Friday, October 24, 2008

Scary Movies (Part III)

Today, I'm concluding my three-part post on scary movies that are scheduled to be shown on Halloween or the day before Halloween.

In this post, I'm looking at the broadcast schedule for American Movie Classics.

Keep in mind that, unlike Turner Classic Movies or the Independent Film Channel, AMC interrupts its programming with commercial breaks — and it edits its films for both objectionable material and to make sure it fits into an allotted time slot.

On Halloween, things get started early:
  • "The Fly," (1958) starring Vincent Price, at 1:30 a.m. (Central).

  • "House of Dracula" (1945) at 3:30 a.m. (Central).

  • "House of Frankenstein" (1945) at 5 a.m. (Central).

  • "House of Dracula" (1958) at 6:30 a.m. (Central).

  • The original "Halloween" (1978) will be shown at 8:30 a.m. (Central).

  • "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers" (1988) will be shown at 10:30 a.m. (Central).

  • "Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers" (1989) will be shown at 12:30 p.m. (Central).

  • "Jeepers Creepers" (2001) will be shown at 2:30 p.m. (Central).

  • "Constantine" (2005) will be shown at 4:30 p.m. (Central).

  • "Resident Evil" (2002) will be shown at 7 p.m. (Central).

  • "House on Haunted Hill" (1999) will be shown at 9 p.m. (Central).

  • "Return to House on Haunted Hill" (2007) will be shown at 11 p.m. (Central).
The day before Halloween brings a full day's worth of horror films, including a couple that were based on Stephen King books, on AMC.
  • "Pet Sematary Two" (1992) will be shown at 1:15 a.m. (Central).

  • "Puppet Master" (1989) will be shown at 3:15 a.m. (Central).

  • "The Mummy," (1932) starring Boris Karloff, will be shown at 5 a.m. (Central).

  • "Magic," (1978) starring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith, will be shown at 6:45 a.m. (Central).

  • "Piñata: Survival Island" (1999) will be shown at 9 a.m. (Central).

  • "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984) will be shown at 10:45 a.m. (Central).

  • "Christine" (1983) will be shown at 12:45 p.m. (Central).

  • "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday" (1993) will be shown at 3 p.m. (Central).

  • "Willard" (2003) will be shown at 5 p.m. (Central).

  • "Constantine" (2005) will be shown at 7 p.m. (Central).

  • "Jeepers Creepers" (2001) will be shown at 9:30 p.m. (Central).

  • "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984) will be shown at 11:30 p.m. (Central).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

As an adolescent boy in the 1970s, I felt a strong attraction to the "Brady Bunch" character of Marcia Brady, played by Maureen McCormick.

In my young eyes, Marcia was beautiful, sexy, smart — even if her character possessed a fragile ego.

I must admit that I also felt something of an attraction for other women on TV in the early 1970s as well — like Laurie Partridge (Susan Dey) of the "Partridge Family," Hot Lips Houlihan (Loretta Swit) of "M*A*S*H" and Gloria Stivic (Sally Struthers) of "All in the Family" — but they were all much older than I was — or at least they seemed to be.

Marcia Brady seemed attainable because she reminded me in many ways of the young girls I knew in my world — the ones who plastered pictures of the male pop idols of the day (like Donny Osmond and Bobby Sherman) onto their school notebooks and drew small circles as the dots on their "I's."

Then as now, girls in that age group were also the first ones to embrace a new fashion.

My father was a college professor, and I often spent time on the campus where he worked, but my first exposure to emerging female fashion trends tended to be not on that college campus but in my middle school and my junior high school.

It was there that I saw the young girls of my generation wearing mini-skirts and hip-hugging jeans, forever defining "sexy" in my mind. Those were the kinds of clothes Marcia and her girlfriends wore.

That was about as far as things went for me in those days.

But, in real life, Marcia apparently did a lot more than play "Spin the Bottle."

Recently, McCormick published her tell-all behind-the-scenes account of things with the "Brady Bunch."

In the book, "Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice," McCormick confesses an addiction to cocaine that led her to trade sex for drugs. She also admits to having had two abortions and battling depression through most of her adult life.

Now 52, McCormick is no longer the enticing adolescent girl I remember — although one can certainly see remnants of her in current pictures of McCormick — the eyes are the same, the smile is the same.

Even so, I find it astonishing that, more than 30 years after the "Brady Bunch" went off the air, revelations about the cast members are still capable of drawing the kind of attention that McCormick's book did.

Really, how many other middle-aged former American TV stars would merit foreign media attention for books about their exploits in their younger days?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

'Citizen Kane' Revisited

"Any man who has the brains to think and the nerve to act for the benefit of the people of the country is considered a radical by those who are content with stagnation and willing to endure disaster."

William Randolph Hearst

I worked with a fellow nearly 10 years ago who had been employed as a cashier at a video store for awhile.

He told me that a customer came up to him once and asked what was the best movie in the store. Without hesitating, my friend replied, "Citizen Kane."

Of course, the customer was asking about current movies, not a film that was made before America entered World War II.

But most film experts acknowledge that my friend was correct: Even though it is nearly 70 years old now, "Citizen Kane" is the greatest American film ever made.

Turner Classic Movies will show "Citizen Kane" unedited and uninterrupted Wednesday night at 9 p.m. (Central).

It doesn't have most of the elements that modern films require to be successful. It doesn't have splashy special effects or scantily clad (if clad at all) actresses. There's no objectionable language, no drug use, and the limited alcohol use is implied. It wasn't even filmed in color.

What you get when you see "Citizen Kane" is a great story (with a lot of filmmaking techniques that were innovative at the time). It is Orson Welles' directorial and acting masterpiece.

That's the common link between great films, no matter when they were made. They tell great stories.

The film tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper owner. It begins with the newsreel that tells his public story on the occasion of his death — which viewers already know came while he was clutching a small snow globe in his hand. He uttered the word "Rosebud," the globe slipped from his lifeless hand and a mystery was born.

For the rest of the movie, a reporter seeks out Kane's associates to see if he can discover the meaning of the word "Rosebud."

He is inspired in his quest by an editor with whom he and some other reporters watched a preview of Kane's memorial newsreel.

"Maybe he told us all about himself on his deathbed," the editor says. "[W]ho is she? ... What was it? ... [W]hen he comes to die, he's got something on his mind called 'Rosebud.' Now what does that mean?"

One of his colleagues has a suggestion: "A racehorse he bet on once ... that didn't come in."

"But what was the race?" asks the editor.

Those who have seen the film know what the word "Rosebud" meant. I don't want to spoil it for anyone. That's part of the pleasure of the discovery of "Citizen Kane."

Whether you've seen it before or not, I urge you to watch it. Discover it — or re-discover it.

Everyone from the film's cast and crew has passed away now. The last one standing was Moyer "Sonny" Bupp, who played Welles' son in what amounted to a bit part. He died Nov. 1, 2007, at the age of 79.

Welles himself passed away 23 years ago this month.

But thanks to the magic of the movies, they live on to tell the story of Charles Foster Kane — whose story was loosely patterned after the life of influential American journalist William Randolph Hearst.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Edie Adams Dies at 81

"One thing about my mom; she was keenly aware of her sex appeal. She knew men would be happy to spend time with her. But she was smarter than the average bear."

Josh Mills

If you were a male who grew up in America in the 1960s, Edie Adams may have been your introduction to the appeal of the opposite sex.

If she wasn't your introduction, she was darn close to it.

There were lots of beautiful women on TV and in the movies in the 1960s, and a young man's fancy could easily be swayed from one beautiful face and sexy body to the next.

Edie Adams wasn't Marilyn Monroe, although she did resemble her and she used that to further her career.

Adams appeared in both TV and the movies. But she may have been most memorable as the "Muriel cigar girl" — the long-time pitch lady on Muriel cigars' TV commercials, dancing in slinky dresses and urging viewers to "pick one up and smoke it sometime" in her best Mae West impersonation.

When I heard on Wednesday that Adams had died at the age of 81, I thought about her commercials — but I also thought of her performance in the 1964 political drama, "The Best Man," in which she played the wife of presidential candidate Cliff Robertson, whose character was locked in a battle for his party's nomination with Henry Fonda.

(I remember being about 9 or 10 when I saw that movie for the first time — and I couldn't understand how Robertson's character could be accused of being a "degenerate" as a young man in the service — and yet be married to someone as alluring as Adams.)

Other than the facts that Adams died recently and this is a presidential election year, I guess there's nothing else that makes the film relevant.

Except for the fact that I've always liked the movie. And I always liked Adams.

Adams died of pneumonia and cancer, according to her son, Josh Mills, her only survivor.

By the way, you can see a couple of Adams' movies (both from 1963) on Turner Classic Movies this Friday:
  • "Love With the Proper Stranger" at 7 a.m. (Central).

  • "Under the Yum-Yum Tree" at 1 p.m. (Central).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Scary Movies (Part II)

Today, I'm examining the scary films that are scheduled to be shown on the Independent Film Channel for Halloween.

But IFC (unlike Turner Classic Movies) doesn't seem to be devoting a specific day (or, in TCM's case, two specific days) to showing nothing but horror movies.

And IFC appears to allow a little more leeway in designating a film as a scary movie than TCM — at least judging from the films that are scheduled to be shown in two weeks.

Like Bill Clinton's famous declaration that "it depends on what your definition of 'is' is," with IFC, it depends on what your definition of "horror" is.
  • For example, on Halloween, IFC will show a movie called "The Honeymoon Killers," a black-and-white 1969 film that was apparently based on a true story.

    More correctly, I suppose, the film is categorized as a thriller — and, on an unrelated note, Martin Scorsese originally was to be the director of the film, but he was fired after a few days because he was taking too long with his set-ups.

    Still, true crime stories are part of the Halloween experience for some people. If you're one of those people, make a note that IFC will show "The Honeymoon Killers" at 7 a.m. (Central).

  • IFC will show another thriller (this one of the gangster variety) on Halloween — "Miller's Crossing" — at 10:20 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. (Central). It's a Coen brothers film from 1990 that stars Albert Finney and John Turturro.

  • Looking for more traditional Halloween fare? "Eaten Alive" from 1977 may be more your style. It's about a psychotic redneck who feeds people who upset him to his pet crocodile. IFC will show it at 6:15 p.m. (Central).

  • "The Burning" from 1981 may fit the bill even better. In addition to being (apparently) one of the best slasher films of the '80s, the film also features early appearances by Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter, as well as a memorable score by Rick Wakeman (who played key roles in creating, among others, Yes' classic albums "Fragile" and "Close to the Edge" in the early 1970s). It will be shown at 7:55 p.m. (Central).

  • "Hanzo the Razor: Who's Got the Gold?" from 1974 is part of a trilogy about a Japanese lawman. I haven't seen it (or any of the other films in the trilogy), but I've read that it's the strangest one of the films about Hanzo the Razor — who apparently tracks embezzlers to a haunted castle.
Actually, Thursday night, Oct. 30 — the night before Halloween — may be your best bet on IFC.
  • Although not a typical horror film, "Fargo" (another Coen brothers entry) gets things started with its satirical thriller tale set in snowy Minnesota.

    The film comes on at 5:45 p.m. (Central).

  • At 8 p.m. (Central) — and again at 1 a.m. (Central) — "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child" from 1989 will be shown.

    I have a friend who (for lack of a better term) is something of an aficionado of the "Nightmare on Elm Street," "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" flicks. He tells me the special effects in this one were good, but the "Nightmare" series was getting old by the time its fifth installment came out.

  • It is followed, at 9:30 p.m. and again at 2:30 a.m. (Central), by the next chapter in the "Nightmare" series — "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare" — which came out in 1991.

    Don't be fooled by the title. There were more sequels to come. But apparently they were better. My friend told me this was the worst film in the series. I guess there was nowhere to go but up.

    If it weren't bizarre enough, it features Tom and Roseanne Arnold as a childless couple. Go figure.

  • Things get better on IFC for horror fans at 11:15 p.m., when 2001's "Ed Gein" comes on.

    Steve Railsback stars as the title character, a real serial killer whose life story served as the inspiration for Hitchcock's "Psycho" and the character Buffalo Bill in "The Silence of the Lambs."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Scary Movies (Part I)

When I was in second grade — or maybe it was third grade — I remember spending a Friday night at the home of one of my friends, Gene.

Gene’s mother had died, as I recall, and he lived with his paternal grandmother. His father was never around, and I don’t remember knowing too much about him, except I know he played a role in the household, sending money to help with expenses. I guess I always assumed he was a traveling salesman because he showed up at the house periodically for visits.

Anyway, in those days, the only late-night talk show on TV was Johnny Carson’s show. The other stations seemed to do as they pleased in the hours after the 10 o’clock news until whatever time they signed off.

Late on Friday nights (in this case, "late" means after the 10 o’clock news, which was late by my 8- or 9-year-old standards), one of the Little Rock stations would show old horror movies in a regularly scheduled weekly program with a Count Dracula-like host named Mr. Crypt, who would appear on the screen before and after each commercial break in a catacombs-like set complete with an open casket.

My parents never permitted me to stay up and watch Mr. Crypt on Friday nights. Maybe they thought that whatever I would see would frighten me and give me nightmares. But, like most children who discover there is something they want to do but have been forbidden to do, I persisted — until finally my parents agreed to let me stay up one Friday night and see Mr. Crypt.

The plan was for me to go to Gene’s house that Friday to spend the night. He and I would be allowed to watch Mr. Crypt together — with his grandmother monitoring.

To this day, there are many things about that night that I don’t know, that I never knew.

I don’t know, for example, if my parents and Gene’s grandmother conspired together and watched the TV listings for a movie that was going to be shown on Mr. Crypt that they thought wouldn’t traumatize our young minds. Then, when such a movie listing was found, they decided to allow us to stay up with Mr. Crypt.

Maybe they hoped the movie would be so boring that we would have no more interest in Mr. Crypt.

That’s possible.

But Gene and I were two very excited youngsters that night — and we burned out early, long before the movie came on, and fell asleep. Gene’s grandmother tried to rouse us when the movie came on, but there was never a time when both of us were fully conscious.

My only memories, after being awakened, were of fleeting black-and-white images, some organ music and the obligatory scream — and the occasional commercial break with Mr. Crypt. It seems to me that both Gene and I fell asleep for good after a few minutes and never saw very much of the movie — whatever it was.

I don't think this occurred during the Halloween season. When Gene and I tried to stay up to watch Mr. Crypt, I was still at the age where I dressed up for Halloween and went on trick-or-treat rounds. But I don't associate the Mr. Crypt experience with Halloween at all.

Except for the mutual link to scary movies.

On Thursday, Oct. 30, and Friday, Oct. 31, Turner Classic Movies will be showing the kinds of movies that used to be shown on Mr. Crypt's Friday night program when I was a little boy.

Few, if any, will be listed among the classic films of all time, but they're worth watching if you want to experience the feelings that movies about the wolfman or the mummy or Frankenstein or Dracula used to evoke in the days before Stephen King novels and "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" movies monopolized the genre.

On Thursday, Oct. 30, you can see:
  • "The Thing From Another World" at 3:45 a.m. (Central).

  • "Mad Love" with Peter Lorre at 5:15 a.m. (Central).

  • "The Beast With Five Fingers" with Peter Lorre at 6:30 a.m. (Central).

  • "I Walked With a Zombie" at 8 a.m. (Central).

  • "Curse of the Demon" at 9:15 a.m. (Central).

  • "The Gorgon" at 11 a.m. (Central).

  • "Mr. Sardonicus" at 12:30 a.m. (Central).

  • "The Tomb of Ligeia" with Vincent Price at 2:15 p.m. (Central).

  • "The Tingler" with Vincent Price at 4 p.m. (Central).

  • "House of Usher" with Vincent Price at 5:30 p.m. (Central).

  • "Dead of Night" at 7 p.m. (Central).

  • "Torture Garden" with Jack Palance and Burgess Meredith at 9 p.m. (Central).

  • "Twice-Told Tales" with Vincent Price and Sebastian Cabot at 10:45 p.m. (Central).

  • "Kwaidan" at 1 a.m. (Central).
You might be surprised to know that, in spite of some of the titles, these films get pretty good reviews from online reviewers. I haven't seen most of them, but it looks like they have the potential to deliver those Halloween chills.

If those movies don't come through, then, on Halloween, Friday, Oct. 31, you can see:
  • "Spirits of the Dead" with Jane Fonda at 3:45 a.m. (Central).

  • "Cat People" from 1942 at 6:30 a.m. (Central).

  • "Freaks" at 8 a.m. (Central).

  • "The Devil Doll" at 9:15 a.m. (Central).

  • "Mark of the Vampire" with Bela Lugosi at 10:45 a.m. (Central).

  • "The Devil Bat" with Bela Lugosi at noon (Central).

  • "White Zombie" with Bela Lugosi at 1:15 p.m. (Central).

  • "The Body Snatcher" with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff at 2:30 p.m. (Central).

  • "Bedlam" with Boris Karloff at 4 p.m. (Central).

  • "The Ghoul" with Boris Karloff at 5:30 p.m. (Central).

  • "The Haunted Palace" with Vincent Price at 7 p.m. (Central).

  • "Die, Monster, Die!" with Boris Karloff at 8:30 p.m. (Central).

  • "The Shuttered Room" at 10 p.m. (Central).

  • "The Dunwich Horror" at 11:45 p.m. (Central).

  • "Blood Feast" at 1:30 a.m. (Central).

  • "Two Thousand Maniacs!" at 2:45 a.m. (Central).
Halloween just isn't Halloween if you don't watch a scary movie. I'll be writing more about the scary movies that are being televised in the next few weeks.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

If You Can Find It, Read 'FDR's Last Year'

"Time magazine, alert to the importance of Roosevelt's state of health, published an article ... and opened by quoting the New York Sun: 'Let's not be squeamish. It is convention not the constitution which forbids open comment on the possibility that a President may be succeeded by his Vice President. Six Presidents have died in office.' The New York Daily News stated it for the subway readers: 'Dewey is 42; Roosevelt is 62.'"

Jim Bishop
"FDR's Last Year: April 1944-April 1945"

When I was about 12, I discovered the writings of Jim Bishop.

My father was a professor at a small liberal arts college in central Arkansas. From time to time, I would walk from my middle school or my junior high school (both of which were only a short distance from the college campus) to his office and ride home with him.

And, on some of those occasions, I stopped off at the small on-campus bookstore to browse before continuing to my father's office.

The bookstore carried all the textbooks that were required in each class that was being offered, of course, as well as a fairly wide selection of mass market hardback and paperback books — all crammed into a small store/office in what was called the "student union," although I guess, on most campuses these days, it would be called a "student commons" or "student activity center."

Small it was, but it was large enough to serve the relatively small student body.

Anyway, that was where I discovered Jim Bishop. A lone copy of his "The Day Lincoln Was Shot" was hidden behind copies of "Sounder," "Portnoy's Complaint" and "Slaughterhouse-Five." I don't recall how I found it. I just did.

I took it to the cashier, paid for it and left with my newly acquired treasure.

(I still have that book, by the way, and the price on the cover — 85 cents — testifies to how much times have changed.)

The book told the story, hour by hour, of the day that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Originally, it was published in 1955, and it paved the way for similar narratives — "The Day Christ Died" and "The Day Kennedy Was Shot" — that I read after I finished the book on Lincoln.

But those books were old news in the publishing world by the mid-1970s. You could still find them in bookstores, but they were becoming increasingly difficult to locate.

Then, in 1974, Bishop published a book that took a similar approach to historical storytelling as his books on the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations and the crucifixion — but it followed the developments of an entire year instead of a single 24-hour period.

It was called "FDR's Last Year: April 1944-April 1945," and it was a huge success, a nationwide bestseller.

I bought it when it came out in paperback the following year. (I had to pay more for it than I paid for the Lincoln book — $2.45 — but that would still be a bargain compared to the price of books today.)

The book is relevant in the modern political climate, if only because, in both presidential election campaigns, the nominee of the party in power was significantly older than the nominee of the challenging party. Health was a mostly unmentioned issue.

In Roosevelt's case, health questions simply took a backseat to the role he played in leading the allied war effort. In that final year, of course, the Allies began the liberation of Europe with the invasion of Normandy in June.

But, even though big and important things were happening in the world, there were people who insisted on giving events an election-year spin.

"There were some men in high places who, ignoring the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, said that there would be no election in 1944. It is not an accident that most of the rumormongers were members of the Republican Party. Politics, a national pastime in democracies, would continue as usual. The Republican Party had been out of executive power for 12 years. Some were embittered to the point where they accused the president of staging D-Day to coincide with the Republican convention in June, and the Democratic in July. Others counseled that, as the argument against a third term had borne no elective fruit, it would be witless to fight against a fourth. The target, if FDR ran again, should be that the government was in the hands of 'tired, quarrelsome old men.'"

Jim Bishop
"FDR's Last Year: April 1944-April 1945"

In John McCain's case, the subject of his health hasn't been mentioned frequently primarily because of the media's apparent assumption that it doesn't matter because he won't win.

But if McCain surprises observers and wins the election, his health will suddenly take center stage. And it will be too late to ask questions about his vice president's experience and qualifications.

As you read Bishop's book, you become more aware of how Roosevelt's 1944 running mate, Harry Truman, was nothing more than an afterthought. Few, if any, of the voters who preferred FDR gave any thought to the possibility that Truman might become president.

The book is nothing if not a cautionary tale, although it doesn't explore the successes or failures of Truman's presidency. It only tells us, in the course of telling the story of those fateful 12 months, in which the war was won and the president died, how Truman came to be chosen for Roosevelt's ticket — and, consequently, was elected vice president.

Truman had been vice president for less than three months when he was summoned to the White House in April 1945 — and was told that Roosevelt had died.

As someone who has earned a degree in graduate school, I can tell you that Bishop's writing is not perfect — from the perspective of historical research, his books lack the kind of footnotes and bibliography that would be required of a graduate school history student.

Yet, The New York Times Book Review said, in its review of "FDR's Last Year," that Bishop possessed "the gifts of a born storyteller," and it called the book "absorbing."

That is when history is most "absorbing," in my opinion — when, as Andy Griffith (speaking as TV's Sheriff Andy Taylor) said, a gifted storyteller "puts a little jam on the bread."

Even without footnotes and bibliography that would be considered adequate by academic journals, Bishop provides a lot of "jam" in "FDR's Last Year."

His book was probably more absorbing in 1974, though. The book was published nearly 30 years after Franklin Roosevelt's death, and many of the people who read it at that time were old enough to remember FDR and his presidency.

Today, Roosevelt has been gone for more than 60 years, and the majority of the people who were old enough to remember even the wartime FDR (never mind the younger FDR who guided America through the Depression) are no longer with us. For most of the people who would read Bishop's book today, FDR is an historical figure, someone from the history books, like Lincoln and George Washington.

As I understand it, "FDR's Last Year," like most of Bishop's books, is out of print now. Some bookstores may be able to locate and special-order a copy for you. And you might be able to find a copy at a used book store.

If you find a copy, get it and read it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Did He Ever Find Those Cats?

It's hard for me to believe it's been 15 years since the debut of "Late Night With David Letterman" in the renovated theatre that was home to Ed Sullivan's TV show for so many years.

But so it has. Letterman's first show in the renamed Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York City was on Aug. 30, 1993.

His guests that night included Billy Joel, Tom Brokaw and Bill Murray.

And a surprise guest in the audience — Paul Newman.

I've read many tributes to Newman since his death on Sept. 26, but I haven't read or heard any recollections about that night in 1993.

It was so natural, so plausible.

After being "introduced" from the audience by a film clip of Ed Sullivan, Newman asked Letterman, "Where the hell's the singing cats?"

Apparently, Newman was referring to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Cats," which had been a hit in England and on Broadway for more than a decade.

"No, Paul, this isn't 'Cats,'" Letterman replied. "It's me, Dave Letterman. This is my new show from the Ed Sullivan Theatre."

Newman looked at his ticket stub, then said, "Oops, sorry, wrong theatre," and walked out while the audience cheered.

Newman's home was in Westport, Conn., which is about 45 miles from New York City. It certainly wouldn't be hard to imagine him driving to New York to take in a popular show.

But I don't recall seeing anyone — even his wife, Joanne Woodward — with him in the audience.

Nevertheless, I hope he found those cats.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I Recommend ...

Four years ago, "Shrek 2" made more than $900 million worldwide, nearly half of that in the United States and Canada alone.

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" brought in nearly $800 million worldwide. "Spider-Man 2" netted more than $780 million, and "The Incredibles" tallied more than $631 million.

Other box office hits were "The Passion of the Christ," "Meet the Fockers" and "Ocean's Twelve."

And there were other, critically acclaimed films that didn't bring in the really big money, like "Million Dollar Baby," "Ray," "The Aviator," "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Sideways," as well as just plain popular, entertaining films that performed respectably well at the box office.

With all that going on, it's understandable if some worthwhile films slipped under your radar.

One such film may have been "C.S.A.: Confederate States of America," a "mockumentary" about an alternate reality, in which the South won the battle of Gettysburg and went on to win the Civil War.

Four years ago, "C.S.A." slipped under my radar, but I was fortunate enough to catch it in a somewhat rare broadcast on IFC, the company that acquired the rights to the film after its disappointing initial theatrical run.

The story is told from the perspective of a foreign documentary filmmaker (apparently modeled after the BBC). It is presented as a domestic broadcast of the documentary, which apparently has generated a great deal of talk in the "CSA" but has been blocked for a couple of years over differing interpretations of events and policies and is aired with disclaimers.

In a satirical — and sometimes disturbing — way, the film examines what North America might have been like if the South had defeated the North.

In this alternate reality, slavery and cotton make the South an economic power. Abraham Lincoln becomes a fugitive after the war ends — and ultimately lives four decades longer than he actually did.

In the 20th century, the South forms an alliance with Hitler and the Nazis but rejects the "final solution," opting to enslave vanquished ethnic groups and prosper from their labor instead of destroying them.

Punctuating the story are commercial breaks, featuring parodies of actual commercials for products and services that had racist implications.

The film's writer/director, Kevin Wilmott, is a black man who teaches film at the University of Kansas. Nearly two dozen of his students contributed, in one form or another, to the production of the film — some on camera, others behind the scenes.

The film struggled at the box office during its initial run, then the rights were acquired by the Independent Film Channel and Spike Lee assumed the role of executive producer.

IFC doesn't seem to show "C.S.A." very often, but IFC will show it four times this month, starting this Friday at 8 p.m. (Central). I recommend it as one of the most inventive films I've seen in a long time.

It is also scheduled to be shown
  • Monday, Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. (Central),

  • Saturday, Oct. 25 at 9:45 p.m. (Central) and

  • Sunday, Oct. 26 at 3 a.m. (Central).
Don't miss it.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Final Days of Edgar Allan Poe

"Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow—
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream:
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream."

Edgar Allan Poe
"A Dream Within A Dream" (1849)

He is best remembered as the author of mysterious and macabre stories.

I remember becoming interested in his works when, as a teenager, I heard a recording by The Alan Parsons Project playing in a record store.

The album consisted entirely of songs that were inspired by his writings. It was called "Tales of Mystery and Imagination."

It fascinated me. It was the store's featured new release and, as such, was being played repeatedly for all the patrons to hear. At the front of the store, the album's cover was displayed beneath a sign that said, "Now playing."

I don't know how many people were persuaded to purchase that album by that kind of exposure and sales technique, but it worked on me. I bought it that day, having read nothing about it beforehand and having heard only a couple of songs while browsing in the store.

I marveled then, as I do now, at the mind that could compose poems and stories capable of inspiring such musical composition.

Even today, more than 30 years later, I am dazzled by the musicianship of the early incarnation of the group that was put together by a mostly unheralded engineer who worked on the Beatles' "Abbey Road" and Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon."

Edgar Allan Poe's death, which remains shrouded in mystery nearly 160 years later, also fascinated me — and still does.

On Oct. 3, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore. Poe was delirious, according to the man who found him. He was "in great distress, and ... in need of immediate assistance."

He was taken to a hospital, where he died four days later, never having been lucid long enough to explain what had happened — or why he was wearing clothes that did not belong to him when he was found.

All of Poe's medical records have been lost. Newspaper accounts of the day reported his death but used code words to imply that alcoholism was the cause of death.

Alcohol may or may not have caused Poe's death. Clearly, he struggled with alcohol during his life, but various reports over the years have indicated that it may not have caused his death at the age of 40. He may have been a victim of heart disease, cholera, epilepsy or rabies.

Like the death of Mozart at 35, of which I wrote the other day, Poe's death probably will remain unsolved.

But, as it was with Salieri in the death of Mozart, there does appear to be a plausible suspect in Poe's death.

A fellow named Rufus Griswold, who was a contemporary editor and critic, apparently was one of Poe's adversaries who also apparently tried to smear Poe after his death.

The effort was temporarily successful — until the sources for Griswold's assertions were discredited and the allegations were exposed as lies or distortions.

Poe's reputation was restored — but the cause of his death remains undetermined.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Harrison's Harbinger of Singular Success

An item at Wikipedia caught my attention this morning.

On Wikipedia’s main page is a "featured article" — which may or may not be relevant to the date or something in the news.

This morning, the "featured article" was about the song "Something" that appeared on the Beatles’ album "Abbey Road."

"Something" was written by George Harrison. Although "Abbey Road" was the 12th studio album released by the Beatles — and in spite of the fact that Harrison had been writing songs that appeared on albums by the Beatles for six years, including "Taxman," "Think for Yourself," "If I Needed Someone" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" as well as songs that, for one reason or another, weren't recorded by the group — "Something" was the first Harrison song to appear on the "A" side when it was released as a Beatles single in October of 1969.

This terminology may sound odd to youthful ears that have never listened to a 45-rpm vinyl recording.

But, in the years when the Beatles were making music, the "A" side was the song on the single that was promoted commercially. There might be several singles released from one album, and they were all usually used to promote sales of the long-play album.

The "B" side was the "filler" song, the one that was put on the other side because, well, something (so to speak) needed to be there.

The song on the "A" side was the one that the promoters expected to be a big hit — although there were times when my friends and I bought singles because we liked the "B" side songs.

Buying singles was an economical way to collect music if you didn’t have a lot of money to spend. But the LP ("long play") made it possible to listen to music for extended periods of time between changes.

Anyway, if someone recorded a song that was a hit as an "A" side single, it was like striking gold. The "B" side song was usually forgotten.

And, for half a dozen years, Harrison’s songs had served as the "B" side material for the group.

Small wonder, then, that, after the band broke up, Harrison — who had been feeling more and more confined in his role with the Beatles — became the first Beatle to have a #1 solo album — the ambitious three-record set "All Things Must Pass."

By George, he had to do something with that backlog of material!

(An interesting trivia point. One of the assistant engineers on the "Abbey Road" album was Alan Parsons — who was unknown at the time but went on to engineer Pink Floyd’s "The Dark Side of the Moon" and produced several successful records with his own Alan Parsons Project.)