Monday, February 28, 2011

Jane Russell, 1921-2011

Jane Russell has died at her home in Santa Maria, California. She was 89.

She starred at age 19 in Howard Hughes movie, The Outlaw, made in the 1943 but not released nationwide until 1950 because of censorship problems.

I posted something not long ago----I had a teacher in high school who told about going with his friends and crossing state lines to see The Outlaw. It was banned in his state. He said that he and his friends were disappointed. He was discussing censorship and how conservative the country had become in that era.

The first thing I remember seeing her in were Playtex bra commercials. That had to have been the 1960s. I didn't know who she was. It came as a surprise when I saw her later in Tom Laughlin's Born Losers, the first Billy Jack movie. They showed it over and over on Home Box Office in its early days.

Russell played Calamity Jane in The Paleface and Son of Paleface with Bob Hope. She starred with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was her favorite movie. Streaming video is available on Netflix if you want to see it.

According to her obituary in the L.A. Times:
“These days I’m a teetotal, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded, conservative Christian bigot, but not a racist,” she told an Australian newspaper, The Daily Mail, in 2003. Bigotry, she added, “just means you don’t have an open mind.”
Well, it was good that she wasn't racist. Perhaps she should have been open-minded. She didn't drink because she had gone through treatment for alcoholism. She had three children, two sons and a daughter, all adopted. She was unable to have children after an illegal abortion she had before she was married. She became an abortion opponent and founded the World Adoption International Fund in the 1950s.

I remember back when she revealed that she had had the abortion in Mexico in the 1940s. At the time I heard this, I assumed she was revealing this because she was pro-choice.

She was in an episode of Hunter in 1986, her last role.

Well, she led an interesting life. Somehow, I'm not surprised to learn that she was a right-winger. I'm a little surprised she was so religious.

From the obituary in the L.A. Times:

Ms. Russell was very public about her religious convictions. She organized Bible study groups in Hollywood and wrote about having experienced speaking in tongues. In her memoir, “My Path and My Detours” (1985), she described the strength she drew from Christianity.

A higher power was always there, she wrote, “telling me that if I could just hold tough a little longer, I’d find myself around one more dark corner, see one more spot of light and have one more drop of pure joy in this journey called life.”

You kind of have to admire Charlie Sheen. In a way.

I don't know. Charlie Sheen seems to be terribly screwed up. But maybe he really is some kind of ubermensch. It's possible, I suppose. There's something strangely admirable in any case.

From the "Today Show" website:

...[Sheen] claimed he has conquered his own drug and alcohol problems by the sheer force of his will: “I closed my eyes and made it so.”

...“I will not believe that if I do something then I have to follow a certain path, because it was written nice,” he said. “It [AA] was written for normal people, people that aren’t special. People that don’t have tiger blood, you know, Adonis DNA.”

He dismissed the idea that he has anything in common with addicts and alcoholics, who he says lack his strength of character, describing them as “fools, trolls. Weak. Defeated. They allowed defeat to be an option. I will not.

“I’m tired of pretending like I’m not special,” Sheen continued. “I’m tired of pretending like I’m not bitching, a total fricking rock star from Mars, and people can’t figure me out; they can’t process me. I don’t expect them to. You can’t process me with a normal brain.”

Sheen insisted that the drug- and alcohol-fueled behavior he described as “epic” never interfered with his work on “Men,” and that despite all the headlines, all his bosses saw when he showed up on the set was “a guy hitting every mark, nailing every line, every joke, with a full house screaming.” He claimed he never missed a day’s shooting: “Not a day that cost anybody any money,” he said. “I missed practice. We’re talking about practice ... practice is for amateurs, you know?”


He was now “at war” he said. “They picked a fight with a warlock,” he said — a war he plans to win “with zeal and focus, violent hatred ... You either love or you hate. You live in the middle, you get nothing.”


...“I think my passion is misinterpreted as anger sometimes. And I don’t think people are ready for the message that I’m delivering, and delivering with a sense of violent love,” Sheen said.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is it Oscar night already?

Israeli racist Natalie Portman, The Kings Speech

I haven't seen a damn thing. I just hope the Zionist Natalie Portman doesn't win anything for that swan movie.

And Christopher Hitchens attacked another Oscar nominated movie, The King's Speech, as historically inaccurate. He wrote that, in the movie, Winston Churchill
is shown as a consistent friend of the stuttering prince and his loyal princess and as a man generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication.

In point of fact, Churchill was—for as long as he dared—a consistent friend of conceited, spoiled, Hitler-sympathizing Edward VIII. And he allowed his romantic attachment to this gargoyle to do great damage to the very dearly bought coalition of forces that was evolving to oppose Nazism and appeasement...

By dint of swallowing his differences with some senior left and liberal politicians, Churchill had helped build a lobby, with strong grass-roots support, against Neville Chamberlain's collusion with European fascism. The group had the resonant name of Arms and the Covenant. Yet, as the crisis deepened in 1936, Churchill diverted himself from this essential work—to the horror of his colleagues—in order to involve himself in keeping a pro-Nazi playboy on the throne. He threw away his political capital in handfuls by turning up at the House of Commons—almost certainly heavily intoxicated, according to Manchester—and making an incoherent speech in defense of "loyalty" to a man who did not understand the concept. In one speech—not cited by Manchester—he spluttered that Edward VIII would "shine in history as the bravest and best-loved of all sovereigns who have worn the island crown." (You can see there how empty and bombastic Churchill's style can sound when he's barking up the wrong tree; never forget that he once described himself as the lone voice warning the British people against the twin menaces of Hitler and Gandhi!)

Hitchens discusses Edward VIII's support for Chamberlain and his Nazi sympathies. He concludes:

In a few months, the British royal family will be yet again rebranded and relaunched in the panoply of a wedding. Terms like "national unity" and "people's monarchy" will be freely flung around. Almost the entire moral capital of this rather odd little German dynasty is invested in the post-fabricated myth of its participation in "Britain's finest hour." In fact, had it been up to them, the finest hour would never have taken place. So this is not a detail but a major desecration of the historical record—now apparently gliding unopposed toward a baptism by Oscar.
Read the whole thing here:

Fear of public speaking is common enough. People can understand the king's feelings. I'm not sure what it tells you. That hereditary monarchy is stupid.

Maybe democracy isn't so bad after all. One of its weaknesses seemed to be that a smooth-talking dullard is more likely to be elected that an intelligent, well-informed, competent stutterer whose views were in line with the will of the people. But this movie may show that this isn't an entirely terrible thing.

Many years ago, in the early days of Home Box Office, they showed a pretty good World War Two British propaganda film called The Lion Has Wings. They included a long clip of the king looking ill at ease. He was playing some sort of patty-cake-like game with a large group. And they had a point. You'd never see Hitler or Mussolini do that.

Something else about movie stuttering

I know almost nothing about stuttering. But there were two scenes I can think of from film and television that I always assumed would be rather offensive to those who stutter. The same thing happened in both things.

In The Cowboys with John Wayne and an episode of Room 222 with Karen Valentine, they cure a young person of stuttering by making him mad until he starts yelling at them.

Maybe this was real. I haven't seen the movie, but I heard a clip on the radio. When the speech therapist meets the king for the first time, he takes a seat on the throne to make him mad so he'll start yelling.

(By "mad" I mean "angry". The British think it means crazy.)

Aristocratic internationalism

One thing some people mentioned---they thought it was implausible that the therapist would address the king by his first name. I didn't know kings had last names. I know they made up the name Windsor during World War One to conceal the fact that the British Royal Family was German. They were all related, the British Royal Family, the Kaiser, the Czar.

Years ago, I read an intellectual (Eric Hoffer?) attack the Communist notion of an international proletariat. He argues that it was the bourgeoisie that was international. They all dress alike and act the same no matter where they come from. But it turns out that royalty was international, too. And they had a sense of solidarity. The British Royal family is still mad at the Bolsheviks for killing their cousins, the Czar and his family.

Maybe they HAD to kill the Czar

It's too bad they killed the Czar. They should have reformed him, like the title character in The Last Emperor. Czar Nicholas was a pathetic person in a number of respects, although he still thought he was the shadow of God, or whatever the Czar called himself.

He was sort of like George VI. During World War One, he decided he would inspire the troops by visiting the front lines. But when he got there, he couldn't think of anything to say. So he just stood there, tongue-tied with the troops wondering what was wrong with him.

The Romanovs could have become citizens of their country and achieved personal liberation through Communism.

I don't think the Bolsheviks had much choice but to kill them. They were in a Civil War. Millions were dying. The White Army was about to free the Royal Family, and if they had, the war would have gone on forever.

The same thing happened in Romania. The government was overthrown, Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife were captured. Their captors set up some card tables and after a quick "trial", took them out the side door and shot them both. Hard to tell why they went through the pretense of a trial.

But people defended the executions because their followers would have fought on and on as long as they were alive.

And, right now in Libya, some people are calling for Gaddafi to be killed for the same reason.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cutting videos on You Tube

They may not be troubled teens, but they wish they were

A few years ago I was looking at another blog site. I was able to look for blogs written by people here in my area. So I went through the local ones looking for people I knew.

I seemed to be the only middle aged person blogging. And a very large portion of the teenage bloggers said they were "cutters", people who cut themselves with razors or whatever out of some emotional pain. Hard to believe there were so many of them.

Made me think it was some kind of teen fad or craze, probably triggered by an episode of Oprah.

I did see Larry King discuss it on a show. But he kept referring to his guests' self-injury as "self-abuse". He kept saying it over and over.

So now these kids are posting their "cutting" videos on You Tube. I haven't actually watched any. Maybe I should before commenting on this. But I don't want to see that.

For some time now, I've been telling people to let me know before they do something stupid so I can put it on You Tube. They never do.

Al Jazeera report on North Korean film school

Below is a report from AL Jazeera on North Korean film students. It seems to be cut off on one side and you may have to double click it to see the whole picture.

They explain a few special problems they have filming there. Shots containing photos of the Dear Leader have to show the entire photo and you can't pan away from the picture. Actors and film students have to always state that their main objective is to bring joy to Kim Jong Il.

They do have a few North Korean movies, or at least clips, available on You Tube. I watched a little bit of a kung fu movie which seemed pretty normal. At least the fight scenes did. Other clips seemed less normal.

Kim Jong Il will be gone before long and good riddance to him. Hopefully the new fellow will be better, but I don't know if he could make radical changes if he wanted to.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The most violent play I've ever seen

Plays aren't really known for being violent, of course

Since I mentioned Justin Bieber, young actors and movie violence, I thought I'd mention the most shockingly violent play I've ever seen.

I saw it in the fourth grade. It was performed by the first and second grade classes, and they had written the play themselves, although I'm not sure how that worked.

The play was about a king. He wanted a husband for his daughter. And he felt the best way to find her a husband was to have all of her potential husbands fight to the death.

So, they had the big sword fighting scene. A narrator explained that half the men were killed in the first round. They were carrying corpses off the stage. Then they killed some more.

In the end, there are two guys left alive. They fight. The guy who wins the fight refuses to finish off his opponent. The king wants to have him killed, but the princess stops him. She announces that he is the one she will marry.

If you're going to marry a stranger, it does make sense to marry the one who hasn't killed anybody.

I was little surprised by the violence. It didn't surprise me that first and second graders wrote it, but it surprised me that their teachers let them perform it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pink Flamingos

Video store put out of business by Netflix

Perhaps it was only right that Netflix killed off what was left of the video stores. After all, the video stores killed off the art theaters and second run movie theaters. I'm not sure how much we should mourn their loss, or the loss of anything else. How long have they been around? It's not like they're an ancient tradition. Same goes for newspapers. Mass circulation newspapers haven't been around that long because mass literacy hasn't been around that long.

There was a high brow video store in town that closed after years and years in business. The manager once had to apologize for telling a reporter that a local independent movie theater going out of business was no great loss. Now he was the one going out of business, and I did miss them.

The place was getting ready to close. It wasn't long before that that they had sold off their stock of VHS tapes and now they were selling off their DVDs.

Someone had the idea that the public library should buy them. And they did.

Perhaps that will be their revenge----their stock of DVDs is now available for free at the public library, perhaps depriving Netflix of some business.

I renew my library card

I had gone to renew my library card a while back. I had to show them ID. I showed them my license which had started peeling for some reason. The address on it was no longer legible and the person refused to renew my card.

So I didn't go back for a long time.

I went back again. I had a piece of mail with me. But it occurred to me as I walked in that it was addressed to my P.O. Box, so I wondered...

But I talked to a different person this time. She didn't care. She renewed my card and made me pay an old fine. It was twenty bucks. I took out twenty dollars and put it down on the desk. I didn't hesitate an instant. I showed no surprise. I made me feel like a rich guy, but no one's ever impressed.

Pink Flamingos

I got some other stuff I needed to check out. I stopped. I looked briefly at the movies. I grabbed Pink Flamingos for some reason. I had seen it years ago and never had any interest in seeing it again, but there it was and it was free.

There was a cast member of Plan 9 From Outer Space who kept saying that he thought Pink Flamingos was the worse movie ever made, and I figured he had missed the point of Pink Flamingos, but, no, I don't think that anymore.

It was very crudely made. I think Waters wanted to avoid editing which may have had to do with his using a single system sound camera. I think he got it from a TV station. The scenes were all done in one shot with some jerky panning and zooming.

There wasn't anything to recommend it except as a historical oddity. They harmed an animal during production. It wasn't funny. Waters explained that he laughed whenever he was offended, so his idea of comedy was to simply be as offensive as possible.

As I said on this blog before, Waters was somewhat apologetic about one of his other movies, Multiple Maniacs, which made light of Charles Manson's crimes without, he said, any thought about the victims.

There had been some talk about making a sequel to Pink Flamingos, but Divine started appearing in regular movies in male roles and didn't want to do it. He had other doubts about it. Who would want to watch it? Would young people accept it knowing it was made entirely by the middle aged?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Justin Bieber gets shot on TV

Here's a clip I came across---Justin Bieber on CSI:

Stuff like this--seeing a teenager horribly killed--is deeply disturbing to adults, but you have to look at if from the young actors' point of view.

When Ron Howard was Justin Bieber's age, he was blubbing like a little girl on a three-part episode of Lassie. British teen idol Jack Wild was a year older that Bieber when he starred on H.R. Puffenstuff. You don't think they desperately wanted to play violent criminals? You don't think teenagers found roles like these demeaning?

Henry Thomas, the little boy in E.T., went into acting because he secretly hoped to appear in a Star Wars movie. Corey Haim was interviewed after the movie Lucas and said he wanted to play Rambo's long lost son who becomes his sidekick.

Christopher Knight, TV's Peter Brady, wanted his character to run away from home and become a juvenile delinquent.

But you do have to consider the adults in the audience.

Alfred Hitchcock made the mistake of blowing up a child in the movie Sabotage. It completely alienated the audience. Hitchcock never did that again.

Another example

There was a movie called Children at Play. It was a dirt cheap Troma Team production. It was about children who turn feral and start coming out of the woods and killing people.

When they were filming, they started out trying to shield the child actors from the violent gore effects, but the kids loved it. They loved seeing that stuff. And the people making the movie had made so many bloody, violent horror movies that they were desensitized to it and lost touch with how audiences would react. They found this out at the Cannes film festival.

At Cannes, they didn't show Children at Play----they just showed a preview for it. And the audience that came there expecting to see a bloody disgusting horror movie, were so offended at the trailer that they all walked out.

I guess I'm not giving it away here since it was in the trailer, but the movie ended with the parents capturing and massacring the feral children, killing them in different ways, with different farming implements and so forth.

I don't know how the child actors felt about this. I didn't notice any trying not to smile as they were brutally killed. If they had, it probably would have taken the edge off.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I had a flat tire, but it's okay now

I had a flat tire. I drove around the corner from my house in the morning before I realized it was flat.

I had a compressor with me---this thing you hook up to your tire and plug into your cigarette lighter. You turn it on and it slowly inflates your tire.

I drove to work. The tire stayed inflated but the air was slowly leaking out. I told people that after work, I was going to go have the tire repaired.

They warned me that if the tire was worn out, they would refuse to put it back on the car out of fear that they'd be held liable if I went sliding off the road. They started trying to think of things I could do to avoid having to buy new tires. Did I have a spare?

"I assume so."

They thought maybe I should put it on. Or just jack the car up, take the tire off and roll it to the tire place by itself.

"If the tires are bad, I'll want to buy new ones," I finally told them.

I think I give people the impression that I'm impoverished. Strictly speaking, I may be. I'm not sure.

Anyway, they repaired my tire and made no attempt to sell me new ones.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Communism was better than capitalism

I've heard this discussed a few different places. Stuart Klawans, the critic for The Nation has talked about it, and now Jon Jost mentions it in a column here on the Filmmaker magazine website, about this European thing. In Europe, governments use taxpayer dollars to bankroll movies in their effort to promote "culture". The movies cost millions, get shown in state TV but nobody wants to see them.

Private funding's not much better. Consider the work of Uwe Boll. The man has made a series of big budget bombs, most of them based on video games. The more money they lost, the more his German investors got to write off on their taxes. He made a twenty-five million dollar movie that grossed two million, a movie for $60 million that grossed $10 million, and rich Germans were clamoring to "invest" more.

They finally changed the tax laws in Germany in 2005 and put an end to it.

In capitalism, your ability to continue making movies depends on your ability to raise money. Some get it from the government, others from people who invest for whatever reason. But your ability to sell tickets is still secondary.

Contrast that with the Soviet movie industry. Soviet studios had no investors and the government wasn't interested in subsidizing them. They didn't even have merchandising. Ticket sales was all there was. They had the same problems American studios had. They had to compete with television, but, unlike Hollywood, they had to compete with foreign films, too. Soviet audiences loved American westerns and Indian musicals among other things.
But I'm not sure how much difference it made. I've seen Soviet movies and I liked most of them. They were very well made. A lot of them were vastly superior to similar movies made in Hollywood.

I've seen a few that had supposedly been suppressed for political reasons, but they just weren't very good. If they had been out of circulation it was more likely because they stunk.

The Grapes of Wrath
There's a story I've heard different places that the American movie, The Grapes of Wrath, was shown in the USSR, that they allowed it to be shown because it showed life as hard in the United States, but it was then banned because Soviet audiences were impressed that impoverished farmers owned a truck.

That's unlikely. If it was banned for that reason, how would anyone know? It's not something they would announce. And this myth has been circulating at least since the 1970s, so it wasn't some fact from the Soviet archives revealed after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Grapes if Wrath was made in 1940. If it was taken out of circulation in the Soviet Union it was probably because they were invaded by the Nazis, the U.S. became an ally and the movie didn't make the U.S. look terribly good.

Other American movies were widely seen in the Soviet Union anyway. If movies gave the Soviet people a distorted picture of life in the United States, it was distorted in the United States' favor.

A Soviet director

I remember back in the '70s or early '80s. There was a Soviet director making the rounds on American talk shows. I don't know who it was---I wouldn't have recognized his name at the time. I saw him interviewed at least twice, and both interviews went the same way.

The American interviewer said that it was unimaginable---having to work in a system where you had to go to the government when you wanted to make a movie!

The director said, no, you don't go to the government, you go to the movie studio.

Then there was the talk about propaganda. It's unlikely the reporters had ever seen a Soviet film. The director quoted Woody Guthrie. To a baby, a lullaby is propaganda. He said the only things banned from Soviet cinema was counter-revolutionism and actual pornography.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Foreign westerns

Foreign westerns...I've seen the spaghetti westerns, of course, and Luc Moullet's western, A Girl is a Gun with Jean-Pierre Leaud as Billy the Kid. I saw the Czechoslavakian western spoof, Lemonade Joe, and one East German Indian movie.

Trouble with the foreign westerns is that they're not foreign enough. In the East German movie, the Indian clothing and U.S. Army uniforms looked way too authentic. Foriegn filmmakers build western sets and have western props and costumes that are indistinguishable from those in American movies.

I want to see a foreign western where things aren't quite right. Where the cowboys carry 19th century European revolvers. Where the U.S. Army cavalry dresses in World War One French uniforms. I want to see a medieval European mountain village standing in for a town in the Old West.
As I said somewhere earlier, I never liked westerns. They're about people who are either illiterate or may as well be who wear ugly clothes, live in ugly towns, whose greatest goal in life is to own a ranch. Their only form of recreation is hanging around in bars. There's a lot of violence, but that's pretty dull since they only have two kinds of gun----a Colt revolver and a Winchester rifle. The fist fights usually consist of two men punching each other in the face over and over.

The Italians improved on them a bit by throwing in a machine gun here and there, and Clint Eastwood kept karate chopping people in one movie. But they didn't go far enough.

Miley Cyrus: 18 and already covered with tattoos

I know this topic is beneath the dignity of this blog, but it turns out Miley Cyrus is 18 and has five tattoos. Don't you have to be 18 to get a tattoo? So she's got all these in less than a year. She's taken up smoking, and, at this rate, she'll be tattooed from head to toe by the time she's 40.

According to a report in People about the new tattoo:
"It's a picture of the dream catcher that hangs over her bed with four feathers to represent her four brothers and sisters," says the friend. (Miley's siblings are Brandi, 23, Trace, 21, Braison, 16, and Noah, 11.) "The dream catcher is to protect them."

She also has a heart and a small cross on her fingers, the word 'love" on her ear and the phrase "just breathe" on her rib cage in honor of a close friend who died of cystic fibrosis.

"All of Miley's tattoos have a deep meaning to her," says the friend. "They all represent family and friends close to her."

See her new tattoo here:

I don't understand this tattoo thing. I see otherwise intelligent young women who, it turns out, have a big tattoo across the small of their backs. I had an old friend who now wears make up because he has two large tattoos on his face. Do they think this is attractive?

These actresses should look at Sean Connery. The poor man has a tattoo on the back of each hand. I don't remember what they say. "Mum" and "Scotland", probably. He's had to slather his hands with make-up for years.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

That kid who squandered his college money

I did an internet search. I tried to find that kid who spent his college money to make an anti-drug movie. I was handicapped by not remembering his name, where he lived, the name of his movie, what year it was made, or anything else about it. All I remember is that it was made in the Northwest and he spent his college money on it, plus more money he raised from other family, it was filmed on video, it had a scene in a school hallway and there was a middle aged camera operator with a Steadicam.

It's fine that he was opposed to drugs, but it was too easy. A cheap way to get the grown-ups' approval.

Whenever I hear about teenagers making videos, I feel angry that I didn't get to do that when I was in high school. Then I remember that we didn't have camcorders back then. And if we did, I would have made something stupid.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Communism, independent filmmakers and their rich parents

So anyway, I watched Abandoned, an anti-Communist Hungarian movie. Supposedly autobiographical. A kid's father can't take care of him, so he drops him off at an orphanage. There's a Christian kid who is repeatedly flogged because he insists on praying publicly.

It looked like it would be depressing, but it just didn't ring true. Nothing seemed genuine.

I've seen other movies based on supposedly true stories that had the same problem. There are claims that look plausible on paper which fall apart on film.

There was Sleepers, the 1996 juvenile prison sex abuse movie. I expected to be outraged and deeply depressed, but the whole thing seemed completely phony. The book it was based on was later alleged to be a fraud.

Regarding the Hungarian movie, even if it were true, I'm sure capitalist orphanages were no picnic, either, especially the ones in Ireland. The thing I kept thinking about was the fact that an abandoned child grew up to be a movie director. That says something for Communism.

Francois Truffaut had a rather difficult childhood. But it's hard to find a director today who didn't have rich parents who got them started.

When you look at independent filmmakers today, almost invariably they borrowed money from their parents to make their first movies. Even John Waters-----I'm surprised he'd want his parents to even know about them, but his father bankrolled his early films. Waters once said that his mother watched a foot fetish scene in one of his movies and refused to believe any such thing existed---she insisted that he made it up for the film.

Well, the cost of movie production has dropped down to nothing, at least for the ones where film stock and lab costs were the main expense. What else are you going to spend money on?

There was a news story several years ago. A high school kid wrote, produced and directed a movie about the scourge of drug abuse. He convinced his parents to let him blow his college fund on it and he got more money from relatives. The thing cost, as I recall, something like $17,000.

If it were my kid, I would have told him to make seventeen movies for a thousand dollars each.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Danny Bonaduce, Alfalfa Switzer

You watch old episodes of The Partridge Family. I know it's after the fact, but didn't Danny Bonaduce end up pretty much how you'd expect? Or maybe it just seems that way in retrospect.
I don't know to what degree an actor's real personality comes through after you've watched them on TV for years.

One example of a child star whose personality was well concealed behind his screen persona was Alfalfa Switzer. He was a monster. He played practical jokes. He urinated on the movie lights creating a stench when they were turned on. He did something---did it involve fishhooks and the seat of Spanky McFarlane's pants? Spanky went to the emergency room and required stitches. He told Darla he had a present for her in his pocket. She reached in and pulled out her hand covered with blood. He had a razor or something in his pocket. I assume this was a jacket pocket. She needed stitches, too.

There was a rivalry between Spanky and Alfalfa. They were competing for screen time. But Alfalfa was friends with Butch, the one kid he wasn't competing with. They couldn't replace each other in an episode. Butch was a nice kid playing a mean kid and Alfalfa was a mean kid playing a nice kid.

Alfalfa was shot a couple of times, once by an unidentified assailant when he was about twenty. He survived that one. He was shot and killed when he was in his thirties.

Alfalfa ran a business. He was a hunting guide. His customers included some big stars.

Alfalfa borrowed a hunting dog which got lost. So he offered a fifty dollar reward for the dog's return. He got the dog back and returned it to its owner. But, later, Alfalfa became convinced that the dog's owner owed him the fifty bucks he had shelled out as a reward. So he and a friend got drunk. They went to the guy's house. They forced their way in and demanded their money. The guy got a gun. Alfalfa and the man wrestled over the gun and a shot was fired into the ceiling.

Alfalfa immediately calmed down and he and his friend decided they would leave now, and that was when the man shot and killed him.

Alfalfa's friend was on his knees pleading for his life. And the guy heard sirens. Police were coming. So he didn't kill him, too.

That's what Alfalfa's friend said, and it was confirmed by the guy's stepson. But the killer was never prosecuted.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The problem with TV cops

The first episode of Law & Order I saw----I had avoided the show for years because of it's George Wallace-esque title and the red-white-and-blue graphics. But I finally watched an episode. The prosecutors have a disturbed teen talk to a psychiatrist, learn that his problems come from years of emotional abuse at the hands of his sadistic, Amy Chua-like father. Then they prosecute the child as an adult and send him to prison for twenty years.

I decided to continue avoiding the show.

There had been an episode of Dragnet where Joe and Bill investigate a case. Someone has been embezzling money from a company. They tail one of the employees after work, a timid middle aged accountant. It turns out he has a gambling problem.

Joe and Bill sit down with him. They're very sympathetic. They explain that compulsive gambling is an addiction, a disease. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's a medically recognized psychiatric condition. He can get help through such groups as Gamblers Anonymous.

In the end, the accountant and his wife come to the police station. He is finally able to admit that he does have a gambling problem.

Then, finally, before the closing credits, we are told that the accountant is now serving eight years in San Quentin for embezzlement.

You really don't want a cop helping you with your psychological problems. It creates a real problem for TV producers who want to do a show tackling some important social issue. How do they do this realistically without having the episode end with the troubled person going to prison?

On the other hand, this is probably good for people to see in case a cop ever tries to "help" them.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dragnet style acting

One of the real problems of extreme low budget cinema is not-very-good acting. There's acting where you can see they're acting, and, very often, actors say their lines very, very slowly.

I saw one locally produced video. I rented it from a local video store. It was an extreme case. It was a comedy, but it appeared that no one in it had ever seen a comedy. They apparently thought that the way to make a line funny was to say it very, very slowly, and to stretch out certain words for no reason.

There was only one line of dialog I remember. The person started out speaking slowly but normally, but as she got to the end of the sentence, she slipped into it. She said, "This is very bad for my self-esteeeeeeeeeeeeeeem."

Even if they had spoken normally, the movie would have stunk.

I've seen much better extreme low budget comedies. There was one made for $2,000 by a guy I used to know. It was rather amazing. It had pyrotechnics, some fairly impressive special effects. It had a scene of a car exploding, of a water tower collapsing, of alien space craft. The acting was pretty good. The writing was very good. It had a large cast. It had a real airplane with a strafing scene, a real fire engine, a real jail cell, and real cops. A fake bazooka though.

But there were two flaws. One is that it was filmed on regular VHS. The other is that the otherwise good actors talked too slow.

So. I realized the solution to slow talking and bad acting.

It was the Jack Webb approach.


Actors on Dragnet never memorized anything. Jack Webb didn't want them to.

One actress told how she was speaking her lines in an episode. Jack Webb stopped her.

"What are you doing? You're not reading your lines!"

"I don't need to read them. I memorized them."

"Well, stop it! Just read your lines!"

She started reading the teleprompter. But her eyes were moving back and forth. Jack Webb stopped her.

"It looks like your reading!"

"You TOLD me to read!"

"Okay, well, just go back to what you were doing!"

Harry Morgan told her that she was the first person on the show to get away with memorizing lines.

Another guy told about an actor who was acting. In all the anecdotes, Webb was barking orders at the actors.

"Cut!" Jack Webb yelled. "What are you doing?"

"I'm acting."

"Well, stop it!"

He gave the guy a newspaper.

"Read this!"

The guy started reading the newspaper the way people generally read newspapers. Flat, unemotionally.

"THAT'S what I want!"

When they're reading, they can talk faster. The results were usually pretty good----not any worse than on some other shows, anyway.

It also sped up production. An episode that normally would have taken a week to film could be done in a day and a half.

I've never tried it

I do wonder if unpaid actors would play along. They're appearing in your stupid movie. You have to give them something in return, and if it's not money, you have to give them the opportunity to do something they want. I don't know if reading a cue card in front of a camera is going to fulfill their dream of being an actor.

And, anyway, this sort of thing would only work in certain types of unambitious productions.

Dragnet usually cut back and forth between close-ups of the actors reading their lines as fast as they could. I don't like that kind of thing. I want medium wide shots.

In fact, Jack Webb made a couple of failed attempts to use his production methods in theatrical film.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ozzie Nelson, Charlie Sheen

Years ago, there was a show--was it on Biography?--about Ozzie & Harriet and the Nelson family.

Critics responded as if it had exposed the Nelson family as frauds who failed to live up to their public image.

I didn't agree. I thought they seemed like a very nice family, pretty much as they appeared to be. They were together constantly, they worked together and were extremely close. The kids were home schooled. There was a morals clause in their contract, so Ozzie Nelson would sit down with the boys and explain to them what they couldn't do and how it would result in the financial ruin of their family and all the people who worked on the show. They were the ideal family--well, some people's ideal.

But----the result of the homeschooling was that Ricky Nelson was very poorly educated and had to work for hours writing simple business letters. The result of the morals clause was that Ricky and David hired a prostitute for Ricky while they were on vacation in Britain. Ricky was 14.

It's not that their private lives didn't match their public image. It's just that their image wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

Three and a Half Men

I guess it would be kind of stupid for a TV sex comedy to have a morals clause in the stars' contracts. But it looked like the poor devils who work on the show would be out of work while Charlie Sheen is pulling himself together.

Some people suggested that Sheen pay the cast and crew while he goes through rehab. He no doubt spent a fortune on his binge. But now they're reporting that they'll resume filming in a few weeks. The episodes they don't film now will be added on at the end of the season, so no one will lose any work.

I sat through about ten minutes of an episode of Cops one time. They investigated a robbery. The poor guy was fairly wealthy, but he put his money in a trust fund because he was a recovering drug addict and he didn't want to lose his fortune when he went into relapse, as most recovering addicts do at some point. Good thing he did. He went on a bender and his new drug addict friends cleaned out his house.

Charlie Sheen should give that some thought once he gets back to normal.

I wonder how Angus T. Jones will end up. Will he be more of a Ricky or more of a David Nelson?

Harry Shearer, Leave it to Beaver, Lumpy

Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr Smithers, Mr Burns, Reverend Lovejoy, and a number of other characters on The Simpsons, writer-director of Teddybear's Picnic, novelist, host of Le Show on public radio.

Turns out Shearer played Eddie Haskell in the pilot to Leave it to Beaver, and he could have played him in the series. Fortunately, his parents didn't want him to do it. He was a child actor and had appeared on The Jack Benny Program among other things. But his parents felt that an occasional role was one thing---doing a series could wreck his life. And it probably would have.

Of course it was years before Eddie Haskell's character got it's, well...would you call it a cult following? It was years before anyone was impressed that the guy who played Eddie Haskell played him.
The one I feel sorry for is Lumpy. Poor devil. Played such an unattractive character. Not that anyone else on the show was very appealing. I came across a book he wrote, Call Me Lumpy: My Leave It To Beaver Days and Other Wild Hollywood Life. He was into hot rods as a young person, something which they incorporated into the character he played.

I don't know. I liked the idea of Lumpy. But not the grim reality.