Monday, January 09, 2006

American Classics

Friday night was a celebration of the best of American culture: it included a trip to a faux-Egyptian picture palace, a great black-and-white movie, one of our finest newsmen, and a conversation in an all-night diner.

Half a dozen of us got together to see Good Night, and Good Luck at the Parkway theatre, built in 1926. Just getting there was an adventure, since Yahoo and Google both offer directions that make no sense in the context of the actual streets. There’s either a missing street sign, or the essential artery has had a name change that never extended as far as the online maps. We did arrive on time, although by the time we got there we both were feeling a bit frazzled.

The Parkway offers comfortable, casual seating on couches and at small tables. It's something like sitting in your own living room to watch a movie, assuming your living room has a multistory ceiling; a proscenium arch decorated with sphinxes, cobras, and cobra-headed vultures; and a genuine full-sized movie screen. And also good lemonade, decent pizza, and excellent lemon bars. It shows classics, cult movies, and carefully selected second-run films. Oh, and you can buy alcohol, too, if you like, or rent it for a private function.

It's a wonderful way to see a movie, and my God, what a wonderful movie to see! Courage, principle, damned good reporting, and subtle, beautiful ensemble acting. David Strathairn has long been a favorite actor of mine; he gives quiet, thoughtful performances in movies ranging from Matewan to Eight Men Out to Sneakers (where he has a delightful turn as a blind man). He’s good, he has always been good, and now he has found the role that should get him an Oscar nomination.

George Clooney directed, and he co-stars as Fred Friendly. The working partnership of reporter and producer comes alive onscreen. Robert Downey, Jr., also turns in his usual fine performance. And Ray Wise as Don Hollenbeck—an impressively understated performance of a man in torment.

Every period detail snapped into place. The sexual politics, the office hierarchies, the clothes, even the ever-present cigarette smoke. No wonder all those guys died young—they smoked cigarettes everywhere, even on camera.

After the show, we stopped at the all-night Merritt Bakery, which is more a diner than a mere bakery, and talked for a bit. Sometime I need to come back there and actually eat (I just had a soda). In addition to the expected burgers, milk shakes, breakfasts, and desserts, their menu features chicken and waffles. That dish is also an American classic, although it’s a tad disturbing to see “Waffle with Legs” or “Waffle with Breast” on the menu. I’m not worried about being attacked by mutant waffle monsters; I’m just bothered when a classic diner’s menu sounds like the exhibit catalogue at a conceptual art gallery.

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