Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Postseason Basketball Musings

In games played through Feb. 20 eight of Virginia's 14 Division I basketball programs have winning records. If they all finish that way any of them could participate in postseason tournaments. However, barring a total collapse, just three of those programs now appear to be heading to the preferred tournament -- the NCAA Championship with its chosen field of 68.

Then there's the NIT, CBI, CIT and the Vegas 16. I may have left one out, but it seems America's basketball fans like tournament-style hoops, no matter how far removed such games are from determining the national championship.

So here are those eight schools, listed according to their latest RPI as published by CBS Sports. After the name of the team you will see their overall records (D-I games only), records in conference games, their BPIs (ESPN rankings) and their records (in bold) in February.

No. 22: UVa.: 18-9, 8-7 in ACC; BPI #8; 2-5 in Feb.
No. 25: VCU: 22-5, 12-2 in A-10; BPI #34; 6-0 in Feb.
No. 36: Va. Tech: 18-8, 7-7 in ACC; BPI #51; 2-3 in Feb.
No. 99: Richmond: 15-11, 9-5 in A-10; BPI #113; 2-3 in Feb.
No. 109: W&M: 13-12, 9-7 in Colonial; BPI #107; 3-3 in Feb.
No. 116: Mason: 18-9, 8-6 in A-10; BPI #124; 4-2 in Feb.
No. 136: ODU: 16-10, 9-5 in C-USA; BPI #127; 3-2 in Feb.
No. 163: Liberty: 15-11, 13-3 in Big South; BPI #189; 4-1 in Feb.

Make what you will of this but, generally speaking, teams trending in the wrong direction are not viewed in a favorable light by the NCAA tournament's committee. What I see at this point is that after those top three, your guess is a s good as mine as for the destiny of the rest of them. Of course, invitations and rankings aside -- same as it ever was -- any team that wins its conference tournament still qualifies for the Big Dance.

-- 30 --

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Citizen Trump's slo-mo train-wreck

Now we have Citizen Trump's slo-mo train-wreck presser on Feb. 16 for the record. One day that disturbing performance may have historians somewhat at a loss to explain to anyone who didn't live through this ongoing interregnum of presidential sanity.

Trump said he wasn't ranting, while he ranted about "fake news" during his disturbing assault on the press. (Click here for some fact-checking.)

Meanwhile, there's a telling aspect of President Trump's bullying that overlaps with his dishonesty -- cheating at golf.

Alice Cooper (in a 2012 interview): "The worst celebrity golf cheat? I wish I could tell you that. It would be a shocker. I played golf with Donald Trump one time. That's all I'm going to say."

Trump doesn't just want to cheat to win a hole. He'd rather cheat blatantly so you can see him doing it. Then he can savor how you are too reluctant to cause a scene, intimidated, or whatever, so you just don't call him on it.

It's a variation on his claim that he grabs crotches with impunity, because he's mighty Donald Trump and thus he's entitled to humiliate you. He doesn't cheat to enjoy his victory. He knows it's tainted. Trump cheats to deprive his opponent of victory and to prance ... he enjoys prancing.

The foreboding sense in the air that we're all hurtling toward a crisis is getting more pervasive every day. How that crisis will manifest itself remains to be seen. Still, being president all day long, every damn day, would be exhausting enough for any 70-year-old man. But we can only imagine how stressful it must be for one who's avoided scrutiny of his methods and associations in much of his life's doings. His so-called "deals."

Sheltered from push-back, in a world of artifice, Trump has been a little king. That changed on inauguration day. Less than a month into his presidency the pressure of having to answer for his blunders is obviously weighing on the president.

Forced to endure criticism, he has appeared to be semi-delusional at times. If nothing else, in the weeks to come we're going to see just how healthy Trump's septuagenarian ticker is.

The Republicans in Congress who can see what's going on are surely riding on the horns of a dilemma: Who wants to be remembered as being foolish enough to stick by Trump too long? How long can they wait to pull the plug?

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Thursday, February 16, 2017

An Enhanced RPI

The RPI for college basketball depends heavily on strength of schedule. So once you factor in the reward the teams in power conferences have, for simply being in those leagues, some teams with 10 losses are ranked, RPI-wise, over teams with five losses. Still, in the Big Dance every March in the early rounds we see little known teams from conferences other than the five mega-conferences upsetting the so-called "favorites."

Those Cinderellas are sometimes teams that just know how to win, no matter who they're playing or where. So how much should that factor matter, when comparing teams that haven't played one another and have few common opponents? 

OK, for basketball junkies I've got a way to combine RPI with the notion that some teams are good at winning. Here are the 25 teams taken from today's top 50 of the RPI (CBS Sports) that have five losses or less (their wins and losses are in parenthesis). 

They are listed, 1-25, according to their RPI today. But please note that teams with a better RPI than some listed, which have sustained six or more losses, have been omitted. So this way of looking at rankings combines strength-of-schedule with an appreciation for the teams' wins and losses. 

The national champion should come from this field. Teams from power conferences with 10 or 12 losses might get hot and win it all, but no one should be surprised if Gonzaga wins the championship game because the still undefeated Zags know how to win. 

The Enhanced RPI Top 25 

1. Baylor (21-4)
2. Villanova (25-2)
3. Kansas (23-3)
4. Gonzaga (26-0)
5. Louisville (21-5)
6. Arizona (23-3)
7. Oregon (21-4)
8. UNC (21-5)
9. Florida (21-5)
10. Kentucky (21-5)
11. Florida St. (21-5)
12. Duke (21-5)
13. Cincinnati (23-3)
14. Creighton (20-5)
15. Maryland (21-4)
16. Purdue (21-5)
17. St. Mary's (22-3)
18. SMU (23-4)
19. UCLA (23-3)
20. Wisconsin (21-4)
21. VCU (21-5)
22. Dayton (19-5)
23. Illinois St. (21-5)
24. USC (21-5)
25. Akron (21-4)


-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Monday, February 13, 2017

Drake the Flake

On Nov. 8, 1992, the revenge-driven crime spree ended as the man I remembered as Drake the Flake blew out his brains with a .32 caliber revolver. In the 11 hours before taking his own life Lynwood C. "Woody" Drake III had shot and killed six people, wounded a seventh and beaten a former landlady with a blackjack.

It had been over 20 years since I saw him last. It was in the lobby of the movie theater I then managed, the Biograph Theatre. Still, when I saw the AP photo of him in the Richmond Times-Dispatch 25 years ago, he was instantly recognizable.

More about Woody Drake later, but it should come as no surprise to most film buffs that sometimes there is a dark side to the business of doing business after the sun goes down. While some saw the Biograph (1972-87) as a beacon in the night, for others it was a place to hide from reality. So, like any business, sometimes unexpected things just went wrong. Of course, customers could be difficult every now and then, especially at midnight shows. But Drake was easily the worst of them.

*

There were crazy street people who would sometimes cause trouble. Although nearly everyone who worked at the Biograph during my almost-12-year-stint as its manager was on the up-and-up, there were a couple of rotten apples. As I hired both of them, I have to take the blame there. But those are stories for another time.

Then there were the customers. One man died in the Biograph. His last seconds spent among the living were spent watching "FIST" (1978), starring Sylvester Stallone, in am aisle seat in the small auditorium -- Theatre No. 2. Yes, the movie was bad, but who knew it was that bad?

At the time I was 30 years old, and as I remember it, he was a year or two older than I was. The dead man 's face was expressionless. He just expired. His eyes were open. As the rescue squad guys shot jolts of electricity into his heart, his body flopped around like a fish out of water on floor. Meanwhile, down in Theater No. 1 "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was on the screen delighting its usual crowd of costumed screwballs.

Then there was the night someone fired five shots of high-powered ammo through one of the back door exits into Theatre No. 1. Five bullets came through the door's two quarter-inch steel plates to splinter seats. Amazingly, no one was hit.

This happened just as the crowd was exiting the auditorium, at about 11:30 p.m. 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.

Another night, a rat died in the Coca-Cola drain and clogged it up. Not knowing about the rat, and thinking I knew what to do to clear the clogged drain, I poured a powerful drain-clearing liquid -- we called it Tampax Dynamite -- directly into the problem.

Soon a foul-smelling liquid started bubbling and backing up all over the lobby's carpet. A flooding mess ensued. It ran everybody out of there on a busy Saturday night. We had to replace the carpet.

*

In the early months of operation at 814 W. Grace St. a series of annoyances led up to Woody Drake being literally thrown out of the Biograph and "banned for life."

The news stories reported that Drake, who fancied himself as an actor, had compiled a long list of people he intended to pay back, someday. Drake wore theatrical grease paint on his face when he committed his murders. As the cops were closing in on him Drake punched his own ticket to hell.

From what I found out Drake's childhood was straight out of a horror movie. Apparently he was always a problem to those around him. The photo above -- it was a publicity shot he used to apply for work as an actor -- ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on November 16, 1992. What follows are excerpts of a piece I wrote for SLANT a couple of weeks later.
...The November 16th edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch carried Mark Holmberg's sad and sensational story of Woody Drake. As usual, Holmberg did a good job with a bizarre subject. In case you missed the news: Lynwood Drake, who grew up in Richmond, murdered six people in California on November 8. Then he turned the gun on himself. His tortured suicide note cited revenge as the motive.
An especially troubling aspect of Holmberg's account was that those Richmonders who remembered the 43 year old Drake weren't at all surprised at the startling news. Nor was I. My memory of the man goes back to the early days of the Biograph Theatre (1972). At the time I managed the West Grace Street cinema. So the unpleasant task of dealing with Drake fell to me.
Owing to his talent for nuisance, the staff dubbed him 'Drake the Flake.' Although he resembled many of the hippie-style hustlers of the times, it was his ineptness at putting over the scam that set him apart. Every time he darkened our door there was trouble. If he didn't try to beat us out of the price of admission or popcorn, there would be a problem in the auditorium. And without fail, his ruse would be transparent. Then, when confronted, he'd go into a fit of denial that implied a threat.

Eventually that led to the incident in Shafer Court (on VCU's campus) when he choked a female student [Susan Kuney] who worked at the Biograph.
That evening he showed up at the theater to see the movie, just like nothing had happened. Shoving his way past those in line, he demanded to be admitted next.
An argument ensued that became the last straw. Drake the Flake was physically removed from the building, tossed onto Grace Street, and banned from the Biograph for life.
The next day, Drake made his final appearance at the Biograph. He ran in through the lobby's exit doors and issued a finger-pointing death threat to your narrator. Although I tried to act unruffled by the incident, it made me more than a little uncomfortable. In spite of the anger of his words, there was an emptiness in his eyes. In that moment he had pulled me into his world. It was scary and memorable.
Using a fine turn of phrase, Holmberg suggested that, "Whatever poisoned the heart of Woody Drake happened in Richmond..."
If you want more evidence of the origins of the poisoning, take the time to look him up in his high school yearbooks (Thomas Jefferson 1967/68). Pay particular attention to the odd expression in his eyes. Looking at Drake’s old yearbook photos reminded me of a line in the movie 'Silence of the Lambs.' In reference to the serial-killer who was being sought by the FBI throughout the film, Dr. Lechter (a psychiatrist turned murderer himself) tells an investigator that such a man is not born; he is created.
There is no doubt in my mind. Someone close to Woody Drake, when he was a child, systematically destroyed his soul. So while we can avert our eyes from the painful truth, we basically know where the poison is administered to the Drake the Flakes of the world.
Yes, we do. The assembly line for such monsters runs through their homes. The story goes that Drake liked to beat up women. After I threw him out of the Biograph and he disappeared, several people told us stories about various females he had hurt. No doubt, there was a reason why he hated women.

Shortly before Drake ended his wretched life, he woke up a 60-year-old woman by smacking her in the head with a blackjack. She scrambled to hide under her bed and lived to tell the story.

-- 30 --

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Discover the Fan: 1973

Forty-four years ago an ad hoc group of 21 merchants along the commercial strip just north of VCU's Fan District campus cooperated for a one-time-only promotion called Discover the Fan. It should be noted that none of the participating businesses are still there today.

Click on Rebus' nose to enlarge the art.

On April 14, 1973 a lingering cold spell left town and warm breezes brought in a bright spring day. For that Saturday afternoon the 800 and 900 blocks of West Grace Street, and environs, were packed with an unprecedented amount of foot traffic. Hundreds of helium-filled balloons and free prizes donated by the merchants were given away. The street was not closed and the vehicular traffic was slowed to a crawl all day. There was live music on-stage.

Motorists traveling toward the West End were treated to an unexpected scene, given the neighborhood's then-bohemian image. (Grace Street was a busy one-way street heading west in those days.) On that Saturday there were thousands of ordinary people milling about having a good time. Many of them acted like tourists on a lark. Kids with balloons were everywhere.

The illustration above is a scan of a handbill done by yours truly. With its list of participating businesses it provides a snapshot of the area in what was probably the zenith of the hippie age. Some of the characters who ran those businesses were rather interesting people. (H/T: One-on-One owner Fred Awad came up with the name for the event.)

At this time I had been the manager of the Biograph Theatre for a little over a year and the Discover the Fan promotion itself was my project. I convinced my fellow merchants to chip in and promote our oddball collection of businesses as if we were a hip shopping center to the metro area. Many people helped put it together and worked on aspects of it, but the happening couldn't have come about without the help of Dave DeWitt and Chuck Wrenn (the Biograph's assistant manager), which was significant.

Below is a piece about this event from that era. It was penned by the late Shelley Rolfe:
Shelley Rolfe’s
By the Way
Richmond Times-Dispatch (April, 16, 1973)

It was breakfast time and the high command for Discover the Fan Day had, with proper regard for the inner man, moved its final planning meeting from the Biograph Theater to Lum’s Restaurant. Breakfast tastes ran a gamut. Eggs with beer. Eggs with orange juice. H-hour -- the operations plan had set it for noon -- was less than three hours away. Neither beer nor orange juice was being gulped nervously.

Terry Rea, manager of the Biograph and the extravaganza’s impresario, was reciting a last-minute, mental things-to-do list. There was the vigilante committee, which would gather up the beer and soft drink cans and bottles that invariably infest the fronts of the shops in the 800 and 900 blocks of W. Grace St., focus area of the discovery.

The city police had promised a dragnet to sweep away the winos who also invariably litter the neighborhood. The day had bloomed crisp and sunny, the first dry Saturday since Groundhog Day. “I knew it wouldn’t rain,” Rea said with the brash confidence of the young. “Lots of young businessmen around here,” a beer drinker at another table said. The free enterprise system lives.

REA WAS assigning duties for the committee that would rope off two Virginia Commonwealth University parking lots that would serve as the setting for a fashion show and band concert. The committee to blow up balloons, with the aid of a cylinder of helium [sic]. One thousand balloons in a shrieking variety of colors. “If we only get 500 kids... two to a customer,” Rea said cheerfully.

“I need more people,” said the balloon task force leader.

Twenty-one businesses were involved in the project. Each of them had contributed prizes, and gift certificates had been put into plastic Easter eggs. An egg hunt would be part of the day, and Rea had a message for the committee that would be tucking the eggs away: “Don’t put them in obvious places, but don’t put them were people can get hurt looking for them.”

“We talked about doing this last summer but we never got it together,” Rea said. There had been fresh talk in late February, early March, and it had become airborne. The 21 businesses had anted up $1,500 for advertising, which was handled by Dave DeWitt, proprietor of a new just-out-of-the-Fan, small, idea-oriented agency.

“Demographically, we were aiming for people between 25 and 34,” Rea said. There had been newspaper advertising and spots on youth-oriented radio stations. “We had a surplus late in the week...” Rea said. The decision was made to have a Saturday morning splurge on radio station WRVA. “Hey,” said a late arrival, “I heard Alden Aaroe talking about it.”

“We wanted people to see what we have here,” Rea said. “People who probably close their windows and lock their doors when they drive on Grace Street and want to get through here a quickly as possible.”

Well, yes, there must be those who look upon the 800 and 900 blocks as symbolic of the counterculture, as territory alien to their visions of West End and suburban existence. Last November the precinct serving the 800 and 900 blocks went for George McGovern, by two votes. Not a landslide, but, perhaps, a trend.

NOON WAS approaching. Rea and DeWitt set out on an inspection tour. Parking lot ropes were being put into place. Rock music blared from exotically named shops. The balloon committee was still short on manpower. An agent trotted out of a shop to report, “They’ve got 200 customers ...” And how many would they normally have at this hour of a Saturday” “They wouldn’t be open,” Rea said.

Grace Street was becoming clogged with cars It would become more clogged. Don’t know how many drivers got out of their cars, but, for a while they were a captive audience making at least vicarious discovery.

Also much pedestrian and bicycle on the sidewalks. Merchants talked of espying strangers, of all ages. A white-haired woman held a prize egg in one hand, a balloon in the other. A middle-aged man had rakishly attached a balloon to the bill of his cap.

The fashion show went on to the accompaniment of semijazz music and popping balloons, most of them held by children. Fashions were subdued. A dress evocative of the 1840s. Long skirts. Loudest applause went to a man who paraded across the stage wearing a loud red backpack. Everybody’s urge to escape?

ON GRACE STREET a sword swallower and human pin cushion was on exhibition. No names please. “My mother ...” he said. He wished to be identified only as a member of “Bunkie Brothers Medicine Show.”

Discounted merchandise on sale included 20-yesr-old British Army greatcoats and a book fetchingly titled “Sensuous Massage.” Sales resistance remained firm.

On Harrison Street a sidewalk artist was creating. A wino, who had somehow escaped the dragnet, lurched across the sidewalk art muttering. “Free balloons ...” In a shop a man said, “I want the skimpiest halter you have ... for my wife.”

On an alley paralleling Grace Street, a man holding a hand camera and early on a VCU class assignment was directing actors. One stationed in a huge trash bin. “Waiting for Godot” revisited? The second, carrying a an umbrella in one hand, popcorn in another, approached the bin. A hand darted out for popcorn. “I ran out of film!” screamed the director.

Everything was being done again. The actor in the bin emerged, seized the umbrella and ran. “Chase him,” from the direct. Actor No. 2 did a Keystone Kop-style double take, jumped and ran. A small crowd that had gathered applauded.

LATE IN the day. Traffic still was at a saturation level. Early settlers said the territory hadn’t seen such congestion since the movie, “Deep Throat.” Rea spoke of objectives smashingly achieved. Euphoric talk from him on another day of discovery in September. City Hall would be petitioned to block off Grace Street.
The writer, Rolfe, lived only a few blocks away from the Biograph, so he was actually quite familiar with the cinema I ran and the surroundings he described. This was a day in which many things could have gone wrong, but didn't, so it was remembered fondly. Some of the merchants said they set new records for business in one day. 
 

Thanks, Aimee

Note: This piece was first published 17 years ago by Richmond.com (Feb. 16, 2000).  

*

Anniversaries are knives that can cut both ways. Although we may raise the glass to remember certain events, sometimes we end up drinking to forget. Since I tend to dwell on the calendar more than I should, last Friday afternoon I was in a somber mood.

Then, shortly after 4 p.m., I received an e-mail from a friend who lives in D.C. Until then, I hadn't realized that I had been fretting all day over the notion that I was alone in remembering that it was the Biograph Theatre's 28th anniversary. Upon looking at the e-mail, I smiled.

On Feb.11, 1972, the Biograph Theatre at 814 W. Grace St. was set in motion by a gem of a party. The first feature presentation was a French war-mocking comedy, "King of Hearts" (1966). On the screen, Genevieve Bujold was dazzling opposite the droll Alan Bates. In the lobby, the Fan District's version of "beautiful people" was assembled. The champagne flowed and the flashbulbs popped.

As the new cinema house's first manager, at 24, this yarn's recounter was convinced he had the best job in the Fan District.

Repertory movie theaters such as the Biograph became popular in large cities and college towns in the late '60s and early '70s. The fashion of the era, driven by a film-buff in-crowd, elevated many foreign movies, certain American classics, and selected underground films above their current-release Hollywood counterparts. A repertory cinema's regulars viewed most of the product coming out of Hollywood then as naïve or corrupt.

For me, the gig lasted nearly 12 years, including five years of Rocky Horror midnight shows. Four years after my departure, seven years after the arrival of cable TV in Richmond, the Biograph's screen went dark in December '87. Times had changed and the theater could no longer pay its way.

But in that little independent cinema's heyday, Feb. 11 meant something to those familiar with the nightlife in the VCU area. The Biograph's second anniversary was the party that established the occasion of the theater's birthday as a date to mark on the calendar. That was the year of The Devil Prank.

Following a circuit court judge's well-publicized banning of a skin flick, "The Devil in Miss Jones" (1973), we booked an old RKO light comedy with a similar title - "The Devil and Miss Jones" (1941) for a one-day event.

A press release announced that the theater was throwing a party to celebrate the anniversary of its opening day, admission would be free, and the titles of the movies were listed. (A Disney nature short subject - entitled "Beaver Valley" - was added to flesh out the program.)

As planned, no one at the theater answered any questions from the public or the media about the nature of the shows. The people who didn't notice the difference in the two titles were left to assume whatever they liked.

On the day of the party the staff decorated the lobby with streamers and balloons, laid out the birthday cake, and tested the open keg of beer. Spurred on by news reports of the Biograph's supposed intention to defy a court order, hundreds were in line by lunch time.

By show time, 6:30 p.m., the line of humanity stretched almost completely around the block. Thousands of people were waiting to see a notorious X-rated movie without knowing a Jean Arthur/Bob Cummings comedy was going to be shown instead.

The atmosphere was electric when I unlocked the front. Only the first 500 in line could be admitted because that was the auditorium's seating capacity. Later on, contrary to what I had expected, the audience didn't all get the joke at once. The realization came in waves.

Most of those who were admitted enjoyed the night, one way or another. The movies had to be funnier in that context than ever before, as long as you could laugh at yourself. To wash down the taste of the hoax, free beer was available.

Of course, there were a few people who were still miffed, but so many more loved being in on such a massive joke that the grumbles hardly mattered.

The story of the stunt hit the wire services and it appeared in newspapers all over the country. NPR did a piece on it. Needless to say, the frothy publicity only added to the luster of what was truly a unique night.

In subsequent years, the occasion of the annual party served as a reunion for everyone who had ever worked or hung out at the theater. Sometimes special films were brought in for a screening, or a band would play after hours.

Another anniversary that was rather unusual was the tenth. In 1982, a Louis Malle film that had been shot in the Jefferson Hotel was in its initial release. We booked the picture to open on Feb. 11 and combined with VCU's Anderson Gallery to stage a party that served as a benefit for the art gallery.

"My Dinner with Andre" was a movie about two friends talking over dinner. The actual meal they ate in the movie was provided by a local caterer named Chris Gibbs. He also created restaurants such as Gatsby's, Fifth Avenue, and Winston Churchill's. Each day of the movie's shooting schedule, the flamboyant Gibbs would show up at the set with another batch of Cornish Hens and wild rice for the actors to pick over as they spoke their lines.

For our party, Gibbs served the art movie/art gallery patrons the same dinner as the actors on the screen were having. It went over like gangbusters. The local media ate it up, which of course validated the notion that a good time was had by one and all.

Naturally, since then, the theater closed and the tradition has atrophied. There was a small party for the 20th anniversary even though the cinema's screens had long been dark.

Back to the e-mail that made my day - here's how it worked: A few weeks ago, Style Weekly ran an interview with singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, a Richmond native and former lead singer of the '80s New Wave band 'Til Tuesday. The article mentioned her recent success with the song "Save Me" from the movie "Magnolia." Among her fond memories of Richmond, she spoke of having enjoyed going to the Biograph as a teenager.

Aimee looks familiar, but I don't really remember her from her Open High School days (in the late '70s). I sent the article to the friend I mentioned, Ernie Brooks, because I knew he was enthusiastic about "Magnolia."

Brooks, a regular at the Biograph in the '70s, subsequently attended Mann's recent performance at the Birchmere in Alexandria. During a break, he presented her with an almost never-worn Biograph T-shirt from his collection.

Ernie claims she was nearly overwhelmed by his gesture. However, in spite of what my experience tells me about such stories, I'm choosing to believe him.

In turn, she autographed a copy of her "Magnolia" CD for him. Ernie then e-mailed me a scan of it attached to an account of his conversation with Aimee.

On the cover art she had written - "To the Biograph, many memories, Love Aimee."

Upon seeing her simple message, my frame of mind changed instantly. Instead of letting mid-February's inevitable dreariness continue to bum me out, it even occurred to me how lucky I was to have been in on the adventure the Biograph was.

Because of a quirky art-movie connection, facilitated by way of an old friend of the Biograph, a willowy blond from the past beamed me a pleasant mood swing: a virtual happy anniversary present.

Thanks, Aimee. And congratulations on your Best Original Song Oscar nomination for "Save Me." I'll be watching to see what you are wearing on Oscar presentation night.

Ain't life grand?

-- 30 --

Friday, February 03, 2017

BIOGRAPH 45


On Sat., Feb. 11, The Bijou will host the party to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the opening party at the Biograph Theatre (1972-87) in Richmond. The doors to its downtown screening room at 304 E. Broad St. will open at 2 p.m. 

Admission: $5.00; Bijou members admitted FREE. Party until 7 p.m.

The Big Guys will play two sets live. Beer, wine and soft drinks for sale. Raffles. Prizes. T-shirts. Surprises. Proceeds from this special event will benefit The Bijou Film Center.

View the Facebook Event Page to see some of those on Facebook who are planing to have a good time at the Biograph's birthday party.

The Biograph's RKO festival (1982)

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 the Biograph Theatre's Program No. 60 played out in Theatre No. 1, the larger of the two auditoriums. It was an unusual program in that all 24 of the feature films were from one company, RKO, which still operated as a distributor. 

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).
 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Krugman: 'Just say no'

Although the Trump ride is just starting, I think what he's doing is obvious. He's showing everybody who has the power. With his mock-worthy executive orders he's also making things go bad, as fast as he can. Why?

That's his plan and there will be blood. Here's my take: Once he's made some examples of what happens to those with the temerity to defy him, after a while, he'll slow up. He will make things less bad; let some wounds heal.

Trump expects we will then all gush with gratitude and start to feel hopeful. That's when I expect Trump will launch his move to eliminate his enemies – the No. 1 target will be the pesky fourth estate – and consolidate his power. Sound familiar?

For the history-challenged among my readers, please know that what I'm describing is the classic dictator path. So, although I am coming to this point begrudgingly, I'm moving toward the idea that Trump's every move toward converting the USA's government into a strongman dictatorship must be resisted. Waiting for more proof of how utterly nefarious our sitting president's intentions are is foolhardy and probably dangerous.

On the surface, Trump's pick for the Supreme Court looks acceptable, if a decidedly conservative/throwback judge can be acceptable in 2017. Neil Gorsuch may very well be a decent, even fair-minded judge. But his appointment at this time is simply not legitimate, not in its context. Why?

It's a stolen appointment. What the Republicans in the Senate did to deny Obama's pick (Merrick Garland) for a year cannot be left to stand as a precedent for how vacancies on the court are filled.

Much as I don't like saying it, I have now come to believe Paul Krugman isn't exaggerating when he predicts that either our democracy, such as it has been for all of our lives, or Trump himself will be gone within a year. Scary?

Yes, but don't say it can't happen here. Krugman writes:
Anyone considering working for or with this White House — Senators, officials, businessmen — shouldn’t,” he concludes. “Either you’re going to go down with a disgraced president, or you’re going to be complicit in the death of democracy. Just say no.
 Click here to read more about Krugman's warning.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Swordfish on Spring Street

We called our first Biograph Theatre softball team the Swordfish, after a joke in a Marx Brothers movie. The lucky Swordfish won 15 games of the 17 we played in 1976. (We never had another season with such success.) Both of the Swordfish losses that summer came in unusual situations. The first was the championship game of one of the two tournaments we entered. The second was played inside the walls of the old state penitentiary.

Located at Belvidere and Spring Streets, the fortress prison loomed over the rocky falls of the James River for nearly 200 years. As it happened, the guy in charge of recreation at the pen frequented J.W. Rayle (located at Pine and Cary). During a conversation there he asked if my team would consider taking on the prison’s softball team on a Saturday afternoon.

Sure, why not? As it turned out, the first date set up was canceled, due to something about a small riot.

OK.

Nonetheless, a couple of weeks later the Swordfish entered the Big House. To get into the prison yard we had to go through a process, which included a cursory search. We had been told to bring nothing in our pockets.

As we worked our way through the ancient passageways, sets of bars were unlocked and then locked behind us. Each of us got a stamp on our hands that could only be seen under a special light. Someone asked what would happen if the ink got wiped off, inadvertently, during the game. He was told that was not a good idea.

OK.

The umpire for the games — Rayle played the prison team first, then the Biograph -- was Dennis “Dr. Death” Johnson, a rather high-profile Fan District character, at the time, who played on yet another team. Among other things, Johnson did some professional wrestling, so he was good as hamming up the umpire's role.

The fence in left field was the same high brick wall that ran along Belvidere Street. It was only about 230 to 240 feet from home plate. Yet, because of its height, maybe 30 feet, a lot of hard-hit balls caromed off of it. What would have been a routine fly ball on most fields was a home run there. It was a red brick version of Boston’s Green Monster.

The prison team, known as the Raiders, was quite good at launching softballs over that towering brick wall. They seemed to have an unlimited budget for softballs, too. Under the supervision of watchful guards, about a hundred other prisoners seated in stands cheered for the home team. Actually, they cheered the loudest for good plays in the field and sliding collisions on the base paths.

During a conversation with a couple of my teammates behind the backstop, I referred to the home team as “the prisoners.” Our opponents’ coach, who was within earshot, immediately stepped toward me. Like his teammates, he was wearing a typical softball uniform of that era with “Raiders” printed across the chest in a script and a number on the back.We wore Biograph T-shirts.

“Call us the Raiders,” he advised, sternly, as he pointed to an awkward-looking mural on the prison wall that said, “Home of the Raiders.” It looked like a jailhouse tattoo, blown up large. It was obvious, I had made a faux pas.

“While we are on this ballfield, we’re not the Prisoners,” he said with conviction. “We’re the Raiders.”

“Raiders,” I said. “Right.”

“And, all our games," he deadpanned, "are home games.”

We all laughed, grateful the tension had been broken. The Raiders coach patted me on the back and thanked us for agreeing to play them.

In a tight, high-scoring affair the Raiders prevailed. Johnson knew how to play to the crowd with his calls, too. Afterward, I was glad the Swordfish had met the Raiders. And, I was glad to leave them, too.

Located smack dab in the middle of Richmond that ancient prison was a perpetual nightmare in our midst. I bet most of the guys from the Biograph's first team, in 1976, still remember more details about their meeting with the Raiders than any of the other games we played that season.

-- 30 --