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Ringing In the New : With Auld Acquaintances : It Isn’t the Same Without Guy Lombardo

Times Arts Editor

The cork-popping, horn-blowing jollity of New Year’s Eve has all the sincerity of a con man’s smile. Here we are, torn between looking back at one set of shriveled hopes and looking ahead to a whole new crop of alarms and disappointments.

The obvious solution is to create a small, noisy, temporary oasis in which you can avoid looking in either direction. If the din is loud enough you can almost convince yourself that some good may come of the new year after all.

But I decided some time back that the kissing at midnight was the only really sensible aspect of the whole charade. Then I bent the rules and decided there was actually no need to wait until midnight. It is always midnight in Casablanca or somewhere, and you can get a head start and a good night’s sleep.

Watching the ball drop in Times Square, even in the comfort of my own home, always brings out everything that is devoutly claustrophobic within me. Lemmings marching off a cliff are more fun. But if I need to reassure myself that I’m still right about the ritual, I can catch it on the early show at 9. It hasn’t been the same without Guy Lombardo anyway.

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Some friends have had a traditional and pleasant early evening gathering, a kind of restful stop for those en route to gaudier celebrations, and we’ve occasionally stopped by. But the lure of the large, late soiree has long since faded.

Whether this is age, MADD or experience talking I’m not prepared to say. But, by a useful irony, the prospects for the new year are somehow more tolerable and even exciting when New Year’s Day does not begin in a kind of edgy exhaustion.

Here in Southern California, the rains will almost always have greened up the hills and washed the air clean for a day or two, as if on command of the civic powers in Pasadena. The world at hand looks quite promising. You can even sort out the triumphs, large and small, from the departed year.

No year’s worth of either movies or television lends itself to a tidy summing-up. But in the case of the movies there was evidence that they had lost none of their ability to surprise, in more than one sense.

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The wizardry of “Who Killed Roger Rabbit” was its own kind of surprise, and a welcome reminder that as they near the end of their first century, the movies have still not run out of new things to do and new technologies for doing them.

Whatever reservations it was possible to have about Clint Eastwood’s “Bird,” the surprise and the satisfaction was that it was made at all--since there was little chance that it would ever be a mass-audience film--and made with such loving and unsparing care.

In its own way Michael Apted’s “Gorillas in the Mist” was a surprise, a very costly venture (nearly $25 million) that was a high risk in terms of attracting big crowds. Despite its excitements--and the courage of Sigourney Weaver acting with wild gorillas--it was also the portrait of a controversial woman who at the end was eccentric to the edge of madness, and was murdered. Two major studios shared the cost, which was itself surprising if not unprecedented.

And while the evidence is still tentative, there were signs that the film industry--always cyclical--was moving again toward its early-day mode, when the creative control, and not simply the financial control, began at the top with one individual or a small knot of individuals who thought and acted as one.

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The small, tight team at Disney has in record time revitalized the company and commandeered the largest share of the market by a significant margin. After its years of uncertainty, Fox, under Barry Diller, is making strides again and Diller seems on the way to repeating the success he had at Paramount. Paramount itself, under the low-profile leadership of Frank Mancuso, continues to prosper and reveal a sharp eye for the commercially viable.

As the County Museum of Art will prove starting Friday, the single year 1939 produced more than four dozen films now agreed to be classics, and of which “Gone With the Wind” was only one. That hadn’t happened before and hasn’t happened since. In any recent year it would take great kindness to find one dozen that will stand the erosions of time.

Yet in 1988, as always, there were a handful of films that will be interesting to see again over the years, for their charm, their bravery, their skills and all combinations thereof. It is pleasant to salute them at year-end.

I will store away in memory Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant in “Rain Man” and Tom Cruise as the self-centered brother who finds the light. And I recall admiringly another brother act: Tom Hulce, touching and endearing as the brain-damaged Dominick, Ray Liotto as his harassed brother in “Dominick and Eugene.”

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“Mississippi Burning” will be a 1988 landmark, not for its crowd-pleasing melodramatic finale but for the power with which it evoked the fears and hatreds of a particular time and place.

I salute Woody Allen for “Another Woman” and for daring to depart from the jokes to look deeply into contemporary souls (although “Another Woman” had its smiles if not its jokes, and a lovely and soulful performance by Gena Rowlands).

I tip a frayed beret again to “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “Tucker” and “Working Girl,” each of which entertained from start to finish but each of which also had things on its mind--matters as various as sex and patriotism, the entrepreneurial spirit and the perils of success in a world where Horatio and Hortensia Alger are slugging it out.

Television, like the movies, asks the question whether a medium should be judged by its peaks or its valleys. Television’s desert-floored valleys have been decried at length but its peaks are not inconsiderable, as Howard Rosenberg keeps noting amid the scorn.

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No medium that gives you “The Singing Detective” and “A Perfect Spy” in the same year can be all bad. And domestically--those both being British goods--television continues to explore social issues that the movies fear to touch. There may be a large dose of cynicism in television’s planning, but at least the issues are exposed and sometimes with demonstrable positive consequences.

Looking aside from the popular arts, any year that begins with less shooting than the year before has a lot to be said for it. There seems indeed some reason to wish us all a happier new year, and to think it might be so.


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