On “Company Men” one last time

Company Men has finally made it to Charlottesville, in a brief appearance at Vinegar Hill.  It took a while.  I first discussed it in a January 23 blog on this site, when I loved it.  Anyone reading this should probably go back and read that one first.

I still do like it.  And everything nice I thought then still applies now.  I have tremendous respect for those who pursued in getting it made.  But it does have a few drawbacks on a second viewing, like the tacked-on fairy tale ending, which temper my enthusiasm.   The worst of them, as my good wife pointed out, is that Wells does not dig quite deep enough into his characters, who retain a kind of made-for-TV patina about them.  I just wish I knew them all better, in order to better feel their predicaments.   They need understanding, since before the “crash,” they all live in McMansions and have 6-figure salaries and up — not the most empathetic of characters for the vast majority of movie-goers.  Wells knows this of course;  hence the creation of the Tommy Lee Jones character, the reformed moral center and savior of the story.  He has the two best lines of the film, both delivered to his boss who is proclaiming the necessity of massive job cuts:  “Sell the Degas!” he says, pointing to the original art in the executive’s penthouse office.   And later, after the company team has inspected the new high rise headquarters building-in-progress, and the company faces still further manpower cuts, Tommy Lee says “Sell the new corporate headquarters building.”  Both suggestions are met with stoney stares.

I guess the corporate headquarters building site scene is responsible for my own emotional connection to this film.  There is a corner in New York at which I have been pausing for the last fifty years, when returning to my hotel from the theatre.  Standing on the corner of 6th Avenue and 43rd Street, directly to the East you can see the most beautiful building in the city, “The Chrysler Building.”  It’s still called that, despite its having been most recently sold to the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, naturally.  But it still retains its art deco crown, its gargoyles (actually representing Chrysler hood ornaments), and magnificent lines by architect William van Alen.  When it was completed in 1930, it was the world’s tallest building, at 1,047 feet.  That record lasted only for eleven months, when the Empire State Building was completed at 1250 feet.  Standing on the same corner at 6th & 43rd, you can see the Empire State, poking up over Bryant Park to the southeast, beautifully lit in various colors depending on the occasion. It’s my favorite spot for contemplating the awesome powers of New York engineering and design.

Immediately to my right, I’ve watched a succession of occupants over the years, from ramshackle porn shops to souvenirs and necktie shops, to delis, to a 10-story, block-wide hole in the ground.   Beginning somewhere around 2003, from that hole has emerged a building which has usurped the title of the city’s second tallest building from the Chrysler Building,  by raising a 255-foot spire to its 55 stories in order to reach 1200 feet.  Okay, I grant that it has all sorts of environmentally friendly features, and that they at least saved the facade of the old Henry Miller’s Theater and built a brand new interior … although it’s already been renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, thus dispensing with another vestige of New York history.  I’m glad the Tower has won a 2010 award from Best Tall Buildings America.  But it all did cost upwards of a billion dollars.

So you see where I’m going now.  Was it really necessary?  In the present economy, couldn’t that money have been spent far more wisely than for a new corporate headquarters for … Bank of America?   Yes, it’s the Bank of America Tower, at One Bryant Park.  Yes, that’s the same Bank of America that got $20 billion in US Government aid and $118 billion worth of guarantees against bad assets, when it bought out Merrill Lynch.  And the Tower project allegedly took advantage of $650 million in tax-free liberty bonds, money which was intended to rebuild lower Manhattan after the September 11, 2001 attacks.  It not only gives me pause, it interferes with my view.

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