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kenmorefield

Top 25: Discussion for Nominations on Growing Older

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18 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

I am trying to see as many of the nominees as I can before voting and revisit a few that I haven't seen in ages and don't really remember. I have DVDs on my shelf of Benjamin Button and The Best Years of Our Lives and suspect I need to rewatch Late Spring and Colonel Blimp. 

The Best Years of Our Lives may be my all-time favorite movie. I try watch it twice a year. I can't count how many times I've seen it, but I've never gotten any "growing older" vibe out of it. The characters change and mature as a result of the traumas and serendipitous events that bound the three soldiers togethers, nothing I understand as related to their ages or aging processes. I hate the idea of giving it a "1" when I vote, but as of now that's where I'm at. So, if anyone can make a case for how it fits our theme, I'd love to be convinced.

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I too tend to think of Best Years as a trauma film rather than an aging film. That said, I noted on re-watch that a significant portion of the trauma, especially for the Sergeant, was the aging of his family (kids) and hence his disorientation. Part of aging is the intractable nature of time -- it proceeds regardless of whether we want it to, and we transform whether we want to or not. They are not dead, but the people they were (and the people they remembered) no longer exist -- they've been replaced by different incarnations of themselves. 

I am not sure if that is enough to be about aging, but it's what I gleaned. I was reminded of the line from Ghosts of Mississippi when the couple splits up where the wife asks if he is leaving her because she has changed form the person he married and he says no, I'm leaving you because you haven't. An obvious major theme that connects many of these films is parenting, but I do think aging is an issue in films that are primarily about marriage. What does it mean to be spiritually (or emotionally or psychologically) bound to another human being who is constantly changing and transforming into something and someone new? Why do we try to freeze relationships at an ideal point and how do we respond when we realize we can't?

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I just wanted to put in a word, too, about Searching for Bobby Fischer, which I suspect will strike many people as more about "coming of age" than aging. The aspect that I find very resonant is the conversation between Bruce and Josh about contempt as it is really about how society (or this subsection of it) defines adulthood (maturity). It's one of the better films at illustrating the theme I've seen so many sermons stumble over -- subtle differences  between "childish" and "child-like." Josh is a child biologically but mature emotionally (and spiritually?) Bruce (and Josh's dad) are biologically older but still emotionally childish. Mom (Joan Allen) sees it as her job to protect Josh's "goodness," not by sheltering him from evil or keeping him in a naive state but by promoting and validating those elements of his personality that the broader American (and more narrow competitive chess) culture despise: mercy, empathy, the pursuit of goals for intrinsic rather extrinsic rewards. 

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52 minutes ago, kenmorefield said:

I too tend to think of Best Years as a trauma film rather than an aging film. That said, I noted on re-watch that a significant portion of the trauma, especially for the Sergeant, was the aging of his family (kids) and hence his disorientation. Part of aging is the intractable nature of time -- it proceeds regardless of whether we want it to, and we transform whether we want to or not. They are not dead, but the people they were (and the people they remembered) no longer exist -- they've been replaced by different incarnations of themselves. 

I am not sure if that is enough to be about aging, but it's what I gleaned. I was reminded of the line from Ghosts of Mississippi when the couple splits up where the wife asks if he is leaving her because she has changed form the person he married and he says no, I'm leaving you because you haven't. An obvious major theme that connects many of these films is parenting, but I do think aging is an issue in films that are primarily about marriage. What does it mean to be spiritually (or emotionally or psychologically) bound to another human being who is constantly changing and transforming into something and someone new? Why do we try to freeze relationships at an ideal point and how do we respond when we realize we can't?

Thanks for trying Ken. I want to give it a good rating but only because I love the movie so much. I'm not sure yet if this is enough to boost my score, but I don't plan to vote until Monday so I can watch some more of the movies I haven't seen first. I won't be able rewatch Best Years of Our Lives within that time, but I'll keep thinking about the things you brought up and see where my mind is about it on Monday. If anybody else (maybe those who nominated/second it) want to push for it, I'd still love to be convinced to give it a high mark.

Edited by Ed Bertram

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On 4/11/2019 at 8:36 PM, kenmorefield said:

I just wanted to put in a word, too, about Searching for Bobby Fischer, which I suspect will strike many people as more about "coming of age" than aging. The aspect that I find very resonant is the conversation between Bruce and Josh about contempt as it is really about how society (or this subsection of it) defines adulthood (maturity). It's one of the better films at illustrating the theme I've seen so many sermons stumble over -- subtle differences  between "childish" and "child-like." Josh is a child biologically but mature emotionally (and spiritually?) Bruce (and Josh's dad) are biologically older but still emotionally childish. Mom (Joan Allen) sees it as her job to protect Josh's "goodness," not by sheltering him from evil or keeping him in a naive state but by promoting and validating those elements of his personality that the broader American (and more narrow competitive chess) culture despise: mercy, empathy, the pursuit of goals for intrinsic rather extrinsic rewards. 

Just noticed this. I gave this film one of my few 5's because (A) I love the film and (B) I began to understand how several adults related to the Growing Older theme. 

I'm now enjoying showing my kids Akeelah and the Bee, but really that's just a preface to showing them Bobby Fischer, which is the finest film I can think to show kids on the subject of competition.  The Growing Older theme can be seen in Bobby Fischer too for sure, but maybe it wasn't quite direct enough to get this film in this top 25.

Edited by Brian D

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I don’t know if it’s too late to talk up films for Round 2, but I would make these shameless plugs for 2 of my favorites (totally biased since these are my 2 write-ups):

 

Poetry :

-Amazing film that is so essential for THIS particular category. 

-A lesser reason but quite noteworthy : There are a few other films in the final 29 from Asia and a few others centered on women, but this film has both of those.  The female focus and Korean aspects of this film are actually very essential to the film itself, and I think that’s compelling for us to consider on a list of films that has less of these perspectives.

 

You Can’t Take It With You :

Which others among our final 29 are actually comedies?  Maybe Limelight, but Chaplin’s in this instance is 30% comedy, 70% drama.  Here it is, guys...your chance to get a comedy on this list!

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5 hours ago, Brian D said:

 

You Can’t Take It With You :

 

Which others among our final 29 are actually comedies?  Maybe Limelight, but Chaplin’s in this instance is 30% comedy, 70% drama.  Here it is, guys...your chance to get a comedy on this list!

 

<----Played Kafelinkov in high school production of YCTiwY many, many moons ago. 

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I finally caught up with Poetry. Good choice, thanks for those of you who pushed the film. It was not what I had it in the periphery of my mind it would be. (I think I had it confused in my head with Joon-ho Bong's Mother. )

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So, today I rewatched You Can't Take It with You and was struck by its casual, implicit racism.  This shows up a few times in how the two black characters, Donald and Rheba, are treated:

- When we see the men entering jail, Donald makes a comment to the effect that he's 'home again.'

- Donald makes a couple of passing comments about bilking the system and living on government handouts.

- At the big family dining table (where there's room for non-family members, too), room is never made for Donald or Rheba.  They are only there to serve.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this, but this will lead me to put this film at the bottom of my voting list, hoping that it drops out of the Top 25.  I know that racial and gender representation has a long, ignoble history in American cinema, but I'd rather not celebrate a film where this is blatantly problematic.    

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42 minutes ago, Andrew said:

So, today I rewatched You Can't Take It with You and was struck by its casual, implicit racism.  This shows up a few times in how the two black characters, Donald and Rheba, are treated:

- When we see the men entering jail, Donald makes a comment to the effect that he's 'home again.'

- Donald makes a couple of passing comments about bilking the system and living on government handouts.

- At the big family dining table (where there's room for non-family members, too), room is never made for Donald or Rheba.  They are only there to serve.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this, but this will lead me to put this film at the bottom of my voting list, hoping that it drops out of the Top 25.  I know that racial and gender representation has a long, ignoble history in American cinema, but I'd rather not celebrate a film where this is blatantly problematic.    

I actually just picked up a copy of YCTiWY (and The Browning Version) at the Alamo on the way to class. I will prioritize re-watching it this weekend.

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1 hour ago, Andrew said:

So, today I rewatched You Can't Take It with You and was struck by its casual, implicit racism.  This shows up a few times in how the two black characters, Donald and Rheba, are treated:

- When we see the men entering jail, Donald makes a comment to the effect that he's 'home again.'

- Donald makes a couple of passing comments about bilking the system and living on government handouts.

- At the big family dining table (where there's room for non-family members, too), room is never made for Donald or Rheba.  They are only there to serve.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this, but this will lead me to put this film at the bottom of my voting list, hoping that it drops out of the Top 25.  I know that racial and gender representation has a long, ignoble history in American cinema, but I'd rather not celebrate a film where this is blatantly problematic.    

I haven't seen You Can't Take It with You in ages, but it was already one of the three lowest rated films in my initial ballot that ended up on the list, so I might slide it down a couple more spaces now, in favor of some things others made passionate cases for, but I still need to see.

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On 4/24/2019 at 3:41 AM, Andrew said:

So, today I rewatched You Can't Take It with You and was struck by its casual, implicit racism.  This shows up a few times in how the two black characters, Donald and Rheba, are treated:

- When we see the men entering jail, Donald makes a comment to the effect that he's 'home again.'

- Donald makes a couple of passing comments about bilking the system and living on government handouts.

- At the big family dining table (where there's room for non-family members, too), room is never made for Donald or Rheba.  They are only there to serve.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this, but this will lead me to put this film at the bottom of my voting list, hoping that it drops out of the Top 25.  I know that racial and gender representation has a long, ignoble history in American cinema, but I'd rather not celebrate a film where this is blatantly problematic.    

Good eye, Andrew.

The first 2 by themselves could be seen as jokes about the disenfranchisement and ill fortune experienced by many people of color in that day due to the way they were treated by society.  Could these instances be seen that way instead of necessarily characterizing those characters as criminals or beggars?  I could see cases being made either way.  It would perhaps be easier to defend these first 2 comments as sardonic humor in the vein I've suggested if a black artist were the one offering the humor.  Not so in this case, of course, which makes it hard to parse Capra's motives.

The 3rd example is less easy to defend.  For a film about a family living freely and so expansively not conforming to many things in society, the movie certainly missed a chance by not giving the black characters a place at the table.  Of course, I’ve put it very mildly and I can see how this element could be interpreted as an example of “casual” racism.

I still think You Can't Take It with You has some tremendous virtues.  I'd have

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Tried to add this to my original post above, but I couldn't get the edit to work: 

One thing to honestly consider as we weigh whether to include a film like this is the question of that era and the implicit racism that was likely present in most of these films if we look deeply enough at them.  We have to consider...it's great to include films from that era for their many strengths, yet to do so we may have to endure some egregious racial stuff in the margins.  Is the racism enough to carry down the other more central virtues of the films, or does the racism weigh so heavily that it sinks the ship?  Should we abandon the many other films from that era that, for example, are casually racist by simply ignoring people of color as characters or not including them as personages of worth?  If we do, we may have to abandon all of the films from that era.  Maybe we do have to abandon some of them, but we should do some careful thinking along the way.

I appreciate this discussion, because I want to think more deeply about this and consider whether this will affect my vote on the Capra film.  Still considering...
 

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I just Googled "Capra and racism" and found this interesting description of the Capra-produced WWII documentary The Negro Soldier.  Interesting indeed...  I don't know enough about this film to know if the Wikipedia bits below are accurate views of the documentary.  Certainly, though, it adds an interesting element to the discussion about Capra and racism.  Could a documentary like this from Capra have been his way of trying to atone for some of the racism in his own earlier films like You Can't Take It With You?  Maybe....

"In December 2011, The Negro Soldier was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[2] The Registry said the film "showcased the contributions of blacks to American society and their heroism in the nation’s wars, portraying them in a dignified, realistic, and far less stereotypical manner than they had been depicted in previous Hollywood films."

"The Negro Soldier influenced later African American films and its viewers in different ways. The film played a considerable part in altering the types of roles that African Americans received in following films. For example, instead of showing blacks only as slaves or subservients, this film showed African Americans as lawyers, musicians, athletes, and other valued professions. In different movies during this time period, African Americans were often portrayed as humorous characters. However, after The Negro Soldier, African Americans played more respectable and prominent roles in films.

Furthermore, people came to realize how important and influential a tool films were for social change. Messages within films, if expressed the correct way, could influence audiences greatly. The message within The Negro Soldier solidified the notion and provided visual proof that racial equality was a justified concept and should be accepted. African Americans around the country were very pleased with this film."

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I really appreciate your thoughtful responses, Brian.  I waited 12 hours before responding, because 1) I was freaking tired after a hell of a work week, and 2) I wanted more time for cogitation.

The bit about The Negro Soldier is fascinating.  Like you, I wonder if Capra was compensating for early stereotyping in his films.

As far as your responses to the three examples I gave:  Example One passed by very briskly and could conceivably be a comment on Donald's disenfranchisement, but at the time it felt like a joke at Donald's expense.  Example Two felt very unambiguously like Capra was caving in to stereotypes about African Americans bilking the system.  (I like how some comedians will talk about making sure that their comedy punches up at people in power rather than punching down at the disenfranchised, and in both these instances, it felt as though Capra was punching down.)

Your broader comments about representation in art are fair ones and something I've thought about quite a bit since watching Raoul Peck's James Baldwin film (I Am Not Your Negro) last year, as well as with the fallout from "me too" in Hollywood.  And (surprise, surprise) I don't have a comprehensive response.  I can only say that there are some instances of this in early Hollywood that are so repellent that they poison the whole film.  And for me, I think this Capra film is one of them.  (I also recall a screwball comedy with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant - Philadelphia Story, maybe? - that I turned off right at the beginning after it played domestic violence for laughs.)  The question that helps guide me - for what it's worth - is would I be comfortable watching this film with the audience represented and singing its praises afterwards?

But the representation question is an extremely tough one.  Luther and Voltaire were anti-semites; for me, this poisons much of Luther's writings, while it doesn't seem to infect Voltaire's Candide, for instance.  (I'd love to hear Beth's and Ken's thoughts here on Shakespeare in Othello and Merchant of Venice here.)  And I have no doubt that much of what we accept in contemporary cinema as the grammar of the time will be repugnant to woke audiences 20 years from now, when it comes to the male gaze.

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15 hours ago, Andrew said:
 
 
 
2
14 hours ago, Andrew said:

(I'd love to hear Beth's and Ken's thoughts here on Shakespeare in Othello and Merchant of Venice here.)  And I have no doubt that much of what we accept in contemporary cinema as the grammar of the time will be repugnant to woke audiences 20 years from now, when it comes to the male gaze.

I never studied Othello, and my coverage of Shakespeare is now nearly 25 years-old (man, I feel old). So take it for a grain of salt. My take on Merchant was that Shakespeare could have been and probably was progressive for his time but not four our own. This would primarily be demonstrated by comparing him to others telling similar stories or how he deviates from the source material. (I don't really recall specifics.) For example, I suspect Shylock's forced conversion was looked upon as more gracious than exacting vengeance in the form of putative measures (death penalty, etc.) Similarly, I'd also always been taught that plays (Shakespeare's included) were living texts that were collaborations between actors and writer. There's a long history, for example, of toning down the climactic scenes of Taming of the Shrew to suggest that Kate and Petruchio are play-acting. (The Taylor-Burton film, for example, has her flip him over off the stool immediately after she places her hands under his feet in obedience; Branagh's Henry V glides over Hal's' threats to the sieged French town by having the actor suggest via slouching and body language that it was all a bluff.) It's hard for me to say how much of these sorts of things (for which there is not much textual evidence--and the texts that we have are not exactly perfect recreations of the texts Shakespeare wrote) are informed by a tradition that was part of the original vision. Maybe the actors are the metaphorical equivalent of rabbis to the play-text. 

Anyhow, a better example for me was when I was a teenager I watched South Pacific for the first time and after it was over my parents asked how I liked it. I said i was sad the for the tragic end to the one story and had been hoping for a happy ending. My mom looked at me incredulously and said, "But he *had* to die." When I asked why, she said, "Because the movie was made in 1958...." Similarly, I explain to my students that the death of fallen woman is a convention in the sentimental novel because of the time period. So do we praise a film or play or novel for being *relatively* better or do we still slam it for falling short? I suspect it depends on how sensitive we are to the issue(s) and what other qualities the artifact has to recommend it. A couple of years ago, while Alissa was still at CT, I wrote a guest column expressing disdain at Carousel for its implied attitudes towards domestic violence. Sowhile I see your point and concede it is legitimate, I have a hard time feeling animosity for the film on racial grounds when I see other depictions of race (or gender) of the time period. 

Also, and this is just me, Ken the guy thinking out loud, not Ken trying to direct anyone, I think those faults in an otherwise good film are exacerbated if/when there are no counterbalancing examples of racial justice or people of color within the films on the list. That's maybe my roundabout way of saying I care more about what the films do well than what they don't, and I do think long and hard about the point that YCTiWY is really the only comedy on the list, and I don't necessarily want to imply through the list that aging is simply a long string of losses until death. I think in some ways YCTiWY illustrates the essay in GROWING OLD WITH CHRIST that talks about the how often the depiction of old-age in the Bible is one of unanticipated fruitfulness (literally and figuratively) rather than always and only diminishment.  Is that enough? I don't know. Not saying it should be., just saying how I'm thinking.

Finally, and I want to be careful here...I suspect that there are issues that push some buttons of voters more/less than others. I seem to remember Nick, for example, really not liking Before Midnight because of Celine's blasphemy in the church (or crypt?). All That Jazz contains sex and nudity, which is still an issue for some viewers...and while it doesn't bother me if it is on the list, I know some people would be equally as dismayed by our seeming endorsement of a film that portrays behaviors they find detestable. I adore Gertrud, but I think a plausible case could be made that it excuses adultery. I think Maadadayo presents the role of the wife as being less than the husband in Japanese society...and while that's not the same as domestic violence it does make me ask if we are talking about certain attitudes being verboten in total or whether it is a matter of degrees?  King Lear presents graphic torture (plucking out eyes on stage), and that's something that I find hard to bear in any film.  I suppose in the best films there is some awareness that the behavior depicted is bad/wrong/detrimental and in the case you cited, there isn't. 

Which is a roundabout way of arriving at the conclusion that there's enough some there that if anyone wants to call "fire," I won't say they are out of bounds, but I don't think there is necessarily enough there that anyone who wants to vote for the film has to defend the fact that it didn't bother them (if it didn't) or that it didn't bother them enough (if it bothered them some but not enough to disqualify the film in total). I liked the film, and there are at least a half dozen of the final 29 that I would rather see go (do we really need BOTH Tokyo Story and Late Spring, BOTH Faces Places and The Gleaners and I, BOTH Maadadayo and The Browning Version, BOTH Umberto D. and The Remains of the Day), but by the same token, it is not one of my Top 10 from the list and I won't be particularly bummed if it doesn't make the cut. 

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Incidentally, I re-watched The Browning Version last night and I confess the characterization of the wife bothered me a bit. Really seemed to fall into the "make her a shrew so that you'll feel justified in rooting divorce/separation" trope: https://1morefilmblog.com/2012/11/25/for-better-or-until-something-better-comes-along/

Also, the final speech is really tonally incoherent. (I understand it is not in the play and Rattigan wrote it specifically for the movie.) 

That said, I did appreciate his commitment to the institution or ideal of marriage as something different from just the woman he is married to. In that sense, it might counterbalance Before Midnight or Gertrud (films that examine aging through the lens of couples but do not appear to see anything inherently or especially *spiritual* about marriage.) Also, the rediscovery of childhood joys is nice....but the gender stuff does grate. 

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Yes, I had been thinking that the sexism in Browning Version seems even more central and problematic than the casual racism in You Can't Take It with You. Mainly because the only main female character is irredeemably evil and the other female characters seem to gossip most of the time. However, the growing older element (for the man at least) in Browning Version is still pretty strong...finding it especially difficult to decide on where to rank it. 

Edited by Brian D

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Thanks for this discussion, Andrew, Ken, Brian, et al. It's been helpful in thinking about these issues of representation that we find problematic. There has certainly been some "growing up" the film industry has had to do in terms of what it finds acceptable to portray and in what ways...not that everything has necessarily gotten better or that there aren't still huge problems with representation...

As I make my final ranking, I am tempted just to leave the small handful of films I feel that I've seen but ambivalent about in the "unranked" column. I'm hesitant to rank them ahead of films that seem worthier but that I haven't seen. I like the fact that our unranked/unseen films will still receive some points in this system.

On 4/27/2019 at 10:23 PM, kenmorefield said:

do we really need BOTH Tokyo Story and Late Spring, BOTH Faces Places and The Gleaners and I

Is it the case that the only directors with two films on this current list are Varda and Ozu? I know we should just let the original method/parameters determine the list, but I wouldn't mind including only one from each director. The blurb could mention the other film that got fewer points as another worthy film on the theme by the same director. Oh well.  It's much easier to compare films that are more thematically alike (like the "aging parent(s) and their child(ren)" films) than those that cover aging over longer periods vs focused on a short time in older age, an individual vs. a couple or a group, etc.

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38 minutes ago, Rob Z said:

Is it the case that the only directors with two films on this current list are Varda and Ozu? I know we should just let the original method/parameters determine the list, but I wouldn't mind including only one from each director. The blurb could mention the other film that got fewer points as another worthy film on the theme by the same director. Oh well.  It's much easier to compare films that are more thematically alike (like the "aging parent(s) and their child(ren)" films) than those that cover aging over longer periods vs focused on a short time in older age, an individual vs. a couple or a group, etc.

I think it was the case in one of the Top 100s that there was a cap at 3. I am okay with 2 or more, though I have no problem with that being a ranking criteria in Round 2 for individual voters. It influenced my rankings a little. (I was also influenced a little, admittedly, by hoping to not have too much overlap with Top 100 or Memory list which I didn't really peruse carefully before voting in Round 1. To that extent, I now wonder if Christian's "Crime & Punishment" or Evan's "Musicals" might not have been a more distinct choice.

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On 4/28/2019 at 10:23 AM, kenmorefield said:

Also, and this is just me, Ken the guy thinking out loud, not Ken trying to direct anyone, I think those faults in an otherwise good film are exacerbated if/when there are no counterbalancing examples of racial justice or people of color within the films on the list. That's maybe my roundabout way of saying I care more about what the films do well than what they don't, and I do think long and hard about the point that YCTiWY is really the only comedy on the list, and I don't necessarily want to imply through the list that aging is simply a long string of losses until death. I think in some ways YCTiWY illustrates the essay in GROWING OLD WITH CHRIST that talks about the how often the depiction of old-age in the Bible is one of unanticipated fruitfulness (literally and figuratively) rather than always and only diminishment.  Is that enough? I don't know. Not saying it should be., just saying how I'm thinking.
 

Hi Ken,

In regard to the blurb I'll be writing for You Can’t Take It with You in the top 25 :

I really liked the way you crystallized this film’s value (above) for the list in terms of Grandpa Vanderhof’s fruitfulness in old age.  Do you mind if I expand on that particular point for my blurb?  I can’t think of a more helpful perspective or way to approach the film for this top 25. 

Gratefully,

Brian 

P.S. I wanted to send this as an individual message but I couldn't get that A and F function to work.

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I don't have any problem with that. Sorry you were having messenger problems.

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