Slade Time

Movies, Books, Radio, Music, and whatever.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Raised Eyebrows

Raised Eyebrows: My Years in Groucho’s House
By Steve Stoliar In the past six months I’ve read two books that are memoirs of working in the homes of celebrity performers. Both of them I found because the writers promoting them on Facebook. The first was Pauline Butcher’s account of working for Frank Zappa, Freak Out: My Life with Frank Zappa. This one has to do with working in the home of Groucho Marx.
 
I have not been very drawn to celebrity, movie star biographies of late. There are many other things I want to read, and, well, how many nights can one spend staring at the stars shining so brightly and remotely far above? I think I’ve done enough of that and, frankly, it seems like something I was more comfortable doing in my youth. 
But these two books, although having to do with stars, and not really about the stars but the reactions of the people around the stars. Raised Eyebrows is much more about Steve Stoliar than it is about Groucho. When Stoliar enters the great stars glow, Groucho is already fading out, running mostly on afterglow. There is also a feeling of having happen on an accident scene where the people who have collided have already done so and it’s all over except for the insurance adjustments, and deciding who is in the wrong through the courts.

When the very young Stoliar enters Groucho’s life, he has only recently had a stroke which pretty much ended the late faze of his performing career. He is not the man he once was, except for that occasional, witty, starry afterglow. I have not read a biography of Groucho and I’m not sure that I would want to now, or one of Zappa for that matter. But this is a highly subjective outsider view by another star gazer who gets very close and sends back the events and feelings of what he experienced by getting so close to the light.

When Stoliar enters, the last of Groucho’s heydays is was not the remote past. 1974 was only 13 year after his weekly TV program You Bet Your Life a sort of quiz show that really was a comedy show with Groucho at it’s witty core. We can all remember the stars of very popular programs from 13 years ago can’t we? I mean if we cared enough to know who they were in the first place. Plus the 1960s were a different time, in a different mass media landscape, and if one had a show on one of the three networks, the only channels available, one was at the very center of the culture, such as it was. Not to mention The Marx Brothers many films.
So Groucho was hardly a remote past, sad, out of touch, Norma Desmond in 1974. He was Groucho “The One the Only” and we all knew him. 

Yet he had such a long career and was born in 1890, and, I hate to break this to you, I hope you are sitting down for this, we all die. Some of us tend to fall apart a little or quite a bit for a short while, or a long while before, at least until some of you buy some gadget from Ray Kurzweil, we eventually die. According to my subjective reading of the subjective book, Groucho had, by some measure, a moderate, and not too horrible four year crash landing. This was mostly due to the strokes. Plus he had the delightful buffer of money.

Stoliar enters the house after leading a campaign for the long delayed re-release of The Marx Brothers’ second feature film which had not been available for over 40 yrs. Through that he ends up working for Groucho, answering his fan mail and dealing with his career long collection of memorabilia.

But there is more trouble ahead than only the health decline issues. There is Erin Fleming who becomes the main conflict of the story due her polar, often abusive personality and her mental issues. Fleming, an actress of little accomplishment 50 years younger than Groucho, entered the elderly star’s life at the very end, the last 6 years or so of his life. Her relational mess with Groucho, combined with the already messy relationships with his three adult children, that Fleming intentionally adds fuel to, makes for a sad, but very interesting, story of the star’s final three years as seen thought the eyes of the young Stoliar.

 We do get some very interesting biographical information that perhaps gives us some clues to why it had to get so messy at the end, with court battles over the conservatorship of the dying star. Groucho was unlucky with women. Both of his wives ended up with major problems with heavy drinking. Did he drive them to drinking, was it just that he had an eye for the type for some reason? The second wife, Kay, the former Mrs. Leo Gorcey, had, according to one of her and Groucho’s daughters in the book, already been a heavy drinker with Gorcey. By the way, Leo Gorcey died of liver failure at the age of 51. 
So we have two alcoholic wives followed by the crazy young thing in his old age. . .
Tough luck, or bad karma, whatever. 

There are lots of stories of the young innocent Stoliar in the house with a steady stream of celebrities, stars of the day whose relationship with Groucho went back to his vaudeville days. There is a lot of fun in the book. Stoliar is a good guy to hang out with and tells it like he sees it. 

A good read that I can recommend no matter your level of fandom of Groucho.
Perhaps a cautionary tale for those elders who have an eye for those 15, 20, or more years younger. 


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Drop City

T. C. Boyle has given us a modern western novel in Drop City.
This is very much a frontier tale. One set just 40 years ago in the somewhat still wild west.
The story evolves around a Northern California hippie commune and the last of the pioneers, trappers, and adventurers in Alaska.

It begins with the communards on inherited property near Santa Rosa California. They are, in a sense, and definitely see themselves as, modern pioneers. They are exploring the outer reaches of communal living, free love and the inter world of the psychedelic experience. They are young and see themselves as special, the hipsters, the chosen, and above all the rules of the straight world. They are going to build a better world. Most of them are still in the process of extended adolescent rebellion form their straight parents and the conventional world in which their parents live. They want to get away from all that, from their families. They have found a new family. It even has an "older cat" in his thirties, Norm, who serves as the "Family's" father figure. Norm is the one with the property, the VW micro-bus and a seemingly unlimited amount of money to keep the thing going. But really, as we look back at them and hippie culture through this novel, we see that they are more of the same, very American, very much filled with the notions of special privilege that effect, and infects much of American life. Hippie culture is taken seriously in the novel. Boyle doesn't directly rant, criticize or make fun of them. He just gives them enough rope to do the job themselves.

Much of the story centers around a love triangle in this "free love " world. Here we see that there is a gap between the ideal notion of free love and the all to human jealousies that undermine the ideal. The triangle involves a couple who traveled across the country together and join the commune; Ronnie (Pan) and Paulette (Star). The third is Marco who is a reader, a little bit brighter than the rest and the most sympathetic character in the book.
The commune also has visitors, new members from the ghetto, a couple of young black men from San Francisco. There is a incident involving the black men in a outer building on the land Drop City. This is the first crisis of the book and Ronnie, though innocent is also implicated. There are unresolved racial tensions. The blacks stay in the periphery, literally the back house, and never really become part of the group, they are apart, quite like the larger society. They are in the commune and at the same time not, but follow along. This could be exactly like the history of black in the larger American culture. A part of it, yet apart.
Things go sour in California and they all head to Alaska with dreams and high hopes. In Alaska they are neighbors of a young homesteading couple. This couple is used by Boyle to show the realities of homesteading in the very unforgiving environment of Alaska. We are also introduced to a long standing rivalry with tragedy waiting to happen. The hippies learn the power of the reality of the harsh unforgiving natural world in Alaska.

This is a fine novel. The set and tone of the hippy characters is very correct. They are just right. The dramas are interesting and though one can see the tragic ending, winter in the 60 below zero coming, it is a fun enthralling ride. The novel is sort of Into the Wild and Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test rolled into one. It also shows us the downside of America idealism and the lack of wisdom of youth.
I strongly recommend Drop City. A very enjoyable ,thought provoking and entertaining read. T C Boyle has a very smooth prose style, that just carries the reader along like a canoe trip downstream on the river.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On Quitting and Joaquin Phoenix

Just try, just dare, to walk away, walk out, retire from the top, leave the mainstream.
You will be a target for ridicule, a joke to a clown who is happy enough to walk out on stage and do the same thing night after night, year after year decade after decade.
Letterman is looking for nothing but someone else to make fun of, Same old same old.
Phoenix is showing up, he is doing his promo job. I don't see anything wrong with his behavior. I just see a rude, smarmy host.


It appears Joaquin Phoenix has his reasons and they are quite understandable.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Positive Mind

Host Armand DiMele presents a program of psychological discussion Tuesday through Thursday at 1pm on WBAI 99.5 fm in New York.

Today's show featured Dr. Michael Bader talking about his book "Male Sexuality: Why Women Don't Understand It--And Men Don't Either ".

This is all about what goes on in the mind, with the emotions, and how these things effect relationship and sexuality.

They talk about such issues as why some men are attracted to large breasts and what is the meaning of certain fantasies. Also the use and possible abuse of pornography and its meaning.

It is stated that men simply can not feel emotionally certain things that women do. Boys and girls are different.

It gets more interesting late in the program when they discuss what happens and the pitfalls that are involved with trying to please the other person, the partner. Is it better to not try to please at all. Why do some men use prostitutes? How is attraction negatively effected by familiarity? By responsibility and duty?

The Positive Mind is a good show. This is an outstanding episode 01-27-2009.

Monday, January 26, 2009

the greatest depression

I saw this fine image on First Street in Manhattan today. It's between 1st & 2nd Aves.
I don't know who made it. It's on a plywood wall covering a building that is being renovated.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Prayer for Owen Meany

I try to be positive, really, I do. I don't like to complain about things I don't find interesting, that don't move me. I usually just ignore them and hope for something more interesting coming next. But this one is such a big long production that I thought I would say something about it.

I listened to the first two parts of the BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play "A Prayer for Owen Meany" and I think I'm just going to have to bail out here after an hour and a half, not take in the other 2hrs. 15mins.

The thing is, if the production can't grab or at least somewhat engage my interest in the first hour and a half I figure all is pretty much lost and the show is not for me. Maybe it is for someone else, it's a nice production and all aside from the voice of the title character, but after all that time I don't care about any of the people in the play and anything they are doing. And that voice! It is a little like the kid named Froggy in the really bad Our Gang Comedies, the ones in the 40s after Hal Roach sold the series to MGM and Spanky was too old. Owen sounds just like that kid, well almost, or at least it is an annoying and poorly imagined voice which could have somehow been much better not that this alone makes or brakes the show. And Toby Jones is a good actor.

So it anyone thinks it gets really great later on and I should listen to it, well, I probably still won't but I would love to hear your opinion anyway

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hella Fabulous

And now for something completely different.
There is an internet radio station located in a glass booth in a street level storefront on 1st Ave in Manhattan's East Village. The space is part of a restaurant called Lil' Frankie's.
As a pubic service the restaurant supports the internet radio called East Village Radio.
East Village Radio is a freewheeling affair. The day is broken up into two hour slots that are programmed by the DJ hosts. Of course this means that the programming is delightfully various. It's properly listed under "Eclectic" in the "Radio" section of iTunes.

On Wednesday morning from 8 to 10 New York time East Village Radio features
Hella Fabulous. This show involves mostly conversation between two young women, Hella & Ruth.

It's a little hard to discern the appeal of these two. A lot of time involves talking dirty as one can only do on internet radio. But the thing is it is all mostly about trying to figure out how the language works in these usually forbidden zones. It is often a lexical comedy show. On the most recent show they try to figure out what is a good term to use for female masturbation. There are more male euphuisms or slang terms, but not that many for female. Why is that?
This is the sort of burning issue Hella & Ruth tackle at 8 in the morning. They are also very cheerful, intelligent, and charming. And it is not a dirty show.
It has an entirely different feel from the typical shock jock commercial Howard Sternish type of product. Where that type of show often feels dirty-little-boy repressed, misogynistic and leering, Hella & Ruth are fun, interesting, and free.

It's not all talking dirty. Sometimes there are phone calls, discussion of issues of the day, sometimes a guest will drop by.
So all this is kind of indiscribable, unique. Give Hella Fabulous a listen. They are quite entertaining.
Oh yeah, I looked at the Youtube video of Steve Around-the-Corner. They were talking about it on the show, he's a caller or something. It's pretty good. Here it is:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter Concert

Well, it's going to be a little warmer in DC on Sunday with a high of 36 degrees. What a perfect day for a lovely outdoor music concert. It's like the middle of winter and a little bit cold for this sort of thing isn't it?
Not too cold for these arctic acts, Springsteen, Beyonce, Blige, U2. etc.
But these hambone stars, I guess they are accustomed to seeing the enthusiastic hordes out there cheering them on in all types of weather, rain, or shine, the show must go on and so why not the freezing cold? No doubt the stage will be heated in some way.
I guess no one is forcing the expected 500,000 to show up for this spectacle. People are funny, silly, and foolish. And we will never go broke underestimating their intelligence, or taste.
But this cold be a great new thing like Woodstock. After Woodstock people thought it was fun to be treated like cattle in a mass of fans unable to see the talent miles away. And it has been that way ever since (except now that they search everything it's a lot less fun since you can no longer bring your own entertainment, which you could in the old days).
And there is a lot more money to be made at one mass concert then at some tiny old-fashioned venue that only holds two or three thousand. Just pack 100 thousand into a football stadium.
So after this, maybe we can have big expensive mass outdoor shows in the dead of winter. The stars can have the heated stage and we can all jump up and down a lot to keep warm after the rent-a-cops at the gate have taken away our thermos of hot chocolate and our hot water bottles. What fun!

Excerpt from a Dog's Ear

This is an entertaining and emotionally fulfilling story of a man who finds himself in the past where he encounters himself at age nine.

It's not an altogether original concept. It brings to mind the old Twilight Zone, episode "Walking Distance" which also had it's origins in a Gore Vidal short story "A Moment of Green Laurel".
But none of that matters because the playwright here, Kavyasiddhi takes the whole thing a couple steps further which makes it a very satisfying piece.

This is a fairly stripped down production with it's beach setting and two principle actors. Both Michael Begley as Dan and Aidan Parsons as the boy Danny are effective in their roles.

Some of the scenes are particularly nice. There is a scene where Dan is remembering losing his ball into the waves while it is in fact happening. That scene is most excellent. Then there is Dan describing to Danny an issue with his girlfriend and the window they broke together which cleverly describes the thorny issue the adult is facing while avoiding sullying the child.

The time travel issues are nicely handled too. Danny asks Dan if he is a Time Lord. and is in awe of the mobile phone.

It's a beautiful heartfelt poetic little play that delivers beyond expectation.

It is available on BBC Radio 4 The Afternoon Play page through next Monday January 19, 2009. Click on the Tuesday button.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Development

Here is one that I've been wanting to comment on.
It played on BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play some time ago, last year, it might have even been in November. It made quite an impression. I've listened to it about four times.

Development by Doug Lucie offers a scary comedy drama that accurately reflects our lugubrious times. This show is up to the minute. As Lucie says in this interesting interview at Theatre Voice, we have here a play about a "reckoning" that appears to be due, one that Lucie and some of the rest of us have been expecting.

We start out meeting a family in their large McMansion in a development "built" by the company of the man of the house Mike. This could have been recorded on location in such a house. The actors voices sound like they are resonating, reverberating in the large drywall board constructed hollow rooms where the story is set. The hollow sound reflects the empty spirits of the inhabitants. These people are vacuous, vampires, they suck up what is living to sustain themselves in a walking death, in their greedy march to nowhere. But are these cartoon monsters, exaggerated, too broadly drawn to be at all real? No. They are all too familiar figures that can be found in any Development, or any new suburb with it's too large "homes", anywhere in the "West" and in other parts of the world following this model for all I know. They are the inhabitants of the marketplace, they are consumers. They identify themselves through what they consume. They fill their emptiness through consumption. They and disconnected to one another.
Zoe, the mother, has been consuming fad spirituality but has finally returned to the faith of her fathers
There is a gap between the parents and the two children. The boy, Joe, is a slacker, a lay-about consuming marijuana and pornography. His father Mike apparently hasn't even been to his son's room. He has to be told about the hardcore pinups on the walls. They live in the same house and he hasn't been to his son's room. Mike tries to communicate with Joe, but is ridiculed because he doesn't know the latest slang for "cool". Mike is somewhat ashamed at not being with it. Joe doesn't want to use the same words of his father. He wants to be current and youthful, using the secret language of his consumer sub-group to express his individuality. He doesn't want to be associated with his parents generation, with the things they consume. He wants his own. The mass media culture encourages this divide and sell. If all members of a family go for the same products, there is less to be sold, They can share what they have. More products can be sold if they all are in their our niche markets. His father expresses some exasperation at Joe's laziness, and acknowledges that he is partly responsible for making him as he is. Why would Joe be motivated to make something of himself if he has had everything handed to him? How could he find the motivation to strive for the things that are already there? And his purchasing choices are anti-motivational. The marijuana encourages dreaming, the pornography, and eye-balling the help provides sexual fulfillment and release. What else is there to a young dude to strive for?

Mike is the classic self-made man. He is the one who schemed, worked hard, put the deals together, hired the workers, and fought the Green types in his way to build the developments that have made him rich. He has made it up from less into more. He believes in business, privatization, less government regulation and influence. He is the one of these rebels, the rugged individualists, who made hay riding on the dominate economic notions of the last part of the 20 Century. The man of our time.

In the opening moments of the play we hear Zoe berating Tatyana, the help, the housekeeper. Tatyana can't seen to get it through her thick foreign scull that she needs to make the coffee before she does the hoovering. And yes Zoe, we understand your pain. It is so difficult to find competent help these days. We soon find that Tatyana is more than the family saw her to be as her wealthy brother shows up.
We hear the family's attitude shift instantly as the brother Leo shows up in a flashy, expensive automobile. They smell money and the seduction begins. Mike needs it since his once thriving business in now bankrupt, he desperately needs an injection of cash to keep it all afloat. But the credit has all dried up. He befriends his maid's brother after he sees the flashy car and soon looks to him as the only savior of his lifestyle.

It's all too real and right out of the headlines. In the end there is an abrupt shift of the social order for the characters in this show. The first one now will later be last, in a global machine whose wheels and cogs keep turning. And we can see the winners at the end falling prey to the very same forces of decay that destroyed the original family. We are given a clue of that early on when the brother with the flashy car explains why his sister was working as a maid. Leo says that she is a lazy girl who needs to learn about work. Well, she does learn about work and learns that she doesn't care for it and will go the same way into pleasure, dominance, and consumption, the rewards of an empty marketplace culture.

It is fun to listen in on all this and sometimes laugh at and look down on these silly and shallow people. Yet there is much of them in many of us other consumers, and if not that, there is the fact that the actions of this sort of person in this sort of culture effects us all unless we have found a way to live off the grid.
How does one get off the grid?

This is a really great production, writing, acting, all. One of the best of last year. It would be good if they run it again on BBC Radio 4 soon. People should hear this one.
More Doug Lucie please. He knows how to tell the truth in an entertaining way.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Wrestler

There might be some spoiling here:

I attended the film with my friend New York underground film actor Renia.
I enjoyed the movie. It is a bit of a lurid melodrama. I kind of go for that downbeat sort of thing.
Renia and I were talking about it this morning. She didn't like that he couldn't be a deli guy at least for awhile and wondered, "What was wrong with being a deli guy? Nothing wrong with that."
I suggested he was a "Death or Glory" sort of boy. And that the movie wasn't saying "Death or Glory" was good necessarily, but in fact yet again presenting that type as the anti-hero, which ultimately makes it a pretty conventional type of movie for the culture we are living in. The message is, rather often, if you can't be something big, big success, a star, well you might as well be dead. And of course one out of a million or less actually is a star, so it becomes a pretty negative message, doesn't it?
He did have a hint of real connection with people, with the stripper and his daughter, but that was too complicated, too hard. Actually be messes up the connection with his daughter while indulging in the cheep rewards of being The Ram when he goes off and parties with the floozy who has a fireman fetish.
Perhaps our intimate connections, or families, friends, should be our buffer, our shelter from the marketplace which is only too happy to grind us up and turn us into a buck. If one doesn't have that, the type of family that will protect rather than push one further into the mill, you are left with naked vulnerability like The Ram was in that last speech. something like, "You people out there will tell me when it's time to quit." Well, the crowd, the mass will always want more. If they see you on the ledge or the top rope, they will shout "JUMP!"

Saturday, January 3, 2009

WNYC is brought to you by. . .

There is a woman, well, I assume it is a woman, it also could be talking software, a machine that speaks what is typed into it. This female gender sounding voice can be heard repeated throughout the day on WNYC, the big public radio station here in NYC. If she is an actual person she must come in one day and spend the whole day reading endorsements announcements, public radio commercials that come before what appears to be each and every program. they even play them during the breaks at 20 and 40 each hour. If this is an actual woman, it's a good gig there are a lot of these, and it probably pays well, a nice union gig. If she is software, she is already paid for, is a slave and works for nothing. Maybe an intern has the job of typing in, entering, what she needs to say.

The thing is she sounds like she always has a cold, like she is suffering from nasal congestion, is all stuffed up. I want to give her a tissue, or a good shot of 12 Hour Nasal Spray so I can relax and stop worrying if this poor woman will continue to get enough air to sustain life. This leads me to believe that she must be software and maybe that the person who played the voice of the software and recorded the actual vowel sounds that make up the synthetic words, had an awful cold on the day she did the recordings. It is also possible that she is in fact a real woman and that she hates what she has to do so much, reading commercials on Public Radio, that she thinks it stinks and is commenting on that by always holding her nose while speaking the lines and therefore producing the stuffed up sound. Her voice also sounds kind of wet, moist. I guess it is the sound that WNYC and it's sponsors love for she is ubiquitous. If you listen to WNYC you know her well.

What do you think? Help me out here. I need to know. Person or machine?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Dream

I am in a class of some sort in a school. The teacher wants someone to read aloud a piece in a book he has. I get picked or volunteer. I approach the assignment with a spirit of optimism. The teacher wants us to learn to really express from the heart the feelings buried beneath the symbols of the text. I think of myself as sort of an actor, so I can surely do this. I am given the book and see that it is a sort of pictogram text, that it does not contain any words based on the alphabet. Actually it is a series of small berries of a variety that I don't really know. Is this one a blue berry? The berries have been pasted on the page in rows just as text normally would. What does it mean? I have no idea and the emotion of panic overcomes me as the class and teacher await my reading. I accidentally drop the book and find that the situation is even worse when I pick it up. The objects have come unglued from the page. They are now in different positions, or lost.
I wake up.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Three Large Beers

A radio play by David Nobbs
The Afternoon Play BBC Radio 4

If I were to introduce someone to their first radio comedy play Three Large Beers would be an excellent point of entry. First radio comedy play? Yes, well, here in the good ole USA we don't do such things. But praise be to the gods of 21st Century technology who control all the satellites, fiber optics or whatever is involved, for now we have the gift of the internet and the delight of North American, and global access to The Afternoon Play . This is an anthology series of plays 45 minutes in length. Some days these 45 Minutes are longer than others. Today April 10, 2007 the 45 minutes feels more like 10 minutes. The comedy Three Large Beers is a tasty slightly dark rich brew that is full bodied with a thick handsome frothy head. We take a sip and feel amused, somewhat lightheaded, after a nice swig we begin to giggle, half way through we are fully engaged and can't help but laugh out loud. By the end we are tapping our glass on the table top and begging David Nobbs, "I'll have another please"

This is about as good as I have heard. It features solid performances by Tim McInnnerny, James Fleet, Jeremy Swift, and Kulvinder Ghir under the direction of Turan Ali.
But really the man of the hour, of the 45 minutes, is a young fellow named David Nobbs. With Three Large Beers he serves up his very first original radio play. But there are novels and television work going back, back, back, to almost the mid 20th Century. Check out the young fellow's brand new site: David Nobbs is a master craftsman artist.
"Please sir. I want some more."

Three Large Beers will be available via all the satellites, fiber optics, telephone lines, wifi, what have you, but only through April 16, 2007. At The Afternoon Play web page.
Just scroll down and hit Tuesday. Don't miss it!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Hellzapoppin'

Directed by H.C. Potter
1941, 84 minutes, 16mm, b&w. With Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Mischa Auer, Shemp Howard, and Elisha Cook Jr.

Any resemblance in the following to an actual movie review is purely coincidental.

The same sort of line as the above is what we see on screen at the beginning of Hellzapoppin' except it says "motion picture" rather than "movie review".
But don't believe it. Well, you can believe it with regard to this typed text (I'm not a REAL MOVIE REVIEWER. I just play at being one on the internet.), but don't believe it with regard to the movie. IT IS A LIE!
In actual fact this is more like a motion picture than most movies one is likely to see which are more like photographed plays, well, now maybe puppet shows, or animated cartoons. Hellzapoppin' is more like an actual motion picture than most others. It takes great joy in playing with the technology of filmmaking. It's takes us into the land of cine-surrealism, at least for some of the time.

Who it to blame? Who is to honor? Who do we shoot, shun, or shout the praises of, for, at? Well, who wrote the thing, came up with the idea and did they ever do anything like that before or after? Olson and Johnson and very good, charming, funny, and we know that this is from a long running Broadway show of the same name. So we can definitely honor them, or rather laugh at them which is the best way to honor these guys. There were a lot of people laughing at them in the packed downstairs theatre at Anthology Film Archives last night. We should all be so lucky to be laughed at 66 years from now, or 666 years which takes us backed to the opening of the movie where Olson and Johnson arrive in hell in a NYC taxi cab and one of them says that it was the first cabby who took them exactly where they told him to go. But then hell turns into to movie studio which is probably not a coincidence. Anyway we soon see these two being forced to have, like, a plot to their movie and a love story because all movies need a plot and a love story, but that's alright in this case since it's barely a plot or a love story but an excuse for more silly and clever one-liners and sight gags.
The stuff that goes on is not unrelated to the more chaotic Marx Brothers movies which brings me to Nat Perrin who wrote the play and the movie and was a very good friend of Groucho Marx. He also wrote some of the Marx Brothers stuff. So there, we can blame Olson and Johnson and Nat Perrin for the delightful madness that is Hellzapoppin'.
Not to forget Martha Raye, or maybe I should say "The great Martha Raye." Alright I will. The great Martha Raye. She is in the movie too. And, I swear that this is true. True that she is in the movie and that she was great. I saw her perform LIVE in the late 1970s in a traveling show of mostly singers called "4 Girls 4", She was hardly a "girl" then but neither were the others, but I have never seen a funnier person perform live. I have never seen such a pro and she did very funny physical sight comedy things I was quite amazed and have been a huge fan since. Watch her steal scenes from Charlie Chaplin in his great dark comedy talkie Monsieur Verdoux.

So Hellzapoppin' is available in bootleg form somewhere. It's a great movie. Let's hope it is preserved and not left to rot too soon.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

LOS MUERTOS

A movie directed by Isandro Alonso
2004, 82 minutes, 35mm. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Viewed at Anthology Film Archives New York.

A few thoughts from the experience of the movie:

Take a trip from prison. Leave the bars behind, leave the work in the prison factory behind. Head home.
The prison was rural, but a dense human habitat of activity compared to the destination. Sick of having to talk, to respond, get up when told, eat what is provided , work on command. It could have been worse, it was rather civil really, but too much so. But that was punishment enough. Not a man for civil, never was, not made to be so, just went through the motions. There was no choice in the matter. Back through time, back to what was before. These is less need for conversation now. There are few people met along the way, just a couple of simple transactions. A ride in a car, a ride on a woman, some bread, some candy for someone left behind long ago. How old is she now? Don't know what size she would wear?

No need to talk now.

There is a boat from the boat man. He says something about the brothers. What does he no. No need for discussion, gone.
Float, rowing, floating, back in the natural elements where all is provided for one who knows were to look and how a man lives. If a man knows how to borrow from the bees. They can make more. There are plenty of insects out here, all is provided for a human in his element. Room, time to breath. No rush, no clock, just to sun tracking across the sky. No time finally. It is easy to forget time. It's like the place before never existed. It had no effect. It was nothing, all crumbling anyway.
This is everything.

A boy. Tie it here. Walk over the hill.

A small child, the barest of shelters. No need for more out here, no possibility for more. We are not that kind. The fishing is good. As good as it always was. No music, but birds and the buzzing. Reaching to swat them away from the bare back.
Back.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

You Don't Love Me Yet

A novel by Jonathan Lethem

There is something admirable in the creative marketing of the new Jonathan Lethem novel. He has used the power and access he has earned form his previous successful works to do a multi-month rollout of the product and the ideas within it.

First, in January or February, came the essay in Harper's The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism. Then came the novel You Don't Love Me Yetand The Promiscuous Materials Project on his web site. It is not unusual for an major novelist to have an excerpt of the upcoming novel published in a periodical in the months prior to the publication of the new work, but Lethem, prolific, hard-working, and full of ideas, transforms to age-old process in a way that while no doubt satisfying his publisher by getting the word out, also enormously expands on the process and makes it all work beautifully for the marketing people, himself, and most importantly his readers. It was so well done that the reader of the wonderfully entertaining, playful, and important Harper's essay would not at all know that the novel to follow was really part of the same piece, the fictional companion that illuminates ideas in a equally entertaining, playful and somewhat more subtle way.

The essay is indeed a plagiarism in that it is mostly made up of the work and words of others, sometimes recomposed, sometimes verbatim. It is a participation in the argument about the creation and ownership of art and ideas. An examination of where art and ideas come from. An argument against the capitalist-individualistic and corporate ownership cult that infects American and global mass market culture. This notion of individual and corporate ownership continues to gain political power with big media lobbying to extend the copyright ownership period in a way that locks down intellectual property far beyond the life span of the producer of the art work in the service of corporate ownership profits. This also raises corporate logos, trademarks, and their other properties to religious iconic untouchables . The form of the article, sampling of the writing of others in a way that produces a new and original work, makes it a brilliant showcase of the ideas therein. The artist does not just tell us, he shows us. The form, cleverly chosen and masterfully executed, becomes the thing itself. The thing celebrated in some circles and loathed in others.

The creative product does not only come from isolation, the brilliant artist emerging from his desert or garret with the new original work, but rather emerges from the organic interactive flow of human life. The product is clearly that of the artist, his creation, but also the creation of us all. He has a right to his due, in money or some other acknowledgment , but why is some corporate entity then permitted to buy it and lock it down forever? The new corporate owners didn't make it, they just bought it. And bought the power of The State to help them protect it, or rather imprison it from the natural flow of life. They try to make it a dead thing and charge admission to gawk at the corpse.
In The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism Lethem comes down on the side of life.

In a recent reading in New York, Lethem stated that he was a communist. And although we know he doesn't really mean of a Communist of the 19th & 20th Century Marxist-Leninist variety we see that he is in solidarity with the post WWW generation Open Source political-creative aesthetic. This is apparent as he offers stories and song lyrics on his web site The Promiscuous Materials Project . The material is offered to anyone for a dollar or for free so that art can be made from art. It brings to mind the work of Douglas Rushkoff among many others.

The novel You Don't Love Me Yet is a pleasingly multi-leveled work. It can be viewed as a simple novel, a story of the hopes of a somewhat hopeless LA indie art-rock band living somewhere in the 1990s. We begin with a scene of Lucinda, the bass player and Matthew, the singer breaking up. They are ending their romantic sexual relationship but pledging to preserve what they consider worth saving, the band. But this band is clearly floundering. They have a few songs but seem to be blocked from making anymore. They have never had a gig and they are not even creative enough to come up with a name. They have a desire to be a band, but not really much to say. Out of left field comes a creative energy that becomes theirs. The creative energy of the band members, coming to the end of their 20s, is directly related to sexual energy. In line with The Promiscuous Materials Project the band and their circle are sexually promiscuous. This is all a part of the life force of creativity. Perhaps that is the power of the corporate lock down of artistic materials. The corporate owners exploit the unnatural patriarchal legalistic element of human society that is afraid of what would come if people were free to associate in a more open, sexy manner. If you can control the sexuality, you can control the product of that interaction. If you can control that product you can control its function. The sexual repression becomes the repression of free artistic interaction.

Yet the somewhat mysterious and older entity that brings some creativity to the band attempts for the moment to be it part of the band, to own and control the band. But this is not the proper role, this is forcing the issue in an unnatural way, but in a way that is quite familiar if one goes by the ownership model. The random creative entity after joining the band becomes the three hundred pound gorilla in the room. He is out of place and destructive. The novel shows that the natural open source way is the best way, the only way really. The other way feels forced, constricting and in the end aesthetically just wrong.

The novel opens out to perhaps it's only exterior scene in the end. The natural world for the first time enters the story. It's as if in the course of the story there has been an evolution of consciousness. The characters have matured, they are noticing that there is a world outside of themselves and they might be connected to it. It might act upon them as they attempt to act upon it.

You Don't Love Me Yet is a fun somewhat wacky page turner, but it is also an illustration of an idea. Jonathan Lethem is still a rather young novelist. As Joni Mitchell said in a recent BBC 2 radio interview. An artist does not really come into his own until his 50s or 60s.
With the foundation of this work we see that we have a lot to look forward to in the future from Jonathan Lethem. He is open to the flow of life. He knows that it is not just about him, but about is all, our connections with one another and our life on the planet, the planet that we are only a part of, and which is us.
-------
April 18, 2007

My band Tickled to Death has recorded one of Jonathan Lethem's lyrics Vaster Than Charlotte. Hear it: Tickled to Death

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Homecoming

Drama on 3, BBC Radio
3

This new production of Harold Pinter's 1965 play features Pinter in the role of the old man of the family, Max. This is quite a family of men. These are not at all nice people who we spend this hour and a half with. As a matter of fact these are awful people who engage in a sort of verbal slapstick in this dark comedy. One might not want to actually wander into such a house, yet their jabs at one another provides some fast paced entertainment. There is never a dull moment.

The exuberance with which Pinter's tackles the role makes one think that he has been waiting all these years to play Max. He is dreadfully marvelous. Well, they all are. This is a great production of a great demented and somewhat courageous play. This is the sort of thing that earned Pinter the Nobel. This is the artist taking things beyond the edges of reason.

The play presents more questions than it answers and this is a very good thing. One question is. "What the hell is up with Ruth, and why does she agree with this scheme?" It would be interesting to get the opinion of a woman who has heard the play. The people in the play are unkind to women, or at least they speak about some horrible criminal activity toward women. And yet Ruth is not frightened off. Is she a masochist?

In childhood it was a lot of fun to be spun around enough to upset the fluids in the inner ear to cause dizziness, be left stumbling, giggling, and bumping into the furniture in mock drunkenness yet with all senses lucid and alert. This is the effect of a play like this. It's disorienting.

Unfortunately the week portal of BBC WWW 'Listen Again" has expired on this one. so if you missed it, it's gone. Perhaps it will be replayed in the future or released on CD or purchasable download. It would be a good thing if they created a site where downloads of dramas could be bought. Perhaps they are working on such an idea.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth: A movie review

Pan's Labyrinth

This is a beautifully constructed movie. One can see that care was put into every detail of the production, yet it never feels stuff like a story board come to life. The planning that was put into the transitions from shot of shot create a dreamy fluid viewing experience. The camera tracks into a foreground tree in the forest. On the other side of the tree the next shot has unfolded without a bump. This is done in interiors too. There are scenes of the Captain in his chamber shaving. This stationary situation is transformed and performed as a kinetic dance of dolly shots and editing. Yet this dance is not at all showy. It appears as the only way it should have been done. The technique does not distract from the content. There is a lot of this sort of thing in this gorgeously photographed entertainment.
The fine musical score by Javier Navarrete enhances the dance.

There are times in trying to approach fantasy-fairy tale cinema with an open heart as an adult, that I have failed to be properly moved. In cinema all can seem so explicit it leaves no room for imagination to have anything what-so-ever to do but submit to the machine. In those instances I have refused to submit, or been sadly unable to. The story that Guillermo del Toro tells somehow manages to leave room for the imagination. This on top of the well rendered characters and the high risk melodrama of it all drew me in and made it easy for me to drop my cold disbelief.
I viewed it as a fairy tale within a fairy tale. The outer "real world" fairy tale in the guise of a realist war saga, perhaps allows more of an opening to the little girl's imaginary world. The Captain is so boldly drawn as a villain and brut that one wants to go anywhere to escape him. At the compound there is nowhere to run to escape his tyranny. He is the real monster of the piece, but also has an effect of making one wonder if there are other monsters lurking. There is the question that continues throughout the whole movie; It this monstrous creature really my friend, or yet another danger. All this rather vague mystery makes the movie fulfilling. The viewer can imagine what she wants about the proceedings, we are happily not spoon-fed.
This is the type of adult fairy tale movie that Terry Gilliam has attempted in the last two movies and failed. Tideland came off as just sad and a little sleazy, The Brothers Grimm, what I saw of it, as a slanderous mess.

Guillermo del Toro starting with his original script has done the job of creating a fantasy. It's a very fine piece of work.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: a radio play review

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

This is an enjoyable production of the book by Robert Louis Stevenson, dramatised for radio by Yvonne Antrobus.
It is directed by Claire Grove
BBC Radio 4 The Saturday Play Feb 3, 2007
It will be available to Listen Again on The Saturday Play web page through Friday February 9, 2007.

It's funny in New York there is a theme restaurant that the tourists take the kiddies too. It's called Jerkyll & Hyde.
It's not the first time that quite serious, adult, literature having to do with moral and psychological issues has been turned into some form entertainment for children. Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.
In that way I think some depth, art, of these things is stripped away.
Yet in another way they become bigger things. They turn into modern, fairy tales, folk tales and maybe the depth remains and is somehow transferred even in the bare bones of the stories.

Frankenstein: Become god-like and think you can create life. Then weird stuff can happen that you didn't anticipate. You ain't so smart as you might think are you.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Mind and body altering substances can be fun and very interesting. But. . .

I'm going to have to read the novel one day. I was quite fascinated by the play. The concept of attempting it integrate the good and bad side of ones personality is just great.
He drinks the stuff and feels free form his repression, guilt. It's just a great drug abuse melodrama and I'm quite fond of the genre. I recently watched a 1980s cocaine movie with James Woods called The Boost. Same deal.

These things must be big fun to act in. Adam Godley in the lead role gets to really chew the microphone.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Pied Piper: a movie review

The Pied Piper
Directed by JACQUES DEMY
1972, 90 minutes, 35mm. Starring Donovan, Jack Wild, Donald Pleasance, and John Hurt.

This movie was seen in revival at The Anthology Film Archives. They are playing a lovely new 35 mm print so the picture looks very good. There are interesting setting and costumes. The Piper comes into town with a traveling theater family. The Black Death is all around the area but not, so far, in Hamlin.
Donovan as The Piper is not given that much to do. We don't get any big speeches from him, he is not involved in romance, and has no conflict other than the one involving the plot of the familiar fairy tale. And that story is told pretty much as one remembers it. He gets rid of the rats, is cheated, and takes away the children. But all this doesn't take up much time. Most of the action involves other characters and a plot, none of which is fully developed and therefore not all that interesting. There is a very young girl who is getting married off to a greedy rich guy (a very young looking John Hurt), there is the boy she is really interested in who is the son or assistant of the local alchemist. The rich guy wants the alchemist to make fake gold for him, but he is busy trying to find a cure for the plague which he thinks is from the rats. He gets in trouble with the church guys, all in red robes, who say the Jews cause the plague. Then there is some bit about a guy who wants to finish the grand cathedral which we see under construction, but can't get the money to do so.
Anyway, the rats come. There are a lot of them but they are the most cooperative of wild rats. They as quite slow and allowed themselves to be picked up and moved about.
So then the familiar plot kicks in and that's about it.
One very interesting aspect of the movie is the use of sync sound in scenes where Donovan plays original songs. This is a very nice touch. The use of lip sync with singing is the curse of the movies. It's almost always fake looking and therefore defeating of the performance. You see someone trying to move lips at the right time with the prerecorded track, you don't see a living breathing musical artist expressing themselves. In this movie the songs are recorded as they happen, and that is a delight. The choice to do this with Donovan's beautiful songs is the best thing about the movie.
Anyone wanting to investigate the difference that it makes to use sync sound with musical performances should check out some of the old Vitaphone shorts. Many of them are absolutely wonderful.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Daybreak

Daybreak
a radio play by Tom Ray

At the outset this play has a Weird Tale, Twilight Zone feel to it. But there is more to it than just that.
Aint no sunshine when she is gone, or at least that's what appears to be the situation through most of the play.
It is the story of a couple. We hear flashbacks to earlier points in the 14 year marriage. The marriage has failed in light of the death of their only baby at birth. Lisa has left Phil and all is darkness now for the both of them. All is darkness quite literally. The two have one more confrontation as she returns to pick up the wardrobe that she needs.

Daybreak is a very good play. It is not at all a straight forward narrative. It contains symbolic or allegorical elements. This is an art play that does not fail to entertain and enthrall. It is beautifully rendered by Marshall Lancaster as Phil and Loraine Coady as Lisa. Mr. Lancaster's Phil carries the weight of the production and his low key, yet emotional performance is pitch perfect and really serves the material well. Producer/director Kate Chapman mounts a production rich in subtle and effective ambient music that heightens the emotional atmosphere while giving the text room and trusting it to ultimately make the show.

The play by Tom Ray is deeply thought provoking. Is the lack of light the loss of love, or the loss of honesty, the will, desire, and where with all to come out of hiding, face the truth and move on?

A little research on Tom Ray shows that he is a man who has had to face the darkness and crawl out of the closet if he wished to survive. We can be glad that he did and that he has shown us the way of the truth and the light through his work.

Hear Daybreak at the BBC Radio 4 The Afternoon Play web page where it will be available through February 1, 2007 by clicking on the Friday button.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Concert

The Concert

Over the last few weeks the BBC World Service World Drama slot has featured their "Heroes Season". EarStory Review heard three of these. The first was about British men who went to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The second had to do with a courageous priest who faced death in the 1980's land reform movement. There is little doubt of the heroic content of these two plays and the appropriateness in their presentation in something called "Heroes Season".
But last Saturday they presented The Concert by Ulises Rodriguez Febles. I very silly play about a very silly man with a very silly hero. The hero is a rock star, a performer. It wouldn't have caused quite so much offence had it not been presented in the same series as the other two.

What we have here is an aging rocker "man" who steals the recently installed statue of John Lennon from the Havana bench on which it sits. He takes the thing home, all by himself "man" in some sort of feat of superhuman strength for the 50 year old codger, and puts it in his basement which he has decked out as a replica of the original Cavern Club where the Beatles famously preformed. He speaks to the statue and sets about trying to reunite his 1960 rock band The Crusaders because they had once promised one another "man" that they would get together and play for The Beatles should they ever happen to visit Cuba.
He "Johnny" doesn't have much luck with his former bandmates. Some of them are not interested, one has had a stroke so can't speak for himself, and Johnny goes around through the play saying "man" in most every sentence. When he does get around to singing to John the statue he songs him a Paul McCartney song.
This is a not a very good play about a uninteresting boring silly old man. If you're some sort of Beatles fan with the misguided notion that they are the best thing that happen in 20th Century music and simply must see and hear everything about them, feel free to give The Concert a listen. All others can skip it "man".
"A working class hero is something to be."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

TWO WRENCHING DEPARTURES

TWO WRENCHING DEPARTURES
KEN JACOBS
2006, 90 minutes, video, b&w, sound

This is playing through January 23, 2007 at Anthology Film Archives in New York. At the January 17, 2007 showing Ken Jacobs was in attendance. He introduced the video briefly and answered some questions afterward.
The video mostly consists of digitally edited 16 mm black and white film that Jacobs shot in New York in the 1950s. The film is manipulated in such a way that we see just a few frames over and over again with some black frames in between. Most of the shots are of Jack Smith dancing, and creating a spectacle of himself on the sidewalks of New York. Had the original 16mm film footage been shown straight through at 24fps normal running time, we would see perhaps five minutes, more or less, of film. This 5 minutes of film is used to construct the 90 minute video. Jacobs has done this sort of thing before with "Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son"(1969). That film uses a 5 minute Biograph film from 1905 and runs it through the projector in a number of ways. It is a much more successful film than TWO WRENCHING DEPARTURES.
Jacobs does not show any of the scenes of the film straight through. He goes over and over the smallest movement. What it feels like is having several flip books of only a few pages and looking at them again and again.

This video presentation of the material is a way to preserve what was once done as a live "Nervous System" performance with two projectors. Jacobs described the use of some sort of shutter to alternate between the projectors, which along with short segments of film provided the effect he was looking for. In the discussion after the film he said that he found the effect somewhat three dimensional. The black spaces in between helped to augment the three dimensionality. He said that no one commenting on the film mentioned the three dimensionally effect, but only the stroboscopic. Perhaps the three dimensionality is only visible to Ken Jacobs.
There is the repeated observation of the smallest of movements. Unfortunately, aside from the very first segment in which a man dances on a deserted street, the movements themselves are not that interesting. The most interesting thing about the images now is the fact that they were shot fifty years ago on New York streets and some of it in a familiar neighborhood. We see a shot with the old St. Marks movie theater which used to be on 2nd Ave at St Marks Place until the 1980s. Some of the automobiles and cigarette ads of the sides of building are interesting as well as the bystanders, some of whom are drawn into the action. Shoeshine boys observe and interact with Smith in one scene. Jack Smith is the least interesting and most familiar type of character in the film. Except for one shot where he is in close-up, he just appears as a flamboyant drag type performer acting up in the streets and sidewalks and drawing attention to himself for no particular reason. This might have been unusual in the 1950s but not 2007.

The facility of digital editing makes the piece far less remarkable that it once might have been performed live with two projectors and the shutter mechanism. With two projectors performed live it would have been technically impressive. This digital version almost anyone could do with the simple computer editing software so readily at hand.

Ken Jacobs was asked following the screening if he would be performing using the two projector "Nervous System" live again. He basically said that it was too much work and that he found it unsatisfying for the effort involved because it was just over and done after with nothing substantial left. Perhaps this is the only way the work should have been performed and there is nothing substantial in this digital shadow of a cinema performance that once was. We are sort of left with a video document of a performance. This might be more satisfying for Jacobs in that he has something that he can leave behind, a record of what he once did, but perhaps it would have been better to let it all go and remain the stuff of legend in the world of avant-garde cinema. Jacobs said after the screening that the point of the video was to leave something behind for whatever future we have in light of George Bush.
Is it like looking at an online digital image of the Mona Lisa, or a video document of a play or dance performance. OK enough as a historical artifact, but pale in itself.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A review of Immigrants

Immigrants
A radio play by John P Rooney

BBC Radio 4 The Afternoon Play January 15, 2007
Available on "Listen Again" RealAudio internet stream(One might have to click on "Listen on a stand alone player" to get the stream clip to go.) through Jan 21, 2007

This is a period piece, a play about three young Irish men in Belfast in the 1966. They see their prospects as rather slim unemployed at home. They find that they can get assisted passage to Australia which they don't have to repay if they stay two years. So they set off to seek their fortune. They go via a ship. A trip that must take a very long time. But, no matter, that is not the business of this play. It only has 45 minutes to tell the story of two years in Australia so we get there pretty quickly and it is there that the interesting drama really begins. What unfolds is a more or less universal immigrant story. They have a rather hard time finding decent work and end up falling in with a rather nasty exploitive contractor. So off the three of them go with this man and find themselves in a very rough situation with dangerous work. They end up splitting off in ways that will not be told here so as not to spoil the enjoyment of the story.

The play brings up several issues. The plight of newcomers who find themselves vulnerable to exploitation being only one if them. That is obvious and of course continues today all over the world. At least the young men in the play had some sort of papers, they were not illegal. I don't suppose that Australia is so open to uneducated, unskilled newcomers as it was 40 years ago. And yet even with that they find it very hard, find themselves entrapped in backbreaking, dangerous work. This brought to mind the plight of women who find themselves going for an offer of a new life out of misery and end up as sex slaves in the new land with little recourse to do much about it. This sort of thing goes on today all over our glorious modern world. Slavery lives today.

Another issue is who become the volunteer immigrants. True it is often the unemployed, but the young men in the play didn't have to set off to the new land. Surely there were thousands of others in a similar situation back home who chose to remain do to ties with family or just not really being the adventurous sort. The men in the play were self selected. It is the self selected adventurous ones who set off, leave home regardless of relational ties and take off. And who are these people who ended up making modern industrial nations out of the former tribal close to nature lands of Australia or North America?
Are they the most aggressive, the most yearning of their breed? Are they ones who built the (dangerous?) superpower of the current USA? Are they all adventurous young men seeking their fortune, traveling far to achieve it and not too concerned in the end who they have to push out of the way or kill to get it and keep it?
Some of these issues of the American character are addressed in American Mania a book by Peter C. Whybrow. It's an interesting read.

Immigrants brushes up against these issues in this very entertaining and personal coming of age adventure play. It's a fast 45 minutes and worth the listen.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A review of Glass Houses

He said, She said.

Glass Houses
a radio play Colin Teevan

As we peer in at them it appears that they were once a happy couple. They both agree on that point. In this play we hear form both sides in two cross-cut monologues. Wife, perhaps to a journalist sometime after the fact. Husband, into a cassette audio tape recorder.

Where did it all go so bad? With the coming of the children? Did the problems, the games, really start over the accounting of family expenses? Didn't they always play power games? Didn't they get off on them at one time? Did the games get out of hand? Is the ultimate result just the last more, the last play, in the game? Is it the ultimate move or does it just appear that it is? Who lives in the Glass House? Husband? Wife? The both of them? We, the listeners? Who would we throw the stones at? Do we have any right to throw any? Is it possible to see clearly into a glass house? Did he go mad? Did it have to do with being on the treadmill to provide for the middle-class lifestyle that once had them so envied? Was she lying and cheating all along? Did the children just become a possession the fight over, just mere pawns in the games? Is it all a bluff in the end?

This play by Colin Teevan is an absolute mess of he said, she said. I'm not saying that Mr. Teevans' writing is a mess. I think his writing is spot on. What I'm saying is that it presents the mess of a love, a marriage, a family gone very wrong in such a way that it is impossible to get a solid, clear picture of who, if any single one, is at fault for the disaster. That it is a disaster for all involved is undisputable. That we can make heads or tails of why and who's to blame is impossible. This is the most real and illuminating aspect of the play. It points to the fact that it is very difficult, virtually impossible to make out what exactly happens in a relationship from the outside based on the testimony of the two people involved. They blame each other. But are they even clear as to who is at fault, or does it just come down to getting the outside, the law on their side to retain possession?

This BBC Radio 4 presentation of The Friday Play is very strong stuff. It is not recommended for those going through a difficult divorce. It is not a very good date play. It is not something to put on as light entertainment while you cuddle up with the one you love before the fireplace. It is harsh, angry, sad, troubling, but also devilishly clever and delightfully murky. Only two voices are heard through the hour. Husband is played by Greg Hicks. Wife by Clare Higgins. Both are excellent. Although I have no criticism of Mr. Hicks work here, I can't help but wonder how differently the drama would have felt if Husband was played slightly more toned down. I wonder if that might have done more to highlight the ambiguity of the piece. This ambiguity is what I love most about it. In the end I don't really know what went on with these two.
Of course the real star of this piece is the author Colin Teevan . He presents, doesn't tell too much, steps back, and allows the listener to do the rest, the listener is left to be the ultimate judge. I shirk the responsibility. I can't make a judgment in the end. I'm glad I'm not some divorce judge who has to figure these two out.
The only judgment I can make is a very easy one. This is very solid, very dark, very troubling, very hard hitting and thoughtful entertainment. Good show.

The play was directed by David Hunter with tasteful and effective music cues throughout.

But note: Glass Houses is available to "Listen Again" via The Friday Play page until January 18, 2007. I would advise you not to read the description of the play. Fortunately I didn't. I just clicked on the Listen Again button. I think the description is spoiling and misleading. You've been warned.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

To Make The People Smile Again by George Wheeler

I was talking with a friend recently about the new movie Pan's Labyrinth. Neither of us had seen the movie yet. I said that I was sort of interested in it since in was set in Spain during the civil war in the 1930s. My friend who is 38 and well educated, about to get a PhD, knew nothing about the Spanish Civil War. I was a little shocked by this. I guess I think that it is something everyone should know about since it was such a pivotal point in the events of the 20th Century.

The BBC World Service radio is presenting a drama set in the war. The play can be heard on the internet for a couple more days, until late Friday Jan. 12th 2007. I wish there could archive these things somewhere, but I guess there are rights issues involved.

To Make The People Smile Again by George Wheeler
Dramatized by Steve Chambers
With Ben Crowe as George Wheeler.
Directed and Produced by Marion Nancarrow

The play begins with a young British man George Wheeler signing on to join the International Brigades to travel to Spain an assist in the support of the republican government . In 1936 General Franco backed by The Catholic Church and various other interests including the Nazis and the Italian fascists rebelled against the government which was engaged in land reform. An International Brigade was formed to help in the struggle. This was made up of American and British Communists, socialists and anarchists. The we follow the young man George to Spain and see the struggle through his eyes in this excellent factual production. The play includes a few recordings of the voices of actual aged survivors.

This play presents the internal difficulties of the various political forces involved with the international brigades. This is also discussed in George Orwell's memoir of his time in Spain, Homage to Catalonia.
The play has a very human story. It's not at all a dry history lesson and is a very good introduction to the war. It is an entertaining and informative radio drama. The so called "free world" didn't help at all. There was no aid to the republic from the USA or British governments. Only individual citizens and communists, socialist parties and anarchists organizations helped . The Soviet Union helped for a while, but perhaps in the end somehow betrayed or abandoned the struggle. It's didn't end up so good for the cause of freedom. Franco won and was the dictator of Spain for the next 40 years.
The BBC World Service Drama is presenting a series of plays about heroes. The story of Mr. Wheeler and the International Brigades could not be more fitting in such a series.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Children of Men & The Real Thing

Someone will have to make a comment and tell me how it came out in the end. I was so bored that I didn't want to have to sit through the last 50 minutes of this movie.
It could have been a worthwhile entertainment had the filmmakers thought of giving me something to care about. Maybe I'm too demanding or easily distracted by the guy behind me with the crinkly brown paper bag, but, silly me, I want a character or a concept or a story I can care about. In Children of Men I found none of these. It was some silly set-up about how there had not been any children born on earth for 19 years. I don't know why this was such a problem since there were all these illegal alien people running around this 2027 England attacking motor vehicles as they drove by. Actually that was the best part of the movie, when we got two or three rides in cars or busses and the people outside threw stuff at us. If only there where more of this.
There was some droopy guy, played by a sleepy Clive Owen. He was our hero I guess, but I didn't give a damn about him since I was told nothing about him really I guess I was supposed to care about him because he was a friend of some boring old hippy played by Michael Caine. Good old Caine was the only alive person in the picture at least as far as I got in it. Actually I left after he got shot and killed, but he was a stupid old hippy anyway and there was no reason I should care about him either. Besides he was a bloody pot dealer and who could care about a person like that? There is a pregnant woman and they are trying to get her to "The Human Project" so it was going to be another 40 minutes of fleeing from the bad guys through stressed sets and then there would be some sort of birth and mankind would be saved. Except I didn't give a damn if any of these people or the crappy world the lived in got saved actually I would have rather they rode around in the cars more in reel one and then all got shot up end of movie and I could go home. Oh yeah, Julianne Moore is in it too, sort of. She contracts a bloody neck and gets to go away to work on some better movie somewhere else. JM fans who go to the movie to see her will be disappointed that she got to go home early like Caine and me. She even left before me and Caine. I doubt if she put in a full week on the project unless she comes back at the end or something. She does do a dumb stunt with a ping pong ball. It would have been a good role for a redheaded trained seal.

But go see the movie. You will probably think it was really profound and the crappy sets really cool. I'm just an old crank and, well, a bit of a snob in that I sort of want entertainment to be, well entertaining, somehow interesting, rather than just boring.
I know I'm not a big movie fan. I don't live to see moving images on the screen. I don't get all excited if I see movie violence unless the people in the movie mean something to me. And I'm not one who demands that a movie be upbeat. I LOVE downer movies, but good one's like Hopper's old Out of the Blue. Besides I saw an uplifting end coming in this one and I just knew that would be too unbearable. Anyway, I wasted enough time typing about this piece of crap, this waste of someone's millions of dollars. Had the director hired someone to write a screenplay rather than trying to do it himself. . .

I could have been that I was spoiled earlier today when I heard a great BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. Indeed it was the real thing. It was an hour and a half of masterfully written and performed human drama. Here I didn't even need to care about the people in the play. The writing was so clever, so beautiful, so spot on that it provided me with completely fulfilling and thoughtful entertainment. I won't bother telling you to listen to it while it is still available on the BBC Radio 4 Saturday Play website until Jan 5, 2007. Because you don't listen to audio drama. You want pictures. You want everything handed to you in a really graphic way like in a movie or a TV show. You don't want to bother with old fashioned forms like reading, or radio plays. Fine! what do I care.

If some reader or radio fan wanders here and actually reads this, Well, of course I didn't mean you, comrade, I was just trying to antagonize the masses. I know I don't really have any readers anyway so it doesn't matter what I type and that's the way I like it. So bug off!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Apocalypto

I saw the movie a couple week s ago.
I know nothing of Mayan history, or any of the actualities implied by the setting of the drama. I generally don't go to fictional movies to get facts about anything. So with this one all that stuff didn't matter to me. If I wanted to know about Mayan history or what has been presumed about it from the evidence at hand, I would read a book.
In the instance of Apocalypto I think that Mel Gibson inadvertently invited scrutiny into the historical accuracy of his movie because of some other things he has been up to in the past few years. First he made the Christ movie, which I have yet to see, and then there is his recent drunk driving arrest with his idiotic comments about The Jews. I think the drunken arrest comments create further curiosity into what he believes, his notions, about other cultures. The Christ movie, attended by legions of American Christians was taken by them and for all I know promoted my Gibson as a realistic factual account of historical events. The downside of enormous artistic entertainment success, such as Gibson's with the Christ movie, is that all other work is then associated with it in the simple minds of the media and the general public. Success is now and has always been a limiting factor in what the artist can do from there on in the eyes of general public.
I'm not a Mel Gibson partisan. I have never seen any of the cop movies with Danny Glover. I saw Braveheart when it first came out years ago and remember sort of shrugging afterward. It didn't move me.

That said and with that in mind I'm here to tell you that I really enjoyed Apocalypto. It plays as a sort of classic adventure movie melodrama not at all as a historic piece. To me it was more like an old Tarzan movie or some such. Any number of classic in-the-wild adventure movie clich├ęs are exploited in the telling of a very simple story. I could list them, but I wouldn't want to spoil the fun you might have in watching them unfold before you eyes. It is a really well made action movie. There is a little bit of dialogue in the exposition scenes and then it is now stop action in a virtual silent movie. The action elements exploited go back to the silent era. We have the noble hero that we pull for throughout the melodrama, we have the broadly drawn mean for no practically reason villain tormenting out hero unjustly. We have the beautiful damsel in distress practically tied to the railroad track who simply must be rescued by the hero in time before certain death. We have the most outrageous reprieve from death at the very last minute, which saves the hero, than I have ever seen it a movie. It's all a rather ridiculous melodramatic cartoon and yet the whole thing is carried off with such artful filmmaking that I was able to suspend disbelief. Gibson had me on the edge of my seat throughout the to 2hr 10 min running time.

It is an excellent escapist (indeed) adventure movie. It pushes some very basic primal human buttons which serve to draw the viewer into the story. It is beautifully photographed, directed, and acted. Go see it on the big screen.
If you are looking for a history lesson in Mayan culture. Skip it.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in Pottersville

Reflections of It's a Wonderful Life

If you were not born yesterday the is a likelihood that you have seen a movie called It's a Wonderful Life. If you were born yesterday make sure you see it when you are old enough to enjoy popular entertainment in the form of moving talking pictures. This Frank Capra movie was made 60 years ago. It is one of the great American movies, a wonderful, powerful film.

I want to focus on a particular part of the movie. This part of it keeps popping into my head at anytime of year, not just the holidays. This is when George Bailey has failed in his business, in his attempts to help the working class families. He loses his idealism in a dark night if the soul. He goes to the bridge and wishes he had never been born. The angel comes and shows him what the town would be like if he had never been born. He walks the streets of the once quaint town on Bedford Hills. It is quaint and home no longer. It is Pottersville, the town where greed and money rule the eternal night. It is a trashy small town version of Vegas. The mom and pop stores have been replaced by neon-lit gin joints and gambling establishments. Drunks wander the streets and high desperate emotion. They cackle with delirious laughter, and clash in pointless drunken brawls to the sound of empties that shatter on the pavement. No one knew George Bailey. He has not been born. He was not there to make the world a better place with his kindness and his ethical financial idealism. He was not there to help out his friends. He is in Pottersville, the town corrupted by greed of a selfish capitalist. The town where only the few on top of the social Darwinist heap triumph while all others are lost in a hopeless cycle of poverty, unquiet desperation and addiction.

Here we are in Pottersville, but the selfish exploiters are not as elegant, as human as the "scurvy little spider" played by Lionel Barrymore. There isn't one guy here to shoot, the one symbol, the one powerful banker that the farmer in the Grapes of Wraith was looking to draw a bead on with his shotgun as the dustbowl tractor pushes down his shack, his home. Our Mr. Potters are the respected traders of Goldman Sachs and all the rest. They are the likes of Lloyd Paulson with his $54.4 million year end bonus. Merry Christmas "scurvy little spider". How do you sleep at night and show your face in public? They are these Wall Street types who buy every business in sight and loot it for all it is worth, then sell off the assets. What the hell, if the former workers want to work they can be greeters at Walmart, or emigrate to China if they can get in. Our Mr. Potters are also our media kings. We live in Rupertville where they sell us objectification of all human life, fill the heads of the children with lust and violence just to drive up the profit margin at the same time as they sell us demigods, right-wing preachers and politicians who blame the moral decline on the people, or on the "Liberals", rather than the corporate media that owns them and manipulates and drives it all.

George Bailey has never been born. We are trapped in Pottersville, Pottersworld. There are no bells ringing. No angels are getting their wings.

It's a Wonderful Life is a great American movie. James Stewart is a wonderful actor. I just love him. Frank Capra was a great movie maker. And along with the other writers, Philip Van Doren Stern, Frances Goodrich, and Albert Hackett, brought a wonderful story to the screen 60 years ago.

Maybe some way, someday, we can build a new Bedford Falls out of the ashes of Pottersville.
Work it out with the angel beside you in the flesh. Anything is possible. I guess. I won't jump off the bridge just yet.
No one is a failure who has friends.

---------------------
Dec. 26
Here is a little coda From a NY Times article from Xmas day called:
Wall St. Bonuses: So Much Money, Too Few Ferraris

Quote:
Adding to the spending spree is a rash of young hedge fund analysts, first big bonus checks in hand, scooping up the $2 million to $3 million starter apartments (most popular features: glass walls, marble bathrooms and kitchens — likely to go unused — with top-flight appliances).

"We love hedge funds, they are our favorite people" Ms. Kleier said. "They don't feel like the money is real and they don't mind spending it — they don't mind going up by $500,000 or $1 million increments."
...End quote
Later in the article:

Quote:
The morning Goldman Sachs announced record fourth-quarter and 2006 earnings, Lloyd C. Blankfein, chairman and chief executive, implored his employees — many whom would directly benefit from the bountiful earnings — to avoid excess.

"As stewards of the firm's reputation, I ask each of you to remember that our actions — inside and outside of the office — reflect on Goldman Sachs. Even a perception of arrogance hurts all of us," he said in a voice mail sent to the entire firm.
End Quote

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pretty Little Head

Nellie McKay

A review of the CD
by Larry Slade

Some months ago (promise you won't tell anybody) I downloaded the BitTorrent version of Pretty Little Head. That was when Columbia Records decided that they didn't want to release the two CD collection of new Nellie McKay songs. This all sounds a little like problems with Fiona Apple's most recent work. There must be some issue with young women singer/songwriters who play the piano. But anyway , there was also a question of NM touring to promote the CD. NM wasn't making herself available to do this, instead opting to play Polly in the current Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera (which I saw and really enjoyed). All then end with McKay and the label parted company. After all Nellie doesn't have the image of a company woman and a 16 song version of Pretty Little Head ended up as a torrent. So she left Columbia/Sony and ended up on Hungry Mouse records which is, according to what I read on the back of the CD, some sort of a part of Sony/BMG which is a different company, I guess, than Columbia/Sony. I don't know what all this means. It is no doubt all "Important Business!" way over my pretty little head, but anyway I have the 23 song two CD hard copy product now. What I do know is that I really like it. I just bought another copy this afternoon for my friend Erin as a Xmas present (don't tell her).

I've been a fan of McKay's stuff since the first CD, Get Away From Me. Pretty Little Head is a very good CD. Standouts are Cupcake, The Down Low, Long and Lazy River, Real Life, Mama & Me, and my favorite, I Am Nothing. Actually there is not a clinker in the bunch. It is all entertaining and varied so I don't get bored with he same sort of songs, one after another that some people produce. She has a pretty wide range in the type of material she does. So she is not boring. From what I read on the CD she has produced this one herself and plays a lot of the instruments. In this way she bypasses Fiona Apple who seems to be more tied to the sound molding of an outside producer. I like the arrangements, the production on the CD. I keep wanting some of my more folkie sounding musician acquaintances to make recordings with a fuller sound(yeah you KRP). This is the way to reach a wider audience. I think production really pays off. Recordings with just piano or guitar and voice just don't really work that well for me. They don't get the repeated plays that a bigger production gets, and there is really not that much of an excuses for not having more sound with the 21st Century tools of PC soft synths and multi-track recording. At any rate, Pretty Little Head is a good CD, entertaining and deep. And if you have the torrent mp3s buy the CD. It sounds a whole lot better and you get to hear Moma & Me plus other gems. I recommend checking it out. Nellie McKay is doing good work right now and has a promising career ahead of her. It will be interesting to what how it develops.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Scuffler, by Harvey Orkin


Published in 1974

A Review.

The worst thing about this novel is that it is the only book by Harvey Orkin. The only one we get to read. He died not long after its publication at age of 57.
The good news is, if there had to be just one book, Scuffler is about as good as it could be. And like a true showman, which Mr. Orkin clearly was, he leaves the literary stage with a standing ovation and the readers wanting more.
On the surface this is a comic novel, a piece of popular entertainment. This is the first person narrative of one South Dakota farm boy, Tod Fleedhum. It is told to us by the 72 year old Tod. It is his autobiography. He takes us from his earliest days all the way through his life in a mere 184 action and idea packed pages. On the surface, because there is more here than one might first imagine in a popular comic novel. The idea packed part is what makes the reading experience so fulfilling, so gratifying. There is a great deal of story telling, laugh out loud wit, and crazy situations, but Orkin is a smart, coy, and artful novelist. This reads like a real testament, a statement about the glorious wonder of the experience of living. It's the voice of someone who loved life and knew damn well how to live it, even if that meant making it up, improvising along the way. And how is that done? By being the best you possible without comparison to others.
So it can be read as a sort of self-help book, or even a spiritual book. It is a lesson in believing in oneself. The joy of living that it contains is absolutely contagious and quite powerful. The art of it all is that it is totally painless, practically subliminal. The philosophical lessons are served with a bowlful of entertainment to help the medicine go down. This is a very entertaining fun read. Was Orkin aware of what he was doing? Did he set out to write a cheerful life-lesson novel or did that just happen naturally and unconsciously in the telling of the story, in speaking in the voice, and in the creation of the character of Tod Fleedhum? It really doesn't matter which it is. One never gets in the way of the other.
Tod Fleedhum is his own man, yet one influenced by whomever he happens to run into, by the people who latch on to him for whatever random life reason that happens to occur. Tod holds his personal center, more or less, no matter what sex mad faith healer, gangster con-artist, beastophile, showgirl, blowhard businessman, annoying land swindler or whatever comes his way in this carnival-like world that feels quite familiar and dead on. Although this book is over 30 years old, it has a very modern, every-man-for-himself attitude toward life. Tod is a nice guy amoral, unselfconscious anarchist, which is to say an All-American. Yet he is very much part of the whole. He is of his time and made by the people he runs into. For instance, at one point he is tossed out of Hollywood for relations with his mentor's wife and decides to sign on as an elevator operator on a trans-Pacific ocean liner. During the voyage he happens to be on deck at night as one man tosses another's dead body overboard. This begins his perhaps decade long career as a con man, and a rather ethical one at that. This is where the amoral element comes in. But the amorality is presented here as part and parcel of the American Dream. As the dust jacket blurb by Zero Mostel says, ". . .a marvelously funny takeoff of the 'American Dream.' I love it."
It doesn't all work perfectly. The dark night of the soul, "To Be or Not to Be" aspects of Chapter 10 feel rushed and not given the space or the considered treatment that they deserved. There is a feeling that there was more to tell here but Orkin either lost his nerve, was reaching beyond his skill as a writer, or was just in too much of a rush to move on the next thing. I have rather inside information that Mr. Orkin was already ill when he was writing the book and was struggling to finish it while he could. It is the weakest section of the novel. But soon he regains footing and things take off from there.
Orkin was quite involved with show business. He was one of the writers on the old Phil Silvers TV show for a brief time in the mid-1950s. This from the IMDB internet mini biography by his daughter Jenna, he was "a theatrical agent, first at William Morris and Frank Cooper and finally at Creative Management Associates (which later became ICM.) His clients included Richard Burton and Peter Sellers. While serving as the London liaison for CMA, he appeared on the BBC television program, 'Not So Much A Program, More A Way of Life'. This was taken off the air when Kenneth Tynan used the F word but returned three weeks later with a new name, BBC Three ."
On the dust jacket of Scuffler it only says, "Harvey Orkin is Vice President of Columbia Pictures. Scuffler is his first novel." That is an odd choice given that he had established writing credits in other media.
The Columbia Pictures connection brings up a question of possible autobiographical content in Scuffler. In an early part of the novel he is involved in Hollywood with the alcoholic wife of his mentor named Harry Tradler. Could it be that this rather full of himself boorish shoe manufacture could have been modeled on Hollywood pioneer and long time Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn?
The novel is long out of print and should be made somehow available in print or e-book. It is richly entertaining.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Memorial

Memorial
A novel by Bruce Wagner

In the inside of the dust jacket it says: "In his most profound and accomplished book to date, acclaimed author Bruce Wagner breaks from Hollywood culture with a novel of exceptional literary dimension and searing emotional depth."

That's sounds pretty good doesn't it? It sounds like something I would really like to read? I read all 507 pages of Memorial and I still wouldn't mind reading the book described above. This sure isn't it.

I was sold on the book by hearing an interview with Mr. Wagner on WBAI radio. (One can find the interview by Googling "Cat Radio Cafe". It's somewhere on that site, or at least it was a couple of weeks ago.) It's an interesting interview. Mr. Wagner is an interesting talker. I wish I could say the same for his writing.

Maybe it was over my head. Maybe I'm not deep enough to grasp the "exceptional literary dimension". Maybe I'm too shallow or cowardly to plunge into the "searing emotional depth". Or maybe the novel is just as disappointing and depressing as I think it is.

So what is it? What did I read and get from it? This is a story of a family divided and yet still connected although through most of the novel they don't know it and one of them never does. We are presented with four interlocking stories. Once upon a time many years ago Ray and Marjorie were married. They had two lovely children Joan and Chester. Ray blew some sort of business deal, felt bad about himself, and quite the family, took off one day unannounced. As we enter the story the two kids are about 40 and the parents are old. There has been no contact with the absent father all that time. So that's the setup and then we get to go with them all through the personal hell or torment of Job. This is a novel where all the bad things you hear about on the news happens to happen to these people and those around them. All this is highly unpleasant and, well, sometimes feels exceptionally sadistic. That might not be so bad if there was a point to it all and since I lack the ability to grasp the exceptional literary dimension of it all, I guess I missed whatever that point or literary pay-off might have been. What I got was a sad, mean, ugly, and cruel story told with a whole lot, way too much, up-to-the-minute mass media hippness. Mr. Wagner sure knows his TV shows and personalities, and his LA gurus. Well, I know about this crap too and I didn't need him to point them out to me. But I don't waste my time actually watching the TV shows he insists on writing about, I just know about them and that's enough. I think Wagner should spend more time reading other novels than watching TV. It might help his writing or dictating or however this mess was produced. I didn't need him to tell me how horrible and sad modern life has become. I didn't need him to rub my nose in it. Everything he says about this country, the economies system, LA, is obvious to me. And he adds nothing on top of that. He just wasted my time with lists.

But then again I may well have missed the point. If you want to find out for yourself you can find my copy out on the stoop in front of my building where it will go after I finish writing this. My bookshelf is too small to house this big ugly thing. Besides I don't want to have to see it and be reminded of the time I wasted on it.
It might make a good gift idea for someone you hate and want to bum out.