Wednesday, February 29, 2012

McDonnell's focus on 'rights' cited

Via the Richmond Times Dispatch, here are some of the latest weasel words from the governor's mansion regarding the forced ultrasound bill that passed the State Senate yesterday:
Gov. Bob McDonnell said he was pleased with the passage of the ultrasound legislation, which must clear the House of Delegates in its amended form to reach his desk. "I think women have a right to know all the right medical information before they make an informed choice," he said, adding that the bill would make Virginia one of 24 states that have some sort of ultrasound requirement.
Click here to read the entire article. 

When McDonnell squints he sees a "right" to know all the "right" medical information. He apparently thinks women in Virginia do not have a right to privacy or a right to have control over their own bodies. But they do have a right to be forced to do something they don't want to do.

McDonnell seems to think a pregnant woman does not have a right to consult with her doctor and decide for herself what medical procedures she should undergo.

Of course, McDonnell thinks the "right medical information" is not what a pregnant woman's doctor says it ought to be. Nor is it information the patient necessarily wants. No, the information about which the governor spoke is information that he and other right-wing politicians are insisting she have. It's information the anti-abortion crowd wants shoved down women's throats, because many of them believe any move that makes the ordeal of getting an abortion more difficult is the "right" thing to do. 

For McDonnell to frame this intrusion into private matters by government as looking out for women's "rights" is a bad joke. And, I doubt all that many women in Virginia, Republican or Democrat, think it's funny.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Goode grief!

Former Democrat, former Independent, former Republican Virgil Goode is back!

Apparently, the Republicans today are too tolerant of what modernity Goode abhors. Could it be that in Goode's view the Tea Party-dominated GOP has grown to be too liberal, in general?

Whatever ... Goode is now seeking the nomination of the Constitution Party. Hey, this news isn't just a joke.

Don't believe me? Go here to visit Goode's web site.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The showdown: Santorum vs. Obama

By nature, Mitt Romney is a shape-shifting creature. Put another way -- he’s a phony, whether he means well or not. No need to pile up examples of his evolving views on important issues.

Nonetheless, when you categorize Romney, at this point in his career, he’s a friendly-to-Wall Street, establishment sort of Republican. So far, his campaign brings Bob Dole’s failed run for the White House to mind. Like Dole was perceived to have been, Romney seems to be the next in line

Except, Dole was funny. And basically, Dole was seen by Republicans and Democrats, alike, as an honorable man with genuine good intentions. Romney’s resume, especially his chosen method of becoming super wealthy, doesn’t exactly cast him in that flattering light.

Identifying with Romney the venture capitalist is difficult for at least 99 percent of us. At this point in the primary process, whether he would be a competent president hardly seems important to most political commentators. Instead, his authenticity has been scrutinized over and over, which is hardly Romney’s strong suit. 

On the other hand, Rick Santorum is a 24-carat ultra conservative. And, in spite of some of his rather extreme/wacky stands on some issues, he seems to me to be a likable guy. That same trait served Ronald Reagan well.

Blustery Newt Gingrich’s likeability factor is a joke. Flinty Ron Paul has his own agenda that doesn’t involve winning the nomination. It’s too late for a new candidate to jump into the fray.  

So, let's see a high-contrast Santorum vs. Obama contest. The GOP should put it all on the line under that war-mongering, anti-abortion, Tea Party banner. It will be a lively debate, pitting an unapologetic this against a card-carrying that. So, by all means, let's see it.

No compromises.

No apologies.

Democrats would probably say it will be 1964, again. Republicans will probably say it will be 1980, again. Both sides seem convinced more voters agree with them. Maybe such a clash of ideologies will settle a few things, somewhat, once the dust clears and a winner emerges. Maybe not.

Either way, let’s get this showdown on.

Five favorite sandwiches from dead restaurants

Grace Place ad in SLANT (circa 1991)

My all-time five favorite sandwiches from restaurants that no longer exist are:
  • The original Commercial Café’s Barbeque, as consumed on N. Robinson St. from the early-80s to the late-80s.
  • The Clover Room’s Club Sandwich, as consumed on W. Broad St. from the late-50s to the late-70s.
  • Grace Place’s Open-Faced Munster/Tomato/Sprouts Sandwich, as consumed on W. Grace St. from the late-70s to the early-90s.
  • Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe’s Softshell Crab Sandwich, as consumed on W. Main St. from the late-80s to the early-90s.
  • The original Village Restaurant’s Submarine Sandwich, as consumed on W. Grace St. from the late-60s to about 1980.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Back off, Catholic bishops!

At this point I don’t really want to hear all that much from Catholic bishops, ganging up to instruct us about morality aspects of contraception and abortion.

No, when history says way too many of them facilitated the systematic abuse of children as a convenient way to have pregnancy-free sex, well, the bishops are not exactly standing on the moral high ground in such discussions.

If a fetus is a human being...

Once Virginia’s new personhood law passes and is in place, it seems anything that could be construed to have contributed to a miscarriage could be used in a wrongful death lawsuit. Perhaps it could be used as evidence in a manslaughter trial.  

So, to steer clear of being hauled into court, pregnant women in Virginia would need to avoid any activity that might put their fetus-person in jeopardy. Here are some helpful suggestions of what not to do: Forget about work or risky recreational activity outside the home. No bicycle riding or automobile driving, because you could get in a wreck. Oh, and forget that happy hour cocktail … it could be construed to be child abuse.

While Virginians in the armed services risk their lives to diminish the fanatical Taliban’s cruel power over women in Afghanistan, Virginia’s Republican Party -- the Virginia Taliban? -- is working hard to diminish the rights of women right here in the Old Dominion.

Moreover, if a fetus is a human being, to perform what is now a legal abortion in the first trimester would seem to make the doctor a murderer and the patient an accomplice. Using some forms of contraception would be tantamount to an abortion, so pharmacists…

Perhaps Del. Bob Marshall (depicted above) would point out that his bizarre bill to redefine what human being means in Virginia is a jobs program, because new prisons will need to be built and lots of new guards will need to be hired.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A tempest in an imaginary teacup

Ye gods and little fishes, it's 2012! and to play a political game some people are still trying to stand in the way of women who want to avoid pregnancy.
"There's no compromise here," said GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a Catholic and favorite among religious conservatives. "They are forcing religious organizations, either directly or indirectly, to pay for something that they find is a deeply, morally, you know, wrong thing. And this is not what the government should be doing."
Click here to read the entire AP story.

So, the government shouldn’t dictate to religious organizations? Does Santorum mean the government should step aside and allow ANY religious organization to do as it pleases, regardless of the law of the land? Or, is this just a Catholic thing? You see, I have to wonder if Santorum is just as adamant about protecting Muslims in America from government intrusion.

Meanwhile, I’m glad the government doesn’t allow polygamy. Along those lines, I’m also glad child-molesting Warren Jeffs is in jail. On top of that, I’m more than a little relieved that the self-styled Christians of the Ku Klux Klan aren’t allowed to burn a cross wherever they want to.

There’s nothing in the Constitution that says people are free to do whatever they like, as long as they say it’s part of their religious beliefs. Which certainly means that in 2012, if a father -- such as the Old Testament's Abraham -- wants to kill/sacrifice his child to prove his love for God, the cops will take an interest in preventing the crime from taking place.

No need to go on. 

When we still had the draft, citizens could refuse to be conscripted to fight in a war on moral or religious grounds. They were seen as conscious objectors. But the conscious objector was not then allowed to refuse to pay taxes, because their money might be spent in the war effort.

If I tell the Commonwealth of Virginia that my religious beliefs prevent me from paying any state taxes, because I'm against my money being used to execute a human being, how far do you think I'll get with that approach?

Since no one is trying to compel Catholics to use contraceptives, Santorum’s argument is obviously about politics, not religion.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

When is waterboarding OK?

Now Virginia Republicans want to force women seeking an abortion to pay for and submit to a test that their doctor says is unnecessary. Abortion opponents seem to believe that ANYTHING they can do to make abortion more of an ordeal is OK, because they see themselves as being on the high ground, morally.

Let’s say a prominent Republican spokesperson asserts that women who want to terminate a pregnancy should be forced to go through an ordeal before the abortion procedure that will allow them to empathize with the fetus. Furthermore, let’s say that anti-abortion spokesperson claims waterboarding would be the best way to achieve that end.

How many of the Republicans in today's General Assembly would be willing to go on record that such women should NOT be waterboarded?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Reagan, the union buster

Some of those who idolize Ronald Reagan like to believe he knocked down the Berlin Wall with the force of his personality and the strength of his convictions. While I usually scoff at such claims, I do think Reagan's move to fire the air traffic controllers in 1981 was a huge step toward defanging the union movement in America.

It was a significant turning point in the direction of the culture.

All these years later Reagan gets a lot of undeserved praise from modern conservatives for what went on during his eight years as president. Never mind that he both raised taxes and ran up a huge debt, he talked a lot about fiscal prudence. Never mind that he secretly dealt arms to Iran, Reagan talked tough and his legend as a conservative ass-kicker is preferred to the sad truth: He kicked Grenada's ass ... that's about it. 

However, the union-busting move mentioned above was important and it definitely pushed the nation to the right. Reagan's fans can legitimately claim that no president since the Great Depression did more to injure the lifestyle of American workers than Reagan.

If that makes him a hero in your book, then so be it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

On the Biograph 40th: Baldwin's 'Golden Age Revisited'

Here's a snippet of STYLE Weekly's coverage of the Biograph's 40th anniversary celebration to benefit the James River Film Society:
It's the early '70s: An era when rebellion is mainstream and knowing art films can help a young man score. The drinking age is 18, though bars close at midnight. And, if you can believe it, an X-rated porn film titled "Deep Throat" is banned in New York City while playing to sold-out crowds in Richmond.

Terry Rea, longtime local journalist, publisher, cartoonist and former manager of the Biograph, recalls the period well for someone who was actually there. Located at 814 W. Grace St., the theater lasted from 1972 to 1987, before closing primarily because of the national death of repertory cinema by cable television and video.

"A lot of people found out about great art films there. We were expanding minds," Rea says. "That made up for the horrible seats."
Note: The Biograph Theatre's seats were notoriously uncomfortable. They were literally from the 1920s and in their day were never top of the line.

Click here to read Brent Baldwin's "Golden Age Revisited."

Furiously flapping feathers

The cartoon above is one of mine, it's from a little over six months ago, July 30, 2011.

Now, given how skillfully President Barack Obama has pursued his practical progressive agenda since that contrived crisis, it seems to me that he learned a lesson. Obama's tone and tactics since Labor Day have reflected that he has accepted the sad truth that the most recalcitrant of Congressional Republicans are totally bent on preventing any improvement whatsoever in the nation's general well-being; at least they are for as long as he is president.

So be it.

Of course, the zany series of debates the Republican presidential hopefuls have offered the 24-hour news cycle has helped to underline the sad truth -- as a political party, the 2012 GOP has nothing to offer but angry criticism and proposals warmed over from the Cold War.

So now the furiously flapping feathers of right-wingers trying to defeat Obama are providing wind to fill his sails. Irony from the blow-back of hot air is cool.  

What it is.   

Monday, February 06, 2012

Birth of the Blockbuster

The movie business changed during the summer of 1975. A new style of creating, promoting and exhibiting feature films was established when “Jaws” opened in 465 theaters, coast-to-coast, and became a box office smash.

Typically, in those days, major releases opened initially in the most popular movie houses in a handful of large cities. Which meant the advertising buys were all local. The unprecedented marketing strategy for “Jaws” required enormous confidence, because its distributor had to spend millions on national advertising and strike at least 465 prints of the film.

Before that summer was over “Jaws” had already broken all-time Hollywood box office records.

Washington D.C. was a regional hub for film distribution. Part of the strategy for releasing “Jaws” was that the distributor, Universal, chose not to screen the film for bookers and exhibitors in the usual way. Ordinarily, a feature about to be released would be shown a couple of times in a small screening room downtown; it was run by the National Association of Theater Owners and seated about 50 people. Bookers for theater chains would see the new films to help them weigh how much money should be bid for the rights to exhibit the picture in a given market. But security on admission wasn't all that tight, so any industry insider, entertainment writer, etc. might have been in the audience on a given day.

At this time I managed the Biograph Theatre on Grace Street in Richmond. My bosses were located in Georgetown and I saw several movies in the DeeCee screening room over the 12 years I worked for the guys who oversaw the Biograph on "M" Street.

The first and only screenings of “Jaws” took place about a month before it was to open. It was shown to theater owners and their guests in selected cinemas in maybe a dozen cities on the same night. As I remember it, in DeeCee the function was at The Ontario.

As a treat my bosses gave me four of their allotment of tickets to the special screening of “Jaws.” My ex, Valerie, and I were part of a full house and the show itself went over like gangbusters. The rather jaded audience shrieked at appropriate times and applauded as the movie’s closing credits were lighting up the screen.

Not only was I knocked out by the presentation, I came back to Richmond convinced “Jaws” would be a gold mine. It was the slickest monster movie I’d even seen. The next day I tried to talk my bosses into borrowing a lot of money to put up a big cash-in-advance bid on “Jaws.”

Ordinarily, such a picture would play at the dominant theater chain’s flagship house. I wanted to bet everything we could borrow to steal the picture by out-bidding Neighborhood Theatres, Inc., for the Richmond market.

Well, we didn’t get the money. But it was privately satisfying watching “Jaws” go on to set new records for its box office grosses. Its unprecedented success put its director, Steven Spielberg, on the map.

After “Jaws” everybody in Hollywood rushed out to try to duplicate the way the producers and distributors had handled it. Thus, in 1975, the age of Hollywood-produced summer blockbusters with massive ad campaigns and widespread releases began.

Another thing “Jaws” did was make self-absorbed guys like me feel intimidated by Spielberg’s outrageous success at such a tender age. I can still remember reading that he was younger than me.

Although I actually had a great job for a 27-year-old guy who loved movies, it offered no direct connection to filmmaking. At this time I had one nine-minute film and one 30-second television commercial, both shot in 16mm, to my credit. 1975’s Boy Wonder, Steven Spielberg, made me feel like I was on the wrong track.

Fast-forward 30-some years and I watched a BBC-produced documentary, “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood,” about filmmaking in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was on Turner Movie Classics. Made in 2003, it was thoroughly entertaining. Directors and other players from that time were interviewed.

Among those who made comments in the documentary were Tony Bill, Karen Black, Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, László Kovács, Kris Kristofferson, Arthur Penn and Cybill Shepherd.

Dreyfuss, who was one of the stars of "Jaws," spoke of attending one of those pre-release screenings. He said he totally forgot himself as the actor on the screen, because he got caught up in the experience of seeing it for the first time in a crowded theater.

Actress Margot Kidder (best known for her Lois Lane portrayals in the Superman series of movies) appeared on camera several times. She made a joke out of how Spielberg had begun to fib about his age, once he became famous. She had known him before his sudden notoriety, so she noticed it when he went from being older than her to being younger.

Kidder claimed Spielberg was fudging his birth date by a couple of years.

Well, flashing back on my silly jealousy to do with Spielberg’s rise to stardom, when he was supposedly younger than me, I had to laugh out loud.

Then I looked Spielberg’s age up; he’s older than both Margot and me.

So, I Googled around and found some old articles about “Jaws” and Spielberg. Yes, it looks like Kidder was right. Back in the ‘70s, perhaps to play up the Boy Wonder aspect of the story, Spielberg’s birth date was being massaged. Somewhere along the line, since then, it looks like it got straightened out.

Laughing at one’s own foolishness is usually a healthy exercise. Yes, and when the laugh had been waiting 34 years to be realized, it was all the sweeter.

After all, nothing has ever been more integral to Hollywood’s special way of doing business -- before or after “Jaws” -- than making up fibs, especially about one’s age.

*   *   *

This story is part of a series called Biograph Times. All rights reserved by F.T. Rea

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Biograph 40

For more information about the films and the event go here. Click on the art above to enlarge it.

To see the Facebook event page go here

For plenty of old Biograph stories click on the picture of the theater below. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Willard’s Wretched Demise

It should come as no surprise to most film buffs that sometimes there was a dark side to the business of doing business after dark. While some saw the Biograph Theatre as a beacon in the night, for others it was a place to hide out from a sad reality. Like any business, sometimes things just went wrong.

A man died watching "F.I.S.T." (1978). The guy was in his early-30s; he breathed his last sitting in a seat in the small auditorium. The movie was bad, but not that bad. His face was expressionless, he just expired.

As the rescue squad guys were shooting jolts of electricity into his heart, and his body was flopping around like a fish out of water on Theater No. 2’s floor, down in Theater No. 1 "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was on the screen delighting its usual crowd of costumed screwballs.

There was a night someone fired five shots of high-powered ammo through one of the back exits into Theatre No. 1. Five bullets came through a back door's two quarter-inch steel plates to splinter seats. Amazingly, no one was hit. It happened just as the crowd was exiting the auditorium, about 11:30 p.m., and it seemed no one even caught on to what was happening.

Later the police were baffled, leaving us to speculate as to why it happened.

While it’s fun to brag about successful promotions, on the other hand, 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, and 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. The absolute worst? That little fiasco's story is best left for another time. 

Sometimes, with unpredictable situations, I just made the wrong call. Perhaps the worst of them was about another death in the Biograph.

Apparently some rat poisons make the victims crave water. Sometime in the mid-'70s, a popcorn-addicted rat we called Willard must have finally nibbled on some the exterminator’s poison; it died in the Coca-Cola machine's drain and totally clogged it up.

The situation called for a manager's quick decision to be made in the field. However, not knowing about the hidden rat corpse, and thinking I knew what to do, I poured a powerful drain clearing liquid -- we called it Tampax Dynamite -- into the problem. My experience told me that stuff could eat its way though any clog in a pipe.

Although the TD had previously done wonders in the theater's rest rooms, well, this wasn't one of my better decisions.

Before long before a foul-smelling brown liquid started bubbling in the drain and then backing up and into the lobby's carpet around the candy counter. There was no stopping its spread, as Willard’s revenge worked its way.

The wretched mess that ensued ran everybody out of there on a busy Saturday night -- the stench was unbearable. We had to close.


My forgiving bosses in Georgetown had a new carpet installed in the lobby right away; it was much nicer than the original had been.

Sign of the Times

One summer afternoon in the mid-1970s, I was walking about 20 yards behind a guy heading east on the 800 block of West Grace Street. Then, like it was his, he casually picked up the Organic Food Store’s hand-painted sandwich board style sign from the sidewalk in front of the store.

Without even looking around for any witnesses to his act of dishonesty the sign thief kept going at the same pace.

As I walked faster to close the distance between us we continued down the red brick sidewalk. By the time we had passed the Biograph Theatre, where I worked, I had sized him up and decided what I would do. He was a big-haired hippie, 18 to 20 years old; he could have been a student. Or, he might have been a traveling panhandler/opportunist. In those days there were plenty of both in the neighborhood.

Passing by Sally Bell’s Kitchen, in the 700 block, I was within six or seven yards of him when I spoke the lines I had written for myself while walking. My tone was resolute, my voice clear: “Hey, I saw you steal the sign. Don’t turn around … just put it down and walk away.”

The thief’s body language announced that he had heard me, but he didn’t turn around. Instead he walked faster, with the sign under his right arm, holding the weight with his hand.

Moving closer to him, I said with more force: “Put the sign down. The cops are on the way. Walk away while you still can.”

Without further ado the wooden sign clattered onto the sidewalk. The sign thief kept going without looking back. As I gathered my neighbor’s property I watched the fleeing hippie break into a sprint, cross Grace Street and disappear going toward Monroe Park at the next corner.

Then I carried the recovered property back to the store, which was a few doors west of the Biograph. Obviously, I don’t really remember exactly what I said to the thief over three decades ago, verbatim, but that was a faithful recounting of the events.

What I had done came in part from a young man’s sense of righteous indignation, together with the spirit of camaraderie that existed among some of the neighborhood’s merchants in that time. There were several of us, then in our mid-to-late-20s, who were running businesses on that bohemian strip — bars, retail shops, etc. We were friends and we watched out for one another.

Now I’m amazed that I used to do such things. My tough guy performance had lasted less than a minute. The character I invented was drawn somewhat from Humphrey Bogart, with as much Robert Mitchum as I could muster. Hey, the thief must have felt lucky to get away.

Who knows? Maybe he’s still telling this same story, too, but from another angle.

This much I know — that quirky pop scene on Grace Street in those days was a goldmine of offbeat stories. Chelf’s Drug Store was at the corner of Grace and Shafer. With its antique soda fountain and a few booths, it had been a hangout for magazine-reading, alienated art students since the late-1940s. It seemed frozen in time.

The original Village Restaurant, a block west of Chelf’s, was a legendary beatnik watering hole, going back to the 1950s. Writer Tom Robbins and artist William Fletcher “Bill” Jones (1930-‘98) hung out there. Strangely, that location has remained boarded up for decades, while the new Village still goes on across Harrison Street. That same neighborhood was also home to cartoon-like characters such as the wandering Flashlight Lady and the Grace Street Midget.

During the late-‘60s the hippies had come on strong to replace the beats, as the strip went psychedelic, seemingly overnight. But by the mid-‘70s the hippie blue jean culture had peaked. It was about to be replaced by the black leather of Punk Rock and polyester of the Disco scene. All-night dance clubs became popular.

So, by the late-‘70s the mood on the strip had changed severely. Cocaine was becoming the preferred drug of choice with the druggie in-crowd, replacing pot. Several restaurants were serving liquor-by-the-drink, the dives catering to the young set began having rugged bouncers at the door.

Into the ‘80s I remember an angry, red-bearded street beggar with a missing foot threatening to “bite a plug out” of me, because I had had the temerity to tell him to stop bothering people in front of the Biograph, to move on.

In that moment it was painfully obvious to me that times had indeed changed. Wisely, I didn’t press my case any further that day. Instead, I moved on.

-- 30 --

Cowardly Elephants?

Given the painfully slow recovery from the 2008 economic meltdown and the nasty recession it set in motion, it follows that Obama would struggle to get reelected.

Given the glaring flaws of the two GOP frontrunners, it still mystifies me that the GOP hasn't been able to locate a better candidate to run against Obama.

Given the anxiety and anger in the air, it would seem Team Elephant could do better ... not that I'm complaining.