fax machine while Kujan searches for Verbal – the drawing looks very much like Verbal. Director Bryan Singer then dollies on a tight shot of Verbal’s body as he walks like a gimp down a city sidewalk. But then Verbal slowly loses the limp and contorted arm, finally appearing normal before the shot widens out to reveal Soze getting into a car driven by his subordinate, who had appeared throughout the film as his representative. You then hear Verbal/Soze say, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, and like that…he’s gone.” I guess you have to watch the movie for yourself to really grasp the effect. Some critics said at the time that they felt cheated because they spent two hours watching a story that was just a ruse, but what they didn’t understand was that the script, and any script for that matter, is a fabrication, even if based on true events. Plus, the point of the movie is to be more of a cathartic experience, so by the end we should feel the same as the Kujan character – that we were bamboozled by someone smarter than we. On a side note, a lot of my thoughts about this film come from hanging out with Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote the screenplay, for an evening during a screenwriters conference back when the film first came out. I asked him if he believed any part of the story actually happened or was it all made up by the Verbal character. His response, “a film that answers all of your questions is pointless.” That was a fun evening. See ending here. 

Big Night (1996) is a small independent personal film mostly from the artistry of Stanely Tucci who co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred, along with the great Tony Shaulhoub as Italian emigrant brothers in the 1950s who run a failing restaurant along the New Jersey shore.  An uncle has invited them back to help with his restaurant in Rome but the younger brother, Secondo (Tucci) and manager of their endeavor wants to try to make it in America. Primo (Shaulhoub) is the genius chef who can’t understand why Americans do not prefer his authentic dishes over their rival restaurant’s subpar Italian food. He wants to retreat back to Italy which creates tension between the brothers. Secondo goes to his rival Pascal for a loan but gets rejected because they have refused to come work for him, but with a bit of generosity tells Secondo he will call his friend Louie Prima, a very popular singer, to dine at their restaurant when in town; perhaps the publicity will bring in customers. Excited about the possibility, the brothers use all their savings to buy the best ingredients to prepare a winning meal for their “big night.” A big part of the film is the preparation of the food, which becomes like another character. They invite reporters and a large contingent of friends, including Pascal and his wife, who Secondo is having an affair with. When they realize that Prima isn’t coming, they begin indulging in the meal themselves. Then everything unravels – Pascal admits he never called Prima in order to push them to come work for him. Secondo’s girlfriend discovers he was having an affair with Pascal’s wife which ends with a rift and the brothers battle each other, culminating in division and heartache. The ending is simple and contains no dialogue. It is the next morning, Secondo makes an omelet in their kitchen, maybe for the very last time, and divides it into threes. He gives one third to their waiter Cristiano (Marc Anthony) and places the third on a plate he sets next to him when Primo reluctantly enters the kitchen. Primo sits down next to his brother and begins eating. While the two keep their eyes on their plates, Secondo pats his brother’s shoulders and then after a few moments, Primo puts his arm around his brother in solidarity. They then return to eating while it fades to black. No big twists, no fancy effects, just a reminder that family is important and even in disagreement love perseveres. It also recaps the pervasive importance of food throughout the film by showing the entire process of making the omelet. Anyone who isn’t hungry after watching this film must be an android. There’s something for everyone. See ending here.

Fargo (1996) is a classic Coen Brother’s black comedy thriller and has given birth to an equally critically acclaimed television series. It has an ending that many people forget because what sticks in their minds is the previous sensational wood chipper scene. After the conclusion of the kidnapping, murders and deceits our protagonist pregnant police chief Marge (academy award winning Frances McDormand) retreats to her bedroom to join her husband Norm (John Carol Lynch), who reveals that the post office picked his mallard painting to be on a stamp, but he laments it’s only the three cent one.  Marge comforts him saying, "whenever they raise the postage people need the little stamps,"(with that “Fargo” accent). As they snuggle Norm pats her tummy and they both say, one after the other, “Only two more months”, referring to the arrival of their baby. And it fades to black. What’s important is the contrast between the extraordinary dark events that fill most of the film and what happens to most people on a daily basis - having babies, loving each other, going to work, etc.  The Coen Brothers are trying to put things in perspective. An enduring part of all their films is that they try to reassure that there is good in the world and you should not get too cynical from all the bad. See ending here.

The Sixth Sense (1999) is the last film on the list and probably the film with the best-known twist ending. As I have done before, if you are one of the few people on Earth that hasn’t seen this movie then skip the following comments. I’m not sure how many people figured out the ending beforehand (I place myself in that category) but I’m guessing not too many. Along with the Crying Game, it was one of those films people tried their best not to reveal to their friends and family who had not seen it. I remember people biting their tongues because they really wanted others to experience the ending on their own. The trick ending became a staple for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan who has been tasked to try to one-up this film. That’s been really hard to do. The film contains one of the most quoted lines in film history, told by Cole (Haley Joel Osment), “I see dead people,” which is repeated during the final sequence reveal and was an omen to it. Suffice it to say, without having to repeat the whole storyline, Malcom (Bruce Willis) discovers he’s actually dead and comes to terms with that before disappearing. The ending is more than just a twist – it nicely sums up the themes of the supernatural, fear, communication, human connection and what I believe is the most important, self-love, as Cole learns to like and accept himself for who he is - a boy with special attributes. This realization leads to better experiences and happiness. It is something we can all learn from. See ending here.

That’s a wrap. I hope you enjoyed this list and perhaps it initiated some thinking about other films with great endings that you can come up with. Of course, this list is not definitive in any way as these things are so subjective. I would be thrilled to hear about some of your favorite endings and your reasoning. Perhaps I will create a new list with additional entries, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but sometime during the rest of my life. 

copyright 2020 Rich Burlingham

Monday, October 12, 2020

25 of The Best Movie Ending Scenes of All Time - Part I


I love movies and I’m sure you do also, and as a filmmaker I know that it’s really hard to pull off a great ending. Even though many movies have been made over the last 100+ years there are not that many GREAT endings.  I know it is subjective, but there are some that I, and many others who do these lists, believe are memorable and worthy of pointing out. I limited my selection to include only the very last scene or sequence in the film. There are a lot of movies with actions that take place near the end that are great, such as The Empire Strikes Back, where Han’s life is up in the air and Luke hears those words that rocked the galaxy far, far away, “No, I am your father”, but that all takes place earlier than the actual ending where Luke is saved from Cloud City. Now some of these have a series of scenes that together create an ending, but they all take place in one setting and some include a separate end shot that acts as a coda or exclamation point. So not to delay any further here are my top ending scenes, in order of release date. I have divided the list into two parts so here are the first 12. SPOILER ALERT – if you have not seen any of these films and wish to do so then I recommend skipping those, unless you don’t care to find out what happens at the end first.  

Gone with The Wind (1939).  A classic historical drama with lots of notable scenes throughout, but the ending is by far the most memorable. First, you see Rhett Butler (Clark Cable) say goodbye to his wife, Scarlett (Vivian Leigh), who he finally got fed up with, and utters those famous words after she asks what she should do, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”  It was scandalous back in 1939 and you can guess what a modern equivalent word would be. The camera follows Scarlet sobbing until she figures out, in close up, that she can go back to her childhood home of Tara and rebuild her life (symbolizing the rebuilding of the South) and she utters the somewhat less famous line of, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” Then cut to the coda shot of Scarlet at sunset standing under the famous oak tree with the plantation house in the distance and the Max Steiner theme filling up the theater. This film still holds the top spot for all-time box office, adjusted for inflation.  Check out ending here.

Citizen Kane (1941) is another classic film by auteur Orson Wells and on the top of many best film lists.  It’s a fictional story about the life of wealthy newspaper baron Charles Foster Kane, based eerily similarly on the real-life newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. The film is told in the guise of a mystery with a reporter being asked by his editor to find out why Kane’s last utterance was simply, “Rosebud”. The film paints a picture of an arrogant, callous publishing tyrant who alienates everyone, including those who love him, and though he gained success personified by his giant mansion called Xanadu, eventually loses everything. The narrator never truly finds out what made Kane tick. After dying, dropping the infamous snow globe, the end scene shows Kane's belongings being cataloged or discarded by the staff. They find the sled on which the eight-year-old Kane was playing on the day that he was taken from his home and his mother. Deeming it junk, they throw it into a furnace. As the sled burns, the camera reveals the brand name, ignored by the staff: "Rosebud."  Besides the antifascist political themes, Wells also tries to tell us that you can have all the trappings of wealth, but it is human connection that matters. The sled representing the last time Kane ever felt safe and loved. Check out ending here.

Casablanca (1943) is famous for its ending and bevy of memorable lines, such as, “Play it Sam, play As Time Goes By.”  Though it is usually misquoted as, “Play it again, Sam.” Coming out during WWII, Casablanca is all about putting country above self and that is capsulized by the ending scene. The story is about Rick (Humphry Bogart), an American expatriate who runs a club in German occupied Casablanca and remains neutral in the war between the Allies and the Nazis. He comes across some very sought-after travel papers that would allow those trapped in Casablanca to escape the German occupation. One day Rick’s ex-lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks into his bar to ask him if she and her husband could use the papers, but the fallout is their love reignites. The problem, her Nazi-hating husband Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is in the way.  Rick, though angry that Ilsa left him with no explanation, could easily have his friends in right places take care of Laszlo, but she explains that during their affair she thought he was dead, but when discovered he had escaped a concentration camp alive, she had to go back to him. In the end Rick’s conscious gets the better of him and decides to help. The end scene begins with Rick telling Ilsa she can’t stay, she has to leave with Laszlo on the plane because she would regret it, “maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but for the rest of your life.” Rick says goodbye, saying the famous line, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Then, as the plane taxis away, the German military officer Strasser (Conrad Veldt) arrives wondering why the local French police prefect (Claud Raines) hadn’t arrested Laszlo. The weasel Renault tells Strasser to ask Rick, but before Strasser can call for backup Rick shoots him. Renault covers for Rick, telling his men to “gather up the usual suspects.” Renault points out to Rick that now he’s no longer neutral. Renault offers Rick a way to escape to a free French outpost as payment for gambling debts. The two walk off into the night fog with Rick saying, “Louie, I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  
Check out ending here.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) is another film on many top 10 lists. As directed by Billy Wilder, it is a film noir about washed up silent film star Norma Desmond (real-life silent film star Gloria Swanson) who befriends a washed-up screenwriter, Joe Gillis (William Holden) who convinces her he needs to rewrite a Salome script she wants as her comeback film. Gillis is desolate, after having been rejected by every studio in Hollywood. The film opens with the death of Gillis floating in a swimming pool and the story is told by Gillis. In the end the senile Desmond is discovered as committing the murder but to get her into police custody, her dedicated butler (Erich von Stroheim) arranges for the press to have cameras and lights ready as a guise that they are shooting her film. She makes a grand exit down the staircase while thinking the famous Cecil B. DeMille is directing her.  As she approaches the cameras, her butler posing as the director, she says dramatically straight into the camera lens, “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup,” and then continues forward, filling the frame with her face. Like most noirs nobody really wins in the end, showing that both good and evil lie in all of us. Check out ending here.

Shane (1953) A classic western starring Alan Ladd as the titular Shane, a drifter gunfighter with a mysterious past.  He ends up helping a homesteading family in the Wyoming territory as a ranch hand. He especially befriends Joey, the young boy in the household. He uses his skills to protect the boy and help defend the family from greedy landowners who want to take over their land.  But his past catches up to him and he knows he has to leave to protect the family. The famous ending has Shane riding off into the distance, the Wyoming mountains looming over. Joey, who admires and wants Shane to stay, runs to watch him leave but continues yelling out reasons for him to return, finally screaming in desperation, “Shane, come back!” I don’t think even macho men could keep their eyes dry during this ending scene. Check out ending here.

The Searchers (1956) is the most iconic western ever made. Director John Ford, John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Ward Bond and the Monument Valley landscape.  When I visited Arizona many years ago my friend Steve and I stayed in the same hotel the cast and crew stayed at while filming. This film actually has both a classic opening and an ending shot that act as bookends – most of the ending scenes in this article are famous because of the performances and dialogue but the ending here is iconic because of Ford’s and his cinematographer, Winton C. Hoch’s artistry. Both the beginning and end show John Wayne either arriving or leaving a Texas homestead, showing the front door opening or closing, with strong contrast of light and dark. The ending represents victory, tragedy and iconic imagery all wrapped into one. There is also symbolism of good vs. evil, with John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards coming in from the light and exiting into it at the end. Is he an angel or the devil? It depends on your perspective. He returns his niece after she had been abducted by Comanche warriors, but he searched for her in order to kill her, as she was, in his view, contaminated by the Comanche. Once he finds her and discovers how well she assimilated unscathed he changes his mind and instead takes her back to friends, to what he considered civilization. It all depends on interpretation. The door opening at the start could symbolize a nation coming out of the devastating civil war, which occurred not too long before the story begins. The film as a whole is an allegory about manifest destiny with white supremacy justifying taking over Native American lands. It is what makes it such a great film: Layered with so much that you’d need a whole college course just to dissect it, encompassing history, psychology, philosophy and film studies. Check out ending here.

Some Like It Hot (1959) brings us to Billy Wilder again. The wizard of endings.  I could have easily included his film The Apartment (1960) as well, but I didn’t want this to be the Wilder show. This is the only full-out comedy on the list – the antics of two musicians on the run from the mob dressing up as women to hide among an all-girl’s band. It stars Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marylin Monroe. It’s a farce with pratfalls, misinterpretations and misguided antics perfectly put together. The ending is one of the best ever - comedy or drama. Jack Lemmon, who was posing as Daphne (but really Jerry), had been courted throughout the film by Joe E. Brown’s Osgood, a true millionaire and the only character not trying to hide their true selves. As they escape on Osgood’s motorboat Jerry comes clean, taking off his wig and revealing he’s a man. Osgood doesn’t miss a beat and says, “Well, nobody’s perfect”. The most faultless ending line ever. Like with The Apartment, Wilder leaves it up to the audience to determine what happens to the characters in the future, and it is this nebulous rim “shot” that makes it the best comedic film ending ever. 
Check out ending here.

Dr. Strangelove, or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). In the middle of the cold war, when the fear of nuclear war was at an all-time high, director Stanley Kubrick came out with this antiwar film, a black comedy exposing what many people dreaded - that the leadership of the two most powerful countries in the world couldn’t protect the Earth from complete annihilation. One of the most famous scenes from this film occurs near the end and shows Maj. T.J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens) riding an H Bomb like a bronco as it falls toward its explosive end. But it wasn’t the last scene in the movie. The last scene with actors takes place in the White House War Room, with the title character played by Peter Sellers (who also played the US President), a disabled German scientist in a wheel chair who stands up and says, "Mr. President, I have a plan" and then walks a few steps and declares as Armageddon approaches, "Mein Führer, I can walk!” Then it cuts to a series of nuclear bombs exploding to Vera Lynn singing an upbeat WWII ballad, We'll Meet Again. But that wasn’t the original ending. There was more to the scene, much more, but it was cut after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred soon before the film was to be released. The conclusion of the scene had Dr. Strangelove falling on his face, followed by an enraged General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) throwing a custard pie at the Russian ambassador after seeing him take pictures of the War Room. The Russian ducks, and the pie hits the President, triggering an all-out pie fight amongst all in the room - a comical exclamation mark on the absurdity of war. During the fight Turgidson declares, "Our President has been struck down in his prime!" The studio thought this ending would be seen as disrespectful by audiences so soon after JFK’s death. Only stills of the scene survive. I would love to see the whole scene as Kubrick intended and believe it would have made the ending even more significant than as released.  Check out released ending here.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) was a pioneering film ushering in a time when filmmakers were breaking many Hollywood norms. Director Arthur Penn turned a group of criminals and made them sexy, human and almost sympathetic, while making the law enforcers the villains. The ending was also groundbreaking by not only killing off the protagonists but in such a violent and over-the-top manner. The idea of antiheroes would continue throughout Hollywood during the 60’s and 70’s and continues today with the likes of Deadpool, the Dude and Prof. Snape, among others. Check out ending here.

The Graduate (1967) has gone down in history as having one of the most famous end shots of all time (and a few other great scenes and lines, as well.) If you’re one of the few people who has not seen the film and its ending it shows Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and Ellaine (Katherine Ross) sitting at the back of a city bus after Benjamin having just rescued Ellaine from marrying someone pressed on her by her mother, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), who had an affair with Benjamin earlier in the film. What makes the scene great are the expressions displayed on the faces of the lead characters. Though they remain silent and do not interact with each other, so much can be interpreted by the viewer. The film is symbolic of a period in history called the youth or counterculture revolution, summing the period up in one shot: They have broken conventions on how kids are supposed to act (albeit listen to your elders as personified by the “plastics” line at the beginning of the film), and even though they really don’t know what the future will bring, at least now they will choose their own path. The last shot is of the bus driving off down the road to their future as The Sounds of Silence plays. Kudos to both director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry. The equally famous soundtrack, by Simon & Garfunkel and Dave Grusin, makes the film just that much better. Check out ending here.

Planet of the Apes (1968) has spawned countless sequels and reimagined versions, I think more than any other film series in history, except for maybe the James Bond films. The first one I believe is the best and is remembered for countless dialogue and imagery, such as the line, “Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!” voiced by Charleston Heston’s character, Taylor.  It is the surprise ending that had everyone talking in 1968 and still does.  After finally escaping his ape captives, Taylor and his mute human girl companion ride a horse along the desolate coast of an unnamed ocean when he comes across something that takes his breath away but is only slightly revealed to the audience. He jumps off the horse and falls to his knees in anger and despair. He cries out, “Oh, my God. I’m back. I’m home. All the time. We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God…damn you all to hell!” It cuts to the girl who looks up and then the camera zooms out to reveal the remnants of the Statue of Liberty sitting on the edge of the beach, signifying that Taylor had been on Earth the entire time and not on some distant planet.  Remember, this was during the height of the cold war, students, such as myself, were being taught in classrooms to “duck and cover” to naively guard against a nuclear attack. It sent chills all over me when I first saw the movie, especially at such a young age. The Vietnam War was raging, and it seemed a very good possibility that nuclear bombs could blow up the world...and then repopulate with simians. The ending still sends chills. 
Check out ending here.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) came out in a banner year for great films: Funny Girl, Rosemary’s Baby, The Odd Couple, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Thomas Crown Affair, Ice Station Zebra, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Night of the Living Dead, The Swimmer, the above mentioned Planet of the Apes and its sci-fi counterpart, Kubrick’s masterpiece. Like The Searchers, you could have a whole course designed around this film and there have been many. It was all conceived by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, but Clarke came out with a book version ahead of the film to give it some prestige. I saw it with my father and sister at the Princeton Playhouse theater on Witherspoon Street when there still were great single screen theaters. I was in 70mm awe, mystified and in love with science fiction. The meaning of the ending is still being talked about today. Clarke and Kubrick have said that they left it open to interpretation on purpose because the theme of the film couldn’t be expressed with dialogue or even conventional visuals – it needed to be felt. Kubrick said, “I think the power of the ending is based on the subconscious emotional reaction of the audience.” The Star Child approaches Earth to spawn a new age of enlightenment? Maybe? If you’ve never watched the film, then you must, and then you can come up with your own interpretation. All while hearing Also sprach Zarathustra" in your head. Check out this video that goes more deeply into the ending:

Easy Rider (1969) is one of those counter-culture films made by those in the middle of it, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern and like others on this list changed filmmaking forever. The box office hit independent modern Western explored the changing societal landscape at the time, especially generational tensions and issues such as drug use and communal lifestyles. Instead of horses they rode motorcycles or choppers, traveling through a Western landscape, such as the iconic Monument Valley (remember The Searchers). Wyatt or Captain America (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) are cash infused from a cocaine sale and take a cross country motorcycle trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Along the way they pick up an alcoholic ACLU lawyer named George (Jack Nicholson). In Louisiana while sleeping under the stars they are accosted at night by rednecks who beat them up, killing George. After tripping on LSD in New Orleans they head to Florida.  On the road two rednecks in a pickup truck shoot them dead just for kicks. The ending puts an ugly coda on the problems facing America during the 60’s and helps usher in a new era of films that expose the ugliness in America that had been sanitized by Hollywood up to that time.  Check out ending here.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) came out the same year as Easy Rider and was a more traditional Western about real-life train and bank robbers during the late 19th century. It was written by the great screenwriter William Goldman (Princess Bride), directed by George Roy Hill (The Sting, Garp) and starring Paul Newman (Butch) and Robert Redford (Sundance), along with Katherine Ross as Sundance’s girl. The film takes the likable antihero concept introduced with Bonnie & Clyde and expands on it to where you don’t just sympathize with these criminals, but you root for them to succeed. It is the ending that lifts this film as the best Western in the modern era. Hill uses the freeze frame technique to great effect at the end, the first major Hollywood film to do so. It’s now used all the time – just look at all the Rocky movies or a film I talk about in part II, Thelma & Louise. In this case though it is not a cliché, because it is not only used for emotional effect but allows the filmmakers to leave the visualization of Butch and Sundance’s death (the guns shots are still heard) better left to the audience’s imagination and thus keeping them from getting distracted by what would be gruesome deaths (what had happened with Bonnie and Clyde). The still frame also harkens back to the pair’s non-criminal “good times” spent in New York, shown in a sepia-toned photographic montage earlier in the film. I do not believe the film would have received as much praise and adulation all these years if not for that freeze at the end. It helps it linger in one’s mind far longer than most films.  Check out ending here.

That’s the “end” of Part I. Come back next time for more great endings from the 70s, 80s and 90s.  Please note that I believe it takes years for films to enter the movie zeitgeist, including great endings, thus I ended my current list in the year 1999, but there have been some films with great endings during the past 20 years.  Here are some of those you may want to check out and I’m sure you have some of your own: Call Me by Your Name, Inception, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Moonlight, and this film...  

Can you guess the movie?

Please share in the comments any thoughts or other film endings that you think are great. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Are You Full of Schadenfreude?


There is a term that has been battered around the interbabble lately, schadenfreude, a German word that translates to “pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. Why have many news anchors used this term lately? After the announcement that President Trump tested positive for and is experience symptoms from the Covid19 virus many people have felt joy after hearing the news.  

It’s understandable that moat people will experience schadenfreude when an apparent evil person, such as a pedophile serial killer, finally gets caught and convicted or even executed. But is it okay to have schadenfreude towards people who you may simply dislike or share different opinions over certain social or political issues? Now, I realize that there are feelings that we openly display publicly and those we reserve for ourselves or those closest to us. If a co-worker who you believe undermines your work or makes fun of how you dress gets a bad disease, such as cancer, is it okay to have schadenfreude? It is a fair question. The problem is that there is no official schadenfreude scale that can inform us on how we should feel. At the same time, should we feel guilty when we experience any kind of schadenfreude? 

I believe that you need to be honest with yourself, whether your honest with the world or not, is another matter. If your true feelings are joyful when you hear about someone who you believe has acted malevolently experiences something harmful then it is an honest feeling and you should own it.  Having the feeling is okay, but openly displaying that enjoyment is another matter. My son displayed schadenfreude when he heard that President Trump was sick with the Covid19 virus and hoped he would die from it. I told him that it’s okay to feel that way but even though you do not like how the President acts you shouldn’t desire that the result of his sickness ends in death.  Yes, we can dislike what people do or say but if we wish that they get hurt or at worst, killed, then we are open for others to do the same to us.  Do you desire people who may not like you, for whatever reason, wish you dead? I don’t know about you but I would not. 

You may believe that Trump is partly responsible for the over 200,000 Corona virus deaths in the United States but expressing a desire for him to die from the virus goes too far. We can feel schadenfreude, but we shouldn’t let those feelings affect our own moral balance. Know it’s okay to experience schadenfreude.  Don’t feel guilty but at the same time don’t let it escape too far from your heart.  We’re all human and if you want more people to act humanely then you must act that way yourself. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Trump = New Coke

This is my analogy of today’s political atmosphere equating political leaders to certain beverages.

The Trump presidency could be thought of as akin to the experiment with New Coke.  Focus groups told the Coca Cola Company that people liked Pepsi’s sweeter taste so they changed the formula and created New Coke.  But in reality people didn’t like it and wanted the classic Coca Cola back.  In political parlance, in 2016 it was thought that we needed something new, a candidate that would stir things up, drain the swamp, shake up Washington, but in reality, we need and want classic Republicans and Democrats.

Today sugary beverages are on the outs - studies show they are really bad for you and a leading cause of obesity. I believe people want just plain, down-to-earth drinks, which goes to show the increase in various flavored waters.  

Politicians = Drinks

Trump = Mountain Dew (as worst example of sugary drinks). High octane, high sugar content, not really good for you except to cram for a test for which you waited to study for until the night before, hence bad choices.  Bad for your long-term health care. Pretends to be exciting and one of the people, but really isn’t.      

Hillary Clinton = plain tonic water.  At first the fizziness is nice but then it just becomes annoying and then there’s that aftertaste. Yuck.

Bernie Sanders = High priced, Whole Foods spring water.  Good for you, but too pricey, would break your bank if you drank it everyday.

Schumer or Pelosi = coffee house drinks, hot or cold. Too expensive, too fancy, too urban. Satisfying on an occasional basis but can make you high strung. Good if beans from organic, Fairtrade sources but is it worth the price?

Rand Paul or Mitch McConnell = Bourbon.  Stuffy and staid. Often goes with cigars (also bad for you). Hits you hard and at first loosens you up, but quickly makes you unable to think straight and many times turns you into a mean drunk. Also, often watered down at bars, but most don’t realize it.

What the American people need is a plain cup of Joe (pun intended) or unsweetened iced tea (a little mint stalk or lemon wedge wouldn’t hurt). 

I think John Kasich on the Republican side fits the bill, but unfortunately, he’s not running. He’s a Midwesterner who speaks plainly and is level-headed = a nice tall glass of iced tea. Refreshing, inexpensive but with a little kick and you can drink it all day.

For those who are running, good ole Joe Biden seems to have a similar sensibility, centrist views for the most part. Down to Earth, experienced, been there done that and reliable = A cup of diner or street vendor coffee.  May not be all that exciting but will get the job done.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Race Isn’t Real, Racism Is


It irks me every time I have to check off a “race” box on any form asking for demographic information.  It’s not that I don’t want to provide accurate information about myself, but it’s because the very idea of race as we use it today is a human construct created to keep “white” Europeans at the head of the food chain.  The idea that humanity can be divided into four or five types of humans is relatively recent. The word race was used infrequently before the 1500s and used to identify groups of people with a connection, such as a race of clergyman. In fact, the ancient civilizations would have laughed at how we use race in this country. During most of human history a mixture of cultures, body types, ethnic traits was commonplace. The bottom line is that we are all 99.9% the same biologically, all deriving from the same group of people in Africa. There is no scientific basis that we are genetically any better than anyone else. We may look different but that’s because some humans ventured out from Africa looking for food sources or to simply explore strange new worlds because we’re naturally curious.  These new environments changed our make up a tiny bit here and there depending on climate and other geographical reasons.  While race isn’t real, ethnicity – that which makes us who we are based on the culture and customs of a society – is real.  You can criticize me for not being able to dance well or how I like to watch hockey or how I was born in New Jersey, but not because my skin is white or eyes blue.  

The idea of race as used today began with Europeans, more notably the English, for our purposes, and their belief that they were superior over other people, more specific, the Irish, who they believed were savages.  They brought this idea to the New World in the 1500s where they needed large amounts of labor to tend to the new lucrative crop of tobacco.  After discovering they could not count on the Native Americans to help them (a great many died from European diseases), they turned to indentured servants from Europe, including many Irishman, but also some Africans and others brought in from the Caribbean islands occupied by the Spanish and French. Indentured servants were not slaves, but they were treated almost like slaves, but once they fulfilled their contracted servitude, they were free to do what they wanted.  Some Africans became farmers and businessmen on their own right, free to do what they wanted alongside their European friends.  

At this time in early colonial history many ex-indentured servants, both Europeans and African, were kindred spirits, with economic similarities bringing them together. During the famous Bacon’s Rebellion, it was the indentured – of all types - who felt disenfranchised by the wealthy plantation owners and fought for their rights to help their plight, but they were put down.  When the stream of indentured from Europe slowed to a trickle, due mostly to economics and increased land cultivation, and, the fact, that Native Americans were not an option because they could easily escape into the frontier, the landowners had to find new sources of labor that they could control, and many traders were willing and able to fill the gap.  The reason Africans became the choice labor source was due to their skills at cultivation and craftsmanship. These landowners hid behind Christian beliefs to justify enslaving these Africans, creating a hierarchy of humans with White Europeans on top and others below. They had to separate them out in order to say they were inferior, and thus okay to treat inhumanely. The color of their skin was just a convenient way to distinguish these heathens from their white superiors. 

The color-coded system of determining a person’s place on the hierarchy began to take place during the 1600s in colonial America.  The term “White” previously was used to distinguish privileged women who stayed at home and did not labor, but not men, who were to venture out of the home to work, as did poor women. With the need for vast amounts of labor to fuel the economic engine in the colonies slavery was instituted and to justify the enslavement of Africans and other “colored” peoples, the color hierarchal system was put into place, and race, as a common term, was born.  

Race, as a way to distinguish groups of people, is an English colonial invention.  Slave traders of all types were very willing to take advantage of this, bringing boat loads of Africans to the shores of first, the English colonies, and then the American states.  The idea of white privilege was so intertwined with religion and economics that with each generation it became engrained in the psyche of Americans and thought of as natural. Soon, generations of enslaved Africans became Americans who had no idea what a life of freedom was or could be.  The boxing of people into categories also became part of the psyche of America and continues until today, becoming part of the bureaucracy of government…and thus the need for the race boxes on almost every form you fill out.  At least lately you have a choice – you do not have to check a race box, you can decline, and I urge that everyone do this so that we can finally put an end to using race in demography. 

But while using race can be eliminated more easily, racism, is another factor altogether. The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as:

“prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized”

So even if we eliminate race as a way to distinguish people, it doesn’t eliminate racism because we still use ethnicity as a way to refer to different groups of people.  Racism is like the fuel behind the fire. It is the philosophical ideas that were behind the initial idea to categorize people in the first place – that one group of people was fundamentally better than another. Unfortunately, racism is engrained so tightly in American culture that it will take a long time to sniff out. This idea that I’m better than you simply because I’m a certain color is so flawed as to be laughable, but so many people still believe it, because it’s what they were taught. But people also think that because one group says things a certain way or eats different foods or has different rituals that they’re below them on some sort of hierarchal scale is also ridiculous.  And that is where we must begin. We must admit that race should not be used to separate groups of people, but we must also admit, as Americans, that racism is deep-seated in our psyche and must be surgically removed.  It is a tumor that we must find a way to expunge without killing our country and the values we find important: life for all, liberty for all and happiness for all.