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March 22, 2002

The coming weekend brings us to the portal of two annual major events. One is very spiritually significant to most of us, while the other is a trifling matter even though it seems we are devoted to it. I’m speaking, of course, of Palm Sunday (the important event) and the rather hokey Oscar ritual brought to us by the movie industry. You already know which is which. The time and thought we devote to them should tell us something about our values.

I write about the movies quite often because I spent many evenings and matinee hours as a youngster watching the silver screens at the Roxy and Annex Theaters on the east side of the Perry square. That alone does not qualify me as an expert, but add to that the rack of movie magazines I devoured each week in our family drug store and the films I reviewed years ago as The Journal’s temporary “movie critic” and you will have to agree that I have a pretty solid background for this sort of thing. That explains the interest in the Oscar show coming up Sunday night on TV. I hope that my devotion to the Palm Sunday story, and its sequel, need no explanation.

An article about the Oscars caught my eye the other day as I was scanning one of the state newspapers that is widely read here. The writer had compiled a list of all the films that have captured “best picture” awards since the first one (“Wings”) in 1928. Reading the list reminded me that some of those old movies seemed far better than most of those offered to us today. Techniques and special effects have been vastly improved by the movie makers, but Hollywood has yet to master the art of story telling. Have you tried to find a film with a good story lately? Don’t bother looking. There aren’t any. No “Gone With the Wind” epic dramas (winner of the 1938 Oscar) with vixens like Vivien Leigh and patricians like Leslie Howard; no “Mutiny on the Bounty” sea adventures (the winner in 1935) with a villain like Charles Laughton or a hero as manly as Clark Gable; no enchanting musicals like “The Sound of Music” (1965 winner) or “My Fair Lady” (1964 winner). This generation is being deprived of treasures like those.

About the same time as the dawning of that realization, I was reminded again of the absence of good, civilized music in today’s pop culture. Something was said on a radio program about the impending induction of several performers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which I did not know existed). The names of those selected for that honor were totally unfamiliar to me. Where, I wonder, are the gifted young musicians like those who once filled the chairs in the dozens of orchestras that once played in dance halls and on the airways throughout the country. Through that reverie I discerned the name of Sammy Kaye, leader of the band that invited listeners to “swing and sway.” He was not a trained classical musician, but his music was pleasant to hear. Today, a band with the name of Sammy Kaye is still performing, along with others bearing the names of Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and several others. You can hear them in concerts or on cruise ships, but they don’t fill the dance halls as they once did. Too bad the nation’s tastes have changed. Young people don’t know what they’re missing.

And that reminds me of the day Sammy Kaye himself granted me an interview in the Marcus Motel on Fir avenue, but we’ll save that story for another day.