Author: Chad

War Is Hell

Published in the North Central Chronicle on February 8, 2008.

John Edwards is out of the race. I think he would have made a fine president. His fight against poverty and corruption did not jive well with mainstream media narratives, though they were well-publicized cornerstones of Edwards’ stump speech. But his other equally important message also failed to catch on. After voting to authorize the Iraq War in 2002, Edwards soon reversed his position on the war, and last year created a movement called “Support the Troops. End the War.”

Today, the country’s attention has become fixed on the state of the economy more than the war in Iraq. Of course, as a capitalist nation we like to know how our dollar is doing (for those less interested in current events: it’s not doing so well), but our collective mammonism has diverted our attention away from the war, where men, women, and children are being killed.

Killed. Every single day.

It is hard to fully grasp this concept. Unlike previous American wars, those holding down the home front don’t have to sacrifice anything to keep the war going. During the Civil War, families lost their only income when men served and died on bloody battlefields. During World War II, Americans rationed food and supplies, worked in munitions factories, and were drafted to topple tyranny.

But for this war, there is no draft or call to service by the president, so all we have to do is watch B-roll of chaotic Iraqi marketplaces and argue broad talking points from the comfort and safety of our computer chairs.

That is why, I would argue, the war has not been ended yet. We remain complacent and unaware of what it means to fight a war. I’ve become so desensitized to war images that it seems like no big deal, like it is a video game. I suppose we should ask the family of Spc. Richard Burress, who died two weeks ago from a roadside bomb, if his death was no big deal.

The truth is that war is hell. Soldiers know this, and politicians know how to prevent us from knowing this. They ban images of Americans being killed from appearing in media because, as we found out after the Abu Ghraib scandal, that would cause the public to realize what is actually happening and demand that something be done to stop it.

Regardless of what pundits say, it is possible to support the troops yet not support their mission. President Bush seems to do the opposite. He sends insufficient and ill-equipped troops into a situation even Vice President Cheney knew would become a “quagmire,” then fails to remedy the horrific conditions at Walter Reed hospital and others like it. Yet he said, and kept saying, that we all should support the troops, and implied that anyone who did not was a terrorist-sympathizer. So much for being the “uniter.”

Still, I support the troops. I don’t support their mission, whatever that is (the president has yet to make it clear), but I absolutely, resolutely will support the troops. I don’t have bumper stickers or American flag lapel pins to prove it, but since when did a flimsy piece of plastic indicate one’s amount of patriotism? These men and women volunteer to serve at the high risk of injury, maimedness, or death. They leave their families for weeks, months, even years, to secure and maintain order in a disorderly country while trying to avoid getting a bullet in the brain or shrapnel in the eye. They inspire me – and relieve me from fighting a war we have no business fighting.

I trust you, the (hopefully) well-informed and sensible voter, have been able to see through the malarkey the candidates have been feeding us and decide who will better determine our future in Iraq. I’m living on a prayer that our next president will at least have the gumption, like Edwards did, to support the troops and end the war.

The Beginning Of The End

Here’s what Natalie thinks about the season premiere of LOST last night. I think I agree with her.

Standing Tall: Comparing ‘High Noon’ And ‘On The Waterfront’

Published in the North Central Chronicle on Jan. 25, 2008

“I have here in my hand…” said Senator Joseph McCarthy in February 1950, effectively hoodwinking the country into a hysterical anti-Communism era known as the Red Scare. McCarthy claimed the list identified 200 Communists within the American government, so he and the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) spearheaded a movement to eradicate Communist spies and sympathizers from the government.

The most infamous consequence of the Red Scare was the blacklisting of workers in the entertainment industry. Ten Hollywood screenwriters and producers refused to admit to HUAC that they were Communists or Communist sympathizers and in doing so were barred indefinitely from working in Hollywood. These “Hollywood Ten,” plus one hundred more working professionals, struggled to find work for many years following their blacklisting.

Loyalties within the industry became fiercely divided, and soon writers and directors directly affected by the blacklist voiced their opinions through their films. The two most notable films that resulted from the blacklisting gave sharply contrasting, yet oddly similar views of the ordeal. These films were High Noon (1952) and On the Waterfront (1954).

Fred Zinnemann’s tense Western High Noon tells the tale of Sheriff Will Kane (Gary Cooper) defending his Kansas town from vindictive criminals hell-bent on killing Kane. It’s a simple task, complicated by the fact that his new wife Amy (Grace Kelly) is a pacifist Quaker trying to talk him out of it. Plus, the deputies who were once loyal to him choose not to fight with him out of fear and cowardice.

Kane tries to rally support from the townsfolk, who cower in the shadows and resent his presence. Amy then threatens to leave him because of her pacifist principles (so much for “‘til death do us part.”) Ultimately Kane decides to take on the bandits alone, despite his wife’s wishes and despite knowing that if he left, the bandits would probably leave as well.

High Noon is the classic American Western. But unlike the traditional Westerns of the time, it takes place in almost real-time, heightening the tension for the viewer as we watch Kane desperately try to defend his town and his pride. Like Rear Window, not much action happens until the final act, when the boiler-pot full of despair and helplessness finally explodes. More importantly, it is an allegory of the fight against blacklisting, which I will discuss shortly

In Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is an ex-prizefighter-turned-longshoreman who works for a gang that controls the New York City waterfronts. Terry inadvertently helps the gang kill a police informer, who happened to be his best friend, and his conscience starts to take a toll.

Terry is indicted by the police but refuses to testify against the gang, fearing deadly retribution. His friend’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) and a local priest try to convince him to work against the mob, but it’s not until Terry’s brother Charley, a mobster who is ordered to kill Terry to stop him from testifying, is killed when Terry decides to become an informer. Terry eventually testifies against the mob, breaking the waterfront code of not ratting out one’s friends and earning the scorn of his fellow dock workers.

On the Waterfront won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Marlon Brando. His performance is widely regarded as one of the best in history (you might recognize his “I coulda been a contender” speech), while the film itself placed eighth on the American Film Institute’s all-time list.

Another key reason for the film’s greatness is its symbolism: a train whistle blows as Terry “blows the whistle” on the death of his friend; Terry carries a hook on his shoulder after he is beaten up by the mob to signify a Christ-like suffering. The allegorical nature of this film elevates it from a by-the-numbers melodrama to a thoughtful masterpiece.

These films can stand alone as two classic and important American films, but they, as well as a few other films at the time, share a unique purpose in their making. Carl Foreman, the writer of High Noon, was a former Communist who was called before HUAC to identify other Communists in Hollywood. Foreman refused and was blacklisted, so he went into exile in Britain, recognizing a lack of motivation among his colleagues in Hollywood to combat the spread of McCarthyism and to speak up for their blacklisted friends.

With this in mind, the subtext of High Noon becomes clearer: the townsfolk (people in Hollywood) are afraid to support Kane (the blacklisted) when the criminals (McCarthy and HUAC) come to town. You’ll have to watch the film to see what happens, but rest assured, Foreman felt that he would survive the national nightmare, and did: he co-wrote the Academy Award-winning The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) with a fellow blacklisted screenwriter.

On the Waterfront tells the same story through a different lens. Director Elia Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg both named names at the HUAC hearings – like Terry did in the film –and their peers condemned them for it. By portraying Terry as the hero when he testifies against the villains in the film, Kazan and Schulberg justify their own real-life actions.

Since these films tell essentially the exact same story, which view is more justified? Both have a strong central character defying the persuasive masses to do what they think is right. Is the man who exposes injustice justified in his revelation, even if it means betraying his friends? Or are the masses, who refuse to help their leader because they don’t agree with him, more justified? It’s the job of the viewer to decide.

Fifty years later, these films are no less relevant today than they were back then. If anything, these films defend the right of art to give voice to a momentarily unpopular opinion that would have otherwise been ignored. They also demonstrate the power film has to launch new ideas into the public consciousness, ready or not. New and unpopular ideas abound in our culture, regardless of how many people vilify them (I’m talking to you, Bill O’Reilly), and it’s important for filmmakers to capture these ideas for humanity’s and history’s sake.

Introverts: A Misunderstood Bunch

Published in North Central Chronicle on January 18, 2008.

In a world where talk is cheap and time is money, life for an introvert can often become disorienting and exhausting.

In a society dominated by extroverts, who gear more towards conversation and activity, introverts become marginalized for our perceived lack of social skills. The truth is that introverts hardly lack social skills. We simply get our energy from being alone rather than from being with other people. That trait is too often confused with shyness, but in fact we may just want to be left alone.

Extroverts have a difficult time discovering this distinction. Because of their shorter conversational attention spans and inability to be alone for extended periods of time, they do not, or simply cannot, understand their introverted friends. They ask an introvert to dinner and do not understand why they would rather stay home alone and read than socialize. Or perhaps they balk at an introvert’s request to leave a party after only a short time, not knowing that the introvert cannot take much more mindless chatter.

We introverts fight battles constantly. We fight with leagues of extroverts for airtime to voice our carefully-crafted thoughts. We fight for time alone everyday to recharge and recollect. We fight the stereotypes branded on us, wishing for nothing more than understanding. We also feel like picking a fight when we’re asked, “Are you all right?” for the hundredth time, when all we want to do is remain deep in thought.

Often our reluctance to socialize leads extroverts to believe that we introverts are arrogant, detached, or self-absorbed. This misconception is probably due to an introvert’s disdain for small talk. Our days are filled with thinking—we like to figure out exactly what we’ll say before saying it—so the concept of small talk seems obligatory and a waste of time. But even more than small talk, introverts hate repeating themselves. Calvin Coolidge once said, “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it.” I wonder if Coolidge would have even survived in today’s political atmosphere.

But we introverts must trudge on. In the article “Caring for Your Introvert” by Jonathan Rauch, the author writes, “Many actors, I’ve read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors.” We learn to put on a happy, sociable face when it’s called for, if only to keep the inquisitive extroverts off our backs. Indeed, before I enter a social circus, I have to mentally ready myself for an unknown amount of hyper-interaction. I tell myself, “This is a party. You can have fun and talk with people.” I try not to be a recluse, but sometimes my social battery runs out and irritation quickly sets in.

Perhaps one day, extroverts will understand the hell they put us introverts through. Perhaps one day, breaks in conversation will not seem awkward, and small talk will not be required to maintain proper etiquette. Perhaps one day, extroverts will discover the joy of seclusion, and the value of stillness. Perhaps. Until that day, you extroverts should be more mindful of your quieter, less convivial peers. Do not ask them why they’re so quiet, or why they want to be left alone, because the reason is probably you.

Best Films of 2007

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle on January 11, 2008.

The-Lives-of-Others

1) The Lives of Others
This German film won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars last year, and boy, did it deserve it. Set in East Berlin during the Cold War, involving a member of the German secret police who spies on a dissident writer and soon finds his loyalties in a tug-of-war. It’s an intimate and compelling story, worthy of every penny when you rent it.

2) Once
If I could watch only one movie before I die, it would be Once. The concept is simple: a guy and girl meet and make music. What transpires is an uplifting, unconventional journey through life and love that never succumbs to cliché. The songs tell the story much more than the dialogue, and seeing the story unfold is truly a delight.

3) Waitress
The most pleasant surprise of the year. Keri Russell deserves an Oscar nod for her role as a pregnant, pie-making, emotionally-abused waitress who falls in love with her gynecologist. I instantly fell in love with Russell’s character and her supporting cast. Waitress is the sweetest and most filling story of 2007.

4) Zodiac
Despite its long running time, this film had me completely mesmerized. Scene after scene the intrigue builds as we watch detectives, reporters, and a cartoonist try to discover the identity of the Zodiac killer. It’s an old school whodunit story with great performances and a unique style, akin to other thrillers like Collateral and All the President’s Men.

5) Michael Clayton
It’s Erin Brockovich meets The Bourne Identity. George Clooney plays a fixer at a high-end law firm that has trouble fixing the latest case of malfeasance. It’s a tight, modest thriller that flew under the radar but deserves many awards. Clooney gives his best-ever performance, and the ending is the best of the year.

6) No Country for Old Men
Everything about this film is so good. The acting, cinematography, and writing crank this modernized western to eleven, keeping the tension building as a deadly cat-and-mouse game plays out in ways never seen before. The film is as violent as it is contemplative. Javier Bardem plays the best villain I’ve seen in a long time.

7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Johnny Depp commands the screen as a vengeful barber in 19th century London, slitting throats and hitting high notes in this gruesome, gothic musical. The costumes and sets are beautiful, but the singing shines, especially from Depp, whose haunting melodies are backed up by a lush orchestra. I saw many musicals this year; this one rules them all.

8) Ratatouille
Pixar is so good that they could make a film about a homicidal drug dealer and still make it family-friendly. Of course Pixar’s animation is superior to its competitors, but this film transcends being simply an “animated movie” and thrives on the merits of its story alone. The voice work is top-notch, especially from Peter O’Toole who voices a food critic.

9) Juno
This year’s Little Miss Sunshine. After the first 20 minutes, Juno stops being insufferably twee and hip and settles into form, becoming hilarious and charming. The titular character, played by Ellen Page, is refreshingly frank yet oddly lovable, becoming the bedrock of a film filled with strong supporting characters.

10) 3:10 to Yuma
Westerns are back! Christian Bale and Russell Crowe maneuver an epic back-and-forth between Bale’s browbeaten farmer and Crowe’s swashbuckling outlaw he’s paid to bring to jail. Themes of loyalty, justice, and right-versus-wrong weave through this ruggedly gorgeous western. If you don’t usually like westerns, check this one out.

Some Like It Hot

Published in the North Central Chronicle on November 2, 2007, as part of a series called “Chad Picks Classic Flicks.”

After tackling a few different genres—film noir, thriller, crime drama—all of which can take a heavy toll on your senses, I thought it best to visit a genre much older than the film medium and more eternal than the line at the bookstore: comedy.

There are many things that make me laugh. Some are obvious: Hans Moleman from The Simpsons getting hit in the groin with a football, Ron Burgundy repeatedly insisting that he wants to “be on” Veronica Corningstone, and G.O.B. doing his chicken dance on Arrested Development.

But other things that make me laugh are more subtle: Nigel Tufnel showing off his amp that goes to eleven in This Is Spinal Tap; Lloyd Christmas saying “follow me” to Harry Dunne in Dumb & Dumber; Dwight Schrute admitting to loving Count Chocula in The Office. Those not-so-obvious ways of making people laugh are certainly more difficult to create, and that’s why good comedy can be very hard to find.

Luckily, the American Film Institute has found it for us. They made a list of 100 American comedies worth their rental price, and my choice for classic comedy just happens to be number one on that list. That film is Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959).

In Depression era Chicago, two struggling musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), witness the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre between two rival gangs. When the gangster in charge spots Joe and Jerry, they flee in a hurry and try to arrange to leave the city to escape their pursuers. The problem is that the only available gig is with an all-female big band.

But that doesn’t stop the dynamic duo. They simply disguise themselves as females and raise their voices up an octave, effectively transforming from Joe and Jerry to Josephine and Daphne. They’re convincing enough to fool everyone in the band and are soon bound for Florida, safe from their chasers.

The “girls” quickly become popular among their female companions. They meet the ukulele player and vocalist Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) and immediately beginning fighting for her attention, all the while struggling to maintain their feminine guise. This proves difficult as Jerry soon falls for Sugar and is tempted to blow his cover and run off with her, but he eventually accepts Sugar’s sultry demeanor as something he can never embrace—as a woman, at least.

Meanwhile, as the band arrives at a Florida resort, Josephine and Daphne discover that the gangsters they tried to evade had tracked them down. Soon they are running for their lives, all the while trying to sustain their alter-egos and survive unscathed.

Admittedly, this film doesn’t sound anything like a comedy, much less a good one. But, frankly, it’s hilarious. The Academy Award-nominated screenplay overflows with wickedly clever one-liners and double entendres. Jack Lemmon especially has a razor-sharp delivery. When Daphne and Josephine are first welcomed into the band, another girl asks if they are the new girls. “Brand new,” he says.

In addition to the superb dialogue, the actors maneuver through riotous sight gags and sticky situations. At one point, Jack Lemmon, who is enormously gifted at physical humor, is dressed in drag and an “uplifting” brassiere doing the tango with an eccentric millionaire. Any other actor would have overacted the moment, but Lemmon provides the perfect expression that becomes an uproarious moment.

Topping off at 2 hours, Some Like It Hot feels like a period drama that just happens to feature hilarious cross-dressing musicians jumping from one farcical scene to the next. But this film is unlike its comedy counterparts of today’s cinema. There are no penis jokes, no foul-mouthed perverts, no bikini-clad bimbos; just well-crafted, smart, knee-slapping comedy.

Billy Wilder, the director and co-screenwriter, was most well-known for his dramatic films like Double Indemnity (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (1950), which is why there is just as much plot as there is humor; a rarity in modern comedies. This characteristic is what sets Some Like It Hot apart from other comedies and why it topped AFI’s list.

If you’re looking for laughs that aren’t aimed at those who have been lobotomized, check out Some Like It Hot. Even if it’s not the funniest movie you’ve ever seen, it’s probably smarter than your favorite comedy. I realize that laughs don’t always coincide with intelligence (example: Epic Movie), but at least Some Like It Hot won’t cause your IQ to drop.

Where Are Our American Heroes?

Published in the North Central Chronicle on October 26, 2007.

The Declaration of Independence. The Emancipation Proclamation. The Wright brothers. The fall of the Berlin Wall. These are great pieces of our nation’s history.  They represent the importance of American freedom, ingenuity, and strength.

Slavery. The treatment of Native Americans. The atomic bomb. Vietnam. Watergate. These are shameful chapters of American history that we continually try to forget.

And now, in our post-9/11 world, the shame seems to keep piling up. Abu Ghraib, Blackwater, Alberto Gonzales, a weak Congress and an absurd president—none of these things seem worth fighting for.

Now, flashback 40 years. Our parents had the unique opportunity to live through the most turbulent and revolutionary times in our country’s recent history. They saw an America on the brink of disaster fight through great injustices, assassinations, radical racism, and an unwinnable war. But they also lived to see one of our country’s greatest political figures: John F. Kennedy.

JFK met many obstacles; some he overcame, some got the best of him. But regardless of his politics or his personal life, JFK led. Arguably, one of the most consequential and defining choice he ever made was to lead this country into the Final Frontier and get a man on the Moon.

It’s hard to put into context now, but at the time this idea was Earth-shattering (pun intended). NASA had already been conducting space missions for a few years, but the Moon was still a long way off. After the Russians launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth, and effectively pulled ahead of the United States in the “Space Race,” President Kennedy had to convince the country to get to the Moon. And after a string of humiliating moral defeats, America was ready for a victory.

Eight years and billions of dollars later, we made it. A human walked on the Moon. Just think about that for a second. It’s incredible. Anyone over 40 will tell you exactly what it was like to witness Neil Armstrong step foot on the face of an uncharted, untamed celestial force of nature. Even Walter Cronkite, the most stoic and professional news anchor ever, could not contain his astonishment and joy at such an incredible feat.

But the greatest thing about the Apollo 11 moon landing was not that America was the country to do it, it was that America shared that epic achievement with the whole world. It wasn’t an American that landed on the moon; it was a human being. Like Armstrong famously said: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Mankind did it together, with America leading the way. That was the sentiment that the whole world shared.

Now, decades later, instead of banding together with our fellow man and setting the example for peace and freedom, we’ve alienated most of the world with our unilateral policies, our government has failed time after time to be honest with us, and we’ve abandoned all the moral authority we earned in the past. So who can we look to now? Who among us can take us back in the right direction?

We cannot rely on another event like the moon landing to inspire the world to co-exist peacefully. Life is too precious to be left in apathetic hands. But if another 9/11 comes along, when the world joins together, if only for a moment, we’ve got to seize that moment to do some good. We’ve got to raise the bar high, like we did with the Marshall Plan after World War II and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We’re nearing another fork in the road as we approach the 2008 election and turn the page on a tumultuous and unstable episode of history. The biggest issue I’m judging the candidates on is their sensibility and devotion to the restoration of true American dignity and leadership. So far, I’ve yet to be impressed by any candidate. Again, who will lead us into the abyss that lay before us?

Where are the George Washingtons, the Lewis & Clarks, and the Rosa Parkses of this generation? Is there no one to help clean up cities destroyed by hurricanes, to stop genocide, to eliminate hunger? I’m searching for someone or something to believe in, someone that unites rather than divides and actively pursues truth instead of obscures it. Does such a person exist?

I’m looking for the heroes, the pioneers, the events that will capture the heart of our nation and inspire true patriotism. Not patriotism limited to American flag lapel pins and bumper sticker slogans, but patriotism that is shown through action and truth rather than empty words and partisan bickering. It may be a lofty goal, but this is America, the Land of Opportunity; let’s take the opportunity set before us to become great again.

Taxi Driver

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle on October 19, 2007, as part of a series called “Chad Picks Classic Flicks.”

In this edition of “Chad Picks Classic Flicks,” I’m skipping over the 1960s in favor of tackling the wide array of great movies in the 1970s. I will return to the decade of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll eventually, but for now, we’re traveling to a time when VHS and Betamax were waging a format war, when Johnny Carson was “King of Late Night”, and when the Internet was something only engineers cared about. So grab your bellbottoms, throw on your favorite ABBA album, and prepare to get funky—film style.

Beginning with the release of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, and ending with the release of One for the Heart in 1982, American film was largely defined by low-budget, realist, sometimes exploitative films made by young, independent filmmakers. This era is dubbed “New Hollywood” because it threw away the standards of the old studio system and completely changed the way movies were made and marketed.

New Hollywood films were groundbreaking in their technique and style, but most notably for the themes they addressed. Anti-establishment and disaffected youth were common subjects. Sexual angst and heightened realism were pervasive. There are many noteworthy New Hollywood films that share these traits, but none stand out as much as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).

Set in post-Vietnam Era New York City, Taxi Driver follows lonely insomniac taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) through his isolated and desperate life driving through the dirty streets and fantasizing about laying waste to lowlifes and criminals. He spots Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a blonde overwrought campaign aide to a presidential hopeful, and successfully woos her into a date.

But Bickle, who apparently has not been on too many dates, brings Betsy to a sleazy porno film, and she quickly leaves in disgust. Travis feels rejected and confused, and so begins his slow descent into delusion and despair.

The deep-seated anger Travis has suppressed begins to emerge as he becomes more withdrawn from the world he loathes so much. He buys a few handguns and, in a very famous scene, talks to himself as he flashes his gun in front of a mirror: “You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here,” he says. He becomes the only person in his life, and soon his deluded mind takes over, creating a whole new Travis; a ruthless and desperate assassin.

Travis then unexpectedly meets a 12-year-old prostitute (played by a very young Jodie Foster), and takes it upon himself to save her from her pimp and from a life on the streets. The problem is that she doesn’t necessarily want to be saved, and Bickle’s problem is that he can’t accept that. He has a mission in his mind, and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t go for glory trying to save the girl and win Betsy back.

If you haven’t gathered it already, Taxi Driver deals with a seriously disturbed character. He’s a racist, homophobic, confrontational hermit and has illusions of grandeur. He tries to become a hero but doesn’t realize that he’s doing everything wrong in the process.

Yet equally as mesmerizing as the film’s central character is its style. The unorthodox cinematography brings out the grittiness and nuances of the streets, and the dialogue flows well while maintaining depth and insight. The taut supporting cast offers a hearty taste of authenticity with a dash of humanity, which serves as a stunning contrast to the perceived inhumanity in Bickle.

Taxi Driver was the film that pushed both Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro into the limelight. It won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and a slew of Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture. It’s my favorite Scorsese film, not only for the reasons explained, but for the film’s residual effects. It made me think long after it ended, and I give major props to films that can do that.

This weekend, consider escaping the autumn chills by watching Taxi Driver in the caged swelter of your dorm room. It’s not the greatest date movie, however, so don’t cuddle up with your significant other expecting a romantic segue into a make out session; it’s a brutally honest film that delves deep into a mad mind. If that’s not your cup of tea, just skip right to the make out session.

Rear Window

Published in the North Central Chronicle on October 5, 2007, as part of a series called “Chad Picks Classic Flicks.”

Today we’re going to visit the 1950s, a time when television shows delivered the least objectionable content, when the president of the United States was roundly respected, and when rock stars needed only to shake their pelvises to cause massive public outrage. Indeed, in this time of traditionalism emerged a film that dared to talk in taboos and confront the peeping tom in all of us. This film is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).

James Stewart, the “Everyman” of American cinema, plays L.B. Jeffries, a maverick freelance photojournalist who becomes bedridden after being on the receiving end of a racetrack collision. His cast-bound life is boring, and so far as he can tell, so are the lives of the neighbors with which he shares an apartment complex. Curiosity gets the best of Jeffries, as he begins to discreetly examine the personal lives of his fellow tenants with the zoom lens on his camera.

Jeffries’ peeping seems innocuous at first, but when he begins to suspect a murder has taken place in an apartment across the yard, his innocent spy games turn into a full-fledged investigation. He enlists his longtime girlfriend, high-class fashion designer Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella to help him solve his homespun whodunit, but all take umbrage with Jeffries’ perceived voyeurism.

Their indignations only last for so long. Soon both women are immersed in the mystery and they too become peeping toms, powerless to their desire to make other people’s business their own. From there it doesn’t take long for the team’s sleuthing to lead to danger. Their suspicions soon become known to the suspected killer, and the race is on for Jeffries to solve the murder or become a part of it.

A subtle, yet defining quality of Rear Window is how the potential of Jeffries and Fremont’s relationship is seen through the relationships of Jeffries’ neighbors. There is the frustrated bachelor musician; a possible outcome for Jeffries if he fails to tie the knot with Lisa. There is a sociable yet single dancer who has to fight off frequent marriage proposals; a possibility for Lisa if she leaves Jeffries. Then there is the boring, domesticated married couple; a possibility for both of them. Jeffries takes these possible futures, pairs it with his fear of commitment, and makes it difficult for Lisa to convince him to settle down for good.

Another thing I love about Rear Window is that it doesn’t necessarily show us what we want to see when we want to see it. Even as clues are revealed and Jeffries tries to rally support of his theory, it doesn’t seem like much is happening. We don’t see any bodies, there are no death threats, and our amateur sleuth hero might just be out of his mind. But this apparent inactivity is one of the film’s greatest triumphs. It’s like boiler pot: the steam builds ever so slowly until the tension becomes so overwhelming and it finally explodes.

Hitchcock was infamous for loving to use his films to make his audiences squirm. Mind you, not how Saw makes you squirm with disembowelments and decapitations, but rather with mind games and psychological trickery. He made the characters with which we identified and related consistently do the wrong thing, effectively tricking us into thinking or believing something we never imagined a decent person could think.

There are many other Hitchcock films I would recommend: Psycho, Notorious, and The Birds are all worthy of mention. But Rear Window is one of my all-time favorite films because remains wholly effective throughout despite having no soundtrack or significant action. It is as delightful as it is disturbing, as maniacal as it is moving. There are many films that intrigue, scare, and make you think, but none as brilliantly and successfully as Rear Window.

McCarty Follows Uncommon Path

Published in the North Central Chronicle on September 28, 2007.

How does one lead an uncommon life? History shows that the greatest leaders are those who rise to the challenge of leading an uncommon life, a life unafraid of what comes next. Esther McCarty is one of those people.

Esther McCarty (’09) was born in Baguio City, Philippines. Her parents founded schools in the Philippines and in nearby Burma to teach music and Bible knowledge hand-in-hand with their humanitarian services. Esther attended an international school while learning Tagalog, the Filipino language. It didn’t take her too long to assimilate.

“I thought of myself as a Filipino.”

The McCarty family lived in the city but traveled extensively to rural areas to conduct medical missions in the north. The Filipino culture was moderately westernized, though facilities like showers had yet to develop beyond their indigenous design.

Esther was fond of living in the city, but she found true solace and beauty elsewhere. Esther vividly remembers a class trip into the Cordilliera Mountains to visit rice terraces that had long ago been hand-carved into the mountains for farming purposes.

“I find peace when I’m in the mountains,” she says. “They are so exquisite and majestic.”

The McCarty family returned to the United States for two years after Esther’s brother Jon was in a near-fatal motorbike accident. After his recovery, Esther’s father informed her that the family would be moving to Thailand. The move shocked her at first, but after living in Thailand for four years, Esther knew she had found her home.

“Thailand was more oriental, exotic, and mysterious than the Philippines. I feel that those years in Thailand were the most formative for me. I now feel more Thai than anything else.”

It was a twist of fate that brought Esther to North Central. She recalls getting a “crazy 80s-style promotional video from North Central College” from her dad during senior year of high school. The video itself didn’t win her over, though it was altogether humorous; it was the financial aid package that sealed the deal. Esther hadn’t as much as visited campus when she decided to come to North Central.

Like many first-year students, Esther got heavily involved in campus activities. During her first year alone, she was on the Hall Council for the New Student Complex, the finance committee in the student government, the Chronicle staff, and the tennis team. On top of that, she worked three jobs at once: in the Admissions office, at the Corner Bakery, and at Bangkok Village, where she still works today.

“I wanted to try everything,” she says.

But, like many first-year students, she burned out quickly. She quit two of her three jobs and her life eventually settled down. She is now an RA in Townhomes and a board member of the Uncommon Life Movement and Breakaway, student organizations that organize service trips nationwide.

Esther projects a strong spirit that is not concerned with what comes next, only with how she can help. She is never without a smile and a nice thing to say, and it is evident that Esther has found her stride in service.

“God created me to serve. I feel most happy when I’m helping people, and know people are my passion.”

An uncommon life, indeed.