Sunday, October 31, 2010

The class I took at the Community Access TV station

It's been a few years. I used to sit in bed watching Community Access TV Saturday morning.

The Community Access TV station was in the back of a local high school--the one where all the rich kids go--so I would sit and watch the show the high school kids produced. It was short videos made as assignments for their video class.

In one episode, some kids made a short documentary about their friend taking a tennis class. They filmed him playing tennis. He kept missing the ball. He'd go pick it up. He'd miss it again. They interviewed the teacher.

"What is ______'s greatest strength as a tennis player?" they asked.

The teacher laughed. They kept the camera on him, so he finally stopped laughing and talked about the improvement the kid had made since the beginning of the term and that, with continued effort, he thought he could be a reasonably good player.

In another video, some kids interviewed students in the hallway about their feelings about Christmas. One kid gave a long interview that was very good. He sang, talked about his family and what they did on Christmas.

Another gave an interview that wasn't so good.

"What is the spirit of Christmas?"

"The spirit of Christmas is presents for all the little children," he said nervously. There was an awkward silence. He added, "Who don't have presents."

"Are there any seasonal dishes you like?"

"I like chicken."

"That's not very seasonal."

"Fried chicken," he said. And, after a long pause, "with seasoning."

I'm surprised the teacher let them leave that in.

One episode had some younger kids. They looked 13 or 14. One kid was interviewing a big burly kid.

"Tell us about your diseases," the interviewer says.

The kid says he has trouble with his tear ducts and has to use eye drops. And he has ADHD and takes Ritalin.

"Does it suck having ADHD, or do you not notice?" the kid asked.

The other kid didn't answer.

"Show us your Judo," the interviewer says.

They were on the grass. The kid shows him his Judo. Quickly knocks the interviewer down. He hits his head on the ground and writhes in pain for the rest of the video.

The Molechai and Zar Show

There was another show I liked. It came on in the evenings. It was two 12-year-old boys. Both seemed extremely bright. They had a movie review show, like Siskel & Ebert. But they reviewed almost nothing but R-rated horror movies.

They were discussing one movie. "What was your favorite killing, Zar?" Molechai asked.

Zar said he liked the one where a man's head was cut off by a sheet of glass. There was blood everywhere.

But the kids had some sense of moral outrage. One of them was incensed at a scene in a PG-rated comedy. "It should have been rated R!" he said. The movie had a scene where two women spy on a man changing his clothes. "They didn't show him or anything, but they spied on him while he was NAKED!"

I later talked to a guy who had worked as a cameraman on that show. The kids had gone to their parents wanting to do it. They became celebrities at their school for a few weeks before losing interest. Then the cameraman needed videotape so he recorded over the tapes of the show.

Less ambitious shows

The station would broadcast anything that wasn't legally obscene. There was one old timer, a Libertarian, who would sit and read pamphlets for an hour every week. His show had been on for years.

Another guy, a Christian, would set up his camera on a tripod and hang around in his living room without a shirt. He would walk around, eat dinner with the microphone close to his mouth, belch, and occasionally say something religious. He was very hostile toward other denominations, but it was never clear why or what he believed. In one episode, he held up his cat and started speaking in a falsetto cat voice. "Yes, master. I'm sorry, master." I'm probably making it sound more interesting than it was.

If you ever film a TV show in your living room, at least clean up the room.

The Documentary Video class

The only ads they had on Community Access TV were for the classes they offered. For a long, long time, I would sit there watching and I'd think, "I ought to take one of those." I thought that for a few years, then finally looked up their website and sent them an email.

The fellow emailed back. Just as soon as they had enough students they'd start another class. He told me the price, which I think was $65, plus the $10 to become a member of CTV.


After a few weeks the class was starting.

I went to the TV station.

The studio was in the back of the school, but I didn't get that vague feeling of dread I usually get when I go into a school.

There were a handful of people in the class. There was an older woman, a high school senior, a man who didn't like the idea of any private business enjoying any advantage as a result of the documentary. The teacher was openly hostile toward him and they were constantly fighting.

The guy teaching the class was named Larry. In his 50s. He rode a bike. I wasn't sure what to make of him. He produced, it seems like, almost half the shows on the station. He worked very fast. The talk shows were live-on-tape with no post-production. He worked very fast editing the stuff that did require post production. He used analog editing equipment rather than digital editing because he could do it faster.

I think the problem with the class was that Larry had a very simple formula for making these documentaries, but he didn't spell it out. We started out looking at clips of documentaries exemplifying verious techniques---looked at an MTV documentary and one by Ken Burns. He should have shown us videos made by previous classes.


Larry knew how to work quickly. The videos the documentary classes produced all seemed to follow the same formula.

You picked a subject that would give you something to videotape, some action or activity you could easily get footage of. And you picked a subject that had an expert you could interview. Then you'd interview your expert in the studio one day and you'd go and film on location another day. A little editing, and you had your movie.

That may seem obvious, but because he didn't spell it out and explain the formula to the class, people kept suggesting ideas that wouldn't work. Pretty much anythings that's not fiction is a documentary, so we were suggesting all kinds of crap.

Luckily, we had Sue there, who was very serious about it, had a subject in mind and did the work and made the arrangements. She was an excellent interviewer. She and Larry did nearly all the work.

The filming

First we had a fellow come in to be interviewed. He was manager of a glass recycler. The only place that recycled window glass.

I operated one of the cameras.

There were two camera filming. We had to each keep an eye on the monitor to keep track of what the other was doing. If one of us was filming a close-up, the other needed to do a two shot.

The interview went fast, but was for naught. We screwed up the sound.

That's okay, Larry said. We'd just have to interview him again when we got on location.

On location

We went to the place where the recycling was done. We walked around. Sue interviewed the manager. He showed us the broken glass that came in, the pellets they made out of it. He showed us the molds he used.

Larry and Sue were doing that while I hung around with David, the high school kid, and tried to stay out of the picture.

After they were done filming, they handed the camcorder to me. I could get some other shots.

I filmed some lovely close-ups of the glass objects they produced. Glass trophies and awards, decorative items, knobs for cupboards and drawers. David did some filming, too. He was more energetic than me, walking along doing tracking shots of the glass.

I wasn't able to be there the day they went back for more filming. They went back and taped the actual glass work, pouring the molten glass into molds, then letting it cool.

Final result

For the final class, we edited it very quickly. It would have gone faster if Larry had ignored us. But he listened to our helpful suggestions. Sue dubbed the narration she wrote. Added some music.

The final result wasn't bad.

There were going to give us each a DVD of it, but I never got mine. I did see it on TV a couple of times though.

My big contribution:

For the opening shot, Larry wanted it to start zoomed in on some detail on the building, then zoom out to show the whole building, but there was nothing interesting to zoom in on.

"What about those pigeons?" I said.

He zoomed in on the pigeons, zoomed out to show the whole building, then zoomed in on the sign that served as the title.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tony Danza, Sarah Palin, Levi Johnston

I shouldn't admit this. I saw some of Teach, Tony Danza's reality show. I stumbled upon the last few minutes of the episode.

Tony Danza walks down the hall. Waiting outside the office stands a lovely girl with a black eye. She had gotten into a fight. He tells her that he was on a show called Who's The Boss and there was an episode where he has to move because his daughter got into a fight.

Later, the lady vice principal was picking on a child for wearing the wrong color shoes with his school uniform, so the kid cleverly handed her a dog biscuit. The rest of the staff grudgingly admires the youngster, but Tony Danza calls him over. Dictates an apology the kid writes down.

"I'm sorry I made you feel bad..."

"Now, write 'Best Regards' and sign your name."

He tells the kid to drop it off with the secretary.

But why ARE they wearing unforms?

According to another blog, when the school suddenly adopted their terrible-looking uniforms, Danza told the class that he wore the same clothes to work every day---he had five identical shirts and pairs of pants he wore each day.

Obviously, he does that for the show, so they can edit together footage they shot on different days.

And that's probably the reason they're made the kids shell out a fortune for uniforms and why they're threatening to kick kids out for failing to wear the black shoes the principal selected for them. If there are a thousand kids in that school and they each paid $100 for a couple of uniforms, that's a hundred grand they paid for the benefit of Danza's TV show.

Sarah Palin, Levi Johnston

I heard that Sarah Palin's teen nemesis, Levi Johnston, was trying to get a reality show. Johnston is the father of Palin's daughter's baby.

I am reminded of the words of William S Burroughs in the film "Towers Open Fire":
"I hate to see a bright young man fuck up and get off on the wrong track. Sure, it happens to all of us, one time or another...."
Levi Johnston was a teenager, only 19, in a public feud with Palin, a major political figure. And he was playing his cards a lot better than she was.

On a morning talk show, he revealed some rather vile things about her, like the "funny" way she kept referring to her baby who has Down Syndrome. And he said there was a lot more he could tell, but he was saving it in case she wanted to attack him again.

I hate to see the boy squander the advantages he gained from posing in Playgirl by degrading himself with a reality TV show.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sarah Palin, Reality TV

Sarah Palin has a reality TV show.

I just saw Chris Matthews argue it was a smart move on her part.

"RONALD REAGAN WAS ON DEATH VALLEY DAYS," he said. He was speaking normally, but it was as if a normal person were shouting.

So far, I haven't heard of reality television being anyone's ticket to success.

There was Danny Bonaduce's reality show. Shirley Jones called him and asked him what he was doing.

"Shirley, it's a paycheck," he said.

"It's the last paycheck you'll ever get," she told him.

Balloon Boy's father

Would-be reality TV star Richard Heene is marketing a back scratching device. It's sort of a wood thing that you're supposed to install in your living room so you can scratch your back like bears do in the wild.

For Balloon Boy's sake, I hope it's a success.

Tony Danza

It turns out Tony Danza was the smart one.

But his reality show, Teach, has been canceled. Probably just as well.

It seems that, before he became a boxer and then an actor, Danza got a degree in education. He planned on teaching high school.

He got his chance on this reality show. He goes to work as a high school English teacher.

The kids have no idea who he is.

"I think he was on Cheers," one of them says.

A kid does recognize him in the office.

The class has a couple of kids with learning disabilities as well as really smart kid. A girl cries when she does badly on a test. She takes off while Tony is getting her a kleenex. Tony violates state law by not allowing learning disabled kids to take their tests in the resource room. The smart kid is worried that he's wasting his time in that class even though he gets to be on TV.

The trouble with the show is that the kids don't know who he is and he won't tell them. He should have been regaling the class with stories about his time on Supertrain, or Canonball Run II.

There was Frank McCourt's book, Teacher Man. Publicizing the book, he told one story. Students tried to distract him, get him talking about something else, so they won't have to work.

"Are you from Scotland?"

"I'm not Scotch. I'm Irish."

"What's Irish?"

So, it goes on, a discussion of Irish life and culture.

"So, did you go out with girls in Ireland," one of them asks.

"No. Sheep. Damn it. We went out with sheep. What do you think."

Wouldn't the young people have been interested in hearing about Danza's time co-starring with orangutans in Going Ape? Wouldn't they want to know what Gavin McLeod was really like on the set of The Love Boat?

Instead they're stuck in a class with a 60-year-old teacher working his very first normal job 40 years after getting his degree.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Juan Williams stinks

Good riddance to bad rubbish

From Stan Cox:

NPR should have fired Juan Williams not last Wednesday but nine years ago. The cause for dismissal should have been this radio commentary that I recall hearing him deliver as I was driving through Salina, Kansas on September 14, 2001:
He said in part,

“This week, Neil Livingston[e], an anti-terrorism expert, told me there is only one meaningful response to terrorism. That is to absolutely extinguish the terrorist. That means using nuclear weapons on terrorists in any country that harbors them . . . Despite my non-violent instincts, I found myself reluctantly agreeing with Neil.”

Williams noted that soon after he drew that radioactive conclusion, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, got him to reconsider it “for a little while.” But then, he said, “I went back to Livingston’s camp” because “these are unreasonable times.”


...By dumping him in 2001 when he should have been dumped, NPR could have reduced somewhat its output of bland conventional wisdom—a variety of verbiage that sounds especially irritating when rolling off the tongue of a fanatic.

And from Dedrick Muhammad and Barbara Ehrenreich in August, 2009:
Just last month on NPR, commentator Juan Williams dismissed the NAACP by saying that more up-to-date and relevant groups focus on "people who have taken advantage of integration and opportunities for education, employment, versus those who seem caught in generational cycles of poverty," which he went on to characterize by drug use and crime. The fact that there is an ongoing recession disproportionately affecting the African American middle class - and brought on by Wall Street greed rather than "ghetto" values - seems to have eluded him.

And a from Ishmael Reed in 2008:
Blaming black men exclusively for the abuses against women is a more profitable infotainment product. Hypocrisy is also involved. MSNBC host, Joe Scarborough, who welcomed Juan William’s latest demagogic attack on blacks, printed in The Wall Street Journal , still hasn’t addressed the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of his staffer, Lori Klaustis who was found dead on the floor of his office or why he had to resign abruptly from Congress. And is Juan Williams, whose career has been marred by repeated sexual harassment complaints against him really one to criticize the personal morality of others?

Juan Williams, sexually harassment

In the early 1990s, Juan Williams worked at The Washington Post where it seems Williams had been sexually harassing female coworkers:

Jo Ellen Murphy, art director of the Weekend section, said that "he was obsessed with my sex life and that's all he wanted to talk to me about . . . . I raised my voice at him and said, 'Just don't talk to me again.' "

After Williams made some "hostile remarks" in late September, Murphy said, a male co-worker reported it to an editor, which triggered the personnel inquiry.

Nancy McKeon, the magazine's features editor, said she told Williams that "you've got a little problem here" after she complained about a sexual remark he made to her. Karen Tanaka, an assistant photo editor, said Williams had been "nothing but nasty to me." Deborah Needleman, the magazine's photo editor, said that when she objected to Williams's "demeaning" comments, he said: "What's wrong with a little flirting?"

Williams was under investigation for sexual harassment, but the Editorial Page Editor Meg Greenfield wasn't informed of this. So she ran Williams' column defending and supporting Clarence Thomas, chortling over the charges Anita Hill made against him, unaware that Williams was himself a pervert.

The disclosure came five days after a Williams column on The Post's op-ed page in which he said that Anita Hill had "no credible evidence" for her allegations of sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, but that Hill was "prompted" to make her charges by Democratic Senate staffers. The Post's personnel inquiry had begun more than two weeks earlier, but the column angered many women in the newsroom, and several came forward to say that they had also had problems with Williams. Post editors say they decided to make a public statement after WRC-TV aired a report on the controversy.

Williams returned to the newsroom Monday after working away from the office for two weeks, and the controversy seemed to have died down. But emotions began running high again Wednesday when Williams was quoted in USA Today as saying the complaints stemmed from "my attempts at being friendly" and saying "Hi. How are you? . . . Hey, did you have a date? How was your weekend?" He also said The Post had "said basically, 'Come back to work. We're sorry this happened.' "

A letter to Downie signed by 116 newsroom employees yesterday said: "We feel Juan's unrefuted false statements to the national media continue to cause anguish and professional harm to the women involved. They have also left many people inside and outside The Post with the impression that either the complaints were not serious or were not taken seriously . . . . The Post has an obligation to set the record straight by refuting such comments."

After this, Williams was forced to sit in an isolated part of the office where he could be watched at all times.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Randy Quaid

What the hell's wrong with Randy Quaid?

He seemed like a rather appealing actor. Now he and his wife are a couple of nuts. They've made a hobby out of running up massive hotel bills--five or ten thousand dollars or more--and running out without paying. Most recently they were arrested for breaking into and living in the guest house of a home they sold several years ago. They allegedly cause $5,000 in damage, then they missed their court date. They were arrested in Canada. During their arraignment before the immigration board, they wrote a note which their lawyer read to the cameras: “Yes, we are requesting asylum from Hollywood STAR WACKERS” [sic].

The Quaids claim their lives are in danger. Stars are being murdered. Among them, Keith Ledger and David Carradine.

Carradine died in Thailand. So what makes them think they'd be safe in Canada?

Here's a quote from ABC News quoting and paraphrasing People magazine:
"Friends believe the Quaids' downward spin began after a dispute with the Actors' Equity Association," reported People. At the time, Quaid was starring in the musical "Lone Star Love" in Seattle.

"In October 2007, 23 AEA members filed complaints with the organization, claiming Randy was exhibiting oddball behavior and missing rehearsals. He was subsequently banned from the organization," reported People.

The article noted that the couple had hired Becky Altringer, a private investigator to investigate the actors who made complaints about them. Altringer told People, "After that, [Evi] flipped. That's when she started saying everyone was against them, and now she's saying I'm against them." Altringer is reportedly suing the couple for breach of contract to recoup $19,000 she says she's owed.
It doesn't explain what the hell was wrong with him getting kicked out of Actors' Equity in the first place.

The article quotes a psychiatrist, but he doesn't offer much of a diagnosis either. Suggests they're just spoiled rich people:
"It amounts to pretending that something distressing doesn't exist, otherwise called denial," said Paul S. Appelbaum, a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry, medicine and law at Columbia University. "At some level, most people will register that the summons to appear in court is for them, but it's what the mind does with that information that's important."

Appelbaum noted that peer groups can influence how people respond to court dates by saying, "Oh, you don't have to go." And, in some cases, he said, all you need for a peer group is one person, who can be your spouse or other intimate.

Another factor that can create a no-show mindset is how much they once got away with. "People who are talented, smart or athletically gifted are often allowed to avoid unpleasant realities," said Appelbaum, noting it might be something as simple as being excused from chores because you're in a school play.
"Once you feel entitled, it's very hard to think of yourself as unentitled, even if you're not in demand or fielding phone calls," said Jim Cohen, a professor of criminal law at Fordham Law School whose expertise is psychology and criminal law. "People who consider themselves entitled are not happy being told what to do."
Well, not much insight there. These may be the types who make careers out of testifying that clearly insane defendants are perfectly normal and should be executed.

Of course, I have no insight either.

Dustin Diamond once again

I saw that Dustin Diamond and Andy Dick are the big stars in a low budget movie, Tetherball, being made in Michigan. I'm all for movie production outside of Hollywood. But----why is Dustin Diamond in it?

If straight-to-video movies had existed in the 1970s, maybe the cast from The Brady Bunch would have had more of a career. I remember seeing Greg Brady in a Shasta commercial. "What are we drinking, m'lord," he said in an English accent.

Barry Williams 1977 Shasta commercial

Of course, Jan Brady went on to play a teenage runaway in a made-for-TV movie. In one scene, she talks with a prostitute who mentions a time when she was pregnant.

"I didn't know you had a baby!" Jan enthuses.

"I said I was pregnant, stupid," the prostitute sneers. "I didn't say I had a baby."

Marcia also played a teen prostitute in an episode of The Streets of San Francisco.

Mr Brady played an obscene phone caller who gets psychiatric help in a made-for-TV movie, he played a transsexual on a two part episode of Medical Center, he was in a made-for-TV answer to Star 80, and he played a cop who is very tolerant of his prostitute neighbors in a TV mini-series.

Florence Henderson---I don't know what she's done, but, in her talk show appearances, it always takes about two seconds before she starts talking about sex.

Bobby is an assistant cameraman.

Cindy does electronic music. One of her compositions was used in a pornographic movie, but she had no contact or connection with them.

Ann B Davis pretty much left acting and joined an Episcopal community.

Shows kids like and adults can't stand

Looking at Saved By The Bell and The Facts of Life, I now understand all the adults who couldn't stomach The Brady Bunch and some of the other crap I watched back in my day. I can still sit through an episode of the Brady Bunch if I have to. And, twenty years ago, if I had made a really cheap movie and needed a "big star" in it, I probably would have hired one of the Brady Bunch or one of the castaways from Gilligan's Island.

But I still can't understand why these people keep hiring Dustin Diamond. He's been in several extremely cheap comedies that went straight to video. He's like the John Carradine of really low budget comedy. But looking at his final years as an adult on Saved By The Bell, I can't imagine why anyone would want him.

On top of that, you have his appearances on "reality" TV shows. He seemed like he would be rather difficult to work with, antagonizing other cast members, constantly threatening to call his lawyer and so forth.

Well, maybe that's how they got him so cheap. It sounds like he and Andy Dick are filming their scenes in one day each.

I wish people would just let his career die. Quit giving him false hope so he'll get on with it and do something with his life, like become a dishwasher or a parking lot attendant.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It turns out Casablanca stunk. And something about Woody Allen

Okay, so, you have this movie, Casablanca. A "classic".

It turns out to be a myth that Ronald Reagan was once slated to star in it, but even if it were true, so what.

John Baxter, in his excellent biography of Woody Allen, pointed out that it was only after Allen's
Play It Again, Sam that Casablanca started appearing on lists of the "ten greatest movies of all time."

I've never been able to sit through the thing.

I felt somewhat vindicated by this article by David Macaray which appeared on the Counterpunch website:

...for all the adoration and praise this movie has received, has anyone actually examined its plot? Has anyone asked themselves what this movie is really about? Because, if they had, they’d realize the movie’s central premise is patently absurd.

Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid) is portrayed as the Nazi’s uber-nemesis. He’s the Czech leader of the European Resistance, an escapee from a concentration camp, a man the Third Reich has been chasing all over the world. As fate would have it, Laszlo, his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), Ilsa’s former lover (Humphrey Bogart), and a contingent of Nazis all wind up in Casablanca, Morocco.

In an early scene, the ranking German officer, Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), confesses to the city’s corrupt chief of police, Captain Renault (Claude Rains), that Lazlo has already “slipped through our fingers three times.” The Nazis fear Laszlo because, as the charismatic leader of the Underground with a huge and loyal following, he represents a clear threat to the Reich.

And yet, confoundingly—with the stakes high and the stage immaculately set—we see Laszlo walking leisurely around the city of Casablanca, arm and arm with his wife, spending his evenings at Rick’s CafĂ© Americain (Rick, of course, is Bogart), with the Nazis fully cognizant of his whereabouts, yet making no effort to grab him.

The Nazis didn't want to violate anyone's rights.

...we’re supposed to believe that if Laszlo can somehow obtain two “letters of transit” which are floating mysteriously around the city, he and his wife will be able to leave Casablanca unmolested, with the Nazis powerless to stop them. Why? Because these documents bear the signature of Charles De Gaulle, Free France’s president-in-exile.

More preposterously, these “letters” aren’t even made out in Laszlo’s name. They’re blank. They’re a one-size-fits-all document with the power of a diplomatic “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

Even accepting the notion of a “talismanic” letter, why wouldn’t the Nazis simply scoop up Laszlo before he obtained it?...

In reality, Macaray says, the Nazis would have simply killed him. There was nothing to stop them.

The article ends with a quote from Julius J. Epstein, co-writer on the movie:

“It was just a routine assignment. Frankly, I can't understand its staying power. If it were made today, line for line, each performance as good, it'd be laughed off the screen. It's such a phony picture. Not a word of truth in it. It's camp, it’s kitsch. It's shit!”

Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam

It started out as a play. Allen starred in it on stage. He wasn't trained as a stage actor and had to drink milkshakes all the time to sooth his voice. He wasn't used to projecting.

Bob Denver, TV's Gilligan, replaced Allen when he left.

When they made the play into a movie, Allen didn't want to direct. He had directed a couple of movies already, but they were just a series of gags without a strong plot. He didn't know if he could do something with a beginning, a middle and an end.

That seemed to be a theme in Baxter's biography of Allen. His early works were nothing but a string of gags, which is actually fine. I saw an interview with Jacques Tati in which he praised Allen's movies. Allen was stunned when, early in his career as a playwright, someone told him his play was too funny---it had too many jokes.

He saw the lack of a strong storyline as a weakness and has spent his career trying to correct it. But the truth is that his "earlier, funnier movies" were better cinematically.

Ray Carney has pointed out that, at least in Allen's "serious" movies, "Allen's characters' doubts, hesitations, fears are verbally articulatable (which is why his films are almost completely comprehensible from their written screenplays)." (

On the other hand, you have Allen's "funny" movies, the ones that are a series of gags. The thing is that they work as movies but it would be almost impossible to write a synopsis of one. Try to imagine a novelization of Bananas. They work only as movies. They can't be translated into any other narrative form.

Friday, October 22, 2010

3 minute scenes

So is this true, that TV shows are supposed to be a series of three-minute scenes?

I found it on a website that had advice on how to write a script. Three minute scenes.

I saw a guy on TV. He worked on the show Baywatch in some capacity and wrote the script to one episode. People were impressed by this, but he said, "It's just a series of three minute scenes. I can write a three minute scene."

So early one morning, I turned on TVLand.

"What the---" I said.

An episode of Hunter, the old Reagan-era cop show, was on. All the scenes were almost exactly 90 seconds long.

"Maybe this three minute thing was all hooey," I thought.

Then Gunsmoke came on. An intellectual comes to Dodge City to spread high culture. He turns out to be a Confederate war criminal. Doc defends him for some reason.

"He's trying to make amends by doing something good!"

All the scenes were three minutes long. But they were each two 90 second scenes put together. You'd have 90 seconds of people doing or talking about one thing, then one person would leave and another would come in and they'd do something else for 90 seconds.

Scenes filmed in one shot

There was an episode of Barnaby Jones where every scene was filmed in one take. It would start with a master shot, but instead of cutting to a medium shot, the camera would slowly zoom in to a medium shot of two of the people. Then it would slowly zoom out. Then it would slowly zoom in on another actor.

On an episode of Vegas, they did every scene in one shot as much as possible. They did break up a fight scene into two shots, and there was a scene in a cramped office where they had little choice but to cut back and forth between the two actors.

I've read stuff about movies, like those of Joseph Lewis, where scenes are often done in one shot, and there was the cast of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope who talked about how much pressure they were under, having to do such long scenes in one take without screwing it up, but Buddy Ebsen and Robert Urich did it all the time.

Then there was the time I watched a two minute long student film. It had taken the young fellow six months to edit. Shot on film. He was practicing his montage, filmed in short takes. It all took place in one room. If he had filmed it in one shot, he could have made his movie in two minutes instead of six months, although it wouldn't have been very good practice for him.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Juan Williams, NPR

I don't know what Juan Williams was doing on NPR in the first place.

Not that NPR is so great.

Good riddance to him.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bail set for Michael Enright

The judge has set bail for Michel Enright, the drunken racist film school student who tried to murder a New York City cab driver because he was Muslim.

Bail has been set at half a million dollars, so the guy may not get out of jail anyway.

Enright had returned from Afghanistan where he was making a documentary about U.S. troops.

His lawyer is planning to argue that he has post-traumatic stress disorder. But when he was arrested, he carried a notebook describing his experiences in Afghanistan which, prosectors argued, show that he didn't witness combat or anything else that was likely to cause PTSD.

The cab driver, on the other hand, is suffering from nightmares and can only sleep two or three hours a night.

Enright, got in his cab, greeted him in Arabic, asked if he was a Muslim, then shouted, "Consider this a checkpoint" and tried to slash his throat.

When he was arrested, Enright told police that he was a "patriot" and said he had been defending himself because the cab driver tried to rob him. Prosecutors are claiming that this shows Enright had the presence of mind to try to deflect blame and are using this to counter the defense's claim that Enright was "out of it", either drunk or temporarily insane, when he talked to police.

Which shows that's it's always a good idea to shut up and ask for a lawyer when you're arrested.

Well, what do I know. Maybe Enright does have PTSD or was temporarily insane. Maybe he went off to make a documentary about his friend in Afghanistan and came back a psychological wreck. There's no reason to think he was insane, but if he was, there's no reason to insist that he wasn't.

The good thing about insanity

Victims can be better off if their attackers are found to be insane.

There was the case here. A frat-boy at the university had some mental problems. He broke into a gun store, stole an assault rifle, then climbed over the fence into the football stadium and started shooting. He killed a jogger--an Olympic athlete--running past. He shot and wounded a member of the wrestling team. Then he committed suicide.

Here's the thing. The widow of the man who was killed filed a claim against the homeowner's insurance of the killer's parents. In order to collect, she had to prove that the murder was not an "intentional act"---that he was insane when he did it.

The insurance company argued that he wasn't insane, just suicidal. He started shooting at people because he wanted the police to come and kill him.

Well, the jury decided he was insane, and the widow and her child collected damages.

More recently, we had the case of a pitiful high school kid. He was an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. He was expelled from school, so he murdered his parents. The next morning, the 15-year-old drove a car by himself for the first. He went to school with a .22 caliber rifle and opened fire in the cafeteria. He killed a couple of kids and wounded several more before being subdued by students.

As he sat in jail awaiting trial, they started giving him anti-psychotic medication. But the prosecutors still argued he was completely sane. They sent him to prison and saved his late parents' homeowner's insurance a fortune while the victims stupidly celebrated outside the courthouse.

I can understand it. I've had minor run-ins with belligerent, potentially violent mentally ill people and didn't come out feeling sympathy for them. But the D.A. in that case just cost them a fortune.

Friday, October 15, 2010

One more thing about Bell Diamond

"... with a story developed by the filmmaker and cast and completely improvised, the film deals with characters who are neither articulate nor particularly attractive, but pays them the kind of respect and attention that they would never receive from other quarters. Visually Jost's most impressive work to date. The impact of the film's original form of realism arrives only gradually, but once it registers, it becomes indelible."

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

"Among the ten best of the year. Formally exquisite and politically pointed study of an alienated Vietnam vet against the background of a bankrupted mining town."

- Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune

I wrote about Bell Diamond in two earlier posts, but it's been over twenty years since I watched it, and I was unprepared for it when I saw it.

I had no clue what it was about when I went to see it. I thought it would be less serious. Something somewhere between Paul Morissey and John Waters, although I'm not sure I had seen movies by either of those guys at that point.

But here is a link to a site that's more informative:

(This stills above came from that site.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ryan Reynolds, Fifteen

There's this actor named Ryan Reynolds. I guess he's been in a lot of things lately. But the only thing I've seen him in was Fifteen, a "teenage soap opera" on Nickelodeon. I don't know who it was aimed at. It was the least operatic soap opera I've seen. It was just terrible. A weekly series. Like Saved By The Bell but without all that high brow gobbledygook.

The episode that stands out in my mind is the one where one of the kids has to go to a treatment center because he's an alcoholic. We know he's an alcoholic because he tells his friends that he's going to a treatment center because he's an alcoholic. We don't see him drunk or drinking. He shows no sign of alcoholism. He doesn't even talk about drinking. He just says he's an alcoholic now. And he has to go to a treatment center.

Let me see. The only thing I remember with Ryan Reynolds was when he said, "Go ahead! Hit me! If it will make you feel like a big man!"

He said that to another kid. There were no adults on the show.

Oh. Here's a quote from Reynolds about it, on how he started acting:
I started when I was 13 years old. I did a really horrible soap opera called Fifteen for Nickelodeon that stoned college kids kept on the air for three years. And then the first movie I did was in Sri Lanka when I was 14. I spent three months there. I was there without my parents working on a movie in a country that was in the midst of a civil war.
Well, knowing that stoned college kids were key to its success makes me less embarrassed about having seen it.

The only other kid from that show I recognized was one who went on to appear in a made-for-TV movie about Amy Fisher.

According to, a few others from that show have gone on to successful careers, but for most of them, it's their only credit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cartman, South Park, The Big Valley, TV violence

I'm watching the NASCAR episode of South Park.

How many people has Cartman killed on this show?

Years ago, my friends and I started watching old episodes of The Big Valley which came on every night. Maybe if we had watched it every week as originally intended it wouldn't have bothered me, but the show was about this wealthy, respectable family---Miss Barbara Stanwyck was supposed to be so stinkin' high class. But she was completely untroubled that her sons carried guns everywhere they went and kept killing people. The killings were all justifiable, but you'd think she'd be somewhat troubled by them.

Then there are the old cop movies and TV shows from the '70s. They were bringing in gritty realism and getting rid of the old surreal, bloodless cartoon-like violence where police were constantly getting into shootouts and freely killing people. But it was the changing of the guard. The old guy is there. The new guy comes in. And for a moment the two are there at the same time.

So you had movies like They Call Me Mr Tibbs. Sydney Poitier runs around killing people at work, then, in the interest of realism, we see him go home to his nagging wife. He doesn't see fit to mention the people he killed that day. He has trouble dealing with his son. I kept expecting him to tell the kid, "Now, honey, Daddy killed some men today and is very tired."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Some movies I'd like to see

These are some things I've read about over the years that I'd like to see.

Silent movies made for Chinese-American audiences in the 1950s

There was someone who reported in the 1950's that, in Chinatown in San Francisco, there were locally produced silent movies in 16mm color being shown to local audiences. That's all I know about them. I haven't read anything about them anywhere else.

Pre-1970 silent Siamese movies

As I understand it, Thailand's capacity to produce sound movies was wiped out in the war. Francois Truffaut mentioned this to Alfred Hitchcock---that, in Thailand, theaters would show movies without sound with a narrator explaining the action. Truffaut and Hitchcock were discussing how a long stretch of Psycho was without dialog. Until the late '60s, the Thai movie industry produced silent movies in 16mm. The popularity of Indian musicals got them to upgrade to color 35mm.

Silent movies from Burma in the 1970s

I read this in a book published in the mid-'70s, that there were a couple of movie studios in Burma that produced silent movies. I doubt they still do. I imagine they were shown in theaters with narrators, but I don't know.

Nigerian video movies

I found a bunch of Nigerian movie posters on the internet. And I've watched a documentary about the thriving Nigerian movie industry. The movies probably aren't as interesting as I imagine.

Glen Pitre's early Cajun films

Before he directed Belizaire the Cajun, Glen Pitre directed low budget Cajun-language costume dramas in Louisiana, described on one website as "gumbo westerns". None seem to be available. I've found stuff on the internet that says he made these movies, but they don't say anything about them, what the titles are or anything else. Not even on Internet Movie Database. Maybe they weren't any good, but I'd like to watch them anyway.

Oh---maybe I found them!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jon Jost, Bell Diamond, again

I found a review of Bell Diamond on the New York Times website.

From the review by Vincent Canby:

...''Bell Diamond,'' the newest film by Jon Jost, described by the New Directors/New Films festival program notes as ''probably this country's most unseen film maker,'' which is possible, though even that sounds like hyperbole. The notes also praise the film's ''democratic respect for the extraordinariness of the ordinary'' and calls it ''the most public and touching work of a profoundly political film maker.''

I report these appraisals as if I had a gun pointed at my head. Movies as earnestly unconventional and aggressively boring as Jon Jost's ''Bell Diamond'' put the members of the audience on the defensive. It's supposed to be boring, and we're supposed to see beyond the boredom to the truth beyond. I can't, possibly because it's all too accessible.

I'm---well, I'm not glad, but I feel like less of a jerk knowing that Vincent Canby was bored, too.

I have liked Jost's other movies, especially Sure Fire. I suspect that if I saw Bell Diamond again, my expectations and my reaction would be different.

The thing I've never understood is film students. I've tried to discuss Jost's work with some of them. This was back in the days before digital video. Making a movie for very little money was more of a novelty back then.

But none of them were interested. I don't know how many I talked to, and maybe I shouldn't extrapolate, but they all seemed to want to be directors, but only if they could do it in Hollywood.

It made me wonder what they really wanted.

The young fellows of the French New Wave baffled Americans with their admiration for Hollywood B movies. I assumed, as others have, that they wanted to make movies themselves and realized that, to do so, they were going to have to work on very small budgets. They looked to low budget movies for inspiration.

But these film students didn't have the slightest interest. Or at least no interest in talking to me about it. For them it was all or nothing. They would be Steven Spielberg or nothing. And I don't mean an early, younger, less successful Steven Spielberg. They wanted to be full-blown, middle-aged Steven Spielbergs.

It seems like a good idea. You go to the university, you study to be a director and you presumably do some stuff after that in hopes of being a director. It would be nice to have something to show for it even if it's a very, very low budget feature. Just something more than a student film.

At that time, there was a wave of very creative film students at the University of Oregon. It was one of them who arranged for Jon Jost's movies to be shown there.

They also started weekly showings of student films which was interesting. In those days, they were working mainly in Super 8. The films were transferred to video and shown on a video projector.

There were a few that were pretty good. One was about a young fellow who carried a battery powered portable TV with him everywhere. He's completely consumed with television. I just remember one line from it:

"I met a woman. A good, television woman."

The kid who starred in it used a Super 8 sound camera and made a long short film, a narrative film, about the alcoholism and drug addiction. It was pretty good. It was sponsored in part by the drug and alcoholism treatment center where I worked. I can't remember the kid's name. I know he moved to San Francisco after that, but I don't know what became of him.

He called for people to help work on that movie. I was going to volunteer, but I chickened out. I wouldn't have been much help to him anyway.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The time I went to a filmmaking seminar with Jon Jost

Sherman's March, Bell Diamond

I don't remember if it was the workshop or the seminar.

In 1986, I attended the world premiere of Jon Jost's movie Bell Diamond at the University of Oregon. If I remember right, it was the first showing outside of the town where it was filmed. There had been a John Jost film festival. Every weekend for a few weeks, they showed Jon Jost movies. I hadn't been able to go to any. I just went to the last one.

That was just a few days after I had seen the documentary, Sherman's March, at Cinema 7, the local art theater at the time. I had been reading a lot about movie-making and the shockingly high cost of production. Then I saw Sherman's March, filmed in much the same way as Jost's films---by a fellow with a movie camera on one shoulder and a tape recorder on the other and not much else.

I had sat there in the theater thinking that it looked fine to me. Maybe you don't have to spend a fortune to make a movie after all.

So I was interested in seeing Bell Diamond. It was made for around $6,000, although, when asked about it, Jost gave a higher figure which included the value of the of the unpaid actors and his own work.

I was interested in seeing the movie, and I wanted to see Jost who was there and was going to speak at the end. But I went to this one having no idea what to expect. I hadn't seen his other movies and I didn't know what it would be like. There were a couple of very good scenes that stood out in my mind. I suspect that if I saw it again, my reaction would be different--I've liked Jost's movies I've seen since then--but I found it incredibly boring. It seemed to go on for hours and hours.

The movie was about a Vietnam veteran whose wife leaves him because he was rendered sterile, by exposure to Agent Orange.

There was one shot that went on for several minutes. The shot started with a painting. We could see the entire painting. As the shot progresses, the camera zooms out very, very slowly. When the shot ends, the camera has zoomed out enough that we can also see the picture frame. There's a conversation going on as we watch this.

Several people walked out. I thought it was rude since the filmmaker was sitting in the back of the room. I still wanted to see him. I sat there. My body hurt. My muscles were aching. I've never suffered physical effects of boredom before.

When the movie ended, the lights came on and Jon Jost, white haired, came trotting down to the front of the room. He discussed his belief, which I mentioned elsewhere in this blog, that Hollywood movies were brutalizing, making people feel bad about their own lives. They sit in a theater watching people who are better looking, richer and more powerful than they are.

There were a lot of film students there. They seemed very enthusiastic.

One thing about Jon Jost is that he laughs a lot. So the film student were laughing, too, as they asked their questions.

There was one shot where the camera looks over the edge of a building. A film student noted that the movement wasn't completely smooth and, at first, he thought this was a subjective shot from the point of view of one of the characters. Jost laughed that next time he would pay $200 a day to rent a steadicam.

Another person noted that a clock in the kitchen where the movie was filmed stopped working after the first scene. Did this symbolize how the character's life had come to a halt when his wife left? No, the clock broke. He had hoped no one would notice.

One person asked about the long takes. The scenes were all shot in long takes. Jost replied that he happened to like long takes and that he was working with non-actors who had little concept of film continuity. He pointed out a continuity error. When they cut to a close up of a guy smoking, the cigarette was suddenly much shorter.

Okay---but then....

The anarchist

There was an old anarchist in the crowd. Keep in mind that this was 1986. Anarchists are everywhere now, but they were a rare breed in those days. The anarchist in this case was in his 50s. He would attend meetings of local radical political groups and, being an anarchist, call on them to disband as soon as they had served their immediate purpose.

Jost had said that he considered the film a success. The anarchist asked what he based that on.

Jost replied that he was in the back of the room watching and only ten people walked out during the movie. And it was a free showing. There was nothing keeping anyone there.

The anarchist said that he found himself falling asleep. He added that he was trying to be positive. He wasn't trying to tear Jost down.

Jost laughed. The film students laughed, too.

The anarchist seemed slightly annoyed. He stayed another few minutes and left.

But, anyway, the person who had organized the Jon Jost festival asked Jost if he could stay and put on a workshop and a seminar on extreme-low-budget filmmaking the next day and said he would pull together the money to pay him.

The seminar. Or the workshop.

I had to work that day. I couldn't attend the workshop that went on for several hours. I did, however, attend the seminar. Or I missed the seminar and went to the workshop. I'm not sure which was which.

Jost sat at the head of a table. It was a small room and was fairly crowded. Someone went out and brought back some beer.

Jost discussed movie lighting---how Hollywood would spend a fortune to blot out all existing light so they could artifically light a scene. He mentioned how, in the movies, there was always enough light from the dashboard to illuminate the actors riding in cars. He also discussed financing a movie applying for grants. Some people wanted detailed budgets, but no one does a detailed budget on a $6,000 movie. He used a Sony Walkman Professional which cost about the same as a day's rental for a Nagra recorder.

Video 8

Remember, this was 1986. We didn't even have Hi8 yet, or digital video. We had VHS and 8mm. Sony had just given up on Beta.

Jost said that, if he were starting out in movie-making at that point, he wouldn't use film. He would use 8mm video.

The 8mm camcorders were the first to come with flying eraser heads. This made for clean cuts between shots. Before that, there would be a big glitch on the videotape between each shot.

He said he would film the movie in sequence. If you had to shoot a retake, rewind and record over the bad shot. Do all the editing in camera. And when you're done, just push eject and there it is---he held up his hand like he was holding a cassette tape---your finished movie, a $10 cassette. If you want to add music, transfer it to one inch tape so you won't lose quality.

Someone said something about a tape-to-film transfer, but Jost said there was no need. Just view it on video tape.

The film students were aghast. Back in those days, the idea of a direct-to-video movie was entirely alien. Everyone wanted a theatrical release.

"If it's your first movie, it probably won't be any good anyway," Jost assured them.

And, well, he was probably right.

But he did warn about one problem with video. The tape was practically free. It meant you might shoot too much footage and have it come out boring----and he mentioned the anarchist who had said he was bored the night before.

"It probably won't be any good anyway."

I decided to make those words my motto.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Rick Sanchez, Jon Stewart

Somehow, I don't think it's entirely unreasonable or irrational to deny that Jews are a persecuted minority. Not in the United States, certainly.

Rick Sanchez was fired from his job as anchor at CNN after criticizing Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. Sanchez appeared on Pete Dominick’s Sirius radio show.

Sanchez called Stewart a "bigot", bigoted against anyone who was different from him. Which might be fair criticism.

An article in The People's Daily World some years ago generally praised The Daily Show but noted that their coverage of foreign leaders generally consisted of making fun of their names.

Sanchez talked about Stewart's bourgeois background. His mother was an educational consultant, his father a physics professor. And he said that Stewart looks down on people from a working class background---like Sanchez whose father was a garbage man by trade.

Dominick, who was interviewing Sanchez, argued that, as a Jew, Stewart would identify with oppressed people. A silly statement. Ask any Palestinian.

In any case, Sanchez seemed to be talking about unconscious racism--racism from white upper-class northeastern liberals who fancy themselves as liberal or progressive.

Sanchez scoffed at the idea that Jews are oppressed and pointed out the number of Jews in positions of power in the television networks. It seems like a natural thing for him to mention since he was there to talk about his work in television in the first place. So now, of course, Sanchez is being accused of claiming that "Jews control the media".

For years, in reference to African-Americans, we've been told "It's not about race---it's about class"--that, for example, there shouldn't be affirmative action for blacks, just for poor people. When cops abuse black people, we're supposed to thinks it's because they're poor, not because they're black. (When cops abuse black people who aren't poor, then blacks are elitists picking on working class cops.)

But, apparently, with white ethnics, it's not about class, it's about race. Sanchez focused entirely on Stewart's bourgeois background. He said that Stewart had a problem with anyone different from him, and he explained what he meant in terms of Stewart's class background. It was Dominick who brought up Stewart's being Jewish. Sanchez is being smeared--and has been fired from his job--for not conceding that New York celebrity millionaire Jon Stewart is a pitiful victim.

I don't know anything about Sanchez. I've never watched him on CNN. I do watch The Daily Show, so I've probably seen Jon Stewart mocking him. But I tend to be on his side about this.