Friday, June 22, 2018

Tillman to play with Miami Heat in the NBA Summer League

From VCU's  Chris Kowalczyk:
Justin Tillman will continue his quest for the NBA this summer.  The 6-foot-8 forward, known for his dynamic skill set and on-court flair, says he has agreed to play for the Miami Heat in the NBA Summer Leagues. Tillman worked out for a number of NBA teams this spring, including the Spurs, Celtics, Nuggets, Thunder, Pistons and Lakers.

The Heat are scheduled to field a summer league squad in Sacramento, Calif. July 2-5 and in Las Vegas, Nev. from July 6-17.

A four-year standout for VCU, Tillman was named First Team All-Atlantic 10, A-10 All-Defensive Team and NABC All-District as a senior in 2017-18 after averaging a team-high 18.9 points and a league-best 9.9 rebounds per game. Tillman’s 18 double-doubles this season were the most by a VCU player since the 1995-96 campaign.

In four seasons, Tillman compiled 1,415 points, 18th-most in program history and 922 rebounds, third-most by a Ram. He also ranks third in school history in double-doubles (34) and second in career field goal percentage (.573).

Tillman will look to become the 11th former Ram to play in the NBA and the sixth since 2009. Last season, VCU alums Treveon Graham (Charlotte), Troy Daniels (Suns) and Briante Weber (Rockets, Grizzlies) saw time on NBA rosters.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

VCU to face Temple at Barclays

Note: The following information comes via VCU's Chris Kowalczyk

VCU will face Temple in its return to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. as part of the Championship Round of the 2018 Legends Classic, presented by Old Trapper. 


In all, the Rams will play four games in the prestigious event, including a pair of match-ups at the E.J. Wade Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. VCU and Temple will square off on Monday, Nov. 19 at Barclays following the completion of a contest between St. John’s and California that tips off at 7 p.m. VCU will advance to meet either St. John’s or Cal on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at Barclays. 


VCU will also host regional round contests with in-state foe Hampton on Friday, Nov. 9 and Bowling Green on Monday, Nov. 12. Game times for those tilts will be released at a later date.
 

The Rams previously participated in the 2015 Legends Classic at Barclays, where they topped Oregon and fell to a ranked Villanova squad. VCU’s history at Barclays Center also includes the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament from 2013-16. The Rams won the league crown over Dayton on that floor in 2015. The A-10 Tournament is set to return to the arena in 2019.

VCU has not faced Temple since the 2012-13 season. The Rams topped Cal 83-69 last season at the Maui Invitational and defeated St. John’s during the 2016-17 campaign at the Battle for Atlantis. Hampton and VCU have met eight times previously, but this will be the first game between the two programs since the 2009-10 season. The Rams are 7-1 all-time in the series. VCU and Bowling Green have never met.

2018 LEGENDS CLASSIC 

Presented by Old Trapper (VCU Schedule)
 

Friday, Nov. 9
Hampton at VCU (Richmond, Va.)


Monday, Nov. 12
Bowling Green at VCU (Richmond, Va.)

Monday, Nov. 19
Temple vs. VCU (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Tuesday, Nov. 20
Cal or St. John’s vs. VCU (Brooklyn, N.Y.)


*   *   *

Friday, June 08, 2018

'Napoleon' in Manhattan

Abel Gance and Kevin Brownlow in 1967
A few years ago, a chat with a master projection booth technician I met brought to mind a unique movie-watching experience. The conversation was with Chapin Cutler; we were talking about old movie houses when he told me that 40-some years ago he had worked in the booth at the old Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge. 

In my early days as manager at the Biograph I had a few telephone conversations with the manager of that famous movie theater (I don‘t recall his name). Occasionally I talked with my counterparts at repertory cinemas/art houses in other cities about shipping prints back and forth, etc. The Orson Welles (1969-86) was known then as quite a trend-setter.

Cutler also said he was working in the booth at Radio City Music Hall when I saw Abel Gance‘s “Napoleon” on October 24, 1981. He told me he had supervised the installation of the synchronized three-projector system it took to present Gance’s restored 1927 masterpiece. It was no easy task to present it a fashion faithful to what Gance had called “polyvision,” which entailed split screen images and other effects, including some splashes of color.

The restoration of the film was a great story, itself. It had been a 20-year project supervised by film historian Kevin Brownlow. Then the film, which had been released over the years at various lengths over the years, was edited into to a four-hour version by Francis Ford Coppola, whose company, American Zoetrope, released it.

Just as the French filmmaker had originally envisioned, a live orchestra accompanied the silent film. The new score was written by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola. The power that music added to the overall experience would be difficult to overstate.

Throughout the 1920s Abel Gance had been seen as a great innovator, a visionary, even a genius. Then came the mammoth production, “Napoleon,” and its abysmal failure at the box office. In 1927 it cost a theater a lot of money to install all the equipment it took to present it properly, with three projectors working in unison. Because few theaters opted to install such a system for one film the first run engagements were limited. Talkies soon came along and silent movies, no matter how avant-garde, were shelved.

Although Gance kept working on film-making projects, he sometimes spiraled into dark periods of despair. There was a point when he was said to have burned some of the footage from his original cut of “Napoleon.” Who knows what its true running time ought to be? I’ve read accounts that suggest Gance wanted it to run nine hours. And, maybe he wanted to make sequels.

Eventually, Gance became somewhat obsessed with re-editing “Napoleon,” perpetually, trying to transform some version of it into an important film that could be seen and appreciated by a wide audience. Some observers considered him to be a washed up crackpot and anything but a good risk.

To get to Manhattan I drove to D.C. and took the train to New York. During the Metroliner trip from Union Station to Penn Station I read several Charles Bukowski stories from a paperback edition of “Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness.” It had been purchased at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco eight months earlier that year, but I hadn't read much of it since the flight home.

Reading several of Bukowski’s tight, briefly-told tales back-to-back on a fast-moving train really knocked me out. The feeling I had about the story called “The Most Beautiful Woman in Town,” is still easy to conjure up.

To top it off, the whole trip was part of a business project. My Biograph bosses in Georgetown wanted me to assess the commercial potential for “Napoleon” for smaller markets in the mid-Atlantic region, because they were considering a bold move to become a sub-distributor of the film. So I was traveling on other people’s money!

Then, during my walk from the hotel to the theater, bad luck flung a cinder into my eye. When the movie started I couldn’t watch it, because I couldn’t get the damn thing out of my eye. It felt like a sharp-edged boulder. Since my mission was to WATCH the movie I had to do something, so I went out to the lobby.

Corny as it sounds I asked the first Radio City Music Hall employee I encountered if there was a doctor in the house.

The answer was, “Yes.”

Hey this was Manhattan. Of course there was a doctor on duty to take care of medical emergencies and yes, to flush blinding cinders out of the patrons’ eyes; although the cinder had packed quite a punch, the thing actually weighed less than a pound. Back in the auditorium, the movie was spectacular.

I left the theater overwhelmed and returned to Richmond more than a little enthusiastic about the possibility of being associated with screening the same movie at the Mosque in Richmond and in other large theaters with orchestra pits in the region. 

Unfortunately, the notion of playing Gance’s greatest film in cities all over the country, accompanied by live orchestras, withered and died. When it went into general release the sound was put on the film in a conventional way. CinemaScope was used to show the triptych effect. 

So the deal my bosses had in mind never materialized. Still, the new four-hour version of “Napoleon” did run at the Biograph in February of 1983, to mark the theater’s 11th anniversary.
It was still impressive, but not at all what it had been like at my viewing in Manhattan. At least I got to see the part I had missed before.

Abel Gance died at the age of 92. He lived just long enough to see his reputation as a great filmmaker totally rehabilitated. His death came just three weeks after I saw “Napoleon,” during the run promoted in the 1-sheet above. At the time of his death in 1981, once again, critics were calling Gance a genius. Which provides a happy ending to this meandering story.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Prayer or Protest?


The photograph above (lifted from the Internet) shows three men in Philadelphia Eagles uniforms. Unless it's a doctored photo we can probably assume they are real professional football players at a stadium. Why they are on one knee isn't exactly clear.

So we can't say for sure what they are doing. Which means President Donald Trump can't tell if he should applaud or attack the trio with his next tweet. To cut to the chase: Are they praying or protesting?

Hard to say without more information. This morning it seems Fox News used it as a photo to document three Eagles players protesting during the playing of the National Anthem with the familiar take-a-knee gesture that so outrages Trump.

Then Fox News soon had to apologize, because it turns out the photo documented three Eagles players praying. Which means that what's in the minds of the kneeling men, in the moment, is what matters in the long run. Their intentions and perhaps the context.

Were those three Eagles players exercising their freedom of religion, or their freedom of speech?

That dilemma reminds me of the flag-burning issue that used to rile situational conservatives and prompted a drive to create a Constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning.

And it reminds me of a piece I first wrote on that issue in SLANT, back in the day: This link will take you to a shorter version of it, a 2006 rewrite I posted on SLANTblog entitled “The Third Man.” Note: Four days after this June 23, 2006, post the effort to pass the anti-flag-burning amendment in the U.S. Senate failed by one vote.

-- 30 -- 

Friday, June 01, 2018

2018 GRFGA T-shirts

The art for the 2018 GRFGA T-shirts is above. For what it's worth it's the ninth in the series I've designed. The ink colors will be black and white. So what you see above as black will be that on your short. The fabric colors will surround the white circle (an imaginary golf disc).

The new T-shirts (100% heavy duty cotton), long sleeve and short, will be available in three familiar colors – the red, blue and athletic gray that was used for the last T-shirt (Where the Frisbees Landed). Color swatches are shown below. 

 The prices are:
  • short sleeves: $18.
  • long sleeves: $21
  • sweatshirts: (crew neck, gray only) $28
They are all available in S, M, L and XL. Add $2 for XXLs. Add $3 for XXXLs. 

Please note: As before, these friendly prices are based on the customer paying in advance and picking up the T-shirts, as per usual, once they are available. Last day for placing an order is June 25. Thanks.

 My email address is: ftrea9@yahoo.com.

Labels That Don't Stick

This illo by STYLE's art department ran with the piece.
Note: The piece that follows was published as a Back Page by STYLE Weekly on April 7, 2004. Thinking about today's ideology-defying brand of politics brought it to mind. In 2004, I didn't certainly see Trump's presidency coming. While I could easily have imagined a television celebrity might one day pull it off, in that time I saw Trump mostly as a buffoon and I was ignoring "reality television" as a genre. 

Still, in this 14-year-old piece I was seeing the coming of a different way of framing politics in the USA. The old definitions of left and right were being blurred beyond recognition, curiously, even as Americans seemed to be becoming all the more label-conscious. In hindsight, now I have to say I was seeing the cynical poison that the "branding" concept was injecting into the culture.
Labels That Don't Stick
by F.T. Rea

The terms “liberal” and “conservative,” as used by many of today's chattering pundits and campaigning politicians, are as outdated as your Uncle Dudley's lime green leisure suit ... or that open can of beer you left on the porch railing yesterday afternoon.

In the turbulent 1960s, such convenient left–right labels may have been misnomers at times, too, but at least they made some sense. In the context of the Cold War Era – with explosive issues such as the Vietnam War and civil rights in the air – it was useful to see a left-to-right political spectrum.

In those days, segregationists and hawks derisively called their most vocal opponents “liberals” and “pinkos.” Civil rights demonstrators and doves didn’t mind calling their opposites “right-wingers” and “fascists.” And in spite of how the circumstances and issues have changed since then, the same threadbare labels have remained in use.

Why?

Well, it’s mainly because it has suited the people attempting to cash in on conditioned reactions to words such as “left” and “right,” “liberal” and “conservative.”

Howard Dean is best described as a political maverick. His record as governor of Vermont was hardly that of a left-winger. Yet because he was for a spell the most effective critic of the Bush policy in Iraq, the feisty doctor was branded by pundits and Bush apologists as an extreme leftist from a silly state that might as well be part of Canada.

In 1991 a radio news story described a political brouhaha in Russia between the ascending free-market style reformers and the old guard, the stubborn communists — who were going out of style faster than a Leningrad minute.

No, make that a St. Petersburg minute.

The report labeled those clinging to the Soviet system as “conservatives” and those in the process of sweeping them out of power as “liberals.” When considered in light of the familiar Western view of matters political — capitalists on the right vs. socialists on the left — the role reversal of this situation’s fresh context was striking and amusing.

George W. Bush likes the tag “compassionate conservative.” It’s a label that served him well in the 2000 election. But Bush’s steering of the nation’s economy, his unprecedented accumulation of debt, have hardly been conservative in the traditional sense. Nor has Bush’s swaggering, go-it-alone foreign policy been in the least bit prudent or conservative.

Being aggressive and being conservative are altogether different things. Leading up to World War II, the conservative Republicans wanted to keep America out of the fray much longer than did the FDR Democrats.

When Bush eschewed the idea of nation building in his first presidential campaign he was talking like a traditional, somewhat isolationist conservative. Now he walks like anything but a conservative with what is going on in Iraq — whatever that is.

In the contemporary American political game, when players call themselves or their opponents “liberals” or “conservatives” they are probably just trying to jerk you around by what they see as your shallow understanding of the situation.

Today’s political issues divide along many lines. There are urban vs. suburban arguments. There are differences that split generations, classes, lifestyles and you-name-it. Trying always to frame such issues in a left-right context tortures the truth.

In this election year, the wise voter will brush aside the labels and remember that neither conservatives nor liberals have ever had an exclusive on two considerations that matter a lot more than labels — honesty and competence.

-- 30 --

Friday, May 18, 2018

Shills Protecting Thrills

 

Don't tell me most of America’s mass-murdering shooters would simply have switched over to bombs, or poison, if they couldn't have gotten a hold of their favorite tools. Those killers craved the raw thrill of shooting rapid-fire weapons at living people so much they finally did it.

Killers they were, but they weren't bombers or poisoners. They weren't sword-wielders or stranglers. They were shooters.

While Wayne LaPierre, Oliver North and the rest of the shills for the firearms industry talk about protecting constitutional rights, the angle they don't want to discuss is protecting thrills. Owners of assault rifles love the thrill of shooting those weapons of war. As we've seen, for the most evil of rapid-fire gun owners, the thrill of shooting at terrified school children is irresistible.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Origin of the Zism

Zism
In the spring of 1983 the Biograph Theatre's owners, based in Georgetown, could see the bad trends from a hundred miles away. The growing impact cable television was having on repertory cinemas, nationally, was depressing. Baby boomers in their 30s were moving out of the Fan District. Plus, the general deterioration of the commercial neighborhood surrounding the theater was not helping, either. 

In mid-May the owners almost sold the Biograph to a chain. When the potential buyer refused to accept responsibility for all of the Richmond Biograph's debts, the deal fell apart. While it only seemed for a few days that what I'd been dedicated to for nearly 12 years was disappearing, let's just say during that time I flinched.

As I remember it, I told no one about my anxiety attack. Instead, I acted like all was fine. Nonetheless, while the owners were my friends, I knew they could also see that I had lost a step, because I had. In the past, I'd been able to come up with a festival, a midnight show, or some sort of gimmick, to turn slumps around. That spring my well of creativity was dry.

After the scare ended, I stewed in my juices for a couple of weeks. Then I lurched to the decision that continuing to be terrified of losing my job was intolerable. For the first time, just walking away from the Biograph began to seem to be my best option. My divorce had just become final and my then-girlfriend, Tana, thought I had gotten stale keeping the same job too long.

In spite of how crazy it seems now, having no plan for how to make a living scared me less than staying on. Thus, for reasons good and bad I took the plunge and resigned. The two principle owners, Alan Rubin and Lenny Poryles, tried to talk me out of it, but by then my mind was made up.
*

Sitting at my drawing board in my downtown apartment on Franklin Street I created a three-page, hand-lettered resume, with cartoons for illustrations. Cartoons! Then I mailed off a batch of them to apply for jobs that looked attractive to me. In some cases they just went to organizations I admired, without applying for a particular opening.

Awaiting all the new opportunities, I seriously set about making some new art -- stuff that would have nothing to do with selling double features or midnight shows. Deciding that dreams were a classic resource for any artist looking for inspiration, I began working on depicting what a couple of recurring dreams in my childhood looked like.

At this time I was acting as the art director for Throttle (a local counterculture tabloid) and I hosted a weekly show on Color Radio (an offshore-like radio station) Neither of those time-eating responsibilities paid a nickel. However, I also sold and produced advertisements for both entities, which did bring in a little money.

Very little. Thus began the process of shrinking my lifestyle: the selling off old collectible stuff, cool objects I had acquired in fatter times.

Naturally, it was disappointing when the offers I was sure would come my way from sending out those goofy resumes never happened. As the summer passed I drew some comic strips, made a series of paintings and put together a couple of collages. In the doing of all that I designed a logo-looking doodle to depict movement through time and dimensions. I thought it suggested both spontaneity and structure. The zism's look was inspired by the 1920s constructivist movement in the USSR and 1930s American cartoons, especially those created  by Max Fleischer -- Popeye, Betty Boop, etc.

Still, as I then considered doodles to be my most natural way of drawing that meant the zism was also about truth. At happy hours I told people it was the symbol of the inevitable final system of beliefs that would assimilate all the previous isms in history. After all, what my zism just as chock-full of mysterious hokum as any of them? 

The first published zism, along with some gesture drawings of little dancing pairs, appeared on the cover of Throttle's December 1984 issue. Eventually, I had to draw zisms on handbills and put them up on utility poles, just to see what would happen. In the spring of 1985 I posted a series of “Zism” handbills. They featured cartoons, photos, off-the-wall questions and sayings … and zisms. I liked drawing them. The handbill pictured below was No. 2.

Maybe that little project was just more proof of how unhinged I was in this period. And, speaking of unhinged, a dislocated ankle put me on crutches and ended the handbill series. It also made me concentrate on writing during the weeks that followed the injury. So I designed the first issue of SLANT, a 16-pager. I also made four large collages on plywood panels. The largest of them was installed in the 3rd Street Diner (I wish I knew what happened to it). 

Then, in the spring of 1986, I started stapling issues of SLANT -- this time front-and-back, two-page handbills -- to selected utility poles twice a week.

In part, that was done to protest the City of Richmond’s renewed crackdown on fliers. I also wanted to establish that a periodical’s legitimacy could be in the eyes of the beholder. In the course of that oblique mission I fell in love with publishing. Then SLANT came down off the poles to go through several changes in format over the next eight years, or so.

The doodle-like drawings of couples dancing made a comeback in 1986. By then I had named them Dancing Doodles. They were used to fill the variable small space that remained open at the end of the pasting up of an issue of SLANT. The space to be filled was usually about an inch or an inch-and-a-half tall. In printer's parlance the Dancing Doodles were used as dingbats.

Drawing them was the fun part of the paste-up chore I always saved for last. They were done quickly without a plan; each mark was simply a reaction to the last. After a year or so, I stopped putting the Dancing Doodles in SLANT, as the 'zine matured and got tighter in its layout. I was surprised when people told me they missed seeing them.


Remembering that readers had liked them, in the mid-1990s I made a few paintings of dancing couples. Maybe a half-dozen.  These pieces were larger and more involved than what had come before. A few prints of them actually sold, then, needing to make more money I put them on the back burner again.

Dancing Doodle No. 3 (approximately 8" by 10"), seen below, was part of that series. Maybe I should have kept doing them, but I didn't ... and so it goes.

Monday, May 14, 2018

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

The movie business changed during the summer of 1975, which was my fourth summertime serving as manager of the Biograph Theatre in Richmond. As it happened a new style of creating, promoting and exhibiting feature films was minted when “Jaws” opened on June 20 on 465 screens and became a box office smash.

In those days major releases typically opened in the most popular movie houses in a handful of large cities. It was simply the way it always been done. That meant the advertising buys were all local. 

So the unprecedented marketing strategy for “Jaws” required enormous confidence in the new scheme. Its distributor, Universal, not only had to spend millions on national advertising, it also had to strike enough prints of the film to serve all of the theaters playing the film in simultaneous runs. Before the summer was over "Jaws” had already broken some 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.

My bosses were located in Georgetown and I saw several movies in the D.C. 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” went 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 animated sequence in a 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 and who died today) 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.

*   *   *

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What's an Institute for Contemporary Art supposed to look like? And, why?

Click on any of my ICA photos to enlarge them.


Since its 2014 ground-breaking, Virginia Commonwealth University's Institute for Contemporary Art, at the southwest corner of Belvidere and Broad Streets, has been a work-in-progress to be observed by one and all. The ICA will open to the public with an all-day party on Apr. 21, 2018.

The ICA's first show, Declaration, features work from 34 artists. It will be up through Sept. 9, 2018. In the coming months this varied exhibition will hardly be confused with traditional art shows we might have seen at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, such as those offering depictions of bowls of fruit or portraits of dandified monarchs.

Yesterday I took an hour to walk through the airy new gallery space and glance at the art. What follows won't be a review of the art I saw. Nor will it be a criticism of the Fan District's striking new building. Still, I will take this opportunity to mention one particular notion that occurred to me while I was there.

Before I get to that point, I have to say the ICA is sitting on familiar turf. Having lived in the Fan District for most of my life it will be fascinating to watch the impact the ICA is bound to have on the old neighborhood. In the last 25 years, like it or not, with all of its new and refurbished buildings, especially on Broad St., VCU's architectural footprint on the heart of Virginia's capital city has become noteworthy.

However, this new building, designed by Steven Holl, promises to overshadow all of that. Like many Richmonders, when I saw the first artist's drawings of how the ICA would look, yes, I wondered about it. Why? Yet, since then I've deliberately tried not to form an opinion of its appearance.

Like, why rush to judgment? Instead, I decided to trust Joe Seipel and wait to see what I think when it's done. (Full disclosure: Joe is an old friend.) Reading and hearing lots of opinions concerning the ICA's somewhat eccentric look has only made me more determined to wait. So watching its progress, as I rode by on my bike, hasn't been a matter of trying to confirm a love or hate for how it has looked at various stages of its construction.

So now, having looked it over, inside and out – only briefly – I am happy to say I like the unusual-looking building and I love what I now envision it will do for VCU and my home town. What answers, call-and-response-wise, will it inspire?

Now I want to pass on something about the occasional angles and curves of the rooms inside the building that occurred to me, just yesterday, right before I left the ICA: The designer, Holl, has created a context for the displays that makes the art, itself, stand out more. 

Dig it: our expectation, upon entering a conventional art gallery, has been that we will see everything framed by straight lines. Rectangles everywhere: the paintings in frames, objects in glass boxes, the galleries themselves with their vertical and horizontal lines. Right angles. The ceilings. The floors. The walls. 

This isn't to say that all that has been wrong. But what Holl has done escapes some of those expectations. So, to me, the random curves and angles of the interior of the ICA, of the rooms large and small, make the pieces of art seem less confined, perhaps liberated. More eye-popping!

Thus, in a way I hadn't anticipated, this building's form is following function. While I won't suggest that Holl intended this factor from the get-go, or that he didn't, I do think it will gradually become more evident to other observers that it's true. 

Bottom line: Go to the party on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and see what you think.

 

-- 30 --

Friday, April 13, 2018

1993: SLANT Forum

After the article below, written by Charles Slack (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan., 31, 1993), my concept for conducting discussions in a coffee shop was briefly adapted to radio. It lasted only a couple of months, because the advertising time was too hard to sell; especially for a guy who was burning out as an advertising salesman.

The way it worked was that I bought the hour from WTVR and then brokered the 30- and 60-second time slots I sold for advertising. But the merchants I tied to sell that commercial time to mostly wouldn't believe a topical talk-show could be successful without a clearly right-wing, or left-wing, host dominating it.

My thinking was that it was more interesting if the host was more a provocateur than a partisan. But the potential clients would tell me that while they liked the show, they still thought most listeners would prefer a different kind of show. Some of them didn't see the need for the live audience in a restaurant; they told me the public would rather to hear a know-it-all insulting callers on the telephone.

In retrospect, they were probably right, but that wasn't what I wanted to do.

While it lasted, doing the SLANT Forum show live -- with an opinionated audience on hand -- was great fun. Katey, my daughter, was in on it as a regular commentator. The programs were staged at Coffee & Co. in Carytown and World Cup on Robinson St. I still have tapes of them.

SLANT FORUM: TALK ABOUT A GREAT IDEA: 'INFORMATION PARTY' REDISCOVERS LOST ART OF CONVERSATION 
This is the MTV generation, right? Generation X. Raised on "The Brady Bunch." Life reduced to sound bite. Conversation is as old-fashioned as doctors' house calls and the milkman delivering a pint of cream to your door. Everybody knows that nobody talks anymore.

Then what are the 30 or so patrons of The Bidder's Suite on West Grace Street, many in their early 20s, doing here on a Monday night with the music turned down?

As it turns out, they've paid a 99-cent cover charge for the sole purpose of doing what everyone says people just don't do anymore -- having a conversation. Welcome to the Slant Forum, billed as an "Information Party."

At the microphone is F.T. "Terry" Rea, publisher of Slant, one of the city's longest-running alternative publications. Some of the topics are straight out of the headlines -- date rape, gun control, gays in the military. Others take a lighter look at popular culture.

Rea says the idea came to him late at night. He jotted down a few notes. "When the idea hit me, I got very excited. The next day I looked at my notes. I was still excited."

That being his acid test for ideas conceived in the dead of night. He contacted his friends at The Bidder's Suite, a coffee house/restaurant/ bar on West Grace Street. The restaurant was closed on Monday nights. How about opening it up for weekly discussion nights? Rea would charge the 99-cent cover, the restaurant would serve its usual menu of sandwiches, appetizers, coffee and drinks.

"I'm from the `60s generation," says Linda Beales, who owns the restaurant with her son, Jame-Paul Owens. Ms. Beales says she'd like the place to capture the atmosphere of coffeehouses that flourished around the country in the `60s.

The Bidder's Suite already features poetry readings and acoustic guitars. So why not discussions? Rea and The Bidder's Suite vow to hold the discussion nights each Monday as long as interest is sufficient.

A little after 8 p.m., Rea gets the evening under way with a trivia contest and the first of three pre-set discussion topics. If you've followed Slant magazine's iconoclastic take on Richmond life but never met Rea, you expect the 45-year-old to look sort of funky, with long hair, perhaps, a full beard, and a T-shirt with some anti-establishment slogan.

Instead, Rea appears with short hair, button-down shirt and a striped sweater. He looks more like a schoolteacher than a rebel. And that's exactly his function in these discussions. He's like a teacher -- one of those cool ones who lets the kids express themselves without fear of reprisal.

Except it's better than a classroom here, according to patron Paul Hudert, a student at VCU. "You get to voice your opinion. It's more personal."

Hudert's friend, Lisa Clayton, says she prefers the give and take of the discussion over simply absorbing facts from the media. "The media give you one opinion. They tell me the same thing over and over." The first subject Rea has selected for the evening is "anti-classics," meaning those aspects of popular culture that seem prevalent today but are destined for history's dustbin with the likes of the Hula Hoop and Pet Rocks.

The discussion starts promisingly, but soon degenerates into a personal listing by patrons of likes and dislikes. Smoking is on the way out, one patron declares. Anti-smokers are on the way out, says another. When the subject runs out of steam, Rea declares a short recess, then returns with a discussion about what Bill Clinton should do with Saddam Hussein.

What follows is a literate, informed debate with opinion ranging from lay off the Iraqis to finish the job that George Bush started. Gregory Maitland, who has served in the Army and is now a cook at The Bidder's Suite, was working the night the first forum was held in December. He was so intrigued by the discussion that he requested Monday nights off and has returned every week to participate.

Maitland says he comes "not just to state my opinions, but to hear others." He believes, "We're in a new age, from `This is what I think and that's all that matters' to `What's your opinion?'"

Many of the participants are regulars, but new faces have been appearing each week, Rea says.

VCU students Amy McGahan and Hugh Apple dropped in after seeing a Slant ad posted in another restaurant.

Ms. McGahan says, "The thought of people coming together and talking seemed really cool. It's encouraging. You get so tired of watching TV and going to the movies."

Though the crowd leaned toward students in their early 20s, the mix is not limited by age. Gayle Carson, who returned to college after leaving 20 years ago, says, "I'm one of those people who like to voice an opinion.

"Even though we've had some intense discussions, it's never gotten to the point that it's beyond polite conversation."

Monday, April 02, 2018

A Lucky Break

The 1981-82 Biograph Naturals, CBA champions.

During the month of March, each year, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a blessing. The surprises and suspenseful moments of the games help get basketball junkies, like me, through those last tedious days of winter. Every March, as my favorite teams are eliminated and my brackets crumble, I cling to the notion that by the time of the two Final Four games, at least the warm weather will have arrived..

Of course, to be a junkie in full bloom one must still play the game. Since I quit playing basketball in 1994, I suppose I’ve been a junkie in recovery. Yes, I’ll always miss the way a perfectly-released jump shot felt as it left my fingertips. Nothing in my life has replaced the satisfaction that came from stealing the ball from an opponent, just as he stumbles over his hubris. It's especially nice when you get to shoot an uncontested layup, as a result -- providing, of course, you don't miss the snowbird.

The years I've spent covering college basketball, as a writer, have helped to soothe my basketball jones. Since the improvisational aspect of basketball has always appealed to me, from a seat on press row it's fun to watch particular players who have a special knack for seizing the moment. If it's a player you've seen plenty of, sometimes, from the expression on his face, you can sense what he's about to do.

While basketball is in some ways a finesse game, injury-wise, if you play enough of it there are some brutal truths it will inevitably serve up. Although I’ve heard people claim that we can’t remember pain, I have not forgotten what it felt like to dislocate my right ankle on the afternoon of April 20, 1985; I was undercut finishing a one-on-five fast break layup.

While I'd love to say the ball went in the basket, I don't remember that part. What I do remember is flopping around on the hardwood floor, uncontrollably, like a fish out of water. Take it from me, dear reader, popping your foot off the end of your leg hurts way too much to forget -- think James Caan in “Misery” (1990).

But this story is about another injury. On March 4, 1982, my then-34-year-old nose was broken during the course of a basketball game. In that time, the Biograph Theatre, which I managed, had a men's team in a league called the Central Basketball Alliance. Other teams were sponsored by the Track, Soble’s, Hababa’s, the Jade Elephant, etc. Personnel-wise, the CBA was an off-shoot of the Fan District Softball League, with some of the same characters.

The morning after my nose was bashed in by an opponent’s upwardly thrust elbow, while I was coming down from a failed attempt at snatching a rebound, I went to Stuart Circle Hospital for treatment.

My nose wasn’t just broken, it had been split open at the bridge in three or four directions. The emergency room doc used Super Glue and a butterfly clamp to put it all back together. This was before such glue had been approved for use in this country, so he asked me not to tell anyone what he had done; I hope the statute of limitations has run out.

Then, after getting an X-ray the next day, I was waiting around in the hospital lobby to sign some papers and my grandmother -- Emily “Villa” Collins Owen -- was wheeled by. She was stretched out on a hospital bed. As I grew up in her home and was still very close to her, it had the same panic impact as seeing one’s parent in such an abrupt context.

We spoke briefly. She said she was feeling a little weak from a cold and had decided to spend the night in the hospital. She lived just a few blocks away. Pretending to ignore my gripping sense of panic, I calmly assured Nana (pronounced Ny-nuh) I’d be back during visiting hours, to see how she was doing.

That evening I took my then-12-year-old daughter, Katey, with me to see Nana. The doctor came in her room and told us she’d be fine with a good night’s rest. Katey and I spent a half-hour making our 83-year-old Nana laugh as best she could ... feeling a little weak.

Six decades before this she had trained to be a nurse at that same hospital, which has now been converted into condos. Nana died later that night; it was in the wee hours of the morning that followed.

Had luck not interposed a fate-changing elbow to my beak, Katey and I may not have had that last precious visit with Nana. Knowing my grandmother, I'm not at all sure she would have let anybody know she was in the hospital. At least, not right away.

Which means I have to say the palooka who elbowed me in that basketball game did me a favor. Perhaps in more ways than one.

You see, in order to keep playing in the Biograph’s games in that season, I needed to protect my nose while it healed. So, I got one of those protective aluminum nose-guards I’d seen players wear. It was a primitive version of the clear plastic masks in use today.

As a kid, I saw future-NBA great Jerry West wearing such a broken-nose-protector when he was playing his college ball at West Virginia. It impressed the 12-year-old version of me to no end; I marveled at how tough and focused West was.

So, wearing what was to me a Jerry West mask, I played the rest of the CBA season -- maybe five more games. Now I believe that period was about the best basketball I ever played. Not wanting another whack to the nose made me a little more careful, maybe more purposeful. Which, apparently, was just what my game had been needing. 

Our team didn’t lose another game that year; the Biograph Naturals won the league’s championship. In looking back on those weeks after my grandmother's death, I can easily see that in testing my nerve, in a fashion after the way West had tested his, in the spring of 1982 I was living out a boyhood dream. Some of the game's lucky breaks can only be detected in the rear-view mirror.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Smooth Noir (1992)


Here's a flashback to an issue of SLANT 26 years ago. It was published when the infamous Joe Camel ad campaign was still popular, so I had to weigh in. In this time the USA's tobacco industry was still riding high ... but not for long. In August of 1992 the art above appeared over the text below:
It's Happy Hour. Rebus starts the Lamberts, Hendricks and Ross tape that he had selected to kick off his shift. In walks his first customer.

It's Joe Camel, smooth matchbook celebrity.

Although Rebus recognizes him immediately, even without his makeup, he doesn't call attention to it. Joe looks like he would rather not be bothered.

Joe: Two shots of Cuervo Gold. No fruit. No salt.

Rebus: Hey pal, if it's been that kind of day, let me buy the first one. It's the...

Joe: THAT kind of day? Yeah, I guess it's been about as bad a day as ... forget it.

The bar's only customer slaps the first empty glass down onto the cold marble as Rebus turns the stereo's volume up a notch.

Joe: The tests came back. It's the Big C. I'm doomed. It's too late to operate. Just like that -- cancer. Kaput!

Rebus: Well, er, in that case, I'll spring for the second one, too.

Joe: Thanks.

Rebus: How about a sandwich?

Joe: A sandwich?

Rebus: Sure. Like something to eat. We've got a killer cold meatloaf sandwich, or...

Joe: Cancer of the hump.

Rebus: The hump?

Joe: They said my five-pack-a-day habit probably had nothing to do with...

Rebus: I didn't even know you had a hump. Like, it never shows in the commercials.

Joe: I wear a corset. We all do. It's part of the act. The Mad Ave. geniuses want smooth camels, not hunchbacks. Hey, let me tell ya, they tighten those babies down with a torque wrench.

Rebus: I won't say anything about it.

Joe: I'm not hungry. How 'bout another shooter?

Rebus: Sure, ah, did the doctor, er...

Joe: Did they say how, how long I've got?

Rebus: Yeah and no offense meant.

Joe: Maybe a week.

Rebus: Cancer of the hump! What a bad break.

Joe: I deserve it.

Rebus: Hey, nobody deserves hump cancer. Not even...

Joe: I do man. I'm paying the price for selling my soul to the devil. All those kids.

Rebus: Kids?

Joe: Innocent children that Joe F. Camel suckered into smoking the product. It's karma.

Rebus: You didn't invent cigarettes.

Joe: Above all else, be smooth. Don't you want to be the smoothest dude?

Rebus: Come on Joe, kids are going to smoke cigarettes regardless of...

Joe: Maybe, but this campaign was slick. They brought in behavioral voodoo scientists.

Rebus: Joe, it's not your fault. You've just been dealt a bad hand. Joe, ah, that is your real name?

Joe: What's in a name? What's real? Way back, maybe before your time, people knew me as Clyde. Since then I've...

Rebus: Right! Clyde. I knew you looked familiar. Yeah, you worked with a cat named Ahab the Arab. But, now you look, like, ah, wider.

Joe: You're talking 30 years since that gig. Who hasn't put on a little weight?

Rebus: I can dig it. But it's still not your fault if a kid smokes. Everybody's got to earn a living. You're like Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald, or...

Joe: No! I knew it was wrong. I went to the meetings. I knew the marketing strategy. We were going after third-graders. It was sick.

Rebus: So, what are you going to do?

Joe: Get drunk, then make a plan.

Rebus: Good move. Ready for another?

Joe: I wonder if strapping my hump down made the cancer, ah...

Rebus: Maybe it's never too late to beat the devil. They made you a celebrity; call a press conference. Go public with it. Confess! Drop a dime on the subliminal sleazemeisters.

Joe: Do you really think people would listen?

Rebus: The Marlboro Man went clean.

Joe: You're right! I knew getting drunk was a good idea. Hand me that telephone. I'll do it. I'll blow the lid off the...

Rebus: That's the spirit!

Joe: I've got work to do; call my agent. And, you know what?

Rebus: Chicken-butt!

Joe: Let me try one of those meatloaf sandwiches. And, some coffee.

Rebus opens his eyes. The dream was OK until that business about the meatloaf sandwich. Not to mention the stupid chicken-butt joke.

He gets out of bed and walks toward the bathroom. On the way, Rebus remembers the Joe Camel jacket draped over the chair by the door. A steady customer had given it to him at the bar. He picks it up and throws it into the trash can next to the toilet.

Rebus: Sorry Clyde, I'm not taking any chances.

-- Fini --

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Richmond's Bloody Interregnum


A ballot box was stolen from this Jackson Ward
building 147 years ago. Now it houses Gallery 5.

When I hear stubborn politicians talking about absolutely refusing to compromise with their opponents, it brings to mind what tragedy can flow from such foolishness. When we hear angry activists talking about “second amendment solutions,” it should remind us of how supposedly civilized peoples have sometimes lost their moorings. In its long history Richmond has had its share of bloody "solutions."

It was ten-and-a-half years ago that Richmond’s government seemed to be turning against itself by splitting into pieces. That happened with the Friday Night Fiasco (Sept. 21, 2007). But, if the reader thinks that strange stunt, engineered by then-Mayor Doug Wilder — to evict local public school officials from City Hall — was unprecedented, in that it had the local government at odds with itself, then please read on.

That little tiff was a trifle compared to what happened in these parts in 1870-71. What follows is a glance at the outcome of an instance that encouraged a feud to take root. It's a scary example of what can happen when people lose confidence in the results of elections and shrug off legitimate court rulings.

The Bloody Interregnum was the name that stuck to the politics-gone-wrong brouhaha over whether George Chahoon or Henry K. Ellyson was the lawful mayor of Richmond. When the five-year military occupation of Virginia following the Civil War ended on January 26, 1870, Gov. Gilbert C. Walker promptly appointed a new City Council for Richmond. That body in turn selected Henry K. Ellyson, publisher of The Dispatch — forerunner to today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch — as the city’s mayor.

However, George Chahoon, who had served as mayor during the last two years of Reconstruction, refused to recognize the validity of the process. Although the transplanted New Yorker had a considerable following around town, he was seen by Ellyson’s backers as a usurper of a sort. After all, Chahoon had served at the pleasure of the military overlords.

When neither man nor his followers would back off something had to give. The city fractured. As positions solidified, the split became a chasm. Two separate city governments were created by the process. There were two police departments, two City Halls, etc. Brawls became commonplace as the supporters of both mayors sought to press their case on every street corner. Chaos, with gun-play aplenty, ensued.

Notably, in spite of the fact that Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy during a portion of the Civil War, it was not without its Union sympathizers. In fact, Richmond was quite divided on the topic of secession before the war. During and after the war there were substantial elements present that could have been characterized as pro-Union.

Like the USA’s 2000 presidential election, in 1870 the impasse found its way into court. On April 27, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals met to hear arguments from the two camps on the third floor of the state Capitol building.

The anxious citizens shouldered onto the balcony to witness the spectacle. Under all the weight the balcony collapsed and crashed onto the hapless spectators below. Widely known as The Capitol Disaster, when the smoke cleared the tragedy left 62 people dead and 251 injured.

Two days later, the court reconvened at City Hall. In due time, a verdict favorable to Ellyson was returned. A month later, a citywide election took place. But no clear winner emerged from that exercise, either.

This time the contentiousness stemmed from the disappearance of a ballot box from a precinct friendly to Chahoon. Same as ever, both sides traded more accusations. Although Ellyson was certified as the winner by the election board, he declined to serve because the election results were tainted, therefore inconclusive. Thus, the battle raged on.

Eventually Chahoon left town to avoid facing the consequences of several felony indictments — supposedly of a nonpolitical nature — that had been heaped upon him. For his part, Ellyson grew weary of the struggle and withdrew from the race.

The impasse was broken on July 1, 1871, with the election of Anthony Keily as the one and only mayor of the exhausted city of Richmond. Some of the actions of those who were most caught up in the 17 months of The Bloody Interregnum left stains that perpetuated grudges in Richmond for generations to come.

As a child growing up in Richmond, I heard adventure tales from my grandfather about this bizarre time. He claimed his salty old Uncle George, who was a sheriff (somewhere), among other things, told him that most men in Richmond carried guns on the street in those wild days, much like what we’ve seen in western movies.

Formal duels and spontaneous gunfights were not unusual in Richmond in that time. The Bloody Interregnum was set in motion by hardheaded people. In those days many Richmonders came to see only what supported their preconceived points of view. Blinded by prejudices and driven by insatiable desires to win, neither side was willing to compromise or recognize any authority.  

During that reckless spell of 17 months too many folks followed the hot-headed trouble-makers willing to lose everything, just to get their way. Those trouble-makers have their counterparts today. 

-- 30 --

Warnings and Protests Ignored

"I don't listen to focus groups."
In March of 2003, in dismissing the protests of millions in other countries who demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush said, "I don't listen to focus groups."

So don't believe the history revisionists who say everyone believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it was itching to share with al Qaeda. I believed the UN weapons inspection team headed up by Hans Blix, who said there were no such stashes of weapons. 

So did a lot of other people, including Sen. Robert Byrd (1917-2010). 

Byrd will be remembered for many things. Among them, he was the longest serving senator (1959-2010). Fifteen years ago, on the eve of a war, Byrd's words of warning were blown off by the deceitful hawks in the Bush administration. 

Byrd was cast by war mongers as an old goat out of touch with the times. His brief, passionate speech delivered on the floor of the U.S. Senate on March 19, 2003 makes for a particularly interesting read now, in light of all we've learned since that time.

Here are Sen. Byrd's words of advice that Congress and President Bush ignored:

I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of a strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.

After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe.

The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.

But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "orange alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?

A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.
-- Illustration (2000 for Richmond.com) by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Picasso and Powell

In February of 1981 I saw Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” with my then-11-year-old daughter. When the Museum of Modern Art’s elevator doors opened the sight of the 25-foot wide masterpiece was so stunning the doors began to close before the spell was broken.

Picasso's “Guernica”

A few months later, upon the 100-year anniversary of Picasso’s birth, history’s most celebrated piece of anti-war art was packed up and sent to the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain. However, a large copy of “Guernica” hangs on the second floor of the United Nations building -- a tapestry donated to the U.N. by Nelson Rockefeller’s estate in 1985.

On the occasion of then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s February 5, 2003, presentation, underlining his president’s impatience with U.N. members seeking to avoid or delay war in Iraq, the tapestry was completely covered by a blue drape. Powell, or somebody on his staff, apparently realized that even a replica of that particular piece had to be avoided as a backdrop of any photographs of him on that fateful day.

Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, I wonder how much of what Powell said that day he knew then had been ginned up by propagandists in the Bush administration. And, I wonder how much of what he said he believed was true.

*

In some ways little has changed at the heart of arguments concerning war and occupation since France’s army -- as driven by the empire-building vision of Napoleon Bonaparte -- was an occupying force in Spain.

Overwhelmed by the brutality of France’s campaign of terror to crush the Spanish will to resist, Francisco Goya (1746-1828) -- a well-connected artist who had much to lose -- took it upon himself to remove the romantic veil of glory which had always been draped over paintings of war in European art. Documenting what he saw of war, firsthand, the images Goya hurled at viewers of his paintings and prints radically departed from tradition.

Instead of heroic glorification Goya offered horrific gore. The art world hasn’t been the same since.

Following in Goya’s footsteps artists such as Honore Daumier (1808-1879), Georges Rouault (1871-1959), Frans Masereel (1889-1971), Otto Dix (1892-1969), among many others, created still more haunting images illustrating the grittier aspects of modern war. In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, with the storm clouds of World War II gathering, Spaniard Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) created “Guernica.”

On April 27, 1937, to field test state-of the-art equipment, Adolf Hitler loaned a portion of Germany’s air force, the Condor Legion, to a fellow fascist dictator -- Spain’s Francisco Franco. The mission: to bomb a small town a few miles inland from the Gulf of Biscay; a Basque village that had no strategic value whatsoever.

The result: utter terror.

Bombs rained on Guernica for over three hours; cold-blooded machine gunners mowed down the poor souls who fled into the surrounding fields.

Four days later with grim photographs of mutilated corpses on the front pages of French newspapers a million outraged Parisians took to their streets to protest the bombing of Guernica.

That same day Picasso, who was in Paris, dropped everything else and began sketching studies for what became “Guernica.” As Spain’s government-in-exile had already commissioned him to create a mural for its pavilion in the upcoming Paris World’s Fair, the inspired artist already had the perfect place to exhibit his statement -- a shades-of-gray, cartoonish composition made up of a terrified huddle of people and animals.

When the fair closed “Guernica” needed a home. Not only was the Spain of Generalissimo Franco out of the question, Picasso decided it wouldn’t be safe anywhere in Europe. He was probably right. Thus, the huge canvas was shipped to the USA and eventually wound up calling MOMA its home until 1981.

*

Colin Powell, a former four-star general, who, unlike some of Bush’s hawkish neoconservative experts, knew war firsthand, from the inside out. It seems the Secretary knew something about art history, as well. Six weeks before the invasion of Iraq, he apparently retained a firm grasp on the potential of “Guernica” to cast a bitterly ironic light upon his history-making utterances.

That, while he may have lost his grip on what had been his honor. Instead of resigning because he disagreed with the Bush policy, Powell said, “We also have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities...”

Now, 15 years after the invasion of Iraq, Powell lives with the memory of the strategic blue drape that was thrown over “Guernica,” and the symbolic blue drape that he helped to throw over the truth.

-- 30 --