Saturday, April 30, 2016

Who will they get to read it?

Bloomberg . . . was forming a 10-person team to lead a study on how to use more automation in writing and reporting [and] called the robot-generated copy “smart automated content (SAC).”

If they can just find robots to pay for it, they'll be all set.

Part 2

Following yesterday's birthday blowout, we now have musical offerings from people born on April 29th after 1940.

Klaus Voorman



Duane Allen



Tammi Terrell



Tommy James



Michelle Pfeiffer



Carnie Wilson



Uma Thurman


Friday, April 29, 2016

What units would that be in?

"One minute of arduous exercise was comparable in its physiological effects to 45 minutes of gentler sweating."

and:

"If you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”

So, if I have sex twice, that's as good as three-quarters of an hour workout time. I'm in. I suppose it all depends on the meaning of "arduous." Next time I'll take a survey and find out what my partners think. (Now let's see, population N = P(1|0) . . .)

That guy stinks!


(I though Voldemort was the Dark Lord?)

Today Is The Day

Today is my birthday, but I share it with many others.  So today, and tomorrow, I will offer you various pieces of music from my co-birthdayites.  First, people born before 1940.

Duke Ellington



Donald Mills



Celeste Holm



Big Jay McNeely



Lonnie Donnegan



Rod McKuen



Zubin Mehta



April Stevens

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Speaking of Columbo


I'm seeing Jack Cassidy as Tim Cook.

The (Secret) Word Is Out

Time for celebration: our friend Matthew Coniam will have his book That's Me, Groucho released a little latter this year--you can order it now.  His previous book, The Annotated Marx Brothers, is one of the best yet written about the team, and this is a follow-up.

That's Me Groucho promises to focus on Julius Marx, the most famous and successful of the brothers, in his solo career.  There are already a fair amount of books looking at Groucho's life--including some from Groucho himself--but Matthew has shown, through diligent research and deep insight, that there's still plenty more to discuss.

Groucho started performing in Vaudeville before his brothers were a team.  After they stopped making movies, he continued to work in all aspects of show biz.  He made solo films, but, more important, was a huge hit in radio and television as the emcee on You Bet Your Life.  This wasn't like any other game show--it was just an excuse for Groucho to talk to people and crack jokes.  A simple enough formula that few could have made work.  And for a generation, this was the Groucho that people knew best.

The book will also (as far as I can tell) look into his private life.  Groucho had a public persona--one which he himself tried to maintain--but how much do we really know about him?  Over the years, certain stories get repeated and beliefs solidify, but Coniam--as he showed in his other book--was able to think things through and question conventional views.  I assume he'll do the same with solo Groucho.

I admit Groucho alone isn't nearly as entertaining as the best of his work with his brothers, but then, what is?  He still had something, even to the end, and anything that adds to knowledge of life is worth checking out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How to file papers dissolving the corporate form?

What will Republicans learn from 2016?

Paulcast

I've been watching Johnny Carson reruns (are there any other kind?) on Antenna TV.  It's a different world--less frantic, for one thing.  It's interesting to hear him do political jokes to see how things have changed.  Or haven't.

Just last week I saw Paul Ehrlich on a 1980 broadcast.  He's a biologist still with us, and had already been famous for over a decade by this appearance.  He was (and is) renowned for his doom-and-gloom forecasts, saying in his classic The Population Bomb (1968) that it wasn't long before there'd be major starvation in America (though he would claim he was just discussing a potential scenario).  Though he seemed to have been proved wrong by 1980, he was still pushing for Zero Population Growth.

We had 220 million Americans then, which he thought was too much.  He'd prefer to go back to around 150 million.  We now have 320 million, if you're wondering, and are not only not starving, but have a much bigger obesity problem than we used to. (Oddly, he was worried about illegal immigration.  What's that got to do with anything?  Even if it increased the population here, it'd help lower it elsewhere, so it's a wash.)

He made arguments which he should have known were questionable, but Johnny and the audience seemed to eat it up.  First, he said the pie is only so big, which is, I suppose, the central argument for keeping population down.  Except the size of the pie can change based on human ingenuity.

He also said--and this goes along with the limited pie--the fewer people there are, the bigger the share for everyone will be.  Really?  First, of course, we don't live in a hunter and gatherer world, we live in a world where people work to make products, including food, that others buy.  The more people there are, the more people there are who need things but also the more people there are to make things.  More important, in our modern economy, we have programs like Social Security and Medicare and public pensions that people pay into but don't fully pay for.  To keep these programs going, you need a bigger pool of earners or pretty soon every worker or two is responsible for keeping someone disabled or retired afloat.  If your population goes down, or even remains stable, someone's going to lose out.

Ehrlich also noted, when it comes to energy, that we'll be out of oil in twenty or thirty years, so we better figure out an alternative.  Well here it is 35 years later and we're still awash in the stuff.

So what's my point?  Nothing, except it's a mugs game to predict the future.  What he was saying then (and similar things he's saying now) were accepted by many as conventional wisdom.  CW doesn't have to be wrong, of course, but the future has a way of making even the smartest prognosticators look foolish.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Do they have Robot Union Enforcers?

Robot longshoremen

Red Is The New Black

It's nice to have Game Of Thrones back.  "The Red Woman," which opened season six, didn't have a tremendous amount of action, but it allowed us to see how most of our characters--just about all of whom were brought low last season--are faring.

It starts with a long, traveling shot that brings us to Castle Black, where we see Jon Snow lying in the snow and (his own) blood.  Yep, he's dead. Got it everyone?  Dead, dead, dead.  Here's the thing though--killing the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch has ramifications.  Things aren't going back to normal right away.

Davos (he's still back in Castle Black--I had to think to remember where everyone was) discovers the body and with the help of some faithful friends, Snow's soon laid out on a table in a room behind a bolted door.  Then in comes Melisandre (Davos figures she's someone they might be able to trust--is he coming around?).  She saw a lot of potential in Snow, so why is nothing working out lately?  After she leaves, the guys discuss what to do--they know they'll have to fight, but Davos knows they don't have the numbers to win.  Davos sends Dolorous Edd out to get some Wildlings and even the playing field.

Meanwhile, the traitors who killed Snow, headed by Alliser Thorne (Game Of Thornes), are in the big hall explaining why they did what they did--it's wrong to assassinate the LC, but he was about to destroy the NW, so what else could they do?

At Winterfell, Ramsay is mourning Myranda, the one girl who truly got him.  He promises revenge a thousand times over--and he's just the man to do it.  Then he has her body sent out to feed the hounds.  Next comes slick dad Roose, who explains that Ramsay won the war (against Stannis) but lost the battle (losing his big prize, Sansa, along with Reek).  This won't do.  He needs Sansa, with a baby boy in her, to secure the North.  If he can't do it, Fat Walda's child--if it's a son--can run Winterfell.  Ramsay gulps and promises he's sent out the (well-fed) hounds to capture the escapees.

Sure enough, there's Theon and Sansa fleeing barking dogs and crossing an icy river like it's a 19th century melodrama.  Theon has become a man again, it would seem.  And not a moment too soon. He's been pretty awful, sure, but I think he's suffered enough--is it okay to root for him now?  (Does Sansa still believe he killed Bran and Rickon?  I can't remember.  That would be hard to forgive, but we know better.)

Ramsay's men catch up, and Theon is willing to give up his life to divert them, but no go. Then Brienne, the woman (Roose thought it was a man) who killed Stannis--probably not that far away from this spot--and Pod, ride to the rescue.  (Not sure how they knew where to be, but Brienne was keeping an eye our for Sansa half of last season, so I'll give it to her.) After everyone has been dispatched, Brienne lays down her sword and offers to serve. This is what she does--she's offered her service to Renly (died), Catelyn (died), Arya (didn't want it) and Sansa (didn't want it).  This time Sansa, ceremoniously, accepts.  The four make a motley crew, but beggars can't be choosers.  Where do they go next?  I'd suggest some place warm, though Theon thinks Jon at Castle Black could help out.  I wouldn't count on that, Reek.

A boat from Dorne is docking at King's Landing.  Cersei, who needs some good news, rushes out to meet her sweet daughter Myrcella.   When she only sees Jaime, she knows there's trouble.  She's heartbroken--Myrcella was her greatest creation (though she never had to see her as a whiny teenager).  Jaime promises (not unlike Ramsway) that everyone will pay, and no one else matters but them. Okay, but shouldn't Cersei be thinking I better go protect Tommen right now?

Over at the church (or whatever they call it) we see Margaery is still locked up, and that tough Septa Unella still trying to make her to confess.  The High Sparrow comes in and tries a softer approach (good sparrow, bad sparrow?), but Margaery won't admit she didn't anything wrong.  Is she hoping Loras can help her?  Or Olenna?  She certainly can't be expecting any help from the Lannisters.

Over in Dorne, we get more action in five minutes than we got all last season.  The Sand Snakes are tired of weak men running the country.  Before you know it, they've murdered King Doran, his guard and Trystane. Good--if we've got to have Dorne figure in the story at all, let's wipe the slate clean and start over.  Are the Snakes (still can't tell them apart) going to sail against King's Landing? Others have tried and it hasn't gone well.

Now we cut to Meereen and the one thing that makes no sense in the hour.  We see Varys and Tyrion walking through the city, amongst the people, in common garb.  Tryion says they can't learn to rule 800 feet up in a pyramid.  But this is the city where the Sons Of The Harpy ambushed the Queen out in public---if Drogon hadn't smoked a bunch of them and flown her away, they'd have succeeded.  The best strategy right now would be for Varys and Tyrion to hide in the pyramid, occasionally ordering the Unsullied to get some takeout, and praying that Dany gets back soon.

Don't tell me they can walk through the street unnoticed.  Kings dressed as commoners is a popular fairy tale trope, but this is the Imp and Uncle Fester.  Easy to spot.  Anyway, one thing they discover is the Lord of Light is getting bigger and bigger among those who speak Valyrian.  And these religious nuts (who, like zombies, are everywhere in Westeros and Essos) are awaiting Dany's return.  Meanwhile, the terrorists decide to burn all the ships in the harbor.  I don't get it.  It may be Dany's fleet, but she's gone--are they unhappy with Meereen's trade policy?

Speaking of Dany, Jorah and Daario are on the trail.  Jorah's greyscale is spreading, so he better find her soon.  He picks up some clues.  We cut to Dany, who's being led along as a prisoner by two Dothraki soldiers.  They make crude comments in Dothraki which she pretends not to understand--we've seen her pull this trick before.

As a beautiful woman with light skin, blue eyes and platinum hair, she's presented to grand poo-bah Khal Moro.  Everyone makes jokes about killing her or raping her until Dany, imperiously, lists all her titles (in Dothraki).  Feisty, just the way Moro likes 'em.  Then she mentions she was married to Khal Drogo--this seems to be all the proof they need, they take her at her word.  So she's safe, but they won't escort her back to Meereen--she'll be required to hang out with all the other Khaleesi widows for the rest of her life.  Do these women get a pension of something?

Then we cut to a guy walking down a street and we're thinking where is this? King's Landing?  Meereen?  Oh, of course, it's Braavos, we haven't been there yet.  And there's a blind beggar girl collecting coins, otherwise unnoticed, hearing stray conversation.  Is this what Arya is reduced to after being kicked out of the House of Black and White, or is this her new assignment? Whatever, she soon has to face the Waif, who kicks the crap out of her in a street fight.  But Arya's a quick study and soon she'll be kicking the Waif's ass--or at least we hope.

Back to the Wall, where we started.  Davos and the guys are still locked in, and Alliser is getting impatient. He promises amnesty (and mutton) if they'll come out, though they know what a promise from Thorne is worth.  They're just going to have to wait until Edd gets back. Or maybe the Red Woman can birth another shadow baby.

Speaking of Melisandre, she's getting ready for bed.  She takes off her clothes, looks in the mirror, and then removes her necklace.  Now she looks like an old crone.  The necklace apparently casts a spell (or a glamour, as my friend Virginia Postrel would say) making her appear young and beautiful.  Just how old is she?  Where does she come from?  What does she know?  All we know right now is the show is over.

All in all, pretty good. As I said, not a lot of action (only in GOT could a bunch of people die in gruesome ways and it still not be thought of as much action), but smart dialogue and a chance to catch up with many of our favorites. Not all of them, though.  No Gilly and Samwell, no Littlefinger, no Bronn or Bran (Bran is supposed to be back this season), no Qyburn or revived Mountain, no Missandei or Grey Worm, No Jaqen, no Olenna, no Pycelle, no Tormund, no Hodor, no Hound (if there's a Hound to be found), but hey, the show is only an hour.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Late Game

Game Of Thrones has started up again (as has Veep and Silicon Valley).  It's good to see the gang back, and struggling like they always do.  No time to review it, but something will be posted tomorrow.

Terry G

Terry Gilliam was always the odd man out in Monty Python--the only American amongst the Oxbridge crew, the animator versus the wordsmiths.  And while all would carve out post-Python careers, probably none were as successful as Gilliam at creating a new identity beyond the troupe.  And now Gilliam has a put out a memoir--Gilliamesque--to tell his story.

Much of it is about his early years--the book is almost half over before we get to Python.  Gilliam, born in 1940, was raised in Minnesota and later California.  He seems to have been an all-American boy--class president, straight A student, prom king.  He was involved in the church, the scouts, sports, the military, etc.  But he had a rebellious streak and throughout the 60s it came more and more into play.

He also had a talent for drawing and moved to New York, where he met his hero, the great cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, and worked for Kurtzman's post-Mad Magazine project Help!.  In the late 60s, Gilliam moved (permanently) to England, where his animation got some attention and before you knew it he was one-sixth of the Monty Python troupe, whose TV show debuted in 1969.

Gilliam would occasionally act in the show, but his main job was to provide the animated bits that linked up otherwise unrelated sketches.  As such, he was usually separate from the rest of the troupe, busy--with little time and even less money--working on his material.  While he could draw, and was especially good at airbrushing, he realized he could work a lot quicker if he took pictures of older art and moved them around for his pieces.

The troupe made their first original film, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, and felt they should direct it as well. The job fell to the two Terrys, Gilliam and Jones.  They had different approaches, as you might expect, with Gilliam emphasizing the look and style more than Jones--much to the frustration of the troupe members, who just wanted to do their lines and get their laughs. In fact, during an early preview, it was felt that Gilliam worked too hard on getting the sound effects and mood right, and not enough on the comedy.

But the bug had bit.  Gilliam would continue to work with the troupe on various projects, but he wouldn't direct them any more. Instead, he'd go on to become a major director on his own projects.  He's directed over ten features, including Time Bandits, Brazil, The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys.

Much of the book deals with these various films.  Not everything he made was great, and he's certainly had flops, but Gilliam has a distinctive style that makes even his minor films fascinating (if sometime almost incoherent).

Though he became a well-established filmmaker, working with major stars and big budgets, he never lost his rebellious streak.  He turned down a lot of big money projects (the Python money--the rights to the TV show reverted to the troupe--helped pay the bills in-between projects) and always followed his own path.

As an artist, he seems instinctual.  Not that he doesn't plan things out--a director is a general leading his troops into battle--but he seems to go more for a look and feeling than something more plotted from the start.  And politically, while he may be a progressive, he's often quite reactionary--he seems to like much of what used to be, and distrusts the modern, rational world.

Other Pythons have written about their lives, and other people have written about the Pythons, but Gilliam's book adds a unique perspective that's worth adding to your bookshelf.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"Next Year" This Year

Before I forget, I hope you're enjoying Pesach (even if you're not celebrating).  Of all the Jewish holidays it's got the best music.





Saturday, April 23, 2016

Sergei Sergeyevich

There are a bunch of great 20th century Russian composers, but since today is Sergei Prokofiev's 125th birthday, let's celebrate him.







Friday, April 22, 2016

The Artist

It's been a year of big losses in the music world, but now Prince has died and that's the most shocking of all. I wasn't a big fan of everything he did, but he was, for most of my life, one of the major figures in music--an innovator who made sounds like no one else and sold like few others.

When I was in college, just before Prince became huge, I had a roommate who played his albums all the time, especially Controversy.

Then Prince released 1999 and his music was everywhere. The title song, as well as "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious" were hits.

But that blockbuster was nothing compared to Purple Rain--album and movie--which included "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy" and the title number.  It also had "Darling Nikki," which offended Tipper Gore so much she founded the PMRC.

By this time I was in law school.  It turned out one of my friends there went to the same high school as Prince.  I guess back in those days Prince Rogers Nelson was just a weird little kid who loved music.

Prince would never gain reach the commercial heights of Purple Rain, but he'd keep releasing albums and singles on a regular basis, many of them with fascinating sounds.  And the hits kept coming--songs such as "Raspberry Beret," "Pop Life," "Kiss," "Sign o' the Times," "U Got The Look," "Batdance," "Cream," "Diamonds And Pearls" and so on.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Half of Fame in 2004.  In 2007 he did the Super Bowl halftime show.  A couple years ago he did a mesmerizing medley on Saturday Night Live which showed he still had it.  Prince was a legend, but he was also the kind of artist you figured would always be around.

His regular recordings don't seem to be available on YouTube, so screw it, here's a whole concert from 1982:


Mack Attack

And let's not forget that Lonnie Mack just died.  What a day.  What a year.





Thursday, April 21, 2016

Please Mr. Trump

"There are a fair number of RNC members who were discounting his chances of success when we met in January and now see that he’s building a substantial lead and may in fact get to 1,237 before we get to the convention," said Steve Duprey, an RNC member from New Hampshire. "The New York results were such an overwhelming win. It's impressive. That's what I've heard people talking about."

RNC members said Trump could help improve the climate by taking steps to end the bad blood that has developed between him and the committee's leadership, including RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

Trump wondered whether Priebus, who is popular with the RNC ranks, should continue in his job if Trump is the nominee. "I think it's time for that rhetoric to end," said Jeff Essmann, chairman of the Montana Republican Party.

Good Night

I just watched the first episode (of six) of the much-touted AMC miniseries The Night Manager.  It's based on the John le Carre novel of the same name.  I've never read le Carre--I don't read spy novels in general--but I recognize he's considered the gold standard in the genre.  But how is the TV adaptation?

The title character is Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), whom we first meet as the night manager at a fancy hotel in Cairo during the Arab Spring uprising (an update from the novel which was published in the 1990s). The mistress of a powerful local man passes information to Pine about how her lover is buying weapons from British philanthropist--and secret arms dealer--Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). (Too bad his character shares the name, if not quite the spelling, of columnist and film critic Richard Roeper--well, it distracted me, anyway).

Pine brings the information to the British embassy where it's sent to an MI5 agent in London, Angela Burr (Olivia Colman).  She wants to dig into Roper's activities, but he's so powerful and connected that he gets wind of it and shuts down the investigation.  Meanwhile, the mistress--with whom Pine has had an affair--is murdered.

Most of the first episode is taken up with this story, which is a bit dry.  And it turns out only to be the prologue.  Based on the ads, I thought the series would be some battle of wits between Hiddleston and Laurie, so it was disappointing to have to wait so long for them to meet.

Anyway, four years later, Pine is the night manager at a nice place in Switzerland (can't he get a day job?) and, sure enough, Roper and his entourage--including lovely mistress Jed (Elizabeth Debicki)--check in.  Now we've got something going.

Pine collects information about Roper, but we don't know what Roper is doing there, or how much, if anything, he knows about Pine.  Pine calls Burr, who shows up and asks him to help work on the Roper case, and he's apparently game.  End of episode one.

The main fun looks to be the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads.  It's hard to judge it from the first episode--though the whole thing has already played in Britain where it got good reviews.  It's promising enough to watch again, and hopefully the intrigue will pick up now that the two men are circling each other.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Face The Music

I just saw a trailer for a new Tarzan film.  I've seen plenty of old Tarzan movies where the British Empire is an accepted fact that is, if anything, a good thing.  I get the feeling that won't be happening in this new Tarzan.

Then I saw a trailer for a new Matthew McConaughey film, Free State Of Jones, where a bunch of deserters from the Confederacy during the Civil War band with African-Americans and form their own community.  I believe it's loosely based on the story of Newton Knight, but whatever happens, I can't help but think the good guys attitudes will reflect political beliefs of 2016.

The question is do the filmmakers just think every sensible person in the past thought as we do today, because, after all, they weren't stupid?  Or, more likely, do they believe their characters have to act in ways that make sense to viewers today or they'll lose the sympathy of the audience?

All this is a roundabout way of noting I've been reading a book How Music Grew: From Prehistoric Times To The Present Day, by Marion Bauer and Ethyl Peyser, first published in 1925, revised in 1939.

At over 600 pages, it's quite informative. For instance, look at Chapter II--"The Savage Makes His Music." (Isn't it awful how these two women were so brainwashed they used the masculine pronoun?)  One section of this chapter has the heading "The Negro And His Music."  Here's a small sample.

When the English first came to Virginia and founded Jamestown in 1607 they started to grow tobacco on great plantations, and for this they needed cheap labor.  They tried to use Indians, but as the work killed so many of them, they had negroes sent over from Africa to do it.

Where's Donald Trump when you need him?  They continue:

Like other savages, the African negro loved rhythm better than melody.  His songs were monotonous and were made up of a few tones and short repeated phrases.

Didn't I tell you it was informative?

Anyway, this is why I love reading old texts.  Thoughts of the age are preserved--not just the explicit ideas, but the unquestioned assumptions.  We can laugh at them (or be horrified), but better we recognize the laugh will eventually be on us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Do we have to talk about that?

"American and British attempts to prevent her grandfather filming The Great Dictator, his satire of the Nazi regime, over fears it would offend the Fuhrer."

Gee, I thought life was a big video game of "beat Hitler." It's all so confusing.

Replay

Two TV hours I regularly watched just ended their seasons, Vinyl and Better Call Saul--both just before Game Of Thrones starts up again, which will more than make up for the loss.  That's because both, though entertaining, are seriously flawed.  So let's look back and see if we can diagnose the problem. (Then lets hope the producers read this blog and take my advice.) Spoilers ahead.

Vinyl was the trumpeted new HBO show that crashed and burned--on a channel that needs a replacement when Game Of Thrones leaves in a few years. (GOT took over from the previous "big" show The Sopranos). The premiere didn't get great numbers and they've been going down since.  And the critics at first gave it passable grades, but then turned on it when they realized it had serious problems.

Regarding those ratings, there may not be much HBO can do.  A show set in the music world of the early 70s may excite producers Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, but it just isn't interesting for most people under, say, 45 years of age.  But since the show had a fancy pedigree and a lot of money behind it, it was enough to have HBO announce almost immediately there'd be a second season.  They may be sorry at this point.

The showrunner, who's just been replaced (happily) is the too highly regarded Terence Winter.  He worked on The Sopranos and then created another show that had a lot of money and a fancy pedigree but didn't offer much beyond a period look--Boardwalk Empire.  Perhaps there's nothing that can save Vinyl, but cleaning house is a start.

The show centers on Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), who, in 1973, owns a record label he's about to sell for a load of money.  Then he has a rock and roll epiphany and decides to keep it, even if this pisses off his partners who were about to cash out, and know the label isn't in the greatest shape.  There are a lot of things wrong with this show, but the main thing--just about everyone agrees on this--is a plot point introduced in the debut: Richie takes part in a killing and covers it up, and the entire first season has him hunted by the authorities as he tries to hide his involvement.

Some plots are like hangnails--they're annoying but can be ignored most of the time.  Others are like toothaches--they nag at you no matter what else is going on.  The killing was a toothache.  The first thing they need to do in season two is get Richie completely beyond it.  The show is about the music industry--there can be gangsters involved, as happened in real life, but a murder investigation, or fear of reprisal, takes us away from where the real action should be.

Then there's Richie's marriage to Devon, played by the beautiful Olivia Wilde.  I understand troubled marriages are a mainstay of drama, but does everything in Richie's life have to be so awful?  Let them have problems, sure, but don't make it another grating part of the show when he's already got enough aggravation.

There's the setting in 1973, which is maybe a bad choice, though there's not much that can be done about it now.  Sure, it was a fascinating time, and well-remembered by Jagger and Scorsese, but--while there was good music was being made--rock was in a decadent era, less interesting that the experimentation of the 60s and the punk revolution of the late 70s.  Perhaps the show figured it would work up to the punk explosion, not to mention disco, but it meant the first season wasn't there yet.

Which is why it's weird, in one of the big plot developments, that Richie's big sign, the band that brings him around, is a fictional group called the Nasty Bits, who are punk a few years before labels started signing punks.  Punk never sold that well anyway (especially in America), but having it be a breakthrough in 1973 is silly.

Then there are the drugs.  True, the 70s were the heyday of drugs in the recording industry, but having Richie hooked on top of his other problems doesn't help.  I'm sure in the writers' room (or the HBO suites where the executives work?) they all thought it would be great to load Richie down with every problem imaginable, but that's not how drama necessarily works.  Yes, you need some internal conflicts, where a man fights his nature, but if you play it too heavy, the guy just comes across as a jerk.  Better is a talented, professional guy working at the top of his game who still finds it hard to succeed because there are external problems (in addition to internal ones) that make life tough for everyone at his level.

There's also the question of the musical interludes, or fever dreams, or whatever you call them, where--unrelated to the plot--we hear classic rock music and see someone dressed as the original singer perform it.  I'm sure when the show was being created, or pitched, this was considered a major plus factor.   But like, say, Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up on Seinfeld, a selling point can be the first thing that goes.  On the other hand, as long as they're kept down to a minimum, I like these brief interludes, so whoever is taking over the show, don't lose them.  Same for cameos of famous people of the time.  Though the trick is mixing fictional musical acts with real ones, and there's no easy answer as how you can do that--if you ignore them the show is too fictional, but if you use them it can take you out of the show, plus you can only change what actually happened so much.

Basically I'm saying the second season should concentrate on how hard it is to run a record label.  Show all aspects of the music industry--not just recording the artists--and have the staff fight and feud but also tend to work together against tough odds.  And every character at the label (which should mean most of the regulars) should become part of this concept-- right now only about half the characters work as is, and some that could be interesting, such as Lester, make no sense (a former blues singer and friend of Richie's who gets back in Richie's life as the manager of a punk band?  Ridiculous).

Then there's Better Call Saul, an even better show, but even less necessary than Vinyl.  That's because we already know where Jimmy and Mike will end up, so the only mystery is the path there, which isn't nearly as compelling as not knowing what path your leads will take.

Truth is, once a character is established, I don't really need to know--or care much--about how he got there. I accept him as is, that's enough.  Nine times out of ten your explanation as to how he got this way will just make he seem more like a big whiner.  Boo-hoo, you had problems in the past, and that made you this way.  As far as I'm concerned, the Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad had the simplest origin story of all--he got out of law school and decided the best way to make money was to be a crooked lawyer, so he changed his name to get clients and did whatever he had to do.  In fact, the original concept for the show sounds better--just showing Saul's crooked practice, and making it a comedy. (And I still don't get why he went underground at the end of Breaking Bad.)

Instead, we get this circuitous path that turns Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman--and after two seasons he hasn't even thought about changing his name.  The big drama in his life is his jealous brother, Chuck, who also has a mental condition where he believes he's allergic to electricity.  (Some people who commented on the show in the first season actually thought it'd be revealed his condition was real, apparently forgetting Better Call Saul was fiction, not science fiction.)

I don't care about Chuck and his never-ending battle to destroy Jimmy.  It just gets in the way of better stories.  But, in addition, that so much of the plot has to deal with his mental condition turns him from a hangnail to a toothache.  I have no sympathy for his character, even if some of the producers may think he's got some sort of point--he's a total jerk and the show would be much better if he blew his brains out.  Instead, we got a finale where (to absolutely no one's surprise) he's still going after Jimmy, and, if anything, has stepped up his game.  It's almost enough to make me quit the show right now.

There's also Jimmy's girlfriend and fellow lawyer Kim Wexler, whom I don't especially care for but who at least isn't as awful as Chuck.  The only drama, aside from how Jimmy becomes Saul, is when will he lose Kim and Chuck, and how will he lose them--not that compelling compared to, say, Walter White's plight.

Mike is a lot better.  There was some interest in the first season when they answered how he got kicked off the police force back east, as hinted at in Breaking Bad.  But now that he's in New Mexico and on his own, he's allowed to have whatever adventures they want to give him--essentially the concept that Saul could have had.  Let Mike be Mike.

The writers on Better Call Saul are better at both character and plot than the writers on Vinyl, but I still don't like the choices they've made.  Maybe they'll move beyond it in season three, but they don't seem interested in taking another path.

PS  My report on the first season of Supergirl: Melissa Benoist is still very hot.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Maybe another word

ObamaCare was always meant to collapse the private insurance industry and pave the way for single-payer. [Insurance company executives'] short-term greed caused them to back it anyway, which was stupid.

"Stupid" does not seem the right word. Fascist, certainly. But isn't this simply a tragedy of the commons problem? Presumably 75 percent of the individuals who benefited from this have moved on, leaving the suckers in their wake and enjoying a fine standard of living with excellent healthcare.

Not sure what can be done, really. Shoot them for treason? We're pretty close to doing that now, just not sure which side it will be. I do think a culture could sustain enough character in individuals to laugh schemes such as Obamacare out the door, but it seems likely we lost our last chance at that culture quite some time ago.

You Must Remember This

I just read Amity Shlaes best-selling history of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man.  Well, read and looked at--it's now available as a graphic novel.  This solves the problem afflicting most books on economics: too many numbers, not enough pictures.

The book is a revisionist look at those tough years, told from a generally free-market point of view.  It's been embraced by many, and attacked widely as well.  I guess we shouldn't be surprised--people debate today's economic problems, why shouldn't they debate the worst collapse in America's history?

This comic book version introduces us to all the familiar--and less familiar--names of the Depression: Hoover and Roosevelt, of course, but also Mellon, Morgenthau, Lilienthal, Tugwell, Frankfurter, Ickes, Keynes, Insull and the book's narrator/hero, Wendell Willkie, who might have taken us down a different path but lost to Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election.

The story moves chronologically from the 1929 crash to the precipice of World War II.  Along the way, we get stuff such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, the PWA, the TVA, the NRA, the Wagner Act, Schechter Poultry, Social Security and the Court-packing plan.  Both Hoover and Roosevelt tried a lot of stuff to deal with a harsh economy--no matter how you view what they did, we have to ask why did the bad times last so long?

The trouble with the comic book version is it's a comic book version.  In under 300 pages, it tries to tell a tale told in detail in a book that was all text and a couple hundred pages longer.  If you don't have some familiarity with what's going on already, the story can become bewildering, even incoherent.  Characters and incidents come and go quickly, and it's not always clear how they fit into the big picture.

So two cheers for trying to re-tell the tale in an easy-to-read fashion.  Adapted by Chuck Dixon, and illustrated by Paul Rivoche, it is fun to look at.  But as a revised version of a revisionist story, it'd probably be best to go to the original.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

No Judgment Zone

My gym (oxymoron), Planet Fitness, uses the slogan, "No Judgment Zone." Essentially, hot chicks are not allowed to leer at me.

Over on another planet, we have the Bad Judgment Zone from a "news organization," a term of art referring to shallow Democrat hacks: "Corporate tax dodging costing US billions in annual income"

So what? That's peanuts. Failure to enforce fair, reasonable and modest property confiscation law is costing the treasury trillions in annual income, this year alone. Literally.

Are You Game?

With season 6 of Game Of Thrones debuting in a week, The Hollywood Reporter ranks all fifty episodes up till now. The results are predictable--the episodes with big (and violent) moments--huge battles, major deaths, etc.--are what make for high rankings.  The top five are:

5.  "Baelor"

4.  "The Mountain And The Viper"

3.  "Blackwater"

2.  "Hardhome"

1.  "The Rains Of Castamere"

(Spoilers ahead if you don't watch the show, but shouldn't you have caught up by now?)

So you've got Ned Stark's death, Oberyn versus the Mountain, the battle for King's Landing, Jon Snow's big battle against the white walkers and the Red Wedding.  Famous moments in the series, to be sure.  But by and large these are not the moments that represent the best of the show to me.

It's the characters that make the show truly work.  I'm not saying plot isn't important, but often something relatively intimate has a bigger emotional impact than large set pieces.  When I think back on my favorite moments, it's often just two characters talking, or just meeting each other.

So what ends up working best are relationships such as those between Jorah and Dany, or Jaime and Brienne, or Tyrion and Bronn.  For that matter, you've got Arya, who has chemistry with almost all her co-stars--Syrio, Yoren, Jaqen, Tywin and the Hound.

Then there are the machinations of characters like Littlefinger, Osha, Varys and others.  They don't have to fight to make a scene work.

For that matter, a scene like Brienne finally seeing Arya is more exciting than the fight she has with the Hound immediately after.  And Jorah's battle in the fighting pit semi-finals isn't as interesting as the moment he pulls off his helmet to reveal himself to Dany, who banished him.

Some of the top five episodes listed above are among the best, but some--like "Blackwater"--were among the least interesting, since the whole episode was about one big battle while the other stories, often more interesting, were shunted to the side.  Even a big fight like Oberyn's final moments don't compare to the backstage strategizing and smart dialogue of the show at its best.  And while the Red Wedding is considered perhaps the biggest moment ever on the show, I was just as interested--maybe more interested--in Arya and the Hound's reaction when they came late to the party and discovered the awful truth.  For that matter, as huge as Ned Stark's death was (and, for someone who hadn't read the books, that was a bigger gamechanger than the Red Wedding and the Battle of Blackwater combined) I was more shocked by the end of season one, which was simply a woman and her baby dragons.

The big moments may play well, but that's only because the spade work has been done by establishing these characters are worth caring about to begin with.  And that comes, often, from quieter moments--something Game Of Thrones does better than most shows, and something that sets it apart.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Splain this, LAGuy

So I watched The Middle the other day and really enjoyed it, as always--probably even more than usual. ColumbusGal remarked that it was the best episode in awhile.

Then I saw this blogger link to the episode for its college PC angle, which, needless to say, was prominent in the story line. He prints a large segment of the script.

Here's my question. I found the script quite a bit funnier than watching the episode. It's not that I didn't hear it or missed the jokes, and I had already enjoyed it as an exceptional episode. But reading the script is somehow a stronger experience. The episode, I enjoyed a lot. The script, I am in awe of.

So what's up with that, my screenwriter friend?

Sing Out, April

Let's celebrate some musical birthdays today.

Edie Adams:



(I played the part of Marryin' Sam in high school so got to sing this song with Daisy Mae.  The line before the song, responding to her complaint that she's wasting away at 17, always got a nice laugh:  "that may be honey, but what you got left over's more than what most people starts out with.")

Herbie Mann:



Bobby Vinton:



Dusty Springfield:



Gerry Rafferty:

Friday, April 15, 2016

Improvident, unskilled and vicious

The Character of a Socialist

Look Here

Here it is, Tax Day, so to take your mind off it, let's have a puzzle.  Here's one I ran across recently.  It's about three people, Jack, Anne and George:

Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not.  Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

A.  Yes

B.  No

C.  Cannot be determined

The answer is below, so don't peek until you've done it yourself.  The interesting thing is a large majority of people get this wrong.

First, enjoy this picture:

 
Okay, back to the puzzle.  The correct answer is yes.  Most people think it can't be determined (which is true as far as they're concerned, I guess).

The reasoning is pretty simple.  You have two cases of one person looking at another, and you have to determine if either of these cases involves a married person looking at an unmarried one.

We know about the marital state of Jack and George, but not Anne.  Yet it doesn't matter.  If she's unmarried, then Jack looking at her fulfills the condition.  If she's married, then Anne looking at George takes care of it.  Thus, no matter what Anne's deal is, a married person is looking at an unmarried one.  QED.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tenth Amendment Ted

This guy thinks my guy Cruz needs to go back and read the Constitution: "There is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one's genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship."

Actually, it's interesting as much for the question whether a state attorney general or solicitor is obligated to defend a law independently of his own view. I would think so, but I would also think there are limits, and more than that, a duty to take a position contrary to law in appropriate cases. But how one draws that balance is quite interesting.

(More acutely interesting is the bizarre effort by state attorney generals to prosecute climate deniers. Those are people that will bring a rapid and unpleasant end to things. We call them "fascists.")

Oh Bo

I heard a lot of good things about the Netflix animated comedy BoJack Horseman so I finally checked it out.  So far I've seen the first six episodes of 24 available, and I think that's enough to form an opinion.

The concept is somewhat odd, but once you get past the animal angle, not that much.  It's set in the Los Angeles of today, and everything is the same except animals live amongst humans, and have the same intelligence and attitudes and size of humans (though there are occasional outbreaks of their animal side)--and no one thinks this remarkable.

BoJack Horseman is a horse who starred in a cheesy sitcom in the 90s, but is now a has-been.  He must have saved his money since he lives in a great house in Los Angeles.  But instead of moving on, he mostly watches his old show and thinks of those days. In general, he's obnoxious and self-centered.

The other leads are Princess Carolyn, a cat, who's BoJack's agent and on-again, off-again girlfriend; Todd Chavez, a twenty-something layabout who sleeps on BoJack's couch; Diane Nguyen, a ghost writer hired to help BoJack finish (actually start) his autobiography; and Mr. Peanutbutter, a cheerful, empty-headed dog who starred in a show similar to BoJack's--BoJack sees him as a rival but Mr. Peanutbutter thinks everyone is his friend (including Diane, who is his actual girlfriend).

So we see the sad life of BoJack, days filled with alcohol and regret.  Though this is a comedy, there's a lot of sadness, mostly over unfulfilled potential.

The voice cast features some of my favorites, including Alison Brie (as Diane) and Aaron Paul (as Todd).  Unfortunately, my least favorite voice on the show comes from Will Arnett, BoJack himself.

The show is okay, but it's not a true discovery, like Rick And Morty was.  Based on what I heard, I was hoping for more.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Every Day I Read The Book

I just finished Elvis Costello's memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.  That's quite an accomplishment, as the book is almost 700 pages long.  Its style is a lot like Costello's songwriting--a lot of beautiful phrases but very wordy.

I'm glad he wrote it, but I think a strong editor could have gotten it down to around 400 pages, and also could have made it more strictly chronological.  But Elvis is an artist, so I suppose he had to have it his way.

There's a lot here, so you better be a fan before you start.  Plenty about his childhood, with a father who was a professional singer and covered all the hits of the day.  He'd get the latest recordings and hand them off to little Elvis (whose actual name is Declan Patrick MacManus).

Elvis tells the story of how he became a singer-songwriter and made it in the business.  In fact, the best part of the book are the chapters about breaking in and then gaining early success--he discusses how he wrote all those great songs (often stealing bits from others, but making it his own), recorded those great albums, got his band together (the Attractions were formed after his first album) and played hundreds of concerts all over England and America.  He also drank a lot of did plenty of crazy things--including screwing around on Saturday Night Live and getting drunk and saying things he regrets.

But a tremendous amount of Unfaithful Music has him discussing the musicians he loves.  As much an artist as he is, he's just as big a fan.  There's the music he listened to growing up--the Beatles, Motown and so many others.  Plus the old-time tunes he admired.  Then there's jazz, and soul, and country, and much else.

Elvis gets to meet many of his favorites, and has kind words for most of them (often stopping just short of gushing).  He even gets to perform with idols like Dylan and contemporaries like Springsteen (not to mention all those punks and new wavers Elvis was linked with).  And better, he gets to collaborate with two of the greatest songwriters of his youth, Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach.

There's also his love life somewhere in there, including his three wives, Mary Burgoyne, whom he married before he was famous, Cait O'Riordan of the Pogues, who was a handful, and his present-day spouse jazz singer Diana Krall.

So definitely, if you're a fan, check it out.  But if you borrow it from the library, better set a daily reading schedule if you want to finish it in time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Roll 'Em

Twenty-five years ago Andrew Dice Clay was a phenomenon.  He sold out Madison Square Garden twice but at the same time aroused hatred as few others  in show biz have. (Sort of the Donald Trump of stand-up comedy.)

His incipient film career was nipped in the bud back then and, indeed, the world of entertainment seemed to turn against him.  The irony was, whether or not you liked him as a comedian, he was a pretty decent actor.  His celebrated turn a few years back in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine proved that, but people who'd been paying attention already knew it.  Now he's starring in a Showtime comedy series, Dice.

He plays a version of himself--a bit loutish, perhaps, but definitely not the "Dice" character he does onstage.  He's also sadder but wiser.  And not unlike Jerry Seinfeld in his sitcom, Clay is playing a character who seems to be less successful than the real person is. (At least that's what I'm getting--perhaps he is doing worse in real life than I thought, or perhaps in future episodes his character will be doing better).

Created by screenwriter Scott Armstrong, the show also features Natasha Leggero as live-in girlfriend Carmen and the Kevin Corrigan as Dice's best friend Milkshake.  They all live in Las Vegas and apparently will have a basic problem to deal with each week--in the pilot, Dice is attending the same-sex wedding of Carmen's brother but loses too much at the tables to bring the proper gift.  It's not much of a plot, but for a half an hour you can get by on little if the characters work.

So is this good Dice or bad Dice?  After the first half-hour, it's hard to say.  Dice is the only one who makes an impression, but we already sort of know who he is.  On the other hand, there are only five more episodes, and since all are available On Demand, maybe I'll plunge in while waiting for Game Of Thrones to come back.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Grey Days

A few weeks ago I read Joel Grey's memoir Master Of Ceremonies, but held off discussing it until today, his birthday. Happy 84th, Joel.

Certain actors are blessed, and cursed, with roles that become so iconic it's hard to imagine them as anything else.  Yul Brynner in The King And I comes to mind, as does Robert Preston in The Music Man.  And Joel Grey knows it's his Emcee character in Cabaret that made him, and will memorialize him (hence the book's title).

Most of his memoir is about getting there.  In fact, there's so much set-up that there's relatively little after he makes it.  It's as if he had a deal to turn in a 250-page book and had to cut the stories from his later years short.

Grey (born Joel Katz) was raised in Cleveland.  He remembers the big meals with his Jewish relatives, but not fondly.  There was plenty of in-fighting, and his mother Grace (born Goldie) had sisters who picked on her, perhaps because she acted like she was better than they were.  He sought his mother's approval, but she could be withholding--he got along better with his father, musician and entertainer Mickey Katz.

Joel found solace in the theatre.  He started working at the Cleveland Play House where, even as a child, he was treated as a professional, with dignity and respect.  It was an exciting world, too, getting the approval of the audience onstage and forging close relationships off.  He also discovered he preferred boys to girls, though that wasn't something you could easily talk about in the 1940s.  One time, late in his teens, he was caught in a scandal and his mother turned away from him--she never fully accepted his sexuality.

When Grey's father joined Spike Jones' novelty band, the whole family moved out to Los Angeles.  Katz recorded his own highly successful English-Yiddish comedy records and started a revue, the Borscht Capades.  Teenager Joel performed in it--under the name Joel Kaye, so no one knew he was the son of Katz--and was a hit.  He'd always seen himself as an actor, but now he was a song and dance man.

From there, Joel was "discovered" by Eddie Cantor and signed by William Morris.  His agents created a nightclub act for him and he traveled across the country for much of the 50s.  But he always wanted to get back to the theatre.  He also wanted a family, and married fellow performer Jo Wilder in 1958.  There was friction between them since she wanted to continue acting and singing, while he imagined she should stay home and raise their family.  Their first child, a son, was born prematurely and died a few days later.  Their second, Jennifer, was born in 1960 and grew up to become a famous actress herself.  A few years after that they adopted a son, James.

Grey did what he could to earn a living in the early years of his marriage, including a lot of TV work.  But when he got a chance to be on Broadway, he and his family moved to New York.  First he replaced the lead in Come Blow Your Horn, Neil Simon's first hit.  Next he toured for a while in the Anthony Newley show Stop The World--I Want To Get Off.  Then, as happens in so many actors' lives, he couldn't find a job.

But he was rescued by an old friend, producer-director Harold Prince, who wanted him for the role of the Emcee in his new show Cabaret.  No audition required.  Grey was thrilled, but looked at the script and saw he had no lines, and in fact only appeared in in Act 2 for one section where he performed a medley.  He was deflated, but his wife assured him he could score in the role.  In rehearsal, it was decided to spread the songs throughout the show, and open with the big number "Willkomen."  Suddenly, the Emcee became the symbol of the show--the decadence of pre-war Germany, the cheap thrills and the danger underneath.  Grey himself channeled the sort of crass, desperate emcee he'd seen in his nightclub years--the very thing he'd tried to avoid in his own show--and created the famous character.  Cabaret was a smash and Grey got the best reviews, winning a Tony.

At this point, the book starts speeding through Grey's accomplishments.  He spends some time discussing his first starring role on Broadway in George M!, a show that wasn't loved in New York where it seemed too patriotic for the late 60s, but was a smash everywhere it toured.  And he goes into detail discussing the filming of Cabaret in the 70s.  The movie was directed by Broadway great Bob Fosse, who had nothing to do with the original production.  He wanted everything changed--major characters were cut, plot songs were tossed, and an entirely new cast was chosen.  Almost.  Fosse was forced to take Grey.  The two were at odds for much of the production, but in the end Fosse created a film memorable enough to win eight Oscars, including Best Director for Fosse, Best Actress for Liza Minelli and Best Supporting Actor for Grey (beating out, among others, Al Pacino in The Godfather).

With the kids growing up, and a successful career going on, Grey decided, after 24 years of marriage, to tell his wife about his sexual feelings about men.  Her reaction was to leave him. Grey would go on to have more relationships with men, and also perform in the play The Normal Heart, that took on the AIDS crisis in the mid-80s as few works did.

However, if you want to know about other theatrical work, this is not the book for you.  He dispenses with shows like Goodtime Charley and Chicago in a few paragraphs, and Wicked and Anything Goes in a few sentences.  The Grand Tour isn't even mentioned.  For that matter, his film and TV work for the past 30 years is barely brought up.

As I said, an oddly-shaped book. But a fascinating one.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A day like any other

BOSTON GLOBE to publish fake news in Trump edition of Sunday paper...

A Little More About You

I'm reading Burt Reynolds' memoir But Enough About Me.  Perhaps I'll discuss it later, but there's something about the book that bothers me right now.

This may seem silly, or simply a style choice, but there's something in particular I don't like about the layout.  The top of each page on the left says "Burt Reynolds." No need for his name.  I know what I'm reading.  If you have to put something there put the title of the book.

So guess what's on the top of each page on the right?  The title, But Enough About Me. That's the part that really bothers me.  Once again, I know what I'm reading.  If you're going to put anything on the upper right, give me the title of the chapter--that's useful information, and certainly makes it easier if I'm thumbing through, looking for something.  The book, after all, has gone to the trouble of naming each chapter, so let us know where we are.

I will give it points for one thing--there's an index.  Too many books these days don't have them.  Sometimes you want to look something in particular up and there's no replacement.  (Or does everyone have a Kindle now, and can search for words?)

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Reason


Remember, that's a selling point.

Funny Is Funny

When the Marx Brothers' classic Duck Soup didn't make money, their contract at Paramount wasn't picked up.  It looked like they might be finished in movies, but then they got a deal at MGM and under the watchful eye of Irving Thalberg made A Night At The Opera.  At the first preview, no one laughed.  None of the people involved could understand it--they'd taken such care to ensure this one would play.  Thalberg, calm as always, simply took the reels across the street and showed it at another theatre where it got roars.  The film was a huge hit and is considered a classic today.

It fascinates me--how the same film can fail or succeed with different audiences.  The quality, of course, matters, but you never know.  Which is why I'm intrigued--and slightly scared--at what I see is going on at one of my favorite cinemas, the Music Box in Chicago.  They will be showing a bunch of classic comedies and asking "is it still funny?"

The schedule has National Lampoon's Animal House, Blazing Saddles, good old Duck Soup and There's Something About Mary.  But really this is a question you can ask about numerous classic comedies.  And the answer isn't so easy.

I've been a fan of old movies, especially comedies, just about all my life.  I sought them out in the days when they were hard to see, and I still go to see them--even though I've watched them countless times--if they're playing in a theatre and there promises to be a crowd.  Indeed, most of my best movie-going experiences have been at showings attended by large, appreciative audiences watching films generally made before I was born.  In fact, I've been hosting movie nights for years not only to spread my love of these classics, but because I feel they're meant to be seen with other people--having others around you (laughing or not) changes the experience.  Watching them alone, and on a small screen, can be fun, but it's not the same thing.

When I was in college I got to see a lot of classic comedies for the first time, with big crowds, and I sometimes think they were a bigger education than the classes I attended.  Not all lived up to there reputations, but more often than not they seemed far better than what was available in the present.

But movies nowadays are experienced differently.  You can still go see them in a theatre--better catch it the first week while the crowds are there--but more people watch movies when they're by themselves, on Netflix or DVD or whatever medium, stopping and starting whenever they want.  This may be leading to films where the plots are flimsier, and the comedy less subtle, because what may be most important is there be sections you can excerpt, sometimes bizarre bits (perhaps improvised during shooting) that are fun to watch and quote over and over.

The four comedies above I've seen numerous times, including in theatres.  Animal House was a huge title for my generation, and it changed the face of comedy (making it raunchier, if nothing else).  I saw it years later and sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't--I guess it depended on the attitude (not the age) of the audience.  But I think a movie is as good as its best screening, and I still consider it a classic.

Blazing Saddles I didn't love when I first saw it--I thought it was too vulgar (believe it or not).  I preferred Woody Allen comedies, even if Mel Brooks had bigger hits. But I've grown to appreciate it more over the years, though it's politically incorrect, very possibly in ways that date it with a modern crowd (though political incorrectness can be a pretty bad reason to hate an old film--you've usually got to accept it was a different time and move on).

Duck Soup I may have watched more than any other film.  It was the first Marx Brothers film I ever saw (I think I was about 10) and it turned me into a lifelong fan. I attended packed screenings in college and it got laughs like I'd never heard before.  I've seen it more recently and it still gets laughs, though I'm not sure it does as well as it used to--though this may be because when you get a crowd for it (and it's hard to get a crowd for old films these days) many in the audience already know the gags, which are pretty much everything in a Marx Brothers film. (A Night At The Opera may play better today merely because while still funny, it has a plot you can hold onto--that was what Thalberg added, which turned out to be the beginning of the end for the team.)

There's Something About Mary--as I've stated this on the blog before--may be the best comedy of the past 20 years.  It's a minor miracle, and the Farrelly Brothers haven't come close to it since.  I saw it three times when it first came out not only because it was funny, but because it was a surprise hit that sold out for weeks (which could still happen in the 90s) and I wanted to be part of that communal experience.  But will it still play?  Once again, most people know it--the question is how would people respond who haven't seen it before.

Ultimately, what the Music Box is doing must by necessity be an imperfect experiment.  Some films play well, some don't, but to do it properly, you've got to have a good print, good projection and good sound.  More important, you need an audience that isn't jaundiced or jaded--one that doesn't have their arms crossed thinking who needs old stuff (or black and white or silent stuff), or worse, one that's waiting to be offended.  They need to be a large crowd eager to be entertained (though not necessarily easy laughers).  And while it should be a crowd that has some familiarity with the actors and the times in which the movie was made, shouldn't know the film, or if they do know it, shouldn't be able to recite the dialogue along with it.  Get that, and have numerous showings, and then you've got an experiment worth trying.

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