Thursday, May 31, 2018

Novel Idea

Zack Snyder has announced his next project will be an adaptation of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.  Snyder, who hit it big with 300 over a decade ago, has since helmed a number of huge action films (Watchmen, Man Of Steel, Justice League) with questionable artistic success.

But maybe he can make something of The Fountainhead.  Rand has not been well served by the movies.  There was the stiff adaptation of The Fountainhead in 1949 and the hopeless low-budget, three-part adaptation of Atlas Shrugged earlier this decade.

The Fountainhead is the better of her two massive novels to turn into a movie.  For one thing, though it's long, it's still considerably shorter than Atlas Shrugged.  Second, the subject isn't dated--we still need architects while no one cares any more about trains. (Though the Atlas Shrugged idea of a secret society of superior people living in an area hidden from view did seem to play well in Black Panther.)

More important, the characters in The Fountainhead are, at times, almost human--Rand wrote oversized, romantic figures who never change and are given to speechifying, but occasionally in The Fountainhead there seem to be moments of recognizable emotion.  And the story, though epic in scale, is manageable--there are five main characters and a clear arc for the hero.  And some wild sex scenes.

Snyder has one big advantage over King Vidor, who directed the first Fountainhead--he doesn't have to follow Ayn Rand's script.  Rand sold her novel with the guarantee she'd write the screenplay, and even as she telescoped some of the action, she stayed, predictably, too faithful to the source.  And, of course, she demanded no changes be made. (Considering the novel is about a guy who blows up his creation because someone made changes, I'm sure Vidor took this clause very seriously.)  Being given a free hand in creating the script could turn the book into a real movie.

It's intriguing how many Hollywood names have wanted to adapt Rand. You might figure she and her politics would be anathema in Tinsel Town--she wants government to be as small as possible, and believes people shouldn't be required to help anyone else.  But then, Hollywood might actually appreciate these ideas (secretly), as it's a dog eat dog town where no one does any favors unless there's something in it for them.

And because Rand writes in a very romantic (if clunky) fashion, it's easy enough to ignore the politics and read her characters as superior beings who fight not to be held down by the prosaic types that clog their life.  I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of stars and top directors see themselves that way.

Anyway, good luck to Snyder.  Rand's book might not be great literature, but then, bad books often make the best movies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

PJ Featuring M&M

What surprised me most about the Roseanne Barr controversy is how swiftly she became a non-person.  I noticed by yesterday evening ABC had already yanked her rerun from the air and replaced it with The Middle.

So let's go back to a simpler time, when TV stars weren't so contentious.  In fact, it happens to be the birthday of Meredith MacRae of Petticoat Junction (and daughter of musical star Gordon MacRae).  Meredith died fairly young in 2000, but otherwise she'd be 74 today.

In the world of popular music, not much attention is given to the gals of Petticoat Junction.  But they would sing occasionally, usually with Meredith in the lead.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Nod To Claude

I was looking at a book on Claude Shannon, the father of information theory.

He was a graduate of the University of Michigan.  (Not essential information, just thought I'd mention it).  His "Mathematical Theory Of Communication" published in 1948 in the Bell System Technical Journal, (and later turned into a book, helped create the modern world of computers.

While Shannon's best known work is actually less technical than that of a lot of other scientists, mathematicians and engineers, it still made me wonder how one writes a popular book on a complex subject.  Sure, many readers will be conversant, but the general reader will likely not have an advanced degree in mathematics.

So a popularizer has to explain things to the public.  If the explanation gets too tricky, you lose readers. But if the explanation is too simple, you don't get the ideas across properly.

In other words, how much do you want to dumb it down?  I don't know how the writers go about it, but I would guess it could go two ways.  First, you understand what's going on (and if you don't, should your be writing the book?).  From there you either start with the full complexity and keep simplifying till you think the audience can get it, or you start with it as simple as possible and keep adding more and more tricky bits until you think you've gone far enough.

It probably doesn't matter how simple you make it. Most people will probably stay away, regardless.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Lucas Is Not Your Father

I was looking through The Rolling Stone Film Reader, a collection of film writing from the magazine published in 1996.  It can be interesting to see what people said at the time their films were coming out, rather than looking back much later at triumphs and failure, and acting like they knew how things would turn out all along.

With a new Star Wars film out this week, going into the past of Han Solo, telling us things we never knew (and probably didn't need to know), I was particularly interested in an interview with George Lucas done a month or two after Star Wars opened.  This was a pretty special time for him.  His previous film, American Graffiti, had been a huge hit that no one saw coming.  And now his latest, in a completely different genre, was clearly a blockbuster.  However, even Lucas could have no idea how the film would change everything, including his life.

In later years, Lucas would claim he knew about Darth Vader being Luke's father, but that's nonsense.  Which is what makes his discussion of ideas for a sequel so interesting.  Lucas mentions there are a lot of things, such as Darth Vader's past, that had to be cut from the film.  Paul Scanlon, who wrote the article, asks him what this story is.  Here's what Lucas says:

It's about Ben and Luke's father and Vader when they are young Jedi knights.  But Vader kills Luke's father, then Ben and Vader have a confrontation, just like they have in Star Wars, and Ben almost kills Vader.  As a matter of fact, he falls into a volcanic pit and gets fried and is one destroyed being.  That's why he has to wear a suit with a mask, because it's a breathing mask.  It's like a walking iron lung. His face is all horrible inside.  I was going to shoot a close-up of Vader where you could see the inside of his face, but then we said, no, no, it would destroy the mystique of the whole thing.

Okay.  We got to see Vader's face in the original trilogy, and the volcanic pit in the prequels--neither of which had the impact they might have had.  You know what did have impact?  The idea that Lucas clearly hadn't though of yet.  The Vader would turn out to be Luke's father.

I'm not blaming Lucas for not knowing everything that would happen. He was just trying to get a film made, not plan a whole series of films to the nth degree.  In the original, while he was shooting, he decided to kill off Obi-Wan.  A great idea.  Then, some time between Star Wars' release and the making of the sequel, he decided Vader was Luke's father. Another great idea.

Lucas shouldn't be ashamed he was making it up as he went along.  That's how it often works.

Later in the interview Scanlon talks about the film's merchandising.  Lucas is actually quite into it, noting his love for toys and games was a "motivating factor for doing the film." But also, he figures, it'll give him freedom:

I figured merchandising along with the sequels would give me enough income over a period of time so that I could retire from professional filmmaking and go into making my own kind of movies, my own sort of abstract, weird, experimental stuff.

He made this claim more than once.  He'd do the Star Wars thing, make some money, then go back to the small experimental stuff.  Whether he became a slave to his empire, or just never really wanted to go back, I don't know.   But I wonder when it was that he realized he was never going back?

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Movie Time

I've always liked where I live in Hollywood, since I'm so close to some great cinemas.

In particular, there's the New Beverly and the Silent Movie Theatre.  The former shows double-features of classics, usually from Hollywood, and--ever since Quentin Tarantino bought it--projected on film. In addition, the tickets and refreshments are reasonably priced.

The Silent Movie Theatre used to show silent films, which was great, but then was taken over by Cinefamily, a group that showed a wide range of films, including oddities both old and new, which was also great.

However, both are now closed.  The New Beverly has been closed for repairs since the beginning of the year, and shows no signs of reopening any time soon.  Are they really refurbishing it, or have Tarantino's recent controversies made him lose interest?

Cinefamily ran into a worse fate, closing down permanently due to a sex scandal. (I was a Cinefamily Black Card member, which got me free admittance for the year--luckily, renewal came up around the same time they shut down.)  It had the most imaginative programming anywhere in town, and now it's gone.

All is not lost.  There's always the Arclight, which is within walking distance. It used to just be the Cineramadone, but added a whole bunch of screens where there was a parking lot.  It shows new movies, both wide releases and art-house films--it's not uncommon that a new film only debuting in 3 or 4 theatres across the country will be at the Hollywood Arclight.

Then there's the Egyptian, a great old theatre taken over by the American Cinematheque.  They show old movies, both classics and rarities.  It's a bit too far to walk, though, and the parking stinks around Hollywood Boulevard.

And only recently has the Arena Cinelounge, which used to next to the Egyptian, moved a little closer. In fact, it's about a mile up the street from where I live.  It's a cozy theatre--about 50 seats--but it's comfortable and has a nice screen.  They show independent films that are not available anywhere else, so you never know what you'll get.

But I still miss the New Beverly and Cinefamily.  They were the two theatres I attended most.  I wish they'd come back.

Saturday, May 26, 2018


Believe it or not, Stevie Nicks turns 70 today.  Let's celebrate an amazing career.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The End Of The Middle

Before I forget, let's say goodbye to The Middle, which ended its nine-season run on ABC earlier this week.

I didn't watch it for most of its first season, and it took me a bit of time to warm to it when I did, but once I got into it, the show proved to be one of the most consistently entertaining sitcoms of the past decade.  I don't think it was just me--The Middle took a while to figure out what worked and what didn't.  The main cast--i.e., the family--were all good, though, with Eden Sher particularly standing out as the bubbly Sue Heck.

While The Middle was a steady performer, it never got the respect it deserved.  It was the kind of show people take for granted, which may be why in all those years it only got a single Emmy nomination for makeup.

ABC gave them an hour for the finale.  Entitled "A Heck Of A Ride," it was about the family driving Axl to Denver for his new job.  It was sentimental, but not overly so--the characters had their "moments" (something very important to Sue), but the show made sure to keep it funny.

The first half was preparing for the trip, the second half was the drive.  The main plot was Frankie trying to be cool so as not to turn off her son, guaranteeing he'd stay in touch.  Of course, she breaks at the finale's climax.

Then there was the other shoe waiting to drop--Sue and Sean finally got together.  While I was glad to see it, they really dragged it out with one near miss after another over the whole season.

The producers did make one big mistake.  After Frankie's big scene, they decided to show us the kids' futures.  We didn't need to see this--in fact, even if the jokes had been better, we didn't want to see it.  It left rather a sour taste.  We'd rather remember them as they were, not as they will be. Just give the Hecks a nice send-off and move on.

So I'm going to pretend those future flashes were just a bad dream, and have the show end with the family driving down that long road, still in love, but still fighting.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bob's Your Avunculus or Dylan-Thomas

Bob Dylan turns 77 today.  Rather than give a musical tribute (where do you start?--just go to YouTube and listen), let me note I just read Why Dylan Matters by Richard F. Thomas.

Thomas is a classics professor who is particularly interested in ancient Rome, and he believes Dylan is, too.  Dylan, if you didn't know, was in his high school's Latin Club, and in later years spent a fair amount of time in Rome.  Thomas sees all sorts of classical allusions in his lyrics, and whether or not you think that's a stretch, Dylan was prolix enough that plenty of these allusions are explicit.

Does Dylan need another defender?  You'd think by now everyone accepts he's a classic. But that's in the world of popular music.  After he won the Nobel Prize (and not Philip Roth), there was that chorus again asking what a rocker is doing in such august company.  Thomas believes Dylan expresses himself in such a way that he'll be remembered not just as a great 20th century performer, but like Catullus and Ovid.

He also spends a lot of time discussing Dylan's work in recent decades. For rock fans, Dylan's best years are generally conceded to be the 60s and 70s, but, Thomas reminds us, he didn't stop recording then, or being relevant.  Perhaps, though it's a tough case to make, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm not sure if Thomas entirely makes it.  But while I wouldn't say Dylan is another Virgil, he is the first Bob Dylan, and that's plenty.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Philip Roth has died. He stopped writing a few years ago, but for a long time I'd considered him the best America author around.  Every year I was hoping he'd finally get the Nobel Prize in Literature (though this year, their last chance, they stupidly decided to hold off giving the award until 2019 because of sexual abuse scandals--good work, guys, and also thanks for not giving them posthumously).

Until he gave up writing, he was a hard worker, finishing a novel about every year or two (mixed in with occasional non-fiction).  He started in the 1950s publishing short stories, when he was in his 20s, and right from the start you could tell he had immense talent.  His 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus announced to the world here was a young man to be reckoned with, someone with style, humor, pace and a great ear for dialogue.

His next two books, Letting Go and When She Was Good, showed he could write longer works, even if neither were the breakthrough novel he was looking for.  Then in 1969 came Portnoy's Complaint, with equal parts humor and pain, and set in the world of American Jews--a subject he'd investigated before, and one that would produce riches for the rest of his life.

Portnoy's Complaint was also a runaway bestseller (partly for its laughs, partly for the fact it was considered dirty), putting him at the top of the American literary world.  He seemed dazed by success, though, and followed it up with three of his weirdest works: Our Gang, a book-length rant against Nixon; The Breast, where a man becomes a large breast (sort of a mash-up of Gogol, Kafka and the modern Jewish world); and The Great American Novel, which mixed mythology and baseball.

But he settled down, if that's the word for it, in the late 70s and 80s, and truly came into his own with his books featuring Nathan Zuckerman, Roth's alter ego (seemingly).  There's the first trilogy, for example--The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound and The Anatomy Lesson--where he was writing at the top of his craft. He followed it up with another Zuckerman, The Counterlife, sort of a meta-novel where he topped himself.  In the 90s he'd return to Zuckerman, producing fine work such as American Pastoral and The Human Stain.

Not that I loved everything he did.  He could get self-indulgent, or travel along tangents that weren't productive.  I'm not a big fan, for instance, of Sabbath's Theater, or Operation Shylock (though others are).

Anyway, no more Roth, and no more new novels. But there are still a fair number I haven't read, so I know what I'll be doing the rest of the year.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


I just watched The Final Year, a documentary by Greg Barker.  I believe it was shown theatrically last year, but now it's available on HBO. It follows President Obama's foreign policy team as they try to cement their legacy in the last year of the Obama administration.  It's mostly John Kerry, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes and Obama himself.

Of course, it's impossible to watch today without being aware of what will happen in the 2016 election.  And, ironically, that's probably the best thing that could have happened to Barker.

Otherwise, he's got a film that takes us backstage to watch how the foreign policy team works.  They narrate their actions, so the film is done in an admiring way.  Which means what little tension there is amounts to wondering if  the rest of the world will be sensible and do what our heroes want.

But then, when Trump wins in an upset, it changes everything.  The characters themselves are stunned.  On the night of the election Rhodes can barely collect himself enough to put together a coherent sentence.

The team now knows that all the work they've done might be for nothing, and is certainly in danger of being reversed.  They try to take a long view, but without this discordant note near the finish line, Barker's movie would be a lot weaker.  An ending where heroic people hand over their office to others who generally agree with them would have been weak.

By the way, my old friend Cass Sunstein shows up.  Samantha Power, his wife, is holding a high-powered get-together to watch the returns.  Sunstein--who also served in the administration--doesn't have any lines, but he seems as gloomy as everyone else.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Starbucks To Stay

Starbucks has made its new policy clear: anyone who walks into a store is considered a customer.  It doesn't matter if they buy something.  Which means, of course, they can enjoy the amenities without being pestered by employees.

I'll let you in on a secret.  Starbucks has always been my go-to spot when I'm looking for a free bathroom.  If you walk right in and go straight to the can, then walk out, there's not much they can do.  I used to at least pretend that I might purchase something, but now I can waltz in and take as long as I want.  I can even sit down and read whatever spare newspaper sections are lying around.

Maybe I'll tell friends to meet me there.  We could even hold a party, bring in some sandwiches.  And if a barista asks if I want anything, I'll say stop bothering me.

There are parts of Los Angeles where it's hard to find a free bathroom, so this is good news.  I hear it's even tougher in some cities, like New York, so I can imagine Starbucks might be a lot more crowded from now on.

Will I ever buy anything there?  I don't think so.  I'm not much for coffee.  Though I suppose some day I might change my mind, which I guess makes me a potential potential customer.  But the great thing is in one fell swoop, there are now thousands of lounges across America where I can luxuriate.

PS  Starbucks has clarified the new policy.  No drugs allowed, no sleeping.  Okay, I can handle that.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


Today is Astrid Kirchherr's birthday.  She was just another young woman in Hamburg in 1960, having grown up in the shadow of the war.  She and her art school friends felt guilty about being German, and were looking for something new.

One day, after a fight with her boyfriend Klaus Voormann, he walked out.  When he returned, he told Astrid and fellow friend Jurgen Vollmer that he'd seen something new--an amazing rock and roll band.  The trio weren't into rock, but they followed Voormann back to a bar in the sketchy St. Pauli district to see his discovery.

They stood out among the toughs on the Reeperbahn, but what they saw mesmerized them.  It was The Beatles.  At the time, the band included Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe, but no Ringo.

Their lives changed.  The Beatles' lives changed, too. The trio and the band became close friends.  And beautiful Astrid started dating Stuart.

It was nice for The Beatles, living in squalor, to know some young and relatively well-off people in Hamburg who could feed them, clean their clothes and give them a nice place to sleep.

Astrid was a budding photographer.  She took some of the earliest photos of the Beatles, and they are still some of the best.  Astrid and her friends also changed the Beatles' haircuts and the kind of clothes they wore.

She and Sutcliffe--who was a talented artist outside the band (and to be honest, not much of a musician inside the band)--fell in love.  When the Beatles had a return engagement in Hamburg, the two got engaged.  He left the band and stayed with her (to the horror of his family back in Liverpool, who didn't think much of Germans).  But Stu suffered from debilitating headaches, and died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962, only 21 years old.

Astrid's became a freelance photographer, married and did many other things.  But her name, and her life, have always been tied to The Beatles.  There are worse things you could be tied to.

Happy 80th, Astrid.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Not Like The Other

Book Club just opened.  It's about four women of a certain age who are reading 50 Shades Of Grey in their club.  I think they all find love.

The biggest attraction, I'd say, is the cast. In particular the four old friends played by Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen.  An impressive group.  But I wonder if one didn't feel left out.

Diane Keaton--four Oscar nominations, one win.

Jane Fonda--seven Oscar nominations, two wins.

Mary Steenburgen--one Oscar nomination, one win.

Candice Bergen--one Oscar nomination, no wins.

Yep, three Oscar winners and an Oscar loser.  I'm surprised they let her in the club.  (And don't tell me she won a bunch of Emmys. No one cares.)

By the way, their men are Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Craig T. Nelson and Richard Dreyfus.  The only Oscar-winner in that group is Dreyfus.  I believe he's matched up with Candice Bergen.  Were they trying to balance things out?

Friday, May 18, 2018

In The News

Interesting story in the Globe today.   I am embarrassed not to have noticed this earlier.

Perhaps at a public meeting, someone should ask who Puffendorf was.

Sorry if you can't see the story (it works for some though) .  Its about the head of the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston, Brad Campbell, butting heads with developers and municipal officials in Boston development of the Seaport district

Mark Of Excellence

Mark Mothersbaugh has had a very successful career outside Devo, having scored well over 100 movies and TV shows.  But it's his work with the band as singer and songwriter that we'll celebrate today on his 68th birthday.

Enjoy your day and take it easy.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Say What?

A few years ago there was "the dress," where people couldn't agree what its colors were.

Now there's a new controversy.  What does this sound like to you?

Apparently, people either hear "Yanny" or "Laurel."

I admit I don't get it.  It sounds like Yanny to me. I've tried, but I can't hear Laurel.

Yet many have come down on the side of Laurel, and even claim they think those who hear Yanny are joking.

In fact, millions have been listening, and apparently Laurel is slightly more popular. Oh well.

For years I've been fascinated by optical illusions, but who knew auditory illusions could be so exciting?

PS  Wow, listened to it again and this time heard Laurel.  What is going on?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Vermilion Album

In my discussion of the Beatles' Red and Blue albums, I noted the bizarre choice to have 13 songs per album for the former and 14 for the latter.  If anything, the album representing the early years should have had more songs, since those songs were shorter (and perhaps better).

Most of the songs on the Red album were hits.  I noted the few that weren't major singles, such as "Girl" and "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away." If those were acceptable, then why leave off a ton of other non-single classics?

Someone asked me which songs in particular, so here's a list of Beatles recordings from 1962 to 1966 that could have fit.  Let's imagine they form their own album.  (Like the original collections, I won't use cover songs.  And I won't use quotation marks because they're tiring.)

I Saw Her Standing There
P.S. I Love You
Do You Want To Know A Secret
There's A Place
Hold Me Tight
I Should Have Known Better
If I Fell
I'm Happy Just To Dance With You
Tell Me Why
Any Time At All
Things We Said Today
You Can't Do That
I'll Be Back
No Reply
I'll Follow The Sun
What You're Doing
The Night Before
You're Going To Lose That Girl
I've Just Seen A Face
The Word
I'm Looking Through You
Taxman (George gets in)
I'm Only Sleeping
Here, There And Everywhere
She Said She Said
Good Day Sunshine
And Your Bird Can Sing
For No One
Got To Get You Into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Greenless Greens or Cash Norm

I've eaten at Tender Greens a number of times.  It's good, fresh food at a reasonable price.  The restaurant has a bunch of locations in Los Angeles, as well as all over California, and, I believe, the East Coast.

I was thinking of stopping in a few days ago.  I was looking for a place to eat in Hollywood and it was nearby.  But a sign on the door stopped me.  They said they've gone cashless.  They have a number of reasons for this, they claim.

Well, too bad.  I use cash.

I find cash easier to use and faster. They say they save time without cash, which I question, but I know it's faster for me.  Not only is it easy enough to use at the transaction, but I don't have to deal with paying bills later (not to mention potential interest payments if I make a mistake).

In general, I avoid using credit cards and the like.  I find the whole trend away from money worrisome.  Not only do I find money easier, I'm not thrilled with the idea that companies and people (and potentially the government) can keep track of where I spend my dough.  That's really not their business.

So sorry, Tender Greens, you've lost a customer.  I'm voting with my feet, but I wonder if I should go in next time and tell them how I feel.

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Long Strange Trip

I just read Michael Benson's Space Odyssey about the making of Kubrick's 2001. Benson calls the film a masterpiece, but I don't think I'd go that far. In fact, I think it's rather silly.  The way I see it, there's this small, fascinating film about a runaway computer in the middle of an overreaching, pretentious, slow-paced epic.

But the film has become iconic, there's no question about that. In fact, almost every section of the film is famous for one thing or another--a shot, a setting, a line, a musical cue.  And the story of how everything got that way is fascinating, for 2001 was not created like any other film.

In 1964, Stanley Kubrick was on top.  He'd made a number of well-regarded films, and his latest, Dr. Strangelove, was both critically admired and a hit.  He decided he wanted to make a "good" science fiction film.  At that point, the genry was not highly thought of, and nothing, not even the big budget films of the 50s, were what Kubrick (or any serious critic) would call good.

So he contacted Arthur C. Clarke, though to be one of the best, or perhaps the best writer in the field.  Clarke had written about how contact with aliens might change humanity.  Kubrick optioned a bunch of Clarke stories, but the two decided to come up with something original for their film.  And then he made a deal with MGM--the director was a big enough name that the studio agreed to pony up $5 million with not much more than a promise Kubrick would turn out something interesting (and he wasn't to be bothered until he did).

Kubrick had an even weirder idea for the screenplay.  Clarke wasn't a screenwriter, so they determined he'd write a novel and they'd base the screenplay on that.  Throughout Kubrick's career he based his films on novels, and it probably is easier to create if you've got a property first, but to actually write a novel just so you can base a film on it seems the wrong way to go about it.

They thought the project would take a couple of years from start to finish, but it ended taking up four.  And it cost more than twice what MGM originally put up.  Clarke was pulling his hair out, since Kubrick wouldn't allow the novel to be released until the film was out (and Clarke needed the cash when the screenwriting money ran out).

Amazingly, even as Kubrick was building his expensive sets, casting his actors and planning to shoot, he and Clarke were still figuring out the story.  For instance, what part the computer on the ship would play (it wasn't even called HAL yet) was still being worked out while other things were well underway.

Kubrick also took a chance on a lot of young men who wanted to work on the project, and if they showed promise, he promoted them and gave them more responsibility.  Most seemed to know the film was something special, and they gave their all.

Shooting went on a long time.  And only after all the space scenes were shot did Kubrick work on the "Dawn of Man" sequence.  He also spent a long time trying to figure out how he'd picture the aliens until he figured it couldn't be done.

In post-production, he was still wondering if he'd start the film with a short documentary featuring scientists speaking about extra-terrestrial intelligence.  And Clarke was still working on the narration.  Ultimately, Kubrick decided against any narration.  He also cut a lot of dialogue, some before shooting it, some in the editing room.  He wanted the film to be a visual experience, and fairly ambiguous.  It's quite amazing to realize how close it came to having a spoken voice explaining the plight of the early humans, or why you need a space ship to rotate to simulate gravity, or why HAL the computer was going nuts. (The voice of HAL, Douglas Rain, was originally called in to be the narrator.)

Then came the previews.  MGM executives wanted to know what this thing was they'd sunk millions into.  It was a disaster.  The film was slow, confusing and repetitive.  People were walking out.  Kubrick and Clarke were both horrified.

Kubrick cut out around 20 minutes.  Then it opened.  The critics hated it, but the young crowd, looking for a different sort of experience, came out.  This crowd may not have been available in 1964, but by the end of the decade, they'd grown up and were watching different sorts of films.  The film played a long time and was a huge hit.   Even the critics eventually came around. (You can't really blame them for their initial reaction.  The film doesn't have the conventional Hollywood rewards of acting, plot and dialogue.)

And it's since become one of the most famous films ever made, widely considered a masterpiece, the biggest thing both Clarke and Kubrick were ever attached to.  (Clarke's novel finally came out and was a bestseller.  It's also good as a guide to the movie, explaining what's going on if you're confused).

While I can't say I love the film, the book's discussion of how it got made certainly gets my thumbs up.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

BB Etc.

I enjoyed yesterday's tribute to Burt Bacharach I thought we'd do another.

Saturday, May 12, 2018


Today is Burt Bacharach's 90th birthday!  Very few composers have such a distinctive sound.  And a great sound it is.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Yay And Ouch

In a fairly bizarre story, Rick And Morty has been renewed by Adult Swim--for 70 episodes.  This is a show that has ten episodes a season, so this is the equivalent of a seven season renewal.

It's only had three seasons so far, and each was a long time coming.  So seven more seasons (or however they split up the 70 new episodes) will take so long it's possible they won't have finished by the time the next George R. R. Martin novel comes out.

Rick And Morty is a huge hit, so a renewal was a given.  The main question is if creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland are ready for what's coming, since, apparently, each season takes a lot out of them.

It's also one of the best comedies out there, so this is good news.  Perhaps they'll increase the number of episodes per season and get a bigger staff.  Fine with me, as long as they keep up the quality.  Or maybe, in this brave new world of TV, they'll just keep putting out new episodes as they make them.  Who needs seasons anyway?

Meanwhile, other shows are being canceled.  The one that hurts the most is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, gone after five seasons.  It's my favorite network sitcom.  But I can't say the cancelation was a shock, as the show's ratings weren't great.  There is some hope the show will be picked up by another network or channel or service.

Also canceled at Fox were The Last Man On Earth (which I didn't really watch) and The Mick (which I did).

PS  That didn't take long.  NBC has picked up Brooklyn Nine-Nine for a 13-episode sixth season.  The show was created by the Parks And Recreation people, so it's back where it belongs.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

It's Alive!

Here's a piece in The Hollywood Reporter that says, partly due to the success of the Roseanne reboot, the networks are ordering more multi-camera comedies.  According to their numbers, there were 16 ordered this year, while only seven were ordered last year.

I don't know if this is a true trend or a coincidence.  It is true that not so long ago, comedies done in front of live audiences were more common. In the 80s and 90s, the top sitcoms, like Cheers, The Cosby Show, Murphy Brown, Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, Home Improvement and others, were generally done in front of an audience.  In the last twenty years, though, it would seem one-camera shows have become the norm, such as Arrested Development, 30 Rock, The Office, Parks And Recreation, Veep and so on.

However, some people treated this trend like it was natural, and that one-camera shows simply were better.  Not sure why they thought that. It's just a different style--let's call it the difference between movies and theatre.  It may allow for more subtlety, or even a higher joke density if desired, but there's something to be said for a performance in front of expectant people.  It brings a certain energy to the proceedings, and requires scripts that get actual laughs.

In any case, I wouldn't say one is superior to the other, though some people seem to be snobs about it, putting down multi-camera shows. Certainly the TV audience in general never cared.  The biggest hit comedy for the last decade has been The Big Bang Theory, a show shot live.  The second biggest comedy was probably the one-camera hit Modern Family.

So if bringing back shows like Roseanne and Will & Grace and Murphy Brown remind the networks that live comedy can still work, fine with me.  Keep 'em coming. Just make 'em funny.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Never Seen The Scene

I was looking through Logan Gourlay's book on Laurence Olivier, made up of interviews with numerous acquaintances of the great actor who mostly talk about his work in the theatre.

It occurred to me that the difference between this and a book about someone who's primarily a movie star is when I read about a performance by, say, Jimmy Stewart or Dustin Hoffman, I've probably seen it.  Whereas Olivier famous roles were seen by, relatively speaking, very few--and that number keeps getting smaller each year.

And yet, I've read enough about Olivier (as well as contemporaries like Gielgud and Richardson), and seen so many photos of him in costume, that I feel I know quite a bit about his stage career.

I could list a lot of Shakespearean roles he performed in such plays as Romeo And Juliet (alternating as Romeo and Mercutio with Gielgud), Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello (in different productions he was Iago and Othello), Henry IV (1 and 2), Henry V, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, Twelfth Night (at different times as Sir Toby Belch and Malvolio), Titus Andronicus and The Merchant Of Venice.

Then there are other classics such as Arms And The Man, Peer Gynt, Uncle Vanya, Oedipus, The Critic (the last two he performed on the same bill), The Master Builder, Love For Love, A Flea In Her Ear, The Dance Of Death and Long Day's Journey Into Night.

And also contemporary works such as Private Lives, The Entertainer and Rhinoceros.

I even know, generally, how these performances were received.  Some were triumphs, some were failures, some were considered controversial.

Even though I've never seen Olivier perform live for one second, it's odd how I feel like I know him as a stage performer.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The Red (No White) And Blue

The Beatles' "Red" and "Blue" albums are the band's missing links.  Released in 1973, a few years after the group broke up, these compilations were the main way millions of new fans learned about the band.  Eventually, there would be more compilations, not to mention new material in the Anthology and BBC series, and, in 2000, 1--a new greatest hits collection which has become one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century and the new way young people get into The Beatles.

Originally, Capitol didn't quite know what it had.  Sure, the Beatles had been the biggest act of the 60s, but it was the 70s, time to move on.  However, a bootleg collection of the Beatles' hits was selling well, so the release of these albums was almost an act of self-defense.  Both the Red and Blue albums went diamond (over 10 million sold, though double albums are counted twice).

The songs were actually compiled by Allen Klein, their crooked manager who caused a split in the band (Paul refused to sign with him).  He doesn't do a half bad job but there are still odd things about his choices.

The one thing he got right is splitting the Beatles into two eras, 1962-1966 and 1967-1970.  This makes Sgt. Pepper the turning point, which it was.  The Beatles were always changing, but the biggest dividing line is Pepper.  Also, in general, he includes all the big singles.  It might be obvious, but it's still important.  (And he also didn't pick any covers.  The Beatles did amazing covers in the early years--some even charted--but I suppose it works to keep it all in the family.)

But the oddest--and worst--idea was the number of songs.  For some reason I still can't comprehend, the Red albums have 13 songs each while the Blue albums have 14.  With so many classic cuts left off, why?  Especially considering the earlier songs are shorter.  Thus, the full Red collection is 62:34 while the Blue collection is 99:40.  If anything, Klein should have stuffed the Red albums with 8 or 9 cuts a side.  Instead, most of the sides are barely over 15 minutes, and, in fact, side two of album one has only 14:09 worth of music.

Then there are some of his choices when he goes beyond the major hits.  Klein was trying to give a sample of a band that was more than singles, but was he choosing personal or fan favorites?

Thus, the Red album includes "And I Love Here," "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "Drive My Car," "In My Life" and "Girl." Most of these I can't fault, though "Hide Your Love Away" and definitely "Girl" I would leave off.  Meanwhile, I can think of twenty or thirty other original songs from this era that have become standards for Beatles fans and were worthy of inclusion.

Also, no George songs.  That's okay, though he sure missed out on royalties.

The Blue collection is even weirder, possibly because there were less singles to fill up the space, so Klein had to get creative.

Once again, there are the hits, to be expected.  Then from Sgt. Pepper (which had no singles released--singles recorded during the Pepper sessions were not put on the album) we get the title tune plus "With A Little Help From My Friends," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "A Day In The Life."  Pretty good choices--Klein couldn't ignore the album, and he chose the songs that made the biggest splash.

But next, from the Magical Mystery Tour album (originally released only in America), after picking the singles, he also includes the title number and "The Fool On The Hill."  Once again, these were the big numbers from the album, but I could have done without the latter.

Next, he's got to choose cuts from the "White" album.  We get "Back In The U.S.S.R.," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"--as much as I don't like the middle number, not bad choices (and George finally gets some royalties).  Though some might wonder why there's no, say, "Blackbird"?

From Abbey Road, Klein chooses "Come Together," "Something," and "Here Comes The Sun"--makes sense, and George is killing it.  But he also included is "Octopus's Garden"--I can only assume this was chosen to give Ringo a taste.

There are a lot of choices from Let It Be (though some may have been released in a different form as singles)--the title number plus "Get Back," "Across The Universe" and "The Long And Winding Road."  I might have left off "Universe" even though it has become a beloved classic.

Finally, there are a few stray choices, such as "Don't Let Me Down" and "Old Brown Shoe."  The former is one of those Beatles classics that it's hard to argue with, even though there were a bunch of such numbers left off the Red collection.  The latter, however, is nobody's idea of a classic.  It's the most confusing choice on either album.  And it's not even as if George Harrison needs some help at this point. The song must have been a favorite of Klein's. (Or maybe he got more money for the stuff they recorded after he took over?)

Overall, I have to admit, it could have been a lot worse.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Go West Gone South

HBO needs a flagship show.  It used to be The Sopranos, now it's Game Of Thrones.  But with GOT on the way out, it hopes Westworld, now in its second season, can be the replacement.  All I can say is, not for me.

I've watched the first three episodes of season 2 and think I'm done.  On the plus side, there are fine actors and excellent design, but the whole plot seems pointless.  (This is nothing new.  I had problems before, and now that the show is playing its hand, things have only gotten worse.)  The robots are rebelling and we're seeing it spread through the park--or parks--though the cutting back and forth in time can make it a bit tricky to figure out who's doing what and why.

Except I don't care.  I don't particularly like seeing humans killed, no matter how awful or minor they are--as opposed to robots, this is a permanent state for them--and I don't particularly want to see any of the robots succeed in doing whatever it is they want to do.  (I think the show is more on the side of the robots than the humans, but either way I don't care.)

The real problem is I don't care about the mysteries of the park.  They're mysteries not because we're going in deeper, but because the secrets are being withheld from us artificially, doled out in dribs and drabs to keep us wondering.

The idea of humans in a pleasure park experiencing a robot rebellion works as a one-shot deal (hence, the original movie), but it going on and on is dreary.  So Westworld ends up with a long-term plot I don't care about that features no rooting interest.  The latest episode, "Virtu e Fortuna," reveals more of the other parks that are part of the complex, but a change of scenery doesn't solve the problems at the heart of the show.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Waking Window

Not too long ago I complained about how a delivery I was expecting had too big a window.  Recently, I had another piece of furniture delivered, and was told it would be at my place between 9 am and noon.

A bit wide, but since I wasn't going anywhere, I could manage.

They called me at 6:30 am and asked if they could deliver early.  In case there's any doubt, let me note this is definitely before I normally wake up.

So I said sure, why not?  It's not like I'll be getting back to bed any time so I might as well get it as soon as possible.  I'm just shocked that they thought it was okay to call me that early.

I mean, it's bad enough to have to wait for hours for a delivery that never seems to come, but to have to be tired the entire day just so the delivery guys can check me off their list?  Don't they have a window regarding how early they can call someone?

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Not Your Father's--Really Not Anyone's

Years ago I drove an Oldsmobile.  I drove it into the ground. I can't even remember how many years I had it, but I drove it across the country a few times.

One thing I know--I had it long enough that by the time I planned to buy a new car, they weren't even making Oldsmobiles any more.  Too bad.  Maybe I would have bought another.

Anyway, the next car I bought, after looking quite a bit, was a Ford Taurus.  And I've been enjoying it for several years now.

Which is why I was sad to hear Ford is going to stop making them. In fact, Ford will stop making all its sedans.  No Focus, no Fusion, no Fiesta.

That sounds crazy.  What will be the purpose of Ford is they don't make these cars any more?  I guess it's their choice, but it does mean when I buy a new car, it won't be a Taurus (or a Ford).

It also means that this is the second car I chose that died.  I'm a car-killer.  So here's the deal--give me $10,000 and I won't buy your brand.

Friday, May 04, 2018

So Low

Today is Star Wars Day ("May The Fourth Be With You").  So let's talk some Star Wars.

You used to wait three years for new Star Wars films, but since Disney took over, they're an annual event.  (As opposed to Marvel films, which come out about every three months.)

The newest is Solo.  It's one of the in-between films, but it's about as major a character as there is.  In fact, if you took a poll of favorites in the saga, I wouldn't be surprised if Han Solo finished number one. (Who else would be in the top five?  Darth Vader, Obi-Wan, Luke and Yoda.  Followed closely by R2-D2, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and Boba Fett.  Note they're all originally from the first two films.)

Solo is still three weeks off, but I'm not feeling a lot of excitement.  When I went to see Avengers: Infinity War--which itself had a lot of buzz--they showed some trailers for upcoming action films.  And while the new Deadpool got the crowd going, they barely applauded Solo. Of course, I live in LA, where people are too hip to live.

It certainly doesn't mean Solo won't be a hit. In fact, it'll be a surprise if it doesn't make big money.  And what matters most in the long run is still the quality of the film.  But I think the early poor buzz, including the issue of replacing directors, has caused trouble.

But there's a bigger problem.  So far, only one actor has played Han.  A very charismatic actor.  But the one chosen to play young Han, Alden Ehrenreich, means nothing to the audience.  A couple years ago he was an up-and-comer, so perhaps the filmmakers figured they were getting him at the right moment.  But he never up-and-came, at least not yet.  (On the other hand, the choice of Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian seems more and more like a good idea.  Though we'll see with that, as well.)

I'm not saying Ehrenreich is another Dane DeHaan (though they both have last names a lot harder to spell than Ford), but he really needs to prove himself. Solo looks like it has a decent cast, but it rests on his shoulders.  So good luck.  I know that hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster, but it looks like you'll need all the force you can get.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Too Good To Be True

Happy birthday Frankie Valli.  There were Four Seasons, but you were the one that counted.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018


Homeland 's season finale aired over the weekend. (Spoilers ahead.)  The whole season's plot was rather fanciful, with the Russians hatching a scheme to have the U.S. President ousted. But then what else is new?  The conspiracy actually succeeds, temporarily, when she's forced out via the 25th Amendment.  Ultimately, Saul and Carrie save the day, and things are set right.

But then there was a weird plot twist.  The President, back in office, makes a big speech to the public.  She talks about how democracies can vanish if you don't take care of them.  And how our nation is as divided as she can remember. And how things have to change.  She admits she's made mistakes, and has gone too far at times.

No doubt this was, at least partly, the producers of the show speaking (down) to us with these shallow and fairly empty statements.  And then...the President resigns.  She's lost the trust of the public, and wants them to have a new figure they might listen to, the Vice President.  (Remember, this is the guy who earlier forced her out, but also had shown he can deal with others fairly when put to the test.)

I admit I didn't see this coming. But then, who would, as it makes no sense.  Not in real life, certainly, but not even as a dramatic choice.  Sure, a politician taking himself out of the equation has worked before--West Wing did it, and it's the climax of The Best Man.  But even if anyone were willing to give up the power she fought so hard for--and I don't buy that--how does she think that resigning will help the public?  It would make things far more uncertain, and create demands for other resignations when things go wrong.  Meanwhile, the honest differences between parties would remain, as would the political infighting.

What she would do is stay in office and try to lead by example, if she wants things to change. After all, if she thinks compromise is necessary, she would need to be in power to guarantee that.  So sticking around and changing your ways would be the noble thing, not giving up and hoping others will change.  It may not work, but it's not as if making things more unstable is a better solution (no matter how much the makers of Homeland want Trump to quit).

Tuesday, May 01, 2018


It's May 1, also known as May Day.  In the 1800s, the date was chosen by socialists and communist to celebrate workers.

Considering the misery created by communism, would a better day for them to celebrate workers be April 1?

May 1 is also for other celebrations, including a traditional spring festival.  You've heard of dancing around the maypole, after all. (Actually, I've never danced around a maypole.  I've never even seen a maypole in person.  I bet the most-seen maypole dancing ever is on the credits to The Odd Couple sitcom.)

Apparently the day is also special in Hawaii.  They consider May Day to be Lei Day.  That I can understand.

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