Monthly Archives: June 2016

Radioactive Emanations

Movie night!

Tonight’s viewing features two – count ‘em! – two classics; THE CREATURE WITH THE ATOMIC BRAIN and GODZILLA VS. THE SEA CREATURE.

THE CREATURE WITH THE ATOMIC BRAIN features snappy dialogue exchanges like;

Detective; “What’s that?”

Professor (played by the always snappy Richard Denning); “It’s a Geiger counter – I’m searching for radioactive emanations.”

I’m pretty sure from the title he’s gonna find some.

Radioactive Emanations – weren’t they the opening act for the Strawberry Alarm Clock back in 1978?

This flick features radio-controlled, radioactive zombies (the worst kind) working for a gangster. It’s a viable business plan. I wish I had thought of it.

I suspect part of the appeal of living dead/zombie storylines to film producers is the money saved in costuming. For the most part the zombies can wear their own clothes as long as they haven’t been laundered recently. No rubber monster suits are required unlike our second masterpiece.

GODZILLA VS. THE SEA CREATURE is a big lizard flick starring Godzilla, Ebirah (a monster lobster), Mothra (a serene destroyer in the sky), and those miniature twin singers (I have all their albums). The tiny and irritating singers appeared in several Japanese monster films featuring Mothra. The original singers were a real life duo called The Peanuts. In this film however, The Peanuts are out and the fairy singers are another equally grating duo called The Pair Bambi.

I can’t believe I know things like this.

But…THIS is why movies were invented; rubber suits, tiny lousy singers, and radioactive emanations.

Winter Light on the Summer Solstice

It’s Movie Night in Central Kentucky. It’s sunny, hot, and 132% humidity; just the night for a cold beer or Ingmar Bergman’s WINTER LIGHT.

I have radically mixed feelings about the films of Ingmar Bergman. Some of the longest and most tedious decades of my life have been spent watching PERSONA and FANNY AND ALEXANDER and THE VIRGIN SPRING…and yes, THE SEVENTH SEAL. Some of the most interesting times have been spent watching THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT, SUMMER WITH MONIKA…and yes again, THE SEVENTH SEAL (scratchin’ my head).

And then there’s WINTER LIGHT.

I love this film. I first saw it in the summer of 1969. It sank its claws in me and has never let go. I’ve watched the film about a half-dozen times since then.

It is small, intimate, exquisite, painful story-telling about the largest of issues. It would never make it in today’s United States of Donald Trump, AK-14’s (or 47’s, or whatever), Kim Davis, or ark parks.

It whispers – it doesn’t shout. It agonizes – it doesn’t sneer. It lingers and ponders – it’s not a sound bite or tweet. It thinks for itself – it doesn’t meme (is that even a verb?). It’s not reality TV – it’s reality. No need to fake it for the judges or a hidden camera or the voters at home – just tell the story in the unforgiving glare of truth.

I’m reminded of Carl Theodore Dreyer’s captivating film; JOAN OF ARC, which tells its story as a ballet of faces. You cannot look away.

WINTER LIGHT takes it further. Bergman uses his faces in excruciatingly long shots – but his characters also speak – directly and unblinkingly. There is no escape from their story; not for you as the viewer, and certainly not for Gunnar Bjornstrand, the faith-challenged priest of the story or Max Von Sydow the faith-bereft farmer he attempts to counsel.

Faith is hard. It’s available to everyone, but not granted to everyone. It has value. It will save/redeem/inspire…but not everyone.

Mr. Bjornstrand’s performance is wondrous to me. I totally believe Bjornstrand’s discomfort with his cold/flu. I believe his discomfort comforting his parishioners. I believe his weariness and desperation. I believe his doubt. I believe his desire to believe. I watch the film waiting for his epiphany like a boy raised in a Southern Baptist Sunday School should. I wait for Godot.

This is great storytelling and nothing gets blown up and there are no super-powers…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

A Geezer Remembers a Grand Night

GN 02In Lexington, the University of Kentucky’s extraordinary Opera Program has for the last 24 years staged an extraordinary event; “It’s a Grand Night for Singing”. Over a thousand people a night for two weeks assemble to hear remarkable voices sing Broadway/Hollywood/Billboard tunes. It’s supported by an orchestra and choreographed by a team of Broadway-seasoned professionals. It’s a startling evening. You just don’t expect this level of performance, energy, and talent from a basketball school. It’s a great tribute to Dr. Everett McCorvey who conceived the idea and has nurtured it through two-and-a-half decades and a couple of generations of participants.

I have been fortunate to have been a participant in this event a number of times. In fact, I think I may hold the record for having the most numbers cut from “Grand Night”. Hey, the standard’s high.

My friend, Dr. Tedrin Lindsay, has been a featured performer in this event for 20+ years. His piano-playing is energetic and passionate, yes. But he is also a man of great imagination and this shines forth in his performances. This is what live performance is about.

Tedrin has been recently posting some of his remembrances of “Grand Night” moments.

May I indulge in one myself?

For the third year of “Grand Night”, Everett asked me to be part of a quartet of singers to sing a medley from “Kismet”; And This is My Beloved/Baubles, Bangles and Beads. I had never met my fellow singers until I arrived at my first rehearsal for the number in Everett’s old studio, the studio that was 80% piano. We crowded in; Everett, Cliff Jackson on the piano, and singers Angelique Clay (soprano), Phumzile Sojola (tenor), and a young bass from Louisville whose name evades my geezer memory.

We rehearsed for about an hour. My fellow singers didn’t sing to me, they sang through me. I had never heard so much sound in my life. You could see the sound in that little room. After the rehearsal, I crossed the street to the Medical Center for an MRI to confirm that all my major organs were intact and in their proper places.

I was in heaven.

I was singing these stunningly beautiful songs with these crazy talented singers in front of an orchestra for a thousand people a night…in a tux.

Just kill me now.

After the show, I asked my wife if she liked the number. She replied; “Were you in that one?”

Everyone’s a critic.

I Was a Teenage Whatever

Movie night!

Inexplicably, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN was not nominated for any Academy Awards in 1957…go figure. Nor was it made into a musical, though if it had, perhaps we wouldn’t have needed YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN…no, strike that…we still would have needed “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and Frau Brucker.

Interestingly enough (or not), this flick had a companion film; I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF. I assume they were shown as a double-feature. WEREWOLF was no better or worse than FRANKENSTEIN, but WEREWOLF did feature a young Michael Landon (James Dean not being available). I find myself speculating on the potential effect of Mr. Landon’s work in this film on his later TV work. Imagine the change in viewer demographics had the title been; “Little House of the Hairy”.

But tonight’s film is I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN. It features a classic cast with Phyllis Coates (Tiger Girl of Saturday serial fame), Gary Conway (TV – “Land of the Giants”), and the always spot-on Whit Bissell (weasely, trouble-making boyfriend in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and whiny scientist nerd in THE CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON).

One of the special delights in this film is a basement scientific laboratory (complete with alligators!) that rivals anything that Ed Wood ever put on the screen.

It also features the usually mild Mr. Bissell goin’ all postal on his fiancé, Ms. Coates – a sudden and disturbing reminder that domestic violence has been with us for a long time.

To sum up; the flick is just…poor.

As my great friend; teacher and philosopher Paul Thomas frames the question when confronted with such jaw-dropping drivel; “What kind of mind…?”

The Invisible Dog and “The Book”

It’s Movie Night and we’re headin’ south.

Janie and I used to go Hilton Head on vacation. We didn’t have any money. Janie’s great friends had a condo there and were kind enough to share it with us occasionally.

Hilton Head was great but we don’t play golf or tennis and we’re not Republicans so our days would be filled with day trips to surrounding areas. Thus, our first visit to Savannah was sort of a vacation from our vacation. We slipped over there one day and wandered around the squares and shops. We even took a horse-drawn carriage tour. We’re suckers for ‘em and pretty tolerant of tourism mendacity. We understand the tour guide’s not lyin’, he’s just tellin’ us a story; though I do recall a memorable afternoon in Charleston on a horse-drawn carriage ghost tour when Janie corrected the newly-hired guide at every stop. He was mortified. What can I say? I’m married to a paranormal fact-checker. In Savannah that first visit, everyone all day kept referring to “the book”. We didn’t know what they were talking about. Finally, as is inevitable when traveling with me, a bookstore found us and there it was in the window, recently but firmly established on the New York Times Best-Seller’s List; MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. We bought it. I read it the next day; Janie the day after. We were completely charmed.

Then the movie came out and I was charmed all over again.

I’m not qualified to comment in depth on Clint Eastwood’s directorial abilities but I love this film.

I love the music. I love the accents and cadences. I love the lushness. AND I love Kevin Spacey’s performance. His stroll through the park with John Cusack at the beginning of the film and his pressing through the crowd at his party, simultaneously communicating with his voice, his eyes, and his hands with three different people… It was masterful.

How can you not love a film that features;

  • No hint of winter.
  • An invisible dog.
  • A line like; “Savin’ face in the most difficult circumstances, it’s the Southern way.”
  • Houseflies on strings.
  • A line like “Billy was known to be a good time, but he was not yet a good time had by all.”
  • The Lady Chablis, aka Frank.
  • The songs of Johnny Mercer, especially “Fools Rush In”. “Oh, I see the danger there. If there’s a chance for me then I don’t care.” Can I get an Amen?

I love this film and I love Savannah.

Remind me one day to relate how Janie and I were in Savannah for the end of the world.

It’s true!

Oh, the world survived its demise (in case you hadn’t noticed in this presidential race), but if it hadn’t, we were goin’ out with sweet sherry on our bedstead and chocolate on our pillows.

The Voice of the Turtle

Before there was Opus and Bloom County, Michael Doonesbury and Walden Puddle, Calvin and Hobbes in their spaceship box, and Alice on her manhole cover in Cul-de-Sac, there was a swamp in Georgia inhabited by Pogo Possum and his friends. The swamp was furnished with tree-stump homes, flat-bottom boats, fallen log pillows always near at hand, and endless time for big dreams, small-minded scheming, and more than occasional wisdom.

Walt Kelly was the creator of this world. He is a hero to me.

When I feel caught in a maelstrom of conflicting, negative news (all too often in these days of the 24/7/365 news cycle) I find it useful to dig out my old Pogo collections, drift into the lagoons of Okefenokee Swamp and jettison my final consonants. I drop in on Pogo’s home to see what he might have in the larder for lunch; whether he’s home or not – don’ matter – door don’ have a lock an’ he don’ mind.

With any kind of luck at all I’ll avoid crossin’ paths with Wiley Catt, or Mole, or Deacon Rat; who needs that negativity? I’ll delight if I happen to run across Freemount Bug and receive his universal assurance that everything is “Jes fine.”

And then there’s that giddily chirping turtle in his pirate hat; Churchy LaFemme. Churchy’s lament from the 1950’s resonates with my own reactions to the news reports from the last few weeks.

“…I is doin’ my duty as a citizen…night an’ day! Lyin’ awake worryin’ at night – afeared to sleep in case I gits blowed up in my bed an’ never knows! An’ all day – scannin’ the sky – not knowin’ when…wonderin’ whether to wear pajamas that night so’s to be found decent – wonderin’ whether to take a bath…whether to pack a light lunch.”

I know the feelin’.

It’s reassuring to me to know we fretted about the viability of our world 60 years ago – that we didn’t invent the urgency we currently feel – that it all might be solvable and survivable.

That light lunch sounds good too.

Puns or Guns? A Time to Declare.

I have been connected to the Guignol Theater and the University of Kentucky Theater Department since my junior year at Bryan Station High School.

My high school English teacher arranged for our class to have access to discounted tickets to UK’s production of Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT. Jill Geiger played a major role in that production. Jill went on to perform with and later own The Dorset Playhouse in Vermont. She was a successful person.

The day before we attended the show, my teacher gave us instructions on how we were to behave in “The Guignol”. The exclamation marks come from my remembrance of my teacher’s obvious reverence for this Temple of the Arts we were entering. How quaint.

I wore my clip-on tie (my fellow Guignolite and playwright/screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue – a successful person – was not to teach me to tie a proper knot for another five years), applauded at all the proper places, and was suitably impressed. So much so that I attended (on my own this time) UK’s next production in the Guignol of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s THE RIVALS. Bekki Jo Schneider (friend, mentor, and ex-sister-in-law) played a major role in that show. She is currently the owner/operator/director of Derby Dinner Playhouse in Southern Indiana. She is a successful person.

The next year, my senior year in high school, I attended DARK OF THE MOON in the Guignol and UNDER MILKWOOD in the Laboratory Theater which is now named the Briggs Theater (Wally Briggs spent his adult life teaching theatre to UK students. Yes, he was a successful person). DARK OF THE MOON featured Julieanne Pogue. Julieanne has gone on to a strong regional acting career, become an award-winning reader of books for the blind, and an uber-caring psychologist. Julianne is a successful person.

Both of these shows also featured a freshman in leading roles.

This explains why I attended UK to study theatre. Where else could I possibly want to go? UK offered an immediate opportunity to act…..in major productions…..in real costumes…..on beautiful and exciting sets…..in front of real audiences.

I remember these audiences as being drawn from ALL of Lexington. John Jacob Niles (another successful person) sat in the middle of the first row every opening night I can remember. Teachers from Lexington schools were there. Mary Agnes Barnes reviewed for Lexington Herald. John Alexander reviewed for the Lexington Leader. Betty Waren wrote a theater page for the Herald every Sunday. The Theater Department faculty was there…usually multiple nights. One memorable Sunday matinee was attended by Jose Ferrer (he was successful too).

I attended UK for two and half years, performed in seventeen shows, and became an adult; a thinking, listening, caring, listening, evaluating, listening, tax-paying, listening, voting, listening adult.

The arts do that for you. They make you whole. They make you reason. They make you listen.

Teach our children to add and subtract. Teach them to write a logical paragraph. Teach them to tell a whimsical story. Teach them their country’s history. Teach them the scientific method. Teach them to sing. For God’s sake, teach them civics so they know how their government works and are thus less vulnerable to the lies being shouted.

Make them whole. Make them successful.

Frankly, I feel safer around a good guy with a pun than a good guy with a gun.

A Geezer Remembers; Old Yellers.

One night while watching an exquisite double feature on TCM (Creature From the Black Lagoon and Tarantula), I was able to put aside, for a moment, the fashion questions posed by these flicks (Julie Adams’ stunning white bathing suit – white always being the sensible choice for swimming in the Amazon – and Mala Powers’ inexplicable white gloves in a crusty desert town with dirt roads), and consider the respective screaming techniques of those actors. Ms. Powers’ pitiful squeak came out a poor second to Ms. Adams’ flawed, but lusty bellow. Ms. Adams’ technique was probably better suited for the stage than the camera. She paused, registered the menace (as implausible as it was), took a deep breath, and cut loose with a face-shattering, but perfectly coifed shriek. Not bad. I’d give it an eight (the bathing suit, brooking no discussion, gets a solid ten).

The female star/victims of these cinematic expressions of the 19th-century penny dreadfuls are often referred to as “scream queens”, but how often do we really evaluate their screaming abilities? We (or at least I) revere Barbara Steele, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Judy Geeson, Evelyn Ankers, and so many others for their contributions to the horror genre. However, their contributions are usually visual; big eyes, big hair, big…? The exception in this group would be Ms. Geeson. Her screaming in the sublimely crude It Happened in Nightmare Inn (imagine a Spanish Motel Hell) was spot on.

As fine a shrieker as Ms. Geeson is though, there’s one old yeller that’s truly the queen.

My first play on the Guignol stage at the University of Kentucky was “Playboy of the Western World”, directed by Charles Dickens (yes, that was his real name) in September, 1969. One evening in rehearsal Professor Dickens coached me in a reactive moment to let forth a “Fay Wray” scream. I had to confess my complete ignorance as to who Fay Wray might be. Charles muttered “dull…flat…literal undergraduate students…” and moved on to presumably more literate and direct-able cast members.

However, I took this admonition to heart and later in the year I had a chance to see Ms. Wray’s performance opposite the title character on top of a New York skyscraper in KING KONG. Keep in mind this was before Netflix, TCM, Youtube, cable television, Tivo, streaming, dvr’s, and vcr’s. I didn’t even own a television set! I had to be alert to when a local channel (two channels – count ‘em – two!) would be showing the movie and then impose on some classmate (probably Chuck Pogue) to let me come to their place watch it. Watch it I did, and to this day for me, no one screams like Fay Wray. It’s spontaneous. It’s instant. It’s totally committed to the moment.

The next fall, I was cast in the Guignol’s production of “Billy Budd”. This play takes place on a British ship in the 1800’s. Why a college theatre department comprised of about a dozen active males and about five dozen active females would choose to do a play with a cast of 26 males and no females is beyond my pay grade, but schedule it they did, and the predictable result was that there were a few guys in the cast that had seriously limited experience on stage. There’s a big moment in the first act of the play in which a sailor falls (offstage) from the heights of the ship’s rigging to his death. His screams are the audience’s only connection to the tragedy of the moment. Unfortunately, this part was being played by a young English major whose previous stage experience consisted of accepting his high school diploma. The director (Ray Smith) held auditions for offstage screamers to create the moment. Guess who got the part.

Fay Wray will always be the ultimate scream queen to this grateful geezer.

How I Wish I’d Spent My Summer Vacation

It’s Movie Night with Ingmar Bergman. Let the dancing begin!

I watched Ingmar Bergman’s film; SUMMER WITH MONICA. The rest of you probably watched it in 1956 or 66 or 76 or 86 or… What can I say? I’m in a different time zone and moving with my usual glacier-like speed.

This is a lovely film!

The film mashes several little boy fantasies;

  • stealing a boat and sailing away,
  • the stolen boat belonging to an iconic “older dark man in the castle” – his father in this case – even better,
  • and escaping to summer islands with a willing female companion,

against the inevitable realization of what it means to be a rent-paying, child-rearing adult. The resulting sparks in this case are difficult and discouraging, but not unhopeful.

Whoa. Not unhopeful! This is Bergman, right?

I am ambivalent about Bergman. The craftsmanship is evident. The tricks with light and dark are mesmerizing. I am always impressed…and usually bored. The films are tedious. I don’t require a car crash every thirty seconds but I appreciate an occasional pulse.

I know Mr. Bergman was famously influenced by the films of Carl Theodore Dreyer (whom I admire) and you can see this when his camera dwells on the faces of his actors, most especially in WINTER LIGHT. But in Dreyer’s films, JOAN OF ARC as an excellent example, while the actors’ faces are the main tool for telling the story, those faces don’t feel static or tedious. Bergman misses this distinction.

However, SUMMER WITH MONICA seems to never become stationary. Most of the scenes in this film leave you wanting more. How often can you say that about a Bergman film?

I really liked the film and will be thinking about it for a while yet.

Oh yeah, Harriet Andersson was pretty cute too!

Dang-a-Dang-Dang-a-Ding-a-Dong-Ding

I used to drive around Kentucky quite a bit in my job. Most of the time, it was a great blessing. I love living in Kentucky; the people and the places are precious to me. For example; one evening I drove to Bowling Green to attend their bi-monthly commissioners’ meeting which, by the way, turned out to be a sterling lesson in civility and good government that completely refuted the “government doesn’t work” message that dominates our television news channels. Those smart, well-prepared, gracious public officials efficiently moved through their agenda, addressing issues of waste management, zoning adjustments, car-towing policies, golf course maintenance, personnel changes, and alcohol sales. Every voice was heard. No voices were raised. Decisions were made and accepted. Some of those decisions went the way I preferred. Some did not. Life goes on. I could not have admired the experience more.

Sha-nah-nah-diddy-diddy-bomp…

Then I drove home, fairly late at night – certainly too late to be talking to folks on the phone as I drove (which of course I would never do).

That means I was truly immersed in “Windshield Time”.

Nem-nem-nem-nem-nem-wurp-wurp-wurp-wurp…

Windshield time is akin to dreaming, especially on I-65 on a summer night. The tiny rhythm of the eight million bugs repainting your car with their lives; the mighty rhythm of the eight million trucks buffeting your car while laughing at your rate of speed; giant dinosaurs looming at one roadside attraction; adult bookstores larger than Fayette Mall looming at another… Your mind disengages and works on unresolved issues of the day or, if you’re lucky, it embarks on far more interesting paths not normally taken.

Thus it was this evening.

Doh-doh-doh-doh-ooooo…

I listen to a lot of music in the car. Queued up this particular night was a mini-festival by the pride of Pittsburgh doo-wop group, the Marcels.

In order to truly appreciate the Marcels you have to get past some curious facts. But, as a Trump-supporting friend of mine regularly and blissfully chants; “Facts lie!” Well, these are fairly benign facts. I think we can accept them without destroying the planet.

  1. The Marcels were named after a haircut. The “Marcel Wave” was very popular that year and one member of the group had a family member who was a hairdresser and she suggested the name. Compare this to the opposite dynamic with the Beatles and their hair choice. It became a “Beatle haircut” AFTER their success as a band. Trust me; I know this…all too well, though I think I’ve cornered all the negatives (remember them?).
  2. The Marcels’ vocabulary was amazing, but had little to do with English as we know it. I’m sure they must have been the inspiration for a Mad Magazine piece I recall that quoted a fictional rock singer’s biography entitled; “Famous Syllables I Have Sung”. Everyone has heard the story of how Dr. Seuss was challenged to write a children’s story with only xx number of words and how the result was THE CAT IN THE HAT. I would suggest that the Marcels managed to build a career on fewer words than Dr. Seuss if you deduct the un-definable syllables sung between the legitimate words.

Mum-mummum-mum-bah-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip…

All that given; in my 70mph dreamy opinion there has never been a better version of “Blue Moon” than that of the Marcels…

Bomp-bababomp-bom…

…and their “Get a Job” is an American anthem worthy of being sung before athletic events. Imagine 20-40,000 people with a few beers in ‘em wailing;

Dit-dadit-dit-dadit-doo-doo-didit…

I’m smilin’ at the concept and wonderin’ how this ol’ white-haired hippie might look in a Marcel Wave. An-n-n-n-d woooosh! There goes the Willisburg exit! 44 miles to go.

Lilla-lilla-lilla-lilla-wah-wah-wah…

God bless the Marcels!