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An Ode to the Barber Shop

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Isn’t it amazing just how much of our lives we take for granted? The vast majority of us have never really taken into consideration the organizational effort that goes into running a local library or operating a small business. Like most of us, I have eaten at pubs, borrowed library books, and gotten my haircut without giving a second thought to the little intricacies that make such things possible. Then my barber decided to retire.

If I’m honest, learning that John, my barber of over five years, had decided to retire threw me in a loop. The prospect of finding a decent, skilled barber who could deal with my thick, wavy hair seemed virtually insurmountable. The truth is that the relationship John and I had ran deeper than just mere haircuts. Our friendship was based on a familiarity built over a number of years. John knew my hair and knew how I liked it. And I had the honour of having my hair cut by a man who had been barbering since the mid-sixties, and who was a pillar of his community.

John was one of a dying breed: the traditional barber. They offered men a haircut and, perhaps, a shave (occupational health and safety not withstanding), and little else. These barber shops were usually small and run by only a few men. They had built personal relationships with their clients over a number of years. These barbers knew their customers, knew their backgrounds, and knew how they liked their hair. (Naturally, this was dependent on clients returning to the same barber year after year, month after month).

The traditional barber is a relic of a bygone age. Whenever I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the 1920s to the 1950s, of a world of glamour and sophistication when ladies wore evening dresses and men had neat hair and wore dinner jackets. When I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the Rat Pack and James Bond and the movie stars of the 1930s to the 1950s. For me, the old-fashioned barber shop is synonymous with timeless male style.

Sadly, society no longer believes in style, glamour, and sophistication. The traditional barber shop has given way to a cruder, wannabe variety. These establishments are more masculinised hair dressing salons than proper barber shops. These places think that by offering cheap haircuts in an atmosphere immersed in masculine nostalgia – usually achieved through wood paneling, empty Jack Daniels bottles, and pictures of men doing “manly” things – they can achieve the mantle of the traditional barber shop.

The truth is that they can’t. Gruff looking barbers with arms covered in tattoos are about as far away as one can get from the dapper gentlemen who cut men’s hair in the past. When I walk out of the barber, I want to look and feel like Cary Grant, not like a thug. John made that happen for me. He and his kind are vanishing rapidly. They will be missed.

I’m Done with Modern Movies

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For the life of me, I cannot remember the last time I saw a contemporary movie that was memorable in any way. Despite having access to both television and Netflix, I have found it virtually impossible to find a movie that I actually thought was worth watching.

It would be wrong, however, to lay the entirety of the blame on either mainstream television or Netflix. (Although it is entirely fair to argue that the litany of rubbish offered by television is a symptom of a dying medium). Rather, it is indicative of a problem that has pervaded the entire filmmaking industry. Modern filmmakers appear to be content with making defective movies. Movies that feature predictable stories, two-dimensional characters, and an over-reliance on visual effects.

This was not always the case. For years Hollywood was known for producing great, culture-defining films. The classical period of American cinema (which lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s) produced films like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, and Ben Hur, among many, many others.

Similarly, the 1960s and 1970s saw a renaissance in film as filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and many others reinvented and reinvigorated motion picture. This became the era that produced films like the Godfather, the French Connection, and the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Hollywood’s total lack of artistic brilliance has been caused by three problems: the lack of originality, the lack of artistic merit, and the saturation of progressive politics in the industry.

Modern Movies Lack Originality

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The most conspicuous problem inflicting Hollywood today is a total lack of originality. Neither their stories nor their characters appear to have any originality or depth whatsoever. Most films today are either remakes, reboots, sequels, are based on comic books, or are about superheroes. Now there is nothing wrong with these films in and of themselves, but when every single movie made is one of these five things, it starts to get a little tiresome.

The problem doesn’t stop at just narrative, either. Modern film characters are often two-dimensional and, as a result, rather dull. They are mouthpieces for certain ideological beliefs and are therefore often presented in entirely black or white terms. The problem with this, of course, is that people in real life are usually complicated. They make mistakes, hold contradictory views, and often behave in irrational ways. One would never see an obvious racist like Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in The Searchers or Jett Rink (James Dean) in Giant. These characters, though they reflect real life, are just too politically incorrect, too human to be presented in any real or sympathetic manner.

A lot of this comes from the travesty that was Star Wars and the litany of ‘blockbuster’ movies it left in its wake. Taken on its own merits, Star Wars is an excellent movie. However, it convinced Hollywood’s film producers that they should devote more time and money to producing shallow, unsophisticated movies that movies of genuine depth and meaning.

Big blockbuster movies are all well and good, but I am an adult and I would like to see movies with a certain level of maturity.

Modern Movies Lack Artistic Merit

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The next glaring problem (though it is one that many people without a knowledge of film or film history would fail to notice) is the total lack of artistic merit in modern filmmaking. The films of the past often prided themselves on their creative and technical brilliance. Modern filmmakers, by contrast, seem more than happy to rest on their laurels and make easy cliched movies.

With the possible exception of Martin Scorsese’s, The Aviator, I cannot remember the last time I saw a movie that made me marvel at its cinematography or that had a score which riled my spirit. I can, however, remember classic movies that managed to do all those things and more. I can remember marvelling at the cinematography in Lawrence of Arabia and sitting in awe of the chariot race – which utilised real stuntmen – in Ben Hur.

Modern filmmakers seem content with spending all their time and money on hey-wow visual effects and completely neglect the most important elements of film: story and character. As a consequence, they cheat their audience by offering sub-par films.

Modern filmmakers rely on visual effects because it is easier than trying to create compelling storylines and memorable characters. They choose to rely on computer-generated-imagery and blue screen because it is easier and safer (cowards) than using real stuntmen and practical effects.

The problem with all this is that the audience knows it’s being cheated. The car chase in Bullit looked so realistic was because, well, it was realistic. It used real cars driven by real people on real streets. A lot of modern movies, by contrast, look fake because, well, they are fake.

Modern Movies are Left-Wing Propaganda

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The third problem, and the one most egregious, is that Hollywood has become a propaganda outlet for progressive politics. They produce films that are so ideologically driven that one can virtually predict everything that is going to happen before it occurs. And, much like people who have been ideologically possessed, these films tend to be so boring they’re not worth wasting your time on.

The fact that Hollywood has become infected with ideologically possessed, far-left individuals is, to some extent, understandable. Filmmaking is an enterprise that attracts highly creative people who, for the most part, tend to be on the political left. The problem, rather, lies in the fact that all the films Hollywood now produces carry a left-wing bias.

Hollywood has become an echo chamber in which “woke” vies are communicated and no other views are allowed to get in. Those associated with the movies compete at the Oscars and at the Academy Awards to see who can be the most virtuous. And they criticise and demean anyone who doesn’t agree with them. They are like Marie Antoinette saying “let them eat cake” as the peasants starve to death in the streets. They are completely out of touch.

The problem with the films being produced today is that their left-wing bias has made them completely shallow and totally predictable.

FATS DOMINO

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This week for our cultural article, we will be celebrating the life of Fats Domino: the legendary New Orleans rock ‘n’ roller who died last Tuesday at the age of eighty-nine.

Fats Domino was born Antoine Dominique Domino, Jr. on February 26th, 1928, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the youngest of Antoine Caliste Domino’s (1879 – 1964) and Marie-Donatille Gros’ (1886 – 1971) eight children. and introduced him to New Orleans’ music scene, which would be a major influence on his later music. Fats’ came from a musical family. At seven-years-old, he was taught to play the piano by his brother-in-law, Harrison Verret (1907 – 1965). Additionally, Verret also introduced Fats to the New Orleans’ music scene, which would become a major influence on his later music.

By the age of ten, Fats was performing as a singer and a pianist. Four years later, he dropped out of school completely to pursue a career in music. To support himself during this time, Fats took on odd jobs – factory work, hauling ice, and so forth. By 1946, Fats had begun playing leading piano with the well-known New Orleans bass player and bandleader, Billy Diamond (1916 – 2011). It was Diamond who gave Domino the nickname, “Fats”. Years later, Diamond would reminisce:

“I knew Fats from hanging out at a grocery store. He reminded me of Fats Waller and Fats Pichon. Those guys were big names and Antoine—that’s what everybody called him then—had just got married and gained weight. I started calling him ‘Fats’ and it stuck.”

Diamond’s audiences were impressed by Fat’s rare talents and by the end of the 1940s the New Orleans’ pianist had attracted a very substantial following. As a musician, Fats was versed in numerous musical styles – blues, boogie-woogie, ragtime – and had drawn inspiration from pianists like Meade Lux Lewis (1895 – 1964) and singers like Louis Jordan (1908 – 1975).

In 1949, Fats met his long-term collaborator, Dave Bartholomew (1920 – ). Around the same time, Fats signed a record contract with Imperial Records. Fats’ first song with the label, The Fat Man (a play on his own nickname), would sell a million copies and reach number two on the Rhythm and Blues Charts.

Fats stood out as a performer due to the combination of his baritone voice, unique piano-playing style, the saxophone rifts of Herbert Hardesty (1925 – 2016), and the drum after-beats of Earl Palmer (1924 – 2008). The release of Ain’t That A Shame in 1955 exposed Fats to the mainstream public and helped make him the most popular African American rock ‘n’ roll artist. His upward trajectory continued with two film performances in 1956: Shake, Rattle and Rock, and the Girl Can’t Help It, and the recording of five top-forty hits, including, My Blue Heaven, and Blueberry Hill (which reached number two).

By the early 1960s, however, Fats music had lost much of its original popularity. In 1963, he moved to ABC-Paramount Records and parted ways with his long-time collaborator, Dave Bartholomew. The arrangement would be short lived with Fats parting ways with ABC-Paramount, returning to New Orleans, and rekindling his professional relationship with Dave Bartholomew in 1965.

Fats and Bartholomew would collaborate until 1970, culminating in the 1968 cover of The Beatles’ Lady Madonna (ironically, a tribute to Fats Domino in and of itself). During this time, Fats failed to experience significant chart success. In 1986, Fats was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of their inaugural lists.

Fats retired from touring following a health scare in Europe in 1995. Outside of the occasional performance at the New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage Festival, he lived a mostly private life with his wife, Rosemary Hall (1930 – 2008), and his eight children. In 1998, Fats accepted a National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton (1946 – ).

Fats refused to leave New Orleans – and abandon his sick wife – during Hurricane Katrina. His home was badly flooded and he lost most of his possessions. He was rescued by the Coast Guard on September First. Following the disaster, Fats released Alive and Kicking and donated a proportion of the sales to the Tipitana Foundation which helped New Orleans’ struggling musicians.

Following the album’s release, Fats retreated back into private life and largely shunned publicity. In 2008, Rosemary Hall, his wife of fifty years, died of chronic illness. Fats joined her on October 26th, 2017, at the age of eighty-nine.

Fats Domino must be credited as a key pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll. Together with Jerry Lee Lewis (1935 – ) and Little Richard (1932 – ), Fats style of piano playing helped define the new genre of music and inspired dozens of future musicians. No wonder The Rolling Stone Record Guide likened him to Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790).

THE LADY VANISHES

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This week for our cultural article, we will be examining Alfred Hitchcock’s (1899 – 1980) 1938 film, The Lady Vanishes.  Set primarily on a train bound for England from Central Europe, Hitchcock’s film weaves an intriguing and intense narrative around characters united and divided by their snobbery, self-centredness, complacency, and nationalism.

The Lady Vanishes is one-part comedy, one-part murder mystery, and one-part thriller. The film’s first act is rather comedic in nature. A recent avalanche has blocked the train lines, forcing most of the residents to remain at the hotel overnight. The hotel in question becomes so overbooked and so strained in its resources, that two of its guests are forced to sleep in the maid’s quarters. This first act draws the audience in with its lighthearted attitude and its mixture of verbal and physical humour. Not even the murder of a folk singer outside the hotel is enough to distract us from the revelry.

The first act ends with the disappearance of the film’s titular character, Miss Froy (May Whitty, 1865 – 1948). From this point, the film becomes a murder mystery with Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood, 1916 – 1990), a wealthy socialite, and her helper, the musicologist Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave, 1908 – 1985), searching for her. Here Hitcock begins to play subtle tricks on our minds. We, like Iris Henderson, know Miss Froy exists, but the other characters deny ever having seen her. Simultaneously, Hitchcock plays with our curiosity and our frustration. Eventually, Miss Froy is found and the film then climaxes with a thrilling and action-packed third-act.

Eventually, Miss Froy is found and the film then climaxes with a thrilling and action-packed third-act. This act becomes a fight for survival as the film’s British characters are forced to fight against unnamed foreign forced outside.

Throughout the Lady Vanishes, themes of nationalism and class-snobbery pop-up.  The film’s British characters and arrogant and insular in their attitudes. When it appears that they are about to be killed by foreign police officers, one Brit rather proudly exclaims: “They can’t do anything to us. We’re British subjects.” This is juxtaposed by the subtle undercurrent of politics, exemplified by the film’s antagonists, who may or may not be in league with Fascist Italy.

Then there’s the notion of social class and the snobbery and divisiveness that goes with it. (A reality Hitchcock, as the son of a trader, was quite familiar with). Hitchcock cynically links money and title together by having Iris return to England to marry Lord Charles Forthingale for no other reason than to appease her father, who is reportedly “aching to have a coat of arms on the jam label.” Then there’s the cricket-obsessed Charters (Naunton Wayne, 1901 – 1970) and Caldicott (Basil Radford, 1897 – 1952) representing the idle upper-class. (These two would become popular stock characters in numerous films, radio plays, and television shows).  And then there’s the travelling lawyer (Cecil Parker, 1897 – 1971) and his mistress (Linden Travers, 1913 – 2001) who avoid contact with those they deem beneath them, and who are perfectly prepared to lie to protect their precious social status.

The Lady Vanishes has frequently been credited as Hitchcock’s last great British film.  Hitchcock masterfully weaves elements of mystery, suspense, humour, international politics, class-snobbery, and nationalism together to form an intriguing story. The Lady Vanishes is still as intriguing today as it was nearly eighty years ago.

MOONLIGHT SERENADE

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This week for our cultural article we will be looking at Glenn Miller’s signature tune, the dreamy ballad Moonlight Serenade.

BIG BAND JAZZ

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Moonlight Serenade is a classic of Big Band Jazz, a popular form of music during the Swing Era of the 1930s and 1940s. Unlike smaller jazz combos, which relies heavily on improvisation, Big Band Jazz is usually highly arranged. It typically involves ten or more musicians, including a minimum of three trumpeters, two or more trombonists, four or more saxophonists, and a rhythm section consisting of a pianist, bassist, guitarist, and drummer

GLENN MILLER

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Glenn Miller was born on March 1st, 1904 in Iowa. His family moved frequently through his childhood: first to Missouri, then to Nebraska, before finally settling in Colorado in 1918. Miller briefly played the mandolin before switching to the trombone. He played in the school band while attending High School in Fort Morgan, Colorado.

Upon graduating in 1921, Miller joined Boyd Senter’s Orchestra. He left the band briefly in 1923 to attend college, but quit after a year to return to music. He worked with the Ben Pollack Band in Los Angeles, California, before moving to New York City to work as a freelance trombonist and arranger.

In 1934, Miller became the musical director for Tommy Dorsey’s Band. The next year, Miller would form an American orchestra for British bandleader, Ray Noble. That same year, Miller formed his own band and began recording under his own name.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra found fame in 1939 when it performed at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York.  The performance was broadcasted on the radio, exposing Glenn Miller to millions of people.

On December 15th, 1944, the transport plane taking Miller to the newly liberated Paris disappeared. He was forty-years-old.

THE SONG

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Moonlight Serenade was written in 1935 when Miller was working as a trombonist with the Ray Noble Band. In 1938, Miller used the song has a theme for his NBC radio broadcast.  On April 4th, 1939, Miller recorded Moonlight Serenade as a b-side for Sunrise Serenade.  The song became a success, becoming a top ten hit on the US Pop Charts, and reached number three on the Billboard charts, where it stayed for fifteen weeks.

Miller’s Moonlight Serenade symbolises the sound of a by-gone era. An era when men wore suits and women wore dresses, and when Big Band Jazz ruled the airwaves. Why not consider giving it a listen?