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Hot Shots: 7 Genre-Defining Western Shoot-Outs

The blood of the gunslinger runs thick through our collective veins. Portrayed in countless films, TV shows, comic books and old dime store novels, the gunslinger is among the most potent and ubiquitous of American heroes. He informs, consciously and unconsciously, our real-life expectations of honor, confrontation and violence, as well as our emotional, rather than rational, debate over the right to bear arms. Where did it begin? The first Western-style gunfight—a “quick-draw duel,” in technical terms—occurred 150 years ago, on July 21, 1865. It wasn’t the bedlam-in-the-streets kind of shoot-out we’ve come to recognize as “real.” The duel to begin all duels started when James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok challenged David Tutt in a dispute over a gambling debt, with the honor attached to a pocket watch that was being used as collateral. Hickok owed Tutt anywhere from $25 to $45. Tutt held Hickok’s watch in surety and used it to taunt him. Hickok set the challenge for six p.m. in the Springfield, Missouri, town square—not the middle of Main Street at high noon, as most Westerns would have us assume. The duelers, both in a sideways stance to minimize their exposure, fired one bullet each, ’cause them’s the rules. Hickok stood unscathed. Tutt, hit in the ribs, staggered onto a porch and into the street, where he fell. Rather than ride off into the sunset, Hickok faced a proper trial, in which he successfully pleaded self-defense. Harper’s magazine picked up the story, launching Hickok and the gunfight into the realm of myth. The Hickok-Tutt duel became the ur-contest for settling scores in the Western genre, with each movie shoot-out becoming more elaborate and dramatic. Have a look at some of the most breathtaking in that evolution: Shane, 1953 A showdown that puts the class in classic, Alan Ladd’s Shane drops Jack Palance’s Wilson, along with his minion, in a sleepy cantina. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966 This is the Mexican standoff to beat, with an al dente spaghetti Clint at the apex of the triangle. The eye twitches alone give you palpitations. Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968 Charles Bronson’s icy harmonica announces a stark presence—and two horses too many. The Wild Bunch, 1969 More like a blistering dash to Valhalla than a gunfight, Sam Peckinpah’s masterwork reflects the grisly barbarity of the Vietnam war, then being shown on the evening news. Red Dawn, 1984 In a modern James Gang–style outlaw Western with a wash of 1980s Red Scare, Patrick Swayze is every bit the American gunslinger, with a duster, bandolier and nickel-plated revolver. Unforgiven, 1992 Paying homage to the spaghetti Western, Clint transfigures from bumbling old coot to chilling angel of death when he goes back on the sauce. No Country for Old Men, 2007 This contemporary Western masterpiece features Josh Brolin’s opportunistic Moss fleeing Javier Bardem’s psychopathic Chigurh in a desperate glaze of sweat until he catches the upper hand—if only briefly. Feature photo courtesy of Everett

by Mediander Staff

Jul 28, 2015

Jimmy Carter's Full Life: A Memoir of America

Compelling biographies explore both the life and times of an individual, the internal as well as the external. Some delve deeply inside the life, offering penetrating psychological insights, while others, rich in cultural context and historical detail, focus more on illuminating the subject’s times. A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, the new memoir by the 39th U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, falls decidedly into the latter category. A Full Life mediumCarter’s work is largely concerned with external events rather than personal reflections. Globally admired for his remarkable array of post-presidential humanitarian accomplishments, Carter seems to lack the egocentrism required for heavy-duty self-probing. He digs meticulously into his past, drawing out informative particulars of places, objects and processes. We learn exactly what it was like, for example, to be a naval submariner in the late 1940s—the joy of hearing whale calls and shrimp sounds through the sonar equipment, the claustrophobia induced by bunk beds so narrowly stacked that, lying on his back, an officer didn’t have room even to prop a paperback book on his chest. But the focus is on the experiences, not on Carter himself. He could almost be writing about anyone who’d been in that place, assuming that role, at that time. Carter’s storytelling will appeal most to those interested in the shared experiences that define recent American history. Many of the book’s most entertaining anecdotes are well worn, oft-told by Carter in interviews and previous books (he has written about 30) and by his wife, Rosalynn, on C-SPAN’s First Ladies series last year. My favorite—about 118 dead people who voted, in alphabetical order, in a Georgia election—appears in Turning Point: A Candidate, a State and a Nation Come of Age, Carter’s 1992 chronicle of his entry into public service amid his state’s political corruption. Upon winning election to the Georgia State Senate and being charged with working on election reform, Carter faced one proposed amendment that would have prohibited any citizen from casting a ballot “who had been dead for more than three years.” Carter’s new memoir is sprinkled with many such humorous tidbits from his political career, but most riveting are the facts he discloses about his childhood in the rural Depression-era South and his struggles as a racially progressive peanut farmer in segregated Georgia, where the fenders of buses carrying African American schoolchildren were required to be painted black. Carter once returned from a two-week family vacation in Mexico to discover his business interests undermined; while he was away, local ultraconservative John Birch Society members had spread the rumor that he’d gone to a Communist training camp to learn how to integrate the public schools. The multidisciplinary nature of this memoir—its stark prose punctuated by expressive samples of Carter’s poetry and paintings—reminds us of the author’s broad spectrum of achievements. Carter can claim expertise in naval tactics, agriculture, woodworking, nuclear technology, international affairs, environmental studies and global health issues, as well as the Bible and fly-fishing. From this heady, outwardly focused memoir, you’ll learn about everything from the Panama Canal to evangelical missions, North Korea and radiation exposure: While performing specialized work on a nuclear reactor in 1952, Carter and his crew were exposed to the maximum permissible dose of radiation, which back then was 1,000 times what it is now! But you’ll also learn, from the highly educated Carter, that the U.S. president he most admired was Harry Truman, the only 20th-century president who never earned a college degree. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

by Lisa Jo Sagolla

Jul 27, 2015

So What Pet Should I Get?

Over the course of his long life, Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, wrote and published 46 children’s books. If you’re like so many other kids around the world, you have read and learned from more than one. You practiced counting and color recognition with One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. You were taught to try new things in Green Eggs and Ham. You learned to respect and care for the earth in The Lorax. And eventually—at about the time you graduated from high school—you were told by Oh, the Places You’ll Go! that while you’re definitely a winner, you’re not always going to win, and life is as much about boredom and waiting as it is about making new friends. What Pet mediumIf you’re like me, and you treasure not only the lessons you learned from these books but also the silly language and unique illustrations, you’ll be pleased to hear that the good doctor has a new book coming out this month: What Pet Should I Get? It returns us to the home of the brother-sister pair from One Fish Two Fish, this time to deal with a very important problem…which pet they should get. The publisher, Random House, notes that, like Seuss’s other books, “The tale captures a classic childhood moment—choosing a pet—and uses it to illuminate a life lesson: that it is hard to make up your mind, but sometimes you just have to do it!” Rainn Wilson reads the audio version, which will be sold with David Hyde Pierce’s reading of One Fish Two Fish. Seuss’s widow, Audrey Geisel (pictured above with Seuss and a friend), and his secretary discovered some unpublished materials in the author’s home in 2013, and Random House is reportedly planning at least two more new books from this trove. Seuss died in 1991, so unlike Harper Lee, he has no recourse to stop publication of these books if he didn’t believe they were his best work. (This recent New York Times review implies as much of What Pet Should I Get?) But even if it’s not up to the level of my personal favorite, The Cat in the Hat, well, not everything can be. The Cat in the Hat, you’ll recall, features a talking cat wearing a tall striped hat who shows up at Sally and her brother’s one rainy afternoon after their mother leaves them home alone. There’s a subversive quality to the book that I like, and I remember its feeling slightly dangerous, even when I read it as a child. Although chaos ensues when the children allow a strange creature into their home, they also have an exciting little adventure, and everything turns out all right in the end. Likely in large part because of this rebellious streak—nonsense words, lack of concrete story lines, the occasional slightly menacing drawing—parents and children will no doubt flock to pick up the new Seuss when it debuts on July 28. And although you’re never too old for a good children’s tale, adults without children may prefer to answer the pressing pet question via a different medium. Photo courtesy of Robert Phillips/Everett

by Emily Burns Morgan

Jul 24, 2015

The King and I Leans In

Watching the gorgeous production of The King and I now playing at Lincoln Center Theater, I could barely contain my anticipation for what I call “the Moment.” It happens during the song “Shall We Dance?” when the King puts his hand on Miss Anna’s waist and they waltz. Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe, the stars who opened the current revival, had terrific chemistry. When Watanabe pulled O’Hara close to his body, he said one word: “Come!” They danced, the audience sighed, and the show soared. So imagine my surprise to read O’Hara’s observation that the relationship between the King and Miss Anna “is so much more than just physical attraction.” Watanabe has echoed his costar’s point: “The King starts to experience feelings that are new to him. But they aren’t sexual.” Instead, the show’s Tony-winning director, Bartlett Sher, has extracted a feminist message from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 musical, giving us a King and I for the 21st century. As Sher told the Lincoln Center Theater Review, “Women’s position in the world’s culture is paramount,” and his revival is about “the possibilities and possible journeys of women within a culture.” Sher credits New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof with the inspirational idea that the most dangerous thing in the developing world is the education of women, giving them books. In this light, Sher sees the character of Tuptim, a young woman “given” to the King of Siam by the King of Burma, as a “change agent.” Miss Anna gives Tuptim a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which begins a chain of events that ultimately leads to a more enlightened Siam. After hearing the young prince’s new proclamation against bowing, the King says to Miss Anna, “I believe [this] to be your fault!” She responds proudly, “Oh, I hope so, Your Majesty. I do hope so.” The story of Anna Leonowens—a widowed Anglo-Indian woman who traveled to Bangkok in 1862 to teach the King of Siam’s 39 wives and concubines and 82 children—inspired Margaret Landon’s 1944 best-seller Anna and the King of Siam. Two years later, the book became a hit film starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison. Gertrude Lawrence, legendary Broadway and West End star, thought this tale of East meets West would be a perfect stage vehicle for herself. She desperately wanted Broadway’s most successful musical team, Rodgers and Hammerstein, to write the show, but they wanted no part of the project (or of the difficult Lawrence)—until they saw the film adaptation and found the story “irresistible.” Lawrence’s health began to fail after The King and I opened on Broadway, in March 1951, and on her deathbed the following year, she asked that her costar, Yul Brynner, be given top billing. The show became a star vehicle for Brynner, who went on to play the King more than 4,600 times. Japanese movie star Watanabe (The Last Samurai) made his Broadway debut at the age of 55 in Sher’s King and I, and he’s very well aware of the long shadow Brynner casts on the role of the King—including that iconic bald head. Watanabe lamented, “If I try it with hair, they will think, Who is he playing?” But he hoped his performance would give audiences a fuller picture of the King and make them “forget about Yul Brynner.” Broadway veteran O’Hara finally won the best leading actress in a musical Tony for The King and I, after five previous nominations. She told NPR she admired Anna Leonowens’s self-creation. “She made herself up in order to have a job, in order to take care of her children after her husband died,” O’Hara said. “She did things that she had to do. And then she wrote books about it.” O’Hara leads a cast of 49 under Sher’s brilliant direction. Watanabe, who recently left the show for a prior film commitment, has been replaced with Jose Llana (pictured above), who starred as Ferdinand Marcos in David Byrne’s recent off-Broadway hit Here Lies Love. In fact, a little reunion for that show is happening at Lincoln Center: Ruthie Ann Miles, Llana’s costar as Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Love, has won a Tony for her incredible performance as Lady Thiang in The King and I, while Conrad Ricamora, Love’s Ninoy Aquino, now has hearts fluttering as Lun Tha. Sher has acknowledged, in directing such classics as South Pacific and The King and I, that he must balance his desire to dig deeper into their texts with a need to preserve what audiences “love about them, and how much they moved them or made them cry.” His strategy is certainly working. The Wall Street Journal raved, “I doubt I’ll see a better production of The King and I in my lifetime,” and The Washington Post gushed, “This just may be, in fact, the finest staging of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in my experience.” I too feel the Lincoln Center production, which won this year’s Tony for best revival of a musical, is the play’s definitive staging. Sher’s emphasis on female empowerment has deepened the dialogue, but I still experience The King and I as a love story. My fellow audience members sobbed audibly during the final scene, when Anna and the King bid each other farewell. Surely, we were all remembering the transcendent moment when the pair waltzed and everything wonderful seemed possible. Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik King_and_I_connects_bottom

by Colin J. Warnock

Jul 23, 2015




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