Thursday, June 22, 2017

Five Film Favorites: Overwhelming First Viewings

Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings in "Blow-Up"
This edition of Five Film Favorites makes a short list of movies that absolutely bowled me over when I saw them for the first time. Each of them prompted me to rethink what I expected from a movie. In the vernacular of my youth, these great films expanded my mind.
  • “8½” (1963): B&W. 138 minutes. Directed by Federico Fellini. Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée. Note: A film about making a film, but fret not about making sense of it. Just watch as Fellini dazzles you with unforgettable characters and images. Eventually, you'll get the picture.
  • “Blow-Up” (1966): Color. 111 minutes. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Cast: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Jane Birkin. Note: With England’s cool mod scene in the background, a detached, cocky fashion photographer stumbles onto a murder mystery … or does he?
  • “Chinatown” (1974): Color. 130 minutes. Directed by Roman Polanski. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston. Note: This is a dark story about a dogged detective who won’t let go of a dangerous mystery. The evolving truth keeps getting more diabolical. Ironically, this noirish tale unfolds in soft pastel colors. This one is about as close to a perfect movie as it gets.
  • “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972): Color. 102 minutes. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Cast: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig. Note: This is said to be the prankster director's most accessible film. With its dry wit this dream within a joke, within a dream, sparkles like a jewel.
  •  “Napoleon” (1927): B&W (a few scenes are tinted to achieve a color effect). 240 minutes. Directed by Abel Gance. Cast: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daële. Note: The tale of resurrecting Abel Gance’s masterpiece from the ash heap is almost as fascinating as this ancient film is eye-popping.
It was in the summer of 1964 that I first saw “8½” in Virginia Beach. I was 16 years old when I watched it to kill some time. I’m pretty sure it was at the Beach Theater. As I hadn’t seen many foreign films, it was utterly fascinating, but I hardly knew what to think of it. It didn’t seem to have a plot.

The ending seemed to mock all of what had preceded it. So, I went back the next day and saw “8½” again.

“Blow-Up” played its first run engagement in Richmond at the Loews (now the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage) in 1966. After seeing it, I remember arguing about the movie with a group of friends on the sidewalk under the theater‘s marquee. Some of them thought it was overly artsy and made no sense. The mysterious ending of it was criticized. 

While I loved “Blow-Up,” ambiguous ending included, I was hard pressed to make a convincing case of why. The process made me want to both read about and see more foreign films.

In the summer of 1974 “Chinatown” made its Richmond premiere at the Biograph Theatre, which I then managed. First watched it before it opened with a small audience; it was a critics’ screening which included a few friends and members of the theater’s staff. As it ended I was sure we had just seen the greatest movie ever made. I couldn’t wait to tell the whole town.

Now I’ve seen “Chinatown” countless times.

My first viewing of “Discreet Charm” was at the old Cerberus in DeeCee in late-1972. After it ended I stayed and watched it all the way through a second time. I can still laugh out loud upon remembering certain scenes.

When the famously restored version of Gance’s “Napoleon” played at Radio City Music Hall in 1981, it was an event unlike any other in the history of movies. Francis Ford Coppola’s father, Carmine Coppola, conducted an orchestra to accompany the silent film as it played out on three large screens. That I was paid by my bosses to go to Manhattan to see it just put the frosting on the cake ... but that’s another story.

All five of the movies on this list played at the Biograph Theatre while I managed it (1972-83). So I had a chance to not only see them again, but I could study them. Anyway, like some others these five movies tattooed my brain and deepened my understanding of film.

Note: Two first-run highlights:

On April 11, 1973, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” opened at the Biograph for its Richmond premiere. It had just won the Oscar for Best Foreign Movie. That I wasn’t able to persuade enough Richmonders to see it to keep from losing money on its two-week run was a huge disappointment at the time.

  
On June 28, 1974, “Chinatown” opened at the Biograph. It did good business and ran for five weeks. As a movie theater manager, I was never happier with a first-run engagement than I was during those five weeks. Watching it over and over and drinking in all those details changed me … hopefully for the better.

The Birth of the Blockbuster: Or How Margot Kidder Made My Day

The movie business changed during the summer of 1975. A new style of creating, promoting and exhibiting feature films was established when “Jaws” opened in 465 theaters and became a box office smash.

Typically, in those days, major releases opened initially in the most popular movie houses in a handful of large cities. Which meant the advertising buys were all local. The unprecedented marketing strategy for “Jaws” required enormous confidence. Its distributor, Universal, had to spend millions on national advertising and strike enough prints of the film to serve all of the theaters playing the film. 

Before that summer was over “Jaws” had already broken all-time Hollywood box office records.

Washington D.C. was a regional hub for film distribution. Part of the strategy for releasing “Jaws” was that Universal chose not to screen the film for bookers and exhibitors in the usual way.

Ordinarily, a feature about to be released would be shown a couple of times in a small screening room downtown. Run by the National Association of Theater Owners, it seated about 50 people. Bookers for theater chains would see the new films to help them weigh how much money should be bid for the rights to exhibit the picture in a given market. But security on admission wasn't all that tight, so any industry insider, entertainment writer, etc. might have been in the audience on a given day.

At this time I managed the Biograph Theatre on Grace Street in Richmond. My bosses were located in Georgetown and I saw several movies in the DC screening room over the nearly-12 years I worked for the guys who oversaw the Biograph on "M" Street.

The prior-to-premiere screenings of “Jaws” took place a few weeks before it was to open. It was shown to theater owners and their guests in selected cinemas in maybe a dozen cities. As I remember it, the screenings were all on the same night.

As a treat my bosses gave me four of their allotment of tickets to the special screening of “Jaws” at the old Ontario in DC. My ex, Valerie, and I were part of a full house; the show itself went over like gangbusters. The audience shrieked at appropriate times and applauded as the movie’s closing credits were lighting up the screen.

Not only was I knocked out by the presentation, I came back to Richmond convinced “Jaws” would be a gold mine. It was the slickest monster movie I’d even seen. The next day, still caught up in that mania, I tried to talk my bosses into borrowing a lot of money to support a bid on “Jaws” that would include a substantial cash advance.

That summer I wanted to bet everything we could borrow to out-bid Neighborhood Theatres for the Richmond market. I even convinced a neighborhood branch bank manager to try to help us borrow the dough.

Well, we didn’t get the money, but it was privately satisfying seeing “Jaws” open on June 20, 1975, and go on to set new records for its box office grosses. Its unprecedented success put its director, Steven Spielberg, on the map.

After “Jaws” Hollywood hustlers aplenty rushed out to try to duplicate the formula its producers and distributors had used. Thus, in 1975, the age of summer blockbusters with massive ad campaigns and widespread releases began.

Another thing “Jaws” did was make young men who were sometimes too self-absorbed, like me, feel intimidated by Spielberg’s outrageous success at such a tender age. I can still remember reading that he was younger than me.

Although I had a great job for a 27-year-old movie-lover who liked to work without a lot of supervision, it offered no direct connection to filmmaking. At this time I had one nine-minute film and one 30-second television commercial, both shot in 16mm, to my credit. 1975’s Boy Wonder, Steven Spielberg, made me feel like I was on the wrong track. That might have been the first time I gave much thought to how and when to leave the Biograph.

Fast-forward 34 years to when I watched a BBC-produced documentary, “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood,” about filmmaking in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  Directors and other players from that time were interviewed. Made in 2003, it was thoroughly entertaining. I saw it on Turner Movie Classics in 2009.

Among those who made comments in the documentary were Tony Bill, Karen Black, Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, László Kovács, Kris Kristofferson, Arthur Penn and Cybill Shepherd.

Dreyfuss, who was one of the stars of "Jaws," spoke of attending one of those pre-release screenings. He said he got caught up in the experience of seeing it for the first time in a crowded theater; he totally forgot himself as the actor on the screen.

Actress Margot Kidder (best known for her Lois Lane portrayals in the Superman series of movies) appeared on camera several times. She made a joke out of how Spielberg had begun to fib about his age, once he became famous. She had known him before his sudden notoriety, so she noticed it when he went from being older than her to being younger. Kidder claimed Spielberg was fudging his birth date by a couple of years.

Well, flashing back on my absurd jealousy to do with Spielberg’s rise to stardom, when he was supposedly younger than me, I had to laugh out loud. Then I looked up Spielberg’s age; he’s older than both Margot and me.

So, I searched for more on the age-change and found some old articles about “Jaws” and Spielberg. Yes, it looks like Kidder was right. Back in the ‘70s, perhaps to play up the Boy Wonder aspect of the story, Spielberg’s birth date was being massaged. Somewhere along the line, since then, it looks like it got straightened out.

Laughing at one’s own foolishness is usually a healthy exercise. Yes, and when the laugh had been waiting over three decades to be realized, it was all the sweeter.

After all, nothing has ever been more integral to Hollywood’s special way of doing business -- before or after “Jaws” -- than making up fibs, especially about one’s age.

*   *   *

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Remembering 1968, Forgetting the Pueblo

The USS Pueblo
For as long as it has existed, dealing with North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) has never been easy for the USA. So, since the end of the Korean War (1950-53), other than watching Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H" (1970) and then later the television show, we have mostly averted our eyes. With regard to the Pueblo Incident, in 1968 so many other shocking things happened it was easy to look away.

Maybe our government should have handled North Korea's piracy differently. Maybe there were no good options. No doubt, America's armed forces were stretched so thin in 1968 that all options weren't on the table. So 49 years ago, 15 years after the end of the Korean War, America was humiliated by North Korea. And we sucked it up, pretending there was nothing to see.

From Smithsonian.com:
The Johnson administration considered several risky courses of action to retaliate for the Pueblo seizure. They included a blockade of North Korean ports, air strikes on military targets, an attack across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, a phony intelligence leak to the Soviets that the United States planned to attack North Korea, and a "show of force" by U.S. naval and air units outside the port of Wonsan, where the Pueblo was being held.
Click here to read the entire article in the Smithsonian.

Jan. 23: The USS Pueblo was seized on the high seas by North Korean forces; at least that’s the story I got. At the time I was in the Navy and I had little doubt we would rescue the Pueblo’s crew, even if it meant another war.

Subsequently, as captives, the Pueblo’s 83 men endured an ordeal that was shocking to an American public that had naively thought the USA's Super Power status meant such things could not happen.

Jan. 30: The Tet Offensive began, as the shadowy Viet Cong flexed its muscles and blurred battle lines with simultaneous assaults in many parts of South Vietnam. Even the American embassy in Saigon was attacked.

Mar. 16: In what came to be known as the My Lai Massacre, some 500 Vietnamese villagers -- women, children and old men (animals, too) -- were killed by American soldiers on patrol. However, it would be another 20 months before investigative journalist Seymour Hersh would break the horrifying story of the covered-up massacre, via the Associated Press wire service.

Mar. 31: Facing the burgeoning antiwar-driven campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson suddenly withdrew from the presidential race, declining to run for reelection by saying, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination...”

Apr. 4: America’s most respected civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots followed in cities coast-to-coast. The bitterness that remained after the dust settled was scary.

In Richmond, it ended an era. Young adventurous whites who followed music could no longer go in the black clubs they had once patronized. No more Sahara Club for me.

May 13: The USA and North Vietnam began a series of negotiations to end the war in Vietnam that came to be known as the Paris Peace Talks. Ironically, as a backdrop, France, itself, was in chaos. Workers and students had shut down much of the country with a series of strikes. The trains weren’t running, the airports were closed, as were schools, etc.

May 24: On the same day I was discharged from the Navy, Father Philip Berrigan and Thomas Lewis (of Artists Concerned About Vietnam) were sentenced to six years behind bars for destroying federal property, stemming from an incident where duck blood was poured over draft files at Baltimore’s Selective Service headquarters.

June 3: Artist Andy Warhol nearly died from wounds received from a gunshot fired by Valerie Solanis. She was a sometime writer and one of the many off-beat characters who had occasionally hung out at Warhol’s famous studio, The Factory.

June 5: Having just won the California primary, Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles. The hopes of millions that the Vietnam War would end soon died that night. It’s hard to imagine that Richard Nixon would have been able to defeat Kennedy in the general election. Kennedy's death meant the gravy train being enjoyed by big corporations supplying the war effort would continue to chug along.

June 8: James Earl Ray was arrested in London. Eventually, he was convicted of murdering Martin Luther King. Yet, questions about that crime and Ray's role linger today.

July 1: By an act of the General Assembly which was signed by Gov. Mills Godwin, Virginia Commonwealth University was established by a merger that seemed awkward at the time. The School of the Arts the new university inherited from RPI was already the largest professional art school in the country. The Medical College of Virginia was showing the world how to do heart transplants.

July 23: After watching “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the Westhampton Theatre, I saw The Who play live on stage at the Mosque (now the Altria Theater). Looking at the long line to get into the concert, I was quite surprised at how many hippies there were in Richmond. This was in the period the band was into smashing up its equipment to finish off shows. The acid I took an hour or so before seeing the movie served me well.

Aug. 20: Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush what had been a season of renaissance. As it had been with the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, talk of World War III being one button-push away was commonplace.

Aug. 28: In Chicago the Democratic convention that selected Vice President Hubert Humphrey to top its ticket melted down. With tear gas in the air and blood in the streets 178 demonstrators/bystanders were arrested. Many were roughed up on live television. As cops clubbed citizens in the streets, CBS reporters Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were punched on the convention floor.

Watching the riots surrounding the Democratic convention on television, I began wondering if those who were saying our society was coming unglued might be right. Consequently, for the first time my political ideas were aired out in a newspaper, when my letter to the editor was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. That experience began a love affair with seeing my name in print.

Oct. 18: At the Summer Olympics at Mexico City, American track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the medal ceremony for the 200 meter race. Smith and Carlos wore black gloves (and other symbolic accouterments) for a protest gesture that was widely seen as a “black power” salute.

Nov. 5: Richard Nixon narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey. Although Humphrey, himself, was for peace, out of loyalty he refused to denounce Johnson’s failing war policy. Disillusioned liberals stayed at home and it cost Humphrey dearly. Also elected that day was Shirley Chisholm from Brooklyn. She was the first black female to serve in the House of Representatives.

Dec. 21: The first manned space mission to escape Earth’s gravity and orbit the moon began with the launching of Apollo 8.

Dec. 24: After having its way with them for 11 months, torture and mock executions included, North Korea released all of the members of the Pueblo’s crew but kept the ship. The U.S. Navy seemed to blame the Pueblo’s captain, Commander Lloyd M. "Pete" Bucher, for the entire fiasco. Mercifully, the Secretary of the Navy called off any official punishment.

Today, for many of my vintage, 1968 is remembered mostly for its explosion of violence, in particular the assassinations. We mostly don't like to remember the Pueblo.

*

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Sound

A scan of the campaign handbill
mentioned in this story.

Ed. Note: A longer version of this story was published in 1987 in SLANT. Then, in 2000, it was cut down to this version, which ran in STYLE Weekly as a Back Page.


*

In the spring of 1984, I ran for public office. In case the Rea for City Council campaign doesn’t ring a bell, it was a spontaneous and totally independent undertaking. No doubt, it showed. Predictably, I lost, but I’ve never regretted the snap decision to run, because the education was well worth the price.

In truth, I had been mired in a blue funk for some time prior to my letting a couple of friends, Bill Kitchen and Rocko Yates, talk me into running, as we played a foozball game in Rockitz, Kitchen's nightclub. Although I knew winning such an election was out of my reach, I relished the opportunity to have some fun mocking the system. Besides, at the time, I needed an adventure.

So it began. Walking door to door through Richmond’s 5th District, collecting signatures to qualify to be on the ballot, I talked with hundreds of people. During that process my attitude about the endeavor began to expand. People were patting me on the back and saying they admired my pluck. Of course, what I was not considering was how many people will encourage a fool to do almost anything that breaks the monotony.

By the time I announced my candidacy at a press conference on the steps of the city library, I was thoroughly enjoying my new role. My confidence and enthusiasm were compounding daily.

On a warm April afternoon I was in Gilpin Court stapling handbills, featuring my smiling face, onto utility poles. Prior to the campaign, I had never been in Gilpin Court. I had known it only as “the projects.”

Several small children took to tagging along. Perhaps it was their first view of a semi-manic white guy — working their turf alone — wearing a loosened tie, rolled-up shirtsleeves, and khaki pants.

After their giggling was done, a few of them offered to help out. So, I gave them fliers and they ran off to dish out my propaganda with a spirit only children have.

Later I stopped to watch some older boys playing basketball at the playground. As I was then an unapologetic hoops junkie, it wasn’t long before I felt the urge to join them. I played for about 10 minutes, and amazingly, I held my own.

After hitting four or five jumpers, I banked in a left-handed runner. It was bliss, I was in the zone. But I knew enough to quit fast, before the odds evened out.

Picking up my staple gun and campaign literature, I felt like a Kennedyesque messiah, out in the mean streets with the poor kids. Running for office was a gas; hit a string of jump shots and the world’s bloody grudges and bad luck will simply melt into the hot asphalt.

A half-hour later the glamour of politics had worn thin for my troop of volunteers. Finally, it was down to one boy of about 12 who told me he carried the newspaper on that street. As he passed the fliers out, I continued attaching them to poles.

The two of us went on like that for a good while. As we worked from block to block he had very little to say. It wasn’t that he was sullen; he was purposeful and stoic. As we finished the last section to cover, I asked him a question that had gone over well with children in other parts of town.

“What’s the best thing and the worst thing about your neighborhood?” I said with faux curiosity.

He stopped. He stared right through me. Although I felt uncomfortable about it, I repeated the question.

When he replied, his tone revealed absolutely no emotion. “Ain’t no best thing … the worst thing is the sound.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, already feeling a chill starting between my shoulder blades.

“The sound at night, outside my window. The fights, the gunshots, the screams. I hate it. I try not to listen,” he said, putting his hands over his ears to show me what he meant.

Stunned, I looked away to gather my ricocheting thoughts. Hoping for a clue that would steady me, I asked, “Why are you helping me today?”

He pointed up at one of my handbills on a pole and replied in his monotone. “I never met anybody important before. Maybe if you win, you could change it.”

Words failed me. Yet I was desperate to say anything that might validate his hope. Instead, we both stared silently into the afternoon’s long shadows. Finally, I thanked him for his help. He took extra handbills and rode off on his bike.

As I drove across the bridge over the highway that sequesters his stark neighborhood from through traffic, my eyes burned and my chin quivered like my grandfather’s used to when he watched a sad movie.

Remembering being 12 years old and trying to hide my fear behind a hard-rock expression, I wanted to go back and tell the kid, “Hey, don’t believe in guys passing out handbills. Don’t fall for anybody’s slogans. Watch your back and get out of the ghetto as fast as you can.”

But then I wanted to say, “You’re right! Work hard, be tough, you can change your neighborhood. You can change the world. Never give up!” During the ride home to the Fan District, I swore to myself to do my absolute best to win the election.

A few weeks later, at what was billed as my victory party, I, too, tried to be stoic as the telling election results tumbled in. The incumbent carried six of the district’s seven precincts. I carried one. The total vote wasn’t even close. Although I felt like I’d been in a car wreck, I did my best to act nonchalant.

http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/6291/212/1600/Rea84z.0.jpg
This shot, taken at Grace Place, shows my reaction to
the news that with half the votes counted I no longer
had any chance to win.
In the course of my travels these days, I sometimes hear Happy Hour wags laughing off Richmond’s routine murder statistics. They scoff when I suggest that maybe there are just too many guns about; I’m told that as long as “we” stay out of “their” neighborhood, there is little to fear.

But remembering that brave Gilpin Court newspaper boy, I know that to him the sound of a drug dealer dying in the street was just as terrifying as the sound of any other human being giving up the ghost.

If he's still alive, that same boy would be older than I was when I met him. The ordeal he endured in his childhood was not unlike what children growing up in any number of the world’s bloody war zones are going through today. Plenty of them must cover their ears at night, too.

For the reader who can’t figure out how this story could eventually come to bear on their own life, then just wait … keep listening.

 -- 30 --

Five Film Favorites: Rock 'n' Roll

The Mamas and Papas onstage (1967).

Movies and music go together. Like peanut butter and jelly? Perhaps more like Bonnie and Clyde.

Anyway, because moving images and music, in one form or another, compliment one another so nicely and they both rely on timing, we get the two together so often we don't even notice it. Then there are other times we're supposed to notice -- times when the music is at least as important as the picture.

When considering music films for a favorites list there are so many different kinds of musicals and movies about musicians that the category has to be narrowed. Therefore, for this list of five favorites, I’m looking only at rock ‘n’ roll movies, the genre baby boomers like me grew up hearing.

However, over the last five decades, plus, there have been so many movies that used rock ‘n’ roll music to add to the story, or perhaps to fill some gaps, that the category must be narrowed further. Just think of how many movies copied the manner in which George Lucas used oldies in "American Graffiti" (1973). Still, calling that movie a rock 'n' roll flick would be a stretch. 

So, for this list of five, only those films which present the music as concert footage are being considered. All five on my list present the musicians, performing as themselves, on-stage, before a live audience. All are documentaries of concerts of a certain stripe, even if they were staged for the purpose of making the film.

Which means that as much as I like "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) I can't put it on this particular list. Tomorrow I might change my mind, after all it's my list, but today my five favorite 'rock 'n' roll concert films are:

“Gimme Shelter” (1970): Directed by Albert Maysles and David Maysles. Performers: The Rolling Stones, also with Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Tina Turner and more.

“The Last Waltz” (1978): Directed by Martin Scorsese. Performers: The Band and various guest musicians.

“Monterey Pop” (1968): Directed by D.A. Pennebaker. Performers: Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and Papas, Otis Redding, and more.

“Stop Making Sense” (1984): Directed by Jonathan Demme. Performers: Talking Heads.

“The T.A.M.I. Show” (1964): Directed by Steve Binder. Performers: The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Lesley Gore and more.

Sorry, "Woodstock" (1970) didn't make the cut.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Picky Progressives and Red Meat

You're in your favorite vegetarian restaurant for lunch. As you order a bowl of black bean soup with extra jalapeño cornbread two guys in dark suits, both about 25, are making a commotion. Seated at a table across the room, they are demanding to be served cheeseburgers with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. 

All the while, their waitress is trying to explain that the place just doesn't serve any red meat, poultry or seafood. Ignoring her, one of the guys says he wants his cheeseburger medium-rare. The other goes for well-done. Both of them laugh with satisfaction. 

You ask your waitress, who is a friend, how often that sort of thing happens. She sighs, rolls her eyes and says, "At least once a week."

You return to the magazine article you were reading. It's about the gubernatorial race in Virginia, in particular it focused on some disgruntled Democrats saying they can't vote for Ralph Northam. You read about how some self-styled progressives basically see their vote as sacred. So they can't support a man who is too conservative, or even one who maybe used to be. Those quoted in the article said they wanted Tom Perriello to win, because he was properly seen as the "progressive" in the race. A few said they will not vote at all. Others said they will vote, just to write in Jill Stein or Mickey Mouse.

The guys who ordered the burgers are shouting at their bewildered waitress. The manager of the restaurant rushes in to tell the unruly customers to stop making a scene. Undaunted, they demand to be served what they want to eat. One of them suggests, "Go out and buy the damn meat at the grocery store and..."

"There's no check for your drinks, please just leave," the manager says abruptly. As the troublesome duo laughs and gets up from their table, the room remains dead silent. Without delay, they finish their cocktails standing up.  

A minute later your waitress puts a longneck Pabst Blue Ribbon on your table. She knows you don't need a glass. You tell her you were just reading about some Virginians who refuse to vote for a candidate who is on the ballot. You explain that for governor they don't like the Democrat or the Republican. 
 
She says, “But one of them is going to win. From what I see Gillespie and Northam are different enough. One of them has to be either better, or worse, than the other.”

As the burger bros leave in a huff, you whisper to her, “That's pretty much how I see it. I'm for Northam.”

She grins, “Me, too, but it sounds like those lefties in the magazine are the same kind of brats who might demand to be served, I say SERVED, a medium-rare cheeseburger in the best vegetarian restaurant in town. Sorry boys, it's not on the menu.”

After a quick gulp of cold beer, you say, “Bull's-eye.”
 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Kaepernick being blackballed?

Within the confines of the National Football League's macho culture, former-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick broke ranks. He took a stand that challenged the status quo by taking a knee. Now he can't get a job.

CBS Sports: 
Signing Kaepernick will be seen to some as a quasi-endorsement of his activism, specifically his refusal to stand for the national anthem. While Kaepernick had to expect some blowback for his actions, it’s really not reasonable to assume that this continuing wave of negativity would hound him.
Click here to read the entire article.

Last season Kaepernick made news, playing for a bad team, by kneeling during the pre-game playing of the National Anthem. He had his reasons. Some saw his protest as courageous. Others saw it as inappropriate. Here's more background: click here.

When I was in the first grade there was a ritual that was part of starting each day. The teacher called the roll. Then one student was summonsed to the front of the class to lead in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer.

Like some of my peers, I didn't like doing that job. It made me nervous. But I hadn't gotten to the point in my career as a student that I would have protested, or totally refused to do it.

The pledge came first. So I faced the flag, as required, and started saying the spiel with my hand over my heart. Except! I started saying the Lord's Prayer – “Our Father, which art in heaven...”

Naturally, the kids laughed ... a lot. I must have changed gears to say the proper speech, but I don't remember that part. The embarrassment and laughter I remember all too well. 

Later some kids were sure I'd done it on purpose, perhaps because I was already somewhat of a class clown type. Or, maybe that came later. At some point it must have occurred to me that the pledge was sort of like a prayer, especially when a group says it unison.

Gradually, over the years, I did grow to be more and more uncomfortable with any kind of prayer/chant that is forced onto people. Maybe WWII movies about Nazis were influencing me. Consequently, it has been a long time since I've put my hand over my heart during the National Anthem at games. I always stand, but I don't sing along. Yes, I've been glared at more than a few times, but there's never been a scene. 

Sometimes I flash back onto that time in the first grade when I was made to feel uncomfortable about forced patriotism. Maybe I'm wrong and I did do it on purpose ... I'm not 100 percent sure.

By the way, CBS Sports reports that Kaepernick's San Fransisco jersey is currently the 17th best seller; whatever that means. Anyway, I'm rooting for Kaepernick, but I'll be surprised if he plays another down in the NFL. Which is just another reason why I'm less interested in professional football every year.

Photo from kaepernick7.com.

Monday, June 12, 2017

OK, I'm voting for Northam

Ralph Northam (photo by WaPo)
For each statewide office Virginia's Democrats and Republicans must select their candidates either by way of a convention (with delegates only voting) or a primary (with registered voters casting ballots). Accordingly, tomorrow, this commonwealth's voters can weigh in on the process, if they are so inclined. 

Voters can participate in either party's primary, but not in both. Without any sort of party registration our system is therefore open to gaming by partisan activists seeking to undermine the other party's effort to win in the general election in November.Which is the last thing I want to do.

That means I'm going to cast my vote to put Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam at the top of the Democratic Party's 2017 ticket. In short, he seems qualified and ready for the job. 

One of the reasons I care enough to bother to vote in a primary concerns my grandson's future. After I vote on June 13 I'll be attending Sam's high school graduation ceremony. I'm proud of his accomplishment (he's going to VCU in the fall). Plus, I'm glad he and his sister, Emily, don't have to live in a state Donald Trump carried in 2016. Naturally, I want my grandchildren (Emily is a rising senior at JMU) to live their next four years in a Virginia not governed by any member of Trump's Republican Party, including the presumed Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie. 

At best Gillespie is a glib conservative flack; probably more of a weasel than an extremist, but these are strange times. Hence, given the makeup of Virginia's General Assembly, if a Republican is elected governor in November we could turn into North Carolina, trying to regulate public bathrooms.

OK, former-congressman Tom Perriello seems to have his heart in the right place. Seems smart enough. Seems to be a bona fide liberal. Seems to have a bright future. In spite of all that, I don't believe he will be as good a gubernatorial candidate as will Northam. Hey, I'm not saying Perriello is Creigh Deeds again, but this time around being ideologically correct on the issues (except for guns) is not enough for me. Winning in November is too important. 

Only two states are having gubernatorial elections this year, New Jersey and Virginia. Therefore much will be made of the Virginia race's signs of the Trump effect, going into the 2018 mid-term elections. Meanwhile, some wags would have you to believe that merely by having a perceived moderate clashing with a perceived liberal, the Democrats here are re-fighting the national primary of 2016.

In that perspective Hillary Clinton's stand-in is Northam and the Bernie Sanders stand-in is Perriello. Mostly, I don't buy that too-convenient analysis.

Maybe Perriello is more liberal, I'm not sure. He does have the endorsements of the two best known Democratic senators from the party's left-wing – Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Although that speaks well for Perriello, it also serves to underline his lack of endorsements from the likes of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine.

That's because those elected office-holders have endorsed Northam, which says volumes to me. Northam's 10 years of experience in state government is also a plus. Moreover, on television Northam seems more comfortable in his own skin. Finally, I'm told by people I trust that he's a good man, an honest man. 

This year honesty really matters. I hope Emily and Sam remember to vote. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Trump's Personal Devil

President Donald Trump tells shameless lies. Absurd lies. Transparent lies. Then he scrambles awkwardly to bully his listeners into agreeing with him. He lies when he hardly needs to.

For instance, Trump's chock-full-of-baloney boasts about his margins of victory and crowd sizes are laughable, at best. The endless campaign, with such preening for his fans, has become a familiar part of the new normal. 

Still, having won the presidency and the awesome power that office wields, why does Trump continue to cough up so many untruths that can easily be exposed? Why bother?

In short, I say the Devil makes him do it. Stick with me, dear reader, a less cryptic explanation is coming soon:

In other departures from propriety and reality, Trump routinely tweets deranged declarations and purple protestations in the wee hours. Since those unfiltered tweets sometime undermine what seem to be his best interests, why the hell can't he stop?

Answer: The Devil, once again.

Question: Why did Trump fire Comey?

Answer: You know who made him do it.

OK, now I'll un-bury the lede: Who or what is Trump's personal devil? In one word, it's his "anxiety."

Trump's anxiety bubbles and boils when he feel besieged ... which probably happens a lot, lately. When his paranoia overwhelms him, his habit is to do something to relieve it. The pattern is a compulsion.

Think about it. When he feels that anxiety coursing through his veins Trump can't go to a familiar neighborhood bar, talk about the NBA Finals and toss back a few beers with his pals. Apparently drugs don't do the trick for him, either, so he doesn't fire up a joint, or pop a Xanax. (Who knows if that's really true?) I'm pretty sure Boss Tweet is not the type to go for a soothing bike ride. On top of that, with the current media "witch hunt" underway it's too damn risky to try to smuggle in any more Russian hookers to perform "salacious" acts. 

My theory is that one of Trump's favorite anxiety medicines is tweeting crazy shit. The crazier, the better. Imposing his imperial will on lesser beings is another. Weird bullying handshakes ... and so forth. When Trump's need to dominate is satiated he wins the moment. It's all about the moment.

Surviving the moment. His heart didn't explode out of his chest. Then the president takes a deep breath. He feels his pulse. Thump ... thump ... thump.

Wait, I guess his black heart probably goes, "Trump ... Trump ... Trump."

With that anxiety attack crisis in the rear-view mirror, Trump's squirmy-toad mind begins searching for the next ploy. His paranoia stemming from all the people he's turned into victims -- like, how many of them want to kill him? -- starts to crowd into his thoughts again. How many black people want to kill him? How many Muslims?

Picture a loquacious mini-Trump, with little horns, perched on the president's shoulder -- whispering in his ear, evermore.

Yes, anxiety can be a killer.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Wannabe Conqueror of the Fourth Estate

On May 24, 2017, Montana's newest congressman, Greg “The Body-Slammer” Gianforte, followed suit with President Donald Trump's campaign trail boast to do with the willingness of Republican voters to shrug off his vulgar, even thuggish manner – “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Ever the Trump loyalist, it seems Gianforte was also following through on Trump's Feb. 24, 2017, comment labeling the press in the USA as the “enemy of the people.” At this desk it isn't known how many votes Gianforte won, or lost, by roughing up a reporter and then lying about the incident ... before offering up a tepid apology after he won the election.

Given his many other over-the-top statements deriding and threatening the fourth estate in the USA, it has become clear to me that Trump's "enemy of the people" quip was tantamount to declaring war on the working press, itself.

More importantly, I've no doubt Trump plans to win this war. Furthermore, I see no reason to hope he's merely trying to manipulate the news media – tame them, so to speak. No. When it comes to any kind of battle, or contest of any kind, there's just no way Trump means to come out of it as less than the greatest winner, ever!

Biggest ever! A conqueror.

On the other hand, if freedom of the press continues on as we've known it to be, as guaranteed by the Constitution, President Trump probably can't become emperor of all he surveys. Thus, the free press has to go. Truth goes with it.

Trump may not win the war on the truth, but he probably won't fail because he didn't give it his best effort. Of course many people will disagree with my analysis, because they like Trump. Or maybe they can't imagine he could covet more power than he already has. Well, I can.

Whether the focus groups that guided Trump's campaign were run by propagandists from Madison Avenue or the Kremlin, or both, perish the notion that he was doing all of it on the fly. Trump and his PR team may not understand how governments work, but they know plenty about propaganda.

Trump sees a time in which the mainstream media are cowed. Some well-known publishers and journalists will be in jail. Marshall law will be in effect to prevent terrorist attacks. The resistance will have become an outlaw underground movement. In that environment the social media will be dominant and zillions of the nation's adverting dollars will be spent there.  

In other words, I'm imagining that the legit press can't lose this war.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Propaganda in Bronze

Lee Monument on Monument Avenue (2007).

Note: "Propaganda in Bronze" (as edited) by STYLE Weekly can be seen here. It was the Mar. 16, 2016, issue's Back Page. What appears below is the copy I submitted. (The differences are small but real.)

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Officials in New Orleans, Baltimore and Austin recently came to the realization that monuments glorifying the Confederate States of America (1861-65) may no longer have a proper place on public property. Consequently, in those three cities a few statues honoring the Confederacy are in the process of being removed.

On Mar. 7, by passing HB587, a proactive group of legislators in the General Assembly moved to prevent that trend from spreading to Virginia. The bill empowered the state government to seize control over the fate of war-related monuments standing on public property. It wasn't immediately clear whether the bill's language would also block historically accurate signage from being placed near the statues of Confederate heroes on Monument Ave, as has been suggested by some Richmonders as a way of providing a context for the memorials.

Given what had happened in the three aforementioned cities, it seems Virginia's lawmakers decided it was time to take the “public” out of public art. Anyway, whatever their intentions were, for the immediate future that won't matter. Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed HB587 on Mar. 10.

Nonetheless, going forward, the discussion over what to do about Confederate memorials on public property is hardly going away. Virginians still tethered to yesterday's thinking about the Civil War might not like it, but times have changed. The propriety of making heroes out of men who are now seen by many as having been traitors in their day is being questioned like never before.

What was once unthinkable in Central Virginia is now possible. Want proof?

Henrico County just decided to take Sen. Harry F. Byrd's name off the front of a public school. Some people will surely squawk, saying the renaming of the middle school amounts to rewriting history. But given Byrd's association with the Massive Resistance movement of the 1950s and '60s, that move may have been long overdue.

Most of the monuments honoring the Confederacy that stand today in at least 20 states were put in place during the late-1800s/early-1900s. It was an era in which Lost Cause misinformation was being promulgated by stubborn sympathizers of the Confederacy. Plainly, they sought to paint over the haunting politics of the Civil War. Which was a propaganda campaign, if there ever was one.

Fast-forward to 2016: Whether it's in Richmond or New Orleans, propaganda cast in bronze is still propaganda. Today that propaganda's useful life as a political tool has faded into the mists. Now Monument Avenue's row of statues have to stand on their own as worthwhile art that has outlived its original purpose. That's one of the differences between the statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson F. Davis.

The solemn Lee Monument passes the art test, even for many who have no warm regard for the sentiments of Lost Cause thinking. Whereas, for me, the awkward assemblage that is the Davis Monument represents bad medicine.

It should be remembered that the three Confederate generals with statues on Monument Avenue – Lee, Stuart and Jackson – were Virginians. Say what you will about the Civil War, they served their home state. However, since Davis was not a Virginian, the main reason to honor him in Richmond is that he served as the president of the Confederacy. More than anything else, doesn't the Davis Monument celebrate the Confederate States of America, itself?

Speaking of public art and politics, the simmering brouhaha over removing a beloved live oak tree from its home at the triangular intersection of Adams St., Brook Rd. and Broad St., in order to place a statue of Maggie L. Walker there, is another example of how public art can get entangled with politics. Mayor Dwight Jones apparently wants it done, pronto, but there are plenty of locals who oppose him.

Some want to protect the tree. Others would like to see a Walker memorial created, but placed elsewhere. Which leads me to ask: How about where the Davis Monument sits today?

Maybe putting a Walker statue on the fringe of Jackson Ward is best. Still, I'm not the only one who thinks new monuments should be added to Monument Avenue. Moreover, if putting a Walker Monument on Richmond's most famous street would feel like a righteous step toward atonement for Richmond's role in a war to protect the slave market business that once thrived here, what's wrong with that?

The story of the unveiling of such a statue on Monument Avenue would make worldwide news. It would be good news about how Richmond is changing. And, why stop with Maggie Walker? Surely there are other Virginians who deserve to be considered. How about Justice F. Lewis Powell?

Finally, let's stiff-arm the absurd notion that dismantling an old statue, to ship to it off to a museum, amounts to rewriting history. No one is suggesting that Jefferson Davis should be banished from history books. Davis was a key player in an important period of American history. Still, the public's view of his worthiness to be elevated to the status of a hero is just not the same in 2016 as it was when the Davis Monument was unveiled in 1907.

New Orleans already did the right thing. So did Baltimore and Austin. How long will Richmond's City Council members wait to face the music? In the meantime, thank you, Gov. McAuliffe.

-- My words and photo.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

After-hours screening of 'The Harder They Come'

Ed. Note: What follows is an episode of Biograph Times, which is a work-in-progress that hopes to one day become a book. The Biograph (1972-87) was an independent repertory cinema, located at 814 West Grace Street in Richmond, Virginia. It opened in an era that seemed ready to give the baby boomers, who were becoming adults, whatever they wanted.

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Still of Jimmy Cliff as Ivan.
In the fall of 1973, David Levy, then the most active managing partner/owner of the Biograph Theatres in Georgetown and Richmond, asked me to look at a film to evaluate its potential. From time to time he did that for various reasons. In this case he had a new 35mm print of “The Harder They Come” shipped to me. I managed the Biograph in Richmond.

In those days we had frequent after-hours screenings of films we came by, one way or another. Usually on short notice, the word would go out that we would be watching a movie at a certain time. These gatherings were essentially impromptu movie parties. A couple of times it was 1940s and '50s 16mm boxing films from a private collection.

Sometimes prints of films that were in town to play at another venue, say a film society, would mysteriously appear in our booth. In such cases the borrowed flicks were always returned before they were missed ... so I was told.

Although I don’t remember any moments, in particular, from that first screening of “The Harder They Come”, I do recall the gist of my telephone conversation with Levy the next day. After telling him how much I liked the Jamaican movie, he asked me how I would promote it.

Well, I was ready for that question. I had smoked it over thoroughly with a few friends during and after the screening. So, I told David we ought to have a free, open-to-the-public, sneak preview of the movie. Most importantly, we should use radio exclusively to promote the screening. Because of the significance of the radio campaigns for the Biograph's midnight shows, over the last year, he liked the idea right away.

In this time, long before the era of giant corporations owning hundreds of stations, a locally-programmed daytime radio station with a weak signal played a significant role in what success was enjoyed at the Biograph. For a while we had a sweet deal -- a dollar-a-holler -- with WGOE-AM, the most popular station for the under-35 set in the Fan District and environs. In the first half of the 1970s, the station at the top of the dial, 1590, owned the hippie market. 

Subsequently, on a Friday morning in November the DJs at WGOE began reading announcements of a free showing of “The Harder They Come” that would take place at the Biograph that afternoon at 3 p.m. Then they would play a cut by Jimmy Cliff, the film’s star, from the soundtrack. This pattern was continued maybe three times an hour, leading up to the time of the screening.

Ed. Note: “The Harder They Come” (1972): 120 minutes. Color. Directed by Perry Henzell; Cast: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw. In this Jamaican production, Cliff plays Ivan, a pop star/criminal on the lam. The music of Cliff, The Maytals, The Melodians and Desmond Dekker is featured.

Of course, Reggae music was being heard in Richmond before our free screening, but it was still on the periphery of popular culture. As I recall, some 300 people showed up for the screening and the movie was extremely well received.

In previous runs in other markets, “The Harder They Come” had been treated more or less as an underground movie. As it was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for its American distribution, it had a grainy, documentary look to it that added to its allure. Upon hearing about the test-audience's approval, Levy got excited and wanted to book it to run as a regular feature, rather than as a midnight show.

While it didn’t set any records for attendance, “The Harder They Come” did fairly well and returned to play several more dates at the Biograph, at regular hours and as a midnight show. 

Levy became a sub-distributor for “The Harder They Come.” When he rented it to theaters in other cities within his region, he advised them to use the same radio-promoted, free-screening tactic.

Forty-four years ago, watching a virtually unknown low-budget Jamaican film after hours in the Biograph had seemed edgy, almost exotic. That night we had no idea how popular Reggae music was about to become.

Over the next few years Reggae music smoothly crossed over from niche to mainstream to ubiquitous. Bob Marley (1945-81), dead for over 30 years, still has a huge following to this day. Reggae's acceptance opened the door for the popularity of the still-fresh fusion sound of the 2 Tone bands, like The Selecter, The Specials, the (English) Beat, Madness, and so forth, in the early-1980s.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Five Film Favorites: Cartoons


This category is especially tricky. There's no way I can remember what my favorite cartoons were when I was 10 years old, back when cartoons mattered to me more than most things in real life. Baseball mattered more.

What will fill up this list will be my five favorite cartoons today. Still, before I get to that I want to give the reader some sense of what I liked best, back when I was a cartoon-loving kid. My favorite 'toons featured these characters: Betty Boop, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Heckle and Jeckle, Mr. Magoo, Popeye, Woody Woodpecker and so forth. Rather than go on, I'll stop there. You get the picture.  

In the late-1950s I still very much enjoyed the smooth animation styles of the old cartoons that were originally made to play in movie theaters. The early cartoons made for television, like Mighty Mouse, had imitated them. Then the Hanna-Barbera style came to TV. It was everywhere suddenly and I didn't like it all that much.

The drawings were flatter. Their entertainment value relied more on the dialogue than the art. Although I watched Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear, even liked them, I was put off by the animation style. The same was true for Rocky and Bullwinkle, although I liked the cartoons on that program more, because the writing was much funnier.

For this list of five favorites I'm talking mostly about cartoons that are about seven minutes long, which was standard in the time before television. So no feature length animated films are on this list. Neither are made-for-TV shows like The Simpsons, etc. 

Here are my five favorite short (all less than 10 minutes) cartoons, with one added special mention of an unusual animated segment of a feature-length film.

"The Critic" (1963): 4 minutes. Color. Directed by Ernest Pintoff. Voice by Mel Brooks. Click here to watch it.

"Duck Amuck" (1953): 7 minutes. Color. Directed by Chuck Jones. Voices by Mel Blanc. Click here to watch it.

"Minnie the Moocher" (1932). 8 minutes. B&W. Directed by Dave Fleischer. Voices by Mae Questel, Cab Calloway. Click here to watch it.

"Rooty Toot Toot" (1951): 7 minutes. Color. Directed by John Hubley. Voices by  Thurl Ravenscroft, Annette Warren. Click here to watch it.

"Thank You Masked Man" (1971): 8 minutes. Color. Directed by John Magnuson. Voices by Lenny Bruce. Click here to watch it.

Bonus pick: This is a segment from "Allegro non Troppo" (1976). It was an Italian take off of Disney's "Fantasia." Both films used pieces of classical music as their sound. Click here to watch it.

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Five Favorite Films: Movies About Television

In the early-1950s television’s ability to reach into America’s living rooms was taking the country by storm. The advertising industry that was building up around television was becoming hugely influential on the nation’s culture. Many observers saw TV as being in the process of killing off the movie-making industry in Hollywood and the movie-exhibiting business all over the country.

Eventually, one by one, the major studios sold off the rights to their old features to television. To lure audiences into aging downtown movie palaces the most panicked producers in Hollywood reached out to eye candy like CinemaScope and 3-D. Soon the studios decided they had to stop making movies in black and white. Eventually, the businessmen of Hollywood saw they had to throw off the Hays Code, adopted in the early-’30s to keep the smut out of American movies.

A national trend moved the movie theater business to multiplexes in the suburbs. Downtown single-auditorium movie houses fell onto hard times. So, Richmond is fortunate to have an authentic old movie palace still in operation as a cinema: The Byrd Theatre, which opened in 1928, is now owned and operated by a non-profit foundation.

Yet, some 60 years after the doom of big-budget movie-making was being predicted, while the old studio system that thrived in the ‘30s and ‘40s is history, it seems no matter how much it costs to make feature films, determined producers will always figure out ways to keep doing it.

Of course, one of the things that Hollywood has relished doing that television couldn’t do, or wouldn’t do, for a long time, was to tell unflattering, inside stories about how the people who rule the television industry operate ... to expose their real priorities. As a medium, TV was too uptight to pull back the curtain to reveal its inner works. In other words, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" wasn’t a realistic look at the job of producing a weekly sitcom.

However circuitous, that introduction leads us to this week’s list of five film favorites -- movies about television. All of them were made in the 20th century, one of them, just barely: 

  • “Broadcast News” (1987): Color. 133 minutes. Directed by  James L. Brooks. Cast: William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter, Jack Nicholson. Note: The inevitable rivalries that color the relationships of the news producer, writer/reporter and presenter/anchorman are explored. Being overly self-absorbed is an industry requirement. Roger Ebert said: “[As] knowledgeable about the TV news-gathering process as any movie ever made.”
  • “The China Syndrome” (1979): Color. 122 minutes. Directed by James Bridges. Cast: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, Scott Brady. Note: A reporter discovers a cover-up of an accident at a nuclear power plant and all hell breaks loose. Her determination to tell the story becomes dangerous to her and anyone close by. Ironically, the infamous Three Mile Island partial meltdown incident in Pennsylvania happened 12 days after this film was released in 1979. 
  • “A Face in the Crowd” (1957): B&W. 126 minutes. Directed by Elia Kazan. Cast: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick. Note: An early warning about television’s potential to boost a charismatic personality into real power. As corny as this film is, in ways, most of it holds up well. Although Andy Griffith doesn’t play a heavy often, he sure knocks it out of the park in this one.
  • “Magnolia” (1999): Color. 188 minutes. Directed by  Paul Thomas Anderson. Cast: Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall. Note: A dark but whimsical story about fate and luck, told from several angles that overlap. The scene that unites all the characters, to sing the same Aimee Mann song is about as risky AND as satisfying as it gets on the big screen.
  • “Network” (1976): Color. 121 minutes. Directed by Sydney Lumet. Cast: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall. Note: The future of cable television’s soon-to-be-seen excesses in bad taste is anticipated with chilling accuracy by writer Paddy Chayefsky. Finch’s unhinged anchorman character, Howard “I’m Mad as Hell” Beale, is unforgettable. It won him an Oscar.
Close runners-up: Although I wanted to put “Medium Cool” (1969) on this list, it’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I couldn‘t do it. “Wag the Dog” (1997) almost made the list, too. If I’ve left off your favorite movie about television, please feel free to use the comments option this blogzine offers to give it its proper due.

Next Thursday another Five Film Favorites episode with a different category will be offered.