Friday, February 25, 2011

Night of the Living Interior Decorators

Yes, there were those who saw this coming:
WASHINGTON (Feb. 25, 2011): Reports continue to pour in from around the nation today of helpless Americans being forcibly taken from their marital unions after President Obama dropped the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this week, leaving the institution completely vulnerable to roving bands of homosexuals.
Click here for the rest of this terrifying story.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mondo Softball

The video above is a 30-second promo for a weekly local cable television program I hosted in 1990. Using footage from the show, I edited it and wrote the copy. Hank Brown did the music. The voice is that of my old girlfriend, Gayle Carden (now Hudert).

With the 32nd annual Biograph Theatre softball reunion (without a softball game these days) on the horizon (Sat., May 7), here's a flashback to a newspaper article about that show which includes some Biograph history, as well as Fan District Softball League nostalgia:
Richmond News Leader
Date: 07-05-1990
Byline: Paul Woody

Years ago when Terry Rea was manager of the now defunct Biograph Theatre, he organized a softball team for the Fan League. But this wasn't just any team. This team had two illegal French aliens.

"One spoke no English at all," Rea said. "Neither had ever seen a baseball game. But they went out to a yard sale, found some funky `50s uniforms and they were a laugh riot."

The Biograph team also had a life-size, cardboard figure of Mr. Natural, a comic-book character created by R. Crumb of Zap Comics. Rea and his teammates took Mr. Natural to every game. They would carry him onto the field and chant to him.

"Some thought it was funny," Rea said. "Some thought we were mocking them. Some thought we were mocking the game."

All Rea was trying to do was enjoy a little softball and make the team and the league, "a rolling comedy show," he said. "I'm not sure everybody on the team was 100 percent behind me on that."

Rea began playing softball in 1976, but now, at the age of 42, he's in semi-retirement.

"I try in the offseason to lower my expectations, but I'm losing my game faster than I can lower my expectations," Rea said. "That drives everyone out of the game except the most fanatic."

Rea, however, is hardly done with softball. In fact, he may be contributing more to the game than he ever did as a player. Rea, a freelance graphic artist by trade, is the originator, host and creative force behind "Mondo Softball," a weekly, one-hour talk and call-in show seen Tuesday nights at 9 o'clock on BLAB-TV (Continental Ch. 7, Storer Ch. 8).

Mondo is Italian for "world." Rea took it from the drive-in movies of his youth that were all the rage.

"There were a bunch of `Mondo' films," Rea said. "Then, you started to see it thrown in front of almost anything to give it a bizarre connotation. People just know it has some sort of bizarre edge to it.

"And, of course, I'm using that."

Rea isn't the host of "Mondo Softball."

The host is Mutt deVille, a man of mysterious origin who always wears a baseball cap, sunglasses and softball jersey. Mutt deVille is Rea's alter ego. Mutt deVille was created by Rea as a pen name for the sports writer in Slant, the twice-monthly newsletter of commentary that Rea publishes, writes and edits.

DeVille initially existed to give some diversity to the pages of Slant, "and to create the illusion there was a staff of writers," Rea said. But the more Rea wrote as deVille, the more he liked it.

"My name, and my approach to things, like anyone who stays in his hometown long enough, carries a certain amount of baggage with it," Rea said. "I could move more freely as Mutt deVille.

"When I decided to do a show and it was a sports show, it seemed like a good idea to use Mutt. That led to the idea that Mutt should become a character and the time I was on camera should be a performance. Mutt is a device to make me feel at ease on stage."

"Mondo Softball" is not like any other show you'll see on BLAB. It's a one-hour play, softball as kitsch. It's part news -- standings, results and tournament highlights provided by Paul Joyce, the `field' reporter and a veteran local player -- part conversation with a guest, questions from callers and wisecracks, subtle humor and outright gags whenever possible. It's clever, and it's as entertaining as a show on recreational softball can be.

Rea said he has borrowed from shows he's seen. From the "Tonight Show," Rea took the idea that Johnny Carson is at his best and funniest when things go wrong.

"Part of live TV is that there are a lot of glitches," Rea said. "I've tried to incorporate the production values of an old `50s sci-fi movie and try to go with whatever goes wrong."

Each week, there is a great uproar over the magic word. If a caller says the word, he or she receives a $20 gift certificate from a local restaurant. The magic word is straight out of "You Bet Your Life" with the late Groucho Marx. In that show, it was called the secret word.

"If you're going to steal, steal from the best," Rea said.

Part of the attraction of "Mondo Softball" is that you can never be sure what will happen next.

"I think some people watch shows on BLAB just to see if the set will fall over," Rea said.

Rea brings a unique element of surprise to the screen. He isn't afraid to take a chance or play a little joke. When he was manager of the Biograph, a repertory theatre located near Virginia Commonwealth University, Rea once offered free admission to "The Devil and Miss Jones."

The line for the show, which most believed to be a well-known X-rated movie, stretched around the 800 block of West Grace Street. But the X-rated movie was "The Devil in Miss Jones." "The Devil and Miss Jones" was a 1941 comedy.

"Most people thought it was funny," Rea said. "But you always have some who get mad about something like that."

"Mondo Softball" has something of the same problem. Hard-core softball players don't always appreciate Rea's attempts at humor.

"I've heard some don't like Mutt's approach," Rea said. "But that's the reason Paul is there. Overall, though, the reaction I get is that they (the hardcore players) like Mutt."

BLAB-TV likes Mutt so much that another show already is in the works. "Mondo Pops," [which actually became Mondo City] covering everything from sports to who knows what will premier this fall. It should be an interesting experience. Who knows, maybe even Mr. Natural will make an appearance.


Fan District Bar Obits

Originally published by in the years indicated

Texas-Wisconsin Border Café

In 1982 three adventurous friends trusted their instincts and put together the Texas-Wisconsin Border Café, a quirky Fan District watering hole known affectionately as “The Border.”

Owners Jim Bradford (depicted above), Donna Van Winkle and Joe Seipel were rewarded with an immediate following. It evolved into an institution known widely for its wacky interior and its diverse crowd; a place where blue collars, white collars and no collars got along famously.

When word got out in early March the Border was being sold, old customers and ex-staffers began making pilgrimages to the place for one last drink, one last connection to a piece of their youth. Although it had been rumored the Border was for sale for some time, what isn’t these days?

When Bradford -- a tireless photo-realistic painter with a curmudgeon’s sense of humor -- died in the summer of 1997, well, the future of the restaurant became much more complicated. Of the three owners, Jim had surely been the one who spent the most time bellied up to the bar, overseeing operations.

After managing the restaurant in its salad days, Van Winkle had gone to law school, become an attorney, and moved to Fredericksburg. Fifty miles is a tough commute for a late-afternoon beer.

That left Seipel, chairman of VCU’s sculpture department, to hold down the happy hour fort in the section of the restaurant known as the Power Corner. Although Seipel’s talent for convivial conversation is considerable, he had taken on time-consuming responsibilities over the years; fatherhood not the least of them.

So, it was time to turn the page. On March 14, the last night of the original ownership’s watch, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” to close the Border down. After playing a while for the crowd on hand he marched out the door, bagpipes caterwauling passionately, and it was done.

The scene brought to mind filmmaker Luis Bunuel’s apt comment in his autobiography, My Last Sigh, about a good bar being like a chapel. No doubt, most who were there for the piper’s last mournful note took with them a strong sense of that sentiment.

Then new owners decided to honor a date the old owners had made with Burnt Taters for a March 26 CD release party. That meant keeping the business open under the old banner for a few more days and putting off the renovations. As it turned out, the delay set the stage for quite a finale.

What followed was an auction event on the actual last night of operation as the Texas-Wisconsin Border Café. At six o’clock Page Wilson and Reckless Abandon gave the makeshift stage in the front of the room over to the selling off of the bar’s wild and eclectic collection of wall decorations and art-like objects. They pulled down the framed pictures, the stuffed animal heads, the signs, and you name it. What went on was part wake, part fund-raiser, part souvenir-grab and all party.

The bidding at times resembled a feeding frenzy, as people climbed over one another to throw three figures at stuff, some of which wouldn't go for five bucks at a yard sale. The crowd cheered as each bid drove the price higher.

One rather attractive young woman gladly paid hundreds of dollars for a stuffed squirrel’s butt. A roar went up as she outbid her rivals and everyone ordered another round. The more absurd the prices got the more fun was being had. Since the money raised from the auction all went to the Bradford Scholarship Fund at VCU, more than $10,000, the harm couldn’t be found.

The Border, a happening unique in an age of conformity, will be missed. Don’t expect it to happen again.



Soble’s, home of “the world-famous bacon cheeseburger” for 22 years, is no more.

Paul Soble and his partner, Bruce Behrman, have sold the well-known Fan District restaurant to a group that plans to open a new restaurant under the name, “The Devil’s Kitchen.”

Soble’s, Part One, lasted ten years (1977-87) at 2526 Floyd Avenue in what had previously been the location of Cavedo’s, a traditional neighborhood drug store with a classic soda fountain. Part Two saw the restaurant lose its lease, pack up its patio, and move one block to the south - 2600 West Main Street.

Soble’s had a feel to it that was reminiscent of traditional watering holes in large cities on the eastern seaboard. Its elegant back bar was cluttered with memorabilia that included hundreds of photos of regulars and popular culture souvenirs that documented a generation’s after-dark highlights and next-day hangovers.

The mirrors were covered with Elvis kitsch, dog-eared tickets from NRBQ concerts, High on the Hog backstage passes, postcards featuring shapely derrieres, and silly bumper stickers with slogans such as, “bad cop - no doughnut.”

Perhaps the peak of Soble’s popularity was in the mid-‘80s, when an every-other-Monday jam session evolved into a scene that had a touch of magic. It came to be known as the “Blue Monday Jam.”

As the summer of 1986 wore on, the crowds for the impromptu show began to fill the restaurant and overflow onto the patio and into Floyd Avenue. Jimmy Maddox, a vocalist who accompanied himself on piano, served as organizer and host for shows that included the best musicians in town on a given Monday.

Other clubs tried to copy the concept and attempted to set up nights for jam sessions. None of them were ever able to duplicate the scene that naturally formed in Soble’s.

Behrman confirmed that indeed he saw the Blue Monday Jam as a high water mark in popularity for the restaurant. But he laughed at the idea that the live music crowds of those Monday nights spent a lot of money.

Still, that rowdy scene was part of why Soble’s became a headquarters for a certain ilk. It now joins the Texas-Wisconsin Border Café and John & Norman’s as noteworthy Fan District restaurants to cash in their chips within the last year.

According to Vaughn Turner, a bartender for many years at the Border, the Devil’s Kitchen will serve a bacon cheeseburger of sorts. He also indicated that hot sauces, made on the premises, will be featured in the new operation. Turner is one of three partners involved in the venture.

While there to check out the changes underway, I looked for a bullet hole in the back bar that had been put there during a 1987 holdup, shortly after the move from Floyd to Main. One of the robbers fired a shot at Soble that he was purported to have dodged. I couldn’t find the hole; somebody must have fixed it. It’s hard to imagine Paul ever moving that fast again.

Perhaps it was time to make a change. As far as why he and Soble sold the business, Behrman said, “We both got tired of it and wanted to do some other things. Business was okay.”

Soble’s is on a short list of restaurants that gets, or deserves, an obituary.

Note: Paul Soble died later that same year (July 27, 2000). The Devil's Kitchen opened to fanfare, but didn't last a whole year.


Chiocca’s Park Avenue Inn

On Monday, Frank Chiocca stood tending bar for his last shift. As he answered a question from a customer the phone rang; another old friend was calling to pay his respects. With the sun setting on what was a crisp autumn day Chiocca was reflective, yet upbeat, in the midst of his familiar five o'clock crowd for the last time.

Chiocca's Park Avenue Inn opened for business on June 18, 1964. It closed for good on November 29, 2004.

According to Chiocca a 1964 bottle of Richbrau, which was then brewed and bottled about a half-mile from his Fan District location, cost a quarter. He chuckled, "Forty years! I didn't have two nickels to rub together when I got here."

To say Frank Chiocca, 79, has the food-and-drink biz in his blood is a bit of an understatement. After returning to Richmond from service in the Italian army during World War I, his father, Pietro Chiocca -- whose two older brothers were already running a restaurant at 812 W. Broad Street called Jimmy's -- became a partner in Silvio Funai's restaurant. The building at 327 E. Franklin St., which no longer exists, had previously been a public library. In 1937 "Pete" Chiocca bought Funai out and renamed the place Chiocca and Son.

Before they left to serve in the American armed forces during World War II, Pete's boys -- Andrew, Joe, Mario and Frank -- all worked in his restaurant, which was across the street from the Richmond Newspapers building.

In 1947 Joe opened his own eatery at 2915 W. Cary St. (in the building that now houses The Track); he called it Chiocca's. In 1952 brother Mario followed suit by opening his version of a Chiocca's at 425 Belmont Ave. His children, Tim and Carla, still operate that basement tavern today, in much the manner it has always been run.

In 1961 Pete Chiocca closed the original downtown Chiocca's. Using the typewriter with which he had created the daily menus for years, Frank then put together a few recollections of his father's place to help columnist Charles McDowell with a piece he wrote paying tribute to the passing of a favorite haunt. According to McDowell's account, Frank's history recalled, "... the prohibition days, the bawdy girls who would occasionally saunter in to catch the eye of a medical student, a lawyer, an artist, musician, and perhaps even a newspaper man. ...and the ever-present gas pilot light at face level near the tobacco case, for lighting one's cigar or cigarette."

Chiocca's Park Avenue Inn was known for its time-capsule atmosphere and its made-to-order sandwiches; the signature sandwich was called "the Masterpiece." It featured an anchovy sauce based on Frank's mother's recipe. Watching his hands carefully constructing a sandwich and arranging the presentation on the plate was always worth studying; he was a polished craftsman.

In recent years his shrinking customer base was made up mostly of young families from the surrounding blocks who eschewed fast food, and graying beer aficionados who grew up in that same area. Now those loyal customers have lost an authentic connection to a sepia-toned time when the Fan District was dotted with Ma and Pa restaurants and small markets.

Moreover, the list of forgettable dives and pretentious hash houses that have come and gone in the Fan during Frank Chiocca's steady 40-year-run is too long for this limited space.

“All things come to an end,” Chiocca shrugged. “Forty years; it’s been a good run.”

-- 30 --

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Inconvenient Hunch

Originally published by SLANTblog in 2006

When one divines the presence of a specific person in connection with some unexplained occurrence, without any tangible evidence of their involvement, what real trust should one put in such raw instinct?

How much of a hunch is a flash of extraordinary perception? How much is imagination?

In a high contrast crisis, doubting a hunch could get somebody killed. But in everyday life’s ambiguous gray scale of propriety, how much can anyone afford to put at risk strictly on intuition? Hey, if you shoot a guy based on your gut feeling that he was about to kill someone else, with no corroborative evidence, you’re going to need a good lawyer.

The torturous story of why I left my longtime job as manager of the Biograph Theatre began with a ringing telephone on an Indian Summer late-afternoon in 1981 that I remember all too well. I put the Sunday newspaper aside to pick up the receiver and said, “Hello.”

There was no reply. At that moment there was no reason to think it was more than a wrong number or a malfunction on the line. Yet, after listening to a creepy silence for half a minute and repeating “hello” a few times, I sensed I knew the person at the other end of the line.

As I hung up that mysterious feeling was replaced by a flicker of a thought that named a specific person. Then the notion faded into a queasy sensation that made me go outside for some fresh air. For an instant I thought I knew something there was no plain way for me to know. Moreover, I didn’t want to know it.

My grandmother had told me a thousand times to never go against a hunch. Had I have discussed it with her she would have said a clear message from what she would have called my “inner voice” should always trump all else.

Instead of seeking her counsel I asked only myself: “Why would that person call me, to hang on the line and say nothing?” It made no sense. So, I tried to study the hunch, to examine its basis.

As I walked toward the closest bar, the Village, I was already caught in an undertow that would eventually carry my spirit far away from everything that had mattered to me.

Now I know that my grandmother understood something I was yet to learn -- a hunch is a bolt from the blue that cannot be gathered and investigated. It can’t be revisited like a conclusion. A true hunch can only be felt once.

Yet, for a number of reasons it was easier for me to view my inconvenient hunch as counterfeit. A few weeks later, by the time the calls had become routine, the whole concept of believing in hunches was on its way to the same place as beliefs in the Tooth Fairy and Heaven. A grown man, a man of reason, needed to rise above all such superstitions.

The caller never spoke. Usually, I hung up right away. Sometimes I’d listen as hard as I could for a while, trying to hear a telltale sound. The reader should note that telephone answering machines, while available then, were not yet cheap. Most people did not have one at this time.

After a haphazard year-and-a-half of one-night stands and such, following the break-up of my ten-year marriage, at this same time I had a new girlfriend. Tana was long-legged and sarcastic; she could be very distracting. She was a fine art major who waitressed part-time at one of the strip’s busiest saloons, the Jade Elephant. My apartment was just two blocks from there and she stayed over at my place about half the time, so she knew about the calls.

Tana was the only person who knew anything about it for a long time. She was sworn to secrecy. Mostly, I just let Tana distract me.

Quite sensibly, she urged me to contact the authorities, or at least to get an unlisted phone number. Offering no real explanation, I wasn’t comfortable with either option. Playing my cards close to the vest, I simply acted as if it didn’t really bother me. At this point she didn’t know about the hunch. We spent a lot of time riding our bicycles and playing Frisbee-golf.

As I rummage through my memory of this time period now the images are smeared and spooky. I stayed high more than before. For sure, I’ve forgotten a lot of it...

Note: Click here to read the rest of this piece at Biograph Times.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five: Feb. 22

Each Tuesday during the men's college basketball regular season, SLANTblog will publish its new Virginia Top Five. For the fourth consecutive season this feature will attempt to rank what seem at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. Mason (23-5, 14-2 in CAA; No. 21 RPI)
2. ODU (22-6, 12-4 in CAA; No. 27 RPI)
3. Richmond (21-7, 10-3 in A10; No. 62 RPI)
4. VCU (21-8, 12-4 in CAA; No. 55 RPI)
5. Va. Tech (17-8, 7-5 in ACC; No. 67 RPI)

Changes from last week: Mason and ODU went 2-0. Mason has won 13 straight. The other three split their two games.

Note: Only games against Division I opponents are counted in won/loss records. And, recent results matter more than games played in the early weeks of the season. The RPI numbers, which are updated frequently, are from CBS Sports at the time of posting.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Draft Kaine bandwagon is picking up steam

Regardless of who gets the GOP nomination to run for Sen. Jim Webb's seat in the U.S. Senate, there's no doubt in my mind the Democratic hopeful that Republicans least want to face in 2012 is former-Gov. Tim Kaine.

If they tell you otherwise, they're trying to pull wool over your eyes ... or, get your goat. That, right there, might be enough for many Democrats to jump on the Draft Kaine bandwagon.

However, Kaine is my first choice not only because he seems today to be the strongest candidate the Democrats could field, Kaine also appears to be well suited to the job.

While Kaine might enjoy being an executive, his optimistic belief in the potential government has to solve huge problems is well-tempered by his ability to see reality and his patience.

Kaine would go to the Senate with the attitude that an ugly gridlock to maintain the status quo is not acceptable when the country's future is clearly being hobbled by it. Moreover, Kaine, the sleeves-rolled-up practical liberal, is not the sort to be cowed by the Tea Party, the John Birch Society, the Ku Klux Klan's Dittohead division, or the likes of Glenn Beck.

A political party should nominate the best candidate it can every time. From my standpoint, while there are surely other Democrats who might win and serve with distinction, Richmond's former mayor, Tim Kaine, stands out as the best the Democrats in Virginia have this time around.

No one should see Kaine's deliberations over what to decide, and how to announce his decision, as signs that he doesn't want to run. He's taking his time because that's what thoughtful people do, when there's no emergency deadline being imposed on them. Since I have no inside info, I don't know what he will do. My hope is that Kaine will see his future as a problem-solver in a 100-member legislative body that's sorely in need of reform.

Note: For a little background, here's a flashback exclusive interview with Kaine that SLANTblog published when he was running for governor in 2005.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Friday, February 18, 2011

Picasso's Richmond Period: 12 weeks at the VMFA

The 176-piece Picasso show (Feb. 19-May 15) is spread out over 10 galleries in the newly renovated Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. My take on the show, "Picasso's Richmond Period," is at
In the long run, though, perhaps local school children will be the greatest beneficiaries of this chance to see a collection of objects that did much to shape the world’s art history over eight decades -- art that most people only ever see in photographs.

It will be interesting to see how many kids’ art shows will have Picasso-influenced pieces in them over the next year. So, don’t scold the sixth-graders for putting both eyeballs on the same side of a face ... they will just be having a little fun.

Nyerges said, "An exhibition this monumental is extremely rare, especially one that spans the entire career of a figure who many consider the most influential, innovative and creative artist of the 20th century."
Click here to read the entire article.

Then click here to read Harry Kollatz's piece on the show at Richmond Magazine.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cinematic dictator mocking at its best

When it comes to mocking a dictator, perhaps no one has ever done it so effectively as did Charlie Chaplin in his 1940 film, "The Great Dictator," which came out while America was still on the sidelines of WWII. The scene in the YouTube box above is one of the film's most memorable scenes.

Of course, times change: 12 years after the British-born filmmaker showed America in what light to consider Adolph Hitler, Chaplin was hounded out of the USA by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover during the McCarthy era, because Charlie's politics were perceived to be leaning too far to the left.

With the war in the rear-view mirror, in the '50s, those in Show Biz had to be careful how resolutely they stood against fascism.

Picasso and Powell

With THE big show about to open at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, I'm thinking about Picasso. And, with what's just happened in Egypt, and how it is spreading to other countries, I'm also thinking about a million people out in the streets of Paris, in 1937, protesting a horrific atrocity that had taken place in neighboring Spain. Sometimes you can feel history's gears moving.


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

Picasso's “Guernica”

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

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

Now nearly eight years into the war-of-choice in Iraq, when I think of what has already been uncovered by investigations into the run-up to the invasion, I wonder how much of what Powell said that day he knew then had been ginned up by propagandists in the Bush administration. And, I wonder how much of what he said he believed was true.


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

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

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

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

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

The result: utter terror.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

-- 30 --

SLANTblog's VA Top Five: Feb. 15

Each Tuesday during the men's college basketball regular season, SLANTblog will publish its new Virginia Top Five. For the fourth consecutive season this feature will attempt to rank what seem at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. Mason (21-5, 13-2 in CAA; No. 24 RPI)
2. ODU (20-6, 11-4 in CAA; No. 30 RPI)
3. Richmond (20-6, 9-2 in A10; No. 71 RPI)
4. VCU (20-7, 12-3 in CAA; No. 50 RPI)
5. Va. Tech (16-7, 6-4 in ACC; No. 64 RPI)

Changes from last week: VCU split its games 1-1 to drop two spots. ODU moved up two positions by going 2-0. The others haven't moved. Mason won two and has won 11 in a row. Richmond won twice. Va. Tech won its only game.

Note: Only games against Division I opponents are counted in won/loss records. And, recent results matter more than games played in the early weeks of the season. The RPI numbers, which are updated frequently, are from CBS Sports at the time of posting

Monday, February 14, 2011

CAA Stats: Feb 14

Colonial Athletic Association individual statistics for men's basketball (through Feb. 14):

SCORING - School - (Points per game)

Jenkins - Hof - (23.3)
Bowles - JMU - (18.0)
Tomko - UNCW - (17.1)
Allen - NE - (16.5)
Fouch - Drex - (15.6)
Long - Mason - (15.4)
Skeen - VCU - (14.9)
Philmore - Tow - (14.9)
Moore - Hof - (14.8)
McDowell - W&M - (14.8)

ASSISTS - School - (Assists per game)

Jenkins - Hof - (4.9)
Rodriguez - VCU - (4.6)
Hancock - Mason - (4.5)
Tomko - UNCW - (4.3)
Moore - JMU - (4.1)

REBOUNDS - School - (Boards per game)

Givens - Drex - (10.2)
Hassell - ODU - (9.5)
Bowles - JMU - (9.4)
McCoy - Drex (8.3)
Dupree - Tow - (7.8)
Rendleman - UNCW - (7.8)
Skeen - VCU - (7.7)
Hagins - Del - (7.2)
Goins - JMU - (7.1)
Philmore - Tow - (6.8)
Ruffin - Drex (6.8)

STEALS - School - (Steals per game)

Bazemore - ODU - (2.3)
Allen - NE - (2.0)
Tomko - UNCW - (1.9)
Jenkins - Hof - (1.8)
Rodriguez - VCU (1.6)

For more CAA stats click here.

An Untethered Webb

The contest to replace Sen. Jim Webb is going to remain a national story from here on. The days of Virginia's politics being somewhat insulated from national politics are history.

Eventually, we could see a battle of former Virginia governors -- Democrat Tim Kaine (2005-09) vs. Republican George Allen (1993-97). Allen, who lost the seat to Webb in 2006, has already announced his candidacy. And, it's a sure thing that some Democrats in the commonwealth are telling Kaine that since he would be the strongest candidate, it's his duty to try to hold the seat for the Democratic Party.

Yet, there are good reasons to imagine other names on the ballot in November of 2012.

Kaine may not want the job. The prospect of dealing with six years of gridlock, due to the Senate's arcane and antiquated rules, might not appeal to a guy with other attractive employment options. Meanwhile, Kaine already has a decent job and it's possible he will have offers of other good jobs in the next year or so.

Some Democrats are already pushing to advance the idea that former congressman Tom Perriello would make a good candidate. However, his single term in office may not have done all that much to impress voters outside the boundaries of the 5th District, which he represented for two years.

Is Terry McAuliffe focused only on a gubernatorial run in 2013? Would Rep. Bobby Scott consider leaving his relatively secure position as Virginia's 3rd District representative in the House?

Allen, who many voters must see as damaged goods, may not secure the nomination. It says here that most of the early enthusiasm behind his effort to win back his old seat in the Senate stems from the easy notion that with his name recognition factor he would be the GOP's strongest candidate.

Well, Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke begs to differ. She has already announced her intention to run in the Republican nominating primary next summer. Other Republicans can be expected to do the same. Don't be surprised to see a half-dozen of them come out of the woodwork.

Moreover, if Virginia's lean-and-hungry attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, decides he'd prefer to cash in his still burgeoning celebrity status to run for the Senate -- rather than wait a long year, to run for governor -- it's hard to imagine another Republican beating him. At least, that's the case at this writing.

Then there is this intriguing factor to consider:

With Webb out of the picture as a candidate, he will be more free than ever to do as he pleases. The already rather independent Webb will be in office until January of 2013.

A Jim Webb untethered to concerns for his reelection might enjoy making some news over the course of the next year to provide an interesting/unexpected backdrop for what promises to be a wide open nomination race in both parties.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Biograph's 39th

Note: February 11 is the 39th anniversary of the party that opened the Biograph Theatre. What follows, "The Devils & the Details," is a glance back at that independent movie theater's early period, when it had a single auditorium.


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. Without hesitation I decided to quit my job at WRNL, a local radio station. 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 invited guests were there. The local press was all over what was an unprecedented event for that bohemian commercial strip, just a stone's throw from the Virginia Commonwealth University campus.

My stint at the Biograph lasted until the summer of 1983. It would be 37 years before the next new cinema would open in Richmond — Movieland, in February of 2009.


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.

Although none of them had any experience in Show Biz a group of five men, who were all about Levy's age, opened Georgetown’s Biograph Theatre (1967-96) in 1967. They were smart guys who caught a wave. A few years later those same owners (plus one more guy) were looking to expand. In Richmond’s Fan District they thought they had spotted the perfect situation for a second repertory-style cinema in a neighborhood that was being touted then by local boosters as about-to-blossom-into-another-Georgetown.

Local players, filthy rich Morgan Massey and deal-maker Graham “Squirrel” Pembrooke, put up the 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 concept didn’t fly.

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 new Biograph’s creators — chiefly Levy and Alan Rubin (a geologist turned artist) — inked the deal and borrowed money to buy used seats and projection booth equipment, which included ancient Peerless carbon arc lamps to back up a pair of rugged Simplex 35 mm projectors.

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.

After the opening flurry, with long lines to every show, it was surprising and disappointing when the crowds shrank dramatically in the third and fourth months of operation.

As VCU students were a substantial portion of the 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 neighborhood.

The brightest light in our mix of celluloid offerings was a project I had been put in charge of developing — Friday and Saturday midnight shows. Their popularity was waxing.

By trial and error 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, Chuck Wrenn, off-the-wall ad campaigns were designed in-house to set the tone for the somewhat anti-establishment movies that seemed to perform best at the box office. There were two essential elements to those promotions:

1. Wacky radio spots had to be created and run on WGOE, a popular AM station aimed directly at the hippie listening audience.

2. Distinctive handbills were posted on utility poles and bulletin boards, and in shop windows in high-traffic locations.

Dave DeWitt, now the widely read guru of hot food, produced the radio commercials, many of which were considered to be rather humorous in their day (if I do say so myself). In his studio, Dave and I frequently collaborated on the making of those spots over six packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

On Sept. 13 a George McGovern-for-president benefit was staged at the Biograph. Former Gov. Doug Wilder, then a state senator, spoke. We showed "Millhouse," a documentary that put President Richard Nixon in a bad light. Yes, I had been warned by some well-meaning people, supposedly in the know, that taking sides in politics was dead wrong for a show business entity in Richmond. Especially, taking the liberal side.

Happily, my bosses and I blew such advice off and the theater was used over the years lots of times to raise money and awareness for causes.

Also in September “Performance” (1970), an overwrought but well-crafted musical melodrama — starring Mick Jagger — packed the theater at midnight a couple of weekends in a row. Then a campy, docu-drama called “Reefer Madness” (1936) sold out four consecutive weekends.

To follow “Reefer Madness” what was then a little-known X-rated comedy, “Deep Throat” (1972), was booked as a midnight show. As the feature ran only an hour, master prankster Luis Buñuel’s surrealistic classic short film, “Un Chien Andalou” (1929), was added to the bill, just for grins.

Although it should be noted that like "Deep Throat," Buñuel’s first film was also called totally obscene in its day, this may have been the only time that particular pair ever shared a billing ... anywhere.

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, appeared on network TV talk shows. Watching Johnny Carson tiptoe around the premise of her celebrated “talent” made for some giggly moments.

Eventually, to be sure of getting in to see the midnight show, patrons began showing up as much as an hour before show time. Standing in line on the sidewalk for the spicy midnight show turned into a party. There were nights the line resembled a tailgating scene at a pro football game. A determined band of Jesus Freaks frequently stood across the street issuing bullhorn-amplified warnings of hellfire to the jolly set waiting in the midnight show line that stretched west on Grace Street.

Playing for 17 consecutive weekends, at midnight only, “Deep Throat” grossed over $30,000. That was more dough than the entire production budget of what was America’s first skin-flick blockbuster.

The midnight show’s grosses conveniently made up for the disappointing performance of an eight-week package of venerable European classics, including ten titles by the celebrated Ingmar Bergman. The same package of art house workhorses played extremely well up in Georgetown, underlining what was becoming a painfully underestimated contrast in the two markets, just 100 miles apart. Washington was a great movie town, Richmond was not.

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 Buñuel masterpiece, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972). In what Levy and I then regarded as a coup, gambling it would win the award, we booked it in advance to open in Richmond two or three 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 most other cities. The failure of this particular booking and the festival that surrounded it forced a serious reassessment of what had been the original plan.

To stay alive Richmond’s 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 the director of “Deep Throat,” Gerard Damiano, was booked. However, this time the film’s distributor imposed terms calling 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 the midnight hour. For the first time, the promotional copy for an XXX-rated feature was included on a Biograph program and in newspaper ads.

Then an aggressive young TV newsman took Biograph Program No. 12 to Richmond's new Commonwealth’s Attorney, Aubrey Davis. (Sorry, don't remember his name.) 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. (Miller basically allowed communities to set their own standard for obscenity.)

Eventually, the provocateur got what he wanted from the prosecutor — who had been on the job for just a month — a quote that would fly as an anti-smut sound bite. The other local broadcasters jumped on the bandwagon the next day. By the mid-summer evening “The Devil in Miss Jones” opened in Richmond it had already become a well-covered 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 fourth day 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 the print was schlepped down to Neighborhood Theaters’ private screening room, at 9th and Main Streets, for the convenience of the judge. We assumed he wanted to avoid being seen by curious reporters entering the wicked Biograph.

As Judge James M. Lumpkin admittedly hadn’t been out to see a movie in a theater since sometime in the 1950s, this particular comedy stag film rubbed him in the worst way. Literally red-faced after the screening, the outraged judge looked at Levy and me like we were from Mars, maybe Pluto.

Lumpkin promptly filed a complaint with the Commonwealth’s Attorney and set a date for issuing a Temporary Restraining Order, in an attempt to halt further showings as soon as possible.

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. After DeWitt — who was then representing the theater as its ad agent — laid out the ground rules and introduced me to the working press, I read a prepared statement for the cameras and microphones.

The gist of it was that based on demand — sellout crowds — the crusading Biograph planned to fight the TRO in court. Furthermore, the first-run engagement of “The Devil in Miss Jones” would be extended — it would be 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 duty holding back the laughing fit that would surely have broken the spell we trying to cast over the reporters.

The TRO stuck, because Lumpkin still had all the say-so. “The Devil in Miss Jones” grossed about $40,000 in the momentous nine-day run the injunction halted.

Technically, the legal action was against the movie, itself, rather than anyone at the Biograph. Which obviously suited me just fine. 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 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. So it was that “The Devil” was banned by a judge in Richmond, Virginia.The plot to answer the judge's decree was hatched in early January of 1974 in my office, next to the projection booth on the second story. Having finished the box-office paperwork, your truth-telling narrator was browsing through a stack of newly acquired 16mm film catalogs and probably enjoying a cold PBR longneck. As it was after-hours, the scent of recently-burned marijuana may have been in the air when a particular entry — “The Devil and Miss Jones” — jumped off the page.

It was instantly obvious that the title for that 1941 RKO light comedy had been the inspiration for the X-rated movie’s title — “The Devil in Miss Jones.”

It should be noted that the public had yet to be subjected to the endless puns and referential lowbrowisms the skin-flick industry would eventually 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. DeWitt and the theater’s resourceful assistant manager, Bernie Hall, were in on the early scheming. Then, in a deft stroke — suggested by Alan Rubin — a Disney nature short subject, “Beaver Valley” (1950), was added to the birthday program.

The stunt’s biggest problem was security. The whole scheme rested on the precarious notion that the one-word difference in the two titles, which spoke of the Devil's proximity to Miss Jones, wouldn’t be noticed. It was something like hiding in plain sight. The staff fully understood that the slightest whiff of a ruse would mean our undoing. Thus, absolutely no one outside our group could be told anything.

No one.

Subsequently, the theater announced in a press release on DeWitt’s letterhead that its second anniversary celebration would offer a free admission show. The titles, “The Devil and Miss Jones” and “Beaver Valley,” were listed with no accompanying film notes; 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 — the street gossip section of The Richmond Mercury. That was sweet.

The busier-than-ever staff fielded all inquires, in person or over the telephone, by politely reciting the official spiel, “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 were ringing off the hook. The anticipation was fun, reporters were snooping about. One, in particular, seemed to be clawing his way toward the key. In the lobby, as I manned my familiar post at the turnstile, he said to me, “It has to have something to do with the title.”

He was getting too close; to fend him off I had to take a chance. So I told the guy that what was going to happen the next day would be a far better news story than the story of spoiling it the day before ... if there really was a trick to it.

Gambling that it would work, I asked him to leave it alone and trust that once it all unfolded he wouldn't regret it. Fortunately, the newsman said OK and kept his word. His identity must remain a secret.

Up until the box office opened no one else outside our tight circle appeared to have an inkling of what was about to happen. Amazing as it may sound, the caper’s security was airtight. It was absolutely beautiful teamwork!

The line for the Biograph's special anniversary screening/party began forming before lunch. As the afternoon wore on, with thousands of people lining up, it was suggested to me more than once that we could eventually have a riot on our hands. What would happen if we lost control of the situation?

Nobody knew. That’s what made it so exhilarating!

The box-office for the 6:30 p.m. show opened at 6 p.m. By then the line stretched more than three-quarters of the way around the block. It took every bit of a half-hour to fill our 500-seat auditorium. No doubt, we turned away at least six or seven times that number.

The sense of anticipation in the air was electric as the house lights in the auditorium began to fade. Outside, on the sidewalk, hundreds of people stayed in line for the second show at 9 p.m.

As the prank unfolded in layers only about a third of the crowd stayed through both movies. Afterward, there were lots of folks who said it was the funniest thing that had ever happened in Richmond. Of course, a few hard-heads got peeved. But since admission had been free, as well as the beer and cake, well, there was only so much they could say.

The rush that came from living in the eye of that day’s storm was intense, 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.

Meanwhile, thoroughly amused reporters were filing their stories on the hoax. The next day wire services and broadcast networks picked up the story. And, the Biograph Theatre returned to business as usual with an Andy Warhol double feature.


A few days later NPR’s All Things Considered went so far as to compare the Biograph’s prank to Orson Welles’ mammoth 1938 radio hoax. Which was fun to hear. Fortunately, I had the good sense to tell the interviewer that in comparison our stunt was "strictly small potatoes."

Later that same month the staff went back to work on “Matinee Madcap,” a 16mm film project in production. 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 several of the Biograph’s regulars appeared as players. The plot, calling for a good deal of slapstick chase-scene footage, conveniently set all the action in the movie theater.

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 winding down, the interest in politics and social causes on American campuses began to evaporate. VCU was no different. In the spring of 1974 “streaking” replaced anti-war demonstrations as college students’ favorite expression of defiance.

Six months after the theater’s second anniversary splash, 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. Some of them were gobbling up white crosses like they were Milk Duds.

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 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.

Not long after that change David Levy split with his other partners. That left four of the original six Richmond Biograph owners still on board. Levy (who died in 2004) went on to distribute alternative films regionally, plus he bought and operated The Key on Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown.

The manager’s job at the Biograph in Richmond became more complicated with two screens to fill. The whole repertory cinema mission was becoming more blurred with the passing of time. Following the accumulation of 1974's events, a year of many changes, much of what had appeared to be among life’s absolutes became steadily less clear for the dreamer who had started out believing he could change Richmond by screening great films.

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.

In the spirit of a postscript, here's a personal note:

At the press conference in the Biograph’s lobby, I asked for the public to weigh in. Send me your opinions, I entreated my local news audience. I framed it with questions like: Are we right or wrong to fight the Temporary Restraining Order? Is this a freedom of speech issue, or not? Who should decide what movies you can see?

Eventually I got over 100 letters, cards, etc. Some were mailed to the theater, others dropped off. Most were supportive but not all. There were a few letters that were quite entertaining. So, I collected the best of them in an cardboard box (I don't remember what brand of candy came in the box), figuring they might be useful down the road.

Into the same box went clippings about the tumultuous run of “The Devil in Miss Jones” and the Biograph’s news-making days in court. Later on, several stories about the prank from various newspapers from out of town were tossed in.

Then, about a year after the hoopla, the prankster suddenly changed his mind. Caught up in a bad mood — caused in some part by a slipped disc that was dogging me at the time — I sat in my office festering over the idea that no matter how hard I ever worked to put over the greatest art films, most people in Richmond would simply ignore them.

After the twinning of the theater I couldn't watch the movies through a window in my office, anymore. That window was a much-missed advantage to the one-screen setup.

A year of prank-driven attaboys had suddenly added up -- I‘d had my fill of it. The annoying thought of being known mostly for my connection to a somewhat creepy, even pretentious, porno movie wasn't setting well with me.

At 26, perhaps I already suspected the Terry Rea of the future might develop an embarrassing tendency to wallow in nostalgia. Just like that, I decided to play a time trick on my future-self by deliberately throwing away those artifacts I’d surely want back … some day.

Perhaps the bitter need my precious Biograph had developed to show trashy movies, in order to be allowed to also show important movies, grossed me out a little extra on that particular winter’s afternoon. That monkey stayed on the theater's back for most of the years it was in operation.

Walking away from the dumpster and crossing the cobblestone alley behind the theater, I laughed at what I had just done; the moment is still vivid.

When I think back about what an effort it took just to keep the Biograph Theatre's doors open in those days, it seems like it was all an elaborate stunt … pranks for the memories.

– 30 –

Note: Words, art and photography by F.T. Rea. For more stories about the Biograph Theatre click here to visit Biograph Times and Other Firsthand Stories. To look at Swordfish, the Facebook page for more Biograph nostalgic photos, comments, etc., click here.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Does Richmond need a new downtown 15,000-seat arena?

My piece on the building of a new downtown multipurpose arena, "Who's got the $147 Million?", is at
OK, the old Coliseum is clunky and drafty, but as long as the roof doesn’t leak, what’s so wrong with it? It seems to work pretty well for the Colonial Athletic Association’s annual postseason basketball tournament. So, in what way has it become inadequate?

“It’s a decaying, outmoded facility that is no longer competitive,” said Chapman. “We’re losing a lot of events to the John Paul Jones Arena [in Charlottesville].”
Click here to read the entire article.

One and Done for Webb

Sen. Jim Webb said in an email today that he will not run for reelection.

Today's announcement comes in plenty of time for the Democrats to find a suitable candidate to run against either of the two announced GOP candidates -- George Allen or Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke. With the incumbent retiring after one term, don't be surprised to see more Republicans jump into the race.

As far as the Democrats go, the names being floated around include Tim Kaine, Terry McAuliffe and Tom Perriello. Soon others will probably emerge. Perhaps a long-shot to consider is Mike Signer; click here to read about him.

Webb's announcement -- which comes as no surprise to me -- puts the Virginia senatorial race in the national spotlight, where it will probably stay from here on.

George Allen released the following statement about Webb's decision:
I respect Senator Webb’s service to our country and the very personal decision that he and his family have made. I did not enter into this race to run against any one person, but to fight for the families of Virginia to improve their opportunities in life. My campaign will continue to focus on achievable reforms that will help reinvigorate our economy, end reckless, runaway spending, and unleash our plentiful energy resources.
By the way, on Dec. 31 SLANTblog said we will not see an Allen vs. Webb rematch. Now for another fearless prediction: George Allen will not be elected to serve in the U.S. Senate again.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Updates: Waldo Jaquith's savvy take on Webb's announcement is here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

SLANTblog's VA Top Five: Feb. 8

Each Tuesday during the men's college basketball regular season, SLANTblog will publish its new Virginia Top Five. For the fourth consecutive season this feature will attempt to rank what seem at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. Mason (19-5, 11-2 in CAA; No. 22 RPI)
2. VCU (19-6, 11-2 in CAA; No. 50 RPI)
3. Richmond (18-6, 7-2 in A10; No. 73 RPI)
4. ODU (18-6, 9-4 in CAA; No. 30 RPI)
5. Va. Tech (15-7, 5-4 in ACC; No. 65 RPI)

Changes from last week: VCU split its games 1-1 to drop one spot, while Mason won both of its games to move up from second to the top position. The Patriots have won nine in a row. The others are in the same position as last week; Richmond won its two games, the other two went 1-1.

Note: Only games against Division I opponents are counted in won/loss records. And, recent results matter more than games played in the early weeks of the season. The RPI numbers, which are updated frequently, are from CBS Sports at the time of posting.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Were you ever in the Commonwealth Times?

The VCU Libraries Digital Collections recently added scans of the Commonwealth Times going all the way back to 1969. The three special Fan Free Funnies issues are there, too.

There's more stuff to look at here than you could possible consume in one viewing, so don't forget to save the link.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

SLANTblog's VA Top Five: Feb. 1

Each Tuesday during the men's college basketball regular season, SLANTblog will publish its new Virginia Top Five. For the fourth consecutive season this feature will attempt to rank what seem at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. VCU (18-5, 10-1 in CAA; No. 50 RPI)
2. Mason (17-5, 9-2 in CAA; No. 34 RPI)
3. Richmond (16-6, 5-2 in A10; No. 59 RPI)
4. ODU (17-5, 8-3 in CAA; No. 31 RPI)
5. Va. Tech (14-6, 4-3 in ACC; No. 68 RPI)

Change from last week: Richmond went 1-1 to drop down two notches. VCU won both of its games to move up from second to the top spot. Mason with a 2-0 mark moved up one position.

Note: Only games against Division I opponents are counted in won/loss records. And, recent results matter more than games played in the early weeks of the season. The RPI numbers, which are updated frequently, are from CBS Sports at the time of posting.