Thursday, February 19, 2015

Seeing through Jack Leigh's lens

An excellent photographer, Jack Leigh (1948-2004), was part of the Biograph Theatre’s staff in late-1973/early-1974. While he worked at the Biograph as an usher, Leigh taught me to play Half-Rubber, a game he said originated in his home town, Savannah. Half-Rubber is a three-man baseball-like game that is played with a broom handle and half of a red rubber ball.

Jack’s best known picture was snapped in 1993, when he was commissioned to shoot the photograph in a Savannah cemetery that would appear on the cover of what became a bestselling book -- “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. Later the same photo was used to promote the movie with the same title. 

When I knew him, Jack was earnest and quick-witted. He liked to play chess and talk about movies, and of course -- photography. In his Biograph days he was already a very good photographer.

Once, when we went out shooting pictures together, he snapped his shutter maybe twice. In the same amount of time, a couple of hours, I went through two rolls of Tri-X. The quiet style Jack would use throughout his career was already evident. He eventually authored six books of photographs, including "Oystering," which featured a foreword by James Dickey.

So, to kill time one warm afternoon, I cut a ball in half, ruined a broom and crossed the street with Jack and the theater’s assistant manager, Bernie Hall, to play what was a new game to me. At the time there were several vacant lots on Grace Street, across from the Biograph.

It turned out the key to pitching was to throw the half-ball with a side-arm delivery, with the flat part down. That made it curve wildly and soar, somewhat like a Frisbee. Hitting or catching the damn thing was quite another matter. Oh, and hitting the ball on a bounce was OK, too. In fact, it was better to do so, from a strategic standpoint.

The pitcher threw the half-sphere in the general direction of the batter. If the batter swung and missed, and he usually did miss, the catcher did his best to catch it, which wasn't easy, either. When the catcher did catch it, providing the batter had swung, the batter was out. Then the pitcher moved to the catching position, and the catcher became the batter, and so forth. Runs were scored in a similar fashion to other home run derby-like games.

But the best reason to play, other than the laughs stemming from how foolish we looked dealing with the crazy ball, was the kick that came from hitting it. When we connected with that little red devil it left the bat like a rocket. It felt better than crushing a golf ball. Smashing it over the theater and halfway to Broad Street was a gas.

Click here to read more about Jack Leigh.

Click here to visit Jack’s online gallery at Laney Contemporary Fine Art.

VCU Rams through an RPI perspective


What follows could be described as cabin fever-driven fooling around with the RPI (for basketball junkies only). No. 25 (AP Poll) VCU (20-6, 10-3 in A-10) has enjoyed a strong RPI number for most of this season, due in great part to the Rams strong schedule before entering their Atlantic 10 Conference schedule.

And speaking of the A-10, five teams are currently in the top 68 of the CBS Sports RPI: VCU #13; Dayton #30; UMass #41; Davidson #49; Rhode Island #63.

VCU has played seven teams in the top 68 of the CBS Sports RPI, to notch a 4-3 record against such tough competition. The Rams lost to UVa. #3, Villanova #4 and ODU #54. The Rams defeated No. Iowa #16, Cincinnati #45, Davidson #49 and Rhode Island #63.

With five games left in the regular season schedule, VCU is tied for first place in the A-10. The A-10 current standings are here.

-- My photo

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Biograph's 1982 RKO Festival


In its day RKO was known for its ability to produce well-crafted, sometimes artsy or offbeat features using a smaller budget than the other so-called major studios. Nonetheless, it was almost always in trouble, financially. RKO stopped making movies in 1953 and eventually sold its lot and production facilities to television's Desilu Productions.

In July and August of 1982 program the Biograph Theatre's No. 60 played out in Theatre No. 1, the larger of the two auditoriums. It was an unusual program for Richmond's repertory cinema in that all 24 of the features were from one studio, RKO, which still operated as a distributor of its old library.

The 12 double features in this festival were: "Top Hat" (1935) and "Damsel in Distress" (1936); "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939) and "The Informer" (1935); "King Kong" (1933) and "Mighty Joe Young" (1949); "Suspicion" (1941) and "The Live By Night" (1948); "Sylvia Scarlett" (1936) and "Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House" (1948); "Murder My Sweet" (1945) and "Macao" (1952); "The Mexican Spitfire" (1939) and "Room Service" (1938); "Journey Into Fear" (1942) and "This Land Is Mine" (1943); "The Thing" (1951) and "Cat People" (1942); "The Boy With Green Hair" (1948) and "Woman on the Beach" (1947); "Citizen Kane" (1941) and "Fort Apache (1948); "The Curse of the Cat People" (1944) and "The Body Snatcher" (1945).

Finding Vivian



Here's a trailer for the Bijou's screening of "Finding Vivian Maier" (2014) at The Byrd. It presents a little gallery of her photographs and the music of Chez Roué. Here are the event's details:

What: Richmond premiere screening of Academy Award nominee
"Finding Vivian Maier" (2014); proceeds to benefit the Bijou Film Center and the Byrd Theatre Foundation.

When: Sun., Feb. 15, 2015 at 7 p.m.

Where: The Byrd Theatre in Carytown.

Admission:

$7.00 at the box office; Advance tickets for $5.00 available at Bygones
Vintage Clothing, Candela Books + Gallery and Ipanema Café through Feb.
14. Advance tickets available online here.

After-Party: Chez Roué will perform live on stage at the New York Deli at 9 p.m.; no cover charge.

More information:
  • The full press release with all the details is here

  • News of the showing of a portfolio of Vivian Maier's work before the screening is here

  • The Bijou Film Center's Facebook group page is here.

  • The "Finding Vivian Maier" trailer is here.                              

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What Would Vivian Think of All This Publicity?

"Finding Vivian Maier" (2014) is one of five Academy Award nominees in the Best Documentary Feature category. For its Richmond premiere it will be screened at the Byrd Theatre on Sun., Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. only. For more background on the film and the fundraising event, to benefit the Bijou Film Center and the Byrd Theatre Foundation, click on the links below.


For Richmond Magazine Harry Kollatz wrote:
Then, you scan some of the prints. You start a blog. You make queries. And what you’ve found is the artistic legacy of one Vivian Maier. She turns out to have been a fantastic street photographer, but something of a hermit, who supported herself as a nanny — an eccentric shutterbug Mary Poppins, though without the cheer and singing and the happy ending. But, there is nonetheless something magical about all those images, how close she was able to get to her subjects and their variety. By now, as some stories do, Vivian has possessed you. You study photography and take it up.
Click here to read The Hat's: "'Finding Vivian Maier' at the Byrd on Sunday."

For STYLE Weekly Brent Baldwin wrote:
She hadn’t paid rental fees on the storage, so her images and audio recordings were auctioned to several buyers. Maloof’s discovery is now the subject of the recent Oscar-nominated documentary, “Finding Vivian Maier,” which will be screened Sunday, Feb. 15, at the Byrd Theatre. The showing is a joint fundraiser for the Byrd and the Bijou Film Center.
Click here to read Baldwin's "Who Was Vivian Maier?" You can also read this piece in the Feb. 11 paper edition of STYLE Weekly.

From the Candela Books + Gallery newsletter for February:
Candela Books + Gallery is pleased to have a portfolio of Vivian Maier’s work on consignment from Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York for a limited time. We will be sharing (from 4:30-6:30) this portfolio of Vivian Maier's work before the movie at a preview reception hosted by The Portrait House directly across the street from the Byrd Theatre. Candela will also share the portfolio by appointment through February 21st.
Click here to read the entire post.

Here's a link to Jerry Williams' timely Tales from the Grips post at The Sifter.

And, here's a link to the Feb. 9 article in The Commonwealth Times. 


-- Selfies by Vivian Maier

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Flashback: 'Armageddonville, Texas'

The satirical piece below appeared in a special Summer 2003 issue of SLANT. It was published three or four months after the invasion of Iraq, which, of course, was justified by the ginned up need to find imaginary weapons of mass destruction. 

Armageddonville, Texas
Words and Art by F.T. Rea
From the cover of SLANT (2003)

Armageddonville, Texas is the story of the proud Blusterbush clan. G. Phineas T. Blusterbush, the patriarch, owned miles and miles of all he surveyed. The scion of a wealthy Connecticut family, young Gee-Phinnie Blusterbush settled in Texas for a reason that was never quite clear.

With his utter determination to succeed, and a carpetbag full of Wall Street bread, Blusterbush eventually became a cattle rancher of mammoth proportions. A tall and flinty man, Gee-Phinnie believed he owned the Armageddon River that flowed across his land. To make his belief a reality, over the years, he steadily bought up any property along the river he could. He had a special way of convincing the small ranchers and sod-busters to sell off their land and leave the area.

Note: This character’s costume is patterned after Phineas T. Bluster, a puppet villain on the Howdy Doody Show television show of the 1950s. He carries a derringer, hidden in his coat pocket.

Gee-Phinnie’s oldest son, G. W. “Dubya” Blusterbush, a ne’er-do-well in his youth, swore off booze and subsequently found religion (or maybe it was the other way around.) Always on the trail of two nasty villains, Dubya was out to prove he was worthy of walking in his father’s boot-prints.

Dubya was convinced that the two villains were allies -- O’ Sammy Benlion and Sa’ad Hellsbells - because it came to him in a dream in which a dead horse rose up and spoke to him in the voice of Jesus.

Note: That's the dream that makes Dubya get off the sauce. Since Dubya had always been afraid of horses, anyway -- he rides around in a blue designer stagecoach to keep from having to mount a horse -- this dream rocks his world. Dubya’s signature outfit is an all-leather affair. For protection Dubya always carries his matched pair of .44 caliber Colts -- blue, of course.

Gee-Phinnie also owned Amageddonville’s sheriff, a defrocked preacher named Johnny Asskleft. Asskleft had to leave his final post as a pastor in great haste. Blusterbush, the elder, was the only man who knew the reason, thus, he had a firm grip on Asskleft.

Note: Asskleft bares a strong resemblance to Paul Lynde, of Hollywood Squares fame. He wears the stock Western Movie sheriff wardrobe.

Gee-Phinnie also secretly owned half of the town’s saloon, The Tumbleweed, operated by his partner, who fronted the business -- the lovely and semi-talented Miss Candi.

Note: The sloe-eyed, sepia-toned Miss Candi is cute as a button, but she has no originality whatsoever -- her wardrobe is a total ripoff of Miss Kitty’s (Gunsmoke). Still, Miss Candi was loyal to Gee-Phinnie to a fault. Whoa, Nellie! Is something going on there?

Dickie Chains was the foreman of the Blusterbush family’s ranch, the “Flying W.” As a teenager Chains was at the Battle of the Alamo. He survived because he proved to be quite an actor - Chains convinced Santa Anna that he was the shy female servant of an officer. He and a handful of others were released to tell the bloody story of what happened

Note: The swaggering Chains dresses as a cowhand and rides a huge red horse. The horse swaggers, too.

Don Rumdummy was part-owner of an expanding railroad company that wanted to put tracks through the town. He had a secret alliance with Gee-Phinnie to acquire the land. Even more secretly, Rumsdummy and Chains were partners in slime -- they sold whiskey and guns to renegade Indians, highwaymen and anyone with the cash to pay.

Note: Rumdummy dresses in the all-black garb of a Pinkerton agent, which he had once been. He carries guns of various sizes, wherever he can.

Collard Kungpowell was the figurehead mayor of Armageddonville. He had no real power and he was eaten up with guilt. He was addicted to laudanum.

Note: Once a soldier, Kungpowell had hung up his guns. He dresses like a banker.

O’ Sammy Benlion, a half-breed, was the adopted son of an Indian chief, who was assassinated by Chains’ henchmen. The kindly old chief had been unwilling to sign the bad treaty the federal government was offering. Before the tribe moved to the reservation O’ Sammy took several young warriors with him. The group became marauding renegades. O’ Sammy and his band of snake-handling, whiskey-drinking followers were determined to wreak havoc. They blew up barns and poisoned water holes, just for fun.

Note: O’ Sammy dresses in a skintight outfit with an “O” on his chest and a cape! He thinks Hellsbells is yesterday’s heavy, riding for a fall.

Sadistic Sa’ad Hellsbells was a mustachioed Mexican bandito chief with a mean-as-dirt gang. They rustled cattle and robbed the stagecoaches that passed through the region with impunity. They shot up the town when they felt like it, too. Sa’ad also had a prize stock of Arabian horses, in his secret mountainous hideout.

Dubya spent most of his waking hours searching, in vain, for those nasty hidden horses.

Note: Hellsbells wears the obligatory bandito outfit -- big sombrero -- “we don’t need no steenking badges!” - and ammunition belts across his chest.

This swashbuckling story, set in Texas -- the land of hot air and bum steers -- will continue.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Biograph Art Gallery Notes


The staff art show that hung during the Biograph's second anniversary party on Feb.11 included various works by several then-current employees and some former staff members, too. Most of those who worked there in the early days were artists of one stripe or another.

The sign above, by yours truly, was made to hang in the space of the lobby’s gallery that usually featured the artists' statements. I also had a couple of pieces in the show. One of them sold and that was fun. Another piece was stolen. That was a bummer and a weird kind of violation.

Although most of the art shows that hung in the gallery displayed the work of local/VCU-connected artists, that was not always the case. In the first three or four years, when the walls of the lobby regularly featured shows that changed every couple of months, or so, occasionally art by then-renown artists, usually printmakers, was on display. Among them were Ernest Trova, Robert Indiana and George Segal. The Trova print displayed was from the Falling Man series (see below).


In the summer of 1978 we had a show up that was memorable for an odd reason. It was a group of silkscreen prints and paintings by Barry Fitzgerald, a VCU-trained artist, who later played in a popular Richmond-based band that got some MTV exposure in the early '80s -- Single Bullet Theory.

Fitzgerald’s work had a pop art, reaction-to-advertising look. His droll sense of humor showed in a series of a half-dozen similar paintings. Each had a large line drawing in black against a flat field of a single color; the colors varied. The renderings were done in the sparse style one might have seen in a '50s government pamphlet's illustrations. Each had the same girl, Lois, coughing as she faced the viewer. Each had a caption written across the bottom of the colored panel which explained that Lois was choking on something.

Maybe Barry was asking about $100 apiece for them. Let’s say the first one was blue. It might have said, “Lois chokes on a gumdrop.” I think one of them did say that. The next one could have been yellow, it would have said something like, “Lois chokes on a pocket watch,” and so forth. The only other caption I remember had Lois choking on an Egg McMuffin.

One day a man claiming to be a lawyer called me on the telephone to say I had to take the Egg McMuffin piece down, pronto. He told me he was a local guy, who’d been talking that day with an attorney for the McDonald's fast food empire. He asserted that if I didn’t take it down McDonald's was going to lay some legal action on the artist, the Biograph and me.

For my part, I said something like, “What!”

The caller explained that it wasn’t a matter of Fitzgerald saying anything against McDonald's signature breakfast sandwich, which was fairly new then. No. The problem was that McDonald's wanted to protect the use of the words “Egg McMuffin.” They didn’t want it to become a generic term for a sandwich made by anyone using the same ingredients, etc.

Then I must have said something like, “What!” Anyway, the threat finished with how I better do what the caller said, because all the law was on McDonald's side.

Well, I called a lawyer friend, Jack Colan, to ask him what he thought. He said I ought to buy the painting. Then I told Fitzgerald what had happened. He loved it. We decided to leave it up to see what how it would play out.

Never heard from the wannabe McDonald's lawyer again. For a long time I've wished I had bought the painting.

Phil Trumbo had a few art shows at the Biograph. So at one time, for 50 bucks, I could have bought that infamous painting Phil did, which depicted a scene in which Mickey Mouse's little gloved hands had been chopped off with an ax. It looked like a cell from a cartoon. A dialogue balloon from a speaker outside the frame said something like, "Finally got rid of those goddamned gloves." Missed out on that one, too.

Bottom line: When you see art you like a lot, for whatever reason, buy it if you have the money. Later, you'll be glad you did.

Monday, February 02, 2015

A ‘Gem’ of an Idea


The February issue of Richmond Magazine -- its annual Sourcebook -- has an article (on Page 74) about the Bijou Film Center, which mentions the upcoming event on Feb. 15, featuring a screening of "Finding Vivian Maier" at the Byrd Theatre.
While collaborating on the 40th anniversary of the opening of Richmond’s Biograph Theatre for the James River Film Society in 2012, James Parrish and Terry Rea discussed the idea of bringing a “little cinema” to Richmond. “Little cinema” was an idea that formed in the 1920s, when Hollywood had made everything big — big screens, big theaters, longer films.
Click here to read the article by Stephanie Manley.

Click here for more on the Feb. 15 event, which includes an after-party.

About "Finding Vivian Maier"

When it came to selfies, Vivian Maier wrote the book.

What: Richmond premiere screening of Academy Award nominee "Finding Vivian Maier" (2014); proceeds to benefit the Bijou Film Center and the Byrd Theatre Foundation.

When: Sun., Feb. 15, 2015, at 7 p.m.

Where: The Byrd Theatre in Carytown.

Admission:

$7.00 at the box office; Advance tickets for $5.00 available at Bygones Vintage Clothing, Candela Books + Gallery and Ipanema Café through Feb. 14.
Advance tickets available online here. 

After-Party: Chez Roué will perform live on stage at the New York Deli at 9 p.m.; no cover charge.

More information:

The full press release with all the details is here.

The Bijou Film Center's Facebook group page is here.

The "Finding Vivian Maier" trailer is here

Contacts:

James Parrish: Email: jtparrish@bijoufilmcenter.org. Phone: (804) 564-3224.
Terry Rea: Email: ftrea9@gmail.com. Phone: (804) 938-7997.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rebus is Against Shooting Cartoonists

But, of course!

From my OpEd piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Sunday Commentary section (Jan. 25, 2015):
With its dark ironies and sarcastic jabs, satire stretches us. It’s never been everyone’s cup of tea. History tells us it’s always been dangerous. Since one person’s freedom of expression can be another person’s enemy of peace, some attempts at satirical humor bend us out of shape. The debate that’s been underway since the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris on Jan. 7 has served to remind us that the edge of mockery can cut two ways. Maybe more than two ways.
Note: Rebus is and always has been against shooting cartoonists. Click here to read "Cream Pies for Bullies: The Importance of Satire." 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Chez Roue' signed for Feb. 15 Bijou event

Chez Roue' will play live at the New York Deli, 
9 p.m. - 11 p.m. on Sun., Feb. 15. 


























The Academy Award nominee, "Finding Vivian Maier" (2014), is being presented by the Bijou Film Center, in conjunction with the our partners for this occasion: The Byrd Theatre Foundation, Candela Book + Gallery and the VCUarts Department of Photography and Film.

Show time for the movie is 7 p.m. Admission at the box office will be $7.00. Advance tickets for $5.00 will be available soon at selected locations. Advance tickets are already available online at Eventbrite for $5.00 (plus $1.27 handling fee).

Chez Roue' will perform live on stage following the Richmond premiere screening of “Finding Vivian Maier” at the Byrd Theatre. Please note, there will be no cover charge for the live music at the Deli.

In the photo above, left-to-right, Chez Roue' are: Debo Dabney on piano, Roger Carroll on saxophone, Johnny Hott on drums. Brian Sulser (seen only in the mirror) is on bass. For Chez Roue' fans it's important to bear in mind that this gig will be Roger Carroll's next-to-last performance in Richmond, before he moves to Chicago.

Please note: James Parrish and I are still polishing some details for the event, including lining up prizes for the raffles, but the schedule is now set for our second Bijou at the Byrd fundraising event. As before, film-wise, there will also be a wee surprise. Stay tuned for more information soon.

-- Photo credits: Chez Roue' by Scott Elmquist. 
Vivian Maier's selfie by herself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ballpark Bandwagon Breakdown


http://citizensreferendumgroup.wordpress.com/

Between January and September of 2014 Richmond witnessed the coalescence of a significant resistance to the notion of building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. In May the volume of the opposition chorus apparently surprised Mayor Dwight Jones (pictured left). Now it seems unlikely Jones’ so-called “revitalization” plan, as originally advertised, is ever going fall into place.

However unpopular with the voters the mayor’s plans for Shockoe Bottom and North Boulevard have become, shifts in the thinking of some on City Council may animate makeovers in 2015. What effect the rearranging of councilmanic chairs will have on the ballpark issue isn't known, yet. As we wait for that drama unfold, it's worthwhile to organize the 2014 record of the brouhaha for the sake of facilitating a clear perspective.

What came to stifle the mayor’s stadium-building scheme last year began gathering over the winter. Although no single entity was coordinating it, by early spring the escalating criticism of the Jones plan was pouring in from several directions.

However, now it seems there was one standout event that proved to be the tipping point. It appeared out of the blue on Apr. 28. On that Monday morning a group of students from Richmond public schools appeared at City Hall with a purpose. The majority of them were from Open High.

Whether one called it a "flash mob," or a "walkout," the protest march had obviously been prompted by a couple of telling Style Weekly articles ("Caving In" and "Filling Holes") published earlier the same month. The stories revealed dreadful conditions in some local public schools; the students acted on their own volition. They carried signs with messages for all to see. Some messages decried dilapidated school buildings. Others protested the Shockoe Stadium plan.

The next surprise came later that same fateful day. Instead of dispatching a brief note to congratulate the kids for their civic-minded moxie, and to say he was too busy to meet with them, Hizzoner decided to smooth the students’ ruffled feathers with his practiced mayoral patter. Well, in baseball parlance, Jones "booted" his chance to make a play. His painfully awkward response to the students' questions about the city's skewed spending priorities was worse than inadequate.

Naturally, the local media were all over the story of a flummoxed mayor. The kids looked good on TV.

*

Pre-turning point:

When Mayor Jones rolled out his large-dollar plan to “revitalize” the city on Nov. 11, 2013, he presented the building of a baseball stadium in the Bottom as an essential component. He spoke of how it would create jobs, enlarge the city's tax base and get a slavery-related museum built, too.

No doubt, 2014 began with the perceivable momentum on the mayor's side. Jones’ Chief Administrative Officer and top salesman, Byron Marshall, appeared more than up to the task of ramrodding the taxpayer-backed project through Richmond’s nine-member City Council.

As the baseball-in-the-Bottom bandwagon chugged through the first month of the 11th year of baseball stadium debate in Richmond, dissent to the mayor’s plan couldn’t be heard over establishment media-amplified boosterism. Venture Richmond’s ubiquitous LovingRVA public relations campaign was pumping high-test fuel into the bandwagon’s tank.

That, while no person or organization was speaking for the scattered opposition. Some wanted to protect Shockoe Bottom from an outrageously inappropriate development. Some saw another build-it-and-they-will-come boondoggle in the making. Others stood against what they believed to be an impractical plan, a plan that turned a blind eye on what baseball fans seemed to prefer.

Leading up to 2014, The Virginia Defender, published by Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto, had been focused on the issue for years. Owing to that effort and those of other activists, in February the resistance to baseball-in-the-Bottom continued gathering. STYLE Weekly stayed on the stadium beat with a series of news stories and several Back Page OpEds.

Social media’s role was snowballing. Facebook pages dedicated to opposing Shockoe Stadium included: Referendum? Bring It On!Save the DiamondSay No to a Stadium in Shockoe BottomShockoe ResistanceA Stadium RVA Can Love!. Outdoor billboard signs went up. Yard signs were posted. Activist Farid Alan Schintzius headed up the signage approach.

In March and April the Citizens Referendum Group held meetings at the City Library to discuss crafting a strategy to put a baseball stadium referendum on the ballot. Although that ad hoc group’s ambitious petition-signing campaign didn’t collect enough signatures to force such a referendum, the connections the undertaking created could come into play again. Many names and addresses of registered voters were collected. (An archive of published notices and articles on this issue is here.)

Other petitions were circulated. Boycott strategies came also into play. Political gadfly Paul Goldman weighed in with an avalanche of opinion pieces for WTVR.com. Although his message meandered over the year, Goldman was relentlessly hard-hitting with his many objections to pursuing the mayor's Shockoe Stadium concept.

In the wake of the notoriety of the Oscar-winning movie, “12 Years a Slave,” on March 25 the Hollywood Reporter weighed in: “Where the jail that held Solomon Northup once stood, a state-of-the-art baseball stadium may soon rise. That’s if the mayor of Richmond, Va., has his way.”

http://slantblog.blogspot.com/2014/08/accordions-helped-me-keep-promise.html

Post-turning point:

On Apr. 29, Preservation Virginia announced its Most Endangered Sites List for 2014, which included Shockoe Bottom. At this point three members of City Council were on record as being opposed to the mayor’s plan. They were: Parker Agelasto, Chris Hilbert and Reva Trammell.

The first of May brought news of an alternative stadium proposal, one for the Boulevard from a new developer. A week later Doug Wilder stuck his thumb in Jones’ eye by announcing his intention to revive his much-traveled slavery museum concept and locate it a couple of blocks from where the mayor wanted to put a similar museum.

On May 23, City Council members Charles Samuels and Jon Baliles put out a joint press release announcing their decision to let the sputtering Shockoe Stadium bandwagon pass them by. Joining with their three colleagues already prepared to vote against the mayor‘s plan, a new five-member majority was thus created. The bandwagon screeched to a sudden halt.

Four days later, Mayor Jones’ office announced his development plan for the Boulevard and the Bottom was being temporarily withdrawn from consideration. It was then anticipated the plan would be re-worked and introduced at a Council meeting before the summer was over.

Nonetheless, inside City Hall during June the stadium issue languished. In July Trammell suggested a referendum might be the best way to go. Her fellow Council members didn’t see it her way.

On August 3 a group of merry Richmonders paraded around The Diamond to mock the notion of demolishing it, only to build a replacement in the Bottom. As the accordion music swelled -- playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" -- some paraders may have wondered, once again, what the point of the LovingRVA campaign had been in the first place.

Was it to persuade the public? Or perhaps certain members of City Council?

In September, without much in the way of an explanation, Byron Marshall resigned. In the absence of a freshened up presentation from the mayor's office Council went on with other business.

*

If rumors are to be taken seriously, it now seems one member of last year's five-member-majority may flip this year. Time will tell. Still, what the mayor and any potential flip-flopping politicians should take to heart is this plain truth:

The opposition that swelled up in 2014 won’t be difficult to reanimate. It hasn’t gone anywhere, even if some politicians and rainmakers twist all the arms they can reach. After years of this issue flapping in the breeze, most voters have their minds made up. More salesmanship isn't going to change those minds much.

Moreover, last year’s coalescence of factions created something bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s something that isn't likely to ever stand aside for that old ballpark bandwagon. Nor is it likely to forget flip-floppery. For 2015, one thing is a safe bet: Dwight Jones wants no more face-to-face meetings with sign-carrying students at City Hall.

-- 30 --

-- Photo of Dwight Jones from Richmond.com. Photo of parade by WRIC Channel 8.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Je suis Rebus Charlie

But, of course!

It's not a matter of whether those cartoons in France were good art, or bad. Not whether they were clever commentary, or plain silly. Not whether they were overly offensive, or too provocative. It's about whether we've gotten so scared of bullies that we're afraid to laugh, or not afraid. 

Satire has always been dangerous. Rebus ain't scared.  

-- My art. Take it, or leave it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Dangerous Cartoons

Note: This post is from 2006. In the spirit of Je suis Charlie, I'm re-posting it.

*

The meanderings of international affairs have at last strayed into my bailiwick, my natural field of expertise -- unreality.

Cartoons by sarcastic European artists, designed to ruffle feathers, have flushed out a shockingly angry response that seems to be feeding on itself. Peace-loving folks everywhere are bewildered, wondering how far this absurd momentum will take us. It's 2006, already, and adults are killing each other over cartoons. What’s next?
The Cartoon War:
"Ye gods and little fishes!" Rebus exclaimed. "Called up from the cartoon reserves at my age!"
Most Americans are probably surprised by riots over edgy art. Not me. There’s plenty of precedent for it. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known since the third grade that a cartoon mocking a thin-skinned bully can start a fistfight.

As a kid, I was a self-appointed cartoon critic who adored Heckle and Jeckle. Loathed Chip ‘n’ Dale. Loved Pogo. Hated Peanuts. Dug salty Popeye. Cringed at wimpy Mickey Mouse. Cartoons were close to my heart. Growing up in Richmond I had the good fortune to see Fred O. Seibel’s elegant work on a regular basis, as he was the world class political cartoonist in residence at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Subsequently, at 17, my first published work was a caricature of Hubert Humphrey.

So my fascination with political art was stoked at an early age. Eventually, I came to admire renown political cartoonists such as Herbert Block (Herblock), Bill Mauldin, Thomas Nast, Honore Daumier and other masters of the genre. My favorites list is too long for this space, however, the father to all of them was Francisco de Goya. He stunned viewers in the early-1800s who had never seen war portrayed as horror, set in an un-glorious context.

Political art, by its very nature, has always stirred passions. It has galvanized movements and spawned flare-ups of violence aplenty. How Goya got away with his unprecedented depictions of blood-lust and lost souls during the French occupation of Spain baffles me. Take a look at some of it, you’ll see what I mean. Daumier was thrown in jail six months for mocking the king with his deft pen.

OK, so what’s my cartoonist’s take on the controversy raging over depictions of a certain Middle Eastern prophet, you-know-who? Like, whose side am I on?

Ha! The cartoonists, of course, but they are hardly blameless.

What about the big picture? Who is right, or wrong? The provocative publishers of the cartoons? Or those who call for restraint in that area? What about those laughing at, or those taking offense from, or those ignoring the infamous cartoons in question?

Well, it appears to me all sides have legitimate points worth considering. Since real consideration would call for actually listening to the other guy -- the rube, the infidel, the jackanapes -- that's not happening. Thus, the cauldron of ill humors bubbles across the pond, while cynical Americans awash in culture of casual rough talk and obnoxious information are baffled.

Yet, in America, we have our share of violent gangs and lathered up religious extremists, too. You can get killed in some neighborhoods for wearing the wrong color. So the first thing America ought to do is get off its high horse when viewing this curious story, one that may evolve into a larger story.

Should the European publishers simply back off? Is that still a possibility? They may be in a position called “zugswang” in the game of chess. The term means it is your turn and any move with any piece only makes matters worse.

Perhaps the determined publishers should get more creative, find a way to use levity to promote a better understanding of the beauty of both freedom of speech and good manners. Still, the cartoon publishers do have a valid point when they claim religious hardliners are trying to chill freedom of expression.

To go secular, America's never-ending brouhaha over flag-burning may shed some light on an aspect of truth. To me, the burning of Old Glory in protest of government policy is obviously an act of political speech, so our national custom allows for it. The Constitution still protects it. OK, burn the flag at your anti-war rally. If, on the other hand, you schlep it over to the American Legion Hall to set it ablaze in the parking lot, don’t ask me not to laugh if an old veteran rolls up his sleeves and makes you sorry you did it.

However, the offended vet is hardly justified to beat the rude flag-burner to death. Enough is enough. So, if the outraged Muslims want to hurl insults across borders at the publishing provocateurs, or organize an economic boycott, or even throw up a picket line somewhere, that’s fine. But killing people over insulting cartoons can’t be justified by serious people in a civilized world.

An impartial witness might ask: where are the moderate Muslim leaders, cool heads who could do much with this opportunity to demonstrate the difference between the troubling fringes of the vast Islamic world and its calm center? A sincere peacemaker might ask: why such universal virtues as “prudence” and “civility” seem lost to all sides in this noisy clash of cultures? A good detective might ask, who stands to gain from inciting more riots?

An artist at the drawing board might ask how to inform the viewer it’s supposed to be a picture of you-know-who without a caption? So is the problem really more with words than pictures? Otherwise, it could be a picture of Mr. Natural or a cat in ZZ Top.

Some say the cartoon riots have peaked and the controversy will all blow over fast. We’ll see, but I doubt that. I suspect this rhubarb has too many players still convinced they can profit from perpetuating, even exacerbating it.

Hopefully, after the cartoonists’ ink, mixed with the blood of the zealots and the unlucky bystanders, is hosed off the streets, the witnesses left standing will have developed a greater appreciation for tolerance. That, and the eternal value of a sense of humor.

-- 30 --

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Hank's Cadillac

Constructed of Indiana limestone, New Union Station opened for operation in 1919. It was later renamed Broad Street Station. The building now serves as the Science Museum of Virginia. The image is from the VCU Library’s Rarely Seen Richmond postcard collection.

The first train pulled out of the station at 1:07 p.m. on January 6, 1919. Designed by John Russell Pope, what was originally known as New Union Station was constructed on the site of what had been the Hermitage Country Club. A partnership of two railroad companies, the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and the Atlantic Coast Line, built the station to satisfy the growing city’s needs. Later the station was renamed Broad Street Station and the Norfolk & Western line also came to use it.

Directly across the street, at 2501 West Broad Street, the William Byrd Hotel opened in 1925. The 12-story hotel catered to travelers heading north and south. At the other end of the block the Capitol Theater opened for business a couple of years later. It was the first movie theater in Richmond to be equipped for sound to screen talkies.

Boasting a first class train station and the new businesses that popped up close by the area became a cosmopolitan neighborhood. After all, in those days residents of the Fan District lived within easy walking distance of direct access to the entire East Coast.

The William Byrd’s barber shop open in 1927. Legendary barber Willie Carlton began looking out of the barber shop’s windows at Davis Avenue in 1948.

Carlton bought the business in the 1950s. Recalling that for many years automobiles parked on the 800 block of Davis at a 45-degree angle facing the barber shop, Carlton chuckled as he described a visit by singer/songwriter Hank Williams (1923-53), who was asleep in a convertible when it was time to open the barber shop.

“Well, he was taking a little nap, out there in his Cadillac,” Carlton the storyteller recalled in a warm tone that signaled he could still see the picture he was describing.

Apparently, after the hard-living country music great finished sleeping off his road weariness, he got out of his snazzy ride and came inside for his haircut. Carlton says the price of a haircut in those days was 60 cents. Lunch in the hotel’s busy dining room cost about the same.

Although he sold the business in the mid-1990s, until May of 2013 Carlton continued to work at his same barber chair ... when he wasn't playing golf. He died two months later at the age of 87. 

During the station’s peak use, the years of World War II, an average of 57 trains passed through Broad Street Station on a daily basis. During the ensuing decades rapid outward growth of the city combined with the withering of America’s passenger rail system to change the character of the neighborhood.

In 1975 Broad Street Station was no longer the hub of metropolitan life it had been; the last passenger train left the station at 4:58 a.m., on November 15 of that year.

In 1977 the distinctive building’s second life as the Science Museum of Virginia began.

The photo of the clock on the face of the building is mine (circa 2004).

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Night the Earth Stood Still

In December of 1999 the editor at Richmond.com, Richard Foster, asked me to do something on the much-in-the-news Y2K scare. After we talked about it for a few minutes, he was happy to let me play around with a satirical approach. The gig had me filing the story a few days before New Year’s Day, to be published on January 3rd.

This is what I came up with 15 years ago:
The Night the Earth Stood Still
F. T. Rea
Richmond.com
Monday, January 03, 2000

To Whom It May Concern: Greetings from the waning hours of 1999 in Richmond, Virginia, USA. And, in case it matters, on Earth.

Sitting at a table outside of Puddn'Heads Coffee House on an Indian Summer morning in November, I read a Y2K paranoia article with smug satisfaction as I consumed my daily dose of black coffee.

When I noticed a woman walk by with a mischievous Jack Russell Terrier at her side, I paused to think - who actually believed that anything significant was going to happen just because another page of the Christian calendar was about to be removed and tossed into the cosmic trash bin of time?

The woman looked a bit like Patricia Neal, which brought to mind "The Day the Earth Stood Still," the 1951 sci-fi classic that anticipated a modern society's panic from the sudden loss of all electricity.

Alas, that was only a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, when I felt so unconcerned about Y2K bugs.

Now my nonchalance about this Y2K business has evolved into something else. Tonight, sitting at my keyboard on Dec. 16, I've started to get spooked by contemplating what's actually going to go down when zillions of pulsing gizmos sense that we have crossed the border between 1999 and 2000.

While I am anything but knowledgeable about matters pertaining to computers and the Internet, the fact is I use them both all the time. Frankly, I don't like to think about a world without word processing and e-mail.

At this point, I don't even know whether my computer will be of any use to me once we cross the great divide. I've been told on some good authority, there is a chance my old 486 may just seize up.

Of course that's a practical fear. Being a writer, I'm naturally concerned about my livelihood.

What is this I'm reading? You ask.

It's days after Y2K. We all know by now that (pick one) a) the Earth has been reduced to a still-glowing fireball; or b) it was all a big bore and we'll never fall victim to mass-hysteria again.

Well, reader, you're one up on me. The real problem looming as I type these words is that I have no idea that modern civilization isn't going to melt down over this splendidly ironic glitch in the system. I'm still weeks behind you, still left to wonder if the lights really will go out at midnight, Jan. 1, 2000. Still left to wonder if it's possible that our whole deal could go down the drain.

So think of this piece as a quaint time capsule beamed into the future - January, 2000.

Despite my Y2K blues, however, I believe that this article will almost certainly appear online as scheduled. I fully expect that you are sitting in front of your monitor reading this on richmond.com.

Then the laugh will be on all the people who admitted they were preparing for all manner of catastrophe. And, I suppose to some extent that will mean me. Fine. I'll be laughing then too.

I hope.

Nonetheless as I sit here, sipping on a bitter Pale Ale, I have no trouble imagining that roving bands of thugs could be out the first night without electricity. Looters could come out of the woodwork. If our toilets won't flush, our phones don't work, and all forms of mass communication are kaput, people could wig out big time.

Then, anything from the familiar post-apocalyptic menu could happen. Yes, I admit it - I'm getting a little worried.

In fact, I'm not at all sure when, or even if, anyone is actually going to read this. It has already occurred to me that maybe the only real point to my writing these paragraphs is to keep my squirmy consciousness occupied.

For that matter, every time a wordsmith plies his trade there is some leap of faith involved: Yes, it will be published. And yes, someone will read it.

Fetching yet another perfectly chilled ale, it just struck me that, for all I know, the entire power grid has gone down hard by the time you're supposed to be reading this.

And you, my dear reader, you could be someone who has stumbled across this material decades into the future. You could be an archeologist studying the artifacts of what remains of civilization circa 1999.

Or, perhaps you are reading this less than a month into the new millennium.

You are huddled in a icy bunker. Your generator-powered PC's monitor is providing the only light for you to pry open the precious can of beans you found in a pile of rubble.

And, with good reason you are reading this little essay with one eye peeled on the only doorway. Your revolver, as always, is at your side. You still have three bullets left.

You could even be the last human being alive. On the other hand, maybe you are not human at all. You could be from ...

Maybe everything is still, frozen timelessly in place.

OK, calm down.

If that is the case, there still could be one last chance. I know it sounds silly, but try saying the following phrase aloud: "Klaatu Barada Nikto."*

How could it hurt?

"Klaatu Barada Nikto!"

From 1999, this is F. T. Rea, over and out ...
-- 30 --
Note: *The key line from "The Day the Earth Stood Still" that commanded the all-powerful robot Gort to switch the world's machines back on.

A Lucky Break

The 1981-82 Biograph Naturals

Each year the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament is a blessing during the month of March. It helps get basketball junkies, like me, through those last tedious days of winter.

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 has replaced the satisfaction that came from stealing the ball from an opponent, just as he stumbled over his hubris.

The years I spent covering college basketball, as a writer, helped to soothe my basketball jones. Since the improvisational aspect of basketball has always appealed to me, from my seat on press row my inclination was to pay particular attention to players who had a special knack for seizing the moment.

While basketball is in some ways a finesse game, there are brutal truths to be reckoned with. Although I’ve heard people claim that we can’t remember pain, I’ve not completely 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 lay-up. I'd love to say the ball went in the basket, but I don't remember that part.

What I do remember is flopping around on the hardwood, uncontrollably, like a fish out of water for a minute or so. 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).

Three years before that injury, my then-34-year-old nose was broken in the course of a basketball game. In that time, the Biograph Theatre, which I managed, had a 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, it was an off-shoot of the Fan District Softball League, with some of the same characters ... and, I do mean 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, while I was waiting around in the lobby to sign some papers, my grandmother -- Emily “Villa” Collins Owen -- was wheeled by, stretched out on a hospital bed. As I grew up in her home and was still very close to her, it had the same shock effect as accidentally 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 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 March 5, 1982. Had luck not interposed a fate-changing elbow to my beak, Katey and I probably wouldn’t have had that last visit with her. 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.

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 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.

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.

The team didn’t lose another game that year; the Biograph Naturals won the league’s championship. It has taken the passing of time for me to realize that in testing my nerve, in a fashion after the way West tested his, I had been living out a dream.

It seems some lucky breaks can only be detected in the rear-view mirror.

-- 30 --

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Napoleon in Manhattan

Abel Gance and Kevin Brownlow in 1967
A chat about old cinemas with a master projection booth technician I met last year brought to mind a special movie-watching experience of mine. Later, I laughed to myself about the related eye-pain memory it had dusted off.

The conversation was with Chapin Cutler. He told me he had worked in the booth at the old Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge in his youth. In my early days as manager at the Biograph I had a few telephone conversations with that famous movie theater’s manager (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 was known as 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 had supervised the installation of the synchronized three-projector system it took to present Gance’s restored 1927 masterpiece in a fashion that was faithful to what Gance had called “polyvision,” which entailed split screen images and other effects, including some 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 -- with versions that ran over five hours and some than ran under two -- 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. It played a new score that had been written by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola. The power the music added to the overall experience would be difficult to overstate.

Throughout the 1920s Abel Gance had been seen as a great innovator, even a genius. Then came the mammoth production, “Napoleon,” and its abysmal failure at the box office. 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. So its first run didn’t go well. Talkies soon came along and silent films, no matter how avant-garde, were shelved.

Although he kept working on film-making projects, Gance 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, 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 watched and appreciated by a wide audience. Some observers must have seen him as a washed up crackpot and anything but a good risk.

To get to Manhattan I drove to DeeCee 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 airplane trip 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 -- I was traveling on other people’s money!

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.

Then, bad luck flung a cinder into my eye during my walk to the theater. 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, fast, 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.

The movie was spectacular. It was overwhelming. I returned to Richmond more than a little enthusiastic about the possibility of being associated with screening the movie at the Mosque in Richmond and in other large theaters 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 first viewing. At least I got to see the part I had missed before.

Abel Gance died at the age of 92. He had lived long enough to see his reputation as a great filmmaker totally rehabilitated. His death came just three weeks after I saw “Napoleon.” Once again, critics were calling him a genius. Which, to me, represents a happy ending to this meandering story.   


This story is part of a series of stories at Biograph Times
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