Friday, November 30, 2018

What Did You Say?

Commentator Marc Lamont Hill has been fired by CNN after making statements at a UN pro-Palestinian event.  At one point he echoed a line heard from the terrorist group Hamas, words taken by many as calling for the destruction of Israel.

David Edelstein, longtime film critic on NPR's Fresh Air, was just let go for making what many saw as an insensitive joke about sexual assault--upon director Bernardo Bertolucci's death he wrote on his Facebook page "Even grief goes better with butter," a reference to a notorious scene from Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris.

Hill claims he was misunderstood.  Edelstein took down the joke and apologized.  But they're just the latest in a long list of people who've been fired in recent times over something they said that was considered offensive.

Of course, private companies are free to get rid of anyone who says or does things they find unacceptable (or fear others will find unacceptable).  But still, it's probably a good thing for society in general if people are given some leeway.  It's not always clear where the line is, but if there's doubt, probably best to let it go.

People simply disagree on a lot of political issues, and some people will always be saying dumb or offensive things.  Better, in general, to answer them rather than try to make them go away.  People will also make dumb or offensive jokes.  Even if you think there's no excuse for what they said, most of the time you can tell them that and move on.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Some Spammers Just Mail It In

I am Steven T Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury under the U.S. Department of the Treasury. You can get more details about me here; and attached is my identity card for confirmation of office.

[long shifty looking link]

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Fortunately, you have been selected alongside a few other beneficiaries to receive your own payment of $1.5million (One Million five hundred thousand United States Dollars only).

We have been notified that you are yet to receive your fund valued at $1.5million this money will now be transferred to your nominated bank account, A check delivery or Delivery of Master Card ATM.

Feel Free to contact me with below details:

Looking forward to hearing from you and God Bless America
Secretary Steven T Mnuchin
Treasury Department USA
Note: This transaction is %100 legal with the security of the FBI'

If You Can Do The Time

I was recently on vacation in Michigan, where there's a lot of road work going on.

Over and over a saw a sign that noted if I injure or kill a worker, I could be subject to a $7500 fine and 15 years in prison.

First, do they need to say both kill and injure?  I would assume, no matter what the situation, that killing someone is a serious offense with significant penalties.  But getting in big trouble for merely sideswiping some hard hat?  That could be considered news.

Much bigger, there's the combination of the fine and jail time.  I just don't see the need to mention both--15 years seems serious enough by itself.

Or to put it another way, how many people are going to say to themselves "I'm willing to go to jail for 15 years, but I haven't got $7500."

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Idle Writing

I just read Eric Idle's "Sortabiography" Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.  It's a quick 290 pages that covers it all, from the beginning to near the end.

Idle was always odd man out in the Monty Python troupe.  Of the five Oxbridge boys (Terry Gilliam was off in the corner doing animation, so he doesn't count), he was the only one without a partner, so didn't get an extra vote in deciding whose material to use.  Did that mean his had to be twice as good?

Anyway, the book is highly entertaining.  It moves quickly and doesn't get too bogged down in the harsher moments.  And his life was pretty harsh at times.  For instance, his father survived World War II only to be killed in an accident while hitchhiking home from the war.  Idle was sent to a boarding school with some pretty harsh rules--rules that gave him a healthy disrespect for institutions.

He went on the be a writer and performer at Cambridge and then the BBC.  He worked on Do Not Adjust Your Set with Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam.  Though it was a kids' show, they wrote for adults, and among their fans were the writing team of John Cleese and Graham Chapman.  When Cleese was offered his own show, he and Chapman joined up with the four and Monty Python's Flying Circus (after a lot of other titles were considered) was born.

I wish Idle had slowed down and spent more time to discuss the TV show.  I realize it was a long time ago, and only lasted 45 (or so) episodes, but that's the stuff I find most interesting.  Idle claims a lot has been written about the troupe, but I assume he could offer a special perspective.

It's not that he gives short shrift to Python--he talks about everything they did, including live shows, books, records and movies.  It's just that the TV show was the fount, and it's what I (and many fans) would like to know most about.  One chapter on those years seems meager, especially considering he spends three chapters discussing Spamalot. (Admittedly, that project was all his, and is in more recent memory, but it's still watered down Python.)

In addition to Python, there are many solo projects, such as the Rutles (which grew out of his Rutland Weekend Television series) and his appearances on Saturday Night Live.  There's also much about his personal life, including his wives and his acquaintances, especially his close friendship with George Harrison.

Then there's the song that's had such a life of its own that he made it the title of his book. The odd thing is it's not that great a song.  I much prefer other songs he created for Python--for instance, "Eric The Half-A-Bee," "The Philosopher's Song" and "The Money Song." To be fair, "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" really works in Life Of Brian since it's so completely inappropriate a ditty to sing when you're being crucified, but I'm surprised it's had such a strong life outside that movie.

It became a hit single in Britain, has been covered by a fair number of artists, made it into the hit movie As Good As It Gets and was inserted into Spamalot.  It's also sung at sporting events and funerals.  It will apparently outlive its creator.  So I guess it's a good title for his book.

Anyway, if you're a Python fan, recommended.  Now if John Cleese would only write his second memoir, as the first ended just as the troupe was formed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

2020 Vision

With the last election barely over (in fact, it's not quite over yet), people are already looking at 2020.  While I'd say this is about 18 months too soon, the perpetual campaign demands it.

Recently, a friend told me he thought President Trump would easily win a second term. He did not see this as a positive thing.  While it's way too early to guess where we'll be in two years--we at least should know who his opponent will be (and if he himself will be running)--I would suggest that Trump's road to reelection will be bumpy.

Maybe it's because we've gotten used to two-term presidents, so we simply think it's automatic unless something terrible happens.  I think, however, the proper way to look at it is will his coalition hold.  This, after all, is a guy who never polls above 50% nationwide. I know he won without the popular vote, but he seems to have a ceiling, while we don't know if he has a floor.  And even assuming he can get the same votes as last time, it's still a question of turnout, as 2018 showed.

Trump's surprise victory came by tearing down the Blue Wall, taking Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  But those wins were close, and could easily go the other way next time around.  And even if he holds them, there are states he won that are on the verge of flipping, such as Arizona and Florida.  So Trump has got a path to victory, but it's still narrow.

On the other hand, Trump may be helped by the Democrats taking the House, since now he has someone to blame if things don't work out.  Also, all the Dem candidates have significant weaknesses.  Even leaving out their politics, most of the names being mentioned are either old and tired, or young and unproven.

Okay, that's enough from me.  I'll get back to you in a year and a half.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Dead On Its Feet

Last night was the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead.  It's one of the shows I sort of watch, but sort of don't--if I miss it, no big deal.

But this ninth season has been a big deal, since Rick, the hero from the start, left. (But--Spoiler Alert--he didn't die, he miraculously survived to do some Walking Dead TV movies.  Another character, Maggie, also left, which much less fanfare). So how has the show gone on without him?

The short answer is who cares? The Walking Dead never made much sense, and really said everything it had to say by around season three.  Even with Rick gone, there are plenty of other audience favorites to keep the story moving forward.  The plot has jumped ahead several years (so that Rick's daughter is grown up enough to shoot people) and still has, among others, Daryl, Michonne, Carol, Ezekiel and Eugene.  And it's still got Negan, who, for an enterprising villain, sure took a long time to escape from his cell.

So the question now is how to build a new society. (Though hasn't that always been the question?)  And we know, in the new storyline, people will continue to do stupid things that get themselves in trouble, and occasionally killed.  And the zombies will keep popping up in inexhaustible numbers at unfortunate times doing whatever it is they're required to do.  The biggest change in the past few years is the downward slump in audience size.  That's the only thing that could really end it all.

PS  That sitcom built around Sue Heck has been rejected by ABC.  I haven't seen the pilot, but I'm guessing it's just as well.  Sue Heck was a great character on The Middle, but I'm not sure if an entirely new show with her at the center would work. As it was, it was hard to keep her peppy character going into college and adulthood.

Sunday, November 25, 2018


Ricky Jay has died.  He was perhaps the greatest slight-of-hand artist of his era.

But he was a lot more.

I remember first seeing him on TV decades ago, demonstrating his prowess in throwing playing cards hard and fast enough so that they could penetrate a watermelon.  He also used elaborate, sideshow huckster patter to introduce his tricks.

Throwing cards was, in fact, the subject of his first book, Cards As Weapons.  He was also very much into magic history and related subjects, and would publish a number of books on his interests, including the fascinating Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women.  He also regularly lectured on this world, and put parts of his collection on display.

While he never achieved the fame of, say, David Copperfield or Penn & Teller, he had a cult following among insiders. He became a magic consultant on a number of movies, and started appearing in movies and TV himself.

He became a favorite of David Mamet, for instance, and appears in movies such as House Of Games, Things ChangeHomicide, The Spanish Prisoner, State And Main and Redbelt.  Mamet also directed Ricky Jay's one-man close-up magic shows, such as Ricky Jay And His 52 Assistants.  (I have a friend who was in charge of the wardrobe for the show.  Sorry, she didn't know how he did his tricks.) Another fan was Paul Thomas Anderson, and Jay appears in Anderson's Boogie Nights and Magnolia.

I once met Jay. It was at the Silent Movie Theatre, not far from where I live.  They were showing a Harry Houdini movie.  I recognized him and introduced myself. I shook his hand.  I don't usually care about shaking hands, but I figured maybe some of the magic would rub off.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Still Bill

A friend sent me this very important message from Bill Bonds.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Day After

You just had a big meal yesterday, so it's time to sit back and take it easy.  Don't over-exert yourself.

I don't feel like doing much but listening to relaxing music.


Thursday, November 22, 2018


On this thankful day, let's give thanks for Lorenz Hart, who died 75 years ago today.  As the wordsmith in Rodgers and Hart, his lively, vernacular lyrics helped modernize American popular music, and his work is still being sung today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

If It Bleeds

A few nights ago, it was 11 pm, and I was switching channels.  I don't generally watch local news--unless it literally happens on my block, the big story that night in Los Angeles doesn't mean much to me.

Nevertheless, I checked out channels 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC) and 7 (ABC) to see what the headline for the day was.  You might think these three all open with the same story, and I'm sure on many days they do--a new law passed by the city, a Presidential visit, an earthquake, whatever.  But most days, with reporters going all over southern California to see what's happening, it's up to the executive producer to decide what to lead with.

On 2, the big story was a plane accident where someone died.  On 4, the big story was a car accident where someone died. On 7, the big story was a boat accident where someone died.

So there it is, trouble everywhere you look, land, sea and sky.  Did each channel have their story exclusively?  (Seems doubtful, since anyone with a police scanner could know what's happening.) Did each channel have all three stories and decide which death they preferred?  For that matter, did the channels confer, and decide out who got which fatal story?  People are dying to know.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Not That Funny

I was recently reading a review of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.  It was a minor review of a minor production at a minor website, so no need to get excited.  Still, I found the writer's miscomprehension fascinating.

For instance:

...the first act seems to drag, while the second act ends surprisingly quickly.  Much of this is likely the fault of the book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, which frontloads most of the plot and songs before intermission.

Poor, dumb Shevelove and Gelbart, don't know how to write a show.  Sure, it was a big hit on Broadway, and has amused millions since in countless productions, but they just don't understand pacing. (And I like how she lets composer Stephen Sondheim off the hook.)

Okay, the writer thought the first act dragged.  Maybe it's the production, maybe she just doesn't like the book.  But it's simply a fact that musicals written during the age of Rodgers and Hammerstein (let's say from the early 40s to the mid-60s) tend to have long first acts and short second acts.

During that era, straight plays had three acts, with the second act curtain falling on a crisis to be resolved in act 3.  In musicals, which had two acts, the first act would establish the setting, characters and situation and take us up to a crisis, and the second act would resolve the crisis.  This makes for long first acts and short second acts.  Anyone writing reviews of musicals should know this.

What's more, Forum is a farce.  As composer Stephen Sondheim has noted, early in the show there's time to get to know everyone, and have character moments, but as the farce picks up steam, there's less and less chance to fit in a song.  By the second half of the second act, which is essentially a long chase, there's simply no time, before the finale, to have a musical number--it would stop the action.  Perhaps Shevelove and Gelbart (and Sondheim) knew what they were doing.

The reviewer's not done:

The show itself hasn't aged well, and it's hard not to cringe at its depictions of women and sexual politics.[...] It doesn't sit well that every female character on stage is a courtesan, except Domina, who, as her names suggests, is little more than a nag.  Likewise, it's a bit jarring that the topic of slavery is played so blatantly for laughs.

It is true, the female characters are rather one-dimensional.  But so are the male characters.  This is a farce, and they're all types that go back to the comedies of Roman playwright Plautus, whose work inspired the show.  Which means one of the female characters is a naïve courtesan and the other a termagant. (The rest of the women are chorus.) But the males characters are also types--a wily slave, a cringing slave, a braggart soldier, a naïve young man, his lascivious father, an avaricious procurer and a bewildered old man.

Perhaps these mainstays of the stage, basic comic types that have been enjoyed for millennia, no longer play in our day and age. But if so, it may say more about the times than the show.

More bizarre, though, is the reviewer's trouble with making light of slavery.  This play is set in ancient Rome--I think we're far enough removed that we can handle it.  And it's a farce we're talking about--people are threatened with disembowelment and we can still laugh.

I might add that the plot is driven by the lead character's desire for freedom--a modern twist added by Shevelove and Gelbart.  In the original farces of Plautus there were plenty of slaves, but it was such a common institution then that plots weren't build around hope of emancipation.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Missing The Point

I just watched It Was Fifty Years Ago Today!, a 2017 documentary on Netflix about the making of Sgt. Pepper.  At least that's what the description implied, which makes it a case of false advertising.

Instead, what we get is a rather meandering tale of some of what was going on with the Beatles from 1966 to 1968.  There is material about Sgt. Pepper, but not that much--less than half the almost two-hour running time, I'd say--and much of that isn't even about the music, but rather stuff like how they created the cover.

The other material in the doc has little to do with the album or their music in general.  For instance, there's a lot about John's statement comparing the Beatles to Jesus.  One could argue this helped get the Beatles off the road and concentrating on making albums like Pepper, but that's stretching it.  And even by that standard, the show's discussion of numerous events after the album was released--meeting the Maharishi, dealing with the death of Brian Epstein, opening the Apple Boutique--is even less relevant.

But I've left out the worst part.  The doc apparently couldn't afford the rights to their music, so we get instead a generic score that conjures up the era.  You just can't do a documentary on the Beatles without their music.

PS  With all the flaws, I did like the lengthy excerpts (probably lengthy because it was cheaper to fill out the running time) of old footage and interviews.

PPS  It's a British production, which means when someone says "um," the subtitles render it "erm."

Sunday, November 18, 2018

He Knew Something

William Goldman has died.  He was a novelist (Marathon Man, Princess Bride) and playwright, but perhaps best known as a screenwriter, winning two Academy Awards for Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and All The President's Men. And yet, I think I'll remember him best for his non-fiction.

For one thing, he wrote The Season, his take on a full year of Broadway in the late 60s.  He wrote about every play that came out, using them to illustrate how various parts of the system worked--the producers, the stars, the critics and so on.  His funny, conversational style was more memorable than most of the plays he discussed.

Even more groundbreaking was his early 80s book Adventures In The Screen Trade, where he wrote about his experiences in movies.  It came out during a rough patch where the two-time Oscar winner couldn't sell a screenplay.

It was about the craft of screenwriting, as well as the bizarre world of Hollywood.  Most memorable are the two rules he had.  Regarding writing for movies, he stated "Screenplays are structure." If you're a novelist, or a playwright, the quality of your writing is of the utmost importance, but good writing won't save a movie if the structure doesn't work, and plenty of movies have worked even with dreadful writing.

Even more memorable was his maxim about show business, "Nobody knows anything." Sure, they talk a good game, but every flop had a bunch of people, often the most successful, convinced they had something.  And just about every hit had tremendous problems getting off the ground, with plenty of people doubting it should be made.  Everyone--writers, directors, producers, stars--is ultimately guessing what will work.  They may have some expertise, but the only certainty is after the fact.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Not Hiding Heidi

Today is the 50th anniversary of the legendary Heidi Game.

For those of you not familiar, it was a very exciting televised pro football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets.  It had a three-hour time slot on NBC, which was thought to be more than enough (and generally was back in then--game times have since expanded).

The contest started at 4 pm.  With a little over a minute left in the game, the Jets were leading 32-29.  However, the broadcast was running long.  Since it seemed a likely win for the Jets, after a commercial break, NBC decided to air the heartwarming tale of Heidi (about a Swiss orphan who lives in the mountains with her grandfather), as scheduled, at 7 pm.

Fans were bewildered, and, in an age where it wasn't easy to find out elsewhere what was happening, enraged.  What they missed turned out to be dramatic.  In that final minute, Oakland managed to score not one, but two touchdowns, winning 43-32.

But at least Heidi fans didn't miss the beginning of the tale.

Friday, November 16, 2018


I just saw Orson Welles' new movie The Other Side Of The Wind.  I had the opportunity to catch it in a theatre but couldn't make it, so I watched it on Netflix. (Which means I'll write about it now.  New films I usually write about in my annual film wrap-up, while I post about TV all the time.)

How the film comes to us is a story in itself--one told in the Netflix documentary They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, in fact.  Welles had the idea in the 60s, and finally got some financing and shot the film over a period of years in the 70s.  It would be two films in one--the story of the last day in a famous director's life, as well as the film-within-a-film the director was shooting. There were all sorts of monetary and legal complications that prevented Wind from being completed and released.  It took decades for them to be cleared up, long after Welles' death in 1985.

Alas, after all that, the film is a bit of a mess--an interesting mess, but one with serious problems.  Welles was trying something different, going for a highly improvisatory feel (with a lot of actual improvisation).  A director, Jake Hannaford, is celebrating his 70th birthday, but also having trouble completing his latest project.  So as numerous hangers-on come to his house for a party, his film, and his career, are imploding.  Oh yeah, he also dies of a car crash, though it adds little to the story--Welles always did like to kill his major characters, often at the beginning of his films.

So we get to see many different film industry types in what is a fairly negative take on the business.  In the lead is John Huston, a major director himself and a pretty good actor, playing a part that seems based on Welles himself. And Peter Bogdanovich is around to play a character vaguely based on himself as well--an acolyte of Hannaford who's become a hotshot director (but not powerful enough to get Hannaford funds for completion).  Surrounding them are other characters based on Welles' view of Hollywood, such as stand-ins for Robert Evans and Pauline Kael.

Playing various people in Hannaford's orbit, numerous Hollywood names come back to life, as if they never left, including Edmond O'Brien, Susan Strasberg, Lilli Palmer, Mercedes McCambridge, George Jessel, Cameron Mitchell and Paul Stewart.  The best, surprisingly, is Norman Foster, a minor actor in the early 30s before he became a minor director. (Stafford Repp is also featured.  I don't have much to say about him except that the only other part I associate with this Hollywood veteran is Chief O'Hara on Batman.) Young Hollywood of the time also shows up with cameos from, among others, Dennis Hopper, Paul Mazursky, Henry Jaglom, Claude Chabrol, Joseph McBride and Rich Little.

The conceit of the movie has Hannaford being filmed by numerous documentarians, thus we get various bits of footage from their efforts, in both color and black & white.  But it's hard to buy how they keep capturing moments the characters would want secret. Worse, it all leads to a haphazard look and feel that reminds us how self-indulgent a lot of experimental films were back then.  Welles was looking for exciting things to happen on set by chance, but the whole film feels a bit too accidental, with muddled action and flat dialogue.  When it's all over, you feel you've seen something, though you're not sure exactly what.

If the film has a saving grace, it's the film within a film, which is Welles' parody of European art cinema--mostly Antonioni.  It takes up a fair amount of the film's two-hour plus run time.  We see bits and pieces of Hannaford (and Welles) working in a style presumably alien to him: a young man (Robert Random) pursues a beautiful woman (Welles' lover and co-screenwriter Oja Kodar) through mysterious, and explicit, set pieces, all done without dialogue.  It's both funny and fascinating, and almost saves the picture.  Almost.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


Fifty years ago, Yale announced it would go coed.  About time, I guess, but could anyone guess how relations between the sexes would evolve over the decades?

For so many years, students didn't want the university to serve in loco parentis.  The young people wanted to be in charge of their own lives--and love lives.

But things have changed so much that the progressives who used to demand more freedom are now demanding stricter rules about how men and women (or any couples) can interact.

And the government is giving it to them.  Who thought they'd make a federal case out of it?  Using questionable statistics to back up their argument, they're demanding not only that campuses keep a close eye on relationships, but that they also don't have what would normally be considered basic due process is figuring out what to do when someone is charged with a transgression.

Has anyone yet argued that, in fact, young men and women can't live in close proximity, and it's time to go back to the old days of sexual segregation?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


So Stan Lee has died. He's getting a lot of tributes, but he deserves them.  He's probably the most important man in the comic book industry (superhero division) on the second half of the 20th century.

He helped create most of the great Marvel characters who are still making billions at the box office. (Not that it matters they're movie hits.  They were great just being in comic books.)

He did good work most of his long adult life, but it's the Marvel revolution starting in the late 50s that changed everything.  DC Comics were the leaders then, and Marvel the underdog. But they let Lee experiment, and he realized kids wanted to relate to their heroes.

Thus you get the bickering Fantastic Four, the confused, even self-hating Hulk, and, best of all, the troubled Spider-Man.  These and many other characters put Marvel on top.  But writer and editor Lee did more than that.  He also wrote stuff like Bullpen Bulletins, a slangy, down-to-earth feature which directly addressed the reader, and made them feel they were part of Marvel (and Marvel was a fun place to be).

By the way, I read Lee's autobiography a couple years ago. If you're curious, here's what I said about it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Down To The Wire

The second season of The Deuce is over. It was okay, but not the kind of show you wait all week for.  At least it's better than David Simon's previous show, Treme.  Neither are the quality I hoped for from the creator of The Wire.

In fact, I started wondering if The Wire was as good as I remembered. So I recently rewatched the first season. Yep, still holds up.  A whole bunch of great characters, portrayed by fine actors, in a compelling story.  It's like a 19th century novel, where numerous characters come together to give you a picture of a society--in this case, Baltimore.  As a former police reporter, Simon knew his stuff.

The first season, you may recall, is about the creation of a special police detail to investigate Avon Barksdale, a major drug dealer who's had a lot of people killed to stay on top.  So a bunch of cops, some from murder, some from narcotics, some talented, some hopeless, get together.

The main cop is homicide detective McNulty, passionate about his job though a screw-up in regular life.  He's played by Dominic West (who, along with a few other cast members, is actually British and so was putting on an accent--I had no idea first time around).  West is fine, but it's a true ensemble, and he doesn't particularly stand out.

A lot of the show is about politics in the police department--most people move up by knowing how to cover themselves, kissing up to the right people and offending as few as possible.  The special detail, in fact, angers McNulty's superiors, who see it as rocking the boat.

Then there's the detail itself, which gives the show its name.  A lot of the show is a procedural, as we see the cops wiretapping phones, cloning beepers, following leads and so on.

We also go into the streets and meet the Barksdale gang, who've got their own stories--the top guys and the street operators.  Plus the crooks trying to steal from them--particularly Omar, played by Michael Kenneth Williams, who may be the most popular character in the show.  Also, there are the addicts, one of whom becomes a major snitch.

Later seasons reach out further, showing the docks where the drugs come in, the political system and how it deals with crime, the educational system that's often just a place to park the kids till they move out onto the streets and the journalists who cover the story.

But you don't need to watch those later seasons to know how good The Wire is.  The first season is enough.  The plot is riveting and the characters vivid. It was fun to meet them all again--Daniels, Stringer Bell, D'Angelo, Bunk, Major Rawls, Kima, Lester, Poot, Wallace, Prez, Herc, Carver, Bodie, Landsman and the rest.  Think I'll watch the rest now.

Monday, November 12, 2018

War Is Over

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  Germany signed an armistice with the Allies.  Sorry I forgot about it--didn't even attend any of the huge rallies and parades commemorating the event.

Remembering the Armistice used to be a big deal.  Now it's Veteran's Day.  I'm not complaining, but it shows you how even the biggest events fade. (Maybe someone should make a new movie about it, like they did with 300--though Spartans holding off Persians is more exciting than signing an agreement, I suppose.)

There had never been anything like the Great War. Its toll, and its effect, was tremendous.  All the people who lived through it wouldn't forget it. Nor would their children.  But their children's children?  And their children's children's children?

Besides, a generation later we were involved in World War II, and that's the sort of thing that puts World War I into perspective.

So have a happy (or solemn) Veteran's Day, and Armistice Day as well.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Marshall Crenshaw turns 65 today, but I don't think he's retired.  He's had a decent career, but never really gotten the success he deserved as one of the best songwriters and performers around.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Phoning It In

On this day in 1951, the first call ever in North America was made using an area code. I have this on not hopelessly bad authority, though the link (to another site) suggests otherwise. The call, by the way, was between the mayors of Englewood, New Jersey and Alameda, California.

So many things about phones we take for granted.  But there were so many steps along the way, most of them not obvious.  Sure, someone came up with this great invention where people can speak to each other across great distances. But how do they contact the other? Do they lift up the mouthpiece and talk direct to a central authority who'll plug your call into the right slot?  And how does the other party know there's a call--does a light turn on, do you just pick up your receiver randomly, or at a preset time?

Dialing numbers was a great innovation (as was adding a ring to let you know there's a call).  And then, when more and more people had phones, they needed to add more numbers to specify the location.

I've heard stories that the earliest area code plans gave the lowest numbers to the most populated areas, because with a rotary phone, the higher the numbers, the longer it takes to call.  This makes sense on the surface, even though I haven't been able to verify it. (Just as I haven't been able to verify the anniversary I'm claiming for today at the top of the post.) For instance, look at the area codes of four places I've lived (or lived right next to):  New York is 212, Detroit is 313, Chicago is 312 and Los Angeles is 213.  So I've decided to believe it.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Not What The Doctor Ordered

I recently saw Love & Other Drugs on TV. Well, not all of it, but enough.  I remember seeing it when it came out in theatres in 2010.

It's about a drug rep for Pfizer who has a relationship with a patient with early-onset Parkinson's.  It's a fun, lively cast--starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway and featuring Oliver Platt, Josh Gad, Hank Azaria, Judy Greer and George Segal, among others.  But there's an obvious problem.

The film almost starts as a frolic.  The life of a drug rep, even before Viagra changes the game, is fairly new to the screen, and amusing.  And the first half of the film is essentially plays as romantic comedy.

But then Hathaway starts to suffer more and more.  Okay, we were warned--she's got a degenerative disease, after all.  But the tone changes so much that it feels like it's not what we bargained for.

And I think the studio knew this was a problem. I just checked out the original trailer and it's what I expected.  There's no indication of the misery Hathaway will go through--it's sold as straight romantic comedy.  They knew where their bread was buttered. (And yet I wouldn't be surprised if it was the suffering that convinced a lot of people to make the film.)

Thursday, November 08, 2018

It's Going To Be A Bumpy Book

Happy birthday, Parker Posey.  Today she hits the big 50 (a tricky birthday for anyone, but especially if you're in show biz).

I've always liked Parker Posey, so I checked out her memoir You're On An Airplane.  It was fine--some decent stories about her life and her films.  I don't have too much to say about it. (Though she spends a lot of time talking about her work on Irrational Man (2015), not one of her better films--I guess it's because she was excited to work with Woody Allen.)

But that framing device.  I assume it was her idea, perhaps done against the advice of her publisher.  The concept, implied by the title, is you're on an airplane and Parker Posey is sitting next to you, making conversation, telling stories.

It's a weird conceit.  For the most part, it doesn't get in the way--she tells her stories as she might have told them in any other memoir.  But it sure doesn't add anything. If anything, it's a distraction. (As are the eccentric illustrations and photographs found amongst the pages).

Her book, her process, I guess.  But even if she feels she's idiosyncratic so needs an idiosyncratic book, just doing it in a straightforward manner--and letting the stories show how different she is--probably would have been better.

And while we're at it, how come memoirs these days so rarely have an index?

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

It's Just A Big Popularity Contest

So how did you like that for an election night?  It sure was something.  In a way, you could see it coming.  But in another way, it was quite a surprise.

But it's really part of a larger pattern.  Sure, a lot of people figured it wouldn't work out the way it did, but if they were just aware of...

Who am I kidding?  I wrote this post a week ago, because I'm on vacation today.  I have no idea what happened--usually the people leading in the polls win, though there are enough surprises to keep things exciting.

The only thing I know for sure is each election, partisans on both sides warn us this is one of the most crucial elections of our lifetime. (That's for midterm elections--presidential elections are always the most important of our lifetime.) Then it's over, and on to the next crucial election.

Only two years to go. Maybe I'll be home for that one.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018


Today is election day.  So vote.  Or don't vote.  Up to you.  The right to vote should include the right not to.

How about this?  Find someone who's your polar opposite, and both of you agree to stay home.  Better, hang out together, making sure neither of you votes.

Everybody gets one vote.  I guess that's fair. (It's not the only way to go, as anyone familiar with shareholder meetings knows.)  And you're not allowed to sell your vote--though you are allowed to vote for someone who's promising you stuff.

I wonder what would happen if it were legal to sell votes.  What sort of government would we get? (A lot of people have quick answers, but I don't think it's that easy.)

More important, how much could I sell my vote for? Presumably, not much.  Vote buyers don't want to throw away their money, and have limited budgets.  As John F. Kennedy once joked, his father told him don't buy a single vote more than is necessary.

So anyway, win or lose, enjoy election day.  It's certainly better than the alternatives.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Cinco De November

It's Guy Fawkes Day.  To most Americans, this means nothing.  And, as an American, I have no idea how big a deal it is in England.

It comes from the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an attempt to assassinate James I.  This Fawkes guy apparently was in charge of the explosives placed underneath the House of Lords.  He was caught, tortured, tried and executed. England started celebrating the day with fireworks and bonfires.

The plot was by Catholics against a Protestant, and for some time the holiday had an anti-Catholic cast.  I assume that attitude is long gone.  But I wonder what people in the UK think of the holiday.  Are they happy James was saved, or do they not care?  Or do they now think maybe we need a little more anarchy in our lives.

Which brings us to the resurgence of Fawkes.  Thanks to the comic V For Vendetta, and the movie that followed, the Guy Fawkes mask has become a symbol for anarchists and other who fight against the authoritarian state.  Sort of an ironic win for the original plotters.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Cheap Line

Fifty-five years ago today, the Beatles played the Royal Variety Performance.  It'd had been a swift rise to the top.  A year before, they had only just recorded their first single, and now here they were, dominating the British charts.  In a few months, they'd conquer America.

But the performance is best remembered for one thing--John Lennon's quip:

For our last number, I'd like to ask your help.  Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands?  And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry?

He'd threatened to say it in a much nastier way, but the Beatles in 1963 wouldn't have done that, not even John.  You can see he knows he's being cheeky, and the audience loves it.

The Beatles were different in that they generally said what they wanted to, and didn't have managers that controlled them that way.  It was refreshing, though sometimes got them in trouble.

You may be thinking of John's statement about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus, but I'm not even referring to that.  That was from an old interview that hadn't caused much of a stir until it was reprinted and played up in America.  On the other hand, Paul was the first to admit he took LSD (though I believe John and George were more enthusiastic about it) and that was a big deal immediately.

When The Beatles got their M.B.E.s (making them members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1965, it was a big deal, and somewhat controversial.  They wouldn't have imagined then being flippant or dismissive about it.  But by 1969, they were so big, or maybe so jaded, the John returned his with a note to the queen:

I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts.

At this point, John was doing a lot of bizarre political stunts, though I have to admit, this one's pretty funny.

I wonder how the rest of the band felt about John.  Not that they could have done anything--he started the band, after all.  I wonder if they ever get tired of him going on like that?  I doubt it had much to do with them breaking up--that was probably going to happen sooner or later anyway.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

PO Box

I was looking through Patton Oswalt's Silver Screen Fiend.  It's about the comedian's life in Los  Angels in the 90s.

The book is about various issues in his life, and is worth reading, but the main thing is his addiction to cinema.  He caught films, mostly old ones, all over town on a regular basis.  He even includes an appendix listing everything he saw, from mid-1995 to mid-1999, and where he saw it.  His home base was the New Beverly Cinema (which I posted about two days ago).

I was living in Los Angeles during this period, and not far from the New Beverly.  In fact, I was a regular customer (though nowhere near as regular as Oswalt).  Some of the showings he lists I'm pretty sure I attended.

But I don't remember him. Of course, I didn't know him then--at least not well enough to recognize him, though he was gaining a reputation as a comedian at that point. Too bad.  Sounds like it would have been easy to get to know him.  But then, I'm not the kind of guy to go introduce myself to a fellow film fan. I just sit quietly in the dark, eating my popcorn.

Friday, November 02, 2018

That's All Folks

I was watching an old movie on TCM--which is all they show, after all--and something struck me as weird.  At the end of the film, the words "THE END" appeared.

Okay, not weird in that countless films end that way, but weird in that anyone ever found it necessary. I mean, it's pretty clear the movie is over.  The projector has run out of film.  The house lights go up (unless it's a double feature).

Who started this tradition?  Did it exist before films?  In a play, you just lower the curtain. And I'm not sure how common it is in books.  But maybe a storyteller would tell you that's the end, you can go back to whatever it is you were doing.

The earliest film were short--under a minute--and had no credits. Eventually, they started telling stories.  At some point, someone had to come up with the idea of putting "THE END" on screen.  But who did it?  When?  Why? Did they fear the audience wouldn't know it was over otherwise?

And have they stopped doing it?  I don't think you see "THE END" up there much any more.  If you did it would seem old-fashioned.  Now you maybe have a fade to black, followed by endless credits.  (You didn't always have credits at the end decades ago, and if you did, it was usually just a quick list of the actors).

Let me end this was something a bit off topic.  I once went to a Halloween performance of Dracula at a really cheap theatre. So cheap they didn't even have curtains.  In the final scene, someone drives a stake through Dracula's heart.  The show is over.  But because the there was no curtain to close, the audience just sat there, looking at a dead guy in his coffin.  Finally he sat up and said, in an accent, "The play is over, I stake my life on it."

I bet he planned that.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

NB On The NB

The New Beverly 's marquee suggests there'll be a reopening in December.  The place--the best cinema in town that shows old movies--has been closed for refurbishing all year.

It's been around as a repertory theatre since well before I moved to Los Angeles.  In 2007, Sherman Torgan, who ran the place, died.  It looked like the space would become a Supercuts, then Quentin Tarantino bought it.

He took an active role in programming a few years ago, insisting only film be used (often titles from his personal collection), no video.  And the place, already a shrine for movie fans, took on a new life.  It's not far from where I live and I became something close to a regular. (I can't say I'm a true regular, since there were audience members I saw every time I visited.)

I might add the New Beverly closed around the same time the Cinefamily, less than a mile away, shut down due to a scandal.  If the Arena Cinelounge hadn't moved to just up my street, I would have had no place nearby to see stuff off the beaten path.

So anyway, good luck to the New Beverly.  It's not a big place, so I can't imagine how they could change it much.  But just going back to showing old movies will be enough.

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