Thursday, February 19, 2015

Seeing through Jack Leigh's lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read more about Jack Leigh.

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

VCU Rams through an RPI perspective


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

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

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

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

-- My photo

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Biograph's 1982 RKO Festival


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

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

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

Finding Vivian



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

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

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

Where: The Byrd Theatre in Carytown.

Admission:

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

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

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

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

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

  • The "Finding Vivian Maier" trailer is here.                              

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What Would Vivian Think of All This Publicity?

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


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

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

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

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

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


-- Selfies by Vivian Maier

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Flashback: 'Armageddonville, Texas'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- 30 --

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Biograph Art Gallery Notes


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 02, 2015

A ‘Gem’ of an Idea


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

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

About "Finding Vivian Maier"

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

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

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

Where: The Byrd Theatre in Carytown.

Admission:

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

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

More information:

The full press release with all the details is here.

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

The "Finding Vivian Maier" trailer is here

Contacts:

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