Thursday, October 28, 2010

McRib










It’s all in the marketing.

The McRib has got to be one of the most successful failures of all time. And it is back, for a limited time.

The McRib being available only for a limited time is why it is so successful. McDonald’s gives you the right to have it, but only occasionally. So we must eat as many of them as possible when we have the chance.

The McRib debuted on McDonald’s menus in 1981. It sold ok, but not great. It was not worth keeping around full time. But the people that liked it, really liked it.

So they brought it back, only to take it away again. And this has gone on ever since, like some cruel joke.

The very first McDonald's Executive Chef came up with McRib after eating pulled pork in Charleston, SC. Would just making this a round sandwich make more sense? Well sure, but what is the fun in that. A sandwich that looks like a rack of ribs, but of course has no ribs, now that’s something. It is also not really rib meat, but shoulder meat. But if you are a fan, you are probably not a stickler on those details.

The sandwich came back strong as a promotion for the Flintstones movie in 1994. In 2005, McDonald’s had a farewell tour, followed by another, along with a campaign to save the sandwich. “The McRib was like the Who,” says McDonald’s Head Chef Dan Coudreaut.

There has also been a campaign to help the “Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America.”

People who have had to wait for McDonald’s to oblige nationally, have banded together to help each other out. There is a McRib locator website (http://kleincast.com/maps/mcrib). If you have seen a McRib, please go to this website and type in when and where. It is kind of like spotting a UFO, only a little less scary.

The Simpson’s even had a takeoff on the cult status of the sandwich. Homer followed the Ribwich (made by Krusty Burger of course) all around the country. He had to stop when the animal that was used for the Ribwich became extinct.

McDonald’s is cooperating again starting November 2nd. For the first time since 1994, the sandwich will be available nationwide. No more following it around like a Deadhead in order to get your fix. For 6 glorious weeks, it is ours, as long as you have a McDonald’s in your area. And if you do not, how are you reading this online article?

Is marketing not important? Remember the MCDLT? It didn’t last long. The “hot side hot and the cool side cool,” just seemed like too much work I guess. Now, remember the Big & Tasty? Same sandwich, far more successful. Different packaging.




That very first executive chef for McDonald’s that invented the McRib, is named Rene Arend. Just 1 year earlier, in 1980, he had introduced the world to the McNugget.

Rene Arend deserves to be a household name.




Thursday, October 7, 2010

Running Over The Same Old Ground

"Won't you miss me? Wouldn't you miss me at all?"  -Syd Barrett (Dark Globe)

Pink Floyd, as many bands do, started as a group of friends.  Four university students formed the band in 1965.  Member Syd Barrett would give them their name, as well as their early identity.  Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Pete Townsend would all become fans for Barrett's unique guitar playing and songwriting.   

Just 2 years later, Barrett's career would be close to over.  Another guitarist would join the band that would help make them one of the most celebrated of all time. 

David Gilmour was a friend of Syd Barrett.  The two were known to perform together during lunchtimes at school; one on guitar and one on harmonica.  The two would later hitch-hike through the south of France together.  Busking to make just enough money to get back home.  They were close.  Apparently it was easy to like Syd.  He was friendly; strikingly so.

"In a period when everyone was being cool in a very adolescent, self-conscious way, Syd was unfashionably outgoing; my enduring memory of our first encounter is the fact that he bothered to come up and introduce himself to me."
-Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason

Outgoing is not how most now think of Syd Barrett.  Barrett would within a short peroid of time become a recluse.  He would be the J.D. Salinger of rock music.

Barrett was the lead guitarist, main songwriter and lead vocalist for a band gathering success very quickly. But just as quickly, his friends' saw stark changes in Barrett.

"I just don't think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it." -David Gilmour

Barrett would begin doing drugs. A lot of drugs. But the story is not as simple as a junkie who threw away success. Most believe Barrett was schizophrenic. He might also have been bi-polar. Mental illness was just not diagnosed or treated properly at the time.

Gilmour joined the band to perform when Barrett was unable. At times, Barrett would just strum one chord for an entire performance. Gilmour would sometimes play Barrett's guitar parts on stage while Barrett watched from the audience. The breakup of Barrett with the rest of the band was not that messy, because Barrett seemed too far gone to care. One day, they simply decided not to pick him up. Gilmour was now the official lead guitarist.

If this had never happened, it is quite likely you would have never heard of Pink Floyd. Gilmour's voice and guitar playing proved vital to the critical and commercial success of later Pink Floyd. It also made Roger Waters take over as main songwriter; something Barrett had taken care of previously.

Believing the drugs served as a catalyst, Gilmour still believes Barrett would not have escaped the illness. "In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. It was a deep-rooted thing."

"It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here. 
And I’m much obliged to you for making it clear.  That I’m not here."  - Syd Barrett  (Jugband Blues. Barrett's last Pink Floyd song)

Instead of being a rock footnote, Barrett is a rock icon. He is a legend. Instead of ignoring him, as other bands had early members, Pink Floyd tried their hardest to keep Barrett viable. They succeeded far better than Barrett could himself. This is to the credit of the band that fired him, and mostly the person who replaced him.

Barrett would release 2 solo albums after parting with Pink Floyd.  Most of the songs had previously been written, before his mental collapse.

Waters and Gilmour would both receive producing credits on the first album.  Gilmour would produce the 2nd and even play bass for Barrett.  Floyd member Richard Wright would also lend a hand.

Few people can relate to replacing one of your best friends in their work.  Gilmour would become rich and famous doing so.   











"Now there's a look in your eyes.  Like black holes in the skies." -Pink Floyd  (Shine On You Crazy Diamond)

Floyd would have their music as catharsis.  They would pay tribute to their friend often.  The album "Wish You Were Here" being a tribute to their friend.  Famously, during the recording of the song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (about Barrett), Barrett showed up at Abbey Roads Studios.  Barrett had put on weight and shaved his head and eyebrows.  The band did not at first recognize him.  While quiet for most of the recording, Barrett did at one point begin brushing his teeth by holding the brush still and jumping up and down.  Waters would ask Barrett what he thought of the song.  Barrett replied, "it sounds old."  He would leave soon after.  None of the members of Pink Floyd would ever see him again.

(Barrett at Abbey Road Studios 1975)

Barrett lived with his mother for the rest of his life.  He worked as a part-time gardener; living mostly off the residuals from Pink Floyd (he sold away his solo rights).  Gilmour made sure Barrett received his money.

Barrett died of Pancreatic Cancer in 2006.  The occupation on his death certificate read "retired musician."

In Barrett's abscence, Pink Floyd would become one of the most successful bands of all time.  They would also famously fued for years.  Waters and the rest of the band would be tied up in lawsuits against each other that would not be settled for about 20 years.  But they always seemed to see eye to eye concening their old friend.  The classic lineup of Mason, Wright, Waters and Gilmour would reunite for one last short set in 2006, for Live 8.  They payed tribute to Barrett, as they so often did.

According to his sister, Barrett spent much of his last years painting. She says he even wrote a book about painting, but never attempted to have it published. "He found his own mind so absorbing, that he didn't want to be distracted."

Nov 9th will see the release of "An Introduction To Syd Barrett," containing his best work with Floyd as well as his solo albums.

David Gilmour is Executive Producer.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Orson Welles: Unfinished Genius

“I think I made essentially a mistake, in staying in movies. But it’s a mistake I can’t regret because it’s like saying, ‘I shouldn’t have stayed married to that woman. But I did, because I love her.’”
-Orson Welles

I would argue Welles was never diminished in his old age. He was just too talented. Even when he did things some felt were beneath him, I think it is respectful to do what you have to for your art. Welles could have been a wealthy man we would assume. But he never was, precisely because the only thing he made money to do, was to keep making movies.

It is tragic he never was able to finish most of these projects for lack of funding. The Saw franchise is about to release its 7th film, yet Hollywood deemed Welles to be unbankable. Maybe it says less about the studios than it does about the general movie going public in general. But of course Welles is not without fault. If he had only been a better businessman, some of this work would have surely been seen. If he had only been more self-effacing when attempting to schmooze financiers.

The number of uncompleted Welles’ projects are about as long a list as the completed list.

Heart Of Darkness:  A screenplay is complete that is probably the most camera specific one Welles ever wrote.  Welles desired for this to be his first film, but the cost of his vision would have been well over 1 million dollars to shoot at the time.  A version using Welles' script seems a much more worthy project for a director to tackle, than the remake of Hitchock's, Psycho, for example.

The Other Side Of The Wind:  98% complete. Welles had to gain financing from two Iranian Sheiks. Somehow, this proves to be a mistake and the film is tied up in legal issues for years. It has still not been released, save for a couple of scenes. Filmmaker and Welles’ friend, Peter Bogdonavich vows to have it released, through Showtime.

The Deep: Welles hoped the success of this more commercial film, would give him the money to finish other projects. But while mostly finished, it had to eventually be abandoned, as its star, Laurence Harvey, died before Welles could finish. The same source material would be used later in the film, Dead Calm.

Moby Dick: 22 minutes are known to exist of Welles reading all parts from the novel. He had years earlier done a stage play of Moby Dick.

The Merchant Of Venice:  Much work was completed, but 2 of 3 reels of audio were stolen.  Welles would redo the famous Shylock monologue in the Arizona Dessert, wearing a trench coat.  The emotion he gathers while standing perfectly still, is amazing.



Don Quixote:  Arguably the film project most dear to Welles' heart.  Welles would have the two main characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, stuck in the modern age.  Financial support was a struggle from the beginning, causing various starts and stops.  One role had to be cut, as the young actress had grown up before shooting her part was finished.  having begun in 1955, Welles was still attempting to complete the film at the time of his death, in 1985.

Despite his failure to reach the masses at the time, Welles’ struggle to continue working shows a true nobility.

He starred in commercials, with that brilliant voice of his he was more sought after for saying “We serve no wine before its time,” than his version of Shakespeare or Conrad or Kafka. He famously pointed out to a director for an ad about frozen peas, that the copy he was to read did not make sense.
"That's just idiotic, if you'll forgive my saying so."


The Brain character on the animated “Pinky and The Brain” cartoon sounded like and was an homage of sorts to Welles. I actually think he would have liked it. The man had a sense of humor.

One of his uncompleted works is him dressing up in multiple costumes, playing multiple parts, even women. Another is a skit that has tailors measuring his renowned circumference and making snide comments.



Yet he never abandoned his serious work. The Other Side Of The Wind was surely not going to be an easy film. The Deep, while more commercial, was never going to be as accessible as Speed or any other standard action film. It would have surely been a better film of course.

George Lucas is a good business man that has produced numerous good films. He has not directed a classic since 1977. He is worth by some accounts 5 billion dollars, because he knew about money and how to raise it and what to demand more than Welles.

Orson Welles was one of our greatest actors, directors, an accomplished screenwriter, radio legend, and stage director.

He never saw one of his films turn a profit while he was alive.

He died alone in 1985. Still trying to edit together The Other Side Of the Wind. But is this a sad way to go out? Might it be noble? As Welles’ historian David Tomson wrote, “real sadness is being worth 5 bn and not knowing what to do with it.”

Me and Orson Welles a film directed by Welles’ fan Richard Linklater, was released in late 2009 to very positive reviews. Budgeted at 25 million dollars, the film has grossed about 1.2 million.

The Other Side Of The Wind remains tied up in legal entanglements.

In 2011, George Lucas will release The Phantom Menace, in 3-D.

"I would have been more successful if I had left movies immediately. Stayed in the theater, gone into politics, written; anything. I’ve wasted a greater part of my life looking for money and trying to get along. Trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paintbox, which is a movie. And I’ve spend too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making a movie. It’s about 2 percent movie making and 98 percent hustling. It’s no way to spend a life.”


Sources:
“Hearts of Darkness: Joseph Conrad and Orson Welles,”   James Naremore
http://www.lafuriaumana.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=173:heart-of-darkness-joseph-conrad-and-orson-welles&catid=25:rapporto-confidenziale&Itemid=27

“Orson Welles: The most glorious film failure of them all” David Tomson Oct 22 2009 guardian.co.uk
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/oct/22/orson-welles-citizen-kane

"Peter Bogdanovich and James Naremore to discuss Orson Welles and screen TOUCH OF EVIL at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on January 29"
by Lawrence French  January 29, 2010    http://www.wellesnet.com/?cat=8

"Orson Welles: An Incomplete Education"  by Jaime N Christley  January 2003
http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/welles.html

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Trial Of Orson Welles


“I began at the top, and have been working my way down ever since.” -Orson Welles

At 26, Welles had written, directed and starred in what is generally considered the greatest film ever made. He would assume this would give him final approval on his next projects. Yet he would never get so much freedom and resources again. He would struggle for nearly the rest of his career to make films just as he wanted. And yet, he is rightly considered one of the greatest directors of all time. One wonders if he could have only continued to realize his visions, what might have been.

Despite being an Academy Award winning film, Citizen Kane did not make money on release. This would prove fatal, as the studios would decide they knew better than Welles how to edit his films.

His follow up film, The Magnificent Ambersons, was cut down by an hour by the editors of RKO. It is still considered one of the most significant films in movie history, despite what most critics agree are mistakes made by RKO, not Welles.











Maybe the best example of seeing Welles’ talent be undermined was, The Lady From Shanghai (1948). The film is about 90 minutes long but was intended to be 150. It is a classic film noir with a blonde haired Rita Hayworth (and Welles’ wife at the time) playing the femme fatale. A somewhat complicated story is made very confusing in just 90 minutes. Some things simply don’t add up, that Welles’ notes and lost footage make much clearer. Maybe the most ridiculous additional scene was one demanded by the head of Columbia, Harry Cohn. Furious Welles had dyed and cut Hayworth’s hair, Cohn added a scene of Hayworth singing. This was to piggyback onto the success of her singing in the recent, Gilda. He also demanded close-ups of Hayworth and a cutesy new score.

Amid this travesty by Cohn, we see what the film nearly was, and still is in parts. The finale is riveting. The speech by Welles about sharks eating each other, proves prophetic by the end.  The “Hall Of Mirrors” scene has been redone over and over since. Welles’ character walking away from Hayworth at the end would shadow their life, as they would divorce soon after filming was completed.

Final edit approval would be taken away from him for nearly every subsequent film. Years after his death, Welles’ decisions are continually vindicated by his meticulous notes. Touch of Evil (1958), was reedited in 1998 according to 58 pages of notes from Welles. It is nearly unanimous in thought that his version if far superior to the version the studios released at the time. 13 years after his death, Welles would not be around to hear the praise.




The Trial, made in 1962, is the most autobiographical of Welles' films.  It is at once difficult and utterly fascinating. The fact that the viewer has little idea what is happening is inconsequential to the experience. The main character has no idea either.  Underappreciated until years later, The Trial is Welles asking his critics, “what did I do wrong?”

The film stars Anthony Perkins as a man accused of a crime. He is never told what crime he has committed and must weave his way through a maze of bureaucracy and nonsense to figure out how to defend himself. 

The Trial was one of the few films after Citizen Kane that would be 100% his own.  In it you see shades of things Kubrick would do later, and even Richard Lester in, A Hard Day's Night.  According to Welles himself, it was his greatest film.


In 1974 Welles would release his last completed film; F For Fake. Part documentary, part fiction feature, part film essay, Welles described it as “a new kind of film.” He would be correct. The editing is masterful. For better or worse it would influence untold works through the subsequent years. The quick editing was new at the time. Of course it has been copied much since. Often to good effect; often not.  Rarely as good as in F For Fake.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Big Tent Christianity


I recently attended a Big Tent Christianity Conference in Raleigh, NC. Big Tent is another buzzword or offshoot of the Emergent Movement. Speakers at the conference included Brian McLaren (often attributed with starting the Emergent movement), Shane Claiborne, and Jay Bakker (Jim and Tammy Faye’s son).

Ministers and theologians spoke with passion about justice, denominationalism, and sexuality, among other things. We sang a few songs and at break times you could go around to different booths. Booths included “People of Faith Against The Death Penalty,” Wesley Seminary, Mars Hill Graduate School, and a table selling books by many of the big emergent leaders of today. Some of the writers were in the room.

Now I figured I might disagree with some of what was said. I knew this going in, but that is why I wanted to go. I wanted to feel challenged and hear some decent debate/discussion. Tony Campolo is lumped in the emergent pastor category often, and I have found him interesting, ever since I heard him speak in 1985.

Leaving the conference, I came away feeling, well, possibly sad. Now no, it was not a revival really, I get that. But everyone who spoke is a professing Christian. I heard Jesus mentioned. We sang a couple songs about “justice” and making our heart “green” was one lyric sang amongst all the Styrofoam coffee cups and numerous laptops.

But upon first leaving I did not feel filled up. Then I went home and thought about it all.

As much as we as Christians want to reach out to people, I feel maybe we have lost sight of something. It seems many are so concerned with reaching out and including all in this tent, that they are compromising the scripture.

Overall, it felt like there was just enough truth to be dangerous.

One comment I wrote down was, “Jesus never said he follows scripture. He said he follows God.”

It seemed to me that people were getting way too close to just disregarding the Bible all together.

I thought about how minister Rob Bell once wrote it would not really matter if we found out the Virgin Birth did not happen.

Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber, said, “I preach the gospel I actually need to hear.”

Interesting. Shouldn’t we hear all of it? Even the tough parts?

The topic of Big Tent Sexuality, quickly turned into a discussion on only homosexuality.

Kimberly Knight, a lesbian woman and a minister, stated “we look silly arguing issues of homosexuality to secular people.” I had to think, what does that matter?

Aren’t we supposed to stick out and look different than the rest of the world? We should not come across as rude or judgmental, but I did not think silly was an issue.

A general mantra seems to be: “why are we worried about this issue, when A: is happening over here and B: is happening over there?”

Just because there are all sorts of issues to deal with, doesn’t mean we completely ignore another does it?

Maybe the most interesting speaker for me was Brian Ammons, a gay man and member of the Alliance of Baptists. Brian had a take I had not yet heard; as he is offended by the arguments that “gay people can’t help it, they were born this way.”

Ammons says this was all strategy created in the 1970s. “It’s victimizing, it’s saying you have no choice. I have a choice with whom I’m sleeping with.”

Jay Bakker closed out this topic. He passionately preached about supporting his homosexual brothers and sisters and said “I don’t think it is a sin. But if you do, you must get past it.”

Concerning Jesus, he said, “If the Torah was his Bible, he didn’t follow it.”

This to me is a perfect example of a quote that needed some follow up. I mean, is it true? A little true; not true at all?

The one time I remember the panel being really tested by the moderator, was one of the most interesting moments. During the topic of Justice, the panel was asked, if they felt that the very safety net structures in society they always vote for, were actually hurting their ability to practice Christian Justice?

This was followed by an almost awkward pause, and eventual answers that made little sense. A better answer is out there, but I do not think the panel was even prepared to have to answer for themselves.

Bakker was the only person I saw with a Bible in hand. Raising it up, he stated, “Has this distorted our view of love?”

“I challenge anyone to prove me differently. The concept we have of gays or lesbians, the concept against two people in loving committed relationships, is nowhere to be found in the bible.”

“Don’t preach against my LBGT brothers and sisters. It’s not there! People say I’m picking and choosing, well maybe I am, but it’s not there!”

But homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible as wrong. The argument most people make is it’s not directly mentioned by Jesus, so therefore it can’t be wrong.

But don’t tell me it is not mentioned. Does monogamy make everything alright?

We seem to be ignoring parts of the Bible when they do not suit us. There are passages I have struggled with. It is why study and discussion is important to me.

A sentiment I felt through the conference was “we like the bible, but we wouldn’t mind ripping out a few pages.”

“I don’t worship the Bible, I worship Christ. If this (the Bible) gets in the way of love, then throw it out.” -Jay Bakker

My main concern is, are we loving our brothers and sisters to hell? Maybe that puts too fine a point on it, but I do not know any other way to say it.

I am reminded of a video one church made where a man is drowning. Another man sees this along the beach and shouts out, “I love you! I love you! Be my friend!”

Of course the man drowns. So how loving are we really, if it just helps lead to one’s destruction?

I realize some people will never agree with me on the Bible. Some would say, it was written a long time ago, by men, and just take it for whatever good you get out of it.

But I just cannot make myself do that. If Christianity means anything to me, then the whole book matters to me.

Jesus is not only responsible for the words in red.

W.C. Fields; that famous comic actor, was also well known at the time for being an outspoken atheist. A famous story goes that a few weeks before he died, a friend visited him at the hospital and found him in his bed reading the Bible. His friend asked what he was doing and Fields responded, “I’m looking for loopholes.”

There were some good things said in Raleigh last week. But if shaping the Bible to any way that feels more comfortable to us is an answer, then count me out.

I want to make sure God is shaping me, and not the other way around.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Goodbye Solo

Maybe friendship is at its highest point when you can not rely on receiving anything in return.



Goodbye Solo writer and director Ramin Bahrani, is from Winston Salem, NC. He uses the knowledge of his hometown to great effect. The film is shot entirely on location. It is its own character.

Red West plays William. William is a man of about 70 who makes a deal with a cab driver to take him to Blowing Rock, NC. He makes no plans for a return trip.

Red West was once a bodyguard for and close personal friend of Elvis. They were friends since high school. He even wrote several songs for Elvis as well as Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson and Johny Rivers.

He split with Elvis after breaking the foot of the man who was bringing Elvis drugs. He then told him he would work his way up to his face.

Souleymane Sy Savane plays Solo, the taxi driver. He is from the Ivory Coast, although the character is from Senegal. In the film, Solo is studying to become a flight attendant. In real life, Savane was a flight attendant. There is a smile on his face always close by. This could not be just acting.

"A big part of what the film is about is the conception of love; and what does it mean to love someone. And in this case specifically, it is about loving someone selflessly." -Director Ramin Bahrani

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Giant

Definition: Manute "Special Blessing"

Manute Bol was one of my favorite basketball players. Not because he was that great; he really wasn't. But honestly, because he was just fun to watch. You could not take your eyes off him.

He stood 7 feet 7 inches and was the tallest player in NBA history. He also weighed only 225 pounds.

He was born in Sudan, a Dinka tribesman. His father was the tribal chief. It is said he once killed a lion with a spear while herding cows.

As a player, he was too skinny to be a force, but he could block shots like no other. He is the only person in history to average more blocks than points for his career. He also holds the record of most blocks per 48 minutes played. (8.6 the closest person to him averaged 5.8)

"He made a career out of something that people saw in the beginning as a circus act," Chris Mullin, a close friend and former teammate.

But what he did beyond basketball was far more important. And Bol was never too proud to help his homeland.

"God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back."

His fellow Christians in southern Sudan suffered displacement and massacre not unlike what the people of Darfur have gone through the past several years.

When he would visit Sudan refugee camps, he was regarded as royalty.

In 2001 Bol was offered a post as minister of sport by the Sudanese government. Bol refused because one of the pre-conditions was converting from Christianity to Islam.

Bol established the Ring True Foundation in order to continue fundraising for Sudanese refugees. To get the phone number of his organization on television, he agreed to appear on Celebrity Boxing. He boxed William "The Refrigerator" Perry and won.

Manute never cared that his physical appearance was what people focused on.

"You have to live with what you're given," he said.

He believed his height was a gift from God, and he was going to use that gift to help Sudan.

Other ways to garner publicity were signing a one day contract with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League. This helped raise money specifically for the children of Sudan. He also made an appearance as a horse jockey for the same reason.

Bol gave away his entire fortune to help Sudan.

In 2004, he was seriously injured when the taxi he was in flipped. He was in a coma for 3 weeks. Former teammates heard about this and helped pay his medical bills.

"People used to feel sorry for Manute Bol. But if everyone was just like him, it would be a world I would want to live in." -Charles Barkley

Bol died Saturday at age 47, from kidney failure and a skin disease contracted while in Sudan. He had recently returned from Sudan where he was helping build a school with Sudan Sunrise, a humanitarian group he founded, based in Kansas.

Only one time in his ten year NBA career was Bol reprimanded.

He was fined $25,000 for missing two exhibition games. The reason: Bol was in Washington D.C. for peace talks between rebel leaders from Sudan.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Stemming The Tide (Part 2)


His accent. His inflections. His wading down snake and leech infested waters for his film, Rescue Dawn; or just about any film.

"No filmmaker since Alfred Hitchcock has been more effective at mythologizing his 'brand' than Herzog." -Film Critic Jim Emerson

Herzog is a personality. He does not have to try very hard to strengthen that brand. There is a series of YouTube videos in which a Herzog impersonator reads children's stories.


Ex: Curious George: "One day, an intruder from society appeared in ze jungle. 'What a nice little monkey,' he thought. 'I would like to take him home with me. '
He put his hat on ze ground, and George is lured out of hiding by za hat; an alien trinket of unimaginable cultural significance. George quickly learns a hard lesson about desire. As his adventure with ze hat leads to his immediate captivity."

In the late 70's, Herzog told his friend Errol Morris, that he would eat his shoe if Morris ever completed his film, Gates of Heaven. Morris finished it, and the result was seen in a short film called, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

The shoe was boiled with garlic, herbs, and stock for 5 hours.

Herzog did not eat the sole of the shoe, explaining that one does not eat the bones of a chicken.

During a British TV interview about his documentary, Grizzly Man, he was shot by a sniper.

Yes, he was shot. They calmly but quickly got inside and continued the interview. Herzog laughed off the incident, as if this was just another day. "It is not a significant bullet," he said, while showing the wound on camera.

Herzog frames nature beautifully. He proudly never storyboards. Feeling it takes something away from the spontaneity and creativity that should be in film making.

Yet some of his shots seem so well framed, that they had to be put that way just so. Herzog states he knows rather easily where to place the camera.

In an interview in 2008, Herzog was questioned about his belief that the universe is a godless and random place. Mark Kermode of the BBC asked that if this was indeed the case, "how come it can produce something as beautiful as the films of Werner Herzog? For me, the proof that what you're saying isn't true, is you and your work."

Herzog replied: "Well, I stem the tide."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Stemming The Tide (Part 1)



"If I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams and I don't want to live like that: I live my life or I end my life with this project." -Werner Herzog (during the filming of Fitzcarraldo)


When Werner Herzog was 14, he stole a 35mm camera from Munich Film School.

"I don't consider it theft—it was just a necessity—I had some sort of natural right for a camera, a tool to work with."

It is appropriate that Herzog's entry into film was a bit of a struggle from the beginning. He was not old enough for film school, neither could he afford it. But he was ready to start learning. So he took what he saw as his. In differing ways, Herzog has been doing this ever since.

Most of his films are on some essential level about the struggle of Werner Herzog to make the movie you are watching. It is not easy. Nor I think as Herzog sees it, should it be, if it has a chance to be great.

"Today's films are cowardly. They do not venture into the jungle to photograph it. They create it all in a computer and make cartoons."

Messianic might be a fair word to use to describe Werner Herzog. And maybe obsessive compulsive.

And it is this; his audacity, that makes him the great director that he is.

Two of his best films came out of this obsession; Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, and Fitzcarraldo.

Both movies were filmed in the Amazon jungle because that is where the story was set. The difficulty was not a topic of discussion, as was the fact that Herzog and his crew pulled a 360 ton boat over a muddy hillside, for Fitzcarraldo. Why? Because it was what the title character does in the movie. And if Herzog had used any special effects, he knows you could tell.

That is the thing about watching Herzog. That is really a boat being crashed about in the rapids. Three of the six people on the boat at the time were injured.

That really is a boat you see in a tree in Aguirre, not a special effect. The horse that falls over on the raft in Aguirre, was drugged. Herzog did not have to worry about the Humane Society 500 miles from the closest city.

Herzog uses nature as effectively as anyone this side of Terrence Malick. But he has no love for it.

"It's a land which God, if he exists, has created in anger."

"Nature here is violent...there is a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery and the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain.

It's like a curse weighing on the entire landscape. And whoever goes too deep into this, has his share of that curse. So we are cursed with what we are doing here."

Herzog can not be blamed for being a little miffed by his surroundings. He shot Fitzcarraldo for 4 months with Jason Robards playing the lead. But Robards contracted amoebic dysentery and flew home, forbidden by his doctors to return. Mick Jagger also had a small role but he had to return to civilization and begin a tour. His part was written out.

Herzog then cast Klaus Kinski. They first worked together in Aguirre. The two are now defined by their work together.

Was working with Kinski, difficult? During Aguirre, Kinski blew off an extra's finger while randomly shooting a gun in anger.
The Amazon Natives, Herzog used in Fitzcarraldo, offered to kill Kinski for Herzog. Herzog explained to them, he still needed Kinski for some more scenes.
Other natives shot arrows at Herzog and his crew, from the forest. The hired engineer, resigned during the film, telling Herzog there was a 70 percent chance that the cables connected to the boat would snap and dozens of lives would be lost.

A crew member, bitten by a deadly snake, saved his own life by instantly cutting off his foot with the chain saw he was holding.

And there was always Kinski. Constantly threatening to walk away, Herzog silenced Kinski by telling him he would kill him if he left, and then kill himself.


So was it all worth it?


Robards was a fine actor. Surely Herzog could find another fine actor, one not off his rocker, like Kinski. Robards would be playing an obsessed man of questionable stability. Kinski just needed to wake up to nail that role.





Herzog and Kinski would make 5 films together. In addition, there would be two documentary films showing their working relationship. As difficult as it is was to work with Kinski, Herzog had to know why it worked. They were two sides of the same coin.

Two men this intense on a film shoot, do not a fun time make. But you have to admire the determination.



My Best Friend (German: literally My Dearest Enemy)

"We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other's murder."

-Werner Herzog

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lost Boy


I never liked Corey Haim. He was too interested in being the cool guy. Which ironically, made him very uncool. Unlike the title character of the film, Lucas.

Lucas (1986) was the true height of Haim's career. A largely overlooked film, it was one of the best films about being an awkward teenager of many such films in the 80s. And the biggest reason it worked was Haim's performance.

Really.

Roger Ebert's review at the time said this about Haim.
"He creates one of the most three-dimensional, complicated, interesting characters of any age in any recent movie. If he can continue to act this well, he will never become a half-forgotten child star, but will continue to grow into an important actor. He is that good."

Haim would soon achieve teenybop fame for far less substantial work. He would even distance himself from Lucas, I suppose being embarressed for having played a geek.

He would evolve into "Cool Corey" the cohort to fellow actor Corey Feldman. It was marketing that got him on plenty of Teen Magazine covers and in bad movies. It was also a person Lucas would have completely despised.

In the film, Lucas tells Maggie about locusts, his favorite insect. They will soon go away and not reappear for 17 years. He wonders where he and Maggie will be in 17 years.

In just a year or two Haim was on drugs. He would be more famous but also quickly losing his talent. In 17 years he was nearly unhirable and had long ago lost what people had once seen in him.

In 1989, Haim made a short documentary called Me, Myself, and I, about how great it was to be be Corey Haim. In it he appears high. He tries desperately to look the part of cool and aloof heartthrob. He talks of his favorite film still being his hit, The Lost Boys. Still, as if two years was so terribly long ago. For him, I guess it was.

"When you're 12 or 13 years old you are very impressionable And I know it's easy to get off track...so be smart, don't get messed up. Stay in school. And be anybody you wanna be." -Corey Haim (Me, Myself , and I)

Looking at the cast to Lucas is a who's who of young talent, that later would appear lost in real life: Corey Haim, Winona Ryder, Charlie Sheen. Kerri Green (Goonies), as Maggie, seems the only one of the main stars that got out intact. She would soon step away from acting for a time to study art. She then focused most of her time writing and directing and raising a family.

It is of course a shame, Haim is now just another footnote to most of us. To the outsiders looking in, he is just an answer to a trivia question.

I think Lucas survived the teenage years and turned out just fine. I wish it had been the character Haim had aspired to be.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

More Than This, There Is Something Else There


And my Heaven will be a big Heaven/ And I will walk through the front door

-Peter Gabriel


The band Genesis will soon be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Their original lead singer, Peter Gabriel, has said he will likely not attend as his tour is about to start at the same time. While die hard fans would surely like to see Gabriel there, it almost seems appropriate he is not.

Bands have had more success after an original lead singer left I am sure. But how many splits worked out this well for both sides? Gabriel became huge after leaving; and so did Genesis. Gabriel did far more interesting things as a solo artist than Genesis ever did without him, and really with him.

Gabriel was using African and other world musicians long before the likes of Paul Simon. A former drummer who loves good percussion, Gabriel even helped create, along with his bass player Tony Levin, attachable drum sticks that stick to your fingers while playing bass. Gabriel loves elaborate staging but yet doesn't rely on it. He finds ways to enhance the music, not make it secondary. As sophisticated as Gabriel can be, he can tone it down to just he and a keyboard for some songs. And for my fellow fans of sad songs, nobody does sad much better.

And for everything I find interesting about Gabriel, lately I am drawn back to his music much for the same reasons of other artists I gravitate to. I find a searching in his lyrics. Not one from artists who one time or another professed faith, like Dylan, Van Morrison U2, or Cat Stevens; but a search of a man that finds there is something more beyond this world, but who is so far not ready to say what that might be.

"Solisbury Hill," Gabriel's first single as a solo artist was about him leaving Genesis. And it evokes imagery of listening to an unknown voice.

I had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
Just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom-boom-boom
Son, he said, grab your things I've come to take you home


To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut


In, "Lay Your Hands On Me," Gabriel opens with the narrator speaking of how he is not interested in the spiritual:

No more miracles, loaves and fishes, been so busy with the
washing of the dishes


But then he comes back around to the spiritual by the 3rd verse. "No more miracles" becomes "there are no accidents."

But still the warmth flows through me
And I sense you know me well
No luck, no golden chances
No mitigating circumstances now
It's only common sense
There are no accidents around here

I am willing - lay your hands on me
I am ready - lay your hands on me
I believe - lay your hands on me, over me



"It's easy to be philosophical; to sit back and look at your life. Especially with a little wine. And what you see is a bit like being inside a car, you only see whats in front of you, you don't see whats above or below. And the moon for example sits up there; and every day it pulls the sea in and out. Controls the menstrual cycle. And at the time of the full moon the murder rate is up three times. Yet, most of us have no idea where the moon is or what phase it's in. Which only goes to show.

There is always...'more than this.'"

-Peter Gabriel



"Come Talk To Me," written to Gabriel's daughter after he and her mother divorced.


Start at 5:00 mark

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oscar Predictions Before The Nominations

Before the nominations are even announced, I want to see how well I can predict the winners. So we will shortly look back and see how I did. Challenge me if you dare!

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
This is going to be super close. But I think The Hurt Locker will edge out Avatar. Just a couple days ago I was thinking Avatar, but usually (though not so much lately) the director that wins the DGA award also wins the Best Picture Oscar. That would mean The Hurt Locker.

Best Director: Kathyrn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker Bigelow is James Cameron's ex-wife, making this battle a bit more fun. I originally thought they would award this prize to Bigelow while giving the All Time Box Office Champ the bigger prize. Usually when I go against my first instinct I am wrong. But I think The Hurt Locker will win both of these while Avatar picks up many technical awards.

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart He is overdue, but this will not be a lifetime achievement award either. Bridges is one of our very best actors.

Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side This one will be close. I thought Meryl Streep would win a few weeks ago, but Bullock won the SAG award, so she is getting love from her peers. There are plenty of reasons to argue either one will win, but I will go with Bullock, as opposed to Streep, who will have many more chances to add to her two Oscars. There is a small chance the battle could lead to an Emily Blunt victory, but I doubt it.

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
He is great and I would say a lock except that the supporting categories are where a surprise usually happens. But I think he will avoid an upset.


Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Nobody has won with a name like this since, Cher. It is time.

Best Original Screenplay: (500) Days Of Summer
Tarantino has a real shot. But, I have a hunch...

Best Adapted Screeplay: Up in The Air

Best Animated Feature: Up

Out guess me and win a prize! Undetermined as of yet...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bill Cosby: Norfolk, VA


“I’m not that funny.” -Chris Rock

“I’m definitely not that funny.” -Jerry Seinfeld

“No, not compared to Bill Cosby.” -Chris Rock
(At the Mark Twain Prize Award for Bill Cosby)

Bill Cosby amazes me. At 72, the man has got to still be either the best or one of the best comedians out there. Saturday night, he convinced me of this at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, VA.

Walking out in just a sweatshirt and sweatpants, Cosby sat down and talked for about an hour and 40 minutes. It seemed like he would have gone on longer, but explained he was told to wrap it up so we would get out of the way for the next show attendees.

If anyone has seen the film, Comedian, with Jerry Seinfeld, you get an inside look at what it takes to be funny. What looks so easy is not easy, even remotely. So at 72, yeah I admit, I thought maybe Cosby has lost a step. Who knows? I mean it would be understandable for sure.

He hasn’t.

The man made blowing his nose hilarious.

Early in the show, Cosby grabbed a tissue from the little table next to him, where he sat. He blew his nose and then put the tissue on the table and continued on with his routine. About 5 or 10 minutes later, he stops, seemingly in mid thought. He tells the audience, “I sense a negative vibe here tonight.” I thought, “oh no, what have we done?” The Norfolk crowd has ticked off The Coz?" He then explained, “It is coming not from the men, but from the women in the audience.” He then pointed to the tissue on the table, and that was all that was needed. The crowd erupted. My wife explained “yes, I couldn’t stop looking at that tissue!” He then told a story of how his wife was in a crowd one time and told a stage-hand to go up and inform Bill, during his show, to please put the tissue in a trash can. I am of course not doing the story justice, but how he can make such a simple thing, so hilarious, I think is accurate to describe as genius.

I have memorized most of the “classic” Cosby routines. What I was missing from only having the audio, was how physical a comedian Cosby is. And he only stood up twice during the whole show. From his great facial expressions, to playing all the characters in his stories; he embodies them all.

He explained how he lost a race at age 70 against an old college track rival. He knew he could win this time, because after all, his old rival was recovering from a stroke. He still lost. And Cosby running around the stage as a stroke victim, that still is better physically than him, is an image I might never forget.

When he was told it was time to wrap it up, Cosby went into his classic “Dentist” routine. It felt like Pink Floyd playing the opening notes of “Wish You Were Here” as all he had to say was, “Dentists tell you not to pick your teeth with any sharp, metal object…” and the crowd cheered wildly. Even though I have heard that routine many, many times, seeing him perform it in person was a treat.

Bill Cosby is STILL a very funny fellow.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Too Wealthy To Be Original

It is currently the second biggest grossing film, worldwide, in history.

I just let out a huge sigh as I wrote that line.

Now let me start with this. I am not a James Cameron hater at all. I do not feel Titanic has aged well but I enjoyed it well enough at the time. I think True Lies is a great film and both Terminator films were solid entertainment. Aliens is an impressive achievement, especially it being a sequel and I even liked much of The Abyss. So even though the previews did not otherwise make me get excited for the film, I figured Avatar would be overall impressive. Of course in some ways it is. In other ways, I feel it is lazy and embarrassing.

First off, are the visuals great? Mostly...yes. The 3D is good enough and what I appreciated the most about the film was it did not go for the obvious lets throw a knife at the audience type of stunt. Many critics are admitting the script is just not strong. But they are so blown away by the visuals they are overlooking the script. To me this is A: Bizarre. Most films dont get this type of pass. B: The visuals also hurt the film. Here is how :

I think my biggest issue with the film was knowing I was watching a live action/animation film along the lines of Song Of the South and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This made it difficult for me to get emotional when Cameron wanted me to. If somehow the technology of effects, had made the Na'Vi look like they were even in the same dimension as the humans, I think I could have suspended disbelief enough.

In Dances With Wolves, a white guy is accepted by Native Americans; people different in race and culture. Here we have a white guy accepted by cartoons. Yes he becomes a cartoon himself but showing the "real" actors with the Na'Vi seemed like something Cameron was doing his best to avoid. When the two do merge at the end, I just could not think anything other than "well look at the animation with that live actor."

Now I know it’s NOT exactly animation. But it sure looks like it. As much as I was impressed with many of the visuals, I was half expecting Bob Hoskins to show up and yell at a rabbit.

While I can believe Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana together.






Sam Worthington and animated, blue, 10 foot tall with a tail Zoe Saldana is harder to get emotionally connected to. At the end of the film this is what is asked of us.


So what about that story? Shouldn't we be allowed to expect more from a film that took 15 years to make? Why not throw another million in the budget for a better writer?

Earth and specifically America, is the bad guy in the film. Represented by the gung ho cliche, Colonel Miles Quaritch, who says things like "shock n awe." Then we have the god awful annoying Giovanni Ribisi, who says he doesnt care if we kill the children of the "blue monkeys" if he gets his oil, er, unobtanium. We get it, America is bad. Now here, shell out 12 dollars per ticket you capitalist pigs.


A scientist that becomes an Avatar never interacts with the hero, Jake, in that world, and it feels like his whole character is unnecessary. Sigourney Weaver's Avatar wears a Stanford University t-shirt. In a way, she looks like that one pet whose owners decided to dress like people.





Wouldn't the Na'Vi ask what the heck that t-shirt is and why she wears it? Maybe she was recruiting Na'Vi to attend some Phish concerts in her multicolored bus.


Given the resources and money to do whatever he wants, Cameron has forgotten basics. Basics that are still necessary.

But maybe the larger and sadder point, is that this is exactly the script the studio would have wanted. "Its worked before, it will work again."

With the risk of high money spent on visuals, no other risk on story could be taken. Which makes an attempt at a great picture not even exist.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I've heard that somewhere before



There is one sound effect in movies that is the most highly regarded of all. And you have surely heard it.

The Wilhelm scream was first introduced in 1951, for a Gary Cooper film called Distant Drums. Then in 1953 the same scream was used in another film, The Charge At Feather River. A character named Wilhelm is the one whose mouth the effect comes out of this time.

The sound editors at Warner Brothers liked this particular scream enough that they started inserting it into more films.

Ben Bert, sound effects designer, decided he liked the effect to the point he started putting it in all films he worked on. It became a sort of signature. Films Bert has inserted the scream into include every Star Wars film and every Indians Jones film.

Other editors started putting the scream into films, as an inside joke.

"This was always something so below the radar that no one noticed other than the people who already knew." -Director Joe Dante

Just some of the films that contain the scream include:

A Star Is Born (1954)

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Poltergeist (1982)

Spaceballs (1987)

Beauty And The Beast (1991)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Toy Story (1995)

The Fifth Element (1997)

Spider-man (2002)

The Lord Of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003)

Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgandy (2004)

King Kong (2005)

Juno (2007)

Tropic Thunder (2008)

(source: hollywoodlostandfound)


The verified list is now around 150 films.

Nobody knows the identity of the voice behind the Wilhelm Scream.



Monday, January 4, 2010