Saturday, January 28, 2006

Some Things Just Won't Be Denied

The cute guy to my right is our dog, Bowie. My wife picked him up at the pound a few years ago and brought him home unannounced. Today is our son's 19th birthday and the thought of birthdays got my wife to pondering Bowie's.

In the case of Bowie's birthday, he was a stray when first brought to the pound, so there is no record of his actual birth date. That means we get to choose one for him. Ah, the responsibilies of pet ownership!

When my wife began cruising the pounds looking for a new dog, she was not overly impressed by a dog the pound people had named Elvis. He was sort of funny looking and very noisy; Elvis sang. He would howl when he was happy or when he wanted attention and it was this habit of howling that earned him the Elvis moniker. They named him after Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll.

Eventually though, my wife was won over by the sweetness of Elvis and brought him into our family. At first I was the only one not sure about the dog, but everyone agreed that we did not like the name Elvis.

There was no denying that this dog was a singer though and my first suggestion was to name him Torme, since he seemed like a crooner to me. My wife nixed that idea along with Sinatra; she couldn't see herself calling out, "Here Sinatra! Here boy!"

Which is how we ended up with Bowie. Our dog is named after David Bowie, which brings us back to the question of birthdays. We could have given him Elvis's birthday, since that was the name we first knew him as, but my wife was against that. You see, she and Elvis share the same birthday, January 8th.

"No," she said. "Let's give him David Bowie's birthday. He is named after David Bowie so he should share a birthday with him." Fine with me. I looked up David Bowie's birthday; it's January 8th.

Some things just can't be denied.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Vilest of Republicans

This vile bitch to my left is right-wing uber-cunt Anne Coulter. In my opinion she is the true face of the Republican Party. She is evil, loathsome and disgusting and wants to kill anyone who disagrees with her far-right whacked opinions. Her latest foray into the sickening world of far right-wingdom is when she joked about killing a sitting Supreme Court justice.

Want to guess how many right-wing media hacks, who complained vehemently about Hillary Clinton's "plantation" remark, will do the same about this? I'll bet you can count them on no fingers.

Watch as Fox News shows you how fair and balanced they really are; this is a story they will ignore or blame on liberals if it gets any coverage at all. What a joke this country has become.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Poon Tang Chain Gang

I was given a task a few years ago by some teammates of mine to create a banner for the Poon Tang Chain Gang. I'm really not at liberty to describe what the Poon Tang Chain Gang was, though the name is pretty self-explanatory as to what it represented. Suffice to say that we all know what poon tang is and we all are familiar with a chain gang. You should be able to figure most of it out from that.

I dove into my task with gusto and in a short while came up with a basic concept for the banner. It would be three men in chain gang clothing being pulled along by a beautiful woman. The men would be chained together and the woman would have a hold of their chain. The three men would be representative of the three sides of a well-rounded man and would take the form of Clint Eastwood, Ghandi and Curly from the Three Stooges.

I made a few more detailed concept pieces of the woman before letting the men see the idea.

Without going into too much detail here, the men hated the idea. They felt it was too negative... though they did like the faces I was working on for the three men.

To address the complaint that the piece was too negative I suggested that instead of being dragged by the woman, the three men could be escaping from the woman whose home would be represented by a large vagina.

In a bolt of brilliance one of the men suggested that instead of three men we should consider one three-headed man. I really liked the idea and went back to work, generating two new concept pieces, which you can see to my left.

I presented the two new pieces to the men and they picked what they liked from each one. Now we seemed to be getting somewhere! I then took their suggestions and consolidated them into a new piece, a hybrid of the previous two.

I did this one on art board and spent considerably more time on it than the previous concepts, I made it a lot larger and more detailed than the two previous pieces, but I still worked the details up in pencil. I didn't want to do anything more permanent until I got the final "buy off" on the piece from the men. They would be making the final decision, not me.

To get a digital version of the artwork I scanned the pencils in two passes and pasted them back together in Corel Painter. Using the Corel Painter trace feature I inked the design in using my Wacom tablet. I then used Painter's natural media watercolors to finish the piece. The final touch was provided by two very nice fonts I found on the Internet.

From start to finish it took me about a month to complete this piece. We had the final product printed out on canvas as a three by four foot banner. A one and a half inch wooden pole used for staking trees was nailed to the white area on the top and bottom of the illustration. Upholstery tacks were used as studs to decorate the top and bottom and to keep the weight off the nails attaching the poles. It was topped off with a nice thick chain at the top to hang it from. The result was really stunning and looked much nicer than I imagined it would. Unfortunately the resulting piece was destroyed by fire less than 24 hours after being completed. The artwork obviously still exists, but it is no longer a banner and no longer represents any team or organization.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Down in the Boondocks

One of the best new shows on TV this year is on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, their late-night programming block of cartoons aimed squarely at adults. As the picture to my left indicates, it's their version of Aaron McGruder's award-winning comic-strip, Boondocks. I've been enjoying this show for a month or so now, but made me want to talk about it today was this week's episode, "The Return of the King."

The "King" of the title is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the episode, Dr. King did not die when shot in 1968, he slipped into a coma. He awakens in 2000 just in time to be denied the right to vote during the Bush presidential fraud. But that is only the beginning, the first three minutes of the show to be exact.

This is a powerful show and like most episodes speaks of Aaron's immense disappointment in his people and what has become of them since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Eventually it all get to be too much, even for Dr. King., who at one point looks at a room full of hip-hop niggas and laments, "Is this it? Is this what I took all those beatings for?" Powerful, funny as hell and touching. McGruder's show is pure genius.

Miss it at your own peril.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bringing in a Ringer

Last month the poster to my left was used to preview and premiere a new comedy, which debuted to mixed review and pretty poor box office. This Johnny Knoxville comedy was about two guys who decide to rig the Special Olympics to pay off a debt by having one of them, Steve (Knoxville), pose as a contestant in the games, hoping to dethrone reigning champion, Jimmy. Mentally-challenged high jinks and hilarity surely follow. The poster seems to explain the premise pretty well without giving too much away.

Sounds like a pretty funny episode of South Park from a few years ago. I'm not quite sure how well it works with flesh and blood actors instead of animated felt cut-outs, but I do have a friend who saw it and didn't think it was totally without merit.

This week I noticed that the advertisement in my paper (a little rag called the Los Angeles Times) had changed. I asked my friend at work if there were any scenes in The Ringer where they wore cowboy hats. He said, "No."

"Odd ad," I thought. Not because I didn't get the joke of the new ad. I just think it's a surprising choice.

If you are going to parody another film that is out on the market in your advertising, wouldn't you pick one that was doing better business? Do they really think that associating themselves with Brokeback Mountain is bringing to The Ringer the ringer it needs? I just don't see it.

Worse, what if you don't get the joke and go see The Ringer and really like it? I think you are going to be disappointed if you follow it up with a viewing of Brokeback hoping for the same "type" of movie experience.

Maybe they don't really care; any attention the film gets is probably going to help it's bottom line and apparently it needs a lot of help.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


It must have been the summer of 1971 or 72. I was 15 or 16 and in love. It was the 4th of July and I went out with a church group to watch the fireworks at the local fairgrounds. One of the reasons I was so interested in the church group was Lynn; she was cute as a button and, at that time, the girl of my dreams. I would have gone almost anywhere and done almost anything to be with her, which is a great indication of how little power I had in the relationship. Anyway, I remember that the group parked in a mall parking lot near the fairgrounds to watch the excitement in the sky. To get a better vantage point from which to watch the fireworks we climbed on top of the van we had come in. As we did so the roof buckled a bit, making a krumpling noise. I thought, "Gee, how come in all those Marvel comics the heroes jump all over the cars and the roof never gets a dent?"

Ah, the tough questions of youth! Anyway, I went home sexually frustrated (the story of my many relationships with Lynn) and over the next few days drew three pages of a comic book featuring a character I was calling Titanium. It was my first superhero; a Six Million Dollar Man rip-off. Race car driver Dan Peterson, heir to the Petré Cosmetic fortune is critically injured in a accident during a race at Ontario Speedway. Not really an accident, his pit crew boss was skimming money off the top, out after Dan's girl, yada, yada, yada! Good help is so damn hard to find!

I finished the pencils for all three pages but only the first page was inked to completion (and some of the lettering has not survived over the years). My major influences at the time were Berni Wrightson, Rich Buckler, Al Williamson, Jim Steranko, and Neal Adams.

I was trying very much to give the strip a Southern California feel, since most comic books were published out of New York and either took place there or in pseudo-New York cities like Gotham or Metropolis. I was planning on going back later and putting palm trees on almost every page. Enough of this east coast monopoly on superheroes. The missing dialog in panels 7-8 read something like "Hey ya weirdo! Look watcha did to my cab!" "Sheesh! Don't tell me LA is stuck with one of those costumed freaks too!" Why was I putting a New York cab driver in LA? I haven't a clue.

As you can see, I was trying all kinds of techniques on these pages. Lots of zip-a-tone mixed in with my own pen scratching work. I think this influence was coming from Al Williamson and his great newspaper work on Secret Agent Corrigan. The guy could make black and white seem like all you needed.

My third and final page is almost all pencil. I know it's hard to read, but the art (such that it is) is still there. We start off with the cop from page 2 in awe of the speed of Titanium. He then wonders aloud who Titanium is. The balloon is used as a separator between the cop in 1976 and Ontario Speedway in 1974. An interviewer is asking Dan Peterson what he hopes to achieve in life. Dan says something like longevity, prosperity and to end his racing jinx with today's race. You then see the reporter on a TV screen, introducing Dan Peterson as the heir to the Petré Cosmetics fortune and back to Ray in the pits. The bottom half of the page is Dan getting ready to start the race. It introduces his pit boss and you learn from his thoughts that he has done something bad to the car. Dan gets in the car and the race begins.

What you see here is that I had real problems with layout, particularly on the bottom of the page. I start on the left with two panels that must be read together (and I use the continued balloon to span them) but I also need you to skip the big panel and move over to the small panel on the right. So I drop in this hokey arrow which seems to be telling you to skip the second panel on the left since it is pointing you from the first panel on the left to the panel on the right. What a mess! Oh well, I was a big racing fan at the time and wanted to draw the cars and stuff.

This is as far as it ever got. There never were any further adventures of Titanium, or even any more pages to this one. Hey, I was only 15 or 16. My attention had a tendency to wander at that time. Lynn had this cute, very tight butt and these perky little breasts that fit so nicely in my hands and her scent... oh God she smelled like a dream...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lost Films: Miracle Mile

Miracle Mile is not new or even new to video. It was released in theaters in 1988, but you most likely did not see it at a theater nor have you rented it. You should. This is a great little sleeper of a movie, a small $3 million gem that was lost in the shuffle when it was released and has never really been found.

My wife and I saw it at the theater when it opened in 1988, and what we saw we found very disturbing, which might also account for its lack of box office. I think this was the most shocked audience I have ever seen. When the film ended they sat in silence through the credits and then, also in silence, they quietly walked out of the theater; literally stunned by what they had seen.

Miracle Mile stars Anthony Edwards (before ER and after Revenge of the Nerds) as Harry, a young man who meets and falls in love with Julie, Mare Winningham, at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles (this area of LA is known as the Miracle Mile). They make a date to meet later that night at a coffee shop, but Harry oversleeps. He rushes to the coffee shop anyway, but Julie is long gone. While waiting around outside the coffee shop the pay phone rings and Harry answers it. The frantic party of the other end, who thinks he is talking to his father but has dialed the wrong number, tells Harry that the US has just launched its nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union and that the Soviet nukes are already inbound. He has an hour to get out of LA. Harry then hears a gun shot on the other end of the phone and a different voice comes on and tells him to ignore the call. But can he? Is Harry the victim of a brutal practical joke, or does he really know the world is about to end?

Harry doesn't know what the truth is and neither does the audience, but as he tells those around him what may be happening, all hell slowly starts to break loose in the early morning hours along the Miracle Mile. If it is true, Harry knows he can not leave LA without Julie. He has an hour to find the woman he loves, and get out of Los Angeles, or does he?

Miracle Mile leaves you guessing to the end. This film is full of startling images of a world quickly going stark raving mad, and I give full credit to director Steve De Jarnatt. But in Hollywood, if the movies you make don't make money you don't get to make movies. Miracle Mile was a box office bomb, taking in a little over 1/3 of the piddling $3 million it cost, and except for some work on a few TV series, we have not seen much from Steve since. That is a down-right shame, but don't let that deter you from seeing this wonderfully quirky little film. You may not come away liking Miracle Mile, but like all good films, you won't be able to stop thinking about it or the images it presented.

With the end of the Soviet Union the fear is not quite as present as in 1988, but the film is gripping in its depiction of how diverse people handle what they think is the end of the world. This film is really worth the effort to seek out and view. A lot of the reviews on IMDb use the word "haunting" when describing Miracle Mile and I couldn't agree more; when was the last time a film got under your skin so much that it affected your daily life? Miracle Mile is one of those lost films that needs to be found again.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Stating the Obvious

Sometimes pro football teams spend millions of dollars and all of their options drafting a player that for one reason or another just doesn't work out. Sometimes the player is unprepared for how fast everyone in the NFL moves, sometimes they are unable to adapt to how large the defensive or offensive line are in the pros. The worst kind of "mistake draft" is a player that is just plain trouble.

A lot of the time it is hard to determine just who will or will not be a "trouble" player. The asshole to my left, former Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick has saved everyone the trouble of finding out the "hard way" that he is one of those "trouble" players.

Let's see, so far in the past week or so, Marcus has 1) stomped on the left calf of Louisville All-American Elvis Dumervil on camera during the Gator Bowl, 2) attempted to soften the blow by claiming that he apologized to Dumervil when he had not, 3) gotten kicked off the Virginia Tech team for his outlandish behavior, 4) been arrested for allegedly pulling a gun on three teenagers during an altercation in a McDonald's parking lot (he faces up to three years in jail), 5) exhibited the poor taste to actually eat at McDonald's, and 6) announced that he is going pro!

Yep, this "fine piece of work," this "team meltdown waiting to happen," this "waste of money and draft choices" is ready for his closeup Mr. DeMille. I can think of a lot of NFL teams that need help at the quarterback position; I can't think of one that can prosper by drafting this asshole.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Question of How You Live

The past few days I've been thinking of death. We've had Lou Rawls, Barry Cowsill, a dozen miners... and I'm not normally a morbid person, but death just seems to be hanging around lately. On Christmas morning my parents lost a close friend suddenly, someone I have known for 40 or more years. It dampened everyone's spirits for the rest of the day; I could see it eating at my father. What good are gifts when you've lost your best friend?

It has all got me thinking again about the wonderful Six Feet Under, the story of the Fisher and Sons Mortuary that fascinated and captivated me for five glorious seasons on HBO, till its demise a few months ago. Maybe Six Feet Under is on my mind because I saw Rumor Has It... and as I previously related, three actors from Six Feet Under appear in that film.

Maybe, but I think not. I think it's death, just kinda floating around, through the air, making his presence known.

If you watched Six Feet Under then you know that each episode of the show began with a death and if you saw the final episode, "Everyone's Waiting," you know that it ended with a fifteen-minute look forward in which we saw the deaths of all the major characters on the show. I may as well admit it right now, I'm a crier and this show had my wife and I going pretty good.

It was meant to be sad, right? It showed how they all died, that's a sad thing, particularly if you've invested yourself in the characters over the years. How can it not be? It's death and it came for them just as it's coming for each of us and none of us like to think about that.

I watched that ending four or five times (this is what TiVo was created for folks) and about the third time it hit me that this was not a sad ending.

What was sad was the sheer hell the characters had been going though for the five seasons we watched them. Some of the most horrific stuff I have ever seen on television was presented on Six Feet Under. Every member of the Fisher family struggled with their demons during the show's run; each of them suffered greatly.

For five seasons we watched them endure the worst things in life; five seasons bookended with the deaths of Nate Fisher, father and son. And then in fifteen glorious minutes we watched them pull through it and live. And die. Sure, we knew that was coming; we all know it is coming. But in those last fifteen minutes we watched the characters put all of the shit they had gone through behind them; we got to see them living. And most of them lived very long lives full of joy and satisfaction.

Those final fifteen minutes made it clear that Six Feet Under was not a show about death, but a show about life. It's not about how you die, it's a question of how you live.

Friday, January 06, 2006

His Art Seems Film-iliar!

Drew Struzan is not exactly a household name, now is it? I would guess that very few people reading this have any idea who Drew Struzan is, but I’m also confident that every one of you is a Drew Struzan fan. Eh, where does my cocky confidence come from? How can I be so sure? It’s easy: I have never met anyone who didn’t have a great appreciation of and a great love for the work of Drew Struzan. Drew is in fact just flat out the best at what he does; he redefined our notion of what his area of expertise can be. He has been practicing his art, honing his skills, for 30 years and in that time has become the grand master of his special domain of art.

Drew paints posters for motion pictures. Long before you‘ve seen a single frame of celluloid projected on a screen, before the trailers have made their way to the front of your current movie experience, Drew whets your appetite for a concept or a hero. They leap out at you from the one-sheets, the posters that line the walls of your neighborhood theater. They call to you, entice you. They make your heart beat faster and send your blood surging though your veins. Drew is the master of painting heroes.
Drew’s painting introduced us to Marty McFly and John Rambo, to Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker, to Peter Pan and Harry Potter.

I saw Drew a few years ago at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena where he was signing and discussing of his new book, The Movie Posters of Drew Struzan, a 120-page compilation of some of Drew’s most famous work. After a short foreword by George Lucas and a biography of Drew by Jessie and Amy Horsting, we get to the real meat and potatoes of the book: Drew’s glorious posters, almost 100 of them. If you’re a fan of movies, of pop culture or of art, this book has something to delight you. Each page is a stunning piece of American pop, pictures you know and love.

There were only 35 or so people at the event, prompting Drew to note, "Looking at the turnout, maybe art is dead in America." He noted that he had spent a lot of time recently in Japan and that in that country "people are raised with an appreciation for art that is just missing in America."
Drew Struzan is quiet and soft-spoken. "I'm an artist, not a writer or a speaker, so I really don't know what I'm doing here. I don't have anything to say, but if you have any questions I'd be happy to answer them." And so he did, for the next 45 minutes.

Drew was asked what he is currently working on and responded, “That’s kind of a problem; I can’t tell you. The people I work for create marketing plans and when they want you to know what I’m working on, they will let you know. Until then, it’s a secret.” Drew did say that he had recently received a call from John Wayne’s son who was so pleased by the work Drew had done on the recent John Wayne postage stamp and that they “may work on something together in the future.”
When asked if he sees a movie before doing the poster, Drew responded, “Sometimes, but most times, no. I may see photos or a trailer. I usually get the script to read and I may see an incomplete film.” A follow-up question was did he ever see a finished film and want to re-paint the poster. Drew said “yes,” and someone yelled out ”The Name of the Rose.” Drew laughed, “That one is not my fault.”

“The producers had this really dark movie about monks and murder and were terrified of it. They had no idea how to market this film, so they told me to paint the poster as if it were a comedy. It wasn’t a comedy, but I gave them what they wanted, a totally inappropriate poster.”

Drew was asked if he ever looked at a film and turned down the job. He responded, “No, I have to eat. I have turned down work when I was too busy, but only then. When I was younger, and not so smart, I would work on two or three projects at a time; but not any more. I like to sleep and spend time with my family.”
Drew said it takes him two days to complete a painting, “though I will tell them it will take two weeks. And, sometimes it does, but most of the time I really only spend a couple of days on it.”

Drew’s finished paintings are done the size of a one-sheet poster, approximately 27x40 inches, because “this is the size most people will see.”

I asked Drew about his unique technique, mentioning that for years I thought his work was done in pastels because of its gritty properties, and had only recently read that he works in acrylics and colored pencils. “Yes, I work in acrylics and colored pencils; next question.” I asked how he came up with his technique and he explained that the nature of the business dictates the technique.
“I learned very early on in this field that the people who make films work very long and hard on them. Sometimes they may have worked twenty years to get their film made; they have a very high-level of investment in it. But they don’t have any idea how to make a hit film or how to market one, if they did, all films would be hits. So these people are searching for the correct formula, but are unsure. They change their minds, a lot. If I worked in pastel or watercolor, both of which I am quite capable of doing, I could never change a painting without you knowing I changed it. I can erase colored pencil right off the canvas. I can even erase the dots of the airbrush and you won’t know I did it. If I rub hard enough I can take the acrylic paint right off, reapply the gesso and paint in a new figure and you will never know I did it.”

Drew went on to describe how the producers of Back to the Future III wanted Michael J. Fox’s outfit changed on the poster and how Drew was able to completely erase the Fox figure and paint in a new one and you can’t tell he ever touched it.
When asked if it bothered him when his artwork was not used on the foreign release of a film, Drew said, "No, not really. The nature of the business is that they can use any artwork they like and usually do." Drew went on to mention an exception to this rule that he is quite proud of. "With the Phantom Menace, George Lucas had all the foreign distributors sign an agreement that my poster was the only art they could use and that, other than the text, it could not be modified in any way." Given that the film was released in nearly every country on the planet, it is believed that Drew's poster is the single most viewed piece of art in history.

I asked Drew about his work before he got into the film business, doing record album covers. I had only recently become aware that he did albums. I asked how many he had done and he said it was a lot. I asked if it was enough for a book and he replied, "Oh, yeah, I did hundreds of them. It's all I did for five years."

Drew did two of my favorite covers, both for Alice Cooper. The first was the cover to Welcome to my Nightmare, voted one of the top 100 Album Covers of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine. The second is the cover to Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits, which features the band as 30s-style gangland thugs.
You can see more of Drew's wonderful work and read more about him in a number of places on the web. The sites below are just the tip of the iceberg:
Drew’s own website
The Drew Collector’s Page
Echo Station: Interview with Drew Struzan

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Out-Foxed by Sirius!

This year the only gift I really wanted for Christmas was a Sirius satellite radio. I have enjoyed listening to Howard Stern for years and thanks to Sirius I can continue listening to him without George Bush and his cretinous stormtroopers at the FCC getting in the way. God I long for the return of the land of the free; maybe this year's elections will give us the chance for a good ol' American impeachment! We can all hope.

In the months leading up to Christmas and my anticipated Sirius gift, I would, from time to time, check out the list of programs available on Sirius, besides Howard Stern. I was very pleased to see that they had two different progressive talk channels: Sirius Left and Air America. Since I listen to Air America most days, I felt pretty good about all this. However a few months ago Air America made an exclusive deal with Sirius-competitor XM and dropped Sirius as an outlet. Personally, I think this was a mistake on Air America's part but, not running the company, what I think doesn't mean much at Air America.

The dropping of Air America left Sirius with only one progressive talk channel but two conservative channels. On top of that they also carried the White House propaganda outlet known as Fox News. I began to think that maybe this satellite radio wasn't such a good idea after all. Then I got my first New years' gift.

Sirius dropped Fox News! I couldn't have asked for a better gift. Fox is a disingenuous enterprise at best and an un-American fraud at worst. First, it is not a news channel. They don't do news. They parrot White House talking points. They spread propaganda. That is not the same as reporting news.

The "personalities" (and boy do I use that term loosely) on Fox are not reporters. Reporters search for and report the truth. Fox people have no use for the truth. I could give you dozens of examples, but I'll just go with one. The ever repulsive Bill O’Reilly has repeatedly railed against the efforts of liberals to remove Christ from Christmas, and to protect his God Bill is not above bearing false witness (lying) to get his point across. Bill recently complained (and repeated the complaint on the David Letterman Show) that:

In Dodgeville, Wisconsin, the Ridgewood Elementary School has changed the song Silent Night to Cold in the Night and forced the kids to sing the lyrics, “Cold in the night, No one in sight, Winter winds whirl and bite,” to the tune of the original Silent Night.

O’Reilly seems completely unconcerned that the story is a total fabrication, so much so that he repeats it whenever he can. He wishes only to stir up his supporters, even if he has to make up the charges (sounds a lot like the squatter in the White House). So I say, good riddance to pathetic right-wing propaganda and long live the real American free press.

And thanks Sirius for the great New Years' gift!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I Give this Bookstore Two Thumbs Up!

A few days after the Oscars were given out last year I spent an evening after work at my favorite bookstore in Pasadena, Vroman's. It's just two blocks from work and in the past I have seen Howard Stern, T. Jefferson Parker, Walter Mosely and Drew Struzan there, all for book signings. This evening I was there for another book signing. The author was in town for the Oscars and spent a few days doing TV and radio interviews and this one book signing. The author was Roger Ebert and he was there to talk about his new book, The Great Movies II. Even though I have not read The Great Movies I, I knew I couldn't pass up an opportunity to meet the guy who has entertained me on TV for thirty years, the only man to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism.

Yeah, Roger did spend a little bit of time talking about his book, which is a collection of 100 essays he has written for the Chicago Sun Times over the past few years. Each essay covers a different film, each is around five pages long, and each is about a film that Ebert loves. Some are well-known and familiar to us all: Alien, Goodfellas, The Right Stuff, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, West Side Story. Others are films I have never heard of: Children of Paradise, Grave of the Fireflies, House of Games. What they all have in common is that Roger loves them all, and through these essays he shares that love with us.

I got to Vroman's early, about an hour and a half early. Even then, after purchasing a copy of the new book, I was about the 20th person to take a seat; a nice, close third-row seat. A man from Azusa (A to Z in the USA!) named Ivan sat next to me. Ivan said he hadn't been to a movie in over five years, that he didn't enjoy most films lately, but that he had watched Siskel and Ebert and then Ebert and Roeper every week and wouldn't think of missing a chance to meet Roger in person, though he was not going to buy a book.

With an hour to go the 100 or so seats were all filled, but people kept coming. They sat on the floor and lined the aisles. Through it all the large stack of books written by Roger, which dominated the front of the room, kept dwindling. With 10 minutes to go they announced that the 12 or so remaining books at the front of the room were the only unpurchased books written by Roger Ebert left in the store. They were immediately absorbed by the large crowd, now numbering, I would guess, around 300. Roger arrived shortly after 7:00 to a standing-room-only crowd of fans and a standing ovation.

Ebert spent a few minutes talking about his book and then started talking about the Oscars and his experience of the Oscars. He and his wife flew into town a few days before the award show and were out every night at this awards show or that pre-Oscar party. Roger noted that at every event he went to he ran into Wolfgang Puck. "Apparently, Puck caters every event in Hollywood." Puck always wore his kitchen "whites" and he never saw him when he didn't have a stain running down the left side of his chest. Roger speculated that he puts the stain on to prove that he actually has something to do with the cooking process. Finally it's the night of the Awards and Roger is working the red carpet in front of the Kodak Theater, interviewing celebrities for a cable channel when down the carpet walks Wolfgang with a tray of food, showing all the specialties he had created for the after-awards party. He had the same stain on his left breast.

He said that people always ask him how he liked the Oscar show and he never quite knows how to answer that other than, "I really didn't see it." Roger explained that although he goes to the Academy Awards every year, he has never been inside of the auditorium. As a writer, he is in a room off behind the stage area with all the other writers. They sit at tables with their laptops while the broadcast is displayed on a TV forty or so feet away and they listen to it though headphones. One side of the room is devoted to the "back stage media area," the place you always see on TV where the winners are being interviewed. "You have to flip up one side of the headphone so you can listen to the broadcast and the backstage interviews at the same time," Roger explained.

"People asked me, 'What did you think of them bringing all the nominees up on stage?' and I said, 'They brought all of the nominees up on stage?'" Roger said it's hard to write a column, watch a TV show and listen to interviews simultaneously without missing something. "While we sit there writing, there are two dozen chairs set up in front of the interview area where sit these people, who have absolutely no credentials but somehow managed to get these passes, which allow them to interview stars. These are not very bright people." Roger recounted two examples from this year:

One interviewer asked Cate Blanchett if she thought winning the Oscar for best supporting actress would help her career. She looked the fellow right in the eyes and said, "Yes, yes it will...asshole." Another interviewer asked Morgan Freeman what he thought it meant that a black man had won the award for best supporting actor. Freeman replied, "It means that more people voted for me than voted for the other guys."

Roger spent time talking about the future of Hollywood, from both the technical and the creative side. He said it's not quite there yet, he can still see a difference, but that it is getting harder and harder to tell digital movies from movies shot on film. "Sooner or later, film will disappear and all movies will be digital."

Creatively he said the lesson of this year's Oscars is that the studios did not want to make a single one of the top nominated films. He recalled how Universal turned down Million Dollar Baby which was budgeted at $25 million. "Eastwood has stayed with Universal ever since Dirty Harry and has made the studio a couple of billion dollars over the years, but they wouldn't give him $25 million for something he believed in because their research said nobody likes 'boxing' pictures."

"Clint had to find a private investor to put up half the money and then basically shame Universal into putting up the other $12.5 million. The investor got all foreign rights to the film, meaning Universal made a very, very costly mistake." Speaking more on Eastwood, Roger commented that, "Had Clint Eastwood not had this huge career as an actor, he would be known as one of the greatest directors of all time. Just look at the last two years. Of the eight Oscars given for acting, Clint Eastwood directed four of the performances. No one has ever done that before."

All too soon it was a hour later and the Vroman's people were giving Roger the "hairy eyeball." "This is a retail establishment," said Roger taking note of the looks being directed his way, "so I guess we ought to get to signing some books." Which he did. I was the fifth person in line and wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Another Question of Talent

You may be thinking, "What the hell is that?" Or perhaps, you are "in the know," one of the more discerning people traveling the World Wide Web. You were not born yesterday. You can't be fooled and you will accept no substitutes. In short, you recognize great egg carton Christmas decorations when you see them.

I mean, I think the quality of the item to my left just goes without saying. It shows what a six-year old can do with an egg carton, cotton, glue and his mother's bottle of red fingernail polish.

The child who made this was obviously brilliant. You may be wondering, what happened to such raw talent, what other great pieces of art has this masterful craftsman created, and more importantly, where can I buy them for my own private collection?

Like, "What is the meaning of life?" some questions were never meant to be answered. This is not one of those types of questions. I, your humble blogger, am the sole creator of this magnificent specimen of egg carton crafts.

OK, enough fun and games. The Christmas tree comes down tonight and this little guy goes back into one of the big plastic containers and goes back up into the garage rafters tonight. I just thought I'd share him before he went away for another eleven and a half months.