THE GATEKEEPER IS DEAD
I did what millions of Americans have done by now: viewed an underwear-free Britney Spears getting out of a limo and Saddam Hussein at the end of a rope.
Neither was a pretty picture.
When I was a Communications major in the '70s at TCFKAGS (The College Formerly Known as Glassboro State), one of my professors taught us the phrase "media gatekeeper." That, he explained, was what we Comm majors were studying to become. The media professionals in the "real world" -- writers, photographers, editors, TV, radio and film people -- were the "gatekeepers" who decided what the public was going to see, or NOT see, via their repective mediums.
Today, it seems like an elitist concept -- one rendered thoroughly outmoded by the World Wide Web.
There was a time when a news event with a nasty outcome caught on film would throw the gatekeepers into frantic debate. One that comes to mind was the time, more than a decade back, a public figure took his life during a meeting at which news photographers and videographers were present. The video was particularly graphic and disturbing. Of course, that footage was never aired.
Today, it would get five stars on Google Video Search.
The gatekeeper is dead. Long live the gatekeeper.
STAN AND OLLIE VS. HITLER
I scored a Laurel and Hardy double-feature for Christmas. Thank you, Santa!
Man, was it great to spend a couple of hours with the boys again, in two movies I'd never seen before: "Air Raid Wardens" (1943) and "Nothing But Trouble" (1944).
Laurel and Hardy's biographers always point out that the boys were older and slower -- and had less creative clout -- by the time they made "Air Raid Wardens" and "Nothing But Trouble." PAY THEM NO HEED. This is Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and by this time, they had decades of comic chemistry behind them. These later movies are very sweet. Of course they can't compete with the boys' early '30s shorts. What CAN? If you love L&H, you'll love every moment of these films.
"Air Raid Wardens" is a real time-capsule. In it, Stan and Ollie bust up a Nazi spy ring bent on destroying a magnesium plant (or, as Stan calls it, a "Magnesia plant"). There's a gag involving a painting of Hitler. This kind of culture clash must seem so weird to people who aren't used to the frequently jingoistic World War II-era Hollywood movies.
I propose a triple feature of "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror" (in which Sherlock Holmes fights the Nazis), "Invisible Agent" (in which the Invisible Man fights the Nazis) and "Air Raid Wardens."
MR. BROWN'S PARTING WORDS
People have been asking me all week, "How did James Brown sound?"
I interviewed the "Godfather of Soul" via telephone for 10 minutes beginning a little after 4 p.m. EST on Dec. 21, four days before his death on Christmas Day at age 73.
To answer the question: No, James Brown did not sound ill. He was cordial, forthcoming and -- I wouldn't be the first to make this comment -- difficult for me to understand. His answers were brief, but there was some gold in there.
Q: Do you have any New Year's resolutions?
A: Yep. We got to learn to love each other.
Q: How's that going to happen? What's the next step?
A: Well, you keep on practicin' and keep on talkin' about it. I'd appreciate it if you keep talkin' about it.
Q: Sure, I'll bang the drum.
A: Well, bless you.
A little later, I brought up current events, but the topic veered to Christmas and family.
Q: What do you think of Barack Obama?
A: Well, I'm not gettin' into politics.
Q: But you're a patriotic person.
A: Mmm-hmm. I'm concerned about the world. But I would serve every president we got, because that's the president of the United States.
Q: What would you say to the troops?
A: I would like to pray for them. I hope they have a speedy recovery and they'll come home.
Q: What would you say to young people?
A: Well, that is my thing. Tell 'em to love each other. I'm into education. I would like to see kids get educated.
Q: Did you receive enough education as a child?
A: No. I didn't go any further than seventh grade. But I was declared a genius, though. I was declared that.
Q: What were the happy parts of your childhood?
A: Christmas (laughs). My daddy gave me five dollars on Christmas and a suit of clothes.
Q: How do you remember your parents?
A: I remember them as hard-workin' people. My father was a filling-station worker. He had a second-grade education. But he was a good worker.
It would have been self-serving to have published Brown's final words to me before hanging up -- but this here's a blog, not a newspaper article. So just between you and me, it went this way:
Q: Well, Mr. Brown, we'll look forward to seeing you in Red Bank, New Jersey.
A: You're a very a nice man. Have a good Christmas, and the same thing to you and your family.
Metal Men completist that I am, I was forced to hand over cold cash to buy "52" #30 -- make that "52, Week Thirty" -- because, a fellow geek told me, the origin of the Metal Men is presented in the back of the issue.
I've been buying issues of "52" now and then because, well, a drop of Mercury or a loose screw of Gold or a follicle of Doc Magnus might appear in a panel. BECAUSE I'VE BEEN A METAL MEN COMPLETIST SINCE THE EARLY '80s, AND I CAN'T STOP NOW.
The origin made me angry. The art was too manga-ish. THAT'S NOT THE WAY YOU DRAW TIN. Listed under "Essential Storylines" were "Metal Men Archives 1" (an excellent recommendation) and -- those self-serving pipsqueaks -- "52."
"52"? One of only two "Essential Storylines" for the Metal Men? Puh-LEEZ. What about writer Mike Carlin, penciller Dan Jurgens and inker Brett Breeding's excellent "Metal Men" four-issue miniseries of 1993?
SPEAKING of which -- the bold liberty Carlin took in retelling the Metal Men's origin in that miniseries (don't get me started) is nowhere to be found in the "52, Week Thirty" retelling. As if it never happened. As if it were a dream, like the dude taking the shower in "Dallas."
A character named T.O. Morrow figures prominently in this new "origin." More retelling of history. More self-serving pipsqueakery. More insult to longtime fans. More issues of "52" for me to buy because I am a Metal Men completist. I'm probably the only person on Earth with this sickness. There's no therapy group for me. It's my battle, and my battle alone. Pray for me.
"WIZARD OF OZ" MEMORIES
I caught a little bit of "Wizard of Oz" the other day. It's amazing to me how, after all these years, watching that film makes me feel like I'm in grade school again.
Oldsters will tell the young'uns that back before DVDs, VCRs, iPods and MIMICs (Medically Implanted Memory and Information Chips, which are surely on the way), we only got to see "Wizard of Oz" once a year, and it was a very special event.
If you were REAL lucky, you got to watch it on a color television.
Here are three things my Adult Brain recalled my Child Brain thinking back when I watched "Oz" in grade school:
1.) We always knew it wasn't REALLY Bert Lahr who jumped through the window after being frightened by the Wizard.
2.) There's a non-dialogue scene during a musical number in which the Tin Man asks the Scarecrow a question; the Scarecrow makes a "thinking" expression; and then answers the question. As little kids, we always logically wondered: "How could the Scarecrow think without a brain?"
3.) Man, did that Wizard -- the "great and powerful Oz" version, that is -- look scary! It was like a scene out of a horror film! He was green with a giant, veined head! And he was see-through! And surrounded by flames! It was like an "Outer Limits" monster, but in color!
This Tuesday will be our 20th wedding anniversary. Kathy and I were married on Dec. 12, 1986, by the mayor of Manasquan at the Manasquan Inlet, just a few blocks south from where we had our first date.
It's also the anniversary of our debut as a writer-photographer team.
It happened like this: I'd been at the Press for nearly four years. I was a staff artist, but I'd been doing more and more writing. (That was my background; I have a degree in journalism and I'd worked as a stringer for the Gloucester County Times in Woodbury and a writer/designer for a string of weeklies in Philadelphia.)
Kathy and I booked a trip to Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, for our honeymoon. Almost as an afterthought, I began to take notes for a travel story. Kathy was always an avid photographer, and so as she was snapping our honeymoon photos, I asked her to compose a few all-purpose shots that could accompany my travel story. Her photos were really terrific; it was the first time I noticed what an eye she had.
Little did we know that this was the beginning of a fruitful, rewarding career for both of us. I always say Kathy became "my" photographer because I was such a workaholic and she wanted us to spend more time together.
Almost every year on Dec. 12, Kathy and I visited the Manasquan Inlet to mark our anniversary. Ten years ago, we renewed our vows, with the mayor again officiating. I'll be there again this year -- just me, my memories and the sound of the surf.
'SEXTETTE' A JAW DROPPER
Since 1978 when it was released, I've been dying to see "Sextette," the final film of Mae West (who died two years later). It's one of those infamous bombs you always read about, but it's hard to track down. While rehearsing with The Burners, I spotted it on my brother's DVD shelf. I realized immediatlely why Brinie bought it: Who drummer Keith Moon is in it. When I asked to borrow it, both Brinie and Nephew warned me that the movie is rough going.
I always figured "Sextette" would be so horrible, I'd have to watch it in 20- to 30-minute installments. Not EVERY bad movie is so-bad-it's-good. Not EVERY bad movie is "Plan-9-From-Outer-Space" funny.
My verdict: "Sextette" is a jaw dropper! A train wreck you can't look away from! A must-see disaster!
There are culture clashes galore. Timothy Dalton, nine years before playing James Bond, plays West's newlywed husband. Dalton looked 30. (He was 34.) Mae looked 85. (She WAS 85.) Dalton was acting as if he couldn't wait to get in bed with this woman who was old enough to be his grandmother. It makes "Harold and Maude" look like "Romeo and Juliet."
There's even a bit of unintentional foreshadowing, when Dom DeLuise tells Mae that Dalton is a spy who is "bigger than 007." (Mae's retort: "I didn't get a chance to measure him.")
Moonie, Ringo Starr and Alice Cooper are all in it, which leads me to wonder: Where are Harry Nilsson, John Lennon and May Pang? (These castings would complete the infamous Wasted Rocker Brigade of the '70s.) Ringo looks hungover, Moonie looks drunk (he died the following year) and Alice looks embarrassed (he SHOULD be). Also in the cast are Tony Curtis, Walter Pidgeon, George Raft, Regis Philbin and George Hamilton.
Raft's elevator moment with Mae is actually very sweet. (Mae: "I haven't seen you in two years, George. What have you been doing?" Raft: "Two years.")
At times, it appears that Mae can barely walk. During production numbers -- complete with dozens of dancers -- all of the action happens AROUND Mae. When she and Dalton serenade each other with "Love Will Keep Us Together," it makes your ears bleed. When Dom sings and dances The Beatles' "Honey Pie," you wonder who in his right mind green-lighted usage of the song.
There is something very "Plan 9" about this movie. In that film, the "star" (Bela Lugosi) was dead, and all of the action was centered around the existing footage of him. In "Sextette," the star is still alive, still very much participating, but very much past her sell-by date. So all of the action is centered around the actual, still-breathing corpus. This approach yields many moments of palpable desperation. But I have to say that Mae is a game old girl, and for better or (much) worse, she got out her lines and finished the job.
I LOVE THIS MOVIE.