Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Strange Intruder, 1956

Watching a bizarre Korean War drama. A dying soldier forces his friend to promise him that he'll murder his two children to get even with his unfaithful wife. Strangely, the man who's asked to do this is English, a naturalized American citizen.

He visits the dead guy's family. They welcome him and let him stay at their house.

"The children! I must see them! I must!"

Being traumatized in the war isn't helping.

Anyway, it's safe to say that he's not going to kill any children in this thing. But he plans to.

I never heard of the movie before. It was made by Allied Artists after it started going upscale in the '50s. It had started out as the B movie studio Monogram Pictures.  Weird plot for a pretty well-made movie.

The most anti-war veteran movie I've seen although I heard about one about a Vietnam veteran who comes back a murderous zombie.

I can't say I've ever understood this nonsense about being against the war but "supporting the troops". What exactly do people mean when they say they "support the troops"? That they think nice thoughts about them? How does that help them?

There's no denying the fact that a lot of "the troops" are horrible people guilty of monstrous crimes. Timothy McVeigh murdered surrendering Iraqi troops when he was in he war. If he hadn't blown up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing hundreds of people, none of these people who "support the troops" would have thought twice about the murders he committed in Iraq.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Marble Hornets

I talked a little about low budget production with a cousin who hipped me to this---an internet series called Marble Hornets. I started watching it. Uploaded to YouTube in 2011.

It was interesting in the beginning. Each entry was fairly short.

A student filmmaker was being stalked by "the slender man", a tall slender faceless man in a business suit. The student filmmaker becomes fearful and flees leaving the tapes he filmed behind with another film student who begins investigating and who then finds himself being stalked.

Just as with a TV show, the episodes become repetitive. It's worse here because they're so short. There's no explanation as to where the characters get their money. They flee their apartments in fear and stay in hotels, but how do they pay for them? They drive late model cars. They have no contact with their families.

I'm slightly annoyed by the shaky hand-held camera. But that's the whole point, that these are videos shot by the characters as they try to figure out what's happening.

Maybe I wasn't supposed to watch the whole thing at once.

I did feel very creeped out whenever the Slender Man or the other guys appear. And the thing is a mystery. The main character is trying to figure out what's going on. There won't be a logical explanation, but I still want to know what it is.

It would fall into the same genre as The Blair Witch Project. There's the fake folklore aspect, the pseudo documentary approach.

The Blair Witch Project itself was made by a couple of guys who, as kids, were frightened by the Bigfoot documentaries from the '70s. I know how that is. I was scared by those things. I had friends who had nightmares about Bigfoot. It didn't occur to us that anyone would say anything in a documentary unless it was true.

If I wanted to make another Blair Witch Project, rather than looking at the movie itself, I would look at their source of inspiration, at the old Bigfoot documentaries.

Some were better than others.

One had a French psychic. They started by talking to him about Bigfoot. Then the filmmakers showed him a sealed box. They asked him to give them a psychic reading of the contents. And, well, what do you think he would say? He said he sees a big hairy ape that lives in the woods. He opens the box and it contains a plaster cast of a  giant footprint. I'm assuming they didn't just tell him what was in it before they started filming.

There was a local director, Ed Ragozzino.  He was known locally for doing big musical stage productions, but I heard he made his money by flying to the big cities to direct TV commercials. He was hired to direct a bigfoot movie that was being financed by a local millionaire who had the Jiffy Lube franchise.

The movie was called Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot.

I was told by the Assistant Director that Ragozzino took the job because he wanted to direct a feature. They were all nonbelievers.

I remember when the movie was released. They talked about it on the local radio station. They noted that the movie didn't have the Roger Patterson film of the "real" Bigfoot, so they had a guy in an ape suit.

I finally saw the movie several years ago. I can see why it lost money. It wasn't a documentary---it was fictional---but it wasn't an exploitation film. They were trying to be respectable. Rather than show Bigfoot slaughtering hikers and attempting to breed with human women, they made it about Bigfoot researchers who somehow use computers to locate a hotbed of Bigfoot activity. They feed data into the computer which then prints a picture of what Bigfoot looks like. The use of computers didn't lend it quite the credibility that the French psychic did the other movie.

A group of western movie stereotypes, including a crusty old prospector whose only friend is his mule, accompany researchers as they travel to the location. They set up electronic sensors. They see that Bigfoot is approaching! They scramble to get pictures. One of them tries to shoot Bigfoot but his rifle is jammed.

In the end, nothing happens. They go home empty handed and make no plans to return.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Stephen Colbert on the voice of Charlie Brown

I don't usually read this crap, but Stephen Colbert tweeted:
The voice of Charlie Brown was arrested for stalking. Man, is he going to rack up those 5 cent psychiatrist fees.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The voice of Charlie Brown arrested

Early fame can be a burden on former child stars. Even if you weren't exactly famous it can be a problem.

I heard on the radio this morning that a kid who was the voice of Charlie Brown on some early Peanuts TV specials has been arrested. He's now 54. Apparently he's been accused of making threats. Prosecutors claim that the fact that he's terminally ill with pancreatic cancer means he has "nothing to lose" and is especially dangerous.

According to imdb.com, he appeared in a number of movies and TV shows. He played Alexander Bumstead in a TV series based on the comic strip Blondie. His last appearance was in 1972 in an episode of My Three Sons.

It's a sad story.

I'm not suggesting that being a kid actor resulted in his current troubles, but it's the reason its being reported in the national press.

And fame that comes a little later in life is no picnic, either. It made it into the papers that the fellow who sang "American Pie" got a ticket for speeding in a school zone in Maine. He drove a Chrysler and was fined $400. He got a speeding ticket and it was national news.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Phil Zuckerman: Gidget's atheist son

Phil Zuckerman, the son of the real Gidget, was briefly interviewed in the documentary Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story. I've never spoken to him, but I knew who he was when he attended the University of Oregon. He's now a professor somewhere. He's managed to latch onto the "New Atheism" bandwagon just as it started losing steam and drifting toward the ditch.

When he attended the UO, Zuckerman was, for a time, the director of the Jewish Student Union. He called himself a "progressive Zionist". He never said a word against Israel and how they treated Palestinians. It wasn't clear in what way he was a "progressive". Mostly he accused "the left" of being anti-Semitic for criticizing Israel.

He wrote basically the same article over and over and got it printed in the university newspaper and in the radical student newspaper, The Student Insurgent. He claimed that Zionism was a "national liberation movement". Since the left supported national liberation movements, he argued, anti-Semitism was "the only possible explanation" for their failure to support Israel.

So what "national liberation movement" did Israel ever support? At the time, they were allies with the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Even back then we knew that Israel helped South Africa build and test a nuclear bomb---now we know they tried to sell them nuclear missiles. They were arming the Contras in Nicaragua and had taken over arming the Somoza regime when Jimmy Carter cut off arms sales to them. There was absolutely nothing to recommend Zionism to any leftist.

Calling something a "national liberation movement" isn't especially meaningful, especially forty years after they had already been "liberated". Kenya became independent in the '50s, Algeria in the '60s. But leftists can discuss Africa without voicing their support for those countries' liberation movements.

In any case, the American left was generally pro-Israel until the late '70s. It was only when Begin was elected prime minister that they started wondering what the hell they were doing.

Zuckerman and a (male) rabbi called Hanan Sills launched a smear campaign against a grad student named Gary Murrell who was teaching a class on land tenure in Palestine. He also wrote a column in the Student Insurgent newspaper. Murrell has written about what happened:
In November 1989, only two months after I wrote my first column, Rabbi Hanan Sills, head of B'nai B'rith Hillel and adviser to the Jewish Student Union (JSU) at the University of Oregon, began a series of intimidation tactics, both through surrogates, such as Director Phil Zuckerman of the Jewish Student Union, and on his own.
Some of what is written here I wrote for one of my December 1990 Student Insurgent columns. I wanted the university community to know about the campaign being waged by the rabbi and his surrogates. But, as former Congressman Paul Findley notes in his book They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby, one of the tactics suggested to students by the Israel lobby is to gain access to student publications to counter pro-Palestinian viewpoints.

That is exactly what has happened at the Student Insurgent. JSU Director Zuckerman obtained a position at the Insurgent. He thus had access to my column prior to publication. He threatened to conduct a JSU sit-in at the newspaper office if my column was published.

The night of the press run, Rabbi Sills, having somehow obtained a copy of my column, threatened a slander and libel lawsuit against the paper if my column was printed. Members of the editorial board, most of whom were serving their first term, were intimidated enough to cancel publication of my column, one of which had appeared in every issue of the Insurgent since the inception of the paper.
Mr. Zuckerman did not confine his threats to the editorial board. While the debate went on concerning publication of my article, he began calling my home and office, leaving messages on my answering machine threatening physical violence. The calls were anonymous, but I played the tapes for an Insurgent staffer who identified Mr. Zuckerman as the caller.

Eventually, through the actions of one brave member of the editorial board, who suffered enormous verbal and emotional abuse from fellow students at the instigation of Mr. Zuckerman, that column appeared in February. But the editorial board members were exhausted and, hoping to avoid any further controversy, they made me persona non grata at the paper and my column was dropped.
When school began again in September 1992, the United States was on the brink of war with Iraq. At one of the teach-ins organized by the peace and justice community, I spoke about the dilemma of the Palestinians, or should I say I attempted to speak. Mr. Zuckerman and two fellow members of JSU shouted me down with chants of "Sieg Heil."


The end of the school year brought an end to the controversy when the primary antagonist, Mr. Zuckerman, went to live in Israel. It had subsided somewhat prior to that due to the actions of some faculty in the history department. Led by two Jewish members, 14 faculty signed and published a letter in the main college newspaper. While stating that they did not always agree with everything I wrote, this group of historians categorically denied that I am an anti-Semite or that what I had written was anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish.
Read Murrell's full account here.

Even Jewish students at the UO were getting fed up with Zuckerman. I can't remember what the event was, but Zuckerman was on a panel with three or four young feminist women discussing some issue. Someone said something about being Jewish. Zuckerman asked her if she was a Zionist. She was offended. She told him it was divisive and aimed at excluding certain students.

"I was just asking," Zuckerman said whinily.

One of the girls, the daughter of another local rabbi, mentioned she had been on a boys baseball team when she was in the seventh grade and told how she was harassed by the boys. So Zuckerman shared his story, how he had been the only boy in a tap dancing class but they all got along fine. It would have been more appropriate if he had told the story of how his mother had become involved in the all-male world of surfing. This was his chance to tell the world that he was the son of the original Gidget.

Maybe that was his problem in the first place-----he had become warped and twisted growing up in Gidget's shadow, a withered flower deprived of the very sun in which his mother had flourished.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story

Watching a documentary about Gidget. The real Gidget, the girl surfer nicknamed Gidget, short for "girl midget", whose father, Frederick Kohner, a Czech Jewish immigrant, wrote the Gidget novel. She was fifteen, she told the surfers she was eighteen but they thought she looked about twelve. They treated her like a little sister.

The one surprising thing is that Gidget and the surfers are all old now, but they look okay, not prematurely wrinkled. There's no mention of skin cancer.

A documentary filmmaker Paul Wendkos was given the task of directing the first Gidget movie. He was a bit baffled that they gave him the job. This was his first feature he made under contract with the studio. He objected to filming the surfing scene in front of a rear screen projection, but what could he do? For the long shots, they used a man in a bikini as a stand-in for Sandra Dee. There weren't enough girl surfers to stand in, although I suppose they could have used the real Gidget.

The surfers all went to see the movie.

"This is the beginning of the end," said Kahuna.

The movie came out and soon everyone had a surfboard. The beaches got crowded. The surfers got better.

The story of a young girl trying to join the surfers reminds me of the advice they gave science fiction writers. Make the stories about an outsider to whom everything will have to be explained.

They actually had Sally Field out risking her life surfing when they did the TV show. She was out there freezing in the dead of winter (as dead as winter gets in Southern California) surrounded the whole time she was in the ocean by surfers ready to rescue her if anything went wrong. Rear screen projection doesn't sound so bad after all.

I've never seen a Gidget movie and I don't think I knew there was a TV show. Surfing seems dangerous. Sharks are drawn to the same sort of coastline that attracts surfers. Just being in the sun is potentially dangerous. And I don't see much of an upside.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pauline Phillips aka Abigail Van Buren, aka Dear Abby

Dear Abby has died. I mean the original one, Pauline Phillips. Her daughter took over the column several years ago.

Dear Abby and Ann Landers (Eppie Lederer) were identical twin sisters. Ironically, they were estranged for years because Pauline started her column a few months after Eppie took over the Ann Landers column. Identical twins who refused to speak to each other were advising people how to conduct their lives.

But here's the column that infuriated me for years. I got mad whenever I thought about it. I finally started talking about it. Talking helped.

Here it is:
Dear Abby: Several years ago, you printed a letter from a young man who had been expecting a new car for his high school graduation gift. To his great disappointment, he received a Bible instead. Out of anger, he stormed out of the house and never spoke to his father again. After his father's funeral, the young man located the Bible his father had given him, only to find a key to a new car taped in the back.
Our pastor would like a copy of that column for a future sermon.I would be most grateful if you would please send me that column.
- Valerie Bosselman, Omaha
Dear Valerie: That column is a long-time favorite of mine. However, as is often the case, a few details are somewhat different from the story you recalled. Here's the original:
Dear Abby: A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. "Bill" and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation, they found the perfect car.
On the eve of his graduation, his father handed him a gift-wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his father's death that brought Bill home again.
As he sat one night going through his father's possessions that he was to inherit, he came across the Bible his father had given him. He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier's check, dated the day of his graduation - in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.
- Beckah Fink, Texas
Dear Beckah: I hope Bill read the Bible cover to cover, for it contained much that he needed to learn: "A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her who bore him." (Proverbs 17:25)

There are only two messages I can make out in this story:

1.  Don't get mad if someone gives you a Bible because it might have a check in it.

2.  If you want to give someone a check, don't put it in a Bible.

And I guess there is a third lesson. That a lot of people have no clue at all. They listen to some parable and act like they're deeply moved by it. In fact, they have no idea that it has any deeper meaning. They'll react the same way to any story as long as it has a Bible in it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Conrad Bain, 89

He was a much better TV sit-com doctor on Maude than Bill Cosby was on his show. He showed occasional medical knowledge. He helped Walter with his alcoholism and Maude with her her manic-depression. Years before the Heimlich Maneuver, he saved Walter from choking.

Conrad Bain has died at age 89.

When Bain went on to Diff'rent Strokes, it took me years to shake the idea that he was a doctor.

On The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby would just come home and complain how tired he was from being a doctor.

Before his sitcom, Cosby started making fun of his children in his stand-up act. Other comedians who talk about their families and children are self-deprecating about it. Cosby never was.

So when Cosby developed a sit-com, it was based on his act and, therefore, his family. And since he's rich, his TV family had to be rich, but he didn't want to do a show about a successful comedian father. So his character was a doctor and his wife was a corporate lawyer. But it was a stand-up comedian's idea of a doctor and lawyer. Each works an eight hour day, shows zero knowledge of medicine or law, and comes home at the same time every day to discipline the children.

As Gary Coleman got older, he found it increasingly degrading to have to sit on Bain's lap on Diff'rent Strokes. I'm sure it was a little weird for Bain, too, having to cuddle a high school kid.

Look for Bain in Woody Allen's Bananas and Elaine May's A New Leaf.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Klaus Kinski, a lousy actor?

Standing in the foreign section of the video store, I remember being slightly shocked at the high brow Klaus Kinski movies. Because, a few feet away in the horror section, he was in nothing but crap including some Israeli Golan-Globus productions.

Kinski's two daughters noted that the guy, at least in the Werner Herzog movies, was basically playing himself, acting on screen pretty much the way he behaved in private.

Someone else noted that the one Herzog movie that Kinski bombed in was Woyzeck in which he plays an oppressed soldier. He could only play megalomaniacs.

I think the guy was another Charlie Sheen.

Sheen was a terrible actor who appeared in one awful movie after another. He was in Platoon which was good, but other than that, it was nothing but absolute crap. He finally hit it big on Two and a Half Men on which he basically played himself.

Werner Herzog movies were Kinski's Two and a Half Men.

The lesson for independent filmmakers

Look for really lousy actors who will work really well in your films.

Tony Danza could be your Klaus Kinski.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pola, Natassja and Klaus Kinski

My God. Well. I hate to say it now, but I rather liked Klaus Kinski. In some things, anyway. He was in some terrible movies. I remember him in a Golan-Globus slasher movie and he was in some European horror movies. I was a bit shocked when I realized he was a high brow star, appearing in all those Werner Herzog movies.

"The Germans like that guy?" I thought.

It was people telling his daughter, Pola Kinski, how much they liked her late father than drove her to write her new memoir. She reveals that he molested her for fourteen years, starting when she was five. He raped her when she was nine and did so repeatedly after that until she was nineteen.

"I couldn't stand hearing it any more: 'Your father! Cool! Genius! I always loved him!' I always replied 'Yeah, yeah'. Since his death this adulation has got even worse," she said.

Pola's half-sister, Natassja, is supporting her. She said she was never raped by him, but she knew there was something wrong with how he treated her.

They said that the way Klaus acted in the movies was pretty much how he behaved at home, flying into fits of rage.

"He was a tyrant. I can scarcely remember us all sitting around a table together," Natassja told Bild am Sonntag.

Klaus Kinski died in 1991. Natassja said that if he were alive, she would do everything she could to put him in prison.

She said, "When he died, some people told me they were sorry. I wasn't sorry."

Look at how Werner Herzog portrayed him in his documentary, Klaus Kinski, My Best Fiend. Then imagine a couple of little girls having to deal with that crap.

It usually comes as a bigger shock when celebrities are accused of stuff like this.

What would Herzog's movies have been like without Kinski. There was a documentary---it might have been My Best Fiend---which showed a scene with Jason Robards playing what became Kinski's role in Fitzcarraldo. It wasn't the same.

Herzog had Kinski. John Waters had Divine. Kurosawa had Toshiro Mifune.

But Luis Bunuel has the much more sedate Fernando Rey. Was it really worth it dealing with Kinski?

He played with a gun on the set of one movie and shot off the end of a man's finger.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Something from Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton

Read an interesting critical review of Salman Rushdie's new memoir, Joseph Anton. You can read it here:


Salman Rushdie says that he was taken completely by surprised by the reaction against The Satanic Verses.
Given how often Rushdie has been accused of writing The Satanic Verses with the express purpose of making trouble, it is understandable that he should wish to highlight the unexpected—the unprecedented—nature of the events that followed the novel’s publication. Even so, his retrospective account of himself as a bookish innocent, bewildered by the world’s coarse intrusion into the literary sphere, seems a little over-egged. By this point in his career, Rushdie, who had already been sued by Indira Gandhi for libelous statements in Midnight’s Children and had already seen his third novel banned in Pakistan, was better qualified than most to appreciate literature’s capacity for eliciting hostile, nonliterary responses.
There's nothing that new about it. There are comedians who are outraged that anyone would be offended by intentionally offensive jokes. Their excuse for it is that "he was TRYING to be offensive," as if it were self-evident that you should therefore not be offended. If someone is trying to be pleasant and inadvertently says something rude you should be insulted, but you have to chuckle politely at an obnoxious loudmouth?

That seemed to have been a minor point, both in Rushdie's memoir and in the review. I jumped on it because I've written about this on here before. I should try not to run it completely into the ground.

The review should be the start of a new literary feud between Rushdie and Heller. 

Film schools and alternate routes to success

I watched a documentary, PressPausePlay, on the effects of digital media on art in general, film and music.

At one point, we see a film school graduate at work. He explains to the camera that all the Oscar winners are film school graduates. There are occasional non-film school grads in the movie industry, like Quenton Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. (Robert Rodriguez did go to film school, but not USC or UCLA.) He didn't mention Steven Spielberg.

It's such a long shot anyway. How many film school graduates achieve their goals? If you manage to become a director (like most of these guys want) you're probably going to be in your 40s before they trust you with the tens of millions of dollars it takes to make a movie.

I would look at the careers of people like John Waters. He started out making extremely cheap movies and worked his way up. Even if he hadn't made it to Hollywood----even if his career had ended with Polyester, he still would have something to show for it. With film school graduates, it tends to be all or nothing, Hollywood or bust.

And with the extreme expense of film school----the only film schools that count tend to be USC or UCLA----it's a very big gamble. You'll spend decades paying off your student loans and have nothing at all to show for it.

You also end up with a lot of white bourgeois filmmakers this way. No offense to white bourgeoisie, but there are enough of you.

You know how many black students were admitted to the UCLA film school this year? None. Zero. (This was mentioned in a discussion of Django Unchained.)

I think Robert Rodriguez had the right idea. He made El Mariachi to sell on the Spanish language home video market. If he had made the thing as a calling card trying to showcase his talent, as a stepping stone to a career in Hollywood, it probably would have failed on every count.

No matter what you do, you'll probably fail, or at least fail to become a Hollywood director, which is what the vast majority of film school students hope to achieve. It's a good idea to look at any alternative routes you can find.

Melvin van Peebles became a French novelist. Michael Cimino made TV commercials, as did George Romero before he made Night of the Living Dead. There are countless actors and writers who've become directors. There were the movie critics-turned-auteurs of the French New Wave and some in the US like Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader.

There was Glen Pitre who made Cajun language historical dramas for the Cajun audiences in Louisiana.

There's Michael Moore, print journalist turned documentary filmmaker who also made a scripted comedy, Canadian Bacon.

Columnist Tony Brown produced an anti-drug kung fu movie. Record producer Barry Gordy produced a couple of musicals.

I saw a short educational film a grade school principal made in his spare time.

And, something you probably shouldn't do, there was very cheery, enthusiastic girl who became an actress in porno films because she thought it would lead to her being an Oscar-winning director. And, really, in her case, it may have been her best bet.

And, really, I would say go for money. Aim at making a profit. Even in Communist countries, this was how success in film was measured.


Now there are self-published novelists making pretty good money selling their books as downloads on Amazon. Which is good. The novel has come back. For years, there were fewer and fewer novels being published and the ones that were published were getting longer and longer. I think it's probably why fewer people read them. Look at old paperbacks from the '50s and '60s. They were thin. 150 to 200 pages long. Today they're all four or five hundred pages.

Today, independent movie theaters are long gone. The video stores, which killed the independent theaters, are themselves shutting down. The independent video stores were already being wiped out by the big chains which wouldn't stock low budget movies, and now the chains are disappearing as well.

Now I hear Amazon us doing the same thing with movie downloads. You can sell your independent films that way, charging a small sum for people to watch on computer or on Roku.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Time to give video cameras to the Amish

You know what I'd like to see? Movies made by the Amish. Give them some video cameras and see what they do.

Would they film in long takes, static camera, or would they walk around with the camera moving constantly because they wouldn't know any better?

Would they make documentaries because fiction was alien to them, or would documentaries be alien to them, too? What kind of movies do the Amish watch? They have that thing where the teenagers go out and try to live like normal people before they become full-fledged Amish. They must watch TV then.

There are a number of filmmakers---Werner Herzog and Paul Schrader---who claim they had never seen a movie until they were adults.

Do any Amish have cell phones? Don't cell phones all have video cameras now? I'm about the last person left who's never had a cell phone so I don't know.

It would probably be easier to get the Mennonites or the Calvinists to make movies. Probably shouldn't bother the Amish. 

Downton Abby

I watched some of an episode of Downton Abby. It looked kind of nice although they do that thing they used to do on Little House on the Prairie. I have family who used kerosene lamps for light, and you have to blow them out. You don't turn the wick down until it goes out. If you do, the lamp could explode, or you could have a hard time getting the wick to come up again.

I don't know why they do it that way, treating kerosene lamps like electric lights. 

The show would be better if it had dueling.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Are child actors really actors?

I listened to a debate on the radio.

Are child actors really actors? Is it fair for adults to have to compete with child actors?

Listen to it here:


I don't know how I feel about it.

Child actors have to be coached, but look at Oscar winner Natalie Portman. Couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. Look at her in those Star Wars movies. She can do a decent job if she has the right director, otherwise, as one critic said, she can look utterly stranded on screen.
As it happens, I was reading about the British boy actor Desmond Tester. Alfred Hitchcock blew him up in the movie Sabotage (1936). He was cute in his way, playing the heroine's little brother who lives with her and her husband.

I was shocked to learn that Tester was 17 when he appeared in Sabotage. He looked about 11. I think it's why they called him a "boy actor" and not a "child actor". I wonder if he had to shave his legs.

There was the British boy actor Jack Wild who looked about 12 when he was 19. There was Ralph Macchio who was initially recruited as an actor only because he looked much younger than he was. He was sixteen when he played a twelve-year-old on TV and in his twenties when he played a fifteen-year-old.

It's one reason former child stars can have such a hard time making the transition to being adult actors---they're usually very short. Look at Jonathan Taylor Thomas or David Faustino.

Lillian Gish was 28 when she starred in Broken Blossoms. She thought she was too old for the role. The character was supposed to be very young, maybe twelve. Gish said in an interview that she told DW Griffith to get a ten-year-old to play the part---they always look older on camera anyway. He told her that a ten-year-old couldn't give him the performance he wanted.

I don't know what any of this tells you. That acting doesn't come naturally to children, otherwise they wouldn't get much older kids to play child roles.

Look at The Little Rascals and tell me those kids weren't acting.

Buddy Hackett, discussing his Oscar vote around the time that Haley Joel Osment was nominated for The Sixth Sense, said that he never voted for child actors because you never know what's going to happen to them. They disappear in a few years. Look at Tatum O'Neal or Justin Henry who was nominated for Kramer vs Kramer. But that's a different issue.

What happens to an actor in a later stage of life has nothing to do with it. Look at Joan Crawford in Trog, or  Bette Davis in Bunny O'Hare, or Ernest Borgnine on Airwolf. Lawrence Olivier starred in a movie produced by the Unification Church.

I always thought that TV series were taking a terrible risk casting young children. Puberty is a cruel mistress. If the show's on the air for more than a few years, you have no idea what they'll end up looking like.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My manifesto

Here's my manifesto. I couldn't think of any ideological basis for it, so it's just a checklist with nothing to justify it. I couldn't think of a good name for it. Dogme 95 had its "Vow of Chastity" so I was going to call this a "Vow of Impotence", but thought better of it.

The idea is to make very cheap movies, and not as stepping stones to bigger and better things. Take the pressure off. Make movies that will make small sums of money. Be a filmmaker, but do so unencumbered by any hope for success:

1. No fund raising! No investors! Especially family members! Don't make your parents suffer for your art!

2. Film only with consumer camcorders that cost less than $150. This would include used or refurbished camcorders even if they cost more than this when they were new.

3. Use only the built-in mic on the camcorder. If it's inadequate, use subtitles, inter-titles or voice over to take up the slack.

4. Never get permission. Film where you want. Just don't make a spectacle of yourself and people will assume you're just some jerk annoying his friends with a cheap camcorder.

5. It's none of my business, but make genre movies. Serious dramatic elements should be in the subplots

6. Use music, but never pay for it. Either use music you think you can get away with stealing, use public domain music if it exists, or look for music from the Soviet Union or some other country that wasn't part of the International Copyright Convention.

7. Edit on whatever free software came with your computer.

8. It's not mandatory, but movies should be 50 to 65 minutes long. Long enough that people think they're getting their money's worth, but don't over do it.

9. All videos must be distributed either as internet downloads, on community access television or as dvd's burned on a home computer.

10. Sale price on dvds should be about $4 plus postage and handling. The postage and "handling" charge should be enough to cover the cost of burning and mailing the dvd and the $4 will be pure profit.

Justin Bieber, marijuana, photographer killed

I'm surprised anyone cares if Justin Bieber smoked marijuana. Or Miley Cyrus. Or, really, anyone else unless it's some recovering drug addict or an anti-drug crusader, or a nine-year-old.

A photographer chased Bieber's car which got pulled over by cops. Turned out a couple of Bieber's friends were inside. Bieber himself wasn't present. The photographer stood out in the street taking pictures and was hit by a car and killed.

The photographer had claimed in a phone call to have seen Bieber smoking marijuana from a pipe in the car.

A friend of the dead photographer told reporters that the death was Bieber's fault because getting a picture of him smoking marijuana would be irresistible to any paparazzo. And how was a 29-year-old man supposed to know not to stand in the middle of a busy street?

I worked with a young woman who had fled her small town. She came here, to the city. Not the big city, but to the city. She explained that everybody knew her business where she was from. She would come home in the afternoon and find that her mother knew about anything she had done that day.

It's why people in small towns never stay home on vacation.

Johnny Carson liked vacationing in Europe because no one there knew who he was. The Tonight Show was briefly broadcast in Great Britain, but they only showed the interviews. The Brits couldn't understand why Ed McMahon was always sitting there.

I don't know how popular Justin Bieber is outside of North America, but he needs to find some place he can relax. Someplace with lax drug laws.

Bought some CDs

I never download music illegally. But the way musicians have suffered because of it, I decided a while back to start buying CDs. 

Until recently, I had only bought a few CDs. One was Tiny Tim, one was Three Penny Opera. And that was about it. I don't listen to music.

Now, whenever I hear musicians perform, if they have CDs for sale, I'll buy one or two.  

I had my suggestion for the illegal downloaders. To make up for their crimes, even if they have no use for CDs themselves, they should give them on every gift-giving occasion. It's money they would spend anyway, and they owe it to the musicians they've been ripping off. Some of these people brag that they've downloaded tens of thousands of tunes. They ought to have a pretty good idea what to buy for whom.

If they won't even do that, to hell with them.

You don't like it here, go to Russia!

Gerard Depardieu has received Russian citizenship and Brigitte Bardot is threatening to apply.

Depardieu is having tax problems in France and Bardot is an animal rights activist. Putin has done more for animals---banning seal hunting, for example. Putin piloted an ultralight plane to lead birds in migration and RT, the Russian news channel, is showing him with researchers getting a blood sample from a Siberian Tiger in the wild.

Good for Russia! I'd move there myself if I could. If I spoke Russian. Hospitals are free, you get a month's vacation a year. Most city dwellers have dachas---summer cottages. You can buy a new car for under $8,000, university education is dirt cheap---one college charges $10 a month to live in a dorm and they provide textbooks. If I had children, they'd be learning Russian.

The disadvantages are----well, if you desecrate a church by forcing your way onto the altar and performing an obscene song and dance while church members demand that you leave, you can be criminally charged. But you can participate in a public orgy on the floor of a museum without legal impediment. They get a lot of snow. Billionaires go to prison for not paying taxes, but that's a good thing.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Ishmael Reed on Django Unchained

Read the full article here:


Ishmael Reed is always interesting.

Just a bit from the article----you should read the whole thing:
...I would loved to have been present at the marketing meetings about this movie. The cynicism must have been as thick as cigar smoke. Jamie Foxx has been promoted as the star of “Django Unchained,” and has assumed the role as movie defender–the same role played by Viola Davis in the promotion of the equally offensive “The Help.” Foxx serves as a buffer between the producers and the wrath of blacks like those who attended a recent showing where the film’s writer and director Quentin Tarantino reportedly faced hostile questions from a black audience.

The real stars of “Django Unchained,” however, are Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio is master of a plantation where Django’s wife Broomhilda (seriously), is being held, and has apparently been passed around among the “Mandingos” who are trained to participate in slave fights for the entertainment of DiCaprio and his friends. The movie’s “star,” Foxx, is there for the audience that used to sit in the balcony at southern movie houses. He performs in a movie within a movie. A sort of “Harlem On The Prairie.” This was an ingenuous bit of marketing. “Django” was the talk among blacks during two Christmas parties that I attended, lured to the screen because Foxx was featured in the promotion...

The middle of  “Django” showcases Waltz and DiCaprio. They engage in a lengthy dialogue which includes references to Beethoven and phrenology, during which Foxx’s Django alternates between scowling and looking completely dumbfounded by the civilized talk. The DiCaprio character believes that there are wrinkles in the brain that cause blacks to be docile. Tarantino’s fictional blacks apparently lack that part of the brain that makes one compassionate. While some blacks are being brutalized other blacks go about their business. In one scene, a black woman is being whipped while nearby a black woman is enjoying herself on a swing.

Foxx’s role in the movie is confined to frowning and murdering lower class whites who, in this film, seem to be responsible for all of the brutality during slavery, while the planters stand by helpless and embarrassed by one of their number, the lone psychopathic, who, like the Nazi played by Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List,” revels in cruel misdeeds. In one scene after two blacks have engaged in a brutal fight leaving one dead, one of the fiendish slave master’s friends shows that he was really turned off by the exhibition and has to have a drink.

Throughout the movie,Tarantino reminds us that the Foxx character is unique. Comic book white racists, when reacting to Django, say things like “I ain’t never seen a n—– like you.” Or “I ain’t never seen a n—– on horseback.” In case you didn’t get the message it’s said twice in the movie that Django is “one in ten thousand” blacks. It might have been “Django” producer Reginald Hudlin who introduced Tarantino to the “Talented Tenth” concept originated by W.E.B DuBois. I wish that Hudlin had written the movie. As it stands, Foxx is chained to this stupid screenplay.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cecil Brown on Django Unchained

An essay by Cecil Brown on the movie Django Unchained posted on CounterPunch.com.

Read it here: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/01/01/hollywoods-nigger-joke/

From the essay:
We realize that all that had gone before, the shots of the black slaves, the sad music, the spiritual music and lyrics—all of that was just a set-up, a pretext. The real text, the underlying message was the punchline that Blacks in slavery were fools and cowards.

Throughout the rest of the film, this is Tarantino method: begin with a serious treatment, suck the audience in,  and then, he hits you—Bang!–with a punch line that catches you off guard.  The problem with the ethnic joke is that the joke is always on the black man, who, has no recourse to respond.

Where I saw the film, at the AMC theater, in Emeryville California, the audience was the same one that had voted for Obama. When I waited in the long line to see the film,  people’s faces were glowing with expectation. The hype about Jamie Foxx and Sam Jackson and Kerry Washington was like voting for a Black man for President.

But after seeing the film, their faces were empty, their eyes were blank. Sure,  they had laughed at the scatological humor, had flinched at the gruesome ugly scenes, had been insulted by the self-deprecating humor, and had been lifted up by  the antics of the “bad nigger”... 
For many of them, Tarantino had delivered. In essence, they had their cathartic laugh, and yet they still felt  dirty from  the guilty pleasure. Their empty faces were drained understanding. They had been used, and they were beginning to know it. You could see that they had been bamboozled.