Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Deeply Felt Religion, or Schizophrenia?

While searching for something on SLANTblog I came across this 12-year old grumble, written a couple of weeks before George W. Bush's reelection. As we all contemplate the upcoming election, maybe it's useful to remember when the electorate made a bad decision, in great part because the other guy was too boring. As with the 2000 election, in 2004 too many Democrats didn't feel motivated to support their party's nominee. 

When I did the Bush illustration (posted to the right) for Richmond.com in 2000, I remember wanting to depict his smug lack of curiosity in his expression.
SLANTblog: October 24, 2004:
Now 350 tons of explosives, give-or-take a ka-plooey, have turned up missing in Iraq. The best guess is that the stuff was snatched in the early days of the American operation there, which is at 19 months and counting. Perhaps it's a good thing we didn't find any WMDs, because the local hoodlums would probably have stolen them, too.

Which leads to a cold question that should be considered in the hours leading up to the election: Since he took office, what the hell has George Bush done right?

For a man who campaigned as "a uniter, NOT a divider," as "a compassionate conservative," and to be a president who would not use American troops in arrogant missions of "nation-building," how does today's unvarnished reality jibe with Dubya's 2000 campaign promises?

Uh, oh, there I go again -- I was thinking in a pre-9/11 fashion. According to the Bush post-9/11 gospel, asking awkward questions of the Commander in Chief is frowned upon. Continuing with the flashback theme, in 1998, when Bill Clinton bombed Osama bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan, the same Republicans now blaming poor Slick Willie for 9/11 were branding his effort to strike at al Qaeda as a mere distraction from the then-all-overshadowing Lewinsky scandal investigation.

However, without blaming Bush for 9/11 it is possible to criticize his reactions to it. His administration has used fear like a monkey wrench to grab power so shamelessly that it has shocked the rest of the world. Furthermore, Bush's 2000 campaign promise to govern in such a way as to heal the divisions was pure baloney. So, too, was Bush's alleged compassion; his signature education program has fizzled -- the tax-cut agenda won out.

Bush's so-called "conservatism" is counterfeit, too; let's face it, he's breaking the bank with his spending. And, other than "nation-building" what would you call the on-going operation in Iraq? OK, maybe "failed-nation-building" is more on the money.

George Bush is the most dangerous president of modern times. He's off the chart! Bush's neoconservative advisers see unfettered corporate capitalism as a sort of new-style religion to be spread by their armed missionaries to enlighten the backward masses of the Middle East.

It says here Bush's twisted policies and outright incompetence are making the world, including the USA, more dangerous every day. That while tough-talking Dubya claims God speaks to him directly about what to do in Iraq.

Uh, oh!
What would you call that sort of claim? Deeply felt religion, or schizophrenia?
-- 30 --

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Democrats May Have Found Their Landslide Mojo

Up until the Democrats staged their overnight Sit-In on June-23-24, led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the party was anything but united. Maybe the best thing Team Donkey had going for it this election year was the GOP's bizarre primary race. 

And, of course, what the process delivered -- the most mock-worthy presumptive nominee anybody has ever seen. 

Still, even if Donald Trump makes it impossible for 75 percent of the electorate to vote for him, having Hillary Clinton in the White House -- while the do-nothing Republicans continue to hold both houses of Congress! -- wasn't a scenario that seemed to be energizing a lot of Democrats.

Turnout looked like it might be a problem. Now that may have all changed -- the Democratic Party may have just found its landslide mojo.

The occupation of the floor of the House by an ad hoc group of Democrats worked like a charm. I watched several hours of the June 23-24 occupation on C-SPAN. The spirit of what was happening was uplifting for me.

Now that same occupation tactic should be taken to other venues. (Imagine a sudden occupation that fills up Capitol Square, or some other large public property.) This sort of movement focused on the gun issue could bring together the sometimes apathetic/disappointed Democrats better than any tactics being cooked up by the DNC's think tank.

It might also be what this country needs to break the spell. Break the grip the National Rifle Association has had on too many legislators. Massive demonstrations – sit-ins – in cities coast-to-coast would add an element of populism to this year's political races that could bring in new voters in droves. My guess is most of them would be Democrats, or at least independents.

An overwhelming majority of Americans appear to want change, and -- maybe! -- at long-last the NRA's ability to frame the issues is about to melt away like a drenched wicked witch.

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre (depicted above) melting into the floor is the image I'll leave you with. It's your reward for reading the whole piece.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Apologies and Victimhood

http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/6291/212/1600/WarIsHell.0.jpg

Political stories about impatient demands for apologies from the deeply offended are an everyday thing. It seems the surest way to create a news event out of thin air is to puff yourself up with blustery indignation and call upon a politician or a pundit to apologize.

Typically, a planted outrage story goes through its predictable cycle, which usually plays out something like this:

Player No. 1: Sir, I demand an apology. When you said, “War is hell,” you demeaned every single young American in uniform today, particularly those serving on the battlefields of this nation’s War on Terror. You were saying they’ve gone to hell, which is to say they do not deserve to go to heaven. Who are you to judge?

Player No. 2: What in heaven’s name are you talking about? “War is hell,” is a quote from General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Player No. 1: That’s your opinion.

Player No. 2: OK. I regret accidentally offending anyone who agrees with you, if it is true that offense was taken.

Player No. 1: If? I demand you apologize for issuing an insulting apology, and I also call upon you to apologize to Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy.

Player No. 2: What have they got to do with this?
  
Player No. 1: When you say “war is hell” it has to remind them of the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, because that was the title of the war movie he slipped into a Dallas theater to see, after he alone shot President Kennedy. Why do you hate poor Maria and the rest of the Kennedy family?

Player No. 2: How about I just hate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies?

Player No. 1: Your un-apology apologies reek of sarcasm. I demand a full and unqualified apology, immediately. And your elitist opinions about movies are only making it worse.

Player No. 2: Does saying “war is heck” make it any better?

Player No. 1: The hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” should convince you that saying war is hell, while we are engaged in righteous war against heathen terrorists, is tantamount to blasphemous treason.

Player No. 2: The First Amendment says you can't put blasphemy and treason in the same sentence. How about I phrase it this way?: “War is so dangerous it can be hell-like?”

Player No. 1: You’d only be emboldening the enemy.

Player No. 2: To hell with the enemy!

Player No. 1: Better, now we're getting somewhere.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mondo Softball

Here's a flashback to a 1990 newspaper article that includes some Biograph Theatre history, as well as some softball nostalgia:
REA GIVES BIZARRE EDGE TO BLAB'S 'MONDO SOFTBALL'
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," 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.
*
The next show on BLAB-TV was called Mondo City. My first guests on the new program, which combined sports and other pop culture elements, were a couple of guys from GWAR. That's a story for another day.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Birth of the Blockbuster: Or How Margot Kidder Made My Day

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 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. Its distributor, Universal, had to spend millions on national advertising and strike enough prints of the film to serve all of the theaters playing 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 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. Run by the National Association of Theater Owners, it 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 DC screening room over the nearly-12 years I worked for the guys who oversaw the Biograph on "M" Street.

The prior-to-premiere screenings of “Jaws” took place a few weeks before it was to open. It was shown to theater owners and their guests in selected cinemas in maybe a dozen cities. As I remember it, the screening were all on the same night.

As a treat my bosses gave me four of their allotment of tickets to the special screening of “Jaws” at the old Ontario in DC. My ex, Valerie, and I were part of a full house; the show itself went over like gangbusters. The 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, still caught up in that mania, I tried to talk my bosses into borrowing a lot of money to support a bid on “Jaws” that would include a substantial cash advance.

Ordinarily, such a picture would play at the dominant theater chain’s flagship house. That summer I wanted to bet everything we could borrow to out-bid Neighborhood Theatres for the Richmond market. I even convinced a neighborhood branch bank manager to try to help us borrow the dough.

Well, we didn’t get the money, but it was privately satisfying seeing “Jaws” open on June 20, 1975, and go on to set new records for its box office grosses. Its unprecedented success put its director, Steven Spielberg, on the map.

After “Jaws” hustlers aplenty in Hollywood rushed out to try to duplicate the formula its producers and distributors had used. Thus, in 1975, the age of Hollywood-produced summer blockbusters with massive ad campaigns and widespread releases began.

Another thing “Jaws” did was make young men who were sometimes too self-absorbed, 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 had a great job for a 27-year-old movie-lover who liked to work without a lot of supervision, 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. That might have been the first time I gave much thought to how and when to leave the Biograph.

Fast-forward 34 years to when 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.  Directors and other players from that time were interviewed. Made in 2003, it was thoroughly entertaining. I saw it on Turner Movie Classics in 2009.

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 got caught up in the experience of seeing it for the first time in a crowded theater, because he totally forgot himself as the actor on the screen.

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 absurd 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 up Spielberg’s age; he’s older than both Margot and me.

So, I searched for more on the age-change 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 over three decades 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.

*   *   *