Saturday, February 28, 2009
Although I hadn't thought about it before, Charlottesville blogging guru, Waldo Jaquith, writes that he sees/hears a resemblance to former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore.
Bulls-eye! Now that it has been pointed out, I agree with Waldo. And, fair or not, whether it matters or not, it's funny.
Friday, February 27, 2009
On Feb. 28, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which originally premiered at the Fan District's Biograph Theatre 31 years ago, will make its Saturday late-night debut at Movieland, 1301 N. Boulevard. The screening will be accompanied by a live floorshow, I’m told.
The long-lost Biograph also happens to have been the last new movie theater to open within Richmond’s city limits. That was way back in February of 1972. It seems the decades long trend that had new cinemas only being built in the far-flung suburbs has finally ended, resoundingly, at least in the Richmond area.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was produced by Lou Adler and released by 20th Century Fox in 1975. Adapted from the British stage musical, “The Rocky Horror Show,” the movie version was an absolute flop in its original release. Even with a young Susan Sarandon cavorting about in her undies and a catchy rock 'n' roll soundtrack, the film didn't draw much notice.
Fast forward to its second life as a midnight show at the Waverly Theater in Manhattan: During the spring of 1977 audience members began calling out sarcastic lines at the screen. The practice caught a wave; it became a game to make up new and better lines. Costumes appeared and props began to be tossed around.
Later that year the unprecedented interaction between audience and screen inexplicably jumped to other cities where “Rocky Horror” played as a midnight show -- chiefly, Austin and LA.
By the spring of ‘78 “Rocky Horror” was playing to packed houses in a few bookings, it had not done well at others. The national press was yet to discover it as a cult phenomenon. As manager of the Biograph I wanted to book “Rocky Horror” as a midnight show. So did my bosses at the Biograph up in Georgetown.
Fox, the distributor, was skeptical about the prospects for “Rocky Horror” in Richmond. In those days Richmond was generally seen by most distributors as weak market, a backwater -- not a place to use limited resources.
When I spoke to a Fox publicity man about it, he told me they had had nothing to do with starting what came to be called the “floorshow.” With all of its prints of the movie then being used, the decision-makers at Fox felt unwilling to risk money on striking any more prints to cater to a weird fad that might fizzle any time.
Over the telephone, I was told we would have to wait for a print to become available; there was no telling how long that would be.
So, the Biograph’s management team got creative. We offered to front the cost of a new print to be made for our booking in exchange for a guarantee from the distributor that the Biograph would have the exclusive rights to exhibit the title in the Richmond market as long it held onto that same print. As I recall it, the print cost about $6,000. So, we would pay no film rental until the 40 percent we owed Fox from each screening cumulatively added up to pass what had been fronted.
Fox went for the deal and “Rocky Horror” played at the Biograph every Friday and Saturday night for five straight years (1978-83).
According to Variety, through 2008, the mother of all midnight shows had grossed over $140 million. Yet, in spite of all efforts, no attempts to duplicate its wild success, or copy the audience participation aspect of its cult following, has ever gained much traction.
Note: For more on this story click here.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Today's announcement of Vick's soon-to-come release from prison is in the news in this AP story:
Vick is serving a 23-month sentence at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., after pleading guilty to bankrolling a dogfighting operation at a home he owned in eastern Virginia's Surry County. He also admitted to participating in the killing of several underperforming dogs.Vick's lawyers have said they expected him to be moved any day into a halfway house in Newport News. But because of a lack of space, Vick will be released instead to his Hampton home at some point on or after May 21...Vick apologists still ask: If boxing and tough man competitions are legal, why is dogfighting so wrong? Can't dogfighting be seen as just another bloody sport, like hunting? If animals are shamefully abused all the time by the companies that raise them by the millions in torturous conditions, to eventually be food for us, why did Vick have go to jail for merely slaughtering a few bred-to-be-mean pit bulls? Why did the media play his story up so much?
OK, Vick went to jail because he got caught breaking the law. And, while there’s no single reason Vick's superstar-turned-bad-boy story has been so big, there is one reason that overshadows the others. While other sports celebrities have committed crimes that might properly be seen as worse than Vick’s, none of those crimes were as bizarre ... even unthinkable.
After Vick went to prison it was revealed that a few family dogs/pets were tossed in the Bad Newz ring, just for grins. Well, Americans love their pet dogs. No doubt, some prefer dogs to people. That a cocky millionaire jock was regularly torturing dogs to amuse himself was too much! It was beyond the pale; quite simply, it made John Q. Public's skin crawl.
There are those Vick fans who have refused to accept -- no matter what -- that one of their favorite pro football players is not just a great scrambler, he's also a soulless scumbag. They want him back on the playing field because he’s fun to watch. They assume his talent for football will trump all else, because they're ready to forgive him almost anything.
Well, it says here that the National Football League is by far the most buttoned-down of all the professional sports overseeing bodies. It certainly doesn’t want PETA activists dressed up like bloody dogs demonstrating at every game. And, that’s exactly what will happen if Vick returns.
Furthermore, I doubt the image-conscious corporations that act as sponsors and partners of NFL games are ever going to want anything to do with Michael Vick. And, because that money -- which will be harder than ever to round up, because of the current economic troubles -- is the life blood of all professional sports, I will be amazed if we ever see the radioactive Mr. Vick play another down in a NFL game.
When the NFL season opens, try to imagine a game's broadcast beginning with a series of corporate logos flashing up over the pictures of PETA demonstrators tailgating in the parking lot and dancing around in front of the stadium. Then imagine the boycotts of the products made by companies that sponsor such broadcasts.
Do you get the picture?
Monday, February 23, 2009
One move governments can make to create jobs in such times is borrow money to build large projects that will hopefully be boons to the community in the future. Bridges, federal buildings and schools all over the country were constructed that way during the Depression.
Those Depression Era federal projects were financed on the backs of millions of taxpayers who were bound to pay down the debt for years to come. Collective public hope had to be transferred into currency. Under such circumstances, at the very least, due diligence had to be paid to make sure those projects were righteous in every way. Boondoggles like bridges to nowhere had to be avoided.
In hard times huge mistakes with public money can't be easily mopped up.
In the development game financing is the make or break aspect of the deal. Public money is an altogether different animal from private money. Privately raised dough can be bold and dynamic in ways that a government's money, prudent and slow-to-warm by nature, can’t.
Richmonders have seen what can happen when politicians and developers go wrong trying to be too nimble and dashing using public money -- the 6th Street Marketplace is probably the most notorious example.
In 1985 there were good reasons private money didn’t want to finance establishing what was essentially a suburban shopping mall downtown. People who didn’t like the project, then, were cast as anti-urban, anti-racial healing, and you name it. The push to bridge the street that had long been the recognized divide between whites and blacks in Richmond was too strong to stop.
What business sense the project didn’t make in black ink on white paper was trumped by its potent symbolism.
Fast forward to today: If private interests were poised to totally underwrite a Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium, and the private investors already had acquired the land to do it, the only real debate would be over how best to accommodate the project. How to facilitate it.
Why not? It would mean jobs.
But when private investors want local taxpayers to back them up, should their blue sky projections not pan out, that changes it.
If Bryan Bostic and his group of investors could swing the whole project without any risk to taxpayers, there would be no need to remember the 6th Street Marketplace. No need to wonder again about the strange financial history of the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation.
While the VAPAF, the hybrid public/private partnership behind the ongoing renovation of the Carpenter Center (formerly the Loew’s) has run into all sorts of financial trouble and delays, three other things have happened to do with theaters in Richmond.
- Private money renovated the old Towne Theater and reopened it as The National, a live music venue.
- The Byrd Theatre, a 1927 movie palace still in operation, has been purchased by a private foundation and extensive renovations are underway.
- Movieland, a 17-screen movie theater complex has been built inside an old locomotive factory by a cinema chain. With a parking lot for 800 cars, it is about to open at 1301 N. Boulevard.
If Richmond’s next baseball stadium is to be part of a bold vision -- located in a part of town many traditional baseball fans may avoid, so they will have to be replaced by new fans -- then it all needs to be done without one cent of taxpayer money being on the line. Other than ordinary infrastructure help from The City, it should be done by risk-takers seeking a profit.
A baseball stadium isn’t a school. We know Richmond needs new schools. And, we know Richmond doesn’t need another bridge to bankruptcy.
SLANTblog's VA Top Five
1. Va. Tech (16-10, 6-6 in ACC, No. 66 RPI)
2. Mason (18-9, 11-5 in CAA, No. 54 RPI)
3. VCU (19-9, 12-4 in CAA, No. 71 RPI)
4. ODU (18-9, 10-6 in CAA, No. 121 RPI)
5. JMU (18-11, 9-7 in CAA, No. 125 RPI)
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Penned by STYLE Weekly’s Scott Bass, “The Umpire’s New Clothes” offers the reader a look at some of the complicated inner workings of the much-ballyhooed/much-maligned development deal that would put a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
Bass' piece also shines a light on the men pushing the deal, who seem to believe with religious zeal they can see through the looming fog of economic uncertainty onto the future. While they also seem bulldog determined, they have a tough job on their hands — selling a charming build-it-and-they-will-come dream in a time of brutal hard-edge realities.
Most obvious among them is Bryan Bostic, the front man for the group trying a buy a minor league baseball franchise to relocate to Richmond.
“If you extract the ballpark out of the Boulevard, it comes to life,” Bostic tells the crowd, largely made up of North Side residents who support keeping baseball where it is. Just look at what happened at other forward-thinking cities such as Memphis, Bostic says. “Two billion, two billion, billion, two billion, two billion in private investment,” he says, fumbling with the mic.
The idea has been around for a while, and it’s nearly identical to the first plan floated four years ago by another group of developers, which also included Bostic. They proposed building a new ballpark for the Richmond Braves in a $330 million retail, office and condo development in Shockoe Bottom.
Click here to read Bass’ excellent analysis.
For my money, it's nice to read what real people with real names have to say about the baseball stadium issue. I want to understand what Bostic and his group are proposing. If Bostic is a lover of America's Pastime, we have that in common.
As I've followed this controversial story online, it's become increasingly annoying to notice how much disinformation has been injected into the fray.
Much of it has come from anonymous sources supporting baseball in The Bottom. Anonymous and filled with righteous indignation sources, if they are questioned about whether they have any connection to the developers. But, denials and righteous indignation notwithstanding, they stay cloaked, not unlike their anonymous counterparts, pretending to be teenagers or rocket scientists in online chit-chat rooms.
Why someone with no dog in the fight would jump into nearly every comments section of nearly every post on the topic of where to play baseball, week after week, to repeat invented facts and outrageously misleading assertions, is almost a mystery to me.
Yes, I can only guess at what hidden agendas, nefarious or otherwise, might provoke such behavior. However, at this point, it's hard not to connect such relentless propaganda -- regardless of how it got started -- to the cause it supports.
So, whether the Bostic team has had anything to do with these anonymous enemies of fair and open debate, or not, I've seen no effort from that team to push away from the shenanigans of what has had much of the appearance of a coordinated campaign.
It's been a mean-spirited campaign to put down anyone who questions the soundness of building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. The Fan District and the area near The Diamond have been cast as dangerously crime-ridden, while The Bottom was painted as safe as milk. Writers who have been covering news in Richmond for years have been labeled as "biased," because they haven't jumped on the bandwagon to put taxpayers in the position of having to back a scheme that has a considerable downside to it, if the boosters for it are wrong.
It's been a campaign that has brought to mind the poisonous swiftboating style of political propaganda -- say it often enough and some people will believe it.
Thanks, Scott, for telling it like you see it. And, for signing your name to what you tell.
Update: Click here to read John O'Connor's report in Thursday's RT-D, "Minor league baseball wants progress on stadium plan."
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
During his 2003 season as a Texas Ranger, Rodriguez was performing in the third year of 10-year contract that was reportedly the most lucrative in sports history: $25.2 million per season. In what was his last season with Texas, Rodriguez led the American League in home runs and was named as the league's Most Valuable Player; he turned 28 in the middle of that shiny season.
Young and stupid?
Of course "A-Rod" was younger in 2003. Who wasn't? But the man was playing in his 10th Big League season.
However, in fairness to his deception, what made Rodriguez's 2003 juicing for dollars seem vaguely acceptable, at the time, was the corrupt culture surrounding his taking it to the next level -- the dark side.
It was the context.
At the top levels of capitalism's most glittering endeavors, who wasn't cheating? Didn't ads lie, 24 hours a day? Didn't politicians and corporate executives say what their spin doctors told them to say, all the time? Didn't everybody know that breaking rules to fulfill your King Midas dream had become acceptable?
In 2003 raw lust for wealth and notoriety was fueling the clandestine use of steroids in baseball. Owners and corporate sponsors were making mountains of gelt, so averting their eyes was easy as pie. Lots of pie.
Just like in 2003, the truth about weapons of mass destruction didn't matter when launching a war. There was money to be made by war profiteers. In the financial community, the unnatural manipulations of interest rates and loan policies of that time were cheating, too. There was money to be made on Wall Street.
Successfully cheating to get your greedy way was seen as being smarter than the competition in what some called the New Gilded Age. Now, it seems, some of those fool's gold chickens have found their way home. No doubt, more will, eventually.
While A-Rod's young-and-greedy mea culpa has a decidedly phony ring to it, in fairness to him, yes, we were all younger in 2003.
Barack Obama has been president for four weeks and he hasn't closed Gitmo. Neither have the troops come home from the war in Iraq, which, of course, was caused by flaccid Clinton administration policies toward terrorism.Times may be tough, but it seems America's largest pitcher of Kool-Aid runneth over...
Therefore, Obama is officially a fraud!
Suddenly, America's future looks like hell-struck-with-a-club. In the Obama era, we can't even trust peanut butter. And, don't even us started on the financial meltdown that unions and liberals in congress totally caused.
Change? Ha! Crank up the impeachment bandwagon!
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
SLANTblog's VA Top Five
1. Va. Tech (17-8, 6-4 in ACC, No. 49 RPI)
2. Mason (16-7, 10-5 in CAA, No. 57 RPI)
3. VCU (18-8, 11-4 in CAA, No. 67 RPI)
4. JMU (17-10, 9-6 in CAA, No. 121 RPI)
5. ODU (16-9, 9-6 in CAA, No. 136 RPI)
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Memphis Rockabilly Band was the last band to appear on the High on the Hog stage at the last party in '06. According to Chuck Wrenn, Jeff, who was 63, died of a heart attack.
"HOTH 9: I Don't Care Tonight": Shot in video with four cameras, this is a clip of the MRB performing at High on the Hog 9 (1985). It's part of a 16-minute documentary on the annual party on Libby Hill (1977-2006) which was directed by yours truly.
Click here to read more about MRB and High on the Hog in a piece I wrote for Brick a couple of years ago.
Click here to read Spencer's obituary in the Patriot Ledger.
Update: The original date of Jeff's death was posted incorrectly (it was off one day). Now I hope it is accurate. h/t: Audrey Spencer.
Friday, February 13, 2009
by F.T. Rea
The prototype was assembled during a lull in seventh grade shop class. After tying some 15 rubber bands together to make a chain, a collaborator held one end of the contraption as I stepped back to stretch it out for a test. Squinting to sight along the taut line to take proper aim, finally, I let go.
The whole thing gathered itself and shot past the holder. The released tip smartly struck a target several feet beyond the holder. While the satisfaction I felt was a rush, the encouragement from the boys who witnessed that launching felt transforming.
Through a pleasant sequence of trial-and-error experiments, it was soon determined how to best maximize distance and accuracy. Once guys across the room were getting popped with the bitter end of my brainchild -- dubbed The Stretch -- the spitballs that routinely flew around classrooms in 1960 at Albert H. Hill Junior High -- were strictly old news.
The following morning, uncharacteristically, I appeared on the schoolyard an hour before the first bell. Inside a brown paper bag I had with me an updated version of the previous day’s invention. This one was some 60 links long -- the Big Stretch.
Once it was tested on the schoolyard, demonstrating its amazing new range, boys were soon shoving one another aside just to act as holders. Most of the time I did the shooting. Occasionally, one of the guys from my inner circle was permitted to be the shooter. As the wonder whizzed by it made such a splendid noise that just standing close by the holder was a thrill, too. On the asphalt playground behind the yellow brick school building an enthusiastic throng cheered each flight.
The Big Stretch went on to make an appearance at an afternoon football game, where its operators established to the delight of the audience that cheerleaders on the sideline at a football game could be zapped on their bouncing butts with impunity from more than 25 yards away. After a couple of days of demonstrations around the neighborhood and at Willow Lawn shopping center, again, I significantly lengthened the chain of rubber bands.
But the new version -- about 100 rubber bands long -- proved too heavy for its own good. It was not as accurate or powerful as the previous model. Then came the morning a couple of beefy ninth-grade football players weren’t content with taking a single turn with the new Big Stretch. Although there was a line behind them they demanded another go.
Surrounded by seventh-grade devotees of the Big Stretch, I stood my ground and refused. But my fair-weather-friend entourage was useless in a pinch. Faced with no good options, I fled with my claim-to-fame in hand. In short order I was cornered and pounded until the determined thieves got the loot they wanted. They fooled around for a while trying to hit their buddies with it. Eventually, several rubber bands broke and the Big Stretch was literally pulled to pieces and scattered.
By then my nose had stopped bleeding, so I gathered my dignity and shrugged off the whole affair, as best I could. I choose not to make another version of the Big Stretch. A couple of other kids copied it, but nobody seemed to care. Just as abruptly as it had gotten underway, the connected-rubber-band craze ran out of gas at Hill School.
It was over.
At that time the slang meaning of “cool” had an underground cachet which has been stretched out of shape since. We’re told the concept of cool, and the term itself, seeped out of the early bebop scene in Manhattan in the ‘40s. That may be, but to me the same delightful sense of spontaneity and understated defiance seems abundantly evident in forms of expression that predate the Dizzy Gillespie/Thelonious Monk era at Minton’s, on 118th Street.
Wasn’t that Round Table scene at the Algonquin Hotel, back in the ‘20s, something akin to cool? If Dorothy Parker wasn’t cool, who the hell was? And, in the decades that preceded the advent of bebop jazz, surely modern art -- with its cubism, surrealism, constructivism, and so forth -- was laying down some of the rules for what became known as cool.
Cool’s zenith had probably been passed by the time I became enamored with the Beats, via national magazines. Widespread exposure and cool were more or less incompatible. Significantly, cool -- with its ability to be flippant and profound in the same gesture -- rose and fell without the encouragement of the ruling class. Underdogs invented cool out of thin air. It was a style that was beyond what money could buy.
The artful grasping of a moment’s unique truth was cool. However, just as the one-time-only perfect notes blown in a jam session can’t be duplicated, authentic cool was difficult to harness; even more difficult to mass-produce.
By the ‘70s, the mobs of Hippies attuned to stadium Rock ‘n’ Roll shrugged nothing off. Cool was probably too subtle for them to appreciate. The Disco craze ignored cool. Punk Rockers searched for it in all the wrong places, then caught a buzz and gave up.
Eventually, in targeting self-absorbed Baby Boomers as a market, Madison Avenue promoted everything under the sun -- including schmaltz, and worse -- as cool. The expression subsequently lost its moorings and dissolved into the soup of mainstream vernacular. Time tends to stretch slang expressions thin as they are assimilated; pronunciations and definitions come and go.
Since then people say, “ku-ul,” simply to express ordinary approval of routine things.
The process of becoming cool, then popular, pulled the Big Stretch to pieces. Once the experimental aspect of it was over it got old, like any worn out joke. Then it began to play as just another showoff gimmick, which was something less-than-cool, even to seventh-graders a long time ago.
Cool was illusive by its nature. Fresh could be cool; stale was frequently uncool. More importantly, in that time being a copycat was never cool.
Then, as the '60s wore on, Postmodernism washed across the landscape and said, "Since everything has already been done, from here on we will all just copying, regardless of how we might try to be original." In such a cynical context cool is ignored, or it's seen as a threat.
Now that Postmodernism's corpse is lying in state, awaiting burial, will authentic cool make a comeback? Or, would that be too much of a stretch?
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Charles B. Moss, Jr, and his son, Ben Moss, led approximately 20 reporters through a part of the enormous building which began its life as a locomotive factory in the 1860s. Richmond's newest impresarios were cordial and forthcoming as they made their presentation and stood for questions.
All of the auditoriums will seat between 150 to 300 patrons, with the capability of showing 35 mm prints of movies. Two of them will be equipped to present films in a digital format.
The Mosses are Bow Tie Cinemas, a company that traces its entertainment industry roots back to a storefront nickelodeon in 1900. Headquartered in New York, Bow Tie now operates 150 screens in 18 locations in five states. Its location in Richmond will employ about 60 people.
Charley Moss revealed that after deciding Richmond would be a good city for his company to develop a new movie theater project, he and Ben were first looking at the old Berry-Burke building on Grace St., a block west of the Carpenter Center. But it was decided that building did not lend itself to such a use.
The last new movie theater to open in Richmond, within the city limits, did so 37 years ago, today. That was the Biograph Theatre at 814 W. Grace St. As it happened, your reporter was its manager on that very day. A double feature was offered: "King of Hearts" and "A Thousand Clowns."
This former theater manager applauds what Charley Moss described as something akin to a "zero tolerance policy" that Bow Tie has, when it comes to permitting disruptive behavior from audience members. No erupting cell phones, crying babies or chattering adults, please!
Bow Tie's owners will soon begin to write a new chapter in Richmond's show biz history. They will join a long list of characters. In a 1952 Richmond News Leader piece columnist George W. Rogers wrote about a significant figure in Richmond’s theater history, calling him, “... a theatrical proprietor, impresario and father of Richmond movie houses.” That was showman Jake Wells, who had been a big league ballplayer in the 1880s.
With his best days as a player well behind him, in the late-1890s the same Mr. Wells, as player/manager of Richmond’s minor league baseball franchise in the Atlantic League he became a somewhat dashing figure in the local nightlife scene. When he lost that sports gig he looked around town for what next to do. Imagining he had a future in entertainment, Wells took the leap to create the Bijou at 7th and Broad Streets in 1899.
The instantly popular Bijou offered selected vaudeville acts that fit into Wells’ concept of “family entertainment.” And, occasionally, a short film was thrown onto a screen, then more. The first venue thrived. With his brother Otto, Jake expanded into the Norfolk market, opening the Granby. In the early-1920’s Wells’ chain included 42 theaters in the Southeast.
Eventually, Wells cashed in his theater interests to concentrate on becoming a real estate development tycoon. In 1927, in the grip of a spell of melancholia, Mr. Wells drove out to the countryside, shot himself in the head, twice! and died.
Will Movieland eventually play a role in the story of where to play baseball in Richmond? Movie theaters can act as hubs for further development. Restaurants like to locate nearby. So, whether it's part of a plan, or not, more nightlife options will be coming soon to the neighborhood surrounding Movieland.
And, yes, along with its regular first-run pictures at ordinary show times, Movieland will also present classic movies on Sunday mornings and late shows on the weekend. Current plans call for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" to be screened at some point.
Let's do the Time Warp, again!
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
But there's something going on with the Internet aspect of the debate that should be noticed: There are a few regulars always pushing the agenda of the developers who want to bring baseball to Shockoe Bottom. THEY want you to think THEY aren't organized and have no connection to anyone standing to profit from the development. THEY have been as busy as little beavers.
If in your comments you question whether the surrounding counties will ever support building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, THEY might dismiss your viewpoint as anti-urban. You could find yourself accused of being against progress, even against having a good time.
In this sense regional cooperation is apparently seen as capitulation. Like, if the suburbanites don’t like Shockoe Bottom it's their own fault; they probably need to get a life and replace their elected representatives, ASAP!
If you question whether the families, church groups and Little Leaguers that attended R-Braves games faithfully at The Diamond are likely to feel comfortable going to and from night baseball games in Shockoe Bottom, THEY might accuse you of being out of touch with a modern aesthetic, which has redefined what it is to be a baseball fan.
Put another way -- you are too old to know what would draw young adults to a minor league baseball game.
The assertion in that case is that so many young gadabouts will flock into the new cute-as-a-button baseball stadium, just to be there -- but not so much to watch baseball -- that it will more than make up for whatever wimps won’t go to Shockoe Bottom after dark.
So, THEY say an imaginary baseball team with a stadium in The Bottom, the Richmond Whatevers, will out-draw what the R-Braves attracted in recent years. Of course, THEY can't say what league or Major League franchise the Whatevers will be affiliated with. What THEY will say is you are dead wrong if you don't see it the same way.
If you suggest that building a baseball stadium in a part of town that has had serious flood problems even after the floodwall was built, THEY will advise you that Richmond, itself, is now through with having violent storms. Forget global warming -- Hurricane Gaston was a fluke.
On top of that THEY will say that without the proposed baseball stadium The Bottom is caught in a death spiral, because the stadium is essential to further development, according to federal dictates. Which, if true, might mean Shockoe Bottom, with all its history and distinctive architecture is all but doomed as a neighborhood without baseball coming to the rescue.
Who are THEY?
THEY won’t say. What THEY will do is jump into the comments section of every article/post to do with baseball in Richmond and hurl their talking points at the conversation. THEY will insult people who post sincere questions about the project using their real names. Yet, if you question who THEY are, THEY will say that’s tantamount to questioning their character. And, THEY stay cloaked.
THEY say no one is paying them to conduct this little propaganda campaign, but THEY refuse to identify themselves.
Next thing, THEY might forward you an email plea for help from a friend of theirs -- a Nigerian archduke who wants you to help him spirit his zillions out of the old country. THEY could even vouch for the archduke. Whatever his name might supposedly be, THEY will remain anonymous, while asking you to believe what THEY say.
Update: For more on this topic, click on the links below:
Melissa Savenko's Richmond Real Estate Review
Fan District Hub
Buttermilk & Molasses (live blogging Tuesday night meeting/presentation Part One; Part Two.
Richmond Good Life (baseball issue archive)
Monday, February 09, 2009
SLANTblog's VA Top Five
1. Va. Tech (15-7, 5-3 in ACC, No. 40 RPI)
2. VCU (17-7, 10-3 in CAA, No. 73 RPI)
3. Mason (16-7, 9-4 in CAA, No. 57 RPI)
4. VMI (19-4, 10-2 in Big South, No. 129 RPI)
5. JMU (16-9, 8-5 in CAA, No. 127 RPI)
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Thirty five years ago, Feb. 11, 1974, was a day like no other for me. Using the Biograph Theatre's second anniversary to cloak the mischief, a massive prank was staged. Its story was picked up by the broadcast networks and wire services, so it was widely reported. It happened in a time and in such a way that it's now difficult to understand why people would line up around the block on a chilly February afternoon to see an old black and white RKO comedy and a Disney nature short subject.
Well, you had to be there. Or, you can read on.
My first good look at what was to become Richmond’s version of a repertory cinema, the Biograph Theatre, was in July of 1971. At that point it was a few cinderblocks in a hole in the ground. Having gotten a tip the DeeCee owners were considering hiring a local manager, I went to the construction site chasing the opportunity.
A couple of months later I was offered what seemed then to be the best job in the Fan District. The adventure that followed went far beyond any expectations I might have had, at age 23, about becoming the manager of the Biograph Theatre.
On the evening of February 11, 1972, the new venture at 814 West Grace Street was launched with a gem of a party. The local press was all over it. The first feature presented was a delightful French war-mocking comedy — “King of Hearts” (1966). On Richmond’s newest silver screen, Genevieve Bujold was dazzling opposite the droll Alan Bates. In the lobby, as flashbulbs popped the dry champagne flowed steadily.
During the ‘60s, college film societies thrived. Knowing film was cool; it could get you laid. By the ‘70s, many of the kids who had grown up on television worshiped classic movies, some had become connoisseurs of the moving image. Popular culture, in general, was becoming a subject for serious study on campus for the first time.
So it was the fashion of the day elevated many foreign movies, certain American classics, and selected underground films above their more accessible, current-release, Hollywood counterparts. In that pre-cable TV age, much of the mainstream domestic product was viewed by the film buff in-crowd as laughingly naive or hopelessly corrupt.
Although none of them had any prior experience in Show Biz a group of five men, then in their mid-30s, opened Georgetown’s Biograph Theatre (1967-96) in 1967. They were trendy, smart guys and at least one of them knew a lot about foreign films and film history. They caught a wave. A few years later those same young owners were successful, confident and looking to expand. In Richmond’s Fan District they thought they had found a perfect situation for a second repertory-style cinema, another Biograph.
Local players, filthy rich Morgan Massey and deal-maker Graham “Squirrel” Pembrooke, built the Biograph building from scratch for the Georgetown group. Significantly, Pembroke managed to get a 20-year lease for $3,000-a-month rent guaranteed by a federal program for at-risk neighborhoods, in case the edgy concept didn’t fly and the operators went belly up. Thus, when the Biograph closed in 1987 the building’s owners were then able to collect the rent from Uncle Sam until 1992.
Knowing they could walk away easily, if the business fizzled, the Biograph’s creators — chiefly David Levy (who later owned The Key on Wisconsin in Georgetown) and Alan Rubin — inked the deal and borrowed money to buy a load of very used seats and projection booth equipment, which included ancient Peerless carbon arc lamps to back up a pair of rugged Simplex 35 mm projectors.
Biograph programs, printed schedules with film notes, covered about six weeks each. Double features were the staple. Program No. 1 was heavy on documentaries, featuring the work of de Antonio and Pennebaker, among others. Also on that program were several films by revered European directors, including Antonioni, Costa-Gavras, Fellini, and Polanski.
After the opening flurry, with long lines to every show, it was somewhat surprising and disappointing when the crowds shrank dramatically in the third and fourth months of operation. As VCU students were a substantial portion of theater’s initial crowd, the slump was chalked off to exams and summer vacation.
In that context, the first summer of operation was opened to experimentation aimed at drawing customers from beyond the borders of the immediate neighborhood. The brightest light in the mix of celluloid offerings was just such an experiment that caught on — Friday and Saturday midnight shows.
By trial and error, the way of drawing a late crowd was gleaned from experience. Most importantly, we learned it took an offbeat movie that lent itself to promotion; early successes were “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), “Yellow Submarine” (1968), “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” (1971), and an underground twin bill of “Chafed Elbows” (1967) and “Scorpio Rising” (1964).
With significant input from the theater’s promotion-savvy assistant manager, local Hall-of-Fame bartender and Rock ‘n’ Roll promoter, Chuck Wrenn, off-the-wall ad campaigns were designed in-house to set the tone for the somewhat anti-establishment movies that seemed to work best. There were two essential elements to those promotions — wacky radio spots on WGOE, a popular AM station aimed directly at the hippie listening audience, and distinctive handbills posted in strategic locations. Dave DeWitt, now the widely read guru of hot food, produced the radio commercials, many of which were rather humorous in their day.
In the September “Performance” (1970), an overwrought but well-crafted musical melodrama — starring Mick Jagger — packed the place a couple of weekends in a row. Then a campy, docu-drama called “Reefer Madness” (1936) sold out four consecutive weekends. Sometimes nearly as many people were turned away as could be seated.
To follow “Reefer Madness” what was then a little-known X-rated comedy, “Deep Throat” (1972), was booked. As the feature ran only an hour, master prankster Luis Bunuel’s surrealistic classic “An Andalusian Dog” (1929) was added to the bill, just for grins. (If anybody else ever ran that double feature, well, I didn’t hear about it.)
A couple of weeks after “Deep Throat” began playing in Richmond it got busted in Manhattan. The national media became fascinated with the film. Its star, Linda Lovelace, actually appeared on network TV talk shows. Watching Johnny Carson tiptoe around the premise of her celebrated “talent” made for some giggly early-‘70s television.
To be sure of getting in to see the show, patrons began showing up an hour early. Standing in line on the sidewalk for the Biograph’s midnight show became a party as some brought libation to liven up the wait. There were nights the line resembled a tailgating scene at a pro football game. A band of Jesus Freaks frequently stood across the street issuing bullhorn-amplified warnings to the drinking, eating, smoking folks in line.
Playing for 17 consecutive weekends, at midnight only, “Throat” grossed over $30,000. That was more money than the entire production budget of America’s first skinflick blockbuster.
Its grosses conveniently made up for the disappointing box office generated by an eight-week package of venerable European classics, including ten titles by the celebrated Ingmar Bergman. The same package of art house workhorses — we bicycled prints back and forth — played extremely well at the Biograph in Georgetown, underlining what was becoming a painfully underestimated contrast between the two markets.
Then, even more telling, over the spring a series of imported first-run movies crashed and burned. The centerpiece of the festival was the premiere of the popular Bunuel masterpiece “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972). In what we regarded as a coup, gambling it would win the award, we booked it in advance to open in Richmond two days after the 1973 Oscars were to be handed out.
We guessed right, it took the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, but it flopped in Richmond anyway.
Management was more than bummed out, we were shocked. Money had been put up in advance to secure a print, which was in demand because it was doing brisk business in many cities. The failure of this particular festival forced a serious reassessment of what had been the original plan.
To stay alive the Biograph needed to make adjustments.
After much fretting on the phone line between “M” Street and Grace Street the Faustian deal was struck — another film from Throat’s director, Gerard Damiano, was booked. However, this time the film’s distributor imposed terms that called for “The Devil in Miss Jones” (1973) to play as a first-run picture at regular show times, rather than as a midnight-only attraction.
At this point no one could have anticipated what we were setting in motion by agreeing to expand the availability of “adult movies” beyond a midnight audience. For the first time, the promotional copy for an XXX-rated feature was included on a Biograph program and in newspaper ads.
The circus began when an aggressive young TV newsman took Biograph Program No. 12 to the City’s new Commonwealth’s Attorney, Aubrey Davis. The reporter asked Davis what his office was going to do about the Biograph’s brazen plan to run such a notorious film, especially in light of the then-freshly-minted “Miller Decision” on obscenity by the Supreme Court.
Eventually, the provocateur got what he wanted from the newly appointed prosecutor — a quote that would fly as an anti-smut soundbite. The other local broadcasters jumped on the bandwagon the next day. By the lazy mid-summer evening “The Devil in Miss Jones” opened it had already become a well-covered local story.
Every show sold out and a wild ride had begun.
Matinees were added the next day. On the third day all the matinees sold out, too. The WRVA-AM traffic-copter hovered over the Biograph in drive time, giving live updates on the length of the line waiting to get into the theater. The airborne announcer helpfully reminded his listeners of the remaining show times for that night.
Well, that did it: The following morning a local circuit court judge asked for a personal look at what was clearly the talk-of-the-town.
Management cooperated with his honor’s wishes and schlepped the print down to Neighborhood Theaters’ Downtown private screening room, so he could avoid being seen entering the Biograph in its bohemian neighborhood.
As Judge James M. Lumpkin admittedly hadn’t been out to see a movie in a theater since the 1950s, this goofy/sleazy stag film rubbed him in the worst way. Red-faced after the screening, the judge looked at David Levy and me like we were from Mars, maybe Pluto.
Lumpkin promptly filed a complaint to the Commonwealth’s Attorney and issued a Temporary Restraining Order, himself, in an attempt to halt further showings. The next day a press conference was staged in the theater’s lobby to make an announcement.
Every news-gathering outfit in town bought the premise and sent a representative. They acted as if what was obviously a publicity stunt was actually 24-carat news, because it served their purpose to play along. Yes, I went to school on that. After Dave DeWitt — who represented the theater as its ad agent — introduced yours truly to the working press, a prepared statement was read for the cameras and microphones. The gist of it was that based on the demand, the crusading Biograph would fight the TRO in court and ‘The Devil in Miss Jones” was being held over for a second week.
During the lively Q & A session that followed, when Dave scolded an eager scribe for going too far with a follow-up question, it was tough to hold back the laughing fit that would have surely broken the spell.
The Devil’s spectacular run ended at nine days. It grossed $40,000. Technically, the legal action was against the movie, itself, rather than anyone at the Biograph. The trial opened on Halloween day. Judge Lumpkin, whose original complaint to the Commonwealth’s Attorney had set the process in motion, served as the trial judge, too.
Objections to that quizzical affront to justice fell on the determined Judge Lumpkin’s stone cold deaf ears. On November 13, 1973, Lumpkin put all on notice: If you dare to exhibit this “filth” to the public, then stand by for certain criminal prosecution. Effectively, “The Devil” was banned in Richmond.
The plot was hatched in early January 1974. It was after-hours in the Biograph’s office, next to the projection booth on the second story. Having finished the box-office paperwork, your narrator was browsing through a stack of newly acquired 16mm film catalogues, and probably enjoying a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon. The scent of recently-burned marijuana may have been in the air.
A particular entry — ‘The Devil and Miss Jones” — jumped off the page. Instantly, it was obvious that the title for that 1941 RKO light comedy had been the inspiration for the X-rated movie’s title. It should be noted that the public had yet to be subjected to the endless puns and referential lowbrowisms the skinflick industry would later use for titles. This was still in what might be called the seminal days of the adult picture business.
The plan called for using the upcoming second anniversary as camouflage. Wise guy DeWitt and the theater’s resourceful assistant manager, Bernie Hall, were in on the early scheming. Then, in a deft stroke — suggested by owner Alan Rubin — a Disney nature short subject, “Beaver Valley” (1950), was added to the bill.
Obviously, the stunt’s biggest problem was security. The whole scheme rested on the precarious notion that the one-word difference in the titles wouldn’t be noticed. The conspirators, who by this time included the entire staff, all accepted that the slightest whiff of a ruse could be our undoing. Thus, absolutely no one could be told anything.
The theater announced in a press release that its second anniversary birthday party would offer a free admission show. The provocative two titles were listed matter-of-factly; free beer and birthday cake would be available as long as they lasted. Somehow, a rumor began to circulate that the Biograph might be out-maneuvering the grasp of the court’s decree by not charging admission.
The rumor found its way into legit print. That was sweet.
The busy staff fielded all inquires, in person or over the telephone, by politely stating, “We can only tell you the titles and the show times. Yes, the admission will be free. No further details are available.”
The evening before the event the phones rang off the hook. Reporters were snooping about, asking questions. Yet, up until the last minute no one outside our tight circle appeared to catch on to what we were actually up to. Amazing as it may sound, the caper’s security was airtight.
The line began forming before lunch. As the afternoon wore on and the thousands lined up, it was suggested more than once that we could eventually have a riot on our hands. What would happen? Nobody knew. The box-office for the 6:30 p.m. show opened at 6 p.m. By then the line stretched more than three-quarters around the block. It took a full half-hour to fill our 500-seat auditorium. We turned away at least six or seven times that number.
The sense of anticipation in the air was electric. Once the cat sprang from the bag … well, actually it was a beaver, then some otters, some in that night’s crowd said they thought it was a wonderful occasion. Still, right away about a third of them left to go to a bar. The rest stayed on through the short.
Maybe about a third of the house stayed all the way through the feature. There were several people who said it was the funniest thing that had ever happened in Richmond. Of course, a few got angry. But since everything was free there was only so much they could say.
Meanwhile, a thoroughly amused press corps was filing its reports on the hoax. The wire services promptly picked up the story, as did the broadcast networks. The rush that came from living in the eye of that day’s storm was exhilarating, to say the least. Gloating over the utter success of the gag, as the staff and assorted friends finished off the second keg, was as good as it gets in the prank business.
The next day CBS News ran a story on the stunt. NPR’s All Things Considered went so far as to compare the Biograph’s wee prank to Orson Welles’ mammoth 1938 radio hoax. Also the next day, the Biograph returned to business as usual with an Andy Warhol double feature.
The staff went back to work on “Matinee Madcap,” a 16mm film project in production. VCU film professor Trent Nicholas, then one of the theater’s ushers and later an assistant manager, shared the directing credit with me. The rest of the staff and many friends of the Biograph appeared as players. The plot, calling for a good deal of slapstick chase-scene footage, set the action in the movie theater, itself. (Click here to see it at YouTube)
Although post-prank life seemed to fall back into a familiar routine, big changes were on the horizon. With Watergate revelations in the air and the Vietnam War ending, the intense interest in politics and social causes on American campuses began to evaporate. In 1974 “streaking” replaced anti-war demonstrations as the students’ favorite expression of defiance.
Six months after the theater’s second anniversary splash, the same month that President Nixon resigned, the Biograph closed down for a month to be converted into a twin cinema.
Automating the change-overs from one 35mm projector to the other was essential to controlling costs. Among other things that meant xenon lamps, high intensity bulbs that could be ignited by switches, had to replace our out-of-date, manually operated carbon arc system.
On the day the exchange was made I got to see the same scene with the two light sources. The light from two burning carbon rods was white and gave the picture depth and sparkle. Xenon light was slightly yellow and flat.
The manager’s job at the Biograph became more complicated with two screens to fill with flickering light. The theater’s once lofty mission became more blurred.
After the summer of 1974, every aspect of what had seemed to be life’s absolutes became steadily less clear for the dreamer who once thought he had the best job in the Fan District.
– 30 –
-- Art, photo and words by F.T. Rea.
Friday, February 06, 2009
Some of them are people who thought they were profiting from Bush's policies geared toward making the wealthy more wealthy, so we can guess why they were able to avert their eyes from Bush's outrageously bad stewardship of America's resources and potential.
Others simply bought into the Bush administration's slogans; even after they saw the snickering little squirt behind the curtain, with propaganda (m)adman Karl Rove whispering in his ear, they blithely ignored reality so they could continue to believe in the good intentions of the Great Dubya.
So now it seems the Charles Krauthhammers and Rush Limbaughs are still dishing out what their followers like to hear; swaggering Dick Cheney is still growling ass-covering, off-the-wall prevarications. In hard times screaming and begging for change, they haven't changed their let-them-eat-cake tunes even one tiny little grace note.
Of course it's annoying.
Then there's the sort of gall that one can only laugh at. It's so silly you can't even get miffed, let alone pissed off. Bush onetime chief of staff Andrew Card has criticized President Obama for working in the Oval Office in his shirtsleeves. Gadzooks! His tie might even have been loosened.
In his comments about how grossed out he has been over seeing Obama sans jacket with his sleeves rolled up, Card sniffed that the Bush White House Dress Code called for, "coat and tie in the Oval Office at all times."
He might have said, "Regardless of how many people have lost their shirts over Bush's handling of the ship of state, the president and his staff were dressed properly at all times." But, he didn't. I just made that up.
And, so it goes...
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
A bit over a year ago, a whole bunch of friends got together to help me get through some rough times, in many ways. We had quite a party! It helped, immensely. But we're still struggling to keep our little boat afloat here in the Chickahominy Swamp, and at the same time GROW this radio show!
So, now it's about trying to figure out how to bust an ARM, and get some WD 40 in my knees (or get a couple of new ones, without health insurance, eh?). So it goes... Am sure you are facing challenges, too.
Welp! Again, a year later, it's cold outside, and the winds of change are blowin', but we just refuse to let that get us down! These times are tough for everyone right now. But if we must walk on the razor's edge in this life, why not dance? Come join us for a celebration!
What: Out O' the Blue Stage Revue
When: Sun., Feb., 15. 2:30-10:00pm (Doors open at 1:30 p.m.)
Where: The Canal Club, 1545 E. Cary St. (804) 643-2582.
Admission: $20 at the door, Day of Show. Additional info here.
Event coordinator: Joanne Garland, (804) 212-9630
The musical lineup is as follows:
(Billy Lux, Charles Arthur, Jim Skelding, Jay Gillespie)
3:20 p.m.: Kip Williams Quartet
featuring James "Saxsmo" Gates & Anthony Dowd
4:10 p.m.: Susan Greenbaum
5 p.m.: Terry Garland with Bruce Courson
5:50 p.m.: Janet Martin Band
6:40 p.m.: Brad Spivey & the Honky Tonk Experience
7:30 p.m.: Gary Gerloff Band
8:20 p.m.: L'il Ronnie & the Grand Dukes
9:05 p.m.: Bruce Olsen & the Offenders
This year's Out O' the Blue Stage Revue is a benefit for the Central Virginia Food Bank, Positive Vibe Cafe, Richmond Jazz Society "Eric E" Musicians Relief Fund, Page Wilson's Out O' the Blue Radio Revue, the musicians and crew.
This is a resurrection of shows we used to stage at the ol' Flood Zone, and a unique benefit event, where the gross receipts, not the net receipts, are the basis for our charity contributions, as our volunteers make this possible. Our sincere thanks go out to the many area businesses and individuals who have graciously donated gift certificates and items for both live auctions, and raffles. If anyone else would like to get involved, please get in touch soon.
Richmond Music Center has donated a nice acoustic guitar for raffle, which can only be entered if you bring dried or canned goods the day of the show, for the Central Virginia Food Bank. You do not need to be present to win any of the raffle items.
If you cannot attend, but wish to participate, you can send checks made out to: "Out O' the Blue", P.O. Box 1117, Mechanicsville, VA, 23111. Please notate "Stage Revue." We will put it into the mix, and it'll go to good use.
Raffle & Live Auction donations, so far, from: River City Diner, Once Upon a Vine South, Crittertown Pet Bathhouse, Commercial Taphouse, Sam Miller's, Positive Vibe Cafe, Gus' Italian Cafe, Nacho Mama's, Sportspage Bar & Grille, Country Rib & , Brookland Park Tattoo, Plan 9 Music, Pine Street Barber Shop, Joe's Inn, Mincz Tire, Richmond Music Center, JudeGlass.com., Iron Horse Restaurant.
Special thanks to Kevin McGranahan & Capt. Bill Zimmerman for coordinating the stage and door.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
The half-baked notion of stuffing a baseball stadium into Shockoe Bottom -- of all places! -- is maybe the worst idea since the 6th Street Marketplace, at least among ideas that involve spending and risking large local public funds.
It’s no secret how I feel about this thing. Professional baseball, minor league baseball, should be played where The Diamond is now, or at a close-by stadium to be built.
Yes, I've written about this brouhaha here at SLANTblog and under other mastheads lots of times in the past (if you read Feb. 23, 2005, July 4, 2007, Aug. 6, 2008, Sept. 29, 2008 and Dec. 9, 2008 it should give you all you need, and then some).
So, at this time I won’t add anything new, except to point you toward an ongoing discussion on the topic at John Murden’s happening community news web site, the Church Hill People’s News.
Click here to read the latest — “baseball debate heats up again” — and throw in your two-cents-worth.
Update: There's a web site now devoted to promoting baseball on The Boulevard; click here.
Monday, February 02, 2009
When art is eye-catching, when it invites the mind to engage, we inevitably search for meaning. When the art is out in the public way it is constantly asking for our opinions. It must stand for our questions.
What did those statues mean when they were installed? What might they mean to people looking at them now. Yes, I think about those things sometimes. And, why not?
While, what was intended by the creators of art and what the public will make of it later are two different things, both things matter. With public art the reaction is usually all that matters, regardless of what the artist may have intended. In the art gallery world the artist's statement, which sometimes includes their intentions, carries some weight. Not so much on the street.
As you read this -- until they come down, for whatever reasons -- there is an unfolding statement that's being made by someone here in Richmond. Displays are up at the Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis monuments.
My photo of the piece at Allen Avenue (Lee monument) is above the second paragraph. It was taken on Monday morning. Below are two shots of the piece at Davis and Monument.
I took the photos of the Davis monument display on Saturday afternoon. The box you see in the photo above can be seen in the one below, too. It's in the shadow on the base. Don't know if this is still there, or not.
The boxes don't seem to be damaging the monuments, unless one chooses to take umbrage that they are there at all. Over the years I can remember, 50 or so, the monuments on Monument Avenue have rarely been harmed. Which may surprise some people.
But there have been other displays. Once Jeff Davis had female clothes, including a bra, fashioned about him. Some said it referred to the legend that he escaped Richmond at the end of the Civil War by dressing up in drag.
To read a piece I wrote about displays of another sort on Monument Avenue, but nonetheless, as political as art can get, click here for The Price of Free Speech.
Note: I wanted to get all this up right away. No doubt, these objects won't stay where you see them but for so long. More news to come...
Update: Apparently Jason Roop just revealed the guerilla art maker's name in his comment on a similar story at the Fan District Hub. According to Roop he is "Keith Mendak".
In his comment Roop seems to tie the objects left on Monument Avenue to an art show opening on Friday and an article to appear in tomorrow's STYLE Weekly. But perhaps the timing of this is coincidental.
SLANTblog's VA Top Five
1. Va. Tech (14-7, 4-3 in ACC, No. 41 RPI)
2. VCU (16-6, 9-2 in CAA, No. 61 RPI)
3. Mason (15-6, 8-3 in CAA, No. 62 RPI)
4. VMI (17-3, 8-1 in Big South, No. 114 RPI)
5. UVa. (7-10, 1-5 in ACC, No. 106 RPI)