Friday, December 30, 2011

A Perfect Rainy Day

Fiction by F.T. Rea

“Com’ere Bustah,” the old coot barked gruffly.

Slouched on a bench of stone and wood, the man wore an oversized pea coat and a dark blue knit cap. Most noticeable were his pale swollen ankles, showing between high-water plaid trousers and scuffed brown brogans.

Roscoe Swift was content to simply ignore the rumpled stranger until the guy made his purpose clear with his next utterance: “Gotta match?”

Out in the bay, Alcatraz was partially visible in the chilly fog. The thick gray sky was speckled with noisy white seagulls.

Roscoe approached the weather-beaten character cautiously to hand him a matchbook. In spite of the breeze the man lit his hand-rolled cigarette on the first try. Then the man coughed, cleared his throat, and spat triumphantly on the heavy support of the nearby tourist telescope. Roscoe watched the oyster slime its way off the heavy base to collect on the pavement.

After a couple of greedy pulls on his smoke, the man tossed the matchbook into the bay and said, “Look’ere kid, y'er no prodigy -- nothing special."

Annoyed, Roscoe looked in the water for the matchbook. It floated up so he could still read the type on the cover. It said Fancy Melons.

“No sir, heh, heh, y'er just another thin-skinned boy -- ha! Maybe a skinless boy -- trying to bluff his way into heaven,” said the old timer. His pale blue eyes twinkled in a maze of wrinkles and broken capillaries.

The sea breeze gusted. When Swift rolled over, he woke up startled and confused. His situation was nearly as weird as his mysterious dream had been. He found that he'd been asleep on a stack of inflated rafts on the beach. Suddenly, it was a beautiful morning in Virginia Beach and Roscoe was very thirsty.

Slowly, he began to remember climbing the lifeguard stand in the sand to the top of a pile of rental rafts lashed to it. Strangely, in the moonlight, it had made sense to sleep on an open-air perch, 15 feet up. He shuddered as he thought of the old man in the dream that was already beginning to fade away.

Then Roscoe realized he was still dreaming.


April 9, 1980: Roscoe Swift woke up already aware of the warm, moist air wafting through the slightly open bedroom window. Contrary to the weather forecast, it was still raining. Selena Cross, asleep on her back, didn’t stir as he deftly climbed over her and down from his loft.

The dream-within-a-dream he had just endured was a new variation on a familiar haunt. It went back to when was 16 and actually did wake up on top of a stack of rafts on the beach. Roscoe shut off the alarm clock, so it wouldn't ring, and he gathered up his clothes from the night before -- a black Rock ‘n’ Roll High School T-shirt, khaki shorts, white socks, and high-top Converse All-Stars. He grabbed a new pair of white socks on his way to the bathroom, where he threw yesterday's socks and T-Shirt into the dirty clothes hamper.

After his morning bathroom routine, Roscoe passed the shoulder-level bed. Still asleep, Selena looked too good to be true. Indeed, their six-week-old secret affair -- out of context from all else -- seemed dream-like much of the time to him. Quietly, he grabbed an old J.W. Rayle softball shirt from the dresser and headed toward the kitchen.

Leggy and graceful, bright-eyed Selena had a feline quality that Roscoe told her was reminiscent of a young Brigitte Bardot, in “And God Created Woman.” While such a comparison was obviously meant to flatter, it also recognized her natural talent for mimicry and disguising her thoughts. To him, Selena usually seemed to be working from a script.

Roscoe and Selena had a big day planned -- a stolen day, removed from time. As he headed for the kitchen to scavenge up some breakfast, she opened her eyes, unbeknownst to him.

Selena Cross waitressed three nights a week at Soble’s on Floyd Avenue. To protect her image as one who never partied after hours, or strayed from her main squeeze, Selena invented a system to facilitate her “sessions” with Roscoe. On the nights she worked, he would swing by the bar on his way home from work at the Fan City Cinema, where he was the manager. Her fiancé -- a 30-year-old antique dealer, with money to burn -- traveled frequently, usually for a couple or three days, on short notice. If she was free and feeling amorous Selena would wear her honey-colored hair in a ponytail, to signal Roscoe she would be showing up at his place later. That way they could confine their conversation in the restaurant to small talk and leave at different times without huddled discussions.

In spite of the obvious chemistry between the two of them, Selena had convinced herself this subterfuge kept her coworkers and the bar’s regulars from suspecting anything.

In the summer between high school and college Selena had learned a lesson about being caught with her pants down, literally. Her outraged boyfriend, a judge’s son, beat her up. When the bruises faded she left her hometown for good.

Sometimes, Roscoe didn’t know whether to believe Selena. Nor was he sure the ponytail really had everybody fooled. Still, with the bangs, it was a great look for her. Just the sight of that ponytail, bobbing and swaying as she walked, had a hypnotic effect on him.

Until this particular occasion it had been her custom to leave Roscoe’s carriage house apartment, in the alley behind the 1200 block of Franklin Street, before the first light of day. This time her fiancé was scheduled to be away longer than usual. Thus, this was their first morning together.

Roscoe Swift, 32, was a divorced wannabe filmmaker, who was too existential for his own good. Having had the same job for nine years, he could coast most of the time. Selena was a 23-year-old art history graduate. She led a disciplined, goal-oriented life and was ready to make her mark on a world of unlimited opportunity. Aside from a shared taste for Rockabilly music and a similar appreciation for black humor, they really didn’t have much in common. Generally, Selena didn’t talk about the past and Roscoe didn’t talk about the future.

Roscoe switched on the kitchen radio and opened the refrigerator. Then he remembered that Selena had wolfed down his leftover pizza.

He was out of eggs, too. What he had to work with was: a half-loaf of wheat bread, an almost new stick of butter, jars of mayonnaise, mustard and strawberry jam, a box of fig bars, a tired-looking head of lettuce, a bottle of extra dry domestic champagne, two cans of ginger ale, seven cans of beer and an empty pizza box.

Roscoe took out the champagne and sat it on the counter next to a small watermelon Selena had brought with her from the restaurant. He opened a can of ginger ale. As he carved up the melon, he whistled along with the radio to the classic Everly Brothers’ not-so-thinly-disguised ode to masturbation: “All I Have to Do is Dream.”

Selena, naked but for her thick socks, entered the room without making a sound. Amused that Roscoe hadn’t noticed her, she leaned her butt against the damp windowsill and folded her arms.

“Morning!” said Roscoe. “Hot coffee, buttered toast and cold champagne, with a watermelon spear, served in a pewter goblet. Presto! A perfect rainy day breakfast.”

Selena grinned. “I like rainy days. With no shadows, colors look more thick and juicy…”

“Miss Cross,” said Roscoe, “would you please slide the coffee pot onto the burner. It’s already loaded up.”

“Done,” said Selena. “Watermelon and champagne, together?”

“Yep,” said Roscoe, watching the gas flame burst into action, “this is an old Southern favorite. They call it a ‘Spring Fling.’ You haven’t heard of it?”

“No, but it’s so appropriate,” she said with a yawn. The gesture fit perfectly with her decadent rich girl act -- sometimes Selena almost seemed to have walked out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Given her blue-collar, small town background, it was a persona he enjoyed watching her affect.

Roscoe popped the cork off the bottle of bubbly and the moment’s perfection promptly fizzled. The bubbly wasn’t!

“Goddamn it!” he growled in a tone she hadn’t heard from him before.

While Selena’s body language had seemed to suggest that something other than breakfast was on her mind, anyway, the suddenly crestfallen Roscoe was focused on the flat champagne.

“I’ll be right back,” Roscoe blurted out, grabbing a hooded sweatshirt. He ran three-and-a-half blocks to a neighborhood wine shop in the rain, convinced the owner to open early, and returned with chilly bubbles aplenty.

“When you’re wet, you look fantastic!” Selena said, at first sight of him.

That prompted an impromptu session, with Selena seated on the porcelain kitchen table. Once again, they delighted in their collaborative ability to please one another. If anything, it was still improving. And, that was that.

The rain stopped and the clouds parted as they polished off their breakfast with gusto. During the drive from Richmond to their destination, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, Selena and Roscoe sang along with a taped compilation of cuts by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe.

With her hair gathered in a ponytail, Selena wore a pair of maroon short shorts and a lightweight gray sweatshirt with Bertand Russell's face on it that she borrowed from Roscoe. He knew she would try to steal it. Smitten with the sight of her, Roscoe could hardly keep his eyes on the road.

“I’ve smiled at you so much I feel like a Cheshire cat on two hits of acid,” Roscoe deadpanned, as he pulled his pale yellow 1973 Volvo wagon into the parking lot of the quaint Hilltop Hotel.

As soon as they got to their room, Selena went to the bathroom. As he waited, Roscoe lit a joint, took a hit, and asked, “Do you still want to go to the horse races in Charles Town? We’ve still got the rest of the day to go sightseeing, or do whatever…”

“Whatever suits me fine,” said Selena, as she opened the door wearing only the new Fan City Cinema T-shirt he had given her. That, and a spectacular smile.

“What the hell,” said Selena, who rarely smoked pot, “Up here I’m as out of town as it gets, give me a toke of that.”

After her second hit, she passed the joint back to him. Then Selena lifted her right foot to rub the instep along the back of her left calf. Roscoe stepped closer, tossing the joint at the bedside table’s ashtray. Her head tilted slightly to one side. The air between them was charged.

She pulled at his belt buckle as they landed on the bed. His hands cascaded along her rib cage to her bare hips.

Then Roscoe heard a loud explosion; he flinched. “Wha, what the hell was that?”

Selena laughed as Roscoe rolled onto his back, seemingly dazed. “What was what?” she cooed.

“That sound; like a gunshot, or a bomb,” he gasped. “That bang! Didn’t you hear it?”

“Passion!” she said, widening her eyes. “Pure, pure passion!”

Roscoe was disoriented. Hadn’t the noise been real? Hadn’t she heard it, too? He sat up. “Come on Selena, you didn’t hear that sound?

She kissed him with such fury that he had to stop talking.

Soon, thoughts of fiancés, ex-wives, everyday concerns in Richmond, horse races in Charles Town, and especially mysterious explosions in hotel rooms were put aside. Later they slept the sleep known only to lovers who’ve given their all to the moment.


The next day, in spite of his efforts, Roscoe was unable to determine if Selena had actually heard the explosion he had. They talked about it during the drive back to Richmond, but she never gave him a straight answer. She enjoyed teasing him -- maybe this, maybe that.

Exaggerating her southern accent, Selena would say, “Pah-shun.” Eventually Selena’s evasiveness began to rub Roscoe the wrong way, so he stopped asking.

They finished off the drive with little to say, accompanied by a Kraftwerk tape, turned up loud. He dropped her off at her Volkswagen bug, parked in a lot near his place. She planned to stop by her apartment and then take care of some errands. Selena’s parting words were: “I’ll call you around dinnertime, about getting together later ... if you’re up for a encore session.”

At 6 p.m., that same day, when Roscoe got home from playing Frisbee-golf, he found a message Selena had left on his new telephone answering machine. Essentially, it said her fiancé had returned from his business trip, without warning, two days early. Roscoe felt a sense of panic, wondering how much the man knew. There must have been some gossip.

Although she said twice that everything was “fine,” the fact she said it at all gave him a bad feeling.

The end was abrupt: Harper’s Ferry proved to be the finale for Selena and Roscoe. Two months later, Selena’s wedding took place in her husband’s hometown, Alexandria, Virginia. After a honeymoon in Ireland, the newlyweds surprised everyone by deciding to set up residence in Annapolis, Maryland, instead of Richmond.

And, that was that, except for a rainy day about a year after Harper’s Ferry. Upon returning from a week’s stay in San Francisco, visiting his old friend Finn Daley, Roscoe found a large brown paper bag on the driver’s seat of his Volvo, which he never locked. In the bag was a bottle of Dom Perignon, a small watermelon and an unlabeled tape cassette.

Roscoe shoved the cassette into the stereo and switched the ignition on. Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” poured out of the speakers. He smiled.

“Passion,” said Roscoe, as he let out what was left of his clutch and turned up the volume.

* * *
All rights reserved by the author. A Perfect Rainy Day with its accompanying illustration are part of a series of stories called Detached. Three remaining stories will be added, eventually. Links to the five others which have been finished are below:

A pox on loyalty oaths ...

... and political parties should pay for primaries.

Why not? How the hell did it get this way?

Although it’s taken the current Republican primary mess to shine a light on the intrinsic problem with holding statewide primaries and signing loyalty pledges in Virginia, solving the problem for the long run shouldn’t be a partisan political football. It's actually rather simple to fix this:

Political parties, major or minor, should have to rent the commonwealth's election facilities, at a fair price, or set up their own primary voting apparatus. It could be done online. Or, the party could just opt for the old smoke-filled-room style -- hold a convention.

The public has every reason to pay for and oversee general elections. But there's no good reason for the taxpayers to foot the bill for a political party's primary, or for that matter -- its convention. 

Political parties are private organizations the taxpayers have no say-so over. Such groups should pay their own bills for their own activities. That way, when members of a private group want to cheat their own candidates, except for its gossip value, it's none of my business.

In the short run, if disgruntled Republicans and other mischief-makers keep provoking judges to act in this affair, it won’t surprise me if some judge says, “Sorry Virginia Republicans, you can’t have a primary on March 6th.”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why is Iran so belligerent?

Looks like next year's foreign policy issue will be what-to-do-about-Iran. With sabers rattling as 2011 ends, are you interested in reading some in-depth background on America's checkered history with Iran? 

The quote below is a bullet point from the introduction to a sad story about mistakes made during Cold War times.
The Central Intelligence Agency's secret history of its covert operation to overthrow Iran's government in 1953 offers an inside look at how the agency stumbled into success, despite a series of mishaps that derailed its original plans.
Go here to see a special New York Times supplement created in 2000. It's chock-full of background information that will shed some light on why relations between Iran and the USA have been so strained for such a long time.   

Go here to see a map of the American military installations that surround Iran today. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Biograph Theatre 40th Anniversary

 With the Biograph Theatre's 40th anniversary coming up on Feb. 11, 2012, there's a party brewing. Meanwhile, what follows are excerpts of Biograph Times

My first good look at what was to become the Biograph Theatre was in July of 1971. Having gotten a tip from a friend that the DeeCee-based owners were considering the hiring of a local manager, I went to the construction site chasing the opportunity.

That day I met David Levy, one of six men who owned the repertory cinema operation that would be housed in the cinderblock building going up at 814 West Grace Street. Of the six, Levy would prove to have the deepest knowledge of film history, as well as the most hands-on knowledge of how to run a movie theater. At 33, Levy, a Harvard trained lawyer, was 10 years my senior.

A couple of months later I was offered what I saw as the best job in my neighborhood, the Fan District. The adventure that followed surely went beyond any expectations I might have had about becoming the manager of the Biograph Theatre.

On the evening of February 11, 1972, the venture was launched with a gem of a party. The feature presented that evening was a delightful French war-mocking comedy — “King of Hearts” (1966); Genevieve Bujold was dazzling opposite the droll Alan Bates.

In the lobby, with its cinemascopic view of Grace Street through a glass front, the dry champagne flowed steadily. A trendy art show was hanging on the lobby walls. Hundreds of equally trendy invited guests were there. The local press was all over what was an important event for that bohemian commercial strip, just a stone's throw from the Virginia Commonwealth University campus.

During the 1960s, college film societies thrived. Knowing film was cool; it could get you laid. By the 1970s, many of the kids who had grown up watching old movies on television had learned to worship important movie directors.

The fashion of the day elevated certain foreign movies, selected American classics, a few films from the underground scene, etc., to a level above most of their more accessible Hollywood counterparts. Mixed and matched in double features and packaged into little festivals, such was at the heart of a repertory cinema’s style. In that pre-cable TV age, much of the current-release domestic product was viewed by the film aficionado in-crowd as laughingly naive or hopelessly corrupt.

Once I began to understand more fully what an opportunity my job offered, I wanted the Biograph Theatre to be a place both detached from its surroundings and a good neighbor; like nothing else in Richmond, but a part of the Fan District’s bohemian milieu.

The Biograph’s programs, printed schedules with film notes, covered about six weeks each. Program No. 1 was heavy on documentaries, featuring the work of Emile de Antonio and D.A. Pennebaker, among others. Also on that program were several titles by popular European directors, including Michaelangelo Antonioni, Costa-Gavras, Federico Fellini, and Roman Polanski.

Although most of what we did at the Biograph was standard practice in that era for art houses/repertory cinemas, we were somewhat of a trend-setter with regard to the development of midnight shows. While most of the basic style for what sort of product to exhibit within a repertory format had been set in the ‘60s, at 814 W. Grace St. we managed to get in on the midnight show phenomenon early enough to have played a small role in shaping America’s love affair with midnight shows in the ’70s.

Of course, late screenings were nothing new when the Biograph opened in February of 1972, and the term “midnight show” had been around forever. Still, the midnight show formula for how to do it consistently had not been established. Something as simple as playing the same program on both Friday and Saturday nights, only at midnight, was still not set in stone.

About two months after we opened, an underground twin bill of “Chafed Elbows” (1966) and “Scorpio Rising” (1964) was the first special late show we presented; I think it started at 11:30 p.m. Moving such presentations to midnight soon proved better, and over our initial year of operation we came to understand the sort of pictures that would work best in that limited role and how to promote them.

When the Biograph started running midnight shows in 1972 the bars in Richmond closed at midnight, so there was a lot less to do at 12:01 a.m. than when the official cutoff time was extended to 2 a.m. in 1976.

Another reason midnight shows caught on was that drive-in theaters, which had done well in the ’50s and 60s, were going out of style fast. Some of the low-budget product they had been exhibiting found a new home as late-night entertainment in hardtop theaters like the Biograph. “Mondo Cane” (1962), “Blood Feast” (1963) and “2,000 Maniacs” (1964) all played as Biograph midnight shows.

By the time we booked “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to play, in June of 1978, going to a midnight show was no longer seen as an exotic thing to do in Richmond. Multiplexes in the suburbs ran them all the time. Which made the timing perfect for a kitschy spoof of/tribute to trashy rock ‘n’ roll and monster movies to become the all-time greatest midnight show draw.

The midnight show craze of the ‘70s could only have flourished then, when baby boomers were in their teens and 20s. It came before cable television was widely available and video rental stores popped up in every neighborhood.

Sometimes, a successful midnight show run came along in the nick of time to pay the rent for the Biograph Theatre.

Starting with the second anniversary, the Biograph Theatre’s birthdays always meant a party. Some of the celebrations were promoted and open to the public, others were small affairs for the staff and friends. Former staff members were always encouraged to attend, so the parties served as reunions, too.

Six months after the theater’s second anniversary splash, with its infamous “Devil” prank, the same month that Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, the Biograph closed down for a month to be converted into a twin cinema. With construction workers toiling 24 hours a day that accomplishment remains a story of extremes, to itself.

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 Peerless carbon arc lamps.

On the day the exchange was made I got to see the same scene projected onto the screen with the two light sources. The light from the old system, which used two burning carbon rods, was whiter and gave the picture more depth and sparkle. The Xenon light was slightly yellow and had a flattening effect on the image.

As the edgy punk style began replacing the hippie culture that had ruled the Grace Street strip for the better part of a decade, none of us who were working at the Biograph Theatre had an inkling that the zenith of the repertory cinema era, nationally, was in the rear-view mirror.

There were a lot of crazy things that happened in the years of babysitting “Rocky Horror.“ Among them was the Saturday night we threw out the entire full house, because so many people had gone wild; bare-chested rednecks were hosing the crowd down with our fire extinguishers. Fights were underway when we shut down the projector and the movie slowly ground to a halt. Everybody got their money back.

Interestingly, after that melodramatic stunt, we never had much trouble with violence to do with “Rocky Horror” again.

However, there was no stranger night than when about six weeks into the run, a man in his 30s breathed his last, as he sat in the small auditorium watching “F.I.S.T.” Yes, that Sylvester Stallone vehicle was particularly lame, but who knew it was potentially lethal?

The dead man’s face was expressionless … he just expired.

When the rescue squad guys got there they jerked him out of his chair and onto the floor. As jolts of electricity were shot through the dead man’s body, down in Theater No. 1 “Rocky Horror“ was on the Biograph’s larger screen delighting a packed house.

The audience had no idea of what was going on elsewhere in the building. A couple of times, I walked back and forth between the two scenes, feeling the bizarre juxtaposition.

Learning just how much to allow the performers to do, what limits were practical or necessary, came with experience. John Porter’s leadership of the regulars was a key to keeping it fun, but not out of control. For his part John, a VCU theater major, was given a lifetime pass to the Biograph.

On Friday, March 1, 1980, with its 88th consecutive week, “Rocky Horror” established a new record for longevity in Richmond. It broke the record of 87 weeks, established by “The Sound of Music” at the Willow Lawn in the 1960s.

That night, with Porter’s help in front of the full house, I smashed a “Sound of Music” soundtrack album with a hammer, which went over quite well with the folks on hand. A couple of the regulars came dressed as Julie Andrews, in a nice touch to underline the special night‘s theme.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s sweetheart of a movie critic, Carole Kass, wrote a nice piece on the shenanigans. She was always a big help.

On Friday, February 12, 1982, the Biograph celebrated its 10th anniversary with a party that surrounded the Richmond premiere of “My Dinner With Andre.” It was especially fitting, because the artsy film had been shot for the most part in Richmond.

To prepare for the occasion we did some touch-up work on the big collage in the hallway to Theatre No. 1 and the entire lobby got a new paint job. To make the party more fun we brought in the caterer who had prepared the dinner for the characters featured in the film, Chris Gibbs, to serve our $25-per-head guests exactly the same dish. The whole shebang was a benefit for VCU’s Anderson Gallery.

Each day of the shooting of the Louis Malle movie in the old Jefferson Hotel -- it was closed at the time, soon to be renovated -- Gibbs had shown up with a platter full of Cornish game hens and bowls of wild rice, etc. That's what the actors, Wally Shawn and Andre Gregory, had for dinner in the movie’s imaginary restaurant, supposedly in New York City.

About a year-and-a-half before the Biograph’s movie premiere party had been imagined, I had gone with Gibbs to the set, to see how it all looked. For each scene, the production crew had to pick apart the fresh sets of meals to make them look eaten/aged to the point that they fit the timing in the story.

Now, 40 years later, my hope is for these excerpts of the Biograph’s history will pass along some sense of what we who worked there meant, when we referred to the “Spirit of the Biograph.” In short, that spirit could be found in the voice of the theater’s better angels.

Although this telling of the Biograph’s story has been through my eyes, the contributions of its staff were always a considerable part of why that cinema -- with the worst seats in town -- had such a loyal following. The guys who had my back, the dutiful and underpaid assistant managers -- Chuck Wrenn, Bernie Hall, Trent Nicholas and Mike Jones -- kept that theater on the road more than a few times, when I was asleep at the wheel. My stint as manager ended in June 0f 1983.

By the time the Biograph's pair of screens went dark, many art houses and revival cinemas not unlike it had already closed all over the country. Behind on the rent, Richmond’s Biograph was seized by its landlord and closed forever in December, 1987. That was two months shy of its 16th anniversary.

Over the first year of operation we screened over 200 different features for our patrons. In all, I don’t know how many films were thrown onto the Biograph’s screens in its 190 months of existence as a repertory cinema. What I do know is that the advice of those better angels, just mentioned, made a noticeable difference in Richmond, Virginia ... in Biograph Times.

To see information about the Biograph's 40th anniversary celebration on February 11, 2012 click here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The CAA's woeful RPI rankings

Yes, it’s too soon for most Division 1 men’s basketball programs to get obsessed with their RPI position. Plenty of time for that in February. But it’s not too soon for members of a mid-major (whatever that is) conference to notice that its league is not on a track to place multiple teams in the NCAA postseason tournament field of 68.

Although in recent years the Colonial Athletic Association has made progress along those lines. This season? Not so much. There are 344 D-1 schools listed in CBS Sports’ RPI rankings. The CAA’s top ranked team, VCU, is sitting at No. 77, after winning six games in a row.

The highest ranked team VCU has beaten, so far, is Richmond (of the A-10), which is ranked No. 90. Of course, at this point in the season, the perceived strength-of-schedule of the teams is still overshadowing won/loss numbers more than it will later on. 

RPI: School (record)

77: VCU (9-3)
120: UNCW (3-7)
130: Drexel (6-4)
141: JMU (6-3)
148: ODU (6-6)
194: Mason (8-4)
221: Delaware (5-5)
224: North‘n. (3-7)
271: Ga. State (9-3)
273: Hofstra (5-7)
323: W&M (1-10)
332: Towson (0-12)  

Friday, December 23, 2011

Coming Soon: The Biograph's 40th

On its 40th anniversary, the Biograph Theatre, or perhaps something akin to its reanimated spirit, will serve up a pair of highly acclaimed films as a double feature.

In other words, the James River Film Society will present “Breathless” — a 50th anniversary restoration 35mm print, no less — and “Lonely Are the Brave” at the VCU Grace Street Theater on Saturday, February 11, 2012.

“Breathless” (1960): B&W. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg. Note: An opportunistic thief on the run becomes irresistible to a pretty American journalism student in Paris. Uh, oh, the guy is dangerous. How long can it last?

“Lonely Are the Brave” (1962): B&W. Directed by David Miller. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau. Note: To help his friend, a free-spirited cowboy flings himself recklessly at the hobbling effects of modernity … then tries desperately to escape.

"Breathless," based on a story by François Truffaut, did much to set the French New Wave in motion. "Lonely Are the Brave," with its screenplay by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, was an apt American reaction to the artsy European films of that time.

For the JRFS, this special event will kick off a three (or more) part series titled The Golden Age of Repertory Cinema. It will also serve as a fundraiser for the volunteer run nonprofit and an opportunity to officially launch its campaign to establish a small storefront cinema in downtown Richmond.

Soon more information on the event will be available, including the scoop on the post-screening party, plenty of background on the Biograph (1972-87) and the essential how-to-buy-advance-tickets details. Please note: Only 225 seats will be occupied once the light hits the screen. So, mark your calendars and when the advance tickets become available, be smart -- don’t wait.

The JRFS's Biograph 40th Anniversary Facebook event page is here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

About Richmond's Tacky Lights

The video above ran on the CBS Sunday Morning show (h/t Jackie) on Dec. 18, 2011.

For more about the tour's history click here to read a piece I wrote last year for about the special Tacky Lights 25th tour, which took place in 2010. 

Click here to read more anecdotes from the history of the tour, which was originated by Barry “Mad Dog” Gottlieb in 1986.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rename park after Ralph White

In recognition of Ralph R. White’s unique contribution to the quality of life in the greater Richmond area, stemming from his valuable work to do with the James River Park, it is hereby proposed that the publicly-owned land that constitutes the park be renamed after White.

Some people think all the land along a river should be exploited to the fullest commercial potential by private owners/developers. White, 67, obviously belongs to a different school of thought. It’s hard to think of anybody in the last quarter century who has done more for the commonweal of Richmond, with less recognition and less tangible reward, than White.

Click here to read a Richmond Times-Dispatch article about White’s 32 years of work to make nature more accessible to the general public. 

After his retirement in 2013, the park he has been the good steward of should be called the Ralph White Park on the James River, or something like that. Shouldn't it?

Too many debates?

It’s looking more and more like nobody, at least no Republicans with any clout, thought enough about the possible unintended consequences -- uh, oh! -- of the GOP staging way, way too many debates.

Six months ago they must have said -- hey, the more televised debates, the better. In the modern equivalent of smoke-filled rooms, the experts must have thought -- dueling conservatives behind podiums will steal the spotlight from the White House.  

Nonetheless, now it appears the likely primary voters, schooled by the avalanche of debates, have gotten so fixed on finding a tough-talking arch conservative they imagine will kick Obama's ass in the 2012 presidential debates ... they‘ve wigged out.

The Republicans actually seem poised to embrace a puffy poseur, a friendless burner of bridges, whose lumbering bandwagon must drag behind it a thousand and one trunks full of lead balloons.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Motion of Occupy Richmond's Saturday

A short video report with commentary, crafted by yours truly, on the activities of Occupy Richmond, Saturday, December 10, 2011. Spoiler: Only marching, chanting and picking up trash; no floggings or pepper spray content.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Tough Talk vs. Reality

Republicans have liked bluster and tough talk for a long time. Then-President Ronald Reagan’s borrowed quip, “Make my day,” is still reverberating through GOP halls of power. When Reagan’s aides were caught selling arms to Iran -- and Ollie North was lying through his teeth to Congress -- it didn’t matter much, because they loved it so much when Reagan called out, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

When the Berlin Wall later crumbled, rather than see the myriad of factors that had rotted the far-flung Soviet empire from within, Reagan's most moonstruck devotees preferred believing the Gipper's magic words -- his tough-talk to commies -- had actually done the job.  

More recently, former-Vice President Dick Cheney made tough-talk-loving Republicans swoon with his verbal brickbats thrown toward enemies, foreign and domestic. His fans could have cared less whether what Cheney said made much sense, because they loved his growling tone.

Now it seems today's Republicans want to nominate the person who will break bad, verbally, on President Barack Obama in the debates next fall ... even if it's Newt Gingrich! Perhaps they've been reveling in Rush Limbaugh's blowhard style of bashing Obama so much, they now want a similar blowhard as a candidate. 

So, even if Mitt Romney gives them a much better chance of actually winning the keys to the White House, they don't care. In other words, some good number of Republicans have lost touch with reality.  

However, if you go back a few decades, Republican conservatives stood on the idea that they were about hard-edged reality. In those old days, they saw liberal Democrats as being dreamers about what ought to be, wishful thinkers yearning for utopia.

Republicans today point the finger of blame at government over-regulation of Wall Street and the energy industry for the recession. Spin is one thing, but how crazy is all that?

How deep into the denial of reality does one have to be to say Obama deserves no credit for finishing off Osama bin Laden? But we are hearing just such crazy-talk from conservatives.

Now, even though it’s total bunk to say that so-called “job-creators” need tax breaks, that huge corporations need tax breaks, Republicans go on promoting those bogus ideas as if they are founded in reality.

Now some Republicans don’t even believe in science, when there are votes in pretending that evolution didn’t happen/isn’t happening. When there are votes in ignoring scientists who warn of the dangers of continuing to exacerbate climate change/global warming, to hell with reality.

Virginia currently has a hard charging attorney general who seems to be fantasizing that talking tough to wimpy scientists -- accusing them of falsifying their findings -- will scare them into changing their minds, so as to make science serve his political agenda.

Eventually, we'll all see how realistic that plan to become governor of Virginia turns out to be.  

-- Words and art (from 1986) by F.T. Rea.

Newt in the days of Splattergate

With Newt Gingrich surging to the frontrunner position in the field of GOP hopefuls, it takes us back to the 1990s. It takes us back to when Gingrich the would-be revolutionary lost a showdown with President Bill Clinton over shutting down the federal government. It takes us back to when Gingrich was censured for ethics violations by the House of Representatives -- the vote was a whopping 395 to 28; the fine was $300,000. 

Eventually, Gingrich's hypocrisy and hubris toppled him from his high horse. Now his candidacy is blowing the dust off of scandals aplenty, back in the day.   

In 1998, with impeachment in the air and the Clinton administration being hobbled by the probe into the nature of the president’s relationships with various women -- most notoriously, Monica Lewinsky -- I felt called upon to lampoon the scandal. So I created a series of caricatures featuring some of the main characters and wrote goofy captions for them.

That was "Splattergate," my fifth series of collectible cards on a theme. Above and below are the images that appeared on eight of the ten frames for the Splattergate cards (click on an image to enlarge it).

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Allen vs. Kaine

Just watched the Allen/Kaine debate.


Well, I missed the first few minutes, but on what I saw I'm giving Kaine a B. And, Allen gets a C+.

Both candidates did a workman-like job of presenting their particular approach to how governments ought to work. The atmosphere was staid, they both stuck to boilerplate rhetoric. 

While Allen may have hurt himself on birth control and abortion, I was a little surprised that he did as well as he did, in general. More such mild-mannered appearances might help to start replacing the bumbling images of him from 2006. 

Perhaps, since I agree so much more with Kaine, it seemed to me he was the more effective communicator. Kaine demonstrated a firm grasp of the reasoning behind his positions.

The transmission worked fine, so the Richmond Times-Dispatch did a good job.

The Lost Imaginings

On the occasion of the anniversary of his death, on Dec. 8, 1980, I can’t help but wonder what the founder of the Beatles — John Lennon, a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say about today's music, art and politics. 
It would be anybody's guess. After all, in his nearly 20 years as a public figure Lennon’s knack for changing before our eyes was dazzling. There's no reason to think such a restless soul wouldn't have kept on changing.

In November, 2008, on the occasion of what was the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ White Album, the Vatican newspaper praised the groundbreaking British band for its body of work and forgave Lennon for his flippant 1966 quip about sudden success, “[We’re] more popular than Jesus.”

Even the bloody Vatican has changed but peace is still waiting, off-stage, for its chance.

In February of 1964 the Beatles made their initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. At the time most people probably didn’t connect the events, but those two appearances were only three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Surely, the somber mood of the stunned nation, still trying to regain its balance, had something to do with why those early Beatles recordings cut through the heavy airwaves with such verve.

Clearly, there has been no explosion in the American pop music scene since them, with anything near the equivalent impact of Liverpool’s Fab Four.

Then, in 1980, the murder of moody John Lennon had an impact on the public few would have predicted. It was as if a world leader had been gunned down on the street in Manhattan.

Lennon’s obvious contributions as a songwriter and musician were huge. However, it was the working class hero’s sincerity, his sense of humor and delight in taking risks that helped set him apart from his teen idol counterparts, many of whom toyed with politics and social causes as if they were merely hairdos or dance crazes.

With the Vietnam War still underway in the early ‘70s, President Richard Nixon looked at Lennon and saw the raw power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearful of that potential, the Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the country. The details of that nasty little campaign are just as bewildering as some of the better known abuses that flowed from the Dirty Tricks Department in the White House during those scandal-ridden days.

With so many years of perspective on Lennon’s death, I have to say that even if that particular nut-case (a man I choose not to name because I refuse to add in any way to his celebrity) hadn’t pulled the trigger, it could easily have been another one; surely there were other bullets out there with John Lennon’s name on them.

Like the comets of each generation are bound to do, sometimes Lennon burned too bright for his own good. And, speaking of assassinations, at this time I’m also reminded of an item that ran in the Nashville Banner on Feb. 24, 1987. The article began with this:
Two Nashville musicians remained free on $500 bond today after they went on a magazine-shredding tear …to protest People magazine’s current cover story.
The two musicians were Gregg Wetzel, and Mike McAdam. As members of the Good Humor Band they were fixtures in Richmond’s Rock ‘n’ Roll scene in the early ‘80s. By the time the story mentioned above was published, the pair had established themselves as respected sidemen in Nashville — Wetzel on piano and McAdam on guitar.

In a nutshell, Gregg and Mike became incensed at seeing the magazine with a cover story about John Lennon’s murderer. They felt spotlighting the killer in that way might encourage another deranged wannabe to take gun in hand to go after whoever. So they fortified themselves with an adequate dose of what-it-takes — legend has it they were drinking out of an Elvis decanter — and set out on a mission to destroy the cover of every copy of the offensive publication they could find on the strip.

As the reader may know, this sort of endeavor is frequently best undertaken in the wee hours. In the course of their fifth stop, at a Nashville convenience store, the avenging angels were stopped by the cops and charged with “malicious mischief.”

Shortly afterwards, in a interview about the incident, McAdam said at the time, “If another guy like [name withheld again] sees that, he might think he can get on the cover of People magazine by killing a politician or artist.”


Primary among the reasons John Lennon was selected for the kill by his stalking murderer was he had a rare ability to move people. In that sense, Lennon was slain for the same reason as political figures such as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Two thousand years ago Jesus H. Christ was taken out of the game for much the same reason: He challenged people to change; to take a chance on a life based on something better than might making right.

Although Nixon miscalculated Lennon’s intentions, the soon-to-be-disgraced president was probably right about the former Beatle’s potential to focus the anti-establishment sentiments in the air. What Nixon didn’t grasp was that Lennon — in spite of his mischievous streak — was really more interested in promoting peace than fomenting revolution.

“The cops looked at me and McAdam,” said Wetzel recently, to flesh out the 24-year-old tale, “decided we weren’t exactly flight risks and entrusted our transport to the pokey with an attractive female officer, all by her lonesome. On the way to the hoosegow, Mickey hit on the cop. True story.”

After listening to a John Lennon compilation CD, even today, some of his best post-Beatles cuts seem fresh, they still have the feeling of being experimental.

Well into what are strange days, indeed, here on the 31st anniversary of his departure from the realm of the living, this grizzled scribbler can smile, wondering what more Lennon would have imagined.

-- 30 --

Monday, December 05, 2011

D-1 bowls feature 70 college football teams

Starting on Dec. 17 and through Jan 9, 35 bowl games will be played.

There's the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and the season winds up with the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 9. In all, that's 70 college football teams, which means just 50 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division 1) aren't going to a postseason bowl game.

Click here to see the entire list of bowls games and the schools that will be participating at Sports Illustrated.

The Riots of 1974

Some years turn out to be all about change. 1974 was surely one of those years. It was also a time in which extremes masqueraded as the norm. The most obvious change in the air in 1974 had to have been the unraveling of the presidency of Richard Nixon.

In parallel, the whole culture shifted during 1974, as tastes in music, clothes, politics, movies, drugs, and you-name-it, took off in new directions. It was also the year in which social causes suddenly went out of style.

Going into 1974, no one would have guessed the most popular gesture of group defiance on campus -- the protest march -- would morph into spontaneous gatherings to cheer on naked people, as they ran by. Yet, in the spring of 1974, streaking on college campuses became a national phenomenon.

Richmond’s police chief, Frank Duling, announced that his officers would not tolerate streakers running around in the city’s streets, alleys, etc. He didn’t care whether they were students, or not. But the VCU police department said if it took place on campus, streaking was a university matter and would be dealt with by its personnel.

The relationship between Richmond and VCU was still somewhat awkward in this period. And, leading up to this point, there had been an escalating series of incidents on, or near, the VCU campus. Police dogs had been set loose in crowds; cops had been pelted with debris.

So, Richmond’s police department had some history with what might have been seen as the anti-establishment crowd based in the lower Fan District, leading up what happened on the 800 block of W. Franklin St. on the night of March 19, 1974.

Several groups of streakers had made runs before four streakers rode down Franklin in a convertible at about 10 p.m. The crowd of 150-to-200 cheered as the motorized streakers waved. The mood was festive. I know this firsthand, because I was in that crowd. This scene played out a block from the Biograph Theatre, where I worked.

Seconds later a group of some 50 uniformed policemen stormed in on small motorbikes and in squad cars from every direction to arrest those four streakers in the car. No VCU cops were involved.

After a lull in the action, the Richmond cops inexplicably charged into the assembled bystanders. A few of those bystanders were dragged into the middle of the street.

One kid was knocked off of his bicycle and slammed repeatedly against the fender and hood of a police car. Others were beaten with clubs or flashlights. It was a shocking.

It was a riot -- a police riot.

When the dust settled 17 people had been arrested. Most of them were not streakers. While I’ve seen some clashes between policemen and citizens over the years at anti-war demonstrations and a few brawls, up close, what happened that night on Franklin St. was the most out of control I've ever seen from a large group of uniformed officers of the law.

Of course, I didn’t go to the Cherry Blossom Music Festival (which was headlined by the Steve Miller Band and Boz Scaggs) on April 27th at City Stadium. That was where the war between Richmond's partying hippies and its police force escalated beyond all previous clashes. When police officers attempted to arrest pot-smoking members of the audience, things got out of hand. Several police cars were destroyed in what turned into a four-hour battle. In all, 76 people were arrested.

This melee put the kibosh on any outdoor rock 'n' roll shows in Richmond, with alcohol available, for several years.

Back to the streakers on campus angle: Richmond's city manager, Bill Leidinger, promised me there would be an investigation into the conduct of the local police on Franklin St. on March 19 by an outside organization.

In exchange for that promise, I didn't go to the press with some volatile charges being made by a guy who said he had photos of the beatings. Unfortunately, he may have talked about them too much. He showed up at the theater, claiming the prints and negatives had been stolen from his car — while he was in a store, briefly — on his way to deliver them to me. It was strange; I had offered to put the stuff in the theater’s safe, because he told me he felt paranoid about it. The cat got so scared he left town.

Leidinger did not make good on his promise. Eventually, Richmond's police department held an in-house investigation of its own dirty doings on Franklin St. It found that it had done nothing wrong. I regretted trusting Leidinger.


1974 was a great year for movies, too. At the Biograph we premiered “Chinatown,” a superb film about corruption. We got it and several other mainstream Hollywood productions that year because Paramount and Neighborhood Theatres were having a feud. It’s still my all-time favorite feature.

Here are some other noteworthy events that happened during 1974:

January 2: President Nixon signed a bill mandating a 55 mph speed limit in order to conserve gasoline.

February 4: Patty Hurst was abducted; eight days later the Symbionese Liberation Army told the Hurst family it had to give $230 million in food aid to the poor.

March 2: Nixon was named by a federal grand jury as a co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up.

April 8: Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record with his 715th round-tripper. Later we found out about the death threats Aaron had received leading up to his feat.

April 15: Patty “Tania” Hurst helped her captors rob a bank at gunpoint. Nobody knew what to make of it.

May 15: A.H. Robins Co. yielded to pressure from the feds to take its contraceptive device, the Dalkon Shield, off the market.

July 1: Argentina’s President Juan Peron died. His wife, Isabel, took over in his stead.

July 27: The House Judiciary Committee voted 27-11 to impeach Nixon. Three days later the Supreme Court said Nixon had to surrender tape recordings of White House meetings that had been sought by the Watergate investigation’s special prosecutor.

August 8: Nixon resigned in disgrace; President Gerald Ford was sworn in. Millions of hippies stayed too long at the party to celebrate Nixon's downfall.

August 12: The Biograph Theatre closed to be converted by a 24-hour-a-day construction crew into a twin cinema in four weeks.

September 8: Ford pardoned Nixon, which all but sealed Ford’s defeat when he ran for reelection in 1976.

October 29: Muhammad Ali regained the world heavyweight boxing crown he had lost by refusing to be drafted into the army in 1967. In Zaire, Ali defeated then-champion George Forman by a knockout in the eighth round.

November 13: Yasir Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, addressed the UN with a pistol strapped to his waist. Supporters of Israel cringed.

December 12: Georgia governor Jimmy Carter announced he would run for president. Nobody noticed. Outside of his immediate circle of friends and advisers, who could have imagined it would matter?

*   *   *
Art and words by F.T. Rea

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Scandal at Penn State is about 'rape' ... not 'sex'

Let’s say a series of rapes occurred in a small town. The victims were all women who were students at a large university. Then the cops bust a man for the crimes. He is a professor at the same school.

Should the headline be Sex Scandal at the University?

No, because a sex scandal is when a prominent person gets caught having a fleshy relationship with the wrong adult. Rape is a crime!

OK, then why are the media calling what crimes Jerry Sandusky is being accused of a Sex Scandal at Penn State?  Yes, I'm wondering why more people aren't pissed off about blurring the distinction between what society calls “rape” and what it calls “sex.”

Sex might imply all sorts of things, some legal, some not. Sex a vague word, but most of the time its use implies that we’re talking about a consensual act. Rape is always a crime. In this case, we're talking about the raping of several children.

Therefore, it doesn’t matter if Sandusky, or anybody else, says it was a consensual act.

But as disgusting as it might sound, to fend off the charges, it seems Sandusky might be saying the acts were expressions of his affection, rather than his lust. If you read between the lines of his bizarre statements to the press, perhaps that’s one way this guy has been able to rationalize his crimes. Maybe Sandusky thinks what he was doing was OK, because he was helping those needy boys so much.

Still, that doesn’t explain away why so many in the media are mislabeling charges of “statutory rape,” as “sex.” Are the editors unwittingly buying into the idea that if the victims didn't resist -- maybe even liked -- what went on, then it somehow mitigates Sandusky's behavior?

Infuriating bottom line: Over the years, hasn’t that been the most common defense offered by serial rapists? Violent, soulless monsters who wink at us and then say the sexy victim actually liked it?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

All things Cuccinelli

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli surprised few who have followed his career in politics, when he announced that he will not run for reelection as AG. Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jim Nolan reports Cuccinelli has changed his mind and decided to run for governor in 2013. 
[Cuccinelli] called being attorney general "the best job in my life" and said his decision was based on "my love for the commonwealth and to further the principles on which this country was founded."
Click here to read the entire article.

Click here to read a good analysis of Cuccinelli's move by AP's savvy Virginia political writer Bob Lewis. 

Cuccinelli, 43, has been campaigning for higher office since the day he was sworn in as the commonwealth's attorney general. Now I suspect he's trying to figure out when will be the best time to quit his current post, ostensibly, to concentrate on his campaign.

Of course, the best time will probably be before too many of the metaphorical chickens from the questionable legal actions Cuccinelli initiated in his first year in office start coming home to roost.  

Here are links to stories I have written about his performance on the job:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Norquist's legacy ... under a bus

George W. Bush must be liking Grover Norquist more each day that goes by.

Hopefully, readers are now wondering how anyone in their right mind could find Norquist increasingly more likeable. Even those who agree wholeheartedly with Norquist’s strategy to starve the federal government into utter dysfunction might wonder about how any lobbyist could be easier to like ... each day?

OK, here’s my premise: Former presidents are always keen on polishing their legacy’s surface. But plenty of disgruntled Republicans have been mad at the most recent President Bush for some time. They say he was a bogus conservative and he did much to damage the so-called Big Tent coalition of conservatives that Ronald Reagan erected with his presidency in the 1980s.

The most unhappy of them have hurled more blame toward Bush for that transgression than any other Republican.

Now comes Norquist, with his notorious Pledge, which has most elected Republicans bound to Norquist’s self-serving whims and proclamations about revenue streams. Republican office holders fear the wrath of Norquist like nothing else. Without ever having to run for public office, by virtue of his file cabinet full of signed pledges, he has become the most important player on the GOP side of the aisle.

So, when either former-Speaker Newt Gingrich or former-Gov. Mitt Romney loses to President Barack Obama, and Democrats do surprisingly well -- coast-to-coast -- in next year’s elections, who will get the blame? What Republican will be blamed most for inciting the third party challenge from the right that will siphon off key conservative voters in swing states?

Of course, the loser at the top of the ticket will be denounced roundly, as was Sen. John McCain in 2008. With control of the House of Representatives returning to the Democrats, Speaker John Boehner will be in trouble.

But it says here that when the pundits start examining the Democratic landslide, asking what could have brought it on -- with so many still out of work -- the truth will emerge: One man did more to crash Reagan‘s Big Tent than anyone else. One rather unattractive person, who wielded his power so foolishly that history will brand him a crackpot, will emerge as the guy who destroyed a 30-year-old coalition and scattered it like leaves in the wind.

My prediction is that Grover Norquist will be named the culprit. He will be called a Judas goat. He will be likened to a sadistic inquisitor during the Spanish Inquisition. Eventually, a DC Transit bus will run over him, twice to make sure, and not a single Republican will attend his funeral.

No doubt, Bush has a nickname for Norquist. I bet it’s a doozey.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pepper-spraying cop, Lt. John Pike, for president?

In what country was this photograph of police brutality taken?
Given what we've seen with this year's kaleidoscopic GOP presidential nominating process, for those picky Republicans who still can't stomach the chameleon-like Mitt Romney, what's next?

In the opinion polls we've seen a series of candidates rise and light up like fireworks, then waft dimly back to Earth. Donald Trump's gravitas flashed over the political landscape, briefly, followed by Michele Bachmann's crazy eyes and crazier statements. Rick Perry was fine until he started talking. Then Herman Cain bumbled and tumbled into scrutiny -- uh, oh!

Now, even with his uniquely ponderous baggage, Newt Gingrich seems to be having his day in the sun. All the while, Romney's approval rating in the mid-20s has remained remarkably stable ... whatever that means. 

Who's the next anti-Romney?

My guess is UC Davis cop, Lt. John Pike (pictured above), who enthusiastically pepper-sprayed passive student protestors, to become a YouTube star of the first magnitude. With his nonchalant style, as he tortured those he had power over, Pike has surely become an instant folk hero in certain quarters. How long before Fox News hires him as a political commentator is anybody's guess. 

Channeling the dogged spirit of Bull Connor, and in the recent tradition of non-traditional candidates like Joe the Plumber and Christine "I'm Not a Witch, Anymore" O'Donnell, Pike has already demonstrated the peculiar star power that could go a long way toward getting the vote out in those early Republican primaries next year.

First screening: 'The Harder They Come'

Once I began to understand more fully what an opportunity my job as manager of the Biograph Theatre offered, I wanted the theater to be a place both detached from its surroundings and a good neighbor; like nothing else in Richmond, but a part of the Fan District’s bohemian milieu.

As a promoter, I wanted the Biograph to have an underdog personality that was likeable beyond whatever movie might be playing that particular day. I suppose an adman today would call all that stuff “branding.”

Still, I learned the hard way that when I made a mistake there would be a price to pay. When the wrong movie was booked, or if I didn’t promote a festival or midnight show properly, it led to losing money. If I hired the wrong person, we all had to live with the negative effect it had on the staff’s morale. As with any team effort, morale was one of the keys to whatever success we hoped to enjoy.   

Too many bad decisions and I could lose the manager’s keys to the funhouse. Learning just how far to push the envelope in Richmond, how to be ahead of the local curve without being too scary to the wrong people, was one of the keys.


Radio played a large role in the early days at the Biograph Theatre. For a couple of years we had a sweet deal with WGOE-AM, the most popular station for the under-35 set in the Fan District. For 30-second spots we were paying a dollar or two for each airing. 

In the fall of 1973, David Levy, then the most significant managing partner of the Biograph Theatres in Georgetown and Richmond, asked me to look at a film to evaluate its potential. From time to time, he did that for various reasons. In this case he had a new 35mm print of “The Harder They Come” (1972) shipped to me. 

In those days at the Biograph, we used to have after-hours screenings of films we obtained in one way or another. Usually on short notice, the word would go out via the staff and our friends that we would be watching a movie at a certain time. These gatherings were essentially movie parties.

A couple of times it was 16mm boxing films from a private collection. Sometimes films that were in town to play at a film society, or a VCU class, would mysteriously appear in our booth. In those cases the borrowed movies were always returned the next day, before they were missed ... so I was told. 

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

Well, I was ready for that question, because I’d done some brainstorming with friends after the screening. So, I told him I’d have an open-to-the-public, sneak preview free showing of the movie. I said I’d use radio only to promote it. He loved the idea.

So, on a Friday morning in November the deejays at WGOE began reading announcements of a free showing of “The Harder They Come” at the Biograph that afternoon at 3 p.m. Then, each time, they would play a song by Jimmy Cliff, the film’s star, or perhaps one by Toots and the Maytals. This pattern was continued maybe three times an hour, for four or five hours, leading up to the screening.

As I recall, some 300 people showed up and they loved the movie. It must be noted that at this time Reggae music hadn’t hit its stride in Richmond, yet. Although it was building a following in America, it was still a year, or so, away from becoming huge, nationally. Of course, Reggae was being heard in Richmond before that screening, but it was clearly still on the periphery of popular culture.

After the audience at the Biograph reacted so well, Levy wanted to book it to run as a regular feature, rather than as a midnight show. In most previous runs in other markets, it had been treated more or less as an underground movie. As it was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for its American distribution, it had a grainy, documentary look to it. Given our confidence in our reading of the test-screening’s effect on the audience, the Biograph’s brain trust decided to try playing it at regular hours. 

It all worked like a charm. While, it didn’t set any records for attendance, “The Harder They Come” returned to play subsequent dates at the Biograph in Georgetown, as well as the one in the Fan.

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

Over the next few years Reggae music became ubiquitous. It crossed over from niche to mainstream. For me, in this case, it was fun being in a position to see -- from the inside, out, to some extent -- how popular culture was developing, flying by the seat of its pants.


On the other hand, as a promoter, sometimes I bit off more than I could chew.

On October 22, 1982, “The Honeymoon Killers” (1969) opened as a midnight show. I had seen it somewhere and become convinced it would appeal to the same crowd that loved absurd comedies by Luis Buñuel and Robert Altman, plus those trash culture aficionados who had adored previously popular midnight shows, such as “Eraserhead” (1977), or “Harold and Maude” (1971).

A droll murder spree movie in black and white, it turned out “The Honeymoon Killers” mostly appealed to me … when I was in a goofy mood. I saw it as a comedy. In its two-week run, it nearly set the all-time record for worst attendance for a Biograph midnight show. As far as the sad tale of the record setter goes, that little fiasco's story is best left for another time.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Big Stretch

-- This piece was originally published by STYLE Weekly in 2002.

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 1961 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 elusive by its nature. More importantly, in that time being a copycat was never cool.

-- 30 --

History written on the fly

For an account of how the Occupy Wall Street movement got started, click here to read "Reawakening The Radical Imagination: The Origins of Occupy Wall Street" by Matt Sledge for the Huffington Post.

Here's a brief excerpt:

The movement didn't get that big simply because AdBusters, a Canadian magazine, sent out a flashy email promoting it, or because the hacker collective Anonymous flicked out a few tweets. Instead, it took a group of about 200 committed activists 47 days to outline the ground rules that have allowed the protest to flourish.
Previous SLANTblog posts on Occupy/The 99%:
  • Mic Check at Monroe Park is here.
  • Occupy/The 99% Is Already Winning is here.
  • Through a Partisan Prism Darkly is here.
  • Occupy Richmond's Halloween Move is here.
  • The 99% @ City Hall is here.
  • Cantor's Overplayed Hand is here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cantor's Overplayed Hand

The video above is my three-and-a-half minute take, Cantor’s Overplayed Hand, on part of what spawned the Occupy/The 99% phenomenon. More specifically, it's a commentary on the link between the Republican Party’s longstanding gross-out-the-voters-to-keep-the-turnout-down tactics and the OWS/The 99% movement.

Note: There may be off-the-wall, or even satirical, material included. So don’t let that scare you. And, for the record, or just in case you’d rather not view the film, the script I wrote for it is as follows:

For decades Republicans have been using a low-road tactic that has helped them win elections: They have deliberately tried to make politics seem so frustrating and disgusting that a lot of people have opted to ignore that side of life … when they can. The process has worked like a charm, because it usually discouraged more Democrats than it did Republicans. It’s no secret that Republicans have seemed to benefit from low turnouts for a long time.

The elections of 2010 provided a good example of what I mean. Lots of liberals were so grossed out by the growling repetition of the Tea Party’s rants, together with what they perceived as the Democrats’ wimpy response, they simply ignored Election Day.

Rather than cite a laundry list of other examples of how this style of gaming elections has worked over the years, usually to the advantage of the GOP, I’m going point out that I sense a change in the air that stems from recent events. Over the summer, to protect the interests of America’s wealthiest one percent, Congressional Republicans threatened to push America into a default, to renege on its debts.

But that time Rep. Eric Cantor and his teammates overplayed their hand so egregiously it became a tipping point. The GOP’s unprecedented brinkmanship blew back into its face. Forget about the phony Super Committee, this time the gross-out strategy helped launch the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon.

When some good number of young citizens returned to school this fall, it seems they had lost their faith in governments at all levels in America. Of course, lots of factors caused the OSW/The 99% movement to materialize this fall. What happened in Egypt and in Wisconsin earlier this year surely played a part, too.

Now the seven-week-old movement has already changed the national conversation. A new, free-spirited force seems to be affecting the political landscape. My hunch is that this country’s three-decades-long drift to the right ended abruptly on Sept. 17th, with the birth of this year’s Occupy movement. Wishful thinking?

Maybe, but Mic Checks are changing political vernacular.

Moreover, in a message aimed at Cantor, and other cock-of-the-walk politicians who routinely do the One Percent’s bidding, I’m saying this: The previously scheduled frog-marching of the American culture back to when it was OK to dump Kepone in the James River, back to before Democrats provided Americans their Social Security program — that forced march back to Gilded Age — it has been cancelled.

Meanwhile, will the GOP’s propaganda machine stop trying to hold down election turnouts, using whatever means necessary?

Of course, they won’t.

Will that immoral, anti-worker, anti-student, anti-99% strategy keep working forever to serve the 1%?

We’ll see.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The 1982 Handbill Art Show

Starting with the second anniversary, the Biograph Theatre’s birthdays always meant a party. Some of the celebrations were promoted and open to the public, others were small affairs for the staff and friends. Former staff members were always encouraged to attend, so the parties served as reunions, too.

On Friday, February 12, 1982, the Biograph celebrated its 10th anniversary with a party that surrounded the Richmond premiere of “My Dinner With Andre.” It was especially fitting, because the artsy film had been shot for the most part in Richmond.

To prepare for the occasion we did some touch-up work on the big collage in the hallway to Theatre No. 1 and the entire lobby got a new paint job. To make the party more fun we brought in the caterer who had prepared the dinner for the characters featured in the film, Chris Gibbs (a friend), to serve our $25-per-head guests exactly the same dish. The whole shebang was a benefit for VCU’s Anderson Gallery.

Each day of the shooting of the Louis Malle movie in the old Jefferson Hotel -- it was closed at the time, soon to be renovated -- Gibbs had shown up with a platter full of Cornish game hens and bowls of wild rice, etc. That's what the actors, Wally Shawn and Andre Gregory, had for dinner in the movie’s imaginary restaurant, supposedly in New York City.

About a year-and-a-half before the Biograph’s movie premiere party had been imagined, I had gone with Gibbs to the set, to see how it all looked. For each scene, the production crew had to pick apart the fresh sets of meals to make them look eaten/aged to the point that they fit the timing in the story.


While putting the party together with the Biograph’s staff, Gibbs and the Anderson Gallery was a lot of work, it was also a lot of fun. Fortunately, the Biograph’s owners in DeeCee were 99 percent behind such promotions. For me, it was the sort of special project that I loved, even as my passion for the day-to-day routine of operating a movie theater was slowly dissolving into a blur.

Later that same year another special project appeared, to become my raison d'être for months. Although it was a big distraction from my duty to find solutions for the cinema’s endemic problems, winning the “handbill case” still stands as my favorite singular achievement as manager of the Biograph.

In my thinking, first it was about free speech. I had long admired freedom-of-speech heroes and people who fought censorship, so I was eager to do my bit. In a more practical sense, it was also about defending a promotional tool I had relied upon for 10 years. So, it was about keeping the theater open. From experience I knew eye-catching handbills posted on certain utility poles and in particular shop windows were vital to promoting our smorgasbord of attractions, especially midnight shows.

In the larger picture, culturally, it was Rock ‘n’ Rollers vs. Yuppies. The Fan District Association was dead set against handbills promoting nightlife. Prompted by that civic association’s pressure, the City of Richmond officially proclaimed the matter to be strictly about trash.

So, early in 1982, City Council tweaked the statutes about posting notices in the public way. Then the police department began cracking down directly on those who posted handbills. Not so much the notices posted about yard sales or lost dogs. No, the focus was strictly on flyers promoting entertainment.

After noting the arrests of fellow handbillers, musicians who played in popular bands, David Stover (Prevaricators) and Charles Williams (Good Guys), I decided to confront the situation. While some other promoters in the Fan District chose to let the crackdown stop them, I simply went about my routine handbilling rounds, as I had since 1972.

Which led to an 8½-by-11-inch paper poster for “The Atomic Café,” which opened on June 24, 1982, becoming evidence. When a cop brought the flyer to the Biograph, to issue us a warning, I freely admitted to having posted it on a utility pole. So, he handed me a summons to appear in General District Court.

Subsequently, I told my bosses it would cost the Biograph nothing in legal fees, but that I wanted to fight the City of Richmond on freedom of speech grounds. I assured them a couple of my friends who were lawyers would handle the defense.

The study of laws and decisions about free speech and using the public way for the common good became my obsession. Scheming about how to present the argument filled my head for the next four months. First, I wanted the court to see an important context -- our society tolerates all sorts of signage on utility poles, because the messages are considered useful.

Then, I wanted to convince a judge that once you considered all the handbills in the neighborhood around VCU, as a whole, it could be seen as an information system. It was a system that some people were relying on for information, just as others might rely on newspapers obtained from a box sitting on public sidewalk.

One person might read the entertainment section in a local periodical, another person might glance at the utility poles in their neighborhood, to read the posters touting live music shows or poetry readings.

To gather plenty of good examples to use as evidence, we had a handbill art show at the Biograph. On October 5, some 450 flyers, posted on black foam core panels, hung in the theater’s lobby. In all, there were probably three dozen, or so, different artists represented. A group of impromptu art experts acted as judges to select the best five of the show. Naturally, there was a keg of beer on hand to grease the wheels of progress.

One of Phil Trumbo’s Orthotones (later Orthotonics) handbills was named Best in Show. Most people who knew much about the handbill artists in the Fan would have said Trumbo was top dog, so it was a popular decision by the judges. Trumbo would later testify at the trial as a “handbill expert.”

Two of the handbill art show judges from that night also served as expert witnesses at the trial. They were: Gerald Donato and David Manning White. Donato was an art professor at VCU; White was the retired head of the mass communications department at VCU. The best 100 of the handbills from the show went to court as evidence.

After all was said and done, we won. On Saturday, November 6, the Frank Green-penned story about winning the handbill case was draped stylishly across the top of the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s front page.
In dismissing the case, the judge (Jose R. Davila) appears to have opened the question of the enforceability of the city law used by police to combat the proliferation of advertising and other signs on utility poles and other “fixtures” in “public ways.”

The case concerned the seemingly simple issue of the allegedly illegal posting of a handbill. But before it was over, the proceedings touched on topics that included free speech, soup cans, and nuclear energy, and invoked names of such diverse personalities as Andy Warhol and the city’s public safety director.

Rea’s attorneys, John G. Colan and Stuart R. Kaplan, argued the city ordinance was unconstitutional because it violated Rea’s right of freedom of speech.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney William Bray argued that Rea had means of expressing himself and of advertising the movies other than the posting of handbills on public property.

Davila did not rule the city ordinance unconstitutional, but he dismissed the charge despite the defense’s concession that Rea had the handbills posted.

Without elaborating, Davila said he was concerned about the use of the term “public way” in the ordinance.

“The city, the GRTC, VCU, churches, the Boys Club and all the candidates use the public’s utility poles to post their signs. They know as well as the general public that there is nothing pretty about a naked pole. Handbills pose no danger to anyone. Is free speech only for some?” Rea asked in a handbill he had printed up before yesterday’s trial.

So I walked. We probably had a little party, but I don‘t remember.

A month or so later, I began planning the Biograph’s 11th anniversary program, which would feature Abel Gance’s restored masterpiece, “Napoleon” (1927). That would prove to be the last special project, the last anniversary party that I planned for the Biograph ... while it was still open.

Stay tuned...