Category Archives: Movies

Welcome to the 60’s

I have a friend who recently turned 60, or as he ruefully admitted to me; “I’m entering the 60’s.”

My reply to him was that he’s a little late. I entered the 60’s almost 60 years ago and enjoyed the hell out ‘em.

Oh, certainly there were unfortunate things in the 1960’s; things like assassinations, Viet Nam, George Wallace, Nehru jackets, Manos Hand of Fate, Tiny Tim, the Association’s Cherish, Richard Harris’ MacArthur Park……and tie dye.

But these travesties we more than offset by Woodstock, the Kennedy’s, bell-bottoms, the Beatles, the Stones, the Animals, and the whole British Invasion, Bob Dylan, Sean Connery’s James Bond, Psycho, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, La Dolce Vita, Cool Hand Luke, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Strangelove, Bonnie and Clyde, Joni Mitchell, going to the moon……and tie dye.

And as I think about my impossibly young friend, he was born to enjoy the 60’s. He’s smart, well-read, and sometimes wears a beret. He questions all authority, thinks the moon is pretty cool, and knows all it is worth to know about popular music.

And he even likes Manos Hand of Fate.

He’d have loved the 60’s and I’m sure he’ll enjoy the hell out of his 60’s.

But, enough about him – what about me? Would I like to go back to the 1960’s?

Nah.

As Mr. Dylan said; “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

Besides, if I went back, at some point I’d probably have to hear the Ohio Express informing me; “Yummy, yummy, yummy, I got love in my tummy.”

Talk about TMI.

An Opera House…in Kentucky?

You Can't Take It 10It would have been about 1:00 in the afternoon on a weekday in 1970…
…in an opera house…
…in Lexington, Kentucky.

Why was I there?

Was it to see a production of Carmen, or Madama Butterfly, or Rigoletto?

Nah!

I was there for the weekday bargain matinée at the Opera House Movie House on a fairly sketchy block of North Broadway. For a $1.50 I was settling in for a cinema mini-festival of the Barbra Streisand/Jack Nicholson classic; On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (she sang, he didn’t…thank God) followed by Waterloo featuring Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer in the mud (neither sang as I recall…thank God).

The theme of this film pairing is strikingly apparent; tedious films employing and contrasting singing and cannon fire as mediums for selling a ticket or two…and maybe a tub of Buttercup Popcorn.

Frankly, I don’t recall much of the afternoon that was indelible in an uplifting way. I recall a long afternoon of affordable and forgettable flicks. I recall dimness, not just in the screening room, but in the lobby (skimping on lighting – a double savings; lower electric bills and less spent on actual housekeeping). I recall passing on the Buttercup offerings; the dim lighting couldn’t obscure the sharp, refinery whiff emanating from the butter(?)-dispensing mechanism. I recall the occasional skittering noises of the legendary rodent cleaning crew in the dark rows of the screening room celebrating the discarded remains of the Buttercup offerings.

Hey!
Buck fifty.
Two films.
You get what you pay for.
Plus Yves Montand and Ivo Garrano…and Mickey and Jerry (without Tom).

Well…that was then.
Eight years later, at age 27, I’m playing the 70+ year old Grandpa in Studio Players’ production of You Can’t Take It With You on the Opera House stage – same building. The seats are new. The balconies and boxes are gilded and populated with Lexington theater-goers. The lights are bright. The lobby, halls, staircases, carpets, and aisles are proudly pristine. No Buttercup products are in sight (or in smell).

What happened?

In the 70’s, the Opera House was attacked by ice storms, gravity, and old age. The wrecking ball loomed.
The city of Lexington and a group called The Opera House Fund said “No.”
A serious architect, and a serious Lexington, and a serious Opera House Fund (thank you Linda Carey and W. T. Young) redesigned and restored the structure – not to a museum roadside attraction, but to a thriving driver of Central Kentucky’s performing arts community.

A year after the success of You Can’t Take It With You, I played a deliciously young and foolish Cornelius in Studio Player’s production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker in a Saturday afternoon performance to 54 (count ‘em!) attendees in a house that seats about a thousand. Another fairly grim afternoon in the Opera House, but at least the grimness was in striving for something good, not in hygiene or affordability.

I should mention here that in both of these shows I got to work with my friend Paul Thomas. Paul has retired a myriad of times from the teaching profession and is now the House Manager of the Opera House. I believe the Opera House muckety-mucks value his participation, but are unaware that his best and highest use is ON-stage, not off. Such is fickle fame.

In 1981, I urged everyone to “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in Lexington Musical Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls. This was a notable production for Paul’s vocal exploration of musical scales of which Schoenberg never dreamed.

In 1982, Paul and I played in Brigadoon, also for Lexington Musical Theatre. Paul demonstrated a technique for holding a gun that the NRA is still trying to explain and justify.

Both of these edifying experiences were on the Opera House stage.

In 1987, I had the totaling fulfilling experience of playing Dr. Watson to my friend Eric Johnson’s Sherlock Holmes in the world premiere of my friend Chuck Pogue’s luscious script; The Ebony Ape, on the Opera House stage in an Actor’s Guild production. A two-story set, perfect and beautiful costumes, Fred Foster, Julieanne Pogue, Martha Campbell, Rick Scircle, Matt Regan…a glorious time for Mrs. Leasor’s little boy.

This was also on the Opera House stage…thank you very much.

A year later, in The King and I (a Lexington Musical Theatre production directed by my friend, Ralph Pate), Janie and I appeared in our one and only show together. She was lithe and lovely. I was…not so much, but I got to sing some beautiful songs for which I was not particularly suited (not, alas, an uncommon occurrence).

This was also on the Opera House stage. Sorry…but look at Janie! Isn’t she fine?

Carousel 01Now…
…skip ahead with me to 2006.

I’m asked to play the Star Keeper in the University of Kentucky Opera Theater’s production of Carousel at (you guessed it) the Opera House.

Well, I guess I could.

I walk out on the Opera House stage, count the stars – the stars!– , revive the protagonist and inspire him to return to life and assure his daughter that she’ll “Never Walk Alone.”

Whoa.

This is a far cry from 1970 and Waterloo and…

“On a clear day, rise and look around you and you’ll see who you are.
On a clear day, how it will astound you that the glow of your being outshines every star.
You’ll be part of every mountain, sea, and shore.
You can hear from far and near the words you’ve never heard before.”



Well…
…maybe…
…not so far.

Jake

Jake is probably the finest dog I’ve never met.

And there are so many amazing dogs I’ve never met;

I have great admiration for the feats of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Sergeant Preston’s King, Flash the parachuting dog in THE FLAMING SIGNAL (1933), and Smokey & Shadow the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet Alsatians in SIGN OF THE WOLF (1941).

I empathize with Nick & Nora’s Asta, and Red’s Rover…they have to endure much and they endure it with good humor.

I root for Lady’s Tramp (successfully) and Ol’ Yeller (not so successfully).

I laugh out loud at Goofy, Pluto, and Odie.

Benji, the Shaggy Dog, and all 101 of those Dalmatians…well, maybe not so much…but they’re cute, I guess.

But they’re not real dogs. I mean some of them are real dogs, but none of them are REAL DOGS.

<< side note >>

Didja know that the Shaggy Dog was played (uncredited) by a dog named “Chiffon”? Chiffon needed a better agent.

<< end of side note >>

I think Jake is a real dog

Jake belongs to a friend of mine who doesn’t live in Lexington. She has posted pictures and escapades and gripes about Jake for several years. Through her postings I feel like I know the critter and he’s fine one.

I know of his dietary lack of discrimination. “If I can chew it and pass it, it’s food.”

I know of his utter and violent defiance of screen doors. This stems from his belief that if aliens (or Russians) wanted to infiltrate our country, they would come disguised as screen doors.

I recognize (from afar…far far afar) his olfactory ability to locate patches of otherwise unidentifiable dead things (Charnel No. 5), and roll with vigor, applying them liberally until said olfactory abilities have been obliterated.

Now that is a REAL DOG.
That is a dog’s dog.
I’m a fan.

I understand Jake is going through a tough time right now. That means my friend and her family are going through a tough time.
If you would, send some good thoughts their way.

Zeke’s a fine dog. There’s not much better to be.
And I’ve never even met the guy.
Sigh…

Speaking in Tongues

After a month of mummy flicks on TCM this month, I thought my fez-and-bandage Egyptian was getting pretty good.

“Ya prem a-sharif yaru-ha ab-variyah makhutasa a dó an takh valahyi ivanté dah-yi alla contallay…”

I laboriously translated that to mean; “My rags need changing and I’m getting’ a little gamy.”
It doesn’t.

I finally realized that once again, I had been played for a sucker by a fantasy language from books, films, music, and movies. It has happened repeatedly since I became a media-sponge about the age of eight.

Tarzan brought me to full alert with his ape-language cry of “Kreegah! Bundolo!!” (Beware! Kill!!).

Michael Rennie opened the heavens for me; “Klaatu narada dikto” (intergalactic for “Can you hail me a cab?”

Then there were the unending elvish chants of Tolkien extolling the amorous escapades of Beren and Tinuviél (who aren’t even in the story).

The gleeful jazz exhortations of Cab Calloway; “Heigh-dee heigh-dee heigh-dee ho!” Which I translate as “Waiter! A round of jalapeno poppers for everyone, please.”

And of course the rock-n-roll voodoo Witch Doctor’s advice; “Ooh-eeh ooh-ah-ah, ting tang walla-walla bing bang.” Which means; “Dinner and a movie is your best chance, Bubba.”

Janie takes classes in Spanish at the library.
I watch movies and read sub-titles on movies and operas.
Her chosen path is the sensible and useful one.
Mine?

“Vos tokh vi yah-ta mahallah ah varitah yi-ah.”

That’s Egyptian for “Go forth and prosper……and thanks for the fish.”

Well…
…no, it’s probably not…
…sigh…

The Big Lebowski

Looking forward to seeing The Big Lebowski on a big screen in a real moo’om pitcher theatre tomorrow night.

I finally got around to watching The Big Lebowski on an endless and gloomy flight to Alaska. I watched it on my tiny laptop with a lousy headset. I possess an overblown belief in the grand, super-sized movie screen housed in my imagination. I believe I can watch my friend Chuck Pogue’s Dragonheart on a TV screen at home and hear Sean Connery’s dragon whisper behind me, from a mouth of teeth and fire that could fricassee my head and swallow it like a hot-buttered kernel of popcorn and never miss a word of “The Code” until a burp interrupted his recitation.

I actually believe that…and it fills me with happy wonder.

But this Lebowski viewing plumb defeated me and was totally unfair to any flick. I’m sure it affected my judgement.

I like some of the Coen Brothers’ work a lot. Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Blood Simple are favorite films for me.

I know Lebowski has a fervid following. But I found it to unpleasantly disjointed and certainly overly reverential to bowling. I have bowled in the past (in a league no less!) and enjoyed the hell out of it, but I never experienced the metaphysical awe of flying pins represented in Lebowski. I mean, come on! It’s not baseball!

What I really admired in the film was;
– John Goodman’s boisterous performance.
– John Turturro’s sharp cameo.
– Sam Elliott’s finest performance since his star turn in Frogs. (Talk about damning with faint…)
– The opening and closing monologues (again Elliott).

It was an OK film, but it was no Blood Simple. I don’t think I blinked after the first twenty minutes of that film until the closing credits.

I’m hopin’ the big screen at the Kentucky Theatre will “pull it all together” for me.
The geezer abides….

Shelter from the Storm

Whoosh!

That was a storm!

It may have been a genuine eyewitness-authenticated “frog-strangler”. I went out après-cataclysm and inventoried the frogs in our pond. I’m missing two. Perhaps they’ll reappear after a jaunt to Oz, but I’m doubtful.

Vanishing with the frogs was electrical power, internet access, and cable TV to the house. Quel horreur! I wasn’t sure how I’d survive till the generator kicked on thirty seconds later and gave me enough light to find the pizza delivery phone number.

Janie fled the state, leaving me with a compromised house, instructions on feeding feral cats three miles away, and two depressed critters (oh man, we have to put up with the white-haired geezer all week!)…and a giant plate of brownies for the ciné-cabal assembling at the house Saturday night.

She’s a complex woman.

I waved as she drove away to the relatively storm-free Finger Lakes. Bob Dylan’s protective heroine in his wonderful song “Shelter From the Storm” came to mind.

“In a world of steel-eyed death, and men fighting to be warm, ‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm.’”

Not my lady! She’s hittin’ the road, Jack, and won’t be comin’ back till the electric coffee-maker’s perkin’.

I confess.

I felt bitter.

Then I turned and walked into my generator bubble of quasi-comfort and munched on a couple of muffins she’d baked and left for me (I gave half of one to the depressed dog).
Shelter from the storm…it can take many forms. One form may be a roof, or a hedge, or a generator, or a muffin…or a gathering of friends.

The clan assembled Saturday night to enjoy three of the many good things in life; laughably-lousy films, any pizza, and each other. It’s a group of geezers of an age yet undetermined by carbon-dating. They’ve suffered some losses. Some physical; alacrity, hue of hair (or hair itself), stamina… Some of the heart; Sidney, Georgeanne, Tonda, Glen, Craig, Harlan… They’ve also gained from the years; thoughtfulness, vocabulary, timing, patience…waistline inches…

They are a group that has done and continues to do much. They teach, act, think, write, care, sing, paint, think, direct, care, speak, manage, organize, think, and care. In the stormy outside world they are looked to for answers: they are authorities in various fields. Tonight, however, they gather in the shelter of each other’s company to laugh.

And laugh they do, often and raucously, loudly and sometimes inappropriately.

Their moms would probably be ashamed.

I’m proud to know ‘em and thrilled I can bribe my way into their busy company occasionally with pizza, bad flicks, and shelter from the storm.

Lloyd Rowe – Another Varney Yarn

“Lloyd Rowe…”

Jim squinted like he could glimpse the man in question on the far horizon.

“…I haven’t thought about him in ages…haven’t wanted to.”

I was impressed with the solemnity of the moment until I reminded myself that the “far horizon” was the Green Room wall beneath the Guignol Theatre at the University of Kentucky about eight feet in front of Jim, and just how many “ages” can a 20-year-old have actually seen?

My friend and fellow student, Bob Perkins had suggested to me that I might want to ask Jim Varney about Lloyd Rowe if I had sufficient time for a good story. This seemed like just the moment to pose the question.

It was September, 1970, and like clockwork, here was Jim, not a UK student – hell, he hadn’t even graduated from high school according to local legend, lurking in the Green Room at UK. This was a September tradition…like mums at the Saturday football games. Jim would drop in and loiter in this theatre department lair in hopes of broadening his life experience by meeting and “mentoring” the hopeful freshman actresses newly arrived on campus…or, as Jim referred to them; “sweet young things.”

This “mentoring”, to outward appearances, seemed to last a couple or three weeks until the young lady would reappear, a generally gladder but wiser girl devoted to catching up on classes missed.

Hey.

It was a freer time.

We spoke freely. We dressed freely. We undressed freely.

AYDS was still just a dietary supplement candy advertised on Paul Harvey’s radio show.

On this particular afternoon in the Green Room, the requisite young lady was present filling out some requisite semester-starting forms, I was present killing time until some rehearsal started – any rehearsal, and Jim loped in. He sized up the prospect (singular), and turned to me with a normal greeting; “Well, Goddy-dam, it’s Leasor. Howya doin’ Podge?”

I could have just let things follow their inevitable course…but no-o-o-o-o-o-o. I thought if I got Jim started on a saga it might disrupt the day in an entertaining way.

“Tell me about Lloyd Rowe.” I ventured.

That’s all it took. We’ll let Jim tell it from here.

Lloyd Rowe…

“…I haven’t thought about him in ages…haven’t wanted to.

Lloyd Rowe was mean.

He was a mean, mean man.

He was the meanest man in the world…and he knew it…he was proud of it. He got up every morning expecting to receive an award for mean-ness.

He didn’t bother to spit nails, he just digested ‘em. The only salad he would eat was poison ivy.

He took little petite little small-ass Donnie’s cake away from him and ate it. (Whatever that means.)

The laws of physics and medicine bowed to his hateful will. One day he was shot by a bullet in the chest. He whistled sharp and growled “Git back here.” That bullet backed up, healed instantly out of pure spite, and gave Lloyd a written apology.

Mean.

He was driving to Louisville one day and ‘long about Waddy/Peytona he had four simultaneous flat tires and he ran out of gas. He said; “This’ll not do.” He removed the gas cap, pissed in the tank, and crooned; “Go-o-o-o.” That car reached the White Castle in Downtown Louisville in two minutes flat and was a molten heap when it arrived. Lucky it was still under warranty.

He once lived on spite and nothing else for five months just to hurt himself.

He started campfires with small animals as kindling.

MEAN.

He decided one day to visit the mountains in Eastern Kentucky. His aims were two;

  • He wanted to broaden his life experiences by paying court to the Low-Life Sisters. There were three Low-life Sisters; Bunny Jeanette, Juanita Dean, and the little baby Nylon. Miz Low-Life had given birth to Nylon in a drugstore and named her after the first product she saw. Other naming possibilities spr-r-r-r-ing-g-g-g to mind. It would make an intriguing parlor game.
  • And two. He wanted to spend a serious moment with Greenbury Deathridge.

Greenbury Deathridge was the meanest man on Earth…and he knew it.

You perceive the problem, n’est-pas?

Lloyd wanted to settle the issue and establish harmony on the planet.

Well, he wanted to settle the issue.

He climbed mountains for thirty days through heat, humidity, snow, cyclones, tsunamis, baseball strikes, plagues, earthquakes, and “Gunsmoke” reruns. When he got to Greenbury’s cabin, he learned that the man he was seeking had died seven days before. Lloyd took that personally. He knelt at Greenbury’s grave…for three days…in abject disappointment and holy resentment. Finally, he dug up the corpse and carved it into a bar of soap. That seemed to bring closure.

He sought solace in the arms of Bunny Jeanette Low-Life, but at a crucial moment in their relationship, she cried “Oh, sweet Jesus!” Lloyd froze, appalled. He extricated himself, dressed freely, and marched back to Lexington on foot (his car being a molten heap at the time).

At this point in Jim’s narrative I cried enough.

Jim was jarred out of his fake memory rapture.

The requisite young lady? Oh, she was in love.

 

Oh, sweet Jesus.

The Clan Assembles

Unbeknownst to Lexington, a Clan assembles for an evening of mayhem.

The South is renowned and mostly disowned for its Klan. Dividing and judging people by the shades of their skin…foolishness. Politically and physically acting on that foolishness…shameful. We know better.

Dividing and judging people for what’s going on voluntarily in their bedrooms…foolishness.

Dividing and judging people……foolishness.

We have important and glorious things to do with our days and we need the talents of everyone to do them. Could we please keep our eye on the ball here?

But…

…this is not that kind of clan.

Instead of the KKK, one could call this group, the CCC (Classical Cinema Clan).

One could.

To avoid confusion, one should reveal that “Classical” refers to the age of the members rather than the quality of the films. This octet has amassed over 500 years on this planet. I can’t accurately speak to their whereabouts before then, though I harbor suspicions.

One would assume that in 500+ years, some wisdom would have also been amassed and perhaps it has, but that’s not what this assemblage is about. No, the CCC is probably about as foolish as the KKK, but much more benign. Their foolishness is much more centered on good pizza and happily bad movies than lynching and gerrymandering. Their rants tend to be more about the uselessness of ubiquitous standing ovations on the theatrical stages of Lexington rather than Hillary’s emails or Stormy’s career choices.

While I personally believe our country is diminished by the hijinks of the KKK, I can’t honestly assert that Lexington is in any way enhanced by the activities of the CCC. Who is made better by our devouring (inhaling?) of an “Ultimate Warrior” from Puccini’s Smiling Teeth or a “Hudson” from Big City Pizza, followed by a double-feature of War Gods of Babylon and Carry on Cleo?

Well…of course WE are…but the pleasures are ephemeral at best and the digestive dreams that ensue rival those of Dickens’ Scrooge.

Be that as it may, no damage is done by the CCC. No animals are harmed – in fact, Chloe the wonder pup and the only female in the group, scores big from “pizza bones” slipped to her clumsily and surreptitiously by the easily charmed clansmen.

We assemble in the kitchen, munching on beer cheese and chips, drinking wine, bourbon, beer, and herbal tea, filling the time until the pizza arrives with stirring accounts of various physical ailments (500+ years, remember?). That sounds deadly dull and it is but it doesn’t last long. The discussion morphs quickly into passionate descriptions of current projects of the clansmen. Here, I should point out this group is comprised of a painter, a director, an attorney, a writer, an actor, a teacher, a critic, and a junesboy…all occupations that our current governor would consider useless. The members of the group always have something going on; a script, a play, a showing, a concert… And every one of this group has performed on stage. Thus, there is always much to discuss.

 

The Writer has just finished a new play and, not being averse to a little self-promotion, offers; “Richard III got a bum rap.”

The Lawyer; “So…you’re sayin’ Shakespeare was puttin’ out fake news?”

The Teacher; “Maybe he’s a victim of the Deep State.”

The Actor; “Oh yeah. I got yer Deep State right here.”

The Critic snorts and giggles ominously.

The Director; “I remember one day in Montana I drove 836 miles to watch some Udder Pagans play baseball and do some unmentionable things to local cows. I remember thinkin’ that Montana was a Big State and perhaps an Odd State, but I never remember thinkin’ it was a Deep State…and I don’t think I ever met anyone named Dick there.”

This was met with a significant pause as we pondered all the images and possibilities sparked by that pronouncement.

Finally the painter summed it all up; “What kind of pizza did you order and what are we watchin’ tonight? Any pepperoni and pulchritude on deck?”

Junesboy answered; “I ordered copious pizza – the best kind. As for the flicks, I thought we’d start out with some old trailers, followed by an old local commercial featuring The Actor talkin’ ‘bout a rubber ducky, and then move on to the Ed Wood rarity; Devil’s Night Orgy.”

The Painter replied; “I’m very happy.”

Two Sharp Knives

Movie night!

Tonight’s opus gruesome is TWO SHARP KNIVES.

This is a 1950’s made-for-TV dramatization of a story by Dashiell Hammett.

Aha!

That’s why I watched it. How bad could something written by the author of THE THIN MAN and THE MALTESE FALCON be?

Well…

It was part of the Westinghouse Studio series. Westinghouse’s slogan at the time was; “You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse”.

Sure of what?

You certainly couldn’t be sure of a quality piece of entertainment.

No.

No sir.

However there were points of interest;

  • A very young Abe Vigoda plays a very young cop. I’m stunned that such a thing was possible as a very young Abe Vigoda.
  • The commercials for Westinghouse washers and dryers feature a Westinghouse store owner inviting you to bring your dirty clothes to his store for a free demonstration. Now there’s a gig.

I came away thinking (to paraphrase George Kaufman); Westinghouse should close the studio and keep the store open late at night.

I watched this…so you don’t have to…you can owe me.

Dinner With Nick and Nora

Movie Night!

Didja ever play the mental game of planning the guest list for an ideal imaginary dinner party? I do it all the time. Most of the time I include Nick and Nora Charles from THE THIN MAN.

If Nick and Nora are among your guests, you’ll feel secure in the success of your dinner party as long as the bar is amply provisioned and a stylish cocktail shaker is at hand. You know there’ll be no awkward gaps in the table chatter and there could quite possibly be some fascinating party crashers named “Rainbow” Benny, “Face” Morgan, or “Spider” Webb.

Warning: there could also be gunplay.

Throw in some weepy drunks, a befuddled police detective or two, a crooked bookkeeper, a murderous jockey, an inscrutable Asian, a socialite grande dame with sleepy siblings, a bitter rejected lover, a gardener with or without his mustache, and you’ve got a shindig that Anita Madden would’ve coveted.

They could even bring their dog. Our Chloe would ecstatically ramble through the house with their Asta. The pups could swap tips on expanding their respective households’ dominance which is already near total.

I could watch “Thin Man” movies forever.