AFI 100: On the Waterfront

Having come from the generation that knew Marlon Brando primarily as Superman’s dad, Dr. Moreau, and the default punchline for Johnny Carson fat jokes (once Raymond Burr kicked the bucket), it’s amazing to see the guy at the top of his game, making every actor unfortunate enough to share a scene with him look like a rank amateur. Made in 1954, On the Waterfront seems right on the cusp of the transition from old-school “stagey” performances and new-fangled “method acting”, with a Brando leading the charge, mumbling and stuttering his way through his portrayal of Terry Malloy, small-time hood with a heart of gold (or, at least, a weakness for blondes). This film would have been a perfect 10 for me were it not for the ending, which I found too pat and the ruination of what would have otherwise been a pitch-perfect and unrelenting piece of noir. Humorous aside: I was completely broadsided by the “coulda been a contenda!” bit–as god as my witness I always though De Niro delivered that line in Raging Bull. Learn somethin’ new every day. 9/10

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Back in the Day When We All Thought We’d Die

I have a love-hate relationship with KNHC, Seattle’s local “dance music” radio station. Well, honestly, it’s more love-love (though that fact alone induces in me no small amount of self-loathing). The music these guys play is to street cred what plaque is to tooth enamel, and yet I can’t help but tune in from time to time. C89 was, after all, voted “Coolest Radio Station” by my graduating class in high school (narrow edging out K-Plus FM), and is one of the first frequencies I recall listening to on a regular basis, as I alternated between 89.5 on the FM dial and 1600 on the AM (RIP, KJET*). Given that C89 adopted the “dance music” format in 1983, it’s fair to say that I’ve been listening to them for a quarter century now. Ugh. In retrospect I really wish I hadn’t done the math on that one.

The nice thing about C89, though, is that they only have 15 songs in the rotation at any given time, so you can keep up-to-date with their playlist just by listening for a few commutes every other month or so. I did so yesterday, and was treated to a new ditty by Madonna & Justin Timberlake:

Warning: Awful.

Apparently–and this will no doubt surprise you as much as it did me–Madonna and Justin only got 4 minutes to save the world, only got 4 minutes, wika wika, 4 minutes. And I hear this song and think, “wow, that’s a powerful and socially-relevant message they got there, as they are no doubt referencing the Doomsday Clock and are rallying their young listeners to the cause of greenhouse gas reduction, reminding them that climate change is at pressing and urgent issue that threaten catastrophic destruction if left unchecked.”

Honest to god, I thought all that.

To confirm my hypothesis, I checked when I got home, to see how others interpreted these lyrics pregnant with symbolism. Here is a smattering of the speculation I found:

Does anyone know what this song is about? It makes absolutely no sense.

I think its pretty meaningless, just about dancing in a club ("Grab a boy, Grab a girl").

There is simply no meaning to this song. Justin Timberlake wrote some of it, so that's no surprise.

Simply just about lust or some crap like everyone sings about nowadays.

isn't it "we only got four minutes to SAY THE WORD?" i have no idea why the would say save the world.. that doenst make sense.

How is old is Madonna already? Like 70? And JT is still only in his teens? Hello! With all the female 40-something teachers having sex underage boys, you'd think Madonna and JT would be more responsible!

well if they only had 4 minutes to save the world, i guess we should all be dead right now, cuz this song sucks -_-

Oh. Uhh, okay. Perhaps I overanalyzed.

See, but here’s the thing: back when I was your age, every third song on C89 was on the theme of IMMINENT APOCALYPSE, typically of the nuclear variety. If a song entitled “4 Minutes to Save the World” had been released back then, you can bet that the subtext would have been, “LOL there’s no way to save the world sike.”

And it wasn’t just top 40 radio, either. In the 80’s, the idea that we were one flock of geese away from Fiery Death From Above permeated pop culture, from television to literature to video games to comic books to movies and movies and movies.

But you have to sit down and watch a television program, read a book, travel to the theater to catch a film. Pop music was everywhere, and served as our perpetual Harbinger of Doom back in the 80’s. One minute Bobby McFerrin was urging you to not worry and be happy, the next Sting was musing aloud as to whether the Russians loved their children too. (Confidential to Gordon: Apparently they did–more so than Americans it seems, as they at least did not subject their youth to your terrible song).

And so, a muxtape for you. Relive those halcyon day when we all thought we’d die. Or, if you are a younger reader, experience them for the first time–they were a blast!

* Great Scott, a KJET tribute station?! Oh NetarWeb, is there nothing you can’t provide?

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Going Down

Conversation with a friend, as we walk to the elevators:

Friend: So, what are you up to this weekend?

Me: Saturday we are going to the Chihuly museum.

Friend: Oh, you know it’s not just Chihuly, right? It’s devoted to glass in general.

Me: No, I hadn’t realized.

Friend: Yeah, they even have a glass blowing room, where you can see people making art and stuff.

Me: Cool.

At this point the elevator arrives containing two people. We enter.

Friend: The last time I went they were blowing a squirrel.

Me: A squirrel?

Friend: Yeah, it was like this three-foot high squirrel, and there were two or three people blowing it. Like, taking turns.

Me: That’s kind of strange.

Friend: Not at all what I was expecting to see, that’s for sure.

We arrive at the next floor. The two other people exit looking perplexed and creeped out.

Games: 1960

Continuing my tradition of discussing America-themed boardgames on the 4th of July.

Last Independence Day I reviewed Twilight Struggle, a game that continues to be a favorite; this year’s selection, 1960: The Making of the President, shares several traits in common with TS: both were co-designed by Jason Matthews, both are for two players, and both are primarily card-driven strategy games. But where Twilight dealt with politics on a global scale, 1960 is strictly a domestic affair.

The players vie to become the 35th president of the United States, assuming the roles of Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Played on a game board depicting a map and of the US, the game is played over a series of rounds, each representing a week of campaigning, during which each player strives to add “State Support” (symbolized by small cubes, red for Nixon and blue for Kennedy) to the various states in the hopes of capturing them come election day.

Only one player can have State Support (i.e., cubes) in a state at a time; if Nixon were told to add two State Support to Montana, say, and Kennedy already had four cubes there, he would remove two blue cubes from the state rather than adding his own. It is therefore easy to tell who is leading in a state, simply by noting what color cubes reside there. The candidate who leads in a state at the end of the game receives the state’s electoral votes, and the player who accumulates the most electoral votes wins.

As with Twilight, the game is driven by a deck of card (hence the appellation “Card-Driven Strategy”), with each card portraying a factor in the 1960 election, from specific historical events (“Nixon Egged”), to influential people and organizations (“Henry Cabot Lodge” and “Baptist Ministers”), to abstractions such as “Gathering Momentum”. Each card has an event corresponding to its title (the “Bobby Kennedy” event, for instance, aids the JFK player for the remainder of the round), and a number of Campaign Points (CPs); players may either use a card for either its Event or its CPs, but not both. CPs are typically used to put cubes onto the board (or remove cubes of an opponent); Events produce wide range of powerful effects, but many are localized or only truly useful in specific situations. Thus, the decision of how to employ your cards–for the Event or for the CP–is the central crux of play.

Sometimes the decision is a no-brainer, such as when the card you are playing has an Event that helps your opponent. But even if you opt to use the CPs in this instance (and you invariably will), the Event may still take place if you opponent is willing to expend a “Momentum Marker” to do so. You have the option to spend two of your own Momentum Markers to disallow your opponent from activating an event, but you must do so as you play the card, i.e., before your opponent makes his intentions known. As Momentum Markers are a limited commodity in the game, these decisions can be agonizing.

There’s lots more to the game–debates and issues and endorsements and initiative–but the heart of the game is the deployment of State Support and collection of electoral votes. And this is one major difference between 1960 and Twilight Struggle. In Twilight, players vie for points, and various scoring opportunities take place throughout the game; in 1960 there is only one “scoring” round, that of election day. Consequentially, the games have entirely different atmospheres: Twilight feels like a long, exhausting slugfest, in which you are constantly trying to get the upper-hand with an eye toward acing the next scoring round; 1960 is more of a narrative, which builds to a climatic election day showdown. To put it another way, Twilight emphasizes tactics while 1960 tilts toward strategy.

Which is better? Both are great designs, of that there can be no dispute. But the thing I love about Twilight Struggle is the constant sense of imminent doom, due to both the interim scoring rounds and constant threat of nuclear war. This same tension is present in 1960, but only in the endgame. That said, 1960 holds one huge advantage over Twilight in the eyes of many: it can be played in half the time, with a typical game of the former lasting 90-120 minutes, while the latter can run as long as five hours (or end after a single hour, in the case of a rout or a nuclear holocaust). 1960 is also a little easier to teach and play, and has vastly superior components.

Twilight vs. 1960 may be one of those situation where, of two similar entities, people fall in love to the one they are exposed to first and dismiss the other as a pale imitation. That might explain why, given the choice, I will opt for Twilight Struggle over 1960 every time. But given only two hours, I’ll happily play 1960 in its stead.

Which would I recommend to someone who has experience with neither? Well, unless you already know someone who is willing to play a five hour, moderately complex game, 1960 is the way to go. Plus it’s theme is especially compelling this year, and it’s much more attractive–two factors that will assist you in finding opponents and getting it on the table. After all, your primary goal, when buying a game, should be to get something that will actually get played–especially when it’s a game of such high caliber.