Thursday, April 17, 2008


I watched an awful movie last night called Moon Over Miami, with Betty Grable and Don Ameche. I have to write a paper for my American Studies class on a film about Texas. This movie mostly takes place in Miami (duh), but it's about waitresses in a Texas drive-in who hatch a scheme to go to Miami and trick millionaires into marrying them. (Because there were no millionaires in Texas?)

I never knew much about Betty Grable except the famous WWII pinup poster, but I've seen her in two movies recently. What was that all about? Watching her tap dance is like watching an amateur dance recital. ("Well, isn't she cute?) She doesn't actually bite her lower lip, but you wish she would, just to complete the picture.

Redeeming the film is Don Ameche, only because he's so sexy as a bored millionaire. And Charlotte Greenwood and Jack Haley. They're very funny as you would expect. (Charlotte Greenwood played Aunt Eller in Oklahoma.) There must have been a taboo back then against showing any real heat between older people in movies. (I say older, but they're probably not even as old as I am now.) Their characters -- Haley is a waiter in a fancy hotel, and Greenwood is the truckstop waitresses' aunt posing as a maid -- are supposed to be in love, but in their romantic scenes they act like a cross between 8-year-olds and a couple of old ladies. They have one very funny number in which Greenwood gets to show off her signature high kick.

Oh, and there's a horrifying, hilarious (and huge) production number near the end called "Solitary Seminole." A loving tribute to the indigenous people of Florida. Tap-dancing, of course.

I can't be the first one to point out the resemblance between Don Ameche and Johnny Depp. Not just that they look similar, but watching Don Ameche in this movie it struck me that Depp's whole persona seems almost like a studied imitation. That combination of eagerness and boredom. And the mustache. It was eerie. I was going to do one of those "separated at birth" things but I can't find a picture of Johnny Depp where he resembles Don Ameche. It must be something that happens with movement.

Instead, I'm going to write my paper on a movie called Pigskin Parade. It's a low-budget Fox musical from 1936, also with Jack Haley and Betty Grable. (And Judy Garland in a small part -- she's 14, I think, and it's her first feature.) It's about an obscure Texas college football team that is mistakenly invited to play Yale. Yesterday I checked out a stack of books from the library about college football, which made me laugh, and blush.

For that same class, we've been reading Friday Night Lights, a non-fiction book about a town in Texas and their high school football team in 1988. It's a pretty great book but very depressing, really much more about racism than about football. Maybe I'm getting that impression because I'm skimming the parts where he narrates the games in sports announcer jargon that apparently people find thrilling but to me looks like technical writing. ("Carter dove forward for four yards and a first and ten at the Carter 28-yard line." Hm...)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I dreamed this morning that I was taking a Spanish exam and had only finished half of it but the time was up. I was furious, I wadded up the test and scowled at the teacher as I stormed out.

This semester is very different from last semester. Last fall, except for my Spanish teacher who was inexperienced and struggling, I had excellent professors who were organized and enthusiastic, great lecturers, tough but fair. There wasn't a lot of bovine memorization; their exams were more about understanding complex processes and being able to grapple with the subject matter. Also, I only had 15 class hours and an American government class in which I knew about 80% of the material going in.

This semester I have one really outstanding teacher (he's a grad student, I found out last week), one who is entertaining in lecture, but sometimes vague and scattered, one who is a walking encyclopedia of American and Texas history, and -- for someone who loves to listen to people who know history talk -- a mesmerizing lecturer, but whose exams are straight names and dates, and one who is an absolute dud whose class makes me want to scream it's such a disgrace. And I have two classes, geology and Texas government, packed with subject matter that was totally foreign to me, as well as two hard-core academic thinking and writing type American Studies courses. And Spanish.

The other big difference, the one I'm most concerned with right now, is that last fall everything didn't pile up at the end of the semester making the last couple of weeks hellish like I remember from my first college career. Finals were tough, but I didn't have a lot of big projects and papers due right at the end. This semester is more like old times. Hence, the dream.

I have a sinking feeling last fall was the anomaly.